Thursday, November 30, 2017

Interior Decorating (via the NY Times) vs. What I Do

From a friend who knows my apartment: 

Don’t bother reading this but you can see that they have taken a page from your book.


From me:  

Thanks - yes, I guess this is the species of what I’ve done here, interesting to see it parsed out as a decorating idea. It was all such an organic thing for me - I guess I made ‘decisions’ about what to put where, but because the art was so personal - there’s only one piece on the wall which wasn’t created by me, my mother, my father or a friend - a pretty little framed oblong of Asian (Singapore, I think) art in the studio which a friend gave me (and which I’m thinking of taking down because it's not made by someone I know!) - the experience of putting all this up felt more like putting it where IT was destined or expected itself to be: I was carrying out its plan, sort of fulfilling its destiny. That probably sounds like a psychiatric disorder but if it is, it also afflicts me in the creative scenario I feel I'm in when I draw or I write: I’m co-creating and all I know about my co-creator is that it’s got the upper hand. Just woke up early after a long sleep - funny to find myself writing this as my first sentient act. I think I’m about to draw something! As usual I have no idea what. But I never need to know. Something else is in charge of that. I’m however in charge of making coffee ☕️ first. 

At least I think I am. Anyway, something will now make coffee.

Cheerio(s)! (They're telling me to eat them, too.)

The Penultimate Destiny of Fallen Leaves

Most sweet fallen leaves dispose me to opine
that they might well enjoy a camaraderie 
in their supine condition that they would repine
had they imagined their penultimate destiny 
would be to be so randomly admixed
into unasked-for intimate relation
with these leaves from other trees. Fixed 
stasis on a branch had been each leaf’s sole station
since its un-remembered start. Now
to find its edges, swells and coloring at odds
with its companions’: had this caused a Wow
of revelation, art and ecstasy? Had its gods

much larger plans and stranger purposes
at work than it could, through its limits, glean?
How fine - sublime! - to rub and place its surfaces
so sensually over and beneath the unforeseen!


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Last Word: Celebrating Quentin Crisp's Final Book

I thought I'd have a large roiling boiling pot from which to ladle irrepressible scoops about Quentin Crisp's "The Last Word" – the book Phillip Ward has so expertly brought into being – but when I think of my prime response to it so far (I’m savoring it slowly), and of the net effect of the sweet convocation of people at Leslie-Lohmann's send-off for the book a few days ago, it's the welcome sense of having been somewhere where no one was lying, no one was fabricating a prettier story than the truth could bear; indeed, everyone at The Last Word event seemed to be responding to the kindness and clarity of the nonagenarian whom we meet in this book, and who some of us had the pleasure of meeting in life. The book is quiet in the most welcome way. It gently simmers.
Quentin Crisp does not do verbal handstands of any sort in these pages. He says it all outright, mostly unembellished. He says what his life at 90 is like. Mostly it sucks. He neither winces at nor dwells overlong upon why: he simply lets us know what it is to be nearly blind, deaf, and all but incapable of managing stairs. The book is full of recollection of events in his life, many of which will be familiar, but told now in a sparer voice. Phillip and the book's editor Laurence Watts have accomplished a feat more artful than may first appear: they've adhered as closely as possible to the words that Quentin spoke onto the tapes from which they were transcribed, but the material is shaped so that we’re never on the bumpier ride we might have been on without their invisible intervention.
Quentin’s words here are stark. "I've only ever made two decisions for myself. One was to leave home when I was seventeen. The other was to leave England when I was seventy-two. Both were like falling off a cliff in the dark." They’re bred from a natural deeply woven wit – the cosmic kind, true and unassuming. "When people claim I have influenced the world, I'm polite. I smile and nod, but I don't really believe it. I can say with certainty however that I haven't allowed the world to influence me, so it seems only fair that the reverse should be the case as well." This last quote seems to me seminal. Its tone is not caustic; it’s honest. It implicitly conveys the only message Quentin felt he had to offer, one he embodied: we are born as inimitable beings. At the most fundamental level, your nature doesn’t change: like it or not, it is immune to influence. Never more explicitly the case for Quentin than when he confesses his belief that he is after all transgender, not homosexual. He’d always felt he was a woman in a man’s body. This is a profound revelation and admission and it will change how we read him, I think for our benefit. As he himself so often said, he didn’t symbolize anything outside himself. He could not be turned into a activist’s sign. But what he shared with everybody was inimitability. He was our mirror for that. We’re also, each of us, an improbable oner.
What do you do with this unlikely untoward thing – your nature, yourself? Dress it up and take it out into the world without apology or defense. That way, the world and you will accommodate each other as what and who you are. That’s probably the route to any freedom that counts. That marks the life fully lived.
I never didn't hear Quentin in every word I've read in this book. What makes his words so interesting is their rare purity of vision. Anything a pure vision looks at benefits from the experience. You want to hear and see and read how Quentin felt about – everything. And here, in The Last Word, you get what may be the most pared-down and nakedly offered Quentin Crisp we can get from a book. Here he remains, if a touch more metaphorically, what his autobiography proclaimed him to be: naked, and civil, and our servant to the last. That makes this book a stunning achievement. It is a fitting farewell from him to us, and by reading it, for us to make to him.
Please do read it. It's available only through Amazon.
pics: upper left, the inimitable Connie Clausen on the far right in her 70th birthday party (I’m on the far left), Quentin’s agent and loving friend (1993); upper right, me reading a portion of The Last Word at the party for it on November 26; lower left, Richard Bell, prime member of my found family and my ‘partner’ during the ‘80s when I worked most closely with Quentin: Quentin and he deeply enjoyed each other; and Phillip Ward with whom I have moved through many humbling revelations about myself and about Quentin, and whose
achievement in this book cannot be overpraised.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One Day, After Peering Within

For most of their lives they had yelped
that they urgently had to be helped.

But they no longer yelp anymore.
They don’t need help anymore.

They once were encumbered by soul-killing sin -
till they wondered, one day, after peering within,

if the strife they had both been detesting
as sin wasn't sin: but just life, manifesting.

Soul-killing sin wasn't what they had been with.
They didn't need help with a thing to begin with.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Watch What Happens

If we can assume from what appears to be persuasive
evidence supporting the Darwinian hypothesis that through

the eons the innate proclivity of every class of living things
has been to mutate mercilessly randomly, get sick and die

off quickly, until finally it stumbles into one of those
symmetrical economies of means that strictly serve survival,

what accounts for the arrival through Imagination of my
untoward babies’ birth? They don’t look as if they’d last

a nanosecond on the Earth. You say, “that’s because they
aren’t really here. Marks you make on paper lack intrinsic

meaning: that you use inert, reductive symbols to imbue
with sentient animate existence, almost always out of anxious

loneliness and narcissistic fear, seems clear.” And I say, ha!
Watch what happens when you tell them that, my dear.”


Saturday, November 25, 2017


As is well-known to many, I am and have been for more years than it now seems politic to reveal the director of ‘Arcane and Indefensible Realms of Human Endeavor’, the full title of which includes 'Art and 'Devotion' (acronym AIRHEAD) - dropped here because the words won’t fit on the building’s marquee or the company letterhead - which has expanded over the decades to include a large and lively workshop in Dover, Delaware wherein and wherefrom proceed various productions in service of furthering my advocacy and/or exploration of NYC standpipe culture, rivetingly alarming sexual ingenuity, the mystical properties of Sycamore leaves, the meaning and sometimes terrible significance of 1880s architectural adornment in New York City, Gracie Allen’s divinity, the incontrovertible preeminence of and preternaturally evocative creative m.o.’s largely shared by Judy Garland, Henry James and Emily Dickinson, among innumerable other areas of fixated interest that will by now be familiar to most of you, all of whose productions are carried out by a staff of 24 devoted volunteers who have asked to remain nameless. 

With regard to which request, I am pleased to discover that while I make no secret of my employment as founder and CEO of AIRHEAD that its employees and indeed its very existence remain, as you can see from this screenshot of my Facebook timeline, invisible to Facebook. Google on it & none of its personnel nor any other identifying information will appear. 

Evidence that the workings of the human heart will forever, by their very nature, remain under the radar of even the most sophisticated invasively investigative strategies of Le Grand Frère.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Exacting Our Obeisance

It surely is a human fate –
one hard to tell from dread –
to know that we will walk in on
the dying and the dead:

family and friends and pets –
their sundry histories –
the passing of assumptions,
loves, and other mysteries –

perhaps it proves effectual
to render, by contrast,
a vivid sense of living from
a living sense of past;

provisional, that sense of dread –
and fleeting, as one sees
volcanically eruptive life
replacing, by degrees,

the whole of everything again,
distracting, with its kiss,
exacting our obeisance,
to soften what we miss.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Your Slow Deliberate Dilations

Oh, the range of glow and volume of you –
cold November afternoon! – forgive me for not
having sooner caught your daily comings-on and -in –

for not having been sufficiently attentive to your slow
deliberate dilations toward assuming a protracted role
in a Chekhovian-sly play: seductively ambiguous. If your

winds had limbs they’d be askew, each with its own soft
arresting hue – your portion of the fund of autumn’s
waning alchemy. From my vision’s balcony I see

an opalescent sun: its valiant fading glimmer stuns a little –
bits of white gold prick the eye – then mesmerizingly
diffuse into a dreamish pinkish-grayish-gauzy-brightness,

subtly wry and privately enlivening – still faintly fresh with
its begetting sun, not yet sucked into, under the penumbral
cold indifference of a winter still to come – I will leave

my unclear essence here, invest it in your evanescent
comprehending light so you might breathe it in before
I curl into another freezing night’s amnesia.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Art of Mother & Son

Lately I’ve found myself marveling again at my mother’s watercolors - her seemingly simultaneous control over composition and gradations of color and capacity to make what I think of as her best paintings seem completely finished yet not dead: there’s wind in them. 
Growing up with an artist who has this kind of skill who is your mother is odd, particularly when your father and brother and you have facility in art, too: it’s something you all can sort of do: it feels normal. But that acceptance can verge on complacency - it blunts your actually seeing what in this case Alice Kettelhack regularly brought off: a body of work slowly getting finer and more accomplished and, in the way of such things, quietly & progressively revealing her own deeper currents of temperament.
It’s this I’m seeing & sensing more now as I spend more time with her skies and bays: a private intention which taught her the habit of art, not too much to call a burning need to burrow further into what she had so carefully nurtured into greater & more precise efficacy: her own skills of wielding a delicate wet brush into color and onto an absorbent page. She had turned herself into an instrument with an aim, and the results are all around me.
My productions come from such a different source - it would take someone else to talk about them: I can only do them. But what a sweet irony that mother & son, so different in their output, now cohabit the same walls in such abundance! There’s something volatile and unpredictable in all of this juxtaposition - and some marvelous harmony in it too. Neither my mother nor I could have envisioned it. But here it is. And it changes and grows, just by being looked at, day after day.

Art really is alive in that way. So, in a way, therefore, is my mom.


Passions That Defeat Volition

In polite society
we’re rarely called upon
to show our heterogeneity -
that mixture in us of the dawn

and dead of night.
But today one sees that
as egregious oversight -
as if refusing to permit a bat

its craving for a ball.
We’re not a cosmic error
in our lust for the ungodly squall
of pleasure mixed with terror:

that is the condition
in which excellence is born.
Passions which defeat volition
lend infinity to art, to life, to porn.


Passions That Defeat Volition

In polite society
we’re rarely called upon
to show our heterogeneity -
that mixture in us of the dawn
and dead of night.
But today one sees that
as egregious oversight -
as if refusing to permit a bat
its craving for a ball.
We’re not a cosmic error
in our lust for the ungodly squall
of pleasure mixed with terror:
that is the condition
in which Glory's always born.
Passions which defeat volition
lend divinity to art, to life, to porn.



Monday, November 20, 2017

Who Is Here

When we believe we’re being
looked at, we often pose:
make a sweetly private fuss,
and straighten spines and toes
and smile like Mona Lisa –
summon up the faintest blush:

attempting to acknowledge
that hypothesis, the Other –
the odd idea that someone else
has agency to see us, autonomy
that isn't we, or me. You see,
my dear -- assuming anybody's

here whom one can call a dear
(who, in fact, is here?) -- we use
the Royal we. It's not unlikely
we've created you because 
(like God) we're lonely,
and we're all made out of me.

But we're very good at fooling us:
which means your really being
here remains a possibility.
We doubt, though, we will ever 
know. So it doesn't matter too
much if you come or if you go.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Subway MVPs

Scrawny teens, school uniforms:
trade their gross-out jokes.
Schizophrenic lady storms
at Satan – blind man pokes.

Woman with a baby pram
and baby blocks the aisle.
Badass thug about to ram
them stops: sees baby smile.

Tourists from Alsace-Lorraine
look about in terror.
Old man with a fountain pen
crosses out an error.

Young dude in the bubble
wrap of business suit and tie
doesn’t seem too troubled
he’ll inevitably die.


Saturday, November 18, 2017


Dead family members come and prod
and pull and murmur – gently furrowed brows
evince an odd distress – as if annoyed that I had not
yet guessed what seems to seem to them a patent mission –
the sort of shake and tug
you’d give a toddler who expects a hug
from every stranger: no, they seem to want to say: 
not there, not that one! – go the other way. 

My father has recovered from his Alzheimer’s,
my brother is no longer gaunt with AIDS, or gored by sores,
my mother doesn’t hack that last death rattle cough:
her black eye gotten from a fall from bed has vanished utterly.
Why do they, healed as they are now,
so sputter at me – what am I doing wrong?
And then I see it hasn’t anything to do with doing wrong,
but with their longing to belong again.

They seem to know they’ll drift from every consciousness
and disappear. Then even I’ll be gone; a matter not of if,
but when. No other Kettelhack will dawn.
Who’s dreaming this, you wonder – me or you or they?
Who’s been abandoned, who’s abandoning?
Me and you and they and who are specificities
which all will lose their use one day.
The individual inevitably just gets in the way.


Friday, November 17, 2017

homage to Brian Keane (composer who did theme to Ric Burns' NYC doc)...

...and sort of by surprise, to our country.

the "sort of by surprise" part: seized as I was last night (having bumped into a YouTube recording I did some years ago) by the melody/main theme of Ric Burns' wonderful documentary on NYC - and grateful to Brian Keane, the composer who created it - I emerged from playing it here feeling like I had a clearer idea of the kind of excellence to which this country of ours has it in it to bring form. This melody fuels that sense.

Reed says it's sort of half-Irish and half-Elgar. Which also contributes to it being American. We melt everything we got into the pot.

'God' bless the America that can do this.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Splintered Light

Shards of shadow on the couch – ragged blades
of dark abrade the bright – arrest: induce a sharp
distress: the thought that this November flight
of filtered yellow-silver might be the equivalent of dust

erased from somewhere – caught, dismissed, discarded –
from and to a void – a vacancy, a senseless scheme:
regarded – seen – by nobody at all: as meaningless
as reflex – empty dream: the splintered light of Fall.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Internal Revenue

Make poems air their cockiest
imaginable points-of-view –
that they so scurrilously
querulously squirrel through

they can’t not rock out from
this rude insistent fro-and-to
some portion of the ecstasy
of the self-evidently true.

Stimulate your life and mind
and body similarly to construe,
and to reveal, what constitutes
the real internal revenue of you.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

You Revise Me

Like a wise look
on a sleeping infant,
you revise me.

Old ideas forsake –
dry, brittle – break
like thin potato chips.

New opinions bloom
like patterns
in a loom.

A baby’s face –
potato chips –
a tapestry:


Regard a few
of your bewildering
effects on me.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

If You Can Shake It, It Will Bake It

Each day produces yet another largely prix-fixe menu
whose particulars you do not learn until you‘ve sat down
in its ever-slightly altered venue – ping the chime you find

in front of you to tintinnabulate the message that you’re
ready for the ghostly cypher of a waiter who (mostly sooner,
rarely later) will lay out the unforeseen repast. It’s unlikely

you would last if there were not an understanding here –
which is to say, a demonstrated reverence on its and your
part for the idiosyncratic and the queer: in fact, a rabid taste

for no holds barred at all. It’s surely your reaction to its
come-ons which accounts for this audacious daily culinary
psychic windfall – if you can shake it, it will bake it: the vast

amassing on the plate of broiled expectations – lightly
dusted with minced bits of love and grated hate. You like
the musk of the arrival – piquant survival – of the plaintive

sigh in broth – with its funky hint of sloth; and savor, when
it’s possible, the jalapeño heat of lust, blistering when
impermissible, salted with mistrust. You’ll lick a subtle smile,

though generally not while forking in the load of tasty guile
which bloats you up on every other Tuesday. You’ve come
to rather like the goose that lays the egghead who can’t wait

to crack his shell-y skull into your bowl to ply you with his
intellectually indefensible pedantic bull: you find the whole
thing swell. And all you ever have to do is ring the bell.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Lost in a Quatrain

It’s less the heart of darkness
than a darkness in the heart:
unfathomably pregnable –
impregnably apart.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Everything Turns Out

So a man walks up to a stranger
on West 72nd Street and asks him:
“Have you ever been to California?”
“No,” the stranger says.

“Well,” the man continues,
“from what you’ve heard of it,
you think I should go?”
“Sure,” the stranger says.

So the man buys a plane ticket
and leaves that very day.
And everything turns out
the way it would have anyway.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Donna and Me in a Cab

Donna and me carousing 
in a cab about a year ago 
construe the boffo-est most 
spot-on view (head-on or 
from behind) we've got of us.

Except one we can't find*
of Donna who'd admonished
me to sit where she'd alit,
atop a hippopotamus
named Deuteronymous.

(I was pictured climbing,
trembling, up his bottomus.)
But this shot snaps because
it catches her mid-laughter:
a more dangerous contagious

irrepressibility would not
attach to you from any other
laugh you'd hear from here
to Timbuktu to Caribou.
The things it makes you do!


*Deuternonymous, we later
learned, preferred to be
anonymous: he may have
found a way to sneak into my
laptop’s files (he’s the only

hippo Google’s ever hired),
peek around until he found
the pic and go about deleting it.
But we’d like to keep that quiet.
Thanks for not repeating it.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Significance of a Fallen Leaf

Grief is foreign to the fallen leaf. If its death be
breezily regarded as the price of an existence
barely noticed to begin with, that would easily unite
it to the rest of us and every other thing that lives.

That it brings its photosynthesizing power to
the care and feeding of its mother tree and sibling
leaves as they give theirs to both of them and to
themselves is their collective task: that all the leaves

had wherewithal to starve them all by falling from
their mother’s arms en masse were they to suffer
blast by fire or toxic gas or virus or tsunami
wouldn’t be alarming to the Cosmos: the event

would only be what evidently had to happen
to maintain the balance of the here-and-never-was-
nor-will-nor-can-be-here, the autonomic fugue
and counterpoint of physics’ buzz and silence,

attending to the necessary generative violence
of guarding existential equanimity – on which
depend the burps and spittle of existence. The only
answer to the question Being asks is yes of course

beyond a doubt what else am I but you? – what else
but you is there to do? “Yeah,” you sotto voce say,
“but what am I to be?” Think it up and be it. No
need for a decree. But please consider telling me.