How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Mourning

Sunday Mourning

I have spent my life
striving to arrange words
into stories that revealed
small truths about
our common human

When I began,
I thought this work
was important and
noble, work with
significant consequences.

As an old man,
I'm not so sure.
I know some have
responded to my
work, but by and large
I can't say the world is
a better place for
my having written.

I don't doubt the work.
I have never doubted
my work. But I doubt
its relevance in this
consumer culture
in which I find myself.

A critic once called me
"one of Oregon's most
precious natural resources"
which sounded flattering
until I remembered how we
treat the environment.

I used to tell myself
that the worth of my work
would emerge more widely
after my death but now
this too has the sour
after-taste of delusion.

I made many sacrifices
on behalf of my work.
Were they made in vain?
I'm not the first to ask.
I won't be the last.

The Wallowa County Who-Who

The Wallowa County Who-Who

The Portland Review, 2000

By Charles Deemer

No one knows when the first spotted owls alighted in Wallowa County. Normally the endangered species preferred the milder climate of old growth forests in Oregon’s coastal range to rugged mountains more fit for a goat, where winter could last three-fourths of the year. Their arrival was not expected, and by the time the owls were discovered in Joseph, they were already there in great and public numbers.
            Mayor Divorak saw them first. He had come to City Hall shortly after five a.m. on Monday to catch up on paperwork before the morning’s emergency session of the City Council. An emergency meeting was no small matter; usually the Council hardly had reason to meet at all. But the Nez Perce had hired a fancy lawyer from Portland to challenge the city’s plans, initiated by the mayor himself, to develop the north end of Wallowa Lake into a resort and marina. Lord knows something had to be done to revitalize the Eastern Oregon economy. The trouble was, the land in question was adjacent to the grave of old Chief Joseph, on land the Nez Perce regarded as sacred. If the Council went through with its plans, the tribe’s lawyer threatened, the case would be taken all the way to the Supreme Court. This was not the way Mayor Divorak wanted to put Joseph on the map.
            Who owns the land?, was the question on the mayor’s mind that morning. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

A favorite early short play (1975)

The Stiff
a farce in one act
by Charles Deemer

THE CAST (4M, 2W):
President John Jones, the leader of the people
Mrs. Eunice Jones, his wife
Chi Chi, his mistress
Neck, the mortician
Charles, his assistant
Dr. Alberts, the doctor

Any time

A back room in the Public Hall in a foreign country.

Upstage center is a table on which is a casket. A window, upstage left, looks out upon the square. Entrance into the room is stage right. Modest furnishings: this is the room in which the corpses of public figures are kept before being put on display to the people.

(AT RISE: DR. ALBERTS has his back to the audience, inspecting a body in the casket. Waiting expectantly are MRS. JONES, NECK and CHARLES. Mrs. Jones, who is in mourning, is dressed in black. She holds a black lace handkerchief over her sobs. The doctor turns and moves away from the casket.)

NECK: Well, doctor?
DR. ALBERTS: Your suspicions are correct. I find the organ to be tumescent.

(Mrs. Jones breaks into tears.) the rest at.....

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A favorite early story

The Thing at 34-03-15N, 118-15-23W

The Colorado Quarterly (Spring, 1969)

Charles Deemer

Falling into the generation gap, I miss Willie Mays' home run

I CAN HEAR THEM out there. They are, to ignore the language's index of elasticity, dancing. And they are dancing with each other, I am asked to believe, although the fact of the matter is that when I left the patio they were exhibiting their individual spasms of ecstasy over a separation of six to twelve feet. Now I ask you: is that dancing together? I will admit that they are — for lack of a better word — involved. Yes, they are involved. They are so involved that they neglect to admire the new patio, the excuse for this party in the first place. I finished it last Wednesday, designing and building the whole thing myself, setting it into a three-colored form of a navigator's compass, at the center of which a brass plate marks the exact location of the patio: 34 degrees, 3 minutes, 15 seconds north, 118 degrees, 15 minutes, 23 seconds west. Having been a navigator in the Navy during the war, I made that measurement precisely. Myself.
I retreated thirty minutes ago. I did not leave for the specific purpose of watching the ballgame. This I would have sacrificed in order to be an attentive host, but frankly it is impossible to be any kind of host, attentive or indifferent, unless one has guests. Whatever these kids today may be, delinquents, revolutionaries, or spoiled nouveaux riches (Jim tends toward the latter), they certainly are not guests. They rather are like some of my bloodsucking relatives, who expect everything they ask for immediately and for nothing. No, they need no host out there. Whatever they need, they need no host.

-----read the rest at



The trouble with medicine today
is that no doctor wants death
on his watch, engaging the latest
technology to keep the dying alive,
a triumph of cure over care.

The trouble with medicine today
is that death is considered abnormal,
a failure of treatment, rather than
the last act of a life for the aged,
a celebration, a curtain call.

The trouble with medicine today
is that too many doctors are deaf
to the cry of patients who feel like
guinea pigs and seek comfort, seek
the triumph of care over cure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sad but true

Adjunct professors are the new working poor

I've been lucky and atypical, largely because the university came to me, not the other way around. A happy adjunct for almost 20 years. What a concept.

But by and large, adjuncts are second class teachers.

Reality 101

Reel Story: If You Want A Screenwriting Agent, You Need To Read This

Old Age

Old Age

Old age is like walking
through a mine field
on a sunny day
under a blue sky
when the world is perfect
as long as you stay lucky
and avoid the step that
will blow up the beauty
of the day and change
the world forever. Old age
is a crap shoot without
a winning pot, a contest
to determine who loses
the least and survives
to tell the tale. Old age,
thy name is written
on a steamed mirror
and disappears quickly.
Old age is what you wish
on your enemy. On your friend,
you wish a natural death.

Monday, September 23, 2013

At Marie's Memorial

From In My Old Age ...

At Marie’s Memorial

I stand as still as a corpse and stare at photos,
Playbills, cast lists of forgotten plays
On abandoned stages. If the wages of death is love,
Then love fills this room. But in the corner,
Lurking like a naughty child, is more sadness
Than I want to feel. All the years of the past,
Dripping memories like rank fruit, rot
And fertilize the heart of this place.
So much has changed.
So much has been forgotten.
A lesson earned is not a lesson learned:
Those times were good -- and never can return.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

A new poem

Thoughts While Listening To The Four Freshmen

Sometimes it feels as if the world
is filled with unrequited longing,
which is made invisible by the noisy
dust of everyday commerce; that the subtext
of existence is neither dusty nor noisy
but a profound longing to be lying side
by side in the dark silence with a companion
in deepest connection, where nothing needs
explanation or reason, where the line between
here and there, you and me, has vanished
in the rhythm of common breath.

Sometimes it feels as if sleep
is the gift of wisdom.

The Tourist

From In My Old Age ...

The Tourist

I feel like a tourist
without a destination

which is to say
where I am isn't home

where I'm going
isn't clear

waiting for the bus
that never comes

leaving me to do
what I do well

which is to amuse
myself in solitude

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To live in the world

From Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones ...

CJ is sent to a shrink after the death of his wife.
You can't fix what was bothering me when Helen was still alive,” CJ told Dr. Peters. “It's larger than all of us. You couldn't fix it then and you can't fix it now. You can either ignore it, or fill your life with distractions from it, or accept the fact that we live in a culture based on lies and deceit and betrayal. But how do you deal with that? You know what I think? I think the smartest among us, the most sensitive among us, can't accept it at all and that's why they're locked up in the loony bins. Insanity may be the only true response to all this shit. We lock up our best people. We punish the truly sane people in the country, the ones who see through all the shit and can't stand it.”
And later ...
 CJ cleared his throat and tried. Why was he so nervous? He continued.“Take something that hits close to home. The political assassination of President Kennedy. That's what it amounted to. A political coup.”
"You really think so?”
The doctor seemed surprised.
CJ said, “There is no doubt there were front entry wounds. Every doctor who first saw the body said so, before the body was doctored to hide them. For Christ's sake, a cop walking behind the car was splattered with brain matter! Many people saw smoke, smelled gun powder, at the grassy knoll. This isn't made up. This is what witnesses saw. Front entry wounds mean more than one shooter. Which means a conspiracy.”
CJ stopped. He realized he was shaking.
“That was a long time ago. What about all this is upsetting you today?” the doctor asked.
CJ stood up.
“Why the hell aren't you upset? Why the hell isn't everyone upset? They overthrew your government, for God's sake! How can you live your life as if nothing had happened?”
There was a long pause.
“Maybe this is a good place to stop,” said Dr. Peters. “Is the same time next week convenient to you?”
CJ took a deep breath.
“There is no next time, doc. I'm out of here.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Old Couples

From In My Old Age ...

Old Couples

I envy old couples
who were young together

who can see through
wrinkles and flab

and find the young
firm and innocent

bodies full of wonder
full of wonder

whose aged minds
still see mysteries

whose aching limbs
embrace like young


Sunday, September 15, 2013


From In My Old Age ...


thank you, gods
for another morning
in my old age

now for a moment
I can forget
how angry Nature is

and justly so
at human insolence
arrogance and greed

now for a moment
I can forget
impending disaster

I can scratch the dog
I can feed the birds
and enjoy the morning

and most of all
appreciate the gift
of my old age

and thank you again
that I am not
younger than I am

Monday, September 9, 2013

New book

 A Majority of One, my new book of poems, will be published Oct. 26 by Round Bend Press, my 5th book with them. To a degree, it reads like a last book. We'll see.