Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Cranial Dark

An Anatomy Of The Night, poem by Clayton Eshleman
BlazeVOX, 2011

When the Pre-Socratic poet-philosopher Parmenides sought the truth of reality, he visited Nyx in the halls of night. Nyx was the sensuous and beautiful goddess of night. She was born out of chaos and, after mating with Erebus, the deity of shadow and darkness, gave birth to a number of lesser deities, including Hypnos (sleep), Thanatos (death), and the Oneiroi (dreams).

This makes exquisite sense to me. It is at night the soul dilates. The boundaries imposed by daylight disappear. Jobs, appointments, routines, assemblies, judgments, everything that constitutes the structures of day and the everyday world dissolve into the abyssal glitter of night. Not only do we see it but feel it as well. Taste it in our wine. Feel it in our sleep. Try to escape it in bars and highways and motel trysts. Fill it with music. Appease it with drugs.

We are adrift at night. Untethered. It is the uncharted ocean of timeless space whose immeasurability terrifies and thrills the mind and whose fathoms hold the secret of our most primordial being. The mind is more receptive to the supernatural at night, more alert to the aberrations and anomalies of sense perception that are deadened by the static of day. “Imagination’s place might be the night sky of Renaissance astronomers or astrologers, or the geographical continents of explorers,” observed James Hillman. “It might also be the gigantic mythological construction of Dante’s worlds, the complex stoves and vessels of alchemist’s laboratories, the memory theater of Giulio Camillo, or the imagined past of Greek and Roman antiquity. Imagination must have space for differentiated unfolding. This immeasurable depth of soul or endless cavern of images, as August called it, or ‘black pit’ in Hegel’s words, must have a container. If we today would restore imagination to its fullest significance, we too need some sort of enormous room that can act as its ‘realistic’ vessel.”

The vessel, in this instance, is Eshleman’s book-length poem An Anatomy Of The Night, its “differentiated unfolding” the blastocoelic membranes of Eshleman’s nocturnal embryogenesis.

The opening poem is nineteen lines, erratically indented. It begins sensuously, voluptuously, with a broken taboo: “The sky is a bath incestuous.” Whitman is referenced in a feminine context: “Whitman arched by / his menstrual harp.” This is followed by some truly beautiful and dreamlike images: “vermilion moon scarves, surf resounding, / swim through our serpent-paneled spines,” “Earth / pink and quilted with tufts of violet grass.” The poet sees William Reich on the last night of his life, November 3, 1957, “recumbent on a prison cot.” The following image accesses Thanatos: “All is alive including the death carousel I load into the projector / of my awareness.” The inclusion of a slide projector - a device associated with 20th century technology and family entertainments - contrasts with the oneiric beauty of the preceding images and following three lines, blending - outside temporal order - ancient Greek and eastern cultures and capping it off with a macabre image embodying the gelatinous delirium of night: “Basho’s compote of cicada-absorbed rock / Aphrodite’s pudenda served on an orchid of clouds / Graze of the night’s hydra-mollusked tongue.”

The images are warm, macabre, sensuous, disturbing. Erotic and slithering and wet and bleeding. The feeling of night as a realm of otherworldly splendor is firmly established. References to Aphrodite and Basho and Whitman create a hive of visionaries brought together by the storied wax of mythopoesis. Basho and Whitman were both wanderers. Night is a time of wandering. It is neither a pilgrimage or a journey. There is no goal at night. No destination. There is only the stone and steam of strange landscapes, fondled organs, aggressive sirens, manhood in drag.

The reference to William Reich is significant. Reich, an Austrian-American psychiatrist, is recognized for his controversial ideas concerning psychoanalysis, breaking a taboo against touching the patient, but is perhaps best known for his theories concerning a primordial energy he termed “orgone.” “Orgone is blue in color,” he wrote, “visible to the naked eye, and responsible for such things as weather, the color of the sky, gravity, the formation of galaxies, and the biological expressions of emotion and sexuality.” He built boxes called “orgone accumulators” in which people could sit and soak up healing orgone energies. The press called them “sex boxes” that caused uncontrollable erections.

Eshleman compares himself to an argiope in the second poem, a species of arachnid that is sometimes also called a “writing spider” because of the similarity of its web decoration to writing. He also alludes to himself as a “a shadow self in shaman sores.”

The constant metamorphosing from one identity to another, human, animal, insect, Serpente, is synonymous with the instability of night. It is a time of shadows and ooze and tricks of light. Filamentous lines of sticky complexity. The many allusions are intended to extend the reading of the poem to other sources. Eshleman is a generous poet. His images are macabre, bizarre, grotesque, volatile and changing, but they aren’t hermetic. The nebulous subtleties of the French symbolists are not much in evidence. Eshleman paints in broad strokes. His transformations read like a summons to the rattle of Druidic ceremonies amid ancient oak. He quotes from a letter by Antonin Artaud to Jean Paulhan written from the Rodez asylum: “To sleep is not to slumber, but to live on the side of the dream, and not like a sleeper giving off the compiled mucus of the dream, but like a fiend seeking itself, contrary to any consciousness of wakefulness, in that sort of terebrant immanence, in that space of unfathomable immanence where our unconscious is woven.”

There are many inclusions of expository prose included in the poem. Eshleman quotes large chunks of work by Géza Róheim, James Hillman, A. Alvarez, Herbert Kühn, Djuna Barnes and E.M. Cioran.

James Hillman, who passed away last October, was a psychologist with a very unique take on the Jungian archetype. He developed a polytheistic psychology that fused human psychology with the stratum and transcendence of myth. He theorized that the ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage - or web - of fantasies. He was more focused on the idea of soul, or psyche. The word ‘soul’ is avoided in the precincts of postmodernist irony. But Eshleman stems from a long tradition of poet as shaman, as visionary, bringing poetry back to its more primordial, Dionysian energies. He is in sync with Hillman, who criticized modern psychology as being too reductive, materialistic, and literal. Hillman, like Eshleman, was alert to the speech of the soul, particularly in its manifestations as myth and metaphor.

Géza Róheim was a Hungarian psychoanalyst and anthropologist credited with founding the field of psychoanalytic anthropology.

A. Alvarez is a British poet who has written a book about dreams called Night: Night Life, Night Language, Sleep, And Dreams. Eshleman quotes generously from this book, but one statement I found particularly revealing reads “What you see is what you know, and what can be heard or felt or smelled but not seen is terrifying because it is formless. There are only two ways to make night tolerable: by lighting it artificially and by sleep which shuts down the senses.” I would a third, which is to imbibe alcohol and/or drugs. Carousal is a reliable technique for tricking night fright into frolic. Mercutio bouncing down Verona’s cobblestoned alleys delivering his Queen Mab speech.

Herbert Kühn was an eminent German scholar who, for a long time, was considered one of the best connoisseurs of Ice Age culture and its legacy in art. Eshleman himself has spent nearly a lifetime exploring and writing about the ice age caves in the Dordogne region of France. The quote Eshleman has included here focuses on a visit to the Niaux cave in the Ariège department of southern France in 1949, which Kühn believed to be one of the great religious centers for Ice Age people. Kühn describes his feelings about The Green Lake, “one of the most sinister things to be found in any of the subterranean grottoes…” “Black and deathly quiet the waters stretched before us. The absolute stillness by the lakeside is so uncanny that it soon becomes almost unbearable.” This is a wonderful description of not just a lake but of the otherworldly dimensions beyond the natural world, the bourne from which no traveler returns. Though, in this instance, the traveler does return, but with a feeling of those underground waters, “black, immobile, uncanny, awful,” still lurking in one’s marrow as one exits the cave and returns to daylight.

There are several deeply personal sections in Eshleman’s nocturnal anatomy. One is a deeply moving prose poem about his mother’s death. Eshleman’s mother occupied a “single railed bed”in room C 743 of Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Eshleman’s description of this visit is astonishingly candid. But not sentimental. Not the least sentimental. The feeling is too intense, too honest, too stark, too loving to be sentimental. Everything seems suffused with death. “At one point,”” he writes, “I looked out of the window and watched in the darkness seven stories below a large heavy black woman slowly cross the parking lot - it’s all dead - that is the phrase that came to me, as if the nature of life - including the imagination that had opened to me when I was twenty-two - was that of death, as if that which lives and goes on is death. My mother was now a puppet, jerked by the cords of Death.”

This sentiment is echoed in section 25, which is a quote from Djuna Barne’s Nightwood. Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor utters “We are but skin about a wind, with muscles clenched against mortality. We sleep in a long reproachful dust against ourselves. We are full to the gorge with our own names for misery.”

Section 26 begins with a quote by César Vallejo: “’It is clear,’ declared César Vallejo, noticing a black beetle giving head to a caiman virago, ‘why metaphysical life is so rich with pause.’”

Three lines end section 26: “In the neuron orgy / in cranial dark / to know thyself is to give a self to no.”

Eshleman’s pun on “no,” which night also be Japanese Noh, which derives from Japanese Nogaku, meaning skill, or mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning “the mind without mind” and is also referred to as the state of “no-mindedness,” a mind not fixed or occupied by thought and thus open to everything.

An Anatomy of The Night is not the poem of an old man, certainly not in the way we have come to think of old people as rickety, doddering creatures in nursing homes sitting zombie-like in front of televisions, struggling to remember who the people are that come to visit them periodically, but it is the poem of a man late in life. Getting old does not mean getting old. You can get old without getting old. It depends on how actively engaged with life you are. I find it deeply encouraging that a man now in his late 70s can write such vigorous and generous poetry. The reflections in this poem are dark, but dark in that curious way the Sufis talk about, in which darkness becomes an illuminating force. I’m 64 myself. I can attest that a man still feels youthful feelings late in life, though those driving propulsions of one’s 20s have dissipated. One feels crepuscular. Feelings are still quick and quickened by what Breton called elsewhere. “Existence,” he said, “is elsewhere.” And yes it is. And that’s what I find in Eshleman’s work here. An ample feeling of elsewhere articulated in a “drop of psyche separated into streams, / each with a febrile image purpose, / ravenous image serpents all heading out hungry for extension…”

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Pythagorean Hat

Have you seen my Pythagorean hat? Each time I reflect on the world, it crackles with lightning. Numbers taste of andouille, and the attitude of the willow turns red with planets.

I am following a spirit in denim through a mouth of stone. Shadows hold the secret of abandon. I sweat drops of horsepower. I use the dew of the moon for money. I wear fingerprints and alcoholic shoes. I am on a voyage of numbers. The number two is a watercolor. The number three is a surgeon lifting a strange shape from the internal organs of a mosquito. The number five is lost in the number four and the number four is five minus nine.

But then, you already knew that.

Here is something new: there is a fugue on the table. It was pushed through the stove of an artist where it baked into pure presence. The pure presence of music, which is the very embodiment of audacity, and depends on numbers, like a thrilling Irish summer, or a nebula of words giving birth to a library.

Language is more accurately described as a river than an ocean. I can feel its current moving me along in thought as a saga gallops through the art exhibit looking for Peter Green. Outside, the wind stirs up dead leaves, all dry and wrinkly like the parchment of a dead scribe. A metaphor blazes on a bed of creosote. A pumpkin combines cogency with circularity. Its pi tastes of crocodile, and its diameter gurgles the rivets of a far eastern bridge.

I have luxurious tastes. When sunlight hits the wall of the house next door, I can see the grooves in the shingles. A giant snake uncoils on a rock and slithers east. Spirits sing as they dissolve. Something wet and ductile tastes of perception. The energy of the day’s elegy is strong with the flavors of the earth. The scent of the dying. The scent of the freshly born. The smell of the stars in their baldness of will.

The smell of the taxi is visceral. A raw sienna winched from the fireworks of a pneumatic goatee. If watercolor causes virtuosity, then what is your opinion concerning pockets?

Take your clothes off. Now tell me, how does it feel?

Martin Scorsese plays a trumpet in the rain. Baudelaire does my hair. I feel propulsive and wet. Shadows bounce through my thirst. My mood is twisted into a hammerhead. My gloves are slow, but tolerant. The heart of this sentence weighs 15 tons. But it’s not done yet. There are more nouns to add, more verbs and adverbs. When it is finished, I will know the denominator of velvet. I will know the factor of sleep. I will know the formula for moonlight.

The climate of thought folds into a bicycle. The late new emotion crackles with broccoli. Arthur Rimbaud embraces the body of dawn. There are certain colors that penetrate my being and give me joy. One is the color of the pavement as it ripples through the sugar of apology. Another is the red smoke pouring out of André Derain’s tug on the Thames. And there is a certain blue that occurs in the midst of a vowel as the cowboys sit around a fire discussing Plato’s Republic.

Or is it the varnish of a guitar? I don’t know. As soon as the engine starts, the propeller turns, creating confusion in the water. Bubbles and foam. That sort of thing. Like when the rain is charged with pathos and you see Bessie Smith walking down the street.

Yes, you could say I’m wordy, but it is circumlocution that heals the sores of cynicism.

Look: there is a universe in this shoebox. It resembles the architecture of the heart. You can touch its wrinkles. Swirl its stars. It is a friendly milieu. Explicit as an apparition pinned to a blue wall. Or indigo stirring the rocks in the morning of a thermometer.

As for the color of my hat, it is the color of ferns in the forest embracing a deep solitude. A universe of numbers forged in a chord of irrational roots. The sun is coming out, and we see the strength of the earth as the stars recede into space, and an evergreen blazes with light.

The mathematics of splashing is hoarse with ecstasy, which is why cats are so fascinated by things falling to the floor.

If bingo equals being, then balloon equals odyssey, overriding a timeless moccasin as a kink in the escalator displays the elegance of combat. It follows that the Gaussian rationals from a number field which is two-dimensional as a vector space over Q will produce syrup, and that a morning painted with two brushes and a circle is apples. Therefore the square of a rational non-integer is always a worm, and the square root of an integer is always either another integer, or irrational structure, like a clitoris, or hat.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Penguin's Flightless Anthology

I mean really.

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry is such a travesty, why bother to say anything about it at all?

I call it the 2 by 4 effect: an event or phenomenon so incomprehensible, so utterly perplexing and inexplicable as to be mentally indigestible, that one feels as if some malefactor slammed the back of one’s head with a 2 by 4. I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, a president who, as a former constitutional law graduate from Harvard decimates our civil rights and flushes Habeas Corpus down the toilet, a blockbuster series of movies about teenage vampires in love, Bob Dylan doing an ad for Cadillac Escalade, the list is long. Long, long, long. How can anyone survive all these blows to the back of the head?

So, in view of what a hideous and psychotic landscape the United States has become, should it be that surprising that an anthology of American poetry would exclude, oh, I don’t know, Howl?

No Howl!!???? Not even a sampling from “Howl,” or one of the other poems in Howl, “A Supermarket In California,” “America,” or “Sunflower Sutra?” How can you frigging exclude “Howl” from an anthology purported to be representative of poetry in the 20th century? It is not possible to overstate the importance of that poem from the development of 20th poetry. I would argue that the anthemic power and reach of Diane DiPrima’s “Rant” is also of vital significance, and could easily have set the tone for the entire anthology. It might have substituted for the lack of "Howl," or any of Ginsberg's work. I'm sure there are others. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The question remains: why no Howl?

Penguin’s editor, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, argues that HarperCollin’s permission fee was prohibitively high in the case of Howl. If this is the case, then shame on HarperCollins.

Though it seems more than a little suspicious. How high did HarperCollins go? Is Penguin strapped for liquidity? Can it be that HarperCollins has their own anthology of 20th century American poetry in the works, and are trying to torpedo Penguin’s anthology? Are they planning to publish one in which all the poets Dove excluded will be included?

Dove’s exclusions are breathtaking: Zukofsky, Oppen, Reznikoff, Rakosi, Niedecker. Basically, nothing at all from the Objectivist movement, except for William Carlos Williams. Dove has stated that she is averse to schools and isms as a guiding principle. But also missing are poets of great originality who do not fit into any niche or school or ism, poets such as Riding, Loy, Bronk, Blackburn, Eigner, Enslin, Dorn, Mac Low, Spicer, Plath, Rexroth, or Robin Blaser. Others conspicuous by absence include Schwerner, Lamantia, McClure, Whalen, Will Alexander, Corman, Guest, Schuyler, Padgett, Kaufman, Rothenberg, Kelly, Eshleman, Antin, Lansing, Hoover, Perelman, Armantrout, DuPlessis, Joans, Wieners, Tarn, Coolidge, Sobin, Sanders, Taggert, Bromige, Irby, Yau, Cortez, Chernoff, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Grahn, Kleinzahler, Waldman, Warsh, Bernstein and Bernadette Mayer.

Wait a minute. No Rexroth…??!! Let me go back and check.

Nope. No Rexroth. The poet, translator and essayist who is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance and was once dubbed the “Father Of The Beats” by Time magazine, is not in an anthology of 20th century American poetry.

The mind boggles.

Was this another instance of a permission fee being too prohibitive?

I have a strong feeling that these names and many others are being bandied about even now with the same magnitude of incredulity, and with an equal amount of stunned speculation.

Helen Vendler has vigorously criticized the anthology, admonishing Dove’s bias toward multiculturalism as a guiding principle and being overly inclusive of poets of “little or no lasting value.”


Vendler further criticizes Dove’s bias toward accessibility: “Not to be ‘accessible’ is now to be chastised. Perhaps Dove’s two years as poet laureate helped foster the impression that poetry should be written in ‘plain American that cats and dogs can read’ (Moore, satirizing English views of America). But a poem can communicate while it is still imperfectly understood (said Coleridge), and Dove trusts her readers less than she might.”

Vendler criticizes Dove’s introductory essay as being breezy and shallow: “The simplest thing to say about Dove’s introduction is that she is writing in a genre not her own; she is a poet, not an essayist, and, uncomfortable in the essayist’s role, she strains for effects (alliteration the favorite) on the one hand and, on the other, falls into mere boilerplate.”

Dove counters these criticisms by saying that her representation of 175 poets is not overly indulgent, but that “when one considers the number of American poets (124) in The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry—which includes other Anglophone poets as well—or the number of poets who have received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book or the National Book Critics’ Circle awards, 175 doesn’t seem an unreasonable number for a century’s worth of poetry—that is, if you are a mere mortal not satiated by a steady diet of ambrosia.”
Dove goes on to say that “The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry is not meant to be an in-depth scholarly study of pick-your-ism; it is a gathering of poems its editor finds outstanding for a variety of reasons, and by no means all of them in adherence to my own aesthetic taste buds; my intent was to offer many of the best poems bound into books between 1900 and 2000 and to lend a helping hand to those readers wishing to strike out on their own beyond this selection.”

Dove’s most heated response is to Vendler’s criticism of Dove’s handling of the Black Arts Movement: “It is astounding to me how utterly Vendler misreads my critical assessment of the Black Arts Movement, construing my straightforward account of their defiant manifesto as endorsement of their tactics; she ignores a substantial critical paragraph in which I decry the fallout from the movement (‘Against such clamor and thunder, introspective black poets had little chance to assert themselves and were swept under the steamroller,’ I write in my introduction) and instead focuses on that handy whipping boy, Amiri Baraka, plucking passages from his historically seminal poem ‘Black Art’ in which he denigrated Jews, thereby slyly, even creepily implying that I might have similar anti-Semitic tendencies. Smear by association…sound familiar? I would not have believed Vendler capable of throwing such cheap dirt, and no defense is necessary against these dishonorable tactics except the desire to shield my reputation from the kind of slanderous slime that sticks although it bears no truth. (I could argue equal opportunity offensiveness by having printed Hart Crane’s ‘A liquid theme that floating niggers swell’—but perhaps that makes me racist as well.)”

I don’t know what to make of all this. My mental wheels are spinning. There is no traction. All I find is the immobility of total incomprehension.

Dove’s counters to Vendler’s criticisms are animated and sharp, but do not shed light on the many exclusions from the anthology that are conspicuous by their absence. I applaud her efforts to give pages to underrepresented voices and groups, but few of her choices within this parameter can be justified by the quality of writing. The anthology could have been a fabulous gallimaufry of disparate voices and human perspective such as Rothenberg’s Technicians Of The Sacred. Diversity is vital to poetry. I have sharp aesthetic differences with Vendler, and sharp differences with Dove, but there comes a point where the sheer quality of writing transcends its culture and dazzles the mind by the scorch of its imaginative force. These are the samples you need to find. It’s as if Dove went fishing in a very rich ocean but rather than bring back some scintillating samples of rare tropical fish she returned to port with the same old cod.

The issue of aesthetics is a prickly one. How does one overlook one’s preferences to locate a quality and strength of writing that goes beyond the walls of its garden and reaches and brings in a landscape of thrilling dimension? I think I just answered my own question. You’ll know it immediately. It will be there. Huge and wild and uncontainable. It will sing in your blood. Burn holes through your brain. Leave you trembling like a newborn wildebeest.

Dove argues repeatedly in her response to Vendler’s criticism that her primary concern was one of reaching beyond her own aesthetics to attain a truly representative sampling of poetic culture in 20th Century America. But this is precisely where I am most perplexed. If accessibility was a central criteria, which I read as a form of dumbing down, I can see now why poets such as Zukofsky or Eshleman or Blaser were excluded, not that their poetry is excessively difficult, but because their poetry is rigorous in its force and density. It requires a quality of attention our current Twittering generation is significantly lacking. Yet Dove did include many poets of notable sophistication: Ashbery, Palmer, Silliman, Rukeyser, Mackey, and Harryette Mullen.

I hope I’m utterly wrong about the current generation. The young poets I’ve met are all eager for experiment and intellectual rigor. They’re a very bright group of people who, despite the seductions of the Internet and Smartphones, have a love of books and language. I feel for them. I see them as a keen exception, ennobled by endeavoring at the far margins of American society where there are very few rewards or compensations, monetary or social. They do not have the social support that I enjoyed attaining adulthood in the late 60s. Poets were revered. The staid middle-class revered poets such as Frost and Sandburg for their wisdom. Frost recited poetry at Kennedy’s inauguration. Younger poets revered poets such as Snyder and McClure for their freedom and exuberance. As Larry Keenan’s photo of Dylan, McClure, Ginsberg and Robbie Robertson standing in back of the City Lights bookstore attests, there was nary a sliver of difference between a poet and a rock star. It was Dylan’s ferocious lyrics that brought me to poetry. Before that, I had it in mind to become a painter.

I worry to what extent this anthology will be taken seriously by schools and especially by young people with a flair for writing. They will find a lot of good poets in the anthology. But it seems an awful shame they won’t find those aforementioned names that were excluded.

Anthologies are curious repositories. They’re a lot like museums. They have that hushed quality of solemnity and canon. Whatever is in them on display bear the weight of historical importance. It is for that reason that I’ve always found anthologies appealing (I love museums), but also places where the very criteria for inclusion does something to the vitality of the items put on display. There is the acute sense that life is elsewhere. That the items in the museum - pots, butterflies, skeletons, scrimshaw, ancient flowers embedded in stone - have been long displaced from the worlds in which they once had a vital and authentic existence.

I remember when, somewhere between age 15 and 18, I had acquired a taste for literature, and what joy I had when I discovered Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, McClure and Corso. I admired the canonized poets, Frost and Sandburg and Edna St. Vincent Millay, but with the exception of Dickinson and Whitman, they were just plain dull. Which is why, when I entered a bookstore or visited the house of a middle class family and spotted a “Best of” or “Anthology of” modern American poetry on the shelf, I took no interest in it. What I looked for was far outside the canon. I had a gut feeling that the poetry that really mattered and lit my nerves on fire was not going to be found in an anthology of contemporary poetry. How could it? What I was looking for was savage, raw, and wild. I was looking for words that would get me drunk. Get me high. Stir me up. Make feel more alive. And when I found that poet, he wasn’t even American. He was French. And his name was Arthur Rimbaud.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Aardvark Award

Today I’ve won the Aardvark Award. I’m not sure what it is. Or what I won it for. I just have a feeling that I’ve done something spectacular. All I need to do is discover what it was I did.

Meanwhile, I just want my award. And here it is: a stuffed (you guessed it) aardvark. It is wrapped in gold foil, to give it that shiny, otherworldly, award look.

Perhaps it was my creation of the award that makes me the recipient of the award.

But isn’t that the way of all creative literary endeavors? Excluding the ones we have trouble with. The kind that keep us up at night. Banging our head against the wall. Notice I have suddenly moved into the third person singular. We are banging our head against the wall. Our one third person singular head.

You can do that in language. Bang one, two, three, four, however many heads you want against the proverbial wall.

Do you remember that scene in Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta bangs his head against the wall in his jail cell because he has suddenly realized what a total jerk he’s been? And what he’s had, and thrown away, because he can’t control his emotions? I saw that and I thought, immediately, holy shit, that’s me.

Give the man an Aardvark Award.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Meeting Of Waters

Kingdom Of Throat-Stuck Luck, poetry by George Kalamaras
Elixir Press, 2012

There is a place near Manaus, Brazil, where the Rio Negro meets the waters of the Amazon and the two colors of the two rivers remain distinct as they run side by side without mixing. The water of the Rio Negro is dark, almost black, and that of the Amazon is a sandy-colored beige. The phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed, and water density. The waters do eventually blend and become indistinguishable, but for the few miles that they remain distinctly separate, the river presents a sight of singular simultaneity. This striking image, especially from the air, provides a strong visual analogue for the confluence of poetic influence apparent in George Kalamaras’s poetry.

Kalamaras is a remarkably eclectic poet and there are far more than two influences on his work, but there are two whose sources are as unlikely as they are geographically and culturally distant. This would be surrealism and eastern religion and philosophy.

Kalamaras has written extensively of Japanese surrealism, the work of Takiguchi Shuzo in particular, and is a practitioner of yoga meditation, a discipline not ordinarily associated with surrealism. Where these rivers blend we find a fusion of impulse, a debouch of fluid agreements: articulations of elsewhere, alterity, divergence, variance and otherness that are often as brilliantly opaque as they are inscrutably lucid. There are elements of Zen apparent in Japanese surrealism which reverberate in Kalamaras’s poems, or sutras, as he likes to call them, paratactic constructions that emphasize the irrationality of existence, the kaleidoscopic montage that is the fluctuating play of disparate stimuli that constitute each moment. Contrariety, eccentricity and contradiction urge discovery of our inner auroras and the fierce authenticity of life experienced as a spark in a cosmic fire.

The work gathered in this recent collection have a pleasant uniformity that suggests a heated composition within a single time frame. Whether that might be the actual case, I don’t know, but together the pieces have the savor of a symphonic ensemble.

“Bone Sutra,” the first poem of this collection, revels in osteopathic insomnia. The opening line - “Now we take up the study of bones” - is an adaptation of Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra, “Now we come to the study of yoga.” Here is the poem in its entirety:

Now we take up the study of bones.
The copper-colored queen: wind through the cedars.

Perhaps one night I can’t sleep.
Or, perhaps you are convinced of the ritual naming of a dark gem.

There is severe ice cracking below each of the floating ribs.
Yet, his maybe, his how-come and what-not.

We lived in insomniatic teacups.
We spent our loves loving a certain flea.

Some old man wears a gray left sock, seeks hints and cockroaches.
An altar of eels floats through each speck of dust.

Someone is drawing us drawing him or her with chalk.
The moment the milk arrives, all the children run, laughing.

Notable here is a keen structural character. Kalamaras favors couplets, which makes sense to me as an aesthetic choice as it is keenly suited to enhance the effects of paratactic collage. This is especially apparent in the fifth couplet, where we find mingled an old man and his sock, cockroaches, and an altar of eels floating through each speck of dust. Eel and dust are quintessentially opposed mediums - the wet and the dry, the slithery and the nebulous - but within the irrational milieu of the poem, seem strangely appropriate. They work in the same way that the adjective ‘insomniac’ enhances the image of the teacup.

Some of the pieces are quite macabre. In “The Beauty of Sadness,” Kalamaras presents a montage of iconography associated with the ominous and the dying. It is a blend of Thanatos and Eros, the erotic and reproductive with the ghostly and preternatural. It begins with a wonderfully striking image: “He entrusted the chemical dust of seahorses to the wound in his spine.” This transmits a sense of magic, of ritual healing that suits the tenor of the poem. “He displayed,” the poem continues,

… a complicated answer as if sharing mice bone with an owl.

The beauty of sadness is its celestial ascent.
We tremble with god envy yet insatiate our veins.

If a wing-flapping swan inhabited our sideboard, which of the
         dinner guests would weep?
How might I dance naked on the table without creating a scene,
         without sending my wife into protracted shame?

We arrive from the other world, expressing the unseen, yet lapsed
         with memory.
We torment our adults with knowing how to give, how to cry, how
         to ask for both eggs at once.

Why should we colonize the sea with male reproductive scope?
Shall we accept the groinal cricket, the seahorse as our method,
         and share the male egg with anyone who, when cut, will bleed?

Finally, the quiet of sincere inertia, of guests leaving early, one at
         a time, profusely praising the food.
After the spiritual coup, we weighed our body hair, we burned
         the epaulets, we asked the cadaver lamp to guide us home.

Notable is Kalamaras’s use of an adjective - insatiate - as a transitive verb. Why we envy the gods is implied, not stated, though it’s not hard to guess: power, freedom, omniscience, immortality. There are quite a few reasons to envy the gods. What prevents us is gluttony. Our inability to find satisfaction, fulfill our appetites. One associates ‘insatiate’ with grossness, obesity, substance abuse. The appearance of the swan in the next couplet suggests a more pre-Raphaelite setting, a bird emblematic of the sublime, of otherworldly grace and beauty. Which, in this instance, is intended for eating.

The line “We arrive from the other world, expressing the unseen, yet lapsed with memory,” is redolent with romantic and neo-Platonic associations. “We torment our adults” is an interesting phrase within this context. It implies that as we mature and adapt to the human condition we lose that vital understanding that was once cognate with our being.

The final couplet which culminates with the farewell of dinner guests ends with the remarkable image of the “cadaver lamp” to guide us home. Thanatos, the poet tell us, is the spirit which will guide us home. That other world from which we arrived.

Paradox is pivotal to the practice of both Zen and surrealism. Kalamaras blends these elements in much the same way as the Amazon blends its two major tributaries. But there is a third side to Kalamaras’s writing that I find interesting from the point of view of delirium. As phantasmagoric or strange as much of Kalamaras’s poetry tends to be, there is an accompanying feeling of equipoise. Of balance. This is apparent in his technique, his couplets and paratactic montage, but also in the general tone of his pieces. We are never quite sure who is talking, driving the narrative. The voice, or voices, have the appearance of disembodiment. Of being diffused through the words like wandering spirits. One feels systole and diastole, inhalation and exhalation, the quiet rhythms of the body.

I believe this has much to do with the reason he enjoys referring to his poems as sutras. Sutra, from the Sanskrit, literally means a thread or line that holds things together. The verbal root is ‘siv,’ meaning to sew. Here again, we find an image of balanced symmetry, a needle rising in and rising out as it embroiders or joins two pieces of fabric together.

Kalamaras’s images do not appear to arise from delirium, but from some other transcendent level of consciousness whose tendencies move toward calm rather than chaos. Wittgenstein comes to mind, since his philosophy of language as a body of signs with no logical connection to external reality, a notion drawn ultimately from Saussure, advances the notion of language as a chess game. Kalamaras likes switching parts of speech around like pieces on a chess board, as in the line “Might a commendable exchange parliament my hips?” This testifies less to a disordering of the senses than a deliberate philosophical application referencing Wittgenstein’s ideas concerning language and reality. “Thought does not strike us as mysterious while we are thinking,” remarks Wittgenstein, “but only when we say, as it were retrospectively: ‘How was that possible?’ How was it possible for thought to deal with the very object itself? We feel as if by means of it we had caught reality in our net.”

Kingdom Of Throat-Stuck Luck is divided into five parts. The last section is titled “The Make Possible.” It seems that this is the intent of Kalamaras throughout his work. To make possible the buzz of the real in the indicative and subjunctive be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Timeless Advice

There is an intriguing scene near the end of J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek in which the elder Spock (Leonard Nimoy) gives counsel to the young Spock (Zachary Quinto).

Who wouldn’t relish that opportunity to travel back in time as the older, wiser you, and give counsel to the stupider, younger you?

Here I am in the winter of 1973, age 26, freshly graduated from college with a BA in English. I am at a crossroads. I am living in a small studio apartment in downtown San José with a galley kitchen smaller than what you might find aboard a 30 foot sailing craft, sharing a bathroom at the end of the hall with four other men, one of whom declares he was once a Texas Ranger, and another who likes walking around with a Remington carbine. I am tired of being poor. I have heard there is a glut of teachers, especially at the college level. This had once been my ambition, but now, I just want a job that pays reasonably well and doesn’t give me suicidal thoughts morning noon and night.

Get that master’s degree, I tell myself. There will be jobs. Don’t be discouraged. But get that degree. With no skills and nothing but a BA in English, you are virtually unemployable. Getting a master’s degree will save you from numerous menial, dead end jobs, that leave you feeling like a lump of fecal matter squeezed from the rectal orifice of the workaday world. And while it’s true that getting a master’s degree doesn’t quite conform with your ambitions of becoming the next Richard Brautigan, or Tom Robbins, the publishing world may not be so quick to grant your literary efforts so generously with a livable income and broad distribution for a public eager to spend their hard-earned dollars on your work. I’m not saying your writing isn’t good. Just that your expectations about publication and finding an audience or painfully naïve.

This is what parents are supposed to do, but nobody listens to their parents. Parents are parents. They come from a different time and adhere to a slightly different worldview.

So what makes me think I would listen to myself at age 64?

I am a very different person at age 64 then I was at age 26. I would imagine most people feel similarly, though maybe not. I would like to think that the 26 year old me would find something to respect and admire about the 64 year old me. The fact that we are the same person does not readily mean that we will have things to like about one another. The difference will be acute. The 26 year old me might well find the 64 year old me just as pedantic and tedious as Hamlet found Polonius.

The difference (apart from weight gain, wrinkles, and loss of hair) consists in wisdom, wisdom which is the fruit of experience. So it’s not really fair to call myself wiser, because it is experience that has made me wiser, and confers an unfair advantage over the person I was at age 26, who was still acutely concerned with romance, getting laid, and drinking immoderate amounts of alcohol. How do you reason with such a person? How do you tell such a person that life is sweeter and far more benevolent when you go to bed at, say, 10:00 o’clock and drink prudently, if at all, and by all means don’t worry and fret over getting laid, or finding a romantic partner, those things happen naturally, and unexpectedly, usually at times in your life when you’re happy living alone, and are passionate about other things than women, and getting laid. Because women are quick to sense those things about a young man. They tend to be leery of men who are needy, impatient, and basically just want to get laid. Men find it desirable to have sex with someone with whom they feel compatible, but that is generally an afterthought. Men use love to get sex and women use sex to get love. It’s a nasty little formula, and one that results in a lot of unhappiness, but there it is, it’s the gospel truth. So watch it. Buy a lot of dirty girly magazines. It will serve you better than all those drunken nights at the local meat market.

I see the 26 year old me nodding with polite agreement, but knowing, deep down, it will be impossible to adhere to this advice. At 26, testosterone is pouring out of one’s ears. One is chained to a maniac. Telephone poles look sexy.

At 64, one is down a few quarts in the testosterone department. Given a choice between a good novel or a freebie at a Texas brothel, the novel would win hands down. Moby Dick. So to speak.

Of course, knowing what happens in the future confers an absurdly obvious advantage when it comes to giving advice to someone. But would I have the heart to tell the 26 year old me that there will come a time when books are no longer appreciated by the masses? That text will be available on tiny electronic gadgets but that the art of reading will have virtually disappeared? That theocratic fanatics who denounce science and evolution and believe the world is 6,000 years old will run for president? That the United States will be a totalitarian police state in which 84 year old women are pepper sprayed for protesting against an obscenely wealthy and fraudulent class of oligarchs? That the middle class will be dying? That a substantial number of people who once owned homes and lived Leave It To Beaver lives are now living in tent cities? That although only a tiny minority continue to relish books and read poetry there will be an industry cranking out millions of poets competing for the limelight? That habeus corpus and posse comitatus will be quaint constitutional relics? That Bob Dylan will be doing commercials for the Cadillac Escalade? That Bob Dylan will be mistaken as a vagrant and picked up by a woman cop in New Jersey? That Bob Dylan will actually still be quite a compelling song writer and weirdly relevant?

That the world itself will be on the brink of destruction due to irreparable environmental degradation and climate change?

That Mount Saint Helens will erupt? That a tsunami will wipe out Indonesia? That a Penguin anthology of 20th century American poetry will not include the work of Allen Ginsberg? Will not have Howl in it? Will not have George Oppen or Louis Zukofsky or Michael McClure in it?

That would be cruel. I would not do such a thing to myself. Maybe the kindest advice I could give myself is to hang in there with the poetry thing. There is salvation in poetry. It is the sweetest religion going. It won't save you from a lot of pain, but it sure makes it more palatable, and interesting.

I might also hand my 26 year old self a suitcase full of winning lottery numbers from the future, and all the winning football, baseball, and basketball scores. A little financial independence never harmed the working of the muses. It would also be nice to finance a media empire that would not only rival but squash that of Rupert Murdoch's. Goodbye Fox. Goodbye Rush. Hello Howl. Hello Bernie Sanders.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Storms Of Emily Dickinson

I live in a palace of ice on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. The plumbing is ice and the counters are ice. The doors are ice and the windows are ice. The doorknobs are ice and the refrigerator is ice. The carrots are ice and the pork chops are ice. The rice is ice. The sweet potatoes are ice and smells and spices and books are ice.

I watch Bonanza reruns. And The Fugitive. Since the television is ice, the images are remarkably lucid. I can see the lines in David Janssen’s face, and Dan Blocker’s eyes are huge and generous and blue when he sits on his horse and smiles.

Richard Kimble, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jack Kerouac, gets a job as a migrant field worker in southern California near the Salton Sea. A brush fire starts in the nearby hills. The field workers are enlisted to fight the fire. Kimble sees a fallen man in the smoke and runs down and drags him to safety. The foreman orders Kimble to drive the man back to camp where there is a nurse (played by the very sexy Beverly Garland) in the company truck. He orders Paco Alvarez, who has a pregnant wife in camp, to accompany him. Paco refuses to go. He tells Kimble privately that he and the other workers suspect that he is an undercover border cop and will send anyone without papers back to Mexico. Kimble convinces Paco that he is not a cop. In fact, he is on the opposite side of the law. Paco believes him, and they take off back to camp in the truck. I get up to increase the heat on the thermostat and my palace melts. The TV melts and the truck melts and Paco and Richard Kimble melt.

I fall from the moon and land on earth. It’s 4:30 p.m., December 9th. Roberta returns home from work. I’m shaving in the bathroom. I have lather on my face. She tells me she called. When? A few minutes ago. I must have been in the shower, I say. What happened? She spotted a small bird at the top of the hill by the corner of 5th Avenue North and Prospect, where that big hedge is. The bird was disoriented. I went to scoop him up with my hat, and he flew back into the hedge. I’m sure the bird will be ok. If he could fly, he couldn’t have been too youg. It’s strange, though. It seems awful late in the winter for birds to be hatching out of eggs.

We eat kielbasa and beans and watch Le Journal de France 2. David Cameron looks angry. Sarkozy and Merkel look happy. Cameron vows to veto the Eurozone deal. We watch the bonus CD for Paris, Je T’Aime and eat ice cream as the Coen brothers explain what they want Steve Buscemi to do in the Paris Metro. Roberta worries about the bird and I tell her I am sure that if the bird could fly back into the hedge he could not have been too young or disoriented. His chances for survival appear good. And what could she have done? If she had brought the bird home Toby would have eaten him.

Tomorrow is Emily Dickinson’s birthday. I wonder what to get her. And then I realize she is dead. And how ironic that is. So many of her poems were meditations on death. On dying. On stone. On Time and Sound and Bells and Spools. Sedulous of Multitudes, notwithstanding Despair, even Nature herself has forgot it is there. What? The dog, of course.

There are no poodles in Emily’s poetry. No collies. No spaniels. No beagles. No Dobermans or pugs. No boxers or whippets or Chihuahuas or golden retrievers. Emily appeared to be remarkably focused on pearls. Flags of Snow. Slow gold. Crooked hills. Everlasting Night.

Men of Ivory. Pizarro’s Ear Rings. Billows of Circumference. Long storms. The quiet nonchalance of death.

The storms of Emily Dickinson rage in the heart of a dachshund. The dachshund sends out rays of light. Tomorrow I will construct another palace. I will construct it of rupture and spring and call it Xanadu. It will have the glaze of a thousand revolts. I will grow more hair on my head. I will wear sonnets. I will create a cemetery for birds. I will place it in the Sea of Tranquility. Now, 64 years of age, I push the door of my life open and discover that I am really Emily Dickinson, and my breasts are made of ice, and small white words ripple among my ribs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movie Rant

This has been a remarkably shitty year for movies. Usually, by early fall, some fairly decent movies have been released. The kids are back at school and now is the time for drama without boogers and robots. People exchanging actual dialogue. Facial expressions with nuance and subtlety. Except for a couple, such as 50/50 and Drive, the movies have been mind-numbingly awful. What is Al Pacino doing in the steaming pile of human fecal matter that is Adam Sandler’s Jack And Jill? I like going to the movies to get away from a world that is in the throes of imminent disaster. Catastrophic rot. I go to the movies for escape, yes, certainly, absolutely, but also for something a little extra, a trace of insight, a whisper of truth, a thoughtful exploration of the human soul, with maybe a sword fight or two and a dinosaur for good measure.

But it’s not just the movies Hollywood has been issuing like ground meat from an automatic stuffer. It’s the venues themselves. The audience. The management. The seats and screen and sound system.

A recent example: Roberta and I went to see The Descendants last Tuesday at the Guild 45th. We arrived early, and so went across the street to Starbucks to wait for the box office to open for the 2:30 matinee. While sipping my hot chocolate, I saw a man ascend a ladder to the roof of the Guild 45th, but thought nothing of it, assuming he was up there to clear away some leaves or check a minor leak.

At 2:00, we went to buy our tickets. We went into the theater and sat down. I could hear someone pounding on the roof, hammering, throwing heavy weights around. This continued into the previews. I went out to the lobby to complain. I asked the young woman who took our tickets if this guy on the roof was going to keep working through the movie. She followed me into the theater to check how loud it was. She heard the pounding instantly, and said she would go tell the manager. I figured the problem would be quickly solved.

But no. Movie began. The Descendants is not Savage Guns, Pearl Harbor, or Transformers. It’s a quiet movie, heavy on dialogue, pregnant pauses, facial close ups. I tried for an hour to get absorbed in the movie, but couldn’t. No one else seemed to mind. There were about 30 other people in the theatre. Finally, I gave up. I signaled to Roberta, and we left. We were refunded our money and given two free tickets.

But I can’t help wondering: what the fuck was the manager thinking in scheduling some guy to do roof construction during a movie? The mind boggles.

Could it be that people just don't give a shit about quality anymore? Or am I a whiny prima donna who expects far too much from the world?

I worry that the movies are dying. Fewer and fewer people, it seems, are willing to go through the bother of getting into a car and driving to a theater, finding a place to park, hoping the theater has a lobby in which to get out of the wet and cold, and they won’t be surrounded by nincompoops who spend the entire time texting.

When Roberta and I saw Stiegg Larson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo last year, there was a young woman in front of me who took out her cell phone and began texting. The bright light from her little instrument was distracting. I found it difficult to keep my eyes focused on the screen. There was a luminous blur in my peripheral vision, and the light itself kept drawing my attention, away from the action and dialogue on the screen. I thought she just needed to check something urgent, then would put her little toy away, and get back to the movie. But she didn’t. After about ten minutes, I couldn’t tolerate it anymore. I leaned forward and asked her to put it away. Which she did. I was glad of that. Her boyfriend was a bruiser. I didn’t want to mess with him.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been bothered by people texting. It happens a lot. Why anyone would pay 10 bucks to see a movie, and then not see it, but text away on their little gadgets, is beyond my comprehension.

I see this behavior, and other forms of rudeness which have become much more prevalent, as signs of a dying culture. I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing the Romans went through, circa 400 AD, before the inevitable and final collapse into the Dark Ages.

Those displaced Romans and Christians still had a planet, though. We don’t. Our planet is swiftly becoming inhabitable. No water to drink, no air to breathe.

Meanwhile, until the atmosphere catches fire and angels descend blowing trumpets and God kicks the shit out of Richard Cheney, I want to see movies. I want to see a movie in which God kicks the shit out of Richard Cheney.

Or Obama. Anyone who is responsible for our demise. Or tells whopping lies to get his or her ass kissed. I’m not real big on the truth, frankly, I tend to prefer illusions, for obvious reasons, but I hate it when someone gets away with a deceit so colossal it would shame the devil.

In the Scorsese documentary about Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking, Lebowitz remarks that a high level of connoisseurship is vital to the arts, and to culture in general, and that a significant population of connoisseurship was lost during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Arts became more vulgar, everything had to be “broader, more blatant, more on the nose.”

I see that happening now. I don’t blame AIDS, I blame another epidemic: technological materialism. A mindset that is capable of referring to Steve Jobs as a visionary, or Bill Gates as a philanthropist. This is a society whose perceptions have been blunted by cheap entertainment and whose intellects have been bludgeoned by propaganda. I agree with Lebowitz: there needs to be more democracy in our politics, and less democracy in the arts.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Beautiful Lassitude

Here is a bearing which combines laceration
With amusement. As a keepsake it has been
Turned into a parable. A large Antarctic plug
Chafed with cellophane while humming
And percolating algebra. Sleep is more
Like an engraving than a conversation
With a wire and a pair of calipers. Knots
Are hectic with teak when they are shoveled
From the land. Nails jingle in a toolbox
And cellos turn to silver, their music dribbling
Guts and curry. When all is said the waterfront
Is nothing but mist and gloom and history
Dancing in a nightclub. Shall we dare
To soak ourselves in antifreeze? The candy
Is a nasty fire. And no, I am not opposed
To cyclones. I just don’t like fussing
With an old tube of glue. The thin logic
Of the tailgate is far more ecstatic. The map
Is a naked bud. A wedge of sound from the radio
Incites watermelon to arc into romance
With a nexus of hacksaws. The window
Is unassuming. The azaleas heave
Themselves into nirvana and we count
All the castles of the landfills until
The gasoline coughs. The laceration
Continues as a paragraph. The rest of us
Go to jail, which is just noodles after all
Is said and done. Noodles and bars and
Birds and armadas of wonderful poetry
That releases everyone into crickets.
The invertebrate drugs have a wall
In their scenery so be careful. There
Is just enough syntax available to make
Snacks and chew our memories into benediction.
In this realm we deposit our shoes in the bank
And withdraw into an obdurate obscurity
That is worthy of poets. Even the parakeets
Are delirious. Our shoulders are distilled
Into puddles. The scars form bundles of skin
That we can fold into slices of water.
This is how we have come to dawdle in mirrors.
There are more veins than wisps of aviation.
More shoulders than wainscoting. More suitcases
Than horizons of summer. Beautiful summer
Which I have folded into a shirt. My glands are opals
And the glue is an apparition, a flip of adhesion
Like an octopus tap-dancing on a jetty. A new
Anthology of poetry full of penguins and lassitude
Drifts under the boardwalk and yaws into blackberries.
The world is not a mechanical salad. No it is not. The world
Is a churning aluminum wallet stuffed with lips
Running amok among the credit cards and equations.
There are more than molecules in the house of olives.
There are verbs and hoes and watts that smell of life.
Life as it is lived in the drip of biography. Life as it is lived
In the cleavage of a yak at a nightclub in London. Yes
And a river long after it becomes a gate and lets us in
To better understand infinity, and get silly in the waterfall.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ode To A Chair

Is it wrong to love furniture
I love my chair
I think of it as my personal organizational assistant
With four legs two arms and a reasonably soft cushion
The arms are smooth and gently curved
With fluted columns in a duet of maple conviction
The front legs are also fluted and proudly vertical
While the back legs are more discursive
They descend to the floor in an obstinate curve
That argues the ontology of objects and persons
Consistent with the empirically established facts
Based on epistemic considerations
And causal interrelations of the chair’s constituent atoms
Manifesting themselves in a form I can sit on
And rest my body and lean back occasionally
To enlarge my prospects
I also love the couch
Because I love to recline
Consider a gas in a vessel with perfectly smooth and elastic walls
In an arbitrary initial state and let it evolve in the course of time
And you will get a couch
Bubbling out of a mossy hillside
In the middle of a football field
I believe the subjunctive mood is a form of furniture
For it supports the labor of the mind
Attempting to crawl out of reality
To find a commodious object
In which to launch its fanciful creations
For instance take this poem
Driving down Second Avenue
In a Lamborghini wearing nothing
But a refrigerator light
Would you say it was bald
Or more like a sandwich
Of words and lettuce
A wind blows through my work
If you want to call this work
I call it a public fountain
You can make anything on your lips
Travel out of your mouth and become a bloodmobile
I am trying very hard to be
Worthy of this chair
Even if I have to club it into submission
My love for this chair must be sweet destiny
For why else would I sit in it committing these words
To its shape and description
Its immortal being
Its four legs and two arms and cushion
Enthusiasm is the god within
My eyes walk out of my head to say this
Chair isn’t everything but it means a lot
Which is why the ode was born
To convey such thoughts and feelings
Even in a time of iPods and pixels
Pythagoras, it is said, lectured to his students
From behind a curtain so that they would concentrate
On what was said and not on its source
This was known as being “acousmatic”
This strategy applies equally
To expanding a chair into an evocation
Of perturbations and ribbons
The time is exquisite
At the frontier between perception and language
It is where the crocodile heaves its body onto the blacktop
And Scarlet Johannson takes off her clothes
The better to startle you
Into a recognition of yourself and your possibilities
Cézanne was on the verge of middle age
When he had the crucial revelation of his artist’s mission
He reversed the illusion of deep space
To achieve mass and volume first
Recording with a separate pat of paint
Each larger shift in direction
By which the surface of an object
Defined the shape of the volume
It enclosed and so a chair was born
To support the weight of the body
As it becomes available to itself
The chair has a more liberal
Breadth of a purpose than a feeling
But put a feeling in a chair
And that feeling will grow into a chair
Whose purpose is to lead the mind
To heights of understanding

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ted Enslin Letters

I corresponded with the late Ted Enslin for something like 18 years, beginning sometime in 1993, or possibly 1994. I received his last letter on July 6th, 2011. I knew it would be his last. “Well,” he had written, “I think my condition is terminal. How long is a question. Personally I hope not very long. The past week was a stinker.”

Ted did not identify his illness or go into details about his limitations, though I had a pretty good idea, having been witness to my father’s death, mother’s death and that of my father- and mother-in-law. Ted’s evident acceptance of death was impressive, but not surprising. It was obvious from our years of correspondence that he was not only accustomed to reality but welcomed it. His poetry testifies to a no-nonsense worldview that exalted the world’s stony reverberations in a language of percussive penetration and solidity. His words were simple but carefully placed, pulsed, like the purity of notes in a composition by Eric Satie.

Ted loved music, Mahler especially. He had had a rigorous training in composition, and studied under French composer, conductor, and teacher Nadia Boulanger. Poetry provided a means for musical expression in lexical form. He believed that the same principles apply to both music and poetry and that ideally they are one art. “I became increasingly aware of the fact,” Ted remarked in an interview with Robert J. Bertholf for Web Conjunctions,

that there was a great deal of material that I could not deal with in the usual ways. For instance, I wanted to write something antiphonal, I wanted to get that spatial sense of sound, and I was attracted—as many, many people have been—to the possibilities of a concert hall such as the nave of St. Mark's in Venice, where the so-called Antiphonal School arose. The Gabrielis and their great students (Monteverdi and Schütz in particular) is where that came from. Well, I thought, yeah, this is a great idea, the idea of an echo, but spatially moved out so that it would be apparent in the readings of such a piece. Could that be done? And I tried something which I called "Antiphony", I guess it must have been in about the middle '50s. And it didn't work. I didn't have the means to do it. I did do it, however, about 22 or 23 years later and it did work. I had it performed twice, once at Bowling Green in 1989. It is based on the consideration of a rock, geologic rock, and it comes back again and again in the series of echoing and returning sounds, and in a kind of percussive sense of rock, of something against which you can't push much of anything else.

Ted was a prompt letter writer. I would sometimes take as long as two months to answer a letter. But when I did, I would have a letter from Ted in less than a week.

Ted’s letters were all identical in size: the envelope was 6 ½ by 3 ½ inches and the letter itself was most ofen a small single sheet of paper, 5 ½ inches in width and 8 ½ inches in length. They were always typewritten. Ted used a manual typewriter. When I held one of his letters, my fingers could feel the little impressions the typewriter keys made on the back side of the paper. I don’t know where Ted managed to find ribbons. He lived in a rural part of Maine, less than a mile from the seashore. He was married to an artist named Alison Enslin, but was in all other respects a hermit. He had little use for society. We shared a contempt for American culture, its militaristic hardness and brutality, its cheerless pragmatism and inability to appreciate or value anything that didn’t involve money.

Ted was particularly contemptuous of doctors. “Of course, for me, doctors, and their inane ‘tests’ are unthinkable.” Fortunately, Ted was in remarkably good health for most of the years we wrote. He must have been pushing 70 when we began our correspondence, and he frequently mentioned swimming in the Atlantic. I often complained about the cholesterol lowering medication I had to take, and he would respond by letting me know that his cholesterol level was well below 200, which was probably the result of his love of seafood. He remarked in his last letter that he always had a fondness for big Dungeness crabs, and that he’d “eaten a good clam chowder a few days ago, and haddock yesterday.”

“I have always preferred fish, shellfish, etc. to meat,” he remarked in an earlier letter. “No moral preference. I simply like seafood more. I was that way as a child. Whenever I had the choice I invariably picked seafood. Something of a merman, perhaps.”

He did not like snow. He did not like winter. Maine winters especially. “Ah,” he remarked in a letter dated 1/11/11, “but I wish I could go to Belize as I used to. Not possible now for many reasons. To go alone is unthinkable in my physical condition.”

In May of 2011 it was still there. “Yes, 130 inches of snow, what I call our white filth, is a bit mind boggling, but we are used to anywhere between 70 and 80 inches a year.”

I would sometimes remark on the deplorable ignorance and decay of America’s public schools, and there, too, Ted had a lot of contempt. He referred to himself as an autodidact: “I have always been an autodidact, and started early. Standard schooling was an utter waste on me, and I rejected it. Actually some of it was harmful to me. Despite Horace Mann, and others, I often think that public schooling in this country should be abolished. Much money saved for better purposes. The best teaching is one on one, and I am sure many others have been injured by this usual crap.”

Ted’s letters were always a comfort to me. A kind of compass heading. He proved that one could live independently of society’s suffocating bureaucracies and soul-killing commerciality. He was outside the politics of the literary academies and conventions where everyone shows off their wares and jockeys for publication opportunities. He did not own a computer. He was his own man, all the way.

Whenever I went to collect the mail, I recognized Ted’s letters immediately by their modesty of size. I could tell immediately that they weren’t bills or requests for money. I liked that.

Ted’s pleasures were as modest as his letters. He liked smoking a pipe, reading, listening to music, and drinking a glass of whiskey per day. I sensed in his letters a profoundly New England character, a love of honesty and craft and reverence for nature, for economy and the deeply gratifying pleasure of a skill achieved by hard learning, be it carpentry, music, or fishing.

Ted had had a long history with New England. Ted’s great-grandmother was first cousin to Lydia Jackson, Emerson’s second wife, and William James second son, William “Billy” James, chose Ted as a model for a number of his paintings.

I once made inquiry about Ted’s view of the afterlife, of the supernatural, and Ted answered that “my interest in paranormal evidences comes through a number of instances in my own life, which can’t be explained in ‘normal’ ways. Of course all of the evidence is colored by the way in which people think at particular times. I don’t think of ghosts in white sheets, or accounts from some pie-in-the-sky paradise. Rather, I think that there is a residuum from experience and knowledge similar to archaeologist’s soils – carbon dating etc. All of us have a bit of that kind of sensing, though it is limited, and often stunted by ‘practical’ thinking. But there are other senses, and people like Aunt Nora have them in a developed degree. Ivan Tolstoy once told me that it is mathematically demonstrable that man’s knowledge has added to the weight of the earth. I think he was thinking in the right direction.”

I will miss Ted’s letters. I have become so accustomed to receiving them. They have been a part of my life. More than an adjunct; more like a tide. A coming and going of thoughts and convictions, opinions and images. Lives shared. Feelings contrasted and shaped according to the notes of one another’s words.

I never actually met Ted. Never even spoke to him on the telephone. Yet I feel I knew him deeply. I must have, because I feel his loss deeply.

The impulse to write him remains. I suppose in time that feeling will dissipate. And, like now, I will find myself writing about him, rather than to him. There is a world of difference between those two prepositions. On one side is life, and on the other, the complete unknown.

Friday, November 25, 2011

This Is The Farm Where Candles Boil

Clumsiness is sweetened by rattling the wisecrack. Resilience was embryonic in the dream I had. The gantry forge was this parameter or inferno. The testimony propagated moon bubbles. A hirsute stepladder and bulbs that overflowed.

The wood in heartwood is longer than reticence. It is a fabric with the extent of sand. Tilted thoughts are smacked into life. Noumena swarm the book. The horizontal is sometimes gleefully housed in hardware.

This is because consciousness is stitched with rain. The blade extends grace. The stunning conclusion breaks out shouting. Nipples in salvation walk from Rome to Naples. The door’s ingredients are mirrored in the river.

Art is to experience what the oarlock is to oars. Audacity’s old hypothesis sleeps in admonition. Glasses become examples. The army moves into the opium map. Wet or adhesive the meaning of calypso dilates our tin.

A complex flower is hauled out of the garden. We serve ourselves speed and get the ceiling to sparkle. A development pumps itself into rope between the spars. Alarm whistles in steam for the coffee. Our feet pummel a pacific sidewalk.

This is the farm where candles boil. Where copperplate stirs perception. Where chiaroscuro slips through gravity’s veins and old puddles merit the play of a dachsund. Like pumps, the great octagonal truths coax our faiths to mingle and become a religion of thrills. The severity of our insults are actually sugar.

We heard that the tables are stern but flat and serviceable. Science’s phantom zippers seethe with divinity in them. During the paradigm, our truffles burst. The lost staircase spirits tumbled down the steps. The seashore climbed through the enfoldments of our clothes.

Sunlight materializes circumference. The newly built palace blazes with gold. A sparrow alights on the palette. Paper’s duty is not to the paddle but to the sonnet that replaces its letters with handsprings. Words are simulacrums until Euclid opens the door.

We step into our moccasins and the fierce new surge of being we feel is stunning. The hermitage pigments are done flapping. Expansion leaves a trail of discarded oysters. It dampens us in expanded dribble. The whole highway is fencing itself.

Demonstrate your tigers then think and interact later. The morning has no effective means to keep a secret. Fathom eyeballs are as pockets of change. Grains in suspension can rattle and multiply. Sweat grabs the skin and makes it gleam.

Goldfish arms unbend on the sandstone which burns. I had enough kisses to parody the harness. The swamp yells its examples in lines. The slide was brooding in moo drool. I put the emphasis on bounce but the hem was the first to plead its heterogeneity.

Heart salt is anything the hectic wrinkle binoculars. Jellyfish henna jarred in butane. Too blue to collect an irritation. Details unravel between your brushes. Explain the intestines. Why are incongruities always so developed that a mongrel hammer gladdens the hand of Thor and winter arrives in a harrow?

Consider parrots. Explore a sycophant. Papier collé looks chronological on muffins. It is a severity too old to pack. Fire fangs deepen the taxi.

This is a house for musk and cinnamon, not a bungalow for shouting. Wire and zippers meet certain ontological needs but we must anchor our personal sense of existence in a frame more personably oriented toward the light. Chiaroscuro branches into a texture. We sweeten our veins with adjectives. We are eager, like intellect, to swing our perspective into copper, and make it last until the chains are undone.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

48 Reasons To Write Poetry In A Time Of Aliteracy

Because words walk out of my hand like coins of fever
And the washer grumbles like a cargo plane taking off from Guam
Because lightning paints the wall with apocalypse
And staircases have implications
Because making a list of reasons for something that doesn’t require
         a reason is inexplicably convivial
Like a skeleton with scraps of paper stuck all over it
Or a catcher’s mitt turning infrared in a dream about pretzels
Because morning is a horse in Belgium
Because the dreams that clams dream are impelled by harmonica
And glass disturbs the rumors of the highway
Because whenever I make an incision in the air a charming
         sidewalk topples out of it
Because I live in the House of the Rising Sun
And the incident rate of odometer fraud is a nebula of alibis
Because there is no way to describe alpaca except with a bagpipe
         and a stepladder
Because vowels are hooked to consonants in a mathematics of
         sawdust and glue
That shine among ships and thicken into life at the exact moment
         there is music clasped to a lip from 10:00 o’clock to eternity
Because hot showers feel wonderful and T-shirts and shoes are
         marvels of sartorial conception
Because truth is slippery and cold and cognition suits the shape
         of the human skull
Like a string of sausages
In a marketplace in the highlands of Oaxaca
Because the sands of time are crucial to cooking
And consciousness is wet and goofy
Because an organ tugs music from a stone and drags it into
Because photosynthesis is an effective way to eat the sun
And rain converts to puddles on the ground
Because the formula for landscape is visibility plus trees equals
         the love of motion
And there are leaves scattered everywhere on the ground running
         the gamut from scarlet to gold
And comets and diplomats are displacements of electrical energy
And Hawaii is a backache
And lava chatters of heat
Because the sound of the alphabet flirts with immensity
And a pitcher of water imitates clouds
Because I feel powerfully alive each time sunset unveils the night
And curiously sad when I get out of bed
Because whenever an American male opens his mouth to speak I
         hear something dead inside
And whenever I hear an American woman open her mouth to
         speak I hear something frightened and dangerous
I hear incandescent capillaries sewn into a sonnet of blood
Because the Pacific ocean harvests a violin
And parables help us understand the sensations which arise from
Because defecation is an enigma more puzzling than baseball
Because airports bananas and little white clocks
Because mahogany is a beautiful and imposing wood and the
         Skookumchuck has cut Centralia in half
Because joy is a mood but life is a feeling and true power comes in
         the form of a strawberry
Because death speaks the language of birth
Because if you thrust a jacket onto the couch it will remain there
Until somebody moves it
Because understanding dust is not the same as comprehending a
         complex emotion
Because echoes in a famished soul develop into libraries
And ankles are miracles of bone and cartilage
Because the little finger thinks it is cleverer than the thumb but is
         not and must be pitied
Because pink is in turmoil and clarinets are immune to drums
Because there is mustard on the accordion and thought is smeared
         into words and the firmament speaks to the mountain in the
         language of thunder and hair
Because jellyfish wash ashore and the hooves of the horses leave
         imprints in the sand that resemble the crescents of the moon
Because destiny is the eggnog of shock
And coffee is eloquent and black
Because Jeoffry my cat is not named Jeoffry at all but Toby and
         Toby is licking himself under the lamp even as I write the odor
         of beef stew fills the apartment and traffic lights would not be
         as effective if they were round like balloons
Because to Hegel the life process of the brain is the demiurgos of
         the real world and the real world is only the external,
         phenomenal form of the Idea translated into forms of thought
And muscle is predicated on bone
Because whenever the word ‘ground’ bends into the word ‘urethra’
         I feel that something wonderful and strange has happened and
         so desire to see it put into simulacrum of floating where I howl
         with laughter and men search for honey in magical Gabon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mallarmé Packs His Suitcase

Mallarmé packs his suitcase with flotsam and steam and the catechism of dice. There is no end to the horizon. Unlike the rain battering his window and hitting the ground in a chaos of spit and splatter. That will end, and become 200 frogs croaking in Monday drizzle.

Where is he going? What will he do when he gets there? Will he find pleasure in water? Will he find sufficient rope to tie the sky to the earth?

It is 12:58 p.m. I am anchored in front of a computer. The snow slides gently and smoothly to the ground, softening and homogenizing form in a uniformity of white. Mallarmé exists in a different space and time. But we are linked. By poetry. And an ocean of blood flowing around a complexity of muscle and bone. Which is one and the same thing.

Laugh at necessity. But don’t laugh at pewter. Swimming is difficult in an empty pool. Pain sparkles in the shadows.

I am a monk in a realm of improbability. I prefer to wear denim most of the time. I like to experiment with words. Glazes and equations. Formulas and morals. Mass times bikini equals paprika. The square root of accordion is yellow fever. Pump means nervous multiplied by taste.

The window smells like an airplane. But the color of innocence blossoms in sugar and the fire vomits sparks.

Birch excites my words. Birch is a perspective. And a shaking and a deepening. A horse flies through a sonnet. Indigo lives in a violin. Frankenstein stumbles through the forest. His clothes are rags. His eyes are flames of hot bright mustard.

Everything meaningful exists outside of time. Identity is most acute when it has no identity. Once I was Jean Jacques Rousseau. Now I am Thomas Hobbes. And the world is a leviathan.

What shall we call this world? This place without regiment, or horticulture. Let’s call it a pink balloon at the bottom of a rockery. A man pumping gas on a Saturday night in Nebraska. Three women sitting in wheelchairs in front of a Christian science church. Medallions of pork on a juniper plate. A woman in a yellow bathrobe, fingernails ablaze with pink.

The galaxy oozes visibility. Japan emerges from the fog. Water drips from the leaves, soaks into the ground, and rises back up in the form of sap.

I stop to gather healing elixirs in a garden of handsprings. Do you accept my nudity? My alphabet of needs and butterflies? Consciousness coils around a sound and becomes a word. A stirring of coal dust attacks the syntax of science. If cynicism doesn’t work, use force. If force doesn’t work, use poetry. Space holds the wind in a grove of willow. It waits for you. It is a gift from heaven. It is dangerous and strange and awakens the dead.

One of the reasons we cannot believe our senses is because the phenomenon defies any reasonable explanation. But it’s true. Snow is magic. It advances the truth of mutability. I see a haiku in your cheek. And a hunger in your eyes.

I made a strong cup of coffee this morning. Run as fast as you can if you see me coming. I am a peacock. I am a silhouette in the blinds of the window.

A man in a suit stands in the middle of a dirt road. It is Stephan Mallarmé. Holding a suitcase in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. It is 1:47 p.m. The moon is a teaspoon, an idiom of feeling. There is a pitchfork in a ditch, its prongs rusting. What is he doing? Where is he going? Does he know? Is he real?

Yes. Light is composed of waves. But no window ever got lonely by hammers, and no hassock grew a name out of antifreeze and rhetoric. It takes a nerve to pinch the temperature, and a roll of cellophane to crackle exemplification. When the bus comes, hide behind the pathos of tinfoil. Think thick thoughts of ginger. Scold reality. Surrender to the blues. Kiss the occasional peach and clap at each papaya. The world is doing what the world does, which is spin, and splash, and pivot into pantomime, weaving groceries out of words and highways out of wind.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More About Money

Money isn’t hard to understand
People think money is wealth
But it isn’t it’s only paper
It’s less than paper it’s endeavor
Prospects and dreams convictions and schemes
It is airy nothing it isn’t even numbers
Numbers are for economists
Economists do not understand money
Politicians do not understand money
Investors and bankers do not understand money
If you want to know about money ask a poet
Poets understand money because they understand simple things
And money is simple it is so simple it is naked
Money is not astronomy money is paper
It is words like lipstick and fence
It is sloppy like feeling
Rain on a window
Money humors the intellect
With representations of time and labor
And skill and knowledge
None of which can be truly represented
Which makes money silly
Nothing in this universe has value
That can be quantified
And printed as money
Or the price of carrots or the price of guns
People kill for money how ridiculous
Is that it is less ridiculous
Than killing for religion or an idea
If somebody doesn’t like your method
Of worship or museums or weltanschauung
Tell them to go fuck themselves don’t kill them
Supply and demand is punctuation
It isn’t providence or pudding
Gross domestic product is just that
It’s gross and repellent
Because the main industry and product
Of the United States is death
Killing people directly with bombs
And bullets or more insidiously
With meaningless jobs
Why do politicians always say we need more jobs
I know how to bring more jobs
To people my policies will grow jobs
People don’t want jobs people want money
Because money is paper and folds neatly into a wallet
It isn’t even paper anymore it’s pixels
Algorithms dividends derivatives
Mutual funds collateral due diligence
What’s that it’s nothing
A poem has far greater value
Even a lousy poem
Why because a poem is based on interest
Genuine interest not the rate
At which banks charge borrowers
For the privilege of enslavement
That’s insane
Debt is insane
Unless you owe someone your life
Because they saved you from drowning
Or being eaten by a bear
A rhapsody is worth more than a Maserati any day
Medicine and education should be free
That’s a no brainer
Wealth depends on a healthy community
A community that charges exorbitant prices
For things that should be free
Is doomed to die a slow ugly death
The limbs grow gangrenous
And no one can support the corporate body
When it has scales and venom
And eats its young

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Max Jacob’s Cuff Links

This is my life, a ghost town on the verge of development. Flowers in a taxi. A headland emerging from the fog. Snow arrives in big white dollars. The water slaps its chaos against the sand. Wherever I look I see the spectral poetry of night, the prodigal poetry of day. It is a disease. Poetry is a disease. The strain of it leaves a stain of enthusiasm in my suede. Circles ripen in mutation. Duality is combustible. I can feel Montana in my shoulder. I can hear Roberta roll the compost bin up the easement.

Is there a glue for sticking daylight to an anchovy? I have carved an alphabet out of Martian air. I have preserved it in a jar. It wiggles around in abstractions of daily existence. The curious history of Max Jacob’s cufflinks serves to demonstrate the grandeur of detail in a simple piece of glass. Moonlight has broken the bottle that I hide inside.

Knock knock knock. I open the door and there stands General Grant. What are you doing here, I ask. He offers me some coffee. He comes inside. We talk about war and death and life and the weird smell of the basement. We are all Greek, he says. We are all involved in an epic struggle, when in fact we are but the puppets of capricious gods.

This is a delinquent logic, I tell him, but true. Years ago I married an asterisk in my search for the ablution of glue. I want things to cohere. I want things to stay together. But they never do.

There is an image in my heart. It is a soccer ball stuck under the tire of a green Volkswagen. I hope the owner of the car will see the ball before they start their car and squish it.

Look: I can do tricks with my wrinkles. One day you will be old too and have wrinkles like me. This is my favorite wrinkle. I pull the rain through the eye of a needle and the overhead fan dances on my spoon. A group of elves shave Elvis. An empty mug surrenders the voice of a skeleton. I hear the crackle and pop of someone opening a package they have just removed from the freezer. I reach around and scratch my back. I get up from my table. I put the sun in my pocket and the moon on my head. And I leave. I just go. I’m tired of waiting. Waiting for the wormwood of truth. Waiting for the purpose of everything to reveal itself.

Crows make such odd noises sometimes. I wonder what it means. Cats are meditations in repose. Things explain themselves by kerosene. By interrelation. By fork and formaldehyde.

Who is Nina Hagen? Do you hide yourself in wine? The romance of the lighthouse is finished. We all navigate differently now. We use satellites and pixels. We use time balls and chronometers. Wisdom and semen. Mucilage and dreams.

I like the feeling of water passing over my body. I like the feeling of air going in and out of my body. I like the feeling of music in my blood and the way candlelight permits certain intimacies. I like the way dawn imposes itself on the mountains and the way colors hold our attention until an image reaches our brain.

The exact cause of poetry is unknown. There is no reason for it to exist. There is no reason for anything to exist. The sun arrives and unpacks its light and the day begins. A new chapter crawls out of my head and sits down on a sheet of paper and attempts to mean something. Mean something so weighty that it stays there. Tugs like an act of will. But it never really does. All I see are Max Jacob’s cuff links. A sleeve and an arm and an old man leaning against a column staring off into space.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Memory Of Ankles Boiled In Naked Rhetoric

Winter kisses the rails with rain. Two men converse in the caboose. Inflections rise through their throats and emerge as instructions and tones. Equations of movement float ideas of space huge as thought and soft as the scrotum of dusk.

Does a fetus feel the emotions of its mother? It’s normal to want to live in a shell. The orchard is filling with infantry. The United States is a giant contradiction, and I have a blister on my soul.

That is why there is a meeting today in the bank vault. Destiny is crickets. Money is mere proverb. These very words are steeped in meaning. Yet mean nothing. Language is a map for the discovery of chalk. I will employ a little plaster to substantiate my theory. The letters are real. They percolate my feelings. There is more than a single umbilicus. The veins become an energy and the desolation cracks our lips. The ratio of pain to pleasure is getting a little dicey. Something needs to be done. Something large and axiomatic. Something glorious.

Jesus enters the bank carrying a Glock and a submachine gun. He means business. He’s had it. He’s not fooling around this time. Violence failed Picasso. But it won’t fail Jesus. How do I know? I’m shaking all over.

But that’s not really a part of this story. It belongs to a sweet white hour of snow whirling in the beams of headlights and a fast and slippery chase on the icy roads of Nebraska. A time before mirth and grease expressed our reverie in rags.

Fictions aren’t written to gain our trust, but resonate parallels within the gravel of our urges. Stories are crossties in the railroad of life. Creosote insures longevity, while a search for spiritual meaning often conflicts with a need to survive. Is there really any way to know if a car mechanic is being honest?

I once owned a typewriter that emanated the sweet and sour odors of sex. I used it to reach transcendence, the peaks and valleys of Shelly’s poetry, a verisimilitude of Christmas decorations overflowing from a box high on a shelf in the basement of a distinguished misanthrope. I celebrated Thanksgiving on the moon. Prayer and embroidery traveled through telegraph wire. We listened to the Beatles in a ’62 blue Bonneville sedan. Dolley Madison repaired a zipper on my jacket. We robbed 42 banks that year. Sipped fat oysters from their shells and packed our suitcases with books and moon jellies.

Have you ever thought about hands? Really thought about hands, gave them your full attention, held them in your mind and clasped them together like a marriage in a junkyard?

The thumb is a thesis of opposition. I gather shadows and grind them into bicycles. I read Spinoza. I yearn for the jewelry of enigma. Philosophy grows parallels between existence and postage stamps. I am naked granite. My first accomplishment of the day is to set my feet on the floor and try to remain erect. It’s important that I achieve some form of balance. Why? I own a flea circus, that’s why. We don’t mess around with dermatologists here. It’s all poetry. Frankenstein in a bathtub, singing French folk songs.

It is said that poetry is a mutation and will lead one day to strange maneuvers and peculiar phenomena such as shoes and airports. Amazement will come to you in the form of a wrinkle. Or maybe a waltz. Linen and bone blossoming in an ocean of sweet sensation.

I am awed by the alacrity of digestion. I once saw a drug swallow a window. It took three days to digest. We found it in a pile of lumber, glass shattered, nails trickling from a paper bag. The view was still in it. A bride stripped bare by her bachelors oozed nebulas of unmitigated milk. There was a motel in the background, and a highway so lonesome in its misdemeanors it advanced by hope and neon. It looked like Omaha. But I’m going to guess Honolulu. The night was too anxious to do anything but glitter and rattle its chains the way it always does when there is a full moon and a little beatitude gets wedged between the words like an eye.

Can an appetite gargle you to dust? Don’t eat a window. If you must eat something, eat an emotion, a memory of ankles boiled in naked rhetoric. The aftertaste will veer into benediction.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yahoo Yaw

I’ve never been into sailing. It has never had any appeal to me. But there is a nautical term that has a great attraction. The word is “yaw.” Yaw refers to a deviation from the course, usually for the purpose of gathering a greater amount of wind. This term strikes me as being very similar to the Japanese practice of ziuhitsu, which means “follow the brush.”

Writing, which bears many similarities to the practice of sailing, and navigation, requires deviation when the matter at hand grows stale, or a shiver of light on the horizon invites exploration. There is no shame in changing direction, particularly when the winds of inspiration open our eyes and ears to new possibilities. Fresh associations. Curious sensations.

If we remain stubborn and refuse a change of direction, we find ourselves in the doldrums. We languor in a calm, groggy with torpor, leaden with inertia.

It is said that when the winds disappear, the sea has no swells, and if there are no clouds or moonlight, but only stars reflected on the calm, mirror-like water, there is a sensation of floating in space.

There are times when it’s good to have a little calm. Some time to reflect. To make some repairs. But if we remain in this state we die. We exhaust our provisions. We grow mad for movement. Crazy for change. Hungry for some new development, even if it means a storm, or tidal wave. People often feel strangely euphoric during a catastrophe.

We need perturbation. A worry. An itch. A memory. A sudden discomfiting idea. Some new perception that shakes our model of the universe. Anything that can give us some propulsion.

Each effect has a cause. The cause of color is light. The cause of light is darkness. The cause of darkness is the absence of light. Absence is the cause of presence. Presence is the cause of absence. Circularity is the cause of circulation. Circulation is the cause of impressionism and pewter. Karakul handsprings rehearsed in a rickshaw. The savor of silver in a Kickapoo flute.

What made Mark Twain shave his head in Florence, Italy? I do not know. That is between Mark Twain and Mart Twain’s hair.

If I think of a thread, and add to that a thought of water, I may arrive at an image of hair. Hair is water pouring out of the head in the form of thread.

We converse with the dead in our dreams. William Shakespeare says hello. He hates the movie Anonymous. He wishes that everyone would stop arguing about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays and just enjoy the plays.

Travel is good for the soul. Even if you don’t go anywhere. You can always go somewhere. Some people go all the way to Paris, or Kuala Lumpur, without going anywhere at all. Travel isn’t about distance or speed or movement. It’s a matter of seeing things differently. And deviation. Tacking. Swinging about. Shifting accents. Opposition of planes and volumes. Cross-rhythms and a slight anticipation of the beat, with the unexpected placing of accents and with the shapes of melodic phrases.

There is a yaw in music and a yaw in writing that mobilizes contrast and creates a space that is vast and infinite. It ruminates on dimes and earns perception by detonating paradigms. The chair pleads for a metaphor and the sails propose to the wind.