Thursday, January 30, 2020

On grieving

One of the central questions for me in writing about my mother's dementia was, how do you grieve for someone who is still alive, but profoundly diminished (at least in intellect)? The central question of today might be, how do we grieve for the Republic in the days before it dies?

Meditation 19


On the Friday the Republic dies, there will be a sale on our words. They're more valuable to us as empty containers than as pith. The store that sells us on organizing will stack them at the windows, inviting us to use “democracy” to store our beans, “due process” to hold our rough drafts. My students find the sonnets uninteresting, incomprehensible. Yes, there's a speaker in the poems, and yes, he's hectoring a friend. He wants his friend to “breed.” He wants his friend to last forever, as a collection of words. But we’ll sell those, too, like the banana taped to a wall that sold for $250,000 before someone walked up and ate it. The banana gives us mental energy; I may be remembering my former students’ names because I ate one this morning. It’s useful, and to suggest otherwise is a joke. An expensive one. They shake their heads at the thought. Is it a joke on intrinsic value, on art’s rot, on the usefulness of duct tape, or do we take it at its word: “banana”? I’d tape mine to a wall if I could, then take your good money to dispatch it. If I no longer own the word “idealism,” I cannot be disappointed when it proves useful in a service economy. The word “hoard” explains a lot; so does the border wall that falls in a stiff wind. One field has to do with economies of love, the other its sickness. The best words aren't just empty; they're translucent in the way plastic is, admitting light while blocking clarity. The former dive instructor said there were days she surfaced into fields of plastic. I urged her to start there; that’s an image we can hold onto. Beneath the ground-cover this morning, I saw a yellow toy smile at me. I took its picture.

Lilith goes to school

Lilith came to my classes yesterday. The intensity of my students' response was startling. "I LOVE YOU, LILITH!" one student yelled, amid some pre-linguistic cooing sounds; soon after, I saw Lilith on her lap. During a walk around campus, a tall, young Asian man emerged from behind a vending machine area and said in a soft English accent, "May I pet your dog? I remember her from last year." Lilith kept walking, her nose thrust firmly in the ground cover. A blonde woman asked if she could pet Lilith, and was ignored in the same way. In my second class, Lilith methodically smelled the students' feet, then spent some time playing with a dead bug, before eating it. But I wonder at that human intensity toward her. The reaching out to touch an animal. The disappointment when she turned away. A sense of loneliness, of need for contact, of need for a pure expression of love. Palpable.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Meditation 18


I hadn’t seen him in a while, the gray-haired white man who walks the one-eyed dog named Rosie, sometimes yells at traffic to stop. He’d yelled at me, too, about Hillary, about lazy millennials, about the university, about how people just don’t look out for each other any more, about people who drive through stop signs. A radical centrist, he called himself. For months after, I talked about his dog and mine, the weather, anything neutral (weather over climate, I’m sure). The last time we’d met, just past the new year, he’d yelled at me about “rag heads,” and I called him a racist. Turned on my heel. Today, as I came up Hui Kelu with Lilith, I saw him and Rosie ahead of us. He saw us. At his turn-around point, he crossed the road, started back toward his townhouse on the next street over. He had sunglasses on, wrap-arounds. I said, “good morning!” but he kept going. His body clenched tight: arms out from his sides, legs moving like pegs. The only softness to him might be his belly. He’s my lesson, but it’s a lesson I cannot learn. Perhaps he’s happy in his horrible opinions, a friend opines, but I don’t believe it. He’s how pain turns to Fascism; he’s how hurt accumulates grudges; he’s how you come to hate a woman neighbor who wears an Obama shirt, so clearly a “snowflake,” even in paradise. He’s how you don’t avoid your pain, but alchemize it into anger. It’s more valuable that way. He’s how you take someone aside, abuse her, and then call her indecent. He’s how the mirror works. The man who yells at traffic sees me on his mirror, but not as myself. This confuses me, like the times my demented mother transposed herself with me. So accustomed to seeing myself in the mirror, I saw the image of someone I didn’t want to know.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Meditation 17


The man with the blank map keeps calling you into his office. The man with the blank map in his office points to blank portraits on the wall. We see that they were men, but they are featureless. All that’s left of their histories shows in gilded frames, cleansed of dirt, that glint beneath the ceiling lights. The blank map man screams profanities, but the next day he will attack you for your “lack of decency.” The blank faced men in frames cannot look out or in. A senator refers to himself as “visibly upset”; perhaps he has a selfie to prove it, because neither in nor out will do what at requires. Look within thyself and write, or look at thyself and whine. A good portrait keeps his eyes on you as you cross the room. The eye that sees you is more powerful than a weapon, because it gives you pause to think. “People will hear about this,” said the man with the map, intending it as a threat. What is most dangerous is someone else’s attention to us. I will sit quietly in my office. I will not say to anyone what they might repeat to another. My mask is a map with nothing on it. I know it covers a place, but I cannot stick a pin in that place. The memory police are out to shame us, but shame has no currency. None of my students ever drew the face of a quarter with any accuracy. We cannot see what we use. A gumball means more than a founding father. Chew on that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Meditation 16


She says the neighbor was sitting on his truck bed while his daughter played on the swings yesterday. Today, he told me he was close to both of the dead officers. Marcus Aurelius writes that we observe everything before we’re 40. From then on, it’s a loop. We get used to things; we put a distance between us and our injuries; we reconcile ourselves. We forgive the trespasses of those who trespass against us. (Wisdom literature leans forward and back.) Aurelius would recognize the absurdity of this weekend’s violence: an old man killed cops with a shotgun, then set his neighborhood on fire. If reality presses against our eyelids, then how can we close our eyes? We keep them open to our devices, real and imagined. Distraction may have gotten us here, but it had better save us now. An Englishman once asked me why Americans use “gotten” instead of “got” as a verb form. I assured him we do not. Two sentences later, I heard myself say “gotten.” How little do we know ourselves by our verb forms. They make a fine family tree, however, enough to launch a holy book. Had he gotten help, he might not have run amok, the angry Czech. I want a how-to on looking, while not suffering for it. If I make my sentences longer, they might lose their hurt before the period waves its penalty flag. Can I offer wisdom before the facts, like a trial set up to occur before any witnesses are called? It’s a rough path, life, my son writes, though his photograph is of a wall. No matter the angle, the edges are blunt and sharp, and each fork in the road gets you there. The president has done nothing wrong, his counsel says, so there’s no need to introduce evidence. We’re watching the death of democracy on our screens, but it’s not entertaining enough, so we’ll do it quickly. No wonder our tenses are inconsistent. What occurred before the trial must be presented after the trial is done. Acquit him first, then argue that the evidence comes in too late. There’s a crisis in comedy, but I haven’t watched any for years now. The transcript of an absurdity is like a garden tool used to injure your landlord. “Kill da landlord,” Eddie Murphy screamed. It was funny then, but it isn’t the day after the landlord cannot be found dead in her own home, burned to the ground by her tenant. You can’t tell the joke, if the punch-line comes first. Or the shotgun blast. She let him stay in the house because she took pity on him.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Meditation 15


The world ends in hail and dust. No more a consistent tense that moves from present to present, but a tense confabulation. It’s a powerful move, I tell my students, but you need to know where you’re going. It’s not that we’re all living in the present, rather that its fragile shell so easily shatters. Memory loses all category, as if the past only rewound the present. My mother confused my story with hers, my husband with hers. Who’s to say we were not all on that plain, huge orange dust storms sweeping toward us, enveloping our drone-witness, bearing material prophecy in its grit. The dust cloud is 186 miles long and moves at 66 miles per hour; it crests over Dubbo and Broken Hill, composed of earth from farms in New South Wales. “Look at the earth,” my father would say, meaning the orange clay that only broke when you took your spade to it. The earth was that color in Vietnam, a vet once told me. But now it rises as if it had wings and its poet wasn’t always so stoned he heard angels singing, their verbs blooming dutifully at the ends of sentences, where they propel us back to the beginning, no matter their tense. Our witnesses watch for us, a drone hovering over Diamond Head to see how many houses burned on the first clear day in weeks. It was such a beautiful day. Without my uttering the word, my students talk about mindfulness, this being in the present, being with, not coming after. Legions of bearded white men descend on Richmond with their guns; one chides a younger man for using the word “masturbation.” We’re here to show our love for each other, he says, and the younger man avers, backing off. One wears a knitted American flag hat, the other an orange bandanna. Love does not alter where it alteration finds, is bronzed like another horseman in another instagram photo. Yesterday, I saw Ronald Reagan on a horse, as still as a church mouse. The drone came back to the park like a boomerang, though after the third news story it’s running in the present, coming back and back to spill its video record. She read out loud from To the Finland Station, sentences unspooling like Krapp’s tapes, students giggling at their heft. At the Atocha Station, I thought I saw old women selling bats on sticks, suspicious that the poem was an act of realism, not experiment. There was a plaque for the intervening dead. Some species may be rendered extinct by the bush-fires. To be going extinct. What tense is that? The continuous perishing.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Meditation 14


The right wing commentator opines, we must forget what the enablers said 20 years ago; it’s their job to defend the president, not to tell the truth. Formalism is one tool of the fascist state, narcissism another, the formalism of the Self as a real entity, not the lousy abstraction theologians make of it. Parents cringe at poetry seminars, I read in the paper, which do nothing to make their children marketable. My students note a similarity between poetry and advertising, but it costs less to jump straight into the pun as a lever of desire, rather than an expression of it. What does it mean, that the GDP of Bhutan is happiness? That it’s a poor country, I wager. The smile is symbolic, and everyone knows symbols govern poems and poems govern nothing (or make it happen). Better to learn the art of serving the rich, who have transcended art. As Steve notes, this is not a diary, nor can it be parsed for any metrical value. We make art on the rebound, but we haven’t yet hit bottom. Will you write more books, my friend asks, saying she has but one more book in mind. She’s not afraid to die, she says, as the phone connection unravels. The tapestries of friendship are what remain; we say the word “love” to one another more than ever before to ease the pain of bullying at every level. Why climb the rungs, when each frames another act of cruelty? I cannot begin to imagine the stations of hell in Dante’s university: the dictates of purity demand that you speak only with delicacy inside your own office. Do not tell a student what might be reported as critique, even if that word has other currency. Or you might find yourself walking toward averted eyes, or freshly turned backs. She wants to kill me, one says, meaning not in the literal sense, but in one every bit as painful. The artist is she who believes her metaphors are true. It’s not that they want another truth, because truth is beside the point. They want a weaponized sentence system that will take out the anti-aircraft of evidence-based arguments, burn the tender feeling in the latest psalm read in church. Do not condemn anyone for their bad acts, because you are capable of the same. Instead, attend to your own nave and altar. Then pun on them to expand your range! My new glasses distort less, correct the astigmatism in my left eye. Your eyes are very different, the doctor said, that’s why it’s so hard to correct them. If you need glasses, you don’t work through the bad habits that damaged your vision. But who needs correction if there’s a buzzer on your chest to signal fastball or change-up, curveball or slider? Astrophil and Stella must have their title stripped. The sonnet’s all fake news, there’s no market for its rhymes or limp sentiments.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Meditation 13


The actor who plays Glenn Gould drives an old car (it was newer then) and nods his head to Judy Collins' “Downtown.” She’s still singing in the truck stop (always the same thing on the radio back then, I advise my students). He wears dark glasses, the better to retreat behind his ears. One student said her sense of smell is hyperactive because she doesn’t hear well. The conversations form a fugue, so I play them one, though they can’t hear Gould’s droning voice from where they sit. The room is way too cold. Another student says his name lacks the second “r” found in Trump’s son’s name. He’s adamant on that fact. Note that voices are also “voices” in the music, that his finger wants to play keys, but only reaches his coat, that “it’s over!” occurs in English, while the interlocutor’s slow-vowelled French sounds unintelligibly sad. “It’s about eavesdropping,” one student exclaims. It’s the poetics of my pedagogy, I think, these few minutes of attending to others’ sounds and organizing them into music. “Then I’ll do my majic,” writes the Ukrainian thug, or was it his boss? The thug has a comical comb-over, his very few strands of greasy hair pushed forward to meet the cowlick that grazes on his forehead. One student wrote in his exquisite corpse that it was getting harder to fold the pieces of paper. A materialist of the word! We write to express ourselves, while he speaks to accuse the other of acting in as malign a fashion as he does. With projection comes the possibility of a tear in the film, one you have to salvage for now with scotch tape, unless you let the reel run itself apart from any images on the screen. A coyote running off a cliff gets some time to think about hanging in the air, the fall he’s about to take, the inevitable starting over (since he is a cartoon). If only we could rewind the deaths of despair. I went to clean up after a Fellini film, but the last reel was Jerry Lewis, and everyone was filing out of the auditorium confused. Is “inherent value” simply another phrase for “art for art’s sake,” hence a wee bit decadent? Or is it the lung that blows into a balloon that looks down on battlefield or tulip field, for once able to breathe because detached from the earth? One student wants to escape reality in her next life by becoming a unicorn. They’re pretty, she says. The exquisite corpse, he notes, doesn’t tell a story. In what world is the unicorn real? Or is there space outside the real, even for the fictional character in her own world, which we might otherwise call real, lacking a bigger lexicon. She took “I am not a crook” for “cook,” but that was the fault of my bad handwriting.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Meditation 12


I am just a peg to hang his cursive meditations on. When I ask my students to offer up a quirk, one says he’s an English major who doesn’t read. He used to read half a book before he put it down, but now he doesn’t get even that far. Very few in our generation read much, says my daughter’s friend, the one who’s reading Thich Nat Hanh on dying. At night they turn on Baywatch for the bodies, not the plot. But bodies are the plot, machines to make prompts for our writing exercises, the ones our parents worry about because we can’t make money off them. She realized quickly that thinking might help her earn money, so she went to class. I argue for inherent value, but that’s as quaint as poetry itself. Do nothing for ten minutes a day, I put on my syllabi; if this seems too hard to fit in, remember it’s a course requirement. If I could give credit, I would, but the value inheres in practice and practice makes good enough. Somewhere in the middle of that question, statement took over, the rhetorical hammered into bronze, like a statue that walked out to sea at the end of a novel I’ve forgotten. If earning is like memory, accruing value over time, then forgetting takes us back to living within our meaning. A small bird sits outside my window on the brown rhapis palm frond, but when I look back from my writing, it’s gone. We await the dropping of the next shoe. It’s hard to fight corruption, because it’s spongy, and it gives and gives before folding into itself, feeding the next salted wave of paranoia. It’s formalism, really, but without irony; the more you work at the poem’s structure, the less you find between the ribs. I explain my dog’s name by citing the woman who didn’t require a man’s rib. Hard power defeats soft every time, with occasional exceptions for martyred saints. Her personality is extremely rare, as she puts connections over division, others above herself. Another student comes from a family of six kids and two parents, all of them vegan. Sitting beside her is the woman who likes the all-you-can-eat meat bar. It’s a diverse society, but you have to be taught to express yourself. He governed his tongue in class because the toxic TA policed everyone’s words. We want everyone to be better, so we demand specific sentences of them. A man on the radio said (this was the late 60s) he thought “brainwashing” was when you took someone's brain out of their body and gave it a bath. For our next class, consider why we write while Australia burns.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Meditation 11


It’s a story they tell themselves that makes sense of their lives, he says. A story links race to rape, rape to the military, thus to America’s wars of imperialism and back to rapes, to orphans. Then throw adoption in. Take the walkers away from sex offenders, someone writes, so they can’t provoke our pity. They can walk after they’re declared not guilty, can’t they? He had a good experience in the Boy Scouts, but his abuser had been a scout leader. He had an abuser who was a scout, but his grandfather was a kind man. Variables sing out from flawed equations, demanding restitution. There’s need for a Rage Park where we can pause to scream, throw bones to ourselves and chase them, unleash ourselves in a controlled space. The problem with containing rage is that it resists the container, spills through netting or chain link that holds it in. An arm across the chest signals love and confinement. The wedding photo showed his arm around her neck. The murder dressed as suicides came later. Someone left the abuser to die in his cell and threw out the video evidence. It means denial can masquerade as hope. It’s not just trauma we push down, mistaking silence for safety. It’s also positive emotions that go into hiding in the city’s sewers or basements, those things with feathers avoiding the street, angling for cultural amnesia. A schoolyard fills with terrified kangaroos, fleeing the bush fires. Bet you hadn’t expected that migration. Texas will take no more refugees, as they’ve done their share. Who parcels out these shares, or keeps the graphs of their rise and fall? Who has victimized whom? Do not look at yourself in the mirror. I posted the photograph of a dead saffron finch on instagram; it lay belly up on the sidewalk beside the culvert, its neck so bright a yellow it appeared orange, with fragile orange beak. Does memory preserve or desecrate the bird, whose photograph I take and post on instagram? It garners lots of likes. Is it the beauty of the dead bird’s plumage, or the framing of bright color by gray sidewalk? Decomposition composed. Camera as stun gun, fired at whatever you least want to change. Or can least resuscitate. My daughter finds it odd that I take pictures of dead birds; she saw a dead mouse, but refused. The Tibetan monks who meditate beside a charnel pit are not so shy. To see oneself as flesh, then bone, then dust, makes our being’s imminent absence visible. Immanence is no lie, though the stories the President tells are yarns. He took photos of homeless persons' blankets, so as not to invade their privacy. She holds up the brightly colored quilt she made for her son. The last ever, she swears. Make sure your conclusion is less an ending than an opening, and leave off the moral of every story told.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Meditation 10


Choose a color, any color, and meditate on that. Find 100 meanings of your color and write two pages on each, making sure to consider figurative, as well as literal, meanings for red or green or blue or white. Why does no one count the “hapa” vote, a friend asks, when everyone else has their block? The Filipino musicologist defined “local” by moving us from Oahu to the Philippines to a province to a city to a street, to a block, to an apartment. Doubtless there are localities in the liver, since you can give away a part to be grown later. There’s discipline in detail, like the military chants my father made as we marched down apartment corridors; it was good father-daughter fun then. Consider the different valences of white: orchid, dove, voting block, men with tiki torches marching in the street. Days after posting a video opposed to racism against Muslims, my son put a blue line American flag on his car. So long as you employ it, the symbol is no longer yours. It’s a hive to which a colony returns, adamant in their stinging praise of the leader, for once a woman. The drones dare not differ, nor even higher-ups, forced as they are to recant, spill honey from their lips, appease the tyrant queen. The hive is on his head beneath the orange pompadour. My mother remembered Elvis in Friedberg in the 1950s, driving a truck. Men in Tokyo congregate of a Saturday to participate in his mirror stage, strutting through the park walk like dark roosters. I heard a pellet gun, saw a rooster across the parking lot jerk and then fall; a neighbor walked calmly over, put rooster in trash bag, headed to the dumpster. The roosters sit in a tree behind their house and sing all night long. Elvis was Memphis Jesus, before and after King died for our sins. No surface in that man’s house (West Point, Virginia, circa 1975) was without its black velvet or its statuette. When asked what the President has done that he likes, a young man in red hat stutters, stops. He has taken our breath away with his gyrating tongue, his pacing up and down the stage, his one liners about how much They hate Us, his sexy calls for violence. It’s not funny, but they laugh, and that gives them license. A man dropped his license in front of me at the Mall yesterday, and then I walked outside, where a woman pushing a baby in stroller dropped her coat. I kept pointing at what was getting lost, walking to my car after ordering new lenses that won’t make me so dizzy. Introduce your neighbor using only the information you find on their driver’s license. Symbolic value is as corruptible as any. Launder your flags with your greenbacks. Try use bleach.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Meditation 9


If you put boulders on sand, gravel on boulders, the coastal road on gravel, the road will eventually collapse, not because ocean pushes boulders, but because sand’s an unstable foundation. Gravity does the rest. If you build a tunnel through the mountain, expect landslides and fallen trees. If you build desert townhouses in a rain forest, expect the walls to be damp, the ceilings to peel away. “It’s always been like that and always will be,” says the white man with the one-eyed dog, as my dog sniffs his. His voice dissonant: “those rag heads hate us because we are.” Another neighbor suggests asking for precision: does he mean Indians or Sikhs? Does he mean the people we just attacked? Does he use a towel when he dries his head after a shower? Specificity’s important when you’re from the South, he says. I’m reminded a high school teacher loved the Plath line, “the horses are,” which ended with the verb for being without movement, drama of existence not action. My cat sits beside me, considers leaping up on the bed, leaps; outside rooster call and mower construct an awkward chord. In Volcano, a philosophy prof's organizing a conference on anarchy at the military camp. It all depends on how you parse the verb or noun, because sometimes they mean twice. Jon notes that “mean” also means “mean.” Anarchy as chaos or as alternate order. It must be exhausting to be so angry, I want to say to my neighbor down the street. What father or what war made you so angry? Was it a boy scout leader who groomed you away from the crowd, had his way with you for years, while shame crashed down like a curtain before a bombing raid? And why did you put a fluffy white collar around the tiny dog you walk each day, faithfully. He was a bad man, but so are you. My twitter feed warns me that photographs of dead animals in Australia are graphic, and the warning alone triggers something in me, like avoidance, or the desire to write. I write because it grounds me, a colleague says, when everything else is chaos. It’s that search for meaning, road on gravel on boulder, and gravity takes it down as soon as the typing ends. Some form of entertainment, this meaning. Absorptive as a video game, and just as interactive, but the hours away from the monitor are blank, at best. I meditated to the sound of a video game and a tv show; our attention is there to be grabbed. Sexual predators come to court in wheelchairs or with walkers. One reached out for the railing as an aide pulled his walker away; he stuttered up the stairs. The dharma talk was on judgment, how corrosive it is. Negative thinking takes up much of our time, a study determined. I could ask the man with the one-eyed dog to think happier thoughts. “It’s all in your imagination,” I would say; “you think too much.” But the orthodontics of emotion take more time than that. I signaled my virtue, turning on my heel, telling him he was a racist. Short cut; stale, mate.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The man down the hill

I knew better. I knew better than to say anything more than hello to the white-haired white man down the hill. He was walking his small one-eyed Rosie and I Lilith. I watched as Lilith sniffed Rosie, as she always does other dogs. He wished me a happy new year. I said something about the state of the world. "It's always been that way, and it always will be," he said. "I've been there and I know it." I asked what he knows, and his voice changed its timbre, turning to a growl. "They're ignorant, the rag-heads or whatever you call them. They hate us because we are." I told him he's a racist and turned to continue my walk with Lilith.

Meditation 8


Abstraction seemed one way to fly over, leaving pesky details to bloody themselves on prairie or white sand, but news that the shoreline has receded half a foot a year since the 1920s puts the fear of god into our metaphorical field. She writes that thinking of feelings as passing clouds does nothing to alleviate her anger over climate change. A new metaphor would confess to the current turmoil, highway lined with dead animals in Australia, war clouds (which are at least dark) gathering over mourners who vow to trade tooth for tooth. (The metaphor started here, the correspondent says petulantly.) Who’s to argue with prophets or profits? One prophet got a good sneaker deal and jogs around the desert with tablet in hand (you can see the Apple icon in the corner); another drives a Ford truck like the one vandalized next door. When they meet in committee to discuss their investment in futures, they weigh prophecy against loss, aiming to say only enough that we fill the churches. Our Lady of the Freeways packs them in! Book deals are crucial, like the one Moses should have had on his commandments, so don’t say anything out loud until you get your advance. Advances are what it’s all about. Not the avant, whether military or art, but cold cash offered before your foretelling crashes like the Dow. You’d think that with this prognosis the name of the game would be self-help: How to Abide the Coming Crisis. But the gang of eight or ten or twenty-four knows other books sell better: How to Construct Your Anti-Nuclear Hut, or How to Write Love Letters to Dear Leader. In that instance, you need only spell out your sycophancy, knowing it a difficult spell. (Took me three tries, with spell check.) Exaggerate your words of affection, and never tease the Leader, because he lacks social skills. Just pinch pen and make your strokes broad and straight and bold. Do not hold back; mixed feelings are no longer permitted by writ of the packed court. Do not entertain any judge who hesitates to mete punishment, or any leader who fails to threaten destruction of cultural sites. “War crimes” were already a contradiction in terms, so why obey a hollow rule? Remember when we failed to bomb them into the stone age? Second chances happen for those who wait. It’s the quarterback’s fault we’re a divided people. All that kneeling and no tackling. No wonder he hasn’t had a job since. But I’ve dropped my too too happy abstraction, strained my tea for too long in the brown waters of the river, call it Babylon. A neighbor up the hill’s license plate reads TIGRIS. From One to Another Paradise, the tour brochure might read. We take you from the base of sheer tropical mountains to the river where civilization began. You return home to smoke your weed on Sundays. We’ve broken chronology, pulled it all into the present tense, heard you calling in air strikes in Ahuimanu. At the Mauna, Spring promises bulldozers and men in electric green shirts. Until then, attend to the birds and trucks.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Meditation 6


The war to prevent war has re-begun. It’s hard to be a saintly nation, certain of its virtues, its kindness, the generosity of its violence. They are bad men because they kill us, but we are good men because we remove them from this earth, by bomb or by drone. It’s done. No matter if we call the play from the office that lacks corners (he was astonished!) or from the golf course. Its faux slice of nature does include traps, though they’re easily evaded with a mulligan or two. Just like the convoy of death, several wars ago; beside the trucks you might find family photos or IDs, but inside there was only ash. Ash falls on the eastern shores of Australia. He walked through Sydney and “smelt of smoke.” I was surprised by the “smelt,” though that is what men do to metal to make it. When it’s hot, it bends, but earth is more like a paper straw that’s been bent so many times it’s wilted, like flowers, like travelers in the heat. But back to the actual war, not the one we poured gasoline on before hiding out on a bleached reef or simmering roof, we’re left in an attending position. I waited for signs of life on the screen, but the tech refused to tell me what it meant. The phone calls came later. Like secret messages from your enemy, wishing you the worst as you try to balance hope and cynicism, finally binding them with ribbon, then putting on a prefabricated bow for good measure. The festive time of year comes crashing to a halt with the news cycle, which is one. No more are linear histories possible; it’s all circulation, traffic circles without exit, an Irish refrigeration truck bearing down on you from what only seems the wrong side of the road. When you get to the turn, you have to calculate desire against circumstance, habit against this new frontier of obeying the local laws, shifting with your left hand, steering on the right. Tasman forests burn, the outskirts of Sydney burn, a woman collapses in Canberra from the smoke. Earth dies by our suicide. The writing that’s intended to go abstract, intended to avoid the knife in the back that stays in the back, the never healing from this damage, the PTSD that is no laughing matter, the bending over weeping in the kitchen not knowing how a man could do that to a boy, or a nation, or a koala. State flags fly upside down from legions of pick-up trucks. Pam has lost her fight, she writes, but wants to kill every politician in Australia. Grieving her partner’s daughter’s father and the bush, which is expansive but hardly abstract. The reason Australian irony is so strong, Tranter said, is that if you’re in trouble and you leave the city for the bush, you’re dead.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Volcano to Hilo Bus


The bus driver was a middle-aged blonde woman with glasses. She asked if Bryant was going to give her his Seahawks cap when he got off. He said it was a bit dirty, or he would. A passenger had given her the bright green and yellow gloves she waved at us. Flies two Seahawks flags at home. Real fan. She was expecting some after-Christmas 11th man shirts in the mail; they were on sale. We made our first stop, just off the highway at the edge of Volcano. A scruffy white-haired white man (most men in Volcano fit this description) got on. "Danny! I haven't seen you since before Thanksgiving," our driver said as he sat near the front. The story he told about a near accident with a speeding black sports car pegged him as a bus driver; he mentioned his routes on the Big Island, his years driving in Tahoe. He knows what to do in an emergency. There were five kids on the bus; he drove them to their stop, then called it in.

The bus driver said she'd been sitting near the Kuhio Mall turn a couple weeks back when another bus came screeching up beside her (not our company, not our bus, nothing) and took her mirrors right off the bus. They kept going. She had to stop and call in and make a police report and the other driver claimed SHE'D hit HIM and what's with people telling lies all the time. Her passengers had all written reports. She's heard nothing since. She likes her job.

Down toward Mountain View we encountered our first of several slow drivers. A white vehicle that would have been swerving had it been going faster, dawdled down the hill at 30 in a 55 mph zone. The car eventually settled onto the shoulder and she gave it plenty of clearance as she drove by, only to run into another slow driver, this one with only one functioning back light, someone in a small pick-up truck. That vehicle turned, and our bus pulled over for two passengers. "Get on fast!" she said. "I'm serious. That guy's going to pass us and then it'll be slow going again!" The two passengers rushed inside and found seats.

She'd spent New Year's with family, lots of family, her mother-in-law and other people who had nowhere to go. It was loud, very loud. Explosions everywhere. She knows some people with PTSD in Hilo. This is no laughing matter. But it is what it is.

"Turn your music down out of consideration for your fellow passengers," she said, raising her brightly lit gloves off the steering wheel. Someone had music on in the back, but someone did not turn it off. So the bus driver turned her radio on high. The 80s station. "Faith" by George Michael. She sang along. Turned at Kea`au, found herself behind slow driver number three. Made it through town and headed back onto the highway, telling Danny that people go all that way up the highway and do u-turns in front of her to get back where they can make a right turn, no light.

As we approached the mall, she pulled out transfer slips and started writing on them. Her right hand clasped the pen between her second and third fingers, as she wrote down the time and the name of the transfer, all while driving the large Polynesian Adventures bus (provided by the state). We did a large loop (square) around the mall and came to a stop behind Macy's. The next bus wouldn't come for another 45 minutes or so, so we entered the "Men's and Children's" wing of Macy's and headed toward the mall's central area. We stopped at a Maui Taco place for a bit to eat and then headed back through the mall (there were people in the public areas, but very few in the stores) and out to the exit. We were early, at least 20 minutes early, so I turned on my phone and started to look at my twitter feed.

It was then we learned that Trump had ordered the assassination of the Iranian second-in-command, and that he was dead. This is not about to be a war, one tweet read, this is war. Trump had tweeted an American flag, nothing else. We got onto the next bus, took a short ride to the airport and flew home.

'Cause I gotta' have faith
Ooh, I gotta' have faith
Because I gotta' have faith, faith, faith
I gotta' have faith, faith, faith