Hard learning

“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

Seconda Emerging, Barry Stone, 2015

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.

Lesson: survival is a false dichotomy.

carry the message

“What use having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling?”
—W. Eugene Smith

Barbara Kruger, The Globe Shrinks (video still), 2010

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.

itinerant habits

I lean into the throat of summer.
—Jenny Xie, “Chinatown Diptych” from Eye Level

if she had it or NOT

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?

edgeplay

“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

OWING TO LACK OF INTEREST, TOMORROW HAS BEEN CANCELLED, artist unknown

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?

regeneration

Write about love,
long evenings,
the dawn,
the trees,
about the endless patience
of the light.

Adam Zagajewski, from “Letter From A Reader”, trans. Clare Cavanagh

7:16am

The sun is out,
bright marine layer.
A bus kneels at its stop.

7:30am

Every morning
a renewal
of acceptance.

7:31am

An honest question: how do you balance hope with truth?

8:22am

electric hum

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

“Whose Values?”, Barbara Kruger exhibit, Getty Museum, July 2015

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, nothing unimportant.

proportional speculation

Les Krims, 1970, spitting out the word p-h-o-t-o-g-r-a-p-h-y

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?

summer testimony (no. 4)

“What happens when you reposition agency away from power?” —Ocean Vuong, episode 227 of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso

Hayashi Waichi, Large Chrysanthemums, 1981

I’m writing this down
as proof of memory.
The sky is almost always
a solid backlit blue
unless it isn’t.
A specificity shared
by anyone who lives beneath it.
Not unlike knowing poppies don’t unfold
until midmorning and being aware, now,
how summer here blooms—
if you’re paying attention.
Gradients of time punctuate
while light cascades unnoticed.
In other words, there’s devotion
and there’s feral experience.

condolences

Having the equilibrium of a poet, I kept falling in love. — Frank Stanford,
“With the Approach of the Oak the Axeman Quakes”

Felicia Simion, Self Portrait, 1999

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.

revival

… Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

— Wendell Berry, last four lines of “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” from The Country of Marriage (1973)

Chieko Shiomi, EVENT FOR THE MIDDAY IN THE SUNLIGHT, 1963

Monday:
Beneath a gray sky, backlit bright,
the persimmon tree is full of leaves
as if it hadn’t just been naked for months.

Tuesday:
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”.

Wednesday:
I fingered the begging-for-it jade trees.

Thursday:
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.

Friday:
What if
this whole time
I’ve been writing my future?

junk stats

I CAN HEAR THE BIRDSONG CARVE SHAPES IN TIME, screen shot from Fishcakes and cocaine

“I shrug whatever is gone and welcome the changing truth.”
William Stafford, 25 September 1975

* crosswalks are supposed to keep you safe *

Consider this to be a true story, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to learn more.

* a moment, a chance, they are everywhere *

The orange tree has been gone for at least a year now?
It was one of those bright and sunny days.

* perpetrators hidden in plain sight *

Home is a loop, shadowed at its edges.
Go out and gather. Return /
insubordinate.

test. do you copy?

The western sky was a blaze of pink, the east still rising blue.
A new page to fill: birds, sky, trees, feelings.

The jade trees pop pink bright with crowned extensions.

That flutter in your heart? That sensation is the path to stay on.
Forward; dedicated. External validation is a half-life, decayed.

The bus stops. No one gets on.
Passive, it holds its line.

The news talks. I’m pretty sure the crows called out my name.

July 13, 2015 6:44pm PT

method making

“I set the limitations. The limitations of course are the color, the size, the wind in the room, and how I put the paint on.” —Pat Steir, Pat Steir: Artist

San Francisco, 2011

Can you quit something that doesn’t exist?

Portland, 2012

trace the traces
unknowingly, knowingly

Oakland, 2015

stay curious or die

respond

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

Hubert Hilscher, cover of Projekt No.1, 1969.

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?

accumulated chatter

Alexander Calder, 1966

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.

politics of knowledge

: you use a multiplier factor, the language. — William Stafford, 11 January 1976 (source)

Wet Hands (2015), Sanya Kantarovsky, Oil, Pastel, Watercolor, and Oil Stick on Canvas

It’s always the details.
You know the cliché.
The public is personal.
It’s just business
or fun
or boys being boys.

Years ago, now,
I asked about the narrator
in a room full of narratives.
I was told “story not facts”
is how we would “win.”
All the narratives nodded
into well-trained echoes.

souvenirs of temporality 

… 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

Maurizio Nannucci, THE MISSING POEM IS THE POEM, 1969

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.

zwischen den Jahren

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since said that the risk of being infected from a dead body is low, because they do not exhale.”
‘Humans need the ritual of saying goodbye’: the Covid life of a small-town funeral director

(slow heavy metal music playing), artist unknown

Some branches still have fruit, hanging heavy and waiting. Other branches broadcast their superior ability to let go. What is found in this imagined center is a hymn.

Do I leave the gaps alone and pick apart what remains? Flickering waves of mutilation swell tight and solicitous as an echo at the horizon. Curves turn into cliffs.

When asked how I survived this year, a question loaded with context, I answer: I’ve taken to stroking tree trunks to experience exotic touch, to feel materiality of time.

By the time attempts to describe loss become offerings of intimacy, the muted shine of flashbacks turn into conviction. I was always here — in this impermanent place.

I too remain untrustworthy like a cloud. What comes next is future’s damage. Replication, pattern, or suggestion: between “be well” and “goodbye” is tomorrow’s hopeful exhale.

elegy for the collective

Han Jin (South Korean, b. 1979), Inner Side of the Wind #1, 2017. Oil on linen, 130.3 x 130.3 cm

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?

glazed

“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 

Store-Bought Rolls, Thanksgiving 2015

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
constant calibration
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?

fever dream

Photographer: Ren Hang

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.

go in pleasure

“There is a sense in which we are all each other’s consequences.”
—Wallace Stevens, All the Little Live Things

DTF, July 2018, Oakland, CA

Every day has been a chance
to live within the margins
that remain and maintain
the rigor of keeping it together.

Some normalized themselves
to a saturation point when
conspiracies’ realities are
unconfirmed real threats.

The calendar says winter is coming.
Where is this god that so many claim?
The one that protects and loves us or
that other one that enjoys mercy.

Queer as feelings, speculation has left
us wild. Go ahead—we might as well
make our own temporal decisions.
Loud, quiet, loud. Fringed dynamics.

The greed of men. A sagging breast.
Haphazardly adjacent as ecstasy.
Our animal consciousness seek
what we recognize, warm refuge.

doing well, thank you

Take fear and call it lust

They’re quiet, the choir, their voices go higher
The choir, the choir, their voices go higher

— Palace Music, “Brute Choir”

WEAPS, December 2014, Oakland

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.

swallow

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

artist unknown

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.

stuttering days

If the water should cut my mind, set me free — Cat Power cover of  Bathysphere

Claire Falkenstein, From Point to Cone, double-sided lithograph, 1977

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.

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?

rest, even in war

I AM TASTING MYSELF
IN THE MOUTH OF THE SUN

—June Jordan, excerpt from “Intifada Incantation: Poem #8 for b.b.L”

PANIC CAREFULLY (photographer: unknown)

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.

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.

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 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.

It is June and the radiator is still spitting.

backwash of rumor

[Let the bears devour our enemies]. We have no obligation
To open // ourselves // for those who do us harm.

last stanza of “[SOMEWHERE IN LOS ANGELES] THIS POEM IS NEEDED” by Christopher Soto

SHOW UP, Oakland, November 2017

Recede
like waves—
a motion,
refract.

When speculation
is commercialized
what power is ceded
by paying attention?

On distracted authority,
faith becomes the plan.
Repress judgment.
Feel your immediacy.

__________
title borrowed from Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

time bound

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”

Helena Almeida, Sente me (1979), screenshots from Film von Sylvain Bergère

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.

fear needs attention to exist

This is a special way of being afraid — first line of third stanza in “Aubade” by Philip Levine

PLEASE DESTROY (detail), from the daily writings of William Stafford (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

do you feel fear ineffably?
personal, not public — self as an other

the social distance in between
hoax and binaries and stimulus

do you feel subtleties?
curated indoor skies — measuring light

efface negation
imperfect present

do you feel like you are repeating yourself?
ritual or repetition — your reputation

in situ

There was a sun once
It lit the whole damn sky
It kept everything
Everything alive

Jawbreaker — Shield Your Eyes

3 November 2017, Berlin

what gods are inside you?

have you asked them for help?
will they respond in time?

5 June 2018, Portland, OR

The different names for the soul, among nearly all peoples, are just so many breath variations, and onomatopoeic expressions of breathing.” — Charles Nodier (1828)

14 September 2019, Oakland, CA

my idle hands are:
structures of experience
polymorphic intentions
dimensions of interstitial time
devils playthings
listening

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.

rhyme scheme

“What is secret never has total objectivity.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

screenshot from the documentary “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon” (1968)

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.

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.

salvaging

“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

“your dream is my nightmare,” (trans. google) Berlin 25 Oct 2019

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.

slow blink to xmas

Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very depth of the last days…

-Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Untitled, 1984-85.

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?

morning shadows

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”

Helen Lundeberg, Islands, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 127 x 127 cm.

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.

seven years and a day

artist: Yuko Shimizu

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)

proper exit

Alicia Eggert, This Present Moment, 2019, 96″ x 157″ x 59″, steel, neon, custom controller

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.

danger & excitement can feel the same

Richard Moult – In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There

“What is it that keeps up from drowning in moments that rise and cover the heart?”
Anne Carson, Plainwater

the plot was a repeat
   a rerun

did you see that emergency flare?
it was bright
    red

inevitable

our skies hold light
      white
then expand
  blue

debate shatters into silence

we meant to say ineffable

details spread diluted
revenge collects into thriving tragedy

what hope hunts has no reflection
survival now the most obvious commodity

danger and excitement can feel the same
our bodies keep trying to tell us this news

live as in
right
now —

we grope backwards

enquiry for a future that does not yet exist

All responsible witnessing engages a poetic experience of language. — Jacques Derrida, Sovereignties in Question

Dusting off the Male Gaze, Yuku Shimizu

It was the way you phrased the question
like scripture or that tone reserved for family
a sharpness of being open ended, interpretive.

You wanted to know about future memories
cached in bucolic 2020 time capsules.
When would we be notified of the opening ceremonies?

How would the reveal of selective imaginations cast
replicas of value and what will remain
in desire’s form? Why do we save time this way?

You wanted to know just how, exactly, would revelry
produce nostalgia. I answered in kind.
Why do men’s hands have a gravity to them?

x + y =

AN ARMY OF LOVERS SHALL NOT FAIL – title on cover of The Lesbian Tide, Apr. 1973

Road to the Ranch, 1964, Georgia O’Keeffe

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
in between.
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?

elaborate form

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

Personal photo from the daily writings of William Stafford, 1976. (William Stafford Archives, Estate of William Stafford)

eyes
food, religion
to the sky, to the land –
bowed in turn
that precious treasure
fire, fire
expired
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.

15 March 2019, Ocean Beach 

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 on 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.

long division

“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”

Shujiro Shimomura, Poster Design, 1929

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.

call & response

Muir Beach Overlook, 17 November 2018

In all this drama, we repeat it’s ok. The edges of this suffocating generalization mostly true. Tops of hills beg to be seen. These words written by fire, from light reflected.

Where are our dreams going? Break into your savings and share.

Do not forget: breath is movement.

 

anticipatory grief is poiesis

Danny Lyon, From 89 Beekman Street Looking South in Fulton Street, c. 1967, from The Destruction of Lower Manhattan

“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?