Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Riddling and Fiddling With "You"

You are a long caress.

You are the smartest member of The Committee.

You are the Tao.

Some nineteenth century editor once said--some guy by the name Bergk--he said "...the history of a text is like a long caress..."

He's right. You outdo the history of the text.

You haven't been here long. You haven't finished your cigarette nor that bowl of warm milk and honey. Don't go.

Last night, you dreamt, again, of Tom Robbins. You woke with this flash essay drafted in your mind:

Flash essay title: "On Using the Pronoun 'You'"

"You," in these blog entries, sometimes refers to the writer herself, sometimes refers to others. Sometimes "you" is one particular other; sometimes "you" is a whole collection of people dead or alive, present or absent, dirty or clean. Sometimes "you" is used because it is the Blog posting its own post and having its own say. Whom "you" is referring to will always depend on the context, will always be hinted at, will never be overtly stated. In formal writing, one is never encouraged to use "you," but you started writing in the second person and realized how "you" satisfies you. You distrust the first person. You distrust the "I" narrative, the myth of the individual. You argue that the first person singular amounts to a fraudulant way to write, a misrepresentation of The Voice and The Voices. You seek; you experiment; you write in ways that properly communicate your plurality. Sometimes "You" is your consciousness, a voice once, twice, or thrice removed; this voice comments on all things and all people living for today. Hey! You! Hey! You! Yeah! You!

You rock! You blog. You rock!

You always hear Creative Writing teachers talking about writers finding their voices; well, search no further: if you have a blog, and you remain committed to posting on it every day, your blog will start to talk back to you. Voila! You are a writer who no longer needs to "find" a voice. With a blog, The Voice/The Voices find the Writer.

Now you know your neighbor downstairs writes for the New York Times book review. And when he hears rumors that you've been keeping a blog, he stomps up the stairs to come knocking and complaining that your blogging activity is getting on his nerves. Here's a clip from that exchange:

Dead-Tree Media Man:
Why do you blog? Print media is more professional, more credible, more worthy. Don't you have anything better to do with your time? Get a life!

Get a Voice.

You wave your fist in his face and think to yourself, "You are a long caress..!" The Dead-Tree Media Man, embarrassed, kisses your flying fist and backs off so you don't really have to hit him.

Blog on!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Q: and A: With Phantom Lennon

1955 Skiffle
ging ging-e-ging, ging ging-a-ging
wah shoo booo roaaahh rarrdes?

scroll thumb Skiffle
scroll the thumb Skiff-riff-a-swiffle
“Oh, no! Yo! No!”
Sgt. Pepper &

Sweater in the
The Metaphysics of Sneezing?
“Ha Choooo?”

“Bless you
for the rest of the year.
Bless you.”

The Ghost sang these lyrics,
“Bless you for the rest of the year?”

Be low
Boy low
Tune slow
72nd Street Slow Station

subway club rub track
grub scrub trap
your lap your lap
clap clap
The Rat sat your hat flat?

Your own interview with Mister Phantom, $3.50.

Q: Really? Turn on? Tune in? Drop out?

A: Yes. Yes. Oh, & piss off, piss on, and kiss on the Saints!

And the backup?

Three thousand Voices

“Piss off the Saints! Piss on the Saints! Kiss. Kiss. Kiss on the Saints!”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

You Wanna Hold His Hang at the Thanksgiving Day Parade

You are safe.

Today, the wind gusts decide to cooperate with Macy’s helium balloons.

But the parade route makes your routine visit to Strawberry Fields impossible; besides, it’s raining.

You shrug and grin at the crowds and think:

You are family.

You see a little girl dancing, splashing in a puddle. She gets you a little wet, and you laugh. She looks at you: shy then friendly then embarrassed then uncertain. The child turns away from you.

You go to the Utopia diner on Broadway for coffee. You sit next to another solitary diner at the counter. He invites you to read over his shoulder the NYT Metro pages.

You read an article about the sophisticated operations that the emergency management officials employ in order to monitor the balloon behavior at the parade. The article characterizes these endeavors as “preparations worthy of a large-scale military operation.”

You think about that for a minute.

Your mind wanders to your grandmother, a woman who was your age around the years 1938, 1939, 1940, the golden era of American big band music, the era when people actually dressed in their finest clothes to go to baseball games. An era that is long gone. And over the past years you have spent hours researching that era in the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts. You also researched the generation before, yearning to conjure the ghosts of old Broadway, the vaudevillians, and even before that, the travelers of the ancient Mohican trail… You went way far back in history as a student of the storytelling tradition should do.

Meanwhile, you wrote, turned your research into a novel, a mediocre literary endeavor, an attempt. Now it sits on the shelf, aging. But now you actually admit you feel a bit of envy for those days when this nation was so much less…what?

Less arrogant.

You recall a greeting card your grandmother sent you while you were living abroad. The card featured Snoopy with a “Missing you…” phrase on the cover. Inside, she wrote, “We look forward to when you come home to the good ol’ U.S. of A!”

You read the simple message and could hear her voice saying it. You instantly felt the yawn, the immense chasm between the “good ol’ U.S. of A.” that your grandmother felt proudly connected to and the distant nation that you felt increasingly ambivalent about. These are more than “generation” gaps you feel amongst yourselves, your seniors, and your juniors. These are zeitgeist gaps. You aren’t merely separated by years, dance steps, and fashion trends. What about the wildly different spirits of these ages?

Regarding your grandmother’s era, you didn’t feel this sense of “Those were the good old days.” But more of a feeling that her generation’s elation was somehow connected to and responsible for your generation’s disappointments. And in your mind, these generations seem so utterly self-contained, so packaged, managed, purchased. What's on your t-shirt? Homage to Beatlemania or the hip Jersey garage band. Are the two properly acknowledging one another? Is this a sensible question?

Today, you remember your paternal grandmother. The Thanksgiving holiday conjures her ghost. The last time you saw her, ailing yet conscious, was Thanksgiving 2001. You brought her fruit (she couldn’t stomach much else) and a balloon shaped like a turkey. The balloon conked her on the head when you entered her room at the nursing home. That made her laugh. You ate fruit with her. You massaged her shoulders and neck and said something that made her laugh.

Your father called a few weeks later. He cried to you over the phone (something you’d never heard, ever, in your life). She had suffered a stroke and was in a coma. The next day you flew from NYC to Chicago. You knew she didn't want to pass on like her sister-in-law had, with no one there in the room.

You made it to the hospital in Hoffman Estates a few hours before. She passed very peacefully, the whole family circled around her, your father repeated the simple, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer. You all saw her let go her last breath.

She passed away on December 8, 2001. That was the 21st anniversary of John Lennon’s death (the year the ghost of the ol’ singer/songwriter reached the legal drinking age, assuming they have such rites of passage in The Hereafter…).

Now you are thinking of your grandmother, Alma Johnson, because she used to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television, faithfully. After seeing Santa Claus wave from that last sleigh-ride float, ringing in the more fun holiday, Alma would wait—quiet, patient, with her hair and makeup done—for your father to come pick her up from her condo in Palatine to bring her to your home in Arlington Heights for the big feast. Your mother never got along well with this sweet, old woman. That’s a deep sore spot for you. Isn’t it? But Time—with his work cut out for him—is working in you. Healing the wounds. Yes, even that wound.

Your grandmother’s name? Alma. Alma. The word “alma” is Spanish. Means soul. The woman had Soul, a whole lot of intensely quiet Soul. If she ever spoke, it was to make a remark, a wisecrack, something to try to get a laugh out of you. She never failed on that score.

You could use a dose of her old-timer brand of humor while you sit in this diner among strangers on another rainy day in New York City. You miss her.

Now you live on 73rd Street in Manhattan, blocks away from where they blow up those gigantic helium balloons for the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Alma Johnson might have been elated to go see such a sight.

You didn’t bother.

You had observed the crowds: family, friends, and children walking uptown to secure a spot to watch this ritual of blowing up the balloons on Wednesday evening around the Museum of Natural History.

You didn’t go because you were heading downtown, had to go to class. You wouldn’t have gone to the balloons anyway because you don’t have children. And these things just aren’t that much fun without children around.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this post “You Wanna Hold His Hang at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

Why does this post have this title? You were trying to tie the story of your grandmother into the theme you’ve been exploring lately, these sojourns to Strawberry Fields to read poetry.

You didn’t work in a visit to Strawberry Fields on Thanksgiving Day because the crowds standing under umbrellas and that enormous obstruction, that grandest of American holiday traditions: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So you indulge in a bit of a longing kind of mood; you remember your grandmother; and you might as well work in a little memory of John Lennon while you’re at it because it’s impossible to live in this neighborhood and not think about him.

And you know from what you’re reading about him that Mister Lennon had an absurdist’s sense of humor, and he liked wordplay.

Could twisting “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” into “You Wanna Hold His Hang” give a dead man a little amusement?

Well…admit it, already…you do wonder what that ghost would think of you wanting to hold his hang.


One thing is certain: such a thought would have made sweet Alma Johnson blush.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Yusef Komunyakaa in Strawberry Fields

You are worldly.

You are wise.

You have overcome your food-drug-sex-rock-music-politics addiction.

You are the quintessential park bench recluse.

You live by the Art of Solitude.

You memorize this poem

Nude Study by Yusef Komunyakaa

Someone lightly brushed the penis
alive. Belief is almost
flesh. Wings beat,

dust trying to breathe, as if the figure
migiht rise from the oils
& flee the dead

atirst's studio. For years
this piece of work was there
like a golden struggle

shadowing Thomas McKeller, a black
elevator operator at the Boston
Copley Plaza Hotel, a friend

of John Singer Sargent--hidden
among sketches & drawings, a model
for Apollo & a bas-relief

of Arion. So much taken
for granted & denied, only
grace & mutability

can complete this face belonging
to Greek bodies castrated
with a veil of dust.


Yusef! Yusef! Yusef! Mister Komunyakaa!


Two traveling companions paying homage to the


mosaic ask you to help them shoot a photograph. Having just read an excellent poem, praising anatomy,
you shout to the toursits, "Wait!" I have an even better idea. Why don't I slide this stone slab over here.
You step off to the side and grab a stone slab that just happens to appear because you


it appears.

You encourage the companions to transform into a Nude state.
(They are reluctant, at first, but then you recite them Mister Komunyakaa's poem).
They disrobe and pose with their muscles flexed for the next few hours while you chisel, carve, etch, sculpt, and sweat.

Only when you've finished the bas-relief that immitates the Tomas McKeller and the ancient Greeks, do you
and these good folks from Ohio
realize that they will have a hell of a time getting that souvenir into their suitcase.

Once More to Strawberry Fields

You are larger than life.

Your friends adore the way you can be, at once, irreverent toward authority and amazed by the divine. But your friends aren't with you today; they all work on Monday, and you will never tell them about your sojourns in Strawberry Fields. You itch at the thought that they might comment, "Don't you have anything better to do with your time."

But today you will sit on a bench and read Kamir's and Mirabai's ecstatic poems and forget you even have friends.

You were reluctant to leave your apartment today, not just because the weather has turned since yesterday and is now offering the cold gusts that roll off the plains of the Midwest, but because yesterday's venture to Strawberry Fields ended in such a random act of strangeness. (You can’t get that super model, with her tattooed thigh and suicide-victim grandma, off your mind). You hope such an encounter doesn’t happen again, but things like that happen to you all the time, even in your own home.

Oddly, no one is here at this hour, not a truant, homeless, or ascetic in sight. You are alone. No tourists are arranging roses over the mosaic. Not a soul shooting photographs.

But one unexpected object is hanging around here, dangling at the edge of the sacred circle: one shoe—a black, Adidas street sneaker. The laces are missing and the shoe is stretched in sad shape, as if the foot that once wore it was much too wide and tried, with more desperation than Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, to force a too-big foot to fit.

One shoe. Abandoned. Without companion. One shoe next to that one word


The sight now makes the word more than just the word. Now you see a command. Imagine where that shoe has been. Imagine its owner who must now be hobbling along with only one shoe. Imagine where that person is now and how chilly the shoeless foot must feel.

No. You want to rebel. You want to resist the temptation to imagine. You don’t want to imagine just because the mosaic icon, the memorial to John Lennon, is insisting that you imagine…imagine…imagine. As if now, just because so many travelers come to pay their respects, this word, attractor of flowers and devotional objects, has somehow taken on authority of its own. You’ve been searching for an opportunity to rebel against your inclination to imagine (as some friends have characterized your imagination as, let’s just say, categorically overactive). Well, here is your opportunity to revolt.

Do not imagine where that shoe has been, though your mind may have already conceived the novel, the screenplay, the Broadway musical adaptation, the HBO special series: The Strawberry Fields Mysteries.

No. No. Leave that story untold.

You have been there before, to that taboo realm that urges you to imagine. What visited you in that realm delighted you as much as it broke your heart. But remark, carefully, what it would mean for you to ignore the command to


Sit. You are ready to wait. Now you are preparing for the Visitor, the Guest, the Secret One, the one coming to deliver the Gift. Believe it or not, sometimes the Guest even wishes that the word said


Rather, you read poems and rub your eyes, and it is still there:


The Guest is on the way. The Guest will arrive in Strawberry Fields, maybe this December. Maybe next. Maybe decades hence. If you wish to receive your secret visitor, stay quiet and keep reading, and (here's a hint)

"Imagine all the people sharing all the world."

Maybe, you start to imagine, that shoe was left here by the Guest?


You have been told, and you have a feeling, the Guest will bring the Voices.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Strawberry Fields Stunt Reading

You are brilliant. You sit here in Strawberry Fields, again, reading the hours away. You also half observe the Japanese tourists indulging in more Earth Woman Celebrity Word worship. They have arranged rose petals of every color around the word


And the super model flips her hair away from her neck, licks her lips, and winks at the camera.

You are reading H.D.'s lyric entitled "Sea Poppies". You re-read.

Ah hah!

You decipher its message, using Paul Muldoon-like stunts.

When that hidden meaning of H.D.'s words hit you between the eyes with their lewd message, you smirk or snort or make some kind of indescribable noise. Somehow you attract the attention of the Japanese model who has been lying on the ground, shifting from this leisurely pose to that more leisurely pose while she was being photographed over the mosaic. The model looks your way, stands, brushes herself off, and approaches you. To you, she is a tsunami. You don't know what to say when she starts to lift her skirt, ever so slowly, to reveal her tattoo, one word on her inner thigh.


She smoothes her skirt and sits next to you, as if you two are not complete strangers. You don't expect her to start crying and revealing to you that her grandmother just committed suicide. She only received the news from Kyoto this morning.

You give a second thought to returning here in the future to read poetry. You think this worship of words may be sending cryptocurrents through your reality. Be alert.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Poet Practices Her Scales

Odessa lives alone in an unfurnished triple loft, nine bedroom apartment on Central Park West. It is a baffling living space with frescoed celings and spiraling staircases that lead to nowhere. She inherited the apartment from her father who was Attorney General turned celebrity politician. No way could she ever afford this place on a poet's incomelessness. (Please note, dear reader, this makes our Odessa ten times more fortunate than those Paul Auster characters who happen to find loads of money where they would least expect it. These days, nine chances out of ten, ask a New Yorker if he'd rather inherit cold cash or a rent-free living quarters forever and you can bet he'll chose the latter...)

So Odessa is, hands down, one of the lucky ones. She inherited the empty apartment--sleeps on a cushion of years-old copies of the New York Times--and works tirelessly on her laptop, pounding out words she regards as The Classics.

Her neighbor is a universally renown concert pianist named MorZat (a character who is kind of a combination of Mozart and Borat). Anyway, this chacracter practices the piano CONSTANTLY. Odessa often wonders if he doesn't have more than ten fingers on each hand; he can play so many notes in one instant. Perhaps he's even using his toes as well. (Cheater--Odessa might be thinking.)

Odessa would be lying if she said that his beautiful music didn't influence her writing. In fact, his Broadwood "Bareless" Upright piano is pushed up against the opposite side of the wall where Odessa works on a folding card table, opening her Mac OS X PowerPC G4 Version 10.3.9 lap top to the wall that trembles with MorZat's renditions of compositions by Hadyn, Dussek, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. Atmosphere influences Odessa's own compositions while she practices writing.

This morning MorZat was playing scales, and here is what Odessa wrote:

In the Key of F

Frail nations
Go to war
B (flat)
Funny men are extinct.

Odessa feels mortified if MorZat should ever overhear her striking a wrong note. Once, when he told her that she was out of tune, she just said, "Well, I'm not ready for Carnegie Hall yet." She turned up her pretty nose and walked away. So there.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Strawberry Fields: Imagine the Free Giveaway

After almost a week hiding behind a velvet gray curtain, the sun finally decides to show himself. Nice weather sends you straight to Strawberry Fields to read Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.

On a park bench, you're reading, minding your own business when you're blessed with an intrusion.

A guy who'd just lost his job with Sony volunteers some words of advice:

"Life's a drag. Play video games!"

Without warning, he places a brand new Play Station 3 in your lap. You'd heard that the Play Station 3 is one item that people are lining up outside the stores to purchase. One guy in Connecticut was held up while waiting outside to purchase his Play Station 3. He refused to give the robbers his cash, and he was shot.

Now you and your new friend, the former Sony employee, both recognize the benefits of being on the margins of city life, spending weekday mornings in the park. The two of you walk arm-in-arm up to the the ghost of the Iraqi boy who is sitting like a laughing Buddha on top of the word


You abandon the Play Station 3 to the ghost boy and in unison, pass on some words of advice: "Life's a drag. Play video games!"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Highest Standards of Health Care For All

My friend Deo, a medical student who recently founded his own organization, held a fundraising event in NYC. Here's the link to Village Health Works. If you are seeking a place to make a charitable donation, you might consider Village Health Works.

Reading Poems in Strawberry Fields

Ritual is important.


Once a day, visit Strawberry Fields.
Read poems.
Write grocery list.
Remember John Lennon.
Remember to pick up dry cleaning.

Remember that old poetic form in the Irish tradition called the dinnseanchas or "lore of place" poem?

Strawberry Fields. Mosaic lore. Mosaic place. Mosaic sacred site, of sorts.
This place in the park is bathetic and so full of

straw and berry and spirits

(may I pour you another, chum?)

Is there a term in the World language for mosaic-lore-flash-photography-tourism poem?

Strawberry Fields

Welcomes flash travelers.
Welcomes flash photography.
Welcomes flash fiction.


Three hippies sit on a bench singing the "Casper the Friendly Ghost" theme song, way out of tune.

Over there, an aspiring musician lowers to his knees next to that word:


Another friend snaps another shot snaps. Flash. Flash. Snaps. Snaps.


(you and I might come here to "pray" more than a thousand times a day, chum.)

"Have you ever seen a rock and roll man looking so contemplative?" Asks hippie #1.
"Would you give me a dollar for each story they'll tell their friends back home?" Asks hippie #2.
"Don't you think something ought to be done about Darfur?" Asks hippie #3.

The birds whistle the Casper ghost tune.

A lone woman with wild hair, face covered in pigeon poop, moves in sneaky ways,
hopes these strangers will unintentionally photograph her.

She's scaring up
anonymous celebrity.

(would you ever date her?


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Anne Carson's fictional essay in 29 tangos

At Westsider Rare & Used Books on Broadway, I picked up a copy of The Beauty of the Husband. (The only book left in the store.)

Remarkabe read! Please recommend it to your Mysteries.

November in Strawberry Fields. The gold leaves applaud.

The Jealousies have cell phone lip and forget to kiss.


The last line, she writes, "Watch me fold this page now so you think it is you."

Welcome Anne Carson's spell on me.

Dearest, I am listening.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reading Jane Hirschfield

Lately, I have been trying to write poetry. Verse. I’m not used to the practice and have avoided any serious efforts at poetry because I always felt that people who could write poetry were somehow able to write it even before their parents were born—raw talent, of which I have little. The craft, to me, seems to call those to it whose existence itself contains some sort of secret muscle that is already wholly poetic. Poetry, I always supposed, asked a writer to embrace a kind of intensity, a kind of immersion into all things mystical, conscientiousness, and tender. These past years I have felt too impudent to be called to a poetic project. Unworthy.

But when a book I recently read disclosed to me that writing poetry sometimes involves being a trickster, I changed my mind. Hmm? Maybe I can make a new attempt.

I recently moved into a new apartment. The previous tenant abandoned a book, still in tact, in the cold fireplace; I rescued this collection of essays by Jane Hirshfield called Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and made its pages my pet. I have enjoyed this book and was entirely regretful when it came to an end after 228 pages (oh...it’s published by HarperPerennial). This is the first book I have read that has given me a clearer perspective on the delight of reading and writing poetry.

There are three main ideas that I found particularly helpful from Hirshfield’s book: 1) concentration—how to invoke the poet’s attentive mind, 2) how to face the lion and what it means to confront frightening insight, and 3) working in a threshold realm as a writer, navigating the abysmal crack between the pillow and the dreamer’s cheek.

Now I might take risks and compose something I never dared. Refreshing. And I am approaching my new project with a very different attitude than I approached the novel or flash fiction. This feels much calmer, more mature. I love growing older.

Until a few days ago, I have never felt comfortable writing poetry. The problem, I learned, was that my mind had never rested in the proper attentive pose. Attentiveness. I am working on making myself more attentive (whatever that means), and during these few days of watching and listening while honoring, I have been gifted with some surprising revelations, both pleasant and frightening.

Like in my previous home, I am still not sleeping so well, but I guess the insomnia can’t be attributed to over indulgence in prose. Even when my mind, these days, turns to poetry, I can’t seem to enjoy deep slumber at night. The ancients could hire me to keep watch on the moon deck. I hear they pay a decent wage.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006