Monday, February 15, 2021

First Amendment Rites

Have it both ways. He is guilty and he is not. No pendulum there, swinging between states, but a beam-me-up-Scottie that cancels the middle space. We are a kind and a violent people. This is a statement of historical fact.

If Parkland was fake, are we more kind? Can delusion be empathy in reverse? I did not see it, therefore it did not happen, and I’m in the clear. Clear mind, open sinuses, post-yoga. Burn-out is a cultural phenomenon, which no baskets or altars mitigate. Always look for the percentages. So many teens consider suicide. So many adults feel oppressed in the workplace. What kind of yoga works on neo-liberalism?

Two goats on a stone wall, both wearing horns. One puts its head on the other’s hindquarters; they look at me. They face off, jump in the air, touch horns, and then fall back. The field contains six kids. A man smokes a cigarette on the wall; he lives with the older woman in the house whose stairs have nearly fallen in. Can’t get her to give up anything. She needed it all 15 years ago. Says she names the male goats after rock stars, the female goats after songs. Black Betty has one white hoof; she’s otherwise the color of her name. The man's younger, so he’s more into Van Halen. I ask if it’s ok for me to bring carrots next time, and he says yes.

Is it not useful to be useless?

As we left the airport in Cambodia the first time, I looked back to see two men fighting each other with their fists. Historical memory switched on, its horrible affect. (Too much affect renders logic a red herring, my friend says in other words.) A bodycam writhes on the ground; above its open maw are men with poles flailing at the body with the cam. The man in the body pleaded that he had children. The men with poles didn’t stop, though someone tried to push them away. Mob is mind, as fungus is brain; there’s no central operator, just burst synapses along the lines. One fungus takes over ants, drugs them into acts of daring, then eats them from inside. Out of ant body sprouts pole and cap. A kind of graduation.

The task is to separate memory from its chronic pain. The first thing I remember losing was a stuffed animal, left in a motel in Little Rock, Arkansas, the “Switzerland of the US,” as my parents were told. Fake news, they decided in advance of the term. An abiding hurt, that absence of animal. A donkey runs to the fence, clothed in brown grasses and mud. It sticks its nose through the fence. On its own, the nose is a constellation of whiskers, a funny smile, and black nostrils. Donkey runs back to horse and they kiss through the fence. It’s Valentine’s Day.

We’re asked what discipline it takes to remain close to person, animal, self. The question doesn't move us, so we pose others. There was the haircut question: too short and you resemble a Nazi, too long and you’re Antifa. There was the matter of the blue lives matter flag on a bumpersticker, removed after George Floyd was killed. Was it George Floyd?

A memory of violence is not loss; it is the memory of loss, in the most difficult way possible. Time torn away, the never-ending process of scabbing and ripping open. Do not pay bail for those who protest, because they do it too. It is what it is. One side represents the death of rhetoric. The other got A’s in composition and now wonders why their audience cannot see their logic, so beautifully built. We will talk about what we cannot talk about. That is at once coded speech and ceded ground. If we can talk about what we cannot talk about, what then?

This, my reader tells me, is a long form project. I must justify my tax rates, my deductions, my dependents, and my earnings out of air. I became fond of the IRS worker in Kentucky who called me on the phone to remind me our non-profit paperwork was due. If there’s usefulness in uselessness, what is the profit in non-? It’s all figurative, though the side that shot spitballs at the back of class does not recognize figure. To fight is to fight is to fight. All violence is actual, said the chaser of ambulances.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

On Kaia Sand's _Remember to Wave_: a note to my class


Aloha class--

R wrote a brief response with his document poem to say he thought Sand's work was "niche," and he doesn't understand it. That's a very honest response, and I thought I'd say something about it (and again, I welcome zoom meetings with you any time).

Sand's work falls within the category of "documentary poetry," which was developed originally by poets like Muriel Rukeyser in the 1930s, and William Carlos Williams a bit later. In recent decades, a lot of documentary writing has been published; it seems a good time for it.

The reason I like to teach documentary poetry/writing is that it helps me to structure this course around "attention." It's so hard to pay attention now. It's difficult to sit and listen to birds. It's difficult to eat a raisin slowly. It's difficult to sit in silence. We're pummeled by digital noise, image, and sound coming to us through our ear buds. My intention in this class is to offer a way to slow down, take the world in, and then investigate it. That's what Sand does with her "noticing" and her "walking." (I sometimes structure this course around "walking," though that's perhaps more difficult these days, if you live in a crowded area.)

Reading a Sand poem involves being in conversation with it. She's not going to tell you everything she wants you to know; she sets up the conditions in which you can find them out yourself. So active reading is necessary. And sitting with the poems, thinking about them.

But of course we're all in a hurry. There's a pandemic. We need to work to make money. Life is exceedingly stressful.

Please consider this course an opportunity to slow down, take things in, and then expand your curiosity about the world around you--the one you see, and the one that was there before you were.

aloha, sms

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Security Footage


Not a frog in the throat, exactly. A square, wedged sideways. Not sharp, but taking space between breath and voice. I carry the square with me; it reminds me to swallow, confirm it's there. The square demands attention, says that to take anything in is awkward. It's the sound of the rioters, not their silly hats and baseball bats, that disturbs me. Blue lives props for rhetoric that dissolves at the broken window, the pounded in door. To matter is so suddenly immaterial, replaced by "fuck" and the pointed end of a flag pushed in a man's face. If you whisper your manifesto, it will lack force, so scream it out. Uncertainty is a principle, but we're past that, lodged in the certainty of its lack. 

During a break, I walk to visit the goats down the next road over. They're curious enough only to scoot away, until a black and white goat walks to the fence and sticks his head through a wire square, nose in the air to smell me. As I leave, he props his two front legs on the fence, turns his head in profile. I tell the others, the scurriers away, that I'm not there to harm.

Security footage means we're now seeing what no one saw at the time. The angle is not human, is propped up near a ceiling, eye that flashes between Senator and policeman, between chamber and corridor. It's not blinking, exactly, but oscillating between two fixed points. The senator leaves his lens, and Goodman--so aptly named--runs past the one that is ours now. The glass eye doesn't see, but makes record of being seen. Lacking a crime, there's nothing to look at. 

The canvas draws us in, as if the artist inhabited it, not the room in which he'd painted it over. The colors tells us nothing, but ask us to feel. I went to Houston to see Rothko's Chapel, but got delayed. I have the idea of the place, populated by his squares, painted on rectangles, eyes that take in. Do they see us as ranges of temperature living in bodies, come to visit them and then leave again? When we walk away do they feel our loss as a downward draft of air, then light unattached to color?

One rioter claimed he went to the capitol to see the paintings; others wandered among the statues like children separated from their parents. The umbilical was a tweet; you can hear one man recite through a bull-horn a condemnation of Mike Pence. The prosecution cannot prove that the gallows outside was for the man they called on to be hanged. Coincidence is pure extravagance. If the man recognizes the code, we still cannot prove its author intended to write in code. Words are accidents. And I thee wed.

The cure is experiment, material divorced from content. Write in language lab English about your experience at the capitol on January 6. Be sure to say something about the weather and ask where the train station is. Union Station. Stay peaceful, the president intones; a video shows blood on the sidewalk, a woman falling back, dead, a cop trapped in a door. His moaning is no accident. They count the suicides among the dead.

When the young reporter said they'd get to the bottom of problems at the Counseling Center, I laughed. An open secret is hardest to combat. The managers say it was easy to predict violence. But the security cam shows panic, except in the eyes of one Republican senator.

The fire I tried to light died, repeatedly. I put my hand in to push a piece of wood, and it came back wet between first finger and thumb. She tells us to start by reaching out to touch the earth. My father referred to the ground as earth. A veteran says the attack was as frightening as being in Iraq. The Capitol grounds have grown a fence. Someone will pay to be kept out.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Time zones

The desire to communicate--in lush Rousseau-like foliage--a line that comes to me this morning from Ashbery, as I sit in the Volcano rainforest of hapu`u ferns and apapane song. The desire to communicate with less ambition to do so. We want to be read, yes, but also to be noticed, and that is a very different proposition. It takes time and energy and no small quotient of angst, as one is never sufficiently noticed. At 60 a switch tripped, and the world fell backwards into the obscurity of early morning, as to look forward was still possible, but from a very different vantage as before. To look forward without outward ambition. To ambitiously renounce the seeking that is grasping more than being. I have boxes of Albert Saijo's books in my living room here. Found an empty manila envelope from myself, tucked in a book about Tibetan mysticism, dated June, 2000. (Reminder of Steve Collis's discovery of his own postcards to the subject of his book.) An old notebook sits at the top of one box, in the handwriting he used before he turned to block letters. Still in pencil. As if "still" worked backwards, as well as forward.

Michael Snediker's Contingent Figures: chronic pain as its own time zone, duration rather than development or even passage from, away. Always through, always inside. Ate an edible in Oregon City: felt trapped inside my body, stood outside in the cold air to end the panic. Kept saying to myself that it would end, though of course it felt more stable than time usually does. Less room to maneuver, to adjust for the circuitry of mood. How language is itself an engine of pain; the words don't feel it, but the paragraphs do. Even the antic humor of Stein is vehicle for the old bus of ache. Be sure always to sit at the front. My mother sat at the back of the bus in S. Carolina, put her feverish head on the shoulder of a black woman, and was then ordered to sit at the front. She never got over the strangeness. 

Zach the announcer chuckled when Radhika made a backwards pass off her heel and connected. The backwards pass still moves us forward in the game where very little happens, but busily. It's the shapes of soccer where beauty resides. Like geometries of light on a rusted screw that holds an old water tank together, one of the wooden ones that lurches on creaky legs. Underneath, some old children's toys and a lawnmower. The lawn, such as it is, is not flat enough to mow. The grass deceives us, as the ground beneath falls into cracks and ridges, volcanic and unsure.

Another public figure dies without reason. The reason of no reason is almost always suicide. The man with a Makapu`u license plate jumped from the building across Dominis Street, and I spent the day gazing at a stained white sheet. In San Francisco, I watched the film about those who jumped over the course of a long year. If someone had smiled at me that day. 

A rat lives between roof and ceiling, scratches morning and evening. The other day a plump black dog walked across the porch. Thinking it a pig, I went outside; saw dog eyes staring back from the forest. The dog came toward me, wanting in. The woman on the other side of the loop tells me another neighbor shot her chihuahua with an air rifle. Two dots of blood, one on each side of his belly. Her text was not answered. The man down the street has disappeared, but his beer bottles remain, a blue trampoline for his departed kids, the threatening signs. As if one would want to go on his property (which is not his) to investigate the turned over plastic chairs, the loud tire tracks. A turkey sits on his railing, walks behind the orange tape, NO TRESPASSING posted, yet again. The turkey misses him. Another day, I see a man up the loop feed the turkey. A small red wagon sits in his yard, though I've never seen a child there.

Sitting in abeyance. Liminal place that sits between ambition and its replacement player. Forget the refs calling all the fouls on one team, the better to make one (white) man great. Forget the churn, administrative or academic. Forget the sad engine of self-advancement, the web page or spam that tells me I've had my 750th mention. For a fee, they'll let me know the answer to the mystery of who has noticed me. Our tenant said he dove this past weekend and saw many pods of whales; he was so happy, his teeth lit up beneath his tan. And then they heard them underneath the ocean, singing.

The apapane get me up. They seem pleased there's sun and not rain. To anthropomorphize is to create "seems" where none or few exist. The clock stopped during the first soccer game of the weekend, though they kept playing. That is this morning, still yet moving, like Crane's bridge. A clock ticks, a bird chitters. I saw an apapane on the ferns, red dot like a happy suicide. We disappear into our concern, like a downwards periscope. The whales get it.

Friday, February 5, 2021

"Strong Back, Soft Front"

I was wondering where and when to end my latest series of Meditations (aka Memory Cards, aka prose poems). My friend Janet suggested January 6, as that was the day President Biden would officially be elected. I considered writing that morning, but then January 6 happened. This past year of writing (and being) has been a confrontation with an awful sublimity. Awful because of Trump and covid, sublime in being nearly impossible to voice. I remember staring at Mt. Blanc, a house between me and it, and thinking I could never live there; it was too beautiful. Our time has been nearly too ugly to write about, though I did, until January. The last Meditation's central character is Rudy G., sadly, hilariously enough. But the last sentence might be an apt ending for a project that ran approximately one year: "Lear had better lines, but he got canceled after a single season." The sequence of poems that preceded this one, "I Want to Write an Honest Sentence," nearly ended with Brett Kavanaugh, but I waited until I witnessed the dying of a praying mantis at my daughter's soccer match (aided by two women, who offered it palliative care under a tree on the grass) to end the sequence that seemed already to have been completed. This sequence may end with the farce of Rudy as a lesser Lear. I need to go back and read the sequence before I locate that as the end point. Ending a book of such poems, written in chronological order and held there, is itself an artificial process, or end thereof. The pause in writing is not a pause in being. It's just a pause in being the secretary of this particular corporation.

I lead my students through Kaia Sand's movement from "bound" to "bound," as in "we're bound there on a train," to "we are bound, incarcerated." Each word a theme with variations, often dissonant. How history bends the language against justice. Just is, justice, as the inaugural poet rhymed. To unbind it is to free us from the cover story. All literature should be propanganda, DuBois argued, but he was a sociologist! And even literature that engages with ambiguity and impermanence can itself be propaganda for itself. I am here, though the experiment is to look in the mirror without using the pronoun "I."

Justice and just is. A woman in the socially engaged Buddhism course says her Buddhist colleagues tell her that she can't hope to reach her goals; that's not Buddhist. The Roshi doesn't disagree, she simply pulls more threads: "You're asked to show up, not succeed." Which is not to say we don't want to succeed for others; to disappear into one's work is the goal. How to unlearn a career in the academy, the "Profession," one of seeking to impress others, to climb, to "be best," as our last first lady put it ("it" standing in for something that was not there). Her "be best" was like the verb "to bind." It shrank at contact.

To unbind the wound of history must be as painful as the wound had been.