A list, after all, is an incantation.
—Lia Purpura, from the essay “Sugar Eggs: A Reverie”
I almost paid attention every day this just past year. There might not be an instant memory to pull from but I remember:
new pages filled: creating a full, whole life
days moving with the sun
nothing urgent getting done anytime soon
a chain of days: learning
23 February, Tuesday, 2021 — we reached that unimaginable 500,000 deaths yesterday
By April, languishing was declared 2021’s dominant emotion. The experts were specific—we are languishing, a residual and continuously active tense.
But we are extraordinary now, more so than the before-times. Those of us who survived have an understanding, a swallow of temporary obedience, having squeezed through another dimension. In the same way Cliff Swallows, federally protected migratory songbirds, continue to build their nests on overvalued condos built on top of their well-known migration paths, we can claim we too are still living.
What’s next will be found in the ordinary, beyond the cleaved repetition.
Traveling at the speed of days per hour.
Is it okay to celebrate survival?
(All this death. It’s inevitable.)
Arranging for false openings—second endings.
What marrow should we salvage?
Oblivion becomes subjugation
when aesthetics have agendas.
Only at the very beginning
did the freeway quiet.
Now, faint signals of endearment are muted
as claw marks or socialized hope.
(All this death. It’s inevitable.)
At this point in time, there might be enough
to carry the rest of us curiously forward
full from holding unanswerable questions
in all this cropped light.
If we do not forget, what is there to remember? —Mary Ruefle from “On Secrets”
Suspension is a type of prayer
in the same way hard luck is still luck
or how clicking clocks make meaning.
Ending another year with reconstituted rituals:
unwrap an orange, warm the house with lights,
leave no trace and lament the echoes.
Interiors become accomplices
in a cascading culture of closures.
Reminding me the moon makes no light
of its own, and I don’t know
is the most honest answer I have to give.
This response to an unknown call,
how deeply personal an endeavor.
The preacher leaned into salvation’s promise at the very end.
It was a funeral, no better time to coerce eternal life.
Another soul claimed and sweetly celebrated as taken.
The rest of us will just have to wait our turn.
How death gathers us together—memories of memories.
Grief a double-edged fascination, overactive,
a disorder of obsession. Not here, anymore.
But on this side of heaven we must find a way.
Not wanting to arrive too late for the inevitable call
to forgive what has been left behind, and its remainder—
the sky laid open in exonerated glory and surrendered
its filtered light to be just as definitive as belief in faith.
You can go home again…so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been. —Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Winter constellations hang low in the blue-black night sky,
Gemini returns. Add homemade cherry strudel to the list
of memories unforgotten, folds and folds of circumstances
harmonizing with the grace of effort. Repeat the sounding joy.
Decades pass into desire for acclamation but are instead
filled with humble enthusiasm. Hard luck made this base.
Conceptually, all archived reality shapes heartfelt elegies.
Not even God knows all our translations whispered
into twisted defenses. Hope is the last to die.
repeat the sounding joy is a verse from “Joy to the World”
hope is the last to die is a fragment from A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector, tr. Johnny Lorenz
Radiator hisses fill the space left between
a bright sun in an empty blue sky.
Expressive clouds reclaim their territory.
Rain and miso ramen for lunch.
Downtown buses trail each other like snails
as layers of buildings are held together by math.
The remaining oak leaves hang like ornaments.
This week, scientists proved birds sing in their sleep
but most of us already know how the body tries to protect.
Are you the audience? Have you been disciplined?
If not, pay attention to how the slow accommodation
of western light adds to the rapidly sharpening darkness.
Now I become myself. It’s taken time, many years and places.
—May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”
I’ve traveled far enough to remain the narrator.
The beautiful distortion of reflection,
time arrested. Star gravity.
Symbiotic or parasite? It’s both
and there’s only one answer. Details,
I need to add details. Salt air stains.
I am not doing anything wrong,
which is where we disagree. What does it mean
when the middle ground is now the high ground?
Sometimes the only place to start is right here.
It’s the same kind of living that believes
challenges are opportunities. Experts predict
the rapture will happen in the early morning
during the hours of softening darkness.
Show a smile; brave a tooth.
Imagine this as it is—a holy exposure.
Stimulate me, please.
They walk like cowboys, recently dismounted. He eats slowly out of a Trader Joe’s bag, the one that has the laughing donkey on it. We wander to find new ways of understanding old ideas. Innocent babies continue to be born into privilege. Ordinary trauma is a slow build—swinging from want to need, and back to want to be taken. The multitudes of being consumed becomes a careful process of discernment like knowing the addictive taste of dispossession. Although sometimes, with frequency, the loop closes on you. Don’t worry. There is space here, stored as evergreen desires, located between patterns of waves formed from swallowing knowledge by association. It’s been recommended we might feel at the edges for faint annotations of alchemic personality. In the same way, men have learned to cross their legs at their ankles and global fantasies of catastrophe make us proficient in technology. Ritual is perfected suspense. It has already taken place. Events such as these are mere dreams; a tiger, white and mangy, tries to eat my hands from taking up too much space. A way to show how time is wasteless.
The past beats inside me like a second heart. —John Banville, The Sea
From football to cult rallies on glacial plains,
America excels at strategies of deterrence.
There is generational learning behind knowing
the difference between submission and giving.
Release is forbidden.
Americans’ reflective accolades penetrate the best
as fervent belief converts to trembling devotion.
The point being none of this is supposed to make sense.
As true as death, reality always fades.
This feels influenced…
in the same way as
believing in tomorrow
is a predictive narrative.
Futures become quid pro quo
throbbing, mid-life lust.
Fog pushes inland, offshore swells.
Well-earned suspicions form furious
visceral optimized expectations,
soaked in publicly circulating emotions
from day-trading warlocks and wardens.
Waste is fantasy. Plastic generations
replace curiosity with optimism, a commodity.
Hoarding ironically creates emptiness.
Ask any aspiring millionaire.
Habitual behavior now discounted reward.
“These are my Confessions and if I say nothing in them it’s because I have nothing to say.” —Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
is to know where the bones are buried.
Synonym: institutional allegiance.
Why is risk so often in your mouth?
Your answer, “That’s where the desire swells.”
It’s true the end of a river is also a mouth.
Waves form unnoticed. We tell each other stories—
unanswered questions worth more conceptually.
Wanting words that hold their form
both as concrete nouns and confluent verbs.
No subject is stable you often tell me.
Following the principle of least astonishment
is probably how we got here.
The living room pictures hang crooked
from the last noticeable earthquake.
“What use having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling?”
—W. Eugene Smith
The park’s grass is ankle deep,
again. Promises of everlasting life
continue to hold their sway.
It’s 2021, and I just learned
gold seeks gold.
Bounty hunters still scheming.
When will the rich suffer equally?
Is that even the right question?
Forests burn to their crowns
while babies drown in basement apartments.
What frequency will you hear
the trees screaming? Repeat yourself.
The neighborhood birds continue to sing
their morning songs. We must still be ok,
for now? Surrender—then acceptance—or
is it the other away around?
Certainty needs urgency
to keep it potent.
Embody your devotion.
Watch the ocean replicate.
All those Sunday sermons
soaked deep within.
Knowing, that convinced feeling.
Accuracy a worthy reliquary.
Be an animal, again.
In claiming this emotional space every week, anchors of memory and experience structure a highly unstable body of work. I arrive inhabiting this swath of living, or as Lauren Berlant said in her essay Cruel Optimism, “deflating the symbolic into the somatic”.
After all, islands are the tops of mountains. Perception as slant, signaling both perspective and insight. That sweet trigger of embodied habit. Writing from an ascetic life.
What earned reward lays in wait? Is it focus as illumination? Maybe the reward is endurance inside an anxious limbic system. Simply, a need gets satisfied. A temperance of honesty that there is no final outcome to this effort. That this predictive text, and its energy, may be read as art. That this is worthless.
Everything is just enough to be the same—
delusional observation—everything except
for the unwelcome return of an orangered sun.
The sky is no longer a place to look up to.
Wednesday news: 34 wildfires
have started in the last 24 hours. Have started is an example
of present perfect tense.
As in, trees of all types and ages
have started screaming.
So many remain illiterate
about events they claim
have never happened—to them.
Blind to the sound of yellow. Deaf
to exploding blues and facile ghosts.
Forgive me, you wanted this memory to be precise.
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
Afghanistan is falling. Call me. Pulling out resonates
inside the soft mouths of liars.
Strategic slants are concealed
into compressed scrolls [timelines].
Repeat. The future of artificial
intelligence will be a series—trying and failing.
Like the original version of intelligence,
it presumes. It bleeds into itself.
Audacity is roiling. Shhh—
your contemporary affect is showing.
In rooms with no windows, meetings crosstalk.
Taunting, we call out to god and beg
his celebrity angels to rescue us.
Suckling angst between pauses of incidental music,
our atmospheric knowledge tells us to take comfort
knowing even the rich are mutually suffocating.
Our shared psychosis now bonded as emotional reality.
You assume you’ve seen this before,
this familiar demarcation of transition.
What promises or expectations did you bring to this?
You know you can never step in the same river twice.
Are you listening to remember?
“No matter what disintegrating influences I was experiencing, the writing was the act of wholeness.” —Anaïs Nin, In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays
A local politician sells
subtext. Mixing patterns
of outbreaks, denial, aggressive
neglect, profit, waste. Time
monetized into relativity of spectacle.
Subterranean realities. July descends into August.
Clouds sail by dry as bones. Crowns above spread
shade. Our vernacular noisy wagons, isolated
oak savannas, quarantined in translation.
Wanting to do what we see; evidence.
Let’s take these metastasized days
and ride them into darkness. Be silhouettes,
featureless. Are you aware of all the consequences
when accepting the advertised risks?
How good it felt: to want something and
pretend you don’t, and to get it anyway.
—last two lines of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s “July”
Trust your gut. I don’t want you to get lost in the details. This is a map,
a blueprint, a ledger of interactions, process or form or whatever
you’ve been taught to see.
Guests of former selves clamor. There are fires and no water. Heat domes and variants. Return-to-work and shelter-in-place. Critical race theory and Big Lies™. Long division and 4th of July car sales. Blueberries are rotting
on the bush and border theatre sells out. The routine of keeping it together. Line by line, word by word, click by click. 21st century prefabrications.
How can I hurl myself deeper
into this life
—Ellen Bass, “The Long Recovery”
I’m a maximalist by virtue. I want more than an average understanding.
I’m the oldest daughter of an amateur bull rider. Surface-level commonality is temporary as an ocean wave. I want to be like the tides, consistently influential to the point of unforgettable. Inverting the fates,
Hope was my greatest sin.
—Clarice Lispector, from “The Disasters of Sofia”
Your and my immunity are fated these dragged, hot days.
In a burning world, my dreams saturate. Mostly trees,
thick, green, with moss thick as absence. Caution—
only longing and sunny winters ahead. Toward is a feeling.
Away a noun. What luck has found us both still breathing?
Our futures have become increasingly jealous of the past.
Portents of death a spammed life—forgettable.
Self as a frequency. Do you know how to want less?
The pattern is there is no pattern. Only thrills split from the inside of nightly dreams. Fireworks imploded. In the background of Jaws, the captured sound of the ocean insistent. Tumbleweeds untitled. Lives carefully leashed. Forgiveness now sold at cost. It’s cheaper than a full-bodied excavation or postponing uninsured vacations. Those flag waving contests, sacred competitions, enunciate the ascendant feelings. Clear and bright. Rising suspicions, surges of delusion, all of it natural as dredged wetlands or pipelines exploding to spectacular affect. The variants are just following the rules of long division. A simple prayer; please. Insert more coins to keep living. The transactions of ordinary time. Freedom to fill an empty page. Phantom whisper networks now interstellar contextual markers. Parabolic welcome wagons. There is no pattern, only recognition.
“How innocently life ate the days.” —John Updike, Couples
All day long, she sits behind windows
watching swollen ancient clouds
echo along abraded front lines.
She traces their carved patterns
and records distorted stillness.
Parting seductive, the bruised grey sky
swarms off to her west and opens wide.
Some might say she’s damned
but that’s a different parable
for a different time. Today,
she’s thinking about sanctity of attention.
Relationally vast in its deviant transience,
she listens to sovereign urgent voices
like well-fingered coins tossed into wishing wells.
This form of anticipation reclusive and incessant,
unyielding as the agency of water.
An observant song now broadcast as western light.
Time is visual—
the sun an arc,
we are the curve.
On the cusp of a new year
time has been absorbed;
last year not yet finished.
Unless otherwise stated,
no one is coming to save me.
Time now swarmed with qualifiers,
its own forgotten circumstance.
Lead me gently back to place.
My tense present perfect—
Clouds stretch fluff
over million-dollar hills.
That clock stopped years ago.
The plants grow taller.
Evacuations have started,
master prompts. This land of fault lines
under a sky so blue, suspended in hope.
Responsive is the desire, a memory.
as the jet stream moves
torrid seasons west to east.
The Arctic Circle holds tropical.
We start to make summer plans—
then actually book them.
“Space to breathe” or “create
new memories” congregate
fragmented within threaded comments
like when Roland Barthes says
in A Lover’s Discourse,
“this is the paradisiac realm
of subtle and clandestine signs:
a kind of festival not of senses
but of meaning”. Maybe this summer
will feel more like a communion—
public intimacy sanctioned.
Stay longer in me, take roots.
— Vera Pavlova, “If There Is Something To Desire”
In this kingdom, we intend to be recognized
as permanent guests and move around like trees.
Semblance is our currency. We become fixed
points on a map, a place arranged
by analogous topography and revelatory grief.
In this kingdom, endlessly contextually forsaken,
such transfigurations build our shelters
and show up in our mentions. We augment trust
by automating our needs to the indentured bidder.
Occasionally, we find survival inside failures.
In this kingdom, probable threat is enough to act.
Near future, present pasts, all of it exchanged
under systems of calculated instinct. We whisper
feelings and their cousins opinion and belief
as our syntax preserves its subversive hiss.
Having the equilibrium of a poet, I kept falling in love. — Frank Stanford,
“With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes”
And everyone’s competing
For a love they won’t receive
‘Cause what this palace needs is release
— Lorde, “Team”
The neighbor’s laundry hung drying in the wind generated from our conversations below. It listened like well-placed ears as your observations unraveled my patterns: cold penetrates while the sun strokes. You said in order for this to work, we must agree to be happy but your gaze was hard, questionable. My tone grew suspicious. Wandering fragmented and feral as virtual imagination, I drifted. Our poetics of pleasure and devotion now kindred mysteries. Illusions of prophesy, or was it property, told us we could own each other with infinite monthly payments—no money down—an absolute steal! A flashing sign said Don’t Eat, Touch Only. Absorption may reduce your wing span and there’s not an airport within hundreds of miles from here. Yes, of course this is a competition and you’ve been eliminated before knowing all the rules. Love, now a cathedral built from simulation, was defined for us. The laundry, dried hard as bones, was pulled back inside.
Beneath a gray sky, backlit bright,
the persimmon tree is full of leaves
as if it hadn’t just been naked for months.
If you find an orange
on the sidewalk,
one solitary orange,
what kind of luck is that?
In Olivia Laing’s opening essay in Funny Weather, “You Look at the Sun”, she references Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of a paranoid reader. “A paranoid reader is concerned with gathering information, tracing links and making the hidden visible. They anticipate and are perennially defended against disaster, catastrophe, disappointment. They are always on the lookout for danger, about which they can never, ever know enough.”
Distilled: “to prove what we already feared we knew”.
I fingered the begging-for-it jade trees.
As the flowers slept,
still curled tight,
the sun floated above me
already round and bright.
Abstract as repentance or glory—a transitory representation—is the distinct learning from unknowing, an experience of active living. A day of rituals, smooth from habit, bloom into conscious discipline. Nothing less than a lived response will do in these warped times.
Another week soft as cat paws sneaks past me. The sounds of the radiator and freeway now so familiar, I consider the silence around the noise. Maybe this form, an oblivious infinite loop, finds function waiting like the persimmons? Or maybe this release continues to demand merging threads fleeting as sunlight passing through morning clouds. It’s just as possible all that happens is that I learn to love myself a little more.
this whole time
I’ve been writing my future?
Loving feels lovely in a violent world,
—first line in “Community”, Marge Piercy
I relished pleasures of the mind and the flesh equally.
—Marge Piercy, Sleeping with Cats
mind that gap
somebody must know
the biochemical difference
between fear and excitement
trees with new leaves
look fresh next to those
who keep their looks all year round
same view, thoughts recycled
40 more hours squeezed
into future dollars
performing “ordinary life”
(overheard on morning NPR)
all of this so-called-living
to be cherished
“I find it easy to admire in trees what depresses me in people.”
— Marge Piercy, last two lines of “The Doughty Oaks” from The Moon Is Always Female
Spring finds us haunted. A seasonal feeling after witnessing winter’s passing, but it is acute this year. Blue skies expanding. Nests of birds explode in sound. Time is the fulcrum. I love you fills the past, present, future. Now weightless, light cracks through early morning clouds.
I thought about the scam of resurrection. Some never fully accept death
as loss, permanence unchanged. They believe death can be cheated.
The obvious irony is you’ll suffer from wanting what is not possible.
Time is the fulcrum. Flexing, palming, sucking off temporal attention.
Through the eyes of a non-believer, the sharpened edge of dilution,
I miss you.
My stride is for life, a far place. —William Stafford, Run Before Dawn
The first thing to know is everyone but you, and a few precious others, will move on. Push that reactionary and perceived disrespect to a corner in your heart you’ve saved for petty grievances. Forgive them, eventually, for they simply did not know your joy. You’ll be better served, in these early days, to center your scattered energy by paying attention to the way your days and weeks advance as you begin to revise your life. This or that part of your previous life is no longer applicable but you’ll still find yourself performing the phantom shapes of a visceral routine. The memories you form in this emerging now will feel like new bones growing, indescribable aches. When you notice you’re no longer performing for the past, breathe. In that space of awareness, allow laughter and evocations of pleasure to strengthen you. Remember, most of all, to praise the mutual life you were able to create together.
The next number of infinite steps is to continue gathering the integrity of love.
When translated to English, zugunruhe (German) literally means “migration anxiety”.
In accordance with their inherited calendars, birds get an urge to move.
—William Fiennes, The Snow Geese
It is restlessness with a specific depth—you can feel it. I know because its anticipation first pools sweetly and intimately inside my dreams thickly layered into a time-bound mix of memory and myth. We can call it instinct. I didn’t chose these fragile liminal structures but I listen to them for the survivor messages they inevitably surface.
Those messages, that calling, is from a place where threshold holds both its meanings; what must be exceeded for a reaction to occur and an entry. It is rudimentary—basic at this point—that I must relearn anticipation is also a kind of hope.
I imagine myself arriving new, and again in return.
I am not writing a history of these times or of past times or of any future times and not even the history of these visions which are with me all day and all of the night.
— Anne Boyer, “Not Writing“
You asked me if I had responded to the response.
I thought about those high school boys from Tennessee
bragging about their football conquests in the Mariott hot tub.
They were beautiful, hard like toy guns
full of manufactured bravado.
Again, you asked me if I had responded.
I remember witnessing a new moon’s illumination.
A simple and ordinary texture of perceptual darkness
worn resilient and smooth as a natural pearl.
You asked me when I will respond.
I answered with a question wound around reactive
need, a homegrown suspicion. Where, in my body,
won’t I respond based on all this surveillance?
People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters
The new 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 close my eyes and rotate
the plants toward the light. The sun is eager to begin.
Birds have started to sing.
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.