Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Herds of Diamond Centipede


These questions, “what do I want,” “what is it possible to want,” and “what am I” compared reveal my relation with the universe. Right now what I want is a rocking chair, a bag of earth, and the language of rocks delivered into my bloodstream intravenously. Because if I speak like a rock with the needs and desires of a rock I will arrive at the geometry of faucets in which answers evince kilowatts of personality and a knot is a knot is knot. That is to say, a convolution of rope, which smells of the waterfront. If I follow the logic of rope, I will change tenses when it suits me and signify texture with my bones and cackling scraps of consciousness littered here and there like words. Like the glamorous shine of a terra-cotta caboose.
It follows, then, that blood and bone offer imponderable moments of meaning. In this state, the best of ideas which can be come to me in on the backs of lurid creatures blasted into lavish definition by the candy of enigma. I have often thrilled to the splendor of hardware. I can be sincere as an armadillo or ironic as a cat. I can include a conundrum of bone. I can wish for sanctity and redemption. I can hope for bowling. Asparagus. A freshly mown lawn. And yet I do not like asparagus and I own no lawn. What I am this moment is determined by intrigue and the contour and texture of time, which is 9:09 a.m., and time for breakfast. I make scrambled eggs and toast slathered with cherry raspberry rhubarb jam and watch the news on Le journal de France 2. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has resigned after only five months in office but will form a new government tomorrow, which will exclude left-wing Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg who made outspoken attacks on the deficit-slashing policies of France and the Eurozone which he blamed on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Monsieur Montebourg said the rapid deficit-cutting within the Eurozone was an “economic aberration” imposed by Ms Merkel’s “right-wing dogma” which was “throwing Europe into the arms of extremist parties which want to destroy Europe.”
What is reality? The question simulates wax.
But really, what is it? What is reality? A slice of toast still warm enough to allow a pat of butter to melt and become absorbed into the soft substance of the toasted bread.
The sharp granule which has strayed from Toby’s litter box and is under my heel in the bathroom.
Edges, snow, studios, coasts.
Reality is that hurricane of inscrutable pink in the candle next to the coffee cup with the faces of the Beatles as they appeared in 1965.
Charles Baudelaire listening to Wagner.
As for goals, I have no goals. I want to visit Paris at least one more time. I want a haircut that resembles fog.
I’m an aging organism. An organism full of other organisms. Organelles, mitochondria, bacteria. My being is a constellation of microbes and cells and colloidal particles such as spaghetti.
Emotion is sweat. The lather of high intensity evolving into a travel accessory. Free will when it mulls a moment in a rocking chair. A conundrum ranked as a grassy thought. The feeling of fingers in electricity. Coal and the hardware of song. Spit and adjectives. Claws and wings. Eternity turning viscous with gestation, the birth of another star. And when the buttons are green the emotion is partly mercury. Who turned the faucet? Tattoos argue gloom. Their narratives obscure the parchment of skin with a scripture of the streets, dragons and roses, snakes and palm trees. As for me, I prefer abstractions. The charm of antiquity, the contempt of dragons.
Herds of diamond centipede moving toward a carnival of aphids.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hand of a Thousand Fingers


For me, the poetic is what stands opposed to industry, to the circularity of routine, the predictability enforced by purpose, circumstance impoverished by utility. There is a sense in poetry that poetry has its own physics, its own laws. It doesn’t. But the illusion of illimitable experience is exciting and sweet.
One can, however, defamiliarize the world using the right set of images and syntax. And here what is strange is that language, a preeminently social medium, is ruptured and broken in such a manner that it loses its social function of communicability and becomes something else. Becomes wild and precipitous.
The more I’m forced to do something I don’t feel like doing the more deadened I feel inside. Being contracts. Mind contracts. Poetry is an antidote. Poetry is to the venom of servitude what antivenom is for snake bite.
There are numerous occasions in which it is to our benefit to do something against our will. I have no solution for that. I just know that a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine helps when the task has finished. I would compare poetry to whiskey or wine. But the comparison holds more liquid than is apparent. Poetry does more than rejuvenate the spirit. It opens vistas.
Why are some people more receptive to its influence than others? I can’t say. I don’t have a clue.
It happens that, by a physiological curiosity, that phonation is linked to a current of air emanating from our lungs. The mouth shapes the air into sounds that become signs, symbols, images. Signs for desires, signs for needs, signs for objects, and all of it linked to breath. To pneuma. The spirit as air.
The most intense, most intimate, most private emotions are struggled into the air. Struggled into sound. Struggled into sense. Into sense and sentence and sentience.
Steam, silk, abstraction. Mathematics and law. Rovers on Mars. Lovers in morgues.
I find it curious that we are never the same around the same people. Some people are easy to be around and some people make us feel awkward and fearful. Some people bring out our best, as the saying goes, and some people make communication so difficult that expressions come out of us wrongly or stupidly distorted, awkward and inappropriate.
Continual practice with language makes it easier to disguise one’s feelings. It also makes it possible to discover feelings, to embellish them. To give them fur and fangs and tails and scales.
Declaration, fantasy, convulsion.
Sensations before they become automatic.
Whatever it is that constrains being, causes us to modify our reactions, the speed by which our minds respond to a given situation, to conserve certain ideas, to restrain ourselves from saying certain things or using certain words, are deformations. Sometimes these modifications are performed in order to acquire a better understanding. This becomes increasingly difficult according to systems of belief, different gods, different mythologies, different values.
I’ve noticed over the years the powerful seductions of deception. I can see how incredibly easy it would be to lose sense of one’s authentic being and react with such conformity to the social environment that even in private the truer feelings would go numb and obscure.
Nothing destroys a poem faster than the desire to make oneself understood.
Infinity, remarks Poe in Eureka, is by no means the expression of an idea, but of an effort at one.
A word is a proposition. It produces an image linked to a system of reference, actual sensation, or act. Configuration, fragment, or hook.
Language is a comparable to a hand with the independence of its fingers, only this hand has thousands of fingers. The ears are astonished to find what a pair of such hands can do on a piano.  

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Crazy Inheritance


We inherit in our 60s the decisions we made in our 20s. My inheritance, then, is simply this: a life lived simply and comfortably and joyfully, but without children (no way could I have ever afforded them), or secure retirement from a lucrative career. My career, if I were to so distinguish it with that curious word, was one of poetry. The jobs I held over the years to support myself involved a lot of boredom, mops and brooms and paintbrushes, bars sanded, lights installed, radiators spray-painted silver, mail chewed, digested, and vomited by Pitney Bowes machines. These “occupations” provided a modest amount of social security in my dotage, but not a poolside chaise-lounge in Palm Springs or (for that matter) Jackpot, Nevada.   

I timidly announced to people  -  employers who often prevailed on me to work overtime especially   -  that while I was theirs to exploit in exchange for money for X number of hours per day, the rest of my time was mine, and I took it very seriously, because I was a writer. I never said poet. That would have invited strange looks and laughter.  

I did take poetry very seriously as a form of occupation. Whether I could call it work or not would invite a discussion about the nature of work. I’m sure that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie think of acting as a form of work, but it’s a form of work that sure as hell beats swabbing toilets on a cruise ship, or running mail through a Pitney Bowes machine. Pays a lot better, too.  

Europe has never had a difficulty in appreciating the labors of the intellect as a genuine form of labor. That has never been the case in the United States. Thoreau’s experiment in the woods, as lauded as it was once in American letters, always had the patina of curiosity about it, as something bizarre and eccentrically ascetic. It was the severity of his asceticism that somehow made it ok. He endured privation. Therefore, whatever his intellect produced had value.  

But what if, rather than words, a person were to concentrate on mathematics or geometry? Without, that is to say, the sanction of institutional funding. Someone whose resources allowed them to do nothing but work out equations. Equations for what? Equations are inherently utilitarian, and so this work, however eccentrically positioned, would have value. 

Poetry, which is nothing anyone wants, is considered an extreme indulgence. Poetry does nothing to provide food or shelter. It doesn’t transport anyone, at least not in the literal sense of roads and distance. It’s pretty hard to champion poetic endeavor as a genuine form of work.  

If a person produces a best-selling novel that makes a lot of money no one questions for even an instant the value of the author’s work. Money sanctions that activity immediately and unequivocally. So that to write a body of poetry, which not only doesn’t make money but requires a little money to produce, and is considered worthless outside of being a minor entertainment or, at best, an epiphany of folk wisdom, a sustaining parable to bolster life’s emotional upholstery, has something seditious about it.  

Even teenagers getting together with drums and guitars in somebody’s garage receive greater respect than the isolated activity of a poet.  

Emily Dickinson gets a pass because she lived with her family in a big Victorian house and baked bread and behaved like a proper woman. And that in a New England, Puritan environment. Which makes her poetry all the more wonderful. But nobody would pause to think Emily led a life that in any way rollicked in irresponsibility à la Charles Bukowski.  

Walt Whitman gets a pass because he celebrated American industry and the rugged individual. His poetry has patriotic fervor.  It’s open and palpable. Everybody gets it. It’s not weird. Not like, say, those freaky French guys, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Rimbaud. No no. Not like that. Whitman is full of backbone, large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud, and affectionate. He didn’t spit on the bourgeoisie. He praised everyone and everything uniformly. The work of the prostitute was just as worthy as the work of the tinner, pike-fisher or President. Whitman doesn’t tax the mind with overwrought images or strange metaphors and is therefore one of us, whoever us is.  

Jack Kerouac gets a pass because he was a drunk. America likes its artists drunk. Or addicted. Troubled. Colorful. Chaotic and tempestuous. They’re redeemed by their obvious maladaptation, which threatens nobody’s ego. People enslaved to the workaday world of mind-deadening routine can appease the hollowness of their lives with the excuse of prudence and rationality. If they hadn’t burdened themselves with the practicalities of survival they could’ve been artists, too. Oh sure, I hate going to work, hate the commute, hate my boss, despise my co-workers, but the hell, at least I’m not crashing a Cadillac convertible into a tree or pissing into some lady’s fireplace.  

Artists and poets who teach get a pass because teaching is still considered a respectable job. It’s a bit like being a midwife. They’re aiding in the birth of other artists. Who will graduate from college and decide to go into law or business, or (horror of horrors) pursue a life in the arts. Parents whose kids opt for the latter would probably like to strangle the teachers that inspired that decision, but don’t excoriate the profession or the college. There does remain, however, a nasty ambivalence with regard to the humanities in colleges, which is becoming significantly less ambivalent of late and more openly hostile. That’s partly because college now is fucking expensive. Kids graduate with a huge debt. This puts a pretty big stink on the bohemian life.  

And yet, poetry persists. The allure of devoting one’s life to poetry is still very much a vocation for some. I’ve met a lot of young poets who evince a character of professionalism about it, which strikes me as very odd, considering the fact there is really no money in it.  

It wasn’t until my mature years that it began to dawn on me that my devotion to poetry was not going to result in the kind of life that Mick Jagger leads. No chateau in the Loire valley, no paparazzi, no invitations to read my work at the opening of the Grammy Awards.  

The decision to pursue poetry as a full-time devotion is not really a decision at all. It just happens. It’s a drive. It’s a compulsion. It’s a kind of intoxication. Divine madness, if you will. Plato was aware of this. That’s why he chose expulsion from the Republic for poets.  

As the two most famous examples have shown, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens demonstrated that you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can maintain a career that pays a comfortable income and write poetry on the side. As you retire into your room to write you may jeopardize your relationship with your spouse and children, but as long as you pay the bills, you will be provided a generous margin for these indulgences.  

I had a shot at that route. College was so cheap at the time it was virtually free. I could’ve graduated with a degree in law or, at the very least, a Master’s degree in English literature, without incurring a lot of debt. I could’ve taught or practiced law and still lived the American Dream while retiring into my den to write poetry.   

I didn’t. Life was very different in the late 60s. Few people my age thought about careers. We mocked careers. Career was a dirty word. It invited contempt. Life was all about freedom. Free love. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. That came to an abrupt end circa 1975. 

People got very serious in 1975. The hallucinogenic, shamanic quest for divine knowledge morphed into leisure suits, mirror balls, exclusive clubs and Backgammon. 

I still don’t know what happened. But it happened. And I continued to write. It would often piss me off in the ensuing years when people congratulated me on sticking to my 60s values. The modesty of my life circumstances had nothing whatever to do with maintaining some sort of hippy-dippy asceticism. I wasn’t into yoga or communal living or any of that nonsense. I liked money. I continue to like money. I would’ve loved to have money. But the power poetry held on me was much stronger. It truly was an addiction. It was stronger than alcohol or heroin.  

So I guess you could say my inheritance was one of addiction. Though I wasn’t strictly a poet, either. I wanted what Kerouac had: a life as a poet and a writer. I love prose more than poetry, in fact, which is how I started writing that strange hybrid called prose poetry. But that’s another story.

I don’t see my life now so much as an inheritance as a detour. Nobody inherits detours. Detours are detours; they’re not destinations or goals or ambitions, they’re deviations, diversions, unforeseen events.  

Detours are most apt to be irritating and bad on the shocks of your car and windshield due to all the potholes, craters, gravel and irregularity of the road, but there’s also something very alluring about detours. Even when they piss you off, they’re kind of fun. They take you where you didn’t expect to be, and you see things you didn’t expect to see. That’s the best kind of inheritance; not the fat check, but the strange painting in the attic that turns out to be worth…. nothing.  

Well, alright, this is no fairy tale. Life is no fairy tale. Who wants a fairy tale? Don’t we all hunger for something richer? I know I do. And my life isn’t over. 
 

 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not Only Water


What I hear is not only water but rain. But isn’t rain water? No, rain is rain. Rain is water, yes, but rain is also life in thought and beautiful drops, beautiful contours, that splatter into puddles, which are something else again. Rain unties the knot of the sky and lets its burden fall. Rain is acrobatic and measles. Muddles and muddies the ground. Rain is to water what words are to a paragraph: the paragraph is a puddle, words fall individually in drops, beads, secrets spilled and expanded into an aesthetic, an elegant pain called poetry.  

Why pain? Writing reveals, always, the wound of existence. Which is often also a pleasure.  

All that I hear is me and tinnitus.  

The vast splendor of air in mid-August luscious and glazed in the streets.  

The lucid air of Vermeer, which is filled with sleeves and maps and pearls. Which is a crowning of space, a scripture of paint, the color of serenity exciting a sense of honest calm.  

This is about nerves. Impulse and mahogany. Consciousness in light. A universe made of dots, as in Dagwood, in which Blondie has a zip code and bathes alone. And is sometimes a lion of femininity.  

Sometimes I might hear a stone. It permits personality to occur because the stone is a stone and does not have a personality. Unless the stone smiles, in which case the stone is not a stone but a face of stone. Theodore Roosevelt or Crazy Horse. 

People shine red when their mouths open. Otherwise, they eat in silence, flipping pages of a book or magazine, or staring into a laptop screen, or tiny Smartphone app. The world has turned electronic. In the days of my youth it was psychedelic. Now it’s all pixels and apps and algae rhythms.  

Downtown there are hats. Rifles. The vibrant life of the crowd. The thirst for genuine experience. A baroque wildlife epitomized by water in the Cascades, our local mountains, our naked rain.  

Let’s not forget waterfalls and fungus. Lichen on rocks creating beautiful tapestries of nuance and intricacy. The milk of harmony which is alive as a glossary of dirt and its vocabulary of fertility and rot. Its wonderful paradoxes of life in death and death in life. And in which the eggs of dragons are leathery and white and await the agitations of new life, new wings and flames.  

The spots were there before the leopard, says Whalen. Now explain the panther. 

I can’t explain the panther, but what is this fascination with names? Naming things is a focus. Naming the water rain is a sewing of relations, a rapture of anther and pen.

 

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Seeking a Voice in the Dead of Night


Most of us tire of thinking and feeling. I know I do. I tire of thinking and feeling. I don’t know which is more tiring thinking or feeling. Or which is which. When is thinking thinking and when is feeling feeling? Because this duality is odd. Thinking may be a form of feeling in the same manner that feeling may be a form of thinking. It’s easy enough to separate these two activities in writing because there are no limits to anything in writing. But in actuality thinking and feeling are not two separate activities but a dynamic involving the body in its entirety, blood, bones, muscle and brain. We might think we know what a feeling is but what’s thinking? We might think we know what a feeling is but do we? I’m already tired.
Thinking is feeling and feeling is thinking. Even mathematicians operating at the most abstract level must feel a sense of exhilaration or euphoria or bewilderment and mystification, a sense of the sublime, an emotional hunger for endless combinations, an intoxicating exultation not unlike the emotions of poetry when word and image condense to form a surge of electrical power.
In poetry feeling and thinking are as synonymous as the words for luminosity, iridescence, or tincture and saturation.
It’s easy enough to feel a feeling but hard to say just what a feeling is. Is there a single feeling or a palette of feelings? Are feelings sloppy and chaotic or more like hobbies? Are they dangerous and destructive, obstacles to rational thought, as Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics maintained, or do they give meaning to existence, act as vital components to our being in the conduct of our everyday living, fueling us with desire, bonding us together with the warmth of camaraderie, empathy and compassion?
One thing is for certain: they’re tiring. That’s true. I get tired of feeling. Anxiety especially. Anxiety happens in thinking about awful events. That is to say one doesn’t think they’re going to happen and one’s  thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy fueled by pessimism and bile, no, there is an expectation of something awful about to occur or darkening the horizon, something possibly fated but unquestionably out of your control. It’s a sense of dread. But the dread isn’t an engine creating dread. It’s a dread born of experience, a long history of betrayal and disappointment and other disasters that have eroded one’s sense of stability and led one to expect the worse. Accidents, death, disease, treachery, deceit, totalitarian police state, imminent collision with an asteroid that’s been hurling through space for eons, sudden inexplicable arrest by thugs at the door carrying you off to prison, war, famine, insanity, gunfire, rabid dogs, howling wolves, sharks gliding under an inflatable raft. All these dreadful shadows and premonitions in clouds of bishop purple churning around and around in one pound of brain.
And then there’s Seattle gridlock. Seattle gridlock on a hot summer day is fatiguing in the extreme. Thanks to egregiously bad, dysfunctional city planning you can’t drive anywhere in Seattle during the early morning and afternoon hours. It’s bumper to shiny bumper, heads pressed against steering wheels, people cursing, construction and cranes and dust and giant trucks filled with windshield dinging dirt and gravel, leviathan SUVs drifting from one lane to another without looking and inches or less from collision and exchanging insurance numbers, people all with the same expression of slavish deadened being, isolation and frustration and cars honking and traffic lights hanging eternally red in mockery of time and movement and progress.
Yesterday it took us one hour to go 6.8 miles from Best Buy at Northgate to home. Best Buy was a huge disappointment. We thought that there would be a generous assortment of Bluetooth clock radios to choose from but there was just one model Apple’s iHome which looked nice but it’s not compatible with my equipment. It was a wasted trip. And I didn’t receive a good answer for our questions about Wi-Fi connections. We did at least get a couple of great burgers at the Northgate Red Robin.
Finding a good bedside clock radio has become a challenge. You’ve got a choice between the drugstore cheapies with poor reception or the luxury models like the Bose Wave Music System at about $500.00 or the Tivoli Music System at about $600.00. There’s no middle ground, unless you spring for a model with a docking station for a smartphone or an iPod at the very least or better yet a Bluetooth device which can access the Internet and stream Internet radio shows. That appears to be the best way to go, but the requisite smartphone or tablet to access the Bluetooth device will add another $200.00 or so to the cost. Then there’ll be an accompanying monthly subscription fee for Wi-Fi, Ethernet or an AT&T wireless data connection, which is going to run around another $100.00 dollars, depending on the amount of data you want, and whether you plan to download movies or hifalutin’ video games.
If all you want is a clock radio with great reception there are a few models on the market, such as the Sangean WR-2 tabletop radio with an external AM Antenna Terminal, easy to red LCD display, digital tuning system, bass compensation for richer bass, rotary bass and treble control, and 10 memory preset stations, 5 for FM, 5 for AM, all for a little over a $100.00. This is tempting, but in a city like Seattle, which lost its one progressive radio station, you’re stuck with one or two talk shows with a decided right-wing leaning, and the usual Classic Rock, Urban Contemporary, Adult Contemporary, Dance, Sports, Business News, Rhythmic Oldies, Golden Oldies, Oldies from the Oligocene, Top 40, Jazz, Hip Hop and the ubiquitous and consummately bland NPR. I should also mention KEXP, which is by far the most eclectic and interesting.
The kind of station I’m looking for, aside from progressive talk radio, is what the French have: discussions of science and philosophy, literature, poetry, plays, conferences, lectures, and contemporary culture.
The biggest frustration is the lack of retail stores where you can look and feel and get a taste of the product before committing to its purchase. I cannot find a store that offers Tivoli or Sangean products, or anything remotely looking like a clock radio above the cheapies offered at drugstores and big box stores. There was a Radioshack at the Northgate mall but it was the size of a storage closet and all they had on the shelf were a few boomboxes. When I asked about a Sangean radio at Best Buy they said they didn’t have it on the shelf but they could go ahead and order it. But why would I do that? I could’ve done that from home, and it defeats the whole purpose of struggling through Seattle gridlock to go to a store where I can look at the product.
Thus, I’m prepared to surrender. If you want radio along the lines of what the French have, you pretty much have to stream it from the Internet. This makes a clock radio with Bluetooth a must.
If you’re an insomniac like me, someone prone to anxiety and worry, nothing beats a good radio, particularly one that access nearly anything during the night. It takes the edge off oblivion. Just the light of those luminous LCD digits is a comfort. But the luxury of hearing someone talk about Plato or Frederic Nietzsche, or read the poetry of Paul Celan or André Breton, or hear information about Europe’s Rosetta, the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, rather than hear “Stairway to Heaven” or “Smoke on the Water” for the umpteenth time is irresistible.
Next step: buy a tablet. 

 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Waggle Dance

 
Just before I fell asleep I heard Lucinda Williams sing “the air is getting hotter, there’s a rumbling in the skies,” which kicks off Dylan’s wistful song “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.” I like the way she does this song, with her world weary feminine voice, very western, the kind of woman who does a man’s work and has a man’s toughness but is still very much a woman.  
And yesterday was full of thunder, weird summer showers in which the rain sparkles in sunshine and you wonder where is the rain coming from? You look up and see a cloud and wonder how all that water can be up there, how did it get there, evaporation obviously, but still, it’s weird on such a day, and later it rained so hard on our way to Stevens Lake I thought the windshield was going to crack from the hard splatter of it.  
And by the time we got back on I-5 after our visit the sun was out and it was hot enough to get the air conditioner going.  
Lots of people yelling and lighting firecrackers last night as Seattle concludes its Seafair Parade with fanfare and fireworks. To his day I know little about that celebration other than it has pirates, locals who get themselves up with black patches and hairy chests and turbans and three-corner hats and ride around on a float made to look like a Spanish corsair and terrify the population with their hijinx. And then there’s a hydroplane race at the far south end of Lake Washington and somebody wins and trophies are presented and drunks fall off their boats into the water and the Blue Angels scream overhead and close-toed shoes are required to visit the hydroplane pits. 
Me, I prefer being at home watching Deadwood with Ian McShane and eating hot dogs and three-bean salad and coleslaw. 
And again the Blue Angels today. One flew over Roberta as soon as she got off work. She could read the writing on the wing: U.S. Navy, in yellow letters.  
I have a head full of roars, motor noises, rockets. Someone yelling. There is always someone yelling.  
Great inky eternity walks by in a cricket bikini. I find thirst in delirium, delirium in thirst. Extraterrestrial zippers and nihilistic éclairs. It helps to wax delinquent about a lip.  
Apparently the real Wild Bill Hickock suffered cataracts, a result, probably of a sexually transmitted disease. He had buckshot in his body left over from his gunfight with the McCanles gang. He wore his favored Colt Navy revolvers butt-forward in his sash for a cross-draw.  
Gravity bleeds monsoons. I consider the cumulative energy of hair.  
And beards. Tinctures of glass. Candles. Puddles. Spitgots. The irreducible sound of emotion in a nipple of music. A fountain my mind plays, the image of it, water squirting up, cherubs and angels pissing, jetting it from the mouths, the bivouac of turtles, the parchment of bark.  
A mind like Mallarmés “Reminiscence,” the smell of travelers, the snow of summits, lilies, or “other white things constitutive of wings inside.”  “Gymnastic feats that go along with daytime.”  
Poets, writes Duncan, we hear languages like the murmuring of bees. Swarm in the head. Where the honey is stored. An instinct for words where, like bees dancing, in language there is a communication below the threshold of language. 
We go shopping at QFC for root beer, wine, and fried chicken. Roberta disappears into the wine section. I go looking for her. She’s nowhere to be found. I go past the aisle on one side, then past the aisles on the other side. I see the same two people pondering bottles, a woman in her 30s, and a bearded man of roughly the same age. People always looks so studious pondering wine bottles. But no Roberta. I go back out onto the floor away from the wine section and glance around. Still no Roberta. Then it occurs to me that maybe I’ve been imagining a wife all these years and not I’m not married at all. And now I’m suddenly awake. And single. But if that’s the case, who were those people I was with yesterday? I finally see Roberta walking toward me from the dairy section. What’s she doing down there? I was looking for you, she says. You were nowhere to be found. 
At home, I become greatly intrigued with that communication below the threshold of language that Duncan mentions, and Jacque Lacan’s statement that the unconscious is structured like a language. What in the world does he mean by that? My mind is still stuck on the goo of wax and honey in Duncan’s image of a hive. Like bees dancing, he says.
Bees do, indeed, dance. They do a dance called the waggle dance, which is a figure-eight dance in which information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen can be found, to water sources, or to new housing locations. For instance, a figure-eight shaped waggle dance of the honeybee (Apis mellifera) oriented to 45º to the right of ‘up’ on the vertical comb indicates a food source 45º to the right of the direction of the sun outside the hive.
The name was inspired from a part of the dance behavior in which the bee standing on the comb shakes her body from side to side 15 times a second. She runs in a circle back to the point where she started waggling, repeats the waggle phase, and again runs in a full circle, but this time in the opposite direction the starting point, so that the two parts together approximate a figure of eight lying on its side. Flowers that are located directly in line with the sun are represented by waggle runs in an upward direction on the vertical combs, and any angle to the right or left of the sun is coded by a corresponding angle to the right or left of the upward direction.  
At least this is the general idea. The direction and duration of waggle runs are closely correlated with the direction and distance of the resource being advertised by the dancing bee. 
The mashed potato begins by stepping backward with one foot with that heel tilted inward. The foot is positioned slightly behind the other (stationary) foot. With the weight on the ball of the starting foot, the heel is then swiveled outward. The same process is repeated with the other foot: step back and behind with heel inward, pivot heel out, and so on. The pattern is continued for as many repetitions as desired, and may or may not indicate a source for pollen or water. 

 
 

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Calling


What are you but a drifting cloud? inquires Philip Whalen in “Ode for You,” page 682 in The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, edited by Michael Rothenberg.  

And the answer is yes, most certainly: I’m a cloud of water and blood, bone and skin, organelles and mitochondria, protons, electrons, neutrons. Scrambled eggs, scrambled brain. Flapjacks, flattery, fleece. Smells, sounds, thoughts, jungles of hair, jungles of phantom sensation. Jungles of real sensation. Sensations of jungle. Of coffee. Of chocolate. Of a hammer hitting something.  

Metal. Something metal. It has that tinny sound. Like the quack of Vaucanson’s duck.  

That wattle of skin you get under your chin when you enter your late sixties. 

Language gets over everything. What slop. This slithery slippery stuff of travel itineraries and suppositions and maps. Paragraphs like zinnias, semantic kitchens full of symbolic knives. Hills like white dinosaurs. Sumptuously refractive chrome bumpers. Green tea. Rattly machines. Those lush curtains you rarely see in movie theaters anymore. The ones that part just before the previews start. Certainly not those theaters that show ads and TV shows and there are no curtains at all, just mawkish narratives about cancer survivors. Eric Dane on the bridge of a guided missile destroyer looking determined and undefeatable.   

Empires, seminars, conversations, ganglions all over everything. 

This is the wrong climate for developing a calculus of shadows. Better, instead, to develop the luster of association. Elephants eating acacia trees. Cubism. Graceful articulations, golden tinctures of glass, pulp fiction, acoustic religions, olive oil, bivouacs mastered by wrist. 

When we went to Paris one of the first things I noticed was the good condition of the streets and sidewalks. You don’t find that much in Seattle. There are cracks and potholes and craters everywhere. Cranes and construction. The buildings get taller and the streets get worse. The rich get richer and the potholes get bigger. Why is that? The rich don’t pay taxes. The poor do. 

This morning the ocean is imaginary, as the real one is 173 miles west, if we went to Long Beach, which is where we visited 9 years ago, and rode horses. I rode a dappled stallion named Apache through the surf. That ocean was real, but now it’s imaginary, as it’s in my head, where I’m busy remembering it, pulling its image up from my memory banks, and experiencing it again. I would describe this imagined ocean as largely abstract and visual, the more bodily sensations just aren’t there, aren’t happening, not that cold water, the smell of salt and sand and kelp and crustaceans rotting or scampering about, the spread of water over the feet, then suddenly up and past the legs all the way to the knee and higher yet and you think oh shit I’d better get out of here. 

Memories are weird, you know? Like some sort of theater. The same cast of characters in which I sometimes play a role of commendable charm, though most of the time I’m being an asshole, those are the memories that stick, remorse being a powerful form of glue.  

Why aren’t there jobs for daydreamers? And if there were, what exactly would those jobs be? What would they produce? Candles? Underwear? Dreams? People have their own dreams. They don’t need to be manufactured. And really, isn’t that what movies do? Aren’t they a form of dream? Well, they used to be, until they turned into 3-D video games for 8 year olds.

There was a time in my life that I thought being a poet was an actual profession, and that as soon as a book was published, museums were after your notebooks and letters and your closet filled with frilly Regency clothes and you acquired a castle overlooking the Rhine with a rose garden tended by angelic women named Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley or Katherina Baumgartner.  

I learned soon enough that being a poet wasn’t a profession but a calling and that callings generally do not come with incomes. The idea is to sacrifice one’s financial security on the millwheels of commerce and quietly endure the tsunami of rejections until that one vital acceptance arrives and all is made good and wonderful in the world again as you cruise to the local 7-11 for a six-pack to celebrate.  

Books are another matter. Especially now that these wonderful objects have begun to disappear, thanks to the tablets and pads in which the written word has become an electronic medium shining out of a cold hard corporate screen and the words are lost to pop ups and deletion, à la Orwell’s 1984 

Digital books are sent over a wireless network. A controlling company can make them vanish in an instant. Publishing houses that produce books as physical objects are also subject to control due to pressure from a government or vagaries such as market censorship in which only writing that is plainly marketable gets published and more obscure or difficult writing is rejected, at least by the mainstream presses, which come increasingly under the domination of myopic, profit-driven corporations. This, coupled with the near-extinction of independent bookstores, endangers free thought and quality writing. Nevertheless, it’s still much harder to control a physical rather than a virtual reality.

So then comes the task of explaining all your books to people dismayed to see so many books in one place. What is one person doing with so many books? Have you read them all? Are you a hoarder? A madman? A fool? A dangerous eccentric? 

It’s as if you were one of those mad scientists in a late night horror movie sending a hunchbacked man out to find you brains and braunschweiger.  

Tending to bubbling beakers of strange hideous fluids in a dungeon laboratory.  

Creating Frankensteins of poetry, monstrosities of language sutured together with a bloody pen.  

Howling to the heavens atop a storm-buffeted tower for lightning and inspiration.  

If an ocean can be imaginary, so can a profession. Suddenly you’re a Prospero whose tiny studio apartment has become a Bermuda of speculation and whose library has become a dukedom.  

But it’s ok. Deep down you know you’re not the problem. The problem is the pathology putting far too much emphasis on disastrous technologies and exalting wealth above the labors of the intellect.  

The magic (and it is real magic) is to bring something into the world that hasn’t existed before. Something like Poland, or Lapland, a place that evokes roots and forests, shamans and mushrooms, and yet enough industry to make medicine grand without compromising anyone’s wallets or protoplasm. This requires real sweat, real splendor, real sacrifice. The kind of stuff Guillaume Apollinaire would enjoy. Machinery, bistros, massive odors and swollen abstractions.