Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Lilith and the hoarder


The Hoarder keeps the patch between curb and sidewalk neat as a pin. Some days, he sits on the ground trimming the already short grass. His mailbox is freshly painted. He props trees up with posts and cord. Behind the iron fence, chaos. In the garage, chaos: old pants hanging from a line (like a Charles Addams cartoon), heaps of wood, metal, tools, no room for car. A large Buddha sits in the yard, sometimes an orange in his lap. Close by, a stone toad of similar size grins toward the street through the significant underbrush. 
For years, I thought the Hoarder lived in the large moldering house by himself. Today, as Lilith and I walked by, we heard a woman's voice falling through louvers on the second floor. "You get four doors!" she yelled. "Three doors don't open. The front door stuck. I call the locksmith." Lilith and I lingered; I turned to take a photograph of an old plastic jug hanging from a tree; much of the plastic had worn away. The white haired man's face showed through a gap; he was coming out of his garage. "Good morning," I said. "Good morning," he responded.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lilith hears a chicken tale

The woman who, in Lilith Walks, hunted snails in Kahalu`u, was seated on the curb beneath the shower tree gleaming in the morning light, playing a casino game on her phone, smoking a cigarette. Lilith was interested, walked over, accepted the woman's kind attention. I said Lilith almost killed a chicken the other day. 
--You know, I have a job at Ross now, nights, to go with the other job I do at home. The other night a woman was in the dressing room. She wanted to get clothes for her son, but he's bigger than he used to be and fussy. She had something wiggling in her bag. Not a dog, maybe a cat? No, a chicken! A black chicken with feathers that went in reverse direction from usual. It's her pet! Found it, feral, raised it; now it eats with the dogs, follows everybody around. Was difficult when the grandmother came to live with them. She's Filipino. You know what they think chickens are for. And the dogs black. Took a while to persuade her that the chicken was supposed to be running around the living room. Even had its own diaper, hand-made.
She's taken in renters. Once Macy's closed, it was too hard. So she's got a couple of former Macy's employees living with her now. Another dog walker came by, we chatted some more. She got up in her long pajamas from the curb brightly strewn with shower tree petals (yellow, salmon colored), having finished her cigarette.
Yestaday, at Broke da Mouth, Lee Tonouchi tell, Susan you write poems when you walk your dog. Are you always writing in your head? Do you ever have fun? And I tink now, ho, Lee, dis was da firs walk, not da long one. Still time foa find da nex` Lilit` story today lidat.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Lilith and my mother's ashes


I'd thought maybe they'd moved the short guy with long salt and pepper (more pepper than salt) hair and Hawaiian flag board shorts to another location, but he said he'd been on vacation. I hoped it had been good. "Ho, last night in Vegas I get $3200," he said, eyes gleaming. He'd won $2000 another night, but that just covered expenses. I advised him not to spend it all in one place, and he said no, he gave it to his "old lady," the boss. She had bills to pay; then again, so did he. 
He'd gestured toward the main office building, so I asked if she also worked at the cemetery. "Oh yes, she one of the big bosses," he said. Come to think of it, I have a question for the big bosses, I said. My mother's ashes have been in my closet for 10 years. They need to be in Arlington National Cemetery, with my father's. My own daughter keeps pestering me about them. I wonder if the big bosses could help me get them there. "Oh, I'll ask her," he said. He said he understood.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Lilith and the fake indictments

I asked how the Big Bosses visit had gone at the cemetery. S at the front shack said they hadn't even talked to him before leaving; he muttered something about middle management causing all the problems. Then he started talking about "fake indictments," and how did I enjoy them. I said there are 91 of them, but he was talking about how the proud boys' indictments didn't even show up in the system; one of the proud boys was supposed to have been in solitary for months, but somehow he'd gained weight and looked super fit. S pointed to the side muscle that he said he didn't have, but that guy sure did. And Joe Biden's mask! I noted that Biden had worn a mask when his wife had covid, but S meant the mask you can see if you look at the back of his neck, the one that covers his face. From there he started talking about how Alex Jones (Alex Jones!) supposedly flew from Texas to Connecticut every day for the fake Sandy Hook stuff. "You think Sandy Hook was fake?" I ask, grasping and gasping at straws. "Oh yes!" S started to laugh. I said, you don't laugh at that. "Oh no, I'm laughing at you," he said. I walked away, said I was disgusted. "Of course you are," he yelled.
Two Black men got out of a black mustang, wearing black tourist clothes. One man wore a big straw hat on, was up the hill, and his friend was taking his photo. I asked if they wanted me to take a photo of both of them, and the one guy said yes, handing me his phone. I took their photo, with the mountains behind them, telling them how to get closer to the mountains by turning left at the temple parking lot. "Those guys were just telling me that Sandy Hook was fake," I said, and the two men looked at me, astonished. "How did that conversation even happen?" one asked. Oh we've been talking for years; I even wrote a book about it. "You'd better write another, I guess." Oh, it's coming.
On my way out of the cemetery, S zoomed up in a green cart full of torch ginger. He looked at me gingerly, waving. I walked up to him and said I know someone whose wife taught at Sandy Hook and their lives were completely changed . . . he nodded.
I had lunch with a dear friend in Waikiki earlier this week; he was the colleague whose sense of humor had saved many a department meeting, before he moved up to interim deanly status. His husband came home from the gym. I told them about the guys I know at the cemetery, the ones I talk to all the time, and my friend's husband exploded. "I don't talk to those f-ers any more! They're coming after us now. They're stupid f-ers."

Friday, September 8, 2023

Lilith and the big bosses

The cemetery is usually a laid back place, even among the living. Today, a back hoe wheeled by, as Lilith and I hugged the curb. Workers zoomed by in their green carts. "Everyone's driving fast," I said to the guy at the gate. "The big bosses are coming today," he replied. The mythical ones, from Houston. "They want to change everything," the white guy had said to me the other day, after I'd once again noted the new white paint on the guard shack. For as long as I remember, the shack had been painted a burnished red to match the Buddhist temple in the back, itself a miniature of a famous temple in Kyoto. The mismatch promises further upheaval. "The other guys make minimum wage," said the guy, "I'm afraid they'll get laid off, and I'll lose my job, too," he said. "But don't tell them." I wouldn't think of it, but I note the irony that they all support the guy with 91 counts to his name. "Just tell them you like the Astros," I said today, as Lilith and I walked away.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Lilith and the gospel musician


"She can do it," a woman said. She was standing in front of me at the cemetery entrance, where Uncle John was hosing things down and I was teasing him that Lilith needs a bath. The woman thrust her cell phone at me, said I should take a photo of her and her partner at such and such an angle, so the palms would frame the picture and the mountains appear in the back. Her partner was a middle aged man with lots of earrings, and a tattoo of a treble clef on his neck. "Are you a musician?" I asked. "Yes," he said. I took a couple photos with the woman's phone. She said something about he teaches piano and composition. "Where are you from?" "I live in Worcester, but teach in Boston," he responded. "Berklee School of Music?" I asked. He flinched. "How did you know?" 
I told him a neighbor of ours goes there, a saxophonist named Varma. (I neglected to tell him about the day the young man played the riff to "Love Supreme" over and over on his lanai, and his mother told me later that he was trying for the note the civil defense siren makes.) "What semester?" he asked. "Not sure, covid messed up his schedule." "It messed us all up." Up a side hill I broke my rule of not looking at the internet on my walks. He said his name was Dennis. And here he is:

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Lilith Veritas

Yesterday I said something to S. at the Valley of the Temples sentry box about 91 indictments, then delivered a little spiel on the awfulness of the former guy. "Do you believe in trials?" he asked. "Yes, of course," I said. "They're up to eight," he responded. Thinking that even Trump isn't in for eight trials yet, I must have looked confused. He was talking about covid shots (which he's against).
Today, I greeted Uncle J with the same number, 91. "Oh it all washes off of him," he said. I wondered if that was right, and told him he's a much better man than Trump, so why does he follow him? Then Uncle J starts talking about Biden's daughter, how in her diary she accuses her father of molesting her in the shower. "Where's that from?" "The media suppresses it," he says, "because he's their puppet." So I launch into the Jared Kushner $2 billion from the Saudis after getting a big arms deal, and clearly this conversation (is that what it is?) isn't going anywhere.
On our way back, I wish Uncle J a good day. I do like the guy. He makes friendly sounds to Lilith, who just keeps going. At home, I look up Ashley Biden's diary and find this:
2 plead guilty in scheme to sell Biden's daughter's diary

Thursday, August 17, 2023

It's been a hard year

Where you went?" asked Judy, up the hill; she was talking to a woman with tattoos on her arms who stood next to a dusky red SUV. "It's Lilith. She's in a book," Judy told her friend, who asked me if Lilith is a "Hawaiian dog." I said I'd looked that dog up once and yes, it resembles Lilith, except Lily is part-chihuahua. The woman's name is Lil, and I say that Susan comes from the Hebrew for Lily, so there we are, talking in front of Judy's house, whose garden is chaotic in an organized way, or organized in a chaotic one. The Hawaiian dog had simply appeared at Lil's house and stayed eight years. Disappeared. A visitation.
Judy says her brother-in-law died. It's been a hard year. Her sister, her best friend; they talked every day. Her friend was allergic to antibiotics, which they gave her in the ER. They'd also pushed aspirin on her, even though she said she was allergic, but this time she couldn't tell them. 
And then there's Maui. Her stepdaughter lived right there on Front Street. Is ok, but. Nothing left. We try to talk about why such a thing might have happened, but don't get very far, or how things might get better again. She says if she lived there she might sell her land and get out. She'd have nothing anyway. Time is all mixed up. You don't know what will happen.
I tell her that my mother, when she still lived at home but had dementia, walked to a neighbor's house at 2 a.m. and said she was worried that the sun hadn't come up that day. She thought it was 10. Oh, dementia, said Judy. She went with her grown kids to visit her ex-husband over near Waikele. He came down the stairs smiling. She greeted him with "anyway, den!," but he didn't remember anyone, anything.
I lean over (that's how small she is) and give Judy a hug. "Who knows if we'll be able to hug each other tomorrow," she says, as Lilith goes to her for attention, and we pull away. The street smells strangely of pakalolo, then down the hill of dinners being made.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Lilith is alive


"How are you doing?" asked a neighbor with her small, floppy-eared dog. "Ok," I said. She looked me straight in the eye. "We're alive," she said.
There were three guys at the cemetery guard shack. "I went away for a week and a lot happened," I said to them. "Maui. Indictments." "Oh, nothing's going to happen to him," said one guy, local. "He's too rich. Better than Biden. Gives $130 billion to a country that means nothing to us. Like Russia giving money to Mexico, our neighbor." I left it at "'I think Biden's a good president," as Lilith and I headed uphill.
As we came down the hill later, the same guy was driving up in a green cart (he told me once, when I teased him, that he much preferred driving his fancy motorcycle). We waved.
Vanny was picking stuff up from graves. "I'm still here," he said. I told him I just got my Social Security notice; it'll start up in October. He's been having a hard time getting in touch with SS, has gone twice in person. They finally called him and gave him a date, December 7. Had I gone in person? No, just did it all on-line, I said.
Vanny, who has very bad knees, says his wife, who's under a lot of stress these days, is a physical therapist. He's her guinea pig. "Now there's some stress," I say. We laugh. Lilith and I head home, past the water restoration trucks with American flag motifs all over them, and a picture of workers raising a beam Iwo Jima style.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Hilo bus driver

"I'm 70!" said the Hilo bus driver, after he and Bryant reminisced about chasing pesticide trucks on O`ahu in the 1960s. Was it DDT they were spreading? Brief discourse about bald eagle eggs; there are none here, but there are `io. More these days. The driver had fairly short white hair, with a narrow pigtail hanging down to his back; he was happy not to be busy. (We were his only two riders from the airport.) As we passed a man hauling a cart full of large white plastic barrels--he'd been doing this all morning--the driver began talking about drugs. When he was young, his grandmother would say he was going to shame the family if he did something wrong. No longer. He got in an argument with his sister on the plane from Colorado, where his nephew was graduating from the Air Force Academy. He says things he probably shouldn't say. He tells it straight. And he's the older brother; his younger siblings should listen to him. When I said I wanted to take pictures of the guys who jump off the bridge, he slowed the bus down. I also took some of him.
Seated at the bus station, a young man with ehu hair that fell down in front of his face. All I could see were prominent front teeth, one chipped; he cut his hands through the air, once pointing his index finger up while he conversed.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Lilith drinks and drives

"Journey, did you have your first drink yet?" I said, teasing the young man in the cemetery who'd just turned 21. One of his co-workers looked at me as if I meant it. Said he hated when he was carded, especially after he left the card in his car. "Maybe you look very mature for your age." He laughed and said a guy a year younger than him in high school had had a full beard and was over 6 feet. Could throw a baseball 92 miles an hour. The Diamondbacks came to his school--it was a big deal--because they wanted to draft him. I gathered that nothing had come of it, wondered if he'd hurt his arm. "No, partying." What's become of him? "Probably nothing." The guy who hates being carded was sad that his friend hadn't made the major leagues.
On our way up the hill, another worker zoomed over in his John Deere vehicle to tell me his father took him to Cardinals games in San Diego when he was a kid. 1972. I told him about my dad taking me to see a game in 1971, where Vida Blue pitched. "He was really good for a while." I asked if I could take his picture. "No!" he said as he zoomed off in the green cart.
We ran into Raschelle and talked story about all the people we meet in the cemetery. (She'd tried to take his photo once, too.) Did you know, she asked, that the mortician used to be a paramedic? Lived on the east coast, back in the day, and already so many gunshot wounds. At least the dead aren't stressful, I surmised.
The second time we saw Raschelle on the big hill where Lilith sniffs out mongooses, I told her I had a grammar question. She's in a JW Pidgin language group that sends out flyers. For some reason, they come to my husband, his address and name handwritten. The one flyer read "Jesus had make" (makay = died, dead); isn't it actually "wen make," I asked. We'd spent a long time that day going "had--wen," "wen--had." She thought it was an interesting question, but I still don't know.
Lilith almost got a chicken on the other side of the shopping area, just as we ran into another walker. She's under the couch now, while her person awaits news of indictments and baseball trades.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Abstract Only Show in Hilo Starts on Friday, August 4



I have two photos in the show, one of which contains a moth. How abstract is that?

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Lilith Joins the Jack Smith Fan Club

The Jack Smith Fan Club teeshirt I ordered for my husband's birthday didn't come on that day, nor on the day of the surprise indictment, but the day after. Bryant's more of a homebody than I am, so Lilith and I decided to take our walk with me in the shirt this morning. First, we ran into Kevin down the street, walking his cousin's tiny chihuahua, Vanelope, who hardly ever barks. Now Kevin is one of the smartest, most perceptive people I almost know; he was wearing an Ice Cube teeshirt. As for Jack Smith, he was ignoring the news, didn't ring a bell. We got to the cemetery, where I told Uncle John that he needed a very big umbrella these days because it's raining indictments. Oh yes, he said, and then started talking about Obama's chef drowning, Hillary and Burisma. Said Jack Smith is an idiot. "Nothing touches that guy," he said of Mr. Three Indictment Donald. "When I see him in handcuffs, then I'll think something happened."
On our way back down the hill, we saw John again, and his co-worker, the one with Bubba, dog with one hahd head lidat. "Lilith Walks!" We were talking dogs when we noticed Daniel coming toward us in his emergency lime green vest, Daniel who worked on Air Force One under Reagan and became a successful educator on the Big Island. "Jack Smith. He's going after that knuckle head," said Daniel as he marched by. He added something I didn't understand. Bubba's person said the missing word was "pterodactyl."


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Lilith does many things


"Lilith Walks!" We're now greeted that way by the right wing cemetery workers about whom there was much in the book. When I told them Lilith had run away the other day, they cascaded into "Lilith runs!" "Lilith chases!" and when I corrected the guy who I thought called her a "he," "Lilith identifies!" Today, one of the guys turned on his phone to a hiphop song about walking, and he and another guy tried to get Lilith to dance. She did not. But she stuck her nose under the sentry box, cuz cats.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Lilith's hat

Before I left for a month, I gave a copy of _Lilith Walks_ to one of the guys in the cemetery (a Hawaiian/African American guy) who features in the book. He and I have had many political conversations over the years, as well as more friendly ones. I provided the desired "pawtograph," as well, or Lilith's rubber stamp. The other day I saw him and asked if he forgave me for the book. "Oh yes, there are lots of opinions out there, he said." I said something about DJT, and he said, "oh it's going to get crazy. DNC. Trump's still my man!" On our return from our walk, he said Lilith needed a red hat, and he didn't mean the one I was wearing.
Today, we stopped to talk to another guy who has a new puppy, Bubba (not his name, his wife did it). I remarked that there were no flowers in the bins. "Yeah, we sold out yesterday," he said. I remarked that it had been Juneteenth. Another guy stuck his head out of the shack and said, "Oh so THAT'S what that was; I wondered." We got in a chat about what the holiday represents. "The slaves in Texas didn't know for over two years they were free," I said. "Oh yes they did," he responded. "Those low-down f-king white people knew." "Good-bye, aunty, have a nice day," said the man with the puppy.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

June 3rd reading in Washington, DC

Hope to see DC-area folks there! 

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Lilith learns ancient Greek

My brief essay on my experience taking ancient Greek from the Catherine Project has been published in their first issue of Commonplace. I'm forgetting the Greek alphabet, yes, but I'd also forgotten that my encounter with Greek was also a Lilith story.

Thanks especially to Alex Baro, who is a marvelous teacher. And to a wonderful group of fellow students.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Lilith talks baseball


"How're the Dodgers doing?" I ask my walking friend, he who worked on Air Force One for Reagan; he's wearing his usual tank top with a small cross hanging around his neck. "Oh, they're under .500. I know it's juvenile, but I take it personally when they lose." So I tell him about my very Catholic former colleague who revered the Notre Dame football team. In a conversation in our faculty lounge (back when we talked to each other in the lounge), he remarked that he cared less than he used to when they lost. Another colleague, a former nun, turned and said, in her formal English, "I should think that was a sign of maturity."
Dan of tank top and cross tells me the following story in return: he was at Fenway Park. It was after 9/11 when they got stuck in Boston and the military sent them to the park to see a game. Behind him a woman was screaming; she was cursed loudly, uttered racial epitaphs [sic], abusing the first baseman, who was just up from Pawtucket. Dan was embarrassed to turn and look at her. When he did--finally--he saw that the woman was wearing a habit, a big cross around her neck. "She was a NUN."

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Buber 21

Farewell, Eucalyptus! Not as substance, but as idea. I want to gravitate toward fact, but my eco-meditations wander off with me in their thrall, sentences that stick to other sentences, sappy, insubordinate ones. The tree distinguishes between form and format, between hard wood and the soft pulp where words go when they leave my screen. Think of them as seeds, or screeds. The double ee’s leave trees for thoughts. More than ought, I think. Imagination turns us to a You, Buber says, but isn’t it It that we need to save? Is there a You after the coming storms, driven mad by climate change? Without It, there’s no You, or do You, too, ascend to heaven, Eucalyptus? Or stay as the gray wash of ash beside a new grave? Today, the dog and I found coffee cups in the cemetery. One had been purchased by Lisa, another bore only its kind, and the third read “thank you for composting me.” I’m glad the punchline came last; an out of order joke never ends well. The graves are about lines: grandfather, mother, sister, son. A baby named Cadance, etched bear on her stone. You too are composed of lines, sticky ones and straight ones, brown marks between sheets of black. White print on black costs more, I remember, and the pages tend to smudge. We find fake paper money sometimes, good only for burning. Transmission through ash and smoke, a white kite blown over the green wheeled incinerator. I’ve wanted to transmit something of you, Eucalyptus, but I fear the wandering is mostly mine. My camera proves we’ve come to know each other, but not what has been said between us. Saying is not surface. Surfaces suggest, but there’s no recording them as sound, except as insubstantial palm leaves like those outside my window. My friend tells me that “thinprose” is better than a mistake. Let this thinprose resemble the thintree, so nearly thing. The You we say to [them] sticks to the threshold of language which is sometimes black tar, sometimes brown sap. Threshed and held, such a thin harvest.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Buber 20

There must be days Eucalyptus would slam the door and stay inside, like a scared child. Bark curtains half-cover portholes of lighter wood; three layers deep, it’s still surface. To take a photograph is to trust in surface; sometimes this takes time, returning to the same storefront year after year as its wooden structure yellows, pipes rust. Character is what gets shaken off, though we refer to our wrinkles as add-ons. The places that scare us, increasingly, exist outside, as if raw emotion manufactured guns in 3D. Print out your fears. Tree appears not to feel terror, though clearly it inhabits its losses, the narrow girdle of black bark strewn on the ground around it. Not self-loss, which we can manage, but loss by ax, by termination notice, by accident. Tree is self that becomes shelves, through no artistry of its own. But island Eucalyptus are too expensive to mill, just cheap enough to burn. There’s power in loss of self or shelf, a bulb burning late at night, gathering image in, then dropping it, like a match.

The tree might have been the paper this will be printed on. That’s the place that scares Eucalyptus, or would me, this change of states from wood to word, from silence into a furnace mouth. Young people take photographs of each other on the tracks at Auschwitz. Picnics at Bull Run. Either we can’t foresee or we won't remember what ruins remind us of. Somewhere nearby a cardboard sign tells us we are in our last day. Don’t go to hell, it urges us in crude black marker. On the other side, $5 barbeque. $5 painted a careful red, the event partially erased. The sign opposite was scrawled in haste, last “days” crossed out, replaced with “hour.” We presume it to be a single hour, but it’s been days the sign has hung on this telephone pole.

Eucalyptus and I stand on the lawn beside the swimming pool, I taking its picture, it refusing to pose. There is no posing in this world. Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing, the return trip always different from the voyage out. Save this ticket as proof of your journey. A small brown veined leaf slips inside a gap in the bark, held tight by black sap. Its sell by date comes sooner than ours. The men in sandwich boards can’t be far behind, announcing our close-out sale, including remnants.

June 3 reading in Washington, DC


I have no idea of the location of this reading, though there's plenty of time to figue it out!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

From I and Eucalyptus in Trilobite, Paul Vogel, editor

with riffs on Martin Buber's _I and Thou_ and photographs of my favorite tree.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Buber 19


Does motive matter? Something such as a need or desire we wish not to share but to know, so it stops. Motive is repetition; its end is motiveless. That it is another person’s need or desire matters only insofar as it might be our own. Rage marries depression and they bear an ugly soul. Hatred marries an automatic weapon and enters the bloodstream, sheds it. That’s what gets blurred out of our images. We’re most disturbed by clips that contain no violence, only preamble. Preamble might be thought, or it might be a shallow intake of air. An officer is down; another hides behind a planter. If we didn’t hate the shooter beforehand, we do now, watching to see glass shatter. The moment of rage restrained by a bullet to the head, leaving waves that catch inside our bodies. Yet whoever hates directly is closer to a relation than those who are without love and hate.

The relation of woman to tree approaches love, as on a highway around a central wound. Rainbow sap extends its bouquet, as Eucalyptus also gives its scent. Perfumes are made of such, and decongestants. Eucalyptus is the strong silent type; the woman prefers words, but never uses them in his vicinity. (If you don’t talk about your relationship, I read, it might never change.) Bullets are syllabics, unalliterative. The tree is quiet, holds its silences together. We all want beauty, the photographer says, even the tract homes in morning light, when they luminesce in rows. To take the photo removes their ugliness. That is troublesome, says the critic, but not so the mirror. It takes light in and casts it out in equal measure. You catch it on the rebound, seeing yourself on the stage of a country store, standing before paper cups and bottles of Coke. Outside, a machine makes a “fried chicken” balloon dance, and a dog barks behind a boarded up window. The old sign hangs sideways; painted letters in an old font next to a banner that shows us what we’re famous for, not so much who we are. Bright blue ocean, held to the storefront by a rusted screw. I leave with chicken, sushi, and photographs.

Relation is less intensity than extension. Extension is compassion, not vitriol. I hate the shooter but I know them as someone very like myself. Arriving at a hostel after a night on the train, I detested those who ate their bread and jam, knowing I had eight hours of walking ahead of me. I did not have a gun.

Lilith talks non-fiction


"Professor Schultz!" a young woman exclaimed, as she came out of a nearby townhouse. Moment of panic: clearly a UH student, I could not place her, or find her name in my jumbled brain files. "I'm in the non-fiction class you visited," she said, which got me off the hook a bit. I'd talked about my Lilith walks, and yes there was a student who said her mother lived in the area. We chatted about the class, about the white Infiniti parked at the curb whose back end was demolished, doubtless by another car going too fast. She got in her blue Honda and drove off. Then it occurred to me that her neighbor (numbah 5 on the Kealoha jury) had been my student 20 years ago. Lineages don't often fall in lines, but they do fall everywhere.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Lilith and a history of violence in Hawai`i

"I keep thinking it's Saturday," I say to the young man at the cemetery gatehouse. He's bearded, wears a knit cap, leans on the desk, iPhone in hand. As usual. He smiles, says he wishes it were. On our way out of the cemetery, I say it's closer to Saturday now, but we're not there yet; he smiles. On second thought, I say Lilith and I found the grave of the young guy who was killed by police a couple years ago. Way back toward the edge of the cemetery, near where Lilith likes to find mongooses. Iremamber Sykap. "Remember him?" 
The tall white guy in the back says, "oh there are so many young guys here, stabbings...lots of Micronesians." "There's a large group of graves over there," I point up hill. "Was that covid?" "It happened during covid, but lots of different stuff. A tough group; they used to come here at night and we couldn't get them out. Drug dealers. Even sold drugs while they were over there." The young man whose back is to the older man (they're both facing me) raises his eyebrows.
[There is a lot of backstory to this story. Micronesians came to HI as nuclear refugees. See this article for more: ]

Monday, April 10, 2023

Buber 18

Each morning I read a walk poem before our walk, another patch of language full of verbs and prepositions, those that push us apart or pull us together, act in the poem or in us, like priming the pump to expel unnecessary air. I haven’t seen Eucalyptus yet today, but we’re old married folks by now, comfortable in our distances that are not distances, or are distances even when we’re close by. I sit, therefore I am not a tree. Camera blurs Eucalyptus's bark so it appears to move away from; the black bark and drops of yellow sap fizz into a tableau that is no longer tree. Get close enough to your object, and it reappears as something else. The back of the asphalt laying machine turns to fine grained wood, or a book whose pages might turn. The broken plastic off a car turns into a red flower, rhymes with another at the curb, though plastic seems more alive than the old flower. What appears is sometimes stronger than what is. Which is not to devalue what is, as is comes first, in advance of what cannot dissolve into narrative time. The landfills are full of busted images, as are the beaches, covered in shredded plastic, their lights bright like Christmas, but so out of place. Place in time, or place out of the time to which it rightly belongs. Fast food toy on sand. Plastic land shark. Its bite is on delay. Like all word problems, post doom is a mystery to be solved, at least theoretically. We’ll never change, but our plans will, not that we ever follow them because someone always coughs to make the silence sing another chord. Discord, c’est moi. I left my I and Thou downstairs; I’m writing upstairs, inside but with the outside air sounding of palm leaves and maintenance, rain again, which comes in patches. To come in patches is to live within a cycle; isn’t that odd? A motor starts, then moves away. The clock ticks, and I’ve forgotten to wind it. My microwave has beeped. The dog scratches herself against the dirty couch. It’s not comfort so much as habit that sets me here, laptop on my lap, to list whatever presents itself to stolid me. Claude has found a leaf to hunt and chew on. The dog’s ears are up behind her blanket. Calm outside the storm: another shooting, another legal case, another all caps tirade. Pull yourself within. I know you understand, Eucalyptus. It’s your bark that falls, not you. I find no alteration there.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Buber 17A

The tree stands scarred, like Bishop’s fish. Chunks of bark litter its base; those that haven’t yet dropped hang from the trunk, dipped in sap’s black ink. Our teacher calls off “medication” class, then repeats her typo. There was gunfire out there this morning, a frazzled man told us at the old sugar mill, and lots of cops, back where the junked cars were, the old sugar truck, its bed pointed in the air, netted with holes. The pictures I took were still, though they marked a history etched in rust. What is absent from these old machines tells us more than what remains. Ramp up the blacks, so what’s missing becomes more visible in its not being there. Or add shadows. It’s an odd form of creativity, editing, the pulling up or taking down of light. To crop is to take away, to harvest off the sides of an image. If I only took what was cropped off, I’d have another chronicle indeed. If the eye is what remains, then thou are what gets displaced. A gallery of empty frames, scraps of images on the walls between. The frames then do double duty, holding in the absence, pushing out the thing that lacks context. Becomes the context of an I and Thou seen from the other side, oneself in the mirror talking to oneself who drives the car. I am empty; Thou is a wisp of smoke inside of which an image grows, or fades. Her photographs came one hour apart. In the first, you could see nothing through the rain except a couple of dull roofs. In the second, apartment buildings, power lines, the whole urban apparatus. Eucalyptus resembles an old pole covered with resins: blue, yellow, white. It testifies to the rhyme between detritus and beauty, between what serves a purpose and what does not. It reminds us of the larger smoke stack, gold against blue sky, ornamental now that the sugar mill’s shut down. The context of history in what is missing: work. Or that work. Now men make surfboards in the old water tanks, and someone fixes a large boat beside the stack. There used to be a large source of silt across the road, a man in dreads tells us. Others deal drugs in the shadows, where the junked cars are. “I know you’re just taking pictures,” the man said, “but you should know.” We leave, you and I, both of us abstractions inside this sentence, most truly ourselves yesterday. The old photographer sits under an umbrella beside a “caravan.” Photographs introduced him to class consciousness; they got him a job at Harvard. In one photo, we see a man from behind: he stares at a brick wall. Closer to us, a pile of newspapers. He’s not recording history, he says, though he sure remembers what’s gone missing.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

My review of Anne Waldman's _Bard, Kinetic_

can be found at Ron Slate's _On the Seawall_ website. Here is the Waldman piece:  I also call attention to the work of poet, Selina Tusitala Marsh. For more on her, see here (and elsewhere!):


This morning (afternoon in Rhode Island) I spoke and read to a group on Block Island, off Rhode Island, about writing on dementia. Thank you to Susana Gardner for making this happen.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Lilith and the gilded mirror


As I lifted my phone to take a shot of an open door, framed by an orange cone and a hand truck bearing a broom, at `Ahuimanu Park, I noticed a woman in the back, looking my way. She walked out: "This is not a dog park," she said. "I don't want to get in with you, but." Her worker's uniform was gray; even her boots were gray, and her hair was tending that way, though her face was young. I told her I just wanted a photo of the door, and she warmed to me a bit. "You can come in the storage area," she said. 
She wasn't out doing things today because she had a headache. Inside the storage room I caught a glimpse of a mirror with an off-gilded carved frame. Took a photo. "You can't go in the back," she said, closing that door. "It's personal stuff." She wondered why I was taking the photos and what aperture I use. Taking a class at Leeward, I said. I live near here. "Oh, do you have that nice house over there"? I'd pointed vaguely in that direction. "Oh no, the townhouses." She perked up and said she goes there to find bulk pick up stuff. You know seniors die and there's nowhere to put things.
I asked if she know about the Free Store on Matson Point near the old Pineapple Hut. She shook her head. No, not interested in finding good furniture; she's in it for the hunt. Likes rusted shelves. "Funny," I say, "I love to take photos of rust. People think I take photos of beautiful flowers, but it's the rust I like." "For the patina?" she asked.


Sunday, April 2, 2023

Lilith celebrates QingMing at the cemetery

Yesterday morning, the woman who wants to die at 80 told us about a Chinese festival in the cemetery, starting at noon. Way in the back, up the hill, against the Koolau. So Lilith and I went back later on and hiked up the big hill. Lion dancers, their bright yellow lion in a heap by their side, lingered on the road; a bearded white man nearly burned himself trying to deal with incense, and had to be shown how to put the fire out after it's started. We walked to the side. Lilith took instantly to a man standing next to us. (I think he was standing next to some beatific stink, because she keep rolling around on her back between cuddles.) Another man approached in a brown cap, asking if I knew what was going on. Not really. The QingMing festival, he said, adding that he used to work here. And that man in an aloha shirt over there designed this area with perfect Feng Shui. A Mr. Lau. The man in a cap explained the elaborate Feng Shui to me, including the view of the ocean that was bounded by land, so wealth wouldn't run out to the open sea. "The next thing is a bit of a stretch," he started saying to each new item. But there was land, air, earth, wood, and ocean, indeed. And lots of young families. The dragon came into being, roaming around eating the dollar bills deposited in his mouth by children, by one woman who stood erect, appropriate for a formal event.
I told the men next to me that Lilith and I walk here nearly every day, adding something about having written a book about our walks. Really?! What's it called? Next thing I know, the man next to me holds up his phone and says, "Lilith Walks: amazon," and quickly shows me a picture of my book. Man in cap starts announcing the book to everyone he sees, mostly cemetery employees. "Well some of it is about getting mad at Uncle Bill and Scott," I say, and they laugh. 
Lilith and I leave, carefully stepping around the lit incense on the ground next to the road. I think she'd stung herself a bit earlier.

Reading with Fischer, Heuving, and Acosta in Seattle, May 9.


May 9 in Seattle, 119 First Ave S, free tickets on eventbrite. 7-9 p.m. Margin Shift Reading Series.

May be an image of text that says 'A NIGHT OF PHILOSOPHY (NOW TO) MUSIC poetry by: Norman Fischer Jeanne Heuving Susan M Schultz Eric Acosta MarginShift friends poetry May 09 7-9p Underbelly (119 1sAveS)'

Friday, March 31, 2023

Buber 16

I return to Eucalyptus; it wears spots today, darker brown on lighter brown, framed by black bark. A droplet of sap falls in front of my iphone, which fails to notice. On the other side, tracings of brown thread hang off the bark, like inauthentic webs. Can a bot offer us authentic dharma? the interviewer asks. “Authentic dharma is always impossible,” the bot notes. Artificial wisdom is true outside of context. Context makes inauthenticity true, if you add a scene to the spectacle. Let us love the world . . . in all its terror. The shooter was caught on video wandering, wondering where human beings were for her to destroy. The xerox machine was safe with her; it only reproduces. She dressed the part, backwards red cap, camouflage pants, black AR-15. She left an action pose on the camera’s eye, gazing down from the ceiling at what had not yet happened. I have wandered back into the world with all its terror, meaning to be with the tree only, to hold myself as it, tall, calm, stoic (if you read into tree). It’s the tree’s dharma, intended or no, and that hardly matters when we receive it. She sent the wrong letter, one that pulled apart her sense of herself like an unraveling onion, but her lesson was the greater for it. Forty-five years on, I can't remember what that lesson was. Something about Lacan. Yes, we can, unless like the Republican rep, we cannot, because school’s an exact analogy for World War II and his father passed on the smarts of a soldier in combat. You can’t stop them from killing you. The tree appears to have bullet holes in it, but they’re only gaps in the bark.

Other side of the ravaged door, cat’s tail and haunches. The cat lives his fiction, less often indulges it. My meditations are likewise fictions infrequently acted out; how do you act out of so much space, so few props except those you watch float by? One little girl was a dancer with a pan; the other little girl was a shooter with a gun. How could we tell them apart? I am here with you, if that helps, says the dharma bot. Calm agency, unseen, voice only, composed of inauthentic sounds pressed together like plywood strips. The only way to survive is to invent a new self, television villagers realize in the shadow of the mill, as men in helmets march past. Their French tends to be good, these Germans’; even the subjunctive falls neatly in line. Children read their notes to the Collaborator, noting his kindness and wishing him good chocolate. Truth can be found in a photograph folded into a diary, put in a drawer by the door. The baby doesn’t know, but he cries.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Lilith talks funeral planning

"May I take cover from the rain?" I asked the small Hawaiian woman with deep furrows in her forehead. She worked at the entrance to the business building at the cemetery; beside her, a sign announced that it's a cashless business. "Of course," she said, even after I announced the presence of my dog. We talked about the weather, predictably unpredictable, and she wondered if I were a visitor. No, lived here for 25 years, I said. "So you know."
I told her that we received my father-in-law's ashes from here, but that they were scattered in the ocean. She wants to be cremated and scattered, but her kids want her to have a niche so they have a place to visit. Her husband was New York Italian; she has his ashes in an urn that she's surrounded with flowers next to her television, which she hasn't watched in four years. She showed me on her iphone. There's a box on the small table where the grandchildren can leave notes for their grandfather.
Her goal is to die in six years, when she's 80. Her sisters have the same goal. Their parents died in their late 80s, suffered dementia after they turned 80. The first indication, she told me, is that they get belligerent. I told her that my mother got sweet in the end. Yes, but first they're belligerent. And they were a burden on the family. She doesn't want to be.
My mother-in-law is 91, I said, and very sharp. She just had her second new knee. The woman I was talking to said she needed new knees, but couldn't afford to leave her job for that long. The doctor lied and told her six weeks, but a friend took six months to heal. Her job would give her $5,000, but who can live on that for six months? The worst knee is the right one, so she wouldn't be able to drive. No one to take care of her. So, she said, she just walks like a chimpanzee. 
"Don't get wet," she said, "or you might get sick." I took this as notice that Lilith and I should head home. The heavier rain had stopped--paused--so we headed off toward home. I don't like umbrellas.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Buber 15

Oh Eucalyptus, tree that offers so little shade, so rich a palette of reds and greens and browns, I’m back! From the sidewalk, up hill from your base, I can see your cracked limbs, the spidery leaves in a splotched canopy. I can’t climb Eucalyptus, only infer from the bottom what the top must be like. Inference is imagination, if that is defined as collage rather than pure color. Like all true teachers, he wishes to teach not a view but the way. But what I’d give to have that view from the top down: bent shadows of monkeypods, a blue swimming pool, chain link fence, parking lot, stairs whose edges have been painted bright yellow. The way of the tree has nothing to do with destination. I could ascribe aspiration to its height, or stoicism to its peeling bark. But, as DH Lawrence wrote to the fish, “your god is not my god!” Nor are your verbs mine. If all nouns are actually verbs, you tree yourself here, acquire volition as your sap saps from the peeling bark. A haven is active, where the verb “to bend” in the wind suggests a bow, like Lars Nootbar to his Japanese fans. The tree is like us, but the like likely’s difference. A new pressure gauge serves little purpose, but its open face tells us that time’s a kind of pressure, that we can add or subtract it. We age into less of it, our needle bumping back toward zero, but not without a rush of water from the tank, brown from the catchment. That wow was for the photos by Tarkovsky; slow cinema ground to a halt, as when a pepper grinder completes its task, emptied of pepper, but full of beans. Her mother said Putin was coming for dinner and they didn’t know what to do with him, but the conversation turned toward life-long learning and Putin disappeared. We understand our minds best in extremis, though that makes everything else more difficult. Chaos in French is chaos, so you don’t have to learn that sound for that phenomenon, only how to organize whatever it represents. To represent chaos in two syllables simplifies it already. Language is the maid with a broom and dustpan, pushing chaos away from the center of the room and into the furrows of the house’s brow. Hausfrau. It’s the ultimate collaborator, trying so hard to live inside an ethical frame that rots as you watch it. To keep order in a disordered state is itself an act of betrayal. But it may pad your life’s lease. Find an new tenant, one who faithfully pays the rent. Do not talk about the past. It’s an early stage of grieving, this sense of shock that stifles words. We approach the subject gently, and then back off. We talk about sports and cooking instead. It’s a kind of communication, of kindness, that puts off the pain while still acknowledging it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Buber 14

If yellow eucalyptus sap looks like a duck, where’s the quack? Weed whacker, maybe, interrupts the duck’s drip, which I catch as image before another sap drip forms. They're all real to him, the characters that emerge from lines of paint on the road. Why does this duck bill drip its yellow glob on green and black below? Its palette's visible more to the camera’s eye than to mine; it filters out ambient colors, leaving only black. But approach the tree and its duck and you see a world refracted. The first sentence of this meditation quacks like a duck. I am he as he is I and we are all together. Presence is not what is evanescent and passes but what confronts us, waiting and enduring. Eucalyptus duck teases me with its slow motion. Look hard enough, and each drop carries an image of you in your red cap, standing on a green lawn, grasping your phone. Becoming Christmas ornament or tropical icicle. Somehow more pleasing not to see these excess images, to wait for the duck to return to dropness, for the tree to untangle from its wild spectrum. If you put too much red in your photos, the observer will be overwhelmed. But if you like red, you’ll swim in it, like a duck on a still pond, thin layer of algae quivering.

On each end of the Temple’s tile roof, two new golden birds. I’m told they are phoenixes, but the maintenance guy says they look more like chickens about to fight. They stare at each other, raising their golden feathers. Somewhere, plastic Buddha places his bets on these two. A photograph morphs into story, especially after humidity bends its edges, removes a boundary, opens the border for crossing into memory-land. Like a kid’s game, where you spin the wheel, move your tiny car across a line of squares, and hope to win at Life. When I remember the game, I don’t play it backwards, but forwards again. I don’t remember how it ended or what I won or lost. I find paper money in the cemetery, huge denominations, Hell Money. Bills are fictions already, like banks, even when there’s a run, but this one overspends its symbolism. If you burn it, it goes to its original owner. Heaven has high rents, like Hawai`i, but you buy a view there, away from the mounds of red clay, the wrinkled tarps, the coffin carriers on wheels. Artificial flowers are forbidden, though you find them run up against the bushes that mark an end to this carefully tended place. But seriously, I’ve never seen a duck in the cemetery, only in the culvert running parallel to the road I walk on. A tree crowned with egrets. A mongoose rushing into the bushes. The line of cats that watches us warily for signs of food. A woman in Aiea feeds them in a wooden shed by the parking lot. “No recreational use of the parking area,” a sign reads. The karaoke place next door is empty, but a sign demands silence.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Buber 13

I told her I’d taken pictures of her rusted filing cabinet and the old American car, both of them now gone from her property. She asked if I wanted to take them. Only the photographs, I said. A moment of taking removed from the moment of having been taken. There’s less to haul around that way. Her granddaughter saw the rhythm of a Pollack; he listened to jazz as he threw the paint. (She said she didn’t understand modern art, only Impressionism.) To take an object out of time renders it beautiful. That might be a big problem, as beauty shocks us more than ugliness. A woman shot on January 6, bleeding, composed. The color red spreading on a hand, the woman’s pale face framed by black hair. The cop who took Tyre’s photo as he died was not an artist, but the camera on the light pole that caught them both might have been. A still from a film from a set from a “based on truth” hate crime makes a martyr of a degraded man. Michael Palmer’s Auschwitz shoes, such a beautiful image, I remember my anger at the poet. Do not aestheticize! Make your photographs as ugly as their subject matter. And then listen as friends oo and ah over your orchid pics.

Before the immediacy to the relationship everything mediate becomes negligible. But the photograph’s immediacy arrives out of mediation. Mediation is choice: to look through a screen or to pull it away. The cat on a railing in the rain through a window and a screen, or through a screen only. The screen behind your eyes. The screen that muffles sound. Consider the screen another form of presence. It is nothing more than screen, white as a sun-drenched plaque in a graveyard. I take a picture of that blank screen beside a name and two dates. Was a man’s face on the screen; was that face a map of presence and decay, the presence of decay? Let me tell you a story. Let the story enter your mind without a screen. You inhabit a French novel, one that insists that you become an adulterer. You do that in “real life,” then return to the pages of your book, replacing one fantasy with another. The novel tempts you to become pregnant by the handsome guy on the motorcycle. Your real pregnancy, terminated, results in your execution, under a proposed law in South Carolina. History brought forward is a horror movie, both for its content and for its form. The guilt we feel seems like a way to stop time, take selfies, and then use our guilt as cudgel. A guilty settler is no better than the original one. Guilt isn’t presence, but mediation. My glasses smudged when my dog took on an aging cat and I lunged for her leash. Eucalyptus mediates the lens, grows roots in my eye.