Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Lilith and the Mustache


I'd taken a couple of photos of rakes that I liked, so Lilith and I headed toward the maintenance area of Valley of the Temples cemetery. We were met, not greeted, by a middle-aged Asian guy with a mustache, clearly the boss, holding clipboard, pen and phone, and a younger white guy, less distracted than his colleague. I asked the mustache if we could wander around the area, and he said no, closed to the public. "I take pictures of tools," I say. "Why do that?" asks the younger guy. I showed him my rake pictures, while mustache got busy on his phone and clipboard. Lilith and I turned around, took photos of an old cigarette seated on a rusty hinge.
It occurs to me that the central question of my existence is "why do that?"

Monday, August 29, 2022

Essay on Albert Saijo and Kaia Sand (published by Tinfish) by Knar Gavin

 Kaia Sand's Remember to Wave (2010) and Albert Saijo's Woodrat Flat (2015) were two books I was proud to have published as editor of Tinfish. And they have wonderful affinities, as Gavin shows.


In the reflections that follow, I briefly graze the work of Albert Saijo and Kaia Sand, two poets of place. I also offer a small glimpse into my own poetic practice in connection with environmental justice organizing and the profound necessity of breath. As an ecocritic, I am interested in the strategies poets employ to expand the terrain of environmental politics by doing away with unhelpful divisions, whether disciplinary, methodological, or based in genre. Expansive poetic practices can activate a collectivizing element—an uncommon sense—that opens into alliance-building and solidarity.

The earth is flat


29 August 2022

The problem with flat affect is, well, it’s flat. Not flat white, not flat tire, not flat line. Just flat. If you institute a sine curve, will that give your reader access to how you felt, drawing it across the flat sheet? Feeling flat today? To the contrary, the last story ended with a trigger, not a warning. Can there be flat triggers, or do they all explode? We might live in a flat without feeling flat. We might want our bellies more flat, but our spirits to be rotund. Inexact science, this measuring of emotion against effect, which comes out as affect. The feeling before the emotion governs what comes after. That’s called mood. She wants finished poems, I’m presuming flat ones, with no shredded borders or chipped teeth. That’s a work ethic I cannot muster, flustered by the fall of words, which aren’t really words but an environment inside of which ideas hatch. There are flat characters; that’s what we are to one another. But flat ideas? I guess only the bad ones, though I want to suggest that flat opposes bad, though it requires work on the part of an audience used to loud linguistic overtures. I felt flat after the incident, and even past the point of writing it down, but I didn’t fall flat until later on, when a series of minor annoyances turned into a melting glacier. That’s an inappropriate analogy, as real animals are dying due to climate change. One bear lay flat, as his paws had burned. I read a poem about that and, despite the fact I found the language flat, I felt something akin to grief. The poem is a flat screen, and yet it also projects. The word decompensation comes to mind when we read all the fake tweets coming from the former guy, his attempt to break our flat affects into a thousand points of gunfire. The threat is of rioting, by white people. In my later years, I flattened into an older white woman. You could pin a tale on me, or you could lash out, but I just sat there like a rock in a river, waiting for the next kayak to flutter by. If I took a picture, it would be flat. We act as if video has more depth, but it only reduces the suspense. When I failed to get the coffee I wanted in Tasmania, I learned the term flat white. Is coffee ever flat? It takes my cardboard heart and pokes holes in it. Like a topography map that traces feeling as mountain ranges and valleys and little railroads winding through. We have so diminished our earth, it might as well be flat. The professor’s hate mail called him fat, but the retweet was as flat as a pool of ice cream on an August day. Flat Albert retweeting as release. Spread the hate; it might flatten out. If he reads it, it hurts. If you read it, it bends, inane, turbulent and tired, like hate speech, which is always cliché. The ocean’s womb is empty. We mandate life, even as we hate it. Son of my heart, my only analogies for this feeling have great depth. I cannot see the bottom of any of them, though they’re probably flat.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Lilith self-promotes

He approached us with a big smile on his face, and a wave. Buff local guy, though he said he'd only been born at Tripler and his wife tells him that doesn't count. Said, "Kansas City Monarchs" for my cap. "You're only the second person ever to get that," I laughed. Cool Papa Bell. Buck O'Neil. The first time we crossed paths I had my Cards cap on. He said "Ozzie Smith" and I responded with "Willie McGee"; he said "Ken Oberkfell" and I said "Tommy Herr." The second time, he said "Jeff Clark" and my retort was "Keith Hernandez."
He wasn't with his companion worker-outer today, so we talked. I said my son was a huge Cards fan. He just moved to Virginia. "How's he like it?" The man had been stationed at Andrews Air Force base in the 80s. Worked for two years on Air Force One. Maybe that explained all the "yes ma'aming" he did. He's going to LA soon to see his grandchildren. His granddaughter is a huge baseball fan.
"What's your dog's name?" Lilith. I noted that Lilith and I have a book coming out about encounters we have on our walks. I told him he didn't really fit the bill. (Too normal, though I now confess I did write something about him on the Cardinals Hui.)
He gazed at Lilith and said, "Lilith has a hare lip." (I didn't catch the verb, to tell the truth.) "No," I said, "I'm the one with the hare [cleft] lip."


Saturday, August 27, 2022

Uncle John


"Where's Uncle John?" I asked at the first booth at the cemetery. (He calls me Aunty, so I call him uncle.) I'm told he's at the back booth where the temple is, so Lilith and I head in that direction. There are a lot of buses in the Temple parking lot; big blue ones, smaller white ones, Roberts buses. And there's Uncle John. "Haven't seen you in a long time," he says. Spending time on the big island, I respond. "That's the only island where I get lost; my inner compass doesn't work there," he says. "That island is Pearl City for me," I answer. His grandmother was from Hilo, one of the last full Hawaiians. Only spoke Hawaiian when she didn't want her kids to understand. (My father said his parents did that, in German.) He's also African American and native American (dad was a Marine from the South who met a lovely Hawaiian girl...) and German. You can see the German in some of the family eyes, he says, gorgeous. Me: "I'm half-German, half-Irish. Makes me stubborn."
Lilith and I have a book coming out, I tell him, and he's in it. Some of those arguments we had. He laughs, turns to his co-worker and says, "political stuff, all in good fun." Unable to resist, I remark that Trump doesn't look too good these days. "Neither does Biden!" I disagree with him. "That affidavit is all redacted; they need to release all of it," he tells me. Can't yet, I say.
A fresh line of tourists develops, so I leave him to his customers. Lilith and I pass a woman with a barefooted small child. It's already hot out. "I've got two pairs of shoes for her on the bus, but she refuses to wear them." We walk to the artificial falls in front of the Ko`olau. Back down near the Temple, Lilith pulls and pulls me toward the parking lot. That's when I see puddles of cat food in the gutter, and a woman in a dress approaching in a lei, scattering it from a plastic bag. Lilith had smelled cats on another woman near the start of the walk. What comes around smells around.

A broken pot repeats


27 August 2022

Not to make the war a decoration, as it fades from the front view, like men and boys leaping from a bridge in Hilo, framed by the bus’s windshield, its fare altar. All I see some days is suffering. The self-love of selfies, professional announcements, the pain of succeeding when you think yourself unworthy. But that’s hardly the loss of limb or nation, though it might start there. The Israeli psychologist teaches mindfulness to refugees. Just ten minutes of peace: vacation from exile, that horrible tourism. A small child sang us from Hilo to Honolulu yesterday, “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the tune of happy birthday, occasional shrieks. On the other side of the aisle, an Asian woman with white hair clutched a bunch of bright red anthuriums. The couple next to me were going to visit Pearl Harbor. The man hated Jim Jordan and people who push ahead and out of the plane. I like your shirt, I say to the man at Times, but I can’t remember what it said. I sat between a woman speaking Samoan into her phone, and another woman speaking the language of frail parent on hers.

From her window in Kyiv she sees large apartment buildings; each day she takes a short walk to work out, drinks her war coffee, and sends out tweets. The streets of Kyiv are nearly as lively as those of Paris, 1915. Giddy and dark with the knowledge of suffering nearby. If they don’t watch their televisions, and we do, we find ourselves closer to the conflict than they are. (Leave out the air raids.) Geography collapses like a shelf of fresh lava. Watch the sunrise over the caldera and up Mauna Loa, I tell the tourists. “We’re going to see the volcano now,” they say that mid-afternoon at Lava Rocks Cafe.

Lilith’s head rests in the crack of the couch, eyes closed, ears up. Yesterday, two young women, one in pink the other in white, got out of a white Chevy SUV and asked to pet “him.” They wore name-tags that marked them as “Sisters.” I declined to hear about our lord Jesus Christ, but wished them well. On our way back, we saw them with another woman, another dog.

Kintsugi unfractures the pot with gold. You can still see the break, but it’s more beautiful than the unbroken. They’ll switch out the wilting flowers soon, because there’s no fixing them. I prefer dead hydrangeas to the loud blue ones, the lace of brown leaves so delicately traced. These days I remember places by the photographs I took, or left. Photos as memorials for the memory obsessed. I want to remember what happened by playing it again, because otherwise it breaks.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Wings (not the band)


13 August 2022

A pause for the heat. A pause for being not sick or dying. A pause for others, who are. May my angel be quieter than these blue machines that slice the air like serrated knives. Imagine if they were attacking you, my father said during Gulf War 1, how terrifying that would be. May my angel be not of anger but of mercy. May I not see the shadow of a plane over me, but an ordinary bird of ordinary pitch looking for an ordinary worm, me.

Some days his skin is as sensitive as a top secret document; you could dust it for prints, but there would still be the mystery of how it got here, locked away in a basement out of the sunshine, put to bed in a leather box. I wish I could make a character to fit my ideas, but I’m reduced to finding them on the local sidewalks and roads winding through the cemetery. Often, they don’t fit, but that’s what makes them so interesting, reverse allegorical misfits who hold mirrors to our faces. The woman in a MAGA hat offering solace to an immigrant woman. The abuser who loves my dog. You cannot purify purity, but you can make hay out of approximation.

The store was closed for air raid in Kyiv. The highway was closed for terrorist in Ohio. The violent and the dead are inconveniences we’re obliged to live with. Destruction is either a crime or an art. We confuse them like rabbits and vases.

My favorite tree breaks out in a thick black sap that runs down its light brown trunk. Other spaces open where the bark folds back, revealing glyphs in the shape of a leaping animal or a stylized man. They’d mean something, if someone intended it. I could spend a day seated beneath this tree, but the mosquitoes are too thick. Besides, to sit is not to make. The tree’s material presence, quiet, stoic, art gallery in the round, resists the flow of information (always the same river twice) that earns us our livings. As it were. To earn a living is not to live it. And that’s precisely the point.

When my teacher asks me to see the images on my closed eye lids, I see darkness only. Last night I dreamed of bright yellow wings. Where they took me I can’t say, though like a small child I proclaimed the butterfly yellow. “I’ve been in kindergarten for six days!” a neighbor boy told me. Pride begins in sweetness.

We see the Russian tank through the sights of a javelin. The tank rampages down a narrow road between tall trees. Dragoning fire from its back, it spins around and stops dead. Men the color of the tank emerge from its hatch. They run.

A dragonfly’s wing resembles a stained glass window set on the earth. A drop of black sap turns green for the camera lens, which holds its viscous drop up to the internet. Each walk a sequence of pictures taken and not taken. An old woman sits in a chair beneath the mountain, leaning over to a grave, adjusting something gently. Her son walks toward her, phone before face, having brought her here in a car. I'll remember her as one not taken.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Bishop Tutu memory

 This came up in my enforced FB memories. I like it. From this day in 2012.

Bishop Tutu talked about how revolutionary is the notion that "we are made in God's image," reflecting on the real implications of that phrase. He spoke about clothing the naked, feeding the poor, noting that he'd never seen food and clothes fall from heaven. The Q&A session began with a man explaining who he was, where he lived. "I HATE people who talk about themselves," hissed a woman behind me. The next man thanked Tutu profusely for his life's work. When his list grew a tad long, another woman behind me said, "ENOUGH!" This has been a parable about parables.

Leave taking


5 August 2022

There’s paradise in trouble, more so after you leave the parking lot. It had gestured at permanence, the lines, the spaces they created, even the numbers that marked those spaces between lines. But even a new driver can negotiate an exit, barring engine failure. His voice soft, home sick, mine the same, but infused with maternal confidence. He sends a photo of the Washington monument from the plane. “I only call it National,” I said to him. “Reagan fired the air controllers.”

You sound sad, a friend messages me. To message is to write a note inside a confined space and send it inside a blue square container. I am sad, but happy that I’m sad. To love is to miss. Wouldn’t want to miss that.

Current events are a paddle, like gossip yet less intentional. In that current I remember going backwards in my canoe, watching the Potomac river run toward me as I flowed away from it. “Up down,” it says in Greek, though you wouldn’t translate it that way. “Knowledge is not wisdom” is my mis-translation for another fragment. To misread is to step in that river twice.

Paradise is also banality, the open garage doors, the rusty locks, the old newspapers, the cat on a trashcan owned by the city and county. No meditation on suburban life is complete without a flag.

Spit your breath out in a wheeze. You’ve been holding onto something. If you take away enough carbon dioxide, you can push it back in the air. As we do our churning in yoga, I notice my fixed leg shivering. The speed demon uses a walker. Elsewhere I see someone with one crutch, two crutches crunched in the back of my father-in-law’s old room. Religion is a crutch, my mother said. “I thank God for you and mom,” said my father. I was the odd number between their lines.

A night-blooming cereus appears on our lanai, bearing bulbs of wet light. Up the hill, others are dead, or dying, or brown with feathers of white. The shadow made by mine makes so sense from this angle; one cactusy arm turns down in relief. What appears to go up appears to go down. That’s a good graph for it all. Measure a curve as a right angle. Grammar matters less in poetry, our Greek instructor says.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Lilith and the grim mien


Lilith seemed reluctant to walk this morning. It was hot, and she was cozy under her blue blanket. She also recognizes the signs. The signs are bigger than usual, and her crate is nowhere in sight. One of two large black bags says "yellow" in Chinese, or so Bryant tells me. He doesn't read Chinese either. The overflow is in Priority Mail boxes, set by the door, ready to be sent.
As we turn up Kahekili, Lilith and I, we spot a middle-aged white woman of grim mien with two large dogs. Her husky lies down on the sidewalk to signal interest in Lilith. The retriever has just made work for the woman with her green bag. As we get closer, she pulls her dogs away with some difficulty. I laugh. "It's not funny," she says.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Little SMS in a prospect of palms

 1 August 2022

Those days the mind was a stock market for wild animals, until the doubly metaphorical became fact. The bull inside gored my skull from within, leaving a hole through which I rushed like a waterfall through a long shutter speed. The blurs are jewels, water unfit to drink because it’s flat. Render the photographic subject flat, prop him up like a cardboard salesman by the curb. When wisdom literature comes closest to confessional verse, then you’ve gotten somewhere. Excise the pronouns and continue with the parable. You’ll find that seed somewhere for the Buddha and remain immortal in your anonymity. (It's the best kind.) But you’ve got to dig to get there; the boneyard yields nothing as it is, except stench. The former president failed at the words “defiled” and “yesterday.” Put them in the tiny trash can to the side of his screen. It’s not the words that incriminate; it’s their very sound.

I prefer stills, though they suffocate the sound. To measure time in saccades, rather than in legato vision. It’s the lack of transition that’s true, not a seamless swerve between incoherent moments, incoherent because past. The historian lived in another century, but walked the streets and heard the honks of horns. That other century invested in a different account, but there was no making a living there. The brain drain was open. One man said he’d never thought about the pluperfect before. For me, the dative of respect was the mystery.

What we can’t talk about includes our individual experiences of office culture, the way you develop like a long vine in your youth and are then pruned to near nothingness as you get older. That sentence reminds me of someone else’s prose, but that’s appropriate, because he wrote about such things, the careers that blossom and then don’t so much fade as go away. Get your ticket now to irrelevance; it’s a better gig than you’d ever imagined it would be. You still have to brush your own teeth, but there’s no syllabus to follow, if you were even to read it.

In the phrase “coming civil war,” where do you mark the coming of coming, or the going of it? The violence is either random or accomplished at the behest of larger forces. You don’t need an actual politics, if you have hate on your side. You only need the instruments, the occasion to go to the mall. Shopping is a form of destruction, yes, but the destruction of shoppers reduces the equation to nil. Self-contained, like an era, the mall houses my worse memories, not as they happened, but as I tried to get away from them. Memory itself became the problem. If I do something today, I will remember it. If I remember it, it will have been lost. If it is lost, then so am I.

But that manner of thinking can’t survive serotonin. Meditation creates space, as do the meds. Space opens choice. You can now say yes or no, getting on with your life until it gets smaller in the mirror, mattering less as pain than as pain’s history. He remembered finding his lost glasses a year later in the archives. The archives is a lens, but the cap is usually on. Ornette Coleman’s hands arrange photographs before the lens turns to his fingers sifting out black from white keys. I don’t have the sound on, so his fingers move without singing. My daughter just sold some stocks. The printer hums to itself. Lilith sleeps beside me, half-covered by a green pickleball shirt. Details absorb you when you need them most. I'm the one who can't be absorbed.