Monday, December 26, 2011

Silent Night, Every Night

“...souls though dumb may not be kept apart.” --Don Quixote, Cervantes

 I first encountered Norman Thomas, named for the free-thinking six-time socialist presidential candidate, at a Trivia Night fund-raising evening held on behalf of the Bonne Terre Missouri Historical Society at Heritage Hall last winter. My team had had an impressively precocious start, leading in first place for the first three out of ten rounds, but we finished with a decidedly sub-par performance, somewhere around (below) the 65 percentile of correct answers. The Quiet Man was one that we blew, and we just seemed to lose steam after that. My bad for not knowing that Ned Kelly was a notorious criminal in Australia, but I did supply the correct answer—Leon Trotsky—to the question, What Russian revolutionary was assassinated via a pick axe to the skull in Mexico? After which all heads at my table turned as one in my direction for answers to subsequent questions on Marx and Lenin, both of which I slam-dunked—revolutionary Socialism was decidedly in the Bonne Terrean air.
My novel Cooperative Village was one of the silent auction items, and at the game's intermission Norman stopped by my table to warmly shake hands and say a melodious and welcoming hiya to a “local author.” An impassioned Dickens lover with a soaring IQ and an easy, breezy smile, a retired counselor with Iowa, Kansas and Missouri stamped on his personality's passport, he turned my head when he told me he was working on an adaptation of Little Dorrit to be set in gangland Los Angeles.  

Norman and I became fast writing friends, meeting at local restaurants or in each other's homes with armfuls of books and scribbled-upon notes from which we quoted to embroider our notional propositions. We'd routinely interrupt each other, heartily talk over each other, laugh and probe each other's thoughts so raucously that the owner of Mario's felt impelled to approach our table to ask in a reproving tone after Norm's wife of more than 40 years. Chastisers abound in the Bible Belt, ever generous with their stifling hints and remonstrances at the slightest crackle of intellectual eros. But we eschewed the party-poopers and, for a time, Norm—well and widely read, an informed and confident literature discussant, able to retrieve and recite from memory snatches of poetry or prose to bolster most any theme—was my literary lifeline. Until late this past summer when Norm was quite literally dumbstruck. “Massive” was the dreaded adjective attached to the infelicitous noun: massive stroke.

For the five month-period in which we were actively sharing our works-in-progress, Norman had put aside his screenplay to work with his brother John on a novel based on the lives of their parents—Ken and Rose—drawing from memory, imagination and boxes of onion-skinned sheaves of sermons their parson father had preached from his various pulpits. When Norman recovers his language-based abilities to speak, read and write, he'll present the work himself, on this blog or elsewhere, so I won't steal his thunder, but for this brief excerpt. The passage is from Chapter One, and is wholly representative of Norman's verbal facility, particularly his gift for economical description and characterization infused always with his keenly intelligent and oh-so wry, laid-back humor.
Kenneth woke in the December pre-dawn. He shivered out of the blankets' warmth and yawned in the moonlight reflected from the church windows. In the shadows he groped his way into his trousers and shirt. His slippers were a fortieth birthday gift from Mother. Sent from the May Company department store in Los Angeles, they were good steer-leather, moccasin-stitched and lined with red and black buffalo-plaid wool. “Nothing too good for my boy,” Ken muttered his mother's mantra. Pity she can't be here to watch me wear them to the basement to stoke the furnace. He shrugged into a brown wool cardigan, elbows holed, cuffs frayed. He called it his “holy sweater.”

He went down the 75-year-old plank stairs into the coal-dusty basement, opened the still-warm furnace door, unbanked the fire, shook the grate, shoveled out clinkers, and threw two shovels of coal into the furnace. He watched the new coal flicker into flame, ignited from red embers. Satisfied it would not need corncob kindling, he closed the furnace door and walked up the staircase into the kitchen. The coffee bubbled happily. Ken found a not-too-dirty mug, poured the first of his daily dozen cups and tested it with a cautious sip. “Where the hell's my Book of Discipline?” he asked himself aloud.

The time-frame for recovery from the kind of major neurological event Norman has survived is measured in years, not months. I had a fantasy that I would interview Norm even in his current aphasic speechlessness, and that he would respond to my questions with articulate vocalizations and eloquent gestures rife with meaning, and that I would be able to interpret or translate these utterances and pantomimes sufficiently to understand what else is lost and, if anything, gained when language is repressed. Does one find other pockets of grace in which to find and communicate meaning? Does one become more observant, more adept at reading sub-text and sensing or seeking the ineffable? Is intellect curtailed or does it find some other way to flourish, through listening to string quartets for instance, or some other discourse? I'd dearly like to know the words Norman would use to characterize his relationship to his own enforced silence. Norman, in your dreams are you again fluent or do you remain a silent actor? I'd like to know if speechlessness effects Norm's sense of time; specifically, has time slowed down while he works toward and waits for the new pathways he must forge inside his own brain to reach the motherlode of intelligible expression?
 In my fantasy, I tell Norm that silence can be profoundly counter-cultural in this society of constant blather. At Occupy St. Louis, some of the more stirring images were ones of protesters with dollar bills or bar codes taped over their mouths―symbolic affirmation that our right to free speech is increasingly cheapened and impoverished. I'll look forward to hearing his response to that. I bet Norman already knows the old joke about the 9-year-old presumed-mute boy who one bright morning complains to his mother about lumps in his oatmeal. "Why didn't you speak before now?!" the startled mother asks her son. To which he replies, "Until now, everything was alright."
But I know everything is not alright. I know by the two words that Norman can say, which somehow don't seem random—No and Really. There is so much that we humans do not say to each other, even though we can, even though we could. We withhold, at times, grotesquely. Is the opposite of “nothing to say and saying it” “something to say and not saying it”? Norman will have a field day with that one!
 In the new year Norman and I will be reading aloud the only Dickens he hasn't yet read, 785 pages of the comic masterwork Martin Chuzzlewit. We're in the process of working the logistics out as to where the readings will transpire. If anyone in Bonne Terre is able to tote Norm to Farmington, perhaps we could read in The Factory in the Written Word, Spoken Word booth, where others might enjoy the experience of watching me perform comical Dickens, and no doubt hearing Norman laugh, and laugh some more. Under normal circumstances I would never presume to speak for Norman. But in these abnormal ones I'm willing to venture that Norm—ever thoughtful, ever curious, ever welcoming—would also enjoy expanding our wild and wooly circle of lit-love. 

Monday, December 19, 2011


This afternoon's view from my writing studio

It's axiomatic that all genuinely interesting people in the 573 have at least a smidgeon within their complex personalities of the Imp of the Perverse. Immodestly perhaps, I count myself among the more interesting — with all that designation entails—and so I do confess it’s wonderfully violative to write about outrageous sex acts here in the Missouri Bible Belt.

If ever there was a misnomer...!

Recently at Friday night happy hour at Champagne House, my friend Professor X told me that he had commenced a sexual liaison with a young woman from his church, who enjoyed kissing and licking his arsehole—“tossed salad” was what he called that particular sexual practice. To which I replied that just before I'd left NYC, providentially, I'd gone in for a cup of tea only to find a radical sex workshop in full swing at Bluestockings, A Radical Bookstore. Whereat I learned that God in his wisdom had caused us to be begat with a concentration of nerve endings around the human anus, and therefore skillfully and sensually-practiced sex acts involving butts and butt holes decidedly enhance both male and female orgasm. So, I didn't really see the problem.

The problem was he told me quite passionately that if she wanted to “snack on his hiney” afterwards he wanted her, at the very least, to rinse her mouth with a strong antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine. Later, reflecting on the anecdote, I thought they've brought on the kink, but their sex was not actually hot. Not hot because they haven't yet found a common language for their sexual discourse; they haven't achieved a mode of eliciting consent from each other, either expressly or tacitly. At its most fundamental consent means "feeling together." I sense my friend the Professor is worried that his lady friend's aim is not to pleasure him but to defile him.

I composed the following text at Valley Creek Coffeehouse, a Christian coffee shop where the Freedom Church meets for memorably spirited Sunday morning services. They play soft Christian Rock on a good sound system, I like their skim milk cappuccino (it froths up beautifully without the milk fat), the atmosphere is devotional, and I find of all the local wifi hotspots when I want to write something potentially erotic, I do my most focused work there. This is from Kissing Booth my new experimental novel written in episodes (not chapters), which is set in St. Francois County. In Episode 54 the heroine has sought out her Downtown Development Association mentor for some hard-nosed business advice on her kissing enterprise.

In Episode 55 her editor offers his usual flavor of rectitude—total condemnation!

Episode 54
            I'd like to go over my notes for product development with you, if I may? I've been working on a literary-inflected kiss I want to dedicate to Herman Melville, meaning that it's inspired by him, two passages particularly. One in The Battering Ram chapter of Moby-Dick (a perfectly sublime fornication) and one toward the end of The Confidence Man (wherein he's rapturously licking (my) pussy for all time)). Indulging in a little fantastical process engineering, if I could make out with Herman, what, say, three effects would I want him to take away from his experience of our encounter?
            To aim at such an exquisitely sexy target makes me instantaneously amorous and plunges me into a rare almost Meneadean wildness. Is it awful to say?, even as I freely claim it as part of my jouissance package, I want to pull Melville's beard a little bit with one hand and stroke his johnson with my velvety skin with the other, walk the narrow ledge between pleasure and agony. I want to be able to compose a kiss that tells him that I have read this man with my clitoris equally with my heart or brain. I have put the book down to touch myself at almost every reading, and this is awful to confess, he has had me up on my own two feet. Do you understand? I leapt off the bed, stood in front of the mirror, put a fedora on, and beat myself off strumming with four well-lubed fingers, left hand holding my hat, tits bouncing hard for Herman Melvillethat stout-hearted fuck.
            A man I know from a long time ago once asked me to explain to him what having a cock in my mouth felt like. And I told him, it's like reading Melville. In fact, it's exactly like that: solid, darkly-veined, bumpy in patches, salty, rock hard, and you know I just have to say this (I mean what else has this whole fucking education in literature as a record of unfulfilled desire been for?) sweet pre-cum. Let me say it again: tastes so sweet.
            So, here's what I came up with for the kissing menu's description of The Herman Melville. Don't laugh! With Herman, I want my head tilted all the way back, hanging off a bolster, looking up at the night sky. I HAVE TO BE outside with Herman, rocking with him on the deck of the Pequod. Herman's one to be kissed with tears in your eyes. Nothing less!
            Am I fooling myself that I can consistently deliver product like that? This is where I really need to lean on you, especially for pricing. Maybe I should offer it on a Pay-As-You-Wish basis?

Episode 55
was there an option of using anyone else's feet ?
It's a perfect heart-shaped pond--ground zero for the love revolution.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Poetry erupts at any given moment in the 573; I am a most privileged witness.

Change Agents

to find Dely and Mitzi
—both mothers of their own dear broods—
brushing the hair of two motherless girls
two motherless girls named Abby
—one 8, whom I'd met playing dress up next door at Lroxx Utopia, one only 3

Mitzi was gathering the older girl's golden waves in one sure hand at the base of her neck
while vigorously brushing it into a ponytail
and Dely was pretty much doing the same thing with little Abby
save her hair is darker
her loss more recent
sitting on Dely's lap, that loss was weighing on her, weighing

Photo by Steve Hull

The part of me that feels wrecked, beyond restoration, is drawn to the hulking Missouri Mine's State Historic Site near St. Joe’s Park in Park Hills. One black night last year when trying to absorb a bitter disappointment—beyond restoration, unsalvageable—, I recklessly drove there, tears blinding my path on the unlit road, blasting Verdi's Requiem being broadcast by KRCU FM in Cape Girardeau.

I pulled my rent-a-car into the desolate parking lot with its sadder-than-sad plaque insisting “We are not dead until we are forgotten” and, hollowed out like the earth beneath me, dispossessed myself of a massive grief. I opened the moon roof, and, glorying in my operatic heartache, gawked at a dense dark sky bursting of stars, and I broke. I broke all the way down. Sobbed and howled out my hurt at the crushed, elaborate dream I was now going to have to file away in a fat folder marked “Dreams Unfulfilled.” I’d been steeling myself, I had, but when it was upon me it was almost beyond belief that the mandate had been so very brutal, that the scales had tipped so very far toward utter, senseless cruelty.Where was rectitude? Where? Nowhere.

So I’m grateful that this exquisite monument to rapacious exploitation and total abandonment exists, or we would have to build one.

Photo by Steve Hull

Or maybe we already have?  When did our “leaders” make the decision to cross the line from a punishing industry to the punishment industry? The Bonne Terre Prison has capacity for 2,684 prisoners. It is currently maxed out. How many in Potosi? How many in Farmington? The Police State is not some nightmare I left behind in Michael Bloomberg's fascist New York City. St. Francois County is central to the political geography of that police state. There, we said it out loud.

*Awesome. Causing awe or terror, inspiring wonder or excitement.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Statement of Purpose

With this Written Word, Spoken Word blog, I hope to help do my part to create and sustain a vital local literary counterculture here in St. Francois County and the surrounding area. As I discover the works and readings of other daring authors, I will publicize their events and share my responses to their works. I will also explore the possible sources of writerly inspiration available here and foster where possible crosscurrents with musicians and fine artists who via their work make our hearts beat faster and/or blow our minds. In the continuing absence of any other alternative media, I hope to bring attention to businesses, individual efforts, movements, activities and events that offer non-religious inflected social or virtual spaces for the advancement of critical thought, political freedom for all, and maximum personal liberty right here in the Missouri Bible Belt.

The blog is ancillary to my Written Word, Spoken Word booth (Elevating the Discourse with Style) in The Factory in Farmington, Missouri, where for money or barter I provide personal, business and creative writing and conversational services. Part performance art, part social provocation, part "business as unusual", I aspire to model for other literary artists and intellectuals a potential way to make a modest living in a bucolic setting in the hopes that they will leave their toxic urban ghettos, sooner rather than later, and fan out across the country for all of our mutual survival.