The King in the Circular Court

I wrote a poem about what? And why?

I’m almost certain it’s a rule that anyone who writes a 269-line poem about anything has to give their reasons for doing so, along with their thoughts on the matter, in much the same way that someone who ate an entire birthday cake solo would be asked to account for themselves. But if you want to treat this post like an online recipe where I go on and on about how I fell in love with tomatoes during my semester abroad in college before deigning to give you the pasta recipe, feel free to skip this and go straight to the poem below. No hard feelings, I understand.

I can’t say exactly when I decided to write about the pandemic as an apocalyptic fairytale in the style of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the 14th-century alliterative English poem about King Arthur’s young cousin making good on his promise to allow a green giant to cut off his head, but I did. And I know that when the idea occurred to me, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. After nine months of wrangling with the form and structure of the poem, though, I can say that I was very wrong. The King in the Circular Court, the result of all this work, is probably the most illogical writing project I’ve ever undertaken. It was a crazy thing to do.

I may not know when the idea came to me, but I do know why I followed through with it. I knew early on that I wanted to write about the pandemic, that I needed to write about the the pandemic, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I knew I didn’t want to write a conventional story because I didn’t think I would be able to capture what I wanted. I wouldn’t be able to bottle the dread and existential bafflement that have been my default emotional state for the past year and more as I’ve watched the deaths of unimaginable numbers of people, and along with them the very idea of society and a collective belief in the importance of empathy and solidarity as shared values. I also knew I had no interest in an essay because, well, the world has enough of those already. But the world doesn’t have enough alliterative verse. The galloping gait and drumming drone of alliterative poetry feels old, like it’s crawled out of granite smelling of peat smoke, struggle, and nameless things in a fog bank. Alliteration is the monster’s music, and if the pandemic isn’t Grendel stalking our mead halls, intent on butchering those inside and breaking our benches, I don’t know what is. If I was going to write about the pandemic, I realized that I could only do it in language heavy with centuries and ringing with a mail shirt. This made sense to me as I sat locked in my apartment during the summer of 2020, and it still makes sense to me now as we pull ourselves into the spring of 2021 on our hands and knees with our eyes fixed on a hopeful future. Grendel is still hunting us, but there’s a ship on the horizon.

The King in the Circular Court is not a poem about hope, though, nor is it particularly hopeful. I don’t believe in people who write things telling the reader what the work is supposed to mean because, most of the time when I write something, I don’t know what it means. I can say for certain that I was not in a good place when I wrote it, and that it reflects the distilled essence of my mood and feelings toward what has been one of the worst periods in modern human history, and one of the most difficult times in my life. I also know working on it put me in a strange place emotionally. I went whole months in the winter when the pandemic was at its worst without touching it because mining my despair and spending hours beating it into jewelry while dealing with the raw facts of a plague in my rational life was not a pleasant and completely healthy thing to do. Ultimately, though, it was something that I had to do. As difficult and frustrating, draining and downright depressing as it was, writing this insanely long and involved poem was a necessity. I didn’t have control over it: I just did what it told me to do and hoped that it would be finished eventually, because I knew I couldn’t stop until it was done. And now it is.

I have tried to keep to the form that the nameless author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (hereafter called the Gawain Poet) used, albeit with some changes. For one, I have used a lot more alliteration than the Gawain Poet. Like him, I’ve constructed the poem around the repetition of consonant sounds in stressed syllables, but where he generally limited himself to 3 to 4 alliterative syllables per line, I…have not. The only defense I have for this is, when you have good words lined up, you use them. And it was fun. Sometimes going overboard is the best way to dive in. I’ve also arranged the poem in sections like he did, with no set limits on how many there should be, or how long they should be. And like the Gawain Poet, I’ve set no fixed meter to lines; sometimes they’re longer, sometimes they’re shorter. Lines begin and end where and when I feel like they should. I have also kept the goddamn “bob and wheel” at the end of each section. I could go on and on about the brutal poetic brass knuckle that is the bob and wheel, but I’ll keep it short: the “bob” is a short line, usually 1 or 2 syllables, followed by “the wheel,” a 4-line rhyming verse of 3 stressed syllables per line. And 2 of the stressed syllables have to alliterate. I did every single one of these wrong initially and had to go back and rewrite them, more than once. I loved that. The only thing I consciously did that may deviate from the form of the original (I don’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of medieval English poetry to say for sure) is my decision that all vowels alliterate with each other. This is a rule stolen from Old Norse poetry, which is also based on alliteration. I did this because I could, and because I realized it got me out of a tight spot if I couldn’t think of any other way to alliterate in a line. Finally, there are undoubtedly mistakes in the poem, where the scheme breaks down or where I miscount syllables in a line. I would ask you kindly to keep those to yourself, not because it particularly bothers me that there are mistakes (the Gawain Poet committed similar errors–he occasionally added a fourth syllable to lines in the wheel, for example–and if the master can do it, so can I), but because knowing about of them would tempt me to go back and fix them. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go full George Lucas on it, where I tinker with a piece of art forever in the vain hope of making it perfect. You can’t, and sometimes you just have to let go. The thing is what is, you have to accept that, and part of acceptance is choosing to look past flaws and toward the good in the imperfect whole you’ve chosen to spend your time with. Ask anyone in a relationship.

I don’t know if The King in the Circular Court is any good. I’ve spent too many hours with mental tweezers arranging the food on the plate to really know what it tastes like. But I do know that I’m proud of it, and that I did the best I could within parameters the work set for me. These days, I can’t think of a better metaphor than that.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

The King in the Circular Court

Where the sea collided with the coast in a line of lime-white cliffs,
a king reigned high in a tower keep made of terraced stone.
It shimmered and shone like a sheet of water frozen in winter
and split the sky with an ivory splendor rich in spiteful elegance. 
Steep sapphire stairs ascended in nautilus spirals to tall balconies
cut from enormous emeralds and studded with perfect precious stones
that gleamed in the sun that set like a shining red shield behind
brooding blue mountains that crouched in the far misted distance.
Rooks roosted under alabaster eaves and fed their young pearls 
and red gold rings burnished to reflect their blue wings and black beaks.
And around the tower, like a torc of woven silver wire, 
a moat of still water guarded the gates and protected the precious man 
who sat uncaring and unchanging in the center of his circular court,
like a thrall chained to cherished rages, upon a throne of polished 
            black bone.
Marble and moldering bones
wrapped the ruler in praise
away from the world and its moans
that told a tale of disgrace.

For the fields were barren with pestilent frost that bruised and broke
stalks of golden wheat and soured violet grapes on gnarled vines.
The rivers, dammed by dark slime, slowed to sluggish thick pools 
that swarmed with biting locusts armored in bright shining lapis shells.
Leaves, burned brittle by cold and blighted by callous drought and disease,
curled into paper cups that waited to catch the cold poisoned rain
that blew away on cruel winds to fall in sheets upon the wide salt sea.
The folk of the realm, desperate for a defender, gathered together and begged 
in the shadow of the spire, but found the shade of its fabled heights 
bitter cold and unkind; they shivered in its shelter and huddled for warmth
against the damp darkness that numbed their limbs and gnawed their senses. 
The tower's royalty erased them like a shard of an eclipse shucked from the sky
and laid against the late glaring sun in the forest green grass. 
Whether from the field, the fold, or the fastness of a fort town,
the people felt the king's foul nature, his hungry grasp, in its grandeur 
and feared there was small help and tenderness housed in hands as hard
            as those.
They waited for word from the court,
for a path to peace, an ending.
In answer, only the report    
of craven carols and sinning.             

Knights held tourney with token swords in the tall tower,
and their blunt wooden blades and white paper bodkins 
conjured a counterfeit battle din that mimicked bravery.
This pleased the king and kindled the fire of his fantasy,
so that titles tumbled from his wagging tongue at a whim.
He dressed the court in drab pretense cut from royal purple cloth:
the king created a Count of Drippings and a Duke of Custard,
a Baron of Gravy and a Marquis of Bread, men who knelt low
in craven supplication and played at noble postures and pledged
themselves to him in devoted service unto death or dread disaster.
A minstrel played a march upon piles of split marrow bones, and
food festered on pockmarked tables or in putrid puddles underfoot.
Rats ran free and carried off rolls of rich black rye to their dens 
like knights who nick secrets from a serpent's beloved hoard. 
And like a worm, the king's retinue wound themselves around their loot,
their trove of ill-gotten luxury, lusted over it with ancient avarice, 
and warded it with souls wasted by ease and scoured by arrogance. 
Broken bottles spilled brooks of sour wine and wet red throats
that roared bawdy ballads woven from malicious meter and sang
sour lays composed by hearts pickled by comfort in the circular 
Windows painted in perfect
and splendid spring scenes
masked the hateful music
and the sound of sobbing screams.

The tower was too tall, the townspeople thought, the stones too thick,
for His Highness to hear them so far below near the lapping waves.
For surely if their sovereign could see their need and sense their cares,
he would rouse himself to help them, he would raise a ring-heavy hand
pregnant with mercies that hung from his palms like ripe plums 
and wipe worry from their brows and crown their heads with blessings.
So the people decided to ascend to the king in his circular court,
to seek succor at the foot of his regal throne fashioned from bone
and to hear wise words and healing spells echo in the hall of stone.
They began to gather their chaff, the bodies and broken days 
ground to grist and dry memory by the poisoned air and misery.
They brought it all together on sleds or slung over bowed shoulders,
then they donned their finest, their feathered caps and fringed dresses:
coins jingled on shirts and shining red sashes cut like jagged slashes 
across leather smocks and crisp cotton shirts white like winter snow. 
Mouths sucked meat from lean bones that leaked marrow dust
and drank brackish water from drinking skins brittle with mold 
as dogs slunk into thickets to sleep in dry nests of sharp sticks among
            the thorns.
Hunger chewed their cheeks 
and chapped their children's lips,
but the heart holds when it seeks
a way from woe to happiness.                         

Hard hands stacked cow on cart, built stairs from piles of bodies
and raised wooden walls black with ash and riddled with rank rot 
in a blighted monument, which they set with skulls that baked in the sun.
Craftsmen fashioned gables from gristle and fastened them to the tower
with twisted twine, and carrion birds perched upon them and feasted.
Villagers raised their voices and sang songs rich with rhymes from better times,
and when the sun sank behind the hills, they lit dancing fires and worked
by starlight through the dark night and into the shadowless noon the next day.
As their work grew, they hoisted a long ladder high against the tower's 
swaying side and climbed together, hand in hand and sworn to a shared destiny,
in a snaking line that wound its way with slow steps up the sloping walls
of the wretched spire that pierced the horizon like a shining, black bone needle.
The sound of songs climbed to the wide windows that ringed the king's court,
those sightless eyes that saw clouds in clear skies and slights in acts of kindness. 
The people's hopes trailed behind them like pennants trimmed in gold 
and embroidered with ancient arms sewn by hands scarred by heavy sacrifice.
And they offered them up with a pauper's pride as homage to their thane on
            his throne.
The sounds silenced the feast
and marred the merry games,
and His Highness howled as a beast
at the tower that tarnished his name.

The spire grew, spiraling upward into tall crimson clouds.
As it rose, it laid a cold dark dusk across the lavish scenes 
of eternal spring frozen in iron frames and icy tinted glass 
that painted the circular court into a garish, pantomime garden
with a prism pallet of light and lingering summer cloud shadow.
Knights dropped their dull swords and tore their tattered doublets
while the nobles fell to threadbare knees as a frightful new night 
crawled across the tabletops to darken their gilded silver plates. 
The minstrel misstruck the marrowbones with a mighty mallet 
made from mistletoe, and the courtiers quailed and clogged their ears 
with wax and mewling whines against the ghastly music, this 
unwelcome honesty, that unwound the bloody spell the quisling king 
had worked upon their world with worm-eaten promises from his purse
            of lies. 
The king cried and sobbed
at the thieves who threatened the sight
of his majesty, made from mirages 
that gilded his gangrenous life.                   

The whalebone turret of terraced stone and the stark, wailing spike
stood like feuding twins together, stock still with bated breath;
they waited abreast for the first shots like ships drawn up in battle lines.
Peasants and paupers peered out into the evening with milky eyes,
and merchants searched through looking glasses of mirrored silver,
but there was no evidence of a king's power, no imposing princely office,
not even servants to hear their case or to hand down careful judgement.
They found a single, sad figure, enveloped by venomous jealousy.
It was a supine shade of fleeting aspect and a shriveled, flayed conscience
who slinked slithered among cheap treasures and languished alone
surrounded by suitors brimming with broad smiles and pleasing compliments.
The people saw nobles and knights kneel in silent worship of an empty seat,
of a trick of light that sat trundled in velvet, bodiless and bound by his will
to trays of tin coins and mounds of toy soldiers minted with adoring faces
that smiled upon this pockmarked kingdom that clung to the edge of ruin.
It had been forged in royal envy of an enemy forgotten by the rest of the realm,
but which haunted the high chambers of the churlish king and cursed 
            the world.
The sovereign was the servant in the tower,
he knelt to another lord.
For fear was the prince and the power
among the men in the court.

Fear whipped the king into a keening fury with phantom flails.
It maimed His Majesty's reason and gathered ghosts to stalk
his mind's eye and dance taunting steps to soft gut strings that sawed
the air with artless scales and scored his back with biting notes.
The sovereign's soul bloomed with wicked wounds, bloodless welts
that dripped with bitter doubts black as bile and thick like pitch.
He yowled at the stinging pain, the yawning streaks of raw red meat
that he hid under heavy robes and the incantation of royal titles.
But the blows ate at him, egged him on to greater blasphemies;
they were worms in his wits, engineers of hag-ridden spite that hollowed
out his breast and left poisoned paths through the hole that languished, 
blistered with rust, behind brittle ribs and bloodless skin as thin as paper.
Fear came to the king, crooked in its cloak and crawling on long hands
stained with hemlock and trailing stunted legs behind it in the thresh. 
It whispered devilish vendetta in its earl's open ear and sang
hate-filled hymns against the growing tower that overshadowed 
the sight of the circular court, which sat so poor in power and purpose.
His Highness's hands shook and he shouted rancor at the spire,
that specter that spread like a clotted bruise across the untroubled 
scenes of sunlit spring that he idolized, and which hid his hatred of
Courtiers cowered in silence
as their ruler dropped his robes
and leapt with vicious violence
from the tower into the unknown.                    

The people moaned with relief as their lord landed with majesty,
crowned in shining, shimmering jewels that mimicked the sun,
danced with captured daylight, and wove a wreath around his face.
But the brilliance blinded the rabble, those famished farmers,
to the bloodlust that drove their lord and whet is taste for waste and war.
Still, they went to him, weathered hands and hearts hungry for answers,
hopeful in a hopeless task, heedless of the man and his hardened misery.
For though they laid their layman's needs at his feet and kissed his filigreed rings
with practiced fealty, he could not deign to hear of their dire hardships
with the demeanor that a monarch's precious crown promised his people.
The crowd could not see the seething tempest in his mind that made darkened 
mirrors of men's faces and enemies from glad glances and open hands.
For in all the praise they pressed upon their prince, the petitioners did not say
his name, and the silence sawed at his sunken breast, tore it open, and touched
the hard-shelled, bloodless boil that hung where a heart should have beat.
When His Grace finally began to speak, the people paused and hushed to hear
the comfort they craved, and which comes from a king that acts with kindness.
But kindness is the fruit of a life lived in a world wider than itself,
and there was no such bounty in the bones of the beast that brooded before them.
His Majesty lamented his lot, the unfairness of his failure, and he yelled
bitter hexes into his people's faces and heaped damnation upon their heads
            like coals.
For longing looks of grief
stirred no sorrow or sadness.
The only sight he could see
was his envy in all its vastness.

When his curses grew stale, the king struck out with his great sword:
he cut a crystal crescent in the angry air, ranting as he cleaved
strong broad backs, split heads, and hewed hands from empty arms.
He laid whole families low in his fanatical one-sided feud--
rivulets of red-black blood ran down the twisted tower's side,
and he reveled in the slick-floored slaughter; he was the slayer of slander. 
He counted the drops of blood that dripped from his biting blade
and called them rubies, and the wide wounds he cut across cowering
bodies became veins of gold gleaned from from weather-worn stones.
Calls for mercy were music tuned to his name, holy recognition
of his station and the star-blessed favor of his good fortune and grace.
But the silence of the dead was the sweetest song and he filled it with worship.
He swung his weapon until the top of the tower rippled with red waves
whipped by the wind off the sea that beat against the bone-white cliffs.
And when none were left to fall, when all false-hearted voices were vanquished,
the king piled the people's bodies atop the tower in a leaning, woeful cairn,
a spear of blood and bone that scraped the sky and surpassed at last
his own looming tower and court in stature and malignant cowardice.
And once his dread work was done, when dusk finally darkened 
the matching minarets, the king began to climb and crawl over the corpses 
like a spitting viper, spiraling and pregnant with poison, up
            a tree.
At the top of the tower, he glorified
in triumph and the pride of his place
as the mightiest of men, a storied
hero hallowed by fate.                                   

As the king stood, straight-backed, blood-smeared, and haughty,
a wind whirled up from the savage sea and blew against the tower.
Courtiers gawked, wide-eyed and envious through glazed springtime glass,
cheered their chosen lord and sheltered in his long cold shadow.
His victory was their virtue, his power their pleasure, and they wept
for their forever-king, who was elegant in brutality and brilliantly cruel.
The prince heard their chants and his chest swelled with his child's pride,
for what value was love when lust bred such devotion in hungry men?
He gloated, glowing, and the wind grew to a gale and whistled through the gables
that were set with teeth gilded with gold from treasures taken from
burned houses and barren huts; the wealth of forgotten villages shook.
The tyrant staggered and stumbled and the terrible building bowed
in the boiling storm, but bedlam knights proclaimed with vicarious bravado
from open windows that their lord would live to the world's last days;
no storm would stop him. no man could match him, no will would bend him,
for vice was the currency of valor, and no king was richer than he.
But what is princely power against the strength of a gathering storm?
The wind tore at the side of the tower, rattled roofs and tumbled bricks
in answer to the infant-king's arrogance--awnings fell and boards cracked,
glass broke and gables bent, skulls fell from their fittings and thresh blew
from chinks in the walls in waltzing curls that danced like fresh-plucked down.
A groan rose from the guts of the spire and tremors gripped the tyrant,
who answered the fear with curses cut from the same shroud that draped
the still forms that lay folded at his feet in final understanding.
But the tower splintered, its spine broken, brought down by a purpose the prince
could not counter or conquer, could not whip or wound or lay low with scorn.
His royal roost atop the dead loosened and leaned, then tottered, tipped and fell.
The once-ruler reached his hands, rich with royal rings, to shapes as he plummeted--
he grasped at gargoyles worked from wood, held to crenellations that crumbled
at his touch, and he howled at the hands that hung hard and empty to halt him.
But they could not hear his dire hardships, nor do as he hoped--they scored his skin
stripped his robes from his round shoulders and tore his velvet tunic from his body.
The king fell in a freshet of fine gems, bare-chested and bellowing victory songs.
He denied the certainty that descended on his dreams, damned at last by himself.
For His Highness was caught in a cage woven from his wonton wrath and sealed
by a lock wrought from petty reasons and closed by a key cast from fleeting moods.
But in this at last he was lord and master, for his miserable fate was his work alone, and
             our doom.
Marble and moldering bones
had wrapped the ruler in praise
and made him a monarch of woes,
a king crowned by disgrace.                

Brandon’s Trash Cinema Guide, Ep. 1

To help us through this period of altruistic boredom, I’m happy to announce the first episode of BRANDON’S TRASH CINEMA GUIDE!
In this episode, some pointers for selecting just the right boilerplate ripoff, schlock disaster, and ham-fisted drama to brighten these dark days.
1. When in doubt, go Italian. Chances of finding a “good” movie are about 50/50, but while the risks are high, the rewards are even higher. What you can count on, though, is that the gore effects, and maybe the costumes, will be great, because that’s literally the only thing they’ll spend money on. Acting? No. Directing? No. Plot? What’s that? Go Italian. Avante!
1A: If you find an Italian barbarian movie, especially from the early 80s, stop looking and start watching. Your work here is done.
2. Don’t watch bad movies just to laugh at them or to “see everything they did wrong.” This doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at them, because let’s be honest, you’re going to be watching some truly incompetent movies; it’s OK to acknowledge it’s bad or when things go south. But dismissiveness or pretension are not very healthy ways to go about art, or anything, really. It’s mean, and close-mindedness isn’t a fun game, and it’s certainly not something you should practice. Try to meet the movies on their own terms. Sure, a lot of them are shameless and cynical cash-ins, but a lot of them are also genuine works of passion by the people who (tried) to make them. They’re bursting with enthusiasm, and interacting with that can be rewarding. Also, many of these movies will be surprisingly competent and interesting as films, especially in the directing department. You can get a lot out of them, so don’t hamstring yourself from the start by deciding to be a dick. Don’t be a dick.
3. Prepare yourself for a robust degree of sexism. We’re not talking about “problematic” things here, but truly creepy and not OK. That’s one of the prices you pay for this “hobby” (pathology, personality flaw, debilitating addiction?). Teachers sleeping with their students IN THE DORM, after which the student says “see you in class,” and it’s all played like it’s normal? Yeah, that’s going to happen. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be a ride.
4. In monster movies, the real monster is always sexuality, and almost always (but not always always) female sexuality.
5. All Hammer and TROMA movies are worth your time. You may hate yourself afterwards, like when you ate that entire family-sized bag of chips by yourself in one sitting, but if we’re honest, you had no regrets. You loved it.
6. Early- to mid-90s action and sci-fi films are a safe harbor. Chances of success here are high, especially if the scenes are bathed in blue or green light. Don’t ask me what this means, because I don’t know; it was just a stylistic fad at the time, and it usually signals a cheap movie that was plugged into the Zeitgeist, and also probably had no money and was trying to make up for cheap, sad sets by bathing them in “atmosphere.” It’s the Hamburger Helper of set design, and like the shit from the box, it stretches what you have into a filling meal.
7. If the actors look like they’re in disguise rather than in costumes, it’s going to be a good movie. They either raided a community theater prop closet or the crew brought things from their garages. But if the protagonist looks like they’re trying to “blend in” and conceal their identity because no one would actually wear…whatever that is, the movie’s probably going to be a goodie.
8. If the female protagonist is dressed all in weirdly ill-fitting leather, settle in. It’s going to be good.
9. If the title is [adjective] + women from [planet], you might have a winner. It’s worth trying.
10. The quality of a bad movie correlates directly to how much control one person had over the project. For example: if Matt Rowling just wrote the movie, but someone else directed and produced it, it’ll probably be not good, but not necessarily bad. But if Matt Rowling wrote AND produced it? Chances are good you’re dealing with someone who had a “vision,” and that’s almost always a bad (read: good) sign. And if he wrote, directed, AND produced it? This is just going to be amazing. Make some popcorn and snuggle up. The plane is taking off.
DEADLY INSTINCTS (1997): Category: Monster. An alien monster stalks a girl’s school and the local arts teacher takes matters into his own hands to destroy it. Remember that thing about teachers sleeping with students? Yeah, that’s from this movie. It’s great.
THE DEMOLITIONIST (1995): Category: Cop/Action/Superhero. Robocop ripoff about a sexy undead lady Robocop! Nanobot blood transfusions, questionable scientific
ethics, leather for days. It’s all here.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988): Category: Zombie/demon/high school slasher. This movie’s just great. Want to watch Dead Alive mixed with an 80s high school party movie with some batshit crazy scenes? This is it. This is the one. Just watch it.
PROJECT METALBEAST (1995): Category: Werewolf/super soldier. Dude injects himself with werewolf blood to become a perfect killing machine. That’s all you need to know. That’s it.
That should be enough to get you started. I’ll return in the next episode to give you some more recommendations. This has been BRANDON’S TRASH CINEMA GUIDE! Happy watching, everyone!

Anglo-Saxon Pop Sensation, Kenning Lōggīns

Scholarly bombshell!

Researchers at Oxford University have discovered an as yet unknown collection of Anglo-Saxon pop sensation Kenning Lõggīn’s work.

Until now, the 7-century poet’s songs and infectious summer hits have only been known through reconstructions based on allusions to his output in 9th- and 10th-century manuscripts, and, of course, through adaptations by modern pop and rock musicians. The recent discovery promises to shed light on one of the greatest wordsmiths of the English language.

Little is known of Lōggīns’ life. It is believed that he was born sometime in the late 500s and that he rose to prominence as a poet by the early 600s, perhaps in the court of King Rædwald, who is widely believed to be the inhabitant of the lavish Sutton Hoo burial mound. Like his lord, Lōggīns appears to have had an ambivalent relationship with Christianity, which began to find acceptance in the Anglo-Saxon world during his lifetime. By the time of his death sometime after 650, however, he had made peace with his new god, for according to later accounts found in a 10th-century manuscript, he was buried in a churchyard, though the location has now been lost.

Even his name is a mystery, since his byname Lōggīns is found nowhere else in English records. While no one has been able to establish a definitive origin for the name, the consensus among scholars is that “Lōggīns” is most likely derived from the Proto-Germanic “luk-,” for “lock,” or “tangle” and may ultimately be related to the Norse god Loki, whose name shares the same origin. In Loki’s case, it may be a reference to his tendency to confuse, to “cause knots.” Lōggīns’ contemporaries, likewise, may have been playing a bit of joke on their friend, whose linguistic games and love for kennings, or opaque metaphorical representations of objects (for example, Beowulf’s “whale-road” for the “the sea”) can make for challenging reading. His songs may have gotten men and women onto the dance floor, they seem to be saying, but the words can also be very confusing.

And what words they are!

Lõggīns wrote primarily in Eddic meter, a Scandinavian form of alliterative poetry composed of lines of two stressed syllables. All vowels alliterate, and consonant clusters like “sk” and “sp” and “sh,” and “sl” must alliterate with words beginning with the same sounds. Alliteration is also only allowed in stressed syllables. Yet in a show of individuality and playfulness unusual for his time, Lōggīns appears to have taken artistic license with the refrain. Truly, he was a master of his art.

Lōggīns’ form of poetry was a rarity in Anglo-Saxon England. Where he learned it is unknown, but scholars speculate that it could be the result of previously unattested cultural exchange between Scandinavia and the English kingdoms, or perhaps it was an independent development from the poetic forms the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought with them over the North Sea from their homeland in what is now northern Germany and southern Denmark. It is likewise unclear exactly how many songs he composed, but we can expect more to come to light now that we have what preliminary reports have described as a “comprehensive” collection and “a find of the century.”

What follows is a side-by-side comparison of Lõggīns’ To Danger’s Hall with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone from the 1986 film Top Gun. (The similarity between their names is, as Prof. Lawrence Dunwich-White of Oxford’s Jesus College has said, one of the greatest coincidences in history). For their parts, Kenny Loggins, producer Giorgio Moroder, and songwriter Tom Whitlock have been open about the influence the 7th-century poet had on the development of the 80s smash hit Danger Zone, and the synchronicity in themes is indeed striking. What stands out, however, is the men’s skill in their chosen traditions and the vivid images and feelings they manage to evoke.

The literary world just got a little richer today. And that, as Kenning Lōggīns would surely agree, is worthy of song.

*Words to Kenny Loggin’s Danger Zone are courtesy of Google.

Danger's Hall Final


You Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: A Vignette of Bar Survival

You’re sitting at the bar and you’re tired. You’re so tired that, for once in your life, you really don’t want to talk to anyone. All you want is beer and silence, and for a moment, as you watch the beginning of the UNC/Duke game in a dull, half-attentive sense of regional duty, there are hints that you might get it. But then you smell it: the perfume of sad desperation from the other end of the bar, wafting from the slumped figure of a man already several beers in at exactly five o’clock. You recognize the overeager interest in any and all conversation, the drunken enthusiasm for a stranger’s opinion, and the sudden expertise in esoterica of all kinds. You do not know this man, but you are certain he has not had culinary opinions about elk until today. And he is hungry, oh, so hungry, and he wants a meal. Bad.

You’re a natural mark for these kinds of people, the lonely, the castaways, the neglected and the grasping, but you don’t worry because there are other people here, the goodnatured bartender and a hemp farmer fresh from a business meeting. They are your line of defense, so you drink and pray that Duke loses, because you believe in justice and there’s no point shaking the indoctrination of a North Carolina childhood after this many years.

The bartender is the first to fall. He’s attentive–he nods at the right time and knows just when to say “that sucks, man,” or “oh, shit”–but behind his eyes he’s already gone. He’s just a body now, twitching like Sonny Corleone under a hail of bullets. All movement is an illusion; what life you see is nothing more than reflex. The hemp farmer with a taste for elk goes next: he entertains a clumsy monologue about gun rights, explains the benefits of hemp plastics, declares his eternal hatred for moles, voles, and ground squirrels, and sips his pluot jerkum until his pizza and bread sticks arrive. He begins to wilt when the man offers to “help” on the hemp farm with high-pitched eagerness, because they’re buddies, pals, the best of friends now. The hemp farmer sighs. You start to think about Chester and Spike and drink faster: you’ve dodged the bullet so far, but you can’t stay lucky forever. The hemp farmer finishes his jerkum, mumbles something about how it was nice to meet the man, and leaves. The man drones on about his job and he raises his voice. He glances over at you, but you suddenly discover a water stain on the copper bar and stare at it. You pray. A couple walks in and you exhale in relief: one of them is a beautiful woman–you are saved. You drink to Jesus, Thor, Vishnu, and Vonnegut.

The man turns to the couple and begins to ask questions. The woman is with her boyfriend, but he’s invisible. The man’s loneliness, stoked by beer, has mistaken itself for confidence. “What do you do,” he asks. She answers, and so does her boyfriend. The dual stimulus is confusing and the man speaks for a moment with the boyfriend until he remembers that his girlfriend has breasts. He likes breasts. “Do you have a sister,” he asks. You almost choke. You turn around, but there’s no fourth wall, no camera or gawking audience: this is real.”Yes,” she says, “but she’s pregnant.” A strange reply, but potentially effective in its unusualness. “She’s resisting,” you think. “Good. Resistance means time, and time means freedom.” The man is undeterred.  “Pregnant and single,” he asks. And just like that, you feel shame.

You try to shake it off, because it’s not yours, but homeless shame must find somewhere to go. The man can’t feel it, so it’s found you. You take a sip and wait for it pass. Some of it must have hit the girlfriend, because she musters a fake laugh and says: “you’re terrible!” The man doesn’t know what those words means anymore, so he leans in and begins to ask more questions. The boyfriend runs interference and he takes one in the shoulder. He laughs and begins to talk about his job. It’s boring, but the man loves it and they talk some more. You are still free. When their pizza comes, the couple moves to a table as far away from the man as they can get and begins to eat. The man, cast once again into the horizonless expanse of his aloneness, looks at you again. You focus on the TV and pray. A man walks in with a growler and you drink to Vonnegut again, because clearly he is the only god listening to this.

The man’s here for a growler fill. This is the merchant marine of the bar, pulling into port for fresh water before leaving again. He’s not here to stay, but the sudden appearance of a new target, however brief, brightens the man’s face. He assails the sailor with a few questions about what kind of beer he’s getting, pretends to have an opinion about it–“oh, yeah! That’s…a good one. Yeah. I like it.”–and strings together some words about growler technology, but the sailor is polite and noncommittal. He gets his beer and he leaves.

You’re alone now. The man glances over at you and begins to fidget. The bartender is out of the running–whatever they to say to each other has been said–and the hemp farmer has left with his pizza. The hot woman doesn’t have a hot pregnant single sister, and her boyfriend still exists despite trying to ignore him out of existence. It’s just you and him. You know what’s coming, so you pour the rest of your beer into your face as fast as you can and wander over to the fridges to find a beer to go. Staying here only invites awkwardness and the kind of forced conversation you came here to avoid in the first place. After a few minutes you find what you were looking for and head back to the bar.

The man has left his chair and plotted an intercept course. He catches you near your stool and looks at you in the eye. His face is on fire in that way only a drunk’s can be: it’s flushed and elastic and the eyes are wide, transformed from the dull cotton dryness of initial intoxication to manic whirlpools. He’s on the edge of a crash and holding on for dear life. “What’d you get,” he asks as he stands well inside your personal space. You hold up the can. “This,” you say. “Never had it before, but it’s supposed to be good. “Oh, yeah” he says blankly, “yeah.” With contact made, it’s only a matter of time now, so you stand at the bar screaming inside your head and raise your hand to get the bartender’s attention. The man makes his move. He leaves his seat and slides his beer along the bar over to the stool next to yours. The bartender takes the beer and moves to open it. “No,” you say, “to go.” The bartender looks at you with a flat expression and his words come out like sighs: “to go.” The bartender’s a nice guy, a friendly stoner with thick twisted locks and a lazy laugh, and he doesn’t deserve to be left with a gravity pit of sadness, but you have yourself to think about. This is not a time for altruism. You pay, wave to the bartender and leave. The man and the bartender watch with empty expressions as the door closes. You were their last line of defense and now you’re gone. And UNC is behind.

At the crosswalk you run into your neighbors walking their two Shetland ponies on leashes. You coo at the horses as they pass and your neighbors scowl and bark a greeting. Lingering only invites awkwardness and the kind of forced conversation they came here to avoid in the first place. They’re a mark for this kind of person, the lonely, the castaway, the neglected and the grasping, but they don’t worry because they have each other and the light is short. This is not a time for altruism. On the other side of the street you catch the smell of meat from an open bar door and wonder if that’s what elk smells like. And just like that, you’re hungry. Oh, so hungry.

Three Conversations with Ape and Canine

One: T.C.O.B.

Setting. Home, a one-bedroom apartment. The weekend. Enter APE to find CANINE hunched over a piece of paper.

APE: What’s that?

CANINE: It’s my to-do list.

APE: You can write?

CANINE: I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

APE: What’s it say?

CANINE: How should I know? I can’t read.

APE: Can I see it?

(APE Picks up list)

APE: “Eat.”

CANINE: Obviously.

APE: Obviously.

APE, cont’d: “Sleep.”

CANINE: Can’t have too much of that.

APE: Or food.

CANINE: You get it.

APE: “Bark and/or howl at noises. Addendum: wake him up in terror.”

CANINE: That’s a classic.

APE: Hmm.

(APE squints at list)

APE, cont’d: “Step on”…what’s this word?

CANINE: “Balls”

APE: “Step on balls?” Why would you write that?!

CANINE: It’s something to do. It’s on my to-do list.

APE: Right, but…why is it there? Why would you do that?

CANINE: I don’t understand the question.


(CANINE leaps into APE’s lap, right onto his balls. APE grabs CANINE and starts to pet her)

CANINE: I have my reasons.


Setting: Home. Night. The TV is on, the lights are off. CANINE and APE are snuggled in a chair.

CANINE: We’ve seen this before. Is there anything else on?

APE: What are you talking about? This is the best.

CANINE: I like the second one more.

APE: What? Are you–– Are you crazy? The first one’s totally better.

CANINE: This is the one with the dog, right?

APE: Yeah, here it comes right––


APE: Je-sus! Calm down! We’ve seen this at least a hundred times. You know––

CANINE: Hey, when’s the dog show up? I like him, though his performance is a little… flat. I have a hard time believing it.

APE: Just…eat some popcorn.

CANINE: It’s OK, I had some poop earlier.

APE: You’re not full.

CANINE: You’re right, I’m not.


Setting: The street. Evening. It’s fall. APE and CANINE are taking a walk.

CANINE chewing.

APE: Are are you eating?

CANINE: I have no idea.

APE: Is it safe?


APE: Spit it out!


APE: Spit it out!


APE: Spit it––

CANINE: Too late! It’s gone!

APE: You remember what happened last time?

CANINE: Can’t say I do, no.

APE: You threw up in the middle of the night.

CANINE: That never happened.

APE: And then you ate it.

CANINE: Oh, right. It was still warm and––

APE: Jesus. Stop. Just–– Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

CANINE: About what?

APE: About what you just ate.

CANINE: What’d I just eat?

APE: You wouldn’t let me see it!

CANINE: That doesn’t sound like me.

APE: It sounds exactly like you.

CANINE: I feel a little attacked right now. Are you sure you’re all right?

APE: Look…can we just finish our walk? I have to cook dinner.

CANINE: Dinner?! Yes!

APE: You just ate, like, ten seconds ago.

CANINE: Mmmm, no.

APE: All right…that’s…we’re going home. I have to cook.

CANINE: What are you going to make? Can I have some?

APE: No.

CANINE : Can I have some?

APE: No.

CANINE: Can I have some?

APE: Sure.

CANINE: What is it?!

APE: Probably just a salad.

CANINE: Oh. Well…never mind. They don’t settle well with me. Remember what happened last time.

APE: Nothing happened last time.

CANINE: I know. What’s the point of that?

One Last Meal

Celebrity grief often feels like a transgression to me, like an ill-advised prayer to a pantheon of gods you know you should stay away from. And at a time when we have made an eldritch, malicious fame vampire our carnival barker-king, mourning Anthony Bourdain’s death – hitching your emotions to the cult of the moving picture and commodity personalities – feels shallow, and maybe even a little dangerous. But feelings are deceptive and not always true. They can talk you out of what you should know and, as they appear to have done with Bourdain, they can convince you that what you believe you know is true, that some nameless ghost knocking at the inside of your mind is more real than what’s in front of you, and that it’s inescapable.

So I’ve sat with my feelings and have been trying to understand why Bourdain’s death has cast such a deep shadow for me, why it has felt more real than all other other things in front of me, all the deaths and calamities I read about and shrug off. Some of this no doubt has to do with my own smallness, that worn and personal provincialism we all live with but ignore. But it is also true that Bourdain meant something to me, that the work he did, and the messy and stubborn curiosity with which he did it, has been real for me in ways I don’t think I appreciated, not until it was gone.

Bourdain wielded a curiosity married to an unsentimental appraisal of the raging, farting, electric shit show of human existence that, though often couched in acerbic wit and sneering contempt, was ultimately idealistic, and even tender. He didn’t just acknowledge the essential nonsense and wall-eyed absurdity of living; he appreciated it, and accepted and cherished it for what it was. In “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” the New Yorker article that would launch his unlikely literary career, he paints a picture of the professional kitchen as a collection of human offal and social flotsam, a pocket battleship manned by pirates who are fundamentally dysfunctional but unequivocally alive. “I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life,” he writes, “the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam.” There was something of the German Gossendichter, the “gutter poet,” in how he encountered life, in the perpetual, openminded noir monologue that gravitated to simple, lived experience over gesture or pretense, in the preference for honest, sincere dirt over disingenuous or ironic cleanliness. It’s this, I think, that endeared him to so many, and why his visit to The Waffle House, that midnight sanctuary for scattered and hungry wastrels all across the South, has become something of a cult classic: it’s a love letter to simple enjoyment, to unabashed appreciation and connection.

But he was not a perfect man. He was open about his own flaws, past and present, and he showed an uncommon willingness to publicly interrogate them, to forego the ritualized mea culpa and self-satisfied contrition of political and celebrity apologies in favor of  quiet reckonings. Looking back on the romantic kitchens of his early writing in an interview with Slate last year in light of our culture’s own belated reckoning with sexual power politics and abuse, Bourdain wondered to what extent his accounts of kitchen life and its crass sexuality and hierarchies had “provide[d] validation for meatheads” and “[w]hy was [he] not the sort of person, or why was [he] not seen as the sort of person, that these women could feel comfortable confiding in.” He didn’t spare himself in his appraisal. He had become, in his words, “a leading figure in a very old, very oppressive system so,” he continued, “I could hardly blame anyone for looking at me as somebody who’s not going to be particularly sympathetic.” But ultimately, the responsibility to be open, to provide support against oppression, was his, and not doing so was “a personal failing.”

Whatever he was in his private life, publicly Bourdain was a rare figure, a champion of personal responsibility without the usual appeals to the cloistered, anti-human solipsism of Ayn Rand acolytes. The quest for self-improvement, however doomed, is a private enterprise that is very much a public work, born out in how you attempt to make sense of yourself and what that leads you to do. He ate his way around the world, but what he managed to impart through his travels was a relentless drive to throw yourself against the unfamiliar, the unknown, and the unpleasant, and to hammer yourself into something slightly better through the experience. He modeled a way of engagement free of the kind of sentimental colonialism that underpins so much travel literature and entertainment, the drive to infantilize the world around you, to file it down into either a perfect, idealized picture or a profane object of scorn and superiority. Warthog anus seared in coals and served “al dente” remains a conceptual horror at the edge of understanding, and Thai raw blood soup a Levitical nightmare, but each testifies, in their own way, to human ingenuity and survival, to hospitality and fellowship. Bourdain talked a lot about what he called “the wheel,” the merciless, uncaring whims of fate and oppression, and his travels all played out against a bleak view of human history. But the result was not hopelessness or a lessening of human agency. Instead, ordinary men and women are heroes for enduring it all; there is nothing more honorable, he says in an episode in Los Angeles, than suffering the whippings of fate to create lives worth living, worth tasting, in a world that can be hard and uncaring.

It’s this last part that I find myself missing the most. He was a cantankerous voice of empathy and conscience in a world that slowly descended into ugly self-worship and almost gleeful violence over the course of his career. It’s the cruelest stroke of irony that the world he had such a passion for was a place he felt he couldn’t live in any longer, that his tenacious curiosity and militant advocacy for the simple cook, the peasant, and the migrant worker – the very people who have become the demons in a fairytale of victimhood we’ve spun in our mad collective imagination – should end now, at a time when deliberate cruelty is government policy in the service of bare-knuckle xenophobia and institutionalized hatred. There is a part of me that found a deliverance in the work he did, and who secretly looked for enlightenment through him, a conflicted man who was seemingly doing the best he could with the hand of nonsense he had been dealt. Because if he could be better, could do better in spite of himself, so could I. The world may be a roiling mess, but it doesn’t have to be.

But then again, maybe I had it all wrong. As I go over these last lines, I can’t help but wonder if it’s maybe enough to know that you had a thing, to look at the empty plate, to realize that there is no more, to try to find the last tastes of the meal in your mouth, and then to look up at the people around the table and to realize that that’s what brought you here. Food is fellowship, of presence – of being and having – but it is also loss. There is a stillness after a meal where you mourn what you had, but out of this loss comes possibility, memories, sensations, and the desire to have again what is gone. So you go home and cook for yourself, and then for others, again and again, each time different and each time better. And then you eat. And leaning back in my chair now, I realize that I was fuller than I thought I was.

Thanks for the meal, Tony. It was delightful.





Prez 4 Lyfe

I wrote a rap song about Donald Trump.

But first, a word on the whys and hows:

A couple months ago, I was struck by what I now think of as the “The Unified Gangster Rap Theory of Donald Trump.” Because more than anything else he claims to be – a businessman, a negotiator, the President of the United States – he is a gangster rapper. He’s obsessed with haters and not getting the credit he deserves; he’s psychologically required to brag about how much money he has, how much of a winner he is, and how he got to the top because he’s just better than everyone else. And his dick is HUGE. He’s so much virile man, be almost can’t handle it himself. And I started thinking: “why does someone write a gangster rap song by and about Trump?”

Well, did what I always do: I started with a ridiculous idea and ran with it. I started writing it on Facebook, asking friends to pitch in with some lines. I got some, which I’ve marked in italics (thanks, Séamus and Jonathan!). The rest is from yours truly.

Writing parody is tricky, especially when it involves something as easily lampooned as gangster rap, and it’s even trickier when you realize that winking at the conventions of gangster rap can all too easily devolve into stereotyping and, in the worst case, outright racism. Hip-hop has always been a political statement, a musical form and culture that arose from racial and socioeconomic inequality that are baked into the fabric of American society, and taking it up, even briefly as I have done, is take up these issues and play with them. There is always a danger in doing this, of “taking someone else’s voice” as your own, and in so doing, perpetuating the very cycle of injustice against silenced populations and groups that hip-hop has tried to combat. That I’m a white kid from the South doing it intensifies the risk. I can’t say that this is a good song, or that I’ve completely avoided these issues (I hope so); I can only say that I did it out of affection, and that the subject of the song, and not the style itself, is the target of the joke.

So that’s it. I hope I can make you laugh, maybe think, and that I haven’t insulted the God of Flow and Beats in the process. But that’s enough talking. It’s time to spit some rhymes.

Enjoy, bitches.


I’m out of my tower and I got a bone to pick

Shakin’ walls, breakin’ laws like a toddler fit

Promised to build a wall, now I’m a man on a mission

Never promised the price would leave you a pot to piss in

And speaking of pots, when I’m home in Trump Tower

I love my golden toilets and I love my golden showers

I covet the powers and the prowess of a head-of-state

And tweeting out and seething about what mistakes to make

I’m an island of insanity in a sea of misery

The man without a plan and y’all are all Chris Christie

Who’s he, I forget, let’s talk about me some more

Got some time between meetings and the next Korean War

The POTUS with the mostest is a man of means

Ain’t believin’ what you’re seein’, just ask Fox & Friends

‘Cause I got fat stacks in my slacks and there’s more to come

Yes, son, that’s my name up on Air Force One

I like my name in lights and I like you dead to rights

But most of all I like my daughter when she’s struttin’ in them tights

You know the ones I mean, they’re emerald green

The color of my Jesus, no, not the Nazarene

But a true winner’s godless like hot lips in August

Burnin’ out haters with verbal quadraphonics

‘Cause my flow is manic, organic, and too hot to handle

Check your pocket, check your wallet and lock up your damsel.

Yeah, the bitches know I’m rich and that I know how to please ’em

And keep ’em, ’cause my tie ain’t all that’s waggin’ by my knees, son

Don’t run, just walk and ponder in wonder

The only thing with a circumference greater than all of my blunders

That rips your mother asunder and bankrupts your disrespect

Yeah, you know the time is upon you to contemplate my intellect

That prodigious legal mind and that scholar’s brain

That thinks three fifths ’bout money and one half ’bout hate

And that math adds up, sad cucks don’t know how to take it

‘Cause know-how’s just like sex and I’ve learned to fake it.

And I take shit like this country and I spin it to gold

Say my name and stake a claim, ’cause Trump’s the motherlode


Livin’ like a gangster, born a king.

Got more ice in his veins than a diamond ring

Livin’ like a gangster, born a king

Makin’, makin’, makin’ America great again


Hey, who’s got your name and number?

Hey, who’s that bangin’ your mother?

Hey, whose dick’s bigger than Obama’s?

Trump, Trump, Trump is the man of honor

Hey, who’s got your name and number?

Hey, who’s that bangin’ your mother?

Hey, whose dick’s bigger than Obama’s?

Trump, Trump, Trump is the man of honor


Hey, I don’t do nothin’ easy, okay, I’m not Obama

So how ’bout I drop some bars, this time without a teleprompter?

I’m a really smart guy, okay?

I’m just tellin’ you the facts, and not in a bragadocious way

I’m, like, the only one with as much money as me

Have you heard of Bill Gates – yeah, okay, he’s rich

But he’s not president, so, you know, is he that lit?

I’m the president, okay,  me – I done won

I’m so good all I make are holes-in-one

That’s golf, a game I’m really, really, good at, by the way – I’m the best

This NAFTA, folks, it’s a disaster, it’s straight ruinin’ the West

I learned that from Steve Bannon, I really, really unimportant guy

But I mean, come on, look at me, who’s more fly?

I rollin’ deep on Mexico, folks, so deep you won’t believe it

I got so many homies, so many there’s, like, no defense against it

None, okay, they’re done, finished – it almost makes me laugh

Even China’s lost track of how much I win, and they’re really good at math

Oh, come on, give me a break, that’s not racist

I’m the most openminded guy, I’ve been places

Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and New Jersey

There’s nowhere in the world women don’t wanna get with me

And no one loves women more than me, let me tell you

They’re all up in my business like Internal Revenue

I’m so, so respectful of beauty and a good pair of breasts

But it’s hard to look that high with my hand up their dress

I love this county, okay, no one loves it more than Trump

Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I’m on the up-and-up

And ISIS, okay, they’re losers, I’m gonna beat ’em so bad

They’re gonna wish I never inherited cheddar from my dad

Who only gave me a little bit, by the way, ’cause I came up on my own

I slung more dimes than a public telephone

But just one more thing ‘fore I drop this mic and leave you in confusion

There ain’t nothin’ to all these stories of collusion

It’s a witch hunt, chump, just haters hatin’ on my shit

I know all there is to know, and ain’t know nothin’ ’bout it

So shortly I be straight beefin’ with Robert Mueller 

Cat be trippin’ ’cause nobody be cooler

Than Trump, the best president you ever gon’ have – I’m tremendous

Man, don’t go listenin’ to all these whack-ass bitches

I go down as smooth as a well-done steak

But bitch, I’m the classiest mistake you ever made


Livin’ like a gangster, born a king.

Got more ice in his veins than a diamond ring

Livin’ like a gangster, born a king

Makin’, makin’, makin’ America great again



Hey, who’s got your name and number?

Hey, who’s that bangin’ your mother?

Hey, whose dick’s bigger than Obama’s?

Trump, Trump, Trump is the man of honor

Hey, who’s got your name and number?

Hey, who’s that bangin’ your mother?

Hey, whose dick’s bigger than Obama’s?

Trump, Trump, Trump is the man of honor
















Give and Take

PERSONAE DRAMATIS: One of the great apes [APE] and his companion [CANINE]

Interior. A one-bedroom apartment, the Pacific Northwest. Evening.

APE (to CANINE): Come here, we need to go out.

CANINE: Yes! Oh, boy! Out! I need to go out!

Exterior. Patch of pine bark behind one-bedroom apartment.

APE: Do your business.


[CANINE remains motionless}

APE: Do your business.


[CANINE sniffs, pees]

APE: Is that it? Do you need to poop?

CANINE: Nope! I did that this morning!

APE: Are you sure?

CANINE: Oh, yes!

APE: Well, OK, but if you––

CANINE: Oh, boy! In! I get to go in!

Interior. Kitchen. APE is pouring a beer. CANINE is nowhere to be seen.

APE: Canine? Where are you?

[Terrifying, pregnant stillness save the faint sounds of smacking]

APE: Where. Are. You?

[APE goes to door of bedroom]

APE: No, God!

Interior. Bedroom. CANINE on the bed, smacking profanely. On the sheets, a brown smear.


APE: Why?!

CANINE: It’s not what it looks like! I cleaned up!

APE: So it’s worse.


APE: Why?!

CANINE: I had to go out!

APE: That’s what I…get out!

CANINE: You’re upset. Have you tried a beer?

APE: Get in here!

Living room. APE is on the couch drinking a beer. CANINE watches him intensely.


APE: What?

CANINE: Nothing!


[CANINE perches by the door]


APE: What?!

CANINE: Nothing!

[CANINE sniffing treats]

CANINE: I want a treat!

APE: You haven’t done anything to earn one. You only get those when you––

CANINE: Out! I need to go out!

APE: Jesus, Lord of Mercy.

Exterior. Pine bark again.

APE: OK, do your business.

CANINE: What?!

APE: Do your business.


APE: Because you said you needed to go!

CANINE: Oh, I already went! Do we go in now?!

APE: So help me, I––

CANINE: Love you too!

APE: I know. Now, come on, let’s go in.

CANINE: Do I get a treat?!

APE: Yeah, you earned it.



I, Published, Or: The Glories of Shameless Self-Promotion

The day has finally arrived: I have inflicted myself upon the literary landscape with an officially published story. MY FIRST COMIC IS OUT!

“Where can I get what is surely to be a mind-altering journey into brilliance,” you ask? We can get People Skills, the 5-page bundle of inspiration about a robot and a cat told through amazing art by Micheal Evans, RIGHT HERE in the digital comics anthology, Make Out (Volume 2).  

And for just $3 (more if you’re feeling generous), there’s no reason not to support your local organic, free range comic creators. But that’s not all! There are 60-pages of comic brilliance to enjoy, stories forged from the finest mind-steel for as far afield as France! That’s right: you get to make me feel wanted and appreciated by purchasing my story AND you can make a whole lot of other people’s day. What an amazing deal! It’s a no-brainer.

And the fact that my first published story is a comic, a form that has done so much for me in the last couple years, is especially meaningful to me. Because I’m not exaggerating when I say that comics saved my life.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that’s some schmalzy, baroquely emotional bullshit. And you’d be right. But it’s also true.

Three years ago, when I was at the tail end of my PhD and wading through the venomous morass of the revision process and tenured professors’ fragile egos, I was suffering from what I can only describe as profound spiritual decay. I had been a good soldier-monk for five years, writing, researching, and attending what was expected of me, but my heart wasn’t in it, and looking back at it, I suppose it never had been, or at least not enough. That’s not to say that my academic work never excited me, or that I never enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of alienation, a chronic disconnect between the expectations of academia – that it’s a world populated by insightful people jacking themselves into a blazing world of ideas like a cyberpunk data jockey after his last big score – and what I felt: that it was a temple of exactitudes and inflexible dictates that prized conformity over insight. It was a cold place with a cold religion. And I was good at it, too – I knew all the right incantations, the words of power, and the kind of incense that pleased the gods – but I also knew I didn’t care about it, that I didn’t believe in it. To me, an airtight academic argument smelled like what Werner Herzog calls “the truth of accountants,” where all the facts are right, where the plot is perfect, but where there’s no story, no imagination. 

And I missed my imagination. Weaving complex intellectual arguments has its appeal, but if I’m going to be honest, if I had to choose between a nuanced encounter with [insert author/philosopher here] through an application of [insert critical lens here] and any story about a dragon, I’ll take the wyrm. I tried to convince myself otherwise, that I could funnel my love of stories into research, but like most things born of thin ambition, it was a lie. The truth was that I had, somehow, talked myself into joining the Big Bang Theory fan club while deep down I thought that Sheldon was an abusive asshole. It might be someone’s idea of a good time, but I just didn’t get it, and after five years of pretending, I was a bitter, angry, little man. I drank too much, had no hobbies to speak of, and I harbored a deep resentment toward a system that, as I experienced it, was allergic to fun and contemptuous of play. I had to find a way out, or, I knew, it would eventually kill me.

I came to this realization in the most clichéd way possible: one morning, fresh out of the shower, I stared at my reflection – blurred by steam and my bad eyesight – in the bathroom mirror, and said, “what am I doing?” If I had had a red pen, I would have struck through the experience for its triteness alone, but I knew I was right. I was completely lost, and the only thing I really knew was that if I stayed where I was and assumed a role that would allow no time for dragons, pirates, and space ships, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

So I did what everyone who likes to write does when they’re looking for ideas: I procrastinated. And I read. Or at least I tried to, because every time I sat down to read, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t physically do it. In a cruel twist of fate, the medieval dental visit that is a PhD program had robbed me of the very thing that had gotten me to the tip of the educational pyramid: my love of books. After reading unknown thousands of pages for my dissertation, and thousands more in course work, I couldn’t stand to look at a page of words: my eyes would swim, my heart would begin to race, and a wave of nausea would roll over me and submerge any enthusiasm I had managed to dredge up. Like Henry Bemis, I stood in the furnace of apocalypse, undone by irony as my glasses shattered on the ground. But then I remembered: hadn’t I gotten a copy of The Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel Comics’ insane space opera masterpiece, on a whim about a year before? That has pictures. Lots of them. Why not try that? So I pulled it off the shelf, poured myself a beer, and KRAKA-DOOM! it cracked me in the jaw and knocked me through the curtain of space-time into another universe.

The wild art and uninhibited, bonkers imagination were the opposite of the lawyerly bet-hedging and preemptive shadow-boxing with an adversarial reader that I grown accustomed to in graduate school. The book was what it was and it made no apologies for itself. It was like someone had plugged my brain into a neon sign – it made me feel better. I devoured it, and when that was gone, I moved on and sucked the marrow out of another book. And then another. And another, until I had read nearly 5,000 pages. When I wasn’t at work or spending time with friends, who endured my festering angst with divine patience, reading comics is what I thought about, it’s what I did. 

And then one day, while we were poring over the intricacies of Marvel’s Secret Wars event – which included, but were not limited to, bolt-throwing barbarians, journeys of vengeance through Hulk-infested wastelands, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Enlightenment Cannon (yes, that’s a real thing) – my friend Ben, in a moment of simple clarity, said, “you should write comics.” Half a second later, in an even simpler moment of resolution, I thought: “yeah, I should. I will. I am.” And so I did, with no idea of what I was doing, but as soon as I started, I knew I couldn’t stop. Comics were the wild west: I didn’t know any of the rules, but it didn’t matter. I felt a rush – a real physical high – every time I sat down to write or to scribble ideas onto a pad, or to consult and conspire with Ben about ideas for high octane adventures. Because for the first time in a long time, I had something I wanted to learn and to throw myself into. I cared, and as unabashedly cheesy as it sounds – because I know how it sounds – I knew that comics wouldn’t turn me away if I did.

If a person’s life is a book, comics have given me something I never thought I’d have again: a story I want to read. I hope I can do the same for you.





Why, chromosome?

To Edgar, with gratitude.


Men of power and their members are a duo to remember

As they wrangle this November with the monster at the door.

It came creeping, slowly seeping as the President sat tweeting

Out the puss that was leaking from his mental canker sore,

This horror briskly rapping, gently tapping at our chamber door,

Dressed in a suit and nothing more.


“Is it truth or is it lie,” asks a man as he decries

What every woman knows by sight, for she has seen it all before––

That these “malicious rumors” truly are malignant tumors

From a system’s fetid sewers rotting at our core.

So let’s sit in courage now and endeavor to explore

The monster knocking, knocking at our chamber door.


It is normal to admire what one has come to desire

As one sits by the fire dreaming dreams of true amour.

One imagines gently basking in a soft light everlasting

Whose warmth is so contrasting to the loneliness of yore.

And in chambers dark and dreary it is normal to want more

Tis a fact today, tomorrow, and forevermore.


But we are slowing noting that we, in all our doting,

Have raised a child fond of gloating behind our cellar door,

Who takes and seizes what he wants and what he pleases

Free from all dear entreaties, thanks to his masculine allure.

And he is sure in his position, for he both hums and writes the score—

This man for whom less always, always equals Moore.


He lives a life of Wein and Roses, unaware of the threat he poses,

For the world to him is made of trophies to acquire and to store.

Before him goes an air of foreboding, for he dreams of having, knowing

And in secret taking, groping the angel named Lenore.

And now he stands in the darkness brooding, waiting, at our door

For us to tell the craven: “nevermore.”