Pop psychology studies and
rosy cheeked optimists who always
turn the conversation away from unpleasant topics
and seem to be afraid of the depths
and seem to be afraid of digging.
Yes easy to pick on sometimes even
transparently stupid but
they have a point.
Thinking about negative things affects your performance.
It affects your ability to do
anyone who has ever played darts knows this
to say nothing of more complex pursuits.
And it goes beyond that
those little whorls of chaos
whether they are drug addicts
or perpetual victims
or just helpless fools
the people who can’t get chaos outside of their life
who regale you with their medical problems
who are always tired
or who are always angry always
fighting with the bus driver or the waitress
throwing things breaking things.
Have you ever known someone
who broke things consistently
without ever displaying anger?
Just kind of a blanket insensitivity to how things work?
They kill things by “accident” as well.
The superstitions about vampires and the evil eye
phenomenologically sum up generations of experience
even if the causality is fucked — the basic idea–
That negative, disorganized, sickness obsessed people
will make you physically weaker, dumber, less creative
more prone to accident and disease is
The dark has much to recommend it
Dark Eros, Thanatos, the facticity of your own death
the car wreck charisma of disaster
the vicarious enjoyment of suffering
that you do not have to work out
the fascination with the facial expressions of agony
these are real and valid subjects of art and meditation
and find places of honor in every spiritual tradition
of age and depth.
But they can also unground, and weaken and poison.
The magician needs to stay in the center of the circle
surrounded by the names of the positive forces
armed with weapons of power and craft
and the demons need to stay in the triangle
where they can be vivisected and interrogated and understood.
If you make a habit of letting the demons
run roughshod over your life
(or if you traffic much with the people who do)
you will find yourself working a lot harder
then you really have to.
Lady Gaga illuminated inside California’s burning.
The heat waves of her sex shimmer the coastal sage into nothingness.
A firefighter army wetting down her canyons with stiff hoses.
She comforts the weeping, who have lost all, with Shiva’s wisdom: “Just dance!”
and cold in my chest
I was not expecting your disdain
your habitual ugliness, competitiveness, game playing, deceit, manipulation, cowardice, viciousness, arrogance and/or vanity.
I had forgotten them.
Like I will forget them yet again.
You say (again) that I should have thicker skin.
I say that my religion is to shave it down,
ever thinner. Ever thinner.
My faith is that when I am fully, painfully present
you will be worth it.
95% of the time things are. I am
with a falling leaf
with a rain puddle
with a child playing in the park
I forget myself
and all my dodges and shenanigans
and skip off for some ice cream
until you come round the corner
your face all tight
showing scorn for my abandon
for my ratty shoes
And another ripping knife cuts out my breath
(Oh! I am supposed to own things. I am supposed to beat people
down. I was supposed to win something!)
Frozen-stopped, shamed, startled-quiet
Not no, but suddenly nothing.
A chill down my spine
as my hand swept through air
I had reached out and touched a ghost.
In the glitter and warmth
like the door breath of a bar
onto the Seattle streets at Christmas
Like Christmas when selfish people dress their homes
which they do not share with others
I had touched a ghost
I had felt the warmth of amplifier tubes and stage lights
incandescent filaments scintillating in vacuum behind glass
I had felt the warmth of stage lights and mistook them
for a person
I had touched a ghost
And the warmth on my skin
went down my spine cold
down into my heart cold
as the air around me was suddenly sterile and empty,
and your “I love you.” eyes, your “I might need something from you.” eyes
I was warm and then cold
and slightly humiliated
like you put my hand in warm water while I was sleeping
and I pissed myself.
The Mother Road
for Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson
So named for the rhyme
so it would be pleasing to say and hear
and it is.
The road itself — is it
the named road? — historical markers on
current spurs of other roads? Is it
the collection of abandoned segments
as it was here and there realigned over the years?
I would hate to exclude all that
dead asphalt roasting in the sun
that came to be for the purpose of that number
and the branching roads too
that carry us to the foundations
of the homes of the families that manned the gas stations
and grocery stores — and the stores themselves
doors blowing open and shut in a hot wind
broken dirty glass.
Not the glib sociopathy of the familiar song though.
Too many kids have listened to it without going down to see
or taking the time to read or look at pictures
rock and roll reality has nothing to add to the dust bowl
real men and women road up and down years before
Hollywood taught them that they were somehow sub-par.
Does it or does it not include
the segment from the 101 to the coast
which was never really a part of the road at all
but is part of the mythology (coast to coast)
and carries a modern sign
with a modern name (Will Rogers Highway)
in Santa Monica?
Seems so pop — no offense to old Will
but shouldn’t it be the John Steinbeck Hwy?
Or would that perpetuate the idea
that America loves it’s writers
(which it doesn’t.)
I just read another problem with poetry article. There are lots of them around because… well I don’t really know why. There is no problem with poetry. Poetry is just fine. There might be a problem with you — if you are one of the people I have personally met asking the question then my answer is probably that “You are stupid and lazy.” You want there to be some spigot somewhere which dispenses your particular favorite kind of aesthetic experience, and that does not and never will exist — get over it.
I have found a great deal of poetry that I like in the world — and I don’t mean Seamus Heany and Yusef Komunyakaa– who are both utterly brilliant and make me cry with jealousy whenever I read them.
I have found a great deal of first rate poetry handwritten in notebooks of individuals who go to little poetry readings around the country. There are thousands of those readings — most of them attended irregularly by 5-7 people. You might think that is a problem, they mostly don’t. Most of them have no aspiration to publish. Most of them don’t teach. The best poets I have met have been a cab driver, a guy on SSI for a basically fake mental illness, a clerk at a small independent bookstore, and a couple of mooches who lived off family or girlfriends. (I am thinking of specific individuals not categories.) The problem with the people who write “The problem with poetry.” articles is that they think in categories.
There is a problem with poetry magazines — they are mostly filled with crap. But that is the fault of the magazine editors. I saw enough good poetry in 4 years of looking to maybe fill 2 magazines. The magazines would have not appealed to any one demographic, and would not have been able to get advertising. Most of the poems would have been a single poem taken from a poet who had 100 other pieces. Most of the people would not have asked for any money to publish them.
These are not constraints that lead to a successful literary magazine.
The problem with poetry is that poetry is hard. A good poet will write 2 or 3 great poems in his life time. A great poet may write 10 – 15. If you want to be a good poet, prepare yourself for a life of heartbreak and a few moments of an indescribable ecstasy when you find a secret or two. If you want to read good poetry be prepared to spend your life thinking about why “that poem” the one you are reading now, didn’t work. Ask the question over and over again — stop being so generous. Stop pretending to like poems because they are by female writers, or black writers, or writers who like the same people you like and so remind you of yourself. Stop making it political, above all stop making it about yourself. 999 out of 1000 poems will leave you flat. If you ever want to find the good ones you have to ask yourself each time “Why?” you have to read each bad poem 5 times and ask yourself “Why?”
In that way you will become less stupid (first you must choose not to be lazy, and over time you will become less stupid because of that first choice.)
And then chance will start to bring you good poems.
Poetry is alive and well, right where it has always been — stop asking about it, start asking what you can do to deserve it.
Opening the heart center or
to come to the heart or
or looking outside of yourself (just a peak)
to take on the feelings of others.
One method to be sure
in Malibu when you see, from
the perch of your air conditioned Mercedes
calf vagina leather seat
that someone wants the parking space
in front of your yoga salon
so you go round the block one more time
Yanni in the CD changer
praising yourself for not jumping in front of him
even though with 10 cylinders of gasoline powered Viagra
that motherfucking parking place was yours
if you wanted it, but man
you are working on opening your heart cakra
and you put his needs ahead of your own.
And good on you.
No really — what you did was better than
just grabbing the place — we aren’t taking that away from you
and even though you mistake the feeling
of smug self satisfaction
that you indulge
over coffee, in the elevator, in any pause in conversation
as captive audience after captive audience
hears from you about self sacrifice and eastern religion
and whole foods and global warming
for the rest of the day
even though you mistake your pleasure in hearing yourself talk
for the actual opening of the heart cakra itself. It’s OK.
Forgive yourself! Self congratulations feels a lot like enlightenment.
And after all you did not see
for just one second
that person in the other car
as an opportunity or a threat.
And that is good.
But that is different from looking into
the vacant eyed man at the bus stop
working the dead end job
illiterate or almost so
saving for his retirement not knowing
that he has cancer
grinding out year after year in a loveless marriage
with a dim sense that a reward is coming
to replace the few bright days of his youth as they grow blurry and dim
and how before he can cash in his 401k he will fall to metastasis
and a confusing whir of medical personnel and machinery
and grudging visits from a resentful family and too soon
(oh, too soon… because even this you can get attached to)
A nothingness without a hint of redemption or satisfaction or glory
just a painful petulant question mark
extending and fading
There is a certain terrible beauty in that.
Talking to a friend of mine I said:
“You just have to let go of her, man.”
And he said
We all know what he meant — it has become a popular rejoinder
to the kind of bubble gum religiosity which spends itself
on surrendering parking places
and lectures on whole foods.
“I can’t.” surrender obsessions.
“I can’t.” surrender sin.
“I can’t.” surrender the pain that makes me so important.
When you see the terrible beauty
of the sad dying man at the bus stop
you will never say “I can’t.” again.
Because it isn’t true that you can’t,
what is true is that you must.
Because whatever bothering you right now is nothing.
You are that man
and first you are going to lose everything that you love,
and then you are going to die
and that is terribly exquisitely beautiful.
Don’t miss it.
The Healing Place of the Soul
Erach, Nippur, Tello, Ur, Ebla – four to five thousand years ago – the
oldest known Libraries on earth.
The House of Writings, from 2600 BC, and The Healing Place of the Soul –
in Thebes, Egypt. A hiding place from the world for kings and priests.
Sidon and Tyre, in Phoenicia, were open to the public.
Hattusas from 1700 BC, with Hittite retellings of Babylonian and
Sumerian stories. Created by person or persons unknown.
Abu Simbel Temple — saved from lake Nassar (sort of.) You’ve seen it on
Plato (a wealthy man) purchased a collection of books from Philolaus of
Tarentum, and another collection from Syracuse.
Aristotle’s library in Athens, the complete repository, by popular
opinion, of what was known in Greece.
Hadrian’s Library included lecture halls.
The Alexandria Library (Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Euclid and Ptolemy all
worked there. Intentionally burned.)
Trajan’s Ulpian Library. That Trajan.
The Herculaneum, destroyed by Vesuvius.
The Celsus Library at Ephesus
Ashur and Ninevah in Assyria
Hoepi and Loyang (this second where Lao Tzu, according to rumor,
was the royal librarian.)
Taxilia stood for one thousand years in India.
The Vatican Library, and archive. Mostly available now on microfilm.
The Mani Library. Intentionally burned. One hundred thousand Mayan texts.
La Bibliothèque nationale, Paris.
The Bodleian Library, Oxford. 50,000 square meters of floor space.
The New York Public Library – some forty-two million items including
about twenty million books.
The Internet – the largest single repository of knowledge in human
history and not likely to get any smaller any time soon. If there is a
disaster sufficiently large to destroy it, reading will be the last of
Alone in the campus library after hours
here are all the things I love about people
and a locked door keeping the annoying monkeys out.
Finals are over and
the tourists have gone home for the holidays. I am a pool cleaner
at a summer resort off season
sitting in a chaise lounge with my Coke.
Actually I am alone in the belly of this silent monument
with a printing press
making books for next seasons troops. The press is
chugging and chattering away
so I walk through the forest of architecture
and ordered shelves filled
with the work of my forebearers.
When I was eleven I would ride my bike to
a six story building like this one, and get lost
(a child on a college campus is invisible.)
I would troll through the canyons and collect
twenty-five or thirty volumes at random
nesting in an abandoned corner or cubicle.
Some would follow me home and get lost in my closet
(I paid $400 in overdue fees
one year alone.)
I went to the library for the solitude
and hoped I could bring it home with me.
It never worked.
The noisy chatter would start
and the books would be forgotten
until a notice would come. My mother
would pile us (the books and I)
into the car and we would feed them to the
big square brown return box
like a thousand broken promises.
I am so much happier in the library
when it is empty of bodies.
Our building is greater than we are –
this is what leads to the myths of the
decadadance of civilization.
Take Chartes as a monument of human suffering –
a great monument of political pride
built on the backs of peasant families.
Christ would blush to the roots of his thick black hair
if he knew that he was worshiped there.
Abu Griab (built in the cradle of civilization)
knows nothing of the misery of the children
who went without soup and shoes for the loyal tithe
the families that starved when their breadwinners
fell from the scaffolding.
Chartes is a horror and a monstrosity.
But there is something great in that we are willing
to kill and die for something beautiful to look at.
There is a heroism there which in unachievable
in the pursuit of any practical end,
you can feel it when you stand within it.
I lay on my back (the faint sounds of the distant press
fill the air with barely audible muted echoes) on the mezzanine
not so much flying as swelling to occupy the space
my eyes closed, I become large and porous
but wholly engaged.
I feel the contents of the library within me
and its boundaries pressing like old fabric against my skin.
I wear the library like a costume.
I breathe text.
The lines in the books run away in every direction
a billion interlocking corridors
in a tesseract, each picture is an Alice mirror
and cohesion floats within it
like a Cheshire smile.
The hypnotic rhythm of the distant press halts.
I stretch and go back down
to put more paper in.
Marmareos (reading mss 3/13/08)
In sun dappled pools within pools draped between
the Eurasian and African plates
battled it out in legions
with microscopic carapace and scutes
armor helmet and spear in miniature
life against life
they fixed carbon, and calcium and oxygen
fed and fought and died and fell
through the blue water to the darker blue and finally black
and piled into a slurry which soured and sweetened
heated and cooled as layer after layer hardened.
Inside: accreting calcite slowly forming
exceptionally clean limestone.
Centuries of millenia inched past
and Africa crept closer
shrinking what would eventually become the Mediterranean sea
the limestone subducted under Eurasia
to a depth of about 5 Kilometers and was crushed under 100 Atmospheres of pressure
at 500 degrees
and it slowly, slowly reacted — recrystallizing into exquisite Carrara marble
as it pushed back up under Tuscany (200 million years later) to finally
burst out into the sun to be quarried and cut and known the world wide
as the definitive color and texture of Classical statuary.
Of course the Romans painted it, which strikes us as repulsive
because since the toddler days of English (the statues themselves
are far older than that — despite Shakespeare’s and Shelly’s conceit)
these pure white volumes with spare elegant lines
have been the epitome of beauty – subconsciously wed
to Plato’s forms and Euclid’s Elements to create
the spiritual-aesthetic ideal of pure abstraction
which didn’t work very well wherever it was tried
and certainly had never existed.
All the subtlety of Rome comes from its antecedent,
and telescoping history.
Rome was the first bloom of rot on the flower of Greece,
and would decay further into the Church, and finally crumble
becoming the dark ages to lay
some violent and some literary,
with Arabic, Indian and Asian brightness
fractured it’s myopia.
The Greeks and Romans painted and gilded their statues — they were
gaudy and garish. It was the hand of time which wiped clean the sluttish color
and suggested to us that the carnal cartoon Roman Gods were ever meant to be
pure, abstract, spiritual or ideal in any way.
They were merely inevitable — and even that insight
had been stolen from the Greeks.
Politicians like Rome more than artists or saints.
Before gunpowder and telecommunications,
they were able to kill everybody
and take their stuff.
They called it bringing order, like we do today.
We complain about terrorism, they had barbarians.
A lot of their barbarians were fair skinned blonds,
ours are mostly olive skinned brunettes — don’t get all hung up on that,
it’s always gonna be somebody.
There were people who made a whole lot of money on it.
It’s always gonna be somebody.
What they did with it:
“Livia as Ceres”
portraits involved the imagination.
The 50 people you meet over
and over again
you give them gods’ names.
On the wall high above the exhibition floor
a poet, praising his King!
He only got away with it
because words are so light.
Statue of a young girl
irony of delicacy in stone.
Next to the portraits of soldiers
is Herodes Atticus
his face described as “sensitive”
but it looks patient and sad to me
maybe he is pausing for effect.
The forges of Vulcan
assisted by satyrs and
In reality, Vulcan is a writer.
A sarcophagus with the myth of Actaeon
spread over the panels
Myth, and later science, educates the eye.
It is not so much something to store
in a hopper of knowledge
and dump forth on test days,
but a method of how to form impressions
from the wash of radiant energy and
the occasional diffuse molecule
which collides directly with the forest of tendrils we extend
into the darkness.
my poor dim brain
floating past these hundred-some treasures
each with a thousand-some discernible details
boxed and unboxed
lifted polished cataloged described and photographed
vomiting up a few vague impressions
Hesse on sculpture, Proust on memory
perception from David Bohm. Even this dissatisfaction
I have stolen from Nabokov.
First rate thefts all,
but theft nonetheless — I can string the contraband out
in 4! different ways
for 24 essays without actually having to see anything.
But standing back from it, what strikes me is
how heavy the statues are, and how light words.
Horace’s cheap praise
of Caesar and Order
floating above all that stone.
You count on that knowledge every day, that knowledge that was given to you for free by your society. But you demand that people pay you for what you have to give. You get electricity, and the wheel, and the fundamental machines, and physics and music. You get language — but the idea of giving back — my god, I can almost hear you say “What has anyone ever done for me?”
What haven’t they?
We sit in our comfortable world — we want a life governed by easy to understand conventions. We kid ourselves that we want to “give back” — everyone gives lip service to how they want to “make a difference” — but we are counting every bean we put on the scale. We put our little copyright on every song, we build traps into our software, we litter the courts with patent lawsuits — because we just haven’t been given enough. “I need to get paid!” — what day of your life haven’t you been paid? We want more — and more and more and more.
How many small companies have been driven out of business by larger ones just for a percent of market share? It isn’t enough to win, we have to crush others — and we do it with the justification (I imagine that some costumed superhero grabs one of us out of a board meeting and is holding us in their hand ready to crush us and we bellow:
“I only wanted what was fair, I only wanted what was mine!”
As if we have ever given back for everything we’ve gotten scot-free in our lives.)
But I have a secret for you — a secret of why that tiny number who just give it away are willing to do it, despite how we all act. Why they are willing to dig and dig and give even when it gets thrown back in their faces. Even when their ideas are first rejected, and then stolen, when they are first ignored and then persecuted.
Creating de novo and opening a new vista of thought or expression for the Universe is absolutely the most fabulous experience that can be had by a human being. The process of spontaneously unfolding the unique miracle of who you are and what you are able to see beats any drug, any commodified high or distraction available in the world. INSIDE of you there is truth, there is a unique concoction thrown together by nature than can only think within certain bounds — those bounds have never existed before and will never exist again. Taken together they represent a single try by nature — like a bright yellow frog, or a beautiful blue butterfly. When you approach the problems that interest you, that unique essence inside you trembles and gives off light in a specific way that is ecstasy to experience (and actually, is beautiful to behold — if you have ever known someone who is committed to the realization of their own unique vision, and if you have seen them work, (or for that matter if you have seen Leonard Cohen sing) you can vouch for what I am saying.)
The light isn’t a visible light — this isn’t some new age moment — it is insight — it is a power of your mind that allows you to see where the rhymes are in a poem, that allows you to see where the lines are in a yet-to-be-drawn drawing. It illuminates an area somewhere between the world and your imagination, and what you see there you can then bring down into existence and give to the world.
And when the people who live so that such things can happen turn to us and ask us to change, when they ask us to stop being bloodsucking vampires, and instead to draw forth from our own hearts and give to the world like they do, it isn’t because they want to take anything away from us, but because they want to give us the ultimate value possible for a human being. It is because they want us to partake of the blessed freedom of creation.
And when they say it convincingly, we kill them.