Thursday, April 18, 2024

18 April 2024


The central project is done. Double done, like double dutch, difficult. Consider the word “liquidate.” To make a solid flow is to throw it out. To wear a sandwich board advertising your own demise or that of the business paying you. It’s a brief gig. You're the meat in a sandwich board; advertising's the bread. They’re out of lettuce and tomato, so all you get is watery delirium.

The central project returns to concept, having run its course of material. What threw out my back on is now vision’s after-taste. Looking back, I saw the Sodus sign not as a welcoming, but as a marker of what was being gone. You can take a bus out of state, the legislator said, to get your abortion, or you can stand in front of a mirror, with yourself for company, while you take a pill. To be a woman is to be an illegal.

To grieve the material stands in for a less solid state of mourning. What's fleeting dances off-screen, performs a jig of farewell, invites post-mourning excess. She eases the trauma of others, but its contagion reaches its octopus hands back for her. You have to create firm boundaries, a friend says, but where boundary itself was what was broken, the portal’s a jagged hole in a chain link fence. Aunty Portal’s responsible for your safe passage in both directions, but she can’t choose for you. She leans on her pink bike with tassels on the handlebars, holding out her oil-smudged arms, midwife.

Forget books; complete the digital transfer. Words no longer disintegrate on paper left in a forest to measure rates of decay, artistry. The loss of pixels feels lighter, almost as if your words blinked back at you, wanting something. Lilith, when I leave, stands on the arm of a couch and turns her brown eyes on me. What does she know of guilt, except how to compose it in another?

Aunty Portal is not responsible for postage, especially between countries. Her wealth comes not in payment but in the promise of another state. On this side of the fence, a beaten dirt path; on the other, a tangle of mangroves, punctuated by tents and pallets. The homeless are not permitted pleasure, though we suspect they find it beneath their tarps. As difficult to imagine as sex between one’s parents. Abandoned by capital, we follow, afraid to make eye contact. I-contact with you makes contract, or so we fear. Feeling contracts. We sign the dotted line, then crumple the paper up, or hit delete. Those are not the same act, are they?

The drone operator suffers for what she imagines she’s done. Even when she hears the news of his death, she can only imagine herself as its instigation. She’s cut off from act, from image, from everything but the thought of what she’s done. The pilot who’d survived a bombing run on the ground couldn’t drop his bombs so easily after. A small girl had run into a large pipe for cover. To earn one’s keep as a psychopath for the state means you act as one. Acting precedes becoming. It is not becoming to kill, even if it’s currently in fashion.

Criminals and models walk the runway. The former president spits on every precedent. He’s not on a bus or in a plane. He’s not riding a bicycle or catching an uber. He bears no cross that he doesn't invent at the moment of his self-proclaimed crucifixion. Sabotage the change of state, throw a wrench in metamorphosis. Even the literal cannot be imagined.

Monday, April 15, 2024

15 April 2024


To accept what is bitter. To perform a double italic, like a swan dive and its shadow off the high board. To mark what you would avoid, had you the fortitude to turn away. A boy resembles sculpture, covered in a dust mask. He worried that his bicycle belonged to someone else. Feet between concrete shelves, a mother off camera. A man in a room’s tight white corner, seated with one of his five dead children. Another hallucinating his pain. You shoot me and I shoot you and that’s how we talk over the picket fence these days. Or wall between the children and Auschwitz, bleeding sound.

Spirit exists without words, but so does hatred. A non-verbal space still absorbs sound. She understood what he screamed, without the ability to say so. That made him scream all the more, the man with the psychopath eyes. Aunty Portal come to drink one dirty martini with us. These gaps cannot testify to what went through them, sonic affect slacking syllables, if not sound. Regard the marks: comma, semi-colon, colon, exclamation, period, and come dressed as your favorite punctuation. If I am not comma, why do I hesitate? So much fun to cavort without words and their trailing grammar, like blank kites making holes in the air. Kite flies, but its string does not. Our hands are anchors to this seascape above the ground. The other day, the sky was a pallid blue, clouds mammalian. There are names for mist and for dry rain.

What is bitter might be wine. That it was water beforehand lends it mystery. That it’s bitter after makes sense. If I grow bark and leaves, or if you low like a cow, we fear the end of change. We had no hand in it, though our hand turns to stone. Metamorphosis goes down, or up? What is the value you put on yourself as bear that you didn’t as woman? Does honey taste more sweet? Tiresias in drag performs which gender? Intention begins from power, but ends with a solitary deer grazing. After an initial burst toward space, it falls like a balloon. But what is the it that is the engine? I’d rather not come before or after, but in the midst, where time does its squats and bicep curls. The power of it is in the doing. What mark is that—a dash?

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cri de coeur about Tinfish Press


Warning: cri de coeur. Tinfish editor, Jaimie Nagle, sent me the inventory from pssc warehouse this morning. They are in possession of hundreds of Tinfish books, two of which were published by Jaimie and Donovan Kūhiō Colleps, the rest by me from 1995-2018 or so. I'd be happy to share the list with anyone who wants to see it.
I founded Tinfish to argue that there are, in the Pacific, writing practices that are similar to those found in experimental poetry on the North American coasts, but that these practices are used to very different effect. I founded Tinfish to publish the kinds of books I wanted to teach to a student body that was mostly not white. If a Language poet deliberately plays with language to show how to undermine it, then a Tinfish poet often wrote out of language that had already been broken (by colonialism, for example). Eric Chock teased me once that he thought I was trying to change the literary culture of Hawai`i. Out of my profoundest naivete, perhaps that was true. If it was, it failed in the larger sense, but added an alternative to the mix in this very mixed place. 
With the volunteer, or near volunteer, participation over the years of Gaye Chan and her stable of design colleagues and students, Allison Hanabusa, and Jeff Sanner, Tinfish created an archive that opened the field considerably. There were a few significant superstar texts: Lisa Linn Kanae's _Sistah Tongue_; Barbara Jane Reyes's _Poeta en San Francisco_; a book by an author who later threatened to sue us and moved his work to another publisher (an ugly chapter in the narrative); Kaia Sand's _Remember to Wave_. All these books sold enough to keep us afloat so that we could publish books we believed in just as much, but had a smaller audience. Between the 20 issue journal, chapbooks and books, Tinfish published hundreds of authors, many of whom hadn't heard of each other. Two of them, Pam Brown and Maged Nabil, even wrote a chapbook together.
In my experience, most books, if they sell, sell early, and then languish unless their authors keep pushing them, or unless they fill a hole that may not have been recognized before. The SPD warehouse was flush with our books and those of many other presses. Even the aforementioned superstar books remained in the dozens of copies at the warehouse. 
Jaimie Nagle and the current Tinfish folks opted to go exclusively with spd. I had sold through our website; Bryant had become a world expert in the USPS by doing our shipping for us (more free labor). Jaimie doesn't have the room for these old books, nor do I. I grieve for the amazing poems, designs, hopes and fears that each of these books brought forth into the material world. I grieve for the trees that were sacrificed for art. I grieve, in no small sense, for my own career, which made sense to me in large part because of these books and what they represented. My office also contained boxes and boxes of old inventory (especially from the days before POD options). 
There are so many more important, life and death, events in this world now. There's world history to witness and worry about. But this takes a chunk out of me. Buy books. I'd like to think they matter. (They are matter, after all.)
My profound thanks to every Tinfish author, reader, and worker. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

12 April 2024: Notes toward a central point

12 April 2024

The central point is not drain, but pivot. A hole in the rusted barrel makes islands out of ash. What burned in it was money, but nothing you could spend across the highway at McDonald’s or Times. Another hole forms a window on grass, offering a green backing for orange rust. So many portals require disintegration first, holes in the fence that can’t be plugged for long. The unanchored move through, whether dog or person without a home. The woman with the pink bike made her own in the small shade on a sidewalk beside a coherent chain link fence. She was the hole in the world for a day.

The central point is empty and sturdy both. I need it to pour my words in, like today’s rain after a night of thunderstorms. If stars can blink, then clouds can talk through their conflict with air. When she snored, I thought my mother was talking to a man in the ceiling. I tied my shoes ten times (wrong as it turned out) before leaving her bedroom to go outside. What they said to one another I never knew, though I recognized it as speech.

The central point pulls in and pushes out, like an anus. I watch Lilith’s in the rain as she prepares to poop. I think it teases me with its anxious smile.

The central point will be my subject. I am subject to falling under the influence of trees and rust. How to hold my straight-edge up and measure my distances. The other Eucalyptus sheds brown bark into the shapes of hands in gloves. The gloves fit, but we don’t know the perpetrator. I came eye to eye with a gray mantis who carried a droplet of water on its back. The bead was another eye to see its arms in prayer. “Is it a religious thing?” a neighbor asks. I opt for “prey.”

The central point will change my subject: mantis to manta ray, ray of sun into my son. What I see comes of sound; the backs of my eyelids blank except when I started Amitryptilene and a little green man met me at the edge of a soccer field. Foretold my daughter, my life on a sideline marking time as love and fear. There’s a hole the man’s son fell into and there’s no filling it. Anniversaries as earth-moving machines. I told a worker I love big machines like the one we stood next to; his eyes lit up. “They’re also fun to operate,” he said.

The central point threatens to have no bottom. Small children gather in a Gaza graveyard to watch over their mothers; a man wearing a PRESS sign on his back tries to console one of them. Nothing works. Grief gets passed on as contagion, where empathy and suffering become conjoined, like twins.

I look for the central point like another poet his circus animals, those that deserted him. I can’t find the exact absence, or the precise portal through which to send my words on a transom of sound. The woman who saw numbers everywhere lost them when she quit. Work becomes distraction, the absence of it some relief. “Have you had stress lately?” the common question. I make it myself, thank you, on an installment plan, pulling brick from brick. Use the old steel from the bridge, someone opined. So it can fall again, the children sing.

I look for an anchor for my meanderings. They require a lot of water. The woman at Kaaawa Park was screaming the other day, Bryant said; she was naked to the waist, accusing another woman of stealing her things. Someone called the cops. She’d told me her mythology one day a year ago; it made a complete and painful sense. A B-52 requires hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fuel just to do a practice run. An analogy overflows its madness.

A walk is a portal, when it forms sense. Some days the narrative is near perfect, in a literary sense. Other days, it frays. When I asked my neighbor if she felt better treating me as if I don’t exist, she said I told her not to talk. That was years ago. No meaning is too small to excavate, or fill in. I want him to feel better, though I fear I make things worse.

The central point can’t say if it needs words or deeds, some of them an undoing into silence. Into, unto. One goes in, the other undoes it. The flickering stars warn us without our knowing how to read them. A woman threw her children out the window during the total eclipse. To read is to flirt with horror. Line your holes with feathers. Make lines of paper carrots beside the tiny white fence around the grave. Record the white lines left by the earth mover in the pavement. Take it all down. One day it might prove useless.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Hawai`i binary


Patrick and his stiff-forelegged dog, Keala, lurched toward us, steaming. "I almost got run into AGAIN at the f-ing intersection," Patrick said. "I know," I said. "We called the police in 2006 when we walked the kids to school and someone almost hit us there."
I stopped to talk to a policeman at the entrance to the cemetery; he was waiting to escort the contraflow guys picking up orange cones. "My son's in the police academy in Virginia," I said. Yes, he grew up here, but I grew up in Virginia. I told the cop my father's name was Frederick William, and now my son (whose middle name is Frederick) lives in Fredericksburg and works in Prince William. "My daughter wanted to go into the police," he said; "I told her go in the fire department. It gets dangerous now." I told him he looked pretty safe sitting in his SUV and he said yes, "unless there's something about you I don't know."
As we entered the parking lot to the right of the guard shack, I saw a man leaving a white car. He was tall and rotund, his head bald. Fluent old style Pidgin. "Good license plate!" I told him. I'd noticed this "Eh, cuz" plate for a long time. "Yeah, I got it 20 years ago, and people in town, everywhere, honk at me," he said, flashing a shaka. "We're all family here, cousins, aunties, uncles." He called me "friend" as we parted ways.
A homeless woman with a fancy pink road bike, adorned with artificial flowers, stood near the intersection of Kahekili and Hui Iwa. She seemed to be trying to push the bicycle, but stopped, leaned it against the chain link, pulled out a white cloth sat on it and the sidewalk. She had dancing shoes on, it appeared, and smiled when I asked if she needed anything. "Something to eat?" I said I'd be back and called Bryant. By the time I got home, he'd made up a paper plate with potato, avocado, green bar, and a piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

9 April 2024 (with a small announcement)

A meditation arrived this morning, after a Lilith Walk, but first this: the earlier meditations of this year didn't work well on their own, so I printed them out, took scissors to them, arranged the pieces of paper, read that version, didn't like it, and so arranged the pieces backwards. The result, "Or, if writing is what needs to be done," with photographs, will be published by David Need in his journal, MiddleLost, later this year. Anyone who labored through three or so months of my nattering will be relieved to read the shorter version. And here is today's meditation:

9 April 2024

It is especially desirable to be careful with the words IN and UP. Contained and not, it helps to visualize them. The old Mason jar has trouble in it. No one speaks of mobility any more, as that direction closed to traffic. A book on my dresser is titled Stepping Up. To, not in, the plate. To hit an RBI now is to “plate” a run. The runs come in; the catcher no longer stands up on the plate. Prepositions have caused injuries in the past, so we’ve made rules to shift “on” to “beside.” Block the plate’s neighborhood, but not it. A runner scored standing up, which meant he arrived in time. Out of mind or out of your mind don’t resemble each other. A pronoun steps to the plate to cause good trouble. He hits, she hits, they hit. It’s a hit means it’s popular, as any triple must be. The Triplets of Belleville is a great sports film; we showed it to our guest with large calves and an affection for bikes, if not frogs. Is digression up or in? Dickens was the best poet of the 19th century, James Wright wrote, but only in his digressions. Is that my digression, or his? The advantage of meditation is that it’s all extramural, a three body problem that can’t end, though it orbits the spot between the eyebrows. Look at the black screen of your eyelids, the yoga teacher says, and I see nothing, being aphantasic. Fantastic blank, though when last she told us to see emerald, I saw a spot of blue like a cloth hanging behind the window of Chinese Restaurant across the street. That cloth was the color of dirty cream. Mind doesn’t see, but it edits. It helps in taking photographs, as there’s nothing between me and what I shoot no interfering image, no plot, no novel spinning out of well furnished rooms. Because I don’t see in, I can see out. Out of mind, out of body. Ask me to see a well that leads to a cave, and I can remember it. Images not generated, but regurgitated. The ruminant in her room is neither goat nor cow, though if her mind is considered stomach, hers is busy with its grasses. Metamorphosis pushes up, as does enjambment. I gave it up as now I try to give up coffee through the headache’s screen/scream. My brain has rooms I’ve never seen within the skull’s walls. Build a fence, and they will come. Build a wall, and your purity’s certain, or so you think.

Note: first sentence is from The Cloud of Unknowing.

Lilith meets a neighborhood misogynist

Everybody's mother loved Gary Cooper in the late 1940s. Our block had three Gary's on it, though now there are only two. That they are/were all Yankees fans makes the symmetry well nigh unbearable. Gary One, for purposes of this Lilith Walk, is fond of my buttons. When I asked him about his Yankees a year ago, he responded with disdain, and more than once, "They play like girls!"
Today, as Lilith and I neared home, I saw Gary One and asked him if he'd seen the women's basketball finals. He smiled. "Yes, they're better than the men!'

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Lilith and the man with hard consonants

The man with the hard consonants drove his rented convertible white Mustang up the hill at the back of the cemetery, exclaimed at the beauty of the place. I congratulated him for finding the part of the cemetery I never see tourists in. He stopped his car at the top, got out to take photos of the bay, the mountains, the graveyard. Lilith and I asked where he was from. The Baltic, he said, "Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, near Hungaria." He had no reaction when I said I'd been to Belgrade when it was part of Yugoslavia; he was more interested in this vista, and in finding what he should see. He asked after the Stairway to Heaven and I told him you weren't supposed to go there. "What, my stomach?" he asked, pointing to the paunch under his white shirt. No, I told him, but you'll know you're nearby when you see the NO HIKING signs.
Near the bottom of the hill, I remembered Laie Point. I stopped him on the way down; he was talking to someone on his phone. He googled Laie Point and found a map, said he'd go there after he visited the temple. It's good to get advice from a local, he told me, peering over the empty seat beside him to make sure he wasn't about to drive into Lilith. "God bless you," he said as he sailed off, having shrugged off my warning about the sun that roasts you like a chicken.
Later, we ran into walker Daniel (former military, former educator, purveyor of bad jokes) and I told him my friend Renee on the Big Island remembered working with him. He'd run a school there that started with 17 students, grew to 400 under his care, and then closed (only to pop up at different sites). He'd driven a van to pick up kids in the jungle, despite the angry dogs that surrounded their off-grid houses.
After walking for a ways with him, he indicated he was going to go back to his music. "Rocking with the Carpenters," he said. As Lilith and I crossed the street, I said I'd been listening to Stevie Winwood lately. "Youngest performer at Woodstock," he yelled. "Traffic, Spencer Davis Band, Blind Faith!!"
Sometimes moments make seas of joy, you know.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review of Meditations by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno

Susan Schultz, a long-time Zen practitioner, has tuned into the universe, as her Meditations clearly demonstrates. These prose poems, or as the publisher calls them “lyrical prose,” are arranged as a series of introspective diary-like entries over one year from the end of 2019 until December 2020. While a companion piece to her earlier Lilith Walks [reviewed in Cable Street, Issue 3], with Lilith, our favorite literary canine still leading Schultz around her Hawaiian haunts, Meditations is darker, enveloped in the disturbing realities of the onslaught of Covid, death and dying, fractured personal interactions and Trump-induced political divisiveness.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

One islander (from Ireland) reviews another islander (in Hawai`i)

A review by Irish poet, Billy Mills, of my two recent books that are really one book from two angles. Lilith Walks considers COVID and Trump from the outside; Meditations from the inside. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Marjorie Perloff

At the Poetry of the 1930s conference in Orono in 1992 (?) I was seated at breakfast near the head of a long cafeteria table, talking to a group that included Marjorie Perloff. Allen Ginsberg came running through the cafeteria and stopped, saying he had to read the dream he'd had the previous night. He opened his journal and began to read. At some point he got the part where he encountered "the lady critic." (I have some good stories about him, but I'll save them for later.)
I liked some of her essays, including the one about how New Yorker ads and New Yorker poems are essentially saying the same thing. It came with some images of shiny cars in meadows next to trees, and quotes from poems that, yes, kind of did that, too. Another essay showed that Denise Levertov and AR Ammons, who existed in very different poetry worlds, wrote very similar poems. And there was the essay about how John Ashbery, whose work had been out there, had been normalized by critics. And there were books like the one about the Futurists that were chock full of detail.
In later early 1990s, she came to UH to speak to the Phi Beta Kappa people. She gave a talk in the English department on Stein's _Tender Buttons_. Steve Bradbury and probably Rob Sean Wilson were there. She proceeded to explicate a whole series of the prose poems so that they all made perfect, linear sense. In retrospect, it was funny. Stein who tried so hard to evade the tyranny of the sentence and the paragraph, reduced to a series of narratives.
I could sense difficulties of various kinds from her, and kept some distance from her force field, but to me she was quite generous. We'd kept in touch until recent years. If I'd graduated from the U of Virginia without discovering her books, I never would have headed in the direction I did. I doubt that the writing in Tinfish was at all her cup of tea, but she supported the press year after year. As Mark Wallace wrote earlier today, she showed a lot of us the way, whether or not we kept to the straight and narrow path. 
Rest in peace, MP. You've left quite a wake behind you.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The man on the dumpster

The man on the dumpster sits as if grasping a sail in the wind. He turns to push still inflated balloons into the dumpster's green, rusted maw. He gazes out at all he maintains, opines upon it. He hates the jade plum trees, those whose tops were chopped a few weeks ago, better to resemble Dr. Seuss drawings. He disdains the paperbark trees because they create such mess. The monkey pods are the only trees he wouldn't cut down. Look at that one with its trunk bent out of shape to catch some sun. I put in my vote for Eucalyptus, which sits alone amid the others, peeling black and brown bark, as if intervening in his fantasy might protect that tree against destruction. That's a good tree, he says. That that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A sermon on Lilith Walks by George Harris, Church of Christ Simsbury, CT


Go to minute 28 or so for the sermon. It's one of my favorite reviews of Lilith ever! A very sensitive response to the book and its intentions by an old friend, George Harris.,vid:EIBidOumxV4,st:0

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Lilith talks death and shunning with Uncle John

Lilith and I walked to the entrance to the Temple this morning to see Uncle John. Uncle John is younger than I am, but after he started calling me aunty and then told me he's a grandfather, I called him Uncle and it stuck. He sat inside the booth on the other side of the bridge that leads to the temple. Tourists were to and fro'ing. Surprisingly, my neighbor and her daughter were leaving the grounds. I leaned in to Uncle John and said, "see that woman; she's my neighbor and she hasn't talked to me for five years. I said something she didn't like and that was that." Uncle John commented on how much energy that must take. (It's taken some of mine over the years, too.) I said my son was of two minds about this: he hated that she shuns me, but couldn't help but admire her stick-to-ativeness.
"I came to give you Les's address," I said (to send a condolence card). But I'd left it at home. Uncle John said he'd just run into Les. "He looks so sad." He hadn't said he heard that Les's wife died, but Les told him the story. How they'd gone to Japan and Vegas near the end because they loved to travel. How she'd gotten covid. How she died peacefully. How the grandchildren will provide some consolation. "But when they're gone, they're gone," he said.
Uncle John has a tender heart. I am very fond of Uncle John. Uncle John loves Trump and was an avid covid-denier. More equations that cannot be solved by me.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Climate & Poetics Issue of Chant de la Sirene

Dear friends, colleagues, and country-people--

Laura Hinton has curated a huge issue of her journal on Climate & Poetics. I'm honored to have photographs and word work here, along with so much more by other poets and artists. Plunge in! Kudos to Laura for working so hard on this issue over so many months and for a wide-ranging introduction and her poems.

And I hope this missive finds you all well, or as well as can be in this day and age--

aloha, Susan

Sunday, March 3, 2024

4 March 2024

Not to try to interpret . . . but to look . . . till the light suddenly dawns. To take a photograph that can be guessed at, but not mean, as if image were music, the shadow of a strip of paint on the parking structure deck. Almost bird, but not. Almost slingshot. Almost moon surface. Almost topo map. Stunned by its mis-fit, this queering of decay (see Sara Ahmed). A sunset streams down the grid of parking stalls, but that’s not the good photograph, even as orange sun points toward us on our way to a baseball game. I love pulling back from assigning a name to this shape and its shadow, the way an image moves a viewer, but in what direction she can’t describe. Rothko’s parking structure, sacred rot.

White lines peel upward, the letter G hardly itself any more. There’s a walkway from one to the other side of the structure; there are benches, planters, a formerly green area (before they put in solar paneled roofs). No one wanted to sit there on the concrete, in the high sun, beside the dying grass, but as an architectural feature it made some sense. That’s the problem with sense, isn’t it, that it makes without meaning, and meaning so often makes so little of sense. The ex-president talks about languages that no one speaks crossing our borders. It’s hard to imagine such bodiless sounds drifting over the southern border in the sun, craving water and a blanket, spelling themselves out for audiences of one. Clearly, we’re meant to see them as dangerous in a synesthesia of fear. The floating wall in the Rio Grande can’t stop them, this viral sound that hints at sense but refuses to signify.

The language flees its homeland, broken into noise; somewhere in the caravan we might find its privileged ear, the conch that understands its tones. A conch sounded before the game, though it was piped in. Conches sounded before the movies, as hula dancers filled the suburban screens. A sound of yearning, untuned from the sacred, cow bell used to alert children to dinner. In this country, you can’t have children (by IVF) and you can’t not have children to save your life (by abortion). But we need more children! says the senator to the press.

The forming and the deforming land mirror each other. Lava from a helicopter, parking structure from my iPhone. The land is moving. The image is moving. But to see it, we need to park ourselves. When the fire station was damaged by a tornado, donors sent folding chairs for the firefighters to sit in. It’s a waiting game. If you slow down far enough, there’s nothing to see but what’s there in front of you.

Note: Italicized phrase by Simone Weil.

Friday, March 1, 2024

1 March 2024



The young man stands in front of us, dousing his head with fluid, clicking his lighter once, twice, three times at the cuff of his pants. Flames lick, halo, him--he’s not a body yet--one man points a gun, others bring fire extinguishers. He’s replaced by a gray blob on our screens, a gray blob that screams.

It’s the worst, most awful, photograph he’s ever seen, writes someone on X. He posts it. An elliptical gray blob on the ground in Gaza. We still see a left arm, plastic cable wrapped around its wrist.

The question is no longer how we write after Auschwitz, but how we write during Auschwitz.

Or if writing is what needs to be done.

I look for the photograph of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Vietnam. That’s my google search, more or less. I can buy the photograph for $32.83 from Walmart, already framed to give as a gift or to put on my wall. The finest materials were used. A payment plan is available for the more expensive (larger) version.

Life on an Island


An SUV has stopped just where you first spot the Temple in Valley of the Temples. The driver points out a good photograph, but no one gets out to take it. "It's really beautiful," I say. "I know, I'm from here," the woman says. "I come to the cemetery to visit family members. But I've never come this far." You can go farther up, I suggest, almost to the mountains. "We have to drive around the island," she says, as they wheel off down the hill and out of the cemetery.

Lilith thinks about mortality

At the cemetery, S has his feelers out for news of Renn. He was the most consistent walker; his cancer was in remission, and then it wasn't. S hasn't seen him in a long time. I had just told him about Leona, of Leona and Les, who died three weeks ago of cancer. "My wife died at 45, of ovarian cancer," S said. His father died in his 50s, his sister . . . You get used to it, working here, he told me. There was a beautiful funeral the other day, he says, for a three year old boy. Everyone wore t-shirts with his face on them. So cute. He gets in his hepped up golf cart and starts up the hill, stopping once to say something else to me; as Lilith and I leave 45 minutes later, he opines that Juan Soto is overrated and the Padres should do better this year without him. I'm fond of S, his consideration, his love of baseball.
S. is a rabid Sandy Hook and covid denier. How does this equation even go?

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lilith Looks for an Old Friend


It took me a long time to remember their names, Les and Leona. For a while, I called them L&L, like the drive in. They walked every day down some of the same paths that Lilith and I do. They walked to the store, pushed grandchildren in a stroller, sauntered through the cemetery. Always erect, always striding. One day (a year ago?) I ran into Les, on his own, who said that Leona had cancer. Over time, she got treatments; they started to travel again, to Japan, Vegas. I asked Uncle John this past weekend if he'd seen them. (I hadn't been around for a long time, too.) He said he'd just seen Les leave the cemetery. Yesterday, I saw a car backing into Les and Leona's garage. The garage door shut, so I knocked on the side door. Les appeared, two gorgeous grandsons squirming beside him. "It's Aunty Susan and Lilith," he said to the boys, who started playing with a hose in the front yard. Leona died three weeks ago. He's still watching the grandchildren. There will be a private funeral. "Her family is very big, so there might be 200 people there," Les said.

Monday, February 26, 2024

My Photo Life


[I applied for something.]

My Photo Life

I was born in 1958 in Belleville, Illinois and grew up on the east coast, while cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals. I became serious about photography at the time I retired from over 30 yeaers of teaching American poetry and creative writing at the University of Hawai`i-Mānoa. I’ve always been a writer. I work through through ear and printed word. My vision began to develop when my mother’s dementia deepened in the mid-2000s, I kept a blog that detailed the progression of her illness (and its digressions). The blog was published as two books. The discipline of keeping this blog over several years taught me to attend to what was directly in front of me, whether it was my mother or the love story between two Alzheimer’s patients in her “home.” I used to wander the care home looking at the residents’ “memory boxes,” framed spaces that held photographs of them when they had been active, engaged. Many were World War II veterans or their spouses, who had posed in their jaunty hats at a much younger age. The boxes were intended, we were told, to remind the residents of which room was theirs, but because they couldn’t remember themselves, they served to memorialize them for family and friends. (In Alzheimer’s, memorials come before, as well as after, death.) My friend, the noted photographer Gaye Chan, was fascinated by the idea of these boxes. She designed the covers to my books, both of which have flat “boxes” of photographs on the back. The first volume’s cover shows my parents in their Virginia living room, my late father a shade, and my mother blurring. The second volume features the page of an old photo album whose photographs are missing. What’s left are yellow lines, intended to help the owner set her photos straight on the gummy page.

Gaye and I also worked, for a decade, on a small poetry press, Tinfish, which I founded in 1995. I found the words and she assigned student and professors as designers, or did the books and journal issues herself. What an education for me in image and text! More than once, we gathered at large tables to put a publication together; the social aspect of it was part of the larger process. The journal issues were especially intriguing, as Gaye used recycled materials (print shop proof sheets, old cereal box covers, x-rays, and so forth) as the basis for her work, and as covers. Often, every cover would be different from the others, so that opening up the boxes when the finished work arrived was like being a kid again at Christmas-time.

As a teacher of creative writing, I increasingly let go of “knowledge” transmission (how to write a poem, how to scan a poem, how to construct a metaphor) and took up “attention” as my focus. My students had become unfocused, what with smart phones and financial crashes, sick relatives and two jobs, addiction and climate change anxieties. So I wrote a list of 30 “attention exercises” for them to do. Stand at a bus stop and watch and listen to people; watch a sporting event and pay attention to things that happen away from the action of the game; meditate on a raisin; take a walk with someone else, dog or person, and attend to what the other being notices. These exercises changed my own practice, and also led me into photography.

I have always snapped photos, but until recently, they were photos of things, snapshots, goads to memory. After getting a smartphone in 2019 (I’m an adoptive mother, but a very late adopter of technical gizmos) I began to change my way of looking at the world by getting my phone lens close to what I saw. The “whole” fell away and the “part” became my focus. Often, a very ordinary thing (the back of a tow truck, for example) became wonderfully strange if I got close to the back, where a metallic eye sat under a metallic brow. I take most of my photos, even now, on walks with my dog Lilith (Lilith Walks is another of my books, with photos, as writing and photography are coming together for me). I take close-up photos of rusty dumpsters (which remind me of modern art), pieces of trash with partially erased words on them, my dog’s tail as she wanders out of the frame. I’m especially fond of decay, of which there is so much in the rain forest of the Big Island, where I take photos of abandoned houses (eager to suss out family stories that were simply abandoned), brown hapu`u ferns, abandoned cars and boats covered in the asemic writing of mildew and mold. I’ve taken rust and lava walks with a friend in Volcano Village, who also loves to see the world through her camera’s lens.

I’ve taken a couple of photography classes since retiring from my professorial gig. I use a camera for many photos now, though my technical skills are still developing. For the final project of the first, course I took photos of roadside memorials on O`ahu and the Big Island. These are sites devoted to remembering someone—rather like outdoor memory boxes—who died there. They’re often built in intricate detail, then largely ignored by passing traffic. I wanted to see them close up and to record what time had done to the memorials themselves (following the advice of my friend, Gaye). For my second class, I took photographs of a local Eucalyptus tree, one of those that ribbons in reds and greens and drips sap and bark. It’s a messy tree, but beautiful. Black and brown sap runs slowly down the dark trunk, reflecting reds and greens; bark peels off in sheets. A Facebook friend suggested that the Eucalyptus had invented Abstract Expressionism. At around that time, an old poetry acquaintance gave me a copy of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, so I wrote a sequence of meditations on the tree, my photographs of it, and my relationship (I and Thou) with the tree. The manuscript, titled I and Eucalyptus, is a fusion of photograph and word—the links are not direct but in conversation with each other.

I’m a practicing Buddhist, so my attention to attention has taught me other lessons, on equanimity, the power of ordinary objects and moments to make meaning, on the meditative process of looking (as far as possible) without a screen of thoughts and memories. The idea of sangha (or community) strikes me as important in art, too. I am developing a sangha of fellow photographers, many of them poets who, like me, are late to the practice. But fervent.

Lilith and the Admirer of Rust

The man with the open round face looked at me with suspicion--for just an instant--as he turned to look out of the cab of his pick-up truck. I had, after all, been seriously ogling the truck bed. "You've got great toolboxes," I said to him. He smiled; "yes, old school, from the 1950s." "Great rust," I said, I told him about my dumpster photos, how the rust makes artistic patterns. He lit up. "You must love the sugar mills! Kahuku, Waialua, Ewa." I don't know about the one in Ewa. He said, "you'll be in heaven there! I know how you think!" 
At the lip of the truck bed were his keys and a pickle ball paddle. We could hear the happy yelps of pickle ballers from the nearby courts. Lilith and i headed off. The man and I agreed we'd enjoyed our conversation. The photos are still in my phone, and my husband just left on his bike with his pickle ball racquet . . .

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

21 February 2024

This is because, spiritually, they have only one nostril. Oh Smell Cyclops, too literal to be ordinary, too metaphorical to be strange! The final call will come with flowers in a plain vase at the window of his room.

My father had no window, but he could see things through. He didn’t need memory; people were either present (a cousin’s young daughter walked through his room, known only to him), or they were only absent. Smell triggers memory in those who want it. I bought a jar of Vicks because it brought my childhood back. Sick nostalgia.

Via a friend on email, Laura sends him all of our names. Please say these names to him out loud, she asks. Name as visitation in plain language. Name as our hope for this.

Another poet wants no contact; she’s too busy dying. A name comes to mean less and less, though it fills at least one hole in a day.

The cyclops cannot smell; his one lane tunnel leads to hell fires, we’re told. We smell his breath as a kind of warning.

At the elementary school, firemen line up beside their yellow truck. It’s career day.

The dying poet wants to refuse closure. Our names demand it. We want to have been there in the end. “You can say good-bye,” the nurse said, even though he’s past breathing.

Brenda buys teeshirts of rock stars so she can wear them when they die. Let’s make teeshirts of ourselves and wear them when we go.

But she’s so young, a student says. 82. The marker is in our brains, not on our calendars. He’s 69. My father was 78. I’m 65. Numbers don’t ad up. My son, 24, tells friends that his cat’s ashes are kept more prominently, and in a nicer box, than those of his grandmother. My mother’s grit resides in a plastic bag in my closet. I should put them on the same shelf as my father’s at Arlington, but I put the act off.

It’s been 337 words since I began writing this morning. I brought home a bright button with photo of a woman, a man, and a boy on it. The man flashes a shaka. After picking it up from the grass, I placed it on a ledge yesterday, but no one took it. The button offers no names, no condolences, no hint as to its purpose divorced from context. I could pin it on and wear it to go shopping, but I think I know better.

To call them all back, the ghosts, is to create a flash mob of shadows. A friend nearly fell back when Sean leaned forward on stage and became his father, John. Family resemblance is spooky comfort. Family non-resemblance lets us let go of our names.

My husband turns on the television this morning. Women pregnant in Gaza. Women raped in Gaza. Women raped in Israel. Donald Trump. My husband sounds angry. I go downstairs to write my sadness down. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing cautions me not to confuse metaphor with truth, and for once, I can’t.

Note: quotations from and influence of The Cloud of Unknowing, A.C. Spearing, translator.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

I and Eucalyptus in Cordite (Australia)

 From my obsessive project on a local Eucalyptus tree, by way of Martin Buber's I and Thou. There's a photograph for the piece, but it wasn't included here.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Lilith Walks Down Memory Basepaths

The man was wearing a Kamehameha Baseball teeshirt. "It's almost baseball season!" I chirped. "I'm a Cards fan." "I know," he said. "You coached my sons." That would have been teeball, some 20 years ago. The team was the Kahalu`u Cardinals; they wore Cards caps and bright red uniforms. (I'd always wanted to manage the Cards.)
"Were they the twins?" I asked. Yes. I remember the twins; once I suggested that they could get outs without throwing the ball to someone else (a real problem in teeball), they ran all over the field tagging other players. It became a rout of outs. At that age, most kids are most fascinated by the dirt around their bases.
The twins played baseball at Kamehameha, and one was first team in the state. One works at Kualoa Ranch in marketing, the other for the Bishop estate. As the man started to walk away, dachsund on his leash, I said, "Oh, and they loved NASCAR!" "Booga booga and all that!" said the man in closing. (Likely misheard.)
Postscript. Back when I coached 5 year olds in teeball, I found some stuff out. One dad leaned over to tell me to "tell my son not to act like a girl." A few years later, when I coached a pony league team, again the Cardinals, it was because none of the dads wanted to go to meetings or do the paperwork. It turned out that no one would let me coach, either. At the final potluck, a mother thanked the dads for doing the coaching, and me for standing in. Needless to say, I was furious.
When I saw the man's son years later, he was a lovely young gay man who'd been assigned to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean.


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Lilith, Eucalyptus, Hounds

The smell of brownies and puakenikeni attacked our senses this morning as we left the house (to mangle a favorite Ashbery line). At the cemetery, Uncle J and I tangled half-heartedly over current politics; it proved a poor re-mix of _Lilith Walks_. He said he didn't want to talk about it; he wanted to talk about Lilith. After Lilith lunged to get at some orange and brown cat kibble--earlier, there had been beef stew brought by the Cat Lady--we headed back. As we walked toward Eucalyptus, I saw a man, a woman, a boy, and two large brown-eyed dogs, nearly primate in their expressiveness. The man, in straw hat, kept them at a distance from Lilith. I recognized him as the former cop I'd been told had been shot in Hau`ula; he used to walk with difficulty and his dogs. Now he walked easier with them. The woman was showing their grandson the tree. 
I've never seen anyone else examine the tree from close-up, poking at it with a twig, finding it intriguing enough to show a small boy, who quickly started petting Lilith. The deep-eyed hounds looked on; one seemed to wear a fur doily at its neck. I showed the woman some of my Eucalyptus photographs, the way the photos bring out reflected reds and greens. As we left the area, I saw the little boy "sledding" down a grassy hill on a blue and white saucer, his grandparents and their dogs waiting patiently at the top.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

14 February 2024


We watched as she drowned, but at least we watched.

We attended to our need to see her drown, but at least we attended.

No clarity but in the sentence, edited.

Clarity is not relief, though it may be sculptural.

She disappears into her socks, the ones they gave her to wear on wood floors.

The television spouts football history. She has forgotten mine, hers, ours.

Depressed people can’t remember their feelings, an article tells me.

My depressions were punctuated by floods of memories.

When her friend reminded her of the beauty of the church where they'd attended a concert--the vaulted ceiling!--she shrugged.

This morning emerges, lacking detail, as if the present also can be forgotten.

We don’t talk about the benefits of amnesia, only the way it strips us of our stories.

She in her socks sits in a gray plastic chair too heavy to throw.

She in her pinkish glasses looks at us. She seems too sane to be here, a doctor said.

A woman carrying her own big belly wanders through the common area, talking.

A black man in cornrows watches Earl Campbell on TV.

A white man in scrubs wanders by in socks, pulls a phone off the wall, whispers in it.

I’m surrounded by the rhetoric of need. Can I turn the mirror back?

I remember sentences, how comforting they were.

Those most unable to communicate shall have no devices with which to communicate.

I will buzz you in, says the young woman with repaired clefts, a lisp.

I will walk you out, says another woman, who thanks us for visiting.

Someone needs to take care of me.

This place is “more genteel than the other one.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

13 February 2024


Vulnerability as a layered thing; it is closer or farther away, which is not to say it’s not a constant. Constancy seduces us into an image of stability, cat on his usual maroon pillow, dog’s nose poking out through her blue blanket. But not the mountain, looking on like a watchman behind trees and townhouses. There’s a strange stability in cast-offs, a potato chip container pushed into a chain link fence, an old McDonald’s wrapper resembling an orange leaf, inside of which a real one. Trash is both vulnerable and eternal, in neither sense admirable. It promises decay, even as it refuses the kind offer, perpetual in its plasticity. The mind’s plasticity steers it around the obstacle of forgetting, or hearing loss (more common in Republicans, I read). Piles of twigs on a beach are either washed up from the ocean or placed there by a sculptor selecting time as his co-artist. I appreciate how the photographer left a blur in his shot, introducing impermanence on the right side of an otherwise stuck image. No rhyme or reason to what stays, and what seems to leave the scene sketched there.

That there is only one subject now (war, massacre) doesn’t mean we write only about it. A Buddhist abhors distraction, but the ordinaries among us need its flags. A desperate contrast between game and horror marks them both as troubled. Worse yet, there’s no calm between them, only a crazy wobbling. The game brings us despair and the war, oddly, hope. Or does it? We’re so trained to hope that affect precedes experience, warping it into a cast-off narrative of love and escape. The pretend battle offers love; the real one a series of hatreds so deep we can’t measure them. The test tube of our vulnerability has no hash mark for hate.

Forgetting hardly matters, except as a sign. Remember what is socially demanded (your anniversary, birth date) and neglect the rest (human history). If forgiveness is desirable, isn’t it a function of forgetting? I remember the feeling I had while I read his novel, but I don’t recall the plot. What I remember is my body, the angle at which it hurt.

Monday, February 12, 2024

12 February 2024


As soon as any category of humans is placed outside the pale of those whose life has value, nothing is more natural than to kill them.” Horrors of analogy: Gaza is shaped like a football field, long and narrow. There are bombs on each, holes in the line, drones to catch the view from a stadium’s heaven. Pan away toward Paris and New York; it’s Vegas, after all. Meditation is double chance: I caught sight on my screen of a veiled woman holding the swaddled corpse of her child, a young girl beside her,  eyes too big to see through. Video shook, as if the machine that reproduced the scene was itself in shock. The planners live out of bounds, boundaries breached only by tantrums and tackles. In bounds, a kindergarten as killing field. The crime, they say, is to cross the border. They're invading our safe zone, when we gathered to watch them kettled between end zones. End zone is end time. We want to imagine there’s a clock, but it doesn’t stop.

The new queen of affect jumps up and down in her box, as her common law king bullies his coach on the field. If he were black, he’d have been kicked out. If she were a man, they wouldn’t call her a cheerleader. We care so much about her that we avert our glance from the mother outside a hospital in Gaza. If she were a man, she’d likely be dead, but it’s her child, trapped in a destroyed car, whose voice slowly diminished until only she was quiet. Once they've been harvested, the silences of a war zone denote killing fields. A man who killed for the Khmer Rouge wears eyes the size of the young girl’s. To see so much is to see nothing. What can I hope to see in their eyes, except anesthesia? The social worker was appalled that anyone would say that disassociation in a child is good.

Soldiers loot the shops for goods, destroy registers for fun. If you haven’t broken enough with your tanks, use your crow bars. Not tragic but sick joy. Take that, Yeats. Joy that hates itself afterwards. His wife asked him to bring her a souvenir from Gaza; he will bring himself back, objectified. Feel sickness wash up from the feet like a rogue tide, like flooded tunnels, like water sources unfit to drink. What washes up on us is chance, but what began it was fully intended. Three hostages were freed.

Note: First sentence by Simone Weil, quoted by Jacqueline Rose in The Plague.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

11 February 2024


Love is not consolation; it is light. Morning orange through tight and looser screens, blotch of shadow on the blue chair, dark puddle on tile beside one cat. Catalyst, my software suggests, the analogist that resides inside my laptop, spitting apt alternatives out of letter patterns. Another cat lists to hunt on the lanai, which might be typed as “language,” the machine’s longing for replacement. If love is part revulsion, then revolution is but a circle. The cats make triangles, lines, any shape that obstructs the others. It’s the design of their politics, like a flat slalom or Raelian garden, replete with concrete statues. We could offer repetition with that order, but to clone a mother to make a daughter is to split history in two, as if on tracks that promise parallels, but don’t deliver. A baby was cloned in Israel, far enough from Miami that no one could see or touch her. She’s older now, but lines of communication grow less precise. Is teenage Eve aware of her provenance in a lab? Is clone a peculiar incest, made again of itself? 


Above the meters in a dingy garage, I spotted a pigeon on a bed of sticks, tucked beneath the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if it was alive, until I saw its eye flicker. Pigeon was making itself, again, patient on its perch. Nearby, an open door revealed a large room of lazy-boy rocking chairs, meditating on their emptiness. A cat cafe had chairs, but also movement; a woman smiled at me, two kittens on her lap. $15 for 50 minutes of love in the light of an Aiea strip mall. I’ve conflated Kaimuki and Aiea, as if one were the other’s clone. The mall is future rubble, when it will all appear the same. Death no longer levels us, but concrete might.

We hear the screams of a Palestinian teenager seated in a car beside an Israeli tank. We hear shots. Later, the frail voice of a five year old girl traces her final days inside the car, alone with her dead family. Eleven days. Her mother still stands outside the hospital. My word processor offers me “motherfucker,” but that’s the other guys. Not an alternate spelling, but an alternative affect, the mother’s tears, our passive rage behind our screens. The light through those screens puddles like blood.


Note: first sentence by Simone Weil.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

8 February 2024

May I be alive when I die. After taking photographs of discarded things, a friend thought I was doing a sequence on death. To do that would be to be alive when I’m alive, perceiving death as ground work: receipts for poke in the grass; cigarette tucked into a tree crevice; chip bag crumpled in chain link. It’s witness that brings death to life, or abstraction to the Eucalyptus. But that’s only half the equation. Who was the author of the bag, smoker of the butt, eater of the fish? They’ve signed their disappearances as material. Consumption invisible, the product is now worthless except to my eye. Eye and Eucalyptus would be another title, as E and Y rhyme inside the short and longer syllables. A dull photograph is perhaps more real than the saturated one. The word “putts” pops up as alternative to another in that sentence. Mechanical word play; now it reads “word-word,” as if word said twice meant something other than word said once. Who’s the maker there?

To be aware of death as one is dying is no different than an awareness of ordinary objects. It’s death that turns us from subject to object in a sentence. But you can’t get there without active verbs. My work as a teacher of writing should help me learn the grammar of life’s sequences. "From here on out" is a cliché that escapes the fate of other cliches; not dead but odd. Because she stayed up to watch the Grammy’s when her house started to burn, she thinks Taylor Swift saved her life. Miracles do happen between advertisements. Or, there’s a “barren terrain of feeling,” a parched surface on which we laugh and weep, unaware there’s a deep discount on affect. The affectation of old men erasing teenage girls. Their tears don’t change the world. “Their” is ambiguity, according to the Court.


There’s modern art in your nature photographs, a friend tells me. Kinda calls into question the difference between realism and abstraction, doesn’t it? If a tree makes abstract art, is it a painter? Or is a painter a tree when she does same? The photographer comes along at one remove, takes the photograph and is comfortable to be seer and maker both. Is there a place for volition where image meets thing, at whatever remove? The ascemic text of a burned out city confronts us with our inability to read it. 

Note: the first phrase is by DW Winnicott, quoted by Jacqueline Rose.