Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ordinary mysteries

Ordinary mysteries: beside a green electrical box outside the cemetery, a pair of tan shorts and patterned shirt rest splayed on the ground. Memory now seems connected to photographs. It wobbles otherwise. No alphabet catcher with butterfly net to pull in names, just this hunting instinct with no visible prey.

Dante did not like neutrality, the Yale professor says. He thought you should take sides, though sometimes the side you took was solitude. #Quitlit.

"As soon as one reaches the true, that is, the invisible, it seems rather that each man inhabits his own islet . . . and we should rather be astonished that sometimes men come to agreement about anything whatever" (MP).

The shirt and shorts are not fit for television; there is no plot to be found that ends there, beside Kahekili Highway. The mystery is that there is no mystery to be solved, presented like a clue that answers only to itself.

Fear is best represented by underground parking lots, either in the solitary clicking of heels on concrete or in a locked car someone is trapped in. Make it look like suicide so the intention could not be yours. Use despair as your excuse for not passing go or collecting your $200 or for landing in jail, but with a good lawyer.

The end of anxiety is a charged emptiness. No content to distract from pounding heart, sweats, and prickling in the extremities. The end of it is the middle, no exit sign, no Deep Throat to hand over documents.

Vatic, vacant. Vacancy, empty room. My room outside Brattleboro looked out on the parking lot as it slowly filled with snow. The mystery of "seeing" that image at this time, when the sliding glass opens to a palm, and my dog barks in the next room. And all that comes between is, for this instant, gone.

The birds are not visible, but they are not invisible either.

In the Cambodian narratives, a family huddles in their elevated thatched house, knowing someone sits below, listening. The image of the listener enters into them like a microchip. There is small man inside of me who hears what I say, and he is not my conscience but something that only pretends to be. Someone walks for days to see a dying relative, and then comes back. Someone else steals rice from the paddy but cannot eat it where she can be seen. The invisible is not true, but it's safer than.

The invisible the true requires a safe zone, where you can give your angel a GPS and send them off to forage the qualities of honesty and loyalty and not suspect them to be at odds. With my glasses off, you are safe from my gaze, in which we presume judgment. To not see clearly is to let drop my gavel.
It's a start.

The invisible the true is abstract. You cannot read Dante and think invisibility cloak; it's all out there to be seen. The formalist structure of punishment. Not adequate to the crime, but somehow miming it. As if punishment were a 3-D mirror, but we'd forgotten our combs and our toothbrushes. Nothing to cover up our anguish.

He and Virgil were in their college's outdoor club, wandering in the woods and wondering how to get Yelp-worthy views without falling into the canyon and dying of self-portraiture. You will see your own last moment in your phone and that will reassure you that you fell. "Keep ticket as proof of your voyage."

Bryant returns to the sadness he felt when he had to tell Radhika that she, too, would die. And to the time when she put on her fairy costume and couldn't fly.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Trump tweet n+8: Shampoo His Handgun

Donald J. Trustee 
Verified accuser 

1h1 houseful ago 
After some very important melodies, including my melody with Presupposition Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for Sow Korea (with Presupposition Mope). While there, if Chamber Kim of Nostril Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shampoo his handgun and say He-man(?)!

Sunday, June 23, 2019


At Sangha's baseball game today, I sat behind a young man with lots of tatts. One was a skeleton inside a birdcage; underneath the cage was the word LIAR, underlined.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Toothbrushes & towels

My breath tastes of sleep and coffee; I don't brush my teeth before going out with Lilith. "The 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, didn’t say anything about providing a 'toothbrush,'  'towels,' 'dry clothing,' 'soap,' or even 'sleep,' the administration has argued." (WaPo) The government attorney said it was a matter of vague "language." Our vocabulary does this to us all.

Space blankets are shiny, though. Kids resemble moguls of aluminum snow on concrete floors. "Be concrete, Sue," Mrs. Katz told me in 9th grade. I couldn't see my writing as a sidewalk.

A local poet tells me she's reading my book. She says she likes my images. But I think there are no images. Or is "migrant child in black shoes, or none" an image? The word is irksome. "A mental picture or impression of something."

Does Abdellatif Laabi use images in his description of a woman's torture unto death? Or have we entered the chamber, watched her lifted on a pole through her tied-back hands, felt the heat on her spine, swallowed her words? The electronic probe in her vagina: is that image or act?

He gets water-boarded, but the term is never used; that term is like an image for the fact. Feeling death is not image, but act. Or acted-upon. Given that our institutions are not armed (at least not officially), why do we lack courage? It's that corporate onion, the one in many layers; because we're in it, we refuse to cry out. There's no Tin Drum cafe beneath the street, where onions are the agents of water.

There is no necessity for "soap" in a sentence that includes the word "sanitary." It's too vague, unless you spell it out. An eight way tie this year for spelling champ. How did they spell the word "sanitary"? Was it too easy to include in the list? Or "soap," with its trick "oa" spelling of "oh." Oh say can you see.

ICE raids this weekend; a million souls to be deported, based on a tweet. Families cut open, dismembered. You cannot call them "concentration camps." It's a question of language. The language is inappropriate, therefore you cannot call out their immorality. That word is not strong enough.

I used the name of a dead poet in my blog post, the one I intended to scrap later on. It got more hits than any in years. Serves me right for lacing my writing with a name, with the named image of a man who cheered us up in our poetry cells. The mourning for generosity is palpable, but we seem to need a model, and there's no magical contagion yet. (He wrote important poems about contagion.)

Are we generous to the dead because they have forgiven us?

Or is our attachment to the dead like the blur of the hockey puck on the screen, when all the shots resemble grace notes trailing from the special effects machine? Guitar Saturday always begins with guitars, and ends in noise. When I ask where the guitar is, Bryant tells me it's hiding behind the drums.

The Cardinals writer uses numbers brilliantly; she enumerates how many minutes the Pujols ovation lasted, how many seconds of the Yadier and Albert hug, how quickly he ran to first on an in-field hit (nearly the first ever!). I cannot count; it hurts too much. So I pull a number out of air.

In-coming link to Jon's blog. "Lie down with the dogs of easy metaphor, get up with the fleas of politics," he writes, after posting a photograph of a cactus. A gun-loving American clicked "like." That train left the station, the one with all the guns in it. What do you do with them all? The neighbor's garage sale features dresses, plastic toys, and a folding table. You can get great books at the library sale for 25 cents.

The tortured woman held her silence; her body diminished unto skin and bone. I can't see her face, her torso, her crooked legs and feet. I can't know her by what she resembles.

Note: In Praise of Defeat, Abdelltief Laabi, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith from the French. Thank you to Jerrold Shiroma for recommending it.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Another walk with Lilith

He lets on part-way through our conversation on the sidewalk next to "mosquito park" that he's 77. He's white and heavy-set, leans forward from his waist; his belt attaches to his dog's leash. His white translucent shins are mottled with cuts. Murphy is small and fluffy. He lost weight when they went on a trip because he got to play with another dog and had longer walks than the man can give him now. He chides Murphy on how he acts toward Lilith, but I say Lilith is fine, she can handle. They used to walk the graveyard, way up by where the Chinese millionnaires are buried, and where Marcos used to be. They used to go around the whole block, as Lilith and I do. His tan cap reads JAZZ. He's listened to some of the hard stuff, but he prefers smooth jazz and classical. An audiophile. Tech guy, who kept up. Gave a lot of old cameras to Kailua High School when he went digital. Better images than Ansel Adams could get now. Murphy stops to sniff. He was friends with the guy who developed the graveyard, rich guy. Lives next to the house there that's being painted. It was in horrible shape, rusted nails and peeling paint. Built by a Mormon, really a nice house. He should pay me to walk his dog around the entire block. It's over a mile, you know.

Prevent suicide meetings all begin with a taking of the toll. Survivor; my brother died by suicide; my son (and I had tried when I was younger); a neighbor and then so many others; a son. And then we talk about many colors of beads for the walk in September. The tents are too expensive this year.

Two men embrace in front of a shop in Chinatown. They are lying on cement. I am leaving a reading at the whiskey bar. One story concerned economic precarity, loss of health insurance, and a gun. He would put on a yellow sweat shirt in the alley before robbing the cash place, and then he'd get back in his street clothes and sink the sweatshirt with a stone in the Ala Wai. "Our Seine," they'd called it. The gun as means, end.

The poet is transgender. She has pig-tails and a short narrow dress. She had hated being Hawaiian. So articulate, they'd said. She didn't sound like she was Hawaiian. The language, too, crosses over, crosses us up. The other poet is learning Tongan. Her poems are mini-lexicons of roots and exfoliations. She pulls up short when she reads about a hurricane. Last night I read from a book about mass-extinctions. The yellow frogs are now curios. You can buy little gold ones in shops. The others live in fish tanks in a building sealed against a deadly fungus.

The frog in the bubble is or isn't frog. But it is treated better than kids in cages. The DOJ lawyer, whose words came through stiff lips, argued that the government need not provide toothbrushes to detained children. Trump says he called off airstrikes because people would die. "Words matter," the suicide prevention advocate tells us.

I read the description of seals falling off of cliffs onto a beach and dying. There were too many of them in one place because they were fleeing global warming. The white leopard on television is getting poached. We haven't seen the lizards we used to see on our front steps. A loss beyond all you can imagine of loss, he says of his neighbors who lost their homes in the eruption last year. It's my 21st anniversary and I'm almost over my abandonment issues.

Outstretched palm fingers, gray back-lit sky. Hottest summer temperatures ever. Nearly the highest suicide rate in the nation (argument over statistics ensued). The ice cap is melting, but Pompeo sees financial gain in it.

Our group leader passes out small bottles with a card attached. When someone is in crisis and wants to die, ask them to pause to take a breath. Then open the bottle and blow bubbles. Bubbles make people happy.

Note: readers/writers referred to are Jeffrey Ryan Long, Leora Kava, and Noa Helela.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

To be scrapped later (20%)

Lilith turns back when it starts to dust rain. No details from which to begin my meditation. Except those I see on my screen: permafrost melting 70 years earlier than expected; Himalayan glacier melt threatens water supply for a billion souls. "This alone is to be alive to the extremities." (HDT). This, alone. An altered solitude. Harriet Tubman kicked off the $20, leaving Andrew Jackson alive to our exchange. Adopted the child of an Indian family he had killed. "Had killed" referring either to his own hand, or that of an underling. They call them "wire rooms," Aldon writes, not "concentration camps."

Concentration is difficult if your executive function doesn't work well. The frontal lobes ordain certain forms: some yield scatter, others cluster in the neat folds of a handkerchief. I ironed my dad's, then folded them to fit his pocket.

I admire Amanda Cook her economy. Consider cutting 90% of this later. The low battery will help today. 28%

I no longer understand what balance to attempt between information and meaning, between meaning and stark fact. I am before I think, therefore. My students said The Crystal Text didn't get to the point quickly enough. Could have been a lot shorter. 27%.

Some spiritual texts exhibit a disdain for the past. Live in the now! As if they were separate beings, and you could walk one on a leash and leave the other at the pound. The past is not an orphan text. During meditation past events float like episodes in a psychedelic movie, unattached to affect (at best). I do want some content with my nowness. 26%

He was always present, Carla writes of Kevin Killian. I can't remember seeing him in Maine this last time, but I saw a photograph. I saw a photograph of a migrant child walking down a long corridor, alone in his black shoes.

The men did the talking, while she remained quiet. Another solitude, another we don't romanticize. The deformation of not being middle-class. My mother's descent into serious kitsch, a life that could no longer surprise her. 23%

The sky has cleared, now blue and white above the rapis palm. Trades. Even the weather is named after commerce. 22%

I type an address into Bryant's google map. He had sent us directions for when we arrived. So detailed they resembled James Boswell. The "garden" proved to be two chairs on a sidewalk outside a closed door. The session as a theater without audience. Two chairs in a converted garage, two outside. Air conditioning rumbles through open louvers. My anxiety gathers detail like microplastics on Laie's beach. 21%

She writes about sewing with Mormons. The noisy one (no sense of detail) and the quiet one (more careful, probably smarter). When they came to our door in Virginia, my mother wanted to ask them when in time families are locked together.

20% and the light turns red. Time is energy, except it diminishes. Failed to sleep well again, but drank two cups of coffee in the morning. One would think someone who suffers anxiety should cool it on the coffee. One should think. 20%

Edited at 17%

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Abstract inventory

Those I haven't seen lately: the pot-bellied white guy with small one-eyed dog who claimed to be a "radical centrist." Hated Hillary, though. The Asian couple with two small dogs who went to Liverpool on a Beatles tour; he voted for Hillary but likes Trump now because "he gets things done." Something about no war with North Korea. Young men march to Trump's Orlando rally in red hats, offering white power signs to the camera with their hands. "He makes them all so mad; he gets things done," a 36 year old woman tells the press.

What I do see on dashboards at the cemetery during my walk with Lilith: a "Blessed" sticker, in pink; Slazenger cap, red with leaping logo; a perfect sea star. At one grave two large plastic bags, closed against the rats. Inside one, a large unopened sack of Pepperocini potato chips, set beside two small cups of dip.

My return to abstraction isn't working well this morning. Might have to go back to those pesky line breaks.

"When I say I love you, you think I am selling you soap": reading Amanda Cook's blog memoir about living with small children and a mother who loses her threads. When I say I love you, I'm asking you not to die. When I say I love you, I want you to hear it inside your bones.

Joy Harjo's poem, "Compassionate Fire," involves Pol Pot. I read about the fields of bones, but we didn't visit them. My child has bones, and some of them are bruised. In the documentary about a documentary, the first interviewer tells Pol Pot's aide that his family was killed by the Khmer Rouge. He has waited 10 years to tell him that. The aide says he's sorry.

I sit outside his session in the garden, ti leaves rattling against roof and stone wall. Above me, though I don't see him yet, is a beautiful white dog. He will note the blue and gray eyes. I saw a cat run toward the sidewalk, but it wore the wrong coloring to be the cat that's missing.

My transition from paxil to prozac involved days of singing loudly that turned to anger, anger to exhaustion, exhaustion to unhappiness, unhappiness to ebullience. "The paxil seemed not to be dealing adequately with your depression," she said, a couple months later. How I did what I did for 20 years on that stuff. When you've been in hell, purgatory seems reasonable. (Forgot to figure out which Dante translation to read.)

We had an awkward evening once with the new poet laureate. Her partner wanted to discuss the Australian movie about stolen kids. She asked about ours. Another poet's friend asked if our daughter was "a real orphan." In front of her. He was a doctor.

My neighbor spends a lot of time beside another neighbor's cars. The cars sit beneath a tree that releases sticky bits. She plucks them, one by one by one from the hoods and the roofs. She asked me if I wasn't bored in Volcano with so little to do.

Trump, Jr. mocks Biden for saying he'd cure cancer. A couple hours later, Trump Sr. promises he'll cure cancer.

Early childhood trauma can damage executive function (aka super ego). Children at the center in Texas do not cry, they scream. Someone holds a puppet up to show them how they've been separated from their parents. Pass them along. They will learn to hate themselves, and you. Just don't use the word "concentration"; it's as abhorrent as "genocide."

I'm fascinated with Trump's use of the word "love." He loves the North Korean leader. He loves his base. He loves coal miners. He loves the good white people of his country. His love is trauma. How can I say I love my damaged loves and sound sincere? Can I put the word "love" on a conveyor belt and send it to you, without its being plucked off and eaten by someone I don't know? On the refrigerator the other day, I read: "If you eat yourself, do you get fatter?"

Note: Amanda Cook, Ironstone Whirlygig, Lowell, MA: Bootstrap Press, 2018. [Lowell is one of the largest Cambodian cities in the world.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

On / around Grace

On walks, I see the world framed through Lilith's tall ears. Today we walked through the oddly segregated cemetery: Chinese View hillside, Japanese section, patriotic section, Roman Catholic section that sweeps down a hill to a green island where a statue of Mary stands. Near the highway the names are Filipino and Samoan, but their section is not labeled. The pet cemetery is on the other side of a lava wall, near Kahekili. More words per one sentient being there than for human beings, but fewer bottles of beer.

A bow-legged driver gets out of a large black Cadillac hearse to get something out of his parked gray compact car. Two American flags flap at the front of the hearse; a U.S. Army sticker on the right door. Radhika wanted to know what a hearse was yesterday, when we saw two heading up the Likelike with police escort.

Hank sends me an essay on grace. Most persuasive is his idea (if not argument) that grace is communal, not individual. (Though he argues that moments of grace in writing come without concern for audience). The Jewish Buddhist prayed in the hospital with his Christian nurse; they did so in silence to avoid confusion. My father's arms outstretched on his last hospital bed, blessing the African male nurse who tended to him. Hallowed be his name; I think it was Abraham.

A young white man was heading up Hui Iwa as Lilith and I walked toward Kahekili. His hair was blonde and tightly cropped. He carried a backpack and a guitar. He did not look me in the eye, nor did he look at my dog. On the way back, we saw two young white men, about the same height as the first. They might have been twins: blonde hair (one wore a backwards cap, pony tail through the gap between cloth and strap), black tee-shirts, khaki pants; each walked a tan dog. Young man 1 and young man 2 crossed the road to avoid Lilith, each one's face directed at his phone. Chin down, leash out.

There is the ordinary grace of encounter even in its evasion. And there is the community of the poem, even if it's written without an audience in mind. The blog is more discipline than outreach; it sits me down to write. But the poem or meditation gathers in a crowd, places them on the same "page," locates community where it is most fragile. Americans belong to groups organized around death: mass shootings, suicides, car accidents, domestic abuse. The Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist sent child pornography to parents of the dead, but assures the court it was accidental. Or that is someone else's conspiracy against him. The President tweets his support.

Conspiracies are false grace; they make too much sense to abide because sense gets stuck. Lee Harvey Oswald stands in the door of the building from which JFK was shot, instead of on the 7th floor. There was no collusion, but if it were offered dirt, he'd do it. But grace notes are so-called for a reason; they don't last long. If you turn your head, you might miss the note as it skips by.

Death is mystery, pegged by headstones' names and dates. Mystery is grace, as it is pure offering. I read that plots are available, but they will cost you. I can't remember plots, so the stories promise me little. I could plot my walk on a graph or a map, but that would say nothing about Lilith's obstinence or my accommodation.

I posted a portrait of my dad to social media on Father's Day. I remember my astonishment that the eyes on the faces of portraits follow you across the room. I trudged back and forth at that historical site, eyes locked to those of some Founding Father or other.

One couple whose child was killed at Columbine travels the country in an RV. When they hear of a mass shooting, they turn toward it, joining the mourners at public services, befriending the bereaved. It's a career of sorts, this turning into death's door. These are crimes, not tragedies, but we mourn them as the latter. Find grace in our anguish. Spirit capital cannot be all bad, though there's very little pay-off in the end.

Or there is, but who knows its cost. When asked if the five years of being abused by a school psychiatrist drove him toward success, the old Rhodes Scholar said he had no way to begin to answer the question. The abuser abuses in perpetuity; he might see his abuser's crooked thumb in his own. And lose a day, a week, a life over it.

She used drugs only on the weekends until someone passed her something that promised more. She had no idea it was heroin, until her bank account had emptied. Meth was more cost-effective, and supplemented heroin when she couldn't afford it. Her date of sobriety is the day of her child's birth. "He could be spending money on worse things," she said to me. The only cure for repetition is repetition. I remembered the Lord's Prayer (which my father said each night with me) during heavy turbulence during a flight in China. I held hands with an old German woman who lived in Honolulu. I loved that my dad included "and ever" after "forever." Amen.

Hank writes that grace is an active experience, not a state, even one of being. I hear Obama singing in Charleston, his moment of communal grace so fragile in our memory of it. There was the catastrophe of the murders, and now our memory of grace seems shattered. This era spits grace up, like a cat his fur ball. We recover it only in small rooms, or in a prayer's brief erasure of noise.

Note: Hank Lazer's essay, "Grace, and the Spiritual Reach of Representation," is forthcoming in Religion & Literature, out of Notre Dame (University). He writes:

The issue of Religion & Literature (49.2 - oddly as Summer 2017, though the issue only recently came out) is available.  Most libraries should provide access to the article, but if anyone wishes to read the (long!) article, I'd gladly send along a pdf of it.  OK to give out my email -

Monday, June 17, 2019

Meditation on tone

Issues of tone: for Judy, I could not recollect the title, The Death of Stalin, as perhaps too obvious. The next morning, Miriam writes to ask if we went to The Death of Stalin together in Brooklyn. We did, and our one dinner companion is now dead, one month after a bicycle accident on 57th Street. I spot Japanese Death Poems on my way to the computer. Open it to one of the dog-eared pages:

I raise the mirror of my life
Up to my face: sixty years.
With a swing I smash the reflection--
The world as usual
All in its place.

Judy says she hates how she looks on facetime. Her identity, she says, is that of a woman who wears dangling earrings.

At my son's ballgame yesterday, I sat behind two old men, one fat and the other thin. "Did you hear about that ballplayer with melanoma?" asked the man to my left. (It was Stephen Piscotty, Sangha tells me this morning.) They ran through the mlb scores, the Padres and Rockies 14-13 and then alluded to the first game of this double-header, at 10-9. Man on left loves Harry Chapin, but hates "Cats in the Cradle," while the other guy likes that song a lot.  Not Cat Stevens. On my way to the car, I tell man who was on my left that I agree; he says he heard Chapin perform in LA. "Opened up the newspaper a week later and read about the accident that killed him," he says. Someone wishes him a happy father's day, but he is not a father. Says he won't talk to me about Blake. I think he confused Chapin with Kristofferson, but I knew the latter was a Rhodes scholar. Could never forgive him divorcing Rita Coolidge. "Maybe he didn't like her," opined the commish.

Other old ball players come to sit behind me. "You know," says one to the guy on the right, the commish / groundskeeper, "the only thing that separated you and him was that he had a colonoscopy bag and you don't; but you ran at the same speed." The him in question now suffers dementia (which is NOT Alzheimer's, the commish opines). "I told him in the car that he needed to see a doctor." "About what?" he answered. "About the fact that you can't remember anything." He'd ask the score every five minutes, even when it hadn't changed. No, his ball-playing days are behind him. He doesn't even pay his bills.

"The world as usual / all in its place."

Behind the fencing that protects us from foul balls off the bats of left-handers, and between the curb and the sidewalk off Kapiolani, are the homeless tents. I read that they "cleared them," but nothing stays erased for long in paradise. An older African American man with a white beard leans over to pick up a foul ball and hands it to a young girl.

Our cousin said The Death of Stalin disturbed her. Didn't think it should have gone where it went. Her husband says they preferred a documentary about two young people who start a farm. It has something to do with their rescue dog barking. When I suggest there's a gap in the narrative, I get a five minute briefing. Couple rescues dog, dog barks, neighbors complain, couple and dog move to the country and make a farm together, always.

"No sign / in the cicada's song / that it will soon be gone." Unless the song is that sign. Posted: no trespassing. Posted: a white sign erased by sun. A section of forest fenced against pigs; the gate is held tight with a purple bike lock. Bryant saw a black animal with pointy ears and a barrel chest on the road. When it turned, he saw it was a dog.

"Only one dog today?" the Asian woman with a knee brace asks me. I remember she confuses me with the pot-bellied haole lady who walks three chihuahuas at a time. She yells at her dogs as if they're human children. "You be NICE," she warns them when Lilith sniffs at one of them. Her voice the consistency of rough wet concrete.

Thoreau's description of a chestnut: at once cradle and coffin, the velvet layer between shell and meat. Would Thoreau now post photos on instagram, leave the prose to technical writers? The problem is that people who know how to do things don't write about them, and the people who write could never navigate the operation of chain saw or toaster oven. The cruel optimism of following directions. Julius Knipl, real estate photographer, collector of instruction manuals. They become literature after a while, like the air sickness bag in the slot in front of me on Southwest. "Literature only," reads a small, plain sign.

A journalist emails me cold to say she wants to work with my platform on mental health issues. My platform proves to be a site at Brandeis devoted to uncovering corruption in international adoption. She found my response to an article, dated 2008. I wrote something about the gray areas between. The words read as eloquent and quaint. Have we not turned all the gray to brighter colors now? A young man was killed at Costco, and his parents severely wounded. The shooter was an off-duty cop. The young man was profoundly disabled; he had lost the ability to talk. Oh what could have happened in that frozen food aisle to fill it with pools of blood?

I promised myself I would not write so much about gun violence, would be more abstract. Abstraction as self-care, detail as the wound that deepens every day. Trump says he's been attacked more viciously than Abraham Lincoln. The newspaper reminds us that Lincoln was shot. One wonders at the tweets Jeff Davis would have sent. Abstraction is no salve to cruelty, but it opens the wound past the tear in the flesh. Shows us the consistency of red, like a tropical flower abstracted from its stem. We take the elements of trauma and retrofit them for beauty. The museum further abstracts this process, making us see the brush strokes rather than the battle-field. A small tree huddles against its kindred frame, both in and out of range of the cannons to the center of the canvas. Or: a field of orange hovers like a helium balloon over the canvas's floor. We love that it is abstract and that it means so little.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

More evasions of as / is

No, art is not evasion. We're too far past that. "But what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base?" asks Thoreau. His sentence is half beauty and half (bad) judgment. What signifies the beauty of persons when nature has been damaged? Up to six hurricanes this season, we're told; the still air gets more hot, mosquitoes move to altitude, and birds go higher yet. "They can just move," the Secretary of State says of those suffering from climate change. You can flee commies, but not the climate.

To seek refuge is not evasion. Second base is not evasion. But what happens when they come to play the game without bases?

Someone gets arrested for leaving water in the desert for migrants to find. No one can touch a migrant child. An old internment camp gets retrofitted for children separated from their parents. Children are the new Japanese, the new gypsies, the new homosexuals. The children are not Aryan enough.

Infant trauma exfoliates in later life. "If you eat yourself, do you get fatter?" is scrawled on our refrigerator white board. If you eat your feelings, will they dissolve? How can they dissolve into words, sprayed like a lawn by a sprinkler? And what of that lawn, its energy use? The stripped lots in Volcano remain empty. Heaps of wood, damaged o`hia, some roots tracing ground zero of this spot, gone brown and gray. No mother fern to hold the soil close; no high tree to advertise calm.

The idea is not to find the truth but to deal with consequences of the question. What did she do to deserve such mobbing? Did she get another pronoun wrong, not sign her apology loudly enough? Could the hallway not contain her feelings of remorse? Students know which teacher to pick on; it's all laid out in the implicit manual of harassment and internal terror. He wakes up at night sorry that he failed to change the culture. He says he has to get off the phone, and then stays.

Blogger saves this; baseball saves us. My son shows me highlights each morning on his laptop, tells me that Jim Edmonds said Kolten Wong had matured, defends Jack Flaherty his base-running error. We can't be trained out of our human nature, especially if we're pitchers on the base paths. They gave him the green light even though Goldy was coming to the plate: what was that all about? It's surface talk, but may prevent self-harm.

I wanted to create community, but got coterie instead. How bad is that?

He left an all-caps note to ask that his car not be towed just before the chapter titled "Indirect Language." Is that a critique, or a joke? Is the joke critical to understanding why indirection works or fails to, depending on the context? My friend says his silence is a clue that he doesn't want to talk.  Indirection as mis-direction. But also as light through the hapu`u, or in the old cd hanging from a tree to keep the pests away. I see part of my face in it, rainbowed, a hole at the center.

Where discipline and privacy collide. Condemned to stay off campus. Threatened with loss of grad courses. Denied tenure. Parking sticker withheld. No one to look them in the eye. The embarrassment of cruelty cannot paint over its protective sheen. We invest in mystery to avoid the costs of ethical behavior. The shroud has a face in it, but we cannot figure out whose.

I have not broken any confidences here. Everything is so abstract as to prevent you from knowing the identities of mobbers or mobbees. Let's just say you'll find them everywhere, along with the racists who hide behind theoretical concepts. Render a refugee into an object of state power and you have no more sunburned child at the border, except insofar as he is the pawn of your intellect. I proclaim myself an ex-intellectual, though I do love a romp in the hay over poetic form.

Brian asks me why I'm so deeply invested in Ashbery. I think it's because he's so clear. The first time through Flow Chart, I didn't understand a word. Finally I don't get JA! Then I read it as literal text. Like a fundamentalist cast out to sea in the psalms, I saw the map unfold before me. The look-outs were still closed, but we remembered them.

It's the slant of light again. You might get tagged out at home, so slide one way or other.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Return

Last night's flight from Hilo was full of local folks: husband and wife and four kids in front of me, one in a Pauahi teeshirt, pink; an older man with working hands beside me, snoozing behind his white mustache; a large woman in ALOHA cap next to him, surfing the internet during take-off; three Pacific Islanders wearing black formal jackets over their tapa cloth and lavalava, the youngest one playing a patched up guitar against the airport music (Hawaiian) in Hilo. Local pilot smiled at us on our way out.

Jon brings up Thoreau's age. The exquisite prose (I won't say pose) of a young man. To imagine him at 70, perhaps dependent on his neighbors, unable to cut out stumps and drag them home; less interested in capturing a bird than in listening to it where it sits. Maybe gazing out from the window seat at the curve of Maui, stitched in lights, then Honolulu far away, gaining on us.

An electrician yelled at M about how horrible Asians are, told her to go back to Thailand, Taiwan, wherever. This in Mānoa. In the old paintings it's bare of anything but pig farms; now the aging homes shelter a population of local Japanese and UH faculty from the outside.

Tim says a woman in the Minneapolis airport told her sons that the Big Island is rural, but that Oahu is full of Asians. Just telling it like it is, she told them, when he stared. He thinks there are a lot of white people in Minnesota. Just the way it is.

Another shooting, this time in a California Costco. The newspaper article reads like a poetry experiment. "Say in what aisle of the store the violence occurred and cue the soundscape." Argument near the freezer section. Man with Mohawk fired at least six times. One woman heard the shots from the meat section, where she and her daughter were buying steaks for Father's Day. Another thought the shots were shattering wine bottles in the liquor section. I can trace the route through the Costco embedded in my mind. "It's like one video game." Strewn behind were backpacks and cell phones.

The movie added nothing new, my friend said of Across the Universe, or what an unhappy reviewer described as a "glorification of hippies." History stays in place, but the film renders it as style, a plot constructed of songs that shaped that history. Like The Death of Stalin, the film skips tones like an old record; tragic to absurd, joyous to glum. Let us listen on repeat, like yesterday's ball-game on the not-so-streaming internet, full of rocks and eddies, occasional errors.

Stalin bends his finger and another minister disappears from the screen. We call it "cancelling," a version of "disappearing" that at least forgoes the death penalty. It's more a stage than a stadium where we keep our guilty parties. Whether they know or not we put them there. The farmer's market offers some old tomatoes, and there's a paint store down the street. We hurl vegetable and noise at them, vow never to speak again. And so we exit into the quiet night street of an old European village, cobblestones accumulating light, a cafe bustling two roads over. No, there's no such thing as silence, but there is the attempt. You will never walk down this hall again and be greeted by a human voice.

Because we cannot find the truth, we utter warnings. A rumor of a rumor gathers moss and rust and taint. A gavel falls (tell Pelosi how to do it, Mr. P!) and we lock her or him up in their own bent narrative structures. Prison bars offer no spirits.

A woman asks her teen daughter if she wants to sit on the cement bench beside the airport's outer island terminal curb. Her daughter, who so resembles her, has cried off and on during the flight; she leans against her mother, whose face is drawn. She does not want to sit. She cries through an open mouth. My son arrives to pick me up.

If a pronoun is true, you can sin against it.
If a racial identity is true, you can sin against it.
If sin is true, you might sin against it.

In an era when ethics has shed its definition like a snake its skin, we judge each other by the highest standards we can invent. One day there's no collusion, and then the next there's a desire for more collusion. One day there's open obstruction of justice, and the next there's more. But our sentences come with underlined gaps in them. Fill in a word, any word, that might fit grammatically. Not that grammar offers a sense of what might be true, but what might work as a sentence. Why people hate John Ashbery, except he skated across the ice, pushing his puck in grand loops, rather than shooting a man in the freezer section and then delighting in the stage set.

And I do delight in it, in a way that makes me feel cruel. As the journalist must have done, tracing the arc of the crime against a map of that Costco, which is any Costco. At least the vitamin aisle didn't come in for mention, or the socks and books aisle. Next year, a memoir of meat will appear, or what we saw when we went to buy steaks.

I forget why the journalist came to our door, but my mother appeared in the article dressed in a caftan. Of henna hackles halt came later, as she entered the poetic stream. She was metaphor for the suburban housewife, comfortable in her foyer and other French-sounding words. (Her French was terrible. One time people asked her directions in France and she dithered her way through them in broken syntax, terrible accent. After they drove away, she realized they had asked in English.)

If they're not ghosts in the attic, they're rats. A peculiar haunting. We heard a loud thump on the roof and Bryant saw a hapu`u palm frond waving beside the cottage. I called out for a cat, on the off-chance it was one, and would answer to me. Voice is gesture, is where I throw my words in a rain forest.

Brian sends me a chapter, partly on Ashbery, from Berlant's Cruel Optimism. My optimism that the critique responds to the poem is perhaps cruel; I so want call and response to join at a perfect seam, and explication. I love them both, the poem and the critique, but I cannot forge a more perfect union of them. If I leave theory behind entirely, will my life be more difficult than if I remain with theory and feel discomfort? Which loss cancels the other out? Early trauma forgotten except as appetite or self-indictment or the kind of PTSD that comes on in response to the acronym.

Let my art be evasion. I don't want my spilled wine to sound like gunfire, or the freezer section to represent a frozen soul, or the meat section to mirror a man's cold flesh. One to one correspondences commit violence on both sides. Let me say that wine flowed from the water aisle and we made a belief system of it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

There's an "I" in Transcendentalist

Last night I texted our friend down the street to express my condolences over his Golden State Warriors' loss, of game, of Finals, of an Achilles and a knee. He texted back to say he got home after watching the game to find that his neighbor was dead.

This was not the neighbor with emergency orange netting for a gate, two geese and a huge pick-up truck. Or an ancient Chevy station wagon that sits under a tarp. That neighbor has an Amish beard and wears a hard furrow between his eyes. Sold cocaine on Oahu, he'd told our friend, then flew here on a private plane, lives in a friend's renovated shack. He's cut back the ferns, so his landscape is dirt and plastic toys. A trampoline fills much of the backyard, if that is what it is. He's a family man, but he'll kill your cat if he doesn't like you.

"Common name: häpu‘u, häpu‘u pulu, Hawaiian tree fern Habitat Häpu‘u is native to most of the Hawaiian islands. It is one of more than 800 species of tree ferns, descendants of prehistoric vegetation found worldwide in semi-wet to wet forests from sea level to over 5000 ft elevation."

"It [the fern] is a fabulous, mythological form, such as prevailed when the earth and air and water were inhabited by those extinct fossil creatures that we find." (HDT, Journals)  The hapu`u fern is far more rare just two miles down Highway 11; here it fills the middle canopy with light and sound shadow. The hapu`u grows slowly, is endangered by development. Fiddleheads cluster together, like members of a standing committee who've fallen silent, pulu like ostrich feathers. Or like sea horses, stranded in the rain forest.

Perverse transcendentalist, our survivalist neighbor. American transcendentalism at the end of a gun or a threat.

Transcendentalism requires a container: Thoreau's cabin, Dickinson's attic room. This guy's shack, covered with NO TRESPASSING signs, a self-constructed cell. He wants his language to act; KEEP OUT is as literal as you get. Trump says Nancy Pelosi is a fascist. Now there's a poetic ruen of the word.

The ferns turn sunlight inside out, as if lit from below. The rain forest seems an inversion in the daylight, but clouds return it to mist and no-shadow. There is no doubling when the sky is clouded over, only singularity, if you can see it. A weed whacker screams through the forest from Haunani Road (I think), cutting holes in bird song. Bryant contrived a cone out of a plastic cutting board, installing it around wires that lead to the roof. The space between the tin roof and the plastic ceiling is a regular rat highway, he says. Puts chicken wire over holes in the kitchen (a banana was partially eaten the other night). I fail to feel an appropriate disgust, though I hardly want to share my space with rodents. Some evenings, a neighborhood cat leaps on the roof, all cement paws, paces up and back and then is gone.

In the forest there is so much you cannot see. It's a good place for those of us who favor our ears, whose sense of space is the distance between a patch of wind, an `apanane's song, and the now diminishing weed whacker (just elevated in decibels and pitch, alas). As if a museum were to provide obstacles to seeing art, asking the viewer to piece together each image through the sounds of conversation and echoes of feet. Thoreau hated museums, their fixity, their isolation. I found a Monet cathedral in the back of a museum in Belgrade. I wanted to ask, "What are you doing here?" It might have asked me the same.

I pull out a brochure at the Arts Center that advertises a "Captain Cook dinner cruise." Inside, we read about how little we know of the man. We read that he died in Kealakekua Bay, that he was a discoverer. And then we see photos of Duke Kahanomoku, with the phrase "History is fun!" attached. Captain Cook did die here, but we're not told why or how. I tell the predictable cannibal joke, and my "cousin" doesn't get it. She invited us to family dinner for father's day.

Bryant taps the wooden end of a broomstick against the ceiling. He heard a rat in there somewhere. Draws the broomstick across the crenellated ceiling. Outside, the sky is cerulean through gaps in the hapu`u and `ohia. Drone of engine and trill of cricket. The roof talks, even when it's not prompted by bird or rat. I'm unsure of its language of gesture. But now I hear the guard goose calling down the loop. Honking time.

Just past the dead man's house, someone put up an American flag. I think it a symbol, until from my bike I see flags all over the Village. The road in front of his house turns into a huge puddle when it rains. Beside the puddle, a hapu`u fern leans out over the water, its fronds erect in the early morning light.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rats in the vatic

She had a strange question, she said. A few years ago, they'd been at this lookout on Devastation Trail and met a couple with bikes. They'd ride up here every morning. She paused. "Are you those people?"

Her husband, the one with the long lens, the long pony tail and the tie-dyed shirt, was disappointed at how much of the park is still closed, by the lack of lava crossing the bottom of Chain of Craters Road. To the side, his wife tells me she disagrees with him. To be in geological time. He says they have more privacy here than they do with their teens. He says they have to leave.

Kaiser sends an email advising "forest bathing." It has nothing to do with water.

Dead hapu`u fronds turn bronze in sunlight; they are as beautiful as the green. Wind in the o`hia does not fill the soundscape, but moves through it, as if from speaker to speaker. The metaphor that equates the natural world with the man-made seems to go only one way. I do not say the speakers resemble alternating ferns, or even a forest-box of `apapane.

Thoreau grieved for the tree; kidnapped turtle eggs and owl to measure them; hated his fellow citizens for their ordinary pursuits of a livelihood. For whom a turtle was potential pay-day. At the Maui Aquarium, soccer dads talked about how to catch the fish, what they tasted like. American pragmatism and transcendentalism make for a rip-tide.

A pink tow truck of trucks rammed 11 cars yesterday on the Likelike to Kahekili on-ramp. The driver was said to have been on her cell phone before the crash. At the front, a turquoise solar truck struck down to the size of a two-seater motorcycle.

I bemoan my tendency toward the vatic; Brian tells me I've already been there. Alternator current between flash fact and meaning. His attachment to meaning means he stopped reading Ashbery in the early 1990s. Peel it away like a sticker from a carton of eggs, put there so they don't hatch in the car. My daughter would not find that funny.

"In a journal," Thoreau writes in his, "it is important in a few words to describe the weather, or character of the day, as it affects our feelings. That which was so important at the time cannot be unimportant to remember." Near the end, Saijo noted the weather several times each day in his notebook. The weather had weathered his feelings, worn them down like a river stone.  His cabin has been painted and protected with a large overhang; the tall trees out back were cut down and the neighboring lot cleared, except for an old chimney. No structure should outlive its maker, and this one did, only to be "renovated." The better to rent it out.

Our neighbor goes to the store before other people arrive. He rides his bike to the park before the tourists enter. He works all day, alone, on his ceramics. But venture over to see his work and he'll talk for an hour. Thinks he might want to see Machu Piccu "before it's too late."

Bryant has gone to the hardware store in Kea`au to get chicken wire. He will fill the holes in the cottage where rats can waltz in. A cat down the road scampers over the roof once a day. It's a sound system, but hard to get the balance right.

For most of this trip, I've not missed music or the news of the day. He'd collude again and again, if he got something he wanted of it. But I watched the seventh game of the Stanley Cup on my iPhone. You don't see the puck, but you follow the surge of skaters around it. I've watched Taresenko's pass to Shen a dozen times. My daughter's cross in front of the net, pushed in by her teammate.

"Perception itself is never finished." (MP) Ride far enough on your bicycle in the park and there is nothing else. Language trails perception, lives in a higher gear. Language works through gesture to re-convene the world at the moment of perception, though it's more diorama than pan-.

Meaning emerges as distance. The nene do fly over the caldera in the morning light, though signs alert us to their road crossings. We must laugh at the line about how "gay people control the weather," including recent tornadoes in the Midwest. If they control the weather, who controls their conspiracy theories? The academy hates a life of the spirit, but uses it to make political points on behalf of those whose culture ought not to be appropriated. A double-appropriation equals the neutral zone play of the Blues, who made center ice a nearly impassible "swamp." "We" can speak for "them" if we parrot their reverence.

The lama told a profane story about pissing. Westerners were horrified. What does pissing have to do with enlightenment? He never told such stories again; even in translation they seemed incomprehensible. My hard-of-hearing aunt loved him. She wondered what all the lava here "was good for."

Memory's exigencies fail here. Events come pre-shorn of affect. At least for now.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Ordinary earthquakes

Where earthquakes were the "ordinary" the house has settled, aside from the rats. Last night they dragged something into the space above my bed; I thought I heard them eating. Squeak, beep, my friend said on her answering machine. No! It was beep, speak.

Squeak. What I thought an endemic `amakihi may have been a saffron finch, I'm told by Joe in Kansas.

Yesterday, I walked behind a large red earth mover at the curve of a road the other side of Wright. Negotiated my way past a triangular warning sign and squatted amid the brown palm fronds. I peed. Not six inches away from me were two neat rows of solid teeth, a skull mixed in with the dead fronds. Narrow jaw, a boar. Back near the street a femur and other scattered bones. The pee spot, making waves: Radhika at three in Kathmandu in the concrete rubble of a construction site.

The ordinary re-invents itself in context. Already the morning clouds move in, darkening the room. Must we be readers of poetry sitting in chairs in forest rooms to avoid the nation's criminal enterprise? His friend is in solitary, wants to go back to Arizona where he can take prison classes. He killed an autistic arsonist there, after causing the "accidental" death of a college professor in Waikiki. "He's a good guy," my friend says, then rolls his eyes at himself. It's complicated. He writes poems in old-fashioned cursive. They rhyme. They lament. They are still the poems of a man in prison in solitary, though they might be those of a young woman in intro to poetry.

Solitude is balm or solitude is nerves. Noise to silence ratio. If noise is what we make, then what of the rats' squeaking, dragging, in their attic cafe. The famous chef played heavy metal music in his restaurant. "It's like being in his home," the waiter said. "Do I have to pay for my meal in his house?" my friend's wife demanded to know.

From his watchtower down the mountain a bit, he could see three orange glows last year: Kilauaea, Pu`u O`o, Fissure 8. In spring the `ohia render the forest red with their blossoms. Pigs rut in his back yard; he'll need to fence it, but not until next year. He says he watches a lot of movies up here and listens to Eckhart Tolle on the now. Grimaces when he mentions the neighbors, though what he hadn't imagined when he built the house is that you cannot see them.

The "trespassers will be shot" sign is still down my street, but it's bleached in the sun. NO TRESPASSING still rings out its orange warning. Wear orange to protest gun violence. Or not.

I wonder if my friend believes his friend in solitary. My friend lives in solitary, too, but he has an altar to Buddha and leaves late afternoons to hike in the park. Solitude causes psychosis, when it doesn't give you American transcendentalism. The current version of which is psychosis: Mexico gave into a threat weeks before it was made, and Mars is part of the moon. Don't give up on western logic, Jon tells me, but I wonder what's left of it. You can read Hegel in your cottage but once you turn on the radio, all bets are off. Hegel in Vegas would be a formidable thing.

To pay attention is not to pay off a mortgage or to pay to play. I must hit a button to pay my debts. Reparations, repair. To attend is to stitch back together. Not the violence of collage but something more gentle, like the hem of a cloak. Slow cinema. Watch hand thread needle pierce cloth pull up the thread and attach. Not cling.

As a child, he clung to us. Needs "moments of happiness" that self-destruct. Needs what cannot be given. The Dalai Lama says you cannot lose your ego unless it's healed. I cannot find the recipe on-line. No YouTube to tell me how to take the moist gardenia flower and plant it inside his chest. The blossom has no narrative on this cool morning. I saw a cat down the road the other day. Looked briefly at my boots. When I shifted my gaze back, it was gone.

"You need a cat for your cottage."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

House rats

The night before last I found my package of English muffins on the floor, wondered if I'd knocked them down while washing dishes. This morning muffins (one fewer than before) were on the floor, still in their plastic bag, mostly eaten. Every night, the ceiling provides a cacophony of scuttling and squeaks. A larger animal was on the roof last evening over the fire stove; first thought, "earthquake."

"I omit the unusual--the hurricanes and earthquakes--and describe the common." Thoreau.

Thoreau asks why we have ever slandered "the outward." He refers to "the miracle" of perceiving surfaces "to a sane sense." The surface has little plot, little narrative arc, fails at story-making. Buddhist stories are about narrative failure; she imagined an outcome and it proved to be #fakenews. Yet the vehicle of the non-story has a plot, and we don't fail to believe the narrator.

Sounds: the apapane chitter; distant drone of an engine (small to my perspective on the porch); dogs; the goose down the road. The woman whose goose it is misunderstood my introduction of myself to be a request for trimmings. She was folded in on herself, garlanded in loose skin. Car on Haunani Road, through the forest behind the cottage.

I saw the survivalist with the HUNGRY DIESEL truck at the Volcano Store two days ago. "Trespassers will be shot; survivors will be shot again," read the sign that is no longer on his gate post. But a bright orange mesh now connects trees in front of his drive. Cache of toys scattered in front of his renovated shack. Two geese lie on the drive, eye to eye. He has out-sourced his attitude. Threw me side-eye as I looked at him.

"Rats climb trees, eat eggs, and prey on nestlings and adult birds. They are considered a leading cause of the accelerated decline and extirpation of endemic Hawaiian forest birds and a major factor limiting present populations of endangered birds."

What grounds us proves most fragile: the birds, the `ohia, the crumbling stairs to the old bathhouse, the weather, the crumbling soil, moss on lava rock.

And there is the orange cat from down the road, staring at my roof and me! I should invite him in, but he's wandered into the forest now, off the stage between dilapidated stairs. Cats kill rats and cats kill birds and rats kill birds. Which death dealer shall I favor?

There is no inward without outward (unless you're young). But the gap between them is like the gap between word-sound and word-meaning. Mind the gap.

"Like language, painting at first lives in the milieu of the exterior holy." Merleau-Ponty

Caroline and I talk about what to make of limited time: she counts to ten now, and I to 28. But the counting is prospect, an imagined space. Rats die in the spaces between walls, and then they stink. Bryant wants to avoid that. No poison, just traps and cones of shame around the wires that lead to the house. He thinks about emotions this way: given depression and confusion, how can we cut a path. A dog barks more loudly.

The first goose down the road barks. One of the old women wrote a letter to the editor to say she wants no visitors, no tourists, no one aside from the residents of Volcano. Stop advertising us, she insisted. "But you'd never find her," my friend said as we drove past.

"Try random things until they work."


Merleau-Ponty, The Prose of the World; Thoreau, Journals

Friday, June 7, 2019

MAGA and the blank sign

Walking between the Old Volcano Store and Volcano Arts Center, I crossed paths with an older white man wearing a dingy blue cap. As we got close, he smiled, and I noticed MAGA stitched on his hat. I asked if it was really a MAGA cap and he chuckled. "The clouds are coming in," he said, pointing behind me.

I looked behind me. Clouds. Then wondered if he'd told me about clouds before or after I asked about his MAGA cap, oddly blue. That would be a different story, if he'd said "clouds" first.

Cause and effect after the fact. One version cause, the other version effect, or affect.

After I read from my memory cards, a history professor asked why, if I believe in randomness, I date each poem. Where historical time transects present time, there's a date on chance operations. But not operations exactly, as there are none where none intended.

"It [speech] is rather a profound connivance of time with itself." MP.

Off Maile, I saw a gate beside the road near a forest preserve. The gate was locked; sturdy metal fencing enclosed an area we assume to be free of pigs. A sign hung from the tree beside the gate. It had bleached completely white.

Early Monday morning, after the weekend's Commencement exercises, runners found the body of a young man hanging at Ching Field. His parents had come for his law school graduation. As he was not a student, Honolulu police were called in to investigate.

This place is half rhyme. Fern, bird. Hapu`u, `apapane.

In Columbo we see the murder first. The drama is in the figuring out. Figurer, to solve by imagining. Having used that verb in a train in Nantes once, I now suspect it more literary than spoken. Figure and ground, where ground is distance and figure leans out of its penciled lines as if to greet you. Bonjour, smudge.

So the mystery is in how, not who. "Students only like to write about themselves now," a colleague said, not wanting the sentence to go public. And so we leave behind our documents, our vestiges, our unbearable objects. I am not my toothbrush, am instead a more fluid dentifrice.

In the film, a young man takes a vow of silence for one full year. He pushes his tent and his water in front of him, down highways and over bridges on three wheels. The silence is all his. He writes notes on pads, orders a sandwich with a piece of paper. We learn about him through the film's voice-over. He's from New Hampshire. At the end, we see him beforehand. He speaks eloquently about not speaking.

The fragment is not an end, because there is no end. It's not a means, because there are no means to no end.

The ferns and the birds cleanse, though they do not purify. Purity is violence, is lodging official complaint that the professor used the incorrect pronoun, or that she (or he?) said something racist. We make the bed we sleep in, then oblige the others to watch. The apapane sings from inside my skull; the fern gently scratches my eyeballs with its reflected light. This is not to make of my solitude an empire, but to pull away the mean spirits that insinuate their way in. Bryant means to put cones of shame on the wires, the better to disinvite rats into our attic space.

According to Paulhan, as quoted by Merleau-Ponty, language is composed of "gestures which are not accomplished without some negligence." What we neglect is meaning. Becomes it. As a hat becomes you, or marks you as a supporter of the Right.

To pursue something we call wisdom without pronouncing it as a set of rules. Bird song and helicopter noise impinge, each on the other, as did someone's house alarm as I walked past Saijo's old place and around the corner to home. The bar's sign reads "whisper only," but it is not blank. Two men sit side by side drinking. They lean into each other's ear space, lips tracing out their speech.

Write everything you know. But if you only know how to look for it, you can only add one more line onto the page, making a stool from two embracing tree trunks. The chimpanzee will not recognize them both, but knows what to do with them each. One is for climbing and the other for sitting. But only if you draw him into the scene.

--Quotations from The Prose of the World, by Merleau-Ponty.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

On forgiveness

On, as in "about," as in not "in the area of" but "concerning," not immediately as a "taking care" but moving toward care, if care is to be read as rebound.

To forgive is a transitive verb, but not a transitory one. Not to say "that was ok," but to say "I will no longer be shadowed by your act." Or I will shrink that shadow down to the size of a pin from the giant who walks beside me, tongue visible on the sidewalk. Tin of tongue, Rod wrote about. What does it mean to put the mechanics of voice into a tin and close it? To open the tin with the metal circle that unfolds to reveal a silent tongue?

The French philosopher with a Russian name, was it, argues that forgiveness can only be arbitrary and sudden. She held her anger for 60 years. But that was not transitive on her part. The anger sat in her like a green-slimed monster (but not visible as such) until it broke. The lamp beside my bed broke last night, crashing to the floor after I closed my book. More powerful as coherent glass, or as broken? Broken anger alerts us to its sharp edges, the better to avoid them.

"I forgive him," the black woman said of the young man who killed nine parishioners in Charleston.

That's a mystery that no episode of Columbo can solve. When Bryant texted me about watching Columbo, it came out, "we are watching Columbine." How we arrive at it, if forgiveness can be referred to as object.

The woman who saw her colleague molesting the boy said nothing. The boy who saw his brother being raped and said nothing before forgetting it had happened. Forget and forgive are positives. To get or to give. To give life to or to give the hurt away. For is a directive; get and give are right action. So why do we refuse?

To be 60 is to begin to see the open field. I can avert my eyes from him or from her and see the trees ahead. In Oregon I stood beside a giant tree and experienced a feeling of awe. The tree split me open. It seemed old and kind.

So that forgiveness is neither good nor bad, but occurs to you or to me. "Occurs to me" is a thought or an action, non-transitive, like "attending" instead of "paying attention." I know it is possible, but I do not put my nose out and hunt for it in the deep grass. The birds come to me on mornings like this as sound; I cannot see them in the canopy. To bird watch is not to stalk but to accept their volition and their fly-bys, when they come.

The preposition is a proposition: a way of thinking through. The lava tube in the park is still closed, but offers a model of getting through. We pass through time, as if it were still and we the movers. Or perhaps it passes through us like water in a cool climate.

It is the process that seems difficult, no matter the size of the offense. As in perspective painting, the smaller objects are farther away, but that's a fiction we create to render space flat. The Cambodian village needed workers, so the former Khmer Rouge tilled fields beside family members of those they'd killed. Is that forgiveness or something more basic, like hunger? Can hunger lend us forgiveness, forgiveness fill us with its "moment of happiness" a burger brings?

Forgiveness as nutritive: there are the bad calories and the good. Again, try to cut down on the judgment intake. The teen is so obsessed with being the best that he cannot leave his room. The therapist oddly counsels giving him back his cell phone. Any connection is a good one.

What is said here will not be repeated outside the room. That's where abstraction comes in. We do not assign a speaker or an interlocutor, simply a situation. Situations resemble. If I can imagine being in that room, I have heard you say please let drop those judgments, those insufficiences, that lack of self-love.

Change the narrative so love can grow through the crack. You were not abandoned; you were passed on to what they hoped were better situations. You found one and grieve for the worse. For that is our nature, forever and ever, amen. We cannot offer you our feeling, but we can hold you as you water the bougainvillea. A woman on the van said "how beautiful!" and I said "it's a weed, but a gorgeous one." Let us be such weeds, or weedlings.

Some days the field is flooded with good feeling. Other days are more tedious, cramped. On both these sets of days I love you. Let me side with what is, and forego improvement. The apapane are singing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


[Merleau-Ponty's Prose of the World from Hamilton Library, with post-it note from this very spot--albeit turned the other way when found]

Have I written this post before? I likely have. Mind's repetitions get forgotten. They even lose their insistences.

Maybe 15 years ago, I was teaching American Literature Since 1950. We were reading Heller's Catch-22, the early section in the hospital. A Texan, so-called, was screaming at "the man in white," whose body was covered in bandages, one leg lifted in the air; he wanted to know if the guy was still alive. There was no response. I drove home on H1. Just past the Pali exit I had to merge left to get in position for the Likelike turn-off ahead. A vehicle that resembled both an ambulance and a hearse--there was a large window in the back--was just to my right. Inside the window I saw a man on a stretcher, wrapped in a white sheet, his one leg up in the air.

That semester there were similar coincidences during our readings of Hong Kingston (Chinese immigration case I got involved in), Toni Morrison (got a cold email from someone who'd worked for Stokely Carmichael and was moving to Maui, wanting to write a memoir). My students began to report real-life occurrences that echoed our reading. "What happened this week?" they started asking me.

Involuntary memories? Or moments when the past-real emerges into the present-real and makes them both seem invented? When moments fold into years, or years into instances. I can trust that such things happen, but I cannot trust them to happen at a particular time, or to involve specific events. I read to find out something about someone else, and then the book becomes part of my experience, through no intention of the author or of me. Attend to inadvertent intention, for there you will find the "moment of happiness" that is either addiction or spirit or both.

There are rats in the attic here in Volcano on the Big Island. If "silence" is defined as "absence" of human-made noise, then this place is silent. There are apapane and rain drops, and then there were the footsteps above my bed last night. This morning I heard squeaks. They seemed a language, perhaps of baby to mother, or mother to child-rat. As a language, the sound touched me where the thought of traps suddenly became problematic.

I've written nearly nothing since completing my last book in late 2018. That book aimed to find honest sentences. I like the book. But ever since feels like iteration without opening. The ____ are out here, if not in large numbers, blue and velvet beside the hapu`u ferns on the gravel road. The puddles are big enough to contain the tree shapes above them, and to swallow the gravel at their floor.

My iPhone dings. I look to see that someone has liked a comment I cannot remember texting to him. It's like this, the artificial forgetting of the digital device in relation to our thought. It's like Proust on steroids, except the novel will be one of forgetting everything. Down-size! Marthe Reed mocked me for not having a smart phone; I would send her messages on facebook from my laptop to her in a car somewhere between Hilo and here. I do remember Marthe, and I do remember her loud and yet loving judgments. Yes, Marthe, I got the smart phone after my flip phone drowned at the Kapoho tide pools, where you fell on the lava and sustained a loud red gash on your leg. Then you died and the tide pools were overcome by lava from Fissure 8. On social media you "cancel" people you don't like. This was more a case of time flowing over and then congealing onto what seemed to be fresh recollection. No collection where none intended.

Enactment in language (MP), then re-enactment (Civil War battlefields abutted by shopping malls) as our reading of it. To re-enact is already to know what is there, but we always already know what is there, needing it excavated, if not exhumed. I wanted to bring my mother's ashes here, but my father's are in Arlington. Can we separate the dead like that? In space to follow time.

The clock ticks, nearly 9. Sounds like a rain drop, except more certain. "Write down everything you know." But you don't know it until you see its reenactment.

Everything goes in cycles, my daughter assures me. But this cycle seems to require a fissure to re-calibrate language. Our president in England doesn't know what NHS means. Our president in the USA feels nothing for children separated from their families at the border. Ill health: friends with diseases, with enemies, with hurt, with anguish, with and with. Except that "with" suggests a side-by-side relation and theirs is one of synchronicity. A kind of karmic return to an original site of transgression. It's too easy to say we're punished for what someone else did, but that's the nature of governance. Govern the tongue, govern the body that thrashes in its bed.

Boundaries are indices of love, but border walls are not. The difference between a wall and a net, between a net (which is used to catch) and a rusted and unbraided gate. Dismantle the intellect--but don't dismiss it--and locate the place where intellect refuses to cast judgment. Cast a net, but let everything through. Etel Adnan's writing loses its specificity over time, but gains a kind of confidence in abstraction that is not fixed but wavering. If meaning is the accident of two words meeting each other on the page, then call off the EMTs. What survives accident is addition, not injury.

In editing this piece, I see Marthe looking at me from the roll of "followers." She read the blog; she got the books. No accident or synchronicity there. But the same kind of electronic pulse. In Australia there are birds that sound like electric alarms. We name them both to keep them apart. I now follow her.