Thursday, July 20, 2017

Too Much In The Sun


I was eager to see the shadows lengthen during the performance of Richard II. It was a hot afternoon in mid-July. We were seated outside on a bath towel at Volunteer Park in Seattle. It had been slightly overcast when we arrived, and there was still an intermittent chill in the air. But shortly after having spread the towel on the grass and sitting down and removing our shoes and stretching our legs out the clouds had mostly disappeared and the sun shone in full glory.
The only shade available was to the far left of the amphitheater and was already fully occupied by a group of people. I’m guessing these people were familiar with the grounds and knew that this would be the only shade within shouting distance of the action about to unfold.  But then, when we first arrived, shade had not been on my mind. I wondered, in fact, if I might need to wear my jacket during the performance. I was quickly disabused of that notion. I felt the full temper of the sun on my face and hands. I was wearing jeans. My legs broiled like chickens in a rotisserie.
Here’s the thing: I crave heat all year long. So when it gets here, when I’m feeling it, I immerse myself in it even to the point of total, excruciating discomfort. That’s so when fall arrives and Seattle recedes once again into the gloom of cold wet days inevitably adrift into the sodden vulva of winter I will retain some memory of the sun’s luscious heat in my bones.
I made a mental note to bring a large umbrella next time we attend a free Shakespeare in the park performance and then surrendered myself to the nuclear fusion furnace that is the sun. How is it possible, I wondered, for that big gold thing to go on exploding and exploding without, you know, exploding? Exploding like other things explode on earth, volcanos and bridges and bank vaults, in a hail of rocks and smoke and debris and total destruction. Like the twin towers on 9/11 when they went pop! pop! pop! pop! and collapsed in a fine powder of exquisitely organized controlled demolition.
But not the sun. It explodes a billion trillion times in a gazillion different places and remains, a great sphere of steady never-failing light spewing flame and solar wind into the cold deep hollows of space. How does that happen? I know, turbulent whorls of atomic nuclei exchanging properties and the consequent differences in mass produce energy.
Or something to that effect.
And it goes on and on and on. For at least another five billion years. But I still look up, squint, take a quick look, and worry about what would happen if it just blinked and went out. You know? Just hung there, a giant lump of coal. Which we probably wouldn’t be able to see, the darkness would be so impenetrable. How long would it take before we all froze? Fun things to think about before a play about the fall of a king begins.
The Society of American Fight Directors put on a show of sword fights. A large man and an attractive woman in striped pants fought one another with swords, jabbing, twirling, clanking. It was graceful and fluid. One of the parties played dead and the crowd applauded. The sword people bowed and left the grounds. A woman with flaming red hair began pounding a drum. Richard II and his retinue appeared and the play began.

Old John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster,
Hast thou according to thy oath and band
Brought hither Henry Hereford, they bold son,
Here to make good the boist’rous late appeal,
Which then our leisure would not let us hear,
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?

The actors were all dressed in heavy Elizabethan costumes, which I pitied. The heat in all that fabric must’ve been considerable.
Richard II bore a remarkable resemblance to the young Mel Gibson of The Road Warrior. The actor’s name was Gavin Douglas and he had recently moved to Seattle from southern Oregon.
The word ‘sun’ appears eight times in Richard II. I find its first mention deeply moving. It comes after Richard has banished Henry Bolingbroke from England. “Your will be done: this must my comfort be, / That sun that warms you here shall shine on me, / And those his golden beams to you here lent / Shall point on me, and gild my banishment.”
The scope of this statement is stunning. The idea that wherever in the world he goes the same sun shining on England will be shining on him is nothing less than cosmic. The word ‘cosmic’ does not appear anywhere in Shakespeare’s works, but that’s the word for it.
‘Cosmic’ comes from Greek ‘kosmikos,’ meaning “of the universe.”  The statement reveals a great deal about Henry Bolingbroke’s character. It foreshadows his way to the throne in the regal breadth of its fullness and latitude, and implies (perhaps unknowingly) the relativity of wealth and power. England isn’t the only game in town.
As the play proceeded, I grew hotter, and began looking longingly at the wall of the amphitheater: a small thin strand of shadow appeared at its base. I looked at the sun. It was still high in the sky. It was doubtful that it would lower enough in the next half hour to lengthen that small thin band into a broad swath of cooling air.
In Act III, scene iii, Richard languishes in Flint Castle, in Wales, powerless, without an army. Bolingbroke still respects the guy: “See, see” he says, genuinely excited, “King Richard himself doth appear, / As doth the blushing discontented sun / From out the fiery portal of the east, / When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / To dim his glory and to stain the track / Of his bright passage to the occident.”
‘Occident’ comes in a bit awkwardly at the end, a rather clunky word, clunkier than ‘west,’ but ‘occident’ rhymes with ‘bent’ and ‘west’ does not.
It’s now late in the play I’m getting dizzy and a little nauseous from the direct sunlight pounding its way into my head. I hope I don’t get sunburned on the top of my head. I check periodically to reassure myself that I have enough hair to prevent sunburn. I don’t feel reassured. It feels pretty thin up there.
The play ends and we get up from our bath towel. It feels good to get some movement into my body. I hand Henry Bolingbroke a ten-dollar bill. He thanks me, smiles, and leaves to accept donations from others getting their things together.
The performance in the park, staged by Green Stage, was streamlined to fit within a two-hour timeframe. Yet strangely, one of the speeches included in their production was excluded from the 2012 British television film version of Richard II, with Ben Whishaw playing Richard II and Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke. This is Scene ii from Act II and depicts the Queen interacting with Richard’s friends Bushy and Bagot. The scene is expendable in terms of the plot; Richard and his queen don’t interact until deep into the play. There is nothing to suggest what their relationship is like. Most recent productions suggest Richard is gay. He appears to be hanging out with his male friends most of the time. The Queen is an afterthought. But this is unintentional. She really does love Richard, and her anxiety about his future is very movingly displayed. Bushy’s attempt at making her feel less apprehensive is an astonishingly insightful speech. “Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,” he tells her, “Which shows like grief itself, but is not so; For Sorrow’s eye, glazed with blinding tears, / Divides one thing entire to many objects, / Like perspectives which, rightly gazed upon, / Show nothing but confusion.”
“It may be so,” the Queen answers, “but yet my inward soul / Persuades me it is otherwise… As, though on thinking on no thought I think, / Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink.”
“Heavy nothing.” That’s brilliant. She knows her anxiety is illusory, a product of the mind run amok, perspectives awry, everything distorted, exaggerated, blown out of proportion. It’s strange to find this in a text 422 years old. But why should that be? Why shouldn’t an educated person living in Elizabethan England wonder about the nature of anxiety? And come to a conclusion as brilliant as Richard’s distraught Queen: “For nothing hath begot my something grief, / Or something hath the nothing that I grieve: / Tis in reversion that I do possess, / But what it is that is not yet known what, / I cannot name; ‘tis nameless woe I wot.”
We have a term for it in the 21st century: GAD. Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Which sounds clinical and smacks of health policy issues. I prefer “heavy nothing.” But try to get a prescription for that.





Friday, July 14, 2017

Lassitude Of Twisting Quintessence


Camel camaraderie away like bones in densely mixed tongues. Plop cat of chaos paint. Street on the roof of my shoulder where the pavement is speed. Body pins falling from an edge of morning. The weary emissary crosses the field. A church bell rings. Religious practices are charming if they don’t pinch too much or provoke guerrilla warfare. Bob Kaufman crouches in my heart, a forgotten corner I didn’t know I had until he stumbled into it, a brilliant maniac waiting to be loved.
I get a bang out of cashmere. Perception is easy. It’s also bugs.
Grimace talk chair. Swarm and swirl and swirl and swarm and hold my eyes in this sentence long enough to read what is coming next which is blinding in its brightness. I am coming toward you in ashes. The beauty of ash is primordial. Support the rod of wandering. Thursday’s salt, Friday’s sheen. Heaven in a warehouse.
A snap plumps my heft into operation. I constrained an imponderable crack to say obstetrics to you and mean it. And I do I mean to stroll to the end and make another beginning out of moss. Innocence adapts to figures of speech. Metaphors set up camp in Romania.
I stand here in your café riveted to your definitions of sluice. The snow is an embodiment of heaven and I can understand its presence in the spoons, but the fugue that just went by was big as a truck and hinted at molybdenum as a possible resource in the future of our confusion.
Pile up the food of thought on pallets of mimosa butter. The stone makes the toad go up the mountain in a chivalry of popping thunder. Queen Mab in her greenery swarms the climbing she does with touch and artery. Flashing pins of complicated speed cause the manuscript in the attic to get Mustang and dive through the air on San Francisco hills. Later, after breakfast, the words convene in glass and I feel the obstinacy of the window when I photograph the turbulence of the aurora borealis as it existed three million years ago in an agate.
I’m writing an enigmatic mimosa, a mundane welcome ticket for the velvet hippopotamus of my congenial rage. I’m foggy, traveling in a misty state. Nothing is clear except wax. The wind climbs my capharnaüm. The introspection rivals the transcendence of a hinge.
The door opens and here we are.
I need the elf because the ice cracks. The caboose has a frog for rent, and a calm green moment that bubbles out of a floorboard. I’m visiting the barge right now and forcing myself to pray for the penumbral irritations I’ve managed to gather over a lifetime of irritations. The penumbral irritations are special because they exist in a timeless margin of funny brochures.
The locals say the skin of the Colorado River Toad makes a good hallucinogen, but my irritations assume a life of their own and continue as words, pulling images and thoughts behind them, forging new associations, new immensities of penumbral art, new irritations, new speculations, new fitting rooms for the mall, which is deserted, thanks to Amazon, and a dreadful economy. Hence, words, which have an exchange value of their own, I don’t know what, bitcoins, recommendations, comments on Facebook, seesaws, patents, descriptions of pain, the strange behaviors of cats.
They say the lake is garish and extroverted, but I found it hanging from a branch of the words, braided and abstract.
Lassitude of twisting quintessence. Sunset cloud sleeping in the orchard. The breath of the poem is a perusal of Eden floating in a fog of absence. Frankly, the handkerchief is not the panacea I thought it was but just another busy conception of dirt. The sky offers its sloth in a crate on the shore. We can use it to build our conversation.
Or not.
Hey, here’s a boat. This makes my grammar pink. It does it to cinnamon and then crumbles into upheaval. Garments are often green but the pretzels weren’t and that makes everything harked or something. Crinkled like a scrotum.
Packed with straw.
Children behave. That’s what they say when we’re together. Watch how you play.
I don’t remember much after that. There was a knife on the bottom. I didn’t know quite what to do, so I just flared into talk and added myriad subtleties of tone to my voice to confuse the crowd into thinking it was a form of invocation. You can tell them back home it didn’t quite work. I’m out on bail now. It’s spring, and that rusty old hook is still in me. I can’t quite cut loose. Not just yet. There are still some things I need to do.
I want to magnify the magnetic air until the words in my mouth catch fire. You know? I’m not superstitious but there’s going to come a time when I’ve got to spit them all out like chrome buckles on Attic Street. William Hurt hurries with a hurt back to a Paris taxi. They stop a few blocks later to pick up Geena Davis. This is a typical afternoon for me, my dazzling teeth gliding through an almanac of hope and despair while my shoulders brace for the next burden. This is the membrane of my sparkling world. See the needle nail in the wax man? It’s the B side of the aforementioned membrane. The water shouts meaning at a revelation purged of cows and the scribbles in the sand murmur of impersonal pressures. The mind likes these things. Creosote and ice cream, the ocean rolling in and out.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Foolish Fire


How many things that we consider ours are external to us, come from elsewhere? My body, for example. Did I create it? No. Not at all. My eyes, hands, fingers, skin, bones, feet, nose, ears are all someone else's invention. Or, at least, the fruit of some other force. It would never have occurred to me to think of such things in response to the kind of adaptations I would be making in this world. I was born into this body. This is where my sense of self resides. I would not have thought of that, even. A me. Who, or what, proposed this? An identity, a sense of personhood? The universe, of course. The universe wanted to become self-aware in order to ask questions about itself, why and how it was created, why does anything exist, where did it come from, if there was nothing before the universe then who or what created the universe? And so the universe created creatures like ourselves and gave us all that particular sensation of self-awareness that inevitably begins to wonder why it exists. I realize that’s a huge presumption on my part, imagining why the universe brought us into existence, but why else would I wonder about all this? I'm certainly not the first, or the only one. We all do. Everybody wonders. What the fuck? What am I doing here?
More importantly, where am I going to be when I’m not here? Where am I going to be when I’m not being me anymore? When I’ve been. He was here. Now he’s there. Where? 
Today, ‘here’ is a desk in a bedroom in a Seattle neighborhood on Planet Earth. Doing is doing this. Writing, wondering, weighing, weaving, conceiving, being.
I’m a wrapper. I’m wrapped in skin. But the me, or the sense of me that is within me, that seems to be in my head, viewing the events of my life like an air traffic controller at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, is what? An illusion?
Could be. I wouldn’t be surprised. None of it feels all that real. I mean, it’s fleeting, for starts. One minute it’s now and the next minute it’s not now. It’s in the future. I’m in the future. Brooding about the past. Which I’ve also been told is unreal. Well, tell that to the past, because I’ve got to say, the past feels pretty fucking real.
Anyone who has taken drugs knows that most of life is pretty much bullshit. The important part of living is to wonder about why one is living.
Having a sense of wonder is wonderful. Don’t lose that. It’s easy to lose. Shit jobs will rip it out of you. Life’s ridiculous routines will kill it. Maintain a sense of wonder and life will be far richer. I know, it’s hard. You finish a shift of work and feel like shit. It’s going to be hard to find that sense of wonder again. I used to do it with beer and whisky but that got ugly. Had to stop. Now I do it with poetry. Shakespeare, Rimbaud, Dylan.
Both Dylans.
Don’t Look Back, 1965, Dylan sits on a couch being interviewed. He holds a giant lightbulb in his hand. An English reporter asks him what his message is. “My message?,” he responds. “Keep a good head and always carry a lightbulb.”
Lightbulbs: they never cease to amaze me. Electricity. Jesus. I don’t even know what it is. But it powers everything. Lights, radios, TV, computers, baseboard heater, hairdryer, stove.
I just now changed a bulb. I replaced the old bulb with a 60-watt LED (Light Emitting Diode) made by Sylvania. There’s information about it on the back of the box, in English and French. “Light Facts.” Données d’éclaire.
Brightness / Luminosité: 800 lumens.
Life / Durée de vie: 13.7 years / ans. Based on 3 hrs / day. Basé sur une consommation de 3h / jour.
Wonder is hard, but being honest with oneself is harder. Clarity is tough. Illusions are comforting, immoderate in remedy but impervious to truth. They can be dangerous. They can get you into trouble in places where the splinters and creosote are real. Insidious things, illusions. You can have illusions and not know you have illusions. It’s easy to think an illusion is the truth when it’s not the truth at all. Or partially truth, partially fiction. A mutation of truth, a viscous little critter accommodating contraries like a lawyer swaying a jury with warmth and color.
Have you ever laid awake at night writing and rewriting scripts for things you plan to say and do the next day? And then the day comes and it all comes out forced and weird because your acting isn’t that great and the lines you wrote in the liquid of night got stuck in the clay of day.
And, you know, self-consciousness, that fucks things up.
“There's not even room enough to be anywhere / It's not dark yet, but it's getting there / Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain / Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain,” sings Dylan on my headphones tonight.
It’s easier to go over lines from the past and make changes because that theatre never shuts down the curtain is forever going up on one scene after another. It’s like having Tennessee Williams in your head night and day. Ava Gardner chopping the shit out of a lobster in a Mexican kitchen. Richard Burton walking barefoot over broken glass.
Decimals don’t cut it. Everything has to be large. Even in the margins. Especially in the margins. Nothing but small talk goes on in the living room. If you want to see something between the hips and lower ribs you’ve got to go into the margins.
According to the message on our side mirror, things will have often seem larger than they actually are. Which got me into trouble one afternoon parallel parking in front of a Tesla. If you’re going to negotiate a tight space don’t do it around a Tesla. Do it elsewhere. Go around the block if you need to. You can’t stretch a car but you can stretch a few minutes to fit the right kind of space.
Lord knows the vast majority of narratives I’ve got running in my head at any given moment are (at best) distortions, exaggerations, misconceptions, misinterpretations or delusions. Ignus fatuus: foolish fire.
There are memories (and what memory isn’t, ultimately, a narrative?), that have acquired a vintage. Things I never thought about until recently. Things that occurred forty to fifty years ago.
Like the summer of 1967 when I quit my job at Boeing deburring machine parts and returned to San José, California to go to school. I loved that summer. I spent a lot of it in a friend’s garage listening to the Velvet Underground.
Or the poetry class I took with Michael Palmer in the fall and winter of 1971 at San José State and heard names like Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett for the first time.
Or hitchhiking across France with my ex-wife in May, 1972, and going to a gypsy festival in a little town south of Arles called Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and watching four horsemen ride a black doll on a palette into the Mediterranean to reenact the arrival of the three Marys (Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary of Clopas) on the shore of southern France. The black doll is a representation of Saint Sarah, the patron saint of the gypsies, who, it is said, was either the Egyptian servant of the three Marys, or a local woman who welcomed them as they came to shore. What I most vividly remember was the heat of all the candles in the crypt of the fortress church where the statue of Saint Sarah is kept in a niche, notes and prayers pinned to her.
I remember the night in Paris in January, 2015, when Roberta and I left our hotel room to go looking for a restaurant to have dinner and seeing soldiers everywhere in camouflaged battle fatigues carrying assault rifles and wondering what that was all about and discovering later on our hotel TV that the offices at Charlie Hebdo had been attacked and twelve people had been killed by two gunmen, members of an Islamist terror group.
And then there’s coincidence.
Today, while waiting in a doctor’s office, I read a prose poem by Francis Ponge about the word ‘cruche,’ no other word like it, ‘cruche,’ which is a clay pitcher, and thanks to the ‘u’ in the middle the word est plus creux que creux, more hollow than hollow, and how easily they break, how careful you need to be when walking with one, how  -  if it drops and breaks  -  the shards look like flower petals. I finish the poem and pick up an issue of Architectural Digest lying on the table to my immediate left. It’s a thick magazine with glossy pages. I open it to an article about a Chicago ceramicist named Theaster Gates, who stands “inside his sprawling studio….a ceramics atelier littered with pots.”
Weird.
Who, or what, weaves the narratives of our lives? Is it one big sweeping novel or a collection of short stories with no particular theme holding it together other than our own privately weeping selves?
“I Forgot Ars Poetica,” writes Eileen Tabios in her memoir titled (with exquisite irony) Amnesia: Somebody’s Memoir. “I forgot my poetry is going to change the world. I forgot my words are healing. I forgot my words are apples infused with cheerful cinnamon. I forgot my words are holy. I forgot my words are going to lift you  -  all of you!  -  towards joy.”
And those, my friend, are words to live by.




Friday, July 7, 2017

My Palmyra Moments


I am the interval between what I am and what I am not, between the rhythm of my blood and the baritone of my bones, between the weight of my body and the weightlessness of being. I’m aware that I exist and conscious that I do not exist. I see myself in the activity of birds and I see myself as a shovel leaning against the wall in a garage. I’m the knot that comes undone in sleep and swirls of incense rising from a stick of sandalwood. I’m free when I’m restrained and restrained when I’m free.
It’s a fine balance. Some things may be assumed and cultivated in rumination but ultimately the real truth is sandwiched in moments of epiphany and shadow, the chiaroscuro of our daily life.
There’s that moment shortly following dinner when I have to rise to do the dishes. I agree with Louis CK: there is no better luxury than sitting. Sitting feels great. So when it’s time to stand I have a fresh new challenge on my hands.
Or I should say my feet. And legs. That strain on the anterior and posterior thigh muscles. That tension on the Sartorius, which sounds like a Roman emperor, and the Vastus Lateralus, which sounds like a place on the moon.
If all goes well and there are no cramps or dizziness I am standing. I have a range of view. I can collect my thoughts. I can formulate strategies of movement.
Standing is a reminder of a number of things: age, weight, gravity, the dull iron prod of doing what is practical and necessary because that is what characterizes most of existence, and for which we must stand, and trudge forward, carrying babies and lumber, bricks and books and barrels and crates.
Sitting, taking a load off, is a sweet surrender to the cushions and springs that occasionally offer themselves to our tired adult bodies. The chair is an easy appeasement. But a couch is wonder itself, a place not only to sit, but to lie, to spread oneself into a mass of abdication, into a quiescent state of letting go, of letting oneself drop into the soothing listlessness of oblivion.
The couch is where we eat dinner, read books, and watch movies. The evening tends to go very quickly, as does time itself, whatever time is, it does tend to move forward, dragging me with it, dragging me to some edge where I will inevitably one day fall. Or rise. Who know what it will be. But I’m on my way, as are we all, even the youngest, the freshly born, welcome to Planet Earth, it once had elephants, and now they’re almost gone.
At night, in bed, I link our radio to a tablet via Bluetooth and listen to podcasts, Marc Maron, Greg Proops, Jen Kirkman, though lately we’ve been listening to a lot of Eckhart Tolle, lectures given at various venues. He’s a talker. He can talk.
Tolle has a gentle, soothing voice, a slight German accent, and a calm, measured pace. His ideas are clear. His explanations are lucid. He also has a wonderful sense of humor, often finding comedy in something he has just said.
Tolle’s main point is that all psychological pain emanates from a construction of the self that is illusionary. The self is a burden. All problems come from the self. To paraphrase a Zen anecdote, when a Zen master was asked “what is the essence of Zen,” the master answered “No self, no problem.”
If we are able to see the incidents in our lives that give us the most chronic pain clearly for what they are, as plain, uncomplicated events, as occurrences as simple as a ball rolling across a floor or water falling out of the sky in form of rain, as plain sequential actions without a sense of victimhood or describing them with highly charged words such as ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ and ‘deceit,’ we can free ourselves from the burden of pain that attaches to them.
Sounds good, it all makes sense, I’m all for it, count me in. But man, it ain’t easy to do. Especially for a writer whose whole life has been spent telling stories.
Lately, I’ve been having what I call my Palmyra Moments. When I saw the ancient Roman ruins of Palmyra blown up by jihadists in Syria, it gave me a horrid feeling. I get that same feeling every time I am reminded that Donald Trump is president, or a college education is put out of the reach of the average citizens, or public schools are defunded and/or privatized. When people jokingly boast about not reading books.
These things hurt. How are they related to my sense of self? These are things much larger than me, the guy in the wheelhouse of my skull.
I value books. That’s me. That’s the identity I’ve cobbled together over the years. This is the narrative I’ve chosen to maintain on a day to day basis. The guy who loves books. Who loves to read. Who loves ideas. Who loves to talk about ideas. Who loves words. Ah, words. So many of them, so many things you can do with them. Invent worlds. Unlock philosophies. Expand awareness. Raise the dead.
But isn’t it language getting me into this trouble? William S. Burroughs called language a virus. Is he right? Is my love of poetry and words a form of disease? An influenza? A numinal pneumonia? Divine madness. That’s what Plato called it.
Ok, so if people don’t read, it hurts me because…why? What if I were an entomologist seeking a rare species of butterfly, a creature with a name people couldn’t pronounce much less know anything about. If I derived meaning from such a search the fact that the general public were in ignorance wouldn’t hurt. I wouldn’t expect them to know anything about it.
Isn’t poetry such a creature? A rare form of butterfly?
Let’s put a different spin on it. Let’s say the absence of this butterfly spells disaster for humanity in some way, that it indicates a world so out of ecological balance that doom is right around the corner. It would be important to find that butterfly. People might be cheering me on. It might get a segment on CNN.
But poetry isn’t the same kind of creature. It’s not really a creature at all. It likes being called a creature because poetry feeds on metaphors. The more the metaphors the fatter the poetry.
Poetry doesn’t serve any purpose. That’s the first thing you need to know about it. It does nothing. It doesn’t clean anything, lift anything, or convey anything. It doesn’t prevent wars, end wars, start wars, perpetuate wars, or nourish wars. Which isn’t to say war and poetry are contraries. Sometimes poetry emerges from war. But that’s an accident. I think.
Is it?
Poetry is violent at its core. Real poetry. Authentic poetry. The kind of poetry that will fly off the page and rip your brain to shreds. This phylum of poetry is not for everybody. It should be surrounded by flashing red signs warning people of rogue analogies and rampaging metaphors. If you go to poetry for moments of quiet reflection, gentle little epiphanies to brighten your day, sweet little nougats of lyrical candy for your mind to suck on, you won’t be disappointed, there’s lots of that kind of poetry around, a lot of it getting published all the time. But if you’re looking for the kind of poetry that coruscates up and down your spine like Queen Mab doing wheelies on a Harley Davidson, that kind of poetry is a little harder to find. It doesn’t ride, smart and cosmopolitan, on a glossy page in the New Yorker. It hisses and seethes like pahoehoe. It says what it wants with misanthropic glee. It mutates into B movie blobs of translucent goo. It mocks logic, apes nature, and unshrouds the anguish of punctuation. It parodies the slide of kitchen drawers. It embraces the darkness of caves and carries it in pools of animal fat to the surface of its illumined pleasures. It crystallizes the darkness of rumination into glittery human skulls and mails it all first class to Denmark. It sneaks into books and breeds crustaceans. It is insolent in its presumptions and foolish in its claims. No good can come of it but ramification and ice. It is meaning itself. It is the stone of stone and the leaf of the leaf. It is a face in the lake. And a crack in the mirror. 




Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hound Dog

This day in music (July 1st, 2017), sixty-one years ago, Elvis Presley recorded "Hound Dog." That song blew the top of my head off. I was nine. I connected immediately with that music. The intensity, the attitude, the elation, the rebellion. This guy took it to the edge. At age nine, I didn’t know what ‘it’ was. I sensed it. I grasped it on a visceral level. I knew what this music meant. I knew what it was capable of doing. And for that reason, my parents hated it. But since the guy was on Ed Sullivan performing between a guy spinning plates and a guy talking to his hand he must be ok. So I got to watch. I was mesmerized. Riveted. This was the best thing since Davy Crockett. I wanted more. But I would have to wait another seven years.
Presley’s next big hit was “Love Me Tender,” which was a huge disappointment. I hated it. After the electrifying lift I got out of “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender” was a capitulation. It was tame. It was goopy. It was dead-on-arrival. Colonel Parker knew what he was doing. He wanted to rope in as many people as possible. Another “Hound Dog” would’ve alienated Presley from a huge segment of the population. A nice safe song like “Love Me Tender” was saying “look, he’s one of us, he’s not a threat, he’s cuddly as a teddy bear.”
Presley would be singing “let me be your teddy bear” in June, 1957. It’s got a perky, upbeat rhythm and a simple melody line, and even though a clear sexuality is there, a tiny millimeter beneath the surface, it’s still largely a concession to commercial acceptability.
My parents weren’t outwardly racist. But they wouldn’t let me listen to the rhythm ‘n blues selections on the jukebox. I wonder what they had imagined. Did they think that music was going to inspire me with a sense of unbridled joy and intensity? That as soon as my ball-sack lowered I would be impregnating dozens of teenage girls before I was 15? Well, they were partly right. If I’d been allowed to listen to Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Elmore James at home, I would’ve accessed some powerful emotions that otherwise lay buried until 1963, the year “Be My Baby” and “Just One Look” came out. Rock ‘n roll, that monster from the swampy, primordial deeps of the human soul, had come out swinging and swaying in sexual ecstasies again. Delirium and fun were back on the map.
I had wrongly assumed that “Hound Dog,” which was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in August, 1952, and released in late February, 1953, had come out of the sad, misty Mississippi delta and was authentically black. It’s not. It was written by two Jewish guys, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I still don’t know what to make of that.
Where do songs come from? Where in the world did Willie Dixon’s “Insane Asylum” come from? That’s one mysterious song. The emotion is so intense. It’s a song of tragic import, but he takes it so far into the realm of melodrama it almost seems to have a comedic sense underlying it. It would be laughable if it weren’t so compelling. When Koko Taylor begins singing, “when your love has ceased to be,” I get shivers. Her voice cuts through me and nearly brings me to tears. The emotion is so real, so gripping. It would open the cruelest heart to tenderness.
Though maybe not Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader from Kentucky with his health “kill as many people as possible” care bill.
Neil Young’s mysterious, apocalyptic “After the Gold Rush” was inspired by a screenplay written by Dean Stockwell after Stockwell made a trip to Peru to be in Dennis Hopper’s film The Last Movie.
“Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” were all written in one day while Young was stricken with a fever from the flu.
It’s 11:27 a.m. July 2nd and I’m listening to Tommy James and the Shondells sing “Crimson and Clover.” The song takes me back to 1968. The song was released in December of that year but I don’t remember hearing it. I have specific references for some songs. I was on the freeway, the 405 to Renton, when I first heard “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and went crazy with joy. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” inspired by Keith Richards’s gardener, was rock ‘n roll gold. I drew a raw savage power from that song. Every time I heard it I felt like a berserker arriving on the shores of Normandy, landing on the back of a flame-throwing dragon. And to think the song evolved out of an off-handed remark he made to Mick Jagger about Jack Dyer, Richards’s gardener sloshing past the window one morning. “What’s that,” said Jagger. “Jack, jumpin Jack,” Richards answered.
I connect with much sillier “Crimson and Clover” more now than I did when it came out in December, 1968. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s pure nostalgia. “Crimson and Clover” has a trashy, psychedelic vibe that is hard to describe. Its effects are corny, the music is so-so, the lyrics are lame. But somehow it works. I have to say that Joan Jet’s cover in 1982 really sold it to me, especially when she gives out that “yeah,” hot as a knife blade heated over a fire, and follows it up with the huskily uttered “I want to do everything,” which is one of the sexiest things I’ve heard in music since the disappearance of Janis Joplin.
’68 was a good year for music. Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Laura Nyro, Aretha Franklin, Joani Mitchell, Iron Butterfly, Fairport Convention, Otis Redding, Taj Mahal, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Chambers Brothers and James Brown all came out with killer albums.
I have strong memories of “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group in the winter of ’68, and the Beatles White Album, which seemed to decorate that entire year with glass onions and guns. In 1968 it seemed like Tommy James was trying to connect with the hippie market (which had, indeed, been coopted and become a market by then) though he struck me more as a working class greaser than a hippie from upper suburbia.
One of my favorite songs now is “Always Alright” by Alabama Shakes which I first heard in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. I like the way it splashes around and bounces and delivers an off-handed “I don’t give a fuck” feeling. It’s masterfully sung by Brittany Howard, whose voice is like a wildcat, hot and supple and quick to surprise.
I haven’t heard one dud by Alabama Shakes yet.
Another song I’m wild about is “Bloodhounds on my Trail” by The Black Angels, a neo-psychedelic rock band from Austin, Texas. It drives through me like a John Deere tractor. I suspect the title, at least, is a reference to Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on my Trail.”
And so we’ve come full circle, from hound dog to bloodhound, bloodhound to hellhound, and crimson and clover in between.



Saturday, July 1, 2017

What's Up Dock


Dropped by Five Corners Hardware to pick up some Gorilla Glue. I mention to the young woman working at the counter how nicely cool it is in the store. It’s a hot Seattle day. A rare phenomenon. She tells me it’s 124 degrees in Las Vegas. The asphalt is bubbling. 
Nicolas Cage lives in Vegas. I wonder why. What has attracted him to Las Vegas? Why has he chosen to live in Las Vegas rather than Los Angeles, or New York, or Chicago? It occurs to me that not only do I not know Nicolas Cage, I know absolutely nothing about Nicolas Cage, other than the roles he has filled in the movies, such as Ben Sanderson, the suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, or Cameron Poe, the ex-Army Ranger finishing a ten-year sentence for killing a man and being flown to Alabama where he is to be released aboard a C-123K transport prison aircraft in the movie Con Air, which came out in the summer of 1997.
Nicolas Cage is good at playing troubled, passionate men, whose triggered intensities lead them into desperate situations. I wonder if that has anything to do with Nicolas Cage’s decision to live in Las Vegas, where he is friends with Carrot Top. 
I come home with the glue and fix the white trim on the upper shelf of the refrigerator, which cracked. 
Roberta swabs some glue into the crack with a Q-tip and I squeeze the shelf. The glue dries quickly. I lean the shelf against the coffee table. 
I mention the Beatles at an informal meeting of neighbors. I do not recall the precise context in which I rather awkwardly extended this information, but I think it had something to do with my age and arthritis and that, more than fifty years later, the Beatle’s music was still fresh and engaging, a fact I found to be relevant of something, I’m not sure what, perhaps that time and aging are illusory on some level, that despite one’s wrinkles and arthritic joints the spirit can remain vital and young, full of élan and spontaneity. Unfortunately, the awkwardness of the situation did not permit that kind of elaboration. 
But it’s true. The computer allows an access to the past that seems quite within our reach, almost palpable. 
How strange, for instance, to watch a Beatles video. I listen to “A Day in the Life” and the accompanying video in which the Beatles appear to be at a recording session with a symphonic orchestra, the Beatles all full of smiles and laughs and eccentric clothes, the members of the orchestra in formal wear, Keith Richards and Donovan visiting, a young woman leaping about. The time is drenched in nostalgia for me. Compared to the current dystopic plutocratic police state in which we now live the time seems strangely carefree, as insouciant and charmed as the Beatle’s music. Of course, if you listen closely, you can also hear an undercurrent of menace, such as the man who blew his mind out in a car. That doesn’t sound at all good. 
I find great irony in our access to the past via computer and smartphone, a time when there was much more community. It's very easy to communicate with people now, at least electronically, and yet everyone is so isolated. Why? What happened? Why does so much information seem to separate people rather than bring them together? Why is everything so fragmented and steeped in insult and conflict? 
There is also less privacy. The loss of privacy makes people feel more isolated. Fearful. Afraid to freely express themselves.
These are the judgments of a private man. A private man in a public medium. 
One frequently overhears the phrase “don’t judge me” these days. No one wants to be accountable. No one wants to make a statement. Except for tattoos. One’s skin appears to be the parchment for one’s history and declarations. What do the symbols mean? You could keep a conversation going for quite a while with someone and their tattoos.
Yesterday I saw a man in a wheelchair, his shirt off, covered in tattoos head to feet, getting a new tattoo just outside the new KEXP building at the Seattle Center Fairgrounds.
I watch the French news. The lead story is Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to Donald Trump to visit Paris during Bastille Day, to which Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former president of the Left Party and founder of the progressive movement La France Insoumise, for which he was elected a Member of Parliament recently representing the Bouches-du-Rhône, a highly populated and diverse department which includes Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, strongly objects, saying that Monsieur Trump is violent and has no business being there.
The world has become a very strange place. Or should I say humanity has become a very weird species. My brain is inundated with enigmas. Little enigmas. Big fat enigmas. Beefy enigmas. Galactic enigmas. Cloudy enigmas. Enigmas running on love gasoline. Enigmas growing like vines around an aqueduct. Enigmas in embryonic underwear. Enigmas riding bicycles wrapped in Eiffel Towers. 
How many molecules does it take to make a mollusk moral and a proverb elegant? 
I never met a molecule I didn’t like. 
I don’t understand the sadism of billionaire politicians. I don’t understand the mechanisms of denial. I don’t understand the persistence of delusional thinking.
“The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves,” observed Fernando Pessoa. “Absurdity is divine.” 
Do you prefer pulling a door open or pushing a door open? I prefer pulling. If you push the door there is a greater chance of hitting someone. Revolving doors confuse me. I get a little anxious when I approach a revolving door. I feel that it is something you have to plunge into. Like knowing when to begin singing a song after the band has started. I cannot do that. That is how I know I am not a musician.
But I am absurd. Who isn’t? 
Here is my diagnosis: the lake is absurd. The waves are absurd. The water is absurd. The shores are absurd. The canoes are absurd. The reflections are absurd. But the dock? The dock is not absurd. The dock is totally ridiculous.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I Have Answers For The Furniture


Shout a blatant sugar to the planet. The map is a drink of mountains and lakes, a tree swarming with pewter terrines and can-openers. Is this Puerto Rico? An armchair is a place for reflection. Chalk stitched together with icicles. 
If I go away it’s only because I have a pain in my heart that digs assault and I must mull it over in the parking lot with some purpose. The raggedness of hay awakens the stone of misnomer. I return home in time to see a philosophy give birth to a meatball. A sheet of paper lugs a knee across the room and deposits it in a ledger where everything morose and tattooed is given a description and a fork. 
The bath salts rest in Hinduism. 
Why is there no income for making glass spurs? Are there no glass cowboys? No glass horses?
There is exultation in lipstick. If I whisper equations to a Kentucky still I will win an absent metal by molding microcosms of spearmint and delta. This all takes place in a moccasin. The pamphlet said so. It came in the mail. It glittered. I plunged into it. I took a zoom lens and focused on the buffalo in the plaster. That’s when my muscles gave me movement and the museum finally opened. 
Buy a banana, my splatter dumpling, I said to no one in particular. Sell yourself. Bristle like an ombudsman on the shore of our understanding. Become a cosmetic for the sorrows of our language, a red engine translating the propane of transcendence into heaves of rapturous induction. I am the grammar that you worry about. I point my writing tools to a tricky purpose and let all hell break loose. I manage by an overflow of everything that the highway puts into emotion. I drive a long thermometer. I have a dog. His name is Hoax. You’ll find a gun in the glovebox. It’s loaded with truth. 
There are moments of twisting a handkerchief into a prayer. Spread your eyes into the landscape and wish for mushrooms. Can I say something? Your éclairs are delicious. Other experiments have revealed that property is a property of property. And has properties. 
There is a reason the refrigerator is in the garden. Spirits wear collar studs, you know. I have gleefully selected a very sexual float for tonight’s entertainment. I can’t tell you the weight of amber but I know how to eat a cookie. It begins with a stimulus and ends with a groan. A singular thought jangles into the paragraph like a rhinoceros dressed in rubies. I’ve seen this sort of thing before. It is generally the result of a longshoremen strike, but you never know. There might also be a festival later, one with heft and polish, like the stubble of the stratosphere on a good day in July. 
The goldfish hit the pavement with everything they’ve got. It’s an effective signal. Our ride is here. It’s horizontal in the light, but oval in the shadows, where the enigmas bubble. 
Were you expecting something different? An answer? A cure for language? A sack of carefully gathered mushrooms? A large granite rock glistening with moisture in the middle of a rainforest? I was, too, to be honest. But all I found was this Black and Decker drill. It’s a 12 volt. Not a 20 volt. But I think it’ll get the job done.
What was the job? Does anyone remember? 
There is a certain resonance to the banjo that belies the spirit of the grapefruit. At least, that’s the kind of spin I like to put on things. It smells of employment. 
Are we together on this? Good. Let’s get the convulsions going. I have answers for the furniture. Some of them fly, some of them don’t. Some just diffuse into push-ups and chrome. 
Chrome might look good on this car but the gasoline has no chin. Lightning bolts have been hurled forward to anticipate the unfettered behavior of children. Language returns to its imagery and the imagery returns to its trapeze. 
And swings back and forth.
The greatest realities are usually the most obvious, which makes them hard to find. All the morbid disturbances of the intellect are due to coupons. 
I have the skull and skill to know a skull is skillful. That a sponge takes on moisture and that a sink is a good place to do the dishes. That the breadboard makes a soft thud when a knife goes quickly through a loaf of bread and that a triangle is different from a delicatessen. That a certain amount of energy is necessary for being and that being is often sticky. 
That the furrows in this soil mean that something has been planted. Or is about to be planted. That the dirt has been carefully tilled. That a part of each year’s profit is regularly put into farm improvement, so that the hillsides show little or no signs of erosion, and the barns and silos are brightly painted structures of good proportions. That the rain smells good. And the mail arrives in the afternoon. But not always. The war continues, but the herbs help. The most everyday things here speak of things unheard. How do I know the true interpretation of a foghorn? I have a loud metallic ringing in my collarbone.