Hold this poem and rub it with space. Ingest it with
your eyes. Enkindle it with needs. Drip abstraction. It just happens.
Abstraction happens. You feel alive and blaze in the snow of Iceland, a
carnival of thought and emotion with a head like a sack of helium. Piercing
sounds of creosote serve the fertility of experience. The map amplifies the
disconnect between reality and an implied geography whose mountains and rivers
exhibit the gum of time as it occupies a schematized space. Incidents of rubber
absorb the shock of monotony. The repetitive rhythm of walking. Headlights
shining through words of granite. The human mind is smeared with sexual
metaphor, the teased agreements of audacity and steep relation, the incentive
to suck and sparkle, the courage to pin a passion to a fold of fingers. The
light is swollen. It indulges the walls. A sharp wind hangs from a highway
sign. The grease at the center of the world allows everything to turn without
squeaking, its axle is wet as veins. And so useful it is to consult
consciousness that consciousness strains to find meaning in hockey. Words,
thumbs, glances, glass, glans, baptisms and powwows. And sometimes we taste the
heat of thought in a balloon of dizzying lucidity, rising into the sky like a
cabana with a checkered past. Possession can also mean inglenook. Or mulberry.
It takes a friend, naturally, to confirm the thickening thoughts on a piece of
paper, each word clear as an ice cube and each sentence a wading pool for the
eyes. Symbolism is nothing more than a bag of groceries, items arranged by
weight and density. The lettuce goes on top, and symbolizes courage. The jelly
is upside down but if the cap is on tight it should remain true to the image of
kings. We feel the full impact of reality at the checkstand. Here is where
being water gets a little messy and hanging words upside-down doesn’t help the
situation. It’s better to stand there being quiet and dream of returning to the
sea as an albatross on a long glide of delectation over dinner.
Experience is what happens when blood circulates,
the heart pumps, and life pops out of the box. Everything goes Technicolor. The
room glows. Pronouns assume the private pain of impulse. Various dimensions
simmer in space sweetening the nerves with saffron and juxtaposition. Is there
anything prettier than a jackknife? Escalators percolate in my skin causing
action and growth. I ride up. I ride down. I move sideways to let people pass.
I’m polite, a courteous person. This is my attempt to hold the society
together. Poetry is my way to blow culture up. Smash capitalism to smithereens.
This is misleading. You can’t smash capitalism, but it will certainly smash
you. You’ve got to find an antidote. Poetry is that antidote. It’s useless as
tits on a hammer. I love that image. A hammer with tits on it. Wrenches and
screwdrivers suckling at its underside in the toolbox of life.
Movement deepens my comprehension of soup. Sparrows
are brusque but powerfully themselves. I feel incidental and ghostly, but also
a little like asphalt, as if I cried on the inside to be a highway joining
Nevada to Arizona and poured distance and velocity into the long Nevada night. Here
comes Walt Whitman driving a Nissan Stanza. He’s got gravy in his beard and a
twinkle in his eye. The stars awaken the thrill of a palpable yearning. It
takes some time for the imagination to slide into another form of being, but
once that happens, one can excel at adhesion and act like a flap in the flag at
the borders of noumenal being. Punches flicker beside the anthology of
contemporary poetry. The nightclub bursts into streams of consciousness.
Leopold Bloom admires the cutlery. Feeling feels wintery as a paper airport for
paper airplanes. Swimming is incongruous and therefore delightful. The mind is
but a shadow. Speed bumps are annotations. All of my memories have been cooked
in reminiscence. Baby you can drive my car. And maybe I love you. Beep beep
It’s hard to build a house when the lumber is alive.
But you can bungle it like comedy and find something much fuller than a house.
You can take all the silence of out of a poem and put it to use as something
blonde and geographic. Sprinkle adjectives on it. Jingle it. Put it in the
freezer until it turns hard and pragmatic. Cold to the fingers. Like a tool.
Painting is instinctive and reckless. A pile of rags
flirt with a harmonica. The plywood conveys vividness. The oak screams in the
ban saw. I savor the gumption of construction. Even my nerves bubble their
opinions in a slow simmer of being. Sunlight slices through the air like a
knife of singing light.
I slide cinnamon into my intestine and digest the
world. I accommodate seclusion well. Fingernails rely on time to grow into
themselves. The black cord of the hair dryer curls in the humidity.
Sometimes I work late at night juggling giant
handshakes. This is what I experience when experience turns experimental. Any
language will do, but English is particularly supple. Not enough has been said
about that. A mind draws parables out of life. The sound of it is sweet and
seditious. Ocher is a friendly color. But yellow, well yellow is yellow. It
shouts joy from the bathroom wall. I think of myself as an occurrence of meat.
This feeling widens and rivals Wisconsin. A wild energy crashes through the
symmetries of science resulting in the experience of birds. Dirt. Obsidian
shining out of a mountain.
Is there life on Mars? André Breton arrives in a
flying saucer. His eyes murmur oranges. Why is there something rather than
nothing? We all wonder that. But André seems especially obsessed. His
premonitions seep through the words murdering distance and chattering fictions
that are actual whales. Wheels. Weather. Bakeries and postulation. A patisserie
filled with maps. Lips. Promontories of frosting. Pythagorean sensations
serving the fertility of experience abstractions of invisible empires, the
sublime appeal of concertinas and chaos and string theory.
I like words in strings. And when the strings run
out there is still a trace of Paris, kitchen lights edged with gold. And down
below a kangaroo leaps over a turnstile and catches the M4 to Versaille.
Daylight marries the vowels of night and the wedding is twilight and the
twilight is a delicate thing. Twilight is what happens when I feel open to
everything. Even meaning.
Each and every way that I position my regard
provides a plurality of relations and samplings from a mass of pure sensation.
Each perspective insinuates its own incendiary geometry. Expectation acquires a
piquant lucidity. The light penetrates the basement window. A chisel gleams. A
ban saw screams like a banshee. Sawdust accumulates on the floor. It smells of
pine and oak. A nearby gravel road articulates the convulsions of impeccable
clouds. A furious awakening flashes on the horizon. The weight of the sky
thrills the bones and unpacks its provisions in a dialogue of thunder. The
light is perforated with silver. If I choose to read the world like a book it
puzzles me with snow. It dazzles me with pearls. It threads the mind with
The desk emphasizes its existence in a determination
of wood. I sit down and open Ulysses to page 305: “A monkey puzzle rocket
burst, spluttering in darting crackles. Zrads and zrads, zrads, zrads, zrads.
And Cissy and Tommy and Jacky ran out to see and Edy after with the pushcar and
then Gerty beyond the curve of the rocks. Will she? Watch! Watch! See! Looked
round. She smelt an onion. Darling, I saw, your. I saw all. Lord!”
Even the rain dripping from the black rungs and
curls of the wrought-iron patio furniture in front of Molena’s Taco Shop bear
some relation to the rest of the universe. Rain collects in a river which
powers the turbines of Grand Coulee Dam which feeds electricity to the arc
welder welding the patio furniture. The shell on display in the window was made
from proteins and minerals that were created when the planet formed and life
first appeared out of a jelly-like glop of lipids and carbohydrates. The rain
dripping from the patio furniture was once a wave in the ocean that made the
shell that housed the snail that crawled ashore and died on a rock molded by
the gusts and pounding surf of a windy shore.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven / Is thick inlaid
with patens of bright gold. / There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
/ But in his motion like an angel sings, / Still choiring to the young-eyed
cherubins. / Such harmony is in immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture
of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Declares Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice. That harmony
that is in immortal souls is consciousness of the unity of interrelation that
is the juice and savor of pure experience. But this would be an experience
without the adornment of words. Words are a filtering membrane through which
experience percolates before it dances on the nerves.
The urge to arrive at a pure
experience is a journey of bone and skin, muscle and blood. It comes down to
the body. Toes, hands, hair, eyes, knees, everything in this envelope of flesh
that connects my being in the world with that world as immediate as possible.
Sensation is a product of nerves. It gets to the brain in electrical impulse
where it’s translated into lettuce, a woman’s touch, a man’s voice, a slice of
bread popping up in the toaster, the electric smell of the air in Kansas before
a tornado droops from the clouds and begins spinning debris in a whirl of
William James coined the phrase
“radical empiricism” to describe his notion of pure experience:
the name of 'radical empiricism' to my Weltanschauung. Empiricism is
known as the opposite of rationalism. Rationalism tends to emphasize universals
and to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of
being. Empiricism, on the contrary, lays the explanatory stress upon the part,
the element, the individual, and treats the whole as a collection and the
universal as an abstraction. My description of things, accordingly, starts with
the parts and makes of the whole a being of the second order. It is essentially
a mosaic philosophy, a philosophy of plural facts, like that of Hume and his
descendants, who refer these facts neither to Substances in which they inhere
nor to an Absolute Mind that creates them as its objects. But it differs from
the Humian type of empiricism in one particular which makes me add the epithet
radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element
that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is
directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect
experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation
experienced must be accounted as 'real' as any thing else in the system.
Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting
corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced,
whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement.
ordinary empiricism, in spite of the fact that conjunctive and disjunctive
relations present themselves as being fully co-ordinate parts of experience,
has always shown a tendency to do away with the connections of things, and to
insist most on the disjunctions. Berkeley's nominalism, Hume's statement that
whatever things we distinguish are as 'loose and separate' as if they had 'no
manner of connection.' James Mill's denial that similars have anything 'really'
in common, the resolution of the causal tie into habitual sequence, John Mill's
account of both physical things and selves as composed of discontinuous
possibilities, and the general pulverization of all Experience by association
and the mind-dust theory, are examples of what I mean.
World of Pure Experience, 1904
The pulverization of experience
occurs as soon as we begin to classify, label, identify, analyze and organize
our experience according to a model that we cultivate over time to give meaning
to our perceptions. What we lose in pure experience we gain in cognition. All
the sensations that comprised that experience lose their acuity but it would be
wrong to say they’re lost. The process is similar to the refinement of ore. A
mass of unrecognizable dirt and rock becomes a dinner set or a bridge, a car or
an Eiffel Tower, a surgical instrument or French horn. It’s a process of
metamorphosis. Of transformation. A sequence of events that never culminate in
a single definitive end but keep metamorphosing in a network of balances and
instabilities, attractions and repulsions.
A simple example will serve: I have
a cut on the inside of my right middle finger. I got it from playing with Toby,
our cat. He likes to chase a piece of ribbon, particularly that type of narrow
ribbon with the little grooves in it so that you can run it over a sharp edge
to make it curl. I swing it over his head, run it over the floor, hide it
behind my back as he attempts to catch it with his mouth or claw. He leaps,
pivots, lunges. He loves to play with this thing. He got me on the inside of my
middle finger with a claw. This isn’t unusual. My right hand is generally constellated
with little cuts where he has bit me or nabbed me with a set of claws. They
usually don’t hurt. I’m often surprised to find myself bleeding. But the one on
the inside of my middle finger really hurts. It feels like a paper cut. Maybe
it’s because the skin has greater sensitivity in this area. It also seems
slower to heal. The pain has a purity that resists artful assassination by
analysis. It persists in exquisite particularity. It resists the attentions of
intellect. There’s no meaning to it, no lesson in it, no symbolism or parable.
It just hurts.
Meanwhile I use my index finger to
tap the surface of the tablet that brings up the rue du Fauborg-Montmartre, no
7, Paris, France, where it is said that Isidore Ducasse, the author of Les Chants du Maldoror, passed away at
the age of twenty-four, November 24th, 1870. I get a street view:
the buildings appear to date from the nineteenth century and may be the ones in
existence when he lived there. There’s a restaurant at street level called La
Rose de Tunis serving Pizza, Panini, Crêpes, and Grilades. Next to it, on the
corner, is a shop called Minelli which features shoes and women’s accessories.
How much has changed since Isidore Ducasse, a.k.a. Le comte de Lautréamont,
lived there and labored at his strange, magnificent book?
I tap Pandora and get an
instrumental song by Johann Johannsson titled, in Icelandic, “Ég Átti Erfiða Æsku,” which appears to mean something like “I struggled in my
youth.” The music is simple, strings, bells, drum, a sad, wistful, languishing
melody punctuated by the rhythms of bells and drums.
Let’s say that description is created by a bas
relief climbing into itself on paper. This is a sample of thought but because
its behavior is somewhat larger than a harmonica it might also serve as a
version of exploration. We swim in the sounds below our life. Some of these
sounds emerge to the surface and get written down as the wet sheen of an
octopus crawling from one tank to another in an aquarium of the mind. For the
mind is a house of water and consciousness spills on the table where it breaks
into the foam of stupefaction. Life is erratic and conversational. A place like
New Orleans occurs when space is concentrated near a river and brocades of
smooth brown water indicate the contours of the bottom. The streets and
sidewalks of Paris are in better condition. But if we ask ourselves, à la the
Pixies, where the mind is the answer may appear at the edge of the night
shining like the rails of the Kansas City Southern as they cross the border
into Mexico. My existence on paper reaches for your eyes. I salute your blood.
I’m familiar with the great gift of milk. But how can anyone know if they’re
being ironic? Language is hallucinatory. It’s hard to be sincere with one large
blood red eye and a white T-shirt that says “if you’ve been waiting longer than
15 minutes inform the receptionist.” Poetry is a form of resistance. I can
smell its geography. We spin books into its shadows. Luminous emotions bathed
in camaraderie inspire me to be a better addict. I’m addicted to words. I’ve
attempted withdrawal on occasion but even my skin insists on participation,
telling a story of labor and pain in a scripture of epidermal honesty.
Sometimes you can’t escape the traffic. You can attack the duplicity of
politicians or drink their elixirs while the rest of the world performs its
fusions and expands in our eyes tart as the present tense of a martini olive.
It’s your call. Me, I want to exercise my rights as a citizen of the sun. The
sky leans over the horizon leaking light and water. Our only real duty is that of
a moonlit puddle singing its silent lucidity to the indifferent stars. Wrap
your pickles in incendiary nouns. Let your inner anarchy out of the proverbial
bag. Whenever I feel my life hanging like a rag from the faucet of the kitchen
sink I strain to excite a crisis of words plunged in their own diversions,
teasing a thought or two like a single blue orchid asleep on the escritoire.
Words incarnate the tangle of the mind. But once they get going even the
parrots turn capricious and say things no one could’ve predicted. My sad green
desires turn Pythagorean and yesterday’s muffins languish in Euclid. I hum
algebra. I crackle. I cackle. I postulate mosses and dips and eat potato chips.
Shadows gather in accommodations of mood and weather. The world turns. I ride a
comet like a washing machine. Churning feels romantic and pleasantly awkward,
but the rinse cycle is fully discursive. And then it happens. Language simmers
in its unfolding like a fist unfolds in fingers or a seashore gushes onto the
You could say that a word is empty but if it cuts
the air and rides on a tongue there is an incentive to say something abstract,
something wet and automatic, like rain. Blood is awkward. But desire is French.
Therefore, say something consummately sincere. Say it is snowing in Asia. Say
the door is pushed open and the insects are scattering into the cracks and
corners. Form is the beginning of structure. It is there that the shadow
pinches the light and pharmacy hugs its drugs. Push forward despite the evident
virtuosity of leather. You won’t regret it. Life is better than television but
not as bathetic. One must learn to accept the heaviness of the traffic. Forget
about the woman honking her horn behind you making you feel embarrassed because
you were daydreaming when the light turned green. Engage the clutch slowly as
you step on the gas. Language isn’t entirely a matter of traffic lights. The
heart is a dark genius. Its accessories twinkle under the weight of a
transcendent sympathy. I begin with the charm of flowers and end by sitting in
an attic leafing through old National Geographics. By the end of the Cretaceous
the continents had roughly taken their current position. But why dinosaurs? Well,
why not dinosaurs? There’s a drug that offers miracles and if you pull it along
a fire escape it will activate and talk about seeing things before you even
swallow it. Next time you see me I may be wearing a necklace of little bronze
hats. Before I became the philosopher king of my living room I pondered taking
up plumbing. Some oil had formed on my chin and so I removed it and pasted it
to the desk where it steamed and smoldered like a kerosene lamp on a humid
night in Anchorage. What was it, I wondered. I figured it out later: an amalgam
of words I’d forgotten about had assumed meaning and image and turned itself
into a paragraph when I wasn’t looking. This happens a lot. Let a dime shine
and a nickel will entrance you with a parable of value. It’s rather astounding.
You should see the bulge in my pocket. I’m lazy about spending change. I just
shove dollars at people, clerks and automobile salesmen, just to see what will
happen. I now own twelve cars and a mountain in China. I feel foolish, but I’m
also an authority on the symbolism of groceries, and that education wasn’t
cheap, brother. My advice: tailor your success according to the ancient saws. A
penny earned is a penny saved, that sort of thing. Explain swimming to an
extraterrestrial. Grammar is a muscle. Meaning arrives later dragging its
attitudes behind it. Some things beg to be expressed as imagery and straw. This
is why we name our emotions Larry, Moe, and Gravy. But if a fly could talk we
wouldn’t be able to understand its language. Until then I’m just energy, a pair
of ears waiting to hear something from Mars, a sad sweet song about the winds
blowing over the deserts, or a powwow in my pillow, scents and refinements
expressing themselves in the streets of Paris. This happens every time I read
Proust. I sit down and put words in a sentence in the next thing you know I’m
lifting thoughts into blatant taffeta.
pretty density which grips a sock, makes it a sock, socks it into
sockness, soaks it in the energy of sensation and parachutes it through
oblivion. This is the reality of the sock.The quiet weave of the
sock is its unity, a continuous union as in association and thinking. If the
phenomenon of the sock is established through the form of time, then the
phenomenon that is consciousness is a unifying activity. We see that the
relationship between consciousness and the sock represents a transcendent,
unchanging reality apart from time. The life of an individual is the
development of consciousness that constitutes a sock. But which sock? For there
is a left sock and a right sock. The right sock is independent of the left sock
and the left sock is independent of the right sock. For when one sock is lost
in the laundry the other sock loses the penetrating force of its utility and
becomes a rag-like thing whose only saving feature is that it may join forces
with another sock, a sock that it may or may not match imperfectly, or with
enough conviction that it may pass as the other sock’s true mate. There is
always a certain unchanging reality at the base of the sock. This reality
enlarges from day to day until it develops a hole and a toe pokes through. This
is the reality of the toe in conjunction with the reality of the sock. One
might wonder about its form and how it maintains itself. The form of the toe
and the form of the sock form a conjunction by which the hole itself becomes an
entity, a hollowness whose integrity comes from an absence of material, acrylic
or cotton worn down until it is nothing, and a toe appears, that is the
fundamental fact emerging from another reality. All people believe that there
is a fixed, unchanging principle in the universe and that all things are
established according to it. This principle is the sock that unifies
consciousness. It is not possessed by mind or matter but establishes them.
There, in the laundry basket, or upon one’s foot, tugged into place, toe poking
through, where it is an object of consciousness, a cotton or acrylic form
occupying a certain time in a certain place, and may be regarded as singular,
however imperfectly it matches the other sock, the other lost sock, given a
place at the extremity of one’s leg, joined together by linguistic signs, by words,
these words, which I have offered to fill the sock, and make the sock a sock,
and not just the word of the sock, but the sock itself, as I sock it to you.
Talk had thermometers to mirror. The water to twist.
Labor its jackknife by wafer. I understand the handstand by cleavage, triumph
which infinity melts. Fruit and zippers in jigsaw antifreeze shows the
incidental sugar of the tangerine in summary of a day’s orchids. There is a
fire that anneals in scope and pine to become the umbrella that minarets dirt
by the plywood molecules of a ghostly dog. Infinity hangs from the lip of the
jackhammer glittering with enough stars to intone an omelet into lassitude. The
oboe sparkles in the delivery of its music. The lacuna that dreams it is a
bench at a bus stop detours to tongue the veil of a moment and make it wax like
a vegetable, tactical, Thursday, and romantic. A ripple in the broth. A twilight
coughed up by a sun as it hums on the horizon like a comb in the garbage. A red
comb. The squid gets carried away in its own rhythms and the kayaks are
laminated by analysis. An intrepid zero bristles like a sore on the chicken.
The mathematics of warmth gets crabby and the scarred photographer takes her
picture with a piece of language called a forehead. The obelisk is lambent with
doorknobs. The closet bounces through its clothes on the border of a new
reality where the hangers shine in distinction of themselves and a winter coat
dawdles in nirvana. You can engender a storm quite easily by getting angry and
shouting. But meaning something is different. For that you have to chew
particles into calculus until an apocryphal clam comes whittling its way along
the beach and confuses you with its goofy handshakes. An X-ray pauses long
enough to show you its bones in veneration of the flesh it has chosen to ignore
in celebration of the skin of the tongue. The tongue which is near to itself in
asphalt and by gargling civilization embarrasses the apocalypse by naming
experiences and waffling around in daylight wherein the bleachers are calm and
Norway is unnatural for a day. If any of this makes sense you must call your
doctor and tell her that Mick Jagger is dancing in your bathroom. By that I
mean glistening, which most of us have some familiarity with, our laws and our
roads being made of energy and bricks so that horsepower will have some place
to perform its paroxysms and the jet may undertake its takeoff.
You have to feel what you write. What a strange
thing to stay. I have an odd feeling about that statement because I write to
escape feeling. What I desire most is to transcend my emotions. I don’t like my
emotions. Not all of them. I like feeling happy. Who doesn’t like feeling
happy? But happiness, which runs the gamut from intense euphoria to a mild
sense of well-being, is difficult to maintain, much less invoke. A lot of books
have been written on the subject but no one has yet discovered a sure fire method
for inducing a state of happiness at will. There are certain drugs that might
lead to a brief state of ecstasy or euphoria but when they wear off they leave
one feeling much worse than before one swallowed or injected the drug. Drugs
are not really a good solution.
If the rent is paid, the mortgage is amortized,
there’s food in the refrigerator, the water and electric bills are paid, one’s
work is agreeable, there is plenty of positive feedback from friends and
family, one’s health is good, and there’s freedom to do what one wants to do
whenever and however one chooses to do it, there’s a strong possibility that
something like happiness might be perpetuated for a respectable period of time.
Days, weeks, maybe even years. But these things are no guarantee of happiness.
A lot of people have such things in abundance and still feel unhappy much of
Happiness is an odd and elusive animal. But it is
only one among thousands of emotions, species unnamed, unrecognized that have
yet to prowl one’s nervous system and embed themselves in the heart. And really
there is no one single emotion. All emotions are blends. I have yet to meet
anyone who has felt a singularity of love without also feeling frustration,
confusion, bewilderment, betrayal, perplexity, urgency, adoration, turbulence,
intimidation, dread, triumph, mystery, discord, ambivalence, ambiguity,
temerity, endurance, effulgence, effrontery, excitement, derangement, and lust.
What I feel most of the time is anguish. Dread,
anxiety, worry, disillusion, remorse. These are not pleasant things to feel. If
these were the emotions that inspired me to write I’d be in real trouble.
But the fact is they are my main inspiration to
write. Because I write to get away from these feelings.
How does that work? I’m not sure. But I have some
First, language is a medium without limit. As soon
as I enter into the field of composition I feel an expansion, a dilation of
being. I feel the joy of limitless expansion.
There is also a very satisfying feeling in seeing
one’s nebulous inner turmoil crystallize in the regenerative pharmacology of
language. Words have a wonderful way of making one feel a little more distanced
from inner discomfort. And if one is writing out of a sudden ecstasy, words
make it shine back in the pellucid jewelry of linguistic abstractions. The very
word ‘ecstasy’ is pertinent to the business of writing. Ecstasy comes from
Greek ekstasis, “standing outside oneself.”
precisely what writing does: it leads us outside of ourselves.
is a form of pharmacology. It has healing properties. And these properties are
based on a principle of combinatorial process. Diverse elements are mingled
together to create a symbol, an idea, an image. Language is inherently,
strongly associative. Its actions are primarily chemical in nature, drawing on
a dynamic of dissolution, distillation, and sublimation. Writing is
synergistic. Emotion ceases to be a static condition. Feelings flow. Vary,
fluctuate, metamorphose. Heraclitus goes floating by in an inner tube.
what is felt in the pursuit of escaping one’s feeling is another feeling. A
bigger feeling. The feeling of sublimation. As one moves from a feeling of
stubborn solidity to a state of vapory abstraction one feels the euphoria of
displacement. Of buoyant reflection. One can feel the grip of an emotion loosen
as soon as one begins to reflect on the feeling. Or out of that feeling. It’s
not a position of ‘on’ so much as a position of disposition, the consciousness
of being in relation to other things.
emotion feels the same after a deepened analysis. It becomes less substantial,
less imprisoning. It becomes a pale mist of tingling sensation. It drifts in
reverie. It becomes an energy, a buoyancy that leads to music. A warm immersion
in water, a narcotic camaraderie in a copper California night. Equations of
sugar. Quakes of anarchical joy. An ecstasy of arroyos and turquoise auroras. The
glide through an ocean of words variable as waves on a sweet Pacific tongue.
Exploration is for feathers. A mouth full of words
and a damaged journey that sells for a dollar at the local emotion. Murdered
syntax and a pound of sound. A blast of fingers and a color walking in bones.
The muscle bulb is an open process. Description is held by a bas relief
climbing into itself on paper. A lobster is thinking because its behavior
stumbles on a turmoil and the sound of it hammers a sheen with agates. The head
pounds into consciousness gulping propositions. My meanings spill into the foam
of stupefaction. A sparkling crown of erratic life occurs when space is
concentrated in language and thoughts have no substance other than the beatific tinkling of lassitude. The brocade churns like a river. And there’s a street in Seattle
called Aurora which is often misunderstood and discharges a strange gas full of
auras and keys. The cat likes to sit in the window humming George Gershwin
tunes. My existence on paper reaches for your eyes. It’s always a little
strange to sit in an exam room waiting for the doctor. The human anatomy is
glued together with a kiss. Daylight is not allowed to enter. A burlap sack
holds potatoes like a placenta of jute. Objects may appear larger in the
mirror. I have three eyes, four thumbs, eight legs and a banjo. Great Britain
has taken umbrage with Amazon. There’s an animal in me that strains to
complement England with snow. Pathos vibrates like a cocktail lounge. The snow
groans under the weight of the sky exciting thoughts of tenderness and
convolution. Parrots recite Shakespeare in all the popular clubs. We admire the
endeavor and touch on Wisconsin in a quiet corner where there are no agitprops.
We have tickets for Paris and the piercing sounds of an orange cloud are
utterly silent. The sensation serves the fertility of experience and we find
that our feathers have grown longer and now resemble kelp and balloons. My
perceptions, too, have altered a bit and include shadows and blood. I feel the
cement beneath my feet as I walk in exhibition of myself. I enter the house of
language and find that I’ve been there all along oozing adjectives and
simmering with nouns. An embryonic argument expands into a vascular novel. I
flail at the perspectives on a canvas of hammerhead gold. I dangle from the
ceiling eating a pupa cooked in a pluperfect sauce sprinkled with commas. I rip
the rain in half and discover a pronoun reflected in a pound of legend. All my
feathers rupture into a suitcase and I leave immediately for Bohemia thrilling
with participles and hop on a Corot pulling a long blue dream.
It happened. I got old. I knew this would happen.
Not with entire certainty. There were nights of heavy drinking in which I
cavalierly declared that I would not make it to thirty. I grew to love that theatrical
stance of rock star bravado, whistling past the cemetery at night. And now it’s
Halloween and I’m sixty-seven. But what’s in a number, or set of numbers? I
mean really, isn’t chronological time just a bit abstract, not to mention a
little silly? No one lives their life in such a narrowly linear fashion. There
have been days that I felt like I was eighteen again, and days when I was
eighteen that I felt like was eighty. Michel Deguy in Paris rode into Saint
Sulpice on a bicycle at age eighty-three, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
What may have been thought of once as a reliable science of deduction and
analysis is a now a tinfoil eyeball gazing up at its own X-ray. Life gets
weirder the older you get. What used to pass for scorn is now just a glazed
calamity, frosting on a percolated organ, something akin to a heart or liver, a
brain overheated from its own mismanagement, a handshake intermingling its
fingers with the river blessing this moment with its autonomous water. The rest
is silence. I can smell it in a book. That glitter of meaning behind the words,
that amphibious slide of ambiguity through the blood of a scorpion. I hum the
amplitude of human life old Walt, you son-of-a-bitch, supporting the Mexican
war like that. What were you thinking my friend? Your poetry is so great. You
and Pound. What’s up with you guys? Could it be me that’s wrong? Have my
assumptions been askew? Judgment gets its ropes tangled later in life. Right
when you think you’ve got the wind where you want it billowing and pillowing in
your sails it shifts and the canvas goes flapping empty of wind and hope and direction.
Clearly, the kind of life you’ve led, one’s philosophy and opinions have so
little to do with the reality of what gets written. What’s up with that?
Socrates was right it’s all delirium. A mad crazy zephyr blowing through the
brain, no real harm in its intrusions, how could there be? What we’re talking
about here is eternity. The stars. That forever expanding universe. Too huge to
be comprehensible. It’s abundantly more servicable to go grocery shopping and
not think about it too much. There’s nobility, qualities like that that one may
aspire to inhabit, but who thinks about nobility anymore? Nobility was a
product of the Renaissance. It has no place in a Walmart aisle. People worry
about retirement, shelter, running water, nothing so quixotic as honor or
virtue. Emotions are energies exploring our vertebrae for nerve endings, places
to feed, places to inhabit, places to find being. One can melt into one’s self
and find the universe there, there where what you thought was mere skin is skin
indeed, but what’s skin if not a medium connecting us to the world, not
separating us from the world. Touch something warm and tell me that doesn’t
feel good. Everything oozes sex, but what’s sex? Sex is reproduction. And
what’s language? Reproduction. That’s the melody behind the rhythm, the
ecstasies behind the door, the fog drifting over the watermelon patch early in
the morning, dropping its apparitions between our thoughts. The sugar of those
crazy metaphors breathing new life into the dirt. Hummingbirds in the sugar of
our blood, nothing equal to the measure beyond all measure, the shovel bringing
up that first steaming clod, roots dangling like tentacles in a dream of death.
There is something you should know about painting:
it’s a declaration of knobs. Yaks. Conviction. The sag of a cemetery willow.
The uncanny dialects of a woman’s arm. The insinuation of streets when they’re
wet and the cars go by with people in them dreaming, talking, yelling, crying,
How do you paint that? There is always that question
when I sit down to paint. I draw a snake. I paint the snake. The snake coils
into a variegated iridescence and flicks a scarlet tongue.
Then I get into density. The volumes of things. Houses,
forklifts, cows. Animals with horns. And sometimes something small, a
fingernail, a pin in a map, a pickle.
Or a screw. I admire the machinery of the screw. Such
a simple thing. I can feel the truth of its existence in the torque of its
Art is a matter of experience not principles. The
clarity of any given moment.There’s so
much reality in a moment. But then, as we are all wont to ask, what the fuck is
Reality is the activity of consciousness. It comes
into being through interrelationship. Parables and paraffin and abalone and
hills. The tea of incident, the brightness of valor. Bubbles rising in a ginger
ale on a flight to Oaxaca. Sexual somersaults, injuries of the spur. Alligator
gravity flying saucer soup a ghost hoeing a garden in Guadalajara.
I feel seized by a stunning translucence. My mind is
a mass of fireworks. The stars journey over the prairie, ripping the sky open
until eternity shines through.
My brush moves a flower into a woman’s hand and her
eyes light the world on fire.
I include a cherry. A bright red cherry. So juicy it
sings. So real that it expects my bite.
I love the thingness of things. Das ding an sich.
The thing-in-itself. A knife that is a real knife. A wheel that is a real
wheel. An eye that is a true eye. The luster of pain in a swoon of pleasure.
A saguaro sun drawing lemon from a gourd of
carnelian and jade.
Alchemist holding a blue liquid in a careful
Scarlet trumpet vine. Maidenhair fern. Night scented
jasmine in a forest glade.
Time shapes life, gives it a chronology. There’s a
beginning, a middle, and an end. One is pushed into the world wet and tiny and
howling. Everything is murky. The world, which isn’t a world yet since ‘world’
is a concept that has not yet been processed, is a chaos of sensations, sounds,
textures, rattles, trinkets, animals, entertainments, and bowls of gooey food.
One grows, ramifies, elongates, elaborates, strengthens. The body fills with
hormones. Its chemistry changes. Desires, conflicts, frustrations, preferences,
aversions, ambitions fill the mind. But the mind is not a bucket. Fill is the
wrong word. The mind does not fill with the needs of the body so much as it is
generated by the needs of the body. A philosophy develops in order to cope with
the world and to provide something akin to a compass, an astrolabe, a navigational
system. Instinct, intuition, ideology. One makes choices. Mistakes. Has a
family or doesn’t have a family. Has a career or doesn’t have a career. Goes to
war or refrains from war. Ages and dies. Each life is different, each life has
its own unique narrative.
Life feels very different outside the chronology of
time. Outside the constructions of time, its minutes and hours, months and
years, seconds and eons. These are the trappings of time. Time itself is more
of a mystery. Newton and Plato believed that time is like an empty container
into which things and events may be placed, but that it is a container that exists independently of
what is placed in it: ships, wrinkles, blood, contracts, stems, steam, war, history, monuments, truths, progenies, picnics, ants. Aristotle and Leibniz believed that time does not exist
independently of the events that occur in time but is itself a system of
temporal relations among things and events. Time is synonymous with change.
With motion and occurrence. Growth and maturation. Diminishment and erosion.
The formation of hills, the actions of a stream. The touch of a finger, the gleam of an eye. The way a vision rides our nerves, the way a shower hits the water when a river swerves.
I do not feel time. I can see time if I look at a
clock. I can see that minutes have passed. But I don’t feel the passage of
time. Each moment feels whole. There’s a simultaneity of experience, of
sensations and perceptions flowing together, amalgamating into a single event
that has the appearance and feeling of being free of the dictates of the clock.
In reality each passage is a hallmark of time. Is time. The movement of my fingers on a keyboard putting letters
together so that they become words and the words become ideas is the very
essence of time, although it doesn’t feel like time, it feels phenomenal. It
feels quick and erratic like a school of fish making a sudden, unpredictable
swerve, or a flight of birds, all in motion, but outside the framework of time.
It’s when I begin to worry about the future or obsess about an event in the
past that time becomes evident. That I feel severed from the immediacy of the
moment and caught up in the network of time. Tangled in abstractions. Tangled
up in blue, as Dylan expressed it. Tangled in ticks, tangled in tocks.
Tangled in sticks. Time consists of two sticks: the
long stick of hours, the short stick of minute by minute.
Letters are sticks. O is a stick curved into an O. L
is two sticks. M is four sticks. Q is a stick curved into a hole with a tiny
tail. Letters are evidence of time because time is sticks and sticky and sticks
to the mind like peanut butter sticks to the roof of the mouth.
There are times when the past becomes so engulfing
that I feel swallowed by it. It keeps me agitated and awake. I cannot sleep. I
feel injured by my own rumination. “There is a degree of insomnia,” observed
Friedrich Nietzsche, “of rumination, of historical sense which injures every
living thing and finally destroys it, be it a man, a people, or a culture.”
To determine this degree, and through it the limit beyond
which the past must be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the
present, one would have to know precisely how great the plastic power of a man,
a people, or a culture is. I mean the power to grow out of itself, transforming
and assimilating everything past and alien, to heal wounds, replace what is
lost and reshape broken forms out of itself. There are men who have this power
to so small a degree that they will incurably bleed to death over a single
experience, a single pain, frequently over a single delicate injustice, as from
quite a small bleeding laceration. On the other hand, there are those who are
affected so little by the wildest and most gruesome calamities of life and even
by their own malicious acts, that in the midst of them or shortly thereafter
they achieve a tolerable degree of well-being and a kind of clear
It is when I stay focused on the immediacy of the
present that I elude the injuries of time. There are motions and change but the
motions and change do not feel part of the structure of time they feel uniquely
a part of the moment, flavors of a phenomenal chapter in my narrative that is
free to feed into a plot or not. Unless I’m being chased by a tiger or
defending myself with karate chops or a sword there is no narrative. That’s
what I dig about poetry. Poetry is that moment. Poetry is that flash that burns
and obscures the walls of the container that is time and frees the imagination,
focuses the mind on the present.
My life becomes pointless. In a good way. Poetry is
pointless. It is wonderfully, giddily pointless. Emotions are mirrors that
distort the images of the present or magnify the events of the past. Emotions
are linked to time by grammar. Disrupt grammar and you disrupt time. When
Jackson Pollock disrupted the representation of recognizable images and focused
on the physicality of his movements above the canvas he remained focused on the
immediacy of the moment and recreated that immediacy and physicality in paint.
That’s precisely my goal in poetry.
I build things. Boats and explosions. Houses and
sounds. I accept the singing of glass and the grandeur of bacteria. The pour of
olive oil into a skillet, the insertion of a key into the ignition switch of a
car. Or, better yet, a time machine. A machine that removes us from the prison
of time and takes us anywhere in time we want to go. But, you say, isn’t there
a danger there? Even if we can maneuver in and out of past and future events we
lose the present. And yes, that’s correct. It isn’t the time machine that
liberates us from time it’s the present moment. Time evaporates and leaves
behind it a seed.
It becomes, to quote Philip Whalen, “a howling
flower in my skull.”
Is this pain private? No pain is private. How can it
be? Pain feels private but it’s not. Emotional pain is surprisingly adhesive
but in actuality it’s no different than a pronoun run amok in our personal
biographies. Like all assumptions, it’s probably wrong. But sometimes being
wrong helps us maneuver our words in ways that appeal to our sense of longhand.
For example: here I am holding a word. Can you guess what word it is? That’s
right, it’s pork chop. Which is two words. It takes two words to make one word
because all connections begin with a plug. When pain is painted it flickers
into the eyes like a giant handshake with God. We feel more than slightly
Etruscan. We might feel Sicilian, or Nigerian, or echo a noise so emphatically
that our granulations resemble the camaraderie of the stars and their perfect
silence over the deserts of New Mexico. I can slobber like a cow if you’d like
me to but I’d rather go on writing as if the sentences were leading us
somewhere. Not enough has been said about cutlery. I think it’s only fair to
describe time as a bear rubbing itself against a tree. There’s a story about
this in the bungalow but I’m too weighted with matter to go and get it. All it
takes is a bumped shin to remind me that the subject of pain is fraught with
cramps. Let us engage the composition of pain by the scruff of its neck and
take it somewhere abstract. There’s a despair so beautiful in its nihilistic
distillations that even Dagwood would crawl through the echoes of his existence
trying to find the secret behind all those dots that comprise the panels in
which Blondie frets about housework and Beetle Bailey is chased by Sarge on the
other page. I find most things painful but lately my moaning has assumed a
greater resonance. How else describe pain than as a garden of signals and
neuronal impulses that produce huge orchids of understanding, black and white
and purple and yellow, their pistils yearning for pollination. We must court
consciousness as if its answers were embedded in our minds like shovels
exhuming the past in great steaming clods of past association, roots dangling,
little bone fragments spilling out. Life is erratic. Revolt does little good,
but it’s a start. Our actions swarm with it. Words vomit their meaning all over
the page and the ether carries their fumes into the algebra of clouds. Eternal
flux. That’s where pain is defeated. That cotton floating up there in corduroy
and fat. Diamonds sparkle in the palace. The palace of pain. Whose subtleties
of architecture fill volumes with the approximate language of existence. The
brain reflects on its own reflections until the syntax creaks open revealing a
book of shadows, stories constructing themselves out of tenderness and
Consciousness is haunted by the prospect of eternal
life. Paper swans milked in the heat of a window. Heavenly dots slammed into
decoration. The sand sags by an open fire. Name your favorite emotion. Mine is
snow falling on a river. I like that feeling. It makes me feel clean and
graceful like a hat. What I see in the sidewalk is gum and time. The
concentration of a moment falling into big fat words and creating a sentence
that clashes with reality. But in a good way. Like dreaming a conversation with
a guitar. There is an open dynamic in music that drips with the silk of
intuition. Surely the whole thing is more than a brightness crawling out of the
neck. I have a great respect for mint. But the cabbage mistakes our digestion
for Ohio. This is not Ohio. This is vapor. Rain on an antenna. Symmetry carries
other obligations. Even the way a serape is folded bears certain implications.
Secrets spun into the yarn like water. Like tears, or warts. Similes are always
so eager to be fulfilled. Metaphors are different. They just sit around and
moo. Coins slosh around in my pockets like the symbolism we find in anthologies
of French symbolism. Which is to say their metal is not of this world. And so I
wander around in my head until I fall asleep. I herd wildebeests. I open doors
to other worlds. I bring opinions to the wind. The wind doesn’t care. The wind
has its own opinions. I can smell them. They smell like headlights and mustard.
And when Mick Jagger asked me to join the Rolling Stones I didn’t tell him I
couldn’t sing or play a guitar. No siree. I just got up on the stage and
wiggled. Everything changed when André Breton arrived. He lost some buttons and
was trying to find some sand for a fable he was writing. I helped with his
allegory and he helped me find that moment of the day when there’s nothing to
do but explode into light. If reality is as real as it thinks it is, well then,
all I have to say is get on with it. But does reality think? Reality is an
abstraction. Abstractions don’t think. What would happen if I reached up and
touched the moon? I’ll tell you: absolutely nothing. It’s gravity that juggles
the stars. Perceptions are there to flatter consciousness into believing that
England is punctuated by time and that time itself is a paradigm bursting with
pickles and incendiary nouns. Crisis carves its horrors out of the air, not the
clock. The clock just sits on the shelf ticking and tocking the way a clock is
supposed to. The hands move, the hours follow. And at three o’clock in the
afternoon the Hunchback of Notre Dame arrives whispering of bells and
waterfalls. Feeling, he says, is one way to feel a feeling. Another is to hop
from bell to bell in a glorious hysteria of sound. This is how the rain gets
nailed to the stationary and words evoke everything there is in the world
except how to be silent. And that takes guts. There is nothing in the mind but
shadows, and the mind itself is nothing. We swim in the sounds below our life
and when we agree to remember the cabbage it jellies into concentration.
Muscles are lush and germinate mind. Then at
devotion a needle cures one’s irritations and accumulates sleep. Buckskin
Cytherea pushes a glass tack into an early arrival of content. There is sand
about and poles and red bottles such as mussels. Warm oats pushed into a sheen of
nacreous sagacity is simply chins. Camellias make the stadium wild. The ocean
is ever crammed feeling for its sticks. I have thrilled with such hotels as my
very sleeves attest. I have banged on foibles and cured apricot with herring,
laced roller skates with fog. Or did I mean white blood cells? This is a sudden
area of zip code absorption. Bog saddle. Blueprint of gauze for a paper lion
amid crocodile birds. The whistle is not a soliloquy so much as a knot of
power. The uninhibited knock that comes with monsters. Bikini diaphragm, or
corner glazed with boiling tongues. Suddenly Tuesday appears French as
cobblestones and this sentence has a plywood heart. The stomach has its drapery
and archaeology has its moss. Lagniappe is a sandwich if a philosophy crackles.
Distance is as beautiful as Monday. The snowshoes are a form of negotiation. It
is the nature of things to spit because morality offers kites. But why
morality? Why not just nerves? Geniality and canvas? The bikini suits me
although I’m male and have no breasts, other than what nature has given me,
which is popcorn to my dreams of Montana. I feel buxom as a zigzag. And
sometimes I’m a river. Philosophy requires toast because it’s Gothic and
consciousness tugs at the acetylene poetry of silver and gold. Poetry is an
event. Language is a phenomenon. Heartbeats come with tarantulas. There is a
tarantula in all of us, and a skeleton and apain that cannot be described as broth or leather but will require the
grammar of realism and the physics of romance. I feel closer to my neck today
than I have before and this is partly the result of singing and partly the
result of thought. Sometimes standing in the doorway makes me feel like an
alley in the rain. And this, too, is a form of philosophy. If I cater to
feathers then the tourists will scrawl their names on the wall and buttons
cause the morning to dive into pine. That’s where the breezes go and the air
smells sharply and dialectical. There’s leather in light and light in leather.
This makes the leather light and the raft depends on inflammations of water.
Words are words. It’s important to remember that.
Words are representations of things, not the actual things. This is a good
thing. This is freedom.Since words are
untethered from empirical realities, they may be used to express anything. They
can express phenomena with no correlatives to the world of milk and grass. The
world of physical laws and abbeys and jodhpurs and jute. Paul Eluard’s
surrealist line “The world is blue as an orange” serves an example of the kind
of journeys words are capable of creating.
Words like ‘universe,’ ‘soul,’ or ‘thought’ have a
profundity and charge that are automatic in expression but in reality are no
different than the words ‘pencil,’ ‘bread,’ or ‘worm.’ Their values differ in
our imagination but as entities in a system of signs there is no difference in depth,
intensity, or heft. This is where thought is liberated from the dry
abstractions of ordinary experience and acquire the sorcery of music. Just as
there are no factual correlatives to the mood and atmosphere created by melody,
harmonic structure and combinations of tone, there are no factual correlatives
to lines of poetry such as César Vallejo’s marvelous invocation to time “vigorously
dragging its misery” or “the sound of singing testicles” or “flora of style”
“cited in swamps of honor by auditory roses.” These are realities of a
different nature than those of differential calculus or scientific measurement.
Their charge comes from an amperage of human imagination, the flow of electrons
from finger to finger in the dance of our writing.
Words are propositions. Each word is a proposition.
Not just nouns, but prepositions, adverbs, adjectives and pronouns. “Of” and
“above” and “fast” and “slowly” and “them” and “you” are all propositions.
Offerings from the treasure hold of language to the wingspread of the mind. Traction,
transmission, tone. Matter, time, justice, almond, space, thunder:
Words reveal a system that appears to be unshakeable
and stable but is, in fact, open and volatile. They’re pieces in a game of
classification in which the nebulous chaos of sensation assumes the order and identity
of horses and headlights. Words vibrate with witness. Ideas flourish in their
example. Processions of knife and knuckle flutter through the vapor of
generality and take on specificity and purpose. Caught trout sputter in the
butter of eternity. Words are amalgams that help mold perception. They create a
sense of cohesion and permanence. But in reality the cohesion and permanence
are functions of syntax. Products of grammar. Articulations of sequence. The
amalgam can fly apart at any moment, explode into confetti, erupt into
I love fireworks. I love anything that explodes and
rains down as stars. But there are subtleties that elude our fundamental assumptions
about the universe and revel in our perceptions like the teasing gaieties of
unguent and wool. Porosities augment our absorption. Coffee sharpens our
nerves. Each second we’re inundated with sensation. But the place where
conscious awareness and sensation intersect are tangled and derailed by
distraction. Receptivity turns to static. The algebra of circumstance
diminishes in our attention and reduces to a vulgar denomination, stale
categories of class and description.
It’s in the combinatory power of language that these
subtleties of sense are best able to be captured. The language of words bears
some resemblance to the language of numbers. Differential calculus was designed
to describe a universe in flux. The combinatory power of words acts in a similar
manner. It brings elements together and mixes them in an ebullition of nerve
and word whose infusions sublimate or distill into a new ingredient, or idea.
Remove words from the equation and we’re left with
gesture. I touch a knife, then a loaf of bread, and then make a swinging motion
with my arm. Hopefully, the idea of slicing a loaf of bread will be
communicated, and not the intent to stab anybody. Most experiences are nowhere
near this simplistic. There are emotions whose complexities exceed that of
convection currents and kinetic energy equations. Were we to limit ourselves to
gesture it would take a bizarre form of acrobatics, a kind of Japanese butoh,
to express the inner realms of our being.
This is the sorcery of combination. It happens in
chemistry all the time. Take two hydrogen atoms and add to them an atom of
oxygen and voila! you have water. Compress a mass of hydrogen atoms at great
temperature and pressure so that they fuse to form atoms of helium and in the
process you will create a big ball of heat and light called a sun.
The instant pen is put to paper or a cursor is set
on the screen and the fingers begin to prance on a keyboard and words are
formed we’re involved in the sorcery of combination. Of collage. Of comparison
and contrast. The products may be nebulous or thin or concrete as a sidewalk,
colorful and vibrant as music or loaded with summer like a gleam of sunlight on
invariants, whether atomic or relational, are essential to linguistics.
Language is a shared activity. It is what holds a community together. There are
constraints, but they are the kind of constraints that liberate the sorcery of
predication. An abstract machine may be built around variables and variations.
Language is essentially a heterogeneous reality. If I want to make an
appointment with an electrician to come and install an outlet for an electric
range I willnot need to know how
amperage works but I will need to know how to structure a place and time. I
will need to describe the circumstances, state of the wiring, size of the
range. The wiring of language will be a shared circumstance requiring
alternating currents, harmonic distortion. The freedom to create a reality
different than the normative one of daily reality will be based on the same
structure, but its capacity to create new elements will be as limitless as
music. And once I get the stove plugged in, I can make a pot of coffee and sit
down to learn what a watt is, and amperage and texture and sine waves and
seclusion. I can do equations. I can drag time into space. I can swing like
Tarzan from language to language. For the jungle is full of vines, and the
world is blue as an orange.
Cubism plays flirtation into helium. Baffled
clutters of intent fidget through morality. Metamorphosis sips the forehead.
Honor sits in a cemetery. A thumb does ham and it’s magically red. An indigo
phonograph serious as an airplane landing in an oasis of introversion deepens
the stars. Candy is an invention, a pleasure of visceral lucidity in food. My
medication resuscitates its own peculiarities. Structure begs for development.
The texture of a sleeve tastes of pagan stubble. Wrinkles of rawhide find their
foam of a perfect moment. Finger and mouth go resonant in a concentric
propinquity. The sky murmurs of a Fauvist train remembered as an engine of
sound. The winches and pulleys of consciousness create a linguistic element
that occurs as a wisecrack in the ice and seizes chemicals never before aired
on TV and so goes about the interior of the head disguised as an arena in a
flake of wax. The mathematics of this is where the squirrels come in. They
leave behind a skeleton of numbers. And Cubism arrives at last in a sedan chair
of nipples figured by thread. In other words, a perfect concertina. Romance
galvanized by a fez, a face in the asphalt, Nikola Tesla standing in an alley
in the rain squeezing it in, letting it out, so that a wheeze of music cools into
a marvelous stew of shrubbery chalk.
If fur is correspondent to the words will the words
be fur? The time and place of a writing has little to do with fur, but the
parables that emerge on Thursday are full of entrails. This makes our questions
yellow. Green is a calamity. It follows then that when time is chickens
television equals the radius of prayer divided by aviation. Molecules are a
major cause of shirts. Handstands begin as teaspoons. Reality bounces through a
herd of drools furious as cheese and twice as cypress. There are discretions
that shiver with engagement and times when daydreaming leads to lemonade.
Kerosene mimics the mind when it burns in a lantern quibbling with the breath
of night. Yet, when it comes to whiskers, nobility is papier-mâché. Antiques
are more like napkins. That is to say, if a yardstick appeals to the
variegations of a conversation the words will combine with larder to create
apples. They will be real apples, but with eight definitions teeming with
thought and bicycles. Pepper comes from incentive, not hills. A flickering
purpose walks on clumsy fingers. The piano unpacks a conception of Bach. The
resulting melee deserves our attention. Let us, then, slap the stars with our
mouths and prepare our invisibility. There is a certain providence in grebes
that remembers the coordinates of gambling. Nothing is a similarity without a
resemblance. Existence must grow from stress, or else it is mere windows and
only marginally soaked with nerves. What is a worm if ambivalence calls its
dreams into spicy turmoil and dust echoes dust with the toys of ceremony? What
is it to be? It is to be, that is all. Being and water fat with examination.
Inquiry earns its incandescence from stone. Libraries hooked on oblivion. The
abstractions of a pumpkin are still a pumpkin, but the auroras of astronomy
pull their oars through the solitudes of a pocket comb. We send our balloons up
through space and time. The thrill is Pythogorean. The cream is thick and copious.
If we name at least one sensation we will be that much further home.
This morning as I fed the cat I realized that a
sense of imbalance can result in a romance with gravity and that nearly all of my
opinions are forms of speculations raised into speech. For instance, when a map
is milk and smells of dwelling the dynamic is sexual and full of audacity.
Intentions begin yelling. Theatmosphere
turns silk and grammar propels it into textural immediacy, like a bright envy
echoing paragraphs of shocking jelly. I put the emphasis on hills. Fingers
crave symmetry. But hills, hills are like white elephants wearing ethereal
fedoras. I know I sometimes do. Generally when it’s raining and the orchids are
bathed in an amber light. This is how I make most of my discoveries. I drop
from the sunlight and burst into conversation like the sidewalks of Paris. Then
I ask to join the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger asks why, why do you continue
to ask me such questions? Because, I insist, the world is full of musicians,
but what band has a member that can’t play so much as a triangle? If knowledge
doesn’t bounce, it floats. But how, I ask you, how is knowledge acquired? That
is to say, if you already know something there is no reason to go looking for
it, but if you don’t know something, then how would you know to look for it?
The human mind is haunted by its own mouth. Because when those lips get going
and the tongue gets to flapping anything can open. My existence on paper
explodes into light. Once I get the words out they take care of themselves.
They go where they want, they say what they want, they create books of brazen
chitchat. Time disperses its syllables in ticks and tocks. The empire of space
has wings. If I smell like an elevator it’s because the driftwood is unconscious.
And I awoke to find my mouth flying around the room like a moth. Other mornings
I feel more like a road in a forest. A quiet thing of dust bending occasionally
around the side of a mountain or ascending into Switzerland. It is there that I
find the referents I was looking for. Until then my words had no meaning. Not
really. They appeared to have meaning but when they began a newer journey I
could drink them like wine and eat pretzels in winter the way pretzels were
made to be eaten. You know? Like when a nail is pounded into a two-by-four of
pine. My life hangs from necessity like a waterfall. The hunchback of Notre
Dame walks among these words. And the sweet Mediterranean air flows through the
tangle of his mind luminous with saints and roses. We chime through the
centuries harboring narratives of grace. Philosophies are deepened by torpor. I
feel most alive when idleness visits my simmering mind and bamboo nipples
frolic on the lips of an accommodating innocence. There’s no irony here, only a
badly shaved Pythagorean pain. I feel open to anything. The afternoon lifts
itself into the eyes and the world pulses in a Montmartre window. This is how
it was meant to be. Existence, fingers, riddles and being. Good, simple being.
The kind that struts on a hardwood floor in footwear soft as belief yet thick
as the cotton of October’s sad conceptions. The path of the rug is more like a
shadow in the mind. A story in which nothing happens but the jingling of mints
and the laughter of pronouns clicking their descriptions at a street.
Whenever I write I like to dive into the paper. Kurt
Cobain liked to play his guitar in the cupboard of his Lake Washington mansion.
Me, I like to sit in a chair and develop an aesthetic that doesn’t involve
admonishment, or evasion. I like to confront reality directly, get up real
close enough to smell its perfume and laugh at how erratic, how ugly, how
completely unreal reality is. I like the word ‘is.’ I like transitive verbs in
general, though I also like nipples, greenhouses, and coffee. I like sentences
that get sweet and seditious and slither through intricate ideas with the
supple grace of an octopus. The whole business of consciousness is a
fascinating proposition. But what is it? Who knows. There is a rise and fall to
Wisconsin and Tennessee but a stupefying flatness to Kansas and North Dakota.
What this says about consciousness sparkles with conversational potential. Am I
a fiasco? I certainly feel that way most mornings. This is good for writing
because it resembles fly fishing. If I see a totem of headlights I am glad. I
feel connected to something spiritual. My existence on paper reaches for your
eyes. I’m worried about our planet. It makes me want to grab a tube of Vandyke
red and paint a sunset. This is a feeling founded on the idea that art can make
a difference. But as soon as I remind myself that one of the attractions of art
is its non-utilitarian side, I retrace my steps and tread more lightly on my
dreams. The purpose of the chisel is in its shape. The purpose of writing is in
its absorption. I’m antagonized by neutrality. Indifference is the real enemy.
Conquer indifference and you’ve conquered a major evil. This prompts the
question: can one write with passion and still remain open-minded? There is
truth in wine. This we know. But why is that? And does one need to drink wine
to feel the effects of wine? That is to say, is delirium a state, or a country?
I see it as an eight-legged banjo. Or something wet and large like Great
Britain. Comprehension is a form of drinking. The mind sips words and discovers
that it’s snowing in England and sleigh bells are jingling and the colors of
the sky are an alchemy of transcendent glory. This causes one’s writing to
assume the murmuring ornamentation that occurs to woods like mahogany in the
manufacture of desks. Time thickens into hawks. The heart flutters its
raspberries in a seething cauldron of awakened syllables. One’s intentions
become circular. Each pronoun is a forceps. The room is aglow with longhand.
Nihilism feels rather good. Particularly when one’s thinking grows pinched like
a museum. It helps to jump into the light of any language and realize that pain
is sometimes sexual. There’s a certain despair that nothing can bungle except
comedy. A brand new jackknife can stimulate rapture and if one’s words begin to
float so much the better. Prophesy doesn’t come cheap. But who wants to
prophesy? It’s a rather awkward verb to begin with. I recommend truffles.
Discoveries are rarely made when we expect them. I feel the same way about
orchids and birds. You need seclusion. Recklessness and talking and any
aesthetic that bubbles out of the shadows groping for print.
John Olson is the author of numerous books of poetry and (chiefly) prose poetry,
including Dada Budapest, Larynx Galaxy, and Backscatter: New And Selected Poems. He is also the author of four novels, including In Advance of the Broken Justy, The Seeing Machine, The Nothing That Is, and Souls Of Wind.