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

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)

 

“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.

 

 

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

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?

 

 

The Commons sense

When I was about 16 or 17, I read every book I could get my hands on by or about the hobo. As a result I became acquainted rather early with the poems of Robert Service, as well as tales of and quotes from many an anonymous bard and philosopher. I recall one hobo in particular, someone who was going by the name “Red”, offering the following critique of modern industrial Capitalism: “Work has wasted more human life and happiness, and cemented the foundations of more inhuman wrong, misery, and oppression, than ever did the combined forces of War, Physics, and bad whiskey”. You can imagine how much this impressed me, since I recall the quote I believe verbatim, some 18 years after reading it. I ran into the same thought a few years down the line in a poem by Octavio Paz (sadly, I can’t recall the name of the poem, though again I believe I’ve still got the part I memorized down word for word):

“mejor ser lapidado in las plazas

que dar vuelta a la noria que exprime la sustancia de la vida

cambia la eternidad en horas huecas

los minutos en carceles

el tiempo en monedas de cobre y mierda abstracta”

or, in english:

“better to be whipped in the public square

than to tread the mill that grinds out into nothing the substance of our life

changes eternity into hollow hours

minutes into prisons

time into copper pennies and abstract shit”.

 

and I recall Ginsberg also (speaking of eternity): “who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade”…

And now I’m older, and I still have these what consider to be truths etched in my brain. I’ve been reminded recently because I’m reading the collected writings of T-Bone Slim, who was a hobo/itinerant laborer/tugboat captain, who wrote a regular column for the IWW (Wobblies/Industrial Workers of the World) newspaper in the 20’s. Here’s T-Bone in 1926:

“Only recently I read a statement that ‘Truth, alone, will set you free”, and being of an inventive turn of mind, I got to wondering if “Truth” could be harassed so’s to lift one of those heavy hand-cars on the track. My partner suggested I’d better stick to perpetual motion (he’s a sarcastic cuss). That’s what comes of having too many chestnuts in the fire. But I couldn’t very well give up the idea, because if truth can set me free, there must be power- and power certainly ought to put that car on the track. Once on the track we could take it off the track by using a little falsehood. It occurred to me that it isn’t enough that truth sets me free. We got to hitch it up some way so that it will do some of the work.”

And as I’m reading T-Bone, I’m also watching news of the protest against a pipeline on Dakota-Sioux land in South Dakota, and reading of a group of activists in Oakland who were arrested and are now facing up to a decade of jail time and fines of up to 100,000 dollars for daring to live in (and make improvements to) a long-abandoned house.

I am wondering how, when and why human beings have turned (or been turned, more accurately) from the logical common holding and stewardship of land and resources (see the IMF and World Bank offering bribes to the governments of developing nations all over the world in exchange for the privatization and monetization of what has been commonly held indigenous land since the beginning of time). Take a person’s land away from him (or his right to use the land, or as with the Dakota Sioux, destroy the ecosystem, groundwater, etcetera, of the land), and you will almost certainly force him or her to sell hours of life in exchange for  the means of mere survival. Through the (quite new and modern) hex of landlessness, you have effectively produced a wage slave- a human being yoked to someone else’s profit incentives, and forced to tread the mill that Paz speaks of….

Here’s a final unedited quote from an e-mail I sent to a good friend this week, just to sum it up in the most bare-naked way I can:

“It’s been such a long time since I was in school for anything, and I’ve never really been in school for writing, although I guess in a way that is what all my reading is for- to inform and shape the writing I do- but my adult life involves so much pressure, mostly financial pressure, and time constraints, that the magical feeling I had at at Sarah Lawrence where work for pay was a minor fraction of life and most of what I had to do was learn and read and think and yes, write…. it’s so far off now it seems like a fantasy. Part of me (a large part) despises capitalism and the pressures it puts on people including myself to essentially waste their best years, the years that should be the most creative, the richest, the most personally productive, just trying to fend off homelessness and hunger. Part of me is grateful that I personally am not homeless or hungry (at least for now), and thinks that it is absolutely crazy and amazing that I got to spend so many years in high school and college essentially just doing what I enjoy, reading and learning and making things, not worrying about food and shelter, which is more than most people on this planet will ever get, so I have nothing to complain about. Why should I be entitled to more than what I have? Why should I have the leisure to think and write? maybe I only deserve it because everyone deserves it. But what are the chances of everyone getting it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gleanings: Mona Hatoum, Andy Warhol, Megan Abbott, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Ty Dolla $ign+TC…

In her film ‘corps étranger’, Mona Hatoum brings us, with a special medical camera, literally inside her body. We enter more or less all of her orifices as an eye, and we see her mysterious, vulnerable, gross, beautiful, pulsing interior territories.

What a statement this film is (as I see it), about the bodies of women and about the bodies of the colonized (she is of Palestinian origin)- and not, by the way, unrelated to the current and ongoing waves of tragic murders of Blacks in America by police- these bodies subject to surveillance and suspicion,  unlawful imprisonment, beatings, rape, murder, dehumanizing desire, rage, incomprehension, assumption, a range of questionable scholarship, debate, and regulation. All this and yet you will never see these pulsing pink opalescent passages, the pools of bilge and the blue capillaries, never hear the resounding, insistent- and yes, miraculous, awesome-passage of blood and air, unless, as Hatoum does, she invites you in, unless she decides to radically risk herself by taking you there and showing it to you.

Watch ‘Corps Etranger’ here.

 

Extraordinary- Andy Warhol interviewed in 1966. He is asked whether he cares what people think of him- that “they” have an opinion about him good or bad, and he literally refuses to answer. He tells the interviewer, “you tell me what to say and I’ll just repeat what you say”. He even suggests that the rest of the interview might proceed very well in this manner, with the television interviewer supplying both the questions and the answers, with Warhol merely mimicking the answers he provides. It strikes me as a profound (and yes, also playful) rejection of the artist’s prescribed role as exalted ego and anointed producer of cultural signifiers. What if the artist himself refuses to play along? And what if his modus operandi is far more consciously subversive than Warhol’s is commonly thought to be (his behavior often written off as whim, eccentricity, lack of seriousness)…The unacknowledged and unplumbed power of fey queer refusal/a sideways tactical advantage/you really don’t understand how dangerous we are, do you?

watch the interview here.

 

And lastly a couple quotes from The Fever by Megan Abbott, which I happened to be reading last week. I think these quotes jumped out at me because of Alton Sterling’s +Philando Castile’s murders, watching/listening to Ty Dolla $ign’s song “No Justice” that he recorded with his brother TC (watch/listen here)… Something about how these events, this ongoing violence and injustice makes me feel came through in these words:

“Gabby paused. Then her voice dropped low, like she was right there beside her. ‘There was this shadow’, she said. ‘I could see it from the corner of my eye, but I wasn’t supposed to look at it.’

Deenie felt her hand go around her own neck. 

‘If I turned my head to look’, Gabby continued, ‘something really bad would happen. So I couldn’t look. I didn’t dare look.’

Deenie pictured it. That smile on Gabby’s face. After, when everyone surrounded her on the stage. Like something painted on her face. A red-moon curve.

‘I didn’t look, Deenie’, Gabby whispered, ‘but it happened anyway.’

I’m okay, she’d said. I really am. I’m fine. 

That smile, not a real thing but something set there, to promise you something, to give you a white lie. “

-Megan Abbott, The Fever

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

“‘She didn’t faint,’ Deenie said. ‘But her body. What was happening to her body?’

The pensive look on Deenie’s face, like when she was small. Finding a cat drowned in the ditch by the mailbox. He didn’t know how long she’d been staring at it, her brother next to her touching it gently with a stick, hoping to nudge it to life. That night she’d had nightmares, her mouth was filled with mud. He’d tried to explain it to her, how accidents happen but we really are safe. But there was already the sense that nothing he said touched what was really bothering her, which was the realization that you can’t stop bad things from happening to other people, other things. And that would be hard forever. He’d never quite gotten used to it himself.”

-Megan Abbott, The Fever

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

“Bad things happen, and then they’re over, but where do they go? Deenie wondered, watching Gabby. Are they ours forever, leeching under our skin?”

-Megan Abbott, The Fever

 

 

*painting by G.F Marlier 2006