Sunday, May 29, 2022

Indeterminate destination


        Confusion led

        Me quailing down

        Hallways not of my

        Liking.  Nurses pointed

        One and the other.

I tapped  my

        Way down corridors

        Of their making,

        Taking me from 

        Joy a  few days ago

Unended.  Duffy and

        Jessica will wait


          As long as they can.   

          The gates crash

          Closed behind.  

          They’ll curl up at

          The top of the stairs

           And whine.

Friday, May 27, 2022

New Territory

         It’s eighty-seven and I’m

Pursuing doing as in all

The previous years not

Wanting to stop even now,

Even when my heart races 

Faster than a slow-moving

Star.  Wherever we are

There is no colliding, at least

Not yet.  My own good ear

Perceives a gorgeous crying,

Singing perhaps.  I try it

With my hoarse voice       

Which Doesn’t reach. 

It is once again night

So much here go frighten

The wary stranger.  There

Is no signal here. Static

Ratchets up when I cry

Out.  There are owls and

Something else peering

Down from all the trees.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Dying Before Covid

She would have been

An ideal candidate, 

Her feared morbidities, 

And no one longingly

Urging her to stay a

Few more weeks, More

Months.  She had

It is true the use

Of trickling morphine,

But after dialysis

She was lucid once 

Again, please spend

This final time

These few more

Weeks with me –

No frenzied pandemic

Smashing crowded beds

Against unwashed walls,

Just our smiling here 

At what we defiantly held

Onto as long as we could.

Sunday, May 22, 2022


Is it grief for those one 

Leaves behind or grief

At leaving?  One eventually

Becomes the center of

Consideration, once removed,

By being ringed round by

Whichever eyes currently see.

One becomes with each 

Breath a narrowing of one’s

Focus.  I  for example

Have breathed her in

Though I can’t recall

Her in great detail,   

Susan when I first saw her.

But I was there breathing

When she breathed her

Last, and I just this last

Hour watched slides

Of Jessica a few

Weeks old tugging

To be free of her leash.

My particular war

There are no wounds

From my particular war

Unless you count

A damaged soul

In that strange land,

Unwanted by the actual

Folk we walked among.

Later, the books described

Far flung decisions and

Ravaged fighting miles

To the North – something

Still going on in modern

Minds.  Mine to revisits 

What I saw, time to time.

The sun glinting

Some days when the 

Yellow Sea came crawling

Though our barbed wire

Fence.   We would stand

There not exactly denying

What we had wrought.


I am alone now and see

No one has remarked the 

Others’ passing –

The next in line

Understands the time

For discussion has

Passed. I have not

Heard the bell toll 

Recently. Perhaps

I’m next. I look

Out at the mist

Is it merely that -- 

I revert back past

Current beliefs and

Peer-driven conclusions

To what I remember,

Though it’s  no longer 

Anything to say

Any more than

One more

Passing day.

Old Man Dreaming

It is night here everywhere.

The mountains crumble.

Debris thrusts upward

Followed by molten steam.

Meanwhile I lie here 

Dreaming.  It’s no good

Trying to stay awake.

The windows rattle.

The door shakes.  Groans

Accompany one dream

Segueing into another.

Time passes along side

Fragmented words uttered:

By people long dead.

I throw my blanket aside

And rise up gasping.

A sliver of the last 

Bit recalled, I roar

Aloud. Jessica and Duffy

Rise as one, amazed.

There is no end to dreaming. 

Back Ache III

I’ve made a paper 

Boat and sent it sailing

The rising seas.

As it sinks, I send

Another.  “What an odd

Thing you do,” an old

Man pausing told me.

“It could have been

Darts or Mumbly Peg,”

I thought and he’d

Say the same.  It may

Rain before I reef my

Main and the remnants

Of my tale.

I’ve been about it 

Many years and have

Premises but no

Conclusions, paths,

Perhaps some soggy

Enough to lead me 

Down to Doggerland.

Back Ache II


These stones, though,

Others say, were wrought

With skill that today is

Beyond us – not finding

Tools not made of bronze

Are perhaps still many 

Meters down in Doggerland.

Plato invoking his 

Forms has also told

Of cities beneath the

Sea, beyond the Pillars

Of Hercules.  Diving

Into such murk above

Those vague descriptions

We have yet to find

What we’ve been seeking.

Meanwhile Russia seeks

Its warlike past with

Modern weapons, but not  

With soldiers like those

Raised in ancient Greece..

Meanwhile, here in the West

 I've been following the war on YouTube.  The Ukrainians have mounted a stirring defense and are being applauded by Western nations.  They claim to only need regular replenishment of their weapons and ammunition in order to drive Russia completely out of most of territorial Ukraine.  Much of the Eastern part is inhabited by Russians and Russian speaking Ukrainians.  Samuel P. Huntington years ago in his Clash of Civilizations wrote about this.  He thought that Ukraine would be split up with the Eastern part becoming part of Russia and the Western part becoming forever independent, but he thought it would happen peacefully and logically.  Since his day, however, the view is growing among anthropologists that our species is much more warlike than was previously thought.  The idea of peaceful little scavengers has given way (to a significant degree) to a blood-thirsty ancestry not above eating our fallen enemies.  At one point around 40,000 years ago, during the Cro Magnon period, we went on a rampage and wiped out all competing species.  Huntington missed out on our current view of our species.

Francis Fukuyama in his overly optimistic The End of History and the Last Man thought that Western economic and political systems being so much more efficient than anything else out there would soon pervade the entire world and history, the sort of history involving war, would end.  However, the second part of his thesis involved the risk of autocrats, dictators, leaders whose egos would drive them to start wars for their own ego-centric reasons, and Putin seems to fit that pattern.  And the last men with weak chests and weak wills "may" let them get away with it.  In Putin's case the "may" may have turned to "will."

The historians who have studied Russia describe Russia’s well-deserved paranoia.  Danger historically, even before Napoleon came from the West.  Russians would be driven further and further to the east until the invader’s supply lines became exhausted and then they would retaliate and drive the enemy from their land.  But if their close-by buffer states side with the potential enemy, then the Russians when they are invaded might not have the necessary territory to retreat to. 

We hear mostly about Russian dissidents and soldiers unwilling to fight, but Putin has a lot of support among Russians, and they are as paranoid as he is.  We in the West insist that we have no interest invading Russia, but each year the Russians celebrate the time when the last invasion (Hitler's) was defeated.  There is no longer a Hitler anyplace in the West as far as we know and so we think Putin's paranoia unjustified, but the Russians who lived through the last invasion and their children find the steady encroachment of the West, albeit peaceful from our point of view, threatening. 

On the positive side, the Russian paranoia won't risk nuclear war.  They love their land and have always depended upon their armies -- traditionally not very competent at the beginning of their wars, but as they are winnowed while being driven further and further to the east, the soldiers who remain become super-soldiers well capable of defeating the enemy.  Why should they resort to weapons which could destroy large parts of their homeland?  They don't need to. Their land armies will take care of them. 

Once again, the Russians have begun poorly, but if they don't succeed in reacquiring their Communist era buffer states, they'll settle for what they have -- for now -- and then work on correcting the flaws in their soldiery, tactics and weapons.  They are not interested in World War Three, but later on, if the future gives them some other opportunities, they'll attempt to inch their borders westward once again.

As to what we in the West ought to do.  I think we're doing it.  The Russians may have their paranoia, but it isn't ours and our democratically based economies aren't comfortable with nations which have psychological problems, however historically deserved.  We in the West see no need for Putin's Russia to attack its neighbors.  Why don't they become as peaceful as we are -- as we prepare for war?  We know we have peaceful intentions, but at the same time we will not tolerate nations who start wars and are well prepared and positioned to crush them in warfare -- which we are extremely good at, by the way. :-)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Tuomainen's The Man Who Died, a few comments

I finished Per Petterson’s Men in my Situation and while I was critical of the Amazon reviewers who didn’t go much beyond saying the novel was “sad,” I just admit that it was at least that.  I recall years ago when I was in college, my aunt Dorothy worked in a nearby potato chip factory.  Her husband, Frank, had died of a stroke and didn’t leave her much to live on; so, she had to work.  At one point I was reading a lot of Kafka.  We had many interesting literary discussions before Uncle Frank died, but later when I tried to interest her in Kafka, she told me her life was depressing enough.  She didn’t want to add Kafka to it.  If one is studying literature, then one cannot avoid studying a novel just because it is sad.  But if one is reading for pleasure, then one can be more selective.

After reading a Petterson, I decided to seek out something less sad.  And inasmuch as the news has been full of Finland’s decision to join NATO, I decided to read a Finnish novelist.    I selected The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen.  There was an indication that he wrote novels less sad than Men in my Situation.

Someone might think, with a title like that, that I should have looked further, but I knew nothing about Finnish novelists and this novel was the first one I came across in my Amazon search.  As it happened its subject matter was somewhat serendipitous.  My oral surgeon, before performing the latest procedure decided to have me get concurrence from my primary physician that my heart would withstand whatever anesthesia he intended to use.  A Nurse Practitioner unclear about why I was there Said, “your blood test is completely clear.  Why are you even here?  And it degenerated from there.  My son hears better than I do and was interpreting what the nurse was saying.  He became quite upset with her before we were done.  I was made to understand before we left that I was old and therefore ought to follow all their rules and probably shouldn’t risk having the anesthesia under discussion.  The Nurse would let my doctor make the final decision, but she certainly wouldn't approve it. 

Thus, having been confronted with my own mortality, I began reading The Man Who Died.  The man, Jaako, is only 38, but he is being poisoned.   His doctor tells him he has been poisoned over a considerable time period and will die perhaps in a few days, maybe a few weeks.  So Jaako who is majority owner of a Mushroom processing and selling business intends to find out who is trying to kill him.  He almost immediately finds that his wife Taina is having an affair with one of their helpers, Petri.  Also, she is trying to gain control over the business; so, he becomes convinced that she, who prepares his meals every evening, is the one who is poisoning him.  A rival Mushroom business has set up a building a short distance away.  Three shady characters are responsible for it.  Two of them, one after the other, try to kill Jaako, but by good luck, they are killed instead. . . Perhaps they have been poisoning him.  He isn’t sure.

Tuomainen is an entertaining writer and despite Jaako’s impending doom the novel isn’t sad.  Also, there are many philosophically clever insights about mortality throughout.  I was cheered by the time I finished.   Jaako is still doomed at the end, but alive.  His poisoning is in something like remission, if that is even possible.  Agatha Christie knew a lot about poisons and several of her murderers were poisoners, but if I recall correctly, she would describe the poison used.  Tuomainen merely lists several poisonous plants and mushrooms and implies a concoction.  

I had the impression that Tuomainen used humor in all his novels, but at the end of The Man Who Died are the “acknowledgments” in which he writes, "The Man Who Died feels like a turning point in many ways.  After writing five very dark books – albeit all very different from each other – ranging from the dystopia of The Healer to the icy north of The Mine, I started to feel that I needed to change things up a bit.  More than a bit, to be honest.  I told my agent this.  I think I also told him I needed to laugh a bit.  His response: go for it.”

The Main Who Died was published in Finnish in 2016 and in English a year later.  If Tuomainen continued in his resolve to use humor in The Man Who Died and subsequent novels, then I have Palm Beach, Finland (2017), Little Siberia (2019), and The Rabbit Factor (2020) trilogy to look forward to.  If I read all of these, am still alive, and managing to still enjoy Tuomainen perhaps I’ll try some of the novels from the period in which he was “crowned . . . the King of Helsinki Noir,” maybe just one to test this matter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Further on Per Petterson's Men in My Situation

Petterson offers this hint about the men in his situation on page 10: “I could see them all in my mind’s eye, their cars parked in places like this along roads and streets, by bus stops, in garages and driveways, with men in my situation, half lying half sitting in their seats with their coats and cars pulled tight around them, trying to doze off for a few hours alone and finally being gathered up in the dark of night by soft hands and soundless winches, hauled together in long rows, one after the other, bumper to bumper, button to button, headlight to tail light, in a fellowship ranked by the man’s age and the brand of the car, as if waiting for the last rites, for oblivion, sleeping in a fetal position, their unshaven cheeks against the cold backs of their hands, barely breathing in the cold darkness.”

Comment: It seems strange that so many Norwegian men find it appropriate or even possible to spend so much time sleeping in their cars, imagining as I do that it is often very cold in Norway unlike here in California where I don’t recall ever sleeping in my car in that fashion.  Arvid had perfectly good places to sleep in his apartment, but for a while after Turid left him, he wasn’t comfortable enough to sleep unless he went outside and got in his 1979 Mazda.  

One of the reasons for Arvid’s breakup with Turid is described on page 20: “I had always traveled downtown with Turid to meet other young adults we knew, communists and poets, trade unionists, welders and lathe operators from . . . but then it slowly ebbed out.  Turid turned and found new friends who did not become my friends.”  

Comment: Although later on Turid after some emotional disaster that isn’t explained with her friends calls Arvid to come out to a bus station and pick her up, which he does.  She tells him that he is the only person she has, but by this time she no longer has him.  He shocks her by telling her to keep her life away from him.

He clearly blames her for the break. She ebbed away from the intellectual friends Arvid wanted to be close to and finds “colorful friends” she finds friends more suited to her.  They disappoint her in some unexplained way and she is ready to come back to Arvid.  Apparently, even though she moved out and divorced him, she believed she could always get him back if need be.  But she waited far to long for that. By then it was far too late.  Even if they were both soon to be, more or less, without friends, he no longer wanted her back.

After his separation from Turid, Arvid sought a time of one night stands but they didn’t begin well.  The first woman he went with seemed intellectually suitable.  She loved Mahler before Arvid knew him, but she was more experienced in the way of one night stands than he was and he took offense at her.  “Right before I closed the door behind us going into the flat she lived in, it felt imperative to look back to where I’d come from, which for the most part now lay in ruins . . . I turned into a pillar of salt.”

Comment: While I didn’t have any one night stands after breaking up with my first wife, I did go out with a few women, mostly from work.  I was looking for someone I could be serious about and so did not turn into a pillar of salt.  Arvid though was more resolute.  It didn’t work out for him with the Mahler lady, but it did with subsequent ladies.  Nevertheless he wasn’t comfortable with that life style even though he sought mood help from what he deemed appropriate novels, John Berger’s G, and a book about Casanova’s exploits are mentioned.  

A step up from one night stands was to obtain a “mistress.” While visiting his parents’ graves he noticed a woman standing alone by a recently dug grave.  He imagined she was the mistress of the recently deceased who waited until the legitimate family left before paying her respects.  “The mistress had stopped on the footpath.  When our eyes met, she didn’t drop her gaze, and so it was I who had to yield, as usual.  I looked a the stone again.  What little I was trying to hold together, fell apart.  I took the satchel, and then got up. . . She could have been my mistress. I thought.  But I didn’t want a mistress.  Or maybe I did, but it was too complicated, it was too late, my heart is not in it . . .”  The do keep looking at each other and so strike up a conversation, but Arvid seems more interested in finding out if his guess about her was correct than getting together with her himself.  

Comment: One of the Amazon reviewers wrote that while the story of Arvid was sad, at least he had his daughter Vigdis by the end of the novel.  That reviewer was addressing the matter of Arvid’s sadness, but it isn’t a satisfactory conclusion to the novel if that is all one has, an end to sadness because Arvid has the prospect of the renewed good relationship with his daughter.  Yes, that is a good thing for him to have, but he also needs a relationship to replace the one he had with Turid.  One-night-stands won’t do it, neither will the acquisition of a mistress.  

At this point, I’m reminded of Allie Sherlock’s relationship with her father.  Her mother died when Allie was I  nine, and when Allie was eleven she told her father, Mark, she wanted to busk.  Mark was indulgent, learned how to support her with camera gear, setting up a Youtube channel, protecting her while she sang, driving her the two and half hour distance between Cork and Dublin.   Allie  was Vigdis’s age when Petterson wrote the ending to Men in my situation.  I don’t have any special knowledge about Allie and her father beyond watching Youtube videos of her singing from time to time, but their relationship seems very good.  Also, it seemed that Mark was very friendly with some ladies closer to his own age.  Then too Mark seems much better balanced than Arvid and not at all given to panic.  Also Allie seems better balanced that Vigdis.  When Allie began singing at age eleven she seemed vulnerable and diffident, but by the time she was sixteen she was confident and in charge of her surroundings.  Vigdis at sixteen is far behind Allie at that age and may never equal her, but Petterson is encouraging us to believe, I assume, that Vigdis, will soon turn into a mostly normal girl through her continued relationship with her father.

Men in My situation, a review


Last night I finished Men in My Situation by Per Petterson, published in 2022.  I didn’t initially understand the title, because Arvid Jansen had experiences and was engaged in activities that didn’t seem common.  But now that I’ve finished it, I do see some commonality.  There are differences, but to some extent I also am a man in Arvid’s situation and so at the end can identify with him.

Arvid came out of a blue-collar environment and educated himself through reading – something my grandmother did and encouraged me to do: Books are out there on whatever subject you are interested in so you can, if you are smart enough, read whatever you like and become whatever you want.  I took my grandmother’s teaching to heart and even though I did go to college I was reading alongside what I was being taught, whatever I liked.

Arvid chose to become a writer.  He admits to being successful, beyond what would have been achieved if he’d taken a job in keeping with his blue-collar background.  A consequence of that choice was that he had educated himself beyond his family and friends, which is a form of alienation.  My own background was similar to Arvid’s.  I was raised in walking distance of the Wilmington part of the Los Angeles harbor. My parents and the parents of everyone I knew worked in some relation to that harbor.  My father was a lumber-carrier driver, which I did for a while part time during my college days.  My stepfather was a truck driver and got me into the Teamsters Union where I could work part time out of the Hiring Hall loading and unloading trucks on the docks.  

Then, as was the case with Arvid, my education qualified me for something beyond my blue-collar background.  A difference however was that when I entered the engineering department of Douglas Aircraft company there was a break with my past.  I no longer lived amongst or worked with the people who worked on the docks.  Arvid and I had become interested in the matters we read in books, books of little interest to the people we were raised among.  Arvid, however, became a writer, and until he became so successful, he could move away, he had to stay amongst the people he was raised with.  He had to endure the alienation commensurate with his intellectual interests. 

As happened to Arvid and most of us, perhaps, our initial marriage-partner-choice turned out to be bad.  Even though I married my first wife after three-years in the Marine Corps, I was only 20 when that happened.  What happened next was different.  Arvid gravitated toward a life of one-night stands; whereas I found someone who was very different from, and much more suitable for me than,  my first wife.

Arvid and I were separated from our kids at some point, but, except for the youngest, my kids were grown.  My son stayed nearby and while my daughters, live out of state, Utah and Idaho, I talk to them regularly by phone.  Arvid’s wife Turid denied Arvid any further contact with his children after he had a driving accident and injured his eldest child, Vigdis.  There is a heart rending conclusion when Turid turns Vigdis over to Arvid with instructions that he is to admit her to a mental institution.  At first he intends to comply, but with Vigdis standing next to him, he can’t do it.  If not that he is supposed to have her examined by a psychiatrist, but by this time Vigdis, is in the more agreeable presence of her father, and is coming out of her funk; so Arvid and Vigdis decide to spend the day driving.  One concludes that Vigdis’s “problem” was her inability to accept her mother and her mother’s friends; which Turid concluded was a result of mental instability, but once Vigdis is in the more rational presence of her father, she becomes her old self.  Arvid does not always make the right choices, but Vigdis understands him and can work with what he does and who he is.   

I read many of the Amazon reviews of this novel, and the frequent one-word summation was “sad.”  In modern hermeneutics which I take to include literary criticism, the text is not complete in itself.  The reader is part of the critical process.   Criticism of this novel, one would hope, could advance beyond the word “sad.”  

If we consider our species, for most of it we didn’t live beyond the age of 30.  To become 40 was to become an old man or woman.  Perhaps we are not emotionally equipped, most of us who are in Arvid’s situation, to stay in one relationship beyond the age of 35.  Petterson ends his novel when Arvid has reached the age most hunter-gatherers are at the end of their lives.  We men in Arvid’s situation now experience a period of sadness when our initial relationship, but no longer (for most of us) our lives end.  But inasmuch as our lives don’t end as well, for most of us, that sadness isn’t perpetual.  We learn from it, if we are rationally disposed, and make better choices in the future.  Will Arvid do that, make better choices in the future?  His 16 year old daughter will, if she is truly mentally stable as Petterson suggests at the end of his novel, will want to marry when she is 20.  She will then make the same mistakes that women in her situation will.  Perhaps by the time her mistake becomes clear, her father will be in a more stable relationship and thus be a stabilizing influence.  Perhaps her breakup before she is 40 will be easier than Arvid’s, for surely as a species we must be learning from all those previous breakups round about.  Or, perhaps Arvid and Turid’s breakup has been so traumatic for Vigdis, that she will wait until she is in her late 20s or early 30's and then marry wisely.  Some people, I’ve read someplace, actually do.

Monday, May 2, 2022


Why do I write poems

You ask?  Why does Jessica

Chase her tail? Perhaps 

To get the blood warm

For a day of watching 

Squirrels out back.

One can see one

Or the other and be amused.

She and I might take up

Something else, chasing 

A ball, reading a novel.

Someone overseeing us

Might smile at our 

Industry.  We wake

Each morning and set

About our business, not

Usually justifying our efforts

Beyond our doors, though

Earlier there a cat upon

Our porch and

One of us barked. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Latest variation

Boosters should be used to propel

Our ships into outer space.

I’ve glowered at the monitor

Warning me of the debris

Threatening all paths, though

Inadequately described.

I don’t exactly hide

But what is out there anyway?

The air available

Is not adequate for

Much beyond the end

Of the block, the end

Of all blocks, the 

Plague people toll

In the morning news.

“No fear” my tee-shirt

Also says as I stand,

Blind fold in my back

Pocket, unafraid for 

The morning news swears

They use rubber bullets.