Tuesday, August 15, 2017

15 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence. “I don't want to kill people, but I will if I have to.” He's pulling guns off his body in a motel room in North Carolina as his computer screen cups a swastika to the camera. The pale white woman with large glasses asks him about the woman who was killed; he assures her that more will die. He speaks in dead logic, noun verb object, always an object of scorn. Animals. He says he misplaced a second AK-47 for a moment: “imagine that!” Gun grammar employs active voice, even when it's silent, wrapped around its owner like a mink stole. On a walk with my bright blue Schwinn, my father pulled me off the sidewalk into some trees. The police had gone into the woods on the other side where an empty car was parked. Just in case. Just in case someone should get angry and drive to the mall. Just in case someone had been radicalized by his faith. Just in case we were walking down that narrow brick-lined street at the wrong time. Just in case the car was weaponized. The woman with wide open eyes was killed; I want her eyes but not her end. To the martyr go no relics save some iPhone video, a couple of photos, some flowers laid inside a heart near Water Street. You can sit with a relic. You can sing to it in frail voices, but you cannot rest within the instant gratification of grief. Which is his gun of choice, the long or the short, the one in his pants or the one strapped to his ankle? American murderers are good consumers, just like the rest of us. “The master looks down on us every day from his mountain,” a black woman says. This is nothing new, it's just more visible. Identify this bearded white man, the one who beat up the after-school aide who pushes the swings so well. As fashion statement, hoods do better. My friend remembers turning a corner at UVA and finding himself face to face with the Dalai Lama. In the photo he appends, it's 5:11 p.m.; the Dalai Lama's right foot juts out in covered shoes. Allmost the dandy, he holds his dark robe up. “He smiled and nodded.”


--15 August 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

12 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about the white man at the gym. I on my elliptical and he on his stationary bike, while above us Rachel Maddow preaches in closed captions. I keep my eye on him and on the captions until—out of nowhere, it seems to me—he yells “PIG!” while maintaining his unmoving stride. He's often here, in Green Bay cap, peddling off (or on) his fire and fury, telling the woman who sneaks a peek at Maddow that she's a “socialist fool.” I want to ask if he's ok, but imagine he punches me in the face, gets thrown out. There's hate on many sides, Trump tells us today, after a car plows into a Charlottesville crowd, killing one woman, injuring those to whom he sends his “best regards.” The young men in the video are handsome, in casual slacks grasping tiki torches. Perhaps they go to a gym in Ohio or Alabama or Charlottesville to make themselves pretty for the cameras. No hoods, no robes. Just those damn tiki torches like our neighbors have on their lanais. The Dodge Challenger's front bumper destroyed, it sits stationary in an intersection near Fort Street Mall. The woman who was killed, I read, was simply crossing the street. At a small diner in Williamsburg a white couple grumbled that a black woman hadn't smiled at them. She left with her daughter; they skipped down the street, the one holding a bag, the other in pig tails. She hadn't been there to serve them. I mumbled an apology to the waitress. “You noticed, did you?” she said. Red brick serpentine walls blocked us from gardens near the lawn. I sat on a young man's lap in one garden, kissing. There's no accounting for emotional flooding; it means so little. In Kathmandhu, they ask if you want to visit the Jew (zoo). Today, men yelled, “Jew won't remove us.” I'll hide in that sonnet with the remover to remove. The last president tweets about love. He's an outside agitator now.

--12 August 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

6 August 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about career, about the way I can't write an honest sentence about career. It's a stand-in word like a hat rack, denoting motivation and—always—hypocrisy. I may have volition, but my desires are never pure. If I'm with you 80% that makes me more dangerous than if I'm only with you for a dash through the park with my dog; her name hearkens back to demons and early feminists but can't be found in Genesis. To say you're an “ally” is an act of aggression, reads one thread. To be an older woman is to be not-seen; to be a young man is to see oneself too clearly as deficient. Have you ever seen Trump play with his boy? The fault of parenting is most of it. I try to stand on the other side of the white fence, wearing my break-away collar so as not to break my neck, but there's no letting go, exactly. When I sat next to her at the Corcoran, I could feel my substance being sucked into hers, the pain of it. Take inventory of your family's traumas. They pale before the Khmer Rouge, though that's in there somewhere, too. Pale or no, we deal with what we're given (no gift). There's an aura around things in one's late 30s, Ashbery notes, but by the late 50s, there's an absence inside of everything, an ache like the hapu'u fern that fills a rain forest but leaves holes for the light. It's the Holier Than Thou School of Poetry, setting one poet on the top of her pedestal, inventing her motivations whole cloth, the better to knock her down like Saddam. The shroud of Turin bore only one silhouette, but these are ghosted by the stain of our desire for attention. Not the attention we devote to bird song but to ourselves. He tried to fake himself out in the mirror before he knew who he was. That wasn't Narcissism but self-discovery. He gave his son his false name, the one he called radio stations with to defend his primary self, the one with the name we know him by. My son's name denotes community, but also means he's handsome. We wear the same caps; they denote an identity we can traverse without real pain.


--6 August 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

3 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about injury. When is analogy injury? When song mimes trauma, or the other way around, as if two girls singing “this girl is on fire” mimicked the deep state's heavy metal? A boy leaned into speakers at a London club, circa 1978, while the rest of us jumped up and down. There was a back door. That was no Khmer Rouge self-education camp. (“Does arm have a b on the end?” my daughter asks, thinking it like the word “numb.”) Memory is always already proximate, a dolphin leaning toward the pier to rub its nose against a cat. Or a hooded man bound to a metal bunk bed beside the other who will never leave the room. Or forged to resemble either. The man who was most kind to my parents writes that the statute was at fault for his conviction. Evasions of is as as. Sylvia Plath's angered me. Daddy didn't put you in a camp. One wonders how to punish someone who so ably punishes himself. Adding insult to injury, perjury to testimony. It's another thing if we're all implicated, wondering where the books we left in the mail room went on more than one occasion. Self-cratering is not self-care. My reliance here on sayings—buy the styrofoam bowl and add water to taste before putting it in the microwave—reflects the fault in my chest. That's an analogy for burning. Where in your body do you feel this lack of knowing anything? At Kilauea Iki the walls of the crater appear as scrims of rock; in each pile along the path there are black and orange rocks, and those whose surface is aluminum. At polite distances, ohi'a push out their tufted blossoms and spikes of grass bow. The lava field is a zendo of sorts. As we drove back from Kona, the volcano shone red in sulfur smoke to the right of Mamaloa Highway. “I'll always remember this day,” our other daughter said from the back. Whether or not that was an honest statement hardly matters; we cannot know what that verb form holds.

--3 August 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence that is not like the others. Form to follow function requires me to better think about function. The newest experiment is spare record of water drops on broad leaves. Too much detail denotes trauma, too little the same. Repeat signs were emojis before the fact. “There there” or “the the” finds laughter in repetition. An old Cambodian woman asked for more gruel and was killed in front of our friend. My students could not forgive him his laughter. They couldn't stop bringing it up. Our friend gave them his trauma and they blamed him for it. I wonder how they remember him from their late 20s or early 30s, driving to work, feeding their kids, mowing their lawns. Only later did I see it as a kind of generosity of spirit, his offering up of story. Later iterations of his were softer, until trauma seemed to have bled out, and we'd arrived at a horrible going to camp narrative that didn't jar us from our desks. Most American workers have suffered the trauma of bullying or mobbing in their jobs; psychologists need to understand the phenomenon of ganging up on scapegoats and forcing them out of work. Jeff Sessions oddly knows this, the racist bully. Administration, typically, sides with the mob; most others remain silent and are traumatized in their turn by what they witness. The survivor is scarred, but at his best sanctified by this experience. Saints don't get much health insurance, however, or tuition money for their kids. You've gotta be in the 1% to express your empathy, but once you're there, you've got your eyes on a different prize. This morning birds punctuate the forest with song. A distant bulldozer diminishes their surround. When I asked students to give examples of systems, one said “buddy.” Beside the road a layer of rock holds up a layer of soil. It's thinner than you might think, spongy with dead hapu'u fronds. If you don't learn the names, they'll all disappear. If you do, sing them in rounds. Spread the trauma of repeated sound.


--2 August 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

1 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence. I want to write experiments are the new realism, that they must be conscious, even if their subjects are not. The Alzheimer's home a colony, run by a bureaucracy of outsiders, its rules unreadable to the residents. Land and rent its raw materials. A cure for memory's lacerations, this band of crickets, birds, helicopters, my husband scraping the wood stove. “They're so beautiful,” she said of the same flowers, over and again. The red spotted orchid's a double-decker, petal laid lightly over petal. The next day it's shrunk to a red point on a green stalk. On Haunani Road, an Asian man stops his truck and gets out. There's a handicapped sticker on his mirror, and his legs are bent oddly, painfully, out. “There's a sign up the road,” he tells me, “to say they're going to subdivide five acres into 12 lots and build houses.” And those cars! Abandoned, rusted, sinking in front of an empty house. “The community should have a say,” he tells me, before getting back in his truck. I find the sign, cloaked by vines, date it back to 2010, hope it's been forgotten, or the papers misplaced, and then turn off Hanunai onto a gravel road toward Wright. Development is forgetting by way of accumulation. First you scrape the rain forest off the lot, then you let it sit, a few trunks upright in the dark earth. To remember is to love the material world, to add onto it. Consider that there's ambition in forgetting, even in being forgotten. He was so resistant to attention, Miho says of Saijo, that no one's heard of him. Only a bit player in that movie, sick man in a hospital who watches his healthy Beat friends light out for the territories. To be forgotten is perhaps the greatest blessing, but he cannot ask his friends to abandon the picture of him by his stove, talking always talking about political corruption and the blessings of pot. To be abandoned is not the worst of it. There used to be i'iwi's on I'iwi Road, but they fled to Mauna Loa when mosquitoes arrived. The only i'iwi you see here is a dead i'iwi. They sound like rusty hinges, opening and closing in the forest canopy. I took a picture of a gate on Laukapu Road whose post was more rust than iron. Lace is an old lady's hobby, she was told. But red lace in a rain forest forgets its category and dissolves.

--1 August 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

28 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about pay raises and suicide nets, about private resignations and public firings, about the age of my daughter's bones. I want to write an honest sentence about the rain that falls in coherent syntax on wide green leaves. Roof song is a random percussion. The genie flies a big plane and makes tremendous decisions. He keeps stuffing paper back in a bottle—old deals that never took, pieces of a Russian phrase book. Outside, a native bird sits on a leaf until I realize it's leaf only, resembling bird. I listen to bird songs on my computer, but they're no more memorable to me than the rain. I am afraid for my daughter's bones. “Don't protect their heads when you push them in the car,” he tells police. “They don't shoot our beautiful girls, because that would be too quick. They carve them up with knives.” Grammar is either ethical or it's not. A knife's clean cut makes noun and verb agree on what's left on the table. The water next to a curb in Hilo smelled of dead fish. There's pornography in the air, but it cannot promise pleasure. If you can't speak well of others, then say you'll kill them, dispose of their bodies at the tip. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion was a damn good story, but no one should write fan fiction about it. I am afraid for my daughter's bones, though they're as white as mine. Bones become matter at the tip. We recycle persons, not plastic. When we grow, if we grow, resilience is a good salary and no student debt. My daughter and her sister giggle themselves to sleep on a futon under the rain on the plastic roof. They say the nights are scary, so dark. The genie wants it so. A mob of one is contagious in its vitriol; you might only later look in the mirror to see the face you first identified with your name. It was arbitrary, but someone gave it to you. The genie knows to call you by a name, but his calling is taking, not adding on. The wall will be see-through, just as we are to him, and he to us. To see is not to act, alas.

--28 July 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

20 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence. This is not normal would be one. Academic mobbing is a thing; you can chart it by seeing how colleagues walk the corridors. One wears Beats and dances past. Another leaves the elevator, device planted in front of face like a palm. “Are you gossiping again?” my daughter asks and I explain that gossip is how women warn each other; it's a micro-politics that is suddenly out-sized. If he'd told me he'd recuse himself, I'd never have hired him. The individual is one thing, the all-consuming sponge another. I read Ponge as a freshman, loved and then forgot him. And now I'm trapped inside the chaos theory surfaces of a public ego. He really liked to hold my hand, he said three times in a row. Row row row your boat works as zen wisdom. My mother rowed into the Bay of Naples to be alone, but a soldier rented a boat to keep her company. Her story repeated so many times it became a round in my head. I don't remember if it's in the video the neighbor made of her telling stories, the neighbor who's now in prison for sexual assault. Undercurrents, riptides. A chain of 80 people formed from shore to the swimmers in distress. That was the good news last week. They doth accumulate, his lies, like piles of sand in an hourglass. The video of my mother now matters as much for audio of the neighbor, his inquiring voice, his fondling of her memory. Spool! Banana peels on a south London stage. Words make old technology sexy. If I had audio of that meeting, I'd put it in the closet with my mother's ashes. Don't bring up the past, they said. Don't you know students act that way? Feather in our cap, but. The drawer closed, as did my door. His poems are full of them, but they're usually ajar. Inoculation against assumptions, no anti-vaxxer I. Her photos of my son and his friend were done in fish-eye, though time warped the rest. I see he saw my message, but I get no message back. It's like responding to Trump's tweets; the glory is in doing it. But that's a distraction! The woman with the Big Gulp fed her granddaughter a spam musubi, rice clump by rice grain. She drives a pink electric car and says “true love!” at bed-time. It's Disney, you know. The French theorist had nothing on us now. You should see the refugees ride.

--20 July 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

19 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence. A myna waves blue Dorito bag like a flag across Hui Iwa. Simile as false flag. Not the sound of a flag, its appearance in the beak of a brown and black bird. The sentence is true, if not honest. In that micro-difference we parse an older politics, the seen but not spoken hijinks of wink. There was hidden meaning, so we felt we were reading poems and there was some value in learning how to analyze a text. What was hidden has now floated to the top like crude, and it is. He wants to stay in the Senate, doesn't he? The aesthetics of a threat is pretty lame. I want my daughter to feel the joy of having her pass pushed toward the goal; an angle makes the run true. I also want her to drink clear water until she dies. Bryant nearly cried when he told her that she too would die. Existence is value that cannot be laundered, like a casino or tower. My son stands in front of an unnamed castle in Naples. Where ancient and modern rub together, my glasses need replacement. Stigmata or astigmatism. We no longer read his work for meaning, but for lexicons spread upon the plate, platitudes exhumed and replaced in reverse order. Where were the September towers, the airport warriors, flags plastered on walls? Adept of attention, he paid none. It cost too much. The massacre at Mosul takes place outside our camera lens. Even within it, there's nothing to see. Nothing to see in secret meetings without aides or translators. Nothing to see. My dog's brown and black ears frame an ocean that's still blue. Even if the blue whale game is false, young women still kill themselves. The new comfort is found in everything fake. After he confessed to the crime, his supporters still thought the news was false. The fake of a fake is still fake, until in this long wall of mirrors laws of diminishment reduce us to dots, like distant seals in a cold sea. That word looks true, but a wavering red line appears beneath it. Red sea spelling bad. She smelled Sewer View Gardens but placed it on the wrong side of the street. Eye exams depend on solitary letters. Even as my vision coheres, there's no meaning, just ever tinier lines to decipher. You're a good guesser, she said, and I felt like Bengie Molina catching 90 mph pitches in the Puerto Rican dark. When you can't see them otherwise, you get good at spotting pitches as they leave the pitcher's hand.

--19 July 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

18 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence. I want to write a sentence I can own, not in the way I own objects but how I take responsibility for the air inside my room, breathing as a form of attention that enters without staying. Nothing stays, though "it stay hot" denote a change of condition. He who cannot own his failure tries for a better one, destruction without hope of renovation, a blackened high rise to remind us there's more to life than structure. Strictures bind us to our dog, who is pet inside the house and all animal outside. Nasal appraisal, one neighbor calls it, nose to the grass not grindstone, a way of reading in no particular direction, though leaves require particular energies to decipher. A swift intake of breath is not grammar or syntax, less an unfolding than a claim on the air that's instantly repaid. Her nose on my arm tickles, a greeting that is also inventory. Palm fronds shield us from the asphalt ribbon they put down on our field, the better to protect their golf carts from injury. A two cart parking lot adorns the front of the ever-growing shed. Cart Path Project, it's called. Black riibbon on a green field, no Barnett Newman that. Stations have not opened, though concrete ribbons run across the Leeward side. Look at the earth, my father would say, its rich reds or clays. I took to looking up instead, but age pulls us down a peg, pushes our eyeballs into what's left of the commons, pulls up the fences like blue tape. The blue whale game, while horrifying, may prove to be a hoax. The girl painted blue whales, but her family had no idea she spoke Russian. Each one cuts a blade in our emotional skin, leaving a ribbon of blood behind our eyes. The Senator's surgery was more complicated than had been thought, so he couldn't get to DC in time to vote against others' health care. Irony prevention is what we need, with small co-pays. She teaches irony by showing her students a bus marked by a huge sign advertising safety, a bus that has just run into a car. The car resembles a crushed maroon paper flower, or the sculptured trash can a president throws his deed inside. “I will not own this,” he says; he only owns what he destroys, the negative space charcoal is good at getting at. My daughter learned perspective last week; this week she's on to ceramics and soccer. I haven't seen monks play, but her passes sometimes defy physics. Space is time that's been thrown on a wheel.

--18 July 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

17 July 2017


I want to write an honest sentence.
I want to wear an honest bonnet like a helmet to hold out “fake news.”
I want my honest sentence to do good work.
I want my headgear to include only actual reality.
I want my sentence lived out in minimum security poetry.
I want my poetry to enact a radical moderation.
I want to tease out fundamentalisms until their threads become available.
I want the collage of tree and lace to exist as texture more than as image.
I want to taste dirt to see if there are pesticides in it.
I want “dull as dirt” to be my slogan, because dirt is neat.
I want to write about the green bird who uses a palm frond leaf as theme park ride.
I want to know the name of that bird; without names, there's less decency.
I want to get him out of my head; he's infecting my syntax with a verbal virus.
I want to avoid cognitive decline by inviting parasites into my body.
I want Alzheimer's not to be the symbol of our politics.
I want to write an honest sentence about a dishonest world.
I want to be funny, but not a laughingstock.
I want my honest bonnet to make me Professor Bitch. (That's not want, that's is.)
I want the old hag to leave me her super powers after she enters “memory care.”
I want a world without quotations.
I want to have an empty nest that's full.
I want to be that bird on that leaf on that frond in that field beneath this sky in this place.
I want the mountains to lean down to me.
I want my dog to tell me what she smelled and why she rolled in it.

--for James Jack

Sunday, July 16, 2017

16 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence, one as true as the weather. But nothing's so untrue as the weather, forgettable as pain here on the Koolau's windward side. The mountain's obscure, it cannot be read. It blocks every attempt, calls back the occasional hiker. There was a boy in slippers for whom they searched for months. Don't trust a liar when he tells you the news is #Fake, even if his platform is suitable to the lyric. Threads unspool like couplets. He said his lips were seals, and our daughter didn't get it. She's got humor deficiency disorder. (HDD). Thought Romeo tore his trousers on the balcony; I told her he hid his erection. Only some bodies are bawdy. In his late poems there's either the performance of senility or senility itself. My mother's friend's daughter wouldn't recognize her estranged brother, though she might see her son in his early photos. Baby thrust out on a father's arm; precarity's joy. Divorced from late capital, that is. I can't remember the weather, though I think it was too hot last summer, and rainy. Gray clouds have passed and now the sky is white. Somewhere in the alphabet, Ron told me, there's a section about the weather. Did he express feeling? someone asked. But attention cannot but involve feeling, a sense that something exists on the lawn apart from us, toad or lizard or the dog shit someone couldn't find to throw away. Car alarm and rustling trees, digital music pulse, my daughter's voice. Even the abstract can be attended to. I understand none of them; they are like the mountains or the avant-garde. Helicopter clutter, some doves. What I wrote two years ago I failed to remember, and yet it made sense. The vocabulary of politics without the politics. That's not true or fake, is presumptive. To appropriate is not to make a statement, but to till the earth for one. Only the pure survive, staring in mirrors like weightlifters to see that their posture is true. I've chosen the elliptical, it's so like running on an ostrich egg. On the screen a poker game, commentary I can't hear. The son's lawyer was paid by the president's campaign, before the act in question. “That was before the Russia carnival started!” he says, who is its prime barker. This weekend our populist plays golf. It's real golf.

--16 July 2017


Friday, July 14, 2017

14 July 2017

I want to write an honest sentence. I want to write honest sentience, a body of thought flung into the dark cold of a waterfall's pool. The only good conspiracies are those that make no sense, those attached to birth certificates or grassy knolls, but this one with all the i's dotted and the p's and q's minded, proves entirely coincidental. It's like a Bond film without the flying cars or Trump (Sr. or Jr.) dancing on the roof of a fast moving train as it approaches a tunnel too shallow to accommodate his fat ass. My vocabulary does this to me, and it's gotten more profane these past months, more consonants per square inch of vowel, more spit and less varnish. I want to write an honest sentence, but the words are lacking. They flee from me, the quality words of substance, the words that anchor me to reality when I think I know what that is. Depends on how you define the word is. That's a used up scandal, but this one offers fresh meat on a daily basis. The rotting stuff sits at the back of the proverbial garage, covered with maggots and the raven who's been shown to feel paranoia. They make plans these large black birds, opting out of instant gratification for something they know takes more time. Re-reading the poet I find him obsessed with “time,” and with other abstract nouns, birds that aren't differentiated from one another. Like a menagerie without a genus, or a genius without a key to the library. When Bryant said, “bring the rope here,” the dog did so. “Tug of war” is another metaphor based on violence, though it's really only pulling a rope, like taffy. “Tug of candy” might do as well, and be sweeter for all concerned. I don't understand a word of his late, later, latest poems, but they do offer me permission to go on and on. That and coffee start the races; I am a greyhound chasing a lure. The allure of nature is abstract. A sheaf of rain crinkles as it approaches; I and the dog step up our pace. There's too much vision and too little sound in our lives, even considering the ear buds (what flower they?) my students wear to dampen their anxiety. A wall of sound after the concert in Lyons made us all leave quietly, like lost sheep. I remember lying in the sleeper car's top bunk and seeing only the concrete platform. But I heard the correspondences, too.


--14 July 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

13 July 2017


I want to write an honest sentence. I want an honest sentence, like or unlike our former neighbor. I want the assurance my sentence will (be) last. I lack insurance, as do so many of us in the era of empathy cuts. The mantra is short: Ted Cruz. The mandate is shorter. Sirens in the distance foreclose nostalgia for the journey they take to help. To help, if not create a relationship of dependence. Government is like that. The white guy in the gym called me “socialist fool,” for which I thanked him. That was not a lie, like the news he warned me about. Liberals! To re-read one's favorite poet is to find an absence of politics, though “listening tour” approaches it. The world of fiction's fictitious, but there's still a politics to that. If you tell me that tree's fake enough times, I'll see it as plastic, like an airplane fork except on Lufthansa. The Germans still believe in metal. He though it meant “air dancer,” but it means “guild,” which is less poetic, but there's still a pun there that redeems the practical banality. My new glasses warp my woof, meaning my dog appears out of tune with her surround. The far signs clearer than closer ones, the ones that confirm conspiracies by simply making lines between numbered dots. But numbers are fictions, too, so who's to believe even the narrative that fails to sink in the lagoon, whether or not it's polluted. Micro-plastics or micro-tones, either or none of the above are avant-garde. What you couldn't make with the plastics located in an albatross's tummy. The young man convicted of killing the protected birds was given a short sentence. You can sign a petition to get him kicked out of school. Maybe he can tweet out photos of Donald, Jr. and his dead prey. Amen.

--13 July 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A publication

Jonathan Penton at unlikelystories has posted three of my memory cards on their site, from the Cloud of Unknowing series.

http://unlikelystories.org/content/so-i-encourage-you-accept-your-failure-and-embrace-the-word-whole



Saturday, June 24, 2017

24 June 2017


When my father died, he called down the hallway to me, and I came back. (The nurse said I could still talk to him, so I whispered good-bye in my father's, though--being dead--he couldn't acknowledge me.)  My mother gave him my father's gold Rolex, the one he'd bought for $100 after the war; she sold him our grand piano. He did her taxes when she could no longer keep her accounts straight, and told me on the phone that she was doing well when she was not. There was a cashier at Safeway, he told me, who spoke over 10 languages. Sure enough, the man bagging my groceries talked to a woman in Korean. She laughed. When he and his wife came to see my mother in her Alzheimer's home for the last time (I asked them to come), he teased her with motions of his arms and questions she could not answer. He said he could spend hours there engaging with her who slumped against the arm rest, her eyes flat glass. When my mother died, he sent a brief note. When his wife died, he sent a longer one. She'd collapsed suddenly after a wonderful day together. When I saw his house had sold, I emailed him and got no answer. I googled his name. There was his mug, an address in Incarceration, Virginia. He had a number, a sentence, and a crime: aggravated sexual assault. Someone had failed to protect him. A year and a half after his arrest the house sold and movers took everything away, but none of the neighbors knew a damn thing.


--24 June 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

The world is not what we think it is

Since the anniversary of my mother's death was a few days ago, I googled her street, and found that one of her neighbors had sold his house. He and his late wife had sat for days and nights with my father when he was dying, and had loved my mother, caring for her well into her dementia. I'd always been fond of him. So I emailed to ask where he was moving, and to wish him a happy father's day. I got no response, so I googled him. First thing that came up was a mug shot. He's in jail for five years for aggravated sexual battery. And he's nearly 80 years old.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Toward a talk on Albert Saijo



On June 1, my husband and I arrived on the Big Island to stay in Volcano, right around the corner from Albert Saijo's old cottage (now spruced up considerably and suddenly in the open, as the next lot down the loop has been scraped horribly clean). We turned on the rental car radio and heard that Trump was taking the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.


The earth in Volcano is damp, soft, porous, built as it is on old lava fields. My husband spent a morning jacking up an old steam house on our property, because one side had started to sink. It's crumbly ground, composed of dead ferns, o'hia leaves, koa and o'hia trees, and other organic matter, with a layer of moss on stones and tree trunks. The land is incredibly fragile. For a couple days I heard, through the screen of rain and bird song, a loud mechanical noise from about half a mile away. I walked to it, finding a large bulldozer clearing a lot of all vegetation, leaving only the dark brown mud. A couple lots further down the road, another lot was clear, except for chopped off trees standing like the warriors of Xian. Downtown Volcano, if there is one, features a huge new strip mall, with Thai restaurant, hardware store, and a "lodge" being built next to a large parking lot.



We met Albert Saijo in the late 1990s, not too long after his Bamboo Ridge book, OUTSPEAKS, came out. (He was then in his 70s; he died in June, 2011.) He lived in a wood cottage he'd built himself, sat next to the fire and talked and talked to us. He filled notebooks of writing that are now stored down the street at a friends house in plastic tubs. His writing was all-caps in pencil, included drawings and lots of strike-overs and re-dos. There were no poems in these notebooks, though occasionally a square had been drawn around a section of prose. That small acreage became a poem. He wanted his house to be like that of the woodrat--to live no longer than its inhabitant (it would indeed have fallen apart had his widow's second husband not renovated it)--and his poems seem also to aspire to that quality of coming and going. When you open the lid to one of the bins, you feel a blast of moldy air. It's as if the pages are living their own dying.


I want to think a bit about why Saijo was so important to me, and why--more importantly--he ought to be more important to other writers and thinkers. He falls through so many cracks: an Asian-American Beat poet, known mostly for being the basis for George Baso in Jack Kerouac's novel, Big Sur; a prophetic poet who shied away (that's an understatement) from being published; a very talkative hermit. After a brief flirtation with the literary life in the late 1990s, he kept his paradoxes mostly to himself. A group reading in Honolulu with Gary Snyder and Nanao Sakaki was an unrepeated event. There's a grainy video of his trip to Los Angeles to meet with a class and discourse to the birds in Echo Park. Otherwise, hardly anything. There are a few mentions of him in literary critcism: Snyder scholarship acknowledges him; Jacqueline Park mentions him in passing. Saijo's wife, Laura, said people wanted to come interview him, but he always said no.


If we're looking for poets of resistance, then, we might look to one who resisted being a poet. In his pre-1990 work, published posthumously by Tinfish Press as WOODRAT FLAT, he writes an aphorism about being against literature. He resisted the government, society, the law (when he was a northern California marijuana farmer), traditional form and prosody, and other people. He kept to himself. But in his notebooks he preached ("like John Muir's father"--and his own): "I WANT TO STAND UNDER AN OPEN SKY IN A FIELD & I WANT TO EXHORT & LAMENT ORACULATE ENTHUSE INVEIGH SCOLD RAIL STORM & RAGE RAGE ON WAIL & BEWAIL ELEGIZE & LYRICIZE INCITE DECLAIM EXPOSTULATE RAZZ SERMONIZE HARANGUE -- I WANT TO OUTSPEAK -- I WANT TO HOLD FORTH -- RANT & RAVE -- I WANT TO LAY IT ON THICK -- I WANT TO MUCKRAKE -- I WANT TO RHAPSODISE -- I WANT TO PREACH TILL I'M SWEATING" (O 17).

So the man who would stand in a field and rant actually stayed at home and wrote. But the resistances he outlined in his writing of the 1990s and earlier should be significant to us now. Paramount among them were his resistance to consumer culture, the military and its Gulf War (as well as the war that resulted in his own internment at Heart Mountain as a teenager), and the desecration of the land that all of these flaws in American culture involve. He writes as a poet steeped in the American Transcendental tradition--he read John Muir, Thoreau, Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman--but he came to the love of solitude through direct political oppression of his family for their race. The rage inspired by FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans drove him into the rain forest. He didn't go there because he had some good ideas, though of course he had those, as well. His hatred of the military came as a result of his three years in Italy with the 442nd; like many young men, he was drafted out of the internment camp and straight into the American army.

What I find most compelling in his resistances are the following:

--The links he makes between military power and the desecration of the land and oceans. This is not a connection I see in most eco-poetry except what's being written now in the Pacific, perhaps.

--The model of opposition to institutions, foremost among them--for our purposes--literature.

--A model of intense observation of what is rather than one of acting in the world. His last notebooks, written when he was old and sick, amounted to notes about the weather outside his cabin. He had stopped meditation practice and simply meditated all the time.

--What George B. Handley calls, in his fine essay, "Laudato si' and the Postsecularism of the Environmental Humanities," "a more spiritual existence": he writes of Pope Francis's encyclical that "His ecumenism as well as his adept revisionary hermeneutics of the same texts and traditions that have often betrayed the environment ought to signal that what makes education and the arts transformative is not content: transformation is not intellectual but experiential." This spiritual education shows us that all things are bound together. While Saijo, unlike the Pope, rejects community and its institutions, he does posit a resistance that effects change through the transformation of the self in the natural world.

I wanted to find a way to enact this resistance, to show Saijo in action, as it were. So I've taken excerpts from Trump's speech taking the US out of the Paris Accord and inserted responses by Albert Saijo from his book published in 1997.


TRUMP : I have just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  It was a very, very successful trip, believe me.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

SAIJO: RANK ON RANK OF HUMANS UNDER INVIDIOUS FORMS OF POLITY FORCED TO GIVE UP THE PRIME OF THEIR LIFE TO ASSEMBLY LINE REGIMENTATION MAKING THE TOYS OF OUR DESIRE – I KNOW BOTH SMOKESTACK & KLEEN INDUSTRY BUST UP EARTH & BELCH POLLUTION – I HEARD EARTH CRYING YOU’RE HURTING ME -- (65)

Echoed by THOREAU: they have designs on them for our own benefit, in making the life of a civilized people an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the race. . . I refer to the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. (350)

TRUMP: Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord -- (applause) -- thank you, thank you -- but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.  So we’re getting out.

THOREAU: The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.

SAIJO: HOW VERY PRESUMPTUOUS OF US TO RESIGN UNILATERALLY FROM THE REST OF NATURE & MAKE EARTH SUN STARS ATMOSPHERE NEAR & DEEP SPACE INTO ONE BIG NATURAL RESOURCE CALLING FOR EARLY DEVELOPMENT IN HOMO SAPIENS’ BEHALF SOLELY...

TRUMP: We have among the most abundant energy reserves on the planet, sufficient to lift millions of America’s poorest workers out of poverty.  Yet, under this agreement, we are effectively putting these reserves under lock and key, taking away the great wealth of our nation -- it's great wealth, it's phenomenal wealth; not so long ago, we had no idea we had such wealth -- and leaving millions and millions of families trapped in poverty and joblessness.

THOREAU: Flints’ Pond! . . . Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it . . . not from him who could show no title to it but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him,--him who thought only of its money value; whose presence perchance cursed all the shore; who exhausted the land around it, and would fain have exhausted the waters within it . . . and would have drained and sold it for the mud at its bottom.

SAIJO: LOOK AT PANORAMIC SCENERY & SAY IT LOOKS LIKE A PAINTING IN A GALLERY – WHATS OUR TRIP – CONTROL – DOMINATION – CAUGHT IN A TRULY MONSTRUOUS INSTANCE OF PATHETIC FALLACY – ANTHROPOMORPHIZE EARTH – TURN ALL OF NATURE INTO STOREBOUGHT – SCREW LOOSE IN BRAIN PAN MAKE EARTH LOOK LIKE GOODS ON STORE SHELF (44-45).

TRUMP: As the Wall Street Journal wrote this morning:  “The reality is that withdrawing is in America’s economic interest and won’t matter much to the climate.”  The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth.  We'll be the cleanest.  We're going to have the cleanest air.  We're going to have the cleanest water. 

SAIJO: LET’S ALL BE POISONED TOGETHER WHO WANTS TO BE A LONE SURVIVOR – WHO WANTS TO BE ALIVE IF EVERYONE ELSE IS DEAD . . . COME LET’S POISON OUTSELVES TOGETHER WHO WANTS TO BE A LONE SURVIVOR – BUT THIS WATER IN THIS GLASS – ARE YOU MAD AT ME & ARE YOU OFFERING ME THIS WATER TO INSULT ME – THIS DIRTY WATER IN A CLEAN GLASS THAT SMELLS BAD & TASTES WORSE – DRINK IT – IT’S 100% SAFE – 9 OUT OF 10 DOCTORS RECOMMEND IT – THE NOXIOUS & TOXIC ADULTERANTS HAVE BEEN NEUTRALIZED BY OTHER LESS NOXIOUS & TOXIC ADULTERANTS . . . . AND WHY BE A CLEAN AIR FREAK – WHY LIVE IN VIEW OF OCEAN WITH NOTHING HUMAN UPWIND ACROSS 3000 MILES OF WATER WITH WINDS ALWAYS DELIVERING AIR THAT IS LAMBENT CLEAR & MARINE IF CHERNOBYL GOES BLAM & WE FEEL LIKE PUKING & OUR HAIR FALLS OUT & WE FEEL SICK TO THE VERY MARROW OF OUR BONES . . .

TRUMP: The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.  At 1 percent growth, renewable sources of energy can meet some of our domestic demand, but at 3 or 4 percent growth, which I expect, we need all forms of available American energy, or our country -- (applause) -- will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts, our businesses will come to a halt in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.

SAIJO: O SMART & BEAUTIFUL – O LUSCIOUS FULFILLMENT – O PROTEAN DESIRE – O EVER SHINY – KEEP ME IN COMMODITY FROM YOUR ENDLESS LARGESS O THOU RICHNESS – GET ME WHERE I’M GOIN FAST FAST WITHOUT PERSPIRATION – MAKE THINGS EZ – KEEP ME EVER NEW & IN MOTION (62)

TRUMP: I have just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  It was a very, very successful trip, believe me.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  

SAIJO: SWEET BREATH OF TRADES BLOW LIGHTLY WHILE BACK AT THE RANCH THIS LAST GASP OF WHITE COLONIALISM SOUNDS HORRIFICALLY OVER ARABIA DESERTA . . . WE ARE A DESERVEDLY ENDANGERED SPECIES BOUND FOR EXTINCTION (80)

TRUMP:  We’re also working very hard for peace in the Middle East, and perhaps even peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Our attacks on terrorism are greatly stepped up -- and you see that, you see it all over -- from the previous administration, including getting many other countries to make major contributions to the fight against terror.  Big, big contributions are being made by countries that weren’t doing so much in the form of contribution.

SAIJO: HERE LET US GIVE A SHORT WWAIL FOR THE GONE BIOME OF MESOPOTAMIA & FOR THE GONE WATERS OF PERSIAN GULF . . . THINK OF BIRDS BLASTED OF THEIR FEATHERS . . . .THINK OF THE STARTLED SKY – AND THE WAY WE DID IT – PUSH BUTTON WAR (86-7)

[BOMBS] WHAT A WONDERFUL COMMODITY – YOU CAN ONLY USE IT ONCE—THAT’S ALL THE LONGER IT LASTS – IT’S A THROWAWAY ITEM--

DEATH IS GOOD NEWS – THE BEST NEWS – SO WHEN YOU DROP THE V-BOMB ON EM THINK OF IT AS 100,000 TO 200,000 PEOPLE GETTING THE BEST NEWS THEY EVER GOT IN THEIR WHOLE LIVES – LETS GET ON WITH IT – BOMBS AWAY (106)
TRUMP: At what point does America get demeaned?  At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?   We want fair treatment for its citizens, and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers.  We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore.  And they won’t be.  They won’t be.
SAIJO: I MUST BE APOSTATE FROM HUMAN BECAUSE I BELIEVE THERE IS NOT ONE THING WE DO GOOD – NOT ONE THING – WE’RE FUCKED – FIRST WE FUCK OVER OURSELVES THEN WE TURN & FUCK OVER OUR SURROUND
I MUST BE APOSTATE FROM HUMAN BECAUSE I BELIEVE THE HUMAN RACE INDIVIDUALLY & IN AGGREGATE IS A RACE GONE TOTALLY PSYCHOTIC AND I BELIEVE THE LEADING SYMPTOM OF THIS ABERRANT CONDITION IS WHAT WE CALL CIVILIZATION (122)

I MUST BE APOSTATE FROM HUMAN BECAUSE IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE CIVILIZATION IS BASED ON INVIDIOUS DISTINCTIONS WHEN WE ARE SAME WHERE IT COUNTS (123)

And so Saijo's influence on me, greater than seems reasonable perhaps, is more personal than political or poetical. He (and older age) has taught me that gain is so often a loss, that having more desecrates the earth, that having ambition is not wise, that as Pope Francis writes, "Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities that life can offer"; that "peace is much more than the absence of war" (but that it would be absence of war). And that cultivating a spiritual life is one way to act upon the world, even if (especially if!), as Saijo advised backpackers in the early 1970s, we leave no trace of ourselves behind us.

Note:

George Handley:
https://www.academia.edu/30578081/Laudato_si_and_the_Postsecularism_of_the_Environmental_Humanities

Thursday, June 15, 2017

15 June 2017

And other faculties change and fail. I fail, therefore I'm a white man in America; I conceal my weapon because I know the deep state leaks secrets. There's a cloud over this administration, pregnant with rain, and it's been seeded by the opposition, those who, according to the president's son, aren't even human. They call it my political rage, but I also beat my wife. To be “depressed about” suggests there's content to your illness, but content comes after forms, filling in its crevices like zeros a box score. There are no hits on this grid other than the shot that took down the second baseman. Our vocabulary did this to us, confounding a real game with an attempted massacre. The coin of the realm is metaphor rendered as fact. “He mowed him down on the base path.” My son has his video game turned up; I hear gun fire from below. PTSD is fantasy after fact, an imagined bear inciting terror because you once saw a real bear. As I child hiding under covers, I assumed all sirens came for me. I ask my son to turn his gun fire down.


--17 June 2017 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

10 June 2017


The first alteration speaks to us from the Rose Garden, promising transparency and--above all--safety. The only safety is that of exclusion; safety's pure, is cream that floats on milk, is hemmed in, is corral or coral reef. A mother's hand is barred cell held against sun-washed wall, territory of faults and callouses. I ought not talk more about my children's adoptions, for what I get back are narratives of loss and reunion. “He found his mother, in the end.” They're book-ends to what excludes me, the middling present-parent. Narratives are theory, but I'm all practice. I am family resemblance in a family that cannot resemble. Yet silence concedes the field to theory, mandates we hire ideas rather than persons, that we value origins not as history but as nature. “It's in the nature of the person,” James Comey says, but he doesn't invoke the nature we mean to preserve. Self-invention's a fine idea, so long as you have a mirror and a podium. When my son tries to get my goat, he sounds just like his dad. That's safe to say; I've always loved goats.


--10 June 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

7 June 2017

When I say “darkness,” I mean absence of knowing. I followed the bulldozer's drone til I saw a gap in the forest, black mud bearing the impress of a wide tread, then a wisp of smoke, earth mover removing trees. Find the gap in thinking, a teacher writes, where you can, for a moment, be. But the gap in the forest doesn't denote rest, just earth jaw with teeth knocked out. The man in a silver car still lives parked beside I'iwi Road. The roof is lined with beer cans and bottles. They make a neat grid. Behind him, an old house breaks slowly down, absorbed by o'hia and hapu'u ferns, its brown beams snapped inward. His silver car is a filling, but the mouth bears no witness. Another car sits 50 feet past his, filled with black plastic trash bags. I was struck by the grandfather clock beside the door of the room where James Comey and the president had sat alone. Good night clock, good night constitution.

--7 June 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

6 June 2017

Humility is seeing yourself as you really are. Meditation, I once read, has sometimes lead to breakdown. Its side effects are not noted on the box where I locate my meditation, pull it out and sit inside it, like a demented rat in a federally funded experiment. The leaker wrote an anti-Trump tweet, which proves everything. Beyond the fake news, he screams, we can hear the TRUTH; while there's no mirror in my meditation box, there are his tweets to navigate. Perhaps he sees himself as he really is, though not in his humility but in ours. I peer into his mirror to see how small I can become. Note how, in the bass line, McCartney actually plays in a different key, how this destabilizes the song. Perpetual modulation is like anxiety, though it's disciplined by the music box. The leaker's name is Reality, so I more than suspect we're all pilgrims at this point. Take the road least bombed, and open your arms to the child in Mosul who'd huddled beside her mother's corpse. There's more there than meets your mirror's eye.


--6 June 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

5 June 2017


This discipline doesn't require brute strength, but joy. In order to forgive, the teacher tells us, you need to go back into the wound. Forgiveness has more to do with memory than with forgetting. If, in this forest, I recover my wounds, tie them in a bundle and leave them on the sweet soil beneath the ferns, and if, amid these birds in whose songs I infer (but cannot know) joy, then I can leave them to their composting. We remake ourselves in the image not of our attackers, but of our forgiveness of them, less image than the skittering sounds of these birds after a night's rain. We see evidence of the pig in wet soil, her rooting about near the tea plants. We hear coqui frogs, and we call to them with smart phones before consigning them to freezers or feeding them to the chickens. The wound is what we work on, tethered like a goat to a stick. The girl with a violent mother used to tiptoe into the kitchen to get herself bread and cheese. She'd tuck herself in bed, putting food in her mouth with one hand, stroking her own hair with the other. She murmured kind things to herself before she fell asleep. 


--5 June 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

4 June 2017


You know that stones are hard. The dying octopus comes apart, her white flesh tailing off, arms waving apart from her brain and mouth. At meditation I sit beside an older Vietnamese woman, her make-up neat, her breathing hard. She never expected her stepmother to ask forgiveness. She was good to her children, especially her own. The Vietnamese woman misses her stepmother. Afterwards she says that when she writes she tries to get her nouns and verbs to agree. Another woman calls out the word “if,” as in, “if I have hurt you.” If the other knows if to be true, then if is a dodge. That's true, the teacher says. It's complicated, she adds. Go back into the hurt before you forgive. I add my name and email to the list at the door and return to my loop. I'd get closer, but there's no road or GPS for that.

Volcano
--4 June 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

30 May 2017

'Love your neighbor.'” His last words: “tell everyone on the train I love them.” An unanticipated but well attended death. A woman took her shirt off to wrap him in and prayed. Down a narrow street at a bus stop a man named Christian swigged a beer, yelled profanities at the cops; the man who'd chased him down called him “cocksucker,” demanded the cops shoot him. “He stabbed them in front of children,” he kept saying, as if it were children that were the problem, not the knife or his intent. Muttered something about meth. For one agitated moment, Jeremy Christian is all the lost men of America, screaming his hatred as he paces the bus stop's narrow perimeter. He's wearing sneakers and shorts. We can't see him well from this distance, but who's to say we ever could. He's every last blocked desire, every last casting of blame, every last lost hope for agency this culture has to withhold. His mother can't believe he'd do such a thing. He was a nice man.


--30 May 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

29 May 2017


Think what you want of this nothingness. On a walk with my dog, I counted my steps. Never got past three cuz she sniffs. It's her forensic investigation of the grass, occasional downspout or bulldog. For want of this nothingness he replaces “integritas” with “Trump” on a stolen family seal. In China, if you possess the seal, you're in charge. Trump follows others in a golf cart rather than walk with them. Our prepositions of the day are: with, in, for, of. All that's left are orders and insistence. Do this, do that, but don't consider it nothing. Build a wall around the sink-hole: Earth mouth hungers for your need. The president's excruciating want is our nutrition. Arrested on a DUI, the golfer graces my screen with his puffy eyes. He wrecked his body pretending to be a Navy Seal. #FakeNews is the enemy, Trump tweets. I am Tiger Woods.


--29 May 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017

28 May 2017


So I encourage you—bow eagerly to love. A soccer dad in black knee brace kicks his son in the leg, yelling something about a hammer. Ask if the perpetrator is much bigger than you are, if you're in a confined space when you confront someone who spews racism, think about instability and escape routes. Think before you love, CNN advises us. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing was anonymous. He advises me to bow, but I do not. I walk by the man in the Bulls shirt as his son's eyes fill with tears. A coach speaks to his team nearby, says he turned girls down because he didn't like their parents' attitudes. On my way back, I stop to tell him of the coincidence. The president tweets about fake news. As Williams writes, some men die for lack of the real stuff. Others see it, walking past. A young man with full beard is dead in Portland, along with an older man, the one who must have said, “You don't talk to girls that way.” His name was Best.


--28 May 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

War veterans read Sophocles, off the NYT

I don't usually post material from the newspaper on my blog, but the video in this story is stunning. Not only do the vets reading Sophocles address issues of combat, death, suicide, and betrayal, they also testify to the power of literature if not to heal us, then to explain our condition. I will show this to my students whenever I can, especially when I hear them reading in a droning voice, as if there is no human being trying to speak from the page. These readers get it, are gotten by it. If you do nothing else today, watch them:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/us-veterans-use-greek-tragedy-to-tell-us-about-war.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=0

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pre-publication sale



http://tinfishpress.com/?projects=the-last-lyric

25 May 2017

Feel not merely who you are but that you are. She wove a multi-colored shawl as biography of Anna Akhmatova, enclosed a key in the decorated box. Who we are is clothing. There's a frog on Camus's motorcycle, and it's hurtling toward a tree at excessive speed. Frog, too, feels the problem of existence, albeit without memory or prospect. Only Basho could render the SPLAT well on the page, but that incident at the tree solves the problem of identity (frog) vs. (sentient) being only insofar as it illustrates its end. A green stain means nothing unless you know its history, but history means little unless you know what it means to sit beside the pond and croak at lilies. The pond's water is also green, but only imitates substance while it drifts. The frog jumps in, we remember. But we cannot remember frog.


--25 May 2017

[to be published by Bill Lavender]

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

23 May 2017


Embrace the word whole. “Ze hole in ze text,” Herr Iser intoned, circa 1985. That's where we fall in like babies in a well, before we ascend into the headline, which rests at the top. Tails you find the bottom, where wisdom is before it kills you. Of course you think about suicide, he said, because you're trying to prevent it. I just added the “w” to make the pun complete; the hole had had a hole, albeit without a sound. Being of sound mind, I think out loud, muttering mantras on the plane (“we are experiencing turbulence, do not be worried,” said the Chinese voice, too often to prevent it). Can a canned voice console? Will our robots help us through our griefs, whether of beloved uncles or disappointing friends? Should we can our own words, like blood or peaches? The White House website advocated “peach” in the Middle East. I remember someone put a large leaf over the letters “im,” so that only “peach” turned its skin toward Kahekili traffic. The pun in German is with sex; the word whole is where we're headed.


--23 May 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

21 May 2017

In contemplation, direction as we know it ceases to exist. We only travel in one direction, my friend tells me, and it's toward dying. What the direction is, the map doesn't show, nor does the map's voice tell us, sprouting from the phone. The metaphor of roots takes root, but seems to mean less and less, when going out's the same as coming in. Shanghai's doors illustrate a leap from one economy to the next; even those that are boarded up (corruption!) retain their numbers. The difference between horizontal and vertical housing is only quantified as direction, not as value. A Buddhist temple sits surrounded by shopping mall neon, though its golden roof tells another story. Twenty minutes before we landed, the video screens showed us how to do tai chi in our seats. To land is to float over marshes and acres of new apartment blocks and a river that would prove full of plastic and the city whose history is one of opium and banks. We pulled up to the as-yet-to-be-completed terminal, then bused to the extant one that took us in. My office is where friendships go to die, though our good uncle died at home, well after the airline refused him oxygen. Something's happening in our culture, a friend says, and we're all going back.


--21 May 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

A note to my students of the avant-garde


What is the avant-garde, anyway, and are we doing it?

Aloha class--the question has come up, and it's exactly the right one. What, in the end, is the avant-garde? The "official" version of it goes something like this: the European avant-garde, including Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism, foregrounded the material of language and art over its content or meaning. Whatever meaning we find in these works we locate in some sense outside of it. Not: how do we read closely in order to find what the poet intended, a message, but what does this work of art do in the world? How does it disrupt our notions of reality, which begin with grammar, syntax, narrative structures? We end up reading ourselves more than we do the poems. In more recent decades, Conceptualism has taken up the banner of the avant-garde and engaged with questions of plagiarism and other norms that most of us have chosen not to break (much).
My argument in this class has been, however, that the avant-garde can be other things, especially when it travels to Africa, African American, the Pacific. It can find itself located in place. The disruptions made by writers from these places are disruptions of an imperial grammar, one imbricated in language and in other forms of power. This avant-garde may seem "tamer" to the adherent of the echt avant-garde, but it's equally powerful in its questioning of norms and cultural assumptions. Where works along these line directly take on questions of language (using more than one and refusing to translate, for example), they intersect with the traditional AG. Where they tell the stories of place, however broken they may be, perhaps they do not.

Are we writes of avant-garde works? Speaking for myself, I have been deeply influenced by Language writing, especially, and in recent many years by poets like Westlake who are seeking to include places like this one in their work with honesty (which I would here distinct in many ways from "authenticity").These are poets for whom there are tensions between various paradoxical inheritances (Hawaiian mele and Chinese poetry, say) and between desires for nationalism and internationalism. But my work is all about the meaning that the poem can generate improvisationally. It's oddly more NY School than AG, even if I've never lived in NYC. 

I see something similar in your work. None of you has become a fervent avant-gardist. Instead, you're taking what you need for the work you already do and enriching it, as the question ran last night. While sometimes I confess to wanting you to go crazy with the possibilities and abandon aspects of your own style, I've come to realize that's not realistic. Those of you who are Ph.D. poets, especially, are already deeply invested in what you do and how you do it. Easy for me to say, spend a semester mucking around with something else. 

BUT, I would like to see you thinking about the ways in which the avant-garde has influenced your work this semester, and also the ways it has not. What have you accepted, and what rejected? Are you more like Kenny Goldsmith, or like Hart Crane--essentially a late Romantic poet, but one who sometimes used the techniques of the AG--or like John Ashbery, who had only one book in the early 60s that might be termed "authentic" AG? That word again. Where are the boundaries, and where do they blur? To what purpose each? In what ways are your poetic heroes aligned with the most radical purposes of the AG, and in what ways not? Let me see the contexts that you're developing around these ideas. That work of analysis will help when you write your own poems, and when you think about literary history as a teacher.

As students, I want you to devise a narrative about the avant-garde; as poets, I want you to place yourselves inside (or outside) of it.

I'll also post this on the blog, and invite responses to it. 

aloha, Susan (who is also living with these questions )