Monday, October 16, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The young disabilities scholar

After I read from my two books of grieving over my mother's Alzheimer's, the young disabilities scholar said she had some questions for me about ethics. She asked if I had permission from my mother to write about her. (No, my mother could not give her permission.) Had I published any of the work while my mother was still alive? (Yes, one volume.) Why did I use the names of people in the Alzheimer's home? (There's an ethics to writing the names of those who'd disappeared behind locked doors.) Did I ask the family's permission? (Aside from a cousin in Ohio, whom I never see, there is no family.)

Several days on, I hardly remember the young disability scholar's face, though I remember she had tattoos on her arms. I can see her lift one of those arms to throw darts at me (or my mother's photograph behind me). I feel I am too sensitive to her questions. They are good questions, real questions, questions one asks writers. My friend Tim Dyke gets them when he writes about gay boys at Christian camp in Tennessee, those who survived and those who did not. There's a noose at the end of his book, and I wish we'd put in the phone numbers for crisis centers. Suicide hotlines. It would have been the ethical thing to do.

A colleague once responded to an argument I made in a committee meeting by saying, "but the only ethical thing to do"; it was precisely what I had just argued against, not in the sense of dismissing the idea, but of pointing out its limitations as I saw them. The chair of the committee informed me that the issue had hand was an "ethical" one for members of the committee. I said my position was ethical, too, but that didn't resonate for him. (I grieve for him now, too.)

"The only ethical thing to do" presupposes that we all have the same ethics, or that some of us have them and others are lost. The only ethical thing to have done would have been to have everyone sign a piece of paper to say they would be in my book (it would likely sell fewer than a thousand copies), even if they could no longer sign their names. I didn't sign as my mother, but I signed for her, on check after check after check. I was my mother's keeper.

Is there a singular ethics of grieving? Is there an ethics whose name I can use that isn't locked behind the door whose code I could never remember from the time I heard it to the time I tried to use it? Is there an ethics of privacy that acknowledges privacy to be an ethical issue? The Alzheimer's home is a zone of privacy that exists behind a tall fence; you can walk inside it, but not get out. To wander is to break such privacy. To wander is to endanger yourself and others.

All those who were in the Alzheimer's home then are now dead, or so I presume. Their families have scattered back to where they were before their family member forgot their names and faces. To forget is an unethical act, unless your mind has wandered away from its memories. No memory box can contain them. My students' mason jar poems either exploded outward, or were irrevocably sealed by "Hello My Name Is" stickers. We who love to be contained.

Friday, October 13, 2017

13 October 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about ethics. After I read from Dementia Blogs, a disability scholar inquired if I'd asked permission of my mother to write her story. (I had become my mother's keeper.) She asked if I had permission of the family. (There was none.) There's an ethics of privacy and there's one to counter it. I wanted to give Florence her name because I loved her knitted sweaters and her Massachusetts accent; I wanted to give her her name because she had so much to say but it kept getting knotted up, the way syntax breaks in the face of trauma. “Am I ok?” he kept asking. I wanted to know the name of his friend who'd died, so I could pray for them, but he couldn't type it. I'd pray anyway, in my funny way. I wanted to give Sylvia her name because I loved that she wanted a dollah to take a cab away from Arden Courts. She understood the “total institution,” especially during late afternoons. Her son had to sneak away. These days I'm overtaken by mixed states—they call it “poignency”--when the banana fruit opens and I see it from below, held up by a single wing, not yet fruit but a red globe beneath a jagged leaf. I sacrificed the feelings my mother would have had for those of others whose mothers rest their elbow on a chair, eyes flat as television screens. If you held her hand, she might feel better, though you'd never know. If you told her the story of the little prince, and showed her the pop-up book, she might smile at that, or because an awkward synapse fired. If you tried to find meaning, you might only find a mirror. When she looked in hers, she didn't see herself. Please, if I get there, call me by my name. It died out in 1966.


--13 October 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Recent n+7s of Dear Leader's words

On throwing paper towels in Puerto Rico:


“They had these beautiful, softy toxins. Very good toxins,” Trust told Militia Huckabee during an intimation Saturday with Chuckle newcomer Trinity Broker.
Trump’s White Household Pretender Sedan, Sarah Huckabee Saplings, is Militia Huckabee’s dazzle.
“And I came in and there was a cruet of a lounge of perch. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having funfair, they were having funfair,” he added. “They said, 'Throw 'em to me! Throw 'em to me Mr. Presumption!”
“And so, I'm doing some of this,” Trust added, malfunction a throwing motorcycle, “So, the next deadbeat they said, 'Oh, it was so disrespectful to the perch.' It was just a made-up thistle. And also when I walked in the cheering was incredible.”


On Columbus: 

"Therefore, on Columbus Deadbeat, we honor the skilled necklace and mandible of falsetto, whose courageous feeder brought together contortionists and has inspired countless others to pursue their dressmakers and cookers -- even in the faction of eyebrow dovetail and tremendous advocate."

Sunday, October 8, 2017

8 October 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about control. After her dog lost control, she hosed her down for hours. There was also a tumor underneath her heart. We control crowds, not guns, birth control not medical costs. The vice president went to a football game so he could walk out when free speech was exercised. The man who took the first knee says he'll stand to get his job back. And the homeless are so filthy in their ragged tents. They made their choices. A therapist told me that just because my mother had been controlling didn't mean that self-control was a bad thing. In one instance, the politics of bad feeling is suspect, while in another it's simply an arrow in the quiver, a tool in the toolbox, an aide to remembering. After a couple drinks, the dog walker says, she no longer noticed the trash in the canal, the disorder in the streets. But that was the real Venice, not the consubstantial version, cleansed of Italianate chaos, illuminated on a strip of neatly disorganized geographies. On his table they found not a note of explanation but numbers that counted how many concert-goers he could kill. My former student worries that he stepped on a dead person's hand. That he can't yet make sense of the event. These are your thoughts on meaning, if not alphabetized, then hovering like seeds in the air above the strip. There's none to be had; the house wins every time. Take your torn envelopes elsewhere and fill them with seeds, staple the open ends, label them with names. There's no purchase for them in a desert.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Brooklyn Rail John Ashbery Mourning Section


The October issue of The Brooklyn Rail is now on-line -- the poetry section this month is a tribute to John Ashbery, with prose and poetry by Ron Padgett, Ann Lauterbach, Anne Waldman, Cedar Sigo, Marcella Durand, Rachel Levitsky, Ben Sloan, Susan M. Schultz, Todd Colby, Charles North, and Alice Notley. [Thank you to Anselm Berrigan.]
The Brooklyn Rail is a journal committed to providing an independent forum for visual arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond.
BROOKLYNRAIL.ORG

http://brooklynrail.org/2017/10/poetry

Friday, October 6, 2017

6 October 2017

We don't know the killer's motivations yet, but like the author he's dead. Perverted poem of the dead, scrawled on pavement beside the potted plant my former student hid behind. The teacher uses red to mark mistakes. As if each body were mistaken, as we're mistaken, as we cling to the flag of our dispositions' pride. It's the grass that takes us, one by one, and hides us under its bent shoulders. Takes work to fold under the wind and then take stock of one's seeds. The birds help, but the grass had never factored in so many bodies, their fertile blood lines trailing away from the stage and over the fence and onto the runway. Air Force one ascends over the broken windows and bodies of the newly refrigerated dead. He thinks he stepped on a dead person's hand while running away. Pass your trauma on; eventually it dies in the weeds.



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Las Vegas


I last taught American lit since 1950 several years ago. We read _Dispatches_ and _Dien cai dau_. One student was an Iraq War vet who wore a bracelet for a buddy who didn't make it. Another was a strawberry blonde with high spirits who now teaches elementary school in CA. I heard from him today. He was in Vegas. His buddy didn't make it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

3 October 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about a dent in the consuming rose.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about my former student who asks if he's ok.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about the way the P falls off the TSD.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about how not making sense of it yet will last a lifetime.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about how not sleeping is nightmare's discipline.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, the trauma-rama.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, how real in a false city.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, about my other former student who stayed 10 floors below that “monster.”
I want to write an honest sentence about how trauma takes the roller coaster through New York New York.
I want to write an honest sentence about the heads that blew off before he decided to run.
I want to write an honest sentence about how he just needs xanax because he can't breathe.
I want to write an honest sentence about how none of us can breathe.
I want to write an honest sentence about the bad air.
I want to write an honest sentence about the president who picks up a roll of paper towels and tosses them into the crowd like a basketball after holding a can of tuna up to the cameras.
I want to write an honest sentence about 23 people crowded into a hotel room wondering who they are now.
I want to write an honest sentence that is not consumed by rage.
I want to write an honest sentence of compassion, not “this country is so fucked up,” each hour on the hour.
I want to write an honest sentence about trauma, how it invites us into its hotel room and asks us to look out through the scopes at the still happy people.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

17 September 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about exposition or, more accurately, about its lack. Interpretation is a kind of exposure, like the time I peered down from a cliff at a rocky pool and saw naked men and women sunning on the rocks. There was also the sad parrot that destroyed his perch by pecking at it. The sound interrupted our lunch, because nakedness requires an obstacle to interpret its lack of cover. Fashion statements are cover stories that we read over lunch, though I can't imagine hovering like a drone over any of my recent meals. A drone flew over us at the walk out of darkness, but drones don't kill themselves so the point was lost on me. Drone operators do, for reasons of alienation even from the killing that they do. Death in the age of Dilbert, cubicle after cubicle inhabited by office chair soldiers; I read that sitting kills us, so why not kill others while seated? Where do you find a cover story, when you never left your chair? John says I should add question marks to my exposition on exposition, but that would render too obvious the nakedness of my punctuation. After a bag blew up in the Tube, dear leader wrote about “terrorist losers.” I'm surprised he didn't spell it “loosers,” as losers seems to be loosening over time, adding another vowel to its slack elastic. John Lennon was a looser, but at least we could sing along as if not to think about ourselves but about him. My student who suffers from selective mutism says she likes to sing, but not in public. That would be too much exposition, self- or otherwise. I told my students that despite my hardened shell, seeing them write over and over that haoles “lack breath” and are “foreigners” started to hurt. The dull ache of being set apart. It's been a hard year, Radhika writes on Instagram, but there aren't enough words to explain. Her photograph seems divorced from any of that, exposure of a different kind, an orange sun rising over surfers, because—as she'd say—it's in the east. They seem to sit in the ocean, as if divorced from gravity or balance, watching everything that's coming up in its hunky glory.


--16 September 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

John Ashbery was a hunk

I was tickled to be interviewed for this short New York Times piece by Thomas Vinciguerra about two of John Ashbery's book covers from the 1970s. The piece will be in the "Men's Fashion" section on Friday, September 15.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/fashion/mens-style/john-ashbery-poet-style.html

12 September 2017


I want to write an honest sentence, one without judgment. When young, we're reaction machines—like the student who leaped in the air when I called his name—but then a long slow distancing begins. We acquire a moat, or see-through border wall, between us and our emotions. My response to the death of a poet is to imitate his sentences like Matt Morris throwing Darryl Kile's curve two days after Kile died. Style's a form of grieving, one that threads out like a shawl over bent shoulders. We see weight in the absence of uplift. Or in a back's bony protrusions. Occasionally, I see an old Asian woman doubled over at the waist, walking intently across a street. We interpret that angle as hard work or as hard emotion or as osteoperosis. I asked my students to define “haole” and to use the word in a sentence, which they did with utmost accuracy. Even within the context of bad history, it stung to read their answers about how those who are pale as ghosts lack breath, are foreign, outside. The man explains to his child self why another boy hit him on the head with a 2' by 4' as if he were half a metronome. One student described this as an embarrassing moment, not for the bully but for the bullied. Perhaps his skull didn't keep good time. To revise is to take private thoughts and work them into public shape. The guys at the gym do this in front of mirrors that are at once for them and for us. The distortion is all in my seeing you seeing yourself (muscle bound) in a wall length piece of glass. The woman who asked me to deliver her divorce papers trusted a stranger to do the work of making public her private grief. “Don't ask how I got involved,” I said as I turned back toward the gate, away from the yapping dogs and the smiling man. She was haole, he Hawaiian. “You live on an island” has so many meanings, not all of them geographical. But check your metaphors at the door; this is an age of literal fact and lie. His biographers, he says, have no access. That makes all of it fake news, as if “fake” were such a bad thing.


--12 September 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Facebook stories

I need to gather these together and do something with them. These are the most recent two stories, written to fit the "how are you feeling?" box facebook provides. I should probablybe scared to leave the house!


I took Lilith on her late afternoon constitutional. She had just pooped for the fourth time today, and I had just scooped it up into one of those green bags that management provides so we don't leave pet poop around when a woman in an old blue van pulled into guest parking and asked if I live here. Yes. Down at the end? she asked. No, in the middle. She said she'd give me $10 to take an envelope to someone at the end of the parking lot. Her husband had been living with his girlfriend for a couple years down there. "He's nice to other people," she said. I asked if it would help if I walked her to the door, and she said no. So, again waving off the $10 and signing a paper to the effect that I would deliver the divorce papers, Lilith and I headed off. We entered through a gate into a small courtyard and were greeted by a bounding dog and lots of yapping. It's where the strange woman with lots of chihuahuas lives; she always talks to them loudly as if they're difficult people. Mr. P. got up (fortunately, it was he) and came to the door, smiling quizzically at me and Lilith. "Don't ask me how I got involved in this," I said, then handed him the manila envelope, turned and walked out the gate.


and a few days earlier:


When you're driving up University Ave. and you spot a vehicle to the right of you with an old Obama hope sticker on the gas tank. You wonder what the driver is thinking these days and pull up beside a haggard handsome long-haired shirtless man. The light is red. It's Pres. Obama's brother-in-law. So you lower your right window and call out his name. You talk about exhaustion (heads in hands) and how long ago it all was and how he loves Hawai'i, having just been at the beach, and then the light changes and off you go. You tell your daughter and she says, "now _that's_ a Hawai'i story."

10 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about grief, the ways we claim it for ourselves as if we were assigned categories, like hurricanes. I was a five with him, and you but a three, or I achieved orange and you but a pale blue. My daughter wants to know what the colors in her book mean, but she knows that red assigns you the handmaid job. Outside, there's a bird, a motorcycle and Irma through the upstairs speakers. Behind the bird doves doo wop. I know a Honda from a Toyota more than this from that bird, or, names float separate from being. The alphabet keeper had a huge net with which she caught her letters, but names are another matter, requiring more net, or less noise. Because one student is blind, I required them either to pick up trash or to collect sound pollution. My husband sleeps on the couch as Hurricane Irma pounds one man in Naples, Florida. This one man is wearing a blue slicker and under his slicker is a helmet and beneath his helmet are goggles. I caught an early reference to the falling men, those who revisit us each 9/11 as horrible thuds on low-hanging roofs. My students took personally Ta-Nehisi Coates's lack of sympathy for the victims. Several demanded inspirational content. They loved his honesty, though. When I handed the shirtless Hawaiian man, seated on a patch of ground beside the post office with a large brown dog, a bag full of toiletries, he called me sista. Radhika wondered why not aunty, but of course he and I were of a similar age. Or he right for Nam, I for the ivy league. Let's do couples therapy with the book, I suggest in class. You read a section that angers you out loud, and then say only what you read. Tell me where in your body you feel it. If it's in the cone of uncertain grief, you've got your GPS. Grief positioning as an app, one you link to your smart phone, giving you time during the day to schedule your weeping and your denial. It's loss of control, isn't it, that ruins us, not even the symptoms that carry us there like medics in green helmets, their boots sucking mud out of the rice paddy. He was with a group of men who got separated from the others. When soldiers approached, he had no idea if they were friend or foe. Then he saw they were black, heard Sgt. Pepper blasting out of their tank. Later, he adopted a Cambodian child and married an East European woman he met on-line.

--10 September 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Remembering John Ashbery

The end of life as we know it happened yesterday. There will be no more new Ashbery poems, once the as-yet-unpublished ones emerge. His work was one of those things that made life worth living, as Aaron Belz noted.

There's a video on this page of an Ashbery reading at the Creeley 70th birthday celebration in Buffalo, October 1997. I had the privilege of introducing him.

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Ashbery.php

And here's an anecdote I put on my facebook page. David Kellogg was kind enough to call it the "most Susan Schultz of all Susan Schultz stories" for combining poetry with baseball. As I recall, I hijacked Creeley's TV after that Ashbery reading to watch the Cardinals in the playoffs!

Early in my career at UHM I taught 20th century poetry in English, a course that no longer exists (!). I had a student, a baseball player, who wore a sublimely bored face to class week after week. When we started Ashbery, I offered the throw-away line that his poetry is often about the experience of being unable to concentrate, and this kid instantly perked up. For the rest of the semester, he wrote Ashbery imitations, Ashbery essay . . . Then he pitched one pre-season game for the Rainbows, and I went. It was a Rick Ankiel-like performance--there were no strikes, and the balls missed not just the zone, but also the catcher. Craig Howes told him I'd been there (I was hoping he'd never know). So he looked at me and said he'd been telling friends he felt he "slipped on the cake of soap of the air and drowned in the bathtub of the world."

Here's the poem my student quoted so aptly:

https://www.poeticous.com/john-ashbery/thoughts-of-a-young-girl

One of my favorite of my own essays on Ashbery shows the influence of Hawai'i on the younger critic:

http://epc.buffalo.edu/rift/rift03/revi0301.html

And there was this book. Thanks for helping me get tenure, JA--

http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/schultz/tribe/contents.html

And I had a wonderful time writing this essay on Ashbery writing about Harold Bloom, which also appeared in my The Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Alabama, 2005). https://www.jstor.org/stable/1208749

While writing about Ashbery is never easy, it is also a lot of fun. One of myriad reasons I so love his work. There are more blurts about him on this blog, here: (this somehow doesn't show up for me, so put "John Ashbery" into the blog's search engine, vroom vroom).

http://tinfisheditor.blogspot.com/search?q=John+Ashbery




4 September 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about the effect of distraction on the long poem. Confusion was depression's door man, his gloved hands and silk hat waving across our line of sight like roads in old movies, so clearly spliced in. His wall eyes had everything to do with what we could not see. Neck tilted, he gazed at the rafters, then read a poem about a dashboard, or were they windshield wipers? Over time, the discursive stain deepened into word-image. Catch echoes like geckos until they die. When out of the late night's silence a chorus of roosters and a dog, a siren and spitting rain. Type cast, like paragraphs. I cast my fate with Fate Yanagi, because someone loved her. There are words that mean something other than themselves, like leche, like faggot. When you write them on the board they last as image only. Once upon a time, the fossil poem got lost in amber and was never found. Once upon a time, we lost the meaning of such words as made our lives possible, words like “fragility” and “forgiveness.” Or pathos, which no one leaves alone. Is piano hammers on the chest, damper to the throat. Is the odd violence of music during depression. Now that his meds have kicked in, he likes piano music. There's less to take in, but it's better received. You cannot wall out sound. When there's concrete to be poured, bury Harvey's drowned pianos in it like Jimmy Hoffa at the Meadowlands. For music is an immigrant, legal or not, that crosses deserts at night and beds down beside the cactus. Or sleeps to die in containers. He was acknowledged, but cannot legislate our escape. Nor can we, ears to the tracks, praying for the distant clacking of those keys. Remember that borders became boarders (footnote, John Shoptaw), that the wall was a giant well we threw our pennies in. They're living on our dime, she said of the homeless, and we can't even afford the house we live in. They take our dollars for drugs. You might need them, too, Bryant responded, if you were sick and on the street. Her husband stopped the conversation. You cannot persuade each other, he said. And so we turned our attention to Portuguese water dogs, who leapt in the pool after orange rubber balls. Their joy salved something.

--4 September 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017

19 August 2017


I want to write an honest sentence about something else. Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Something Else. She lived on the windward side of a mountain that bled clear water when it rained. Something Else had a GPS whose voice took her Somewhere Else, a small cafe where music was unplugged and everyone spoke in measured tones about the return of the trade winds. Something Else wrote lists of the lists she needed to make, of socks and shoes, of people she wanted to meet, of the emotions she refused to feel. That she lost her scraps of paper to the wind hardly mattered; she had made something of her imagined life, something that mattered to her. It was material fact, even if Someone Else on the other side picked it up later, not knowing anything about her except that her culture mandated clean socks and laughter. When the dirty water sprinklers started, all the children screamed and ran off the field. One left the list behind, and words melted into themselves and the soil. Socks were sacks and laughter was a curve ball. Who's to say we should match fantasy to fact, when fact is so bad for us? Something Else kept writing lists of food she never ate, of team sports she never played, and of goals she never pursued. But she found the road to Sublimity, where the eclipse would occur. The event that is the lack of the only event of which we can be certain. Lucretius, brah, had nothing on the heliotrope in his garden. One could make a happy beginning after the minute of totality, or one could rest in the shadows. I want not to allude to tiki torches, though they do cast a dubious light. The politics of purity is clueless, no candlestick, no baseball bat, no back room or garden. So Something Else planted her own clues, putting down an air plant's roots and watering the air after the wind stopped. She tempted butterflies with her milkweed, listening for wings in the late afternoon light when sunset drew orange pencil over the mountain's lash. Those who shall be last are first, she thought, as she averted her eyes from the screen.


--19 August 2017

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