Sunday, March 28, 2021



“Tell me what you forget” is difficult, as it’s been misplaced, whether accidentally or by design. A poetry of trauma depends on unwanted remembering. The survivor is sometimes a suicide. It’s the coming back that’s the worst, blinds falling after an hour of light, the room’s eyelids shutting hard. The furniture migraines; you find yourself on the floor breathing carpet dust. After so many years, I still can’t write about it. Figures are as close as I can get. The time I went home to find my mother listening to ice skating on television.

I ask them what they mean by “it.” It’s a safe word, like a tiny house, abiding its own insignificance, haven against less ambiguous pronouns, those that pack some heat. An older poet gravitates toward allegory, I’ve found, preferring bog people to whatever they might mean. No, the other way around; it’s a loop that never closes. Figurative flight, moving into a monster house, lawn calling out to be mowed.

Lilith likes to go right, where the loop completes itself in a path through hibiscus and fern. A family argument ensued when he told her to turn left, without saying it required going right to get there.

Border crossers are aliens in one direction, homies in the other. There must be cosplay for this transformation. The word “transformation” fills administrative reports, strategic plans, memos, statements of goals. If our students survive their four years here, they will find themselves transformed into individuals with agency in their own lives, not to be confused with that of the institution, because it might be liable for damage or death.

Why grow up if this is where you are, plagued with debt and doubt? Get a gig job buying someone else’s groceries and you might end up gunned down in the supermarket. Violent disappointment is the American way, the desperation of not being a god in your own home, no matter how many square feet it covers. Gunmen used to leave manifestos, but now they shoot first. They used to kill themselves; now one asks a cop if he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail. The racist sheriff’s brother is Vietnamese.

The dead rapper said he asked for dictionaries for his birthday. The bigger the better. There are still not enough words for how fucked up we are. Verbs not transitive enough, nouns not vivid. Our actions have suffocated our vocabulary. “Hypocrisy,” anyone? Not adequate to the current task. “Ethics violations.” Puny. We talked about our favorite words in class; none of them knew mine. “Pusillanimous.”

He is at present just a shadow lurking in the courtyard, sending out his messages in Morse code because the language has thrown him out. We catch a whiff of his spray on tan, the blur of orange as he drives away in his armored cart. Everything has been taken from him except, sometimes, our attention. Like reverse nostalgia. “Remember when.” Tell me again what you forgot.

I was asked to review an article about my own work. When I asked if this was kosher, I was told I might have insights into that work. When I read the words, I half-remembered them, awakening into an early morning of bird song and bitter coffee, eyes checked at the door. I took my piece of square plastic so I could get them back when I left the museum that loved itself more than its paintings, whose edges were so sharp you might cut yourself on them. Last I saw that building on TV it was surrounded by a mob surging toward the Capitol. The only things safe that day were Matisse’s cut-outs.



The Sterling courtyard was awash in light. Tile roofs, statues, I can't remember much of it except the warmth on my skin. It was a good day to die, but I did not.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Trigger (Warning)



I'm realizing the meaning of the word "trigger" as I read through articles and tweets about a Yale freshman's suicide, Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum. (That trigger is related to guns also seems more obvious than ever.) I went to Yale in the late 1970s and spent about half my time there severely depressed. I remember walking around New Haven my junior year wondering how or if to check myself into a hospital. I didn't get medical treatment until years later, when I was in graduate school at UVA. There I was given medication at Student Health and had good therapists in the community. So it pains me to see that Yale brought students to campus, isolated them, and then didn't provide the necessary mental health support. The twitter feeds are angry, and the young woman's friends blame Yale. It's impossible to put full blame anywhere, I know, but a strong mental health center at Yale--here--everywhere would certainly be of some help. I'm happy to read that students there are organizing to push for more support from their administration. Yale University sits on an endowment that could keep a small country running. But it perpetuates a culture of over-achievement at the expense of wisdom, of individualism at the expense of community. In that, it is a mere reflection of our culture of self- and other-destruction.
(off Facebook)




When asked to describe a moment of compassion during an Upaya training, I remembered a Cambodian friend's story. He survived the genocide in the 1970s, but barely, and numerous members of his family did not. (He pointed to a blue building in Battambang and said nine of his family members had died in that "hospital." This was after we went to see the unmarked space in a field where his father had been killed.) After the Khmer Rouge were out of power, but still fighting, he was on a road in the center of the country, when someone came to him to ask for help. It turned out the help was needed by wounded Khmer Rouge soldiers. He took them to the hospital, disguised as civilians, noting only that the soldiers must have been surprised by his actions.
(off Facebook)

Friday, March 26, 2021

Some good news

My Meditations: December 2019-January 2021, are forthcoming from Talisman House. Many thanks to Ed Foster for his support.

The Surface World is Spring

“Tell me what you forget, and I will tell you who you are.” (AugĂ©) They lie in wait, these forgettings. Not forgotten things, but the gerund that drives the car, avoiding all the after-storm potholes until one day it forgets to attend. Memory’s sink-hole appears, swallowing asphalt, parts of a sidewalk, a house, a small red trike. What appears to be absence (the hole) is substance. I knew it was there, but had not seen it in so long.

The surface world must be Spring. Daffodils, tulips, the carefully trimmed courtyards. She asked for a leave of absence, twitter tells me, but was denied. Spring contains our death, though it does not advertise it. Its flashy spread points more to cars to buy, the long and even road to drive them down. I borrowed a friend’s Volkswagen bug for one of my fugues. Connecticut in the wet dark.

Even the hole says there’s a future. Where do you put us, the young plants, the flowers, the monuments? I make words of my holes, as I bike around them, hoping not to teeter and fall in. Again. Words fill the holes, but they are like the rubber balls in a party castle. They never amount to a floor, only something like the wave that approaches and then goes home again.

What do you learn from your piece of charcoal? I ask my artist student. I don’t want to know that it’s only there to make your art.

Sometimes you don’t want to go there, sometimes it’s better to take a holiday from the hole, find a high point to stand on, a kind of reverse hole that holds you up high so you can see brightly colored balls circulating on the lawn. I saw that from Branford Tower, but the balls were students playing a game below me. From Diamond Head the cricket players became egrets, dancing in the park.

Yes, I tell Carla, melancholia drove my memory system. It’s the mechanism of retrieval, but out of control, leaving wide tracks on the road before a shoulder offers some it comfort. Who decided to mix the metaphors of the body with the road? It’s a system without a brain, like fungi or the octopus that, nonetheless, knows how to escape its tank. Nothing is less predictable than traffic patterns.

No filter. But still the eye hole, the mnemonic for a depression in the earth. Still the car swerves toward its mouth. An axle breaks, and so does the sky above you, lit in gray and white and blue like the flag to no country at all. I take still photos of impermanence. Buddha behind a rusty gate, abstract expressionist rust, Rusty a dog I adored.

Don’t start from wisdom, I tell another student, because no one else will find it without the object that was your muse. The guitar told him he couldn’t play that way. The surfboard said it couldn’t go straight down the wave. The screw is loose, but it knows where it fits. So what object gets you there, I ask. A cookie! We talk about how it crumbles.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Proust on Twitter

2 March 2021


March comes in like a wet sock. New power structures are the old ones inside out, like socks. The wind gusts to 50 mph, somewhere in a sock. Sock it to me made us laugh, once upon a time. The past is fairy tale, just as gory and strange. Cinderella’s heel leaves a bloody sock, like the guy who pitches conspiracy theories. In these damp cold days, I must wear socks. Knee socks, like when I was a kid. Radhika wanted argyle socks. We searched every store in Edinburgh before a department store coughed them up, those socks. Socks was a presidential cat, though we’ve moved into the era of dogs, those who like to swim and those who do not.

To pay attention resists capitalism, except the figure remains. Payment owed. To attend, to be present, to assist at a concert, as in the French. To attend is to assist, in English; I cannot offer care unless I attend to you. COVID makes this hard. Either we get the virus or we get depressed in our isolation. Which kind of disease would you prefer? Which is more lethal? Can you get us the statistics on that, before we decide between methods of loss? Sickness is method, but then there’s madness.

I’m inclined to think the bloody sock was fake, a mind game set at the heel, by the heel, and for the heels. When did it heal? One soccer player got cut to the bone. Coach said she’d never seen anything like it. An opposing player started clapping, loudly. (Her one mother clapped when she wanted someone’s attention.) A referee is a sometime mother, though only in saccades. Girl 2 stayed with Girl 1, asking her questions lest she look at her leg. I was so pleased to hear of this act of compassion that I emailed everyone.

Radhika’s got a heel pass. She runs past the ball, then kicks it backwards to a teammate. Then one time she ran hard at an opposing player, making a sharp left turn as she arrived, and the other player crumpled to the ground. How do I tell my students that words can do similar. Not strung along like ordinary beads until they add up, like an abacus, to a unit of communication. But glitter on their strings, kick back their heels, sing in this perpetual rain.

We’ll talk about publication and time. We did space, the way poems come to mean other things in different places. Easier to dispatch a broadside than an anthology, but also easier to read. Now, pull out your stop watches and measure the time between composition and reception based on 1) letter press, 2) mimeograph machines, 3) twitter. Read Proust on twitter and see how his sentences enjamb between tweets, how his looping syntax gets interrupted by politics and sports and other memories, those that are but do not act on us.

To blog was to think. Now to archive. If you tell me what you forget, I can tell you who you are. Did a therapist say that, if not to me? Are we the gaps in narrative, the pulses of a phone, the interruptions to our thought? I read Dickens for his digressions. My own life is less plot than a kick of the heels.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Feeling, Weaponized


1 March 2021

An era of weaponized feeling. That’s your feeling on the other end of the shotgun; its crossed eyes size you up before violent laughter explodes. The wound an open mouth, naked mask. Red plumes, rivers of blood lava down the torso’s escarpment. To be riddled with fissures is to glimpse the future while already mourning the past.

Turns out it rains in the rain forest. To be old and uninhibited and fat. To hold a delirious contentment close, because joy is too exhausting. To sit until the moss covers you, comfort in its confinement. The lichen tongue is, of necessity, less vatic.

Write two sentences that describe your room, then look up the most ordinary of the words. Find their etymologies, then explore the contradictions time makes in its words. Take these words and write an alphabet poem. The random arbitrary, a typewriter before Querty, a mechanism of pause. Her dissertation was a pause, because there are no gaps in capitalism. We provide these resources to you so you can get your work done and succeed in attaining your goals. Don’t stop to sense how little it matters.

In the rain forest, Lilith leads with her nose; smell pulls her forward, sometimes violently. Trace of pheasant, rat, cat, pig, another dog. Or, she sits with her nose up, catching patterns of air.

Care’s double-bind. The culture makes you sick, so you look for help; help reduces anxiety so you can remain sick, suffering less from symptoms that keep you from your work. You must never stop working. A large puddle in the grass withholds its reflections. My photograph came back to me without interest. Some grass in some water. The flatness of a puddle’s reflection is what gives it depth. This depth shrank to surface.

There’s a twitter account devoted to boring photographs. Table in a conference room, some dull drapes, the least interesting angle on a service station. It’s a stupid art. Makes me laugh. The ordinary really is banal sometimes. 

Anxiety is a self that wavers, doubts, runs the long corridors and then comes back, ball in mouth, refusing to drop it on the floor. Tug of war ensues, and anxiety gets the win, but it’s pyhrric, since who cares who gets the ball, and at such cost?

And then the ball is there on the floor. The ball is quiet, the dog no longer interested in it or in its squeak. We have left the ball to be ball. Perhaps it prefers ball-existence to the exhilarating arcs, the closed jaw, the morning ruckus.