Monday, May 31, 2021

That Verb Again


What is a poem when it’s torn away from its date, like two graduation balloons I watched slowly ascend the Ko`olau? Would we rather guess, as if time were itself an allusion (to illusion). After visiting Kwan Yin at the museum, I ran into my mother, or at least my mother’s clothes, her shoes, her skinny legs. She would not have been my mother then, but as she fails to age with us, she becomes herself more clearly. The wool checked brown and white skirt, the long-sleeved cream blouse, the crossed legs. Everything a bit spiky: feet, breasts, nose, the pen she holds to never finish her short-hand dictation. She sits in the gallery corner, so specific, so unmoored. I kept returning to her, told a guard she was my mother. A friend on Instagram noted she was her childhood piano teacher. The specific is what renders us “universal.”Post-date that.

The date is a puka, no matter the text. Even if it’s dated, the times of day, the context of surrounding seconds (air temperature, wind speed, all it takes to fly) shorn away like post-pandemic hair. A hapu`u’s orange fern fuzz brings Trump to the rain forest. My phone will remind me when that was. If my iPhone tells me I have “new memories,” whose are they? Are they still my memories when they pop up as photos? Or do I recall only what I and my phone have taken? “Happy to donate what you took,” reads a sign at the museum. Give your memories for art. There’s a word inside the photograph, like DANGER, or O.

How we see is only angles. The little girl appeared, wrapped in a styrofoam cape. An angel. But she took it off before I could take the photograph in the room next to a row of shelved Buddhas, each wearing a tag around its torso. Not price, but place, but time, but marker of the Buddha’s lives before he was entered into storage.

The city fills up with storage units, hidden behind cream walls and orange signs. There you can still possess what you almost never see, like a shelf inside the chapel at the cemetery, or like memories that await their re-charging. If you plug your phone in each night, more memories will be available to you in the morning. The non-narrator in Joyce does not have name or character, is the one who sorts things into chapters. The non-narrator of your story owes much to Steve Jobs, who was adopted by a man who fiddled with machines in his garage.

Seek your origins so you can discard the muck between then and now. The start of it was clean, like ideology, but the so-called nuances are tar pits. Why do kids love dinosaurs, and not mastadons? What did the ice know to preserve the mastadon? Museum worlds are slow, like early retirement. No more roll to call, attendance to be taken.

That verb again: to take. Unrelated to token, except by concept, which is not blood but iCloud. Even less substantial than cloud, visible only in the information it spits out when called upon to do so. Use the analogy of food for thought, and cough up spitting and cramming and stomaching and no small amount of nausea. When “amount” is substituted for “number.” When “number” has little to do with the verb form chosen to hobble across a sleeping policeman.

They took aim and they fired. 68 mass shootings this month. One mother says her son was well-educated and did not deserve to be shot. I’m saddened by the allusion to his resume, as if less education might have gotten him there more naturally. The second amendment, Bryant tells me, was made to keep black folks down. Much like everything else. Surveillance works better at the end of an AK-47.

To take a life is rendered as giving it. It’s Memorial Day, and we thank the dead in ritual deadpan. Little flags pop up at the cemetery; I saw a heap of them in a bulldozer plow one day. Today I saw the grave of a private, bearing no flag. At half staff we see less of the outside, but more of the internal organs like pins on a digital map. Look on zillow to find the value of your elbow room.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

It happens in threes

 I went to the art museum yesterday, now called HoMA. Paid a visit to Kwan Yin and took a photo of her shadow, thinking of my friend Kathy P., who wrote a book of poems about KY. Walked into another gallery and ran into my "mother": a Duane Hanson sculpture of a 1970s seated woman, wearing my mother's blouse, her skirt, her shoes, and her skinny legs. She was taking shorthand on a notebook. (My mother had two volumes of Gregg's Shorthand textbook, which I remembered being briefly fascinated by.) The sculptured face was different, at least. As I left the museum, I ran into Kathy, whom I'd not seen in well over a year. I said I'd thought of her, and showed her the photograph of my "mother."

Friday, May 14, 2021

Postscript from FB on Yale suicide

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.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Bard of Ka`a`awa


She was sitting on a rock wall in front of the small beach at Swanzy in Ka`a`awa, writing in a notebook. I wondered who she was, so earnestly scribbling. In front of her were three bags, one from Target, faded. Lilith and I stood some distance from her when she began to talk. "I have telepathy with animals," she told us (though she never once looked at Lilith). Behind her was a reef formation at low tide that she told me was a lion; the head was cut off just to the left and above it. Her father had been murdered--he was Arthur--and came to her by way of sand drawings. I was standing on one just then. I quickly moved my feet, but she said it was ok. Her voice was fast, English, and urgent. There was a large vertical, bending line in her forehead, beneath gray hair. Her father complained that he had to carry her on his shoulders, explain everything to her, but he'd responded when she asked the ʻĀina for answers. He carried a lion. But now she was here and she knew. There had been sea shell gatherers in the Pacific, women, who were attacked from behind by gorillas and raped. The product of these "unions" were creatures that were only part human. Some had three heads, others--the ones near the Hygienic Store down the coast--had half a human head, half bird beak. Those were parrots. There were mo`o involved, and Knights Templar, and lots of violence. Somewhere men had their skin flayed on rocks and bled. She'd taken photographs at Ha`ena on Kauai of a temple where animals lived in the trees, having constant sex. But her phone didn't have a charge. The Mormons called the formation behind her KOLOB, which to her stands for Knock-Out Lobster, though she's not Mormon. Do I know the Edward Lear poem, "Jumblies"? I smile. She'd been in a garden in Punalu`u that was pea green, and there were sieves in the water. She wrote out Pi R squared in the sand, said the two t's were "Turner Temple." Some had left here for Ethiopia, which has HI in it. This very place was at the origin of the world (in one of these sentences English royalty appeared), but the mountains were smelters where everything was built, and this was Atlantis, the lost island. 
Lilith started pulling, hard, at her leash, so I patted my heart with my hand and said I had to go. "I'm Susan." "I'm Belinda," she said. Near the end, she said, "I let you say that one thing, about the lion on the mountain" (Crouching Lion). And she was right. I got my few words in, early on.
The Edward Lear poem can be found here: