The Labyrinth of Stuck Desire

Where something taken to be history takes the form of a world on fire, catalog of events adding up in tedious barrage, as in Billy Joel’s grim 1989 song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Joel grew up on Long Island, along the beaches, as did I. Beaches were closed the summer prior to the song’s release due to “Syringe Tides.” Hypodermics from Fresh Kills Landfill in New Jersey washed up along the shore — an event Joel cites in his litany. The fears stirred by the event were compounded by the era’s Reagan-administration-escalated AIDS crisis. The event filled me with concern — motivated the pen of my middle-school self to draw a political cartoon: a small surfer dwarfed by a wave of waste. Surfer stares glumly out the picture toward the viewer. And here I am now, most of my day spent grading student responses, thinking about it again, not just because of the Joel song, which appeared as the subject of a student’s response, but also because a colleague submitted for approval a course examining literary imaginings of the end of the world. The Jewish festival of Sukkot minds me to be grateful for my home, and all who help me to maintain it.

Upon a whim, I pick up and read from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson a poem selected at random, as in wherever my thumb happens to land, containing the lines:

Prayer is the little implement

Through which Men reach

Where Presence — is denied them.

They fling their Speech

By means of it — in God’s ear—

If then He hear

This sums the Apparatus

Comprised in Prayer—

“Why must longings be irreconcilable — why ‘Presence denied’?” I wonder afterwards.

“Why ask why? ‘Tis so,” sayeth the Fates in reply. Yet one can make of Fate a place one avoids, a spatiotemporal coordinate that one eludes like a fugitive. With Fred Moten, for instance, we can “consent not to be a single being.”

“Do Things” (For Tess)

Frankie gravitates toward particular books of poetry, pulling from among a bookcase of several hundred the same ones these last few days: Joan Retallack’s How to Do Things With Words and a Penguin Classics reprint of the first edition of Walk Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. What can I say — the kid’s got great taste. She hands them to me, and the look in her eyes suggests I should read them, so I do. When I’ve taught Whitman in the past, I’ve used a different edition. Perhaps I should change it up. Celebrate that opening stanza of “Song of Myself” — but question its atomic physics. Though it’s as if Whitman knows of what becomes of and follows from his Manhattan and its projection in the next century. Yet he rejects it as mere talk:

“I have heard what the talkers were talking…the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now;

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

My imprisoned cousin and I have begun an email correspondence. It is to him that I write the following:

Does write make right?

“Damned sure it does! / so one hopes”

seems inappropriate as a response.

So what is?

Interrupted Forms

Devin’s essay “The Needs of Ghosts” turns upon “Interrupted Forms,” a poem by Robert Duncan, included at the start of the latter’s Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s “Moly.”

Given its dedication to one who is both there and not there, ‘tis a poem that is both desirous and recollective simultaneously.

Into the situation of Duncan’s poem, I project this character of mine, the Gay Wizard — the ghost who haunts “The House on Shady Blvd.”

Of him, or of a ghost of similar make, Duncan writes as follows:

Long slumbering, often coming forward,

haunting the house I am the house I live in

resembles so, does he recall me or I

recall him?

Wanting today to alter the condition set upon me by the ghosting of me by others, I sing the poem to those I love. I sing it to you, dear reader, “as if telling could reach you,” hoping against hope you have ears to hear.

Gratitude

for all who move

and all that is still

on this world that spins

for plants that grow up poles

tendrils running

skyward through metal

silhouettes of birds

for the wow of each day

last night’s full moon in Aquarius

genres that allow us to receive our fellow beings.

Gratitude, too,

to the goldenrod

and the Queen Anne’s lace

and the wind in the trees.

Gratitude to all who care for the garden

and report of its flourishing.

Gratitude to the cosmos,

the great human and nonhuman multitude,

manifold persons and beings

gathered here

aboard Spaceship Earth

and Beyond.

Sunday May 2, 2021

Mow the lawn

goes the tune

of much of the afternoon.

And when not mowing,

I’m grading,

eyes roving

toward evening

whereupon,

once arrived,

I watch a show of discovery:

witches

outing and moving out

half-woke

via cauda pavonis

prima materia transmuted,

person transformed—

grass a kind of catalyst.

Friday April 13, 2018

That final ordnance

a spry sparrow of a chapbook,

as set in its way as Zen in the Art of Archery

but healthy as a hound,

a quick study.

 

I’m missing following you

dear seeker

dear who.

 

What was then is now

not a bear but a trap—

calculations, credit

And thus

“Moral”: stand there, act that

 

From beyond

“right/wrong,”

“Which first, meat or engine?”

 

welcome, give rise, help raise

Wednesday April 11, 2018

Urged rumble at cochlear dawn:

A multi-headed virtual army

wielding Pitchfork, chanting atop a backbeat.

“Doggone criminals,” mutters the Demiurge,

the Injustice League foil to Shelley’s

bull goose legislator

burrowed, honeycombed

in the undercommons of a lax bro

cosmos.

Of your “Many”

your Class Struggle Avatars

your Elected Representatives

here at the Nancy Reagan psychic hotline

(“This call may be monitored—

please wait, please hold”)

with whom do you wish to speak?

 

With those who are

as from the heads of gods

approaching perihelion

and who are thus

in all the senses to which consciousness has been as yet made to refer

woke.

 

Since we came to get down,

and since we are as gods,

As Brand says,

we might as well get good at it.

So, in place of what is:

joined with those who have been at these tasks all along

we must build it, conjure it—at the very least, dream it—here, now,

hidden from the sense of those who rule,

the utopia in which none may act as master.