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.

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