Tuesday, December 18, 2012


There's a line I'm rather fond of, by the American philosopher Richard Rorty: "thinghood itself is description-relative."

We have no assurance that our words "cut nature at the joint."

There has been a good deal of international comparison going on of late concerning things like homicide rates, in which case, the United States looks rather dire, provided of course that you restrict the conversation to "developed" countries.

I think it is at least worth considering the possibility that the words "homicide" and "suicide" are, following Rorty, one "thing." (a suicide is a homicide where the perpetrator and the victim are one.)

Looked at through that lens, international comparisons yield a very different picture. Japan, which gets a lot of attention for having a low homicide rate, actually has a high suicide rate. So much so that it exceeds the combined total of US murders and suicides.

I'm not suggesting that this way of looking at things is "true," certainly not uniquely true. But I will suggest that it is worth considering things from this perspective for a while, to so how that world looks.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I just did some back of envelope rough estimate calculations to get a sense of how much CO2 emissions each of us is in some sense "entitled" to.

With some admittedly highly suspect rules of thumb, I came up with an equivalent of an annual driving distance of 11,500 miles, ie. that is assuming that all you did was drive (no heating or cooling your home, no air travel, or train travel, no cooking o
f meals, no electric lights.)

I started with the assumption that all human beings should be individually entitled to an equal share of CO2 emissions. Also based on a rather optimistic estimate of 50 miles per gallon. This is so rough that I may have lost a factor of 10 somewhere, but this is a kind of tangible estimate that I have not seen before.

Based on the following data/assumption/estimates:

30 gigatons of CO2 emissions in 2011 
3 pounds CO2 emissions per pound of gasoline
6 billion people
5 tons per person per year
2.5 tons target (assuming 50% reduction target)

.8 tons of gasoline (to produce the .8 tons)
1600 pounds
7 pounds per gallon
230 gallons
11,500 miles (at 50 miles per gallon)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dave Snodgrass

My friend Dave Snodgrass has graciously consented to have me publish his poem about the Golden Plowman.

Dave was a huge presence in the Cleveland performance poetry scene when I first became involved with it back in the very late '90s.  For his own reasons, he has removed himself from it, much to the community's impoverishment.

I don't think Dave ever made much effort to publish his poems, seeing them as more oral/aural and performance events.  But he is/was a wonderful writer.

Hope you enjoy this.

A Hymn of Praise to the Golden Plowman

by Dave Snodgrass

There ain't no life, 'cept the one life you get;
That's what you think about when you sit way up high and it sure ain't July
It resembles December, when the gods have a temper
and your prayers are as empty as your pockets.
Let me be more specific:
The closest approximation to a drunken elephant ballerina on roller skates
in this man's workin' world
is a fully-loaded flatbed on a highway incline
at the point at which H2O becomes H2OOOOOOOOOOOO shit!

Let me tell you from experience:
With ten tons of tool-steel in a top-heavy truck, it's terrifyingly tough,
to tip-toe through the two-lanes with tenderness and tenacity, it tends
to make a man count his sins …
just in case.

For further illustration, an episode:
Halfway home to work I was,
on a December evening when it seemed that Apollo's chariot blew a spoke;
and I'm steering between the flakes...
White above, white to each side,
fightin' twenty thousand pounds of feisty, frisky ferrite,
strapped to the back of a six-wheel toboggan,
momentum my master, inertia my icon,
and Slippery Rock ain't my college, but I'm takin' a schoolin' nonetheless...
I'm like a rat ridin' a rhino
over streets that would skid a spike-foot snowmobile like soap in a shower-stall,

And, just as I'm about to lose it entirely,
go ass-under-tailpipe into an unscheduled and unavoidable road-side rest stop,
wait …..............
In the rearview mirror, a flashing light,
a keel of steel, a wake of white, and Salvation,
like I'd ordered it from a good-luck menu …
The Golden Plowman, and his Yellow-Queen Limousine,
comin' to chop a foot off the top, and give the rest a hefty dose
of the salt of the earth,
I drop down two gears, tip my hat as he passes,
and slide in ten Toyota-lengths back for respect;
Respect, because he (or she, who can say) is my king, my savior, and my best
and I will follow him everywhere.
I will buy every coffee, fix every tire,
suck-siphon every spare drop of diesel from these tanks, because without him,
it'd just be me, and my air brakes,
Those Westinghouse wonders that only work three ways:
Every which way,
And no way at all;
No more jokes about ODOT being the Ohio Department of Taking our Time,
No more cussin' the extra lane-closures,
I'll buy him a brand-new shovel to lean on nine months out the year if he wants,
I'll leave a box of fresh donuts on every orange barrel
from Willoughby to Westlake, and Maumee to Marietta,
for he gives me the road, to have and to hold,
'til dock do I park.
No, there ain't no life, 'cept the one life you got,
and the Golden Plowman helps you keep it
when no one can even get out their own front door
So, Respect,
to the drivers of ODOT, and their Yellow-Queen Limousines.
May the roads rise well to meet you,
until the plows come home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Maj Ragain

My friend the poet Maj Ragain has been a huge influence on poetry here in Northeast Ohio. It occurred to me the other day that he is under-represented online. So I asked him if I might publish one of his works here, and he graciously consented.

This is an old favorite.

Grab a Giblet/InaMae Bagwell

by Maj Ragain

In Olney, Illinois, the hillbilly ghetto, about a four block square, is named Goosenibble. Everybody in town knows the name; nobody knows where it came from. Except that the area, just south of the B&O tracks, has always had to do with poultry. The Kralis chicken processing plant was there for years, up through the late '70's, shipping noodles and broth to Campbell's. The plant moved to Arkansas, and Goosenibble slid a little closer to the edge. Most folks went to work down on Boone Street. That's where the unemployment office is. Say where you workin'? Down on Boone Street. For 26 weeks or so. Sign up every two weeks. Money comes in the mail.

But now there is hope in Goosenibble. A new turkey processing plant is open this week in the old Kralis building. And everybody knows turkeys are a step up from chickens. Truckers will haul thousands of turkeys into town, whole cities of Thanksgiving stacked crate on crate. The local poultry joke is that when they get someone new on the killing line, the old timers, washed in the blood themselves, pull this one: Now, the best way to make money here is to work fast so when the plucker gets done and hands you the turkey, you take your bare hand and shove it in the turkey's behind. It won't feel like it'll go, but keep tryin'. Run it all the way through 'til you get ahold of his neck, then jerk him wrong side out. Just dump the guts in the bucket and hand the turkey on down the line. Used to be a one-armed man here named Clint who could make a hundred dollars a day just like that, piecework, and never drew his knife. The whole plant would shut down to watch that green boy do his first turkey.

These aren't your Honeysuckle, all breastmeat, primetime turkeys, with the built in little red flag that pops up when they're done in the oven, not the one the rosy cheeked, smiling grandma serves at the Thanksgiving groaning board. These are what they call spent turkeys, too old to lay, too tough to bake, too gone to celebrate with. These are the ones you find in your bowl of soup, the noodle, the dumpling, the meltdown they call broth. This is where the turkey stops.

I did know a woman who worked at the Kralis plant. She'd walk up the tracks, two blocks, to the South End Tavern and drink Black Velvet. Usually she woudn't wash up either, wore her blue rubber boots and hard hat and long green killing coat. She was six feet tall, skinny enough to walk on air, ski footed, a voice that clanged. InaMae. One word. InaMae Bagwell. If I were making this up, I'd go ahead and say that she wrote poems in chicken blood on the restroom walls and that she carried a coatpocket full of chicken hearts and dropped them in the drinks of the unbelieving. But I am trying to tell the truth here.

She had an old man, a real old guy who rode a bicycle with a rusted wire basket. He leaned it against the front of the South End Tavern. He couldn't get his InaMae to come home after work. Every night, he'd have to go to the bar and haul her skinny butt home. It was a scene nobody liked. One night, he'd had enough. He drug her out of there and because InaMae was too drunk to go any further, he left her on the back steps of his house. He went and got a shovel and a fifty pound bag of Sakrete concrete mix. He dug a hole, stuck her feet in up to her knees, mixed the Sakrete with water and poured it in. He went to bed with a satisfied mind, the concrete was setting hard and InaMae was passed out, a prisoner of sweet love.

When he checked on InaMae an hour later, she was gone. He tracked her as far as the South End Tavern, peered through the front window and there she was, wearing twenty pound concrete boots and trying to dance with a glass of Black Velvet.

He didn't even bother to go in. The war was over for him. I heard that he passed away a year or so later. I haven't seen InaMae in a while. If she is still in this world, she'll be working at the turkey plant in Goosenibble. On the line.

Next time some smart guy pulls my sleeve to tell me that Love is two solitudes protecting, touching and greeting each other, that Love is the drama of completion, I'm gonna nod and say you got that right, brother. I'm not gonna try to tell him about InaMae Bagwell, spent turkeys, concrete and how hard it is to hold onto a woman.

(This poem was published in the "Fresh Oil, Loose Gravel", by Maj Ragain, Burning Press 1996.)

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Hitting the Hegel on the Nagel

I vaguely recall reading somewhere in Hegel "There is no freedom from law, only freedom through law."

I can't find any sources for this, but it sounds very Hegeley. (I know Hegelian would be more orthodox, but I'm aiming for a little more intimacy.)

An interesting sentiment whatever the origin.