Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Dancing to the Handsome Family

We're at a wedding south of Santa Fe.
We're drinking champagne and a man
asks the father of the groom if we're
to thank him for the dinner last night.
No, he says. That would be Bob and Barb.
This, he says, leaning his champagne
glass over a little, is me.
The wedding band is the Handsome Family.
A husband and wife who live in Albuquerque.
Let me tell you friends, I am much
in love with Brett and Rennie Sparks.
Who else would sing of tuberculosis,
warm and/or frozen beer, the death
of passenger pigeons, alcoholism,
the murder of a giant and wild dogs
leaping over abandoned tires, who
else would sing these beautifully
macabre songs at a wedding? The bride
wore a dress that had ribbons at
the shoulders, and those ribbons
blew over and touched the arms of the groom.
They were married under huge cottonwood
trees and we danced on the lawn as the
sky grew dark and the outdoor swimming
pool glowed its emerald waver, we danced
to those slow songs and when the encore was
done a woman asked me to help with
her dress. She wanted it undone. As I
undid the knot she slipped off her shoes
and hurled herself into the pool. So I followed
her in, still wearing my white shirt.
And soon we were all in the pool and
the groom floated amongst us holding
a white napkin to his nose, for someone
had broken his nose during the diving in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Camping in Bandelier

We hike into the deep valley of cedar
bushes and cottontail rabbits. There's
a Mexican spotted owl. Now the tall
Ponderosa pine. At night we hear the
high artificial screech of a posse
of coyotes. The fire dying low. We've
grilled tilapia and corn still in their
husks and tuna with corn tortillas
and green salsa and roasted chili
peppers. We eat with a flashlight
propped on a roll of paper towels
pointed down at the food. We found
two pots and a frying pan outside
a closed thrift shop and we're using
those. Stars, bright Mars. We heard
an explosion and today drove past
Los Alamos National Laboratory. We
pass roadsigns names Bikini Atoll
and Oppenheimer. We're on our way
to Jemez Springs.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The adobe abodes of Santa Fe

We walk through the oldest house
in the USA. The broken wood in
the rafters, the swollen chimney in
the corner. A table made without
a nail. The thick walls, the brick
inside the wall. There's a sample
brick. Later we walk past a five foot
hand grenade painted brilliant gold with a
bright red pin. Hand grenade reminds
me of migraine, and perhaps a migraine
is a hand grenade of the mind.
Someone says, I was too drunk to
walk home so I drove. A bumper sticker:
If you eat youre involved in agriculture.
At night the El Rey swimming pool glows like
a liquid emerald. The high stars.
After an early, disappointing review,
a friend told Georgia O'Keefe that
the critic was writing not about her
art, but his own autobiography.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We land in Albuquerque

and rent a blue Chevy Malibu. We drive
it north along the Turquoise Trail.
The sun flares off the road signs.
The dark green shrubs of New
Mexico. The hills that seem
poured out yesterday. A rusted
metal bull with the letters M W
outside of Madrid. How many Madrids
can a man with the initials M W
walk down? I remember
passing through Biscay Bay in
Newfoundland, and the swim in
San Sebastian's Bay of Bisquay
just a few weeks before.
Both probably on the same latitude.

Five days in Woody Point

There was the hike over the loose
pink rock to the sea. The waves
driving in hard but we stripped
off and ran in and I thank the
four of you who ran in after me.
Also thanks to Dave who yelled
at me to come in out of it, as
I wasnt aware of the undertow.
I'd like to thank the man in the
pick-up who stopped and drove me
home. I'd been at Clyde's until
six in the morning. That was when
the three skinniest arses in Woody
Point walked down to the wharf
and dove in. Who knew you could
hear songs sung without a guitar
for four hours straight? Thanks to
Andre who caught the mackerel and
roasted them on the fire out by
Middle Brook cabins. And to Barb
who fed us pasta and scalloped
potatoes and to Clyde for the pea
soup and the story of him reading
my book in Goethe's garden. I thank
those who took the warden to the
top of the tablelands while I poached
fish in Trout River. One of the
above things is not true.

Monday, August 22, 2005

J&L Convenience, Small Point

I've been wearing a trucker's
cap all year from J&L Convenience,
Small Point, Newfoundland. It's
the one on this website where
I'm befriending the pony from Cupids.
I found the hat in a restaurant in
Carbonear. I'm on my way to Broad
Cove and realize I'm driving
through Small Point. So I keep my
eye open for J&L. And find it. I pull
in. I put on the hat. I walk in and get
a case of beer from the walk-in
cooler. I square up to the cash
and the woman behind the counter.
I've been wearing this cap, I say, all over
the world. Whenever I've got a small
point to make I touch the cap.
I've worn this cap in Australia and Hawaii
and at bullfights in Spain and in
London and at readings all across Canada.
I'm here to tell you, I add,
that advertising pays.
Oh yeah, the woman at the cash
says. She punches in the price
of beer. So will this be all?

The Lundrigans and the Coffeys will Render Assistance

About ten years ago I camped
on the beach at Angels Cove. So I
drive down there again. But the
road is washed out, so I back
it up and try to pull over to
the grass beside the steep incline.
I lurch the car into the ditch.
It's a brand new rentacar and, in the
insurance-refusal box I've
read these words: FULL VALUE.
Three kids come up from the beach.
A girl of nine looks at me as
I'm feeding slate under
the front wheel for purchase.
That's not a good place to get
stuck, she says.
She returns with her grandfather
on a red quad. He looks at the
front of the car. She's brought up,
Gus Lundrigan says. I'll get
the young feller in his four by four.
The young feller arrives
in the pick up. And they winch me
up. They are careful with plastic
bumpers and brakelines and they
shout at the fact they make new
cars now with nothing to hook onto.
Even the nine year old girl is
distainful of the new automobiles.
They are wearing white shirts and
with the rocking and spinning tires
and the winching, I've got them
covered in mud. But I'm out of the
ditch. Now park that, Gus Lundrigan
says, up by mother.
And it's the great-grandmother,
Mrs Coffey. Four generations
of the Coffeys and the Lundrigans
have pulled out this foolish
traveller who wanted to camp on
the beach of Angels Cove. Not a
scratch on the car. I thank you.

Cape St. Mary's

The gannets sound like a fan with a
catching part, some kind of rotating
sprocket. They are louder because of
the fog. Perhaps their mates have a harder
time finding them. Cape St. Mary's
is the animal kingdom's Manhattan.
Sheep with lambs, the lambs have long
tails. They really jab at the udder of
the mother. They knead it.
Swimming in a pool in Red Head River.
Getting out along a gravel bank.
I can hear the falling gravel under
water, the sound comes through my third
vertabrae, but not my fourth.

What I write on

In this tent I write with a pen in
a black, unlined journal. Room enough
for illustrations. I'm posting blog
entries at public libraries
all around the Avalon. So no, the
quad-man did not see my little ibook,
as I have no ibook. Perhaps the
present tense quality of this blog
makes you think I'm writing it as
it happens, rather than recreating
the as-it-happens feel.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Camping at the end of the world

have camped near the lighthouse at Cape Race.
This is a gorgeous mysterious road. Dirt roads
are. Just east of Mistaken Point. Overcast,
windy. Tent looks good with its full rain
fly. Bought peaches at Bidgoods. A half hour
of scouring the beach yields an armload
of driftwood. Caught two small
trout, they appear red.
A quad comes down, man with ten year old son.
Fierce blue eyes. A yellow lab in a box
on the back. Case of beer bungie corded to
the front. Going down to give the dog a swim.
Fetch a stick. Youre roughing it, he said.
As they motor on I think, good luck finding
a stick.
When I'm up past the bridge fishing, with a
bit of land as a buffer, the sea sounds like
someone is moving furniture.

Your thought on the new cover

The Big Why is now out in paperback
with a brand new spanking cover.
Reader, what do you think.
Just to include everyone,
I will ask, "Reader, what
do you think?" Hey my fingers
remembered where the inverted
comma key was. So the cover
is right there to the right
of all these postings. I realize
now it's slightly green. Someone
told me, perhaps they are insane,
that green covers dont sell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The start of a week in Newfoundland in a Tent

I wake up in my thin tent and walk
out to the unmanned lighthouse
of Gallows Cove, near Brigus. A
trapskiff named "Ashley's Pride". A lone
humpback seems to surface for five
breaths then descend for 48 minutes.
In Spaniard's Bay grocery store -- refrigerated
no-name "lunch boxes" containing sliced
bologna, sliced cheese, crackers, and
four chocolate fingers, $1.99.
Gas is 102.8, still sold in cents.
Hundreds of cents. It's the only product
that sells for tenths of a cent. One
place can only post 04.8, implying
the 100. The blueberries are pickable,
but you have to sort through a bunch
of white ones. It's amazing how small
you can make your car by putting it
in park and walking away from it.
A sparrow enters the corridor of
lower branches.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Since Madrid a cage

Since Madrid. It was put up
while we were in Madrid.
A boxy cage on the outside
of a window. Second floor. The
cage extends up and then over
the brick about nine feet. A ferret,
a cat, a bird? What could use
a cage like that? We are waiting
for an animal to arrive.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Five Hour Window in London

We were standing outside the
Prado and realized we didnt
have enough time to go in.
So we were thirty feet away
from the Goyas. The first leg
is Madrid-London. Our connecting flight
at Heathrow is delayed. We
have a five hour window.
What would you do. I looked at
a cash machine and withdrew a
hundred pounds. We took the
underground for six pounds each.
It is thinly used now. We
get out at Hyde Park Corner,
that's as far as it goes
since the bombings. We jump on
a tall red bus. It crams
itself towards Picadilly. There
are bicyclists. London, since
the bombs, has turned into a city
of bicyles. We call a friend and
meet her at Cafe Boheme on Old
Compton Rd. We eat outside. A man
is slowly walking with a cameraman
in front of him and a man in
front of the cameraman leading
him safely down the street (he
has looped a finger through the
back of the cameraman's belt).
There are heavy gadflies
that bumble into our hair. We
order a cold white wine and
onion soup and duck with roasted
pumpkin and a lemon tart with
coffee. Eighty-two pounds. Then
jump in a black taxi to lurch
us back to Hyde Park (past
Nelson's Column and the National
Gallery -- no time to check
out the El Grecos and Cezannes).
At our gate we're bumped up
to Super Affaires with fifty
pence in my pocket. The long
flight home reclined with champagne,
beef, iceberg vodka, your
own personal DVD player, eye blinds.

A Note on Gay Commas

Gay being, of course, the updated
term for inverted. All right, today's
lesson is in direct speech, dialogue,
quotation marks. Quotation marks
are loud and jabby and indicate
in a forceful way that a character
is talking:

"Let's wrestle naked on the beach," he said.
"Okay, my shirt tails are tucked out already."
They hurtled themselves through the surf
and no one lost an eye.

If I write the same thing without
quotation marks:

Let's wrestle naked on the beach, he said.
Okay, my shirt tails are tucked out already.
They hurtled themselves...

This has a quieter look on the page. It
reads more like observed or overheard
dialogue. It reads like a diary or notes.
It's almost whispered. There's an intimacy,
the reader is on the beach with the

This diary feel also pertains to the
apostrophe. I'm reading Truman
Capote's letters, and
he often omits apostrophes. It feels
casual, less published, more intimate.

I do hope youre all eating the
fresh ontario corn.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Note on Punctuation

My editor smothers me in letters
from angry readers who deride the
copy-edit on The Big Why. She yells
at me softly. She knows I cannot take
punishment. Dear readers of punctuation,
all the missing apostrophes are my
own doing. I fought for them. I have
a small drawer in the side of my desk
full of the black marks. Bags of them.
I just decided one day, what's up with
this symbol that tells the reader of
a contraction. That two words have
been sandwiched and a letter or two
left out. Why do I have to remind the
reader of this grammatical omission.
Okay, you say, fine. But what's with
some words having an apostrophe and
others not? This is how I decided. If
a contraction does not alter the word's
meaning (don't becomes dont) then I'll
leave out the apostrophe. If the word,
though, becomes another word (I'd becomes
Id) then I'll leave it in. Also, if the
word looks too clumsy (Theyll) I'll
leave it in. So there's a list of words.
Dont, havent, shouldnt, couldve, oclock.
They are spelled consistently (well, in
the paperback soon to arrive it's
consistent). I'm sorry if this is a
pain to the eye. I hate eye pain. But
other writers do it: look at
Cormac McCarthy's new book
No Country For Old Men. Same with
omitting inverted commas. Which is
another reason entirely. I can yam on
about that too, if you wish. But please,
let's have a vote. Who out there didnt
mind the omissions. And who among you
threw the book out the window and wrote
a letter to Anansi, to chastise them

The Box Kite Clotheslines lead us to San Sebastian

We take a train north to San Sebastian.
Clotheslines like box kites. Green
flat rivers. We drink canas of beer and
the rioja wine and end up on vodka con limon
while our bartender in the bar carriage
performs little feats of magic with toothpicks
and light coins. There's a Mexican with a
groove in his skull from a jealous .38.
We arrive in the dark and find a pensione
and eat fried mushrooms and sit on empty
aluminum kegs of beer in a tapas bar.
The city has three bridges and we walk
over them zigzagging towards the sea.
We hit the sea. It's three in the morning
and I run down to the sea, unbuttoning
my shirt. The woman with the broken arm
is unravelling her sling and tensor
bandage. We fall into the dark surf. There
are other writers with us but I can't
name them here for we are all naked and
drunk and wrestling in the wet sand.
Fortunately no one thinks to click a
camera. The black sea and the hovering
green Jesus of San Sebastian lording
over us.