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Ward Abel poetry

These poems are excerpted from Ward’s new book, Little Town gods. Read a review of the book here.


Low Water

Outshoal slim
a black butterfly with
blue patches navigates
around our toiling
waning days under
ceiling fans, a world
non compos mentis
and in decline.

No use trying to convince
me against gathering
my own locusts
to combat the shade
crossing the Atlantic
from the left shoulder of Africa
every two dozen hours,
outshoal. Slow.

We hear October’s voice
though what she says
sounds scrambled in a star-
burst of clear blue dry
patches fall sky,
and it moves shallow
dragonfly ridge clear eye
and it moves.

Outshoal soul
dry rocks in a cloudburst
wild and scenic and under,
ground to nothing a powder
put in hot drinks
stirred combined ingested
and spat in a ritual
I’d thought we’d forgotten.

Meriwether County

The gray cotton three quarters above
is bolstered by pinkish lines that, way down,
meet the ground to the south of here
but coming this direction from Alvaton
and Greenville. There are words in the
burning bushes along 85, strong and low
and with authority; they speak from  rote
about boundaries and wrongs and truth
and things in hibernation. The Levites
cleared the way across 362 where churches
and dirt roads defy GPS.
Such is the me in it—scarred
to the point of smoothness, of negation.
Exactly unequal.  Perfect in opposition.
Blind in the vivid.


David Herrle reviews Ward Abel’s LITTLE TOWN gODS

Little-Town-gods-by-L.-Ward-Abel-Cover-1published by Folded Word, 2016
Order the book.

Compounded it with dust, whereto ‘tis kin. – Hamlet to Rosencrantz

OK. I’m just going to come out and say it: Ward Abel is to the Parker Posey of chapbooks. In other words, Abel is to the chapbook what Posey is to the indie film. I’m not sure exactly what I mean by that, but when I think it without thinking, it makes perfect sense. As much as I hate the term, Abel (like Parker) brings gravitas to whatever artistic work he’s involved in, and he’s one prolific fellow. As if his writing talent isn’t enough, this jerk also excels at musicianship and vocals in the band Abel, Rawls and Hayes (ABH)! His music is cousin to his poetic sensibility: both have a “down-home” patina over a hip sage brain.

What I marvel at about many chapbooks in general and Ward in particular is the power of brevity and the ability to do something much more difficult than saying too much: saying very little. The urge to say too much, which I’m cursed with, is often frustration with not being able to say enough about something (a feeling, a fear, love, an epiphany, sex) that’s ultimately language-evasive – quite simply beyond words. As I always say, only clichés can describe the indescribable, but those who refuse to cave in to clichés take a rougher, futile path, and their successful artistry lies mostly in their literary charm and innovation. Other authors, like Ward, describe the describable so uniquely and with such awe, that one wonders how much more unique and awesome the indescribable must be. (See? I just said too much. As usual.)

Little Town gods contains 15 poems, and almost each poem is no more than about 15 lines long, give or take a few lines. But by the end of the chap, one feels full, quenched with pure water rather than sugary, bloating soda. Again, this is the powerful product of talented literary brevity and economical composition. And, most important, the patience and coolness to avoid sweaty and blustery battles with the ineffable.

Some favorite lines and phrases:

“Going fast or leaving slow/gone is gone.”

“I apologize/for the language of idiots, but/never for the perfection of decay.”

“The red light on top/of the old folks’ high-rise/warns death to low flights…”

“This place/has always gone on/without me.”

“Where churches/and dirt roads defy GPS.”

“…walls still louder than the silence of brick walls still louder than the silence of brick…”

“Cold, windy/in the rearview I catch/a flash of old eyes./They reflect the journey./Because shoes never lie.”

“Enlightened, the pine shade makes the /priestly translate/with no words.”

“…the technology/of gods in whom all good things outlive/for others to exhume.”

To what revered literary stuff can such words be compared? Well, Joe Conrad, for one! Consider these few excerpts from his ever-quotable Heart of Darkness:

“[T]he silence of the land went home to one’s very heart – its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life.”

“I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, and perhaps was deaf as well.”

“The sea always is the same.”

“We live in the flicker…”

Ward isn’t a poet of today. He writes in a no-time where the present is already dust and the dust is alive with ancient presence. This lyrical and enviably understated but profound book is off the grid, overgrown with kudzu, loamy, Gautama-silent and patient, content – and amused – that it will be outlived and buried by a wordless wisdom and “the perfection of decay.”


Read two excerpts from the book here.

David Van Gough visual art

by David Van Gough 4Fridom Khalo-Infinito

by David Van Gough 3 ccNo Kind of Living

'80s HIT by David Van Gough
’80s Hit

WOULD THIS MONSTER MAKE THE MAN by David Van GoughWould This Monster Make the Man

RETURN OF ERIS OF TROY by David Van GoughReturn of Eris of Troy

Necrorealist painter David was born in Liverpool, England, and he moved to California in 2005. His works have been featured and included in a number of prominent exhibits, and he is one of the highlighted artists in John Borowski’s Serial Killer Culture documentary. Visit his official site.

Mitchell Grabois poetry


I knew the alphabet
and little else
(math mystified me
science and business were out)
so I decided to be a writer

the most refined kind
a poet
where the magic of my sick unconscious
could be gainfully employed
and I wouldn’t have to collect books
or think about anything

My lines made love on the page
heterosexual lines
one a pretty redhead with lots of freckles
one a black-haired man with an ugly tattoo

The redhead liked to fall for dangerous men
The tattoo guy didn’t think about the future

The redhead sometimes drank too much
and acted provocatively toward other men
when they were in dive bars

Tattoo got pissed
held her hard
by the upper arm
dragged her outside into the
cool, misting night
and slapped her

She was no pushover
She slapped him back
He punched her
She fell to the gravel
and cursed him roundly

A guy from the bar came out
He wanted to fuck Redhead
He stabbed Tattoo

The lines on the page turned from
black to red
Blood soaked my hard-drive
my computer crashed
harder than a virus

It’s tough being a writer
A little writer’s block would do me good

Photography by Jevgenija Bitter


leather bunny Jevgenija Bitter 1 ccLeather Bunny

ONdom Jevgenija Bitter 7ONdom

eni meni mini moJevgenija Bitter 2Eeny, meeni, miny, mo

underwater pleasures Jevgenija Bitter 3 ccUnderwater Pleasures

black rubber duck Jevgenija Bitter 4Black Rubber Duck

murrey Jevgenija Bitter 8

Jevgenija lives in London England and runs BitterEv Photography. Visit her site.

Visual art by Terry Bizarro

terry bizarro 5

Lana Gentry by Terry BizarroLana Gentry

Kristy Evans by Terry BizarroKristy Evans

terry bizarro 2

terry bizarro 4

Visit her Big Cartel page and Facebook page.

Nina Elaine Wingard poetry

Come Sit with Me

Come sit with me in the garden of my days.
Reflect upon the seeds already sown.
Reaping time is coming,
Surely I must have known.

I cast the seeds of life,
Then at some unknown hour,
Returned for the harvest,
Without the tending of each tiny flower.

I now see the disorder of my own mind.
While looking down among the rocks and vines
I realize the smallest star-shaped weed reflects
God’s own universe sublime.

Come sit with me in the garden of my days.
Reflect upon the seeds already sown.
The harvest is now upon me.
Is it possible to change a garden already grown?

Nina Elaine Wingard is a retired special education teacher who has worked with autistic children. An avid sports woman who taught her son to hunt, she is a rabid fan of the University of South Carolina football. Presently working on a memoir of her traumatic childhood, this is her first published poem.

David Herrle reviews Terese Jungle’s CHICKEN: A COMIC CAT MEMOIR

Cover_ChickenTheBook2published by t. jungle Design, 2016


Check it: I despise almost all books and movies about children or animals (though I adore both in real life). Screw Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig! Begone, Black Stallion! And I certainly don’t care for animals as central subjects of works of visual art any more than I look forward to seeing pet pics on Facebook. Luckily, I was turned on to Terese’s lovely and worthy book, Chicken: A Comic Cat Memoir, and I learned that a story about a cat can be much more than a story about a cat.

Presented via clever and unmistakable Teresean illustrations that include handwritten text and word balloons, Chicken tracks the autobiographical plot of a girl named TJ who used to be “very, very allergic” to cats, grew out of the allergy (or the allergy grew out of her), had recurring dreams of a green-eyed black-and-white “tuxedo tabby” and eventually adopted and adored just such a cat until her (the cat’s) death many years later.

One of the basic messages of the book is the grand miracle of fated intimacies. “[Those] destined to meet will do so, apparently by chance, at precisely the right time” goes a pertinent quote attributed to Emerson on the dedication page, though, for the life of me, I don’t know from which work it came – and I know my Emerson. Dovetailing this quote, TJ’s friend Mimi gives her some sage advice about how to go about acquiring the right cat: “[Y]ou have to wait for your cat to find you.”

Sure enough, TJ discovers one of a few stray cats outside of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and resolves to go from being a cured cat-activated sneezer to a full-blown cat owner. Eventually TJ names the cat Chicken. Yes: Chicken. Why? Because the cat makes a rare, if not unique, “bak” sound, which, thankfully, provides the central gimmick for the book’s title.

Terese seems to have an enviable effortlessness in her illustrating, but just when you think she produces clever images almost willy-nillyingly, with savant-like rapidity, something pops up that shows real careful design behind it all. In fact, I doubt that I could have managed to communicate so much, create such an effective mood and poignant autobiographical summary, so deftly. (I think Terese would kick ass telling a story on The Moth Radio Hour. I’d suck.)

Though comparing artists’ art to other artists can be quite tacky, I do so only out of respect and with full acknowledgement of the former’s distinction. Terese’s general work doesn’t allow for easy comparisons, so the best I can do is evoke the pithiness of Raymond Pettibon, the deceptive simplicity and fluidity of James Thurber (whose cartoons echo Picasso’s sketches), the weirdness of Edward Gorey and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, maybe even a little R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman.

Chicken also features judicious incorporation of photographs: Grandma W’s quilt, Grandma V, Chicken’s kibble coincidentally arranged as a smiley face, a desert campsite, former apartments, her daughter Ana’s drawings, a mouse killed by Chicken, and Chicken’s shrine.

Perhaps above all, Terese’s humor earns the book high ratings: from Chicken’s impossible use of human language to a psychedelic portrayal of a cat-nip high. When infant Ana grabs her tail, Chicken thinks or says “Mother? [H]elp. Me not toy,” and when someone mistakes her for a “bed lump” offended Chicken says “’bed lump’ indeed!” Dust bunnies in a closet are really bunnies in a closet; the sound a spring makes is “sproing;” Chicken’s first word of greeting before the adoption decision is “y’ellow;” and the very comic frame is broken by sound effects twice: when girl-age TJ sneezes (“ahchooo”) and when TJ’s premonitory dream cat gets very close and lets out a “meyow.” Even the vinyl albums strewn on the floor near a pregnant TJ are silly: Radiohead’s Kid Ana (instead of Kid A), Oleman Hawkins instead of Coleman Hawkins, and Mama Milk instead of Tigermilk, and Oddest Mouse instead of Modest Mouse.

My favorite humorous bit is when Terese’s habitual employment of asterisked footnotes is taken to an absurd level with the image of Chicken licking her own butthole, which is almost identical to an asterisk. “* not an asterisk” appears between two brackets, and a text emoticon says, via a word balloon: “OMC” (which, I assume, means “Oh my cat!”).

However, Terese’s humor knows its place, and it doesn’t ban life’s inevitable shadows with too much brightness. By the time Ana has grown into a little girl, Chicken gets sick: kidney failure and a tumor after 17 years of health and vibrancy. As deftly as a scene in an episode of All in the Family could go from zany to ultra-serious, the story takes a tragic turn, and I found myself reading through tears as Chicken is dying and TJ recalls the times when she could have been more vigilant and protective of her beloved pet. Finally there a heartbreaking goodbye scene: “Please…forgive me, dear cat,” TJ sobs as Chicken thinks “I’m ready to go.” Bravo to Terese for a masterful balance of Thalia and Melpomene, life’s joys and sorrows.

Of course, the book is full of inside jokes and anecdotes, and likenesses that are recognizable and dearest to Terese’s intimates, but the incidentals don’t gum up the book’s accessibility at all. Chicken has abstract worth, vibrates with universals: the age-old love between pets and humans, the sickening fact of mortality and how it forces tearful goodbyes out of everybody sooner or later, the episodic and migratory rhythm of life. The book also celebrates the peculiar and miraculous medium of comics, its visceral power and its attractiveness to people of all ages. Copies of Chicken should be sold on both children and adult bookstore shelves.

Are TJ and Ana found by another cat, one special enough to replace the great Chicken? Buy the book and find out.

“The Sixties” by Mathias B. Freese – excerpt from TESSERAE: A MEMOIR OF TWO SUMMERS


(Read the review of this book.)

Although John Updike called the Sixties a “slum of a decade,” each of us draws from the tree of life, savoring its juices idiosyncratically. For me 1968 and 1969 were memorable years in terms of pain, angst, high anxiety, acting out, being immature, growing, evolving, fucking up. It is very hard to consciously choose to grow up, much less be so aware that we can put it in those terms. It was my second childhood, having been infantilized by immature and undeveloped parents. I felt at the time that the period itself, those two magical and critical summers, served as a lactating cradle for me, and I suckled upon its teats. I am sure we all can remember when we acted as jackasses, and how we cringe when we reminisce about all that. At some point we must give up that judgment and just dwell in a deeper understanding of our behavior at that time and place. I was a child at 28 seeking, unconsciously, to be maternalized.

My sentimental haze for the Sixties, my nostalgia, is rooted in how the times let me down easily, allowed me to relearn primary lessons not provided earlier in my own childhood. I drank deeply at the well. Much like one’s first and indelible love affair, it is often seen through a romantic haze, always dramatically thrilling, always recalled tenderly, especially when it didn’t work out. I felt macerated at the time.

I believe I can say it in a sentence: Much of my life has been a search for someone to teach me. Can you identify within yourself such a need to want to learn for learning’s sake? I am still constructed in that way, except now I am both teacher and learner. I wish it had been otherwise.

I lived in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn in an era before the wave of Russian emigres came there and turned it into Little Odessa by the sea, before 1952, that is. It was a halcyon experience for me, for I knew the streets, lanes and courtyards about our rented basement apartment. I walked the neighborhood and I took early and deep drafts of the experience of being a young boy who is somewhat open to his observations and being. I recall a particularly lovely pussy willow tree in a courtyard which imprinted itself upon my memory forever. As I recall this, I must note that I actually took time to stare at the tree, to absorb it as best I could at that age. I take pride in that I was aware at some dark level that to see was part and parcel of awareness. I recall crawling under a house with my Irish chum, Farrell, a very exciting adventure at seven or eight. Joyce writes about the milieu and ambience of Dublin in his Dubliners, which I am reading now. It is the infatuation of childhood and early youth with place, sheer environment and the intimate and often subtle interconnections subliminally absorbed.

What is to be made of these “revelations?” I would often go to the local library across the way from the Tuxedo movie house on Oceanview Parkway just before the avenue turned to go into Coney Island with the cranky El above. It was here that in the summer a Mardi Gras strutted down the wide boulevard. Here I took down from the shelves Harold Lamb’s book on Robin Hood. I plunged into it, deeply, profoundly, as its narrative swirled about and within me. Not one of the movies about Robin Hood contains what I am about to relate. Later in the book Robin Hood is wounded and bled, which is a terrible mistake. Weakening, sensing his death upon him, he asks Little John to get his bow and give it to him. Lying next to a window, Lamb describes how this once physically powerful man who once could string his bow in one move with one hand, with one strong flex of the bow, like Odysseus, barely lifted it now and feebly shot an arrow through the window. It landed next to an oak, and Robin instructs Marian and Little John to bury him there. I believe the book ends with the bow draped across his marker with an epitaph. The death of Robin Hood told affectingly and with no schmaltz moved me deeply. I was very touched by the romantic sensibility of it all. I associate to Don Quixote and his library of romances. Something seeped into me and shaped an inner sensibility. I did not have that experience until the late Sixties when I allowed myself to be transformed. Oh yes, the cliché of the transformative experience – but it was.

Reading that book was like having my feelings kneaded by the powerful arms of a baker. I was touched, moved, sunk in regret and sadness, sorrowed, very sorry for Robin, hurt deeply by the reading of his death. The power of his epitaph, the bow and his last words gnawed at me in glorious Technicolor. So, as I look back, I see the Sixties as touching upon this early imprint at eight or nine, revivifying its capacity to let in, absorb, surrender, give in to, engage and be. It was an amalgam of a childhood revisited, of the conscious and feeling substrates within us all that carry a magical perfume that no manner of disparagement can damage.

Later in life, whenever I took that three-hour drive upstate and arrived in Woodstock, I’d go into a bakery that had loaves of bread of different kinds in the store window and buy a rich, luscious, thick slice of dark pumpernickel bread chock full of raisins and ask for a shmear and a cup of coffee dark, with two scoops of sugar, and I would park my carcass on a stone bench at the Village Green and watch the human flora and fauna pass me by. Before I drove back I’d buy a trinket for my daughter Brett. I see all this as an attempt to recapture the past, the rich past I had experienced in this upstate country town with no real defining real estate characteristics except for the people who inhabited it. (I could not let go.) I am deeply romantic.

During the summer of 1968, a year after the Summer of Love, Iris voluptuously came off the bus, and she appeared frazzled. The bus stop was in the middle of the town, next to the Village Green, and I was sitting there with my friend Hal, he was in his mid-forties, observing all the passersby and those coming off the bus. Iris was dressed in a summery white suit and she was in her forties, and very well-built, zaftig is the better word. Later did I learn from her, during a pseudo-date, that she was an editor. I believe it was Hal who initially went over to her and discovered that she was, in essence, looking to see “where all the action was.” In short, she felt she was missing something, as many people of her age felt. Honestly, they were missing something!

Hal introduced me to her with the idea I suppose that we might get together. He always had his devious sexual purposes. I had silly qualms about the age difference, which was perhaps 14 years or so, and he tried to disabuse me of that rigid thinking by sharing with me that women of that age did not have to worry about getting pregnant and that I didn’t have to worry either. In other words, for him, she was prime meat. (Hal was overly libidinous.) I set up a date with her at her home in Greenwich Village and was introduced to her hulking son who appeared to be in his twenties, a discomforting detail. I was neither aggressive nor assertive with her nor did we go to bed together. It became one of those casual Sixties experiences. It was a lost opportunity because of my immaturity. By 1970 I had married Rochelle, and it was the last time I heard from Iris over the phone, a call that I rushed, being newly married, awkward and trying to disassociate myself from her. Iris never called back. What did I know of savoir faire?

In 1968 I had stepped into “where the action was” by pure chance, a newly coined cliché of the time. It was a year before the Woodstock festival. Among many others coming off the bus, I intuited their anxiety as if they were left out of something larger than themselves. And here I was, a lucky and serendipitous self, sitting across the bus depot watching the stragglers from the urban jungle in search of a clean and well-lighted place. And with a slight smugness and a cat’s bewhiskered grin, I felt sated.  I, too, had experienced that particular anxiety.

In Woodstock time was an evolving movement for me, more of a metamorphosis than incremental. Everything I am writing now and will continue to write until I end this memoir bespeaks durational time, the dwelling within the moment, like Bedouins setting out with goats, wives, children, carpets and rolled-up tents, and camels, to reach another oasis in time, without rush, asynchronous.

This kind of time was shown me in several places and in several ways. The best example was at the Pink Elephant, a restaurant a little way out of town and generally the place to go for a hamburger. It had its handmade sign posted outside, above the doorway, and the wood was painted that bluish-gray that you see in the sea towns of Massachusetts. Years later, after 1969, when the turmoil had abated it was turned into a jeans-and-T-shirt store and it went through other incarnations after that. At the time it was preciously new and quickly becoming a hangout. Almost 50 years have passed and it probably is completely gone. It did not grab my heart, but I remember it much like we know where our local movie theater was in the Fifties. I visualize it now as the movie house in The Last Picture Show.

As usual I was alone, and Marlene, the married woman with whom I was having a crazed, fervid affair, was spending the summer of 1968 in an uncomfortable truce with her unaware husband downstate on the Island. We would resume the affair in the fall. I was mournful, hurting, depressed and lonely. After such an intense attachment, it was miserable for me to separate. I asked the waitress if I could have a hamburger and coffee and began to look about at all the young faces, sniff the scent of youth in heat and lust, full of desire and craving experiences. I waited for about 25 minutes, waiting as an urban man carrying city time within him. I became impatient. I called the waitress over and may very well have had annoyance in my tone when I asked, “Where’s the burger?” I was impatient then; I am impatient now. The only difference is that, thanks to the passage of time, I am now aware of this trait. Slightly looming over me and with languorous indifference, looking like the slatternly Patricia Neal in Hud, I recall the waitress say “Cookin’.”  I didn’t realize at the time because I was into all fuss and feathers about my meal that she had shared an essential axiom about Woodstock time and life. If I wanted to adjust to all this, I would have to experience what is durational as opposed to chronological time. It was a significant learning, one which I have with me now, as we are all expedited and rushed into the future, not realizing Faulkner’s comment that the past is the present and vice versa.

Whenever I think of the waitress’ reply I feel the Earth Mother wisdom in that: the beauty of delay, for delay has much that is beautiful to it. It is embedded in the fullness of time.  Often, in practice as a therapist, when a client was buffeted by choices and overwhelmed by competing priorities, I would suggest that another choice would be to delay. How could you beat that one? I had learned that in Woodstock.

With learning how not to use time nor to saddle it but to walk alongside it, I experienced an inward feeling, newly created, so that for a few minutes during the day I felt that I was going to sweetly burst – or molt. These were private moments alone in which I felt I was swelling from within in a very pleasant way which defies description. It was more of a profound nature than a sappy happiness.

It was a time in which, I believe, I was evolving, unknown to myself, more of a slow-awakening or a metamorphosis than an incremental experience. I felt at the time, when I had dim cognizance of who I was, that I might sweetly fracture from a transforming elation. I felt. I could not explain it. It was happenchance. After all, I had only rented my body for much of my life. Once I experienced a quasi-Joycean epiphany of a kind out in a pasture with a young man and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Mary, who I was beginning to be attracted to, not knowing until sometime later that she had prepared herself to leave him and turn her attention towards me. She was 18 and nubile, and I was 28. Her boyfriend at the time was playing his guitar as she was luxuriously draped over a stone outcropping, and at the apex of this triangle I sat feeling at one with everything. I felt peaceful. Congruent is the better word.

The bucolic and pastoral setting stirred within me an ineffable moment – and no more than that – of feeling at one with my disparate selves. I had been living a schizoid experience for the last five years or so. It is the condition of being in America: divided and divided once more – and once more to make sure. Most assuredly it was the consequence of a malignant benign neglect of poor parenting.

Woodstock can’t be reclaimed from memory. Memory can only afford a map of the place, a chain of personal, bittersweet and tender associations. Woodstock is a feeling in me. I recall in the crazed state I was in an expression of freedom, however minute, that had never been mine. I reveled in the drinking in of what was all about me, for I was much the observer and knew enough to keep my mouth shut when events were new or anxiety-provoking. I recall well the styles of the time: the beaded, intricate handmade necklaces and bracelets that both men and women wore, the extended pork chop sideburns, the flared bell-bottom pants and, on very rare occasions, Nehru jackets which were fast becoming dated. Hair was very long and in ponytails for some, or a kind of short bun for others, and celebrated in the musical Hair, which summed up the Zeitgeist of the period; women let hair grow on their legs and underarms, often cleansed with soap and water rather than deodorized. Middle-aged married women in Woodstock were “infected,” for the laissez-faire atmosphere and attitudes of younger women gave them dispensation to have affairs and ultimately unload their spouses. The middle-aged male spouses from downstate often went into a reel and wandered, like brain-dead wooly mammoths, into the local woods. [The best film on that is A Walk on the Moon.]I didn’t think that the marriages were moribund. In most cases, one spouse had not learned how to live while the other spouse was in bloom.

You have to imagine Woodstock: for a moment it was a temporary Shangri-La in upstate New York, across the way from the historic town of Kingston. Essentially something was happening and changing, and it riotously infected all those open to the “disease.” Freedom and open expression always are infectious. It was a time in which I remade myself. It was a time of remaking. I have never experienced it again in this culture since. Woodstock was the French Revolution, the first free efflorescence before it turned dark. It was a Romantic period.

The songs of the Beatles saturated the culture and were the symphonic score of the time. Inherent in the lyrics and jaunty music (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) was the esprit de corps of the young and the young-minded. Driving up the New York Thruway, crossing over the Tappan Zee Bridge, with my convertible top down on my 1964 Mustang (Woodstock on wheels, lucky me!), I often would hear the Beatles’ Bolero, the six-minute “Hey Jude,” on the radio. DJs often took a whiz during the song, for it was the longest song in recent vintage. That song became my musical tapeworm, difficult to get rid of, like a stubborn case of athlete’s foot. We all recall Dustin Hoffman as Ben in The Graduate, speeding over highways in his convertible (the wonderfully sporty1966 Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 Duetto) to get to his girl, the sophisticated and syncopated melody of “Mrs. Robinson” as accompaniment. So it was for me.

The summers of ’68 and ’69 created memorable songs that were the latent underside of my life. As they blared over the radio or played on my old phonograph, memories of my delayed affair, as well as the depressive state of mind I was in, made them connect to the states of my mind, and they have remained. At the time I would tear up, wallow in my sorrow, feeling sorry for myself, missing Marlene. I remember these tenderly now: “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “People Got to Be Free” by The Rascals, “One” by Three Dog Night, “In the Years 2525” by Zager and Evans, “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat and Tears, “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon, “These Eyes” by The Guess Who, “More Today Than Yesterday” by The Spiral Staircase, “Up Up and Away and Aquarius” by The Fifth Dimension, “This Guy” by Herb Alpert, “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, every song on  Wildflowers, “Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan, “One is the Loneliest Number” by Three Dog Night, “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, “The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’61, “Sunshine of Your Love, Cream” by B.J. Thomas, “Everyday With You Girl” by The Classics IV, “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies. You can choose to gag on these songs with unending nostalgia, but at the time they were something quite new to experience. I venture to say that the songs in these two years were the most memorable of the 20th century, much as 1939 has been considered the greatest year in cinematic history.

I was marinated in all that, polyurethaned so many times with this music that I glowed in the dark like good oak. For me, a product – and I mean product – of the repressed Fifties, the expectorate of the Eisenhower years, it was the clearest expression of how events of the times can change an individual’s life. I began to question authority. Indeed, it was a bumper sticker on my car, and I became subversive, a trait which had lain quiescently in me for years. I was becoming self-aware while I was very unaware of myself. (Krishnamurti described this state as the “awakening of intelligence.”) If you’ve experienced psychotherapy, very much the same process occurs. At the time I was in the soup of treatment, dog-paddling to stay afloat, no attainable shore in sight. And the siren song of change was all about me; it was the music of my sphere.

I can’t express exactly what was occurring to me internally, for it is unknown to me even now, so many decades later. I am left with nostalgic and sentimental rules of thumb I acquired, and they have been much revised. It is in the telling of it that I catch now and then, here and there, like  shagging a fly, a glimpse of what I was experiencing and what I was feeling then. Feeling is the critical word. I need to be felt, always have, still do, and I don’t mind because I am very aware of it. It is under mild control, and it is definitely not “being needy.” In the shabbiest cliché of clichés, the Sixties were about feelings, at least to me, a repressed and inhibited young man in his late twenties who had not lived his life nor had experienced his body or inhabited his own soul. Without knowing or understanding I was giving up my visceral body to Woodstock. Change begins in the body more than in the mind. When we learn to dance it is often hard because we are into steps rather than flow — when you danced in the Sixties you were successful if you surrendered your body. In all the old TV newsreels of Hippies cavorting in fields, not a deliberate step is visible, everything within bodily movements. My generation was stiff: “1, 2 3, cha, cha, cha” to the driving propulsion of Ray Peterson’s “Patricia.” I was learning to be expressive.

Sexually frustrated, unconsciously in search of an interim relationship to substitute for Marlene, and wanting to be cared for, perhaps mothered, and to care about – and needy, I stumbled about in Woodstock for two summers, often staying at my friend Hal’s house which he had purchased with another couple, the wife of which he had an affair with. I was caught in this imbroglio and naïve about what was swirling about me, and Naomi, my main squeeze at the time, became a victim of that. I stayed there on weekends or longer during the summer and became, in effect, a moocher. I didn’t see what was before my eyes – but why should I have? I had been blind since I’d learned to walk. I was a very unsettled human being, frenetic and frantic, uncomfortable with myself. I was lost, an ill-defined man-child. I lived within a cloud of unknowing. To be gracious toward myself, I can say that I was finding out or discovering other ways to be.

Images of people I met in Woodstock return. They are often more compelling than what words can describe; the word is not the thing itself. I recall driving the ragged and winding back roads of town, the ragtop down, humming and not making music on a harmonica I had purchased. As I look back, I see that it was to soothe my body and lower the stress I produced like sweat.  The sun came through the trees so fiercely that the long hood of the golden brown Mustang was dappled like an Indian paint. I’d strolled by the head shops with their paraphernalia, bong pipes, inlaid trinkets of Mexican stone (jasper, hematite, jade), Picasso stone, turquoise, onyx and agate, saturated in potpourri, comely vanilla, jasmine and such. These things didn’t appeal to me, for I still had that anti-drug attitude, and I also didn’t smoke, so the appeal of the counter-culture lay in its art and in communion between souls and that I absorbed whenever I could. After all, high grades in art and music classes got me into Queens College. Turn it around and I see my need for control, which has been a lifelong issue, kept me from experimenting with the drug culture.

At that time an artistic fad making the rounds in Woodstock was to make light boxes, colored lights that glowed and flashed randomly behind Plexiglas. Once I sat in on an auction with Hal at a local gallery, which offered an artist with his putty knife affixing layers and gobs of acrylic in varying strokes and swathes across a canvas. At the end he put the piece up for auction and Hal purchased it. What I was enjoying and slightly marveling at was the extemporaneous work of an artist at play. I found that much to my liking. I was becoming open to all this without judgment or opinion.

The village back then was an enhanced urban Disneyland still trying to keep its Sleepy Hollow status: the Pink Elephant restaurant, the mild-mannered bridge that arched ever so slightly over a garbage-tainted and scurvy Catskill stream, Tannery Brook, Tinker Street, the local haunts, the T-shirt shop operated by a gay guy and his buxom woman friend. I remember an unseen and unnamed band that played rock in the backrooms of a house that fronted the main street and whose music wafted for some distance. Of all the denizens of town, one young man stood out. Perhaps in his late twenties, he wore an all-black outfit and a flat Mexican hat with a short cape, no less (“Si, Cisco”). While holding his dog on a leash, like Bogie and Bacall going for a walk, he passed by and we never spoke to one another. I also remember that 10 years later on the same street I saw this man once more. Everything had changed. I had changed. But he was still in his black Zorro attire and walking his dog. He had chosen to fossilize. I was evolving, and I had moved on.

Woodstock was a country town which constantly reinvented itself. I don’t think the locals ever made their peace with it or the recent influx of hippies and urban seekers, although it had a century or more of artists coming there. In my wanderings about town I came across an artist in his fifties or sixties who had a charming home outside of town. His name was Arthur Zaidenburg, and he made a living creating a series of instructional art manuals to teach drawing to young people. His Anyone Can Draw is a classic art-instruction book. I also discovered in a leisurely summer talk with him and his wife that he also painted murals on the cruise ship Rotterdam, murals for the St. Moritz in Manhattan, and 100 motels in Miami Beach.

What was happening to me was that I was engaging interesting people for the first time in my life, people outside the limited scope of my experience. And I remember most of all a lovely floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace that another artist friend of Arthur’s had constructed in his home. Apparently it was a swap between them. I don’t know what the other artist received. It was this artistic, sharing attitude in which a kinship existed between the two men that I took in and cherished. “An artist is never poor,” writes Izak Dinesen in Babbette’s Feast. The concept that this artist employed was new to me: to surround yourself with all kinds of artifacts that reflect your interests, your loves, what tickles your fancy, so that your home is your nest. I do that all the time in my present world. A recent find at a consignment shop was a small bronze art nouveau frame from one of my favorite style periods. I spent time exploring the countryside, a patent symptom of my restlessness as I look back now. I met Edgar Pangborn, author of the cult fantasy classic Davy. At that time he was in recovery from a heart attack, and he had moved all his filing cabinets downstairs into the living room because he could not navigate the staircase. My talks with him, as I look back, were superficial because I was superficial. His niece, Mary, and I almost had a fling but I fucked that up as well. Pangborn died in 1976, and Zaidenburg lived to 88, having left Woodstock after 30 years to join an artist community in Taos, New Mexico.

Summers ’68 and ’69 were a tumultuous time for me. In the state of mind I was experiencing, what little inner-directedness I had was minimal. I was still mostly an external man, a living decal imitating a mature man. It is distressing – and horrifying – to realize how much I was a child. What had happened to my rearing to produce such a child? I had little or no rearing. I can be safely horrified now; at the time I had not enough insight to be self-horrified. So much hard-earned learning lay ahead. I had tasted of misery but nothing compared to the future death of a daughter by suicide and the death of a wife in a car accident that happened decades later. Whatever bile I secreted, it was infused with discontent and a vast feeling of being unknown to my very self. Oh, the years we “live” unwittingly and unknowingly of our own very selves. Discontent and depression consumed me.

I lived on Ash Avenue in decrepitly dull Flushing, and the aged superintendent could not properly attend to the building. I had separated from my wife and she returned home to her mother’s house with our daughter, Caryn. It was here that I had a surprise visit from Hal. Within a short amount of time, his motive became clear: “I am wondering if I could use your apartment one afternoon.” Dense as I was, I didn’t realize he wanted to fuck his latest conquest. Of course, I knew his wife, Estelle, and his two sons, for I had often stayed at their country house. In short, he was asking me to pimp out my home. The quiet between us was stifling, for I really didn’t know how to respond. I knew I surely didn’t like the idea of someone fuckin’ on my bed. I also knew that during WW II Hal had given his wife syphilis after one of his flings, all shared with a hearty “ha ha.” I should have severed our relationship at that moment. I didn’t have, upon reflection, the balls to do so.

Hal finally sensed my internal conflict and said a few words about my being uncomfortable with his request. I decided later that it was not something to ask a friend, and we left it at that. Indeed, in the years ahead I began to sense more and more conditions being laid down to remain his friend. As long as I knew him he cheated on Estelle, who was much the enabler, and she would eventually become suspicious and confront him. He could not change.  As I look back I see the dependency in our friendship, which was skewed: father me, teach me, show me the way, instruct me in the ways of the world. I never had a father, I had a sham body pretending to be my father, and Hal served as a surrogate, a tainted one at that, until I learned better and began to self-parent myself. (To self-parent one’s self is to wear second-hand clothing.)

At the time I was frozen. I couldn’t say what I was feeling so I would fall back into silence which is always ineffective. The other person had to decipher my code and make assumptions, if so inclined. This is child-like thinking. To access me you had to be a mind reader. Who wants that as part of a friendship or relationship? As I look back at Hal’s chutzpah and imposition upon me, I feel creeped out, and his apparently negative assessment of me encouraged him to make such a request.

As I merged into the late Sixties, this inability to know what I was feeling and then to articulate it to my satisfaction, had “improved.” I can say unequivocally that I did not come to awareness as a human being until the age of 32, when my psychological and emotional selves were as tightly fixed as subway bulbs in their sockets.

(Read the review of this book.)

Mikel K poetry

Mein Kampf

You better come back down
to Mars, where you started from.
You killed Anne Frank
because you lost the first war.
You shot yourself in the head
because they beat you.
No punishment would have been
great enough for you.
Fuck Adolph Hitler.
Fuck Adolph Hitler.
If a hysterectomy and a vasectomy
had gotten together
we wouldn’t have had you.

Mikel K is the author of several poetry and prose collections. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.