Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Me, the Bee Gees, and Books in the Basement

 

1977 Billboard Music Awards

Lonely days, lonely nights. Where would I be without my omen?

I think that’s how it goes. Down here in the basement, the sound of tiny paws scurrying within the heating duct, spiders in the west ground-level window, unsold books, unsold paintings, unsold greeting cards, all the company a young boy needs. And, of course, Barry, Robin, and Maurice. (And Andy)

My newest book – “Dictation from the Backyard” arrives today on UPS, they promise, 50 copies destined for collector status at some point far down the road, every page numbered incorrectly, off by one (not the loneliest number), allowable by a formatter glitch and yours truly missing the obvious on three separate “proofing” opportunities. You now what — I’m blaming it all on the nights on Broadway. Anyway, all these paperbacks spilling out onto the living room floor sometime the next few hours, potential magnets for dust, leave me rocketing with sadness and I’ll start a joke, and I’m thinking about stalking customers — “Well I had to follow you though you did not want me to.” As in, tag, you’re it.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wRM-t7wvF0

I’d take a room full of strangers, yeah, they’ll be another “Book Signing” up at Papccino’s if they’ll still have me, it’s where I read these very poems up at the open mikeMany of my poems are about Massachusetts, lights out or on. Like a mining disaster, if you catch my cave-in. And what about caving to the obvious and buy a friend’s book and give it away, say, the 14th, poems, maybe show how deep your love is, it’s possible and all the while participating in someone else’s journey in a helping way, which Thoreau (another Bay State boy) told us all there ain’t nothing better. Buying all these Words.

I was meditating then,
That summer,
In a chair
In a spare bedroom,
But I took to meditating while standing
In the imperfect silence
Of my afternoon meadow visits.
Stand up on the edge,
Undercover through bushes and trees
The crowd unaware,
I’m still,
I’m empty,
I’m large,
Suntanned skin tickled, tricked by the breeze off the nearby sea
Aware of sliding sweat
Gravity’s friend
Down my back.
Aware hot tires rolling over tar,
Aware the soft slap
Of runners’ shoes, behind,
Passing.
Passing.

 

Run to me.

Dictation_from_the_B_Cover_for_Kindle

 

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Taking My Sweet Time

(From the Morning Pages)

My body feels better than yesterday, fewer aches in the low back and behind my knees. I woke up that way — improved — though surely two aspirin have helped. I also woke with a headache, my first in

me-writingweeks, and it is not lost on me that I ate ice cream last night — lots of it — for the first time in a while, not a good decision for different reasons, which means self-discipline in refusing any of what’s left is the only way to go. Sad or smart or both or neither, life is life. A new experiment keeping my morning coffee hot and fresh, this morning, worked well — some metal container guaranteed to keep liquids piping hot making possible turning off freshly-brewed wake-up nectar, the second cup now as fresh as the first eliminating that cooked burned reality requiring more half and half for balance, thereby settling for less and, oh well, now that’s behind me. Some eighteen days past my 69th birthday. So, better late than never, or who’s zoomin’ who. One of them.

 

 

Reading Earnest Gaines upstairs in the blue recliner versus downstairs in my everyday pink, I’m mostly moved by his dedication to writing. He said more than five hours a day five days a week is too much for him, I’d be back-flipped thrilled if I could — if I do — get myself to two hours a day five days a week, which is nearly never — so far. It would jump forward, my writing.

 

In Rilke’s “Letters To a Young Poet” Rilke asks — the young poet — if he could live without writing. Yes, if he could live without writing, because the answer to that question determines whether one is a writer or not. It’s clear reading Gaines’s essays that he could not live without writing. My surface mind goes immediately to — I could. Meaning I’m not a writer. But on a walk with my wife the other day I brought up the Rilke measure for a true writer and told her it worried me at first glance, but, if I stop to breath –deeply — in all my past there is evidence that I have been one who writes and has written all his life, and there are few, barely any, personal characteristics/qualities I can say that about — a particular act repeated over such a stretch of time. So, a writer, then, I be, and perhaps it is character defects of chronic laziness and never-ending dis-tractability which keep me from the sweat and inner commandment to show up at the keyboard and/or notebook every single day — or die.

And like so much else of life this proposition is worth pondering — if not for you, surely for me. Which I am and I do and I will, and I do show up every single morning for these morning pages for years and years now. There’s that.


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Rap-sody in the Rain

I was on the phone with my main man Provincetown Keith the other afternoon. He was in a van with his squeeze Sally, tooling down US 287 west out of Lawton, Oklahoma with a destination somewhere around greater Amarillo, TX in mind. Keith is one of my three spiritual advisers (which include him, head East Bay drug czar Gavin O. in Oakland, CA, and my wife Susan, currentlyLawton upstairs doing something healthy and useful.) I’d called Keith because I was in need of spiritual advice.

I was out on a walk and it had begun raining — well, here in Portland, perhaps I should more accurately say it had resumed raining — anyway, water was oozing down from the sky and I was attempting to protect my non-waterproof smart phone by holding it up somewhere between the collar of my raincoat and the brim of my Red Sox baseball cap, my right arm curled up and around in some Dali-like abstraction of human anatomy, and still keep the microphone end of the phone pointed toward me because I was in need of spiritual counseling, I was in need of comfort — comfort from my own anguished thoughts and — what I was about to admit — escalating resentments.

So I laid it out for Keith, after perfunctory “what’s ups?” and “good to hear your voice Bro’s”, I’ve published a new book, it’s my second book of poetry, it’s my fourth overall, and I’ve sold just three copies (not counting the eBooks my wife and I both ordered on differing electrical devices) and what do you have to do, how much begging will be enough, and yes, okay, I did quote from Rilke the question of whether or not I would die if I didn’t write, which feels strongly like an affirmative for me so, yeah, the writing’s the thing, and also asked, as a devilish advocate, if you write a book or write anything for that matter and no one reads it, like what’s the point? And Keith, and he’s good at this, interrupted repeatedly through his laughter saying “Dude, you’ve got your own answer”, and me firing back then why don’t I just write, say, the greatest book of poetry ever written and then run out to the backyard and set the mother on fire, and Keith said “Come one man, please, seriously?” and I said I know resentments are bad, but still, and Keith said “Ah, there….there in the ‘but still’….there’s the disease.”

It should be reported here that Keith and I met way back in the fall of 2007, just when the Red Sox were ramping up their second World Series run, at early morning meetings in Provincetown out at the tip of old Cape Cod where a whole bunch of people — who’d gotten up early to do so — spilled their guts about pain and struggle and joy and release and, yup, resentments and even feeling free at last, and pretty early on we — Keith and me — figured out we were spiritual buddies, and over these last 10 or so years we’ve taken turns at the spiritual nourishment thing depending on who needed it the most on that particular telephone call — and a sad fact is that we have not laid eyes on the person of each other since the summer of 2008, being only phone advocates of abundance and joy…..

Then I nicked the wrong thing on the side of the phone or they passed through a cell phone dead zone or a chuckling God farted or something because the phone went dead and I trudged home in the rain and they, I presume, kept motorvating west, and when I arrived home I texted Keith and said okay, I got it, that feeling of self-pity is leaving me, I get it, and the next day, maybe two days later, he messaged me and said as soon as he and Sally landed somewhere they felt like hunkering down for awhile — so as to have an address — he was gonna order both my poetry books on line and he was so proud of me and I was like a hero and other cool spiritual nourishment and comfort statements.

Meaning mostly I was comforted in the not selling any books thing because, like the men (Rilke and Keith) said, I wrote the damn things. And how cool is that.

Then, 20 minutes ago, I read a quote from Samuel Johnson in the preface to Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir” which said this —  “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for any cause but money.”

Which may necessitate another call to somewhere in the southwest.

Some day

I’ll fall back

Into the pattern of the world.

I’ll still be free

On the Orleans rotary.


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10,000 Revisions

Open Mike 2

I pray today is a day of no wasted time. Exactly none. I’ve been successful so far though it is only five minutes past seven in the morning. In the morning recliner I was reading the poems — a few — of Pablo Neruda from a library book of his complete works. Mostly I was reading from the lengthy introduction. From there, on the second cup of coffee, I moved on to breakfast recipes in the Tassajara Recipe book, which arrived earlier in the week via Ebay and set me back only four dollars and some cents including shipping. I took a little time to ponder over five photos of myself the resident Papaccino’s coffee shop photographer slipped me in an envelope from a local print shop as I made my way back to my seat from the microphone in the corner of the room. Two months ago I could not have imagined reading anything — a recipe, a prayer, some passage from one of Dr. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing books, anything — in front of people, having developed (I remember distinctly) a variety of panic disorder reading in front of a group of men in a brightly lit basement room in a church on Medford Ave in Somerville, MA — all with hyper-ventilations and heart interruptions and fear of not catching a new breath — ever again — meaning I have refused to read in public for more than ten years.

This morning
Gray with misunderstandings
And surrenders
Distractions of the highest order,
Golden,
Enticing in their ambiance
Welcome turnaways from
That hungry child
In the public school door.
She’s invisible.

But this was my fourth appearance up at the open mike, after one initial week of panic and refusal, and some neighborhood guy was handing me pictures of me. By the way, I look old though I can happily and honestly report I feel within my mind and spirit and soul quite the opposite, even in a world of aching knees and prescribed cholesterol medication.

Last night I read two poems from Minor Revelations and one from my second book of poetry — Dictation from the Backyard. I finished, placing my hands on the provided metal reading stand to keep the shaking less visible, with a poem I’d written only yesterday morning, I felt compelled to read it even if it didn’t feel in it’s final state — kind of like how I feel about myself….not my final state, not yet. Still, the poem is titled 10,000 Revisions, which could or could not be some metaphor for my own transformations.

Someone yelled out, after my first poem, “Did you write that?” Someone else approached me when the open mike thing was over and said he wanted to buy a copy of my book. I said I’d bring one next week. Meaning I can’t be wasting any time…..anytime.

I’ve followed you to the carnival,
Followed into the funhouse,
All it’s laughable distortions.
But see,
Here,
I hold a mirror
True in its reflection
Taken from atop the girl’s
Second-hand dresser,
A birthday gift some year back
I’ve watched her hold it
In one hand
Brush her hair with the other, and
Now I’ve borrowed it
As if it is a breaker
To be snapped closed
And cut through
The tripped darkness,
Which is intentional
And obligates me
To flip the switch.


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Winding Down and Up

This notebook is winding down in terms of filling up. It’s usefulness that is. An iron vessel of haphazard recordings. From somewhere in my head. Do things truly improve with age?

 

Guitars I gu20160127_144054ess, if solid wood. Wine? Gave it up back in the 80s. How many notebooks have been filled and here’s a better question — where are they now? Is something lost in the transcription from mind to lined paper? Or gained? Beats me. I just hold the pen. I walk down into the pitch-black cellar, I reach for the horseshoe nailed to the archway, any feel might bring me luck. I’m already lucky I’m still here, another day of these morning pages. No white chalk outline yet. My next word ought to be obligation. If I’m still here, even in the dark, if I’ve fingered the lucky horseshoe one more day, I’ve got to owe something. I mean it’s been gravy through the late 20s — mine — I mean how many times can you throw up sound asleep, every extra day like I step into a vehicle and drive through the city streets passing out presents. Ho ho ho. Glad to report in this notebook. I’ve never been all just a taker.

 

Einstein said we serve others, is what we do. Our purpose here. Glad I’ve gone along for the ride. I wish I’d learned better words along the way, and seen more, even in pitch-black basements, who knows, maybe especially there. I guess I’m okay in sunlight. I like to read poetry, now, before I come to these notebook pages. Stir all the stuff in a bowl. It’s really good when I can forget — even for the extended moment — who I am, let someone else carry that baggage for a while. My obligation, maybe the only one I’ve got, is to show up here and write. We always use to say suit up and show up. So, it’s something like that.


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The Way of a Poem

I finished a poem last week, it was seven pages long. I’d typed it in one long paragraph from notes and lines of possible poetry in a notebook and my Morning Pages over the previous week when I was on my way to and then in San Diego

SD Air 2with my wife Susan, visiting her parents.

I’d typed the long paragraph late in the afternoon, a clear cold day with an east wind howling outside our Portland windows, and before going up the basement stairs to handle dinner I’d begun my process of hitting the “Enter” key on the keyboard to create a new line — the next line — when it felt poetically proper to do so. I got maybe a quarter of the way through my lengthy mess. During and after dinner my wife Susan and I watched four episodes of NYPD Blue Season 11, though I nodded out here and there during the last 42 minutes. So when Susan was heading up to bed (and one of my most favorite things is to get into bed while she’s still awake and look at her in the dark and giggle) I truly meant it when I said I was too tired to do anymore work on the poem and was simply going to turn off the computer.

I came back up the basement stairs out of a trance 45 minutes later, then cut up and ate my mandatory (reflux) before bed every evening apple while watching “All the President’s Men” on HBO — it feeling kind of relevant these days — and so I found myself quietly slipping into bed in the dark beside my now long-dreaming wife at 11:19. One opportunity missed — and I don’t take that lightly — and another seized — ditto.

The poem is “San Diego Say So” and the plan is for all seven pages of it to appear within the next volume of poetry I publish sometime in early 2018 (on the cheerful assumption we’re all still here).

 

For show and tell purposes — and maybe serving as a teaser —  within a short section of the poem, this became this:

This

“We’ll pass the San Diego airport which I like, the one runway, the in-bound planes approach in wide arc out over the County, in fact fly just over the in-laws home, descend in a straight line 13 miles they pass so low, eventually, over India Street (in Little Italy) San Diegans can look into oblong plane windows at the wide-eyed expressions of young boys and their parents reaching for smart phones. I’m not a native here, but I’ve been on the street and seen those faces. And, in the air, been seen as one.”

Became This

We’ll pass the San Diego airport

Which I like,

The one runway.

The inbound planes approach in wide arc

Out over the County, in fact

Fly just over the in-laws home,

Descend in a straight line

13 miles.

They pass so low, eventually, over India Street

(In Little Italy)

San Diegans can look into oblong

Plane windows

At the wide-eyed expressions of young boys

And their parents reaching for smart phones.SD Air 1

I’m not a native here, but

I’ve been on the street

and seen those faces.

And,

In the air,

Been seen as one.


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To Go Where No Buddy Has Gone Before

If the question is – “Why a book of poetry?”

The answer, (honestly), is – “Beats me.”

I do not remember writing the first poem. It was just there. Another followed, then another. Over a short period of time – no moSusan holding Minorre than 10 days – someone who’s never had much of an inclination toward or appreciation of the written poem fell down the rabbit hole and all the way in. Quickly I found myself entirely devoted to poetry. It began to fall out, every morning after sitting meditation and with coffee in the recliner. In fact, many of the poems to be found in my first book of poetry – “Minor  Revelations” – showed up in a flash sitting in the recliner.

I have always been a Shakespeare fan, a big one. Beyond that, no friend of poetry. In fact, a couple of years ago a friend named Kate, someone with whom I’d worked years earlier in a Portland foster care program, got the idea to bring poetry into Portland area juvenile detention centers and groups homes – something she’d been involved with in Seattle – and when asked, I signed up as a volunteer. I went to a number of the poetry planning meetings and brought home the books of poetry written by the kids up in Seattle Kate gave me to read (though I never read them much). After a while, the familiar fog of guilt upon me, I respectfully resigned…..Little did I know.

Today I have a second book of poetry in the works, about a third of the planned way complete. One of the poems in that project is called “Kate, I Didn’t Know”. Kate and I had a cup of tea at the Chinese Garden downtown Sunday morning and I told her about it – my new life as a poet, the second book, the poem with her name. She laughed — with me or maybe at me, who can tell. Probably a little of both. Kate’s always been a fan and supporter of my varied adventures.

My answer, above, to the question “Why a book of poetry?” was “Beats me.” While  the “you got me”, “couldn’t tell ya”, “never woulda thought it”, all those ring true, there’s also a fabulous obsession in which I found myself immersing about a year ago with the literature of “The Beats” – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Hettie Jones, Diane di Prima, Clellon Holmes. Obviously there’s a lot of poetry there and while reading everything Kerouac I began the tiptoe through some of Ginsberg as well. “Howl” for sure. Then others. The point being that it’s possible the Beat poets were reaching out from the 50s and 60s, whispering in my ear – and in my heart – “come along with us, Buddy. It’ll be worth it. It’ll be exciting. It’ll be fun.”

So far it has, a joyride eons beyond anything I considered, never mind hoped for. I’ll talk in more detail –  in my next post – just how that ride has looked as I’ve whizzed along all the road maps and signs of my interwoven life.

Here are the last 19 lines of “Kate, I Wasn’t Ready”:

…..

Though I suspect it was a game,

Always a game.

Call it hide and seek

Where I was

Forever ‘It’

And poetry a better hider.

 

So,

Then,

When Kate took my hand,

Led me to workshops,

Filled my flimsy arms with thin volumes

of the good stuff,

Explained to me as if to a child.

All that time –

All this time –

Poetry giggled

Almost silent,

Hiding behind my favorite tree.

 

Invisible.