Saturday, January 23, 2010

Karen Waring


“ I had not found the mountains. Or perhaps the mountains had not found me yet. I still believe that the mountains chose me to write about them.”

American writer - Karen Waring

Poetry Then and Now

When I was in school (1960) our creative writing teacher (a beatnik!) brought in a portable phonograph (that's what they were called then) said we were to "listen". She put a record onto the turntable. We sat still, never knowing what to expect from her. The voice of Dylan Thomas filled the room. I don't know about the other students in the class but I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck and chills ran up and down my spine. The words and the tone Thomas used to present his words stirred a hunger and a yearning within me that nothing has ever been able to satisfy. The closest I came to being able to "feed" this yearning was to become a poet myself.

And so I did.

As Karen Waring I fed the hunger through reading, writing, publishing and giving readings at various bookstores in Seattle, Washington. Thanks to Charles Potts (Litmus Press) and Douglas Blazek (Open Skull Press) my poems found their way to the page in the late 1960s through the 1970s. From the 1960s until 1979 I lived the life of a poet and you can take that any way you want to.

I changed, my writing changed. I spent the 1960s/70s in bars. Today I spend my time in the mountains. But the hunger to read and write remains. I am still hungry for words. The words of other poets and, finding my own words again. I still get chills up and down my spine when I read poetry. If you don't get chills up and down your spine you're probably not a poet. What now? Time will tell but in the meantime I'll share my poems, old and new.

Well, I've changed. Older, of course. Back in those days I wore nothing but high heels, smoked 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day and drank a lot. I also wrote a lot of poetry.

Now the poetry is harder to get at - it's still festering but hard to reach. I believe it will come back though the focus has changed. Taverns have been replaced by mountains for one thing. There have been marriages and there have been deaths. I never thought I'd live to be this old. I hope I can still say that 20 years from now.

Monte Cristo Memory (written years ago)

A small item in the local newspaper had major significance some months ago. The Lodge at Monte Cristo had burnt to the ground. Undoubtedly arson. Or carelessness. Ten sentences reduced Monte Cristo to rubble and somewhere out in the world, some pallid, feverish man with faded eyes was sitting in the back booth of a bar playing with matches, feeling at last that he has achieved significance. At least, I am almost certain it was such a man or perhaps a group of clammy-palmed boys high on booze or drugs or perhaps it was even the group of sinister men I saw rolling down an old dirt road in a car the color of blood stains.

News of the fire kept me away for a while. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking to the end of the road and seeing the place leveled. I had known happiness at Monte Cristo and shared that happiness with others. I still have the green T-shirt I bought there on my first visit as a tourist that says “Monte Cristo” in yellow letters. The only other shirt I have with words on it is one a friend gave me when I stopped drinking that reads, “Blue Moon Tavern.” That, of course, is another story and here, not relevant.

What comes to mind when I remember Monte Cristo is the way the Lodge looked at night. One night in particular, I couldn’t sleep and stood outside the cabin we had rented, looking up toward the stars as if the stars had a message for me. I believed in messages in those days. I thought if I looked long enough I would find the words that could change my life.

The night was very dark and the stars were very bright. The Lodge was lit up from within and JR, caretaker of the Lodge, was silhouetted against a warm, yellow window writing in his journal. It was the only light in the world. If I were high on acid, I could easily see JR as God, sitting in the light at the center of the world, keeping the darkness at bay. Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, they say. JR did it with kerosene lanterns. JR made light in a dark world. JR also kept the water running, the generator working, made sure there were cracked but usable plates in the rented cabins. He’d turned one of the buildings into a free school and at one time had a few pupils.

The Lodge was overrun with children, animals and tourists rattling maps and asking the same questions over and over “How far is Sunday Falls?” “Is there really gold here?” but JR kept a revolver in his desk drawer. There’d been trouble in the past and probably would be again. Drunks from Granite Falls would come in sometimes late at night looking for trouble. This was before the road washed out, of course. After the road was closed to vehicles most of the drunks stayed in Granite Falls.

This particular night I stood outside the Lodge and felt the warm peace within and JR’s gentle head outlined against the light. How had he achieved it? What tools had he used to find such peace? What did he have to leave behind to stay in Monte Cristo? How high the price he had to pay? What was I doing wrong that I had to keep leaving the mountains and returning to the city?

That night the Lodge looked like a perfect little world, running flawlessly through the senseless machinery of Time. I wanted in but JR was the guardian of that world and he wouldn’t just let anyone in. He knew the password but wasn’t talking. I stood outside the Lodge until I got cold enough to return to the cabin. The light was still burning in the Lodge. It still burns in my mind.

The Old House

There’s not much to say about the old house where I spent many happy years of my childhood except that it looks like a crime scene. For reasons too complex to address the house has been destroyed by time, vandals and neglect. Picking through First Editions now white with mold, scattered papers on the floor that could be anything including tax returns, poems or paintings there was little to save.

Dingy fluttering curtains hang limply against windows held together seemingly by cobwebs. Blackened lumps of indefinable objects lie in a kitchen sink, the bathroom toilet a scene fit for a Stephan King novel.

Grotesque renderings of mold and mildew spatter the whole place like Jackson Pollock gone mad. A fireplace built by hand looks like it was bombed. Boxes filled with rotting books once meant for rescue are scattered throughout a living room where nothing lives but mice, spiders and viral monstrosities.

The beds upstairs where children were conceived sag and lean; burnt-out candles and filthy sleeping bags hint that indigent people found life bearable here a while. No one knows when the vandals came or when they will return. Sunlight still filters in through the spider-web clogged windows and falls in wan strips upon the ruined debris. A forgotten pair of mold-splattered white pumps sits on a warped dresser; a cracked door leads to a closet so dark we don’t venture in.

Outside, flowers still bloom in an abandoned garden, a stream still meanders into a bay now mostly filled in with silt. Next to the property a CEO has built a summerhouse fit for royalty. A fence clogged with blackberries and vegetation gone mad separates the properties. A maple split by lightning or disease threatens to fall most likely on the summerhouse. No one knows how this scenario will end.

What is there to say? Whether it is outrage or grief no words can describe the grotesque shape of the ruined piano where my hands first stuttered across a keyboard fit for a Beethoven once upon a time, no words can bring back the courage of those who once lived here in health. A family who long ago survived the first sweep of swine flu at the turn of a century, who produced a family of misfits, alcoholics and artists, who lived on the land when it was still wild, long before rich people arrived and circled a quiet bay where Indian canoes once graced the quiet, pure waters of Hood Canal.

Stephan (A work in progress)

My whole life has been a rushing, a hurrying, a sort of careening. Friends stand by, astonished and perplexed. When I stop careening, it’s as if a bell had stopped clanging that had been ringing for a long time, the silence huge and strange.

Stephan once dreamed of me as a truck out of control without brakes on a downhill grade, careless, crashing into smaller vehicles on the way, damaging, hurting, blind, never looking back at the damage I caused.

It would seem I attach too much importance to my very existence; on the contrary I do not believe I am important at all, perhaps that is why I have floundered and flailed about the way I have done. I knew I was no one and that kind of knowledge is unbearable. I clawed at the eyes of the universe, I raged against obstacles of any kind, I begged other people to define me, to give me eyes and a name. (Journals, early 1980s)


It is little consolation
That dinosaurs brushed by them
In ancient starlight

There is no way to kill them,
Devils guts, they are called

Nothing halts their advance;
Not even poison

At night I hear them
Breathing under the house
In the morning the spiders come
Sewing the weeds together
With dew

Yet I cannot help but envy
Their fierce determination to live
Even when not wanted,
Not like us
That can sicken from love

They will survive us all
After cities fall
And the sun is broken

They will survive
In feeble light or
Broken asphalt or
Beside silver streams

No use to say
This is not the garden I wanted:
That I wanted poppies to
Dance in the yard like gypsies
Or that I wanted to run to you
Like I did that day in the cold mountains
When you wrapped me in your warm
Shirt and said “forever”.

A poem for For J.H.

What is left
The building you
Lived in
About to be torn down
Where once I sat on the edge
Of your bed and you
Carried in a platter of fruit
As if you meant to stay,

I watched your backpack grow,
Bulging with
Orchards where you’d pick
Fruit in the spring,
Groaning with the weight
Of long highways that lead to
The mountains and back down
To some house you are
Building in the valley, some
Horse you are earnestly riding
Toward some gathering storm,
Some woman waiting
In an all-night café.

I want to be free, you said,
And you are. You are as free
As what you carry. Those mountains
Will be crossed, the pack adjusted
To your shoulders I used to
Touch those mornings when summer’s
Shadows lay on your face
Like leaves before they fall.

That Summer (for Eddie)

I am as old now
As you were
That summer

You sold strawberries
Oh, please, just let me see it
You begged
That summer
In the shed
Where you
Kept the berries
And I finally
Took my clothes off

As you stood over me
Berry stains
On your coveralls,
Sweet stink of strawberries
On your hands,

Your shadow
Like King Kong
As you spilled
Your seed all over my legs
And afterward
You kept asking
Where did God send you from?
Where did God send you from?

Like a fish pulled out of the water
Gills drying
You smoked a Salem
And talked about God
And being forgiven for sins
As fishmongers
Called out prices to tourists
That summer

I stayed up all night
In the donut shop
Across the street
Playing “House of the Rising Sun”
On the jukebox over
And over again
Missing the bus
On purpose
Waiting for the
Market to open
Waiting for your gimpy shadow
To stomp through
The empty stalls
Before the city woke up
And the tourists
Stood in line to buy fruit
From our berry-stained hands

For The Man Who Would Understand Poetry

In the house of the word
There are floors and ceilings
That rise and fall.

In the house of the poem
There is no one waiting.

Wild animals die in the shape
Of the tongue

There is no dry land in speech

Shadows seep between the teeth
Of syllables

Our own eyes light
The dead planet of poetry

The stale mouth
Into the silence
And is paralyzed

The snow of the mind
Melts slowly

A black faucet rusts words.

Karen Waring

♣ ♣ ♣

All photos in this posting are by Karen Sykes (or friends) and have been published previously on the sites listed below.

♣ ♣ ♣

"I foresee a time when all over America the dharma will be carried in backpacks and hiked over all the mountain trails of this sweet land of ours, a land wondrous with the sighing soul of Eternity - breathing lovingly upon us the forgiving Spirit of Almighty God . . . The Ancient One." Jack Kerouac, (Desolation Dreaming Journal 1956).

♣ ♣ ♣

The above prose, poems, and photos were
previously published on the following sites:

♣ ♣ ♣


Anonymous said...

I had not found the mountains. Or perhaps the mountains had not found me yet. Karen Sykes-Waring.

For Karen the poet:
Simple flowing thoughts
ever newborn
river carving its own way
to the Ocean
ever ancient
Fran Yule

karen said...

This is Karen - I am not sure I have left a comment. If I haven't please let me know.

Karen Waring