Sunday, January 25, 2015


To consider it, is to drink it spiritually. Why is spirit fluid, when we are not? If wine is spirit, is not water, too? Why our constant need for transformation? For spirit as intoxication? For the radical trope that gets us off a sound stage into padded cell where all that's heard is heart beat and breath. Alone, we never yet arrive at solitude. The bearded man in a wing suit jumps from a helicopter, flies through a triangle in the rock's face. Or, the French billiards player makes balls do what balls cannot. This passes for science on our television, but we prefer miracles. Radhika loved the guy who made 100 dollar bills out of ones. But what of the man who does the reverse, brings wing-man back to earth, pockets his balls and goes to lunch? Do we not honor him with just reward, absence of shoe leather or tablet? One commandment instead of 10? Let go, says mind to self, interrupting. Rude, mind.

--25 January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Conversations with John Gallaher's _In a Landscape_

I'm not sure why I bought John Galleher's new book, though it was probably because we've been neighbors in Facebook comment boxes (little boxes!) on such topics as adoption--he's adopted, I have adopted children. He lives in Missouri, which was intriguing to me until I found out that he clearly, obstinately, doesn't know about the Cardinals. So I bought his book from BOA Editions, In a Landscape: A Poem. It's got 71 sections--LXXI, rather--constituting a discursive meditation on his own mid-American middle-aged daily life. It's a masculine Midwinter's Day, perhaps, though when I wrote to tell him I liked the book, I said it reminded me of Douglas Crase. He responded by saying he hadn't thought of Crase in a long time. There was that book in the 1980s, right? Yes, The Revisionist, 1981. Was that his only book? I looked Crase up, found an official website. Yes, that was the only book of poems, but then there's been a daybook and a co-biography since, along with a book of essays about American literature. No mention of "real" work, the kind that pays the bills. How does he live such a life? John wondered. So I went prowling and found a New York Times wedding announcement from 2011 for Crase and his partner Frank Polach. By this time, I'd veered away from my comment on John's book and into a wild goose chase after Douglas Crase's finances, which seemed odd. Then I remembered that Crase had written me a couple of times, but stopped after I suggested (as I recall) that he write more poems. (Was that why he stopped?) I just now (later) took The Revisionist down from my office shelf. Inside it, I find a note in an envelope dated March 17, 1992. It's in response to review I wrote of a book I no longer remember reading, though I do remember his poems, not exactly what was in them, but their density, their careful thoughtfulness, like Ashbery poems that were more linear than Ashbery poems, more deliberate.

I started sending John brief messages in response to his book and began to think that this was one way to read the book, talking back to it as I flip through it, sometimes forward, sometimes back. It started with funny stuff. Like a rumination on numbers and porn. I'd just talked about this in class when we started the Dover edition of Shakespeare's sonnets with the old numerals we no longer learn in school, and then saw this--


Whenever I see the roman numeral XXX
I think of pornography.

For a few months the site meter for this Tinfish Editor's blog recorded repeated attempts to find pornography. Searches like "XXX stories for my husband" came in from Arkansas, which might not have been Arkansas because I remember using blogger in Los Angeles and seeing it logged as Arkansas. When the tickle became an itch of curiosity, I investigated. The search landed curious yellows at a post that included discussion of Shakespeare's sonnet XXX. Sad pornographees. I'd forgotten that the post included my mother, ended with a photo of her in her Alzheimer's. Forgetting can be a kind of grace.


I changed my mind. I was going to stop writing this poem, but now
I'm not, because I heard someone say, in the hallway earlier,
that she had changed her mind, and it seemed a lovely idea, the way
it struck me to "change one's mind." I'd like to do that. Presto

When we adopted our daughter, Radhika, at age three, she spoke trillingly in Nepali. The difference in our languages mattered far less than I had feared. She conveyed her needs, and we provided them. But as soon as she started learning English, she discovered words to say and repeat. The first was "TRAFFICS," which she would yell from the back seat of the car as we drove home from my job and her first day care person. (My daughter is not a patient person, I remember thinking.) Then came the brief era of "change mind!" She'd walk around the house calling out, "change mind! change mind!" There was a beautiful constancy to her announcement of inconstancy. "Inconstant stay," in sonnet XV, can be read quickly as "inconstancy." I think it was Garrett Stewart who taught me that.


"It changes you," they say about a lot of different things,
but what they don't say is that most people
change right back.

We had a chat about "change," John and I. My week has been like carrying a pile of dirty nickels in my purse. I can't even reach them to spend. He liked the mention of "spare change." Brother can you spare a dime? Pair one?


What does it mean to be useful? To be a useful person? My son's
watching Thomas the Tank Engine, where the goal is ever
to be useful.

When Bryant, Sangha and I were in London, during autumn 2002, Sangha (then 3) spent hours watching Thomas the Tank Engine videos, the ones that featured English accents. Ringo Starr! This was also the era of Bob the Builder. That December we even had a Bob the Builder advent calendar with chocolates behind each pair of shutters. We traveled a bit, once to Essex, and another time to Ireland. When he got tired in his stroller, Sangha started singing at the top of his lungs, usually "Bob the Builda." Through the cathedral square of Essex he sang; and, on the tube from Heathrow after an exhilarating and exhausting trip to Ireland, he belted out the tune as tube riders stared. Children are utterly useless sometimes. That's why we love them. Like poems.


That probably doesn't connect to anything, I'm thinking
right now, a few hours later. But Bob the Builder is playing
on the TV, and my son's watching it, and he's named
Eliot with the E-L-I-O-T" spelling. Bob has just dropped
his construction helmet . . . 

John Cage keeps coming up in these poems, which are not acrostics, or especially quiet, unless you mean written in a steady even tone. They're not quiet, or random, even if they take some chances. Somewhere Gallaher refers to 4 minutes and 33 seconds. I went to hear this at the Honolulu Art Academy with Bryant when we first started dating. A woman sat at the piano and prepared to play. You could tell who was in or not in on the joke. There were the coughers, the whisperers. She got up once to look inside the piano, then sat down again, which felt a bit like cheating, because she was doing something. I once played the Frank Zappa version of 4'33" to a freshman composition class. One football player started pounding on his desk, another got up and danced. Only one student said she enjoyed the time to herself.


When I was young, I lived in Orange County and ended up
going to Disneyland thirty-five times. I was trapped at "Yo ho,
yo ho, a pirate's life for me" once, for about forty-five minutes."

When I first moved to Hawai`i, I had a colleague named Alan who was in his late 30s. That was back before air-conditioning and stark ideologies, when we drifted between our offices and chatted. His office was on the same corridor as Joe's who died of AIDS. Alan was a storyteller, but he kept telling the same one. Soon, he was teaching less and less, and his students complained about him. Then--and this was beautiful--his friends (three or four or five of them) took over his classes until he had 10 years vested in the system, first while he was still in his apartment, then in a home. They would shop for him, do his taxes. And then he was gone to California, where his older sister had died of early onset Alzheimer's, like their father. Alan had never made commitments to people, because he knew his DNA. But I bring this up because Alan was once trapped in the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland for a very long time. Whenever he and his friends were on an academic panel together, one or the other of them would slip "it's a small world" into their talks. Even now, years after Alan's death, his friends wear funny ties on his birthday, go out to lunch. So, when John asks in


Where's the line between what constitutes repetition
and what constitutes change? Right now I'm thinking forgetfulness
is just as good as careful planning . . .

I think of Alan, for whom forgetting was repetition, and repetition of forgetting a story told over and again in my doorway on the 6th floor of Kuykendall. I'm no longer there--I moved to the 2nd floor years ago--and that's a kind of change I can count. 4 floors. How many years now?

Alan was adopted by his friends, and then relinquished into "care."


His mother
was the sister of my father, until years later, when we were adopted
and became brothers. Our mother now, back then, was the daughter
of the brother of my birth grandmother. We scratch our heads about it
now and then, how every family has these stories, these little

When our daughter came home with us from Nepal, people would ask if she and Sangha were siblings. I'd say yes, or "they are now," knowing precisely what they were getting at. Now, when I say we're going to visit the kids' sister, friends look confused. Isn't she Radhika's sister? And the mother of my daughter's sister is what to me? There are not enough names for us, or there are too many, usually fractions, like half- or step-. Before I adopted my children I had the same odd way of apportioning relation, of who was what to whom. A woman stopped me in a park where I went with Sangha; she had a son his age. She wondered if she could love someone not related to her by blood. Her son was conceived in vitro. She really wanted me to answer her question.

Are poets related genetically? Or are they made by way of similar strands of DNA, and then adopt each other? The torque of synapse from direct address to punch line suggests yes. The poetry gene is clearly recessive, popping up at random chance moments in the larger population, causing no small amount of distress (existential and otherwise) to its carriers. We are the kids who don't know about each other until there's an odd early a.m. call or facebook post that suggests we might share a parent. Maybe that parent is assigned us by Harold Bloom, but most likely we can't understand each other (misprision, baby!) because we didn't share four walls and an Oldsmobile. But there's no statute of limitations on this recognition scene, with all its joys and disappointments, its promise of getting out of time, only to fall back into it. Our cousin ended up choosing her late-birth-father's wife over her half!! biological sisters. It's like that with families, the choices forced upon us by politics. Or the way institutions bind us together as parents, siblings, and kids over the space of decades until we don't need to go to meetings, because everything we would say is there in the room already, hanging not as possibility but as what simply would be. When I meditate, my brain starts off that way, full of conversations remaining from 3 a.m. wake-up-to-pee time, a choreography of sounds more chaotic than those in "Truck Stop," where Glenn Gould goes to a diner, and overhears voices as if they were part of a Bach Fugue. I often wish there had been more fugue states in my life; at least then, there's focus amid all the remembering and forgetting and counterpoint of voices. Once I walked miles in New Haven in one--some guy had made me angry--and only later did I realize that had been it. So unlike Bach. Bach was what soothed me as a teenager, because he was complicated but still made sense. States render everything into static.

Somewhere in the book there's a discussion of nothing, probably related to Cage and his silences, and I'm thinking that the most difficult course requirement I gave my students this semester is to spend 10 minutes a day doing nothing. One said she'd never done nothing before, another that he just kept thinking, and was that ok? One woman said she kept thinking about how many pages of her reading she could do. So I suggested that she take her 10 minutes out of Facebook times and she confessed. The woman who said she'd never done nothing before disappeared from the class, as did the woman who might have been the man arrested for prostitution in 2003. Why are you so nosy, my daughter asked, looking everyone up on the computer, so I point out that she's being nosy when she asks. It's true, I like the way the internet imitates thought, but not the way its creativity erases ours, all those links following each other like flash metaphors without the synapses that might hatch them. Not the nada who art in nada. There's more there than that. But soft purple flower cheeks at the pond that spill into the olive green water, then sink. Radhika gets on the elevator with me and smiles at the colleague I don't like. "He talked to you because I was there," she said once in her crazy wise way. And I've acknowledged him ever since.


When I was young, we moved every three years. You
could set your watch to it. It's been mostly convenient.

We made one big move when I was a kid that shook me more than I realized then. Looking back, it was like a boundary fence beyond which things got more confusing and full of strange and violent melancholy. At the time, I only remember I wanted to say I did not want to move but did not allow myself to say so. Not that it would have mattered. This section of John's poem asks the question, "Have you had a good life?" one he returns to over and again, reframing it only slightly. Sometimes it's called "happiness." One of my students last semester wrote about how his parents want him to be happy in the life he chooses. I asked him how he defines "happiness" and he looked at me like I was nuts. But really, I asked. There are researchers who study this! What do we mean when we say the word "happy"? When my daughter scored a goal in soccer once, I got up on the sideline and started singing "I'm happy!" (Pharrell Williams-style). Afterwards, she gave me stink-eye. "Mom, NEVER EVER sing like that again." But I was happy, just then, without knowing how to define it. Just was.

I wonder if Douglas Crase has moved since he sent me that kind note in the 1990s. Should I write him back now? Should I send him this blog post and say we were talking about you and that book of poems you wrote that we all remember, but so little after. "What we bring back is the sense of the size of it," he writes in "Blue Poles." It's the length of his lines and Galleher's that made me think of that genetic connection between them, the discursive moving toward something--an idea, a shaped sensation--the brain's foraging in what's left of Stevens's dump. The the.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Objects not of the eye, but of the mind: and you more spiritual by how much more you esteem them. I wanted to write about pigs and their acorns, but the nuts with their berets were too much of my eye. My students drew their haiku. More tangible the translations out of image into print. But it's what's not seen that forms the basis of this meditation. Blind spot was one punch-line. Dark intended heavy. Self-expression as accessory. A Brazilian cardinal sits on the planter, eating seeds. He's a handsome chitterer, red crown spilling to his throat. I see it pulse when he speaks. He flies off, and I hear doves, trade winds. My mind's blind spot a double metaphor; yesterday, I was all amygdala, today I check my anger with the clerk. It's all trivial, Norman says. The word hurts, but that's because I wear it like a coat. There's more enterprise in taking off.

--23 January 2015

A poetics of publishing, part deux

This is the second of two facebook posts I put up this week. The first was removed; if you want to know its contents, ask. Otherwise, I think this series of comments speaks for itself. They answer the question posed in the box.

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    Last year my small press publishing class hosted several publishers, by skype and by embodied presence. Among them, Charles Alexander and Kyle Schlesinger impressed us with their voluble enthusiasm, their sheer love of what they do. But Eric Chock, who co-founded Bamboo Ridge Press in 1979, talked honestly about the "scars" editors get over time. There's something about being an editor and publisher in a place that is radically diverse and post/colonial that causes scarring. My "home" community is probably "white experimental," but my publishing practice is not. That makes certain assumptions in publishing--reciprocity, for example--much more rare than they are in coterie situations. Let's face it, a lot of publishing concerns are coterie or devoted to a single ethnicity/race/nation, and that too has its place. Hell, Modernism was coterie, and there are publishers who specialize in Asian American or indigenous American or Hawaiian or African American literatures. Or in marking the generally invisible category of "Euro-American literature." That's important work.
    Over time, I have come to realize that Tinfish Press's vision is impossible in the real world; King Tender had that right years ago in a review of Lee Tonouchi's book she published in the old Jacket magazine. I still hold to that notion of a community composed of difference--and hell, it works in my daughter's soccer community, or my son's school--thank you, Cecil Giscombe, for reminding me that diversity is not always difficult. But there are hopes that need to be "surrendered," as CA Conrad said in a very different context at Naropa in October. In that surrender there remains the present tense of making beautiful objects out of poems, which is what really matters. Eric Chock, again, laughed one time at one of our long lunches, which we share every few years or so, about how he used to think I wanted "to change Hawai`i literature." Oh my. Perhaps, in my middle age, I no longer want to change anything, just be in the practice of publishing and teaching. Publishing as meditation, rather than agitation and the expectations it arouses. Publishing as a possible world. Albert Saijo in his cottage in Volcano telling me he no longer wanted to be published was a great lesson, too.

    I want to thank those of you who commented on my post the other day and helped me think and feel through this complex of emotions attached to publishing. Sometimes the lessons I think I've learned return and need to be rerun with a difference (one hopes positive). I've been asked to take that post down. Because I do not want to feel wedded to my own strong emotions, or disturb anyone else's, I will do so. What hurts and angers us is our teacher, and I will look to that teacher for further advice over the next few years of publishing and being a poet. I will also allow a feeling of joy occasionally to wreak havoc with my scars.

    Monday, January 19, 2015


    Some things are little on the outside, and rough and common. Her voice recognition software translated “excellent” to “eczema,” while Siri said “cat of the rightists” for “cat arthritis.” Await the typo, for that is where tooth lies. Can the little paragraph hold so much as you, my borrowed God? I wonder about Tom Traherne, with his Dear God emails, his aspirational prose. Did he agree with Williams that prose is emotion, poetry imagination? I don't mean to appropriate his form; I got there by another route. But how good is the paragraph for devotion to detail, which is where some gods might be, were they not so grand and forgetful. To exist outside of form must be tiring, all those verbs to conjugate, nouns to learn by rote. The constant scratching of beard, each hair visible and felt. Detail in its despite, succor and sucker both. I've borrowed your father, Tom, not so much as audience but as my common muse. The dust of the streets and all.

    --19 January 2015

    Saturday, January 17, 2015


    They pursue the wind, nay, labor in the very fire, and after all reap but vanity. Sugar cane tassels lined the roads like tourists, or hatemongers with flags. We drove over the bridge into Selma and it seemed that no one was there. She confused “bear” with “barren,” which is its opposite. To bear his memory was to carry it over their heads or to give it birth. The theater showed Selma and (on two screens) American Sniper. You could feel him in the film, like the boy in the mirror who came from another time. So many trailers about time travel; it's always spooky. You lose your girl mid-frame, your leader at a motel in Tennessee. The road was pretty, ribboning over rolling hills, dotted by trees and meadows. At the end we heard actual audio, as if cut off from visual time, the grainy images of men with truncheons, marchers in their hats. John Lewis's voice thickened in a single day. A brochure I picked up read, “the houses of Selma looked proudly on, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge.” LBJ, staring down George Wallace: “are you shitting me?!”

    --17 January 2015


    Do you not covet all? The art is not of losing, but of giving away. Her daughter sings the song from Frozen about letting go, but to freeze is to embrace, not give way. I stay open, he says, chuckling. The lid of our generosity creaks upward, rusting in the salt sun. I've put my nickels in its bank, but nothing comes out again. Compound interest is magical realism where self-interest is law. Let the Supremes cover that one. John Muir's refrain was that he wished to know them better: granite cliffs, bears, butterflies, his dog, Carlo. What he got was not what he took. Find and replace “to have” with “to be.” I have a house / I am a house. It falls like I do into rot. The lotus makes generous use of us all.

    --17 January 2015