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07 October 2014

And the Nobel will go to...

Thursday the Nobel Prize in Literature is announced, and so I continue my tradition of failing to pick the winner.  My record is 100 percent at not being even close to reality.  So, here we go again.  Play along at home.

First, five I feel deserve to win (the certain kiss of death to winning chances, sorry Javier):

  1. Javier Marías
  2. Cesar Aira
  3. Pascal Quignard
  4. Mikhail Shishkin
  5. Karl Ove Knausgaard

Next, three likely to win:

  1. Haruki Murakami
  2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  3. Adonis

And three who could win but should not:

  1. Haruki Murakami
  2. Peter Handke
  3. Philip Roth

And you? Who do you pick?

24 September 2014

a poem for September going into October

The little white death is coming.
Nothing existential or forever,
just the first snows

that blot out the tired grass
and the golden carpet of leaves
that have surrendered themselves

as messiah-like sacrifices to the future,
so that all might live and rise
again in the Spring.

26 August 2014

school is in session

My little princess is ready for her first day of second grade.

A historical poem of sorts

The Road to Rome

It's August 26, AD 79.

A young boy walks the road to Rome, his feet calloused and his ears now broken by the horrific blasts he has heard. Never again will he hear the sounds of birds or of other little boys or girls. He will never again hear his mother's voice, because he is now deaf, and she is now dead. His world is a pillar of smoke. Just a week before, he laughed as his father read him a dirty poem carved on a stone wall as they both went to the market. His strong father, a merchant, was building a future for the boy, a future of prosperity, a future undercut by total death.

Horses pass the boy, and he cannot hear the voices of the soldiers and engineers who have been sent from Rome to assess the scope of the catastrophe. “Boy,” they shout. “Boy!”

The boy shuffles on, emotions and awareness now as buried as his home. He has escaped with a few other stragglers.

“Forget him,” one soldier says. “He's like the others we've met. On to Pompeii.”

a poem for a Tuesday

My words are about you, about your taut skin
and the seaside blue of your eyes and the heat
pulsating from my cathedral, your body.

My words are about you, my greatest desire,
my poor words, impoverished and dependent
on adjectives, nouns, verbs...trifles.

My words are about you, they are calloused ropes
set to ensnare you, to halt time and rip space
and hold you steady and immortal.

My words are about you, and so about me
and my futile attempts to work base metals
into refined gold.

My words are about you, poor offerings from a poor beggar,
the only thing I can give you since you already
have my beating heart.

My words are about you, and I sing them like a bird
freed from the cage sings a song carried
aloft on white tufts of cloud.

My words are about you, and now I listen
as you cast forth the spell of your words,
and our words are about us.

RR Shea

20 August 2014

Paragraphs from friends


Here are a few passages written by some of you.  I've excluded names and included artwork.  Misspellings and errors in punctuation are probably my own, and I do apologize for any I have made in retyping what you have sent me.  Enjoy!

The woman on the bench liked her coffee dark and sweet - I could smell as much from where I was leaned against a tree, occasionally pretending to try to read. Heading to the park to be away from distraction always seemed like a good idea beforehand, but much like dry-shaving or having just one more drink, it never ended the way one would hope. There were always kids or lovers or homeless or cops enough to keep me from settling in to even the most gripping novel, and as soon as I'd slogged mindlessly through a few pages (which would have to be re-read), I'd re-realize my folly, pull up camp, and head back home, the whole round trip wasted. This time the catalyst for my capitulation would end up being her coffee. I hadn't had any yet that morning, and my envy noisily churned my gut. I shoved Kafka back in my bag and turned the attention he'd been getting, and then some, to the Lady of the Mug. She held her orange, pear-bottomed mug with her palm against the bowl, hand threaded through the handle. Her index finger traced the small arc of the lip that it could reach, back and forth as if pacing. She was unperturbed by tendrils of her hair whisking across her face, and I envied her composure, tucking the few strands that had been courting my nostrils back behind my ear. Between the metronome-like arcs she traced above her coffee and her absolute stillness, I was almost certain that she was meditating - another thing that I, as twitchiness personified, seemed incapable of doing. Contemplating my shakey hands, I noticed that her mug didn't even have a lid on it! How, I still wonder, had she gotten it from home to the park bench without spilling? Just as I was adding her to the long list of people who have all the peace I will never attain, I noticed a bitterness flit across her face, as though she'd taken a sip, only to find all the sugar filtered out. A mix of schadenfreude and concern kept me watching, and the look reappeared a few more times, like the shadows cast by a herd of small summer clouds. I walked over to the bench and sat two butt-widths away from her, willing her to look over so that I could smile.

A Green Line Connects Everyone Girl in a short red skirt and a stripped black and white shirt, too nervous to sit. Instead she stands awkwardly with her bike, wondering if anyone is looking in her direction. A couple have a loud conversation in plain view of everyone around, without making a sound, just a fluttering of fingers. Happy, kissing, staring, without a care in the world. A black man with a shiny bald head staring out the window as the people and buildings and vehicles roll by us rolling by, biting his fingernails, button down white shirt, lost in random thoughts The person behind me, back to the wall, not moving not talking, trying to be unnoticed. A black shirt, a black hat, a look not to be trifled with The middle aged man enters on his phone, talking business, and more business, eyes constantly on his phone because to to be doing nothing is a waste of time The old man in the blue shirt, tucked into his pants a bit too far, carrying a book but never opening it, confused by technology but out in the world none the less Two twenty something Indian sisters full of smiles, making plans, big and small, into the city full of endless possibility.

Her head on his shoulder,
A glass of Tuaca in her hand;
It is late and she gazes off
With a faraway look until
Someone speaks
and she comes alive
blonde hair, ponytail
young and pretty
her head nestled
on my son’s shoulder.

She is up with the sun and now sits on my bed, her legs dangling over the edge, golden hair in tangles and the color of wheat in high summer.  Her skin is more golden, enriched by the the sleep of the previous night and by dreams and by her blood, which is partially my blood, replenishing her cells.  She buries her little face in the thick and furry neck of her beloved dog, an early morning intruder who has also taken up residence on my bed. The dog opens his eyes a brief moment, ascertains the situation, releases a sigh of obligation to the girl who adores him, closes his eyes and fades back into sleep. I have put my book down and now watch this morning scene play out. The birds sing outside and, if I listen closely enough, I can hear the hum of the city as it begins to wake, as cars begin to depart for their morning destinations and I begin another day with my girl. Only the empty space where my wife slept last night, abandoned much earlier this morning as she too went off to work, besmirches this gorgeous landscape. It is morning. It is glorious. It will come again.

Here sits an old woman, perhaps a grandmother, perhaps a long lost lonely lover, a teacher or just a surviving housewife. She wears very traditional clothing in accordance with an orthodox church of times past. A long, dark brown skirt, cut just below her ankles as to show no skin. She wears a once-white long sleeve blouse with a floral pattern, but tinted an off yellow color, indistinguishable due to the use of the shirt, the water it is washed in, or just a reflection of the age of the woman wearing that blouse.
On her head she wears a dark reddish brown scarf, to protect her ears and hair from the dust and to keep her fragile body’s warmth in. For warmth and tradition, the same reason she wears black sox and sandals. Next to her feet rests the end of her cane. The cane very much matching her looks: dry, weathered, and worn out. This is what I see as I walk towards this old woman sitting on a bench in the parking lot outside of her apartment complex.
She just sits and watches time go by.
For at that age is there anything to think about besides what deceptive input comes in through one, two, or all of the senses at once? Being overburdened by stimulus, once something is grasped it has already slipped away in the river of input that is constantly bombarding the aging processor. Thought is better left to be done in places such as the quite stillness of church, or the personal privacy of the water closet, where disturbances are infrequent and not interrupting at best, and thoughts can link together through the ambiguity of synapses. Here, as she watches time pass and perhaps unknowingly observes the sense of detachment she feels from what once she knew to be real; she lashes out at the fledging pigeons that walk on her sidewalk in front of her bench or behind her, on her weeds and her garden. She protects what she can with her extension of arm to keep time from taking what she can grasp for now, as real.

19 August 2014

Paragraphs coming

Thank you to everyone who sent me their descriptive paragraphs.  I plan on putting them up today or tomorrow, and if you still wish to submit one, I'll take it.  If I've already uploaded the paragraphs, I can add it in an edit.  Cheers, all

15 August 2014

Would you like to write desccriptive paragraph?

A writing challenge for all who are so inclined: in the next day or two, observe someone - a stranger if possible - in public, describe them, what they are doing, what you think they are thinking about. Just a paragraph or two. Send it to me an email and I will put all of them on my blog without any names. It might be interesting, and being anonymous might give you a little more freedom in your writing.

09 August 2014

The upcoming novel by Javier Marías

I haven't found much about this in English, but the Spanish papers and blogosphere are abuzz with news of a new novel. “So Bad Begins”, the new novel by Javier Marías, comes out in the Spanish-speaking world on September 23, 2014, published as usual by Alfaguara.

Javier Marias states this about his new novel: "It's a book about desire as one of the strongest engines in the lives of people, which sometimes overrides any loyalty, consideration and even respect in the treatment of others. Another theme of the novel is the impunity and the arbitrariness of forgiveness and no forgiveness. The idea of ​​justice demands that people sometimes have much to do with the act itself and that does and does not affects us.”

Please note that translation errors from the Spanish sources are entirely my own.

06 August 2014

you carry a sword

In a world of text message embraces
And social media heart-to-hearts
You carry a sword

At your side

And you hold a flower in your hand,
The flower of peace and strength
For your friends

And the gleaming sword...

The words of so many people
Are like claps of thunder
From a receding storm,

Meaningless reverberations.

But your words are the blade of your
Flashing sword, cutting true and noble
Into the wall of suspicion,

The barrier I have built.

For we lock ourselves in our own prisons
Waiting to be freed, not strong enough
To sever our own chains, needing

A sword of comradeship.

Let us leave the imperfect
To the imperfect,
And sally forth,

our heads held high,

Our blades at our sides
And our hearts true and ready
In friendship

Flowers in our outstretched hands.

29 July 2014

poem after watching my daughter swim

She skims like a swan across the water
as fear evaporates into a dark cloud
and is blown away and scattered.

The white dresses of passing feminine time
loom in the distance, one possible
harbor on her adventures.

Yet, other paths open up and an archipelago
of unpredictable futures stretches out along
the horizon. Each stroke of the swim

Moves her closer to the bounty of her choices
but as she glides, the opposite edges of the island
chain become harder to steer toward.

Progress cuts off possibility, but still she swims,
the swan out on the sea, traversing her life
toward her awaiting destiny.

On which island will she land and how long
shall she tread upon the sea?
Swim, my swan, to destiny.

26 July 2014

Luis Fernando Verissimo

Luis Fernando Verissimo writes amazing books.  Here is a great interview with him from the CBC.

21 July 2014

poem 21 July 2014

A soft flow of sweet milk drips down
from the vault of the sky,
from the stars

Onto the dry crust of thirsty bread
that is the baked earth,
the land.

I have kissed her cheek and her hand
and with my own hand
carressed her face

And numbered and named the celestial
bodies just to see the corners
of her pouting lips

Raise up like unattended balloons
with strings cut by jesters
and without anchors.

Then the drip of milk becomes a trickle
and the bread of the earth
cracks and crumbles

But the stars in the sky persist,
the stars forever flowing
and her lips rising.

RR Shea

20 July 2014

A little Sunday Saraceni

Here are Four works to contemplate for a fine Sunday evening, all of them by Carlo Saraceni. The Getty has a good blurb on the artist:

Carlo Saraceni  
b. about 1579 Venice, Italy, d. 1620 Venice, Italy
Carlo Saraceni dressed in French clothes, spoke French fluently, and had French followers, but he never visited France and his jewel-like painting style was most influenced by German and Italian artists.

After training in his birthplace of Venice, Saraceni settled in Rome in 1598. He had joined the Accademia di San Luca by 1607. In the early 1600s, Saraceni painted small-scale biblical and mythological subjects on copper, then a relatively new support in Rome. German artist Adam Elsheimer's style inspired the vast landscape settings that Saraceni began using so frequently and so well; their paintings were regularly confused.

After Elsheimer and Caravaggio died in 1610, Saraceni seems to have inherited their market. Primarily occupied with public commissions, he painted numerous altarpieces in and around Rome. He grew increasingly interested in Caravaggio's art, painting larger figures, subtle light effects, and momentary actions. Elsheimer's influence remained equally strong: Saraceni continued creating Elsheimer-inspired poetic landscape backgrounds.

And the works:

Mary Magdalene Reading

St Cecilia and the Angel

The martyrdom of St Cecilia

Icarus Burial

16 July 2014

What will my daughter need to read?

I find list-making, especially as it applies to reading lists, to be simultaneously soothing and infuriating. I am happy that English departments at places like Oxford University often eschew a list and instead encourage applicants to read widely and much. That advice in hand, it is still true that the dons and tutors expect their incoming English students to have read Jane Ausen, a good amount of Shakespeare, and the Brontes. The canon remains, though it is in need of constant revision and update. I wonder: when my daughter gets ready for college in 11 short years, what will she be required to have read, and what will she have read to make her ready?

I'd like to provide two lists here of a dozen literature books I want her to have read, probably in her last few summers before going off to school. The first will be rather obvious, but it will exclude such items as “Hamlet,” for I would hope that between her excellent school , our private book collection, and parenting, she will have the basics down. “Pride and Predjuice,” Shakespeare, and some Chaucer are givens. Not all works are originally written in English, but most are.

The second list is mostly literature in translation, some of it is well-known, and I believe all of it is criminally under-read by both students and adults.

And so:

The obvious list:

  1. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  2. The Inferno by Dante
  3. Selected writings of John Ruskin
  4. Dubliners by James Joyce
  5. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  6. Candide by Voltaire
  7. Swann's Way by Proust
  8. The Bacchai by Euripides

And now the more ecclectic and, in my opinion, interesting list:

  1. The Maias by Eça de Queirós
  2. A Heart So White by Javier Marías
  3. The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  4. A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
  5. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  6. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  7. Songbook by Umberto Saba
  8. Canti by Leopardi
  9. Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
  10. Labyrinths by Borges
  11. Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
  12. Stories of Anton Checkov

Lists aside, it is a pleasure every day to see her delve into books, to swim in the pages of some great story, or to be able to read aloud to her or to watch as my wife reads to her. Reading can be an act of love, one of the most pure.

15 July 2014

little yellow bird

You feast on seeds, little yellow bird,
as the sun melts into the ground
and the cool winds pick up

to stir in drops of moonlight
in tonight's black dance
of passing time.

Tomorow you will flit again
to the feeder standing sentry
in the midst of the yard,

unaware of the passage of comedies
and tragedies in the lives
of the people who put out the feed

and observe your carefree flights
with a mix of youthful joy and the sure
knowledge of lived age.

13 July 2014

Some Sunday Italian artists.

For fun, I thought I would list a trio of modern Italian painters of interest, provide wiki bios and links, and show a few examples of their work. Then, I'm going to spend the day with my precious little daughter, because as much as I love art and literature, it is the love of my wife and daughter that keeps me going every day. They are true treasures.

Here we go

Mario Mafai:
(from Wikipedia)

Mario Mafai (12 February 1902 – 31 March 1965) was an Italian painter. With his wife Antonietta Raphaël he founded the modern art movement called the Scuola Romana, or Roman school.

Mafai left school very early, preferring to attend, with Scipione, the Scuola Libera del Nudo, or free school of the nude, of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma. His influences in those years were Roman galleries and museums, and the Fine Arts Library at Palazzo Venezia.
He met painter and sculptor Antonietta Raphaël in 1925, and they married. In 1927 Mafai exhibited for the first time, with a show of studies and maquettes organised by the Associazione Artistica Nazionale in Via Margutta. In 1928 he had a second exhibition, at the XCIV Mostra degli Amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti, as well as a collective with Scipione and other painters, at the Young Painters Convention of Palazzo Doria in 1929.
In November 1927, Mafai and Raphaël moved to 325 via Cavour in Rome, and made a studio there. Within a short time, it became a meeting point for writers such as Enrico Falqui, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Libero de Libero and Leonardo Sinisgalli, as well as the young artists Scipione and Renato Marino Mazzacurati.

A few paintings:

Emanuele Cavalli
(Frrom Wikipedia)

(b. 1904-d. 1981) was an Italian painter belonging to the modern movement of the Scuola Romana (Roman School). He was also a renowned photographer, who experimented with new techniques since the 1930s.

Son of Apulian landowners, Cavalli moved to Rome in 1921 and there he became a student of Italian painter Felice Carena, also attending the local art college. In 1926 he exhibited some paintings at the Biennale di Venezia, where he would continue to exhibit regularly.
From 1927 to 1930, Cavalli attended some expositions together with painters Giuseppe Capogrossi and Francesco Di Cocco, also travelling to France (1928), where he was introduced by his friend Onofrio Martinelli to the circle of Italiens de Paris (i.e., De Pisis, De Chirico, Savinio and others). He exhibited at the Salon Bovy of Paris with Fausto Pirandello and Di Cocco, then in 1930 returned to Rome where he joined the Scuola Romana.
In a series of exhibitions Cavalli held from 1931 to 1933, the artist began elaborating Tonalism, a pictorial and aesthetic style that will find in him one of its best and most refined interpreters, even from the theoretical point of view. In these exhibitions he received the support from important art critics and collectors, as well as from renowned Italian author Massimo Bontempelli, the uncle of his friend Corrado Cagli and the promoter of "Magic realism", a literary and artistic movement which had many similarities with tonalistic painting.
In 1933 Cavalli, together with Capogrossi and Melli wrote the "Manifesto del Primordialismo plastico" (Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism) defining the Tonalist Creed, with special emphasis on the style's spiritual and abstract side. In 1935 and 1943, Cavalli exhibited a group of paintings at the Quadriennale di Roma, developing the theme of painting-music relationships: he displayed a series of feminine figures of different tonalities, and explained this work within the terms of "contrapuntal sensitivity", comparing it to a "collection of preludes and fugues in major and minor tones".[3]
Other important exhibitions were held by Cavalli at the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery of Florence in 1939 and at the Zodiaco of Rome in 1945, the latter crowned by the appointment as professor of Painting at Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze. He thus moved permanently to Florence with wife Vera Haberfeld.[4] In 1949 Cavalli was affected by a deep crisis, increased by his professorship not being renewed and his close friends' change of style towards abstract art.[5]
Cavalli continued to paint for the rest of his life, alternating it with photography and innovative imaging,[6] receiving important commissions from public and private organisations.[7]

A few paintings:

Carlo Carra
(From Wikipedia)
Carlo Carrà (February 11, 1881 – April 13, 1966) was an Italian painter, a leading figure of the Futurist movement that flourished in Italy during the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to his many paintings, he wrote a number of books concerning art. He taught for many years in the city of Milan.

Carrà was born in Quargnento, near Alessandria (Piedmont). At the age of 12 he left home in order to work as a mural decorator. n 1899-1900, Carrà was in Paris decorating pavilions at the Exposition Universelle, where he became acquainted with contemporary French art. He then spent a few months in London in contact with exiled Italian anarchists, and returned to Milan in 1901. In 1906, he enrolled at Brera Academy (Accademia di Brera) in the city, and studied under Cesare Tallone. In 1910 he signed, along with Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti the Manifesto of Futurist Painters, and began a phase of painting that became his most popular and influential.

Carrà's Futurist phase ended around the time World War I began. His work, while still using some Futurist concepts, began to deal more clearly with form and stillness, rather than motion and feeling. Carrà soon began creating still lifes in a style he, along with Giorgio de Chirico, called "metaphysical painting". Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the metaphysical phase gave way to a sombre style akin to Masaccio's. An example from this period is his 1928 Morning by the Sea.
He is best known for his 1911 futurist work, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli. Carrà was indeed an anarchist as a young man but, along with many other Futurists, later held more reactionary political views, becoming ultra-nationalist and irredentist before and during the war, as well as by Fascism after 1918 (in the 1930s, Carrà signed a manifesto in which called for support of the state ideology through art).[1] The Strapaese group he joined, founded by Giorgio Morandi, was strongly influenced by fascism and responded to the neo-classical guidelines which had been set by the regime after 1937[2] (but was opposed to the ideological drive towards strong centralism).[3]
He died in Milan in 1966.

A few paintings:

To art, literature, and all those we love and cheerish in our lives.


08 July 2014

Inspector Montalbano vs. chemo

Nothing beats the cancer blues like my loving family and losing myself in a well-written mystery.  The chemo and radiation have been tough, and I have been very tired.  But, I keep going, and I will continue to keep going.  I'm going to fight and win, and I'm going to live every day.  Despite my current condition, I am a truly lucky man.  Now, on to the book.

My mystery of choice is the Inspector Montalbano series. The prose is light, the descriptions of food are glorious, the inspector is a flawed but thoughtful character, and I find the artwork mentioned to be intriguing. From Angelica's Smile by Andrea Camilleri, here is part of a dialog concerning a burglary of money, jewels and art.  Montalbano is asking an affluent young couple what has been stolen:

“What else did they take?”

“Well aside from the car,[...]and a seascape by Carrá,” the lady concluded, cool as a cucumber.

Montalbano gave a start.



“A Guttuso, a Morandi, a Donghi, a Mafai, and a Pirandello...”

In short, a whole gallery of art wortha fortune.


I know about Carrá and Pirandello, but I don't know the other artists.. So, I have looked them up and here offer what might be the paintings stolen.

A seascape by Carra:

A Guttuso:

A Morandi:

A Mafai:

A Pirandello:

Not bad at all.

And now, on I read, on I write, on I live, on I love, and on I fight.


04 July 2014

blues bar on the edge of town

Late at night in a blues bar on the edge
of town, a brick building crowded with emptiness,
I'm drinking whiskey from a cloudy glass,
and listening to a man sitting at the piano
in the corner as he pours out his anguish
and his vampire fingers plunge through the ivory keys,
through the floor and the crumbling foundations,
and down into the earth, the victimized earth,
stirring magma to trigger a Vesuvius eruption,
a flame quenched only by drinks from my cloudy glass.

R. R. Shea

01 July 2014

The voyage of my far-away friend

For TJ.  

My far-away friend sits in port,
the sails of his ship battered
from storms and sun,
listening to the stories
of the timid locals
and pompous magistrates,
drinking the house wine,
and eating the bean pie
of the melancholy fishwive
with a smile and a wink
of gratitude.

A merchant says that the ship is lost,
that the mast and riggings
will never again drag
my far-away friend's ship
onto the open waves,
that he is stuck in port
to lead a small life
among small lives.
Such news fills
the dock workers
with immense gratitude.

But my far-away friend
has sailed too far
and seen too much
to believe idle speculations,
In the morning,
he casts off,
light breezes teasing
his boat away from land.
His journey will be longer
with such tattered sails,
but his hand never leaves
the old iron rudder,
and the song of the sea
and of life full lived
never leaves his heart.

On he sails,
while timid souls
lament he left
and his far-away companions
rejoice at his voyage
out into tomorrow.

R. R. Shea

29 June 2014

chasing a dream

As night broke into pieces, I had a beautiful dream,
a thought which fled me like a deer
frightened by the smell and sound of people.

I chased the dream into the woods,
the trees growing thicker and larger
the deeper in I gave chase to the creature

Until the beautiful dream was gone
and I was surrounded by leaves
and tall, scornful grass, and bemused bushes.

My heart grew cold and I shook
as I heard branches crack and the birds
stop chirping as some unknown animal stirred.

A hunter perhaps? I crept slowly back
the way I had come, back to the growing light
of the white and rescuing morning sun.

Back to the start of the chase of the dream,
a dream with features as obscure
and anonymous as any wild deer. 

R. R. Shea

22 June 2014

Filling the box

Fragments of thoughts
drifting around inside my head
like sections of newspaper
blowing and scattering and littering
the streets of an empty city
or a city still fast asleep,
not yet touched
by the morning workers
who collect the past
in their garbage trucks
to make things neat and clean
before the next wave
of paper and print.

Salvage some of those papers,
collect them in a wooden box
with a sailing ship
carved on the lid,
the box of hopes
and dreams and remembering,
the treasure chest of the mind,
a collection started and coveted
on the morning of our lives,
curated as time flows forward,
things discarded and then longed for,
things burned away with joy,
memories carefully wrapped
and stored in the bottom
of the box.

Fragments of dreams
- for thoughts and dreams
become one inside
the treasure box -
and fragments of hope
begin to fill up, until
we realize that the only way
to make room for these
drifting remnant pieces
is to throw away
the dirty strips of despair.

And so let us burn these away,
burn the oiled up papers
of our long-ago failures,
of our self-imposed inadequacy
until there is room again
to keep filling our box
of dreams and thoughts.

20 June 2014

cycle of the poets

The sun and soft breezes inspire gentle thoughts
and poetic musings for weekend scriveners,

              storms and mud and lashing rain
uncover our true humanity and our lives.

Floods and thunder churn up reality,
expose the deep roots of suffering and living,
and drag poetic wanderings back down
into the primeval muck of creation and the life
of this world, the breeding ground where nature
has her dark victory and humanity begins again.

The filth, rushing water, and strife of this life
make artistic fancies gestate once again.
Nothing is unchanged and all things bloom in death.
Struggle conquers daydream, dreams are changed,

                               then the clouds pass, the sun returns,
and newly evolved poetic dreams take flight once again in the cycle
of creation, the cycle of the living, the cycle of the poets.

R.R. Shea

16 June 2014

This coffee

This coffee tastes like a memory,
sipped and savored as the sun rises
over the eastern morning fog,

sipped in solitude as my family
sleeps and only the birds
and rabbits are awake.

The hot liquid pulls me back
into the body of a young man
who has been entranced by a beautiful woman,

a flowing memory of her eyes as blue
and deep as the sea, eyes dancing
as she laughs at my jokes and drinks.

Now I drink alone this first cup
and her eyes are closed and a smile
still plays across her sleeping face.

She will rise from bed soon and join me
and together we will drink coffee and share
the entire universe without words, only with love.

14 June 2014

The whisper of the dramatic

The old masters write that only the most beautiful creatures
tame and shatter our souls, that the smile of a woman can save us
from our own hell or from another's purgatory
and that our world can crumble when our beloved
turns her shoulder or walks away,
and I respect the old masters, except on those occasions
when they are fools, proud idiots, and ignorant magicians.
Our inner selves are far more fragile than the old masters
ever imagined, weak vessels liable to capsize and sink
at a mere memory or a smell in the air that reminds us
of childhood loss or middle aged apathy or elderly boredom.
Our hearts are not glass, but the image of glass, painted
on cracking paper by the maddest of the old masters.
We break not at the dramatic, but at the whisper of the dramatic.

a storm power outage

The late-night storm knocked out the power
and so we lit many candles and huddled
on our couches as the lightning
etched images of uncertain night
into our imaginations.
The flickering of those wax torches
gave the air a feeling of a feast
or a medieval celebration
and our laughter and smiles
came easier to our faces
as we felt invincible and close,
pilgrims having traveled out
of the hectic modern world
of electronics and into
primitive temporary joy.

12 June 2014

Sleep, my little one

My little girl, in the darkest hour of the night
I tip-toed into your room again
as you drifted on your sea of dreams
and I watched you sleep
and my heart filled and then
almost burst open.

I wept in silence, my tears
diverted as they fell
by the smile of my
quivering mouth,
joy and sorrow co-mingling
on my tired cheeks.

I thanked you in whispers
and inaudible sentences
for being my daughter,
for existing and bringing
your burning torch into
Plato's cave, taking my hand,
and leading me out.

I begged forgiveness
from your tranquil pose
of peaceful recline,
forgiveness for being an adult
and forgetting sometimes
the important things in life.

Forgive me, my princess,
for trading in giggles
in favor of irony and sarcasm,
of forming impressions
of friends based on how
they make their money
instead of the contents
of their dreams,
for forgetting about
the tremendous magic
of imaginary tea parties.

Sleep, my little one,
and dream and stay a child
as long as you can, and help me
to find the little boy who still
lives deep within me
and wants to come out to play
one last time.
Sleep, and I too will sleep, and we can
dream a single dream.

RR Shea

11 June 2014

sand and glass

Human footprints in the sand
perhaps the trail of a woman
who is playing and hiding,
waiting to be found and suppressing
a giggle as her lover follows
the tracks in the sand.

Footprints in the sand as a travesty
or the final clues of a missing child
last seen in swim clothes and
carrying a red beach ball
and frolicking in the waves.

Footprints in the sand as a puzzle,
perhaps tracks observed by tourists
who believed they were alone
at this beachfront villa
and now wonder with whom
they must share their solitude.

Footprints like braille or hieroglyphics,
semiotic injunctions on the empty soul,
messages without grammar but overflowing
with all possible meanings.

And within these footprints exist the seeds of glass,
the raw materials from which
some faceless corporation will build
widows for houses and cars.

The sand will be gathered,
heated, transformed, forever changed,
until the footprints in the sand will become
a window from which future generations
will watch their children play
or their spouses come home from war
or sunsets or approaching storms.

The sand-made-window will offer
more readings and signs,
give more clues and provide
for more things to observe.
But it will also separate people,
throw up a shield between the inside and the out,
which has since sand was first transformed
to glass been the secret agenda
of all our windows.

RR Shea

07 June 2014

a change of harvest

As a youth, the ripe red fruit fell
from the trees and the bushes
to my soft-skinned feet
and the cool water flowed
from endless streams.
Honeysuckle perfumed the air
and crickets played symphonies
to send me into nocturnal sleep.

Now youth is gone
and I must scrape
and wrestle my food
from the earth,
cracking knuckles and parched lips
the only interruptions
in the foreboding silence
of our existence.

Listening to the rain

Let's stay in bed
all day and night
and listen to the rain tap out
the confessions of the
restless men and women
in some faraway city,

Raindrops like a telegraph,
hesitating watery caresses
against the window,
a morse code of the cosmos,

let us listen
before we close the curtain
and kiss each other
and laugh and whisper
our own secrets,
drifting into sleep and dreams,

as our sweet nothings
are absorbed by
the passing clouds and fall
as snow in colder lands.

R. R. Shea

05 June 2014

two old ropes

Two old ropes, gnarled and caked in mud
tangle around the trunk stump of a dead oak,
each end leading away into the lush grass,
one rope trailing north and the other south,
like a madman's compass,
like branches leading off into confusion,
like broken promises between two lovers.

The buzzards and the birds
of prey fly overhead,
circle, spot a place to land,
then dive to ground, but
– just before their talons dig into the earth -
they swoop off again,
screaming their disapproval.

The sun and the moon stand guard above,
each fighting to abandon post,
obligatory sentinels,
ready to surrender
or wait for the fire
from the lightning strike
to erase this obscene canvas
and bring the great regeneration
of what has been purified.

31 May 2014

Branch and book

There is more truth and beauty
from a single branch
from a single tree
in my garden
than from any book
from my library.

For the books
in my library
are the byproducts,
the dried, withered corpses
of the murdered brothers
of my trees.

The only thing immortal
on the book page
is the idea,
which exists outside
the book, in
the land of eternity.

The idea and the tree branch.
The former is eternal
intellectual beauty
while the latter
is the eternal
beauty of existence.

R. R. Shea

28 May 2014

a blog update

Greetings, friends. 

If you haven't yet noticed, I have been having a particularly bad year this year with the death of my mother.  Unfortunately, things aren't about to get any easier.  A few weeks back, I was diagnosed with cancer.  I plan to fight, and I plan to win.  But this is going to take a lot of my energy.  I start chemo tomorrow, and I've already shaved my head in preparation. 

I will still be trying to keep up with the read-alongs I've agreed to do with other people, but perhaps not all of my own.  Despite this misfortune, I am an incredibly lucky man.  I have a wife with whom I have been married for over twelve years and a little daughter who has completely changed my world.  They are the reason I fight.  They are the reason I'm going to triumph.  My closest friends have been wonderful in their support, as has my family.

I might start to blog more about my health and perhaps how I am using literature to get me through.

To you all, every good thing.  This is only the start of the journey.

Love and peace,

Richard Shea

14 May 2014

The Mariner

He piles the seashells in his bucket,
the waves crash in,
and he collects the songs and laughter
from the boardwalk,
locking everything
in his mariner's heart

His lighthouse eyes
allow the lost ships
to smash against the rocks
and sink into the depths
of his imagination

The mariner on the sand,
bucket full,
day ending,
waiting for morning once again.

He smells the salt spray
and the feces of
myriad birds

and the sweet aroma of little stands
nearby vending snacks and candy

and he piles still more shells.

08 May 2014

Reading Josep Pla

From Josep Pla's The Gray Notebook (El Quadern Gris):

“It is dinnertime. The clatter of plates, knives, and forks reaches as far as the street. The southwesterly wind continues to blow damp and indifferent over everything. The smell of pine resin melds with the aroma of roast chicken. Stretched out on the beach next to their empty pot, half asleep, the country folk gaze up at misty stars, which passing clouds hide for a moment.
The dance begins late.”

Descriptions like this pepper almost every page, and Pla's work is an excelllent example to all young (and not so young) writers of the way in which an author can hone style and language. Pla brings Early 20th century Catalonia to life, showing himself to be as astute when talking about regular people as he is when describing a meal or a dance. Here, he is talking with the fishermen:

'“It's bad to say the war is coming to an end?”
“Yes, wars produce fish.”
“Hey, come on.”
“I'm telling you. The voice of experience […] fish like noise, buzz, canon fire, flotsam.”
Sometimes contact with humanity can be depressing.
Hermos said this with eyes that saddened me. His eyes believed what he was saying. My depression deepened.'

Near the end, Pla begins to discuss the work of a contemporary from France, a strange young man by the name of Marcel Proust. Worth the read.