Monday, June 29, 2020

The Fallacy Of The Noble Lie

On June 15th, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced to the world that he had lied about the efficacy of face masks when Covid-19 first hit the U.S. in January, 2020 and rapidly got out of control. Five months later, on May 28th, 2020, the disease had claimed over 100,000 lives. It’s also been well-documented that face masks are, indeed, effective: they prevent the majority of air particles from a cough – or just breathing or talking – from entering into the surrounding air.
Fauci’s admission was strange. He didn’t seem the least bit ashamed or chagrined or in any way caught off guard. He made his admission with the calm, self-assured sang froid of a professor lecturing on the history of the American Civil War, or the central nervous system. It was no big deal. The excuse he gave was that he and other health officials wanted to prevent the hoarding of masks – which were in short supply – and thereby helping to ensure that the medical community would have enough, the assumption being that people are too greedy and selfish to cooperate willingly on such a matter.
I found this admission shocking. Was this man so utterly lacking in self-awareness that the needless suffering and deaths he could’ve prevented by being honest about masks from the beginning? Apparently not. He looked very much like a man who was getting in an adequate amount of sleep every night. If his conscience were in any way compromised or troubled, he didn’t show it.
Equally shocking were the number of people I discovered on Facebook who supported Fauci’s specious argument. They would not be deterred. Fauci’s lie made sure there were enough masks. But, I argued, why would anyone get in a panic over a mask that was so easy to make on one’s own? Construction workers are able to make masks from a T-shirt in less than eight minutes. I saw a kid at the local grocery store who’d forgotten to wear a mask simply lift his shirt up far enough to cover his mouth and nose with one hand while he grabbed some candy with his other hand and brought it to the counter and paid for it. Mission accomplished.
Fauci’s lie, and consequent excuse, were damaging for other reasons as well. Fauci, in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a figure the nation should be able to put their trust in, particularly since there as been so much confusion and misinformation about this new virus. Trust is vital in a situation like this. People need a central authority. People need someone they can rely on for clear, honest information pertaining to an existential threat. That trust has now been considerably weakened, possibly permanently damaged. People have been finding it increasingly difficult to trust experts. The anti-vaccination movement is one example among many how science and scientists are no longer recognized as steadfast guardians of truth. They can be bought. They can be manipulated. They can be coerced and intimidated into making false claims and duplicitous distortions. The result: we’ve all slipped back into the middle ages. We live in a time of rumors and superstitions. Objective truth is totaled. Shattered beyond repair.
Fauci told what is characterized as the “noble lie.” The Noble Lie -  a myth or untruth knowingly propagated by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda - makes its first appearance in Book III of Plato’s Republic. Socrates tells Adeimantus that in the interest of preserving harmony in the state, it may be necessary to perpetrate a “royal lie” or “needful falsehood.” He gives, as an example, the “audacious fiction” of how everyone’s character is prefabricated by God, and compares virtues to precious and not-so-precious metals. Some are made of gold, some silver, and others – “who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen” – are composed of brass and iron. Everyone fulfills a role based on their quality of metal. The fiction enforces obedience. The fiction preserves harmony in the state.
I like Socrates, but this is bullshit.
Immanuel Kant addresses the speciousness of this argument in a short essay titled “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Benevolent Motives.” Kant states that truthfulness is a human right. “Man has a right to his own truthfulness (veracitas), i.e., to the subjective truth in his own person.” Telling the truth is a duty. The broader acceptance of allowing a breach in this duty would be to nullify the binding force of all legal contracts. Chaos would ensue. If no one can be sure what is true and what is falsehood, what is accurate and what is a distortion, society becomes inoperable. Trust is the foundation of everything. “For a lie,” Kant declares, “always harms another; if not some other particular man, still it harms mankind generally, for it vitiates the source of law itself.” A lie – however well-intentioned – will invariably have unintended consequences that will have long lasting, deleterious effects. Such as the case with Fauci: his lie has nullified anything he may declare in the future, or anything another health official might state. There are no authorities people can trust. We’re on our own.
No one will know how many deaths Fauci’s lie may be responsible for, but it’s highly probable that it was in the hundreds, if not thousands. The fact of which does not seem to register on the man.
I’m not a fan of lying, but I can see its necessity as well. There are many white lies I’ve told over the years to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. White lies are convenient, but even there, you’ve got to be a little prudent. Even a seemingly harmless white lie can detonate unexpectedly into a deeply embarrassing revelation that will leave you without credibility and quite possibly do irreparable damage to a friendship.
And lies do prevent people from getting hurt. In the Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying people tell the truth with utter disregard for how one’s true feelings and perceptions may cause injury to someone. The set-up is hilarious; when screenwriter Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) goes to pick up a date  - the wealthy and beautiful Anna McDoogles, played by Jennifer Garner – Anna tells him, matter-of-factly, that she’s not attracted to him but is going out with him as a favor to his best friend, Greg Kleinshchmidt (Louis C.K.). The first lie is “invented” when Mark’s rent is due, he’s out of money, and he goes to the bank to close his account. The teller tells him the computers are down. Smelling an opportunity, Mark tells the teller that he has $800 dollars in his account, the precise amount needed to pay his rent. No problem. She gives him $800 dollars. Mark quickly realizes the great rewards and conveniences this newfound ability can achieve. This is a parallel universe where people are sublimely unaware of falsehood. There’s no prevarication. No deceit. It’s an absurdly truthful world of bruised feelings and low self-esteem. But imagine the power in being able to tell people any fiction – any fabrication or fairy tale however ludicrous – and have it be believed. You would have unlimited power – at least until everyone figured out what a lie was. And then you’d have some explaining to do. Which, of course, no one would believe.
The Invention of Lying came out in 2009, right after the debacle on Wall Street. Gervais did not elaborate on the consequences of lying to that extent. He avoided the larger political ramifications and kept his plotline tidily confined within the happier framework of a romantic comedy. It was a hypothesis assembled for laughs and a little insight into the human condition.
The threats facing humanity are now multiple. There is the very real specter of financial collapse and possibly the end of capitalism (which could lead to something good, but only after a great deal of suffering), ecological disaster, cataclysmic climate change, the rise of fascism and rioting in the streets after a black man was murdered horribly – and in broad daylight - by a Minneapolis cop. The times are apocryphal. And now, diffused throughout all this corruption like a ubiquitous death deity walking invisibly among us, we have a virus whose symptoms remain dormant for fourteen days before its victim is aware of contaminating people. That’s insidious. This is the kind of thing that emerges from the brain of a demented sci fi writer high on amphetamines and tequila.
If ever there was a time for people to put their trust in a higher authority, in panels of experts, in a consortium of sane and rational voices, it would be now. What Dr. Fauci did was far worse than trick a bank teller into giving him $800 dollars. Fauci took all of his years in science, all his work and investment of time and money, and treated it like garbage.
The psychology behind this is baffling. Why did Dr. Fauci so automatically and autocratically assume that people would horde masks and prevent the medical community from having an adequate amount? And why would anyone choose to uphold this strategy when it’s so manifestly untenable as a moral position? Are people that desperate for leadership that they make excuses for their deceits and abuses like a battered woman who continues to believe that – deep down – the drunken husband who just slammed her head against the wall truly loves her?
These are strange times. Wall Street has gone psychotic, the police have grown murderously violent and irrational, and now even our science officials have begun to treat us like kindergarten children, feeding us fairy tales rather than knowledge. Their contempt for we mortals must be colossal to have such little trust in the capacity of people to take right action when a harsh but incontrovertible truth has been revealed. But to do otherwise, even if a convenient fiction is able to preserve some semblance of stability, is to court a much worse disaster. The death of truth and the birth of endless iniquities.
It’s obvious that Covid-19 isn’t the only destructive virus out there. Our institutions have been enfeebled and killed by a contagion of lies. A virus attaches to a host cell using a set of proteins on the viral envelope to bind to receptor proteins on the target cell. A lie attaches to a host believer using a set of semi-credible fictions to bind to the receptor gullibilities in the target population and thereby use this as leverage to maneuver and achieve its goals – however well-intended or nefarious - while destroying the host. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Black Desire

When I was in my early 20s I obsessed over the idea that creativity – more specifically writing poetry – was synonymous with moral probity. I was convinced that the act of creativity promoted higher self-awareness & sensitivity & so therefore built character. Then I found out the truth: a whole lot of poets were assholes, selfish, narcissistic, often callous louts like Lord Byron. Most troubling of all was my hero, Arthur Rimbaud, who – after his enfant terrible years with Verlaine in Paris – wound up in east Africa as a money-obsessed exporter of ivory & coffee where he was often accused of being hard on his men, hard on his camels, & a poisoner of dogs. This latter accusation still troubles me. I got over this conundrum in due time, but then, quite recently, I discovered a song called “Le vent nous portera” (The Wind Will Carry Us), which I listen to obsessively, particularly by a Quebecois group called Méa Culpa Jazz. It’s a beautiful, highly moving song, ethereal & wistful. But here’s the deal: one of its composers was none other than Bertrand Cantat, the man who beat his girlfriend Marie Trintignant so severely that she went into a coma & died a few days later. How much he contributed to the song, I don’t know. Maybe a lot, maybe very little. It’s deeply troublesome to me that this is weirdly attached to such a beautiful song. How is this possible? I continue to listen to the song with great enjoyment & many other singers & groups continue to cover it. And despite having this sordid & awful history aligned with it, however tangentially, I’m still in love with this song. And more confused than ever by the incongruities of violence, beauty, & murder. Does one inform the other? Are all artists tortured by inner conflict? Are they all callous, murderous louts ruining lives while producing spectacular art? Is the connection between virtue & art completely arbitrary, or does it help in some macabre way to acknowledge such dark impulses as part of creativity & try to accept & come into harmony with it before it explodes unpredictably & becomes even more destructive after being pushed into the dark for so long? Are we all werewolves at heart? If you enjoy writing songs and poetry, here’s my advice: if the moon is full, chain yourself to the wall.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Language Saloon

We enter the language saloon. It’s why we feel erratic. A plug enthralls a hiatus igloo. And is proved by theorem. We tin nothingness after rawhide. Which is why it rocks.
I sense a ball bursting. Do you want a beginning? The age glued my house. We touch a violin pitch. Being likes the blue clang. A language piled in depth.
We spread the loaf propellers. I hit a hum blob. I want this to conk. Push the blood to scuffle. A sail flaps with beauty. It was always so strong. 
The hoe modified the kelp. It dripped from my skin. I like to skim rumination. I’m on ruminant black wings. This could cause an almanac.
I remember how Chicago worked. Our coffee unrolled its fingers. I fattened a wallet jaw. This made everything Parisian stitches. And the words feel it. I’m angling toward its veins. Except what fiddlesticks can box.
Those are desks I flop. The scales strain to walk.
The incongruous gives me light. I worry a bread orange. I have slices of space. We wander over bubbly rivers. And it’s all so itchy. I think it’s the shirts. Thought it might be Ezra Pound. A job writing subtle gurgles. I feel it under windows. And I want to hop.
Hope is more like hives. Flaps arrange weight by skull. How does this make sense? My implications are disgracing limousines.
Life is more like denim. It reaches for a canvas. Shapes embedded in green intricacies. What the strings all carve. All those violins evolving protein. So that life can prickle. A brushwork there curves it. The grip turns to retail. And capitalism shuffles by evasion.
The perspectives drill out gifts. Rhythms flow from the drums. All roam homeward by canoe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Atlanta Cabana Bandana Banana

I pinch the night with questions. I’m a taciturn swipe of firecracker juice. Each horse is an overture, each monkey a paramedic. Distortion harms my manners but the nightingale gives me pie. The nightingale is an invention. We don’t have them here. What we do have is muttering & seismographs. The pins sputter sea lions while simultaneously holding homonyms in homilies. Is life an odyssey, or more like a hobby? I’m just now learning to intercede among the stones & further the merit of introversion. Extroversion is just introversion inside out. And that’s when the owls cruise through the cubbyholes in my eyes, & the night turns wicked with wax & stationary. 
Mike Tyson says the gods of war have reignited his ego & he wants to fight again. But how? Is there a way to box & practice social distancing at the same time? Can you stage a boxing match on Zoom? So if you’re boxing via Zoom & your opponent swings at your jaw with a left hook do you have to pretend that you got hit? And if they meet in the ring, will they be wearing masks? Will they be using hand sanitizer? Will there be an announcer, or an audience? Is sneezing permitted? My guess is that it’s not. What do the gods of war have to say about any of this?
Religions make everyone go bananas. That’s been my impression. Take it or leave it. One opinion isn’t going to change the world. But that doesn’t stop me from sharing them. It’s amazing how much judging goes on second by second. Millisecond by millisecond. It can’t be measured. It’s all a matter of perception. Perception is the reception of exception.
There’s something about bananas in a window to make you think it’s wonderful to have bananas in a window. Five bananas six bananas eight bananas maybe even nine bananas. The flesh of the banana is mildly sweet & indeterminate. There’s something vague in the flavor of the banana that promotes somnolence. Prepositions in ointments with a reed mouthpiece. And chew and chew. The appeal of the peel is pellucid. Lucid pellucid fluid. Elusive reclusive. Druid cupid. Stupid useless translucid cabana. In Atlanta. With a banana. Atlanta cabana bandana banana.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rain Wind And Paper

Writing aspires to the mystery of music. Every pain painted with the brush of a cymbal, a splash of sound propelled into the darkness of a cocktail lounge, where the heart is a dungeon but the napkins are pretty, & the glow of the candle reminds you of Georges de la Tour, & occasional rhapsodies of mirth erupt in the back, & the smells of alcohol are rhymed by the shyness in silhouettes, those moments when the chiaroscuro of our drama assumes the malleability of wax, & the equations solve themselves with a sweep of chalk & a loss of control.
No amount of logic can explain a clam. But I can tell you the mind dilates under the influence of certain phenomena. A crinkly old dollar. Zen mosquitos on a hairy arm. Speaking of which, there’s an unseen power that creeps from flower to flower like moonbeams on the loose. It wandered out of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley & appears to be lost. As for me, I like the little bulbs at the top rim of the mirror in the bathroom. This is where I get my face going. And think about how weird the world keeps getting. And what to do next. And wondering how it all began.
Consider electrons as a collective ocean. You can see this displayed by a field ion microscope, but the boundary isn’t perfectly defined. It’s a bit fuzzy, more like the surface of a piece of fur or a cloud. Electrons are like a very low-density glue-like viscous fluid surrounding the nuclei & making the spatial extent of the atom transparent for neutrons but not for other electrons. This promotes the idea of a sexual revolution that doesn’t depend on context for its magnetism & charm, but grows it, instead, into a saxophone.
Try to think of reality as a fir tree, or somersault. Plurals make a plurality but a chord is to music what an episode is to a continuation, or something long & wiggly & protoplasmic.
The black cord of the hairdryer has a tendency to curl, as anything does in the pervasive humidity of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s also in the bathroom, which has its own special brand of humidity. There are loops & curlicues added into the mix, so that the entire cord looks like a Cirque du Soleil act, a strand of loops & flections & squiggles whose energy is anything but static. It’s a manifestation of energy, an actualized display of tensions that have to be smoothed out every time the hairdryer is in use, so that the full length of the cord can be obtained. Hair is a different matter. It’s weird it’s even there. What’s hair for anyway? It’s thinning. I know that.
I like it when my hair dries during a voyage. The linen smells of lavender, & the roundup is easily detached from the muskrat, making discussion a refuge for syntax. This is what makes furniture so compelling. We halt to look at the tirade, & go take a shower.
It's always a delight to find a small desk for writing in a motel room. It’s such a wonderful touch. Like finding a Gideon Bible in the drawer of the end table by the bed. I sometimes pick it up & begin reading it because I love books & I’m surprised to find how good the poetry is it’s as good as anything by Jack Kerouac or Clark Coolidge or Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. And then I think about what a great bible Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven could write. Why do I assume she has the right instincts for writing biblical poetry? Because she’s an angel of poetry. And then of course there’s porn, ice machines, complimentary breakfasts & a small writing desk & chair in case the urge to write a bible in the middle of night awakens me & guides me to revelation, like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, or John Keats in “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Not all phenomena are for giving histories of our lives. Most of it just bubbles in the corner like Nathaniel Hawthorne with smoky eyebrows & foxy red eyes.
Space smells like burnt steak. Gravity smells like a bowl of opium in a Costco parking lot. Width smells like a pregnant stenographer in a Spanish courtroom. Height smells like coca leaves. Depth smells like the death of Cézanne. Volume smells like an iguana eating lettuce in a Reno casino. Calculus reeks of variables & curves. Black holes smell like literary contests. Time smells like prison. Weight smells like a chocolate donut. Feeler strips smell like teen spirit. Distance smells like the coast of Sicily in the summer. Circumference smells like pi.
What was it Rimbaud said? “A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences.”
I have conversations with Arthur Rimbaud at least once a day. He’s usually in Ethiopia, getting a caravan ready, looking sour, as always, cursing at the camels, glancing at me nervously, a little angrily, he doesn’t want to talk about poetry, but even when I don’t, even when I try to help with the caravan, it isn’t long before we get into an argument. I’m not sure where the hostility comes from. And when I think I’m talking to Rimbaud aren’t I really talking to myself? “What did you say, you stupid ass!” shouts Rimbaud. “Nothing. Go fuck yourself,” I shout back. I’m not going anywhere. Let him run guns. I’m eating a gummy & reading Gertrude Stein.
There’s a difference between rain wind & paper. And it’s this: there’s wind in wind & rain in rain & rain & wind in paper. But the differences are pitiless, unparalleled & monstrous. You can take the greatness of a great lake & crumple it up in your mind & toss it into the landfill of everything else you’ve rejected ejected projected disconnected neglected misdirected disaffected or redirected or you can take the greatness of a great lake & appreciate the extent to which sand & mud are going to get up & walk away from it. This is called desolation, & tastes like a warm beer on a Sunday, staring out of the window noticing the differences between rain wind & paper.
Rain wind & paper are invoked to describe my mania for fabric, havoc, & fabrication. 
I like brocade, I like the idea of brocade, which is itself a brocade, a fabric of thought woven in the mind, which is a loom, the mind is a loom that works by holding several threads in vertical lines, or by having a rigid heddle reed by which the warp yarns are threaded alternately, so that everything is a cross-crossing of contrasts & imputations, implications & filiations, crustaceans & wars, agonies & ecstasies, everything life tosses into our individual stew, I’m mixing metaphors, which is what you do, what you do on a loom, when a loom is a looming collation of senses & tenses, pelicans & skeletons, the shuttle going in & out, in & out, in & out, & the mind is none of this, of course, it’s the energy that weaves such ideas, then wears them in words.
I don’t paint I point. I can point to paint but I can’t paint a point. I can paint a point if the point is paint. But if the paint is pointless I can’t paint a pointless point with pointless paint. The pollen that possesses a power has a potential for flour. Pragmatism is the poultice of the pothole. But the practice is private & the prisms are pretty. The sloops slur the sluice with sludge & the snarls are stiff that snicker at a nosebleed. Everything is twigs. I must say something horizontal but it’s not parallel unless the freeway maintains its slant. The irritations can go on now. Let them breed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Like A Spiral Staircase In The Heart

A Piece of Cake, by Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh
Station Hill Press, 2020

A Piece of Cake is a dark chocolate, multilayered interfusion with alternating layers of companionship and valium, sex and toothaches, parents and friends and beach chairs. It is the record of a time and place chronicled by two people, Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh, who agreed to keep a journal for the period of one month – August, 1976 – while occupying a one-bedroom in Lenox, Massachusetts with their eight-month old baby, Marie Ray Warsh. “I’d been a journal writer all my life,” writes Lewis, “so the idea made complete sense….There was much to write about, all the tiny details of daily life, plus all the flashbacks to the past, and everything that had led up to this moment.”
“Lenox, Massachusetts, is a very privileged town,” Bernadette Mayer writes in the Introduction. “In the 1920s rich people from New York City and Boston built their summer castles there. Now there’s Tanglewood where people go to concerts of mostly classical music on a big lawn, vying (in a dignified way) about who has the best wine. I liked it because Hawthorne lived there, though his house burned down and the replica they had built belonged to Tanglewood.”
The contrast between these two writers is easily apparent. Lewis writes in a carefully thought out, highly detailed-oriented prose in sentences so gracefully constructed they have the feel of freshly varnished wood, or swans on a woodland pond. There is often a feeling of melancholy seasoned with the rhythms of a reflective mind, idyllic and charmed, fascinated by everything. His appetite to record the most subtle, most nuanced mannerism or vocal inflection, particularly when writing about people he’s close to, is evident in his candor and astute sensitivity. The way he writes about being with his father, for example, is quite touching. It’s easy to sense the bond between the two, and – having had those awkward visits with my father in my late 20s when it was obvious I was too far-gone on the road of poetry to begin seeking more lucrative options, and he would discreetly offer financial help – I appreciate the naturalness and skill with which Lewis deploys these moments in prose. “You have a lot of machines,”

…my father says, indicating the television, record player…camera, binoculars, dishwasher. No beach chair, however. Bernadette and my mother return to the Village Inn, while my father and I drive down the road to the shopping center. Alas, there are no beach chairs at Kings. My father is a connoisseur of razor blades and other drugstore items (sundries) as well, and we check out the Wilkinson rack to discover that some blades are three packs for a dollar, others 59¢ each. “Let me buy a few of these for you,” he says. We don’t want to return home empty-handed so we decide to drive to the center of Pittsfield with the hopeful thought that there’s bound to be a beach chair somewhere in the Berkshires. I sense my father enjoys driving around and looking out the window and asking an occasional question about what he’s seeing.

Bernadette writes with great energy, concentrating on details while simultaneously seeking to raise levels of expressivity and word experimentation. She tries to get as much spontaneity into the writing as possible, sometimes tape recording herself in monologues or conversations with Lewis and friends in a manner similar to the use of a record player in Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody. Quirks and idiosyncrasies abound. If Lewis’s writing is like swans, hers is more like those thick flocks of starlings spiraling and looping around the sky in crazily spontaneous formations, or the supple acrobatics of crows. Her sentences burst like piñatas, sounds and signs and peppermint tea tumbling out like candy. Her mind is nimble and – like Lewis – completely honest in her evaluations, attuned to the mysteries of being like Gertrude Stein’s amazing dynamism in The Making of Americans.
Bernadette writes about her fascination with Nathaniel Hawthorne, revealing, as she does so, qualities she values as a writer and reader:

It’s impossible to explain why a writer is any good and it does seem ordinary to be so influenced by this one who’s neither esoteric nor read seriously anymore, as if just his name and the titles of some books had entered the language. In Hawthorne’s own time, the popular thing to say about him was, “He writes as well as the English novelists.” But there are at least three things I can say about his work that connect it to my own, I hope, seeming too overblown: it’s American; it has the rhythm of poetry and the clarity of Latin construction; and it exhibits almost a sorcerer’s access to the unconscious and exercise of the imagination. Hawthorne is the only writer I can think of who knows what imagination is, in the sense of thinking up things, or dreaming them up. He himself mostly thought he was in the grip of demons while he wrote, the shadows of his ancestors watching with disapproval. A story-teller. Finally though, when I read his works, nothing can distract me.

And then there’s the matter of the baby, Marie. The hardships of economic sparsity are thorny all on their own, especially when you’re trying to keep a marriage afloat. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I know the appeal of rum and valium. But to undergo simultaneously the challenges inherent in caring for an infant is really tough. I’m amazed at how patiently they budgeted for groceries (they were able to get food stamps) and dealt with all the other problems life can throw at you. Their love for Marie and the joy they take in caring for her is a buoy amidst this stormy sea.
The entire time they assume tenancy of the one-bedroom apartment, they have to endure the outrageously erratic and irresponsible actions of the landlord. He hadn’t officially purchased the building into which they were slated to move and so had to postpone the moving date several times. And then when they moved in, there was still a lot of work to be done in the place, wiring, plumbing, painting, etc. I go ballistic if a neighbor fires up a chain saw or hires a work crew to do a major remodeling job. Working out a schedule that allows the workers to do their job with the minimal amount of inconvenience to the people living in the building or neighborhood is crucial. But this guy kept showing up erratically and working late. His crew seemed to be made up of high school students. Lewis and Bernadette tried pleading for some respect and sensitivity to their right to peace, and the importance of routine for Marie and her ability to sleep. In one ear, out the other. I’m amazed they didn’t murder this jerk.
I felt at home in this book. The circumstances – apart from the pivotal inclusion of Marie and the playful interactions and responsibilities of caring for an infant – were all very familiar to me. I took some voyeuristic pleasure in watching how they dealt with these conflicts.
But let’s not lose sight of the cake. It’s an important cake. It’s a pain cake iced with the lightness of thought. “I eat pain up and drag it out like ice cream,” writes Bernadette on August 24th in one of the longer passages of the book,

…or saving the icing, enough left to accommodate each piece of cake. It’s a piece of cake, it’s just a voice I hear, always some memory with a sound along with it, working up to consciousness, and later, self-consciousness. You only begin again when you’ve ended up, put something in your mouth, and bent or stood on your head to get a heightened sense of color, this time it’s the lines of the window frame, a white frame in three tiers, receding onto the outside with a certain very plain Ionic grace, which must’ve given joy to the coachman and his wife, and lightness to their thoughts of Schermerhorn’s horses. I fly out every night over the post office spotlight and beyond the flat red long garage, heading east, to check things. Why did Dr. Raskin want so much to be a woman?

There’s a bit of irony in the use of that phrase, “piece of cake,” since this journal is in many ways writing about writing, the journaling being a writing prompt, I enjoy the deft manner in which Lewis focuses attention on that while simultaneously providing details about the apartment, the attending circumstances (the workmen off-schedule once again) and the ambiance, the mood, the backdrop, the context. Writing is rarely a piece of cake. Sometimes it is, moments of tremendous excitement when the subject at hand and the words fly out of your hands to greet it, describe it, amplify it, roll it across the paper like a golden carriage of insights and semantic endeavor, and ah that feels good. Most of the time though, it’s a bit of a struggle. Writing about one’s life makes things a whole lot easier. “Write what you know,” serves as the general maxim. It’s easier to write what you know – the stuff going on in your head, the stuff going on around your head – but there are problems here, too. The trick is to develop the ability to stand back, get outside of yourself and the usual habits and ways of seeing things, and consider yourself an art project, an ongoing development that you’re chronicling at the same time you’re inventing yourself. But I’m in the weeds now. What does Lewis say?

That summer I gave my first poetry reading at The Folklore Center with Anne. I hadn’t begun to write about myself yet, my poems were still dense language games dotted with occasional moments of true feeling, but within the year I was able to see how by just putting down what I did and who I saw every day I could never be at a loss for something to write about.
For a long time I couldn’t believe the past was dead or could die. I saw each experience as a “still life” somehow preserved in time. Cauterized. What had happened in the past was still going on and I was a memory, as well, in your life, as you were in mine. “I’ll keep it with mine” was a favorite song. The moment, each individual moment, extended towards infinity, like a spiral staircase inside the heart.
I felt as if my heart, not to use the language of popular songs, was like a broken mirror, split into a hundred pieces, fragments of feelings, faces of lovers and friends. So much emotional residue, associations, thoughts, hours spent just sitting back, cigarette in hand, staring into space while the memories flowed through me, until all I could do to snap out of it was shrug, admonish myself, get off my ass and do something else. Though memory continued like some ancient ticker tape the effect of the past lessened (and began to feel indulgent) as the present became more intense. There was not time to look away from what was happening right in front of you. The past would always be there, like an old friend, whether I liked it or not.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Depth Bread

We bag a boiled shadow. Stimulus plunges it. The crash propels our crows. Flap it over a stem.
The story dangled. Until it made eye contact.
Everything is simultaneously a party & a whereabouts.
We grease a personal canoe. And then scud. Search the paint for veins. The insinuation tilted. Eczema grapples over the mailbox.
My problem towered. The shine bites the house. I send rips. My absence appoints your chair. Split my ocher. Our paint navigates a blot. Pleasure deepens there. Since a fat caboose crumbles. Bingo by volume.
What is your rock treading? This includes pyramids. The clatter walks by gaping. I’m enthralled propelling the papier collé. Washing bags. The float stumbles bending the fastened grip.
We loaf an oak parlor. Sophisticated bone black.
Nothingness sings to amplify my emotions. Hawk sounds. Proverbs hold this stitch in my scarf. We reach for an anguish. Massive cherries. I scrounge for everything that we think. The senses scour the flavor. Harmonica grab. I write to enfold a fondled blast. We buckle a spirit belt. Push-up joy. My demands spin improbably in the port.
We accordion the gantry snow. Depth bread. The jungle explodes if the walls spread. My bulbs murmur in excursion.
Communion moose.
Unfold the steam. Let the puzzles mutate. The example glides across them. And it all structures a new device, a new rune for the moon.

Friday, June 5, 2020


I walk around full of organs. Stomach, brain, kidneys, liver, skin, lungs. Hammond organ. The Silbermann organ in the Freiberg Cathedral of Germany. That’s there. Just under my tongue. And last night, driving home from Tukwila, I saw God in a burning bush, homeless & destitute. This is what happens when all the stops have been pulled & nothing filters reality. It just comes rushing in like a manic Great Dane & there you are, trying to put together your Venice itinerary. Will that ever occur? Where will all the tourists go? Don’t let another day go by without the magic touch of a professional masseuse. It will restore you to your body, & its myriad organs.
Do feelings require a speedometer? The rigging is rouge & is therefore spinach. I’m guessing the rest of the novel will be a bonanza for the insurance companies, & that integrity has a chance at last to go ivy at the bone. I am the virus. Yesirree. The spirit of outrage. Even the foothills nod to the gentle asymmetries of heaven. Miscegenation begins at home. Charity is just a whore. We all know what nudity can occur in language. I’m completely irresponsible. I confess. But what can you do when various polarizations hatch out in the saloon? We immerse ourselves in speech. We yell. We pound the table. We slug back shots of whiskey. And the language gets its poetry going.
Let’s see if you know this one, Mick Hucknall shouts to the crowd at the Sydney Opera House. “We know it,” someone in the crowd shouts. And Hucknall launches into “Holding Back The Years.” What a bush of red hair this guy has. The year was 2010. Hucknall had significantly aged since that video I saw on MTV back in ’85 or so. I didn’t do a very effective job holding the years back. They’ve deposited me here. “Strangled by the wishes of pater, hoping for the arms of mater.” Strange Latinate lines. It has a Catholic flavor. How did I get on this tangent? YouTube. Algorithms. It all bubbles up from the past in pixels now. The Pixies in pixels. The Dixie Cups in pixels. Wavelengths & photon energies. Invisible things. But felt. Like the draw of the ocean.
Water is two hydrogen atoms & one oxygen atom. But that isn’t water. That’s science. Because water is wet. Where does wetness come from? Water isn’t wet. Its wetness is our experience of water. But I still don’t get it. I don’t feel wet when I’m immersed in water. The feeling of wetness comes later, when I get out of the pool or lake I’ve just been immersed in. I stand before you a witness to the wetness of water. Which I don’t understand. Is the wetness of water an epiphenomenon like consciousness, or more like a head immersed in shampoo? What is the meaning of hygiene? Is hygiene philosophical? Is hygiene wet? Is consciousness wet? Consciousness doesn’t feel wet. Consciousness feels more like movement, or silk.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


Nothing sounds more like the thing itself than desolation. From Old French desolacion, “desolation, devastation, hopelessness, despair.” Latin desolationem (nominative desolatio), from past-participle stem of desolare, “leave alone, desert. De plus solare, “make lonely,” from solus, alone. How much experience, sweat, desire, hunger, ruin & triumph a single word can contain. As if the word contained the world to which it referred. Like a box. Or a can. Open the guts of the word & find a labyrinth to the past, its layers like mica, a rock flaked away until the tiny bones of a bird appear imprinted in the stone, everything spiraling around itself, desolate.
Is it a mistake to think of words as objects? Is mistake the right word? Is there harm in believing words to have the qualities of three-dimensional objects, or are they more like fourth-dimensional objects? Rod Serling put The Twilight Zone in the fifth dimension. Wasn’t there a singing group in the 60s & 70s that called themselves the Fifth Dimension? A quick Google search reveals that yes, the Fifth Dimension was a popular music vocal group whose repertoire included pop, R&B, soul, jazz, light opera, & Broadway. This mélange was called “Champagne Soul.” I never cared for them much. Too bougie for my seditious appetite. But words. I’ve forgotten about words as objects. Well they’re not. They’re just air. Sound waves. With meanings attached. In French, the word for ‘word’ is mot, & the word for a clump of dirt is motte de terre. And I think of a word as sod, a chunk of earth, & all the roots dangling.
Things are never what they seem. People you’ve known for years turn out one day to be very different. Things to which you once aspired turn out to be hollow or empty. I wonder if Kurt Cobain felt like that after he attained all that wealth & fame. Where does grace come from? I mean, aside from oxycontin & the supernatural. I think of Georges de la Tour & Magdalene with the Smoking Flame. The idea that in this presence, in the apparently immediate instant which constitutes the presence to oneself, there’s a gap, a duration, the equivalent of a wink. History is smoldering out. There remains but the fear of collapse, of the total disappearance of things.
I find it of some significance that Laurence Olivier staged the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy at the edge of a high castle parapet overlooking the wrathful sea below, crashing into rocks. Just one look tells you that this man has been pushed to the extremity of his soul & is looking for way out. For relief. The kind of balm one expects to find in non-existence. Ay, there’s the rub. Because maybe non-existence isn’t so non-existent. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come? I don’t want to get into that just now. I just like the way that scene unfolded, with the knife – the bodkin – plummeting into the sea. And Hamlet gets up from his perch & gazes into the fog, the void, & moves decisively into the world again. Time to kill the king.

Monday, June 1, 2020

And So It Goes

After all these years I find I have very few skills. It’s never really been an issue until recently. But now that things are looking apocalyptic & becoming more & more Mad Max-ish by the minute, I’m beginning to regret the incapacity to grow food, for the autonomy of a garden, adequate skills to repair a car, or more importantly a tractor, or find & care for a horse. That takes acreage, arable land & a house & a barn, which makes it a fantasy. I can explain the poetics of Mallarmé but I can’t install a kitchen sink. Or could I? Maybe I could. These are odd times, an odd age (70s) to be regretting all that time spent with writing & books & so little with calipers & screws. Even odder to think that, not long ago, I envisioned a future with libraries & decency.
I remember watching Gunsmoke on a TV in a Bottineau motel by the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. Because Dolores O’Riordan was singing “Dreams” for the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 1998 on YouTube. Which made me think of that year. And what motels were like just before the advent of smartphones. Before surveillance & fascism. Before pandemics & war. The melting of the poles. The assaults on the imaginary. The emptying of the library. What was it like? It was like watching Gunsmoke on a motel TV. And sensing a change in the stillness of the prairie.
When I was a kid, in the 50s, I used to love those jaunts for chokecherries in the Turtle Mountains in my grand-uncle’s jeep. It was basic, didn’t have the comforts & amenities of riding in a car, the axle was high off the ground, it was built to go over rugged terrain, open air, no enamel making it look pretty, just a basic military greenish metal. I like way it bounced when it over rough terrain. It felt like it was laughing. Ha! Ha! Can’t stop me I’m a fucking jeep asshole.
How do we measure our experiences? Are there spirit levels for dancing? Sphygmomanometers for kinky sex? Theodolites for weeping alone? Accelerometers for bungee jumping? I can’t measure this moment. Its ingredients are elusive. It might be one thing then it’s another thing than it’s a bunch of things but mostly it’s hydraulic & creamy, old age & coffee. Reality is mostly breath. Therefore, use the genius of the human hand to feel the nub of a fingertip. Consider possible ways of being in the world. Cognition is mostly ants going off in all directions. But it can be done. Streams of consciousness slosh back & forth in a ballpoint pen, & drip.
I don’t live on Earth. I am Earth. I was generated by Earth. And when my cells all collectively agree that’s it we’re done we’ve gone as far as we can with this organism & let go & everything rots is it really rotting or just dissipating to become something else. Mud. Stone. Water. Oxygen. Carbon. Sulfur. Potassium. Phosphorus & Oreo cookies. Jello & pasta. Poetry & iron. Self-consciousness & wild boar. Reeds & reading & rice & semen. Molecules, atoms, protons, ions, mastodons, leprechauns, polygons. It doesn’t die it just gets recirculated. What dies is the narrative I’ve been driving down the highway all these years. You got to let it go. And so it goes.