Nights and Days

I am uncomfortable. Not yet fully moved, suspended in the liminal state of a pre-furnished dwelling, like flats I’ve rented over spans of weeks in London.

To compensate, I attend to small, daily acts of being. This is my new adventure.

Items to grab: rice-cooker, ladle, plants ASAP.

Sound system assembled, I make it work: I dwell by night.

Sitting cross-legged in the center of a room, I listen to Träd Gräs Och Stenar’s “Sanningens Silverflod—Djungelns Lag Version.” Outside, the sky darkens, day hastening toward night. Kool Keith and Ultramagnetic MCs give chase with “Ego Trippin’” as come evening I prepare my stew. Kate NV brightens the mood with “Kata,” and there we have it: the pride of another home-cooked meal. I plot others while listening to Kikagaku Moyo’s “Green Sugar.” Bakery and fish market each within walking distance. Do as Flo & Eddie sing: “Keep It Warm.”

“We’re all mad here,” says Cat to Alice. “I’m mad, you’re mad.” Otherwise we wouldn’t be here, under house arrest by karma police. “For a minute there, I lost myself,” sings the love-mad subject, swooning tear-stricken. And for that, we are punished. For each of us is that subject. Each of us punished, our demands unmet.

I stage an event of attention by watching How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary about artist Ray Johnson, featuring narration by Living Theater co-founder Judith Malina. Johnson arrived to Black Mountain for the college’s Summer Institute of 1945, and remained until autumn of 1948. After moving to New York, he began to produce mail art. Paper glued to cardboard. By these means, he accrued his fame.

I feel heartened by a recently arrived fortune of the fortune cookie sort: “You are imbued with extraordinary vitality.” And so I am, walking easy, energized like a bunny. Being out is such a relief. Time to dance, sharing air, getting close. It needn’t all be heartache and not-knowing.

West End’s rad: cool houses, some of them crunchy, many lit for the holidays. All things considered, I’m pleased with where I landed. The apartment rests along a hilltop, Hades and downtown short walks away. When I sample a bit of each, however, hoping by these acts to make the night generative, I want none of it.

I could replace curtains in this place, I could hang plants. I could attend to these and other tasks in the days ahead. Tonight I walk the streets of downtown. Tomorrow I paddleboard. Final papers arrive early next week.

Morning mist meets me, air lit by morning sun. Steam billows from a horse’s nostrils as I listen to Eddie Harris’s “Listen Here.” The moment passes, and then I’m there: a friend and I, out on a waterway in a nature-space of great beauty, maintained by a hydroelectric company downstream from a dam. We paddle around, water’s surface gleaming with wind-patterned lines of light. Baptized by the spray of a small waterfall, we ground our boards and hop among rocks.

Chopping carrots and green onions afterwards, I prepare a dinner.

***

Out on the street I marvel

gaze at houses lit

festive porches

flowers reaching over fences and walls in greeting

amid the stonework of a neighbor’s garden.

***

I store my memory palace in a place in the sky.

Welcome to the Dungeon Crawl

What will I do here alone / in a place that is not my own?

I feel cast off, exited west into the wonderland of the West End.

My father, kind and understanding, talks me through the separation, helps me imagine brightness in the months ahead. With a room of one’s own, he says, other hopes become imaginable.

Ready now to be thankful, I walk about the home admiring it, knowing it to be a place of flowers, books, and beauty. S. and F. erected a Christmas tree one evening without me. This is their home now. It remains my home, too, in a sense. But I spend nights in an apartment — and we’ll place the house on the market come spring.

Emo thanksgiving: What more can I say? I whiled away the morning singing along to Cap’n Jazz while cooking dinner for one. And in the afternoon, I walked. See me there beside piles of leaves, humming the words to “Bluegrassish.” Singer Tim Kinsella ends the song pining for Virginia.

Happening Upon Hap (An Affirmation)

Feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed happened upon hap by following happiness “back on the route to its root.” Happiness, she learned, is derived from the Middle English word hap, meaning chance. Released as utterance, the word blew haphazardly, “like straw in the wind,” down the halls of time, giving rise to related terms like perhaps as well as happens and happenstance.

“To affirm hap,” writes Ahmed, “is to follow a queer route: you are not sure which way you are going; maybe you let your feet decide for you. You can be redirected by what you encounter along the way as you are not rushing ahead, rushing forward, to get somewhere. You wander, haphazardly at times, but then you might acquire a sense of purpose because of what you find on the way. How we take a walk is not unrelated to how we live a life. To proceed without assuming there is a right direction is to proceed differently. To say life does not have to be like this, to have this shape or this direction, is to make room for hap. To make room for hap can be experienced and judged as snapping a bond” (Living a Feminist Life, p. 197).

‘Tis what happens.

Along our walk I like your post, a toast to turbulence. I brush my thumb to my lip and ponder your handle. To turb is to disturb. What might we disturb today? Seeing before me an unoccupied birdhouse, I imagine it repurposed as a mailbox. That being one of the things we shared for a time, until that, too, was taken from us. I hesitate for a moment, wondering if there might be a way still for me to apologize and make amends. “A partnership for preservation,” says a sign. “Approach slowly: gate will open automatically,” says another. But we’re seated at different benches, zoned apart along different branches, separate streams of time. For now, I’m on my own, wandering uncertainly to and fro as I wait.

Orpheus in Hades’ Lounge

There’s a parking, a journeying outward. Up and out we launch past West End Mill Works, off on tonight’s adventure, beginning with an evening stroll. Graffiti marks the spot. Stream to one side of us, water rushing over rocks. Spotify shifts from Steely Dan’s “King of the World” to Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know,” voices and cars in the distance. Looking both ways, we cross the street and rush down onto a shaded path through a nearby park, crickets singing in parallax with Neil Young’s “Computer Age.” We turn off the song and continue for a moment in silence. Upon arrival to a crossroads, we ask of each other (like Ginsberg to Whitman in Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California”), “Which way now?” Looking up, we rise and step proudly toward pink clouds. Conversation turns toward Old & Used Books as we pass a graffiti-clad muffler shop. Bulldog with paintbrush arrives as comic relief — reality for a moment a goofy animal fable whodunit. We grab beers as day turns to night. Ginsberg’s “lights out” reverberates, hangs in the air after us having heard earlier in the day Let’s Active’s “Orpheus in Hades’ Lounge,” featuring hometown hero Mitch Easter.

Can Orpheus be told anew? We recall to each other the character’s many forms. Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950), Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus (1959). Also Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay of that name. And let us not forget Samuel R. Delany’s Lo Lobey, the Orphic protagonist at the heart of Delany’s 1967 novel The Einstein Intersection. Hoots is a Hades’ Lounge, is it not, with its red light hanging above its corner booth? So we think as we drink, glorying finally in each other’s presence. “What would happen if our Time Traveler were to stage the scene again?” wonders the Narrator, listening alone now, seated at the same booth many months hence. With “King of the World” still fresh in our ears, members of Steely Dan singing, “No marigolds in the promised land; there’s a hole in the ground where they used to grow,” we restate the refrain of Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know.” Amid Orpheus wailing away on his flute come the words, “You’re to know that I love you. You’re to know that I care.”

BKNY

Little Red Caboose navigates among subways, choo-choos into Brooklyn. Stares out at gasoline alleys. The experience of the railroad platform is indistinguishable from the sights and sounds of the roads that run parallel. Barber Shop. Live Music. Juicy Cajun Seafood. Once aboard my train, I sit beside a window clouded over with sap and soot. An automated voice announces stops as I begin P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout. “This station is / Rockville Centre.” “This station is / Jamaica.” I stop in at Catland Books to purchase supplies, but it’s a small shop with limited stock, and the alignment of the place troubles me. Fat Tony sets the tone as I walk an hour and a half west to buy books at Unnameable, body drenched in sweat. Highlight of the day, though, is a leisurely, meandering, late-afternoon bike ride around Carroll Gardens and Red Hook with my brother. We pause before the waterfront, relaxing in the day’s fading light, Ellis Island visible in the distance.

Tuesday November 17, 2020

I recovered a shoe of Frankie’s while out walking this afternoon. It had fallen yesterday along her walk with Aunt Jojo. There it was beside an odd property: a house set back in a patch of woods with an American flag and “private property” signs out front. Further along down the road past several other houses stands a weird Republican-seeming neighborhood of ugly stone-faced McMansions around a private lake. Not one of my preferred places to walk — though I admit enjoying it, particularly when a beautiful heron flew overhead. The bird appeared shortly after my recovery of the shoe. I paused and admired the bird as it flew past, sensing in its appearance a sign of good luck. Greetings, friend! My cosmology permits perception and experience of a many-voiced cosmos. Sarah and Frankie sit beside me, for instance, as I write. They play a game involving a toy sword in a toy stone. Frankie retrieves the sword and Sarah declares her a Queen.

Wednesday April 15, 2020

During break time, I stare at pinwheels, rosemary bushes, a neighbor with a cat on a leash, a Royal Enfield motorcycle with a Cozy sidecar parked in front of another neighbor’s home down the street. I walk about, listening to birds, the wind as it rustles the leaves in the trees, motivating as well some wooden wind chimes. The cry of a waking baby returns me indoors, where we dance to tunes by NEU! and Pere Ubu. Time for redirection. Sarah’s suggestion: download into being a children’s book on Buckminster Fuller. The baby rests on Sarah’s knees as the three of us chill on the couch vibing to Future Shock — Volume 1, a compilation released by Names You Can Trust.

As the sun descends, shining through the window in the room above the garage, I stare down at a book propped open on the dining room table: The Living Book of the Living Theatre. I learn about Judith Malina and Julian Beck and the direction they took from the philosophical anarchism of Paul Goodman at the time of the Theatre’s founding in the mid- to late- 1940s. The couple launched the Theatre at their 789 West End Avenue apartment in New York. In 1951, they staged four one-act plays by Goodman, Gertrude Stein, Bertolt Brecht, and Federico García Lorca. In later years, the Theatre became communal and nomadic.

Saturday April 11, 2020

Finished with midterms, I wander the neighborhood, admiring a field of periwinkles (never mind others’ designation of them as weeds). See me there, walking in the streets, whistling and singing, banging on a tambourine, telling the story of the society that opts for peace. Can one get there without a fight? Joanna Russ includes an epigraph at the start of The Female Man: a passage from R.D. Laing’s book The Politics of Experience. Laing was a thinker of the New Left: one of the era’s radical “anti-psychiatrists,” best known for his studies of schizophrenia. Check out Robert Klinkert and Iain Sinclair’s short film Ah, Sunflower (1967), shot on location at the Dialectics of Liberation conference, with appearances by Laing, Allen Ginsberg, Stokely Carmichael, and others. Sinclair also published a diary he kept during the filming called The Kodak Mantra Diaries. Sinclair says of himself that he was “captured” by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain Poets, writers who served as some of his “first enthusiasms” when starting out as a writer in the early 1960s. Olson taught him that life is an allegory — a large, potent myth. The “amniotic fluid,” as Sinclair says, through which we swim and struggle. Is this sifting of texts a kind of purgatory? Are we characters in a ghost story?

Friday April 10, 2020

On these walks each day around my neighborhood, I weigh possibilities for revolution and admire trees and gardens. Yet so much else of the capitalist neighborhood seems distant, alien, preconstituted, practico-inert. Little sense of community other than polite hellos. Nods of the head, the assumption being all of us are “about our business,” do not disturb. This is what it’s like, existentially, to live under the regime of social distancing — while in some more abstract sense, everything around one is the land of Trump. Time to practice drumming and horn-blowing. Noisy, clamorous complaint. Yet the parent in me knows to be quiet so as not to wake the baby during her nap. She’ll wake on her own when she’s ready. Or WE will: into happier times, each day tending toward the better. So too with consciousness. The surrealist revolution attempted a synthesis, an overcoming of dualisms, did a stately pleasure-dome decree: dream-states and pleasure-states reconciled with reality. Or so it seemed as I sat after my walk, mind at play. A student’s paper has me thinking about the politics of “liberation.” By dream or by memory I summon up before me a book from Verso, The Dialectics of Liberation, resting in a stack of books across from me atop Lenore Kandel’s Word Alchemy. What better thing to read? Dialectics of Liberation was a congress held at the Roundhouse in London in 1967. Radical “anti-psychiatrists” like David Cooper and R.D. Laing met with Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael, among others. Paul Goodman was there, as was Gregory Bateson. A “curious pastiche,” as Cooper says in his introduction. In a kind of “circus poster” at the start of her book Word Alchemy, meanwhile, Kandel announces, “ALL dreams ARE true / THIS is a dream / THIS is TRUE.” Kandel’s poems are funky, wonderful, and witchy.