hush money quiet

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters

Gertrude Stein, from Complete Works; Stanzas in Meditation; “Patriarchal Poetry,” c. 1952

The year feels rushed, already flush with grievances.
Obscurant clouds glide smooth as lies repeat
until slick with intent. The news claims
we are living through revolutionary times.
Remember, there is no trophy for second place.
Record the collapse as memories as silence
fills the jagged edges. I’ll wait to receive
repressed strategies from punk lyrics.
I close my eyes and rotate my plants toward the light.
The sun is eager to begin.

accumulated chatter

Alexander Calder, 1966

Are your feelings loud enough to be heard?
Will they last long enough to remember
these stretched thin and cheated days?
How should I trust the slant of this sound —
as a temporary glance, as weather, or as
a debatable response? Is this everyday
violence dystopia or social change?

As if the media makers and media takers
are building the same empire. As if they
fantasize to the same thrills.
Explain where god can be found in this.
Rectify the impossibility of knowing.
Show me the value of undivided attention.

Where faith’s enforcement tends to
get stuck is wanting results. Shame on me.

politics of knowledge

: you use a multiplier factor, the language. — William Stafford, 11 January 1976 (source)

Wet Hands (2015), Sanya Kantarovsky, Oil, Pastel, Watercolor, and Oil Stick on Canvas

It’s always the details.
You know the cliché.
The public is personal.
It’s just business
or fun
or boys being boys.

Years ago, now,
I asked about the narrator
in a room full of narratives.
I was told “story not facts”
is how we would “win.”
All the narratives nodded
into well-trained echoes.

souvenirs of temporality 

… read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul…
— Walt Whitman

Maurizio Nannucci, THE MISSING POEM IS THE POEM, 1969

This just-past year was a hard and impatient year to live through. All the ways that living had been previously measured—flesh on flesh, breathing in blue sky, talking with your eyes in crowded noisy rooms, curating analog conversations—were inverted. In my sheltered place, I watched as the pace and geographic scale of global suffering became buried in disembodied aggregates. Paradox ruptured.

“Everyone remains aware of the arbitrariness, the artificial character of time and history.”
—Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End 

pleasure  |  obsession |  distraction |  instinct

This list contains references from a calendar year that borrowed time to push its own way through. It began as it ended, incomplete.

    • 40 hours online is not affectively equivalent to an embodied 40 hours
    • consciously inviting imagination and reducing perceived need of others’ assumed expectations cultivates fascination, which is an antidote to manufactured boredom
    • making assumptions wastes time, and more importantly, energy
    • change is unquantifiable malleable entropy
    • morning walks adjust the perceived stillness
    • step into the slant

It has been enough to record the honest and the irreverent interruptions. There are whole days, months, ideas, and precious witnesses missing. An almost unbearable time-lag of consciousness is now felt experience. To survive what? An optics of promise, a future?

distance + force = gravity

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

—William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”

What I continually draw from this poem’s well is not hope but alert perspective and prophetic  predictability. I anchor on should — indicating both obligation and possibility — as the holding ground. A Ritual to Read to Each Other is a solicitation, or a prayer, to listen to your clearest signals — yes or no, or maybe — and bravely claim them.

zwischen den Jahren

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since said that the risk of being infected from a dead body is low, because they do not exhale.”
‘Humans need the ritual of saying goodbye’: the Covid life of a small-town funeral director

(slow heavy metal music playing), artist unknown

Some branches still have fruit, hanging heavy and waiting. Other branches broadcast their superior ability to let go. What is found in this imagined center is a hymn.

Do I leave the gaps alone and pick apart what remains? Flickering waves of mutilation swell tight and solicitous as an echo at the horizon. Curves turn into cliffs.

When asked how I survived this year, a question loaded with context, I answer: I’ve taken to stroking tree trunks to experience exotic touch, to feel materiality of time.

By the time attempts to describe loss become offerings of intimacy, the muted shine of flashbacks turn into conviction. I was always here — in this impermanent place.

I remain untrustworthy like a cloud. What comes next is future’s damage. Replication, pattern, or suggestion: between “be well” and “goodbye” is tomorrow’s hopeful exhale.

this is the best time of year to be a futurist

Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out.
Let it all pass. Let it go.
— May Sarton, from Volume One: Journal of a Solitude (Norton, 1977)

Photographer: Harry Gruyaert

As evening’s frantic pink light slips into a lavender twilight hour,
gravity continues to hold us in place like constellations.
We string and loop lights around the apartment to project
hope’s fractal reflections everywhere. Yes, we really do
have to keep going and salvage tomorrow’s fragile glittering promises.
Predictions of our survival will be found in the how of our doing.
When oranges begin to ripe on the West Coast, that’s the signal
to gather for the next new beginning. Heed tradition’s clairvoyance
and pull on the shiniest threads to prepare for a better future. Pop! Fizz!
Incite! Even in the expanding darkness, prophetic renewals
of mutual liberation trend as lack rages on. Hope brings so much to want,
manufactured and genuine, next year no longer waits.

the impossibility of having an honest relationship with memory

Is there a way to be gone and still
belong? Travel that takes you home?

Is that life? – to stand by a river and go.

—last two stanzas of “Quo Vadis” by William Stafford

USA / Utah / Beaver / I-15 / Somewhere Along the Way/ Untitled, ©Jacek Fota / Anzenberger

They come hard, and fast, and have worn themselves into a series with anchored images: rainbow sweater, double queen room, a noisy air conditioner full blast in December. Then sensations follow: a specific kind of scratchy found only from the machine stitching of cheap hotel blanket covers, the coldest setting on the air conditioner running full blast in December, recede. I want you to distract me. Corrupt this circuit. Find a way. This is phoenix as purpose, not process. There is no ending, yet, only restarting, again and again.

 

elegy for the collective

Han Jin (South Korean, b. 1979), Inner Side of the Wind #1, 2017. Oil on linen, 130.3 x 130.3 cm

Large-scale logistics require brutality to properly function. It’s a consistent low-grade hum, not quite elevated to cadence, buried between the lines of the system’s dramatic rhetoric. Have not. Listen to the outgoing empire’s heroes—the obedient civil servants, the priests, and the keepers of fluctuating interest rates—as they transition their esoteric power. In this tenuous state, it feels risky to outright deny dehumanization is holding together our mutual cultural identities. Shut your mouth, withdraw. Are your dreams an onslaught of forbidden touch too? Historically, politics of a republic abandon specific kinds of astonishment. Buried seeds of exaltation. This year’s plans were just that, plans. Revision requires experience, which can only be earned through the passage of kairological time. Our collective scripts of possibility are now hardwired into the evaporating streams of multiple realities. We are conducted citizens. The death of illusions can be a gift with the right slant. I think philosophers of imagination make the best poets. Please love me as much as a skeptic’s devotion. Help me feel for the traces of memory around our capacity to forget. That’s grace. The last time it snowed in Los Angeles? 2019. If you want, you can call that feeling of recognition emotional regulation. Are you a canary? Am I? Were they?

glazed

“But I wanted never to adjust my explorations to the anticipated expectations of others. Writing was enjoyable for the reverberation I got out of it, and the reverberation had to be discovered, not planned. — William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life 

Store-Bought Rolls, Thanksgiving 2015

Were you raised in redemption?
You’ll likely recognize its siren
as a concept—a never-ending story—
a seductive and subjectively
generous way to live one’s life.
Were you born with a shy body?
There’s love there,
you just have to be patient.
Have you learned
constant calibration
fucks with stasis? See also:
acceptance, risk, glory, grief,
and madness. Winter light
breaks through in layers,
kernels of stimulation.
Atonement becomes a paradigm;
it is a grind to keep believing.
Maybe it’s time to examine
your one dramatic life
when inertia is salvation
in an authoritarian state.
Are you ready to receive?

fever dream

Photographer: Ren Hang

The stimulus of showing up, here, is a fevered habit. Prompt: insert your abject wandering into a space consumed by right-leaning ideas of lack fortified by institutional memory. You may be thinking insufficient curiosities flourish in dank places or perceived stimuli explodes into slow release, but if you’re not thinking about death, or its cousin grief, are you even alive right now? Pull from intermittent signals so faint they remind you of the softness of privilege, an edge of feeling safe. Remember that feeling, you’ll need it today and every day that follows you into the future. I agree, this practice has earned the boredom of recognition. Say transformative like you really mean it. I want to glimpse that specificity, again. It may be entirely possible the change we seek is not propaganda, or won’t be recognizable in the way we’ve been told. Repeat until fully integrated, until expansion is assumed. What if we understood our respective divergence like the quest of a glacier crawling unnoticed across outwash plains? In other words, your finish line will not be the same as mine. It’s the lived experience between habit and ritual—an autobiography of coercive fragments—that reminds me, it’s time to re-read You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. “But I make the lines be the way they are by welcoming opportunities that come to me, not by having a pattern in mind.” Miracles demand that kind of attention. Come, gather with me.

going nowhere fast

“All of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling.” ― Blaise Pascal

BOARD IS AWARE, Westlake, OH 2012

I was told salvation is coming. It could be any day now. My earliest memories integrated this knowing as a worried occupation, equal parts faith in and fear of the odds. Much later, I learned trees share similar survival stories—expressed urgently as generosity with occasional pause to report danger—through elaborate, networked underground comms systems. This year, they’ll wait for a response not aware their friends and family didn’t survive wildfire season. We all wait in this sense of unknowing as predictions of unimaginable loss dampen relentless holiday sales pitches. Our cumulative temperament is tuned towards intermittent reinforcement, an addiction to hope. 

Lately, as a ritual of escape, I wander between landscapes of turning Japanese maples and persimmon trees, flickering reds and faded orange, as palms stay evergreen while limes and lemons transform sour. Take this lust and ride its crest. I want to believe this could be a new beginning as waves of survivor’s guilt swell, then spread.

Poetic principles like allowing for improvisations and diligence of testimony guide my guarded thinking these vanishing days. I create deliberately, in curious inquiry of being in a state of suspended exile. Forgive me as I loop.

speculative stake

HOORAY Gold Beach, OR, December 2019

Birds commute along shoreline drafts
as surfers gather before the wave builds.
Calm blue sky pulls from water’s light
moving along corduroy swell lines.
The sun has burned through the fog.
Temporary, temporary, temporary.
We’ve begun to thread what was held
together—memory and a different future.  

a thousand oranges

“the war that matters is the war against the imagination all other wars are subsumed in it” —Diane di Prima

Christmas Eve 2011

I’ve heard the future is worth fighting for.
Some ask, why now? Because of mob rules.
Declare your victory early so it counts
but I’ll decide how I respond from here.
Flattened into identity, winter light
reveals new shadows. Call it a gut feeling.
Only pre-show sportscasters and polling pundits
are wrong more than contemporary weather forecasts.
Handsome margins sell like gospel. Premeditated
as a salt lick, a new frontline is mass produced.
I’ve heard this before. This fear. This opportunity.
This emergence and its process of revelation.
As these days plow forward, I promise
to peel a thousand oranges for you.

go in pleasure

“There is a sense in which we are all each other’s consequences.”
—Wallace Stevens, All the Little Live Things

DTF, July 2018, Oakland, CA

Every day has been a chance
to live within the margins
that remain and maintain
the rigor of keeping it together.

Some normalized themselves
to a saturation point when
conspiracies’ realities are
unconfirmed real threats.

The calendar says winter is coming.
Where is this god that so many claim?
The one that protects and loves us or
that other one that enjoys mercy.

Queer as feelings, speculation has left
us wild. Go ahead—we might as well
make our own temporal decisions.
Loud, quiet, loud. Fringed dynamics.

The greed of men. A sagging breast.
Haphazardly adjacent as ecstasy.
Our animal consciousness seek
what we recognize, warm refuge.

doing well, thank you

Take fear and call it lust

They’re quiet, the choir, their voices go higher
The choir, the choir, their voices go higher

— Palace Music, “Brute Choir”

WEAPS, December 2014, Oakland

The future is a con. A dream remembered in excerpts: enjoying cigarettes, frayed rope ladders, cubicles. My cat’s heavy metal heart beat when she lays pressed against my head is aggressive. I like my information distilled, fermented, and expansive in perspective. Accumulation drags. Fragments fascinate. What was before and what can I imagine after? Learning language and understanding her partner, grammar, I realized early that words strung properly don’t always hold their power—not nearly as long as when you have to stumble, pause, or outright stop to notice the tender edges of the fragment’s extraction. Disclosure. Do you want me to continue? Broken, then mended. There isn’t a stable subject or am I paranoid? Out of context trends. Passive tense is monetized. You are welcome to take all of this, make what you want, and build from these haunted tensions.

swallow

During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost. —Muriel Rukeyser

artist unknown

I consumed so much “information” throughout this very long weekmonth that this post is what it is. I know that too much intake isn’t good for me and yet I binge as if satisfaction could be found in declaration. Refreshing will tell me something new, smooth these edges of unknowing, and fill all the holes. At saturation, it physically hurts. Early symptoms are a tight chest and shortness of breath. Today the sky is a perfect California blue absent clouds and smoke. Fact: you can believe it but that doesn’t make it true. The barrel of the camera can cause dramatic harm. This is a threat. Surely witness reifies reality. I know some will say angles and their slants are beholden to the power that frames and seduction laps those edges but there’s more. There’s always more. Urgent thinking and wanting immediacy always take us away from the subject who doesn’t want to, ironically, be seen. The next spectacle must definitely be worth it? Any similarity to a person living or dead is entirely coincidental.

end of the 3rd quarter | 2020

Anthony Hernandez, Los Angeles #1, 1969

count the number of Tuesday’s remaining
this year, if lucky a new year is coming
calibrate your most latent expectations

distinguish stimulation from propaganda
if you need drama, watch the leaves turn

feel the unconscious dare of hope
swallow the sacredness of ordinary days

examine the materiality of fidelity; listen
elucidate future present tense

seek pleasure to root out despair
replenish your somatic prayers

consider how your routine is a rhythm
write down its verse, chorus, verse
review when you forget you are the bridge

stuttering days

If the water should cut my mind, set me free — Cat Power cover of  Bathysphere

Claire Falkenstein, From Point to Cone, double-sided lithograph, 1977

This waste has a frequency. Fragmentation, ritual undulations.
Football snaps. Trees release their green grip as shadows lengthen.
Gritty details of fire and death dominate our collective vision.
Language is spoken as advice. Gather paper: cash, proof of identity, maps.
Consider packing the most precious of your valuables, nothing more.
Poets obsess over lyrical scale, enormity of loss and perspective.
I crave open space in the way a true horizon shows separation—land from sky.
If we believe these times are unlived, restricted and dangerous,
how will we evolve within the inevitable next adaptation?
Urgent expectations transition this chaos. Short-term addictions.
Thunderstorms from a ghost hurricane came through last night.
Focus on a feeling of ascension as our emotional worlds
and their borders dislocate from distracted penetrations.
You say deprivation. I claim radical self-interest.

prevalence

“In cities no one notices specific dying. Dying is a quality of the air. It’s everywhere and nowhere. Men shout as they die to be noticed, remembered for a second or two.”
— Don DeLillo, White Noise

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Seeing Through You)

When Mary Oliver, in 2015, said:

And always I wanted the “I.” Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted the “I” to be the possible reader, rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. That was my feeling about the “I.” I have been criticized by one editor who felt that “I” would be felt as ego. And I thought, no, well, I’m going to risk it and see. And I think it worked. It enjoined the reader into the experience of the poem. (emphasis mine)

and later stated “there is no nothingness” I found an edge of where I had been wandering disassociated these tangled smoky days.

I, too, posted a flurry of orangered sky photos on Wednesday, a sky Australia experienced during their “Black Summer” the final months of last year. I did not want to believe what was in front of me—what was real and happening.

I am, now, acutely conscious of feeling triggered by the mere recognition, now a pattern, of that very specific hue of red and orange mixed with smoke and sunlight. When that extraordinary color and any adjacent approximation catches my scrolling eye and peripheral sense of self, I am physically reminded how saturated a lived experience can be.

It summons Audre Lorde’s image in The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power:

During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.

As these days surge on sensory overload, I am suspicious of receiving and having to interpret new information like “unhealthy” versus “very unhealthy” air. I understand how conspiracies comfort the masses by creating gaps in perception. I surrender thoroughly (to borrow from Lorde), when I realize all of this—this living, this breathing, this give and take—is a radical synopsis of cognition, dear possible reader.

time as delusion

“Instead of becoming preoccupied by the extraordinary things the deluded individual believes, we should turn our attention instead to the ordinary things they no longer believe, the absence of which have allowed the bizarre to flourish.” — Huw Green, “Deluded, with reason

Jill Friedman, Christ Loved Men Only, London 1967

I was born on the east side of the Missouri River. U.S. Route 12 segregated town into north and south. If you drove west, time moved backward one hour from Central to Mountain. A sign on the bridge let you know you were crossing the threshold when you reached the middle of the river. Everyone west, within a certain driving distance of town, set their clocks to Central. Awareness of time in this way, coupled with growing up immersed in seductive Evangelical promises of attaining an afterlife, shaped absolutely how I perceive time and place.

Living in a community that so willfully defied authority (whoever put that arbitrary line of what time was) and persistently yielded to a prophesy that believed you were doomed unless saved, was ordinary—normal—to me. Technically, every day was urgent and distorted.

What was delusion and what was habitual enough to thrive in that unique cultural echo?

Learning so young to measure time as both borrowed and flexible expanded my ability to conceptualize reality, an immense landscape of what I knew and what I saw. It also helped to construct a very specific concept of suspension of disbelief. I recognize and am familiar with waiting as an anchor of suffering and its twin—earned anticipation of endurance.

As the contemporary drags hot and dangerous, I wonder if these times, right now, are worse than other times of war, protest, fire. To pull an image from the last line in William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other …the darkness around us is deep.

What revelations lay at this undulating edge?

I don’t know. For now, I’ll keep translating evocations into poems and finding pleasure in trying to answer unanswerable questions. Where I come from, we call that feeling for miracles.

crowns & canopies

“Without touch, God is a monologue.” — Andre Dubus from Broken Vessels: Essays

“‘Tax the rich’ talk gaining steam” headline from East Bay Times, 14 August 2020

edge of collapse

absence entrance,

a trance

“FASTER, CHEAPER MAY BE THE WAY TO GO” headline from East Bay Times, 10 August 2020

I’m craving land
spread wide
open.

“Judge” partial headline from San Francisco Chronicle, 11 August 2020

orange primary sun
a macabre atmosphere

the news scrolls
trolls concern for structures

malefic energy
to make decisions

humans are hardwired
to scan for threats

there’s a moment
after the emergency

I feel stupid
like I overreacted

I survived
but didn’t stay calm

making everything sacred
takes so much

in my dreams,
I asked for time

enter the ember months

“Some days in late August at home are like this,
the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar…”

— William Faulkner from The Sound and the Fury

Wallace Polsom, Some General Questions (2017), paper collage

Its salience starts inside you —
an intersection, a portal, a punch.
Greed is an expression of fear,
that kind of penetration measured
by depth, loss contextualized.
A landscape of insatiable memories
bordered by anodyne forgiveness
and tectonic imperfections.

Take comfort in knowing
plants turn light into sugar.
Tell me what you notice, and why.
I want to cross reference
my slanted smoky sunlight
with your details to create
time stamps, a rescue map
dispersed into winks of blue.

talking, for some, is filling time

self-portrait in Mother’s Day Daises (Dorothea Lange, 1934), Oakland Museum of California, 2018

confirmation is a need
during Steinbeck summers
lifting up prayers
by day and profitable hour
just one way to count time
while Siberia and Los Angeles burn

a poet said truth is a promise
is conspiracy
is part of the weather
is a chain of events
an affect of algorithms
on our unconscious

this wanting desire to influence
counterfeit double consciousness
divergent as sonic traces
bending poetics of disaster
to experience thinking out loud
together   on a mesoscale

jamais vu

Ketty La Rocca, Autoritratto (Selfportrait), 1971, mixed media, 2 parts overlapped, handwriting on plexiglass, photo 11.8 x 9.4 inch

This week’s evening light:

  • Sunday, 8:42pm — tender blushed peach compressed under a darkening blue
  • Monday, 8:18pm — pink fog then total gray
  • Tuesday, 8:01pm — same as the morning, thick grey, bluish twilight filtering milky air
  • Wednesday, 7:55pm — golden swath darkening blue
  • Thursday, sunset — pink forming clouds pulled taffy puffs
  • Friday, 7:56pm — waning baby blue, wails of light
  • Saturday, 7:47pm — soft yellow cast shadows, sharp, green pulled light

Each passing day isn’t the same or no less familiar to before.
Minor threats of depersonalization thrive.

Are you posting guilt or vulnerability?
When does adaptation become submission?

< 24-hours after a murder, sunbathers litter the park.
Patches of grass worn thin from socializing.

Does a poem always have to have an image to make sense?
Where is hope, not as commodity but energy?

Regret and regards now partnered as the high and low tides.
Oracles continue to collect then sell the texture of amnesia.

Will we recognize our cumulative danger as real now?
When the common fades into spectacle?

rest, even in war

I AM TASTING MYSELF
IN THE MOUTH OF THE SUN

—June Jordan, excerpt from “Intifada Incantation: Poem #8 for b.b.L”

PANIC CAREFULLY (photographer: unknown)

Maybe what we really want is hero stories
that also reflect happiness, where joy is
contextualized during epic and courageous
suffering. This desire, a creative impulse,
a strategy to have complementary thinking
break binaries. A knowing that innocence
can be misremembered. Behind the fog, bright light.
Remember when obsessive attachment became slack
from devotion? Of course we resisted our differences,
as much as we could, starting over —
again and each time evidence repurposed itself
to the contrary. A reciprocity of loss or maybe
more simply the effect of a parallax.
From a certain distance, we are all drifting along.
Idle in mood and expansive in perpetual conflict.

emotional edges

“What am I ready to lose in this advancing summer?”
— Audre Lorde, from her poem “Seasoning”

photographer: @edwardatlee

The complexity fails us —
over identifying as an outsider.
Maybe we can be simple
and want to understand
or admit we don’t know and
sometimes mistakes get made;
I miss you,

sincere sinecure.
Which phase is martyr culture
after the kingdom falls?
Is it when conscription
feels like collaboration or
knowing the rules of engagement?
Optics of war are intimate operations.

polemical allusions

I exchange my life for words.

Weak, uncertain currency.

—Anna Kamienska, from “Industrious Amazement: A Notebook,” translated by Clare Cavanagh Poetry (March 1st, 2011)

Adger Cowans, Icarus, 1970. Canon pigment print.

Every day since March 13th, I have written something. Some days only a string of words, bursts of breath, or an image find their way through and out. It is my commitment to pay attention.

On March 22nd I wrote that almost 400 people had died from COVID-19, and started to track the pace of American death on April 2nd (over 5,100). I stopped consistently tracking on May 31st (105,000 dead), an arbitrary deadline because the notebook I started on March 13th ended there. I was also experiencing cognitive dissonance between my values around attention as action and my writing practice which centers curiosity. I could only integrate this morbid number on a jagged graph as an abstracted affect of weight, like the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth or the resonance of unmasked grief. I had been lying to myself that I was curious about death, in this quantified way.

Yesterday my source [google: “covid 19 us deaths”] told me 142,000+ were gone.

Risk assessments are strategic investments: four walls and one door to escape. Subtext is its own elegy. Sometimes only metaphors can help me decipher a world where death is sold as the inevitable cost of doing business, which has been conflated to mean the only way to have a life. Metaphors are a clever method to take up space and complicate our mutual knowing. How might I displace our assumed common language and still connect to you?

If I’m feeling lucky, I might be able to translate my curiosities to you beyond the distance of pencil to paper. I recognize energy lost in between contact eventually fades like a bruise found but not remembering its source. William Stafford might name this felt experience.

Long ago, I replaced god with something bigger — an awareness there’s no precision in the prescriptive phrase “let go of the past.”  For now, I reclaim there’s pleasure and possibility in waking up to an anticipatory life. Otherwise, a paranoid reading would lead us to believe that depravation is the norm or something far worse, complacency as impulse.

negative capability

I don’t think I have said enough about the splintered disorder of June, July & August. — Virginia Woolf, The Complete Works: The Diary

You Will Be Towed, January 2018, Oakland, CA

Sustained turbulence becomes a gentle mania.
Where violence shapes, hope shelters.
Redwoods may represent us more than we know.

But it’s the love you don’t give
yourself that’s got me worried.
If skin is cut off from oxygen, you will die.

It’s also true the last part of the body
to burn when cremated is your belly button.
A finality to an already severed attachment.

By gathering this evidence as a way to signal
private grief, I reckon these traces of darkness
will eventually find you brave.

pink noise

Pears cannot ripen alone. So we ripened together.” — Meridel Le Sueur

Lyndi Sales. What are your chances if the game is rigged?, paper & thread, 124 x 115 cm

My sisters and I would help my father
feed the owner’s cattle. He’d shovel hay
from the bed of the slow-moving pickup,
driverless and pointed in the general direction of home.
In the summer, I would pretend to be left behind
and race back to the truck. In winter, bundled up
with the cab’s heater blasting, we’d watch
the cattle’s eager breath etch a chorus
of hungry moos into the frozen air.
The chore was done when the hay was gone
and we were witnesses to the wavy furred lines
across the barren prairie landscape.

I remember the weight of your loudest threats
mapped onto your hands. You hit us to teach us a lesson,
to be quiet, or because you couldn’t hit the boss.
As we got older, and bigger, you perfected your words
into weapons, making an invisible impact.
Then came the tender gaps of amputated time
when your anger spilled over into vengeance
against those you had declaimed to love so fiercely.

I remember you forced us to move
to the deepest parts of nowhere,
packing your temper and always at your testimony
that this time would be better than the last.
Starting over was the goddamn point when
all you have for a legacy is your name.
That may have been one reason why
no one knew us where we were headed.
Our legacy now an extension of mutual reputation,
much like how only female cottonwood trees
shed their obnoxious cottony seeds
to the most distant, wind-driven places.

a month in June

“…and that is the sentence on repeat in the tapedeck of my chest: How do you go about finding the heart?

[…]

I am amazed by how much people can survive, endure—and how they can go on living, laughing. After thorough devastation, indescribable loss, people’s hearts still beat. People can, still, live. This is perplexing, bewildering news to me. Defies all sense and gravity to me. And yet.”

Aracelis Girmay

Still from As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, Jonas Mekas, 2000

Thick bands of clouds scroll by — unbothered. The poetics of fragmentation: landscaped yards with lavender, slow growing Japanese maples, bushes of rosemary, hissing palm trees, blushed roses, fuzzy foxtail grasses, vine tendrils straining toward the brightest light, jade trees, announcements of jasmine. Please mute yourself when entering a virtual space. Passive voice writes headlines. Who deserves punishment? A voice reminds us to be careful about seductive victim scripts, leaches of energy. Is having power worth its traded value? For the first time in a long time, we want to continue at the current pace; light holds on longer.

It is June and the radiator is still spitting.

backwash of rumor

[Let the bears devour our enemies]. We have no obligation
To open // ourselves // for those who do us harm.

last stanza of “[SOMEWHERE IN LOS ANGELES] THIS POEM IS NEEDED” by Christopher Soto

SHOW UP, Oakland, November 2017

Recede
like waves—
a motion,
refract.

When speculation
is commercialized
what power is ceded
by paying attention?

On distracted authority,
faith becomes the plan.
Repress judgment.
Feel your immediacy.

__________
title borrowed from Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

apophenia

“Sensuality. Our basis of being concrete about the world. It is lustful relationship to things that exist.” — Mark Rothko, from Mark Rothko From the Inside Out

Fruit postcard, Paul Huf, 1983

Not quite epiphany
more
   false positive
associations of pink
or orange to flesh
as displacement
or tender resignations
   an unqueering
a gamble.

Such inconvenience filters the odds
into other’s perceptions, luck, or madness.
When our fists equal the size of our hearts
there’s recognition in that sovereign drama.
Beginnings blindspot endings.
All rhetorical approximations
become redundant.
Transitions, as in not yet.

Our histories are programmed errors
    marked like rings inside trees
plastic as the immediate future.
Mystery strikes then bends
absorbing the unrecognizable
when opposites compliment
more than divide
  potentially godwinked
impossibly divine.

optics of grief

In ways both unique and entirely common, being alive during this pandemic is re-iterating me.
— TC Tolbert, Also, I’ve Slept in the Backyard for the Last Five Weeks

I’ve been here before.
I am sure of it.
A year-day that has
no beginning, no middle
and no benevolent end.
Some argue this absence
must be lived, that it
is more of a felt sense,
similar to elaborate escape
routes dreamed nightly
and soft as bodies
left untouched.
You’ve been here before.
You are sure of it.

mute all

By bending, the grass develops a surface. — William Stafford

Mandana Boulevard, (Oakland, California), 30 April 2020

How I show up today, here, and the muted space in between is a search for synergy.

Growing up epistolary warnings were all around me, and the strongest broadcast signals were dedicated to reactionary talk radio or static aesthetics. I heard language through the filter of parables, manipulation, and transience. The voices that carried are a study of displaced metaphors.

Averse to specifics, maybe this is the best I can do.

I moved the tangerines into their own space, letting the lemons spread out.

time bound

How quickly can one dispense with the old bargains between defense and desire, adapting to a regime whose rules provide no felt comfort?

— Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism”

Helena Almeida, Sente me (1979), screenshots from Film von Sylvain Bergère

Inside this temporal state,
habitualization is the climax.
To date, public misery
is not officially worthy
of monuments or accurate measurements.
Finely stratified, your and my collective
future—active emptiness—is its own
embodied aleatory performance.
But what are we supposed to be
doing with this time?
Such insinuating can feel negative,
counterproductive as misdirected desires.
Overstimulated, I beg for revision
rather than tempt resolution.
These present hours unknowing.

fear needs attention to exist

This is a special way of being afraid — first line of third stanza in “Aubade” by Philip Levine

PLEASE DESTROY (detail), from the daily writings of William Stafford (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

do you feel fear ineffably?
personal, not public — self as an other

the social distance in between
hoax and binaries and stimulus

do you feel subtleties?
curated indoor skies — measuring light

efface negation
imperfect present

do you feel like you are repeating yourself?
ritual or repetition — your reputation

flotsam

“For the alert body, the useless interval becomes a plenum.”
— Francis Richard, Gordon Matta-Clark: Physical Poetics 

10 June 2016, San Francisco HOW DOES MY POVERTY RELATE TO YOUR PROSPERITY?

I obsessively check the feeds and the timelines like a salt lick. Distracted bait draws the largest crowds. People are bored. The death toll rises. Profiteers are euphoric for high demand drawn from historic lows. I look up the word “disinter” [verb: dig up (something that has been buried, especially a corpse)], then notice the grass in the park is ankle deep. Clouds break blue. Home becomes hysteria—a boundary state—shape shifting into the space in between, wrecked. In these unique times, it is best to rehearse worries to scale. Memory and risk are their own parabolic textures. Voided feelings now so very retro.

in situ

There was a sun once
It lit the whole damn sky
It kept everything
Everything alive

Jawbreaker — Shield Your Eyes

3 November 2017, Berlin

what gods are inside you?

have you asked them for help?
will they respond in time?

5 June 2018, Portland, OR

The different names for the soul, among nearly all peoples, are just so many breath variations, and onomatopoeic expressions of breathing.” — Charles Nodier (1828)

14 September 2019, Oakland, CA

my idle hands are:
structures of experience
polymorphic intentions
dimensions of interstitial time
devils playthings
listening

reverie

“The number of people here [New York City] who think they are alone, sing alone, and eat and talk alone in the streets in mind-boggling. And yet they don’t add up. Quite the reverse. The subtract from each other and their resemblance to one another is uncertain.

… It is the saddest sight in the world. Sadder than destitution, sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” — Jean Baudrillard, America (trans. Chris Turner, 1991)

16 April 2019, San Francisco

Nearly a year ago, I carried America by Jean Baudrillard around the Bay Area and all the way down to the most American of places, Los Angeles.

18 April 2019, Oakland

I wanted to capture Baudrillard’s idea that eating alone was the saddest sight in the world.

26 April 2019, Los Angeles

And of course nothing and everything can change in a year.

Contemporary America is at an epic and fevered hyperpitch with an advancing crisis of reality. What is refracted is what will be. Our ascetic online lives more fake than ever. Asepsis is an arousing and obsessive state in this quarantine simulacrum. Hygiene a cult. The habitual repetition of survival, an amplified fascination of being alive, its own seduction.

But one day soon—in the scheme of weeks or as quick as when you notice your neighborhood trees blaring their blooms—restaurants will open for sit-down meals and I will prove Baudrillard wrong.

prepare for your future

Listen—this is a faint station
left alive in the vast universe.
I was left here to tell you a message
designed for your instruction or comfort,
but now that my world is gone I crave
expression pure as all the space
around me: I want to tell what is. …

— William Stafford, TUNED IN LATE ONE NIGHT, first stanza

DON’T BE GREEDY, March 2020, Oakland

We were told to get extra, but not hoard.
All professional sports, including NASCAR,
and all mass entertainment cancelled.
Church and work shifts to virtual platforms.

Even the Pro Football Hall of Fame
shuts down for “at least two weeks.”
Tourists won’t hear the bronze busts
speak in stiff-lipped whispers.

Witness begins to require recalibration.

An Italian doctor corrected the British talk show host –
bomb metaphors are inadequate for this pandemic.
A bomb implies “one moment in time and space.”
The doctor begged viewers to grasp spacetime physics
as Florida’s spring break beaches swell.

I scrolled and
scrolled
and
scrolled
for good news

(time passed)

Freeway traffic flows in east/west lanes
like ants on a crumb score.
I’m waking up later each day,
blending home and work
into a double-stitched seam.

It is the first day of spring.
I beg you to prepare for the future you want.

Yet nothing has really happened
yet.

Place has even more significance
than we can consciously hold
now cracking open at its weakest points –
where we are isolated and approximate distance.

News moves relative to a wide margin of incompetence
and displays itself as curved lines.

I bless the bus drivers keeping their ghost routes.
New leaves spread wider each passing day.
I am hyperaware of my phantom wants:
a balcony and family. A dopamine loop fueled
by anticipation. The future now a fermata.

nature morte

When you eat the forbidden,
sooner or later your teeth
scrape against stone, bitter,
and you will spit it out.

last lines of PEACH GIRL by Lee Ann Roripaugh

photographer: noell oszvald

walking through high waisted
grass sprouted hills
our faces slack with hustle
we laughed like stuffed animal heads
over stories about how snow has energy
shedding syllables as we hurried along

this resistance against recursive nature
(we walk upright for a reason)
not remembering how much our bodies work for us
only sensing how much we fight against it
knowing drama and karma can feel differently
bent backwards until fragile as blue

we maintain stillness
despite insincere throats
affecting the slant of our inner lives
these threads connecting codes
native realizations that community
now definitely includes you

dangling participles

Los Angeles, 2018

I.

What am I listening for?

The rhythm of an endless human-centered conversation.

Why?

To feel the space between our next collective breath.

II.

The sky split in half with the trail of an early flight.
Orange morning light, a long exhale, and the sound
of pencil on paper filling a page. I appreciate
clouds temporary status and apply that truth
to my own temporary life.

III.

I want to find a way to open
from the inside,
safely and slowly,
with pleasure and wonder.

IV.

Put your weapons down.

The sky is the same as yesterday: blue and uninterrupted.

honest debt

Money cancels criticism. —  Alissa Quart, SINKING IT ALL INTO

Mark Wagner, Petty Cash

I thought, maybe,
I might know myself better by now.

I’ve gotten as far as:
I have a shy crown
with deep roots and
I peel oranges,
with my left hand
separating the segments,
for my future self.

I’m not ashamed to be
loud by omission.

ok, don’t panic

“I pray in words. I pray in poems. I want to learn to pray through breathing, through dreams and sleeplessness, through love and renunciation.” — Anna Kamienska, from “In That Great River: A Notebook” (tr. Clare Cavanagh)

artist: Josh Courlas

There is anger, again.
It is a fear of waste.
Misfortune. Unfairness.
There is nothing left
to do but wake up,
make coffee, write.

Hummingbirds flirt.
Salt, a mineral.
Soft truths with edges.

It is also true we lived in temporary houses.
No one was home so we self-supervised.
Neglect and despair kept us full.
Competition thrived. Like ocean waves,
we conformed to the landscape
beneath a rough water’s surface.

I remember when the city air smelled like summer,
longing and loss. Trees were shaped
by ocean breezes, bald on the west side.
Country twang bled past Mission bar doors opened early.
That moment, its energy, left an imprint.

Liminal space
shifting recklessly
like the breath
just beneath this prayer.

tender violence

Yet listen well. Not to my words,
but to the tumult that rages in
your body when you listen to yourself.

—René Daumal

Berlin, September 2014

If it is true we are floating through space
& each of us contain the stardust of a million galaxies
then the sun glittering receptive is our asylum.
Exuberant in this signification,
we propel beyond daydream nations.
Expressive attraction becomes its own tender gravity.
Change is accelerating
is feedback looping.

What do you believe in: violence or power?

It is our right as poets to be suggestive
to value a secure spirit & apply logic of affect.
We know why the grace of a curve invites.

revelations

“I wish the idea of time would drain out of my cells and leave me quiet even on this shore.”
—Agnes Martin, Writings

artist: Shu Takahashi

We had so much nothing,
it was taken for granted.
Believing nothing would always be there
absence became comfort.

Not unlike early morning prayers
spirals of grand scale idolizing
the ego erases into ecstasy
feral as our collective waking dreams.

This gap — promised conjecture —
as yet unproven and deep as the ocean
is sensory. A modern perception.
Time expresses both light and shadow.

Take this faithful repeated effort
to disrupt, relate, or to create.
Apocalypses, ancient reveals,
have nothing left to give us.

Release remaining regrets, a familiar form.
After all, we are in process
shaping the near future like it’s a bad thing.
Maybe there’s nothing but good in this.

rhyme scheme

“What is secret never has total objectivity.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

screenshot from the documentary “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon” (1968)

Am I repeating lies? The Australian wildfires were started by humans and we live in a democracy or you can say no, which is a choice. I read an audacious headline and followed clicks and threads shiny as trolling lures. In the thick of seduction, I confess I may have shared images without acknowledging an artist because I wanted the frame of reference to reverb. I’ve posted songs that had no accompanying album, which means its context also wandered unattended. I have repeatedly liked things I never read, and never will. I’m exclusive, in a trapped kind of way. Eulogies for the cancelled are stored in clouds stacked miles deep. An echo wags the dog. Empty space occupies sound. We are pixelated into our own repetitive concepts of an othered likeness. Are you repeating lies? Please remind me tomorrow that non-knowing is stasis, sacred affect, and a series is a pattern is a sentence.

change the subject

“She peels an orange, separates it in perfect halves, and gives one of them to me. If I could wear it like a friendship bracelet, I would. Instead I swallow it section by section and tell myself it means even more this way. To chew and to swallow in silence with her. To taste the same thing in the same moment.”  — Nina Lacour, We Are Okay

Ori Gersht, Falling Bird, Untitled No. 1, 2008

My dreams were unpleasant so I changed the subject.
Crooked clouds, galloping waves, open sky, rapid heart beats,
30-mph curves, a quiet moon. I feel invited to be in witness
differently. Superstitions abound this time of year.
Ebb, the movement of the tide out to sea, is a noun.
It is also a verb, to recede. A delicate pull to want
complexity in concrete form and a desire to contract,
its own learned impulse. This withdrawing is not quite grief
but something deeper—like prairie grass roots growing
fourteen feet into rich Northern Plains soil or inversely
the stretch of centuries found in straight-as-arrows Coastal Redwoods.
I want nothing but that kind of time to observe the unfolding
of our revised lives. How far will I let this instinctive incantation
take me and what existence can we carve out in the shadows of endless wars?
Maybe the answer is where our holy and mundane days adjust into
a darkness soft as our breath subsiding and just as gracefully rising.