Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Bearded Lady’s Dawn

In the workshop where they conjure souls – 
wherein your faint preliminaries first found form –
where ghostly emanations disproportionately warm
and large and cool and small first tentatively sensed their goals –

somewhere in that vast strange experiment, 
a tendril of exquisite change, the gift of chance,
began its embryonic and untrammeled burst of dance
which slowly spiraled up and out and into that grand firmament

to which all blessedness is drawn.
That was this bearded lady’s dawn.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Quora: my answer to "How liberal is New York?"

Guy Kettelhack
Guy Kettelhack, lives in New York City (1975-present)

Funny how certain questions sort of pop out and say ‘deal with ME!’ - probably for reasons only the “me” they cry out to can guess. What most powerfully intrigues me here is the word “liberal” which in this context (that is, as applied to New York City) would have to have two meanings: the political “liberal” voter, which generally means you want the Democrats to win, and “liberal” as in open to a wide variety of options and approaches depending on what serves your exigent aim - or lust or whim or dream: your vision of what you want to do or be or accomplish.
That second meaning of “liberal” completely defines New York, and it has, I think, since the Dutch landed in the 1620s. That openness to ideas and to trying new stuff that often defy convention - and the fact long proved that if you show New York you can do something, it will let you do it (in many cases whatever your c.v.) and expect you to do it again (only way I can account for having become a much-published writer): that’s the pragmatic beat of the place. And to me it’s the heart of our good fortune as a city.
It’s not something that can be sentimentalized however. The Dutch had entirely mercantile interests when they came here. They had no ruling religious doctrine like the Puritans and later groups like Quakers, Jews and Mormons: no strict moral code expected of everyone in the community. In fact, from the get-go, New York was a fairly rowdy but remarkably effective and very diverse group of people - from all over Europe, blacks who were not slaves (as well as blacks who were), people with individual mandates, but not mandates imposed upon them by governors (except for the basics: laws against murder or stealing for instance). This meant, sometimes, in some people, an arguably lax morality; frequently the ‘sins’ against the community were simply people getting drunk; but there seems to have been an overall happy interaction in the money-making enterprise they all were part of.
It’s precisely the lack of a single moral purpose, I think, that established New York City from its very beginnings as this country’s preeminent seed-bed of liberty. I don’t the mean the political “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” kind (although that was here too), but the liberty to live your life the way you wanted to from a pragmatic view. “Get outta my business!” kind of liberty. Apart from some ultimately unsuccessful attempts on Peter Minuit’s part to impose religious restrictions (against the Jews) - these were quickly quashed by authorities in Amsterdam, which was in the 17th century the city you would have wanted to live in - by far the most “liberal”urban area in the world - people were pretty much left to their devices (and vices).
New York really was Amsterdam’s child more than England’s, even though England took it over with almost no resistance from the Dutch (whose mercantile interests - in the form of the Dutch East India Company - had by this time largely transferred to another part of the world) in the latter part of the 17th century. However the English were a basically pragmatic bunch too, and they liked what the Dutch had done (not long after their takeover of New Amsterdam, they’d imported a king and queen from the Netherlands, William and Mary) and kept much of the laws and customs of the Dutch. No other community in North America had anything like this provenance. From its beginnings New York was singular.
But the intrigue for me here is that the driving impulse of the city has always been to make money. Manufacturing, selling, sending goods out by sea owing to New York’s extraordinary harbor and into the heart of the country northward and westward first because of the Erie Canal and the invention of the steam ship which transformed not only the availability of the goods, an economic boon and boom of tremendous proportions, but made New York kickass - turned it into a world power. This liberal (open to change & new ideas) thrust forward also interestingly meant that in the pursuit of profit, New Yorkers were producing excellence, really as a byproduct, in every single field and realm of human enterprise. City planning, artchitecture, fine cabinetry, silver, new inventions, machines of all kinds, clothing of the highest quality, world class museums, etc - which with a richer and more educated citizenry, boosted the arts to unprecedented heights - symphony orchestras, dance, theater, an explosion of creative energy - all of it goosed first into being by the city’s collective motive to make money. That this initially profit-driven impulse ended up creating many of the city and this country and the world’s greatest claims to excellence - the Metropolitan Museum, the Juilliard School of Music, Pratt and FIT and the National Academy of Design or Columbia University (& any number of other extraordinary universities), an explosion of theater from Broadway to Shakespeare in the Park — and then sports (boxing, football, baseball, basketball) - fashion (New York always has been a center of it) - music from Bernstein to Bowie - and restaurants of the highest order: is the mark of a city whose beating heart, first and last, was given its energy by lusting to make money and getting very good at it.
This kind of “liberal” impulse (unlike the pro-democratic-party political kind) did not, however, ensure what we think of as liberal politics. Many business people in New York City (like most of the whole manufacturing ‘element’ in the Northeastern United States who depended on the sugar and cotton the South produced for their economic success) had a vested interest in keeping the pre-civil war status quo what it was. Slaves were a necessary part of this and many many New Yorkers - whose profits were based on raw materials they got from the South - looked the other way or even actively supported the Confederacy’s aims. But far into even my experience of the city (I moved here in 1975) it was clear to me that you were not going to get a universal response to just about anything here. Unlike San Francisco with its strong unified gay population (for example) which produced a powerful united front politically, especially during the horrors of the worst of the AIDS epidemic, New York never coalesced around one single batch of people - even though in the ’80s when the AIDS debacle was at its worst, the ‘batch of people’ involved here, ACT UP, constituted some of the most dedicated and effective activists in the country and the world that one could have hoped for. But the size of the city, and the extent of its diversity, always I think has worked against any sense of it as a united bloc. Some people decry this; I actually believe that the city’s essential amorality (a consequence of its diversity) is an important part of what keeps it such an extraordinarily creative metropolis. It’s too full of irrepressible energy of every imaginable kind to “behave” - say, the way Boston or Philadelphia or San Francisco seem often to behave - in any predictable way.
So in this sense of New York’s liberal (open-minded) approach to getting things done, and not incidentally protecting the personal liberty that New Yorkers insist on in order to “get things done,” no community on Earth has New York beat. The political meaning of “liberal” (I-want-gun-control-you-don’t democrat vs republican, etc.) other respondents on this thread have discussed - all of whom anyway that I’ve read - seem to be making this point, similar to mine, that there are a lot of people here thinking and doing a lot of different things and that can have bewildering consequences. Therein lies much of what may sometimes be exasperating about this city, but also much, maybe most, of what it keeps so vitally alive and responsive.

About the Author

writer, violinist, artist1951-present
B.A. English Literature, Middlebury CollegeGraduated 1973
Lives in New York City1975-present
22.4k answer views2.2k this month

The Most Availing Influence of Friends

The moment
we discover 
everybody dies,
we seem to know
to comfort others.
Penumbral sighs
and shadowed cries
at mortal ends
evince the most
availing influence
of friends.
Full of tender
existential sense.
In all, a sweet



Something That You Drew

Wave hi! Look into his eyes.
Let him know you’re wise
to his disguise. That he is
neither figment nor surmise --
that reality is more than
dreamed-up fizz.
Yours as well as his. Is
endures. Is always will.
Don’t let him know
you felt a chill.
Don’t let him know
you’re not so sure.
Why is his waving hand so still,
his posture irremediably static?
Your answer is emphatic.
He’s something that you drew.
He’s what ephemeralities construe.
So are you.
What to do?
Be what ephemeralities construe.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Little Rude

Roast pig turning on a spit –
there is, of course, no hope for it –
there hasn’t been for quite some time.
Whatever eager piglet ran to climb
upon his mama’s breast to suck a teat –
wherever he discovered means to eat –
that’s all gone now. Now he’s dinner.
Doesn’t seem like he’s the winner.
Watch the crackling skin get brown:
watch the juices trickle down.
Watch the piglet turn to food.
It really seems a little rude.
And yet, my dears, not in the least
are we immune: we are a feast
for many populaces: like bacteria –
for whom we are a cafeteria
of tasty prospects, opportunities
to lick now this, now sample these –
to serve up succulently cellular amounts
of us, ‘til they get fat, and bounce
into repasts that other hungry mites consume.
Endlessly omnivorous: there’s always room
for more in this Existence –
which relies upon its own persistence
in the hunting down and following
and mad insentient swallowing
of bits of its own self:
until there’s nothing on the shelf –
until there is no shelf.


Monday, February 19, 2018

But No.

But No.

Surely this impurity would pass,
reflexively, like gas,
or vertigo.
But no.


Colonies of Mitochondria with Wit

The constituents of genius aren’t difficult to name. It’s
plainly made of multi-colored opal and varieties of silver,
and not the highest grade of either. It feverishly levers into
shapes and shades which, when the wind blows at particular
velocities from east to west, can wrest the generating beast
in it from its thick mineral mélange into the air, upon which
contact it flares ominously and spontaneously to combust.
Of course, wind almost never blows from east to west
and when it does (though not at best), the self-combustion
often ends in genius farts, not something in the sciences
or arts or other more arcane endeavors thought sublime.
That can happen too, of course, but it requires mastering
resources in another medium, a bit of tedium so many of
the rest of us resist because so long dismissed as lunacy: that
tryst with this existence known as alchemy, which out of fragile
luck and random chance mix with whatever lies inside those
Genius’ heads, or pants, to va-va-voom the energy of thought
into new synergy with matter – which with ridiculous simplicity
then scatters all the crackling intuitions, aperçus, purviews
and overviews of Genius Mind. But why is silver mixed
with opal catalytic? No genius knows, nor how to make
the thing it brings, before whatever sings into the ear
the song of how to get it to appear, that he or she or it or
colonies of mitochondria with wit will one day somehow hear.