Oh, but the injustice of it all…

Let it be known that today, the first Monday of November 2011 (November 7th, to be precise) I was, at the vigorous yet tender age of 56 years, diagnosed with and began treatment for gout.

When I expressed to both my physician and my pharmacist my perplexity at such a seeming injustice, I assured them that I was quite knowledgeable about gout, having read Franklin’s wonderful dialogue with Madam Gout.

Both my physician and my pharmacist laughed outright, although M., my pharmacist, told me in her kind manner to go home, put my foot up, and re-read Mr. Franklin.

So I did. And for those of you who haven’t read (or haven’t in some time), here is the conclusion of Benjamin Franklin’s conversation with Madame Gout.

Up to this point, Madame Gout has been berating him for his sedentary life. Her crowning piece of medical advice–which is for Franklin the final straw–is that he take his fine carriage and burn it:  He will now have to walk everywhere he goes and he can use the heat of the fire to a salutary effect on his gouty being.

From there:

GOUT.  Well, then, to my office; it should not be forgotten that I am your physician. There.

FRANKLIN.  Ohhh! what a devil of a physician!

GOUT.  How ungrateful you are to say so! Is it not I who, in the character of your physician, have saved you from the palsy, dropsy, and apoplexy? one or other of which would have done for you long ago, but for me.  

FRANKLIN.  I submit, and thank you for the past, but entreat the discontinuance of your visits for the future; for, in my mind, one had better die than be cured so dolefully. Permit me just to hint, that I have also not been unfriendly to you. I never feed physician or quack of any kind, to enter the list against you; if then you do not leave me to my repose, it may be said you are ungrateful too.

GOUT.  I can scarcely acknowledge that as any objection. As to quacks, I despise them; they may kill you indeed, but cannot injure me. And, as to regular physicians, they are at last convinced that the gout, in such a subject as you are, is no disease, but a remedy; and wherefore cure a remedy?—but to our business,—there.

FRANKLIN.  Oh! oh!—for Heaven’s sake leave me! and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily, and live temperately.

GOUT.  I know you too well. You promise fair; but, after a few months of good health, you will return to your old habits; your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.

–As of today, I promise to keep my truck, but burn my carriage. While I will never be a better man than Franklin, I will, I swear, burn my carriage and, like Franklin, avow “never more to play at chess.”

Mister Gouty, to those of us swimming in the same ken.


James Barron, Peter Matthiessen, Florida, and more

This episode of Average Mortal Radio is rated R, for Rain, like the rain which is, at this moment, lashing icy and hard as a swung plank out of the north and west. In our latest episode we talk about Peter Matthiessen and artist James Barron, and their connection with us here on our gray and silver windblown island home, as well as an earlier incarnation of ourselves, a one-point-oh version, if you will, a version raised in Florida and who lived there many, many years, many, many years ago.

This is not about the Florida of condominium-stuttered coasts or drive-through Margarita palaces or even the Florida of the Mouse Who Ate Orlando or old people fitness stepping around the malls every morning. It is the Florida that inspired Peter Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy, which culminated in The Shadow Country, his single volume retelling of the tough people who inhabited the swamps, riverbanks, and boggy mosquitoy mangrove thickets.

I sent James a copy of The Shadow Country last week when I learned he was living in an old river house on the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe figures prominently in Matthiessen’s Watson novels and here is Matthiessen himself, in a passage that might serve as an introduction to James’ art: Color can threaten, overwhelm, whirling like that – an ant in a kaleidoscope might sense the problem.

James Barron, my cousin, my friend, for too brief a time my neighbor here on Lopez Island, can easily overwhelm with his whirling colors. To see what I mean, go to his website and look at his paintings, drawings, sculpture, and furniture.

And read Peter Matthiessen, look at the colors swirling around you, be drawn into the kaleidoscope, yes, like an ant.

Listening to Barry Hannah While Demolishing Moss on a Garage Roof

This episode of Average Mortal Radio is rated R, for Ray, a novel by the Mississippi writer, Barry Hannah.

It’s Tuesday, the 3rd day of March, feeling like spring after the morning rains, and I think of Louise Gluck’s line: It is Spring! We are going to die!

But the morning rains stopped, the sun ripped into the sky like it had been howitzered there, and I drove with my wife down to a job off the middle of the island on Hunter Bay. While she trimmed trees and tidied up ferns, I climbed onto the moss covered roof of a garage/workshop and, with a wire brush and broom, began scraping and sweeping the clustered archipelagos of mosses loose from their clutch on the asphalt shingles and dumping them over the edge of the roof, onto a tarp.

Using my iPod, I listened to a series of lectures by Barry Hannah, the brilliant Mississippi writer, author of Ray, Geronimo Rex, Yonder Stand Your Orphan, and the short story collection Airships, among other works, a pure product of Clinton, Mississippi, a place outside of Jackson of which he speaks lovingly, kindly, and with a writer’s fondness for detail.

Among the lines from Ray, a short novel to be read again and again, savored like one enjoys the discovery of a great new neighborhood restaurant, are:

  • I live in so many centuries. Everybody is still alive.
  • Whoever created Ray gave him a big sex engine.
  • I live near the Black Warrior River and have respect for things.
  • Me and the machines saved Uncle Buster. He woke up wanting some wine. All ready to be a bum again. Go out there in the park, safe from vigilant idiots who get their haircuts at fifteen dollars.
  • Now I guess I should give you swaying trees and the rare geometry of cows in the meadows or the like–to break it up. But, sorry, me and this one are over.

(The four quotations above are complete chapters.)

So Barry Hannah and I demolished verdant, rich mosses while my wife competently snipped at twigs and sawed at limbs in the garden far below where I worked.

There are worse ways to begin the process of welcoming in spring.

Everything dies, but nothing ever goes away

“The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.?
-Richard Hugo

Mid-afternoon. I’m back at my machine now, home from the briefest reverie, a waking nap in my absent neighbors’ hammock. I had walked over to spread cracked corn for their ducks (as I’d promised to do while they are gone to California); on the roadside on the way, I stop beside a plush wall of wild roses, their faces blossoming in half-dollar-sized frills of pink. Pulling one closer, I inspect it for bees, then thrust my nose into its cup. Immediately, I smell Granny’s old house in Jasper County, Mississippi, and see her broad wrinkled forehead, her squat body, her braided crown of hair—and tears begin to grow like wild roses in my eyes.

As I feed the ducks, the black shadow of a vulture’s wings draws a dark small cloud over my head and the rocks where I cast a rain of golden grain. Before returning home, I climb into the hammock behind their house and close my eyes. I can feel hot sun on my unshaded cheek, the sway of the hammock, the sweep of a breeze just above bare. I hear the hollow rattle of ravens, a sparrow’s high chir, the rough cough of crows, electric insects, robins blowing thin whistles from the top of low trees, sheep crying to each other across the pasture behind the barbed wire, and a distant plane’s angry drone.

I think of James Wright’s poem about lying in a hammock, his concluding line: “I have wasted my life,? and I know in my arms and my belly that I am going to die, but I cannot believe it in my head. It is a lie and doesn’t have even the truth of the roll of a raven’s high tongue.

I have to get out of this job or get this job out of me. The monster’s teeth tear at my stomach, my chest, my arm, the temples of my head and the temples of my heart.

What is wrong with me that I let such a trivial beast gnaw my vitals…and what is vital? I heard this morning: “Expect a rock to be a rock.” Now it is up to me to listen.