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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

abdicating

“Walking on the land or digging in the fine soil I am intensely aware that time quivers slightly, changes occurring in imperceptible and minute ways, accumulating so subtly that they seem not to exist. Yet the tiny shifts in everything – cell replication, the rain of dust motes, lengthening hair, wind-pushed rocks – press inexorably on and on.” – Annie Proulx, Bird Cloud

Whooli Chen, Morning Song

I’ve learned enough to be dangerous. I’ve failed enough to feel successful.

Lessons learned, in the order they showed up:

  1. Expectations are different than boundaries.
  2. Shame is a form of self-abuse.
  3. Distinguish the difference between meaningful work and paid work.
  4. The stories I tell myself matter the most.
  5. Maintaining a conscious awareness of abundance is the work of being open to inspiration — being fascinated feels good. Acceptance is eternal work.
  6. Establishing new routines takes time.
  7. Trust in self is a sacred commitment.
  8. Patience is its own desire and trust in myself is sacred energy. Learning stimulates: both focus and curiosity are required.
  9. Creating poetics inquiries deepened my capacity for patient discovery.
  10. Breathe through the urge to have answers.
  11. Staying present and having curious inquiry is the process of accelerating joy.
  12. It matters how you show up.

2020 is one of those future-forward years, like 1999 and 2000. Every year has its own biography of echoes. The list above are some of my loudest.

formed at the edges of quicksand

The hills are thick with creamy fog these late-August mornings, then fade into brilliant blue. My dreams have been performed in airports and church vans. I rode a mechanical bull pleading to get to where I thought I wanted to go.

Takahiko Hayashi, Stories-spilled out of histories, mixed media on paper.

a different summer morning
you joked that Red Delicious
was put there by a witch

4 May 2014, Oakland, CA

I’m disciplined to distraction
the peek of a thigh
roses at the edge of on-ramps
yielding to pressure