The scarf is a fascinating article of clothing. It never really gets involved with the body. Even when it’s wrapped around the neck, it remains loose, casual, fanciful and aloof. It’s all about attitude. This is why wind and scarves go so well together. Neither are staked to a principle or bound to a skeleton. The two other main articles of clothing are shirts and pants, blouses and skirts. Shirts have sleeves and buttons. Once one’s arms have traveled through the sleeves and buttoned up the front, the shirt feels affable, like a hug. It compensates for the carapace we don’t have, or friends or fur. Pants have two tunnels for the legs to travel through and a zipper at the crotch. Skirts fasten at the waist and offer protection and privacy to the upper legs while allowing the lower parts, the shin and knee and calf and ankle, to be seen and admired. Then there are shoes: shoes are more like tools than clothing, adding traction and armor to the feet. Pants, shirts and skirts are all busy doing things, functioning as dignitaries and cocoons for the legs, providing warmth and privacy to the upper torso, and a parachute that fastens at the waist in case you ever walk off of a plane still in flight. Above the waistline, the torso and head rise vertically, purposefully, without impediments or restrictions. The scarf, on the other hand, is little else than an embellishment, a function it acquits with elegant insouciance. There is nothing the scarf is required to do but hang from the neck like a humor, a reckless display of nonchalance. This makes it the most charismatic article of clothing. Pants and shirts and shoes – shoes especially - are all about efficacy & use. These qualities are appreciated. But they’re not sexy. They’re too invested in functionality to be sexy. Scarves are sexy. Scarves are a nod to utility, not its slave. Their genius is incidental. The radius of a moment, the ambit of a hand.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
All the definitions I’ve seen for the differences between songs and poetry I find unsatisfactory and so have sketched some of my own.
Songs are written for music, or at least with music in mind, or music happening somewhere nearby and making the words sweet and melodic, and ornamenting the ears with melisma and quatrains, as if the lyrics were shovels digging rhythms out of the substrate of the dead and making them walk again, and inspiring people to dance, which is a superfluity of movement designed to enhance the appearance of the body, and make it appear supple, and graceful, and capable of reproduction. Songs also have the capacity to make a lot of money, whereas poems languish in obscurity, like people fatigued from a pilgrimage, or shuffling about in wayward vocabularies, hungry for insights into the cosmos, sputtering like candles in utopian icebergs.
Songs move slowly like tractors ploughing a field of rich moist dirt, the emotional life sparked into life like a flock of birds, the frantic energy in a Neal Cassady letter, or Little Richard at the piano, the shine of joy and energy in his eyes.
Poetry is that bomb you find one day in an old factory basement that explodes into the confetti of beatitude. Poetry undermines the current narratives, the ones that put your mind in a cage. Poetry lets it all loose. The explosion of intellect is a pretty sight. The pyrotechnics of spirit rising into dilations of fire into the night sky kissing their sister stars.
Listening to a song requires no effort. Just bring your ears to it. The song does the rest.
A poem requires your full attention. It requires some effort on your part. A poem is a dumbbell. You’ve got lift it to get the benefit of it.
Songs are coordinated arrangements of sound. Harmonies and rhythms and articulations of melodic note angled and banked through barrels of pitch and timbre.
Poems are preternatural. They lumber out of the underworld rubbing their eyes and looking for sanctuary. A lamp and a desk and a room with a view. Sluices and perforations. Semantic foibles indemnified by the load they carry. Ramrod and slag confessing the heat of their making, the rapport of more and the infinite benefit of saying nothing at all, which is the apotheosis of the sublime.
The song is a distillate of intense feeling. Its economy is measured in ingots of sound. The poem is sand. Whatever washes ashore.
The poem grows toward the land in a swell of momentum, the curl of the divinely uncontrollable. It reveals a vast horizon at the edge of banality. And for that, it is despised.
Songs bring people together. Poems split atoms. One is a warm body in the dark. The other is a burst of light. And if you can tell the difference you must be blessed with the soul of a drunk.
Saturday, June 11, 2022
I discovered something unexpectedly Parisian about Minneapolis on a trip through there in 2000. That something is the Mississippi River which flows through Minneapolis like the Seine flows through Paris. The Seine does a lot more meandering and curving than the Mississippi, which suits the Parisian temperament, whereas the Mississippi is by and large a straight shot through town. It’s in a hurry to go south, where all the real fun starts: riverboats, barges carrying cotton, grain, soybeans, wheat, corn, lumber, fertilizer, metals, sand, gravel, gasoline, petroleum and coal and coke and iron. People fishing and waterskiing, canoeing and kayaking and strolling along its banks.
The Seine, as it flows leisurely through Paris, doesn’t allow swimming, but you can fish for bigmouth buffalo, brown bullhead, burbot, black crappie, blacknose dace, brook stickleback, carp, mudminnow, fathead minnow, emerald shiner, golden redhorse and catfish. You can make a wish on a bridge (the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge leading to the Louvre is particularly recommended) with your wife or husband or lover, inscribe your names on a padlock purchased from a purveyor of padlocks located conveniently nearby, toss the key to said padlock into the river, where I can only imagine the mass of keys resting in the mud below. You can walk. You can more than walk. You can strut, stride, stroll, mosey, dawdle, dally, dash, leap, sprint, saunter, tramp, tread, promenade, ramble, or ambulate to your heart’s content on the banks and quays, or sit and watch the barges, lighters, flutes, tugs, tugboats, towed convoys, houseboats, batabuses and the bateaux mouches for the tourists travel up and down the fluvial highway.
I think about rivers a lot. I think about them more than any other body of water, including lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, bayous, oceans, gulfs, basins, lagoons, sluices, swimming pools, runnels, creeks, streams or urinary tracts. I left out puddles. I think about puddles almost as much as I think about rivers. Puddles are transitory, miniature lakes. If lakes could get up and walk around and lie down on a street wherever they felt like it they’d be puddles. Big ones. With docks and bait shops. Fortunately, what makes a lake a lake is its indisposition to movement. Lakes like it fine where they are. That’s why they tend to glitter, and appear so alluring in the summer. Look at me, they seem to say, I’m covered in diamonds, big, solar-powered celestial diamonds, the glitter of many eons and the envy of obdurate mountains and verdant tropical forests. I’m a model of tranquility, teeming with life-giving elements and elfin gaiety, and my waters are cool and refreshing. I welcome you. I long for you. I’m here for you.
As for swimming pools, I’ve noticed they tend to show up in movies a lot. Like The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster, in which he swims from one neighbor’s pool to another in a wealthy Connecticut neighborhood, stopping to chat, laughing and joking with a conviviality bordering on mania, as the pools get dirtier and the people grow less friendly. It’s an eerie movie with an undercurrent of doom. My favorite poolside scene occurs in The Big Lebowski, as The Dude sidles up to the young and voluptuous Bunny who lifts her creamy smooth leg and asks him to blow on her freshly lacquered red toenails. The Dude takes a prudent look down at the pool and sees a man floating unconscious on an air mattress with an emptied bottle of booze floating next to him. “Are you sure he won’t mind,” he asks. “Oh, don’t worry about Uli. He's a nihilist. Nihilists don’t care about anything.” “That must be exhausting,” The Dude replies.
I get more emotional around oceans. It’s hard not to. Everything mysterious and baffling and weird and gooey about life is on display there. Oceans are huge. Look out to the horizon and you sense immediately you’ve come face to face with eternity. You can hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it tingle on your skin, an endless, incomparably huge chill of mist & latitude. Even in daylight eternity looks pretty daunting. The word ‘sublime’ comes to mind. Especially when there’s an obscuring mist veiling the point where the sky meets the water. The effect is unsettling. Oceans are hard to cozy up to, they’re not amiable like lakes, they’re big and dangerous and aren’t afraid to let you know that. Sharks inhabit them. Pirates do their sinister & ugly business on them. Ghostly ships appear and disappear. The bottom of all the oceans are strewn with shipwrecks. Roman amphoras and WWII era destroyers and battleships. There are tragedies everywhere, but you can’t call oceans tragic. They’re too primordial, too elemental. It’s like calling outer space tragic. Outer space is supremely inhospitable but it’s not tragic. Things like that are foreign to the workings of the human mind. I doubt that even the fish understand the medium in which they have a life. Maybe the whales and dolphins enjoy a conceptual understanding of the ocean that is far more profound and expansive than ours, but if they do, they’re not letting us in on it.
And then there are waterfalls. This is water in its most fascinating manifestation. It plummets recklessly, freely, tumultuously into the void and speaks with an endless roar. Then a few feet down from the big neverending crash it gets glassy and tranquil again, like nothing happened. Like moments of hysteria are completely natural, and nothing to worry about, they resolve, the energy dissipates, and you go your way, slipping over rocks and other impediments with bubbling insouciance. Falls happen. It’s all a matter of random variables and bell curves and deviations, abrasions, riffles, rootwads and backwater pools. Chaos is a part of life. You can’t stop it. You can’t prevent it. You can’t contain it. You can’t corral or cage or tame or domesticate it. You just let it happen. Flow. Chuckle over the rocks. Keep going. Going. And over the edge and fall. Roar. Break into a million droplets, deliriums of rainbow and mist. After all the smashing and crashing and churning and tumult, a few further feet downstream you’ll find yourself whole again and gliding serenely along, freshly aerated and hungry for sediment.
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Why is fire so engaging? I can stare at it for hours. Provided it’s in a pit, or a fireplace and not burning a forest down. Maybe because it’s rare to see energy and nothing is as fascinating as energy, which is normally invisible, because it has no mass, which makes it a very pure thing, or non thing.
“It is so well defined that it has become banal to say, ‘We love to see a log fire burning in the fireplace,’” writes Gaston Bachelard. “In this case it is a question of the quiet, regular, controlled fire that is seen when the great log emits tiny flames as it burns. It is a phenomenon both monotonous and brilliant, a really total phenomenon: it speaks and soars, and it sings. The fire confined to the fireplace was no doubt for man the first object of reverie, the symbol of repose, the invitation to repose. One can hardly conceive of a philosophy of repose that would not include a reverie before a flaming log fire.”
Heraclitus saw fire as the fundamental element giving rise to all the other elements. We are holy because we are warm. Warmth emanates from our bodies. Ergo, fire is divine.
The world is an ever-living fire kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures. Light bursting out of a blackened log. Then gone. Then back again. The big tease. The universe winking at you. I exist. I don’t exist. I’m here. Now I’m not. And there is no I. Unless that one tiny letter is diffused throughout the cosmos. An all-encompassing I, pronoun of pronouns. Amazing how much meaning you can squeeze into a single letter. Looks like a steel beam standing upright. But it’s really just an eye. Eye see eyes. Eyes afire on Shelley’s pyre.
Each individual organism is the universe contemplating itself, & is filled with an inner fire.
In the Pythagorean view, the universe expands outward around a central point, which is its heart, or hearth, and is a fire.
In alchemic tradition, metals are incubated by fire in the womb of the earth. And it’s gold. Gold and red and shades in between, especially those places where it glows and winks out occasionally, or cracks, pops, and a fountain of sparks whirl upward.
There’s something essentially sociable about fire, it wants to be your friend, but there’s always the danger that it’ll get carried away, lose control and destroy everything in sight, like that scene in The Bride of Frankenstein when the monster, played by Boris Karloff, is warmly invited into the house of the blind violinist (played by Australian actor O.P. Heggie) and becomes confused and elated with the tenderness and comfort he’s given. He warms to the violinist and evinces joy and gratitude at the wine and music he’s given. But you don’t know how long this is going to last. The monster has no filter, and feels things with great intensity. There’s that tension, that underlying fear that things could go south very quickly, joy convert instantly to rage.
This is the behavior of fire. Which the monster hates. It’s the one thing he fears most, other than angry villagers. Fire is both bad and good. It contradicts itself, which makes it volatile, highly erratic. You’ve got to keep an eye on it. Drunks, too. You never know what a drunk is going to do. They’re puppets of impulse. All id, no restraint. A mutation of promethean willfulness coupled with the intoxications of raw, unadulterated life. A monster in a blind man’s house. The monster’s pain is largely that of a tortured soul. A soul burning inside like an inflammation, the wound of existence, a miscellany of parts gathered from graves and medical schools sparked into being by a bolt of lightning, the fecundity of chaos. He is a renegade to nature, an unholy alliance between science and spirituality. And as we see him stumble through the forest, wounded and alone, the sound of a violin played by a blind man living in bitter solitude elicits a strange vocalization from the monster, a sound of mingled joy and pain, an exquisite confusion.
The violinist hears the monster’s vocalizations and goes to investigate, blindly, but with great sensitivity and an open heart. The Frankenstein monster is greeted at the violinist’s door with tender care and loving enthusiasm, which initially perplexes him, and he growls with unabashed hostility. Oh no, you think, this poor man is about to get creamed. But the monster refrains from acting violently. He is invited to be the violinist’s guest and the two get along famously. Seated happily at the table across from his generous host, the monster puffs repeatedly on a big cigar, smiling robustly. In a mournful tone of voice, the violinist confesses to the monster “before you came, I was all alone; it is bad to be alone.” “Alone bad, friend good,” the monster replies in a growl of shared and genuine feeling. A deep connection is made. Rapport is a development of heat and smoke. Fire is a fruit of sympathy and friction. The inner rubbing of warring aporias.
Outside the fantasies of the cinema, in a world where science and technology reign supreme, and the human population is still reeling from a poorly managed pandemic, one most likely caused by a virus leaking from a biolab in Wuhan, China, my wife and I live in a small apartment with no fireplace. Ergo, I have to create one myself, through the exercise of my imagination. I know there are videos of cozy hearthside log fires on YouTube, but the imagination has greater power to invoke the vividness and reality of things. The skull as fireplace. The mind as fire.
Words are the logs that feed the fire. Hence, logos. Logos prophorikos (“the uttered word”) and the logos endiathetos (“the word remaining within”). Crackle of rhetoric. Ribbons of reverie.
Of course, if I were truly cold and needed a fire, imagining a fire wouldn’t help much. The imagination is boundless, but it’s of little practical use in the real world. “Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand / By thinking on the frosty Caucasus,” asks Henry Bolingbroke shortly after being exiled by Richard II.
There are, fortunately, substitutes for a fireplace. Baseboard heaters that spew heat as soon as I twist the thermostat up. A small apartment heats fast. There’s not much poetry to it, but the luxury of getting warm so effortlessly allows me to sit back in comfort with an imaginary fire on my mind and an infinite number of words to keep feeding it, and a wife and a cat for company.
And, too, I’m being a little too literal when it comes to fire. If I throw enough words on the fire, the imaginary fire, the fire of the mind in its hearth of bone, the fire will extend its metaphorical heat and radiate the room with multiple enthusiasms. “Everything that suddenly lights up,” writes James Hillman, “draws our joy, flares with beauty – each bush a god burning: this is the alchemical sulfur, the flammable face of the world, its phlogiston, its aureole of desire, enthymesis everywhere. That fat of goodness we reach toward as consumers is the active image in each thing, the active imagination of the anima mundi that fires the heart and provokes it out.”
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Mysterious high-pitched sound emanating from the dishwasher tonight. Always that worry. Built-in obsolescence. Has its time come? Is this the sound of the unrepairable? Is this the sound of incessant expenditure? Built-in obsolescence is what keeps the capitalist train going. It’s the coal we keep shoveling into the firebox to keep the locomotive chugging down the rails. Hopefully, the sound was an anomaly and will not appear next time. Not all sounds indicate looming disaster. Some sounds are pungent and a bit jumpy. And some sounds form patterns. These are the sounds we call music. Which is different. Always different. There’s that music that builds to something, that pulses, that throbs, that engorges with its own suspense, aims toward the summit of a mountain whose dimensions exist in the abstract, a theoretical Himalayas. And then does. Erupts. Releases its tension in a burst of fire. Ascends the heaven in the body of a creature holding a lightning bolt in its claws. And becomes luscious. And then there’s the music that glows inside its own questions, that tickles the stars, that rubs its belly on the bar and laughs at its image in the mirror, and goes home drunk in a taxi. Music that grows increasingly pliant and bends around corners looking for Xanadu. Music that forms spectrums of melody in a solid glass eye. All kinds of music. Sounds that are blessed by the melt of objective. And so by the grace of everything sublime become the best music of all, which is the silence between the stars.
Friday, June 3, 2022
Once when I was young I let my hair do what it wanted to do sprout out of my head in a riot of mutinous splendor these days I think more about breath how breath calms the mind how breath informs the soul how breath affects neural activity how breath connects you to the sky how breath is the membrane fusing all life affiliating all being breathing in breathing out breathing once in a boxing ring the air punched out of me my chakras shook like malt
Last night I dreamt someone was pounding on the floor but it was the flooring pounding on a dream I like the heat of the hothouse it feels urgent and unequivocal like a logarithmic spiral or an adjustable wrench arguing with a blind bolt on a Kubota tractor I frequently go to extremes I know this but keep doing it keep falling from the stern instead of manning the wheel birds are so delightfully anonymous I feel like doing a little walking how about you see that house I saw it get up once and walk away and come back with a throw rug and look over there that woman’s wrist is so sharply defined it’s a sure thing an exquisite and delicate thing once you see it you’ll remember it & once you remember it you can draw it and this suggests salt this implies a sense of duty a calling if you will
Think of this as an astronomy of options nervous flings fugitive perspectives & emission nebulae you’ll feel the strain but then realize there’s a thousand and one different feelings in a braid of protein and connective tissue islets of Langerhans bundles of myelinated dendrites rooms full of incense floors of beautiful oak the volume of a dream dilating into yellow pine a velvet idea dangling from a branch of gargled democracy & no strain at all
And sand always sand you’ll feel like pushing a new idea into the ocean the blood grows wild with it here we are all in a sweat let’s go get in that blue glow that sweet blue light illuminating chemical reactivity between the elements everything bubbling & foaming I’ve got a certain fondness for the hypothetical I find it soothing possibility is always soothing it’s a phantom of goodness and sympathy learning to dance in the dark
Some things in life are so secret they’re like a spice shelved in an old dirt cellar somewhere in the Pyrenees in Basque country you wouldn’t believe the cheese look how it’s raining on Cézanne wool surrounding a smiling face
Have you ever smelled a dead coelacanth or a breeze waft over a field of lavender that’s what this is all about smelling seeing hearing tasting one day I will write a Kundalini for dummies the transmission of impulse bioluminescent fish chemolithotrophs ringing hydrothermal vents the discovery that bones contain both calcium and phosphorous don’t say I’m not eager for knowledge but when I see a water leopard leap from the Nile I know I’ll never know enough the pain in my phonograph is caused by the needle riding a groove in a plate of vinyl but that doesn’t make it hurt any less
These days I spend most of my time sequencing wrinkles and if I see a fur in a fury of introspection I withdraw in reverence and watch the waves move to the shore when a boat goes by creating a superlative wake and over there on the shore we all see beaks tucked under wings during sleep let’s not fall from the stern again let’s fall up into vividness move around in the rhythms of water drink sunlight from a glass of Tiffany crystal pull a sentence from a box of shiny red ribbon and let it gleam with chrome let it go where it wants let it culminate in colors engorge with blood & achieve satori
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Up in the Rockies snow glows in the moonlight down here on the plains it’s raining I’m waiting for spring signs of spring glimmers of spring tremors of spring tinctures of spring translations of spring I’ve begun collecting old decks of cards and playing poker with ghosts in a saloon of the mind the joker acts as an ace Spinoza produces a royal flush downs a shot of whiskey and mutters the entire universe is God it’s still raining crows shake their bodies I’m convinced of these sensations I see a ponderosa pine mimic the structure of reality life is largely atmosphere convulsing with winds we can endure it or howl at it like King Lear sometimes there are choices in life and sometimes it’s hard to garnish the truth with perfumed stationary
Is that a handstand I think it can set things straight once the blood rushes to the head snakes usurp the intent of one’s legs I see my voice rippling in the air like wave clouds
Here’s something an ear of corn on a stalk of writing that’s what all this is ganglions spitting the textures of thought reflective equilibrium is a small house in Oslo the beards and bones of Viking kings a stalk of talk on a stick of glitter the central problem of cosmogony is to explain how something came from nothing flamingos in flight over the Andes
Particles and antiparticles bubbling up out of the vacuum of space is part of it but there’s also interrelation no word is a word until it extends from the mouth to the chemistry of life and creates a wider universe like say a drive across Mississippi emissions like semen cypresses swaying in Louisiana celery is an emblem of grace the tattoo of a turtle crawling down my arm a length of wood for a door to the fourth dimension it smells like big long vowels in a house of language can you hear it jingling in my elbow
Sometimes in a dream you can cast a mirror in horse dung at first all goes well but then the mold cracks under the intense heat and molten metal flows out across the floor exploding flagstones sending them caroming off the ceiling and at the last minute you manage to fly
Those courts in medieval Europe what were they all up to were they the Davos of the time some days I feel like I’m in a time warp completely out of step with everything with nowhere to go no one to talk to all my friends dead and gone loss is a powerful emotion I have days of inquiry and days of long speculation incessant exhibitions of thought bronze moth incised with jewels flying from the mouth of a poet in Ethiopia
Once I had a bed outdoors I watched time attract the timeless stars and felt the air lush as an overture the very smell of it too big to squeeze into meaning
Thousands of Zoom readings later has anyone imagined being an anemone in a tidepool I think these words could cause a milky nebulosity to morph into the lights of Las Vegas as the sky limps westward using shadows as a crutch and an aging rock musician at Planet Hollywood struggles to reach a high note because language leaves a residue
Who invented varnish who invented the windshield wiper who invented syntactic calculus we all did & there it is language creating an old gas station drama beneath the chassis of a Plymouth adamancy has been abandoned for adaptation but not here no sir if you know these hills you’ll know what I’m saying we’re all wandering through an experience and each ramification needs a spark of truth to light the fire and burn off and reveal something even deeper let’s call it a dark granting us the privacy to commune with tigers