...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, March 30, 2015

41b. Zbigniew Herbert

Speculations on the Subject of Barabbas

What became of Barabbas? I ask but no one knows
Let off his chain he went into the brightly lit street
he could turn to the right go straight turn to the left
spin around in a circle crow cheerfully as a rooster
He the Emperor of his own head and hands
He the Governor of his own breath

I ask because in a sense I took part in the whole thing
Swayed by the crowd in front of Pilate's palace I cried
along with all the others free Barabbas free Barabbas
Everyone was shouting and if I alone had been silent
it would all have happened as it was meant to happen

So perhaps Barabbas went back to his gang of thieves
In the mountains he kills swiftly and plunders deftly
Or maybe he set up a pottery workshop
and now cleans his crime-stained hands
in the clay of creation
He's a water carrier a mule driver a moneylender
a shipowner—a ship of his carried Paul to Corinth
or—the possibility cannot be excluded—
he became a valued spy in Roman pay

Behold and marvel at the vertiginous play of fate
with possibilities power and smiles of fortune

But the Nazarene
was left alone
without alternative
with a steep
of blood 

[trans. by Alissa Valles]

41a. Reference points for Kendrick Lamar's "u"...

...from a person trying to make sense of it:

Captain Beefheart, "Well"
Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come
Violent Femmes, "Dating Days"
Fishbone, "Drunk Skitzo"

40. Song

All but the singing is recorded on three songs. Tonight (I hope!) one will be ready...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

39. Borges

What type of sentence (I asked myself) will an absolute mind construct? I considered that even in the human languages there is no proposition that does not imply the entire universe; to say the tiger is to say the tigers that begot it, the deer and turtles devoured by it, the grass on which the deer fed, the earth that was mother to the grass, the heaven that gave birth to the earth. I considered that in the language of a god every word would enunciate that infinite concatenation of facts, and not in an implicit but in an explicit manner, and not progressively but instantaneously. In time, the notion of a divine sentence seemed puerile and blasphemous. A god, I reflected, ought to utter only a single word and in that word absolute fullness. No word uttered by him can be inferior to the universe or less than the sum total of time. Shadows or simulacra of that single word equivalent to a language and to all a language can embrace are the poor and ambitious human words, all, world, universe.
- "The God's Script"

[trans. by L.A. Murillo]

Friday, March 27, 2015

38. Detail from "Campo Vaccino," by JMW Turner


Rejected by men, alive
to love, the bridge troll waits
for the yellow-skirted girl
to make her weekly crossing.

Where she goes, what she brings
with her in her bag is unknown.
She sings to herself.
Her baskets and parcels smell good.

He once lived in the woods
in a house made of stone.
Each evening after dark,
he’d sit outside his kitchen window,

enjoying in silence the memory
of scents from the meal he ate.
The warmth of those evenings
suspended his sleepiness.

Before bed he’d kill a deer or bear 
for the next day of meals.
The rest—how that life fell apart,
how he ended up here,

how he used to get what he wanted
and now pines for what
makes him seem to others
monstrous, he can’t recall.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

36. "The Letter Killeth, but the Spirit Giveth Life"

E.g., the woman caught in adultery
the prodigal son
the brother of the prodigal son
the brother watching Sonny from the 
     window watching the street revival
     in "Sonny's Blues"
the father of the epileptic boy, who throws 
     himself in the fire
the epileptic boy
his sisters
the woman at the well
the thief on the cross
Magdalen at the tomb
the people walking on the road
the Ethiopian in the chariot
the Roman centurion sending for Peter
     after Peter saw the animals in the sheet
     descending from the sky
Hezekiah praying for the tribes who ate
     the Passover meal without being purified,
     saying, "May YHWH who is good pardon
     everyone who sets their heart on seeking
my sons forgiving me
the one time the older one did by
     touching my face
Scott Cairns' "The Spiteful Jesus"
John Berryman's "The Carpenter's Son"
Tom Waits's "Where the Train Goes Slow"
the last scene in Magnolia
the climactic scene in Sense and Sensibility
the blind man who sees people like trees
     walking around on his way to seeing
the woman who bled for twelve years
the man at the pool waiting for the water
     to be troubled by God
the ending of Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation"
sitting in a bar with a friend who confesses
     all because he trusts you to listen and love him
the voice in the whirlwind
morning coffee for recovering addicts
morning coffee
Transtromer's "The Scattered Congregation"
Jesus telling "the many" rebuking the loud blind man to knock it off

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

35. "Museumgoers Think IKEA Painting is Real, Amazing, Worth Six Figures"

Clicking the link
affords a brief, sweet
sense of being
But who isn’t a fraud?
I’m lying now.
What’s wanted in comedy
is commitment
to the bit, hope
mistaken as bullshit.

Monday, March 23, 2015

34. Something Else

The world's oceans appear to be slowing in their circulations.

We are hiring in my department at work and can't agree on a common vision of the future.

I'm struggling to finish a long-overdue writing project.

It's the end of the give-your-money-to-strangers'-non-profit-enterprises-in-hopes-they'll-choose-you-and-take-you-to-the-dance season.

I cannot speak for anyone else when I say the first sentence of this abstract largely describes my life. I hope, but am not sure, that the next three do not.

This is the mean stretch of Lent.

It's late. I'm going to bed.

33. Song

Sunday, March 22, 2015

32. Simone Weil

     "Time does us violence; it is the only violence. 'Another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldst not'; time leads us whither we do not wish to go. Were I condemned to death I should not be executed if in the interval time stood still. Whatever frightful thing may happen, can we desire that time should stop, that the stars should be stayed in their courses? Time's violence rends the soul: by the rent eternity enters."

Friday, March 20, 2015

31. Ollie to Oblivion

My son helped me set up the camera, and we used his software (so easy to use!) to put the frames into a movie.

30. Words are of Two Kinds

“Words are of two kinds, simple and double.”
Aristotle says this. Verb tense makes him live.

He is bearded, be-robed, hair giving way
to a polished pate. I don’t know Greek.

Perhaps he says, “Alert the pupils.
Our lesson begins.” What is there to eat

in ancient Athens? Rough bread,
fish, water with mud in it to drink.

The fish will not be like the fish I eat,
occasionally, in restaurants.

It’ll be unseasoned, full of bones.
I’ll rinse my hands in muddy water.

Does Big-A think I’m a pupil in my
outlandish clothes? I’m awfully old,

but he pegs me at 30. Will he put me up
for the night? Will my bed be straw?

Will there be insects in it and in my food?
Is there coffee? I hate it here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

29. These Enormous Boys

These enormous boys drink so much
weekly milk, crash through doorframes,
have grown to destroy without thought
windows and chairs. Why pictures are sad
is cameras see the invisible moment.
These boys, now large and regarded in
marks, scuffs, a torn screen, loose arm,
a stain, were once in whole beauty always
brought forth to new events: the plate,
the cup, washcloth and sink, toilet and bath
and clothes and holiday food: smaller in
pictures than they were in my arms,
offered to the eye that would fix them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

28. St. Patrick's Day

Kept on a necklace
woven of particolored

string, the saint's charms
jangled a resonance

the reptiles sensed
their entire length,

achieving without effort what
Frost, in “To Earthward,”

longs for, or claims to:
Total feeling.

Time has trimmed the capacity.
Green beer, green skirts

some inches above the knee,
spontaneous jigging—

these bring a smile
to the aged poet,

sipping his chicory
in the corner. When young,

the sight of a woman
wearing a plastic, buckled hat

thrummed through his unlined skin,
taking him

straight into the sea.

27. Kirk Franklin

I'm much less ambitious than last year. I thought this spring would be easier, but it's not. So many people dear to me say they feel overwhelmed. This is one of those songs that comes on shuffle that I'm always grateful to hear.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

26. Ben Franklin

"When nature gave us tears, she gave us leave to weep."

25. Song...

....um, [placeholder]

Thursday, March 12, 2015

23. Kearsarge Pass Trail

Over the first saddle, a flatter place
under trees blunting sunlight, what
I’d not yet in recollection seen

crossed the path before us, walking with
a quail’s gait, or a pheasant’s,
somewhere in size between the two,

duller in color, brown, gray.
I later learned it was grouse, common
to the Sierra, but new to me then.

In the cool of shade shared
by the pond on our left,
greenly mirroring trees, I said,

Wait, don’t scare it, what is it,
I don’t know what it is.
My boy, over his nausea

and altitude-inflicted headache
by this time, said after I said
what a treat it was to see a thing

for the first time, Maybe if I lived
as long as you and never saw
a bird like that before I’d also be

excited about it, like you are.
The creature fled. I squatted down
to put my pack back on, cool and damp

on my shoulders, and grabbed his, too,
so he could walk unhindered.
We eventually came to Flower Lake.

22. Smaller Meals

I wanna eat smaller meals
I wanna eat less
As I get older each year fewer calories
100 fewer per year
8-ish per month
per week per day per meal
I wanna see my kids on stilts
and join them on stilts
I wanna see see their kids on stilts
People saying, Look your grandkids on stilts,
like a troupe of Russian acrobats!
Your life’s goal achieved!
So few in this world can say such a thing!
Me not saying,
All that excess eating put me in the grave
The party is over
Everyone out of the pool

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

21. To Read a Book

To read a book is easy:
find the page you want
by flipping through it.
A scroll is awkward.

[Source text; written w/ help from my poetry students, as an example of two ways to put pressure on prose: via lineation and making changes in syntax.]

Monday, March 9, 2015

20. "you been swearin' to God..."

19. "you can create amazing things"

Saturday, I heard a pretty great lecture a watched a performance by the New York artist Joshua Clayton, whose work is largely based on experiencing the world through myriad digital tools and the languages that underlie them. At any rate, for my "Sunday" lenten entry, I thought the good word would be from his lecture. He showed the following image:
He told us that he rejected the first clause of the subtitle: "When you start with amazing products." He put a second image up, identical to the first, but this time the clause was blacked out, as if it had been redacted. The message then became "you can create amazing things." The aural banality of this statement disguises how profound it is. (Mercifully, none of the lecture had that studied pieces-clicking-into-place vibe that a TED talk has.) Clayton was using Apple products for his presentation, but I like to think he used them the way John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, describes the geniuses of painting using the commissions they received from powerful people: by subtly challenging, through honest reflection, the image powerful people so often have of themselves.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

18. "We Saw Whales"

The first two songs are still in process. This one was made today, completely, starting around 5pm. A trifle, & pretty rough.

17. Notebook

Saturday, March 7, 2015

16. Roddy

"I think it's time that you went home."
So says Smith to Roddy,
his middle child's new friend.

Everyone knows
what you've done for the least
of His kin you have done for Him.

Little Roddy, who lives
where no one reads or plays card games 
or apparently feeds

people under twelve, must be
one of these least. 
"Or else who is?" Smith asks the corn.

He regards it from a concrete porch,
like a stolid boatman
on an ancient jetty.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Poems Up

Four of my poems are up at Cultural Weekly. Read them here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

15. Swimming.

The current pulled me along the shore,
My wife and children on the beach.
I saw them grow smaller as I swam.
If they watched me I couldn't tell.
The sky lowered.

I bodysurfed a wave. 
Head resurfaced, I looked their way,
Drifting, their bodies and faces indistinct.
I did not wave, I was not drowning,
Sound was muted by waterfed ears.

I tried to swim against current
Back to where I entered the ocean.  
It has great force in it, and I am
Suspended in unconscious will.
I am riding the thing of it

It releases that was welcomed elsewhere,
My family a blur of gray and blue
On a dull yellow strip,
Beautiful and tiny.
My head is a dot.

14. Ends Up at the Rose Parade

Compass on the watch points north.
Watch on the tree branch says no.
Branch by the fountain shivers in rage,
or appears to. Rage arrives after years
of curt refusal. (Explanation has not helped.)
Refusal of explanation is a shell you hear
the sea in. Seas in the eye are collapsed on
by the dome of heaven, located where the pick between
wind-up and soft thud points.
The point where the sea makes
inconstant whoosh. I wish
I completed that which I set out
to complete. We set out before first light
with the scent of coffee,
eggs in tinfoil, I half-asleep,
blanketed in the back of the wagon
my father or mother drove
toward Pasadena. All roads lead
to so much solid as dream.

Monday, March 2, 2015


We were driving down the 14 last night, just after departing from the 395, at the bottom of Owens Valley. My nephew said from the backseat, let's listen to that Strokes album, and we did. Four or five songs in, C said next time she has a dance party the Strokes are gonna be on the playlist.

12. St. Augustine

"I was unaware of the existence of another reality, that which truly is, and it was as if some sharp intelligence were persuading me to consent to the stupid deceivers when they asked me: 'Where does evil come from? and is God confined within a corporeal form? has he hair and nails? and can those be considered righteous who had several wives at the same time and killed people and offered animals in sacrifice?' In my ignorance I was disturbed by these questions, and while traveling away from the truth I thought I was going towards it. I did not know that evil has no existence except as a privation of good, down to that level which is altogether without being. How could I see this when for me 'to see' meant a physical act of looking with the eyes and of forming an image in the mind? I had not realized God is a Spirit, not a figure whose limbs have length and breadth and who has a mass. For mass is less in a part than in its whole, and if it is unlimited, is less in a part defined within a given space than in its unlimited extension. It is not everywhere entire as a Spirit and as God. Moreover, I was wholly ignorant of what it is in ourselves which gives us being, and how scripture is correct in saying that we are 'In God's Image.'"

[trans. Henry Chadwick]

11. Song 2

Also in progress. The first has all but the singing, the second has drums and piano.

Life is weird!