Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nothingness Wins Again


Enigmatic reverie package that comes from sparkling spray. Gotta buy me some fire and a bear, some foliage and a bell, a pair of pants and a nice green pump and a warehouse of suede. Anything that models the cylinders of a pretty nickname. I will be the meaning I want, lavender buttons and bliss. Antenna gum that stretches all the dust of life and a cricket singing from a high edge of facts about brackets, which are delegations of pearl. Wild abstraction with a reason to open a bean.
Oil and turpentine and a shade to undertake the lassitude of ash.
If space is within space, then spatiality must have something to do with recompense. I will call it a dollar. Which expresses the camel hiding among my nerves. The desert, the wind, the dunes, the drift of detachment. And this is happening with a claw and a negligence of rocks. Acute crumbling of a cabbage sorbet. Bienvenue au Palais Idéal.
This is my electric yellow pin. I am in the east licking the power that is nature. I smell sweet from my locomotive stomach but I don’t really care about the friendliness of furniture unless it starts talking like sparrows, which reminds me of Hamlet, and the sweet beginnings of stars, and then I cry the long thin tears of supplication and collapse to the floor and become a chair.
What is causation? Does anyone really know?
I have been talking about what is ready-to-hand. But what about assemblage? The sandwich on the counter at the diner? What about jaws, and brightness, and indigestion?
Equipment, too, has its place, or it just lies around collecting dust. The nosegay doesn’t  appear at random. It is there in accordance with its involvements.
Allegiances are further complicated by disagreements over what events, facts, and these other creatures are. Some seem precise, like the praying mantis, whereas others are whiskered, and whistle like steam. How is it possible for one mind to know another? Is there a phenomenology that cooks like rice but is better than caviar?
I believe that there is gold in the cave and that it doesn’t harm the glory of being a little lost among the shadows when they bring a little reflection to the glitter of its veins. Listen to the bullish scrap woman who does ironing on the sidewalk of a rose. The thorn clock piloting the edge of a wave at the monastery. These are reasonable and sipped. Indications assembled to accommodate the decipherment of cause.
As for causation, let’s explain it with quarks. Binoculars and breakfast. Causation is the cause of cause. The cause of giants lifting the ocean into rain. The cause of hope, which is appalling in its constipation. The cause of the cashew, which is expensive, and the cause of the peach, which is lips. A hammer causes itself by hammering.
Exclaims nothingness, which is now a nail in a two-by-four of an insect cycling around an apple.




Sunday, November 12, 2017

Out Of Control


I enjoy the sensations of things, doorknobs, laundry warm from the dryer, spider legs scampering over my palm, water when I’m thirsty, symphony strings, Buddy Guy doing some straight up insane things on his guitar, the weight of a book in my hands.
Did you know that horses are able to identify emotion in human facial expressions? I can’t even do that. What I can do is reveal or conceal an emotion depending on circumstances.
There are landscapes I could never describe. Not with paint, not with words, not with echoes or inclines or swamps. The whole is always going to be greater than the sum of its parts. This is especially true of landscapes, fjords, inlets, lakes, clouds, late afternoon light on a Tuscany hill.  
I like the feeling of the word ‘seethe’ as it seethes through my teeth. As this from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, “go, suck the subtle blood ‘o the grape till the high fever seethe your blood to froth.” Or this, from Pencillings, by N.P. Willis, “Cold meat, seethed, Italian fashion, in nauseous oil.”
Do you see? Each word is a history, a palimpsest, a landscape. Cold meat seethed in nauseous oil. The workings of wine in the blood, turning it to froth, delirium and groping. Daydreaming. Musing on the grain of the wood of an old dark bar. Big arguments with the hands waving. Voices raised in speech, or singing, or the flutter of syllables on the ear in a foreign country, where the weight of what is being said is hidden among its vowels.
The word ‘landscape’ comes from Old Saxon ‘landscepi.’ Old Norse ‘landscap.’ The word was later introduced as a technical term by painters, a picture representing natural inland scenery. Or as I like to call it: the language of earth as it is spoken by wind and rock.
The loose dirt of the Palouse is called ‘loess.’ It’s soft and fine and nourishes the soft white wheat of the Palouse, which goes into the making of pastries, apple strudel and cinnamon rolls.
Since consciousness seems to be localized within my head, I always have the feeling of being in an airplane, in which case the landscape I’m looking down at is generally a carpet, if I’m barefoot in our apartment, or the sidewalk, one of many sidewalks, here in Seattle or in Paris or Minneapolis, which is a little like Paris, in that it has a river running through the city, about the same size as the Seine, but called the Mississippi, and is legendary, and full of catfish.
I remember standing on the Pont Neuf in the winter of 2015 looking down at the Seine, which looked wild and turbulent, weirdly green in color, heavy with French dirt, French landscape, paysage as they call it.
My eyes fill with the light of a thousand bright yellow leaves stuck to the sidewalk at the top of Highland Drive. The temperature is 45 degrees and is invigorating and moist. The sky is gray. It’s mid-November and Seattle’s skyline gleams below. I feel good, but can’t shake the sadness caused by hearing Guy McPherson’s grim predictions. McPherson was a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona until he left his position to live on an off-grid homestead in southern New Mexico. He has since moved to Belize and put his property in New Mexico up for sale. He is best known for his talks on imminent mass extinction due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere, a situation he deems long out of our control. He states a paradox: if all industrial production stopped this minute and no more pollution entered the atmosphere, the heating of the planet would be accelerated since the pollutants in the atmosphere act as a filter, diffusing the sun’s heat.
McPherson delivers his talks in a calm, measured, eminently rational voice. He supports his claims with compelling facts. He has a warm presence and emphasizes the importance of enjoying life to its fullest, living in the present moment, seeking excellence in a culture of mediocrity and continuing to floss one’s teeth. He tries to put a redemptive spin on our imminent doom by urging us to do what we love, disburden ourselves from the encumbering shackles of false hope and the oppressive tyranny of jobs and money and live to the fullest while we still can. But it doesn’t work. Extinction sounds horrible. The death he describes sounds awful: when heat and humidity rise to a certain level, we behave drunkenly, because our organs are boiling.
Other climate scientists, such as Michael Tobis at the University of Wisconsin, say McPherson’s claims are incompetent and grossly misleading. I don’t know what to think. I tend to think Tobis is correct and McPherson is wrong. I want Tobis to be correct and McPherson to be wrong: way wrong. I’m not a big fan of human beings, they’ve been responsible for a great deal of ruin and savagery and pain, but I don’t want to see humanity go extinct, any more than I want to see other species go instinct. I mean, didn’t the dinosaurs do better? They managed to stick around for 165 million years. Think of it: big old walking Walmarts of bone and flesh. And what about dinosaur farts? I don’t get it. Is it all this cortical activity that’s gotten us humans into so much trouble in such a short amount of time?
It would be so much nicer if I could just reject McPherson’s claims wholesale and get on with my life. But I can’t, not quite. I can’t shake the sadness nor the truthfulness implicit in McPherson’s words that easily. It will take more than Tobis’s rigorous mathematics to do it. The wildfires and hurricanes and droughts this last summer were horrendous. Clearly, something very, very wrong is occurring to our planet. And it’s just the one planet; there aren’t any more available when this one is finally, irreparably lost.
Flash drought destroyed half the wheat crops this year.
But enough of that.
Why is it that the things over which I have the least amount of control are the things hardest to let go of?
I think the answer is right there in the question: no control.
Most of the time, the only thing I truly have control over is how to respond to things. And even there I have to separate instinct from intellect.
I have no control over the maniacs using leaf blowers in the rain when everything is sopping wet and stuck to the ground, or the jerks whose leviathan SUVs and four-by-fours won’t fit in their driveways and stick out over the sidewalk blocking everyone’s way, or the ongoing looting of the American population by their “elected” officials, and their cronies, the banks.
Making money out of thin air. “Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money,” said Voltaire. Amen to that.






Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Elegance Of Leaving


Why are ghosts always represented as bed-sheets? Death is nothing. Nothing without England and its historical debris. Nothing without a fugitive understanding of life’s most basic courtesies. Sleep and nuance. Umbrellas and cows.
The invention of thirst comes to us dressed as a mythical taffeta in the tenacity of an ant. Red feathers on a white table. Certitude. Incertitude. The philosophy of yourself.
An X-ray and the light behind the X-ray. Bones. Prisms. Gregorian chant.  
Nothing beats the elegance of leaving a job. A party. A bad marriage. An excruciating eulogy. A firm decision. An endless war. An ideology gone sour.
Death is nothing. The fragrance of a casket is unaffected by its mystery. It is sometimes sudden, sometimes long and inquiring. 
Death is nothing but hoes in a row in a pink garage. Brian Jones smiling at Howlin’ Wolf. Letters thrashing around in a sentence. Nothingness is underrated. So is the shine on the shell of a crab. Eyebrows are incidental, like molasses and papier collé.
The poet is a nomad with nowhere to go. The United States has become an open-air prison with an extortionate hellcare system. I’m old enough to remember streetcars. So when I say that the poet has nowhere to go, I mean nothingness articulate as a gravel driveway. I mean clumsy indications of death walking through the eye of a needle. I mean camel. I mean rich man. I mean crinkly old dollar and words in a process of waves moving up and down a cobra neck-tie.
Poetry is an engine of ice, helter-skelter at a Cincinnati gas station. Caress the spine of a dragon. I will tell you what it’s like to eat lobster on a private jet. I will tell you how to articulate the gravel of a driveway without using nails or nutmeg. I once corresponded with a cringe. Which I later pumped to the surface of my skin and showed it around town like a tattoo of shadows boiling in the midnight of a woman’s fingernail. I’m sympathetic to most vibrations, but I’m mostly favorable to the forehead when it’s lit up by a crown of electricity. It’s a good look. I agree to nothing but what goes on in my fingers. Golden oarlocks on a red boat. Think of it as symbolism, something out of the late 19th century. A huge barroom metaphor that answers the demands of reason with a tiger’s head and a snake between its teeth. I feel the exclamation of stalagmites in my guts. Opinions slam the door on discussion. If you have an opinion nail it to the wall and shoot it with a .38 caliber toad.
Do you like cream in your gridlock? Feathers are marvels of engineering. Can I offer another version of myself that explains these things? Some people like to punch the air when they dance. But I’m not going to pretend I’m Mick Jagger. You don’t know who I am. Who am I? I am you. I am us. I am her. I am him. I am everyone. But mostly I’m a guy looking for a way out of here.
Gravity is a cure for science. But nothing cures a heartache like the bone black in a painting by Rembrandt. No amount of logic can explain a clam. But I can tell you what a sparkle looks like in the eye of a monkey. Watch it dilate. The mind dilates. Did you know? Yes. And I’m hooked on polyphony. A crinkly old dollar. Zen mosquitos on a hairy arm. Bend the milk into asphalt. The forklift lifts a pallet of formaldehyde and so concludes: death is nothing. What is the source of this emotion? Flames thundering out of the bottom of a rocket. The lure of Titan. Buffalo on the plains in 1752.



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cartoon Noises In A Kitchen Sink


Cartoon noises in a kitchen sink. Metal crabs tap-dancing on a China plate. Water running. Two pieces of meat stuck to a spoon. What shall we do with this loaf of elevator? Give it a little baptism. The biology of a feeling, which is soon felt going chromosomal, like a rattlesnake chandelier, or a hymn to the speed bump. Everything in life sooner or later gets to feeling reptilian, or naked, the way a fork throws itself into space.
Words are sticks of meaning soaked in pain.
I stood on the stepladder trying to open a little plastic sack with two little screws in it for the ceiling light mount. It opened of a sudden and the screws went flying. That’s how it always is. Just listen to Gregorio Allegri. Or the murmur of doctors focusing on a bone.
Breakfast explains nothing. I can hear the rustle of rain. It’s early November. I can see a discarded bikini in the Hall of Mirrors. The pulse of a sawhorse wrapped in cloth. How many pounds are in the ghost of a hammer? I agree with my spine. The Renaissance as mostly about music. The science came later, blistered and stubborn, like language. Except language isn’t very scientific. It’s more like swans perched on the top of a barn. You can smell it as it gropes for a coat, or enters the parlor goofy as a traffic cone and sits down on a concertina. Oops.
Concentration is the essence of the concertina. The dreams of a halibut are different. The dreams of a halibut resemble the furniture of winter. The reason is obvious as cocoa.
I wouldn’t characterize myself as jaunty. I fuss over the issue of subjectivity much of the time, but it leads nowhere testimonial. Nothing like an elephant, whose subjectivity is intellectual, and drinks experience from a waterhole of stillness and quiet, poised as a mosquito on a policeman’s arm.
What does it mean to be ambitious? I’m not pleased by the taste of oysters. Never have been. I see a mockingbird on a barbed wire fence and think about the many unseen gears of the escalator. Let your eyes carry this sentence to the end of itself. When you arrive at the end, you will find an abyss. You will see ice and snow. Pain floating in the eyes of a stranger. And that stranger is you.
Or not. Maybe it’s just another bend in the river, random and wide and full of reflection.
What do we mean when we speak of a music as “heavy metal?”
Consciousness is a rag of emotion, the crackle of feeling in a ball of thought. Stars in a jug of white lightning, the many doors to perception.
Did you forget to fall in love today? I didn’t. I just now fell in love with a Dutch apple pie. Oats are easily made, but the many subtleties of sleep are not so easily described. I would like to further explore the idea of Sam Elliott’s mustache. Has it been a boost to his career? Probably. Is it eloquent? Yes. Like a popped balloon, or a star hanging from a thread of music. Crystals sparkling in the arctic night.
My plan throughout life has been to evade too much planning. Stepladders make me angry. They never fold back up right. If I see puddles in a row I think of vertebrae. I think about singing in Montana. Belonging to a choir. I watch the cat as she rolls on the floor, exposing a white fur belly.
Can we bring some words into this sentence that usurp their own progression, that swirl back on themselves and duplicate the invasion of an eggplant? Sure. Why not. I don’t want to get too fancy. Let’s keep things simple and enjoy a sip of universe. It’s calm tonight and my needs are congenial to the employment of various prepositions. Sometimes it takes a powerful drug to walk through a wall. And sometimes all you need is a few prepositions and a warped sense of oligarchy. A jug of conflict and a jar of argument. The heart is an armchair for feelings. So sit back, and let yourself float. The ugliness of time is remedied by oak. And the swans on the barn are quiet as Sam Elliott brushing his hair. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Close Shave


A careless hue expresses dyeing. A beach bonfire crumbles in the lung kite. I go frisking past scratching my right leg. The wind is melting in an ebony crate. I’m floating in the weather of a bee making words come together.
Mechanical rain a dragon in my head. Neon money for a ruptured chocolate. I see a solitary radical ball that stuns the value of grease. The expansibility of shoe ash excites the senses like a swamp that jumps into an old New England spoon and begins varnishing oats. The lush spring of a streaming friend powers a tug of antique sugar as it journeys across space and time and so begins another rag with which to solace the groan of coupons burdened with impersonating raspberries in the butter Marie Laurencin spreads across this particular slice of bread.
Of course, when I say particular, I really mean bulky and round. You shouldn’t have to think of this as surrealism. It's more like undressing a landscape of sage and smelling the sexuality of noon. Surrealism is for banquets and airports. This is more like lunch with a Q-tip. Anarchic chairs pondered in wild benediction. Fingers on an open G tuning.
It’s almost irritating the way shaving lather keeps coming out of the can when I am sure it must be empty. But let’s face it. Facial hair is intrinsic to the dominion of ivory. It’s not like heresy, not entirely, despite some obvious resemblances. A beard must be worn as a portable device for heroic deeds.
Sometimes sitting in the garage chattering to the shelves about mutiny is the closest I can come to unbending the fizz of lacrosse.
This is where flirtatious 35-year old Charlotte (Laura Prepon) stumbles into the poem, explaining that she has a thing for older men, along with the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
I tell her she has the wrong poem and open the door to let her out.
My allegorical knee has a carpenter’s scratch. I win everything by throwing chocolate at a bureau drawer and selling pineapples to a hoe. I attempt to do the same thing to an authoritarian tattoo. How cannot it not know what it is? Who doesn’t like hats? The mission fails miserably and I console myself with ichthyology. I can always try to sputter a few opinions later when the meaning of being reawakens. I’m not going to argue with a menu built around augury.
Holes pause for an eon in a Mediterranean hamburger and the world gets sliced into turf. Nebulous and soft, I sift an obscure hill of dormant tinsel and thereby welcome butter, which is good to me, and simple like sleep. Later, when the proximities loom, luminous insects display their emotions in elevator eyebrows and an aromatic silverware creates a craze for openly indiscriminate music.
Which is the best kind of music. It dreams it’s a cupboard with a canine tooth and plates crashed together and is the sage way to the salt beard. I am bitter about frozen agitation. I like the hint of flexibility on the street, the pendulum of tomorrow mingled with loops of iron like the crashing of words in a foundry. Anything else is just structure, a profession brought up on the hind legs of a uterus.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Paint With No Name


It’s not infrequent for something very small to get on my nerves. Such was the case in our bathroom. I was taking a shower one day when I noticed the paint in the upper corner had blistered and flaked just a little and that there were a few mold stains along the ceiling where it met the wall. It wasn’t a big deal. I tried to dismiss it but I couldn’t. Once something gets on my nerves, it grinds down and stays there. It would have to be painted.
And why had that corner flaked and blistered? What was going on there? I worried about a leak. Were there any pipes in that spot? I hoped not. I got a small stepladder out of the hallway closet of our building and got up there and poked softly and felt around with my fingers for moisture or gumminess. It didn’t feel like anything was leaking. Maybe it had been the old showerhead that I replaced, a huge bulbous thing with little nodes and holes all over it that sprayed water everywhere. I hope that’s the explanation. So, no plumber (knock on wood) would be required, but it definitely would need to be painted. How was I going to find a match for this paint? It was an off-white with a soupçon of yellow. I didn’t have a name for it. It had been fifteen years at least since I had painted the bathroom. It was probably called something like eggshell white or water lily blonde or coronation champagne. Who knows. I had not been prudent and kept the can. Or written it down.
Finding a match turned out to be embarrassingly simple, albeit a tad pricey. After I scraped some paint away in the corner I was able to collect the flakes that had fallen into the tub in an envelope, which I took to a paint store on Stone Way called Daly’s. A pleasant young man at the counter explained that I could get a mix, but the smallest they could sell me for doing that would be a quart. A quart would be way too much, but if they could find a good match, it would be worth the price, which was around thirty bucks. I picked the paint up a few days later. The match was perfect.
I asked the clerk (this time a young woman) what the name of the paint was. She said it didn’t have a name. It had a number. I looked at the number. It was big, a formidable number. The tint had been calculated with such perfection that it had entered the realm of science, astronomy and quantum mechanics. This wasn’t just paint, it was a Schrödinger equation.
I got the paint home and got everything ready to paint, newspaper and stepladder in the tub, can of paint on the floor also on a sheet of newspaper. I had a critical decision to make. Should I find a small container that I can hold in my hand, or should I dip the brush in the paint and hold it so that the paint does not drip on the tub or floor?
I decided on the latter. It was riskier, but simpler. If I was careful, I would make less of a mess than if I tried to pour the paint into another container. I donned a pair of surgical gloves, opened the can with a screwdriver, and dipped the paintbrush into the smooth white surface of the paint.  There is something very sensual about paint. The gooeyness, the viscosity, the weight of the brush, the richness of color in liquid form, slowly turning the brush in my hand while the excess paint drooled back into the can, then slowly and gracefully raising the brush while positioning myself simultaneously on the stepladder in the tub, all these actions performed with great concentration were a form of meditation, an immersion in a medium of sumptuous stickiness.
Mistakes were made. Mistakes are inevitable. I forgot about our cat, Athena. Athena came wondering in and was naturally curious about what I was doing. She’s fascinated by the shower to begin with. She loves to get her front paws on the edge of the tub after I shower and gaze with great fascination at whatever it was that just took place. She licks herself. She doesn’t see us licking ourselves, but we do get into a shiny place and make water fall on us. In her world, that’s phenomenal.
Roberta had been outside raking leaves. When she came in I hollered to her to remove Athena from the bathroom as I had paint on my hands. Unfortunately, I forgot to warn her about the wet paint on the corner of the wall by the door. She scraped past and got paint on her fleecy blue bed jacket. I told her the paint was not water soluble. She would have to toss the jacket. I would buy her a new one.
And, inevitably, I spotted a few places that I missed, went to reopen the can, got paint on my hands and realized that I’d forgotten to put surgical gloves on. Getting the paint off with rubbing alcohol and soap was the most difficult part of the job. 
       Whether it was the tension of doing the job or the smell and fumes of the paint in an unventilated room I don’t know, but I got a terrible headache later in the evening. My brain felt like it had swelled in overall size by about an inch and was pressing against my skull which was beginning to crack. If headaches  -  like hurricanes  -  had names, I would name this one Vercingetorix after the Celtic warrior king who proved to be such a headache for Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars. It was tough and stubborn and shaggy and unruly. Celtic to the core. A mean headache. The kind of headache that brings down empires. I could name it that, or I could name it Jon Brower Minnoch, the heaviest man in medical history, who weighed over 1,400 pounds when he was admitted to Seattle’s University Hospital in March, 1978. Two beds were lashed together and it took thirteen people to roll him over for linen changes.
I took some ibuprofen, and the headache dissipated some minutes later. That’s always such a good feeling. It’s as if Jon Brower Minnoch lost 1,211 pounds and strolled out of the hospital at a trim 189 with a smile on his face.
The next day I removed the painter’s tape from the upper wall by the ceiling where I’d painted. It was riddled with paint, which hadn’t yet dried. I tossed the tape, got out the rubbing alcohol, and went to work on my hands again. Paint has a genius for getting and going everywhere. There was even some paint under the tip of my thumbnail. I solved that with a pair of clippers.
I was happy with the result. The bathroom looks great. That yellow tint, the indefinable hue that put the off in off-white, that required calculations as formidable as those assembled at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena or the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, brightens things up, makes it seem like a fun place to be. Showering and shaving and brushing my teeth and other ceremonies performed to maintain my hygiene are not activities I generally choose to celebrate, or characterize as fun (I would choose very different words), but it’s nice to perform them in a space that’s been augmented by a nameless color of paint, a paint whose hue is so specific in its charm that it eludes the syllables of the mortal realm and hovers somewhere between transcendence and dream.



Monday, October 23, 2017

Each Moment Is A Universe


There is sometimes a good clean feeling of being alive and wet in the rain. Doesn’t matter what age, but if it happens late in life, so much the better. I didn’t think much about being alive in my youth, I was simply alive, simply living, trying to resist some things and experimenting with others, trying to get a sense of what’s good, what’s bad, what’s exciting and stupid, and what’s just stupid. But as an older person, not just older but old, an old person, I think about being alive. Because one, I’m still alive, still doing it, still living and breathing and eating and sleeping and all that good stuff. But two, I’m stuck with all those decisions I made in my youth, and three, there’s not much in the way of destiny at my age.
Destiny is about the future. What happens in old age, what is important in old age, is to stay focused on the immediate, to experience the immediate, squeeze the immediate, hug the immediate, all the while trying to get used to the idea of one’s life coming to an end. The ephemerality of life, its ultimate temporariness, is more acutely felt as we age, and it is both a great sadness and a great liberation. We are brief custodians of a life energy running through us. Our reality is something far greater than the life we encapsulate in blood and bone for X number of years. Not to put to morbid a spin on it, but that’s what’s real at my age. The immediate, the imminent, the actual. The universe at large, of which I am a part, a temporary manifestation of hair and skin, ideas and fingers, daydreams and DNA. “Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,” observes Duke Senior in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “the season’s difference,

………as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’

So going out in the afternoon of a day in late October when the air is honing its knife and getting ready for the real cutting cold of December and January and it’s raining and gloomy and gray and there are still people up on Bigelow hunting down chestnut burrs is a luxury of sorts. I can still move, still run, still get wet. The immediate and actual are large and multiple and keenly felt. Each moment is a universe, reads the title of a book by Sōtō Zen roshi Dainin Katagiri.  
It’s hard to appreciate just how vast the universe is. I can’t. Can’t do it. Can’t wrap my head around it. For one thing, it’s infinite. I can’t wrap my head around infinity. I know what it is, it’s boundlessness. Infinity is forever. It’s beyond time, beyond space, beyond Google. It’s beyond my ability to imagine what forever is. I’m a drop in the infinity bucket. Drops are easy. I can imagine myself as a drop. I’ve seen drops. I’ve seen them on the windshield of our car and I’ve seen them run down the windows of our apartment. But the space outside of the bucket and the space outside of the space surrounding the bucket surpasses the limits of my bucket.
My brain  -  the human brain  - weighs approximately three pounds. Planet Earth weighs about 1,000 trillion metric pounds. I can’t squeeze a 1,000 trillion metric ton planet into a three-pound brain. I can, however, form an image of Planet Earth which will fit nicely into my brain. It’s round, it’s pretty, it’s blue and white, it’s clearly defined against the black of infinite space. That part is easy. Thank you, language.
Some things I can picture, some things I can’t. I can picture Wyoming. I can picture a helicopter flying over Wyoming. I can picture a helicopter hovering over a herd of wild mustangs up north in the Pryor Mountains of Montana but I can’t picture myself floating forever into space. I can picture myself floating, I can even picture space, but I can’t picture endlessness. Is there anyone who can? What did George Clooney feel like in Gravity when he let go of the parachute strap holding both he and Sandra Bullock to the remains of the International Space Station and went floating to his death as he utters his last words to Bullock about the beauty of the sunrise on the Ganges. I don’t mean Clooney, of course, but the fictitious character he was embodying, veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski. Suppose it was real, an actual catastrophe, and these events actually occurred: you let go of a strap and go floating for eternity in space. Your air supply will soon be depleted and you will die what I hope would be a peaceful death. How long might your body go traveling through space? Would it go into orbit? Would internal bacteria survive long enough to eat the flesh and leave a skeleton in the suit? Would it soon by hit by a rock? Torn to pieces by debris? You see what happens: the mind begins adding details, tossing them into this fiction and avoiding the central issue: infinity. The horror of eternity.
Endlessness isn’t an image endlessness is endless abstraction. It’s a philosophical concept whose appearance might take the form of infinitesimal calculus, a Taylor series, the mathematics of continuous change. The mind needs limits to form definitions, contours, meanings. Meanings require shapes, purpose, infinity signs. Endlessness has no meaning because it exceeds all boundary and zone and the ghosts of departed quantities. The river never reaches the ocean. The ocean never ceases heaving itself onto land and receding back into the infinite undulation that is the living manifestation of its being. Water is being. It’s why it has waves. It’s why it splashes and swirls. And it’s everywhere. Water is everywhere. It’s in me. It’s in us. It’s all above us, below us, and all around us. It’s in bugs and wolves and scorpions and centipedes. We’re all carriers of water carrying water from one form of water to another, boiling it, pouring it, drinking it. Floating on it, swimming in it, squirting it. The transformations of water are endless. The movement of its ripples on a pond parallel the words in a sentence that remain separate in sound and movement but are a coherence of moving pattern that results in meaning and emotion.
Last night at a reading I heard a writer refer to a Japanese scientist named Masaru Emoto who has discovered that molecules of water are affected by our thoughts, words, and feelings. Water exhibits properties of molecular coherence, and is the main carrier of all the electric signals our bodies generate. Beethoven’s pastoral symphonies, played between two bottles of water, produced beautiful and well-formed crystals. Mozart’s 40th symphony, a graceful prayer to beauty, “created crystals that were delicate and elegant.” “And the crystals formed by Chopin’s Étude in E, Op 10, No. 3, surprised us with their lovely detail.” I’m assuming that the better the crystal the better the signal produced, leading to a happier, more profound sense of well-being.
But what about heavy metal? What about the rages and hammering rhymes of rap? The big brass sounds of John Philip Sousa’s military marches?
What about polka? What does water do under the influence of polka? Does it Hoop-Dee-Doo? Do the crystals form licorice sticks and peanuts?
 What if I sing in the shower? Does the water pelting my body alter its crystals in accordance with “Knock, Knock, Kockin’ on Heaven’s Door?” I just hear it as it gurgles down the drain. It is I who feel changed when I leave the shower. Water always has a soothing effect on my body. It’s like music heard by my skin. I feel like I stepped out of Mozart dripping symphonies of water. I dry myself with an étude and get dressed in a bisbigliando.
The best possible place to get wet is in the comedy of your own lilypond.
Infinity hurts the head. It tastes like totems on the Kwakiutl shore. Are mind and body one? This should not be a question. This should be leaves glossed with rain. A name in the mud written with a stick. Trek to the store for butter under a black umbrella. This is the mind in the body in the rain of a soggy day. And this is a piece of infinity discarded by time and secreted by hope.
The slop of water the honeycombs of bees. Halibuts are angels of circumstance. Schools of smelt in the emerald calm of the sound. It’s there, infinity. You know it, you can feel it, it’s what gives life this particular taste, feeling. Because we appear here, we are brought here, through conduits of fluid, and it’s by fluid we go, turn to vapor and cloud, if that, and so what, who wants to hang around forever?




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nietzsche's Gnat



It’s autumn. The air is electric with death and the paper folded in my chest pocket echoes the existence of the rivers and trees that entered into its making.
Some of us ask, what do we really mean by the word ‘Being?’ And some of us answer: sage. Weight, movement, the smell of things. This rose. This thorn. This paragraph I’ve written. This scar, this bruise, this swollen foot. Gaudy swans on a scraggly lawn. A ball of muscle beating in a surgeon’s hand.  
The sky speaks to us through the bright red stems of a Pacific Fire vine maple. It gives us words that we don’t understand. We must first awaken an understanding of skin. What is it trying to communicate? Is the world on the other side of my skin, or is my skin imbued with the world? Everything I am made of comes from the world. I am the world. My eyes are the eyes of the universe contemplating itself. My skin is the world feeling itself. My skin is the world feeling its textures, which are a text, a scripture of desire. The world is written in the history of my skin. The world is written in wrinkles and scars. The soft burning of a muted trumpet.
The indefinability of Being does not eliminate the question of its meaning: it demands scrounging. Spending some time in the closet. Looking at a willow. Adjusting to the rigors of winter. Viewing the vagaries of night through a pair of infrared goggles.
70 mph on the freeway at night can offer an enhanced view of things. Particularly if there is suddenly a number of lanes closed for repaving and there are lights flashing and a row of orange barrels forcing the flow of traffic into one of several lanes and the perceptions formerly lulled into quiescent attentiveness while sitting in a dimly lit restaurant among friends are now fully awakened and frantic and consciousness is a radical cloud of unknowing.
Do I want a Being that is impartial and above it all, or a Being so immersed in the fiber of the universe that it continually begins beginning itself? Do I have any choice? How much am I actually involved in the Being that is me? Isn’t there a general all-encompassing energy of Being in which I’m a part, a partial expression, a fleeting concentration? Should I speed up and pass this truck or fall behind and move to the right lane?
I feel like screaming in my head. The world is burning down. Fires in Portugal, Spain, France and now northern California, wineries and homes and vineyards scorched and melted. 600,000 people displaced. It’s obvious what’s going on. Yet nobody dares say it. The planet that brought us into being is now in jeopardy as a habitat. Which is to say the planet will be fine. It will go on being a planet and orbit the sun until one day the sun bloats into a red giant and vaporizes the entire solar system. Until then, the planet will continue to provide habitable conditions for microbes and insects. The future looks good if you’re a cockroach. But the planet of green meadows and grazing cattle and swimming pools and Hollywood and football is doomed, and quite possibly doomed within our lifetime. It’s an ugly scenario. One can surrender to the luxuries of nihilism or one can continue to revolt and make art.
Art frees us, illusorily, from the squalor of being, says Pessoa.
It sure does. One might be living in a pile of shit and believe oneself in paradise. And one might be living in a luxurious mansion and believe one is living in a hell of meaningless junk. The world appears differently according to each identity, each set of sensors, each sentient creature, each nerve, each antenna, each finger and touch and organ of perception. And each entity, each identity, feels itself to be at the center, the very core of the universe.
Consider Nietzsche’s gnat: if we and the gnat understood one another, we would learn that the gnat swims through the air with the same pathos and “feels within itself the flying center of the world.”
The truth exists in interrelation. I know that sounds pompous. But it’s true. Come on. You can’t argue it.
Well, you can. Let’s make that clear. Of course you can. In fact, I encourage it. We should continuously argue about what truth is. It means we’re looking. It means we haven’t settled on any one thing. It means anything living and moving and hungry is experiencing the world in a manner similar to, but different than, our experience of the world.
And yet, thankfully, we human beings know that when a traffic light turns green it’s time to step on the accelerator and move on down the road.
We have traffic lights and language.
What then, is the truth? According to Nietzsche, it’s a “moving multitude of metaphors, of metonymies, of anthropomorphisms: in short a sum of human relations which became poetically and rhetorically intensified, metamorphosed, adorned, and after long usage seem to a notion fixed, canonic, and binding; truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions; worn-out metaphors which have become powerless to affect the senses; coins which have their obverse effaced and now are no longer of account as coins but merely as metal.”
There are truths that we agree upon: red means stop, green means go. Love means I like you, I like you a lot, I want to have sex with you, I like you well enough even when you’re a pain in the ass to continue sharing my life with you, I like you because you brought me into this world and provided me with food and shelter, I like you because you wag your tail and lick my face. It also means pushing someone to do something they’re frightened of doing but doing whatever it is that they’re frightened of doing will benefit them in the long run and so you push them to do it even when they get pissed because you love them. And vice versa: someone pushes you to do something. This may be someone who loves you, but it may also be a boss, or asshole. Most likely the boss is pushing you to do something because you’re getting paid to do something, fix cars, fix brains, ring people’s groceries up. This is not love, this is capitalism. It is important to distinguish capitalism from love. Capitalism does not love you.
Would life be a simpler as a gnat? Probably. It would also be a lot shorter. And this life, this human life, is pretty damn short.
And you can’t even fly. Except Superman, who is a fiction, invented by Jerry Seigel, who did the writing, and Joe Shuster, who did the artwork. They were high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933. The world was a pretty bleak place in 1933. It’s also the year that Adolf Hitler was appointed the chancellor of Germany, President Roosevelt began his fireside chats and prohibition in the United States ended.
So imagine swimming through the air as superman instead of a gnat. The truth will appear differently to you. The truth will be as simple as good and evil. You may want to wear leotards and a cape. You will be a humble servant of the people in your Sears Roebuck suit and tie but a veritable god when you take to the air.
For such is the power of art. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Along For The Ride


I live near the mountains yet I rarely go there. I don’t know why. Mountains are beautiful when they’re not on fire. The mountains have been on fire a lot lately. Life on planet Earth is getting weird. When the rain comes it is long and aloof and the rocks rise to greet it. But when it doesn’t everything becomes dry and dead and archaeological. Holes play openly on my chin. Let’s roll the weekend out and spend some time exploring our true hunger, which is both a homage to Matisse and furiously contrapuntal. There is a syllable soaked in its spit that tumbles in fidgets of imposition and lights the world with iron. This would be clumsy if it weren’t diphtheria.
I’ll be honest: I like rich brown gravy on my mashed potatoes at night. That’s how strong my love is.
The people of Earth have gone insane. They wrap everything in plastic. Everything. Including knives and language.
I’m wrapped in skin. My body goes walking down the street with me in it. I’m just along for the ride. I sit and rub snowflakes on the carpet while Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica wails “Just A Feeling.”
There are no seductions without conjunctions. Heaven is a library open all day and all night. The noises of the street are expensive to heat, but sometimes they help counter the elegance of liniment, and we let them into our elevator. Drugs are more lighthearted. Think of me as a vagrant with a valuable insight.
Perceptions change. This we know. Everything discharges an aura of worry until a combination of spirit and pizza placates the rustle of tinfoil.
I want nothing but bonfires at the border. Intensity frightens people. A police car in flames, for example, or the chronology of toast.
It will not be necessary to hibernate this year. Buttermilk translates the organs of the thermostat into the dictums of a dynastic dimple. Dirt gets tired. It needs nitrogen and equilibrium. We can set up an experiment in a basement laboratory. I endeavor to create a rebirth of everything drooling and friendly. The hypotenuse of a jackrabbit brims with silver, yet there is nothing that I can do about the interior of the retina, which reverts to reverie, and trickles rolls of crime tape. I need better rituals.
The moon is rotating on its mercury pool. Look at this. I made a tradition that I can soak in triangles. The rain stumbles around selling hats. It’s miscellaneous and rude. But who am I to make these judgments? The rain just does what it does because it’s rain. And that’s lunch, essentially, gossip enlarged by smell.
I want to explore the holes surrounding a delay in glass. The great comet of 1577 just went sailing by as if nothing mattered except the private secretions that occur deep in the forest at night. I make my muscles bigger by lifting weights. I live in a place of aggression and temerity, darkness swarming with furniture. There is always that feeling I get when I’m at the airport. I carry the sanguine face of the eclipsed moon. I’m building a truth of igloo breath. We are losing our trees to disease. And sometimes we’re just plain losing. There is no gloss to loss but the floss of its moss when the sauce is boss.
Beliefs are sometimes incidental to the rumor of invisible powers. They stir in the grass. They bloom in the intellect. They become books. They become adjectives.
How many people are in this sentence? I don’t want it to sink. Not under the weight of anyone’s eyes. Not when the world needs dragons.
Writing a poem is like wandering the halls of a hospital at night. Ganglions press against the walls of the skull. Balloons and philodendrons fill one’s peripheral vision. Heart monitors bleep. IVs drip. Perceptions and meaning assume the sensual mass of sage at twilight.
What makes people rich? I mean, it’s not money. How could it be? Money is paper. It’s not even paper anymore. It’s debt.
My experiences bicker among themselves. Meaning is something you have to make. Perceptions can be twisted or stretched and multiplied. You can bang the heart with a spoon until the moon drools wheels of pretty light or create metaphors that punch their way into writing like the redwoods of California. An iron wound of Texas oil splashes its muscle into the engine of a train rolling its fire under the stars out on the prairie at night and that, too, becomes a song for the cash registers of late capitalism. Metaphors drip from the incisors of a blue dog. 
Why does time move forward? Diamonds welcome the foundry tattoo. Molecules show how mass dreams it’s a creek. Rocks, mud, bubbling water. Things like nails and wood that happen in the brain when thinking turns to dreaming and dreaming turns to building.
Time is willowy. It’s not really clocks. It’s more like sparrows. Time tries to escape space by creating Texas. It’s a pretty good solution. Art must be art in order to be art. Texas is where nothingness goes to die. And when that happens the dawn comes crawling over the horizon with another basket of grazing cattle and the cycle renews itself at the pump. A religious feeling opens like a cabin. There is the smell of soot and moose antlers over the fireplace, messengers of asymmetry. I have a pet emotion named anger. It’s a constant companion. It doesn’t get much in the way of religion, but when a little religion comes around, a frog acquires a haiku.
There are large offers of heat in the morning and aromatic oils to ward off insects. Some of us carry gravity heavily and surely whereas others avoid it completely by sitting in a chair, or lying down on a blanket and joining the driftwood in a trance of canvas and salt. The surf moves in and out leaving its brocade in the sand. And this is what time looks like when it’s wedded to space in a handful of words anyone can lift with their eyes.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Punt


this is a haiku how do you know it has a frog
leaping out of it Mallarme’s muzziness
used to bug me now I like it everything
is shaded by giant pines and Bobby Darin
singing “Dream Lover” as a crippled
old woman hobbles out of the drugstore
holding a broom and digs into her pocket
for her car keys she’s wearing a Seahawks
jersey and is seriously overweight but
that’s not what this is about this concerns
the composition of the universe which is
mostly dry wall and plaster a black plastic
fork on a concrete step and an armadillo
tattooed on the forearm of a blues guitarist
did you know that earthquakes taste like zucchini
if you treat them right shake it up baby
every day that there is food on the shelves
at the grocery store is a miracle I have a broken
clock keeping dead time in a pink ribbon
sauerkraut emanates folklore this is proof
of nothing comes of nothing the light
tonight is hospitable I have five hours
or more to convince you I’m dragging an eye
through a cafeteria the appeal of food
is self-explanatory the stubborn sorbet
of words carouses in England exults
in the camaraderie of the kitchen
I like books do you all the surgeons
are absorbed in thought as they bend
over the patient whose heart beats
back the night and the sunlight
at the mouth of the cave gets
brighter and brighter


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The World's Dumbest Poem


here it is what you’ve all been waiting for the world’s
dumbest poem watch it crawl
toward David Lynch eating breakfast
in four hundred metal shoes
experience is a job
for a faded rose
it amazes me that shaving cream keeps coming
out of the shaving cream can and that’s
what makes everything stupid
and irritated it is always a pleasure to think
like this on an airplane
made of agreements and parlor talk
I should have test driven it now it’s
too late the poem is outdoors selling
real estate to a chopped mahogany face
hope prolongs the pain of aspiration
which is an opinion based on rubber
think of collage as your sister
swimming in warm fathoms of thought
being finds its trajectory in jazz
the sigh of water through old pipes
this is proof
of nothing but my own predilections
I feel like James Stewart doing dishes
in a kitchen in the old west while also
trying to read law books so that I can put
Liberty Valence in jail
everybody is naked under their clothes
but me I wear the hem of a hemisphere
and all the sunlight at the mouth of the cave
held together by buttermilk pins
sudden is a pretty word I should use it
for something but it’s too sudden
to use it now I’ll wait for the next bus
to Reykjavik




Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Problem Of The Uncanny


There is a miniscule dent in the nail of my right index finger. How it got there, I have no idea. I don’t remember hitting my finger with a hammer or anything. It just appeared. I’ve been watching as it grows out day by day. I will soon trim that nail, and the little dent will be gone. The mystery of the dent will be history, its origin forever unanswered. And then it seems to me that there are so many things in my body that I know very little about, or power to affect. I don’t grow my hair, my hair does that on its own. I don’t digest my food, my stomach takes care of that. I didn’t invent me eyes or lungs or legs or thumbs. I don’t have a patent on kidneys or blood circulation. I can’t take credit for a single item or process pertaining to my body. The question is therefore obvious: who am I? What am I? Am I my body? How can I be my body if I didn’t do a single thing to participate in its creation?
It seems to me that my mind is separate from my body, is it not? Because it sure feels that way. It feels like I’m up here in my head looking down at my hands as they scamper across the keyboard of a laptop typing these words. I’m looking out of a pair of windows called eyes and processing sounds called music and feeling the weight of my body enjoy the support of a chair accompanied with a little muscular tension in my back. I am somehow in my head, this person to which I attach the pronoun ‘I.’ It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe as it is simultaneously identified with this body and yet somehow separate, somehow transcendent and incorporeal. I am a walking talking contradiction, a paradox of neurology, experience, and hair. On the one hand arms and fingers and feet and on the other nothing: a spirit, a soul, a mind. A captain in his bridge looking out upon the ocean that is the world.
Is there any validity to this sense of identity independent of my body, or is it an illusion? Is there a spirit that inhabits my body but is not my body, and is this spirit, which has a personality, the continuing narrative that is me, me? Am I the spirit? Does the mind have reality?
These questions become increasingly pertinent as I age. Because the body is mortal. When it gives out, I go with it.
Or do I? Is there a soul? Was Swedenborg, right? Is there an afterlife that is similar to life on earth? Will there be houses and balloons and suppositories and wallets? Will I have to retake a driver’s test in heaven in order to get my license?
Is there a world beyond ours, a world of spirit and vision, a universe of waves and auras, spiritual energies unencumbered by matter? Is the mind an essence, a phenomenon independent of empirical reality?
Last night I watched six men stab a man to death. The man was Julius Caesar. The six men were friends and colleagues in the Roman senate: Publius Servilus Casca, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, Marcus Junius Brutus, Decimas Junius Brutus, Gaius Metellus and Gaius Trebonius. The stabbing was a fiction, part of a drama written by William Shakespeare, who was fascinated by ghosts and wandering spirits. His plays abound in spirits. Fairies, witches, ghosts, prophecies, hallucinations, sylphs and sprites. He seems singularly obsessed with otherworldly beings.
Shakespeare must’ve had a pretty acute sense of unreality during his life. He describes the state so forcefully, particularly in The Tempest, in which everything that occurs on the island has a feeling of enchantment and dream, in which the division between empirical reality and vision or hallucination is an on-going segue, shifting back and forth with the ease of a shuttle on a loom, concluding brilliantly with Prospero’s speech about unreality:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Reality just isn’t what it used to be. I’m not even sure what that means. Reality hasn’t been the same at least since I first dropped acid in 1966. But am I speaking for myself, or countless others?
I can’t speak for others, no. But there are others out there who share my obsessions. Neurologist Donald Hoffman, for example. What is the relationship between consciousness and brain activity, he asks. How is it that irritating nervous tissue results in consciousness and a sense of subjectivity? And, most importantly, do we see reality as it is?
No, we don’t. What we see is an abridged version. We see what serves our survival. We construct our world. We construct what we need in the moment. Or, more accurately, we re-construct our reality, and we do so according to however much the accuracy of our perception provides an advantage to our survival.
Except that it doesn’t. It has been mathematically demonstrated that the species that perceive reality with greater accuracy tend to go extinct, whereas species that do not see reality fully but use tricks and shortcuts to discover what is needed at the time in their environment, do better at the game of survival. A lot of reality gets filtered out. Not perceiving reality as it is, is useful.
Is that not strange?
Evolution has given us an interface that hides reality and guides adaptive behavior. Nature has given us representations (venomous snakes, high cliffs, speeding trains) that we need to take seriously, but their appearance is not the equivalent of their literal reality. We get by because we’re blind to our own blindnesses. Brains and neurons do not cause our perceptual experiences and behaviors. They’re symbols, or “life hacks.” Once we let go of our massively intuitive but massively false assumptions about the nature of reality, it opens up new ways to think about life’s greatest mystery.
I’m completely with him, until (I jotted a lot of this down from a TED talk), he says “perception is not about seeing truth, it’s about having kids.”
Suddenly, everything he has said until now (which I do find fascinating and tend to agree with) gets reduced to a stupid Family Circus panel in the Sunday papers. What about those of us who have never had the slightest urge to have kids? What about those of us who are moved by the sublime? What about beauty? What about our sense of awe? What about ecstasy? What about Hamlet, and corrupt kings, and scorned women, and the eyes of dead men?
Last night I listened to a podcast on France Culture radio of a show called Les Chemins de la Philosophie (the roads of philosophy), hosted by a vigorous young (30-something) French woman called Adèle Van Reeth. She speaks rapidly and exuberantly in a double register, her voice going way down then going back up and becoming soft and nuanced. Her personality exudes charm and enthusiasm. Her guest for this particular episode was Dylan Trigg, author of a book titled The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror. Trigg, an Englishman, was translated into French during the interview. His premise is fascinating: he takes phenomenology as it has been represented by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas, and adds the element of horror to it. He says he was frustrated by what he perceives as a misunderstanding of phenomenology as a veneration of the body in harmony with its world, as a vessel of concord and unification. It is, instead, a conflictual relationship with existential implications. He sees a duality of experience, a subjectivity experiencing the body as something other than us, an alterity we inhabit with feelings of strangeness and dissociation. He refers to several movies and works of literary fiction, chiefly H.P. Lovecraft, to underscore this theme. He is particularly taken by John Carpenter’s The Thing, I presume the more recent 2011 remake of his 1982 rendition, which was itself a remake of Howard Hawk’s 1951 The Thing from Another World, starring James Arness (Gunsmoke’s marshal Matt Dillon) as the “thing.”
I’ve only seen the 2011 The Thing directed by Dutch director Matthijs van Heijiningen Jr. I enjoyed it, although it was not a critical success. Movie critics all agree that Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing is superior. The story is simple: in 1982 an alien spacecraft is discovered beneath the Antarctic ice by a scruffy team of Norwegian scientists, with a dead alien aboard. The alien is helicoptered to the base in a block of ice and put in a laboratory. When the team is downing brewskis and celebrating their find (one can’t help think of a bunch of rowdy Vikings in the mead hall partying it up before Grendel arrives and rips them apart) the alien bursts out of its encasement of ice and begins imitating their bodies. This is how it tricks then devours them.
The alien is a pretty cool looking object of horror. I liked how Roger Ebert described it as a “hideous and leaky smorgasbord of palpitating organs, claws, teeth, crab legs, lobster tails, beaks, snaky appendages and gooey dripping eyeballs. It doesn’t say much for life in the universe that with whole galaxies to choose from, that’s the best body it could come up with.”
Maybe that’s why the creature is so eager to assimilate other bodies. It’s a matter of vanity, and appetite. Imitate a body, trick one of its buddies, eat the buddy. Scientist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has to keep performing tests to verify whether people are human or not.
Trigg’s take on this is that it dramatizes not simply the horror of the body, but the horror of matter itself. “The problem of life,” he observes, “at heart, a problem of the uncanny, centers

…on the knowledge that one’s own body (to use a phenomenological idiom) signals a collapse not only in the experience of self, but also in the cosmos itself. For it is in the privileged expression of the human body that the strange facticity of matter gains its clearest expression.

It’s a compelling premise, but I don’t buy into it. Not all the way. I buy some of it. My body, at age 70, while still resembling what I think of as “me,” is beginning to show signs of its inevitable decay. A rather crepey look to my skin at the crook of my elbow when I bend my arm, hair growing out of the rims of my ears, bushy eyebrows that need constant trimming, a hypertrophic prostate that halts the flow of my urine. Stuff like that. Strangely, at present I am the most athletic I’ve ever been in my life. I run a minimum of three miles per day, do 50 push-ups, 20 sit-ups. My body is trim. I wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear a swimsuit at the beach. But I also know it’s ephemeral. It’s a sinking ship. And the sense of me, the ultimate sense of me, cannot accept being merely matter, skin and blood and bone and muscle. I feel somehow separate from my body. But I also know this is illusion. Or is it?