Friday, March 27, 2009

Billy Collins, "The Afterlife"

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They're moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals--eagles and leopards--and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

from "Questions About Angels" by Billy Collins

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ron Reed, "Orchid Thief, from Susan Orleans: Part One"

Orchid Thief
from Susan Orleans
Part One

a tall guy, skinny as a stick,
pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome.
he is missing all his front teeth.

passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively, like car bombs

the posture of al dente spaghetti
the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games

the late-sleeping, heavy-smoking, junk-food-eating, law-bending type
folding virtue and criminality around profit

a shrewd bastard.


"swamp" and "orchids" and "Seminoles" and "cloning" and "criminal" –
I arranged to go down to Naples to see if this ball of paper might bloom.

New York, the dead center of winter.
In Naples it was warm and gummy.

a frayed Florida bungalow

"When it rains here, cars start to fly."

the creaking of wooden benches
the sound of some guy in the front row gunning his throat


the Fakahatchee Strand
the Big Cypress Swamp
the Loxahatchee
Big Cypress
Hollywood is the most urban of them all.

a beautiful spruced-up golf course
grass as green and flat as a bathmat
hedges precision-shaped and burnished
the whole thing as civilized as a tuxedo

Miccosukee Indians
Buster Baxley
Vinson Osceola
Chief Billie, James E. Billie
John Laroche:
"I'm really on the side of the plants.
I'm a shrewd bastard.
I could be a great criminal."

Styrofoam mountains
actual furniture
a talk show about how to keep pet snakes and iguanas happy
Carpet-Marts and
Toy-Marts and
Car-Marts and
the turnoff for Alligaor Alley
dreamy-sounding Florida towns like
Plantation and
Sunrise and
Coconut Creek and
Coral Springs

Laroche was encouraged by both the palm fronds
and Chief Billie's panther.

Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe.
Then I find myself in Florida.


"I really have to watch myself
especially around plants."

tough, rubbery leaves and
long, loopy vines

enormous tropical trees
with pimply bark and flowers the color of bubble gum

Peruvian odontoglossums
Cryptanthus, a genus of Brazilian bromeliad
a spectacular six-foot-tall Anthuriaum vietchii
with weird, corrugated leaves,
"a gorgeous, gorgeous son of a bitch"

spiral juniper bushes
cracker roses
confetti shrub
teddy bear palms

"weird-ass vegetables":
spinach that grows on vines
African pumpkins that can be trained onto trellises
carrots that grow in pots
Chinese fuzzy gourds
yard-long green beans
pink Zairean hot peppers shaped like penises
"Screw wax myrtles!"
"Screw saw grass!"

Live wild or die.


a German shepherd dog with its tongue sticking out
an onion
an octopus
a human nose
the kind of fancy shoes that a king might wear
Mickey Mouse

"Orchids appeared to have been modelled in the wildest caprice."

One looks like a monkey.
One looks dead.
There are species that look like butterflies, bats, ladies' handbags, bees, swarms of bees, female wasps, clamshells, roots, camel hooves, squirrels, nuns dressed in their wimples, and drunken old men.
Some look like the results of an accident involving paint.

The genus Dracula is blackish-red and looks like a vampire bat.
The texture of human flesh.


Orchids grow slowly. They languish.

seeds blown from South America to Florida
will drop in swimming pools and barbecue pits
and on shuffleboard courts and gas stations,
on roofs of office buildings and on the driveways of fast-food restaurants,
and in hot sand on a beach and in your hair on a windy day,
swept away or stepped on or drowned without being felt or seen.

"They are hot and moist in operation,
under the dominion of Venus,
and provoke lust exceedingly."


Polyradicion lindenii,
the ghost orchid.

Polyrrhiza lindenii
the Fakahatchee's ghost orchid,
looks like a ghost but has also been describes as
a bandy-legged dancer,
a white frog,
a fairy
"They look like a man,
like a woman,
sometimes like an austere, sinister fighter,
sometimes like a clown who excites our laughter.
They represent the image of a lazy tortoise,
a melancholy toad,
an agile, ever-chattering monkey."

"Should one be lucky enough to see a flower,
all else will seem eclipsed."


thirty thousand orchids belonging to a man in Palm Beach all died.
He began what his family called "a downhill slide."
He was arrested for attacking his father,,
then for firing a sixteen-gauge shotgun into a neighbor's house,
then for carrying a concealed knife,
and shotgun.
"It was the death of his orchids. That’s where it all began."

Live wild or die.

drowned on a collecting expedition on the Orinoco River
fell to his death while hunting in Sierra Leone
lost while orchid hunting in Panama
died of dysentery in Bogota
murdered in Mexico, killed in Madagascar, shot dead in Rio Hacha.
died of fever in Ecuador, gunned down by locals in Brazil,
vanished without a trace in Asia

Live wild or die.

eaten by a tiger
drenched with oil and burned alive
vanished into thin air
walked for fourteen days through jungle mud and never was seen again
fever or accidents or malaria or foul play
trophies for headhunters

or prey for horrible creatures:
flying yellow lizards
diamondback snakes
stinging marabuntas
other orchid hunters


On my first walk in the swamp
I saw oaks and pines and cypress and pop ash and beauty-berry and elderberry and yellow-eyed grass and camphor weed

I saw strap lilies and water willows
and sumac and bladderwort,
and resurrection ferns springing out of a fallen dead tree

The Fakahatchee Strand
hot and wet and buggy
cottonmouth snakes and diamondback rattlers and alligators and snapping turtles and poisonous plants and wild hogs and things that stick into you and on you and fly into your nose and eyes

bright red and green and shaped like fright wigs
some were spider-sized, some were as big as me
sheeny leaves
like a crowd of animals, watching everything that passed.

heavy sweet smell
standing water
stillness and darkness and thickness
trees sweaty
leaves slick
whatever isn't wet is blasted.

a carpet of lubber grasshoppers so deep
the variety of squirrels
the number of charred Model T's
the crackling of the gravel paths
the mumbling of leaves in the wind, the squeak of doors
the abstract tropical animal sounds of ticking and cheeping and crying
like sounds inside a covered bowl

The light was flattening out.

"The place looked wild and lonely.
About three o'clock it seemed to get on Henry's nerves
and we saw him crying,
he could not tell us why,
he was just plain scared."

The air has the slack, drapey weight of wet velvet.

by Ron Reed, 
from "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orleans

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Charles Bukowski, "Alone With The Gods"

"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery -- isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."

Charles Bukowski