On and Off An Island In the Salish Sea


The wind is storming out of the south east, symptom of a classic “pineapple express,” a line up of low fronts back to Hawaii pulled by a fierce jet stream right over the top of the Olympics to us.Warm rain will fall in copious amounts and the heavy winds will knock down some tree that’s been standing in the same place for two-hundred years, all that remains of an ancient stand of fir cleared before the housing development went in.

Blows like this came again and again in what locals called a dry winter. I was just getting started with the pain and pills and anxiousness. Looking back on it, during one of the wettest seasons in history, its great to remember the bouts of sunshine, that bright light pushing through the clouds, a brilliant blue sky above the gray-green, white-capped water, walks in the soggy woods. Now, off the island on a spreading river delta full of tulips, the water rises in the plowed and planted fields, as it always does in this levy-lined country, before drying away . And the sun’s shining on the little town (Hint: Tom Robbins lives just a few blocks away!) where we live a short walk from a channel lined with Swinomish fishing boats and pleasure crafts…March, 2015, 2016


Home and Away

It’s the first Sunday in December and the Betterday Coffee Shop in Santa Fe is packed its entire length. At the far end, a crowd –some sitting on the floor, some standing — faces a small bandstand where two men perch among a thicket of instruments. The heads of some of those standing in the audience come no higher than the heads of those sitting. Little ones are fidgeting in adult laps. The two-man band Round Mountain is doing their annual family show and the pre-school set is getting edgy.

Suddenly, Char Rothschild, who earlier had taken a trumpet solo while accompanying himself on accordion, pulls out the gaida, a sort of Bulgarian bagpipe made from a goat skin. The whine of the instrument turns the heads of the distracted. Some of them clap with glee as Char’s cheeks puff. His brother, Robby Rothschild, introduces the next song and asks for clapping but not in the usual sense. It’s a uniquely timed clap he wants, something he calls the Ali Farka Toure clap, named for the Malian guitarist. One graying gentleman can’t seem to get it right. No problem. A young lady wearing a denim jumper who can’t be more than four-years old, her hair pulled back in a tight knot, cues him perfectly.

Family concerts come naturally to Round Mountain. The Rothschilds have been playing together in bands for over two decades and their musical connection goes back to childhood. In a phone call after the Betterday appearance, Robby explained the significance of the duo’s name and its ties to the brothers’ shared experience. “Our parents used to drive us up to the Jack’s Creek campground in [New Mexico’s] Pecos Wilderness and we’d hike up to the threshold of the high country there on Round Mountain, have lunch in the big grassy meadows. It’s a very peaceful place and, for kids, has a magical quality. Mom and dad would lie down after lunch and we’d go explore and find bones and stuff. The whole experience had a kind of resonance for us. Later as we started making this music, [Round Mountain] seemed the perfect shrine, a metaphor for the kind of musical exploration we do.”

“As children, we were lucky to have parents who were interested in music and encouraged us,” said Char. “[The idea] of family really has a full connection for us. It’s our way of being. Now we have children of our own, we’re fathers and we have our own set of experiences when we write music. The family has really helped me understand who I am, both in the sense of the nuclear family and how I relate to rest of the world. That’s where our interest comes in the different traditions from around the world, musically, of course, and in a larger sense, how we’re connected and what effect [those traditions] have on us.”

The influence of world-wide musical traditions on Round Mountain is apparent just by seeing the brothers on the bandstand. It’s cluttered with various percussion instruments, including a hi-hat cymbal and djembe, the African pedestal drum. A trumpet stands at upside-down attention on a stand and there’s an accordion at the ready on the floor. Various string instruments – guitar, bouzouki, kora — cluster around. Somewhere nearby is the small gaida or a full-blown set of bagpipes. The brothers attribute their pan-global approach to music to a combination of local Santa Fe musical influences and their travels around the world. “There was a great moment in our history,” explained Robby, “where we met up in Ireland after all of our travels. My wife and I had gone to Mali to do some study. Char was traveling around the Balkans and the Middle East. He had left with this backpacker guitar and when we next saw him he had been transformed. He was traveling with [a Turkish string instrument] the saz and had this cool haircut that he’d gotten in Turkey. In a way it was a very symbolic meeting. We’d been doing this traveling, and we thought let’s do this musically now, let’s do this form of musical travel.”

Describing the brothers’ music isn’t as easy as calling it world-beat or placing it in some all-embracing instrumental category. Its roots are in American folk and its beats can reflect American pop and funk as well as more exotic rhythms. Robby claims a Muppet drum set given to him at age four as his first instrument. Char took up trumpet in the fifth grade and studied it through college. Both took piano lessons from a grandmother who often served as an accompanist around town. The brothers participated in African drumming dance classes and busked together around the old Farmers Market site. Robby spent time as a percussionist with rock guitarist Kip Winger – he’s heard on Winger’s 1998 Down Incognito recording —  and both toured Australia with American–born, Afro-pop star Chris Berry and his band Panjea. Locally, they’ve appeared with the soul band Reverend Carol King Kong and bluesman Robert Pete Williams. Char gained valuable professional experience and acquired the ability – through need – of playing more than one instrument simultaneously while in Tokyo backing the Dream Angels Circus in 1997. “I’d play the trumpet and get a horn section sound from the keyboard,” he said. “Later, I realized accordion would be the perfect instrument to play with trumpet because the left hand can do the bass and chords while the other hand plays the horn.”

Char says that their mix of musical influences has both advantages and disadvantages. Their interests have bounced from Appalachian and old-time music to Turkish and Bulgarian traditions, and their studies of these influences has often overlapped. “Being from a different culture and being interested in many styles means I haven’t been able to travel as far into any one style as I might like,” says Char. “Not knowing these traditions completely, I have to take [the music] to a deeper level where I can try to understand the dialect of what’s being said in [a particular culture’s] music.  By doing that, I can work those different musical directions together in our own music.”

Writing music is mostly a collaborative process for the brothers. “I do have an easier time writing words than I do melodies,” admitted Robby, who’s something of a poet, even when speaking. “But it’s great working with Char, I’m constantly learning something from him. He holds the flaming torch as we enter the dark mineshaft of music and I follow him. We’ve spent hours together in our truck, writing words, sitting with a song and getting it closer and closer.” Added Char, “There’s no real formula as to how we do things. We each have totally different styles of writings. I have tons of fragments, tons of ideas, kicking around. One will come to the forefront and we’ll hammer a song out of it. Sometimes I’ll finish it myself, especially if it’s something I feel super connected to. Other times it’s calling out for some help from Robby.“

Landscapes are a big source of inspiration for the two. ”When we’re touring and driving for seven hours, the highway and the land can move us, reveal something of its spirit that suggests a song or helps finish one. When we were in Australia, we learned the Aborigines sang the songs of their ancestors and the music served as maps. They believed the land was created by these ancient songs as their ancestors sang them. We’ve thought about arranging some kind of song lines about our travels like that. We have West Coast songs and East Coast songs and a Colorado song line, all different. It’s amazing how much of a place can fall into the music when you’re writing.”

The brothers are working on a new recording – their fourth – tentatively set for release next summer. It’s working title is The Goat. Robby revealed that part of the title’s inspiration comes from the fact that he and his wife keep a pair of Nigerian dwarf goats at home. Could he be thinking of making new bags for brother Char’s gaida? “No,” he laughed. “They’re just for milk and making cheese.”   —CabbageRabbit  (portrait by James Stowe)


Drug Lord’s Son

The world seen through the eyes of a child. That’s the best short –phrase description of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ disturbingly charming short novel Down the Rabbit Hole. But Tochtli is no ordinary child and the world in which he is trapped is unlike the one the rest of us know; exclusive, yes, but like a rabbit hole it’s dark, isolating and offering little room for turn around. Tochtli – his name, translated from the indigenous Nahuatl language, means rabbit – is a precocious seven-year-old who narrates the story, starting with the declaration that he is not precocious. One of his habits is to read the dictionary each night before bed. “Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, apathetic and devastating.” These five words appear over and over as Tochtli tells his story. He sometimes uses them to characterize himself, as when he claims to have a devastating memory. But he also applies them to the very few people he knows and the situations outside his narrow existence.  The more we learn about Tochtli, the more we see how these words describe his life. Other words he frequently uses: mute, faggots, corpses.

Tochtli lives in a “palace” with his drug lord father, Yolcaut, whose name means rattlesnake. Tochtli does not go to school. A tutor, Mazatzin, comes to work with him. Mazatzin calls his student Usagi, a Japanese name that reflects Mazatzin’s love of that country and Tochtli’s fascination with Samurai films. Tochtli also loves hats, especially three-cornered ones. “. . . hats are like the crowns of kings. If you’re not a king you can wear a hat to be distinguished. And if you’re not a king and you don’t wear a hat you end up being a nobody.” Tochtli, despite living in a palace, says he is not a king. He and Yolcuat, who refuses to let his son call him daddy, are members of the “best and most macho gang for at least eight kilometres.” Why eight kilomtres? Because they are realists.

Villalobos’ very short novel is a compact, image-laden tale that serves as allegory for the larger culture. In that it’s something like the late Carlos Fuentes thin novel Aura written when the celebrated author, like Villalobos, was in his 30s. The two books are vastly dissimilar in plot and style (Aura involves magical realism, Rabbit Hole is reality kept at a distance), but both reflect selfish perception’s ability to blind. Comparisons to Fuentes are appropriate in Villalobos’ case. He writes with command and precision (the English translation is by Rosalind Harvey), constructing an engaging story—what’s going to happen to this little kid? — in a way that transcends simple plot. That his themes – the futility of ill-gained wealth, the numbing effect of greed and violence, and how easily reality can be twisted—speak through such direct and innocent narration are testament to the author’s skills.

What Tochtli wants more than anything is a pair of Liberian pygmy hippopotamuses. What he needs is to break free of his isolation and gain human contact. What the story doesn’t have to tell us is what kind of man Tochtli will become. We can guess, from his isolation, from his obsession with hats, hippos, the effective use of Sumarai swords, guillotines, and various caliber bullets; and to his limited contact with the women his father brings to the palace. As his father tells him, “Realists are people who think reality isn’t how you think it is.” This kind of selfish thinking, Villalobos show us, can justify anything.

Graphic Construction

It’s hard not to separate the draftsmanship from the storytelling in graphic novelist Chris Ware’s work. The pages carry architectural elements, constructions that suggest collages or mandalas. A single page will hold a variety of panel sizes. Small panels are over-laid on larger scenes. Often, they’ll fit together like modular puzzle pieces, a square group of four stacked against a single panel of equal size, or two vertical panels stacked against and between two frames that together take up most of a page. A full-page illustration containing various story elements will precede a jumbled page of small bits and pieces, some so tiny that magnification is needed to appreciate them.

Inside those panels are square lines, right angles, and crescents that picture stain-glassed windows or foreheads. Buildings, with their slanted roofs and tight-lined windows, stand in geometric contrast to living ovals, depicting both bees and human beings. The twist of a bird’s head is pitched a perfect 45 degrees from the straight line of its tail and red body. Everything is at once circular or neat and square. Large block text contrasts with smaller cursive statements. Arrows, bubbles, and wiggling lines are sometimes used to direct readers along the orbital path of the layout.

Ware’s latest book is a natural progression, a dimensional expansion of these techniques. Building Stories comes in a box that contains 14 various pieces; strips, bound volumes, stapled chapbooks, and fold-open displays, one a collapsible game board on which to follow the progress of his subjects. The architectural elements of Ware’s design carry over into his narrative as he reveals the quiet desperation of the lives conducted within and without a three-story apartment building. The building gives form to the lives of the main characters, each occupying a single floor. One of the volumes follows them through a single day, September 23, 2000. That book’s inside cover, reflecting Ware’s habit of calling up style elements from classic comics and other publications, suggests the yellow endpapers of The Little Golden Books children’s series, right down to the open volume waiting the owner’s name. But this book, like the others in the collection, isn’t for children. Its first few pages are narrated by the building itself as it considers that it has a vacancy and remembers its sometimes glorious past. One page reveals its tenants in see-through ovals. Another page reveals the building’s various rooms by taking away its roof and sides. It’s characteristic Ware, jumping through time and space in a single view, telling multiple stories at once, even as that day in September begins promptly at midnight.

In an interview  shortly after the second installment of Building Stories was released in 2007 in The Acme Novelty Library: Number 18, Ware explained how the spaces he creates, many springing from his past, serve as outlines for his stories. “It probably comes back to memories of the house I grew up in and memories of my grandmother’s house. I navigate those places almost daily in my mind, and the three-dimensional ‘maps’ I’ve internalized are all also filled with stories, so for better or for  worse I frequently try to work that way when I’m writing and drawing  fiction. In the case of [the Building Stories  installment], it was very  specifically designed to be about one day in the life of a building  itself, and so began and ended with images of it. “

Ware’s style has evolved through the 20 volumes of his Acme Novelty Library, the first released in the early ‘90s, and subsequent collections including Quimby the Mouse and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. His characters, mostly lonely, alienated Eleanor Rigby types, often enliven reality with fantasy. Jimmy Corrigan transcends time and space in a depressingly lonely epic of fathers and sons. Ware’s Rusty Brown series is a coming-of-age-delayed tale of a man-child in love with collectibles. Quimby the Mouse—he’s no Mickey– avoids real life as he indulges in the worst pop culture has to offer. Early editions of Ware’s Acme Novelty Library  contained arcane and satiric advertisements straight out of marketing’s quaint past. Sample pitch: “Break Into Surgery; Exciting Field Offers Multiple Opportunities.”

Some of the same playful salesmanship is found on the back of the Building Stories package: “within this colorful keepsake box the purchaser will find a fully apportioned variety of reading material to address any imaginable artistic or poetic taste.”  The accompanying pictures show each of the 14 pieces which are then connected to a line drawing of “an average, well-appointed home” indicating where the readers might “set down, forget or completely lose any number of its contents.” No clue is given as to the order in which they should be read. This two-paragraph blurb also states the collection’s purpose as it summarizes the author’s view of human existence: “Whether you’re feeling alone by yourself or alone with someone else, this book is sure to sympathize with the crushing sense of life wasted, opportunities missed and creative dreams dashed which afflict the middle- and upper-class literary public.”

The characters here, all worthy of sympathy, aren’t from the usual literary class. The old woman on the first floor — none of the characters have names – transcends her isolation through nostalgia. The couple on the second floor is alone together, leading separate lives (and having separate fantasies) even as their days are intertwined.  The central character of the collection lives on the top floor. She’s a young lady with only a leg-and-a-half, a girl too eager to be loved and who suffers insomnia, the ignorance of an indifferent society, and nagging self-doubt of the sort that seems to surface often in Ware’s writing and sketch books. She eventually enters a relationship, has a daughter and moves out of the building into a home of her family’s own. But the storyline takes a backseat to her alienation. Panel after wordless panel shows her in bed or moving through the mundane events of the day. Only her daughter seems to fill the hole she sees in her existence.

There’s little that’s comic in Building Stories. Told without pictures, these tales would be tedious. When the lonely young woman wanders out of the building coatless in a snow storm declaring, “Let it bury me, for all I care…” readers might want to look away in embarrassment. But Ware’s telling illustrations won’t allow it. Not everything in the package is without humor. A small, heavily stylized chap book Branford: The Best Bee In the World is a joke-filled allegory of how we mistake happenstance for acts of God. The Daily Bee is a newspaper sized fold-out that is a laughable look at the male role in society and how futile are our attempts to stand apart from the swarm. How does it connect to Building Stories? Branford is seen coming home to a hive in a tree outside the apartment building to suffer the same existential and relationship problems of the humans next door.

Aside from being housed in a box, Building Stories is unique for the way it melds narrative and illustration into an artistic whole. In an art form with a long history of serialization, Ware’s 14 installment assembly can be entered at any point and read inside out. He has taken the comic far from the strip with page layouts that twist multiple narrative threads into a single strand. His most frequent design element is his most successful. He’ll center an image, often an eyeless mask, or, in the case of the young woman, her entire body, in the middle of a page and let the story circle around it.  Ware has insight into psychology and every day existence. But it’s his ability to illustrate the human condition in constructive ways that keeps the stories meaningful. In this sense, Building Stories is like peeking through a window and getting a glimpse into a life.

Not One Bit Slimey

Time Berne is one of the more considered new-thing saxophonists, as likely to reveal intellect as emotion. The six-pieces on Snake Oil, the first session under his own name for the European ECM label, are thoughtful and varied in intent. Berne’s compositions make for shared efforts, giving the quartet common purpose while encouraging individual freedom. The horns – Berne’s alto and Oscar Noriega’s clarinets –seek complement rather than opposition, stating lines in unison or wonderfully blended counterpoints. On “Simple City,” pianist Matt Mitchell, playing alone, strikes a Socratic tone as he introduces the recording, posing questions soon answered by Ches Smith’s expository percussion.  Berne jumps into the debate with an insistent argument that’s coolly presented. “Spare Parts” is a field trip to a strange destination, the horns gawking at every turn. Pianist Mitchell wanders behind them, circling like a toddler, until the sound falls into a three-way call-and-response of increasing volume and complexity. On “Yield,” a two-tone, back-and-forth figure from Berne and Mitchell sets up Noriega for a merry-go-round ride on clarinet followed by Berne’s most aggressive play of the album.  “Not Sure” finds Berne strong and only a bit ironic. He doesn’t do anything flashy on his instrument – despite what the recording’s title suggests, he has nothing to sell—but he makes his point, sometimes beautifully, often emphatically. Unlike a lot of outside music, you come away from Snake Oil feeling you understand exactly what the band wanted to say.–Cabbage Rabbit

The Essay In Essayist

Jonathan Lethem’s last novel, Chronic City, is about an aging, self-conscious child star and pop culture icon, Chase Insteadman, who befriends a faded pop culture critic, Perkus Tooth. Tooth once wrote for Rolling Stone but now issues his judgments on paste-up broadside collages that range across genres and generations. He smokes copious amounts of high-grade marijuana while chasing the meaning-of-it-all through obscure films, celebrity conspiracies and forgotten music.

That there’s something of Lethem in both characters is apparent reading his collection of essays, The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. The author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, those slow-to-fade glories of nearly a decade and more ago, once wrote a feature for Rolling Stone comparing James Brown to Kurt Vonnegut’s time-lost Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse-Five. In that act, he joined Brown’s band members in a hazy cloud of hemp. His collected non-fictions, much like Tooth’s broadsides, are collages that considers everything from G.K. Chesterton’s detective fantasy The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare to Donald Sutherland’s buttocks. Along the way, not coincidentally, we learn quite a bit about Jonathan Lethem.

Like Tooth, the 47-year-old Lethem spends a lot of time looking back. In a 2007 piece reprinted from The New York Times Magazine, he marvels at Keith Carradine’s death scene in Robert Altman’s 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. In a 2009 piece for ultra-trendy literary monthly The Believer, he compares characters in Nathaniel West’s 1933 novella Miss Lonelyhearts  to the brick-chucking Ignatz Mouse in George Herriman’s long-running comic strip Krazy Kat (1913-1944). In each case, to quote a hipster friend, his insight is “totally now.”

The most thoughtful pieces are the mostly previously-unpublished ones that consider his presence inside the essays. He worries that these, “so-called ‘non-fictions’ were themselves artful imposters…” His voice, he says, is a matter of conscious invention: “I’ve never managed a routine book review, let alone an essay I thought worth reprinting, without first having to invent a character who’d be issuing the remarks…” This confession comes on the book’s very first and second pages under the clever heading of “Undressing ‘Me,’ Addressing ‘You’.” Readers have to wonder:  Who or what is really of interest here?

The answer, of course, is everything; Lethem included. Many of the essays, even when considering Italo Calvino or Marlin Brando, are self-reflecting. These bits of absorption facilitate Lethem’s ability to link everything. The things we learn about him —  his difficulties as a book store clerk, that at the age of 12 he joined his father drawing nude models,  that he’d “sooner drown in books than die in space where I can hear only myself scream” — are never presented as stand-alone, fun facts, like which dessert a Kardashian sister favors, but in a context relevant to larger cultural issues.

In the title essay reprinted from Harper’s, subtitled “A plagiarism,” Lethem makes an argument that art inspires art, sometimes word for word. Along the way he cites examples from Nabokov, Bob Dylan, The Flintstones, Leonard Bernstein and Muddy Waters. It’s fascinating to explore culture with one who knows so much of it, someone who travels easily between genres and generations. Sample at random from the book, as he suggests, and be rewarded. But his broad knowledge, while impressive, isn’t the point. With Lethem, it’s the thought that counts.–Cabbage Rabbit

In the Moment With the Omniscient Poet

Poetry, in its way, seeks omniscience. And that, unless done without humbleness, is why some poetry, especially the academic sort, makes such dull company. Who wants to spend time with a know-it-all? That’s why the folksy, plain-spoken verse of Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver and their comrades is so popular. They don’t pretend to know everything. Just this little bit.

Indeed, poetry may be more about breaking the small thing from the whole than about considering the big picture. The big picture, in other words, is best displayed by the small things. You know, no ideas but in things.

Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa knows how to take it all in. He snaps off little pieces of experience and then tries to make it all Humpty-Dumpty again. You don’t need to part the weed (see “no ideas” above) to find the metaphor, often extended, often leading quickly to another, in his lines. And, through cleverness, multiple meaning and sheer force of will he makes them bind.  “Each bud is a nose pressed against a windowpane,/a breast gazing through thin cotton. The cold stings,/& a shiver goes from crown to feet, leaf tip and taproot.”

This new volume proves Komunyakaa a traveler with an acute eye, an aroused imagination and interests as wide as a river’s flood. His compassion is deep and sometimes floating on anger. His insight is equal parts window and mirror. His dedication to music goes beyond swing; rhythmic, yes and harmonically audible. But seldom, except for a quatrain here and there, does it follow lyric form.

And the images, like the hits on Top 40 radio, just keep on comin’. The poems in The Chameleon Couch are dense with metaphor, a dripping, fecund jungle of ideas all tying vine and blossom. There’s nothing plastic, technical or two-dimensionally digital. They create a place where the natural world meets the urban, stretching the idea of environment. What moves through this landscape is at once alive and imagined. Take the opening lines from the poem that offers a single word of its title to the book’s, “Ode To the Chameleon”:

Little shape shifter, lingering


there on your quotidian twig


of indifference, you are a glimpse


of a rainbow, your eyes and iota


of amber. If nature is mind,


it knows you are always


true, daring the human eye


to see deeper. You are envy


& solace approaching green,


no more than an eyeblink


in a corner of the Old World.

It’s as if Komunyakaa has answered the chameleon’s call to see deeper. Follow the “glimpse” and the “eyes” and the “eye” and the ”eyeblink,” the “rainbow” colors of “amber” and “green” and how the green leads so easily to “envy.” If Komunyakaa wrote about Humpty Dumpty, surely there’d be egg shell fusion.

He’s also spans time with cultural references, bringing the past and the far past together in the space of a few lines. “Surrender” drops the names of Ma Rainey, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Ishtar and Caliban in it first verse.(Bud Powell and Sam Cooke show up later). There’s more than musical name-dropping going on here. “Ode To the Guitar” makes the instrument — and the act of playing it — something of the flesh, the notes calling up “blame/& beauty, into the scent of a garden…”

Even in the most technological setting, he can’t escape the past or the natural world. Encased inside an MRI cylinder he sees a galloping black horse and marching trees. Billie Holiday pays a visit, Marguerite Duras beckons and Ornette Coleman buzzes in his conscious sleep.

Political and racial scenarios play out in the same litany of color and culture. “I’ve known billy club, tear gas, & cattle prod,/but not Black Sheep killing White Sheep” begins “Green.” Before long, he he travels back to hear 14th century Persian poet “Hafez’s litany balanced on Tamerlane’s saber” and then he returns, underground, to declare “no, let’s come back first to now,/to a surge of voices shouting,/Death to the government of potato!”

Komunyakaa is in the moment even when he is lost in time. He awakes to now, in his apartment, in “Gone”:

Somebody is screaming. I spring to my feet,


half stumbling out of the brain’s cloudy weather.


Where am I, what year of the Rat, Horse, Dragon,


or Snake is it. I’m out the door. In the hallway.


Damn. I’m pulling on my See No Evil T-shirt.

We can’t be sure, he seems to say. Am I here? Is someone in need? Or are they fulfilling a need? Is it sex? Or a beating?  What one hears on the other side of the wall is all things, good and bad. Eavesdropping is guilty pleasure or not pleasant at all.

…Where am I? What year of the Hare


or Ox is this? I walk through the city, hurting


for a clue, but I can’t find laughter because


I was listening to the wind when their baby


swallowed a little lead bird from China


& flew away.

It’s no surprise that Komunyakaa emphasizes listening, an act which comes of silence, and music which, in the form of language, generates its own ideas. His lines are all flow and ampersand, there’s not an “and” in the book. And that’s a musical thing, in shape and sound and image, a sign standing in for words.–Cabbage Rabbit