Monday, September 25, 2017


The substance of what I feel is incommunicable, and the more incommunicable it becomes, the more I feel the need to communicate it, communicate the incommunicable. Not because it’s incommunicable, that would be too easy, too communicable, but because suffering often occurs in hotels where people sit solitary and glum in the nude, because dread, because vicissitude, because despair will sometimes try to invite the stars into its house but the stars aren’t that easily fooled, because leaves without a wall will blow into the playground and brush the sand while fragments of a poem follow sleepers everywhere, especially in their sleep, where the dead reside, and there is no word for that. This is plain. But can we call it a substance? It is, after all, a feeling, and a feeling has no substance. It doesn’t slop around in my body like water in a bathtub. It isn’t grease, and it isn’t the fluid that fills the interior of my eyes, aqueous humor. Not mockingbirds or the mirrors in the palace of Versailles. Nothing I can find in the trunk of a car. Not a black hole. Not a tank of propane shooting flame. Not the embrace of a woman or a man. The feeling of muscle, the feeling of hands on the wheel of a car speeding down the freeway to California, the time spent lingering at a table in a restaurant after the meal is done and the waiter has perfunctorily deposited the check in a leather check presenter, and you’ve been swept away by a daydream, a fantasy involving Patti Smith and a pirate ship, not that, but all these. The smell in the trunk of a car, the embrace of a woman, the mystery of black holes, the feeling of grease, warm water in a bathtub, mirrors in a palace, the light of chandeliers in the aqueous humor of my eyes.
I feel like a fisherman casting a net into the water hoping something will come up when I drag it back in, silvery bodies flip-flopping on the deck of my boat. But then I’ve never been fishing, not like that, not on a boat, I don’t think I’d like it, I’d probably get sick. And so you see how easy it is to lose one’s way when you’re trying to define or describe the indescribable, the indefinable, the ineffable and strange.
The ineffable is linked with the sublime, whatever the sublime is. I know the sublime when I experience it. It’s an intense feeling, a mixture of awe and fear and terribleness and sometimes, if I’m lucky, ecstasy. It can beautiful, but beauty is only a small part of it. There is something of the eternal in the sublime, the beatific rather than the beautiful, the boundless rather than the bountiful. “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt,” wrote Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason.
The immensity of the attempt is incommunicable. And so the argument becomes circular, goes round and round in my head making me dizzier and dizzier until I begin walking like a drunk and the world is a cuticle on the finger of eternity.
The more I try to define it, the slipperier it gets. Knowledge enters the arena gently, seeking to know what can be known and dissolving like sugar in that which is conjectural or wet. Neurons glimmer, exchanging impulses like sailors in a topless bar. Nothing is profane. The sacred imbues everything, every alley, every bar, every wharf and wharf rat and loin. Fascicles are off-putting and faults are fascinating. There is nothing in existence that doesn’t ultimately fail the most sensitive equipment, the most supple language, the most agile violinist. It would take a Paganini to get even close to describing the scent of olives in southern Greece in late November, or the flight of a barn swallow just after the sun rises in Shoshoni, Wyoming.
Grief brings us close to the regions of the ineffable. When someone close dies, we feel the majesty of the sublime. And there are times forever after when everything feels just a little absurd, a little silly in how seriously some things are taken.
We pray to furnish our thoughts with the practices and skills of the bear, the great bear of the eastern sky who incarnates trigonometry, and is jeweled and reticent. The glaucous grammar of the chestnut causes buffalo to appear, and hot air balloons and sandwiches. The Renaissance walks in and sits down and begins talking about rope, the history of rope, the ins and outs of rope, the ontology of rope, the economics of rope. The recognition of rope, the unraveling of rope, is renewed, reborn, because rational discussion will do that. But what of the irrational? How do we corral the irrational? The behavior of the irrational is primordial as a typewriter, eccentric as spit.
Axle Shoe arrives on an axle, wearing shoes. Axle Shoe is wearing an oil-skin coat and a pair of warm climates. Axle Shoe embraces a beautiful shape. It appears to be a duck, or pustule. It’s all too mercurial to communicate with words or lips, and the greater the effort, the more elusive it becomes, until it is mist, and tingles on the skin, and Axle Shoe walks away, rolls away on an axle.
I’m doing a lousy job here because really, the incommunicable is fabulous and strains any attempt at faith or belief. Sometimes the ground cannot be negotiated because it’s clay and it’s been raining all day and there’s no secure footing to be had anywhere. And the river below is raging and dark and turbulent. Which is how it is much of the time in the mind, in my mind, maybe your mind, I don’t know, shall we put our minds together and see? I don’t know what people mean by that. How do you put your mind together with the minds of other people?
And it occurs to me that we all share the same consciousness, roughly. Very roughly, I know. But if there is a copse of trees in our vision as we travel through Iowa everyone will see the same copse of trees. And that same copse of trees will trigger different memories and feelings about trees, but the facticity of the trees remains the same, they’re poplars, and lean west with the wind.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I'll Do Anything

Am I sometimes obstinate? Yes. A lot. There are things I will not do. I will not put lipstick on a lion. I will not deny the redness of Tuesday. I resist. Am I tempted? Yes. I crumble before the spectacle of the clouds, any clouds, any formation, any manifestation of mist, trails of vapor in the sky, mountains of fluffy humidity, hoards of columnar aerosols, droplets and crystals. They make me giddy. I feel an ancient darkness flying through my furniture. It stirs me. I'll do anything. I will wear the uniform of death, which is ice. I will rinse my faith in the young. I will sew the light of thought with the thread of contemplation and crown my head with proverbs.
This morning, as I ate a banana, I thought about the quiet life of the refrigerator.
I have no theories of life. Logic suggests that at one point there was an intersection of the organic and the inorganic. A mixture of molecules became animated. Metal catalysts formed proteins and lipids and ribonucleic acid. This is one theory. Another suggests that acetylene and formaldehyde underwent a sequence of reactions that resulted in a chain of nucleotides. Fast forward 440 million years and here I sit writing this sentence, a chain of words seeking to find life and animation in the proteins and mind of anyone who reads them.
It would cost me $39 dollars, roughly, to resurrect the voice of my father. Twenty-four years ago my father and I went on a three-day road trip around eastern Washington, the gentle hills of the Palouse, pictographs of Horsethief Lake, windsurfers in the Columbia gorge. I taped our conversation on a RadioShack microcassette. I'd been reading Kerouac’s tape recorded conversations in Visions of Cody which made me think of the microcassette in my desk drawer, with the tape still in it. I rummaged around and found it. I opened the battery case. The batteries had corroded. I got them out and cleaned the compartment. I put two new AA batteries in. No go. The machinery inside had probably corroded as well. RadioShack has since gone bankrupt. I went online. There were a few available through Amazon. The cheapest was $39 dollars.
Some friends recommend a place on Aurora called GT Recording that transfers media. I give them a call. The man I talked to sounded a little gloomy, but yes, he could transfer the recording of the microcasettes to CDs. It will take a few days. I tell him that’s fine. I take the two microcassettes to GT Recording and a few weeks later the CDs are ready. This time the man sounds very cheerful. He seems to have enjoyed hearing about our road trip to the Palouse.
Roberta and I drove out to pick them up. We are buzzed into a small reception room. A pleasant young woman behind the desk goes to get the tapes and CDs for me. The CDs are encased in a transparent plastic CD case and titled "Palouse Trip"1 and 2. The technician himself appears and I notice that he is blind. He apologizes for the sound of the car in the CDs, he couldn’t remove that, and I tell him that's fine, the sound of the car lends itself to the atmosphere of being on a road trip. I can tell he enjoyed hearing the tapes. I pay for the CDs, which came to $99. We put it in the CD player of our car and begin listening to it. There it is, my father's voice, clear as the day we went on our road trip.
We decide to go to Home Depot to look for a new ceiling light for our kitchen as the younger, 46-year-old version of me (now 70, roughly my dad’s age when we went on the trip) announces Issaquah on the CD and my father points out Tiger Mountain, elevation 3,005 feet, and that the clouds are even with the summit, which indicates that the cloud base is at 3.0000 feet. He points out another mountain called Squak Mountain and tells me that he had a glider partner named Klaus who bought ten acres there and built a house. "He was one of those guys that wants everything just so," he says. "One day, his wife moved a picture by an inch, thinking oh, he won't notice. But as soon as he got home he shouted 'what's the meaning of this!' He noticed immediately that the picture had been moved. He's the kind of guy that counted the number of peanuts he kept on his bar in the basement. If you ate one, he would immediately replace it, so that it was always the same number of peanuts."
"I went to an air show in Tacoma once," my father continued. "I listened to a few lectures, then went outside for a smoke. There were two airline pilots outside, a man and a woman, who were also taking a smoke break. I started a conversation. They flew for United. Oh, I say, I used to have a glider partner named Klaus something-or-other who flew for United. Any chance you might know of him? 'Oh shit,' said the woman harshly. She stomped out her cigarette and walked off without saying another word."
We arrive at Home Depot just as I give my father a report about the state of the rest room at a truck diner. I was impressed with the state of cleanliness, which I hadn't been expecting. 
I get a strong, nostalgic feeling for that road trip. I love eastern Washington.  
When you cross the Cascade Range in Washington State you go from a mountainous terrain of thick Douglas fir and mists and dense underbrush to a more arid terrain of rock and Ponderosa pine. I always enjoy that.
Aging is a very similar process. I went from the more crowded years of my youth  -  a time of fertility and hectic socializing -  to the more reclusive years of my forties. I withdrew. I think a lot of people do. It’s exhausting to be around other people.
People get along because they’re strangers to one another. Civility is the best means available when we have to be around other people we don’t know, or people we know, or think we know, until one day we find out we don’t know them at all. We put on a good show. Smile when it’s appropriate to smile, frown when it’s appropriate to frown. Our true emotions and thoughts are prudently hidden from the world. This doesn’t mean that all our thoughts and emotions are negative or hostile. But the conceptions we make of ourselves are a very volatile compound. It only takes is a little rude jostling to make it all explode.
And look at me, commenting on all of humanity as if I were some sort of expert. I’m not. But I have been around the block a few times. I know what it’s like to explode. And regret exploding. Because when you explode there is fallout. Seismic billows and stern usherettes with flashlights. Let feelings incubate. Mature into fruit, flashcards and games. Don’t let them explode, transmit them from the backbone. Affirm them with emergency room saucepans.
Why should it bother anyone if their opinions are scorned by someone else? By a lot of people? I’m not a fan of solipsism, but when I’m certain about a thing, and someone argues against it, it’s hard not get a little hot under the collar. Take Galileo (and I’m not saying I’m Galileo) who saw what he saw and knew what he knew: the moons of Jupiter orbiting Jupiter, proving heliocentrism. That disturbed a lot of people. Galileo was not being egocentric. Galileo was being heliocentric. I like to think that I’m being heliocentric, at least most of the time.
Feelings are weird. These dancing lights around me are produced by fireflies. Why do they glow? Are they communicating, and if so, what are they saying?
My feelings tell me that the landscape is mostly fingers, and that language is violent when it distorts its own postulations. Sin is a growl. Innocence is a pulse. The parlor savors of coincidence.
How is the value of a feeling determined? I use a series of bathythermographs to measure the underwater acoustic speed of my feelings when they begin to surface and seek expression in words. I do this for two reasons: one, I like boxes, and two, I expect to sneeze at any given moment.
If you perform an act that will confirm and define it, the feeling will form a piano and climb into the sky. If you ignore a feeling, it will grow into a mountain and bake. If you consult a priest who is a member of the resistance, you will have already decided that your feeling is a plump apocalypse waiting to happen. Most feelings want you to do something. Most feelings want you to change. Or get a hammer and build something.
Let me show you some feelings. This one is blue and this one is a long lock of hair trembling in rapid vibrations. This feeling just spins around shooting sparks. And this feeling walks around in my head precipitating books.
Just let me say that writing about how you feel is totally slate. Any fine-grained rock will tell you that. But you must chip at the edge with a geologist’s hammer. Nothing will be revealed until you learn to mimic other birds and regard the water lilies with a twinkling congeniality. I have to go now and patrol the maples in their underclothes. If anything backfires I will develop a spice and hobble toward you with my confidence quietly concealed in a mulch of bark and peat. Together we will respond generously to the spirit within, even if it means denuding a perception of its bias and tongs.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


The sun breaks the sky into rags. Let’s walk along the border. My stick has a memory. The engine strains to get us over the hill. Don’t worry. There are signs. Yesterday I saw a nose walking down the street. There was a head attached. It had ears and a mouth and a pair of eyes. Hair. Legs. Arms. Everything. Do you know what it is that I’m saying?
It was a woman with a turquoise bear on the middle finger of her left hand.
We are prisoners of our own ideas. Everyone needs a sense of the sublime. Otherwise life gets awkward and ugly. It’s like holding a brandy snifter with a pair of boxing gloves on your feet.
For years, I caught the bus to the U-district in front of Jimmy Woo’s Jade Pagoda. And then I didn’t. I moved to a different hill. A different state of mind. A different picnic.
You can create a universe with your breath. Here is the filigree of my breath. Twist and shout. Plaster is plausible. Watch for falling rocks. Contrariety adorns the aching world. Do you sometimes feel like you’re falling through yourself into a lost world?
It’s more aromatic by the side of the road. Each species is an articulation of a new idea, a new adaptation. Conditions are always changing.
Don’t talk to me about guilty pleasures. I know all about guilty pleasures. I really like watching Mel Gibson movies.
I’m adapting to the sheer nonsense of the United States of Nonsense.
Our bed is a condensation of paradise. The story of my life is just heating up. If I were part of a salvaging team I’d be in the deep looking for Prospero’s book. Ocean swells moving in a symphony of engorgement and movement above me.
How much more insecure can you be than to lose an entire planet? The cactus is a response to aridity. I’m a response to cactus. Pain gets sloppy sometimes.
Planet Earth is losing its birds and bees to pesticide and constant wildfires. What can be done to save it? I’m not a king. I’m not a politician. I’m a wrestler. I’m a fool. I like sharp things. I like soft things. All I want to do is propagate the art of sewing, which is a rhapsody.
From Greek rhapsōidia, from rhaptein ‘to stitch’ + ōidē ‘, song, or ode.
The pelvis swivels according to the needs of the body. The conditions of life. I wish I could heal the look in your eyes. Think of me as a ball of molecules in an eccentric orbit. My glasses justify themselves by distinguishing reality from mirrors.
I don’t belong here.
When was the last time you stopped at a motel without calling ahead and making a reservation?
Almost anything in language or done by words is an invention. I smell the filet of a dead chimera. All my jobs have been shit jobs. The power of Picasso is most evident in the nude. So please: don’t touch my desk. My head is an arena of scars. Afterthought can be helpful but don’t get lost in rumination. Rumination will ruin you. Ruin you with rumination. Eyeballs circling your head.
You can break anything you want but please don’t break my heart.
A dragon acquires reality by spreading its wings. Jack Nicholson in a Cadillac. I set my rocket down on the surface of Titan. A mysterious form of life lifts itself from the ground and peers in through the porthole. Meanwhile, on earth the rice fields open to the rain. And the savage trumpets of estrangement play a funeral march in the brain of a cobra.
Abstraction heals the telephone. That happened in New Jersey, where I once played André Breton in a play about fertilizer.
I feel the timeless fire of language. I have dilated pupils and a textbook fog. My legs are allegories for the adventures of my arms. There’s always a Friday buried somewhere in Monday. Every stitch of the fabric of time is a part of me. Silos. Insects. A flash of lightning to the south. What can one say about actuality that makes sense as a framework for you experience, as a sign that points beyond itself? We see a car. The shine of chrome, the rumble of an engine. And what then? We get in. We start it. We step on the accelerator. We accelerate. And we smile. Because it’s not our car. And it’s fifty miles to Tucson.
Time isn’t always a chronology. Sometimes it’s a tray of empty glasses. Old rusty nails in a slat of wood. An eye. A warm hand.
Zimbabwe, June 10th, 1887. 10:21 a.m. A rhinoceros breathes on the orbit of a bee. The bee goes about its business. The rhinoceros turns, and walks away.
Seattle, Washington, September 17th, 2017. The cat paws at the bedroom door, wanting in. Hurricane Maria is following Irma’s path and getting stronger. Hamas agreed to dissolve its governing body in Gaza. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft vaporized as it dove into Saturn’s upper atmosphere this morning. It burned up in a patch of Saturn sky at 9.4 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees west longitude.
It is Samuel Johnson’s birthday tomorrow. Take a dictionary out to dinner.
There are words that I haven’t yet left here in the sentence, raked here like leaves. Here they are. The shimmering rapport of mercury prophesies churchyards of circumspect hairdos.
Words like these are residual. They don’t belong to me. They don’t belong to you. They’ve been painted to look like portable generators. But they don’t. They look like escarole.
I’m not the captain of anybody’s fate. I don’t even know what fate is.
The fence embraces the backyard light, a bonfire in Polynesia. I catch the wind and take off.
Belief is a luxury for the inexperienced. Ambition is nothing without socks when the foghorns blow. Fasten your seatbelt. There’s a blaze on the ridge of the mountain. It’s time we got the hell out of Dodge.
I’ll tell you what fate is: Mel Gibson at the wheel of a Mack truck. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Road Ahead

The road ahead is free and clear. The light disparages nothing. Let’s be like that. A man hardened by loss in a Dakota parlor.
Coleridge visits me in my sleep. Responsive headlights pivot left to right. Clang clang. He sits down at an old piano with cracked ivory keys and plays “The Old Piano Roll Blues.” Heavy metal angels add some gutsy vibrato and blues licks.
I’m on cruise control. I’m as natural as a garden hose on Friday. I’m walking on a high wire, singing hymns and doing backflips.
I have automatic collisions in my harmonica beard. Plug it in see what happens. I’m a murmurer and a squirmerer. I can relate to your spoon, if not your soup. Subtlety has a home in the blues. There’s a clapper in my bell honey, and a morsel on my fork. I’m a soft touch in a blue box. You can find me easy among the trees. Or standing on the rocks.
Oblivion has not been modified. It’s the same oblivion as the old oblivion. A quiet old road disappearing in the distance. A puddle of sound in a lonely room in the south of Arkansas.
Would you like to sip some quarks of wheezekey? I have the absorption of clay. I’m not always prompt. I celebrate the black of Rembrandt’s backgrounds.
The operation is quiet and grave. The doctors are huddled over a body. The heart is a fist of lightning veined and red.
Mississippi garden. The blaze is intense. There is thunder in the distance. A doctor looks up and wipes his forehead.
Planet Earth is a long walk in a blue palace.
My stethoscope is thirsty. Speed leaves Dallas in the dust. There is a howl coming from a room in the house. Resilience is getting up after getting punched.
I’m driving all night. Navigating the night. I have a bucket of paint for the gate. I’m feeling visibly invisible. Granite acrobatics on the summit of a hill. It’s a riddle. Palomino on a ridge above Reno. I feel the pungent aroma of sage in the early morning. Life is immaterial as a wind. Scribbles in the water.
Ambiguity begs for study. I drag the hills into the night. Insects flit by the light. Even the door has a singular beauty. The floor is Mediterranean tile. The wealth of the external is in the mind. The value of the internal is in the hallelujah of the skin. This is the doctrine of the rapier.
Take this ax and split some wood. I’m soaked in New Orleans.
If you go deep enough you don’t even notice the current. But the stripper wants her money and this is a capitalistic world. Thought will only get you so far. For the rest you’ll need a trunk and a tire iron.
Ear on a broom. Employment as a drum. Nipple ripple. Ripple on a nipple. Language is the glue of our species. But if you go a day and don’t open your mouth the universe will walk into your head and sit down. Open a book. Show you all the secrets. Show you all the stars.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chuckle Buckle Prawn Guffaw

There are hundreds of ways to learn the guitar, but writing poetry isn’t one of them. I will one day be an octogenarian. Will that help? Probably not.
I agree with limestone. The world is a tease. Headland drool. Sagebrush fields and basalt rocks.
What ugly leaves this tree is forming. I can’t explain my eyebrows. I’m traveling along a line of clatter cluttered with hundreds of brilliant dahlias. I have the emotive locomotive pulse of propane in the rain. I’m all roots and words. Everything is a hustle including this guide to the screams of the local chateau. I’m out to prove the worth of writing in a postmodern culture. I do that by drifting, like clouds. Sobbing does the rest. Hills like white elixirs.
I’m on a path to glory. I can feel that now. I’m in revolt. I dig your camaraderie. Welcome to the oasis. Here’s a sandwich of pineapple, lettuce and ham. Here’s a pair of aesthetic shoes with stars on them. You will need them for the hike into the stratosphere.
I feel at home on paper. I have a nice plump duchy and ten pounds of thinking churning in my blood. The process is a matter of brocade. This is done by working a supplementary weft into the weave, creating the illusion that segments have been embossed into the fabric of my life, or embroidered on top of it, like the sparkle of hypothetical butter.
I dangle my panic over the dots conversing in comic books. Winter expands my sense of black, especially that bone black of Rembrandt’s paintings, which he got from the charring of animal bones or waste ivory in a closed crucible, and used it to clothe his subjects with the somber facts of life.
And what, pray tell, are the somber facts of life?
Mortality. Hard-to-get-at elbow joints. The rumble of the stomach during group meditation. Sticky fingers, seborrheic dermatitis, the taste of grass when you’re grazing on a mohair dish of monster eyeball. The weight and movement of the world, which is constantly in rotation, constantly changing, constantly demanding that you change with it.
Or suffer the consequences, which wallop our heads with history.
I’m breaking free of my chains. I’m no longer in this world I’m looking at tourists. I’m adrift in rivers of reverie. Nocturnal discharge. The smell of the sea.
Electricity is timeless. Galvanized bucket with the sternum of Marie Laurencin. Attend to this strain, Peter Green on guitar, I’m there at last, a bag of nails, a discarded TV. My eyebrows are soft pink stars.
Let’s build a slide. Let me take you into a time warp.
I’m healed by exploration. I have the enhanced luggage of a lobster tapdancing on a picnic table next to a hole in the rain. I feel the wet of the universe like two sweaty wrestlers. My address is a canker sore. A dragonfly flutters and darts around my head.
Drink this and call me in the morning.
What is it? It’s the interior of a good idea. Perception walks in dirty water. My head is a nebula of hair and thought in a milieu of rogue elevators. Rattlesnake nutmeg. The city of Houston lost in vapor. Whatever you feel right now don’t force it let it be.
Age is a son-of-a-bitch.
This is the André Breton room. Eat this sentence. It will make you strong and beautiful. Eat it all, ganglions and tongue.
I’m enthralled with the predicate embedded in this brocade. Portugal materializes like a tug out on the sound. Language pumps an income to the surface of an unemployed poem. Thousands celebrate the invention of the metaphor, which stirs in the mouth of the sky creating thunder.
I like to flirt with apples. I have a jungle in my breath. I have a Cubist elbow and a smear of meaning on my hands. This is me pumping on a concertina. And this is me sitting in an office, gazing out of a window, sprinkling the air with prepositions. Lift this sentence with your eyes: ramble the amble to bramble and scramble, my only son, and you will one day find nuance in the indeterminate and mastery in the dead.
When will I ever be done?
Done with what? Oh you know. Circulating. Hauling soubriquets of meaning across the desert in the middle of a cuticle. Then going to sleep. Entering that other world. The one whose proposals are solace to the holes in my head.

Monday, September 11, 2017


I’ve had tinnitus since age eighteen. I began to experience it after a terrible LSD trip in December, 1966. After getting myself into a hospital and dosed with chlorpromazine, I awoke the next morning to a ringing and hissing sound in my ears, which has been there ever since. It is sometimes louder, sometimes quieter. I’ve been living with it so long I don’t notice it most of the time. Lately, I’ve become a little fascinated by it.
There are two types of tinnitus: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is an actual noise generated by structures near the ear and will be perceptible to a doctor with a stethoscope. Subjective tinnitus is perception of a sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus. No doctor will be able to hear it. It doesn’t exist. Except, of course, for you, the one with the tinnitus. It exists quite emphatically for the person experiencing it. But the absence of a clear physical cause makes it a curious phenomenon indeed. Is it mental? A hallucination? An auditory illusion?
Current theory espouses a problem with auditory neurology. The nerve cells in the auditory region are overactive and compensating for partial hearing loss. But what if there’s no hearing loss? My hearing has gotten a little worse with age, and my tinnitus has worsened, so there might be something to the relationship between tinnitus and hearing loss, but it’s a weak one. I might ask my wife to repeat herself occasionally (she has a remarkably soft voice), but on balance my hearing is still pretty good. I feel on a gut level that it has more to do with something gone a little haywire in the auditory brainstem.
The reaction I received when I complained about it for the first time continues to be the same one today when I mention it to anyone fifty years later: a shrug. Nobody thinks it’s a big deal. Doctors especially. They tell you to go to home and learn to live with it. Doctors are like that. Show up with a freshly severed arm and an alien bursting out of your stomach and they’ll stand there and stifle a yawn. It must be all that science, I don’t know. That’s worth a study in itself: what makes doctors – male and female  - so uniformly similar to Charles Grodin?
There are, however, people who do think tinnitus a big deal and will fully empathize with you. These would be people who suffer tinnitus. Trust me; it’s a big deal to them. Think about it: you never have silence.
Let me say that again: you never have silence.
There is no cure.
Which isn’t entirely true. Not long ago I read an article about TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). According to recent studies, low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is able to reduce cortical hyperexcitability.
Say what?!
I called the neurology department of our healthcare provider and asked if they offered TMS. Yes, they did. It would require a treatment of approximately eight days. How much? $9,000, roughly. The treatment is still in the experimental stage so there’s no way our insurance would cover it. It would be out of pocket. Can’t do it. Can’t afford it. Ain’t our healthcare system wonderful?
Here’s another curiosity: people with tinnitus who have taken ecstasy say that it made their tinnitus go away.
The University of Aukland in New Zealand has done an actual study investigating this.
Ecstasy, whose official chemical designation is 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, was administered to participants in two separate trials in doses of 30 mg or 70 mg. These are very small doses, not enough to produce a high, whatever one’s concept of a high happens to be. No euphoria, for starters. Nobody felt that. Thank God.
Many of the participants reported an easing of tinnitus after three hours.
So: not very conclusive.
But still, quite interesting. What effect on the auditory neurons was this drug having? Did it feed the neurons something they liked, light them up with a happy cosmology of glow sticks and dreampop so they stopped bothering the brain with the whistling and hissing to get attention?
This theory of neurons going a little haywire appeals to me in a greater philosophical sense as a possible explanation for this stubborn phenomenon called tinnitus. If life is a reality which is making itself in a reality which is unmaking itself, or inversely, if life is a reality which is unmaking itself in a reality which is making itself, then this surplus of neuronal activity is reaching for something. It wants something. It needs something. It is a superfluity in quest of a fulfilling sensation. It is a testament of flux. Of becoming. It is making up for a lack. It is compensation for something I can’t quite hear. Perhaps a choir of angels or planetary music that will finally lull that hiss and whistle into oblivion.
I’m hearing something that isn’t there. Not a voice, or voices (that would really freak me out) but a hiss, a whistle. Neither the hiss or whistle have meaning. They indicate nothing. They indicate that something in my nervous system has experienced trauma, but for whatever reason, they continue to make that signal, although the trauma has long since ceased to exist.
Or has it? Isn’t life itself an ongoing trauma? That would be putting a slightly histrionic spin on the problem. But hey, isn’t it a little bit true? Because at the base of life, of the human condition, is mortality, and mortality is a son of a bitch. It’s a hell of a thing to reckon with. The Buddhists are right: attachment is pain. Try not to get attached to things, especially people. Because nothing endures. Nothing lasts. It’s all impermanent. Ephemeral. Do you see this butterfly flitting by? That’s us. That’s life. Here today, gone by sunset.
Some people are born into a life of ease, but who are they? I’ve never met any. Most of the people I’ve known have had to deal with a lot of pain, a lot of loss, a lot of conflict.  As Heidegger puts it, existence is “care” (Sorge): to exist is not simply to be, but to be an issue for oneself, a concern, a problem, an argument. The first person I have to contend with in the morning is myself. It might be a memory, a dream, a regret, but there’s a guarantee that something will haunt me throughout the day, will cling to my consciousness with the same tenacity as this tinnitus.
Does anybody really like being alive? Because I’ve known very few people over time who didn’t require a little alcohol now and then, a little meditation, an antidepressant, a benzodiazepine, a strip of licorice, a cherry cordial, a little porn, a little tenderness, a little kick in the pants.
A buzz.
Who doesn’t like a buzz? Not the sound buzz, but the euphoric buzz, the metaphysical buzz, the inner buzz, the buoyant buzz.
It may not be the same kind of buzz several glasses of wine on the Boulevard Saint-Germane in Paris are apt to produce, but there is this lovely thing called transcendence, which provides a great balm to the wound of existence. It is chiefly a philosophical disposition, so drugs and alcohol aren’t really necessary, though they may have a synergistic effect. Transcendence has a great appeal to me as it not only helps with my tinnitus but the acceptance of things in general, phenomena for which I have no control, phenomena which may be irritable or deeply painful, and which are intimately linked with the process of being alive. It all comes down to weight: the burdens of daily existence, the encumbrances and worries that forever intrude on our buoyancy. Transcendence is helium. Transcendence is the flame shooting warm air into the sphere of one’s balloon.
Weight is a natural byproduct of mass. We all have mass: muscle, bone, blood, skin. We also have family, jobs, plans, ambitions, projects, responsibilities, and bills.
There is the weight of having to be, pure and simple. This was at the heart of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on the subject of suicide: to be or not to be. It’s an option. And because we have this option, albeit a rather grim one, our burden is lightened a little.
Suicide is a little extreme. There’s also just letting things drop. Ka-thump! Or, as they say in Zen, “let go, don’t be dragged.”
Transcendence is a function of choice. I can decide not only to be or not to be, but how to be. I can be a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way, eat a certain way. In other words, every moment is a possibility. We create ourselves. I can’t take credit for hands and fingers, for my eyes and ears, nature did that. But I can assume some agency in how I choose to use them.
In the same way, I can choose my response to tinnitus. Immersion in the world, for example, will help disperse my concerns into a larger context. Anything that bugs me will loosen its grip. I am absorbed in the world and so lose my sense of isolation. I join in the flux. What we are is Being, and so is how we are. “Smell the sea and feel the sky / Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”

Friday, September 8, 2017


I dip my pen in the ink of sleep and write my name in water. I have the etiquette of a carnival. I walk through Thursday, a nebula of stars and hammers soaked with yo-yos, and I clank. The abyss caresses a road. There is honey in the wind. A mollusk has a round purpose and a nacreous soul. It all makes sense as a Ferris wheel, a large sparkly rash oozing amusement and juice.
Bump the shovel to open the body. The elves stagger through a forest. These are my narratives shivering radar out of heaven. Need is an angel wilted in salt. The loud chaos of foam serves the mind seventy turnstiles and a hungry seagull. The mystery of a chandelier in the roar of the foundry causes a vibration to pass from ion to ion until it reaches a fortissimo in G major. The journey assumes a grease and flirts with shoes.
The seagull catches a fry in mid-air. I have been around the sun seventy times. This means that I am entitled to the use of the showers and special events that help me stay motivated.
My weight sparkles. I tremble with stars. The ink in my pen is sewing a soap dish. I dream of soap. I write down the word ‘soap.’ The soap becomes an image. The soap becomes a geometry of unseen capacity.  
The sun caresses my skin, the night gives me sticks, solitude, a hive in which I make honey, develop thoughts, drool on my pillow. We squabble sometimes, dress for the beginning of time, knit something, a conflagration, a shipwreck.
I mean, you know, words. It’s what we do. We make them do things. Perform.
To fly, to be, to butcher a cloud. Rub the frozen unbalance. Stool for eating sensual percussion. My fingers are rugged, but hectic. Everything drips with reverie. The cricket breath creates a world. Lift the nose device to feel the lavender.
Butter the head pillow. I pledge to manufacture the door to weigh each outcry. Hip scientists buy me up. Correspondence ripples through a mallet. Slide the soap away from my color, it is not the plaything of scarabs.
What is it, this expression, is it expression, or is it expressiveness, a kind of twitch or public greeting, what is it, what is it to make expressions, to put them on your face, to dampen them with a rag and dangle them over a bingo game, or toss them into the air and juggle them? It's the debris of a big encounter with something I don’t know how to echo.
A dragon howls. A ransom queen comes to her body and sparkles with sadness.
Tincture of oozing silhouettes I heal in airs the hornet awakens my leg. Coffee of congratulating wheels. Silver coast of benevolent tea. Sheaf of words frosting in weariness the darkness to drink by mouth and root.
A striking beautiful need comes to engulf my hotel. People, people, who are the people? Palpate my climate. Inflate the sun with immoderate cakes.
I grow to enjoy Nine Inch Nails. I didn’t at first. At first it was noise, a man’s voice grinding out words like a logging truck. When that happens the observable universe, taken as a whole, is remarkably tweed. I live in a shabby hotel. The sum of my achievements is a ghost orchid potted in sphagnum moss. The springs in my bed squeak. The abyss is my neighbor. Go to the edge where my raw bones shake. Cry for a torch. Steep it in pitch. Light it with your mind.
Tell me, what is it that brings you to a boil? Is it politics? Is it urban planning? How do you resolve an inner turmoil? Do you find refuge in Proust or do you sew the light with your breath and paint mosquitos with your feet? Me, I collect pillows. We are the firmament we wish for. Fingers can think a fork is a spoon but if it’s a knife or a napkin one will have to eventually admit that perceptions are delicate flowers to be phrased in wire like a road flare, that evolution is a creative process and that there are tigers treading softly through the forest of our unconscious even when we sleep.
The time for revolt is upon us. I’m going to squeeze this planet until I dissolve into rain. The awning is clean, but it can always get cleaner.
Time creates as much as it destroys. And so I made an airplane made of snow and hurled it at the crowd. I hear a rumble in the color red that is enhanced by moss. I hear the cry of a mynah and the roar of an intestine. There is value in art that forces you to be present to yourself. It’s your wallet after all, not mine. I don’t hate money, but I’m not in love with it, either. Sweating and swimming are not the same thing.
Proximity is a tray upon which time tastes like salmon. Nobody plays the concertina at Costco. The antlers are immaterial. I don’t like getting old. Keep it simple, I say. Nipples are the mushrooms of the human chest. I no longer have ambitions. I have buffalo. These are my feathers. And these are my dreams. Janis Joplin’s voice splashes around in my head like a swig of Southern Comfort. I throw rocks at the dawn. My thoughts are heavy. They form doors and windows or break out on the skin as ventilators. Sadness overflows my chest. I turn infrared and cry. I’m signally you from a distance. Can you hear me? Can you see me? I haven’t thrown a baseball in years. I feel that I’m become a little too congenial at this moment. I worry about everything. How do you stop that? The rain falls long and easy. Let’s just say that the plays are performed in a cloud of steam and leave it at that.
Reality is a rattle in the elbow of electricity. This beard is my grandfather. Even now, there are winds shaping and moving the dunes of the Sahara. These very words are teeming with socks. I’m going to walk through a tunnel now, and when I come out the other side, I will hand you your coat. Thank you for coming.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Gnarly Buttons

We have a stuffed Viking in our kitchen. He hangs from a hook on the wall. I don’t know where he came from. I don’t know why I am just now noticing his presence.
I notice he has a sword. And a mustache. I hear a nearby ocean. I hear the men outside, power-washing the awning.
What does Mammon mean in the Bible? How many babies do you have?
The umbrella doesn’t need you. The umbrella is its own door.
I frequently have migraines and dizzy spells. We are sometimes bewildered by the evident simplicity of water. Reality is a context, not a princess. Blake’s tiger moves stealthily forward. I anticipate the rumble of a foreign sky. And the total solar eclipse in Oregon was followed by wildfires, zombie chickens, and a monster traffic jam.
I study the structure of reticence. Reticence sucks. Hitchhiking is best served by patience, though I would not recommend it as a mode of transport. These are strange days. The world has turned apocalyptic. You never know, when you pull that door open, who’s going to be at the wheel.
There is a certain politeness to pain, don’t you think? Its courtesies are meant for the well-being of the organism, though it’s easy to think otherwise.
My heart is a stone lined with crystal. The chuff and whine of construction trucks can be heard nearby. When I consider the facts external to my existence, I wonder “how is it possible that I’m still here?”
Referral to the Other is the indispensable condition for the constitution of a world. A creaking staircase, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the affable flavor of wine.
Time works by gear and tablespoon. The airplane is a meditation in flight. The delicacies are parenthetical. You can have as many cucumbers as you like. But remember: the world as it is revealed to consciousness is inter-monadic.
What does that mean? It means that a transitive verb walks into a sentence and sits down on a noun. Eventually, the words begin working, and the noun is pushed into big bowls of thought.
What is it like being Paul McCartney? Sir Paul sits behind Barack and Michelle Obama. He glances at Oprah Winfrey to his right. When Sartre talks about Being, I don’t think this is what he means. This is something different. It’s not nothingness, and it’s not a transcending connection with which I bear some relation. I don’t think it’s meant to be plugged into anything. I think it’s simply a man who writes songs enjoying his wealth.
Is there anything more lonesome than an empty floor at Sears? All those appliances, all those clothes. Nobody shopping. Nobody pondering. What happened?
These are the shipwrecks of a single breath. I am dreaming jelly in the pleasure of my solitude.
I drop my keys. They hit my toes, then plop on the floor. I crawl into the music of a harp and daydream. The search for understanding concludes with a foghorn.

I am not my name. I am my bones and eyes. I fold the sky into a clarinet and play “Gnarly Buttons.” 

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Strange Summer

There sits my hat on a corner of the mirror, waiting for winter. It’s been a strange summer. First, no rain for several months. This is strange for Seattle. Then, there was that week in early August when Seattle had the worst air quality in the world due to the forest fires to the north in British-Columbia. This was the same week that Trump and Kim Jong Un threatened one another with nuclear missiles like a couple of temperamental toddlers in a sandbox. The barely respirable air hung shroud-like and stagnant over the northwest, flavoring the summer with a dark, apocalyptic vibe. Then came Charlottesville, Virginia, and the weird spectacle of Nazis and hooded KKK members marching and rioting in the streets, carrying WalMart tiki torches and assault weapons and clashing with counter-protestors, unleashing a storm of violence that culminated in the death of Heather Hyer when a car driven by a white supremacist slammed into a crowd of people, injuring nineteen others. The police stood by and did nothing.
The world has gone mad. The total solar eclipse which occurred on August 21st seemed like the ideal background to a world teeming with so much mayhem and murder, a perfectly timed piece of synchronicity.
And how wonderful that an astronomical event can provide, for the duration of several magnificent minutes, a much-needed sense of sublimity and awe. A lifeless ball of rock and dust moving in front of a gigantic ball of continual nuclear explosion and jarring our isolated selves into the open with something phenomenal and strange.
How vexingly paradoxical that planet Earth, which looks so heavenly and benign from outer space, a blue and white marbled ball of boundless grace and benevolence, is swarming with so much hatred and misery.
Who was Heather Hyer?
She was a 32-year-old paralegal who worked in Charlottesville at a law firm assisting clients through the bankruptcy filing process. She ate lunch at her desk. You can look her up. She had a pretty smile. She is someone I would’ve enjoyed meeting, someone who would’ve left me feeling hopeful and good, a little less encumbered by the weight of my cynicism.
Life, said French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, is the search for the impossible via the useless. Thinking is not an applied art. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years (I turned 70 this month) and very little of it has amounted to anything like a power to effect change, to bring a little more sanity to the behavior of people, which is the ambition of a megalomaniac, a magician like Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Can there be anything more useless than thinking? Rumination leads to sadness, and in some extreme cases, to clinical depression. “There can be no other human activity more extravagant,” observes George Steiner in his remarkable essay “Ten (Possible) Reasons For The Sadness Of Thought.” “Very nearly the incessant aggregate and totality of thinking flits by unnoticed, formless and without use. It saturates consciousness and presumably the sub-conscious, but drains off like a thin sheet of water on baked earth.”
I would love it if, at will, I could shut it down, shut my thinking off and float, for that is what I would do, float. Thinking gives me weight, not the literal weight of my body on the bathroom scale or the weight of our Subaru bouncing over a pothole, but the weight of thought, which is encumbering in its entanglements, endless in its amendments and indemnifications. It’s the business of thought to find answers, seek solutions, resolve predicaments, plan trips, plot a trajectory, and (most importantly) invent.
Invention is the most fun thought allows us. We can imagine. We can formulate something new. We can take things apart and put them back together differently. Which is what writing is. It’s a continual process of assembly and reassembly.
Most of my thoughts about the world are negative, I’m sorry to say, which gives an added burden to my thinking, a sourness whose lens bends the light into judgements whose weight demands a certain muscularity, the noxious task of holding and revolving these constructions. Nobody is a happier man than I am when I am proven wrong. I love it when that happens. Those judgements melt and drop away from the continent of my being like shelves of ice calving in the Antarctic.
Immanuel Kant proposed a reality beyond what we perceive which is inaccessible to us. What’s up with that? That’s nuts. Isn’t life complicated enough as it is without adding this element, this tantalizing, chimerical candy? He called it a noumenon. In his book The Freedom Paradox, Clive Hamilton proposed a universal Self of which our moral selves are a part and by which Kant’s noumenon is partially accessible. In allowing ourselves to be restricted by the imperatives of the moral self, we can obtain true freedom, true transcendence. Restriction leads to virtue which leads to walking a few inches above the ground.
Sometimes thinking is fun. I can imagine myself in Paris circa 1871 or so sharing glasses of absinthe with Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, or riding a mustang across Nevada when the sun is setting and the air is pleasantly warm, not too hot, not too cold. This is called fantasy, and is a gas. It doesn’t do much. It’s basically a brief entertainment. But if you act on a fantasy, try to make it real, you’ll be in for an adventure, I guarantee it. But will you succeed? Who knows? I can’t speak for your fantasies, but mine are pretty wild. I might ride around the topiary at the Palace of Versailles on a dinosaur, or do some gun practice with Wild Bill Hickok. Harmless stuff, mostly. Jellyfish floating in seawater, the roar of the crowd while I hammer away at a Fender Strat in Torino Red.
Fantasies, unfortunately, feed our ambitions, and ambitions can be cruel taskmasters.
Today I boiled a lot of water. I was trying to clear the drain in the bathtub. Boiling water had been recommended as an easy way to do this. This isn’t thinking, exactly, it’s more like heeding counsel, which is a type of thought, a borrowing of thought. This worked for X, Y, and Z so it might work for you. They have all had success with this technique. And I did clear the drain. A little.
I wish I could clear the drain in my head as easily. There was a time I could do that with alcohol, but it would clog right back up again, even worse, when the alcohol left my body. Alcohol doesn’t stick around long. And it’s always coaxing you to add more to it. “I’m leaving now, but there’s more in that bottle over there.” You can never get enough.
In Zazen, according to Shunryu Suzuki, it is vain to try to stop thinking. “When you are practicing zazen,” counsels Suzuki,

…do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer.

It’s when I sometimes wonder what other people are thinking that my thinking goes totally awry. That’s definitely something to avoid, particularly in the political arena. I am frequently stunned by the political beliefs of people I’ve known intimately, and for some time.
Of course, as a writer, I am deliberately trying to enter into other people’s thinking. Sometimes, although rarely, I might actually try persuading people to behave a certain way or subscribe to a certain ideology. This I try to avoid. Most often, all I’m trying to do is put a handful of words together in a way that creates sparks, goads the neurons into finding new pathways, new associations. This is me trying to be a drug. This is me trying to be an amphetamine, a hallucinogen, a mustang climbing a steep hill with a cowboy on his back, desperate to escape.