Zarzyski Dictum #142. The Poet can go too long without swallowing the gusano at the bottom of a good bottle of Mezcal and talking with God. (Or, if not God, then why not Mister Mink?)
For those of you who might wonder how Paul spends the long cold dreary Montana winter nights 35 years or so after “The Make-Up Of Ice” wild-assed sled rides, he drinks with Mister Mink while perusing their photo album of times-and-climes much balmier. You bet—no matter the season, Paul and his mustelid laddie confidant companion stay cozy, thanks to top-shelf tonsil varnish, as well as to the thicker winter coats they both grow. Here’s hoping you'll join them in their pursuit of inner warmth—the only way you’ll ever decode the DHM (Deep Hidden Meaning) of this poem!
Zarzyski Dictum # 94. The Poem is the landscape upon which its inhabitant, the Poet, navigates via unmapped words. And the landscape, being more seasoned always than its inhabitants, therefore knows way more about the Poet’s destination than the Poet does.
Charisma Conquers Cosmetics
If you do not know the Isabel Bueso story that became headline news in September 2019, I highly recommend you seek it out. Upon first seeing the young woman on The Rachel Maddow Show (August 29), I sang out, “She’s the most beautiful human being / these eyes have ever seen!” That encounter of the spiritual kind occurred in our living room in Great Falls, Montana. This morning, one month later and 1100 miles farther east—while working in the same 505 Poplar Street, Hurley, Wisconsin kitchen I was brought home to as an infant in late May of 1951—I read a Huffington Post article, by writer-extraordinaire, Melissa Blake, which echoes my melodic response upon first meeting Ms. Bueso.
Reading Melissa Blake’s piece, you, too, have likely been deeply moved by passages such as:
“Growing up, the mirror often felt like my biggest enemy.”
“It doesn’t help that we live in a society with very strict definitions of beauty…. Pretty is good. Pretty is acceptable. Pretty is perfect.”
And perhaps the most poetic of the article, its closing note:
“My body will never be perfect, but it’s real. And to me, real is beautiful.”
Noni and Paul
During my 1950’s childhood here on Poplar Street, Tonina Crosina, a first generation Italian immigrant, lived with her daughter Irma two houses down the block. I seem to recall that Tonina’s husband had been killed in the iron ore mine, as was my Noni’s (my grandmother’s) first husband. In any case, Tonina and Irma were good friends of our family. They’d visit Noni’s house, right next door, and our house often for coffee and long animated conversations in a language that I, by osmosis, came mostly to comprehend. Unfortunately, during a number of such joyful social interactions of spirited women, Irma would incur an epileptic seizure, often right here in this very kitchen—tablecloth clenched in her fists as she, convulsing, hit the floor in an explosion of broken china, silverware, hot coffee, cream, sugar, biscotti, and onlookers’ screams.
Irma’s right eye bulged from her face as a result of such a violent episode years earlier during which her head collided with something hard and sharp. One day while riding bikes with a childhood friend, I waved to Irma walking by. As she timidly smiled and waved back, my friend yelled out at her, “frog eyes!” and then sped away laughing. I, stunned and silent, sat there on my bike as Irma looked at me in wounded disbelief. I was very young but not too young to palpably experience the stabbing pain she felt on the receiving end of those double-stiletto’d syllables.
It’s been over 60 years since I’d first witnessed, up close and personal—within a stone’s throw of where I now sit in the middle of this time warp—such an egregious degree of word-hurt. Yet, while reading Melissa Blake’s experiences of similar assaults, I readily recall one of my earliest brushes with ashamedness, with the need for empathy and repentance in the same breath—every bit as vital as the need for oxygen and fresh water.
Every so often, I’m forced to write a poem that, out of the shadows, behind layer upon layer of life’s scrims, demands to be written, “or else”—my unwillingness to accommodate its severity in focus and tone, be damned. “What Of The Ugly,” rendered years ago, is such a poem. In light of Melissa Blake’s magnanimous sensibilities, I wish that while channeling this piece (which obviously deals with my own insecurities regarding visage) I’d have been strong enough to tap into the sweetness of courage that she summoned from the marrow of her soul in addressing the mean-spirited responses to the posting of photographs of herself. Perhaps it took a woman to accomplish such a fearless and forgiving feat, rather than a visceral blue-collar male poet sporting not just a mere chip, but a veritable boulder of hematite ore, aboard his shoulder. All such analysis aside, and without further contrition from the ars poetica confessional, I give you one of my “toughest” works taking on just one of the many disparities of life-on-earth. Far more humbly, I send this posting out to the memory of Irma Crosina, as well as in genuflection to Melissa Blake and to Isabel Bueso, whose presence among us is the very quintessence of a mantra I adamantly attempt to instill when addressing high school writing classes: “Charisma Conquers Cosmetics”—letter-for-letter, syllable-for-syllable, of every soulful word, of every molecule of every human cell within a just and truthful universe, amen.
September 30, 2019
The written version of this poem can be read in 51:30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview (Bangtail Press, 2011)
FIVE WILD REMINISCENCES OF RICK DEMARINIS
What an honor in the early 70s for a young aspiring poet to not only be admitted into the Creative Writing, Master of Fine Arts Degree, Program at the University of Montana, but also to be welcomed into Missoula’s Wylie Street Writers Social Club—Dick and Ripley Hugo, Jim and Lois Welch, Rick and Carole DeMarinis! Little could I have even considered at the time, however, that decades later five of those dear friends, along with my Mother and Father, and too many others who’d played such seminal roles in my writing life, and otherwise, would be gone. I will forever remember fondly those heyday times on Wylie—even dedicated my 2014 poetry collection, Steering With My Knees, “In memory of Ripley and Richard Hugo—With gratitude for all the laughs at 2407 Wylie Ave.”
My wildest of memories, however, actually occurred at Rick and Carole and daughter Naomi’s home, directly across the street at 2408 Wylie. During Rick’s celebration-of-life ceremony in Missoula on June 29, (2019), I read the following account of that glorious moment in poetic time and space (excerpted from 51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview):
…Carole and Rick threw The Mother of All First-Book Parties for me after The Make-up of Ice was published in 1984. We’re talking “back when writers behaved badly,” as Jim Harrison put it oh-so-succinctly at Jim Welch’s memorial at the Wilma Theater. Back when notorious novelists, to remain anonymous here, were prone to remove cherished heirloom family photos off the hosts’ walls and pull them apart in order to acquire unhindered panes of glass upon which to evenly divide and separate the white, wheel-spoked berms.
Interviewer (Also Me!):
Crumley, Right? It had to be Crumley.
I’m not saying. Although, rumors abound that Rick DeMarinis has in his possession a stash of un-retouched snapshots documenting the events of that bash. At one pivotal point of the occasion, Carole snatched a pint of Everclear (she reported the day after is how I know this) away from me and Jim—yes, Crumley, goddamnit—passing it back and forth, tears gushing down all four of our grinning cheeks. What I do remember, pretty much solely, is the wild drive to The East Gate liquor store for re-supplies at 1:30 a.m., just under the closing time wire—Carole’s mother’s ‘71 Monte Carlo, bad shocks and all, roller-coasting down Van Buran Street doing Saint-Christopher-only-knows how many miles-per-minute over the speed limit, Rick slouched low-rider-cool behind the tilted-down wheel, me riding shotgun, and in the back seat, two renowned prose writers nasally inhaling through a straw from one of those amber plastic pharmaceutical vials some non-liquid substance. The Canadian train event, years earlier, documented by the film Festival Express, had nothing over a Missoula book party, I tell you. Carole cooked breakfast for me as the sun came up. I strolled out into the brisk fall Rattlesnake Canyon air and wondered if it would all be down hill from then on…. Thanks in no small part to Rick’s continued major friendship role in my life for another 35 years after that infamous event, it has not been.
And then, ten nights after Rick died on June 12th, this dream that I deem metaphorically commensurate with the highest esteem in which I regarded both Rick’s writing and our Friendship:
I’m pacing in the wings of the stage and getting pumped for a proverbial “really big shoe.” Major poetry venue. Might’ve been the historic Wilma Theater in Missoula, where years ago, I did, in fact, enjoy an otherworldly interaction with an enthusiastic full house. I peek out from behind the curtain (bad theatrical luck be damned) as I am prone to do, to see if anyone has actually shown up to hear Poetry? There in the middle of a packed auditorium sits Rick. He’s sporting his classic “any second now something really fucking funny is going to happen” shit-eating grin. I yell loud enough for everyone in the joint to hear, “IT’S RICK! RICK DEMARINIS IS HERE! We’re talking a surprise factor akin to Hemingway or Yeats or Dylan Thomas or Richard Hugo Himself being in attendance! I make my way out into the seats—those in the audience sitting in front of Rick turning to witness silly Zarzyski’s willingness to blow to itsy-bitsy pieces all protocol. Rick and I throw our arms around each other in a big Italian “K sue chadda” (“What’s Up!?”) paisano hug. Rick appeared young and healthy as ever. Oh, and one more note: he was wearing a gun-metal gray, starched and pressed, short-sleeved shirt similar to those worn by auto mechanics or appliance repairmen, sans, of course, his name embroidered in red over the left-hand pocket, because everyone in that auditorium knew it was him, the fiction-writer Wizard—out from behind the curtain of mortality, “The Great and Powerful” DeMarinOZ!
Speaking of the “great and powerful,” if only I could be granted a magic-lamp-genie wish to transmogrify the dream I just recounted into reality, while turning the following Zarzyski-DeMarinis Oregon Road Trip true story into a dream, albeit somewhat of a nightmare:
It was longtime writer-friend extraordinaire, Gary Gildner, who, during his distinguished writer-in-residence tenure at Reed College (Portland), booked Rick a reading gig in 1983-84. So that Rick wouldn’t have to make the drive solo, Gary must’ve leveraged an appearance for the both of us at Willamette U. (Salem). I was still fitting an occasional classic spur-ride to bareback broncs and decided to enter the Eugene Rodeo, hoping to augment the paltry poetry honorarium with an 8-second pay-window trip in the arena. As things turned out, although I’d made a qualified ride, I wound up just out of the money and maybe even in the close-but-no-cigar “crying hole”—5th place when the rodeo paid the top four. It must’ve been a night show and we must’ve stayed for the whole shebang, because we didn’t pull back into Gildner’s abode until well after midnight. I remember the driveway between houses being so narrow that I could just barely open the car door enough to slip out. I had never, ever, before left my riggin bag, my precious rodeo gear, out-of-sight overnight, but for some foolish reason—it being only a few hours until daybreak and my bedroom window being mere feet from the car and it feeling like a safe residential neighborhood and our planning an early departure back to Montana—I decided not to bother hauling my war bag into the house. I recall feeling exhausted from having to poetically strain to incite the heavily-sedated zombies-in-tweed Willamette audience, as well as from coming down off the buckin’ hoss adrenaline high.
Rick was the first to mosey out with his suitcase come time to leave that morning. I’ll never forget his succinct wording: “We’ve been hit.” The back window of the hatchback had been either busted or, more quietly, popped out. Either way, I hadn’t heard a peep from my bunk “mere feet from the car.” My rodeo gear-bag and a stack of CDs gone! I was no-doubt entered in some Montana pitchin’ the following weekend, and now minus my most personal—dare I say “intimate?”—tools of the trade, likely destined for some Portland pawn shop. As good-bad-luck would have it, the police found my riggin’ and chaps in a neighbor’s hedge row. But my spurs, riding glove, boots, you name it, were history. I had never in my life until then been victimized by theft. Needless to say, for someone who lives as viscerally as do I, both on and off the page, I not only did not take it well, I was out for blood—an artesian geyser of arterial hemoglobin, not one drip less—in return for my torment.
And here’s where Rick—heaven bless his pacifist soul for his capacity to assign to his fictional characters every nano-iota of real-life rage—rode in to Guido Zarzyski’s rescue and saved me, just barely in the nick of incendiary time, from Polish-Mafioso-Rodeo-Poet Combustion.
I distinctly recall us being somewhere on the snaky Lochsa Highway between Lewiston and Missoula. We’d spoken nary a word since leaving Portland. I had a two-fisted garroted death-grip on the wheel. I mean, we’re talking a seething car full of palpable toxic-fog, of venomous silence—a veritable superfund sight on wheels; we’re talking skittish Rick feeling as if he’d been buried alive in an economy casket with Hannibal Lecter; we’re talking the violent velocity of human atomic matter (sans God Particle!) transmogrified into a Homo sapiens Hadron Collider dialed to “HIGH!” “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord?” Mere child’s play next to the surgical nuances of revenge I was envisioning in the smoldering soulless cauldrons of my boiled-oil psyche—Capote’s In Cold Blood, or, far worse, a Quentin Tarantino script, by comparison, qualifying as appropriate cinematic subject matter for a Disney matinee.
Had our CDs not been filched, who knows, maybe Rick would‘ve endeavored to slip a mood-music disk into the player, although, on second thought, the player may have been excised during the hit, as well. Rick squirmed nervously mile-after-mile in his seat as he visibly strained to think of something, anything, he might say to console me, to spill even a shot class full of chilled perfume into the effluvium of The Dago Volcano’s fumarole. Believing, I’m sure, that his imaginary powers had failed him for the first time in his life, he finally oh-so–pathetically offered-up in the most serious tone he could muster, “You know, Paul, when we get back to Missoula, I’m going to get a gun.”
One Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississ… was about how long it took us to burst, in unison, into a raucous laughter that lasted the rest of the way home and for decades thereafter—“Rick? Paul. Have you gotten that gun yet?” prefacing many a phone conversation, which never ceased to trigger the same degree of comical relief we experienced that day while driving back from Portland. Tibetan monk Rick DeMarinis with a gun? About as lethal or menacing, as inconsequential, as a poet with a literary agent. Although the word on the street years later was that Rick did, in fact, take a loaded pistol away from novelist Barry Hannah in the middle of a dark Missoula night. But that’s another story—and one nowhere near as funny.
The Burning Women Of Far Cry
I was both humbled and scared witless when asked by publisher, Aaron Parrett, to write a blurb for the Drumlummon Montana Literary Masters Series 2018 Edition of Rick’s 1986 novel, The Burning Women of Far Cry. After tormenting for weeks over what I might say to most emphatically extol Rick’s mastery of the language and imagination, I brilliantly decided to just let him do it himself. As the quintessence of my praise for his work, I quoted the inscription he penned into my copy of Under The Wheat:
“for Paul—my partner survivalist: it’s the bottom of the ninth, see, two outs. We’re trailing 1-0. Gooden is on the mound and he doesn’t like Polacks or Dagos. The count is 0 and 2. The bat feels like a railroad tie in your hands. The stands are filed with collection agency thugs. Gooden uncorks a 99 mph fastball. It looks like an albino BB. This is it. You take a big cut, and…and…(next page)…590-foot drive into the Hudson River!
Rick (The Bambino) D.
“MONTE CARLO EXPRESS: P.O. Box 258, 15.2 Miles Home”:
It must have been sometime in the mid-‘80s when Rick and Carole offered to sell me her mother’s 1971 Monte Carlo—originally sold at Dee Motors in Anaconda, where Carole grew up. I had never owned a vehicle that “new”—had been driving a ’69 Ford half-ton pickup and decided I needed something that would get “better mileage?” The car was a wrecking yard dog’s dream come real—complete with a caved-in grill and front bumper, and dents a-plenty in its faded burnt-orange exterior—but it ran (with or without brakes) and I was still young enough to military press the 50-ton-sheet steel (or so it seemed) helicopter landing pad hood in order to fill up the oil every time I checked the gas. You bet—the same land barge Rick drove down Van Buren in the opening piece of this post.
When it came to taking a run at and busting through snow drifts to get in and out of an isolated ranch house I lived in south of Augusta, ol’ Monte was a D-8 Cat. In whatever weather, we’d make the trip into town once or twice a week to retrieve the mail, which was the triggering subject for a poem that speaks to my failure to exercise willpower enough to wait until getting back to the ranch before addressing the envelopes beckoning my attention from their perch on the front seat.
I’ve since had the car mostly restored—painted “viper red,” adorned with a new black vinyl top, and outfitted with chrome rally wheels. Although I don’t drive it as often (or as hard or far) as I once did, I still punch it up to 80 or 90 out on the wide-open Montana two-lane blue lanes, which seems to suit the full-scale stuffed Loony Tunes Tasmanian Devil strapped into the back seat (same back seat occupied by Bill Kittredge and Jim Crumley during the Van Buren Street liquor quest). Moreover, I never get behind the wheel of Ol’ Monte without summoning the passenger spirits of Carole and Rick, to whom this poem is dedicated:
I"A six-pack of “rodeo writers:” (left to right) Gary Gildner, Kathryn Terrill, Verlena Orr, Marian Palaia, Rick DeMarinis, Shutterbug P.Z. out of the frame—Eugene, Oregon rodeo, circa 1984.
First, pity the astrophysicist, adrift
billions of light years away
from observatory earth—yearning
to explicate the deep
hidden meaning of the heavens’ epic,
feeling his illiterate way
through the cryptic black-on-black script
of dark matter ciphers.
Back to terra firma,
now picture the little African-
American girl in pigtails, cotton
floral-print dress and bobby socks. Say it’s cherry
blossom season in DC. She is
learning to read and to write, she
is loving her history lessons
in school, she is having fun on Easter
vacation in our nation’s capitol
where she stares up in awe—her dark eyes,
uncharted stars—at the white marble
statue of President Lincoln, at the colossal
alphabet letters of his
Gettysburg Address. In phonics
she has learned to enunciate
each word—ALL MEN ARE CRE-
The little girl thinks about
her blind friend back home. Older,
she might correlate the enormous
letters carved in stone
to a gargantuan braille that should touch
even the blindest-hearted. She does not know yet
how polemics, mixed with politics and civil war,
freed her great-great-grandparents. She’s enchanted
with the giant white man in his giant white chair
gazing down upon her as she now gazes
at the new copper penny sinking slow
to the bottom of the Reflecting Pool,
heads up, as she’d hoped
it would rest, the face of Mr. Lincoln
radiant in the middle of her
“Star Light, Star Bright
First Star I see tonight…”
articulating each syllable with a wish
she’ll keep secret—something about the blind,
about letters she’s learning to shape
across the page, about darkness
holding hands, at play, with light
to make all good
words in this whole wide world
once upon a time
Photo by Ben Hines, 2019 -- Parker Curry in awe of Michelle Obama portrait