Texas and Permanent Opposition

The Texas abortion law unleashes vigilantes and corrupt judges on law abiding citizens and the Supreme Court keeps silent. I’m crying. And if you’re reading this you probably are also.

Mencken said it’s the business of the journalist to stand in permanent opposition. This means a presumption of guilt for the powerful who love to wash their hands. The refusal to stay the Texas assault on liberty tells us the majority of the Supreme Court justices were in the lavatory scrubbing away. One wonders what tunes they sang while soaping up.

For some it’s too difficult to distinguish between the apple and the tree. No one should be confused by vigilantism tricked out in judicial robes. I’m paraphrasing John L. Lewis here: “No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of women’s rights and a woman’s right to choose or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of human rights.”

The Book Case

Doors opening, gardens revealed, and then dark carriages appear, another neighbor gone. The books are a throng, waiting. But waiting for what? The next death; birth; sad marriage; war. Volumes sit like satisfied men in a carriage. In a different light they resemble sad playthings from childhood.

When I finger them I say, “I could call you. I’m standing in blue weeds and drifting clouds and I could call.” And what might you say–Eluard, Transtromer, Hannah Arendt, Dear Langston Hughes, would you console me while I’m talking from my place in the walking wind? Everyone puts her or his words in vaults of oakum. Whispering and touching are up to the readers.

This book case must hold sadnesses and a few joys. It says to itself, “it’s still beautiful to feel the heart throbbing.”

And so here I am de-cocooned from dreams…

And so here I am de-cocooned from dreams.
Crickets don’t usually sing in the mornings, but now…
Percy Shelley was nice to people who interested him.
Everyone do your own joke.
C’mon orphan, one mitten is better than none.
Old man in Savo steals his neighbor’s teeth.
John Locke was the ghost behind Jefferson.
I love “War and Peace.”
“Stout, about the average height, broad, with huge red hands; he did not know, as the saying is, how to enter a drawing room and still less how to leave one; that is, how to say something particularly agreeable before going away.”
Sunup you get to be the sunup man.
Jacques Derrida didn’t understand a thing about nakedness.
John Locke: “Personal Identity depends on Consciousness not on Substance.”
“We don’t get much consciousness around here fella!”
Blue Jay just now seems to have silenced the crickets.
I wonder how crickets hear?
Two apples fell outside my window as I wrote that.
Without consciousness, no crafted lives.
Without craft no freedom.
Neighbor in Savo steals his teeth right back.
My guide dog walks me around a birdcage that’s inexplicably sitting on a sidewalk.

I woke this morning wanting to write…

I woke this morning wanting to write. Did you feel this too? You may be a writer! There’s a broken connection between things and it’s hard to name. Ten minutes into the day and already you feel alone. Yep. You’ve got the scribbler’s fancy alright. its best to write something.

Like: what did Judas do with his money?
Like: if you put your nose against the riverbank can you describe the smell in a single word?
I know these are foolish examples.

Years ago while visiting the former Soviet Union I sat up in my hotel bed and thought, “the microphones in the walls can’t hear my stream of consciousness! Ha!”

Meanwhile, just now, there’s the undeciphered day.

I hope you’re writing.

**

It will be September soon and our living stands still.
Now crickets sing at night and wave their canes.
Summer went by so fast.
The ships of dream sit together in the moonlight.
I don’t know much.
Birds are passing.

**

Derrida says animals are naked without knowing it which in turn means they’re not naked. Very well. But animals are also clothed without knowing which means what? Oh, back to nakedness. I get it now! No one can escape nakedness! Well then, Jacques, just say it.

**

When I wake and stand, a hinge moves in my lower back. It’s the Darwin hinge. It says, I’m no longer a horse–as I was in dreams.

**

The bus crawls through the summer evening.

**

You see, I’m all over the place: morning, evening, up river and down.

**

Here’s to the walking wind as summer disappears.

No Title to Begin With

I go on writing to the ocean
Because I’m foolish.
Ice blue as the sky.
Now what?
Old phone call
With a poet long gone.
He was an unhappy man
Who tried as best he could.
The sea outwits the pen.
Amber glow of houses.
Of clarity I know little.
Last night in the small hours I woke
To a voice:
“You used to play the guitar.”
Yes I need to be silly as I age
Mr. Dream.
I call this poem:
Man lying on his back
Under the high trees.

Death Holds My Ficus Tree, etc.

What I wouldn’t give to return to the past. You know the myth. So many stories…he goes back in time to prevent a war. But now I’ve changed my mind. It’s pointless. When you go back the ones you love aren’t there. Death’s real estate doesn’t open. You’re simply in another age standing in a thicket.

The personal past is like a garden, it’s different from the scenario above. Death is there alright, but you can hand him a potted plant and tell him to stand still. The one thing death hates more than anything is being forced into a tableau vivant. I pose him at my mother’s burial. He holds a ficus tree. My mother who died horribly because of a botched operation, whose graveside was unattended by anyone really, and then the undertaker appeared and handed me a black trash bag–a fucking Hefty bag–and said, “these are her personal effects from the hospital.” Her nightgown, a teddy bear. And death with the decorative tree. In my little garden death has to hold that thing forever.

Yes of course the personal past is a joke. If you go there it’s like sitting in an armored car without money.

We love the mythic trans-personal utopian past. Zip back in time and prevent the dictator from being born–ha! Mrs. Hitler goes for a walk in the park because you’re there selling balloons and Mr. Hitler, well you know, the Onan thing.

So this trans-personal past visitation theme is also a joke. This is why we love lamps at the windows. Reassurances in the dark! Wanna see my mother’s teddy bear?

**

As a disabled kid this was always the way of things. I remember the day a substitute teacher (who must have been all of 20) made fun of my blind eyes in an eighth grade math class. “Who are you looking at?” she said, with what today they call “snark”—and my “Lord of the Flies” classmates burst into laughter. I got up and fled the room.

I sulked. All alone. I knew a good place in that school. In the bomb shelter. I wept among empty aluminum water cans with radiation logos stenciled on them.

The crippled kid’s past is without equilibrium.

Your past is also unbalanced.

The writer has to fix this or admit it in just the right way.

I remember rather liking the fact that the bomb shelter was filled with empty cans. I thought: where did the water go?

Essay on Assorted Chocolates

When I want to get the attention of a co-worker I send her or him or they an email with the subject line: “Assorted Chocolates.” In truth I’m not much for chocolates but my studies suggest most are. You may wonder what goes “in” such an email. Here’s a sample:

To: Herkimer Kiwi
From: Kuusisto
Subj: Assorted Chocolates  

Dear Professor Kiwi:

There have been many kings of France but there’s only one copy of Sartor Resartus in our university library and you have it. Moreover library records show you’ve had it for ten years. This is your right as a member of the faculty and I presume you’ve rightfully renewed the book many a time and even if you haven’t we both know you’re free of consequence owing to your privilege as a “knowledge worker” but in these digital times “not the smallest cranny or dog-hole in Nature or Art can remain unilluminated” and I’m on to you Kiwi. One must ask “what do you do with the book?”

Kiwi doesn’t reply but I’ve hit him with marzipan and I know he knows it.

One should not expect replies from the Kiwis.

**

Chocolate #2:

Poor Groucho Marx. He once had diner with T.S. Eliot. He was hoping to have a serious discussion about literature. Eliot wanted to talk about comedy. Who needed “what” more?

I like this question. My guess is Eliot needed comedy more than Groucho needed to talk about poetry. Eliot worked in a bank.

Groucho’s mistake was to assume poets know how to converse about their art. I’m not saying they can’t write about it or give prepared lectures on the subject–not at all. But poets tend to clam up when one asks the question: “what’s your process?”

I’m betting Groucho asked Tom the third rail question above.

Worse is talking about comedy. There’s E.B. White’s quote: “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.”

One pictures Groucho and Eliot dining on frogs.

Chocolate #3:

It is entirely possible Eliot and Groucho talked of Shakespeare but the surviving account of their evening suggests it was glum. Here’s how I’d have liked it to have gone:

Eliot:

“Shakespeare was the first comic writer to dramatize reverse psychology as Petruchio, a wandering nobleman, undertakes the wooing of Kate who’s notoriously short tempered and cruel:

“Say she rail; why, I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash’d with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
and say she uttereth piercing eloquence.”

Groucho:

We are the ones invited to say she rail; we’re instructed to become as devious as Petruchio. Taken into his confidence we’re delighted by his promissory book of lies.

Eliot (waving a frog leg):

“That’s comedy. Not as a vehicle for pratfalls or put downs, but discernment where the irrational is concerned.”

Enter the waiter.

Chocolate #4:

A game I play, more often than I should admit, is a dramatic transference for which there may be a name but I’ve never found one. Perhaps there’s something in German. In short, I employ the characters of Shakespeare and Moliere as standard bearers for people I meet and especially for  public figures. The literary term for this is “comparison” but what I’m describing is better than that—“kayfab” is what they call it in professional wrestling, where everyone, both wrestlers and fans collectively pretend a false drama is real. Essentially I live and have always lived since my late teens in “Tartuffe” and “The Taming of the Shrew” and at this stage of life there’s no help for it.

Chocolate #5:

Are you still with me?

Both Moliere and Shakespeare grew up watching morality plays, fables whose stock characters were invariably named God, Death, Everyman, Good-Deeds, Angel, Knowledge, Beauty, Discretion, and Strength. Because they lived during the first flowering of public literacy they understood the indispensable healthiness of word flipping. Talk about nature’s bounty! Words were no longer merely to be received and absorbed. Can you imagine the joy of a 17th century adolescent forced to watch Everyman or The Second Shepherd’s Play, as he substituted Satan, Life, Neighbor, Sin, Second Rate Demons, Ignorance, Ugliness, Gossip, and Basic Human Weakness for the stock characters of religious drama? Of course you can.

Blind

People on bicycles
Pass the dirt colored houses
Each with a half chosen image
And yes sometimes our eyes are bitter
When birds fly away
I know these things
I like the phrase up river
Though I don’t know why
If you can drag yourself to believe
God’s eyes are “on” this morning
Great things are coming
Water falls on my wrist
When I wash a cup
I listen to my heart
For the simple reason
That many say otherwise
I picture the bicyclists
Like Aztec hieroglyphs
With their portions of sun
Here at the bottom
Of the sky

Thinking of Randall Jarrell

I’m growing old now Randall
And all I want is a little oakum
To put myself back together.

I’ve lived in a broken way—
A soul lost in a field of flowers
Waiting for kindnesses.

I swear I’m trying to get to the point.
The spruce in my yard
Looks like the hand of a clock.

Alright. That’s about it.
“The ways we miss our lives are life.”
Almost autumn, I can smell leaves

Touching the very air.
Blindness is a perfection.
I can live in this voice.

Disabled, Walking Around in Public…

Like it or not, even with your beloved dog beside you you’re still an outsider in most public spaces. Moreover, you’re “the show” and there’s no help for it. You’re the guy riding the old wooden escalators in Macy’s Department Store, while a hundred people stare. “I feel like I have a fried egg glued to my forehead,” I once said to my wife as we were navigating an airport. “You do,” she said. You can count on your spouse. When I think more deeply about this I think in terms of history. I belong to the first generation of public disabled. We’re not in the institutions. The laws of the land welcome us. Of course I’ll be stared at. 100 years from now, when everyone will have wild looking quasi-electronic rubberized appendages attached to their bodies this era will seem like ancient history. I hope for that.

Meanwhile one walks about. And you know you’re a symbolic father or mother. A political symbol if you will. In a way, every space you enter is a frontier. You’re clearing the road for others who may follow. I often think about the business of clearing. I’m not just asserting a right to inhabit public space for the disabled but for all my brothers and sisters who are still outsiders.

I took to whispering into my guide dog’s ear: “What’s an outsider?” Perhaps being a pack animal she knew, but she only said: “It’s something in the past.”

Dogs eat grass, just to know what’s in it. They eat the past. A lesson. Get over yourself.

And you do for a minute. You imagine you’ve eaten the grass; the here and now has fallen; you can taste a pure democracy. But the here and now is like rain at the windows, just persistent enough to haul you back from utopia. You’re in the Seven-Eleven again, being stared at by absolutely everyone. “What’s that man doing?” says a child to its mother. “Shush,” says the mother. “No Mommy! What’s that man?” “Shush,” she says, “Or there’s no birthday for you!”

You’re innocent. You are standing beside a rack of Twinkies and Hohos, just trying to figure out where the coffee is located, and now your the un-indicted co-conspirator behind the ruination of some kid’s birthday, all because you entered the damn store.

“You’ve entered the damn store” became a personal tag line. My father who served in World War II used to say, “You’re in the Army now, you’re not behind the plough….” His way of saying you’re screwed and just get over it.

In Macy’s I was once followed by a store detective. I was walking just to walk. Working my dog around mannequins and racks of clothing, mostly because it was something to do and it was a good exercise for the dog, and you know, what the hell. Sam Spade was about ten feet behind me wherever I went. What’s an outsider? He’s whatever they say he is. He doesn’t look like the other crayfish. Let’s eat him.