Signs of the Apocalypse: Holiday Edition

Ship of Fools has posted its “Kitschmas Gifts” list, featuring 13 products to make your special someone say “WTF??” My favorite are the Thongs of Praise. Nothing says “Not tonight dear, I have a headache” like panties with the Virgin Mary on them.

Not to be outdone, The Onion‘s holiday gift guide includes essentials like Bacon Strips Adhesive Bandages. (Not recommended for people with dogs.)

For the second year in a row, Going Jesus treats us to the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities. Paddleball Nativity, Leprechauns in the Manger, Sad Kittens Nativity and more!

Poemeleon Prose-Poem Issue Now Online


Online literary journal Poemeleon has just released its latest issue, which is devoted to the prose-poem. In addition to poetry by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Christina Lovin, Eve Rivkah, Cecilia Woloch, yours truly, and many others, Ann E. Michael contributes a thought-provoking essay about typography as a conveyor of meaning.

Poetry has been represented through the typographic art for several centuries; but until recently, few poets have spent much time considering how typography affects the form of the poem. After all, the printed page seems “merely” physical, inanimate, without the breath, rhythm and music that vivify the poem in performance (even if the reader performs it silently, while reading). The printed page has traditionally been the realm of the editor or designer, not the poet who is more accustomed, perhaps, to confrontations with the blank page. But now that we can, essentially, typeset our work as we compose, poets are becoming more aware of how margins, line spaces, and tabular settings can be indicators in the work and alter the form in which the poem is presented—can animate it further. I think prose poets, in particular, could discover in typography a tool with which to push this flexible form in interesting directions.

In verse, a good poem is more effective with its line breaks intact. Even lacking line breaks, the form will peek out from the justified margins because the rhythm, the rhyme, the breath is imbedded. A verse-poem’s line operates on rhythm (and, when read aloud, breath) foremost, with phrasal pacing as a sort of minor premise. With prose, semantic pacing, and the sentence as a unit, have the upper hand. Pacing and rhythm are dependent upon syllabic stress, word choice, sentence length, punctuation, and line breaks, which act as visual cues. In prose poems, the writer/editor’s choice of margins on the page may also be used as visual cues.

With prose poetry, perhaps even more than with free verse, because the formal structure is not on the surface, traditionalist detractors may assume that the form is a thoughtless free-for-all. Prose poetry removes the familiar cues of rhyme, meter and line breaks that tell us “this is a poem”. Like abstract painting, this can foreground other aspects of the artist’s materials that we formerly overlooked. Though it risks becoming gimmicky (a flaw I find in much “concrete poetry”), creative typography can illuminate the significance of the visual choices we make when writing and reading.

Aficionados of the prose poem can read more examples and essays on the subject in the journal Double Room.

“The Race Unwon” and Other New Writing by “Conway”

My prison pen pal “Conway”, who is serving 25-to-life at a maximum-security facility in California for receiving stolen goods, has sent me another packet of exciting new work this month:

The Race Unwon
by Conway

Like withered old leaves on a Hanged mans tree
absorbing the useless sun’light they save
to power only an abandoned memory
inside dreary chill shadows of his grave

with unquenching air recycled-n-stale
our sun was walled out of existence
unable to recover warmth from the veil
brought on by the shame of persistence

unnatural walls, kneeling left pleading
yet still a judgment remains sitting
among the rubble of babylons leading
thrown-up, jumbled enormous forbidding

In these volumes of created humanity
necromanced from the living dead
Baptized by fire with insanity
running cold as the blood being shed.

Chase me away from their stench
erase their stench from me
I’ve no more vengeance to quench
nor do I desire this bitter memory

though the waves still sing your song
over & over with pounding pain
those stone-washed kisses so strong
break on the horizon in vain

On the border this concrete grows
a burial ground for the spurned
as conspicuous injustice glows
gleefully while innocents burned

into my barbed-wire cradle I settle
as it winds-n-twines around twirled
trapped inside this thorny nettle
no sunbeam’ steal into our world

left abandoned we learned to choose
we allow nothing into our heart
sad but true, the worst race we lose
will be those we never did start…



Our eyes have groped thine melted sands
us trees in the snow reaching out for warm light
suffocated by whiteness.

the Sun only dissolved the asphalt
reflected the concrete, crumbling like stale crackers.

All these faces tied together on the same chain
staring out through a teasing televisions lens;
A world of opportunity offered and taunted
without scents, never relents.

So close, but yet so far away;
This distant planet’s rebuked
by icy winds
forgetting their place in the pecking order
listening for prompts
still the only sounds offered
turned into useless static
untuneable noise, apologizing
for a despicable crowd’s opinion; wonder
about thunder’s irrelevance.

When the earth falls open, to swallow your soul
then, like a trapdoor spider
closes back up to hide the hole…

In the Chalk

I never liked the chalk board in school
it reminds me of another day
when my sister went away
they called her JANE DOE
because no one claimed her body when she died
But, I was there that day
it was the last time I cried

You see this woman had a future growin’ up
but now that’s all in the past
she grew up in the ghetto some say way too fast

At first she went to church
it gave her proper focus as she excelled
when situations became tough she hardly made a fuss
from the madness she rebelled

All the players in the hood kept missin’
whenever they tried to get at her
and though their game was tight
to her they didn’t matter

but as the years went by
her attitude began to change for the worse
her demeanor decomposed, and
she started dressing like a tramp and began to curse

she put her pops to shame
and started getting passed around a lot
so he blamed it on our mom, said it was her fault
for all the slutty clothes she had bought
“just look at how the girl walks
and God have mercy the way she talks”
she’s only just a child and already got a kid
you can’t blame it on the daddy
it must be something the momma done did

They both knew her life was in danger
when she started walkin that walk
but never thought the day would come
they’d find her in the chalk

I found her outline that night
on the corner of our street
under a streetlight where all the gangsters meet

I snuck out of the house
and watched them take the yellow ribbon down
when those cops cars rolled away
I approached the spot with a frown

That chalk told a story of an empty death
of someone all alone
an angry pool of blood was in the chalk
when I saw it I started to groan
I fell to my knees and started to cry
I looked up in tears and asked “God O why”

Why sister did you have to leave
you told me God was just, you made me believe

My tears were falling in the chalk
as I lay in her last place
then the sky burst open and lightning flashed
I looked up and saw her face
there were tears in her eyes
as she looked down on me with a smile
then the rain washed the chalk and blood off the sidewalk
I followed it for a while

down the gutter it went and finally to a drain
and when it disappeared
I swear I felt my sister’s pain

When I graduated college
I came back to pay her a last visit
I sat down by the drain pulled out my diploma
I graduated sister this is it

I couldn’t hold it in no more
my tears started falling
they fell into the drain and I swear
I heard my sister’s voice to me calling

She told me she was happy
I grew up to be an honest man
“keep working for the future do right the best you can”

Just remember one last thing
“talk is only talk”
you can always walk away
don’t end up in the chalk…


Notwithstanding the above poems, Conway also has a comic side, as in this recent exchange from our letters. On Nov. 3, I wrote:

With the advent of cold weather, squirrels have invaded the roof above our bedroom. It’s amazing how much noise they can make, considering their size. It sounds like a hockey game up there. Adam tried throwing pepper in the hole (he even had the carpenter cut a little door in the wall for this purpose), then hanging an inflatable owl off the dining-room window, and now we have the bedroom computer playing owl-sounds all day. Whoo whoo! Whacka whacka! As of today, the roof-repair guys are finally here to patch the hole, so the exterminator can come and not worry that the critters will get back in as soon as he leaves. The rule is that if he catches them alive, he either has to kill them or release them on our property—too bad, because I can think of a few people to whom I’d like to deliver a sack of live squirrels.

He responded on Nov. 27 with the following anecdote:

A friend of mine got the shaft on a business transaction. She was not able to physically recoup her losses and law enforcement was out of the question, if you know what I mean. So, homegirl goes down to the pet store and buys $40 worth of crickets, then she buys 5 Hefty trashbags full of packaging peanuts. Enters the domicile of the party and dumps crickets & nuts all over the building. Chirp! chirp! yee haw!

Book Notes: Openly Gay Openly Christian

Rev. Samuel Kader’s Openly Gay Openly Christian: How the Bible Really is Gay Friendly bridges the gap between serious Bible-believing Christians and those who want to affirm gay and lesbian relationships. The latter group includes liberal churches and theologians whose relationship to the Bible is vague, superficial or outright antagonistic, which has tended to confirm conservatives’ fears that gay-friendly theology waters down the faith. Many evangelicals have never heard a solid Scriptural case for GLBT inclusion.

Kader’s scholarly analysis of “clobber passages” in Genesis, Leviticus and the Epistles makes that much-needed case, though in other chapters he repeats familiar pro-gay readings of the Bible that I think are strained and potentially distracting. Hunting for examples of same-sex pairings in the Bible (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi) unnecessarily sexualizes all intimate bonds, a reductionism to which our culture has been prone since Freud. Moreover, while it’s true that Christians are free from all of the ritual prescriptions of Leviticus, Kader sometimes slips into trivializing the holiness code, arguing that Christians who eat shrimp or wear blended fabrics have no right to criticize gays. But these are minor problems with what is nonetheless a very valuable book.

Kader analyzes the key words in Hebrew and Greek that he says have been mistranslated as forbidding all same-sex intercourse. Using Strong’s Concordance to track where these words recur in the Bible, he recontextualizes the clobber passages and demonstrates that none of them describe a committed, monogamous relationship between two men or two women. For instance, the acts actually being prohibited in Leviticus 18 and 20 are the fertility rituals of neighboring pagan nations, which involved temple prostitutes, and also possibly the practice of soldiers raping a defeated enemy king or military leader.

What gives this book credibility, besides the rigorous textual analysis, is that Kader sounds like a genuinely orthodox, evangelical Protestant. Rather than appeal to modern secular ideals of tolerance or a generalized Christian ethic of compassion, he emphasizes that the issue is legalism versus salvation by grace. Welcoming gays into full Christian fellowship is exactly the same kind of scandalous, progressive leap as welcoming Gentiles was for the Jewish Christians in the early church (see the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10). And it is justified by exactly the same evidence: the empirical evidence of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those once considered beyond the pale.