Thursday, December 3, 2020



THE FACE (as featured in Dead Man's Gun) - Ed Gorman

Of all the valuable stories in this collection "The Face" alone is worth many times more than the $2.99 you commit to download the book. Many times more. It is a masterpiece of craft, sensibility and sheer artistry. If you are uncomfortable with the image of the revolver pointing out from the cover of Dead Man's Gun, you may find solace in regarding it as a symbol of the cruel, true and timeless poetry "The Face" will fire into the depths of your heart.
For this price, every high school history and English teacher in the country can afford to download it in the classroom, and every high school student should be assigned to read it. There need be no test given afterward. "The Face" will stay with them the rest of their lives, as it will with their teachers and with you, as it will with me. This I can guarantee without fear of contradiction by any who have read this brief, profound, elegant, haunting story, no matter their religion, their politics or their station in life.

I came to "The Face" because I am a longtime admirer of its author, the late Ed Gorman, a prolific, masterful spinner of tales in almost every genre imaginable. This book contains the first of his western stories I've read, and although westerns are not ordinarily my cup of tea those in
Dead Man's Gun are no less entertaining and enlightening than his mysteries and political thrillers - my preferred genres. "The Face," in fact, falls outside all three of these categories.
Ed Gorman
 It's a story from the American Civil War, as told by a Confederate battlefield surgeon. I'm something of a Civil War buff, having grown up in the Midwest and lived most of my adult life in Virginia. I do not exaggerate when I say "The Face" is the most sublime, horrifying and memorable Civil War story I have read. It may well be the most powerful anti-war story ever published.
I would not be at all surprised to learn that many if not most as they read "The Face" will hear in their minds and hearts, as did I, the hallowed strains of that old plantation gospel song, "Down by the Riverside" with its achingly hopeful refrain, "Ain't gonna study war no more." 

 While “The Face” stands out for me in this book, the entire collection has deepened my appreciation of Ed Gorman's extensive talent. In another story, “Gunslinger,” he combines the art of suspense wrapped in intricate detail with the unveiling of a human life and personality aimed at an inevitable showdown so filled with tragi-comic irony I could only gape in admiration.

Gorman, with characteristic modesty, admits he has felt the same way reading other masters. In Dead Man's Gun's last entry, a nonfiction piece called “Writing the Modern Western,” he calls The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout, an exemplary modern western— its prose real poetry at times, its psychological portraiture so considered and wise that you feel decimated after finishing it.

I have yet to read The Shootist, but the stories in Dead Man's Gun have shown me precisely what Gorman meant. 


[For more Short Story Wednesday links visit Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]



Wednesday, December 2, 2020


 One of the enduring theories of art is that it provides symbols that point to truths extending wider and deeper than they appear on the surface. The enigmatic smile on the haunting face of DaVinci's Mona Lisa has provoked admirers over the centuries to guess its meaning. Psychologists tell us the imagination is where it all starts—sexual attraction, wonderment, infatuation, jealousy, rage, the entire gamut of emotions, even love, whatever that might mean. Filmmakers know well the power of suggestion in images and sounds that seem to replicate life, frequently keeping the starkest drama in shadows or off the screen entirely—murder and copulation come immediately to mind—providing just enough clues to prick the collective imagination of audiences into providing a perhaps more inclusive scene in their minds than the one created by actors in front of a camera.

Take the classic romantic drama, Casablanca, for example. Peter Lorre's character is killed off screen, although we know enough about his situation to know he was shot trying to escape from police. The romance between Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), despite its dripping sentimentality and ultimate heroics, doesn’t really give us much background to work with to enable us to fill in the blanks. What was their situation in Paris besides riding in a convertible and drinking wine and making toasts--here’s looking at you, kid--and googly eyes at one another? I don’t recall seeing them even kiss, and if they did there surely was no evident tongue action or lip wrestling. How could we not have remembered that?

Robert Coover obviously had the same questions when he took a peek beneath the scripted scene years later in Rick’s Café Américain when Ilsa tries to persuade the heartbroken Rick to help her and her husband escape the know all that. He refuses, she pulls a gun, he says, “Go ahead, shoot. You’ll be doing me a favor.” she melts, they embrace (I think) and pledge their love—at least she does, etc. etc. That’s what we’re given to stimulate our imagination. Coover takes us all the way. He leaves no doubt about whether they embrace after she melts. He...well, here’s his version:

She seems taken aback, her eyes damp, her lips swollen and parted. Light licks at her face. He gazes steadily at her from his superior moral position, smoke drifting up from his hand once more, his white tuxedo pressed against the revolver barrel. Her eyes close as the gun lowers, and she gasps his name: “Richard!” It is like an invocation. Or a profession of faith. “I tried to stay away,” she sighs. She opens her eyes, peers up at him in abject surrender. A tear moves slowly down her cheek toward the corner of her mouth like secret writing. “I thought I would neffer see you again… that you were out off my life…” She blinks, cries out faintly—“ Oh!”— and (he seems moved at last, his mask of disdain falling away like perspiration) turns away, her head wrenched to one side as though in pain. Stricken with sudden concern, or what looks like concern, he steps up behind her, clasping her breasts with both hands, nuzzling in her hair. “The day you left Paris…!”

 The scene picks up steam and trundles, hell, races down the track for more than thirty pages in excruciating detail. I’ll give you one more line, and if your imagination hasn’t gotten on board by then you’ve missed the train. “He can’t seem to stop his goddamn voice from squeaking. He wants to remain cool and ironically detached, cynical even, because he knows it’s expected of him, not least of all by himself, but he’s still shaken by what he’s seen down in the bar. Of course it might help if he had his pants on. At least he’d have some pockets to shove his hands into. For some reason, Ilsa is staring at his crotch, as though the real horror of it all were to be found there. Or maybe she’s trying to see through to the silent crowd below. ‘It’s, I dunno, like the place has sprung a goddamn leak or something!’”

Six more pages to go….

This story’s included in Coover’s collection A Night at the Movies, with a dozen more fiction pieces. I’ve read a couple of the others, but I don’t remember them, one whit. But this? Who could forget it?

[Find more Short Story Wednesday links at Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, November 19, 2020


 I've borrowed "Prof. Pecksniff" from Dickens as a repository for the plethora of loathings aroused in me by John Hudson's better-late-than-never tribute to William Shakespeare (a surname that meant "wanker" back in the day, by the way) for sticking his neck out for the woman whose life he undoubtedly saved by sticking his name on her plays. Hudson's book detailing this magnificent Elizabethan sacrifice can be accessed by clicking the hyperlinked title here: Shakespeare's Dark Lady.

The Pecksniffian legions dismiss Hudson's tribute for various reasons I shall get to shortly (some can be found in Amazon's amateur "review" section--"laughable drivel," is one). Their objections reflect the sort of tenacity seen more recently in a conviction that refuses to die blaming the ongoing yearlong COVID pandemic on a global myth managed from her Deep State bunker by Nancy Pelosi to discredit a Falstaffian character resembling the literary version conjured by Amelia Bassano Lanier, the "Dark Lady" in question. In each instance, curiosity and critical thinking take a back seat to inertia and the more pressing concerns of self interest.

Michael Posner tells us, "For the vast Shakespeare community at large – the worlds of academe, publishing, the theatre, tourism, merchandising (a multimillion-dollar annual industry) – there simply [is] no Shakespeare authorship question to debate. People who [think] otherwise must therefore be either half-cocked conspiracy theorists or literary snobs – somehow incapable of believing that a mere country lad from the Midlands with a grade six education could be capable of writing the plays..."

Academia’s approach is pragmatic, Hudson contends, "rather than taking a rational approach to investigating evidence. In part, a commitment to the status quo makes it easier to get grants and lucrative positions: announcing that you don’t believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare will not only fail to secure grants, it will make you unwelcome in English departments. Dr Ros Barber, for instance, recently described the subject as ‘completely taboo’ since if she wanted to do serious research on the subject it was made clear to her that ‘[she] would not be allowed to research it at a British university at all’."

Prithee! Tempest in a teapot, I say. I mean, who really gives a big cahoot who wrote the greatest literature the world has ever known? Does it really matter if the plays came from the pen of Willie Wanker or a highly educated Jewish Italian lass who spent a decade mistressing the queen's illegitimate cousin whose realm included the entire British theatre? I daresay! Isn’t it vastly more important to know Mr. Wanker gallantly allowed his name to appear on the cover of plays that promoted feminism and parodied Christianity, for which England would have executed their author had her identity been proven, albeit the lesser risk of the shallow Lord Dunsdon penetrating the sophisticated subtlety of their deeper meanings? Couldn’t some little smarty pants courtier have run to the Queen squealing. “Your Highness, Your Highness! Guess what those lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream really mean??” Oh sure, Wanker, known as a finagling, money-lending con man with a dashing goatee, might have wriggled his way out from under the executioner’s axe, I give you that. Yet even with a wee bit of risk, such a man of such shady reputation must deserve some credit for calling upon even the tiniest shred of noble inclination in such a dicey situation. Not quite a Tale of Two Cities sacrifice—I’m not reaching that far, perhaps an extra garland on the man’s grave, which, by the way, is rather ornate, beflowered and royal-looking, whilst the Dark Lady is buried without so much as a plaque in the parish church of St. James in Clerkenwell. Serves her right, some might say, for making fun of the Holy Trinity. 

Willie Wanker's tomb

Amelia died in relative poverty, while her literary protector left a rich estate, altho, oddly, including no manuscripts or books or anything remotely resembling literature by anyone. More importantly, are their souls resting peacefully? I would say yes. I do say yes! The wealthy Wanker with the insouciant eternal joy of having pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes in history; his Dark Lady with the sublime satisfaction of having contributed a supreme celestial gift to the mind of humanity.

I trust you aren’t expecting me to prove any of this, to persuade you to join in my celebration of Truth at last. Truth ultimately. Truth with a capital “T.” I put this little fiction scenario together to lure you into the pages of John Hudson’s book so you can decide for yourself. Go ahead, stick your neck out. Make your day.

Prof. Pecksniff be damned. But keep in mind that all’s well that…oh, you know what comes next. Sing it!

Saturday, October 3, 2020


Neither Roger Mannon nor any of his team stared at goats or walked through walls during their training with the U.S. Army’s first experiment in psychic warfare. Yet his account of their six-day session at the mountaintop Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, is sufficiently bizarre that in order to feel comfortable reviewing Secret Warriors, Psychic Spies I had to do a little research of my own, albeit mostly with Google, gathering online information about the training site and the only participant in the experiment besides Mannon not given a fictitious name: Major General Albert Stubblebine.

I was surprised to find many articles confirming Mannon’s references to the government’s fascination with the psychic concept, which dropped its Top Secret cover and went public over a decade later when the CIA revealed what had evolved into Project Stargate.

Also aiding me in gauging Mannon’s credibility was my having served in the same Army intelligence and security outfit as Mannon, albeit some twenty years before Gen. Stubblebine picked him to join with twenty-three other GIs from stations around the world to comprise what the Army secretly called “Center Lane.” Their mission at the Virginia mountain institute was to learn if they were capable of developing the psychic ability to gather strategic military intelligence by means of “remote viewing,” in other words using out-of-body mind travel. This was something Stubblebine claimed to have experienced personally.

SFC Roger Mannon
Non-readers’ first exposure to these experiments came with the fictitious movie comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, in which the character “Gen. Hopgood” was supposed to represent Stubblebine. The only scene I recall in the movie suggested by Secret Warriors, Psychic Spies is when one of the trainees wigs out and runs naked across a training field at Fort Bragg shooting a pistol. Mannon reports that one of his team, a young lieutenant missing from training, was found wandering nude on the institute grounds “quietly babbling to himself” and “playing with his fingers like they were strange and foreign protrusions that he did not quite understand...The training staff told us they had managed to get him under control with little effort. He was not violent but calm and pliant and lost in his imaginings,” and he was removed from the project. Mannon said the episode was believed to have killed the Center Lane project, of which upper command officers had been skeptical all along, questioning the program’s legality. Gen. Stubblebine retired shortly afterward.

The question immediately coming to mind is drugs. The lieutenant’s “psychotic break” as described resembles the classic LSD trip. “Just exactly what drugs were you on? That’s what you’re thinking,” Mannon says, addressing us, his readers. And drugs figure prominently in the movie, but Mannon denies with vehemence the likelihood of any unauthorized use of psychotropic drugs by anyone in the military intelligence community.

Using drugs could get you thrown out. Even rumors of drug use could get you thrown out. Close association with friends that did drugs could get you thrown out. More than just thrown out of the unit, it could get you a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge from the Army.”

He also doubts they were getting drugs in their food, or being hypnotized to lose control of their minds. The program’s aim, he emphasizes, was to train them to control their own minds. Yet, he leaves the door ajar for dedicated skeptics: “After battling your way through this narrative, you could decide I am just a little crazy. I don’t feel crazy, but I am not sure any insane person does.”

Does Mannon believe he had out-of-body experiences? Yes, with confirmation from other members of the team who’d not only experienced their own but recalled him entering their isolated chamber during training. He describes the chambers as extremely comfortable, soundproof, darkened units where each trainee lay on a bed while pulsing sounds and Monroe’s voice was piped to them through earphones. The group met together after each session to compare notes.

Here he describes one of his experiences: “I listened to the instructions and experimented with freeing myself from my body. The low, pleasant voice rumbled from the tape: Think how nice it would be to float out and away.’ Thinking of floating away and how it would feel, calmly holding the feeling inside my mind, I felt my mind, my ethereal self, begin to move and flow with the next instruction. ‘Turn and slowly roll over like a log floating in the water. Easily detach. Float up, remaining calm and serene.’ I rolled and, for a moment, had the feeling my physical body was slowly rocking back and forth in the chamber. Keeping my eyes closed and mind focused on the voice from the tape, I pictured myself floating up like a helium balloon on a calm and windless day. I felt the gentle touch of air flowing softly across my face.

I opened my eyes, needing to see if I was imagining the feeling of floating away from myself. I saw that I was no longer in my [chamber]. I was somewhere else! In another [chamber], floating above the bed and looking at [Bob], one of my fellow trainees...” From there he floated to another chamber. “This time it was Nancy. A young (twenty-something) and a gorgeous officer assigned to the administrative staff at Arlington Hall Station. I was looking down at her soft brown hair and wondering if this was all a dream when she opened her hazel eyes. She looked at me and smiled. When our eyes met, I was transported back to the crystal universe, and, for a moment, I saw the golden-yellow crystal rose again. It was superimposed over her body. And then I was gone. Again. During that session, I popped into and out of several [chambers], each visit faster, briefer than the last, but the ones that stayed in my mind were Nancy and Bob.

The session ended, and I rushed down to the white carpeted meeting room to see if I could catch Nancy before the discussion started. I did find her, but she was talking to someone else, and I did not want to interrupt, frankly did not know what to say or where to begin. I was glad that she was busy. On the way down to find her, I had been wondering how I might ask her about the session without telling her my version first. I did not want to feed my vision to her but to have her independently verify, or not, if that were the case, my experience…

As I listened to the group discussion, I found it harder and harder to control my excitement as one after another, the people I had visited talked of someone else being in their units with them...They had not all been aware of who it was. But I knew. I had been there in all their units. It was not something I controlled. I had just been floating above each of them for a few brief moments. I kept waiting for Nancy to say something similar, but she did not…

The discussion period ended, and it was time to enjoy the long break we were given each day...I walked outside into bright sunlight. It had been cold and windy when we had arrived on Friday afternoon. The sky had been heavy with low, dark clouds filled with moisture that never fell. I remember it being only twenty-five degrees that afternoon…I had just lit a cigarette when I saw Nancy walking quickly towards me. She tugged at the sleeve of my military issue, grey sweatsuit with ARMY boldly stenciled in large black letters across the chest. Her eyes were large and sparkled with surprise and excitement. In one quick breath, she said, ‘I saw you. I saw you in my room! You were floating right above me!’ I was thrilled, amazed, excited by her words…

Quickly, breathlessly, she spat out the story in one long stream. ‘I knew it was you because -- I saw you. Well, your face really, floating above me – you were there...It should have been spooky – I know -- but it wasn’t – I wasn’t scared at all. ‘cause I could feel you there too, you know? I knew you were there before I ever saw you. I sensed you, your presence, knew you were with me, in there...You weren’t there long. Maybe only a few seconds, less than a minute, I’m sure. There, then gone. I started to say something, you know. Open my eyes and say something, but you were gone. You just went away, poof, like that. But I still felt you with me even after I couldn’t see you anymore. Right there beside me. Just invisible.’

Gen. Stubblebine

She stopped and just looked at me, eyes still wide with wonder? Doubt? I didn’t know and don’t think she did either.”

On the last day, after Gen. Stubblebine addressed the team and opened the floor for comments, two team members who had kept themselves apart from the others, spoke up, dismissing the project as “‘Nonsense. Just a load of crap and a waste of time, money and people,’ said one. ‘Bullshit,’ said the other…

They told the group...their superiors, suspicious of the nature of the training, worried about the negative impact should...such a brainless experiment ever become known. And God help us all if the National Security Agency discovers our leader and highest-ranking officer is a fool who believes this shit,’ one of the two said. “He pointed at at the General, ‘this man believes it and spends money better used somewhere else than on some kind of search for magic, a god damned crystal ball of intelligence that does not fucking exist.’”

Mannon says that although Center Lane was shut down shortly afterward the project was shifted to the Defense Intelligence Agency, where it was “reborn as Project Sun Streak.

Twelve years later, in 1995, the CIA’s Stargate Project and its history, a history I suspect is still incomplete, was revealed to the public.”

MSgt. Roger "Grandpa" Mannon (Ret.)

Long retired from the Army as a master sergeant, he offers this philosophical opinion of his psychic experience: “Those who don’t believe won’t believe despite evidence to the contrary. And, likewise, those who do believe will continue to despite any lack of definite proof. The existence of psychic phenomena, like life, is not cast in black and white but shades of grey and, if one looks, marvelous things can be found in the shadings.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

THE SOUND AND THE FURY – William Faulkner

"Damnedest book I ever read," Faulkner said of his greatest book, which he titled after the line in Shakespeare's Macbeth describing life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The Sound and the Fury might easily have become the damnedest book I never read had I not on a whim first read Michael Gorra's The Saddest Words, a new scholarly look at Faulkner's work and reputation against the background of slavery and the Civil War.

One of the novel’s four narrator’s severe mental disability aggravated with The Sound and the Fury my usual inability to engage almost anything Faulkner. His style of suddenly shifting voices and time sequences, past and present, sometimes in one humongously long sentence, has scrambled my ADHD-addled brain nearly every time I’ve tried to read anything by him. The only stretch of his writing that gripped and bowled me over with its vivid depictions and dialogue and sheer eloquence of language was contained in the novel Light in August. The section, which I believe Faulkner had earlier published as a short story, is known as “The Bear.” I remember where I was sitting, and, under hypnosis, perhaps could recall what I was wearing and in which college lit course I read that piece half a century ago.

“The Bear” all by itself for me vaulted William Faulkner to a seat on the Olympus of literary gods….oh, what “smug false sentimental windy shit,” as Faulkner himself said of an off-the-cuff explanation he’d given about the difficulties encountered in writing The Sound and the Fury. Truthfully, “The Bear” was the first thing of Faulkner’s that awakened me to the raw power of his ability with words, and later the recording of his mesmerizing Nobel acceptance speech—the cadences, the tumbling, crescendoing, seemingly endless flow of soulful intelligence—and then the shock of finding, while covering courts for my newspaper employer, a lawyer who I hereby, forthwith swear in all sincerity was the embodiment of Faulkner’s ghost in appearance and gracefully understated manner. Oh, and lest I forget, there is the photo of me seated on the front steps of Rowan Oaks reading a newspaper Aug. 5, 1976, when one of the stops on a road trip through the Deep South included a visit to the Faulkner home in Oxford, Miss. The image if me is too small to recognize in the print I have were I to try to upload it to my laptop, but for anyone who gives a “shit”--to use a word the great man himself has sanctified—I intend to rush to Wally World soon as this horrific pandemic passes into history and have the image blown up so’s to post it here, on my blog and on Facebook, and I’ll sell prints, framed even, to anyone who really really gives a shit. That is a solemn promise!

So anyway, after reading The Saddest Words [you’ll hafta read the book to learn which two they are, sorry] I immediately downloaded The Sound and the Fury to my Kindle, and read it in a couple of days. And...I hope you weren’t expecting me to exhibit the audacity of trying to review it, this book that is now one of the damnedest books I’ve ever read, struggling for supremacy on the Olympus of my imagination among such giants of literary audacity as Moby Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and, of course, my own.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A CLOUD IN MY HAND -- Erika Byrne-Ludwig

A mistake to dismiss the "cloud" you get in this collection of nearly four dozen spellbinding tales from Australian author Erika Byrne-Ludwig as just a quaint poetic metaphor, or maybe a clever reference to the ubiquitous digital clouds we keep hearing about but never see. Of course it’s a metaphor, Byrne-Ludwig's cloud, but “quaint” doesn’t come close to describing the power you’ll find between the covers of A Cloud in My Hand. Not if you've experienced any of the myriad faces ordinary clouds sometimes reveal to us. More intrusive than Joni's “illusions,” these bring thunder and lightning and wind and sleet and hail and horror and death: dark, forbidding miens that lurk behind the clean, happy fluffs we watch breezing across an innocent blue sky on a perfect day.


The cloud Byrne-Ludwig hands us with these stories arrived from a kaleidoscopic imagination that fabricates scenarios so diverse they’re apt to whirl from terror to laughter at the flip of a page, from an old woman tortured and beaten in her home for $15 to a lonely zombie on leave from his grave one night, who sneaks around spying on his widow, moves a ladder to confound the man who lives with her now, shuffles back to his grave, and climbs in, undoubtedly sporting a toothy grin on his undead face.

An even greater appeal than the stories themselves is the author’s voice, a soft, almost tentative invitation to participate in the telling. Its gentle approach draws me into an illusion of floating free from the usual narrative signposts that indicate direction, that neither of us by ourselves feels confident of what to expect for the characters, what will happen to them, how their story will end. It’s similar to the spell cast by some of the classic Russian writers, whose characters find themselves looking inward as circumstances conspire to put them in a situation where they’re unsure of their capability to affect a desired outcome. And we can’t help them, neither author nor reader. The characters are on their own. All we can do is watch, fascinated by their self-discovery, as are they, and hope, we and they, that things will work out for the better. And whether they do or they don’t, we are with them all of the way.

My favorite of these forty-six stories, one I will carry with me as long as any of those by my favorite Russian author, coincidentally shares a word in its title with one of the master’s best-known works. It’s a word I think of as ironically cheery in both contexts. I can imagine an appreciative sparkle appearing in Anton Chekhov’s eyes had impossible fortune allowed him to read Byrne-Ludwig’s A Cherry-Pink Moment.

It’s a bitter cold, windy winter morning, and Roselyn is commuting by bus to work. When the bus stops at a traffic light she sees a woman selling newspapers on a platform beside the road. The woman is dressed too lightly for the cold, wind “rippling through her shirt and spinning her trousers around her legs...Her ruddy face, her thin purple lips, her small tuft of hair, all taking the brunt of the wind.” It bothers Roselyn seeing the woman for the next several days selling papers in the same place, under dressed the same way, and one day on her lunch break, on an impulse, she buys a cherry-pink jumper for the woman.

But being shy by nature, Roselyn then wonders how the woman might receive her gift. “A turmoil began in her mind, questions about giving, about the right to assess people’s needs. These troubled her for a couple of days, but then, straightening her plump shoulders and raising resolutely her double-chin out of her scarf, she came to the conclusion that the paper lady needed her help. Who knows, her eyes...might flicker with joy when looking at the woolen jumper.

She decided to give it a try, encouraging herself as she often did: Come on, Rose, you can do it. It was mid-winter, a long month of cold winds ahead. This prompted her to act. She got off the bus and walked up to the lady with a shy smile, bought a paper held out to her. The woman’s hand was purple-blue. Just like the vase on my table with the bunch of irises, Roselyn thought..."

That’s as far as we go here. Roselyn and Byrne-Ludwig can take you the rest of the way. Come on, reader, you can do it!

You can get your copy of A Cloud in My Hand from her directly. Here’s her email. Give her a shout:


Wednesday, September 2, 2020


     We are seated on an upholstered bench in front of what might soon become our favorite Edward Hopper painting—well, besides Nighthawks, of course. The title of this one is less mysterious. In fact, it's so mundane and obvious one might even say it's redundant: Hotel Room. Really.

Hopper himself is seated near us on a bench situated at an angle and slightly to our front, giving us a three-quarter view of his face, just enough so we can watch how its silent language responds to the poem Sam Rasnake will read from his new collection, World within the World. Each of the collection’s three dozen poems is inspired by a different work of art. Each has its own title distinct from its inspiration. Rasnake is seated on our bench beside us. The title of the poem he will read has what the painting's title does not, an insightful mix of mystery, suspense, and...and something else, something combustible in the air that attracts the imagination: Night Journeys.

As I have never heard Rasnake’s voice, I must call upon imagination for a stand-in to deliver the words, and, just like that, no rhyme nor reason, the voice of Christopher Walken has arrived to do the honors.

The luggage is packed for

comings or leavings that blur

to silence. Only a dark square

of window near the room’s

bright, fevered edge gives

hope against the will’s deepest

appetite that settles onto the page,

two knees, and the unused bed --

a letter whose truth must dull

the body – its shoulders and

thin shadows, sagging toward

the fingers of disbelief.

Rasnake includes two other Hopper poems under the category he calls Solitudes as Meditation. But something in his reading must have caught in Walken’s voice, and he leaves us musing with our own thoughts. Hopper’s gone, too. Just like that. Here one moment then gone, leaving behind only his painting and the memory of what might have been amusement or surprise in his stoic features. We could move on to Georgia O’Keeffe’s My Last Door, but without Walken’s voice...well the imagination has its own mind, too, you know. If you can get hold of a copy of the book, and find some time for solitude during your pandemic quarantine—sorry, bad joke--your ear can provide its own voice, no? 

Okay just a sip. An O’Keeffe aperitif, if you will. In your own voice. It’s a quote Rasnake offers to help explain his resonating title: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”

And this from Wallace Stevens, a poet I’ve made fun of because I’ve never taken the time, or had the patience, to get to know him. Whenever I’ve tried I’ve found him difficult. This line has ignited a new interest: “The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.” Forgive me, Mr. Stevens, for I’ve been remiss.

Oh, hell—full confession time—for most of my life I’ve avoided poetry, considering it naively precious or even pretentious—pompous, even (altho I’ve always found alliteration amusing, which explains my struggle at the moment to find a fourth word starting with “p”...ah, here it is! I’ve come to see the discipline as vital for learning precision in the craft of wordsmithery). But I’ve still not acquired the knowledge and language to write conventional reviews of the works of other writers, considering instead that if I like something, rather than pretend to be looking at it in a detached, perhaps analytical light, explaining the mechanics of the work rather than how it moves me, I flaunt my enthusiasm in a way that some, including myself, would call “the extended blurb.”

Yet, blurbing is an art all its own, combining the lyrical language of poetry as well as the facility to convey expertise. Kathy Fish, a fine writer in her own right, provides World within the World with the blurb I wish I might have written were I so knowledgeable and skilled. Rasnake’s collection, Fish says, “is a dance of image and abstraction, of precision and fluidity.

“These masterful works draw the reader in, invite us to bear witness to the poet in conversation with the world of art and artists,” to which I say, Amen, sister--amen, and right on!

Sam Rasnake

Monday, August 31, 2020


The giants are not going gentle,

their Paleo legacy's doing the Welshman proud--

combustibility of kindreds,

raging on road and page.

I hear them both this chilly morning, as I stroll through town,

the rising sun friendly on my back. Ahead,

cries of ancient behemoths reach through legions

of sycamore, oak, poplar, and pine left to buffer us

from asphalt bedlam. This morning the trees seem complicit,

as if recognizing a kinship, relaying what they hear

as warnings, tilting leaves for acoustic advantage,

limbs waving urgent decibels my way.

And what reaches my ears does bespeak an inordinate passion,

almost a desperation—little guys pushing unmuffled snarls

to boundaries of hysteria, embarrassing the giants to crescendo

their rumbling growls into bellows of terrible, wrenching irony.

I hear a double poignancy in these voices celebrating extinction

past and future. Oblivion’s abstracted, denial and defiance

hold the center. And why not? Not going gentle affirms instinct—

the other demands resolve, and to what end? What satisfaction?

Nay, to rage against the dying of the light in one final tantrum!

One last curse at the inevitable! Ego’s ultimate rejection of

ending with a whimper! Dammit,

rev the fucking engine!


Sunday, August 30, 2020



Book 'em, Dana!

Five "bookings" now. I started with the fifth (most recent) in Dana King's Penns River police procedural series after reading a piece he posted on a mutual friend's blog. I liked "Pushing Water" so much I decided to read them all. Hooked more by the characters than on the plots--as usual for me--but I did find the plots, twisting their way thru all five novels as grist for the policing skills of Penns River's finest, are clever enuf and realistic enuf and surprising enuf to keep me clicking up the pages of my Kindle editions with pee breaks my only interruptions.

By the time I'd finished the series' first four, I knew this small town police department so well I half-expected to get a call from Chief Stush reminding me to bring donuts to his office for the morning meeting. I got to know some of the crooks, too. And even some of the snitches. "Something should still be done about evolutionary cul-de-sacs like Dwight Wierzbicki," Det. Dougherty observes in "Worst Enemies." A little later, frustrated by Wierzbicki's waffling, Dougherty grumbles that the snitch, a petty miscreant they call The Bick, "could inspire the Dalai Lama to steal a knife to stab him with."

Dougherty (pronounced Dockerty, thus his nickname "Doc") loves to engage in "ball-busting" with associates and friends--even an FBI agent he meets for the first time.

“My God,” Doc said. “A federal officer, come right to my house. What can I do for you?”

“You could invite me in,” the man said.

“You could show me some identification,” Doc said. “It’s not just Feds who dress unimaginatively.”

While sipping beer in Doc's kitchen, the two continue such bantering. The FBI guy gives as good as he gets, but Doc's zingers are best: “I went to school with a girl named Kathryn Whitlock. She was, well, slow, and that’s being charitable. We used to call her Special Kay behind her back.” He took a swallow. “I just assumed Special Agent had the same origin.”

Humor pops in constantly, some of it predictable, like the ubiquitous ball busting banter, but surprises, as well. There's a marvelous double barfing scene involving a hungover husband fleeing his enraged wife. Hubby runs in front of a car, ends up on the hood where he upchucks all over the windshield moments after the car's driver heaves all over it from inside the car...I guess ya gotta be there.

Then there's the casino blackjack dealer "a greasy little shit who spent the night trying to look down Mary’s blouse.” The dealer's name? Steve Onan.

The series' ensemble cast includes some criminals, as well as cops. There's the local Italian mobster, and one of his lieutenants, a tall guy called "Stretch." After deciding to promote Stretch's 6'8" nephew from car thief to collector, and arguing what his nickname should be, they settle on "Stretcher."

But enuf about my opinions, except for this: These novels are terrific fun. Please enjoy them, and record your own opinions here. You wouldn't want Mike "The Hook" Mannarino to have Stretch strap you to the backboard behind his house and throw fifty fastballs at you, would you now?

In chronological order, starting with Worst Enemies, the series includes:

Grind Joint

Resurrection Mall


Pushing Water.

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I'm more than ready for Dana to book #6!


[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]