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.

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.

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?

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.

line of sight

“For greed, the entire world is too little.” — Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius

Walton Ford, The Island (detail), 2009

Will the past be unobstructed
when the observed become intervisible narrators?

Culture is cancelled. Culture has been cancelled.
Only blue this morning.

The cat’s fur fades in the summer light.
Time [redacted].

We remain virtual until we go outside.
Hashtag: nature, grass, sky.

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

I remember when we would go with you to feed the owner’s cattle.
You’d shovel hay from the bed of a slow-moving pickup,
driverless and pointed in the general direction of home.
In the summer, we would pretend to be left behind
and race each other back to the truck.
The first one to jump onto the tailgate was the winner.
In winter, we would sit bundled up, heater blasting,
in the cab and watch as the cattle’s eager breath
etched 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
spread across the barren prairie landscape.

I remember how the weight of your loudest threats
mapped to 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 invisible your 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 narrative: landscaped yards with lavender, slow growing Japanese maples, bushes of rosemary, hissing palm trees, 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.

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.