Friday, July 30, 2021

Ambiguity of instruments


30 July 2021

At this age, impermanence takes a turn for the permanent. Not those old-style hair-dos that twist wire across the scalp but don’t earn the term they’re given. “Get your hair done” means to have it cut, arranged, fixed in place. So many ambiguities: “done,” “fixed,” “place.” She took a picture of her head beside hydrangeas, added that her image was only for size. The large clay vessel had broken. The potter’s son mended it with gold “thread”; in it were bright yellow furry heliconia. The hanging house was neighbored by a dry well where the main character went to meditate alongside his baseball bat. She asked if a bat were not too violent for my wedding cake, and I said think of it like a violin’s bow. It's nothing in itself, no music comes of it unless you hit ball or skull, both of which require metaphors to catalogue. Sound is so infrequently itself. A bird of one note accompanies more melodic others, over the background noise of machines. They had every size chain saw, Bryant marveled, from small to long. What they cut before they cut the tree was a mystery because the rain forest keeps so much to itself. There’s beauty in this lack of communication, more lush than simple sentences, or spaces where light falls on dead trees, trunks orange behind the bark. She told her landlord trees threatened her cottage, but the landlord said there was no problem. She had insurance. You wouldn’t want to explain it then, like trying to say what a photograph resembles when it resembles nothing that works for a living. The bright blue truck with patches of lichen on it hauls nothing except this image now. Behind the spider webs and dirty glass, a pile of board games, among them Pictionary and NASCAR. With Harry gone, the circle is either complete or forever broken, which may amount to the same thing. Time to turn to other shapes, the melding of a herd of sheep from a drone, pouring like beads in water toward a grid of troughs. Not that the drone sees anything; it only records and sends images back to its operator. Many operators suffer from moral injury; one watched as his drone missed an alleged terrorist and killed his kids, later found in a dumpster. The judge split hairs, putting him in prison for revealing state secrets, while acknowledging the good he did to protest. He saved his soul, a friend writes. (Not the judge.)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Harry dog, RIP


29 July 2021

Harry circles, counter-clockwise, as if to make a future of his past. His circles tighten; he corkscrews until he drops from fatigue, sleeps, then starts again to wander. The last time I saw him walk down the hall, it was for no reason. He walked away from us, from the dog next door, from food, from attention. He turned his stunned eyes back, wobbled into the traffic pattern. It was as if the traffic controller walked away, leaving Harry in constant, hyperactive delay. You start circling over Indiana, brush stroke after brush stroke, until the circle breaks at O’Hare. The monk rehearses broken circles each morning, placing them on desk or table in front of garden or water. This is not a sign of failure for the monk, but of sketching a brokenness that doesn’t ache. Transcendental realism. But Harry goes to the vet this evening to die. He still wags his tail, eats, wants to be petted. Then goes back to his incessant geometry. This morning, Lilith circled back to the bone yard where last week she found a pig’s hip joint; there was no bone this time, just grass by the side of a private lane.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Inverse cocoon


23 July 2021

Rust’s gentle. The rain forest a reverse cocoon; trucks molt back into earth. No wings, just a settling in. Like a slow motion tourist, a dying butterfly, the hip bone of a pig beside the road. If you put a can in Tennessee, it works on its own absence, organizing nothing. The workman next door, 68, hates Trump, but has never had a flu shot. Mention of the new vaccine makes his face pucker. Some patients with COVID beg for the vaccine as they’re dying. Rust’s a perpetual lateness, like a sun slow to set. Unintentional art that oddly celebrates decay. The word “deconstruction,” I tell Bryant, didn’t start out in a cook book. Nor did it start in a yard full of rusted cars, the occasional fern growing from a wheel rim; rust and green complement each other, though each turns to each. In one yard, there were two old bathtubs, the kind with feet. On one end of one bathtub, there were three circles, approximating mouth and eyes, through which you could see the tub full of water and dead sticks and fronds. Laughing at its own apocalypse. The feet had feet, curled claws, a crooked smile above. Who needs a torso when you’re a tub with feet? They were part of my depression’s inventory, these tubs, along with newer, American Standard types. I see those in yards, too, but not as decorations, just junk. I didn’t have you pegged as crazy, a friend wrote to me. A neighbor’s truck sprouts ginger and ferns on its roof; the front grille resembling torn lace. Chaos in process is form. The landlord gestured toward a “formal chandelier,” which made us laugh later on.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Time management


22 July 2021

I spilled water on my shoes as I left the room. My role had been the hooded teenager who wished only to be left alone. Depression’s a cocoon; I grieved when I left it, knowing it to be my central fiction. I pulled my hat down over my eyes, which stared at the floor. Another woman was trying to get through to me, asking questions I refused. To be in the moment when it’s past is its own genre of hurt; to be there when someone caused pain to make his pleasure is to rehearse the play until you can’t get out of it. All the stage doors have been locked; not even the audience (who is you) can get out the back entrance. You will run in circles until you fall to the floor, panting like an old dog. Let’s hope the circle gets broken, if only so we can re-trace it with two edges jagged, blues and blacks surrendering to white paper. You say “I should have known” in the present, which cannot forgive the past. The difference between a bad memory that was made to happen, and the accidents of brain chemistry that know memory itself as a form of suffering. It’s not a difference in the time sense, but in the intentions of our bodies, ones we ascribe to pronouns or those for which we can find none. The mind cannot see itself, except as discursive thought, which lies about time, makes a fiction of our photographs. Bryant called it the Red Roof Inn, the tiny rusted shack off Hilina Pali Road. It yielded rust silhouettes, rust abstractions, a white FIRE sign whose I was mottled with black. An empty cache, as it turned out; nothing there with which to fight a fire, just the color of fire framed against Mauna Loa, off an asphalt ribbon two pigs had sprinted down. Linear memory only works at a close remove, or approximated in grammatical sentences. Give this two more days, and nothing is left except staccatos. Detail flees like the pig, who finally turns into the forest to the tune of a whimpering dog in the back seat of our car. The beauty of rust's material forgetting itself, making topo maps of weather conditions that come and go. The plaques and tangles acquire a lovely shape we cannot see, even when we concentrate on our mid-brain or let time fly out the top of our skulls. The bones that ran the show now stand in for breath. Alternate nostrils to make a circle, then go back the other way.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Student driving


15 July 2021

Re-turn: another circle around. A student driver (his car marked student driver) attempts to parallel park; one Prius wheel meets curb. Photograph of a missing car side mirror with yellow fluff in it, like flan, someone writes. Or of signs erased by sun, less negative now, and more mysterious. Eternal return is too grand for these loops, so we inventory the players, knowing they’ll pass on like the homeless guy pushing his burgeoning shopping cart covered by black tarp. He’s in a mystery play, like the others. One man asked an east African cab driver (first I’ve seen) at Long’s for change; others pop up at the Post Office, disappear with their towels. Return without release; a woman refuses help from a social worker at the door. I tell her to trust the other woman, but who am I to her? Those who occupied Kalama Valley in 1971 had houses to return to; the occupation's now of necessity. The taxi driver gave the man some change and I handed him some toiletries, the better to get him to the next morning. There’s nothing gentle about circles, unless you pull them out of circulation and re-install them as screen-savers. You can’t see the brush strokes, the way they vary in height and density, only flat splashes of color. A father held his phone up so his baby could watch a video while he and his wife watched Van Gogh’s paintings dissolve and form again as sunflower or bandaged face. The still points were shining screens, turned to record other screens. Then we left to confront the red BMW Sangha wished were black. It gets 30 mph when it’s not parked at the convention center beside the sign to “Gogh here.” We agree we're not writing much these days, just getting rid of things.

Monday, July 12, 2021

A dog's dementia eyes


12 July 2021

At the top of the circle at the back of the cemetery, flush up against the Ko`olau, two young women pose for photographs. One stands in their black rented jeep, head and torso thrust through the sun roof, arm ending in a shaka. A young man who’d just taken a photo of his own shadow, stops to take them together. His father, walking a thin light dog farther downhill, talks on the phone about a film being made about Kalaupapa, “the leper colony.” Harry walked in circles last night in Anne’s living room, not as tightly coiled since he got Dramamine. His body began to quiver, tail pushed between his legs, ears falling to the sides like a Papillon’s. Tottering a bit, he paced to the end of the hallway and back; “lights on but nobody there,” said Sangha later. We sat around the room, our eyes directed toward the dog at the center, his dementia eyes. There was a light circle in the young man’s shadow. The poet who takes photos of shadows must recognize the necessity of light, even as he calls his work a study of shadows. Tell them their stories are their own, my friend says, that they don’t have to take on the others. There are moments of rest in the illness; you grow accustomed to its circles, frayed at the brush’s end where time bleeds like a leaky water bottle. Look at the splashes of light, the way shadows deepen the light, render it like an eye open to brick or sidewalk or construction shed. A yellow helmet sits on top of a rusty refrigerator. A sun-dimmed sign includes the word “safety." Nearby, a blue plastic cover has the word HOPE on it, even if it’s HDPE. I can’t tell, so I choose the first, pencilling in my small circle, looking for white spaces where no questions or answers are. Bryant hopes Harry quickly gets better, or worse.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Screen memory


11 July 2021

The difference between insurrection and resurrection is smaller than you might think. At least if you believe those who claim Trump will be back in August, having won recounts in all states, literal and metaphorical. On the committee, she said NO and NO and NO, which clued me in to the power of negation. McConnell’s hardly a poet, but he knows the shape of an o after a hard consonant. The novelist’s “so it goes” articulates inertia and acceptance both, with a twist of irony that teases your lexical palate. Invisible illnesses earn invisible best wishes; we’re scared of what we cannot see. It’s like living in the hotel in The Shining, where each corridor caresses horror like wallpaper its flowers. Guilt is hallucinated control; what we don’t have can only hurt others, then redound to ourselves like a tennis ball slammed against a green wall. The green screen makes everything possible, but that shade of green isn’t natural, not like a rain forest’s stunning-in-its-sameness green. East coast greens are more various he said, on seeing them for the first time. Our greens are layered only in space, not in hue. An orchard of ferns embraces the Buddha, but who embraces Lee and Jackson, except the arid crust of a museum’s air? Put them behind glass. Though we see through it, glass enforces distance. This is old, it says, without making a sound. To see through is different from seeing, though it’s better than thinking Honolulu is paradise. What is paradise once the window-washers get to it? Advertising copy puts it elsewhere in time. When I came over the dune and saw Kailua Beach again, I thought how beautiful this is. Then I saw a tourist take its image with her phone. That image will find its use, apart from sand.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Running Girl


8 July 2021

As I got to the top of the stairs, I saw Running Girl go by. Running Girl! We’d just been talking about her, how many times around the mile loop she goes, her brief stops to check her splits, the way she withholds eye contact. One guy has a thing about Running Girl, but of course it’s platonic. She’s the perfect runner, running by the clock, counterclockwise around a clock-shaped circle were it cast by Dali. One guy says his wife thinks Running Girl should just stop, and I propose that she’s not happy. Her right leg kicks out as she goes up hill, but only slightly. Not getting anywhere seems a spiritual task, but not getting there always in the same way is perhaps something else. If there were not Running Girl, we’d have to invent her. She’s just what we need on a ordinary evening to remind us of time—not the exact time, but our sense of it circling into history, trying to evade straight lines, but coming back on the hill that makes the circle for a moment square. For 24 hours, he says of his Trump-supporting wife, there was quiet on January 6. An interregnum before Fox told her what to think; for hours she felt confusion, unsupported by words. She hasn’t noticed that he won't respond to her statements, and it’s been years now. Or she has, but fails to tell him that. The cemetery is another loop, where families visit their out-of-time relatives inside the weather, which is time on an etch-a-sketch, aching to be erased. There’s a rat running in my memory maze who stops abruptly at the wall like Dylan Carlson or Richmond Street, being blind. Duck blinds mean the ducks are blind, not you, hiding in your canvas room, aiming your gun at marsh grass and clouds. Love is blindness, sings U2. Love blinds both, or none. It is you I run back to, not meaning to get anywhere except back to the weather.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Neoliberal University / Mental Health Care / Photographs

Laura Hinton has edited a beautiful issue of her journal Chant de la Sirene. I have an essay on mental health at my university, a couple n+7 administrative memos, and lots of photos in it. Here's the link.

Monday, July 5, 2021

All Your Metaphors Are Belong to Us


5 July 2021

Or, my ally is memory, if only as prop beside the volcano’s chasm. Volcano is not figurative, but real, and so are the palms. An ordinary night in New Haven was ordinary (and to repeat “New Haven” is to entertain an echo’s banality). The anti-racist’s favorite poet is the racist to whom she addresses her corrections; it’s as complicated as that. Just because you write about ethics doesn’t mean you abide by them. Just because you write about housing doesn’t mean you don’t live in a cave for three years, alone, sifting your thought’s flowers and wheel rims as they wash across the walls. Whitewash leaves its own residue, the occasional shadow of a sign burned out by the tropics, which are not tropes. I would ban the word “paradise” from the language, or demand that it vacation elsewhere, like Gary, Indiana. After the fall is all we got. The other one we call the other one. Social media lines up my cherished memories like airplanes flying into LaGuardia, year after year, because they care. The language of care shall also be monetized, until the word is like the husk of a fish hanging from a fence. Tail intact, what falls lower is empty husk, as if the fish molted out of its skeleton. But we need the word (and we want it, too) so we put something in front of it, like “self-” with a hyphen to suggest we’re bonded and yet independent from whatever it's left to mean. Care at its core is car with a silent e. The roman a clef about a predatory professor ends with a predatory graduate student. Will the circle be unbroken? Each morning, the priest paints an unfinished circle on white paper, then includes his garden in the photograph for Instagram. Slow art instantaneously digitized. He gestures toward perfection, if not paradise, the sense of circling, of coming back to the point of purity we invent to keep ourselves sane. Other circles are not so promising, like the ones the dog makes in the living room, always counter-clockwise, measuring the space of his own return, exhausted on his flat wheel. I don’t know what to believe any more except that when I did I was naive, and naivete is best held close to the vest to avoid inquisitive eyes. Dark circles can be hidden with concealer. The aftermath of adolescence comes back as advertising. The lives of our skin move from outbreak to shadow. The dog lies down to sleep, exhausted by his traffic pattern.

Saturday, July 3, 2021



3 July 2021

But is cruelty needless? Those times you told them “need” and “want” aren't the same thing, though both signal lack. Perhaps they needed cruelty to land a 737 in a night ocean. The Coast Guard video x-rays a gray ocean. Somewhere one pilot clings to the tail, another floats on cargo. The cult of cruelty gets organized around those moments when it’s replaced by heedless generosity. Needless and heedless suggest a lack of volition, though we know that less is more, that the lack of need is precisely a need to take some ground, to hold it. Needling is one weapon. Like an insurrectionist wielding his flag-pole against a man in blue whose life mattered until this day made it needless. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were one man in a Janus mask, turning from and then into the light. We attended it like a vault of stars, our faces lit up to display our wonderment, because all things must leave symptoms and clues or they haven’t happened, an archive without arrest warrants or packets of seeds or a pair of glasses the historian left there last year. Clue to his altered vision, no doubt, or our need for vaults and tombs. Or the PODS where we live after a hurricane, mobile homes turned death traps in the Arizona heat. His newer work (because previously suppressed) is more spare than the older work he composed at the same time. Open a portal to reveal what was always there. The Gulf is on fire, again, as boats spray water at the ocean where it burns. What was allegory is now true; Dante our documentary comedian. The thesis: we still want what we cannot have and remain optimistic it can be had. Late capitalist hope is cheaper when it’s manufactured in other countries, but we’re the best of its consumers. Or it’s hope not. Against is another with. My ally is my enemy. They had an east and a west, my friend writes, being both unto themselves. Auto-correct does not allow themselfs

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Memory Restorer

2 July 2021

The memory restorer comes at you with her paintbrush dipped in pastels, reminding you that edges need to blur to appear true. To see clearly is to acknowledge the tears in a screen door, or rust making lace of a truck’s grill. Make hay while the sun shines seems pre-capitalist, as now it’s made at all hours, including those without sun. A cargo plane ditched last night off the island. “This was the very helicopter that picked up two pilots, straps still wet with sea water.” Local news turns its bad microscope on the seat the rescuer sat in, the belt the swimmer dangled from. All that’s missing is ocean, a 737, and lots of cargo. To crop the photo is a form of forgiveness, or else the other way around, where to forgive is not to forget but to cut like a ribbon in front of a new drugstore in a freshly paved parking lot. The local functionary wields enormous scissors, and all we get is a glossy brochure about the mountains and the rain. To edit is to magnify, or else to lose. She would write a no, then follow up with a heart. The theorist sees two things at once and can’t—at first—pull them apart. Yellow twine ties the yellow canvas roof of a parked boat to a plant above the sidewalk. The choices are to cancel or to save; my software offers to rescue my words without leaving them wet. The books are still the books, he says, but their author’s been canceled. Like a check, it did its work and returns as proof of our voyage. I still find my mother’s checks in my desk, the ones she wrote during her last days in her house. Alternative checks, with other names. Checks with notes at the bottom, inside jokes to self that arrive to my-self two decades on. These pieces of bluish paper are not restorative, but assure me the past did exist, if only for the moments it took to sign a check before forgetting your own name. The better to forgive our debts.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

1 July 2021


At the workshop the day after Losing It, they read a paragraph about their first trip to the grocery store in Hyde Park. A woman squatted, shitting in a parking stall. Hard to theorize, easier to describe. They asked if I was angry at them, after they interrupted my talk to object to it. Four years later, we talked about Obama and grace at an outdoor table, fenced in. At the coffee shop nearby, there was a memorial to a man who died by the gun; a church memorialized others. The first visit was winter, the second a cold summer day. They stood in front of the L, where a round pillar zig zagged black and yellow beside a vertical steel support; they were dressed in black shoes, black stockings, a black dress and jacket, their hair still peppery. How to theorize the immediate, the instant of recognizing that photo as mine, of them, amid an awkward geometry of concrete pillars near a lake. Something of the hot and cold, cold pillar warmed by sunlight, abstraction reflected back on concrete. But it wasn’t thought that seemed forced; it was world, so difficult, a puzzle to be completed, then mapped. A den, piled with books and papers, by the kitchen. A white cat, a conversation about older male professors. The food they could not eat, the way they talked about it. Confusion’s necessary, they said, not seeing that meditation’s a further confusion, or a confusion set in molasses. Molasses spilled in the harbor. The sweetness of a mind moving, and of its end. RIP Lauren

May be an image of 1 person and standing 2015

Her obituary refers to Lauren as "they." I'll need to change the pronouns.