Lost and Found 4 / Improvisation with Monk and Coffee

When you become lost, what do you do? You can plan or you can improvise. You can call for help or give up. You can lose your cool or scratch moss on the trees and figure it out. Choices abound. In my ongoing presence in the Territory of the Lost, I’ve had to improvise and improvise on the move through bottomless landscapes I never knew previously existed.

Before, I always had been a planner: lessons, lists, books, book tours, relationships, death. Now I have to improvise everything on a metaphysical plane in order to rebuild my life because physical improvisations are impossible in the Registry of Sex Offense and can land you back in jail. If that doesn’t make any sense then you understand perfectly and have an intuitive grasp of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial even if you’ve never heard of it, let alone read it.

There is no planning in my life anymore although I have to complete written Action Plans asking/justifying for permission to move with specific purpose in public. I am basically filling out worksheets to live. You can’t improvise with worksheets, which is why I never used them in my former teaching life.

As I said, my ability to improvise has moved strictly to a metaphysical plane and I have found that place extremely rich in creative possibility. Take the poem I wrote a Thursday morning in Astoria a few weeks ago from my Beaverwood Studio. It was the first poem I’ve written in three years. The last one I wrote changed my entire life for the better, exponentially better, with real tangible outcomes.  Maybe this poem will succeed as well, and magically pull poetry down from its obtuse plane and into the reality of busting up all our concrete planning and conventional wisdom. Busting up, I like that aim for poetry.

But if I planned that outcome for this poem, then it is dead. It simply will improvise with the reader’s mind.

Thelonious Monk and Cold Coffee

The sun came out

after three weeks of rain.


I drink cold,

two-day coffee,

in the parlor,

the Beaverwood Studio,

listening to a tape of

Monk Alone in San Francisco.


I am alone in Oregon,

waiting for rain

to return and deliver

what I can’t possibly expect

but hope I deserve.


I’m writing this in longhand,

with a pen from an Indian casino.


I’m writing this in a journal

some nameless woman

discarded in a garbage can.


In that journal

she confessed

a suicide attempt.


She wrote: “Almost exactly one year ago, my story began in a bathtub full of tepid water, piss, and my own blood.


She no longer has her poetry

of that moment.


That phrase…almost exactly.

An apparent contradiction.

What is almost exactly?


I hear a chainsaw in the distance.

Can you chainsaw like Monk

plays the piano?

Probably not this chainsaw,

but I’ve seen it before,

in Reedsport.


Don’t you see how this poem is written

in rhythm with Monk’s piano?

How he plays the piano.


Without improvisation, It will never work.

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