There is a man, older than I
above me looking
at the same show of lights
in the sky, meditating perhaps
or just sitting. All I know
is that he looks at these lights
as I do, and that he is above me.
There was a different time
when I was above him
and he was below,
and we were looking
at a different light show.
The way he looked,
then nudged a friend,
had a sense
not of meditation,
but of fear,
On standing when the ground is slippery
On standing when the ground is slippery. Sometimes you have no choice but to pick yourself off the ground, no matter how much in tatters you happen to be and how hard it is to move a single limb; and this is no minor task. Worse yet is when you’re asked to perform this impossible feat precisely when you are least confident that it is worthwhile to stand up again; perhaps the ground, you think, plays tricks on you, and would stay stable just long enough for you to come to your feet once more, only to break the foundation and pull at its own seams as soon as your heel is firmly planted on the turf. So just when you intend to stand and to stand tall, the ground itself makes you quake with its own quaking, shake and bend over as though to take hold of a railing that is not there, and dance about like a novice dancer, whether in front of anyone else or not it makes no difference–the sole difference is that you are now dancing when you wanted most only to stand and to stand still and straight.
What else is one to do at such a time than become a jester of one’s own legs along with the earth itself, mocking at all attempts at uprightness with willing and contortionist-professional moves, bending and twisting whatever way the wind shifts, or against the wind. What else is one to do but, as soon as you take a stand again, go down, all of your failure in standing and flaying about full of laughter and the playfulness of children playing together in the park, in which it is the task of the dreamers to make it from one end to the other without so much as stepping once on the mulch? Everything is boiling hot or everything is shifting in a carnivalesque parade, so the children spend most of their time writhing in the greatest pleasure, precisely on the ground, like proud worms. You might attempt to pick up these worms of yourself, too, and use them for bait to catch a creature more stiff; but lo, these worms are slippery–good luck taking any determinate hold of them!
The power of contradiction
The power of contradiction. Contradiction shows not only the power of the thinker, in saying against, or turning against, whatever before was an unacknowledged certainty; it also shows the power of life itself, that it is not contained within a scheme or anything like final coherence, where all the elements of it are fitted together for our admiration or for our employment. The words come to refute what was once standing on its own, to present the counter side of something, because already there is a movement within the living to contradict and to be contradicted, as the virtuous is contradicted by the vicious, as the thought of this morning is contradicted by the thought of tonight, as life is contradicted by death and death by life, as sense is contradicted and swallowed up by senselessness, by the unthinkable, becoming a mess of fragments butting into one another, sparks of interpretation careening into one another, to finally crash–it’s a living thing that crashes–into incommensurability.
and you don’t know what to do but babble
maybe all or the thing itself
you say fire because it consumes
because it takes nothing with it
of itself with no announcement
like a strange friend at a dinner party
there was a time
you thought you would never lose it
then it leaves for a time
but when it comes back
you look at the books like so many ciphers
you tell him
as you’re leaning against the trash mound
that you had it once
you had it
but it left and you’re worried
that you won’t recognize it
that the skies
will be changed
when you look up
your neck won’t hurt
you will stretch upwards like green
the meaning of things
will be like this, up
then down, growing then wilting
Just the Letter H
The gravesites were unmarked
But there were so many of them.
It was as if having a name
Were a burden,
As if death were too busy
To write anyone’s name down.
I kneeled down against one of them,
But could only discern the letter H.
It still could have been unmarked;
Perhaps somebody scratched it on there.
Some vandal or one of history’s thieves
Stealing first an alphabet,
Then stealing our hearts for a moment,
Thinking we know what the rest will say.
It was a blank gravestone,
I came to settle on that after a while.
It had something to do with the angle
I had been standing at, or the light.
There’s no way I am seeing this letter
Now, I thought, when the other stones stare blankly.
Or what if it was a child
Roaming the dank dark fog of the place
To find a blank board to learn to spell;
And what better place to learn to spell?
Cold but determined, with shaking boy’s hands
He writes a messy modest H.
His word he was taught
When he went to the zoo with mother.
He didn’t like the zoo,
And asked the mother, pointing to them all:
Mama, what are those, he asked
Pointing to the cruelest animal there.
His word was too difficult to spell,
He became forlorn and cold,
Left the place behind him,
Its air torn through with calm, and the knife too.
Moving with crunching steps
Through the yard for more.
There were no more letters
To make up a decent word.
There were no more letters
To make up any measly word.
Not even U
Could be found anywhere there.
I thought I saw I
But quickly laughed that one off.
It was just a vague, disheveled H,
Looking a little pathetic, really,
A little desperate on its pillars.
Getting out of bed–again
Getting out of bed–again. What keeps us going, when everything seems so hopeless? We would like to say that it is the possibility that we will be remembered but it isn’t. In fact, nothing will be remembered, least of all our long, protracted solemnity in the face of life. Life will not remember such things, nor will any of the living. Life will spit out from the corner of its mouth any such nonsense, and make sure not to digest the slightest portion of you. So, it seems hopeless and it is, which means there is nothing that keeps us going–but nevertheless we still keep going, going until we run out of steam, going until the daytime becomes the dream and the dream our waking life. That’s how it is with life: nothing on top of nothing; the goal reaching itself, then turning back on itself, folding over itself as though it were the last thing standing, when it’s not. Everything is standing, so that it can fall. That is all.
When That Time Comes
Do not lament when that time comes,
when you stare off and random songs
come in pieces playing through your skull--
after a while the tinny voices
of the song you stayed with for a full verse
become no more than a humming
in the background that slightly tickles
your ears at the back--
when just after you were so impressed
with the energies of the body
it wants to collapse,
when you become all orifice
for taking in, when you have nothing
to give, not even to the neighbor’s son
when he comes over and asks whether he can play
a song on your piano: they might be the simplest,
they might be the most beautiful
precisely because of their simplicity,
times when nothing really matters,
whether it matters or not,
like a dead zone,
a desert, maybe,
in between two warring continents.
To sell or to be sold
To sell or to be sold. Every time I think of salesmen I think of them as desperate, sad, tragic. To put your life on the line that way–to sell your life that way! The thought that comes to me is not What an easy way out and to the top, just give it a little time and effort, but rather How I pray that I never have to become a salesmen–and sell myself! But the fact is I have and it is something about the age: sales and salesmen and saleswomen and saleshumans mark our time and still, even if sales as a profession has noticeably dwindled. In a world where everything is always already a commodity and can be, will be, already has been commodified, sales is THE modus of our being. It is inescapable, selling yourself, like a pandemic of prostitution; the oldest profession turns out to be the newest and commonest profession as well, even if more subtle and insidious. You are a salesman, a boss of mine once told me, one of our best, and I protested: I am not here to sell or to be sold. After years of contemplating his casual compliment of me I realize that he was right: all my life, since I was the smallest child, I have sold myself, sold others, and been sold and traded like something on the marketplace. My price might not be fixed and agreed upon by all parties involved, but it is still there and like my badge which proves I exist. The only way to escape this inescapable atmosphere of valuation and exchange, the only alternative we have to loving what we are, something with a dollar sign or some other sign of currency before our names, before our hopes, before our high-flying ideals, is to become priceless. But what is priceless anymore, and for how long? How long do we have until even the most unique and inestimable thing is made costly, even invaluable, cheapened and coarsened in this way? How long do we have until the bell rings again, the men and women on the floor begin their bartering and pleading for the proper price again, until the marketplace roars again, that omnipresent monster, with its jingles, its clicks of opening and closing cash-registers, and its no less frantic, even if smooth, slick and intangible, flows of digital data, until we are numbered, all of us, priced, no matter what we are, and placed back on the shelves?
yes, i loved my husband
i bore him twenty children
i just thought it was too much
seeing him there like dust
his sickness, the loss, the loss
his friends also told me
that i was too harsh then,
when i stamped down my word,
but they were just his friends,
not his wife who heard the sobs
and i lost too, you know
i was not simply scrubbing
washing away tears with lye
it was my flesh out there
in the festive yard that died
his friends had time for talk
while i had to tend to him
scrub the awful blight from him
tell him if it gets worse
then leaving is the best way
i feel falsely rendered
and have wondered since why he
el, the god, did not mention
my delicate function
along with the great sea beast
i am not merely talk
harsh talk at a dying man
i always loved my husband
had my flesh on the line
but it was unbearable
i would have done the same
as my words commanded him
if my number had been drawn
by those gangsters up there
to be rolled, a helpless die
no, i stayed in the house
while the men chatted out there
about justice and the rest
i had to bury ten
silent after my four words
this also was not told
but utz was wickedly hot
and part of el’s playful scourge
brought sand into our wells
i walked legion heavy steps
my husband did say once
without you i would be naught
as he drank water in drought
sweat pouring down his limbs
this also is not mentioned
it is never mentioned
that here after seven days
the men are talking, talking
while the women are tending
behind the doors of god’s trial
When nobody else is around
When nobody else is around. That, I found, is when a person shows off his or her stuff: whether they are wasting their lives and the passions of their lives or whether, instead, they cannot live one moment without investing all they have of strength, determination, even blood and the other fluids of the body, into a work, their ownmost, proper, work.
But a bird reminded me one day as he squatted–it was as if he was chilly and needed to bunch up his feathers like a coat around his slender body–right on my windowsill as I was going about this or that–I hadn’t even noticed the little life observing me–he told me There is always somebody around. You are never alone, he tweeted, then he flew off, past the yard and into the ether, leaving me, to all accounts–alone. But perhaps the little bird was on to something: we are never truly alone. We just might indeed–indeed, for I have experienced it myself–carry around with us the shadows and shades of others as goads and whistling reminders, as nightmarish whispers and echos of songs we once heard, as playful dreams and as inner dramas, even the shadows and shades of the dead–it makes no difference. We carry them along with us not because we need them–as I said above, our powers just might be given their good chance to shine when we are all by our lonesome–but because they need us. They need us to show our worth, what we are made of, our stuff that is not merely some private stuff. So the next time you are at your affairs in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night, or at whatever time, remember that if you say you do this for no one but yourself you are fooling yourself–like a proud fool. You are showing off, in reality. And you might not like what it is you have to present to your shadowy audience–when you think of their black eyes staring at your creations they might become rather paltry and insignificant for such observers and judges. And they–they might not like it either!
But how do we know this? How could we ever know for sure? I gazed out the window, thinking of the bird awhile, of what he had said, then returned to my affairs in the cave of my room, my room made into a cave, with a fearless, ruthless–if stupid for all its fearlessness and ruthlessness–passion.
Different Still Indifferent
Stuffed with indifference,
You play out your days
Like the rest of the sated:
Sluggish, contemptful of movement,
Barely breathing with the heaviness of fulness.
Then you swallow hard
Another morsel down to the hole of your bowels,
It passes, the stone, the dread stillness,
You feel hungry again,
You move forward to dine again.
Saltless but satisfying,
You take another bite,
Then another, then another,
They pass through you like air through a tunnel
But different, still indifferent.
You try throwing it up,
You try gagging yourself,
Laughing out the terrible carelessness,
Flush it out, toss it out, forget it;
An irritable schooling
An irritable schooling. Annoyance, frustration, that nagging feeling…what are they? Mere spurts and shocks of energy coursing through us, like electricity or the blood through our veins? Some statement, as though in cipher, for where we stand regarding things, what our disposition is towards them, and what our current mood happens to be? A symbol, perhaps? A symbol of what–our enslavement to the world, a symbol of how well or how poorly we are getting along with our fellow musicians, and therefore a symbol of a symbol? Or not a symbol but a cymbal, the noise and racket of the world bleating into our ears and not giving us a moment’s rest? ..! How annoying, how frustrating, how riddlesomely nagging annoyance can be, especially for the philosopher–for her foremost! We come from a heritage of thousands of years, a good twenty-five hundred at least, as far as the West is concerned, of practicing, even attaining, a certain serenity, certain as the full-glowing discs of our eyes were aiming for it…. Spells of annoyance, frustrating moments, those nagging episodes, can really eat away at such a human. Let alone an entire Age of Annoyance…why, for her that would be an exile, a Siberia! The challenge it poses to her countenance, what it took millennia to achieve! Let alone its lack of straightforward conceptualization, its recalcitrance as far as getting hold of it or getting anywhere with it is concerned. Annoyance–this Age of Annoyance teaches us, us philosophers especially–how thoroughly annoying it can be. The best of us will stop swatting at flies sooner or later..! …We shall exit this nuisance age and win a newfound serenity, perhaps a stronger serenity, one more mature and composed with the composure gained after a long trial…. But when!
Even for the mundane
Even for the mundane. The most mundane of things can light up my gratitude, or send soaring my wonder. Not only speech–speech is a wonder itself, and it’s a wonder what we can say–but the most inane and casual or conventional conversations or phrases, about the weather or directions to somewhere, or some complaint or passing remark about something can send me into feeling Wow, to thinking Wow, to even saying Wow, that we are capable of such things! It’s a wonder, not only that we are alive–life itself is a wonder, and it’s a wonder how we can find ourselves living–but even dry spells of life are fountains for a disposition as, more than tolerant, as embracing and as affirmative as wonder, or the pleasure of gratitude. Next all someone has to do is wink at me, or wince or smile or laugh in the most unremarkable way and at something hardly funny, and I am sent to rapture in gratitude and wonder, I wonder how all of this can come together and just like so, even for the mundane; a proper starting-point for those who do not want to grow tired with life.
What if I did not know the truth
When I died
It was only a diminished light
And I could not admit it
Having to cross to the other shore
With no raft
With murk below
What if truth did not follow me
Where I did go follow me
Faithfully to the crimson mud
On the other side where the child aspect of men
Romp and revel and reveal their secrets
What if truth's death were time's death
A covering-over by static dust
A dismantled face
Forever turned to eight and four
What if more and more truths
However high or low I climbed
However high I sank
However low I sank
What if my thankfulness for truth
Was always ever sometimes only
Thankfulness for collages
With pasted fairies and glitter
And mirages of solid men in vests
What if truth's numbered interests
Counted leagues past my own
If some tetrabrachius
Played cunning cards with me all along
What if truth's running joke all along
Was this: to have me take
Back for forth and ninth
Become a planet with two poles myself
What if truth like some anti-god
Did not exist but destroyed
Urged me find castles in dust
Comfort in unstoppable black holes
What if the war with truth
Within truth itself
Came to an end
Only when truth and truth's death
Gets me again again again and again
Back at the start
When I stood in the diminished light
Pretending all along to have legs
In the diminished light light light
Light pretending all along
The flickering did not frighten me?
It’s not always meaninglessness.
It’s not always meaninglessness. Sometimes it’s precisely because things are so filled with meaning, or because there are so many layers, so many dimensions, of meaning, that they overwhelm us–not only because the wind comes and blows all meaning away, but the wind that comes with leaves, clouds of leaves of meaning and flurries of snows of meaning, or downpours of meaning, is so incredibly multifaceted, so complex and challenging and contradictory, that it might as well be chaos, that it might as well be the height of meaninglessness, the storm coming in of meaninglessness in the form of overabundance–of meaning.