“Mother’s Day”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about babies. No, not because I have them. Also not because I want them, though as a 35, soon-to-be-36 year old woman who is not a mother but who is married to a man, 99% of the world seems to assume that I do, that I must, and quite pointedly that I should want to be a mother, and should be pursuing motherhood as an urgent imperative second to none. No, I have been thinking about babies because my friends are having them, because the children of my mother’s friends and of my parents-in-law’s friends are having them, and because there is a lot of heavy existential shit wrapped up in choosing a life without children, in accepting a life in which your children choose not to have children. There also seems to be a whole other load of heavy existential shit wrapped up in choosing to have children, but that’s not my area of expertise.

The other, bigger-picture reason why I’m thinking about babies, and about women’s reproductive choices and access to family planning is because I am living in the U.S.A in an era when fewer and fewer women have access to health care at all, and when access to resources such as contraception and safe and legal termination of unwanted pregnancies are specifically further and further out of reach for huge numbers of women. I could conceivably wake up one of these days to discover that my health insurance provider has been forced by the government to stop covering the benefit that allows me access to the birth-control pill that’s allowed me to avoid an unwanted pregnancy for almost 15 years of having sex with men. The pill could become a luxury- an out-of-pocket cost I can’t afford, if it’s available to me at all, to the inevitable detriment of my emotional well-being and my stable and happy (voluntarily child-free) marriage. And I live in deep-blue California. This lack of access to reproductive health care is already a reality for women all over this country and is bound to become more and more dire. I read something a couple days ago about what “back-alley abortion” could mean in a potential (dare I say “probable”?) post-Roe world. Very likely it would not greatly resemble what was commonplace pre-Roe. More likely it would mostly involve drugs ordered off of the internet to chemically induce miscarriages. One would like to claim this would be safer, however, many women who have miscarriages, self-induced or otherwise, require medical care and support. A few months ago I read an article about El Salvador, where all abortions, self-induced miscarriages, etcetera are legally framed as homicide. Even a miscarriage that is suspected to be in any way self-induced can lead to a woman doing years of jail time. This situation basically results in women whose pregnancies terminate avoiding those who could give them medical care they need for fear of being turned over to the authorities, slapped with homicide charges and railroaded through a criminal justice system rife with misogyny where they are presumed guilty based on nothing more than the testimony of neighbors, bitter exes, abusive partners, family members or physicians who can have no presumed objectivity (and don’t need it to be taken at their word). I hear some of you saying “but that’s El Salvador…poverty…corruption…backwards… ” and so on. Here’s the thing though. If (when?) Roe is overturned, we could easily find ourselves in a not dissimilar situation. The difference is there may be wild variations from state to state or even county to county. Example: two college women in post-Roe America. One is a Sophomore at University of California, Berkeley. One is a Sophomore at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Both wind up with unplanned pregnancies and for any number of legitimate reasons (lack of resources, desire to finish education and establish career, income, stable, healthy relationship before having a family, or simple lack of desire to be a parent), both of these young women use the internet to order pills to induce miscarriages at home. Both develop alarming symptoms, fever, hemmorhaging, etcetera, get scared and seek medical help, whether at a campus clinic or a local E.R. Chances are any doctor is going to look at this scenario and know immediately what is going on. The question is, are any of the medical personnel involved in stabilizing this woman- keeping her alive and healthy- going to call the cops on her? Is this more likely to happen at Bob Jones or in South Carolina than at U.C Berkeley or in California? And lastly could there be a mental affect- a fear of criminal proceedings- that could prevent either of these young women from seeking medical help, thus potentially risking extremely serious lasting complications or death?

Are we going to see a whole branch of the FBI dedicated to cyber-surveillance of purveyors and purchasers of the drugs that are used to induce miscarriages? Are we going to see sting operations to round up and arrest those staffing underground warehouses that ship these drugs to desperate women all over the country? are we going to see women spending years in jail for ordering these drugs on the internet?

These are the things I think about around Mother’s day. The never-ending war on the rights of women to decide if and when to have children. The tiers of pressure and coercion. The first tier is the soft coercion of the way girl-children are socialized. The dolls and the “playing mommy” and the toy kitchen, and the expectation of play-caretaking which is designed to lead to a life of caretaking, i.e unpaid work, in particular the unpaid work of motherhood. Incidentally, if my mother wanted me to produce grandchildren for her, the first mistake she made was basically allowing me to be a genderless feral child and do whatever the hell I wanted to do when I was very young. I didn’t have an inborn interest in playing at being “mommy”, I was never made to or even especially encouraged to play “mommy” and I never developed an interest in being “mommy”. I think these things are related. I don’t doubt that there are some children, and some people, who have a natural gravitation toward the role of being a parent. I also feel fairly sure that there are many many people who only become parents- and specifically women who only become mothers- because of a combination of early coercion in their socialization as children combined with enormous pressure to become mothers in their child-bearing years, all topped off with lack of availability and/or affordability of reproductive health care. Put it this way- the fact that I have a cat and I love her does not mean that I want to have a baby- (though I wouldn’t mind a possum. Or better yet, a baby sloth).

So why does the government want to force me to have a baby human being? It has occurred to me that there may be a simple answer: economics and demographics. Late capitalist economies require constant growth. Economic expansion is not possible without demographic expansion. You get demographic expansion in one of two ways: Babies, or immigration. In countries that are sour on immigration for any number of reasons (hewwo, Brexit, hewwo, Trump’s America), the attempt of legislators/pols/patriarchal stringpullers/old white guys to keep the old engine of capitalism chugging away and hopefully stave off fiscal disaster as the baby-boomers come into their long stretch of waning dependent years is to stimulate demographic growth by taking away women’s access to reproductive health care and forcing us to have children whether we want to or not. 

and we find ourselves full-circle, right back where we started, pre-womens movement, pre-suffrage, pre-enlightenment, pre-mass female literacy, pre-women in the professions… right back to the beginning of civilization where a woman is nothing but a uterus to be locked up, guarded, bought and sold and discarded if not in proper working order and so on and so on. This is the premise upon which all these efforts to pressure or force women to have children (and to groom little girls for motherhood) are based: the premise that for women, biology is destiny. You are not a human being. You are an object. An incubator/milk machine. A Uterus that will serve at the pleasure of state and patriarchy, which happens to exhibit some very human characteristics at times. The ideology is so pervasive (and so important a component of the algorithm of capitalism) that it even has girls and women pressuring each other, using the ancient instruments of ostracism and shame to coerce compliance. I feel grateful that I actually live in one of the least oppressive places in the world (reading this article today about the situation my sisters in Saudi Arabia find themselves in snapped things back into perspective), but I see the erosion of what’s been built up over centuries of progress and I regularly experience the toxic effects of continued patriarchal and capitalist control of society’s ideas about women’s autonomy and about the legitimacy-and legality- (or lack thereof) of the choice female-identified humans may make to not be mothers. We cannot afford to harbor any illusions about how very far from innocent and how dreadfully consequential the ideology of required motherhood is.

Back at the beginning of this post, I mentioned the heavy existential shit. I intended to talk more about it, but then I started going on and on about all the other stuff. Luckily, it can be summed up briefly. It is tempting to have children because we human beings are the only animal (as far as we know) with an awareness of, and therefore an unshakeable fear of, our own mortality. We are going to die, and we know it, and this scares the shit out of us. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could at least create another person who looks a lot like us, who will still be alive after we die, who will remember our stories, pass on our legend? wouldn’t that be kind of like not dying? Better yet, if that person could make another person who might look kind of like us, who will be alive even longer… We do it all “for the children”, but hey, they were saying that back when I was a child! (As Norm Macdonald says on this topic in his new standup special, which is hilarious: “I recognize a Ponzi scheme when I see one”).

yup, the problem is having children doesn’t actually solve the human dilemma, which is awareness that we are going to die and ultimately, everything we do will disappear without a trace. Knowing that, how can we attribute meaning to anything we do in life? Having a child may make you too busy to think about it, at least for a couple decades, but it’s not going to make it go away. Having grandchildren is not going to make it go away, either. Personally, I’m hoping that reading and re-reading Epictetus and Lao Tzu and Yeats, for 80 years if I’m lucky, may help me to make a dent in this smooth hard wall of nothingness. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay, because none of it matters, anyway, and I’ve got this furry zen master curled up in my lap right now, showing me (again, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating) how to just fucking relax.

 

 

for Marshall Mancuso (1980-2016)

In a blue-bell’s dewy center I spied                                                                                             your astral eye                                                                                                                                     the child you- the one I never knew, but guessed at.

Dis-embodiment, one may have slurringly suggested –                                                              in your days of healing sculptures; quartz and copper hanging                                           from the ceiling over prostrate forms of revelers                                                                        in Drum+Bass nights of E and K and Xanax                                                                               before Heroin –

“Dis-embodiment will free us, Death’s a friend, man-”                                                              the twin of birth                                                                                                                                 and dark is day and shadow                                                                                                             just a ray of sun you’ve stared too long at.

That last long-distance phone-call I stood in my kitchen and your voice came splintered and syrupy through the line saying you needed a ride to the other side of Boston to pick up a sculpture and you were lonely and you regret that we never slept together and all I could say was well I’m married so it will never happen now but I’m your friend Marshall I’m in California Marshall you’re supposed to be a healer, remember? Marshall there’s nothing I can do I’m 3000 miles away right now I’m 3000 miles away

I remember us swing dancing in the band room in the basement of the theater building at Roxbury Latin during a dress rehearsal for the Pillars of Society                                       you were 17 blue eyed dark haired handsome Italian kid from Millis introduced me to P-funk and taught me by example how to properly tell a story                                                   I was 16, tow-head tomboy Dot-rat rolling over your broad back and laughing you made it impossible to hate myself

Now I want to ask you                                                                                                                       what is Nothingness?                                                                                                                         does it resound, the Void? Can you eavesdrop                                                                               on its self-interrogations?

And since you’re there forever can you build                                                                                  an infinite machine                                                                                                                               to heal where Time is torn and to                                                                                             restore a past of earnest speculation

to cast out Morpheus and Loki and begin again?

 

 

 

*painting by William Blake (The Goblin)

on style and being

“Chomsky remarks that when one speaks a language one knows a great deal that was never learned. The effort of criticism is to teach a language for what is never learned but comes as the gift of a language, is a poetry already written- an insight I derive from Shelley’s remark that every language is a relic of an abandoned cyclic poem.” –                       —- Harold Bloom

“I can’t worry about Masculinist geeks who don’t read books by women on principle, any more than I worry about lit-snob dweebs who don’t read genre literature on principle. I don’t write for bigots.”                                                                                                                           — Ursula K. LeGuin

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”                                                                                                              —Oscar Wilde

…nothing is absent. all you could know is here in front of you- everything is in the visible . elemental and ancestral knowledge are at the tip of your tongue, literally…

“In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world- in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings”. It is to turn the world into “this world”. (“This world”! as if there were any other.)”                        — Susan Sontag

“In place of a Hermeneutics we need an Erotics of Art.” —Sontag

“Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us,  the soul assumes the form of the body.”                                                                                                             — Jean Cocteau

 

“Even if one were to define style as the manner of our appearing, this by no means necessarily entails an opposition between a style that one assumes and ones “true” being. In fact, such a disjunction is extremely rare. In almost every case our manner of appearing is our manner of being. The mask is the face.”                                                                — Sontag

“In art, “content” is, as it were, the pretext, the goal, the lure which engages consciousness in essentially formal processes  of transformation.”                                            — Sontag

“The complex kind of willing that is embodied, and communicated, in a work of art both abolishes the world and encounters it in an extraordinary intense and specialized way. This double aspect of the will in art is succinctly expressed by Bayer when he says: “each work of art gives us the schematized, disengaged, a memory of a volition. Insofar as it is schematized, disengaged, a memory, the willing involved in art sets itself at a distance from the world. All of which hearkens back to Neitzsche’s famous statement in the birth of tragedy: “Art is not an imitation of nature but its metaphysical supplement, raised up beside it in  order to overcome it.”                                                                                                      —- Sontag

The idea that all great art is founded on distance on artificiality, on style, on what might be called “dehumanization”… But- the overcoming or transcending of the world in art is also a way of encountering the world and of training or educating the will to be in the world…

 

“Every style is a means of insisting on something.”          — Sontag

 

“In what language can impudence be spoken? A national language? Which one? A crossbreed language? How so?”                                                                                                   – Julia Kristeva in Colette

 

“Colette, who knew nothing of politics, dreamt only of revealing feminine jouissance. In fact, her alphabet of the world is an alphabet of feminine pleasure, subject to the pleasure of men but marked by an an incommensurable  difference from it. There is no emancipation of women without a liberation of women’s sexuality, which is fundamentally a bisexuality and a polyphonic sensuality: That is what Colette continually proclaims throughout her life and works, in a constant dialogue between what she calls “the pure” and “the impure”, describing herself from the outset as a ‘mental hermaphrodite’. ”  —Kristeva

 

“The formality of style is only an aspect of her participation in Being.”  -Kristeva, Colette

 

 

*Illustration by G.F Marlier

some poems from old notebooks 3/25/17

I was a child in a house on a hill                                                                                                                   I had my pick of four porches and the widow’s walk on the roof.                                                     there was a porch for watching people pass                                                                                            a porch for sleeping outside                                                                                                                            a porch for waiting                                                                                                                                             a porch for eating together; my mother, my brother and me.

there was a widow’s walk for watching airplanes                                                                                     as they swung in to Logan                                                                                                                         and for gazing at the salt-ice cataract on Dorchester Bay                                                                in the leafless winters.

for my first two decades I returned daily to a tall house                                                                       on a hill-

a house with four porches hanging off it like petals

and a widow’s walk in it’s crown.

 

***********************************************************************

There are young women taking baths                                                                                                     two or three to a tub                                                                                                                             washing each other’s hair                                                                                                                          with their legs out over the lip                                                                                                              they’re giggling in apartments                                                                                                             above taquerias trattorias patisseries and delis                                                                            they’re eating each other’s laughter instead of bread.

 

***********************************************************************

Avarice and Ego                                                                                                                                       donned their crowns                                                                                                                                     and went to the parade.

Avarice took its place                                                                                                                                among the sad clowns                                                                                                                                   Ego followed the man                                                                                                                              without a face.

you should have heard the clamor                                                                                                               the people made                                                                                                                                                   a child scrambled beneath horses hooves                                                                                               to touch the hem of Avarice’s cape.

they marched to no music                                                                                                                           they grinned in no light                                                                                                                               until the merciful fall of night.

 

 

 

 

 

End Times report 2/9/17

So much has happened since I last weighed in on the state of the world that I hardly know where to begin. Plus, you are all glued to your array of information sources, just as I am, juggling words and images in your brain, shifting from panic to numbness to moments of sweet forgetting. You know how bad it is. Here in Berkeley the rain is coming down like mother nature is trying to cleanse the earth of the foul stench of moral rot. It’s not working. At the beginning of the week we saw the confirmation of Betsy Devos as secretary of education after Senate Democrats actually did their damn job and stayed up all night fighting tooth and nail against it. Not because they’re saints, mind you. Because they want to get re-elected and they know that the huge majority of Americans send their children to public schools and are much more aware of and impassioned over the handling of public education than almost any other issue. Yes, the constituency is quite aware that Devos is a woman who seems to have no appreciation for education, learning, and literacy as good things in and of themselves. Nor does she have any grasp on the role public education can play in creating some socio-economic mobility, some possibility for the realization of big dreams for children who are not born to wealth, as she was, and who do not have access to financial resources. She wants to privatize public education. Which means you can get a voucher for 7000 dollars a year (that’s taxpayer dollars that have been siphoned off from their previous allocation to support and improve Public schools) to send your kid to a private or parochial school. The only problem is most private and parochial schools annual tuition, even for kindergarten, is 15 grand or more. So if you don’t happen to have 8-13 thousand dollars a year lying around (according to multiple recent studies, including this one in Forbes, most Americans can’t come up with 500 dollars in an emergency, no less 8,000 every year) you are shit out of luck. Your kid is going to be one of those shunted off to a public school system that’s been catastrophically defunded. Considering how difficult it is to deliver anything resembling a quality education in the U.S public school system with the current levels of under-funding, over-crowing, teacher shortages, underpaid and overworked teachers and staff, etcetera, it is difficult to imagine the Devos plan leading to anything other than public schools that are little more than holding pens (read: Prisons) for the very poorest of children and teenagers. And even these public schools will be privatized, the way prisons are now. You see where I’m going with this. The whole thing is basically a neat way of transforming our public schools into an expansion of the for-profit prison system. The public schools will become for-profit prisons for poor, mostly black-and brown children and teenagers. And it’s an even better business model than the for-profit prisons, because they don’t even have to do anything wrong (aside from being born poor) to be there! there’s no need to criminalize particular behaviors, substances, ways of dressing, etcetera. These children are forced to be the prison population simply because they’re poor and their families can’t buy them out of it. Furthermore, most families rely on public schools to be the only free child care that exists in our country, enabling the parents to go to work. The dream of pulling those beautiful little people out and taking them for a hike and teaching them to read the best books and ask questions and think critically under the big blue sky is just that- a dream that could only be reality for those priveleged enough to not need to go to work to put food on the table every day. And last but not least, delinquency/failure to attend school can lead to interventions either from DSS or from law enforcement, which leads to those other hells of the foster system and the prison system.  Now if this is not sophisticated coercion, I don’t know what is. Isn’t it disgustingly clever? I’d like to think that Betsy Devos is stupid and doesn’t realize the massive profit potential of privatizing public schools, but the functioning part of my brain is sure that she has holdings in private prison companies and whoever manages her portfolio has made her fully aware of how much money can be made by turning the public schools of this country into for-profit private prisons for poor children. I imagine many of the contractors behind the private prison industry are standing in the wings, eager to step in and place their bids as this new business opportunity opens to them.

As I said in my Post ‘Don’t Tread on Us’:The collective contributions of the good, dutiful, obedient American taxpayer add up to a huge pot of money. After all, there’s a lot of us. It is infuriating to those who want to play with or pocket some of this money (and are used to getting what they want) that we’ve managed to keep their hands off it for so long.”

That, my friends, is the beating heart of the drive to privatize all that is public. It has driven them crazy for too long that they haven’t been permitted to put their hands in this money. Privatizing is just inserting a middle-man who will take a cut for himself and his share-holders (of which Devos is sure to be one), and who in so doing will pull even more of the meager resources allocated to poor families away from them and into some Cayman Islands account far out of the reach of the IRS.

Then there’s the confirmation as A.G of Jefferson Sessions, one of the most KKK-loving, black vote suppressing, power-abusing, white supremacist motherfuckers to ever be refused a seat in the federal judiciary of the United States due to the aforementioned KKK-protecting, suppressing of the black vote etc.

The day this man became the head of the Federal Justice Department should be regarded as a day of national tragedy, shame, and sorrow. To think that we will need to fight AGAINST the USJD to secure equal protection under the law- to secure JUSTICE- for all our people. Whew. Excuse my language, but that is fucked up. We are living in some dark and twisted times when Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. It’s so mind-bogglingly messed up and infuriating that I can’t even be articulate about it.

And to top it all off, 45 has another executive order coming through today or tomorrow, which is worth taking a look at. It’s just a couple pages, so you can really read the fine print. The thing to focus on (I think), is the huge discretion given to the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, notorious racist and supporter of white supremacist terrorist groups in this country, to determine what constitutes an insupportable level of resistance to “local law enforcement”, and to alter the criminal codes in order to “protect local law enforcement” from what he feels is an undue amount of resistance, lack of compliance, lack of cooperation etcetera. That sounds to me like drastically expanded criminalization of protests, marches, and resistance activism generally. In particular resistance to White Supremacy in this administration (such as, I dunno, the Justice Department halting it’s investigations into local PDs all over the country murdering unarmed black people with impunity?) We are about to see the new COINTELPRO. We are about to see Black Lives Matter surveilled and brutally attacked the way the Black Panthers were in the 70’s. This Executive Order is just one of the things- this designation of authority to the racist A.G – that might just make it all “legal”. We must remain vigilant and be prepared to fight. If you’re Black, start thinking of yourself as a warrior (you probably already do)- if you’re White, start thinking of yourself as a human shield, and get good and comfortable with the idea of putting your body on the line to do all we can to protect our Black family. There will be no sitting this one out.

Oh, just one more thing. Every Authoritarian regime needs a propaganda arm, and 45 took care of that (or at least laid the groundwork) with his stealthy, Putin-esque re-structuring of the Voice Of America. This one is gonna be a slow burner, folks, but the importance of an entirely regime-controlled broadcasting arm has never been a thing to scoff at, from Hitler to Pinochet from Rwanda to North Korea to the USSR to Putin’s Russia, so it’s probably a good idea for all of us to pay attention to this. Hats off to Rachel Maddow and her team at MSNBC for this invaluable piece of real reporting.

 

Also, just in case these assholes are over there, making a file on me- put this in there, will ya?

 

 

*painting by Hans Memling, 1470

 

 

Ancient Writings (probably ca. 1997-98)

My mother recently found the following writing on her computer. I know that I wrote this, roughly 20 years ago, at roughly the age of 16 or 17, and it is completely familiar to me, yet also completely strange to me. In some ways I am still the person who wrote this, and in many other ways I am no longer the person who wrote this. Many of my pet images and pre-occupations are the same, and yet experience has made me both more cynical and more purely motivated in my (increasingly complex and variable) marriage to language. This week I have been reading Wonderful Words, Silent Truth; essays on poetry and a memoir by the poet Charles Simic. This quote from him was sticking in my brain as I re-read the words of my past self:

“The difference between poets comes down to how they experience the commonplace realities of their everyday life. Whatever ideas they may eventually have come out of such unpremeditated particulars. The poet who loves the wind has different gods than the poet who loves the stones in the earth. What we make passionately ours is what defines us. The possessions of even the greatest poets are small. A few objects, a few vivid scenes and shadowy figures- and that’s all. ”                            -Charles Simic from Introduction to the poetry of Aleksandar Ristovic

 

A series of blue doors that I should choose from, but don’t.

Each one holds an example of what my life should be-hidden mentors that I choose to ignore. I learned to shun opportunity. The apprentice of escapism and occasional despair. Maybe ambivalence, anyway, a definite lack of interest in self-advancement.

My city? Well, it isn’t much. I keep my eyes to the gutter while I’m skateboarding and spend hours watching the sides of warehouses, waiting for something to occur.

I saw two dock workers exiting through a back door, rough men- one with a face pitted by acne (marked for assesment, and for the next turn of time. he’ll never decieve anyone about where and who he’s been )they are dressed in a familiar costume, joking loudly.

An orphan destroying public property, overturning newspaper boxes, ripping the advertisements from billboards and the sides of buses, prying bricks from the paths in parks and slashing at seats, signs and banners with no artistic intent, simply because he is scornful of pride in a community or a place.

He laughs and says “this sacred plot of ground!-

The founding fathers?”
“as if they knew what they were founding!” {no one would, with any forethought, found this}

You guessed it. This is a friend of mine.

Weaving colored ribbons into the spokes of parked hubcaps on the first of May, braiding what’s left over so it won’t drag and unravel, splicing the threads as they fray. I’m meticulous. I have time to be.

A vehicle owner returns with a fist full of quarters to hold the maids off, back to her meeting, quickly, in beige high-heeled sandals and sees me decorating her car. I raise my hand as she approaches, and wave at her, my legs splayed around my skateboard, having just tied off one whole wheel and feeling proud. She doesn’t smile wide back at me and I remember that there’s a hole in my shirt under the armpit which she might have seen.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”-I explain. She wants to know am I in Art school {I tell her I’m in NoSchool} and is this a joke {I tell her it’s a gift} She says confidentially here’s some advice, go to school and direct my energy and apparently considerable gifts so I don’t wind up homeless {I tell her that technically, I already am}.

 

 

 

“It’s over” he says

 

“what?”—any idea I had about my destination. Because I’m starting to understand that I don’t really have one, and especially not one that I can predict and set my compass on. I’m navigating, sure, but my navigation is a game. These instruments are toys to me. I spin this and chart this because of the mechanisms involved in plotting. I like the way these wheels whir. I like a drawing determined by the stars. It can’t take me anywhere.

 

“I’ve never been” he says

 

“what?”—This person before. This is an unfamiliar body, a strange voice, a vacancy. A mother walks by me with her weak-necked baby lolling in a bassinet, it’s seal eyes rolled to the sky. It’s never been this person before.

 

There is a place that someone told me about a long time ago, before I broke off from my family. It might have been my father, brother, cousin. It might have been a bunk bed good-nite.

Where individualities floated and swam. Where you couldn’t despise something {anything}, because characteristics crept around, entering you like a sweet scent, and to hate something outside was to hate the something inside of the future. I liked the pretty visions of dream-swaps. I liked to know the pearl shellak, the muralled heights, the patterns of someone else. There are other reasons why I decided not to fall in love.

 

I’ve been invited to a festival. I ask this little braided girl

“what kind?” and

“what time?” so she gives me another flyer instead of answering the questions, which is alright. I stand on the corner holding two neon yellow flyers while she runs on her rubber heels after a gaggle of nice looking boys with gel in their hair and fancy watches on their blond-hair wrists.

 

“I can’t” he says

“what?”—-Go with you. Anywhere. But definitely not to this.

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t ever be estranged.

I haven’t seen my mother for two years, my brother for six months, my cousin for a little more, and my father’s left the country, but they’re all right here. I go into a convenience store and the aisles are filled with familiars. The counter is manned by everybody I’ve ever known.

 

As an extension of the original idea; I can never be estranged from my “self”, because I pass hordes of me and weave in and out of me and long to be me in another configuration. Levels of stamina. Stages of development, but one material, one direction and revolution.

 

“will that be all for ya?” Pushing my purchases towards myself.

“yeah.”—counting my change.

“and cigarettes for me” he says from behind my shoulder. So I buy cigarettes from myself in the name of friendship.

 

I skate to the graveyard, stopping at intervals, wating for him to catch up. We imagine, sitting between the markers of the shortest lives, that there is nothing under this trash-heap of monuments, that as a grand joke, a drunk April fool’s day two centuries ago two men said ha ha let’s use our money to fake a graveyard. Let’s make people foolish, weeping over ground that’s never been pitted and planted.

 

“Rich people must have such great April fool’s days”

“what sorts of holidays do you think they celebrate?”

“I would rule out Christmas, halloween…”

“Columbus day, Groundhog day, easter—“

“Saint Patrick’s”.

 

He proposes that rich people have special games that we don’t know about. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him that I can imagine anything in existence, anyone’s games, discarded formulas, fantasies, lunacy. He scoffs and tears up clumps of good green wheat grass and weeds, piling this tangle where the Babylove’s toes would be.

 

I spotted children, ragged and reeling on the roof of a Clubhouse. I heard their schemes from where I perched under the floorboards {rusty nails coming through}. They were practicing cheating at cardgames, using pennies as poker chips. The jack of spades went spinning over the edge and they let it lie.

 

“hey- how are you?”

“you’re cheating! Give me that!”—-my cousin answers in a new voice I know.

 

 

 

 

He wants to kiss me precisely because I’m not the type of person who kisses naturally. I am awkward, pre-occupied, child-like. If I were willing to enter into such experiments, it would most likely be discovered that my nature provides a small expanse of inventiveness- a slight diversion from normalcy- but cannot be satisfied by some emotional playground, under observation, with any permanence.

I imagine my pillow-talk with amusement. What would I say to a {this is hilarious}”lover”? The pillow is a curbstone. It’s dangerous to be naked in my bed. It’s dangerous to be in my doorway-bed at all.

 

Circling a rack of postcards. Castles, cafes, meals posed and flattered by golden light. The art of centuries, photographs of bodies bent and twisted, the faces of authors “so full” so rich with insight “so more than bodies” so irrelevant. Welcome, welcome to the exhibition of correspondance.

“Don’t you want to go places?” he asks. Like where?—I don’t know, he says, picking up a postcard at random—Venice? As charmed as I am by your gondoliers, your spanish bullfighters in their sequined slippers, your meadows and grinning british sheep, your IRELAND…

“I don’t see any difference between there and here” I tell him. He raises his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders, obviously irritated. He steals a Rita Hayworth,

a San Francisco at night.

 

All across the city as it gets dark people appear on the rooftops, flashing signals. There is a woman pouring dishwater into the alley from her window, and a herd of white horses drags the remains of a caravan clattering through the streets.

 

I want to find the window, door or sewer grate—

Whatever hole I need to go through to enter the system that I know exists. I try to explain that it is different from changing your location {he’s still thinking of Venice, Spain, Brazil}—It would be FLUX I tell him. FLUX is an incomparable place.

I made the mistake of trying to explain it in terms of cancer (fear the conditioned analogy). Cancer is nature attempting to become something better—abusing her instruments, ignoring their mediocrity in an effort to illustrate the law of expansion, of constant, bizarre production. The body as fractal, producing tumors. The body as FLUX, irregularity, adventure. If I could just find that entrance.

I always follow the clues.

Unedited notes from a 2009 notebook part 2: on Poetic Vocation

Cyclical time, how you mock me. Time moves from past to present to future, but it also moves from future to present to past. I’ve gone westward to succulents and packed dust fire-trails and that must mean… that I am again 17 years old, in a saltmisted and sandswept sailor’s grave-yard, Provincetown, overlooking the dunes and the chopped lichen-green high surf with Conor Sullivan, the weekend of the Hurricane, and I say “don’t worry, we’ll sleep under an overturned boat”…

Part of morality is to not be at home in one’s home…

“Poetry is the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another” -Frost

“I should like to be so subtle at this game as to seem to the earnest person altogether obvious. The earnest person would assume I meant nothing, or else came near enough meaning something he was familiar with to mean it for all practical purposes. Well, well, well.” -Frost

Pound’s exhortations to the poet- objectivity, and again, objectivity. “Direct treatment of the thing”. Clarity and precision.

the “emotion of art is impersonal”, and “Permanent literature is always a presentation”   -Eliot.

Yeats and ideas of the audience-

“For Yeats, poetry couldn’t exist without an actual, defined audience to ground it. Just what that audience was vacillated in his mind between the peasantry and the aristocracy, from writing “as an Irish writer and with Ireland on my mind”, to writing for an elite international audience, “fit though few”, which is “greater than any nation, for it is made up of chosen persons from all”. At other times he declared that his ideal audience was, respectively, “the town of Sligo”, “Young men between twenty and thirty”, “a few friends for whom one always writes”, and “A man who does not exist,/a man who is but a dream.” -Michael Ryan

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” -Hazlitt

The poet as an “unacknowledged legislator of the world”… (Shelley)

Civilization is a “botch”. Poetry can do something about it (?)

“A multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident  which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies…reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable melancholy , had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain great and permanent objects that act upon it, which are equally inherent and indestructible.” -Wordsworth

Memory and Imagination

Nature

Eliot working in a bank…into his old age…wrote “Waste Land” essentially during a 2 week vacation from his job. Pound trying to fund-raise a little pension so Eliot could quit the bank to write poetry.

the “best thoughts of mechanics and farmers” that “wait unspoken, impatient to be put into shape” (Whitman)…

to go out every day among the people. essentially a Whitmanian research and development methodology for poetics. No ordinary, everyday person, but a poet who, in Yeats’ words, is “never the bundle of accidence and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been re-born as an idea, something intended, complete.”

 

Once, beautiful girls serenaded my blue jeans                                                                                                      in a bar, their faces gathered to splendid                                                                                                          bouquet above a puddle of well-vodka                                                                                                                    on the round linoleum table.                                                                                                                                  There were no stages                                                                                                                                             though there should have been. Instead,                                                                                                                   a dusty couch in the corner where cobwebs                                                                                                       held the pipes as gently as we held each other.                                                                                                     we kissed and intertwined our limbs                                                                                                                       and dozed, our brows together, til first light.

 

the idea of VOCATION.

from Whitman’s “deathbed edition”, 1888:

“I have had my say entirely my own way”…

Whitman’s certainty that America would become a nation of poets and prophets.

The PERSON who has to live the poet’s life, and what he suffers in the service of a grand creative undertaking. Whitman’s anonymous review of his own book, where he says the poems have “fallen stillborn on this country”, and “certainly wrecked the life of their author.”

Why is it considered an inexcusable crime to be Utopian? Particularly post-WWI?

Being a poet is like being a monk of a forgotten order- a druid in the 21st century- keeping knowledge and form alive because you yourself would suffer too much without them.

“Paradoxically, by virtue of the material worthlessness of his product, the poet has a unique chance to become a free agent with a free imagination. He doesn’t have to tack on happy endings or direct his message to urban dwellers between the ages of thirty-four and thirty-nine who make over a hundred thousand dollars per year. Knowing how important it is to have “worthless” art in a market-driven economy, some foundations, endowments, and universities do not want the poet starved into extinction, although the poets they choose to support are not likely to be the ones who challenge the ideological premises by which they themselves exist.” –  Michael Ryan

 

“how can I know what I think, until I see what I say?” -Forster

Eliot- try, as a poet, to look into “a good deal more than the heart…into the cerebral cortex, the nervous system and digestive tracts.”

 

to look very hard and very gently at things. observation is a serious activity. observe- towards keeping, for holding. Love desires intimate knowledge and shows itself in close observation. Self-definition as a “believer in total immersion” (Bishop).

Saint Ignatius’ Jesuit meditation formula: Memory, Understanding, Will.

Bishop- showing the break between the object and the mind that perceives the object by using qualifications in the poems, i.e: “It was more like the tipping/of an object toward the light”; “If you could call it a lip”- etc.

“Making something secret gives it value. Indeed, a secret creates in us a sense of interior life” -Sisela Bok

smell of citrus on the warm wind, blowing through a glass door as it swings…

you have to observe something closely before you can render it vividly. The strangeness of identity, of the accident of being human.

“We think in generalities, but live in detail” -Whitehead

a formal exercise is sterile unless it uncovers some rich, unavoidable secret.

“I write the way I do, not because it pleases me, but because no other way pleases me.”-Stevens

Smell of citrus on the warm wind                                                                                                                    blowing through a glass door as it swings                                                                                                              on Labor Day the jobless think that living is a job itself                                                                         awkwardly, opportunity                                                                                                                                          seems to elude all but the traveller                                                                                                                         who casts her lot with Luck

 

“I dream of an art so transparent you can look through it and see the world”-Kunitz

“One of my unshakable convictions has been that poetry is more than a craft, as important as the craft may be: It is a vocation, a passionate enterprise, rooted in human sympathies and aspirations.” -Kunitz

“If it were not for the poet’s dream of perfection, which is the emblem of his life-enhancing art, and which he longs to share with others, generations of men and women would gradually sink into passivity, accepting as their lot second-rate or third-rate destinies, or worse. If one is to be taught submission, in the name of progress or national security, it is redemptive to recall the pride of one (Keats), who averred that his only humility was toward “the eternal being, the principle of beauty, and the memory of great men”.” -Kunitz

The poet is “an embodiment of resistance”-

“resistance against universal apathy, mediocrity, conformity, against institutional pressure to make everything look and become alike- this is why he is so involved with contraries” -Kunitz

“The poet, in the experience of his art, is a WHOLE PERSON, or he is nothing… he is uniquely equipped to defend the worth and power and responsibility of individuals in a world of institutions.” -Kunitz

“The poet speaks to others not only through what he says, but through what he is, his symbolic presence, as though he carried a set of flags reading have a heart, let nothing get by, live at the center of your being. His life instructs us that it is not necessary, or even desirable, for everyone to join the crowds streaming onto the professional or business highway, pursuing the Bitch Goddess.” -Kunitz

POETRY IS A VOCATION INHERENTLY SUBVERSIVE TO CORPORATE IDEOLOGY

“Poets are subversive, but they are not really revolutionaries, for revolutionaries are concerned with changing others, while poets want first of all to change themselves. “-Kunitz

A LIFE OF INTERNAL EXILE IN A SOCIETY BUILT FOR PROFIT AND CONSUMPTION

“We have to fight for our little bit of health. We have to make our living and dying important again. And the living and dying of others. Isn’t that what poetry is about?”-Kunitz

The way you use language is inherently political- even apart from what you are saying. deliberate use of language AS gift. sincere use of language. A way of using language that is meant to share, and not to manipulate. These all challenge the dominant order, and a wide-spread and quite cynical understanding of, quite simply, what language is FOR.

the poets first obligation is survival. No bolder challenge confronts the modern artist than to stay healthy in a sick world.

“To squeeze the slave’s blood out of my veins” -Chekov

Yeats: “gaiety transfiguring all that Dread”

Dickinson: “My business is circumference”

 

Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Tao Te Ching and the poems of Yeats. When pressed to re-locate only what I needed, these are the books I carried. the Tao Te Ching because its proven and re-proven truths need constant re-enforcement. There have been times I read it cover-to-cover every morning, and times when I traced and retraced parts of  it on my forearms for easy reference. I have found it too easy when afraid or full of lust to let these truths fall by the way. 

Yeats because my courage comes from him- his book a well of defiance and fearless craft. I must have it near to lower the bucket into when I’m parched. Whenever I think, briefly, that it’s useless to keep striving for intangible ends, he reminds me, as no-one else can, of vocation. That the poet is somebody, that what I do is necessary. Firefighters and Doctors save lives- so do poets. How many times has a writer long dead sent a sentence- a heroic combination of WORDS- into the burning house of my being, and rescued me, from one kind of death or another? How many times has a poem sewed up my gaping wounds and soothed insistent pain?