Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Meditation On A Hair Brush


Funny thing to do in the morning: brush my hair. Sweep those bristles over my head and put everything into order. Become presentable. Less savage in my appearance.
I like order. To a degree. No need to get carried away. But a little symmetry here and there, a little balance, a little harmony, a little sense of control are good things.
Most control is illusory. But I’ll take whatever I can get. It’s comforting to have a sense of agency. Even if it’s only the agency of hairbrush swept over one’s head.
We live in a universe of such spectacular distances and mysteries that a little thing like doing the dishes can make existence feel a little more meaningful and a little less haphazard. At least I’m not an asteroid, a rock on some arbitrary trajectory. I have skin and blood and legs and arms and a pair of glasses and a mug of coffee and a trajectory that feels somewhat purposeful, a narrative of growth and disappointment, fulfillment and frustration.
Every day’s pageant brings something new. Sometimes a lot of new, sometimes a shade or hue of new. Sometimes I can float through it buoyed by the right amount of insights, percipience, platitudes and drugs. And sometimes it’s overwhelming. Can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Can’t get a moment of peace. That’s when a hair brush can seem like a solid piece of information, an easy way to put things in order. To put something – anything – in order. Even if it’s just fucking hair.
Life is never any one thing; it’s always a blend, a mingling of having and not having, reachable and unreachable. But there’s always a degree of agency. There’s always at least one option, one alternative available. Sometimes I’m Charles Bukowski. Sometimes I’m Marcel Proust. And surrounding it all is the daily enigma, the daily ambiguities, the churning burbling bubbling brew that is the stew of life, seasoned internally by emotional cacophony.
I never use a comb. Combs get stuck in my hair. I find hygiene in general to be a bit of a nuisance. But you can’t go around looking like a mess. You can, but it doesn’t produce happy results and inspire warm handshakes.
Articles of personal hygiene discovered in ancient graves are often indications of social status. Combs discovered in archeological deposits from the ancient market of York, England, were made of reindeer antlers. Combs were also essential in removing head lice. Thirty years ago, eight of the eleven first-century combs discovered in the Judean desert by the parasitologist Kostas Mumcuoglu and anthropologist Joseph Zias have revealed ten lice and twenty-seven lice eggs hidden in the fine teeth of the combs.
And then there’s the whole question of laundry. But let’s not get into that. I can already begin to feel the tedium permeate the day with its implacable monotony. Monotony can be a pain, but it isn’t always bad. The monotony of a job requiring routine tasks can sometimes create an agreeable trance, as can a long stretch of highway more or less free of traffic.
The mind craves novelty. Sooner or later, the monotony of a job or a long drive will have a dulling, soporific effect on the mind. You’ll need to stop at a greasy spoon just to hear the clatter of silverware and the sizzle of grease on a grill and the muffled intonations of a quiet conversation. God forbid there won’t be kids running around, or a drunk complaining about the eschatology of toast.
What is a trance? Is it anything like a hair brush?
According to Wikipedia, a trance is “an abnormal state of wakefulness in which a person is not self-aware and is either altogether unresponsive to external stimuli (but nevertheless capable of pursuing and realizing an aim) or is selectively responsive in following the directions of the person (if any) who has induced the trance.”
There’s always a part of ourselves not altogether present, not altogether alert to the exigencies and peculiarities of the environment, but in accord with another dimension, another region of indeterminate phenomena. Why is that? It’s a little maladaptive.
“Strange things happen in the mind of man,” observed Paul Bowles in his novel The Spider’s House.No matter what went on outside, the mind forged ahead, manufacturing its own adventures for itself, and who was to know where reality was, inside or out?
Clearly, something is going on. Something sublime. Something like the thunder of a waterfall, even if it’s just a brush, a brush with a brush, I know beauty when I see it. Why is consciousness imbued with thoughts of an elsewhere, as if the ghostly aura surrounding all language provided a sense of presence at the far end of the bar when no one is actually there.
But let’s not get lost in the clouds. I don’t want to spook the cattle. Sometimes a hair brush is just a hair brush. And pulling things out of the air is as simple as speech. A white-feathered dream-catcher in a white Ford sedan. Atmospheres and maps. The solace of fire, the requiems of fog. The glimmer of the Seine in August under the Pont Neuf in Paris on my laptop screen while I wait for the blood to re-enter my leg so that I can get up and get something to drink. And brush this night out of my hair. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ought Clot


Mouths are for globules, tiny balls of sound. Think of that. Or this. This is fire. Hypothetical elm. Painting armchairs sources it from the voice. Twig bitumens a slosh of the siren. The rain that I babble after meandering. The handlers candle it below the beard declaring plugs. Transcendentally I feel the implications they operate are flaking. I believe the genre imposed glitters below it thickening into theater, like an ion, or lion. A word is like a maple bar I crushed with my mouth. A few trees whose penumbra grumbles above the percussion begin floating around in a bucket of words. The world demanded technique so I got naked and cleaned around it. An orchard extruded from my proverb. I decided to birch the purpose of it with dribble. We are nascent who hammer out an identity and fill it with syndication. Transformation I’ve wedged in my book. The parrots there sheen the circumference with ambit. I await the arabesques. Sift the seeds and eat it there. We’re stirring a perversity machine. Subtlety clouds my strike of Hinduism. Piles through convulsion unraveling a battle fought with sequins. There where the bristles explain the pink beginning of a scalp. We mean there’s a calculus reflected by walking. I’m a voice beside the pallet the stars grant. We stumble around without tasting life. The willows are anarchic if nothing else. I pick the sidewalk on which I itch the least. This whisper cuts through time and touches ground. I rope the sunlight for the mosaic and it changes ought to auks.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Did The Vikings Invent Surrealism?


Did the Vikings invent surrealism? In a word, no. Far from it. Viking culture was brutal, every bit as violent and cruel as all the stereotypes: gruff, beetle-browed, muscular men sailing dragon-prowed longships intent on plundering the riches of neighboring countries and territories. But here is where all the contradictions begin; as savage and inhuman as they were in battle and plunder, they produced wonderful art, elaborate wood carvings and delicate metalwork, intricate interlacing patterns and fabulous beasts, and most notably fantastically beautiful ships as perfect for sailing on the open sea as they were for navigating the banks and shoals of rivers.
Their literary culture was renown for its wit and lively description, its vivid narratives and striking images. It was an oral culture, requiring a prodigious memory and rhythms and sonorities powerful enough to endure in the breath of its scalds.
The bulk of what we know of the details of Viking lore is captured in two main books: the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. The material in the Poetic Edda was garnered from anonymous sources in the thirteenth century, who drew from an even older source called the Codex Regius, an Icelandic codex in which many old Norse poems are preserved. The production of the Prose Edda is thanks to a thirteenth century Icelandic chieftain named Snorri Sturluson. The Poetic Edda, sometimes referred to as the Elder Edda, is the older of the two. The Prose Edda, a.k.a. Younger Edda, is considered the fullest and most detailed source of Norse Mythology.
The two Eddas are filled with stories of treachery, trickery, cunning and betrayal. Competition and strength are main obsessions, as is wisdom. All the gods and heroes of these tales crave wisdom as much as strength and prowess in battle. Odin, the chief god of Norse Mythology, ventured to the mystical Well of Urd at the base of Yggdrasil, an immense ash tree that held the cosmos together, its branches spreading over all the world, its three central roots spreading very far apart; one was among Aesir, the pantheon of the Norse gods; a second was among the frost giants where Ginnungagap – the primordial void – once was; and the third reached down to Niflheim, meaning “World of Mist,” and is a realm of primordial ice and cold. “Under the root that goes to the frost giants was the Well of Mimir. Wisdom and intelligence were hidden there, and Mimir was the name of the well’s owner. He was full of wisdom because he drank the water from the Well of Urd from the Gjallarhorn.” Gjallarhorn was just that: a horn, a loud sounding or yelling – as in ‘gjallar’ – horn.
This is where Odin shows up, looking for wisdom. I’m not entirely sure what the Viking conception of wisdom happened to be, but it seems to be associated with intelligence in general, not necessarily our narrower conception of prudence and sound judgement. Nevertheless, it seems odd and not a little contradictory that a people so thrilled and gratified by slashing people to bits for their gold and silver would treasure this thing called wisdom. Viking wisdom, as it is described in the lays and sagas, is associated with dominance, skill in weaponry, and survival.
Ayn Rand would’ve loved Viking culture; her conception of wisdom is completely in sync with Viking predation. The Vikings, like Miss Rand, were not known for their empathy and compassion. They obsessed over wealth and the heroic feats of individuals exalted far and above their communities. Compassion is a weakness. Going berserk with an ax or sword and setting an English village afire after raping all its women, killing all its men and running off with all its accumulated wealth is a worthy goal, enough to make any Wall Street banker or hedge fund investor nut in his pants.
That said, Odin was jonesing for some wisdom, so much so that he gouged out one of his eyes and gave it to Mimir as a pledge, and got his wisdom on. Whatever wisdom meant to the Vikings, and however I may be distorting their conception of it, it was quite definitely a highly valued asset.
Wisdom was not a prominent goal of the surrealists. If anything, wisdom would be an obstacle to an agenda far more nourished by the irrational, by the unconscious and dreams. So why would this notion even flit across my brain? Aligning Viking culture with surrealist preoccupations is like setting up a wedding between John Wayne and Patti Smith. The incongruities are stunning.
And yet there are parallels and flashes, here and there, of highly imaginative conception, ideas that are absolutely in harmony with surrealist manias.
Vikings loved battle. The surrealists, despite their many arguments and occasional fistfights, were not particularly fond of war, but war was crucial to the birth of surrealism. When André Breton was doing his military service in a neurological ward in Nantes he met a young soldier named Jacques Vaché, who was being treated for shrapnel wounds. They hit it off, and after Jacques returned to the battlefield they maintained a correspondence. Vachés letters collected during this period – most of them written to friends and family – have been published in a book called Lettres de Guerre (Letters of War). Vachés’s letters were written in wretched circumstances, the trenches of the first World War, muddy, bloody, cadavers everywhere, bombs exploding, machine gun fire raking the ground and mowing down soldiers on both sides. He wrote hastily - directly to the point - with an abundance of irreverent, anti-militaristic humor, or ‘umour,’as he liked to spell it. There are frequent requests for clothing and food (the French army was very poorly supplied) including insightful asides as to the uses he puts these items and actualizing the day-to-day reality of trench warfare. Vaché had no literary ambition, yet he wrote in a style of great detail and riveting precision, creating a virtual hyperreality that intensifies the imagination. The effect is dynamic, and telegraphic: there’s an ongoing juxtaposition of unrelated events which creates a form of collage, all of it fueled by the adrenalin of war. The excitement is palpable. It’s no wonder that this seeded the way for Breton’s innovative approach to poetry.
One finds the same effect in the work of Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, who were also involved in the first World War. One can’t help but see a connection between war and poetry, not that this should serve as a recommendation for aspiring young poets to go to war. But the energy war fuels is also evident in the Viking sagas.
Viking poetry as a whole has more in common with the objectivists than the surrealists; the lines, rhythms, and imagery are extremely compact, extremely direct and lucid. But there are moments of great imaginative force, energies that transcend the mundane and create riddles of cosmic proportion. One of these is an item called Gleipnir.
Gleipnir is the fetter that holds a giant ravenous wolf named Fenrir from devouring the entire world. It is made of six items: the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and the spittle of a bird. These are sometimes described as six impossible things, but there’s nothing impossible about the sinews of a bear, the spittle of a bird, or the beard of a woman. They’re just extremely rare and – particularly in the case of the bear’s sinews – extremely difficult to procure. The breath of a fish, the roots of a mountain (roots in a botanical and not a geological context) and the sound of a cat’s paws on the ground enter the realm of surrealism.
The language of surrealism, according to Peter Stockwell in his book The Language of Surrealism, “has a connected double function: it operates in the everyday waking world and it operates in the inner world of dream, the irrational, and the marvelous.” It’s a language embodied in psychic experience and which aims for a convulsive, striking, unfamiliar beauty. Gleipnir easily satisfies all these qualities.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was fascinated by Gleipnir. He read into gleipnir a form of imaginative power that could so hold us in its spell that – taken in a more negative sense – could describe metaphorically how we become prisoners of our own mind, obsessed with irrational interpretations of subjective experience, trapped by phantom, non-existent beliefs and judgments. “And so am I, while the whole world cannot bind me,” he observed, "yet bound and raving in my chains, and I am bound by a chain that is unreal and that yet is the only thing that can hold; just as the chain…

…that the Fenrir wolf was bound with was braided of things which did not exist (can be elaborated), and which still was the only chain that was able to hold that monster, thus am I bound in the unreal and yet real chains of my dark imagination.

This is an opposite tact to the surrealist conception of language, which is a poesis of liberation, but the idea that ideas can restrict and restrain is a theme running throughout the surrealist project. They used language as a hatchet to break those bonds rather than use it to bind and inhibit.
In a narrative titled “Sigurd the Volsung” included in the Prose Edda, a Viking blacksmith named Regin travels to Thjod to work for King Hjalprek. He forges a sword so sharp that when the legendary hero Sigurd – the slayer of Fenrir- lowered it into running water “it sliced through a tuft of wool carried by the current against the sword’s edge.”  Sigurd digs a pit under the path used by the wolf Fenrir, lowered himself into it and as Fenrir crawled toward the river for a drink Sigurd thrust his sword into him, killing him instantly. Regin then “came forward and said that Sigurd had killed his brother.” “As settlement between him and Sigurd, he asked Sigurd to take Fafnir’s heart and roast it on the fire.”

Sigurd roasted the heart, and when he thought it was cooked, he touched it with his finger to find out if it was still raw. The boiling juice from the heart ran on to his finger, scalding it, and he stuck his finger into his mouth. When the heart’s blood ran to his tongue, he suddenly understood the speech of birds.

This story bears a remarkable affinity to the fables of André Breton’s Poisson soluble (Soluble Fish), and many other surrealist stories.
The Vikings may not have invented surrealism, anymore than they invented the predations of neoliberal economics destroying the communities and working class of the world, but the affinities are there. Cultural paradigms come and go, but the forces of the imagination are as universal as fire, as elemental as water, and as fabulous as the speech of birds. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Nature Of Here


Words go through my eyes making my thoughts fat and glittery. I think of water. I think of soap. I don’t even know why I should care. My glasses climb my head babbling in mute softness. The lenses are public but the frame is leeward of a nascent headache. This means declaration has eight grounds on which to fricassee. There’s a sky above my head engaged in electricity. Does the sky begin at the ground or at a higher elevation? What would that elevation be? I think this sentence is a wedge of ground. Dirt swimming with worms.
Words. Discharge and flowers. The spin behind everything operates by beard. I can feel a prairie occurring below my chin. My neck is a tunnel of sunlight. My hue is ruminant. My theme is inordinate.
Willow is one form of prayer, rocketry is another. Rock-a-Billy is more like dogs. We’re all apparitions, really, freely emotional handsprings in sheer armchairs. Bubbles in books.
Coffee, in its myriad guises, is often quite jolly in its blackness. Benzedrine is more like parakeets, nervous and colorful. The flowers of anonymity blossom in vermicelli. They smell of the predawn werewolf on a runway in Prague. That is to say raw and desperate. Preternatural, like an ivory guitar played by a miscreant anguish.
I like tea that sends its embrace in songbirds. Shake your hips baby. If I insinuate butter better there’ll be gurgling and splashing when our inner tube race begins in earnest.
Earnest, Tennessee is a sentence assembled in quiet meditation by a crew of elves on the ceiling of a dead ant.
Pretzels are ideas. The hibachi confirms the taste of bruises when the sauna is looped in social vanadium. It’s a metal I wear in undertones of topaz after I get dressed in the auditorium.
There’s so much sloshing when I do this that the whole reason gets sewn in gold thread, which leaves me feeling weighty and a trifle oligarchic. Is it a good feeling? I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe feelings anymore. There are so many of them. Even my intestines get confused. The architecture of liberty is convoluted. Emotions sparkle with the catastrophe of existence, wet and heavy as the Spanish spoken by a wheeze of wallpaper.
Your arm is my rudder. Don’t tease the toad. The toad is thought incarnate. It must hop where it wants, gain favors from the infinitives of consciousness.
What’s this brothel up to, anyway? Is it pretending to be poem or something? Watch that toad, will you, before it gets into all those similes of wool and pilgrimage I keep by the door.
I search for the heat of emergency, urgency, luxuries like analysis and gloves. Disappointment hardens the mop. Mahogany accepts the ethos of neon. It’s a joy to drift around in your bones. There are deviations that slap the ceiling with signification. The circus is constrained to do without houseplants and string. They make do with sawdust and weddings. 
This is a crack drooling with variegation. The currents bring us pleasure. The depth is understanding. The waves are full of fish. My veins are crawling with verdure. The circumstance is classic. The warpaint is sanitary. The ink is piercing, like the rain in Scandinavia.
Think of this as an enigma spitting words. Sputtering. Spotlighting. Sprouting.
When does the Louvre open?
I’m ready. Ready to make a mosaic with sand.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Flowering Of Subjectivity


You could say poetry is impertinent, futile, vain and narcissistic, a little louche and outmoded, and it would be true, it would be legitimate and veridical, perhaps a little quizzical. But so what? Who didn’t know that at that beginning? Before it all turned into a dystopic, despotic empire of derelict strip malls and opioid addiction. The president is a clown and the vice president is a refrigerator. So then here comes some poetry, awkwardly handling things in the gift shop, inappropriately flirting, farting on the sly, furtively avoiding eye contact. Is someone cooking broccoli? Is there life on Mars? Will there be adequate water in the future? What is the first word to come into your mind when I say California? There are endless cups of coffee in fairyland. But few know the way. It’s principally a matter of smashing all the taboos and finding a good friend.
What’s to become of this world? The sun rises from behind the mountains. Our laptops converge on parsley. Our goulash, sagacious and hot, is a tub of intense semantic activity, a veritable slop of unabashed solipsism. I keep all my paraphernalia in my valise. I forgot the significance of the pig. I forget everything. The shape in the stone is calling to me. Its prophecies fold over me in waves. A violent wind blows over the water. I’m authorized to say what I want. I’ve got the history of Norway engraved on my belt. Consciousness rolls around in my head like a barrel of sodium. The universe tastes like energy, a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference ambles by on a pseudopodium. Go, go, go. Go pseudopodium.
Our poetry is deformed because the world is deformed. It begins with extreme winds and ends with a bonfire. Words are apparitions. I can’t explain their behavior. But I love the shape of propellers. I envision Karl Marx in the British Library, twirling a pencil and thinking in a vein alien to Hegel. Capitalist avarice is just a form of premature senility. Nothing I want ever adds up to a coherent picture of Memphis. It was the insistence on dialectical equilibrium in Hegel’s hermeneutic which has the most immediate and controversial impact on Sun Studio. We call this The Flowering of Subjectivity. It happened when Elvis met John Keats in a dream.
I like collecting clouds. I pull them out of the sky, fold them up and slide them onto closet hangers. Everything gets soaked when the clouds bust open and start to rain. I just pick the rain up and fold it and stick it in a drawer of rainbows. I’ve got a horse, a mannequin and a doughnut. I’ve got a Bluetooth radio, a bedroom lamp with a three-way bulb, and a compulsion to describe the ineffable. Let these words tickle your ears with thoughts of paradise. Everything here is a lie, of course, which makes it all completely true. The universe walks around in my head looking for a place to sit down. Is there a language that can describe this? I’m working on it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Moon Sugar


Here comes a duodenum, running away from a colonoscopy. And here I am. Here we are. Together at last. Our little secrets burn into the table, terrible and strangely indigo. What can I say? Pain is a difficult business to put down on paper. It has a lot of dimensions. You need a philosophy. A lot of philosophy. A little luck. And a bottle of whiskey. Hedge clippers, Band-Aids, Spinoza. I blow my top when solicitors come to the door. Nobody respects your privacy. Though fewer and fewer seem to require privacy. People have been hollowed out. But who am I to make these judgements? Upon what foundation? Is it my own conception of what is fundamental and essential in modern life? That should be obvious: it’s waffles. Waffles every time.
I crave the power of calamity. The spin of the tornado, the fury of the hurricane, the rhetoric of the unconscious. Can you carry these words to the end of the sentence? Lift your voice and let it come out, all that feeling, like scruples on a string, like the pressure of water in a garden hose. It’s what you do when you have a mouth. You let it out. You let everything out. Thought can alter the world. But so can a monkey with a ducktail and a fake tan. Reality is under siege. What’s to become of this world? You can’t take a single thing for granted. Last night, as I was cleaning out my brain, I stumbled over a universe. I could use a sponge. It made quite a mess.
I like music that’s like a wild animal trying to get out of a cage. Will anything save us? Redeem us? Whatever control I have is illusory. When people forget how to be alone, society falls apart. A big mirror in Deadwood, South Dakota attests to the jocularity in a nook to the back, where the older men play poker and the younger men stare at their smartphones. It’s irritating to have to surrender to the needs of the body. There’ll be an end to that someday. Meanwhile, keep your eye out for Texas. Sunlight kisses our torment. The highway has the emotional value of a vial of nitroglycerin. It keeps the speedometer happy. The needle is stuck in infinity.
The tongue does what it wants. Whatever control I have is illusory. Try navigating in this world. Rain at the airport, a pretty comb in my back pocket. Frank O’Hara is piloting the plane. Delores O’Riordan stands in the dark holding a luminous rabbit. The lesson to be learned is simple: make sure your illusions are light. Fill them with helium. Fill them with sound. Fill them with music. You can trust music. Music is in a war with banality. Our laughter percolates the sadness evident in the ceiling, which is pressed tin, a relic from the past, the sheen of despair in moon sugar. It takes a billion molecules to make a polymer get up and sing like Etta James. A kind of glue holds it all together. Let’s call that glue music. The room is full of it. Even the light is sticky.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Calliope Snow


Experience agrees to its journey, the pencil making marks on plywood. Steam from this morning’s kettle. Grammar in a canoe, the paddles notwithstanding. These are the campaign funds, not the greenhouse. I have language to do and a coconut to throw. The general point is clear: empirical categories dissolve by themselves, and we’re left with a yearning, a maze of footnotes and an elastic volume of air. There is nothing for the recognitions but larch. A scab for the theocracy of ripples, a quadrilateral mold returning in a slow idea of seals. And a moon pinned to my foot like an excerpt of dust and rock.
I turn to reach the conversation before it collapses into slate and the felons issue the usual pontoons. Apparitions seem to get everything wrong. We all need to confront reality, but where is it, where does it make the feather speed through itself? Where does it make the eyes of the peacock sparkle and the coolness under the bridge power the voyage in the violin case? It’s vague to denim a naked leg, but the pleasantries are rooted in potash, which gives the sentence time to ferment a little jaywalking, a listless purification among whose many merits are poise and translucence.
I unrolled some connectedness and the drawing became a hive for lines and cells and drowsy harmonies. The vibration of a thousand tiny wings make honey and a nebula tenable as a stick of coffee. Imagine a pet, a malarkey or a praying mantis. Think of something ovoid, a basement bonfire thematic as a wind instrument, or the people next door disinfecting a vampire. Consider propulsion nearest the spine, then spill it. It can only make things bigger, more like feeling than feet. I bought a climb to the top of a mountain and flashed my kazoo to the wind.
I smear the paint I held so long in the can it became vital. I watched as it slid into oscillation, gurgling glockenspiels like a smock. I now have everything I need to confront the chrome of reality. I sparrow it over the moss, plunge an insoluble sashay into anguish, and feather a pick with cypress.
Technicolor sepals indicate we’re the nimble shadow of a giant grape. I gape at the desk and marry an air of exhaustion to a strain of windchimes. This creates ramification, which is always good for a proverb, logic squashed with a heavy plant.
This is a texture that our twigs invite to candy. I express this by nerve and thumb. My exchange is mustard but my sternum curls naturally around an earphone. Spin the snow and listen to it smell. I feel life happening in the vermilion, the audacity of sprouts in a ligature of orange.