Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Denise Cecilia Banker
The Next Big Thing

My friend and fellow writer Catherine Keefe invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing self-interview project. Catherine posted her interview here.

Poet Mary Biddinger, author of Prairie Fire, St Monica, and O Holy Insurgency, is the project's brainchild.

I have been remiss and I hope you'll forgive my absence, my negligence but, as with everything else in my life, I have an excuse: since Christmas I've been, mostly by choice, homeless, moving from place-to-place. In February, I stayed in a downtown Seattle penthouse, an apartment in Seattle's historic Biltmore apartments, and in a cabin near Discovery Bay. This week I'll abide in a house overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Not exactly what most would imagine as homeless; nonetheless, at this point in time, I have nowhere to call home, which has brought me to my latest musings, or, as we might say, a framing device for my next big thing.

What is your working title for the book (or story)?  Zero at the Bone

Where did the idea come from for the book? I've been working on this chapbook for quite sometime. The poems came from a face-to-face experience with mortality and the metaphysical that knocked me on my ass. Many of the poems in the chapbook were first conceived seven years ago. Some might claim that, after seven years, we're not even the same body at the cellular level, yet, here it is, I've been toying with this material that long. (We'll let best selling author and parasitologist, John Janovy Jr., handle the debunking of that seven-year-cell-renewal myth.) Seven years ago doesn't exist; All phenomena is dependent on conceptuality; The "I" cannot be found; these thoughts are destablizing for me. The Dalai Lama attempts to explain the myth of inherent existence; how, under the delusion that the "I" inherently exists "we view the self as existing under its own power, established by way of its own nature, able to set itself up." This view can be so prevalent that the self may feel independent from mind and body, as if it could exist in someone else's body if its were dying or, if it weren't as smart or talented as it wished to be, it could exist in the brain of someone more talented or smart. I'm not pursuing Buddhism's conception of "emptiness" in this chapbook, but I am pursuing the imagination and, if things don't inherently exist, but are dependent on conceptuality, and words are simply tools necessary in the communication of thought, which doesn't inherently exist, then what I'm trying to do is use words to evoke illusions of permanence. I'm concerned with visual object persistence and luminance. I want to illuminate the ultimate truth of impermanence "that allows for changes brought about by conditions." I'm not trying to pin down any butterflies and I'm not trying to wrap readers in a tangle of brambles.

What genre does your book fall into? Poetry

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Well, Helen Keller, were she alive and an actress, might be able to play the speaker of these poems.  

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? God is Love.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I didn't write most of the poems as a draft of a book. I initially wrote them in an attempt to make sense of how I was seeing and experiencing the external world. I then collected several poems into a coherent whole. The chapbook has evolved since that first draft.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I will submit my chapbook to poetry contests.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? In terms of form, Emily Dickinson, from whom I've taken my title. Wallace Stevens, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Christina Rossetti  come to mind in terms of sensibility and exploration. I've studied Daoism, Lao-Tzu and Chuang Tzu in the ongoing evolution of these poems.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Experiencing life in this form has inspired me to write these poems. But more specifically the experience of death caught me so unaware of how fully, without even being aware of it, I conceptualized all phenomena as inherently existing that I have been spinning ever since. And, even though his genre isn't poetry, Lee Martin's blog has been inspirational.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? I believe an artist must tread the border between reality and the subconscious, must welcome archetypal experience, and nurture sense experience beyond the five senses we securely engage in apprehending reality. The other day I watched a short short produced by David Lynch called "Boat" in which Lynch drives a boat so fast from the blinding light he reaches the darkness. I plan to stand in a wilderness among the birds. Along with the named studies above, I also studied Terry Tempest Williams' Leap in this process.

Other writers I've tagged in this post are:
Jennie Shortridge whose latest book is Love Water Memory
Erica Bauermeister whose latest book is The Lost Art of Mixing
Benjamin Vogt who is the author of Afterimage
Tom Gannon's Index

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Christmas Break

I've taken a long Christmas break. Read six books, four of which were poetry titles. Visited family and friends in Nebraska and Colorado, and am now readying to move to my home on the Olympic Peninsula.   If I focus on the whole action, I am exhausted before taking a step; If seen as one step after another, I am better able to assimilate the move's value. Here are a couple of masters with advice:

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” 
 Beryl Markham, West with the Night


Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
             placed solid, by hands   
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
             in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
             riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
             straying planets,
These poems, people,
             lost ponies with
Dragging saddles—
             and rocky sure-foot trails.   
The worlds like an endless   
Game of Go.
             ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word   
             a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
             with torment of fire and weight   
Crystal and sediment linked hot
             all change, in thoughts,   
As well as things.

There is beautiful birdsong outside the window.  And the sun is shining.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Journey

Tomorrow morning my Christmas journey takes me to Crestone, Colorado, a tiny village north of Sand Dunes National Park in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I don't know what I'm looking for, or what's looking for me. I'm not particularly drawn to this place nor any other and feel more leaf-like than anything else. Hopelessly beautiful leaves skittered by wind; maybe that's all we are, no more or less beautiful than all this wondrousness, this matter.

What is it to be in one's fifth decade? When I ask such a question my mother's pragmatic, judgmental  voice answers, tisk, tisk, tisk. And I feel shame. My mind bothered my mother. She believed there were questions we shouldn't ask. She didn't think we should delve into what suffering is. She believed I was selfish, proud, unsatisfied with how things are, unnecessarily contemplative. She believed I needed to pray words empty of thought. I believe my mom struggled to survive and that, in her own way, she silently puzzled over philosophical questions. But maybe she just drank instead.

My son calls our problems First World Problems as a way of delegitimizing his suffering. My son tells me it's easy to say but harder to live.

This line of thought leads me to think of the ancients puzzling out what it is to be alive with our particular kind of consciousness. How to live in the present. How to reduce suffering. Not avoid, not ignore, not abolish. But reduce. How to recognize the causes of suffering in one's own life and the lives of others. How to be compassionately detached. I want to tell my mother to be quiet. My emptiness, my stillness is mine. We're not all equipped with your no-nonsense disposition, Mom. A blackbird is never just a blackbird. Not more than. Just more. All. I quit drinking before I had children. I sought help and grew to have the strength to get out of a dysfunctional marriage. I earned a PhD. I was an upstanding community member and bread-winner for 25 years. I was my ideal self during this time of raising children.

I wasn't my ideal self in the two years following my husband's death, which caused unpropitious living circumstances for my youngest son's last year-and-a-half of high school. He was 16 when Bill died.

Since my husband's death, I've been searching. First I tasted physical passion. I tasted the fame of a small pond. Then I tasted security. Passion was too painful, fame too shallow, security too lonely.

My role in my grown children's lives has changed, is changing.

Everything changes.

A family that bought flowers at our flower shop shared their suffering with my sister and me. The father had died, and the mother was so crippled by his death she refused to accept the gift of fresh flowers. Cut-flowers die, she explained. She refused to visit her late-husband's grave with the flowers her out-of-town children sent. She didn't want to think about his name carved in stone, she explained. These two refusals (I assume there were more) caused the entire family (and by extension my sister and me) untold suffering. The woman's grown children insisted on sending their mother fresh cut flowers as some sort of immersion therapy, we were told. She was refusing to face her husband's death. She refused to accept them--their flowers, their therapy, their conception of what her suffering should look like, how long it should last, etc. She told us she'd accept silk flowers, but not fresh flowers. We told her children this. They wouldn't be swayed. On one occasion, the angry and exasperated receiver called another good customer, who, in turn, called our mother to report our insensitivity. Every holiday and memorial day the problem escalated until we refused the business. Our refusal was met with incredulity and incivility.

People have to be given the space to work through grief in their own ways and in their own time. Maybe that mom will never enjoy fresh flowers again, maybe she won't ever visit her husband's grave. My dad wouldn't arrange an all red rose casket piece because there was one on his mother's coffin. He was nine-years-old. Maybe the children will never understand their mother's grief and maybe their mother will never understand her children's. What they all need to do is recognize and accept, lovingly, how grief has changed them. Death is an experience for the living too. An experience that changes the living.

Maybe I am refusing to accept the gift of Love. Maybe that's what our culture of getting and spending does, refuses love. I am exhausted by culture and marketing--this I know.

I also know that I am ambivalent, which causes me to suffer and causes suffering to those who love me and those I touch intimately. I am afraid to step out of the World and embrace living. I am afraid to learn how to live another way. I have been considering ancient texts, both Western and Eastern. I have been considering theologies and contemplations on living. Maybe that's what is drawing me to Crestone.

Here's a poem by William Wordsworth

The World is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God!  I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spring Creek Prairie

I'm spending a few days before Christmas at National Audubon's Spring Creek Prairie located in Eastern Nebraska, near Lincoln, the state's capital. My friend A is the caretaker and she's graciously, generously opened her house to a weary traveller, me. It's glorious here. Last night it snowed a bit, but before flakes formed in the too warm air they fell as rain, then freezing rain the effect of which has encased little and big bluestem, switch grass, side oats, indian grass, and my favorite, needle-n-thread grass in sleeves of ice and tiny glassy droplets. Necklace, pearled-lace, these words blanch the beauty. The prairie luster has no comparison.

Michael Forsberg
The sofa is my bed and it's located just beyond a plate-glass window that opens onto rolling grasslands; that opens to the southeast; that opens to austere -- not simply austere the adjective -- but to austere itself. Muted hues bleed into one another as the sun rises, and a careful observer is able to see incremental changes as the light increases.

In my journey to discover what Gary Snyder has called no-self, I've been conceiving "nounless." More than discursive, prior to discursive and all encompassing, the no-self. Interconnectivity. Energy frequencies. Water.

The only thing a leaf eats is sunlight.

We place a log into the stove. It's a log. It is transformed. We accept its warmth.

Here's a poem I like by Robert Creeley

For Love,
By Robert Creeley

for Bobbie
Yesterday I wanted to
speak of it, that sense above   
the others to me
important because all

that I know derives
from what it teaches me.   
Today, what is it that   
is finally so helpless,

different, despairs of its own   
statement, wants to
turn away, endlessly
to turn away.

If the moon did not ...
no, if you did not
I wouldn’t either, but   
what would I not

do, what prevention, what   
thing so quickly stopped.   
That is love yesterday   
or tomorrow, not

now. Can I eat
what you give me. I
have not earned it. Must   
I think of everything

as earned. Now love also   
becomes a reward so
remote from me I have
only made it with my mind.

Here is tedium,
despair, a painful
sense of isolation and   
whimsical if pompous

self-regard. But that image   
is only of the mind’s
vague structure, vague to me   
because it is my own.

Love, what do I think
to say. I cannot say it.
What have you become to ask,   
what have I made you into,

companion, good company,   
crossed legs with skirt, or   
soft body under
the bones of the bed.

Nothing says anything   
but that which it wishes   
would come true, fears   
what else might happen in

some other place, some   
other time not this one.   
A voice in my place, an   
echo of that only in yours.

Let me stumble into
not the confession but   
the obsession I begin with   
now. For you

also (also)
some time beyond place, or   
place beyond time, no   
mind left to

say anything at all,
that face gone, now.
Into the company of love   
it all returns.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bone white

The tree outside this window is bone white in the harsh sunlight of Monday morning. How does one write a blog post after the events of the weekend? In a Connecticut elementary school, twenty-six people, twenty of whom were younger than eight-years-old, were killed by a twenty-year-old kid wielding semi-automatic weapons belonging to his mother.

Sirens shriek past the house. Two police cars, flashing, race through the red light.

When my children were young, I sent them to the local Montessori school, where Miss Debbie and a group of other women nurtured and protected them. My oldest son learned how to read there. He was four. My younger son learned how to articulate. He was three. I never worried for their safety, not once.

How do we go back to school today?

My sons grew up. They attended a small-town Lutheran school, where, a week after my oldest son's eighth-grade graduation, the principal was accused of pedophilia. He took his own life before summer's end.

A common mnemonic aid in differentiating the word principal  from the word principle is to think the principal is your pal. 

The following year, letters and complaints revealed the seventh grade teacher as a pedophile, too. This man, rather than gassing himself in his garage, made a public apology to the congregation. Some people want to blame the Friday, December 14th, 2012 massacre on the ban on school prayer.

I want to write "prayer does nothing" but I'm afraid to. I don't know what prayer does. I don't know what happens after we die. I do not want to cling to or frighten myself with superstitions. I know a deranged young man, after killing his mother with one of her own automatic weapons, walked into a school and brutally killed twenty-six people. I know there have been several similar massacres in US history. I have no idea why it's legal to buy and own semi-automatic weapons.

What use do these weapons have?

I haven't been a perfect mother. I'm a control freak according to my oldest son. My younger son is beginning to agree. I haven't been able to recuperate from the shock of my husband's death from cancer. Over the past seven years, I've completely dismantled my life. I don't know how to live. Today I'm thinking of becoming a real estate agent.

My sons are alive. I don't think they've been molested by a teacher; I don't think the religious superstitions hurt them too much. They weren't threatened by gunmen in grade school, high school, college; and haven't been threatened at the mall or the movie theater.

The plane tree outside this window is as white as bone. Its seeds, the size and shape of jacks balls, dangle from delicate branches as if earrings. Some seeds will germinate. Some volunteer trees will be mowed down, some will be pulled up, some will grow spindly in the yard, some will push tenaciously through cracks in the driveway, some will cling to the foundation of the house. None will flourish without proper nurturing. I don't know how the families of this weekend's dead will survive their grief, but they will survive.

We must love one another. We must forgive. We must have empathy. We must be patient. We must talk openly. We must admit and examine our confusions. None of us is perfect.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Notes on Building a Table

Un-martyr me, says St. Orphan-Heart.
Raven steals the light—the shy one
hard to hold, like a chip of diamond
in a jeweler's tweezer. You dazzle
my mind, Midday-Light-Slippery.
The pens huddled and bound with
a rubber band ate, dressed the mountains
in water, peltethe windows
with rain. Did you notice
the freeze dryer evaporated our lives,

and just as with carnations, it left
the color perfect? Glued brittle flowers
in store-bought wreaths.
The Bell-mare leads horses away
from the barn; She also leads herdsmen
up Monte Terminillo. I'm reacting

To a cheese and tomato sandwich.
What a huge and terrible sandwich
In the airport, and Man-Standing-Near-
The-Shoe-Store has a bite taken out of
his ear, asks me to marry him as we pass
through customs. And Man-Who-Wonders-
With-His-Sandwich is no longer in sight.
The moon, low on the way here. And fog
defines a marshland. Incommensurable
feels so unlike Life-on-Earth. Does this have
to do with her ability to move,

She wonders. Lewis sings. Damion
paints hazard-yellow stripes horizontally
on the lip of each of the trail's steps. (This
isn't to say that Damion and Lewis are
not enormously fat. They are.) Our conversation
drifts to the particulars of Tony's & Marie's
lives. It's best to go in the morning.

By afternoon the wind can be too strong.
We walked long and hard uphill
past groups of men on bicycles,
groups of women in bakeries. We crossed through
yards, fenced dogs barking. All day we walked,
sometimes humming, sometimes alone, sometimes
in cackles and descriptions of potato dishes,
neighbors with gardens, whole moon nights,
grade-school cruelties, the mind's huffing
vortex. Two men work with sheep.
The highway traffic miles below, unsteady.

Six blue marbles in a box on the computer
desk, which is next to a sofa and a chair,
both draped in blue spreads. Blue birds,
(they must be), chirp from somewhere beyond
the barred window, beyond the wall, beyond
the castle garden on one side, the road that leads
from the forest to the grassy meadow, where
bareback, the self, that muscled beauty, comes
fully into its own will on the other.

© draft, Denise C. Banker, all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


It is the playful sense of humor that strikes me in  Zen Master Raven, sayings and doings of a wise bird, Robert Aitken.

One evening Woodpecker asked, The term doubt seems to be used in an unusual way in our practice. How do you understand it?
Raven said, "What's this?"
Woodpecker asked, "Well, what is it?"
Raven asked, "What is it?"

Sometimes it is best to hold still, where there is no gasping for words.