Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Simple Mistake, or Everyone Loses It to New York City


Whenever I confuse train rides with romanticism, I happen to sit behind the tobacco-chewing fraternity brothers--hand-over-crotch, looking for ass to tap, comparing spring break rendezvouses (which are "the shit")/tropical beaches ("the shit")/blunt binges (pot is "the shit")/Jamaican godfathers, spitting into empty Cherry Coke bottles. One says, I'd fuck Katie. The other says, I know tons of fucking girls way fucking hotter than fucking Katie. Wow, I struck a chord, the one says, when really he means, Wow, I struck a nerve, and I can see how the two could be confused, chords and nerves being as similar as trains and romanticism, and I can see how we are all, at some time or another, careless or lazy or, rather, overeager, but now he has me imagining all our little nerves--especially the ones connected to women named "Katie," maybe covering her, shroud-like, or maybe more like a web--are ill-tuned guitar strings and to strike them is something of a rustic serenade, something like Will Oldham, maybe, or the queen of discordance, Josephine Foster, veiled in a tangle of her own hair, singing "Crackerjack Fool": shrill, tremulous and intoxicating.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Stupor, This New England Haze


We spend our nights with men with the waists of seven-year-olds, men who know how to tie bow ties over Italian cotton shirts, men who cross their legs, fold ascots, quote Gertrude Stein and Julia Kristeva, and we're all listening to one of them say, "He is the subject born out in death," which becomes the joke of the night, but really, when we're laughing, we're thinking about that boy--not swinging from the basketball hoop, but swinging like strange fruit--so now we're thinking of Billie but listening to someone quite different, maybe some electro-pop band who thinks seriously and plays seriously; and these are men I only see through a veil of cigarette smoke. And, in fact, this whole city is shrouded, but not in smoke and not in mourning. Something like too much time. Memories "inherited through an umbilical cord," a friend said--a flood of nostalgia for a mother's memories before she was Mother--and do you know how weighty this can be? Inheriting age when all you want is salve for your raw tongue and vodka (not the Naragansett shit they use to grease themselves) and something close to but not quite love: "all sharp new remarkable ... collection of angels." Most times I just sit and listen to their chatter. Our ashes fall through cracks in the wood floors. We spill beer on the floors, too, our libations to the architectural gods of the mid to late eighteenth century. Most times they let me be. We always play music, and there wasn't it time it wasn't on. I pretend I'm with the smoke and this is New England, my friends: an invitation to watch what might have been and what has been, the happy voyeur.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Through blizzards and desert heat," without the desert heat


I don't judge the early pagans for worshiping weather, of assigning gods and goddesses to the snow and wind, because when I woke up the other day to see New England cocooned in snow, I wanted to
sacrifice a goat right then and there, say a few words in Latin or Old English, perhaps, and poor out a libation on my stoop, if only to melt a pathway through the ice so I could get to work. My need to sacrifice a goat to Khione, goddess of snow, came about in part by my unpreparedness. The ancient Greeks didn't have Converse back then, but I'm sure their footwear was equally ill-suited to blizzards.

We forget to stand in awe of the effects of nature, though; we have our shovels and salt and snow plows (everyone and their mother has personal plows attached to their Fords and Jeeps here). You can't worship that which you don't fear. God forbid there comes a time when I don't fear snow or the Beauty that waylays the poet in the midst of her journey.

But it's not the difficulties snow brings on me (oh, so much slow trudging) nor the dull, numbing violence of cold that awes me; it's that muted-ness only snow can bring - when the whole world becomes soft and silent, and even the cars seem to tip-toe across town, afraid to wake some slumbering child; and the freshness of newly fallen snow. They say spring is the season of renewal, but it's winter: when the snow reminds us again how much we love the bowing pines and the empty space between houses; how we thank God for hedges and lampposts and even the wire waste bins, which now seem to be made for the express purpose of lifting white mounds of snow up to the light, how even the drab stoops of creaking houses are lovable again and every frosted alley deserves portraiture.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Walk

I refuse to believe your forgetfulness, as if you didn’t have an epiphany

when I had an epiphany. We hadn't spoken for some time, your brother had

just won a competition welding bicycles onto the shells of refurbished Impalas, and

Foster Wallace had just hanged himself, though we hadn’t yet heard

and this wasn’t the epiphany. I watched a man in rags on the opposite bank sway in tides,

hunching, unhunching, and you wore such a sensible scarf

for September, paisleys like pond scum rippling out across your neck.

You say you don’t remember the geese’s noisy irreverence or the birch dropping

their gold under our feet, mocking us. I took just enough

steps to keep up, all the while stealing

your private clich├ęs: your self-sacrificing ‘life lessons,’ your 'care deeply’

which you always claimed meant something

other than I meant. But this wasn’t it. I watched you look for his eyes

across the water, because when you see strangers seeing you, you want to wave.

You want to hold him there with you, but while finding his eyes you missed how his arms

arched toward each other, over his head, a wobbling circle,

as if embracing himself or the air. This wasn’t it either.

It was the moment of imbalance: you continuing ahead

in silence while I paused, and saw our man emerge

from the shade: two Canadian geese arching their obsidian

necks away from each other, fighting over something

solid floating out with the tide.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas Letter

The family liked to think itself nomadic, and not only because it implied a certain distinction from permanence and things with roots, but because it rang of something ancient: old and sincere madness. "Nomadic" conjured images of hunters following herds of food, letting their livelihood lead them in a wild way, and even though the herds for this family might be small huddles of private colleges in the Northwest city of Seattle or a host of coffee houses pretentiously adorned with names such as "Vivace" or "Caffe Ladro" or "Appassionato," the family entertained this likeness. This is why the Father said, "We will move farther North and farther West," and this is why the family said, "Yes. We will go with you." And for two years, they lived, clan-like, at the edges of lakes and between mountains. They loved each other - the Father and the Mother and children: the Oldest, the Daughter, and the Youngest - and they loved their massive God, whom they found in renovated warehouses, in schools, in coffee houses, in used books.

But one year, everything changed - as everything usually does - not their love, but their possibilities. They moved apart from each other, each going his or her own way with only words to hold them together, so they chose their words carefully. They tried to create something pithy, like taking all the grapes in a vineyard to make a single bottle of pinot noir or, perhaps, more like the way Conan O'Brien takes national crises and makes a one-liner.

The Oldest moved upward in the ranks of his employer, working stolidly toward success, which might be called "the apex of the nearest radio tower." He filled data sheets, presented data sheets, traveled to be with friends (his great passion) and to escape data sheets. He wore half-zip wool sweaters, worked out of coffee shops, got his exercise playing Frisbee in city parks. He served and would soon lead in his church. When he spoke of himself, he used the words "full-fledged" and "stereotype." But he said these words with a certain measure of self-satisfaction, knowing he was born full-fledged and knowing everyone is a stereotype of themselves.
"All this to say," he said, "things are busy, but full and good." And this was his motto, his driving principle, the mantra of positivism he embodied.

The Daughter finished her schooling and decided to use her new bachelor's degree to work multiple hourly wage jobs across the country from her clan. She made an effort for romanticism (though she knew no such thing existed) by traveling to another water - the cold gray of the Atlantic - and the paradoxical state of Rhode Island. It was here she relearned how to read with means but no end, how to write for herself rather than for professors, how to live through soup cans and punch cards. She used the recycled words "Is it enough?" and "How soon is now?" In Rhode Island, she found the answers were, "Yes," and "Morrissey."

The Youngest was cherished by all because of his youth, which to the rest of the family would be eternal despite his towering height and wide shoulders and increasingly shadowed chin, and because he knew the hidden insufficiencies of words, so he spoke little, letting his louder siblings create the ruckus while he smiled his silent smile. He finished high school in this year of change and began college. Entertaining ideas of working in white laboratories and creating new, unseen, unimagined things, he studied biology and chemistry, and he studied the mechanics of Nerf guns and the beautiful ways in which foam darts weighted with electrical tape could arc through the winter air toward someone else's head. He used the words "collegiate freedom," laughingly, and "well on my way."

But it was the Mother and Father who changed the most, though their children had thought otherwise. It was the Mother who finally said, "This is home," a new appellation for the Northwest, and all the blue mountains covered in snow breathed a sigh of relief at her acceptance. She taught children who needed her, gave them a love not many can or will give, and because of this, she learned about hope, she felt her age, she could look to the future and say with her beautiful smile, "We'll see!"

The Father was employed by the church but worked for the people, in the way that a lighthouse never serves itself but serves the ships at sea. So, it was the Father who used the words "empty nesting," but he meant and later said, "roomier," because he knew there was little difference but perspective between emptiness and space, space to be filled by resurrected sense of adventure, conversation, prayer - unceasing prayer - and grace, which was his favorite.

In this way, the family ended a year of change, looking forward to another year (meaning more possibility), never losing sight of their herds, their nomadic lives.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing is Hell

Almost a full month has passed since my last entry. I blame work and new friends and laziness, but most of all, I blame the inherent daunting-ness of writing. Jorge Luis Borges said, "What a writer wants to do is not what he does," which is a little Pauline for my liking, but I can forgive Borges that because he's spot on. I want to write and yet I don't. I don't want to write and yet I can't process anything without it. Without the binding of text I think my mind would bounce aimlessly from pointlessness to pointless, eventually taken up by this New England winter wind and shuffled off to God knows where. Probably to Minnesota or Nebraska, if God operates as ironically as I think he does.

To avoid processing, I've let others process for me: Alice Munro and Toni Morrison and, most recently, Laurie Sheck. Unfortunately, Munro writes a world in which everything explodes in subtlety. Morrison divides everything in two. Sheck writes words all poets love/hate: "sometimes," "always," "enough."

The point being, I'm in a rut of avoidance. More coming soon!

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No Summer As Yet

by Laurie Sheck

And no summer as yet, but it will come with its bright peices of whatever,
Sorted by the eye yet still uncaptured,
Greenly branched and various with promise. I'd like to watch it long enough,
Held fast by the laws of its sequencings and shappings, and be so carried, the way the mind goes in
Search of an after that will temper what has come before,

Or sometimes not—: Did I tell you of the man I visited last week, who hasn't lost the ability
To move his tongue, his lips, to laugh or cry or sing or use his voice, yet is unable
To utter any words, just a few unintelligible syllables,
And recognizing this, stares into the face of it
As at the eggs in an opened anthill? I don't know how to think of him. We are so rawly made,
So carried into the harsh and almost-dark.

As if stung in the throat. As if seared by a narrow wire-like blaze
Sharply upon the air and always.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This American Life-ish

As a result of spending the majority of my New England life in the locus of all capitalistic evil (the mall), I have started seeing my workplaces as microcosms representing everything spiteful of American life:

Customers leaving their shopping carts two feet from the shopping cart receptacle = the American lack of motivation to complete projects (e.g. Barack Obama's failure to conclude his inauguration by ceremonially sacrificing George W. on the White House lawn, the Mercer Street exit).

Customers cleverly hiding items they no longer want, hoping no one blames them when I find all 15 on-hand Robinson Home whisks tucked under the basket weave place mats = the American bad habit of hiding bad things in seemingly good things (e.g. using the Spanish-American war as an excuse to colonize small island nations, hiding spinach in my younger brother's pizza when he was three).

Customers' tendency to describe books they want as, "That new book Oprah likes" = the American obsession with stardom (e.g. stick-on "soul patches" during the Apollo Ono rage, hanging out with tax collectors and loose women because Jesus did).

Customers who bring ten Danielle Steel books to my register and expect me to smile at them = McDonald's (e.g. McDonald's).