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?
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.
… 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
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.
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?
“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
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
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?
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.
They’re quiet, the choir, their voices go higher
The choir, the choir, their voices go higher
— Palace Music, “Brute Choir”
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.
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
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.
If the water should cut my mind, set me free — Cat Power cover of Bathysphere
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.
“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”
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.
“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
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.
—June Jordan, excerpt from “Intifada Incantation: Poem #8 for b.b.L”
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.
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.
“…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.”
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.
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”
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.
Yet listen well. Not to my words,
but to the tumult that rages in
your body when you listen to yourself.
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.
“What is secret never has total objectivity.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
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.
“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
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.
“but i am running into a new year and i beg what i love and i leave to forgive me”
— Lucille Clifton, from I am Running Into a New Year
Always, an airplane in the sky. Our big, beautiful world is dying. We string colored lights in windows. This time of year requires letting go of what cannot be undone. The freeway flows forward, always. Birds sing in tune with worn out brakes of city buses. Today I will laugh. Where does the grotesque fall away and where is the real? Knees. Ribs. Pelvis. Hips a spacial reference to another’s manipulation. My body woke me in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure if it was fair to tell you this truth. I disassociate enough to protect my sensibilities and made myself small to accommodate your vision of a world that owed you. I kept my mouth shut for fear of casting a shadow on your carefully carved out spotlight. I need new vocabulary to describe this headstrong ritual. Joy and excitement is replicable but they won’t be to scale. Yesterday I watched a woman kiss pigeons. Gently and respectfully, she kissed the bravest on their greedy beaks. In a sea of bread crumbs and feathers, she shared her love with those who surrounded her. Come back into it. My body won’t relax. I pick up the slack. Evening’s receiving light follows me home.
Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very depth of the last days…
-Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky
celestially speaking, we all belong to a restrictive social class
cumulative in our longings, we render dependency as emergencies
[how romantic to feel each other’s interdependent commitments]
we take our love-starved coordinates and plot collective orbits
moving at the textured pace of gravity’s grace, time fragments
do not worry, this scattering happens every year. remember?
what will you pick up and carry into tomorrow? the new year?
Do me a favor this morning. Draw the curtain and come
back to bed.
Forget the coffee. We’ll pretend
we’re in a foreign country, and in love.
Raymond Carver, last stanza of “The Road”
There’s an urgency when you wake up in darkness. Instinct tells you to trust that light is coming. The sky opened a hazy lilac. Morning shadows sharpen. I’ve misinterpreted the danger inherent in matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Navigating productions, stilted formations misunderstood as lyrical responses, becomes a performance. Often, soothing a distraction.
I learned early that soft touches were to be saved for moving someone to confession, then towards salvation. For all those end-of-days Sunday warnings, I am not prepared. This is a special kind of denial, an abject version of faith.
“We should have known” has signaled subtle shaming. Didn’t you hear all those rumors?
The moon is new. At the moment, there is no wind. My body remembers this fear. My sense of distance expands in the pink layered light.
I’ve kept this on the tip of my tongue, at the rim of my mouth, inside my lungs sweet like a curated secret. I tried to write around the noise but this is the silence that found me.
Police found nothing but pairs of empty shoes inside abandoned cars stopped on the freeway that carved edge lines between city and suburb. Stereos were still playing upbeat songs or blaring ads for insurance, spicy chicken sandwiches, eradicating skin rashes, and a cloud that promised to secure memories. Coffee left warm in secure cup holders.
I have my own, obvious, working hypothesis for the dispossessed.
I can feel you wanting more. More analysis, more details, more quantifiable truth. I recognize that desire. If left unchecked, it is a serial and extractive response.
Instead of getting stuck in that kind of particular production, what spiritual inclinations were you born with? Will your future prove the past?
The ending is coming. How wild is your hope?
title is reference to seven years and a day is often the period of trial in fairy tales (Denise Levertov, The Poet in the World, page 13)
Our days contain the same hours despite abbreviated light.
Fevered images imprinted on soft flesh remind
this planet orbits a beloved and nuclear star.
Sorcery or science, that’s not for me to declare.
I record the sky every morning to create fragments of an unseeable whole.
Daily witness a veritable surge measured against distance as response.
I stop when I remember your happiness is not my responsibility.
That’s the small print of being in relationship to you.
We’ve burned through time by excavating the past.
I warned you verb tenses are subjective when coupled
with mutable concepts of time. Didn’t you hear that echo?
In suspension, I ate my tongue and swallowed our blood.
I know how much you appreciate a dramatic and proper exit.
AN ARMY OF LOVERS SHALL NOT FAIL – title on cover of The Lesbian Tide, Apr. 1973
this feeling of war is different from other war feelings I’ve had.
it is a conscious scan of knowing where the exits are located.
it is a wanting of quiet and stillness
inside all this (up)loaded aggression.
it is a particular kind of collaborated knowing.
bodies bend closer in fantasies without violence.
a genre of collected mundane details:
dishes in the sink
airport air thick with fancy perfume
the memory of water.
I study nothing, obviously.
I like that space
crowded spaces. public spaces.
being ignored in isolation.
strictly speaking, we think we know
what is happening
because we study history.
if we believe we are more manipulated today,
do we fulfill our own prophesies?
Here is what we have to offer you in its most elaborate form — confusion guided by a clear sense of purpose. –Gordon Matta-Clark c. 1973
to the sky, to the land –
bowed in turn
that precious treasure
or a thought, maybe, too strange for us
This found poem was created from fragments of William Stafford’s daily writings (1975-1976).
I woke early to catch a bus into a city so rich it begs. Finding traces of the first quarter rising moon, I watched a skyline break blue. As ocean waves disappeared into infinite replication, news of another massacre weights the expansive and empty horizon before me.
In “How the Mind Works,” Patti Smith asks Can we truly separate the how and the why? This logic is why Midwestern letters from home are factual and often lack ornate descriptions. The news relayed is a list—bills overdue, doctor visit Tuesday, crops flooded—to extrapolate and to elaborate reason would only waste paper and time. The weight of how to get where I do not yet know forms my most elaborate creative patterns, and those lines buried between what is said are code switches. I want you to imagine what that would feel like. I assume you are real on the other side of this virtual divide.
“Success is someone else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, excerpt from her 1983 Mills College commencement address “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”
Mental maps are flashbacks of intertwined stories not to be confused with flash-forward dreams like visible clouds in the night sky backlit by 24-7 traffic lights, or knowing you are looking directly at an invisible full moon. I am sorry if this specificity of darkness is dense and complicated. I have historically avoided anchors of place in my writing because it feels safer to drift unmoored. It is entirely possible I do not want you to find me.
My past has too many inconsistent waypoints to map accurately—my mother is an unreliable narrator and my father’s sense of direction was absorbed as gospel, narrow and aggressive. Gathered, these scattered memories take shape as a specific form of isolation. The truth is, wrapping myself in distance feels like home.
This dark and expansive landscape I pull from is as familiar as counting landmarks on long drives back home, de facto mile markers such as wind-sculpted trees, mirage plateaus, and the occasional 4-way stop sign scarred with casual bullet holes. My expertise in understanding subtle changes as a sense of direction was earned honestly.
As an identical twin, separation is a practice of abundance. Do you recognize that gift in yourself?
Stars are born when clouds of gas called nebulae infinitely collapse. The center of this collapse, a result of carefully balanced external gravitational forces and internal rising temperatures, fuses into light brilliant enough to witness from Earth’s distance. In this nearly empty darkness, collapsing coordinates are not fixed either. All these simple steps broken into a discovery of self, in excellence and always in evolution.
“Are we witnesses or actors?” – Carolyn Kizer from “Twelve O’Clock”
From a tender age, we learn to anticipate expansive boundaries. This is how we survived.
Our inheritances can be found folded into cornered spaces where silence occupies itself. A similar appreciation to realizing how much our eyes have adjusted to darkness. We trade today’s exhaustion for speculative futures. Assassinations happen daily.
Diversions become elegant beginnings when you realize resistance has immortal roots. That’s why performing for an absent savior is a dishonest practice and violence is a loop of fractured sounds. Do you hear that echo abdicating its own existence?
The sun feels yellow today. Birds still relay their news through song. Incantations woven over and through the roar of their own destruction. A natural and honest alchemy. Such revision signals there is enough, a gathering of effort.
When they ask how you survived this century, what will your answer be?
I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.
I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.
“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen
I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.
On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:
“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”
And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37, Stafford wrote:
“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)
Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.
I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.
Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (20 June 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (20 May 1975).”
What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.
And then will come my turn toward considering the poem as a set of strategies.
— William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
My aesthetic genealogy is borrowed from a working poetics. A magpie practice of creative slanted interruptions. One of my favorite writing habits is to post on Sundays. Years ago I discovered this practice as a way to reclaim time lost to benign neglect. It was a way to take back a day formerly dedicated to church services that framed ideal bodies as those willing to give up their souls.
Forgive this brief editorializing break. I’ve wandered to the edge of today’s subject.
It is safe to assume the forensics of great writers are investments in process.
For the last twelve and a half years, I traced the shapes of memory — collective and personal — in this wide open space. I anchored active examination into subtitled weekly posts. I curated evidence of expansion through parallel interpretations and feel for traction inside line breaks weighted by punctuation’s invitation to pause. I am aligned when tone reflects visual structure.
This time last year I was organizing myself to study Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin. Today I want to capture my emerging intention to study William Stafford this fall. The boundaries of this poetics inquiry are a promise to continue to carve out curious time. It is an extension of how conscious practice cleaves to the promise of honoring spirit. I aim to explore and investigate Stafford’s pacifist approaches — specifically conscientious objector — to writing poetry, his teaching methods of writing poetry, and his graceful rejection of competition.
Our days are urgent as parents wait for children to find them. Climate and change are conjoined into violent denials. Stafford practiced creative resistance strategies during WWII and the Vietnam War.
What might we borrow to alter our endangered lives?
An older German man at the Audre Lorde Archives likes to greet me by singing his favorite melodies from 1960s American pop songs. Our connection is assumed to be familiar on those grounds.
Other connections have taken longer to root, to find their own casual and wandering paths. Most often I simply smile, to show submission to a foreign tongue, and repeat my English phrases so we can entwine in a hopeful vernacular.
There is a mutual desire to be understood.
Mornings are typically dark and grey, thick with clouds that never leave. There are, of course, exceptions. Some days find swirling pink clouds opening their hearts to promises of illumination. The void of this work has been filled when silence is created from conscious expression. An expression that most days outpaces language’s translation of experience.
This poetic examination of Audre Lorde’s teaching, and by extension her methods of poetic practice, has strengthened the tender edges of my own belief of how change happens – personal, political, and everything in between. I feel marked with new annotations at the outermost areas of my known history. My knowledge is shaped into intentional practices around work, love, and living a conscious life. I have discovered purpose inside complex layers of wanting evolution. I can see, now, how those borders have always been informed by an interior landscape, whether I owned this fact or not.
This is a truth we all share.
The Audre Lorde Archive materials are predominantly audio recordings. Everyone I love is dreaming while I’m awake listening to student’s chairs scraping wood floors, birds chirping in public chorus, and occasionally a truck will rattle the open classroom windows as it barrels down the city streets. The digitized tape recordings also capture nervous laughter when Audre Lorde refuses to center whiteness – and white discomfort – in Black women’s lived experiences.
She asks the students, who are there to learn about poetry written by Black American women, “What is it you want to come from this investment?”
Because “what you want will help influence what you get.”
She names her expectations and her intentions: “What poetry will demand of you…is that you will not do it [experience Black women’s lives] comfortably. You will have to get involved or you will not get anything out of it.”
“I am here because poetry is crucial to me. It’s not merely what I do, it’s a way of living. And I believe it’s a way of living that can strengthen every person who takes part in it. I think that it is a crucial way of living for women and [inaubible]. I think that self-conscious recognition of our feelings are one of the primary ways of making the stuff we need to move through our lives. I think poetry is the visual actual recreation of this stuff in a way that can be shared and used. I’m here because I want to examine this body of literature which is very important, and I feel vital to me, in conjunction with the rest of you. … That’s why I’m here, because I’m greedy, because I’m curious and because I believe I am an endangered species, the same way each one of you is endangered.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
Establishing mutual visibility – we are all endangered species – through honoring of complexity creates an awareness, an opening, towards strengthening our respective relational capacities. I learned this personally from two wildly different yet equality vulnerable experiences this past August. What is beyond those lived experiences, and this specific poetics inquiry, is an embodied confrontation of feelings. It is a requirement of authentic participation in any relationship – from self to the project of a just society.
“…personal has become a very negative word for a lot of people…but how do you feel? Do you feel objectively? How is it possible to feel other than personally? You can feel personally about things that are very large and outside of yourself, but is it possible to feel objectively? There’s nothing wrong with the personal but I want to tell you, yes poetry is personal, it must be. It is the first place you start but it does not remain there. We [poets] take what is personal, we take what is experienced and we make a bridge, hopefully, to your experience that is different. That is the magical and wonderful quality of poetry. That it can arc across differences. It’s one of the few ways we have dealing with what is genuinely different between us. One of the key ways of making something creative out of that.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
“It is part of my work that I came to do and I don’t have 300 years any more than you have. I am interested in doing my work because it satisfies me on a lot of different levels, and part of my work is coming here saying to you – how are you doing yours? What is this work we are dealing with have to do with your work as a white woman, as a white German woman, as in who you are. … I am not an angel. I cannot descend upon you with a magic wand. I cannot transform you. I can throw out those things I know and invite you to make some connections. I invite you to use them for your life.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
The weight of that investment by way of personal invitation is strategic. Her liberation, theirs, and mine cannot be separated. Other class conversations have pivoted on global tensions of climate change, gender-based violence, and nuclear escalation. It is remarkable that our shared reality has us waking up to and living under the same violence today.
Thirty-three years have slipped through us.
What dreams, or as Lorde calls them “emotional blueprints,” must we encourage beyond political formations?
How might you use the weapon of active examination – and poetry specifically – to not only envision what is possible but also perform your and my liberation?
Dystopia in real time is not like the movies. We’ve digested so much spectacular violence we know no tender alternatives. Fighting feels so good. The characters we play on screen form dead weight on the streets and sink us in our bedrooms.
Persistence is extractive.
As surf buries smoothed rock, we turn the calendar page to July and spread like picnics under cloudless skies. Our flesh a moral document scrolling beyond politicized reach. After all, the bottom line is always evolving.
Sea levels have always been inconsistent.
Ideological battles are taken for granted outside a schema of pursuit. This adoration, a relationship of necessity, remains prone. A curious posture. Abuse is normal. Its purpose is to feel. Subtly is weaponized.
Perceived as commodities, we trade.
Auspicious tensions act as purifiers for taste, a basic sensation. Our judgements psychic protection. Didactic fracturing agitates into frothy comfort. Perceptions gain value for their ahistorical subjectivity.
Aspirational dissent is the chorus and the bridge to ——
If we listen carefully, joy is elegance reproducing itself into near future referential fits and starts. Inspiration is a slow bleed. Murmuring into abruptions delightful as salt penetrating unhealed wounds. An intimacy as ancient and poetic as opiates or fire.
“I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles – perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse.” — James Baldwin
I read all the names of the sacred rivers and creeks
as roadside memorials blurred into permanent mile markers
horizon x distance = distortion
horizontally speaking it was a longing
pressure folded into seductive resistance
when you knew you were in trouble, what did you do next?
these days and for some time since
I move with spiritual abandonment
neglect now atmospheric radiance
habitual as landscapes
my divided thoughts pulled to you