Kampai, Jack Gilbert!

Poet Jack Gilbert knows love, marriage, and deep, hounding sorrow. The death of his wife, Michiko Nogami in 1982, was a loss Gilbert felt in the marrow of his aging bones; it transformed his cadence and sway, his poetry suddenly so unhappy, the weight of his burden straps itself to you, buckle by buckle, until you are immobilized.

“The Great Fires” is indulgent, fitful, and vain. They are poems about losing so much that we create a vacuum, become negative space, and suck in the things around us because we can’t help it, and because that’s all there is left.

I know Gilbert through all those auxiliary things that surrounded him after the passing of his wife. I know the landscape of his vegetable garden, the placement of bookmarks in the volumes stacked by his bed, and I know the moment he took his first real breath after Michiko took her last.  These poems are more than a glimpse of his world, they are total submersion in it, the pages slowly recalling teary-eyed memories, and a longing to be able to see beyond what is near.

Writing about oneself is certainly a little vain, but so is so much of how we live.  If vanity brings you relief and catharsis, reminds you of where you are and who you are, of the things that surround you, by all means… indulge yourself.

Gilbert’s prose is so very worldly, that one forgets he was born in Pittsburgh, and worked as a door-to-door salesman, an exterminator, and a steelworker, before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. Let us toast him with SakéOne’s MomoKawa, Organic Junmai Ginjo, brewed in Oregon, and of the highest caliber. With notes of tropical fruit and fresh berries, this saké is the perfect toast to Gilbert’s American roots, Michiko’s Japanese heritage, and vanity.

Drink this. Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo.

With this. “The Great Fires” by Jack Gilbert.









Please indulge me in a little vanity this week. Here is a poem of mine, inspired by Jack Gilbert.


On Vanity and a Baby’s Jumper


Vanity hums and whirs behind a sewing machine,

much like the one your great-aunt took with her to college,

patching together remnants of youthful carnage:

barrettes and blood,

lithium and lace,

colored sage and contraception.

Withered hands curl and glide around the clacking foot and the plunging needle;

Old as old is, she is diligent, dauntless,

unhinged at the hip,

and bent in a way that scares you.

Don’t look away when you notice how thin her skin is,

don’t turn your face to hide from the track marks and pock marks

and cigarette burns. You want to be looking

when she holds up the jumper you will dress your first-born in.

Why does she suddenly start talking in the voice of your mother,

low and patient?

“There is nothing wrong in wanting a humble life, my dear,

nothing at all,” she says.


In Vino Veritas: A Gruner for Rilke

Something is lingering in the air, moist and cloying.  It smells like wet gravel and tastes like the wide mouth of my lover.  I see it hanging overhead, early in the morning, when the sounds of my boots crash and fade into the branches of the knotty, irreverent trees that line the street like palace guards.  Unformed, but luminous, it whispers to all who know to listen for it.  It is sadness, tension, and longing, questions without answers, and perilous doubt; it is the fog of unrest, and is at once both familiar and alien, like hearing your name called out by a stranger.. or deja vu.

America is covered in a blanket of something nebulous and gray.. and its troubling to those who can’t feel its strength.  In your next moment of solitude, listenlistenlisten, and you will hear the rumblings and the fervent whispers.  You will hear its glory, and feel its electric fingertips wipe the sweat from your brow.

My mother, constantly feeding the better angels of my nature, sent me home from a holiday visit to Washington, with Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.  She told me I would like it, but didn’t warn me that it turn me into someone I didn’t quite recognize.  It has passed through me, entered my bloodstream, and become a piece of me.  I see the world through wider, brighter eyes, and experience a nation in crisis with hope and courage.  Rilke challenged me to see power in difficult moments, the beauty in tension, and that all of our sadness is really just an empty space, waiting to be filled by something we can’t quite see yet.

While reading Rilke, I discovered the simple and honest wines of Austria.  In this cold and difficult climate, Gruner Veltliner grapes grow beautifully, and produce some of most elegant whites I’ve tasted in a long time. Some are peppery, and some speak generously of preserved lemon and crab apples.

Drink this. Weingut Stadt Krems 2010.

With Letters to a Young Poet 

Rainer Rilke on Sadness

“It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing.  That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, – is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was.  We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.  We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be tranformed in us, long before it happens.  And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside.  The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people, we will feel related and close to it in our innermost being.  And that is necessary.  It is necessary – and toward this point our development will move, little by little – that nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us.  It is only because so many people have not absorbed and transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that inside them.  Just as people for along time had a wrong idea about the sun’s motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come.  The future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.


How could it not be difficult for us?”

Company of Melancholiacs

“Know ye not that there is here in this world a secret confraternity, which one might call the Company of Melancholiacs? That people there are who by natural constitution have been given a different nature and disposition than the others; that have a larger heart and a swifter blood, that wish and demand more, have stronger desires and a yearning which is wilder and more ardent than that of the common herd. They are fleet as children over whose birth good fairies have presided; their eyes are opened wider; their senses are more subtile in all their perceptions. The gladness and joy of life, they drink with the roots of their heart, the while the others merely grasp them with coarse hands.”
Jens Peter Jacobsen

What Survives

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Who says that all must vanish?
Who knows, perhaps the flight
of the bird you wound remains,
and perhaps flowers survive
caresses in us, in their ground.

It isn’t the gesture that lasts,
but it dresses you again in gold
armor –from breast to knees–
and the battle was so pure
an Angel wears it after you.

An Old-Fashioned Goodfella: guest post by Shaun Cripe

Throughout the dense and ever expanding universe that is the ‘Culinary world,’ there are always new and creative pairings. Whether it be pairing the right type of wine to a certain entrée or dish, or perhaps there is a certain type of Eastern European lager that goes so well with your Texas-style ribs. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from.. we all have our favorite cocktails, beer, wines or luxurious libations. But today this writer will be talking about a different type of pairing, not one necessarily that will sooth your soul or fills your stomach, but rather one that will both entertain you and in some way make you reminiscent of the past; I’m talking about the pairing of fine cocktails and movies. Why many people haven’t ventured on this path of enlightenment before I am unsure, but this is a pairing everyone can agree on.

 Weeks ago, on a cold Saturday evening, I was sitting in my recliner, enjoying one of my favorite cocktails, (an Old Fashioned) and scowering through my 200 channels trying to find something to watch that might draw my attention and keep my brain numb for a few hours, or until I fell asleep. That is when I stumbled upon one of my favorite movies from the 90’s, ‘Goodfellas.’  As I’m sure, everyone remembers this famous gangster film, especially the famous line “How am I funny? Am I a clown, do I amuse you?” which Joe Pesci’s says to Ray during a scene in the Bamboo room. Watching this movie through its entirety, Old Fashioned in hand, I couldn’t help but feel like I was transported back to 60’s, sitting in smoke filled bars like the Copa, listening to some Sinatra and downing a few Old Fashioneds with Jimmy Conway and Tommy, discussing the next job. It seemed like such a simpler time, the people were different and so were their attitudes about life. This is why, to me, this movie and cocktail make such a great pair.  

The Old Fashioned is a very simple yet delicious drink originally created in the late 1800’s by a bartender inLouisville,Kentucky. His original recipe is as follows; Mix sugar, water and angostura bitters in an old-fashioned glass. Drop in a cherry and an orange wedge. Muddle into a paste using a muddler or the back end of a spoon. Pour in bourbon, fill with ice cubes, and stir. Now of course not everyone is a whiskey or gangster movie fan, but next time you’re at home watching a movie think to yourself what kind of drink would pair well with it, because I guarantee that it will change your perspective.




Check out Shaun Cripe’s blog at http://twothumbsupyours.wordpress.com

A Dunkel for this Russian Winter

Tolstoy taught me how to be good. Dostoevsky taught me to be thoughtful. Turgenev taught me how to live, ebullient and brave.  And Chekhov taught me perhaps my most important lesson… he taught me to embrace simplicity, arms outstretched, naked and free of burden.

The inventor of the modern story, Chekhov understood that objectivity, originality, and brevity were far more powerful to the writer than plot lines that wind, haphazardly, like termites burrowing neatly, but ultimately directionless, into a stump.

In a letter to his brother, Chekhov contended, “to describe.. you need.. to free yourself from the personal expression.. Subjectivity is a terrible thing.” Truth, pure and noble, was his guiding light, his intention to illuminate the small, quiet moments, and the epiphanies that cross our minds leaving trails of grace.

The winter solstice, the longest day of the year and my parents’ wedding anniversary, has come and gone, and the sun is still hiding, veiled in clouds. With weather like this, I crave something round and simple, something warming and original. Heater Allen’s Dunkel Lager (all their beers are lagers and bottom-fermented) is smooth and malty, and reigns from near-by McMinnville, OR.  Like Chekhov’s writing, this beer is understated and subtle.  If you’re in Portland, you can grab one at New Seasons, or Beer Mongers.. this pairs exceptionally well with anything pickled.

Drink this. Heater Allen’s Dunkel Lager

with Ward No. 6 and Other Stories