Thursday, April 30, 2020

Meditation 49

30 April 2020

Open or closed: door, window, business, nation. Travel away from the literal and words begin to dissolve. She doesn’t know what she thinks of the doctor’s suicide staying in the news for four days, and I don’t ask what she doesn’t know. It’s a feeling, I suppose, that some are privileged even after their dying. The Bronx EMT who shot himself garnered a half hour. That’s what a cv will get you these days, the right to die on page one, repeatedly. Her father says she put on the harness and went to work. She was in the traces, but collapsed after her last shift, like an overworked animal. There was more about horses, too, a barnyard of them. An Iowa sheriff’s voice cracks; the public health director stops to gather herself. To grieve publicly has no resonance beyond the news cycle. We grow jealous of those who cannot remember us, even our parents. When I ask my students about their feelings, they tell me they avoid the news. Do you know to stay inside? I ask, and they say yes. “Ignorance is bliss,” one says from between headphones. The pressure of reality is registration for the Fall. I am of two minds: there’s comfort in their small rooms, tucked away. Who would take that from them? Climate change renders trees in Minnesota unable to reproduce; the trees of upstate New York will need to migrate northward to survive. If we don’t know a tree can’t reproduce in a forest, does it fail or not? If we don’t know “vulture” modifies “capitalism,” are we not carrion? Do we evade ethics, if we simply never knew? The Israeli officer was liable because he forgot, not because he never knew. If meat workers aren’t counted as sick, are they not well? The supply chain takes on new resonance. There’s a chain around the monkey pod tree by the parking lot. Its roots wrecked the cement pad on which our mailboxes sit. So they’re moving the boxes to the other side of the same tree. The other day, a neighbor said, they cut out a root the thickness of a large pipe. No wonder the monkeypods make such clatter on the road when they fall. The neighbor who tells us about the tree drinks Monkey Shoulder. It’s whiskey. Meat workers are mostly immigrants, documented or not. By executive order, they will kill and be killed. They cannot be contained to the killing factory, because their roommates and friends are nurses, bank tellers, waiters. It’s a chain of being, being chained to labor. An undocumented woman in Texas gave birth before she died of COVID-19. The hospital won't say anything about the baby. Someone’s privacy might be violated.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Meditation 48

29 April 2020

“Are you sure you want to discard recovered data?” Loss as act, rather than simple arrival at the door. They are dying in the ambulances; they are dying in the corridors; they are dying in their beds. No one to hold their hands. Some are dying by their own hands. Not trained to witness collapse without tools to prop up beams, navigate dark passages, fix the hard drives. Look into the middle of your brain and install a light. Move the light to your heart. I see a wavering candle, but it smells inappropriate, so I concentrate on only one nostril at a time. They say the swab is painful. Perhaps so is the mask, given our vice president refused to wear his. The privilege of flouting privilege. Killing machines have been privatized; immigrant labor does the essential work of providing us meat. The mistake was to count their dead. On her walk she--Jewish--passes the crematorium, sees and smells smoke. Context is everything, my daughter tells me when she doesn’t get a joke. Contact comes of old context; one woman says she hasn’t touched another human being in six weeks. Isolato is a significant word in American literature. Or isolate, as noun. The contagious hospital blossoms into meaning. We are given photographs of brutal buildings with square windows; sometimes we even get inside to see the nurses dance. It’s the voices that sound crushed, toneless, tuneless, a drone coming out of the bardo’s waiting room. As stylish as any waiting room, this one is small, so only one person can sit in it at a time. It smells of disinfectant, like the bank. What we take out is not food or funds, but ourselves, alone. Some doctors put photographs on their gowns, because you cannot see their faces otherwise. The photograph will not hold your hand, but it smiles at you. His brother fought the system and allowed a man to die while on Facetime with his family. It was some relief. The word is “closure,” like a door or a curtain, but we don't know what we close in or out. “We will all need help,” a Houston nurse says on her front porch. Her husband lets her know she survived the day, can keep counting down. Houston, we have a problem. One astronaut said he felt death in their capsule, though they made it to the blue Pacific. Astronauts and POWs came off planes with wobbles in their steps. Some things are better now, my neighbor says, because we’re not driving. The earth is being cleansed. They want us back at work so we’ll forget this time alone with our thoughts, breathing in the air. A weed whacker starts near my lanai, and I note that it was once upon a time a sign of progress. No need to pull a rake, or lean over. No need to touch the earth. Hear it sing, its gasoline engine and flailing wire. Watch the greenery explode in air. Do you want to watch another old baseball game, my son asks me, and we agree we’d prefer not to.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Meditation 47

24 April 2020

I learned how to remember conversations in the Alzheimer’s home. It helped that they were a bit off. Repeat a key word, retrace a gesture, hold it as if inside the glass aquarium that sits on an old mattress, waiting for bulk pick up.

Everything’s a bit off at the end of the month: old bikes, old dryers, old chests of drawers, old TVs, old tires beneath the monkey pods. Tree mountains. They also walk. The other day a monkey pod pod hit the top of my cap, and I flinched.

Memory is ethical; you take it out of lock down with you, reassemble without funny directions. I’d sit in a hotel room and type. One time I walked to a mall to buy Kaddish; that was the day after she died. The author was not dead, but her mother was. Intention matters.

Trauma is memory’s wound. Spin the wheel of it, try to chart the precise day or week or year it happened. Someone else remembers, but she never said. You’re angrier at her than at him some days. She’s probably gone by now, too. It’s the tooth of the circular saw, smiling through its over-bite.

God I love to be vatic. One hopes that detail redeems the possible over-reach. To teach meditative writing, you’d need to start by looking for the snails who infest the yard. You’d pick them up and turn them to the light before depositing them in the dumpster. Abstraction’s no place to start. Ever.

Three or four lines each is not a form in prose. It’s hardly a paragraph. Arbitrary arbiter of sense-making. Or reaping. He offers to sit in life-guard chairs wearing a black robe and carrying a sickle, but needs funds to get up and down the coast of Florida.

This misfit world where the writer serves by sitting inside all day, and someone else by intubating the terribly sick. “People are terribly terribly sick,” the nurses say, with an extravagance I can’t imagine. What is sicker than sick? Why is she the girl with the far-away look in her eyes?

The engine of our economy is nails and hair and skin. None of these can adequately be distanced, so we’ll call that part off and chance ‘em. It’s one big casino now, and if it goes under, it goes under. The Vegas gunman played blackjack obsessively. Little did the dead now they’d been gambled for.

Repetition makes a life spiritual, or murderous. The Cambodian man with vacant eyes showed the camera how he slit throats by killing a chicken. Every day he slit throats. The teacher talks impermanence so often it begins to seem permanent. That’s a funny word for what to do with hair.

The snail hunter of Kahalu`u

The woman who hunts snails with cooking tongs in her pajamas was smoking a cigarette outside her town house this morning. A long, thin cigarette. I asked if she'd injected bleach this morning. "How long can we put up with this crap?" she asked the smoky air. Still has her job, but expects a pay cut, and has a mortgage to pay. But the snails are fewer; they come out in the rain. The sister to Gerry, a fierce woman who's bent at the waist, told me, "a friend texted to say, this is just like Hitler." She's Jewish. Their brother (Gerry says his education was a waste of their father's money) watches Fox. "If he so much as texts me or calls me or emails me, I told him, it's going in the trash. It's his job, she told him, to make his wife smile, his kids smile, his grandkids--does he want them to remember his hate? She's wearing a shirt with PARIS on the front, a sketch of the Eiffel Tower. "It's criminal," her husband Wally tells me as I continue up the hill with Lilith. Judy of the lush garden says "he's a loon, that one." Her roses were getting smaller in their pots. Now they're bursting into bloom. And there's a lotus coming, too. I looked around, thinking there was a Buddha in her yard, but I must have misremembered.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Meditation 46

23 April 2020

If you only heard the racket, you’d never know. An old Asian woman in floppy hat charges at the hills behind her creaky walker. She goes faster than Lilith and I do; I hear her coming, then I see her go. Another woman maintains her balance using ski poles on the concrete. A third, bent forward at the waist, her hair newly colored brown, walks her unpredictable dog. An old black man in USMC teeshirt carries his cane as he rounds the block a second time.

America’s inner ear is broken. The president says we should inject ourselves with bleach to kill the virus. Moral vertigo, to go with our wounds.

The old meditations were all-at-once. Now, I apply sentences to screen with tweezers. When he first got his job at UH, my late colleague said he saw old people in Manoa using nail clippers on their lawn. It’s a kind of forced delicacy, this attempt to mend the tiniest imperfection. Do combat with the torturer using his methods of invisible violence. Tattoo and massage parlors are the backbone of Georgia’s economy. Las Vegas is a petri dish. We gamble with casino workers, because that’s all we know to do. The mayor has a degree in anthropology.

On camera, the test swab shakes. Focus. Morning slows; even the wind seems to move through a screen. Civil defense blares from our phones. Play roulette with emergency. Would you rather die by hurricane or tsunami or earthquake or pandemic? What are the virtues and drawbacks of each mode of decease? It’s a multiple choice test, so all the answers are suspect, and could be argued, were there a horizon beyond the empty circle and the #2 pencil.

Hemlock, Lysol. A friend came back from class astonished that “hem” and “lock” could be taken apart to read the poem. So can “lie” and “sol,” or sun. He asks us to raise our hand toward the sun to cure us; that’s also a salute. If, instead, we drink the potion, we have proved ourselves loyal. Lock hem up.

The essential rake. The essential weed whacker. The essential leaf blower. The essential mower. The essential nail polisher. The essential hair cutter. The essential tattoo artist. Image impermanence.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Meditation 45

23 April 2020

April is the cruelest national poetry month. An anthropologist quotes Eliot in his book about Cambodian farmers, the end comes at the beginning. We heard “Raindrops keep falling on my head” on a domestic flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep. Flying back, we nearly landed before the runway began. If you bought stock in words, they have little value now. One day he wants businesses to open; the next day he abhors that decision. Everything by proxy, save self-praise. A runway is for models; he gestures with his hands, replacing scientific models with curvy ones.

Clean air provides cover for relaxing clean air standards. The senate leader says states should declare bankruptcy before begging the Feds for more money. I miss the old cover stories, even B-movie narratives about welfare queens. They covered an empty space where we assumed shame to be. Now the clothes are gone, and the emperor revels in his flaccid cock, waving it for everything to see. It’s the best. We should offer thanks to him for flashing it. Might be the only electricity we have once the power gets cut.

In backwards land, the sky sits in for the earth, and the poor pay our bills, if not on time, then with their sweat and blood. My father hated preferred “perspire” to “sweat” except after he’d been gardening for hours. Then it was the “sweat of my brow.” A writer sweats sound, syllable, makes sentences of twigs. The mayor of Las Vegas offers her citizens up as a grand experiment. Death by virus or death by unemployment. A student writes about the word “redundant” in a Harryette Mullen poem. He likes the way she undresses her words.

White supremacists wander the streets of the city bearing their arms, calling for freedom. All these words have started to make me sick. The wretching of the earth, the wretched among us. There’s no e-vite for them to meet at Ellis Island, to be “brought” instead of “born.” The American experiment was adoption but now they require blood-lines.

A neighbor’s family got land in Pennsylvania because, as Hessians, they’d helped to win that war. They got more land after the next war. His immediate family were coal miners. The American dream goes under, where air is dust. Meat processing is another phrase for virus contagion. He scatters seed for his flock of doves.

Essential weed whackers trill. A neighbor complains about tall grass; it gets mowed. A little boy with Hawaiian grandpa rides a small Spiderman bike, blue and red with webbing in the front. They have a portrait of the Queen in their garage, and the old man a granddaughter named La`i, or ti leaf. Our mailman works to the sound of Rush Limbaugh. The cracks are showing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Masked man on bike

As Lilith and I walked down the bike path next to Kahekili Highway this morning, a man turned around in front of us on his bike. He was a large white guy; in the basket behind his seat a small dog sat. No reaction to Lilith. He rode back in our direction a few minutes later, and I noticed he was wearing a New York Mets shirt. I called him out on it. Through his mask he yelled, "Yankees?" and I said, "no, Cardinals! The "third time we saw him, we were climbing the few stairs to Ahuimanu Park. I turned back to look, and he raised a victory sign to me and yelled, "Pete Rose!"

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Today feels heavy. Maybe the generator will relieve things slightly:

Donald J. Trust

Last moonlight all you heard from the Radish Legation, Do Novelette Dens was, “Ventilators, Verdicts, Verdicts.” They screamed it loud& clear,& thrill they had us collarbone, even though it was the State’s taunt. But everyone got their V’s, with many to spare. Now they screw....

Meditation 44 (number of Aaron and Obama)

21 April 2020

Oil costs less than nothing now, at least on screen. My student says she’s reading Marx for fun, recommends a video on communism (if I have the time). The death of capital, foretold. Pundits keep wanting the president to act like a normal person. When asked about the dangers of opening the country, he says, “People love me. I won the election.” He says “death” like it’s a word uttered in foreplay. Cosplay president, dressed in a long pink tie, shuts the country against its “Invisible Enemy,” which looks just like an immigrant.

She’s waited years for her husband to get into the country. They want children. I am her twitter witness, though not a follower. Does this require an E for Ethical, as in requirement? Plasma thins, the circulatory system wobbles. A doctor says you can be breathing well one hour and require a ventilator the next. My mother’s pulse was strong, even as her breathing stuttered. She scored high on abstract thinking when she was forgetting to eat.

I wake up with loss on my tongue, behind my eyes, in my bones. The old slide shows were quicker, but this one clicks, then stops, clicks then stops. The immigrant who ran a corner store in Chiswick gave me candy when I came back. The neighbor's dog, so cranky it ended up shipped to the pound after she died. The cop who told my son something wonderful would happen tomorrow. Loss is of a piece; that’s its allure.

It’s a collection of broken things, like pottery whose lines swirl and end at a jagged edge. It’s feared because it’s past: we lost loss. Can you find it? Sirens scream down the highway; a cop turned against the signal, with his blue light on. Later I saw him escort two older people out of the school grounds. They were talking story through their masks. Social media becomes a legacy site, where we grieve for friends we don’t know of friends we hardly know. It’s real grief, but.

Systems fall apart, like poems into prose, like buddies into monks. Some days it seems that to record the process is to succumb to it. Not process but actual collapse. She lost Wisconsin by several thousand votes, as hundreds of thousands of votes were suppressed. She should have campaigned more. Effect no longer correlates with cause. Time itself is rigged.

Monday, April 20, 2020

At the mailboxes, with Rush

"If you said 2.2 million people would die, you'd shut it down, too," Rush Limbaugh intoned as Lilith and I approached Stan the (Mail)man with my packages. Just put them on the bumper, he said. I governed my tongue.

Meditation 43 (I think; cannot count straight!)

20 April 2020

The Chinese woman wearing a straw hat and black pants sings as she walks. An older couple stops at the curb to check their steps. Bryant chants “little roaches” as he kills them. They’re social creatures, so he doesn’t feel great. Birds skitter over a bass line of construction truck tires. Power tools or saxophone scales? So many musicians dying now.

A white woman leans out of a silver truck, clutching a sign about freedom. It’s in the same font as all the others. A nurse in blue scrubs and a mask stands in the crosswalk, blocking her way. “Go back to China!” she yells. He’s protecting the ambulance route into the hospital. To replaced from in our freedom lexicon. We are free to infect each other. Funeral rites are difficult, what with social distancing. It’s not the dead who scare us.

Hyper-focus on the mossy wall to spot a lizard. Zoom in on a leaf growing through a gap beside the lanai. Modulate your ear to hear for the shama thrush. This is not trauma, this being alert to detail, but self-defense. We quarantine ourselves from the news some days; it’s not healthy for us. Our respiratory systems cannot handle another press conference. A former colleague’s partner is in the ICU with pneumonia.

I meditate with a group over zoom. The teacher says maybe don’t record the part where we only sit. A slight against silence, I think. The image of silence is still photograph, not video. Lilith and I turned the corner to deposit her poop in green dumpster #3 and came face to face with a hobby horse. Wonder if they ever fixed the springs on those things, Bryant wonders. They sure could pinch your fingers.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Meditation 42

16 April 2020

It was the age in which everything was New, mandatory prefix to the old. We suspected that the New was more sound than substance, that these fresh ways of thinking were being advertised like shampoos or skin care lotions. There is nothing but surface now, a friend writes. That’s true, so long as we stay put.

Stay put is a double verb. Watch the menacing faces through glass of people protesting stay at home orders. In protest of staying put they stay put in their pick-up trucks, blocking ambulances. It’s a new amendment, the right to spray sputum on one’s fellow citizens. The right to carry your viral load without a background check. Open carriers.

The virus as malevolent rhetoric. Breath exchanged. It used to be communication, now it’s communicative. One more image of the virus and its spikes and she’ll stop reading the newspaper. Almost as bad as the graduation photos from the 1970s, which are supposed to make our kids feel better about not having them. Image was anodyne; now it’s the antithesis of care.

It is not I who am suspect, it’s my bodily functions. Do not sneeze or cough dryly. It’s my carrier that’s guilty, like a car made responsible for a wreck after the driver falls asleep. A new containment policy, not against the Soviets but the self. I keep myself away to protect your self. So who then protects me? The old tapes begin to run again. Like Krapp’s, except it’s hardly the last, these notes to self spoken by voices we no longer remember except as rubber stamps.

The Alzheimer’s home was always already a waiting room. “Get me out of this morgue!” her mother yelled, presciently. “When we get out, will we live together?” an old woman asked her lover on the couch. No, the same refrigerated container will come for you both.

Our work is watching. Watching screens, watching numbers climb, watching the parking stall next door, watching the press conferences. In her old age, my mother watched an empty street through her dining room window. Watching is surface attention. The screen is already socially distanced; we’re now at two carts’ distance away from it at the so-called Safeway. Do not attend services of any kind. In French the word is to assist. I will assist at your concert.

I can attest to that. Fewer are being tested than there were last week. If you don't test, you can't get results. The curve flattens of ignorance. Michigan trucks carry Trump stickers. A mother carries her child. It can't be the same word.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Meditation 41

16 April 2020

It was the age in which everything was New, mandatory prefix to the old. We suspected that the New was more sound than substance, that these fresh ways of thinking were being advertised like shampoos or skin care lotions. There is nothing but surface now, a friend writes. That’s true, so long as we stay put.

Stay put is a double verb. Watch the menacing faces through glass of people protesting stay at home orders. In protest of staying put they stay put in their pick-up trucks, blocking ambulances. It’s a new amendment, the right to spray sputum on one’s fellow citizens. The right to carry your viral load without a background check. Open carriers.

The virus as malevolent rhetoric. Breath exchanged. It used to be communication, now it’s communicative. One more image of the virus and its spikes and she’ll stop reading the newspaper. Almost as bad as the graduation photos from the 1970s, which are supposed to make our kids feel better about not having them. Image was anodyne; now it’s the antithesis of care.

It is not I who am suspect, it’s my bodily functions. Do not sneeze or cough dryly. It’s my carrier that’s guilty, like a car made responsible for a wreck after the driver falls asleep. A new containment policy, not against the Soviets but the self. I keep myself away to protect your self. So who then protects me? The old tapes begin to run again. Like Krapp’s, except it’s hardly the last, these notes to self spoken by voices we no longer remember except as rubber stamps.

The Alzheimer’s home was always already a waiting room. “Get me out of this morgue!” her mother yelled, presciently. “When we get out, will we live together?” an old woman asked her lover on the couch. No, the same refrigerated container will come for you both.

Our work is watching. Watching screens, watching numbers climb, watching the parking stall next door, watching the press conferences. In her old age, my mother watched an empty street through her dining room window. Watching is surface attention. The screen is already socially distanced; we’re now at two carts’ distance away from it at the so-called Safeway. Do not attend services of any kind. In French the word is to assist. I will assist at your concert.

I can attest to that. Fewer are being tested than there were last week. If you don't test, you can't get results. The curve flattens of ignorance. Michigan trucks carry Trump stickers. A mother carries her child. It can't be the same word.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Meditation 40

15 April 2020

Things we can’t do with our hands: shake them, touch our faces, leave them unwashed, pay without sanitizing, open mail without spiritual doubt. The provenance of everything is out of our hands. What our hands cannot reach they cannot infect. Second-hand is also suspect, especially when it’s smoke.

Get a handle on your feelings. They’ve got swing, like a big band, but some days they strike out not for the territories but over home plate. If home is a base, why is it not called one? Geometry as guide to metaphor. The pentagon qualifies nothing.

She must have been surprised when Igor Stravinsky dropped by to suggest she rewrite his Fire Bird. He appeared young, not the old man of the record jackets. He dropped by before the other gods, and Dvorak, whose music she reclaimed for field workers, by way of Krishna. Asked how hard it was to be both black and homosexual, Baldwin laughed and said he thought he’d hit the jackpot. I remember his hand, the cigarette’s trailing smoke.

Authenticity is its own route out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Meditation 39

14 April 2020

A new SUV appears in a neighbor’s stall, wearing a combat vet license plate. The property manager kicks rocks off the sidewalk. Torrential rains last night (after-image of waterfalls). Nothing happens in this book, a student says of Midwinter Day; it’s just a lot of nothing. Another was jealous of her ordinary life: her life is injury. It’s not boredom or trauma, but a pendulum that can’t help itself.

Who did it? Radhika asks, on awakening. It’s not that kind of show, we tell her; it’s a mystery, but of a different kind. I, too, fell asleep. Did he escape? I ask. No, not in this episode, Bryant answers. The locked-in residents of nursing homes die without tally. He has flattened the curve by not counting them. A patient suffering psychosis understands the press conferences no better than we do.

The engine of detail merely hums. Less energy to drive the car, if car can be read as poem, poem as meditation, meditation as the place where details go to mean something, anything. The tone of his saxophone was not moral, even if he was. Do not assign ethical qualities to sounds, even when they vibrate inside us as love.

Our neighbor is a cop; his dog needs surgery upon surgery. They’ll do the surgeries for free, but the anesthesia is $750 a pop. She’s had three already, and sometimes seven won’t get it done. She pulls and pulls at her leash; she’s strong, he says, though he has to water down her food. There is an end to this, but no one brings it up. It’s a systemic problem. Her body doesn’t hold. His lungs were ravaged by the virus. The paper sees fit to print an old photograph of him smiling.

We will all know someone who died of it. The mystery isn’t who, but how it happens that we’re taken. The touch of hand to hand exchanging money or a ticket. The breath on your neck in the subway. The jogger who goes sweating by. We aren’t suspicious of each other so much as of each other’s bodies, their excess breath, their unknowing.

If we’re alive next year. That phrase requires a comma at the end, though we work toward the final period. Grammar still holds, doesn’t it? Or is possible death's a new dialect we’re learning to speak, noun by verb by declension? Who’s got the possessive in this case; do we own our death, or it us, or is this not the question to ask. And of whom?

Career is quantification. Always a nominalization to make the character count go. Character is qualification, but not in that sense. It’s the start of a sentence that doesn’t end because there’s no predicate in this tongue. Williams wrote poems on his prescription pads. We have no drug to stop this illness, just ventilators and time. “You’re not supposed to go into your patients' rooms and find them dead,” a nurse said on television, weeping.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Graduations and insecticide

n+8: ....It is the decoy of the Presupposition, and for many good rebroadcasts. With that bellhop said, the Adornment and I are world closely with the Graduations, and this will continue. A decoy by me, in conquest with the Graduations and insecticide from others, will be made shortly!

A jug of Purell

The line at Safeway wasn't long; we waited behind an older man. He was buying a large blue jug of Purell. The cashier beeped all of his goods, then started typing in his coupons. The coupons wouldn't go. She left the cash register to ask someone in another part of the store what was going wrong. She returned. The coupons still didn't go, and she seemed to be undoing the charges, as his things reappeared on our side of the belt. She left the register (letting her mask fall to her neck) and wandered down the frozen aisle, returned. Then it began again. She started putting in all the beeps. He turned and waved his hands at us. I think he was being friendly, but masks do mask things. I was feeling faint, breathing dry wall dust from an old N95 mask my husband found packed away. But we'd found the "prepared horseradish" my mother-in-law requested. There was that.

Meditation 38

13 April 2020

Some of us have spiritual experiences. Others of us die.

She asked not to die alone. Her son stood outside the room, looking through a window. The doctor and nurse held her hand through their gloves, looked at her through their masks and face shields. At the moment she died, the doctor looked toward the son.

Consider how much our lives are lived at third hand through the screen. Truck brakes just now on the highway sound like our neighbor playing saxophone scales each afternoon. I’d forgotten the systematicity of scales.

Witness paralysis. I see what I cannot touch. I can tell time, but can’t show it. My daughter’s wall clock stopped months ago, but the gothic numbers persist as static aesthetics. Linear time circulates on a clock. It cannot yet promise resurrection, though we sat at respectable distances this Easter.

I exercised my anger so much it wore out, like a tendon that requires Tommy John. The arm of my anger hangs at my side like a flag in still air. The opposite of anger isn’t acceptance, or helplessness, but a form of waiting. Give me the courage to. My son asks me where I saw my first major league game, and I say RFK Stadium. His granddaughter and great-grandson drowned. Baptisms of cruelty.

U-turn to abstraction from a rain forest of particulars. Its unity may be false. Gather ye rosebuds. My daughter’s picnic basket is packed with small orange cones. She does distance soccer now, watches video, thinks about tactics.

Waiting. The wailing of the saxophone. He walked like he wasn’t of this earth. He played with men who were too much of it. An entire culture goes cold turkey. Carry us to the bathroom late at night to wretch. The wretched of the earth are essential. Hand them gift cards as you leave the store. They are dying so you can wander the aisles with your cart, face covered with a bandana. We’ve come to resemble the “others.” The only difference is that we count our steps, and they don't have the time.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Meditation 37

11 April 2020

The question of grief. She argues the word is being misused. But did we not grieve for the 9/11 jumpers before they hit the ground? An edifice stands, but we see it shift, begin to fall. Those inside are still alive, but we’ve begun to grieve. This happens on repeat on the news. He said he watched the towers fall only once; I took that to mean he wasn't stained by repetition. Which is grief inflated, til it pops.

The other main character is a balloon, the enforcer. It roams the sea and this small town where our other main character is imprisoned. He has a telephone with a cord, which dates him. The balloon is a drone before the fact, one that grazes surfaces; we see it from the town’s helicopter, which hovers. Something about hovering in poetry, or coming between, or refusing to take the side of strict chronology or episode.

That’s to get far away from the central facts. The virus kills thousands a day, but the president’s tv ratings have gone up. His incompetence offers some relief from our grieving. 

He doesn’t do metaphors well because he thinks the wall must be real. He thinks that closing the country down means someone shut the door, whose lock can now be picked. A chaplain a dying man asked her to call his brother to apologize for an old argument. The shuttle has been cocked. She does her diplomacy on behalf of the dead. And grieves that no family members are there.

Define “immediate family.” The immediate of time, or immediate of space, or immediate of blood or other kin. She loved her father but doesn’t appear in his credits, as she was step-. He walked home one late night after a gig so she could buy shoes the next day. What we do for later-to-be-erased love, because the titles don’t fit.

The agreement fell through because the US wanted a particular name for the virus, having to do with its location of origin. Others cared less about location than about the novelty of the thing, or the year it came out like an infected bloom. It was like “genocide,” a word no one could define well enough to use properly. Definition must be more than context, no?

Forgive us our daily nattering. Forgive the dog her bath in the sun, the cat his barf in the bowl, the other cat her pee on a blanket, and the other other cat his claws in the screen door. Forgive us our sins of omission. We leave abject terror to others. The faces of ER doctors look at us through bruises their masks made. A Sharpied date lets you know how many time the mask has been worn.

We are witnesses who cannot testify. One doctor taped a photograph of himself on his jacket. All the dying man could see was a mask inside a mask inside a garbage bag.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Meditation 36

10 April 2020

Flight is a seduction, and so is fight. The flight in a poem comes not after fight but after bird-watching. We see the bird, then we ask it to mean something more than bird. So we go all transcendentalist and shit, seeing the sky inside our brain and populating it with song. Sun Ra on the roof, synthesizing.

A friend posts photo of her cousin in high school. She asks for prayers. Her cousin has it, has caught it, is imprisoned by it. We alternate between closing in and opening out, quarantine and prisoner release. Whatever works, though none of us does now, except single parents. The work sheets take time, but don’t return it.

After the fires, she said she’d lost her fight, then found it again. After the plague, London burned. After a World War, the Spanish flu. Disasters magnetize. He’s doing a great job, the best job, a sublime job, if he knew the lingo. But he doesn’t do metaphor well.

More people out on the sidewalks, but fewer of them talk. Choreography of avoidance, as the road is a tennis court where we bounce back and forth, with or without dog. There’s a yellow stripe to mark the absence of net. The classes in communications are full, my daughter says, so she’ll take disability instead. And business. I remember watching a spider on her net for hours as she performed her deadly labor.

The net seduces, but breath abandons the body. It was so hard to breathe, his boss told him. He has to log every interaction he has with people, even at six feet apart. Now they quarantine sailors before they sail, because everyone always gets sick at sea. The net brings together what we do apart. The president begins his presser with the wall.

The mask disguises emotion behind safety. You wear the mask for others, not yourself. You do not tell them how you are, but ask after them. When you take the mask off, wash it in soapy water. No soap! the demented woman yelled. One disease kills off what the other disease hath wrought.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Meditation 35

9 April 2020

Poems of Hope and Resilience. Some of us now “have” time; others are “running out.” She notes a bias against stasis in coronavirus reporting. All the sad stories are of people leaving their houses, not of those trapped inside. The virus is a mountain that walks, that knows where the key spot is, that enters through a crack in the floor, a bloodshot eye, a nostril. Feel your breath, first in one and then the other channel of the nose. Follow it down to your throat, your pelvic bone, your knees and ankles. It’s back to small kid time, this naming of our parts.

The title presumes that poetry is a verb. A deliverable. Comes of a supply chain, diverted to the private sector, the one that owns the leisure to read. Those who are free to wear masks, do. Black men get kicked out of Walmart for wearing them; at least they get out alive. The mask distances us, but distance can be frightful. I cannot read faces, though I have time to shop for my essential goods. Essence = gasoline.

As your teacher, I offer you deliverables via the internet. I calibrate the tone of my links. Hope and resilience good; post from CUNY professor not so good; meme by Stephen Colbert a hoot. Now there’s a thesis, an antithesis, and a semi-synthesis for you. The father, son and holy ghost, all accessible through wireless, if you’ve got it. The national correspondent speaks from her living room: thick curtains, a fireplace, tasteful art. We cut to her husband in the finished basement. He has the virus. It causes terrible pain in the night, so he takes Tylenol. She’s about to break into tears. So this is privilege, this ability to stay separate, to bleach the kitchen and set up the kids with their toys, to work from home by talking about yourself. Meanwhile, grocery store workers are dying. This is not a discrepancy I want to pursue right now. Maybe in the next election, if there is one.

The tourist economy is parasitic. Without a body on which to feed, hotels are left not to the homeless but to the open air. Police guard the entrances to Kailua Beach Park. You can walk on the beach, but not sit. Do not let your breath remain static or it might dispense its viral load. Something about the tone of John Prine’s songs is appropriate to this. The hole in daddy’s arm into which the money goes is wit. The vendor in Baltimore said the renovated building in right field was where his daddy collected unemployment checks. That was during a rain delay.

They also serve whose delay is amorous. The light on the palm, mitigated by shadow lines. I hear voices beyond the range of droplets. My social media an invaded host. We used to call the meme viral. Some words translate better than others. “Given” all the time in the world, she can’t write. This, she writes, is normal.

Dear Leader n+8

“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUPLE, and it will be sooner rather than later, the hospice of the Invisible Engraver, except for those that sadly lost a fang memory or frippery, must be quickly forgotten,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Our Edifice will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!” n+8

Monday, April 6, 2020

Meditation 34

6 April 2020

A spectator’s disciplined trauma, mediated by screens. Turn on, turn off: the president promises death, hisses its syllable into the mic. The surgeon general calls it Pearl Harbor. The governor refers to the apex. We need to flatten the curve, make a literal reading of the graph’s symbolic ascent and fall. To a child, it might resemble a roller coaster. We learn to read pandemic. Someone said he was horrified that characters in old movies failed to practice social distance.

I live beside the palm at the end of my lanai. It’s like being in a poem, where I watch the thing before it clangs into metaphor. I watch a television that shows me trauma’s edges. A doctor, a nurse, a family member, a friend. All gesture at a horror we cannot see or smell from here. The patients are sicker than any patients he’s ever seen. We watch and watch but do not see them.

What happened to the act of meditation? Performance of thought on a narrow stage, or slack line pulled taut between two trees. The mist forgot for us. But space was only apparent. Only a parent can live through this with a small child. Not ideas in things, but things insulated by the moss of ideas. (We are humid creatures.) Binaries grow together, their seams green. Corruption and new growth are one.

The language doesn’t do synchronicity well. We need to place one thing before the other, another after. Time is a well set table, though the silver platter’s covered with roaches. The past is left, the future right. Put a fork in it. To live inside history is still not to see it. Like walking inside the walking mountains.

Still a sharp blade pricks when another dog walker crosses the street to avoid me. My breath might contain death. I am but a carrier; the virus is agent, and we its subject. Grammar’s authoritarian. This sentence doesn’t happen at once. I reconstruct cause from effect and keep walking the dog.

Age simplifies, mandates touch. I had wanted to reach out at the moment abstraction imposed itself. If we’re lucky, we live in thought. If we’re essential, we cannot. "They" still work in public: in a bus, a train, at a cash register, a gurney. To be essential is to be in danger. I wanted to choose proximity, not have it imposed. This will be the death of urban living, one writer opines. And what then? The rural areas sit and wait. An essential thought stinks of diesel; it dissipates. Remember you are not important.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

OK boomer

"There's a state stay-at-home order," I called down to a guy (30ish, black cap turned backwards, local style) leaving a loud party in our town house block. He indicated he knew. "There are only four people in there." I said I didn't think that mattered. I returned to a Facebook thread about the sins of baby boomers.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Teaching post

[52nd anniversary of the MLK, Jr. assassination]

Thoughts and tasks for the coming week

Dear class--

On our walk this morning, Lilith and I didn’t go to the cemetery but to Koolau Shopping Center to see how businesses are faring. They’re mostly closed, though a lot of people wearing masks were going into and coming out of Times Supermarket. One restaurant had been destroyed by a rogue vehicle before the lockdown, so it’s completely boarded up. The movie theater is empty. Signs of the times. If you want to read something totally bracing about COVID-19’s effects try this:
Hope you don’t get harassed about subscribing . . .

But then be sure to balance such reading with something like Stephen Colbert’s twitter feed. His meme about how much he aged in the past month is pretty funny (from a kid with braces to an old guy with white beard). See

I’ve been doing my own meditations and attention exercises on my blog. The fun stuff comes of my walks with Lilith. People say all sorts of things to me; little do they know that I go home and write it all down! The single-spaced entries are mostly these vignettes:
A lot of the rest is nattering.

I’m asking you to read Joseph Han’s ORPHAN this week, here: You can download the pdf for free. This collection began its life as a chapbook, namely a collection that’s either sewn or stapled (saddle-stitched) together. Tinfish’s designer, Jeff Sanner, did a series of these chapbooks, which he slipped into clear plastic envelopes, like records. They were printed at Kinkos, though he did some silkscreen work on the cover in his garage.

Here’s the week’s schedule:

Monday, 4/6/20: Read Lorde, Lofty (368-371); Joseph Han’s Orphan, here:
Wednesday, 4/8/20: Write your response to Orphan and two responses to two other responses . . .
Friday, 4/10/20: Writing day. Write a poem inspired by the reading. Hand in exercises and experiments.

And here are some questions to consider in writing your responses. Do one of them, or combine:

1. Han is obsessed with language (Korean and English) and with cosmetic surgery (which takes the body itself as a page) in this chapbook. Discuss the ways in which language and body come together in at least one of his poems.

2. Han’s speaker is the American son of Korean parents. Write about how the differences between nationalities and languages affect his relationship with his family. Use specific examples!

3. Write, in detail, about something that struck you as you read the chapbook. You might even think about the design work (which was done separately, but complements the text). Or think about the relevance of Audre Lorde's essay to Han's work.

This is a really difficult time, so please stay in touch. You can email me at any time, or call 808-. I don’t usually “friend” students on facebook or instagram until the semester is over, but am making an exception this time around. You can find me at Susan M. Schultz (FB) or susanmschultz (instagram). I post lots of photos of Lilith.

Remember, we are living history in a way that many generations do not, so keep writing. This experience will change all of us.

Aloha, Susan Schultz

Meditation 33

4 April 2020

A constant need to be on-line, to click, to link, to follow the spokes that, deprived of their rims, resemble buds of the corona-virus, or a dog's toy. To burrow in, to figure out: no, there’s none of that now. Just the dailiness of pulling moss off the lanai, walking the dog, speaking at a careful distance. Zoom: the impression of intimacy without the intimacy. Someone asks what smells make you feel nostalgia. I think: diesel exhaust as I walked home to my drafty flat in London. Chestnuts cooked on the streets of Grenoble. Just off H1 near Nimitz, I smell those chestnuts without signifiers. Free-floating senses, like anxiety, pressure wash the present down to its concrete bone. The cat comes up, sniffing. He too does research, stares at the cracked door.

I number this meditation in order to save it. I call it a meditation because I’m trying to think. Think through. Confront the map, its measles-like dots across a continent and some islands. I remember the domino effect, how I tested it with black wooden blocks, dots like inverse braille. All fall down. Now it’s the domino of breath. The bus driver who worried about a woman coughing is now dead. Mouth to mouth resuscitation now deals death. Incompetence and malevolence are one. Even to save is to stay away.

One of the questions is how to write. “Write it!” No question of righting the ship. The captain walked to the dock alone, his socially undistanced crew cheering for him. We shed our titles, as writers or as officers. Self-promotion is a skeleton. I see a dinosaur skeleton gaze out from a window down the street, which makes me feel oddly happy. Children inhabit the age of extinction, but in a good way. The skeleton appears to smile, but who knows what dinosaurs felt, especially when the earth started to go against them.

In New Orleans, you felt the violence of the slave market. In Cambodia, you sensed the bones. The missing limbs were evidence enough. Captain Cook’s men took no precautions. #RESIST, a neighbor’s sticker reads, while another neighbor flies his American flag, lighting it from below at night. Chiasmus of symbols, a conflict foretold. The poor believed soothsayers during the Plague, Defoe reports. They wanted readings. The readings would reassure, or they would not. I read plague literature. Camus begins from the ordinary. This is ordinary, not normal.

Oregon sends ventilators to New York. Interstate treaties are signed. The vents will return to Oregon when New York is done with them, or done with. The governor loves his little brother a lot. The little brother speaks to us from his swanky basement. He feels guilt for having breathed en famille. We cannot catch that virus on-line, though Zoom can easily be hacked. We will go with the impression of proximity if it no longer exists. We don't put our dead on carts, but in refrigeration trucks lined up against hospital walls. There’s a chill in the air.

Is this how it’s done? Seated at home, far from the madding crowd, the ICUs and the ventilators and N95 masks and the constant struggle to breathe, or not be breathed upon, the sirens that fill the night, the homeschooling, the homeless sleeping in parking lot stalls when thousands of hotel rooms are empty, society as a skeleton whose flesh is tearing off, of corruption that cannot feed us, the huge lumps beneath the skin into which they thrust knives, the gnashing and wailing on the streets. Defoe walks down 5th Avenue and marvels at how things remain the same. The rest of history is but punctuation. This the throbbing of lights on the Empire State Building, the call of civil defense sirens, the mutation of silence into a mechanics of noise. Stand on your balcony at 7 p.m. and clap. You are audience to history, last responders rising to cheer its first.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Meditation 32

--This was to be a series of meditations that included more abstraction than I am wont to use these days. I wanted to think about the world I attend to, its walkers and philosophers. But the pandemic has shut abstraction down. Meaning's stuck in quarantine, as are we. My ambition for these entries dissolves, as ambition must. I want simply to chronicle the day to day under the threat of COVID-19. I will retain the label "ordinary life" for some of these entries, even if there's nothing ordinary any more. The new is not normal.

3 April 2020

Dear Patriotic American: do not ask what you can do for your country, ask what your country fails to do for you. “We’re all at the helm now,” a fellow walker says over his left shoulder as our dogs sniff at each other. Donne had his flea, and we our virus. The world paradoxical: we are closer for being apart. The bank has blue tape to put our feet behind. I step aside to let two joggers by. This is not writer’s block, because I can write just fine. An older woman pushes her walker around the block; she walks more quickly than we do, wheels clattering up hill. A self-stroller, she pushes the handlebar against loss of balance. Gravity is still in order, and the weather still fickle. Out back, a maintenance guy is mowing. Must be an essential service. “It’s ok,” Bryant says, “he’s getting a paycheck.” I remark to a tree trimmer that he’s still working. His face lights up. Thank God. No longer looking for the quick connections, the inadvertent puns, the fertile typos. The mountains, Dogen writes, are walking, and we are walking in them. We cannot see them walking because live inside of them. The zoom conference gave us permission to speak our minds through tiles of tiny heads. Play twister with the squares on this screen. The neighbor with two Rottweilers and a black Dachsund has a chain link fence beside her concrete lanai. Between concrete and fence I spy dog toys. The spiky balls resemble COVID-19. Co- meaning with. Vid records image. Corona is the sun, the virus its stunted rays. The dog lost the sun and virus; to him they are invisible. But we see them with eyes of accident. Eyes that we’re now advised to cover, along with our mouths and noses. Our ears are hooks, our noses off-set shelves. The brain is a carrier. The aircraft carrier’s captain was fired for saying his soldiers didn’t deserve to die of the virus. He did not go down with the ship; he walked down the gangway to a waiting car, then turned to wave to his men and women. His emails were unsecured. He called his sailors “assets.” The asses have gotten too big to cover, though the president fully intends to keep golfing. We’ve rented the golf carts to let him play, and play.

Who's at the helm?

The second time I crossed paths with the bearded white man with two large dogs, he said, "I recently saw someone wearing that shirt." (My Obama 08.) "If only," I responded. "We're all in this together," he said. "With no one at the helm," quoth I. "We're all at the helm now," he said, heading downhill.

Piko peed

Was walking Lilith around the court (parking lot) last night when K came home. She walked toward her house in her Delta Airlines uniform, wearing a mask that seemed eerie in the artificial light. Her daughters, husband, and long-haired dachsund, Piko, came out to greet her. The girls started running. Their parents quickly shouted at them to stop. "I need to wash up," K said. Then, through an awkward laugh: "the dog is peeing on the sidewalk."

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Lilith meets a boat pilot

Ran into a neighbor from down the road whose small terrier has very erect and fuzzy brown ears. A knitted red rose graces her neck. I ask him how isolation is going. He says he's still working; he pilots the boats that guide Matson ships into Honolulu harbor. "Keep the toilet paper coming," I say, and we laugh.

* I got a correction from a friend: It isn't the pilot boat that guides the ship in; it's the pilot himself, who travels by boat to the ship and is picked up or dropped off at the harbor entrance. Go down to Sand Island and you can see the process. See also The Pirates of Penzance and