Should a poem be hard or soft? Can there be a softness so soft it’s hard? Can there be a hardness so hard it’s soft? What silly questions. I must be going soft. It’s hard to go soft. It takes a lot of hardness to let yourself be soft. Being is soft. And hard. Hard to be. Hard to be soft. Nobody sleeps on granite. Except the sky. The sky takes its clouds off and lies down on the mountain and that’s called night. The sky gets up and puts a soft cloud to its face and that’s dawn. You know what I mean. Everything you need to know in life is in the small of a woman’s back. I like the way curves insinuate what they’re doing, which is sly, and gracile, and flourishes in subtlety. The appetite is sharp. The mind is hungry. But not for knowledge. The mind wants chicken fingers. Songs and fluidity. The mind flirts with the universe and the universe flirts back. Marriage soon follows and books and nuclear fusion. This is why people sit in their parked cars gazing at the lights of Los Angeles, or the glitter of the Mediterranean, or nothing at all. “Let’s go surfing now, everyone’s learning how, come on a safari with me.” What is going on in your head this minute? Never mind. As soon as Julius Caesar passes, someone shoot him with a rubber band. Empires suck. And no. I don’t have a utopia. I’m fresh out. I thought I saw one go by a minute ago but it was just a float from a Macy’s parade lost in time and space. This much we know: feelings have shapes. But then why would the ghost of a cow appear to us as a steak? Death is nothing but sugar skulls. Despair is more circular, more like a tiger with a snake between her teeth. Faith comes to us dressed as a Gregorian chant. It’s ok. It looks fine. Just put the fucking turkey in the oven. Let your mind wander a little. Imagine the life of Lesley Gore. You don’t own me. Nobody owns me. I don’t own me. I don’t even have a warranty. What I do have is an embroidered shoe, a lobed Delft dish with a swan, and Constance Hopkin’s beaver hat. Meanwhile, The Band sings “The Shape I’m In,” which gives me speed bumps. I tell you. It’s been quite a trip. When did it begin? I try to find an answer in Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. Until I wrote this, it did not exist, and so by writing it into existence, have I brought myself closer, a little nearer to the centrality of the situation? I don’t remember much of my arrival. I was probably wet, and crying, and very confused. And here I am many years later still crying, still confused. But writing. Bringing things into existence. Is that a cala lily at the end of this sentence? The indefinability of Being wiggles a finger in the slippery core of the universe. And the universe gets excited and expands into a first lieutenant standing on a hill. Watching the sun set on the Potomac. Which is my current understanding of water. I’ve pinned a little here, in the form of spittle. Don’t worry. It’s already evaporated & floating over an amusement park. What I mean to say is that I’m led to feel what I feel and I feel what I feel when I’m led to feel what I feel. But what leads me to say these things? Skeeter Davis? The Songs That Shaped 1963. Dinosaurs and surgeons and conjecture. My life has been an odyssey of fugues and curious latitudes. Irritations spur streams of consciousness but not as much as you think. Sometimes they just make me want to watch sunlight pass through a glass full of Chablis. Nothing is ever so near to us as a diving board. Here I go, leaping into space. Destiny is for swans. Space is for larks.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Next came trickling a series of surgeons. It was a rough experience, apt to include despondency at odd moments, like at the state fair, when you wore a crown of codeine and a dress made of reindeer tears. Then, at seventeen, came rites of passage and endless bottles of beer. I fell in love with negative ions and the smell of rain. An air charged with shadow. Lightning in the veins. When the poem first arrived it was starchy and anemic and we had to drag it out of the classroom into the open air where we could resuscitate it. I battled for twelve years against discouragement, poverty and debt to sustain it, to keep it going, to climb onto it with the help of a stepladder and a friendly reflection named Chacha. When the landlady discovered a dead baby in my closet, and she believed it to be her own dear William whom she’d buried the previous week, I was fortunate that the face was still intact and that anyone could plainly see it was a ventriloquist’s dummy named Johnny B Goode. I’m not that rash, and when called to do an operation, I bring a drill and a dueling pistol. It is an art to secure an accurate history of wax. Sooner or later – insensibly, unconsciously – the iron yoke of conformity is upon our necks: and in our minds, as in our bodies, the force of habit becomes a sport bra, a kind of steerage for fatty tissue and warm ocean currents. Do you want to boogie? While subject to the laws of logic, I believe that cross-examining a strawberry depends entirely on the technical proficiency of chewing. Knowledge of the significance of physical signs alone is useless unless the river flows over itself and combines revelation with treasure. And by treasure I don’t mean rubies and Anglo-Saxon helmets, I mean emptiness, spicy, lopsided, sparkling emptiness. The kind you don’t have to launder and fold because it doesn’t exist. There’s a close analogy between clinical music and medicine. Just imagine hearing Randy Meisner sing “Take It To The Limit” as the propofol kicks in. One may know harmony and counterpoint, but without the crackle of an index finger on your skin the softness of a woman’s back is just geographical. Technique in music produces beauty of tone; in romance it secures accuracy of data. There are many sources of error in diagnosis; you need to tell the difference between a thigh and a vestibule, a rib and a nasturtium, or a breast and an afternoon in Provence. Think of the penis as a value-added activity increased at each stage of its performance. The vagina as a tray of Andalusian silver. And isn’t a head really just a roller derby of bad attitudes and snappy punchlines? It’s also a nice place to put hair. It is here that the poet steps into the sounds straining to make themselves into elevators, throbs of exaggeration, emotive locomotives on the shiny rails of the marvelous.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Fascination with the pale grey and softness of my cat’s ear with a bit of lamp light passing through the thin membrane. I wonder what Mick Jagger would’ve looked like if he’d gone bald. That woman I saw come out of Bartell drugs today while sitting in the car waiting for R, reading René Char, thirty-something I’m guessing, with long – and I mean long – black hair, black jacket, black pants, black boots. It seemed to be there wasn’t a single assumption you could make about her. She could’ve been libertarian, an avid Ayn Rand reader, or a doom rock aficionado with a heavy immersion in Black Sabbath or Earth or Sun O))). She could’ve been an ambassador from the planet Clafoutis or an interior decorator with a chichi Seattle firm. She could’ve been a zoologist with a medical degree and a pet boa at home. I have a feeling that if I were introduced I’d be stunned with what she was actually all about. Irritating that the paper napkin I use to protect the desk sticks to the bottom of my coffee mug. I watch a French documentary about Senegal, a group of women canoeing in the Saloum Delta arrive at a beach to dig for oysters, a mountain of oyster shells nearby, nearly as big as the one I once saw by the Ark restaurant in Nahcotta, Washington on the Long Beach peninsula. It’s almost been one year since we last ate at a restaurant, because of the pandemic. I listen to the Martian wind through NASA’s Perseverance rover’s sensors. It sounds remarkably like any wind I’ve heard on Earth. But it’s deceptive. It sounds like home but it’s not. At ground level the Martian atmosphere has a pressure of 6.518 millibars or 0.095 psi as compared to the Earth’s sea level atmosphere pressure of 14.7 psi. The “gear-ratio” for Mars is 226:1, meaning every kilogram of material you send requires a rocket to burn 225 kilograms of fuel. It is often thus: the clenched fist seeks the anvil, even if it has to smash the wild lilies. Each one of us is sand filtering through the fingers of whatever hand brought us here. Cat on my lap, purring, she looks up at me and I gaze into her eyes, which are a glowing, iridescent green, more like jewels than eyes, and wonder, as her eyes shift about, what might be going through her mind, and what that mind be like, and what is a mind, exactly? That moment when you suddenly realize that the curious object you’re staring at in the bedroom mirror at the foot of the bed is your own head. Is there a limit to knowledge? Only if there’s a knowledge of limits. One thing I’d like to do before I die is watch how a Viking sword gets made. Visit the hot springs and lava fields of Iceland. The Viking World Museum in Njarðvík, Reykjanesbær. Step into the past. Egil Skallagrímsson, Viking skald, sorcerer, berserker, and farmer. Wonder what he grew. What can you grow in Iceland? Potatoes, turnips, rhubarb, carrots and cabbage. “There was a man named Ulf, the son of Bjalfi and of Halbera, the daughter of Ulf the Fearless.” So begins Egil’s Saga, which ends around the year 1,000.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
The shaving lather sleeps in my hand like the tongue of oblivion. I lift my hand and smear it all over my face. This is how I kiss the morning. My fingers find their true vocation. They like it when grains of sand pass through them. Today they came in handy when I used them to tie a knot in a small piece of twine that I used to tie a corner of a towel down to the leg of the chair to protect the newly reupholstered seat from our cat's claws. I have a table to wipe and a sense of purpose in doing it. I have somewhere to be when I feel like going somewhere. And if I don't I create a destination. Creating a destination is easy. Drink a pint of whiskey, then throw a dart at a world map. If the dart keeps missing the map, you should probably stay home. But if the dart hits China, I would start packing and picking which socks to bring to Beijing, which shirt to wear in Shanghai, which tie to wear in Tianjin. Something multicolored, I think, and feverish, like an abstraction culled from the brain of a coffee table. Or, if you really don’t feel like going anywhere, but, on the other hand, you really do feel like going somewhere, you just can’t make up your mind just yet, you can always elect to put on airs and pretend you just came back from Mars with a golden pterodactyl tie pin & angels of music weeping on your lapel. Like I say, you don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t feel like it, you can just fake a Martian tan by hyperventilating & rattling your emotional trinkets. Travel is the work of the imagination. It's easy to imagine travel when you’re in a chair. It's hard to imagine travel when you travel. When you travel, traveling consumes the imagination. The archaic becomes literature. Reality breaks its chains like King Kong and does things that no one expected. It gets undressed. It drinks a glass of water. It misses its place of birth. It yearns for love & acceptance. It does a tap dance on the eyelid of an Indian deity. It describes Spain with a cante jondo. Are these words going anywhere? Yes, they were minced to fit the density of mass & make it explode into light & shadow. I like objects. Objects make good subjects. So let's go look for sapphires in the plains of Asimov. Let travel come to you. Don’t go to travel. If you let travel travel you can sit and gaze out of the window of the moving train you just imagined & put on the palm of your hand. Travel is easy when you don’t go anywhere. It’s when you go somewhere that travel gets sticky and the maps get crazy and the glove compartment gets stuffed with the weirdest souvenirs available to your imagination. Imagination is where it all begins. The scarf flaps, wrapped loosely around the neck, here at the end of the world. Here it is: the final destination. Already pregnant with time.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
We went down to our storage locker as the afternoon stood next to me – smiling like a lunatic – and which has been nominated for a Rough Rider award and it rolled around briskly excited. I refocused. We asked for whatever material we could provide for others. There are problems overhead in running clothes we think they are demons but when we stepped outside a silver-grey SUV backed in and this caused me to change back into my street clothes. I heard something about a gurney and shouted back from our home. R got out and opened the door and after three young men retrieved their items from the chains I backed into a dark space with the car. Oh good, I muttered, we all get to die slowly but I still managed to hit the loading dock. The other men got around to opening the garage door and I didn’t see any obstructions so we proceeded to take more pictures. We gave up on the third illustration I’m guessing someone scraped the Museum of Flight in a parking lot at Safeway. I shifted my attention to the same problems I had yesterday and the day before, wherever I put a picture in my head I try to find frames for it, generally in prose, but sometimes in faces or furniture I can remember when they reach out for me and then I do it slowly in smartphone reflections on the ceiling. My father rendered the gentle snow-laden hills in watercolor and this was the easiest to modulate. I like this watercolor of space and I held my jacket over it to bring out the light at the top of a copse of bare-limbed trees as an aged woman climbed out of the sky and asked to take her picture when I heard a loud crash. This is how bitter cold it was I went back to the light on the loading dock which raised itself on a spine of carbon riddled with heavy scratches and I felt sorry for it and went to check for damages. Hip-hop thudded out of a space shuttle docking at a space station and I brought the memory home to paint it. I dimmed the light on our arms and faces and found it serene and gentle resting on the other gurney. And I got absorbed in the light of our bedroom where the Museum of Flight and its legendary problems snored, streaked with variations of mist & cloud.
Friday, February 12, 2021
We went down to our storage locker this afternoon to take pictures of my father’s artwork. He has been nominated for a Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider award in North Dakota and I’d been asked for whatever material I could provide in support of his eligibility. I was going to go in my running clothes but when we stepped outside and discovered how bitter cold it was I went back in and changed back into my street clothes. The locker is in a three-story building several miles from our home. R got out and opened the door to the loading dock which raised slowly on its chains as I backed in. It was dark inside the spacious entry and I could barely see. I backed up slowly but still managed to hit the loading dock bumper hard. I got out and checked for damage and didn’t see any from the loading dock but there was a heavy set of scratches on the right side of our car bumper. I’m guessing someone scraped it as they entered into an angled and narrow parking slot at Safeway. I shifted my attention back to the more pertinent project at hand, which did not go as easily I’d imagined. We had a hell of a time taking pictures of my dad’s illustrations. They’re all framed under a highly reflective glass. Every shot R took with her smartphone contained reflections of the ceiling or the walls or our arms and faces. We took one of the space illustrations out to the loading dock area for the dimmer light. We positioned it on a flatbed gurney and I held my jacket over it while R looked for a good shot. Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman backed in, got out, and asked if we were using the other gurney. No, we’re not, I said, as I went back to concentrating on our photo problems. I was absorbed in shading the picture when a loud crash startled me. The woman stood next to me – smiling like a lunatic - after she threw her items hard on the gurney, rolled it around and briskly exited. I refocused. We got a fairly decent picture and went back to do the others. Same problems with the overheard lights. We went back out to the loading dock. This time a silver-grey SUV had backed in and three twenty-something men got out and grunted something about the gurney and I shouted back, no, it’s free, we weren’t using it. They seemed sub-verbal. After they retrieved their items from storage one of the young men got in and started the car. Oh good, I muttered, we all get to die from carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the other men got around to opening the garage door and they left, hip-hop thudding hard from a woofer. We gave up on the third illustration – a space shuttle docking with a space station and the legend Museum of Flight at the bottom – and brought it home, where we went through all the same problems. Wherever we put the picture or angled it or held it or dimmed the lights our blinds or our faces or our furniture would obscure the illustration. We finally settled for the best, which was clear, save for R’s outstretched arm. The snow laden hills of the Turtle Mountains my father had rendered in watercolor was the easiest. It hangs in our bedroom, where the lighting is easiest to modulate. I like this watercolor very much, it’s serene and gentle and the fading light at the top of a copse of bare-limbed trees lining the ridge of two soft hills green and gold and streaked with variations of mist and cloud.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
A thick flat layer of cloud over the Olympic peaks to the west, but with such an even space between the peaks of the mountains and the bottom layer of cloud it looked like a curtain that hadn’t been pulled all the way down. Three band-aids on R’s arm. Athena got provoked, either by a sense of play or a sense of fear at not understanding what was transpiring, when R was doing her exercises on the floor. Athena pounced on her arm and dug her claws in. It’s enlightening when one considers the fear people have when they encounter anything they don’t understand. Towels feel wonderful when they come out of the dryer, and they’re easy to fold. I like that about towels. Socks and underwear, on the other hand, are a drag. Visions de l’Amen, by Olivier Messiaen. It’s like listening to somebody build a house of sound with twinkly nails and wavelengths of string. Medallions of pork roast on a bed of Greek spaghetti for our anniversary dinner. Delicious. There were so many crows today, well over a hundred. It’s getting ridiculous. We’re now feeding about a pound of unsalted peanuts to crows per day. This has to come to a stop. But how? Where can we run where the crows won’t find us? I mainly just want to feed Louise, the crippled crow, and her immediate family. Is ambiguity a good antidote for timidity? What would Lulu say? She’s still shouting at age 72. Ambiguity stumbles on a treasure of frogskins and ducats and buys a ticket to the aluminum in your eyes. But remember: good love is hard to find. Salvation is anywhere the divine shows its pullulations and sniffs at your beautiful remarks. The sublime might be subtle in some ways, but it is not innocent. Innocence is ruptured by the pain of existence. And then it becomes fibrous and fiduciary. Have you ever felt the lightning in your head shoot out of your eyes and mouth at a wedding? Or a funeral? Have you ever sat in the back of a Greyhound drinking whiskey with a cowboy from Laramie listening to Wipeout and other hits from the early 60s? I’m so full of questions I could be a fidget. What’s a fidget? It’s like a heat wave. Bach on the back of my tongue. The big groan of the organ at the Church of John the Baptist in Lüneberg, Germany is a luxury of sound on the divine palette of music. Light, physicists say, comes in discrete packages called photons. So the light emanating from a computer screen: packages hitting my eyes. The light from my lamp: packages. Open a photon, and what do you see? Energy oscillating in waves. Click of the plastic Ocean Spray Cran-Cherry bottle after I stomped on it, reducing its volume before tossing it into the recycling bag. The bottle returns to its original shape. Or tries to. Reminds me of an afternoon in a hotel cocktail lounge with my father and him gazing at a swizzle stick and bending it and telling me plastic has a memory as the stick resumed its original shape. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, say the Buddhists. It’s like, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, seeing the sunlight and rain and even the logging industry in a sheet of paper: everything that went into the making of the paper, trees, dirt, labor, air. It contains everything in the universe. Black wool hat stuck on a wooden stake plunged in the grassy street divider at West Prospect and West Kinnear Place. Details at six.