Friday, March 17, 2017

Thoughts On An Old Oak Desk

I do most of my writing at an old oak desk in the bedroom. It had once belonged to my grandmother on my father’s side and shared a place in the farmhouse living room with a player piano and a gun rack with an impressive array of hunting rifles. My grandmother kept a diary at this desk, making brief daily entries about the weather and people visiting and the health of the cows they continued to milk in the barn that stood in a shallow gully protected from the wind until they were in their eighties. The last time I visited my grandmother and grand uncle was in the summer of 1968. I remember they still had a few cows but I can’t remember them being milked. I do, however, vividly remember my grandmother’s knobby, arthritic hands. It hurt to look at them. I see my grandmother’s hands in Keith Richards’s hands. How odd that of all people it would be Keith Richards who would most remind me of my grandmother.
The desk was varnished and stained with a dark brown color many years ago. It has a flap that is pulled down for a writing surface. For a long time I had assumed the desk was a relic from the late 19th century and a life on the prairie that had lately been the province of the Assiniboine and Chippewa and endless herds of buffalo but there is a large hollow space inside where a Philco radio was housed. My grandmother probably got her desk from a Sears catalogue in the 1920s. That blows some of the romance for me, but the desk’s inherent dignity does nothing but arouse my respect whenever I pull the flap down and begin to read or write.
I would prefer to do my writing at a much larger desk and in a much larger room with less furniture and certainly not a bed or a mirror to my immediate left. One glance to the left and I get to see yet again how old I’ve become and how futile it appears to be sitting at a desk.
What happened to my life, I wonder, where did it all go?
I started out in my twenties wanting to be the next Richard Brautigan. Then in my thirties I wanted to be the next Tom Robbins. I didn’t begin submitting work until I was in my forties. Most of it was (predictably) rejected, but a lot of it wasn’t. I managed to publish quite a few books in my lifetime, books that I’m proud to have written, although none of them sold anywhere near enough to generate a livable income. That never happened.
I don’t know what it would take to make a living as a writer these days. Hardly anyone reads anymore. And when they do, they read dreck like Fifty Shades Of Grey or The Da Vinci Code. How does anyone manage to write those books? I would if I could. I’m a total whore.
I’m also a junky. I’m addicted to words. I love language. I’d learn as many languages as I could if I had a brain that would cooperate with that project. So far my focus has been French. And I must say I do love French.
I strongly suspect that it is my passion for language and abandonment to words and various linguistic ecstasies that prevent me from writing the next Fifty Shades of Grey or the next Twilight series.
The very wordiness of the above sentence is a dead giveaway. When it comes to prolixity, I am a Ford motor plant.
I’m a shameless cornucopia.
I enjoy frequent linguistic orgies at my grandmother’s old desk, which is a strange thing to have in one’s brain, but there it is, the weird incongruity of my impulse to write wild, orgiastic prose on the surface of a desk that where brief, Spartan descriptions of milking cows on bitter 4:00 a.m. mornings occurred.
You know those musty attics stuffed with old clothing and toys and National Geographics? That’s my brain.
The dead amaze me. Tom Raworth, David Bowie, John Lennon, David Springmeyer, Janis Joplin, my grandmother, my father, John Byrne, Ted Joans, Philip Lamantia, my old cat Toby, all had strong, vivid personalities and full lives and now they’re gone, completely gone, so completely gone I can’t comprehend it, and I will one day be joining them.
Darkness and sympathy are interwoven and slow and that’s the way they should be. Faithful in remembering and listening and hearing and experienced in hot water and marriage and believing in helping someone to forget themselves.
I keep biting my tongue. I eat too fast. That’s the problem.
Any day can be singing a movement of a little water when the head is everywhere a head should be and cause a description to conclude in food.
Thought is just a distraction. Thoughts come, thoughts go. Words become a luxury, an exuberance. What we think of as thought is all that is there in the mind at the moment that it’s in the mind but what’s a mind and, more importantly, where is a mind? If I think of thoughts as clouds that would imply that the mind is a sky. The sky itself has no location. At what point can one say that one is in the sky? At what altitude? There are phenomena that cannot be described as crowbars or soap.
Leibniz proposed the mind as a machine, not to explain the workings of the mind, but to demonstrate the absurdity of explaining it in materialistic terms:

One is obliged to admit that perception and what depends upon it is inexplicable on mechanical principles, that is, by figures and motions. In imagining that there is a machine whose construction would enable it to think, to sense, and to have perception, one could conceive it enlarged while retaining the same proportions, so that one could enter into it, just like into a windmill. Supposing this, one should, when visiting within it, find only parts pushing one another, and never anything by which to explain a perception. Thus it is in the simple substance, and not in the composite or in the machine, that one must look for perception.

Neuroscientists say that intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities. The human brain has about 86 billion neurons and that each neuron can have tens of thousands of synapses, which puts potential connections and communications between neurons into the trillions. They also say the brain may operate on an amazingly simple mathematical logic. I find that depressingly reductive. Whenever the quantitative gets involved things become confining and granite. I like granite. But I like it more as a mountain than a wall. Blake said that the body is a prison and the senses are the chief inlets of the soul. There are limits to our senses. The mind itself is capable of far greater visions. Math does not enter into it, other than as a snake biting its own tail, or a geometric parameter: “Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.” “Energy is Eternal Delight.”
Can one be well in a world that is turning evil? The images of Aleppo are shocking. It is nothing but rubble. The United States is now engaged in endless war. Every time I see an image of Trump, I become nauseous. His smugness, vulgarity and obesity represent everything that is predatory, bullying and destructive. And now he’s the leader of arguably the world’s greatest military power.
My grandmother’s desk is a place of refuge. It’s stern dark wood is a sanctuary. When I pull the flap down and put a book on it, it becomes dulcet in study.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Jelly blooms in my hand like a sweatshirt. I can pay my bills now. I’ll pay them with corks and vignettes. I’ll pay them with pretty little tales about my life and times as the captain of a shoe. There’s a science to sparkling, and this leads me to think of pleasure as a class of fugitive sensation punctuated by hotels and minivans. The bills arrive later in the mail.
Money assumes strange forms. Sometimes it’s cowrie shells. Sometimes it’s a negotiable instrument and sometimes it’s a cow. The Fula People of West Africa use coin belts. The Maori used pigs and potatoes.
Imagine pigs as loose change. Pockets stuffed with spuds. Imagine a language in which heaven and hell rub together like ravens and the words are in love with their own illusions.
Genesis is the name of the young woman in charge of housewares. She looks like Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein. People are afraid to go into the housewares department. Everything is dusty. Genesis stands in the center aisle between rows of pots and pans staring into space with blood-red eyes, electricity crackling around her body.
You can buy a good sauce pan for a pig if Genesis is in a good mood. Otherwise, money is just foolish and the impulse to buy anything is better kept as a secret. The work of our organs is the work of our organs. Immediate certainty, the thing in itself, be it a saucepan with a domed glass lid or a thermodynamic handshake with a heartwarming ohm, is interspersed with molecules whose component atoms justify their doodles in cheerful museums.
One day, I hope to explore space as a NASA astronaut. Though I would settle for being Superman and getting free coffee at Starbucks in exchange for saving planet Earth from being stuck by a gigantic asteroid.
I would ride that asteroid into Omaha and get a room at the Bored Bug Hotel. Even the bear comes down from the mountain when he’s hungry.
Have you had contact with the supernatural lately? Ghosts? Poltergeists? Snapping turtles? Yesterday a dark bank of clouds rolled up the Mississippi at about 11:00 a.m. A few minutes later it began raining heavily. The river swelled. The waters rose. When they receded, we were in Paris, floating down the Seine.
I’m not saying this was supernatural. I’m just saying that if we need to verify whether such and such a thing exists we need to examine our own complicity in the construction of our experience. Who can look at a river and not feel that river moving through their body? A thought may be nothing, nothing in itself, but if it’s a thought about something, that something might be a vapor, or a Lincoln Continental, and invite our speculation further, so that it becomes a vowel or a story about a vowel, a tray of ice cubes in which a vowel might milk a consonant for its jewels.
When a representation about the world makes that world a world and not just another waiting room in a dentist’s office, makes Beings become Beings, words become words, the pure gaze of the reader can be applied to its inventions without restriction to the world of an imperious grammar of Being, to nuclei of indecomposable meanings, webs of sticky hindsight.
I am implicit in these words. But I am not entirely within their compass either. I am at the periphery. I am in the margin, peering in. Floating among the reeds.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Metallic Green Fruits

Marble hummingbirds calm the radio. I use this warp in the space/time continuum to dig through my obstinacy looking for the recent purchase of something that I can redirect towards liberation. I find a golf ball, a miniature Frisbee, and a thyroid gland. I liberate them. They become radio furniture.
I dare to believe that ink is capable of becoming diamonds. It's mostly just pretense, but that’s ok. Rattlesnakes mostly hunt at night. Roast a chicken and what do you get? A roasted chicken.
But this isn't about roasted chickens. This is about fjords. Why do fjords tend to be forged in Norway? Are there fjords in Texas? What kind of clothes should one wear when visiting a fjord?
The answer to these questions can be found in rhubarb. The world is colder than it used to be. But rhubarb persists. They are like oysters chiseled in wood. It’s never the appliance that needs to justify its existence but the watercolor that echoes the limits of our understanding that gives us the music-hall of the mollusk.
The rhubarb is a gimmick. It was never intended to liberate Moscow. It was all those sails that let the sky in on our plans and the winds that knocked some virtue into them that gave our crew something to do at last. Why didn’t we think of that before? Sometimes the best answers come in the form of soap.
I like to sit in a chair and loaf. It makes me sad to think of veins. There’s the sky above the cemetery and the sky as it exists in words, but which is the real sky? Remember bees? That’s the real sky.
Whatever is round shows that geometry is present. Geometry is what happens when the zeppelins arrive with a supply of linen. The Theatre of Sensations opens its doors. The rainforests are deep and intermittently illumined. Snakes curl around branches of rubber trees and walking palm and multi-colored birds embroider the air with a deafening pandemonium.
This is what music looks like when it’s assembling itself with catgut and camaraderie. A man carries words from one end of a sentence to another. Screams of murder complement the varnish of the sideboard. But these are not the words the man is carrying. These are the words that are carrying the man to a newly expanded rapport with all things hickory.
This is the way the mind chews things. Think of a shell then think of the meat in the shell. I see a blatant flexibility in the fire of sexuality that I would like to see in the need to say things about our life on this planet. This is precisely the kind of convolution that leads to genuflection. When we see the oasis ignite in the distance we will know that the planets are the darlings of a trigonometry invented on the backs of camels.
It never ends, does it? I mean life. We each personally conduct a life leaving behind books and art and children, but life itself is a hunger and a thirst that will never be fully understood. Even the end of life is the beginning of something new. These are the words that I was born to carry and lay them down here, one by one, so that they would rise and fulfill themselves in the metallic green fruits of another world.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Athena keeps biting my feet. I don’t wear socks around the house. My feet are bare. Targets.
Athena’s our cat, our crazy tuxedo cat, a complete maniac who shot through my legs one afternoon causing me to lose balance and fall to the floor and dislocate my right shoulder.
We first saw Athena in a flyer an animal shelter on the outskirts of town sends out to people on their mailing list. We weren’t looking for a cat. We’d just lost a cat, a solid friend for fourteen years named Toby.
I spent nearly all my waking hours with Toby. We were inseparable.  Toby was part Siamese and had been born in a rural area. He was a kitten when we first got him, and infested with fleas. He would sleep by my head and in the morning I’d find a scattering of little pink flea eggs on the pillow and in the bedsheets. The fleas were defeated, and as Toby matured who chose to sleep lower down on the bed, but always pressed against my leg. I think he found that more dignified. I became so accustomed to that warmth and pressure that I found it hard to sleep when  -  if we happened to go out of town for a few days  -  it wasn’t there.
This was our routine for fourteen years. And then he got sick. He found it hard to eat. He grew thin and haggard. Eventually, he was diagnosed with cancer. A vet  -  a warm middle-aged woman who reminded me a lot of Jack Kerouac’s ex-wife and author Joyce Johnson - came to our apartment and put Toby to sleep while he was curled up on my lap. Almost two years have gone by and I still miss him.
That’s why I both wanted and did not want another cat. I wanted a cat to fill the gaping hole Toby had left, his missing toys and litter box, his constant presence now a constant irrevocable absence. But, of course, you can’t fill that void with another furry pal. It makes it worse. A new cat will have a different character and personality and his or her presence will emphasize the loss of your former friend in ways that absence alone cannot do. The greater the similarities, the greater the pain. The wise thing, the course of action any deity worth her salt in the wisdom department would recommend, is to wait for one’s grief to subside before considering the possibility of another pet. But prudence and life rarely occur together.
There had been a Siamese cat at the shelter, an older being who reminded me a little of Toby. His named was Giuseppe, like the Italian shoe designer. Giuseppe was perched high in a cage much larger than Athena’s. He looked down at me with a wary eye. He did remind me of Toby. And I did wonder for a minute if we could have a change of mind and bring that guy home. I’m so glad I didn’t give in to that impulse. Sagacity held sway.
Every cat is different. They all have personalities. They have mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. That’s cats. That’s how they are. Tricks and singularities. Another cat would not be Toby, even if close in resemblance, blue eyes and cream colored fur with touches of black. Another cat would be another cat. You could not clone another Toby. He was completely and emphatically a unique, intelligent, unduplicatable being.
We didn’t name Athena. Her first owner named her Athena. She was brought to the shelter because of hardship, we were told. I often wonder about Athena’s first owner. I imagine a woman of maturing age, well-educated, independent, a little eccentric. I picture her in a small house in a wooded area, Top Ramen cooking on a hot plate, Plato and Aristotle on a book shelf, a cracked mirror in the bathroom, mismatched chairs around a wobbly table in a tiny kitchenette. The woman must’ve received a bill from the veterinarian which had the sobering effect of making her come to that hard decision of seeing a better life for her companion with someone better equipped to pay bills and buy cat food. It must’ve been hard taking her to the shelter.
Or had it been an injury, something medical, an incapacitating disease, the onset of Parkinson’s, maybe, or just the plain bone-creaking liver-spotting ravages of time and old age?
Or was she a student? Maybe she’d been accepted at some college and had to move and exposing a cat to all that instability and impermanence would be overly stressful for a cat.
Who was she? Who came up with the name Athena for Athena?
Does it matter? No. It’s just an intrigue. Something sad and forever unconsummated that occupies my imagination, gives it a nice stirring from time to time.
Athena had been adopted briefly by another family, a couple with a toddler. They also had a dog. This did not go well. The couple returned Athena to the shelter because she’d bit the toddler. I find this inconceivable. Athena’s the gentlest cat I’ve ever been around. I’ve also seen toddlers around animals. They can be rough. They think animals are toys. They don’t understand that animals are living beings, highly sensitive creatures. Why would they? The whole world is a blur at that age. For some people it stays a blur.
We were also cautioned that Athena was terrified of dogs. This is true. If a dog can be heard barking, she tenses immediately. Whatever went down with the family, and the family dog, led to another span of time in the shelter. Athena had been there several months or more by the time we got in the car and crossed Lake Washington in heavy November traffic to get a look at this monster.
 The face we'd fallen in love with on the flyer was that of a bright, pixieish, impish spirit. She had bright green-gold eyes beaming out of a small black head with disproportionately large black ears. Her whiskers were also unusually long. She looked quirky and full of frolic. The energy of her personality was palpable. There was no hesitation. We made a commitment to adopt her immediately.
Toby liked to bite my feet, too. He bit hard. My feet were sometimes constellated with little puncture wounds. Toby didn’t bite out of a meanness. He was a male cat and could be pretty aggressive, even in play. Athena’s bites are barely felt. She never punctures the skin.
Athena’s main attraction is licking. She loves to lick. She goes at it instantly. Pet her on the head and if she’s been sleeping she’ll yawn and go to work on your hand immediately, a small, sandpapery tongue moving up and down. And play? She’s crazy about play. It’s like living with a free electron bouncing off the walls. It’s what goddesses do: hide behind a magazine rack and pounce on your feet.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Invention Of Clouds

If you tap on the sky include binoculars. The sky is a noun. Turn it over and look underneath. What do you see? The shine of brass, the trembling of feathers. The experiment isn’t over until the paddles have been shellacked. This is often the case. I can feel the hum of distant horizons whenever solitude glides through the bones of an alpine lake and some patience is required to endure the full catastrophe of being. You can’t always trust the weather, but I respect the solemnity of clouds. Even the wildcat must sleep.
My library includes volumes of radical vaccination. What can I say? I like to sleep. I like to eat. I like to let myself drift to the other side of this life. The zipper is enhanced by being a zipper. Even when the zipper sleeps, there is a potential for zipping. Unzip this carefully. Something might awaken.
The mountain sleeps in a bed of granite. The wind sleeps in the fog.
Here comes some now, drifting idly through the trees. You can hear the color of confession search for a mood to burn.
Geometry is the oldest jewel I have in the glaze of my momentum.
When geometry assumes the motions of life, it becomes a lobster. The lobster is quintessentially geometric. It does what it does based on a principle of longevity, dark habitats, and walking slowly on the floor of the sea. Having ten legs, two of which are claws, confers a certain majesty on the primal endurance of this persistent creature.
The geometry of the lobster is an aesthetic of symmetry, classical mechanics. It burrows under rocks. It feels its way with antennae. This is how geometry operates with an exoskeleton. The larger the lobster, the more energy is required to live. This is why the lobster looks so completely dedicated to being a lobster. The lobster honors its geometry with pluck and determination.
Geometry is cruel, yes, but it is also beautiful and abstract, like the triangle. Like the circle. Like pi. Like the lobster when it is walking through a sentence with its claws erect.
Oil and horns hurt the fifth emancipation of my pounding chest. I don’t know why the harmonica is so ogled that its glare causes piety. As for the rest, let it pioneer controversy as I have, with two claws raised, with words coming out of my collar stud, a steady stream of mutant fireballs aimed at nothing but the bend of leather on a word of frantic sterling.
Vermilion roars at the incubation of space. Spasms of pink warp textures of rain.
I realize that some of these words have lives of their own and might do better in another sentence, one written with a little more care and delicacy, than this clumsy attempt at life, this monstrous light propelling itself through the furniture. What does it seek, this carillon of blood, this rebellion of the skull, this broadcast, this batter, this distension of orgasmic froth? These shadows, these cities, these wharfs?
No, I don’t mean you, whoever you are, whoever I am, all these pounds of tattoo, all this hockey and horns, mannerisms and cupcake, I mean the burdens we share, our encounters with one another, the suddenness and treachery of a rip tide, the drool of the moon when the ocean roars and the currents churn in the muck and seaweed and sand.
If I think of the ocean, I am in relation with the ocean. But which is the real ocean? The one in my mind, the one that I experience when I visit the shoreline, or the one that emerges when a lobster recoils, clumsily among the rocks, two enormous claws raised in defense of its being? What ocean is that? I’m not aiming, here, for an unjustified realism. Just an acute sense of water on an infinite scale. Parrots and tuna held together by words. Sails billowing with wind. The pitch of a bow. The invention of clouds.