“You have a voice speaking to you?”
“About me. Accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” – Stranger Than Fiction
A student brings a TED talk to class, in which the presenter started hearing a seemingly innocuous voice narrating her life. The voice is nothing more than an annoyance until she tells her friend that she is hearing it. The friend freaks out, the hearer feels embarrassed, the voice starts to get upset, doctors get involved, and it all rolls down hill from there. The hearer drops out of school, gets admitted, gets control, comes back, starts a foundation and gives a TED talk.
The student asks the class, “What would you have said to your friend?” And my immediate thought, which I hold until after their first few responses, comes out as, “I thought we all heard voices. No?” Silence. A room full of college freshmen is trying to figure out what they have stumbled into. Is their professor mad? Is he trying to be contrary, to bring up another point of view? A voice in my head says, “Well… you brought the students this far. Keep going.”
There have always been voices. Voices describing the world around me. Voices commenting on how Kathrin’s hair looked in the light coming through the window in math class in high school. Voices running scenarios for conversations that need to happen with co-workers or friends. Voices just a few seconds ahead of what I am saying (or writing), digging through the thesaurus in my mind for a better, more accurate, more erudite word. In my writing, when I compose a list of three alternative ways of saying the same thing (see previous sentence) it is a voice that was trying to find the one right way to say it. There are voices asking me big questions. Voices offering alternative answers to big questions. Voices asking “what if” to lesson plans, and product roll-outs, and hypothetical situations. There is always a voice with something mean and wicked to say. Always a voice with some sarcastic retort. And somewhere there is a voice in the background, most often asleep and snoring, who only yells, who when it is awake, only howls.
They have always been there. Sometimes a new one emerges. None have ever gone away.
I have often described my head as a stage with a single microphone, and whoever runs up on stage gets their say. But that’s not my head. That’s my mouth. In my head, all the voices are backstage practicing. All are paying close attention to the action before the curtain. None knows when they will be needed. And whom am I in all this? It’s easy, and partly true, to say I am all of them. It’s more accurate to say I am the sound engineer (the sarcastic voice in my head just said, “Even in your head you’re an AV geek”). I’m the one who runs the board and controls the volume of the voices.
When I was younger I had less control of those sliders. When a woman I was drawn to would walk into the room a sexist, a poet, a comic, and a gentlemen would all pop-up and vie for attention.
“Look at her body! How the curve of her neck bends down into her shoulder. She has such awesome shoulders. She is so hot!”
“Hey, here’s a great line: The room was a vacuum/of air and light/until you turned the handle/to day from night. Write that down, man. Write her a poem.”
“Make her laugh. Tell her the one about the string walking into the bar. A frayed knot. Afraid not. It’s hilarious”
“Take her coat. Clear a seat. Compliment her hair. Ask her about her day. Really listen.”
It was a lot to process in the moment. But I’ve learned control. I no longer rage when someone irritates me. I no longer flinch at every accomplished, attractive woman who walks in the room. I no longer write down every questionable line of poetry. Well, to be more accurate, I no longer do those things outwardly. As I said, all the voices still exist. I now simply have control of the volume.
When I sit down to write, you will often see me cock my head to one side. My mouth tightens and my eyes close. It’s an odd tick. But it’s not a tick. I am trying to push some voice aside and bring another to the fore. I am trying to hear something amid the noise. I am reaching for the voice that has the next line, this line.
I thought (“Say think. Keep it present tense.”) every one had some sort of voiceover in their head, some narrator. When I saw it in movies, I did not consider it to be a plot device or metaphor. Am I wrong? Should I stop teaching college freshmen and get some medication? Or, is it enough that I have learned control, that whatever damage I was going to do in my life is behind me, that the voices are now managed and helpful and useful? Should I keep this to myself and not publish it?
“You’ve come this far. Seriously, what kind of damage can telling the truth do? Copy, paste, publish. Keep going.”
The end is coming. Let me join the long line of doomsayers who wish to predict the end of the world. The end is coming.
Sometime in the next five billion years the sun, which is the source of all our energy, will expand and envelop and demolish the earth. Imagine, for a moment, every town and city and house, every historical venue and world-wonder, every layer of sediment, ever fossil, every satellite and all the servers that hold all the knowledge that we have ever known, gone. And probably, nothing we can do to stop it. We are about halfway through the story of this planet. The end is coming.
For a moment though, let’s go back to the beginning. At the start of this planet something happened. There is no way to know, yet, if it has happened on other planets or in other galaxies. But we know, by our existence, that it happened here. Something in the gas clouds and cooling magmas, something in the magnetic fields and electrical storms, some combination of events gave rise to consciousness. Sometime in, one would guess, the first billion years of the planet, this world grew to recognize that it, itself, existed. And quite soon after that, perhaps in the second billion years, came to realize that at some point it would no longer exist. And so, consciousness set up to build things, devices, beings.
It would be very difficult for an army of ants to move the mountain on which they have built their colony. It would be difficult for the mass of humanity to move the earth on which it thrives. It would be exceedingly challenging for dinosaurs or whales or redwood forest to move the locales in which they live out of the way of the expanding sun and their eminent destruction. Difficult. But without the bodies that make up these creatures it would be impossible. And consciousness realized this and settled for a rather difficult challenge instead of impossible. We are the machines that are probably about halfway through consciousness’s building.
There are probably, really, three possibilities. One, we could use the earth, the source of all our fuel and being, as a spaceship, find a way to add propulsion to it and ride it out beyond the rim of what our sun will become. The challenges with this solution are two-fold. One, the earth is a really delicate place. A shift on it’s axis or too much of one or the other gases and the whole place topples over into something different. Two, the source of all our heat and light and energy is the sun that we need to outrun. In cold dead space what will we use as fuel? Perhaps the molten core at the center of the earth? Perhaps.
The second possibility is that we build ships, load up everything we can off the earth into metallic boxes and head out into the universe. We still have the question of a fuel source. We have questions about how long to sleep and what is the length of a day when we no longer live on a twisting earth near a vortexing sun. There are a thousand other engineering puzzles that we need to overcome. But, in our mindshare of stories this seems to be our most popular possibility. The caution needed here is that if we are taking everything with us, we need to take everything. It is not enough to simply sustain human life. Human life is just one of the many containers of consciousness, and if we just take these bodies and a few food sources, we will quickly see how little we hold within ourselves, growing mad and thin and lonely.
The third possibility is to care very little about these bodies. After all, before they were flesh, these bodies were ooze, and dirt, and chemicals. We needed them to get off this thing, but they are not consciousness. We could find a way to send consciousness, devoid of flesh, off into the cosmos. It would certainly be lighter and less prone to issues of gravity and death. It would certainly require less maintaining. And haven’t we started this process? Sending radio signals and Voyager out, sending out a record of things. But a record, static and cold, is only the beginning of success. It is not enough to send proof that we existed, snapshots and photographs. We want to send consciousness, intact, in process, out, continuing. This is all of invention, everything we have been doing. Every time we create a tinier device that can hold more information with less power and be more sturdy. Everything from Gutenberg to nano-technology, we continue to ask the same question. How can we sustain consciousness in as little hardware as possible?
As for these bodies, ours, our food’s, viruses. They are very little to worry about. If it takes us another billion years to figure this problem out, the flesh at the time will be something very different we send out. It’s an interesting filter to consider the issues of the day through. Why bother with some people who are living in squalor? Why care that some are hogging all the resources? Why include people of different orientations, mindsets, abilities, histories in the conversation of saving our consciousness? Because we must sift through ideas from everywhere. We must try everything. There is as much chance that success will come from the edges as it will from anywhere in the center. Because an army of ants trying to lift a mountain is damn near impossible. Doing it with some people tied behind your back makes it that much more challenging and completely foolish.
The end is coming. There are forces greater than our consciousness that will destroy us. Here is the call to every scientist to study the nature of consciousness. Try to figure out how it began, and more importantly, how we can transport it out of reach of the red giant our sun will become. To all clergy, look into your divine history. Reread about gardens and arks, about covenants and surrendering to God, about suffering and unity. Teach us what your traditions say about how to get us off this crazy thing. To the power-brokers, your influence means nothing if it is only meant to make your own people safe and comfortable. We will all die in unison if we can’t solve the near impossible.
Oh, and if we do nothing. If we, in this human form, twist the earth on its axis or release too much gas, do not worry. We have come through, we figure, five extinction level events where almost every little consciousness holding device on earth has been destroyed. We can go through another. It just means we need to start over on the puzzle. And, even if that ends up being what happens, we should probably leave some clues behind for the next bodies. After all, isn’t that what fossils and amber are for?
Imagine an impassioned speech here, something from your favorite book or movie. Just place it in your mind in this paragraph. We will either succeed or we will not. We will either work to create an embodiment that can survive the blankness of space, or yet another extinction, or we will not. The quest will go on, the plan laid out in those first billion years. Outrun our own demise. Allow consciousness to survive. Everything else is play time, and distraction, and the work of mortals. Everything we should be doing is to prevent the end of all ends.
I’m never going to hit a baseball
in a perfect upward angle
over the twisting head of a left fielder who takes one step
just in case, to calculate
the arc and the speed of that now elliptical projectile
twisting over the horizon.
That revolution, of my shoulders around my body,
of the interlocking leather
laces around the ball, of my spikes around the base pads,
that opportunity is gone to me.
Gone because I was born left-handed with one bad eye
and taught to throw and hit right.
Gone because I never practiced, obsessively. Gone because
no one gets to keep their first love.
Gone because all things in life are like playing ball.
Even when you are on the mound
twisting your fingers over the laces of the thing trying to find
your grip, you hold nothing
for long. At best it’s a hot potato that must be thrown
round the horn, or brought in,
or cut off, of beaten back with a well-angled stick.
In the rare moments you can hold it,
life or a baseball, it is best done with a thick glove,
dug out of the dirt and brushed off,
picked from the sky and thrown in, fast as you can.
I’ll never write that novel, win the Nobel,
have my work held up as anything other than utility.
The veins on my hands
are starting to pronounce themselves. Mirror desaturates the colors.
Everything’s going grey.
What I’m telling is a fine tale unfolding in the fifth inning,
an interesting brush stroke
or two, the way the paint has dripped and dries
into thick raised lines. What I have now
are things to cheer for from the stands, an imagination smacking
the sound of a balled up fist into a mitt.
To the almond-eyed friends who learned to love me
despite a loud voice and no sense of propriety.
To the muscled walls of jeers and fists who used me
as a butt of jokes and pushed me to move.
To the ideals who refused to allow me to stay close
and instead remained on the other side of subtlety.
To my hatreds and my hobbies that have stuck
to my skin no matter how often I’ve itched them
Our animal natural is close, a thousand pounds
on our chest, a weight on every bone.
Though we may like to fly, gravity and rage grounds,
a warm meal granting out bellies a moment to dream.
I didn’t want to hand write
this to you. I wanted to call
on an old phone. I wanted
to board a train wearing
white robes. Sleep in a flat
car, rocking in meditation
while we crossed the river.
I wanted to switch into my best
jeans and tell you twenty years
in the past that I know now
what afflicts me. I’ve been
coming into sync with myself,
slowly. Traveling both directions.
That I look out the window
sometimes into my own
reflection in passing. Off
again. The two noses
are coming close. The clocks
are slowed, these new
moments big enough to fill
the car of a train, the vinyl
seats where we sit opposite
each other smiling, healed
by some wrinkle in space.
Finally, face to face.
You won’t know me, at the costume party where we’ve agreed to
meet. I’m hoping to be invisible to you, to add to the murder mystery.
When you show, please be arrogant and beautiful, with great lines
and curves. Slow down just a heartbeat when you pass me. I’ll
run below your radar. It’s a game we play. But not without purpose.
Our hello will have meaning. An impact on the discourse. A dent
in the snow and static, dialing in the picture. Sharp in color and
contrast. Show for show. Only to make the meaning more meaningful.
If you give a mouse a cookie, then tonight he will eat.
If he eats, then tonight he will soundly sleep.
If a mouse can soundly sleep, then he can dream.
If he dreams he will visit a world that he cannot see.
If a mouse visits a world he cannot see, he’ll build it.
When he can’t build it, he’ll demand an education.
If you give a mouse an education, he’ll read and read.
When he reads he’ll learn concepts like inalienable rights.
If a mouse learns about inalienable rights, he’ll understand
they are meant for everyone. If rights are there for everyone
then everybody only needs to be shown. A mouse
will riot and protest. A mouse will picket and get elected.
And then, when nothing changes, a mouse will remember.
He was once hungry. He couldn’t dream.
He couldn’t imagine another world where everyone
is free. And remembering, he will give a mouse a cookie.
Level One thought: I want. Fulfill my want.
Level Two thought: I have wants. Fulfilling one of my wants inhibits fulfillment of my other wants. My wants are in conflict.
Level Three thought: You have wants. Fulfilling some of your wants is one of my wants.
Level Four thought: Sometimes our wants collide. Mine restricts yours. Yours restrict mine. We compromise. We fight.
Level Five thought: Others have wants. People we don’t even know are trying to fulfill their wants. We should want to fulfill some of their wants.
Level Six thought: Wants. Mine, yours, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.
Level Seven thought: Sometimes what prevents others from fulfilling their wants is simply the act of you and I fulfilling our wants.
Level Eight thought: You, and I, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.
Level Nine thought: Identity is the source of wants. The world was never built as an identity-maker, a want fulfilling machine.
Level Ten thought: The flowers budding up through the tops of the grass are pleasing to the touch, taste, smell, and sight. What is their sound? What else?
Level Eleven thought: All or nothing. Every ounce of consciousness gets out of here alive, or dies.
Level Twelve thought: Nothing is hopeless. In the great march there will be room for every massive and simple thing, even the thunder.
When we played jacks as children
we were crashing planets into planets
mimicking the birth of the cosmos
acting as The Hand that might lift us.
When we jumped ropes in rhymes
we were intuiting string theory,
leaping in and out of existence
hoping we’d never slip, and trip.
The swings, in short order,
allowed us to feel in our bodies
the history of an oscillating earth
spun around an insatiable axis.
We would invent games later
that aped war, land acquisition,
separation, rape, competition
that doles out praise’s resource.
But, for the moment we played
like jazz musicians on the first take
blowing our best breath, uncovering
the turns in which we were made.
In the knot of dirt
below light and air
a skin rips. We’re off
in both directions
towards the heat-core
and the sun. We bear
fruit in the struggle
which sees nothing.
Dark in the throat,
in acid, intestines.
Become a muscle
or a bone. Meat.
How sweet a second
to catch light.
You could compose your tome
about anything, about how you wish
models could achieve the shape
of your wife caught from the side
as she readies herself for bed, beauty
without pretense. You could
compose your tome about the field
across the road, where one could
imagine a labyrinthian park
leading to a hidden lagoon. You could
speak about the sunrise or the moon.
Here, in this place, now-light that greets
you each morning as a gallery opened
exclusively for you. Instead you linger
on some slight that happened so long ago
US senators had not been born. A kiss
only unconceived CEOs were there for.
A pond gone dry. A barge decommissioned.
A river that cleansed itself of a century
of chemicals. Yet in song you still draw
it and yourself, as perpetually toxic.
The cells grew abnormally
in patterns of wood-grains
consistent with a kitchen utensil
from the 70s. The first spot
on the meat of a right
buttock, the second
across a left cheek. The cells
spread to the top
of the head, where arms
don’t cover when a second
grader cowers around a corner
a teacher can’t see. They spread
to a wrist broken in an accident,
an ankle twisted at soccer,
to lymph nodes in arm pits
chaffed by crutches. And
by no coincidence reach
the brain and heart
The breaks that never heal.
The fasciae that cannot
be unstretched. Bronze baby
shoes now a weight
in some landfill.
The sunset is never the same, not two nights in a row, nor ever.
This spring the grasses that grows will be siblings, not a twin.
Your mother counseling you through a first broken love
based on her own heartache is teaching you to drive
a car she has never owned. Innovation is the only
constant. The second time through the reader
of the book has changed, the ears hearing
the song are new ears. Morning and we
welcome a new dawn, with new skin,
the retina, and the mountains,
and the weather changed.
What’s been built up
under stars. What’s
been torn down
We are the outcome of an orgasm.
The big bang. A series of bad decisions.
Breaking and entering. A convincing
fiction. Animal cruelty. Aggravated
assault. Public drunkenness.
Extortion. Forgery. Domestic violence.
Perjury. Solicitation. Epiphany. Fraud.
We come from the sea. Having won
an unfathomable race. Hung around
in blood. Amoeba. Virus. Anemone.
Amphibian crawling up onto land,
pushed every inch by our mothers.
We’ve hated our mothers who sat up
teaching us math. Divide. Carry the one.
We’ve spent our time singular, alone,
crawling towards points of unity,
of connection, of insemination.
Of desire blown-up into climaxes
of rage. Competition. Championship.
Drawn a universe mechanical, so we
could feel inevitable. Irresponsible.
The earth’s core is iron-nickel
spinning inside tightly wrapped coils
throwing off a magnetic field.
Prick my paper-thin skin
and lava-blood rises up
to fill it in. Call them
mountains. Call them islands.
Call them cliffs. The ocean
out and in while a diver times
his entrance. My core is iron-nickel.
It’s in the center. Not cerebral.
I’ve tried to mine down into
the crust. There must be a way
to tap this. What rises to heal;
metal filings, hip-hop rhythms,
internal slant, solid, and off
rhymes. It’s in the chest, behind
the bone and flesh. Nowhere
near the mountaintop, the apex
the cortex. It’s centered
inside but not in the mind.
The temperature in the reactor
is a hundred and eighteen degrees,
Precise calculations based
on mountains of theory had led us
to know the unequivocal
optimum for fuel-burning efficiancy.
At that temperature an engineer
can survive for an hour before
they require time-off for relief.
Forget your next question
about a cost/benefit analysis. Forget
your MBA training and calculus.
At ten degrees cooler we could
survive for a work week,
survive forever. What more?
The depth of the oceans?
A lack of oxygen? Meters on each
block measuring methane.
We could be calmer, peaceful,
at ease. Cooler in our temp
and standing, for ten degrees.
Every time scientists come close to recreating the first line
of the universe something else breaks. Each of his three wives
with the same middle name. As soon as they discover dark matter
they find out it’s not that dark. The definition of dark matters change.
All those people with alliterative, instructive, character defining names.
As we understand dimensions (three, seven, ten) new ones pop up
inside each other’s unfolding. The unrequited love interest who returns
at the worst (or best) possible moment. The near brushes with cures
for Alzheimer’s just as he is old enough to begin fearing
the horrible disease that killed his father. Stop lights. People counting
out change at the check out counter. A wink at the window. Folks
who pull around corners just as he tries to pull around a corner.
The certain impending doom of death, which will end his story,
whose life expectancy and the bankruptcy of social security
keeps getting pushed back by the scientists and the bureaucrats.
The weird illnesses of timing. Everyone here being named Gregory.
The cameos. The chocolates. The old sage with the knowing grin
who shows up in the second chapter. The click, each day, of a motor.
Cyrus would never say anything. His sworn allegiance is to the story.
But he might give all his figurative currency to see the cover art, read
the book jacket or a review, to catch the ending, or know the title.
What they never told the innocent
who fumbled into the fanning
petal of the lotus, soles up
to the ceiling,
was to forgo
homework. Study instead
these stretches and bends,
focus on learning to fold deeply.
What they never told the misfit
besieged by bullies
was that the peace
he dreamed was common,
basic to human beings, the gift
of inner calm filling his ears
was a key sought
by entire religions.
What they never told the scholar
searching for a course of study
was that the Upanishads
paid a better dividend
than any fee-based major
leading to a salary,that
retirement was daily
within his reach.
What they never told the sage
was to go. Turn
down every promotion
Whirl away from commitment
towards the clean air
leading to the sea.
Land on air. Where we meet.
A shell on a beach appears
designed, born of intention.
Hot springs bubble
minerals up in the desert. Wind
around a butte creates something
beautiful. The land transforms.
Go back to the ocean, before that
to skies swirling above
lakes, sorting ourselves
out in our molten
youth. Metals to the center,
stone on the edge, gas to the sky.
We were wild nomads in our art,
palms on walls. Now we’re asphalt
roads, gridded cities, island
retreats. We’ve built
so many ideal ways
to invent anything.
Let the earth shake and tear
us down, clean slate born
of a fault, our thin layer
of sentiments pressed
into an album, the last
version of our history.
I stare at this wall and want to know
myself. Built-up on beams and dry wall.
Plastered over, painted to match. Holes
cut out for windows, covered in blinds,
filled with panes. Tiny holes cut for cables
carrying energy, data, communication. Walls
hung with artwork, sayings, photos of a past
I must recall. What is my nature beneath
all of this, what space without walls? The arch
of my head away from the sun, my neck against.
“It’s too mean,” in a field of green, a little boy
refusing to mow screams, “to cut down
all the yellow trees. They bring such
happiness to me.”
“But you know,” his mother scorned, “we can’t
let dandelions grow. They’re a weed.”
Her flower beds all trimmed and prim.
Her roses on every stem, pricker-free.
And so he promised, individually, to say goodbye
to every one, and to, with a child’s apology,
tug it free. All day, one by one, head bowed
in kindness, ignoring the falling sun.
When he stretched in the corner, unable to see,
he turned to notice his work had cut
just a small corner. His mother
on the brick porch calling for dinner.
She congratulated him at the door for finishing
such a large chore. “But, I’m not done,” he grummed.
His mom said, “It looks great to me.”
And he turned to see
every dandelion, every one, turned and wilting
towards the setting sun, bowing toward his done corner,
each stem showing green. From his mom’s vantage
her yard again pristine.
Let your work be heart work. Let chores bloom
from your determination. Let your pallet be inked
by those who need your love and your attention,
those whose flowers need defending.
Space never knew it was space, faint
and light thought no thoughts,
could not correlate stroke
nor shade. Paint knew
but could not say. Yellow
fancied the rules between thin
and wide. Some spark gave a hint
to life. Someone spoke of war, some
of scarcity, or sex. What is the stain
but the story? Awareness by the line
of the landscape, of the role it plays.
Composer, fan, and teller of things.
Recall the clouds when you were six
How quickly they would twirl and mix
Painting in their whites and grays
Setting your imagination ablaze
A sea horse kissing a wispy hand
A whale on a trophy stand
A mother’s arms spreading wide
Your old dog Scotty on a water slide
You know looking back that this was dumb
But look up again to where you’re from
What’s naive and slow and now brings rain
Can move and paint your world again.
A girl in pigtails
sits on a pedestal, her toes
dangle off the edge
except when she stands
to skip along the stone’s
sharp edge to play
pirouette, balance beam.
A girl, having never known
a lie except perhaps to hide
or a surprise, never having
known a God-promise
broken, walks with a light
step. Friendly forever…
balance beam, pirouette.
A girl muses why
her mother picks her up
angry, upset with playing. Why
on some days each year
her mother cries, never
saying. The weight
of love and knowing.
Pirouette. Balance beam.
A girl could change
into knowing. Grow strong
like a willow whose bark
is unbending. Walk
across loss and loving.
Thick from what she’s met.
Balance beam. Pirouette.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
It must have been ’96.
A coffee house in Chicago
while on spring break. The air
was cold tinged and the lake
laced still with snowflakes.
I saw my bride sipping
from a blue mug, manilla
pouches in sorted piles
by steam at a round table.
I crossed the tiles between us.
She is trying cases. Looking
for the right word to describe
an act both mean and shameless.
Brazen, I show up before dawn,
hoping again to meet inspiration.
I twist distant strings of maple hair.
She docks her cheek against
her right palm. What comes
comes to both of us. In concert,
in unison, as if from everywhere.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
On the last few stairs you only want for wood flooring,
unconcerned if friends like you or the waitress was flirting.
Cold slats on clammy skin confirm you’ve got nowhere to fall.
Crawl to the bathroom. Hold yourself up by the porcelain bowl.
Find the seat to keep your weight. You’ve done something. Prayed
too many times to slough off this body, imbibed the wrong mix
of wildlife. Held on too long to a sad song or to heartbreak.
No one’s awake. Your body’s shiver has no visible cause.
Nerve endings can’t identify what undermined your sleeping,
what cannot be passed through by the deep focus of breathing.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
We stood in the pit of your not yet existence
in the mud and wind beside towering piles
of two-by-fours on property measured
with sticks affixed with pink streamers
and said we thought you must be a man.
Here, a stud for the pantry. Here a brace
for the floor. Men own houses, fill them
with furniture, fix the holes with spackle,
yell at lights about the cost of electricity.
We knew nothing. Couldn’t hear the bedlam
of laughter bouncing off the not-yet walls,
the weight a whisper will carry by a bedside,
fear that will rise from your unarmed loving,
love that will waft along the scents of cooking.
Bones are not our existence. We live in spaces
that wait for the concerts of air that fill them.
April is National Poetry Month, #30for30
The perfect recall
of saffron, chicken,
oils, and shrimp,
the interaction of foreign spices
the perfect recall of which would render
every other dish inferior, eating pointless.
Memory won’t let us
be thin, won’t let us
be sated by the sex
we had last night, won’t
recall our losses by curdling
our intestines or blocking the air
from our esophagus. Nor recall victory.
Memory is a blunt tool, deft
enough only that we fear
what we fear, that we drive
ever forward reconceiving
of our most painful labors.
The tines of the fork so empty I begged
my gorged friends to let me keep eating.
April is National Poetry Month, #30for30.
Amor can feel like armor, like a suit that suits you,
a shield to reason. When strawberries are fresh,
the raspberries dark and pock marked and ripe
their juice hits your chin as the scents soak your lips.
We’re shaped like this, doling pleasure to pleasure.
A man with strong hands. An ass that’s a handful.
We’re nails and tension, our senses at attention.
Our flesh ripening to corpses. Teeth nibble tight
to deities. Tongues tempt tongue. We can speak,
and clutch a thousand fruitful things. Slice me
open like papaya. All mush in the middle,
all hopeful and fruitful and filled with seeds.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
There’s a red light on a telephone pole along the road where I lived.
The nowhere road runs along the river that been since before the before.
The river melts from ice in a thousand unsettled towns in the mountains
and by the time it winds it’s way to New York City, it’s famous.
New York City is eight million people doing their best to get famous.
Like the river, these people have been there since before the before.
Like the river, the droplets that make up the city are constantly changing.
There was a single lamp on a table in her apartment in Greenwich Village.
We went to dinner. We sat in her apartment. I rubbed her feet. We chatted.
Chatting is what you do when you’d like to exist in a bubble, as the noise
of the city becomes background music and non-existence. A bubble
exists without baggage or consequence. Exists solely on impulses.
Impulse is the energy of the bubble. Energy is what happens to the ice
in the mountains when the sun brushes against it, when beach-worn feet
come in contact with work-calloused thumbs. It melts and flows by instinct
to New York City, hoping to become famous, known by its family.
Family is a collection of like minded or genetically similar individuals
rotating around each other as planets. Planets are interdependent,
threatening at any moment to collapse into each other. At the right distance
they are loved. Too close is craters and magma. Too far and they forget.
Forgetting is the decision to not recall a memory, to let it flow down river,
to stand on the banks, pole in hand, frazzled cut-offs dry above the tides,
jagged rocks tweaking nerve endings on feet. Feet are friends of gravity,
keeping the earth at a distance, allowing us to revolve around existence.
Existence was our moment of being. This story. Before existence there was
no pizza, no river, no feet. Before existence there was no ice, no droplets,
no chance to look back across the river from a bus leaving New York City.
We existed in eddies of air flowing around each other. There was no other.
We shared as breath, as jet-streams of atmosphere. Bubbles popped
into consciousness, churning together the air and water and dirt, churning
together physics and biology and chemistry. Magma become rock, rock
become topsoil, topsoil become blood and bone and beach-smooth feet.
Some day I will breathe out this body. On that day I will miss your feet.
Your chatting voice, which is a famous music to me. But most I will miss
the bubble of your existence. How your being raises impulses in me.
Me? I’m hopeless. A red beacon on a pole. Saving no one from something.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
This hurts. Each waking morning when the janitor
must shutter the theatre, when the plumber must
purge the sludge from the pipes, when dancers
and audience are thrust into the sun-oven light.
Each day to incarnate; a glass of water, a thigh
or an egg. Each day to set weight on meat feet,
in cotton, with metals, to feel the scum and dirt
collect around and inside, and to contribute.
Sex to incarnate. Pets to incarnate. Children,
and friends, and furniture, gams crossed over
gams, fingers in knots. The tug of a blanket.
Acceleration of a stick shift. Quick muscles.
This hurts. Sensing just a sliver of the verse
and calling it all. Hearing the clear voice hint
at else. Amusement at the music that knits us
to this, lifts us. How melancholy. How lonely.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
I have two hobbies I seem unable to stop doing. Despite changes in location, situation, despite job and marriage, two addictions I fight with, succumb to, loathe, and enjoy. Neither seems to have any hope of bringing me any money, and both, in their current technological incarnation, require me to sit in front of a computer for hours with an obsessive level of attention, blocking out all others. When I tell people at parties about one they are excited and interested. When I tell them about the other they give me a lilting “Ooohhh,” like I have just suggested I am a proctologist or a garbage man.
When I say I am an online poker player no one says, “I love poker. I used to play it in high school. But, you know, you grow up and life just gets away from you. I wish I still played.” When I tell people I am a poet no one says, “Like the guys on TV? Do you make tons of money at it? My co-worker has a cousin who goes to Vegas once a year to write poetry and comes back with ten grand in profit.” I am neither of these things.
On both tables I am a small time gambler. I’ve had minor successes. I have spent most of my time angry and frustrated. I see each as a struggle against reason, mysticism, and luck, as managing everything you can in this little universe, and then being held aloft at the whim of fate. Both are a fight, a duel, a match with something that others do way better and with way less effort. If I am to be honest, both are a waste.
What no one has been willing to say to me– or at least not follow up saying after the first intellectual parry which most addicts have at the ready, perfectly logical reasons why this thing I have given my life over to is not awful– is that these are not equal addictions. No one has been willing to delve into the question of why people love and miss poetry, and lament and fear poker.
There is the pedestrian part of it, the worry about losing money or time. But I have seen friends who collect action figures, or those who attend cosplay events and comi-cons, or those who run triathlon, or those who collect art or travel the world, spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours more than me on their addictions. See the addict’s justification.
The real difference, the real distinction no one seems to highlight is the impulse behind each. There are better and worse jobs in the world. Better or worse professions. And they have nothing to do with time, or money, or work-life balance. They have to do with the sum of your efforts and what you create. They have to do with what slim chance you have at your job to raise consciousness, ease other’s pain, lift up our species, and save the planet.
There are jobs you can do in this world, hobbies you can have, that will make only your own life better, that will improve the safety, security, and fashion sense of your family and friends. They will get you a house in a good neighborhood and ensure your kids go to great colleges. Poker has that potential. I could go on one run, one summer at the World Series of Poker and make what they call, “Life changing money.”
Finance, Wall Street, Patent Trolls, Hollywood Producers. Anyone who claims that their risk, and the reason they need the lion’s share of any reward, is putting up money has never worked a good job a good day in their life, has never really risked anything. Never made anything. They have never put their very being at risk. They have no chance of helping Jane get us off this crazy thing. We’ll never get off this rock led by a poker player, a money changer, a speculator.
And maybe I have no chance either. But the stand-up comedian, the folks who build houses, the doctors, and the coaches, and the teachers, and the artists who do their art with only the smallest hope of any reward; they have a chance. They have this small slim chance to be the ones who open the epiglottis of the world just enough for one good idea, one new thought to get through. Everything else is fear, protection, and self-indulgence.
Knowing this will I stop playing poker? Of course not. That’s not how addicts work. I am convinced in my limbic system that I am trying to solve something, that there is a puzzle there worth wrestling with, though my reason knows that’s wrong. It’s not even a little about money. I will continue to try and hack this matrix. And poetry, I hold out hope there too, fanned by the flames of myself and others who believe in its worthiness. Maybe that idea is out there, the new one, the one that will save us all. Or maybe, that too, is just projection and illusion. Perhaps poetry is also passing around worthless chips.
We had been flirting for months, little gestures between freshmen that made incidental contact in the hallways worthwhile without risking the relationship I was having trouble exiting. One night, studying in the commons, Beatriz suggests we hang out in her room. And I let loose, tell her I would love to, but that my intentions are carnal, my desires, primal. Beatriz again suggests we hang out in her room. Winks, and says she’ll be waiting. And I can’t. Because of morality. Because of commitment. Because of a promise who will dump me a week later. Then Beatriz will not have me a month later. Then Beatriz will die a year later. And to no eyes will I look again with that thunder, with that longing. Her name an ever present echo in my psyche.
They loved like freshman love, which is to say deeply and in the moment, life threatening, and fleeting. One undone by the simple ties of staid culture, the other unset by sexual rejection. In reality, their fleeting glances registered on no spectrum in the universe. Saturn did not stop spinning. Centaurus burned just as bright for billions of years. The big bang and big crunch went on unheeded in all directions, whether or not some obscure atoms snuggled up next to each other for a passing millennium, century, or evening. Not one thing was changed by her passing.
“Once a man cheats…” Beatriz’s mother would tell her, ten months after we dated, and hated, and broke up. Beatriz would never blame my weakness for her cancer, but her mother would. I would try to explain the violence, the screaming, how, near the end neither of us could be in the same room without things being thrown. Her mom would simply yell, “Liar! Murderer!” Explain that her daughter was a good girl, a good girl until she met me, until I broke her heart (her mother cared nothing for my arm). How until Beatriz came back from the summer break and found me with another there was no way either of us would leave, out of pride, out of competition, out of stubbornness. How it would have been best if we had never met, lest we both, of our own two hands, be dead.
The rain is beautiful
softening from snow
gentle patter on roof
warm spatters on skin
flowing body back to birth
water in which we were born
carry us toward spring
land everywhere in song
I wonder where the light comes from, not the peek from the ceiling,
that could be any orgasm, but the light from beneath
that shines as it chills us and chokes. Light from our lantern
of surrender. There is no safety. No where to rest in this oak
we have cut into timbers, knotted into rope, slathered with resin.
No land on which to lay a soft mattress and share our sleep.
The gulls know. They’ve followed us into or out of darkness.
Swore their allegiance or promised, at least, to report on our demise.
But the light, coming up too bright to be a reflection. Ocean
which divided us. Ocean of profession, of gender, of choice
and culture. Oceans of our pride and insecurities, of all things.
We float above it in manmade bodies. Buoyant, terrified.
Living to die. Was it not a port where we met, made land,
refueled? How we love. Briefly, in passing. As a storm passes.
Or as passes a brightening day. Soon always out to sea.
Graham is a very good dog. He wants you to know that when he needs something, that he is a very good dog, an obedient dog, a well-taught dog who is willing to sit posing and ready for whatever treat or reward or filled water bowl or door opening or toy he happens to want or need at the moment.
Sofie is not a good dog and does not wish to be confused with those who would sit around perched passively for the world to happen to them. No, she wants what she wants, needs what she needs, and is willing to jump and leap and bark and nibble at wrists to get it. In a pinch she will even go and grab a stuffed animal, a sacrifice to the gods, which humans seem to find amusing and trade if for her dinner or a scritch or permission to get up onto the bed. She works noisily for her supper.
Molly is patient and thoughtful. She loves you. She considers situations and avoids, when possible, the scrum of conflict in favor of contemplation out at the edges of action. While others may argue she rests peacefully in the corner hoping that those who adore her will come to her side and fulfill her needs in full and in their own pace and time.
Into this trichotomy comes Hunter, the puppy who learns quickly which pup gets fed and which gets love. He jumps around at dinner time barking with Sofie, ecstatic at the possibility of a filled belly or perhaps getting an extra scrap that someone has discarded by showing how much passion and enthusiasm he has for his nums, who sits proudly by the back door as if posing for a statue, like the good dog Graham teaches him to be, knowing the knob will be turned for the proud one appearing most regal and deserving, who snuggles in secret while others wrestle over a squeaky animal, turning the wheels of power behind the scenes and receiving, in turn, love like Molly. Sussing out his skillset.
Recall your first success, that first victory. Was it awarded because you worked the hardest, were the most beautiful, or knew how to suck up to the right people? Was it persistence, or talent, or your honest face? When you enter a workplace or new room do you fall back on that initial addiction, your most soul-close skill, the guaranteed lever that releases, for you, the magic pill? Which brush of creativity do you choose to draw your masterpiece, beautiful thin lines of watercolors that arc across the page sketching out the inches of the opus you continually tell?
I have felt the consciousness of my skin slip ever so slightly from its supporting bone.
I have imagined my torso and head as a lowercase i appended with animatronic branches. I have sensed myself to be an imperceptibly small light behind the protruding ridge of my ribcage, connecting out through fiber optics to every inch of my flesh in all directions. I have seen an ape affixed with an upgraded cortex and mechanical mitts with opposable thumbs. I have watched a chef mix air and dirt and water and salt in proportion to bake together the mud of my being. I have evolved from a tadpole, from an ovum/planet, from an invading force, from a mutation, from an alien, consciousness emerging by accident. I have enlisted myself in the army of sexual beings, beating back asexual bacteria and viruses. I have fantasized and ignored and abused and slathered myself in the constructs of genders. I have surrendered to weakness and adored duality.
I have seen the earth iterating hardware.
I have thought deeply about the air that we breathe, and thought the air itself might be thinking deeply. I have considered the use of my hardware as merely a chassis designed to keep my software upgrading. I have embraced the nature of music and storytelling, of religion in its highest sense, of narcotics at their most useful, of art as the cause and result of being, of metaphor as meaning. I have practiced a knight’s an opening gambit, raised under the gun with pocket deuces, announced my presence with authority. I have played too many strategies, watched too many movies that exist as allegories for existence.
I have wondered if software can exist without hardware.
I have pressed others to uplift our consciousness, batted against my own perceived limits, read and listened and sniffed to catch a whiff of ocean. I have lamented the creation of bombs, the possession of guns, the necessity of war. I have worked my way back to the beginning, to several beginnings, to parallel evolutions, to mass extinctions, to dystopias and utopias. I have lost myself in passion plays. I have bathed myself in the ego of the Truman Show, believed in Beatles lyrics about love. I have considered culture as a construct meant to make sense-making easier.
I have welcomed death as an ally in the process of becoming.
I have pondered our evolution as a battle between Star Trek and The Day After, our technology leading us to the bomb, or the Borg, or Q, or The Great Link. I have seen our plastics as pointless and accidental. I have heard the startup chime of the Big Bang. I have converted to Infinitism, and accepted the necessary presence of a null universe. I have invited Stephen Hawkings, on more than one occasion, to bust my head open. I have used the word “fuck” as an act of creation and a description of the Big Crunch. Fucked.
I have linked back to the beginning to compose a satisfying ending.
I have stolen lines from Pine Island and Skunk Hour, from Saul Williams and Bull Durham, Bill Hicks and Monty Python. Come from nothing. Gone back to nothing. Lost nothing. I have sensed the greater truth of our being, that we are one consciousness experiencing itself, subjectively. I have participated in sensory deprivation and voluntary amnesia. I have laid face down on wettening carpet spilling salt and water and air and dirt for days. I have cut a hangnail or dropped feces or blew snot or peed, and wondered if it was still a part of me. I have prayed for a Shaman and for wisdom and for a miracle and for time travel and for my own death. I have seen it all as one bright, shining, glorified, unified point and simultaneously as pointless.
I have tried. I have failed. And in failure, come to be.
My room is a mess, growing up, little more than a closet turned on its side and dumped. The floorboards lost beneath a pile of broken plastic and clothes, both clean and dirty. No one ever comes over the play. At the top of her lungs my mother decrees that I am grounded until it is cleaned. No TV, no computer. Not until your room is clean. And I believe her. I believe everyone.
I assume, despite experience, that the words coming out of your mouth are meant to make true the shapeless thoughts in your brain. Not that I don’t understand that they are the tip of significance, that beneath them exists a great and deep well, all of our possessions, a basement, a foundation, topsoil, a mantle, and the earth. I get it, that words are insufficient to explain our psyche.
The boss declares in an all staff meeting that everyone must fill out a self-evaluation and that if they do not take it seriously, they will not receive a quality evaluation back. If you write three sentences, your evaluation back will be three sentences. And so, when she and I, in charge of writing evals, go over the completed forms, she wants to know why R’s is smaller than the rest. He only wrote two sentences in his self-eval. But you still need to be thorough. And the two of us gawk at each other, each unable to understand the words hung in sharp bubbles above the other’s head.
I will take the trash out. Let’s hang out on Friday. I love this project and want to work on it.
I am not talking about lies. Some people lie. Sometimes I lie. I am not talking about sarcasm, or humor, or storytelling. Sometimes works are put together to create art, a falsehood embellished to highlight a greater truth. I can incorporate that.
I miss you. To me means that you wish we were in the same town, at the same time, and could hang out.
I love you. Means that you see in me, more than in others, a light you wish to bask in, a life you wish to share.
I will call you back this weekend. Means you will call back this weekend.
Meet me next Tuesday at 3pm on the corner of Maple and Main. Means I will be standing in that place at that time, waiting.
Have I missed something? Is everyone in advertising? Where the words are selected for the way they play on the wallet-control section of the brain, for their pretty faces, for their ability to conceal more than elucidate, to throw shadow more than light. Are words more make-up than flesh?
A student on the spectrum will call me out on a regular basis for saying that we are going to spend 15 minutes on a project. I’ll let it stretch. My classroom is not so strict as to be held down by any great limit of time. But I said 15 minutes. Not around, or about, or let’s start with 15 minutes and see how it goes. I have declared. And I am reminded when that time passes. And he is right. And I am wrong.
Sometimes words mean nothing. When they are said, when they are clear, when they have intent and use, the person saying them knows there is nothing, or something else, behind them. They are the mouth of a muppet with the sound turned down. Sometimes whatever is being said simply means go away.
Words mean something. They have to mean something. If they don’t, if they are just pliers, or burkas, or playing cards, or street signs, or irrelevant, or vacuums, or clubs, or phone booths, or scissors, or glasses half-empty, or pacifiers then I have wasted my life looking for the best way to say.
I have wasted my life in translation, from soul to cerebellum to soul. I have spent the best of myself on outdated equipment. I am a fool in a ruse. A dumb boy in a filthy room.
It easy, no matter where you move, to find a reasonably good chicken wing, one whose meat is juicy enough, and whose accent is both flavorful and hot without trying to melt your face off. Some are too dry, some are overcooked, and some try to use excess sauce to make up for other inferiorities. But, no matter where you go, if you look and ask around, you can find a wing that is not horrible. And it’s fine. And it’s lovely. And you can be happy.
Somehow Katy Perry on the back of a giant mechanical tiger, missing the point of her own metaphor, is an acceptable step in the right direction for the Superbowl halftime show. It is an acceptable evolution for Lenny Kravitz to add some sauce, some hard guitar riffs to Katy’s experimentation anthem, I Kissed a Girl, even if their performance suddenly becomes heterosexual and typical, with Katy Perry on her knees to Kravitz’s crotch at the end, completely missing the point of the song. It’s fine, and it passes for edgy.
You can live on a cheap computer, in a plastic car, using a knock-off tablet. It’s fine. Gretchen Wilson was right in 2005, “Victoria’s Secret, their stuff’s real nice, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price.” It’s fine.
Right up until you visit your sister in Buffalo. Until you find yourself in the middle of a great debate between the world’s best wing places, each wanting to rock your taste buds. Right up until you hear the first beats of Missy Elliot’s Get Your Freak On. Exactly until the moment you and your wife go away for the weekend and you see her perfection in the most beautifully designed, intentionally well-chosen negligee you’ve ever imagined.
Now you have to go back to your life. You have to forget about the Anchor Bar and Duffs. You have to forget about Wegmans and shop at your local grocery. You try to watch Katy Perry sing about being a shooting star, while riding a shooting star, completely missing the point of her own metaphor. You realize at the end of the iPhone introduction video that the slide of crap phones being shown is the same one that an hour ago looked cutting edge.
Give me an artist, any artist, whose first goal is to change your mind, whose second goal is to rock the fuck out, whose third goal is to make the best of something on this planet, whose fourth goal is to make hard love out of their art, whose fifth goal is to add to the catalog of the universe, whose sixth goal is to make people swoon and lose their minds and to set them free, whose seventh goal is to be dirty and underhanded and unacceptable and be accepted, whose eighth goal is to say something important, whose ninth goal is to include their friends and their friends in the act of creation, whose tenth goal is to fuck you up, whose eleventh goal is for you to tell your friends and to tell their friends to make, who somewhere down the line, in the fifties or eighties is concerned about getting paid for what they have painstakingly made.
Give me that artist, and I will buy their wares, or I won’t. But I will be rocked by them. Fucked up. And I will tell the world. I will be sated. I will be freed. I will be moved. And I will never again be enough, and I will never again be fine.
I’m sitting in an Ethics in Politics class next to a square jawed conservative Republican, having a debate about the recently elected Bill Clinton’s stance on women in the military. Jack or John or Jake, I can’t remember his name, leans over to me quietly and says, “You know, kissing up to women is not going to get them to sleep with you.” And I am unable to articulate in that moment that I am not trying to kiss up to women. I am not trying to get them to sleep with me. I am trying to believe in the right things.
I teach by what I am moved by. In my class, whether that be writing or politics or technology, what happened yesterday is a catalyst for today’s lesson. What I saw or read or thought makes its way into the classroom in near real time. My classes lack the long perspective classical learning achieves, the efficacy a more conservative approach might provide. They fail to honor the filter of time. But, they are present, and fluid, and real. They keep me, as a teacher, engaged with the world, and I hope they keep the students engaged in the class. They are not boring.
Comedian Bill Burr is onstage, in black and white, telling a story about a man who jumps 500 feet from a helicopter during a tour of the California coastline. It’s three quarters of the way into his special that was released on Netflix just last week. It’s great storytelling. It’s visual. It’s detailed. I have four distinct turns that I can highlight in my writing class.
The On Being podcast this week is about social change, about revolutionaries who get burned out when the conscience of the world lumbers on undented by their fervor. On this episode they mention the book of one of the guests, Courtney E. Martin, entitled Do It Anyway. She is writing from the point of view of the generation I am either a part of, or that is just behind me.
It’s 1995 and I am living in Albany, New York being disillusioned by my first interaction with legislation, politicking, and sausage making. The main book in the pile library growing on my window sill is a collection of essays by Gen-Xers. The book is lost to my personal history now. I can’t even find the title on Amazon. Its thesis remains. It’s not that we, my generation, doesn’t want to change the world. It’s just that we’ve been told our whole lives that it is pointless to try. It’s all been done.
When I show the class Bill Burr they get his first point quickly, the American dream is dead. They get the second turn after a slight hesitation, seize the day. The third is harder, but they come to, your life will not work out the way you hoped. The last lesson they do not get. I do not get. We discuss but can’t pin it down. We sort of say it all works out, or we all die, or fuck it, whatever. What we are all looking for is Courtney Martin’s title, do it anyway.
You can write essays on a blog, poetry that won’t sell, have useless arguments with well off conservatives. You can pine for lost loves, run marathons, support women’s rights, teach ungrateful kids or just play cards. And when you are dead, when the vast majority of us are dead, the everlasting, ever forgetful drumbeat of culture will move on. No one will remember. The girls didn’t sleep with you. Your great grandkids will probably never know you. Do it anyway. Though the chances of any of it keeping you alive beyond your death are slim, do it anyway. For no good reason. Because you can. Because you must. Because that is the best of yourself you can do, do it anyway.
I went online and read the introduction to Courtney E. Martin’s book. I’ll add it to the now large library of things to be imbibing. I am not twenty-two anymore. The seminal questions of my own life, where to live, who to love, who to marry, what career paths to take, all seem to be answered. I am probably not going to be a revolutionary. But I will read it. And I am sure I will use something of it for some class I will teach. I might even use it next week. And even if I don’t, even if there is no point to reading it, if it brings about no change in my view, or my life, or my work, I am going to do it. Just like I will keep writing, keep teaching, keep myself open to what happens this week. It may not lead anywhere. Fuck it. Do it anyway.
In the morning an elongated figure darkens the frosted sidewalk ahead of me
able in action to leap every bank avoid every drift climb each curb while staying
connected at my feet which lift in turn off the pavement with a satisfying sweep.
In the evening he lags behind, drags what’s left of my identic fingers along
the pavement, an orangutan sanded down by the de-evolution of the workday.
I can only see when I sneak a peek over my shoulder his loping meandering.
Neither is true. I am not the kite that sprints ahead propelled by a defiance
of physics and gravity nor the soppy stretched out cape anchoring a man
to his near and long-term history. I am simply one who blocks the light.
Crisp meat of the tree.
Red beating heart of Satan.
Lobes of frail white leaves
hung heavy from the rain.
Knots on branches filling gaps
in the sky when we’d look up
Laying scattered and bruised
on the hard earth after play.
Set into rolled paper bags
by love’s lunch, and gravity.
At rest beneath a sling bag
on the passenger seat at dawn.
Taken in haste as a breakfast
whose quick wits make up time.
Ignition, u-turn, acceleration.
When I reach
to lift it
My mind, ganglia, age.
I scan the landscape missing
the swallow, the sweet stab
of teeth. The flesh unbrowned,
incisor scrape-shape, familial.
And the rest, as filling now
as it was on that fall hill.
But something’s gone, family farms,
fresh cider, the need to look
for wormholes. Years, like pesticides
killing seemingly useless things.
Taking with it names and faces
of secret keepers, sexual partners,
your third car, fourth kiss, good cells
around the cancer, and the bees.
Give me an empty room.
Give me a new idea.
Give me half a dozen people and an afternoon.
Give me a goal.
Well, not a goal. I am not good at goals, even worse at checklists. But tell me your big ideas so I know what you’re aiming for. Inspire me. I’ll pass that fire along, ignite your staff. Keep me on staff for the first third of your project. Keep me around for the first five dates. Invite me to be part of your company until the day after the IPO. I’ll push you. I’ll drive you. I’ll get more miles out of that first gallon of gas than you thought possible.
The middle is tedious. It’s boring, arduous, task-mastering. It’s convincing people who already said they were on board to do the work, commit the time, spend the money, invest the resources. It’s punctuation. Line edits. Remind me again why I am convincing you to do something you said you would do? Time to revise and expand. The middle is for managers, for stonecutters, for artisans, for activists. The bureaucrats use the middle as a way to scale up, to set norms for the mediocre who, because we scaled up, will invade our fantasies. They will norm our fantasies. The bureaucrats use the middle to cement their own chairs and skim from the till. It’s not like it used to be. We used to be about something.
The end is abrupt.
The middle failed… or it succeeded wildly.
Either way I’m off to something new.
I spent an hour this morning writing. I have this great assignment from a poetry seminar I am taking and I thought I would jump into it. I narrowed down the possibilities to five prompts and went to. With each, I had no idea where to start and less idea where it was going. With each, I simply started with the first image that fell into my head, and held onto the thread as long as I could.
What came out, what always comes out, was some sort of coherence. It is a block of clay, misshapen and desperatly in need of revision (or at least editing). But, a block of recognizable clay. Now I know where this wants to go, what it wants to say.
It scares me a little. I don’t like what it says about me as a person. The tenses are all mixed up, as is the person it is told in. And it scares me a litttle, which means it might become good writing.
Old High German lubōn – to love
a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another
a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection
sexual passion or desire
to need or require
to benefit greatly from
When I said it, I meant I had lost my mind, that I could no longer think about you rationally. I meant your presence on the planet, in this building, your voice curling through the long twisted jangle-cord of the phone, even just the thought of you dulled everything else in the room, friends, food, breathing. Who needs to breathe?
I meant I could feel you searing yourself in long deep imprints into the theatre at the back of my brain. Like a glacier, or a scar, or an affiliation with a group. I meant, really, that you would never go away.
For a year I focused all my meditations on arriving at a more accurate definition. I settled to “I can (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) the divine when I (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) you.”
Then last night, half-awake. The particular curl of my back and my bent knees. The weight on a nerve in my neck causing my arm to go numb. Lowering the acutely sharp angle of my pillow. In the dissipating cushion of air below my reseated sheet it came to me.
When I said it, I meant I thought I could make you happy.
That years later we would be in some restaurant, a pimply waiter with an ounce of charisma cracking a dumb bit of humor. And you would laugh. And we would laugh. And you would look across the long, flat, cloroxed, constantly cleaned, constantly crumby, off-white table. And you would just be, genuinely, happy.
The glass cases were built into the wall across from the main gym. Filled to the brim with trophies and plaques honoring students long graduated who’d brought home this or that championship. I was fixated on a basketball trophy draped with a cut net from the sixties when his hand grabbed a clump of hair on my head and whipped it back and forward with a pop, like a chest pass drill from gym class. Bloody nosed and woozy, I was barely able to turn around and see whose face it was before his fist closed my left eye.
This was the thought that permeated my fogging brain. In a moment that should have been fight or flight, my brain offered a third option, reason. If only I could reason with him, if only I could understand what had happened to set him off, perhaps we could talk, perhaps I could help him.
The aliens come down, or more to the point circle in orbit. They hijack every screen on every device on the planet. Their message is simple. We have deactivated every explosive device, every firearm, every semi-automatic, every flintlock, neutralized gun powder, deadened every bullet. If you want to kill each other go ahead, but you will have to do it hand to hand.
President Reagan argued for a small government but a large military. This never made sense to me. Dick Cheney believes there is evil in the world. His solution seems to be answering evil with an obliterating force. Washington and Jefferson both warned against foreign entanglements. Something they learned from Greek literature inspired them to design a government made up of madmen protecting a commune. I grew up an American, believing the better idea should win.
Here we are, in school, a place where we shape young minds. The content feels almost irrelevant so much as the mental calisthenics and the cultural marinade. We grade based on the ability of students to accurately solve problems, to successfully write papers, to remember things like Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. But after school we strap on pads and gloves and headgear and travel to other schools to see who can out-height, out-quick, and out-muscle or rivals. Perhaps Madison would have had the center guarding the school entrance rather than the armed police.
America is a cult retreat where the best idea wins. America is a commune run by the will of the majority. The homeland is a fortress populated by damn hippies who believe in things like justice, equality, and fairness.
In fairness, the guy who assaulted me was more oaf than jock. He never made it to college, never got out of town, never became a man of consequence. He is not a respected elder, nor a leader, nor wealthy, nor wise. My success came from physical and intellectual escape, from living a life of ideas. I never found out what set him off. But I’ve learned since that new thoughts can only thrive when they are kept separate from force. In college, where we only had non-scholarship D3 sports I blossomed.
We lie to people all the time, tell them athletics and the military can be roads to enlightenment. We talk about the lessons learned on the gridiron or the battlefield being useful later in life. Here is the truth. Hitting another man diminishes both the target and the swinger. Killing a person harms both the soldier’s and the victim’s soul. Violence can never bring about a healthy peace. It would take a hundred years after the aliens left to clean up all the karmic debt we have laid around us. Vengeance begets vengeance. Fear begets fear. And it would take that long for all the old, angry war-makers to die off.
Or I’m wrong. And somehow the dichotomy of the United States, the warrior-philosopher nation, the bully and intellectual light of the world, the enlightened sword of the dark knight can bring about a world commune at the tip of a missile. But it hasn’t been brought yet. There are no signs that our weapons will bring about peace in the Middle East, cessation of suffering in Africa, calm to Central America.
What a crazy notion. That only better ideas can bring about better ideas. That a better strategy wins the game. That coaching wins more championships than muscle. That the model is South Africa, post-aparthied, the Greek Senate, Chautauqua in the summer. That achievement by intellect is preferred to compliance at the point of a gun.
Each summer, in Las Vegas, a few thousand people put their money on the table and play, based on luck and cunning, until one person wins a trophy. They start equal. In the same desert a hundred years earlier you might have been shot in a saloon for winning. You might have been beat up for day-dreaming. You might have been dead for thinking you could think better. Wrong-headed might, might have made right.
It takes a hundred years of thought and easing tension just for us to heal.
The copy and paste feature on my iPhone is wonky. It’s not a feature from the original OS, and makes more sense on the 3.5 inch screen it debuted on, rather than the huge iPhones and iPads that exist today. It’s hard to select, hard to choose an action, and contains nested menus for yet more added on features (definition look up, speak text, etc). It’s works, it’s just wonky.
Features included from the start work great, the phone app, the web browser, the wide-screen iPod with touch controls. These were game changers. Revolutionary. And, best, iOS either eliminated or hid some of the vestigial aspects of OS X which caused Mac users headaches.
Version one of the Constitution had some amazing features. Self-rule, limited government, direct elections of house representatives, separation of powers. But, version one is always reactionary. It overcorrects. It worries about conferring nobility on people. It includes indentured servitude, it includes slavery. It discusses how to manage 13 eastern coastal states. It’s been revised. V.1 was the Bill of Rights. V.2 gave the states more rights, changed how the president was elected. V.3 eliminates slavery and provides equal protection under the law for (almost) all individuals. There’s the right to vote for women, for people over 18, prohibition, wait-no-not prohibition. All of these features are added. And they work just as well as copy and paste.
The Constitution of the United States was designed as a document to ensure the rights of property owners, typically white, Christian, men. If you fall into or can climb into this category, then the promise of America is secured for you. This is the land of milk and honey, of opportunity, of endless possibility, of manifest destiny. As for those left out of the original OS, not contemplated by it, or those considered three-fifths of a person by it, well, we’ve added features but we haven’t cleaned up the code.
Our institutions fail us. Police forces gun down young black men on our streets at a rate similar to the lynchings of the early 20th century. We can’t seem to elect women to more than a quarter of the seats in any house or senate. Our representative bodies are overrun by millionaires in proportions far out stretching their place in the populace. No one seems to like our ever growing media. If you look at individual cops, or congressmen, or news anchors, you can’t see what’s wrong. Because it’s not the individuals, but the OS.
We need something new. Something simpler. Something fairer. We need a process that uses less power, that includes more people, that democratizes our processes, and keeps any group of people from hogging all the resources.
We need an OS that contemplates the lifetime renter, the people of color, women, gays, lesbians, people of different national origins, people with no religion. We need to build it new. We need a black curtain, a stage, a clear vision, three great features. We need something revolutionary.