Sunday, December 25, 2011

Odious Potions: Verse by Wally Lee Parker

Odious Potions

verse by

Wally Lee Parker

illustration by

Robert H. Brandt

(first published in 1984 – all rights reserved by author)

            I’ve been working on this poem off and on for thirty years.  It gets a little closer to where I want with each revision.  It contains neither perfect rhyme nor perfect meter.  Both those have fallen victim to the message.  And if there truly is an underlying message, it’s simply this; whether your addiction is to alcohol, drugs, obsessive love, or to absolute perfection, the wake of pain that ripples out from one type of addition is difficult to differentiate from the ripples left by any of the others.  All can be destructive not only to self, but to everyone else around.
            If you see any truth in this verse you might be tempted to ask how the hell I of all people should know about things like this.  Any person approaching the biblical three score and ten ought to have some clue as to the way the human heart works.  If not, they’ve actually been dead for some time, just a bit unaware of the fact.  As anyone of any experience can tell you, no matter how scarred, boiled, skewed, or otherwise damaged the heart may become, it still has needs.  And as someone who has held the hand of many a patient as they crossed over, I can tell you with all certainty that the far from perfect human heart is very definitely, figuratively as well as literally, the last thing to go.

Odious Potions

My lady’s a dream,
a witch in the wind,
A shadow that floats
in clouds of pretend,
An ember that glows
neath dark indigo
And rises as smoke
till reason is blind;
A hunger that dwells
the edge of my mind;
This most witching woman
of all womankind.

She conjures my dreams,
invades every thought;
A mystery in flesh
— this love I have sought.
Yet her love combined
with spices and wine
Does taste of a bitter,
deep gnawing ache;
A brooding and angry,
cold hungry ache;
So hopeless and endless
and ever this ache.

With beguiling intrigues
my mistress compels
Black powers to rise
in beckoning spells.
This enchanting witch
with a drop or a pinch,
With a dash, a splash,
a snippet or twist
Contrives a love potion
no man can resist.
These spices she blends
no man can resist.

And what of her power,
incanting a hex,
To sting a man’s heart,
to torment and vex,
To rend with her blend
of desire and sin
The soul that succumbs,
entwined and resigned,
To worship this woman
— her body and mind,
To worship this woman
so darkly enshrined.

So dark and so spectral
is her heritage
That surely not mortal
is her parentage.
For this brooding flower
of rapturing power
Blooms deep in the garden
of my hopeless love;
Blooms deep in my need
for her heartless love;
 Her selfishness thorns
tormenting my love.

In this garden of tears,
baneberry and sorrow,
In yesterday’s garden
— no hope for tomorrow,
She practiced her art,
the thieving of hearts,
And tasted this tattered
emasculate soul,
Shattered by witchery
— artful and droll;
Discarding the shell;
consuming the soul.

A caldron is bubbling
her tart witching brew,
It rises come-hither
as vaporous dew.
A balm for the lonesome,
my opium flower;
Fetching, possessing,
and potent with power;
Willowy, winsome,
and dripping with power;
My night blooming flame
of unearthly power.

Lips brushed in poppies’
bright opium hue,
She urgently whispers
her tempting taboos.
Lips peppered precise
with a splashing of spice.
Rouged to the blush
of an opium flame.
These rubies they taunt
with glittering flame,
And spittle forth lies
to provoke and inflame.

So coldly she plies
her tart witching spice,
Toxicants that enchant,
tantalize, and entice
That deep in brown eyes
of bright, brittle ice
Not a trace of concern
 for what this portends;
The schemes she envisions,
the lives that they rend.
These odious potions
she mixes and blends.

Against my bruised heart
she dash her hurt
— Vast tangles of lies
that so disconcert.
She’ll cry for her pain
and hide from her shame,
But never has time
to listen and hear,
But never has time
to let me come near,
But never has time
to show that she cares.

Though poisoned of heart
and weakened by pain
And chilled by the fall
of somber salt rain,
My garden still grows
the seeds that I sow;
The need for the sting
of her witching spice;
The dream of her love
regardless of price;
My love for brown eyes
of bright, brittle ice.

My lady’s a dream,
a witch in the wind,
A shadow that floats
in clouds of pretend,
And this brooding flower’s
unearthly power
Blooms deep in the dark
of my foolish heart;
Booms deep in the wants
of my starving heart;
Where unyielding needs
are eating my heart.

Links to Other Verse by Wally Lee Parker

Fossil Fires

Night Sounds

An Ode to Red Beer

Love on a Summer's Night 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Love on a Summer's Night"

"Love on a Summer’s Night"

verse by
Wally Lee Parker

illustration by
Robert H. Brandt

(first published in 1984 all rights retained by author)

            This is a little something from one of my romantic phases – which, just like the face of the moon, tend to wax and wane over time.

The moon so bright on a summer’s night
glows as a shadowed pearl
so bright she swims that around her rim
a pale blue halo curls
and the Milky Way as a creamy haze
falls soft, then dimly billows
to the edge of sky where it gentle lies
draped on the limbs of willows.

It’s a night so warm that a thunder storm
will surely drench the dawning
for the halo’s braid and the stars’ cascade
foretell a tempest spawning
and the rising heat, all dewy sweet
from a day of sunlight downed
draws fragrant swells of earthy smells
from the summer’s fertile ground.

When the clover’s scent, summer’s wonderment
blends deep into the night
and the sultry dark ‘tween the willows’ bark
sets the mood just right
in the moon lit jade of this woodland glade
far from the city’s lights
we two conspire with our hearts’ desire
for love on a summer’s night.

The starry night and the moon so bright
dripping down through leafy willows
finds our hiding place and your smiling face
my heart your evening pillow
for the pounding blood and the rushing flood
now your warm and sated sleeping
was the pure delight of this summer night
and a secret meant for keeping.

‘neath boughs bend low ‘round this dark meadow
on a patchwork quilt we lie
two lovers lost under dapples tossed
from the moon high in the sky
and the magic seen as you sleep serene
in a bath of bright moonlight
sets the night aglow with a dream I know
your love on a summer’s night.

Links to other poems by Wally Lee Parker

Fossil Fires

Night Sounds

An Ode to Red Beer

Odious Potions

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grandpa Grump Brews Some More Hemlock: And A Merry Scamming Christmas To You Too!

Grandpa Grump Brews Some More Hemlock:
And A Merry Scamming Christmas To You Too!


Wally Lee Parker

            I’ve been finding email notices in my ‘junk email’ box saying I’ve new messages, comments, and friends requests posted on Facebook.  Said emails invite me to click on one of several active links to enter Facebook directly from the email.  When I   in a moment of distracted weakness did so, my antiviral program screamed bloody blue murder (and in this alone the damn thing proved itself worth every penny).  When I left my email program via the normal route and checked on Facebook, I found no such messages, comments, or new ‘friends’ requests.  Uh-huh.  That’s what you get for dropping your guard for just a second.
            After its little tantrum, my antiviral software told me that the active links in this particular spurious notification wanted to redirect me to a “malicious URL” pasted on a hard-drive that booted-up somewhere in the Russian Federation.  For quite some time I’ve had my primary domain filter blocking anything with a Russian suffix.  Embedding the links to this malicious URL inside an otherwise legitimate appearing email is just a simple means of bypassing such “top-level domain” filters.  Doubtless the several kindly offers this email made to links me directly to Facebook would have opened a page into which I would have had to type my Facebook password.  After having done so the “malicious URL” would doubtless have sent me on to my Facebook page via the normal route.  This appearance of normalcy would have given the unidentified Russian time to hijack my Facebook account, change my account number to keep me from locking him out, and then spam like the dickens until Facebook closed my/his/her page down.
            Just to reinforce this little adventure, the next day I found a notice in my junk email folder stating “You Authorized a Payment of $102.90 USD.”  The indicator below the email heading stated that the email was from “PayPal.”  I opened the letter and found what did indeed appear to be the usual type of notice PayPal sends out after a charge is made to my account.  Only two problems.  First, PayPal is on my safe sender list, so anything from PayPal should automatically drop into my safe folder.  And second, the sending email address did not clearly indicate that it came from PayPal (though this is not a sure thing either).
            Not wanting to totally flummox my antiviral by stressing it two days in a row, I left my email provider and entered PayPal in the appropriate manner.  I opened my account and found everything correct.  No charge of $102.90 from “In Vogue Inc.” for wigs to be sent to “Janet Grist” of “Lismore, New South Wales, Australia.”  In other words, when the notice suggested I open the handily provided link titled “log in to your account,” if I’d done so I likely would have ended up on another PayPal look-alike page were I would have been prompted to enter my password.  And that would have pretty damn well been that.
            It’s unlikely that the two above scams are related as far as perpetrators are concerned.  But  Christmas fatigue aside it’s a reminder to never trust any unsolicited emails that request you enter a password.  To never enter a password through any links conveniently provided within an email.  And to always enter websites you intend to do business with by a means you know is safe.  If any received emails claim you have an important or urgent account message somewhere, enter the account in question by your customary route and check.  If a copy of the urgent email isn’t there, it was a scam.
            And then of course I received another one of those urgent messages from the “Windows Live Team.”  And this notice with an abundance of Christmas spirit  carried the source and return address of revbrown@XXX.XXXX.  I’m assuming that was a sorry pass at felonious wit; referencing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland’s” Reverend Brown  who of course these nincompoops, though hearing the song five hundred times in the last thirty days, were too doped up to realize was referred to as a Parson Brown, not Reverend Brown.
            Anyway, on the subject line of the usual not quite right facsimile of an actual email from Windows, they had written  all in uppercase to reinforce the urgency “DGTFX VIRUS NOTIFICATION ON YOUR ACCOUNT……2011.”
            The body of the message read …

Virus Notification

A DGTFX Virus has been detected in your folders.  Your email account has to be upgraded to our new Secured DGTFX anti-virus 2011 version to prevent damages to our web log and to your important files.  Click your reply tab, Fill the columns below and send back to us or your email account will be terminated to avoid spread of the virus.

Full name ……………..
User name …………….
Password ……………...
Reconfirm Password ….
Date of Birth ………….
Country ……………….
Note that your password will be encrypted with 1024-bit RSA keys for your password safety.

All MSN and Hotmail Users Should Reply Now!!!
Failure to do this will immediately render your Web-email address deactivated from our database.
Thank you for your co-operation.

Warning code :ID67565434
MSN and Hotmail Account Support.
Copyright ©2011

            Though it’s not my habit to disregard copyright notices, in this case I’m afraid I have.  If the copyright owner(s) of the above material would care to send my attorneys the following data their email address, their mailing address, a copy of their lawyer’s business card, a copy of their banker’s business card, and a bank account number to which any royalty remittances for the reproduction of above said copyright material can be forwarded, my attorneys will take care of this matter.  My attorneys have cautioned me that until the above information is provided and confirmed, I will not be able to legally communicate in a direct manner with the above claimed copyright owner(s)  meaning all such communication will need to be through my attorneys.  If the above copyright owner(s) wish to submit a violation of copyright claim, or to talk directly with my attorneys, they will need to send a modest, fully refundable retainer  along with the above noted data to the law offices of Swaker, Portacallus, and Malvoy.  The law offices’ email address is  Their copyright owner’s or owners’ co-operation will be most appreciated.
            And lastly, this appeal to do mucho good during this Christmas season which is not to say, me being me, I don’t get similar appeals all year ‘round.
            This appeal to my more altruistic instincts reads …

My Dearest One,

            This is Miss Marina Sanzel from Trinidad & Tobago.  I am writing from the hospital in Ivory Coast, therefore this mail is very urgent as you can see that I’m dying in the hospital which I don’t know what tomorrow will be.  I was told by my doctor that I was poisoned and has got my liver damaged and can only live for some months.
            I inherited some money ($2.5 Million) from my late father and I cannot think of anybody trying to kill me apart from my step mother in order to inherit the money, she is an Ivorian by nationality.
            I want you to contact my servant with this information below:
            Servant Augustine Maranatha.
            Address: Rue De La Princess L/G XXX Cocody
            Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.
            Tel+225 663 XXX XX
            He will give you the documents of the money and will direct you to a well known lawyer that I have appointed to him, the lawyer will assist you to change the documents of the money to your name to enable the bank transfer the money to you.
            This is the favor I need when you have gotten the money:
            (1) Give 20% of the money to my servant Augustine as he has been there for me through my illness and I have promised to support him in life.  I want you to take him along with you to your country and establish him as your son.
            (2) Give 30% of the money to handicap people and charity organizations, then the remaining one is yours.  Note: This should be a code between you and my Servant Augustine in this transaction “Hospital” any mail from him, the barrister he will direct you to, without this code “Hospital” is not from the barrister, Augustine, the bank or myself as I don’t know what will happen to me in the next few hours.
            (3) The lawyer’s name is Mc(sic) Lambert Adams.  And Let Augustine send you his International passport to be sure of whom you are dealing with.  Augustine is so little therefore guide him.  And if I don’t hear from you, I will look for another person or an organization.
            May Almighty God bless you and use you to accomplish my wish.

Pray for me always.

Miss Marina Sanzel

            What on Earth can I say to such a heartfelt appeal to join this poor (well, maybe not so poor) woman in her last earthly effort to place her young servant in the guardianship of a total stranger while engaging with a lawyer to commit fraud again with someone known to her only as “My Dearest One?”  Let me think.
            First off Marina, I’m a little confused since your writing from a hospital room in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire but the ‘top level domain’ name on your email address is ‘br’ which stands for Brazil.  (Which has now mysteriously become another of those blocked domain names on my computer.)
            I understand that by doing all this for you I’d be raking in  as near as I can estimate  a mere 1.25 million dollars (which I’m assuming is U.S. dollars).  Very conservatively invested that would only generate in the order of 60 to 70 thousand dollars a year while still maintaining my original investment  which makes it hardly worth my trouble.  Now if your estate had been worth maybe twice that much I might have been tempted.  As it is, your liver hasn’t left you the time to scrounge up the extra money, so I’m afraid we won’t be able to do business.
            I do know of an organization that has proven an effective advocate for people who have more money than time to spend it, and are also adept at finding ways to transfer those funds to various out of the way places.   I suggest you send your appeal to The Republican National Committee  email addresses for their various departments are readily available online.  And they’re always looking for some new way to be charitable to the rich.
            With that I intend to put myself to bed  and hope to dream of hemlock laced sugarplums being force fed to all the miscreant spammers, scammers, and other loathsome bad-list buggers as they’re being slowly lowered into scalding vats of boiling plum pudding.  After all, tis the season everyone should get what they deserve.

P.S:  My New Year’s resolution is to go through all my passwords and increase them to random strings of upper and lower case numbers, letters, and symbols at least 14 places long.  It’s the least I can do to insure many a Merry Christmas to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Leno Prestini Files #5: A Letter For Translation & Photos For Identification

The Leno Prestini Files #5:
A Letter Looking For a Translator
Photos Looking For Identification


Wally Lee Parker

(all rights to this material retained by author)

            The line of blood descent from Luigi and Caterina Prestini ended with their sons, Battista and Leno.  But current supposition has it that there are at least a few other Prestini relatives in America, and a large contingent of Prestini related bloodlines back in the old country.  There’s also some material supporting the possibility that other families from Besano, Italy, immigrated to America during the same approximate period as the families of Luigi (Luis or Lewis) Prestini and his brother Ferdinando (Fred), and that these Besano families may have remained in at least causal contact with each other for some time after dispersing across the country.  All three of the local historical groups pursuing the history of Leno Prestini are very interested in stitching together whatever knowledge we can of the extended Prestini clan, and through that stitching make some sense of the various here-to-fore unidentified assortments of letters, postcards, and photos left in the archives of the three groups  the Loon Lake Historical Society, the Stevens County Historical Society, and the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society.
            In pursuit of that common goal, the librarian for the Stevens County group, Glendine Leonard, has forwarded images of two letters and an assortment of photos for posting on the Bogwen Report in the hope that a translation might be obtained for the Italian language letter, and some details regarding the individuals named in that and the second letter, the English language letter, might be obtained.
            Both of these missives appear to be from a gentleman living in Italy.  The original envelopes are not currently available, but we believe the sender, signed as “Cousin Mario,” may have been Mario Andreoletti of Turin (Torino), Italy.
            Both letters are typewritten.  We assume these are the original letters as opposed to transcriptions done after the letters arrived in America because we simply have no reason to believe they are otherwise.
            The earlier letter, dated December 9, 1982, is in Italian.  The greeting is to both Battista Prestini and Mae Mae we believe being an informal name for Battista’s wife, Mary.

Image courtesy Stevens County Historical Society used by permission

            Using Google’s translation program produced this interpretation.

Turin, December 9, 1982

Dear and beloved Baptist (Battista) and Mae,

            I hope these few lines will have to find you in good health, something we all wish for you from my heart.
            We are all well, even my dad Joseph turn 90 next year, and a good age and brings them very well, always lively and sprightly and full of good will, and often speaks of you with little time in the past several years Besano ago, and which still photographs made there, and have, he says, that sometimes you can find even more.  Here in Turin when he feels a bit indoors, and wait impatiently for the summer arrivals to return to Besano to maintain the garden and raise some chickens, and that his favorite pastime.
            Dear and beloved Baptist (Battista) and Mae, we send many good wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, always with the hope that 1983 will bring us a little more peace and prosperity which we all need, especially here in this poor Italy, where things do not go very well.
            Waiting for new from you soon, would like to receive greetings and kisses do my part, my wife and my children, and especially so by his uncle Joseph.

Your cousin,


            So how much trust should be placed in the above machine translation?  After releasing this translation to the various interested parties, I was asked by several individuals why we couldn’t use a machine to translate the cursive letters exchanged between Luigi and Caterina in 1919 from Italian into English see “The Leno Prestini Files: #1, #2, and #3.  I sent the following to explain my assumptions on both matters the fidelity of machine translations in general and the problems likely to be encountered when attempting to transcribe handwritten Italian into the print characters needed for machine translation.

            The problem is; if you’re typing words into a machine in order to translate from one language to another you’ll need to be feeding the machine words that are spelled correctly. Normally translation machines will not guess at a misspelled word.  In other words, correctly spelled missives should result in an at least partially accurate translation when typed verbatim into a translation machine.  However, languages are so complex and the capabilities of computers so limited that even if all the words are spelled correctly the results should not be trusted if an accurate translation is considered important.
            As for asking a machine to translate directly from optically scanned handwritten originals, even highly sophisticated computer programs will not read cursive without extensive training in the idiosyncratic oddities of whichever of the many dozens of academically taught handwriting styles the original writer used, but also training to the very specific stylistic novelties every human writer tends to add to their handwriting as said writing evolves over time.  Legibility problems add an even more imposing barrier since even well-trained machines are reluctant to guess at what might have once filled a space now obscured by stains, folds, or the age induced fading common to antique missives.
            When a person transcribing a message from handwritten English into typewritten English can’t decipher all the handwritten characters, they can at least guess at what the unknown letters in any given word are from the few characters they can read and from how this newly guessed at word interacts with the original words written before and after. If a person guesses at a word and then finds that the word makes no sense within the sentence, that person will recognize that they’ve misinterpreted the indecipherable characters and try something else.  This kind of creativity requires the ability to imagine an ability even the most sophisticated computers are taxed to simulate.
            If all the above is true for transcribing from handwriting to print in a language a person speaks and writes every day, how could a person guess at the illegible letters in a foreign word when they’re not sure of either the spelling or meaning of that word, of the meanings of any of the surrounding words, or even of how these various words would normally be expected to fit into the grammatical structure of a sentence?  That’s why a faithful rendering from one language to another requires a human who not only understands how to read and speak with some fluency both the specific languages in question, but also someone who can write both languages with if not poetic insight, then with at least a daub of expository clarity.  Only someone able to do both can transcribe with some fidelity the original writer’s intention.  And when it comes to translations, the intention of any given message is its most important element.

            The second letter is a letter of sympathy.  Addressed “Dear Mae,” it’s written in English and signed, “vostro cugino, Mario,” or “your cousin, Mario.”  The date is May 10, 1983 just over a month after Battista Prestini’s death in early April.

Image courtesy Stevens County Historical Society used by permission.

            At this point we’re given five names  Mario, Piera, Roberto, Natale, and Uncle Giuseppe.  Our natural assumption would be that all are members of the above noted Andreoletti family.
            Mario, Roberto, and Giuseppe appear to be male names.  Piera appears to be a female name.  But Natale  now there’s a problem.  The name does appear as an Italian surname.  And in the Andreoletti family photos sent with the Stevens County material that said name is likely associated with a younger person.  When typed into the translation machine with the first letter capitalized, the name comes out literally as “Christmas.”  And when the “n” is left un-capitalized, the machine translates “natale” as “native.”
            Anyway, here are the family photos to which names can be logically associated via the handwritten text accompanying them.  The text appears to be written in Italian which suggests that Natale is the correct spelling for the individual giving us a problem.

The fallowing photos are courtesy of the Stevens County Historical Society.  The dates for the photos are unknown, but assumed to be prior to 1983.

From the left: Mario, Piera, Cathy Morris - an American relative, Natale, Roberto, and Giuseppe.
From the left: Piera, Mario Giuseppe, and Roberto.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Grandpa Grump's Hemlock Brew: Writers Are Nuts!

Grandpa Grump’s Hemlock Brew:
(A Continuing Meditation on Life and Art)

Part One Writers Are Nuts!

- by -

Wally Lee Parker

(all rights to this material reserved by author)

           In general, writers are nuts.  Fiction writers are totally nuts.  Non-fiction writers only partially nuts.  And I believe most any competent psychologist would agree with this.  I know mine would have backed me up.  At least at one time he would have.  It seems I once made the mistake of paying my account off in full.  Soon after, he retired. 
            I recognize not everyone’s likely to agree with what I’m saying about writers.  And I suspect that more than a few of the world’s college educated intellectuals would opinion very much in opposition to my hypothesis.  Such educated people would likely adhere to the belief that non-fiction writers are among the sanest people in the world.  Now that would fit squarely into my theory, since college educated intellectuals tend to write things that are essentially essays — things like expository dissertations and scholarly criticisms.  And most said dissertations and criticisms are assumed to be non-fiction.  Though hardly scholarly, I am an essayist of sorts, and I happen to know as a fact just how much fiction goes into one of these damn things.  Those PHDs may have everyone else fooled about this, but scams are scams no matter how many letters of the alphabet some university committee has decided to tack on the ass-end of any given graduate’s name.  And as far as the papers these people write, they have to cite a whole slug of other scholars to prop up whatever social or scientific theorem they’re putting forward.  Does that mean they’re exceptionally well read, or does it just mean they’re incapable of generating original ideas?
            The rest of the contrarians on this subject are either people that don’t write anything more literate than a Costco’s grocery list — need spareribs, toilet paper, battery acid, and some of those chocolate covered blueberries — or people who do write but are so blissed by their own delusions that they’re never fully aware when any of reality’s sharp pointy parts accidently impinging on their private space.
            It’s one of those “Catch” things.  You either know you’re nuts or you don’t.  If you don’t know it, you don’t know it because you’re thoroughly demented.  If you’re nuts and you do know it, it’s because your particular form of nuttiness has given you some kind of special insight — which means you’re probably a genius.  And since all geniuses are nuts, all the speculations I’ve scribed above still falls neatly into place.
            Even though everyone I know will be happy to certify that I’m no genius, I still somehow know that I’m nuts.  Such understanding despite a lack of genius is possible in my case because the revelation of my nuttiness has been the prime topic of conversation among my three older sisters for almost seventy years.  And the striking thing is that all my sisters think I’m the only basket case in the family.  Most everyone familiar with my family recognizes nuttiness as one of our familial traits — like the Parker nose or the Parker temper.  They note such as a commonality regardless of which end of the genetic pool — shallow or deep — we were originally found floating in.  But I’ve discovered a means of coping with my nuttiness that won’t require more years of psychoanalysis – more years than I’ve already had, that is.  I’ve just stopped listening to my sisters.  And now I feel so much better.  At least I think I feel better.  Regardless, my intuitive assumption is that asking my sisters if I’m better would be redundantly non-helpful.
            But I digress.
            I’m a writer because no one will listen to me when I talk — not unless I’m cussing, and often not even then.  And I suspect this inability to be noticed is a genetic abnormality shared by almost all writers — even those in our minion whose last truly creative ancestor parted with breath more than a thousand generations back — doubtless while scribing pornographic ideograms on the walls of some long forgotten cave.  We write in pursuit of some portion of the attention that falls naturally to those endowed with beauty, riches, and/or hereditary status.  And the irony is, if we’re eventually celebrated as writers it will likely be our newfound status as celebrities that induces others to pay attention, not our writing.
            Take Vincent van Goth for instance.  You may be under the delusion that it was Vincent’s paintings that made him famous.  Actually it was the six hundred private letters he wrote to his brother, and hundreds more posted to others.  And the cohesive force that brought all these private missives to boil was Vincent’s sister-in-law, Johanna.  Shortly after Vincent killed himself (still argued), his brother died (possibly as a complication of syphilis — and that too is still being argued).  That left Johanna with a young son, a fair quantity of Vincent’s paintings, all those letters, and a need to provide for herself as well as her son.  So she set about using all the art-world connections she had through friends, acquaintances, and her own family to leverage her brother-in-law’s thoughts on life, love, and art into what became his unique place in art history.
            How well did she do?  One hundred and twenty-one years later and at least one scholar has proposed that it was Vincent’s brother, Theo, who took a whack at Vinnie’s ear, not Vincent himself.  There’s a theory floating around that Vincent didn’t’ commit suicide, he was accidently shot by a couple of neighborhood boys.  And among the well-to-do of Vincent’s legion of fans and distractors, there is a documentable tendency for said fans to felonize themselves by embezzling from their companies or swindling their clients — all in pursuit of the cash needed to buy just one of Vincent’s paintings.
            Due to all this residual of enthusiastic heat, art historians in specific and the numerous other brands of whack-cases in general are researching and reinterpreting everything Vincent wrote again and again and again.  They and the speculations they raise are likely to keep Johanna’s pot boiling for centuries yet.  And that’s how well Johanna’s plan to bring a few extra guilders in for the family has worked.
            As for our current conversation, while some might argue that mixing writers with artists is like mixing nuts with yogurt, the truth is that whatever passes as our collective creative muse makes us all, writers and artists alike, more or less equally insane.  (If you don’t believe things can be “more or less equal,” try getting in to see your congressman without a shovel full of cash.  More cash, more equal.  Less cash, less equal.)
            But I again digress (get used to it).
            The slippery truth is, for the vast majority of those engaged in the craft of writing it’s a lose/lose proposition.  We’re unlikely to obtain what we want from writing when alive.  And then, after we’re dead, whatever breed of slobbering fundamentalist eventually wins the current culture wars will quite likely gather up our surviving works and thoroughly test them for any nonconformity to the rules of piety and doctrine.  Those works found wanting will be added to the swath of ash purifying the truly faithful’s path to glory.
            We don’t really know how many times over the millennia certain portions of our common history have been incinerated by this or that group of true believers.  We don’t know for certain since so much of our common history has already been so incinerated — the torching of almost all the New World’s Mayan’s books being one particularly shining example.  Sometimes the arsonists are religious believers – such as the Catholic Church, sometimes they’re political believers — such as the Nazi Party, and sometime they’re just plain, sick, sadistic-mean bastards who believe in nothing more holy than belittling everyone else.  All history can say for certain is that there’s a pattern of such vandalism, so it’s likely to happen again.
            And this draws us around to the other semi-secret pathology compelling writers to write, which is their fear of death.  And I’m not necessarily talking about physical death — though that’s troublesome enough.  I’m talking about being utterly forgotten.  For a writer, the concept of literary death is much the worse.
            Most writers have an absolute hatred of book-burners.  I suspect the germ of that comes from our fear of literary death.  A person can die, but they’re only truly dead when all memory of them as anything other than a name chiseled into a stone has passes from the world.  And most of the souls that once walked this earth have even less than a stone.
            We look in wonder at the apparently simple beauty of Vincent van Goth’s paintings.  If we’re sensitive, we can feel the sunlight’s heat falling across a field of wheat, the call from a rising murder of crows, the cooling bluster of a summer’s wind — all temporal things solidified and preserved as an image on canvas.  We look at the work and wonder not only about that particular day, we also wonder about the person that interpreted these sensations — interpreted and then re-invented them as this particular image.  If the image is preserved through time, then both the artist and the moment recorded live on.  Both cheat the anonymity of death for at least a bit longer.
            I wrote the following introduction to a small poetry booklet thirty years ago.  For clinical reasons my shrink didn’t seem to care for my verse.  He said it was too polished to reveal much.  But stuff like this preface — now that would obviously be worth discussing over the course of an extra ‘paid’ visit or two.
            I doubt any of my verse will survive me by much.  Following generations will likely misplace or toss the few remaining copies until the last has been trashed.  Then that bit of my voice will disappear.  Regardless of this inevitability, here’s how I viewed the subject of writing way back then.  And other than the tenor of my prose — which is a bit too flowery for me now — this is pretty much as I still feel.

            It’s four AM.  The rippleless quiet I need for writing flows thick around me as I sit at my library desk – eyes intent on the image of a tiny fossil fish traced into the surface of a fragment of buff colored slate.  Drawn some thirty million years ago by the hand of fate, this cinnamon colored pictograph shows a finely detailed skeleton.  I can assume — since the fossil resembles fish now living — that its life was little different from existent forms.  I can also guess at the circumstance of the fossil’s preservation.  Upon death its body settled in water still enough to allow the fine silts that form the surrounding stone to cover it — entombing it.  Then, over thousands of years, the weight of layer after layer of sediment forming above pressed the silt into stone; pressed the silt into leaves of slate that reveal, when broken open, such bits of history written in the rocks.
            Written words are living thoughts pressed into leaves of paper; the mood of a moment recorded — frozen in time.  Through these phonetic images I can reach back thousands of years and brush the minds and hearts of people long dead.  I can hear them speak as they explain their passions.  I can come to know them intimately.
            Just as the hand of fate drew an enduring artifact into stone some thirty million years ago, so then a poet’s words should been able to hold the mood of a particular moment for hundreds of human generations.  Perhaps if I reach out with my words some skeletal fragments of my emotions will not be lost.  Perhaps some part of the things I value, some shadowed images of the people I care for will endure.
            Deep in this morning hour, this rippleless quiet, I turn to the task of guiding the hand of fate, of twisting emotions through the tip of my pen, of etching for those I love some trace of remembrance in the pages of time.

            I’ve given up poetry and moved on to essays — beginning with oral histories extracted from tape-recorded interviews, and now moving on to things more personal.  Still, the idea is the same.
            Writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, and painters — we’re all historians of a sort.  And if the things being threatened by deliberate malice or simple neglect are of any artistic value, we all react as historians.  The loss of a painting, the burning of a book, the smashing a statue — all of this is nothing less than murdering the last bit of something once alive.  It’s the deliberate grinding away of someone’s final trace, final words, final breath.  Such loss deserves to be hated.