Saturday, December 31, 2016


excerpts from through the looking glass by lewis carroll (charles lutwidge dodson)

"what sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?" the gnat inquired.
"i don't rejoice in insects at all," alice explained, "because i'm rather afraid of them -- at least the large kinds. but i can tell you the names of some of them."
"of course they answer to their names?" the gnat remarked carelessly.
"i never knew them do it."
"what's the use of their having names," the gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"
"no use to them," said alice; "but it's useful to the people that name them, i suppose. if not, why do things have names at all?"
"i can't say," the gnat replied. "further on, in the wood down there, they've got no names -- however, go on with your list of insects: you're wasting time."
"well, there's the horse-fly," alice began, counting off the names on her fingers.
"all right," said the gnat. "half way up that bush, you'll see a rocking-horse-fly, if you look. it's made entirely of wood, and gets about by swinging itself from branch to branch."
"what does it live on?" alice asked, with great curiosity.
"sap and sawdust," said the gnat. "go on with the list."
alice looked at the rocking-horse-fly with great interest, and made up her mind that it must have been just repainted, it looked so bright and sticky; and then she went on.
"and there's the dragon-fly."
"look on the branch above your head," said the gnat, "and there you'll find a snap=dragon-fly. its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy."
"and what does it live on?" alice asked, as before.
"frumenty and mince-pie," the gnat replied; "and it makes its nest in a christmas-box."
"and then there's the butterfly," alice went on, after she had taken a good look at the insect with its head on fire, and had thought to herself, "i wonder if that's the reason insects are so fond of flying into candles -- because they want to turn into snap-dragon-flies!"
"crawling at your feet," said the gnat (alice drew her feet back in some alarm), "you may observe a bread-and-butter-fly. its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar."
"and what does it live on?"
"weak tea with cream in it."
a new difficulty came into alice's head. "supposing it couldn't find any?" she suggested.
"then it would die, of course."
"but that must happen very often," alice remarked thoughtfully.
"it always happens," said the gnat.
after this, alice was silent for a minute or two, pondering. the gnat amused itself meanwhile by humming round and round her head: at last it settled again and remarked "i suppose you don't want to lose your name?"
"no, indeed," alice said, a little anxiously.
"and yet i don't know," the gnat went on in a careless tone: "only think how convenient it would be if you could manage to go home without it! for instance, if the governess wanted to call you to your lessons, she would call out 'come here -------,' and there she would have to leave off, because there wouldn't be any name for her to call, and of course you wouldn't have to go, you know."
"that would never do, i'm sure," said alice: "the governess would never think of excusing me lessons for that. if she couldn't remember my name, she'd call me 'miss,' as the servants do."
"well, if she said 'miss,' and didn't say anything more," the gnat remarked, "of course you'd miss your lessons. that's a joke. i wish you had made it."
"why do you wish i had made it?" alice asked. "it's a very bad one."
but the gnat only sighed deeply, while two large tears came rolling down its cheeks.
"you shouldn't make jokes," alice said, "if it makes you so unhappy."


"how can you go on talking so quietly, head downwards?" alice asked, as she dragged him out by the feet, and laid him in a heap on the bank.
the knight looked surprised at the question. "what does it matter where my body happens to be?" he said. "my mind goes on working all the same. in fact, the more head-downwards i am, the more i keep inventing new things."
"now the cleverest thing of the sort that i ever did," he went on after a pause, "was inventing a new pudding during the meat-course."
"in time to have it cooked for the next course?" said alice. "well, that was quick work, certainly!"
"well, not the next course," the knight said in a slow thoughtful tone: "no, certainly not the next course."
"then it would have to be the next day. i suppose you wouldn't have two pudding-courses in one dinner?"
"well not the next day," the knight repeated as before: "not the next day. in fact," he went on, holding his head down, and his voice getting lower and lower, "i don't believe that pudding ever was cooked! in fact, i don't believe that pudding ever will be cooked! and yet it was a very clever pudding to invent."
"what did you mean it to be made of?" alice asked, hoping to cheer him up, for the poor knight seemed quite low-spirited about it.
"it began with blotting-paper," the knight answered with a groan.
"that wouldn't be very nice, i'm afraid ---"
"not very nice alone," he interrupted, quite eagerly: "but you've no idea what a difference it makes, mixing it with other things - such as gunpowder and sealing-wax. and here i must leave you." they had just come to the end of the wood.
alice could only look puzzled: she was thinking of the pudding.
"you are sad," the knight said in an anxious tone: "let me sing you a song to comfort you."
"is it very long?" alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.
"it's long," said the knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. everybody that hears me sing it - either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else ----"
"or else what?" said alice, for the knight had made a sudden pause.
"or else it doesn't, you know. the name of the song is called 'haddocks' eyes.'"
"oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" alice said, trying to feel interested.
 "no, you don't understand," the knight said, looking a little vexed. "that's what the name is called. the name really is "the aged aged man.'"
"then i ought to have said, 'that's what the song is called'?" alice corrected herself.
"no, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! the song is called 'ways and means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"
"well, what is the song, then?" said alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
"i was coming to that," the knight said. "the song really is 'a-sitting on a gate': and the tune's my own invention."
so saying, he stopped his horse and let the reins fall on its neck: then, slowly beating time with one hand, and with a faint smile lighting up his gentle foolish face, as if he enjoyed the music of his song, he began.
of all the strange things that alice saw in her journey through the looking-glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday -- the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the knight -- the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her -- the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet -- and the black shadows of the forest behind -- all this she took in like a picture, as with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

bank seven

by laura sims from practice, restraint

tit for tat

your border gives in

                    under the wet awning, a bomb

or something

we think ---

                    we were animals


Thursday, December 15, 2016

i i i i i

from seize the day by saul bellow

"on broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight, and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. and the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence -- i labor, i spend, i strive, i design, i love, i cling, i uphold, i give way, i envy, i long, i scorn, i die, i hide, i want. faster, much faster than any man could make the tally. the sidewalks were wider than any causeway; the street itself was immense, and it quaked and gleamed and it seemed to wilhelm to throb at the last limit of endurance. and although the sunlight appeared like a broad tissue, its actual weight made him feel like a drunkard."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


by billy collins from picnic, lightning

the moon is full tonight
an illustration for sheet music,
an image in matthew arnold
glimmering on the english channel,
or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield
in one of the history plays.

it's as full as it was
in that poem by coleridge
where he carries his year-old son
into the orchard behind the cottage
and turns the baby's face to the sky
to see for the first time
the earth's bright companion,
something amazing to make his crying seem small.

and if you wanted to follow this example,
tonight would be the night
to carry some tiny creature outside
and introduce him to the moon.

and if your house has no child
you can always gather into your arms
the sleeping infant of yourself,
as i have done tonight,
and carry him outdoors,
all limp in his tattered blanket,
making sure to steady his lolling head
with the palm of your hand.

and while the wind ruffles the pear trees
in the corner of the orchard
and dark roses wave against a stone wall,
you can turn him on your shoulder
and walk in circles on the lawn
drunk with the light.
you can lift him up into the sky,
your eyes nearly as wide as his,
as the moon climbs high into the night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Discreet Charm of Fascism

by ibrahim el-sayed, from  أحد عشر كلبا (eleven dogs)
The spring of 2012 feels painful with its small yellow flowers that
fill the hospital garden
Dusty Christmas trees seem smaller
and Made in China
Crimson decorations have
the smell of strawberries
overlain by a sticky white film of mould

This is how my girlfriend fears her body; her non-aligned body:
an entirely unreliable ally in love’s fray
The fascism that flourished in the schools now storms the streets
The lizards roam the lanes
and the state is ghosts that press down on our thin fingers
Military marches summon memories of the Happy Fifties:
Shadia’s pink cheeks, movie melodrama cribbed from
La Dame au Camelias
The new editions are distorted, tanks and other tracked vehicles
occupy the street.

In the background, mahragan music: national anthem to a great horde of lighter sellers, statesmen, others

We shall leave the city behind us
making for the desert
The taxis are full
The railways lines cut
We will not leap into the river.

A continuous swimming within,
and the ugly cement wavebreaks
block the view on either side
The shoreline at our backs
is full of gelatinous bodies
pulsing in the dark:
surprised by a cold wave.

Monday, December 12, 2016


quotes from the argonauts by maggie nelson

"you, reader, are alive today, reading this, because someone once adequately policed your mouth exploring. in the face of this fact, winnicott holds the relatively unsentimental position that we don't owe these people (often women, but by no means always) anything. but we do owe ourselves 'an intellectual recognition of the fact that at first we were (psychologically) absolutely dependent, and that absolutely means absolutely. luckily we were met by ordinary devotion.'"

"when you are a stepparent, no matter how wonderful you are, no matter how much love you have to give, no matter how mature or wise or successful or smart or responsible you are, you are structurally vulnerable to being hated or resented, and there is precious little you can do about it, save endure, and commit to planting seeds of sanity and good spirit in the face of whatever shitstorms may come your way. and don't expect to get any kudos from the culture, either: parents are hallmark-sacrosanct, but stepparents are interlopers, self-servers, poachers, pollutants, and child molesters. . .

when i try to discover what i resent my stepfather for most, it is never 'he gave me too much love.' no - i resent him for not reliably giving the impression that he was glad he lived with my sister and me (he may not have been), for not telling me often that he loved me (again, he may not have - as one of the step-parenting self-help books i ordered during our early days put it, love is preferred, but not required), for not being my father, and for leaving after over twenty years of marriage to our mother without saying a proper good-bye.

i think you overestimate the maturity of adults, he wrote me in his final letter, a letter he sent only after i'd broken down and written him first, after a year of silence."

"one of the most annoying things about hearing the refrain 'same-sex marriage' over and over again is that i don't know many - if any - queers who think of their desire's main feature as being 'same-sex.' it's true that a lot of lesbian sex writing from the '70s was about being turned on, and even politically transformed, by an encounter with sameness. this encounter was, is, can be, important, as it has to do with seeing reflected that which has been reviled, with exchanging alienation or internalized revulsion for desire and care. to devote yourself to someone else's pussy can be a means of devoting yourself to your own. but whatever sameness i've noted in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy."

"if there's one thing homonormativity reveals it's the troubling fact that you can be victimized and in no way be radical; it happens very often among homosexuals as with every other oppressed minority [leo bersani]."

"eve kosofsky sedgwick wanted to make way for 'queer' to hold all kinds of resistances and fracturings and mismatches that have little or nothing to do with sexual orientation. 'queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive -- recurrent, eddying, troublant,' she wrote. 'keenly, it is relational, and strange.' she wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder -- a nominative, like argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. that is what reclaimed terms do -- they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive."

"i told you i wanted to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor, but honesty. you said i misunderstood what you meant by honor. we haven't yet stopped trying to explain to each other what these words mean to us"

"how to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy? i do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. neither do i want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if i behave in the right way. i don't want any of it [beatriz preciado]. how to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is ok -- desirable, even (e.g., 'gender hackers') -- whereas for others, or for others at some times, it stays a source of conflict or grief? how does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality -- or anything else, really -- is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?"

"i think [judith] butler is generous to name the diffuse 'commodification of identity' as the problem. less generously, i'd say that the simple fact that she's a lesbian is so blinding for some, that whatever words come out of her mouth -- whatever words come out of the lesbian's mouth, whatever ideas spout from her head -- certain listeners hear only one thing: lesbian, lesbian, lesbian. it's a quick step from there to discounting the lesbian -- or, for that matter, anyone who refuses to slip quietly into a 'postracial' future that resembles all too closely the racist past and present -- as identitarian, when it's actually the listener who cannot get beyond the identity that he has imputed to the speaker. calling the speaker identitarian then serves as an efficient excuse not to listen to her, in which case the listener can resume his role as speaker. and then we can scamper off to yet another conference with a keynote by jacques ranciere, alain badiou, slavoj zizek, at which we can meditate on self and other, grapple with radical difference, exalt the decisiveness of the two, and shame the unsophisticated identitarians, all at the feet of yet another great white man pontificating from the podium, just as we've done for centuries."

Sunday, December 11, 2016


from 1001 things everyone should know about science by james trefil

"the sun is a very ordinary star."

"it is likely that there is a black hole at the center of the galaxy. astronomers studying radiation coming from the center of our galaxy (in the constellation sagittarius) have come to the conclusion that something very strange is going on there. they see a large empty space in the center, free of gas but surrounded by swirling, chaotic threads of material. from the motion of this material, they conclude that there must be a massive object at the center of the galaxy -- several million times bigger than the sun. the best candidate for such an object would be a large black hole."

"859: the separation of charges in a thundercloud produces the lightning bolt. the large negative charge in the lower face of the clouds repels electrons from objects in the ground underneath it. the result is a 'shadow' of the cloud in the ground -- a region of positive charge. these charges follow along underneath the cloud, running up and down trees and buildings as they do so.

a lightning bolt begins when the charge in the cloud gets strong enough to ionize the air in its immediate vicinity. it opens a passage of ionized air several hundred feet long, called a 'leader.' because ionized air is a good conductor, the negative charge runs down into the leader. this process is repeated -- another leader is formed -- and the chain of leaders makes its way almost to the ground. about 100 feet above the ground, it is met by a leader formed by the positive charges coming up to meet it. the result of all this activity is a jagged path of conducting material between the negative charge in the clouds and the positive charge on the ground. with nothing to stop it, the positive charge runs up to the cloud, neutralizing the negative charges there. we perceive this motion of charge as a lightning stroke. the energy dissipated because of the resistance in the ionized path heats the air and pushes it away. the air then returns into this partial vacuum and creates a thunderclap."

"895: almost all the heavy elements in your body were made in supernovae somewhere. all elements heavier than iron, and most of the atoms of elements heavier than helium, are made in supernovae and then returned to the interstar medium when the supernova explodes. there they wait until they are taken up in the formation of a new star and (perhaps) planets. the sun and the earth were formed from this sort of enriched gas 4.6 billion years ago. the calcium in your bones, the iron in your blood, and the carbon in your tissues all got their start inside a star somewhere, and most likely inside a supernova."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

and water lies plainly

by laurie sheck

Then I came to an edge of very calm
But couldn’t stay there. It was the washed greenblue mapmakers use 
to indicate
Inlets and coves, softbroken contours where the land leaves off
And water lies plainly, as if lamped by its own justice. I hardly 
know how to say how it was
Though it spoke to me most kindly,
Unlike a hard afterwards or the motions of forestalling.

Now in evening light the far-off ridge carries marks of burning.
The hills turn thundercolored, and my thoughts move toward them, 
rough skins
Without their bodies. What is the part of us that feels it isn’t 
named, that doesn’t know
How to respond to any name? That scarcely or not at all can lift 
its head
Into the blue and so unfold there?