Drinkin’ and thinkin’

I’ve never been in the habit of writing down my thoughts and observations as they occur to me. Sometime around the age of twelve, I remember deciding that any truly important ideas couldn’t die, and if they didn’t come from me, they’d come from someone else. So that allowed me to relax and, over the years, learn how to let thoughts be, to incubate and hatch out when they were ready. If you’re hungry, make an omelet; otherwise, wait and watch and let them grow their own wings. For a guy afflicted with logorrhea, as I am, this is probably an essential attitude to have toward writing.

Since starting this weblog, however, I’ve been forced to moderate a bit. Of course, I could write a lot less than I do, but I enjoy the ad hoc, ephemeral quality of this medium so much, I find it hard to keep from giving it all I’ve got. Because giving stuff away is so much more fun than hoarding, you know (see yesterday’s poem). I see the Internet culture as a potlatch of sorts – and am distressed at all the sites that now charge for access. Anyhow . . .

Yesterday evening I decided to try the ultimate stream-of-consciousness blogging experiment. I don’t have a laptop, but with the help of a little pocket notebook and a generous quantity of homebrew, I resolved to try and record everything that occurred to me over a three-hour period as I sat on my front porch. (In case you’re curious, I’m currently working on the vat of yarrow brew that I blogged about back on May 23. I decided this past winter that bottling is a waste of time – I don’t need the “mouth-feel” of carbonation, since I grew up without soft drinks – so I just siphon it off, a half-gallon at a time, into a juice pitcher that I keep in the fridge. The important thing to know is that this is a cross between ale and mead, closer to the strength of wine than beer. The sheer quantity of yarrow takes a little getting used to, but no more so than the hops in a heavily hopped microbrew such as Hop Devil. The difference is, yarrow doesn’t make you sleepy and stupid. And being as it’s homebrew (and organic), I don’t have to worry about waking up with a hangover the next morning unless I really overdo it.)

So here’s the transcript, edited as little as possible. I’ll use [brackets] to indicate editorial additions. I started right around six p.m.

I am reading from The True Subject: Selected Poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translated from the Urdu by Naomi Lazard. The poem “Before You Came” just blows me away! I wonder if he knew the Zen saying about how, when one gains satori, the mountains go back to just being mountains again?

[Before You Came
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Before you came things were just what they were:
the road precisely a road, the horizon fixed,
the limit of what could be seen,
a glass of wine no more than a glass of wine.

With you the world took on the spectrum
radiating from my heart: your eyes gold
as they open to me, slate the color
that falls each time I lose all hope.

With your advent roses burst into flame:
you were the artist of dried-up leaves, sorceress
who flicked her wrist to change dust into soot.
You lacquered the night black.

As for the sky, the road, the cup of wine:
one was my tear-drenched shirt,
the other an aching nerve,
the third a mirror that never reflected the same thing.

Now you are here again–stay with me.
This time things will fall into place;
the road can be the road,
the sky nothing but sky;
the glass of wine, as it should be, the glass of wine.]

[Watching a great-spangled fritillary chase a cabbage white:] Butterfly’s flight has been shown to be random [through wind tunnel experiments] – true randomness in Nature is a rare & difficult thing – Is there a sense in which we can see randomness, then, as a gift of God, rather than as a repudiation of Creation?
The tragic thing about drinking (or any drug taking) is that one has the most fun in the transition between the two states, “normal” and altered. Drunkenness itself represents a vain attempt to recapture that initial “wow” feeling of a good buzz, which is of necessity ephemeral. The alcoholic is a tragic idealist. To drink regularly without succumbing to alcoholism, one needs to become a comic realist – to embrace ephemerality & then let it go, not attempt to possess it
Drinkin’ & thinkin’ = drinkin & stinkin’? [This is a reference to a blues song.] Or Winken & Blinken & Nod (zzzz). Rene Dubos once confessed he could only write while drunk on wine. Dude, that is so French!
Male cardinal in late afternoon sun, gnatcatcher on elm branch, goes down for a bath. I hear goldfinches but can’t see them. When are they going to pair off, start nesting? Not as many bull thistles in my yard this year. How much thistledown does one goldfinch nest require?
Right now I want NOTHING. Happy stuppor [sic]!

O.K. I take that back. I want another drink! More more MORE! (But if they’re [sic] weren’t any, I’d be fine with that. This glass is it until I draw more from the carboy, boy.)
I like the way a nice buzz takes my mind off SEX, and related desires, lets me just enjoy the moment.
My God, I just SAW a no-see-um!
And now, a tiny smudge on my wrist.
For its memorial, just this ITCH.
As soon as I leave the porch to take a leak, a deerfly zooms in, starts orbiting my head. Damn I miss my dreads, fuckers could never bite through that. That was, like, Daoist: do nothing, let Nature take its course, and filth will repel filth: the homeopathic approach.
Go find a deer, motherfucker.
On the way back from pissing, I pick up the wine bottle with the beebalm flower in it. No hummingbirds all day – except I just saw one at the edge of the woods. (They have to have a nest nearby, with all the crazed courtship flights I’ve been seeing.) Set bottle w/flower down on the other stack chair. Voila! I have company!
THIS WRITING IS INTERFERING WITH MY DRINKING. (Think first, than write. If possible.)
Chipmunk clucking. He too must be in need of a good trance. [Note: this is my own theory. Conventional wisdom says that chipmunk chipping is purely territorial. Bullshit. They’re so tightly wound, I think they need to do it to calm their little triphammer hearts. I have watched chipmunks cluck (as I prefer to call it) from close quarters on numerous occasions. It sure looks like they’re zoning out!]
Hey, there’s the porcupine – long time, no see! Climbing my poor elm tree. Wonder if she has a porcupette under the house. (How do you pet a porcupette?) Quills shine in the evening sun. she moves around to the back of the tree, maybe to avoid the sun in her eyes? Now back in the sun for an instant: a reddish-brown tinge down under the quills, beautiful! (Red, white, brown, gray: the same range of colors as my beard) – Almost to the top –
A chickadee troika right beside the porch, dee dee dee WHACK – as one flies into the window behind me, another in hot pursuit. Love triangle? Or just the usual dominance/submission games. (sigh) Nature is SO unenlightened!
Now that I look at it, this elm does seem mighty SPARSE up top. Time for a collar [aluminum flashing to keep the porcupine from climbing it]?
Zoom! Speak of the hummingbird . . .
Oriole has the center stage now. Goldfinches have moved off. Other random chips & chirps. If I had MORE BEER, I could stay out until the thrushes tune up!
FAIZ is so GREAT – why didn’t I see this before? [I have owned the book for years, but wasn’t overly impressed on previous readings.]

“The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.

“Oh, God of May, have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection,
make the dead veins flow with blood.

“Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.”

[This is the latter half of the poem “When Autumn Came,” a political poem (in part)]

(the translator Naomi Lazard must be a true poet too)

Porcupine hunching down a limb (I hear it first, then look) – rests in crotch for half a minute, ascends other limb.
We have this much in common: we both love trees!
P. climbs four feet up & stops, does nothing for many minutes, wedged in another crotch. a snooze?
O.K., I’ve had enough – taste beginning to creep under my tongue (need water) [But see below.]
7:30 – birds quieting down – just vireo, goldfinches
Ten minutes later, P. still hasn’t moved. I think I will make fettuccini puttanesca for supper. But first, I feel an obligation to sit here and watch night come on. Sun now in tops of trees.
What was it my mother said, animals spend [on average] 60% of their time doing NOTHING? I believe it!
The pathos of drinking – one yearns to join Su T’ung-Po, Li Po, those fleeting moments they rendered immortal (for all practical purposes) – how I wish I could go back in time! But you know that THEY FELT THE SAME WAY – that pathetic nostalgia. “Drink sake and weep.” [This is a reference to the tanka poems in praise of sake by Otomo No Tabito (665-731). An example (Hiroaki Sato, tr.):
Better than to say things like a wise fellow, it seems, is to drink sake, get drunk, and weep]
7:45 – Porcupine is definitely taking a snooze. It looks so trusting.
Oops, it’s shaking its head. Sneezing, I think.
The sun retreats up the ridgeside, & just like that I can feel the cool coming on.
Irrationally solicitous for the beebalm on the other chair. (“Can I get you a coat?”)
P. scratches its head, adjusts its embrace [of the tree].
I can’t believe how quickly this buzz is fading (drinking and drugging is so self-indulgent)
Porcupine resumes climb! It’s 7:51. I need: coat, beer.
8:00 p.m. back from siphoning more beer. (Poetic symmetry for a man – beer passes through a hose twice)
Porcupine has climbed all of eight feet & is sprawled out asleep on a horizontal branch.
8:02 – first wood thrush [singing] – soon joined by a second.
(Almost full moon won’t rise till late – how am I gonna tear myself away for supper?)
8:07 – thrushes quiet again. Great-crested flycatcher, WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP (but never weepy!) A very prehistoric sound. This year I have really grown to appreciate them.
Train. Short-hand jazz.

No one ever invented onomatopoeia for a train whistle! All you can do is imitate – yodel, harmonica. That high lonesome thing. “Well I wish I was / In a lonesome holler . . . ” Oh right, I am.

C’mon, Mr. Tanager, give me a view.

Scolding squirrel. Cat?
What did I do with my fingers before I had a beard to tug on?
Even now that it’s July and the leaves have darkened, still so many different shades of green in view.
W. thrush off to left, cuckoo [singing] to my right.
Squirrel still scolding, Porcupine has ascended into canopy (I missed it, too many leaves in the way)
The Buddhist atheist says: There is no end to suffering. Deal with it.
For some reason, the cover of Hayden Carruth’s Collected Shorter Poems [on the end table beside me] has a full frontal portrait of the sphinx. King as predator. Lost his nose despite his face. Still fucking sinister.
If I weren’t writing, I could be talking to myself. It feels good to be putting a jag to use! BUT I could also be putting the same thoughts to work in some harmonica playing. It’s a trade-off.

Alcohol keeps you at the stage of wanting to do ten different things at once – until you pass out. Mary G. Juana is so much more intelligent! Alcohol is a drug of distraction, cannabis is a drug of attention. Polar opposites. [Note to any law enforcement officers who may happen to read this: I do not buy, sell, or grow cannabis; I haven’t gotten stoned in years. But if it were legal, believe me, I probably wouldn’t be brewing half as much homebrew as I do.]
8:40 already!
The other major difference is that alcohol kills time, cannabis slows it down – alcohol makes you think more slowly, hence time passes more quickly. The THIRD difference [of course] is taste! I want pot that tastes like beer!
8:45 – must be close to sunset, maybe already past – Thrushes have been decidedly desultory [in their singing] so far. Fuckers.
Thinking about what Lekshe wrote about ego & illusion. It could be right. It should be right. Why can’t I let it be right?
Tanager still singing, thrush a ways off, toward Margaret’s house [a derelict dwelling a quarter mile from my porch]. “Chip BANG” – that’s a tanager, all right
Faiz Ahmed Faiz! Poet with a rhyming name!

“If a forgotten pain
in some corner of the past
wants to burst into flame again, let it happen.”

This is better than the blooze.
Someone explodes a firework in the valley – can’t tell which valley, due to the reverberations off the ridges.
8:45 – Now the thrush [is finally calling] right here – then two more – as light dims and my book becomes hard to read (good timing)
9:00 – first fireflies in the grass

I run my fingers over the page, stroke these poems – in English, in Arabic [script]. Nothing. what did I expect, [miniature ridges,] mountains? The page is smooth as the cheek of a too-young lover.
9:03 – first bat, dropping from the tulip tree I think. Thrushes are silent. Only a song sparrow. Then nothing.
Hello, sister mosquito!
Almost too dark to write. Why it seems so quiet: daytime crickets have hushed. I realize this when the first nighttime cricket starts up.
9:18 – [Next-to-]last entry ’cause I can’t see! I can hear chewing from the elm tree for the first time –
Night descends
[The nightly twin-propeller] cargo plane flies over
9:20 – P. climbs down tree – soft clack of claws on bark – Then leaf rustle as she heads up into the woods –

AFTERTHOUGHT: An amusing experiment, not something I’d want to make a habit of. There’s something inherently dishonest about the pretense of unmediated thoughts/reactions here. If you’re going to go to the trouble to record, it makes no sense not to go ahead and select, modify, polish into more shapely and interesting essay(s) or poem(s) – like this or like this. (In both those cases, however, nothing was written down before the poems themselves. Otherwise, I find, the poetry plays second fiddle to the prose. My ultimate goal – an idealistic one, to be sure – is to be able to think entirely in poetry. To me, that would represent true, unmediated thinking.)



i put a single stem
of beebalm – bright
red shaggy head – in
a green, wide-
bottomed wine
bottle & set
it outside to see if
the hummingbirds
would come


the first summer crickets
playing their rasps
pick right up where
they left off at
the intermission,
going on as if
this brief stage
were the whole of it


if you come for pizza
bring a bar of ayurvedic soap
a cut flower from your garden
& a jar of cold soup –
so thinks my friend L.
who gives & gives from
what little she has
& calls herself lucky
to be able to spare
so much


“I’m not a real scholar, but I play one on the Internet!” Actually, that’s not even true. This may be obvious, but in case it isn’t: whenever I find myself writing in a superficially scholarly mode, as I did yesterday, I regard whatever conclusions I arrive at with a mixture of surprise (“Hey, I didn’t know I thought that!”), amusement, and suspicion. The more internally consistent my ideas appear, the more sense they make, the more suspicious I get!

But I refuse to refrain from such bullshit scholarship, for the simple reason that ideas are fun. Thinking out loud is both a great exercise and a wonderful way to connect with other people. The best and most interesting ideas almost always come about from dialogue. Therefore I think it’s essential that bloggers exercise the freedom to put their most challenging ideas into circulation, and be as playful as possible about it. (The only thing I really worry about with a post like yesterday’s “Ring of fire” is that I might become entirely too pedantic.)

Regarding yesterday’s post, I am grateful that both of the Christians among Via Negativa’s regular comment-leaving readers have responded with great energy and perception. Again, this probably goes without saying, but just so there’s no confusion on the matter: I have no bone to pick with anyone except literalists and bigots (often one and the same). And though I have aired my ambivalence toward world religions here in the past, out of a preference for the greater complexity and sense of geographical groundedness of what I call particularizing (as opposed to universalizing) traditions, I hope it’s clear that I have enormous respect for religious traditions and faith communities of all stripes. In this case, I think readers should take my own comments about Judeo-Christian tradition with a much larger grain of salt than the comments of those actually practicing within that tradition. I also do feel that, on any given subject, those speaking from their own lived experience generally trump those of us who are simply playing with ideas.

Some ideas can’t exist without words. These are the kinds of thoughts that animate much of my prose. But I know from decades of struggling to express more hidden things, usually through poetry, that a realm of perception beyond language not only exists, but is the real ground of our conscious existence. I know, too, that too much talk about things like love or freedom in the abstract can become a substitute for the real work: giving meaning to such ideas through action and embodiment.

All too often, articulateness and thoughtfulness seem mutually exclusive, I’m not sure why. Understand, I don’t beat myself up about being more glib than wise. I always figure that as long as I’m entertaining folks, and not hurting anyone’s feelings, I’m doing fine. Sure, we all could probably stand to become better listeners. I sometimes think that if I could listen well enough, I’d hear what the angels are saying to each other – and I don’t even believe in angels! That’s the kind of mixed-up fellow you’re dealing with here. Just so you know.