Janine Pommy-Vega is throwing verses at me right now, but I'm too busy recalculating Bob Kaufman's prosody into a six-piece chicken meal for my inner child, whose Talmud is being eroded by interplanetary Celts. "Get down, man, like," I say, "like, dig me, from the fulcrum of the inside out!"" And so on and so forth until midnight, when the vulture picks the decade clean.
31 December 2009
Behold the bonfire. And, as this is the last day of the year/decade, behold a few "Top Ten" lists I've thrown together:
Top Ten Books I Enjoyed in 2009
10. The Slave Next Door, by Bales & Soodalter
9. School of the Americas, by Lesley Gill
8. The Great Derangement, by Matt Taibbi
7. The Frank Book, by Jim Woodring
6. Methland, by Nick Reding
5. The Torturer’s Wife, by Thomas Glave
4. Post Office, by Charles Bukowski
3. True Grit, by Charles Portis
2. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
1. Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino
The Worst Ten Ailments of 2009
10. Excessive Tartar Buildup
7. Stomach flu
6. Food poisoning
5. Swine flu
4. Death Anxiety
2. Generalized Fatigue
1. Recurring Stye
Top Ten Annoyances of 2009
10. Leaky Basement
9. Writers & Poets With Low Ego Resilience
8. Meter Maids
7. Shoveling Snow
6. Lazy Students
5. The Little Things (rent, utilities, personal hygiene)
4. Fear of Swine Flu Death
3. The MFA Master’s Exam
2. Fruit Flies
1. Recurring Stye
Best Albums of the Decade (in no particular order)
* The Greatest – Cat Power
* Selmasongs - Bjork
* Stankonia – Outkast
* Stories From the City, Stories From The Sea – PJ Harvey
* Accelerate - REM
* Icky Thump – White Stripes
* Let’s Get Free – Dead Prez
* Ten New Songs – Leonard Cohen
* Blacklisted – Neko Case
* Modern Times – Bob Dylan
Best Film of the Decade
Inland Empire, dir. by David Lynch
Top Ten Lightning Bolts Exploding Across The Luminous Void of My Existence...of the Decade
(1) Paddling into Canada’s pristine Quetico and subsequently getting my shit together.
(2) Careening out West without much of a plan except “to ease the pain of living" and subsequently meeting my future bride under a caterer’s rented tent.
(3) Learning to meditate.
(4) The discovery that my anima has a face, a name, and an actual physical place of residence in Puerto Rico.
(5) Tending to my grandfather and performing basic attendance while he drifted on to the next world.
(6) Easing the pain of living: at Access Counseling, in the ARMC Emergency Room and on the ARMC Psych Unit.
(7) Writing my best poem: Setting a fire hydrant on fire and videotaping it.
(8) Conceiving a love child named Eleanor at 190 Satula Ave., Athens, Ga. & the resultant homebirth.
(9) Getting a little writing done here in Iowa City, U.S.A.
(10) Becoming a better person...in general.
29 December 2009
Back in 1998, after a big trip out West, I returned to my parents' house - the one I grew up in - with a bunch of rocks and natural relics I had collected on my travels. Ascending to the highest point on my parents' property line, I dug a deep hole and built a fire pit of local stones, incorporating my sacred rocks and things into the construction of the pit. My little cousin Lesley lent a hand and, as we excavated, we unearthed a perfect, black arrowhead - the only one I have ever found on my parents' land. I examined its broad, flat sides, and admired its sharp point. "Here you go, kiddo," I told Lesley, handing her the treasure, "keep it safe." And that's how the sacred fire pit of Manchester, Georgia was born. I've since built hundreds of fires in it. And if you're reading this, chances are pretty good you've sat with me by this pit and enjoyed some of the ancient Georgia night.
A few nights ago, on Christmas night, we went out to build a fire and this is what we found - waterlogged! So we bailed it out - between thirty and forty gallons - only to watch it fill right back up within a few minutes (heavy rainfalls had saturated the ground). We pulled a few rocks out of the nearby woods and made a quick, provisional fire ring a few paces from the old fire pit. I untarped my firewood cache and within fifteen minutes we had a raging fire there. Somehow, in the midst of tequila and coffee and long-winded stories going nowhere exactly, a skillet materialized, so I heated up Christmas dinner leftovers. It was a cold night, so the communal skillet steamed and hummed as, overhead, I spied a satellite tracking across the sky.
As the new decade approaches, the definition of "down time" is that yesterday I burned one and looked at photos from our Georgia trip (the picture above is from the Wolf's Den loop on the Pine Mountain Trail), then watched a slew of Gregory Corso interviews. At one point, Corso talked about how a poet, classically, stands alongside the royalty, "with the kings and emperors." To be a poet, if you ask Corso, is to be an expert, a holy voyager, someone who obeys a higher law than the prosaic everyman's. He said that most so-called poets are mere minstrels. "Poet," he commented, is a "top class appellation." Now, that whole old school "royal court" conceptual overlay is pretty analog and goofy, which is what makes it fun. But I'd be hard pressed to separate the "real" poets from the "unreal" ones. And maybe that's my generation's torpor and confusion talking, or my own limitations...so it's nice to listen to someone with hubris lay down their philosophy. So on the last day of Fall semester, I handed out to my class copies of Kerouac's "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" & "Belief & Technique of Modern Prose," two essays, more or less, describing the man's method and advice for writers. Included are such bon mots as "the jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye" and "believe in the holy contour of life." A modern man I am, indeed. I believe in the holy contour of life and not much else. Mostly, I indulge possibilities - sometimes to the point of madness - like the possibility of leaves beside a mountain stream. But I like the idea that "poet" or "writer" or "human being" is a title to live up to and honor - or at least a rumor to maintain - as if an ethereal king is hovering nearby, expecting virtuosity.
28 December 2009
We went down to Georgia, where we saw a dozen doughnuts and some mountain laurels (both completely unavailable in Iowa City). We also saw a lot of other cool things: new babies, young & old lovers, rescued kittens, meandering rivulets, flooded fire pits, sweet black dogs, satellites overhead, darkened skies, weary travelers, remote controlled mini-copters, fresh yellow squash, unconscious turnips, and collard greens dense with tears, the ebullient faces of longtime friends, a few hairpin turns, some magical thoughts, soft bellies of Georgia earth, veritable leaping bonfires, cosmic two-lane highways, and oily, lumbering locomotives. It was good to be back. Here, now, Iowa is under snow and quiet as a parentheses.
27 December 2009
20 December 2009
I went to the Kwik Mart to buy some lottery tickets for Janelle yesterday. While I was there, this older, rough-looking dude got all pissed off when the clerk carded him for a pack of smokes. It was weird, because he had his i.d. in his back pocket - so it's not like he was being denied his precious cancer sticks. I guess the guy just felt the need to bitch out the clerk at the Kwik Mart...but she - the clerk, I mean - handled it with complete passionless detachment. Another clerk was there too (a tall, slim cat with a Steven Seagal ponytail) and you could tell they dealt with crazy people like this guy day-in and day-out - and that an attitude of cultivated torpor was the only salve for being in direct contact with so many anonymous strangers...
19 December 2009
The jive-ass X-mas lights of our next door neighbor, Beverly. And then there's our jive-ass squirrel...Squirrels get docile in the winter. They don't hibernate, per se, but instead they do what humans do: They get depressed and carbo-load during the long winter months. From time to time they'll emerge from their nest to return a Sopranos DVD to the video store or to get the mail. Sometimes they just stare out at the ice world of Iowa, thinking of how to end that short story they've been working on/obsessing over.
18 December 2009
We have two tin Catrinas in our living room. They are arresting works of folk art. And they remind us that one day we'll be worm food. Some days I do not want to be reminded of this at all. Other days I'm like, "Yep. So it goes." My attitude about death has no constancy, in other words. It's this dynamic, bristling thing that, in all likelihood, I have very little actual hope of understanding or coming to terms with before my time comes.
"Die before you die." Muhammad said that. Muhammad the political reformer, soldier, merchant and - oh yeah - prophet of the great Judeo-Christian Godhead. An all around badass, in other words. And his advice - to somehow experience death before the hour of death actually comes - is intriguing. I have no idea what he's talking about, though - could be asceticism, insight, "ego annihilation," or any number of things. Maybe all those things.
Full disclosure: I once "died" under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms. The experience was altogether horrifying - I stared into the Abyss, and what I saw was not pretty. It was basically just the goddamn awful howling void. It was Oblivion. With all my might, I hoped, and prayed, and submitted and clung to life. And eventually the porthole to Oblivion closed, and what was left was a kind of hyper-reality - everything illuminated and precious and brimming with life. "Jesus," I thought, "that was intense." It was more than "intense," though. It was edifying.The experience haunted me for years.
One of my friends, a heavy user, a real Hallucinogenic Toreador, told me, "You shouldn't have fought it. You should have just let the Abyss gobble you up. Eternity would have opened up." I figured "Yeah, maybe you're right. Maybe those mushrooms showed me that, when the chips are down, I'm basically driven by fear, despite all my magnanimous gesticulations and humanistic postures." Then, years later, I came full circle with this realization: That trip was one big metaphor. Maybe submitting in prayer was just my honest, natural response - a response that saved me from actually disappearing into some kind of internal psychic Void. After all, when confronted with a power that can destroy you - whether it's a deity or state of nonexistence or a split atom - it seems wise to take a stance of humility. When I look back on it, I can see how both might just be true.
17 December 2009
When it's really frigid out, and frozen snow covers everything under a blue sky, the late afternoon sunlight that passes through the kitchen window, illuminating particles and stirring the tendrils of the spider plant, is particularly fine, potent...almost aquatic.
16 December 2009
Being a skate rat in a small Southern town meant praticing forty-three shove-its to pop-it/ frontside axle stalls on curbsides in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly. It also meant seemingly endless summer days skating from spot to spot - convenience store to Dairy Queen to other convenience store to video store - wherever you could skate but also talk to people who were as bored as you, but who were nonetheless getting paid for their boredom. So I got to know the town pretty well, and all these cashiers and small business owners got to know me pretty well, too.
Sometimes I'd walk right into the police station (this was before they got so bored that they declared war on skateboarding) and talk to Willie, a police sergeant I'd known since I was a kid, or Joel, whose daughter I knew from school. They were cool cops.
Often, I'd skate to the video store, Prime Time Video, where an older kid named Todd worked. Cool as hell, Todd would often comp me video rentals. And I'd draw him dumb comics. (And strangely, my ability to draw hasn't improved much since then.) It wasn't an "exchange" - just how we each decided to pass the time in a place where time still passes very slowly indeed.
15 December 2009
When I was a skinny underdeveloped teenager in my quaint rural-industrial hometown (an old railroad town and site of several mills and factories that had closed and left much of the citizenry jobless), I used to cope with my own intrapsychic tension - the fire was already raging even back then - by skateboarding. Many a schoolnight found me skating in the deserted streets and parking lots, trying to perfect kick flips, no comply variations, and tail-slides. Every now and then, I'd run into another kid doing the same damn thing and we'd skate together awhile, eventually going our separate ways, as we all must. Often, on the way home, I would hear artillery shells exploding into faint rumbles across the valley as "soldiers" (kids not much older than me, from other hometowns in the U.S.A.) at nearby Fort Benning trained to fuck up The Enemy.
Growing up in a husk of a town, every American boy needs an escape plan (whether they admit it or not). Mine was to join the Air Force, like my dad, and go to college on the G.I. Bill. Images of Maverick and Goose were lodged in my head. Even though my head rejected those images as somehow toxic, another part of me connected with the idea of brotherly belonging and national heroism...but, after listening to The Descendents (a skate metal band that had a fairly wide audience back then) and other hardcore bands that conditioned my mind to reject, well, everything, those sentiments eventually melted off and evaporated into the ethers of late adolescence. So I had to find another way out.
14 December 2009
I just spent the past 48 hours grading my students' final portfolios and chewing Black Jack gum with Araki and Tony Soprano on standby for inspirational support. Now I'm done. Semester's over. Hallelujah. Go on, Jon-dog. Buy yourself a pint.
13 December 2009
Last year I made some photocopies of some poems, avatars, photographs, propaganda, and lyrics, then posted them around town. Some of them lasted a long time before the winter snow and rain eroded them. This one's a Kwanyin and Baudelaire mash-up.
One of the ladies from Araki's Tokyo Lucky Hole, a book of photographs of Tokyo's sex trade district - a book that inspired one of my short stories this past summer. I followed early revisions of my story to where it wanted to go and it ended up being about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the real beginning of The End. Ain't that somethin'? That's how it goes, though: sexuality is tied to our deepest concerns about life on this planet. Our society tends to tie it almost exclusively to getting one's rocks off or as a means of selling Cheese Nips and vacuum cleaners. I swear, sometimes, I stand in front of a jade Kwanyin and say, "Come on, my sweet-hipped mami. Please cough up a goddurned avatar from the Pure Land to set it all straight." And she looks back at me and sez, "What are you doing to make peace and compassion a reality?"
12 December 2009
Pictured above: The scooter on ice. Yes, winter has arrived. And snow was a big subject yesterday, when I made the mistake of going to a workshop-related X-mas party, attended by the cadaverous, the exhausted, and the utterly boring. (I fell mostly into the 2nd - and possibly 3rd - category.) I mean it. It was excruciating. But somebody brought fried pickles, so it was okay, I guess. Afterward, I walked home with Astral Weeks on my iPod, wishing for the last 2 hours of my life back. I take about 55% of the responsibility for finding yesterday's party to be so spiritually draining. I was in a bad mood already. But Astral Weeks helped. Astral Weeks always helps.