Friday, June 30, 2017

Prestissimo or Largo

Some carry, some are carried back –
some never finish that C flat soundtrack –

some feast on salsa, mezzoforte or piano –
intone a mighty bass, sing adequate soprano,  

become the spouse who waits to nab you
or the guy who waits to pay the tab you

leave when you too often to the bar go.
Serendipity decrees the show

and every starring and subsidiary role.
Bowls will fill and bells will toll

at random or be rung,
inflammatory songs be sung

which land you in the slammer.
But whether you’re the nail or hammer,

bow politely or give lip
to who-or-what commands the ship

prestissimo or largo,
you’re the precious cargo.


Twenty-Five Years

25 years, June 1992 - June 2017. 1992 ventures into my imagination because Doogie Howser dates a lot of his computer diary entries (how cutting edge that would have seemed then!) in 1992 (I watch Doogie on AntennaTV very very early in the a.m.) - and that year, or as I think of it the gestalt of that time which extended into the mid-90s, really only three or four years, marked a kind of full bloom in my life. Indeed, June 11, 1993, my agent and friend Connie Clausen's 70th birthday, celebrated in the pic I've made permanent on my Facebook page with Quentin Crisp in it, has become that moment's iconic visual for me.

And yet when I really attempt to inspect my memory (which is of course always highly selective and therefore far from trustworthy), and am able to feel something of the strange ambiguous texture of its reality, and more than that, to connect it to the future I couldn't of course have foreseen, it lends the whole notion of imagining any 'period' in one's life as unchanging a sort of poignant deep hilarity. Twenty-five years on, the most fundamental shift I can say I believe I've undergone has been more of degree than of kind: but how much greater a degree! It's simply this: life is only ever immediate. "In the moment" is too stodgy a phrase for it, not least because of its self-satisfied "well, we've figured THAT out, anyway" hubris: in fact "immediate" doesn't for me suggest time at all. Immediate is beyond any facile sense of "now". Probably what I want to say is that life is experienced in eternity, always and ever. And eternity has nothing to do with time. What practical effects does this have on the living of life I can name? A constant sense of curiosity and wonder. We are in, and we ARE, an inarguable freshness.

25 years - let's see - I'm 66. 25 years ago I was 41. 25 years before that I was 16. Let's see what narrative pics I can provide of those ages might suggest.

While they suggest 'events' - indeed the first two are depictions of events: a women's club concert with my beloved Ingrid Bartinique and other Amityville h.s. school friends in 1967; the aforementioned party for Connie in 1993; & the last, merely me in a red V-necked T shirt about 6 minutes ago - such wholesale life-altering events as inevitably will fill fifty years of life - it's not the events that make reality, exactly: they're the expression of it, not the cause of it. Existence is a stranger business than its manifestations can really ever define. No, for me, now, the shift has to do with what it feels like to be alive, and what it doesn't feel like is anything that's happening in "time."

But if any of you guys were to do a similar show & tell, I'd bet you'd come up with a whole different phantasmagoria. And a whole lot more colorful story. Go ahead & show & tell.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Everyone Who Talks to Me

“Adenoids” – the word was always plural –
“antebellum” – “orthopedic” – “cantilevered”
all were evidence that grown-ups used a language
so fantastically peculiar it did not remotely

seem to me, who couldn’t have been too much
more than three when I discovered how to form
the sounds to say them, that they’d ever be
intrinsic to my lexicon.

Mostly what perplexed
was the apparent certainty that everyone
would grow up to be grown-up and would know,
for instance, words like lexicon and why some markets

sold and traded stocks, whatever stocks were,
and what anguished ladies in old films
like “Stella Dallas”
had to do with.

I’m still not sure I know,
or by the time I exit
will have known, what
any definition of a single element,

phenomenon or thing
I am supposed to know
now that I’m held to be a grownup
was or is. Nothing’s

anything at all
may be the only definition from which I derive
some tiny sense of leaning toward a meaning
I might one day find I can declare.

This may be why everyone
who talks to me
before long seems to wish
I weren’t there.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Translucent Mary, Meticulous Fairy

Translucent Mary, meticulous fairy, allergic to dairy,
who fretted whenever she saw the least traces of dust
or of lint, and has shown on a slew of occasions how
ready to faint she is when she makes even the barest
acquaintance with even a slight hint of mint, who ruled
her obedient retinue never to let more than one or two

unshaven faces debase her head-on or peripheral view,
and by far most distressingly cannot abide any bath tub in 
which she had bathed (all bruised and scathed her skin)
from pricey rare porcelain to the reliable gold-covered lead
to which she had been specially led by her mother’s great
grandfather Curlus the Red who sells furniture he’s smuggled

late in the night from the old-moneyed newly-deceased
and displays in his store called “The Rich and the Dead”
who was said, though erroneously, Mary soon came to think,
by their sprawling appalling relations, to understand
how to assuage such acutely demanding and delicate fine
bents of mind by which Mary the fairy was always defined.

But Curlus could never avail her, kept failing her; then as he
felt himself sink toward the brink of deciding to drink as the only
solution to contrary Mary, he stumbled upon an encumbrance
hid deep in a heap on a side street: a four-footed planter
whose lumpy and free-wheeling ugliness somehow seeped
right through her shield of derision to something so risible,

Mary eruptively laughed, and she never had laughed, and she
couldn’t stop laughing, and there was no end to her laughter,
no afterward to the hilarity which now abounded, resounded
until, maybe three hours later, her retinue watched her come to:
that is, come to a sudden enlightenment in which she only
knew this: she yearned for a bushel of sprigs of fresh mint

rolled in dust and in lint she could chew on, delivered by
seventeen unshaven studs, while she bathed in the suds
of the milk bath she now has construed in the well of the four-
footed planter, which now and forever we’re sure will enchant her.
The moral for which is we haven’t a clue. Except why does
that terrible fairy hit pay dirt, while I don’t and neither do you?


Monday, June 26, 2017

Antenna TV – Great Prep for Death


What a terrible thing it will sound like I'm saying, which is that AntennaTV (to which I've happily consigned myself for a couple years now after giving up expensive cable) is great prep for death. Not for 'dying' - because you could never imagine from their lively depiction on AntennaTV Gracie Allen or Redd Foxx or Bea Benaderet or Joey Bishop or whoever played the first Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace or Bonnie Franklin or Dick York or Elizabeth Montgomery or Johnny Carson or Eva Gabor or Sherman Hemsley or Patty Duke or Eddie Albert or Agnes Morehead et al "dying" - they're completely as alive as they ever were, maybe more alive than they ever were, in their eternal sit coms.

No, AntennaTV is great prep for 'death' as the seemingly inevitable blunt final vanishing which, so far as we know from this side of it, sort of cancels itself out as no longer provable after the fact. We may have seen the dead body of a loved one ("loved one" is the fave phrase in most of the full-of-dire-warnings-commercials on AntennaTV) and therefore once have seen what we took then as sufficient evidence that death had occurred, but afterwards - nothing, poof! vanished. And yet it isn't as if whoever vanished never existed. They existed with absolute stunning full force, and sit coms are one of the many categories of proof of that. There's plenty of proof that we lived. But (if you weren't there to see it and even if you were) there's really no evidence of not-living afterwards.

So what we're left with, or what I'm left with when I watch, say, Jay North who played Dennis the Menace & was (like me) born in 1951 & is still alive, I see somebody whom I can still imaginatively inhabit, and in whose performing skin I can trot thru all the sit coms, not just his, and peer into the evidence of life they eternally offer. I can do that until one of us - Jay North or myself - undergoes whatever vanishing Eva Gabor et al underwent; if Jay North vanishes before me, I'll have to forge on ahead alone, knowing however that I can visit Jay any time I want to as long as he's being Dennis the Menace on AntennaTV; if I go before Jay North, well, the point of life or death will be moot, and certainly no proof of the latter can really be had because I was not on a sit com. (You could find it on Facebook and Youtube, though.)

So I suppose I should say that AntennaTV is great prep not so much for one's own death, or really anybody's individual death, but rather great prep for facing the unfathomable abstraction 'death" is, the vanishing it seems to represent, and how little that vanishing means compared to the bursting 1966 life of Samantha, Darrin & Endora on Bewitched which is eternal. There's no such thing as almost anything we think we know. Now there's a sentence to chaw on whilst you watch Joey Bishop. (Did you know he had a sit com? I sure didn't until AntennaTV showed me that and, well, so much else.)


Seven Nights Ago

As irrational as passion, or a shallow flash of fashion
dyed the sallow carotene of rotting pumpkin, violently
mixed with drunken dreams of Pasternak’s Zhivago

on a gruesome Halloween, the scene that turned into
your nightmare seven nights ago has since amassed
and primally beset you with a range of strange effects.

In a week of nights it’s turned its vast variety of dreck
into an undeniably arresting composition whose black
lines tenaciously inhabit your imagination to showcase

that sallow carotene as an unprecedented color to be
reckoned with. It’s decked your halls with ghastliness
but there is something in its mirthless flings made under

great duress that now appears to promise coalescence:
or the prospect anyway of some new view of essence
if not quite of you, than of another consciousness too

alien so far for your dimensions to construe. You wonder
if you stumbled on the secret meaning of a nightmare.
It may be there more to inspect you than to scare.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Unwelcome Attentions

All attention is welcome. Except for
the hell from these two, who pursue
every woman they learn is named Sue
because both had been dumped by a Sue, 
of which moniker and of no matter 
what woman who’d had the bad luck 
to be called it, they took a dim view,

on a principle, they now believed,
had unquestionably through their
wounding experience proved to be true,
which assessment leads them to make
nasty remarks to all women named Sue –
least of which, and a cliché to boot,
but the only one we can repeat,

is that each was a shrew which since
each was named Sue, they already knew.
They’ve therefore spent numerous nights
in small jails which avail all the Sues
who refuse to put up with their rudeness,
and lewdness and puerile abuse.
But when last they got out we heard

someone report they’d resorted
to seeking out all men named Bruce.
And not, we are told, upon whom they
heaped any abuse. We hear that they like
the name Bruce, which they’ve left
un-defamed because that’s what
the both of these dodos are named.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Including When I Look at You

Oh, the endings
& beginnings
we believe
we see!

never not

Including when
I look at you
& when you
look at me.


The Contagion of Delight


Writing is a very strange business, isn't it. IMing a text or even tapping out a long email suggest something of the relation to an essay or a novel that chatting does to good acting. Both partake of using words - indeed part of the strangeness of the enterprise of writing is that it may seem at first glance to be a kind of 'oh anybody can do that' thing since one way or another nearly everybody does. (The 'nearly' is alas poignantly necessary: in fact a lot of people now lack even rudimentary literacy, but let's pretend for the moment that everybody CAN write down words.) Indeed in Elizabethan England every gentleman was supposed to be able to write a worthy sonnet - and pretty much every gentleman could. Imagine that being the norm!

But there is a magic, isn't there, that transforms random word-streams into something that from its first sentence grabs, moves, arrests - seduces you into attention. I don't know that this can be defined beyond: you know it when it happens. However, to describe its arresting effects maybe suggests something about its genesis.

Which I would say was this: you don't doubt in writing that reaches you that the writer has something to say: more than that, something s/he wants to say - and more than that, to say it to YOU. That, I would venture to opine, is a defining trait of writing that does its job well. It never forgets its primary mission: to connect. In fact, if it does not value the intrinsically intimate nature of this connection - does not in its every breath matter to itself and to its reader the way a love letter would - the reader's eye will cloud over & start looking at something else. I'd go further to say there's no more intimate relation than between the eye and the page. There's nothing to intervene. In most cases (unless you're reading something Groucho Marx wrote) even the voice you hear intoning the words is yours. You're communing at the deepest level with yourself as mediator - no less than you would in a dream. Involving writing will getcha where you live from the get-go. Not just because it can but because you find you want it to. Every 'good' piece of writing - even if it's a recipe for popovers - in some sense makes love to you.

So I would say a writer isn't just someone who writes, but who sees & loves the enterprise of writing as what it most patently is: a communication, a means to reach and move another human soul.

That it may also involve a sheer delight with/in words will only aid & abet that mission. I think it's great to be thrilled by your own writing! In the same way you were thrilled as a child when you first mastered the art of commandeering a tricycle & could proclaim: 'Mommy look at me! I'm driving!'

True delight is contagious.


Another Push of Pain

Unhappiness ignores the weather: oblivious
to cold or heat, it feathers its dank nest
with the precipitations of its sins – extrapolates
identity from its attenuated certainties: until its mist

begins to thicken and persist – sufficient to insist
on public shows of its inexorable signature: its
blatant bloodlessness. Intoning odes to all its stolen,
borrowed sorrows – declaiming existential poverty

provides another push of pain – a reason to remain,
exist – as if abysses were a wish against which
it was powerless not to align with, a threat by which
it must define itself, if sadly. However it would end,

it would end badly. Beware the dares and come-ons
from the subtle void, with its evaporative violence.
Find the baleful music in the moan.  Unhappiness
does not do well in silence, or alone.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Word Made Word

What is the show? What makes it whole?
Perhaps it’s like the rain, or sun, or snow,
or fog – a sort of meteorologically
unavoidable phenomenon of doggedly
determined soul – evincing temperature
and wind, humidity: tactile haptic certainty –

a palpability that adds to actuality – finding,
filling absence – insisting it’s as indispensable
as air. But now I look and nothing quite like
that is there, or here. Or rather, what I feel now –
what I now discern as real – is more elusive
even than a propagating atmosphere.

The darkest curvatures of night retain a seed
of some full panoply: ready always to incite –
and germinate inside the womb of Cosmos’
eerie light – beckoning whatever whirls,
abounds, resounds, perturbs. New ecstasies
find words. Few nouns – innumerable verbs.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Pact with You

What is my pact, today, with you?
We cannot do what won’t engage the two
of us in something just as close as it can be
to ecstasy – and not just some banal variety

of blast: the thing we choose must last,
which is to say must meet the test of passing
through, beyond, into that realm in which
a soul might find companionship. Or should

we just abandon ship and swim our solo ways
to separate shores? Ah, but don’t forget:
there are no laws: no distance and no future
and no past and every time we think

that we escape, some new divinity hauls
back her haloed head and laughs. As if there
were a ship, or shore! Here’s the only word

that says whatever I know, boy-o: more.


Jockstrap Diplomacy

Could you have tabled your distaste,
would it have not erased your calm,

or lent you some alarm, if in 1968
on the label on the waist of your jockstrap

had been placed information that
the garment had been made in Vietnam?

In Twenty Seventeen the world is just
as strange and dangerous as ever it had been

in 1968 – but the collective change and shift
in global scene perhaps permits occasional

remission of its sins, while teasing us
with the ridiculousness of our past.

Let the man in his Vietnamese
athletic supporter run free as the breeze,

embraced by a jockstrap he knows
wins the race, even if he comes in last.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sometimes, When It’s Thundering

Sun disseminates its rays so lazily
today it doesn’t seem to want
to fade away: surveys the afternoon

for longer than it savored yesterday’s,
perhaps to gaze in mild curiosity
as Summer Solstice beckons light

to stay, create the longest day,
and make the night obey to go away
more quickly than it had before,

less quickly it would tomorrow. Years
appear to wield their less and more,
their loss and gain dispassionately –

shield what they might feel beneath
and won’t betray: no trace of boredom,
joy or sorrow – won’t exalt success

nor get depressed at blundering.
But sometimes when it’s thundering,
we cannot keep from wondering.


Monday, June 19, 2017

In Abject Terror, Aimless Flight

Given all that I’ve been told is true,
I can’t think what accounts for you.

You’re no robotic product of polarities:
you cannot buy such idiot analyses

or premises like “opposites attract”;
you know they void each other out, attack

complacently, embrace the lame cliché
which gives dichotomy such sway,

and makes us cleave to black or white,

believe in abject terror, aimless flight

so that we conjure up the certainty
that only through some granted mercy, we

can make the trip to paradise. But why,
through tossing up this pair of dice, should I

believe that any outcome must occur?
Choosing new dimensions, I prefer

to think the barest whim, velleity
directly proves simultaneity

of every little sniff and jot and tittle –
cause, effect, sensation, big or little –

in our infinitely savory eternal stew.
But still I can't think what accounts for you.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pangaean Diaspora: On the Strange Business of Seeking & Getting Help

I find an alluring analogy for how any human being’s sense of who she or he is can expand to discover what a varied conglomeration it comprises in the geological model of the supercontinent Pangaea which about 330 million years ago broke up into the continents we now know, sending great chunks of itself out as if in a diaspora to find and create autonomous places on the planet. My continents of self have been at something like that especially these past three or four decades – usefully marked by the deaths of my family members (we were only four to start with) -- first my brother Bob from AIDS in 1989 when I was 38; then my father from/with Alzheimer's in 2000 when I was 49; and my mother from congestive heart failure in 2003 when I was 52. Each centrally occasioned powerful shifts in me within the larger shift of becoming the only Kettelhack left standing. There’s the sweetness of a gift here; no reason to mourn. We’re maneuvering as we must through incarnate life. Moving from only-child to fatherless-child to motherless-child seems to me now to have engendered their quiet release, them from me, me from them. The "less" in father-less and mother-less is almost onomatopoeic for how I felt/’heard’ their absences -- the soft exhalation of something delicate suddenly whisked or brushed away. The delicacy is primary. Whispers here and gone. Death can be an extraordinary clarifier.

As a result not only of those losses but of who knows what other morass of influences, the lexicon to which I resort to describe my experience is significantly different. Meanings of almost everything, even definitions that seemed once for me foregone – man, woman, old, young, winter, spring, summer, autumn, night, day, work, music, art, sexuality, marriage, relationships, solitude, joy, boredom, depression, addiction, anger, hilarity -- have either disappeared completely (no definitions are possible) or morphed into a liquid system of responses that while defying categories evince specific glints of reaction. To cut to a sort of chase, when I reach orgasm these days, I howl so ungovernably loudly I can't imagine that most of Manhattan's east 2nd street's inhabitants around me haven't called the police or an ambulance. In a way, that ungovernable quality describes what’s happened to all my responses – they flit or slink or whisper or howl: nothing justifies any of them and I can extrapolate from none of them any grid of identity. It's just the bob-aloos and bab-aloos of being. It isn’t chaos: but it’s an order I can’t begin to analyze. Well, I ‘begin’ all the time, but so far to no avail.

The net effect of this diaspora of self, ungovernability of reaction has been a dimensional sense of release - not least from Pangea’s imprisoning definitions and categories. It is not a release I have consciously or intellectually pursued. The way I know anything is always after the fact. I rarely, maybe never, learn something because I intend to. I wake up feeling or thinking differently than I felt or thought when I went to sleep the night before. That's how I'm able to say anything -- through a felt contrast of 'change', visited on me moment by moment, but which does not seem to conform to any ideology I can name, beyond some notion of my "temperament." I annoy many people with my assertion Every Idea is Hell. Swallow an idea and it grows all over and through you and suddenly it's doing the thinking, you aren't. I don't like that kind of coercion, and I won't put up with it. Except in those innumerable cases where I do put up with it, but I don't know that I do (or maybe I still like it so I don't care) - that is, until I go to bed and wake up thinking "no, that's not it", and another of them bites the dust. Seams and compartments are dissolving. This does not turn my perceptions of 'reality' to pea soup. I'm not in some amorphous fog. In fact, the opposite. With the dissolution of so many presumptions and assumptions (falling off me because they 'want' to not because I want them to), I get a chance not so much to see a thing for what it really is, as simply to see a thing. Claim it for my own, give it my own meaning. My relation to what I see is more immediate. It doesn't get filtered much. As many people know, it takes me 5x as long to walk any distance in New York as most other people I know. I am besieged by strangeness & beauty every inch of the way. Shadows, fallen leaves, 1880s architectural adornments, trash cans, tree branches, textures of brick and stone. Nothing isn’t riveting. What I see almost always subverts any assumption I once brought to it.

One realm which has undergone for me a kind of utter subversion is that of psychotherapy - from traditional forms of applied psychology to Twelve Step approaches to Alan Watts (whom I name because I treasure the ground upon which he treads, which means – and he is the first to let me know it, his having died in 1973 notwithstanding – I ought to be and have learned to be beyond wary of him: be most careful about people with whom you agree!). More basically it's the realm of needing, seeking and receiving "help." Particularly help for behaviors you have identified as self-destructive and/or which you can't stop doing and/or which you also decide you want or need to change.

Perhaps the most glowing sort of twelve planet solar system in this realm of help comprises Twelve Step programs. The answer the Twelve Step approach offers people seeking help from addiction or compulsive behavior seems to me to be fourfold, and although we are reassured this help is offered as 'suggestion,' to my mind it really gets its adrenaline from an implied (and for some very warranted) "you have to": 1) you have to want to change, 2) you have to stop the behavior you now know is 'the problem' - act your way to it, don't think you way to it & 3) you have to surround yrself with supportive people doing the same thing, 4) you have to see your connection to a greater or higher  'power': the ultimate essential source of help. What I’ve numbered 4 is for most Twelve Step process adherents held to be number 1. And I caution you as Twelve Step literature does that nobody has the last word on it, very much including me. These are just glints of the reflections of my own experience.

But for me "the sticky thing" (as a friend of mine is wont to call everything) about my response to Twelve Step admonitions/suggestions after many decades of reflection and experience and writing about them (again not claiming this gives me any expertise; believe me, it doesn’t) is that it doesn't really accord with the larger effect of my experience over all these years of surviving as I am (largely formed/constituted by what I crave), which begets a less and less arguable truth and beauty: I become less and less alterably convinced not only that I am and will always be who I am, but that I wouldn't want it any other way. I begin to register, maybe, a fuller amplitude of my 'success' (or at least experience) in being me. I really like things as they've managed to keep on being. I do not believe in "shortcomings." I can't imagine, in fact, even what that word could mean. After many years long ago of assuming pathology in so many of my tics and twitches, I just don't see pathology anymore. Provisionally, yes, there are ‘problems’ to be solved, always within the parameters of the moment. Don’t walk past a bar if you’re an alcoholic sort of thing. There’s (probably) always a place for what is known as common sense. But in any larger way, all I can see in anyone, no matter how their behavior annoys or regales me, is a full system response always at work. We are complete and whole and working ingeniously every breathing moment to achieve and sustain homeostasis. If we’re breathing and alive and capable of any connection to the world, we’re in a kind of balance. Possibly even if we’re not.

Am I wrong or right? I can't imagine even what that question means. What reliable measure of that could there be?

"Acceptance is the answer to all our problems," says AA, meaning acceptance as the precursor to being able to effect 'healthy change'. But 'acceptance' to me is a condition the psyche and body birth-to-death insist upon (whether or not I'm conscious of it): it's neither an answer (what would be the question?) nor is its function to help solve 'problems.' There are no problems. There's simply you, alive, in community with others. I'm sometimes tempted to say something like "I no longer believe in 'help'" but I stop myself because I truly don't know what the main-event words ("I" - "believe" - "help") in that sentence mean. I don't see much behind concerted strategies to "help" besides a boorish if often sentimental hubris: a presumption that you know what what's going on & what must be done about it. We often flock to people like that, and (I suppose) who says we're wrong to. But it's all beside 'the point' - which isn't a point but a large unbounded capacity to go on, some of us ever more curious about and conscious of it, 'being who you are.' Which you're going to do anyway! The point isn't to live or die. There is no point. Unless, because you can name it, you call what you want to do "a point." So if, for example, my friend Reed and I have 'points' they respectively include (among perhaps less mentionable ones): turn on the lamp and read a book, or sit down to draw. 

This at least touches on the shift. But words words words, maybe too many words for the send-off. Some gist got gotten, I hope.