Friday, December 30, 2005

Dorianne Laux's breasts

As I read poetry I keep a stack of placemarks handy. If I read a poem I'd like to return to I pop in a placemark. If after repeated reading the poem remains one I don't wish to leave behind I hand copy it into a notebook.

I copied out three poems from Dorianne Laux's What We Carry, a book I bought when it was first out. I think part of the reason it took so long for me to get around to reading it was that I liked Dorianne's first book so much. I guess I was saving What We Carry for a special occasion. This fall I booked a few days in Calistoga, wanting to try a mud bath and get away from Berkeley. Kent often pines for a massage so I booked us two massages in three days.

Anyway, I brought along What We Carry and read it on a lounge chair on our room's private patio. We had a tiny triangular pond brimming with reeds and roses and blackberries and fresh tendrils of wisteria swooped down from the roof. I would read a few pages, then close my eyes.

And I liked What We Carry so much I decided, rather than mark particular poems for rereading, I would go back through the whole book.

When, about a month later, I picked it up again the poems had settled more and I started noticing where Laux would repeat herself, poem to poem, where she would soak in a warm theme, what she liked to talk about.

I note that all three of the poems I've copied into my notebook (& even a third I read several times before choosing not to copy) contain the word "breast". In the poem, "Aphasia", the woman who has lost the power of speech (but for one word) opens her blouse for her husband, "fumbling / at her buttons, her breasts, / holding them up to the light / like a gift."

In "Twelve" Laux describes herself (one presumes) and her friends secretly reviewing girlie magazines in the woods. I like the poem particularly for the motherly way one of the boys attends to his baby brother, retrieving the child's pacifier and cleaning it when it falls from his mouth. That alludes to breast anyway, but of course "the turning / of the pages began, ceremoniously exposing / thigh after thigh, breast after beautiful, / terrible breast ..."

And in "Late October" Laux late at night drives scrabbling, yowling cats from her driveway, "a broom handle slipping // from my hands, my breasts bare ..."

Monday, December 26, 2005


I have titled my latest poetry notebook:


Saturday, December 24, 2005

gay marriage in 101 Dalmatians

When Mr. Dearly marries Mrs. Dearly (her maiden name is not given) they move into a house together with their dogs and the nannies they grew up with.

"Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler met and, after a few minutes of deep suspicion, took a great liking to each other. And they had a good laugh about their names.

"'What a pity we're not a real cook and butler,' said Nanny Cook.

"'Yes, that's what's needed now,' said Nanny Butler.

"And then they both together had the Great Idea: Nanny Cook would train to be a real cook, and Nanny Butler would train to be a real butler. They would start the very next day and be fully trained by the wedding.

"'But you'll have to be a parlourmaid, really,' said Nanny Cook.

"'Certainly not,' said Nanny Butler. 'I haven't the figure for it. I shall be a real butler -- and I shall valet Mr. Dearly, which will need no training as I've done it since the day he was born.'

"And so when the Dearlys and the Pongos [the dalmatians] got back from their joint honeymoon, there were Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler, fully trained, ready to welcome them into the little house facing Regent's Park.

"It came as something of a shock that Nanny Butler was wearing trousers.

"'Wouldn't a black dress with a nice frilly apron be better?' suggested Mrs. Dearly -- rather nervously, because Nanny Butler had never been her Nanny.

"'You can't be a butler without trousers,' said Nanny Butler firmly. 'But I'll get a frilly apron tomorrow. It will add a note of originality.'"

The first illustration of the book shows Mr & Mrs Dearly walking arm in arm, followed by the two dalmatian dogs with Nanny Butler & Nanny Cook bringing up the rear, Nanny Butler in her jacket with tails, striped trousers, and a frilly apron, her hair pulled into a bun, Nanny Cook in a dress, round glasses on her face which she turns to Nanny Butler. The chapter title, which seems to act as caption to the drawing: "THE HAPPY COUPLES"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain"

What with the opening of the movie version I figured I wouldn't be able to find Annie Proulx's short story in the library. The New Yorker, the magazine in which the story was originally published, briefly had it posted on their website but it looked long and I'm not much for reading long on the computer.

I searched the library catalog and discovered Still Wild, an anthology of short fiction set in the West edited by Larry McMurtry. McMurtry wrote the screenplay for Brokeback.

The story is a bit muckier than the glistening cleanliness of the movie, "The room stank of semen and smoke and sweat and whiskey ..." But there's not much that happens in the movie that isn't already in the story. Some scenes are fleshed out versions of the story's summaries. "[A] short dirty fight" is all the description Proulx gives but the movie has Ennis punching the driver of a pickup which has just avoided running him down, the driver getting out and putting in his own series of punches.

My favorite scene, where Jack & Ennis have been carrying on this semi-annual affair of the mountains for twenty years and they finally have an are-you-being-faithful-to-me moment, is in the story almost word for word what you hear in the theatre. When I said that to Kent he asked, "So what does Ennis say?"

Ennis, as depicted by Heath Ledger, is a mumblemouth. He's getting lots of critical praise for his performance. But I liked Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack better. Or maybe I just liked Jack and didn't like Ennis.

When Jack suggests they go to Mexico, somewhere not so damn cold as these mountains, Ennis gets suspicious. Maybe Jack has gotten same Mexico tail? Boys? "'I got a say this to you one time, Jack, and I ain't foolin'. What I don't know ... all them things I don't know could get you killed if I should come to know them."

"foolin'" and "killed" were, I think, the only words I caught in the theatre.

Nice to see Jack not put up with this shit. "'I'll say it just one time. Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life.'"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

another excerpt from Kafka's diary

He feels more deserted with a second person than when alone. If he is together with someone, this second person reaches out for him and he is helplessly delivered into his hand. If he is alone, all mankind reaches out for him -- but the innumerable outstretched arms become entangled with one another and no one reaches him.

[Rereading this I decided I'd miscopied some of it, so I just took the liberty of making a couple corrections. Makes more sense now. Hope it's accurate! Aug 26, 2013]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Conduct Unbecoming & Family Values

I was reading Conduct Unbecoming the other day. The narrative is right now in the early-mid 70s. The movement for gay civil rights is having amazing success, toppling sodomy laws, an out gay man speaks at the Democratic convention, even a few antidiscrimination laws are being or are about to be enacted. Gay service members are fighting back and up to this time the fightingest they got was fighting the accusation that they were gay -- not, as Leonard Matlovich did, because they were gay and deserved to stay in the military. The justness of the cause was self-evident (still is) and all it took for some to get it was to have it pointed out to them.

I have Conduct Unbecoming at home. The book I have on my desk at work, which I carry off to read at lunch, is Family Values, a nonbiological mother's fight to get the state (California) to allow her to adopt her lover's biological child, a child the nonbio mom has helped raise since birth. The narrative takes place in the early 90s. But at one point the author recalls being a schoolteacher in 1977 when Anita Bryant led her "Save the Children" crusade to kill an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida, and her terror when the following year the Briggs Initiative was placed on the California ballot. The Briggs Initiative would have required the firing of all homosexual teachers -- and any nongay teacher who protested.

I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, trapped in the 70s between unrealistic optimism and crushing pessimism.

Well, Dade County has an anti-discrimination ordinance again (enacted in 1998) and it even survived a repeal vote in a general election. The South African Supreme Court today told the government it has to rejigger the laws to allow gays to marry (being as discrimination against gays is explicitly prohibited in the new South African constitution) -- though in typical courtly cop-out fashion it gave the government a year to change the laws. Meanwhile by two to one margins in state after state here in the US voters go for family-attacking anti-marriage laws that purport, as Bryant did, to "save" something, the sort of saving epitomized in such warisms as "we had to destroy the village in order to save it."