Monday, January 29, 2018

Love On Horseback

Persian Pony
Poetry by Michael McClure
114 pp. Ekstasis Editions, 2017

When I want surrealism, I go to André Breton. When I want Dada, I go to Tristan Tzara. But when I want to sharpen my powers of observation and heighten my senses, I go to Michael McClure.
Why McClure? Why him specifically?
Easy: his poetry has always been about the exquisite delicacy of things combined with a deep sense of cosmicity, the idea that at the base of all the myriad things in the universe there is but one reality, that discriminative oppositions are a necessity for a dynamic unification, that a single reality creates itself through differentiation from the small to the large, and that the qualia numinously surrounding and interpenetrating a phenomenal event or living being is intrinsic to consciousness. The artist Marcel Duchamp coined a term for this heightened capacity to appreciate the subtleties of sensation, an acute percipience he termed the inframince, which translates into English as infrathin. It refers to a barely perceptible sensation among phenomena, a maximal amount of precision, of subtlety, of nuance in our perceptual field. What McClure likes to term our sensorium.
“When tobacco smoke is also sensed in the mouth when we exhale, the two odors are married by inframince (olfactory inframince),” observed Duchamp.
“The possible is an inframince,” Duchamp states. “The possibility of several tubes of color becoming a Seurat is the concrete ‘explanation’ of the possible as inframince. The possible implicates becoming  -  the passage from one state to another has a place in the inframince.”
“Allegory,” he adds mysteriously at the end, “of oblivion.”
The difference between a pony and a horse is a form of inframince. The main distinguishing feature is height. The horse is generally 14.2 hands in height. A hand is four inches. Horses and ponies are measured from the ground, just beside and behind a front foreleg to the top of the withers. The withers is the ridge between the shoulder blades of a quadruped; on a horse or pony, that would be the third, fourth and fifth vertebra. 
But size isn’t the central criteria. It’s temperament. “Ponies,” writes Terynn Boulton, author of The Wise Book of Whys, “are typically much stockier than their horse relatives. They also have thicker manes, tails, and coats, so are better able to endure cold weather. They have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels (body of the pony that encloses the ribcage and all major internal organs), heavier bones, shorter and thicker necks, and short heads with broader foreheads. They also typically have calmer temperaments and a high level of equine intelligence which can be used to a human handler’s advantage.”
McClure may have had the Caspian horse in mind when he arrived at this title for his recent collection of poetry. The Caspian is a small horse breed native to Northern Iran and is believed to be one of the oldest horse or pony breeds in the world, descended from the small Mesopotamian equines. Caspians have a short, fine head with a pronounced forehead, large eyes and short ears. The body is slim and graceful. The legs and hooves are strong. Louise Firouze, an American born Iranian horse breeder, described them as “kind, intelligent, and willing. Spirited but without meanness.”
Isn’t that what we like to see in poetry? Spirited words in a stride without meanness.
Herodotus wrote of the Caspian horse “There is nothing in the world which travels faster than these Persian couriers. It is said that men and horses are stationed along the road…a man and a horse for each day. Nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted stage in the quickest possible time, neither snow, rain, heat nor darkness.”
The Caspian horse has great endurance, great heart, great intelligence.
An apt name for a book of poetry. But I have strayed far from the inframince.
“Quantum,” the poem on page 52, refers to the “ninety-seven senses / in the heartfelt nearness and dearness / and distances of a galactic flood / of qualia which they shape.”
Like inframince, to which it is strongly related, qualia designates the deeply subjective nature of experience; it alludes to the indefinable uniqueness of experience. It is central to an understanding of consciousness. The taste of an apricot on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of winter in Berlin or the “…voluptuous / consciousness / of elephants, killer whales, / and caterpillars” constitute a “quantum of endlessness / that is never felt or reasoned.” It is felt by the being feeling it, but cannot be felt in the general sense of a feeling. It’s not a generalized sentiment that can be packaged in a tidy equivalency, particularly when it belongs to an entirely different species, a consciousness utterly foreign to homo sapiens. It resists analysis. It is never felt because it is felt in a way that eludes common analogy. Qualia, like inframince, are intrinsically irreducible. The experience may be got at only very clumsily in language. It expands the capacity of poetry while forever remaining out of reach. It’s too thin, too subtle, too ephemeral for words. The best we can do is find images, a similitude in syllables.
“We must step outside / the words that handcuff us / and live as angels / and cupids / in new music,” McClure states in “Alive as Cupids.”
And what could be subtler than “Soft rain on nasturtiums,” or “light in the Junco’s eye / gleaning seeds / from the rainy deck,” “An antelope’s breath / scented with wet grass / on / a / taut drumhead.” Things don’t get much more inframince than that.
“Experiences / are nanoscale / and / vast / as / the disappearing / Anthropocene,” writes McClure in the Author’s Preface. The nanoscopic scale is so infinitely small that it corresponds roughly to the subjective. It is subcellular and so miniscule that the division between the objective and subjective begins to blur. Reality at the subcellular level doesn’t resemble the cleanly delineated patterns and forms at the macroscopic scale. It’s a field of constant interaction, a flow of energy. Isn’t this what poetry is? Isn’t it, after all, a continuum of perspectives shot through with lightning inspiration?
Paul Nelson expresses these ideas succinctly and eloquently in his introduction: “McClure’s poetic courage plumbs the depths of perception, achieves a precision of luminous details, a striking originality, and a range of expression from the cosmic to the microscopic.”
McClure is a wizard of sensation. He is able to communicate verbally sensations so singular, so exquisite they hurt.
Take Shakespeare’s rose: you know that rose, the one that smells as sweet by any other name? In “Shakespeare’s Rose,” McClure chooses as subject a “rose without scent,” “a canker rose,” a dog rose.”
Why? One good reason is to rid the poem of the clichéd and predictable. Another is to invite recognition of what is plain and unadorned with the usual seductions. Let's praise the original in things. Let's explore the enigma of Being. Let's open our senses to what is unveiled and guileless, of what is open and direct and speaks to us in its own terms, its own voice. It’s the way he ends this poem that leaves you with something far more exquisite than a fragrance: he leaves you with a strong tactile sensation, a little pain. “Everything needs / the glory of leaves / rich green leaves / and tiny thorns / leaving a memory in the eye / of my thumb.”
“Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness, observed Wilhelm Reich. This is pertinent.
Wilhelm Reich, the Austrian psychiatrist who famously invented the term ‘orgone’ with reference to what he perceived as a universal life force, seems very close to McClure’s sensibility, which has long been one of cosmicity and acute attention to what Paul Nelson referred to as “luminous details.” McClure does shift back and forth seamlessly between the microscopic and macroscopic, to the degree that they lose their duality and we  -  like the poet William Blake  -  can “see a world in a grain of sand.”
Even in old age (McClure is now 85) the erotic is always present. It is a creative substratum that is very close in spirit to Henri Bergson’s élan vital or Franz Mesmer’s animal magnetism. All the elements in a McClure poem have interrelations, oscillations, pulsations. Size is elastic. The microscopic and macroscopic interweave. It seems utterly natural to find “neurons lighting the waves.” Waves of consciousness, waves of frequency. Waves of density variation. Waves of orgasmic orgone.
Or consider the bones on which we ride a pony of extraordinary instinct, as in the poem “Greeting.” “Love invented by nights on horseback / and infinite senses in the saddle / - this myriad trail / IN / ALL DIMENSIONS.”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Atoms Contemplating Atoms

It’s a Thursday in late January, cold and rainy. I go for a run. I’m fascinated by a house under construction at the end of Bigelow. It’s been going up so fast. Within a week, I’ve seen walls and a roof appear on what is a two-story house. It’s fun seeing something evolve like this on a day to day basis.
The puddle on the other side of the McGraw Street Bridge crossing the astonishingly deep Wolf Creek Ravine has become so large due to the heavy rains of the past several days that it should have a name, Lake McGraw or Lake Liliuokalani, after Lydia Kamakaeha, the first and only reining Hawaiian queen. Why name a puddle after a Hawaiian queen? No reason whatever. I like the name, and will stick by it, although it is unofficial, and no one knows about it but me.
I smell food cooking when I pass the Five Corners Hardware Store. It must be coming from the Bite Box next door, a new restaurant of sorts. I can’t quite tell what it is. That little business section there has always been a bit of puzzle. There’s an Edward Jones financial advisor office next to the Bite Box. You can buy a screwdriver, enjoy a snack, and plan your retirement all on the same block.
I pass Malena’s Taco Shop and notice that there are still cracks in the large glass panel of the entry door. I wonder how that happened. Did someone try to break in? Did someone leave in high dudgeon over a soggy taco and slam the door?
I pass an abandoned armchair getting soaked in the rain at the corner of Garfield and Sixth Avenue West. There’s a birdhouse nailed to the telephone pole.
I did not see any birds at all during my run, other than a few crows. This is very strange. I’m guessing it has to do with the wildfires of last summer, heavy air pollution and habitat loss.
I drop off a DVD at the library, Flamenco, Flamenco by Carlos Saura. R and I love watching dance, particularly flamenco. The dance in this movie was phenomenal. The grace, the foot-stomping defiance and life-affirming bravado are fantastic to behold.
January 19th, Friday evening at about 5:30 I lie on the bed, my feet and legs angled so as not to disturb Athena who is napping nearby, and read Earth and Reveries of Repose: An Essay on Images of Interiority by Gaston Bachelard. It’s all about our imaginative engagements with the material world and supplemented by many instances gathered from literature. Bachelard believes that our intimacies with the material world inspire happiness and reverie.
Reverie is an important word in Bachelard’s lexicon. It refers to a dilation of being, an expansion of soul and a highly nuanced multiplicity of perspective, a deep immersion in our experience of the world and how our sensations and feelings are converted to dream and poetry, how they reveal, through our unconscious, the deeper secrets of existence.
I’m currently immersed in the chapter on labyrinths. These aren’t the multicursal puzzles we see on coins and rocks and sidewalks, such as the terrazzo outdoor labyrinth on the north side of Grace Cathedral of San Francisco, which is there for pedestrians to do a walking meditation, an opportunity to enjoy some reflection and calm the mind.
Or the maze in the Laurel and Hardy movie A Chump at Oxford, in which the two men get lost in a maze of hedges at Oxford and sit down on a bench to sleep and a hand reaches through the hedge and removes Oliver’s white handkerchief form his breast-pocket and puts it in Stan’s breast-pocket and tickles Oliver’s mustache and makes him sneeze.
Bachelard’s labyrinths are subterranean, chambers of serpentine geology, some real, some gleaned from dream. All caverns are inherently oneiric. We – like Laurel and Hardy – frequently get lost in them. Being lost is a state of mind. One can be lost in one’s mind. I can attest to that: it happens all the time. I get tagged by a worry which lures me into a maze of my own making, a cognitive maze of ramifying anxieties, which may lead to a bright light of revelation, a Platonic opening that leads out of the subterranean realm into the blinding rays of the sun and ultimate reality, or just get me more deeply entangled in my cerebral convolutions. Sometimes the best way out is to discover, à la Neo in The Matrix, that none of it is real.
Bachelard references a work by Adolphe Badin titled Grottes et Cavernes, in which is described a narrow ladder for descending into the darkness of a cave. At the bottom of the ladder is a very narrow hole. One must lie on the floor and move forward by gripping what Badin describes as cakes made of honey. Bachelard seizes this detail to make an allusion to Trophonius, a hero of Greek mythology who may have been either a demon (a daemon in the Greek sense which was a spirit guide or tutelary deity) or a Chthonic hero ('chthonic,' from Chthonios [Χθόνιος] meaning “Zeus-beneath-the-earth"). 
There was a cult surrounding Trophonius, who was consulted for oracles. Whoever desired to obtain an oracle from Trophonius had to descend into a cave that was so full of horrors that when they re-ascended to the surface they were so frightened out of their wits that they forgot the whole experience. It was possible to seat the devotee upon a “chair of Mnemosyne” (the goddess of memory) which was conveniently located near the entrance to the cave, and priests of the shrine would jot down all the ravings from the oracular spelunker.
As a metaphor, this sounds quite familiar to me. Anyone who has descended into the depths of their psyche, or, propelled by psilocybin or some other hallucinogenic aid, journeyed into inner space and gleaned information from the unconscious and its various archetypes and chthonic monstrosities, is going to have problems relating these phenomena in a language corralled by reason and grammar.
Soon after, writes Pausanias, a Roman writer and geographer of the 2nd century who wrote extensively about ancient Greece, the visitor to Trophonius’s dark realm recovers their sense and laughter. Everything out of their mouth suddenly seems funny, all those subterranean abnormalities spooks in a carnival haunted house.
We went to bed and listened to some podcasts. I particularly liked one called Movie Crush in which Groundhog Day was enthusiastically discussed.
I couldn’t get to sleep. I was worried about a number of things, the melting of the polar ice cap, an erratic jet stream creating havoc everywhere, frost-quakes in Ottawa, a wildfire in Greenland, the rise of fascism, the government shut down, millions of people divested of health care due to the Republican tax reform, many of whom may die, orderlies in a Baltimore hospital depositing a patient dressed only in a hospital gown at a bus stop in thirty degree weather, the privatization of education for the rich, ignorance and incivility on the increase, a decaying infrastructure, floods and famine and habitat loss. I shut off my tablet and the Bluetooth device on the radio and began listening to classical music on King FM. I started drifting off and was abruptly awakened by a hypnic jerk. It shook the bed. I closed my eyes and tried to lose consciousness again. And then there was a power outage. Fuck it. I put on my flashlight headband and went out in the living room to lie on the couch and read The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein.
I heard the constant din of sirens. I put on some clothes and went outside to see what was going on. The air was mild and still. Only a section of the neighborhood was without power. The rest of the city was fine. The sirens appeared to be coming from the bottom of the hill on the south side, Roy Street or Mercer. When the power returned, I discovered that approximately 12,900 customers had lost power due to four circuit breakers going haywire and creating a cascading effect and a small substation fire. That must’ve been what the sirens were for. Power was back on by 6:15 a.m.
It’s hard to think of a future at this juncture in time. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a one. Not for humans. Or thousands of other species we’re taking down with us.
Has the human experiment been a failure? Is experiment the right word? If so, whose experiment are we? I seriously doubt that human beings are the result of experimentation, unless one adopts the very broad view that everything in the cosmos is an experiment. My guess is we’re just an evolutionary quirk, “atoms contemplating atoms” as the cherubic-faced British physicist Brian Cox puts it. Somehow geochemistry became biochemistry, the inorganic became organic, phosphorous and nitrogen became conversation and polypeptide chains. Mud and sand and rock became quivering blobs of synthesizing protein which became corals and worms which became vertebrates which became able to walk erect on two feet which led to the evolution of a tongue capable of speech which quickly escalated into consciousness, whatever that is, self-awareness and books and dignity and meaning.  
Valentines and sonnets and airplanes.
Dance and flavor and religion and guns.
At the end of the day, who are we? No one knows. No one may ever know. We were here. For a time. And then we were gone, cooked by an overheated atmosphere.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why I Became A Poet Instead Of A Rock Star

It wasn’t really a choice. I don’t have an aptitude for music. I found that out in the high school glee club. It wasn’t just that the songs were dumb, I felt shy about my voice, I didn’t like it, and to this day I don’t know a solfège from a saxifrage. I wouldn’t know a B Flat if it sat on my chest and pounded out Moby Dick.
Why was I in the glee club to begin with? I can’t remember. I’m guessing it was for an easy credit, though to be fair, I loved music then, and I love it now. I may have been hoping to connect with the spirit of music in a more visceral way than just listening to it. Whenever I try to remember that last semester in high school during my senior year, I remember feeling deeply self-conscious and awkward. A lot of that insecurity goes with adolescence in general and doesn’t require a specific context. We all go through that. But this was a special case. I was exceptionally ill at ease. I think, in fact, it was a class, not a club. I think I got a C. I know one thing for sure: no inner Elvis Presley emerged.
Words are a different story. I’ve loved them since the beginning, whenever that was. My parents tell me my first word was ‘dog.’ I love dogs, too. But words, words are fascinating little things. Each one a jewel. I took to Shakespeare immediately.
Then Poe, then Huxley, then Rimbaud. “A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue.”
Language is sensual. It is the go-to medium for the intellect, certainly, but language has qualities that appeal profoundly to sensation. Rimbaud finds treasures of sensuality in language: “A, black velvety corset of dazzling flies / Buzzing around cruel smells, / Gulfs of shadow; E, white innocence of vapors and of tents, / Spears of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of Queen Anne's lace; / I, purples, spitting blood, smile of beautiful lips / In anger or in drunken penitence…”
I’m not entirely sure how much music there is in language. It’s debatable. I hear it. I can hear music when someone is reading or reciting a piece, provided they don’t into a cheesy poet voice. But if somebody says geez, you know what, I don’t really hear music in words. I just need them to get things said that need saying. Pass me the scalpel. Turn on your engine. Make a right turn. Let me take you to dinner. Pass the salt. Yes you can pet my dog. Just don’t step on my blue suede shoes.
For most people, language is simply a tool. It’s used to give directions, inform people, order people, express feelings, make judgments, air opinions.
Language as a medium for artistic expression can be a success; most often, it will perplex people. You might get a pat on the back from a well-meaning friend or relative, but poetry isn’t a big draw like football or rock. You belong to a tiny minority. Think Fahrenheit 451.
So that’s it, that’s pretty much my story. Guy loves words, writes poetry and fiction and essays, gets jealous when rock stars fill stadiums and bookstores perish like Pteranodons during the fifth extinction event.
Anytime someone says well hey, as long as you enjoy it, what does it matter? Isn’t it fulfilling just to be doing something you enjoy?
No, it’s not. One: I don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you’ve got to have a job, and a job is going to come between you and your writing. Come home after an eight-hour shift and try to write. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t. It’s doable, but it takes a lot of discipline. Just getting into a state of creativity takes time. Rituals must be performed. Some preliminary reading maybe, or yoga or mediation. It might help to commit to ten or twenty lines per day to keep it simple and enjoyable, less of a task and more of a rejuvenation.
But trust me: getting paid for something you’ve written is a whole lot easier. A downside might mean writing something you’re good at that sells well enough to provide a good income but it’s material or a style you don’t really enjoy writing. Bummer. Don’t want that. A job might be better. But if you enjoy what you write and the public buys enough books to pay the rent, buy some groceries and secure some good health insurance, you’ve got it made.
Two: according to Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, prestige and a feeling of accomplishment is a psychological need. Nothing promotes a feeling of accomplishment like a standing ovation or thousands of people waving their hands in the air.
Three: society. When people cease paying attention to language, when they cease to love it and everything about it, when they cease to think critically and their imaginations wither into dried horse manure, everything goes to shit. You get a TV host for president. You get venal democrats who betray you at every turn and then expect your vote because the Republicans are so predatory and morally horrific.
So I keep doing it. I keep writing. There sits death on the horizon. It might be the sixth mass extinction, it might be my own mortality. But things are dying. The polar ice cap is melting. Thousands of hydrogen bombs repose in aging silos. Radiation is leeching into everything. Carcinogens are ubiquitous. There’s more plastic in the ocean than fish, and the fish are full of mercury. The planet is dying. Or, to put it more accurately, the habitats that provide us with food are dying. Hurricanes are more numerous and intense. Drought and desertification are accelerating.
The future is so grim that I can’t look at it without feeling utterly demoralized. The future is, of course, an abstraction. Only the present is real. But predictions based on solid accurate data reveal a very frightening scenario. Our days are numbered. So why, one asks, bother to do anything?
Good question. I don’t have a good answer. I can only relate what works for me. It’s a certain psychology for which I can provide an image: Breakfast in Fur, by Méret Oppenheim, which consists of a teacup, saucer and spoon covered in the fur of a Chinese gazelle. This is not a teacup anyone is going to drink from. It’s not for an actual breakfast. It’s for the joy of innovation. It’s for the joy of doing something that makes no fucking sense.
It’s usually the shit that makes no sense that turns out to be the most valuable. Our species may be on the brink of destruction, but keep flossing your teeth, urges Guy McPherson. Pursue excellence in a culture of mediocrity.  
Why? Well, Méret’s teacup. Swans. Piano sonatas. Anything of intrinsic value, however eccentric.
Writing in the face of constant disappointment in terms of sales or fame or recognition by one’s peers is discouraging, but that discouragement occurs only when I’m ruminating or doing something else, not when I’m actually writing. When I’m writing I don’t think about it. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m doing an activity with futile or minimal consequences. I do it because I need to do it to feel alive.
Why does writing make me feel alive?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it so long, or I’ve gotten so deeply immersed in language that the interphase between my biology and the dynamic of language, which is largely self-generating, is a symbiotic relationship feeding and propelling one another.
It’s a feeling. It often feels like the language itself is urging me to put words down, push them into existence, pull them into being, squeeze every last drop of juice out of them, press them into the soil of the moment and see what sprouts.
Language is a living entity. But it’s a parasite. It needs a host. When the last person to speak a language dies, the language dies. It may have been recorded. That’s something. But without people to speak the words, to put them together in infinitely multiple ways to create an infinitely diverse sphere of meaning, the language becomes, at best, a fossil. Bones embedded in the hardpan of a vanished epoch.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Most Profound Philosophy Of All Time

I feel haunted. But who wouldn’t? I mean, given the usual parameters of life. I believe the first time I saw it was at the post office, a simple slogan on the wall: expect the unexpected. There now. You have it. The most profound philosophy of all time.
It didn’t occur to me till much later in life just how much of my being was made up of other organisms, organelles and mitochondria and bacteria. Don’t get me started on identity, that old hallucination. I’m not going to try and be Lord Byron today.
Or Frankenstein. Not the doctor, the monster. Anyone who persists in writing poetry at this late stage is a monster, a large awkward man built of parts dug up from the grave and sutured together in the sparks and pandemonium of a dingy Gothic laboratory.
Or woman. With loud white streaks in her hair.
Which is a gigantic beehive.
Rocketing to heaven.
Big decisions can be paralyzing. Where do we go, now that the polar ice cap is melting and the jet stream is an erratic delirium of bizarre unearthly temperatures wreathing the planet in mayhem and death?
Sorry. I don’t mean to be a buzz kill. But next time you’re outside, ask yourself, where are the birds?
Crows don’t count. They’re supernatural.
Did we really have a democracy or was that just an illusion cooked up in the brains of wigged old men?
If the Age of Reason was truly about liberty and sober intellectual inquiry and justice for all, why did all those men wear powdered wigs? That’s more than a trifle irrational in my book.
I love the women in Fragonard’s paintings, so blithe and playful and a little ridiculous. These, of course, would be the young rich ladies of the court. Lady Anne Furye, by Thomas Gainsborough, gazing dreamily in a blue ribbon and lace choker, with crystal earrings and pompom flowers in her hair, looks like she just swallowed a bottle of laudanum.
Stewed or sober, everyone in the Age of Reason seems very poised. They maintain. Then along came romanticism and made everyone look a little unhinged, or at least flamboyant.
I unfold myself in maneuvers of word and image and love doing this. I love the gurgle and hiss of whipped cream from a pressurized can and airports and the smell of raw wood at construction sites.
I love to explore the inexplicable and sweat when I run and coax the day’s irritations into pearls.
I love the angels in Wings of Desire and the murmur of water in small mountain brooks and huckleberry and earnestness and deer.
I love the way rivers meander. They go everywhere. They say water seeks its own level, but is that really what’s going on? Rivers always seem to be in love with the ground they cover.
Catfish lurking on the bottom of the Mississippi know where it’s at.
What I’m trying to do now is build an emotion I can live with. I like to collect feelings. I mount them on the wall or put them in the freezer and bring them out later and let them thaw into sympathies.
And groans.
Does money still exist? It does. That amazes me. How does money still have value? Nothing else does.
Ok, that’s not fair. I can’t speak for everyone. My glands aren’t equipped with antenna and radar. They’re just glands. All I know is the sigh of exasperation, the cough of an engine starting, the anguish I never expected to feel watching the polar ice cap shrink.
          And shrink.
While the pumpjacks continue to pump crude out of the ground.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I'm Glad The Brain Is Plastic

Memories are hives of strange honey. The human brain weighs three pounds. Imagine three pounds of honey or three pounds of salt or three pounds of anything, an ingot of gold or ostrich egg.
Imagine a brain full of honey and salt. Imagine the ghosts of the past sitting down at tables upon which are served haddocks and poached eggs and grilled plums with ricotta and honey, or arguments reheated in delicious resentment.
Memories weigh nothing, or have the weight of entire worlds. It depends on the memory. The same memory can weigh nothing at all one day and weigh as much as hurricane Irma the following afternoon, and come blowing out of your mouth in angry words.
Some memories are vivid, some are vague, and some are long sluggish wandering nights. The thing to remember is the plasticity. Plasticity is the word for the day.
Some of my more persistent memories concern trips to Europe, hitchhiking across France in the 70s, getting wickedly drunk night after night for several weeks in Lloret de Mar, a town on the Costa Brava of Spain’s Catalonia.
Several accidents involving cars and motorcycles, the chaos, the kindness of strangers, insurance headaches.
Getting beat up in somebody’s rec room when I was drunk at age 18, and experiments with LSD and amphetamine that same year, 1966, which did not end happily, but led prudently to the disuse of psychedelics and employment in Plant #2 of Boeing in Seattle, which also did not go well, I lasted six months and then quit.
What I mostly remember of 1967 is a friend’s garage, listening to Blonde on Blonde over and over, and living in a bus for several months with three other guys until one morning the owner of the bus wouldn’t let us into his house to use the bathroom and kitchen. There was a note stuck to the door urging us to leave which we read in the frosty air of December, towels and toothbrushes in our hands.
It would appear that I have an easier time remembering traumatic or catastrophic events more than happy events. Is that normal? I don’t know.
But I’m glad the brain is plastic.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


A woman, voice, that of a penny. I like to ask me for food, and do not buy in the grocery store things unrelated to food, unless they be items of hygiene, or lozenges of calcium to quell the acids in my stomach. Much of life is learning to quell agitations. I shall do so in the night with me in the bed, and learning of Proust, who writes of food as if it were music, and where women do sometimes sing in the ways of food, and in Paris where it is served. For food and fuel are made by the vibrations of the air to be musical sounds that are caused by plates and clanking metal pots.
We came home and acted bad. We had too much coffee. Near the end of this is my answer. To others it is not to be silent, because there is nothing else to say. For I was hungry, and hath not eaten her.
What makes automatic transmission that clunk? You know what I say to clunk? I say to clunk, clunk. But what, I ask you, is to come of this?
Clunk. Naught but clunk. For clunk is clunk and the moon is stone. And dust. The moon is dust and stone.
I tend to worry. Anxiety creates its own path. Every engine is fearful and just too large, I have added, if the engine is fueled by fears.
With me around the earth in orbit, and the testimony of its top events, I see a little of Hawaii, but it's too weak. London is a large bright oblivion. Venice: the skin of Venice is no longer a dream, but a lingerie. France is circumference, Mauritania a swirl, and what I see, I saw, and what I saw, I see. The place of the seriousness of which is me, for it is of me, as I am of it, and I talk about the weight, it is in my heart, if not my voice, and spins in weightless confusion.
If a man of flight asks me, as I do ask myself the big questions about life, the answer is not simply to administer exertion, but answer in good faith, and mirror the many subtleties of space. And after this, if this man may ask of me questions of the big bang and black holes, I must answer as well as I can. For discipline, openly at least if I know you by the reaction of at least one of the senses, is not so much a definite consistent as it is to drink long and deep of the cosmos, which is to say take in a large gulp of its mystery, and let it soak through me like a sponge. The question: "What is in our universe?” is linked to another question: “Who are we?"
We are creatures of skin and bone who walk in wonder beneath the stars. This I say in kisses and sweetness. In a moment I will come to see the occurrence of words in a row, and how they create depots of camaraderie. Life on Earth is - so far – the only known life in the universe, but that is not a compelling reason to persuade us that we are alone. In fact, to live here is to speak naturally of the probability of lives lived elsewhere in the universe.
What worries me is the transmission clunk.
A wise man of habit were up to that time of life as they say, a Copernican principle, and not on earth simply as a rock, but a thing of life and beauty in orbit around a yurt, or dwelling of metaphors and expressions, a hamlet or thorax. Something irrepressible, like astronomy. And so we see how to provide clues as to how life and culture might intersect in order to live in the universe or the earth. For clunk or no clunk, it is protozoan, and blazing with prose.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger. And we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man…far too little. His psyche should be studied – because we are the original of all coming evil.  -  Carl Jung, Interview with John Freeman, Face to Face, 1959

Homo homini lupus est  - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

I’m a grouch, and proud of it. Proud to be a grouch. Who can live in this world without struggle? Without friction? Without animus or conflict?
No one. It’s far from being a perfect world. It’s not even what I would call an imperfect world. You know, a world that’s basically pretty cool but with a few flaws here and there. This isn’t that kind of world.
By world, I don’t mean the planet. The planet is fantastic. Planet Earth is an orb of inconceivable beauty. Seen from outer space it’s absolutely gorgeous: a marbled sphere of blue and white in deep cold space glowing with soft cottony benevolence, the evident browns and greens of land contrasting with the blue of the oceans and intimating in the general swirl of cloud and ocean the steam of fecundity. It’s no wonder that life emerged here. How could you stop it? Every molecule and atom on this planet must’ve been trembling with an inner divinity, an unstoppable urge to cohere into something mobile and marvelous.
What makes the planet a miserable place are human beings. They’re fucking awful. We have them to thank for famine, war, brutality, cruelty, imprisonment, injustice, disease, rape, thievery, slavery, homicide, genocide, pesticide, pillaging, marauding, desolation, desecration, tyranny, coercion, oppression, intimidation, brutishness, barbarity and merciless, interminable predation.
Their weapons are beautiful, I’ll give them that. Swords, knives, cannons, missiles. A double-edged iron sword with a pommel guard skillfully inlaid with a patterned series of copper lozenges bordered in bronze is a thing of beauty, as is an ebony and ivory javelin from the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III in ancient Egypt. It’s ironic that some of the world’s finest art takes the form of instruments for killing one another.
Are all human beings awful? Yeah, pretty much. Every now and then a Jesus or a Buddha or a Mahatma Gandhi happens along but mostly it’s douche bags and assholes riding the subway or driving on the freeway.
If you don’t believe me, ask someone close to you. Someone you can trust for an honest answer. They’ll probably say the same thing. People are assholes.
I’m one myself. Total asshole. If I wasn’t, would I be saying these things?
Keep in mind, nothing is black and white. The same person who just betrayed his best friend in order to get a coveted job or routinely flies missions dropping bombs on enemy territory that knowingly kills a high percentage of innocent women and children might be the same person who sacrifices their life for a complete stranger in a monsoon or wildfire or performs a great kindness to someone in need in a desolate part of town or collapses with grief after a cat or dog died.
Life is a mess. People are unfathomable. So why the taboo against grumpiness?
There are seven soliloquies in Hamlet, each one a complaint. These are unequivocally some of the most beautiful speeches in the English language, and they’re all for the purpose of censure and rebuke, quite often self-censure, self-rebuke, but rebuke and censure all the same.
Stand-up comics rant constantly, but they put a spin on it and it comes out as humor. There is clearly an art to complaining. Discontent is often the engine of great eloquence, great insight.
It’s a tough world and it makes people hard. Hard to deal with, hard to be around.
I will say this: most people I know, and most people I hear about in the news or encounter in the public at the grocery store or bank do try to do what is best for other people, sometimes gladly, sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes simply not to get arrested. One thing all people have in common is pain: isolation, loneliness, fear, insecurity, and death. We all die, and we all know we die. That’s the human condition. As conditions go, it’s a pretty shitty condition.
So people do what they can. Some people drink, some people exercise like crazy, some people fuck like crazy, some people find sanctuary in porn, some people find redemption in giving, some people find relief and sublimation in creativity, some people find temporary relief in a bottle of booze or a few milligrams of Vicodin.
Me, I like to complain. I’m a grouch.
Françoise Héritier, the French anthropologist, ethnologist and author said on a recent episode of La Grande Librairie, a French talk show about books, that the suffering she discovered in certain places in Africa was so great that no one ever complained. Everyone was resigned. It never occurred to anyone to complain. What good would it do? People accepted suffering as a part of life and thought no further of it. They simply endured. They worked and struggled to feed their children and survive. I cannot help but feel chastened by this. I complain because I feel unjustifiably abused. That’s crazy. Who the fuck am I?
It’s an embarrassment, I’ll say that. But I’ll keep doing it. Call it an addiction. Call it foolish. Call it stupid and entitled and not a little ridiculous. But that’s me. A grouch and his horde of pet peeves, funny little monkeys of the brain swinging back and forth from vine to vine, groan to groan. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Shoes and Cookies

Lately, I’ve had trouble finding a good pair of running shoes. A pair I tried on not too long ago seemed to fit fine at the store but when I went running in them they proved to be too tight. I removed the insoles and cut off the tips, providing a little extra wiggle room for my toes. This little trick has worked in the past. It didn’t this time. The shoes were too tight. And they felt funny: the heels felt much higher than the heels on the shoes I’ve worn in the past. This was a different brand, New Balance, and I usually get Saucony, which are often on sale at Big 5. The balance was indeed new: I felt like I was being tilted forward. I gave the new shoes to Goodwill and returned to the store to try on another pair. This time the shoes fit fine (I’ve learned over time to buy shoes two inches larger than my normal ten; either my feet have grown two inches larger, or measurements are not as standard as they once were), but the insole in the right foot has a tendency to creep up when I’m running. By the end of a short, three-mile run, half of the insole has moved to the rear of the shoe. I have to maneuver it back in.
Also, the fabric covering the toes began wearing out almost immediately. This has never happened before. A few more runs and my big toe will be nicely ventilated.
It may be time to go to a high-end running shoe boutique. But $200 bucks for running shoes? That’s something I’ll have to think about.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to make do with my creeping insole.
This afternoon I went on a longer run than usual. I’ve gained four pounds in the past several weeks. I don’t know how this works metabolically, but somehow a two-ounce cookie translates immediately into sixteen ounces in my body. It’s as if my metabolism exponentiated anything with sugar or carbohydrates in it.
When I got to the bottom of Queen Anne Hill on the far west side, there was a man smoking a cigarette in the alcove by the one of the back entrances to Magnolia Bridge Self-Storage. This seems to happen almost every time I go running down there now. That little alcove seems to have become an ad hoc smoker’s lounge for the employees of the Seattle Park Department across the street. Unfortunately, that’s the one side where the sidewalk happens to be. I kept to the other side to avoid cigarette smoke and negotiated the leviathan vehicles that pass for cars these days, hitting the side-view mirror of somebody’s parked car with my shoulder. I hope I didn’t knock the mirror out of position too much, or that the driver notices its altered position before driving too far.
There has been a definite uptick in cigarette smoking lately, which I find perplexing, considering the sorry state of the U.S. hellcare system. If pressed to provide a theory, I’d say it’s due to despair, a bottomless pit of social malaise and opioid abuse.
I saw a seal in the water at Smith Cove, where the Foss Maritime Company keeps their tugs. I waved and shouted hello and the seal dove back under water. I didn’t like seeing a seal there, as there is a sign warning people not to swim there due to the toxicity of the water. But what I was I going to do? Dive in, swim to the bottom, and whisper “get out of here” to the seal? He (or she) might take that the wrong way. And how do you whisper when you’re underwater?
The tide was the highest I’ve ever seen it, almost flush with the piers, which normally have a clearance of twenty to thirty feet from the water.  
The wind was up and there was a lot of wave action and water splashing up against the riprap on the shoreline.
I saw a flock of geese fly in V formation and several Pacific loons sitting on the water near the Pier 86 grain terminal.
I spent the rest of the day at home with R eating dinner and watching The Messenger, a disturbing 2015 documentary about the sharp decline of songbirds world-wide due to multiple factors, including pesticides, light pollution, noise pollution, habitat loss and cats.
Afterward, I answered some letters and read Leo Frobenius On African History, Art and Culture an Anthology, with a foreword by Léopold Sédar Senghor. I was greatly amused by the story of a disobedient son who – against the orders of his father -  sets a trap for catching animals on the road to the village. He ends up catching various family members and then the road itself. He rolls the road up and puts it in a bag. He and his father get lost. Finally, admitting defeat, he puts the sack down. The road leaps out and father and son are able to return to the village. But the son catches the road again and decides to keep it. No one can use the road. It grows so sad that it dies.
Later that night, and shortly after going to bed, I listened to a conversation on YouTube between host Jeffrey Goldberg with author Kurt Andersen and his new book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies about American tendencies to believe in almost anything, however divorced from reality it may be, its distrust of experts and cavalier disparagement of facts, and how this gullibility and subjectively inflated wishful thinking led to the election of Donald Trump. Andersen surmises that these tendencies find their root cause in the extreme religiosity of the early American puritans, but then later conflates this with the relativizing philosophies of French intellectuals such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, and the spiritual cravings and explorations of the hippies in the 60s, and their stance against rationalism and anti-intuitive deductive reasoning as tools of social control, which I found grossly oversimplifying and crude. I completely agree with his theory about Calvinism and the maniacally despotic views of the Puritans, but find his conflation with hippies and French intellectuals to be completely bizarre and unfounded. He himself appears ready to invent the most ridiculous theories. He also seemed to squirm and express awkwardness over his simultaneous patriotism and pessimism over the future of the so-called “great American experiment.” It was altogether a deeply disappointing, dishonest, and myopic talk.
The next day is rain, rain, rain. I love the sound of rain. Especially when it pelts the remaining leaves, those tender plates of chlorophyll stuck to the muddy wet ground.
The fact that it’s raining rather than snowing is something to feel grateful for. I don’t like ending sentences with prepositions but that’s what the word for is for.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Utterances Of Storms

How terribly downright must be the utterances of storms and earthquakes to those accustomed to the soft hypocrisies of society. - John Muir

Storms make good metaphors. Everyone can relate to them. We all know what they look like, how they feel, how they sound. They’re loud. They’re frightening. They’re exciting. They get you wet. They blow roofs off of houses, topple cars, litter the streets with branches. Consequently, if, like Shakespeare, you were to say “why now, blow wind, swell billow, and swim bark! / The storm is up, and all is on the hazard,” we know what is meant: when there is agitation in the body politic, kings and queens may fall, new paradigms may emerge. Nothing is certain; everything is in a state of vacillation, precarious and indistinct.
Storms are signs of instability. Of disequilibrium.
They’re also great at revealing things. When people argue, confessions come out; feelings are declared, resentments divulged, secret histories exposed. Fists fly, plates break, shouts awaken the neighborhood. It’s not pretty, but there is something in the drama of it that immediately draws interest; nobody can avoid a good fight, or drive by a car accident without looking.
That’s why the theatre exists. It’s why people go on stage and yell at one another. We like to see ourselves upset from a distance. It gives us insight. It gives us entertainment.
Conflict and agitation are unavoidable in life. Life itself may have emerged from a condition of intense disquiet. A combination of desire and obstacle produced a chain of polymers to assume agency and movement. I’ve always like the term ‘primordial soup.’ But who, or what, stirred the soup? Who or what sequence of events caused an amalgam of inanimate substances to cohere into a body with a goal? Was that when eating was invented? Was eating the first motivating force? Or was it reproduction? Was the first internal directive one of procreation?
I wish I could’ve been there 3.9 billion years ago to see that occur. That little storm of amino acids stir into action.
3.9 billion years later I sit here typing words, amino acids in the shape of a human body, vertical, attentive, constrained by space and time to focus on enigmas of meaning and being, convulsions of thought in the form of words. Words are the convulsion. Words are the amalgam. Words are the amino acids cohering into a sentence which is probing for knowledge, indications of the external world that food may be found here, shelter found there, companionship found where you can find companionship.
Storms, as we move closer to the third decade of the twenty-first century, have grown more intense. Bubbles of air in glacial ice trap tiny samples of Earth’s atmosphere, giving scientists a history of greenhouse gases that stretches back more than 800,000 years. Our current atmosphere is highly unstable. On May 9th, 2013, the global concentration of carbon dioxide hit 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history, according to data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This isn’t good. It means our atmosphere is out of whack. Our species, and millions of other species, all depend on a certain temperature grade; disequilibrium in the climate translates into habitat loss. Survival becomes increasingly difficult, and finally -  if conditions worsen enough  - unsustainable.
The paleoclimate record reveals that the current climatic warming is occurring much more rapidly than past warming events. This is why our spate of hurricanes and tornados have been more intense than usual and will continue to become more intense. After the last ice age, it took 5,000 years for the global temperature to rise 4 to 7 degrees Celsius. In the past century alone, the temperature rose by 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the rate of ice-age warming.
What happens when metaphors become real? Zombies, for example. Why has the Zombie movie become so popular? Because we now live in a world full of zombies, the walking dead. Nobody in the public realm appears to be aware of anything, least of all themselves. They talk and move and behave as if they were completely void of life. Their speech and mannerisms have become dreary, lifeless, robotic. They seem even less alive than the zombies in the movies, that have a mania for eating human flesh, brains especially.
Zombies are peculiarly oblivious to storms. Of course, what I mean here by storm is the Sturm und Drang of German romanticism, emotional extremes and the torments of unrequited love.
And then there’s King Lear: this is a fusion of geriatric rage with a full-on storm of thunder, rain, and lightning.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,
Crack Nature’s moulds, all germains spill at once,
That makes ingrateful man!

What’s a ‘germain’ you may wonder. Not a word you hear every day. A ‘germain’ is an obsolete form of ‘germane,’ whose obsolete meaning was “closely akin.” As in, relations, propinquity, kin, consanguinity. King Lear is pleading for chaos. Severed from meaning, he wants the entire universe to display its underlying pandemonium. He’s going down, and he wants to take everyone and everything down with him. His entire life has been revealed to be a nullity. He is beyond disillusionment. He is wallowing in nihilism.
Metaphors are language storms. Every language has within it the ingredients for semantic and syntactic upheaval. The metaphor, observed poet Hart Crane, “belongs to another order of experience than science, and is not to be limited by a scientific and arbitrary code of relationships either in verbal inflections or concepts…it often happens that images, themselves totally dissociated, when joined in the circuit of a particular emotion located with specific relation to both of them, conduce to great vividness and accuracy of statement in defining that emotion.”
So if the emotion is a storm, the images smash through the structures of time and become preposterous ribbons seething with grasshoppers.
Or not.
They might blow away in the wind. There might be a stream of consciousness nearby changing color with every Beatles song, or a Byzantine monkey growing thermometers in a vicissitude. I wish I knew the answer. The landscape evades my splurge. I splutter. I teem. I boil. The siege continues. The surge falls out of my jalopy. I’m getting sloppy. It’s another stormy Monday, and I have nothing to do but blow around the room like a voyage.