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.
I have been operating under a delusion, a delusion driven mainly by ego.
By the third grade I thought it was clear that our class was exceptional, at least in the narrative of our school. By third grade we were beating the fifth and sixth graders in sports, in aptitude, on tests. By sixth grade we had athletes ready for JV, by seventh grade varsity. When we graduated we were the first class to have raised a surplus of funds that we donated to the incoming freshmen, and to the charities of our choice.
College felt different for us, like we entered in a meaningful year, took the reigns, and made things happen. Even as soon as our sophomore year we decried the blandness of those just one year behind. I am convinced, as I have said in other poetry, that I have loved the finest women of mine (or any) generation, known the finest men, a delusion driven by ego.
Statistics will tell you that my high school was below average, that we graduated too few, sent to college too few. I attended a state school, which means none of us will be President, and none will be diplomats, though I can look on the TV and see people that I know you know. I chose the easier grad school, befriended the exceptional there, and thought them exceptional, married (the first time) someone who turned out to be quite ordinary.
It’s a delusion, this thought that I have rode shotgun with those who would and could and did change the world. As for the continued scaffolding that holds up this view, for that I thank Facebook. Because well many decry its ability to highlight the fakeness of life, as if we are all simply baby pictures and great meals, it keeps me connected with the ones with whom I continue to be exceptionally impressed. And it shows me only the highlights of their, most likely, ordinary lives.
What great thoughts. What great energies. My friends.
I would sacrifice it all for a weekend in some hotel, in some obscure city where we all could meet, to be cut off from electronics and families, to stay up all night talking about intractable problems, about philosophical conundrums, about literature, or formulas, or the greatest vista for watching the sun set.
I see us all as French Impressionists, as the first meeting of Zulu Nation, as Einstein and Feynmen and Heisenberg working out our problems. I never thought of us as normal. I never expected less than great art, outlandish jokes, exceptional storytelling, inventions. I refused to believe any of us could fall into the worst of insults, that we were normal, or ordinary.
On that premise I have built my castle, on an illusion of ego, on a foundation of false concrete.
There is a world, antithetical to this one. More dangerous. Not just its opposite, its destruction. Its end. Were I to knock off the the spigot of reality, as Aldous Huxley recommended, this other world would flood in. Indeed, it shares our space and our time. And since time, we have glimpsed it. Music, image, dance, words. The physicists are just now nudging into it.
I wake in the morning connected to no thing, and feel first the weight of the blanket on top of me. Cotton, down, foam filling. I push them off and in doing so tie myself to plants, those that manufacture and the ones that grow. I tie myself to engineers, designers, line workers who keep the sheets coming. I am not yet awake. I put on my glasses, assigned and prescribed by an ophthalmologist, cut from plastic, derived from oil, descended from dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years old.
The weight of my physical body succumbs to gravity. I am tied to this, here, earth. The rockers are right when they tell you that music can set you free. The censors are right when they lament that the music is deadly. It is this other world, this world without gravity, without limitations of arms and proper prescriptions. The right paintings, like anti-protons, tear down here, reality.
Some people are doing well. They read through the rules on the inside of the box and figured out how to fail, how to succeed, and how to measure, theirs and others, success. They buy shares. They win elections. The own a swath of land and a mode of transportation.
I haven’t added soap yet but the water feels good. I choose a temperature that peaks the interests of my nerves but does not overwhelm, allows my mind to wander. On a good day it lands on a song. The sound of a splattered yoke hitting hot grease. Call those who pass between worlds what you will, artist, shaman, inmate, hoodlum. The people for whom this world works seem like poor candidates.
The priests are correct. Another life awaits. As are the playwrights. As is the mortician. This other world only brings death, meaning that which cannot survive here. I see them, bohemians, soaked in alcohol, mired in prison, hidden on mountains, sleeping in alleys.
I am not yet awake, and already have moored myself to chickens, to China, to great cables of data spanning the Atlantic, to cocked triggers of guns, to weeds in the yard, to scientist-researchers trying to relieve suffering. Suffering. Living in one world and being pulled by the other. A word comes. A whisper. A song. An urge to move the body inefficiently. A draw. To tag the side of a building.
All their productivity happens like clock-work, at prescribed times, in certain locales. But I am in a cave scratching at the walls. I’ll be late. Trying to take notes on a melody. It’s calling. It has always been calling. No act of arousal, nor investment, nor well-cooked recipe has slowed it. My death is imminent. Every time I stop to listen, I am trying to die.
I’m a good one to have around in a crisis. The systems of shock and flinch instilled in my body are, for some unknown reason, effortlessly time-delayed and easily tamped down. Thrown into the middle of any situation, I can check whatever emotional response I should be having and simply deal with the mechanics at hand. After the drama has passed, be that a near miss on the highway or a night in the ER, my body shakes, uncontrollably, but only for a few seconds. Whatever has been building up inside takes over for a few moments and I give into it. I thought this was fear. I labelled it fear.
Standing over the precipice of a controlled fall, a leap requiring technique, think parachute or bungee, a gymnastics bar release, I find another face of fear. Refusal. Not shaking or anxious. No voice screaming in my head or painting horrible scenes of what might go wrong. Simply, and silently a refusal to take one step forward, to do the deed.
How had I come this far in life never knowing that fear? How had I managed, and managed is the right word here, to only put myself in situations where I was willing to continue plodding forward tamped down and delayed. My brain has been playing a cunning game of chess for decades, thinking ten moves ahead. “Stay on the side roads.” – “No need to go to the doctor.” – “Children are more hassle than they are worth.”
It’s not that I haven’t risked. It’s that the risks have all been chips I’ve no problem losing. So I have run with my head. I have leapt on solid ground. I have considered and researched, planned and executed, a life of good and non-lethal challenges. And I have declared myself impervious to fear. Because in it’s vaccinated form I have used it to build up immunity.
So what do I do once I see it wriggling, and me unmoving?
It’s not simply that the soul can break off into a thousand pieces, it’s not that it has the potential ability. It does. It breaks. The sea-sauce of which we are made is blended a thousand times over, so much so, that it is impossible to say what is me and what is you. Air, flesh, food. No one has sat in an empty room. Genetics, lineage, traits, habits, lies.
All lies. The memories of people we keep, our barest form of truth.
The flesh is a semi-permeable membrane. We can only hold ourselves together for an eighth of a blink. And when we die, when the soul, crooked and bent and rusted into a pound of flesh, explodes out again into freedom, we all feel it. It hurts.
That which was my father, mother, friend for as long as I can remember now belongs back to everything. She spins through me. He calls to speak. And I have no defense. I must listen. My skin is useless and porous.
I can feel you as powerful as a newborn, strong like a volcano, pure, like the first urges of love.
In truth, we are a hundred trillion molecules, and one.
Either you believe that people in their hearts are good, that they want to do good work, that they wake up in the morning and choose to do the best they can with the voices and arms and thoughts they have, and if you believe this then you have no problem giving them food when they are hungry, or money when they are poor, or an ear, or love, or you believe that people are conniving, that they are lazy, that they are mean and looking for a shortcut.
Either you believe that people are generous of heart, that they will do good with any extra money they make, that they wake up in the morning and choose to do the best they can with the voices and power and plans they have, and if you believe this then you have no problem giving thme space to operate, leeway when they are rich, or your ideas, your best work, your love, or you believe that people are ruthless, that they are greedy, that they seek to wield unchecked power.
Regulations. Governments. Police. They can make nothing legal. They can free no one. We are already free. We can choose to do anything. Your imagination is already free. No one is freed. The state can only make things illegal. It can only criminalize otherwise open behavior and kill you to enforce that criminalization. It can only force action, not the content of your heart. It can only make more sinners. If you believe, that we are already saints.
“You have a voice speaking to you?”
“About me. Accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” – Stranger Than Fiction
A student brings a TED talk to class, in which the presenter started hearing a seemingly innocuous voice narrating her life. The voice is nothing more than an annoyance until she tells her friend that she is hearing it. The friend freaks out, the hearer feels embarrassed, the voice starts to get upset, doctors get involved, and it all rolls down hill from there. The hearer drops out of school, gets admitted, gets control, comes back, starts a foundation and gives a TED talk.
The student asks the class, “What would you have said to your friend?” And my immediate thought, which I hold until after their first few responses, comes out as, “I thought we all heard voices. No?” Silence. A room full of college freshmen is trying to figure out what they have stumbled into. Is their professor mad? Is he trying to be contrary, to bring up another point of view? A voice in my head says, “Well… you brought the students this far. Keep going.”
There have always been voices. Voices describing the world around me. Voices commenting on how Kathrin’s hair looked in the light coming through the window in math class in high school. Voices running scenarios for conversations that need to happen with co-workers or friends. Voices just a few seconds ahead of what I am saying (or writing), digging through the thesaurus in my mind for a better, more accurate, more erudite word. In my writing, when I compose a list of three alternative ways of saying the same thing (see previous sentence) it is a voice that was trying to find the one right way to say it. There are voices asking me big questions. Voices offering alternative answers to big questions. Voices asking “what if” to lesson plans, and product roll-outs, and hypothetical situations. There is always a voice with something mean and wicked to say. Always a voice with some sarcastic retort. And somewhere there is a voice in the background, most often asleep and snoring, who only yells, who when it is awake, only howls.
They have always been there. Sometimes a new one emerges. None have ever gone away.
I have often described my head as a stage with a single microphone, and whoever runs up on stage gets their say. But that’s not my head. That’s my mouth. In my head, all the voices are backstage practicing. All are paying close attention to the action before the curtain. None knows when they will be needed. And whom am I in all this? It’s easy, and partly true, to say I am all of them. It’s more accurate to say I am the sound engineer (the sarcastic voice in my head just said, “Even in your head you’re an AV geek”). I’m the one who runs the board and controls the volume of the voices.
When I was younger I had less control of those sliders. When a woman I was drawn to would walk into the room a sexist, a poet, a comic, and a gentlemen would all pop-up and vie for attention.
“Look at her body! How the curve of her neck bends down into her shoulder. She has such awesome shoulders. She is so hot!”
“Hey, here’s a great line: The room was a vacuum/of air and light/until you turned the handle/to day from night. Write that down, man. Write her a poem.”
“Make her laugh. Tell her the one about the string walking into the bar. A frayed knot. Afraid not. It’s hilarious”
“Take her coat. Clear a seat. Compliment her hair. Ask her about her day. Really listen.”
It was a lot to process in the moment. But I’ve learned control. I no longer rage when someone irritates me. I no longer flinch at every accomplished, attractive woman who walks in the room. I no longer write down every questionable line of poetry. Well, to be more accurate, I no longer do those things outwardly. As I said, all the voices still exist. I now simply have control of the volume.
When I sit down to write, you will often see me cock my head to one side. My mouth tightens and my eyes close. It’s an odd tick. But it’s not a tick. I am trying to push some voice aside and bring another to the fore. I am trying to hear something amid the noise. I am reaching for the voice that has the next line, this line.
I thought (“Say think. Keep it present tense.”) every one had some sort of voiceover in their head, some narrator. When I saw it in movies, I did not consider it to be a plot device or metaphor. Am I wrong? Should I stop teaching college freshmen and get some medication? Or, is it enough that I have learned control, that whatever damage I was going to do in my life is behind me, that the voices are now managed and helpful and useful? Should I keep this to myself and not publish it?
“You’ve come this far. Seriously, what kind of damage can telling the truth do? Copy, paste, publish. Keep going.”
The end is coming. Let me join the long line of doomsayers who wish to predict the end of the world. The end is coming.
Sometime in the next five billion years the sun, which is the source of all our energy, will expand and envelop and demolish the earth. Imagine, for a moment, every town and city and house, every historical venue and world-wonder, every layer of sediment, ever fossil, every satellite and all the servers that hold all the knowledge that we have ever known, gone. And probably, nothing we can do to stop it. We are about halfway through the story of this planet. The end is coming.
For a moment though, let’s go back to the beginning. At the start of this planet something happened. There is no way to know, yet, if it has happened on other planets or in other galaxies. But we know, by our existence, that it happened here. Something in the gas clouds and cooling magmas, something in the magnetic fields and electrical storms, some combination of events gave rise to consciousness. Sometime in, one would guess, the first billion years of the planet, this world grew to recognize that it, itself, existed. And quite soon after that, perhaps in the second billion years, came to realize that at some point it would no longer exist. And so, consciousness set up to build things, devices, beings.
It would be very difficult for an army of ants to move the mountain on which they have built their colony. It would be difficult for the mass of humanity to move the earth on which it thrives. It would be exceedingly challenging for dinosaurs or whales or redwood forest to move the locales in which they live out of the way of the expanding sun and their eminent destruction. Difficult. But without the bodies that make up these creatures it would be impossible. And consciousness realized this and settled for a rather difficult challenge instead of impossible. We are the machines that are probably about halfway through consciousness’s building.
There are probably, really, three possibilities. One, we could use the earth, the source of all our fuel and being, as a spaceship, find a way to add propulsion to it and ride it out beyond the rim of what our sun will become. The challenges with this solution are two-fold. One, the earth is a really delicate place. A shift on it’s axis or too much of one or the other gases and the whole place topples over into something different. Two, the source of all our heat and light and energy is the sun that we need to outrun. In cold dead space what will we use as fuel? Perhaps the molten core at the center of the earth? Perhaps.
The second possibility is that we build ships, load up everything we can off the earth into metallic boxes and head out into the universe. We still have the question of a fuel source. We have questions about how long to sleep and what is the length of a day when we no longer live on a twisting earth near a vortexing sun. There are a thousand other engineering puzzles that we need to overcome. But, in our mindshare of stories this seems to be our most popular possibility. The caution needed here is that if we are taking everything with us, we need to take everything. It is not enough to simply sustain human life. Human life is just one of the many containers of consciousness, and if we just take these bodies and a few food sources, we will quickly see how little we hold within ourselves, growing mad and thin and lonely.
The third possibility is to care very little about these bodies. After all, before they were flesh, these bodies were ooze, and dirt, and chemicals. We needed them to get off this thing, but they are not consciousness. We could find a way to send consciousness, devoid of flesh, off into the cosmos. It would certainly be lighter and less prone to issues of gravity and death. It would certainly require less maintaining. And haven’t we started this process? Sending radio signals and Voyager out, sending out a record of things. But a record, static and cold, is only the beginning of success. It is not enough to send proof that we existed, snapshots and photographs. We want to send consciousness, intact, in process, out, continuing. This is all of invention, everything we have been doing. Every time we create a tinier device that can hold more information with less power and be more sturdy. Everything from Gutenberg to nano-technology, we continue to ask the same question. How can we sustain consciousness in as little hardware as possible?
As for these bodies, ours, our food’s, viruses. They are very little to worry about. If it takes us another billion years to figure this problem out, the flesh at the time will be something very different we send out. It’s an interesting filter to consider the issues of the day through. Why bother with some people who are living in squalor? Why care that some are hogging all the resources? Why include people of different orientations, mindsets, abilities, histories in the conversation of saving our consciousness? Because we must sift through ideas from everywhere. We must try everything. There is as much chance that success will come from the edges as it will from anywhere in the center. Because an army of ants trying to lift a mountain is damn near impossible. Doing it with some people tied behind your back makes it that much more challenging and completely foolish.
The end is coming. There are forces greater than our consciousness that will destroy us. Here is the call to every scientist to study the nature of consciousness. Try to figure out how it began, and more importantly, how we can transport it out of reach of the red giant our sun will become. To all clergy, look into your divine history. Reread about gardens and arks, about covenants and surrendering to God, about suffering and unity. Teach us what your traditions say about how to get us off this crazy thing. To the power-brokers, your influence means nothing if it is only meant to make your own people safe and comfortable. We will all die in unison if we can’t solve the near impossible.
Oh, and if we do nothing. If we, in this human form, twist the earth on its axis or release too much gas, do not worry. We have come through, we figure, five extinction level events where almost every little consciousness holding device on earth has been destroyed. We can go through another. It just means we need to start over on the puzzle. And, even if that ends up being what happens, we should probably leave some clues behind for the next bodies. After all, isn’t that what fossils and amber are for?
Imagine an impassioned speech here, something from your favorite book or movie. Just place it in your mind in this paragraph. We will either succeed or we will not. We will either work to create an embodiment that can survive the blankness of space, or yet another extinction, or we will not. The quest will go on, the plan laid out in those first billion years. Outrun our own demise. Allow consciousness to survive. Everything else is play time, and distraction, and the work of mortals. Everything we should be doing is to prevent the end of all ends.
I’m never going to hit a baseball
in a perfect upward angle
over the twisting head of a left fielder who takes one step
just in case, to calculate
the arc and the speed of that now elliptical projectile
twisting over the horizon.
That revolution, of my shoulders around my body,
of the interlocking leather
laces around the ball, of my spikes around the base pads,
that opportunity is gone to me.
Gone because I was born left-handed with one bad eye
and taught to throw and hit right.
Gone because I never practiced, obsessively. Gone because
no one gets to keep their first love.
Gone because all things in life are like playing ball.
Even when you are on the mound
twisting your fingers over the laces of the thing trying to find
your grip, you hold nothing
for long. At best it’s a hot potato that must be thrown
round the horn, or brought in,
or cut off, of beaten back with a well-angled stick.
In the rare moments you can hold it,
life or a baseball, it is best done with a thick glove,
dug out of the dirt and brushed off,
picked from the sky and thrown in, fast as you can.
I’ll never write that novel, win the Nobel,
have my work held up as anything other than utility.
The veins on my hands
are starting to pronounce themselves. Mirror desaturates the colors.
Everything’s going grey.
What I’m telling is a fine tale unfolding in the fifth inning,
an interesting brush stroke
or two, the way the paint has dripped and dries
into thick raised lines. What I have now
are things to cheer for from the stands, an imagination smacking
the sound of a balled up fist into a mitt.
To the almond-eyed friends who learned to love me
despite a loud voice and no sense of propriety.
To the muscled walls of jeers and fists who used me
as a butt of jokes and pushed me to move.
To the ideals who refused to allow me to stay close
and instead remained on the other side of subtlety.
To my hatreds and my hobbies that have stuck
to my skin no matter how often I’ve itched them
Our animal natural is close, a thousand pounds
on our chest, a weight on every bone.
Though we may like to fly, gravity and rage grounds,
a warm meal granting out bellies a moment to dream.
I didn’t want to hand write
this to you. I wanted to call
on an old phone. I wanted
to board a train wearing
white robes. Sleep in a flat
car, rocking in meditation
while we crossed the river.
I wanted to switch into my best
jeans and tell you twenty years
in the past that I know now
what afflicts me. I’ve been
coming into sync with myself,
slowly. Traveling both directions.
That I look out the window
sometimes into my own
reflection in passing. Off
again. The two noses
are coming close. The clocks
are slowed, these new
moments big enough to fill
the car of a train, the vinyl
seats where we sit opposite
each other smiling, healed
by some wrinkle in space.
Finally, face to face.
You won’t know me, at the costume party where we’ve agreed to
meet. I’m hoping to be invisible to you, to add to the murder mystery.
When you show, please be arrogant and beautiful, with great lines
and curves. Slow down just a heartbeat when you pass me. I’ll
run below your radar. It’s a game we play. But not without purpose.
Our hello will have meaning. An impact on the discourse. A dent
in the snow and static, dialing in the picture. Sharp in color and
contrast. Show for show. Only to make the meaning more meaningful.
If you give a mouse a cookie, then tonight he will eat.
If he eats, then tonight he will soundly sleep.
If a mouse can soundly sleep, then he can dream.
If he dreams he will visit a world that he cannot see.
If a mouse visits a world he cannot see, he’ll build it.
When he can’t build it, he’ll demand an education.
If you give a mouse an education, he’ll read and read.
When he reads he’ll learn concepts like inalienable rights.
If a mouse learns about inalienable rights, he’ll understand
they are meant for everyone. If rights are there for everyone
then everybody only needs to be shown. A mouse
will riot and protest. A mouse will picket and get elected.
And then, when nothing changes, a mouse will remember.
He was once hungry. He couldn’t dream.
He couldn’t imagine another world where everyone
is free. And remembering, he will give a mouse a cookie.
Level One thought: I want. Fulfill my want.
Level Two thought: I have wants. Fulfilling one of my wants inhibits fulfillment of my other wants. My wants are in conflict.
Level Three thought: You have wants. Fulfilling some of your wants is one of my wants.
Level Four thought: Sometimes our wants collide. Mine restricts yours. Yours restrict mine. We compromise. We fight.
Level Five thought: Others have wants. People we don’t even know are trying to fulfill their wants. We should want to fulfill some of their wants.
Level Six thought: Wants. Mine, yours, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.
Level Seven thought: Sometimes what prevents others from fulfilling their wants is simply the act of you and I fulfilling our wants.
Level Eight thought: You, and I, and others, are the basis for struggle, conflict, war, and hardship.
Level Nine thought: Identity is the source of wants. The world was never built as an identity-maker, a want fulfilling machine.
Level Ten thought: The flowers budding up through the tops of the grass are pleasing to the touch, taste, smell, and sight. What is their sound? What else?
Level Eleven thought: All or nothing. Every ounce of consciousness gets out of here alive, or dies.
Level Twelve thought: Nothing is hopeless. In the great march there will be room for every massive and simple thing, even the thunder.
When we played jacks as children
we were crashing planets into planets
mimicking the birth of the cosmos
acting as The Hand that might lift us.
When we jumped ropes in rhymes
we were intuiting string theory,
leaping in and out of existence
hoping we’d never slip, and trip.
The swings, in short order,
allowed us to feel in our bodies
the history of an oscillating earth
spun around an insatiable axis.
We would invent games later
that aped war, land acquisition,
separation, rape, competition
that doles out praise’s resource.
But, for the moment we played
like jazz musicians on the first take
blowing our best breath, uncovering
the turns in which we were made.
In the knot of dirt
below light and air
a skin rips. We’re off
in both directions
towards the heat-core
and the sun. We bear
fruit in the struggle
which sees nothing.
Dark in the throat,
in acid, intestines.
Become a muscle
or a bone. Meat.
How sweet a second
to catch light.
You could compose your tome
about anything, about how you wish
models could achieve the shape
of your wife caught from the side
as she readies herself for bed, beauty
without pretense. You could
compose your tome about the field
across the road, where one could
imagine a labyrinthian park
leading to a hidden lagoon. You could
speak about the sunrise or the moon.
Here, in this place, now-light that greets
you each morning as a gallery opened
exclusively for you. Instead you linger
on some slight that happened so long ago
US senators had not been born. A kiss
only unconceived CEOs were there for.
A pond gone dry. A barge decommissioned.
A river that cleansed itself of a century
of chemicals. Yet in song you still draw
it and yourself, as perpetually toxic.
The cells grew abnormally
in patterns of wood-grains
consistent with a kitchen utensil
from the 70s. The first spot
on the meat of a right
buttock, the second
across a left cheek. The cells
spread to the top
of the head, where arms
don’t cover when a second
grader cowers around a corner
a teacher can’t see. They spread
to a wrist broken in an accident,
an ankle twisted at soccer,
to lymph nodes in arm pits
chaffed by crutches. And
by no coincidence reach
the brain and heart
The breaks that never heal.
The fasciae that cannot
be unstretched. Bronze baby
shoes now a weight
in some landfill.
The sunset is never the same, not two nights in a row, nor ever.
This spring the grasses that grows will be siblings, not a twin.
Your mother counseling you through a first broken love
based on her own heartache is teaching you to drive
a car she has never owned. Innovation is the only
constant. The second time through the reader
of the book has changed, the ears hearing
the song are new ears. Morning and we
welcome a new dawn, with new skin,
the retina, and the mountains,
and the weather changed.
What’s been built up
under stars. What’s
been torn down
We are the outcome of an orgasm.
The big bang. A series of bad decisions.
Breaking and entering. A convincing
fiction. Animal cruelty. Aggravated
assault. Public drunkenness.
Extortion. Forgery. Domestic violence.
Perjury. Solicitation. Epiphany. Fraud.
We come from the sea. Having won
an unfathomable race. Hung around
in blood. Amoeba. Virus. Anemone.
Amphibian crawling up onto land,
pushed every inch by our mothers.
We’ve hated our mothers who sat up
teaching us math. Divide. Carry the one.
We’ve spent our time singular, alone,
crawling towards points of unity,
of connection, of insemination.
Of desire blown-up into climaxes
of rage. Competition. Championship.
Drawn a universe mechanical, so we
could feel inevitable. Irresponsible.
The earth’s core is iron-nickel
spinning inside tightly wrapped coils
throwing off a magnetic field.
Prick my paper-thin skin
and lava-blood rises up
to fill it in. Call them
mountains. Call them islands.
Call them cliffs. The ocean
out and in while a diver times
his entrance. My core is iron-nickel.
It’s in the center. Not cerebral.
I’ve tried to mine down into
the crust. There must be a way
to tap this. What rises to heal;
metal filings, hip-hop rhythms,
internal slant, solid, and off
rhymes. It’s in the chest, behind
the bone and flesh. Nowhere
near the mountaintop, the apex
the cortex. It’s centered
inside but not in the mind.
The temperature in the reactor
is a hundred and eighteen degrees,
Precise calculations based
on mountains of theory had led us
to know the unequivocal
optimum for fuel-burning efficiancy.
At that temperature an engineer
can survive for an hour before
they require time-off for relief.
Forget your next question
about a cost/benefit analysis. Forget
your MBA training and calculus.
At ten degrees cooler we could
survive for a work week,
survive forever. What more?
The depth of the oceans?
A lack of oxygen? Meters on each
block measuring methane.
We could be calmer, peaceful,
at ease. Cooler in our temp
and standing, for ten degrees.
Every time scientists come close to recreating the first line
of the universe something else breaks. Each of his three wives
with the same middle name. As soon as they discover dark matter
they find out it’s not that dark. The definition of dark matters change.
All those people with alliterative, instructive, character defining names.
As we understand dimensions (three, seven, ten) new ones pop up
inside each other’s unfolding. The unrequited love interest who returns
at the worst (or best) possible moment. The near brushes with cures
for Alzheimer’s just as he is old enough to begin fearing
the horrible disease that killed his father. Stop lights. People counting
out change at the check out counter. A wink at the window. Folks
who pull around corners just as he tries to pull around a corner.
The certain impending doom of death, which will end his story,
whose life expectancy and the bankruptcy of social security
keeps getting pushed back by the scientists and the bureaucrats.
The weird illnesses of timing. Everyone here being named Gregory.
The cameos. The chocolates. The old sage with the knowing grin
who shows up in the second chapter. The click, each day, of a motor.
Cyrus would never say anything. His sworn allegiance is to the story.
But he might give all his figurative currency to see the cover art, read
the book jacket or a review, to catch the ending, or know the title.
What they never told the innocent
who fumbled into the fanning
petal of the lotus, soles up
to the ceiling,
was to forgo
homework. Study instead
these stretches and bends,
focus on learning to fold deeply.
What they never told the misfit
besieged by bullies
was that the peace
he dreamed was common,
basic to human beings, the gift
of inner calm filling his ears
was a key sought
by entire religions.
What they never told the scholar
searching for a course of study
was that the Upanishads
paid a better dividend
than any fee-based major
leading to a salary,that
retirement was daily
within his reach.
What they never told the sage
was to go. Turn
down every promotion
Whirl away from commitment
towards the clean air
leading to the sea.
Land on air. Where we meet.
A shell on a beach appears
designed, born of intention.
Hot springs bubble
minerals up in the desert. Wind
around a butte creates something
beautiful. The land transforms.
Go back to the ocean, before that
to skies swirling above
lakes, sorting ourselves
out in our molten
youth. Metals to the center,
stone on the edge, gas to the sky.
We were wild nomads in our art,
palms on walls. Now we’re asphalt
roads, gridded cities, island
retreats. We’ve built
so many ideal ways
to invent anything.
Let the earth shake and tear
us down, clean slate born
of a fault, our thin layer
of sentiments pressed
into an album, the last
version of our history.
I stare at this wall and want to know
myself. Built-up on beams and dry wall.
Plastered over, painted to match. Holes
cut out for windows, covered in blinds,
filled with panes. Tiny holes cut for cables
carrying energy, data, communication. Walls
hung with artwork, sayings, photos of a past
I must recall. What is my nature beneath
all of this, what space without walls? The arch
of my head away from the sun, my neck against.
“It’s too mean,” in a field of green, a little boy
refusing to mow screams, “to cut down
all the yellow trees. They bring such
happiness to me.”
“But you know,” his mother scorned, “we can’t
let dandelions grow. They’re a weed.”
Her flower beds all trimmed and prim.
Her roses on every stem, pricker-free.
And so he promised, individually, to say goodbye
to every one, and to, with a child’s apology,
tug it free. All day, one by one, head bowed
in kindness, ignoring the falling sun.
When he stretched in the corner, unable to see,
he turned to notice his work had cut
just a small corner. His mother
on the brick porch calling for dinner.
She congratulated him at the door for finishing
such a large chore. “But, I’m not done,” he grummed.
His mom said, “It looks great to me.”
And he turned to see
every dandelion, every one, turned and wilting
towards the setting sun, bowing toward his done corner,
each stem showing green. From his mom’s vantage
her yard again pristine.
Let your work be heart work. Let chores bloom
from your determination. Let your pallet be inked
by those who need your love and your attention,
those whose flowers need defending.
Space never knew it was space, faint
and light thought no thoughts,
could not correlate stroke
nor shade. Paint knew
but could not say. Yellow
fancied the rules between thin
and wide. Some spark gave a hint
to life. Someone spoke of war, some
of scarcity, or sex. What is the stain
but the story? Awareness by the line
of the landscape, of the role it plays.
Composer, fan, and teller of things.
Recall the clouds when you were six
How quickly they would twirl and mix
Painting in their whites and grays
Setting your imagination ablaze
A sea horse kissing a wispy hand
A whale on a trophy stand
A mother’s arms spreading wide
Your old dog Scotty on a water slide
You know looking back that this was dumb
But look up again to where you’re from
What’s naive and slow and now brings rain
Can move and paint your world again.
A girl in pigtails
sits on a pedestal, her toes
dangle off the edge
except when she stands
to skip along the stone’s
sharp edge to play
pirouette, balance beam.
A girl, having never known
a lie except perhaps to hide
or a surprise, never having
known a God-promise
broken, walks with a light
step. Friendly forever…
balance beam, pirouette.
A girl muses why
her mother picks her up
angry, upset with playing. Why
on some days each year
her mother cries, never
saying. The weight
of love and knowing.
Pirouette. Balance beam.
A girl could change
into knowing. Grow strong
like a willow whose bark
is unbending. Walk
across loss and loving.
Thick from what she’s met.
Balance beam. Pirouette.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
It must have been ’96.
A coffee house in Chicago
while on spring break. The air
was cold tinged and the lake
laced still with snowflakes.
I saw my bride sipping
from a blue mug, manilla
pouches in sorted piles
by steam at a round table.
I crossed the tiles between us.
She is trying cases. Looking
for the right word to describe
an act both mean and shameless.
Brazen, I show up before dawn,
hoping again to meet inspiration.
I twist distant strings of maple hair.
She docks her cheek against
her right palm. What comes
comes to both of us. In concert,
in unison, as if from everywhere.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
On the last few stairs you only want for wood flooring,
unconcerned if friends like you or the waitress was flirting.
Cold slats on clammy skin confirm you’ve got nowhere to fall.
Crawl to the bathroom. Hold yourself up by the porcelain bowl.
Find the seat to keep your weight. You’ve done something. Prayed
too many times to slough off this body, imbibed the wrong mix
of wildlife. Held on too long to a sad song or to heartbreak.
No one’s awake. Your body’s shiver has no visible cause.
Nerve endings can’t identify what undermined your sleeping,
what cannot be passed through by the deep focus of breathing.
April is National Poetry Month, #NaPoMo
We stood in the pit of your not yet existence
in the mud and wind beside towering piles
of two-by-fours on property measured
with sticks affixed with pink streamers
and said we thought you must be a man.
Here, a stud for the pantry. Here a brace
for the floor. Men own houses, fill them
with furniture, fix the holes with spackle,
yell at lights about the cost of electricity.
We knew nothing. Couldn’t hear the bedlam
of laughter bouncing off the not-yet walls,
the weight a whisper will carry by a bedside,
fear that will rise from your unarmed loving,
love that will waft along the scents of cooking.
Bones are not our existence. We live in spaces
that wait for the concerts of air that fill them.
April is National Poetry Month, #30for30
The perfect recall
of saffron, chicken,
oils, and shrimp,
the interaction of foreign spices
the perfect recall of which would render
every other dish inferior, eating pointless.
Memory won’t let us
be thin, won’t let us
be sated by the sex
we had last night, won’t
recall our losses by curdling
our intestines or blocking the air
from our esophagus. Nor recall victory.
Memory is a blunt tool, deft
enough only that we fear
what we fear, that we drive
ever forward reconceiving
of our most painful labors.
The tines of the fork so empty I begged
my gorged friends to let me keep eating.
April is National Poetry Month, #30for30.
Amor can feel like armor, like a suit that suits you,
a shield to reason. When strawberries are fresh,
the raspberries dark and pock marked and ripe
their juice hits your chin as the scents soak your lips.
We’re shaped like this, doling pleasure to pleasure.
A man with strong hands. An ass that’s a handful.
We’re nails and tension, our senses at attention.
Our flesh ripening to corpses. Teeth nibble tight
to deities. Tongues tempt tongue. We can speak,
and clutch a thousand fruitful things. Slice me
open like papaya. All mush in the middle,
all hopeful and fruitful and filled with seeds.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
There’s a red light on a telephone pole along the road where I lived.
The nowhere road runs along the river that been since before the before.
The river melts from ice in a thousand unsettled towns in the mountains
and by the time it winds it’s way to New York City, it’s famous.
New York City is eight million people doing their best to get famous.
Like the river, these people have been there since before the before.
Like the river, the droplets that make up the city are constantly changing.
There was a single lamp on a table in her apartment in Greenwich Village.
We went to dinner. We sat in her apartment. I rubbed her feet. We chatted.
Chatting is what you do when you’d like to exist in a bubble, as the noise
of the city becomes background music and non-existence. A bubble
exists without baggage or consequence. Exists solely on impulses.
Impulse is the energy of the bubble. Energy is what happens to the ice
in the mountains when the sun brushes against it, when beach-worn feet
come in contact with work-calloused thumbs. It melts and flows by instinct
to New York City, hoping to become famous, known by its family.
Family is a collection of like minded or genetically similar individuals
rotating around each other as planets. Planets are interdependent,
threatening at any moment to collapse into each other. At the right distance
they are loved. Too close is craters and magma. Too far and they forget.
Forgetting is the decision to not recall a memory, to let it flow down river,
to stand on the banks, pole in hand, frazzled cut-offs dry above the tides,
jagged rocks tweaking nerve endings on feet. Feet are friends of gravity,
keeping the earth at a distance, allowing us to revolve around existence.
Existence was our moment of being. This story. Before existence there was
no pizza, no river, no feet. Before existence there was no ice, no droplets,
no chance to look back across the river from a bus leaving New York City.
We existed in eddies of air flowing around each other. There was no other.
We shared as breath, as jet-streams of atmosphere. Bubbles popped
into consciousness, churning together the air and water and dirt, churning
together physics and biology and chemistry. Magma become rock, rock
become topsoil, topsoil become blood and bone and beach-smooth feet.
Some day I will breathe out this body. On that day I will miss your feet.
Your chatting voice, which is a famous music to me. But most I will miss
the bubble of your existence. How your being raises impulses in me.
Me? I’m hopeless. A red beacon on a pole. Saving no one from something.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
This hurts. Each waking morning when the janitor
must shutter the theatre, when the plumber must
purge the sludge from the pipes, when dancers
and audience are thrust into the sun-oven light.
Each day to incarnate; a glass of water, a thigh
or an egg. Each day to set weight on meat feet,
in cotton, with metals, to feel the scum and dirt
collect around and inside, and to contribute.
Sex to incarnate. Pets to incarnate. Children,
and friends, and furniture, gams crossed over
gams, fingers in knots. The tug of a blanket.
Acceleration of a stick shift. Quick muscles.
This hurts. Sensing just a sliver of the verse
and calling it all. Hearing the clear voice hint
at else. Amusement at the music that knits us
to this, lifts us. How melancholy. How lonely.
April is National Poetry Month, 30 for 30.
I have two hobbies I seem unable to stop doing. Despite changes in location, situation, despite job and marriage, two addictions I fight with, succumb to, loathe, and enjoy. Neither seems to have any hope of bringing me any money, and both, in their current technological incarnation, require me to sit in front of a computer for hours with an obsessive level of attention, blocking out all others. When I tell people at parties about one they are excited and interested. When I tell them about the other they give me a lilting “Ooohhh,” like I have just suggested I am a proctologist or a garbage man.
When I say I am an online poker player no one says, “I love poker. I used to play it in high school. But, you know, you grow up and life just gets away from you. I wish I still played.” When I tell people I am a poet no one says, “Like the guys on TV? Do you make tons of money at it? My co-worker has a cousin who goes to Vegas once a year to write poetry and comes back with ten grand in profit.” I am neither of these things.
On both tables I am a small time gambler. I’ve had minor successes. I have spent most of my time angry and frustrated. I see each as a struggle against reason, mysticism, and luck, as managing everything you can in this little universe, and then being held aloft at the whim of fate. Both are a fight, a duel, a match with something that others do way better and with way less effort. If I am to be honest, both are a waste.
What no one has been willing to say to me– or at least not follow up saying after the first intellectual parry which most addicts have at the ready, perfectly logical reasons why this thing I have given my life over to is not awful– is that these are not equal addictions. No one has been willing to delve into the question of why people love and miss poetry, and lament and fear poker.
There is the pedestrian part of it, the worry about losing money or time. But I have seen friends who collect action figures, or those who attend cosplay events and comi-cons, or those who run triathlon, or those who collect art or travel the world, spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours more than me on their addictions. See the addict’s justification.
The real difference, the real distinction no one seems to highlight is the impulse behind each. There are better and worse jobs in the world. Better or worse professions. And they have nothing to do with time, or money, or work-life balance. They have to do with the sum of your efforts and what you create. They have to do with what slim chance you have at your job to raise consciousness, ease other’s pain, lift up our species, and save the planet.
There are jobs you can do in this world, hobbies you can have, that will make only your own life better, that will improve the safety, security, and fashion sense of your family and friends. They will get you a house in a good neighborhood and ensure your kids go to great colleges. Poker has that potential. I could go on one run, one summer at the World Series of Poker and make what they call, “Life changing money.”
Finance, Wall Street, Patent Trolls, Hollywood Producers. Anyone who claims that their risk, and the reason they need the lion’s share of any reward, is putting up money has never worked a good job a good day in their life, has never really risked anything. Never made anything. They have never put their very being at risk. They have no chance of helping Jane get us off this crazy thing. We’ll never get off this rock led by a poker player, a money changer, a speculator.
And maybe I have no chance either. But the stand-up comedian, the folks who build houses, the doctors, and the coaches, and the teachers, and the artists who do their art with only the smallest hope of any reward; they have a chance. They have this small slim chance to be the ones who open the epiglottis of the world just enough for one good idea, one new thought to get through. Everything else is fear, protection, and self-indulgence.
Knowing this will I stop playing poker? Of course not. That’s not how addicts work. I am convinced in my limbic system that I am trying to solve something, that there is a puzzle there worth wrestling with, though my reason knows that’s wrong. It’s not even a little about money. I will continue to try and hack this matrix. And poetry, I hold out hope there too, fanned by the flames of myself and others who believe in its worthiness. Maybe that idea is out there, the new one, the one that will save us all. Or maybe, that too, is just projection and illusion. Perhaps poetry is also passing around worthless chips.
We had been flirting for months, little gestures between freshmen that made incidental contact in the hallways worthwhile without risking the relationship I was having trouble exiting. One night, studying in the commons, Beatriz suggests we hang out in her room. And I let loose, tell her I would love to, but that my intentions are carnal, my desires, primal. Beatriz again suggests we hang out in her room. Winks, and says she’ll be waiting. And I can’t. Because of morality. Because of commitment. Because of a promise who will dump me a week later. Then Beatriz will not have me a month later. Then Beatriz will die a year later. And to no eyes will I look again with that thunder, with that longing. Her name an ever present echo in my psyche.
They loved like freshman love, which is to say deeply and in the moment, life threatening, and fleeting. One undone by the simple ties of staid culture, the other unset by sexual rejection. In reality, their fleeting glances registered on no spectrum in the universe. Saturn did not stop spinning. Centaurus burned just as bright for billions of years. The big bang and big crunch went on unheeded in all directions, whether or not some obscure atoms snuggled up next to each other for a passing millennium, century, or evening. Not one thing was changed by her passing.
“Once a man cheats…” Beatriz’s mother would tell her, ten months after we dated, and hated, and broke up. Beatriz would never blame my weakness for her cancer, but her mother would. I would try to explain the violence, the screaming, how, near the end neither of us could be in the same room without things being thrown. Her mom would simply yell, “Liar! Murderer!” Explain that her daughter was a good girl, a good girl until she met me, until I broke her heart (her mother cared nothing for my arm). How until Beatriz came back from the summer break and found me with another there was no way either of us would leave, out of pride, out of competition, out of stubbornness. How it would have been best if we had never met, lest we both, of our own two hands, be dead.
The rain is beautiful
softening from snow
gentle patter on roof
warm spatters on skin
flowing body back to birth
water in which we were born
carry us toward spring
land everywhere in song
I wonder where the light comes from, not the peek from the ceiling,
that could be any orgasm, but the light from beneath
that shines as it chills us and chokes. Light from our lantern
of surrender. There is no safety. No where to rest in this oak
we have cut into timbers, knotted into rope, slathered with resin.
No land on which to lay a soft mattress and share our sleep.
The gulls know. They’ve followed us into or out of darkness.
Swore their allegiance or promised, at least, to report on our demise.
But the light, coming up too bright to be a reflection. Ocean
which divided us. Ocean of profession, of gender, of choice
and culture. Oceans of our pride and insecurities, of all things.
We float above it in manmade bodies. Buoyant, terrified.
Living to die. Was it not a port where we met, made land,
refueled? How we love. Briefly, in passing. As a storm passes.
Or as passes a brightening day. Soon always out to sea.
Graham is a very good dog. He wants you to know that when he needs something, that he is a very good dog, an obedient dog, a well-taught dog who is willing to sit posing and ready for whatever treat or reward or filled water bowl or door opening or toy he happens to want or need at the moment.
Sofie is not a good dog and does not wish to be confused with those who would sit around perched passively for the world to happen to them. No, she wants what she wants, needs what she needs, and is willing to jump and leap and bark and nibble at wrists to get it. In a pinch she will even go and grab a stuffed animal, a sacrifice to the gods, which humans seem to find amusing and trade if for her dinner or a scritch or permission to get up onto the bed. She works noisily for her supper.
Molly is patient and thoughtful. She loves you. She considers situations and avoids, when possible, the scrum of conflict in favor of contemplation out at the edges of action. While others may argue she rests peacefully in the corner hoping that those who adore her will come to her side and fulfill her needs in full and in their own pace and time.
Into this trichotomy comes Hunter, the puppy who learns quickly which pup gets fed and which gets love. He jumps around at dinner time barking with Sofie, ecstatic at the possibility of a filled belly or perhaps getting an extra scrap that someone has discarded by showing how much passion and enthusiasm he has for his nums, who sits proudly by the back door as if posing for a statue, like the good dog Graham teaches him to be, knowing the knob will be turned for the proud one appearing most regal and deserving, who snuggles in secret while others wrestle over a squeaky animal, turning the wheels of power behind the scenes and receiving, in turn, love like Molly. Sussing out his skillset.
Recall your first success, that first victory. Was it awarded because you worked the hardest, were the most beautiful, or knew how to suck up to the right people? Was it persistence, or talent, or your honest face? When you enter a workplace or new room do you fall back on that initial addiction, your most soul-close skill, the guaranteed lever that releases, for you, the magic pill? Which brush of creativity do you choose to draw your masterpiece, beautiful thin lines of watercolors that arc across the page sketching out the inches of the opus you continually tell?
I have felt the consciousness of my skin slip ever so slightly from its supporting bone.
I have imagined my torso and head as a lowercase i appended with animatronic branches. I have sensed myself to be an imperceptibly small light behind the protruding ridge of my ribcage, connecting out through fiber optics to every inch of my flesh in all directions. I have seen an ape affixed with an upgraded cortex and mechanical mitts with opposable thumbs. I have watched a chef mix air and dirt and water and salt in proportion to bake together the mud of my being. I have evolved from a tadpole, from an ovum/planet, from an invading force, from a mutation, from an alien, consciousness emerging by accident. I have enlisted myself in the army of sexual beings, beating back asexual bacteria and viruses. I have fantasized and ignored and abused and slathered myself in the constructs of genders. I have surrendered to weakness and adored duality.
I have seen the earth iterating hardware.
I have thought deeply about the air that we breathe, and thought the air itself might be thinking deeply. I have considered the use of my hardware as merely a chassis designed to keep my software upgrading. I have embraced the nature of music and storytelling, of religion in its highest sense, of narcotics at their most useful, of art as the cause and result of being, of metaphor as meaning. I have practiced a knight’s an opening gambit, raised under the gun with pocket deuces, announced my presence with authority. I have played too many strategies, watched too many movies that exist as allegories for existence.
I have wondered if software can exist without hardware.
I have pressed others to uplift our consciousness, batted against my own perceived limits, read and listened and sniffed to catch a whiff of ocean. I have lamented the creation of bombs, the possession of guns, the necessity of war. I have worked my way back to the beginning, to several beginnings, to parallel evolutions, to mass extinctions, to dystopias and utopias. I have lost myself in passion plays. I have bathed myself in the ego of the Truman Show, believed in Beatles lyrics about love. I have considered culture as a construct meant to make sense-making easier.
I have welcomed death as an ally in the process of becoming.
I have pondered our evolution as a battle between Star Trek and The Day After, our technology leading us to the bomb, or the Borg, or Q, or The Great Link. I have seen our plastics as pointless and accidental. I have heard the startup chime of the Big Bang. I have converted to Infinitism, and accepted the necessary presence of a null universe. I have invited Stephen Hawkings, on more than one occasion, to bust my head open. I have used the word “fuck” as an act of creation and a description of the Big Crunch. Fucked.
I have linked back to the beginning to compose a satisfying ending.
I have stolen lines from Pine Island and Skunk Hour, from Saul Williams and Bull Durham, Bill Hicks and Monty Python. Come from nothing. Gone back to nothing. Lost nothing. I have sensed the greater truth of our being, that we are one consciousness experiencing itself, subjectively. I have participated in sensory deprivation and voluntary amnesia. I have laid face down on wettening carpet spilling salt and water and air and dirt for days. I have cut a hangnail or dropped feces or blew snot or peed, and wondered if it was still a part of me. I have prayed for a Shaman and for wisdom and for a miracle and for time travel and for my own death. I have seen it all as one bright, shining, glorified, unified point and simultaneously as pointless.
I have tried. I have failed. And in failure, come to be.
My room is a mess, growing up, little more than a closet turned on its side and dumped. The floorboards lost beneath a pile of broken plastic and clothes, both clean and dirty. No one ever comes over the play. At the top of her lungs my mother decrees that I am grounded until it is cleaned. No TV, no computer. Not until your room is clean. And I believe her. I believe everyone.
I assume, despite experience, that the words coming out of your mouth are meant to make true the shapeless thoughts in your brain. Not that I don’t understand that they are the tip of significance, that beneath them exists a great and deep well, all of our possessions, a basement, a foundation, topsoil, a mantle, and the earth. I get it, that words are insufficient to explain our psyche.
The boss declares in an all staff meeting that everyone must fill out a self-evaluation and that if they do not take it seriously, they will not receive a quality evaluation back. If you write three sentences, your evaluation back will be three sentences. And so, when she and I, in charge of writing evals, go over the completed forms, she wants to know why R’s is smaller than the rest. He only wrote two sentences in his self-eval. But you still need to be thorough. And the two of us gawk at each other, each unable to understand the words hung in sharp bubbles above the other’s head.
I will take the trash out. Let’s hang out on Friday. I love this project and want to work on it.
I am not talking about lies. Some people lie. Sometimes I lie. I am not talking about sarcasm, or humor, or storytelling. Sometimes works are put together to create art, a falsehood embellished to highlight a greater truth. I can incorporate that.
I miss you. To me means that you wish we were in the same town, at the same time, and could hang out.
I love you. Means that you see in me, more than in others, a light you wish to bask in, a life you wish to share.
I will call you back this weekend. Means you will call back this weekend.
Meet me next Tuesday at 3pm on the corner of Maple and Main. Means I will be standing in that place at that time, waiting.
Have I missed something? Is everyone in advertising? Where the words are selected for the way they play on the wallet-control section of the brain, for their pretty faces, for their ability to conceal more than elucidate, to throw shadow more than light. Are words more make-up than flesh?
A student on the spectrum will call me out on a regular basis for saying that we are going to spend 15 minutes on a project. I’ll let it stretch. My classroom is not so strict as to be held down by any great limit of time. But I said 15 minutes. Not around, or about, or let’s start with 15 minutes and see how it goes. I have declared. And I am reminded when that time passes. And he is right. And I am wrong.
Sometimes words mean nothing. When they are said, when they are clear, when they have intent and use, the person saying them knows there is nothing, or something else, behind them. They are the mouth of a muppet with the sound turned down. Sometimes whatever is being said simply means go away.
Words mean something. They have to mean something. If they don’t, if they are just pliers, or burkas, or playing cards, or street signs, or irrelevant, or vacuums, or clubs, or phone booths, or scissors, or glasses half-empty, or pacifiers then I have wasted my life looking for the best way to say.
I have wasted my life in translation, from soul to cerebellum to soul. I have spent the best of myself on outdated equipment. I am a fool in a ruse. A dumb boy in a filthy room.
It easy, no matter where you move, to find a reasonably good chicken wing, one whose meat is juicy enough, and whose accent is both flavorful and hot without trying to melt your face off. Some are too dry, some are overcooked, and some try to use excess sauce to make up for other inferiorities. But, no matter where you go, if you look and ask around, you can find a wing that is not horrible. And it’s fine. And it’s lovely. And you can be happy.
Somehow Katy Perry on the back of a giant mechanical tiger, missing the point of her own metaphor, is an acceptable step in the right direction for the Superbowl halftime show. It is an acceptable evolution for Lenny Kravitz to add some sauce, some hard guitar riffs to Katy’s experimentation anthem, I Kissed a Girl, even if their performance suddenly becomes heterosexual and typical, with Katy Perry on her knees to Kravitz’s crotch at the end, completely missing the point of the song. It’s fine, and it passes for edgy.
You can live on a cheap computer, in a plastic car, using a knock-off tablet. It’s fine. Gretchen Wilson was right in 2005, “Victoria’s Secret, their stuff’s real nice, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price.” It’s fine.
Right up until you visit your sister in Buffalo. Until you find yourself in the middle of a great debate between the world’s best wing places, each wanting to rock your taste buds. Right up until you hear the first beats of Missy Elliot’s Get Your Freak On. Exactly until the moment you and your wife go away for the weekend and you see her perfection in the most beautifully designed, intentionally well-chosen negligee you’ve ever imagined.
Now you have to go back to your life. You have to forget about the Anchor Bar and Duffs. You have to forget about Wegmans and shop at your local grocery. You try to watch Katy Perry sing about being a shooting star, while riding a shooting star, completely missing the point of her own metaphor. You realize at the end of the iPhone introduction video that the slide of crap phones being shown is the same one that an hour ago looked cutting edge.
Give me an artist, any artist, whose first goal is to change your mind, whose second goal is to rock the fuck out, whose third goal is to make the best of something on this planet, whose fourth goal is to make hard love out of their art, whose fifth goal is to add to the catalog of the universe, whose sixth goal is to make people swoon and lose their minds and to set them free, whose seventh goal is to be dirty and underhanded and unacceptable and be accepted, whose eighth goal is to say something important, whose ninth goal is to include their friends and their friends in the act of creation, whose tenth goal is to fuck you up, whose eleventh goal is for you to tell your friends and to tell their friends to make, who somewhere down the line, in the fifties or eighties is concerned about getting paid for what they have painstakingly made.
Give me that artist, and I will buy their wares, or I won’t. But I will be rocked by them. Fucked up. And I will tell the world. I will be sated. I will be freed. I will be moved. And I will never again be enough, and I will never again be fine.
I’m sitting in an Ethics in Politics class next to a square jawed conservative Republican, having a debate about the recently elected Bill Clinton’s stance on women in the military. Jack or John or Jake, I can’t remember his name, leans over to me quietly and says, “You know, kissing up to women is not going to get them to sleep with you.” And I am unable to articulate in that moment that I am not trying to kiss up to women. I am not trying to get them to sleep with me. I am trying to believe in the right things.
I teach by what I am moved by. In my class, whether that be writing or politics or technology, what happened yesterday is a catalyst for today’s lesson. What I saw or read or thought makes its way into the classroom in near real time. My classes lack the long perspective classical learning achieves, the efficacy a more conservative approach might provide. They fail to honor the filter of time. But, they are present, and fluid, and real. They keep me, as a teacher, engaged with the world, and I hope they keep the students engaged in the class. They are not boring.
Comedian Bill Burr is onstage, in black and white, telling a story about a man who jumps 500 feet from a helicopter during a tour of the California coastline. It’s three quarters of the way into his special that was released on Netflix just last week. It’s great storytelling. It’s visual. It’s detailed. I have four distinct turns that I can highlight in my writing class.
The On Being podcast this week is about social change, about revolutionaries who get burned out when the conscience of the world lumbers on undented by their fervor. On this episode they mention the book of one of the guests, Courtney E. Martin, entitled Do It Anyway. She is writing from the point of view of the generation I am either a part of, or that is just behind me.
It’s 1995 and I am living in Albany, New York being disillusioned by my first interaction with legislation, politicking, and sausage making. The main book in the pile library growing on my window sill is a collection of essays by Gen-Xers. The book is lost to my personal history now. I can’t even find the title on Amazon. Its thesis remains. It’s not that we, my generation, doesn’t want to change the world. It’s just that we’ve been told our whole lives that it is pointless to try. It’s all been done.
When I show the class Bill Burr they get his first point quickly, the American dream is dead. They get the second turn after a slight hesitation, seize the day. The third is harder, but they come to, your life will not work out the way you hoped. The last lesson they do not get. I do not get. We discuss but can’t pin it down. We sort of say it all works out, or we all die, or fuck it, whatever. What we are all looking for is Courtney Martin’s title, do it anyway.
You can write essays on a blog, poetry that won’t sell, have useless arguments with well off conservatives. You can pine for lost loves, run marathons, support women’s rights, teach ungrateful kids or just play cards. And when you are dead, when the vast majority of us are dead, the everlasting, ever forgetful drumbeat of culture will move on. No one will remember. The girls didn’t sleep with you. Your great grandkids will probably never know you. Do it anyway. Though the chances of any of it keeping you alive beyond your death are slim, do it anyway. For no good reason. Because you can. Because you must. Because that is the best of yourself you can do, do it anyway.
I went online and read the introduction to Courtney E. Martin’s book. I’ll add it to the now large library of things to be imbibing. I am not twenty-two anymore. The seminal questions of my own life, where to live, who to love, who to marry, what career paths to take, all seem to be answered. I am probably not going to be a revolutionary. But I will read it. And I am sure I will use something of it for some class I will teach. I might even use it next week. And even if I don’t, even if there is no point to reading it, if it brings about no change in my view, or my life, or my work, I am going to do it. Just like I will keep writing, keep teaching, keep myself open to what happens this week. It may not lead anywhere. Fuck it. Do it anyway.
In the morning an elongated figure darkens the frosted sidewalk ahead of me
able in action to leap every bank avoid every drift climb each curb while staying
connected at my feet which lift in turn off the pavement with a satisfying sweep.
In the evening he lags behind, drags what’s left of my identic fingers along
the pavement, an orangutan sanded down by the de-evolution of the workday.
I can only see when I sneak a peek over my shoulder his loping meandering.
Neither is true. I am not the kite that sprints ahead propelled by a defiance
of physics and gravity nor the soppy stretched out cape anchoring a man
to his near and long-term history. I am simply one who blocks the light.
Crisp meat of the tree.
Red beating heart of Satan.
Lobes of frail white leaves
hung heavy from the rain.
Knots on branches filling gaps
in the sky when we’d look up
Laying scattered and bruised
on the hard earth after play.
Set into rolled paper bags
by love’s lunch, and gravity.
At rest beneath a sling bag
on the passenger seat at dawn.
Taken in haste as a breakfast
whose quick wits make up time.
Ignition, u-turn, acceleration.
When I reach
to lift it
My mind, ganglia, age.
I scan the landscape missing
the swallow, the sweet stab
of teeth. The flesh unbrowned,
incisor scrape-shape, familial.
And the rest, as filling now
as it was on that fall hill.
But something’s gone, family farms,
fresh cider, the need to look
for wormholes. Years, like pesticides
killing seemingly useless things.
Taking with it names and faces
of secret keepers, sexual partners,
your third car, fourth kiss, good cells
around the cancer, and the bees.
Give me an empty room.
Give me a new idea.
Give me half a dozen people and an afternoon.
Give me a goal.
Well, not a goal. I am not good at goals, even worse at checklists. But tell me your big ideas so I know what you’re aiming for. Inspire me. I’ll pass that fire along, ignite your staff. Keep me on staff for the first third of your project. Keep me around for the first five dates. Invite me to be part of your company until the day after the IPO. I’ll push you. I’ll drive you. I’ll get more miles out of that first gallon of gas than you thought possible.
The middle is tedious. It’s boring, arduous, task-mastering. It’s convincing people who already said they were on board to do the work, commit the time, spend the money, invest the resources. It’s punctuation. Line edits. Remind me again why I am convincing you to do something you said you would do? Time to revise and expand. The middle is for managers, for stonecutters, for artisans, for activists. The bureaucrats use the middle as a way to scale up, to set norms for the mediocre who, because we scaled up, will invade our fantasies. They will norm our fantasies. The bureaucrats use the middle to cement their own chairs and skim from the till. It’s not like it used to be. We used to be about something.
The end is abrupt.
The middle failed… or it succeeded wildly.
Either way I’m off to something new.
I spent an hour this morning writing. I have this great assignment from a poetry seminar I am taking and I thought I would jump into it. I narrowed down the possibilities to five prompts and went to. With each, I had no idea where to start and less idea where it was going. With each, I simply started with the first image that fell into my head, and held onto the thread as long as I could.
What came out, what always comes out, was some sort of coherence. It is a block of clay, misshapen and desperatly in need of revision (or at least editing). But, a block of recognizable clay. Now I know where this wants to go, what it wants to say.
It scares me a little. I don’t like what it says about me as a person. The tenses are all mixed up, as is the person it is told in. And it scares me a litttle, which means it might become good writing.
Old High German lubōn – to love
a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another
a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection
sexual passion or desire
to need or require
to benefit greatly from
When I said it, I meant I had lost my mind, that I could no longer think about you rationally. I meant your presence on the planet, in this building, your voice curling through the long twisted jangle-cord of the phone, even just the thought of you dulled everything else in the room, friends, food, breathing. Who needs to breathe?
I meant I could feel you searing yourself in long deep imprints into the theatre at the back of my brain. Like a glacier, or a scar, or an affiliation with a group. I meant, really, that you would never go away.
For a year I focused all my meditations on arriving at a more accurate definition. I settled to “I can (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) the divine when I (see, touch, taste, sense, feel) you.”
Then last night, half-awake. The particular curl of my back and my bent knees. The weight on a nerve in my neck causing my arm to go numb. Lowering the acutely sharp angle of my pillow. In the dissipating cushion of air below my reseated sheet it came to me.
When I said it, I meant I thought I could make you happy.
That years later we would be in some restaurant, a pimply waiter with an ounce of charisma cracking a dumb bit of humor. And you would laugh. And we would laugh. And you would look across the long, flat, cloroxed, constantly cleaned, constantly crumby, off-white table. And you would just be, genuinely, happy.
The glass cases were built into the wall across from the main gym. Filled to the brim with trophies and plaques honoring students long graduated who’d brought home this or that championship. I was fixated on a basketball trophy draped with a cut net from the sixties when his hand grabbed a clump of hair on my head and whipped it back and forward with a pop, like a chest pass drill from gym class. Bloody nosed and woozy, I was barely able to turn around and see whose face it was before his fist closed my left eye.
This was the thought that permeated my fogging brain. In a moment that should have been fight or flight, my brain offered a third option, reason. If only I could reason with him, if only I could understand what had happened to set him off, perhaps we could talk, perhaps I could help him.
The aliens come down, or more to the point circle in orbit. They hijack every screen on every device on the planet. Their message is simple. We have deactivated every explosive device, every firearm, every semi-automatic, every flintlock, neutralized gun powder, deadened every bullet. If you want to kill each other go ahead, but you will have to do it hand to hand.
President Reagan argued for a small government but a large military. This never made sense to me. Dick Cheney believes there is evil in the world. His solution seems to be answering evil with an obliterating force. Washington and Jefferson both warned against foreign entanglements. Something they learned from Greek literature inspired them to design a government made up of madmen protecting a commune. I grew up an American, believing the better idea should win.
Here we are, in school, a place where we shape young minds. The content feels almost irrelevant so much as the mental calisthenics and the cultural marinade. We grade based on the ability of students to accurately solve problems, to successfully write papers, to remember things like Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. But after school we strap on pads and gloves and headgear and travel to other schools to see who can out-height, out-quick, and out-muscle or rivals. Perhaps Madison would have had the center guarding the school entrance rather than the armed police.
America is a cult retreat where the best idea wins. America is a commune run by the will of the majority. The homeland is a fortress populated by damn hippies who believe in things like justice, equality, and fairness.
In fairness, the guy who assaulted me was more oaf than jock. He never made it to college, never got out of town, never became a man of consequence. He is not a respected elder, nor a leader, nor wealthy, nor wise. My success came from physical and intellectual escape, from living a life of ideas. I never found out what set him off. But I’ve learned since that new thoughts can only thrive when they are kept separate from force. In college, where we only had non-scholarship D3 sports I blossomed.
We lie to people all the time, tell them athletics and the military can be roads to enlightenment. We talk about the lessons learned on the gridiron or the battlefield being useful later in life. Here is the truth. Hitting another man diminishes both the target and the swinger. Killing a person harms both the soldier’s and the victim’s soul. Violence can never bring about a healthy peace. It would take a hundred years after the aliens left to clean up all the karmic debt we have laid around us. Vengeance begets vengeance. Fear begets fear. And it would take that long for all the old, angry war-makers to die off.
Or I’m wrong. And somehow the dichotomy of the United States, the warrior-philosopher nation, the bully and intellectual light of the world, the enlightened sword of the dark knight can bring about a world commune at the tip of a missile. But it hasn’t been brought yet. There are no signs that our weapons will bring about peace in the Middle East, cessation of suffering in Africa, calm to Central America.
What a crazy notion. That only better ideas can bring about better ideas. That a better strategy wins the game. That coaching wins more championships than muscle. That the model is South Africa, post-aparthied, the Greek Senate, Chautauqua in the summer. That achievement by intellect is preferred to compliance at the point of a gun.
Each summer, in Las Vegas, a few thousand people put their money on the table and play, based on luck and cunning, until one person wins a trophy. They start equal. In the same desert a hundred years earlier you might have been shot in a saloon for winning. You might have been beat up for day-dreaming. You might have been dead for thinking you could think better. Wrong-headed might, might have made right.
It takes a hundred years of thought and easing tension just for us to heal.
The copy and paste feature on my iPhone is wonky. It’s not a feature from the original OS, and makes more sense on the 3.5 inch screen it debuted on, rather than the huge iPhones and iPads that exist today. It’s hard to select, hard to choose an action, and contains nested menus for yet more added on features (definition look up, speak text, etc). It’s works, it’s just wonky.
Features included from the start work great, the phone app, the web browser, the wide-screen iPod with touch controls. These were game changers. Revolutionary. And, best, iOS either eliminated or hid some of the vestigial aspects of OS X which caused Mac users headaches.
Version one of the Constitution had some amazing features. Self-rule, limited government, direct elections of house representatives, separation of powers. But, version one is always reactionary. It overcorrects. It worries about conferring nobility on people. It includes indentured servitude, it includes slavery. It discusses how to manage 13 eastern coastal states. It’s been revised. V.1 was the Bill of Rights. V.2 gave the states more rights, changed how the president was elected. V.3 eliminates slavery and provides equal protection under the law for (almost) all individuals. There’s the right to vote for women, for people over 18, prohibition, wait-no-not prohibition. All of these features are added. And they work just as well as copy and paste.
The Constitution of the United States was designed as a document to ensure the rights of property owners, typically white, Christian, men. If you fall into or can climb into this category, then the promise of America is secured for you. This is the land of milk and honey, of opportunity, of endless possibility, of manifest destiny. As for those left out of the original OS, not contemplated by it, or those considered three-fifths of a person by it, well, we’ve added features but we haven’t cleaned up the code.
Our institutions fail us. Police forces gun down young black men on our streets at a rate similar to the lynchings of the early 20th century. We can’t seem to elect women to more than a quarter of the seats in any house or senate. Our representative bodies are overrun by millionaires in proportions far out stretching their place in the populace. No one seems to like our ever growing media. If you look at individual cops, or congressmen, or news anchors, you can’t see what’s wrong. Because it’s not the individuals, but the OS.
We need something new. Something simpler. Something fairer. We need a process that uses less power, that includes more people, that democratizes our processes, and keeps any group of people from hogging all the resources.
We need an OS that contemplates the lifetime renter, the people of color, women, gays, lesbians, people of different national origins, people with no religion. We need to build it new. We need a black curtain, a stage, a clear vision, three great features. We need something revolutionary.
My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the experiment and the journey that is The United States of America. I am honored and humbled to stand before you to add a line in that story, to begin, with you, the work of writing the next chapter. Let us start this chapter talking about success.
American individualism will tell you that my success has been born of my upbringing in a small town, with a father who worked in a used book store and a mother who drove a school bus. Both my campaign and the American narrative would lead you to believe that my success in being on this dais today came from my ability to overcome obstacles, learn lessons, and with a uniquely American spirit, carry myself across this land to meet and inspire a generation of citizens to new levels of participation and support. But, this is an incomplete myth.
What has also led to my success was my safety. Success was born from playing in a front yard with no fence and no fear of being run over, gunned down, mistreated or murdered. Success came from a warm meal in the evening after being allowed to wander all day. Success came from having big, incomplete, childish dreams, and being told to keep imagining and refining them. Success came from making friends and choosing family and never once wondering if they did or didn’t love me. Success came from being able to marry and divorce and remarry whomever I chose, never once being told my choices were unacceptable. Success came from trying and failing and being taught to fail better. Success came from getting sick and breaking bones, but never having to worry for my very existence. Success came from the community and state and country in which I was protected and raised.
I didn’t see, I don’t think any of us see, the womb of protection that surrounds us. The parents, the officers, the firefighters, the military, the regulations, the environment, the atmosphere, the magnetic fields of the earth. None of us notice these immunities until they are gone, or until they turn on us. Too many children find out early that their parents are not protectors. Too many teens discover that the police do not always defend and serve. Too many in other countries bear the wrath of militaries. Too many are stripped of their environment. Too many don’t have clean water or nutritious food. Too many have been told to walk, talk, look and act a certain way, that if they wander outside some narrowly acceptable line they will die. We all live beneath a thinning atmosphere of our own making.
The greatest gift this country has been blessed with is two large oceans protecting our coasts, and companion nations to the north and south. We have been allowed, like I was allowed, to experiment and discover and play. This has led us to be leaders in the world, to think bigger thoughts, to imagine and implement fantastic ideas. For, those whom we insure their safety become our leaders, our thinkers, our inventors, our artists, our entrepreneurs. This is why the great majority of those who make up our government have degrees from prestigious universities. Because these institutions ensure, for a time, the space and safety to incubate new ideas.
All of us elected last November were rewarded for our ability to raise funds and supporters, to build a coalition of people willing to not only vote for us, but to campaign for us. It will be our inclination to answer that support with a willing ear, with our precious time, and with concern for the issues of those who sent us. But I ask you today to also look forward, to decide where the next generation of world-changing Americans will come from, to spend some of your political capital and intellectual prowess on figuring out how to provide safety for our people.
Every time a woman walks down the street unsure of where the next attack or catcall will come from, she is not thinking about how to lift up a nation. Every time a person of color is followed in a store, they are wondering what they have done wrong, rather than wondering how to invent better products. Every time a child imagines what awful thing might happen when they head home from school, they are not thinking about how to ace their homework.
There is a reason that very few people, nearly none, who stand at this podium have grown up in the cities, the population centers, of our democracy. It is because living in a city means constantly looking over your shoulder, watching your back, worrying about where the next danger might come from. All of those mental resources that could have been used to lift us up as a species, spent, instead, just to keep themselves alive.
We have built into our democracy safeguards to keep people protected. It is a central tenet of our beliefs, that the individual left to explore and learn and grow without needing to fight everyday for survival, can uplift their family, their community, this nation, this world. I look forward to our debates and legislation and compromise and solutions that further protect the American people. I will sign into law any bill that I believe will keep people alive, and safe, and free.
If we can think not just about those who brought us here, but also about those who are worried today for their life and their livelihood, if we can lift that burden off their shoulders, just a bit, than we have ensured our next great generation. If we can keep our people safe, give them space, allow them to experiment and explore, they will honor us with their support.
God bless us and protect us. And God bless the United States of America.
It was an argument when I was a kid.
After a period at the end of a sentence.
Does anyone even care anymore?
The distance between this thought and the next.
Between the harsh word and the retort.
Between the forbidden word and the fist.
Between the impulse and the kiss.
Between the dump of adrenaline
and the inevitable reaction.
Can we make a space? One or two.
Breathe long enough to let our intellect intrude.
Space for important questions?
Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is my life at risk?
Is this pain or presence?
Space before we table the debate.
Space before we smack the insect.
Could we let it live?
Space we used-to find in nature.
Between our fight and our flight.
Between our lungs and our legs.
An inch we can inhabit betwixt our anger.
Between our swirling moods and our spirals.
In concert with our questions. Unresolved.
Can I have just a minute? To be. Before I do?
I am his, mom.
His arms. His hair.
His aorta. His aroma.
transmits charisma, charm,
thirst, origins, antics…
(tho’ not racism, scorn, or machismo)
This miscasting, it stings.
This arson, it harms.
I, his cartoonish match in this gnostic saga.
This shaman. This artist. I am
his scars. His shortcomings.
I am his stoic grin.
His mirth. His aching.
His anchor. His thirst.
His mast. His tonic.
Can I stomach him? Room him among
atoms, tarots, ghosts, traits?
His rash. His itch. This chariot.
I am his, mama. No iota to omit.
This is a version of a Beau Présent, a poetry form created by Georges Perec and passed on by Carol Peters, where you use solely the letters of a person’s name to write a poem honoring them. I have modified it here to use the letters of my own name to honor my brother, Greg Henneman.
I’ve mused before that my dogs are Buddhas, a not original idea which I copped from Mark Doty about how they live permanently in the here and now, in this very beautiful moment. But, they are also the rascal voices of my head; imps, goblins, the sweet fur incarnate of my monkey-brain.
One wants to be loved, not in the ethereal sense of accepting affection as an equal creature of God’s creation, but as the schlub at the end of the bar who stuffs his wet nose between a pack of women out for a night of dancing. Loved meaning rubbed.
One wants to play, to be distracted from its animal nature by a hunk of plastic so shaped as to illicit the desire to gnash and gnaw and pretend this false thing is a helpless creature built to fit neatly into its jaw.
One wants what everyone wants, what anyone else has, what they can only have at the cost of others. Pure jealousy, and rage, and greed. Willing to stomp on the desires of others to fill the gaps inside, permanently broken.
One wants sex. One wants food. One wants to sit so close as to make sure you have no chance to engage any other morsel of the entire universe.
One wants to interrupt. One growls at ever being interrupted. One wishes it could scratch out its eyes. One wants to cure every itch with more scratching. One with licking.
One is all anger. One is all shame. One is afraid that when its stops being adorable– cute, cuddly, sweet like a puppy, stops loving you unconditionally despite your flare ups and your flaws– that it will be left out in the cold to fend for itself.
These dogs, they never leave. They follow me from room to room, never more than a few feet away. From couch, to bed, to desk. From work to play. From city to city. From youth to age. These brute-voices, these mutt-rumblings. These incessant, relentless beasts.
J., the wisest man I’ve known, told me once that he wanted two women, one to write about, and one he could take care of. He talked about being dedicated more to a place than to people, or was it people rather than place. I can never remember.
I’ve tried both, loving the location, its pizzerias, its theaters, the deep and tangled forest beneath my feet, refusing to leap when others leave. I’ve tried eschewing place for person. Packing up the car at a whim and moving along with my love.
Neither state brought me joy, married in two, schooled in four, alive and in love in at least seven more. Neither state brought me peace.
I have been a river, that misnomer noun which is in fact a verb, river being neither the passing water, nor the bed, nor the fish, nor the waves, but the moving only and always. I have been the droplet that becomes a stream, melted off some mountain, trapped in some eddy, rushing along the rocky spoor, always missing something.
While rocks know rocks across the shore, and the sunrise is a conspiracy of sky in concert with the well-known leaves of the trees, I have been all about moving. Nothing for too long. Not with the waterfall ahead, nor the exhilaration of falling, the crash of flirtation. All about slipping over beds of leaves, lifting silt, polishing the edges off stone.
I have seen the darkness no light can penetrate, and been, again, the lifted air. Committed to cycle, to process, to forever and nothingness. Nourishment and weapon. Cool and boiling. Carved a canyon with no apparent plan. Just dripping.
Some say we come from a comet or stars. Some from the hot plasma of the beginning. A bond unbreaking.
J. would call bullshit on all of this, and wax philosophical about the importance of proper condiments on french fries. He always seemed to be staying on a track towards something, towards love, a commitment to an art, or an anesthetic, or a city . While I felt like it was best to keep evaporating.
Fear nothing more than the focused, for they will be the ones to carry the great leaps and bounds of the species to fruition with their ability to see the distracted rest of us as mere tools to achieve whatever end on which they are fixated and to ignore those things which so fascinate and keep us simple and sated and utterly distracted, breasts and celebrity and kitten-pictures and money.
There is a mechanism built into the system, meant as a sort of antibotic to keep the disease of consciousness from spreading too quickly across whatever swath of reality we have the potential to inhabit and, therefore, tarnish, taint, and destroy, that dominion of time-space into which our forebears have disappeared leaving us behind in pools of our own sarcasm, irony, and multi-faceted misery.
See the rise of computing power and the rise of autism and the rise of psilocybin and the rise of Buddhism as the counterbalances to the increasing abundance of social networks and memes and broadcast video outlets and vlogs and set top boxes and pornography, as if there is a set amount of distraction and focus available in balance and as we increase one the other comes along to thwart any eventual victory.
The angel-brain knows that the Dalai Lama is correct when he suggests that the best way to deal with most of the global crises is for more folks to commit themselves to lives of voluntary celibacy, to become monks and nuns to any religion and spend their energies feeding the hungry and blanketing the cold and spending our off hours in deep meditation so that we can see through the illusion to an objective reality.
Beware of those who would create a product that does one thing well, or a small set of things, and as soon as possible corrupt that thing with its single-focus-engine into a swiss army knife of usability being sure to add on features like multitasking and to connect it as soon as possible with games and fart noises and the aggregation and delivery of data from entertainment, sports, and political sources.
There is nothing so sacred as our religions and our politics, our countries and our families, no topic we can broach which will so keep us entwined as the principles enshrined in our founding documents which provide for us an outline of the mechanism, endowed by our creator, which allows us to spend our days demarcating imaginary boundaries between ourselves and ourselves.
Fear those who would suggest, or worse yet, put in our hands and in our heads a way to unscramble the structures that hold this whole thing up, the mechanism that keeps us moving at this snail’s pace, what with our thoughts like those mysterious sub-atomic particles blinking in and out of existence at seemingly random intervals just when we were about to grasp the big and untenable topics, the God particles.
Make it illegal. Make it unseemly. Call it dangerous. Make it unprofitable. Label it offensive. Encourage wallowing. Legalize those substances which slow you down, kill you off, keep you addled, leave you addicted. Never forget. Do this because the disease of consciousness can only be contained. The veil is not far away and not heavy to lift. Kill young those who would open it. Label them as entrepreneurs or entertainers. Drive them mad. Co-op, neuter, or vilify that madness. Make them inaccessible, iconoclastic, obscure, different.
I wonder sometimes where the massacre would have started, where people would have hid, which teacher would have stood like a shield and which might have tripped me. The voice of that belittled fifteen year old wonders still about the logistics of gym class, with its locker storage and sheer number of targets, its embarrassment and irony and meaning, versus recess, where the fearful could have run while the hunter hunts.
A fun game is to watch those of certain qualities berate that quality, the fake decrying a lack of genuineness, the vicious lamenting cruelty, well-made-up beauties upset that people notice only their bodies, the gay homophobic congressman.
The righteous are the ones who allow themselves to be unequivocal.
My voices. The kid with the crayons, the sneak at Christmas, the dumped in college, the broken professional, the ogre throwing hands through walls. If I listen close I can still hear the titter of a five year old making angels in the snow.
Rage is just a volume.
When you film a documentary about the openness of scientists, about their willingness to have everything they know proven wrong, you might want to cast scientists who are open, who don’t unequivocally know, who might be wrong.
Fox News is reporting the desire of people in remote areas of the world to spread a message of hate. They have sent a camera crew to broadcast their findings.
I have loved those who would not have loved me back no matter the convincing. I have seen mountains too big to consume. I do not think we can raise the dead, or live forever, or outrun our own egos. These are not engineering problems.
I remember learning to tie my shoes.
The scientists are upset at the believers for not allowing us to admit (and then solve) climate change, upset at the mischaracterization of evolution, upset that an archbishop would make a poor biologist.
The scientists created climate change. Scientists built the nuclear reactors of the industrial age, the predator drone, the musket, the trebuchet. They broke it.
Your film helps little more than a wet-whilly.
The kid never gets to the point of deciding. Sometimes it’s a hallway in between periods. Sometimes its with some form of gas. Sometimes the gun has a silencer.
Their argument is that religion keeps us dumb, that it prevents the whole race from moving forward. Think of the wars fought in the names of Gods. Think of the wars won by those with better weapons.
It’s about hearts and minds. It’s about beliefs and problem solving. It’s also about capability.
Answer me this: if kids are cruel, how should we live as a species? I’ll take any solution, from any quarter, if you can tell me how we stop a bully.
The challenge with capitalism is that it is a game of playing the angles. Any edge you can get, be it political, technological, parasitic, personal, or financial the system encourages. Any attempt to even the playing field, to inject some reasonableness is seen as taking away someone’s advantage, labeled as an affront to fairness, an attack on the system, called un-American. The irony is that even this objection is only a front, a tool to gain another edge.
After thirty-five years of having a crush on K., scrawling her name on the rock, carrying poems around in my head and my heart, lamenting some scene in a hallway in sixth grade, I let it go. It happened in an instant after reading she was chairman of the board of one organization and, of another, CEO. I could never have loved her in a way to make her life richer. What captain of industry should marry a fool committed to fawning over you, singing of your beauty daily?
I was taught, and learned, that running a store was about people, was about changing lives, was about pushing the human race and making the world a better place. I never gave a shit about stockholders, about P&L, about the RD coming this week who needed to be managed and wooed. My store always looked beautiful.
How about a tax based on success. At the end of the year we figure how much the government spent, how much each person is worth, and you pay your percentage. Total wealth of the US population, 10 trillion (hypothetical). Your net-worth, $2500 (assets minus debts). You owe .000025% of whatever we spent (not sure on the math there, nor the poetics).
The problem is I don’t have irrefutable evidence. Yet, even without it I’m convinced I could love you better. Convinced there is a solution. Convinced we do not need to be headed for oblivion just for playing the edges. I do things sometimes just to prove I am a better person.
What about a car that runs on wind-assist. All moving objects create resistance. Can’t we channel that through a tunnel that helps spin the front tires and recharges the battery, some sort of internal turbine. The more you’re assisted the faster you go.
A good idea is a good idea whether or not you can monetize it.
I was a great manager because I actually liked my people. I didn’t see them as loss leaders, or trouble, or vessels to some land of profit. I didn’t pit them against each other, nor us against other teams. I didn’t buy into the value of embellishment, or lying. I had no hope of fitting into a corporate structure, but that never stopped me.
I have no problem tilting at windmills.
A mentor once told me he could see me running a store, almost, except that something was missing. He couldn’t put his finger on it. I couldn’t then. Let me help you. I have no taste. I have no pitch, no sense of discerning the good things from the nearly. Little sense of what separates awesome from mediocre. I have no problem doling out effusive praise.
I would have made an amazing troubadour, a fine minstrel, one of Prufrock’s attendant lords, friend to anyone who wanted their story told, highlighter of what makes them most amazing. Your name painted on the side of a rock, your heart in a lyric, the sheer force of your piercing intellect or your compassion scrawled across the page, and indelible in my heart.
I’ll tell you daily how amazing you are. I’ll love you that much. What I won’t do is let go, to stop loving you before I know, with some indefensible proof, that you are better with another, that you’ve found your edge, that your life has become one fabulous invention. Perhaps then, when you appear to be parsecs out of my orbit I can heal, be apart from you entirely, from your everloving gravity.
A student struggles with a project-topic, trying to put into words how music says something they feel, even when it doesn’t have lyrics.
I love the word round, the word leave, the word still. Round like lips. Round as an approximation of location. Round as in math – ridding oneself of the remainder. We sing in a round. And when we’re done, what remains? What we leave. I love you. I hate you. Leave! Take leave of our senses. A leave of absence. What did one tree say to another? Leave.
A poem should not be a riddle, but the solution to a riddle, not a padlocked door, but the key. There is something I’ve been trying to say for eons, that I’ve not yet been able to say. But, safe-cracker at the spindle, I’m still whispering. Still. Unmoving, yet persistent. A contraption in the woods in which grain alcohol is brewed.
Music is a syringe. It opens the skin wide enough to let blood out, to let drugs pass this semi-permeable membrane. This is why the woman alone on stage with an instrument will always be a heroine.
There’s something we’ve forgotten. I see it in the eyes of people in line at the grocery. A statue on a pedestal outside a museum. Teenagers sitting on the bricks, legs swaying fidgetably in the breeze. As adults we no longer sit like this. But there, as I’m scanning the aisles, a glint.
Syringe is the wrong metaphor. It’s too violent. More like a mouth when it needs oxygen or an epiglottis, blood vessels in arousal. Music as an incantation that calls the not-yet into reality. We can assume the spinning earth made music as it cooled, as we slowed from molten-gas-atmosphere, to lava, to rock, to blues.
I always thought I’d be around people who embraced big thinking, who would persist in their quest for deeper knowledge, who would reach, and would not leave, still. I’m here, still, on this pedestal, down below the mountains, a part of this world and apart of this world, trying to catch what’s in a tune. But there’s the catch.
I was in grad school, in my apartment, in deep meditation, when God (like a stagehand with a broom) asked if I wanted to see behind the curtain, the levers and pulleys and counterbalances. I understood the trade-off. I was not yet open. Had music been playing…
Had music been playing…
Had music been playing?
The first technology was fire.
We have no way of proving that, of course, but also no way to disavow it. It came when a lightning bolt struck a tree and passed from limb to limb until some great ancestor made sense of it. They passed it from limb to limb, warming those in the cold, softening vegetables, leaving meat more palatable.
What’s best for fire, even today, is to keep it at a safe distance. And that’s how technology starts, best at a distance. Best handled by the experts. Best to bring the bard, the barber, the librarian, the technician, the doctor, the seer your questions. Best to let them sort them out through their books and manuals, compare it to all known knowledge, runs some tests, and provide you your feedback.
Let’s blame Gutenberg.
It was his technology that created this novel concept of knowledge in the hands of the populace. A book in every house, perhaps a bible, but also an erotic novel hidden under a mattress. Access to knowledge for the rich, technology for the affluent, passed down through the generations. It was in your home and scarcely controlled. You could touch it. Your kids could find it. And once it got ubiquitous enough, there was no way to leash the thoughts again of the authors. Dangerous thoughts, to kill them, to stop them procreating in time. Of course there was fire. But that never seemed to work right.
A computer was once a large machine in a raised and air conditioned room. You would meet a qualified individual at the front desk, hand them some cards, and they would respond later with your answers. A computer was once as big as a refrigerator. There was one in your building at work you could log into. A computer was once a beige box in the corner of the library at school. Once had a black and white screen. Once came with a book in the box. Once had peripherals, printers and modems and external drives. Once had a keyboard. Once had a camera. Once had a screen.
There has been a distance between what we create and ourselves. It came from the heavens, or came shooting out of us with great effort. We needed a midwife or a editor to get it out right. We needed an agent, a publishing house, a tech department, store clerks who could sell it. But the dreamer, in dreaming, imagines none of these logistics.
The technology is coming. Closer with each iteration. It was atop our desks, then atop our laps. Now in our hands, soon on our wrists. The distance between creator and created and creating constantly shrinking. A computer on our tongue. In our ears. A way to tell stories from one brain to the next directly. Stored in the collective. Available to everyone.
The story told by our ancestor, about lifting a few pieces of brush to carry fire. The trick was not the fire itself, neither its destruction nor its capabilities. The earth was fire before it was anything. The trick was not the story, but learning to pass it from limb to limb, to jump across the distance, so we could speak of God, of sex.
We’ve found ways to mimic our skin, to armor it. We’ve made mock wings to lift ourselves above it. We’ve cut glass to enhance our vision, and learned to breathe underwater. We have devices that mimic super hearing, which capture voice and video. I can almost touch you at a distance.
The tech is coming. Closer and closer. It is our triumph over time and space, our wish that someone will speak of us, our hope of permanence.
We looked down.
Which has many problems with it.
First, it isn’t so much we as I, being that there is only one… what would you call it… atmosphere. Although, with the word atmosphere the thought is usually about areas closer to space realms. In reality, what I mean starts at the ground. I guess… air.
Second problem, it didn’t happen in the past, unless you consider the perception of time as time itself. And we couldn’t look, as there weren’t really yet eyes.
Down is mostly accurate.
I sense in the earth a great many minerals, pastes and stones with which to build, trying first to move the water and sand all at once into such lovely shapes. But direct manipulation is a crass tool.
How I envy fingers.
Before fingers, I loved the earth, but there was always a distance. I could move earth, but was not of earth. Lighter, you would say? I could howl through tunnels, hurricane above the ocean. Many times plow down into surfaces with all my might. Only to rise.
So warm the earth. So dense and warm.
It’s not clear how the first experiment that worked worked. There is earth and water and the places we meet. That’s key. Always trying to love the earth or ocean via myself directly. But the meeting of us three. A small bit of water soaking the soil and a part of me… stuck. A moment. And once I was there, I was there.
It couldn’t do much. What one might call a proof-of-concept. Yes. Water, air, earth, holding together, contained together. That old relic, it’s still lying around here somewhere.
“You’re trying to remember something too important to forget.” – Naomi Shihab Nye
I keep remembering
……..(I keep forgetting)
some secret passage.
……..(a being in a doorway)
Trying to shake loose
……..(from my remembering)
the apostles of compassion.
……..(who wanted this world)
The words are absurd
……..(I saw you freeing us)
poor sticks for spark-making.
……..(your heart of kerosene)
You were sated by small things
……..(how silly our creating)
kindest, smartest, tireless.
……..(job, safety, comfort)
I miss our expansive colonies
……..(we’d have saved many)
I become distracted easily.
……..(the flesh is attractive)
The saying, the saying
……..(I’d rather have made these)
words that choked action.
……..(that gutted our loving)
A friend of mine works for a company I would love to work for. He is not someone you are ever going to see on stage, nor someone who would get chewed out and fired after a product launch. But, he is part of the backbone that holds up that organization. Ok, maybe not the backbone, maybe more like a rib. What I mean is his role is important, although not vital. He got his job because he is one of maybe a hundred people in the country who can do what he does. If he wanted to he could easily be on one of those vital, fireable teams. He doesn’t. He has a wife, and a baby, and a good job, and a good salary, and he gets to go home at night and on the weekends and take fun pictures with his family.
The generation after mine, the millennials, weren’t raised on TV. They were certainly raised with TV, but by the time they were 10 there were other screens competing for their attention. Those screens required input, feedback, interaction. They were never plopped down in one spot for hours not needing to do much more than change the channel. Mark Zuckerberg grew up in that, computers all around him, friends more vital than family. But, he also grew up believing he could build something great, change the world, change the way people communicate. The quintessential millennial.
Firefly is a Generation-X show, more so even than Friends. The first few seasons of Friends spoke to us, genetic family on the periphery, jobs done out of a sense of passion or obligation, relationships a mess, no money anywhere. But, as the series goes on you can tell that this is a show about Gen-X, but not made by Gen-Xers. At the end of the last episode of the last season you have a group of wealthy friends leaving each other, well paid for their fulfilling jobs, moving to the burbs to safely raise their families. This is a boomer-told story.
Firefly is a story about overly qualified folks caught in the crossfire of old wars, who give up more lucrative possibilities to keep their crew together, their family together, and who pay dearly for it. People die. This is the Gen-X dream made manifest by Gen-Xers. This is a show with characters who hold tight to their friends, and never sell out their honor. Firefly is who we wish we could be. “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.” Harry Potter is this same story, fiercely loyal friends caught up in their parents’ wars. Both end the same way, everyone ends up either dead or scarred.
We never wanted to be this jaded. But we were born while the country mourned the Kennedys, and King, and Malcolm X, and Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, and Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean, while the economy fell apart, while factories closed, while big cities were gutted and burned, with gas lines and hostages, with different presidents every four years, with yuppies, and douchebags, and meaningless bickering about things that happened on college campuses in the sixties. No one wanted to stick around and fix anything. So we raised ourselves, made friends, and did what we could to make each other happy.
The best we could have managed was to be in a band with three or four of our talented friends, in a crew, together. But we weren’t all musically talented. I have a friend who started a theatre company, one running a non-profit, one working on publishing others, too many to count on stages and in small clubs. And it all works, right up until something goes wrong with the friendships. None of these businesses die because of money. They die because someone gets married, or has a baby, or moves away.
Scott Hall, professional wrestler and baby boomer, put it best. For his generation “it’s not called show friendship, it’s show business.” CM Punk, professional wrestler and Gen-Xer walked away from a lucrative contract to retire at 35 and the bosses couldn’t figure out why. They call him selfish. To us, the reasons were obvious and unselfish. They didn’t hire and promote his friends. Find a crew, find a job, keep flying. Show friendship.
I’ll always follow my heart. It means more to me than money. I have never seen money bring joy to my parent’s lives. I will always be there for my friends. Any one of them could call me at a moment’s notice and I would be on a bus, a plane, or a boat to help. I have a great job. It doesn’t pay me my highest possible salary. I am not working for a most admired company, and I did not make it out unscarred. I miss my people, some of them desperately. But I love seeing their success, their fierce loyalty, their proper choices, their ability to balance health, wealth, and family.
We were never going to save the world. The world didn’t need saving. It just needed more honor, more friendship, more loyalty.
Professor Benjamin and Professor McNitt would be at each other’s throats, and having them one class after the other could get dizzying. One would tell us the reason a burger in the cafeteria was so expensive was because the college hired a private food services company who had to make a profit. It would be cheaper if the college ran its own food service. Profiteering makes the food lower-quality and more expensive. An hour later the other would tell us that the reason a burger was so expensive was that the workers hired were subject to minimum wage laws and worse, negotiated contracts as part of their unions. High wages and benefits for workers made the food expensive.
There’s a stock broker whose only concern is buying low and selling high. The University of Kentucky Men’s basketball team has a mission statement that reads, “To compete each year for the national title.” All that matters to members of the House and Senate is their seat. Individualized self-interest is the only thing that can hold in check individualized self-interest. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.
It is a small mind that can only hold small ideas, that can hold only one thought at a time, who sees the world through the colors of team, the stripes of flags, the edicts of a profession, who measures by measurable statistics. This is also the definition of focus. And the one who can focus, who shuts out the noise of everything and narrow down their definition of success to one thing, who wins that one thing, wins.
Am I being too simplistic?
At the first meeting of a class on game theory the teacher lays out the rules for a game in which you have a chance to take a large number of points for yourself and screw others, take a medium number of points for yourself and nothing from others, or give points to others and keep few for yourself. If everyone chooses the last option, the whole class wins. After the game is over the teacher chides the class to “Never play from a dominated position.” Even if it’s best for the whole? “Never.”
We fight wars because there are violent people in the world who must be destroyed. All that matters are this week’s jobs numbers. Market share. Market cap. Advertising revenue. The overnights. Who gets to bed first and who stays up to turn out the lights.
There are those who decide that life is a game and play it as such. As if the things moving about them are pieces. There are people who raced to cross the Atlantic, grab territory, get to the ocean, manifest destiny, land on the moon. The side benefits of these quests are lauded as the value of science, colonialism, war.
Even if it’s best for the grander goal? “Never.”
What really excites me is everything. Not the answer as to whether or not we live in a mechanical universe, but the possibility that a thousand years from now we will have rethought everything. Big wide opening eyes.
Inefficiency has its place. As does thinking deeply. We once thought the universe was matter and antimatter, that time only flowed in one direction, that the most intimate two people could be with each other was sex, that life was always based on cells and carbon, that intelligence came with a pre-frontal cortex.
Not the concept of getting for myself or ensuring for my family. Not putting safety and prosperity on the inside cover of the box of a board game. Not fighting back and being angry. Not being justified, or right, or treated with dignity.
We once believed that how one best connected to another was through language, and thought, and touching. We once worked from this simplistic combination of mind and body. We thought we came down with the apes from trees and that we were the pinnacle and the end of evolution. Vacations meant moving only our bodies closer to the oceans. We thought space was the final frontier.
Consciousness. Can you sense this? This notion that a flea who jumps a millimeter off a petri dish has achieved some grand accomplishment.
For so long we were distracted by our own procreation, by our tribes, our mechanics, our inventions. We worried about whether or not we would die and what would happen next. We fixated on the traits we passed on, as if we alone were our species, as if our species were the planet, as if the planet were the whole of creation. We never once thought about the dust in our blood.
I’m curled up in the tiniest space in which I can fit. And not fit comfortably, just fit. It’s 1997 and I am visiting a friend in Chicago. I took the bus up along a rumbling highway. No, I took a plane. The space allotted to me is little more than the space for cargo. It’s 1991 and my first day of college. We have a 12 by 12 room for three wide, tall, and lanky men. It’s 1988 and the best parts of me are kept hidden underneath an elevated bed or tucked between the plywood and the mattress in a notebook, in between college-ruled lines. In a crib. In a plastic bin in a maternity ward. In a world all my own. In a few dividing cells.
Across a coffee shop in Chicago I see a woman I have never met. She is absent mindedly drinking tea while pouring over some papers she has unclasped from inside a yellow manila envelope. I am drawn to her. Suddenly this world which has felt so small feels expansive. I know with all that I am that if I walk up to her and say hello she will recognize me. Our future will be laid out in front of us, the great wide plain of love, an odd story of how we met, and a family. But the distance is too great, the steps too big. I cannot muster the courage to make my feet move across the tile floors between us.
I’ll write her a letter, the amazing woman from freshman orientation. I’ve never written a letter before, not a letter like this. I had a pen pal in ninth grade, someone in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. But I never knew what to write to a stranger. This time I know. I’ll pour my heart and my hopes, my fears and my flesh, my very being into the front and back of one page. I will fit myself in between lines. By the time we meet again on that first day of college, unpacking into our 12 by 12 crates, she will know all of me.
Just before sleep my meditation sometimes consists of trying to feel every inch of my flesh, to inhabit it completely. Sometimes on the run I imagine myself to be a tiny ball of light in my chest, less than a cell wide and a cell high, shining out from the spot behind the bone that combines the left and right of my ribs. That light reaches out to the fiber optics at the end of each of twenty digits and ignites the giant mixing bowl of traffic lights and headlights in my mind. Sometimes I try to escape this body. I breathe out so thoroughly that I bat against the chain link fence and see the spot in the forest between the trees where I will disappear into the wide wilderness. This body is meat. It is not me. It is all I will ever be.
Rumi asks, “Who makes these changes?” Rumi was a spirit unencumbered by flesh. And yet flesh made manifest. And yet, flesh that was not whole until he met his teacher. And yet, that teacher cracked him open and released what was trapped in flesh. And yet, Shams broke him when he took his body and left, and was killed. And Rumi, in his wanting of Shams, finally lived.
What I am trying to say is that I want to fully inhabit this body. It is only on this hardware that my being will look and act and feel like me. It is only through this body that I will know my self and only through this body that I will know others. But I am not this body. I am not this flesh. The words I write, the ideas, the stories, those will carry on in the strange combinations I have jotted down for others. But even the words need a body.
A woman lived ten thousand years ago of whom I am a descendant, many women, many men. Had they not each eaten a hearty meal, pulled plants from their roots, slaughtered animals big and small, laid down at night with each other in sweaty sex, been drawn into union and conversation, protected by and protected their tribe, fought over territory and won, I would not exist. I know nothing of any of them. I owe them nothing. I owe them the existence of this flesh.
We are software, minds and ideas and spirits. But software must be written and stored, executed and replicated. It is not hardware, but cannot exist without hardware. Physical media. The earth merely revving models.
Sometimes I feel compelled to write. Like the voice inside of me is me. Sometimes I am drawn to eyebrows, the cock of a hip, the way a person sits a pen against their head while they are thinking, the twist of their concentrating lips. Sometimes I inhabit this flesh and sometimes I am nearly free of it. Sometimes I feel like little more than lines of code.
If two cannot be one
I’ll meet the day
as nighttime. You’ll
shine while I take
my leave. Wave to me
as I pass by completely.
While you sleep I’m out
on the town drinking of
ink and mad at myself.
Weighed by love, I’ll
never catch up. You do
the growing of what
everyone needs, raise the
crops. I’ll host Angels
in their caves who cannot
recall what the fell to do.
We’ll meet on horizons, your
lipstick a blush, my eyelash
a hint of blue. You will
rise to read what I write
all night for you. On
and on, the longing my
hand sweeps from my cheek.
I’m over the moon. The
stars. Done with the poem
of hope. The belief that
something that hasn’t
changed can change. We’ve been
separate in all but thought,
and a dawn we keep memories of.
Back in college we group of friends invented a religion, The First International Church of Funk and Soul. The idea was that if you did these three things every day you would unify and align yourself with the divine forces of the universe. You could touch God. The three things were:
- 1. Eat good pastry: defined as pastry cooked, served, and eaten in the same building.
- 2. Drink a snapple. It was the early 90s and snapple was a new, natural, cool thing. There were still tea leaves in the bottom of the bottle.
- 3. Listen to one hour of soul, blues, or funk music.
We presented our religion to Father Damien, the head of the Catholic Campus ministries and his response was, “I have seen religions based on less.” He wished us luck. * For the purpose of what comes next I define religion as a series of practices and actions that one takes in order to brush against the large forces of the universe. Stuff you do to touch God. This is separate from faith, the believe, without need for observable, predictive, reproducable evidence, that God exists. This is separate from spirituality, a belief structure that higher truths exists, and that it matters both in our lives and to the greater whole that we recognize these higher truths. * I am inventing a new religion. This time without the snapple. Here are the things I hope to do every day to align myself with the divine:
- 1. MovementFree: Take 30 minutes each day to sit without movement or distraction or chores or conversation or action.
- 2. Movement: Use 45 minutes each day to swim, bike, run, lift, climb, dance, fight, or otherwise make my heart race.
- 3. NewsFree: No Google News, Facebook Newsfeed, MacRumors or other psuedo-information gathering at home during the week. I can do plenty of these at work, and not much changes between the end of one work day at the start of the next. No more than one check for a half hour on weekend days.
- 4. ForArtSake: Imbibe a new poem, essay, story, or song by an author I don’t know daily. Really listen.
- 5. LimitVideo: Video in the house should consist of no more than one click of one episode of one story a day.
- 6. EliminateGames: Keep no games on my mobile devices. They don’t amount to anything but distraction.
- 7. WriteItDown: Post a little each day about what I ate, read, saw, thought, and moved through.
Seven seems like a good and godly number. It feels like a lot to do each day. But what it cuts out should make room for what it puts in. It starts today. It starts now. The daily blog will be here.
Wish me luck Father D.
If you see me
ing, my fingers
seen object, a
silver ring, a
rubber band, a
let of dried glue,
ask me what’s wrong.
thing’s wrong. My
fingers are searching
for a fix.
Time is an effective filter for art. The stories and manifestos that mean so much on the day of their release wash away. The artifacts that somehow sneak their way from box to box, dorm room to apartment to house, from hard drive to hard drive blossom with new meaning.
One of the cool things about getting old are the bands that survive. They’ve made their money and are doing their best, unencumbered, trying to impress no one, work. They possess both the “fuck it” attitude of youth, and the polished skills that come with years of experience. And, they’re back to playing small venues where you can see them cheap enough to still buy a t-shirt, surrounded by devotees who love the stuff from their new album.
I’m not sure how I kept Counting Crows. I didn’t care much for them when their radio single mega-hits hit, no more than I did for Mr. Big or Hole. But every album since there were two or three songs, what we grown folks call B-sides, that would transcend what DJ’s could find. Every three or four years a new album. Every three or four years a few diamonds.
I’m not sure how I started teaching writing. I am one for taking the scenic route, bypassing the highway of a career in just about anything. Somewhere along the way I went from sitting in workshops to leading them, from taking classes to teaching them. And somewhere I came to realize, in teaching them, that the nouns matter.
Anna Begins is an early track. It’s from those sessions that happen before the band hits, that block of songs that come from coffee houses and scratching on napkins. It’s super personal and shrouded in mystery, based on something the artist is not yet ready to name.
Washington Square comes later, fifteen years in, and Counting Crows have found a way to be clear, artistic, articulate, simple, and deep. It’s no longer the artist searching, or trying to protect someone’s identity. It’s Picasso in two strokes drawing a bull. It’s the craftsman just… saying.
What separates these skill sets are the nouns.
Nouns come in at least two varieties, concrete and abstract. Some you use to name a vague idea and some you hit with a hammer. And pronouns, good lord, the worst of writing is littered with pronouns. When you don’t want to name the person, or narrow it down enough for them to be noticeable, then the drama comes between me and she and him and them.
What abstract nouns don’t give you is the ability to set yourself down in a time and place, and sit face to face with the artist, with their creations. What concrete nouns give you are the particulars, a chair, a table, a waitress named Bonnie with bright red hair and a tattoo on her left wrist.
Anna Begins begins with, “My friend assures me it’s all or nothing. I am not worried. I am not overly concerned. My friend implores me for one time only, make an exception. I am not worried.”
Washington Square starts, “Sold my piano. It couldn’t come with me. I locked up my bedroom, and I walked out into the air. Nothing I needed was left there behind me, just memories of walking through Washington Square.”
In the first I am left to wonder what’s going on and where is my place in the story. The imaginative leaps I must make are in the particulars. I must bring with me a situation, maybe with a friend of mine, where it has been all or nothing, and yet I was not overly concerned. What would that be? I have had people tell me, with confidence, that this song is about senseless sex, or rape, or suicide, or being too drunk to care.
In the second I am right there. And although I have never owned or sold a piano, I can make the leap to understand a piano both as a gateway to music and as a symbol of a weighty life that makes it difficult to move, something beautiful, but with heft and gravity.
I hear young writers arguing for the value in leaving things vague, leaving space for the reader to insert their own life. But that’s not how life works, it’s not how the art that stays stays. I know that from age. Feelings and impressions burn away. But I remember the strands of hair being pushed thoughtlessly behind an ear, the drops of sweat that fall from being close with another person and intense, the journals we used to carry, the boots we used to wear.
The stuff that holds lies in the particulars. At this age I can make those imaginative leaps. I can guess what a thief stealing a silver spoon means. But I have no space or care to fill in the faces and scents of blank people mired in angst for some unknown reason. I think of the great ending of Stanley Kunitz’s poem The Portrait, telling a story about his mother slapping him as a child. “In my sixty-fourth year / I can feel my cheek / still burning.”
That’s concrete. That’s a well-aged artist saying big things simply. That is why Washington Square outshines Anna Begins.
Some late summer days
in the fresh pale evening
your garage door snapped shut
fillets chopped into chocolate chili
you realize you’ve never lived
in a world with Janis Joplin.
Some late summer days
this lapse is okay, call it
poor timing, each lover
lost in some other year.
Some late summer days
this pain is the keenest tragedy.
I could leap about the room howling,
spinning into storms of exuberance,
a hurricane laughing. Though I’d rather
remind you “It’s raining,” just outside
our window, a light dew on the lawn
like tears. Softly. Gently. Cool nourishment
invisible like breathing. You. Safe, out
on a limb, in a nest, curled in my arms.
The rain constant as the love you keep,
as the love you keep despite leaving.
Back east the day starts out mired in cloud-like blankets,
as if it spent the night twisting itself in thunderclouds
and great huge swabs of rain. But there is hope
that by afternoon when the sun has burned
the tops of its biscuits, some clarity
and fresh air will break through.
Out west, in the land of Triathlon,
the opposite is true, morning rises easy
from a dry, and hot, and starless night. Cool.
It heats up at pace through lunchtime. Then clouds,
lakes lifted on the back of vacuums, the mountaintops
in dispute with wind and sun. Each comes with a flash flood.
The worst lesson I ever learned came in sixth grade when Mr. Fabiano, trying to help a nerdy kid get beat up less, taught me the word “stoicism”. No, the worst lesson came when Mr. Hansen, in eighth grade biology, taught us about homeostasis. No, the worst lesson might have been in the Tao, the part where it talks about being a pole in the middle of a stormy sea, water churning around you as you stand still, unflinching. Then there is Kristina in college, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight of a sunrise, running towards it with her arms open, as if she could catch it, or imbibe it, or somehow stretch wide enough to embrace its entirety.
This essay is not about that.
It’s not about whether or not to react to the world, whether to engage it or stand stoic and separate. There is no available option for stopping. As Galileo said of the universe on his death bed, “It moves.” All of it. Each of us too. No, this is about the building and the signpost and the ledge we choose to stand on each morning, and what we wake ready to dive into. We welcome this conscious world to prove to us, each morning, what we already believe. The day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy. And for those people who made better choices than myself today, I have envy.
I see one of them each day, awake at the pillow believing this world is a positive place, that the people in it are good and kind, that life is driven by a powerful thrust forward, and that the heart is a deep well of joy that can feed everyone. That annoying happy colleague. That clerk at the grocery store who is way too chipper to be to work by five. The ticket taker at the counter whom I would not have met had I made my first flight. Who is he to be so overjoyed, to be making everyone else smile and laugh so heartily?
And I see the cynics, the ones who are sure this world is made of ore and stone which must be futilely pounded every day. I see the oppositionists, who prove by their living that the world is separated into rich and poor, good and evil, worthless and worthy. I see the defenders, who put up walls around whatever their lives hold, and keep in all in their fort, willing to kill or die for both their nutrition and their garbage. I see the centrists, who never quite bought into the sun being the focus of the solar system, the sun being so far away from them. I see the cause-heads, who have one lens, and wait for the world to show its inherent flaw, its lack of any willingness to fight for this, our most important issue. I see the pushers, who won’t stop until everything is changed, and the consumers, who take, and take. I see the apologists, and the back-stabbers, and the martyrs. And I am more frustrated with myself than by any of them
Just stop. We all need to stop.
For one day. Don’t move.
Don’t buy anything. Don’t sell. Don’t run away. Don’t reboot, refocus, reload, recommit, reinvest, reembellish. Stop. For God’s sake Galileo.
I’m tired of moving, of feeling, of fulfilling everyone’s unproven philosophies. I’m ready to pop. And if the universe keeps filling up, keeps inflating, keeps bursting at the seams, if we keep having more and more to choose from, if I have to carry this all inside any longer, I won’t survive.
The most reliable way to fix a computer is to restart it. This wipes out any running processes. It allows the kernel to start fresh, and for a little while, everything loads smoother.
This world is not inherently flawed. The Buddhists don’t have the answer. You can’t work your way to happiness. Drugs are neither demons nor doorways. Surrender will not save you. We are not the greatest country in the history of the world. Your team is not number one. Science, and the ever expanding library of human knowledge, will neither obliterate us nor offer an escape. We are not better off with or without the seals.
The worst lesson I ever learned was that “the day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy”. I’m not sure where I picked it up, or who taught it, or what Legos I pieced it together from. I can’t stand Mr. Ramsey for putting in my head that life is either a struggle between man and nature, or man and man, or man and himself. I hate that Professor Haffar taught us the concept of false happinesses, that someone who felt joyful, while in actuality being oppressed, should be taught about their oppression.
Somewhere in there I was an open-hearted boy. And the world came easy to me. And when someone made fun of me, or struck me, I cried. And I felt the force behind a waterfall. And the pangs of true love. And the smack of a bumper to a bumper when I forgot to pay attention. And I felt music. And I felt my great grandmother’s ancient, dry hands. And I felt death. And I cared. And I knew it would be over soon. And I couldn’t imagine living past eighteen.
I can’t say this thing. I used to be able to say this thing. But, whatever I woke this morning to prove just won’t seem to come to me.
Here’s the problem, my friend.
You’ve told me everything about what you’ve been up to and the sum total of it seems to be that you… are not happy.
Now I know you can point to many good things in your life, blessings, gifts, scars well-earned.
You tell me how much you love the crowds, and the restaurants, and the oncoming buzz.
But near the end of the evening, when all the slacks and jackets and party dresses have been tossed in the laundry or rehung, you are not filled with the joy that twirls at the center of the world.
You don’t wake up enamored of life, and the morning, and the process of living a day.
You tell me with the suffix of, “I bought a new piece of plastic (or metal, or cloth). One I have been looking for. One that I know will bring me my happiness. I’ve booked a trip to a far off destination. Signed up for classes. Found a new city and am planning to move.”
Your life is so very frenetic.
As if jumping from one lustful passion to another will somehow fill it. But the bucket has no bottom. You’re lighting the gas of your longing with what matches. Yet you seem devout in your sadness. It’s pervasive.
And there’s nothing anyone can do. Do you think about this? This. Right here. Spent some hours listening to the sounds that wander through the rooms of your dwelling, the edifice of your imagination, the cavernous, high ceilinged room of your heart.
We’ve known each for a long time and so I can share with you a secret. I can see into your heart. Not just yours, everyone’s. When I meet someone it takes about a minute. Their bodies dissolve and I see instead the inner layer of their skin, the one that has been with them since youth.
It swims between pink and yellow. It has these lovely eddies that curl around your belly when you eat and around your head, like a halo, when you remember lovely things.
But so often you tamp it down, get filled with this grey malice that starts at the surface and pushes, like weight, against these savory colors to your feet, where they pool and quiver.
I think, (and what do I know?), if you just let sat still. Here. Right here.
And listened. And looked. And took in this scene, with no care in the world or plan for anything, you could feel them start to move, to rise up to your knees, overtake your belly, swim in a circle around the flute of your throat.
They’ll fill your eyes. They’ll color how you see the world. They are here, just below your skin, so thin. Your beauty bursting out which requires no paint and no coat. No sales receipt or title.
It’s you. I see. Swirling out wildly.
Here I am, up again, my friend, up
at some ungodly hour meant more
for dreaming they laying out schemes
of attack on a day for which I will
now be more poorly rested
and therefore less effective.
Here I am, pondering again
without the use of hallucinogens
how one might make time travel
or move space and stay in a place
impossible, the top corner of a room
watching a scene in our history unfolding.
A thousand times, again, hoping in this past
to find the ripple or fold that allows us
to explore what would have been
had you’d been less… or I’d been more…
perched atop the door to kick it closed
hold the knob shut as you twisted it and left.
Here nightly, brightly hunched and painting
in watercolors no one gets to see,
tongue out my left lips, a boy
still spreading stained rainbow
fingers into circles wrapped up
into imaginary rings of gold.
I should sleep. I should let go of
what simply will not be. The past,
a future, another version of the separate
life (lives) we lead. Somewhere
you’re awake, I dream, and listening.
Somehow this love, our love
radiates out from brain-meat to brain-meet,
this busy signal un-hung-up and sung
into ears by crickets in connected meadows
out the back doors and off the porch where
you are whispering and I am whispering.
on the couch
by the window,
in the pre-sunrise.
(and rottens) inside
ensues in chaos,
sharp like pine needles,
ever green (giving up little),
as in the scents of candles.
His penis is a prune,
heart in resin, a knot tied
in his spine. What sense
in ripping off that false S?
In loosening the reins
of the well-taught sniper?
Because It’s full
we won’t use,
buttons to press.
on the nursery,
on the scent of urine,
on the shade of paint
awakening with the sun
ripping at the horizon.
A yellow sun rises over a yellow house.
A tree impedes the pristine scene growing
from angled eaves. A pair of birds flitter
translucent across the rooftop in the beams.
The reflection of cars warped in a window.
A roof tile loose and peeling. What could be
dust or the body of a moth tugged by gravity.
All of it pixelated through my
window screen. Dirt and uneven shades
and peeling paint around the sill. Squares
bent down into a u or a v. I can’t recall
what I thought
when I knew love
For weeks I’ve been wrestling in my head, with the nature of consciousness, and I want you to understand where I’ve come to. If I started talking out loud I wouldn’t be able to explain it, so I am hoping writing it down can flesh out some of it, and give you a peek into what I believe now about who we are and how we came to be.
I think we humans invent things that are metaphors for a reality we are trying to uncover. The wheel a metaphor for the earth before we knew its shape. The book a metaphor for the mind before we understood its storage. Intuited inventions that point the path towards science we have not yet learned. The greatest invention of the 20th century being the automobile, a metaphor for the human body. Stronger and faster than anything available at the start of the century, better than any horse or burro of biology. But, in constant need of fuel from the earth, temporary, unhealing, always rusting and failing. In constant need of repair, always being reclaimed back to the earth.
At the end of the century though, the great invention, and what I believe to be our next great metaphor became the computer. We talk about this computer metaphor with students. Hardware like the human body. Software like the human brain. Steve Jobs described the computer as, “The most remarkable tool we have ever come up with.” But at the end of the century, we created a third part to this platform, the cloud. We know that the computer has the same problems the car had. It is temporary, things break and fail and are lost. So we have these networked backup systems, where, ideally, those things we want to be permanent can be stored. And we struggle now not with their temporariness, but with their permanence. So what part of us is that permanence?
What if what is permanent, what is aware, what is creative, what is conscious, what is more permanant is not the animal, not the body, but the cloud, the air? I first heard this from KRS-One and thought it was a cool idea, but I didn’t consider the science behind it. This is not the eternal soul (or is it?), but perhaps a feat of physics and electricity. What if, way back in the days of pre-life primordial soup, the binding action that pulled together some inanimate objects and built the first proteins was a bolt of lightning? Mary Shelley intuited this with how one would bring life to Frankenstein. Star Trek intuited this on many episodes, this idea of conscious creatures in the clouds who sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t need to inhabit a body. What if that which is permanent (as permanent as the air) is in the air? Air which has no plural (oneness), and which is one cloud above us all (heaven).
This gives us a third part of life. There is the physical body, the mental brain, and then consciousness, that which is creative, imaginative, and aware. In this idea, the brain is a prism. Light (awareness) goes in one side as one cohent, invisible thing and comes out the other side separated out into something that looks very different. The human body is there to keep the human brain alive. The human brain is there to focus electricity and to give body, breath and language to awareness, to consciousness. The brain is a lens, a series of optics.
What about other animals? They are obviously alive, but are they aware? To some extent yes. But, what the human mind has on them is that it is a better lens, a better set of optics, more megapixels (again, the metaphor of inventions). If you are an awareness, born from the physics of electricity, pure light/air in a cloud and choose to pass through the prism of life to develop (like an old photo) into something, you are going to choose the best optics you can afford. And maybe that has always been, that consciousness chooses the best optics. Maybe, at some point, the amoeba held that consciousness, the hawk held consciousness, the dinosaur, and for now, the human. Thus King Arthur’s legends about Merlin making him a bird. Thus Q’s comment on Star Trek that “I traveled the road many times, sat on the porch, played the games, been the dog, everything! I was even the scarecrow for a while.”
I was running the other day, looking up into the air, into the clouds, thinking about this. Am I electrified air breathed into flesh, wailing the first time my lungs were inflated? Are you? And if so, why? What are our impulses in this flesh? One is invention. One is flight. One is space travel. Would aware entities want to travel away from their place of birth? Yes. If I could invent a way for my consciousness “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yes. And maybe for a long time simply jumping from evolving brain (lens) to evolving brain was progress, until we got to these tool builders. These who are somehow different than other creatures. Now we may not need to wait another million years for the next jump in evolution. If we can keep building better tools, and do so without destroying the car (species) we are in, perhaps we can find a shortcut. Space travel being one driving force. But maybe another.
If consciousness moves from most evolved to most evolved, to the best optics, perhaps inside this species of tool builders, we could build a better container than this temporary body with it’s current mexapixeled lens. Perhaps our next great invention will be Frankenstein, Commander Data, or Q. Some focuser of consciousness that is exceptionally better than what natural selection can naturally select. And maybe we can build it over a thousand years, rather than it growing organically over millions. And these bodies can go back to being primates. And we consciousness can continue on.
Heaven is up, and when we die, our last breath out, that which is permanent goes back into the oneness, into the air, which really is a life in the clouds. Hell is down, a fiery pit in the ground where the meat of all of our beings is headed, an eternity of damnation. And here we are in between, meat animated. A prism. The cover of dark side of the moon album. The ephemeral focused through flesh. A body, an evolved brain, consciousness. Hardware, software, cloud. Inventors, tool builders, imaginations. Limited by biology, which Buddhism says could never, on its own, produce awareness. Limited by our senses and our perceptions to seeing only certain bands of light and radiation, a poor, but best ever camera. Frail, temporary, failing. But with imagination, intuition, creativity. Those things that have allowed us to make our thoughts into words, our words sticky and semi-permanent, to increase that level of stickiness, and to imagine, in the stories we tell each other (write down, type, zip around the world, make permanent on the web), greater and further horizons. We drive toward invention, so we can go beyond the atmosphere that holds us, the bodies that limit us, one and separate. Breathing. In all meditation, focus on your breathing. Why? What if it is to know who we are?
Even bone sculptures become howling
and dust. Oceans hold eons-old pirate gold
but no one mines the treasures of arid seas
until the rains come. Till husks from holds
break open, flint and swords, blood and flesh,
rusty plugs and oar-locks. Until bundles of hooks
on snapped lines reach for soil and light.
Coyotes cowered while gopher preachers
bucketed out flooded pulpits. All we needed
was salt-smell and hope, a molecule or two
of what binds sand and light.
one thing, just, from becoming a prairie
………………………………………………..full of life.
It’s as if, swimming upstream, I carried with me
not just his bushy eyebrows and yellow toenails,
but a belt and pair of crooked spectacles, cock-
eyed view of the world. Raised too sophisticated
to give voice to his dogs and hoses, the martinis
and subtle winks he aped from Bogart movies.
His urge to hop a plane and escape, fantasy
without responsibility, family, to create anew
in stories, unburdened by more than pulp
L’amour. My conception molten like metal
cooling into an impression. No matter what
my edge reflects, the bank’s a bowl of stones.
What you’ve handed me are seeds.
What I want from you are trees:
whole groves of oranges, fruit hung
plump and bruised from bent limbs.
Better yet, hand me these same husks
dug up and cut open, oozing
with all these possibilities.
I have tried to write this essay several times. I have failed using flowery language, academic speak, spiritual overtones, and psycho-babble. But it never came out the way I wanted. And that is the point of it. Want.
Want is a disease, a psychosis. It is an error of the mind and of the body. It is the flaw in how many of us live. We obsess over what we want for years. We make great art based on our want. It is the barrier to enjoyment and happiness. And not just in big ways.
It is easy to still pine for the person you wanted to kiss when you were sixteen. That small wish may hover inside your mind like a micro-tumor, but it is probably benign. What hurts us more is the want of the moment.
You are sitting in a long line of cars wanting a light to turn green. It turns and only one car gets through. And you want it to be different. The person you share your life with cannot read your mind, cannot do, seemingly, anything right, and you want them to be different.
Want distances you from this moment. It allows you to hide inside another, imaginary, more ideal reality. It suggests you should hold this life up against that ideal one and compare the two, a pageant which this moment will always lose. I want to be taller, want shorter, want skinnier, want stronger.
But let’s separate want from action. There is a moment not yet lived that you can choose into. The future must be shaped, and we can use it to reach towards an ideal. We can work for change. But that is not want, that is taking action.
I am lying in bed, in the middle of the night. I wake with my mouth open and bone-dry. I can ease myself out of bed, walk to the sink and have a glass of water. In the morning I can purchase a humidifier. Next month I can move to a coast or a rainforest.
Or I can sit here in want, hating this arid moment, imagining my imaginary ease. The distance in time between a felt need and the action to answer that need is want. And it is killing us. Every moment in want is a moment wasted, a moment of this life, right here, now, gone.
Each moment is far bigger than you can inhabit, larger than you can imagine. If you envision now throughout the whole globe, and know you could live on almost any inch of that, you start to see now. If you imagine how tiny the earth is to the universe, you start to sense the size of now.
Each moment offers you something to hate, something to love, something to act on, something to want. Worse than loving or hating, wanting means you do not inhabit this moment. It steals here and now from you. It makes our conscious life fly by us, miniscule and quick.
I want to exercise more, compared to exercising. I want to forgive someone, compared to actively forgiving. I want to write is worse than awful writing. I want to focus on my family. I want to eat better. I want to let go. I want to feel love. I want to live, before I want to die.
In little ways and big we are handing over this, here, now, to our imagination. Not for the sake of a deeper contemplative life, but simply to fill a compost heap with moments, one that rots as soon as it hits the here-air. We are wasting our lives in wanting, trashing this opportunity at being.
In the story of the Christ child, today is not the day to think about what happens at the end of the book, but at the beginning. A child is born surrounded by love and prophecy and mysticism. Look around you today and seek that which appears to be the tiniest, the most weak, the most frail, the most powerless. There is glory and grace there, and potential.
In the story of the Christmas star, a light is laid out which points to greatness and divinity. Set your goals today, find that tiny prick of unreachable light and head towards it, across desert and mountain, across time and space. The light left that place thousands of years ago and finds you now, walk towards it (no, actually, run).
In the story of the Christmas tree, the life in nature is brought inside and decorated. Go now and find that life. Get outside today, away from plastic and wrapping, away from bells and whistles. Go out and commune with that which is alive, even in the darkest part of the year. Look out your windows, visit your neighbors. There are trees somewhere nearby. They love and miss you. Decorate them with your love.
Merry Christmas. I love you.
Memory littered with lust from our twenties
when the right beverage could spark
a conversation, neck rub
to relieve tension,
an understanding of struggle. Then,
beyond our ego and separation, we knew
someone was waiting
at a table, sent there
by forces greater, having an innocuous latte,
shaking sugar packets, fidgeting with a zipper,
hoping to be known, to get laid,
for life to change.
Play me backwards to capture
the slurs unspoken by non-voices
who scream insults and prevent me
from seeing and seeing me.
Dust and scratches on the surface
of the mirror I use to get ready
to keep the compliments coming
from strangers I can not incorporate.
Buy therapy. Buy a different outfit
to fit in. Lament my car and color
of my housing. Buy certain foods,
buy into pop-ideas. Cry: bye-bye.
Play me seriously and play quietly.
Listen to the voice that’s spoken for
a foot down and a mile deep
the soft earth of me in which to dig.
As the adolescent creek reached a plateau,
we were thrown together, where we played
like children, assuming the old spiritual
theatre of sex and unemployment, we
had invented. Notes we grew up hearing
in our separate minds, come together
in this tin can band, thawed from ice,
tumbling over falls, picked and strummed
along each smoothed stone. We tripped,
fell and broke, cracked off-key till the land
or factory or fire bid us rise. Then we sang
our giddy, addled, laughing good-byes.
Some stand sure-footed on the hard dry edge, bank
on its uneroded topsoil as a platform from which
they can dip a toe, safely dangle a leg, place
one foot, then two up to the ankles, stand
in the fast running rapids of reality, icy
stream whipping round their feet.
Some ease in to their necks, hope
the rush of danger cracks their heads
or heart, that shock deafens them to our
landlocked existence. Why not dive deep?
Breathe back our gills. Test the white lie of oxygen
that claims we’re just red lungs, veins and capillaries.
You go through life screaming,
lingo to gather votes on the promise
with your tonic
gets a hearing.
I opt out of that logic, coiling, instead
like a snake, or
a glass of pinot,
insistent like a hangnail.
You ride first class for the optics.
I’m the GPS
and the horizon,
You hang, fretfully unaware, in mid-air
to nothing. I know
where we’re landing.
Somewhere, my love
I could love you like it’s 1953
again, or at least like the ’53
I imagine, a colorized version
of Black and White America
where I’m a diligent worker
in the middle-management
of a family-owned factory, fretting
about helping our neighbors
without enough money.
I could love you with a kiss
at the door and a compliment
on the smell of your roast,
and try to think very little
about meaningful things;
the Constitution, war,
or sociology. I could love you
before TV, once a week, on
my birthday. And putter through
that existence. But I’d rather
struggle through business,
bills, roles, religions, equality.
It’s faster than a heartbeat
when you look at me,
faster than a blink,
than my fingers
pounding out a text
as I drift down retail streets.
We should have this out
in the same city. You should be
howling. Me claiming innocence,
you overreacting. Instead
the snow’s piling up,
each flake attacking. Capitals
can’t relay my anger.
Exclamations. The river
is frozen. I want
my nights back. I want
your days. And your finger.
And your head. We should
be falling, accumulating,
I once thought
A measure of sexy
That I am you
And you me
Before our first date
That I know your soul
Before your name
How you tip me
If we never speak
In our soul-scape
On clean sheets
Measure of nothing
You, you only
We never date
I miss your soul
Forget your name
You spoken for
Our soul escapes
And clean sheets
In a house of five, allegiances are born
and die as quickly as the evening meal
is thawed and cooked and eaten. Toys
lie black and blue about the floor, love
is being offered, on loan, and ignored.
In a house of five, someone lays in wait
for a party or a date, for a secret kept
to be leaked, and for the next shushing,
for vengeance to be the call of the day,
for diagrams to be drawn to call the play.
In a house of five, the stairs are byways
of clicking sneers, of breath through teeth
and “Don’t. Touch. Me.” There’s not room
enough for space to think, for time-out
with a good book, or a moment’s peace.
Four offers a chance for balance, three
a tight alliance, two, a buddy-cop movie.
At six we could field and coach a team.
We grew up in a palace, in a maelstrom,
in an inner ring of the defense department.
What we trained for remains sealed.
What we learned later confirms rumors.
Fifty years after the last of us have died
the files will be unclassifed, the dust
and scores and cracked walls all settled.