Four ‘Verses

Here… exists the Sensory Universe, the world we were born into, vagina we were pushed through, the room, which in comparison was too bright and so cold and overly sterile. So we howled. And to this day we’ve build castles to regulate temperature, to protect us from wind and rain, sprays to add and detract aroma, gloves and boots to keep blood in our appendages, drugs to numb any pain. We detest things offensive to these senses. Yet we trust this, this Sensory Universe, embrace its predictability. This wall that was blue-grey yesterday will be blue-grey today. This blanket is exactly where I left it. And we are intoxicated by the touch of another, by the adorable, by the beat of wings and the march of procreation. Even our cancers we find fascinating, worthy of study, valuable. We have built branches of sciences on the study of trees, movement of the planets, sent tin cans unfathomable distances to toss back data, wrapped the planet in cables and satellites, crunched knowledge to encapsulate this universe, to measure it, to explain it. This universe, this sense of a universe which birthed us, which we hope one day to finally log and compute completely. Even the mystics tell us this, here, now, is all that exists. This sensory experience. This beginning and end timeclock universe.

But I feel hungry, dirty, mean, viscious, vivacious, viscous, alert, dreary, annihilated, underappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, alive, old, inexperienced, green. I feel. I wake each day full of these adjectives, these impulses, and hope to find an object in the sensory universe to blame these actions on. So then I can call them reactions. Welcome to the Feeling Universe. Atypical, atopical, illogical. Today I feel sad for no reason, tomorrow anxious, sometimes (on Tuesdays) like dancing. And I would prefer to claim each of these as a response to a trigger, lest I have to live with the reality that somethings in existence refuse logic as their underpinning. Call it feminine and blame it on hormones. Your derision is another form of security. In the Feeling Universe the cloud of dust coalesces into a planet (and back into dust) on a whim, a scent, an impulse unexplained, and unexplainable. Some days I love you. Some I am so afraid. And the best bet, the way to live in closest concert here is to simply let impulses be impulses. Do not search for a match or kindling just because you have seen a spark. Sometimes I feel happy (I feel happy) with no subject, no cause, no cure. Anger for angersake, joy for joy, tired despite having just come awake. Feeling. Result without meaning.

But I stress these things. I go over them again and again. Why did I say or do that thing. Why did I turn that corner or pack that bag. What was the cause. And what will I do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next time it comes round to this. I live, in a great percentage in this Temporal Universe, a great chasm of mental gymnastics where I try to recall the impulse and pin each potentiality with a cause and effect. I waste away in the 1990s, in the 2030s, in yesterday and tomorrow. Mistelling each story and dismembering myself from myself. It is so drunkmaking, so satisfying to try and find a path backwards through this where I would have ended up at a place way more exciting, enticing, alluring, sexy, a place safer and richer and with six pack abs, and money, and better hair. Maybe I will get there someday, if I make better choices, eat better food, start saving, start playing the game. Tomorrow. I will start tomorrow. Tomorrow (or yesterday) is the best place to be in this temporality.

Yet that universe, the Temporal Universe, the then and when, is not the same as the not-yet, as the land of magic and invention, of the land of art and design. This is the Verse Imagine, where lives both the possible and the im-. This is a world of gadgets and gizmos, of invisible computing and utter contentment, of unfathomable war and an everlasting piece. Let me have something to do with this, this coming, whether it be raising a genius, or doing research. A line, a lyric, a story told for one iteration longer than me. Let this Verse Imagine be the bastion of creativity, the galactic core that spits out stars and stories at unmappable intervals and immeasurable pace. The Not Yet, the never mired in fear but in love, in making. Tinged with anger. Born of frustration. Lift one more thing off the plate of animality, one less concern for where we will eat and sleep. Each time we eliminate a bodily need a leap forward in science, in the arts, in sculpture, in products that lack productivity. Here in the making. Here in the moment. Here in the feeling. Here in every lesson and plan. Our cries. Our howling. Our being wiped off and wrapped up, and laid on our mother’s breasts. Something new, always, in the making.

Catch

April is National Poetry Month. This year I will be combining my passions in a project called “Meditations of a Word.” If you would like to suggest a word for this project comment below. #NationalPoetryMonth

IMG_0289

Thrive

The Presidential election was either the culmination or precursor to some major changes in the way our country views itself, and how we view each other. I can tell you personally it has heightened or highlighted tensions between myself and people whom I love and respect. I don’t think it has much, or anything, to do with the candidates or the parties or the voting process. They are all just catalysts for a larger conversation about what kind of society and world we each thing we should live in.

For some of my circle, this world went from an already mean and heartless place to a even colder place. For some, this world went from soft to softer, from easily offended to even thinner skinned. For some we moved from more communal to less communal. For some we went from too individualistic to even more individualistic. My reaction to all of this was to ask three questions.

First, what kind of world do we live in? Second, what kind of world do we want to live in? And thirdly, why do we want to live in that kind of world. For me, the first question is only mildly interesting. Society, people, rocks, climate, it’s all in flux. Everything moves. Everything changes. Asking to identify it is pinning down a butterfly. What type of society we want to live in is slightly more interesting. And for some, the world should be softer, or harder, or more connected, or less. The last question, for me, is key. Why?

It is a big question, that for now, has led me to a small answer. Why would one want the world to grow towards being a certain way? Myself and those around me might espouse grand ideas: because this is how we create wealth, or keep people free, or protect our country, or ensure fairness. I think it is much more personal than that. We want the world to be a certain way because that is how ‘my people’, thrive.

I will out myself here. I sign onto the adage that it is more true that we are one people than that we are individuals. And I think society is better off when we are more connected and more compassionate. Why do I believe that? Because I, personally, do best in a connected and compassionate environment. I am a strong extrovert who needs people to bounce ideas off of, to create with. I work best in highly energetic teams. I was not talented in sports growing up, and was beat up in school. So I don’t do well with bullies, or alpha leaders, or situations that create a few winners and a large pile of losers. I would not do well as a stock broker.

I could couch all of this in some grand idea about either our historical true nature as human beings, a species that does not thrive in nature except by our communalism. Or I could paint it as the best way for us to move forward by pointing out that our greatest inventions were the works of multitudes, that no one person is going to get us to Mars or out of our solar system before the sun blows.

But the honest assessment is that I believe being generous, and connected, and empathetic is how me and mine thrive. Those around me who believe that we should live in a meritocracy, where hard work should have a direct correlation to wealth and success, well, they are hard workers. That is how people like them thrive. Those who believe it should be the beautiful and the innately talented, those who believe it should be by sheer intellectual horsepower, those who believe in luck, or cunning, or diversity, or God-given talent, or honesty, or rule-following, or cold-heartedness, or piety; we’re all arguing for the success of our own. Even my friend Raheem, who jokingly argued for a hairitocracy (those with the longest hair rule), in contrast to my buzz-cut, was just looking out for his own.

The narrative since the election has been that we have never been so divided, or that there are now (at least) two Americas, or that we have always been a terribly heartless place and this just highlighted it, or returned us to our roots. For me, this is an opportunity for us to (re)define who is us, and who is them. That is tied up, historically, in party, and class, and genders, and race, and wealth, and sexuality, and location. But now we can add it that list that a great part of ‘us and them’ is world view, is our preferred method of success, is a discussion of process as well as progress.

It is a selfish, honest tag added to the sentence, “this is how any good society should act…”

“…so folks like me thrive.”

“Calm Down”

In my native language there are concepts that lack corollary words, and words that inaccurately convey complex concepts. One such phrase is calm down (or relax or chill out), a phrase that has never yet achieved its intended result. I think the problem with this phrase is the chasm between its intended delivery and its perceived reception. Someone is upset or scared or in crisis, and their partner, friend, coworker says, “calm down.”

What is heard is, “this is nothing to get upset about at all” or “your fear is unfounded” or “what is important to you is not important to me.” And with that justification, the eruption that inevitably follows makes sense. But that is not always the intent of the phrase. In any situation there is a sense of urgency that is optimal to attack a problem. If you look up and a piano has fallen out of a 12th floor window and is about to hit you in the head, you can not gracefully and calmly walk out of the way. You need to (fucking) move. On a scale of 1-10, this calls for a 10.

If you start to feel a cold coming on, just the first sniffles, you can drive to the store, get some echinacea or NyQuil, get to bed early, drink some extra fluid. This might require a two or three level of urgency. We have all seen people in a situation best dealt with on one end of that scale, and yet, approached on the other end. It’s frustrating.

But language is limiting. And there doesn’t seem to be a a shorthand way to say to someone, “I agree, this situation is important and requires our attention and response. I think the best level to set our solve-o-meters at is six. Right now, you seem to be reacting with a nine (or a two). Perhaps if we reset to a more reasonable level we can solve the problem more efficiently.” What comes out instead is, “calm down”, not to a zero, not to a one, just a notch or two. There is not a phrase I know of to convey “just a couple notches less (or more) urgency.”

Do you know of one?

Why You Can’t Have A Puppy

Because you will love it dearly.

Because one night when you can’t sleep you’ll reach out to her for comfort but she’ll be on the other end of the bed, so you’ll roll back over lonely, and she’ll somehow know to get up, turn around and lay back down directly under your outstretched arm.

Perhaps a sea turtle, who lives near the ocean, who buries her eggs at night in the darkness, under the stars then forgets. Who sits for hours in the sun unmoving, whose hard shell makes her unfit for any form of petting, boring, who will live, we expect, longer than you, for hundreds of years.

Come to think of it you can’t have the toy at Christmas either, that will bring you joy for weeks until it wears out from use, or a best friendship, or a first love, or God forbid kids, because things like these break-up, or break down, or brake at stoplights far too slowly.

No. It will be better for you to be curmudgeonly, cynical, surrounded by the trappings of modern society which when damaged or stolen can be repurchased or upgraded nonchalantly, utilities of glass and metal replaced at the slightest hint of slowness or a newly released model.

Because love happens. Because things die. Because dear friends often move on before they grow old with you. Because you will die too. You will leave behind people who love you. Who think your passing, no matter your age or theirs, will be far too soon.

Who’s going to take care of your puppy then? Mopey, distraught, inconsolable.

A Series of Bubbles

I think more and more about reality, in all its incarnations and levels, as a series of bubbles.

Two teenagers hop into a rusted out clunker of a car and crank up a stereo worth more than the value of the rest of the car. While they ride, feet up on the dashboard, rhythm mimicked on the steering wheel, they exist in a bubble. As soon as the ride ends, or the lights of a cop car flash, or a parent calls wondering where they are and when they will be home, the bubble pops.

Three roommates live in a 12 by 12 room at college. They each had different classes during the day. They each come from a different place. The lights went out hours ago and they have been laying in the darkness spouting truths, and lies, and bullshit, and questions, until all three fall asleep, or the sun comes up, or the fire alarm, or a knock on the door.

With writing, with cycling, designing, editing, running, a puppy on your chest, a baby in your arms. You see a stranger across the foyer and find you are on the same elevator. For fourteen floors there is an awkward and magic tension, a thin film of possibility. At the door at the end of a really good first date. In that one meeting you’ve had all year that was actually productive. We hash out our laws and our limitations, feel the touch of the muse, the possibility of insight, come face to face with the nascent.

Even our earth, even our universe, born of a single utterance or dimension, expanding in all directions, until something breaks the skin, until a tear in space-time. The multiverse possibility that we are floating along the tough skin of another reality, and another, and another, like bubble bath. Unreplicateable moments, nested each inside each, inclusive of everything necessary, separated gladly from the bubbles outside.

VS.

Huh. A second album. Let’s see what else you had to record in the back of the bin. What else you have to say.

Go
We start at a thousand miles, the pace of a band that has been touring, the pace of light posts passing over a car, a bus, below planes, carrying electricity and energy right up to the stage where the guitars get plugged into. “Please.” Something begging here in this song. Begging the muse to let the rocker keep rocking. Begging the lighter to last one more cigarette. Begging your heart to keep beating, your fans to keep listening, your third eye to stay open despite what you have seen. Stay with me.

Animal
A riff to open this that we have heard before. An homage to oneself? A cover? An extension? Something more to say? “I’d rather be with an animal.” Than what? It feels like Eddie wants to hide, that he wants the band elevated, that he is teasing the critics. The industry. “What? You wanted it to sound familiar? Like our last album? Fuck you. Here you go. Sell this.” Tongue and cheek. Inviting your audience in…. pushing everyone else away.

Daughter
Back to the acoustic riff. Such standard rock here. But Vedder takes the opportunity to say something. If we are going to walk in the middle of the street we are at least going to say something to the passersby. What does it take to be fit to be called daughter? What is a daughter’s place in the world? Again it feels like at some point in the song the lyrics are just going to repeat and run, the music has said all we will say and now it must play out for three and a half minutes. The radio requires. Ok, we’ve done our work. Now, can we get back to being a band.

Glorified G
And now we can rally against the things holding us back as a people, now that we have fed the beast. Take this. The start here feels fresh. Fresh, and a parody of someone feeling like a man because they own a gun. The guitars are playing in unison with the drums. All very standard. We are not angry. There is no dissonance between owning a piece and the damage 300 million pieces cause in society. It all makes perfect sense. But it’s silly, right? We are not, indeed, a nation of glorified G’s. It’s Weird Al in reverse.

Dissident
Hold on. Interruption. This album is not, musically, lyrically, nearly as interesting as Ten. And that may be the sheer depth of the cutting into skin that was the first. Or it could be me with too much perspective. But here, finally, five songs in, it feels like Eddie found something meaningful to say. And there is some more dissonant guitaring (no pun intended) going on. “Escape is never the safest.” The early part of the album felt like running away, or thumbing their collective nose.

W.M.A.
So here the band can explore. The drums have take over. The repetitive beat on the head driving the action. Calling out African rhythms to talk about privilege. A dig at the band and themselves, and me. Another dig at success, knowing part of it has to do with the lottery of genetics and society. Something in the middle that sounds at once like soldiers marching and dogs barking. The rhythmic thump thumping on our heads the entire time we are present in this present society. Fading out and in unfading.

Blood
Ok. Eddie’s done fucking around. The band is done fucking around. This is Samuel L. Jackson standing in the window of the Negotiator. “You want my blood?” The bass is thundering off in one direction, the lead is barreling off in another. Ed is just grinding his voice into oblivion. Except for that one line. I feel like this whole album is a hurt child trying to push everyone and everything away. Only the voices in my head get to stay.

Rearviewmirror
Updated 50s rock. Springsteen’s cars through New Jersey. Another call back to Ten. Was this recorded under some contract the band wanted out of? Pushed into the studio before they were necessary? Dear recording industry, would you like a history of late 20th century American rock disguised as a sophomore effort? Or a sophomoric effort? If you are going to rush us, we will make an art school project. A rock record, in theory.

Rats
Someone’s been going to see Soul Coughing shows… so now, instead of making fun of where rock has been, let’s make fun of where it is going. I am not sure if this is co-opting, or parody, or an attempt at leadership, at bringing something new into existence. It certainly feels like making music begrudingly, under duress. Most of this album feels like a hostage situation.

Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
There is something I love about the rolling fun of songs in 6/8 time. It’s not a car going down the highway, nor a boulder down the side of a mountain. This continues my perception of the album, as a band doing a parody of itself for the purpose of making fun of the carnival around them, a way to make fun of the people who are bandwagoning them, while stating in the middle, “I changed by not changing.” Don’t worry, our popularity will fade… fade… away.

Leash
Let’s hit this one big. We are getting near the end here. Let’s make an easy song, and then a very hard one to love. Let the radio figure out what the hits are. And only the true messiahs will hear this one as being the soul of the record. It’s one thing to love someone who is looking to be loved. Quite another to love someone saying, “get out of my fucking face.” Our are we making fun of Extreme, and other such bands?

Indifference
Euro synth-rock. Gen-X canvas. I know what you want of me and that is the last thing I will give you. I won’t fix it. I won’t be your voice. I won’t be your ally. I will sit here just being myself, and you can love me, or you can leave me. No difference. It’s not a dream or fantasy. It’s not a puzzle with a solution. It’s just a bunch of shattered pieces of something that used to fit together, now disjunct and broken, and unredeemable.

What would you do? If you had no interest in being “the man” and were thrust into the light? Would you dance for your change? Would you take the glam and the bjs? Would you rise above? Or simply go home? Would you fulfill your contractual obligations hoping to someday, once again, be free?

An Experiment

For a day, or an hour, or the length of a meditation or thought experiment, eliminate the use and concept of I.

I, as in, the inclusive actor in the story. i, as in, the little naked monkey with a disconnected head. And I, the formally dressed; top hat and heels.

Think, instead, of the constituent parts as individual actors, as yourself as a play, an entire production.

my-oh-my-001

My body is hungry. My emotions are reacting, exuding anger. My brain can’t focus. My awareness is all over the place. My imagination is drawing up scenarios where all the food in the world is gone. My co-workers are worried. My vibes are standoffish. My reputation is shot.

What does it do for control? For responsibility? For management? For direction, if I am an entire cast and crew? What is that which is permanent? Central? At the core? Is this a comedy or tragedy? Or just an improv?

Ten

I am fascinated by a band’s first album. This is before everyone knows their name. While they can still get in a van and stop at a gas station and eat at a diner and not be huge. This is before they are as good as they one day will be. These are the songs they have been working out late at night for years. This is the album they would make if they could only make one album.

Once
Dreary bongos and a snare, a shaker, half a voice in the background, a guitar whines. Is this the song or are they just warming up? “I admit it.” But not I. IIIIIIIIIIII. Or eyeeeeeeee. Or aaaaaayyeee. The drum is like a metronome beating on the head of the body that the voice comes out of. The only words that have any breath in this cacophony are the I and Once. What was I once? I… Once….. Won’ce. Wince. Meaning is certainly secondary.

Even Flow
So iconic. So wrapped up in all that has come since. It’s hard to untangle all of it, to not see the faces and places flash by and listen to it simply as music. It feels like the voice has more to say here than the first track, but not so much that he wants to overshadow the others. The pain is in the guitars. The headache is in the drum. The unstopping pace of this world. The thump on the head. It’s an unending conversation. There is something cathartic about howling the parts we know at the top of our lungs. I know someone should come by and tell me to keep it down, or ask me what’s wrong, or call the cops. But they don’t. I live in this cocoon of adulthood, of teenage angst, of my own house, my own skin. And I feel broken in it, safe in it, fake in it. Something is wrong in this world and someone should fix it. But, isn’t that me. Shouldn’t that be me? Is adulthood merely a test of what I can get away with?

Alive
One riff blends into another. But just as we are comfortable with the vibe it changes. I can hear you now Eddie. I can make out what you are saying and what you are asking. And the questions are just as salient now as they were then. Should I be allow to have lived this long? I had so much energy as a child, so much oddity. And now I am this boring old man, this tired cliche, this failed everything. Why should I be allowed to live when far better people have passed? “Is something wrong she said? Of course there is.” Just hearing this makes me want to crawl inside a cupboard and hide. Inside a lazy susan. Inside a bottle. Inside a pillowcase or somewhere safe. Anywhere safe. Is there such a thing as a safe space? This world has us surrounded, and always has. Lots of times I want out. Good gawd I want out. But it won’t let me. I can’t take off these headphones. Or this skin. Or these bones.

Why Go
This feels like a call back, the undone completion of Once. A thought was interrupted and now we must finish. But Eddie is more sure of his place here, as the voice, as the spokesman. Second song in row where the voice is talking about the position we put women in. Does anyone do that? Then or now? Try to understand the world from someone else’s point of view? Does anyone start out with the thought that I….. I….. might have been the one to fuck things up. Let’s ask questions about what I have done to make this world a worse place. I am sure it must be my fault. I am sure it is something I did, and therefore something I can fix. And that question “Why go home? Why go home?”

Black
Wait. What? Where did those big guitars go? That big voice? Someone hits a single string. Pulls on it. Again with the “Her” motif. Not a song about what she did wrong. After all, “She gave me all she wore.” But a song about how love, and life, and this reality are terminally flawed for all of us. There are kids at play, and I can feel there laughter, but my thoughts are still… twisted. And now the voice is trying to be a guitar. The guitar is trying to be a voice. Everyone wants to be a painter. But the only color they have to work with is black. The relentlessness here is in the keyboards. The pounding in my head are the black and white keys. There are things in this life with no solution. No matter how much you love the future, or love the past, or love the now. There are some knots that simply won’t be unwound. Some wounds that will never heal. Some catastrophes we simply will not avoid. Life will be what it was before we all got here, what it will be when all the suns have all faded, slowly, out. Black.

Jeremy
I can’t hear this. Won’t. I want to run away from it. Really. The video. The shootings. All that has come since. I want to not hear this. What caused Jeremy? Folks picked on him. He was mentally bereft. Mama didn’t care. Whatever anguish lives inside the adolescent heart, the American heart, the tenth generation of American hearts, it will all be reduced at some point to clickbait, to a headline, to workout music, to repetitive stress, to a sign of the times. It’s all so prophetic and so tragic. And this is our greatest failing. That those with energy and passion find outlet in violence and channel it into anger and vengeance. As if this was the only thing Jeremy could have done, or said. The only time he had a voice. The only thing he had the will, and skill, and capability to say. It’s my fault after all. Clearly I remember.

Oceans
Wait. The voice in unison with guitars. Major chords. Big waves washing over, and then receding. Bass drum. Maybe my moodiness won’t become my undoing. Perhaps I have something redeeming inside me. Twenty-five years and I still have no idea what Vedder is saying here. Perhaps he, like me listening, is just riding the wave. Ohmming. Praying. Meditating.

Porch
What the fuck? Back to dissonance. Back to big rock. The music is a thousand miles an hour. Like a highway. Like time. Like the meals we cook in microwaves. Like the love that comes and goes. An album of teenage relationships. Of short lived races. Of sitcoms. Of YouTube videos. Of passing faces on big roads going 80 mph, all of them, and me, zombies in coffins quickly moving towards death and our collective, final, imminent death. Was home really so bad you had to leave? So much shouting on the porch.

Garden
Again with the welcoming opening. Someone has found me. Out here in the cold. Someone who knows, who welcomes me, who allows me to come. Was it so long ago when we were homeless? And alive? And loved each other. Or is it just an admission that you can’t run from the world no matter how much you might want to? You can’t make time go slower or faster. You can’t run or jog or grab a train in time. You can only move one day at a time, no matter how much you might like to have it be otherwise. There is only this slow plodding walk up the side of a steep and treacherous mountain, with beautiful switchback views and vistas, with terrible cliffs, and satiating streams. You can avoid none and keep none of it. You have little choice in the matter but to walk at time’s pace, laid out by the drums, buoyed by the guitars, pattered with keyboards, smeared with blood. Day on day on day on day on day on.

Deep
This far into the album I will admit I am warped in the head, and if anyone came up to me right now and tapped me on the shoulder I might growl at them, or cower in fear, or kiss them on the lips, or hide. I feel nearly not human. Unthinking. I can only hear my heartbeat in that high hat. My blood in the drone of the guitar. The scratches on my corneas with every wah-wah of the guitars. And I know there’s a voice there saying something, but honestly I can’t hear it. My body is this mess of wires untied. And every time we get them untangled we are called away to work, or to class, and when we come back they are once again a mess. Was someone here? Has someone always been here? Are they ghosts or voices? Did I not fix them before, and again? Am I in an asylum imagining all these things? Can I please wake up? Will you please wake me up? Someone come tap me on the shoulder and wake me up? Please.

Release
There is a guru on a mountaintop who knows I am on my way to meet them. Who has watched me my entire life and seen all the silly lines I took to get up here. When I get to my guru a smile across that serene face. I need never make this climb again. I need never lose. Guru will teach me that the whole universe is available in a grain of sand, a drop of water, all things, each thing. When I climb to the gates of heaven my father will be there waiting, and all the fuckery of this earth will pass away. All the problems of the flesh, all the pleasures, can be overcome by howling at the top of our… lungs? no, those are gone. Heart? gone. Consciousness. Will that last? Can you yell with awareness? Always?

That same riff from the beginning comes in again. Hearing this album I have been reborn. I am a newborn. A child. Hopeful. Everything, once, again, (all the love and loss and agony and laughter and begging and completion and affection and peace) is possible. Maybe even probable. Let’s do this living.

Rules for this Mix: Pearl Jam

I am not an audiophile. I’ve never been cool. So let’s keep this simple.

1. I am listening to the ten studio albums that Pearl Jam has released over the last 25 years.

I am ignoring all the iterations and live versions that are available. I am ignoring everybody’s solo careers, work with other bands, vanity projects, movie soundtracks. I know this is a band of creative musicians that constantly rework everything. I am reducing it to the manageable.

2. I am listening to the available digital versions.

I know. I know. Either buy the CDs like you did when you first heard it, or get a turntable and vinyl. At least find the original versions and not the remastered ones. Have some self-respect. Sorry. Again. Convenience wins. I promise to download the best version I can, and not stream.

3. I am listening with headphones.

They are good headphones. They are the best ones in the house. But I no longer posses the wall of speakers (and wires) that use to take up a corner in my apartments, which were the last thing packed on moving out, and the first thing unpacked moving in. Again, life is this. It’s personal. And so I will be the only one listening.

4. I am listening alone.

The right way to do this would be to get a group of friends together, rent a place for a week, bring in a big stereo, and do this together. I agree. But practicality means I will have to pine, and complain, and make due. Gen-X true.

Once

Twenty-five years ago this month, by fate and by coincidence, a series of blessings were laid out before me. Me, the odd child out of every clique in high school, left for college and found the greatest gift any weirdo could hope for, a group of fellow oddities scared and afraid and honest and frightened and open and together. It was 1991, and less than a year into college something else wondrous happened. The music bubble of the 80s (pop, hair metal, corporate rap) popped. It just popped.

Life felt more dualistic then, either because the world has indeed fractured, or because the view at 43 is far different than the view at 18. Or both. It felt like everyone back then was either/or, male or female, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Ford or Chevy, east coast, west coast, Tiffany or Debbie, Motley Crue or Poison. Life didn’t feel complicated. You just had to choose. Or let life choose for you.

Less than a month into this new reality, returning to my room, walking down the hallway I heard… I heard… What is that? I wasn’t sure what I heard. We had no way to understand then, no way to decifer the lyrics, or get online and see who else was listening, no way to know but to listen over and over again. It was Pearl Jam. It was Ten. It was the opening riff to Even Flow.

In my whole life I have never felt adequate. I have never felt like I fit or I belonged no matter where I was. But in that room, that day, that year, with those people, I felt found. I felt for the first time in my life, both in reality and in metaphor, that someone was singing in my octave. Here was a baritone bellowing about the lost, the homicidal, the fatherless, the misdirected, the unloved. Here were guitars, and a voice, saying something of substance, and meaning it.

And while others fell in love with “Here we are now, entertain us.” We fell in love with these one-word-titled jams. Ten.

Twenty five years later and I will be honest. I fell out of touch too often with those folks who shared that year with me, those folks who saved me, whom I love dearly. And I fell out of touch with Pearl Jam. Sure, I know all the hits. But, I never followed them on tour. I never bought their third album, or their fourth. They did exactly what a true Gen-X band should have done. They made their music and ignored the industry. They avoided Top 40 and refused Ticketmaster. If you were trying to sabotage a “recording artist” career you couldn’t have done better. If you were trying to be just musicians.

But, as a band, they did all this and kept making their music. They are that good. The first time I heard them was the first time music resequenced my DNA. And so, twenty-five years later I am going to do something small to make up for my mistakes of being far too square and far too mainstream. My plan is to go back and binge-listen to Pearl Jam’s entire catalog, and to write down what I hear. I don’t claim any great insight. I don’t hope to change anything. I am 90s to the bone. Gen-X forever. I am doing it simply because it intriques me, because there is love there, because I wish to honor the band, and my loved ones, my friends.

I love you all. Thank you. I miss you. Happy anniversary.

Thinking In Graphs – Economic Fairness

I think we can all agree (of course we can’t, but let me dream) that a fair and economically just society would look something like this:

charts.001

Where work is considered the time, energy, creativity, brain and body power that you emit each day in order to create something meaningful for society. In exchange you get money, benefits, status, respect, security, and protection. In our ideal society the more you work the more you are compensated. And no one is too far from that direct relationship line.

Now, I am an optimist, so I believe two things. First, that for the most part the trend holds. Second, that most citizens want to be somewhere near this ideal.

I think society breaks down as we get closer and closer to this:

charts.002

Conservatives get upset with people who do very little work and still get compensation. Progressives get upset with people who get extremely well compensated for very little work. To illustrate this I am going to rely on a little absurdity from comedian Doug Stanhope.

Starting at around the two minute mark Stanhope points out one aspect of society where injustice plays out, ugly people and beautiful people. Ugly people can work harder and harder, but will never be as well compensated as beautiful people. He explains this better than I do.

Now, could an ugly person work hard enough to earn tons of respect, money, and security? Sure, Steven Tyler. Could a beautiful person go through their whole life poorly compensated for their harder and harder work? I’m sure.

Consider, there could be, theoretically, one type of economically just society shaped like the second graph, though not one that most of us would want to live in. If the second graph occurred randomly across all demographic categories, if your success economically was essentially a result of chance, it would be fair. Although I don’t think we want to live in that random place.

Where a society becomes economically unjust is when those two divergent lines mirror demographics groups. I will give you an example. There are two groups on our country that receive significant compensation with very little productive work. The very old, and the very young. Essentially, for the first and last ten to fifteen years of your life you receive compensation while giving very little back. In this case, it is either because of your promise of future work, or as a reward for your past years of service. We agree these are reasonable outlier categories. But what of gender, race, religion, creed, association?

When work is not justly rewarded, when one is compensated well beyond their contribution or when one works tirelessly and is unrewarded, anytime there is a disconnect between that direct relationship, society unravels. What do you call someone who works endlessly and receives zero compensation? A slave. What do you call someone who needs to do no productive work for society, yet can have anything they want? Royalty.

We are not a society of slaves and royals. We never should be. We should nudge folks towards that center line. Never giving up on the idea that you should work for what you want in life, and never giving up on the idea that you should be fairly compensated for the work you do. You should not be exalted toward the top of the graph by lineage, or gender, or birthright (or really even beauty). You should not be oppressed in the bottom of the graph by lineage, gender or birthright. That would be… ugly.

We can agree to strive for this unified center… right?

Episode 8 – Moments

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6364156?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-8-moments%2F%3Ftoken%3Dcfbdc44d2743256a1e346bf44511524d&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 7 – Matter

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6360153?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-7-matter%2F%3Ftoken%3D5161a17f6f3dd28d3700e27fbbe7565d&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 1 – Herenow

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6360152?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-1-herenow%2F%3Ftoken%3D9d98fd675a6133113efb8c5ea52ecf77&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 6: Kind

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6357352?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-6-kind%2F%3Ftoken%3D5cae934877747a78c840bb7336a129fe&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 5: Taste

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6354110?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-5-taste%2F%3Ftoken%3D0fac2d1f3729fcc5deb4aace0cf81cab&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 4: Choice

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6350555?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-4-choice%2F%3Ftoken%3D98d807f257ecd601a7b7171921fe3b31&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

A Notice Meditation

I notice the weight of the blanket on my legs. The tightness of my shorts. The feeling of one hand weighing on top of the other on top of my chest.

I notice what appears to be light around the left edge of my closed eyes. What they tell me are floaters. Luminous squares that grow and then disappear.

Notice the sound of the dog playing with a toy drowning out the sound of the air conditioning drowning out the motor of the fridge. All of it above the high pitch subtle whine always in my ears.

Notice the voice asking whether it is a whine or static, if there is a scientific explanation I once knew for it. Notice the promise to do research, to write about what I find.

Notice the pain in my right ankle. Notice the breath in and out, which triggers reminders to always pay attention to the breath. Notice my memory of the man in front of the temple. Notice the silhouette of someone in front of my vision. The silhouette that never resolves to anything.

Notice the process of scanning through memory. Notice the moment rising where I have an urge to turn onto my side. Notice the decision about my shoulder, about feet on top of feet, about being more receptive to the vibes when I am on my back.

Notice the heaviness of my head, the turn, the right hand grabbing the left clavicle, the hangnail on my ring finger, the soreness felt, and release when legs are straightened, the thickness of tongue in my mouth, the memory of grey wet gravestones, of riding bikes, of rust.

Notice the voice taking notes, and notice the one watching the voice taking notes, and someone listening to that inner voice, and someone watching the one listening, and the dog shifting its weight, and the itch behind the left ear, and the shapes becoming clear. And dissolving.

What The Hell Is Water?

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College, 2005

What are we bathed in? What have we always been bathed in which is so close and central to our existence that we simply cannot experience it? What do we swim against?

I have a guess. It is predicated on the possibility of finding what is around us by identifying what we build away from. Call it identity through antithesis.

I am still not over the ride home I took from work when I was seventeen and sure I would never again see a friend whom I adored. A part of me is still at home 1800 miles away in New York. I am fascinated by the carvings and music we’ve shot into space as a signal to aliens of our existence. Earlier today I couldn’t clear my head of a Rod Stewart song from the 90s.

We build monuments and manifestos for wars, and signings, and dead people, and explorers. Our holidays are about remembrance, our political debates about other times. All of our science is based on previous experiments and distant galaxies. In short, we are there, and we are then. We chastise children for not thinking of consequences and futures, and consider adulthood as being wise, and well-storied, and prepared. It is everywhere.

Well, everywhere but here.

Perhaps what we swim in, what we marinade in, what sustains us is this moment. The moment, rather than a three dimensional world, plus time, a one dimensional world, sans time. The water of nowness.

I have my senses. And they are present. Very few things make the then and there go away quite as well as stubbing a toe, or crashing a car, or an orgasm. What is now is this carpet, these keys, the weight of the ring on my finger. My wife is upstairs. My family’s in Buffalo. Who knows where all the friends I adore exist? As I remember them, likely, they live only in my memory.

But nowness. The sound of the dishwasher. The hiss of the fireplace. The light, unending buzz in my ears that fills the cracks of emptiness. A smudge on my glasses. Floaters just in front of my eyes. Every meditation involves breathing. Breathing is here and now.

A man walks up to another man and quips, “Morning. How’s the nowandhere?”

It’s the only place we’ve ever been.

I Wander Downstairs…

I wander downstairs in my white blousey
shirt sleeves stretched in all directions

from twisting in sleepless sheets. I sit
on the floor surrounded by silent voices

on the page as I struggle to free my wonder…

who said a line and in what verse? Rumi? Doty?
The line spoke to what it means to have a secret,

to be awake while other sleep, to be alive

while others have long died. The moon is bright
behind the blinds, dogs curl in the chairs,

the line is hidden deep. McPherson? Forché?

They’ve known things. They whisper secrets
which make bail after years in solitary. Wisdom.

Whatever that might be. When everyone wakes

I’ve done dishes. Tables dusted. Laundry
shifted. The books reshelved. And know

no more about the line now, nor myself.

El Cuerpo de Bomberos de La Ciudad de Ibarra

-for Dayko

The bodies like bombs
that fell in the city of Ibarra
were exalted to hear the pawing
scrape of nails, the long tongue
dragging along rubble,
the bay and the yap
which called fireman to rescue.

Seven lives
by that four year old body. Seven.
God’s number. Sins and virtues.
Psalms and parables.
The day on which the Creator rests,
(while we suffer our bodies and our injuries)
caressing a loyal, faithful friend.

https://www.facebook.com/bomberos.ibarra?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000618

ChrisPaulMikeDave

I have met you
in chunks, like clones
that march endlessly
around corners, blocking
every escape.

I have seen you in
your archetypes, each calling
back to their kin,
a victim of initial,
impulse, and name.

Chris. Spending your life
as a suggestion of the Christ,
consumed with the need
to be top, first in class,
center, A+, savior.

Paul. Sounding like a pall
or appalled, but also
ending in All.
Helper. Friend.
Dour, damp, but giver.

Mike. Loudmouth. Feedback.
All talk. Braggadocio.
Center of every
meeting. Captain
of every team.

Dave. You hit me.
Not just me. Everybody.
Did no one teach
you Dave, in your naiveté,
a better way to behave?

For My Generation X

It’s happened. We were informed, since the day we were born
first children of single parent, divorce, abortion, contraception.
First children of AIDs, heroine, just say no… experimental.
We were told by our diminished numbers in a bureaucracy
that our children and parents would split the spoils. And so…

one more election where baby boomers bitch about the lot
they’ve been given and how to divide it. One more argument
left over from the dorms about America becoming browner
and gayer and immigrant and feminine. One more election
about what we can’t afford. Next one… some young millennial?

To Anonymous Hands

The food on my table has no label,
no name of the founders who traided
with the natives when they had no word

yet for ownership. No snappy slogan etched
in cardboard in order to convey health
despite the fact we know it’s meal and sugar.

But I know a hand must have tilled the field,
picked it from the soil, chose it from a lot
of rejects, bagged it, packed it, trucked it.

And I’d guess their name wasn’t Kellogg
or Dole, or Kraft, or Johnson. The meal
was grand, an honor to anonymous hands.

Six Flags America

In Six Flags America children under two get in free,
so if they ask you do not tell them that you are three.
In Six Flags America you must be 38 inches to ride,
so stuff a sock in your sneakers to make you that high.
In Six Flags America you can get free soda refills,
so we snuck a cup in we have from last year still.

There are rules and policies and ways to cheat
in America we condone them
as ways to compete.
In baseball the juiced ball.
The banks at the margin call,
short sells, derivatives, micro trading with ease.
In DC the insiders writing policy.

In Six Flags America is not explicitly illegal.
We wrote it vaguely when we put it in the bill.
In Six Flags American everyone gets rich,
everyone that is, willing to scuff up the pitch.
We promise and cajole and hunt for an edge
and anyone who does it is only “alleged”.

I Fucking Hate This Week (April 16-22)

Each year it’s as if our position in revolution
or the tilt of our axis causes all of us to slip
off our cusp, to blow up or gun down, overdose
or fall asleep in jeopardy, never again to wake.

Something about the movement of Spring
stubbornly into Summer, of Prince
into a sarcophagus, of Chyna into Tibet,
of oil into water, of Aries into Taurus.

Something causes us to protest life and be slaughtered
for it, to strap to our chests our worst
intentions and find new, seemingly unthinkable
maddening ways to spit at our making.

What I Saw In Banja Luka, Tabitha Fortis

-based on The U.S. Poet Laureate episode of The West Wing

In Banja Luka a father leads his son to the shores of the Sava River
for an afternoon spent listening to the water, like life and time, passing.

He teaches his son to cast his metal out into the moving current
and to wait patiently for a connection, wait until something tugs at him.

The boy, with his pole and his pride and his father, mistakes a relic
rusted out on his hook for the wiggle and struggle of some reward.

For half an hour he drags the ring to shore, fighting a pointless war.

In Banja Luka the remains of a boy are laid to rest. The hands,
a foot, what’s left of a chest, the blood of the boy exploded

into the pores of the father’s dark, muscled, scarred arms,
blown into the grey flecks of his once jet black hair, his own

childhood stolen, like a first kiss is stolen, like land is stolen.
And the father, all day, whimpering to emptiness, “Mine, mine.”

Boston 4/15/13

At the end of the marathon everyone’s legs are gone.
Most just want to rest, stripped of their grievances,
humanity, civilization. Glycogen stores depleted.

But there were emergency vehicles, and screaming.
Confusion and heat. Shards of metal from barricades
meant to keep the runners from their loved ones.

Safe.

At the end of the marathon everyone’s euphoric.
Strangers around them breaking through enemies
and therefore soldiers, brothers you’d run with.

Our animus burned away. For four days no one
moved, left, blinked, slept. Poured over photography
and evidence. “Come out, if you want to live.”

Iconography

What question has you that the Gods might answer? The one
about right choices and your destiny? The one about the lives
of your children? About which team to take over the weekend?

Immediate deistic intervention into a traffic jam? And which God
will you ask? The monotheistic God seems overwhelmed and busy.
Imagine being in charge of everything. But the bureaucrat Gods
feel like something might get lost; that the God of lost souls

might have different jurisdiction than the God of lost causes.
And what of the atheists? Trapped by the gods of physics,
the gods of reproducible evidence and the observable universe.

The Gods who meet the dead and the newborn. The Gods
of customer support. Gods of laundry and chores. So many
Gods one must check your own inbox for requests. Who
needs you today? Who is praying for your own meddling?

For #8, Gary Edmund Carter

On a rainy day in April we twist and turn into Cooperstown
where I’m interested only in laying hands on one bust.

Kids expect no one in sports to be worth their trust, no one
in the upcoming election, no movie star who won’t someday

soon be caught in a situation fraught with pride and excess,
the kind of temptation offered only to those of endless fame.

I liked the way he held his bat. The way he walked and ran.
The joy with which he met the warm air and the lined dirt field.

Older Than Elvis

I sit on the toilet and wonder what rhythms
might rise up from these pipes to claim me. Left eye
whipping around a corner in her Mitsubishi.

Patsy Cline each time I board a plane. Jim Morrison
in the bath. Jimi in bed. Janis on the floor by the bathroom.
My feet on cold tile. I’m older than my soundtrack,

than all the good music of love and heartbreak,
than idealism. Overdosed on realism
and stumbling towards old age,

worries about dementia and an enlarged
prostate. They died so young. Young
and knowing, and pretty.

At The Garden

At the Garden ten men take the floor
while 10,000 stand in front
of seats, dreaming. A hundred
more sell popcorn, run the soundboard,

wash towels. At two in the afternoon
someone wipes the seats, At five
someone opens parking. America
may highlight the tall and the strong,

lavish on talent a jersey and a spotlight.
But most of us hope just to get close,
to have some walk-on roll
in the success of a nation.

To say I met Ewing once,
handed water to Carmelo,
made some law work, returned
the wagons, polished the apple.

The Mount Rushmore Metaphor

1

The bust of a baby taking a first step or shit,
eating strained peas, soap, or cursed words.

2

One could say, in my day, a car was freedom,
that we drove west to fuck folks we didn’t yet know.

3

In our 20s we climbed trees, rocks, each other,
thought our bull-bare bottoms were revolutions.

4

Some work for evolution, living ideals, generosity
towards others. We’ll put a bullet in their head.

Era

The headline reads, “Steph Curry Redefining Greatness in the Post-Michael Jordan Era”
which I complain to my boss would be like A-Rod defining home runs in the post Babe Ruth era
or Jágr in the post Gretzky era, Obama in the post-Lincoln era. Humans: post dinosaurs.

All that’s left in the house I grew up in are scratches on walls, meaningless to anyone
who was not there to see them made, paint chipping away while the story
of how we chose the color and the hijinks of hanging it, the brush strokes long gone.

All life exists in the post-microbial, single-celled, post-bacterial era. All cities exist
in the post fertile crescent, post Egyptian era. All superheroes in the post Phantom,
post Superman era. All love in the post-first-love era. All kisses post first kiss.

A Filter

For the third time today the boss refers to her as “hon” and she chooses
to stop the meeting for a sec to ask him to quit it.

A teacher recognizes the introverts are passing tests, though
not participating. Stops class clowns long enough to ask.

Sekou Sundiata must type his name over again to prevent being
seiko sundial. Others are onto the next line.

It’s a race. To the top. To the bottom. To the suburbs.
To the watch and the view and to automatically rolling down your window.

It’s an obstacle course and every peg is a filter meant
to slow some down, the non-conforming, non-typical, non-hackers.

It doesn’t have to be. We choose it. So it is.

Out West These Days

Out west these days the fences are made of hoods
of plastic covering concrete, made to look like wood
but never in need of painting. And so Tom Sawyer need
not come up with some intricate, conniving idea to feed
to his dupes and friends. Instead he’s graduated from
the University with a degree in finance. The dumb
folks he took advantage of now spread worldwide
and paying him a dime for each dollar they make. Hide
of some expensive animal no longer his cap or coat
but the shine of his shoes. Snakeskins on his boat.

A Superhero Is Someone

A superhero is someone who uses their advantage for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their ability for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their strength for the betterment of others.
A superhero uses their freak for the advancement of others.

There was an incident.
A horrible accident.
A miscue, a mistake, a miscalculation.

Someone died.
Someone came back changed.
Diana, Peter, Reed, Steve, Anna Marie, Clark, Susan, Bruce, Ben, Scott, Logan

A superhero is someone who chooses to make life better for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses to sacrifice for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses their own risk for others.
A superhero chooses to live for others.

The Key, 1946 – Jackson Pollock

At six the kid loved the long lines, the swirling puddles, the intersection
of dried color and what she dubbed, “its barking and
its funny.”

At sixteen she could not be bothered
to accompany her old man to the museum
where “everything is so dusty and boring.”

By twenty-six she’d humor me
once a year, and complain about
the lack of narrative and the bourgeoisness and the patriarchy.

By thirty-six she loved his risk, and our memories, the wonder of her own child
and of my failing body, as we crawled
inside the painting.

At forty-six I hope
she cried, though with a hint of a her smile. I hope
she’s missed me and my commentary.

And that she kept going.

Henry Hudson Never Saw The World

Henry Hudson never saw the world
I was raised in. Railroad tracks
over cracked concrete pitted
with fresh tar and overflowing,
flowers of oversized homes
sprung up along the forested
shores, weeds of trailers
sprung at their feet.

No. He doffed his cap and trimmed
his sails without the smoke
stacks pumping out concrete,
the barrier walls and the docks
nestled up against the rocks
where I used to tie my line
and wait for the bass to bite,
lost in the bosomy mountains.

One World Trade Center

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

From the top of Manhattan it appears like a jeweler’s tool,
large triangle spikes alternatively piercing the air
and the ground, suggesting both a rise and collapse.

Across the barricades and signs for “Authorized
Vehicles Only” the bottom third is shards of glass
stitched together with cross-knit supports.

It’s good that it’s here. For vain reasons.

For selfish reasons. Because a tattoo

of a piñata is an improvement

over a challenging surgery’s

uncamouflaged

scar.

In The Painting There’s A Man

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

In the painting there’s a man on a bridge.
Often iconic, either the Brooklyn or San Francisco Bay.
From the angle of his head and height of his climb
one can tell if he is despondent or reaching the other side.

On this canvas a dirt road carved through a forest,
barely the bump of a four month gestation.
If you did not know the woods you could not see
the pregnant arch of stone nor the creek below.

The man looks sideways, unaware of the breach
he walks over. Neck twisted by the sound of a robin
rising on its wings off the branch of a tree.

Half buried in the mud behind the bridge
lies a rusted-out plow drawing back to the land,
and a glove, and some abandoned, hopeful plan.

“Welcome To Bell Atlantic”

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

Wind back through time, through your sculptures of the mind
old washed out hues of umber-tinted photos.
You, however, can never explain a hairdo,

nor flannel, nor cord-tangled tech, nor
James Earl Jones welcoming you the same
way each time you pick up the phone. Say
your vinyl truth, and no more.

Fan Boi

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

I once held a door open for Stockard Channing,
a woman who’s never looked less than breathtaking
and who in my youth was Grease’s bad girl of high school
despite being, already, thirty-four.

Whom I’ve never seen do poorly in a movie.
Who’s always portrayed a sense of royalty.
Whose backlash against societal expectations
has been at the center of her role selection.

And what did I say? In this moment of idolatry?
Did I mention her ground breaking roles?
Did I compliment her storytelling or acting? No.
I made some crack about the coming snow.

I’ve hugged a micro-famous comedian. Stalked podcasters.
Taught Dee Dee Myers to drag and drop. Made Richard Dreyfus
angry and Alex Trebek irate. Mumbled something unintelligible
to Mariah Carey. Hung coolly with Vince Neil.

If Alanis Morissette walked in the room I’d like to think
I could be composed, ask her to chat about writing
over coffee, and not drop to her feet promising
my undying allegiance. But who knows?

Too Many Mics, Not Enough Emcees

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

“All I need is one blunt, one page, one pen, one prayer.” – Nas

Back when Nas was Stillmatic and the Fugees ran The Score
both used to bitch about not enough mics in the store

Virgin Records running profits by limiting shelf space
tubes of posters for small walls of a Tribe Called Quest and Pac’s face.

Then the net broke it open to everyone everywhere
technology meant to democratize who got paid for their wares

But now the big conglomerates have become nothing but McDonalds
the only way to make them bucks is show your tits or abdominals

Thin beefs, fake buns, hooks with no verses
vagueness, pablum, low nutrient curses

During Technique’s Revolution, when Public Enemy was in the Hour of Chaos
the beats broke the barrier between blood, brain, and know-mas

It opened our chakras, now it closes our mind,
some pretty boy fronting about his rims and his wine

Any fool with a Mac can now drag and drop
no need to even know if the beats wack or hot

You only want one score and that’s what you’ll get
Take your cash, get outta my damn ears, enjoy your shit hit

Not enough Emcees, too many rap
we all waste our mics on thin thoughts that ain’t phat.

King Tut’s Sarcophagus

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

There are nights when the sheets that drape me
swaddle me like papier-mâché and dry to a stiff cast,

the dribble from my mouth a gold mask at the shock
that I was King for just that breath past my father’s death.

The tour of artifacts locked in the basement whispers none
until the robbers come digging at the rubble. Until

I am preserved and carted out on World Tour. Until they realize
the best thing I did was to smile after I died. Inconsequential

people like Lucy, mosquitoes trapped in amber with the DNA
tale of extinct species. Average folk who covered their head

when the comet hit. Who sung nothing but a song which children
passed on, who made one notable, lasting, petrified thing.

James Brady Is Dead

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

James Brady is dead,
though for the last thirty-three
years of his life he lived
in seesawing disagreement
with his body which somedays
responded well to access
and other days refused
to admit the failure of the bullet.

James Brady is dead,
though for sixty-nine days
he joked with the press
in a manner seemingly laughable
by today’s adversarial media
melee, where one wrong
word spins instantaneously
crisscrossing the equator.

James Brady is dead,
though for three centimeters
he could have had long less,
and Reagan might have been
Kennedy, and Bush might
have spent the eighties railing
against Madonna’s gyrations
tilting wildly right and left.

James Brady is dead,
though in less than a second
he became a cyborg of mind
and metal, a man who was lead
to believe, by the delusion of want,
in the terror of maddened men
who feel slighted by the voices
to whom they are dutifully wed.

The Difference Between Being Polite and Being Kind

In the visual thesaurus there is a one word jump between being polite and being kind. According to this reference these two words are not synonyms, but they are synonymous. And yet, in real-world function they are worlds apart. The distinction between these two words is the distance between someone who supports Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (who can’t understand why others don’t), and someone who loathes his campaign (and can’t understand why others don’t).

Being polite is a social construct, a societal facade based on time, manner, and place. It is the southern euphemism “bless his heart,” a way to insult someone while seeming to be… well… polite. It is maintaining a professional visage towards a coworker you would rather never interact with. It is the correct fork, the nicely tied tie, using the word “miffed” to talk about a time you were really “pissed off.”

When I was in college the idea of political correctness was just coming into vogue. This was a time when folks were trying to replace some of the micro-aggressive ways we referred to each other. Political correctness was derided by comedians and politicians as an extreme form of politeness, a mask underneath which we were still angry separate supremacists. Political correctness was simply not, as we have heard more than one Trump surrogate laud, “telling it like it is.”

Kindness is the act of seeing the burdens another is carrying and doing something to lighten them. For everything about politeness that is faux and skin deep, kindness is to the bone. It requires peripheral awareness, and empathy, commitment and action and self-sacrifice, even in its smallest incarnations.

In the 90s when my friends and I entered the workforce almost every boss was male and it was still common to refer to the women in the office as “toots” or “dear” or “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie”. There was nothing I could do about unequal pay, or sexual harassment, or bosses expecting female coworkers to “wear something pretty” to the staff meeting. But I could say something about “dear” and “honey” and “toots”. Was I being polite? Or was that an act of kindness? When I pulled him aside and he responds with, “You know being nice to them is not going to get them to like you or fuck you.” Was he being impolite or unkind?

I can do a little more now to shape the workplace in which both I, and those I know supervise, exist. I can make sure we are paying an even wage for work, not paying more for a certain type of person. I can create an environment where we consider the people around us in our decisions. And I can choose, and encourage others to choose to be kind; deeply, meaningfully, genuinely.

I can’t do much to stop the unkindness in our larger culture. I can’t tell police officers that their job is to successfully apprehend suspects, no matter their age or size or skin color, so they can go to trial, rather than killing them in the streets. I can’t make that State of Alabama see the burden it places on people when they say some consenting adult relationships are more important than others. I can’t express how damaging it is to young minds when a large swath of the country declares a President illegitimate because of the color of his skin.

But, in every moment, we all have the choice to be kind. In small ways and big we can stop, wherever we are, and look around us. We can try to see in each other the burdens we are carrying, the scars, and the triggers, and the damages that have been done. We can offer to carry or share those burdens, just for a few steps, just for a little while.

It’s not that the Trump candidacy is impolite. Fuck, I love impolite. I think we are all too caught up in our corporate dress and buzz-words. It is that this campaign is unkind. It makes people fear for their bodies. It states that there are some people in America more deserving of protection and rights and creator-endowed liberties than others. It argues that in our society people have their places, and there they should stay. It adds to our scars and our burdens, rather than lightening them.

For those who see this as simple impoliteness, and who cheer him, I say this. He is not saying what he believes. He is saying what you cannot say, what you wish you could still say, in the workplace, in the grocery store, in social circles. He is saying what you believe. And it is mean. And it is hurtful. And it is unkind.

Rules For This Mix: The Book Of Us

This is a mix for you, my love. It can never be called a playlist, because this is not play. This is serious business, although admittedly a first draft. This is a mix which will be edited and updated as we find new ways to love each other. But the rules, the rules must remain.

1. Nothing that has touched anyone else. None of these songs are recycled, nor for one moment make me think of anyone but you. These are yours and yours alone.

2. The words matter here. I know sometimes the lyric is not as important as the instrumentation. But here the lyric is paramount. What they are saying, I am saying.

3. That being said I know you love the wall of sound, when the notes intertwine and exude power and overwhelm. So I looked here for those, for you.

4. If there were multiple versions of a song, remakes, reboots, covers, the only choice was the one you would like, the one you would listen to.

5. No sarcasm here. No wit. Only sincerity.

6. Life with you is full and complex and glorious, full of ups and downs. So is this mix.

And here it is, for you and only you. iTunes Music: The Book of Us

Us – Regina Spektor: When we first got together I said you were the type of person, and we could be the type of couple, that people named buildings and cities and wings of hospitals after. This is a wall of sound that agrees.
“They made a statue of us, and it put it on a mountain top. Now tourists come and stare at us.”

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers: Quite simply the greatest love song of all time. And for you, a literal meaning. You love to run. And to love you I ran, thousands of miles and marathons.
“Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.”

I Found My Everything – Mary J. Blige: I will never be able to put in my own words, or find in anyone else’s, what it is like when you walk in a room, what it was like the first time you walked into my life. But Ms. Blige says something close.
“Can’t you see? Look at my face it’s glowing and it’s all because of you.
Everything about you, you see I need. And I thank God for sending you through.”

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack: There are things you can say in a song that you can’t say outside of a song, things I want to say to you.
“The first time ever I kissed your mouth I felt the earth move in my hand like the trembling heart of a captive bird.”

At My Most Beautiful – R.E.M.: As much as life is full and wonderful when you are around, it is that hollow when you are not. So I leave you messages, and send you thoughts.
“At my most beautiful I count your eyelashes secretly, with every one whisper, I love you.”

Share The Moon – Indigo Girls: Here’s a band who meant a lot to me before I knew you, but means so much more to me since sharing them with you.
“I can go one day without calling…
Two days without bawling…
Three days without missing…
But a lifetime of no kissing you is something that I just can’t do.”

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers: When you are not home, the dogs and I feel the same way.
“This house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away. And I know, I know, I know, I know………….”

First Day of My Life – Bright Eyes: Meeting you, knowing you, loving you, sharing life with you. It is a waking up.
“This is the first day of my life. I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you.”

To Make You Feel My Love – Adele: For a moment, for you to see what I see, to feel what I feel for you, I would do anything.
“I’d go hungry. I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do. To make you feel my love.”

The Book Of Love – Peter Gabriel: I love when we are riding in the car and this song comes on. I love our relationship to music, and kissing, and cars.
“The book of love is long and boring and written very long ago.
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes and things we’re all too young to know.”

You Are The Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne: I could just go with the title here. It is the truth. But there are great lyrics too.
“Both of us have known love before to come on promising like a spring, and walk on out the door.
Our hearts are strong and our hearts are kind. Let me tell you just exactly what’s on my mind.”

I’ll Stand By You – Pretenders: If you could have one person, the one person, say one thing to you, and you would know it to be true, what would that one thing be?
“Take me in, into your darkest hour. And I’ll never desert you. I’ll stand by you.”

Thoughts after watching “Making A Murderer”

This is not an unbiased telling of a story. The filmmakers here have an agenda and a point of view. They are storytellers. That is what they do. All my thoughts flow from what they told.

I don’t know how Teresa Halbach died, or what happened to her body after she died.

The state did an awful job of coming up with a coherent timeline, a motive, or an explanation in the inconsistencies of the evidence.

This may not be a uniquely American thought, but it was groundbreaking when it was built into the organizing principles of our society. People who have power will abuse it, will be corrupted by it, will use it against those they see as the other, will wield it for their own gain.

There are HUGE amounts of prosecutorial misconduct here. There are HUGE amounts of police misconduct here. There is a huge amount of small town, backdoor, underhanded politicking going on here.

The idea that the family that lives on the other side of town, who keep to themselves, who didn’t go to college, who work with their hands, who don’t share your need for upward mobility, who just want to be left alone, and who have the gall, the unmitigated gall, to show up smiling with the governor, and at court, and on TV in their casual clothes are somehow deviant and criminal and dangerous (and we are just waiting to get them on something) is Wholly UnAmerican. It is counter to our espoused principles that all people are created equal.

The idea that some people are criminal, rather than actions being criminal, is wholly UnAmerican.

And yet, it is central to our culture, to our politics, to law enforcement, to our court systems. It is part of our bullshit hypocrisy. And it is holding us back as a people. Every time someone on this show said, “How dare he. These police officers are good men, with good reputations, and they are calling into question their character,” I wanted to punch someone.

This show has little to do with presentable facts at trial and everything to do with reputation and character. On both sides.

The part that I found most salient was at the end of the Avery trial when the lawyer said, “Police don’t plant evidence to frame an innocent man. They do it because they believe he is guilty.” I think the cops, and the prosecutors genuinely believe the Averys are bad people, and they needed to strengthen this case to put two of them behind bars, and the rest of them in their places. I believe they imagine a great many crimes the family has gotten away with, and this is what they can prove.

And, in the unlikely event that I am right about something, about this, then this was a miscarriage of justice.

The Primary Debate

The primary debate we are having right now in the presidential nominating process is not about the role of the federal government, nor immigration, nor tax cuts, nor defense spending, nor guns, nor inequity. It is about the history of the United States. Each candidate is trying to win over a debate about our origins, such that the story leads inevitably to them.

There are two, maybe three versions of this history one needs to consider. And the first, like most things in the Republican party, has to do with disagreeing with President Obama. In his 2008 “Yes We Can” speech the President laid out a vision for how America came to be in this place and time, suggesting that the refrain “yes we can” was in the hearts and minds of the people who built this country.

“It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness. It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.”

Now, if you believe America was built by slaves and abolitionist, immigrants, and pioneers, workers, women, and visionary leaders who had big thoughts more than accomplishments, you have a couple of choices in the Republican field. You have the children of immigrants and slaves, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and to some extent Chris Cristie, who tells the story of his Sicilian grandmother, born on a boat on the way to America. If you believe America was built by pioneers, workers, women, and visionary leaders you could choose Carly Fiorina, the secretary who worked her way to the CEO’s office, Jeb Bush, who has the right vision for America, or maybe Mike Huckabee, who touts no real achievements in his elected history, but who has the evangelical vision America needs.

But then there are those who simply do not believe this version of American history. And they fall into one, maybe two camps.

First, the maybe-narrative. America was never created. America, as a single nation, has no coherent history. America as it was formed from 1776-1789, the Confederation of States, is more accurately what American still is. If you believe we are not one country, barely 50 states, and more accurately 400 million free individuals, and that we work best when we work as 400 million free individuals, your candidate is Rand Paul, or Bernie Sanders, if you think we are 400 million individuals who every once in a while need the game reset so we are all, again, equal.

But the most obvious of these alternative histories is the “Captains of Industry” model. This model says that America was built by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs… and Donald Trump. These are men, white men, who were broodish, mean assholes who built, with their own two hands (rather than everyone else’s), great big things. In some sense this is the version of history that I learned growing up in the 70s and 80s in small town upstate New York. That the mantle of invention and success is passed from a great man’s hands to the next generation’s great man’s hands. It is narrow minded, incomplete, and says nothing about the dead bodies laid at Pharaoh’s feet. But, if you buy this version of American history, then you want to “make America great again,” and you only have one candidate, one white male industrialist, who fits the bill.

The irony of this version of America is that there is actually a second “greatest success of their generation” candidate in the field, another captain of industry. And that would be Hillary Clinton, the first student to give the commencement address at Wellesley College, the first female member of the Rose Law Firm, the first First Lady to have an office in the West Wing, the first First Lady elected to federal office on her own, and the first viable major party female candidate for President of the United States, both in 2008, and 2016. It you asked who are the smartest, most accomplished ten people of the baby boom generation, who will most likely be remembered in a US History class ten years from now, it would be hard to leave First Lady, Senator, Secretary Clinton off that list.

What made us? A myriad of interconnected hands, a coalition of the ascending, individual grit and drive, great men, immigrants, working together, working in competition, God? This is the primary question. If there were one more Republican debate, if I could ask one more question of the candidates to bring to the fore that which I think is hidden behind all the rhetoric and campaign slogans it would be this:

Who built the White House?

A Computer Is…

A computer is a device that allows you to move your mind, without having to move your body.

Yoga allows you to move your body, without having to move your mind.

Meditation is a way to move neither your body, nor your mind.

Pro Wrestling (dance, theatre) is a way to move your body, in order to move other people’s minds.

Writing is a way to move your mind, in order to move other people’s minds.

Football is a way to move your body, in order to move other people’s bodies.

Music (poetry, oratory) is a way to move air, in order to move other people’s minds and bodies.

The Temple

You’ve come to the front door of the temple.

You’ve found the structure read about in diaries, intuited in dreams, a gold-inlaid shack held up by cracked and weathered planks of wood.

It sits on the edge of the known universe, at the point in town where two blocks in one direction is bustling city, where students hide in coffee houses searching online for answers to questions of philosophy.

The coffee house, the university, shopping, streets. And then across one white-lined slab of asphalt, nothing, for no reason a large open field, a line of trees.

The temple sits just in front of those trees, facing the mountain katty-corner to the city. The door hangs off its hinges and is too small to accommodate anything but a body. You leave your belongings.

As you enter, the anteroom is dingy, cobwebs and stench, a row of hooks bolted into walls unable to hold their weight. Off with your coat, with your shoes, with hats and gloves and socks and anything necessary to keep separate you and the elements.

There is only propriety, and a door. The hallway is hospital lit. Take off your pants, your shirt, your undies. Here is a robe. Once you are ready, have a seat in the next room and someone will be with you.

It’s cool.

Not uncomfortably so, but soft like a breeze, fresh. But no where to sit, not a cushion or a couch. And the floor impossibly distant from your eyes. As are, you notice, your feet, or more to the point, where your feet would be.

You’re not floating. You’re solid, as is the room. Yet you cannot reach a wall or a floor, or your right hand to your left, your finger to your nose, your tongue to your lips. If you had lips. If you had muscle or a body. You must have left them somewhere, perhaps in the last room you can’t seem to get back to.

But forward, through a pinhole in the universe, a prick in the ether, your inevitable procession.

Push.

The air here is static, uneasy, electricity. It bombards you from every direction. Light and sound and heat. And touch. And hunger. And agony. A room too small for any of us, for me.

And bowels. And lungs.

An expanding space of impossible things.

The Difference Between Meditation and Sleep

In order to fall asleep one must disconnect from the body. One must be willing to disconnect from the body. One must feel safe enough, and neutral enough to be prepared to disconnect from the body. Sleep, and consequently dreaming, allows the creative-story-spinning parts of our awareness to move unfettered by laws of causality, and physics; meaning the constraints of the body.

In meditation we bring the body with us. Indeed it is the actual vessel on which we ride deep into meditation. The instructor will tell you, always, to focus on your breath, the in and out of air through your nose and your lips. They are telling you to be in your body. And while meditation may lead you to insight or epiphany, often these are about how to live more fully in this world, rather than creating another world in which to reside.

In meditation I do not wonder if I was a butterfly dreaming I was a man, or vice-versa.

The purpose of dreaming is to play. To set free ourselves from the bonds of responsibility, to paint wildly a mandala that will be blown away by the time we wake. With meditation the effects come after the act. By simply paying attention to the breath, to the sweaty toes, to the crick in your neck, to the constant pain of a shoulder tweaked earlier in the day, to the itch on the outside of your left thigh, and back to the breath we are more able to move more evenly around this world.

The irony is that one may come to the epiphany that this world is an illusionary playground, a ride at an amusement park. And yet, this act of meditation, which allowed us to recognize this subtle truth, allows us to live more fully within the confines of this playground. Dreaming creates its own worlds, but does little to help us live in ours.

And there are times when I fret too much, or worry, or plan, or obsess over the health of the Pope, or the state of tension in Israel and the west bank; where I can’t sleep. I know, no matter what spell I try to spin that the farcical fun imaginative world of my dreams will not be available to me. And so I meditate. I focus on my breath. I place all of my consciousness inside my left toenail. I create a perch atop my left ear where I sit and watch the sloshing ocean of my thinking brain. I come back to the breath.

I spend whole nights very much not sleeping, without dreams. And yet, when the morning comes I am ready for this fantastical world. I am, at least, and at last, refreshed.

TBAP – Swallowed – Mark Bibbins

I’m not sure how you feel about words. For me, each noun is an opportunity. It’s the act of taking a blank stage and placing a ______ front and center on it for the audience to see. An obelisk, a vase, a small door, a bicycle, a sword, a vial, a folding fan. I am less interested in whether the stage-hand drops it, or flings it. I am less concerned if they actor retrieves it, or snatches it. In short, nouns for me (not verbs), are everything.

So what to do with a poem about gluttony that opens with an escalator?

When I see an escalator I have to kiss
everyone on it, don’t you?

I don’t. Perhaps when I sit on a bus, or a subway car, or in a lecture. Perhaps in a dentist’s office. Perhaps in a row at the symphony. I can see everyone. I can see their lips and the look on their faces. I can be gluttonous about them. But an escalator?

The rest of the poem is a meditation on various forms of gluttony: war, food, profit, fame… things people eat up. And it’s good. The ending is very good. But Bibbins’s first step knocks me off. And I am caught on it, wondering about it, obsessed with it, trying different nouns with it.

I assume every poet has tried all reasonable possibilities for a line like this, and that a journal loved the poem, and that an anthology editor loved it, and so the error must be in my reasoning, or in the fact that I don’t want to kiss people on escalators.

ELEVATORS! That would have done it.
When I enter an elevator I have to kiss
everyone on it, don’t you?

I do.

And now I am more obsessed with Bibbins’s choices.

Hear Here

I’m not sure how to talk about this. It’s not something you should say often. I hear voices. Not impressions nor ideas, nor urges, voices. Sometimes they come to me with a word, and sometimes a whole line. They do not tell me to do awful things. Heck, they do not tell me to do wonderful things. It might be better if they did. All they tell me to do is to dictate, at some point to add to the text using my own voice.

I know how to quiet them, if quieting them is what I seek. It’s easy. I simply let pass what they have to say, writing none of it down. I can make the voices outside my head louder than the voices inside, drowned them out. This is done most often by watching something on the TV, falling into a hole in YouTube, or binging on Netflix. Video that works most effectively are ones that have nothing to do with consciousness, Buddhism, mysticism, society, history, spirituality, or politics.

Sometimes I will slip, accidentally find myself listening to some instrumental music, or reading a book of poetry, or catching a conversation with Paul Muldoon on the OnBeing podcast. Something about the talk about talk, and language, or the sample of poems, and the space created between and without words. The voices return. They come subtle with some interesting anecdote and ask me to conjugate.

I am in the car. I am in the kitchen. I am incognito being an upstanding citizen. And I wonder sometimes about my friends who have cultivated their lives in such a way that they have time and space meant to do nothing but listen (and of course to take down this dictation crudely). I wonder if their love is greater than mine, if there courage is deeper. I wonder if they are happier, living in concert with the voices. If they even hear them. Or if they write for another reason.

It’s a calling. It’s a sickness. It might simply be better to stop paying attention.

Advice After (re)Reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig

First off, don’t.

This is not a book I suggest you buy, or borrow, or download. It’s a book about a cross-country trip taken by a father and his son. It’s a book about the concept of quality. It’s a book about the use of control and lack of creativity in education. It’s a book that brings ancient Greek philosophy into the modern mind. It’s a book about cultivating the mindset of a mechanic, and in saying that, it is a book about Zen Buddhism. But mostly it is a book about a crazy man who is now sane, tracing the path he took once (and then again) towards the ridge line between reason and madness. And it is very good at walking the main character, and the reader up to, and across that line.

“From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”

I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in grad school, and honestly, I had forgotten both how much this book informed my teaching style, my questioning style, my use of inquiry, and also how much damage the book can cause to my mind while reading it. Insanity, between these covers, is defined as existing, or thinking outside of the mythos of culture in which you live. For most of us the concept of getting anywhere near the edge of our culture’s mythos is impossible. We are so mired and marinaded in it that it might be easier to imagine getting permanently outside of the sun’s light, or living in a world without oxygen.

“The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him.”

But, I don’t know that I have ever felt fully at home in this world, not in the house of my upbringing, nor schools, nor places of employment. And so, it is books like this, books that explore the known edges of the known universe that I am both drawn to, and probably should shy away from. Some of those books are mentioned here, The Tao Te Ching, The Vedic Scriptures, The Upanishads, and various Buddhist literature. All of this, and other books, are brought up to suggest that there might be a unifying feature between reason and passion, between the classical and the romantic.

“We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly. The time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue.”

The Tao, the Dharma, and what Robert Pirsig calls Quality; the suggestion here is that they may all be the same thing, that which gives birth to all other things. And much like the Tao and Upanishads Pirsig suggest that these things can be talked around and near, but not defined, that any definition would diminish that which creates the idea of definition. And so he talks around it, and hints, and suggests, and defines everything below it hierarchically. And somehow this is enough. It is enough to fill a book, to ruin a mind, and to compel a reader to the edge of sanity.

“You’ve got to live right too. It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

If you have a good life, a simple life, if you walk around generally happy, and unconcerned with the underpinnings of your culture, reality, religion, politics, and society don’t read this book. If you enjoy the fruit and beauties of trees, but care little about their roots, or what roots around in the dark soil below them, don’t read this book.

“The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things.”

And me, am I ready to give up stuffing my head with dangerous literature that might cause it to explode? No. I am onto The Elegant Universe by Brian Green. Quantum Physics, a lighter, less mind-bending read.

TBAP: WFM

WFM: Allergic to Pine-Sol, Am I the Only One – Melissa Barrett

What do you think of found poems, or puzzle poems, or collages? Are they art? Are they poetry? Is it an act of creation to paste together disparate pieces into a new whole? I have this question about mash-ups, and remixes, and remakes, and cover bands. I don’t think of them as acts of creation, but acts of re-creation.

There are certainly skills necessary here. You have to make something new from the scraps. You have to manage tension and rising action and say something meaningful using these found objects.

Reading this poem I am interested in distance, particularly the distance between people. It starts off with people far apart, and then there is a tie that will be given as a present, right now it is far away, wrapped. Then you must be able to be seen in public with me. Then we were behind each other at a drive through. Then we made love. Then we were at the shooting range. Then there is rope. Things are knotted together at the end, passionate, violent, intertwined.

Perhaps these found pieces are all us. Perhaps we are all recycled, particularly once we are looking at personals on Craigslist. And maybe we could all do with some connecting, some reaching out, and some being tied up, together.

TBAP: Cedars of Lebanon

Cedars of Lebanon – Derrick Austin

I can appreciate a poem that makes ones wonder, one that, at first reading is compelling enough that I want to do a little research to understand it more.

This poem starts with a quote from the Song of Songs, which I knew was part of the Bible, but I did not know was essentially a love letter back and forth between two people. After knowing that, I read back through the poem as an extension of that motif. On second and third reading, I found love themed imbued deeper and deeper.

But, I am confused by the comment in the back from the author, who simply states that he wanted there to be winter imagery with a sense of movement. I think either a) there is more going on here than the author cares to admit or b) I am reading way too deeply into this. Both are of equal possibility.

The writing here is solid nouns; cedars, cabins, crows, grass, hydrangeas. It is also male and lustful; stags, and blood, and passage between erect cedars. There is also an interesting play of colors; white snow, black crows, red blood.

I wonder about the form, five sections, each with a different shape and attack. I would use this if I were trying to say the same thing five ways, but Austin uses it to propel the movement.

The poem improves with more readings. But I still feel either the poet doesn’t know or isn’t saying what he really wants to say, at least in his commentary. I would be interested to see the poems on either side of this in a collection, interested in the context.

Rules For This Mix: The IDT

This is The IDT, the incredibly depressing tape. This is the mixtape I started making before college in the 80s, that went through revisions with every love and every heartbreak, that was burned to CD, but lost to history when we all went digital.

Could I remake it? Should I?

The rules are simple:
1. It must be composed of songs that you can’t stop listening to no matter how much they carve.

2. Each song must pull you back to a specific place, or person, or moment. This shit is autobiographical. It’s not just sad music for sad music’s sake.

3. One song per performer. This is not a greatest hits tape.

4. Each song must have at least one lyric that is a brutal katana, a line that slices you in two.

5. It’s a mixtape: 90 minutes. No more.

I will spare you the names of the sirens sung to. It would be too embarrassing to admit. But know these are deep cuts, some scarred over, some still unhealed.

These are on my IDT. iTunes Playlist: The IDT

What’s on yours?

Ghost – Indigo Girls

“I’m forever under lock and key, as you pass through me.”

“As I burn up in your presence, I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels.”

You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson

I’m walking through the streets of Newark. It’s too early. The distance from Penn Station to the college is unreasonable. I want the sun to come up. I want to be back in the city. I want back on the train. I want it all back.

“Whisper three words and I’ll come running. Girl, you know that I’ll be there.”

Washington Square – Counting Crows

It’s over.

Pack up everything you love or need and go. We will never again speak but to sign contracts and settle debts.

“Nobody knows me. My friends and my family are as far from this city as Washington Square.”

She’s Got You – Patsy Cline

“I’ve got your memory, or has it got me? I really don’t know. But I know it won’t let me be.”

“The only thing new. I’ve got these little things. She’s got you.”

At This Moment – Billy Vera and the Beaters

Alex Keaton is on a train chasing Ellen across the country. He realized a few hours too late that he couldn’t live without her. Yes, it was a TV show. So, of course, sap that I am, had to turn it into real life.

“How could I hurt you? Darling I love you. And you know, I’d never hurt you.”

“If you’d stay I’d subtract 20 years from my life. I’d fall down on my knees, kiss the ground that you walk on, if I could just hold you again.”

“If I could just hold you…
If I could just hold you…
If… I…. If I could just hold you…
…again.”

(heart wrenching sax)

My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen

Not all sadness is the result of lost love, missed chances, roads not taken. Some deep an unending sadness comes from growing up in a place that no longer exists, in being far away from your family, and farther from a father to whom you were never close. This is existential loss, nostalgia for a place in which you never lived.

“He’d tussle my hair and say son take a good look around. This is your hometown.”

Meet Me In The Dark – Melissa Etheridge

In the long journey of becoming a person there are shadow-moments of which you cannot confirm the existence. Did it happen or was it a dream? And why was it, if not for the most cliched reasons, that you never quite fit in the round holes that held together your town? And why was everything better in college, which, truth be told, wasn’t that far away in geography or culture?

“I know everyone has their unspoken fear. It eats away their senses and their humanity. They carry all their secrets every night down to the river, and they try so hard to drown them. They won’t do that to me.”

“If God made a mistake, then I should die before I wake. Maybe it’s my fate to swim against this tide, swallowing my pride.”

Nightswimming – R.E.M.

Unnamed sadness. Germantown. New Paltz. Charleston. This song is all of it and nothing. I have no clue what it means, but it feels.

“It’s not like years ago. The fear of getting caught. The recklessness of water. They cannot see me naked.”

Always On My Mind – Willie Nelson

Each song has a person, has a name. But some songs are the ones you wish a person would sing for you, would feel for you. Some songs you would sing for yourself if the other was you.

“Little things I should have said and done. I just never took the time.”

Pictures Of You – The Cure

Technology will fade any mode through which we feel. No one carries pictures any more. No one understands bent corners, or plastic covers, or why an image over time might fade. But I recall with great clarity her hands holding up her weight while she sat beneath a piano, smiling. And I still believe that each failure in my life has been the result of word-locks and word-keys, and my own inability to match up the right words in the right moment.

“If only I’d known all the right words, I could have held onto your heart.”

“There was nothing in the world that I ever wanted more than to feel you deep in my heart.”

Stay – Sugarland

Some sadness is not for you, not for the people left behind, but for the struggles you see others going through. Maybe we are all just mist waiting to dissipate. But while we are here the hurt is painfully real, and I would take it on myself rather than let others suffer it.

“It’s too much pain to have to bear, to love someone you have to share.”

For You – Barenaked Ladies

“I have set aside everything I love. I have saved everything else for you.”

Can you think of a more awful line to write? A more awful thought to think? A more awful feeling to feel?

90s bands (whom I love) were all about upbeat music and suicidal lyrics. Barenaked Ladies are no exception. If I were ever listening to this song and someone asked how I was doing I would say, “Fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.”

Been there.

True Colors – Cyndi Lauper

When I look back on my high school days it’s so easy to see now how many of us were outcasted, in pain, hiding in plain sight. I wish I could go back and apologize, for something I did, for what others did, for everything.

“Show me a smile. I can’t remember when I last saw you laughing.”

I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt

Every word of this song, every lyric hurts worse and worse as it goes on. It’s like hearing a self-performed autopsy, Dr. Raitt reading into her recorder. First cutting through the chest, spreading ribs, removing the heart, commenting on its weight, its maladies, its various shades.

In this metaphor the chorus is the scalpel, the piano the blood.

Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

Why do I always listen to this song on airplanes? And why do I harbor such contempt for the fact that this was written in her 20s? Who knows anything in their 20s? It’s not fair that Ms. Mitchell knew everything. This is the later version from the album of the same name, the one where, really, finally, “It’s life’s illusions that I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”

Flamenco Sketches – Miles Davis

I think perhaps this needs to be up one song in the order. Perhaps if I ended with Bonnie Raitt’s piano and went straight into Miles’s horn. I don’t know if I could handle that though. It’s so fucking brutal.

Black – Pearl Jam

I am partial to stories told in solid objects on which I can hang all my non-solid insecurities. “Sheets of empty canvas. Untouched sheets of clay…”

This may be the hardest love song ever written. I don’t know that I would have ever wanted it dedicated to me, but man could I dedicate it to others. It’s as if Pearl Jam, both in music and lyric reached inside my worst cracks and pulled out my anguish.

Best last line of any song, anywhere, ever: “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life. I know you’ll be a sun in somebody else’s sky. Why? Why can’t it be? Why can’t it be… mine?

Uninvited – Alanis Morrisette

The last song on the IDT. A piano. A slow build. Alanis carving up my skin, my heart, draining my blood, torturing me with every line and every word. Until I am nothing. Until I am completely broken. And then the full orchestration kicks in.

This song is nothing more than a series of excuses for why we can’t be together, a list of insecurities, a list of frailties, a list of consequences. The last line is in the middle of the song, and it is a promise to return with an answer.

More orchestration.

And the answer never comes.

TBAP: The First Poem

The first thing I will say about the first poem in this year’s BAP is a heartfelt thanks that it is not by John Ashbery. I have nothing against the Godfather, but too many of the BAPs start with his work, and the autobiography and comment in the back of the book is always the same.

Bodhisattva – Sarah Arvio

While I was excited that a new voice would grace the front door of this tavern I was disheartened almost immediately to learn that the new voice was just one generation removed from the previous innkeeper. It’s a game I play with the BAP. Can I guess the age and college associated with the writer? I know my generation, know my people. Over the years it has been heartening to see my Xers start to pepper, and then become fully integrated into, and then be the old guard of the BAP as the millennials come marching in.

But I can tell from the first couplet of the first stanza of Bodhisattva, I can tell that sound is more important than meaning in this poem, that meaning is something I am going to have to find or give up on. It frustrates me. It frustrates me at the end of a poem if I am unmoved, and uninformed, and uninspired. Call me a neo-romantic. Call me a post-postmodernist. Call me a reconstructionist. Call me a snob. I come to a poem to hear the genuine heart-story of a human being. I detest being toyed with.

At the end of the poem I guess the author was born mid-century, maybe Ivy League. I look at the bio and comment in the back of the book (my favorite part of the Best American Poetry). 1954. Taught at Princeton. What infuriates me more are the comments afterwards. Paraphrased: ‘I like how words sound. I played with the sound. I found out later what Bodhisattva meant.’

Good gawd!

You have an opportunity to move minds, to raise consciousness, to share your experience and life and truth. And you use it to play a children’s game. And that is then considered the best American poetry. Baby boomers.

Liveblogging TBAP

Foreword
One may confuse the homonyms. Rather than simply being “the words that come first”, one might hear “a look at what’s ahead.” But in The Best American Poetry 2015 the series editor, David Lehman, does not look forward in his foreward. Instead he looks back, first as a critique on himself and his forewords over the years, and next on the literary world around him. He has the same gripes he has always had, the same frustrations. Don’t we all?

He then uses a social media / found poem technique, which he found, to show what another editor was able to do, and then what he is able to mimic. Only after highlighting and updating us on these, does he bring us into the present with the Paris attacks in January to lament the fact that poetry doesn’t risk enough, like the brave satirists of Charlie Hebdo. But the pages where a forward-thinking foreword could have started, simply end. And risks nothing.

He then elegizes Sherman Alexie for two pages, and Mark Strand for one.

More than I remember in other years David Lehman uses this space, this once a year performance to mostly navel-gaze. His forward comes off not like a narrator welcoming us to the performance, not like a sage introducing the school, but like a relative showing you their vacation pictures, or a band whose every album you own announces a new release, only to find out it is a greatest hits record.

This foreword is less forward and more an essayic selfie.

Introduction
And thank God, at least, that David Lehman looked up long enough to give us two pages on Sherman Alexie. Because Alexie decided not to give us a biography, nor a set of poetic concerns, nor a state of contemporary poetry, nor an essay strung together with best lines from the poets, nor a series of similar thoughts among the selected, nor a rationale for selection, nor a behind the curtains look at the selection process. Heck, we didn’t even get an essayic selfie. We got a series of quotes from Alexie, followed by one of his poems.

I don’t even know what to compare it to. Someone emceeing a hall of fame ceremony by starting with clips of their own playing? The owner of a comedy club telling their own jokes before bringing up the MC?

Without metaphor, this is quite simply, someone hosting a poetry reading, and standing up before the show reading off their own aphorisms about poetry. I am aghast. A cranky old man. Upset that those who should be most adept at welcoming folks to the Best American Poetry show on earth instead wasted their time and space on their own machinations.

I think somewhere in the foreward Lehman laments that poetry (and education) are not being used in the service of riskier, more important, bigger things. Then why waste, and allow waste, of these few pages, of this sacred space?

Liveblogging The Best American Poetry

I began reading the Best American Poetry anthologies in 1997. It was a gift for my birthday that year. The first few volumes I own have scribbles on each page espousing the quick reaction of a 25, 26, 27… year old me. When I look back I sometimes agree, and sometimes think, “that dumbass didn’t know anything.”

At some point social media allowed me instantly to reach out to the poets who moved me, whose work was so delicious you immediately wanted them to know they just wrecked you. They are my people. And some are now my friends.

Every year I look forward to walking into an actual bookstore and buying what sometimes is the only physical book I purchase all year. And while I know that reading The Best American Poetry is about as valuable as only listening to top 40 radio and does not reflect the undercurrent, the pulse, the river, the soul of poetry it is still a valuable ritual to me.

Each year I love to see the take, the angle, the current events, the mindset, the zeitgeist that the guest editor and the poets selected take. I love the notes in the back. I love the poets that excite me, that frustrate me, that bore me, the ones I just don’t get.

This year I thought I would take something that started as personal scribbling, that matured into awkward stalking, and turn it into live journaling. This may take a few months. And I will often be quick, and judgey, and bitchy, and wrong. All love.

And congratulations to the authors for being in the Best American Poetry. You are my lifeline to the poetry world. And to this world, which needs more and more storytellers. Always.

Live To This World

“It’s only a choice. No effort. No work. No job. No saving of money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see us all as one.” – Bill Hicks

No matter what the plutonic truth of our reality, whether we are one coherent soul creating an illusion of itself or a rash of individual, temporal, corporeal beings, here once and then gone, the experience of this world cannot be denied.

There is, in this world, great tragedy and great pain; a gap between the world as it could be, if we were indeed angels, and the world as it is, profited on and run as a competition to the death by our demons.

There is loss, and sadness, and the terrible truth and unfairness of our fragile, incapable, and doomed bodies. We get very little right. We hold very little together. We lose too much in translation, and love each other far differently than we are loved.

“Ninety-nine percent of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play.” ― Willie Nelson

What is one to do?

If nothing else we are learning beings who need not be made the fool. So once we know the pain of a fall, the crash of steel, the quick cold hand with which this earth takes back her flesh, we next time flinch. And the time after that, recognize early the acid of the situation and strategize about how to avoid, to protect, and to fight back.

It would be quite the dumb animal who walks daily into the ice cold stream until he is slashed, and consumed, and washed away. And yet, it is that old fish, descaled and barbed in the mouth, the claw marks on a balded mountain lion, the dog missing one leg who runs to the door excited with with every knock, who loves this life. Who is happy.

“When you stop caring what people think, you lose your capacity for connection. When you’re defined by it, you lose our capacity for vulnerability.” – Brene Brown

If we stay open to this world we must face its madness, its horrors, its imperfect systems that rig the game for those who are like those in charge. We must miss, desperately, our best loves, and watch those who needn’t die die. If we are open we must love and we must cry. And still love.

The alternative is to become cold, and quiet, and safe beneath layers of tricks and thick leather which protects our skin from scars but also from sunlight such that we feel nothing. A snail pink and slimy in flesh.

And that would be right. That would be what a wise animal would do. They would learn. They would not be so dumb as to still love and surrender. They would not be so dumb as to love.

I need you to love me

In my age and frailty. In my anger and hostility. With my political leanings opposed to yours, with my broken soul, armed and unyielding, in my protection. In my manipulations. When you see me on the island of the highway with a sign.

When I don’t speak your language. Though I came here avoiding your laws. When I don’t have health care. When I can’t afford groceries. When the neurons in my brain are so jumbled I can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. When we share no reality.

Have nothing in common.

When I am dark. Cold in my disposition. Pained in every inch of my body. When every portrayal of me in the media suggests I am loose, and cheap, and easy to treat like property. Easier to simply ignore. When I am petty. When I am overconfident. When I am devout.

When I am not interested in your opinion and don’t trust you have my best interest. When I am arrested. When I am irritated. When I am resisting. When I am convicted. When I am tried in the court of public opinion.

I need you, in that moment, to look at me and see kin, see friend. I need you to look on me with the unconditional love of a mother. With the wide eyes of a child. With the proud protection of a father. With the simplest solutions in mind. If I am hungry, feed me. If I am cold, clothe me. If I am ill take me to someone who can help.

See in me not the other, but kith. Ask yourself what you would do if you knew my name. If we had gone together to third grade, to the prom, through orientation. If I had been the one to protect you when no one protected you. If we held hands in the hospital.

What would you do if you loved me? If I was your ghost, the long lost you still adore. The one you think about in sleep, who you would do anything for. If I called, even today. In the middle of any night. Or anytime.

The half of you you miss desperately, who returned, after once getting away.

Music Moves Me

All I ask of a song in it’s few moments inside me is to pry from my rigid musculature a wash of emotion. I do not come to it to be entertained, nor absolved, nor removed, nor distracted. At its end I want to tear up, or to grin knowingly. To suppress a laugh, to be a ball of rage, or helium alight with elation. I want to feel.

And more than any art or storytelling, more than paintings or movies, even more than the poetry which makes me, music has successfully cut through my calculations, my strategies, my self-formed turrets of armaments to beat back reason.

It’s unreasonable, that the voice of the singer, the words of the songwriter atop the drumbeat in concert with the whine of guitars should pass unslowed through and into my heart. But it pries open my mind and leaves behind a valley where the runoff trapped in the mountains can collect to irrigate, and feed, and overwhelm the village.

So many opening riffs. So many brutal lyrics. So many cracks in cleanly held notes. It’s in the throat. In the center of our will, where we voice or truth. In the threat to tear down our world, or to admit it has already been torn down. That’s it. Make me feel.

Nothing else matters to me, not your training nor packaging, not your noise or technique. If you can speak to the frailest leaves in me, and move them in the breeze, or bathe them, or convince them it’s alright to fall, you have me. Will always have me.

The Hope of Death

What happens after you die? Or more to the point, what do you believe happens?

What actually will happen will. But, what you believe will tells us something, not about death but about oneself. The clearer question, “What do you hope for in death?”

I hope for, what we all hope for, that which we have not yet found in life. Another chance, with a clean slate. To live eternal, and unfrail, and unaging with the ones I love. For the peace of nothingness. For the peace of somethingness. To touch God.

To have answers. To be wiped clean of sin. To be rid of this flesh, what with its desires and impulses, its niggles, and frailties, and agonies, its built-in prejudices. To be joined rather than separate. To not be a slave to hormones, and bones.

What happens? Magic.

All your wishes come true in an instant. Everyone you love laid bare, without agenda or limitation. To know the heart of each other. To know the heart of the universe. To laugh at space and choice that keeps us apart. To be positive. Sure. Assured. Loved. To create without translation. To translate thought without flesh. To see with perfect clarity. To not itch. To be perfect, and beautiful, and ideal. To have all and lose nothing. To love everyone. To be everyone.

To come home. To be home. To be, finally, alive.

Love, Bones, Remains

You were another outside
of me, a voice, a scent, a shape,
a body. An aspiration I wished
could love me. You did. We lived
together closer until your love
of me became a skin, an armor
against cold and darkness. You
loved me in perfect concert.
Then seams, cracks in the husk
of me, swaths where I could see
myself again; blue, lonely, ugly.
I guessed you loved me less,
had other interests. The horrid
thoughts I had of me. That you
could forget. That I was unworthy
of you loving me. Then we hit
earth, ran aground, afoul of a reef
between you and me with coral
deep enough to cut us. It didn’t.
I learned your love of me wasn’t
an armor falling off, but sinking
in, becoming the bones of me,
giving shape, invisible. Allowing us
to walk, invincible. Until the day
the soft, false outsides of us
fails to remake itself. Until
nothing but our love-bones
remain will I doubt our shape,
doubt your love of me, or trust
the mirror over your laughter,
over your sense, your confidence,
which shapes and steels me.

Excerpt of an Actual Debate Between Fake Candidates

(already in progress)

Cormack: And I am tired of candidates from the other side of the aisle running down success, and achievement, and wealth. We need more wealthy people in this country, not fewer. And free market capitalism is the way we get there. It is the greatest force for wealth creation in the history of civilization.

Leon: Correct. My opponent has finally said something correct. Capitalism is a great way to create wealth. But it is a terrible way to distribute it. No one doubts that there is a great sea of money in the United States, nor that manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, and investment have helped create it. But once created, wealth, and therefore power, in America becomes stagnant at the top.

C: I have four questions for my opponent. Yeah? And? So? What? The government has no right to come in and take the money you created and give it to someone who did nothing to earn it. If you are the one who created the wealth shouldn’t you be the one to keep it, to enjoy the fruits of your labor? It’s your money.

L: The fruits of your labor? Now, let’s be honest, working on Wall Street or in the corner suite is not labor. It takes strategy and intellect, yes. But let’s not call it labor. The front line folks with dirty hands and sore backs, that’s labor. Second, why should you get to keep the wealth you create? You don’t get to keep the car that you make, or the iPhone, or the artwork, or the textiles, or anything. Once you create something you find a way to distribute it to as many Americans as possible, and money shouldn’t be any different.

C: You know you just pissed off every business owner in America, right?

L: Only the ones in the corner suites. (Audience laughs)

Four Days

The first day starts at dawn. Well, just before dawn, as soon as the purple curtain surrenders its battle, as the light illuminates the paste of the ceiling.

What’s with us, that we see beginnings in the dead of night, in the dark of the year, in the void of space?

The first day is all about work, creativity, productivity. It ends around three, at the height of the heat.

Awake again at 4:30. Refreshed. Home. Family. The second day includes dinner, chores, someone real or pixelated telling a story. The second day is engagement.

We lie in a bed welcoming the third. This day is all sleep; lucid, creative, dreaming. A book to seed our journey. The third day is unconscious but aware, a form of surrender to madness, to the artist, to the engineer, to that which must be processed.

The fourth day starts at three, in the coldness of the morning. No one else is awake, nothing to work on. Breath at this hour has a roundness to it. It is warm and ovoid, like cupped hands, the shape of water molecules, the teabag, the mug, the amorphous cloud of steam.

Every element was born inside a star, heat and pressure enough to force attraction and love. Although we have cooled to this set form I can remember wanting you with such ferocity I did not see anything except you, brighter than the surrounding light.

The fourth day reminds me of this, of our life.

Out of Practice

The muscles atrophy. The voice that insisted has since moved on, or been placated by some well-written sitcom. The words of other artists are enough. The box has been emptied of all its stuff. But there’s a list somewhere. Ideas that made sense when you were fitter, when you sat down a bit sore to see what your fingers might explore. A gunshot must have gone off. When you search for the sound that drove you there’s just a dull ringing, and hope. Muscles are elastic, and selfish. Quick to go liquid, and quick to snap back. So you push. Tell yourself the first thing need not be good, the first ten things. You run down the street flabby, hoping to trip on a kiss of something on the wind.

What’s The Matter, America?

If you think what’s wrong with America is other Americans, we have no hope.

In America there will always be zealots. There will always be farmers, and jocks, and Ivy League frat boys, and transexual activists, and pencil pushers, and rednecks, and liberal elites, and greedy Wall Street agro edge sorters, and supremacists, and peaceniks, and lobbyists, and volunteers, and Girl Scouts, and folks looking for a fight, and folks looking for a break, and moochers, and bailers, and vengeful death penalty supporters. Come up with any slogan or plan or solution. But if you are hoping there will be fewer blasé, bourgeois, leave me alone, uninformed, get off my lawn, middle class folk, if your plan requires there to be less radicals on either side, less left or less right you are more quixotic than I.

If, however, you believe what’s wrong with America is how we organize ourselves, the structures by which we execute the ideals we believe in, the way we are sorted, and represented, and measured, and counted, well, then we can talk. We can debate wildly. We can engineer. We can create. We can redesign.

The Constitution of the United States of America is essentially a document protecting property rights. It lays out who owns what and how, intellectual and actual, and what little powers our government has in impeding on those private rights. It cools the passions of the masses. It sorts the selections of Senators and Presidents. It splits power and creates bureaucracy to make it ineffectual. It does not consider those who do not, or cannot, own property as anything more than someone else’s property. We have amended it since, mostly to further limit the powers of the government, sometimes to free, or recognize, or enfranchise a people.

Is this our most appropriate structure? Is it time for a new OS? Do we still believe that for our free society there are more and less valuable people, that property owners are worth more than renters, that entrepreneurs are more valuable than consumers, that breeders are more necessary than those who do not (or cannot) breed, that the college graduate is worth more than the high-school dropout, that the inventor or the aspirational is worth more than the lumpy and the satisfied?

The problem in America is not Americans. And if it is we will never succeed. What we need are new blueprints that will most allow the most of us to contribute the whole of ourselves to the whole most successfully. What we need, if we think we need to improve at all, is new design thinking.

If Time Were Space

You are born at full speed. Falling. Falling at the same rate as your mother. At the same rate as your mother and father and everyone and everything around you. Terminal velocity. Zero acceleration. Nothing to feel.

The length of your life, of the life of your family, and your lineage, and your civilization, and recorded history is longer than the distance between you and the massive body into whose gravity you are consistently falling. No one you know will ever reach.

Your species has evolved to sense only in the direction in which you are all falling. Eyes front. Memory back. The ones who have long survived are those who have worried and planned and prognosticated and considered history in only one direction. No point considering anything but what you might pass through.

To try to conceptualize moving in reverse would be pointless. How can one move against time’s gravity? To try to consider the idea of left and right would be silly. The singularity keeps you on a taut trajectory. The ability of beings to move freely in all directions could only exist in the imagination of the stoned and the certifiable.

Questions for the inventors in this existence:

– How could one detect others around me, though not in my timeline?

– Which sense(s) could best be used to uncover this falling?

– How can we find the singularity?

– How does one measure speed without acceleration, against a infinite or empty backdrop?

– What device could we create that would float, or rise, or slow, or move off to the side while sending back telemetry?

– Before we dream to travel in it, how can we test if it is there?

The Seconds

I am not in competition with a movie for your attention. I am not in competition with a rock star on a bus headed by highway to the venue. I am not in competition with Xbox 360 for the hand-eye coordination of a fourteen year old. Storytelling is not about the dollar, because those who do it for air and sustenance only get paid as an accidental consequence. When my favorite playwright sat down to rework scene three to better grasp the opportunity for a character to unleash ever-so-subtly the depth of their being, I know by assurance that he was not thinking about whether the dialogue would sell more tickets. People stumble onto work, onto stories and songs and sculptures that will split wide the universe and change the default color of the sky. I asked a student if they had yet met someone who, by their sheer presence, altered the structure of a room, changed the way air conditioning feels, the way a shirt fits. They had not. Had not yet. I am not in competition with the rare moment when everyone sees the same film, reads some suddenly necessary and implosive novel. No. I am fighting against roughly the right word, against nearly the image which mostly butts up against what I almost want to say. I am in struggle with a slant-rhyme of meaning, with acceptance of my limitations, with the uncut agony that is walking out of a room, across a country, into another life while an Ideal has children, and a spouse, and is very happy.