Armadillo Days

The Patty Duke theme says it best: “Meet Cathy, whose lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Berkeley Square. But Patty’s only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights—what a crazy pair!” How beautiful and true. Human beings, in all their full spectrum variety, are herd animals (at least that‘s my takeaway from the Patty Duke theme).

Yes, we’ve walked on the moon and invented words like “autoclave” and “ideation”, but these startling “top-of-food-chain” magic tricks do not change the essential truth of our species; we all need to do and wear and say the same stuff lest we become vulnerable and exposed. This somewhat poignant state of being is almost surely the result of our anthropological hard-wiring.

The human race has attained a truly bossy and sometimes benevolent dominion over all the realms of the Earth—the “…houseplants and barnyard fowl and pets, the creeping things and beasts that hop and shout,” as the book of Genesis so movingly phrases it. Our species has reached the top of the Chuck Darwin step ladder due in part to our individualized instinct for vanishing into the warm center of our roaming herd as it plies the tundra. When the wolves come loping relaxedly out of the woods, descend on us with bored wolf expressions and begin picking us off from the edges of the herd, does it profit one to be an outlier? Yes, if you consider being torn asunder without anesthesia a plus.

HIPness = Life Itself

In modern sociological terms what we’re talking about is a Herding Instinct Proclivity (HIP). It’s everything in the game of survival. Your public school has long infected your child with the toxic message that there is some majestic humanist value to being as individual as a snowflake, but all that really gets you is devoured. It’s time we told the kids the truth, and modeled it for their edification. We all need to be as anonymous and indistinguishable from each other as possible as we all make our way down the aptly named evolutionary Plain. Are light brown polyester pantsuits all the the rage? Well, we may be the paragon of animals, but this month the paragons are in light brown polyester. And so on. Let’s look at a couple of familiar instances of HIP; 1. Our species-wide adoption of the flimsy, ridged down jacket, and 2. The habit among young men of spitting something out of the mouth in a gesture of salivary insouciance.

Lightweight Ridged Salvation

You can’t fearfully raise your eyes from the sidewalk these days without seeing an immediate dozen or so people walking unself-consciously around in the same ridged jacket. These jackets are everywhere. The stunning ubiquity of this ridged outerwear would be amusing if it wasn’t so central to protecting our viscera from toothy predation. The ridged jacket is lightweight and supple, and comes in sleeveless and sleevy varieties. Its horizontal ridges are closely spaced, such that the wearer somewhat resembles a bi-pedal armadillo. And it is mostly available in black and navy blue.

Those who incompletely adopt the current HIP, acquiring the ridged jacket in red, say, are quickly plucked from the periphery of the herd and noisily devoured. One day you will see, among the placid sea of pedestrians in their ridged black and navy blue jackets, a few clueless outliers in red or purple ridges. How did these doomed snowflakes not get the memo, you wonder. It doesn’t matter. Within several days they will have been removed from the general population. That is the nature of Nature. Is nature cruel? No, nature is but a mindless, autonomically self-improving machine, a Blind Watchmaker, as soft-spoken Creationism Complainant Richard Dawkins calls it. That the Blind Watchmaker hates red or purple-ridged jackets is inexplicable, and can be chalked up as another of the infrequently entertaining Mysteries of Evolution.

Sputum Cuties

At the other end of the HIP spectrum—the less benevolent end—is the haunting phenomenon of the Sputum Cutie. All the males are doing it this year, and it is maddening. You’ve seen this guy walking our streets and sidewalks in his pricey blue jeans and shades. His hands are in his pockets and he is staring straight ahead with a studied nonchalance as he strides, Starsky-like, down the street. Without warning a strangely coherent wad of goomba loops balletically from his unmoving yap and falls to earth in a tiny ballistic arc. This deadpan fashion-spitting is all the rage. Still, one is compelled to ask; what and why are you spitting, spit men? May I approach you and ask that very question without you pushing me down to the ground with a hand on my startled face? “You there! What the hell did you just spit out?! Why are you people spitting all the time? By g*d, I’ve got to know!”

You see, our herd’s evolutionary perch atop all the Earth’s dominions and stuff—it has come with a price tag. Our opposable thumbs and Darwin-approved tool making have driven us into a cul-de-sac. Combine our reckless ingenuity with our desire to all do the same thing and you’ve got a looming extinction event. These are the days a person can go to his or her death while typing behind the wheel of a moving car, for instance. Typically the driver’s last message to the world is something like “I’m typing and I’m driving”. This is the future. Even you missed it, Nostradamus, and who can blame you?

Mourning is Broken

There is, anymore, a helpful sameness to our grief, too. In the wake of these fiery text-based crashes, the heartbroken are known to express their unspeakable grief through social media. A little cartoon of a bawling face with cartoon water splashing out of the eyes is today’s most typical gesture of consolation. Sometimes we are shocked by a loved one’s “heartbreaking tweet” and are obliged to reach out with a little yellow face contorted with sorrow and flying water. “Oh my God…the love of my life just died…” Concerned and stricken friends of the bereaved will have the unpleasant task of selecting the perfect little yellow cartoon face to represent their sympathy and support.

If we had half a mind left as a culture, the very phrase ‘heartbreaking tweet’ would give us pause. Alas we do not have half a mind as a culture, and neither has this Gilded Age of witless advances managed to stamp out world hunger or eradicate poverty. Just sayin’. On the other hand, our laudable tendency to mass sameness makes it easier to suffer this foolishness.

So do practice your fashion-spitting. It’s got to look very natural, not like Jack Elam or some other grizzled cowboy actor theatrically squirting mouth juice into a spittoon. It’s gotta look cool. If you are wearing a lightweight black or navy blue ridged jacket while casually spitting into the Queen Anne Palms along State Street, all the better. Remember, these jackets come in sleeved and sleeve-free versions. Either one will cloak you when the wolves come out. Celebrate your uniqueness in absolute quietude or you’re screwed. Tell the kids, too. Again, the Patty Duke theme offers helpful guidance:

“Where Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballet Russes and crepe suzette, our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control — what a wild duet! But they’re cousins! Identical cousins!”

Live it. For the good of the species.

stop pulling that goddamned dog

man’s best friend
is an expensive afghan hound
afghan may mean drone strikes somewhere
here in the u.s.
afghan means a sleek-looking hound
at the end of a grasped leash.
aw look at the doggie
look at all the doggies
aw man’s best friend
you can’t have a dog
you’ll never take the dog out for a walk
aw yes I will, I promise
and even if you do
it’s an idiot’s game
man’s best friend spends every minute
straining against the leash
does anyone notice that?
man’s best friend wants to run
sniff pee-pee at every bush
make a little pee-pee himself
and take off running again
“whoa, that’s a tall order
i want a best friend, sure
a loyal yes-companion from the ranks
of the docile lower animals
but this is man’s dominion
we made it to the top
climbed here with our thumbs
where the hell are your thumbs, little doggie
thought so
you’ll be at the end of my taut leash.”
he doesn’t know he’s an afghan
and the pricey Shih Tzu’s id is indistinguishable
from that of the three-legged living rag
that nervous guy sold your neighbor
the Shih Tzu looks at the three-legged rag and thinks
that’s me
not bad
not bad at all
i like
the dumbass Shih Tzu doesn’t know from dominion
it has been bred to walk from room to room
“interesting breed. what are they for?”
to walk from room to room
none of these best friends know what they are
they just want to screw each other
and eat and make pee-pee
like us
is that such a big deal
you get to do that every day
or nearly every day
can your best friend
maybe take a crack at it, asshole
loosen that leash.
I said loosen it, jackass
i will knock you down
aw look at him strain
aw his little face
he doesn’t know he’s a prisoner
you dog wants to run
aw man’s best friend
he wants only to run!
but after maybe 30 self-congratulating minutes
you’ll be fatigued from hurling the slimed ball
in its plastic “Lower-Animals-R-Us®” claw
let’s get back to the condo
and leave our companion alone
back to the kingdom of pain, I mean man
back to a blanket in a basket
and a synthetic Purina snack of glued brown powder
shaped like a cartoon bone.

Your American Summer and the Power of Feeling OK

Dear visitors from across the Pond; here comes summer, and your opportunity to visit world famous California, USA during its high season! Yes, everything you’ve heard is true! California IS summer. Surfing, sun, and fun, fun, fun! And Daddy is NOT going to take the T-Bird away (I’ll explain later)! And if you’re going to travel all the way to California, you sure as hell (pardon my American) are coming to Santa Barbara, right? California’s Crown Jewel! HELL yeah! Oh, what’s that you say, Mr. Näaktgebøren? This year your family has chosen to summer in beautiful Flat Lick, Kentucky? Good call, sir! Nothing says “Summer Vacation” like a bracing and terrified sprint through waist deep, moonlit swamps. How are the kids with that decision? Let’s ask them. Famke? Joop? You kids down with dad’s decision to explore the “Real America”, the America of scary banjo-playing men in rocking chairs on dilapidated backwoods porches? Because outside California that’s pretty much what you’re looking at. Or how’s about an “American History Vacation” that has you visiting that dumb cracked bell in Philadelphia? OR, would you rather spend your “American Summer” around bikinis, surfer dudes, beer pong and movie stars? How does a possible James Brolin sighting sound? High FIVE!

A Very Dispiriting Outcome

But before you settle in, Foreign Friends, there are things about California and the U.S. you need to know, the better to understand and absorb the American experience before you head back to Glockenspiel or wherever. You see, Mr. Näaktgebøren, it’s like the song says (produces a guitar from out of nowhere and begins strumming); this land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to Gilligan’s Eye-land. Yeah, our land is vast, diverse, and carpeted with wonder, so to speak. But your “American Vacation” will be almost certainly be comprised of your family spending several weeks hunkered down in our isolating little beachfront burg with only brief forays out to Las Vegas (a neon-encrusted den of iniquity), the Grand Canyon (a huge hole that really wows at first then quickly becomes tiresome), and Disneyland (whose cardboard Matterhorn and its Yeti with lights for eyes is deeply embarrassing to us (despite the Disney Corp’s herculean efforts in the areas of topographical and zoological authenticity). There is more to this great nation; much much more. The U.S. is a big-hearted land, Mr. Näaktgebøren. It is filled with poetry; the poetry of The Individual. There are also vast mountain ranges (described as “purple” in some of the nuttier paeans), amber waves of grain, and heartland children waving little American flags in slow-motion. By the light of our uniquely American spirit we have moved beyond the barbarism and darkness of the Olde World and have, by the joining of many hands, attained the summit of some fancy mountain. Mount Vesuvius? I forget exactly which mountain, but you get the idea.

Sir Francis Bacon once wrote, “A quantity of mercy cannot be strained. It is best to puree it.” And here in the U.S. we have pureed Mercy like nobody’s business. In your well-meaning country, Mr. Näaktgebøren, much is made of, and many hard-earned resources squandered on, the misbegotten attempt to stamp out homelessness, poverty and hunger. Your culture’s pricey socialist egalitarianism is for the birds, Mr. Näaktgebøren!  ( I mean no offense, it’s just a saying we have. We Americans love birds, and we eat many different kinds of beautiful birds). Your style of government wants to help everyone, make everyone equal, but that is not natural. Do the animals help each other? No, they eat each other. Or they maim each other in the attempt. Eat and maim. The Circle of Life. We understand the human impulse to spread the resources around in such a way that no person goes unfed and unsheltered, but where does it end? It ends with everybody owning the same kind of car. A very dispiriting outcome.

The Mercy Way

We of the Greatest Nation on Earth® have found another way. The Mercy Way. That’s what we call it. What. Don’t look at me that way. Yes, the U.S. has its poor, tired and hungry. Ol’ Lady Loudmouth in New York Harbor keeps waving them in with her stupid torch. We also have our homegrown balding, legless, cross-eyed and booze-addled. That can’t really be helped, but we do not want them to feel bad. We do not want anyone to feel bad. That is key here. This is the United States. We’re positive thinkers. And in all of the U.S. there is no State more singularly devoted to People Not Feeling Bad than California.

Let’s take a little walk around, soak up the sights and sounds, and learn the proper nomenclature, or Mercy Names, for the various situations we pass. The Golden State Kindness Glossary is issued by the California Hall of Fairness and updated every 5 years by a governor-appointed panel of empaths and poets. The keynote? Be careful what you say. The disadvantaged, dispossessed, and other species of the simply uncool are doing what they can. They may be living on the curb with outstretched hands, but priority # 1 is not allowing them to feel bad about that. This is How We Do, as unofficial SB Mayor Katy Perry puts it. Or as we say in California, “If you can’t feed ‘em, joy ‘em”.

Where is JG?

Stearns Wharf is surely one of the loveliest sights in all of SB, isn’t it? State Street hits the coast and keeps on going for a quarter mile, tethering the town to the sea, as it were. Really lovely. Picturesque. Say, look at that smallish community of beautifully tanned ragamuffins sprawled down there on the sand and on the nearby beach lawns, some of them displaying handmade wares and fulsome beards. A less enlightened township would call this group The Homeless, but here in Santa Barbara they are known as “The Houseless”. See? Now doesn’t that take some of the sting out? Look at our city’s beautiful and iconic Dolphin Fountain, so named because it is a statue of Dolphins in a Fountain. Well, it used to be a fountain. Now the bronze dolphins are leaping triumphantly from a bed of wilting fuchsias. Walking slowly around it in a kind of stupor is a possibly distressed unfortunate without any teeth! That is an “Exposed Gums Champ”. You heard right! Now let me direct your attention across the street there. That downtrodden gentleman’s limp is quite pronounced. Looks to me like he is a “Uniquely Gaited Fancy Dancer”. You’re getting the hang of this, Mr. Näaktgebøren! You see? It’s more important that everyone get their tin trophy than that they are thrown a rope. There is John Galt.

Let’s continue on up our lovely State Street a little further and soak up the atmosphere, shall we? Oh my goodness! Look at that guy! Yes, Americans have a global reputation for being a bit portly and out of shape, but have a look at that bag of ham! Woops! I mean, have a glad gander at that “Self-Accepting Jolly Ball”.  Uh oh! That “Tequila Genie” stumbling around has partaken of too much alcohol! I wonder why? Hey, don’t look at him like that, you European softie, you can’t save everybody. Haven’t you ever seen a lost, unbathed man careering about a public space before? What kind of antiseptic society you guys running over there? I’ll tell you what kind. A Socialist society. Root word: “Social”! That right there should scare you people. Uh oh…any minute now he’ll become a “Singing Goo Geyser”. Whoa, watch out! He’s singing all over the place!

Well, I think I’ll leave you and the kids and your lovely wife Hubertha to see the remaining Santa Barbara sights on your own, Mr. Näaktgebøren. I hope I’ve conveyed something of what it means to live here in Santa Barbara, and more important, what it is to live in the USA! Now go have your fun, enjoy our famous weather and $15 Martinis, and don’t be distracted by the Houseless. They’ll work it out. Tell your friends back home what you have learned. People should take care of THEMSELVES! All they need is a little encouragement. What? Oh, that? That’s our courthouse. Our COURTHOUSE. You know, there are trials there? Bad guys are sent to jail by judges? Yeah. Pretty, isn’t it? You should see it at night! All lit up? It’s really something. Beautiful! It looks like Disneyland’s Small World ride when all the decorative floodlights are on, bathing it in glory, like an E-ticket ride to Justice. Yeah, they really throw the book at ‘em in there. But wait’ll you see it at night!

Rocks ‘R’ Us

The known universe, for all the cosmological head-scratching it engenders, is essentially a very large, mostly empty void in which rocks of various sizes are suspended. I mean, rocks are the theme. Yes, there are science-fictional doodads out there; quasars, gamma-bursts, binary systems, a gaping, galaxy-starved maw called the Boötes Void (if you can imagine). But as our homely and expensive deep space probes make their lumbering way through our solar system, looking eagerly (if stiffly) around at the remote scenery, it’s basically rocks as far as the eye can see. Further, even. Of course our Earth is a rock, which is belittling if you’re in the wrong mood. All our human prehistory and history, all our important and heartbreaking wars and cataclysms and revolutions in thinking and Alexanders the Great, the eons-long morphing of the Trilobite into the Tax Attorney; everything that has ever Happened, effectively, has happened on this rock. And it’s not a very large rock, as these things go. Our Everything is twenty five-thousand miles around the middle. You call that a planet? It sounds more like an interminable road trip.

But our rock is special; an anomaly, as near as we can tell. It’s hot and roiling on the inside, wet and cool on the outside, and wrapped delicately in a shawl of atmosphere that makes her look positively coquettish from, say, the annoyed and painfully chapped perspective of Mars. And thanks to all the subsurface thermal confusion our Earth is a world-sized piñata stuffed with the most dazzling candy.

aptly named azurite
aptly named azurite

By arrangement, my pal Eddie swung by last Sunday. My daughter and I hopped in our car and followed him out to the Gem Faire at the Earl Warren show grounds. He was eager to walk us through the wonderland he’d adopted. We pulled into the parking lot and joined a thin line of stragglers making their way to the giant flying saucer that is Earl Warren’s grandly titled Exhibition Building. I’d more or less gone along for the ride, as is often the case on the road to Damascus, expecting a quaint oddball experience to match the implacably strange Earl Warren environs themselves. I’d seen gems and stuff before, turquoise and coral and the dust-covered geode in the benighted corner of a roadside curio shop. Outside the flying saucer a small sun canopy sheltered several long tables piled with ropes of rough-hewn minerals in all the peaceably mad hues of the inner earth, beads and stones and chunks of matter like pieces of a rainbow dusted with powdered sugar, all these strings of rock erupting copiously out of shallow plastic tubs, draped like seaweed over the edges. Hands in pockets, I glanced with bemused judgment at the charming Gem Faire Folk gathered round and pawing the stuff, and in an instant had joined them.

A Murmuring, Mineral-Maddened Mob

Entering the cool cavern of the Earl Warren Flying Saucer, one is already swept off ones pins by the vaulted, curvaceous ceiling, and sense of having walked willingly into an edifice normally associated with jittery abduction scenarios. We walked in from the comparative quietude of the show grounds outside into a hubbub of bustling stone-age commerce. The immense discoidal cavern divided longitudinally into 5 or 6 long rows of dealer/collectors in their booths, the various species of Gem Faire Vendor as jarringly displayed as the piles of rock decorating their traveling shopfronts.

Orange calcite. They don't taste like they should
Orange calcite. They don’t taste like they should. And neither do Gem Faire security folk appreciate the curiosity

There were the inevitable bald tat-folk with their chiseled painted arms and mineralized occipital ridges; graying soft-spoken southwestern sorts in bola ties and safari-skirts, quietly and passionately explaining the chatoyancy of their polished kyanite; and naturally the hyper-kinetic rock preachers with topiary beards and earnest eyebrows, holding forth with missionary fervor on the metaphysics of vibratory healing.

Some of the booths looked like full blown mineral mini-marts, with pricey-looking tiered displays and show-offy signage, others were charmingly low-key, shallow cardboard trays filled lovingly with unvarnished azurite pebbles so heart-meltingly, affectingly blue they test one’s hard-won faith in an accidental universe. Hundreds of exhibitors, dealers and self-taught gemologists paced with calm or canny expressions behind displays of crazy merchandise that in a previous epoch had been buried deep in the world’s feverish gut. Aziz, a gentle giant with a squinty kid’s grin of contentment, strode happily about his lair (Elegant Healing), a jaw-dropping display of large format natural wonder, beautifully displayed on several large tables like objects fallen from space; tetrahedral quartz obelisks large enough to stare through, gorgeous polished crystal spheres one would hoist and gaze into if one could only get past the amiable but wall-sized Aziz, rosy clustered amethyst points, light-throwing crystal skulls, grimacing and fiery even by the wan fluorescence of the distant overheadfixtures.

Baltic Honey

There were dealers who worked mostly with jewelry, but jewelry that Zales wouldn’t know how to market; rings and pendants and bracelets featuring inset chunks of lushly colored rock from an underworld most of us don’t ever think about. I stopped in front of one booth (Liliana International) that displayed finely featured Russian Matryoshka Dolls, ornate lacquered boxes, and most freakily (to me, anyway), jewelry made from lustrous, irregularly-shaped gobs of amber; fossilized tree resin. It turned out that this was all Baltic Amber, prized in all the world. The Baltic Sea region is crowded with the stuff, the leavings of an enormous ancient pine forest that poured out its lifeblood in the Jurassic and lies in repose under the Baltic seafloor, the ossified honey-colored globules bobbing to the surface and clacking ashore in the hours following a storm. A forest under the sea floor is just a wondrous thing. A pleasant but slightly dour Ukrainian couple, Engineers by training, moved slowly about behind the display, answering questions with furrowed brows and reflexively saying “May I help you” whenever anyone slowed. The little blobs of amber were everywhere, like honey droplets, many of them encasing tiny embarrassed Jurassic bugs in eternally splayed attitudes of accidental amber entrapment. I stared for a long time. “May I help you?” Finally I remarked to the gentleman behind the counter that he had a lot of amber. He looked at me with a worried expression, saying finally. “I am an amber dealer.”

Rocky Road Good

While browsing one booth clustered with a nicely displayed mixed bag of crystals, gems and minerals (The Original Way), a young couple approached, she in what looked to be a deerskin mini-skirt. Just sayin’. She was admiring a large, layered piece of mica, and asked the young man running the booth what healing properties mica possessed, a question he answered with a striking genuineness. When they left I spoke to the owner, Jeremy Massel, a young earnest guy with a tasteful rock hanging from his neck, a thatch of black hair and a slightly wonderstruck expression. “As a kid I would pick up rocks from the ground. ‘Ooh, a shiny rock!’, you know? I once picked up a rock and could feel it vibing in my hand. Later I got interested in the healing properties and the metaphysics.” When Jeremy was later casting about for what he might want to do to actually earn a living, he remembered his love of rocks and crystals. The rest is history. Or geology. His display and selection is one of the most colorful and varied in the Gem Faire, and he is psyched to be talking about it, to be sharing about the whole thing, his dealings with mines and miners, his growing knowledge of gemology and geology, his work bringing beautiful and resonant stuff to light from under the Earth’s crust. He travels up and down the state spreading the mineral love, boxing his rocks, throwing them into the truck and hitting the road. He’s wandered as far afield as Quartzsite, Arizona, a veritable Mecca for the gem-obsessed. So how’s it going? “It’s been a process,” he says. “And it’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.”

Pyrite and the Power of Limits

Eddie wants to show us the final few displays in the other building, the adjacent Warren Hall. I’ve known Ed for a very long time, since we were teens, and he has never been mistaken for a flinty-eyed rationalist. But he is his own brand of rationalist, an elliptical rationalist, say, and can hold forth on the ineffable with a grounded eloquence that will turn on the lights. I can’t count the times over the years he and I and his brother David have yammered excitedly on about this or that phenomenon or implausibility, always circling back to ground our questions and suppositions in the actual. Because plain vanilla Actual has, so far, outstripped our attempts to even begin to get our arms all the way around it, it is so freaking immense and filigreed.

For all that, I was a little caught off guard when Eddie began showing up at group gatherings increasingly festooned in amethyst and dangling crystals, more often than not producing a prize spear of quartz from his jeans pocket and frankly describing its effects. “When I moved to my new house, I unpacked some crystals that had been given to me as gifts years earlier. I’d always appreciated their natural beauty, but I didn’t really believe any of the mumbo jumbo. I went to the Gem Faire out of mild curiosity. I bought a larger quartz crystal there. I discovered that when I held onto it for a while, I very much had a feeling of it amplifying my thoughts and personal power, bringing clarity, focusing my intention.”

These primoridal creatures once haunted your science text. Now you can buy them like marbles
The primordial trilobite once haunted your science text. Here they are profferred in boxes

In Warren Hall we were wrapping the afternoon. Stella found a demure little amethyst bracelet she adored, and Eddie surprised her with the crystalline geode she’d earlier been mooning over. Ed introduced us to an exhibitor named Dave, a friendly and grounded and uber-knowledgeable guy, surrounded in his space by some of the most intriguing and startlingly wondrous rocks and things I’d seen that day; piles of fossilized trilobites, Moqui Marbles (natural accretions of iron around singular grains of riverbed sand – iron pearls, basically), orange calcite as temptingly citrus as mandarin wedges on a summer day. And at the far end of the display a couple of geometrically perfect cubes of found crystal pyrite that look like they might’ve been machined. But they weren’t, they just grew that way. All of nature is, of course, an exercise in golden ratios, Fibonacci sequences and radial symmetry; a purely accidental Big Bang Bonanza underwritten by a seeming superstructure of reality-preceding math. Too much woo-woo? Take a long look at a head of Romanesco broccoli and think hard. I point out the “wtf” pyrite cubes to Eddie. “I’m trying to allow the analytical and scientific aspect of myself to be open to the idea that consciousness came first, before forms and systems. I’m open to the idea that intelligence of some sort exists all the way down at the molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic level.”

Okay, then! We know the score. Ghosts? Nope. The useful vibrations of a silicon-oxygen tetrahedral atomic latticework you can keep in your pocket? Naw. Subatomic proto-consciousness. Pshaw! An exploding singularity from which all reality sprang in a millionth of a second? HELL yeah! Now that’s science! Look, whatever may be troubling you, daub it with a light coat of empiricism and watch the clouds part. Show the people a graduated cylinder and they will believe what they are asked to believe. It’s a fact. You want a real flight of fancy? Never mind the Boötes Void. Aim your peepers a little lower. You won’t believe what’s down there.

fix my brother you goddamned bore

pat and snow

universe, omniverse, reversible four dollar belt,
you bore you bore you bore you bore
great endless room, bales of fire
holes to nowhere, mystery moons, rocks with rings
synchronicity, curved space,
twelve million miles a minute
doesn’t sound so fast when you put it that way
maybe the whole thing is phony
not wondrous, phony
just another car wreck
the physics of flying glass
“a comet is a ball of ice”
will you just shut up
does that look like a ball of ice to you, moron
don’t you ever say that again
don’t you ever dare say that again
mystery mystery mystery mystery
now we’re made of swarming dots
greek atomism in an un-ironed smock
elemental bits surrounded each by a void
says it right here
“surrounded each by a void”
wouldn’t you know it
when you go looking for them
the bits are nowhere
no wait they’re everywhere
where are they right now
we are not made to know
the table stops your hand from passing through
that’s enough
not for me it isn’t
I’m looking for my swarming dots
they comprise us, shouldn’t we be looking for them
then you find one of the dots
platonic singularity
its theme is uncertainty
thanks for nothing
no wonder ancient statuary looks so pissed
the machine is on tippy-toe and dizzy
my doomed little brother got arrested
why did you call the police
will he always have a sharpened chicken bone
jammed into the roof of his mouth
why did you call the police
you care for him, oh that’s it
sic the machine on him
he needs the tuned machinery
of a pummeling institution
i’m afraid
i can’t pull back far enough
to reduce this to inconsequence
all this awe and mystery wheeling around
giant clockworks with singing dolls, caesium, noble gases
why are there underwear sales at Nordstrom
what has that to do with the curvature
what has that to do with the archangelic blossoming
why did the chicken bone
penetrate my little brother’s hard palate
he was maybe three
why did you call the police
I don’t want parity or justice
i just want a machine
approximately as merciful
as it is fucking huge and stupid



life as we know it_frankenthaler
flirt – helen frankenthaler 1995

air is drawn into us by a fluttering membrane
an autonomic bellows
okay, a tympanum of muscle
a muscle-floor, honestly
it bisects us longitudinally
keeps the sub-basement below the belt where it belongs.
vein-threaded muscle-floor distends and relaxes vertically
so? so the careful admixture
(nitrogen. and oxygen!)
flows into diaphanous skeins that depend,
like two weary undershirts,
from a forked hanger.
what we breathe is borne downstream
into the body’s countryside
by river and burbling brook
sometimes by a silver
thread glinting through reeds
this year’s Intelligent Design
is a nesting doll of grief and wisdom
you will inhale a gnat
taking that life inside your own
though the gnat-horror of this intake
is likely not experienced as poetry
nor is there any evident design ingenuity in the episode
when that mechanic on the aircraft carrier deck
sanguine in his jumpsuit
got sucked into the fighter jet nacelle
was glory given to McDonnell Douglas
with upturned palms and murmuring lips
not that we know of
but when men are sucked into engines
the talk does turn to vessels
this is the murmuring lip talk
“we are but vessels…”
the gnat is herself a vessel
brimming with the busy ur-citizens of this comic romp
the cells are likewise jammed
with mitochondrial filigree and magic jelly
but here we’ll stop the regress
before it gets disgusting
or so wondrous we slide distractedly off the interstate
the grinning overweight boob
with the unshaven chins and kind eyes and ear buds?
who always boards babbling and laughing?
today he’s accompanied by a beautiful, unblemished young girl
he sleeps heavily against her, his bear arms
movingly clamped across her torso
his paw clutching her right shoulder
hard to describe
he’s leaning sidewise and half-twisting
the angle is awkward, supplicant and shameless
a drowning man’s embrace
but you’ve heard that one before
her eyes are glassed with moisture
the whites darkened, Bergman on the tarmac
she stares straight ahead like Bergman
occasionally kisses his forehead
she seems about to weep
she’s beautiful and inexplicable
he awakens blinking like an enormous grizzled kid
she speaks to him
in a high, impeded register
hollering around a swollen, unanchored tongue
stammering indecipherably
her brain fibre compromised.
she is just so beautiful.
this is not a reasonable realm
but a room-temperature cauldron
or an entrapping wind tunnel
whose swirling spicks and specks
we grossly misapprehend
with each buffeted breath and gesture

lost and alone II

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth
Christina’s World – Andrew Wyeth 1948

i see a long journey
a pale ribbon of road, as Nevil Shute wrote
i’m stumbling along its shoulder
my age confounds me
i am not what I expected
Arrow of Time defeats our predictions.
are you what you expected
you’d better not be.
i said you’d better not be.
i wish you’d tried harder
and I wish I’d tried harder
how can I tell you to try harder now
i can’t because I’m a phony
when my jaw moves you hear a dog barking
this morning an unshaven guy and a wall-eyed woman
spoke loudly at the bus stop
coherently but loudly
the guy wore a camouflage baseball cap
in a jungle he would be loudly visible
but for the area above the squamous suture
the wall-eyed woman appeared to have
pinned her hair up in the dark,
or angrily or vengefully
or while running for the bus
these careless choices haunt us
wrong turns don’t always shatter bone
often the denouement is a sly flattening
a doctorate in the next room
who laughs till he cries, for instance
all the day long
meanwhile our bland nuclear furnace
describes a Euclidean arc above us
a prancing ass we have to crane our necks to see
and then we’re blinded by it
celebrated fire dips out of sight
rises elsewhere
serenaded by poorly programmed songbirds
with blank expressions
ma’am make of the dawn what you will
write your crappy sonnet
your daybreak is a coordinate on a circle.
there I said it.

chain gang

chain gang water glass

green grow the lilacs
and there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow
of what consequence are these floral allusions
when the chain on the closet light snaps
it’s gonna take me weeks or months
it’s gonna take me a year at least
to fix the goddamned chain
i’ll have to go to the hardware store
and buy a replacement chain
which is actually an annoyingly packaged kit with screws
and inscrutable plastic bits.
I’ll have to savagely cut the hard plastic with scissors
then after all that standing on a chair, sighing,
arms raised and tiring
rotator cuffs or whatever aching with the effort
after all that
what will the reward be
you guessed it
a closet full of over-familiar shirts
bathed in the bland yellow light
of staple removers and scuffed baseboards
and numbing chit chat
look how lovely our clothes look
when glimpsed in shadow
I’m sure we can live without a closet light 
for at least two years
let’s give it a try

who do you think we are

bad-paving made good
we’re all of us warm,
doomed little torches;
or bitches, depending
on the day’s cosmological demeanor.
under the covers we’re alive, though
falling to the pavement we’re alive, though
taking our hits at scrimmage we’re alive, though
hurl us through the windshield; we live!
with blackened eyes, yeah
and uneven laughter.
but here comes the sun again,
elephantine footfall in the hallway
our daughter bursts out of her room in the morning
like a force of nature.
count the days if you want.
an arbitrary number, our living days
you (dear) give off warmth in waves
I can feel the waves, almost peristaltic
your biological life
the cellular processes make warmth
it comes off you under the covers in waves
machined and purposeful
when my mom passed the heat left her by degrees
but quickly.
what’s the hurry.
the big soup tureen hastily reclaims our ingredients
this is not a vacation
but a slinky running down the stairs
alright already
spend caloric heat as we burn down
alright alright already
burn down through all the days
we scarcely take notice of them
in 200 years or less
we will never have been here.
yeah yeah so we lie here in the morning
burning down and radiant
burning down and down to nothing
skin changing, eyes changing
telomeres work their dissolution.
thermodynamics will preserve our stuff
but not this hour of lounging under covers.
this long hour transparent as a neutrino.
it’s really all we’ve got,
more than enough.
it’s much much more than the Big Bang owes us.
I hope you remembered
to make the coffee last night.

A Serpent

A Serpent

I hope and trust
there is an alternate Earth somewhere
that didn’t stumble onto the microchip
or vacuum tube, or whatever;
the precursor that gave us this dumb sadness
60 passwords to do laundry
and buy gum
or type out a thought
and hand-held windows
to nowhere
through which we gaze unblinking
in a flatline trance
of phony, whistling,
race-killing largesse.