adventures in dysthymia

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Last Rep, a poem

Last Rep

The last rep is the one that builds the muscle.
The guys in the gym, the serious ones, know that,
know each rep before that all-out effort
is just warming up for the one that counts.

It’s no good to say, My workout calls
for eight repetitions and no more.
It’s no good to hide behind, Train,
don’t strain, and believe you’ve done enough.

You’ve never done enough. There is always
one more rep left in you, if you can find it.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Obviously (I would hope) not just about working out.


Briefcase, a poem

BRIEFCASE

This battered briefcase holds my name
and my heart, locked away
with papers of long-concluded business,
their illegible signatures giving

witness to yesterday’s sworn truths.
I misplaced the key some time ago
but is easy to carry and so
shabby none would think to steal it.

I remember how the hinges
creaked the last time it was opened,
and that the leather is only plastic.
I remember filling it

with the sugar sand of our beach
and the cloud you said looked like
a hippopotamus but then
it turned into a cat before

becoming nothing, nothing at all.
Who knows what it might be now;
that transaction lies between
the notarized pages and empty folders.

The case can not be opened without
breaking the catches. Where then would I
keep my name, my heart? Must I file them
away with other finished business

in cardboard boxes labeled year
by year until they now longer matter?
I’ll carry this briefcase to yet another
meeting as if I had a key.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Another rough first-draft piece scribbled on note paper late in the evening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Contest Songs

I think I have decent enough takes on three different compositions for the upcoming ‘Florida songs’ competition. Did some simple editing today, put them on CDs, and off to the WillFest contest with them before the end of the year. Expecting them to be ignored, as usual, but I figured it was now or never for them, as they are going to be on the album I’ve been promising for so long.

Not in this form, of course. The rules call for simple voice-and-one-instrument recordings without effects (I don’t count a little compression or equalization but there’s no reverb or anything of that sort) and the songs would be fully produced for the CD. Which is actually easier for me than trying to get a perfect-in-one-take version while strumming my guitar.

I’ve put the recordings — Swimmin’ in the Swanee, The Storm of the Century, and Sunshine Land — up as mediocre mp3s at www.soundclick.com/stephenbrooke . They are mono, by the way, a single microphone (an MXL V67G, a nice and quite inexpensive unit in the U67/U87 vein) set at arm’s length (about 30” away) and around forehead height. I always thought this mike sounded a bit harsh — and definitely sibilant — at a more typical close position, like 8” or so, but I rather like it at this distance. Live and learn.

Now, back to getting those books ready and maybe get into serious recording in a couple months.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hobble, a poem

HOBBLE

It is no wonder that my verses hobble—
I’ve placed the accents on the wrong syllable.
And it is true my lines but seldom scan—
with extra feet, they’ve often tripped before they ran.

Indeed, my poems do not move in quite
the meters many might insist are ‘right’
and scattered through the iambs you will see
a dactyl, or two of them, and perhaps even three.

Yet, still I’m told I have a certain way
with triteness, boring language, and cliche,
so hobble on I shall in clumsy verse—
for many do unwittingly write worse.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Gray Christmas

The one thing I can say about this time of year is that I hope it’s over soon. I detest cold weather. I’d be quite happy if daytime temperatures never fell below 80 F.

Oh well. We’re not quite half-way through the winter cold yet — the statistically coldest time in the year is the middle ten days of January. The one good thing I can say about winter is that it doesn’t last. Unfortunately, neither does summer!

This is the time of year to be planning the spring garden. I’ve been digging some, expanding my beds when I have the time, and do intend to get some veggies in this year. I’ve also been planting winter greens every three weeks or so, turnips and mustard. I haven’t managed any of this the last few years.

I’ll be perusing the nursery catalogs for the next six weeks or so. Maybe I’ll put in more pomegranates since mine did so well this year (though we’ve yet to see how well they stand up to winter cold). And whatever else seems interesting.

Christmas is in a couple days. Looks like it will be a rainy day, a gray Christmas. That’s better than a white Christmas, of course, unless the white were a white sand beach. I’ll keep it low-key here and it won’t be a great deal different than any other day. Although I did manage to decorate a little this year and even put up a small tree. I didn’t do that at all last year.

The mouse I’m using on this PC has been acting flaky — registering double-clicks regularly when I only click once — so I ordered a couple new ones on a good deal. While at it, I also ordered this year’s Christmas present to myself, a graphics tablet. Naturally, I bought myself something useful for work. This should make drawing in my graphics programs somewhat easier and more accurate than using a mouse. We’ll see how that goes.

So, Merry Christmas to me (even though my gift won’t show up till Thursday) and Merry Christmas to all of you who might read here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Curtain, a poem

Curtain

It's time to go:
the bell has rung,
that fat lady's sung
and we applauded—

ah, yes, I know,
much less reserved
than was deserved.
We have defrauded

but me and you,
hoping to fare
on the evening air,
a starlight word

of love, or two.
It's time to leave.
Did we believe
a tale so absurd,

told by a clown?
The play's the thing
but now we bring
our curtain down.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

This was a piece I wrote some eight years ago but then was dissatisfied with, mostly on structural grounds. I've looked at it now and again and finally worked up something I can consider finished. Not good, mind you, just finished.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Property

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holes In the Linoleum

After mentioning my memories of linoleum yesterday, I decided to turn them into a little vignette-like story. Totally first draft here and I might choose to use the idea in some completely different form in some completely different piece of writing, somewhere down the line.

Holes In the Linoleum

I could have counted the holes but never bothered. There were more close to my bed than elsewhere in the room, rough lines of punctures in the gray and blue linoleum.

Beneath each line lay a crack in the century-old weathered floor-boards, a crevice that spoke of settling foundations, out-of-plumb carpentry. At eight years of age, I didn’t really think much of such things. I just knew the house was old, that my father had slept there as a boy. That was far enough back to be somewhere in a dim antiquity.

The bed I shared with my little brother was tippy—a cot with sides that folded out. Looking back, I can see that we could have simply slid a box or such under the sides to keep it from tipping over when one or the other got up or moved too close to the edge. Why no one ever did that, I don’t know.

Were they all simply too busy, too wrapped up in themselves, to bother, to even notice? I know it was a time when my parents were scraping out a living, commuting sixty miles to Columbus each day, while we lived on my late grandfather’s farm. I didn’t remember my grandfather.

I do remember my mom, arriving home after dark, coming up to bedroom to say goodnight. My sisters would already have made us supper. I and my older brother and sometimes the little one, too, would go down to the cellar and bring up potatoes. Some would almost always be rotting and we would throw them, stinking missiles, into the night before returning to the warm kitchen and its coal-burning stove.

And Mom, still in the high heels she wore to work, would come to our room. The room was up the steep narrow staircase, on the back of the house where I would see the sun burnishing the sandstone cliffs when I awoke. Those heels, narrow and spiky—she never seemed to remember what they could do to the linoleum. Maybe she was too tired to think of it.

A heel would land on a crack and open up another hole and Mom would remember then. Too late, and she might show her annoyance with herself and that floor and that house for a moment, before saying ‘good night’ and turning off the light.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Linoleum

While recently rereading Maeve Brennan’s stories set in Ireland—and quite excellent stories they are—I noted how often she mentioned linoleum floors. That is something we don’t see much of anymore. Vinyl replaced them, cheaper, prettier, but not as ‘green’ nor as long-lasting. I understand linoleum is making a bit of a comeback.

Anyway, I remember linoleum floors from my own childhood. Not in any of the newer houses in which we lived (we did move a great deal) but in the old farmhouse at what we called the ‘Hill Farm.’

I’ll just mention that in most of the newer Florida homes up into the 60s, the floors were terrazzo. That’s something one doesn’t see much of anymore, either, except in commercial buildings.

But linoleum. It’s odd that linoleum floors are one of my strongest memories of that house. Maybe it was the bright patterns on them. We used it over the wood floors in the bedrooms at the Hill Farm.

There were gaps between the old, rough floor boards and my recollection is that, time after time, my mom would forget to take off her high heels when she came into the rooms and would poke holes through the flooring when heel met gap. I guess rather pointy heels were common at that time, in the mid-to-late 50s, and they were definitely a hazard to our linoleum.

Holes in the linoleum—I reckon that’s the sort of image of I should incorporate into a story of my own.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Heard the Bells

In the spirit of the season, I threw together a quick recording of one of my favorite Christmas songs, 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.' Based on the poem by Longfellow, written in the not-very-joyous days of the American Civil War, set to music by Calkin (there IS another tune penned by Johnny Marks which isn't bad at all but I prefer this one).

Anyway, it's more a scratch version than anything particularly finished. I'm not getting around to sending out any cards this year nor doing anything else very Christmas-y, so this will have to do. The mp3 is at: http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=12055698 if anyone wants to listen.

One can probably tell that I am once again rather clogged up and couldn't put my voice into it. None the less, I still intend to get two or three songs finished (in simple live form) for the 'Best New Florida Song' contest before the year runs out.

Oh, incidentally, the backing tracks there are obviously not something I could play myself!

On Books and Banjos

Thanks to a friend’s comments on my YA novel, ‘The Middle of Nowhere,’ that was published last year, I did some thinking about the influences on its writing. And I realized that there is a fair amount of Louisa May Alcott in the book.

I read Alcott as a youngster and I can see echoes of ‘Little Men’ and ‘Eight Cousins’ in my own story. Runaway boys, interactions of close-knit groups of children and young adults, lessons of loyalty, etc.—it’s all there, isn’t it? I suppose that even her moral tone left its touch.

We’re all influenced by what made an impression on us when young, no matter how much we ‘grow up.’ I can’t say that it was a bad thing in this instance.

* * *

I’ve noticed that folks on YouTube are tagging their banjo videos with ‘Mean Mary’ these days. I guess Mary has really arrived when people use her name to improve their search engine presence. I’ll admit that, in part, I mention her occasionally in my blog for just that reason.

Like just now! :)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Autobiography of a Ghost, a poem

The Autobiography of a Ghost

Even the night has her ways, though she
be nothing more than absence of day.
She talks with Death in his empty, cold rooms,
conversing of yesterday, which no longer is.

There are worse things than not being.
A vapor of the past, a once-was,
a might-have, can invent its believers
and the flitting bats have led me here,

where I lost all the stars. They rimed
my window once, sighing to the night.
Wind has taken them and I
follow, in time, follow them nowhere.

What never was can haunt as well
as all that has passed the gray
hallways of your heart. Let
every ghost hold to its own story.

Even the night knows the way. She passes
by my windows and the stars must follow.
I will too, in time. I will too
for there worse things than not being.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Jotted down on scrap paper, the way I used to write poetry (and everything else). It's been a while since I've done that but it still seems to work just as well as sitting at a computer. This is quite first-draftish, of course, the work of an evening.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paper or Plastic

Yesterday, on a cold and rainy afternoon, the electric went off and stayed off for three hours. That was about as much as I could have managed, what with needing to keep Mom warm and fed—for me, personally, not such a big deal.

If it had stayed off, I suppose I would have run out to buy something hot for supper. The lack of heat would have been manageable; if the temps were closer to freezing, maybe not! I have plenty of blankets, anyway, and candles for light.

But, horrors, no internet! Nor even computer for writing (or whatever). Maybe I need to ask for a laptop in my letter to Santa, though I really do prefer to work on a desktop. More power at less cost, big screen, large keyboard—all good for someone who writes and works with graphics. If I do manage to travel again, someday, I reckon a laptop would make sense.

I’m certainly not going to go online with my little cheap cellphone. I use it as little as possible and really own one only for emergencies. I kind of hate cells (though my bedroom resembles a monk’s cell, ha ha). And usually forget to take it with me if I go out for shopping or whatever.

It’s a good thing I did finally buy an e-reader earlier this year and was able to amuse myself for a while. I do still prefer paper to plastic, whether it be books, garbage bags, or money, but it is nice to have the alternative. Usually, I have (at least) three books-to-read in progress at any time, one on the e-reader, one on the computer, and one on paper.

On a completely different note (A flat, I think), it does not look like I will have a new title ready for publication from the Arachis Press before the ever-closer end of the year. Once the photography is all in place (I’m waiting to get the last pictures back from the developer), I should be able to assemble and release ‘The Art of K. Page Brooke’ fairly quickly. Beyond that...well, we’ll see.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Aunt, the Spy

Okay, I guess Aunt Dotty wasn't really a spy, but she did work for a company that did research and databases---i.e. intelligence gathering---for the government. So it isn't a complete stretch, is it? Here are a couple snaps of her in Saigon in 1966 doing whatever it is the government had her doing. Looks like she was out photographing...what? And then making her getaway on a fast motorcycle! ;)


I suppose it would be more correct to say she was a secretary to the spies. Sort of like Miss Moneypenny.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mankind, a poem

MANKIND

Since time began,
man killed man;
Abel slain
by the hand of Cain.

One against the other,
brother hating brother.

Friend turns foe,
and so will go
our endless tale—
we ever fail.

Through all mankind’s ages
blood has inked the pages.

Life’s upheaval
makes good evil,
each evil, good,
and truth, falsehood.

Tomorrow’s promised light
ever ends with night.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

very much a throwaway

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Payment, a poem

PAYMENT

Is each word to be a coin
of payment, never flipped to know
its chance of heads or tails? When myth
is seen as dogma or as lies,

we mistranslate the very language
of our souls. For truth is painted
of many colors; God’s one light
refracts, breaks apart, through angles

of prismatic perception, yet sums
to being. His music plays across
the infinite modes of chord and discord,
finding harmony with each voice.

Hear it and dance. Flip your coin
and come up on the other side
of a chance, the other side
of every payment you have made.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

Some thoughts on metaphor and being, in a more-or-less poetic form.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Random Photos

Some pictures taken around the place earlier this year.

 Camellias


I don't know what this shrub is but it blooms early every Spring.  It had been  mowed off by the former owners but get a little bigger each year now.


 Lily

Petunias


 Hibiscus

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Imaginary, a poem

IMAGINARY

You out grew me, your imaginary
friend, left me behind with all the rest

of make believe and childish ways and, Oh,
I would that you were real. As do I.

Sleep and dreams are what remain, a closet
of forgetfulness, of frayed sock-monkeys

and princesses. Shall I play the prince
or return to yarn, unraveling

in the darkness? Shut the door; your choices
were all made before you ever found me.

Stephen Brooke ©2012



Endless Summer

Today is, I understand, ‘officially’ the first day of Summer in Australia. So I reckon it must be the first day of Winter here?

There is, of course, no official beginning for seasons in the USA. Nor should there be. What does the government have to do with it?

I like the idea of starting the season with December First. The solstice is most certainly too late and, when one thinks about it, is really more like the middle of Winter. Yes, I’ve diatribed about this before. And if diatribed isn’t a word (according to my spell checker), it should be.

Maybe I need to do an ‘endless summer’ thing eventually. I can’t make it to Australia right now, though! Nor anyplace else with a promise of warmer weather (not that it’s that bad here at the moment). I would like to get to Hawaii some day — I understand it’s a good place to ‘get leid.’

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Folks

In the gathering of material for the book on Mom's art, I scanned some old photos of my folks. First, a couple pics of my mother at around age 21:


I cleaned these up a little and improved the contrast. Next, Mom and Dad about 30 years later:


Now, y'all know where I got my good looks!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fields, a poem

FIELDS

Women of Ireland it might
be, or Fields of Gold,
bringing the melodies
and memories of all

the fields I’ll never walk
and all the women who could
have waited in them, filling
and draining me at once.

The mists of the heart must cling
as that music, yesterday’s
elusive pipes that played
and faded into all

that never was yet still
might wait past the horizon,
wait in fields that held
tomorrow’s every promise.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

More a thought-in-progress than a finished poem (as usual). There are indeed songs that can awaken a yearning in one. Or in me, anyway.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Art Book

A Mockup of the cover for the upcoming art book:


I've decided to go with an 8.5 by 11 size for this one -- my original thought was 9 x7 but this may actually prove more cost effective, especially with full color printing, as well as easier to lay out.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

By Year's End

Today, I set up my tripod and photographed all my mother’s larger pieces of artwork that were available. The smaller pictures had already been scanned, so I’ll soon be able to start assembling the retrospective book I’ve been planning. Here’s hoping the photographs came out properly — I must wait some time while the film is developed.

I don’t know if I’ll get the book out before year’s end (or ‘Awful Alvin’ either — I haven’t really had time to finish the illustrations) but it will be published. Then on to other book projects.

And other non-book projects. I do intend to record one or two songs for the Will McLean festival this year. A little over a month to get that accomplished! I think my niece and sister may attempt to enter the competition this year too. But they’re even more pressed for time than me.

Incidentally, Mary is not performing at the Florida Folk Festival this year. She’ll be doing an event in Ohio on the Memorial Day weekend.

If I get a couple songs ready, I will post them online too. The rules this year call for only one voice and one instrument. No fancy production allowed. That sounds like it would be easier but the truth is that I’m better at creating stuff via virtual instruments and multi-tracking than by live recording. I guess we’ll see...or hear, actually.

Feast, a poem

FEAST


It is what it is and I could
be thankful or I could curse
all the days until now and all
the days that stretch ahead
and it will be what it will be
as it was what it was. A feast
has its chewed bones and the dog
will be thankful for those.

But I indulge myself, this day, no
more than any other. It is not
my way to heap high my plate
nor to return for seconds. Let
the strangers at my table replace
themselves, year by year, each like
the one before, and who they are
is who they are. I toast them all.

See how the dark meat and the white
have been divided, platters of take-your-choice,
make-your-choice, cut carefully
from the carcass of time. There is
never enough time, they say, nor thyme
in this stuffing to become fully
seasoned. Feast on these, giving
thanks that it is what it is.

Stephen Brooke ©2012

The annual 'thanksgiving' poem. I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other about this holiday but it does seem to bring out a certain amount of introspection. Yes, even more than usual.