Early snippets

I thought it would be a novel, like this:

For three days the phone rings a steady hum that ends in headaches. After three days, the phone quiets, like a dog that has barked for some time and has realized no one is listening.

The funeral director asks, Would you like the view the body?

The relatives flew in as sedately as a flock of tired birds. It was a long trip. He didn’t ask how it was.

The body in the room.

The feeling of someone being gone—a physical feeling. A lost arm. But from deep in the chest.

The body in the room.

Climbing the stairs, he knew instinctively something was wrong, like a small animal sensing a predator somewhere in the woods.

Everything his mother said hit him like a mace but did not bleed.

When was the last time I ate? Sunday. I had toast.

Until Thursday he didn’t believe in God. Now he believed God existed and hated him.

Once he’d told ______, Don’t let me end up like Terry Schiavo. Unplug the fucking machine, okay? Then they laughed.

It’s amazing how many drugs you can find in the house when you stop and look. All those pretty little pills. Most of them coated to go down easy.

The first thing he saw was the pile of empty pill bottles. Scattered near the door like runes.

The funeral director said, Sign here, initial here, sign here.

The first night he threw up in the bed when ______’s smell hit him blindly.

There were his clothes, still neatly hung and colorized in the closet: polos, button downs, suit shirts, chinos, jeans, jackets.

First he cried in this room, then he walked to another room and cried there. This went on for several days.

People started treating him like something fragile. Like an expensive car. Like bone china.

He knew he was already broken.

They thought the world belonged to them.

He knew he was dead but he saw the chest continue to rise and fall, even slightly.

He wanted to say I’m sorry until it was true.

The funeral director recommended a black or blue suit. Something wool. He did not recommend tweed or seersucker for the viewing.

He hated it when people called it a “wake.”

He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be feeling right now.

He started talking back to the television.

The funeral director was making him feel nauseated. His breath smelled like wet paint.

The day after in the mail there was a renewal notice for ______’s subscription to Men’s Health.

He literally could not stop crying.

The police took a box of things back to the station. The box said Evidence. Half the empty pill bottles weren’t even ______'s prescriptions: they were his.

They used to drink too much and have loud sex when they got home. That was years ago.

For five minutes he was going to take his own life. It was revenge. Before he finished he realized there could be no revenge.

He woke up saying his name sometimes. It was like a question: ______?

His mother brought flowers. Something else that was going to die. He was sure she didn’t make this connection.

Had he expected to die first?

All of his black clothes were at the cleaners.

He signed, initialed, signed.

He felt the absence—physically felt it. The feeling of having just vomited.

Parts of his body were sore each day.


The Debt

I owe you:

> the last Legitimate Dangers Deathmatch results: did Brian Teare best Sabrina Orah Mark? You'll have to wait and see. Maybe this will wait until Sunday and I do a double-headed LDDM update. Oops, I mean, double-header. Sorry! I spent the evening with Eduardo C. Corral last night and now I can't shake the innuendo.

Oh, goodness, and I didn't mean... oh, well.

> a quick rundown of the reading at Casa Libre en la Solana last night. Casa Libre itself is gorgeous, a gift to writers, and the reading was wonderful: Eduardo, Gina Franco, Simmons B. Buntin. Superstars all, and charming hosts. Thank you for your hospitality and for introducing me to Casa Libre.

> Something substantial here. Remember when this blog was full of intelligent, witty musings about poetry? No, I don't either—perhaps I'm romanticizing things a bit. But, still, I would like to share something of substance with you. Please don't hold your breath. Unless you are underwater.


Clark Gable

"I kissed you in a way Clark Gable would admire;
I thought it classic."

Several years ago, a close friend of mine listed this as the best break up song. It's true. It is.

* * *

Now planning full rewrite of most of manuscript 1. I have already rewritten the first two poems successfully and I see how they work better. Some other poems in that book were too oblique. I want them to be more real.

"I want so badly to believe
that there is truth, that love is real."

* * *

In the mail yesterday I got:
The New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader
The Book of Accident, Beckian Fritz Goldberg.

I read Beckian's book in manscript form before interviewing her with Sarah Vap a few years ago (and the interview is now forthcoming from Gulf Coast!) It's amazing. Only Beckian could bring together teenage apathy, Chernobyl, and media culture in a cohesive collection.

Read it.

* * *

Coming from Netflix:
Y Tu Mamá Tambien

Gael García Bernal has been in my house so much this month I'm thinking of charging him rent. Or marrying him. It will be a big filmic gay love fest at my place once these films arrive.

* * *

It rained last night. Thick, heavy rain with a light show to boot. I told a friend earlier, I hope you get your rain. I just hope I'm not out there in it. But then I was out there, walking back to the car and pretending to jump in puddles. When it rains in Phoenix it gets very quiet. On the car radio, he played "Dreams": "Thunder only happens when it rains." He pointed out this is factually untrue, but somehow we understood what it meant. The rain continued for several hours; it was there when I climbed into my bed and in the morning, I could still feel it in the cool air. I stepped out of my car and the rain appeared all over my glasses as a fog. It means the world continues to change.


Are You My Manuscript?

Over the weekend I started toying with the idea that maybe this book is almost written. I'm thinking about it. I put the poems together and let them sit for a while. I wanted to see how they would flow, answer each other, expand, contract, resist, refute.

Are you my manuscript? I asked. It doesn't know. Right now it is a stack of papers needing revision.

It is a little short and will get shorter when I start cutting out the dead parts, the problem parts. It needs two more poems ("I really want to lose three pounds.") But it's more about love than I thought it was. It isn't so unforgiving as I thought it was. Those things are me: I am less love and less forgiving. It did not filter into the work.

It is something to work on. I can feel myself needing to move on, though. It has been a dark book, a book that followed me to the point that I dreamed a man let himself into my apartment while I was sleeping and when I went to confront him, two young men burst in and held me down, wanted to—you get the idea. I woke up with a start, couldn't breathe, couldn't shake the feeling of being held down.

It is a book about being confused about who you are, and it is a book about losing love. These are things I know well.


Dot the I

Marketed as a sort of neo-noir tale of deception and sex, Dot the I follows the story of Carmen, who, during her bachelorette party, shares a "final single girl kiss" with the sexy (but short) Gael García Bernal. Their passion overwhelms them and Carmen, against her better judgment, becomes entangled in a love triangle...

The only unbelievable part of this film was that any woman, even a poor girl like Carmen, would choose her icky rich fiance over Bernal, who, while short, is incredibly sexy.

Having had a few glasses of wine before the film started, I slept through two of the twists and woke up a little confused, although I didn't miss the steamy love scene.

It's back at Netflix now, so someone else can enjoy him—I mean, it.


That Girl Is Poison

Several months ago, the luminous Emily Lloyd sent me a care package containing, among other wonderful things, a video of Todd Hayne's 1991 film Poison.

Poison is a triptych of strange tales:
1. In the 1950s, A scientist isolates the human sexual hormone and then, after accidentally ingesting it, becomes a violent sexual monster who transmits madness through sexual contact;
2. In the 1940s, A lonely prisoner becomes sexually obsessed with another inmate, a man he knew as a boy in reform school;
3. In the 1980s, a boy shoots his father and then, according to his mother, "flew out the window and into the sky."

Haynes weaves together the three tales through the film's running time, keeping each story distinct through form: the first story is black and white, the second is filmed primarily in close shots and with all the colors washed out and drab, and the last story is filmed in pseudo-documentary style interview and dramatizations.

Not only is the film moving and affecting, it is visually arresting. Haynes is a master of imagery and camera set-ups. More than that, though, Haynes pulls amazing, seamless performances from his cast. The 1950s story is performed as a vintage piece, something you'd fully expect to find in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, with dialogue articulated in that strange, inhuman, over-the-top way; the prison story is absolutely heartwrenching, thanks in large part to the understated longing expressed by the beautiful Scott Renderer.

Poison is easily one of the best films I've seen. Along with his underground classic Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story (which is told almost exclusively using Barbie dolls), Haynes is one of the most important, most visionary, and most risky directors working today.

If you're watching Poison very closely, you'll notice a younger John Leguizamo tucked into a few scenes. Credited as Damien Garcia, Leguizamo's short performance, too, precursors his own startling dramatic turns in films like Baz Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet. Also, he's very hot.


Curious Montage of Elements Leading to Narrative

Table of Contents

3...................The Death of Matthew Shepard

* * *

5...................I Am the Boy Who Is Tied Down

* * *

15...................Broken Ghazal

* * *


* * *

46...................The Myth of Male Beauty


I'm a Billboard, Commercialize Me

Sometimes I appear in brochures:

Click to see a close up.

Summer Is Blue

I'm already tired of summer. Yesterday it was 113 with 28% humidity. It's a little like being braised.

I'm going away next month—to an old place. It would be like going home except my home is here now. I'm going into the woods with a laptop and no cell phone, no email. I'm going to the beach. I'm taking the new book and I'm going to work it out, make it fit into the shapes it needs to take.

The old books are good. I would say that books get easier every time, but they don't. I see more clearly my missteps in the first book now. I keep streamlining that manuscript and it keeps getting thinner and thinner. More desperate. I think this is good for it. The second manuscript is fine, done, no worries. I'm confident about it. I know I've done all I can do there.


On Lady and the Tramp

There is something depressing about it and it's not really about dogs. Except for some superficial bow-wow stuff at the start, the dogs all represent human types, which is where it gets into real trouble. Lady, the ostensible protagonist, is a fluffy blond cocker spaniel with absolutely nothing on the brain. She's great looking but, let's be honest, incredibly insipid. Tramp, the love interest, is a smarmy braggart of the most obnoxious kind, an oily jail bird out for a piece of tail or whatever he can get. No, he's a self confessed chicken thief, an all-around sleaze ball. What's the function of a film of this kind? Essentially, it's a primer about love and marriage directed at very young people, imprinting on their little psyches that smooth talking delinquents recently escaped from the local pound are a good match for nice girls in sheltered homes. When in ten years the icky human version of Tramp shows up around the house their hormones will be racing and no one will understand why. Films like this program women to adore jerks.

The Last Days of Disco


Obsession Is a Dangerous State of Mind

Current obsessions:

The new Panic! At the Disco track

Mary Gaitskill's Veronica

Four Four's forthcoming Project Runway recaps

Air conditioning

Ice cold Long Beach cocktails with lemon

The Complete Tales of the City

Training Arden


Carry On

Last night, Helena Handbasket and Helen Back hosted me for a Project Runway premiere party at their house, which included the following show-inspired elements:

bow-tie pasta with button mushrooms
wine (because there is whining on the show)
general fabulousness
Santino-inspired Michael Kors impressions

I wore a special outfit consisting entirely of Gap brands (parent company of Bahnahnah Republic), topped off with my classic "B. Republic" tee. Helen Back also wore some Banana; we were both shocked to discover that the mentorship with the Banana Republic design team was not one of the prizes! How embarrassing for us as we kowtowed to the old design regime...

It looks to be an interesting season. My favorite designs last night were Alison, Michael, Keith, Kayne, Robert, Katherine, and Laura.

Current top finalist predictions: Alison, Robert, Laura.


Something for the Phoenix Yokels


Starring Christopher Burawa, Charles Jensen, and Sean Nevin

Friday, September 1
Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe
Time TBA

Christopher Burawa is the Literature Director and Public Information Officer at the Arizona Commission on the Arts. His first book, The Small Mystery of Lapses, was published by Cleveland State University Press in spring 2006. His translations of works by Icelandic poet Johann Hjalmarsson were issued in summer 2005 and won the Toad Press International Chapbook Award.

Sean Nevin teaches creative writing at Arizona State University, where he serves as the assistant director of ASU’s Young Writer’s Program. He was awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. He is co-editor of 22 Across: A Review of Young Writers, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird: Poet Lore, 5 AM, Journal of American Medical Association, and Runes. His chapbook A House that Falls won the 2005 Slapering Hol Chapbook Award.

Charles Jensen is the person typing this.

An art show featuring, in part, photos of Charles Jensen by Kris Sanford
The Kitchenette Gallery in Phoenix
Show opens August 4, 2006, for First Friday


TiVo Suggests

What I'm currently TiVoing:

Veronica Mars
Hell's Kitchen
Project Runway
The Complete Tales of the City
The Click List
The Simpsons
Campus Ladies
The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency
America's Next Top Model

And for those of you keeping score, tomorrow is the premiere of Project Runway's third season!

Rumor has it Heidi's got the preggers again. Oh, cute little preggers German model! *kiss kiss*


What's New, Pussycat?

I'm reading Mary Gaitskill's Veronica and loving it. I guess this is the year of fiction/prose for me: I've read more novels and essays this year than the past four years combined. Making up for lost time, etc. I like the dreamy quality of her writing, how she weaves seamlessly back and forth in time, how the narrator's memory is suitably foggy and dazed...it makes the reading experience soothing.

I started reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead but I hated it and had to stop after 30 pages.

I used to be able to read anything, no matter what. Could tear right through it.

I read the new Court Green on Saturday and loved it. I was so happy to find your work there, so many people I admire. I always miss the deadline for that magazine. I need to make a note.

I wasn't bowled over by the new Superman film. It was good in the way that Bryan Singer can't make a bad film if he tried. It was a little long (do I have ADD?), but I thought that he did a good job of lining up his style with the feel of the original films, except that this one took itself seriously, was fully immersed in its own world.

I also watched Proof this weekend. Hope Davis turned in a career-making performance that nobody saw. Gwyneth Paltrow chewed the scenery. Is anyone else dying to see her in Running with Scissors? I love my Gwyneth most when she's a misanthrope.


Hey Nostradamus!

For the past several weeks I've been enjoying my first audiobook experience during my commute to and from work. I purchased Douglas Coupland's novel Hey Nostradamus! because I think it was the first book of his I didn't read and was always curious about it. I love Coupland's work—in fact, both Microserfs and Miss Wyoming count among my favorite novels of all time—and haven't read much since just before grad school.

Hey Nostradamus is a novel in monologues, which I think makes it an easy transfer to the audiobook format. The novel surrounds a 1989 school shooting in which the first of the novel's characters, Cheryl, is killed by a classmate. Other voices in the novel are Jason (speaking from 1999), Cheryl's boyfriend who misses rescuing her by a mere two minutes; Heather (speaking from 2002), Jason's girlfriend ten years later; and Reg (speaking in 2003), Jason's holy roller father.

The novel was very affecting to hear read in these voices. Accounts of the school massacre unfold in each voice's unique perspective bit by bit with horrifying detail. But more than journalism, Hey Nostradamus! is really an account of our relationship to faith. Cheryl, a devout Christian, faces her belief system as she narrates from somewhere she describes as not on earth and not in Heaven, either. Jason's adult bitterness seeps into every perception he has about the world. Heather's willingness to believe just about anything proves to be her near-downfall—and probably her greatest asset. And Jason's father looks back on a life lived in Christianity and wonders if he lived his life righteously—or with pride and vanity.

When each voice began speaking, I wanted to resist it. I wanted to dislike each new character as they began to tell me about their life, their memories, their fears, but after about twenty minutes that feeling vanished. The narration was so compelling and interesting—a good balance between plot momentum and characterization—that I was equally sad each time a character's section ended.

Coupland's books always tend to explore the ways in which we hope for the best in the world and the things we do to locate in ourselves something resembling faith. Although his work always seems so rooted in the secular, I've felt strongly that Coupland is one of our most reverent writers, always addressing issues of mortality, of conviction, and of the failings of our modern world to effectively caretake our lives and relationships. In the end, Coupland suggests, it is through our most intimate relationships that we uncover the faith we need to make it through the world.



A few days ago I watched Steven Soderberg's new film Bubble, a low-budget film with no-name actors about three lonely people working in an Ohio doll factory.

I'm a big fan of Soderberg's work, but I have to say that I was a little befuddled by this offering. Although somewhat stylized to the degree that his other films like Out of Sight evoked a time and place, Bubble is weird and quiet. The camera films its subject with a cold, unmoving eye, giving the film an uncanny, immobile feel. The visual metaphor is appropriate, though, as each of the three main characters are so immobilized by their lives, trapped in dead-end jobs, and unable to make connections with others.

The film's synopsis promised a "love triangle" and "a murder mystery," and each of these encompass about 10 minutes each of this 1 hour-13 minute film.

The acting is unnervingly "method," or perhaps amateurish, but I particularly loved the factory foreman, who either wasn't acting at all or was brilliant the way he kept his eyes closed while addressing his employees.

The stifling nature of the cinematography here also comments on the relative poverty of the area in which these characters live. One does not own a car and must be schlepped everywhere he wants to go. Several of them work two jobs, or work for the plant after hours at home. The homes are decorated like those of people who lived in my home town--lots of wood paneling, small and dingy apartments, and lots of curlicued dark wood furniture.

Even the plot, with its relative "nothing happens-ness" is oppressive, and the film's lack of clear resolution is a clear assertion that nothing—not love, not murder—can change the way these people interact with each other, their jobs, or their landscape. Their dead-end lives have one dimension, one direction. It's sort of an easy connection to make (No money = no love) and probably one that's been done before. Bubble's most compelling offering, then, is its avoidance of movie-making magic and the veneer we wash over middle America.


No Cigar (Yet)

I'm so pleased to reveal that I was one of the 10 finalists for the Prairie Schooner Prize this year. Although I didn't receive the award, I was given a kind and encouraging rejection.

This is probably the closest to winning I've come so far. It was like being close to a fire. Or, close to Eduardo. (Same thing)


Lighten Up, It's Just Fashion

If you're gay or a woman, you've probably already seen The Devil Wears Prada for one of the following reasons:

1. It has the word "Prada" in the title
2. Meryl Streep's "botched circumcision" hairstyle
3. Anne Hathaway flirting with the dark side (of lip stick)
4. You also believe 4 is the new 2
5. You are an evil, self-absorbed powerbitch in a Chanel suit and D&G sunglasses
6. You read Vogue or you dance to "Vogue" (or both: give yourself two bonus points)
7. You are Christopher Lowell

If you are a man, you probably saw this film because:

1. You know a gay or a woman and are trying to get one of them to sleep with you.
That's okay—nobody's judging—and if you're looking for a way to waste two hours you could be worse off (let me recommend The Da Vinci Code). The Devil Wears Prada seems to be one of those rare examples of that perjorative genre "Chick Lit" that "rises above" its station in life.

Although it skewers the things you'd expect (skinny models, dieting, Casual Corner, powerbitching, working motherhood, and feminine ambition), I thought The Devil Wears Prada was cleverly done, well-acted, and, in the end, formulaic but enjoyable. Northwestern journalism grad Andie Sachs, in a desperate attempt to get any job in publishing, goes before Queen Bee of the Fashionistas Miranda Priestly in an effort to land a thankless, low paying gig as a professional asssitant.

What makes the film unique among its peers is that it doesn't allow any of these characters to be as two dimensional as you'd expect. Instead of being only an emotionless powerbitch, Streep's Priestly responds to one of Andie's chuckles over choosing between two nearly identical belts by busting out what must be the greatest Why Fashion Matters manifesto, explaining how the color of Andie's sweater was selected for her years before by intrepid, groundbreaking designers whose ideas, then distilled, trickled down through the culture to the bargain basement sweater bin where Andie undoubtedly located it. It's a moment that Streep nails perfectly—she treats the opportunity to school the holier-than-thou Andie with both grace and bite, politely and firmly putting her in her place.

This is also a film to enjoy if you've ever worked for an unmanageable supervisor: the micromanager, the monopolizer, the Holy Grail seeker, the seagull, the soulcrusher, or the diva (or divo, because men are not immune to this syndrome). Everyone in their youth has been cursed with the prison of the wrong job, the wrong boss, or both, and we can all identify with Andie's desire to balance to golden experience of working with publishing's most powerful woman and with her desire to do something of value with her life outside the walls of her local Starbucks.

What I learned from watching this film is that New York looks pretty after a rain and that Anne Hathaway could run hurdles in three inch Jimmy Choo heels. As I left the theater, I was reminded of Project Runway's Santino singing his little designer manta: "Lighten up, it's just fashion...lighten up, it's just fashion..."


Preview Living Things

I'm pleased to announce that five of my poems from the forthcoming chapbook Living Things are available for reading at Merge.

Click on contributors, then you'll see my name.