“As if a tenderness awoke, a tenderness that did not tire, something healing.”
— Sylvia Plath, from The Collected Poems; “Three Women,” (1962)
I was born into an isolated, literal Evangelical culture. A place where time was on always on trial and faith was righteous as pride. Our promised future had already been written. We were urgent. The rapture was due.
All of us who knew even a fraction of the story internalized why Jesus hadn’t returned. Acts of a vengeful god are common and welcomed in this scenario. It was also true when you knew the ending tipped in your favor, knowledge became seductive. A blessing disguised.
To have learned about the world this way feels like a subtle theft. Trauma works that way too. False recognitions bound to real sounds, smells, touch, twists of phrases, and, if lucky, fading re-creations. A true con.
Decades later, I am still carving an existence that is receptive to invitation. There are no answers inside all these non-moments of relentless judgement. That clarity is its own rushed reality. Adapting gracefully to change is an ancient sermon. This is a map to all this undoing.
I’ve never had the same address for long. My current streak is seven years. I’ve far exceeded all prior knowledge of living in one place. I am as far west as I’ve ever been, which means my reverence for home has changed. Somewhere between this nostalgia and the truth is the hard edge of acceptance.
In all this stillness, I forgot how to let go.
So I start over.
As a habit, writing is its own method of reckoning. An ecstatic attention to spirit. A positive deviance. Specifically, I want to create a feeling of communion. I want this feeling in spite of its dominant religious significations.
The concept and practice of being “reborn” was an early fascination. I’d watch my father make his way to the front of the church and confess his weaknesses. Our sins were made public. We wanted to believe, as much as he did, that each confession was his last. His liberation bound so tightly to our survival.
I choose to keep these collective epiphanies to remember how far from home I am.
*horizon note = the beat or pulse underlying the whole of the poem (Denise Levertov)
“…I believe our survival demands revolution, both cultural and political. If we are to survive the disasters that threaten, and survive our own struggle to make it new—a struggle I believe we have no choice but to commit ourselves to—we need tremendous transfusions of imaginative energy.”
—Denise Levertov, from her essay “Great Possessions,” January 1970
It is February. I think about ruts carved into thawing prairie soil—how violence echoes. I pull your sleeves right side out every time I do the laundry. Shapes of familiar ceremony.
In March, rusted satellites fall to the ground. I find the ocean, again. A litany of land and shoreline.
Then May repeats to the present day. Silver glints from in-flight airplanes catch the attention of wandering minds. Our elegies no longer unconscious prayers.
“Most of the time, I think we’re embodied because we are supposed to be. I don’t think the goal is to leave our bodies behind, despite what many major religions tell us.” — Dana Levin
things that are abundant
have less value,
A cheap cadence
mutated and wound
around a swelling chorus.
Shut tight. Loud as bodies.
Imagine if we answered
all those blushed curious inquiries
and followed constellations
to rewrite retrogrades.
Speaking softly enough to
understand its sacred feedback.
title is William Stafford’s reference to “that feeling you have when you go along accepting what occurs to you and finding your way out somewhere to the rim where you are ready to abandon that sequence and come back and start all over again” (Writing the Australian Crawl)
I get nervous when people start talking about wanting to own things:
land, houses, ideas.
This present moment feels like freedom,
a highly volatile state.
In my dream, I walked US-Highway 12.
I passed community banks flush with bartered dreams
and gas stations promising consistently low prices when paying with cash.
The ghosts all drove cars and didn’t bother me.
Lucid, I believed I was back in Berlin. I was brave.
I woke to trees taller than houses.
“writing…is a process of relying on immediate pervasive feelings, not an escape from them…” — William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl. pg. 88
I haven’t found a way to say I love you that isn’t complicated, so I practice loving you every day. Sounds of terrorized children broke through all those hours of visual noise. Hope is a map. A place to begin.
The distance of decades doesn’t always make things quieter. Calendars are more form than function. I learned early and repeatedly that love must be earned, and value is measured by others. An intimacy of detachment.
Addicted to seeking approval is one way of saying yes unconditionally. Instead, imagine a private collection of silent hymns. These days, I take care to mend memories as a way to create acceptance. A public chorus swelled.
Broken into speculative practices, writing things down reinforces pleasure and importance in tandem. Together, through famine and fortune, what stands out is love. An oxygen where sacrifice is not born from competition.
“When someone tells us something, we don’t know how many versions they have tried out inside before the one we hear.” — William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
It was nothing but ordinary how the day started. The sun crept above the horizon like any weekday likes to unfold. Yesterday a seismic shift happened — two degrees right to the center. Trees noticed the ambient vibrations immediately, then the birds. No one noticed the subtle ways computer grids had wiped clean negative balances and dropped zeros while spinning out complex equations for how to love beyond reflex.
It took seventeen years for scientists to confirm the shift occurred. Pundits had convinced the public that such a change could not occur simply because they had no imagination to the contrary. Scattered conversations slowly and remotely extended what had been idle reservations around the basics of grace as understood as time. It was a dramatic revolution. Men were not brave. We found their excuses strapped to the back of westbound bus seats.
We considered multiple ways to drown ourselves in the meanings of what we had known and what was now. Immediate and sharp like a broken tooth, we rejected regressive poetic frames. In some places, it became fashionable to sell boredom while others practiced local rituals that buried light. By all accounts, we now live immoral lives. Only the youngest birds have yet to learn not to take from the most fragmented rumors to make their shelters.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
T.S. Eliot, from ‘Preludes (IV)’, The Waste Land and Other Poems
concerts of effort
sounds better inside a fragment
forgive that this starts out so slow
posting at me to me with me
I’m casual to realize
to follow that, your, our vision
is to be organized into spacial moments — threads
a witness of curation
the: father son and holy spirit
faith is within your standing
some think it is earned
as for me I was taught to be innocent
later learning curiosity had its own beneficiaries
a lesson on just how few original ideas are assigned majestic
fueling dark appreciations for wild abstractions
until it is as uncommon as creating reminders to breathe
I know this all sounds strange
you can call it: new wave vengeance
born from a place stubborn as time
untamable as the patience of trees
a place whose history begins with land stolen then plowed
now transformed to weed-filled lawns anchored by rusted swing sets
as early-to-open Main Street bars drown committed repentance
a place where there’s nothing left to let go
where abandonment is a reluctant hero
& stacked clouds convert prayers into myths
like there can be no forgiveness for sins
we commit against ourselves
Our inherited risks are not equal. This is an urgent incantation.
As visceral affect, I want to disembody and divest.
My father tracked weather patterns in free pocket-sized bank calendars.
Constrained, he archived basic data (temperature and precipitation)
occasionally punctuated with significance: two daughters born June 8th;
weight and height nearly identical.
His daily notes arranged into a practical devotion bound by time and repetition.
For point of reference, children and livestock born in storms were not isolated incidents. Shaping a landscape absent of variables, his pattern recognition became a survivor’s catalog.
Our futures signal forced reliance, an intimate risk. This is an urgent incantation.
As righteous affect, I want to feel god everywhere.
“the first 50 hours of resurrection are beautiful,”
says the man holding the door
–Tongo Eisen-Martin, excerpt from remove my heart racing, and babylon is fine
we learn to trust wars: trade, sex, cold. as acceptance forms rules, we smooth out the most deprived ideas and prioritize all threats as urgent. in theatres of conflict, repetition is grandeur. this translation officially makes mob landscapes familiar.
that’s why when your hands brushed against my sharpest edges: my heart, my gaze, my inordinate sense of danger; I felt intimacy performed as spacial intervention, an interlude. your fingers interrogated and found hard answers wrapped around tender legacy. we became undone. mapping unearned dreams onto each other’s gravitational pull, an attraction, we made our own stars.
future philosophers will discover these tensions and name them holy
all this absence, in the space of starting over, forms my backbone
i wish i could claim something useful here, like emotional resilience
or self-efficacy managed beyond the flutter of obscene distractions
structurally, skin has the capacity to absorb 1000 strikes soft as fur
before bruising, blue then purple then finally breaking open red
bold as light leaks found in the silenced literacy of family photos
this spread of truth tight and shallow in surrendering
The past is a space of eternal occupation, a place to shout violent things and lust for an afterlife. The present is active and in transit. What was is now future. For today focus on the perceived differences of a winter sun, how dedication can become a shroud, and the way throats absorb sound. Traces of a map, a line to pursue. Such directional shifts define evolutions of time. As the ocean laps shorelines, patterns artificial as intelligence bind like curses. Our days flare dandelion sunlight.
“And whereas one of my students asks a visiting poet about education vaguely getting at what is worth pursuing? The poet suggests looking at whatever is/was missing in one’s life and begin there. So many nods in the room around that table they acknowledge it too. In the missing: power.
— Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (page 67)
The day Ronald Reagan died – June 5, 2004 – I absorbed the news of his death with reverie as his life was exalted by talking heads and famed acquaintances. Their rhetoric ultimately resting within that exclusive canon reserved only for legends. Crowds swarmed to pay their respects to an American actor.
In another breaking newsfeed, and still witness to a grand spectacle of publicized grief, I was transfixed as a captured tiger dangled from a helicopter high above Santa Monica, California. The majestic predator swung inside a canvas sling that looked more like a collective omen akin to a nursery-rhyme cradle.
The events were not related according to the news, yet the Overton window had widened just enough to propagate rumors into exaggerated false equivalencies. After all, time had shifted in unexplainable ways that leap year. Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” had convinced many that something had happened.
Less than a month later, the spacecraft Cassini reached Saturn (a planet associated with karmic lessons). Some speculate that Reagan’s recently released spirit had guided Cassini as it traveled the critical distance to fulfill its mission. As poetic murmurs, I gather these soft shapes into vivid memories. A gesture of truth.
Inflections reflect emphasis, and opening and closings. Some days I think being ___ is the best way to survive. An existence spread. That feels aspirational in vision and phonetically embodied. A form of capacity. Or dispossession. A bridge as much as a boundary.
We found each other in an unwrapped state, a simple & delicate discovery. Inhabited defenses had worn thin from surviving years as compounded days. We did not dare admit how deeply we believed our working poor bodies had betrayed us. So we let touch carve its own messages. We found mutual influence in those scripts.
Weary from earning credits to fund a future not designed for us, we took respite from all that manufactured exclusion. We hustled accordingly. In reciprocated seduction, a feedback loop was internalized as a request: have we earned this?
Decades of surrender to such indulgent, as in generous, voices now finds a meditated willingness to forsake finding definitive answers from exposition. Today’s passing landscapes & their formidable distances no longer automatically produce the same fears. Illusions whose progression had previously enjoyed blending into a chorus of learned temptations. As new rituals envelope our evolving existences, like being witness to twilight’s ease, our time together has become dedicated privilege.
These shadowed elements, mostly past & some future, are their own repressed celebrations. It’s been a pleasure to give when so many took. We are tender & brave every damn day.
Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light. —Theodore Roethke
these broken pieces are their own ritual
spirals of coping mechanisms
I’ll give you something to cry about was a challenge, a threat, and a promise.
Your unmasked emotions always carried a visible regret.
These thoughts came through, wide-eyed and unaware of their tardiness.
Flowing the way water finds the least resistance, crooked and illogical.
first there were wild-maned horses on frantic wide open horizons
followed by scratched, then abandoned, lottery tickets turned city sidewalk confetti
both are remembered as tender memories so as not to tear open violently
in the same way a new moon rising is full darkness and as obvious
as even the smallest bird creating their own shadows in flight
This could be a gentle misreading of the present.
A refugee’s opinion proportionally is sleight of hand. When
recused, these facts may mean what they mean and nothing more.
In all this consistency, wave after wave, repetition thrives.
Our worth worn thin from constant caress and co-conspiracy.
Identified as politics, we fray like threads and break thinned lines.
Collective bodies form margins, front lines, or could be imaginary
shorelines draped in motion as graceful as the absence of regret.
These are our redemptive spaces splayed into a radius of sovereign roots.
He said he was going to take a walk around the block to clear his mind. Stretch his legs. Escape. He never came back. A map of states’s preferences for corn or potato chips forever frozen on his desktop screen.
Battle for references, a retirement to the absence of —
On Wednesday, I was reminded artists should “support each other religiously.” This community-level policy is seductive, whose root is “to lead astray.” Oceans of context transfer nervous energy. Is thinking out loud unprofessional?
It’s come down to semiotic analysis of utterances. This weekly cathartic release looping endlessly to create a low frequency hiss. A similar process to the way valleys take the weight, form, and shape of foggy mornings or as secure as refuge.
you got no fear of the underdog / that’s why you will not survive – Spoon, The Underdog
This violence looks good on you. Fitted. Proper. My opinion, of course.
All apologies have been returned to sender. Transparency is seasonal.
No stability is guaranteed. Can we at least agree it is sacred territory?
This is a good-bye letter. My reasons rolling out like smoke from fire.
Did you know we have started living in isolation to prepare for colonizing Mars?
There is dedicated front cover news space to our collective denial about the basics of life on this planet: water, menstruation, dignity. A particular death-wish resistance to facts because we can’t face our feelings; our responsibility as witness to 24-hour broadcasted cruelty. Gripping so tightly to distance, we can think only about scale not urgency.
The 1960 Valdivia earthquake data reads like an ultrasound of the earth’s surface. What’s at our center?
“An ellipse is richer than a circle. It possesses two centers. It’s a dialogue.” — Louise Bourgeois
Those smallest details of absence and desire go almost unnoticed, felt as impetus. A survivor’s mentality. An orientation to want (hunger) as something outside of you, something to be experienced. Unapologetic formations to desire are apocryphal stories of purpose. They hold between their lines our remaining humanities. Revelation is all around us. A range no longer than a row of buttons.
In a previous post, I coupled the early essays of The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure as “academic stimulation with real-world sensations.” The chorus of voices throughout the remainder of the book continue on that path and give more support for using an erotic economic analysis. The production of porn is about selling pleasure, consuming (queer) desire, and fucking loving yourself.
Ingrid Ryberg in Every Time We Fuck, We Win pushes you to understand watching porn is witness to intimacy. It is telling that we have to learn to repress so much to fit into assumed historic preferences. Keiko Lane’s Imag(in)ing Possibilities spreads your psyche out with respect. Experiencing “fantasies made conscious” is a particular arousal of “embodied subjectivity.” That point of view, a corporeal validation, is useful. Porn can heal us if we experience it without shame or remorse. If you want to get the deepest and quickest purpose of this book, read Constance Penley’s A Feminist Teaching Pornography? She gives you the permission to study porn as film. We are the audience to a multi-dimensional experience from performer to director to public tastes.
Presentation matters: angles and agency. Lorelei Lee demonstrates that to the fullest. “Sexual desire and sexual identity are absolutely essential to the freely defined self.” Feminist porn performs power which is why it deserves its current patriarchal reputation. Own that what you feel from seeing is pleasurable. This feminist entertainment project is political. That’s no-fucks-given explicit from the begging to the end The Feminist Porn Book. As is Ariane Cruz’s call to “take up a politics of perversion, a disruptive shift in black feminist studies, to critically analyze the engagements of pleasure and power through pornography consumption, performance, and production.”
All anthologies straddle numerous opinions and I agree with Nina Hartley that “porn houses our sexual dreams, which are vitally important to our happiness.” The how – worker centered – is what makes feminist porn feminist. It is what mutual satisfaction looks like – good enough to share. Tristan Aormino knows both sides of the camera. I’ll watch sex that is “presented as joyful, fun, safe, mutual, and satisfying.” Sexual expressions of joy! Who would be against such imagery?
That was a larger question that was often left out of the frame. We hear and see enough of the anti-porn position. It was a nice reprieve from that way of thinking. The Feminist Porn Book repeatedly and gently reminds you to consume critically and honor consent always. Sexual expressions are exchanged as erotic capital and culturally produced whether we agree with it or not. That’s why having more porn that thinks and fucks like me is where I’ll be putting my hard-earned feminist dollars.
Walking around DC, lost but generally in the right direction, allowed me to settle back into my bones. I recall the room you asked me to think about: yellow paint raised like Braille; its speech ready to be discovered through touch.
Judith Butler asserts, “the very terms by which we give an account, by which we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves and to others, are not of our making”.* This theory is comforting and forgiving. It allows for perception, which is shaped by unconscious distortions. It means the first person narrative is always unreliable. This should not be seen as negative or even fatalist, nor submissive. It’s obvious which is why it is shocking. I am not who I was yesterday.
I think about memories and where I store them. Some have leached back into my consciousness despite the high security barriers I placed around them. Others have settled into the rhythmic beat of my heart, my speech, and my ways of knowing. Many have been crushed into the mortar that binds me.
There are beautiful things in the world. I think I may have fallen in love.
Breakfast, as we demised, was glaring. You are right. The transparency of the glass ceiling is obvious.
Today’s word: tears
Conservative white men assert their rebel yells and women weep. We shouldn’t be surprised that with the rise of neopatriarchy the front page of the New York Times has an article about menstruation and women’s libido.
Dorothy Parker said, “Lips that taste of tears, they say, are the best for kissing.”
Practicing what you preach is hard. That’s why most people end up preaching.
Life With Maggie by Ofer Wolberger effectively conveys that feeling of living a life in which you mask yourself, not for any sinister reason but rather that just seems to be the status quo of our oppressive culture. Wolberger’s images are innocent yet curious. They reflect a hyperreality.
It’s been a week of exhilarating explorations. There is a wide gap between implementation and theory but that’s the fun and messy dance of exploring. The moment you realize that you don’t need to wear a mask is the moment when you know you’ve stumbled upon something really amazing. You’ve discovered new terrain and despite the risks, you bravely forge ahead. I can always put my disguise back on but it’s easier to breathe without it.
We may just be pixels but keeping a sharp focus will make this expedition a revolution.
Bound for Glory: America in Color is an amazing color photo archive of Americans from the Great Depression. Bound for Glory contains some of the only known color photographs taken during this era. They are beautiful. There is dancing, sleeping, learning, eating, working, and amazing blue skies. And no plastic.
It reminds me of my childhood. It was a childhood of sparse landscapes, hard work, dynamic adult dinner table conversations, and frequent moving to new desolate locations. It was a life lived in the middle of nowhere; nothing but your imagination to keep you from accepting the reality around you. I managed to transcend the endless boundaries before me. Now I’m able to orbit other spaces and places while occasionally transmitting new data to those left behind. I am a satellite and looking for other astronauts.
Louise Bourgeois has passed away at the age of 98. She was amazing, unique, and always inspiring. If you haven’t seen the documentary, Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress, and The Tangerine, you should.
There are many reasons to adore Louise. Two of them being her fierce independence and unflinching honesty.
The first time I heard about Louise and saw her sculptures was the 2002 Spider exhibit in Cleveland, OH. I wish I had taken pictures and paid more attention to their installation. They were beautiful and haunting on the dead streets of downtown Cleveland. They stuck with me in more ways than I realized.
“To Bourgeois, the relationship of one person to another or others is all important, and life has little value without it. This relationship, which she calls the toi et moi – or the ‘you and me’ – is usually experienced as suffering, yet it is the only thing worth living for.” – Louise Bourgeois: Drawings & Observations
Happy Mother’s Day! And even happier day to those of us who choose not to birth or be restricted by our wombs.
Gail Collins’ Op-Ed column in last week’s New York Times, What Every Girl Should Know, is a stark reminder of how precarious our happiness is and how we all need to be advocates for our choices, lest they be made for us.
Sometimes it feels like change is glacial. Yet it’s only been 50 years that the birth control pill was approved by the FDA, 45 years since married women were prescribed the pill, 36 years since single women could gain access to the pill, and it’s only been 37 years since abortion was codified. It can seem like menstruating women are measuring time by trimesters and months.
We often forget that transforming the cultural landscape is a modern project of progress. We assume that we can map out all the complexities of change and have thousands of theories of action to document these assumptions. But this is a project where constant change is the chorus and trying to interpret the illogical can become an obsession. What we choose to focus on and obsess over matters greatly because if change is the constant, you may find yourself looking back and not recognizing where you came from.