Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Lilith at the Met


It was the sound of a distressed soprano, high and loud, with a note of terror attached. It was Lilith last evening, after she was rushed by a puppy pit bull (for the second time) and got caught up between the other dog person's legs and her own leash. She ran off to the side of the play area, where everyone and their dogs had gathered, tail thrust forlornly between her back legs. This evening, Lilith wanted to get a treat from her favorite person. She walked back to the area where she'd been terrorized. At first, she wouldn't even take a treat. "Please keep your dog on a leash," I said to the owner of a second pit bull, who plays with the offending hound. Not much response. Lilith ate her treat and we beat our retreat.
Earlier today, a friend and I collected lunch plates at the Poi Factory (I had the #16, mini laulau, and she the kalua pig). We drove to Kualoa Beach park to find a picnic bench. I was slow to pick up Lilith's leash as she got out of the back seat. And she ran! Red leash trailing, she bounded off after chickens. "Not as fast as he [sic] thinks he is," said a large man in a folding chair, looking out to sea with his wife. As Lilith ran toward the parking lot, I called out, "if you can, please catch my dog." (This feels like a mantra, after all these years.) No one did, but the leash got stuck under a car tire for just long enough for me to gather her in. My friend had just finished reading _Lilith Walks_, so I assured her she had now experienced a Lilith story first hand. We walked up the beach, past fishermen, small kids, and back toward the car. A line of tourists was doing a Greek folk dance in the park when we reached the car.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Annie Ernaux


"What really interests me about youth is that it’s always the time you remember later. But I won’t be able to remember my old age. So! I have to live it to the fullest.” (NYer)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving prayer

 24 November 2022

Here is the gunman’s house, and here is his chimney. Open it up and see the bodies. Fingers falling, everywhere.

Feeling nostalgia for “lives of quiet desperation.”

The rain on the palms this morning makes a neutral sound, a plinking in front of the wind; a view of wet laundry, towels and underwear.

I laughed when my father wiggled his fingers that had been a stone church and now were people. The gunman laughed maniacally as he shot. We're told we look for motive, as if motive were not repetition. If we begin at the bullet’s endpoint and reverse engineer the shooting, follow bullet back through body (identified by Mom tattoo by mom) into the gun’s mouth as it spits from a trigger pulled back at the impulse to mow, not in Marvell’s sense, or that of any farmer. If we keep following back into the nerves of the man who shoots, back to the amygdala, we see less yet. Motive has fled. We won't be needing it.

Stoppage time still moves. If only we could remain inside it, at once after the game and still inside it. Our field of battle is a strip mall. In Ukraine, people work at night because that’s when electricity is on. At Walmart, the late shift ends early with gunfire. The faces of the dead appear as still zoom images; each in his or her box. A funny face, a smile, one size fits all life, now it’s gone.

Here is the church, and here is the steeple. To whom do you pray, I ask a friend. The ancestors, he answers. It doesn’t matter to whom you pray, Norman advised us. It’s the act. Of breathing, I believe.

--for Kai Gaspar

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Grief abiding

23 November 2022

Grief is not a rabbit. It can’t run this fast.

Grief holds out no carrots. Not today.

Grief becomes the expectation of more grief.

Grief is what the television makes in us.

Grief has no 12 step program, though it’s best to count your steps.

Grief is the foyer to a missing house.

Grief bids us to miss ourselves in advance, like rent-a-grief.

Grief is the red sheets hanging from the line, a corner torn.

Grief attracts symbols like a magnet. Iron shavings crazed.

Grief asks me not to remember the poet, but the poet’s effect on my students.

Grief demands my anger, but I’m too tired. Read my older work.

Grief hints at boundless joy, but the clues are hard to find.

Grief is good in moderation. The scales have broken.

Grief is what you discover in the morning on the news, and then at night.

Grief, double shots.

Grief fills my screens with sentences. Some readers love the sentences; others the sentiment.

Grief is at once affect and sentence. A sob is its ceasura.

Grief begins a list that ends only when someone else grieves us.

Grief comes in numbers. Three football players, three poets, five in a bar, six in a Walmart. A neighbor.

Grief calls back its debts. We need the hero, but he knows he failed.

Grief is a war zone. This was his fifth tour of duty. Nothing happens, then a moment of chaos.

Grief barks orders at us. Wield high heels as weapons. Weaponize your joy. 

--list in memory of Bernadette Mayer & so many others

Monday, November 21, 2022

Bound less joy

21 November 2022

The dead are too kind. At four, she told her mother she was a boy. He died as Danny, tender of bar and character. But we’re past humanizing the dead. There have been too many of them.

Only the dead collaborate with detectives. The living, with their prerogatives, their plots, disappear into the woods or into themselves. The living fail to make eye contact, for that might reveal something. Anti-maskers are most masked in this context. Leave masks to the old ladies at Safeway; they have nothing to hide.

Shave off a few syllables and the sentence will re-sound. There’s no meaning in word rhythms, but there’s none without them either. This is one way to write on a day like this, making a form of self-contradiction. Diction has its price. The poet speaks of a grid inside of which he hung his sonnets. He likes sonnets!

The teacher speaks of boundless joy on just the morning I can’t possibly find it. No corner of the house hides such a thing. The dog hasn’t sniffed it out, nor the one cat who sniffs, while the others sound like head colds wanting attention. The feel-by date long past, dust’s small joy sits at the bottom of the column of saltines. You have to borrow on the margin to get the bigger kind; some might call it gambling.

“We stay in touch.” A song inspires the lovers finally to kiss, but we know they can't be together, as the plot demands something else of more complexity. Simple love has no place in a noir detective show, even when it’s coming at you in German. Their kiss is an invitation to a monkey wrench. For 25 points, name the composer of that symphonic bit.

Touching: to be made to feel by an outside input. I am moved by your touching story. Your moving story touches a raw nerve in me. That nerve touches ligament or bone, lights up. B says the fireworks going off at night simply advertise the availability of fireworks for sale.

A neighbor’s truck lacks its license plate and NYY magnet. The NYY wreath that lay outside his fence yesterday is gone, though not the flowers, the best wishes from Young Brothers, the white ribbon’s golden scrawl, Ohana.

She concluded her talk on boundless joy with a poem by Anne Sexton.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Consumer behavior

17 November 2022

If I am It to her, how dissolve her into Thou? At the intersection of sidewalk and stairs, she stares, a blank, but not a kind one. From each hand hangs a white plastic trash bag; each balances out the other. In the aftermath of no balance, the scales askew, dangling, no weight to be recorded that is not feeling, unfettered. She is a mild teacher, truly, lacking weapons or voice. Stink eye doesn’t even smell.

The tender ribbon between this and barbarity is what scares me. Like the band of grass bent at the top of an orange cone, purple on the top, green below. The next day there’s less bend, less color, just the orange cone crush. The fragility of this bend amplifies the violence we sense in the trees, the trash cans, the well fed graves. Some dates tell us about history, others mark what we’ll never know. The face of the murdered man is blacked out and covered with brown cut grass.

The war diary doesn’t end. Her power cut, her driving lessons stalled, a cup of coffee on her table in a high rise in Kyiv. She’d avoided the war, except as a principle of someone else’s life, until now. Electricity cut, rockets falling, an avant-garde violence lacking art. Blood dripped from the first floor of the house in Idaho, red lace on pale blue paint. Not all clues point to resolution.

The quick wit squats. Synapse molasses. Spark stunned by rain or snow. The third eye shuts, apathetic, refusing to see in either direction. Introspection suits the wanderer. What he does with his anger is to make it act. I watched a Noh play when I first arrived, near the site of recent murders. The one hid feeling until it filled the stage; the other exploded, diminished into question.

The world is all before them, he quotes Milton. It is before and after us. Over there, a sign tells us what we cannot do in this place. There will be more of those, until we forget how to read them, pulling letters off the metal plates, leaving pencil shavings on the humid earth.

She said I should not use “hang over” in the same sentence as “shot” (covid, flu) but I said it was metaphor. An easy out, I know. Our politics is one of removal. Take out the words, take out the ideas, take out our desires, take out those memories that do not fit our boxes. The police will come later, to check on our remnants, bits of cloth and paper left in an alley as a goad to reassembly. We can take apart, but we cannot put back. Some of us get paid to curate others’ desire. Thou consumes us, until we're spent. Shantih.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

How I became part of the Iranian resistance


While in Tacoma recently, I put up a "reel" on instagram of a red autumn tree, shaken by wind, that by happenstance included church bells ringing at the end. Over the course of a couple weeks, the reel was liked and responded to by a lot of Iranians I don't know. The latest response, translated, reads as follows: "Let's be a seedling with unity and solidarity; full of love, kindness and goodness, and let's irrigate this seedling so that it can root for all the people and the source of good friendship, kindness, peace and comfort for our children and future generations 😢😢😢 O' God, you are also a witness and take this down the misery from the foundation. The root of everything in the cruel world Oppression of women is life, freedom of expression and equality of man of homeland". I google "red autumn tree and Iran" and get this: To the extent that I understand this response, I'm happy that my short video has been taken as an emblem of the Iranian resistance. And now I find this, which explains the significance of the redness of the tree:

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Metaphor slips

15 November 2022

A pigeon in the palms, alas. I take my metaphors mixed, even natural ones. Organic, no poisons, no likeness that is not approved by the metaphor police. From farm to barn, not table, though we sat at picnic benches while someone else was recorded on video. Stories of the train wreck varied. They were birds flying across the compartment. She sat under the table. He bled from the side of his face.

The authorities make trauma so you can’t remember your stories. It’s not a waltz from beginning to end, or tapestry from inside to out, but old asphalt crushed in place, remixed to fix the old road. I miss macadam, if only the word.

I ask him about the singing bridge, then find it’s been replaced with a monotone. Music gets cut first.

Metaphor as replacement word: pigeon for pigeon, palm for grass. A bridge for singing; an atonal bridge. We don’t replace one thing with another but one word. The word is portable, potable, can be taken as a carry-on, so long as you put it in the overhead compartment, which contents may shift during “rough air.” Not caring becomes a yellow submarine, its frail guitar the clink of glasses. Lennon becomes Starkey.

Revision as humor’s release. The organ note exceeds its best buy date, then keeps coming back, like a dog to her rawhide. We recognize the song, but not the ceaseless note. The soul, but less drizzly November.

Is boredom arrogance, or anger? Is boredom the step between tenor and vehicle? Does the singer stop half-way, dangle his feet in the river (before the drought returns). Blankness is not dull, the mind is. On an ordinary day, he wanted to leave the yellow room and take a bus home. Panic translated as boredom. Pain as boredom. I told the kids they were lucky to be bored.

Into what mirror did you look? What did you see? If personal and political don’t rhyme, what does? The walls are tethered to the ground by horizontal wood pieces. She can’t believe the walls are so thin. The man picking up garbage at the cemetery asks me what I did for a living. He didn’t make it through school, himself. Might move to Texas or Vegas. But this is his home.

We can afford to live where we don’t belong.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Choreographies of distance

I'm not playing, I say to myself as Lilith and I walk on the other side of the parking lot toward the turn to home. The neighbor who hasn't spoken to me in over two years, or even looked at me, stands across the lot with her dog, a dog named for a famous Yankee player we used to be able to like, her daughter and two more dogs. They're talking to each other, about to head down the lot parallel to us. Lilith and I keep going, and she graces me with a much desired poop. The countdown from five begins. When I look up again, mother and daughter and their dogs have turned on their heels; they walk away from any geometry that might bring us face to face. Lilith and I continue down the sidewalk, making the turn toward home. The trees are beautiful in this light. I take pictures.


Friday, November 11, 2022

Lilith and I talk about Richard Nixon

Lilith and I ran into our retired Air Force friend (he who worked on AF1 during the Reagan years) on our way out of the cemetery. He said he was now in good enough shape that he can eat what he wants. "Otherwise," he said, "I'd have more chins than a Chinese telephone book." He didn't seem certain that I'd understood, so I made it clear I got the pun. I asked if he had children. From his first marriage, he said. They came quickly. "No HBO or Netflix back then." I don't know how it happened (though it often does), but Richard Nixon's name came up. I said the best thing he did was Title IX. Our friend says he reads at least three hours a day now (and has two post-retirement MA's) and is currently reading a biography of Nixon. I said, Roy Cohn. He said, McCarthy era. He went straight; Lilith and I peeled off to the right. Sometimes the metaphorical field betrays us.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

On the Seawall / review of Hank Lazer's PIECES

Ron Slate's November edition of On the Seawall is out. See here:

I wrote a review of Hank Lazer's book, PIECES, from BlazeVox Press. I had more fun than I had any right to have!

Here's one paragraph:

PIECES, then, is about what we leave when we die. Lots of holes, and some pieces. The poet’s uncle is gone, his mother is gone, and he is going (though no verb form seems to work there, since it’s an ongoingness that is, at best, the passing of a baton). “i write poems / that no one / reads / not my family — / you are an exception / & you / have my gratitude[.]” The reader is “you” but only you know who you are; he cannot. Pronoun You, meet It. Readers are a function of hope and belief, like God, and so merit his praise, as did God by his uncle in his bathrobe on the sundeck. Lazer’s most recent book — and he has many! — is an extended meditation on his mother’s death. Earlier in his life, he wrote a long farewell to his father. As poet, he knows that farewells are openings, but that those openings are played by other characters, not the ones who inspired the drama. When the Time Comes was the repository of mother memories; this one is less about memory than about being forgotten, productively, in words.