Friday, May 22, 2009

Monte Cristo Musings

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.


A more recent poem


So what if

We dreamed of high, green hills

With a view

And Tibetan flags

Floating on the sea

Does it matter

If we could not see

The face of the man

At the top of the hill

Who cares if the trails

Were muddy and steep

You said it was the greenest grass

You ever saw

Don’t you wonder

How we managed to climb

So high when we were so broken

Like children

Struck by cars

While at play

Karen Waring today

Well, maybe not quite today. Two years ago. Add 5 pounds and gray hair.

Karen Waring in the late 1960s

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.

In the meantime, I wait for the poetry to return.

Two poems

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.

Karen Waring

Duwamish Between Seasons

We travel away from the world. Summer
Storms have turned the river brown. Only
The river moves through the valley; the
Barns die, the people have gone to the city.

We move at different speeds. Jean ambles,
Looks for mushrooms, can’t remember where she
Parked the truck. We stop at the bridge to tell
What we saw.

There’s a man down there who doesn’t know
How to fish, Jean says, the water’s wrong.

Summer rises from the hot grass like a girl
In an old dress. The shadow of death slips over
The hills like wine spilled across a table.

Death is very, very quiet; a rattle of crickets
In the hot grass, it’s going to rain any moment.

We move down the valley ahead of the shadow
And eat our lunch slow. We travel all day in a
Yellow truck, followed by thunder.

Karen Waring

Wednesday, May 6, 2009



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”.

Karen (Waring) Sykes

Karen Waring Lives - Poetry Then and Now

I used to be Karen Waring. I am, of course, still Karen Waring though my name has legally changed from Waring to Sykes.

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.

Karen Waring/Karen Sykes