The Sickness Suite, a little big book of poems by Tim Staley

I’m a sucker for handmade poetry books and magazines. Cheap little things with words on them. Gimme books. Libritos made with a special kind of love. It’s an addiction from growing up into the poetry world in the 1950s and 1960s. In the mid-60s Paul Malanga and I made six issues of a little magazine, FROM A WINDOW using mimeographed pages, whitener, manual typewriters. The results were always miraculous. So I get juiced when something like poet Tim Staley’s The Sickness Suite shows up in the mailbox. It’s 3-3/8ths by 5”. Goofy drawings on the cover and inside. The publisher is Grandma Moses Press. I’d never heard of them. Goes with being an old man. So I googled them. Happily, Grandma Moses Press is googlable. They specialize in little books like Tim’s which are guaranteed not to make money. Hot damn!

But Tim’s little book is not a breezy little book written to make us happy. It’s wonderfully crafted poetry—in a haphazard way—that documents chronologically when Sylvia, the Staley baby, got terribly sick. Her liver was shutting down. Suzanne and Tim were terrified. Their baby little girl would die if she did not get a liver transplant. Period.  

Here’s a little poem from the book (most are longer). The setting is El Paso (eventually, they went to Houston). Tim had chased the ambulance down from Las Cruces where they live. Suzanne must have been in the ambulance. The time of this poem is when the waiting begins and the questions start spinning in the brain. All sorts of questions about life and death, morality, yes and no, sorrow, modern life and medicine, the gut questions of parenthood—


At Kinley’s House Coffee & Tea,
a girl in flirty flats slides in next to me,
her liver functioning perfectly, her blood
clotting like batter in a waffle iron. A family
strolls in, mom and three kids, their
gallbladders all draining, filling and tipping
bile as they should except dad forgot his
wallet. Has to walk all the way back to the
Hummer, the capillaries in his liver robust,
nothing like my daughter’s liver, a jellyfish
skewered on a cactus spine. She’s with my
wife nearby wrestling infection in the
nosocomial claw of the hospital, where my
baby’s veins are gateways to super germs
who’ve united, who’ve built up resistance
to antibacterial disinfectants and I wish
I had that gall, that crass resilience.

Suzanne, Sylvia & Tim
What, 2 years later?


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It didn’t slither down reptilian between 

My legs where I needed to go scavenging 
For the soap in the dirty water among 
The filthy (some would say “unholy”)

Body parts. Soap that floated was surely 
A white middle-class conspiracy 
Designed to hide the sacred mysteries of life, 

Taught to me at last by the good Reverend, 
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Diving into the Tao of all there is, learning 
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Good Friends


They like two-ply. 
We like one-ply.

So, I need to get more into my blogging again. I get distracted. Business. Family. The Zen practice group (Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community) that sits zazen in the little office in the back of our house. All good and necessary stuff, but I miss my writing and my poetry. Not to say that I'm not writing. I do my journal, I fiddle with new stuff (I can get lost for hours), but nothing ever comes out that goes public. It's Spring again, and I need to change that.

Right now I'm putting together my new poetry manuscript--Talking to My Wife While She's Away at Church. (That's a tentative title. Another possibility is The Roshi Makes Shitty Coffee.) Lucky me: friend and poet Connie Voisine was kind enough to read the whole manuscript and make suggestions and give new ideas. She's a great poetry editor, and she knows my work well. These are poems written over the last several years, and I've chosen them because, in one way or another, they pull together all the diverse facets of my life that do all the distracting mentioned above (except business--I don't write business poems). And they are written through the lens of my Zen practice. Or, what I'd rather call, like Stephen Batchelor, my dharma practice. "Zen" is becoming such a useless word. Ice cream is zen, restaurants are zen, back scratchers are zen. Etcetera. Anyway, I thought I'd use some of the poems in the book as a way to play with poetry and some of my ideas. I'll start slowly. Like this little poem about toilet paper which I love so much.

The book, by the way, won't be published until March of next year. Cinco Puntos is publishing it. Yippee! It's a great Indie press. I know Lee the president intimately. In the meantime we'll be fiddling with a book cover. Johnny Byrd (the CPP CFO and PR wonk, also a wonderfully close good friend) says that needs to be done in the next several months. Our friend J.B. Bryan of La Alameda Press in Albuquerque will be the designer. J.B. did that incredible design for Beauty is a Verb, the New Poetry of Disability which got so much great attention and is still selling. Besides, like me, he's a poet, a book publisher (semi-retired), he sits zazen everyday and he's one of the principle organizers of the Three Stones Zen Group. We have plenty to talk about. Here's a self-portrait I did of J.B. and me. He had just finished building his adobe tea house in Placitas where his studio is. He invited me for his rendition of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was fun.

Being a poet is fun. Being a publisher is fun.