Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fahrenheit 451 Revisited

Bums on the outside, libraries on the inside.

That about sums it up. The phrase is from Ray Bradbury’s futuristic novel Fahrenheit 451, in which an enlightened fireman turned fugitive flees a dystopic urban community and finds shelter and community in a hobo camp of bibliophiles and outlaw intellectuals where literature is preserved in people’s memories rather than actual books, which have been declared illegal, and are routinely burned by firemen whose task is to start rather than stop fires.

Like Jules Verne’s equally prophetic Paris In The Twentieth Century, Fahrenheit 451 describes an urban community that is devoted to technology and war and utterly disparages anything to do with art and literature. Critical thinking is vilified. Original thought is tantamount to blasphemy. Consumerism is broadly and vigorously encouraged. Distractions are plentiful. Conformity is mandatory. Ignorance is a social asset. Knowledge is an endangering liability. Utility and pragmatism are primary virtues. Idleness and reverie are anathematized.

Sound familiar? If the above sounds like the world in which we are now living, then you are more apt to be among the mocked and disenfranchised than the socially well-adjusted and affluent. A bum on the outside, a library on the inside.

Fahrenheit 451 was written in the late 40s and published in 1953, 58 years ago. More than half a century. I was 6 years old. How did Bradbury come to write this book? What put the seed of it in his mind? How did he, as did Jules Verne 90 years before Bradbury’s book was published, envision a future that proved to be so uncannily accurate?

Clearly, the values aggressively espoused from the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s had a great deal to do with it. Industrialization led to the creation of the factory, which mandated a robotic, routinized behavior and a reverence for technology. The factory system gave rise to the modern city and all of its noise and pollution. The arts continued to be taught in the universities and housed in museums and book publication was even more robust than it had been. But there was a tacit assumption that while artistic and intellectual values had some importance to a healthy society, they were inferior to the work of the scientist and engineer. This pattern grew increasingly lopsided until, 200 years later, technically savvy and highly aggressive entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became celebrated as visionaries. Jobs, upon his recent passing, was virtually deified. Had he been Catholic, rather than a self-professed Buddhist, it would not have surprised me to see him nominated for sainthood.

I reached adulthood in the 60s. I remember them vividly. I grew up in an upper middle class household. My father worked at Boeing as an aerospace engineer. All the households I visited had books. Television had replaced books and radio to become the chief medium of communication, but people still respected books and lauded writers such as Thoreau and Dickinson and Whitman and Emerson. Even the households that scraped by on modest incomes had books. It was inauspicious, but possible, to make a living as a writer. One could announce this as one's life ambition without embarrassment. It had credibility. Writers commanded a respect equal to doctors and lawyers. It was a viable and praiseworthy profession. The Beatles even had a song about it, "Paperback Writer." This pattern continued, albeit with gradual diminishment, until the 80s.

The zeitgeist changed radically circa 1980. Reagan became president. Greed was good. And here in Seattle, a little company called Microsoft began making the headlines.

Three decades later we have a world disquietingly similar to Fahrenheit 451. I try not to mention books at social gatherings because it would be tantamount to suddenly breaking into Chinese, or undoing my belt and letting my pants fall to the ground. An allusion to the written word to the unsuspecting at a wedding, birthday celebration or gathering of coworkers at the local bar is answered, unfailingly, with the deer caught in the headlights look. Glazed eyes, faces pale and numb with perplexity.

One would think that the computer would be the antidote. It looks like a TV and has a lot more fun stuff to look at than the stark little letters on the page of a book. But it’s not. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. While the print media is now in its final death throes, newspapers thin as grocery flyers, book publishers wary of publishing anyone not a celebrity or whose prose is even a trifle oblique, independent bookstores eaten by merciless titans such as Barnes and Noble where the writerly, intellectually challenging author has the chances of a proverbial snowball in hell of selling enough copies to prevent all their books from being sent back to the publisher, the e-books and blogs and journals available online are not cultivating a new audience of readers. The medium does not encourage reading. It encourages a fickle, superficial, dilletantish skimming. “Who wants to reread Faulknerian sentences on a Kindle,” writes Chad Harbach, "or scroll back to pick up a missed plot point? Nobody, says the publisher. And the NYC novelist understands—she'd better understand, or else she'll have to move to Cleveland."

Ah yes, MFA programs. Life is weird. Perplexing and contradictory. Why, when books are dying, when literature is dying, are MFA programs doing such a good, profitable business? Damn good question. Which I can’t answer. I don’t get it.

I do know this, that the only audience any writer is going to have is going to be the graduate of an MFA program, or an inhabitant of Brooklyn riding the subway to Manhattan every other night to attend parties and meet literary agents and editors and publishers. The few publishers, that is, who actually read books. The bulk of the mainstream publishers have far more in common with the brokers at Goldman Sachs than a sophisticated man-about-town like Bennett Cerf.

An author’s dream audience is made up of people who love books and have the education and tastes and intelligence of a discerning aficionado but who are not themselves writers. Trust me. That ain’t gonna happen. The literary world is a hyper-competitive arena more vicious and treacherous than the court of Versailles in the 16th century. The audience is invariably made up of fellow writers and close family relatives who have been bribed, blackmailed, coerced and pleaded with to attend.

When I was in my 20s, my every other thought was how to get laid. Now that I’m 64, my every other thought is a question: why, oh why, did I ever want to become a writer? Why not, say, a lawyer? Lawyers operate with language. Had I become a trial lawyer, I would have been guaranteed an audience for my oratories. Oratories gleaned from Emerson and Montaigne and Shakespeare.

Or, at the very least, a journalist. That’s as pragmatic as writing gets. Just the facts, m’am. No embellishment. No literary flourish. Just hard-hitting prose à la Hemingway. But even that profession is dying. If a professed progressive like Ariana Huffington doesn’t pay her writers, nobody is. The precedent has been set. However prestigious it may be to get your article published at the Huffington Post, you cannot support yourself if you are not paid. No support, no journalism. Unless you can somehow support yourself as a hairdresser or court stenographer while moonlighting as a journalist. My advice there is: Dexedrine. Take lots of it. Wash it down with a few espressos. And try not to get too psychotic.

Here is another helpful tip: forget the MFA. Write cute, hip little tales about turds that don’t flush, or long, self-absorbed monologues about your exasperation with drug rehab. I guarantee you will get published. You will do more than that. You will ride to the top of the best seller list. You will be interviewed on NPR.

Why? Because when people read, when they do read, are most apt to read through the words to the content. The words are just there to convey information. Pictures. Do not, under any circumstances, frolic among the words or draw attention to the miracle that is language. Do not wander from your topic, meander into delicate, verbal brocade, or try your hand at sculpting solid lines of literary granite. That is the quickest way to literary doom. To joining the hobos in Bradbury’s sad refugee camps.

As Bradbury himself wrote in the Afterword to my copy of Fahrenheit 451, “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches… For let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and once cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer - he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Full Rolling Boil

There is a politics that does not intertwine with the skill of your life or mine. Wrinkles on a nipple signal the opening of an aperture. I nail my breath to an image of war. Gravity tumbles through space. Light convulses on the floor.

All politics is moral. Our brains float in a common dream.

It is exhausting to have to make certain decisions. Must it always be the lesser of two evils? Must it always be a matter of food or medicine? Politics or art? Kidney or education? Ghandi or Glock? Martin Luther King wisdom or Viking berserker rage?

I like watching astronauts swim through space. Cows intermingling with cows, nerves intermingling with nerves, words intermingling with words, stars intermingling with stars. It makes the universe appear more, I don’t know, sentient.

The house of autumn is built with the lumber of summer and the bricks of winter. The windows are ice. The doors are runes. The walls are hemispheres. The furniture is Etruscan. Some might call it a home. Some might call it a palace. I call it a paragraph.

Where are you? I mean, right now, this minute. I’m at home. The garbage truck is backing up the easement, beep, beep, beep, beep. There is nothing in this universe that is totally isolated.

Our house is covered with snow. Ganglions transmit the sensation of cinnamon to the enamel of the mind. Writing causes the world to become a calculus of words. Yet nothing is so calculated that it ceases to lose its mystery. I love my shoes. But I don’t completely understand them. It is more accurate to say that they understand me.

I’m a magician. England explodes into fireworks. The world slowly takes us deeper into winter.

Winter. Where the landscape is combed gently by the wind. And mongrel hounds howl at the moon. Winter has a way of highlighting form. The world carved in relief.

The necktie boasts of a structure based on meticulous method. Space dreams of paint and holds itself in a frame of gold.

Everything else is locomotion. I love taking a warm shower after a run in cold winter rain. It helps me to realize what a metamorphosis might achieve if it were set loose on a shoulder blade. Or bones in general. Including teeth. Are teeth a form of bone? Or are they apportionments of stone?

Pain visits a tooth, and endures. Pain must always be addressed. With respect.

What is the smell of a mirror? My clothes flirt with sculpture. My words boil with existence.

We sit in a lounge gazing out of our sad, interior frames. The seats are raw sienna. Cartilage buffers the actions of the bones. Bones are examples of passage. The philosophy of examples is an example of philosophy. Later, we gather under the branches of a swaying willow to discuss standards of rationality and under what circumstances it might be ok to forfeit one’s moral goodness in order to obtain a desirable object, say a really wicked tattoo or 18th century pepper mill.

I have often considered the glitter at the court of Versailles to be similar to the joys of huckleberry. I have some metaphysics in a little pink jar that just might answer to this sweet languor now imbuing my muscle.

Solitude is the ultimate balm. Solitude suits me like a finger fits a hand.

I am a tidepool in clothes. Chromosomes, metazoans, mitochondria, eukaryotes, ancestral cells linking and commingling in symbiosis. Which makes solitude questionable. Which makes me questionable.

It’s always good to hear from an old friend. There are places I remember where society felt good and less bewildering than it is now. I accept the wisdom of horses. They know what it is to run in a herd, yet maintain a certain distance between themselves.

See the hives? They’ve been placed closer to the shore. Though I’m not sure why. I asked an entomologist and he merely bowed reverently before a giant black beetle.

I’m a mammal. I have two arms and a glockenspiel. I can see that density happens to a pitcher, which assists the pitcher in holding water, and so making it of use, though if it also happens to command a certain beauty, who can say that beauty is a fundamental composition of the pitcher, or that beauty and density work together in a synergy of indomitable force?

And certainly not just for our benefit. The anecdote evolves a spout. Not because it has a lesson to teach, but because it is a fiction, and like all fictions, its truths must be filtered through a screen of cynicism and doubt.

Yesterday afternoon, just as the sun had slipped past its zenith, we rescued an angel in the rain. Suddenly, that biography of a doorknob I had begun, took a strange turn. Mick Jagger entered, and handed me a spine. I didn’t know what to make of it. He left without saying a word.

I know that music has a soothing effect, but when I listen to the songs in the pipes of our building, I worry. Worry that the plumbers will need to be called and leave us with another stupendous bill. Money is exciting if you have it but if you don’t have it it’s not exciting at all.

The solitude of winter shapes our perception of the cement. The sidewalks are more precarious. They have little, if any, aesthetic that appeals to our sexual being. I hold a frog in my hand. I feel its little life pulsing. It’s exciting to hold frogs. Exciting to fold waves of consciousness into paragraphs. Lovely paragraphs with sugar and sand and dreams on our tongues.

I wonder if I might be able to repair the broken rib in my umbrella, or whether it might be simpler to crawl into a shell and become a hermit.

The story approaches its own exile with a certain sang-froid. Grapes fortify our reunion. Do you know what it is that women want? I do not. The woman upstairs is a total mystery. I think her tongue is haunted by the fourth dimension. All of her words come out sounding like hammers and valves. Snow falls on the intestines as the hunters depart, and everyone gets a taste of the cosmos.

Nothingness is reflected in the insolubility of adjectives. The sky paints the air with rain. But who can say what color it is? Is it gray, or pearl? Gun metal, or ash?

One day, the English language gave birth to eternity. I saw meanings gather around a cataclysm and a man in Sweden leap over a speeding Lamborghini. If mustard disturbs the palate, it is because nature itself is oceanic in her operations, and occasionally speaks to our inner sea.

War divides the world into privilege and poverty. The monotony of Texas, the combustions of Pakistan. I stopped to tie my shoe and got bits of moss under my fingernail. An ambulance whizzed by howling, smelling of emergency. Dead leaves whirled up from the ground.

There is a story in each particular, a story in evolution, or a story forged in conflict.

The story of my life. The story of your life. Continues. In different directions. Down different streets. But interrelated. Preserved, like words, in a marmalade of sound.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time In Excursion Done Into Stars

Cotton proposes a tidepool to holes. Paint abhors to put itself in sweat. It is so heavy to carve a swan out of trains. A spoon taps conquest in an icy problem. The duty turns walnut and drags that to a knife.

The fire fondles a log into embers. The butter behaves violently to halibut. Hallucination is instinctive because the mind pushes it to pump proverbs out of gargoyles. Mint from tendency smells minty. Splash as between highways as you escape yourself.

The jungle is imbued with searching. A nerve toward painted rain is plunged in paper. Library those blasts to smooth a thumb. Virtue requires concentration. Run a pitch more sandstone.

Fly refractory and reflect on it. Amplify forks during vertical iron. Murmur a flavor and crash through insults. Act with openness which imposes visibility. Trees in cuts are sometimes enigmatic.

Exploration includes a cure for talk. The walk remedies the crash of emotion. Your afternoon has tricky eyes. Pleasure is a treasure eggnog with oneself. It is a quicker glue than impulse.

Time in excursion done into stars. More winter will rattle a heartbreak and scatter it to parody. Drag a napkin with sparkling division. Diversions steeped in mineral mosaic. The you you want to modify is an unprecedented secret.

I know this because the design is glazed with invisible hiccups. Religious mosquitos lost in a railroad siding. A winch which attracts the sheen of mutation stimulates the constancy of blood. And so becomes a sawdust. Decision falling through a premonition.

Propane smells of presence. Give your thought an echo. A respectable propeller by Cézanne. Do you remember the early days of Cubism? Coherence or swamp tossed into prose each season modulates the sway of hair.

Throb or pound must come to ripped opinion. I cannot help a form to form itself unless the dips are buttoned in tenderness. The sky is pinned to a tiger. Hearing argues flotsam. Mallarmé in a rowboat.

Symptoms of dropsy touch in plush proximity dripping emotion. Being pours itself into cement and steel. The result is Manhattan. Analysis and eyeballs and coordinates and liniments and secretion. Everything that is phantasmal thickens into life.

Music clasped to a lip. Cynicism simmers in a round outdoors. As if transcendence was a concertina and the forehead imparted development between two Picassos. Thought may be attained by spar and sail. Pragmatic hunger turns of arm and a little turmoil.

Butter is gradual. Speed divides into savor. Green river at a monstrous picnic without algebra. Or bronze. Bouillon invites ripe watermelon and may later thunder photogenically.

Crack or unfettered gaze implications arched in marble from 10:00 o’clock on. Glass is done by delicacy and stars and shines in ships. The oak travels slowly through its injuries and demonstrates bark, a dachsund more stream than haunch. Consonants between kerosene earns perception the gift of friction and flips into heat. The forehead holds its own.

Friday, October 14, 2011

They Say Truth Lies There

It’s 1:10 p.m. and someone coughed and a car started. Toby is finally sleeping after his tirade over the black cat from next door who walks by our ground-level window every day. I let Toby go into the hallway because sometimes that seems to appease him. Once he sees that the hallway is empty, he can imagine himself as the king of his realm, and all that he sees. But the ruse doesn’t work. He stands by the door and wants to be let outside. We never let him outside. If we did, he would panic and disappear under a bush or up a tree the first time a car went by.

And so I lift him up and open the door. I worry that he’ll jump from my arms so I try keep a firm grip. The black cat next door - a small female with a sweet and playful disposition - is just that moment scaling up the branch that leads to the above-ground patio of the house next door. I figure she’ll be alarmed when she catches view of Toby in my arms and scamper through the little cat door provided for her. But she doesn’t. She comes back down to our porch and looks up at me. She wants to meet Toby. Toby wants to meet her. It’s tempting to put Toby down and let them sniff one another, but I can’t take that chance. I bring Toby back in and put him down on the slate tile of the vestibule while I open the mailbox. It’s the usual disappointing crap. A brochure from Trader Joe’s featuring Halloween Joe Joe’s Scary Good Cookies, a bill from Birds & Blooms, thank you receipt from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, and a brochure announcing the ACLU of Washington’s Bill of Rights Celebration Dinner.

Far away in the distance, to the east, over Snoqualmie Pass, awaits Roslyn. Roberta and I are going there November 3rd. I’ve been invited to do a reading for Oyez Roslyn.

The last time I was in Roslyn was 1993. I was with my father. He loved the TV show Northern Lights and Roslyn was the town featured in that series. We were doing a three-day road trip. We continued east to the Palouse country where the impeccable neatness of the German farms amazed me and the soft fine dirt, called loess, that comprises the gently rolling hills where a soft white wheat is grown.

Summer was so disappointing and brief this year. I hate winter. But it’s coming. Inevitable as death. Which is one of winter’s charms. Death. Things get so beautiful when they die. Leaves do. Maybe not people.

Which reminds me of the grisly description I came across last night concerning Shelley’s exhumed remains in Edward John Trelawny’s Recollections:

The soldiers gathered fuel whilst I erected the furnace, and then the men of the Health Office set to work, shoveling away the sand which covered the body, while we gathered round, watching anxiously. The first indication of their having found the body, was the appearance of the end of a black silk handkerchief - I grubbed this out with a stick, for we were not allowed to touch anything with our hands - then some shreds of linen we met with, and a boot with the bone of the leg and the foot in it. On the removal of a layer of brush-wood, all that now remained of my lost friend was exposed - a shapeless mass of bones and flesh. The limbs separated from the trunk on being touched.

“Is that a human body?” exclaimed Byron; “why it’s more like the carcase of a sheep, or any other animal, than a man: this is a satire on our pride and folly.”

What a horrific vision. It seems unthinkable that a man of such brilliance would end like this. But we all do.

Hence: Halloween. Let’s celebrate the dead. The beyond. Don masks. Costumes. Get silly. Play tricks.

I remember trick or treating at age 9 in Minneapolis. This would have been 1956. There was no discussion of serial killers or pedophiles. People could walk freely at night without worry. Kids could go door to door, unaccompanied by a parent. I wore a Frankenstein mask. It smelled of rubber, and I had a difficult time seeing through the slits that served as eyes. I loved that mask. It was my first rubber mask, and the details were exquisite. It looked just like Boris Karloff’s incarnation of the monster.

Odd, now, to remember that Frankenstein was the creation of Shelley’s wife Mary Shelley.

Odder yet to read Trelawny’s account of Percy Shelley learning to swim:

I was bathing one day in a deep pool in the Arno, and astonished the Poet by performing a series of aquatic gymnastics, which I had learnt from the natives of the South Seas. On my coming out, whilst dressing, Shelley said, mournfully: “Why can’t I swim, it seems so very easy?” I answered, “Because you think you can’t. If you determine, you will: take a header off this bank, and when you rise turn on your back, you will float like a duck; but you must reverse the arch in your spine, for it’s now bent the wrong way.”

He doffed his jacket and trowsers, kicked off his shoes and socks, and plunged in, and there he lay stretched out on the bottom like a conger eel, not making the least effort or struggle to save himself. He would have been drowned if I had not instantly fished him out.

When he recovered his breath, he said: “I always find the bottom of the well, and they say Truth lies there. In another minute I should have found it, and you would have found an empty shell. It is an easy way of getting rid of the body.”

“What would Mrs. Shelley have said to me if I had gone back with your empty cage?”

“Don’t tell Mary - not a word!” he rejoined, and then continued, “It’s a great temptation; in another minute I might have been in another planet.”

“But as you always find the bottom,” I observed, “you might have sunk ‘deeper than did ever plummet sound.’”

“I am quite easy on that subject,” said the Bard. “Death is the veil, which those who live call life: they sleep, and it is lifted. Intelligence should be imperishable; the art of printing has made it so in this planet.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let Me Tell You A Story

Let me tell you a story. I can hear the gardeners blowing leaves. They carry engines with long tubes that blow air in a great rush and send the leaves whirling forward as they advance. Fairies dance in a ring as the gardeners approach, oblivious to the whirr of their engines. The fairies are blown into the air, but the gardeners continue their advance. They are serious men. Serious about gardening. Serious about making money. Serious about raising families. Serious about everything. They are serious. Serious men.

How’s that for a story? Here’s another: pain is intentional, pleasure is accidental. The end result is ice cream. Divorce, garlic, and butter. Fat sentences exulting in breasts. The incomparable feeling of skin brushing against the warmth of one’s clothes after the heat of summer and the first refreshing days of autumn.

Skin is a process involving little holes called pores. It’s touching. A touching instance of envelopment and fat.

This is a story about spoons. Spoons.

Spoons lie spoon to spoon in a kitchen drawer, sandwiched between knives and forks. There are two grooves for the spoons. There is a groove for teaspoons and a groove for tablespoons.

There is more drama concerning knives then there is surrounding spoons. One rarely hears of a spoon fight, or anyone murdered by a spoon. Spoons make poor instruments for killing people. They’re better for scooping up large dollops of ice cream or mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes slathered with butter. Ice cream under a glaze of blackberry or raspberry syrup.

The weather today is explicit. That’s code for gloomy and gray. Moisture on the verge of spilling out in the form of drizzle, possibly rain.

A phantom description feels soft and velvet. But a description of what? What is soft and velvet? Isn’t softness implicit in velvet? This is a story about velvet.

This is a story about plywood: a sheet of plywood covers a ditch freshly dug at the base of a large condominium building on Queen Ann Avenue North. Why was the ditch dug? Was there a problem with the plumbing? With leakage? Were the bones of a megathere discovered there? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion.

We all know there is no conclusion. There is never a conclusion to anything. When one story ends, another story begins. Quite often, it is the same story. The same story assuming new proportions, new characters, new affronts and insults, mayhem and murder, banks and cattle. Horses grazing by the side of the road.

This is a story about horses grazing by the side of the road.

Horses grazing by the side of the road.

Horses. Grazing. By the side. Of the. Road.

I have a photo of Paris in my wallet. Would you like to see it? That’s me, standing under the Eiffel Tower, and that’s Nikolas Sarkozy with his arm around me, and Carla Bruni giving me a peck on the cheek.

Aren’t words wonderful? You can say anything. Create anything.

Language is best explained as a form of hallucination.

One day, there was a synonym loose in the library. It was overburdening a lot of sentences. Someone needed to do something. A trap was set. A large fat noun was placed inside. The synonym came sniffing around, eager to mean something similar, similar to the noun placed inside the trap, or pitfall, or snare, but in a slightly different way. A door slammed down behind the synonym and there it was, pulsing, breathing heavily, evincing a strange geometry and making a strange, rubbery noise.

I strain to gather my absurdities into a blueprint. The world is a balloon complicated by cuticles and despair. There are epics. Legends. Stories of great adventure. And they all lead to something vast and incommunicable. A baby’s sock lying on the sidewalk. A flag incubated in the warm blood of revolution. Cezanne’s vivacious hands. A flash of lightning illumining the chambers and shelves of the library moments after the clock sounds midnight, and the sentences crawl forth looking for nourishment and minds, eyes to bring them to life.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Curious History Of The Margarita

I love the way the waiter at La Palma says Margarita. The r’s roll off his tongue with all the opulent musicality that is the Spanish tongue.

I would love to order one, but I no longer drink. The waiter seems disappointed when I order a root beer instead.

According to Wikipedia, the most plausible of all stories concerning the birth of the Margarita relates that the Margarita was invented in October, 1941, by bartender Don Carlos Orozco at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico. Don Carlos was eager to impress the daughter of a German ambassador who lived with her husband Roy Parodi near Ensenada in Rancho Hamilton. I assume this lady was fond of tequila. Don Carlos concocted a mixture of equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and lime, and served it over ice in a glass rimmed with salt. She liked it. Don Carlos paid tribute by naming his new elixir after her.

Rimming the glass with salt was a touch of genius.

Though I must say Margarita does not sound German. So although it is a plausible story, with tenable details and an entirely credible romantic gesture at its core, one must entertain a little doubt as to its authenticity.

Margarita means daisy in Spanish.

Another story has it that a bartender at the Rancho La Gloria Hotel near Tijuana named Carlos Herrera, who went by the nickname Danny, concocted the drink for a Ziegfeld dancer named Marjorie King.

So the history of the Margarita is forever doomed to speculation.

Speculation, as a mental activity, mental beverage let us say, has a salty taste, the clarity of tequila, and the limitless range of the Mexican sky.

The Margarita is a welcome addition to our green and living world. It is cool to the touch, reckless in its effects, and brilliant in a patch of sunlight.

One might sit by oneself in a dark, cool cocktail lounge, drifting into reverie, into the disparate worlds of existence that surround us in vinyl and silk. Here comes the man with a thousand hearts, and there goes a woman into the outside world, where the blue begins, and the skin of the sky brushes the tops of the mountains, hemorrhaging stars as it crawls to the western horizon.

Every day there is a new way to be satisfied. The wind is a vague emotion. But a delight to the senses. Particular in the way it means what it means. I love anything built of wood and stone. But the wind is a Margarita of invisible caprice. Visible only the salt of its voice. Sudden as skin. It is what is pushing in the poem. Words cupped in the imaginary space of a glass. Slice of lemon on the brim of a liquid.

The kind of weird liquid you have to sip to believe.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Matters Is Round

How do you do my name is Luigi and I am the Duke of Abruzzi. I love bubbles, strawberries, and sheets drying in the wind and sunlight. Hobbies include bank robbery, kidnapping, and extortion.

As you can see, the streets are barricaded, and the police are confused.

What can I say?

I grew up in Minneapolis. I am a true poet. I grow obscure when I feel like it and ride the green dragons of Mandalay.

I feel old. I have begun to see my life as a play in the shape of a boat propeller.

In Act One, I bare my fangs, lightning illumines the library, and the sea crashes against the rocks. I wrap myself in a cape and glide from room to room howling plump and personal sentences.

In Act Two, I saw an opulent emotion in half. This is how I discover the magic of bubbles.

There is a blaze of art in the room. Do you see it? Even the map has a pulse. Figures move around on a screen and a mound of photogenic sugar acquits all adjectives of their burdensome role in the sentence.

But what sentence? We are all serving a sentence. Even this sentence is serving a sentence. But what can be done?

People die in the canyons all the time. We do what we can to warn them, but there are always those who go headlong into the wilderness with nothing but a song and a flashlight.

Necessity makes a necessity of necessity.

Hope is a curious medicine, healing and enfeebling simultaneously.

Did I mention the Rolling Stones played at our wedding?

Did I mention that I was married?

I married a balloonist from Barcelona. We honeymooned in Honolulu.

Where is she now? That’s my last Duchess on the wall, over there, by the begonias. She’s the one with the hairdo that looks like a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a Moab garage.

I know all the sorrows of the jukebox.

Sometimes I feel like I am walking on a highwire, and sometimes I drive to California in a silver Dodge sedan, only to discover that I have not left the couch, but am lost in a cloud of smoke, a bowl of opium at my side.

Absence does not have a structure. If it did, it would not be absence, it would be a hat, or an elevator.

Do you hear? There is a song in the ink. A pool of words bubbling in the center of the page.

I saw this happen once on Ron Silliman’s blog. A pair of slugs mated, dangling from a branch on a strand of mucus, their genitals entwined.

Life is an endless struggle and death is a long sweet rest. But let’s not fuss over little things. What matters is ultramarine. What matters are spoons and forks.

Alphabets and clams.

I wonder if the wash is done. You’ll have to excuse me. I see a revolving door and somebody has to push it. Round and round and round and round.

Thank god for walls. Thank god for breasts and sentences and syllables and sound.

And round and round and round and round.

Margaret Gridley Pancake Society

hey David,

I can't leave a comment at your blog. Can't leave a comment at my blog. Neither Google Account or Anonymous work. Some kind of glitch in the Google blogworks I haven't the foggiest how to fix.


Thank you for the terrific follow up to Margaret Gridley.

Rave on, Margaret, rave on.


Thanks for posting that video of me reading my bank robbery poem. That was from Summer Robinson's Pilot Books bookstore, which she ran for a couple of years in a tiny upstairs space in a funky pedestrian mall at 219 Broadway on Capitol Hill. One of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in. Though you didn't sit in it so much as surrender your body to it. I could have sat there forever. What makes a chair get so comfortable? Upholstery, certainly, but other more preternatural variables must be at play. This should be up for discussion at the next Margaret Gridley Pancake Society Meeting. Edgar Allan Poe's Philosophy of Furniture may provide some clues.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's The Matter With Margaret Gridley?

What’s the matter with Margaret Gridley? Margaret Gridley is logical.

                  - Philip Whalen

What’s the matter with Margaret Gridley? Margaret Gridley is human. What does it mean to be human?

It is human to want blankets for sleep. It is human to want to sleep. It is human to get dressed in the morning and go look for a job. It is human to look in a mirror and wonder if one is attractive. It is human to find mobility in feet. It is human to walk. Even better to drive a car. A car with a wheels of ivory and an engine of gold. Tires of Brazilian rubber. Ornaments of Rumanian chrome. A dashboard with the numinous promise of electroluminescent polymers and a finely calibrated instrument cluster.

Margaret Gridley loves her instrument cluster. Who wouldn’t? It escalates the sugar of vision.

Margaret Gridley is companionable and occasionally amatory.

Margaret Gridley is equitable and witty.

But enough about Margaret Gridley. I want to talk about neckties. Who wears them, and why.

I prefer the bolo. It slips on easily. No knot necessary. And there is a shine in the movement.

Like that of the soul. As it slides up and down the braids of heaven.

The Navajo believed the soul to be part of a divine being called the Holy Wind. The Holy Wind suffused the universe, giving life, thought, speech and the power of movement to all living things. Their sandpaintings are full of symbolically expressed motion: whirling snakes, rotating logs, streaming head feathers, whirling rainbows and feathered travel hoops: magical means of travel.

Easy to see why Pollock was so enamored of Navajo sandpainting.

When language was born, the sea strained to come out of the mouths of people in the form of words. Words as waves that floated boats of meaning.

Illogic can't be taught, though it can be taut. - Michael Schein.

Taut as a surfboard. Tart as a tart. Torn as a tear. Tender as a fender.

I cannot keep my subject still. It wants to wander. Forever wander. Meander.

The question of form is inextricably mingled with expression.

From Latin ex, out, plus Latin pressare, to press. To press out.

Expression is a pressing out. Form is the form that form assumes in being pressed into existence. Paint on a canvas, words on a page.

Pigment is squeezed from a tube. Words are squeezed by lung into the chamber of the mouth where they are shaped on the palate and extruded into the outer air. Air mingling with air. Sound mingling with sound. Form mingling with form.

Japanese zuihitsu: following the impulses of the brush. Starting at one place, ending up at another. Like life.

The effort, generally, to get to the energies, and not end up with dead tripe.

No one can put their finger on it. It’s partly empirical, in the sense of air, and sound, and clarinet, but mostly, essentially, diaphanous emission, the trembling of gauze in a quiet African room.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rivers I've Known

You gotta love the names of Washington’s rivers: Yakima, Snoqualmie, Sauk, Cedar, Tolt, Wenatchee, Columbia, Snake, Satsop, Chehalis, Nisqually, Duwamish, Cowlitz, Touchet, Tucannon, Cow, Crab, Skookumchuk, Humptulips, Palouse, Skagit, Skykomish, Quinault, Methow, Nooksack, Okanogan.

The Snoqualmie squirts out of the ground high in the Cascades in three separate places then all three forks join near North Bend, the little mountain community where David Lynch set Twin Peaks and all of its weirdness and murder and strange mountain beauty.

The Sauk pops up somewhere in the Glacial Peak Wilderness and forms its main stem at Bedal, flows northwest past Darrington (lots of tarheels and blue grass music in Darrington), then north to join the Skagit at Rockport.

I white water rafted down the Wenatchee in April, 1985, by invitation with a friend training to be a guide. Which meant I got to go for free, and it being April, I also got to freeze. Even though I was wearing a so-called wet suit. I found out that wet suits do not keep you dry. They’re just supposed to keep you warm. It didn’t keep me warm, though it may have kept me from freezing. I danced around in a parking lot trying to get the suit off. I got in the car, turned the ignition on, and when the engine got hot enough to put some real heat out, heat has never felt so good. I slowly recovered the mobility of my limbs as I began to thaw. I put my hands over the heating vent and moved my fingers back and forth. Suppleness is underrated.

The Duwamish gets most of the abuse of Washington’s rivers. It empties into Puget Sound near downtown Seattle, by Harbor Island, where a lot of ships get painted. Boeing has some plants on its banks as well. When I worked at plant no 2 in the summer of 1967 I used to take my sack lunch out onto the concrete dock by the river’s edge and stare at the water moving by and wonder how many different chemicals were in it and what might happen if you were to drink some of it or eat a fish or a clam from its water. Poor old Duwamish. Poor Puget Sound.

I’ve never seen the Humptulips, which is over in the Olympic Peninsula, flowing through the rainforests, which receive around 220 inches of rain annually. The Humptulips has gone by a variety of names, including Hum-tu-lups, Humptolups, Humtutup, and Um-ta-lah. Humtutup sounds like the name of an Egyptian pharaoh, but all these names emanate from the Chehalis tribe, and either means “hard to pole,” or “chilly region.” The Humptulips empties into Grays Harbor, where the town of Hoquiam is located. Kurt Cobain was from Hoquiam, and I have two close friends living there, Dan & Tammy, who own a bookstore there, Jackson Street Books, in downtown Hoqiam on 7th Street. Hi Dan, Hi Tammy.

The Cedar River is where Seattle gets its drinking water. It emanates in the Cedar River watershed, a gazillion little rivulets and brooks and streams convening at some point to turn into a river, a wide flowing being of stunningly pure water. Roberta and I went to the Renton Public Library once to kill some time before a wedding. We were both formally dressed and got some curious looks from people who must have thought we got all dressed up to visit the library, as if visiting the library were a formal occasion for us. Well, why not?

On the way into the library, we crossed a bridge, which was lined with people, all gazing into the river as it slid over a bed of rocks shiny and clear as glass. We went to the edge and looked down and saw hundreds of salmon all seeming motionless as their bodies swayed ever so slightly as the current moved over and around their bodies, all heads pointed east, in the direction of the Cascades.

The Columbia is the biggest and most famous river. Woody Guthrie’s song, “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On,” celebrated the 11 hydroelectric dams which harnessed its water for crops and electricity and was commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration. The song became famous because one, it’s a really great song, and two, it was an anthem about the American public works projects arising out of the New Deal in the Great Depression.

Hear that, Obama? Probably not.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Final Frontier

Language is the final frontier. Baudelaire inflates a balloon. I light a stick of incense. Together we prepare for the voyage. The voyage into language. The voyage into alibi and balm.

Pain is exotic. The more that you live, the more memories you will have. Perspicacity is propelled by despair. Truth attacks a pumpkin. Yet the pumpkin survives. The pumpkin is a lie. It is, in fact, a cucumber.

Letters build on a justification for stucco. This is why I like wearing mud and the mane of the Palomino. I find it touching that people choose to celebrate certain occasions. Yesterday, I saw a woman mowing the sidewalk. I celebrated by rubbing a lantern until a genie appeared. He granted me three wishes, one of which involved Grace Kelly and Joseph Cornell’s garage.

The weather today is vast and blue. The drugs I have taken confer prodigies of stick and paper. Why would anyone feel separate from the world? This world of pleasure, this world of pain. This world of sandwiches and bandages and rain.

My bones are ornamented with muscle. The house collides with fog. The fog feels like a phantom description of itself, soft and velvet and young. My muscles move my bones. I wear an elevator for a hat and a forest for a shirt. I get around, let me tell you. My father shoves cars at me. The Mediterranean spins on my thumb.

Skin is a process involving little holes called pores. You can use this skin to touch things, and keep your internal organs from falling out. Night rises into the sky and peppers the earth with stars. A ballerina spins in the air.

I know all the sorrows of the jukebox. I know how coal affronts the cold, and garlic and leather advertise the railroad, which is punctuated with cocaine and whiskey.

An angel perches on a crane at a construction site and sews rivers together with moonlight.

The physiology of ducks pardons the tyranny of water.

What we think of as ghosts is the emotional residue the dead have left behind. This is why airports are so exciting, and velvet and sawdust commit beauty on the floor of a barbershop.

If these words were steeped in thunder, I could tell you about my area code. But that will have to wait. This morning I took some codeine and listened to Mark Twain talk about working in a Nevada silver mine. I know I have a tendency to hallucinate, but isn’t language a hallucination?

I love the feeling of ivory. Dead leaves scattered on the ground. Sinking my fingers into the plastic tightly wrapping the box of Gatorade bottles until it suddenly breaks and I feel my fingers curl around the neck of a bottle and pull it out. It is a highly satisfactory maneuver.

And strawberries. Strawberries have a presence that is downright uncanny.

Do you smell something burning? Autumn insinuates itself into summer. It happens like this every year. Hawaii hangs on the wall and fairies dance in a ring. Infinity strolls scrupulously across the lake and we see ripples of some invisible power headed this way.