The Reality of the Individual Life

As one who thinks of poetry
As a way of talking to yourself,
I probably do too much explaining,
But that’s what talking to yourself is like:
The things you can’t explain to anyone
Are suddenly made clear to no one, as though
Nobody mattered but yourself. And it’s the same
For each of us, whether you’re listening to me or not:
An enveloping cloud of not-quite-language
Hovering on the verge of sense that puts you
At the center of a world that doesn’t quite get you,
But of which you’re part, a world in which
Each individual life is so completely ordinary
And at the same time so extraordinary it never ends
Until it does: each individual life eternity
In miniature; each life a world.

Yet here I am, lying on my bed
In the middle of the day, feeling the years
Tick by with nothing much to say about them,
As though I’m supposed to. That’s the point though,
Isn’t it? Without the sense of an individual self
Creating time and bounded by it, I wouldn’t be real,
I wouldn’t matter, nor would you, despite our
Sentiments and appetites and dreams. It’s how we
Differ from our animals, however much we love them-
Something you and I know, but Daisy, sleeping
At the foot of my bed, can’t know. Dream on, Daisy.

John Koethe

Bụi đời

As I was reading Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s Dust Child, I made note of all the Vietnamese proverbs sprinkled throughout the novel so I could put together a Vietnamese typographic sample. For the design of the page, I wanted to use sticky notes to highlight the proverbs. To complement the sticky note concept, I set the proverbs in marker-style Shantell Sans, designed by Shantell Martin, Stephen Nixon, and Anya Danilova. The header and footer are set in Aneto, designed by Veronika Burian, José Scaglione, Azza Alameddine, and Roxane Gataud. Take a look and enjoy.


We have them, and live and think about them,
But then, what are they? Some seem like
Bigger deals than the rest, like those of big enchiladas
Or the CEOs of banks too big to fail, but why? Some seem
Meaningful for their commitments and accomplishments,
As no doubt they are, though most are unexceptional
And ordinary, and just fine for that. They’re all equal
In value, but what that means is difficult to say:
That each one matters more than anything
To whoever’s life it is, though each is barely real
To anyone else? The world exists before and after it,
Yet while it breathes it is the world, its world.
Whenever I attempt to gesture at it, all I find are words
For where I am: this room, this place I live. Stay with me
I want to say, yet it can’t, not because it’s unreal,
But because I am. Is what I want to say instead
That everything comes down to lives? The thought
Is true enough, but it’s a way of feeling, not explaining,
Of poetry rather than a paper. They’re real enough I guess,
Just “metaphysically thin.” But each of them is everything.

John Koethe

Brenda Coultas: The Writing of an Hour

In the first part of The Writing of an Hour, Coultas shares her writing process, which is fascinating. I didn’t catch everything in the remaining parts of the collection; therefore, I can’t honestly say much about her work other than I had read through it.

What Was Poetry?

I hate Christmas, but I hate people who hate Christmas even more.
–James Schuyler

No one really knew, though everyone knew what it should be;
And now it’s just a way of being famous on a small scale.
It was supposed to be significant for its own sake,
Though that was never entirely true: human feelings
Got in the way, for while it was possible to remain unmoved
In the face of all that language, no one really wanted to:
They wanted to talk about it, to explain what it had let them see,
As though the world were incomplete before poetry filled it in.
And now there’s nothing left to see: oh, poems come and go
And everyone complains about them, but where there used to be
Arguments there’s just appreciation and indifference,
Measured praise that’s followed by forgetting. I’m as bad
As anyone: instead of reading I reread, instead of seeing
I remember, and instead of letting silence have its say
I fill it up with talk, as if the last word might be anything else.

And yet despite all this it matters. Sometimes in the midst
Of this long preparation for death that initial solitude returns
And the world seems actual and alive, as it assumes its opposite.
I think the truest thoughts are always second thoughts,
But who am I kidding, other than myself? I hope there’s
Someone, that it casts its spell beyond the small cone of light
Hovering over my desk, and that what started out one night
So long ago in silence doesn’t end that way. I fantasize
I can hear it somewhere in the realm of possibility,
But only now and then, in intervals between breaths.

John Koethe

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: Dust Child

Last year, when Ms. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai announced her forthcoming novel, Dust Child, I immediately pre-ordered it. Having read and loved her debut novel, The Mountains Sing, I expected her new book, in which she spent seven years writing, to be excellent.

Dust Child arrived in my mailbox last Tuesday and I read it every chance I had. The book lived up to my expectations. Ms. Nguyễn is a gifted writer with an ear for language and a heart for humanity. In her stories, she puts the suffering of her characters over the conflicts from all sides. She sheds light on the dust of lives of Amerasians, dark-skinned children in particular, who had to face hatred and discrimination. Although her characters are fictional, I heard similar heartbreaking stories growing up in Việt Nam.

In addition to the devastating consequences, Ms. Nguyễn weaves together the sweet, erotic romance and the cultural references. As what she had done in The Mountains Sings, Ms. Nguyễn incorporated Vietnamese proverbs with her excellent translations in Dust Child. I appreciate both her clear writing style as well as her level-headed approach to the war—all sides are responsible for the human loss and suffering. It’s an engaging, eye-opening, heart-rending read.

On the Sorrow God Pours into the Little Boat of Life

And God was there like an island I had not rowed to.

—Anne Sexton, The Awful Rowing Toward God

I stand in the Punk Rock aisle of Rhino Records
mindlessly watching an old video of a Supremes
concert, trying not to think of anything, really,
giving myself to sounds from fifty years ago
that celebrate nothing now except my own youth,
my own Sixties when the world was ending
and beginning all over again, and it would be
all about love and the absence of war forever
once Nam was over, and the lies would stop,
and the boys would come back home, and Nixon
and McNamara and Westmoreland would pay
the price, and that’s of course when it happens
and I can’t stop it, my son died last week,
until the young woman standing next to me
bends down quickly, reaching to help pull me up,
and I try to make a joke of it, saying Thank you.
You know, fifty years ago I would have asked you
to dance
, and she says, Sir, I would be happy
to dance with you
, and so we do for a few seconds
there in the middle of the Punk Rock aisle, she is
so very sweet, I am terribly sorry for your loss,
and I thank her, and once again I know as if by
physical touch alone the innocence and kindness
of the hopeful before the world disappoints them
and it all seems like some awful rowing toward God
in a hard rain, one wave, one lie, after another, and
they are so tired, the oars so heavy, that they slowly
open their hands and pray and lean into the dark.

B.H. Fairchild

Benny Goodman

…stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat.

—“Preface,” The Stories of John Cheever

My father was wearing a double-breasted suit
and green Homburg hat, and had just emerged
from the war in the Pacific, bearing in his arms
the chaos and nightmares of a thousand days
and evenings on Guam, Saipan, Tinian for deposit
in the First Methodist Church in Houston, Texas
where he would fall asleep in sermons preached
to aid his resurrection from a foxhole’s grave.
But the stone would not budge, and he stood
with my mother for photos outside the church
and apologized for breaking up the Eucharist,
that Homburg resting in the sunlight like
a helmet or perhaps a halo starched and ironed
for Sunday service and lunch afterwards at
Gaidoux’s. And, as I recall, one Ezra Brooks
or two or five too many. And my mother’s pleas,
and then the sound of Benny Goodman’s clarinet
all sweet and mellow rising from a nearby store
so that we all stopped on the sidewalk, tilting
our heads and just listening to Benny Goodman,
and then turning to begin the long walk home,
to begin forgetting, to begin, again, an ordinary life.

B.H. Fairchild

20 Years of Blogging

I have been blogging since 2003, but I can’t recall the exact date when I first started. In the last few days, I have been digging around the Wayback Machine trying to piece everything together. Thanks goodness for the Internet Archive, I have been able to repost my early entries and put together a timeline.

In 1999, I created Donny Digital Design Studio. According to the about page I had written, D3 was born out of a class project (Electronic Visual Communication) at La Salle University. It then evolved into my online portfolio and digital design studio.

In January 2003, I added journal entries to D3 Studio. I wrote the entries manually because the URLs included 0103.php, 0203.php, and 0303.php. I have brought these entries into this blog.

In April 2003, I changed the name from D3 Studio to Visualgui. I also started using B2 for blogging. From 2003 to January 2004, I ran into hosting issues. My site was down often. In addition, B2 had been abandoned.

In February 2004, I migrated Visualgui to Lunarpages. I also started fresh with WordPress, which was forked from B2. I wrote a quick update about it.

Visualgui was running smoothly for many years under Lunarpages until HostPapa scooped up it in 2019. After the acquisition was completed, HostPapa tried to squeeze more money from Lunarpages customers. In September 2021, I was done with HostPapa and moved over to DigitalOcean. I am happy with DigitalOcean Droplets ever since.

I still can’t believe I have been blogging for 20 years. The earliest entry I could find was on January 22, 2003; therefore, I will use that as the anniversary date. I can’t recall how I got into blogging, but it has to be the longest hobby I have ever picked up and stuck with it until this day.

Blogging has been an outlet for both my professional career and my personal development. I loved web design, but I needed my own space to play around with my design. I need a space where I could design whatever I wanted and not have to do what my clients wanted. It was liberating to show off my own design. There were times I was so burned out with web design and development, but this blog has kept me going. It nurtures me to do my professional job.

For my personal development, I didn’t feel comfortable writing in English since the first day I set my foot in America—I was eleven years old. Throughout my educational years, I never showed anyone my writings except for my teachers who graded my papers. Even after I graduated from college, I never wanted to write because I was too afraid to show my terrible writings, which were filled with grammatical errors, misspellings, awkward flows, and improper use of language. Blogging had changed all of that. I could write freely and I didn’t even care about all the technicalities. I just wanted to type words into the black box and hit publish. I could write about anything on my mind and it could be read around the world.

Days after days, I thought I would run out of things to write about, but I am still here writing like no one is reading—until I get into controversial topics. Blogging has indeed become part of my life. If I stop blogging today, I would feel something missing or empty in my life. I am still not a good writer and I am not good with words, but blogging allows me to express myself. Writing has become an important tool for me to use everyday. Blogging has become an exercise for my brain. After practicing for 20 years, writing has come much easier for me and I like sharing my thoughts online.

For a while I got sucked into social media networks—particularly Facebook and Twitter. These days, I have checked out of all of them. I stopped posting on LinkedIn and Facebook. I didn’t even bother moving over to Mastodon after I abandoned Twitter. I never venture into Instagram or TikTok. I am not sure if Pinterest is still a thing. I still use YouTube for tutorials on snowboarding, skiing, rollerblading, and ice skating. I also use YouTube for fixing things around the house. Other than YouTube, I refocus all my energy on this blog.

I am so fed up with news and politics; therefore, I want my blog to have a different vibe. I started posting poetry everyday. I will continue to write and to share what I feel, see, and hear around me. I want to continue to blog for many years to come. I would like to thank you for coming to this site and following my journey. I hope you enjoy your stay.


One day my father said, Get in the goddamned car,
and so I did, and he drove us about five miles
out of town, where he parked on an empty shoulder,
shut the Ford’s engine off, and then turned to me
and said, You have a weak personality. I said,
What the hell does that mean? And he said, You know,
when you speak, the way you talk, laughing and using
all that fancy-assed, flowery language, you do not
impress other men, serious men, for whom life
is a serious business
. I said, after a long silence,
weighing my fate for what I was about to say,
I don’t give a flying fuck about impressing
other men. I can tell you, though, that I care
about impressing Patricia Lea Gillespie,
if that’s the sort of thing you’re worried about.

You read poetry, he said. Yes, I do. I even
memorize it.
His eyes widened. Why would you do
a thing like that? So that I can recite it
, I said.
Here’s one that I recited to Patricia Lea
quite late just the other night.
And so I began.
His car at that time was a two-tone rusted-out
Ford Falcon with a sluggish, nervous ignition, so
when he quickly reached for the key and turned it,
wrenched it furiously, swinging that small tragedy
of a car back onto Hiway 83, and headed for home,
I began, as I say, not just for the moment
but for all time and for all young men caught
in the rush of passion and sudden confusion
when the heart cannot speak but the man—oh yes,
the man-absolutely must, she’s so beautiful,
the moon in platinum waves rippling down
her raven-black hair, and I rolled down my window
of that piece-of-shit car and I sang it out, far out
beyond the stalks of uncut wheat, beyond the corn
and soybeans, oh ever beyond the soybeans, and even
the beef cattle standing mute behind barbed wire
in a boredom so gigantic, so heavy it should
put God to shame, beyond Bryan’s Corner where I once
saw Kerouac and Ginsberg and William Burroughs
stopping for a cheeseburger and fries on their way
to south Texas and future literary fame and
an almost endless supply of what native Texans
called Marihoona. My poem, I swore, spoken loudly
and very well as my father stomped the floorboard
with every burning word, would never end,
even after we hit the gravel in the driveway
at home and I finally leaped out and took a bow
for Dylan Thomas, and all of Kansas rose up
in the dry fields and applauded the art of poetry,
and Patricia Lea Gillespie later that night
gave herself to a boy who loved to read poetry,
a language so sweetly powerful and burdened
with the mysteries of the human heart that it became
my language:

In my craft or sullen art,
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms…

And I remember the grim, tight mask of his face
inflamed now by the porch light as he lurched
for the front door and I sang to Kansas poems
I so loved that they became a kind of revenge.

B.H. Fairchild