Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Trope City

Name one thing that isn’t a metaphor. Blue sparks? Metaphor. Eggnog? Metaphor. Dry cleaning? Metaphor.

God is a metaphor for thunder. Eczema is a metaphor for plumage. The umbrella is a metaphor for agriculture.

Try having it both ways. An umbrella that is simply an umbrella, and an umbrella that opens into a field of oats.

If the pen travels over a sheet of paper, it is not long before a metaphor appears. A fast, beautiful metaphor like friendship, or deformity. Think of the pen as a penis and the ink as semen. I just sit and laugh. Time impregnates an opportunity and a long sentence elucidates the shine of my shoes.

Which is strange because I am not wearing shoes. I never do. I have a pair of wings that unfurl into enormous umbrellas and carry me to heaven. I look down at the splitting of rocks and the ocean’s death. And come to realize that I am, after all is said and done, boiling over with metaphors. Heart and energy and the quiet grass beside the lake.

I have not forgotten you, dear reader. What happens when we sleep? We journey to other realms. We collapse into white dwarfs. We have conversations with slime mold. And when we awake our eyes are golden with the residue of dreams.

Apple trees require constant maintenance or they die. The white skulls in the long grass remember the great battles of the American civil war. That’s you and that’s me, one day, singing along with the Beach Boys in a time now so distant it may as well be a spaceship made of apple blossoms.

But for the time being let’s just live forever. Easily said, easily done. Never die. Never age. We are here together. A couple of clicks on YouTube and there they are, the Beach Boys singing “Don’t Worry Baby.”

How did I ever get here? Here, in Seattle, where it always rains, and if you want to go surfing, you have to drive over a hundred miles to get to a beach where the breakers are so-so, and you have to squeeze into a wet suit, and freeze your ass off, while the killer whales go by laughing their asses off.

Is life an enchantment, a dream? You betcha. A dream where anything is possible. Provided you don’t wake up and smell the proverbial coffee. You may proceed at your own risk.

Each of us creates our own story. That’s the beauty of it. The beauty of being alive and alert to the quick possibility of metaphors. These devices full of sunrise. These machines made of words. These voices that come out of us laden with so much meaning and prophesy.

Make no mistake. There is such a thing called reality. But no one has yet figured out its true dimensions. All any of us have are these five measly senses. That’s the beauty of metaphors. If you can compare a curlew to an inseam you can open whatever door you want.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I remember the pepper trees in downtown San José, how weird they were, totally anachronistic, like something out of Tolkien. I always noticed them best when I was drunk. Inebriation seemed to augment my perception of them. Their anomalous botany. My anomalous condition. It was a marriage.

I have always loved the anomalous. The strange. The bizarre. Some people are like this. Weirdness blossoms in them like Madagascar Jasmine. I don’t know if they are born this way, or the rigors of routine and the drabness of everday life engender a craving for contrariness, but some people expand into Marilyn Manson, others into Wayne Newton. Not so much poles of dissimilarity as flavors of oddness.

There seem to be more weird men then weird women.

Who is the weirdest person you know? Do you like this person? Avoid this person? Feel queasy and uncomfortable around this person? Do you sometimes feel like you are the weirdest person you know?

I am weird about a lot of things. I’m weird about not wanting to get gas at the mini mart. No matter how careful I am, my hands end up smelling of gasoline the rest of the day. I hate that. But is that weird? Probably not.

I think you have to go deeper than a mini mart to get at the truly weird. Though a mini mart might be a good place to begin.

What country has the weirdest people? That would have to be the United States. Hands down.

Is sex weird? Absolutely. Sexual attraction to one’s own sex? Why would it be, given that all sex is weird. Anything that occurs in the sexual arena is automatically assumed to be weird. What two people agree to do to one another elevates perversion to the sublime.

In 2006 the Swiss ichthyologist Maurice Kottelat discovered the tiniest fish in the world, the size of a fingernail clipping, living in the acidic peat swamps of Sumatra. This fish is a mosaic of mature and immature phenotypes: it has juvenile larval body with mature gonads, a unique sexual dimorphism, and bony skull structure around its brain. The males have highly modified pelvic fins, with the first ray terminating with a hook-like projection of keratinized skin, and a pad of keratinized skin in front. It is hypothesized that these modified fins are used to grasp the female during mating, or maintain position over a spawning surface. Evolutionary development biologists love these weird interfaces between homeotic genes, embryogenesis, and species transformations. The weirder, the better.

Is masturbation weird? This would depend on context. You would not want to masturbate at the opera. Or the Laundromat. Or the zoo. Most definitely not the zoo. Unless you happen to be a gorilla. Or a timber wolf. Or a wart hog.

Is hair weird? Hair is intrinsically weird.

Objects, because they’re objects, tend not to be weird. Weirdness seems to be a province of living things. Worms are weird. Bathmats are not.

I take that back. Once I found a very ordinary rock and split it open and found a cavity inside. The walls were crystalline, and twinkled in the light, and myriad hues churned in stellar wizardry. But can I say that was weird, or just plain beautiful?

There is no measure for the weird, because what is weird is a social aberration. It was once considered weird in western society to cover one’s body in tattoos, or insert a bolt in one’s tongue, or shave the head. Norms change. The weird are the avant garde of tomorrow’s norms.

Or not. Sometimes weird is just plain weird.

It is considered normal in our society to obsess about money. Everything in one’s life should be geared toward making money. Happiness depends on money. Success depends on money. Status depends on money. Romance depends on money. Respect depends on money. Survival depends on money. Progress depends on money. Money depends on money. And yet money, which is, at best, a symbol, has no actual reality outside a system of exchange. Tell me this isn’t weird.

People who cannot tolerate anything weird are weird.

People who go to lengths to be weird are sad. Weird is not a goal. It could never be a goal. It has no measure. It is enigmatic. Ineffable. Undefinable. You cannot buy or decorate yourself into weirdness. Weirdness has to come naturally, like Elsa Lanchester’s electric hair in Bride Of Frankenstein, or the shimmering weirdness that is the northern lights.

The word weird, with all its variant spellings (wyrde, werde, veird, weyard, weyward, weer'd, weïrd, weerd.), originally meant “Having the power to control the fate or destiny of human beings, etc.; later, claiming the supernatural power of dealing with fate or destiny.” Hence, in Act 1, scene iii, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we have “The weird sisters, hand in hand,” “So withered, and so wild in their attire, / That look not like the inhabitants of the earth, / And yet are on it.”

Poetry is weird because it does not use language to communicate but to hallucinate.

Basements are weird. Garages are just messy.

On our walk to the library I look up to see the steeple of the Methodist church on the corner of 5th Avenue West and Garfield needs painting. Then I look down to see the sign announcing the theme of this week’s sermon: “The Need To Look Up.”


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Poetry Is Stupid

Poetry is stupid it is really dumb
It makes no sense at all it solves nothing does nothing
Even a mountain makes sense it walks around covered in snow
And holds the sky up
Mountains aren’t stupid poetry is stupid
A man becomes a giant among the stars
Take a chair, Mr. Razamov, and study this hunger
Of gulls as they fish from the edge of the ice
From the South Pole to the deserts of Morocco
And all points in between I challenge you to meet nature face to
And tell me what is dumber the naked truth or a poem
While I am not a Shaolin student, I can tell you this
When we look at very distant galaxies
We see them as they were thousands of millions of years ago
When the light rays started on their journey to us
My hand trembles like a tree
Jingling skeletons in an elevator
Poetry is stupid it is not the same as antifreeze
What shall I do with this absurdity
I will call it a crepitation
I don’t know what’s dumber a poem or a seesaw
I would say a seesaw
In a poem about seesaws
The rain comes and gets everything wet
In the playground and the city
A man walks by with a cellphone
Cupped to his ear and tells his lover
That poetry is stupid it has ruined his life
The man who knows everything is a fool
This is a terrible thing to say
But true a fish walks out of the water with a blunt
Hard head thick skin and gets a job at Boeing
You see how stupid a poem can be
I remember writing a poem once I stayed up all night
And when it was done I took out the garbage
And realized nothing had changed the world was the same
To hell with you and your poetry what the hell do you know about
It’s early summer the rivers are swollen
A baby claps the bearded face of Socrates

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Euclid's Banana

Opium sparkles in the mythology of desire. Braque is a feeling to pour on the granite phonograph. Rattan has corners like glass. There are symptoms that hum and symptoms that melt. The bug is an abstraction.

Comfort is frequented all throughout the armchair. One day I hope to explain the sterling. The mint hawk abhors whispers. Sometimes it takes an allegory to generate enough pleasure to open consent. The late feather is accelerated by examination.

Our diversions but anguish the cloth. Mingle the ground in banished sod. Plant the willingness in Euclid’s banana. The puddle pales when the pavement vibrates. Form is a drink in the biography of sense.

Push volume gallop an ooze. Consider ovation with a baked eye. Be severe. Severity has a yellow sheen. Work presses the brain to cartwheels.

That hungry float can operate. The fingernail desk is not so intuitive. There is a drum twang to peg. It is effective to brush the tonic with stars. Expression honors the hibachi by touch.

Fall textures permeate dawn. May you comb the airport sweat by night. Get bold. Slam the resonance. Ascensions are made by propulsion.

Scratch with glue the embarked hawk until a syntax disturbs the ground in a caress event. When the mind is engaged it overrides garlic. There is a purple to inch from ovum. The engine is puzzled just by opposition.

The cloud is not done with its mosquitoes. The mind is sexual however lip. Cut rain falls fast. Just lifting the tread is enough to confirm the anguish of green. Stitch the mood to its experience.

The beard crackles in its ultimate parable. It takes more than a mosaic to wobble a lobster. The myriad air is eaten for its words. Work is glimpsed by timeless Parisians and this is done by crying. Whatever the plot indicates it is not a hat.

The stove is explained by its transformation. Hold the ravenous sense between the propane and the boat. Sag the pin swan then. Trickle it stirring a puff of landscape. The guitar is being a guitar.

Drill a harmony with sticks. It is congenial to think a beginning is trapped in cuticles. Harness the mirror to virtue. Fiction ripped from a dive. Crimson lake enameled like a knife.

It is prodigal to crawl into the greenery. Start crackling at your piano. Toss your destiny into the lightning. A word perceives more than it represents. Tin secretes nothing without orange.

The sidewalk mud is clumsy in itself. The oboe explodes from a throat. Baudelaire is a device alive to a strain of bicycle paint. France is tilted between its pipes. A pulley holds the ground up from the horizon.

Wisdom is unpredictable, a scratch thing. A flip sleeve it hisses to absence. The steam under the fireworks is long. Hot was a passing cod, and then everything turned dots. A circle in which description unfolds.

I can’t tell you how to live. But I can tell you how to do the locomotive. The amusement of it is in the valance. Indulge the infinite. The harmonica is a resource that cannot be helped by gasoline.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Camaraderie Of The Faceless

Several weeks ago I attended a presentation of video poems by Brandon Downing. The event was staged at the Hedreen Gallery at Seattle University, and was part of an ongoing series curated by Will Owen, Jessica Powers, Whitney Ford-Terry, and Amelia Hooning, plus a few fellow travellers like Crystal Curry, Eric Fredricsen and Nico Vassilakis that drop by and help out at whim. The series is titled “House Systems,” and is described as “a group experiment” inspired by the model of British-acculturated schools, “which is an attempt to create camaraderie out of a faceless crowd.” The intent is to explore and destabilize assumptions about art and its relation to education and the academic institution.

The program is divided into four themes, each based on the academic calendar. Each theme “takes its overarching conceptual cue from common civilized western social clubs. A club in favor of construction (FORT CLUB), one for academic knowledge (BOOK CLUB), a congregation of solemn observers on the sea (YACHT CLUB), and one of hidden knowledge (NIGHT CLUB). All intended to trigger emotion, to be emotionally charged, to engage the illogic of sense.”

Brandon’s presentation fell within the scope (or coordinates) of the Yacht Club (April 1-June 11, 2011). This theme was poetically described as “The deep. Rain coming down sideways. Seagulls and crows. Trees growing out of cliffs. Old soaked planks. Weathering. Brined goods. Nautical exploration. Curls of smoke. Cold blues. Wind. Wool. Tar. Pine and wood-smell. Flotsam/jetsam. Cruising. Power squadrons. Knot tying. Amateur cartography. Orienteering. Maritime instrumentation. Shanties and sea songs.”

I had to decide first how to get there. Seattle University is located on First Hill, one of Seattle’s denser neighborhoods, sometimes referred to as “Pill Hill,” as three large hospitals are located there, numerous homes for the elderly and a copious array of medical clinics, including Seattle Radiologists, Orthopedic Physician Associates, and the Puget Sound Blood Center. Parking is a nightmare. I decided to take a bus rather than drive. The added amount of time it would take to go by bus rather than drive would easily compensate for the diminished stress and expense of parking.

The next decision was how to dress. It was May. But the weather in no way resembled May. It was still quite wintry. It would make sense to dress for winter. But I was pissed. I was tired of waiting for summer. I refused to dress in my winter clothes. On the other hand, I didn’t want to freeze while I was waiting for the bus. So I thought ok, I’ll wear my winter coat, but do without my hat. That way I won’t appear to be a complete sissy, while retaining a modicum of comfort.

I regretted this decision as soon as I left the house. I was cold. My head felt bare, despite the length of my hair, which is now unequivocally hippie length. I could play guitar for the Allman Brothers. Or Guns and Roses. If I knew how to play the guitar. I can’t play the guitar, but I can grow hair. I’m reasonably good at that. And considering my age (63), it is no small achievement.

Seattle’s public transit system stinks. Literally. The buses often smell of sweat and urine. I call them mobile petri dishes. Fortunately, since I am old, I am no stranger to bacteria, and had had a flu shot for the year. Seattle has not been hit quite as hard by the economic crisis as other cities, but the effects are visible. The streets are beginning to show more craters and ridges than the surface of Mars and the commons, which includes our clinics, libraries, schools, and transit system, are in serious disrepair. A problem that would be solved almost instantly if Boeing paid their taxes, but they don’t.

I waited for the number 4 at the corner of Valley Street and Fifth Avenue North, by Silver Platters. On the way, I passed two hulking police officers dressed in dark blue paramilitary gear who had just, presumably, had lunch at Sushi Land, a small sushi restaurant on the corner which is immensely popular. For some reason, the Seattle police really like eating there. Maybe they got tired of all the doughnut jokes and did a 180.

I noted a high number of people walking by with dogs. This is a strange social phenomenon. I’ve never seen so many dog owners. What’s up with that? Have dogs become the new fashion accessory? I don’t get it.

A woman appeared dressed all in black. Her shawl, her hat, her shoes, her purse, all black. And the hood of her coat, trimmed in black fur, had the shape of one of those old-timey chapeaus of the Victorian era. It made me think of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Quaker meetings, and specially marked passages in the King James Bible.

Another woman walked by wearing a blue backpack, sobbing.

I counted out the nine quarters I had robbed from Roberta’s coin jar. I held them tightly in my fist until the number 4 rounded the corner and I clambered aboard and deposited each quarter into the coin machine which digitally lit up the amount in pretty red numbers. I find this procedure strangely satisfying. The driver, a middle-aged black woman, handed me a transfer, and I proceeded to the back to find a seat. I was lucky. I found a seat to myself.

The diversity of people aboard a Seattle Metro bus, particularly when a bus is headed downtown, offers a rich stratification of humanity. There are nervous young women doing their utmost to pretend they’re not there, become invisible, mothers with bawling children, young men with their pants falling down, tough looking ladies in wife-beater tank tops with astonishing tattoos and tobacco and whiskey on their breath, people so obese they require crutches and wheelchairs, derelict men whose last shower occurred sometime between the fall of the Roman Empire and the opening of the American West whose clothing hasn’t been changed in such a long time that it is impossible to tell where their clothing leaves off and their skin begins, their eyes desperate and crazed as they argue loudly and vociferously with their hallucinations. And then there’s men like me, grouches with sour Baudelaire faces dreaming of that terrible chimera literary fame and Baudelaire’s woeful albatross waddling clumsily on the deck of a Yankee clipper.

Seattle’s electric trolleys make a sweet humming sound. I always associate that sound with departure, the promise of a long-awaited appointment. And as the bus proceeds downtown it gets more crowded. I began wondering why no one was sitting next to me. I was happy no one was sitting next to me, but I was also a little insecure about it. Did I look homeless? Is this the price of having long hair? Have I become a pariah? Seattle is full of pariahs. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Seattle from California. I wanted to be a pariah among pariahs.

The number four arrived at its busiest stop at Third and Pine, by Macy’s. I saw a large woman with enormous breasts dressed in a Cookie Monster T-shirt. The eyes of the Cookie Monster wobbled and bounced on her breasts. One eye bouncing one way, the other rotating in the opposite direction. It looked as if someone had punched the Cookie Monster so hard his eyes were spinning round the way they do in cartoons. It was an amazing sight.

I got off the 4 at Twelfth and Jefferson and walked to the Hedreen Gallery. This proved to be a bright, sunny, open space with a beautiful hardwood floor. I was offered a sandwich as soon as I entered. I declined (I had just eaten breakfast) but appreciated the gesture, and regretted not feeling hungry. I greeted Brandon, who was busy fiddling with a projector and laptop computer. We remarked on the nautical theme, the many rope knots lying about, a web of knots on the wall, and some other implements from a yacht dispersed on a dais.

I sat down on a window sill and waited for the show. I was happy to see Jennifer Borges Foster and her husband David Nixon who came over to say hi. Jennifer makes gorgeous books, all by hand, devoting careful artistic attention to their design and material. David has a degree in philosophy and also plays banjo for a group called The Half Brothers who perform traditional bluegrass and “old-timey sounds and tweak them into an irreverent, fresh-sounding mélange.” Jennifer told me she was going to make a book of Brandon’s poetry and collages. This should be spectacular: Jennifer’s facility for turning books into objets d’art, and Brandon’s facility for creating strange new worlds via humorously contrived dislocations and comical incongruities that somehow intuitively cohere. The effect is often strange, jarring, and fresh.

Brandon’s first video poem was titled “Yeh Mard Bade (II),” which features a song (“Yeh Mard Bade”) taken from an early Bollywood classic called Miss Mary, performed by Lata Mangeshkar, slowed down and remixed and used for the footage of Kermit’s soliloquy from the 1979 The Muppet Movie, drastically recut, along with short bits from William Peter Blattyu’s 1980 bomb, The Ninth Configuration. Brandon will sometimes tweak the lyrics of a song, transforming it by way of a homophonic translation so that it continues to sound like the actual song - or an actual song - but which it is clearly not, and subtitling it in his movie, so that the song we hear sung in a foreign language appears to be authentically translated. It is a tactic he uses to get his poetry across. Poetry is notoriously difficult to listen to. My difficulties stem not from inattention but full attention; I will hear a provocative line, or especially rich image, and my mind will go spinning off into an array of dazzling associations while the poet continues reading.

Brandon’s strategy works brilliantly. While Kermit jauntily strolls about on what appears to be a moonscape, we read lines such as “An unmarked body’s / A dark body / Better for provoking drama, / Your mythic, badass changes / Turn to ghoulish armor.” The next stanza is even more hilarious: “Hotel chains can choke me / Lambs freckling the valley / Detained by malware / In Decatholon Valley.” As odd as these lines are, they sound weirdly matched to the voice of the singer, and the jaunty splash of marimbas.

His next film (albeit I may not have this in order) was “The Franklin Expedition.” This used footage from the 1967 film by Toho Tokusatsu King Kong Escapes. In this piece, Brandon homophonically translates a song, a plaintive highly romantic piece called “Three Ravens,” performed by Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, whose lyrics are already in English. Translating English into English is not as unlikely as it would seem, considering how many songs have been mistranslated: many people have confessed to hearing Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” as “excuse me while I kiss this guy” when the actual lyric reads “excuse me while I kiss the sky.”

Here we see a giant robot walking about in an arctic or Antarctic realm of snow and ice, and later a giant gorilla pummeling a wall of ice, making a violent escape, while we hear the words “A knight / has fallen here / he lies / beneath his shit / through bathing’s flight / downwind and styled / To watch and waste / he will neutralize / his staring eyes / now are blind / and above him / the raving sin,” plaintively sung. The effect was strangely moving. I have no idea what the actual lyrics to this song are, but Brandon’s provocative lines seemed to truly fit the struggles of a giant gorilla and the lonely pursuit of a giant robot.

The strangest video poem was titled, aptly, I think, “Untitled.” This consisted of re-cut scenes from Burt Reynold’s 1978 vehicle The End, with remixed and multi-phased recordings of various performances of rhythmic chants by Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her Montana-based Church Universal and Triumphant.

The chanting is unearthly, haunting, riveting, intense. While the chanting continues (it almost sounds more like an electrical occurrence than a human voice), we see Burt Reynold’s face, wrought with agony, through the water and glass of an aquarium, little multi-colored tropical fish swimming by, totally unconcerned. Reynold’s mouth moves and the chanting appears to be emanating from him in some, bizarre, inexplicable way. It could be a religious ecstasy, or the throes of despair. The effect is one of stunned amazement.

Here is a link to a library of videos and video poems by Brandon Downing.

I will be reading my work at the Hedreen Gallery, with Jeanne Heuving, at noon on May 20th, 2011.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Truth Of Jello

Truth flies around the room and lands
On the back of a chair hungry
For lies
Franz Kafka opens the refrigerator
And removes a bowl of jello
With the face of Bella Abzug in it
Grinning among chunks of pineapple
Each chunk jolly and solvent
And smiling like a grasshopper
With the cleavage of Dolly Parton
And the familiarity of an intensive care unit
It is now time to make a loud and strident remark
About feeding geese please do not feed the geese
Feed the sparrows instead
Feed them chunks of pineapple feed them the truth
Of the concertina which is a truth of folds and air
Squeezed out in the form of music
One day a duck got trapped in the mailroom
And flapped around in a panic until one of us
Caught her and helped her back outside again
Where the world perched on the top right frame
Of my mind and Lady Murasaki read from a long blue scroll
And the wind went by soft and ineffable
And completely invisible except for the wagging of trees
Which is a dead give away
The mind lifts it into a perception
Or is it the other way around a perception
Lifts the movement of air into the mind
Where it assumes the gravity
Of truth flying around the room
Like a visitor from another realm
Another dimension another nurturance
What exactly is jello
Here is the truth of jello jello
Consists of gelatin and glistens in its bowl
Next to the lasagna dish
We are all looking for a way to expand ourselves
Expand our capacity to know and appreciate the truth
To recognize the truth
When it alights on the back of a chair and chirps
Its song of fury
Hanging naked from the skin of the tongue

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Yul Brunner Of Bent Spoons

Wax World, poetry by Robert Mittenthal
Chax, 2011

Language is a transcendent act. It allows egress. It allows ingress. It allows progress. It dilates the mind and provides Shakespeare’s Prospero with his power. When meaning closes in on itself, we find ourselves in hell. It is by an opposition to the prescribed order that consciousness is advanced. Doctrine and code are embedded in language because it is through language that we find our most essential link to community. The power that is in poetry is its infinite capacity to disrupt assumption and reinvigorate mind and perception. It seeks to establish what is alien and ultramondane in language, to actualize a counterimpulse to the taming influences of the institution, and to reflect the inherent madness of the institution itself. One must always strike a balance between the ideations of the public and the immanent truths of our own perception. There is a pathology in each. “What is realized is what has always been,” writes Creeley, “that our words are literally our world, that their permission, what they lead us to, is all we have.”

The most powerful poetry transcends the antagonisms of existence while simultaneously giving them voice and form. This is why I find such compelling absorption and joy in Mittenthal’s work. His language is wildly and wonderfully mercurial. The words possess a marvelous opacity. They are regarded, and treated, as facts. Facts that may be contorted and welded, like steel, like those crazy contraptions Tanguely constructed, assemblages that embody a reality unique to their construction, and which may begin going crazy at any minute, so look out. It’s a risky business, but Mittenthal employs wit and humor to prevent the work from slipping into solipsistic gibberish. His poetry reflects the idiosyncrasies and idioms of the business world with a language that is phantasmagoric and hallucinatory, and relishes the plasticity and suppleness that are such pressing attributes of the verbal environment. Hence, the significance of wax.

Wax is, of course, a malleable substance. We associate it with candles and statues, seals and lipstick, mascara and shoe polish. Chiefly domestic items. But what is most marvelous about this substance, what makes it so fascinating and fantastical, is its translucence and pliability. In this respect, is makes a marvelous analogue to language, particularly the language of poetry, in which words lose their transparency and acquire the numinous translucence of wax. Wax has the limpidity of water and amalgam of mass. It melts in an instant, but congeals even quicker. A world of such material would be a various and wonderful world.

Wax World is divided into six sections in the language of software updates: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3. This is significant, and a rather wry allusion by the author, since modern technology is a major concern throughout this work. “Value Unmapped,” a long, nine-page poem in the last section of the book, answers a question from Verizon: “How do you feel now?”

This has become the question. There’s a need to constantly check the power of connection. It’s a visceral gratification of limitless reach. I don’t so much hear you as I feel a connection or I don’t. After Reagan this is all that matters in politics, at least most of the time. In a sort of reverse short hand, the culture reads only gestures -- the emoticons, the semaphores of videoclips, soundbytes that sidle into perception with an immediate sheen. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that I really do need to sound more like Lorne Greene. Power is transmitted one word at a time and diction is more efficacious than to content. Already, you’re either with me or against me -- eyes diverting to another page.

The sense of irony here is palpable. The word ‘emoticon,’ for instance, humorously conflates the robotic automatism of technology with what is most volatile and unstable in human experience, the technology of the public sphere with what is most intimate and private in life. This is contrasted with the droll allusion to Lorne Greene, the quintessential western patriarch of the TV show Bonanza. The phrase “you’re either with me or against me” alludes to the infantile formula of George W. Bush, a childish Manichaeanism that has defined the woefully brutish and unsophisticated tenor of American diplomacy this last decade. It also registers that weird American longing for the simplicity and seeming innocence of the West, a world captured and celebrated in the very electronic media that has so removed it from our experience.

“The Assembly Line of C” evinces an agonistic pathos, a poignant and at times mordant critique of the modern, technological world. It is imbued with conflict. The language is pugilistic, the syntax disjunctive. Images and lines thrust forward like fists of semiotic meat. The first line, “Whose machine abstracts,” alludes to the abstract machine assemblages of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in which a philosophy of language is elaborated in terms of content and expression. Content is exterior and corporeal and expression is an intervening, incorporeal phenomenon that acts to slow bodies down or speed them up, separate or combine them, delimit then in a different way. Expression puts bodies in a state of continuous transformation. It is a dynamic, a speech act that inserts itself within the content - the body - and animates it. Gives it motion, acceleration, deceleration, drive, impulse, symbiosis.

Three lines down, “As alive as a sugar cube / in a horse’s mouth,” startles with its vividness and sensuality, its exhilarating immediacy.

The sixth stanza down convenes, humorously, with businesslike acumen: “Give me bullet points please.” “Strapped in or tightly coveted / A sort of terrific joy,” discombobulates with conflicting signals. The last line “Partially yours as if contingent or bound to a nest of ifs,” finishes off with lunatic finesse. A “nest of ifs” incubates a wistful if rudimentary image of comfort. How does one picture a word? Little birds chirping. Little verbs burping. Eggs hatching eidolons of linguistic down.

‘If’ is a conjunction indicating uncertainty, ambiguity, or supposition. To suggest it might have material form is to reify the very condition of uncertainty. Which is fundamentally an imagined circumstance. So that to ask which came first, the chicken or the if, is to whirl the word into diploblastic coalescence. And yes, if came first. The chicken does not actually exist.

Mittenthal presents the world to us much as it is: volatile, contradictory, bizarre. His frequent allusions to office-like business settings and modern computer technology serve to enhance this rather hallucinatory realm of phantasmagoric tongue mud and exploding modules. “Since the poet is as vulnerable to the spell of accepted reality as anyone else,” writes Nick Piombino,

she or he must somehow find a way to concentrate the attentional beam on areas of experience that were hirtheto… not apprehendable… the poet must find some way of directing the gaze of consciousness onto literally inconceivably complex and entangled linkages between various modes of experience… Although indeterminacy is one way to describe the oscillation (or discontinuity) that underlies the perceptual process, this blur is actually one state in the focusing of the attentional beam… These oscillations may form an exchange of energy so great as to cause a shift in magnitude of attentional focus… the poetic state of consciousness… makes possible an expansion of the absorbability of experiential data by the attentional mind. Intense wakefulness is stimulated by an oscillation of types of mental attention-reverie, obsessive attention to detail, symbolic transpositions… Such a conception of poetics would be a call for actuality over reality, actuality consisting not only of the area of experience now available to the attentional focus, but all actualities which can be felt and sensed in the total experiential process.

There are three poems titled “Diseconomy of Scale,” the first of which is a long poem whose paratactic structure permits multiple realities to act upon one another simultaneously. The lines are funny, sharply satirical, dense, slippery, convulsive, and inventive. “A minor in money.” “Majorette cartoon with those fuck you eyes.” “The flicker of game show fixtures -- now he’s a vowel I’d like to buy.” “Yes, the body is overrated. Next question?” “Like any successful new technology, each poem must justify its own existence.” “An exile from the land of pillow talk.” “One pulls oneself off to the shoulder for some poetic advice.”

Mittenthal is a trickster poet. There are also five poems all titled “Wax World.” Will the real “Wax World” please stand up? The first begins energetically, “It is my signature block = i.d. comma / whack whack carriage return / lookuptype M underscore,” full of sound and fury, signifying signifying signifying. The last line of the last “Wax World” reads “a kind of inedible pun in the truth-seeking missile.” In between are lines of elliptical telekinesis, my favorite being “He is the Yul Brunner of bent spoons.”

“Page Up,” a play on “word up,” Mittenthal, for my money, being a quintessential “page poet,” meaning he brings a great deal of intelligence and meticulous attention to the page and a charming demeanor to the stage, begins “The meaning is an other -- what words are made of.” This sums up Mittenthal’s poetic philosophy nicely. The one-to-one correspondence between signifier and signified does not exist. We can never arrive at a fully satisfied state of clarity. In the space between signifier and signified, is a world. Is a universe. Is the wax of communion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Mystery Of Keys

The long silver key with the star on the handle is for the ignition switch on our car, a red ’94 Subaru. Last year I had trouble turning it. I would put it in the ignition switch, and it would stick. Wouldn’t budge. Roberta was able to turn it with ease. It was maddening. We thought we might have to buy a new ignition switch. But the problem, fortunately, turned out to be the key itself. The teeth had worn down. We had some new keys made at the dealer, and the problem was solved. Our mechanic told us that this is frequently the case with keys, and men and women. Men tend to turn keys aggressively, whereas women bring a lighter touch to the maneuver. This is why men’s keys get stuck, and women’s keys glide to the start of the engine.

The bright metal key with the triangular handle is for the entry door to our apartment building. It, too, is a new key, the teeth on the original key having worn down. Even with the new key, the old problem remains. The key has to be twisted with just the right pressure or the tumblers won’t fall into place and open the door. I’ve grown so accustomed to this little glitch I hardly notice it anymore. It’s one of those minor irritations of which one almost grows fond. They register a certain odd familiarity, a curiously agreeable counterpart to the push and pull of one's day.

The darker key with the identical triangular handle is for the door to our apartment. It works smoothly.

The little copper key is for the mailbox. The tubular key is for our storage locker. The key with the broad handle and the initial 'W' on it is for the club that we attach to the steering wheel to prevent a prospective thief from stealing our car. I find this ritual annoying and cumbrously redundant. I can't imagine why any self-respecting car thief would want to steal a little red '94 Subaru. But Roberta insists. Wherever we stop, she always says "there's a lot of rogues around here," which is my cue to reach behind the front seat, feel around the floor for the heavy steel bar that is the club, and lock it to the steering wheel.

This leaves five small keys on my key chain. Five keys of which I haven’t the slightest idea what they’re for.

It would make sense to throw them away. But it feels wrong to throw a key away. I found another group of keys in the drawer of my desk that had been there for decades. I hung on to them for God knows what reason. I had long since forgotten what any of them were used for. I decided, at last, to toss them. It felt peculiar, a violation of some sort. For one thing, they’re metal. It is disconcerting to throw away anything made of metal. But a key always has an expectation written into it, the expectation that one day it will become apparent what that key is for. A coffer or steamer trunk that you had forgotten about suddenly manifests itself. You wonder what photographs, clothing, memorabilia, books, money, old family heirlooms might be in it. But you can’t open it. You’ve thrown the key out. The lock will have to be destroyed.

But this never happens. Has never happened. I never encounter closets or trunks or doors I have forgotten about. It’s possible that I forgot to turn in a set of keys after moving out of an apartment, or house. But unless I retrace my steps, or try to live my life backwards, it really doesn’t matter.

Each time I leave the house I check to make sure I have my keys. If I’m wearing pants, I tap my pocket in order to feel my keys; I am able, quite easily, to distinguish their shape from the bulge of change in pocket. And if I’m preparing to go for a run and have on a pair of running shorts, which do not have a pocket, I make sure that my keys are either in my hand, or in the pocket of my jacket, if I happen to be wearing a jacket.

I’ve only forgotten my keys once, when I was doing laundry, and living in a three-story building on Belmont Street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. I was only wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a lightweight Hawaiian shirt with a floral print in bright, festive colors. I was barefoot. The building manager was gone. And so was the assistant building manager. There was no indication as to when either would be returning. Fortunately, it was summer, so that going outside was not a big problem, though I didn’t feel comfortable walking barefoot on Capitol Hill’s sidewalks and streets. I had some friends living nearby, a married couple with a two-year old boy. They were kind enough to let me hang out at their place while, every hour or so, I called the manager of my building. When it began to get late, I thought about calling a locksmith. I found a number in the yellow pages and talked to a locksmith who said he would be willing to come out. I gave the manger’s number one more try and luckily he answered the phone in time for me to call the locksmith back and cancel the appointment.

Of course, if people didn’t steal, there would be no need of keys. No need to lock anything up. One might also imagine a world where the concept of ownership did not apply. If one had no sense of ownership, it would not be possible for anyone to steal something.

What is it to own something? Superficially, it’s simply a matter of convenience: this shirt, this tractor, this brush, this screwdriver, this doughnut, this chicken thigh, this salad, this shelter, this chess set will be available for my use whenever I need it. But ownership, on a deeper level, also involves a more personal sense, an attachment that feels intimate and unique. This applies to a shelter, such as a house or apartment, where the walls and rooms mirror one’s tastes and inclinations. So that if it is broken into, and something is taken, it is not necessarily the jewelry or money or painting that was stolen that feels so profoundly wicked, it is the sense of one’s sacred space being invaded, one’s sanctuary being defiled, profaned, penetrated that feels so polluting.

Keys are a symbol of privacy. The universe is cold, indifferent. Nature often hostile. Humankind often cruel and hostile. Everyone needs a place that feels separate and sacred. A place that needs to be locked. But not so locked that we become locked with it. Jailed by an overweening sense of ownership. Imprisoned by greed. We need to strike a balance. Cultivate a sense of belonging that does not entirely bar the universe from our door, but lets some light in, and the equally ardent need to share.

The relevant news to be gleaned from music is that some keys appear brighter than others because they employ the open notes of string instruments. If the open notes are not actually played, they vibrate in sympathy, and so contribute resonance, i.e. the creation by a vibrating body of vibrations in another body. This is the mystery of keys. One key provides the framework for sympathy, the other a sympathy for the framework.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dear Avocado

I love you you are 39 cents
What laws physical or otherwise brought you into existence
What rain what wind what seed what spirals and genes what codes
Chromosomes threads chemicals tendencies jiggles warmth
        energy light
Moved you into shape and actuality dear avocado

I love you you are 39 cents
Do you go good with bacon I’ll bet you do
Today is the first of May hurray hurray maybe it will finally
Get warm I’m sick of winter sick of grey skies and cold
Sick of ice sick of snow sick of tea party republicans wanting to
Government down and take comfort and shelter and food away
        from old people

People like me I don’t feel old but I am old is 63 old it probably is
If you’re fourteen or fifteen
In dreams sometimes I am 20 or 23 sometimes 33
But never 63 never old
I am always a young man chased by monsters
I wake up I eat breakfast a slice of cherry pie from Whidbey Island
Slices of orange sip some coffee watch TV5 a documentary
In French about Silicon Valley and a shiny red car running on

This is all wrong I meant to say dear avocado
Cancel all engagements I am spending the day with you
I will grow large sympathies larger sympathies than I have ever
        had before
Monumental empathies I will grow into feelings so huge I will need
        a frame
To put it all in a big mahogany frame with beautiful grain and
        dovetailed corners
Hang it on the wall that’s my last duchess

On the wall my last avocado
I forget what a trope is a trope is a figure of speech
Therefore it is tropical
And tropospheric and troubling
It is not my purpose to give a detailed history of the organ
But rather to present those aspects of its development which
My situation today which is the idea of sound
L’objet sonore

Which is delivered to the soundboards
From bellows below tonal color is determined by the shape of the
And is vast as the study of pharmacology
An enigma that is never quite teak but waits for summer
To make it churn with elbows
Scowls and lipstick that is to say papyrus
Which is like a harness in the rain
The smell of a horse in the rain
Did you see Prince William and Kate Middleton get married I
I stayed home and glimmered with horns
Incessant expressions of the fetus I truly am
Blatantly pulsing with things to say
Fibula filigree gubernatorial cormorant dear avocado I love you
        you are 39 cents