Saturday, December 30, 2023

30 December 2023


I opened her book to “Decreation,” then lost the page. A gentler destruction? Rather than cut the knot, pull thread from thread until you’re lost, still lacking a narrow string, but less fazed by it. Decreation’s a lost art in the digital age; it takes too much time.; there’s no end to all of its middling. Hours that could be better spent celebrating suddenness. Destruction’s quick, but exhausting, Troy unbuilt in a night. On destruction there’s no copyright, as Gaza and Kyiv can attest. Just mimicry: airplane flies, bomb falls, rubble accumulates. Rubble its own economy; each empire craves more of it. Someone constructed a creche in the rubble, before they canceled Christmas in Bethlehem.

Hope is creation without a tool. It’s that dream running out the door of wakefulness. That window misted over to turn ferns into x-rays, moisture into a fancy filter. It’s mostly filter, albeit without subject, as if you could look at empty space and see it melt into itself. That leaves an equation I can’t solve for x, though y remains an active question. To see without seeing something; to witness before actors come on stage, blindfolded and confused. To understand before there are words for it. “Do you feel anything?” is classic condescension to those who think, in the language they think it in. The future content of this sentence. It’s like buying futures while suspecting that the word might be decreated by then, like eight Hawai`i birds we see on a laminated sheet, no longer in o`hia trees. I slapped a mosquito in Volcano, knowing it might spread disease to more birds; mosquitoes are generalists. Any blood goes for them, while for the bird with the intricately bent beak, only one flower will suffice. Some trees wander more quickly than these birds.

Extinction is slow destruction, but not decreation, which suggests a kind of reverence for the object taken apart. The last bird sang, and the recorder sang back. That’s not Narcissus, but helps me understand him better. Perhaps, like the bear in the woods confronted by a mirror, Narcissus wanted to knock the mirror face down so he couldn’t see himself on its surface. But ponds don’t work that way; you can’t turn them over and rest in the indifference of a wooden frame. So it’s better to love what you see than to wish for its destruction. The bird’s desire to live was contained in its song; dramatic irony made the scientist cry.

If we only saw ourselves in mirrors, we’d see even less. We might hone in on some detail, like the strand of hair that rides a wave between cheek and ear, but that wouldn’t be enough. The full image is too much to bear, though someone makes these things and we put them in small rooms to make them appear larger. It’s all in the light, the openness of the flat mirror’s false sense of itself. Hold a mirror in the crowd and note down details it spits at you in reverse. The hand you write with doesn’t move, while the other pushes your bangs away from your eyes. This is witness, at once witless and only partially adequate to the time. On television, I saw children with bandages where their legs had been. The image burns my eye’s mirror, but what oh what am I to do with it?

Note: The book in question is Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace.

Friday, December 29, 2023

29 December 2023

Scat singing in war zones

Eight more birds gone extinct in Hawai`i. The scientist who last heard one recorded its voice. Thinking there was another bird, it flew toward him. Duet of one, the `o`o’s “oo’oo oo-auh” song. What to make of a diminished thing gone dead. You can find lists of the poets killed in Gaza, those missing in Ukraine. The recorders leave recordings, and we move toward them, trying to catch their dying songs. “If I must die,” wrote one Palestinian poet; you can read the poem handwritten on white tile in the New York subway. A little boy at Gate E6 carried a small white board with red marker. He made circles on it, then a stick person. A man in purple fedora fell beside me, behind a large bag, then plunked himself in the next seat over. He was wearing a uniform of some sort, I realized, on return from Costa Rica: baggy tan shorts, colorful shirt, beard, wide eyes. By the curb in Hilo, two men with spurred leather boots and clean saddles waited for a ride. Garry Winogrand’s first wife thought she was married to a lens; he never stopped taking pictures. A friend found his grave in a New Jersey Jewish cemetery, where his parents had buried him. When I called Bryant, I heard only his feet hitting the parking lot of Hilo’s Target.

To record is not to save, but also not to lose, is a between-space where the near-present meets the near-past and the melody of a voice weaves through time like a punt returner. When we say “punt,” we mean different things, sound fraying into two metaphorical fields; one might punt one’s profession to go row a flat boat on a shallow river. In Cambridge, my then three year old son held out a twig, pretending to fish. He says one of the knives he’s looking at on-line has a fish scaler. The scale is off, between fake fishing and the rampant insincerity of our age. What does she want us to say about the Civil War? Less a racist than a moral coward, one opponent says of Nikki Haley, though he’s at 1% in the polls. We have her on a recording, saying this thing we keep repeating, as if to rinse it out of our system. Ukrainian poets reject the prosodic systems of Russian poetry, preferring to write unadorned free verse or prose. Where you cannot find beauty, don’t invent it. The poet who disappeared may have no paper now, but he’s writing poems in his head, his friend says. They never collect corpses, so he must be alive. Others disappear beneath waves of rubble in Gaza. The disarchitecture of this time, its broken sounds. An exploded word cannot find itself in a song, no matter how faithfully recorded.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

27 December 2023


I have so much pain in my heart for my people; I have no room for others. She pulls her voice short of breaking, her face set hard beneath a blue and white head scarf. Victory breeds enmity, the Buddha says, seeing her from beneath his tree, his many eyes turning inside and out, a lighthouse whose beam cuts near perfect darkness, leaving a lot of it behind. The shepherd and his journalist get back into a jeep, a soldier-in-uniform-only threatening them. Turn off your camera. Get off your land. Security and peace depend on theft. They killed my friends.

Land is space, and we know that space offers a harbor. But you can’t have too much land. And land is only surface, as Kauai’s billionaire knows, building his bunkers under the land he bought from farmers and fishermen. Others he threatened with legal action. There’s also sky, hard to control, and clouds, nearly impossible. And the mountains, despite their stasis, harbor emotions he can’t know, and in not knowing, fears. In heavy rains, the Pali gets covered with mud and downed trees; it takes earth movers to push it all back to the road’s shoulder. Earth movers covered tents in Gaza, lifted bodies up. 


The Madonna is a bulldozer; her careful arms are iron, her face a dark cab. She’s a puppet of the state, by way of an operator who thinks of her less as mother than as machine. His cab frees him to do what he would not do at home. His fear seems to be his alone, although others use him for his power. Bulldoze the earth to tame it. Mother earth is not mother unless she's angry.

Note: the first sentence was spoken by an Israeli settler; the Buddha’s words are from the Dhammapada.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

23 December 2023


My students of avant-garde poetry wanted to workshop their poems! Put this line earlier, and that one later, and make the opening more clear! It’s like rethinking a cloud, moving one channel of vapor to another side, the better to take still photos. We could alter those, too, until what we had seen became what we imagined, tamed. I wish yesterday’s meditation had started at the end. Over the course of 500 or so words, Ironic Historical Dwell would have been transformed to Buddhist Dwell without Hatred, the word defined to suit our desire for closure (meaning a happy ending). There’s no central character in a meditation, but we want it (whatever it is) to make progress. More learning can lead to less sense, like a critic argues for a pedophile because that’s the direction the language takes him. Is rhetoric a form of knowledge, or only its GPS? We follow, because who would not a sentence such as that one, clever and concise and hitting its target audience full on. Tenure smiles from around that thought's tight corner. If I began with hatred, could I as easily end with love? Perhaps, but I didn’t.

Wherefore, upon this road, to enter upon the road is to leave the road. St. John of the Cross

When you reach the fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra

Friday, December 22, 2023

22 December 2023


Blessed indeed are we who live among those who hate, hating no one; amidst those who hate, let us dwell without hatred. Among and without. He asked me why, if I believe in chance, I put dates on my meditations. You should feel free to read in another dis-order; thus, history gets muddled, but thinking goes on apace. You can give the poet anything and she'll think on it, about it, within it, without it. It’s just a launching pad for prepositions, those that quickly turn to propositions. Bring me your little words, the ones that stand beside or next to, appearing to hold the wall up like a beam. Are those bolts real, one wonders, or put there to reassure us the roof is stable, even when in torrential rains, it leaks. That was his name! Lorenzo Leak, whose son I found well after my father’s death. He’d called the hospital, but couldn’t speak to my dad. (It was my mother's doing, as I recall.) I returned the call after he died. It’s the way we have of ignoring death, refusing to truck in its finalities. Mayu puts up a photograph of Marie’s plum tree, its purple blossoms blossoming. Anne feels her late husband’s presence in another room; he’s quiet, she notes, but a comfort.

I live within myself, but cannot live without you. Is that how prepositions describe love? I’ve leased some time in this affordable housing of mine. Lucky enough to win the lottery, I'll have a place to live, after it’s built, of course. For now, I inhabit the idea of a box inside the idea of a building beside a real ocean. The idea archive is easy to move; no need for trucks or men. Gaza, we see, is shaped like a casket. Is that prophecy or grim irony masquerading as history? Which date would you set on this entry? Old film video cameras required the photographer to turn a crank. History shuddered, though it can now be stabilized with the appropriate software. Horse and carriage on Kalakaua Avenue, circa 1906; donkey and cart in Gaza today. History as stubborn as pack animals, condemned to repeat itself, and not because it forgot.

Someone designs luxury housing for Gaza in the after-life of history, then claims it was a joke. Struggle to read the Bible? Listen to God’s word / effortlessly using Dwell. 


Note: first quotation from the Dhammapada, Kaviratna, translator. The second from here:

Thursday, December 21, 2023

21 December 2023


Were I able to follow directions, I’d take myself apart, find a diagram to rebuild me by. When I asked students to write directions to their houses, using a paper map, they left most details out. That was before Siri began speaking out of small rectangles, before Gaza lost its streets to dumb bombs. Smart and surgical are best, of course, as they cut the city’s flesh neatly, remove its tumors, rename the heart Terror. A group inflicts terror, a state mere barbarity. The state has nicer words; they earned them over the long tables, the lunch breaks, the paid leaves, the child care, elder care, so much care-giving. We give--not offer--care, and some of it comes as bombs signed by the enemy’s children. On his ninth birthday, a boy lost his family to an Israeli bomb. He sits on the floor, one eye covered in gauze, pounding his hands on tile. The stones of the Holy Land may be fake, but still they’re stained red. What happens when he is 10?

The social body pulled apart; spleen at war with liver, heart with lungs. No machine keeps them all running from the outside, though someone brought oxygen. I keep cutting sentences in half, then shortening them; I write propositions without results, set up experiments without lab equipment. I left my hips on the table beside some hammers, nails, and a few strands of wire. If I’d discovered anything from chronic pain, it’s that my self resides there, clutching the spine’s mast, embedded in a perfect storm. To wish it away is to want less pressure on my-self. The acupuncturist asks me two or three times about my stress. I have what I make myself on that factory floor, wearing inappropriate shoes and a dress better suited to church than to manual labor. Why are things “suited” to other things? What tailor has cut our cloth in such a way that we match? We’re like our own twin, hoping to reside as echo rather than origin. The cavern illuminated, water sculptor dripping translucent rock.

Maeve pushed the green bucket over, leaving the carpet wet, where water dripped from the ceiling yesterday. The house is flesh, but not wall; my body is an apartment, its corridors dank, doors numbered to imitate sequence, rooms full of bad furniture. There’s a nice view from the top. Farther down, the hip’s caves flood, set off shocks; some might call them lights, others pain. What number is that, from 1 to 10? It’s like betting on your own discomfort and never winning anything except the doctor’s quick nod. If the scale is subjective, then why assign it numbers? Are my numbers near yours, or does this have less to do with empathy than with the sliding scale that measures me? I feel 8s and 10s for Gaza, but I suspect theirs is another scale, unimagined in my damp room. Imagine the planes were bombing you, my father said, but he offered no numbers for his feeling.

Today’s photograph from The Guardian: students perched on a ledge in Prague, beneath large windows, evading a gun sight and its seer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

20 December 2023


The sound of one frond falling. No koan that; I just heard it fall outside. In pouring rain, a man with a machete cuts from the top of the palm: coconuts, seeds, growth’s detritus tossed off. Thump. The would-be dictator imagines himself a gardener; he shapes, he prunes, he transplants. He makes art with his machete, though he sometimes wishes he had bulldozer or drone to do the job better. The cultivation of violence is like this, so be suspicious of analogy. The man destroys enough to tame the palm, but I wonder about his work conditions, as he stands on the narrow palm’s trunk, spikes in his shoes, a belt around them both, pushing water off his face with the back of his macheted hand. I worry about the man who bulldozes tents, who shoots the innocent, who takes the narrow jewelry chain from a broken house. He will be someone else when he gets out, pruned into grief or hatred. Moral injury takes violence inside and nourishes it like a small child. It takes up a crayon and traces buildings that shed streams of red. Five men stand in the cavity of an apartment. If there is no photograph, it’s because the cameraman was pruned away. The empire considers itself an editor; the rest of us see blood flowing from shifts of tense and number.

The man who cuts works for men who do not. Take that desk job; it buries all impulses into one act of forgetting. One summer I had a typing job, but there was nothing to type, so I played hangman on the Wang for hours a day. When “work” dried up, I counted the change in the coffee room until pennies danced in my head at night. You must seem to be working a boss told me, so I seemed. You must seem to be making your land safe, another says. Safety must come with barbarism, the cry of a child out of rubble. Rubble couple, Susan Howe wrote. There’s blood in a fairy tale. I tore that sentence away. But I learned the word "tsunami" that summer.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

19 December 2023: Winter turns the world green


After the rain, mowers; after the mowers, rain. Clothes pins of a single note hang outside, sonic variations behind, from splattering to whisper. The nurse stood behind me, whispering names for animals; when I said “gorilla,” we knew my hearing would suffice. If this season is winter, then why neglect my winter photographs? Isn't it possible to have palm trees in winter, or must winter be renamed summer, trans-seasoned? Have we busted up the entire metaphorical field? If your winter’s barren of leaves, mine fills with them. If your winter prepares you for death, mine gestures toward constancy. Rodger says he'll miss this world; he posts a photograph of a bee and a flower, not arthritic branches, or roots’ broken wrists. If I peer into the parking lot drain, will I find a drowned sonnet, unfurling like an exhausted flag, melting toward the ocean. Not a plastic patch, but a poetic one. Go gather your alphabets where you may, then watch them come ashore like micro-trash, but more beneficent. Make garlands of these cast offs, put them around your neck or scalp, tease out their messages from the sea’s disorder. You sing beyond the chaos of the sea. Two boys held up their tako, for bait. Smart, but.

Apple weather has nothing to do with fruit. Cinnamon apple sauce from Ecuador contains lead in it. Apples in Ecuador? Another season change, the one means of production creates to feed the world’s economy of desire. No one needs apple sauce from Ecuador, especially not now that it poisons you. To eat an apple in Spring confuses the seasons, though they might be tart, like Ashbery’s. With climate change, I might be a bridesmaid in November, a pall bearer in May. Alteration finds itself driven by engines of commerce. The December mower works between rain showers; growth slows, but only because rain beats it back. You’ll need AI to recover analogue sonnets, those that slowly informed their pre-assigned structure. I’d like you to elucidate your own traditions, I told my students; no matter that Eliot was a bad man. Or Pound. Take their examples; change the season. Pound took China, so take Pound, put him in a headlock, and leave him to thrash on his own ground. I never liked to think of literature as battlefield, but I venture there now. Old guns are trained on a field of soy beans, unharvested. The new economy breeds new diets. Spring melt comes any day now.

Monday, December 18, 2023

18 December 2023


Reading How to Be Perfect but I'm not there yet, wherever that might be, maybe doing dishes or cleaning the toilet or brushing a cat before he vomits up more hair balls. The real problem might be that it's easy to be perfect. You’re perfect insofar as you do what’s unnoticed; forget the power trips the Greek gods reveled in, or even water turning into wine (quite the sleight of hand, that one). Work on relative compassion, not the absolute. Try to make compassion your cousin, someone kind of like you, but not quite. Above all, don’t advertise your services via Compassion, Inc., the corporation that aims to fill in gaps that cruelty left behind. One philosopher (who dat?) claims cruelty is the worst vice, because it happens between people, not between us and some god of our imagining. Greed can be done on your own; it’s just you and your amazon app, your finger fake pushing a digital button. Lust, too, happens between parties of one. I suppose you can be cruel to yourself, but there’s nowhere to learn the skill without mingling. An abuser singles you out of the crowd, but in his absence the crowd becomes a wild congregation, holy rollers dancing in the presence of his absence. And oh the speaking in tongues!

It’s lucky you like irony, a family member tells me, after I say I’d throw a rock through the window, except my left arm hurts. That the rock is metaphorical and my arm is real doesn’t much matter, except to add absurdity onto irony, which might be a form of analogy protecting you from too much knowing. The girl who doesn’t get jokes is a pure soul, though sometimes the joke’s on her. Like what you need being put on your shoulder in ‘Hey, Jude.” Paul would have changed that line, but John, standing behind him, said it was the best line in the song. I know too much Beatles gossip, now that I clicked on the bait. The Fab Four pop up in my feed; it occurs to me that “feed” is the right term, the way that animals in German feed and human beings eat. What I remember is what I’ve been fed. Then again, I don't do the cooking in this house.

If your students don’t enjoy poems, ask them to draw. The plank that in reason broke or a needle in the eye might be good starters to this menu. Lay out your metaphors on the table and push them around as objects. The palm at the end of my mind takes up a hell of a lot of space, until I move it outside my sliding doors. Take a house and furnish it with literal comparisons; it’s part of what makes the world so strange. If a tangerine is the sun, then what is the sun to the tangerine? Pick either up to throw; only one will scald you, but that’s the one that’s rendered abstract by comparison.

I have a word counter, and it’s not even gendered. Siri’s not got this gig; she prefers to offer directions (that are not orders) and dial phones that have no dials. In Toulouse, we were stopped cold by a sundial in the park, or was that Brooklyn? It didn’t tell time, but shadowed it. When it’s cloudy, there is no time of day, just a piece of iron sticking out on a circle. Illness, suffering, old age and death are cured in that park. Once, while walking in Shanghai, I came upon a Dali clock, melting into the sidewalk outside a department store. How many melted clocks would it take to alter our histories? When power is out in Gaza, clocks stop, but they stop anyway, like the shocked clock in Hiroshima. We are its eternity, our children the eternity of Gaza (its children may already be dead). In the old photo, my son wears a teeshirt that reads FUTURE. I’m in it. May they be free of pain and suffering.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

16 December 2023

He wants a photograph of water that looks like water; it can have objects in it, too. Mud bubbles are too abstract for the work contained inside its covers, pure poetry that carries polluted water, trash beached on the banks of the Charles. "Love that dirty water" transposes nicely to other locales. I have those, but must needs divorce them from the tropics; he slings a metaphor, but not a palm. What comes between me and bird song (listening six seconds a day being good for your mental health) is an incessant drip of water beside the rhapus palm. It’s the opening to a song that gets more complicated when other instruments enter: doves, a shama thrush, fake train whistles blown on a nearby highway. Objects we miss replaced by their sounds, a wailing without origin, ticking without numbers. Cry from a mosque without the mosque; white flag waved without effect. Once in a kill zone, you’re assumed to wield false symbols, not true. Your white flag is red, so we shoot you.

It all comes back to this, or that, in which this or that stand in for conflict. You’d think you’d need two syllables to convey conflict, nested inside a single unhappy word, like conflict. Inflict with a con in front of it. A rare form of intelligence comes with wordplay, more common ones lose me, like logic puzzles, or crosswords. Cross words, not crosses. A construction worker in emergency green vest asked his buddy if the jewelry at the mall included crosses. Compassion is not a con, unless it be a form of contamination without the pollution. Viral kindness. Take that word and swing it like a small child, around and around in air, gathering dizziness like dust until the child mirrors another in the war zone. But you have running water, the better to clean up, erase the erasure of features. Our television cries: children wail, men scream. The pulse of our time, before it bleeds out.

Poems not about the burning world line up beside the playground. The blacktop’s been removed for a softer surface; it’s important to fend off law suits. The poet threatened to sue my press, which had no assets except copies of his own book he refused to buy. My soft landing came later, when solitude proved to be communal, sequence of abuses we gather together like marbles, each shining oddly in the light. What happens to poems when there’s no content left, only containers open to the rain (which has now stopped, the drum beat of a drop quieting)? The sound of thought without thinking, or the thinking of thoughts that are only sound. Stop several times a day to listen; it’s good for your mental health.

Give me a rule-bound wisdom whose tenets I can break, like stick sculptures on a beach. Once I have my photograph, no one can destroy my monuments. Memory is formaldehyde, and though it smells strong, it can remind us of orchids. I live between the mountains and the sea, but that chant is for others to misinterpret. It’s either liberatory or genocidal, and we hope it’s not both. The rules of grammar are no help with such as these. A slogan is usually strong grammar, incomplete thought. Certainty, authority separate from content. Rain barrel at the edge, rimmed with weeds. Broken faucet a disneyland for exiles.

Friday, December 15, 2023

December 15, 2023


We need names that swim, concepts of the flexible spine darting between coral heads, the ones that look like brains and the others, more pale, cauliflower (or bleached broccoli) in salt water, seeming to move with the tide. Some hate the word “wisdom,” others “settler colonialism.” A small child might roam around a garden, putting post-its on flowers: this one is “wise” because it blooms; that one is a “colonizer” because it traveled here in someone’s suitcase. Flexibility, too, has a bad name, the flow (or flower) of migration, as if refugees were tourists, intent on using the resources of an island with so few. Hence, the Syrian child looks at the European sky and marvels in the same way (sameness is the ticket) as a 1/6 rioter regarded the Capitol’s dome. They obeyed the rope lines, even as they ransacked the place. Since same is good, the Syrian child, if he survived passage, disrupted an entire culture, his violence borne out in his regard. That the sky is blue doesn’t escape him, but he needs a home, and that is what you--who are already here-- want only for yourself. The word “pollution” comes to mind, as if the child could dirty a place with his presence. Unless beauty, too, might be pollution, like the pollen that writes yellow verse in the elsewhere Spring. My dog sneezes when she plays.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

14 December 2023


Is it form or format, door or door mat, car or automat? You can’t open a door mat, or drive an automat, but you can put your sonnet inside an appropriate format. Sonnet is to format as door is to door mat, the thing itself beside the plan of it. Scrape your boots before you enter the National Park to prevent the spread of pests; Russian boots placed in the shape of a star; children’s shoes at Auschwitz. It always comes back to shoes, not as evil doers but as boundary breakers, slipped over murderous ankles. That was what made me think the wax woman was my mother; not just her 1960s skirt and cream-colored blouse, but her thin ankles. Ankles aren't usually used to identify us, but hers broke the wall of (her) death and (the museum’s) work of art. When realist sculpture proves more real than life, it brings the dead back to sit quietly near a guard, surprised to hear me say he was guarding my mother. If I stared into her eyes, would she or I be Marina Abramovic? Would one or the other of us elicit a tear in the other?

To be a stranger’s witness, using you as hers across a museum table. Please refrain from cynicism, I say to a fellow academic; allow that the word “wisdom” carries the merit of impermanence, along with an aspiration to sculpture-hood. When asked to draw a clock, I got the circle and the numbers down, but couldn’t find 11:10 on my first three tries. The digital world has ruined me for this kind of arithmetic, that of measuring time in the last century. That it was not 11:10 in any case didn’t confuse me so much as the two hands, one shorter than the other, lost in magic marker on a white board.

Don’t play everything; just let some things go by. Monk dances like he plays piano, a staccato grace to his feet across the board. His music is not staged, like play or a conspiracy theory, but emerges from planks like commandments. You can tell musicians what to do, because they will not do it exactly. But there is fascism in my fascia.

One refers to history, the other to emotion. Untethered, even as they are made. Written either by the victors or the victims; both narratives compelling, and each could be a novel of manners, not in the sense of politeness but of grammar well caged. The question of his identifications came up in the comment stream, after a piece of his graphic memoir appeared on Facebook. He felt more for the girl his daughter's age from Gaza than he did for young men who might have been himself. To whom do we owe our identifications, our empathy? Its grammar is hard to diagram.

I flee so many arguments with which I agree. Word-bound, I quarrel with the sutta’s translation, the tone of logic, appeals to history that is another's history bombed. A leaflet about flooding Hamas's tunnels was couched in the language of God to Noah (or am I misremembering?). Watch the side of the sentence you fall into, subject or direct object, agent or acted upon. Combine one part memoir to two parts history to another logic, stir up controversy. Our sentences dislodged, we look to an underpass as comfort. On the questionnaire I noted that I have housing and food, that I’m not depressed, and that I don’t need the assistance of strangers. When asked for my quality of life, I filled in the circle 8. 


Note: language taken from Thelonious Monk's 25 tips for musicians, 1960. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

13 December 2023

The hatred of those who harbor such feelings as, “He reviled me, assaulted me, vanquished me and robbed me,” is never appeased. Fuss with the word “harbor,” which means “to protect.” Fuss again with the word “never.” Words are tassels, Carla writes; though I don’t understand her analogy, I move toward it, as a dog to her treat. “Never” is stasis, like one interpretation of “wisdom”: unable to be altered, permanent. If impermanence is one form of wisdom, then wisdom must itself be fleeting. It shifts between sentences, slurred sounds rolling a different putty shape. I can imagine an icicle hanging from a palm frond because I remember icicles. I remember, despite my inability to see the past as a film; it’s too static for that, like a filmstrip that you can stop for a while to assimilate its square knowledge. The blocks of stone are translucent, as if knowledge were light that traveled through substance and toward a common area, covered in slate. I'm not there as I write this, but somewhere on the internet, where photos lead me back like guide dogs. A place (New Haven, say) can change emotional shape over time, and according to the weather, inward and out. There’s no ordinary evening there, just iterations. Repetition is not ordinary, or it wouldn’t be so remarkable. Last time I walked there, it looked the same, just happier.

Bryant hangs our red sheets on the line in front of a line of rain and fronds, in air and seated on the cement ground. The red is wrinkled. Red palms denote murder, war crime, disaster, but these are sheets that have been loved on (much as I dislike that young man’s metaphor!). I can use anything, sheets or wisdom, carry them away from context like blocks of stone that move in the light, like the surf that wrinkles, in the way one could surf the sheets. Red are the streets of Gaza, and to place them here feels blasphemous, as our topographies are rendered sacred by murder. Tunnels have been flooded with sea water, which leaches into the ground water. Snipers aim at poets and journalists, one way to end a narrative line.

I cannot write about Gaza; I cannot appropriate Gaza. What is your wisdom on this question?

The palm fronds are weighed down with water, like tassels slung from a graduate’s mortarboard.

What is the grammar of conflict? Is it internal, like a disagreement of number, or is it what grammar is forced to confront, having no army except in number? If I alter the structure of my sentences, can I bend conflict to reason? It’s the emotional back beat, the ungrammatical drum, that pulls the sentences into tunnels now flooded with words. Ideology is fixed affect.

The grammar of Noah Fischer's feeling bends toward identification not with himself as a young man, but toward his daughter, who might be trapped underneath the stones of Gaza. Those stones are me, he writes. I think he means in a sense both of the place and of its violence. I throw the stone that identifies me, at you whose stone looks the same but cannot be, because words. Between us, a wall that has nothing to do with mending.

Note: quotation from Dhammapada: Wisdom of the Buddha, translated by Kaviratna.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Some mental health charities in Palestine/Israel


ntdosoSrpel6403a60i26g5llggu37fc70hi1fu01a475cafcg49 I I find these charities on-line that support mental health efforts in Gaza (if such a thing is possible):
I really can't vouch for each of them, or recommend which is doing the best work, but surely each is trying to offer valuable services.
WHO also has this article about mental health issues in Israel, post 10/7:

12 December 2023

Tiny Houses


 “Seduce him and then shed on his eyelids,” comes up as I open the Iliad, something about sleep, though I prefer the shed to be noun, stick edifice constructed on an eye’s fleshy platform. What comes between seeing and vision, like blinds between virtue and virtue signaling. Flat floor, semi-translucent, eyes at half staff behind a veined wall, wondering why flags are sulking halfway up their masts. Even the wind stops for them, leaving cloth heaps hugging metal posts. I shed skin like memory, find it lying like dust on the carpet. Dust bunny snapshots, returned to sender via phone, where sender is also the sent, scent of plum blossoms alerting us to a friend’s absence, except that we see a photograph, smell nothing. Reconstruction projects depend on erasures, rubble couples standing on concrete piers in Gaza City, where civil order promises to collapse, as if promise could be used as a negative. I promise you my worst, but warn you of my kindness. The gall to offer such a thing, wanting only kindness in return. The echo chamber of my bursitis hips contains a world’s theater; what I cannot see in Gaza is almost contained in me, though I can afford care. The half-truth of metaphor. Hear the dead poets recite their last wishes, for they know they are last. Hold that against the prize-winning poem that panders to an audience of others. There’s a difference.

A boy, his face bleeding, covered in concrete dust, pleads with the camera. There are no sunflowers in the background, or canyons striated orange and white. This is a selfie without others, without even the assumption of audience. The new prayer is spoken to a digital device. It places us as micro-gods, but we having nothing to wield but words, and more words, none of them arriving in his hearing space. They don't worry about death, but about not dying quickly enough. The carnations on my lanai turn yellow again, but droop in displeasure at my inattention.

In the meantime, crops of kittens trot out with their names, some kept, others changed. A nose patch the shape of Idaho, tortoise shell eyelids, one cat asleep on the other, choreography of new life in an enclosed space. My son’s hand brushes the backs of both cats. He’s pinned to the couch by such purring, eyelids closed, paws outstretched to reach a pillow, or his arm. It’s not abstraction that’s wise; it’s a species of love more than of knowing. The greatest virtue is a vacation from the rest of it, if vacation can be described as right view, the sea spread out in front, telegraphing its moods as currents, bathing the sun in its folds. A girl in Gaza holds her cat close for a photographer's glass lens.


Note: the opening quotation from Stanley Lombardo's translation.

Monday, December 11, 2023

11 December 2023

Attention is flesh, wisdom skeleton.

Outside the physical therapist’s door, a skeleton is turned to the wall. What might be a face leans, hiding a massive overbite.

A man and his daughter were just in Samoa, travel next week to Vegas. He’s learning to walk with a prosthesis on one leg, from knee to metal foot tucked neatly into a running shoe.

I with my crutches challenge an older woman with a walker to a race down the tiled floor.

Empty plastic boxes hang on a wall. Above them, a sign indicates Health and Wellness Resources. Underneath, a faux modernist couch on which couples sit, one or another favoring arm or leg. Our pain signs itself, like the wide receiver trash talking in ASL after scoring a touchdown.

Andre 3000 says he plays the flute, but is not a flautist. He’s not an artist, but a respondent. A photographer plays the camera in this way.

Witness is a form of attention that asks more of us than insight. Out sight is not out of sight or mind, but a vision of what sits right in front of you. Vision as in the giant letter E, not William Blake rolling on cobblestones chanting mantras. The photographer was killed by a sniper, as was an 8 year old boy playing soccer in the rubble.

To hear is to see. In the new film about Auschwitz, you see children playing in a fenced yard. What you hear are screams and machines of death unimagined by them but not their parents. A lawn mimics a rural field; the death camp cannot mimic anything. It is relentless industry. If I wanted to write about birds, I would have to get away from bombs, the Palestinian poet wrote. If I wanted to show the death camp, I would make it my sound track. The jumpers on 9/11 looked free until they hit a roof, thud. When the movie turns violent, I hide my face behind a pillow, but I can still hear. Eye witness ducks what ear witness cannot.

Blind Murphy dog brought a dead rat inside the house. “We had no idea,” they all said. The images came to them on railroad tracks, but all they knew was the clattering. A train is a neutral object; what it carries is only theoretical in cases where the non-witness requires abstraction to evade the rest.

So much depends on inattention. Our politics, for example. Inattention is difficult, so we invented distraction, speed. No one actually watches the Indy 500; it’s too fast. They wait for the pile-ups to see where the cars line-up. We pay attention to accident.

I mean to write about witness, but I pursue evasion instead. Too much telling results in a showroom with no cars in it. If we did have a car to show you, it might be red with a black roof. The electric cars would be as quiet as a budget hotel without wi-fi. The sign says they’re a “Concept Hotel.”

The engines of industry resume; it’s our property that’s so intensely managed. A neighbor put up a sign that reads, “Scoop your poop!” It sits beneath a tree adorned with ornaments, in a field of candy canes. They were 99 cents each. The tags tell us so.

Friday, December 8, 2023

8 December 2023


There are entire wars I cannot bear to witness.

From the ledge, I attend to what falls in front of me. He pushed himself as he fell backwards, half-remembering there was sand past the rocks.

From the living room I witness a broken city, broken people, bodies borne down rubble streets.

From there I see light cast itself on tile, my black and white cat half-purple in the morning sun, grooming his black and his white fur.

From my chair, I have seen the so-called news come and go, around and back. When you come back to forward, let your arms fall slowly to the sides. If you go into a city with your arms, you may come out wanting to wash your trigger finger with acid.

From my perch, I hear weed whackers and mowers and carts and pidgin-inflected voices cut into strips beside the bird songs.

She said she had not trimmed the tree, because it had already been cut.

“Why didn’t you just say so?” refers not to periodic sentences but to single words. My every conversation a translation of over 40 years of language use.

There is the bumbling toward, not something to say but how to avoid saying it, yearning for spots of time that frolic in the meadows of a distant England, when memory seemed more benevolent.

I entered the room where I studied teaching English as a foreign language. It was that in South London. (I never called “oven” a “cookah.”) Everyone from their desk in a circle stared at me, late from the train. I was my children’s age. “He was very insecure,” one instructor said the of man who’d been shot; he knew a man who worked for him. We went to the caf to talk about guns in America, underneath signs addressed to “our custies.” A barge on the Thames blared "Imagine." (Was that before or after?)

From my chair I cannot see pure memory, pure light, pure poetry.

Machine drone, rattle of chains, pieces of a voice, bird chittering, back to droning. Drone has graduated from dull sound to hoverer, to photographer or to Kiki’s Bomb Delivery Service. One sheep’s baby was stillborn (or is it still born?), the other had twins. The sheep with twins gave one to her grieving companion.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

7 December 2023

I cannot say who I am, or perhaps I refuse to say I am or am not my-self, suspecting that it can’t matter or has little to do with matter. Material isn’t matter, though it might. The shelling of Gaza matters, is matter’s destruction. We live in concrete houses; they destroy our concrete images. Be concrete, my teacher told me. Do not bomb me or otherwise crack my shell. There’s a CV inside, like a treasure chest to long lost gold. Someone put the map inside, so you’ll have to wait until I “pass” to read it. To pass is to die, with a helping of reincarnation, because we pass on. Somewhere. Anywhere airfares are cheap. No bird can compete with the almighty weed whacker. What sounds like laundry is a bread machine, the mechanical knead. To pass is not to be killed. 100 men on a beach. The caption says they were killed, but they are still alive in the photograph, shirtless, cloths wound around their eyes, kneeling. Please let me evade the idea of what came next, if it did, because photographs lie. We’re told that all the time, then use ours as proof something happened. I was there, and so was the shadow of my dog’s ear on her back. She sat near the cat, whose shadow spread like a puddle in from the screen door. Witness is a form of attention that asks more of us than insight. The seeing in, like a peeping tom on death’s stage. Or the cactus that astonishes us by surviving our neglect. Peer around the spines like pages in a book, thrust into the shelf to be blind to hands that reach out to touch its back. “I knew she was Irish!” I said this morning, as I stretched head down, listening for the NGO’s talking head. Dark humor breeding empathy in a dark time. The way she massaged her vowels, rage working its way through lilt and diphthong, what she said about dying in Gaza. These images, they promise, will be disturbing, though they’re placed immediately on the scales of emotional justice. How could they say this but not that, that but not another this. Vista of this. In her latest post, she commands us to be kind to another person. I like kindness, but not ordained. When I asked for a haiku, she said she didn’t like to be told to do anything. The young man whose father was in the military refused to write a sonnet, for the rules. Rules are rules, I gather, whether to march or to make rhyme. The rules for a love poem oblige us to love in a certain way, and at a certain pace. You walk across a field, in taut formation, while I watch from the bleachers. Rehearsal is form exhausted by its meter. Do not ask me to draw a quarter now, when we no longer use change. You must change your life. Look at that beautiful flower, my demented mother said, again and again. Her order made it so, but it wasn’t the flower I attended to.