The Country Of Confusion

we are trapped in a dreamland

where all the chairs are numbered

where sitting requires a permit

where air and light is metered

 

but every history is incomplete

if it has even one reader

even if the reader lives in

an absence of hope

 

full of static beehives

and oscillating traffic lights

with not a single disruptive

glider in sight

 

let us raise our eyes and voices

in hopes of what becomes of truth

in hopes that we escape all

but the final certainties

 

that we discover a doorway

to the country of confusion

and that we own the courage

to pass through

 

From my pen journal for 2010. The references to beehives and traffic lights and gliders are all figures taken from Conway’s game of life. The beehive is a static figure; a traffic light is an oscillator, alternating between two limited states, while the glider is a moving, self-regenerating configuration that can have an impact on other figures within the game.

Of course, these work very well as symbols…

Here’s the original of this poem, transcribed from my pen journal:

I come from a dreamland

where all the chairs are numbered

where sitting requires a permit

where air and light is metered

 

every history is incomplete

if it has a reader

but some live in the absence

of hope

traffic lights and beehives

static

oscillating

and not a single disruptive

glider in sight

 

may it be your truth

that you escaped all

but the final certainty

discovered a doorway

to the country of confusion

and that you owned the courage

to pass through

 

 

The Theatre

if we can just imagine

then each of our instants

fills with awareness

is full of the knowledge

 

of what it is to be molten

to be volcanic

in a cold and hardening world

imagine this and we know the heart

 

we know the human heart

 

fill ourselves with fulminating truth

and we know that we are nothing more

than callused and bunion-hung

dirt farmers

 

trapped in strangled

festering fields

entangled

in swamps of crawdad-jigging union

between lizard-brain desire

and spaghetti-western night

at the

only dreamt of in our philosophy

drive-in theatre of the mind

 

what’s a farmer to do

 

on that dreary small-change stage

especially on spaghetti-western nights

is enacted

our very own

custom-upholstered

overdrive equipped

theatre of the mind

 

we mustn’t lie to ourselves

we must admit that even though

we shudder at the touch

of those fetid waters

even though

we recoil in the musty back seat

of whatever old Buick

 

it cannot be denied

our hearts most definitely are

in it

we

love it

there

 

we love the tacky screen

the lousy food

the crummy speakers

we love watching the action

through the haze of insect haemolymph

on the old Buick windshield

 

we love it there

and hate that we love it

hate our banal affection

 

most of all we hate our sensual joys

the way energy hates matter

 

hate drives rage

rage is heat

rage is molten

 

volcanoes rage

stars rage

primal forces

are all about the rage

 

love is about rage

 

 

thus do we acquaint ourselves

with the inescapability

of paradox

thus are we returned to our roots

thus do we come full circle

so full of new knowledge

 

of what it is to be molten

to be volcanic

in a cold and hardening world

 

in the war between

energy and matter

in the field of battle

we are the spoils

 

Life is always lived

at that fierce fractal boundary

between the two

it is from war

from the conflict between

the hot blood and the cold mud

that we are sprung

 

We begin with the image is of heat enclosed in cold, being "molten in a cold and hardening world". Then the parallel idea of desire (heat) in the midst of illusion (the cold blue light of B movies in a tacky drive-in); the repeated versions of this image are followed by the reveal – how invested our heated cores are in that chilly enclosing world; how much we like that tacky drive-in world, and then, comes the realization of how our own banality enrages us, and generates the heat at our core – how the cold creates the heat, and vice versa; how dependent we are on the basest of material. Finally, we identify the heat and cold as adversaries in the war between energy and matter – from which Life (at the fierce fractal boundary between the two) is sprung.

This begins in my 2010 pen journal. The first draft was written on the first of that year. The current version is much expanded from the shorthand, telegraphic original:

Imagine this instant molten in a cold and hardening world and you know my heart     you know my heart     in the fields of crawdad jigging union in between the blonde bomb shells and spaghetti night at the (only dreamt of in your philosophy) drive-in theatre of the mind dwells your theatre of the mind

 

But that’s what shorthand is for, yes? Still – there probably aren’t many better examples, in my writing, of how a handful of words can fuel, and then launch, such a loaded train of thought…

 

A Thousand Stations

There could be a thousand stations

or there could be none, but in the

coyote-call high lonely concrete of

our midwest-to-left-coast always midnight

multiple night ramble

in our bad old Galaxy 500

with its 340-odd cubic inches of V8 vibrating

all the way out to the Summer constellations,

she would still be winding the tuner

up and down across the static,

her heading resting on my right thigh,

her feet hanging out

the passenger-side window,

a cigarette or a joint in her hand

as it twisted the knob, or

pushed some button.

 

She just wasn’t one to let anything alone,

and luckily, that included me.

 

Her obsession began just east of

Branson Missouri and continued

through Salt Lake City and Reno

and San Francisco in the California mist,

and on through Yosemite,

through the eternal, surreal, rows

of avocado trees in the inland valley,

through the San Fernando suburbs

of the City of Angels;

continued until we parked

on Canal Street in Venice,

and left the car for the ocean,

walking across the Speedway,

out onto the beach and the sand…

 

And even then,

even without a radio,

she was still

twisting knobs and

pushing buttons – only

it was me she was playing with.

 

I understood:

she had something

that needed to be heard –

something she couldn’t bear to say.

 

Instead, she would scan

the entire electromagnetic spectrum

and all its inhabitants

for the rest of her life,

looking for someone

to say it for her…

 

From my 2010 pen journal.

How many times did I launch myself (with and without companions) into the weird world of the highways? Driving off in some clunker of a car with too little money and too little preparation, looking for adventure, or at least an end to ennui…

I feel I’ve spent most of my life like that – in stark contrast to my recent pedestrian mode.

My current automobile-free state is making me a little wistful, I think…

 

Goodnight Jane

Jane dancing in yellow

evening light

dancing

a paper of pins in her hand

dancing

and o so seldom

does Jane laugh

but laugh she does

 

her usual personality

can be likened to that of a mantis

pragmatic

predatory

humorless

and o so practical

but tonight

the gates of Magic have swung open

perhaps for moments only

her heart’s grief is forgot

practical surrenders and whimsical

storms and overruns her every redoubt

 

and Jane dances and laughs

such a clean sound

in my tiny apartment

the scent of a New York City Spring

in the fresh open-window

damp evening air

 

we did not know

it was her last Spring ever

she was even then casting off her chains

dancing

dancing even so

 

 

Goodnight Jane I think now

on a rainsoft night so much

like that night

though I am

differently now alone

and hundreds of miles

distantly from the

old splintered floor

that once flexed and groaned

beneath her dancing feet

I wonder sometimes who

dances there now

goodnight good girl

 

Her laugh was like a child’s

brave and unconquerable

and she was so deliberately

and cruelly instructed

that it was a miracle

it even once escaped

 

our love for one another

was a matched set of gloved defiances

together we slapped the face of reality

knowing even as we did

the challenge would of course

be accepted

and that like all humans

we were hopelessly outclassed

 

 

I have a single photograph

it is of a Jane I never knew

she would not permit cameras

near her spiky grey-haired self

but once

in a moment of surrender

she gave me this photo

this image

of her much younger self

voluptuous as a handful

of grapes warm

as a cupped breast

 

I can allow you

to have it

she said

because

it no longer is true

 

to all the missing Janes

who still should be here

in yellow rainy evening dancing

 

goodnight

goodnight Jane

I miss you

goodnight

 

across and beyond

the stiff-walled circle of the Zodiac

past all the stars

is where you dwell

with stardust on your breath

 

 

just as she always wanted

 

Goodbye Jane. From my pen journal for 2010.

 

Razor Girl

Intro:

D    G    f#m  em

D    G    f#m  em

 

em           bm

now, I don't know what these

bm       em

dues are for

bm

I pay them just the

G         f#m Em F#m Em

same. . .

 

Verse 1:

D               G

the party was a good one.

           f#m             em

there were girls like wild game;

        D                     G

when we met, we said we never met,

      f#m               em

but I knew you just the same. . .

bm                     em

on the road 'neath the sycamores,

bm             G

boarding a jet plane,

f#m                 em

I knew you just the same. . .

f#m                 em

I knew you just the same. . .

 

Verse 2:

I caught you slipping out of bed

steel in your vein

you were  looking for something

better than that

and you were calling out my name

now, kings of old,

they have known the score

as slaves have known their chains

I knew you just the same. . .

I knew you just the same

 

Verse 3:

D

When Time comes walking

   G

up your life,

         f#m                em

you know dying, it ain't no shame

         D

so we go looking for something

G

better than that

   f#m                 em

go calling the gods by name

bm

now I don't know what these

em

dues are for

bm                  G

I pay them just the same

f#m                         em

I used to know the rules by heart;

             f#m            em

this used to be my favorite game…

 

Outro starts with bm 2nd half of verse:

now, I don't know

what these things are for

why love is like a flame

I knew you just the same…..

 

Classic me tune – as usual, based on a real relationship with a real addict. Why do I attract addicts? Or perhaps the better question is, why am I attracted to them…?

Or maybe we’re all addicts, and I’m just attracted to regular people

 

Full Green Corn Moon & Raksha Bandan

Full Corn Moon, or sometimes the Corn Moon is said to occur in September, and the full moon in August is called the "Green" Corn Moon. I guess that makes sense. It’s true most of the corn isn’t quite ripe yet.

Another year in which I missed the Perseids meteor shower because of foul weather. Sad, and a little irritating. Why, year after year, do the clouds pile up just before the meteor shower, and stay until the peak days are past?

Today’s full moon also marks Raksha Bandan, the annual celebration of brother-sister commitment. I still have the first Rakhi a woman ever tied round my wrist – a beautiful little green and gold bracelet with long dangly threads and little doodads on the ends that she wove herself.

It wasn’t from my blood-sister, but a sister, nonetheless: Cara gave it to me, years before we were lovers. It occupies a special place in the collage of memories I’ve assembled over the decades. I usually think of this collage as my "girlfriend" mementos, though there are many keepsakes from loved ones who were never girlfriends, and bits and pieces from many lives that intersected my own in striking or unusual ways. It’s really more a cabinet of personal curiosities.

Whatever I call it, in a place of honor in that collection is Cara’s Rakhi, which I wore for a very long time – almost two years after she tied it on. I loved her very much, and couldn’t bear parting with it, even after our lives separated.

For a time – years – I thought I’d never see her again, but then she popped up, very deliberately seeking me out, and we renewed our friendship. After not very long we began a very powerful new relationship, which changed me in big ways.

I showed her the Rakhi she’d given me, after our friendship resumed. She was touched to see I’d kept it… and then magnetically attracted to the rest of the collection, demanding the story of every bit of kitsch, every vial of blood, every bit of lace.

That was an interesting afternoon…

 

Slog Anniversary

Seven years ago, while coming out of the woods after some days of hiking:

Woke at dawn, had me some coffee, but we’re out of food. That’s okay – it’s only six hours more to wait.

 

As it turns out, this was the worst weather we’d ever endured on a hike. Also, we had chosen a challenging trail. The combination of the two meant that we were soaked, exhausted, and occasionally in real danger. Every path was turned into a gushing mud- and gravel-filled freshet, and each of the half dozen real streams we crossed was transformed from a tranquil bubbling to a roaring, rock-tumbling, obstacle course, with hundred pound current. Had either of us fallen, it would have been a grave thing, and not just because of sopping wet gear and a danger of hypothermia. We were hiking in extremely rocky terrain, and some of the streambeds closely resembled gorges. It would be likely, in these circumstances, to take some serious bruising from a fall, and not out of the question to break bones or sustain a serious knock on the head, or get driven and wedged by the current into some crevice, and find oneself unable to get out.

 

But we did it. It’s done, and I’m not sorry; not for doing the hike, and not for seeing the end of it.

 

Our ride meets us at the trailhead at 1400. We’ll probably pull out of this bivouac around 1215, maybe 1230. Even if it’s very hard slogging on the remaining half mile, we should be able to cover it in an hour or less, so leaving before 1230 is just silly, unless the rain stops. If the rain does stop, it won’t matter as much, but as long as it’s pouring, this leaky tarp (uncomfortable as it may be) is preferable to standing in a downpour in a muddy parking lot, waiting for the kids.

 

Last night was a rough night for me. It started to rain again around 2200, and hasn’t stopped since. We’ve stayed fairly dry and not too terribly uncomfortable under our tarp, but the longer the rain lasts, the more it picks at the edges of our little haven, and the damper everything gets.

 

All I’ve had to eat in two days is one peanut butter and honey sandwich and a half a dozen cups of instant tomato soup. Also, I’ve drunk four cups of instant coffee with Swiss Miss chocolate mixed in. Not a very balanced diet. I’ve been taking vitamins – I guess that’s good…

 

My buddy Mountain tends to romanticize nature, which is how he talks me into these things; he deifies it – wants to cuddle up to it.

 

At least, he wants to want that. But when we’re out here doing the whole hiking, camping, nature-boy thing, he seems very uncomfortable; I think he prefers his nature in the abstract…

 

I know I do.

 

I am not a big fan of this "crawl-around-in-the-bugs-and-weeds" lifestyle. I get impatient with it. While it is frequently beautiful and sometimes dramatic, it is also filled with rot and death and the mindless avidity of insects, which of course reminds me of the pointless avidity of my own existence, with the silent, mindless, eternal scream of death looming nearer and nearer.

 

Of course, there are also blueberries.

 

In my experience, blueberries (along with the vivid, unparalleled, exalting reality of my six year old grandniece) defy all but the most hard-core nihilism.

 

I like blueberries. I ate handfuls of tart, wild, blueberries on yesterday’s hike. As I walked through the bushes, they came free soaked in rain and perfectly ripe. There’s an oblique, brushing technique to stripping blueberries (not raspberries, or blackberries – the thorns will catch you every time on those bushes). It’s a technique familiar to those raised in or near the woods – a way of running your hands over a berry-laden branch just so, so only the ripest berries come loose. The unripe stay in place, for a later visit.

 

They were very refreshing…

 

Hiking always puts things in perspective…

 

A Stranger In Strange Lands

My very last electric day,

and so much on the plate:

a host of little things to do

before it gets too late.

 

The bags are packed, the letters sent,

the lovers bid adieu;

the bills are all heaved in the trash;

Con Edison? Fuck you.

 

I’ve lived my whole life just this way,

so these moments aren’t seen;

I’ve always haunted heaps of junk,

and slept on rags between.

 

I’ve never cared for pretty things

that don’t pack in a trice;

except for memories and books,

I don’t have to think twice.

 

I’ve never been a citizen,

a resident, a fan…

a solitary traveler,

is what I truly am.

 

A stranger in strange lands I’ve been,

for half a century;

I’ve camped and squatted everywhere,

from mountains to the sea.

 

So "home" has ceased to mean a place

it’s feeling; it’s a state;

it’s knowing I am self-contained,

and guiding my own fate.

 

Seven stanzas of four lines each. Though each stanza can be thought of as a casual heptametric (seven beat) couplet, I’ve divided each heptametric line into two lines – one of four beats and one of three:

Ba-badda-binga-binga-bing

ba-badda binga-bang

 

In each stanza, the three-stressed lines (the ones ending in bang) are (more or less) rhymed.

For reasons best not explicated, I’m particularly proud of the adieu/fuck you rhyme in the second stanza…

This poem is from my 2007 e-journal, just before I left NYC to go live in the back of the woods. I was riding out the security deposits on all my utilities, had crashed all my bank accounts and credit cards, had stopped hanging out in my usual hangouts, switched to a by-the-month burner phone, and was saying my goodbyes every day – to places and people; to the life I’d led for the best part of forty years.

The disruption felt good in many ways, but of course it was all very bittersweet. I knew that what I was really bidding goodbye was myself – or what I’d come to think of as myself, over the course of several decades. I was tearing all that out, root and branch, and making a new life. That’s how I tend to do things – disruptively; totally; when I stopped smoking, it was in a day; when I ended my addiction to heroin it was cold turkey. I’m that way about nearly anything. I fall in love totally, and I totally fall out; when I acquire a new interest it becomes all-consuming and when I abandon an interest, I do so abruptly, and with little hesitation.

The "new life" I was imagining at the time I wrote this poem was inchoate, but I didn’t care about that. I’m not a risk-averse sort, so I had no trouble uprooting my old self without knowing where the new self would land.

It seems I am always on the edge of this sort of disruption. I never really plant myself anywhere, or with anyone. I’m always looking over my shoulder, expecting to see the next catastrophe looming behind me. I’m always waiting for (and excitedly hoping for) the next demolition to begin, so of course I don’t make lots of commitments…

I wonder why I’m like that…

 

Lefty Day

Today is Lefty Day, which I am pleased to celebrate because that’s me – I’m a lefty.

Of course I didn’t think "left-handed" when I saw the holiday announced on the web – I thought it was a holiday for leftists; you know – people with a particular political persuasion? But then, of course, I figured it out.

But it got me thinking: why isn’t there a holiday for them? The "leftists"? Seems like a kind thing to do – they get so little respect, otherwise…

It also got me to thinking about my own handedness, which has always been a bit of an issue for me – a constant "sinister" awareness of my difference, in positive and negative ways. I have a "handed" subset of my image work, a series of pictures that grotesquely emphasize one or the other hand:

Root Man
Root Man
Flaming Gaspump Man
Flaming Gaspump Man
Exalt
Exalt
Whapty-DOO
Whapty-DOO
Fat Fella
Fat Fella
Creepy
Creepy
Big Hurtie Hand
Big Hurtie Hand

What a piece of work I am; how noble in reason…