weathering

Planning for winter storms
in the first week of September.
it will rain, and the wind will come in, furious
from the open ocean
rattling my home
before it runs into the hills
to hide its face.
Burgers watches as I pull old nails
hammer in new nails, shift the hanging
clay pot of sweet basil (flowering, going to seed)
to face North, not West,
move the Thai basil (tiny purple leaves, brittle twiggy stem)
to the stairs beside the lemon tree, dill, and fruitless strawberry
then she closes her yellowgreen eyes to doze
in the dirt beneath the one small, slowly ripening tomato
that emerged from the shady cave of the porch this summer.
Weird summer, summer of fires in forest
and suburb, tear gas hanging over the cities
summer of (Home Depot tiki) torches aloft,
vehicular homicide, and the open stating of allegiances to Devils
naiively assumed, in many blinkered quarters, to be extinct.
Now comes the Fall of hurricanes and floods
of rot and rubble.
in the wake of isolated and celebrated examples
of survival
of countless refusals to connect the dots, to repudiate
ill-begotten theories of coincidence, synchronicity
accident or innocence
it will be claimed that benevolence is a noun, and not a verb.
So I’m shifting everything around.
the Rosemary fell from a ledge, and I righted it.
The jade holds our instruments upright-
guitar, banjo, ukelele-
but can’t keep them in tune.
In the months ahead,
Whiteness willing
we’ll still be here, but under blankets
refusing the full shelter of the indoors
singing loud and drunkenly.
our imperfect harmonies
will contest the wind.
*
*
*
*
*painting by Liam Golden www.liamgolden.com

a short poem by g.f marlier, and a long poem by Amiri Baraka/ on jesus

I detest the Episcopal Church                                                                                                              It is the Catholic Church with the desperate proletariat removed                         Selfless love is a quality of peasants                                                                        and slaves, of those who have nothing                                                                        but a soul to lose or gain.                                                                                                               and I tell you there is nothing bourgeois                                                                                             nothing properly Anglican                                                                                                                     in the life and passion                                                                                                                        death and resurrection of                                                                                                                    Christ

 

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

 

When We’ll worship Jesus

Amiri Baraka

 

We’ll worship jesus
When jesus do
Somethin
When jesus blow up
the white house
or blast nixon down
when jesus turn out congress
or bust general motors to
yard bird motors
jesus we’ll worship jesus
when jesus get down
when jesus get out his yellow lincoln
w/the built in cross stain glass
window & box w/black peoples
enemies we’ll worship jesus when
he get bad enough to at least scare
somebody—cops not afraid
of jesus
pushers not afraid
of jesus, capitalists racists
imperialists not afraid
of jesus shit they makin money
off jesus
we’ll worship jesus when mao
do, when toure does
when the cross replaces Nkrumah’s
star
Jesus need to hurt some a our
enemies, then we’ll check him
out, all that screaming and hollering
& wallering and moaning talkin bout
jesus, jesus, in a red
check velvet vine + 8 in. heels
jesus pinky finger
got a goose egg ruby
which actual bleeds
jesus at the apollo
doin splits and helpin
nixon trick niggers
jesus w/his one eyed self
tongue kissing johnny carson
up the behind
jesus need to be busted
jesus need to be thrown down and whipped
till something better happen
jesus ain’t did nothing for us
but kept us turned toward the
sky (him and his boy allah
too, need to be checkd
out!)
we’ll worship jesus
when he get a boat load of ak-47s
and some dynamite
and blow up abernathy robotin
for gulf
jesus need to be busted
we ain’t gonna worship nobody
but niggers getting up off
the ground
not gon worship jesus
unless he just a tricked up
nigger somebody named
outside his race
need to bust jesus (+ check
out his spooky brother
allah while you heavy
on the case
cause we ain gon worship jesus
we aint gon worship
jesus
we aint gon worship
jesus
not till he do somethin
not till he help us
not till the world get changed
and he ain, jesus ain, he cant change the world
we can change the world
we can struggle against the forces of backwardness, we can change the world
we can struggle against our selves, our slowness, our connection
with
the oppressor, the very cultural aggression which binds us to
our enemies
as their slaves.
we can change the world
we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus dont exist
except in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in
slum stained
tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the
history
of the oppression of the human mind
we worship the strength in us
we worship our selves
we worship the light in us
we worship the warmth in us
we worship the world
we worship the love in us
we worship our selves
we worship nature
we worship ourselves
we worship the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and
transformation
of the visible world
but we aint gonna worship no jesus
we aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils and spooks and
hobgoblins
the sensuous lies of the rulers to keep us chained to fantasy and
illusion
sing about life, not jesus
sing about revolution, not no jesus
stop singing about jesus,
sing about, creation, our creation, the life of the world and
fantastic
nature how we struggle to transform it, but don’t victimize our
selves by
distorting the world
stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and crying and stompin
and dyin for jesus
unless thats the name of the army we building to force the land
finally to
change hands.  And lets not call that jesus, get a quick
consensus, on that,
lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle
no invisible psychic dungeon
no gentle vision strait jacket, lets call that peoples army, or
wapenduzi or
simba
wachanga, but we not gon call it jesus, and not gon worship
jesus, throw
jesus out yr mind.  Build the new world out of reality, and new
vision
we come to find out what there is of the world
to understand what there is here in the world!
to visualize change, and force it.
we worship revolution

 

 

 

 

 

bonheur, malheur

Happiness. In french, bonheur: the good hour, as opposed to unhappiness, malheur: the bad or evil hour. Where were you standing when the hours were sorted? There aren’t enough good hours, and we all must settle for a greater or lesser lot of the bad ones. There may be an hour within which you exchange wedding vows, an hour within which you choose a vocation, uproot yourself, or speak truth upon uncertain ground to an unreliable listener. There is the hour of your birth and above all the hour of your death. You may hope for these to be among the good hours, but nothing is guaranteed.

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

 

Down in the shallow trenches of my erudition

palms upon the stones I searched-

for what?

For shelter, for a route out, beyond, no,

Yes-

deeper within.

With humble inherited pick

and shovel. With all but my grip

on the tools unsure-

I dug at a pulse I sensed

in the center

of the Earth

where the roots

of continents converge.

 

+++++++

sorting pages, smelling September again…

Where there once was an abstract landscape                                                                           crossed by quietude, nostalgia, perhaps                                                                                        insufficiently sophisticated but deeply personal ideas                                                           poetic loneliness in doorways, chips in curbstones leaking words                                        visions of the Virgin over floodlit parking lots                                                                            now there are photos of favorite writers- Didion, Colette, Baldwin, Lorca-                          taped up on the wall.                                                                                                                  Insecurities and petty bloodless blood-feuds of a smattering of Others float,                glowing particles, in a neutral pool of days I must traverse.

 

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

“I have lived in equatorial America since 1935 and only twice had fever. I am an anthropologist who lost faith in her own method, who stopped believing that observable activity defined Anthropos. I studied under Kroeber at California and worked with Lévi-Strauss at São Paulo, classified several societies, catalogued their rites and attitudes on occasions of birth, copulation, initiation , and death, did extensive and well-regarded studies on the rearing of female children in the Matto Grasso and along certain tributaries of the Rio Xingu, and still I did not know why any one of these female children did or did not do anything at all. Let me go further. I did not know why I did or did not do anything at all.”

-Joan Didion, from the book of common prayer

 

“What I am trying to conceptualize with the help of the philosopher is that which I have already intuited” -Charles Simic

 

“The poet of the Kosovo cycle rebels against the very idea of historical triumph. Defeat, he appears to be saying, is wiser than victory. the great anti-heroes of these poems experience a moment of tragic consciousness. they see the alternatives with all their moral consequences. They are free to make a fateful choice. They make it with full understanding of its consequences. For the folk poet of these poems, true nobility and heroism comes from the consciousness of the Difficult Choice.”

-Simic

 

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

Finger-worn and foot-buffed steel and linoleum. Deep knowledge of the insides of occupational objects….

 

I see the Paysage of my near-decade of choices                                                                      it seems a system                                     of baked ochre and orange canyons, entered almost by accident.                                                                                               A place of occasional tedium, doubt, self-doubt, where thirst                                                     has sometimes summoned a feeble, ice-cold spring.                                                                   Twice while wandering up the side-cuts I stumbled on a hanging garden so extraordinary, Edenic, revelatory, that I cried out.                                                                         I’ve learned to smell and listen, to observe and follow wiser, smaller creatures.                   I received a proffered word: Survival.                                                                I picked out a trail when there wasn’t one, and it took me years- seven and a half, to be exact- but I made it to the deepest point, a descent of many fathoms.                                                    I drank my fill from a wide and swiftly running river and then                                                              I rode it                                                                                                                                                   out.

 

 

 

*Drawing by G.F Marlier (the old College Ave. Safeway, right before they tore it down)

 

Cheat Lake ’93

The plastic basins sit in the sink. I would say “kitchen sink” but there is only one sink, spring-fed, in the cabin my father and uncle built with their friends on the first backwater of the Cheat Lake in West Virginia almost 50 years ago. The basins are now used to soak crusted egg off the white plastic plates with their pea green and yellow floral design. The plates, like the colored glass lamp hanging over the table and the embroidery of mushrooms on the wall, are relics of 70’s beer and cigarette bacchanals, before us kids, when the place was still called “Mecca South”.

The basins, however, date from the early 90’s, and before they were used to soak breakfast dishes they were used to collect my father’s excess bodily fluids, mostly bloody phlegm, as I recall, brought up by long bouts of a painful, hacking cough.

They came from Ruby Memorial Hospital, and are still, 24 years later, the easily identifiable (at least to anyone who has spent a lot of time in hospitals) hospital pink that they were in 1993. My memory of my father’s facial features has faded more- much more- than the color of these plastic basins.

The pink is very tasteful, actually, which surprises me when I go back to the family place once every year or two and re-discover them. One of my aunts built a house on the property and lives there year-round now, and the past few years my cousins have been bringing their small children for impromptu family reunions. I always find the basins still here and notice again that the pink is not a bubble-gum pepto-bismol pink but rather a dusky, purplish-pink, somewhere between blush and bruise.

That summer, the summer of ’93, my father was hospitalized for a month (or a little more? or a little less?) with a septic knee infection (I think this is what it was? All I really knew at the time was that the knee was the size of a grapefruit, and it was very serious). My older brother was in Mexico visiting Aunt Julie and Tio José, and my mother, panicked and doing a less expert job of hiding it than she generally did, mostly stayed at the hospital. That left me largely at the cabin with a dumb Brittany Spaniel named Calvin and a field mouse-obsessed orange tabby tomcat named Popcorn, listening to the same mixtape cassette (Duran Duran, U2, SWV), or top 40 country music on the radio, eating toasted and buttered english muffins when I got hungry.  I also learned how to meditate by following the instructions in a worn paperback called “Yoga Meditation”  which I had purchased at the used bookstore in Morgantown. The cover had a photo of a lady in a white leotard with long blonde hair sitting in lotus position with a tall candlestick burning in front of her.

I would walk the narrow path hacked into a ridge of the steep hillside, following the shoreline of the backwater below, until I got to what I had designated as my meditation spot; a boulder protruding out over the long drop to the lake, with a small, quiet stream running beside it. I would sit cross-legged, close my eyes most (but not all) of the way, count and concentrate on my in-breaths and out-breaths, and try to notice my thoughts as they came up and dismiss them, like blowing a soap bubble out towards the lake, watching it drift and pop. My favorite type of meditation was 360 degree listening meditation. I focused on individual sounds, and then gradually learned to notice them together, to be aware of the spontaneous symphonic qualities of sound. The stream running close by on my left, stillness as it fell over the ledge and the splash on the rocks below as it continued on it’s way down to the lake. Wind in the thick,  bright green foliage all around me. A cricket somewhere behind me. a distant jet-ski’s roar and stop. An outboard motor idling as someone pulled into a shady fishing cove on the opposite bank. loud laughter from the Graziani’s dock, echoing over the backwater. The hum of a plane overhead. By the time I was back at the cabin, changed into my bathing suit, and wading, then diving into the cool, sun-dazzled green water of Cheat Lake, my mind was often nearly empty. It may not be an accurate recollection, but I do not recall feeling lonely or scared.

At some point, after maybe two weeks or so, Grandma came down from Pittsburgh to stay at the cabin with me. She brought white bread, chipped ham, mayo and iceburg lettuce. She brought milk and Frosted Flakes. She brought a semblance of normalcy, and a flurry of activity. To every day, it’s project. We hiked up to the bright, sunny pastures at the top of the property to pick blackberries. Grandma with a kerchief tied over her silver hair. We tried our hand at fishing from the dock. We collected firewood. We built a “handicapped ramp” up to the front porch of the cabin out of clay that I dug out of the lake by the bucketful and large flat stones that I dug up all up and down the shoreline, and hauled up the path in a little red Flyer wagon. Grandma explained that the ramp was because my father was going to get out of the hospital and come back here, but would have no flexibility in the knee, and would certainly be using a walker or a cane, if not a wheelchair. I see now that my grandmother conceived of this project as a way of occupying my time and distracting me, as a way of giving me some structure (little did she know I had done fine without it), and to give me Optimism writ large, as a concrete thing I could feel and hold, even build myself, one stone, one handful of wet clay at a time.

Optimism was sort of a moot point for me, though. It really did not seem conceivable to me that my father would die. When I was near him I was enormously, inarticulately concerned with his suffering. I felt his suffering physically, in my own knobby, twiggy wisp of an almost-pubescent body. But at that time his death, his inevitable death, for a full-blown AIDS patient in 1993 had virtually no hope of survival, simply was not real to me. His death belonged to the realm of impossible- I should say impermissible– things, and so did not concern and pre-occupy me as it has off and on in all the years since it did occur.

When Grandma drove down to West Virginia from Pittsburgh and hiked in to the cabin with groceries, straining to haul her petite body over fallen trees that blocked the path, she may have brought, tucked in with the groceries, a fashion magazine. I can’t remember, but it strikes me as likely, because both my mother and my grandmother bought me fashion magazines as a form of reward or comfort. My mother always gave me the hulking behemoth September issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Grandma may have brought me the July, or the new August Vogue.

Decades later, it is with the eyes of an aesthete, a now confirmed devotée of Fashion (studied at Parsons, apprenticed to a bespoke tailor, etcetera), as well as for many years a practicing visual artist (Junior year of college painting in a Paris Atelier, etcetera) that I see the darkish pink of these hospital spittoons in the sink. I think, “I would like a linen dress in that color. A cashmere tunic with big pockets and a scoop neck. Silk lounge pants. Suede high-top sneakers.”

I am well aware of what they are and how they came to be here. He did insist on leaving the hospital, despite the doctor’s warnings that it would kill him. As my mother never tires of reminding me, I get my stubborn, bullheaded streak, as well as my temper, from him. My father came back to the cabin on an old pontoon boat, ferried in by loyal, deeply good, gutter-talking, chain-smoking, large, loud-laughing mountain neighbors who had known him since he was a child and loved him. He used the ramp that Grandma and I had built. He was not well and I distinctly remember him, after having insisted on going out sailing and getting caught in a storm (that stubborn streak again- Death be not proud!), lying on the sofa under an electric blanket and a couple other blankets, shivering, irritable. I lay down beside him, put my arm and leg over him, and lay my head on his bony, caved-in chest, determined to give him whatever warmth I had.

We returned to Boston when the scent of Fall was on the air, just in time for the start of school. He survived for almost two more years after that summer; an incredible feat considering that he had no functioning immune system of his own at that point, only a sister who was a blood match, and who was willing to have white blood cells sucked out of her body and pumped into his body to buy him a little more time.

Sometimes I think any normal family would get rid of those pink plastic basins. But then I realize that “normal” doesn’t mean anything. There is no “normal family”, just as there is no “normal person”, no “normal life”.

 

 

castles like this

Fingernail pulled down                                                                                                   the side of a bookshelf                                                                                               There isn’t enough time                                                                                                              to tour the place                                                                                                                  My kind of people                                                                                                                can’t feel at ease                                                                                                               in castles like this                                                                                                                and I don’t know                                                                                                        where your kind of                                                                                                                 people                                                                                                                                   feel at ease

Ashby + Otis

Yesterday, out on the porch after work with a quesadilla on the plate in front of me- mixed mexican queso, avocado just a little under-ripe, vegan cilantro dip, lime, salt, smoky hot sauce and sour cream. The Belcher on Otis Street let out a terrific, huge belch which resounded down to the Thai Temple and back, and brought our conversation about which friend, family member, pet you would eat first (if forced to due to a massive earthquake) to a sudden stop. I kept right on eating, remarking simply “oh, the Belcher’s at it again”, only to discover that my housemates and visiting friends had not been privy to events on this special low frequency. They were having a brand-new experience. Only later when we left on our bikes for the bar did I happen to notice that another character around here- let’s call him “motorized wheelchair man” for the sake of clarity and simplicity, and because that’s what we call him- was sitting in his wheelchair with a brown-bagged beverage at exactly the spot on Otis, in front of the Meth Laundry Lesbian’s place, from which the epic belch had emanated a short time before. It seems increasingly possible that the Belcher and motorized wheelchair man are one and the same person.