Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Imagine a word

Imagine an I and an It, where It is also Thou. The short word pierces sense. What I am to the word is what the word is to the thing it names. We are subjects to each other, which is not to say subjected to, but real in the way spirit is.

Imagine a word that means what it says. Beauty as direction, bluntness even. A stroke pierces mind, but takes only words away. Four hours later, the word returns, pretending nothing had happened, wagging its tail.

Imagine knowing the name of your neighbor at the next desk, asking her what she ate for breakfast, what kind of toothpaste she uses. Think of that as a key to incorporation, not in the sense of finance but of feeling.

What we thought was true is now imagined, though perhaps we imagine that. Depends on whose subject you were, which drinking fountain spouted for your mouth, on which train car you sat. When imagination is only another form of forgetting, let it go.

Imagine a mode of realism that does not involve black lung or mass shootings or melting glaciers. You’ll need to get close, so close the dead gecko dissolves into the bright greens and oranges of a gum trees broken skin. It feels like fiction, but it’s a clear view.

The pun on spirits breaks a rule. Right speech is not fascist. You can utter the same sentence and have it mean 1) the truth or 2) a lie. It’s more than tone shifts, more than punctuation that turns the lens’s dial. Hear with clarity; turn off auto-tune.

The week between my mother’s birthday and the day my father died must be accident, however inscribed on my inner calendar. My daughter reminds me to take my mother’s ashes to Virginia, to place them on the same shelf as my father’s. She thinks a lot about the ashes, which sit in our closet, apart from my sight.

Can ashes sing? Can something so impalpable as song emerge from something so inert? What is the material of song? The immaterial of the ashes, which resembles nothing but other ashes.

In the show, a young woman is tricked into assassinating the man who hates Nazis. This is an ethical problem with a bomb attached. She was shown a piece of paper that proved her victim had ordered her boyfriend shot. The flyer was passed to her by a Nazi pretending to be a Communist. At show's end, she can no longer pretend to be a young woman.

She had not thought Cabaret has so much to offer us. Men in masks, their arms raised in Nazi salutes, stand on an overpass in LA, their banners anti-semitic. The proudest white supremacist is a Black man. The words for this are?



Saturday, October 22, 2022

Lilith and the jokester


Lilith and I ran after Daniel, who walks in an emergency green vest and plugs himself into his ear buds. "I thought you were from California," I said when he said he had a Texas accent. He was a school principal in Texas for seven years, he explained. "Did you know that John Travolta has covid?" he asked. No. "They called him up and said John, you have covid. But no, it was just Saturday Night Fever."

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Der Verkehr


19 October 2022


Not narrative, but chronology. Not how, but as it happened. Not art, but accident.

Before effect, there is cause. It’s worth lingering. Conspiracies neglect cause for the erotic pleasures of the perfect web. They don’t entertain the pause. All noise and the blur of rain on a car window at dawn. Doppler untangled is mere siren.

Conspiracy is the gossip of events, always adding up.

The new V2 is a kamikaze drone. Disruption inside the war’s disruptions. Torture chambers buried deep inside buildings, drones knocking out the windows. A window without glass still refuses the eye’s trespass.

The history of war acquires its shape through broken forms. Precision missiles take out armored personnel carriers. Men run from them like ants without compasses. The scene in Dr. Zhivago of a man lying in a field, firing a machine gun. At 6, I’d already started weeping by then.

My son had a flat tire on 395 the day after Reggie came to mind, young, African American, killed on the New Jersey turnpike a couple years after he graduated. Should have gotten better grades, he said, heading off to law school in Michigan.

These faces rise from the throat into the mid-brain like curled hands, borne into memory. The question of meaning includes this: why do I remember this now? Or that.

The power lines between parts of the body light up like a street at the end of a power outage. I feel traffic between my heart and right knee, then the point between my eyebrows and the end of my nose. I make a map that’s already there, like a drawing that burrows inside the paper.

He says he wants to do only what he loves in his remaining time on this earth. Do people say these things over coffee?

She wonders if the story about the old woman who sits for hours at the bus stop needs more drama. We wonder if she’s had a stroke, can’t get up, feels sick. But she was just noticing things. The drama is all us. She’s the one who sees.

Lilith and the Libra

Lilith and I ran into the walker who worked on Air Force One during the Reagan years. As we were about to keep walking, I asked, "what was Ronald Reagan like?" "Oh he was a nice man. It was the people around him who were sinister--Donald Regan, Bud McFarlane--really bad. The good guy was Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary, Irish you know. [They were all Irish!] Nancy was kind of stand-offish at first, but kept asking our zodiac signs. I said 'Feces,' and she asked if I meant 'Pisces.' No, 'Feces.'" He's a Libra, like me, just turned 61.


Monday, October 17, 2022

On liking and being / liked

17 October 2022

Be the first to like this because liking is good, but no better than being first. The first is a form of being, but only in the future past, when I will have remembered clicking. Parse the difference between a red heart and a blue thumb’s up. Match your pay scale to your quantity of likes. Even dislikes (which don’t exist) will do, because they mean someone’s eyes paused, finger moved, synapse fired. We can see the first two, but not the third, as mind is as invisible to eye as it is to mind. To think is to spelunk, but there’s no time for it. The surface seems so much more reasonable, more “relatable,” more of a piece with our shards of hours and minutes, pre-destroyed by the judgment system. If I put up a selfie and you like it, are you liking me or my photograph or the fact that I’ve offered it to you without knowing who you are, unless you like it? And what of my cv, with all its enumerations . . .

One problem arises in liking tweets from the Ukraine. Kamikaze drones that kill garner as many likes as any day in the park. In which case “like” stands in for “I’ve noticed this and want you to know it’s so.” Shorthand of shorthand. He called her Shorty in the elevator. Short greetings pierce the shafts. One cave had a clothes rack across the back, hangers arrayed but lacking anything to hold onto. Not an allegory of detachment, but of not-having, though it might also be seen as photograph only. Composition over subject. Affect over fact. What we see and feel more than our history. This can go both ways: I can cherish the memory of a feeling without remembering its instance, or I can operate according to my gut, and my gut does not like you. My gut might send you to Delaware or Illinois with other migrants. I care only for those I know, not those I stand beside on the subway or those who are as abstract as the fear they engender in me. Caravans of abstractions come north, when needed to swing some votes. You don’t see it, because you’re too busy liking something else, like a flower because that is what photographs are for. That’s not a poem! She wrote to me, because the photograph was of ugliness. But a trapped green gecko on a rainbow eucalyptus, its head threaded to the tree by sap string, is beautiful. Deal with it.

Many have stopped liking; they resign, get off the platforms, develop private lives or whatever passes for private these days. When the boy dropped dead beetles on a couple making love below, they knew nothing of it. They had chosen a semi-private space for a semi-public act, and this was the thanks they got for it. Someone once rated my friendship with her by making two columns, one of what was worth keeping, the other what was not. I was astonished.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

A metaphor is for


16 October 2022

A large piece of palm is trapped in a neighbor’s yarn spiderweb. Leaves pirouette from the webs of Volcano; this yarn web signals stasis. Oh web without maker, what do you mean to tell us? Ben hates metaphor because it takes us away from what is tangibly here. I respond they also make real toads. Not that I have any proof, but I believe it’s so, and that’s enough in this climate. Nor do I think metaphor markets in religion, though webs have been so used, not to denote death traps, but as images of connection. If I were to dream a train whose tracks were iron only in the direction it traveled, as what it left behind melted like sap into the trellis’s cross hairs, I might have explained something. Then again, explanation’s over-rated. To explain is neither to praise nor defame, posit nor deposit. It’s a neutral space, like the old Walter Cronkite. One can believe in nets without knowing what they contain.

Russia pulls men off the streets to fight in the Ukraine, taking men from prison. They hunt men to hunt other men. The sidewalk might be a trap, or a rural road. The trap is violence front-dated, once their week of training is complete. Your debt is men who are still alive, then so quickly spent. In the poem, the bridegrooms are already dead. To marry a dead man is an act of back-dated faith. I loved the man so I must love his corpse. The beauty of our net gets shredded inside the thought of men falling into theirs. Pyramid scheme that collapses under the weight of the trap itself, if it were an idea. The man’s mother was sent to Siberia; her sister survived the death camps. The first woman left food on her plate; the second one couldn’t bear to see a single crumb.

To pull a shark from a net, or a turtle. To save a man from dying and then, handed an award by the police, to eviscerate them. To take your moment cold, knowing it’s there. The eucalyptus tree near the swimming pool has trapped a gecko in its goop. It’s a web that’s only a trap, perhaps. When I went back, ants had found the gecko, covered it with bodies and legs, dim against black sap, visible only where the tree was dry. Neither tree nor ants intended to catch the gecko and consume it. This was not design, but accident, netting similar result. The iPhone makes the real more real. If dementia is surrealism brought to earth, then this tree’s sap-covered roots appear demented. Tomorrow the gecko will have been forgotten, by tree and by ant and by me. To eat is to forget.

--for Ben F.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Time the illiterate


14 October 2022

Cat a cat a category. Dog a dogma. Pet the petard. Whole words as fragments, pieces as holes in a blanket. Dog puts nose through hole. All we see is black nose, blue blanket. Blue blanket thrashes when I finish granola bar, place green foil on the floor. It’s not the way sound generates meaning, but how meaning generates sound. Small words are best, like mosquitoes on the arm of a sentence, making it itch. Hairs stand there without standing. Hair looms: over or as machine? The fabric made therefrom might be scarf, if we wore them, or turtle neck if it were cold. Cat fur makes turtle neck soft. Shell games go on without. In listening to him read, I suddenly heard some tics, sound stitches across poem fabric. The era of flags flags. The noun verb thing continues apace. We pace to fit the vowels in their slots. Some call it meditation.

Shooter is category. Shooter is 15 years old. Shooter wandered a path by the creek; he went a-shooting. Jogger, guy going to work, his brother. Wore camo. Camus restated: the question not of suicide but of other-murder. She died not by her hand but by another’s. He awakened from a dream of wet concrete, his hands gray and stiff. If we dream of concrete, does our dream then set? Kids sign sidewalks. A kind of immortality, short-listed. Hard to bury you in a sidewalk, unless you’re DH Lawrence in a wheelbarrow. Fight over those ashes.

Ashes to ashes. Mine can’t get out the door, whether cat or mother ash. Mother is category. Mother loved dogs. Mother was dogmatic, something of a prude. But then shone her eyes (spelled e-yes!) about the plugs and sockets, male and female. What one to another does, she said. More expressive on our left sides, we favor our rights. Florida, its first lady claims, is a free state. Was its name ugly, or pristine? Piscines by the beach waste water. Waste water plants redeem it, except when it rains. All of us love the picayune. A White woman screamed the n-word at a Black woman and a White man reeled. It is just a word. No word is, on its own, just.

The real reels. Realism’s an eel, a lissome one. Snakes through cracks, code cracks. Knee and back. Crack. Crack reporter, at 23, breaks stories like raw noodles. Starchy, too. You are not your accent. You are not a spice. You are the dot that moves across the screen, marking the dmz between then and then. Now is too hard to find, not yet a hand in concrete. My face is young, but my hands are old. They are turning into mine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Morning's minions


12 October 2022

Small blue balsa wood plane, lacking wings. Root knot resembling knitted face. Photographs to write of, not about. About face, about roots, about a shaggy gray dog behind a screen door, one shoe lying at an angle outside. Chair armrest resembles the circle a leaf makes, like weed whacker string. Dental floss for grass. Silence as luxury, as cell. Run down the hall screaming and others will hate you. The Sandy Hook father sobs quietly at “past and future damages.” Grief stacked on anger stacked on sadism stacked on a camera’s lens. Can you pull anger out from between grief and sadism, and so win the game? My twitter friend in Kyiv drinks her coffee, and I mine. It’s humid here, no immediate evil to lance. Just accumulated boils against which we pay our mortgage. She hated Job for having suffered so at the hands of God. I mean, she hated the book. That’s a different story, flung open like the basement of a mushroom, accordion without sound. One of my friends has no internal map, another a chronic neck. Mother-in-law needs second new knee. We don’t think of pain as allegory, but as its opposite number. Too immediate for allegory, like affect preceding emotion or pain suffering. Suffering turns like a soap circle into story, but there’s no redeeming it at the door. Tickets are cheap, but pull the family card and you get in free. A family crawls out of their destroyed home in the Ukraine; an announcer tells us they’re being pulled to safety. We balk at the substitution of heroism for stubbornness, of community for individual ordeal. She says she will vote, now that she knows the consequences to her. Men no longer go to college, and women don’t like them ill-equipped. The most dangerous man, he heard, is the white one who lives in his mother’s basement. He has a finger for porn and violence, but cannot talk to others. Yes, I am a robot, so don’t give me your puzzles. Formalism on demand requires an isbn of nine numbers and a price tag. These are interlocking forms: mother and missing dad; dark basement; screen glow; palimpsest of sex and murder. To crawl out of that rubble requires more than a degree. We’ve self-ruined, but only see it in the others. On our way to lunch we saw a man dressed in black, his hair black, his skin nearly so, twisted on a sidewalk in Kailua, the richest part of O`ahu. Everybody here is white, my white friend says from the back seat. Up Kahekili, on the path beside the pet cemetery, a man hops and skips and pushes his fists in the air. Imagined violence is better than none.

Monday, October 10, 2022

This is 64

10 October 2022

Is aesthetics always anxious? Must my walks be pedestrian? To be readable is to be ordinary; to be ordinary is all there is. It’s not just the extremities that hurt; the distinction between pain and suffering signifies a gap between ouch and ache. Missiles hit Kyiv last night, return on a destroyed bridge. Watch one truck come through, the next one lost in a ball of flame. Pull that driver like old tape from global politics. The stickiness stays as grief’s remainder. If a fly lands there, it’s an add-on. The fly that lands after I die will be witness to a clearing, both metaphorical and true (as if they could be distinguished). This morning I felt happy to know ambiguity had not done us in, me and the guys at the guard shack. The video complicates such ambiguity into a mouth full of dust. A hundred years since that shoring up against. Sixty four of these years have included me. Whose shanty shall I sing?

Neighbor P (as my phone calls him) rails against heaps of garbage at the curb, leaflets at the door. He’ll throw them all away. I try to distinguish between “solicitation” and “free speech,” but he says we agree to disagree before I can disagree again. He can’t believe anything. His mother listens to Christian radio. That’s propaganda, but so is everything else. That’s our disagreement, not on the facts but on how to find them. Whether they even matter, matter being a form of existence. In this hierarchy, fact is no pillar, but post-truth is nowhere near as fun as surrealism. Lacks a charge. The line about fuses is out-dated, Bryant says, after I opine that coming home at quarter to three is not true to age 64. Maybe in my dreams you’ll leave a crack in the imaginary door. Real toads live on the stairs outside.

That’s how it goes, the man at the guard shack says about baseball. I see his friend in the back of the valley, taking photos of the mountains, the cloud that sits on one like a birthday hat. Where’s the elastic band to hold it on, or hold us to our paper helmets? Head injuries are a dime a dozen. Concussion protocols sound like half-time bands warming up to entertain us. If I fly to you, it’s not diplomacy. If you fly back, it might be.

Anger writ large is a missile that hits a national university. We do that more slowly in this country. After a pregnant woman jumped in front of a bread truck, UPS told the others to keep working. This was in Louisville. Next time, put up a safety net. Where safety equals life, where life means we breathe, where breath denotes a body. As we get older, embodiment gets more deliberate. I am conscious because I decay.

Two Buddhist teachers sat in a garden. One to the other said, “imagine, they call that a tree!”

Sunday, October 2, 2022

My first dharma talk: on talking to strangers

 I was subbing for our teacher, Mary Grace Orr, this week in the Volcano meditation group. So I talked about walking Lilith, right speech, tyranny, attention, and talking.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Introduction for Jaimie Gusman, winner of the Loretta Petrie Award, 2022

Jaimie Gusman: Loretta Petrie Award, 1 October 2022

(after Joe Brainard’s I Remember)

Remembering my mentor and friend, Marie Hara, who introduced me at the Cades Awards, and hoping to pass on some of her mana to Jaimie.

I remember a young graduate student named Jaimie, arrived recently from Seattle, sitting in my office in the late aughts who told me that Honolulu needed a reading series and that she intended to start it.

I remember thinking “well, there’s a can of worms.” I remember not saying it.

I remember her strong and buoyant voice that day and from then on in classes, meetings, readings, over coffee, and at her beautiful wedding to Evan. My late colleague, Miriam Fuchs, who was pithy, once turned to me and said of Jaimie, “that voice!”

I remember offering what I thought was sound advice to Jaimie, and her not following it. As the poet, Tony Trigilio notes, stubbornness matters to an artist. You’re doomed without it (perhaps with it, too, but we won’t go there!)

I remember not knowing what MIA meant, except like anyone of my generation, “Missing in Action.”

I remember her MIA (Mixing Innovative Arts) at the Mercury Bar in Chinatown, where the bartender waited until a reading had started to loudly shake the ice. I remember the series moved to Fresh Cafe in Kakaako, where there was no barkeep that I remember.

I remember there was a window behind the performers in the Mercury bar. I remember Kaia Sand showing a flickery movie there about the Pacific Northwest.

I remember Jerrold Shiroma projecting doctored Shakespeare sonnets and beautiful bits of graffiti on the wall. He’s from San Diego, but I remember thinking, “very east coast.”

I remember a fabric artist, two or three times, who performed in huge outfits he’d made. I don’t remember what he did, just his imposing and comical and fabricated presence.

I remember the wide range of Jaimie’s selections for the series: local, international, continental, funny, sad, creepy, down to earth. Award winners and award losers.

I remember her engaging introductions, that she clearly loved bringing artists together.

I remember that Jaimie could not have done this had she not been such a fine poet herself; her book Anyjar is brilliant. Read and remember it. From Black Radish books.

I remember the book as a love song and an elegy stitched together. I remember there was a poem about cock slinging.

I remember when Jaimie gave MIA away, a great act of generosity. She was becoming my mentor. I will remember how truly she deserved this award for her brilliance and her ability to bring writers together.