Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 27, 2009

For the first time, I’m investing in a Broadway show. It’s Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, and Bruce was on me so much about it I gave in. I know hordes of people who are wild about Jordan and the sort of thing he does. Will Jones says he saw Jordan in Atlanta and he was “hilarious.” The budget seems modest enough that gaining expenses back is plausible. (I say that without having any idea what is plausible in this milieu and what isn’t) But the final allurement is to be part of the industry that I have– well, chosen to be part of. A kind of putting my money where my mouth is. I do wish it were something. . . more me. Shows that are more “me” did not ask. A point is not so much money that I would grieve if I lost it, so here goes. I use “point” as though I knew what it was before this afternoon, which I didn’t. Bruce was on me about this because he wanted me to be “part of the family.” Sweet. OK, I say I do.

Painted in the morning, began to research the Black Mountain play I promised to do and now have no idea how to begin.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009

I could see the Bele Cher fireworks from my porch. Not only were they spectacular, but the noise of them set up a reverberation among the surrounding hills that was quite magnificent, and lingered after the explosions themselves were gone.

Late night. Starting at dusk, I took a long walk southward, getting sicker as I walked, till the return up Kimberly was an exercise in finding places and moments to puke between houses and the prying lights of cars. While I was figuring out what THAT was about (elderly sour cream in my soup, perhaps), other thoughts came to my head, melancholy thoughts, I suppose, but thoughts edged nevertheless with energy. I think I was telling myself–self-cleansing body and brain both–that everything that came before is gone. All potential from times past is lapsed, all ungathered treasures are ungathered forever, all loose ends loose till the end of days. No love from that time will continue into the time that is before me. No hope from that time will be realized in the time that is before me. I can Google; I can Facebook, but the responses will be echoes of voices changed so that I’ll hardly understand them. I can demand redress for old wrongs, but even if successful, that’s all I’ll get: redress for old wrongs. I do not think that’s what I want. If I turn back and dwell there, I am lost. If I fight a war that is already over, my defeat is permanent. Luckily, I have no desire to turn back and dwell there. I have no desire to take up arms. I really do have nothing but the future, and there were moments-- under the hazy moon, bent over being sick on the grass– when that seemed the strangest, deepest blessing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

July 25, 2009

Mother’s birthday.

I finished Earthly Power this morning. I began it after I returned from New York, which was July 17. Finished in a week and a day. All day I have walked around with the buoyancy that comes with a task accomplished, and accomplished in joy. Last night I was stuck; this morning the solution, and the finish, came to me as easy as a morning dream. One of the few truths I have carried through all my days as a creator is that if you’re working too hard, you’re doing it wrong.

Painted with J for a while. Our brotherly romance has made me wonder what could have been in the past had I accepted relationships as offered, without worrying whether they were meant to be, or could be, something else. I drive past the studio twice a day, and if he’s not there I drive on, and if he’s there I climb and paint. Only that, and that is enough.

Bought a rocking chair during a brief sojourn in Weaverville the other day. It was delivered today, and I sat in it on the porch, reading the last of the Percy Jackson series and looking out over the garden. The garden erupts in primary colors, red and yellow and white, mingling into hot and cool pinks and oranges, purple at the edges like evening shadow. I am not a pure or a fussy gardener. The host of great mullein spearing the sky are volunteers, and if a weed or a seedling grows where it is not bothering anything else, I let it grow. I think in this way my garden is like the world, a balance of things planned and things unplanned, some of it beautiful by design, some of it beautiful by accident, here and there a swollen gold tomato like the fruit of the Hesperides.

Drove to a gym in South Asheville to talk with Kelly, a former student about training. I met his son, a ten year old with a hearing aid. We talked about Percy Jackson, which he finished before and I finished this evening sitting in my rocking chair. I told him I was in the scariest part, and he assured me that the ending would be “very good” and I shouldn’t be afraid.

Lots of e-mail traffic about Turtle Shell’s summer shorts, which includes my Werewolves of London. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to respond to and what let fly past me. I am glad, anyway, for the flurry of activity.
July 24, 2009

A magazine tells me I have Morton’s Toe on my left foot, which may help explain the misalignment and joint pain. MM says it's a sign of great intelligence, he having it himself.

My year-end faculty evaluation reveals that I teach the most students in the department. The best part of it is that I never noticed.
July 22, 2009

The garden–now in a veil of silver rain–is yellow and red, like a garden a child would draw. The cannas are just now coming into bloom. Each year I am surprised to re-learn that they are gold fringed with orange, like clear flame. Inventing recipes to deal with the bounty from the vines.

Work rushing forward on Earthly Power. The successes of New York gave me confidence.

Working out twice a day, and still have energy to spare.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 20, 2009

My energy was so enduring yesterday that I hiked to the Grove Park Inn at dusk and had a couple of cocktails in the main lobby, while a singer warbled countrified pop standards. As I drank, I breathed out a wish for some sort of adventure before the night was over, and that wish was granted. As I walked back home in the darkness, I heard the sound of a violin. Someone was playing a violin from a porch on Country Club Road. There was no traffic, and I was obscured from any light by the overhang of trees, so I danced in the middle of the road, danced in the darkness to the music of an unseen fiddle.

Werewolves of London has been chosen as part of Turtle Shell Production’s festival of summer shorts. Details forthcoming. It might mean another trip to New York.
July 18, 2009

Much rain in my absence turned the garden into a jungle. I’m just venturing out into it, blades in hand. Harvested three zucchinis that, together, must have weighed 30 pounds. Harvested a perfect flame of rose for my mantel. The hibiscus came into full flower, pink and white and scarlet and pink-and-white striped. Zach called what he can see of it from his house, “a slow explosion.”

Painted with J and M, not long, though, the spirit being elsewhere in me. Instead, I weeded joyfully, thoroughly, though not quite finally. Harvested the first of the golden tomatoes.

The books I bought in Ireland are arriving. They’re mostly gifts, but one I got for myself is a huge volume of James Barry, the Irish history painter. I personally like his work, but I can see that in some ways it is ridiculous: big, laborious paintings about ridiculous (or unpaintable) subjects, or rendered at the moment when emotions are the most implausible. I study the paintings trying to figure why, addressing essentially the same subject, Poussin is eternally sublime, and Barry needs excuses to be made about his time and place. I recognize in myself a certain likeness with Barry. In both poetry and painting, I do not always choose the workable subject, but sometimes dwell on an image in my imagination which is either irreproducible, or beyond my skill. The Greeks triumphed by portraying the inhalation of calm between exertions. Barry wants the white-hot moment, a thing beyond his skills, and, unless one were Caravaggio, beyond anyone’s. Yet I like him. I understand what he’s up to. I sit here thinking back on all the times when I did the same, when what was a masterpiece in my head was baffling or meaningless to the world.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 16, 2009

Turbulence in Newark airport, all of it unnecessary. Ah, well. Is there a circle of hell for the complicators of others’ lives? An Orthodox Jew sways and prays near one of the gates, in white prayer shawl and phylactery and tefelim. I hope he is praying for everybody to get safely home.

I left New York at just the wrong time (just the right time according to my cabbie): President Obama will be arriving today, and staying in the Marriott, right across the street from my hotel, wherein it was my wont to take my morning coffee. I would have loved to see all that laid on top of the daily frenzy of Times Square. I would have loved to catch a glimpse of the President.

Billy Elliot last night, the big fat musical of the last few seasons. It would be hard to conceive of a performer with more skill and attractiveness and dedication than the kid who played Billy last night. Virtuosity without self-consciousness, the rarest commodity on Broadway. Even as I watched, though, I pondered the wild praise heaped on the production by some whose opinions I respect. The music was undistinguished. In general I thought what I thought about Wicked: that there was a sweet story trying too hard to be Big-Time Broadway Entertainment: Mendelssohns trying to be Beethovens, when Mendelssohn is quite good enough. There was no opportunity for intimacy. Even moments which might have been intimate (just as Billy’s remembrance of his mother) were literal-minded and garishly highlighted, as though the audience might not feel the proper emotion unless beaten down the right path. Unwilling to risk the uncertainties of real emotion, emotions are dealt out to the audience tailored, pre-packaged, insistent, fortissimo. The one moment of really exquisite beauty, Billy’s pas de deux with his grown-up self, couldn’t resist a circus trick, which was both technically impressive and spiritually ruinous. I did enjoy the evening, but would have enjoyed it considerably more were there less of it, less sweaty effort to capture the widest and dumbest possible audience, fewer imaginative moments rendered literal and crass, less whoring to whose concept of theater first drew breath in Disneyworld. I do not mean that last as a criticism of the audience, but of the theater. We are nutritionist who have decided that the easiest path is to serve pecan pie all the time, for every course, at every meal. Of course the diners come to expect pecan pie. They come to the table with “child-like wonder” at the prospect of, again, dining upon sweets. They are told that this is what "wonder" is. Why shouldn’t they believe it? I don’t know where the courage to purify and restore is to come from so long as everything is so costly. I don’t know who will find the vocabulary to tell us how hungry we really are.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Loves of Mr Lincoln

July 15, 2009

It’s 4 in the morning. Not only is my jet-lag in effect, but I crawled into bed before 10 last night, exhausted, a disgrace to Times Square. My old self might be getting back to the room just now. I went to Pilobolus at the Joyce last night, and not only did I doze fitfully through the second act, but I staggered back up 8th Ave, passing enticement after enticement, hardly able to keep my legs moving under me. It was not a bad sensation at all, for I was worn out with good things and positive emotions.

The reading of The Loves of Mr Lincoln happened yesterday afternoon at the Ripley Grier Studios, a vast warren of little spaces on several floors in an 8th Ave skyscraper, given over to rehearsal rooms and studios and audition areas. I’d never imagined such a place. What an industry entertainment is in this city! Meg McQuillan read Mary. It was excellent to see Meg again, to encounter a familiar face. Of course she read beautifully. There was also a man there who had sent scripts to Black Swan, and whose name, at least, I recognized. Also assembled were the Sunny Spot regulars, plus Jim Bassi, singing the Foster songs with the voice of an angel. I had never heard the play before, not with any voice but my own. Relief came page by page. The accolades at the end were astonishing. Everyone loved it. I don’t know if it is a local custom to praise work at the moment, then rip it apart in private afterward, but I suspect not, for that would make later calls for revision puzzling. The praise was particular, various, extensive, gratifying, and confirmed what my own ears had heard. Bruce handed me a check, so if I suspected insincerity, that set the record straight.

Two days, two triumphs: I could get used to this. It almost makes me forget the hundred days, a hundred disappointments, which is the usual order of things.

Meg and the man playing Tobias were right for the parts. The rest were not, but I assume this was a reading and not an audition. The man reading Lincoln was no taller than I. He also bore a tender resemblance, in speech and manner, to Charlie Pratt.

The question is, where now? It is only a few blocks between our audition space and Broadway, but I expect time and immense effort will be necessary to get us there. The contract calls for exclusive access to the script until 2012. I don’t know whom to ask if that’s right or not, but I will sign and let fly.

Reading Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, which I got from the Oxfam in Dublin.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saint Patrick's Well

Early Tuesday morning in New York. Bright and cool. I’ve arrived in the midst of the best weather in the history of Manhattan. Wandered about yesterday in the clear morning light preliminary to my adventure in Stony Point. Got to 96th Street with 90 minutes to spare, but my dread of tardiness is so deep I could scarcely do otherwise. Penguin Rep director Joe Brancato picked me and three of the actors up and began to whisk us to the leafy suburbs, but his car broke down and we had to be rescued by David Kucher, the literary director. This was the first, and it turned out the only, bad omen of the day. Maybe it was a good omen, to get disaster behind us at the outset. Nick, Emma, and Dana chatted with Joe as I mostly listened from the front seat. Dana, who is stunningly beautiful, model-in-the-magazine ads beautiful, didn’t have much to say, but Emma and Nick fountained forth gossip, recitations of credits, theater anecdotes . It was really quite amazing. Part of it was, of course, a friendly turf war to see whose credits were more impressive. Maybe Joe was keeping track, but I lost my way early on. It seemed to me that to have that much experience they would have to be 100 years old, but it felt good to have all that seasoning funneled into my play. Names were dropped, which again eluded me, unless they were explained, such as, “By ‘Kevin’ he means Kevin Spacey.” Everybody was known and analyzed and worked with upon occasion. Everyone was a first name and a shadow of assumptions. Perhaps this wasn’t the intention, but the effect was to make clear to me how hopelessly distant I am from the New York theater scene, how very, very few names are known to me, how meager my theater-going experience compared to the professionals. I was left gazing out the window at the passing of the surprisingly lush countryside. I am a rank outsider. I don’t much care, except to ponder how many animated conversations in the coming years are going to mean nothing to me, except for pleasure in the exuberance of those having them. Late in the evening Joe asked where I lived in New York, and I told him I live in North Carolina. He knew that of course, but he had assumed I had an apartment or a pied a terre in the City. That I have determined to make a kind of career, anyway, in the New York theater from my little house in Asheville must loom pretty large to the world among my peculiarities.

Car trouble aside, the rehearsal went well, and the performance very well indeed. The eggplant at the local bistro was sublime. The actor playing old Diarmuid wasn’t up to the level, but Dana, Nick, and Emma showed what “professional” means. The passages they stumbled over in rehearsal were perfect in performance. Nick looked so wildly Irish on stage that I thought he had used magic to shape-shift. I was jet-lagged and had missed my nap, but I hope my gratitude and excitement showed through. The little re-made barn of a theater amid the foliage was packed. The mean age of the audience was around 90. I didn’t think of this as my play’s ideal audience, but in the event it was a triumph. In the question-and-answer, all they could get out of themselves was praise. I was very happy. I don’t know what happens now, but for that moment, and this one too, I was very happy.
July 13, 2009

Sitting on my bed, in this spaceship cubicle in the Paramount, before dawn, as is my wont after a return from Ireland, where is now one o’clock in the afternoon. Compactness has reached an extreme here so that it is not possible to sit down straight on the toilet, for its far lip touches the bathroom register. I don’t mind the angle, but I wonder what they were thinking when they were cobbling around the old specs and contours. I wonder how it ever passed inspection. Oddly, though, I would return here, as I have done this time, for the little rooms and the lobby are, as I say, Sci-Fi modern, and a better location could scarcely be imagined.

Stopped at the enticingly named Playwrights pub on the corner, where the energetic barkeep sounded forth on sports, and where eventually there was a group discussion of the lives and foibles of the Jackson family. I wouldn’t have believed civilians would have cause to know, or be interest in knowing, so much about that. Left the Playwright lit and ready for action. Tried to sleaze out on 8th Avenue. I went to a peep show, where I hadn’t been since they were on Times Square. It was. . . not interesting. I did get just short of staggering drunk, remembering, then, the excitement, the unexpected comfort, of passing semi-conscious (but also hyper-conscious) through the press and sound and the beautiful faces. Ended at the I-forget-what-it’s-called little bar at the Edison, where I sat beside the bar’s pianist/singer (whom Steve and Adam and I met in May, and who was off that night, but in the bar anyway), and amid the cast of Italian-American Reconciliation, which had closed that night. I wanted to talk with them, but they were too excited about the show (and disappointed, too, I think, in a way they never elucidated) and brimming with common anecdotes ro be re-shared.
July 12, 2009

Went to Riverdance at the Gaiety. It was exactly as one anticipated. Walking home down Grafton, and then through Temple Bar, I was so happy,

Afternoon. New York. Ninth floor of the Paramount. Waiting for my room to be ready, I cruised the Lexington Avenue Street Fair and MOMA. The street fair is rhythmic, which is to say the same things are sold on each block, though by different people and in a slightly different order. Rested by the wall fountain, and then in the cool of the museum. Either the edge of my indignation has worn off, or the ridiculous things in MOMA are fun and funny this time, and not simply ridiculous. Stopped at Lunney’s for a beer, and met Rich, who told me where to stay when I go to Aruba, and how he left New York for a couple of years, but home is, after all, home. I zeroed in on Rich to see if I could make contacts in New York as easily as in Dublin, and the answer seems to be yes. Was frightened while landing at Kennedy. Don’t know why. Something in the prospect of the city spooked me. But two minutes on the street cured all, and put the Times Square grin on my face. Speaking of Times Square, part of it is now closed to traffic, and features a naked cowboy strumming a guitar. He’s a magnificent specimen. If my body looked like that I’d strut naked across Times Square, too. Tomorrow is the marathon with the Penguin Rep people. I don’t know what’s expected of me, but it looks like it will take all day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Because I Was in Love Here

Because I Was in Live here

It is Monday morning, and I am a poet in the city of poets,
trying to make something of the solemn
flash of gulls over Abbey Street.

It is Monday morning, and I am a wanderer in the city of wanderers
set at Liffey mouth by wanderers off the slim,
snake-headed ships half a million mornings ago.

I have been on the street an hour and have conversed
with two Chinese, two Irish and one of my own
countrymen, and that is right.

Maybe I long to see a Georgian city under gaslight,
the women in black shawls and the men still
handsome under their scruff and scars and resentment.

But that is gone, and the blue busses pass, and the
Chinese girl tries to tell me how to buy a ticket for the
thing-on-the-rails neither of us remembers how to name.

It is Monday morning and its time to explain why the gray stones
slough off words, and the fling of the bridges, echoes.
Something hidden. Strong.

Stronger than the fence of Celtic bronze that shuddered
Caesar’s armies. Something underground. Here’s what I think:
Because I was in love here, and it came to nothing.

Dublin 6

July 11, 2009

I knew Stuart had business out of town last night, but I cruised down to MacNeil’s anyway, maybe to have the opportunity to talk about him. Met Darren, who is funnier and friendlier than just about anyone on earth, a great smiling lad, him in his white shirt and vest looking like the top of the world, too, big handsome boy. We got along great. He made me write down my name and address, and the word “postulate,” which I had used in a sentence. Darren assured me that broccoli is a well-known source of testosterone, and drains estrogen from the system. So, before a fight, load up on it. Reluctantly I went on to use my ticket for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the a Project Arts Center. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was a case study in just how gawdawful theater can be and still make its way boldly to the stage. From inquiries of my own, I understand that Project Arts is a rental facility, and if Making Strange Players wanted to rent it, they could, and the institution would not be responsible for what went on the stage. I do recall, though, with some rancor, and greater rancor when I make comparison between the two plays, that Mr Willie White, who runs the Project, felt that 7 Reece Mews was “unlikely to find Dublin audience.” Anyway, committed acting kept the evening from being outright ludicrous. Nor was the play in any way illiterate. It’s just that obvious writing talent was put in the service of the crudest didacticism, that long soliloquies stating the author’s convictions took the place of dialogue, and that though one can almost stand didacticism when the lessons are right, this play was wrong from conception up, and, when not wrong, sophomoric. It was also rather boldly Catholic. One sees why religion makes it so infrequently to the legitimate stage, for it is difficult to talk about without either sentimentality or dogmatism. This was both sentimental and dogmatic. The passionate exchange between Christ (a very beautiful Chilean) and Judas was so excruciating it made me regret I had taken a front seat; I wanted to get away as far as possible. I did have the opportunity to leave at the interval, and was balanced at the top of the stairs, but in the end I hoped that maybe something would happen to make it all gel, so I turned and trudged back to my fate. The character of Satan was particularly–nay, solely-- well rendered. The author should contemplate this.

Clearing my lungs after the Judas fiasco, I wandered Temple Bar to Frankie’s, where I met Craig, whose accent told me at once he was a Brit. From Ipswich, it turns out, here following his girlfriend, an Irish nurse. I asked Craig what his best cocktail was, and he made me a strawberry daiquiri, which I would never have thought to ask for in an Irish bar. Frankie’s basement bar is very stylish. It looks, in fact, like the set of Present Laughter.

It was a very happy night, considering the people I met and the joy of the meetings, and I came back to the hotel smiling.

Afternoon: The day was spent wandering aimlessly about, and that was exactly what I wanted to do. Sat at a café in Temple Bar making Dublin haiku. A new play came gushing into my head at exactly the spot where The Beautiful Johanna was born, a little outdoor sitting place across from a bakery on Essex Street, near the church where Brett showed his robot a few years back. It cannot be a coincidence. The new one features that horrible faux-leprechaun one sees plucking a tuneless ukelele on Grafton Street. I sat at a table later on the Liffey boardwalk, looking upstream, sipping coffee in the cool gray light and writing at my new play, wondering how there could be a more perfect moment. I broke the moment to take the Liffey boat ride. We were shown a number of bridges, and the new construction down at dockside, and Colin Farrell’s penthouse apartment, and a number of places where U2 had some adventure or other. At the mouth of the Dodder, terns attacked the boat for coming too close to their young. I’ve never taken a tour in Dublin which did not mention how much you’d pay for a night in the Clarence penthouse.

Dublin Haiku

Dublin Haiku

The shaggy Germans
kiss as they walk. They stumble
upon ever brick.

The gulls of Liffey
push the sea in among the
red cows, the white stone.

The waitress has to
pursue the Americans
who forgot to pay.

The Liffey bears the
green land, the heron-haunted,
to the green sea’s heart.

Dublin 5

July 10, 2009

Noel Coward’s Present Laughter at the Gate. The first thing which must be said is that the design for this play was magnificent. I tried to imagine changes in the decor or costumes, and each thing I imagined was less perfect than what was actually on stage. Each dress, each dressing gown, each hat was a note in key. The characters all looked like they had dressed explicitly to visit that apartment. The mode of acting was a little irritating to me, but I suppose right for the play, very arch and affected and spoken through closed lips. The women were beautiful. The men were not. There were a few clear instances of miscasting. The dialogue was often very funny, but I had to account for the fact that I did not enjoy the experience; in fact, actively, if mildly, disliked it. I liked the desk-lamp lit one-act in the bar storeroom this afternoon better. In the end, I think it was because the play’s sole reason to exist is to show off the playwright’s skill. There was no point, nothing at stake, nothing to be learned or questioned, no exploration. Gary, the main character, even prepares us for meaninglessness in his longish speech about the “realities” of the theater, when a “serious” playwright is made a laughing stock. Other things–professional sports, for instance–are pretty much about individual bravura, but one expects something more from the theater, from any art, where bravura exits to hurl the great truth home.

This afternoon it was a short play called Roman Fever, by Hugh Leonard, at Bewley’s. It was a clever bit of acid, and they gave us free soup.

People ask me why I don’t move to Ireland, since I spend so much time here. The real answer is practicality. But as departure day draws near, I consider how I am heartbroken standing in the airport at Shannon and Dublin, and that alone must be some sort of message. Though the philistine in me keeps asking, “How then shall I live?”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dublin 4

July 9, 2009

I described to Stuart how I spend my evenings on holiday and he said “people collecting.” That is exactly right: people collecting. I wondered if Stuart considered that he had been collected. Will need a bigger drawer for him.

Anyway, set out in the evening after one of my heroic hotel room naps, and lit upon Pravda, down by the river, a place I had often passed but never entered. It’s an enormous interior, full of interesting elevations. I sat down beside Gareth, a skinny kid whose mass of hair looks like it is about to break his neck. Full-on, though, his beauty was wild and startling, like the face of a faun glimpsed suddenly in the forest. He was reading Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa and making notes in a fine, creamy handmade diary. He fronts a band where they play music while he reads the prose pieces he writes in the lovely notebook. His conversation with the bartender had been about a girl, and girls were one of his top concerns. Around him were bags filled with the printed versions of his friend Julia Morrisey’s roman a clef, Clean Young Mess, which he had copied for her in advance of distribution at some music/ arts/ literary event. He gave me one, and it is quite horrible, and when Julie came in with her mates to collect them, her perky prettiness made a dissonance with the tragic myopic in the story. Gareth, despite encouraging bad writing in his friends, was a brilliant young man, well-read, easy to talk to, without the didacticism and defensiveness of the usual Intellectual-Irishman-in-a-bar. I felt eloquent and open with him, as though he were conveying me into the vacant air as he had done his friend Julie. I didn’t quiz him about his education, but there had evidently been a lot of it, and I admired the fact that alongside the intellectual dwelt the most unabashed hound-dog, watching for girls, speaking of girls, planning a move to Vancouver in pursuit of a girl.

Short visit to S at his workplace. He told me two jokes his patrons had told, snickering and chortling through the telling so that I never actually heard them, but laughed my head off at the end anyway.

Cruise through Temple Bar, listening to a band that I thought was Romanian or something until one handsome kid opened his mouth and out came the purest, roughest Chicago you’d ever want to hear, Arrived at the Ha’penny Bridge in time for comedy night. It was really pretty good, funny and inventive. I was the one American in the room, and so became the butt of many of the jokes. There is an Irish–maybe a worldwide– assumption that Americans are stupid, enthusiastic, confident, brash. I don’t contest any of it but the first, and then not in every case. One of the comics asked me if it wasn’t true that one went to South Carolina only to be stabbed, and I allowed as how it was. One tried to pick on a beautiful Hungarian couple before turning to me, but realized pretty quickly that being Hungarian is not particularly funny. The Australians were good fodder, too: the Americans and the Australians. The subject of rape came up surprisingly often. It was pretty good, and I hadn’t expected it to be.

I must remember not to tell anyone I’m a playwright, for it turns out to be an excruciating thing to explain.

Had forgotten what time I’d agreed to meet S, so I set out well before bar closing. At the edge of Temple Square I was attacked. The truth is, I didn’t actually realize it was happening until it was over. I guess it was my Obama T-shirt (or maybe not), but this sort of burly drunk followed me a few paces, asked me how I was, and when I said, “Fine thanks, and you?” he punched me in the chest. Twice, maybe more. I don’t think he was punching very hard, for I didn’t interpret it as an attack until his friends shouted “Oh my God!” and pulled him off of me. My pulse didn’t raise even by a fraction, so far as I could tell.

Gareth warned me that the Bulmer’s pear I was guzzling is a laxative. This turns out to be correct.

Took my laundry to the New York cleaners (where it was received by a tow-headed Latvian girl), sat in a café in the Temple Bat and wrote, then hiked on to the Chester Beatty Museum, which I remember as a highlight of my last Dublin sojourn. The man at the desk said, “We have a special exhibition of Joseph Haydn, the composer, you know. This is his bicentennial; we have been enjoying his compositions for four hundred years.” The Zen contemplation garden on the roof is so chocked with distractions it’s my guess that not one moment of contemplation has ever been accomplished there.

I thought I was moving aimlessly thereafter, but my feet took me to the International Bar at exactly the moment a play was set to begin upstairs. It was Insomnia Productions’ “European Premiere” of Sticks and Stones by American playwrights Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. The room would have seated maybe fifty, upstairs of the bar, with the windows blocked by floor mats and the stage lights created by nailing goose-neck desk lamps to a beam and pointing them back toward the stage. The play knocked on the door of boldness and vision, but never went in. Yet it was a solid effort, well acted, and the whole set-up was my dream theater world, a vibrant little play in every storeroom and attic in a vibrant city.
Among Gulls

Among gulls
it is the old who are beautiful,
rising up from gray-brown,
inconsequential adolescence
into the sea air, lords of it,
cruciform, blazing their white glory.

Mark this
say I to an old man
bent like a tree above his own lap
on the benches along Liffey,
watching the snow gulls,


Liffey Swans

Droll swans of the Liffey wag their tails,
glance backward at us passing on the bridge,
in that mocking way they have, the tilted head,
the half red smile, as if the river
were, of course, the better road.

I have known them thundering from the sea at dawn,
where, whispered to on all sides by the deep,
they dreamed what dreams the deep must give them,
strong and mysterious, with the monsters
passing under them upon the rivers
laid on rivers beyond imagining,
the deepest laid at last upon the Fire.

And they come back before the bridge is filled,
settle in, waiting for their crusts of bread.
Oh Swan! I cry, dropping my image
in the ripple at his moving breast.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dublin 3

July 8, 2009

Had no theater tickets last night, so it was a pub crawl. Started on Capel Street, at MacNeill’s. Stuart the bartender was flirting with me. Stuart is about 6' 7" and burly as a (very fit) bear, two things that I like. Anyway, we had a long chat about travel and hurling (he played for a Dublin club team, and we watched the Dublin/ Kilkenny match replayed on the TV), about Germany and Ireland in WWII, and then about the Christian Brothers. He went to a CB school, and they seem to have been as bad as recent fiction and current media have portrayed them, bullies, cowards, pederasts not out of warped longing, but out of direct cruelty. Once their hurley team did something to embarrass their headmaster, who lined the boys up and slapped them across the face with his ecclesiastical ring, cutting, maybe scarring their faces. Stuart said, “If you hit me, sir, I will hit you back.” The response was, “I’d like to see you try.” The headmaster struck him, and Stuart broke his jaw. The garda were told the whole story–after the headmaster lied about it–and the truth and Stuart’s six bigger-than-he-brothers brought things to an acceptable end. Two American kids came in, students from Nashville. They thought they were going to get jobs in Ireland after they graduate, and live here. Who knows? They were still in the asking-how-much-it-costs stage. He looked disturbingly like me, and she was clearly a forceful feminist, sending him signals that he was in some anxiety to obey. We made loose plans to see the Jameson distillery together. On to the Boar;s Head, which has a boar’s head, and where great lumps of Irish galoots were debating one another with smiles on their faces. Wandered Temple Bar for a while, then on to the George, which has redecorated again, and which was unimaginably boring. Staggered home laden with Bulmers. It was pathetic as a pub crawl goes, but there is time to make amends.

Found my feet headed west this morning, so I steered down Mary’s Street, past the brick warehouses, which must be the larders of the whole city (and where, I see now, I was mugged a few summers ago), to the Jameson distillery. Jessica our guide revealed that of the 200 Irish distilleries in the 18th century, four were left in 1970, and, furthermore, like Guinness, Jameson is no longer made in Dublin at all, but, along with all the other brands of Irish whisky, at some monstrous factory in Cork. It was an informative tour. For the first time I have a clear idea what malt is. We met Smithy, the champion mouser cat from seventy years ago, stuffed and set to watch over his former domain. I was chosen one of the whisky testers, which meant I was part of a taste test comparing Scottish, Irish, and American whiskies. There are real taste differences. I actually preferred the Jack Daniels, but it wasn’t the place to say such a thing. Hated the scotch. Long chat with the beautiful Breton girl who brought me salad, and who wrote down details of a festival in her homeland which I may actually attend one day. I have always gotten along with French people I have met elsewhere; maybe that is a sign.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dublin 2

July 7, 2009

Got back to my room just as the deluge began.

Saw Tom Murphy's The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant last night. I’d asked to be seated up front, and there I was, able to note the working of those skilled faces. The acting was impeccable; the set magnificent, and the play– a bit of the love child of Brecht and John B Keane, with a family resemblance to King Lear– was meaty, intelligent, fully engaging. I wouldn’t say it is a great play, and the acting was so sublime it may not even be as good as I think it is, but it is the kind of play that makes you grateful, a money-well-spent, an exercise-for-the-brain type of play. In addition to being a little old-fashioned, the work has several (minor) flaws in its lovely affect. The biggest may be an ill-conceived post-mortem soliloquy in which the main character tries to justify a life which has been fully, if not justified, explored in the work itself. The soliloquy did contain the great line, “I loved you as much as was safe.” The soliloquy has the feel of a suggestion made by a nervous producer or director, wanting all the doors at the end to close with a satisfying click.

Crossed over to the Flowing Tide afterward, where I had a lovely conversation with Paul McKee about the play and about theater, and with the merry-eyed bartender about politics. McKee is in a wheelchair, and seems to find that vaguely funny, or in any case doesn’t let it cramp his style. He said he’d tell his daughter in New York to look out for my plays. The bartender, whose name I did not ask, had the most infectious laugh and, like all Irishmen, a bitter, cynical mistrust of every aspect of Irish politics. I came home glowing with their acquaintance and fueld by Bulmers.

Today began at the Hugh Lane, where I visited my much-loved cycad, and followed a three year old Irish/Indonesian boy around as he ran from one work of art to another, improvising a Museum song which sounded like a lullaby played on little wooden bells. His parents followed too-- Irish dad, Asian mom–as surprised and fascinated as I. The featured modern artists were three of them good and one of them bad, none very memorable. I tried to visit Loretto at the Leinster, but, inevitably, she was on holiday. On to the National Gallery, at which I arrived in time to hear a lecture on a wooden statue of Elijah triumphing over the priests of Baal. The girl lecturing was brilliant. Who knew there was so much to know about Spanish polychrome wooden sculpture of the 17th century? Went to the Yeats room to grade my approach to the image which I recognize as me in Eternity– The Singing Horseman. I am much closer now than when I stood there last.

Bought plums from a banshee-resembling vendor on O’Connell Street.

Every muscle in my legs has stiffened into wood.

Dublin 1

July 6, 2009

Lynman’s Hotel, O’Connell Street, Dublin.

I have made two mistakes so far, both based on the ordinarily noble principle of experimentation. I thought it would be no problem to get from Newark to Kennedy in four hours on a Sunday, but it turns out that was barely enough time, what with it being a fine day and everybody heading for the beach, what with it being the end of a long weekend and everybody heading home from what vacation they could manage. Did get my first look at Staten Island, which is surprisingly suburban, in places quite green. The neighborhoods reminded me of working-class neighborhoods of Akron. The tour of the boroughs included Richmond, Brooklyn, and Queens, but we did get there $130 poorer and in time, if barely. The Brooklyn shore bristled with picnickers, the sky shimmering with kites. It was lovely, or would have been had I not been trapped in an un-air-conditioned taxi having no idea whether my trip was on or not. The flight afterward was lulled away in an almost unbroken river of sleep, but I do remember that the girl next to me was obsessed with Madame Bovary. I would have commended her reading could I have stayed awake that long. I do thank the Power which allows me to have slept through most of my travels.

The second mistake was this hotel. I thought I knew the establishments along O’Connell, but I didn’t know this one, and there was a reason why. It is a crappy, badly run, shit-storm of a hotel, but now that I have been in my room for a while (after a SIX HOUR WAIT) I have come to appreciate my window on the bustle of O’Connell Street (which it is well that I like, for there is no air-conditioning and the window must be open) and the mercy that the squalor of the room is old-time Irish squalor, and I think I can be productive here. It certainly has a few more stars in its Expedia listing than it deserves. I wondered why there was a vague smell of ash in the room: former occupants used the outside windowsill as an ash tray, and a pile of butts gray and crumble in the sun.

The times when I say of travel, “it’s just too hard,” become more frequent, but have not won yet.

Yet almost the instant my feet hit the street,new life awoke in me. I cried for joy as I had not in Dublin for so long that I thought that particular emotion was gone. The first café where I sat down, the poetry came gushing out of me, and paused only because I paused it to walk on a little more. It as though this is my first stay in Dublin, and all is new and wonderful–except that I know where everything is and am not dragging around a map. I know why I keep coming here. People ask, and I make something up, not knowing really what to say. I come here to write. I might have hidden this from myself all along, it being too clear, too crisp, too joyful.

Bought Irish first editions and tickets for my evenings. Tonight it is a the Abbey. I have been writing, sleeping, writing since I was finally allowed into my room. Now I must prepare for the theater on the first night ever this man of fire was in Dublin.

Will also strive to keep my gorge unlifted by further discoveries in the room.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

July 4, 2009

A better Independence Day cannot be imagined. Drank iced chai at the café and wrote a poem in the gray marble morning light. I rendered my own zucchini into stew. I napped on the couch, where I was visited by the most wonderful dreams: I was beginning my life over in Keats’s Finer Tone, matriculating at Hiram again, but this time Hiram on a grassy blade of stone in an Alpine wilderness, immense mountains and deep emerald valleys all around, and one swam through silky golden waters to get from building to building. I sang on the mountaintop. I officiated at Allison and Owen’s beautiful wedding, where everything was sweet and casual and tender. Met people I will like forever f they allow me. I went to the reception, where I signed the official documents and was given a basket full of goodies, which can sit in the fridge until I return from travels, thereupon to surprise me again. When I arrived at the reception on Grove Street, Bud said, “Your timing is perfect; Ann just left.”
I stood in my garden moments ago. There is still daylight, though one would not call it “broad.” I was thinking that I am anxious to get to Ireland tomorrow, and yet desire to stay right where I am. This is a very good ambivalence. It is practically the first time it has happened in my life, an orb of gold in either hand. As I drove to the reception, I passed a dozen unique specimens, a man walking, playing his guitar; people in face paint, tattooed Goths; women with flowing gray hair, all passing under a bridge whose pylons are graffitied into a wild museum, and I thought, “I love Asheville.” Popping of firecrackers from one hillside, then another.

Played Springsteen’s Born to Run to honor America.

Independence Day, 2009

A day more perfect could hardly–
a day more purely summer-
more moving marble in the heavens,
more green, more cuddled to the
bosom of some more radiant god,
more blue crystal Carolina
could ever– well, you understand.

I will dedicate this day to Allison’s wedding,
where I will wear white,
which is less hilarious than some may think.
A week ago it was Jeff’s funeral,
where I refused to wear black
in my place at the pole
which bore the casket, refused to wear black,
but green instead,
to honor the great wheels turning
even at that moment all around us.

I will go to Allison’s wedding in a white, white shirt
and those white shoes one has for summer,
and the rest of the time
shall cook the two immense zucchinis,
forearm long, forearm
most recently produced
by the energy of vine
and dirt and rain
to make my dinner
on a summer afternoon, before an evening wedding.
when you know the summer Constellations–
oh! wheeling there, and wheeling–
will be as
Fireworks, so slow,
the “Ah!” drawn out into the days of God.
July 3, 2009

Day of fair torment yesterday. The sickness got progressively worse, but broke in the dark of the morning. Now I’m exhausted. Also hungry, which is a good sign. Each attack is a little different. This didn’t seem to go into my legs, but brought on violent chills, that caused the muscles of my back to seize. Also, I was unable to stay awake longer than it took to change positions in the bed. Cool morning, the last day of summer school. I’m disoriented, trying to decide what I need to do first. Trying not to catch the bed in the corner of my eye, and lie down again.

Swerved on Edgewood to avoid a mole scampering across the road. Came into the kitchen to find Maud nose-to-nose with a mouse. I don’t think she knew exactly what to do. I let the mouse out the door, it probably still thanking the Mouse Zeus for delivery from a cat and a human both.

Still sick enough to wonder if I should go to Allison’s no-rehearsal rehearsal dinner.
July 2, 2009

Woke to phlebitis. Started medication early enough, I think, to avoid a major onslaught. Circe is at fault, for clawing me deeply two mornings ago. She didn’t mean to, but her life on the streets gives her a startle reaction that us at once violent and uncontrollable, and she will claw her way through anything to gain traction. This cannot be part of our common life. I explained it to her, hoping that something might get through. If not, accommodations must be made, which I don’t want to think of now. I have 8 hours of class to get through while hardly able to stay awake. Now I know how they feel.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 1, 2009

I walk out into the garden late in the afternoon when I get home. The eight foot mulleins will be so bathed in pure light that they look unreal, or like vast towers of an impossible city seen from a great distance. Everything will be still and radiant and holy, and I will wonder what my duty toward it all is. I think I should simply stand in the light, unmoving so long as the light itself does not move. I should. . . plant myself. . . and look. . . the afternoon light itself a prophesy, a revelation, and though in a language I do not understand, I should pause and take in every word. Evening now. I have filled the birdbaths. The aphids have not coated the stems; the slugs have not delved. I feel blessed. I feel I should stand in the garden and worship, or if not worship, watch and listen. The yellow of the mullein flowers is more vibrant in the dimming light. I am going away for ten days, but if I stayed it would be well. I could stand in my own garden and stand in a far, strange country.

Ireland is the ostensible destination, but when I get back to New York what I have chosen as my career will more properly be engaged. Reading of Saint Patrick’s Well at Penguin Rep on Monday night, then Jack B has organized a preliminary reading of The Loves of Mr. Lincoln for Tuesday. I don’t know what a preliminary reading is, but I suppose I’ll have to be at my best, and that I’ll be disappointed, but Jack and Bruce will tell me it came out exactly right regardless of my impressions. Have begun work on Earthly Power, the second part of the Lincoln trilogy.

Brought my painting The Garden of the Benus home to hang on my wall. I used to love the meaning of my paintings, but now, thanks to Jason, I can love the meaning and the body of them as well.