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Born on the Cusp

Born on the cusp
between two worlds

he never looked back
except with sadness

nor reminisced
but under pressure

from sons and daughters
eager to learn his source.

He kept that world
of loves and wars

tucked tight away
in his heart’s attic

for the world of his now
was challenge enough

without memories
of one that was no more.

k

Me and My Shadow

There is a man who lives not far from me. He is a quiet man.

Though we’ve met dozens of times, we’ve exchanged perhaps a hundred words, with a “Hey,” a nod, a “Howzit?”, or a wave encompassing our friendly, albeit distant, relationship. He drives a truck, likes to keep it clean, and rain or shine, he would take Rocco—his muscular doggo of high spirits and indeterminate heritage—out on their daily walk around the neighborhood.

For the past decade, Rocco was his constant companion, his shadow, so the day I saw him without Rocco, I knew something was wrong. A mutual friend informed me that, yes, Rocco had passed on a few days prior.

The next months were difficult for this man. His usual reserve was magnified. Meeting him at a gathering at our mutual friend’s place, his standoffish nature was pronounced, as if the company of others was almost painful. His grief was visible, and my heart ached for him.

Last week, I saw him again. He seemed more lively, younger even. He stood taller, and there was a spring in his step.

I waved. He waved back.

“Got a new pup!” he said.

“Wonderful! That’s very good news.”

There are pets, and then there are pets. Some are just a furry member of the family. Others, though, are true companions, and we are bonded, invested, tied to one another.

My wife and I have had a few pets—dog and cat—that never really bonded with either of us, animals that always strove for dominance or remained frustratingly aloof. We loved them, sure, but every day with them was a reassessment of the hierarchy, a test to see whose will was strongest, or simply a fulfillment of duty and need. Others, though, were different; we knew, without doubt, exactly whose pet it was.

Portia is definitely my cat. She follows me room to room, looks to me for treats, comes to me for snuggles and scritches. To her, my wife is merely a backup source of food, warmth, or even (in extremis) cuddles. I know I will outlive this cat (well, I certainly hope I will) and, like Rocco’s owner, I’ll feel the loss terribly when she’s gone, but having her in our lives is so much better than not having her here.

She is my shadow, even in the dark of night.

k

Editing Power

Editing is hard.

Editing a work you love is very hard.

Editing a work you love and that carries great personal weight is more than very hard. It’s an emotional maelstrom, pulling you deeper with every pass, dragging you farther into the vortex of its intensity, capable of drowning you at any moment.

And poetry—my poetry—carries great personal weight.

Which is why I’ve been a spiritual shipwreck this week: I’ve been editing a collection of poems and vignettes, gleaned from my writings of the past two decades (and a bit more). Some of them have appeared here; many have not. All are, for me, distillations of power, and each one—be it a three-line haiku, a twelve-line sonnet, or a 43-line piece of free verse—is surrounded by a nimbus of context that exists only in my heart.

Nothing I write can be as powerful to a reader as it is to me. This is the nature of writing: it is an imperfect means for the transference of memories and emotions and thoughts, but it’s the best means we have. Naturally, you do not know why I wrote a particular poem, but I certainly do, and editing it, reading it over and over, even if it’s only a check for proper capitalization, even if it’s to ponder a comma at line’s end versus a period, I must perforce relive the moments, the weeks, sometimes the years that surround that poem’s inspiration, which means I must also relive the grief, the joy, the anger, the frustration, the ineffable beauty that I hoped to have captured in the amber of my words.

Despite this psychic exhaustion, I’m chuffed about this little project, as it is, in some ways, a turning point. Where I used to present myself solely as a writer of novels, this is my way of acknowledging that, as a poet, I’m not displeased with my work, and that, in this regard at least, I’m still growing as a writer.

Proofs will come in tomorrow’s post and I’ll get a chance to see how well my editing and layout skills have served me. I’ll also get yet another chance to read—this time with a proofreader’s eye—the four dozen pieces I’ve chosen for this collection.

And then, most likely, I’ll sit in the evening’s fading warmth, sip some wine, and think of something new to write.

Already, I have some ideas.

k

A Font of Good News

I’ve been yearning for some good news because, let’s be honest, it’s been a week of achingly bad news.

Hurricane Ida, on steroids from climate change, ravages the southern and eastern seaboards. Misery stalks the streets of Afghanistan. Massive wildfires burn in the Sierras, spreading a smoky pall of devastation. The “Texas Taliban” imposes their own flavor of sharia law (it might be a different holy book, but it’s the same playbook). And the moral incongruity of preferring to commit assault rather than wear a mask, and preferring to take a horse dewormer after contracting COVID than to take a proven vaccine beforehand, continues to the march across our nation.

Personally, I’ve been swinging between depression and white-hot outrage, all with a big side serving of helpless futility.

To counter this (and to stay relatively sane), I’ve been focusing whenever possible on pleasant things.

One of those is the font called Doves Type.

Continue Reading »

Toward the Past

It’s been a week of retrospection, and I mean that in the most literal sense.

We spent most of our week going through old papers—letters, receipts, documents, and such—searching for the most important ones to put a fireproof box. This was our way of jump-starting the Big Adulting task of writing wills, issuing powers of attorney, and all the other things attendant to, well, to our inevitable death.

Naturally, as happens when rummaging through one’s past in this way, we come across a lot that was not what we were looking for, and I mean a shit-ton of it. But for every time I found a manual for an appliance we no longer have, purchased with a now-defunct credit card, issued by a bank that collapsed a decade ago, I also found a photo of my brother in Mali, a 1946 letter from my great-aunt, a receipt for baguettes from the boulangerie around the corner from our Paris walk-up, a love note from my dad to my mom, or a ticket stub from the night I took my girlfriend to the movies in Jerusalem. None of it will mean anything to my heirs (presuming I have any), but for me, each item carries incredible weight.

As I hold that old Oyster Card, I hear my panting breath as I climb the stairs to hear Big Ben strike the noon hour. Picking up that acorn, rattling in the bottom of the cardboard box, I’m hit with the unseasonable heat of Gettysburg in October, surrounded by the humid scent of wild onions as I walk beneath the oaks of Devil’s Den.

It was a long journey, this week, due to the many, many side trips we took while digging through banker’s boxes filled with, okay, filled with a lot of junk, but also a lot of our collective past. I found things I’d merely forgotten about, but I also found things I’d never seen, items turned over en masse by my folks or accreted from their estates; like my 3rd grade school photo, the one with me making a Calvinesque goofball face, the one that pissed off my mother something fierce, the one on the back of which my dad jotted a hidden note: “This is Kurt. He’s smart as a whip, and I have trouble keeping up with him.” When had he written this? And to whom? And why had he kept it so long? And why had he never expressed this thought to me?

These boxes seem filled only with musty paper, small trinkets, and fading photos, but in truth, they’re filled with love, joy, grief, anger, wonder, and history. Should the tragedy of fire strike our home, they’ll not survive—only birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills, deeds, titles, and passports will have that honor—but even if I had a fireproof box the size of a two-car garage, I don’t know that I’d protect them there.

They are my history, sure, but like me, they are transitory, incapable of permanence beyond the time circumscribed by my birth and my death.

And perhaps, this is the way it should be.

we are
ephemeral
mayfly deities
standing at the verge
in sight of the distant shore
ready to leap

k

Plan B: Eff It

I’ve had my time on stage: as a musician in large groups, as a conductor, as a soloist. Thankfully, most of my performances received applause and appreciation, but I’ve had my share of jeers, sniggers, and marks low as well as high.

The greatest accolade, however, the most palpable roar of approval ever sent my way, came the day I was wearing a tutu.

It was a lesson in adaptability, a case of accepting the inevitable and changing plans.

Continue Reading »

It may surprise some, considering past reviews posted here, that I deigned to read James Lovegrove’s Firefly: Life Signs, his fourth volume in the ongoing Firefly series, but I did.

I haven’t been shy with my disappointment in Lovegrove’s past entries (as seen here and here). In fact, my disappointment was so great that I didn’t even bother to review his third book in the series.

Thing is, though, it’s Firefly. I adore the show, the characters, the setting, the language. I’m a Browncoat for life, so I couldn’t not read it.

The book released just prior to this one, Generations, by Tim Lebbon, was an exceedingly pleasant change from Lovegrove, so it was disappointment layered upon disappointment when I learned that yet another Lovegrove entry was on the schedule. (FYI: the next in the series is not a Lovegrove title so, fingers crossed.)

With all that as prologue, I’m sure you’re asking: Why the hell is he reviewing this one?

The answer is two-fold.

First, Life Signs deals with a crucial bit of the Firefly canon: Inara’s terminal illness. As fans of the show, we knew about this part of Inara Serra’s planned story arc—plans cut short by the show’s abrupt truncation—so a novel that deals with that is worth exploring.

Second, this one wasn’t as bad as Lovegrove’s previous work. In fact, for most of its length, it was quite readable. (If you’re thinking I’m damning him with faint praise, that’s not my intent.)

The book is not without issues, but let me start with what works.

As Lovegrove demonstrated in previous books, he is able to evoke the pattern and rhythm of the Firefly ‘verse without reverting to caricatured patois. Rather than peppering us with g-less gerunds (e.g., fightin’ and stealin’), he leans more on the syntax and the language, which makes the dialog—and there’s a lot of it—much more readable. Once we read a few phrases like “I reckon . . .” and “Seeing as how . . .”, the g-less gerunds follow without us having to stumble over all those apostrophes. In other words, here, less is definitely more.

Moreover, his dialogue is exceptionally well-paced, which is good because, as stated, there’s a lot of it. Lovegrove successfully runs scenes of banter between three or four characters with ease, giving us just enough clues as to keep us straight on who’s talking without slowing things down. And though (once again) we have someone monologuing in the midst of a crucial action scene, this time it occurs during a brief lull so, while it’s not the optimal time for someone to explain their backstory, at least it’s not with bullets are whizzing by their heads.

The plot, while wholly improbable—and let’s face it, if you have an issue with improbable plotlines, you’re not a Browncoat anyway—is also straightforward: Inara is sick, and terminally so, but there’s a sketchy doctor who might be able to help, only, ruh-roh, he’s been incarcerated on a prison planet. (I’m not telling you anything that isn’t in the publisher’s blurb.) As expected, hijinks ensue.

The characters—canon and new—are pleasantly fleshed out. With the established characters, Lovegrove goes beyond what the series established, developing them and giving us emotional content that simply must be there, given the plot. (In this, I feel for the bind any author of these books must be in; the novels take place between the Firefly series and the movie Serenity, so with those as bookends, there’s only so much you can do.) For the characters specific to this novel, Lovegrove gives us sufficient context to understand the why of their actions, which was also a nice surprise.

However . . .

I’ve complained of this before, but Lovegrove is not great at world-building. I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine, and it will not bother many (possibly most), but when (on the first half-page) I read of an alien world that has cicadas singing in the mesquite trees, well, that just seems a tad lazy to me. Even if we stipulate that it was a barren rock that’s been terraformed, who in their right mind is going to bring mesquite seeds and cicada larvae across interstellar space? This laziness permeates the book as much as any of his others. [sigh]

Past the first few pages, though, Lovegrove hit his stride, and I sped through the book. Some of this was illusory, however, as most of the chapters were only two or three pages long, meaning that, with a half-page for chapter header and a half-page (or more) for break to the next chapter, there’s a lot of white space in the book. Well, it’s one way to make your book a page-turner, I guess.

There are clunky bits of writing, mostly due to his use of adverbs. I’m not averse to using adverbs, in general, but Lovegrove often commits Classic Error #2, using esoteric or tongue-tying adverbs. Mostly, it’s fine, but when I hit three words like “despairingly,” “understandingly,” and “languorously” within a single chapter (did I mention how short most of the chapters are?), my mental Adverb-Overload switch flips and I need to put the book down until I reset.

Sadly, though, it’s in the climactic final sequence where Lovegrove (as usual) face-plants. If this was a one-off issue, I would grimace, make mention, and move on, as I did in previous reviews of his work, but this has now happened in every Lovegrove book in the series: to wit, he shows either a stunning disregard or an unforgivable ignorance of how things work, whether it be scientifically*, practically**, or (in this case) both. I mean come on! Doesn’t Titan Books hire editors? Shameful, mostly because they are fixable errors.

In summary, did I like it?

It’s a quick and mostly fun read with a stumbling start and a flawed finish that deals with a crucial part in the life of a beloved Firefly character, so . . . yes, I liked it, in spite of itself. And I will grudgingly (see? adverbs) recommend it to fans of the Firefly ‘verse. It has the standard Lovegrove issues, but it did pull me in for most of its length and, at times, touched my heart.

k

*Newtonian physics and the laws concerning conservation of kinetic energy are tossed out the airlock as Lovegrove misapplies the Kessler syndrome (which deals with space debris travelling at high speeds in low-Earth orbit) to pieces of space junk that are stationary relative to one another. A nudge from Serenity on one rather small piece of space junk would not cause a cascade that makes every other piece of space junk, including much larger pieces of junk, to fly about like billiard balls on a pool table.

**In every aircraft (and, presumably, spacecraft capable of atmospheric flight), the steering yoke adjusts roll and pitch, the rudder pedals control yaw, and the throttle controls the thrust. Anyone who has flown a plane, played a flight simulator, or hell, just been relatively observant when watching film of someone doing the same, knows that if you pull back on the yoke, the plane goes up, and if you push it forward, the plane goes into a dive. In no aircraft does pushing forward on the yoke make it go faster; that’s the throttle. Different thing. Again, where are the editors here?

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