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.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Lilith and the gardener

When she came down from the raised bed next to a wall from which she was trimming a vine, I noticed her shirt, "Janis Joplin Live 1968." She'd missed Joplin when she came to Hawai`i, one her great regrets, since Joplin died soon after. The seats had been ripped out, but Joplin offered to pay. She was a small woman who wore a hat with a back flap and a front flap, so at first only her eyes showed. She pulled it off, and we started talking. Her father had served in the 442nd. He was a scout, carried a Tommy gun. "He had a machine gun! Don't know how he survived. He said they don't kill the scout, only the guys who come after." I told her about my mother's small army boots, given to her by a "Neecy boy," as she called him. Then Albert Saijo. She'd never heard of the Beat poets, but when I said "Beatnik" she lit up. "They were before hippies, yes?"
I noticed the Buddha standing at her front door, other side of a gate. "I've taken pictures of your Buddha," I said (I'd just been taking pictures of her). She got it at Ross. Looks heavy, she said, but it's really light; she can just pick it up and move it. She invited me inside the gate. There was a Xian warrior, also from Ross, that she'd painted white, standing in the neat garden. She suggested Lilith could go off-leash, so I let her bound off to sniff everything. We went behind the house to see her other Buddha, nestled among her plants. The wind had knocked Buddha to an odd angle, so she reached out and pulled him back. Another one from Ross. We went inside her house. Kerfuffle between Lilith and an aging cat. I put Lilith back on her leash, and we left slowly the way we'd come. The woman, whose name begins with a J, said she hoped we'd come back again.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Buber 12


There’s a white car in the woods, just uphill from the marsh; in its back open window, an American flag. Patriotism of the dispossessed, Dispossessed once, dispossessed twice. Dispossessed! Emotions sold at auction, counted out, never banned by the banners of thoughts. The flag is not a book, hence cannot be banned. A book opens. At a distance, Eucalyptus is closed, best described in an adjective: “majestic,” “grand,” “solid.” Close up (at a near distance?) the tree opens, an ear of black bark jutting out. The photograph has blue sky behind the ear, not to be heard but seen as contrast. For the artist, a painting is a prayer. For the poet, it’s prayer and epithet both. Eucalyptus’s silences might make me angry, if there were hesitations in it. The totality of it is like eclipse. Forced to focus on moon instead of sun; cloud instead of sun, your vision becomes an either or. In truth, language does not reside in man but man resides in language and speaks out of it. Or echoes inside it, as in a grain elevator, lacking grain.

Eucalyptus stands

In a stand of monkey pods

Straight man to their jokes.

On the days when there are no photographs, the photographer feels himself a failure. But there are always photographs, a friend writes; it’s a question of mood. Days when the eye’s lens gets covered by a smear of anger, of distraction. (We think anger focuses us, but it only distracts more violently.) When the surroundings are all selfie. A selfie stick is like a tree branch, though the tree never takes them. We have faces to focus on. The tree has more faces than one lens accommodates. If it turned to us, we’d smile our fiction of joy, then retreat into ourselves. Attention is forward; it risks the right flank of an opposing army. The camera your bayonet, thrust forward into a battle against thick air. It meets the tree as adversary, then regrets its hostility. When I post your photograph, I won’t name you. It makes you more general, less specific, more a citizen of the image than exclusive owner of it. Who’s to say who owns stories, the teller or the told? Our ethics is stronger than our will to stretch it into embrace. I will wrap my arms around that home where my mother lived her silent years. An embrace opens it, takes out the locks, the doors, the fences, the words by which we confine what we love to a small space. We talk about love as if it were hostility. I offered my mother to kidnap, considered her safe, answered the 3 a.m. phone calls (not hers, but those in her stead). It was all proxy at the end, words voting for other words until none were left. Talk to her, they said, but nothing seemed better, more true, less infected by noise.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

"Lilith is one stah"

Lilith and I ran into two women walking. They used to be three. One wanted to know how I'd given Lilith her name (she knows about _Frasier_). I said she came with it, and it fit. She gives her Humane Society animals new names. Two neighbors came up with their dog. One addressed us as "young ladies." When I muttered, he said "young women." I told him he could call me old. Ish. One of the women said her grandmother is 96 and still climbs ladders. "Young at heart." All the young people went one way, and Lilith and her older woman continued on to the cemetery. (That sounds more ominous than intended.)
At the cemetery we ran into Uncle John. I told him Lilith and I had given a reading and included the piece in which I yelled at him. We agreed it's best to keep talking. On the way back, he had a big plate of white rice. "Where you get your plate lunch?" I asked. "McDonald's! It's da bes'."

Buber 11

You take the photograph you have, not the one you wish you had, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld. A line as slippery as the damp spider web that frames my cat this morning. Line, that is, between wisdom as cover and as intensity. The You knows no system of coordinates, though web gets closer than the army you have. There’s violence in the web, when it works, but that’s not all. Is the web a system, or the poetry that can kill a man (Stevens)? Beauty systems sell; poetry does not. One designer told me the covers were worth more than the poetry contained inside them. He could make money doing this. Not all money is dirty, after all, if it buys you butter and bread. Eggs have gotten so expensive, they’re being shipped to the mainland. A remembered egg yields less than the poem I use to recover my memories. I wrote out of a fascination with what is remembered, then forgot what I’d written. To go back is to remember the man who sat in our living room, top hat keeled over behind him, the time 3:30 p.m. He was tall and gnarled, like a tree, his knees like knots on the trunk, bark peeling, an exquisite haunting held beneath. The reds and greens seem prophetic in a backwards kind of way, like the book of Mayan prophecies he brought us, foretelling a future he wouldn’t complete. Make his memorial of eucalyptus scent, an aide to breath, before the harvest into glass jars.

The tree moves me to elegy, though I and Eucalyptus still meet up. We’re occasionally You to one another, at least Eucalyptus is to me. The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course. But how do I define the course of this relation, or its end? Release the yellow measuring tape and it swooshes back into its metal housing. If tape is memory, then its absence must not be. He inhabits tree, inhabits park, inhabits poem, inhabits me, like return. Translate Pound translating a dead language. You might get “flyin’ kine Nikes,” or you might not. The mouth of the Metro opens to receive us; being inanimate, it doesn’t speak, but our shouts and our shoes offer it sound. If there’s an escalator, it breaks; if it breaks, someone opens it up, scab folding back like bark, and adjusts its mechanism. “I am a broken man,” a poet writes me. The tree is broken, but it stands. Your nobility is not mine, but I see it as I approach, Eucalyptus gleaming black in the light (when there’s light). He insisted to us that he was African. No hyphen home.

--in mem. Ikeolu Clinton Terrell, with thanks to Nathan Kageyama for the Pound translation.

A remembered poem for Clinton (Ikeolu) Terrell

 While meditating yesterday, I remembered I had written a poem about Ikeolu Terrell, whose death two or three years ago was recently made known to me. 

Ikeolu, born in 1950, was in the generation that fought the Vietnam War; he did not, perhaps because he went to Yale instead. (He grew up in South-Central LA and went to Yale with a cohort of African America men; they strongly suspect they were being "studied" by the authorities there.) But he traveled to Vietnam later in his life and was, for a brief time, married to a Vietnamese woman. 

The poem comes from the Albert Saijo section of the book. I'm happy to see the two of them together there, both in touch with greater worlds, and both so hurt, angered, and somehow enobled by this one.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Buber 10


Separation isn’t magic, though it works for some. My dog and I are housebound by an inconsistently strong rain. I hear burbling, bubbling, bubering outside the sliding glass. Rain comes as volume without button to adjust: loud, soft, loud. The longing for relation is primary, the cupped hand into which the being that confronts us nestles. Cat motor in my bed at night; dog snores or sleep barks. There’s a consciousness in their sleep, as in my being awake. In your 60s, you’re awake a lot with the dead, the old ones, the new ones, the ones you find out about later. Time flew, though we presumed only for us; everyone else is fixed in the fore-time of our acquaintance. Children remain small, adults uncreased. Are the dead separate or collaged into us, like poems layered with voices? Move the radio dial to hear its cacophony. We intend as little as Eucalyptus. Its (in the sense of an It that is a You) eruptions of tar and color and peeling bark come from no central consciousness (do they?). Our voices do, but they splatter without our control, like the rain we wait out until we can walk again. Dog wants walk, I want walk, Eucalyptus may want to see us, but the day’s lesson is to stay. A stay in deliberations, meditation on staying put. Put that out, fire or word hoard, and watch it accrete or dissolve into ash.

The drive aims at reciprocity, at “tenderness.” That comma. Does it divide reciprocity from tenderness, while suggesting they’re close? Is it an equals sign, denoting synonym? And why the quotes around “tenderness”? Is reciprocity necessarily tender? Gentle or sensitive to pain? Fusion or a con? But it also determines the inventive drive . . . through taking or tearing apart. Is that or an and? Eucalyptus is torn apart, but there’s no agent acting upon it, except when I pull tenderly at a small piece of bark and touch it. To touch is to alter, either taking or tearing apart. Or offering, in its dual sense. Let my photos be my offerings to you. These images are small, not so much shattered mirrors, but constrained ones. The form of the photograph is small; that of the meditation claims to be larger, but keeps getting away from the central trunk of the matter. The lighter tan of the interior, unveiled by bark’s peeling edges, like a wound or an origin or both. An origin along the way. Biology’s as much an interpretive dance as adoption, though adoption seems perfectly biological to me. Have I adopted this tree, relation not of possession but of being near-by? Has it adopted me, in those moments of my not wandering, the stillness that offers an image back? You think too much, my mother always told me. When it was not a tearing, it was an offering, pleasure to be aware of this life’s walk.

Wayne Shorter and Ikeolu Terrell

Sent an email to our old friend, Ikeolu Clinton Terrell, yesterday on the passing of Wayne Shorter, whom I remember he liked. Message bounced. Went to his FB page, which he rarely used, only to find out that he had died a couple of years ago. RIP Ikeolu. Here's a blogpost I wrote about him years ago. We used to talk about our very different experiences of Yale, and much else.He grew up in SC LA, I in the VA suburbs, though neither of us escaped traumas of various kinds. Sangha Webster will remember him as the man who brought us hundreds of photographs, which he spread across our living room floor. He was a man who changed many lives for better, including my husband's, through his work for Youth at Risk (which Bryant helped with, and was helped by).
Reposted from 2010:

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Buber 9


Measurement is never simple. To “how long have you been interested in photography?” I might answer, “always,” or “for a few years.” Both could be true. Picture as marker; photograph as marked. Picture as what I saw when I looked at the tree; photograph as the reflective bulb of sap hanging from Eucalyptus. My mother was glad she did not have a camera when she crossed the border into Scotland, saw sheep and a rainbow. But she remembered it as a camera shot. Or a not-camera shot that could have been. I remember missed photographs as well as those I bring home. Download: memory. Download: image. Whatever I see tracks through memory. See the color red, and I remember a red cap. See your room and I remember memorizing it. I suppose I could do synesthesia, too, on a double track of memory. Smell and sound both activate the past, so why not each other? Eucalyptus is the scent of my childhood, enveloped in Vicks. Vicks sharpens smell as the iPhone saturates its images. And iPhone also marks the memories of 12 years ago, as if they were my mine. They are mine, but not the ones I would have happened upon at my desk this morning listening to wind and birds but not (mercifully) weed whacker and leaf blower. I see an image from my past, but it’s an artificial goad. Years from now, Eucalyptus will pop up on my screen. Once the sentence “I see the tree” has been pronounced in such a way it no longer relates to a relation between a human I and a tree You but the perception of the tree object by the human consciousness, it has erected the crucial barrier between subject and object; the basic word I-It, the word of separation, has been spoken.

I see the image of the tree on my phone; I see the memory of taking the photograph in my head; I see the tree by way of the lens, which has no memory of its own. The photographed tree is an It, though I remember standing there with You, Eucalyptus, the camera as our witness. Camera didn’t speak when asked if there were reasons not to take the photograph. Camera was reverend at the revered spot. We didn’t marry; the insurance wouldn’t cover a tree-human union, especially after the recent wind storms. So we mumbled some vows, then took some selfies, the better to remember how young we were. We trust the camera, our teacher says, though increasingly we lie with it. To see is already to interpret, and to interpret is inevitably to lie. I didn’t know the origins of her sorrow until I asked.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

LILITH WALKS: da launch at daShop (video evidence)

 Here's the video, which was a real bear to upload. Tim Dyke and I talk about animal companions and the book. I do some readings from the book. People ask tough questions that I'm still re-answering in my head.

Buber 8


What counts is not these products of analysis and reflection but the genuine original unity, the lived relationship, writes the philosopher. I’m not biting at “genuine” or “original,” though I like “unity” a lot. I and Eucalyptus live our relationship in spells, one visit per day. I talk to my dog, but not to the tree. Would talk be analysis? Is the problem that it lives at one remove, is not genuine or original? Ceaseless pursuit of silence through noise. The cat in the blue chair chases his tail. The meaning of his phrase has to do with futility, but the actual chase is fun. He pushes his paws together around his gray striped ribbon of a tail, lets go to play again. Analogy need not be exact or original or analytical, just moving image. After divorce, a new unity, unoriginal but more carefully shaped, pieces of cardboard jutting out from the two-dimensional canvas, flattened again by a photograph. The photograph chases its other dimension, but is most honest when it represents a flat surface with its own. Our era lives on fictions, but demands fact. My students preferred non-fiction “because it really happened,” but the real tear in my heart depended on a missent letter. A postman in Egypt opened the mail he was intended to convey. He was not author or audience, but interpreter at the point of transfer, like a rogue sign interpreter. One puppet slipped out of hand, out of its role, walked toward a child with hands outstretched. We want to be part of creation, even if we’re not its instigation. We want instigation, even if it’s not equanimity. The cliff diver needs the cliff like the tree needs its canopy. A worker weaves wires, as his umbrella collapses in the wind. The wires are transfers, the worker a double-agent. There’s an original doubleness we might leave to its own devices, casting off the nostalgia for one. Casting out the transgender kid is evidence of unitary desire. You are one or the other, Eucalyptus or Monkey pod. But there’s the space between you that promises transformation. The original is change, multivalent. Where silence was is now weed-whacking. It cries like our one cat, wanting the attention of its person, willing to cut and cut to earn its keep. Whackers propped upside down at the back of a worker’s cart beside two or three red rakes. It’s not the handlebars that become the bull, but the bull redefines handlebars as adjuncts to a living being. Take the bull by its horns and steer your way through. The language is full of beef.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Review of Lilith Walks by Greg Bem

In Lilith Walks, no description lasts long, though, because of the remarkable temporary qualities of the “dog walk.” As a literary form, a dog walk feels like a remarkable hybrid between inspiration and constraint. The “dog walk” is descriptive yet concise. It balances deep engagement with time and place and often relies on a lightheartedness to carry forth the spontaneous flashes of experience. Even the usual and ordinary are elevated because dog walking is often about established routines and norms. In Schultz’s approach, the form is opportunity to document where norms are broken, where the exceptional occurs.


Buber 7


If my photograph of Eucalyptus is abstract, then who am I to Eucalyptus? Two-dimensional woman with blue-framed glasses and a flat dog, caught in the act of trying to take a photograph? The sublime melancholy of our lot [is] that every You must become an It in our world. But the tree takes my melancholy and absorbs it into its bark, its colors, its substance, which are not abstract. Because I cannot see far up the tree, my photos are of a narrow band near earth. Does the tree’s curvature make it less abstract? The photograph seems to make it more present to me, as I carry it home, stare at it on my screens. Presence isn’t reality, but the object in relation to the space it’s in. But this is to get too abstract: what I love are the reds and greens, the gaps, the way the tree seems to open mouths (at all angles) into which I can look. Some sap drips look like tongues. `Ahuimanu Bronx cheers. I gave up metaphor for prose, but now it’s back. The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly.

I: What do these colors allow you to do that plain bark would not?


I: Do you get lonely standing up all the time?


I: Do you resent the reputation you have of not casting any shade?


I: With what other beings do your roots communicate?


I: Do you find me and my dog half as fascinating as I do you?


I: I don’t resent your silences. They cushion me against paving equipment, the guy who doesn’t want me taking a picture of his truck, a dog behind the nearby fence.


I: Yours is not a silence that fills in, but one that lives beside the noise.


I: Your sticky black sap clings to my dog’s red leash. I'll up the contrast later.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Buber 6

 “Perhaps I myself am the enemy who must be loved.” Carl Jung. The sentence presumes an “enemy.” It presumes that enemies can be loved, and that by loving them they dissolve. It’s the Henry James School of Buddhism I’m in; we tell the stories of our actions, then think about those actions, and then think again about how we blew it, act again in (or not in) kind, rinse and repeat. In the tragic farce of daily life, we are both actor and spectator, and we know the spectator to be an actor, rather like the baseball umpire who refused to shake a manager’s hand. His refusal inserts him into the game he’s there to represent behind the curtain of his chest protector. No one to protect us now: over half of teenage girls have considered suicide. The tree self-destructs, though that is its process. The girl self-destructs, though that is part of ours. The tree stands alone, like a old woman who believes she can still drive her car, and that’s the pathos of it.

My You acts on me as I act on it. Acts like a tree with two trunks, the one who talks and the other who listens. Tim said, Susan, half your pieces are about listening, while the other half are about arguing. It’s a character feature. The It that is my kindness makes a You of me. The You that is angry, makes an It of us. I can’t say it’s balance, but it’s as close as I come these days. One pan holds as much flour as the other can bear to pull up to level. When we get to level, we’re not happy there. It was so much more fun jumping up and down, telling only enough gossip to make everyone curious. Curiosity’s crucial to your practice, but not the niele form of it, googling friends and relatives to find what traffic violations haunt their digital records. Or worse. Curiosity with no malice seems best, wanting to know more so that sympathetic joys and sorrows appear like colorful beads on a long piece of dental floss. Is Eucalyptus curious? May I interview you to find out? When you respond with reflections of color and not thought, what am I to do with that? Am I given total freedom or has a trap been set for me? Do trees cancel those of us who fail to understand their need for identity positions? Long considered invasive, the eucalyptus has a cross to bear in this regard. The very thing that renders its peeling bark beautiful is what speeds a forest fire towards habitations made of better woods, words. The tree must have a sense of itself as misunderstood, alone in this grove of monkeypods, their trunks dancing upward. Eucalyptus stands like a Puritan, straight, tall, solitary. It has work to do, but some rejoice when it’s cut down. Another in this park was. I don’t remember that, which tells me something now.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Lilith and the laundry line


I was trying to take a camera photograph (the wheels, the buttons!) of a line of laundry through a garage, when an old woman poked her head out from a side door of the house. "I'm taking pictures!" I said, foolishly. Her face was placid, smooth, her dark eyes patient. "You want to take a picture of my flower?" Yes, of course. Lilith and I walked through the garage to her side yard, just past the hanging laundry. There was a gorgeous red amaryllis, with four large blossoms on it. It's the fifth time this flower has bloomed. So I took photos, then Lilith and I turned to leave. I asked if I could take her photograph. She said no. Then: "I'm scared of dogs," she said, as we stood not three feet apart. "One bit me." I assured her Lilith was peaceful, as we left. Two doors down, I took a photograph of two lines of bras hanging in someone else's garage.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Buber 5

The tree is not art, but its photograph is. William Eggleson never dates or titles photographs because they are photographs. Nothing more or less than. Now there’s an equation I can work through, though the boundary between tree and photo begins to blur. After I take a photograph of a truck bed—the rusty toolbox, the tangled rope—a man asks me, “You going take one pikcha my truck, too?” It’s what’s in the truck, not the truck itself, I try to say, before Lilith sees chickens and pulls me away. I do take photographs of chickens, but they’re in relation to my dog, pulling on her red leash, an umbilical between eye and object. The photograph is the subject, if you’re lucky, the force of relation between me and my dog, my dog and the chickens (these bear very different affects). Time in the photograph turns to artifice, gesture or blur. I am still not seen to myself, because I don’t take selfies. Teenage girls are burdened less by history than by social media, a columnist writes. But we put ourselves inside of history in our self-portraits. Wim Wenders’ double-lens effected full focus in Paris, Texas, so that our sad hero could drive through the clear-as-a-bell mesa in his red shirt, shadows falling over his cheeks. He’d forgotten his past; the mesa replaced it with a dry present, and a bird of prey. Memory is more urban, a peep show we narrate because narrative isn’t collaboration, but instruction. We ask someone to act inside our re-invention of an already invented space (pool, restaurant, hotel room). It’s pre-fab formalism that structures dialogue, unless you invite Socrates to the pool party and pepper him with questions. Better to keep photographers out of the Republic, too, for they know best how seriously we take our realism.

The essential deed of art determines the process whereby the form becomes a work. A sidewalk is constructed of forms, square by square laid down inside a carpenter’s frame. There’s the urge to write in concrete before it sets, to scrawl our name, the date, and whom we loved. To take a photograph of that is to make it present, cleanse it of its dates and names as narrative pegs, pretending there’s no time like the present. Each time I and Eucalyptus meet, I take something away. Image thief. What I have to offer is some form of company I can’t comprehend. Autistic children farming in a French film say nothing, but their eyes follow the saw, the hammer, the dough being fisted into shape. No one speaks to them. Is this silence a comfort? Our walks are visitations, accruing meaning through repetition, not words. Eucalyptus is cryptic. Every word must falsify; but look, these beings live around you.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Buber 4


Asked to take photos at different times of day, I walked out into gray rain this morning. I walk out into gray in the afternoon. I walk out again at evening into the gray. “If weather gets in the way, take photos of the weather,” I remember saying, but this assignment presumes different weathers. Whether gray or gray again, attend to its layers. Then attend to trees, their ribbons of wet bark like highways to an approximate gray heaven. Wrote “bard” for “bark,” though bark is what we need in this after-drought of flood watches. Who watches the flood still gets drenched by it. We don’t get to Eucalyptus today, the dog and I, though I imagine (as in remember) the blacks that turn to brown, the sap drops like jewels reflecting my red cap (when it’s not so gray). The relation to the You is unmediated. But gray is our medium, foretelling more. From this room I sense the tree in the park. We’re taught to avoid the present tense, but the tree feels present, tense. There's a light in my room, more white than gray.

Insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. To what end do I use the eucalyptus? Is use without use-value still use, or does it better approximate recycling, where objects have more value in their transfer than in their being? If I use the image I see in a photograph, what is its purpose, being different from value? Eggs are being rationed, a neighbor tells me, so expensive now they’re shipped to the mainland to be sold. Tell that to the chickens who roost beside McDonald’s; one laid an egg on the concrete pedestal to a sign, and I took that. The photo. But the tree feels present to me now, a sturdiness inside my gray day. The gum’s colors aren’t quite defeated by the gray, awaiting a camera’s lens to emerge, drip-paintings on a peeling canvas. Water drop drops off sap drop drops off bark off trunk off colors. How I negotiate a shift from narrow to wide-angle lens, from vertical to horizontal vision, has something to do with this tree. There’s more canvas, less detail. So I move closer, until the tip of my nose nearly rests on sticky wood, and turn the focus wheel. Focus is presence, an instant when the sap drop leaps out from its still yet moving frame. The rest forms a blur, but blurs are artistic! What is essential is lived in the present, objects in the past. While I do remember the tree (I took photos yesterday), I seem still to carry it with me. Not as a cross to bear, but as a kindness to be held, like the light that shifts when I pull a lever in Lightroom.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A launch for LILITH WALKS at DaShop (Kaimuki), Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2 pm

from Eucalyptus and I: Buber Variations

Buber 3

Eucalyptus and I exist outside of context; I am the eye of the eye of the camera that fixates on one drop of mahogany sap, casting its shadow like a lure. The text is not I, though I watch its black drip on a virtual white page. But everything else lives in his light. Not a sacred light, unless you nail the bronze label on, name to make it so. Tree is light insofar as it reflects; so am I, it seems, on this morning when there is varying light. Yesterday was mock-eternal, unvarying in gray rain. This morning colors distinguish themselves. It’s all in the contrast. One woman stands beside one tree (her dog on a red leash, tugging), taking photos for no reason she understands. If it’s to stop time, the eucalyptus is already pretty slow. If it’s to memorialize the moment, the moment insists it’s alive as flashback (technical word for memory). This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Is the tree then a form that I confront? Or is the form the photograph, operating through me at a second remove? A friend sends me this: “Anyhow, Daido Moriyama used to tell his students, ‘Til you've taken 10 rolls of film of a single building in one shooting session, I won't believe you even really *looked* at the building.’" 

 Seeing-machine, attending-machine, life support for eyes. 

 Where I place my frame frames me, though I’m not seen here (abhor the selfie!) I am that bit of grass from which the tree grows into the light of morning, or I am that patch of yellow-striped asphalt over which mountains show, bearing their clouds like cakes. Such work is creation, inventing is finding. Or a sub-creation folder, tucked inside the external hard drive, exported into Lightroom, then meddled with. Is the meddling invention? I can't reproduce color tones I don't remember, so I produce what I hope is close. Neighbor to “true,” not figment or fragment, however imagined. But this is getting quite grand, this lexicon of invention and creation; back in Mosquito Park (as we call it) all actual life is encounter. As I pull my camera away from Eucalyptus, some brown tar sticks to my dog’s red leash, feathered there. We take the tar away with us. Something of this moment sticks.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Buber 2


Martin Buber Variations: Two

After I said, “look at the tree,” a woman walking by termed it “magnificent.” Adjective as abstraction; it (neutral pronoun) is magnificent (blanket term). Tree covered in a multi-colored blanket of reds and greens and blacks and browns, but only where reading lenses meet distance. I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. This is not to say the tree is he or she or they, and thou seems an antiquated intimacy. If the relation is reciprocity then what does Eucalyptus get from me? Am I an it to it, who is not an It to me? I take photos of the tree, and note the verb. Appropriate is not appropriation, but something more decorous. In this decade I better know the self’s fragility as memory, self-contained upon a stage, a series of events to watch rather than to leap in like a river, seductive. You know you want to leap into what will destroy you, for you are American, so you focus on a tree behind you. Stolid, it doesn’t succumb to desire, though sometimes to wind, an uneven heating of the earth. Two eggs stand on the bottom of a bowl, a light shining down on them. Like two boxers before they dance. A brown egg kisses a white egg, and it’s not allegory, though we notice it. Only the cops wore masks, not against covid, but against our attention. They are not You, though they might be. They are not It, though they acted as such. The tree navigates its colors as if there were meanings to its palette. Red is not anger, but reflection. Green is not jealousy, but the grass around the tree. Brown is not mud, though the rain makes it appear so. Is rain the artist? Is wind? Am I, for taking the picture, downloading and fiddling with it? Is the picture then a Thou, related or unrelated to the tree? If a bot can tell a lie, can the eucalyptus? Or is your accident a form of truth that carries no ethical weight? My photograph becomes the tree’s memory. Yesterday there were streaks of sap; today there’s a gecko stuck in it; in three days, the gecko’s skeleton is held against the light, a jaw, a back, a tail entangled in the tar. The photographs are still, but it’s sequence that interests me, not the one-off, the beautiful image. Abstraction as dopamine trigger. It’s the silence between the shots (remove word from gun and give it to art) that gives us pause. Generous pause. What we don’t remember we see again as flat and new and still only as it sits on its canvas. I look at a tree photo, see two profiles of demons, one eye on each. Demon in foreground has a mouth shaped like a Valentine’s heart. I and Eucalyptus exchange our vows, before dog and I turn to trudge through the nets of other shadowed trees. That was not in the photograph.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Buber 1

 Martin Buber Variations: I and Eucalyptus

If there is no I as such, then who are you? I contemplate a tree. I am not such as the eucalyptus promises to be. But much as time enters a photograph as blur, the eucalyptus enters as tar, as sheets of bark separating from the trunk, as greens and browns and the reflected red of my cap. Jewel sap, sap as trap (leaves and geckos stuck), black when it’s dry, brown after the rain. Stained, solitary amid the monkeypods. Standing near the swimming pool’s chain link, an invasive of one. The monkey pods bend their branches, braiding shadows on green grass. The eucalyptus is tall and stiff, casting no shadow that is not the stickiness of tar. A rock at its base black with such, two small brown leaves its wide eyes. Whatever I might be stands in relation to whatever the eucalyptus is. My dog gets bored by these ritual visits, despite the scent. It is like an egg you think you’ve seen until you take its picture. Photographs trace a border between seen and unseen, real and surreal. I take them because I see something that is something else again when I download it. (This used to be called developing.) The tree’s undoing is development, almost a narrative, if we could hear it in words. If relation is reciprocity, then we're in relation, this self a blurred egg, this tree its peeling skin. One wonders if the tree feels pain at its self-loss, each day a newly detached wall of bark, smothered in black goo. I have come to think of self-loss as a mixed state, best described apart from loss and gain, terms capital imposes on us. The eucalyptus was planted to make money, but it’s failed, loitering on the lawn beside the community pool. Freed from the economy of planks and paper and wind screens, it claims an economy of meaning, which is itself a seesaw process. What the image creates sometimes is a place that sits between color and meaning, like the space between the blackened bark and the light color of the tree. Between the meaning and me is abstraction. It’s unconsidered, no artist to write its plot, or take its measurements. What to make of the tree’s art is mystery. Stories are how we solve mysteries (so often crimes) but these leave us puzzled. I can see a face in the movement of sap against the jagged bark, but I know it’s not a face. Is it accident? Does accident depend upon there having been an intention, or can we make an accident of what appears to us as accident already? I and eucalyptus fail to communicate, though we commune. After an arbitrary last photo, my dog and I return to the side walk. The side is of a road, but we’ve been on the other, the green side. My shoes are covered with seeds acquired earlier in higher grass. My dog carries the promise of a weedy afterlife on her gray haunches.

Monday, February 13, 2023


"His father gave her a Biblical name," the woman told me, who'd asked if I have any grandchildren. (It was one I didn't know.) The little girl had a bright purple shirt on, with a black bow tie to the side; she wore white sandals and colorful socks.) I said that Lilith is a Biblical name, except she's not in the Bible, and told her the story of the first woman who didn't require Adam's rib. Across the road, another older woman beckoned with her small dog. We crossed over. She thought I'd like the movie, "80 for Brady," about old women who like the quarterback. I watched the Super Bowl, I said, but no other football because of the brain injuries. She'd told her son he was not allowed to play football for just that reason, but he did. And now he's a psychiatrist, or is it psychologist? "There's a lot of demand for mental health services," she said, gesturing toward the parking lot. Her son had bought a car (not the cheapest one, mind you), which was parked outside their unit. I mentioned today's _Washington Post_ article about teenage girls and suicide. "They're trying to grow up too fast," she said. As Lilith and I started uphill, we turned to say good-bye. A large black BMW stood out in the parking lot of smaller Japanese cars.


Friday, January 20, 2023

Lilith talks, and talks

Lilith and I walked quietly around Min Soon, who was meditating on a bench that looks out on preservation land. We walked down the hill behind the townhouses, where the plants grow extra large, pausing at the eucalyptus tree that coughs up tar, and then up some stairs to the back of a maintenance shed. A short man in black baseball cap is standing inside. "Nice camera!" he says. He used to work for the Nature Conservancy on Maui as a photographer; went up in helicopters, looked down on ridges too narrow to see otherwise. But lots of people had left, so he became their grunt. Lived in Ewa, has a standard shift car that he bought from a friend for $100 (down from $500 because he didn't know how to drive it), is now resident manager up the hill from us. "Mind if I take some photos?" I asked. "Lucky I cleaned up yesterday." When I said I prefer scatter, he said, "oh you should have come by last week." He remembered me as the woman who once came around and took photos of sheet metal. Lilith was pulling on the leash, because chickens. I told him about our book, _Lilith Walks_, and the odd conversations we have with people when we walk. He said that was a great idea, and he wished he'd written down what happens when people come by the shed or call him on the phone. We introduced ourselves, and then Lilith pulled me away.
At the rec center down the hill, a woman in yellow shirt and shorts, big framed glasses, approached and asked if Lilith was friendly. Would she meet her dog? Of course. So she walked to her ancient blue SUV, opened the front door, and out leaped Boba, a poi dog with a bit of a boxer's nose. He greeted Lilith, then walked to the nearest light pole, lifted his back leg and fired. Then fired again.


Monday, January 9, 2023

Chronicle of an photograph not taken

She was leaning on a concrete wall, smoking a cigarette and looking at her cell phone screen. A young woman dressed in a SUBWAY teeshirt, outside an empty SUBWAY, across a narrow road from the empty movie theater, devoid even of its letters now that deconstructors came to take them down. Lilith and I walked past, gazing at the empty theater, its brown papered doors, its EXIT signs with nothing to exit. Mostly, all we saw was ourselves, reflected. On our way back, she looked at us and smiled. "May I take your photo?" I asked, thinking of the way she'd bent down with her cigarette, reading her screen. "Why?" she asked. "Because I like to take photographs." Lilith sniffed her ankles, and she was happy her own dog had been noticed in its absence. She came up with the idea of having us take a selfie together, so I took one of her smiling and my one spectacled eye peering into the small square, STL logo on my head. But of course that was not the photograph I'd wanted. As we left, I read a long tattoo down her arm from elbow to wrist. The letters were big, stenciled in a fancy font, and added up to a phrase about being true to yourself (but not that, exactly). That was the photograph, in the end, I didn't take. Then I'd better remember the sad beauty of the phrase. Maybe I'll get myself a sub sandwich one day (though I hate Subway) and ask to take the photo of her arm. She said the empty theater might turn into a Planet Fitness, if they could ever fix the air-conditioning.