Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hauling it Out of Parentheses – Stuttering, My Father, and Me

(recorded for self-evident reasons, I think)

I have glorious friends. One of them, David Schechter, who’s on my poetry list (people to whom I more or less daily send my verse-and-visuals) just noticed – I don’t make an especially big thing of it, so it’s easy to miss – that I’ve taken to appending a link to a YouTube recording of that day’s enterprise in the email. David is an inspired actor, director, playwright, singer whose shamanistic embrace of existence gives everything he does and says a glow of cosmic hilarity and deep deep feeling: a kind of sweet loopy grace which is his alone. I cherish him. Therefore I cherish what he said about my recordings, which he says he likes a lot. I wrote this back to him yesterday:
‘Thank you! Yes, it’s become a central part of whatever it is I do now: to speak these things is for me a species of singing, really. I write by ear. In fact right now I’m intoning these words aloud as I type them. They rise and fall like notes - musical notes, that is (verbal notes as of course they also are) – in fact they’re really more sound than sense: the ‘sense’ takes care of itself; I barely give it a thought. Which sometimes makes ‘sense’ a casualty (what the fuck is he talking about?). Actually I suppose it’s a wonder I ever make any! It’s all about inflection, pitch, rhythm rhythm rhythm. I stuttered badly (actually I suppose I stuttered quite well - nailed that fucker down, got really good at it!) for years through postOedipal (starting about 7 yrs old) childhood through my teens & twenties and here & there ever since although falling off almost completely by now (though when I’m tired & tense it will come back, like a whimpering old wounded dog): fluency was a rare luxury and oh how I valued it! The craving for it probably is why my violin playing & writing & drawing bloomed as fast & ardently and almost desperately expressively (as if forced in a hot house) as they did. (My father stuttered as a child & adolescent; he too resorted to singing – god what a voice he had! – and drawing & writing probably also compensatorily.) Anyway I’m making up for lost time I guess. And to have such a master of the spoken & sung word as YOU praise me for it now! Well it doesn’t get better ‘n that. Thank you sweetheart.

Mentioning my father in that parenthesis made me realize again how much his son I was, am, will always be. I’m glad I could, as I think I did, reflect some of the better parts of our shared inner experience back to him. It was easy because it consisted of three talents: art, music and – writing, I guess: using words. Each of these media we both used irrepressibly. He never wasn’t singing. He drew with a childlike expansiveness, as attracted to creating strange creatures (which however usually posed as actual people or animals) as I apparently am. Unlike my mother, and many other good artists I know, who work “from life” – used models, looked at actual skies or bowls of apples or sunlit bays or other aspects of the “real” world as guides to what they put on paper or canvas – my father and I much preferred working from what was in our heads. Finally, I think, that’s what all artists do – but it was obvious in us because, well, we weren’t looking at anything when we drew except what we were drawing!

Anyway, the stuttering thing. It’s awful especially when you’re a kid and you can’t get words out except in painful bursts and pushes and stops and starts: it’s like spitting nails. I used to be interested in the ‘psychology’ of this – a word I now put in scare quotes as I would phrenology if that were still all the rage; I think basically it breeds in its abstract phrases more of a block to the possibility of understanding what’s going on than an aid – a terrible generalization, but I make it anyway. Anyway, there were undoubted external conditions that had some effect on my dad’s and my ability to get words out, but I’m now more interested in the adaptations that we quickly developed, because we had to, so that we could experience fluency in some other way. Singing. Drawing. Writing. Arguably we got good at those because of a felt necessity: they were our only alternatives. But mostly, if we did get “good” at any of it, it was because we dived into a private realm of pleasure – we learned we loved doing this stuff, expressing what was in us in these other ways.
I suppose what I’m groping to suggest is that by having to respond to the need to communicate via other means than talking, we were learning that feelings and thoughts could at least be intimated, and sometimes more freshly and even more exactly communicated through visual and musical shticks. This has to be the experience and arguably the great good fortune of people who can’t see or hear as well. They know in ways that we cannot what ‘life’ is through the conditions they’re able to sense it. I permit myself to imagine that my father and I similarly learned that what we were feeling was larger and stranger than it would have been had we been able to resort to speech as the first ‘go-to’ tactic. So much speaks, it turns out, without speaking!
Anyway, I found photos of my dad and me, I’m probably 15, he might be a year or two younger, but early teens: not maybe quite at the peak (or the nadir) of my stuttering, but it was pretty bad then, and I know it was for my dad at that age too. We were both at the brink of lives which would not too long after allow to us to locate our ability to speak with some, and then greater, fluency (I don’t know how we did that) – deeply dyed by years of having known fluency only in fundamentally different media. Some afflictions (not all) can prod sharply useful illumination – I suspect my dad and I were linked in our experience of finding this out. I wonder if my father would have nodded yes to all or any of this. Don’t know. But it would probably make him laugh. One thing life (hobbled by whatever impediments we experienced it) gave both of us was an enormous readiness to laugh. Which oh we did and oh I do. Precious little evidence of that in this missive though there be.
Well, there’s a little. That picture of us attempting the Can Can was taken in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing in December 1985. I’d say that’s got some wit in it. Oh, and wit don’t nevah stop with my friend David Schechter – whose warm response to my orated poesy started all this musing – and who you see here with me next to a bronze Daumier figurine he gave me that had belonged to his mother who’d recently gone to the next dimension, aka “died.” She knew what funny was, too.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What One Might Just as Well Call “Soul”

Depict it! Thunder with significance – you nervous
sparrow on a picket fence – you fifty-minute silence
in a glacial psychoanalytic session: justify that
facial tic – that tiny stutter of expression: what’s that
half-lit smile, that artificial glossy guile – part stiff,
part sad: you get that from your dad? Nail that
damning rhyme that plagues you all the time: kick it
in the assonance. Don't take any sass from your
first memory of crying, diapered, in the grass: pass
it on like Kleenex to that crazed black man who’s
cursing his synapses – spitting his Tourettes out in
the subway – leather cabbie cap on backwards:
looks good, doesn't he? Wasn't he the scary fucker
coming after you in last night’s dream – the one
at whom you tried to scream but couldn't? Wouldn't he
look fine reclining next to you in bed, about to nuzzle
sleepily into your armpit with his sweet warm head?
You'd watch him take a dip – lick your needless
nipple, feel the ripple through what one might just
as well call “soul.” You would give that to him whole.

What Does New York City Teach You (answer to a Quora question)

Guy Kettelhack, lives in New York City (1975-present)  (answer to a Quora question)

To me that’s like asking what, in all its dimensions, does your own mind teach you? Oddly, with its legendary bounty of distractions (though, pertinently, no more or less bountiful than the distractions in your own mind), New York can, for some people, become the occasion of discovering a greater sense of calm than they’ve known anywhere else.
Anyway it’s done that for me. And I think the reason it has is that it reflects every aspect of thought, feeling or fantasy in my own mind: nothing I’ve ever felt or wondered about hasn’t met with an answering response from some resource in New York (people, concerts, museums, chance absorption of an overheard voice or something scribbled on a wall) that precisely fits it.
The best examples of this may be too private to share. A sexual fantasy you grew up thinking sentenced you to complete aloneness turns out to be the basis of a number of thriving groups in New York. Your fascination with particular edible grasses or types of salami or translating Ancient Greek or barely known Indian sauces or arcane branches of folk music or cutting edge neurological research into schizophrenia will find itself passionately reflected in human company to be found here. New York is like your ‘id’ - Freud’s hypothetical unconscious furnace of drives which feeds everything you are. These drives seek release in whatever forms they are wittingly or unwittingly provided: they’ve no moral interest in the outcome, though the rest of the selective you may. But it is New York’s immoderate capacity to fund you with every imaginable response (often amounting to solution) to every imaginable desire or curiosity you bring to it that is its real glory.
New York has taught me how profoundly ‘place’ can merge with, and therefore suggest to me, ‘who I am.’ That the same can be said of Thoreau and his Walden doesn’t vitiate or erase the impact of this discovery, it enlarges our understanding that the ‘particulars’ of place potentially have meanings to anyone receptive to them. The universe (as infinite in rural New Hampshire as it is in Manhattan) reflects us; we reflect it - if we’re temperamentally aligned with the angles of its transmission. And New York’s got the angles for me.
In short, we’re never lost - or anyway perhaps never need be. The profound calm thismakes possible can be explained simply. You feel heard, corroborated, embraced by a ‘condition’ which tells you you’re where you belong. It’s my experience that this (arguably greatest) human anguish of feeling lost can, in and by New York, be answered and assuaged. Existentially, and with as much crème fraiche on top as you can handle.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why I'm Writing This Letter

What had once been Fantasia afflicts me with dullish aphasia:
can’t speed through the hatch and be free anymore:
can’t locate the latch and the key anymore. The flow is shut off;
the show is cut off: I’ve rammed to the end of my cranial meat;
must defer to a sense beyond sense that entreats me to trust
the grand slam. As usual, no one's at bat. I'm tired of that.
Mammalian perceptions, revealed as a sham. (I am that I am.
So what.) So last night I stole into the Met where I met a small
Pharaoh whom I also stole to take home and to talk to. But I kept
saying things for which he didn't care, pompous ass with his nose
in the air. So I fashioned him into a chair. And everything's
suddenly better. That's why I'm writing this letter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Little Secret Time for Happiness

For Kyree
Let’s take a little secret time
for happiness.
I’ve got abundantly more than
I’d need – Lord knows, not less –
to savor you, and you, well,
you don’t have to think about
a thing: just slide into each  
coiling ring of life’s meticulous
embrace: and close your eyes,
and let the sweet sopranos sing.
Permit the Entity that rests
within to oversee.
(That portion of it which you
may feel creamily attending
to each whirling inexplicability
of you is me.)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

How I’d Define the Thing

It doesn't have to entertain or sing,
although it mustn't bore. It mustn't
not suffice, and mustn't not deposit
you into a state of wanting more.
It mustn't not delight and mustn't not
unnerve, and if it serves up double-
negatives, it mustn't not confuse
a little. Mustn't not be visceral as
spittle; mustn't not be fully mouthed;
mustn't not allow the possibility
of getting lost and feeling found.
Mustn't not amend an error; mustn't
not be this: the only way, today, that
you can find to say what you imagine
isn’t not your terror and your bliss.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Word Made Text

Haphazard processes, creations idly stopped
just as they’d started forming, sometimes
saddled with accoutrements to whose
unfathomable use you can’t imagine
ever warming: this is the legacy you’re left.
This is what you have to think is you, bereft,
at first, of any notion of what could come next.
It strikes you that the obstacle, in fact, is “next” –
the word, the text, the problem is the word made
text which locks you into thinking anything you see
in it is true. No text knows you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Whispered to a Face on the Subway

But you do have comrades, whom
you notice on the subway perhaps,
who may even be "friends" in some way,

who know the toughness and the tragedy
and (to me above all) the sense of loneness
that New York does, I agree, insist

we deal with, and if there is a triumph
to be had, it’s that we’ve managed to stay
here – and consists mostly in what we have

done to be able to stay here and - this
struck me as something very true in you –
to know that were we to have to leave

we would miss it inconsolably: to know
that we would never have anything
elsewhere like the lives we have here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What Guy Turns Out to Be

Guy took the Orville Redenbacher guided
meditation first: consumed a whole
pack of the popcorn maven’s butter/salt
variety popped in the microwave –
whose sly subliminal suggestion,
(without question, Orville promised)
would transmute through his digestive
tract a vision of the thing Guy really was.
All Guy had to do was take a post-snack nap
while Orville did what Orville does.
Guy awoke to feel the crack and zap
of the recovery, in his imagination’s optic
depths, of the discovery – expressed
with an exquisite visual sonority:
as if delivered from the glory of an ancient
Greek Elysium – what Guy can now say
on the best authority he is: part tiny
jellyfish, part giant paramecium, part
jockstrap from a gym. That’s what Guy
turns out to be. Makes perfect sense to him.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bifteck Saignant Avec Buerre Blanc

Today what you don’t know
Is what you didn’t know and wouldn’t
Know and may not know you hadn’t
Known when you had thought
You’d known enough, but hadn’t
Learned the first thing you would
Need to know to know what you could
Say you knew about where you are now.
Yo! (whew!) Où es tu maintenant?

Had you been under oath,
That is, if you had not been loath
To wed yourself by oath to vow
To tell the truth and nothing but the truth
Just now, you’d have to have resorted then
To vow in answer to the query ‘what words
Rhyme with now?’ (grâce à Dieu, pas
«maintenant») the only word that came
To you (came then to you, that is, not now)
Was how. Apart from vow. And, oh yes, cow.
They said, “oh no! Not cow. Don’t even think
About the cow.” Too late, you’d thought it.
“You ought,” they said, “more strictly to have
fought it.” Damned vow. If only you could
Now say you forsook to take the vow!
But wait! You never took it.
So go ahead, think Cow – Bifteck
Saignant Avec Buerre Blanc! – and cook it.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Song of Sight

Our expectation that how what we see
is a priori everybody’s optical reality
begs us, when we discover we are wrong,
to ask the gods who wrote this song
why what appears to someone’s vision bright
to someone else’s seems devoid of light –
why shapes which seem to me more vague
than fog will clog your vision in a plague
of edgy scraps in painfully exact detail.
Sigh? Meet wail. How does this avail?
“We don’t write the song of sight,” the gods reply.
“You write it every night. Inside your eye.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018


At first it seemed an awfully awkward sobriquet: his retinue
said he’d requested them to call him ‘Bringer.’ He specialized
in bringing you to brinks. He collected hangers-on – coaxing
in them the perspective that by hanging on and in they could
inspect whatever next and necessary dawn they’d need:
and they would always need another one of those. The brink
they brought me to was not a rift between the night and day,
or poetry and prose: the lift they taught was what it meant
to generate a breathing thought. Only then might proverbs once
again begin to reign, only then could Word approach the Flesh
to gird the cosmos with its latticed diction, syntax, joined ecstatic
differences: the gone, the here, the old, the new, now steamed
into a life-begetting stew, to swallow which would be what
a Communion symbolized, and was:  the sole soul food –
the stealth and wealth of soul, the art the heart imparted. I’ve
no idea, of course, if this is what they had intended to convey.
All I can say is by the time I put my pen away, they had departed.
I nearly said summarily. Assonant with verily. Capricious fizz,
this tic, this busy and delicious specious-seeming rhetoric.
Elegance is awkward. Is that what meaning is? An irrepressible
reflex, a spill of speech? Is that what they had come to teach?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Palace of Sleep

What do we learn in the palace of sleep?
What happened there, really, to Alice?
And Dorothy Gale in Kansas and Oz?
And Dante when he went to hell?
Is it all biological spell? Dizziness,
bizziness, nothing but synaptic tap dance?
Nothing but absence of malice? But, really,
what happened to Alice? Or us when we
sleep and we dream and conceive
and forget how we yearn to return to
the uterus – Is it all to remind us we know
where to go when at last we must leave?