Sunday, May 15, 2022

My MUD Parcel Reading in Cincinnati (or, on zoom)

Aryanil Mukherjee and Pat Clifford kindly invited me to read in their series, which I did yesterday. A smattering of work from the present back to the mid-aughts: memory cards, honest sentences, and dementia blogs. Click below to watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fprk6CFQZi8

 

 

 

Friday, May 13, 2022

A mirrored stage

 

13 May 2022


Watch only the beginning of each video. See Russian soldiers open a glass door, but turn them off. See policemen approach a Black man on the street; turn them off. It’s not to create suspense, rather, suspense consists in looking back. Where did this begin, and how do we know when to click the button, off? Like McCartney inventing “Get Back," but without the final concert on the roof. There were cops there, too, who ended it early. Go backwards from there, like a song that tells you which band member is dead (hint: he’s one of those still alive). Yet there’s pleasure in going back to a song’s origins, not in returning to the scene of a war crime starting to unfold, when you can only decide not to watch. The inverse of narrative is a cliff.


Atrocity is forced narrative. It stops time where time wasn’t meant to be stopped, kills it with as much certainty as the journalist shot in the head by a soldier. To create peace, give time back to story, allow it to unfold as slowly as a green bud with purple highlights, denoting the color it will become without a megaphone announcement. Or dissolve it all together, refusing to show the opening of the door, the soldiers entering, cops exiting. I prefer my photographs still on Instagram, precisely because they go nowhere. Stories are all addition; I lay out my coins like a child at the cash register. “You should really learn how to do this yourself,” one clerk said to me.


An enormous white cloud drifts across the window to the right; in front, an absolute gray. The collision will occur where the blind spot in my townhouse lies, at an angle just past the television, the speakers, all our forms of output. Absolute is only approximate, but it’s dense. A cat sniffs the deck, laps up some dirty water. A red plastic pot lies on its side on a tan plastic chair, divided into shadow and light. No, I don’t write poems about my photographs. The relationship is more intimate, less about “about,” more about parallel construction. This has little to do with back focus, as neither the pot nor the cat moves much. A photo of my Memory Cards is aptly blurred.


Topical is timely, also an ointment. Tropical is moist and warm, also figurative. J’essuie donc je suis, I said, but everyone thought I’d made a mistake. Insofar as being is mistaken, yes, or that a greasy surface can only be spread around, or that my being appears to be mine. If mother is a job, as Bryant said, so are we. Not acting, quite, but something akin. As if each moment we assumed ourselves, breathing into a recent future, aimless. If the teacher counsels aimlessness, why does he write so many books?


He hit what appeared to be a bloop double, then stopped at first. When the next batter hit what appeared to be a bloop double, the first batter ran past second, only to be doubled off first. Game over. He looks lost out there, as if he left his map and compass in the dug-out. He’s got something on his mind, but because he wears a cap, we can’t see it. We live now in half-masks, carried from the car to the store, then placed over nose and mouth. Half-revealed in time. The teacher said his favorite student's image was inside a box. Each student came to peer in. Surprise, awkwardness, laughter. What was inside the box, but mirror, light moving so fast no child could tell her own face from the one that peered back at her. Glass bottom boats are like ancestry.com. We see us as we truly were.



Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Dear Mr. Buddha

10 May 2022


The recommended books of the day include Grief, Shame, Anger, and other vestments of our time. Our strategies for coping are old, and we need primers on how to act, or not. Fear is mother of them all. My quarrel is with the prepositions. For, at. The lens set too far back for in or with. I’m astounded at; I’m sorry for; I’m stricken by. But rain it keeps raining on the broad leaves and the narrow, the fuschia with their funny hats, angel trumpets with their fuzzy stems. No need for prepositions if you get close enough. Except in.


The big words are short, saxon. But the weak are pusillanimous, preoccupied with syllables instead of sound. Meaning’s the remainder you get with you divide anything with everything. You have a plastic shed outside in which to store it, but space is getting crowded, musty, and meanings congeal, glued together by proximity. I went out looking for one, but couldn’t remember which, whether it was dry or cooked, smoked or rotten. Hoping to connect meaning with its provocation, I measured my feelings: half-part anger, half-part shame, with apathy as my shield. But when the object denoting joy got confused with the one denoting grief, I entered the territory of mixed feelings. Time is said to un-mix them, by stirring and then leaving to settle like river silt. But where’s the time these days?


The steel mill is held by fascists and attacked by other fascists. Their languages are proximate, if not identical, as are their weapons. The names they call each other matter less than their flags, which don’t call but represent. They do not yell at, but merge with, the colors blue and yellow, darker blue and red. I really miss the Soviet anthem, don’t you? Their trance is war. We manufacture it with the big words, then melt it down into syllabits. Let memory be for a blessing, or let it not be.


We cloak our likes inside of hearts, a misfit anatomy. To like is either to notice, to appreciate, to curry favor, but we can’t find the context with our arrows. Write slogans to self about not-knowing, then know when to apply them. A fundamentalism of ambiguity seems preferable to one of certitude, though the most certain bail-out when questioned. The air is full of parachutes. We return to earth chastened, without claim, but need propels us toward the simple sentence. An eye in the ground from which a red-leaved vine travels. Its stare is fixed and so, we fear, are we.




Thursday, May 5, 2022

Suburb of Refuge

 

5 May 2022


Keeping score doesn’t matter if you lose. Not the next election, but the last; not the next right lost, but the previous. Scorecards hold history inside of repetition; each score staged within a diamond inscribed in grass. I use memory to visualize shapes and colors; the generator’s missing, but not the videotape. Memory’s a form of kompromat, blackmailing us against ourselves. Regret enables forgiveness, mandates regret, as a player runs the bases, tripping around third, caught in the bog of rules and an unforgiving baseline. Bryant follows the tally of dead tanks, dead transport vehicles, dead Russians. I watch video of a children’s park destroyed by artillery shells. There goes the red slide, and there the plastic fortress wall. Even empty spaces get obliterated.


The photograph draws you out into the drop of rain on a green stem beside curled brown ferns. The photo doesn’t live outside history but so far inside it you might drown. Earlier years were about thinking about being, parsing it, making metaphors of it, as if-fing it until the thread wound around your brain like the dog’s leash around fern trunks. Appropriate for the suburbs, when details appear to be claimed by the city, and your house promises refuge from them. “But this was meant to be our refuge,” a woman said of her new house, when thefts were reported. A place called Refuge, where suffering is hidden from view, negating the first noble truth because it can’t be read out loud. The suburbs are anti-photographic. Leave this note on your door: “Gone to seek refuge.” Revel in your abandon.


Photograph of a Ukrainian journalist, killed in action. To see him is to know him gone. His image is his obit. What is in front of us is absent from us. Is this how symbolism starts? Does it matter? Symbol as payback for our losses, money as a kind of poetry. The spreadsheet is a comfort form, like a score card or the metal grid at the front of a tractor. There’s a bent square the spider chose for her web, but the rest is relentless same. In order to straighten the image, you place it inside a grid and turn slowly until it slips into place. She asked why my verticals were not vertical. When I went back to look, the rusted poles were bent. The photograph’s fidelity was in its leaning.


Raindrops. They cling to stems, sit on petals, fall from angel trumpets. I watch the iphone’s screen try to arrive at clarity. When it does, I push the button. Otherwise, I move on. Focus is as random as the drop itself. Go with the chaos, a student says, or organize it in a frame.



Monday, May 2, 2022

Heidegger as a Cure for Anxiety

 

2 May 2022


“Anxiety could be experienced as a kind of calm by holding yourself out, into that experience”: moments when you’re past worry, adrenaline-surfing, full of everything you can’t name except it moves quickly, curling like a leaf around itself on asphalt, mottled brown and darker brown, and I wondered why friends thought about colors in poetry, as it was the thoughts that seemed most to count, and count they did, by 25s or 100s, in math that was not yet critical race theory, or anything except raw numbers. The four on a telephone pole sits upside down, making the shape of an “I” with a handle, as if we could hold our first person up to our lips and drink. If we take “calm” to mean stillness, not a steady being in yourself, then calm it is. Renovate your words and they will mean what you need them to mean.


Dissolving vignettes, each a single take, holding itself out until stopping in mid-air, which is mid-time, which is the space of an absent narrative, or at least of one that cannot find its ending. What we think is true—a woman captured by a psychopath in a metal container—ends. When next we see her, she’s ironing. The psychopath wants her to show her “true face,” not the one she assumes. The torturer always looks for truth, because the means justify whatever ends. Body, story, the tweets of Russian torture victims you can’t see because they’re “disturbing." Scroll past to see the latest trades, the low batting averages, the poetry gossip. That tweet is a trap-door, but you leap over it the way your dog does a puddle when a car comes. The water breaks into shadow pieces; her tongue sticks out, offering a hint of color in the drab overcast light.


Those still trapped in Mariupol’s steel factory have moved past anxiety, because where they exist is true. Anxiety assumes, but when it’s proven, it dissolves into an after-calm, horrifying and yet certain. This is not how you imagine relieving your anxiety; mostly, you think of yourself lying comfortably on a beach, once again able to breathe in, out. But the steel mill is the labyrinth that promises to hide you long enough to become accustomed. To hunger, to terror, to fingers that push on walls, but cannot feel them. Hongly described his body as it starved, his arms eating themselves. New Yorkers, we read, are now terrified.


We haven’t lost our sense of proportion, though that is our ambition. It’s our stage, where the player in a slump gets sent to Mariupol and the soldier in the tank gets to attend his own bobble head day at the park. Four men in a tank dream of meadows full of flowers. The tank dreams of its origins apart from war. And the war dreams it’s trapped inside a music room without a key. I’ll turn the house inside out to look for it. In the meantime, lock it all out as she did the mean lover who shot faces on the subway. Piles of books lie on the curb, each bearing the title, ETHICS.


Note: quote by Simon Critchley, in “A Philosopher Laughs at Death...” by Mark Dery. The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 28, 2022. Thanks to Jon Morse, who sent me the link. Some details come from Code Unknown, a film by Michael Haneke.

Friday, April 29, 2022

What the hoarders left behind

 

29 April 2022


Old joy stick, wreathed in webs. Two pink elephants, laughing in theirs. Premium oil, Value Power car battery. Old rubber ball, once red, now flecked, beside the yellow tool. Old string of white Christmas lights on the chain link fence. On the porch, a crumpled up American flag to go with a sticker on the moldy truck window. Stacks of flat cardboard, boxes of old spray cans, cleaners, squirt bottles. No one’s been here for weeks. This is not quite narrative, not quite not narrative. Diary of objects, the dirty carport its frame. Hard to decide which to take, which to leave. 


She puts a photograph of herself and her mother in her war diary. They are ordinary, but so is the war. I can’t write a proper one, as I don’t look at TikTok, or read the articles about rape as a military strategy. After you listen to a trauma story, you double up, breathe in, fold back into seated position. Later, you drive down Haunani, where an old woman trudges, looking lost, carrying her Target bag. You don’t stop to ask if she needs a ride. Your ticket got punched this morning.


She was her father’s “experiment,” left in a room alone to see how she reacted. My friend says there was no kindness in her house growing up. She found kindness in her 50s. Avoidance of story was my self-care.


So many of the abandoned objects have to do with cleaning, lubing, fixing, making stuff work. Yellow oil bottles sit like trophies on the carport frame. The only vehicle is pinned in place by junk, by mold, by disuse. I love the old trucks whose beds have ginger growing in them.


Mass graves left by the hoarders of war. Loss is accumulation. We have more than you, so we lose. You have more than we do, so you lose. The man down the street screamed obscenities when he played video games. His dead joy stick half smashed in the carport. Easier to name the joy stick than the flowers across the road, purple prods melting in the rain.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The local goss

 

"Ever notice that almost all the memorials are on the straightaways," he said, after telling me he'd worked for the highways. Almost got in an accident once, but stopped as a bus turned left in front of traffic. A young woman was run off the road. She got out of her car and ran after the bus. "I don't have many regrets in life," he said. "But I wish I'd backed her up." He looked with interest at Lilith, but wouldn't touch her. No one can touch his dog, a heeler, not even the vet. He holds the dog around the neck with one arm, puts the other around the body so the vet can have look. He punctuated his comments with his red pruner, as we talked over the driveway gate. 
 
"It's like Peyton Place," he said laughing, our next interlocutor. His stories unfolded about a woman attacked by two geese, then by the geese's owner. A rooster that had cost $1500 that his dog had killed. "Got a receipt for that?" he asked. Of course not. The drug dealer whose wife left him, twice, though in-between times he begged and she came back. Left him and the kids the second time. The hoarders across the street seem to have disappeared. Someone described them as "giddy" to be leaving. But their stuff didn't move with them: the limp flag, the trucks covered with old containers of oil, the folded table, the picnic bench covered in stuff, the house with sad windows. Those are still there.
And then the dharma friend with his dog of the bad back, dressed in a rain coat that crinkled back and forth with her tail. She and Lilith sniffed; she lifted her leg to put it down on Lilith, who feigned a counter-attack. I don't think I'd ever met him except in a small square on zoom, so it felt good to attach face and voice to body and dog. We've been reduced to pieces for so long, portraits of ourselves projected out, oddly divorced from our lower bodies. 
 
At the farthest point of our long walk, as I talked to a woman whose dog was not friendly--her other dog is a German shepherd who's mean--Lilith developed a limp. She hobbled down the road, and I promised her we would turn back at the end of the street we were on. But then we met the man with the pruners; after I'd talked to him for a long while, Lilith set forth without a limp, clearly wanting to go home in the misty rain.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The fake flowers of Highway 11

 

24 April 2022


Do I shoot wide or narrow? Take in the filthy stuffed bear and the slightly cleaner pink pig? Linger on the crosses supported by rusted bed frames, wheels dangling? Take a portrait of the portrait of the man named below, beside the cross that bears his dates, camouflaged by flowers? Cross the highway to see the memorial from a dispassionate distance? Aim my camera at the cars that streak by? Make sure they blur? Look for the passengers looking at me, but not the gloves, the stethoscope, the smudged notes? Notice the not noticing by taking pictures of it. One memorial consisted of artificial flowers—appropriate to the tropics—rimmed with dirt from mowers and car spray. Behind the memorial lay an upside down fake anthurium, its green plastic stem standing up. Nowhere was there a name, a bear, a note; the memorial was itself unidentified. What feeling do you get from the memorial stripped of any recollection?


A Ukrainian woman on twitter posts the photograph of a young blonde woman. Putin’s gift, Zelenskyy calls it, her death by bomb on Easter weekend, along with her baby, shown with mother, with bottle. We think: good for propaganda. We regret that thought. There’s no dispassion in my looking at her, only in counting the dead on a street I’ve never walked. But numbers, too, bleed. Leave all the feeling to the audience, the teacher says, but I require content.


I wrote a confession to Norman. I’d listened to Kathie’s dharma talk while watching my Cardinals on the computer. Needed two devices to manage this multi-task. She was talking about dharma ancestors, and I heard the words “Home Run.” I looked at the closed captions and saw “Home Run.” When they lack commercials, they run three mlb zens in a row. Mike Trout, in super slo mo, picks up a ball and inside the frame of a diamond hour glass, throws it the other way.


From the road you can’t see that the firefighter was Jon Hara, that he liked to fish, that he used a stethoscope, that his teeshirt had his name on it. I took the wrinkled teeshirt photo, still in my phone, and thought of Marie Hara, her husband Jon. When I turned on instagram, the first photograph was of Marie’s daughter. The second was of Jon.


Does every entry of a war diary require scenes of horror? Do Americans think of the ordinary world as necessarily banal? Is horror what we demand in place of boredom? At least horror poses lots of questions, right? This morning’s rain, the trailing wind, dog’s ears sticking from her nest on the couch, bird song. This is enough not to understand.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Garden rocket

 

20 April 2022


A rocket—green--grows in the man’s garden. Rooted by its nose, fin blossoms stretch from a metal stalk. Earth parts with few traces of violence. He’s alive, he says, though he was beaten. Another rocket bears its awful fruit elsewhere.


These are its stages: train platform, littered with bags; vacant-eyed buildings, empty; littered streets; forest encampment cluttered with cans. Or, the steel mill in Mariupol, resting on tunnel roots. Suck the tunnel walls of their water. Learn from rats how to abide the dark. Only days, or hours, remain.


Lilith and I meet a woman named Noni. I ask if she’s the same Noni whose name I saw earlier on a missing dog sign. Fifi’s been found. Fifi was struck by lightning, dug a tunnel to get her pups out, refused to emerge from under the water tank after Noni took her in. Fifi is unfriendly. “We’re all getting rickety,” she says. “I look in the mirror and wonder what happened. I feel the same.” Stranger still the photograph of the young woman, though neither she nor I say so.


Beauty takes time, the philosopher opines, while information does not. The powers that be are in it to destroy time, consign us to the quirky eternity of work. Even your breaks are part of seamless days of data collection. A mirror’s side-eye captures a warped image of my dog beside a dirt driveway. Ferns held up by old propane tanks, their buds rusted, numbers blurring. We don’t have time, because time has no edges, just wrinkles where the fins wagged.


“Are you still obsessed with time?” she asked me once.


It’s the smoothness he distrusts: smoothness of metal dogs, smoothness of “good” skin, smoothness of elevator music. We don’t remember what isn’t interrupted. Memory’s born of hiccup. In memory, there is an other, and she is we. The girl who ignored her parents is now the parent who tries to catch the eye of her girl. Forgiveness is a salve for regret.


One student didn’t want to see the faces of the dead on photos of road memorials. Not symbolic enough. Memories depend on rust. Only a clean surface gets forgotten, and where is the symbol there? A young woman stares out from a frame, ribbon lei on both sides. She is smiling; her body is full. A sign warns us to go no farther.


“You’re taking photos of the memorials, but not what happens to them.” 

 

(With thanks to Oppen, Han, and Chan)

Saturday, April 16, 2022

What I thought was short-cut proved to be a bog

 

16 April 2022


What I’d thought was a short-cut proved to be a bog. Sunken nearly to my knees, I looked to my right and saw the large pipe, the bridge, evidence of an occasional stream. My sandals sit by the door, hosed down, still smelling of Hau`ula peat. I walked barefoot--except for the mud--to one of three memorials on the beach: three for two men. A name in the tree, “Ku.” A banner, flags. More likely, there three for one man, Braddah Ku, shown twice, younger and older, on one banner. I find him on-line. He was 48.


At another beach park I find a tree decorated with water floats; underneath is a red chair, looking out to sea. In the tree’s crook, faded photos of a woman and a boy. Under the tree, on the ocean side, sit empty wine bottles and a small pair of red tennis shoes. This was not a drowning but a car crash.


Bryant says his friend is depressed; they talk nearly every day now. His daughter leaves for college soon, and his parents are old, a thousand miles away. Last night they talked about tanks getting killed in the Ukraine. How when a tank gets hit, it’s repaired. A crew goes in to clean out the dead’s pieces, to make the tank seem new, except there are always stains in the cracks. Like hotel staff, they clear the armored room for another set of occupants, precarious in their hutches. Everyone knows it. “When I died, they washed me out of the turret with a hose." I send the link. For god’s sake, talk next about flowers.


The need to know, to understand these waves of political and military history, set against the need to stay above water, to not drown. To make memorials inside our conversations, as we look at the white-topped waves of a large blue ocean. To confront the axis of linear and circular time, without leaping into its saw. See saw see saw. Saw sea.


On-line, I find a photograph of the car’s wreckage, a story about the mother and her son and two visitors from Utah who survived their end of the accident. I find a photograph of the young woman who died at Crouching Lion, a video of her grieving friend. My research is my remembrance, made whole-cloth of others’ words and pictures, a memorial of a memorial. What good does this do to me or to anyone? Not evidence of war crimes, or memories cherished for the families; not altars made to poetry, or even prose. Could I not simply drive past?


I drove back home, feet and trousers black with mud, sandals in the trunk of the car. The trip smelled of mud. In the photograph, my foot appears sculpted, toe nails outlined in mud, the bluish straps mere suggestions. It’s the smell of earth, of death becoming life, of sweet water so close to the salt ocean. “Is that Hawaiian mud?” a cousin asks. The `aina, rich with stink, my toenails still black with it. Clean and unclean memory. The flowers, the ones that had not faded, were bright. For “Papa,” a red lei and yellow sunflowers, hanging from a palm.






Friday, April 15, 2022

Flag ships

 

15 April 2022


So that’s what flagship means, says the child-self to the curmudgeon watching the news: the commanding officer carries the flag on the lead ship. Not to be confused, in this instance, with leadership. A cartoon shows mermaids underwater beside a gun turret, marveling at how they always wanted to see Moscow. Ship stands in for, sinks for, the place, which stands in for the nation, sinking. In the line-up of rhetorical tropes, only one commits the crime.


So that’s what a flagship is, a metaphor on top of a symbol on top of a military reference. The provost of our flagship university writes to a woman who told him about her mother’s suicide, “there is simply no truth to this.” After the vice chancellor, on reading my email about a suicide on campus responded, “Enjoy your retirement!” one noted that the exclamation point was shrapnel.


One cat attacks another cat. Second cat taken to vet, where he bites a tech. Vet tech taken to the hospital. Second cat sits on the left side of the lanai. First cat moves from right to left side, stares, her tail wiggling. Words wouldn’t end this hostility; they never do. “Should we take Putin seriously when he warns of unpredictable actions?” No, says the pundit.


Offending cat drinks from the deck, dawdles before she stares. The cats are more interested in each other than in the birds. Offending cat leaps on the table under a folded umbrella, sniffs the plants. She turns her stare toward me.


Age creates a gap between cause and effect. Get your certificate in self-detection. Trace back the symptom (wrenched back) to cause (pulling morning glory vines) as if to freshly discover a link. The pundit knows better. It’s a proxy war, ginned up by NATO. There is always someone at the controls, even when the ship sinks. It’s genocide, if that word means anything. It’s a series of war crimes, as if one did not mandate the next. It’s something we can name, because naming it marks it like a flag. The unmarked graves are lines on a map, as are the convoys of trucks through a forest. But lines used to make sense.


The historian geometer gets out her ruler and traces patterns. Lines become angles become triangles become shattered squares. Lines cross the map like a Trail of Tears; one of them is the Trail of Tears. Ain’t no real big secret all the same.


Y’s new photo looks out from the middle of a giant skyscraper on other looming apartment blocks. The new photo is as banal as the old, just taken from higher up. She’s back in Kyiv, inviting us to share her #warcoffee. The offending cat has come in from the deck to eat the other cat’s food. The other cat sits beneath a railing, out of sight. What he can’t see won’t hurt him.


A friend lashes out about platitudes. Life is suffering, he says, and no prayer to end it will ever succeed. He’s suffering, and that becomes his title, because titles comfort us. Another friend reminds me that a dog talks in Anna Karenina. A third friend doesn’t name his dog Tolstoy. My screen fills with other peoples’ flowers, cherry blossoms mostly. Gratitude is one of these platitudes, but like any, it’s harder to breathe in than to spit out.

--for Patrick P.



Monday, April 11, 2022

Committee work

 

11 April 2022


Memory as dream work, if it’s work at all. Tell me how to modulate my voice out of this anger, another death on campus, forgotten in advance “because of privacy issues.” Privacy’s a form of active forgetting, as if by not attaching a name to our death, it had not happened, at least not in that way. The approved ways include heart attack and car accident. We have not yet gathered as a committee to discuss the feasibility of approving suicide, whether it is committed or merely completed. To define success in this instance would be to mandate a cloak be placed over the frail bosom of information. It’s not an act against God but against information, and so it’s suppressed.


The difference between bathos and tragedy, my friend suggests, might lie between self-pity and a dialogue that leads to it. If I give my dog a voice in this sequence, she will have none in editing it. So I leave her to her silences, her barks of greeting, warning, and pleas for help when tangled up on her long leash. What I can’t translate I might still write down. A writer divorced from her translator cannot read herself. Type in your sentence about a blocked pipe and get back the word “evacuation” in French. Those who can’t evacuate do not become refugees. They may lie in the rubble of Mariupol. They’re fighting to hold a city that no longer exists.


They’ll drop just enough chemical weapons to push at the boundaries of military protocol. If war is a game, then one side is bombing the board, destroying its plastic houses and hotels, passing go without taking money, then writing “for the children” on their bombs.


If the bombers write that, does that make them the dark parents of those children, aiming their metal sperm-shaped ordinance at a train station, one that gives and receives cars full of human beings? No one is fleeing now. If you stay you’re likely to die, but if you leave you’re likely to die, so why not stay in the ruins of the city you remember from your childhood?


I am so far away from Mariupol, but so are those who write from Kyiv.


Maeve head butts me, snuggles with me at night, then attacks Claude with ruthlessness. He sits on the old red chair, stained, sagging, and licks at his wounds. The cats have their own wars and peaces. Warning: graphic images. Please do not show that image of abuse ever again.


“Whatchu doing taking pictchas of my fucking house? Erase that shit from your phone,” a young man hisses at me in Kalihi. I don’t put up the photo of his house, with the ad beside it for Dyke’s Market, which takes EBT and says so on a sign covered with images of beer cans. He follows me up the street, but I turn away from him and walk. The next photos are of Bob Marley, a walk-up apartment with a tiny American flag flying on a stick.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Redemption Song

 

9 April 2022


The disharmony of our conversations. There’s no more monotone, only clutches of mixed notes. We still want to learn about each other’s desires, about the histories that might make sense of all this, but we’re folded in like a t-shirt whose imprinted face more resembles an alien than Bob Marley. Or that speaks of the miracle of walking on the earth and that there is an elf. Never quote Oppen on a shirt; lose one syllable and it’s all over, the clear bell of meaning ceding to demented sentences then saved to our clouds.


I said I wished I hadn’t talked so much. She assured me it was a conversation; there were two of us, ears pressed to phones, and there were two voices gathering up work and suicide, homesickness and grief. It was as if the earth took Marthe after she’d gone and the Kapoho tidepools filled with molten lava. Reclamation project by one angry woman of another. I would leave an altar to Pele at his lava installation. When I took black rocks for him from the beach, I told Pele what I was doing. But that was not a conversation. Prayer leaves the interlocutor out.


One Y took a photograph from the Kyiv to Warsaw train. The land is flat and white, a bit blurred by the train’s speed. The subject seems anonymous, if land could be without a name. That she needed to take the photograph marks her desire to remember what she passed through. When we doubt our memory, we take up our machines to capture it. Put them in the folders, the albums, all the dead metaphors that litter our screens. Some day we’ll be reminded by iPhoto that we have memories they cherish for us.


The suicide squeeze failed last night. You only succeed if you survive to score a run. Unmetaphorical suicide operates differently. The young woman who succeeded will be doubly forgotten inside the institution. There were cops and firefighters and a memorial that quickly disappeared. Inchoate sound might be better than the silences that followed. Since we cannot say our grief, let’s stand to hear the sirens, the alarm bells, the leaf blowers and weed whackers, all the instruments of our grieving.


We have only eight years with this earth, Laura says, and everything else is a distraction. Distract me from climate change by showing me a war for energy sources; distract me from the war by turning my attention to the violent slap of one man’s cheek by another man’s hand; offer me the accumulated grief of any newspaper screen. When you’ve sponged it up, squeeze hard. Each leaf will sound a different note. If you listen, you’ll know.


My forthcoming book may never come forth. In perpetual chryslis, it will swallow its words. They’re surely not mine now, as each section was a photograph taken from a train. Refugees now look out from trains and buses, as if to take the photos back. Take the flat land in and chew it. The image will not appear in reverse, but as if it had never been. The film was so experimental we didn’t know which reel went first. Halfway through the first reel we knew it to be the second, and so respooled it by hand. It must have mattered to us that we watched the film in that way, spooling and unspooling and respooling on its plotless track.


My husband calls me on Facetime from the Mauna Loa road. After days of rain, the sky is a clear blue. He pans the scene down the mountain: the road's yellow zipper, the koa trees. He is happy, the dog is happy, and I will say that I am, too.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Format and Texture

 

8 April 2022


The way the word “form” surrenders to “format.” The format of my thoughts has no curves or textures beyond this flat screen. Everything that matters lives off-screen, the ginger cat casting her yellow eyes from the brown railing, the other cat crying, the third cat seated on his favorite chair. For these are our stations. Over 50 dead at a train station in the Ukraine. The “after” photograph shows no human beings, just their bags. Insouciant objects, pink flashing the absent presence of a girl child.


Believe only what you see cedes to believe only what you believe. The loss of old theories (religious ones) leads us to these tabloid conspiracies, lacking candles or altars or wine. I wrote about suffering; she referred to my Incandescent Whiteness. Witness. She offers her ass to Nice White Women. I’ll kiss my own.


Palm sounds are not percussion, though not yet melody. What does that make them, in the wind? The myna’s song lacks melody, but is not siren. Low rumble of traffic an indistinguishable bass line. It’s the microphone that makes them cohere, or the pre-chant of the ear.


The museum creates a form, or is it format?


What shall we put in this museum of our feelings? The love one feels at night when one or the other cat nuzzles; the elation at reading poems that are more comrades than words; the early morning texts about the weather? If the weather is a problem, I suggested, take your photographs of the weather. What you cannot control will be your subject, and you its mirror. iPhone image flipped around so you can comb your hair without one. The i is small, the Phone is not.


The feeling of loss turns to one of accumulation. I have added my losses together, until they’ve become a blanket to hide myself under. We remember these times, don’t we, when we hid from parents under things. Blankets, beds, anywhere. My mother saw men building shelters out of cardboard at Dachau. If poetry is a con, why do we attend?


The email reported an “incident” and was signed “Student Housing.” It urged students to take care of themselves and each other. Student Housing wrote with a heavy heart. Student Housing is there to talk. Student Housing cannot say what the incident was, though someone died. Student Housing refers students to Student Counseling, which is to be distinguished at this institution from Student Health. Student Housing has reached out. Student Housing has an office in the dorm where the student died. Into Student Housing we pour our hopes and fears. God save Student Housing.


There is so much to see beyond this patch of pixels, this white space inside a gray space, framed by black. When asked what gets in the way of my practice, I said “memory.” Writing is the practice of putting them in the queue of this day’s events. It’s a peculiar neurosis, this need to put memories in containers and place them on the platform to be sent away. Others talk about planning, making lists, worrying about the day’s tasks. I worry that memory is my task, one I can’t put in any out box, demanding my attention, like morning glory vines overtaking a forest. See that koa tree? You can’t see it, just its format, covered as it is by the green blur of vines choking it off. There’s some punctuation in this sentence, the pale purple flowers to suggest that the vine wants something more than empire.


The leaf blower starts up; one cat comes forward, then walks past; I'm stationed on the floor. My back hurts. Have my muscles twisted like morning glory vines, becoming the very thing they want to escape? In response to the world, we hurt ourselves. There must be a word for that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Free Printable Coupons

 

5 April 2022


Take this free pass to murder. Leave a dotted line of bodies on the road through Bucha. Leave trenches full of bodies you don’t cover with dirt. Leave chalk white hands in cable ties behind the backs of the dead. Leave a closed hand, nails red with polish and blood. Exchange your coupon for a slashed throat, a cut-off leg, a raped woman trashed by the road. Leave.


“They kill us for their sport.” Take this coupon for a dead hen, a toy for your son, an appliance for your wife, then load them on your armored personnel carrier. Don’t worry about intercepts; they already know what you’re doing.


A boy died in a basement because he caught pneumonia. An old woman shows a reporter how to get down her ladder into the the dark hold of her house. What they can’t see they can still bomb, because bombs have such amazing eyes.


Is that photograph voyeuristic, we wonder about a shot of a man on a lanai, looking at his phone? The model said yes, so our gaze at her naked body isn’t. You can’t exit a cliché without knowing its number. One student ate seven cookies; he counted them.


Desire to release the day’s news, to internalize my feelings in objects I see go by, as in a Chagall painting, flying like a dog in air in a bathroom on a wall. To take the bells and put them inside my chest, to pull their ropes and fill the cave with a sound at once hollow and dense. To make myself a bell and toll for every nerve ending’s complaint. After you complain, you become The Complainer. After you take a photograph of the homeless man bent beneath his pack, he becomes The Pilgrim. What is real doesn’t stay that way, or at least what looks real. On Kapahulu, they push their shopping carts toward the sea from under the freeway. In the morning, they retreat up the avenue, while at night they surge back toward Waikiki. They keep our time. Next to Zippy’s, a man lies partly shaded by a large umbrella leaning on the ground; he lies on a towel, and reads a book. Shall we call this the academic dream?


The war’s a metronome, like dementia. It clicks away in the corner to the tune of my keyboard, accreting words, if not their meaning. From a drone’s eye view, much of Bucha’s completely destroyed, except for the central cathedral. In Cambodia, the poorest villages have built gold-leafed temples. Worship what’s left behind, which is worship’s vestige.


An engine starts outside my townhouse. The contemplative life of a machine is noisy and stinky. Many days, I suspect mine is too. How do I act as witness to suffering I feel only as reflected light, pointed toward the subject, a small bunny doll used as sacrifice to an educational power point? My whole life has been an appropriation. My skin is a sieve through which it flows, and in that sluice I find pieces of us. A poet, wrote Borges, is a person who believes her metaphors are true.





Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Note from the Meek

 

3 April 2022


Contemplation and power are connected, like freeway spaghetti, fly-overs whose destination you can only guess, though you keep your foot on the pedal; when you get to the other side, you’re still lost, but at least not racing through air like a lost pilot. I have time this morning to look at photographs of the dead in Bucha. Men in drab brown pants, their hands tied behind their backs, lying on hard concrete. Dead women in trenches. (Flashback to previous massacre.) A man in a well, sunken. Death isn’t sleep, because damaged objects don’t rest. They’re scattered as trash in a now liberated city, amid the grinning skulls of apartment buildings. Dwell on that.


Take an inventory of your responses. None of them has currency; they’re as starved as the ruble. Feelings trapped in a container, the air going out of it. Perverse squash court of anger, disgust, nausea. None of it a whit of good to them. Say your mantras, John told me; they work. I’d say now they work at rather than on. I can’t push them hard enough to get them to Kyiv. And pushing is precisely the wrong tack.


Nine people shot in Sacramento, more in Texas. Tomorrow the day MLK was shot dead on the balcony of a motel. Lorraine. I remember the name, and that of his assassin. What’s memory for? It’s this iteration that involves me. I hold to it, try to let it go, fail, then assume the burden of simply watching. Watch it, watch out, watch for. In the sitcom, Zelensky regards a watch Putin wears and turns his back on it.


The wind is up in Ahuimanu. Maeve stalks something on the deck. She sniffed my armpits in the night. No perfume, Walt, sorry. It’s the stink of post-modernity, or post-post, or late late capitalism. It’s my comfort, sitting in this chair like someone in a Stevens poem, reading. We refuse to speak the cause of a poet’s death. We abhor the president’s words against Putin. How do we mediate silence, when we talk our way out of conflict? Conflict makes you smarter, I saw somewhere.


The rose is no more beautiful than the rust on an old container in a field. We can cut a rose, but not a band of rust. We can buy a canvas, but not sheet metal anchored to earth. We can see the rust, the rose, the dead bodies in the street, their geometries turned this way and that, face down, bodies bent as if posed. Neither my anger nor my grief reaches that street, though it may touch my screen. The screen is a way in, but also a walling out. One poet cites another poet on yet another poet and we’re reassured by the echoes. We think of them as wisdom.


Dear Y, who tweets from Ukraine. Your window view turns white with snow. Your voice alludes to massacres. Your tweets have made a community of the meek. We’d better inherit this earth.



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Lilith Meets a Russian Woman


Lilith and I were walking down Haunani when we saw a woman gardening; I've seen her there for years, trying to tame a large area of land that had been overrun with vegetation. "You've got a lot of work ahead of you," I said. Oh yes, she said in a thick Russian accent (which I wish I could mimic here). She stood underneath a hapu`u fern as we talked. She had a scarf around her head, a faded flowery blouse, black loose trousers and black rubber boots. The shadows of the hapu`u fell on her. "My umbrella," she said. "May I take your photograph?" I asked, mentioning my photography class and our current project, portraiture. Her look was daunting, and she asked why. She didn't have her cup, she noted. Look at her, she demanded rhetorically. She reached down to pet Lilith with her dirt-covered gardening gloves. I decided not to take the photo. I really wanted that photo.
 
Two walkers I'd met a couple weeks ago came toward us. One was the woman with a southern or eastern shore accent and an English husband. The other was a blonde woman who said her parents were Lithuanian and whose dog resembles Lilith, but thicker. The first woman asked my interlocutor where she from, and she said Russia. She stepped forward quickly, saying "don't be angry with me, it's all politics. It's not the people. Those poor kids, 10,000 of them." Dead. Half her family was from Ukraine. "We're all family," she said. The soldiers usually spend their time gardening for higher-ups in the military.
I suggested everyone watch Navalny's documentary on Putin's billion dollar palace. "Oh, Navalny's terrible," she said. Worse than Putin. He's deep state. One of the other walkers asked what deep state was, and I said "Qanon stuff." She recoiled a bit. The Russian woman hates cnn and fox; it's all propaganda! She hurried off, asking that we wait for three minutes. When she came back, she was carrying a nursery catalogue, open to hydrangeas. She wants hydrangeas! But not blue ones. Her name is Marina.
 
The two walkers and I wandered a way, one more slowly than the other of us, as she was locked in conversation with the Russian woman. We walked up Kalani Honua Road together. The first woman wanted to know what was with the lovely piece of land for sale. "I think it sold," I said, and then we all noticed that the realtor's signed had been turned around. It was as blank as a sun-washed sign I'd taken a photo of earlier in the walk, before we ran into the Russian woman.

Genre issues in war-time

 

31 March 2022


This screen of apapane song: are we talking depth or surface? The bulldozer’s a lousy tuba for this orchestra. A flat screen offers false depth. The depth I hear is only surface because it fades like a slow shutter speed in bright light. We sense the leg without seeing it. Its surface is mist, not sturdy enough to walk on, though she’s lighting across campus on her “good” leg. More students are ghosts now. One teacher talked for 50 minutes to a student who was only sometimes over speech’s threshold. The portal caught, like a tube filling with lava. No one to surf the molten rock; no one to mold syllable bits into word shapes.


Humanitarian convoy stopped by Russian troops outside of Mariupol. The only way to survive is to leave and to leave is to lose your (sense of) place. Death as surplus loss, a horrible economy of less is more, inflation of shattered things. One side kills civilians, the other POWs. We call both unethical. A new orchid fell in the rain last night and broke near the top. Don't worry, it’ll bloom again in another year, Bryant said.


Idealism as the mist that sticks around for a while after its own destruction. To accept its loss as wisdom, embracing halves like rust’s accidental bounty. All of it accidental. She keeps working to keep the war at bay. I am given contemplation to catch her words like small birds. When I went into the kitchen this morning, a small brown bird looked in, then flickered away in early light. Omao?


The poem is ideal, while a diary simply records. The seven hour gap is a given, not a crime, in this practice. We’ve abandoned forms, the philosopher writes, as we’ve abandoned ritual. Atomized, we wander toward death without acknowledging its power. If we look away, it isn’t there. Keep sending us emails about stolen mopeds; they’re less disturbing than hearing of a student’s death by suicide.


Above all, do not disturb us. And do not disturb us when we’re being entertained. Will Smith’s slap resounds more loudly than missile strikes in Kyiv. It shocks us to our bones, that someone would mix genres in that way. It’s the death of form by another form, imported from a film. Change channels: at least the war is a consistent de-formation. Our correspondent in Ukraine wants a normal life of coffee and a view out of the window of her drab apartment block.


But back to idealism. It’s a fixture like a faucet or a drain, fixed, yet witnessing water’s creases and songs. The faucet envies water its reality principle, one that remains only in its coming and going. That paragraph doesn’t flow, a student might say, without knowing what words open flow, and which shut it down. But the faucet can do nothing but feel anger, opening and closing its valves with a violence that changes only the rate of flow. There’s nothing the faucet can do with the nature of water itself. A spider knows to make its web from faucet to handle, not from faucet to drain.


“We need a new paradigm.” Need a world without politicians or leaders or followers or weapons or those who grow rich on their use (which is mandated to avoid warehousing your profits). To die would be one such shift, to turn one’s face away. But barring that, you look out your window at the small brown bird looking in, catch your breath at an enormous web woven between tropical leaves. Even the bulldozer has its place in this lessening. You can’t invent a ritual to make it all go away, but you can imagine inventing one. Project that on your window screen, lingering at its surface before catching on a brown hapu`u frond bowing in front of you.



Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Photo without Person

 

30 March 2022


The cave of the heart is mist-full this morning. Wistful in an underexposed way. There’s more information in a dark photograph than in a bright one, so I make clouds dim, ocean dim, and spinner dolphins spin out of focus. What was intended as cross-species portrait is a blurry splash of sea water beyond a crabbed tree, clinging to a lava rock. Mustard gold lichen, cleft in the black rock, as to the right a woman throws a ball into the water for her one dog, and then the other. The first dog drops the ball before getting to the slippers she points to; the ball starts to roll back toward the water. Dog picks up ball, deposits it on her two brown sandals. Another throw. “We are thrown” into what were causes and effects, now chance operations without the synchronicities. She tells us to put our dominant hand below our navel, the non-dominant on top of that. So I alternate, like any Libra-handed soul.


The Russians are pulling back, or the Russians are simply regrouping. Their supplies are exhausted, or the heroic Ukrainian army pushes them back. You are given two choices for every instant of the narrative, and neither one ends the war. From above, Mariupol appears completely destroyed. That’s the only angle we’re given in this news cycle. Trump calls for Putin to help him destroy Biden. Again. A canary’s weak outcry gets buried in a coal mine.


I know hypocrisy when I see it in others. I play the scales of my own hypocrisy, awaiting a diminished seventh to finish it off. The spectrum of our self-salvaging is wide. A. Navalny sits on a prison bench. His suicide is survival, a living martyr to facticity.


In the city of fact, there we feel free, or at least stable, even when the earth occasionally shakes, or the ocean trembles afterward. The defender has the advantage in street fighting, and a ruined building’s as good as a new one, when your role is to sit in the crotch of a window frame and fire your weapon onto the street. Can you imagine, many soldiers don’t even consult their scopes? They just fire wildly at buildings, because buildings signify human beings, each one framed by an absent window. If glass is transparency, then broken glass is not, is our confidence shattered, shuddering. One street fight led to a sniper who proved to be a young girl. Her accuracy was no surprise, but her smooth face was. The mother hen wears a skirt of chicks that ebbs and flows as she—stiller point in a moving universe—walks.


The empty window frame is also a screen. You can shine nothing on it that stays, as if you were to keep your aperture open so long that arms and torsos and legs melted in air and you were left only with shoes hitting an approximate concrete, the only fixable images. The photograph, however contrived, doesn’t lie. We are our own ghosts on this walk; one photograph stuns time with its shutter, while the other lets it go. Time is the not-image of a woman walking down the street in a bombed out city. Three weeks ago the sun shone on a public square where people walked slowly through their lives’ still frames. A man runs with his suitcase toward a train, heading west. Inside the still coherent window, a girl smiles at him. End of photograph.




Intro to Digital Photography

 


I'm taking a hybrid photography class. Let's just say I'm the oldest student; most are "traditionally" young. Our first project, to take photos of objects in different places yielded (to me) a surprising number of photographs that included bodies, some of them topless. The bodies were all woman's bodies, so I wrote the instructor, who said this is always what happens. The men take photos of their partners, and the women take pictures of other women. I suggested he show the class Mapplethorpe. He did, and mentioned our conversation to the class. 
 
So our next project has been portraits. One young man took photos of a friend in a huge, dark hooded jacket. The photos were spookiest when you couldn't see his face at all. And then there were the photos of women's bodies. This time a lot of nudity, full frontal kind, by one female student, and some other suggestive photos of women. The photos of men were discreet, to put it mildly. The woman who took photos of her nude friend also made portraits of a male friend. His skin was dark, his t-shirt a very bright white. So students recommended that he change into a darker t-shirt. The instructor said, "why not take the shirt off? Have him pose nude?" 
 
Meantime, my project is to take zoom portraits, so I've now resorted to taking photos of Bryant, shirtless, looking at himself on a zoom screen. Such is my grand feminist intervention in Digital Photography 101.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Theater of War

 

28 March 2022


A old man and an old woman walk through a destroyed town in the Ukraine. They say Ukrainians destroyed it to pretend Russians had. A Russian theater, or the one bombed in Mariupol. War as put-on, every act the last act of a tragedy. You believe it, even if you see it.


When between slivers of a conversation about kindness, you sense a different politics from your own. What you see as incoherence, or the line between feeling and thought. A rational kindness once seemed possible, but now it shakes you, like a scene in an Alzheimer's “home.” Not that any of us is demented, but we can't live in the same rooms any more. Some of us are locked behind doors to save them; others don’t know how to save ourselves. We see the last photo as a last photo, knowing what came after, but that hardly helps us to make meaning of it. “I love poetry, not my own words,” he wrote to his daughter, who wrote him back.


We resent the rational actor behind the iPhone, because he appeals to our emotions. We don’t want such appeals, because they might result in WW3. We think maybe the irrational actor had his reasons, though he can’t express his feelings except in analogies as broken as tanks by the road. He is JK Rowling to someone else's cancel culture. Bombs don't cancel; people do.


So much depends on a red dirt devil against a blue wall in a rain forest. So much destroyed by a vacuum bomb of no color but what it leaves ruined. No red devil can clean that up.


We want our weapons slow. The rifles, the tanks, the transport vehicles, these make us feel, if not safe, then as if war has a protocol, an ethics even. The quicker ones, those that fall from the sky, or those whose agency is separate, like drones or missiles, those make us queasy. It’s not that they kill, but how they kill and how quickly. Yet, in war as entertainment, we crave the opposite. Not the lingering pan of bodies on the street, their red blossoming through cloth, but quick edits, the warp of software. Cris’s images resemble Hollywood’s, while unmasking them, and that's what makes them hurt. The loveliness of words can't be slapped away. An investigation has been launched.


On my way back to my computer, I seek out distractions. On twitter someone writes that the war is a distraction from climate change and COVID. The president was an actor, therefore the war entertains us. Sentences can make anything make sense; it’s not the best thing about them, just the scariest. Line up those nouns and verbs like artillery pieces and let fly. A no fly zone might help, but we wouldn't find the response entertaining because it would be directed against us. Shoo fly don’t go away, we need your noun transgendered to verb.


Is war the ultimate form of not-knowing, or the opposite? We’re Kantians, Carla tells me, though I hardly know what that means. Perhaps it's that we crave consistency: thought and feeling, the deer and the dachsund. We want suffering to make us think better, and thinking to help us feel. The chain gang commences to sing.


Note: the first anecdote related by Yevgenia Belarusets in her "War Diary"


Sunday, March 27, 2022

Stop Time

 

27 March 2022


Strategy woman, the one who lives next door to Snoring Man, tweets today’s photo of her window. We see through it, too often without seeing it. Not the frame, which enforces order, but the panes. Does a person exist other than as her identity? I asked a student once, and she said no. Cardboard cut-out at a store, filling in for a celebrity, flat fixer, seller of merchandise, mute singer. The blues are not narrative, but lyric, the professor tells us. Time, says the philosopher, no longer coheres. There are my bird songs and her bird songs, but all we can claim in common is our coffee.


I wake up to her evening. She’s had her coffee, looks forward to more. I grip my mug, drink mine down. Losing It was the symposium; Losing My Grip was something else, a book about arthritis by a former athlete. If an athlete does not die young, she’s still precocious at grieving. Mark had grieved for his mother for a year before she died, not so much after. It was her time.


This morning, dementia comes up over and again. The world is crazy, my correspondent says. It’s only apt, this repetition of the process of losing, mind and body, identity and mass. If we are not our identities, we change less when we lose our minds. She resembled my mother, which meant that she was. There’s some use for images in this life.


Photo is marker, not anchor, like us. We wander the length of our tape measure and then we’re gone. The tape measure ripped to shreds, we lose our place in our own time. It ceases to matter how much we’ve lived, because we can’t remember the thread. A life not of seasons but of gun shots, not of gentle repetition, but of ends that mean nothing.


Russia calls for the surrender of Mariupol, which they’ve destroyed. What a trophy, that, the rubble in the streets, the bombed out theater, the burned cars, the bodies. You break it, it’s yours, our general said. At least seven of theirs have been killed. A colonel run over by his own tank. “I want to get the fuck out,” a Russian soldier says to his grandmother on the phone.


The nightmare is double, like eyes that don’t see straight, or see two things straight that blur together, as if we’d put on the wrong glasses, the ones that refused to acknowledge astigmatism, and instead went for the direct correction of. She changed her meds, remembers her dreams now. Most of them are nightmares. Another friend dreamed over and over of having to flee. “This really happened,” Ginsberg wrote, as do a million people in the Ukraine.


The cadence of his speech. He talks to us through phone, across space, in his time, and ours, which are not the same. Our time pretends to ribbon itself on, day to follow day to follow some notion of there being a history to be recorded. His shatters, though the lens of his phone still coheres. He still speaks in sentences, those that echo and repeat, laud and chastise. We know the sorrow of sentences destroyed. We grieve for them each time we set them down.


There is too much loss, the Black dharma teacher said, for us to have the time to grieve. We start, and we start, and we start, but we cannot come to the end of it before another man is shot dead by police, another Ukrainian woman finds her son dead on the street. If time accelerates, grieving cannot. Stubborn of time and place, it fixes us. You might call this unresolved grieving, as if it’s we who can’t complete our task, but it’s time shutting us down, stopping us. Time, like a fossil fuel, runs out. We need clean time. Next time.



The Return of _Dementia Blog_

 


FB posts:

1) I had a good lunch yesterday with the writer Mark Panek (look him up) at the Kurtistown Cafe. We talked about our mothers, about grieving for them before they died. Then today, Jordan Davis put this up on twitter (for which thanks). There's also a second volume, _"She's Welcome to Her Disease: DB, Vol. 2_, also from Singing Horse. I found the books necessary to write, more difficult in the end to read.
 
2) The cover, and the later cover, were by Gaye Chan.
 
3) Since this was posted, oh 15 minutes ago, I've received a poem by Aryanil Mukherjee in response to volume two and then a request for information by Katie Stewart about the symposium Losing It at the U of Chicago that we were in in 2011. It's coming up dementia this morning.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The New Normal

 

25 March 2022


Possessives. Your war is not my war, but I share it somehow. Possessives where there are none. I write in parallel, though my side of the tracks remains fixed, for now. Your time shattered, my time still a thread, if a bit bare. “Who would read this?” she asked. Resistance in the micro-narrative to the macro. Economics as prophesy, where prophesy is a dismal science.


I took photographs of flowers this morning, not the usual rust or chance absurdities. To be “in memory” is to be only there. It lets us know there is no more memory to be made. Like fossil fuels, they pool, and we can make energy from them. The climate of our memories gets overwhelming. He said he was a climate refugee from Sydney. Fires and floods kind of cover the elements, don’t they? The flowers, as photographs, are now memories of being “in memory of” my friends. Loss leaders. Accumulations of lack leave what he would call “residue.” There’s an area for mud-making at Putin’s palace. And a pole for dancing.


One woman says there is no normal; to say “normal” is to actively forget those for whom such a thing never exists. Another wants normal life inside her war, makes coffee in the morning and evening, looks out her window, counts the internal refugees.


Putin so hates the west he buys his furniture from Italy. Apartment blocks in Mariupol stand as burned skeletons. The larger structures remain as memorials to what they’d held inside. Empty eye sockets, like the machines that fire vacuum bombs. Speed balls: the flash comes first, then air rushes away like water before a tsunami. “He must have been in pain.” No one has named a cause of death. I ask a friend; he says he refuses to ask because he doesn’t want to know. To care how someone died is different from caring for them, though entanglements exist.


Tony’s student asks if I simply write my sentences, or if I take weeks to put them together. I tell his class that, while I’m hardly Emerson, I believe the poems are all out there, and we simply need to walk into them, take them down not in the sense of taking down a building but in that of penciling them into speech. If you want to tell a story later, you can’t afford to judge.


Seven Russian generals dead, a battalion commander killed by his own troops. A tank ran over him. You are in a foreign place, though you have a common language. You’ve been sent there to depopulate it, degrade it, set up a Commissioner of Despair. But it turns out you’ve been had. He’d known some dark mothers. And you are they.


This is my war by proxy. Rather, I am your proxy, permitted the space to think on it. I’ve had my morning #warcoffee, walked Lilith, thought of you and your son in your small village outside Kyiv. We haven’t lost normal so much as discovered how to make it, memory by memory, until the battle shifts and we must pass it on.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

See Me, Feel Me

 

24 March 2022


Symbolism comes of helplessness: Sydney’s opera house in blue and yellow; a mast in Hilo harbor, equally blue and yellow; a cup of #warcoffee; a “like” on Zelensky’s feed. What you do when you can’t touch. The mask between mouth and supermarket air. That’s what mediates your breath, present as a barrier to what you’d otherwise breathe in.


What is most ordinary gains power because we can hope to touch it. The harsh texture of made paper, neat flex of a pocket knife, soft remnant wasp nest, a green newsboy cap. The tool puts you back together as it takes a machine apart. Paper can’t accommodate writing, except recycled words trapped inside it.


She writes through her twitter mask, from her twitter handle, posting a photograph from her window each morning. Perfect for an “uninteresting photographs” site, except we know it’s in Ukraine. There are no shelled apartment blocks, no burned cars, no sheeted bodies. The scene, while dull, is oddly, miraculously alive. Except our air is not hers. Her air is symbolic, while ours is just the wind that shook our cottage last night, brought trees into speech. Memory is another word for it.


The loss of the poet is real, though I only met him once. The loss of a girl in the Ukraine is only image, or news report. Transpose the grief you can touch onto the grief that feels more abstract. That might end a war or two, no?


Sun rises through the wind and the interrupting trees. Birds syncopate within the wind’s brusque legato. The crater resounded with falling rock, echoing off its walls. The sun came down Mauna Loa, until it joined the fire in the pit. Behind me, a man talked into his device. He’d done some cardio and now he was watching the eruption. A woman held onto his shoulders. The new fireside chat is a man in the square, anaphora I can’t understand, but know the beat to. Like the man in a train compartment entering Yugoslavia who told good stories, though I didn’t know where they went.


A church sign down Highway 11 reads: “When the world is cray cray / Jesus is the way way.” Underneath, signs for therapy and food. Half of all college students suffer the lack of a basic need, and this new 3-year plan will address that lack with food and new administrators. The strategic plan stands in for care; it’s the absence of touch that promises touch.


The screen reflects, but it also divides, like a wall. We will keep you out by looking at you. Witness promises some kind of touch, but watching does not. I will sit with it. I will live with the poem inside my head for years. I will make of my skull space a haven, bomb shelter, community center. There is nothing private about our heads; it’s the gallery of our public imagining, and you can go there to look at it.


My meditations are as abstract as they want not to be. What I touch is keyboard, and the cool wind brushes my shoulders. The window in front of me frames ferns, living and dead, through which the morning sun travels. A spider’s thread glints between leaf and wiry trunk. Bryant said a small bird was hanging upside down from the gutter looking for spiders. Yes, the film was very slow, but when I woke up the next day, I had been in it.