Been & Going

[LefthandedJeff] Where is Wisdom?

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Where is Wisdom?

All statements are false.
All questions are true.
Here is wisdom.

Are all statements false?
Are all questions true?
Where is wisdom?


Do we hear through our wounds? How often have you had a fight with your loved one, because she said something that she meant one way but you heard it another, because it triggered something left over from some old hurt? You heard her through your wound.

You lashed out in defense. She took it worse than you meant it. Because it reminded her of how her mom used to run her down or her old boyfriend used to order her around. She heard you through her wound.

Sometimes we hear each other through our festering or raw red wounds. Like the whistle of a cold wind on frostbitten skin or the bite of salt water on an open cut. Like the ache from wet weather in an old broken bone.

How do we hear past our wounds? Over our wounds? How do we remember that without the frostbitten skin, the cold wind might feel bracing? That without the open cut, the salt water might be vitalizing? That without the broken bone, the wet might unfurl the dry pink flower buds?


Isn’t hatred of government by the citizens in a democracy a kind of self-hatred, since democratic government is self-governance by the citizens?


Illusatory: the new dogberryism/malapropism coined by creative genius Sweet Elise on March 7, 2014. Mark your calendars.

Doesn’t it have that elusive (elusatory?) quality of only the very best dogberryisms: when you first hear it, even if you know it’s not a real word, you wonder, just for a second, well isn’t it?



[LefthandedJeff] Struck Thoughts on Stake-Burnt Bruno, Effin’ Noah, Unisex Bathrooms and the Infinite Present

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It strikes me that the present is vast.

It strikes me that one of the things I love in a novel is the feeling of living for a while in the mind and skin and experiences of someone different from me—walking some miles in their moccasins, or in this case their high heels. I’m reading the 1977 feminist bestseller The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, controversial in its day—revelatory for many women, deemed man-hating by some men—though I guess to say controversial + feminist is pretty much an oxymoron. But reading it really takes me back to that time of such different cultural assumptions about gender roles and experiences. I was 14 when it came out, son of two “women’s libbers” as the term went in those days. I remember picking it up off the black bookshelves in lush old Jocundry’s Books in East Lansing, intrigued, trepidatious, testing the waters of its pages, getting absorbed and losing time standing there, but not buying it or reading it through. I probably bought some Harlan Ellison or Robert E. Howard instead.

But I’m really grooving on the section I’m reading now, though my Kindle Fire tells me I’m only 19% of the way through. I feel immersed in the lives of a group of fifties housewives. Which sounds desperately boring. But it’s not. It’s actually fascinating. French manages to convey how trapped they all are, without making me, the reader, feel trapped. For which I’m grateful. I confess I was a little worried going in—even though I chose the book for the BCD—Book Club for Dudes—to read. But it strikes me that I’m getting here a more purely woman’s angle on some of the same material that’s come up for popular re-examination in the culture lately, the stuff of Mad Men and Masters of Sex.

It resonates with me personally in a number of ways. A good friend once told me that her mother committed suicide in the early 60s. Dad was a Hollywood agent, who lived an exciting life. A decent husband and father, not mean or cruel or a drunk. But mom was a woman with gifts and suppressed desires of her own, trapped in her role of housewife and mother, and depressed—living just a few years before a more free and fulfilling life might have seemed possible to her. One afternoon she went to lie down, as she often did at that hour. My friend and the other kids thought nothing of it. But darkness fell and mom didn’t emerge. She’d taken the overdose of pills so she’d never have to wake up. Reading The Women’s Room, I feel as if I’m living out my friend’s mother’s life. Again, though, it doesn’t make me want to kill myself. The storytelling voice, the detail, the lively pace and staging of it, keep me at a distance safe enough to empathize but not drown in it.

Closer to home, it helps me understand my own mother more. Helps me fill in details of her consciousness and the raising thereof. She and my dad were both supporters of the ERA—the Equal Rights Amendment—which many today don’t even know about; and which many others don’t realize never passed. I don’t remember my mom reading The Women’s Room, but she read a lot of stuff, more non-fiction probably, when I was a kid, about women’s liberation. Without her bashing me over the head with it; mostly by me listening quietly to her conversations with her women friends, I picked up on and internalized it, thought without doing much of the primary reading—or the primary living.

My mom too, though a wife and mother about a decade after the women I’m reading about now (I was born in 1962, when she was 21), got trapped, then freed, then partially trapped again, in the restrictions of the housewife’s role. She got pregnant with me while in college, married my dad and dropped out to raise me while he worked through to his PhD; then after they divorced she worked through to her own PhD, while still having me to take care of and working a part-time office job. Such a common tale from that time, and so similar to Mira in The Women’s Room. Finally she married my step-dad and without having quite realized this would happen, got trapped again in a mother-housewife script—stuck with almost all responsibility for raising his kids and keeping the house. She still had a career as an archaeologist, but not the same one she would have had if she’d been a man and not burdened in the same ways. I actually carried subterranean resentment against her for years for seeming to sell out her own feminist ideals. Not fair, of course. I’ve long ago let loose from that childish point-of-view—“It’s hard to be a human,” as she would say and I have learned. Nevertheless, I feel like The Women’s Room gives me fresh insight into the times and experiences that shaped her and that she partially, heroically, escaped.

It strikes me, the ironies of the debates I used to have with girls my own age in the seventies about the ERA, where I took the pro position and they took the con. First irony being obvious—I was arguing for enshrining their equal rights in the U.S. Constitution while they argued against it. But there’s a more amusing, also maddening, irony. The argument that seemed to hold the biggest sway for those little girls (mostly repeated from their parents probably) and the argument that I could swear killed the amendment with the average American voter, before it got passed by enough states to make it into the Constitution, was that if the ERA passed, co-ed bathrooms would inevitably become the law of the land. Which of course would swiftly trigger the rending and collapse of Western Civilization.

You might recognize that fear syndrome, since it’s the same kind of outsized, irrational outcome the Christian right prophesies from gay marriage. I never bought it, but it seemed to proceed from a notion that since the Supreme Court had pronounced “separate but equal” inherently discriminatory when it came to Jim Crow segregation of blacks and whites, sooner or later if the ERA passed the Supreme Court would declare separate bathrooms for men and women unlawful. The irony there being that unisex bathrooms are ever more common in coffeehouses and small restaurants, at least here in Los Angeles, without the ERA passing, without mass rape resulting, with barely anyone really noticing, and certainly civilization as fragile as it may be seems to be surviving it, at least so far. Check back with me on that one.

It strikes me that the same religious faith whose dogma justified burning Giordano Bruno at the stake after seven years of torture also gave him the faith and courage to endure that treatment.

Elise and I watched Cosmos Episode 1 last week and Bruno’s story featured prominently. A Dominican in 1500s Italy, he was instilled by his Catholic faith with the conception of a God who rewarded you in heaven for remaining true to him or punished you in hell for being false to him. But Bruno had a vision of a universe grander than that conceived by his church—infinite, where every star was a sun like our own, with infinite worlds like our own and other beings populating those worlds. He was also apparently pantheistic—his conception of the universe had God spread throughout, in everything and of everything. A grand and beautiful vision, and one that comes closer to our scientific conception today. But it violated Church doctrine, so the Inquisition tortured him for seven years, then burned him at the stake for refusing to renounce it. It’s hard to picture a contemporary having the courage and conviction to resist that torture. So ironically, I can only imagine that it was the strength of his faith that he would be rewarded in heaven for his commitment to what his God had shown him, that let him resist what the dogmatic fanatics of his faith inflicted upon him.

It strikes me that we scared up a new band name there: Dogmatic Fanatics.

Once we start down that road, the band names keep coming: The Small Favors. And Feedables. Or Unfed Feedables. The Willy Nillies. The Poetic Eddies (for you fans of obscure Viking references).

It strikes me that the present is vast with sensory data coming in from outside, internal happenings firing off inside—beyond our power to grasp in all five senses, plus integrated awareness.

(The sixth sense = integrated awareness of the first five?)

That thought once struck spreads through me a feeling of continuous, irretrievable loss.

Then I turn it, because I have to, toward a sense of ever-renewing possibility.

Loss and possibility, alternating. Intake and outflow of breath.

It strikes me why Noah’s Ark: The Movie pisses me off so much every time I see a preview for it. It’s clear the movie makers try hard to make this child’s fable believable. The harder they try, the more it points up to me that no one but a child should ever take the biblical flood story seriously. And yet millions do. Right wing fundamentalists find the tale of Noah’s Ark more credible than evolution and global warming. So in a time when those same religious forces are putting the entire human race and our precious, fragile life-supporting ecosystems at risk by aggressively dumbing down American belief in the clear scientific consensus around climate change, as well as evolution and the scientific method itself, I find it ethically, morally and politically abhorrent that Hollywood is basically conspiring to give them an assist.

And it strikes me that almost any Hollywood fantasy ever is more believable than the childish premise of the Noah tale. I love fairy tales, fables, fantasy and myths. But beyond childhood, it can become a matter of life and death to know them for what they are.

And you know, it also strikes me—my wife Elise, The Diamond Cutter, brought this up recently—do we really know if the myths and fables of the bible were believed to be literal truth in their own times? Or were they understood as metaphorical truth? As tales? Could it be that stories like Noah were like our Santa Claus and Easter Bunny stories—meant to be believed by kids until they got old enough to figure out how charmingly goofy they are, and then dispensed with until time to pass them on to your own kids? But never meant to be believed by mature adults?

So to make a movie like Noah which seems to take itself so seriously strikes me as a massive insult to our collective intelligence. On that basis it pisses me right off.

(Though I freely acknowledge this as the worst, most prejudiced kind of movie criticism—that by someone who hasn’t seen the movie and doesn’t ever intend to.)

It strikes me there’s a great, great irony in the rightwing fundamentalists trying to destroy science education. To the extent that they’re successful in undermining acceptance of climate change science, they’re helping to bring on the widespread flooding of global coastlines. Greenland, for instance, is sloughing off its ice sheet at a rapid rate. When all the ice on Greenland finishes melting into the sea, it will swell sea levels worldwide by about 22 to 23 feet—enough to swamp that majority of the world’s major cities which are coastal. Ouch. So the bible-literalists in the Noah audience with all their kids on Sunday school field trips are busily helping to bring on the next Great Flood with their destructive ignorance. We enshrine the prophets of old and deny our own, eh? (Kristofferson on Jesus: “Reckon they’d just nail ‘im up/If he come down again.”) So very sadly and perhaps fatally human of us.

It strikes me that we’re used to conceiving of the past stretching far out behind us and the future winding way on ahead, while we’re stuck on this comparatively small spot called the present. But it strikes me that the present in its own right is so vast it’s practically infinite.

The present spreads out to the horizon, to the limits of what we can see, up into the bowl of the sky, down in the numberless cracks in our palms, all of the simultaneous smells curling through the air around our nostrils, the tastes in our mouths, the sounds of music, voices, birds and cars flirting with our attention right now—more in one discrete moment of continuous, infinite present than we can ever hope to apprehend, process and understand if we had all the time in the world to pick through it.

It strikes me as poem-fodder:

Whipped on the Wind

Each moment is denied us.
Each moment is all that is promised us.
Each moment as it’s whipped away on the wind.
Each moment as it’s whipped away on the wind.

[LefthandedJeff] Packrat’s Prayer

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I wrote this poem years ago as a sort of incantation to break through a psychic log jam that had kept me from clearing out a major case of clutter. It worked. Can you relate? Ever been a packrat? Ever fear that if you didn’t arrest a particular out-of-hand mess that you’d end up on TV as a hoarder? Of course, messes can be internal and psychological as well–a tangled rat’s nest of troubled feelings or nagging thoughts. Feel free to use this poem if you ever think it might help. Otherwise, just enjoy:

Packrat’s Prayer

Of all my clutter of things
Burn away

From stored heat
Of my hoarding

Off sputtering spark
Of my kicking you from my path
And then crying for you

On kindling
Of my touching you, with attention
Once more for memory

In licking, spitting flame
Of my angry final tossing you away.

May your ashes bed my flowers and living offshoots
Marrow my earth, and pack me more integral

May your smoke drift me less heavy, wrap me more loosely
Blend me into white sky and mesh me with the rain

Blend me into white sky and mesh me with the rain



[LefthandedJeff] Kittens and I Get the Shakes (Earthquake Flashback)

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Twenty years ago today I rode out the Northridge earthquake in an old brick apartment building in Hollywood with my new little gray tabby kittens, Shadow and Shade, and then wrote this poem about it:

Kittens and I Get the Shakes

Earthquake train roars, apartment shack shakes me martini, dice.
I naked in doorjamb prop up three floors like Atlas. Tiny grey
Puffball urchin faces, eyes wide marbles, peek from under futon.

Turned out to also be the first night that my now-wife Elise ever spent in Los Angeles, just about a mile away, near Beechwood Canyon and also in Hollywood. We wouldn’t meet until some weeks later, on St. Patrick’s Day. Fate gave us a shared experience, but did not yet bring us together.

As the poem indicates, I’d been sleeping naked when the quake hit early in the morning. I jumped up. The power went out. I always thought standing in a doorway was a dumb idea. I always figured they just told us that so they’d know where to find the bodies in the rubble. So I ran to the front door of my apartment, still naked, and threw it open, to the sound of dozens of other residents running down the hallway toward the back door.

I thought, this is life or death, I shouldn’t care if I run out there naked. But it turns out I did care. So I went and stood in an inside doorway, feeling ridiculous and stupid all the way around.

After the quaking stopped, it took me a long time to find the kittens, peeking out at me from under the futon in my office, with a quizzical and hurt look on their faces, as if they were saying, “What did we do? Why did you make the house shake like that? Whatever it is, we’re sorry and we’ll never do it again!” Which lets you know how traumatized they were, because cats rarely if ever make such a promise.



[LefthandedJeff] Take This Badge

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Always wanted
To be a seasoned, well-traveled soul.

Knew I had to earn
The badge of a broken heart.

Never reckoned
With how much that sucker would hurt.

[LefthandedJeff] With a Flick of a Question Mark

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Just a Thought:

How often do you feel like other people oversimplify you in their minds? They don’t understand how complicated your feelings are, your thoughts, your reasons for doing what you do?

Yet how often do we sum up someone else’s actions with a kind of simplistic emotional algebra like, “Oh, he just did x because of y”—where x is something we didn’t like and y is some dastardly but simple and direct motivation or character defect? How often do we dismiss someone with some sweeping mental gesture like “Oh, she’s really just a controlling bitch.”

If we want others to grant us our complexity, shouldn’t we grant them theirs?

Isn’t that kind of a corollary to the golden rule? Think upon others as we would have them think upon us?

“It’s hard to be a human,” my mom used to say. So if we want to be allowed to be fully human, with all our mixed motivations, conflicted feelings and halting thoughts, shouldn’t we let the other flawed and tangled people be fully human too?

Band Name Ideas:*

  • Red Phone (with apologies to Justin Romain and Redswitch)
  • The Nuclear Footballs

*Band name ideas posted here at LefthandedJeff are fair game. I will probably never start a band. If you like any of the band names I post, help yourself to them. My only request is that you drop me a line at or and let me know which one you used, and give me a nod in the liner notes on your first CD. Just for the fun of it, just as a courtesy.

Flick of a Question Mark

Before our very eyes, with just a flick of a question mark,
Our sledgehammer pens and piledriver keyboards
Turn to feathered quills and take wing.


Image credit: I found the image above at


[LefthandedJeff] Poet Alive in the Alley of Dreams

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C. Natale Peditto has gone to find a new home, living in the alley of dreams. They say we make our own hell. If that’s so then it stands to reason that we make our heaven as well. I believe that Chris Peditto not only created his own heaven, but earned his place there, when he wrote his poem “Finale in the Alley: Backstreet Song for Etheridge Knight in Philadelphia.” I’ll justify that claim when I give you the whole poem in a minute here…

“I’m moved to write of the dead,” Chris once wrote, “as they are alive and walk among us. Not as memories, but as spirits…” Further on: “It is always for the living to seek meaning. And as artists–that is to say, anyone who goes where the imagination reaches–we are the makers of meaning.”

Chris made a lot of meaning in his day. He was poet, professor, publisher, raconteur and sharp dresser. A scholar of diverse interests: the specific and obscure histories of bohemian enclaves from Greenwich Village to New Orleans, Philadelphia to Mexico City; the Greeks and the Beats; rhetoric and the oral tradition; Catholic saints and the Catholic Worker movement. He was a glorious talker, a monologist not out of ego so much as the sheer sweep of his interests and insistence of his enthusiasms.

I loved nothing more than to maneuver him into his study (not generally that hard to do) during one of the frequent parties hosted by he and his wife the blind painter Barbara Romain. Once there, it wouldn’t take much then to set him off, just an idle question about a book picked off his shelves perhaps, a Loeb Classical Library edition of Ovid maybe, or a slim volume of Corso, or Mornings in Mexico by D.H. Lawrence. I’d sit back and let him hold forth, effortlessly, for hours, and never a boring word. He was a veteran performer as well, and like a jazzman he’d rock back, spread his arms out, and sway with the rhythm and melody of his own conversational riffs. He died just about a week ago, on Friday, November 8, and if you can’t tell, I loved the man dearly and I already miss hell out of him.

He made his mark on the poetry scene in Philadelphia, and the poetry and theater scenes in LA. He was an appreciator of people, especially creative types, poets, artists, musicians, and just characters, everyday adventurers, those who go where their imaginations reach. Through his love, his enthusiasm, his charisma, he fostered unique and diverse communities everywhere he made his home. In Philadelphia he co-created the Open Mouth weekly poetry reading series, which cycled through a rotation of venues and lasted several years, and which he wrote about for a Philadelphia newspaper years later.

Here in Los Angeles, he founded the performance group Gray Pony in 1989, (which I’ve previously written about here) on the brilliant intellectual leap linking the ancient Greeks to the Beat Generation to various ethno poetics as exemplars of the oral tradition—living poetry meant to be rendered by the human voice. Gray Pony performed poetry as a chorus, scored for multiple voices and self-accompanied on simple wind and percussion instruments. It began as his Master’s thesis project at Northridge, The Poet Alive (poetry of the San Francisco Beat poet Bob Kaufman) but moved out of the stage of the university theater into the performance spaces of the 90s LA coffeehouse scene, places like The Espresso Bar, Onyx Sequel and Highland Grounds. Later it climbed back onto the stages of small theaters around town, like the Igloo on Santa Monica Blvd. and the Oddity on Pico, with full-scale theatrical productions, including Festival Dionysus, the unexpected hit Salome and the lightning-rod controversial Nigger Lovers.

He also founded Heat Press, the Open Mouth Poetry Series, specifically to publish first books of poets rooted in orality, poets not likely to find a home on the printed page unless he created it for them. They included Eric Priestley, one of the founders of the Watts Writers Workshop in the sixties, who if I recall correctly the LA Weekly named poet laureate of South LA shortly after Chris published his book Abracadabra; also Charles Bivins, a kind of hippie Falstaff and a natural bard (Music in Silence); and Elliott Levin (does it swing?), also an avant garde saxophonist who’s played with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, among others.

I promised you a poem. I hope you stuck around for it—or even skipped ahead to read it. Allow me to briefly set the scene. We’re in an alley behind a club, probably Bacchanal in Philly, between sets, or after the last show. Musicians and poets, including Etheridge Knight, who learned to write poetry in prison and was championed by Gwendolyn Brooks, are congregating, imbibing, riffing happily in words and idly on handy instruments. It’s easy to think it’s a kind of rarefied, universal, transcendent moment. Chris was never a prolific poet, but he was a true poet, and I love this one. Rhythmic, melodic, low-down and mythic, it swings, it sings and it soars. And I think there’s no better epitaph, no more sacred spot in heaven for him than this one that he built with his unique experiences, his characteristic sensibility and his muse-tickled pen:

(Backstreet Song for Etheridge Knight in Philadelphia)

Wine drunk poets & old root doctors diggin in the alley of dreams
Tryin’ t’ find a cure for the world’s long troubles searchin in the alley of dreams

See backstreet dancers & rawhide drummers jammin in the alley of dreams
Hear hum-bone-rattle & rattle-bone-hum dancing in the alley of dreams

We whiff some herb & sip some brew tippin in the alley of dreams
Now you know me & i know you smilin in the alley of dreams

So far from home & on the roam children in the alley of dreams
Go do-whop-diddle & diddle-whop-dee riffin in the alley of dreams

Cold star heaven shines in our hearts lonely in the alley of dreams
Man’s own family gone to find a new home livin in the alley of dreams

–C. Natale Peditto


Photo credits: www.Poetry.LA (performance photo), Elise Rodriguez



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I’ll be out of the office and unavailable by phone or email from 2/14 – 24. If this is an urgent matter please contact ___. Otherwise, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I return.

 Are there any more beautiful words in the English language? It’s like a lovely little Haiku:

Out of the office
Will be back eventually
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!

 I think that’s 5 – 7 – 5.  Is “whoop” one syllable.