Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Expansive Howl (Part IV)

...a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet...

Often I look at Therese in the pre-dawn hours. I’m a terrible sleeper, and the wholly unpatterned hours of my work-day don’t help. I mean my real work: the toil of my soul, not the editorial job which scarcely deserves mention. No, this work-day is the day that starts when I feel the tug in my sinews, when I close myself off in the furnace-room the size of a utility closet, and there, but gas-light, I compose the poor prose that’s the language of my life, that ties together the strands of my memory into knots I can point to, like prayer beads pilgrims are always fingering. Ready-at-hand for application to the situation at hand. The problem comes when this happens in the middle of the night, or during meal-time, or during work-hours, or on the train back from the granite cock-towers that dot the other bank of the river. This is when I sweat, when I offend, when I leave dishes clattering or conversations cut off. She has tried to understand through cultivating that long-suffering approach. But I can’t explain it to her. I still can’t tell her what has not formed itself in my head. How would she understand? Does it make any sense to tell her, or anyone, that sometimes I hear the voice of my grandmother, speaking in that tongue from the swamps of the Dniester, speaking in her fairy-tale voice? Does it make sense that when I hear that voice, I obey? I enter a small place, sacred only by virtue of being small and unobtrusive, to tell tales and draw together what was disparate, like grass into hay bales, like droplets from an eavestrough into a mighty stream. A stream that won’t stop until I’ve been emptied and can once again return to that world of car horns and steamwhistles and peddlers and niceties. And yes, back to the world of Therese, who is still sleeping. She does not know the thoughts I have of her during those times in the closet gas-light: my sentiments that disappear lest they be collapse like a frail origami puppy in front of a barrel-chested construction worker. How do I tell her that I speak to Baphomet night after night, pleading for more time? Time to make the gifts I promised, humble as they are, real. A time when we can have curtains, seasoning, clothes for more than one occasion, an apartment that does not rattle with the passage of trains? A world where we can have time to just lie and touch, not worrying about my next spasmodic episode, or about her pre-dawn lathe-turning shift, a world where I can practice my origami and smoke a pipe and she can dance like she used to—like I saw her once—in a room that doesn’t constrain every free arm movement. This goddamn room! Nowhere to turn without knocking over some jar containing an essential. In other words, no room for the playful, except the Sibelius records over the phonograph, which was never meant to be listened to while preparing yet another heap of cabbage soup, with potatoes as essentials. It is around these times that I get hung up on the inessential, insubstantial, airy, flighty, flowing world and retire to the furnace “room”. But in that loss of gravity, I lose her wholeness. Her corporeality. Her here-ness.

Consider: "All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other things. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to make up the same universe. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, and one reason."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Expansive Howl (Part III)

…the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

Ezra tells me this story every once in a while as we sit and drink his whiskey. He used to own a telescope, and although it’s difficult to see anything past the haze of the city lights (especially on movie premiere nights, when spotlights blast out their expanding trails onto the sky) he would spend hours on the roof, combing the sky somewhat aimlessly. And back in the days when Anny was around, he’d take his daughter up and show her the constellations, the moon craters, even tried to view the moons of Jupiter, before giving up, realizing these are specialized rich-people activities to be done out in the countryside, at the cottage, or summer house, or something equivalent. Guys like us aren’t built for astronomy, apparently. All the books always talked about how you set up the equipment in your backyard, or atop a hill. That’s nice, but have any of these writers heard that in the last 150 years humanity has concentrated itself into cities? Or is that just the mass of people deemed unfit for any kind of higher aspirations? (At this turn in the story, Ezra usually points out how there is nothing “higher” than astronomical reasoning, and I’m never sure whether he has made a terrible pun or not.) He’ll tell me about how people who live around here have astrology shoved down their throats and a curtain of light from neon marquees to keep them from noticing and wondering at the lights in the sky. Because if people wonder why they don’t know about something so apparent, they become curious about everything else. He’ll point out how astronomy is usually the first science to grab a child’s imagination. Such was his experience; such was mine. I sympathize; I always do, but I also remind him he’s probably going overboard with the imagined conspiracy theories. But I still lament with him at the murder of something frail and beautiful, a little pinprick of light surrounded by unfathomable black, something to make us both shudder. We both usually look at the naked bulb in the hallway by this point, at the circle of illumination, and beyond it the scraps of half-couches, wooden sticks ripped off from futon frames, cardboard boxes containing scrap metal—the whole sad assortment of every tenement hallway ever. By this point I usually hope we’ll finish the whiskey, because I need to go back to my apartment and turn off some symbolic lights, without even touching a book descend to sleep and the unconsciousness which I feel everywhere about me. Or on some nights I wait for Therese to come home, just to look at her. Why? Sometimes I think I see a glimpse in her eye, a kind of lament at the man I am. The man who will never be able to give her that cottage or summer house she dreams of. Never mind that we both work. Never mind that the “economy” is doing well. It’s something in me. She looks at me sideways, and probably thinks I don’t notice, thinks I’m happy to toil with her with my vision bound in a tight tunnel. To make it up to her I blow on her earlobes when she’s in deepest sleep.

Consider: "what, alas! do we carry across? Not the beholding we’ve here / slowly acquired, and no here occurrence. Not one. / Sufferings, then. Above all, the hardness of life, / the long experience of love; in fact, / purely untellable things. But later, / under the stars, what use? The more deeply untellable stars?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Expansive Howl (Part II)

…the ghostly clothes of jazz…

He’s here somewhere, running circuits in his apartment. Typical madman obsessive. Out for the perfection of some idea he’s living for—and no living thing will find it out until it has been done right over and over, until it has been examined from every clear angle, light blasting through the complex inner structure, until it has been perfected, until it is dug. You feel me? Never mind the smell. Never mind clotheslines tangled on his balcony railing. Never mind the subtle rot at his fingertips—not enough of some rare vitamin. Out of touch; out of sorts. Real type of guy who burn a hole in vendors examining, turning over. We can hear his machinery creaking up there at nights. He’s resigned way the hell up there. Door dustier, every time beard longer, never mind the holes, and holes become runs, and runs become tatters and morally wrong. One especial peculiarity: sometimes in the middle of the nights, when half the building’s asleep, we hear his wispy voice going “yes, yes!”, or sometimes the longer-drawn “yass, yass!” He’s digging something up there, but what? Base beats of the stringed instruments? Ezra thinks he builds his own harp-like arrangement, says he was in there one time. Guy treated him to wine, he says. Real polite type, but real anxious, always watching you and where you’re looking, and how you’re looking. But then he puts on jazz, right. Some of the wilder, newer stuff. Real fast; real technical. Ezra’s not a jazz type, but he sits up there all the same, and the guy almost instantly turns off. Just staring beyond, somewhere maybe on a riverbank, sharing a basket of sweets with a sweetheart digging the overhanging willows and dozen flowers he can’t name and grass overlooking little cliffs the river carves out, things rippling in the breeze, all rhythmic-like and hypnotizing, and dreams of making love after a hearty meal at her parents’, all rosy cheeks and mushy but taut skin, irises blooming open and closed, and every brown or partly green line of the muscle just sticking out there among impossible eye whites, and he gets it, you know? He looks like he had it. And he took it here, he says. Says he saw then how the note composes the phrase, and opposing processes of notes make the phrases stick, and phrases to make grand eloquent gestures and it kept growing, into all the forms of all the plays of the world, and in the clotheslines of these here tenements and in the bustles of suits in the business districts. He took it here because he can dream here, and here he can take the idea to extremes, because here Ezra and me just dig, don’t run him to the edge of town. You know? Does he regret leaving those weird visionary irises, he asked him. And the guy just gave Ezra this sad knowing smile. And then he starts going off, all wild and tells Ezra about this book he was reading on the music of the spheres, and the staves leaping out at him from brick walls, and grand concert arias from the coughing of the skid row bums, and definitely “yes!” from the sound of a child’s clumsy fingers working a piano, and he’d go and develop her melody, develop every slip of the fingers into a jumping jazz phrase, and once perfected he’d think of how he might bring his sister and mother here as he pounded the piano with stalks of fingers, and he’d hum softly, but always he’d lose the thread, and then he said he just went out again and picked something else up: the organ grinder or the butcher out in front of the shop (said it was still odd to feel no fear next to a white man with a large knife), or some car barreling down the street, or a newly arrived Arkansas ingénue out of whose eyes he could see the tenements anew. And then it was back, to hammer out another wild phrase. He had no need to shame himself with drugs: above all he was a workaholic. And as Ezra left, the last thing the guy says is to never lose the thread of the music of the spheres, how all versions of the myth are true. We didn’t really get that.

Consider: "Change: nothing inherently bad in the process, nothing inherently good in the result."

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Expansive Howl (Part I)

(I'm serializing a tribute to my most influential poet. That is to say, I'm going to have expanding vignettes drawn from his lines and copied and extended in my comparatively poor, frail prose.)

The negro streets at dawn…

They rise early to the blast of steamwhistles. They cross the creeks and swamps, balancing on utility posts that have long been bent into the muck below. It’s not just negroes: that would be exaggeration. It’s all the people labeled coloured and colourful: organ grinders straight out of a French cul-de-sac and your occasional avant-garde Spaniard. They import their architecture into the streets: utility poles become billboards and billboards become communal draw spaces, ripe for religious revivals and fundamentalists to harangue crowds from on high. Intersections will do as circles for drumming beats that echo, fall and bounce down the phylogenies, back-propagating along the threads of sinew and bone, sperm and ova down to those two dozen hominids in Tanzania hiding in the forests, holding the entire future of the human world in their every tiny action. There was the Australopithecine gathering, all humanity-to-be assembled, every early Othello and Caracalla and Gibbon and Hammurabi and Buddha, but also Epicurus and Caligula and Confucius and Xerxes and Eli, in the trees shadows of Yetis and El Chupacabras and Virgin Marys always pointing to Abomination: St. Alia of the Knife was still unborn. They hugged more. And here they hug again. Except when working in the Associated Auto Parts Factory &c., ancient peeling sign from the very dawn of the greatest flesh-and-blood-and-machinery upheaval to overcome the sucking insect foulness of these swamps. The great hot potato of the industrial revolution: suddenly hugging instincts turned to lathe-turning and natural intelligence of the beats of drum circles turned to stormy indignations of union rallies, suddenly jewelry melted down for the buckles of overalls. Seasides bullied out by the grates of storm sewers, idylls turned to the horror of steel and iron, ages of humanity spelled out on the stairs of walk-ups. Dirty sixth floors from which I watch all this, light snow falling, reminder of lightly moving fickle creativity of nature elements set against the plodding trudging of snow-hills and traffic slowed to a crawl. Massive mad haze of stress hormones and sirens and ambulances and street hawkers and mazurkas of old Europa and banjos of the porches of the South and my own guitar, three weeks out of tune and lonesome for my fingerpicking. I’ve fallen into the habit of watching the sunrise, being lucky the spot of the sunrise is not obscured by high-rises. Therese and I throw snowballs at each other as our breath condenses, and my affection condenses and I want nothing more than to get inside after the brilliant yellow glare and trade flesh for flesh as comfort, leaning on the handrails of the staircase and happy to be inside where the wind doesn’t overcome and impose itself to everything. There are joys in walking down six flights and greeting the rising factory workers, chat of sports and poker both last night’s and tomorrow’s, of new organizing rallies (banner being knit in right behind the door, Ezra’s wife lugging two large paint cans and countless brushes). Sights of falling by the wayside men across the street—fixing on street corners and congregations of the youngest ones—solid tufts of anger without direction. Ezra tells me the mood is turning ugly. “Just you wait a couple years.” We hug the man and we know none of us will be targets. We’ve got over-thin, frail, over-exposed roots here among peeling billboards and staircases with smells of cooking at all hours, and the sounds of music at all hours, and the sound of vicious voices at all hours, and creaking pipes and car engines and generators, and also giggling of children’s games or more mature cooing of adolescent games and yes, the moaning of adolescent games in utility closets and behind the rows and rows of clotheslines. Therese and I add to the symphony in our own myriad ways before work and after work. Because it is time for me to cross the same crashed utility poles of the half-frozen swamp and turn my lathes, and talk to Ezra and others, and break up the fights and vicious bigots. Their meat will be spent on these lathes, whereas ours will belong to the stairwell: both grimy, yes, but only one echoes with remembrances of what it was like before the robot skullfaces dug up the Earth and put us in thrall, bound by outflow pipes and guy wires.

Consider: "The thing the ecologically illiterate don't realize about an ecosystem is that it's a system. A system! A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche."

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Urban Soup (Part XIX)

So blogging's not kosher anymore. This I've heard. It's apparently also not kosher to be fasinated by humanity. You'll forgive me if the following manifesto's a little bit heavy-handed. I'm out of practice. It should be at least 30% more heavy-handed.

So it was a White Night.

Not a racist holiday, not an orgy of destruction. Rather an orgy of diddling preconceptions--at least on some idealized level. In reality we find ourselves on streets flooded with pedestrians, spotlights behind every building, street-level lamps in shades we have bnever seen before and have trouble assimilating. We found ourselves standing in lives on the sidwealk--anathema to the spirit of the night. Behind every art-party facade was a fast-food joint serving hungry mouths and alimentary canals. Tents blasting popcorn at us, panda bears performing manicures. The whole city lost its mind. Ethnic oud music poured out of the crystal explosion of the ROM. Old women were trampling over each other to see the entrance to this castle in the sky open: and what emerged? What human form out of the shadows?

(This isn't how it really happened. Not entirely.)

But we're all spinning our fictions at various levels of consciousness. Luckily, we are not spiders when it comes to our webs. We can sit in it, sway on it, endure the winds with it, and yet modify it. A little. Let's not kid ourselves. We can't stand beyond. We can, however, stand across the street from Art Hotel #4, drink coffee and bull session far into the night. Far into the night, and deep into our weary, bruised hearts. Bruised hearts which have begun to heal (heal from panic attacks and crying fits, heal from burdens even the straight-backed stoicism of Tai Chi could not relieve...)

We had our moments that night. J.P. stood in an art gallery crying quietly in front of a photo spread: there were all her friends, in their art moments: looking away from the camera, eyes bright and clear, colours bright and clear, positively reaching out and hugging the room. Here was yur life; here is what leaving;s like. And yet, we have to lose parts of ourselves to heal. Here in this rooom with a mattress ripped open in classical autopsy incision, and here with pictures of girls unwrapping layers of their structure, allowing us to see through the chookbone, and through the hair, through all occluded jaw lines, tooth caps, tongues, uvulas, gyri and sulci mysteriously glowing--all projecting something I know not what. We heal together, and we'll cry apart.

What else was there? There was the barren room with a glowing lamp, the room pregnant with ghosts dripping form the moisture on the window. There were places you could smash shit. There were projection screens, ambiguous art-duos, old men sleeping on installations, unsure of their own status in this metaphysical clusterfuck. There were writhing organic masses of balloons that almost hugged me: oh to stay in there and hide from the security guards until dawn! There were caverns wormed out by worms and reinforced by naked mole rats. There were wolves and deer co-existing. There were lonely walks up and down the fire escapes. And there was the awkward realization that tonight was about the people you know--and only that. No abstract pulling of heart-strings did anything. Because for the first time in my life, my people are important.

Consider: "Anything worth learning can't be taught. But most things worth being can be trained."