Wednesday, July 30, 2014


It’s all Ice-T. He rejects fajitas in favor of phojitas. The corporate attorneys tap their tablets. “I want Nice-Tea, on the drinks menu”, he says, “in France.” When the attorneys don’t get it, their faces begging for the brutality of an explanation, he emphasizes “Niece-Tea. In France.” He makes two-handed typing motions to the attorneys, who oblige. Someone chants, “Clobber you with a sizzlin’ skillet / phojita in a fizzlin’ minute ”, but the room’s so packed, it’s not clear who rapped. The space glows with blue cigarette vapor and stuffed polished ashtrays and shiny sharkskin zoot suits. Ice-T questions the “G” in T.G.I. Fridays. He thinks it should be “O.G.” as in “Thank Original Gangster It’s Fridays.” He asks them to double-check the grammar—“Y’all went to Yale or whatever”—while the attorneys type. It’s all Ice-T. “But if we do keep God”, he emphasizes, “gotta be deity neutral gotta be mono-deity neutral.” He adds, “Dieu as you please, civil play”, while one of his homies slaps him a low five. The room quiets but for the ever-present tapping of tablets. “Y’all better not be doing Facebook”, cautions the rapper. They get back to the menu. “I want Ice-T-Bone steak”, says the rapper. “I want Ice-TV Dinner and Ice-TIAA Cref for all the employees and Ice-TT Shaker on the speakers overhead: there, and there.” He spreads out his arms in benediction. It’s all Ice-T. He’s regulating. The attorneys haven’t been so humbled. They all wear the same laissez faire eyeglasses and the same Titanic haircuts and the same chokers around their necks. Someone raps “Gonna diss your stereo / It’s gonna be Blaupunkt” but it’s not clear who’s speaking, with so many entourages huddling at every distance. Ice-T turns to his counsel. “Yo, I want outta Law & Order”, he goes. “See about that Miami Vice-T idea.” Suddenly, the rapper Pitbull appears, on the right hand of the Fridays CEO. “Oh hell no”, says Ice-T, who stands. Everyone stands, except the attorneys, whose offshore helter shelter faces once again require the brutality of an explanation. “Now, Tracy”, says the Fridays CEO, but Ice-T bristles at the mention of his given name. “Who we got here?” he says. “Pitfall? Red Bull? Bull bleep winkle?” It’s like the weigh-in of a prizefight, with Ice-T and Pitbull standing so close, each man can see his face in the other man’s irises. “No Dice-T”, says Pitbull. “It’s fajita, not phojita.” Ice-T thinks this over, not blinking. “One condition”, he goes. “Theme park. Out back. Ice-Tee time for my golfers. Ice-Tee ball for the little ones. Ice-Tee shirt concession.” Pitbull winces. The attorneys offer cigars to their colleagues. Everyone claps. It’s all Ice-T. He’s regulating. Out comes Ice-Téa Leoni, dressed in a very revealing waitress kit, offering a slushy for everyone. The cameras flash in Ice-T’s face. He could have anything. His own political party. The Ice-Tea Party. But he’s affable, as is. Yes, affable will do. Yes, it will. It will suffice-T.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


The great Luna Stout.

Last week, I traveled with my pal English III to Milwaukee, where we caught the friendly between Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara and our club, Swansea City A.F.C., who compete in the English Premier League. The lively and sometimes chippy match at Miller Park, home of the Brewers, showcased two teams still developing in pre-season training. Swansea dominated the first half but didn’t score until the second half; Chivas dominated the second half and converted a late, controversial penalty to earn a draw. More than 31,000 people attended the fixture, the majority of them erupting when Chivas equalized in the 90th minute. Nathan Dyer, a Swansea hero, netted the first goal ever scored in Miller Park, a stately venue well worthy of such a fabulous international football contest.

The Miller Brewing Company, of course, paid for the rights to name the Brewers baseball stadium. Miller, a long-time Milwaukee macro-brewing operation, produces a variety of beers, mediocre or worse, such as Miller Lite, MGD, and Milwaukee’s Best. (To be fair, I don’t mind High Life, if one must drink an American adjunct lager.) Neon Miller signs glimmer all over town. Fortunately, the craft beer scene in Milwaukee does not disappoint. During our two-day voyage, English III and I drank beer at three brewpubs and one craft pub that featured an extensive beer list. At each stop, we received great service. The staff and managers conversed with us; we received either 16 or 20 ounce pours; we rarely paid more than $5 for a beer. These local practices impressed.

No consumers have enjoyed the craft beer revolution more than English III and I, and yet, we feel as if the pours, pricing structure, and other elements, of late, have begun to erode some of the fundamental properties of drinking beer in many American cities. We therefore cobbled together this Bill of Rights. We hope you agree with its principles.

Five Basic Rights

The Pour should be 16 ounces, the size of an American pint, but nobody would fret over a 20 ounce pour, the size of an “imperial” pint. The cap, or foam, should not count as part of this total, but ought to accompany the beer. In Milwaukee, we received 20 ounce pours of Polish Night Milk Stout and Sheepshead Oatmeal Stout at Milwaukee Ale House.

The Glass should contain 16 ounces below the foam. To aid in these matters, the glass ought to contain a line that would signal the bartender. At Water Street Brewery, we were served IPA and Black IPA in mugs which contained 16 ounces of beer below the line, an inch of foam above the line, and a handle which kept our hands from warming the beer.

Full pours of IPA and Black IPA at Water Street Brewery. 

The Price should not exceed $5 for most pours of sessionable beer. In addition, pubs should offer happy hour specials that would make good beer more accessible to us working folks. The vast majority of our Milwaukee beers cost us $5 a pop, including Silver Creek’s Big Honkin’ Stout, an impressive 7.6% beer served at the Rumpus Room bar.

The Beer ought to be good, of course. Each craft beer pub should be lucky enough to employ a beer director like the Rumpus Room’s Jamie Shiparski, who explained how he assembles a world class beer list. In addition to the Big Honkin’ Stout, we also drank the Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Great Lakes / Cigar City Wandering Pelican Schwarzbier, and Atwater Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale. (Indeed.) 

The Menu should offer a wide array of types and/or styles of beer. For instance, a patron of Hinterland Brewery Restaurant on Erie Street, in Milwaukee, can order the Cherry Wheat, White IPA, English Pub Draught, Pale Ale, Saison, IPA, Nitro IPA, Maple Bock, and the belle of the ball, the Luna Stout, a beer brewed with locally roasted coffee.

Disillusioned in the DMV

I drink beer in many D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area pubs, where these requirements often go unmet. Baltimore does boast, in all fairness, better attention to the Bill of Rights than does Washington, but not in an overwhelming way. According to the Brewer’s Association, 114 craft breweries operate, collectively, in Delaware, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, producing 526,742 barrels of beer annually. If we count Pennsylvania, then we add 108 craft breweries with an annual yield of 1,788,556 barrels. Many local, easy-shipping options, therefore, present themselves. A six-pack of craft beer rarely exceeds $12, or $2 per beer, at a beer store, but at a pub, a 12 ounce pour frequently devours a $10 bill, and smaller pours—in the dreaded “snifters”—often cost more. Craft beer, right now, trends toward an elite experience for the privileged among us; I call upon breweries and pub owners alike to adopt this Bill of Rights and return beer to the people!

Monday, July 21, 2014


“Downfall Blues” contains the curious word “Yockadot”

Many years ago, I added “Downfall Blues”, by Tom Archia, to Disc 5 of my home-made jump blues compilation. The song, which features rare singing by the jazz saxophonist, fit well on beloved Disc 5, the novelty volume in a compilation that has, by now, stretched to 11 discs. Amid the sophisticated early statements from Archia’s tenor, amid the roughened lyrics about the musician’s weakness for whiskey, I became interested in a word, “yockadot”, that the man shouts twice before replacing the horn in his mouth and offering the listener his gracious swerve. The song subsides in a sweet, if haunting fashion.

Disc 5 contains early jump songs, such as those by Duke Henderson and Sammy Price. It presents jumps about certain characters like Deacon Jones and Butcher Pete. Some pieces serve as “answer songs”, such as the Lucky Millinder Orchestra’s “Who Said Shorty Wasn’t Coming Back?”, which answers Bull Moose Jackson’s piece, “Shorty’s Got To Go.” The disc veers into salty lyrics, food songs, New Orleans marching collision jumps, and plenty of drinking fare. Jimmy Liggins sings, in his song, “Drunk”: “Go home at night with a swimmin’ in my head / Reach for the pillow miss the whole durn bed.”

I discovered “Downfall Blues” when I bought a used copy of The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). While hunting for additional information on the saxophonist, I arrived at The Tom Archia Discography, a thorough online review of Archia’s life and output, written by Robert L.  Campbell and two other researchers. I wrote an email to Campbell, a Professor of Psychology at Clemson, about the word “Yockadot.” Kind enough to write back, he suggested that “Yockadot” may have been Archia’s “personal nonsense hipster word.”

Born in Texas, in 1919, Tom Archia played tenor saxophone in a high school orchestra that included Illinois Jacquet. He joined Milt Larkin’s band in 1940, and in 1942, the band landed a breakthrough nine-month residency at Chicago’s Rhumboogie Club. Archia would lead, play alongside, and/or record with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker, Wynonie Harris, Gene Ammons, and Dinah Washington, throughout his career. In the Classics liner notes, Dave Penny writes that Archia was “known among his contemporaries as ‘The Devil’ because he could play the hell out of his tenor.”

Tom Archia

A few years back, I hosted a group of friends at my apartment for a whiskey toast. We’d been following the Welsh football club, Swansea City, during their freshman campaign in the English Premier League, and after the club’s impressive finish, we aimed to celebrate their success with Penderyn, the single malt Welsh whiskey. My friend Doug Lang, a Swansea native and lifelong supporter of the football club, said, “iechyd da”, after we hoisted our glasses, the Welsh drinking toast pronounced, roughly, “yockee-dah.” We all knew the Archia song by then; Doug suggested a possible link to the drinking toast.

I cannot find any obvious link between Tom Archia and anything Welsh, although from the sound of “Downfall Blues”, he may have known a few toasts. If Archia indeed kept “yockadot” as his personal nonsense hipster word, perhaps he converted “iechyd da” via the jive phrasings of musicians in his scene, the muscular wailing of his tenor saxophone, or the beauty and “nonsense” associations that may occur to many of us when fooling with language. Either way, “iechyd da” often leads to Penderyn, and “yockadot” always leads to “Texas Tom” Archia’s fine tenor jump, a unique and necessary moment.

Sources of Information:

The Tom Archia Discography, written by Robert L. Campbell, Leonard J. Bukowski, and Armin Büttner

Wikipedia entry on Tom Archia

The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948
, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). Liner notes written by Dave Penny

Band information for “Downfall Blues”: Tom Archia (tenor sax, vocals), Bill Searcy (piano), Leo Blevins (guitar), Lowell Pointer (bass), Robert ‘Hendu’ Henderson (drums). Recorded in Chicago, in October 1947, on Aristocrat #605.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


 . . . down at the pub!

You don’t ride the bus, singular, but many buses, plural, that is, pluribus. So did many celebrities before fame bestowed upon them elaborate ways of achieving arrival. Out of many stars, you’ve got one, for example, like Sheila E Pluribus Unum, although if the former Prince drummer rode highways today, it’d be more like Sheila E Megabus Unum. On the other hand, a guy like Kenny G never rode the bus, and his cheez-whiz career suffered when he collaborated with a Watergate criminal, to form Kenny G Gordon Liddy. The befuddled saxophonist attempted a string of subsequent collaborations, Kenny G-20 and Kenny Gmail, which failed to scale the heights of the man’s “Smoothe Jazz Genius” (sic). Not all collaborative works fail, however. Take the diet foods effort by a famous singer/actress—J-Lo Cal—and the diet foods effort by a famous ballplayer/ironman—Lo Cal Ripken—and their resulting collaboration, J-Lo Cal Ripken. Or if the late great rapper, Eazy E, had ever been beamed over to another planet, he’d have probably said, at some point, “Eazy E.T. phone home”, while making an imaginary headset from his pinkie, knuckles, and thumb. You can’t keep growing, in other Gen-X words, but you submerge, instead. If Uncle Sam wants you down at the pub, then you register for the draught. Don’t mistake florescent for day, don’t mistake epiphany for day, day can be inattentive, after all, don’t mistake after all for Adderall. I, myself, seek the challenge of a mass-gathering event. The kind where people stagger around with dark clouds over their heads. Yeah, it’ll be a real Tough Mutter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Max Gutstein, fourth from left, holding beer bottle atop stacked cases of beer.

My grandfather, Max Gutstein, along with his partners, became the first Manhattan pub owners to reintroduce beer after prohibition ended in December, 1933. A photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun captured the garrulous scene outside the Tri-R Restaurant on 33rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, but steps from the Empire State Building. The next day, the newspaper ran the photo beneath a headline, “Beer Back On Broadway.” Tri-R, the pub’s name, apparently asked New Yorkers to try the restaurant, which featured three owners, “Tri”, who also comprised the “R” for “our.” While a copy of the newspaper has not survived, my grandfather maintained a copy of the photograph, which he handed down to my dad, Marty

My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1914, riding in the steerage deck of a steamship toward the end of July, including the very day, July 28th, when World War I broke out in Europe. He arrived at Ellis Island known as Max Sternberg, retaining, until then, his mother’s maiden name, as authorities in Galicia did not recognize marriages between Jews. Once established in the States, he changed his last name to his father’s name. Like many poor immigrants, Max relied upon family members who had preceded him, including sisters, as well as a benevolent association comprised of villagers from his hometown, Halych. He worked in restaurants, so he could have access to food; eventually he enlisted partners to open the Tri-R, which was, by my father’s account, an everyday bar and grill.

 A casual inspection of the photograph reveals the origins of the beer that Max and his partners had obtained for the occasion. According to West Side Rag, the Lion Brewery of New York City operated for nearly 100 years on New York’s Upper West Side, occupying a large chunk of land and containing, at times, “a park, hotel, brewery, maltings, ice-houses, stables, workshops, and private residences.” The Wikipedia entry for the brewery describes its chief output as “lagered beer”, popular among German immigrants. Both sources speculate on developments that hurt the brewery’s business—the anti-saloon movement as well as prohibition. Lion Brewery closed around 1941, with the steel in its buildings eventually recycled for the (World War II) war effort.

I never knew my grandfather, Max, who passed away before I was born, but I regard this photograph as one of the most important family heirlooms, a monument to convivial community celebration. It pleases me quite a bit to see all the patrons and passers-by mugging for the camera or smiling out of some small joy. And my grandfather there, proud and safe, in the middle.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


At fifteen, I drove with a friend, and his dad, to visit the dad’s sister for vacation in a working-class town on a large island. A day after we arrived at Auntie’s little rambler, we boarded a trawler for a fishing adventure. The captain, a friend of Auntie and a serious fisherman, boated us out to sea, where we couldn’t spot any land. He’d also taken along several other serious captains. We fished with long, sturdy poles that we baited with hunks of squid. We motored away from gaggles of shrieking seabirds. The fishermen sought ‘weakfish’—they aimed to compete for who caught the first, the most, the biggest. Everyone, even My Friend and The Dad started hauling weakfish onboard. All the captains resembled Ernest Hemingway, sporting big grizzly beards, stained with salt, over many seasons working the briny. I, myself, had only caught a tiny, suspicious red fish, which drew derisive cheers. “Hey,” I said, “it’s the reddest fish, and the smallest fish, and the least fish.” But then I registered a mighty tug, and, thinking I’d landed a muscle-bound weakfish, began reeling in the winner. Only, I hadn’t landed the winner. I’d landed the homeliest fish, with its horror movie teeth, skin like mud, and prehistoric cave markings. The hook had exited through one of the beast’s eyes. In fact, the eye was no longer attached to the fish, but that didn’t register, didn’t meter. The swimmer wanted more squid, maybe. He didn’t seem to mind our world, the world of a bright, airy, less humid sea. He breathed. The captains, collectively, could not place the creature. Tossing it into a watery bin, they vowed to identify it, on land, against a field guide. In the meantime, they noted, I’d caught the ugliest dang fish anyone had ever seen.

We returned in late afternoon, and Auntie asked Me and My Friend if we’d take her over to McDonald’s. She’d lost her husband to illness a year before, and struggled with the weight of his absence, but at the same time wore a big-brimmed hat and garrulous clothing. She repaired to the kitchen to prepare a drink for the ride. While we waited for her, I studied her husband’s Emmy award, which sat on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. I’d never seen an Emmy before. I kind of kicked myself, internally, for that thought. (“Who ever sees an Emmy before?” I asked myself.) The husband must’ve edited, or lighted, or scored. Auntie then appeared in the living room clutching a huge drink—a Cosmopolitan perhaps—in a large plastic glass. We helped her into the motorboat. The McDonald’s offered a boat-thru window. My friend operated the tiller, if that’s what you call the steering handle on the motor, while I navigated the waterway and other boating traffic. “I’m pretty looped!” Auntie declared, more than once. She had gulped most of her Cosmo. At one point, inexplicably, she stood upright in the boat, while it hummed toward McDonald’s (by then in sight) at a respectable clip. “Oooh!” she said, as she cartwheeled overboard, nearly capsizing the craft. She drifted underwater, her hat fastened to her chin on a strap. The day quietened. Very many seconds elapsed. I said, “Is she gone?” to My Friend. He was too tense to shrug. He kind of raised one shoulder, like a tic, when she reappeared, holding up the glass as if it still contained a Cosmo. “That first step is a real doozie!” she flubbered, as we tugged her into the motorboat. After we got home, My Friend and I threw rocks at some dudes down at the beach.  

I awoke early the next morning. Everyone else, except The Dad, still slept, but The Dad had gotten bitten by a mosquito on his lower lip. He sat in the kitchen, with a fat novelty lip, going, “Bluh, bluh, bluh”, about indiscernible topics, so I went outside for a stroll. I thought I might let air out of a bunch of tires. In fact, I kept a tire gauge handy in my back pocket, so, if caught, I could reasonably claim that I’d been checking pressures, up and down the block, as any Good Citizen would do. “Yes sir”, I’d said before, to more than one befuddled car owner, “30 psi, looking great!” I’d gone halfway down the street, steadily effecting a “pssssss” sound, lowering each car an inch or two closer to the ground, when I came into earshot of familiar voices—two of the captains from the fishing adventure, sitting on a front porch. “Hey!” I shouted, raising my hand in halloo. When they squinted their eyes, lacking recognition, I added, “What kind of fish was that, from yesterday, the really ugly one?” The leader of the voyage raised his hand, which clutched a bottle of bourbon, and pointed in the direction of a tool shed. “Got it over near the propane!” he shouted. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” I found the fish, indeed, in a laundry basket beside a propane tank. It seemed dead, but when I put my tire gauge in its mouth, to pry its teeth apart, it clenched down tight with an awful metallic crunch. “Hey”, I hollered, “it’s still alive!” but the captain came at me—or the fish—with a baseball bat. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” he said. I grabbed the laundry basket, and ran the fish, who still bit the tire gauge, toward the water. The captain chased me in an awkward amble, waving the bat overhead, but I beat him to the edge of the tide and threw the fish into its native element. It sort of half-swum and half-sunk as the captain arrived, doubled-over, winded. I’d like to think that the ugly fish swam for some time with the gauge in its mouth, biting it upward, like Franklin Roosevelt smoking one of his elegant cigarettes. 

Too silly? Perhaps you ought to read Essay On Essay On Wood.


I never leaf through a copy of The New Yorker hoping to find a great poem. The poetry therein often reads like a series of chapters from an outdated manual that profiles the lives of ordinary garden rocks. The poem, “Essay On Wood”, from the June 9 & 16 double issue, troubled me enough to formulate a critical response. I once met the poet, James Richardson, many years ago, when he served as one of the judges at the first annual Ruth Lilly Collegiate Poetry Fellowship—a lucrative competition I had improbably qualified for, as a finalist. While I don’t remember him very well, he seemed like an all right guy. According to Wikipedia, Richardson teaches at Princeton, but let’s not hold that against him. Wikipedia credits him with several book publications and several prestigious awards; I’m hardly seeking to impeach the man or his accomplishments in this post, but rather investigate the poem’s language.

“Essay On Wood” appears on page 52. Richardson has structured the 18-line poem in three, six-line, free-verse stanzas. The first stanza reads as follows:

At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock
and every door in the breathing house bumps softly
as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder
if something in us is made of wood,
maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly,
or maybe not made of it, but made for its call.

Okay? Here goes, first stanza, line-by-line.

Line 1. How many poems, by now, still begin with words like dusk or “dawn”? As if the poem can’t ‘actualize’ until the first little bits of color inhabit this privileged setting. I say ‘privileged’ because I don’t vacation on idyllic shores with many rowboats at my disposal. For the boats to ‘drum’ against the dock, I suppose there might be 15 of them. If they’re the speaker’s watercraft, then how many boats does one person require? Perhaps this is one of the Romney docks. But of course, boats can’t really ‘drum’ against a dock. Do they beat a rhythm? Are they M’boom loud? Max Roach loud? Are there but two rowboats, to effect drumsticks? If so, perhaps the poet could write “two rowboats.” True, these skiffs aren’t yachts, and they might be tied to a warped communal dock upon which many poor bastards trudge—but the poem doesn’t nearly confirm this theory.

Line 2. I like the phrase “breathing house” because it suggests open-window spring or summer imagery. But I do question just how many doors can simultaneously [bump] softly. To “bump” is to nudge softly, so I doubt that Richardson really needs the word “softly” anyhow; he can just chip that one away. Here, we have, what, about 15 doors bumping softly at once in a house that’s inhaling like a set of lungs? To say “every door” suggests many doors, and again, I conjure a large plot of land with a dock, many dugouts, and a domicile with more rooms than you can shake a skeleton key at.

Line 3. This narrator reminds me of a modern-day CPA with flexible accounting standards … when he’s in the city. He appears to count things—the number of boats, the number of doors—without precision. Nobody’s leaving in any event, since the narrator only establishes that quantity as part of an unlikely comparison. This poem sure ain’t Creeley in the 60s. In Creeley’s poem, “Goodbye”, one person pleads with another anguished person to turn from a painful situation, the rationale being that “the pain is / not unpainful.” But here, among docks and boats and summer houses, we have the vagueness of “someone” who never exits (or enters) the poem and a milquetoast narrator in whom we can’t invest much emotional or philosophical currency. If someone were leaving “quietly”, by the way, then would she or he make any sound at all?

Line 4. The “wonder” is so significant that it’s planted out there on the right margin as we slug into the next line—but what a whopper! Our narrator fancies that “something in us is made of wood.” (Does he mean something in a guy, that’s made of wood, every morning?) No, but—really? If you believe in Mono Deity, then you probably believe that “something in us” is made of 5 Hour Energy, seeing as Mono Deity sprinkled the earth with people and critters rather hastily. If you believe in science, then you probably believe that there’s something in us made of earth and Africa. And you know what else? So is wood. Wood is made of earth and Africa. The poem, in this line, repeats a dead sound from the line before: “someone” in line 3 and “something” in this one. These “some” words avoid a tangible count and default to typical abstractions that further dull the possibility for investment by the reader.

Line 5. Ah, the “heart”, that over-spent word that keeps appearing, like a Canadian quarter, at the coin return of the Grape Nehi vending machine. The heart doesn’t drum like rowboats, according to Richardson’s narrator. The heart doesn’t bump like every door. No, the heart “[knocks] softly”, but why does it knock? Does it want in from the cold? Does it bear a message for a slumbering person? In Philip Levine’s poem, “You Can Have It”, two brothers “are only one man / sharing a heart that always labors” at the ice plant, where the narrator’s brother “had fed / the chute its silvery blocks” and the narrator “stacked cases of orange soda for the children / of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time.” They shared a “laboring heart” in that they tangibly shared strenuous manual labor in the postwar boom city of Detroit, but in Richardson’s poem, I am led to “the heart”, as if one heart represents all our billions of hearts. The repetition of “softly” but three lines apart seems a bit careless. Also, I question whether a heart can actually “[knock] softly.” Knocking reminds me of a loud, thirsty engine that must be slaked with motor oil.

Line 6. “Someone” isn’t really leaving in this poem, and what may be wooden in us isn’t quite the heart, and furthermore, something in us might not be made of wood after all—but instead, “made for its call.” I had to keep reading through the difficult convolutions of this stanza to ensure I properly situated the pronoun reference, among other entities. In the end, the narrator “wonders / if something in us is made … / … for [wood’s] call.” Is wood on the telephone? Or is it like the call of the wild? That is, wood howls out there in the gorge, and I, reminded of my feral impulses, gallop toward wood’s call. I suppose the wooden boats call, and the wooden dock calls, and the wooden doors call, okay, okay, Big Concept, I get it, I get it, okay.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The narrator of Richardson’s poem drifts onward in a similar fashion, opining, if you will, on wood. The narrator in Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Song”, on the other hand, establishes loneliness as a “rowboat ice-fast on the shore / in the last red light of the year / that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither / ice nor mud nor winter light / but wood, with a gift for burning.” See? Rowboat and wood, but better. The humble and heroic father in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” rekindles the heating element, the stove, in the family’s ramshackle house, presumably by adding coal or wood to the “banked fires.” The strength of the father’s devotion to his son causes the cold to splinter and break—the sounds, perhaps, of wood popping and sizzling. Many years later, after the father has died, the narrator expresses his own regretful isolation in a famous repetition, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Where are lines like those, in The New Yorker? I ask you.

Too serious? Perhaps you ought to read a Summer Fish Story.