Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Matter of the Balcony Railing

There’s been a lot of talk about the balcony railing lately. Is it up to code? Does it have a soul? What secrets does it hold? Does it have reality? Does it have anyone to blame but itself? What are we to do with it? Why does it have to appear at all? Personally, I don’t really care. It’s not our balcony. But as an external feature of the building we are to share in its fate and responsibility. In philosophy, this is called the problem of identity over time, or the doctrine of preformation. You may remember the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Well, this has nothing to do with that. This is an HOA situation. I feel the slow crackle of metamorphism. This is called hydrothermal alternation. I feel the clutch of the sublime when I say this. There is a balcony in all of us that develops by rumination. It becomes lost in its arabesques. Though perhaps it may be more accurate to say that it comes to itself in its arabesques. It honors the élan of its own extravagance. This is what gives the balcony railing its humor of increasing subtlety, of understatement and overstatement, of empirical dance and dynastic abstractness. Whenever I’m feeling parenthetical it helps to think of something prominent and wet. I think of the balcony railing. Its lucidity and inertia. The convivial curves of its filigree. There’s a certain implication involved in making an appeal to the vitality of carrots. It is, after all, a balcony railing under discussion here and not a catwalk. If this were a catwalk rather than a railing, I might mention decimals, or pylons. There are intermediates in protein metabolism that will serve as motivational tinfoil. Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities, said Aristotle. But did Aristotle have a balcony? Did Aristotle cook hamburger on an open grill? Did Aristotle own a single spatula? It is enough that the balcony railing strikes the eyes of the passerby with eloquence. Everything else is morality. No one knows what a belief is. No one knows what a truth is. We just go on pretending that the balcony railing has all the answers. And open our books and read.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In the Thick of Things

Of Things
Poetry by Michael Donhauser
Translated by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron
Burning Deck , 2015
Michael Donhauser is new to me. An Austrian poet who lives in Vienna and began publishing prose, essays and poetry in 1986, Donhauser is a prolific and introspective writer. He’s a great discovery. Thanks to this new translation by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron from Burning Deck press, Donahauser’s sensibility and words have been made available to readers in English. 
Donhauser, who has been strongly influenced by the French prose poet Francis Pongé, presents a language of semantic density and palpable phenomenalism. The goal of this language is not refinement; the goal of this language is concretion. Each line pushes toward an aggregation of thingness in word and object, a moment of concentrated stillness in which a fusion of language and object can occur. “For only in stillness will the peach come slowly to language, to flesh: fills itself with juice),” writes Donhauser in “The Peach.”
Of Things is divided into three main divisions based on the seasons (“Winter: Spring,” “Spring: Summer,” “Summer: Fall”). There are three poems in the first, five in the second, and two in the final division. These are long poems. They develop variously, quizzically, probingly. One feels, while reading these poems, a process of deepening focus which seeks to purify perception of presumptive bias and penetrate to the essence of things. It’s what Alfred North Whitehead described as “perception in the mode of presentational immediacy.” This results in a language of syntactic compactness and vivid imagery.
In “The Thicket,” the first poem of this collection, penetrability and entanglement are presented as problems of language that are in no way negative but implicate qualities of plurality and interrelation. “That which is thought, as a web of relations.” The thicket becomes a vehicle for the unification of language and object, the fusion of conceptual feeling with physical nature. Contradictory sticks of thought enhance the semantic density: “Thus all movement is inhibited and engendered in it.”
Donhauser refers to a “transformation into sense” that echoes Husserl’s ideas of intentionality in phenomenalism. Husserl calls intentionality the “fundamental property of consciousness” and the “principal theme of phenomenology.”
Donhauser describes his process within the work. The qualia of the thicket  -  the way in which it’s experienced and conceptualized in consciousness  -  is integrated into the lines of the poem, into the anatomy of the work. “The thicket thickens…Together into a word.” An etymology follows: “Thick comes from Old English picce. Which means ‘dense, solid, stiff; numerous, abundant.” “Thus the thicket appears: thickened.”
“The transformation into sense intended throughout Donhauser’s thicket works by a “repeated multi-layeredness: multilayered repetition.” We get tangled in letters. We get tangled in syllables and webs of words. The poem works against the “tendency of language to initiate conversations that digress into groundlessness, that after just a few steps become thoughtless, hold forth unopposed.” This is what thicket does: it solidifies in resistance against a social reality that is now largely corrupted by inattention and superficiality. The technocracies of Europe and the United States have had an impact that have scaled upward exponentially in the last several decades since Of Things was first published. Print media has been switched to digital media. We live in an age of spectacle and celebrity culture. It’s now common to see the majority of people in public spaces engrossed in mobile phones, utterly oblivious to the world around them. Poets such as Donhauser present work that encapsulates a resistance: “I communicate my rebellion to the thicket,” he says. He ends on a euphoric note:  

No Briar Rose.
A Briar Rose.
(I walked down the wide suburban street into the city under the glowing evening sky with its blackbird calls, along cars parked every now and then on the curb, and I felt an extreme lightness deep inside me, as if all my decisions were as correct as much as they were rescinded.)
As if the thicket
For a moment
Had cleared, lit up deep within. 

In “The Marsh Marigold” (Sumpfdotterblume in German) Donahuser makes a pointed reference to the genitive case: “In language: in the genitive quality of things.” “I mean,” he states in a line further down, “poetic language in its relation to things.”
A genitive construction is a type of grammatical construction used to express a relation between two nouns, generally the possession of one by another, as in “Shakespeare’s garden.” The dependent noun modifies the head noun by expressing some property of it. In the phrase “marsh marigold” marigold is the head noun and marsh is the modifier.
Donhauer’s grammar has other idiosyncratic features. He likes fragmenting things in phrases, such as in the following lines: 

I do not speak.
In order that yellow be like that.
Be that of the meadows.
In suspension over the meadows.
Concentrated at the meadow’s edge, at the edges of the meadows.
In the ditches, at the banks of the rivulets.
Concentrated in the shadows like that.
Beshadowed, off to the side, near the water.
Yolk-yellow, word for word, silent. 

The effect of this is destabilizing. A fully formed sentence presents a fully formed world. This is not the intent here. The world is not fully formed; the world is in flux. We are confronted with a pluralistic metaphysics of process. We are given alternatives that are not conjointly realizable as fixed units but are, instead, fertile transformations of composition and decay. The phrases have a stripped down quality. They feel bare, unadorned. They’re often divided in the middle by a colon in a manner not too dissimilar from the caesura in Norse poetry.
This tendency is notably effective in “The Gravel.” Here it is stated variously, and contradictorily, that gravel “speaks multiple dialects: similar to rain,” and that the gravel does “does not speak: it does not articulate.” Gravel is defined as “a loose aggregation of small water-worn or pounded stones.” The key word is ‘aggregate.’ We all know what it is to walk on gravel, or hear car tires moving over gravel. There is a speech there, the aggregate sound of crunching. Donhauser (speaking on the behalf of gravel) presents a variety of ways of conceiving the material world. With a little time the gravel “makes us aristocratic. / (No reason to hurry now: we’re walking among words.) / It makes us aristocratic auditors of our steps.” “It tolerates all manner of mutuality, even the murderous kind.” “…gravel makes us self-forgetting: self-possessing.” “It sends us back to the materiality of our steps.” “Every step appears originary: every step.” “Language is an entertaining wasteland. / (My passionate entertainment: the gravel /… All syllables are similar and different. / (As well as mixed together with petals, cellophane, leaves.)”
Donhauer, like Ponge, intends a poetic by which the reader is implicated in the genesis of his or her world. To make us “aristocratic auditors of our steps.” “Though also fitted with a mute attentiveness. / (A sensibility that listens more than interprets.)”


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Long Playing Albumin

I hear the voices of men talking outside. The English language groans under the weight of its history. A metaphor seizes the conversation and moves it back and forth. It becomes olives.
I know I’m getting old but that’s no excuse. Balloons are phenomenal. I can’t help it. The charm of running fulfills the longitude of hope. Blood circulates through these words. Can you see it? All those cells and plasma. Proteins, glucose, mineral ions, hormones, albumin.
My favorite Rolling Stones albumin is Yolk. It was never recorded.
We all need an oasis. I don’t say Venice by accident. I say it with meaning. I say it with fire.
My take on life is largely geographical. We are products of place. Genius loci.
I’m amazed by the persistence of religion. Tornados howl, volcanos erupt. People die. Children die. But belief in a supreme Being persists.
A man holds a baby in a small room. The room is crowded. Lightning bleeds at the margins. We sometimes let our grief get the better of us. But that’s ok. Everything considered, the tears we shed are expressions of an interior region that defies all description.
The old wrinkled bark of chestnuts have the appearance of wizards. Trees are phenomenal things.
Phenomenology is the study of the structure of experience and consciousness. The stool coughed when I squeezed the pillow. This is called Noesis. Noema is the ideal content of the noetic act. The Noesis is always correlated with a Noema, or hawk.
The painting of a little table hangs above our bed. It’s a print of a Matisse painting. Until I speak, I inhabit a cocoon of words. The sky is curved like an emerald. The piano flutters with music. The world continues to spin. The reverberation of illusion counters the specter of reality. Jewels embedded in a controversy of silver.
I taste my legs when I go walking. Just like Sir Toby said. My legs do better understand me, sir, than I understand what you mean by bidding me taste my legs.
My legs taste like slush. They’re slushies.
The syllables blossom that create a crackle. There’s a trembling in the curtain and I can hear it rain. The symmetry of my belt buckle warrants the practice of paleontology. I have the lucidity of a hernia. I sometimes see a little yellow in the fire of phenomenology. I collect bells and chimneys. I graze on the quirks and quarks of language.
My memories of California are dramas of remorse and handcuffs. I bring things into focus. I need a box office for these simulacrums. Every time I mention Ralph Nader everyone scatters. The cat knocks over a lamp. What has taken place feels like it’s about to happen. I love a good paradox now and then. But this boil is bawling bowls of purple rain.
I’m never completely surprised when I discover that certain people don’t like me. It’s not that I’m unlikable. I don’t believe I’m unlikable. Maybe sometimes I’m unlikable. I have a hairdo like a helicopter. I’m grateful for grapefruit. I have a name for my chair. I call it Smack. Smack the Chair.
Pound for pound language is a bargain. Syllables distill ideas. There’s a kind of light that can only be found in darkness. Language is good for that. English is good for that. French is good for that. Cherokee is good for that. And so are Norwegian, Japanese, Maori, Panjabi, and Sanskrit.
And so on.
Italian, Urdu, Tagalog.
The memory of the planet is implicit in sandstone. That’s how the wind speaks. The seashore brawls with the ocean. The night gets dressed in a gown of black silk. People burst out of the nightclub.
This is the story of my evasion.
I’m a wildcat. I can skulk in silk, too.
Who doesn’t like to splash around in water?
The hospital is never a pleasant place to visit, but you have to admit it’s pretty interesting.
So many different injuries. So many different diseases. So many different languages.
Is there a perfect expression for anything?
Pain is the hardest to grasp. Pain will tell you anything. Anything but what you want to know. Nothing here is polished. I say it like I feel it. And it never comes out right.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Speed Bumps of Corsica

Capitalism is destroying the planet. Even the pop is stale. Nobody knows what to do. It’s too huge. I agree with the countryside. We should just let capitalism go. Here in Seattle, capitalism thrives in curves and weird architecture, like the embryonic forms downtown for the new Amazon offices. They look like something out of Alien, a drawing by Neill Blomkamp.
It’s always damp in Seattle. Gray and wet. Remnants of color nourish the glow of dials. The charm of language awakens in nitroglycerine. Things tremble, then blow up. It’s very cool.
I have little regard for fashion. I do like my new shirt. It has a small breast pocket divided in two. One part is just large enough to fit my reading glasses case, which Roberta gave me, a pretty envelope in silky fabric with multicolored, feathery patterns, and a very narrow opening for my pen to slip into.
Here we are waiting for the bank to open. And here we are at Pacific Place. The escalator is deliciously promiscuous. Anyone can get a lift out of it.
Descending is never as much fun as ascending.
Mohair fulfills an important function. I’m not sure what it is yet, but it’s very soft. Life is full of conflicts and fire so that’s a very good thing. I stand around mumbling soliloquys. It’s what I was destined to do.
The air smells of rain. As always.
 I hold my hand out to you. Please take it, and shake. Good. Now we can proceed.
The room walks through itself. Orchids appeal to my sense of exaggeration. I’ve seen people play softball. I know what softball is about. But what are orchids about?
Most experience is improved by eclairs. My cuticles are built on a principle of rumbling. Thunder wrestles the sky into submission. The sky crawls under the bed. All the engines are humming. You can feel them vibrate in the mattress.
Nothingness is never a problem.
Have you ever lived on a farm? Gravity sculpts space into tractors and chickens. Everything stays where it’s put, or clucks or rumbles. The hills are like magenta crabs.
There’s a certain serenity that can only be found in conservatories. This is because the glass is sometimes frosted, sometimes not. The orchids are mesmerizing this time of year and the epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants. They’re common in rainforests, hotel lobbies, and long sentences. As for music, the octave is most compelling when it’s been spun from codeine.
I have grouse in my eyebrows.
The poem is a device whose subtleties appeal to states of heightened awareness. I become aware of things that float and things that hang, things that magnetize and things that procreate. I find myself in possession of muscle and blood. Bones, too. Lots of those. All fitted together nicely.
Can I sit in your car? I look good in blue. And I can’t enter Hamlet without a suitcase.
I often reflect on what it is to have a body. Things get especially sticky at night. The candle burns, the shadows dance. Unbridled ink sparkles with incident. I seem to be everywhere that I go. I’ve got to fill space with something. The crisis that is language has made a big splash. I feel savage as a coastline. A branch of apple blossom chuckles silently. Even the hills are doing somersaults.
Let me linger a while at the edge of your ship.
Writing permits me to understand concrete. If I bend to look at it, I’m careful. There’s nothing more awkward then bending. Bending requires more effort than growing orchids. But this is arguably a matter of drinking, not descriptive linguistics.
Light peppers the ground. It’s quite pretty. A little mutation is a good thing now and then. No crab is an ordinary crustacean. The carousel sparkles in the Parisian rain. I’m often amused to see people laughing when they work. The whole idea of independence is mostly empty. You can take it or leave it. As for me, I sigh for the lack of wisdom. I’ve always had a problem with my nose. I’m allergic to money and I don’t like it when it runs without me.
Pepper bears a certain similarity to palaver. Both season the gustation of foam.
The thermometer has a coherence similar to squeezing things. I gaze at the bubbles forming at the surface of my pot of boiling oatmeal and think about knots. How many knots are there? The becket hitch joins a rope to a closed eye. The dogshank is a variant of the sheepshank and is also called a pouch knot. It can be thought of as a bowline in which the bights pass through a Z-folded middle part and come back to form a grip on reality, which is slippery, and large, and gets in the way of daydreaming.
Costco is a disturbing place. So much of everything. How can this planet support such grotesque quantities?
The escalator endures its endless voyage. The heat of a fire in an old castle feels healing and perpetual. I’ve never been to Corsica, but I imagine that living in Walla Walla, Washington, is different. I have a feeling Corsica is averse to speed bumps. Virtue is a hard rotunda to maintain. Most of the time, I need a philosophy of friction inflated with laughing gas to function. I like constructing postulations based on the color green. I like to sit and reflect. Perceptions leave furrows of thought in the void that is space. Some words are already in flight.
Late at night, when the train pulls through Missoula, you can feel it vibrate in your bones. It’s a good feeling. Woof and warp are aspects of weaving. Feeling works the same way. The bistro attracts the fiber of conversation and the woof and warp of life is woven in chromosomes. I’ve employed this elevation for obvious reasons. I make bookmarks based on storms at sea. Poetry is always in crisis. I imagine a country of high mountains and warm people, thought interlaced with thought, and come up with the beauty of dereliction. You won’t need speed bumps for that. Coffee is reinforced water. Grace divides into steps. Rise, and take those steps. Take them as you will. Just imagine, once again, what it’s like to live in Corsica, if you haven’t been to Corsica, and if not Corsica, well then, there’s Walla Walla.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stepladder Lime

 I consider everything a stimulus, a conversation with earth, an endless translation. A flock of geese fly overhead. Honk, honk. A lot of conversation there. I pluck the raw sentiment of morning out of the air and put it down on paper where it assumes the declensions of nebulas and twine. This is the longitude of a sip of the syrup of life crowded with apprehension. I say it and it becomes it. At least on paper. In ink. In letters. In syllables. In vowels. In jabber and groans and shoots of sparkling effacement.
Everything in life is literal. It becomes metaphorical as soon as Spinoza gets back from the hardware store. Metaphors are the distortions that we harness to bone to animate the dead. I examine each feeling, each perception, for the energy of resurrection. The taste of salt. The syntax of lightning. If I sense the agitations of injury, I move toward the pain until I can see it more clearly.
President Obama leans his head back to avoid the feathers of the headdress worn by Joseph Medicine Crow, the last surviving warrior chief of the Crow Tribe of Montana, as he drapes the Presidential Medal of Freedom around the old man’s neck. Joseph passed away yesterday at age 102. This is his obituary. It attracted my attention while playing with our cat, Athena. She likes to chase a peacock feather whenever I slide it under a sheet of newspaper.  Obama squints his eyes. Joe wears a pair of glasses. His grandmother’s brother, White Man Runs Him, was a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong. “I always told people when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you’re shaking hands with the 19th century,” said Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indians. 
“The Mirage of Needles” is a poem by René Char. I get lost there for a moment. Daylight hangs from spars of amber. The day sails into biography. I bring a limestone piano and an old Scrabble game discovered in the closet of a deserted Kansas motel to the augmentation of this paragraph. Bouillon cures adjectives. I feel ultramarine. Simultaneity sweetens hieroglyphs of coffee. An exhibition of thunder drinks itself in mid-air. I don’t have time for doctrine. I walk on the laughter of banks. Each time that I think of money an ox comes alive on my tongue. There is no punishment but the sun.
Syzygy sizzles in zyzzyva. Ninety five points.
I study a waterfall. The roar of white water haloed by mist floating at its outer edges. I’m fascinated by the margin between mass and energy. There also exists an intersection between consciousness and language.
When an ocean wave recedes, it leaves behind it traces of its agitations in the sand. This is called writing. There’s a bump that confirms the incident of cleavage and a robin that sings and weather and acceleration. Later in life, we discover that time writes its chronicles and epitaphs on our faces and the bananas are good and rubber is rational and the emotions that people leave behind are ghosts of pathos hungry for our understanding.
The savor of twilight sleeps in the somersaults of a king. My thoughts unfold like rolls of canvas. I feel the grace of assemblage in the headlights of necessity. I’ve had a number of jobs over the years and been fired from most of them, but one thing I’ve learned is that a cup of coffee never smells as good as when a herd of buffalo stampede through the unconscious of a dictionary.
I never stand on ceremony. I always clatter when I walk. I bring in another haul of anatomies to examine. Daffodils, opinions, sensations. Everything in the world has a structure. This includes experience and candy. Yesterday I had a sensation that weighed 173 pounds and bristled with spoons. It was red and impersonal and too variegated to represent in pastels and so I wrapped it in tinfoil and sent it to the British Museum. It went on exhibit as a grizzly bear and that was that.
I have feelings that are too large and nebulous for description. Most of my feelings are too large and nebulous for description. This is why I feel such an affinity for zippers. The specificity of the zipper is comforting. So are smears and cemeteries.
The highway arrives a little damaged but without any clear objective in sight. We can hear someone laughing in an upturned car at the side of the road. Pain has a way of harnessing itself to the sparkle of stimulation. You can see it in the eyes of the dying.
Emotional pain is itself a form of stimulation. An incitement, a spur. People glitter to play the guitar and when they do auroras of sound make the air turn spectral. It takes a lot of sweat and nerve to build a behavior that works for you. You cannot mimic desire. But you can take it into the clouds and break it into words.
And what is reality?
Any friendly energy stirring the blood into odor. Any energy at all. Negative energy is good too. I don’t mean to be orange. I just like velvet. I like to express myself with arms. In writing. In gallantry. In gulps. In oak and exhalation. Like saws or flies. A place to put your wrinkles. Old temptations. The hospitality of silver. The serious hurry of a lucidity whistling dimes of stepladder lime. 


Monday, April 18, 2016


I began lifting weights at age 18. I had images of myself as a bodybuilder, shirts ripping apart from the bulge of muscle beneath. I associated that level of strength with independence. If I could maximize my strength, I could do anything. It was a bit of a Superman complex. Though the image I had in mind was that of Doc Savage, the invention of publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic, fleshed out (so to speak) by the series’ main writer, Lester Dent.
I only read one book. I don’t recall the title. I remember nothing about it, other than buying it because it looked entertaining and I had a long train ride ahead of me. There were probably a lot of other books I could’ve chosen but I chose that one because the man on the cover was so muscular that his shirt was torn. I read it aboard the train on my way to Minot, North Dakota in January, 1966. I still had a black eye from getting beaten up at a New Years’ party. My front tooth had been knocked out and a crown put in its place. Getting beaten up was the stimulus to go to North Dakota to get an education. My grandparents had provided a bond of $500 to get me started if I chose to go to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Lifting weights had done little to help me in a fight. Though it hadn’t been a fight. I’d been extremely drunk and talking to a girl in the rec room of a suburban home in Burien, Washington where the party was held when a young man appeared and I turned to say hello and he punched me in the face and I went flying into a Christmas tree. I found out later it had to do with jealousy. This surprised me since I hadn’t been flirting. I’d been way too drunk to flirt. I was amusing myself with saying silly things. It seemed as if I’d been amusing others, as well. Apparently not everyone was amused.
I felt silly reading Doc Savage aboard the train. I could feel something shifting in me in the direction of Simon and Garfunkel. “The Sounds of Silence.”  It put me in an entirely different mood than the fictional adventures of Doc Savage. I stopped lifting weights and went into androgyny and drugs. I even got a perm so that I could look like Bob Dylan.
Fifty years later the weight I lift is my own as I go running past the grizzly bear standing erect over a small water fountain with two cubs at the Brown Bear Car Wash and its smell of soap and wax. It’s April 17th, 2016, and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. A beautiful sunny day.  I’m doing a six mile run past the Seattle waterfront on the Myrtle Edwards park trail. It’s crowded. At least half of the people are gazing into smartphones and not paying the least amount of attention to their surroundings. It’s a mystery to me why they’re even out walking. I’m also a little amazed that they don’t walk into Puget Sound and arrive at Bainbridge Island on the other side unaware of the fact they just walked ten miles underwater.
I run past the Key Arena at the Seattle Center. There is a booth set up selling sundry items related to Paul McCartney who is performing this evening. All 17,459 seats at the Key Arena have been sold out. I find it remarkable that Paul McCartney, at age 73, is still vigorously performing and attracting huge crowds. It also amazes me that so many people can be this hugely attracted to music and have no interest whatever in poetry. A friend just recently flew from New York City to Los Angeles to do a reading with another quite well-known poet. Together, they attracted twelve people, all friends and relatives. I mean, c’mon people! Can poetry be THAT difficult?
I maintain that poetry is exciting and can alter consciousness and lift planets out of their orbits and make hypotheses about reality and people that will be both accurate and phenomenally distorted all at the same time.
Poetry is a weight. Different poems have different weights. But it’s not until you get a poem in your head that you feel its true weight.
Does thought have weight? No, but it does have waves and oscillations. Like light.
Light has no mass. Light is energy. It is, however, affected by gravity. Gravity bends space and time. It also bends light. Light from a star will bend around the sun.
And yes, if you disagree, please disagree. Disagreement weighs less than a lemon seed. But more than the moon, which weighs nothing at all. The weight of an object is the net gravitational force acting on a body. But if weight is determined by mass, then the moon weighs something in the neighborhood of 74 million million million tons.
If you disagree with me, and tell me, loudly, in front of a group of people that you disagree, that you find my facts are sloppy and distorted, that I’ve quoted Wikipedia irresponsibly, and that I am an idiot, a miscreant misleading the public, this will weigh heavily on me. More heavily than if you disagreed with me within the body of an email and this communication was kept between us.
Please don’t hit me.
Also distinguished from weight is pressure. The pressure exerted by sunlight on the light half of the earth's surface is of the order of ten tons. This pressure results from the change in momentum when a photon hits the earth's surface.
Pressure is the force applied perpendicularly to the surface of an object and is measured per unit area over which the force is distributed.
Sometimes I will feel a pressure inside my head. It feels like my head is going to explode. This occurs generally when I’m presented with a phenomenon that I find hard to take in. Most of American politics, for instance, or people who believe that the Bible is literal. In this instance, the pressure is moving outward, rather than pressing down on me, like the thumb of a deity.
Nitrous oxide is one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had, even with a periodontist hammering on a dental implant. I felt light afterwards and invited everyone in the office to come home with me and listen to the Beatles. It’s probably the lightest I’ve ever felt, except when I got off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport on a hot August day in 2013 and walked down the Rue Saint-Jacques to look at Notre Dame. A breeze could’ve blown me away. Weight soon returned, and along with it a serious case of jet lag, and as I walked through the corridors of Notre Dame looking up high at the vaults it felt as I were walking through the interior of a mountain. The tremendous weight of its stones and columns were held in place and arced gracefully as they supported tons of glass and angels. Notre Dame had just received for its 850th Jubilee Year nine new bells, eight of which were cast by the Cornille-Havard Bell Foundry in Villedieu-les-Poêles in the north of France. The great bell, Marie, was cast by the Royal Eljsbouts Bell Foundry in Asten, in the Netherlands.
The largest bell, known as Emmanuel Bell, hangs in the South tower. It consists of brass and produces a very pure tone, an F sharp. It’s the oldest original bell. The others were melted down to make cannons for the French revolution. It takes eight men to put Emmanuel Bell in motion and only chimes for important events or liturgical festivals such as Christmas, Easter and the Assumption. It chimed to mark the end of World War I, to celebrate the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation in 1944, and to honor the victims of 9/11.
It weighs thirteen tons.  


Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Patch of Brighter Light

Light. What a strange thing. Not an object. Not a thing. More of an energy. An energy made visible. It’s there, here, everywhere, but without being anywhere in particular. Is Being a form of light? When we shed the body do we become light? Something, say, the size of a basketball with colors swirling around as they do on Neptune? Or no shape at all. Just a diffusion of energy beaming through interstellar space. Where there is light there is darkness and I do feel dark much of the time. Books, wine, certain drugs, high adventure and exercise will induce an inner light to be felt. Whether it’s an actual light or not doesn’t matter. If it feels like a light then so be it. Let it be light. Darkness can be converted to light. Or not. There are ways to inhabit darkness. Bees, for instance.
How do bees negotiate the darkness of the hive? All that wax and honey. Cells. Eggs. Pupae.
Bees have sensory neurons located on the backs of their neck that help them use the sun as a guide outside the hive but also help give them information relative to gravity once they’ve returned to the interior of the hive.
Me? I grope around in the darkness and try not to trip over the coffee table or step on the cat. Eyes are little help, though this is contingent on such things as moonlight or the faint diffusion of a streetlight into the rooms. Moving slowly prevents banging my shins. Or the sudden shrill crying of a cat.
There is such a thing as darkness within light. One can feel very dark while sitting in a brightly lit room. But since there’s no need to grope for anything on the inside of one’s body the interiority of oneself speaks for itself. It says “I am a gaping wound of emotional injury,” or “where is there indicated any purpose for going through all these repetitive motions day after day?”
When the darkness speaks, I tend to listen. Truth is, I don’t have much choice.
Illusions carry the heaviest burdens. These are things for which the truth is too hard to bear. The inevitability of death. Most personalities. Movies with Adam Sandler.
Is it all a matter of chemistry? I don’t know. It’s a chicken or egg thing. Which came first: the darkness, or me, the inducer of darkness, the source of darkness, my darkness, the darkness that will go away as soon as I realize I’m the one inducing the darkness, feeding the darkness, like holding out a handful of a grain to a mule, or a carrot. I imagine that if I were feeding a mule in its crib the food would most likely take the form of a carrot. The food I feed my darkness is just one big bowl of bad attitude seasoned with cynicism and disquiet.
I like to call it malaise. Because I like the word and I like to say it: malaise.
Malaise is the salad I feed my darkness.
But the main dish is anguish. Nourishing, savory anguish. I call it the Kierkegaard Special: the dizziness of freedom. That constant tunneling for the meaning of existence. Because in that meaning will be some form of salvation from death. And because the room is full of dark and I’m not asleep and the brain will not stop manufacturing things to ponder and worry about.
Health care. Shelter. Food. Popularity. Unpopularity. A sense of belonging. The animosity and dysfunctionality of an empire in catastrophic decline.
These are the types of things that happen in the dark. Brooding, worrying, headaches, thoughts of the afterlife. All fodder for that inner darkness. Darkness inside, darkness outside.
Thought sticks to thought like clay to a shoe.
Words come and go. Words like ‘narthex.’ Where did that come from?
Some recent reading about cathedrals, no doubt. That often happens. A word, or words, will bubble up to the surface of my mind and float there, idly, until it bursts, words burst, sentence explodes, leaving behind it a residual effect, a penumbra, a filigree of syllables to ponder.
This is why I occasionally check my pants zipper. It’s so easy to lose track of things.
The world is a huge place. It requires focus. I often lose focus. I carry thoughts of the past everywhere and drag them into the future while stumbling around in the present. Consequently I always feel like I’m in a garage. Or narthex.
Somewhere on the periphery of life, rerunning episodes of the past, coming to different conclusions, making changes, then realizing I can’t make changes, not unless I build a time machine and go into the past and tap myself on the shoulder and say listen, this is what you need to do right now.
I don’t even want to know about the future. That can’t be good. The ocean is rising and growing increasingly acidic due to climate change and an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a colossal earthquake is imminent, Lake Powell is drying up, the human population is exploding, etc., etc.
And yet Mick Jagger keeps prancing on the stage as if he were 22 instead of 72.
It’s good to be shaken and stirred occasionally. Just enough to keep awake. But what I really desire is inertia, sweet inertia. Velocity is over-rated. But that depends. Is it a question of pure sensation, as on an amusement park ride, or direction? Are we floating downstream in an inner tube on a hot August afternoon or riding a rocket into interstellar space? Or we on a busy freeway between two trucks or skiing down a slope in the Swiss Alps?
So much depends upon a wheelbarrow rolling down the street followed by a white chicken.
Glazed with rainwater.
Like the hood of our car.
I spend a lot of time fantasizing a life without people. Like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode, Henry Bemis (played by Burgess Meredith) “a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page,” who, as usual, takes his lunch in the bank vault where his reading will not be disturbed, while outside there is an immense explosion, a nuclear attack, which destroys all human life but leaves all the books in the local library intact, hurray! But then as Henry bends over to pick up a book and stumbles he breaks his glasses. Lesson learned. Like it or not we depend on other people. But hey, if the library books were left intact, wouldn’t there be glasses available at the drugstore or optician’s office? Couldn’t he see well enough to go looking for another pair of glasses, good enough to allow him to see better and better until he finds the perfect pair of glasses and can read again? What would that have been like? Henry gets to keep reading. He has enough food to last a lifetime. It’s not a problem. What would it be like to read books but not be able to talk about books?
To write?
Problem is, I like to write as much as I like to read. One way or another I require an audience. Even when I convince myself I’m writing for myself and strangers somewhere in the back of my mind is a homunculus craving the spotlight. I see the silhouettes of strangers in the auditorium. I need them. They don’t need me. I need to keep them sufficiently entertained that they don’t feel that their time was wasted by sitting in an auditorium listening to me rant about the follies and vanities of human existence.
The crucial point of existence is to find a room. Close the door. Hope someone might bring you some food. Maybe one could be on exhibit, as in a museum or zoo. I could knit socks like Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky.  “Boss, people are watchin’…”
“So what?”
Alan Carney nudges him.
Carney: “What do you want them to think?”
Grant: “Will you look out, I almost dropped a stitch.”
How did I succeed at making such a leap between the private and the public?
The point of having a room is to have a room to oneself. At least for a period of time. Enough time to craft a sonnet, or a chapter in a novel, or a short one-act play, or a rant to the New York Times. I don’t want to sit at a big table in a department store learning to knit. 
But I do like the word ‘stitch.’ Shakespeare uses it once, in the plural, in Twelfth Night: 

If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself
Into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is
turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no
Christian, that means to be saved by believing
rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages
of grossness. He’s in yellow stockings.  

I’m not into stitching. I’ve spent hours trying to thread a needle. I don’tcare much for sewing. But it’s useful as a metaphor. Tiny threads holding wads of material together in recognizable shape as shirts, pants, socks, coats. Thread is thin and wonderful. Needles are sharp and marvelous. I don’t have a tattoo. Don’t know what that needle feels like. I imagine it’s a sharp, exquisite sensation, like the taste of brandy, or whiskey. Like sitting too close to a fire when the wilderness is a cold shadow on your back.
And what of patches? “Truly to speak, and with no addition, / We go to gain a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name,” says the Norwegian Captain in Hamlet.
It is in patch and patches that pasture is patched.
Patches of dark obscuring dust partially conceal the remnants of an ancient supernova visible as glowing red filaments in the region of the cosmos known in the astronomical catalog of H-Alpha light as RCW 106 in the southern Milky Way.
Here’s one by Emerson: “Here is the world, sound as a nut, perfect, not the smallest piece of chaos left, never a stitch nor an end, not a mark of haste, or botching, or second thought; but the theory of the world is a thing of shreds and patches.”
I remember a song from 1970 called “Patches,” written by General Johnson and Ron Dunbar and popularized by Clarence Carter. It was recorded in the famous Muscle Shoals studio founded by Rick Hall, where the Rolling Stones recorded “Brown Sugar.” “Patches” was a good song with a lot of pathos and detail. You could smell things in it, food, dirt, work. Smell of the air just before a heavy rain.
In the room of my imagination, sitting by the window, Ralph Waldo Emerson sips his brandy, purses his lips, and nods his head. “Presentiments hover before me in the firmament,” he says. “I fear only that I may lose them receding into the sky in which now they are only a patch of brighter light.”