Sunday, November 29, 2020

Meditation 103


29 November 2020

From the empire of bad passes to the exurbs of yellow cards--groves of autumn trees--our goals stay put until the day we wake up to a blurry sun, having shed ambitions like jerseys, wandering into the streets of Manchester or Sheffield, nostalgic for pre-industrial fields we never saw but through the scrim of chimneys or an imitative pitch. Metaphor at the center of the latest twitter war, as if. We can make hills out of holes any day we please. “Sue fell in the hole!” someone yelled when I felt the canoe on my shoulders hit the ground. When she looked in the mirror, she saw her mother-in-law. The man on a horse called for a pogrom against family resemblances. The friend who pulled my Tarot cards found several knights of various qualities. The contradiction’s not in the card but in the cave of the heart, distinguished from the hole by its rhythmic embrace. Blood relations spilled, the picker-upper a sheaf of paperwork and a notary behind plexiglass to affirm your signature; your handedness puts you in a different family, one that includes the girl tortured for five years into writing right. If torture is an opera, then what's a string section doing out on the street beneath the stars (those that appear in too many poems) rubbing their bows across tunes of influence. When your music assimilates to standard, then you’ve lost it. The ref steps in to give you time on the pitch to heal your twisted ankle. Pitch transferred to another sport before it turned to tar sands, a poet tried in a court of law for blocking the pipeline with his words. The question of activism intrudes; what can this poem effect in the world when our factories of art are shutting down, their chimneys cleansed of performance. One knight’s a messenger of creativity, but what are the stations of his cross? When he returned from a Christmas bombing raid, he landed on one. It was runway, not hedgerow, a constructed symbol rising out of the Pacific night. We flew over southern Japan, an illuminated text of water and island; you could almost play it on a flute, if you knew the notes. I bought Bryant a tin whistle at the Cork Airport as I talked to a man in a fedora. Days previous, he’d been Tom Raworth vacuuming a floor at dawn, mint julep in his left hand. Someone at the hostel said he came from the Taliban.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Meditation 102


28 November 2020

I put masks on my memories. What was said to me no longer has a mouth. I can’t lip read, push my left ear toward a muffled sequence of words I know to be a sentence. If the sentence is an A-frame, I can imagine its sharp attic, the crazy slope of its predicate. Our predicament recasts history as social distance, a line you stand in, feet planted firmly in their icon toes. You in the frozen food aisle, and I in the Hispanic. Both of us peering at the beer cans. If can can. If no can no can. A page on which everything’s erased except the punctuation. You’d never know it had been a sex poem, now that it’s stripped of all flesh but commas and brackets. An exclamation! Consider what these forms of punctuation mean apart from words, or what a page of pronouns signifies without verbs or nouns. A detective novel written to find out who removed the sounds, left only pauses and digressions. How can I compose my memoir as a writer, if I don’t think of myself as one? Art is excess, a flower in the cap that requires nothing more than to cover the crown of the head. We do not need what cannot feed us. I will feast from now on on warships and submarines, cooked in their own nuclear stew. A wart grows on my left little finger’s knuckle, sensitive when I reach into a bag of cat food. It’s the knuckle’s hat or mask, a covering like black print on paper. What shall I read, now that I’ve finished the book about my last year? Learning to read is about taking off the mask, unshackling thought from type from word from breath. Anti-maskers make the best readers. My student zooming from his car in Reno says he dropped Ben Jonson because he couldn’t figure out what it had to do with job loss. I want to say everything, but not now. An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed yesterday. Who done it? We done it! That’s call and response, I say to Radhika. Pilgrims get such bad press this week. (Losers and suckers.) The dog’s collar resembled RBG’s symbol of dissent. I teach creative writing as a form of resistance. No one buys that line.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Meditation 101

24 November 2020

Ding dong! Don’t ask, it tolls for thee. Dying is a transition, long denied. I AM NOT DYING, he yells. As I lay not dying, I imagined the power of a deathbed on which there was no death, just endless waiting. The pings of machines matched, in miniature, civil defense sirens, and the boy who played “A Love Supreme” to mirror them. When is a mirror also vehicle for sound? The lake’s face broke into splinters, leaving the barest asemics for us to puzzle at. I looked it up, after posting a photograph of a palm trunk from close range. Resembles words or tangles and plaques to no ambition we can recall. The shape of no meaning is as lovely as that of a line of verse, the arc of whose words you misplace. In translation, you choose either to convey meaning (with unionized labor) or to engage with the play of a broken belt, flinging its conveyances like a gorilla in a suitcase commercial (labor anarchized). The deathbed’s a conveyer belt, from which souls are sorted and packaged for later consumption. I said “soul” does not violate separation of church and state, because souls exist without knuckling under to icons or strangers. The toy that grinned at me from the gutter surely a sign of something, if only of laughter, contextualized by chance. My death shall convey me, whether or not I deny it. She refused to cry when my father died, and so began my fascination with rituals of release. Catch and release grief: it keeps the ecosystem stable. She tottered into tangles, refusing a rebirth of grief postpartum. Bryant tells me the witch’s green make-up burned, so Oz wasn’t without pain. You mean it all happened because she hit her head? our daughter asks. Dreams look better in technicolor, and the red of her ruby shoes shows better outside the television. She was young then, but never grew old. She's caught in time, but only if we keep pushing the remote.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lilith and the Pig Hunters


Near the back of the cemetery, where the glossy black tombs bear mostly Japanese names, Lilith and I spotted a pig at the edge of the forest. I watched the pig for a long time, as Lilith turned in the opposite direction to look at something, perhaps the small black and white cat sitting by the road toward the Temple. When we got to the top of the hill at the very back, I looked down and saw a truck in the literal muck below us. By the time we got down the hill, one young man was washing mud from the truck's wide tires; in its bed under a low roof we saw several dogs. I addressed a second young man at the front of the truck, "we saw a pig up there," and waved as vaguely as possible at the hills. "Good size?" he asked. "I don't want to bust him," I said, and Lilith and I kept going. As we walked alongside Kahekili we saw another truck, dogs in the back, heading south.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Meditation 100

15 November 2020

The walks are a kind of normalcy, unless they aren’t. Today's involved an egret taking flight, mushrooms resembling flowers, Lilith scrapping with a mother hen, cops in our parking lot. “It’s personal,” the woman in shorts and a towel-turban says, when I ask if she's ok. Even when you see things, you don’t know what they are or mean or where the story came from or is going to. The moment's a cocoon, silk scarf tossed around a wound. Like the seed pod before it opens to reveal a toy canoe. We take our wounds to the bureaucracy, and wonder why we never heal. It would take too much paper work to cure us, too many reports on our credit, our status in Antifa, character studies composed in law enforcement templates. Testimonies freeze time’s skin, then slice it into transparencies, but what we see through them is more skin. The wide angle lens shows us more of the living room, but there’s very little interest in that among the masses. More an audience of poets wondering why their books haven’t sold, why the boxed gifts at their doors are full of their words, neatly piled inside. There’s no correlation between value and sales, between sales and poetry enforcement issues. If you call to ask that another poet stop stealing your formula, I will attend to your call, note down your sorrows, and then I'll shrug. The burden is all material, but the way out is to go back to the word field. She said she liked big words, though they proved to be short ones, like “land.” Words become heavy only when they’re bound. I caution my students not to look at Abu Ghraib photos until they feel strong. A friend sends me a more recent photo of a man in sunglasses, wearing an American flag around his head, mask limp at his neck, as from his mouth spittle sprays. A lawn sprinkler shoots poison toward freshly laid turf. The way fertilizer, taken out of context, is explosive. Another neighbor uses electric clippers to neaten the grass beside his shed; he trims his patch with a push mower, edges the sidewalk with an unmotorized blade. Bryant says it’s like he's tending a grave. At the back of the cemetery, I find a plaque to a couple who “loved life to its fullest,” but are still living in Arizona.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lilith and the little boy

On our afternoon walk to the cemetery, Lilith and I ran into a woman we met yesterday. Very blonde, wearing pink leggings, she'd paid close attention to Lilith and leaned over to smell a flowering tree. As she walked away, I was pretty sure I heard her speaking Russian into her phone. Today, she came toward us, this time with a little boy beside her, a box and a coffee from the McDonald's across the highway. He was not blonde, but a tow-head with brown hair and darker skin than hers. "May I pet your dog?" he asked, and I said of course. He and she leaned down to pet Lilith. "May I kiss the dog?" he asked, and I said yes, so he leaned over and kissed Lilith on the crown of her head, where the black and white fur cedes to brown. "How old is she?" asked the boy. "I think she's almost five," I said. "I'm five!" he said happily, and then referring to the woman by her given name, told me that she is 37. I understood the next question before it was uttered, so I said, "I'm 62." The boy responded that I was even older than his father.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Meditation 99

14 November 2020

He takes photographs of shadows on curtains. Shadows need light to grow, before descending into dark. My students refer to their identities as wholes, but mainly because they so acutely feel the holes. There’s a hole in the text, the German academic intoned, and he made a big career of that. Another student did an erasure poem of “Mending Wall,” but kept the word “gaps” in. Called it “Mending All,” as in “all lives matter,” though to say that means they don’t. The president hopes for Nuremberg but gets only a minor league park’s worth of fans. He drives through their unmasked faces on his way to golf in Sterling, the exurb not the castle. The new mask is the lack of one; hatred shows on faces better when you can see a nose and mouth, the creases they forge in cold skin. This genocide is self-, suicide by other means, since many selves are pro-life. We think we’re giving our lives, but they’re being taken. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Trump sways back and forth like a kid who needs to pee. It’s harder to find unknowns now that there’s DNA on top of teeth, but we can imagine the unknown when we close our eyes. The whistleblower got a letter from the Defense Secretary who outed him, demanding his future silence. We heard about it. Silence is the unknown of speech. We choose not to say, or we are chosen for. He’s firing people again. Only some of us still distinguish between reality and the show, the show and whatever inspired it. There were no great women chess players in the 60s, so someone had to invent one. Another magical orphan, lacerated into drink and pills, for whom the checkered board suffices. Ça y est I could hear, but not spell. Sigh yay, was what I caught, like a mysterious man outside the window, hunting butterflies. This year trees vibrate and hum with bees again. I met a woman in the cemetery who lamented those who live there cannot see the view. It’s for their families, I say, and she hopes they come to see the Koolau. I find a marker to a couple that is clearly still alive; their photograph is to the side, and they’re smiling. The man shares my birthday, though he’s five years younger than I. I’m reading a book about dying. It’s a discipline, but you can travel there, even now.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Lilith and the chemistry prof



Lilith and I walked farther into the cemetery than we usually do today, past the black tombs with Japanese names on them, around the corner, and up the hill toward a loop built around fountains and a garden (with stones and plaques in it, including some to the still living). Climbing the hill, Lilith and I saw at the top a fast walker and a slow walker coming towards us. Fast walker approached first, a small Asian woman with a shirt that read WOMAN on it, and something about the Ironman below. "Do you need a day to see the Temple?" she asked me. Hardly. She and her haole husband (on a slow meditative walk, she said) are in Kaneohe to take care of her mother, who has health issues, and needs rehab. She lives on Long Island and teaches Chemistry at Pace University. Her husband arrived, shirtless and slow, was introduced by his wife to me and Lilith. She wondered about my KC cap, so I told her it came from the Negro Leagues Museum. I got it after a Baseball and Lit conference in Kansas, I told her. "Conferences!" she exclaimed. "I miss them." To which her wry husband asked, "Would you rather be here or at a conference?" She looked at the mountains, which we'd been admiring, and said "here." To every abrupt thought she uttered, he clearly responded with a slow intervention. Yin and yang, they were. I told her that, as we parted company and she laughed, "I could _never_ walk as slowly as he does!" After we rounded the loop and came down the hill, within sight of the temple, I saw him, wandering very slowly toward another loop. As we turned the corner, she appeared, bright and very buff, and I told her about Ferdinand Marcos's former tomb up the hill. She asked how old Lilith is (all energy today) and I said, "I think she's nearly five." "Just a pup!" she said. "You rescued her?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Meditation 98


11 November 2020

The wicked witch gives the broom to someone else to fly on. He’s got Air Force One, and he knows how to use it. America likes a boot in the face, a boot with a warhead for a toe. I’m reading Epictetus for his wisdom. I hear him sweeping in the corner, the one I never get to, and finding clarity in the angle. Even wisdom literature has limits, for who’s to sweep behind the corner, in the other unit, where the neighbor lives who refuses to look at me. Ah, the gaze. She looks at dog, at tree, at fallen petals, at the sticks that fall on car windshield. Her dog looks at us, and I at her, but the connection fails like an old modem, most impersonal of hang ups. It’s more mystery than hurt, months into the game of hide and go hide some more. Like I wish I could google these non-encounters and find some wisdom in them, except I more than suspect there is none. The shift from seeking meaning to accepting it—or its lack--has proved awkward. Over the course of a lifetime, one study showed, our personalities change completely. At 77 we wouldn’t recognize our 14 year old selves. But it seems quicker than that, the metal screen slamming shut on ambition, on accumulation of credits. Accretion’s no longer the ode, but decrease. Is it in the age, or in the meds? The miserable reflection of a leader who craves suffering to feel himself breathe? My students looked in the mirror and saw themselves as functions: daughter, grand-child, sister, except for the adopted woman, who saw only her nose. I asked what it might mean to separate identity from self. If the mirror is a thing in itself, what does it ask of us? To touch that surface, like a faithful reader, and know how little is left on it of us, save thumbprint or a sponge’s smear. An almost language, that. As we step away from it, it fills with another self: bed or curtains or a desk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

In which Lilith's person yells at traffic


Lilith and I took a walk in the late afternoon yesterday. Gray sky, wind, a welcome change from still humidity. A lovely interlude of calm. Then I saw a pick-up truck heading north on Kahekili, driven by a local man, flying its trump flag from the bed. And I heard my own voice scream, "HE LOST! HE LOST!"

Monday, November 9, 2020

Domestic politics


Lilith and I were walking down Hui Kelu Street this morning, when we heard the sounds of a domestic across the street. I was pretty sure this was the unit that stores a Trump flag on their back lanai. Sure enough, I spotted it through the windows, on the other side. And there it was, hanging to the tune of angry voices. As we left the area, a friend popped her head over her fence and said, "just wanted to see it for yourself?" I told her the sad irony. "Oh, yeah, there are domestics there all the time."

Sunday, November 8, 2020

No concessions


Months ago, the two men (one white, one Pacific Islander) in neat aloha work shirts at the cemeterytold me that hospitals were ordering ventilators to make money. I yelled at them. From then on, Lilith and I simply waved and they waved back. A pleasantly empty friendliness. About ten days ago, the Pacific Islander mentioned to me that the election was coming up; I said I'd been waving signs and he wondered for whom. Yesterday, as he zipped by on his John Deere tractor/golf cart, he said, "I guess it's going to the Supreme Court!" to which I responded that Biden had won. Today, I looked through the plastic shield at the shack; he looked a bit sheepish. "It's over," quoth I. "Oh no, lots of mental games now," he said. "It's over," I repeated. He and the other guy laughed amiably as Lilith and I trudged by. For a change, Lily and I walked up to what used to be Ferdinand Marcos's tomb, from which we had a beautiful, if hazy, view down the coast. On the way out, the white guy hailed me with a friendly hello.