Photo by Flickr Creative Commons User macwagen
July 30th, 2013 | 7:00am

Speaking of Southern Illinois and fishing and smoking cigars and praying when you don’t believe in anything, I got a call last week from my neighbor Larry who was having a porn barbecue. “Every year is a gift,” he told me, when he turned thirty-four. That was forty years ago. He was always convinced he’d die young, or die middle-aged, or die a few weeks after he retired. He’d more or less been planning on it forever. In the past five years he’d sold his books. He’d sold his collection of toy figures. He’d burned most of his poems. “Nothing I can do about the published ones,” he’d said. “That’s my own little punishment from God.”

reviewed by Patrick Meighan
July 29th, 2013 | 11:00am

Gregory Orr is a meditative poet. In his new book, River Inside the River, Orr again turns his inner eye to the power of words to reveal the essence of a thing, a movement, an emotion. He writes:

            River inside the river.

            World within the world.


All we have is words


July 24th, 2013 | 7:00am

On my final day in Malaysia I visited the Great Cave near the town of Niah, site of the oldest human remains in all of Southeast Asia.  To get there, I took a bus from Miri, a city not far from the Brunei border, which brought me close to the main entrance of an unceremonious national park.  At the museum, I glanced through photos of Englishmen joylessly separating ceramic from bone, and I studied brochures on the local economy, which runs on bird’s nests and guano.  Then I walked through a rainforest thick with cicadas until I reached the mouth of the cave, which looked like a secret airport hangar or a decommissioned gateway to hell.  Armed with a flashlight and an outdated map, I followed a mossy path through the darkness and breathed in the prehistoric funk.  By sunset, I found myself back at the entrance, where swiftlets and bats converged on each other in a giant black cloud above my head. 

Photo by Christopher Rose from Flickr Creative Commons
July 23rd, 2013 | 7:00am

My old man taught me to drive on Sundays, usually when he was drunk.  I was fifteen and he was a big shot on the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the head engineer of combat systems on nuclear submarines and surface ships. During the work week he was a sober, respectable member of the community, but on weekends he lived an entirely different life, which included bouts of sullen, angry drunkenness and unpredictable fights with my mother. He often gave me a driving lesson after one of their battles, when he was still brooding and slugging off a bottle of Wild Turkey.  He’d insist we drive over to a small strip of land just off Honolulu, a place the locals called Rabbit Island, even though there wasn’t a wild rabbit anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands that I knew of.

Photo by Gashwin Gomes of Flickr Creative Commons
July 22nd, 2013 | 7:00am

We came to the Dead Sea as an afterthought, five of us wedged into one taxi on our way to the airport. So far we had spent our Jordanian daylight inside a conference room, listening to other Fulbright scholars present research about the Middle East and North Africa, and our evenings in large group dinners comparing notes. Within hours, my new friends would scatter back to Morocco, Oman, and Israel, and I would return to my temporary home in the city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The conference had been delicious and heady claustrophobia, like interval training for academics. We acquired and processed new information, alternating between externalized and internalized thought, acquisition and analysis, as if variety could substitute for rest. What I’m saying is that we were a certain kind of tired. When we unhooked ourselves from the backseat of the taxi, language was beginning to hurt.