Archive for August, 2008


They’re coming to take me away, ha! ha!

In a way, I hate to follow up something comparatively thoughtful like the poem in my last post with something as inane as this. In fact, I hadn’t really planned on posting anything tonight.

But since someone who shall remain nameless (yeah, right) has threatened to throw a temper tantrum if I don’t, here you go.

Be careful what you wish for………👿

In a really perverse, twisted kind of way, though, this post is kind of an appropriate follow up to the previous one.

-smith 😈


Hours out of Tune, a poem

Between the frightened, timeless trees
Upon the path I see her dancing
Naked breath from her entrancing
Fairy hand to me extending
From her Gemini mouth escaping
Words that never have one meaning.

East of midnight her body calls
Lays me down among the rushes
Clouds of sighing purple sullen
Oblivion rain upon me falling
Drowning in the riverbed
A darkling ghost upon the rocks
Without my mind to follow suit.

We were two hands on a timeworn clock
That chimed the hours out of tune.
Together for a dissonant minute,
Pushed apart by angry seconds
Leaving only the tired gray silence in between.

-Stephen P. Smith


comin’ back to me

I was going to post something completely different, but then I found this video of one of my favorite songs by Jefferson Airplane, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to share it. In my opinion, this is the best song they ever recorded.

Marty Balin, at his best, was a lyricist in the same league as Gene Clark and Bob Dylan, and like Clark, he had a gift for spinning a haunting melody. For some reason, the first verse is my favorite.

And before anyone else says it, yes, I do love ballads.

The summer had inhaled
And held its breath too long.
The winter looked the same,
As if it had never gone,
And through an open window,
Where no curtain hung,
I saw you, I saw you,
Coming back to me.

One begins to read between
The pages of a look.
The sound of sleepy music,
And suddenly, you’re hooked.
And through the rain upon the trees
That kisses on the run
I saw you, I saw you,
Coming back to me.

You came to stay and live my way,
Scatter my love like leaves in the wind.
You always say that you won’t go away,
But I know what it always has been,
It always has been.

A transparent dream
Beneath an occasional sigh…
Most of the time,
I just let it go by.
Now I wish it hadn’t begun.
I saw you, I saw you,
Coming back to me.

Strolling the hill,
Overlooking the shore,
I realize I’ve been here before.
The shadow in the mist
Could have been anyone–
I saw you, I saw you,
Coming back to me.

Small things like reasons
Are put in a jar.
Whatever happened to wishes,
Wished on a star?
Was it just something
That I made up for fun?
I saw you, I saw you,
Coming back to me.

-Marty Balin


A close encounter of the spasmically perfect kind

A long time ago, in a previous life, I had a friend named Tammy. She was an agency service rep. for one of the companies my brokerage did a lot of business with, and as such I was on the phone with her several times a week, for several years. She had an outgoing bubbly personality, which sometimes irritated me. She, in turn, would call me “Mr. Grumpy”. Over the years, we became friends.

We had many conversations that had nothing to do with insurance. She would tell me about her fiance, and how he sometimes made her unhappy. I told her to dump the chump. I would tell her about my divorce (the first one, that is), and she always had something to say that would cheer me up. We got to know each other pretty well.

But I live in Massachusetts, and she lived in Nebraska, and this was before the Internet shrank the whole world so that nothing is ever farther away than the nearest keyboard. I never met her, and I’ve always regretted that.

In the Brave New World known as the 21st century, I have lots of “cyber-friends”. Communicating with someone as far away as Australia is commonplace. There is a whole international community, connected electronically, who can call me names a lot worse than “Mr. Grumpy”, and sometimes do.

But can you really call someone a friend whom you only know through the Internet? The Internet is amazing, but it’s still only a two dimensional medium, and thus lends itself to two dimensional relationships. For all I know, Maureen might be a man. Evyl might be a 96 pound cross-dresser. The only reason I know Michael isn’t a cross dresser is because I work with him every day, and even then I sometimes have my doubts about him.

You never really know, do you?

And then there’s Spaz. When I first started reading her blog, I was impressed at the cerebral spirituality of her poetry and prose. I found her mysterious. I honestly wasn’t even sure if she was a man or a woman. But I loved the way she wrote. I was most deeply impressed with her poetry, both for its highly original use of the language and its intensity of feeling. I left comments. I got her attention.

Then she started leaving comments on my poetry. We started corresponding. And then a weird thing happened. She said she was grateful for my comments, but was at first diffident about leaving comments on my poetry because she felt “intimidated” by me. The weird part was that I, for my part, was intimidated by her.

Thus started a relationship that is part friendship, part mutual admiration society. She became one of my best friends in the blogosphere. She has given me at times a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the ass, and always seems to know which one I need at any given point. She reads my stuff, even when I am lax about returning the favor.

And she really “gets” my poetry. She sees things in my lines that even I didn’t know were there. There have been times when I have radically altered, or even destroyed altogether, a poem because I knew that it was not worthy of the high standard that she has not only helped set for me, but has convinced me that I can attain. She make me feel that my writing has worth, even when I have my own doubts.

But still, how could I say I really knew her, even after countless blog comments and emails? Did I even know if she was a woman? For all I knew, she could be a 300 pound death row inmate who just happened to, y’know, like poetry.

You never really know, do you?

So it was with no small amount of delight that I received an email from Michael saying that Spaz (her real name is Susanne, but I never call her that) and her husband Bryan would be in Boston on Thursday, and wanted to get together for dinner. It occurred to me that this is how great friendships start.

It also occurred to me that this is how they crash and burn.

Delight, not unmixed with a certain amount of trepidation. Communicating through the Internet is one thing. Real interpersonal contact is another. There would be no hiding behind the computer screen and a carefully contrived online persona for either of us. What if she had an annoying laugh? What if I reminded her of an uncle she really hated growing up? What is she just doesn’t like short, fat, Conservatives?

Furthermore people skills, as Michael will gladly tell you, are not my strong suit. I’m abrasive and confrontational and my usual attitude is that if people don’t like me the way I am, then fuck ’em.

But this was different. This was Spaz. I decided that if she was going to drive all the way from Canada just to have dinner, the very least I could do was try to be somewhat likable. Y’know, just a little bit. It wouldn’t be easy, I realized, but I felt I owed it to her to make the effort.

First step: shave and take a shower. Mustn’t have her thinking I’m a complete slob. We agreed to meet at five at the tobacco store where I work. I had the day off, but Michael was working until five. After I parked my car, I did a quick check in the mirror: no food stuck in the teeth, good. Nose check: no nose hairs sticking out, good. Hat? Check. Phone? Check. Wallet? WALLET???


With the same sickening feeling that someone who had bet their life’s saving on Big Brown must have felt, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. In one horrible instant, I could see the whole crashing and burning thing playing out before my eyes. I could have sworn I had it. In fact, I had intentionally left it in my car just so that this wouldn’t happen. It was then that my eyes fell on the big leather case I keep my pipes in, laying on the front seat. I picked it up, and there was my wallet underneath.

Big exhale. Blood pressure returns to normal. Urge to walk in front of the first bus that comes along subsides.

I walked up to the store. I paused outside. I knew I was forgetting something. What was it? Think, Smith, think! Oh, I remember. Zipper. Up. Good. Very good.

I arrived at the store promptly at five, the General Manager no doubt wondering why I couldn’t be this punctual about my shift. Mike was there, but told me that Susanne and Bryan would be late. My mind raced back to my phone conversation with Susanne that morning, the very first time we had ever actually spoken. She was in the car, and Bryan, from the driver’s seat, told her to ask me if I was a serial killer. I told her I hadn’t killed anyone for a very long time, so they could feel reasonably safe. I wondered. They knew I was kidding, right? Hmmmm.

Going to your place of employment on your day off is always a bad idea. You WILL find something to do, giving your boss an undeserved dividend. There was a minor computer problem which I began delving into, when I heard Mike say, “I’ll get Smitty!”. They were here. As I walked out to the front of the store, I found myself wondering what my first impression would be of this woman with whom I had forged this strange electronic friendship.

The very first thing you notice about Spaz is her eyes. She has large, expressive brown eyes, which bespeak of the compassionate soul within. There could be no doubt that this was the author of the deeply moving and intensely spiritual prose and poetry that appears on her blog.

The next thing I noticed is that she’s taller than me. Somehow, I wasn’t expecting that.

Bryan is a thoroughly likable chap who deserves to be nominated for the Coolest Husband in North America Award. All he had to put up with was being dragged to a foreign country so he could have dinner with two complete strangers who just happen to have a common hobby with his wife. On top of that, the poor guy was a little under the weather. And yet, for all that, he was thoroughly friendly and engaging and actually seemed to be enjoying himself. A good sport, to say the very least. We talked about a number of things, including music. He mentioned that he likes James Taylor, which immediately ingratiated him to Michael. I’ve decided not to hold that against him.

The evening really couldn’t have gone any better. The four of us had dinner at Jacob Wirth’s, one of the oldest restaurants in Boston. Much beer and German food was consumed. I ordered the roast pork shank, and when it arrived it looked like something Fred Flintstone would have eaten. It was delicious, but the temptation to pick it up by the bone and just go all Neanderthal on it was overwhelming.

Somehow the “serial killer” joke got started again, whereupon Michael and I pointed out that if we were serial killers, then we must be the most inept serial killers in the history of the trade, since we had gone out of our way to leave an electronic trail leading right back to us. In fact, we emphasized that we would both be praying that they got back to Canada safely, because if they didn’t we would each have a State Police officer at our door and a whole lot of explaining to do.

I suppose it took some courage on all our parts for the four of us to meet up like this. Sometimes reality impinges on our fantasies. But not this time. I found Spaz to be as warm, caring, and intelligent in person as she is online. Meeting Bryan was an unexpected pleasure. I was expecting, at best, a put upon husband stoically but grudgingly indulging his wife’s whim, but instead met a friendly and engaging man who was as stimulating a conversationalist as his wife.

Best of all, I made two new friends here in the real world, where friends are not always easy to find.



Finding Maria

If you happen to be walking in Park Square, that area of Boston famous for its parks, expensive restaurants and even more expensive boutiques, you may notice a man who seems very much out of place there, but then, he looks out of place almost anywhere. He is small man, perhaps sixty years of age. His clothes look like he pulled them out of a dumpster. He himself looks like he spent the night in the same dumpster. His hair is dirty and disheveled; he probably has not shaved in days. Behind old, horn rim glasses with badly scratched lenses, his eyes seem to be as out of focus as the glasses probably are. If he notices you, he will sidle up to you, and with a face as expressionless as a cement block, and a voice almost devoid of inflection, ask you for a dollar so he can buy a cup of coffee or some rolling tobacco. His name is Joe, and he visits me at my store every day, after he has scrounged up the necessary two dollars to buy a pack of Bugler tobacco.

Joe’s visits are never uninteresting. He suffers from mental illness, schizophrenia perhaps, although I’m hardly qualified to make that diagnosis. Over the years, he has told me he’s an operative in the CIA, or a General in the Army, or an Admiral in the Navy. He once told me he was suing Lennon and McCartney for plagiarism.

His visits always follow the same pattern. He shuffles in, totally unselfconscious. He greets me with a deadpan expression that would have made Johnny Carson envious. “Hello. How are you today. I’d like a packet of Bugler.” Just like that. Always the same. I sell him his tobacco. Sometimes he tells me about his latest career, sometimes not. But he always gives me a knuckle knock, and shuffles out into the street.

But Joe is no ordinary beggar. Somewhere beneath the scattered rubble of his intellect, there is an educated man. Ask him a question about anthropology, or classical music, and he will astonish you with his knowledge of these subjects. The first time he lectured me about the relative merits of Brahms and Beethoven, I suddenly understood what it might feel like if my cat started speaking to me in Old English, and then maybe rattled off the lacrimosa dies illa for good measure, just to see if I was paying attention. Joe doesn’t know what day of the week, or even what year it is most of the time, but he knows when the pyramids were built, and by whom, and who is buried in each one, and why that’s important.

But it is the mention of chess that really gets Joe to poke his head up from the underbrush of his illusions and suddenly step back into the real world. The man’s knowledge of chess is nothing short of astounding. King’s Gambit, Petrov’s Defense, Queen’s Pawn Game: you name it, Joe knows how to play it. There is not a doubt in my mind that he was once a first rate chess player. The only problem is that after a few minutes, Joe gets tangled up in his hallucinations again and will inform the listener that he plays chess regularly with Bobby Fischer. The rather inconvenient fact that Bobby Fischer is dead doesn’t trip him up at all. Joe plays him every night. Telepathically. And apparently Bobby Fisher isn’t the only one.

And there is one other recurring theme in Joe’s narrative: there is Maria. “I’m going to meet Maria at the Ritz today” he will tell me in all seriousness. “I hope she’ll be there today. I haven’t seen her in a long time.”

He tells me she is his wife, but he hasn’t seen her in many years. Another figment of his already overworked imagination? Something tells me no. On some level, I think this has some basis in reality. A change comes over him when he speaks of her. For a moment his face becomes a little less expressionless. His voice becomes a little more animated. There is a hint, just a hint, of a deep sense of loss when he talks about her. When he comes in the next day, to tell me that Maria wasn’t there, the disappointment in his voice is palpable.

I sometimes find myself wondering who Maria is, or was. I strongly suspect she was a real person in his past. A wife or girlfriend, perhaps. Joe was clearly not always as I see him now. Once he was young, and educated, maybe even handsome. Perhaps Maria left him when his mental illness began to manifest itself.

There’s no point in asking Joe. In his mind, he is always just one day away from being reunited with this woman he clearly loves deeply, be she real or imaginary. Each day brings with it the same series of events: he eagerly anticipates seeing her again; his hopes are inevitably crushed. He buys tobacco and coffee.

She is his personal Godot. In this, Joe is no different, no different at all, from the rest of us, we who in our conceit call ourselves sane. His hope is no less real and his disappointment no less painful because they seemingly have no basis in what we call the real world. What is different is that he goes through this cycle of hope and loss each and every day of his life.

The endless maze of streets that is Boston presents less of a challenge to him than the ever shifting corridors of his mind. Sometimes he finds his way out, only to wander back in and get lost again. That he was once highly educated seems plain. I can only conjecture about when and how he started down the dark deceptive path that led him to a life on the streets.

I’m told Joe has been living on the street for over twenty years. Somehow, he survives. And some day, in one of the dim, shadowy side streets that traverse the fog strewn labyrinth that his mind has become, Joe may find his Maria waiting for him there.



A poem about pipe smoking

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is far more well known as a composer than a poet.  But in fact he wrote some poetry, including this little ditty about pipe smoking.

Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker

Whene’re I take my pipe and stuff it
And smoke to pass the time away,
My thoughts as I sit there and puff it,
Dwell on a picture sad and grey:
It teaches me that very like
Am I myself unto my pipe.
Like me, this pipe so fragrant burning
Is made of naught but earth and clay;
To earth I too shall be returning.
It falls and, ere I’d think to say,
It breaks in two before my eyes;
In store for me a like fate lies.
No stain the pipe’s hue yet doth darken;
It remains white. Thus do I know
That when to death’s call I must harken
My body too, all pale will grow
To black beneath the sod ’twill turn.
Or when the pipe is fairly glowing,
Behold then, instantaniously,
The smoke off into thin air going,
Till naught but ash is left to see.
Man’s frame likewise away will burn
And unto dust his body turn.
How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from the shelf,
And one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell.
Thus o’er my pipe, in contemplation
Of such things, I can constantly
Indulge in fruitful meditation
And so, puffing contentedly,
On land, on sea, at home, abroad,
I smoke my pipe and worship God.

Johann Sebastian Bach

(photo courtesy of Marcin’s Pipes and Tobacco blog)


Spanish Guitar

One last Gene Clark song before I get back to serious writing. Like all his best songs, the melody is haunting and the lyrics rise to the level of true poetry; at his best he was every bit Dylan’s equal in this regard.

Unfortunately, the YouTube video can’t be embedded. Naturally. But click here to go to the video. It may be the best 5 minutes and 15 seconds you spend all day.

Just trust me on this one, ok?



The dissonant bells of the sea
Who are ringing the rhymes of the deep
As they sing of the ages asleep
not so near or so far

And the old masters wind of the waves
Sped forth for the free men and slaves
Whispers of secrets it saves
and about whom they are

And the workings of sunshine and rain
And the visions they paint that remain
Pulsate from my soul through my brain
in a spanish guitar

The beggar whom sits in the street
On his miserable throne of defeat
Envisions no wealth there to meet
Thinking nowhere is far

And the laughter of children employed
By the fantasies not yet destroyed
By the dogmas of those they avoid
knowing not what they are

And the right and the wrong and insane
And the answers they cannot explain
Pulsate from my soul through my brain
in a spanish guitar

To play on a spanish guitar
With the sun shining down where you are
Skipping and singing a bar
from the music around

Just to laugh through the columns of trees
To soar like a seagull in breeze
To stand in the rain if you please
or to never be found

–Gene Clark 1971

taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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August 2008
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Creating Order from Chaos