Monday, June 21, 2021

Locomotive In A Mallarmé Poem

I came across a locomotive in a Mallarm√© poem. It was a broken-down wreck, rusted & decrepit, a hulking desuetude of machinery long out of use. This happens when a body of writing has ceased to be read for a long time. Images decay. Ideas disintegrate. Visions rot in moldy basement windows. Writing needs eyes & brains & imaginations to keep everything in working order. Even the rails of the old locomotive were twisted, the ties loose, rivets gone astray. Everything once shiny & evocative now bore the dreary embrace of the empirical realm. The irony is, of course, that such relics as these are often the result of technologies becoming more & more sophisticated, so that attentions are more easily diverted from imaginative pursuits & emptied of their contents. Zombies are now a common sight, eviscerated humans led down streets by small handheld devices clutched desperately by both hands. Even gossip, that old reliable engine of conversation, has turned ugly & sour. It has given birth to a great monster called cancel culture. This is why, occasionally, I come across old locomotives & airplanes, once wild & crazy metaphors that are now indistinguishable from the rest of the junk in the landfill. The wisest among us have ceased trying to appeal to the market and to popularity and awards and have taken the art back deep into the caves. Doesn’t have to be an actual cave, which are cold and difficult of access and hard on the knees, a cave can be a certain space, a place for retreat, for seclusion. Not even that. A cave can be a frame of mind. The place where you’re no longer under surveillance. No obligation to smile and make conversation. Not a social media. Not a social platform. This is not a platform, this is a cave, a subterranean labyrinth of chambers and interludes, limestone dripping with candor, the communion of stone, the mineral richness of hematite and calcite, traces of gold, the roots of an artistic impulse smoking like a sacrifice in the skull of a lion. This is where art is a foreign animal in the guise of a searching human eye. And the sound of an engine chuffs into action. And everything moves. Steel wheels on bright steel rails. Going forward. Whatever forward means. Direction is ancillary. Existence extraordinary. 

 

 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Tent

I don’t know how to feel about it. I really don’t. It’s there. That’s incontrovertible. And it’s not going anywhere. The city will make sure of that. By not doing anything. No response. There are laws, but they’re not enforcing them. They only enforce laws when it’s convenient, or money to be made. So it’s there: a tent. It’s a nice one. Big. Light blue. Haven’t seen the tenants. Tenants of the tent. But they chose a great spot, a small section at mid-level by a lush rhododendron shrub on one side and laurel on the other. It’s a three-tiered park: a lower section with a playground and a stretch of grass that’s been taken over by people flinging sticks for their dogs while staring at their smartphones. People used to lie in the grass and read a book or soak in some sunlight on a warm summer day but the grass is gone, it’s all dirt now, packed down by the paws of a thousand dogs running after sticks. It’s become a de facto off-leash dog park. The top section is a little more complex, at the far eastern end is a small concrete wall in a gentle semi-circle and a fountain and a bench and a panoramic view of downtown Seattle and the Cascade Range to the east. Mount Baker is sometimes visible to the north, a phantasmal mass of white rising into the blue on cloudless days and a faint implication on the gray ones. Extending to the west is an open space of grass for picnics and just hanging out. Another section that bends in an L shape to the south has also become a de facto off leash dog park (one of many city ordinances I’ve never seen enforced), yet (for now) the grass has somehow managed to persist. The mid-section is private. Good place for romances and private meetings among friends. But now the tent is there. There’s a switchback trail of cement that takes you to the top. I wouldn’t stray from that trail. The people in the tent have to be taking care of their biological needs off in the bushes, and to guess by some of the smells, they haven’t been shy about helping themselves to whatever privacy the shrubbery affords. Not that they have a choice. The closest public rest room is a QFC and a coffeehouse at the bottom of the hill, about a quarter mile distant. We can live with that. But they’ve also been using our trash bins. We discovered a big sack of garbage laid on top of what was already a full bin. I went to empty some trash in the recycling bins after the garage was picked up and discovered two syringes on the ground that must’ve spilled out of the sack when the bin was emptied into the truck. Thankfully, there were no needles. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this pissed me off, and was a cause of alarm. So that emotion gets added to the other emotions, which are an incoherent mixture of sympathy, worry, guilt, dismay, frustration, incredulity, and rage. Rage at the pharaonic income inequality and plundering of public funds and social nets that put so many people at risk, at the extortionate and insanely exorbitant medical bills that bankrupt so many people, and all the predatory loans and shitty jobs with shitty wages that have been the cause of so many evictions and misery while the billionaires and sharks on Wall Street horde more and more money. Incredulity that a country once praised for its fairness and decency has become a failed state, a shabby banana republic with a crumbling and dangerous infrastructure where wealthy corporate myrmidons tool around in electric sports cars and Elon Musk gets to play with his expensive space toys and Bill Gates refuses to lift the patent on Covid vaccine formulas. So far there is just the one tent. Other neighborhoods have seen their parks taken over by much larger encampments, many of them rife with drug dealers and prostitution, the kind of employment that evolves out of the ashes of a fallen empire. One of the encampments, ironically, has grown in a vacant lot behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Where is the philanthropy for them? “The opposite of love is not hate,” said Elie Wiesel, “it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Uncontrollable

Cat on my lap, purring, she looks up at me & I gaze into her eyes, which are a glowing, iridescent green, more like jewels than eyes, & wonder, as her eyes shift about, what might be going through her mind, & what that mind might be like, and what is a mind, exactly? I think it’s a 26-foot-long cable 1,350 feet above the streets of lower Manhattan with a man walking on it seeking & maintaining balance in a world fraught with chaos, mediocrity, & indifference. Or let’s get crazy & say the mind is a wall: a door swings open & a piano walks out. This is where thinking gets mercurial & slippery & invents things. Meaning meaning doesn’t always come naturally into the world like trees and flowers but hides in the bushes like a frightened runaway cat that has to be coaxed into the open. This is what art and writing and science are for. Writing is especially generous as its use of language empowers it with virtuosity & cocoons of transformative silk & provides us with imperatives. It urges reflection. It admires the graceful sublimity of swans & urges us to do things. Pass the salt. Pour the gravy. Chop wood. Carry water. Crease your pants. Don’t crease your pants. Do the dance of paregoric. Murmur like coal. Shout like a lout. Whistle like a thistle. Sing like a wing. Listen. Listen to the sound of rain in early summer when it murmurs among the leaves. Listen to a cellist pull a long delicate note out of a cello and gingerly lower the bow as the note hangs in space. I remember putting vinyl records on a turntable and delicately lowering a needle into the music sleeping in the grooves.  Things are different now. I listen a lot to YouTube. YouTube has turned my head into a jukebox. A time machine. A nostalgia dispenser. A round thing with hair and earphones on it. The whole character and flavor of an age is there with a click. 1966: one click. If there’s anything good at all about getting old it’s looking back at the broad landscape of a life. With a soundtrack. Well you know now you make me want to shout, sings a diminutive but kickass Lulu descending a spiral staircase. Everybody shout now. Shout shout shout shout shout shout shout shout shout. And yet, for Heidegger, it’s all about tools. Things in the material world shaped into meaning and agency by purpose. And not necessarily things. Anything. Situations. Baptisms. Bar Mitzvahs. Mustard jars. Speed bumps. Gun fights. Revolt. The smoke of rebellion. Delacroix. You know that feeling of defiance that persists against all odds, when there’s no control, when you’re out of control, when control is uncontrollable and the uncontrollable controls everything, including the polish on your shoes when you walk down a sketchy street at night, is that the blues, I believe so. It’s an e minor in a b major dilemma. A transition. A moment in time. And who controls time? Nobody controls time. It doesn’t exist. Time isn’t real. Time is tied to entropy, or the increasing disorder of things over time. But try telling that to a clock. Tic toc, said the clock. It’s ten o’clock. Thus may we see, said Shakespeare’s fool, “how the world wags; ‘tis but an hour ago since it was nine, and after one hour more ‘twill be eleven; and so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; and thereby hangs a tale.”

 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Parable Of The Blinds

In late spring or early summer, in late evening, the angle of the sun hits the blinds in our bedroom in such a way that the light coming through gives a dappled effect, blobs of light that seem to pulse, dilate and shrink, complementing the narrow, rectangular blades of the blinds with the amorphous splendor of light, fusing high definition to the hazier corridors of inference and correlation. It seems natural to think of a universal consciousness imbuing everything with numinosity, with the magnificence of a disembodied, oceanic intelligence, part and parcel with the fermentation of daylight into the wine of night. Or maybe it’s all just a brilliant accident, light and shadow in various patterns that tease interpretations out of the mind with a seeming legibility that’s just arbitrariness in the end, doesn’t matter, but that’s not the feeling, which is also something generated, something shared by oysters and horses, elephants and eels and monkeys and human beings, an intimation, a monumental understanding no one understands. The message isn’t clear. Is it even a message? Something seems to be trying to communicate. Or is that just imagination? Where does imagination end and the world begin? Earlier today, on our way home from a run, R noticed the moon was out. It’s always a bit strange to see the moon during the day. It’s more dreamlike. The divide between reality and imagination is a little more vague. They don’t divide. They blend. The border is non-existent. They define one another. They overlap and the overlap isn’t even an overlap it’s more like a sfumato effect in Italian painting. That is to say, a mist, a blur, the way the air gets around a city by the sea, everything so steeped in vagueness it has an emboldening effect on you, makes you feel silly, giddy, daffy as a dog, why take anything seriously when everything is so partial, so temporary, so ephemeral? We’re all ghosts. We haunt ourselves looking for selves we used to be, selves we could’ve been, selves we carry with us into our new existence, our latest manifestation, which isn’t entirely here yet, and never will be. Invention never stops. There’s the material and there’s the immaterial. The material is immaterial as the immaterial is ethereal. You can exempt yourself from anything, really. Just watch the current. The current is tricky. And the rocks are slippery.

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Timpani Epiphany

There’s a meaning pinned to this word. If you look closely you can see it. It has a plume and a reflex and an escalator. I think it means quack. I think it means process. I think therefore I state. I make statements. I like pointing things out to people. Over there you will find a sink and a faucet and a piece of infinity pregnant with gobbledygook. The edge of a lip is a listless sample of feeling. When the mouth opens a sentence comes out and stands in the middle of the kitchen looking for something to eat, anything, gerunds, participles, predicates, predicates are delicious this time of year and go well with garlic chicken rigatoni or any word salad. A predicate can move me to make a noun open to its pedals and operate like an empire. It occurs to me at times like this that I’ve never thrown confetti from a window. I thought that would be something I might do one day when a team of astronauts return from Mars or a deranged hydrogen jukebox ejaculates prisms of music while being pulled by four white unicorns down Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue. This image came to me in a dream and took its clothes off and crawled out of my brain all slippery and wet. It gets odd at times like this to wander around an education feeling the throb of its effervescence turn into something helpful and rectangular for the palliation of the masses. People who get married during the winter are bold and daring. This is to say that there’s something about an intensity that leads to revelations of nutritious obscurity and a bride and a groom in a warm Wisconsin church while outside the winds carry the sharp stinging cold of a universe that nobody fully understands and that for all means and purposes is utterly indifferent to the fate of humankind or the frowzy gentlemen in the corner eating a piroshky rather clumsily. He looks at it curiously, as if, by penetrating its interior, he discovered a word with a meaning pinned to it, and the word was piroshki, and all was good with the world, and the embryo of a gentle emotion flapped angelically out of the mouth of a six-year-old elephant, and hung in the air, dripping predicates and musk. And I am reminded of butter, and the gurgle of water down a drain, and that first moment of weightlessness that occurs when a word, any word, is opened and inside we find more words, and each and every one of them coated in epilepsy like a musical instrument, a cello bowed by lightning and that old wood so full of music it swells into timpani.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Hardmeat's Later Manner

Sixty and seventy years ago Hardmeat’s later manner both heightened and met a new appetite for hectic, humidly insistent and telepathic effects that only gobs of paint might induce in a population weary of impressionistic parrots and heavyset violinists dressed in libidinal candy wrappers. This was paint that talked, that opened the great mouth of pictorial blood and swallowed little children when no one was looking. It was reported that these very same children grew up to be surgeons and dentists, while others morosely wandered London’s streets muttering phrases from French symbolist poetry and occasionally breaking out in ancient Celtic folk songs. Later, when Hardmeat began producing diaphanous iridescences the effect was more antiquarian and people felt more like birds, flitting about one another with the great black wings of a public gone mad with the thermodynamics of an aesthetics enriched by decorative molding and good scotch whiskey. Never before or after the 1900s did the precious so quickly become that ebullient little bounce everyone sought to put in their step, that jaunty little hitch that let people know you’d just been to the art gallery and seen a genuine Hardmeat throbbing on the wall like a giant improbability of wrinkled gizzards and weary stigmata. By 1920, Hardmeat’s later art had acquired a eat-as-much-as-you-can buffet style. People complained their eyes felt fat. The avant-garde reveled in mackinaws and talked incessantly of unfulfilled needs and the weird patterning on the handles of forks. Only now – with all the art studios full of busy delicacies and zinc yo-yos – have all these period associations found a lush & distant blue on the canvas of the future. Worldly success would have to wait. Hardmeat’s attitude was never an impatient one. It would be more accurate to call it a raw sienna in search of a scrapbook. You know the feeling: you wait a long time, and then it happens, newly felt sensations lengthen into moments of tremendous subtlety and the world begins to feel tenable again, the way it did in one’s youth, when the fog draped the early morning orchards in its gauze and potentiated the fragrance of fruit rotting on the hard October ground. For there is an October of the heart, a spacious realization of curios and peculiar emotions, the golden stool of Ghana or those nicely unhurried moments in Kerouac’s writing where the Hardmeats of the world come to a small town and stop for some gas and beer and get out to stretch their legs and gaze at the hills. And that’s it, that’s the place Hardmeat intended: he never stopped yearning for the final admission to the salon of absolution. And today we see Hardmeat in the truest sense imaginable, which is to say we’re all looking for someone to provide us with a vision as piquant as Hardmeat. We see him still, stocky & bearded, weatherbeaten, lacking in social graces, setting out each day to paint in the open air & cut space open with a sharp eye & a silken brush. And the air is still. And the paint is thick as heaven.  

 

 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

In Praise Of The Parenthetical

I’m amazed every time I run down Seattle’s waterfront at how acrid, pungent, salty it smells. The water is green. We stop to open a tiny door in the warmth of our bodies and pull some reflections into the open air in the form of words. Because it’s 12:55 p.m. on a day in October & time is just plain silly. Later, we’ll call three plumbers and ask their opinion on intentionality and how it relates to the directional shape of experience. Welcome to the world of syntax. Here we’ll see words as they truly exist until they grow to commercially viable size and can float a big idea. The lore of the object or the lure of the obscure. I’m feeling quiet and marginal. It’s a nice feeling, like the brush of silk, or the initial tentacle of cool air October sends up our spine. Since the pandemic began everything has felt like a parenthesis. Enclosed, but not engaged. Embedded in a narrative, but not participating, not driving it forward. Life continues as normal in its more basic functions – cooking, eating, dressing, reading, etc. – but its larger pageantries and celebrations are slowly becoming nostalgic memories of a past that seems further removed in time than it actually is because there’s been an entire paradigm shift in the way people relate to one another. Our home planet has ceased being familiar and motherly. Earth has grown dour & prickly. The party’s over. I go to grab my hat and coat, but there’s nowhere to go. I look around and all I see is walls. A ceiling. A mirror at the end of the bed. A woman singing le vent nous portera. My life is a diorama for the perfume of the skeptic. My little village is a pretzel. The indentations are memoirs of unintended cunning. Here in the museum of dead feelings the dance of fear requires white feathers. It takes time to strangle a remorse. Noam Chomsky bows his head in sorrow. What a gallant bug. This shiny black piece of night. Moods are embellishments of meaning. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I’m sick of this pandemic. The days of my life grow into throwing milk bottles at the boiler. This is what we do when we talk about the world. We detach it from reality and inflate it with the gas of delirium. I’m going to walk through a city of catfish now. Thank you for coming. I know how hard it is to find the time for a little footwork. What does it mean to believe in dirt & eyebrows? Is there a theme to this? Yes, & it’s pepperoni. Think of this as yeast. Texture is a literature for the hands. It involves sideshows & monsters & the hindquarters of a mighty abstraction. What if I told you I had a personality big as Saskatchewan? Would you think I was daft? Narcissistic? Canadian? What is a thought? Heidegger had his ideas. One involved 3.4 million chickens, & the other was a wolf who stopped for a moment in the woods to stare. Such is the grandeur of the void, & its confetti of stars.

 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Swizzle Stick Physics

I wish I could reach out and grab time and pull it back and keep it from moving so damn fast. I feel like I’m sitting in the cockpit of a formula one car on a highway toward a fatal destination. No U turns. No exits. I’m not even driving the car. I don’t know who or what is driving the car. I’m just a passenger. I don’t even have a map. Or a spare tire. Don’t get me wrong. I think the universe is pretty. But it’s moving too fast. I want to sit by the side of the road & read a map. Or Jack Spicer. Is there a Jack Spicer Atlas? Where are we, Jack? “Be there / Like the earth / When shadow touches the wet grass.” How beautiful that there is such flux in the universe. Skates and glamour and heraldry. Time isn’t just so much gobbledygook. It has a pattern. Infancy is being seated at a table, childhood is the aperitif, adolescence is a trip to the rest room, adulthood is the main course, late middle-age is the desert, and old age is the bill. And here I stand on a March afternoon, a glass in one hand, sponge in the other, as I do the dishes, and attune myself to what is at hand. Click of the plastic Ocean Spray Cran-Cherry bottle after I stomped on it, reducing its volume before tossing it into the recycling bag. The bottle returns to its original shape. Or tries to. Reminds me of an afternoon in a hotel cocktail lounge with my father and him gazing at a swizzle stick and bending it and telling me plastic has a memory as the stick resumed its original shape. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, say the Buddhists. Open a photon, and what do you see? Energy oscillating in waves. Dark energy. Dark matter. Antimatter. What an ancient hole. This shiny black imaginary cave. Right there, under your skin, is a bonanza of art. I think of feeling things as an art in & of itself, especially when a machine can do anything if it’s monotonous enough. Sometimes I want to tell a sausage something & then I forget & say to myself oh for crying out loud I smell existence. One day you’re writing so many ideas that they bang around in your skull like a maraca on meth & the next day there are horses. That’s pretty good. Thank you, language. Thank you for consciousness, lumberyards & fog. The lighthouses have been displaced by modern technology but the shores remain the same, water whispering into the sand, making rhetoric on a rock. It’s winter. The sky speaks to us with traffic lights & spaceships. Welcome to Planet Earth. It’s really great here. We’ve got elephants, savannahs & Bluetooth. We listen to podcasts. Queen Mab discusses glittery human skulls & Denmark with an expert on crustaceans. I’m feeling insolent in my ramifications. I’ve been here a long time. Life here is blunt & complex. Even the pancakes are served nervously. Self-awareness is experienced with words. This led me to write with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson. I’m hooked on polyphony. The ricochets go better with prose. But the games are played with jigsaws, our drinks are stirred with swizzle sticks, which make the equations tremble, & grow into thunder.