Tuesday, May 31, 2016

notes towards a poem that can never be written

by margaret atwood


this is the place
you would rather not know about,
this is the place that will inhabit you,
this is the place you cannot imagine,
this is the place that will finally defeat you

where the word why shrivels and empties
itself. this is famine.


there is no poem you can write
about it, the sandpits
where so many were buried
& unearthed, the unendurable
pain still traced on their skins.

this did not happen last year
or forty years ago but last week.
this has been happening,
this happens.

we make wreaths of adjectives for them,
we count them like beads,
we turn them into statistics & litanies
and into poems like this one.

nothing works.
they remain what they are.


the woman lies on the wet cement floor
under the unending light,
needle marks on her arms put there
to kill the brain
and wonders why she is dying.

she is dying because she said.
she is dying for the sake of the word.
it is her body, silent
and fingerless, writing this poem.


it resembles an operation
but it is not one

nor despite the spread legs, grunts
& blood, is it a birth.

partly it's a job,
partly it's a display of skill
like a concierto.

it can be done badly
or well, they tell themselves.

partly it's an art.


the facts of this world seen clearly
are seen through tears;
why tell me then
there is something wrong with my eyes?

to see clearly and without flinching,
without turning away,
this is agony, the eyes taped open
two inches from the sun.

what is it you see then?
is it a bad dream, a hallucination?
is it a vision?
what is it you hear?

the razor across the eyeball
is a detail from an old film.
it is also a truth.
witness is what you must bear.


in this country you can say what you like
because no one will listen to you anyway,
it's safe enough, in this country you can try to write
the poem that can never be written,
the poem that invents
nothing and excuses nothing,
because you invent and excuse yourself each day.

elsewhere, this poem is not invention.
elsewhere, this poem takes courage.
elsewhere, this poem must be written
because the poets are already dead.

elsewhere this poem must be written
as if you are already dead,
as if nothing more can be done
or said to save you.

elsewhere you must write this poem
because there is nothing more to do.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


(a personal entry)

part one: cigarettes

"there is a diamond in my wound and i can't see it." -alice notley, in the pines

truthfully, i love cigarettes. they have been my greatest addiction, and my greatest addiction overcome.

after ten years of smoking tobacco (in latter years, around a pack a day), i quit cold. i refused tobacco in any form, but never failed to enjoy it when people indulged around me, smoke drifting into my face.

my time with cigarettes is marked by decades. from ages 16 to 26, i was consumed. from 26 to 36, i abstained. this february marked my ten year quitting anniversary; ten years was always my goal. i hoped i could change my relationship to tobacco, enjoying a hookah or a cigarette every once in a while. but fear of my extreme addiction kept me distant.

in recent years, i wished to be stronger than that fear, and assumed a time would come when i would test myself. that time arrived last month. smoking again (with an intention of limiting myself) was part prayer, part coping mechanism. life and loss had turned me upside down.

with a generous gift of a large bag of friend-grown, uncured tobacco (thanks noah!), i began to smoke full, hand-rolled cigarettes. in a week, i was smoking compulsively.

one month later, as i write, i am chain-smoking, enjoying immensely this return to a familiar compulsion. eager to defend myself to anyone expressing critique of this decision, i have legitimized it as a temporary controlled experiment. in actuality, it has been a salve for fresh wounds, helping me channel my intense emotions.

i don't feel guilty, at least about cigarettes.

since starting again, i've had a kind of plan, a bargain with myself. if i allow this now, guiltlessly, i also need a firm quit date and extensive quitting plan in mind. as the date creeps closer, i continue to smoke relentlessly, mapping out the patterns of my familiar addiction. what does smoking do for me? what will i do with my hands? how will i treat my lungs? where will my emotions go?

in the past few months, my body has been shrinking. this is partially due to a different quitting plan (my 2016 "no beer this year" goal, which has resulted in only drinking alcohol - wine - once since january first). i have lost roughly 30 lbs in under five months; half of that has been in the past month alone, with tobacco as an obvious reason.

my body certainly feels different. yes, my clothes fit me more comfortably now. and my body is enormously tired. wrecked actually. i walked about six miles today & felt fine, but smoking + asthma has felt quite dangerous. waking up in the morning is mildly horrible. it seems i need one or two extra hours of sleep every night. yet it is all coupled with the amazing feeling that first cigarette of the day brings me. joy. a temporary rush of it. god, it feels like something divine.

when i quit in february 2006, i wrote a zine (essentially journal entries) of the first few days of withdrawal. it served multiple purposes: gave me a place to channel the withdrawal symptoms, documented my process, and offered a touchstone to help me maintain commitment to my goal. i approached the quitting time with the same compulsion that i approached smoking. this taught me immensely, so much so that i have often remarked that quitting my cigarette addiction was one of the most challenging battles of my life.

this quitting process gave me two very specific gifts. one, i felt amazingly strong and proud of myself for seeing it through. i began to inhabit a new, smoke-free body. the zine was my way of publicly holding myself accountable, and it worked. two, i felt a deeper understanding of the complex struggle that addiction can be. this was not only true in increasing my empathy (and boundaries) for and with others struggling with addiction. it also allowed me to see the many substances and habits i had addictive relationships with, including the abandon, compulsion, guilt, and extremity of my own behaviors in the world, things unrelated to cigarettes.

part two: other substances

"this is a better system: one looks into the blazing defect, all at once. not really such a hard card to play. but i never want to turn a card over again." -alice notley, in the pines

in studying substance addiction, i have been shown how both total abstinence and harm reductive approaches can be useful for me.

in college, i was definitely addicted to weed, although so many heavy weed-smokers refuse to admit that the substance is addictive. in my 20s and 30s i've used weed occasionally; there were years where i didn't smoke at all. i don't really enjoy the effects all that much, but every once in a while i forget that & do it anyway. my approach to weed has been a harm reductive one, but the substance itself no longer compels me much.

alcohol is different. much of my 20s was spent enjoying it on occasion. i was likely not drinking all that often due to the cost of alcohol, and its lack of focus in many of my social/community gatherings and relationships. there were short windows where i drank more regularly - for example, the floridian winter i spent drinking nightly bottles of wine in the backyard with two good friends (naming ourselves "the bad influences"). in my 30s, alcohol use has been more prevalent, specifically in more recent years. prior to this january, i'd say that my most habitual drinking has been in the last two years.

i noticed my growing dependency because of that telltale question: are you hiding it? i was. mostly i drank by myself, but also with my previous partner and certain friends. i also regularly consumed a larger amount, anywhere between 3-5 beers almost every night. so much money was spent on alcohol, particularly fancy beer, and there was usually a bottle of gin in my closet. it became more obvious to me when i realized how infrequently all of my housemates would drink alcohol, and how patterned around alcohol consumption my romantic relationship seemed to be. i tried taking short breaks, mostly to prove to myself that it wasn't an issue. these breaks would last a month or so, and during them, i found it consistently hardest to maintain my sobriety when with my partner.

there are other substances too. sugar is a top one. the gratification of baking is something that poses a challenge. as a creative hobby and stress reliever, baking functions in a kind of "healthy" capacity. but my sugar addiction, coupled with my body's dislike of gluten and dairy, turns baking into a kind of itch i need to scratch. gluten and dairy have their own difficulties. i've learned certain ways to tolerate them in small doses, and also ways i can avoid gluten (by using newly-accessible but expensive substitutes). i wrestle with these foods on a daily basis, while also trying to prevent them from taking up too much space in my mind.

then there is caffeine addiction, which, i've learned, is potentially larger than my tobacco addiction. i don't want to quit. in reading about this addiction, i found something about how caffeine can restructure one's brain, which can mean that longtime/heavy caffeine users, even in quitting for a long while, will have a nagging sense that something isn't right. a kind of ongoing chemical imbalance.

it had been years since i tried to take a short break from caffeine, so i tried again this spring. i took ten days off and felt, well, mostly terrible. i started up again then took another ten days off the following month. i noticed i was less anxious overall, but still eager to return to yerba mate.

i don't feel able to write much more about this. it's a definite addiction, widely acceptable, and i have little motivation to quit.

part three: the less obvious

"the intention of the organism is to know. i say i don't have enough stamina to clean all the rooms. i say i may not have enough stamina for all this. the others will insist i have." - alice notley, in the pines

in focusing on my substance addictions, i began to see how i would make plans to quit one thing by replacing it with another. when i quit cigarettes, i replaced them more immediately with eating sugar and drinking lots of tea. physical, oral immediacies. in the longer term, i became very interested in breath, yoga, and meditation, which is worth another entire entry.

when i made a plan to stop drinking alcohol, i replaced it with copious consumption of sparkling water. the pattern of drinking cans or bottles of something carbonated was not interrupted. as a physical replacement, it has worked well. i also began a new habit of practicing spanish every night, mostly using a website. the gamification/ goal-orientation of the website's structure triggered a sort of compulsion, which helped me stay committed to the learning.

the act of substitution began to stand out to me. i recognized the ritualistic and habitual nature in which i was/am acting much of the time. of course, habits and rituals are common parts of everyday life, like brushing one's teeth. however, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that some of my behaviors resemble obsessive-compulsive disorder. i have used "OCD" to describe myself before; while being serious and mindful about not using it pejoratively, i thought it somewhat milder in me, wondering if it was "ok" that i claimed it as my own.

in reading more about OCD and seeing a therapist/ receiving medication for anxiety issues, i started to realize how well this explain certain things about me, particularly things i try to hide from others. years ago, my therapist pointed out that i struggle with rumination. i understood this as a kind of analyzing taken to an extreme. it can also describe a "worst-case-scenario" thinking that runs uncontrollably and frequently through my mind.

my obsessive repetitious thought processes are exacerbated by the immediacy of computers and smart phones. but these mannerisms can also be traced to less obvious (at least to me) habits that play out particularly in my work and in my relationships. they also frequently arise as debilitating fears about the loss of my family members and close friends, or about my own death.

earlier this year, i began to scrutinize my workaholism, an addictive set of behaviors that seems relatively common among many of my friends - in particular, those who do political/community organizing. there is a gut-wrenching drive that many of us seem to share. we want a different kind of world and existence, so it feels wrong to stop fully engaging with this work at any point. i tell myself, i take breaks. i go camping or small trips, take baths, watch tv or movies, etc. but my work, even the paid, non-community-organizing stuff, is filled with constant juggling of tasks & timelines, extreme self-initiative, frequent meetings & strategizing, and ongoing exhaustive work. it is also rewarding in many, many ways. amazing friendships are born or strengthened, resources are connected or shifted, support systems are built, and my own validation (from "having done a good job") is a huge payoff.

but this workaholism belies an incessant, capitalistic obsession with productivity (which many others have written critically about, so i won't really add to that). this kind of obsession takes over my life in two main ways.

the first: the things i do that are not explicitly "work" become a kind of intensive labor. this is most evident in my romantic relationships. this also becomes clear in pastimes like reading. instead of simply making it a point to read more frequently, last year i set myself a goal of reading 100 books. i ended the year with a list of 350 books i consumed, and not in a "good" way. many of the books i hardly remember, as i was simply driven to finish them. (many of them i do remember & did enjoy, but still.) this was a pinnacle of compulsion for me. and it's so rewarded! people would view having read so many books as a kind of achievement (or conversely, as a kind of luxury... who has the time?). i moreso felt a kind of shame about it; it draws attention to my obsessive nature.

the second: my obsessions can create a kind of dichotomy between "work" and "rest" (or play) that feeds into and exacerbates other issues. one easy example is when relaxation consistently takes the form of drinking alcohol. another way this plays out is using "rest" as a kind of general escapism, something i only allow if i have pushed myself to the limit with work. in relationships, i may only allow myself to "rest" with people if i can also "work" with them, which can sometimes take the form of pushing them to limits or watching them push themselves.

here is my most difficult and tentative insight: relating with others, especially certain others, can bring out strong OCD or addictive tendencies in me.

part four: relationships

"i never wanted to do you wrong. / you are the one i wanted least to / do that to. this must be a universe of / care, that hoot-owl moaning; please / don't mischaracterize me, i would not / want to wrong you. i never wanted / to sing this song. but now it's mine." - alice notley, in the pines

i can offer two relatively different examples of how these tendencies play out with my relating to other people. the first is with my family, particularly my sister's family. the second is within my romantic relationships, particularly within my two most recent, longer term partnerships.

with my family, i try to have relationships that are "exempt" from work - in the sense that i end up trying to meet them much more where they're at. i don't necessarily try to continuously improve my relationships with them or attach intensive political-driven desires. but that's only some of the time. when i am with my niece and nephew, it can be exhausting but there is a lot of play, a kind of break from everything else. this sometimes feels like an enormous respite for me. yet i also try to teach them things about the world as i see it. i talk with them about gender, police brutality, the black lives matter movement, consent, racist sports logos, dumpster diving, nationalism, etc etc. i encourage them to question what they are taught, even the things i communicate. they recently moved to an even-more-white suburb of madison, into a fancy house and neighborhood, and it's important to me to be a regular presence in their life that is outside of all that.

there is an element of control in this, and i see that. i can also justify it by acknowledging that they are knowing me, which means knowing about the ways i feel, think, and perceive. i can only hope to engage them.

there is an OCD element in my family relationships. i feel a kind of repetitive terror about the loss of my family members, in a way that truly can keep me up at night. my time with my niece and nephew is also filled with my over-bearing protectiveness. it can be difficult to relax. i know that this is not helpful, that being anxious and fear-driven can create a tension that isn't supportive of their freedom to play and explore. but i cannot curb my thoughts, which get set on high volume. what if they choke? run into the street? fall down stairs? have an asthma attack? etc etc etc

recently i was with my niece & nephew while my sister was in the ER dealing with her own constant health struggles. my nephew had a fever of 102.6 and became incredibly hot and very lethargic. i came seriously close to a panic attack when i was unable to reach my mom (who is a nurse) via phone. as i was carrying him to the car, preparing to drive to the ER, my sister called from there and calmly instructed me on what to do - which included giving him medicine and waiting for her to get home. while this situation describes a kind of anxiety that i'm guessing many parents and caretakers face at some time(s) or another, it has stayed with me for days, worrying and obsessing about the safety of my family.

this week, i also recently (separately) ended up in a full-blown panic attack, one which i could not locate the source of. i had taken a shower & was about to get ready for work, and suddenly i was incapacitated. i stood up to close my window and very nearly blacked out. as i laid in bed, mentally repeating "everything is going to be ok" while waiting for my anxiety meds to kick in, i couldn't figure out what was happening, or why.

this was not my first panic attack, but it is rare for me to have them unprecipitated by something i know is a trigger. for example, if there is a tornado watch, it is possible. if there is a tornado warning, it is practically a given. sometimes i have panic attacks after smoking weed. one thing is clear: i have difficult and sometimes debilitating struggles with my own mental health.

whether it comes from others who - consciously or unconsciously - delegitimize or invalidate this, or whether it comes from within (in the sense that i am often posed to see my own struggles as "not as bad" as others), it becomes a new kind of struggle to allow myself the acknowledgement of my own demons. these include depression, delusional thinking, sensory imbalances, OCD, dissociation, past experiences of trauma, and general anxiety. it is not flattering. my own mental health struggles have caused me to lose jobs and relationships. if my coping abilities lead others to believe that i "have my shit together", then great. but this isn't the full truth, and it's also a kind of misrecognition. i am regularly engaged in internal battles, ones that feel highly uncomfortable to bring to light.

the second major area that my mental health struggles and addictive tendencies play out is in my romantic relationships. the intimacy of these relationships seem to create catch 22 situations. i want to be both independent and interdependent. i want to be challenged but also experience connection. i want to be in relationships that feel safe & secure while also not depending on them to validate my self-worth. my most recent longer term partnerships have shown me my strengths, confidence, intelligence, and compassion as well as my shame, insecurities, and obsessions.

in the first, i was with my partner, d, for six years. we created a life together that i would later call "codependent". we were very different, in terms of ways we engaged in the world, and it often felt like a "mismatch". this was negated in ways by a powerful emotional connection and shared dreams of daily living and a future together. we lived together for years and moved to three different states. we farmed together, something which served my workaholic and organizing-obsessive tendencies. to coax seeds into plants, plants into rows, and rows into truckloads of food was quite a labor of control.

d and i also started our own farm business, which was filled with planning (and debate). we accomplished physical farm labor together with an ease, both comfortable with eachother's strengths and weaknesses in this realm. both of us had a lot of stamina and dedication for this exhausting work. however, we lacked shared intellectual and creative pursuits, which i know now that i need in any close relationship. i used to say, "i want to be challenged in ways that make me grow", and felt our disagreements were repetitious and lacked mutual insight, particularly in regards to motivations and intentions. this caused the most harm in our frequent, high-emotion arguments and in experiences with non-monogamy.

when that relationship ended, i recognized that i had spent most of the relationship blaming d for not measuring up to what i wanted - a high emotional intelligence. i felt forced into a position of being the one who did the majority of emotional labor. while there is truth in that ("i did the majority of emotional labor"), i needed to know what my own accountability was in our tumult. i needed to understand the harm. it took me awhile to locate it.

[an aside: while blame can feel like an outlet for the anger and loss of a person who i loved dearly, blame also felt old and tiring. i had obsessed about our dynamics for far too long, and i wanted to learn something more - about myself and for myself - not just chalk it up to "choose a more emotionally intelligent partner next time". blaming also enforced a convenient narrative, one that held me in a victim mentality and displaced my own responsibility towards myself and towards my partner.]

what i came to see was that i had clung to the relationship in so many instances, believing that it was more important than my own needs. i had become dependent on d to fill a place in my life, perhaps even to protect me, and had a difficult time imagining what my life could look like without that relating. because i could not control d or the relationship (and i tried), i ruminated constantly about it. i analyzed, challenged, and picked apart things, believing that doing this would somehow keep me safe. i feared abandonment more than anything. but i wasn't content. how could i be? i didn't turn my analysis back on myself and ask, why are you choosing this? because i didn't feel like i was. i was addicted to the relationship and i believe d was too.

my constant mode was one of suspicion, which led me at times to violate d's privacy. i justified this as a protective measure; only later was i able to fully understand how awful these behaviors were. there were other hallmarks of co-dependency on display in this relationship. years later, the more interesting questions for me at this point in time are: what was my substitute for this addiction? also, what comes after co-dependency?

for a long time after, i obsessed about this relationship. my drive to understand every unexamined piece was fueled by d's absence, as well as a desire to never put myself in a similar situation again. i did not want to be hurt in the way i was aching and i did not want to ever again act in such hurtful ways. it was important for me to clarify and own my participation in our dynamics. only then could i really feel able to forgive d and myself.

in time, i have been able to do both; d and i have been able to become supportive friends to one another. the point about being driven by absence is a sticking one - particularly in terms of substitution- and has come up again in the ending of my more recent longer term partnership.

i entered into a sort of on-off relationship with s maybe four(?) years ago, which was not very long after my previous one had ended. s and i ended up being more consistently together for about two and a half recent years.

this relationship was grounded in distance, both spatially (living in separate towns) and emotionally. it felt very different than the previous one, which was exactly what i wanted. our primary connection was intellectual. at one point early on, s wrote something like "a relationship with you is going to be a lot of work, but isn't there something romantic in that?" for this and many other reasons, i felt we were "a match". it seemed i was partnered with someone who could keep up with me, in particular, my incessant analyzing.

the distance served me well. i had become extremely skeptical of romance myths and was very aware of my previous co-dependency. the distance gave me space to be with close friends and build tighter community, relationships that also challenged and supported me. it gave me a lot of time alone, which allowed me to work more and also helped me stay mindful of how i was relating in partnership. i felt much more aware of my choices and intentions, and often looked outside of my partnership to meet certain key needs.

there was an odd, enigmatic security in not have security in this partnership. i was very determined to not behave in controlling ways, which at times skewed the other direction. i wanted to be very careful about insisting on having certain needs met, either because i thought this insistence could be potentially controlling or demanding, or because i had recognized that s was not capable of meeting them.

intimacy became a stranger and stranger concept. in providing for myself often outside of the partnership, i was slowly building a kind of invulnerability within it. my obsessive behaviors played themselves out in a regular pattern of analyzing. i wanted to understand so much about how we were different, and i also wanted to locate places where we were similar. places of connection.

s and i had both entered into our relationship after losses of previous, important partnerships. we both had very extensive systems of protection and shared in common a high valuation of our individual mind's own abilities to keep this protection in place.

i defaulted predominantly (though not always) into a mode of non-suspicion, believing that i should be most focused on myself, my responses to situations, my own intentions. i knew how horrible it felt to operate out of a place of constant suspicion, and how harmful to everyone such a mode can be. while i regularly checked in with myself about my assumptions of "good intent" (what i assumed from my partner), i also see now how my endless curiosity and questions could have been perceived as suspicion. i didn't want to control s. i wanted to control myself. i learned how to make a lot of space in me, particularly to understand different motivations and ways of viewing and being in the world. i believed this to be a liberating basis for a relationship.

while i would say that this kind of relating felt "healthier", a couple of my friends recently told me they disagree. their assessments were something like this: in my drive to "do things differently", to prevent myself from co-dependent relating, i furthered a kind of destructive individualism that dismissed the importance of intimate interdependence and basic emotional care. i maintained a cautious eye on - and ownership of- my impact on my partner (self-accountability) but believed it to be my full responsibility to do double the work, maintaining the same cautious eye and ownership regarding my partner's impact on me. the heightened intellectual basis of our partnership made this difficult for me to see. one friend described my partner's regular communication style to be, 'i want to create whatever rhetorical structure is useful to me, and i don't care if it's at your expense.'

as that relationship has ended and many difficult things have occurred in recent months, i am forced to ask myself where i go with all this.

first, absence. without this person and partnership in my life, i have seen much more clearly my tendencies towards obsessive analysis. i have a need to comb through all of my memories and feelings to try to make sense of what happened. this feels like a kind of addiction, or a kind of addictive withdrawal. this, again, is unflattering. while i don't believe this partnership was "co-dependent", i still feel a kind of addictive absence. i miss the ongoing challenge of trying to relate to another highly intellectual person, someone who had seemed to share a huge capacity for analysis and a similar drive of curiosity. someone with an independent and protective mind.

but the absence is also, in its own way, a replacement of an addiction, a swapping. to trace all the previously unseen threads and pick them apart, to let my mind run on and on. . .

i know i could just as easily turn to a substance (like cigarettes, which i have done) or another romantic relationship (which i've attempted, but then backed away from). instead, sitting in my sorrow, anger, and analysis has its own strange allure. or compulsion.

more than anything, i want to grow and learn from my experiences. and if i've caused harm to myself or others, i want to understand how and why i did. if harm has been done to me, i want to root it out and understand it. this is an obsessive drive for me. it feels as though i am on a kind of roller coaster, and cannot allow myself to exit until i have come to terms with every curve and dip, every corkscrew and climb. or until the rollercoaster runs out of power and comes to a stop on its own.

in thinking through questions regarding suspicion and assumptions of intent, other mental pathways about identities and power and internalized oppression open up. these things have their own language and frameworks, and i continuously write them out. cigarettes in particular are connected to habits of endless writing. i've filled two journals already.

the last question i am turning around, especially lately, has been about my own mental health.

whether it's addiction or OCD, constant questioning, analyzing, and ruminating is something i don't feel in control of. conversely, maybe it's all i have control of, or it's a tool that i use to help me feel safe in a hostile world. yet it doesn't always do this. it can heighten my intense fears and anxieties, leading to panic attacks and the like. such analysis can also provide rewards. i am a better friend-therapist, community organizer and political strategist, and can use my analysis to hold myself accountable.

but it can also push people away when it places them under the microscope, and can lock me into a tower of my own self-protection. it reinforces the lies i tell myself about my vulnerability or invulnerability. it puts me on roller coasters i'd rather not be on. it can turn play into work and drain me of my breath.

and still i cannot stop.

my mind needs a maze to run around, needs to come up against limits, needs to exhaust itself over and over again.

sometimes i wonder what i would be like without this. my imagination fails me.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

doing it differently

by marge piercy, from to be of use

trying to enter each other,
trying to interpenetrate and let go.
trying not to lie down in the same old rutted bed
part rack, part cocoon.
we are bagged in habit
like clothes back from the cleaners.
the map of your veins has been studied,
your thighs have been read and reported,
a leaded mistrust of the rhetoric of tenderness
thickens your tongue.
at the worst you see old movies in my eyes.
how can i persuade you that every day we choose
to give birth, to murder or feed our friends, to die a little.

you are an opening in me.
smoke thick as pitch blows in,
a wind bearing ribbons of sweet rain,
and the sun as field of dandelions, as rusty razor blade.
scent colors the air with tear gas, with lemon lilies.

most of the time you are not here.
most of the time we were different faces.
mostly i do not touch you.
mostly i am talking to someone else.

i crawl into you, a bee furry with greed
into the deep trumpeting throat of a crimson lily
speckled like a newly hatched robin.
i roll, heavy with nectar.
later i will turn this afternoon into honey
and live on it, frugally.
it will sweeten my tea.

in the pit of the night our bodies merge,
dark clouds passing through each other in lightning,
the joining of rivers far underground in the stone.
i feel thick but hollow, a polyp floating on currents.
my nerves have opened wide mouths
to drink you in and sing O O on the dark
till i cannot fix boundaries where you start and i stop.
then you are most vulnerable.
in me that nakedness does not close by day.
my quick, wound, door, my opening,
my lidless eye.

don't you think it takes trust,
your strength, your temper always
in the room with us like a doberman unleashed.
i fear being manipulated
by that touch point between us.

touch is the primal sense -
for in the womb we swam lapped and tingling.
fainting, practicing death, we lose
sight first, then hearing, the mouth and nose deaden
but still till the end we can touch.

. . .

beds that are mirrors,
beds that are rotisseries where i am the barbecue,
beds that are athletic fields for the olympic trials,
beds that are dartboards, beds that are dentist's chairs,
beds that are consolation prizes floating on chicken soup,
beds were lobotomies are haphazardly performed,
beds of wet spaghetti, beds
that ride glittering through lies like a ferris wheel. . .

you do not want to say that word
yet that small commitment floating on a sea of spilled blood
has meaning if we inflict it.
otherwise we fail into dry accommodation.
if we do not build a new loving out of our rubble
we will fall into a bamboo-staked trap on a lush trail.
you will secrete love out of old semen and gum and dreams.
what we do not remake
plays nostalgic songs on the jukebox of our guts,
and leads us into the old comfortable temptation.

you lay in bed depressed, passive as butter.
i brought you a rose i had grown. . .
you talked of fucking the rose. then you grew awkward;
we would never be free of roles, dominance and submission,
we slam through the maze of that pinball machine forever. . .

the state owns my womb and hangs a man's name on me
like the tags hung on dogs, my name is, property of. . .
the language betrays us and rots in the mouth
with its aftertaste of monastic sewers on the palate.
even the pronouns tear my tongue with their metal plates.

you could strangle me: my hands
can't even encircle your neck.
because i open my mouth wide and stand up roaring
i am the outlawed enemy of men.
a party means what a bullfight does to the bull.
the street is a gauntlet.

i open my mail with tongs.
all the images of strength in you, fathers and prophets and heroes,
pull against me, till what feels right to you
wrongs me, and there is no rest from struggle.

we are equal if we make ourselves so, every day, every night
constantly renewing what the street destroys.
we are equal only if you open too on your heavy hinges
and let your love come freely, freely, where it will never be safe,
where you can never possess.

for part of each month regularly as my period
i crave you.
when we mesh badly, with scraping and squeaking,
remember that every son had a mother
whose beloved son he was,
and every woman had a mother
whose beloved son she wasn't.
what feels natural and easy, is soft murder
of each other and that mutant future
striving to break into bloom
bloody and red as the real rose.

periodic, earthy, of a violent tenderness
it is the nature of this joining
to remain partial and episodic
yet feel total: a mountain that opens like a door
and then closes
like a mountain.

Friday, May 27, 2016


all quotes from homo sacer by giorgio agamben

"schmitt considers constituting power as a 'political will' capable of  'making the concrete, fundamental decision on the nature and form of one's own political existence.' as such, constituting power stands 'before and above every constitutional legislative procedure' and is irreducible to the level of juridical rules as well as theoretically distinct from sovereign power. but if constituting power is identified with the constituting will of the people or the nation . . . then the criterion that makes it possible to distinguish constituting power from popular or national sovereignty becomes unclear, and the constituting subject and the sovereign subject begin to become indistinguishable."

"'the truth of constituting power,' [antonio negri] writes, 'is not the one that can (in any way whatsoever) be attributed to the concept of sovereignty. this is not the truth of constituting power not only because constituting power is not (as is obvious) an emanation of constituted power, but also because constituting power is not the institution of constituted power: it is the act of choice, the punctual determination that opens a horizon, the radical enacting of something that did not exist before and whose conditions of existence stipulate that the creative act cannot lose its characteristics in creating. when constituting power sets the constituting process in motion, every determination is free and remains free. sovereignty, on the other hand, arises as the establishment - and therefore as the end - of constituting power, as the consumption of the freedom brought by constituting power.'"

"the strength of negri's book lies instead in the final perspective it opens insofar as it shows how constituting power, when conceived in all its radicality, ceases to be a strictly political concept and necessarily presents itself as a category of ontology. the problem of constituting power then becomes the problem of the 'constitution of potentiality', and the unresolved dialectic between constituting power and constituted power opens the way for a new articulation of the relation between potentiality and actuality, which requires nothing less than a rethinking of the ontological categories of modality in their totality."

"the relation between constituting power and constituted power is just as complicated as the relation aristotle established between potentiality and act, dynamis and energeia; and, in the last analysis, the relation between constituting and constituted power (perhaps like every authentic understanding of the problem of sovereignty) depends on how one thinks the existence and autonomy of potentiality. according to aristotle's thought, potentiality precedes actuality and conditions it, but also seems to remain essentially subordinate to it. . . aristotle always takes great care to affirm the autonomous existence of potentiality - the fact that the kithara player keeps his ability [potenza] to play even when he does not play, and that the architect keeps his ability [potenza] to build even when he does not build."

"if potentiality is to have its own consistency and not always disappear immediately into actuality, it is necessary that potentiality be able not to pass over into actuality, the potentiality constitutively be the potentiality not to (do or be), or, as aristotle says, that potentiality be also im-potentiality (adynamia). . . 'what is potential can both be and not be. for the same is potential as much with respect to being as to not being.'"

"this potentiality maintains itself in relation to actuality in the form of its suspension; it is capable of the act in not realizing it, it is sovereignly capable of its own im-potentiality [impotenza]. but how, from this perspective, to think the passage into actuality? if every potentiality (to be or do) is also originarily the potentiality not to (be or do), how will it be possible for an act to be realized?"

"'a thing is said to be potential if, when the act of which it is said to be potential is realized, there will be nothing im-potential (that is, there will be nothing able not to be)' (aristotle, metaphysics). the last three words of the definition do not mean, as the usual and completely trivializing reading maintains, 'there will be nothing impossible' (that is, what is not impossible is possible). they specify, rather, the condition into which potentiality - which can both be and not be - can realize itself. what is potential can pass over into actuality only at the point at which it sets aside its own potential not to be. to set im-potentiality aside is not to destroy it but, on the contrary, to fulfill it, to turn potentiality back upon itself in order to give itself to itself."

"the sovereign ban, which applies to the exception in no longer applying, corresponds to the structure of potentiality, which maintains itself in relation to actuality precisely through its ability not to be. potentiality (in its double appearance as potentiality to and as potentiality not to) is that through which being founds itself sovereignly, which is to say, without anything preceding or determining it other than its own ability not to be. and an act is sovereign when it realizes itself by simply taking away its own potentiality not to be, letting itself be, giving itself to itself."

"sovereignty is always double because being, as potentiality, suspends itself, maintaining itself in a relation of ban (or abandonment) with itself in order to realize itself as absolute actuality (which thus presupposes nothing other than its own potentiality). at the limit, pure potentiality and pure actuality are indistinguishable, and the sovereign is precisely this zone of indistinction."

"it has already been noted that a principle of potentiality is inherent in every definition of sovereignty. in this sense, gerard mairet observed that the sovereign state is founded on an 'ideology of potentiality' that consists in 'leading the two elements of every power back to a unity . . . the principle of potentiality and the form of its exercise'. the central idea here is that 'potentiality already exists before it is exercised, and that obedience precedes the institutions that make it possible'. that this ideology truly has a mythological character is suggested by the same author: 'it is a question of a real myth whose secrets we still do not know, but which constitutes, perhaps, the secret of every power.' it is the structure of this mystery [arcano] that we have undertaken to bring to light in the figure of abandonment and the 'potentiality not to'. but here we run up against not a mythologeme in the strict sense but, rather, the ontological root of every political power. (potentiality and actuality are, for aristotle, first of all categories of being, two ways 'in which being is said.')

in modern thought, there are rare but significant attempts to conceive of being beyond the principle of sovereignty. . . in the late nietzsche, the eternal return of the same gives form to the impossibility of distinguishing between potentiality and actuality, even as the amor fati gives shape to the impossibility of distinguishing between contingency and necessity. . . but the strongest objection against the principle of sovereignty is contained in melville's bartleby, the scrivener who, with his, 'i would prefer not to,' resists every possibility of deciding between potentiality and the potentiality not to. these figures push the aporia of sovereignty to the limit but still do not completely free themselves from its ban. they show that the dissolution of the ban, like the cutting of the gordian knot, resembles less the solution of a logical or mathematical problem than the solution of an enigma. here the metaphysical aporia shows its political nature."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

the all-seeing

by anais nin
(slightly abridged)

     when i rang his bell i could hear the parting of the beaded curtains of his room, and i knew he could see me through a little glass eye in his door through which i could not see him. through this glass eye the hallway appeared immeasurably long and the person standing before the door many miles away and small, but extraordinarily distinct like a personage out of the past seen through the telescope of memory on a day of clear visibility.
     as he appeared in the dark hallway he illumined it with his eyes, his own eyes like the aurora borealis, a waving of luminous chiffon, such an immense and deep phenomenon of light like the eye of the universe.
     at first a blue softness, like a melting of snow and light, then lightning which revealed lucidity, and then a transparency like a dawn opening the worlds of divination. his gaze came from the remotest worlds of light and silence, piercing through our exterior, exposing instantly the naked soul and remained there before the exposure, full of surprise and wonder and awe.
     they had in them the roving gaze of the mariner who never attaches himself to what he sees, whose very glance is roving, floating, sailing on, and who looks at every person and object with a sense of the enormous space around them, with a sense of the distance one can put between one's self and one's desires, the sense of the enormousness of the world, and of the tides and currents that carry us onward.
     women were at times deceived by the hunger in them. the hunger and avidity of them, they believed he wanted them, and gave themselves, and found his hunger unchanged, and the distance increased; his eyes seemed as horizonless as the ocean itself, as unfixable, as mutable and unconquerable. . .
     he was never dressed, but costumed to suit some mood of a new self. he was in disguise. . . there were furs on the bed, rugs on the walls. in one corner stood a blue sled like a small bark sailing heavenward towards the planets. inside the sled a reindeer fur. hung on the walls, reindeer boots and gloves. the boots with their curled toes did not point earthward but airily out towards adventures and difficulties. inside the sled a small lamp shed a blue nordic light.
     a violin hung on the wall.
     his violin nailed to the wall and never touched since the day his mother had said to him: 'so you failed to get the prize you struggled for? you're hurt, you're humiliated, but i'm happy. now you will stop playing the violin and wasting your life. you will be a man like your father, not a fiddler. i'm very glad you did not win the prize. you would have gone to paris to study and become a good-for-nothing. we never had musicians in our family.'
     with one phrase she had destroyed his first passion. he hung his violin on the wall. the strings snapped gradually and hung dead.
     seeking this that he had lost without knowing it, he became restless and a rover, a prober, he became the archaeologist of his own soul, he searched and wandered looking blindly for the source of that music killed by the mother. he was possessed with restlessness, timelessness, forgetfulness. he lived in a labyrinth and a haze. he feared to look backward and seeing the shadow of this that had been killed in him but he also feared to stay where he was and lose it altogether. so he pursued it blindly to the farthest corners of the world, returning each time to the violin which hung on his wall crucified and muted.
     the music that was in him was never silenced, it flooded his place and every object vibrated with it. wherever he went the place was filled with resonances like the inside of an instrument. the harmonies of his being lay concealed in the very shell of his misery as the echo of the sea inside the sea shells, and while he talked about the loss of his violin, the loss of music, one could place one's ear against any object in his room, against his walls, against his rugs, against his pillows, and hear distinctly the music his mother had not been able to kill.
     each time that he embarked on a new transformation, or disguise, or voyage, he was driven not by pleasure or curiosity, but by the sight of the crucified violin. it wounded him, to see the broken strings. so he rushed again into multiple changes, to return loaded with new objects like votive offerings to the violin. . .
     to catch him at the moment of departure it was clear from his haste and anguish that it was a wound driving him, the pain of his silenced hands aching for the bow and strings, the shaft of the violin bow which had entered his soul like a splinter.
     just before he talked he seemed like a very soft animal, sensitive and porous, just before he talked, when his malady was not perceptible. he seemed pregnable and without taint, sailing freely like a ship without moorings.
     it was only when he began to talk that one saw how chained he was to his obsessions. every step he took was marked by a gasp of anguish. only while actually in movement was he lulled.
     no sooner had the marvelous befallen him than he grasped it with his peasant hands with the violence of a man who was not certain of having seen it, lived it, and who wanted to reassure himself of its palpability. everything which befell him would be ripped apart, analyzed, commented. as if he felt that behind all his possessions, some diabolical substitution was being offered him, as if he knew that what he desired did not lie in all the treasures that might be offered him.
     by moving, escaping, and distilling for himself only the essences and legends (he turned every woman into a mirage) he did not reach the freedom and ecstasy he sought, but anguish, an abysmal anguish. after he pursued so ardently only the atmosphere of the dream, and by prestidigitations, transformed everything into a mirage, then he lamented the absence of warmth and humanity. the further he cut himself from the ugly, the sordid, the animal, from sickness which he overlooked, from poverty which he disregarded, from his body which he maltreated, from human ties he would not submit to, from protection which he disdained, the more anguish he felt.
     the dream did not give him contentment.
     he was lonely.
     so he fell in love with the unknown woman of the seine, who had drowned herself many years ago and who was so beautiful that at the morgue they had made a plaster cast of her face. it was this picture he carried about. around her he embroidered the most luxurious enchantments which she could not destroy, as other women destroyed the enchantments he cast around them. her silence permitted the unfolding of all his inventions. in death alone could love grow to such an absolute. one of the lovers must be dead for the absolute to flourish, this impossible, unattainable flower of the infinite. in death alone there is no betrayal and no loss. so jean gave his infinite love to the drowned unknown woman of the seine. his spiritually autocratic love found no rival in death.
     but he was lonely.
     we locked ourselves inside his dream, with the objects he had chosen, and first there was contentment like a drug, enveloping and dissolving. . . the deer horns protruded from the walls holding open erotic books traversed by a knife. two hunters' knives were crossed over our heads. delicate sea plants bloomed in unexpected places, starfishes were glued on the mirror and skeleton leaves on the windowpanes. the windowpanes were painted so that one could not see the street, and so the glance was thrown inwardly again into contemplation.
     'when i went to lapland,' said jean, holding an empty opium pipe, 'i found the country of silence. people gathered together, sat in circles, smoking and smiling, but they do not talk. the reindeer has no voice with which to lament or cry. i looked everywhere for the secret of their speech and found it only in the trees. the trees talked for them. the trees had tortured arms, gaunt legs, the faces of totem poles. they talked and complained and sighed and threw imploring arms up towards the silence.'
     essences and flavors began to fill the room. we sat on tiny children's chairs from greece, before the fire. jean caressed his empty opium pipe and said: 'do you think we will ever find our twin in love?'
     'people who are twins,' i said, 'there is a curse upon their love. love is made of differences and suffering and apartness, and of the struggle to overcome this apartness. two people who love the dream above all else would soon both vanish altogether. one of them must be on earth to hold the other down. and the pain of being held down by the earth, reality, that is what our love for others will be.'
     'you know how i live, by what i call the alternating currents. sometimes i am afraid to get cut off altogether. but when i do love, what anxiety i feel, what doubts.'
     'doubts not of love, but of reality. you live in a mirage and you seek to be incarnated through the body of your love. with your gift for metamorphosis you can remove yourself so far that in love you seek the warmth and the reassurance of your very existence. you float too easily, you are too easily cut off. then when love holds you in bondage for a moment you feel anguish. but at some time or other you will have to accept having a body, a reality, being in bondage. you will have to enter the prison of human life and accept the suffering.'
     at the word suffering he took his air of flight and departure. his eyes alighted on the north pole. then his eyes returned and rested on me, knowing from me no pain would strike at him. 'don't you describe my transparence,' he said, 'because you yourself are like rainbow, an easily vanishing color. you only appear when the atmosphere is propitious. you can walk over the waters, you are so light. others will see you do it and they will want to follow you but they will drown. you are also a mirror, a mirror in which people see themselves fulfilled, the free self. i see myself free when i look at you. you are the perfect mirror without flaws which gives the reflection of the future self. but will i be free before it is too late? i feel that other people are sewn together loosely, naturally, with a space in between the stitches for breathing. i am sewn too tightly, with too many stitches overlapping, so that i suffocate.'
     'here we breathe freely.'
     'yes, because in the maze of the dream we cannot see our human sorrows.'
     jean stood now before the blurred and covered window which did not open into the street. he said: i am behind the window of a prison. i am a prisoner. there is always a window, and i am always behind it, looking out, and desiring to escape to countries and places which i imagine to be light, wall-less, illimitable. and you are a prisoner of another kind. you are barred behind your loves and your compassions. when the doors open, and you are on the verge of freedom, you take the fatal glance backward and see the one behind you who is not free and you retract your step and enchain yourself to this one while the prison doors close again. you are a voluntary prisoner who will not walk out alone. you are always preparing the flight for others. and so time passes.'
     'but of course, jean, we have the dream, this drug given to prisoners of distinction.'

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

in blackwater woods

by mary oliver

look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
every year
i have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

in public places you sit or stand quietly

by mira gonzalez from i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together

you try to not draw attention to yourself
you are considerate and polite in social situations
you hide certain opinions and express other ones
you want people to perceive you as agreeable
anyone can enjoy your presence for a short period of time
you allow people to project appealing qualities onto you
for this reason they maintain relationships with you
for a few weeks, months, a year or two
you take drugs because they make you feel different
benzodiazepines make you feel detached, affectionate
as if your opinions and desires exist independently of you
amphetamines make you feel thinner, more sociable
you are equally compelled by experiences with extremely positive or
extremely negative outcomes
physically attractive people don’t appeal to you
you feel compelled by people based on their ability to change things
your perception of reality, the ways in which you assign connotation to
you are interested in people who, when thought of years from now,
will cause you to recall certain, specific, crippling emotions

Monday, May 23, 2016

distant glow

from at the bottom of the river by jamaica kincaid

and who is this man, really? so solitary, his eyes sometimes aglow, his heart beating at an abnormal rate with a joy he cannot identify or explain. what is the virtue in him? and then again, what can it matter? for tomorrow the oak will be felled, the trestle will break, the cow's hooves will be made into glue.
but so he stands, forever, crossing and recrossing the threshold, his head lifted up, held aloft and stiff with vanity; then his eyes shift and he see and he sees, and he is weighted down. first lifted up, then weighed down - always he is so. shall he seek comfort now? and in what? he seeks out the living fossils. there is a shell of the pearly nautilus lying amidst colored chalk and powdered ink and india rubber in an old tin can, in memory of a day spent blissfully at sea. the flatworm is now a parasite. reflect. there is the earth, its surface apparently stilled, its atmosphere hospitable. and yet here stand pile upon pile of rocks of an enormous size, riven and worn down from the pressure of the great seas, now receded. and here the large veins of gold, the bubbling sulfurous fountains, the mountains covered with hot lava; at the bottom of some caves lies the black dust, and below that rich clay sediment, and trapped between the layers are filaments of winged beasts and remnants of invertebrates. 'and where shall i be?' asks this man. then he says, 'my body, my soul.' but quickly he averts his eyes and feels himself now, hands pressed tightly against his chest. he is standing on the threshold once again, and, looking up, he sees his wife holding out toward him his brown felt hat (he had forgotten it); his children crossing the street, joining the throng of children on their way to school, a mixture of broken sentences, mispronounced words, laughter, budding malice, and energy abundant. he looks at the house he has built with his own hands, the books he has read standing on shelves, the fruit-bearing trees that he nursed from seedlings, the larder filled with food that he has provided. he shifts the weight of his body from one foot to the other, in uncertainty but also weighing, weighing. . . he imagines that in one hand he holds emptiness and yearning and in the other desire fulfilled. he thinks of tenderness and love and faith and hope and, yes, goodness. he contemplates the beauty in the common thing: the sun rising up out of the huge, shimmering expanse of water that is the sea; it rises up each day as if made anew, as if for the first time. 'sing again. sing now,' he says in his heart, for he feels the cool breeze at the back of his neck. but again and again he feels the futility in all that. for stretching out before him is a silence so dreadful, a vastness, its length and breadth and depth immeasurable. nothing.
the branches were dead; a fly hung dead on the branches, its fragile body fluttering in the wind as if it were remnants of a beautiful gown; a beetle had fed on the body of the fly but now lay dead, too. death on death on death. dead lay everything. the ground stretching out from the river no longer a verdant pasture but parched and cracked with tiny fissures running up and down and into each other; and, seen from high above, the fissures presented beauty: not a pleasure to the eye but beauty all the same; still, dead, dead it was. dead lay everything that had lived and dead also lay everything that would live. all had had or would have its season. and what should it matter that its season lasted five billion years or five minutes? there it is now, dead, vanished into darkness, banished from life. first living briefly, then dead in eternity. how vainly i struggle against this. toil, toil, night and day. here a house is built. here a monument is erected to commemorate something called a good deed, or even in remembrance of a woman with exceptional qualities, and all that she loved and all that she did. here are some children, and immeasurable is the love and special attention lavished on them. vanished now is the house. vanished now is the monument. silent now are the children. i recall the house, i recall the monument, i summon up the children from the eternity of darkness, and sometimes, briefly, they appear, though always slightly shrouded, always as if they had emerged from mounds of ashes, chipped, tarnished, in fragments, or large parts missing: the ribbons, for instance, gone from the children's hair. these children whom i loved best - better than the monument, better than the house - once were so beautiful that they were thought unearthly. dead is the past. dead shall the future be. and what stand before my eyes, as soon as i turn my back, dead is that, too. shall i shed tears? sorrow is bound to death. grief is bound to death. each moment is not as fragile and fleeting as i once thought. each moment is hard and lasting and so holds much that i must mourn for. and so what a bitter thing to say to me: that life is the intrusion, that to embrace a thing as beauty is the intrusion, that to believe a thing true and therefore undeniable, that is the intrusion; and, yes, false are all appearances. what a bitter thing to say to me, i who for time uncountable have always seen myself as newly born, filled with a truth and a beauty that could not be denied, living in a world of light that i call eternal, a world that can know no end. i now know regret. and that, too, is bound to death. and what do i regret? surely not that i stand in the knowledge of the presence of death. for knowledge is a good thing; you have said that. what i regret is that in the face of death and all that it is and all that it shall be i stand powerless, that in the face of death my will, to which everything i have ever known bends, stands as if it were nothing more than a string caught in the early-morning wind.
. . .
'death is natural,' you said to me, in such a flat, matter-of-fact way, and then you laughed - a laugh so piercing that i felt my eardrums shred, i felt myself mocked. yet i can see that a tree is natural, that the sea is natural, that the twitter of a twittering bird is natural to a twittering bird. i can see with my own eyes the tree; it stands with limbs spread wide and laden with ripe fruit, its roots planted firmly in the rich soil, and that seems natural to me. i can see with my own eyes the sea, now with a neap tide, its surface smooth and calm; then in the next moment comes a breeze, soft, and small ripples turn into wavelets conquering wavelets, and that seems natural to me again. and the twittering bird twitters away, and that bears a special irritation, though not the irritation of the sting of the evening fly, and that special irritation is mostly ignored, and what could be more natural than that? but death bears no relation to the tree, the sea, the twittering bird. how much more like the earth spinning on its invisible axis death is, and so i might want to reach out with my hand and make the earth stand still, as if it were a bicycle standing on its handlebars upside down, the wheels spun in passing by a pair of idle hands, then stilled in passing by yet another pair of idle hands. inevitable to life is death and not inevitable to death is life. inevitable. how the word weighs on my tongue. i glean this: a worm winds its way between furrow and furrow in a garden, its miserable form shuddering, dreading the sharp open beak of any common bird winging its way overhead; the bird, then taking to the open air, spreads its wings in majestic flight, and how noble and triumphant is this bird in flight; but look now, there comes a boy on horseback, his body taut and eager, his hand holding bow and arrow, his aim pointed and definite, and in this way is the bird made dead. the worm, the bird, the boy. and what of the boy? his ends are numberless. i glean again the death in life.
. . .
i stood above the land and the sea, and i felt that i was not myself as i had once known myself to be: i was not made up of flesh and blood and muscles and bones and tissue and cells and vital organs but was made up of my will, and over my will i had complete dominion. i entered the sea then. the sea was without color, and it was without anything that i had known before. it was still, having no currents. it was as warm as freshly spilled blood, and i moved through it as if i had always done so, as if it were a perfectly natural element to me. i moved through deep caverns, but they were without darkness and sudden shifts and turns. i stepped over great ridges and huge bulges of stones, i stooped down and touched the deepest bottom; i stretched myself out and covered end to end a vast crystal plane. nothing lived here. no plant grew here, no huge sharp-toothed creature with an ancestral memory of hunter and prey searching furiously for food, no sudden shift of wind to disturb the water. how good this water was. how good that i should know no fear. i sat on the edge of a basin. i felt myself swing my feet back and forth in a carefree manner, as if i were a child who had just spent the whole day head bent over sums but now sat in a garden filled with flowers in bloom colored vermillion and gold, the sounds of birds chirping, goats bleating, home from the pasture, the smell of vanilla from the kitchen, which should surely mean pudding with dinner, eyes darting here and there but resting on nothing - not happiness, not contentment, and not the memory of night, which soon would come.
i stood up on the edge of the basin and felt myself move. but what self? for i had no feet, or hands, or head, or heart. it was as if those things - my feet, my hands, my head, my heart - having once been there, were now stripped away, as if i had been dipped again and again, over and over, in a large vat filled with some precious elements and were now reduced to something i yet had no name for. i had no name for the thing i had become, so new was it to me, except that i did not exist in pain or pleasure, east or west or north or south, or up or down, or past or present or future, or real or not real. i stood as if i were a prism, many-sided and transparent, refracting and reflecting light as it reached me, light that never could be destroyed. and how beautiful i became. yet this beauty was not in the way of an ancient city seen after many centuries in ruins, or a woman who has just brushed her hair, or a man who searches for a treasure, or a child who cries immediately on being born, or an apple just picked standing alone on a gleaming white plate, or tiny beads of water left over from a sudden downpour of rain, perhaps - hanging delicately from the bare limbs of trees - or the sound the hummingbird makes with its wings as it propels itself through the earthly air.
yet what was that light in which i stood? how singly then will the heart desire and pursue the small glowing thing resting in the distance, surrounded by darkness; how, then, if on conquering the distance the heart embraces the small glowing thing until heart and glowing thing are indistinguishable and in this way the darkness is made less? for now a door might suddenly be pushed open and the morning light might rush in, revealing to me creation and a force whose nature is implacable, unmindful of any of the individual needs of existence, and without knowledge of future or past. i might then come to believe in a being whose impartiality i cannot now or ever fully understand and accept. i ask, when shall i, too, be extinguished, so that i cannot be recognized even from my bones? i covet the rocks and the mountains their silence. and so, emerging from my pit, the one i sealed up securely, the one to which i have consigned all my deeds that i care not to reveal - emerging from this pit, i step into a room and i see that the lamp is lit. in the light of the lamp, i see some books, i see a chair, i see a table, i see a pen; i see a bowl of ripe fruit, a bottle of milk, a flute made of wood, the clothes that i will wear. and as i see these things in the light of the lamp, all perishable and transient, how bound up i know i am to all that is human endeavor, to all that is past and to all that shall be, to all that shall be lost and leave no trace. i claim these things then - mine - and now feel myself grow solid and complete, my name filling up my mouth.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

my lover, writing

from the chronology of water by lidia yuknavitch

"some people say that words can't 'happen' to you. i say they can. . .

please understand, i loved reading literary theory - i mean, i devoured the primary texts as if they were romance novels - i dove into the discourse as if its waters were mine alone - my body song swam in between currents of language and thought. but trying to write critically, academically, hurt.
a lot.
why would someone do that to novels? for what purpose, other than a sadistic impulse to hush, silence, incarcerate art? it seemed like a violence to me to write that way about literature. it seemed false at best and repugnant at worst - murderous even.
in my dissertation the novels i'd chosen were astonishing pieces of noisy art. white noise and almanac of the dead and empire of the senseless - a book which i promise you, if you've never read it, will scrape your eyeballs. books in which culture towered and collapsed, border identities defied the cult of good citizenship and revolutionaries turned back on their liberators with fire for hair. wars of militarization and wars of race and wars of gender and wars of fathers and language and power and wars of just the human heart played out page after page, taking my breath away.
when i set my hands to writing literary criticism - that act of writing so legitimized by white male knowledge - i felt like i was a torturer. a killer. a betrayer. an abuser. i slept with three of my professors - two men and one woman - i think trying to get the body back into discourse. HEY! what about bodies? the noisy, wet, rule-breaking body that seemed erased by all that lofty thought. it didn't work.
OF COURSE i considered quitting graduate school. i paid my ticket, i rode the ride. right? half the people i started with quit. i did not have to continue toward scholar. but something wouldn't let me. some deep wrestling match going on inside my rib house and gray matter. some woman in me i'd never met. you know who she was? my intellect. when i opened the door and there she stood, with her sassy red reading glasses and fitted skirt and leather bookbag, i thought, who the hell are you? crouching into a defensive posture and looking at her warily out of the corner of my eye. watch out, woman.
to which she replied, i'm lidia. i have a desire toward language and knowledge that will blow your mind. and i'm here to write a dissertation.
yeah. right. whatever. and anyway, where did you even come from?
oh, i think you know. i'm from your father. now open the goddamned door.
my father. whose mind curled around art and architecture and classical music and film. whose intellect i carried in my blood rivers. that's when my two mes had it out. the me i'd forged to leave a family and body batter my way into the world, and the me i'd never met, or even knew existed, except perhaps hidden in my hands, hiding like the crouch of dreams in my fingers. my father's daughter.
'i am a woman who talks to herself and lies.'
the night after i jumped from the train of things, at the computer my heart raced. my first book came out of me in a great gushing return of the repressed. like a blood clot had loosened. my hands frenzied. words from my whole body, my entire life, or the lives of women and girls whose stories got stuck in their throats came gushing out. nothing could have stopped the stories coming out of me. even though my hands and arms and face hurt - bruised and cut from falling from a train - or a marriage - or a self in the night - i wrote story after story. there was no inside out. there were words and there was my body, and i could see through my own skin. i wrote my guts out. until it was a book.
until my very skin made screamsong."

Friday, May 20, 2016


by margaret atwood

living backwards means only
i must suffer everything twice.
those picnics were already loss:
with the dragonflies and the clear streams halfway.

what good did it do me to know
how far along you would come with me
and when you would return?
by yourself, to a life you call daily.

you did not consider me a soul
but a landscape, not even one
i recognize as mine, but foreign
and rich in curios:
an egg of blue marble,
a dried pod,
a clay goddess you picked up at a stall
somewhere among the dun and dust-green
hills and the bronze-hot
sun and the odd shadows,

not knowing what would be protection,
or even the need for it then.

i wake in the early dawn and there is the roadway
shattered, and the glass and blood,
from an intersection that has happened
already, though i can't say when.
simply that it will happen.

what could i tell you now that would keep you
safe or warn you?
what good would it do?
live and be happy.

i would rather cut myself loose
from time, shave off my hair
and stand at a crossroads
with a wooden bowl, throwing
myself on the dubious mercy
of the present, which is innocent
and forgetful and hits the eye bare

and without words and without even love
than do this mourning over.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

a stepping stone

all quotes from start where you are by pema chodron

"underneath all that craving or aversion or jealousy or feeling wretched about yourself, underneath all that hopelessness and despair and depression there's something extremely soft. . . when these things arise, train gradually and very gently without making it into a big deal. begin to get the hang of feeling what's underneath the story line. feel the wounded heart that's underneath the addiction, self-loathing, or anger."

"you breathe the anger in; you remove the object. . . now you own the anger completely. you drive all blames into yourself. it takes a lot of bravery, and it's extremely insulting to ego."

"your own pain is like a stepping stone. your heart develops more and more, and even if someone comes up and insults you, you could genuinely understand the whole situation because you understand so well where everybody's coming from."

"part of awakening is to cultivate honesty and clear seeing. sometimes people take the lojong teaching to mean that if you're not to blame others but instead to connect with the feelings beneath your own story line, it would be wrong to say that someone has harmed you. however, part of honesty, clear seeing, and straightforwardness is being able to acknowledge that harm has been done."

"this is tricky business. what's the difference between seeing that harm has been done and blaming? perhaps it is that rather than point the finger of blame, we raise questions: 'how can i communicate? how can i help the harm that has been done unravel itself? how can i help others find their own wisdom, kindness, and sense of humor?'"

"setting goals for others can be aggressive -- really wanting a success story for ourselves. when we do this to others, we are asking them to live up to our ideals. instead, we should just be kind."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

from what raw ground

granite, salt, half circle of brick
bread and marbles, meats and signs.
heavy hands in pockets, around matches.

put on a hat.
keep feet sneakered and pointed.
to work, to work.
must work, must move

a chamber, a cave,
anything dark and echo-prone.
i came for something
to learn
not to have.

but will i leave?

steps tonight, smoke again, spinach.
check check check, the little things, lists,
privileges. what does it mean
anymore? stay in your lane.

overheard conversations sound like wind
on the hill, fluorescence, downpours.
the phone call is for a bonfire,
i have things to burn.

i have things to bury.
don't we all

on the walk, facedown and dead:
small brown bat.
which cat killed it
why it sits there

oh the sidewalk

i want to do something.
i don't

deep water is trapping, feels like lungs
covered in ash. but what of quiet eyes
caught me in their bluest
in my bluest

silence. i was so cold,
shivering with memory
and sickness. the belly lurches,
head hammers,

throw up
sink down

too far underwater, i thought
but it is happening so quietly, i think
almost like a betrayal

grass. we are standing. just
standing. small flags announcing
borders, boxes. something was organized,
not me.

not a hand, turning
not a corner, turning
not any of this

what narration cannot do,
though attempts are made.

we are standing, just standing.
eggs nearby, dozens.
i note: my blood, the table.
between, the proximate.
we take note of the movements.
i write, yes

and there is certainty. but what of quiet
eyes caught me, have been
catching me, have followed me
in their bluest
in my bluest

in the wind on the hill
through hat shoes sweater boots
plants paper apologies
in ripe water, warm flowers,
tender, ready eyes

your deliberate voice.

i surprise myself,
strangely willing.

open, again.

how did you do it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

feel your way

all quotes from the cultural politics of emotion by sara ahmed

"hardness is not the absence of emotion, but a different emotional orientation towards others. the hard white body is shaped by its reactions: the rage against others surfaces as a body that stands apart or keeps its distance from others. we shouldn't look for emotions 'in' soft bodies. emotions shape the very surfaces of bodies, which take shape through the repetition of actions over time, as well as through orientations towards and away from others. indeed, attending to emotions might show us how all actions are reactions, in the sense that what we do is shaped by the contact we have with others."

"emotions are intentional in the sense that they are 'about' something: they involve a direction or orientation towards an object. the 'aboutness' of emotions means they involve a stance on the world, or a way of apprehending the world. . . emotions are relational: they involve (re)actions or relations of 'towardness' or 'awayness' in relation to such objects."

"emotions should not be regarded as psychological states, but as social and cultural practices. . . emotion is not what comes from the individual body, but is what holds or binds the social body together."

"feelings become a form of social presence rather than self-presence. in my model of sociality of emotions, i suggest that emotions create the very effect of the surfaces and boundaries that allow us to distinguish an inside and an outside in the first place. . . it is through emotions, or how we respond to objects and others, that surfaces or boundaries are made: the 'i' and the 'we' are shaped by, and even take the shape of, contact with others."

"the model of emotional contagion. . . is useful in its emphasis on how emotions are not simply located in the individual, but move between bodies."

"emotions in their very intensity involve miscommunication, such that even when we feel we have the same feeling, we don't necessarily have the same relationship to that feeling."

"the relationship between movement and attachment is instructive. what moves us, what makes us feel, is also that which holds us in place, or gives us a dwelling place. hence movement does not cut the body off from the 'where' of its inhabitance, but connects bodies to other bodies: attachment takes place through movement, through being moved by the proximity of others."

"the work i am most indebted is the work of feminist and queer scholars who have attended to how emotions can attach us to the very conditions of our subordination. such scholars have shown us how social forms (such as the family, heterosexuality, the nation, even civilisation itself) are effects of repetition. . . my argument about the cultural politics of emotions is developed not only as a critique of the psychologising and privatisation of emotions, but also as a critique of a model of social structure that neglects the emotional intensities, which allow such structures to be reified as forms of being."

"it also follows that we should not look for emotions only where the attribution of 'being emotional' is made. what is posited as 'unemotional' also involves emotions, as ways of responding to objects and others. i will not be equating emotionality with femininity. see campbell (1994) for an important critique of how women are 'dismissed' through being seen or 'judged' as being emotional."

"even feelings that are immediate, and which may involve 'damage' on the skin surface, are not simply feelings that one has, but feelings that open bodies to others. my analysis introduces the concept of 'intensification' to show how pain creates the very impression of a bodily surface. i also consider how pain can shape worlds as bodies, through the ways in which stories of pain circulate in the public domain."

"when we talk about the displacement between objects of emotion, we also need to consider the circulation of words for emotion. . . the word 'mourns' might get linked to other emotion words: anger, hatred, love. the replacement of one word for an emotion with another word produces a narrative. our love might create the condition for our grief, our loss could become the condition for our hate, and so on. the emotion does its work by 'reading' the object: for example, others might get read as the 'reason' for the loss of the object of love, a reading which easily converts feelings of grief into feelings of hate."

"the surfaces of bodies 'surface' as an effect of the impressions left by others. . . the surfaces of collective as well as individual bodies take shape through such impressions."

"i have been overwhelmed by how much 'emotions' have been a 'sticking point' for philosophers, cultural theorists, psychologists, sociologists, as well as scholars from a range of other disciplines. this is not surprising: what is relegated to the margins is often, as we know from deconstruction, right at the centre of thought itself."

Monday, May 16, 2016

after bei dao / after jean valentine

by eduardo c. corral from slow lightning

the skin of your deity smells like gasoline

your prayers are added to the pyre

a gold wheel spinning

once your voice broke out in a sweat

each word a salt lick

there are fingers rooting inside a violin

orchestral maneuvers

in the middle of the pandemic

you mistook a group of ghosts for an orchard

you, coward

fingers are rooting inside a violin to pull out

the last scraps of birdsong

a gold wheel spinning in your mind

like insomnia

Sunday, May 15, 2016


"in capitalism, we are told it is a 'dog eat dog' world. in scarcity cultures, dogs are likely to eat other dogs even when food remains, in anticipation of the aggression of others. we are told to look out for ourselves because others will not extend kindness or generosity to us. when community members make choices presuming that others will fail them and are not trustworthy - that it is best to look out for yourself because no one else will - you are complicit in creating a culture where that is true. in cynicism, we anticipate the worst and so manifest it. the seven of feathers is a calculus based on the assumptions of how others will react. sometimes the world is bleak. we witness our community's collapse in moments when we would most like to see our friends rally together and take care of one another."

"am i making choices that privilege my wellbeing to the detriment of others? are my choices informed by the assumption that other people will do me wrong? further, ask yourself: are members of my community, family, or friend group looking out for me? do i trust the people around me? the seven of feathers does not suggest you are wrong to imagine other people could be disloyal to you, or make choices that come at a cost to you. instead, it asks you to examine the ways you could disrupt that."

Friday, May 13, 2016


by mueen bessissou

his wounds said: "no!"
his chains said: "no!"
and the turtledove which shielded his
wound with her feather
said: "no!"
"no!" for those who sold and bought
gaza's silver anklet.
they sold the bullets and bought a goose.

quaking goose!
stop for a moment.
and listen to him
saying: "no!"
pity him; he did not die under neon lights,
between the candlestick and the moon.
pity him; there was no formal announcement
or a dumb funeral.
no moaning poem nor song.
let me compose, if only one line of verse,
that i may recite it to all the men with
long and false beards.

stop quaking for a moment
and listen to him saying: "no!"
like the solid fence of a horse in gaza.
everyday, he gets killed one thousand times,
quaking goose!

from a lover from palestine and other poems

Thursday, May 12, 2016

the promise

by marie howe from what the living do

in the dream i had when he came back not sick
but whole, and wearing his winter coat,

he looked at me as though he couldn't speak, as if
there were a law against it, a membrane he couldn't break.

his silence was what he could not
not do, like our breathing in this world, like our living,

as we do, in time.
and i told him: i'm reading all this buddhist stuff,

and listen, we don't die when we die. death is an event,
a threshold we pass through. we go on and on

and into light forever.
and he looked down, and then back up at me. it was the look we'd pass

across the kitchen table when dad was drunk again and dangerous,
the level look that wants to tell you something,

in a crowded room, something important, and can't.