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tearing the rag off the bush again
PERCH & TWIRL: New Works PDF E-mail

Mine eyes have seen the glory of
My husband is a philistine. When I woke him at 5:45 this morning to offer a private viewing of my greatest creation to date, he rolled away, stuck his head under a pillow and growled. He therefore missed
(1) the unveiling of my new triple-bubble technique for the highest quality bubbles;
(2) my newly executed theory of twin catalysts (two colors of 99c-store shampoos); and
(3) a veritable Restoration Comedy of light and light-yet-solid, industrial-strength foam. Truly a bath for the ages.
 Technical addendum, 2:15 p.m.: The indestructibility of the bubbles proves detrimental to completion of bath.

the coming of

He is trampling out

where the grapes of wrath are
The truth is, I accidentally let out the water, though not the bubbles, from the tub. Refilling, with more soap, is what yielded that superior foam. Art is the genius of utilizing accident.

He hath loosed the
We stayed in some people’s house upstate in Michigan, circa 1972. It was so cold we spent the night in one sleeping bag in the living room. Also, we were tripping. That was the night I realized my boyfriend was a Martian. Some proofs:
* He had a red beard, but not red hair;
* He was from Detroit. That’s significant because I had deduced that the Martians were turning the environment of earth into one more like their own, starting with Detroit and LA, major car cities that had less oxygen and more carbon monoxide.
 Addendum: Not only is he a Martian, he has become a yuppie.

fateful lightning of His terrible swift
Big lips good, big hips bad.
Big eyes good, big thighs bad.
Big hair good, big nose bad.
Big teeth good, big feet bad.

Naturally, my ambition is the gold. Some folks train by staying awake night after night then crashing heavily at the event. Their training consists of little more than adjusting the days and amounts of deprivation in order to peak at maximum immobility.
 Me, I’m a natural. Nerves? No. Disturbed by noise? No. Twitch, snore, midnight phone calls, large metal milk cans thrown onto concrete floor?
 Through it all flows my gentle slumber.
 But am I unique? That’s the question that keeps me up nights. Until the competition, I can’t answer that. Last night my husband fell asleep a fraction of a minute before me. This bothers me a great deal. But even an amateur can step on a squirrel, right?
 Addendum: Fred Flintstone’s dream job was to be a mattress tester.

His truth is
It’s not just competitive, although I do relish the fact that I am so much more accomplished a sleeper than my husband. I fall off more quickly, stay down more elegantly and wake up less blurry. He does put in the hours, I’ll give him that.
 I love my bed, mattress, pink nightie, new deep green sheets made of 100% beech modal. The last flannel sheet has a big scratchy hole where my husband accidentally set it on fire while lighting some incense to cover up the smell of his farts.
 Addendum: I don’t have my Olympics sleep outfit yet!

His truth is
I love that slice of early sleep when you know it’s on its way and you sidle, or rush, toward it. When I was little, maybe 5, if I woke up in the night, I stayed up. I didn’t know I could go back to sleep. It was one or the other — if you were awake, that was it. Then one night it occurred to me that I could go back to sleep, and I have never had a sleepless night since. I’ve slept in semi trucks that were so loud the driver had to shout to be heard. I have slept in every movie and play I ever went to.
 Addendum: L’il Abner listed his occupation as “mattress tester” in the local mattress factory.
 Addendum: Did you hear about the mattress tester who got fired? He stayed awake on the job.
 Addendum: A rooming house in Ellsworth, Maine, 1976

marching on

I have seen Him in the watchfires of
Every clock in this house — and I can see six from where I sit — shows a different time: 5:37, 5:40, 5:55, 5:58, 6:09, 8:15.

a hundred circling camps

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without my staunchest ally, Mr. Coffee: faithful, hard-working, silent — unlike Mr. Mister, my husband, who is none of these and can’t even make a decent cup of coffee, something Mr. Coffee excels at. It’s a cherished dream to present myself with this award for making and drinking coffee every single morning. The Cal Ripken of coffee. Every single day.

I can read His righteous sentence by

the dim and flaring
My first job in New York City was as a messenger. I took more trains those couple of years than most people ever do. A knowledge of the subway system of the five boroughs is deep in my bones, as is my remarkable instinct for sudden change. For example, just last week, I leapt off the F train at 34th Street and Avenue of the Americas. My sadar* told me that the train I was on was going to get stuck in the tunnel between 34th and 23rd. I am only sorry I didn’t have the time to inform my fellow passengers. I can only imagine the unpleasant evening they spent in the dark.
* Sadar = subway radar

My day is marching on

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of
Essential to trim every day. Creepy to have toenails touch socks. Don’t use metal implements. Bite them. Shave hair on toes. To paint or not to paint?

We have tortured every
A couple needs firm rules as with chess or any other war game. For example:
1) No arguing tone of voice. Stay on the subject: What is said, not how.
2) System of fines: Pay each other $5 for (a) manipulative crying, (b) waving a killed cockroach in the other’s (my) face and (c) not saying “uno” instantly when appropriate in card games.
3) The Domestic Artist: When one is 20, one doesn’t imagine that one will ever think much about sheets, bowls and laundry. Yet eventually and inevitably, one’s life becomes as much about the quotidian as about Art. Unless, you are the kind of artiste terriblé who is managed and assuaged. As for domestic responsibilities: It’s amazing how little you can do and still function. “I could be nothing but a big head sitting on a shelf.” I is an artist of the invisible. Where my husband sees a big mess, I sees a strategic arrangement: The kitchen table stacked high with books is both a beautiful visual and a blow for women’s freedom. “Where’s my dinner,” he whines. “Even if you aren’t going to cook, I want to sit and eat my takeout.” The stove is more useful as a countertop: fruit basket, mail, toaster.

We have broken every rule
Today I am going to staple up the curtains, which I washed yesterday. When they were taped up, they fell down. It might be a trick to hold and staple at the same time. And also stand on the arm of the couch and lean across the shelves and reach the top of the window. I need help but there’s no room for another person to get in between the couch, desk and shelves.


We have marched down to

To tell him he’s a
My husband (the philistine) doesn’t appreciate the beauty and clarity of my handwriting. Calligraphy is just a word for fancy-shmancy handwriting, like when we got invited to the wedding of those snobs Ed and Laura Desmeines’ stuck-up son Bryan, who broke my little girl’s heart back when they were 6. Laura’s cousin Tiffany writes all the invites around here. Laura won’t ask me to do it. OK, I know that it bugged her that the time I wrote the invitations for her 40th birthday party, every single one was returned by the post office because my gorgeous curlicues made them—they said—unreadable. My husband is still mad that he had to drive around town and drop them in every mailbox. And Laura is still mad that nobody came because they thought the invite said the party was was on Monday. Who has a party on a Monday?

The school is burning down.
It is a talent that runs in my family (thanks, Dad!), but they all agree that I’m the best of the lot. My mom, who doesn’t share the family talent, is so jealous. Every time one of us rips off a long, juicy, well-placed one, she rolls her eyes and says ‘oh please’ or ‘you’re doing that on purpose’ (well, yeah) or ‘do you mind.’ Even my husband isn’t as much of a philistine as she is. Because it’s my given talent, I can’t really take credit for length or loudness. Although I do practice quite a bit. I would say I peaked two years ago last January. I was wearing a soft sweater the color of my eyes: the green of 19th-century bookbinding. It had a wide neckline and was just tight enough. I looked hot and the boys thought so too. It was a dinner, someone’s birthday maybe, or a celebration of making it through December. Someone told a joke. Usually I take a good long breath and prepare myself mentally too. The way you see divers gather themselves. But that day I felt so pretty that I was free and daring. Pretty girls are protected by their looks; they can bark or bite or eructate. I launched. I dived into an empty pool. I jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. I stepped onstage without a script. I tugged the tuba. I rolled the bishop. If art happens in the unmonitored interstices between skill and grace, that night was one for the ages.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel
I am the envy of all my friends for my colorful, lively and suggestive dreams. They’re so jealous that when I call to tell them my latest — not to brag on it but to enlighten them as to how a real dream should go — they refuse to listen, make excuses and get off the phone as soon as I begin. My husband is almost as bad. He listens, but with a sort of dazed look, as though he just ate a box of doughnuts. He invariably says, in an irritatingly patient tone, that he can’t follow and doesn’t get the point. I knows he does this because his dreams don’t hold a candle to mine. That’s obvious because he never shares them with me. He says he can’t remember. Why doesn’t he respect me enough to make up a better lie?

As ye deal with my contemners
Most people adore me, of course, but there is always a jealous beehive or two who envies my happy, successful life. They kept me out of the community choir because I would overshadow them. It started further back — the chorus teacher in junior high said, ‘There are singers and there are listeners, and you are a listener.’ My good loud voice gone all rusty.

As ye deal with my contemners
A 19-year-old woman in Maryland hired a hitman (really an undercover cop) to steal a lump of cocaine (really a block of queso blanco) and kill everyone (four men and “children if present”) in the house.

so with you my grace shall deal
I have spent my life assuming that everybody wants to go to bed with me. That is the source and secret of my self-confidence.

Let the hero born of


crush the serpent with His heel
You may wonder about my adversarial relationship to color, and you are no doubt impressed that I triumphed. After all, who am I, an amateur pugilist, the understudy’s understudy? The beiges were easy. They surrendered without a whimper. The yellows were, let’s face it, yellow. That gave me the confidence to continue. Also, that I remembered color didn’t even exist in any significant way until the 1920s. (After all, if color existed, why were photographs, books and movies all in black and white?) It was a simpler time, without the distraction of hue. The fact that much older art exists in a glowing, wide-ranging pallette is another proof: Artists are visionaries—they paint what they envision, what they wish existed, not what does.

His day is marching on!
The last place I applied said they’d have to close down if they hired me, because they couldn’t find enough other people who could match my standards, so it would make everyone else look bad and they’d soon go out of business.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat;


He is sifting out the hearts of

O be swift
In the Silent Era, they gave an Oscar for titles. The Silent Era.

O be swift
Is “life” the opposite of “help wanted”? Is “help wanted” the opposite of “help needed”? Why is “desperate” the 27th most common word in the English language, far ahead of resplendent, coincidence and engaged? “I can’t remember who I was before I knew you.”

In the beauty of the lilies
People won’t always admit it but they would all be Aquarians if they only could.

In the beauty of the lilies
my day
my day
my day is marching on

Elinor Nauen


“I am immortal then, on land and on sea,” cried AHAB, with a laugh of derision;—“Immortal on land and on sea!”

In NEW BEDFORD, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to NEW BEDFORD to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.

Better sleep with a sober CANNIBAL than a drunken Christian.

DAGGOO retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in his socks.

ELIJAH! thought I, and we walked away, both commenting, after each other’s fashion, upon this ragged old sailor; and agreed that he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear.


GRUB, ho!” now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we went to breakfast.

Fill to this mark, and your charge is but a penny; to this a penny more; and so on to the full glass— the CAPE HORN measure, which you may gulp down for a shilling.

Call me ISHMAEL.

“Man the capstan! Blood and thunder!—JUMP!”—was the next command, and the crew sprang for the handspikes.

For we are all KILLERS, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included.

What was America in 1492 but a LOOSE-FISH, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of wailing it for his royal master and mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk? What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United States? All LOOSE-FISH. What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but LOOSE-FISH? What all men’s minds and opinions but LOOSE-FISH? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a LOOSE-FISH? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but LOOSE-FISH? What is the great globe itself but a LOOSE-FISH? And what are you, reader, but a LOOSE-FISH and a Fast-Fish, too?

Father MAPPLE was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom— the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath February’s snow.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly NOVEMBER in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue OCEAN, roll!
So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself out for a PHILOSOPHER, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he must have “broken his digester.”

It may seem ridiculous, but QUEEQUEG’s head reminded me of General Washington’s, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like two long promontories thickly wooded on top. QUEEQUEG was George Washington cannibalistically developed.

Nowadays, the whale-fishery furnishes an asylum for many ROMANTIC, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the corking care of earth, and seeking sentiment in tar and blubber.

A muffled SILENCE reigned, only broken at times by the SHRIEKS of the STORM.

I remembered a story of a white man—a whaleman too—who, falling among the cannibals, had been TATTOOED by them. And what is it, thought I, after all! It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin.

The Narwhale I have heard called the Tusked whale, the Horned whale, and the UNICORN whale.

In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely and without a passport; whereas VIRTUE, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.

Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet’s rim, the WARM WAVES blush like WINE.

Taking the offered pen, copied upon the paper, in the proper place, an exact counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his arm, something like this:—Quohog, his X mark.

Your Englishman is rather reserved, and your YANKEE, he does not fancy that sort of thing in anybody but himself.

Was it not so, O NEW ZEALAND Jack!


Mongolia, South Dakota

The wind lifts a rider from his saddle
    the wind can shove a rider from his saddle
        in Mongolia

Ah but summer, when the wind-scorched prairie
    is green to the border
        in Dakota

Oh these lands of little water with thin streams
    that don’t reach the sea but die away on the plains
        in Dakota

O my man with catlike eyes of fire
    and your voice like thunder, hands like bear paws
        in Mongolia

That can snap a man in two like an arrow
    O my man sleeping naked by a fire
        in Mongolia

Feeling sparks as the stings of insects
    the camp circled by wagons
        in Dakota

An eternal blue sky lifts off the field
    the seventy-tongued larks rise at a silver dollar dawn
        in Dakota

Rise up from the feet of our horses
    lilt around our ears, silence like a wave behind us
        in Mongolia

The wind knocks the horseflies from the cattle
    my man makes the earth explode
        in Mongolia

But a man is not the sun
    and therefore can’t be everywhere
        in Dakota

But my man with such slashes in his cheek
    that his beard can no longer grow
        in Mongolia

He remembers all things
    but not his own death
        in Mongolia

On bone skates he speeds over ice
    to catch animals in flight
        in Dakota

He sees the stars circle the sky
    horses tether to that single, unmoving light
        in Dakota

A bowl of milk and the blood of horses
      wild onions, millet, tea, roots of rushes
        in Mongolia

He will retire alone to the banks of Battle Lake
    a thousand miles from anywhere in the world
        in Mongolia, in Dakota

He will turn his face from war and return to simple things
    he will turn again to purify
        Mongolia, Dakota
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