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.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

New Theories of Ecstasy

My city’s life takes place not least in her embrace
of trees, her stony dirt the "arms" they seem content
to grow in. But I don’t much (as such) like Nature:
that is, as it’s ideally conceived: a pristine space
in which no human intervention ought to leave a trace.
I’d as soon say swallows’ nests are artificial as some

say that glassy boxy buildings are. What is Nature
but the product of detritus from a blasted star?
Porno vendors, middle schools and K-marts
all are natural. Snarkiness is too, and so’s a Cuisinart.
All of that apart, my heart is nonetheless more
swiftly lost to fallen leaves than to Manhattan stores:

not because they come from trees, but because they 
are what Keats reminded us must always hold the truth.
They’re beautiful. Immutable and mutable. They crack
the whip of wonder quietly. Watching oak leaves 
float in city puddles easily relieves anxiety. Muddles
lessen at a glance. New theories of ecstasy advance.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Edna Chapeau and her Four Hatted Freds

John Ruskin, praising the irrationality
of Gothic architecture:
“It not only dared, but delighted in,
the infringement of every servile principle.”
Who’s that lady in the hat with the heads?
Oh! It’s Edna Chapeau and her Four Hatted Freds!
Is she a walking advertisement for her doo-wop band –
Or acting out another “episode” we’ll never understand?
Perhaps she’s doing both.
Madness begs the world to ply its troth
And wed it.
The world sometimes will let it.
Maybe that’s a way to cure insanity.
Play up to its vanity
And tell it it’s the best.
Something to which Edna might attest.
Change “it” to “she”
in Ruskin’s quote about irrationality:
“She not only dared, but delighted in,
the infringement of every servile principle.”
That’s how Edna feels invincible.
She’s magnificently unconvinceable.  


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Protégé (youtube)
Believing Fate had destined him
to mentor unenlightened souls,
he can’t exist without a protégé –
a malleable creature he could
sway to-ward his vision of what
he could confidently say was his
self-evidently viable reliance upon
values that authoritatively made
sense, but evanescently: born of
aperçus, velleities and other super-
subtle inclinations that accrue
from the dimensions of applying
one’s attention to correct esthetic
pensive sorts of meditation based
on Pater, Wilde and (odd to some
but not to him) the latter works
of Erma Bombeck, which together
constitutively project a sure yet
flexible recourse to which you
could repair, beyond what your
despairing puny consciousness
alone could bring to bear on
anything at all. Upon whoever
cleaved to what this sage believed,
would, without fail, befall the sort
of wealth of meaning that ensues
in lives lived by and through his
kind of supple scruple, not the
unavailing stolen goods, the pelf,
to which the avarice of greedy
grasping hands remands the
unenlightened soul. But by this
time a protégé with half a mind
will have divined the whole
scenario: like an asexual Lothario
who out of habit acts as if he lusts
for prey, or a psychotic Santa
who has managed to waylay his
last remaining elf, he’ll only ever
have been talking to himself.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Witness Protection

We believe we’ve reason to believe
that all imaginable species whether
in what we call palpable reality
or in our dreams achieve their purposes
and demonstrate their fitness by assenting
to become each other’s witness.
Sentient being would soon smother
in a killing isolation if it hadn’t access
to some mode of “seeing” there’s an Other.
Doesn’t have to be a mother or a lover.
We only dare to care if we can swear
that something else is there.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Part She Didn’t Know She’d Have

If we, one day, in some as yet unfathomed way,
discover we are able by maneuvering a blip
in the continuum of space and time to slip back to,
and gad about with, unsuspected forebears whom
we didn’t know we had much less might find –
perhaps a sixteenth century novitiate (doomed
to exile for her sin of getting pregnant) in a convent
in Alsace, or vagabonds in tent camps in Afghanistan,
or members of an indigo dye guild outside what
now is called Islamabad – would we see faces
that resembled ours? Very likely not. We’re steam
and bubble that our mongrel melting pot effaces.
We’d peer into each other’s eyes, and see no
evidence in them of us, and soon erase the thought
that there was reason to surmise we had the barest
business with each other: indeed we might return
reviewing just how close we really are to mother,
father, sister, brother. Illimitable inimitability will
ever re-assert its proud autonomy: no mixing up
the ragged ends of you with me, it wants to say.
And yet had I the chance to stay to speak with
that expectant scared novitiate I wouldn’t turn it
down. I’d thank her for the part she didn’t know
she’d have in helping me to come around.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Let Them Eat Cake

So I entered the realm of Cake again today, forced to purchase one early in the morning under the usual if (as it turns out with some surprise I’m relieved to report) thankfully less frequent goading impetus of waking up with the vividly specific vision of a supermarket-faux-buttercreme-blue-rosette-adorned white birthday cake which had shoved me out to Key Foods on Avenue A the last time I ‘had to’ have one.
Not for the first time - this happens about every six minutes - I was forced to confront the harrowing difference between the idea of something and the reality of it, which as always (every six minutes) redoubles my doubt that we possibly could be the sort of Word Made Flesh business Christianity calls Jesus and state-of-the-art physics says we pretty much also amount to: energy transmuting under an unimaginable ferocity of conditions into matter. I had slowly but inexorably moved into what seemed to me the grim though far more persuasive probability that our supposed physical existence was in fact so unlikely as to make it, in fact, impossible. In fact, despite all the obfuscating sleight-of-hand smoke-&-mirror chimeric evidence to the contrary, it had never really happened. What we much more likely were was some other unfathomable being’s substanceless hologram puppet show. 
The Cake convinced me.
Because, you see, the effect of one bite of the thick white oily clotted substance atop the wood fiber-flavored dry yellow mass of that “cake” was to disabuse what I had taken for my mouth of the least sense that any task it had been or could be obliged to assign itself since, well, it had been what it at this instant now returned to believing - indeed realized - it still was: an idea, a ‘word’ that, whatever false promise had been lent to it that it might one day dwell among ‘us’ (whatever nonexistent reality ‘us’ was supposed to be) - well, you see, this sentence is impossible to end sensibly: except to say all tasks are meaningless. Even Instagram seems to be in on it. You see the words ‘story’ and ‘feed’ on the screenshot quadrant of the quartet of pics - as if you could choose one or the other. There is no choice. There’s only Story. What could there be to Feed? You see where I have gone and am going with this and by now are no doubt ardently hoping I’d desist from it, and so with the encouragement of that likely wish, I shall.
But not before issuing the invitation to anyone within a mile radius of where “I” and the “cake” physically appear to reside, anyone, that is, who is courageous enough to do so, to please to partake with me of a new “last supper” – the supper to bid farewell to mistaken notions of what we are – to ingest a small piece of the “cake” and therefore to risk undergoing the revelation I believe it was put before us by the Hologram Puppeteer to induce: that the reason the Idea never exactly matches up with the Reality is because there is no Reality. Only other ideas. All is hocus-pocus. And those who resist the truth?
Let them eat cake.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Eyes on a Potato

Ought we to feel blessed that we don’t instantly
evince each wince of shame, humiliation
and embarrassment that stings us through
the day with giant hot pink bruises?
Ought we to be glad that we don’t
morphologically manifest in languorously
thickening somatic lengths and folds of covering
like rubber matting – become the outward form
of all the lolling useless dolorous expressions
of depression which through weeks across
all regions of us slink down slowly, flatly
to embrace the ground, obeying gravity too well?
Ought we be relieved our systems do not swell
to force our flesh to heave and sway
and atrophy into soft serpentine reductions
of our limbs and fingers to be swallowed up by
rolls of plasm we are able only with deep pain
to push ahead in increments of inches toward
something somewhere we don’t care if we attain?
Or ought we to be sorry? If disharmony were
freely granted agency to show itself in everything
that bodies felt and feel and had and have and were
and are, wouldn’t that bestir it into harmony?
What un-impedimental things to be!
Being ultimately is the outcome of “to be.”
It’s enough to make the eyes on a potato see.