Wolfku Musing - 33

God was done
  creating—
We asked:
  What do we eat?
He said:
  Each other

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 The term “zero-sum game” arises in all its ugliness.

For one being to die that another might live is not lovely, it is demented. It’s not wonderful nature oh, so bucolic in its loveliness—stripping the surface paint off the thing we’re looking at fangs and blood and kill or be killed all the way down to the algae. I, for one, would like to take whoever dreamed this one up out back and have a few words.

Oh, but the poor animals know not what they do, it is not cruelty, it is not ugly, they just want to feed themselves and their young. It’s nature.

Well, that’s my bloody point (pun very much intended): It is nature. It is designed this way, and whoever designed it knew, from the very beginning, that this is precisely how it would and should work. That is cruelty.

Please get me off this rock.

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Wolfku Musing - 32

First silence
Then sight
Then discernment
Then thought
Then voice
Then sound
Then word

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 (October 1992)

 As I see it, the object or concept expressed by a sound is always discovered or formed before the sound; the mind’s comprehension always internalized before externalized.

Imagining myself a prehistoric being, before language, looking up at a mountain, seeing the much-ness of it, the awesome size of it; and living this impression I imagine giving birth, in my own comprehension, in my own conscience, to the concept—the overwhelming presence of—big. Now, to me at this time big might have many other connotations than just size. I might feel threatened, or frightened, I might feel miniscule, but the overriding and all-encompassing concept is big.

I may then utter to myself, overcome by the moment, bhaas, and in the next moment make a conscious connection between my feeling of the size and the noise I’ve just made. I say it again, bhaas, bhaas, bhaas, this sound that now, for me, means the size, the fear, the trepidation I feel.

Bhaas.

Now, moving down the eons of human contact and communication bhaas may sound totally different today, which is beside the point and rather the subject of linguists and studies of derivation of our current language. The point is that the feeling, the discernment, the comprehension, the concept gave birth to the utterance, it pre-existed the sound.

Looking at the reverse sheds perhaps even more light on this concept. Say I woke up one morning in my cave or under the stars in some desert and heard a cry of a bird or an animal sound like bhaas. I do not believe that my next thought would have been: “Bhaas, hm, interesting sound. Let’s see if I can find a thing or a concept somewhere to attach it to.”

If words are external and concepts internal it follows that the internal always precedes the external. Externalizing my feeling before the bulk of the mountain bhaas escaped by lips. Maybe someone else was there, too, with me, who heard me and looked me in the eyes, then looked back at the bulk and nodded, yeah, sure, bhaas, knowing with me what we both felt at the size of the thing.

Later, back with the tribe, we gesticulate with our arms, depicting huge, large, enormous, saying bhaas, bhaas, and eventually the entire tribe will know the word.

Just a thought.

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Wolfku Musing - 31

Cocooned by dry
  warm
  inside air
Beyond the panes
  wet snow
  is falling

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The room I now find myself in has a large bay window hanging three stories above the street. The room and its window are in a yellow-bricked three-story apartment building on Main Street with shops on the first floor with their large, lit display windows, and apartments on the second and third floors. I’ve sat down at the clean and empty desk and I look out and down at the snow falling. Snow in the air. Large flakes. They turn to sleet on the ground. Darkness has already arrived. It is winter after all and this is Sweden. Store fronts and car headlights reflect in the watery sidewalk and street. This room, this window, this snow, this city, this desk constitute the last in my long line of beginnings, the current one. The one I’m in. I am tasting this new, fresh now. This starting over. This rewind, press play. The new life ahead.

This freshly minted beginning.

For I have just arrived. As I entered the room, I placed my duffle bag and my briefcase on the made bed. It is very well-made this bed, hospital-well. It speaks well-made volumes about the land lady. After a few moments of looking around for I don’t know what, I moved my briefcase—the one I just bought with my next to last money, from the bed to the clean and empty desk by the bay window. I opened the case and took out my expensive fountain pen—the one I bought with my very last money, the truer to write (or so I told myself at the time). I pulled out and sat down on the heavy wooden chair with its hard seat and harder still back (uncomfortable is the word) and I placed my elbows on the clean (shiningly clean) desk surface, closed my eyes and looked for the momentous part of the moment, looked hard and long to capture the essence of this moment, to fill myself and overflow with this moment, to fully possess and be possessed by this moment, this brand new very important new-beginning moment.

My life has just undergone another sea change, the last in a string of them, but sea nonetheless. I have left Stockholm behind. Yes, I’m running away, but that’s not the point I’m making here.

Besides, as always, I run away with the noblest of intentions.

And as a result, here I am, sea changed. I sit in this moment on this hard, yes truly uncomfortable chair. The air in this dark, sterile room is very dry with the central heating set to what must be far too high and I realize I will have trouble sleeping in this room. I like cold rooms for sleep. Here, I will suffocate dryly. I really should have noticed this before I decided to rent this room, but be that as it may.

For here I am, in this sea of change, filled with this momentous new beginning, and what feeling I cannot find in the moment itself I (and I’m so very good at this), what cannot be found I will manufacture with my feeling pump, now set to momentous new moment. I pump hard and I urge myself to feel this moment, to really feel it, so big, so powerful, so irrevocable, so utterly sea-change.

And here it comes: I think I can feel the moment rising to fill me. Here, where I sit on the hard chair by the desk, pen in hand, yes, I feel it come on. I open the briefcase, find and retrieve paper. I place a shallow stack (four, perhaps five sheets at most) of paper on the hard, shining desk top, just paper and a hand holding a pen, both poised to capture and eternalize this very moment.

I bring my pen to touch the paper. It is very smooth, this paper, hardly any resistance at all to this also smooth golden tip of a pen. Still, the pen leaves a blue trace on the paper as the first word forms and I as I feel others form behind it. My words, eager to escape. I smell the paper, I smell the ink, I smell my words. In this very moment. We, my pen and I, write something poetic.

I hear the cars outside and below, muffled by the falling snow.

I hear other city sounds. This city is new to me. These sounds are new to me. The air in this room is new to me and seems drier by the minute. I feel the air make its way in trough my nostrils. Rather, I feel my nostrils, dry and contracted, barely letting it through. I make an effort to forget them, air and nostrils both.

Listen.

I cast about for meaning again, in these new sounds, in this new air, in this new smell, and now I find that I hold myself to mean everything, that all meaning is me—yes, very poetic: pen and paper agree.

And so I trace ever-new words on this paper in front of me. I spend this ink to prove my poethood. I draw and draw these urging words and know that I am poet. I am poet, therefore I am. I write words on paper, I see them leave my pen, it is I doing this, therefore I am, I am poet.

There is a whole family living somewhere in this apartment, but I don’t hear anyone else. Just the dry air squeezing itself in through my nostrils and the muffled sounds of new and foreign city outside. It must be a pretty big apartment for me not to hear anyone else stir or move about or flush a toilet or something. The room is clinically clean. Sterile. It is impersonal. It is mine, though, and I have just left Stockholm for this—acting on one of my many, many un-reflected-upon, un-thought-through impulses.

I impulse, therefore I am.

I write some more words. These are important words, poet words. Ink words carved out of dry air, wrestled down onto dry paper.

Then I leave for a movie.

I slept twice (unrestfully) in that room and visited it perhaps five times. Seems it’s always snowing when I’m in that room, as if I’m only there one prolonged once, looking out through this bay window one prolonged once and wondering what will happen next.

A day later I meet Marie and everything takes a new turn. A sea-er sea-change. I spend all my time with her now, then move in with her and tell my landlady I no longer need the room. This is the second and last time I meet this woman. Nice enough, she is, if a little surprised. I settle with her, take my bag and head out the door. My briefcase is already at Marie’s.

Which is where I met Baudelaire. Literally yes, literally no. They were his eyes, red globes in darkness, suspended first above me, descending then upon my eyes in a perfect fit. They glowed as they slowly fell through the still, dark air like pools, like lenses, like portals upon his world, and when they touched, his eyes and mine, and became the same eyes, yes, I knew that I knew.

He has stayed with me, has Baudelaire. As a symbol, if nothing else. As an excuse, if nothing else. For what are these little strings of words I jot down on scraps and sheets and in little books so black and conspicuous in my hand as I let inspiration have its way with me.

They’re not poems, they’re not. They’re not prose, they’re not. They’re, what did he call them? prose poems. And if he got away with that, so, I am sure, will I. And that is why I decided to go to France, become a poet. May have to learn French, though.

Tried to do that. Did not succeed.

But he’s still with me, Baudelaire and his eyes. It happened, this mystical experience, this union of eyes, and no one can take that away from me, although they could and did for Hemingway. Stole his memories.

Sitting there though, in that dry, warm, sterile room looking out that bay window at the snowy winter’s night, did I reflect at all on why I would want to know Pi to the 200th decimal?

No, I did not. Then it was all about the moment. I was that moment, only that moment.

I’ve seen truth since, of course. I wanted to impress, that’s all. Pi to the 200th decimal to impress my father or some girl. To impress my mother or some girl. To harvest approval. And in those days, approval was my only currency. I needed to hear back from others how alive I was. How deep I was. How Baudelaire I was. How poet I was.

There was no me there without this approval, for I was only such me as others would grant. Very empty. Very in need. Very needing that pump I carried around. My feeling-pump.

And sitting there, looking out into the falling snow, lit from below by head lights and store fronts, arriving out of a black above first into a faint glow (more like a mood than a presence), then into a lit amorphous thing, then into flakes, thousands of them, large ones, into snow, falling, falling, did I reflect upon stealing?

My father called me tjuv. That word is Swedish for thief. Tjuv. Not a pretty word, not a pretty thing. Though well-deserved. Very. For all my life I had been a thief. A petty thief.

Life as a petty child thief is a long string of related, familiar emotions.

First, there’s the thrill of opportunity.

Then, there’s the rush of theft.

Then, there’s the pleasure of candy bought with the loot. Almost pre-sex sex-like.

Followed soon by the fear of discovery, a fear as palpable as certainty.

Followed by the emotionless denial of knowing anything about the missing money. Nothing, no sir. And had my eyes turned any bluer, any larger or any more innocent they would have had to nail me to a cross.

Followed by the apathy of the inevitable confession. The humiliation of capture.

Followed (sometimes) by the pain of the hard hand on buttocks.

Followed by the propitiatory apology: I will never, ever do it again. No, no, no, never.

Followed by the relief that this was now all over. Clean again. Nothing to hide. Nothing to feel guilty about. Breathing, in the company of free beings.

Until, of course, the new thrill of opportunity.

All arranged in tidy sequences of a more or less constant ache which knew for a fact that it was me they discussed downstairs. Which knew I caused them pain.

Then one day, I was fourteen years old, I up and changed. Just stopped stealing. Tjuv no more. Go figure.

No. Nothing like that. Looking out the bay window and then down upon ink and paper and expensive fountain pen in hand there was only the moment. Everywhere in deepening snow, in cars starting and stopping, and the hour getting on, there was me and my moment.

Then I went to the pictures.

And sitting there, striving for the far reaches of every corner of the moment, did I think at all in this direction, of today, the then future? Was this now, this moment, even conceivable then? I think not.

Rimbaud was dead at thirty-seven. Baudelaire at forty-six. Age is not a thing to ponder for this boy by the bay window. There is only that very moment, those words onto that paper, that dry air which I knew I would have trouble sleeping in.

Now, more than half a life lived later, I’m still sitting at a desk of sorts. Not a pen in hand but a little keyboard. I touch type and do it well—my words hit the screen as I think them. So far from dark, snowy, Swedish February night.

Nonetheless me.

I live in a cabin. I have lived on a boat. I have lived marriage—make that marriages. I have lived business. I have lived corporate America. I have lived music. I have lived books. I have lived New York. I have lived Los Angeles. It is now for me to extract myself from all this lived and share it.

I shall grow gaunt and gray, mysterious and sinewy, distant and present, looking out bay windows at falling snow. I shall share, shall become the sharing that is its own reward. And I shall escape, finally, this prison, this string of bay windows.

And looking out I see I can live no other way. I will work my body into song, laugh in the face of God, and deliver the earth.

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Wolfku Musing - 30

The beautiful lie
that tells
  the truth
is the perfect name
  for fiction

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(Note: since I wrote this reflection, Arundhati Roy has in fact finished and published her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which, although I wolfed it down in a few sittings and did like it, does not, in my not so very humble opinion, stand up well against The God of Small Things).

 Not long ago, I began re-reading Arundhati Roy’s masterpiece The God of Small Things, and as I—even before turning the first page—fell through the lettered terrain of her amazing prose to land squarely in the heat of Kerala with its bursting jackfruits and dissolute bluebottles, I could not help but wonder: Why on earth has she not written a second work of fiction?

Roy’s 1997 debut novel earned her not only uniform acclaim but also the Booker Prize, as good a sign as any that she had, indeed, arrived as a writer of great fiction—the Booker Prize, in my view, is just a small step down from the Nobel Prize, if that.

This novel went on to sell over six million copies world-wide, and is possibly how most of us still think of her—as “the wonderful author of.”

But after that, since 1997, nothing. Nothing but non-fiction that is. Well, Arundhati Roy does not think of non-fiction as “nothing,” of course. Writing non-fiction has for her become a tense and urgent business, she just has to get it out. “It’s like the body doesn’t have room for its organs,” she said in a recent interview with the Guardian.

So, instead of another work of fiction she has directed her considerable talents and energies towards political activism, which over the years has seen her in and out of trouble with both the public and her peers, as well as with the law, and with the Indian powers that be. While these energies have produced a host of essays and polemic tracts, to me—no matter how well-written—they do not tell the whole truth.

And that is my point: Many writers, readers, and critics agree that good fiction is, in fact, the lie that tells the truth—And Roy’s fiction is very, very good.

Some (and I count myself among them) take an additional step and hold the truth told by fiction as a truth deeper or higher than (depending on viewpoint) the truth told by non-fiction: Fiction tells a truth both more personal and more universal—a deep truth that cannot be told any other way. Whey then, did Roy turn away from this deeper truth to pursue her surface warfare of polemics?

I just don’t know, but I lament that she did fact.

Now, she is apparently working on a second novel, but at a pace that makes Donna Tartt appear to rush things.

In the recent Guardian interview, she also confided, “I have been working on it for quite a few years. If those characters are still hanging around in my house, swinging their legs and smoking their cigarette butts, they’re not going to go away, so there must be something there.”

 She also says that she is a different person altogether when writing fiction, which, she says, she can relax into. “I don’t mean because it’s easy to write but I trust its rhythms and I don’t have to get it out there. There’s no urgency. It’s like cooking, it takes its time. I rather like the idea of just living inside it and not coming out of it.”

Well, precisely. So why doesn’t she simply connect the dots? Why doesn’t she return to and tell her larger truth?

She is certainly immensely capable of it.

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Wolfku Musing - 29

Purpose on six legs
  some red
  some black
proudly crossing
  the path
Look out

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Stina, my youngest daughter, was three (or was it four?) years old. We were on a short daddy-daughter walk in the Angeles National Forest just north of the city.

We took a sandy path weaving away from the parking lot and into what goes for greenery in Southern California. As we took a little break, a very small ant scurried across the sandy path, apparently quite intent on his destination. We studied it for a while. So busy, so sure of itself, so knowing precisely where it was heading. “Do you think that ants think?” I asked her.

Not taking her eyes off the little guy, she pondered this for a while. Then she looked up at me: “Red ants or black ants?”

Stunned into fatherly silence, it took me a little while to reply, “Red. Red ants.”

She looked back at the little guy for a while, pondered my question, then answered, still regarding him, “Marriage. They think of marriage.”

True story.

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Wolfku Musing - 28

A poem is a story
with galaxies
of spiritual space

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In the fall of 1967, sitting by my nineteen-year old self in the cellar/cave portion of a famous Stockholm pub called Brända Tomten (“The Burnt Parcel”) with a small carafe of white wine—half of which had already found its way into my belly—a fountain pen, and some paper—more or less convinced that in a previous life I had been Charles Baudelaire—I jotted a few “deep” lines down on the paper and then called it a poem.

I think the lines rhymed.

Irrepressible optimist that I was at the time I submitted this “poem” to a magazine (or a daily paper, I forget which) that actually replied within a few days. Nice poem, the editor said, but far too reminiscent, plagiarizing even, of some Swedish poet that I had never heard of. I looked her up, of course, this Swedish poet, and found that she was quite famous, several books (collection of poems) to her credit.

Discovering this, I naturally took this accusation as a compliment. My little three-minute scribble compared to this, apparently, modern icon of Swedish poetry. Oh, well, I thought, I guess that makes me a poet too.

I’m not sure I ever told anyone about this—though it would surprise me if I did not for at that time I always held center stage in my life and actors always need an audience.

Yet, this I knew: the poem, the deep lines, were fake. They were just colors that I tossed upon the wall to see what kind of pattern they would make. It was more a matter of chance than anything else; a matter of what words happened to surface at the time and spill their way onto paper. Should anyone (killjoy) have asked me at the time: well, what do you mean? I would have been stumped for an answer. Completely.

Now, Baudelaire was a poet, a true one. I believe History has proven him out. Still, I felt that he, too, somehow, was cheating for he wrote mainly what he called prose poems, which to my way of thinking were nothing but stray thoughts captured and wrestled down onto paper. I mean, what trick, or skill, was there to that? You just jotted down what did in fact float to the top without even a need to look out for (or try to chase down) rhymes. And when enough words had floated to the top and thence and onto paper, then you simply stopped writing and said: that’s a prose poem. Nothing to it.

Deep though, they obviously had to be.

The thing was, on some very self-aggrandizing level, I expected some true genius (for it would take one, to say the least) to read and interpret and explain to the world (and to me) what I meant by my poems; yes, it would take a genius to unearth and recognize (and hail) the true genius of my shamelessly simulated prose poems.

So, I wrote lots of them, these impersonations, nothing to them. This was a fecund, freewheeling, teenage mind at play.

Then one day, much later, I read, or heard rather, a real poem: or a line from a real poem. I went like this: “A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof / Like a dragonfly on a tomb.”

The image that sprung live in my mind was vast and vivid. And real. And perfect. And incredibly precise. And encompassing. And Joni Mitchell’s.

New York. Park Avenue. A thousand cars, a million people. A cloudy sky. A giant tomb at the far end (though, actually in the middle) of this broad, busy metropolitan avenue. And landing atop this tomb, a metallic dragonfly.

I had seen it several times, though never really thought about it. Well, I had thought about whomever had so much money they could skip taxis and limos to instead helicopter their way into the city from Kennedy or La Guardia.

Possibly the perfect metaphor. But then again, what is poetry but one, or two, or a few, perfect metaphors?

Denise Levertov opens her final poetry collection, This Great Unknowing, with this line: “I move among the ankles of forest Elders.”

This, to me, is an as true and evocative gathering of words one can ever hope to luck across. With them spring the forest, the ancient (and wise) trees. The air, the understory, the overstory, the cries of distant, or not so distant birds. The fog perhaps, or even rain. The soundless tread of reverent steps upon moss or needled-covered ground. Awe. Silence. Communion. One life to another. Father and child. Uncle and niece. Wisdom to youth—even if that youth was walking her final days, as Levertov was at the time.

Haikus make no bones about it. Seventeen syllables (more or less) are supposed to evoke a world, or at least a small portion of it, vividly. But for me, they sometimes appear as angles crafted on the heads of pins, as fine miniatures too elaborately fashioned, metaphors too meticulously spun.

Then, again, I think of Baudelaire and his rambling, fascinating bits of French life, so replete with desire and suffering, enchantment and thirst, darkness and strange moons.

And then I think of Mitchell and Levertov and I realize that a good poem, one that originates in the unpretentious heart, then travels (via words) to the grateful heart of another there to settle and sprout a world as vast as any novel’s.

Which is when I realize that a poem is a story (a novel even), says as much as any story, is as long as any novel: there is just so very much more space between the words.

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Wolfku Musing - 27

As the human race
  tumbles
watch it drag
  language down
  along with it

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 Some time back, I bought a Dictionary of Thought at a local library's yearly sale. Published in 1954, it was a fine volume—old and well-read from what I could tell (it smelled much thumbed and revered) and steeped as it were in traditional and ethical values, to me this book was a goof reflection of the elevated, untumbled, thinking man.

Perusing this wonderful book, I looked up Abstinence and found that all entries, all quotes, under this heading held abstinence up to be a virtuous thing, a purifier of thought and soul, a measure of character, a good thing.

Out of curiosity, shortly thereafter, when I browsed one of my favorite bookstores, I looked up Abstinence in a modern dictionary of quotations and read, with only one exception, quotes that held the exact opposite viewpoint of the older (more mature) dictionary—just about every quote in the modern edition held Abstinence up to ridicule and as something to be scorned and smirked at.

It is a sad commentary on the defeatist view of man, and of the modern indulgent nature of the beast, that he must degrade everything he touches, including dictionaries—but then, George Orwell would not have been in the least surprised.

I left the store a little shocked.

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Wolfku Musing - 26

The flower, loudly
to the bee: pick me, pick me
So many choices

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I am a bee.

Approaching this meadow (following my nose, as they say, and the sweet summer air) suddenly (yes, suddenly) here is a sea of yellow, and they are all sweet. And they speak bee (not kidding).

Me, me, me they sing. Pick me, me, me.

So many flowers, so little time. What is a bee to do?

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