Sunday, January 25, 2015


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

--25 January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Conversations with John Gallaher's _In a Landscape_

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2015


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

--23 January 2015

A poetics of publishing, part deux

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

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

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

    Monday, January 19, 2015


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

    --19 January 2015

    Saturday, January 17, 2015


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

    --17 January 2015


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

    --17 January 2015

    Friday, January 16, 2015


    By the very right of your senses, you enjoy the World. The poet reads to an audience of pigeons and geese. Now, this is good company. Dirty white goose in puddle, poet in Echo Park. Walks over the bridge with red railings, then saunters back. The past is gone, but he's forced to remember. He doesn't like this. Past fronts the park: father in one building, old temple in another. Only birds are unghosted. As we did walking meditation around Krauss Hall pond, it occurred to me that duck politics are fucked up. The poet is dead now; his video a rerun, freshly digitized. The buildings he remembered are buried behind new ones. His dying brother tried to put a life's possession into tiny boxes. To die is to re-imagine world, to let its pencil edges drop. To die cannot be imagined by the living as transitive.

    Who shall put into your hands the true Treasures? From my bike, I saw an old woman walking on Ahuimanu Place. “Eh aunty,” I asked, “why you walk in the street?” There's a sidewalk. “I'm hungry, don't have any money to buy food.” I pointed where she'd been. No food in that direction. “My friend lives there,” she said, but wasn't home. “Good, because if the ex came, they'd fight.” She'd had no breakfast, lunch, and there was no dinner. Where's your family? “Kalihi,” she said. Where do you live? “Down that lane.” There was street there, but no lane. Please stay on the sidewalk, I asked. Circled twice, then rode home.

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    John Muir on the wood rat & his flat

    from First Summer in the Sierra, "North Fork of the Merced," Library of America, William Cronon, editor, 193-194.

    The chaparral-covered hill-slope to the south of the camp, besides furnishing nesting-places for countless merry birds, is the home and hiding-place of the curious wood rat (Neotoma), a handsome, interesting animal, always attracting attention wherever seen. It is more like a squirrel than a rat, is much larger, has delicate, thick, soft fur of a bluish slate color, white on the belly; ears large, thin, and translucent; eyes soft, full, and liquid; claws slender, sharp as needles; and as his limbs are strong, he can climb about as well as a squirrel. No rat or squirrel has so innocent a look, is so easily approached, or expresses such confidence in one's good intentions. He seems too fine for the thorny thickets he inhabits, and his hut also is as unlike himself as may be, though softly furnished inside. No other animal inhabitant of these mountains builds houses so large and striking in appearance. The traveler coming suddenly upon a group of them for the first time will not be likely to forget them. They are built of all kinds of sticks, old rotten pieces picked up anywhere, and green prickly twigs bitten from the nearest bushes, the whole mixed with miscellaneous odds and ends of everything moveable, such as bits of cloddy earth, stones, bones, deerhorn, etc., piled up in a conical mass as if it were got ready for burning. Some of these curious cabins are six feet high and as wide at the base, and a dozen or more of them are occasionally grouped together, less perhaps for the sake of society than for advantages of food and shelter. Coming through the dense shaggy thickets of some lonely hillside, the solitary explorer happening into one of these strange villages is startled at the sight, and may fancy himself in an Indian settlement, and begin to wonder what kind of reception he is likely to get. But no savage face will he see, perhaps not a single inhabitant, or at most two or three seated on top of their wigwams, looking at the stranger with the mildest of wild eyes, and allowing a near approach. In the center of the rough spiky hut a soft nest is made of the inner fibers of bark chewed to tow, and lined with feathers and the down of various seeds, such as willow and milkweed. The delicate creature int its prickly, thick-walled home suggests a tender flower in a thorny involucre. Some of the nests are built in trees thirty or forty feet from the ground, and even in garrets, as if seeking the company and protection of man, like swallows and linnets, though accustomed to the wildest solitude. Among house-keepers Neotoma has the reputation of a thief, because he carries away everything transportable to his queer hut,--knives, forks, combs, nails, tin cups, spectacles, etc.,--merely, however, to strengthen his fortifications, I guess. His food at home, as far as I have learned, is nearly the same as that of the squirrels--nuts, berries, seeds, and sometimes the bark and tender shoots of the various species of ceanothus.

    (1869, published 1911)

    See Albert Saijo's WOODRAT FLAT, here.


    You are magnified among Angels and men: you are street view on google earth, swiveling up and down a street whose origin is a stop sign. The symbol for magnifying glass isn't one, though it serves the same purpose. My youth a field of dead metaphors on which I click my mouse, or touch the screen as if it were skin, tattooed. Pencils are old technology, but good symbolism. They travel better than hostages in a freezer locker, or a policewoman on her beat. The old Paris priest held a sign that named the dead, all of them. We know the killers by their videos. One brother picked up a sneaker from the street. It was an act of volition so small it fascinates. Another man sat beside a book case in which four books lean. I cannot read their spines, see only white paint, an otherwise bare room, a man in a black jacket beside a Kalishnikov. Testimony before the fact that cancels it.

    --11 January 2015

    Sunday, January 11, 2015

    Albert Saijo's Poems of the Climate

    When I think of weather in poetry, I think of Wallace Stevens's poems on clouds, snow, winter. The best weather was simple, cold. But, because cold is not enough, the poet desires "so much more than that." Here is the first stanza of "Poems of Our Climate": "nothing more than carnations" is all that a human being needs, and not enough.

    Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
    Pink and white carnations. The light
    In the room more like a snowy air,
    Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
    At the end of winter when afternoons return.
    Pink and white carnations – one desires
    So much more than that. The day itself
    Is simplified: a bowl of white,
    Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
    With nothing more than the carnations there.

    Lisa Robertson has more recently made the weather into the subject of an epic. In an essay quoted by Sina Queyres, she frames weather as a sincere rhetoric: "But I’m interested in weather also because cultural displacement has shown me that weather is a rhetoric. Furthermore, it is the rhetoric of sincerity, falling in a soothing, familial vernacular. It’s expressed between friendly strangers. I speak it to you. A beautiful morning. You speak it back. The fog has lifted."

    Because she doubts sincerity, she concludes her book with this: “Sincerity says that identity is moral. I need it to be a tent, not a cave, a rhetoric, not a value. There’s also the fact that my sex is a problem with sincerity. I want to move on. I want a viable climate. I’ll make it in description." But Robertson, like Stevens, uses the weather to mean something other than the weather. Perhaps she's only commenting on the fact that this has happened, but she pursues the weather's rhetoric with her own inside-out metaphoricity.

    Doubtless there are books on this subject, but weather as human desire or rhetoric is not my theme. Rather, I want to think about some of Albert Saijo's very last notebooks, written when he was clearly quite weak. In the early 2000s, he'd still been writing at length on his obsessions: against CIV, for animal nature, in praise of weed and the simple life. By 2010 (approximately), he devoted himself to a single subject, the weather. He produced pages full of reports on the weather in Volcano, on the Big Island in Hawai`i. Here are some of his pages.

    Day after day, he notes whether is it day or night, windy or not, rainy or not, whether the sky is clear and has stars in it. There's the water guy, who needs to be called, but again there is the out of doors, the moon. One note of commentary/critique is a sentence or two about white people: "THE ONLY HUMANS ARE WHITE," he notes acerbically. And then the weather starts up again.

    At first, these notebooks read as diminishment. The poet, who once had so many thoughts, is now reduced to local weatherman. But what a faithfulness to the world these pages represent! Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, he notes a state of being that will inevitably change. Saijo's weather notebooks refuse even the haiku's oblique lessons, except for "quite beautiful," "still beautiful." He writes what he sees, and leaves it at that. No punch lines or comic strips, no rants or aphorisms.

    This poetry of witness, if I may call it that, is pure meditation on that most basic of the world's conditions, the weather. It is one man, outside himself, taking notes. This is not a poetry of desire that comes out of poverty, nor is it a poetry that considers weather to be a form of rhetoric. There is only the wish to record--not in conversation, but in solitude. These notebooks are not conversation, but homage to the world outside the window, and the self.


    Sina Queyres on Lisa Robertson, here.

    Blog post #3 on the notebooks can be found here:

    Blog post #1 on the notebooks here:

    Albert Saijo's new Tinfish Press book, WOODRAT FLAT.


    It is a long time before you come unto it, you pass it in an instant, and leave it for ever. That's too easy, Tom, and you know it. You've erased the scab you knew was there but stings all the more for getting yanked off. I'm in bed listening to doves and thrushes and the murmur of Battlestar Galactica. The actor looks famous, but I can't find his name. Is that the instant you mean, so ordinary? I remember walking across the campus of New South Wales with Hazel Smith. I have no memory of what we said.

    --10 January 2015

    Saturday, January 10, 2015


    The WORLD is not this little Cottage of Heaven and Earth. Hansel and Gretel trapped in a freezer at a kosher market in Paris. The wicked witch dressed in black, her face masked. She has taken hostages, considers that the word resembles host. Body and blood, what thins as you age, teeth leaning like trees in a hard wind. There is this to confront, time's ordeal. And when the “forces of order” broke open the door and shot the witch dead? Did they in the freezer know to come out? Scapegoats, with their funny meats, huddling in the cold. They were led there by a Muslim clerk, later handcuffed by police. He looked like the witch, you see. They all spoke such good French.

    --10 January 2015

    Friday, January 9, 2015


    He is not an Object of Terror, but Delight. Terror is our subject, not our text. If history cedes to entertainment, terror is delight. Bad translation within the same lexicon. Hand to type. Monk to press (he plays soccer in an adjacent poem). Her Alzheimer's mother calls her Angie. Another mother called for Jenny: she was mother's lover, a missing piece. The dead were objects of convenience. Sublimity is passé , except as random violence. No more crossing the Alps, even boulevards. There is no time to think after. How we get PTSD matters less than that we have it. To have is to own; to own is to grasp. I want to see this world from the scenic look-out of a spiritual text. I cannot find my way back. I am leaving the city and entering the suburbs, away from my heart. Arteries flow backwards. If delight is a small store in the banlieu, I will go there to ask for samples.

    --9 January 2015

    Thursday, January 8, 2015


    For if you know yourself, or God, or the World, you must of necessity enjoy it. It! If the short prayer pierces heaven, the short word calls it. To be called, to call out, we cull the words until they line up like cards in a catalogue. Archives dissolve: their dust tactile, like skin. It smells of mold and rot. Outside, a battalion of ants tried to push a dead centipede into their nest. The gap between stair and house too narrow, they bore its body for days, up and down a stair. If ants were cartoonists, would they execute them for nasty? It is pronoun for a corpse. It was the cop on the street, body blurred (the second time) so we could not see him shot. An archive of repetition: they run to their car over and again. Always there is the sneaker under the right front door. What happened to it?

    --8 January 2015

    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    Aphorism, Adage, Epigram, Maxim, One Liner: Albert Saijo's notebooks (#3)

     2. Any principle or precept expressed in few words; a short pithy sentence containing a truth of general import; a maxim.

    a1593   Marlowe Tragicall Hist. Faustus (1604) sig. A2v,   Is not thy common talke sound Aphorismes?
    1642   J. Howell Instr. Forreine Travell vi. 85   'Tis an old Aphorisme, Oderunt omnes, quem metuunt.
    1655   H. More Antidote against Atheism (ed. 2) App. iv. 316   That sensible Aphorism of Solomon, Better is a living Dog than a dead Lyon.
    1750   Johnson Rambler No. 68. ⁋10   Oppression, according to Harrington's aphorism, will be felt by those that cannot see it.
    1880   G. Smith in Atlantic Monthly No. 268. 201   The suggestive aphorism, ‘The want of belief is a defect that ought to be concealed when it cannot be overcome.’
    The first quotation is from Albert Saijo's journal, probably one from the early 2000s. The second is from the Oxford English Dictionary. Aphorism is statement, principle, certainty. This form is very different from the one I wrote about yesterday, namely short narratives about animals that allowed Saijo to let go his taut ethical stance. While animals permitted him to detach, human beings brought out the aphoristic in him. He had a real vein of certainty; the aphorism was its perfect vehicle. It was the economy car to the limousines Saijo drove in his longer rants (the anti-ecological metaphor makes me shiver a bit, or is it the cold spell we're having in Hawai`i?).
    The centerpiece of the new Tinfish Press book, WOODRAT FLAT, a "book of days," "GOING NATIVE," consists of a series of aphorisms culled by Jerry Martien from Saijo's notebooks of the late 1980s and early 1990s. On the third page of this selection I find this: "I AM THINKING & DREAMING OF THE SHAPE OF A PROSE I'M NOT YET ABLE TO WRITE--SPRINGING RESILIENT REVELATORY." While the capital letters offer a kind of maximalism--sound as certainty--the brief length of the aphorism offers something different, a minimalism that--at its best--explodes into meaning. A different mode of certainty from that found on the pages of his books or the notebooks, where poem can hardly be distinguished from passing thought from phone numbers or brief memorials to the dead. 

    Many of the aphoristic sentences in "GOING NATIVE" are observations:

    --EUTAMIAS TOWNSENDII (as Martien says in the introduction, this means that Saijo saw a chipmunk)



    and so on.

    Others make their arguments in the form of rhetorical question, without punctuation:



    Many of them are curt rants; these are MAINLY included in the sections "NEW POLITY," VOTER BOYCOTT," and "MAJORITY RULE SNOOP."




    Here are more aphorisms from the notebooks:

    [click to enlarge]
    Many of these aphorisms are about the form in which they are composed, or about literature itself: Saijo is sick of literature, but he writes anyway; when he couldn't read other people, he began to write himself. But if, as he writes, "WE HAVE CHANGED HISTORY INTO ENTERTAINMENT," then his aphorisms are pithy truth-messages that are entertaining, to boot. As I turn to my twitter feed on break I find this aphorism:

    Any fool can take a bad line out of a poem; it takes a real pro to throw out a good line. THEODORE ROETHKE
    What made Saijo so remarkable a poet--among so many of his qualities--was his willingness to throw out the good lines. Toward the end, he refused to be published. While he did not throw out his notebooks, he kept them to himself, withheld them from the "CIV" he so disdained. But "to throw out a good line" is also to be a good fisherman. When the notebooks become available to a larger public, if only a small band of literary critics and poets, they will be hooked (line and sinker) by his work. (If "work" is done only for the worker, is it still work?") I'll leave that for someone else to figure out. 


    Souls are God's jewels, every one of which is worth many worlds. Sick of the word “soul,” we try on others: politics, history, nation. These, we feel, are less abstract. Soul has no banner we can see. We cannot chant, “go Soul!” as if it were a team. We cannot give soul a 15-yard penalty with loss of down. The puns have lost their punch. “She's made of rubber,” Bryant says of our daughter, and someone hears that straight. A pencil dies in Paris. The pencil is made of graphite, but its strokes are ghosts. So are hands that pushed it into figures. Videos contain graphic violence, a policeman shot on the street. Soul looks from a window high above. Soul holds her cell phone and shoots. This is evidence, this is archive. But soul has lost hers. There is no forgiveness here. Forgiveness is an abstract word.

    For Jaimie Nagle
    --6 January 2015

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    "I think I could turn and live with animals": Albert Saijo's wild/life

    The quotation is from Whitman. Whitman's animals are perfect Buddhists; not attached to material goods or to ideologies, they are not "respectable" or hierarchical. Animals are. As I write this, my 20-year old cat cries from the other room. He's deaf, lives for sun, laps, and food. When we do not attend to him, he yells. Whether or not this refutes Whitman I can't say. But it does strike me that Saijo's animal poems, unlike his poems about human beings, are about being. (Can writing be about being, without being it?) They present situations without commentary or judgment, in ways that many of his other poems do not. When he repeatedly advises himself to "go Tilopa," we see him trying hard to live with the animal-self and perhaps not succeeding. But when he looks to see a mole, a rat. a flicker, a dead bush bunny, he simply sees what is there. He is much more John Clare than Percy Byssche Shelley, at least in his contemplation of the natural world.

    Here are two manuscript pages from his notebooks; these poems are included in Tinfish Press's WOODRAT FLAT. This first poem, about a chickadee, seems an after-thought "show" on a page of "telling." Preacher Albert cedes to zen observer Albert. He sees the chickadee: the first layer of the manuscript page simply presents that observation. Another later layer comments on the rarity of this moment: "BUT A LONE CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE FEEDING ON THE GROUND IS MORE UNUSUAL STILL"[.] Then back to statement (the chickadee is alone on the ground), with a final trilling by the poet: "CHICKADEEDEE." The opening, "UNUSUAL TO SEE" only implies an "I/eye": the poem is nearly all chickadee. This is John Clare's nightingale, not John Keats'; while Clare participates in the bird's surround, he stays at its periphery. Keats's bird is but diving board for the poet's imaginative flutterings.

    The poem about a mole has more of the poet in it. He's watching the mole steal his lettuce. But Saijo forgives in animals what he so distrusts about humans and their communities; he tells the story without judgment, then turns the usual narrative fable about saving an animal into one about saving lettuce for dinner. He's whimsical without being mawkish. In "Flicker Fact," he tells the story of a bird that hobbles on the ground, seemingly nursing a broken wing. He follows the flicker. After going 20 paces, the flicker flies off, "PERFECTLY ALL RIGHT." The poem ends: "DIDN'T KNOW FLICKERS DO THIS." The flicker is wily coyote, or trickster monkey, at once dishonest and playful. But Saijo does not hold the animal world to a human standard of ethics, one all too easily broken; the animal offers him permission to watch, unattached.

    These observations are easy to let go. They are, as Saijo would say, "FUN." But his poem about a dead bush bunny somehow maintains this wit, while examining the aftermath of a violent act, the killing of the bunny. This is a poem I love and can't find in my many photographs of the notebooks. So here is the script in the Tinfish book. As usual, you can enlarge by clicking on the image.

    As he often does, Saijo starts with the Latin name for the rabbit. If Latin is dead, then so too this bunny. Saijo's emphasis on its perfection (the word "PERFECT" occurs four times in this very short poem) sets us up for the trickster nature of nature. The rabbit is perfect, except he's been eaten at the top. Saijo's description of the rabbit is loving--it's soft, its features all inventoried--but he is hardly horrified by the bunny's death. If animals give him access to being, they also open up non-being without the fear and grasping of human "nature," as indeed of Saijo's more angry poems.

    If animals are let be, plants are somehow more like human beings in Saijo's cosmology. There is the "SMART PLANT" that can reproduce itself in a pinch. I need hardly add--to any reader of Saijo's work--that this intelligent plant is marijuana. Much of WOODRAT FLAT is about Saijo's life as a marijuana grower in northern California. The book alternately praises the plant and attacks the police and the feds who are going after his crop. Unlike the animal, which is, the plant is sacramental; to attempt to destroy the poet's way of making a living is not simply an act of economic violence. It is also anti-spiritual, destructive on a higher plane, as well as the ordinary one. Hence, in "SACRAMENTAL," Saijo writes in Blakean fashion of the plant that, "CONVERTS US TO INNOCENCE MAKES US LAUGH & TEACHES US WHERE OUR FEARS LIE--IT OPENS THE EYE--IT MAKES THE EAR HEAR THE ONE TUNE--HOSANNAH--IT MAKES THE BODY EMBODIED MIND & IT RELEASES US FROM REASON--IT STRIPS US TO ANIMAL & MAKES US FEEL INSTINCT"[.] So the gift of the plant is to make us animal, but not in the sense Puritans or other religions frame "animal." Instead, we see clearly only under its influence.

    If Saijo were to be fit into a neat box, it would likely not be BEAT or ASIAN AMERICAN, but late late ROMANTIC poet. But Romantic in the school of John Clare, one who abhors the human pest and his imperial imagination, who tries to see nature as is, rather than as the language that mirrors our desires. In the next post, I'll get to his more abstract and aphoristic work, where he does the human more completely! Because, as close and faithful an observer of nature as he was, he was also an inveterate thinker, prone to abstraction, judgment, and preacherliness. Complex creatures we. So leave the box open, for god's sake!

    See blog post #1 on Saijo here:


    When things are ours in their proper places, nothing is needful but prizing to enjoy them. Critique the poetry of praise, its aimless blurts. To walk does not alter earth, unless you stomp by Kilauea's seismograph. Watch its needle skitter, palsied. It's not a political poetry he wants, but a resistant one. Who can resist this earth, its fertile rock? Lavafall at Pahoa's transfer station; someone lays red petals on its black. To transfer is not to transcend, but distribute. The man does not become a deer but he changes paths, lacking antlers. Shipwreck, mind wrack: to tend is to resist. Dove, shama thrush, traffic on Kahekili. I am not buying a damn thing.

    For Maged Zaher
    --6 January 2015

    Monday, January 5, 2015

    On finding a typo (is it?) in WOODRAT FLAT by Albert Saijo (Tinfish Press, 2015)

    This is most of the Albert Saijo archive. I spent several days on the Big Island going through these two tubs of notebooks and miscellaneous bits of paper, two calendars, a posthumous certificate from Barack Obama to thank him for his military service (he would have hated that), and other items. The updraft of dust and mold kept me high, which was only appropriate, as Saijo was a marijuana farmer and advocate, among his many (a)vocations. Some of the notebooks are very large; many were "Utility Notebooks." Such was their utility that Saijo filled them with his block print meditations. Others were small hardcovers, sketch pads with ring bindings, tiny notebooks. There are single pages, large and small, covered in penciled writing. Very few of the meditations came out in linear fashion; most pages are covered with emendations, some with print at myriad angles. Others are unreadable, but visually stunning. They all enact his process of thinking. Mostly forward, but occasionally back, or on top of, or below, or sideways. Few are his central subjects: his hatred of civilization (or "CIV" as he terms it); the appeal of "IV" (which I take to be the opposite of CIV, though I don't know for sure); time; space; love; fasting; marijuana. Much of his work is abstract, taking on big concepts. It's the sort of work that goes terribly wrong in the hand of a lesser thinker or poet. Other of the work is incredibly tangible, both in language (he uses Latin as if it were still spoken, at least by lovers of nature) and in image. Not image, exactly, because in his state of constant meditation--he writes somewhere that he no longer knows the difference between meditative and non-meditative states--he observed precisely what was in front of him. At the end, he wrote only about the weather, keeping track almost by the hour in fragile hand, but always he was looking out the window or through the grass and seeing animals, birds, plants, human beings--not as elevated creatures, but as one among the mix. He writes about piss and shit, and he writes about love, sex. He writes angry and he writes contemplative. He rants, he lets go. He quotes, over and again, the Baudelaire line about "luxe, calme, et volupté," and he repeats an admonition to himself about Tilopa. Read Tilopa's advice to Naropa, and you'll know why: 

    Cut the root of the vine that chokes the tree,
    and its clinging tendrils wither away entirely.
    Sever the conventionally grasping mind,
    and all bondage and desperation dissolve.

    Much of Saijo's thinking is violent in this way: he "cuts," "severs," he interrupts. But alongside this violence is the calm and voluptuousness of Baudelaire's "L'invitation au voyage," a love poem about ease, about pleasure.  

    I found the originals for WOODRAT FLAT (Tinfish Press, 2015) in two of the notebooks, one utility size, the other just a bit smaller. The notebooks are taller than the published book, and the handwriting less consistent, by far, than the block print we used. That said, our all-caps rendition of Saijo's texts is less dark than the Bamboo Ridge versions; I found those too in-your-face. The less bold version echoes Albert's voice, which was calm and slow and considered. Or so I hope. One of the poems from the book, ably edited by Jerry Martien, who re-ordered the poems to make them more book than note-book, is called "Chuang Tze Update." Here are three photographs of the text. The first has the book seated on top of the notebook; the second and third are the notebook version of the poem. 

    [Click to enlarge images]

    As an editor, I have a good eye for typos, especially after the book has been published. So I notice that toward the beginning of the poem, Saijo has written, "THESE 2 TREES SURVIVED BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO ODD TO LOG," while at the end, the Tinfish version replaces "ODD" with "OLD": "CHUANG TZE YOU'RE RIGHT BE TOO OLD TO LOG." The editor has taken out some of the writing that wanders above and below the final lines. Did he change "ODD" to "OLD"? Did our scanner do it? Did we do it? The mysteriousness of the mistake is appropriate to any consideration of editing, especially when the manuscript is by someone so prone to over-writing, to self-editing, to making the reader's life at once pleasurable and difficult. The replacement does not ruin the poem: Chuang Tzu is, after all, quite old. Too old to log, one might add, except that Saijo has taken a cutting from him in writing about the tree. I find a biography of Chuang Tzu that gives no dates for him. And then I find one that does. This one notes that he may not have existed. Go figure.

    But why the poem about the tree, with a punch line about Chuang Tzu, a punch-line that seems to have turned into a title? (Kevin Dimyanitz tells me that Laura Saijo said Albert did not fight in World War II in the 442nd, but became a stand-up comic; he had them rolling in the aisles, he said.) Google "Chuang Tzu and trees" and you get this, by way of Thomas Merton. It's a parable about usefulness, that uses a tree as its central image. The tree, like Chuang Tzu's teachings, one says, is "useless." Then, by way of a wildcat, a mouse, and a yak, the writer of the parable gets to his punchline, which is also a warning. "So for your big tree, no use?" The teacher advises his interlocutor to plant the useless tree in a waste land, and to walk around it, meditating. No one will ever cut the tree down. "Useless? You should worry!" concludes the teaching.

    Saijo's 2 old Douglas firs, the ones that survived "ANIMAL WHO IS BIOTIC SCOURGE" are different. One sways in the wind like a young tree, losing branches; the other does not. They are perhaps two ways of looking at the world "oddly": the first involves bending, the other involves remaining still. Their oddness saved them. Saijo was himself an able carpenter. Many of his notebooks contain conceptual and more detailed drawings of houses and furniture, including his own house and chair. He knew use value. But he was also someone who knew non-value, the art of sitting around in front of the fire, sketching out his thoughts as they flickered by. One of the funniest poems in WOODRAT FLAT is called "FLICKER FACT." It's about a flicker who seems to have a hurt wing and leads the poet for twenty or so paces. "AFTER LEADING ME ON THIS WAY FOR TWENTY PACES OR SO IT FLEW OFF DOWN CANYON PERFECTLY ALL RIGHT -- DIDN'T KNOW FLICKERS DO THIS"[.]

    What is a typo but the most un-useful of mistakes, leading the reader astray without (in this case, because one word has become another word) his or her realizing it? The typo is the most useless feature of an otherwise useless art, that of poetry. It signifies danger, one reason Albert may not have wanted his work published (though that's a stretch, I suspect). But it also signifies the fertility generated by standing or sitting still. Luxe, calme et volupté. Or, as Tilopa advised Naropa in his own in-utility notebook:

    Renounce arbitrary, habitual views.
    Go forth courageously to meditate
    in the real mountain wilderness,
    the wide open Mahamudra.
    Transcend boundaries of kinship
    by embracing all living beings
    as one family of consciousness.
    Remain without any compulsion
    in the landscape of natural freedom:
    spontaneous, generous, joyful.


    We are like Him when our minds are in frame. Not to know meditative from non-meditative state. Frame narrows as it loses focus. The word in Japanese for “great” meant “tired” in plantation lingo. They knew she was Okinawan, because her hands were covered in tattoos. Women disfigured themselves so soldiers would not rape them. Focus is not frame but launch pad. When I closed my eyes I saw his block print behind the lids; they closed over my eye like a screen. I couldn't read the words, but that seemed not to matter. It was pattern, the stink of dust and mold, imprint of light until the notebook closed like an eye. What we do not see is sometimes not a crime. What we hear is our boots on volcanic ash, sickled koa leaves. To lose focus is to see more: snow on the mountain, observatories like white pustules at the top. Selfsame land blemished, bleached as the tree tripped by lava flow. Sangha found a white tag with the number five scrawled on it, among the dead trees.

    for Kevin & Miho in Volcano
    --5 January 2015