Monday, March 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 6 (i.e. reader BALTIMORE)

Ball, Michael, Ed.
i.e. reader BALTIMORE

This is one of the rare instances in which my location in the library happens to coincide with the publication of one of the titles contained therein. Not only that -- I am IN the anthology, so this is an even rarer instance in which I can also engage in cronyism, underground marketing and self-promotion. This is my author copy. My contribution is a poem called, "Cul de Sac."

"Cul de Sac" is a kind fragmented, autobiographical poem comprised of memories of my childhood growing up on Oak Branch Drive, a cul de sac in the Northern Virginia suburb of Vienna. The poem mostly concerns my friendship with K., who was a year younger than I, and who lived across the street.

Both of our families moved from California to Vienna in 1976. We were some of the first people on the street when we moved there. Most of the houses that would eventually contain our neighbors were still under construction during the first year or so, and we used them as our playground. We'd run up and down staircases inside the empty houses, leaping sometimes from one floor down to the next. In the evening, after the workers had all gone home, we'd roam through the construction sites picking up soda bottles we could return to the store to collect the deposit money, with which we'd often buy candy.

K. and I were inseparable, and we more or less invented a world of our own in which we were the action heroes. It even included a false history in which we had actually known each other in California, that somehow we had known each other there and our bond had been so strong that when one family moved the other had to follow suit.

We each had a skateboard and a bike, which we'd ride from dawn to dusk. K. liked to do tricks and so we learned all kinds of bike tricks and would perform them in the circle of the cul de sac. Several of the houses on the street had long, steep driveways we could ride our skateboards down and we often did. Occasionally on Sundays our parents would allow us to ride them to church, which was about a mile away, over several steep hills we'd have to push ourselves up before speeding down the other side.

We also had a penchant for fort building. Almost immediately after moving in, K., seven at the time, began constructing a fort in his back yard. It was a ragged affair, two stories high, built of plywood and 2 x 4s. I first kissed a girl, my next door neighbor, in that fort, during a game of 'truth or dare.' Fort building and use became an obsession, as we had a growing need for secrecy, or maybe just privacy, that we couldn't find in our homes.

Underneath the street lay a network of concrete drainage pipes that let out from two pipes onto a creek across Oak Valley Drive, the main street from which our cul de sac branched off. About 50 feet in from the creek a large chamber connected all of the local drainage pipes -- I think there were five in all.

That chamber also became a fort, We stole a gigantic candle from K's mother with about ten wicks on it -- I think it was shaped like some sort of cactus. Very 1976, as I recall. This provided us with some light. We also kept a yellow plastic tackle box for supplies -- usually stolen gum and candy and later cigarettes and vodka. K. got hold of some spray paint at one point and we painted the requisite skull and crossbones on the walls of the chamber. I feel like I spent half of my childhood down in the sewers.

As we got older -- into our early teens -- we required more secrecy than the sewers allowed and so went out onto the back road behind our street, which was still heavily wooded at the time. We built a fort on the ground, using four trees as posts. It was the size of of a small NYC apartment. We had a fire pit and a hammock and a place to stash cigarettes and beer and pot. We used to go out to the fort with nunchuks and throwing stars and bb guns and whatever other weapons we could find and practice for whatever war we imagined we'd be participating in.

I remember my father once demanding to see the fort -- he came out and searched it for drugs or cigarettes or whatever he imagined we were doing. Somehow I got word of this to K., who snuck out there ahead of my father to clean everything up before he got there.

Another time, we told a kid we went to school with about it and he showed up and stole out bong and our pot.

K's father worked for the CIA. He was gone for long periods of time, always to global hotspots like Central America (in the late 70's/early eighties). He had a private room in K.s house that had several locks on it. Apparently his specialty was security systems. K learned how to pick a lock at an early age and set about trying to learn how to pick all of the locks in his father's private room. We had all kinds of wild imaginations of what we might find in there -- guns, secret plans, classified CIA files, etc.

Eventually, K figured out how to pick all of the locks in the room. Inside we found a TV, VCR, a chair, and huge collection of porn. We immediately watched Debbie Does Dallas on VCR and I remember we were kind of horrified at our first sight of male ejaculation (not to mention watching a woman slurp it all up afterwards).

I always felt strange around his father after that. I became suddenly aware of all the sexual innuendo in his conversation. I remember once having a barbecue with their family in our back yard and my mother saying something to him like, "Pass the meat, please," and him replying, "You'd better ask your husband about that."

Anyhow, all that and more can be found in my poem, "Cul de Sac," in the i.e. reader, which is an anthology of poems by poets who have read in the i.e. series in Baltimore, which is run by Michael Ball, an amazing poetry organizer there. I read in the series in 2006 with Mark Wallace on the second floor of an antiquarian bookstore. The readers contains lots of poets I admire, like Charles Bernstein and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and Miles Champion and CA Conrad and Lisa Jarnot and Simon Pettet and Rod Smith and Rosmarie Waldrop and so on and so forth: about 50 in all.

You can buy a copy at SPD.

Here is Tom Raworth's contribution:

Once And For All

creationists don't believe we evolve
not comforting we become the same
nobody will want that lucien
it's not a bit glamorous
and he just laughed

a tennis of texts to make
email irrelevant
oh dear says the pixel
i know how ink felt

i seems
to remember
rotating ninja-bowl
rolls across flame
dated elements hold it back

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