Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Meditation 16


She says the neighbor was sitting on his truck bed while his daughter played on the swings yesterday. Today, he told me he was close to both of the dead officers. Marcus Aurelius writes that we observe everything before we’re 40. From then on, it’s a loop. We get used to things; we put a distance between us and our injuries; we reconcile ourselves. We forgive the trespasses of those who trespass against us. (Wisdom literature leans forward and back.) Aurelius would recognize the absurdity of this weekend’s violence: an old man killed cops with a shotgun, then set his neighborhood on fire. If reality presses against our eyelids, then how can we close our eyes? We keep them open to our devices, real and imagined. Distraction may have gotten us here, but it had better save us now. An Englishman once asked me why Americans use “gotten” instead of “got” as a verb form. I assured him we do not. Two sentences later, I heard myself say “gotten.” How little do we know ourselves by our verb forms. They make a fine family tree, however, enough to launch a holy book. Had he gotten help, he might not have run amok, the angry Czech. I want a how-to on looking, while not suffering for it. If I make my sentences longer, they might lose their hurt before the period waves its penalty flag. Can I offer wisdom before the facts, like a trial set up to occur before any witnesses are called? It’s a rough path, life, my son writes, though his photograph is of a wall. No matter the angle, the edges are blunt and sharp, and each fork in the road gets you there. The president has done nothing wrong, his counsel says, so there’s no need to introduce evidence. We’re watching the death of democracy on our screens, but it’s not entertaining enough, so we’ll do it quickly. No wonder our tenses are inconsistent. What occurred before the trial must be presented after the trial is done. Acquit him first, then argue that the evidence comes in too late. There’s a crisis in comedy, but I haven’t watched any for years now. The transcript of an absurdity is like a garden tool used to injure your landlord. “Kill da landlord,” Eddie Murphy screamed. It was funny then, but it isn’t the day after the landlord cannot be found dead in her own home, burned to the ground by her tenant. You can’t tell the joke, if the punch-line comes first. Or the shotgun blast. She let him stay in the house because she took pity on him.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Meditation 15


The world ends in hail and dust. No more a consistent tense that moves from present to present, but a tense confabulation. It’s a powerful move, I tell my students, but you need to know where you’re going. It’s not that we’re all living in the present, rather that its fragile shell so easily shatters. Memory loses all category, as if the past only rewound the present. My mother confused my story with hers, my husband with hers. Who’s to say we were not all on that plain, huge orange dust storms sweeping toward us, enveloping our drone-witness, bearing material prophecy in its grit. The dust cloud is 186 miles long and moves at 66 miles per hour; it crests over Dubbo and Broken Hill, composed of earth from farms in New South Wales. “Look at the earth,” my father would say, meaning the orange clay that only broke when you took your spade to it. The earth was that color in Vietnam, a vet once told me. But now it rises as if it had wings and its poet wasn’t always so stoned he heard angels singing, their verbs blooming dutifully at the ends of sentences, where they propel us back to the beginning, no matter their tense. Our witnesses watch for us, a drone hovering over Diamond Head to see how many houses burned on the first clear day in weeks. It was such a beautiful day. Without my uttering the word, my students talk about mindfulness, this being in the present, being with, not coming after. Legions of bearded white men descend on Richmond with their guns; one chides a younger man for using the word “masturbation.” We’re here to show our love for each other, he says, and the younger man avers, backing off. One wears a knitted American flag hat, the other an orange bandanna. Love does not alter where it alteration finds, is bronzed like another horseman in another instagram photo. Yesterday, I saw Ronald Reagan on a horse, as still as a church mouse. The drone came back to the park like a boomerang, though after the third news story it’s running in the present, coming back and back to spill its video record. She read out loud from To the Finland Station, sentences unspooling like Krapp’s tapes, students giggling at their heft. At the Atocha Station, I thought I saw old women selling bats on sticks, suspicious that the poem was an act of realism, not experiment. There was a plaque for the intervening dead. Some species may be rendered extinct by the bush-fires. To be going extinct. What tense is that? The continuous perishing.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Meditation 14


The right wing commentator opines, we must forget what the enablers said 20 years ago; it’s their job to defend the president, not to tell the truth. Formalism is one tool of the fascist state, narcissism another, the formalism of the Self as a real entity, not the lousy abstraction theologians make of it. Parents cringe at poetry seminars, I read in the paper, which do nothing to make their children marketable. My students note a similarity between poetry and advertising, but it costs less to jump straight into the pun as a lever of desire, rather than an expression of it. What does it mean, that the GDP of Bhutan is happiness? That it’s a poor country, I wager. The smile is symbolic, and everyone knows symbols govern poems and poems govern nothing (or make it happen). Better to learn the art of serving the rich, who have transcended art. As Steve notes, this is not a diary, nor can it be parsed for any metrical value. We make art on the rebound, but we haven’t yet hit bottom. Will you write more books, my friend asks, saying she has but one more book in mind. She’s not afraid to die, she says, as the phone connection unravels. The tapestries of friendship are what remain; we say the word “love” to one another more than ever before to ease the pain of bullying at every level. Why climb the rungs, when each frames another act of cruelty? I cannot begin to imagine the stations of hell in Dante’s university: the dictates of purity demand that you speak only with delicacy inside your own office. Do not tell a student what might be reported as critique, even if that word has other currency. Or you might find yourself walking toward averted eyes, or freshly turned backs. She wants to kill me, one says, meaning not in the literal sense, but in one every bit as painful. The artist is she who believes her metaphors are true. It’s not that they want another truth, because truth is beside the point. They want a weaponized sentence system that will take out the anti-aircraft of evidence-based arguments, burn the tender feeling in the latest psalm read in church. Do not condemn anyone for their bad acts, because you are capable of the same. Instead, attend to your own nave and altar. Then pun on them to expand your range! My new glasses distort less, correct the astigmatism in my left eye. Your eyes are very different, the doctor said, that’s why it’s so hard to correct them. If you need glasses, you don’t work through the bad habits that damaged your vision. But who needs correction if there’s a buzzer on your chest to signal fastball or change-up, curveball or slider? Astrophil and Stella must have their title stripped. The sonnet’s all fake news, there’s no market for its rhymes or limp sentiments.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Meditation 13


The actor who plays Glenn Gould drives an old car (it was newer then) and nods his head to Judy Collins' “Downtown.” She’s still singing in the truck stop (always the same thing on the radio back then, I advise my students). He wears dark glasses, the better to retreat behind his ears. One student said her sense of smell is hyperactive because she doesn’t hear well. The conversations form a fugue, so I play them one, though they can’t hear Gould’s droning voice from where they sit. The room is way too cold. Another student says his name lacks the second “r” found in Trump’s son’s name. He’s adamant on that fact. Note that voices are also “voices” in the music, that his finger wants to play keys, but only reaches his coat, that “it’s over!” occurs in English, while the interlocutor’s slow-vowelled French sounds unintelligibly sad. “It’s about eavesdropping,” one student exclaims. It’s the poetics of my pedagogy, I think, these few minutes of attending to others’ sounds and organizing them into music. “Then I’ll do my majic,” writes the Ukrainian thug, or was it his boss? The thug has a comical comb-over, his very few strands of greasy hair pushed forward to meet the cowlick that grazes on his forehead. One student wrote in his exquisite corpse that it was getting harder to fold the pieces of paper. A materialist of the word! We write to express ourselves, while he speaks to accuse the other of acting in as malign a fashion as he does. With projection comes the possibility of a tear in the film, one you have to salvage for now with scotch tape, unless you let the reel run itself apart from any images on the screen. A coyote running off a cliff gets some time to think about hanging in the air, the fall he’s about to take, the inevitable starting over (since he is a cartoon). If only we could rewind the deaths of despair. I went to clean up after a Fellini film, but the last reel was Jerry Lewis, and everyone was filing out of the auditorium confused. Is “inherent value” simply another phrase for “art for art’s sake,” hence a wee bit decadent? Or is it the lung that blows into a balloon that looks down on battlefield or tulip field, for once able to breathe because detached from the earth? One student wants to escape reality in her next life by becoming a unicorn. They’re pretty, she says. The exquisite corpse, he notes, doesn’t tell a story. In what world is the unicorn real? Or is there space outside the real, even for the fictional character in her own world, which we might otherwise call real, lacking a bigger lexicon. She took “I am not a crook” for “cook,” but that was the fault of my bad handwriting.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Meditation 12


I am just a peg to hang his cursive meditations on. When I ask my students to offer up a quirk, one says he’s an English major who doesn’t read. He used to read half a book before he put it down, but now he doesn’t get even that far. Very few in our generation read much, says my daughter’s friend, the one who’s reading Thich Nat Hanh on dying. At night they turn on Baywatch for the bodies, not the plot. But bodies are the plot, machines to make prompts for our writing exercises, the ones our parents worry about because we can’t make money off them. She realized quickly that thinking might help her earn money, so she went to class. I argue for inherent value, but that’s as quaint as poetry itself. Do nothing for ten minutes a day, I put on my syllabi; if this seems too hard to fit in, remember it’s a course requirement. If I could give credit, I would, but the value inheres in practice and practice makes good enough. Somewhere in the middle of that question, statement took over, the rhetorical hammered into bronze, like a statue that walked out to sea at the end of a novel I’ve forgotten. If earning is like memory, accruing value over time, then forgetting takes us back to living within our meaning. A small bird sits outside my window on the brown rhapis palm frond, but when I look back from my writing, it’s gone. We await the dropping of the next shoe. It’s hard to fight corruption, because it’s spongy, and it gives and gives before folding into itself, feeding the next salted wave of paranoia. It’s formalism, really, but without irony; the more you work at the poem’s structure, the less you find between the ribs. I explain my dog’s name by citing the woman who didn’t require a man’s rib. Hard power defeats soft every time, with occasional exceptions for martyred saints. Her personality is extremely rare, as she puts connections over division, others above herself. Another student comes from a family of six kids and two parents, all of them vegan. Sitting beside her is the woman who likes the all-you-can-eat meat bar. It’s a diverse society, but you have to be taught to express yourself. He governed his tongue in class because the toxic TA policed everyone’s words. We want everyone to be better, so we demand specific sentences of them. A man on the radio said (this was the late 60s) he thought “brainwashing” was when you took someone's brain out of their body and gave it a bath. For our next class, consider why we write while Australia burns.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Meditation 11


It’s a story they tell themselves that makes sense of their lives, he says. A story links race to rape, rape to the military, thus to America’s wars of imperialism and back to rapes, to orphans. Then throw adoption in. Take the walkers away from sex offenders, someone writes, so they can’t provoke our pity. They can walk after they’re declared not guilty, can’t they? He had a good experience in the Boy Scouts, but his abuser had been a scout leader. He had an abuser who was a scout, but his grandfather was a kind man. Variables sing out from flawed equations, demanding restitution. There’s need for a Rage Park where we can pause to scream, throw bones to ourselves and chase them, unleash ourselves in a controlled space. The problem with containing rage is that it resists the container, spills through netting or chain link that holds it in. An arm across the chest signals love and confinement. The wedding photo showed his arm around her neck. The murder dressed as suicides came later. Someone left the abuser to die in his cell and threw out the video evidence. It means denial can masquerade as hope. It’s not just trauma we push down, mistaking silence for safety. It’s also positive emotions that go into hiding in the city’s sewers or basements, those things with feathers avoiding the street, angling for cultural amnesia. A schoolyard fills with terrified kangaroos, fleeing the bush fires. Bet you hadn’t expected that migration. Texas will take no more refugees, as they’ve done their share. Who parcels out these shares, or keeps the graphs of their rise and fall? Who has victimized whom? Do not look at yourself in the mirror. I posted the photograph of a dead saffron finch on instagram; it lay belly up on the sidewalk beside the culvert, its neck so bright a yellow it appeared orange, with fragile orange beak. Does memory preserve or desecrate the bird, whose photograph I take and post on instagram? It garners lots of likes. Is it the beauty of the dead bird’s plumage, or the framing of bright color by gray sidewalk? Decomposition composed. Camera as stun gun, fired at whatever you least want to change. Or can least resuscitate. My daughter finds it odd that I take pictures of dead birds; she saw a dead mouse, but refused. The Tibetan monks who meditate beside a charnel pit are not so shy. To see oneself as flesh, then bone, then dust, makes our being’s imminent absence visible. Immanence is no lie, though the stories the President tells are yarns. He took photos of homeless persons' blankets, so as not to invade their privacy. She holds up the brightly colored quilt she made for her son. The last ever, she swears. Make sure your conclusion is less an ending than an opening, and leave off the moral of every story told.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Meditation 10


Choose a color, any color, and meditate on that. Find 100 meanings of your color and write two pages on each, making sure to consider figurative, as well as literal, meanings for red or green or blue or white. Why does no one count the “hapa” vote, a friend asks, when everyone else has their block? The Filipino musicologist defined “local” by moving us from Oahu to the Philippines to a province to a city to a street, to a block, to an apartment. Doubtless there are localities in the liver, since you can give away a part to be grown later. There’s discipline in detail, like the military chants my father made as we marched down apartment corridors; it was good father-daughter fun then. Consider the different valences of white: orchid, dove, voting block, men with tiki torches marching in the street. Days after posting a video opposed to racism against Muslims, my son put a blue line American flag on his car. So long as you employ it, the symbol is no longer yours. It’s a hive to which a colony returns, adamant in their stinging praise of the leader, for once a woman. The drones dare not differ, nor even higher-ups, forced as they are to recant, spill honey from their lips, appease the tyrant queen. The hive is on his head beneath the orange pompadour. My mother remembered Elvis in Friedberg in the 1950s, driving a truck. Men in Tokyo congregate of a Saturday to participate in his mirror stage, strutting through the park walk like dark roosters. I heard a pellet gun, saw a rooster across the parking lot jerk and then fall; a neighbor walked calmly over, put rooster in trash bag, headed to the dumpster. The roosters sit in a tree behind their house and sing all night long. Elvis was Memphis Jesus, before and after King died for our sins. No surface in that man’s house (West Point, Virginia, circa 1975) was without its black velvet or its statuette. When asked what the President has done that he likes, a young man in red hat stutters, stops. He has taken our breath away with his gyrating tongue, his pacing up and down the stage, his one liners about how much They hate Us, his sexy calls for violence. It’s not funny, but they laugh, and that gives them license. A man dropped his license in front of me at the Mall yesterday, and then I walked outside, where a woman pushing a baby in stroller dropped her coat. I kept pointing at what was getting lost, walking to my car after ordering new lenses that won’t make me so dizzy. Introduce your neighbor using only the information you find on their driver’s license. Symbolic value is as corruptible as any. Launder your flags with your greenbacks. Try use bleach.