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old extracts by David Herrle

crave the craving – sharon tate and the daughters of joy – herrle

skinnered alive – sharon tate and the daughters of joy – herrle

this is what democracy looks like – sharon tate and the daughters of joy – herrle

unchained malady 5 – sharon tate and the daughters of joy – herrle

poetry by John Sweet


you alone in
the house of truths

the news of twelve soldiers
ambushed and slaughtered

the news of bodies being
set on fire and
dragged through city streets

and not the sun but

not warmth but
the memory of it

the snow melted and
the streets grey and the screams
of animals caught in traps

the blurred reflections of
strangers in the windshields of
empty cars

all of these words and all of
these images that refuse
to add up to anything more
than themselves but you still
have to stop and consider
each one

you still have to dig
until the bodies are found

it shouldn’t take
much longer than the
rest of your life

ash wilderness 

this little girl with wings
or this middle-aged man with
the bones of his wife locked in the
trunk of a shiny new car

these myths that are actually truths

the way pollock died so desperately

the way lee fell to the floor


and what is history but a
list of names written
backwards in the book of wasted days?

what are words but a
more hopeless form of violence?


i was never this frightened before
my children were born

was never filled with so much useless anger

and i keep coming back to this
eleven year-old girl who
disappears from her home
thirty miles east of here

i keep coming back to her killer

how he never told where her body was

how he laughed on
the day he was executed

not like anything was funny
but like he’d won

poetry by Jeanie Greensfelder

Jeanie is the author of Biting the Apple and Marriage and Other Leaps of Faith and I Got What I Came For. Visit her official site here.

Movie Night

We are seventh-grade girls — 
new bodies, new feelings — out Friday night,
walking to the movies with our dates.

Our boyfriends throw stones at street lamps 
and steal stem caps off tires. Girls giggle.
A man appears, and we all run.

At the theater, girls and boys pair up
for holding hands. As the film peaks,
the detective reveals the murderer,

and Dolores — oh that Dolores, 
who swears she doesn’t bleach her hair
even though we point at her black roots,

who grabs our chests in the restroom
and labels us oranges, grapefruit or fried eggs,
who dates dreamboat Brad—yes, that Dolores

exclaims out loud, Golly darn!
Everyone laughs, even though some of us,
like me, feel envy, wishing we’d been the one

to say something so perfect, knowing 
we will golly-darn at school like her fan club,
even though we hate her for being cute and clever,

five-foot-two, eyes of blue, even though
her eyes are black and match her roots.
After the movie we go to the schoolyard,

hoping for kisses under the stars,
but the boys chase each other, so the girls
ride the merry-go-round.

Between parallel bars, we run, make it spin fast
and jump on. Leaning back, we hold on
with our feet, heads and arms flying free,

the wind sweeping away
envy, budding bodies,
and boys.

She Dreamed of Shopping at Neiman Marcus until She Could 

 No longer a moth at the window,
she flew through the entrance.

Pierced by glares from salespeople,
she became a specimen on display.

After this out-of-wallet experience,
her attraction to glitter and glamour dimmed.

Yet, once again, she heaves open 
the store’s glass door letting sensory overload 

blur her vision. Though Siren women 
beckon from their beauty-for-sale islands, 

she escapes to the escalator
and catches herself humming

the canned music of the season:
Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

She stares at the rotating two-story 
Christmas tree and continues

her annual pilgrimage to return 
her mother-in-law’s gifts. 

Before this year’s cashmeres, she’d acquired
a $900 credit from prior holidays.

Not many people bank at Neiman’s.
She makes another deposit and leaves.


THE PARKS OF LONDON, GARDENS OF PARIS, AND US – a poetry suite by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Learn more about the late poet/humorist/satirist/Faulkner scholar here.

The Parks of London, Gardens of Paris, and Us

I: Mattering

With us lovers,
it’s not a matter of time,
rather a matter of us,
with time to make time matter.

II: Next New Address

Once again, you and I,
Sweet Linda,
On a Saturday night,
Seek deeply needed sleep,
Side by side,
From our shared adventures;
Only, this time,
The rest we quest is airborne,
As we fly west to east,
Eight and a half hours,
Forty-two hundred miles,
To our next new address —
The Stafford Hotel,
St. James’s Place,
London, England,
We Two.

III: Love-Expressions

Not one sound night’s sleep into our visit to England,
And the London Times Monday edition
Is running terrifying headlines, bylines, and sidebars
Decrying the opportunistic vandalism and arson
Unleashed by thousands of lower- and middle-class youths,
Fired up to full-scale anarchy, in Tottenham, Notting Hill, Acton,
Uncomfortably near our Mayfair and Westminster.

We tell ourselves, in the serene purlieus close by Green Park,
Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey,
That these metastasizing scourges of mindless depravity,
Of the same intensity as rampages of Dark Ages hordes,
Won’t reach us, nestled in the womb of England’s affluence.
But here in bed, though our intimacy insulates us from reality,
We almost can’t help wondering . . . almost.

For the next few days,
Using the same social networking the rioters rely on,
Our children, siblings, friends, work circles,
Send hurriedly texted words of fearful concern,
Inquiring as to our safety, praying for our lives —
Love-expressions which only heighten the passion
Of our tender, protective caring for each other.

IV: Sense of Ease

Whether relaxing, al fresco,
With a chicken sandwich or a bagel and cream cheese,
At the Fiori Corner restaurant, in Leicester Square,
Dining, by night, at Cecconi’s or Babbo, in Mayfair,
Navigating Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden,
Or communing with Green Park’s shadows,
We’re achieving a complete sense of ease, with London.
And even though we’ve only known each other’s smiles
A mere year and a half of sheer discovery,
It seems wherever destiny leads our lithe feet, eager eyes,
We’re already familiar with the destination.

V: England

Heading northwest, from cloud-mottled London,
Whose riots, though not touching us,
Are assaulting the world’s headlines,
We arrive at Warwick Castle, with our guide,
Enter the ruins of another tumultuous time,
And listen in on history’s cries,
Conscious that we’re treading on epochal soil.

Then we drive to Stratford-upon-Avon,
Stop at the Hathaway farm cottage, in Shottery,
Eavesdrop on Will Shakespeare courting Anne.
Standing in Holy Trinity Church’s chancel,
Clasping hands, we hear the playwright,
At the Reformation’s gory denouement,
Scratching, with quill pen, his stone’s epitaph,

Warning today’s youthful looting hooligans:
“Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare . . .
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.”
Back in our Stafford Hotel suite, after dinner,
We enter the serenity of our peace-seeking eyes,
Trusting that our love will change the future.

VI: Naming Spaces

Everyone should save a sacred, wondrous space, in his heart,
For a river, a castle, a storied town, a circular convergence of streets,
A park, a palace, and a soulmate to adore, immortalize —

The Avon, flowing past Warwick Castle and Shakespeare’s Stratford;
Piccadilly Circus; St. James’s Park;
Buckingham Palace, for the Changing of the Guard;

And a love like you, Linda — just as I’m doing, in my ageless heart,
As we trace the intricacies of London and the Cotswolds.
I’m calling my space Jubilation. What are you going to name yours?

VII: This Fabled Milieu

Each of our five peripatetic days together, here in London,
As we’ve strolled between Green Park,
St. James’s Place, and all the rest of the City of Westminster,

Have seemed to run backwards, like a sea of daydreams,
Into a timelessness yet to be transfigured
From the history of who we’ve just begun to become, here.

If we’re fortunate enough to assimilate into this fabled milieu,
We might discover our passionately entwined identities
Aligned with the myths of Lancelot and Guinevere

Or, if not, conjoined, in sweet, poetic harmony,
With Anne Hathaway and her theatrical bard, Will Shakespeare,
Perhaps Victoria and her abiding admirer, Prince Albert.

Whatever destiny is ours to assume, for now and tomorrow,
Will be ours, all ours, just ours, forever,
Whenever we relive our romantic epic of England.

VIII: Insatiable

Every day, this second week of August,
From our rainy-Sunday-afternoon arrival,
At unexpectedly unharried Heathrow,
To our sunny-Saturday departure, by Eurostar,
From crowded St. Pancras Station
(The two of us now bound for Paris,
Speeding, smoothly, beneath the English Channel),
We’ve walked, in hand-held wonder-step,
Over London’s Victorian-faceted streets,
Elated to be insatiable travelers insatiably in love,
Being what each moment’s energy makes of us.

Tout de suite, Gare du Nord arrives at track’s end,
And we’re weaving through narrow streets,
Then past vast mansard-roofed buildings
Lining spacious boulevards busy with summer,
As we edge closer, closer, to the First Arrondissement,
Place Vendôme, Rue de Castiglione,
Where it intersects Rue de Rivoli.
Stepping out of the taxi, at our hotel,
Staring straight into the leafy Tuileries,
We’re elated, for the second time in a week,
To be insatiable travelers insatiably in love.

IX: First Evening in Paris

Now, the City of Light’s twilight/dusk/night enfolds our hotel,
Just across the street from the myriad-peopled Tuileries,
In whose gravel-pathed, chestnut-tree expanses we stroll peacefully.

Within a kaleidoscopic focusing of astonished eye blinks,
We enter the enormous, obelisk-adorned Place de la Concorde,
Then linger atop its bridge, breathing in, deeply, the serene Seine,

Before walking along Rue Royale, past Maxim’s, to the Madeleine,
But not without pausing, embracing, gazing at the Eiffel Tower,
Whose sweeping beacon and gold-glowing reaches transfix us.

Soon, ten o’clock dinner flows, seductively, into Sunday a.m.,
Sleep’s tranquil waters buoying our weary bodies.
Tingling, we lie in silence fantasy-sequined with Parisian dreams.

X: Le déjeuner

Just you and I, mon cherie,
Sitting in the refreshing shade
Dripping from green-russet chestnut trees
Deep in the Tuileries,
You eating mozzarella cheese, tomatoes,
I savoring poulet-and-dried-tomato salad,
Both of us dipping baguette slices
In a dish of olive oil,
All under a gray-mottled cerulean sky,
And best of all,
Absolutely better than best of all,
Is that this festival of simple cuisine,
This glorious déjeuner,
In this heart of the jardin-soul of Parisian life,
Is happening spontaneously,
On a once-upon-a-Sunday ever-afternoon.

XI: Happening

Just one day into Paris,
We can no longer say
That we’re going to have a great time,
Because it’s already happening;
Indeed, it’s been happening
Since before we stepped off the train;
It started even before London,
Months ago,
Back in the States,
Whenever we’d let our fantasies
Get the better of our fancies.

Here in the Tuileries, right this now,
Kissing between bites
Of our green-red-and-white salads,
Thinking how those happenings
Have begun to happen,
We realize how “happening”
Is its own perpetual present,
A time-sea
Flowing backward, future-ward,
Happening, happening, happening.

XII: Impressions in Musée de l’Orangerie


 Monet’s water lilies —
Similar to Jackson Pollock’s large abstract canvases —
Complete liberation of learned disciplines,
In favor of sheer, unadulterated spontaneity
Of colors and sensations —
An explosion of feelings —
Monet and Pollock
Freeing up, letting go of, emotions,
In an unbridled totality of organic sensuousness —


What undiluted vitality, joy, exuberance, ecstasy
Monet must have experienced,
When, at Giverny,
Through the blurred vision
Of his blended-with-nature eyes,
He painted these exquisitely sensual renderings
Of water lilies, weeping willows — the pond.


You and I could return to the curving murals
In these cavernous paired oval rooms,
At l’Orangerie, in the Tuileries,
Every morning, noon, dusk, and midnight
Of our sentient, sensual lives,
To become one with the light, the dark
Drifting, sifting down,
Through the canvas-filtered glass ceiling,
One with the throbbing brush strokes
Of pulsating color,
One with the Mind behind the mind
Behind the immortal soul
Of Monet’s water lilies,

XIII: L’Orangerie

This shadow-strewn, cool-breezy Jardin des Tuileries–perfumed noon,
“Linda” is the name love drapes over its naked shoulders,
Like a diaphanous, loose-flowing robe of Claude Monet water lilies.

The cumulus-river powder-blue sky cries out your two soft syllables,
As if it were an entire choir of silent wind chimes
Rhyming the smooth, soothing hues of Giverny’s padded, petaled pool.

Too soon, you and I, sweet nénuphar, are woven into the hallowed soul
Of l’Orangerie’s broad, bold, blurry brush strokes —
Violet, green, white, pink, yellow, blue heartbeats painting us as lovers.


XIV: Le bateau parisien

At the foot of la Tour Eiffel’s tourist-queued Pilier Nord
Lies Port de la Bourdonnais, by Pont d’Iéna, on the river Seine,
Where the sleek, glass-sided-and-roofed Onyx awaits our embarkation,

Then slips, almost without our noticing, from its mooring, precisely at 8:30,
Glides us, fluidly, silently, upstream, in the remaining daylight,
Past les Invalides, le Musée d’Orsay, and la Cathédrale Notre Dame,

And, at la Bibliothèque Nationale, in illuminated darkness, reverses course,
Flows by l’Hôtel de Ville, le Louvre, le Place de la Concorde, le Grand Palais,
And, just beneath the massive tower, completes its Sunday dinner voyage.

Now, midnight dances around the stars, asks us to hold hands, kiss.
Gazing up, marveling not at August’s waxing moon
But at the lacy, cast-iron tracery of the grandest obelisk man’s ever shaped,

We gather every entrancing impression that saw us, from the water,
Those glittering, shimmering, dazzling, dizzying reflections of the city,
Its exquisitely graceful bridges, spotlit edifices, timeless je ne sais quoi,

Blessed to have been steeped in the sublime mystique soul mates know
Maybe once or twice in their lives or, like us, moment to moment,
When romance transcends itself, becomes love.

XV: Asleep in the Tuileries

You and I, my precious love,
Have walked and walked and walked,
Slowed into such a sweet peak of Parisian exhaustion,
For traversing Rue de Rivoli, from Castiglione,
All the way to Boulevard de Sébastopol,
Finally reaching the ultramodern Pompidou Centre,
And, before and after the museum visit,
Exploring four exquisite churches:
St-Germain-l’Auxerrois, St-Eustache, St-Merri, Notre Dame.

Fluent in the tongue the Tuileries’ shadows speak,
We now spend three clear-cool-blue and sky-serene hours
Recuperating from our adventures’ splendid fatigue,
Stroking one another’s arms, dozing, in green lounge chairs,
At peace, in the tranquillity of this retreat,
The barely shivering chestnut-tree leaves lullabying us.
In this garden, the cosmos is ours to borrow,
And romance is what keeps our closed eyes open,
Looking into each other’s dreams.

XVI: Affirmations

Two fascination-faceted days have elapsed
Since last you and I stood, in elated, exhilarated amazement,
Beneath the lacework of this Eiffel-ed space between earth and vault,
Which visitors come to praise, in every language of awe,
Celebrating the sheer audacity of the human imagination to create.

Now, this beautifully blue land- and skyscaped Tuesday noon,
You and I, life-love, in the love-rush we feel gripping us,
Enter a dedicated elevator in the south pillar
And climb 123 meters, to le Jules Verne Restaurant,
Where we’ll dine, with a nonpareil view of Paris’s glowing mosaic.

Our hands, craving each other’s affectionate beckoning,
Reach out, across the crisp-linen-covered table,
Squeeze, fingers to fingers, in gentle, passionate embrace.
“L.D., you plan everything so perfectly, make me feel so beautiful.”
“I love that you can tell me this.

“I’m so glad I make you feel this happy,
And I can do it because you fill in my missing parts, complete me.”
“You’re my other half, too; I belong to you, completely.”
Though we descend, eventually, into a present we left waiting below,
We know our affirmations linger in those rarefied heights.

XVII: Le Moulin Rouge

Both of us bring distinct predilections
To this Tuesday evening’s “Soirée Dîner — Spectacle,”
High atop Montmartre, on Boulevard de Clichy,
At the Belle Epoch cabaret, fabled by Toulouse-Lautrec’s danseurs
(Yvette Guilbert, La Goulue, May Milton, Mlle. Eglantine, Jane Avril),

That yet retains the famous name Le Moulin Rouge,
Which has been integral to your imagination’s working vocabulary
Since your earliest years of lessons, in your mother’s studio,
To your perfecting classical ballet techniques, at Carnegie Hall,
Which you translated into a career as a dance-academy owner.

I, a collector of Art Nouveau posters depicting seductive women —
Lithographs by French, Belgian, and Czech artists —
Have spent many nights, in my high-rise apartment,
Dreaming, fantasizing about Parisian nightlife in the bohemian 1890s,
Seeing Henri himself, sitting at a stage-side table, sketching, painting.

When dinner for the full house of 850 patrons is finished,
The lights dim; the room goes silent; the invisible band awakens;
The purple- and red-velvet curtains lift like castle portcullises,
And a troupe of half a hundred men, dressed in silver suits,

Sixty Doriss Girls, clad in rhinestones, sequins, feathers, materializes.
And for a 120 years packed into an hour and a half of Féerie,
We witness a dazzling revue of variations on the cancan,
Flamboyantly staged and labanotated walking dances,
And strategically timed sideshows, including a near-nude lady
Diving into an aquarium swarming with snakes, romancing them.

By 10:30, a taxi is winding us down, down, down choked streets
Leading back to our fifth-floor hotel suite,
Where, in a swoon of arousal, we prepare for our own cabaret revue,
Featuring a spectacle of ecstasy only we lovers perform, nightly,
The music we score, the dance we choreograph, fantastique.

XVIII: Touching Words

“Words and touching
Are the most important gifts we can share.”

“I love feeling the feelings we feel
And saying the things we say,
Shaping the perfect words around our emotions,
So that, together, ever together,
We reaffirm our love for each other.”

“I love telling you how much I love touching you.”

XIX: Giverny

        For Linda,
              who flowers
                   in every season of my heart



Two warm mid-August days ago, a glorious Tuesday afternoon,
We strolled though the Tuileries,
Ate lunch, beneath robust chestnut trees, people-spectating,

Then wended our gravelly-path way toward Place de la Concorde,
Stopping at l’Orangerie, to purchase tickets
For an experience even our capacious daydreams couldn’t have painted:

Two monumental ground-floor oval rooms,
Both containing four myriad-paneled Monet murals,
Whose profusely intertwining water lilies and weeping willows

Followed us around and around, grabbed hold of our beings,
Enfolded our emotions, in their soft-smooth reds, greens, blues, pinks,
Embraced us, with their soothingly hued yellows and whites,

Until we surrendered our senses, sensibilities, spirits, our souls,
To the magical abstraction of the whole creation,
Then blended into the impressionistic essence of our shared serenity.


Now, driving through the countryside, forty miles outside Paris,
We arrive at the Normandy village of Giverny
And are invited into the quietude of Claude Monet’s private domain,

Allowed, with his unspoken, unwritten, unstroked permission,
To witness the glistening dew lift, invisibly,
rom the drooping willows’ slender leaves, the floating lilies’ petals,

Step into his rustic house, for a worshipful visit,
Admire his hanging Utamaro, Hiroshige, and Hokusai woodblock prints,
Assimilate the space that provided succor, sanctuary for his genius.

For three hours, we roam the secluded purlieus,
Capturing its tranquillity, in the unthreatening nets of our gazes,
Wandering amidst the jardins‘ lush abundance,

Returning, finally, to where we first immersed ourselves in the estate:
Amidst the bamboo and willow trees, the two Japanese bridges —
The pool, teeming with nénuphars we hear breathing, whispering to us.

XX: The Best Life

“This life I’m living is the best life I’ve ever lived.”
You whisper this, visibly, into my spirit’s ear.
I sigh, “You’re the reason for my being.”
You hear me, and I hear you,
As we breathe existence into each other.

Suspended in ecstasy’s coalescence,
Our bodies heave like Hokusai’s great wave,
Until our breathing diminishes to whispers
Echoing, below and above love’s ocean,
“This life we’re living is the best life we’ve ever lived.”

XXI: Les jardins

After walking the world of the Jardin du Luxembourg,
Then traipsing Boulevard Raspail to its confluence with St-Germain,
North, across the Seine, on Pont Royale,
And meandering over rues de Rivoli and de la Paix, to l’Opera,
We’re relaxing in the Jardin des Tuileries, this soft Friday afternoon.

On various serendipitous occasions, these past six days,
We’ve gravitated to this garden we regard as our backyard,
To catch up with our souls, by slowing them down,
Having lunch or eating ice cream, yawning, napping, daydreaming,
Telling each other how deeply we love being here, anywhere, together.

Acknowledging that this is our last day in Paris,
We kiss each other’s fingertips, lips, almost desperately.
Finally getting up from our green chairs, gathering our resolve,
We vow, for what’s left of the flowering fragrance of these last hours,
To follow our desires to the next Tuileries, wherever it may be.




Robert James Berry poetry


It is forbidden
to look at
or touch
the giant statue
of Buddha.
The steps wind up
and expand like wisdom
at his golden toes.
I stop there
and marvel
at his largesse
his inscrutability
and wish I had religion
in my veins.

© Robert James Berry

Meg Smith poetry

Creatures of Language

So much
we loved
their long claws,
in shadows.

So much
they gave us
in their ashes.
was their
only language,
even as we
for dust.

© Meg Smith

John Grey poetry


She can’t love me
but her dog can bite me.
That’s where our relationship stands.
No hugs, no kisses,
but a chunk jerked out of my leg
by crazed teeth,
a spurt of blood,
a great pain above the ankle.
“That’s not like him,”
she says.
And it’s not like her, I’m sure.
But I’m like me.
And it hurts.


Fans in Brazil
decapitate a referee.
That’ll teach him
for blowing his whistle.

Soon enough
kids will be beheading a teacher
to put a stop to American history
or hacking the head off the weatherman
so it’ll be sunny the coming weekend.

The source
of what we don’t want to hear
is all too obvious,

It’s the movement of a jaw,
the manipulation of a larynx,
and tongue wagging.

Go for the throat
and it’s all to the good.

Blood gushing from a billion necks –
that’s all the
advice and information
you’ll never need.

there’s no lie
while the truth’s still bleeding.

© John Grey

“The Burden of the Unwritten” by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Several years ago, the great late poet and Faulkner scholar Louis Daniel Brodsky wrote this piece for me after some particularly intense and creative correspondence between us. This is one of a few dedicated poems. He assured me that any published or unpublished work that he sent to me would be fair game for sharing. I’m deeply honored by his sentiments, and I miss him even more deeply. Thank you, L.D.


The Burden of the Unwritten
For David Herrle

Often, I obsess over all that I’ve missed — not written,
Not heated in inscrutable oblivion’s scalding cauldron,
Not forged in molds formed out of the origins of my poetry,

Not wrought into shapes every bit as exquisite, in their simplicity,
As Grecian urns, Egyptian amphoras, Chinese vases,
Not harvested, to nourish appetites of the starving mind.

Whenever my thoughts compel me in this demoralizing direction,
I sense my veins rise to the surface of my flesh,
Like silken spider webs rippling in silence’s quivering breeze,

As if I were a fragile, gasping creature trying to catch my breath,
Revitalize my slowing blood flow,
And I realize that the stress created by all I’ve not composed

Is an infinitely inordinate burden on my psyche,
For my failure to connect with the source of my life-force,
Derive, from it, the dialogue between my body and my soul.

That’s why, every opportunity I’m given or can grasp,
I transmute ideas, images, metaphors, symbols, rhymes
Into concrete linkages with the world that embodies my spirit,

Maniacally fighting off the demons who’d silence my yearnings
To transcend my heart’s inarticulateness,
Annihilate my craving to quest for the secrets of the ineffable.

“Suspended” by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Several years ago, the great late poet and Faulkner scholar Louis Daniel Brodsky wrote this piece for me after some particularly intense and creative correspondence between us. He assured me that any published or unpublished work that he sent to me would be fair game for sharing. I’m deeply honored by his sentiments, and I miss him even more deeply. Thank you, L.D.


For David Herrle

Nothing much escapes you,
Nothing much, that is, but escape itself —
A void where you’ve been colluding with time, your entire life.

How is it that everyone else who knows you,
Even those who don’t,
Know what you don’t: that escape is your only reason for being,

The great justification for your purblind existence,
In which each awakening is a disappearance
Into the cave that’s warm enough to support your fetal sleep,

Each sleep an awakening into the nowhere you’ve just vacated,
At the far end of the same changeless day
That sustains your obliviousness to the death you’ve been living?

Nothing much escapes you,
Nothing much, that is, but escape itself,
That womb in which you’re suspended in inescapable darkness.





LD showing off a typewriter that used too belong to William Faulkner

David Herrle reviews CROSSING PUDDLES by Walter Ruhlmann

As its title suggests, Walter Ruhlmann’s Crossing Puddles is a moist, wet and sometimes drenched book. It’s sticky with fluids, supple with organicity, non-cosmetic – and, above all, funky. I mean “funky” in three senses of the term: the olfactory, the depressive and the existentialist a la philosopher Cornel West, who thinks of “funk” as “wrestling with the wounds, the scars, the bruises, as well as the creative responses to wounds, scars, and bruises.” Really, relatively few writers dare to scrape the underside of things, to plumb the profane as much as the sacred, and to pull back humanity’s foreskin to expose its shmegma.

I’m not saying that readers should keep barf bags handy when reading Ruhlmann’s poetry, but they certainly should check their gag reflexes, because this guy sanitizes nothing when sanitation is too sanitary for authenticity. In other words, be wary of what might be in those puddles you so carelessly cross. What I mean is that Ruhlmann tends to focus on leakage, seepage, fluid emission, what comes out rather than what goes in – and it’s not always clean or pretty. Most times this focus is directed at the human body, unsurprisingly. The body emits non-stop throughout its life, and it emits more wildly in decomposition after death. Ruhlmann can’t help but reiterate the body’s less savory automatic processes, and its constant cycle of dryness and wetness.

This motif kicks off in “Springs from the Flat”: “A little sweat on our foreheads,/under armpits, drenched white shirts,/sore, smelly feet, heavy boots…” And it almost never relents for the rest of the book: “sulfuric semen stains the bedsheets,” “stuck in the mud of memories,” “cold showers,/the drizzle & the rain,” “I wore my pajamas all day,/keeping that sweaty smell on the surface of my skin,” “the skin burned by the sun,/the salty sweat pricks my eyes,” “as jizz/suddenly spurted all over the floor,” “making bubbles in the water,” “We shit in clean water/is all I want to say,” rain “spitting on the windows,/spurting on our coats,” “We slip in spit/those gobs like/patches of come/lay on the ground:/hundreds of mouths spurted out,” “a pool of spew/for them to bathe in,” “a flood of drool,” “Now the juices were spat,” “this thick and greasy slice of pork rib,” “I remember his face all covered in/dark/red/shame/stains./YES!/the semen got lost/between the shirt I wore that day/and the checked shorts he shivered in,” “Frankie’s wet hair will dry in the/marine breath of mine,” and “water dripping from my arms,/my legs, my butt, my sex, but my face/is still dry.”

Lines such as “flesh on flesh, pricks and balls/mingled and intertwined…/in toilets you/toy them” exemplify Ruhlmann’s talent for portraying the (literally and literarily) scatalogical in the sexual. There’s a basic seediness to spilling seed in his images of male ejaculation, perhaps best exemplified in this disturbing excerpt from “Jerking in the Bus”:

The coach driver unbuttons his belt, unbelts his waist, unzips his pants
and sticks his bulging pudding out. Grabs it. Retracts the wet foreskin
until it hurts a bit and groans with high pleasure.

 It is not long before he jerks off, messing the wheel.

Filth and grime inevitably follow ecstatic highs, and the body is fresh only in the brief wake after bathing or showering, but Ruhlmann accepts all this as an acceptable mixture; even filth and grime can glint with a sort of picturesqueness in moon-/starlight:

The bed I wreck in seems comfy,
unless hair, crumbs and dust, smells from a previous sweaty night
still linger on the sheet.
The stains we left when the moon and the stars above,
bright and colorful, shone,
iridescent, irradiating our bodies, spurting all the water, semen and saliva.

Bodies’ frequent repulsiveness is self-evident, since we know our own bodies more than anyone else in the world. Ruhlmann’s narrator is quite critical of his own body, as shown in this line: “The smell of my swelling penis…/the size of my large, lardy ass/in the shade of which one could park one’s Cadillac.”

Not exactly flattering, nor in conformity to Aesthetes’ poetic Photoshop (for which I admit favor). But necessary. These are some of the evidence of hell that hides under flowers, as Issa wrote about. Literally underlying horrors are addressed in “Where Allies Lie,” a poem of D-Day remembrance: “Standing over the tombs, I watch infinite line of corpses,/hidden under six feet of dirt, grass, trees, tourists…” “Crusty Dusk,” speaks of “many worms and so much dust,” while “Meat” evokes “underground animals,/underworldly mammals,/moles,/voles,/some unwanted rodents.” And, on a more personal note, in a poem called “The Visa”:

…for there was nothing I detested more than
stepping in the damp Norman weather
to wander in the alleys around the cold, dark marble stones
marked with the scary faces
and covering the bodies of
dead people I did not even know.

Flesh’s fundamental corruptibility and brevity are captured perfectly in this clip from “I Wish It Would Snow For Christmas”:

Humus will remain after the fall.
Rotten skin,
inane limbs,
stained soil,
torn flesh,
sick and sulfuric ashes blown away by the wind…

Of course, natural environments parallel and mirror degeneration, decay and recycled organic materials (and vice versa). Without rational human intervention there is overgrowth; without constant maintenance there is dross. If Ruhlmann’s sense of (literal and metaphoric) overgrowth and dross could be essentialized, it would be in four key lines in an epic poem called “The Horizon of the Poplar Trees,” which features English text on the left side of the page and French translation on the right: “mauvaise graine,/mauvais garcon” – “weeds, scum.” Those lines are self-referential/meta-wording, because Ruhlmann’s long-lived literary journal, mgversion2>datura, is also called Mauvaise Graine (hence mg). From ashes to ashes, from weeds to scum.

And slime. In “Concrete Stairs” the residual trauma and battery of self-esteem from the narrator’s childhood reduce the narrator to residue and somehow emphasize the lowly reality of his being: ultimately liquid and pulp, and nothing more.

These memories will be the end of me, the final step taken before I fall
into madness,
complete, total, absolute, inevitable.

The first fall occurred some thirty-five years ago:
a toddler was I, just ready to discover the world.
I could have died the day I fell from the top of the bottom of these stairs…

 Prior to that
they had almost blinded me with forceps – malignancy
they had dumped me on the bare bedroom floor – over-tiredness
they had left me in the sharp claws of a drunkard nanny – naivety
they had almost smashed my head against the garage door – absent-
their dog had nearly wolfed me – jealousy.

I have escaped physical harm many times
but do not seem to be able to avoid being slime.

Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer called the poetry of Dylan Thomas as “sensitivity crying out in darkness,” and that is what Ruhlmann’s stuff is. “October child moons over rainy days./Somehow he suffers from the recluse concept he inflicts on himself…” goes the narration in a poem called “November Children.” “[S]omewhere certainly lives someone who would share his suffering…” (I’ve a hunch that Ruhlmann was born an October.) The book expresses a sense of borrowed time, misspent youth, of being overwhelmed and invaded by madness, the mindless, natural forces: “My domain is still at stake:/invaded by weeds and evil sprites, changeling changing into dark corners,/furrowing in the beds, the lawn and the kitchen garden.”

Regardless, the narrator is not mere slime, but worthy sensitivity transcending slime. All in nature is not invasion, detritus, rot and loss, and Crossing Puddles contains much beauty and curiosity. There also is life in life. Hopeful rejoicement is expressed in “The Garden”:

…after watering the garden,
I watch and listen to the green things grow,
they sing a perfect song of joy,
billowing out,
blooming and erasing my mental hay fever.

I love when writers sprinkle their work with clever, humorous and/or profound lines to discover like precious Pokemon, so Ruhlmann usually pleases me sporadically – yet powerfully. Examples of favorite lines follow.

Then/the book opens,/on its own,/like a spying glass/on the universe.

Through the window I spot
two cows
chasing one another
they look like me and my sister.

…pork comes from pig,
beef was an ox
but fish was fish…

…what salvation are you expecting?

The cherry trees have gone berserk…

 I was raped by an orchid
in the middle of an orchard…

I mistakenly detected a lovely reference to the great Nietzsche in “the Canyon,” but it turned out to be for Caspar Friedrich:

…thinking Friedrich could not be wrong,
except that it is even more sublime seen from below:
not an ocean of clouds but a hard rock on a pure azure sky.

As I wrote in my review of his Twelve Times Thirteen book, “though Ruhlmann’s style tends to veer into the esoteric, acclimation comes easily, and Ruhlmann narrates perfectly coherently when the time is right and directness is needed.” This sentiment still stands. In Crossing Puddles his habitual fluctuation between the material (often geographical) and the psychological/spiritual is shown in the titles/locales of the book sections themselves: Nantes, Normandy, Bresse and Remote Places of the Mind.


Walter Ruhlmann works as an English teacher, edits mgversion2>datura and runs mgv2>publishing. His latest collections are Maore (Lapwing Publications, 2013), Carmine Carnival (Lazarus Media, 2013), The Loss and GMO (Flutter Press, 2014) and Crossing Puddles (Robocup Press, 2014). Visit his blog.