Cairo Reflection: In Light of Leopardi

Man is born in labour:
and there’s a risk of death in being born.
The very first things he learns
are pain and anguish: from the first
his mother and father
console him for being born.
Then as he grows
they both support him, go on
trying, with words and actions,
to give him heart,
console him merely for being human:
there’s nothing kinder
a parent can do for a child.
Yet why bring one who needs
such comforting to life,
and then keep him alive?
If life is a misfortune,
why grant us such strength?
Such is the human condition,
inviolate Moon.
But you who are not mortal
care little, maybe, for my words. — Giacome Leopardi, Night-Song Of A Wandering Shepherd of Asia (Canti XXIII, translation by A. S. Kline)

Coughing up phlegm may be among the least attractive things a human can do, and, one supposes, that it goes beyond the bacteria,  glycoproteins, immunoglobulins, lipids, and dirt contained in sputum. It’s not just the contagion being forced out of your body and into the air, but that fact it reminds of us that even our most intimate recesses, the inside of nasal passages, lungs, and throat is not entirely ours. If beauty is symmetry in aesthetics and the promise of something better in morality–however thin the line between morality and aesthetic actually are–ugliness is not quite the opposite of those things, more an indication of the lack of health or the promise of a future.

The air is cooler now in Cairo and the breeze cuts through my apartment shoddy insulation–the new apartment buildings are concrete, brick, and rebar covered in a stucco of concrete on the outside and plaster on the inside.  The windowsills are rarely flush, weather stripping generally making up a large portion of the differences, and few things are level, plumb, or square. My two siamese cats, Moshe and Frida, keep me company and when the desert dust is not too high in the air and the smoke from burning foliage to make way for new crops on the Nile is not too thick, I go to my balcony and watch the street beneath, listening to the rutting honks of car horns–Egyptians communicate constantly and once one is used to it, it is endearing–or read my books or grade student papers.

I have been writing some more poetry lately, but they are love poems with a introspective and somewhat idiosyncratic nature.  I don’t like lack, but I lack the ones I love, and that space creates a more reflection on the nature of love itself.  It is a stark contrast with the political ranting I am often doing or the persona of the expatriate scholar I often wear.  I have been avoiding the gym as my lungs have not be able to handle the cardio as this bronchitis lingers.

In some ways, how strange gyms are?  The way machinery and technology becomes an extension of our bodies, a means of expression, expanding our minds, and yet the dangers of that technology making natural exercise a choir.  The sidewalks in Egypt blend with the street, one rarely uses them because the trash left for collection, the unregulated and uneven pavement, and the clattered of Egyptians in them.  No, you walk in the streets, in the bustle of life, weaving in-between cars and street dogs, like a platelet forced by the body’s pressure in capillaries. That pressure forces one into the social world, but is a little too chaotic for regular exercise. So those of us who don’t work manual labor jobs and who can afford it–which in Cairo is a fairly exclusive club–pay to exercise on machines to compensate for the lack of exercise elsewhere. This becomes its own status seeking activity, but for me, it is a necessary discipline that my last two weeks of travel and illness have let me to forgo.

Like Nietzsche, aesthetics was Leopardi’s gift and his respite from a mind so analytical and marred by disease that he often makes the dark Kantianism of Arthur Schopenhauer seem somewhat optimistic.  Indeed, Schopenhauer had more hope for human will than Leopardi.  Yet like so many analytic-minded depressives, Leopardi had a gift for hard truths.  Insights that, in reality, probably helped his assessment of his own condition little.Schopenhauer appreciate Leopardi as he stated in The World as Will and Representation:

But no one has treated this subject so thoroughly and exhaustively as Leopardi in our own day. He is entirely imbued and penetrated with it; everywhere his theme is the mockery and wretchedness of this existence. He presents it on every page of his works, yet in such a multiplicity of forms and applications, with such a wealth of imagery, that he never wearies us, but, on the contrary, has a diverting and stimulating effect.

Lately, I have had a similar jaundiced view and yet have become more gratitude for love and poetry myself. Leopardi, hunched over and ill, losing his love to death, lost faith in the later too.  I find myself reading Leopardi on the eve of Thanksgiving.  My partner back in the States with her family in a small town in the mountain West, I will visit her in the snows so foreign to my last four years in deserts.  The deserts abrade and, because of that, one realizes why people thought there was more god in the dust. The snows of Utah and Wyoming are barren in a different way–slowing the atoms and life down to the crunch of ice.

There is so much to grateful for despite all that changed. Leopardi wanted to die, and eventually got his wise, but his gift was probing the wounds of his mind intimately until the contorts of struggling under the weight of the clarity of depression.  I am not entirely depressed–once I was accused of romanticizing my brother’s depression the day he shot himself in the face, trying to see some good in what was tragedy.  I was accused of trying to make it special.  While he was healing a hospital in Georgia, I was in Mexico. Trying to come to terms with it.

I didn’t lose him, but I can see Leopardi’s grimness in both my brother’s action and my tugging at any straw to make it seemingly worth it. I am grateful that there are arms for me to come back, friends to love me when I go back, and that world is not crystalized in amber.  Beyond that: to assume that things can’t worse is a profound lack of imagination, but to assume they will only get worse misses that is always something to glint out of the counter of the eye, some piece of memory, some lost culture, some loved’s body, something.  I will see my partner for a week soon.  The desert wind is cooling. The beer in the fridge is cold. My best friends will see me over the summer, and I will have been on four continents. My cats will cuddle with me as write.

 

 

Cairo Reflection 1: Levi/Levity

I have been unable to write what I want lately. Poems haven’t been coming as readily, polemics are more muddled, the long stalker of my dyslexia complicating my writing more than in the past. It is hard to explain why because, as a caveat, I am both a very private and very public man. In a way, I insist on a distinction between the public and private life that few since Hannah Arendt have encouraged, particularly in a time when artists’ and poets’ lives are considered largely the key to their work. In a time of confession and stand-point, of microblogging and self-polemic, I am both deeply attracted to and deeply disgusted by narcissism.

 

Poets who don’t merely naval gaze can become Stalins, Maos, and minor Eastern European nationalists though, and as such, the choice between emulating Anne Sexton or Ezra Pound becomes nearly a kind of posturing towards a lesser evil. The obvious answer is that one does not want to embody any of those traits.

Outside Cairo traffic bustles beyond my seventh-floor apartment on the edge of a mixed neighborhood in Maadi. This is Degla. It’s shaped like a D and is a mixture of Egyptian, Syrian, Chinese, Korean, British and American. The streets are anything but quiet, but it is largely safe outside of beggars from the local orphanage selling tissue paper or vendors selling flat bread, sweet potatoes or bananas. There is a seemingly ancient necropolis across the highway: an old Muslim cemetery with what appears to be sandstone houses, and beyond that a prison that we don’t take pictures of. Beyond that the rest of Cairo, some small stony mountains, and beyond the Nile in any direction seemingly infinite desert.

The regularity of my life is simple: the calls to prayer, the various honks of the busy street outside, the nearly ejaculatory rhythms of the occasionally verbal fight in the Masri Arabic ringing. Street cats and street dogs sorting through the trash before the locals pick it up and take it to Garbage city to be sorted. This is my life here. It is pleasant.

Comparatively to Seoul and District Federal in Mexico, two similar size cities I have stayed around my nomadic lifestyle, Cairo feels more sprawling, massive, and yet also more intimate. Neighborhoods feel like little villages. Locals who do not speak your language know you. Know your movements. Know when something is wrong. Other migrants and expatriates know you too, except that they often don’t approach you. The beggars too know your patterns

Sometimes as I walk home from getting groceries at a market—a grocery store or a souq—they will swarm. Saying “Mister” and then begging in Arabic. These are mostly orphans and old women. They touch me slightly as they beg, and generally accept a few pounds with thanks. Sometimes they want more and touch me until I give a stern hiss of “Khalas” (the “kh” sound rattling like a guttural and aspirated h)—meaning “it’s finished.” For new comers I am sure this intimacy is unnerving often. It seems a violation of our sense of bodily integrity, our space. Yet it reminds me of a vital pulse here. A way in which Americans and maybe even Europeans become skin starved. Not for sex, or even the touch of a lover, but just touch in general. It costs me a few Egyptian pounds a week, and the occasional harsh word in my broken Arabic.

This has been the rhythm of my days here. It also brings nostalgia on fast. Maadi is home to the Mexican consular residence and its Embassy, home to a large Korean community that seems tied to foreign development of Cairo, workers for Huawei and Samsung. I can get food that reminds me of Daejon, of Seoul, and of many of the important women of my life these past four years, including my partner.

This has been an element that has changed. It has rattled me. It has made it harder to write.

—-

I first started to write this scene in the several-decades-old couch of an expatriate friend. She is from Northern Mexico, and was my colleague there. Recently, I helped get her relocated to Cairo so she could have same contract as a “foreign hire” and having her around has been helpful. My partner worked with her, and now that my partner is not with me, she ties me back to that world. To the desert of Northern, Mexico, and the dry air that was not as dry as Cairo but felt much closer to the sun. Indeed, I had been stewing in a gentle melancholy and deciding, after sitting there reading the introduction to Raymond Rosenthal’s translation of Levi’s The Periodic Table, that I had to write something even if I couldn’t write what I wanted to right then—or right now. I did not have the levity for a poem. My sarcasm too bitter for satire. My mood being just slightly blacker than before.

This is not Cairo’s fault. The coming of the Eid holiday and the return of the school year had actually help lighten my mood, but it was half-used white crayon upon a background of jet black ink.

Indeed, since resuming my job at the American curriculum international school I currently work at in Cairo, I have been unable to finish a single poem even if I had published a few older ones. I had been separated from my partner for all but two weeks of four months, and I had spend the first three weeks back in Cairo wandering as if I was a hungry ghost. I spoke to local Egyptian friends, but my Arabic is minuscule. I can ask for a taxi or order food, say good morning or goodbye, and know key words for anger, hungry, or happiness. I call local friends habibi, and know when to hold hands or hug male friends in ways that generally make Americans uncomfortable. But I could not hold a conversation in Arabic, particularly a conversation about politics, or my new unwelcome friend, cancer. I couldn’t talk about the street cats I watched daily, or my two Siamese who ventured with my partner and I from Mexico. In this isolation, a lot of angst-heavy poems came quickly, then they stopped. So then I concerned myself with the strained grammar of quickly writing “Marxist” polemics aimed a grouplets and micro-sects of Marxists in my “home” country.

—-

Politics is both my passion and my anti-passion. There are a variety of reasons for this, but a key is that I have largely rejected the political spectrum of American liberalism—most American politics, even conservative politics, being some variety of liberal or another. The alpha and omega relationship to that set of American political thought had taken root, and I favor an older, and frankly more coherent but particular, Marxism that does not even parallel most of the Marxist thought today. Indeed, I rejected Woodrow Wilson for Amadeo Bordiga and a largely forgotten worldview of a Leninism that could have been, but wasn’t.

Perhaps this is why I watch so many Pasolini films, and argue with translations of Gramsci without little more than a cursory grasp of Italian deduced merely from a knowledge of Spanish and exposure to Latin.

In some ways, I am a child of broken languages, and past dreams.

My passion thus moves more from that of touching a lover to that of a passion play. Passio, to suffer. Pain. Lately, my long duree view of history and political thought seems more in place in a Cairo Cafe among a mixed form of professors than in memes and screeds that act as degenerated polemic.

I have been trying to formulate an opinion and argument about the disintegration of older communist and Marxist sectlets from the 1970s and 1990s, and the formation of new micro-parties and tendencies out of the ashes of #Occupy and the current fervor of #BLM. Trying to congeal the undifferentiated mass of #hashtag activism into something more in line with pre-1914 or Karl Kautsky. These parties see an opening made by Sanders and frustration with the Democrats to make a tactical electoral push to build a mass party. When I sit down to arguing with this with my knowledge of history, I come up with both sides of the ledger filled. To borrow a capitalism metaphor, the accounting makes it hard to pick sides. I have no clear argument on over-arching trends, infinitely weighting more and more historical esoterica or knowledge of demographics or the past failures of Marxist parties, or the naivety of hacktivism and hashtag-activism in the first instance. I have nothing more to say about this than “wait and see,” or “trust, but verify.”

It’s hard to make compelling blog-posts or polemics on that.

So I shall, after all there is an ocean and several North African deserts between myself and North American even if the currency exchange is felt world-wide. My “homeland” and I feel increasingly distant. It has been six years since I left the States, a marriage, and the overbearing humidity of Georgia.

—-

This brings me to the first lines of Levi’s “Aragon” chapter, in Rosenthal’s lyrically direct translation into English: “There are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe.” What is inert? Why inert? Why the “so-called.”

My disillusionment with ups and downs of student visions of revolutionary politics being one well- known gas. It is documented on blogs, in podcasts, and my somewhat sporadic polemical battles. It is, however, only one such gas and not the most important one.

My partner has cancer, fairly advanced, and has returned to the states and her family to undergo treatment. She left several months ago. During the summer, my mother and I drove from just beneath the Appalachian mountains in my home region of central Georgia, dipping into a continents width of diners and truck stops, to drive to tip of the Rockies to see her. The great land mass of corn and soybean in the center to keep us company. Then I quietly got on a plane after a few weeks there, and flew to Cairo via Rome.

I spent a day in unexpected overlay in Rome, got a few meals, and some decent wine.

This has been hard for me to say, and because the such inert gases are hardly “inert.” I have had trouble speaking about this publicly. Sometimes coyly hiding the existence of the entire affair, and others blurting it out in vague details without any sense of situational awareness. Furthermore, our life together has always been in transit. Meeting the second year in Korea after a year of dating around, we immediately started traveling together. We had only been apart for a few weeks in four and half years prior since we met in a central train station in Seoul. I had slept beside her on a wooden cot in a hospital in Daejon, and she was with me when typhoid closed my bowels off in Mexico, sleeping next to me on a couch and helping nurses dress the surgery wound of around 30 staples.

She is fighting this without my help. So I am without her, and while there is still an “us,” an “ours,” and a “we,” this is a limbo that isn’t easy because her voice is her, and our two siamese cats sometimes seem to looking for her in my Cairo apartment. This this fainter world and the limbo it engenders devours my sense of protocol. The rhythms of Cairo, in all their chaos, and memory of women— romantic and not, mostly not—keep me focusing, almost ironically, on her because it reminds me why people are important. Why touch is important. Why silence’s sound is not entirely welcome.

 

Yet, my life is not all nostalgia nor all the thinking about women some kind of narcissistic misplacement of longing and loss. Until I was an adult, most of the closest friends were women, and even as an adult, even small interactions have been meaningful. Sharing poetry with a Professor of Italian I knew that I respected and wished I had known better, who later I corresponded with, she encouraging me to keep writing poetry at a point when I considered quitting. I never told her that or how important it was. I still see her on social media sometimes and that encouragement brings a smile.

I feel guilty going to cafes, keeping up with friends, going to Korean restaurants, drinking the local beer, living my life because I know she is at home battling the disease. I am not that there. I can’t. I maintain our insurance, and aid with my money, but I must work. I work an ocean away.

I see the green neon of mosque out my window. It reminds of the red neon crosses rising above Seoul. The tenements and the Mission district in my hometown of Macon. The broken “Jesus Saves” sign of my childhood, flickering like a bar add for some national beer brand. This is the conflation and collapse of highly complex memories.

—-

Narrow streets, broken concrete, and dust. Always dust. Naked light. I walk past those beggars again. I smile, give a few pounds, and watch a young couple walk. A young woman in a pink hijab pets a street cat and a local Chinese cook lays down some scraps for the cats. I fear that she might be poisoning them for a second, but she pets them as well and I feel slightly ashamed for my lack of charity.

I know my partner is improving, and so the bleakness dwindles a bit. I think about crying with a college friend who was one of few people I went to college with left in my hometown. I cried on her shoulder. I had barely cried in six years, and never in public. Even in my divorce and losing my job, I had only broken down once. She tolerated it, and even understood it. She had lost a family member close to her, and she welcomed me waltzing back to the States and temporally into her life with my problems, my fears, and my past. She asked if I started ranting about politics and arcane texts of Marx, would it be a sign I was better or worse.

—-

A dangerous habit of expatriates is that all kinds of illusions, ideologies, and gods can fill the longing for a culture, for a home. Perhaps that is why the extremists have almost more clout in a diaspora. In my diaspora of one, I remain the child of rootless cosmopolitans, but without the comfort of that singular identity. It is, however, a real privilege to see the world.

The physical universe seems obstinate, quarrelsome. As I remind myself my drama is both infinite and tiny. Like the number line between 1 and 2, there are infinitely more infinities between 1 and 100. As an Egyptian friend says to me “the flood comes,” and he also means that the crops come after. Wait and see. The gases may catch flame. You never know what will be burned away and what will burn bright. For Levi, a chemist as well as a poet, and for myself, a poet and nomad who puts food on the table by teaching, we both aim to make something about of the stubborn materials, the treacherous gases, and the random acceleration of our lives.

The flood always comes, so to speak.

So Cairo seems to drain me and give me life—the city of millions with a few dozen traffic lights. The more I see of it, the I see the teeming layers of cultures, Shiite and Sunni, Nubian, Greek, Muslim, French, British, Arab. The closeness and hospitality and the brashness and bargaining. It all comes into the view for moments and flits away. I feel like a foreign particle, bouncing around its corridors, colliding with beggars, Salafists, young novelists, tour guides, Copts, Muslim feminists, liberal idealists, Europeans on holiday near the Red Sea, the increasingly dwindling amount of tourists. The hodgepodge of a world that both wants to embrace modernity and is also, rightly, distrusting of that very same worldview.

I suppose I am equally ambivalent and so I feel the pull.

—-

The other day, I was invited by my Mexican friend to the Consular Residence of Mexico for dinner in honor of Día de la Independencia de Mexico with the Grito de Dolores recitation and imported Mexican food and spirit. I collided in thinking it was like the same celebration I had been to in Seoul, so I found myself standing between an Egyptian and a Dutch general, in a polo shirt and seersucker shorts. Listening to the ceremony of the Mexican community in slightly accented English as it was lingua franca as I struggled to keep up with my colleagues’ Spanish conversation.

The gases we find ourselves in are unexpected. I found myself speaking broken gringo Spanish in Egypt. Drinking mescal and dining on mole poblano as an honorary Mexicano. I have never felt more American. Even in my first weeks in Korea when very scrap of English drew my attention.

Travel changes you, but it isn’t vacations or sightseeing or braying at the poor for their inability to travel that does it. It’s the situations you find yourself wandering into, being forced into, and how that makes even your home alien.

I wanted to share the moment with so many different people. So many different friends. My partner. Former lovers. Friends. I wanted to show everyone how weird the world is when you open yourself up to the background noises and random occurrences, but it was that same randomness that kept me from being able to share it with them in the first place.

Levity is what I needed to write. In lieu of it, I wrote this to find my levity again. To find my gases. To keep going, because, if Levi is any indication, the lack of fuel to keep colliding can run out when you least expect it.

Attempts 4: Expatriation, Teaching, and Memory

I was grading tons of essays today–the kinds of student essays that show the students were mostly paying attention but were not quite there yet–and listening to podcasts.  I took at break, walking around my third floor Cairo apartment and noticing that it was raining.  It’s hyperbolic to say it never rains in Cairo, but this is a culture that had the status of bread basket to both the Roman and Islamic world because it was so wet yet never rained enough to erode the minerals in the soil.  For some reason, perhaps somewhat obvious, I thought about the time in Torreon, Mexico, when the uncharacteristically heavy rains put out my gas water heater, and I miss lit it, and melted my eye brows and third-degree burned my face to a vivid pink. Then I thought about my first monsoon season in Yong-in, when I just met my current partner over talking about competitive debate in South Korea, and Osan river flooded the first floor of my apartment building, leaving me having to climb up and down fourteen flights of stairs.

Then I thought about my last teaching day in Georgia. Listening to podcasts and backing up my classroom for the last time.  My first three years of teaching had been hit-and-miss, and I was exhausted. A few months prior, my principal had given me a warning: if two other teachers didn’t retire that year, I was to be laid off.  I had applied and been accepted to a Phd in Educational Leadership, but got no funding, and without a full-time job, I had hedge my bets.  Two weeks prior, a friend of mine had asked me to interview for a job. This friend was my former philosophy professor in undergrad–a rather conservative philosopher who had tried to get out of academia in housing, then when that collapsed into the abyss that was 2008-9, he left to Korea to work in publishing and then at Korean Universities. I did not know this.  We had not spoken in several years aside to argue about politics and Hegel, and sometimes relationship between Buddhist logic and post-Enlightenment Christian logic.  He would later live with me in the ends of his marriage for a few weeks after we refused to speak over a political argument. He was trying to find qualified lecturers for University and my part-time job after school had been teaching Composition and Literature courses to community college students. I sent my C.V. to him, and went a week, I got an interview.  That interview as at four o’clock in the morning because I was interviewing with a panel of professors in Seoul.

I got that job, but at the moment I was packing up my desk and going to tell my Department Head at the community college I was teaching that I would be leaving in two months, I felt like an utter failure.  My marriage was on the rocks, although I had no idea that it would end. My then wife had lost her job somewhat unfairly and unexpectedly, and was swimming in a sea of confusion about what to do with her life. Our worlds had moved further and further apart–I thought she was, of course, as intelligent as me but she was intimidated by the academic world I had moved in and since she had no college degree, she was not employable at any institution that I would work at abroad.  Furthermore, I was leaving as the first class of students I taught who were graduating, and as their graduation ceremony completed, I just slowly stuck out of the hall my school was renting, and went home to drink.

So as I was listening to a podcast like “Atheist News” or “The Geologic Podcast,”  trying to laugh, sending tons of documents to University a million miles away, canceling my plans to appear at Skepticamp.  I stopped blogging on the first incarnation of this blog for about a year, I had let my live journal go dormant. I was drinking a lot of whisky. I had also gained weight.  I would go to a dinner one last time with my ex-wife to a new Chinese restaurant, and I remember just playing with the orange chicken and trying to talk about closing out my 401-3b to pay for our medical bills before I left the country.  We argued about whether or not it may sense for her to move in and go to school online in South Korea, if she could transfer our cats to Korea.

I went a few times to my favorite used book store and sold most of my unsigned physical books.  I bought a kindle despite thinking e-books where stupid because they were easy to transport from country to country. I said goodbye to some students. I visited my family, and would say goodbye to some  people. I got on a plane to Seoul, and softly and quietly tearing up as left my life behind, I watched mumble-core movies and French films about Moliere and Mic Macs, and was wowed by the powder blue uniforms of the Korean inflight attendants. All of whom were preternaturally tall, and disturbingly beautiful.  A Korean woman rested her head on my shoulder.  I felt alone.  My relationship to the past changed.

I mark time by places there forward, and my media I consume.  Each period of my life feels discrete, although for months there were reminders.  Three months later, I found my now ex-wife’s hair in my clothes and books.  I was in shock, and my ex- and I drifted further apart. She got a new job.  We fought sometimes.  I started talking to other female friends.  I visited over Christmas, and then we decided to divorce.

In that time, I wrote this poem, which was later published in the Ann Arbor Review,

EXPATRIATION

Moving my books out of baggage
a brown hair from my wife
brushes my hand. Fissure
and erasure. Trace of small
moment, even the hair
without the scent, dialectic
pull of the memory. Loss.
Once there was a love
story. Once a beginning,
middle, end. Here absence
stalls and sputters. Trace
of keratin, cutting of crown,
moving her here, a bleak
scar across a page and palm.
Everything apart pulls back
together. Gently tucking
the hair into my pocket,
I become ellipses
as if I can reconstruct
specters from loss.

Yet at the end of the day, the specters of lose became a new life: one in which the trauma of my twenties–some of which is too personal to mention on this kind of blog–turned into a turn to philosophy, writing, and travel. I have been a writer for six or seven years, but in jumping to Korea and packing up my old life, when I really moved into having something to write about other than childhood, and something to say about America other than just the reactions to whatever political tribe seems nearest to my emotive core.

Travel changes you.  Travel becomes you.  It unsettles your sense of time and plac,e but in that disruptive sorting, defines time and place for you more clearly.

Two older poems

Foreign Holiday

Expats eating sandwiches in the American style—
white faces draped in Canadian flags between
cheap draft beer and slumped shoulders. Canada
Day in Seoul and few have written on it. Lethargy
settles on the evening, seas of black hair in
the streets. Women averting their eyes as the
unfolding foreigners stumble drunkenly,
wax-eared and smelling of piss, seeking some
of oasis of familiarity. Restless surges in heat,
each one sweats the beer in the humid haze.
I laugh and listen to the slight-slur of English
against the sheens of vowels . Here people
are natural forces, countries are signs
and portents, rumors. Each running from
a notion of nation and also running towards
it. Soft air, sticky sweet sweat, and the smell
of alcohol as a perfume in the city dust.

Blown Apart

It is almost to say anything about summer breeze,
even one off the Han River: Han, river whose sound
is lamentation and samsara about which grass sings
which cyclists bike the path. False fires in the mind’s
of men, wounds of being, evolving fire to fire until
the riven thing driven into wholeness as a clutch
of gnats rises from the river’s edge. In the center
of this city, the light from sky and neon, the song
that seems to clench in sadness defines the line
that cuts the beating center into its separate
spheres. So what is there to say of wind: hell-eyed
and wet from summer and the coming monsoons,
the city’s own dark machinery, mismatches at the
bases of buildings. I, addicted to being half-in-
love and half-in-time, long for another home
or the scent of the idea of home, the form
that is emptiness, the emptiness that is form:
home is what the heart lacks. Home like a
river of memories cutting apart a new city:
home, my prayer. Home, my samsara. Even
in the city park, there is always shattering.

(Originally published at Blast Furnace, September 2011)

Five Poems, Mostly About Places and Pasts

Auguries: Dias De Los Muertos

The patina of brown feathers scatter
across the old lienzo charro, replacing
horses which cars have rendered

long irrelevant. I throw the sugared
bread of the dead for them to pick
apart. The altars and their marigolds

are heaped into trash. The old world
tampering away. I can’t hold but find
the sugar skulls funny, and brings

a giggle. A lover once, between
frustrated kisses and a bad film
about demonology wryly said:

You are the kind of man who
finds decapitation by a power
line humorous. At least from

a distance. Something has
to feed the crows. Breaking a bough,
a toddler climbs at a tree,

in my broken Spanish, I offer
her some of bread as she watches
me break down the day

into bits for the birds. She bends
down to my hand and takes some.
As I walk home, I think of catrinas

kissing as the paint fossilizes
into the rigid morrow,
passion becomes rattling love.

The dust in my hair, desert dry
skin. Memory. Black-brown
feathers. What happened to her?

 

Upon All Things, Rock

-for Robinson Jeffers

Fiat iustitia, ruat caelum.

The desert chafes into the scars
of a ranchero, baked into the bricks
and cactus, with agave and joshua
trees brimming along the edges
of the highway. Here, stitched

into wishes and half-dreams,
the road – it gashes into the sand,
and hawk flits down into the ash,
wing-broken and heat-drenched.
Plenty of men die here, so hard

to mourn a hawk, and in this
war or next, there will be bleached
bones. I have no gun for the hawk,
although it would be blessing. The
Federales drive past, no bullet for
the bird. I take a stone, let my hand

burn for the penitence of mercy,
and drop as the hawk hunts the last
minutes. We get into the pick-up,
vinyl seat heated to magma point:
stones are justice in the desert,
bleak words akin to prayers.

Two Above Originally Published at Australian Latino Press

Nightmare (Re)Canto #1

’We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence. It maybe convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.’’ – Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur

“Amor, che a nullo amato amar perdona,
Mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
Che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona…”- Dante Aligheri, Inferno

The dreams that come are not our own;

since most hymns are murder ballads,
reminding us the cost of sacrifices: Resistenza
leave the bodies of Germans for flies
in the Via Triumphale, Garibaldi brigades

breaking themselves against the cobble
stones in the return machine gun rattle,
from the blood springs the ladder
for descend into the forests of limbo, twisted
by proxy to hell and history. All this history

has no past.The sky opens like a split,
bloated belly. Changeling, the circles have
collapsed in on themselves, Clara Petacci
hangs in the trees as decoration. Virgil has no

commentary. We should cast away these memories
ephemerally imposing themselves in half-reflected
radiance. Confusion in tense. The gnashing
of teeth. We can walk on the skulls of bishops
and poets who scribbled in cages in Pisan, awaiting
trial for treason. The hallow light is on the film
charred by burning stones, but images remain
and the world of man paralyzed from the visions

to explain the past: Obviously, an unknown country.

So is the present, Changeling. We both know.
This. Stars racings. Breaking down as the forest
grows ever higher. Tangled in the light of a past
dreams, ambivalent men flee into the valley

of broken and dead. This animal life. Pulses.
No place in dreams. The partisans march pass
the noble pagans. Riffles rusting near the river
Styx. No boatman coming. No boat calls. Nothing.

Coheres. Flags are made red. With the bleeding.

Changeling, let us avoid the Via Roma. The fire.
Decomposes even the language. To speak of what.
We see. We must forfeit our tongues. Only fire
can speak our nightmare. No chant to recant or redeem.

Originally Published at The Thing in Itself Journal

Adamah

According to the Hebrews
all men are named from mud,
gargled forth in painful sculpting
formed of under-kilned clay.
Half-made, flesh slumping
like a toothpaste tube squeezed
in the center. Dirt to dust,
all things considered, isn’t
too bad in the end: the body
breaks, beloved, and in the
breaking scatters out
in headwinds until the name
stains not only the crafting
aprons but also the fire
of the forger.

Expatriation

Moving my books out of baggage
a brown hair from my wife
brushes my hand. Fissure
and erasure. Trace of small
moment, even the hair
without the scent, dialectic
pull of the memory. Loss.
Once there was a love
story. Once a beginning,
middle, end. Here absence
stalls and sputters. Trace
of keratin, cutting of crown,
moving her here, a bleak
scar across a page and palm.
Everything apart pulls back
together. Gently tucking
the hair into my pocket,
I become ellipses
as if I can reconstruct
specters from loss.

The Above Two Originally Published in Ann Arbor Review

Limitations: Tone to Tone

Much has been said on thunderous silence:
the gradual unmooring of the voice you hear,
long half-drowned in the inky past, and if the
scream you have choked back, kicked open
your lips and drank the greenish air. There

is more to say on nothing than can be said:
someone is feeding sparrows, someone is
becoming the small world, and sparrows
fly to become nations, and nations become
noise, and noise, the parataxis. Like a

hawk, voice wants to ride a mechanical
horse into the heaven, break the harmony
of the planets, and place the notes in new
order, place the notes into a chorus only
silence hears. The silence knows how

to rumble the bones, how to cut to the
quick, how to feed sparrows, to end
the end chirping, how to unsing
the national anthems, how to take
away the hymn of a land that was
never ours in the first place.

Originally published at Union Station Magazine.

Four Poems That Are (Not Really) About Love

Afterimage

I often talk to a friend about love,
my love of her, of ropes, of cedars
waning into the slush of unfroze
snow, the way air impacts the trees
leaves them winter-thin and wispy
like a cool emptiness.  There is a
code flashing against the night,
brown-throated wrens hum against
the wind.   Gray sky fragments
in the lovers’ orbits, and I talk
to my friend about all these
things, chilling myself into a
happier glow. It is the wind
off of icing junipers to denotes
the demarcation between
myself and others.  If I talked
too much of love, I’d freeze
along the beachhead. If I drew
too many conclusions, I think
life was a wet spot in drying
sheets. The wind ululates
against the window. There
is nothing more to say.

Originally Published at Full of Crows

Decupidas

There are no birds in this poem:
no poets were damaged in its
creation, although that would
be no great loss. If your lover
malfunctions, make sure there
is no fire in the nether cavity,
or you may need to reboot.
If your heart is broken, try
suede or clean, oiled
full grain thigh-highs.
When you wake in tangled
bedding from dreams
of bog-bursts and lost
lovers submerged and
glossy like black birds.
When you make love in
the back of an old hearse,
you will be bitten, new
pain will open and drip
unto the floorboard. When
you fall for your friends, they
will love you anyway but
you’ll need air for the fresh
flora in your lungs. For love
pains, take ibuprofen but
don’t call in the morning.
Notice that there are no
swallows or magpies in
the poem. Wonder why.

Originally Published at Jet Fuel Review

Cuffs

You, lover, once laughed
as I struggled against
the ropes, but ties
that bind, hollow
out with hemp burns
that kiss the small
of the thigh, leaves
no word, no thoughts,
the spent waste that
renders me rags.

Every sound
relevant, strangely
to the syntax
of yearning.  True,
the weight makes
me breathe easier,
the heft removes
the heft of empty
skies.  If my love

have lifted me
with her skinny
fist with that rope
to the center of sky,
I would fly-mercurial
and bound, open
like the hinge to
heart and swoop
out the viscera
into the bliss
of immaculate

emptiness.
Opening my eyes,
our love turned
the stars into
shards of our
bones, cleaned
by the friction
and the entwining
little mouths
that whisper,
our tongues

clearly preparatory,
and the algae retracts,
rodents leave the
safety of pines
outside of our bed.
The ocean itself
barely breathing
as rain falls on
someones shoulders,
we thought
our breathe white
against cold of
other women.

Originally Published at Deuce Coupe.

Metamor

Pornography is boring
Like watching someone
Chew steak for twenty
Minutes. Lacking all
Context: the smell
Of cherry blossoms
And sweat, the years
Of watching someone
Read Milton and not
Become a misogynist,
The flannel nightgowns
Or their lack.

To speak of bodies, to ask
we to come to bed with us
After a Fellini film or
Complaining about Spielberg
Or in the pauses between
Breaths. Loving more

Than the pulse, the twitch
Of flesh. Consciousness
Between people is too
Bright. Gibbous light.
Half-reflected. Swelling.
What we wanted from
Two or three, what we
Want from one. Glacier
Slow and churning
Like salt slush between
A tow line.

To speak of love, to ask
Of every cliché that it lingers
Into strangeness like filming
A crystal wine glass until
It looks like mountains
Of barren, jagged
minerals.


Originally Published at JMWW, Summer 2009

Four Poems.

I have been listening to a podcast on Terrance Hayes and Wallace Stevens.  

I may write a poem in response or inspired by both as I struggled in my younger poetry to deal with the problematic influence of Wallace Stevens and the “politically questionable” inspiration of Ezra Pound.  To love but not forgive is a maxim spreads out over all kinds of poetry, art, and politics I engage in.

In that regard, I have been writing several poems in a long chain.  It’s called Eros, Errato, Erosion and it consists of three chains.  I am always very hesitant to over-share my poetry on my blog as it removes it from other circulation.  However, parts of the first chain have already been published at Former People.

Erosion

Although you can hardly avoid it,
it’s hard to be human. Always slipping
in and out of the perpetual intermission
between lonely longing and the scum
at the bottom of the sink. You expect
that you will not die of grief as you sob
and masturbate, but nothing’s certain.
Your memory akin to blurred pixels,
or soil sorting into ever neater strata
of forgotten debris. You’re always
claiming the highroad as it washes
away: feetstuck in drying mud
and pressing downward, inward,
where lunch dates aren’t forgotten
and men can stare at sunflowers
without miasmas of useless hours.

Erosion 2

Sitting in the park, black birds
Pick apart a flattened sparrow,
Tuffs of feathers tower out
Of the beginnings of visible
Bone. I can’t help but

Remember. This narrative Intrusion
Does not go unnoticed. Memory
Likes verse and birds acting oracle
To other dead birds. The move
Is obvious because memory
Fades like a firefly larvae

Growing fat on fruit on
Before the crab apples fall
To the ground. I am forgetting
The point but the birds continue
Eating. I think this poem is for

A woman who lives far away. Too
Far to be a one night stand, wayward
Flesh missed mostly in letters. I read
Somewhere that poetry was the remnant
Of courtship rites. We learned to speak

First to lie, then to forget, but we learned
To rhyme to remember, and share a bed
With another woman or man of the tribe.
That is what they say, but I don’t know:
The crows glutted and call to me:
They don’t want to share, just want
Me to know. They didn’t kill the sparrow

But ate it anyway. There are mountains
In the distance of the park, sitting like
Gossips in the Mexican dessert just beyond
The city. The peaks remind me of
Driving through Colorado but mountains
Are more dried from the sun here and
Stare more blankly in their bland.

There so much that runs together:
Like mixed soil: sand, silt, and rot.
To the woman, I hope she is sitting
Somewhere thinking about birds.
Thinking about past lovers, and
And the awkwardness of words.
Many the distance will erode like
Desert abrading the mountains.

Erosion 6

To be beautiful is to learn
to fight with an open fist:
make-up is a war-paint.
Pecans darken in wet

fall grass,and we can
make out the ghosts
with dyed-red hair,
whose breath smelled

of bourbon. There is
no audience here, a love
of landscape moves beyond
her face. The countryside

wrinkles and unwrinkles
in the grasslands. Outside
renunciation, I am dregs
of absolute being. Ugliness

is skin deep, beauty is the
symmetrical application
of delusion.Good geometry
can change your life: forever

joined, forever apart like a
nut split and the shell discarded.
In the end it rains men and women–
Unforsaken, insolent, naked.

Erosion 8

Wet dreams about Mary Poppins
erupt and burst in boyhood, Julie
Andrews face guiding me to rituals
of dull caprice. The rest of this I hid:

you don’t understand. Comedic my
self-control: sometimes I say too much.
Let the is speak for itself: times when I
was with you, I was really not myself

but I didn’t want the truth, with each
new scenario, we kept the joking coming.
Chosen for and chosen by the elect
clamoring for some new heaven, erected

like cars rutting on summer asphalt. Between
the birthmark and the stain, you became
so many people. Mary Poppins sugared
spoons no longer have the erotic tinge:

you who you wish to control the pain,
the gout in your metaphors, the shattered
tooth leaving splinters. For unburdening,
I will not kneel and grotesque, I will undress

watching my hairs gray, shadowing the wounds.
We will not certify our pains: I have longed for
you, desire gone away. Feel the yammering
at the mouth, it is your turn beloved ghost,

there are emotions to be overwritten and songs
to be unsung. Another woman will sleep with me,
and probably another with you. I have said it
all, and wall between our past and our fading

abrades against the sand. But what a hope,
neither starved nor cold. The autumn cherry
blossoms fall in romantic decadence, we
deliberately muddy the imaging. The pollen

chokes the sky green and yellow, you pull another
gray hair out my stubble. In that moment, we touched
and in nothing could be said. Age, my mask,
it’s your turn. I hear Julie Andrew’s whispers.