Riffs

Streams of consciousness, automatic writing, running at the mouth, and/or beatings of dead horses.

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Delusions of an Erasure Poet

Rows of targets on the side of a barn with an arrow in every bull’s-eye. “An expert marksman must live here!” Or a fool who fires at random and paints a target where each arrow lands?

It’s difficult not to make sense—not to find meaning in words or see faces in the forest. The truth is that wherever an arrow lands, something like a bull’s eye opens. Bulls aren’t terribly perspicacious. Wherever one charges, something like an enemy crumples. It might be a matador’s cape or china in a shop, who knows? But the bull sees as well as he needs to and shits anywhere he wants. Let his B.S. dry out and you can burn it, use it to cook a can of beans.

A poet is more than just a fool or a bull-slinger, though. Our job is not simply to make sense, but to make it beautiful. That requires a selective kind of vision. You have to not only find the bull but also un-find it, and ultimately forget about it. Pastures are so much more beautiful if they haven’t been grazed.

The poem behind the poem says
what do we do with the other
creatures of this world?
Those that stay put, stay put;
those that move, raise their mobile
devices to the window
and press record. What do we do
with the other languages of this world,
the other ways to forget or fall silent?
Dogs can’t be the only ones
whose vocalizations have adapted
to the inattentiveness of the human ear.
And there’s a bird in New Guinea
that can imitate with equal accuracy
a camera shutter or a chainsaw.
What do we do with ourselves
during the 99% of our lives
when we are not listening
to the poem (song, prayer) in which
our actual names happen to be recorded,
and customs agents are demanding more
and more documentation for everything
that crosses a line, while those that stay put
learn to imitate themselves…
I’m sorry, what
was the question again?
I’ve been busy collecting photographs of cherubs.
I love how they manage to be
both fleshy and impossible.
And now the voices are telling me
to mind the gap—
over and over, as if that were
our most essential task…

canela shows us her dark side
Photo of Canela by Rachel Rawlins

A dog’s very presence constitutes a reproach.

Why are you just sitting there, when the whole rest of the world is right outside?

Another cup of coffee, really?

Why can’t you anticipate my needs better? Or does it amuse you to wait until I am literally dancing with discomfort to take me out for a goddamn piss?

Why aren’t you rubbing my belly right now?

When I was a kid, dogs were still largely kept in dog houses. Even Snoopy, the most anthropomorphic dog before the debut of Family Guy, lived in a dog house. They got scratched behind the ears now and then if they were lucky. “You want to go for a walk? Knock yourself out.” Now they are members of the family, like five-year-old children who never grow up, until one day they die and leave a gaping hole in your life. It seems down-right anachronistic that their day-to-day behavior is still driven by centuries of breeding for utilitarian tasks: to herd, to guard, to catch rats, to retrieve the still-warm bodies of dead ducks from shallow water.

Canela, the dog I’m currently sitting for my brother’s family, struggles with the last of these inborn inclinations. I watch her sniffing and straining against the leash on her twice-daily walks, whining out of her deep need to locate and retrieve, to mouth, to bring back. Because the rest of her pack disappeared while she was out on a walk, she looks for them up at the other house as often as I’ll let her, tugging me up the hill, and appears to believe they might be hiding anywhere on the mountain. We make great circles around the ground zero of their disappearance. In search of clues, she wants to follow every fluttering wing.

This is not a review, just as a pipe fallen to the stage is not a pipe. The performer’s open mouth resembles a small asteroid covered in hair. Eventually, everything is thrown into question, such as why we don’t live in flowerpots or buy religion all shrink-wrapped out of vending machines. Have the sun and the moon really been played by the same poorly informed celebrity all this time? Do you remember where you were when you heard about the death of humor? Why don’t owls ever unbutton their vests? Who told your elbows to sing? Words approach as quickly as starved sheep and lower in pitch after they pass, thanks to the Doppler effect. Short films of moss growing on a butler or tractors that won’t start are triggered by a wrong note on a tuba or the audience’s failure to clap. It turns out that people dress up like armies solely in order to march, becoming lost in the middle of a vast square. It turns out that you need a long stick to poke someone who is far away. The lighting crew keep a purple spotlight on the audience, so I take advantage of the extra illumination to write down a one-word recipe for porridge (“porridge”). An avuncular Jah chortles about the beetles he squirreled away in Guatemala. All the Jamaicans from Downton Abbey begin to pray.

Being thanked is in some ways harder than giving thanks. It can feel a little awkward to be so gratitued. Over-demonstrative hanky-thankery, I think, can seem down-right gratitewd. When it gets to the point where special thanksgivery is required, that’s pure gratefulishness. I mean, just say your peace and sit down — don’t act all thanktified, whether you’re in a thanktuary or not. Otherwise, some thanker management might be in order. Of course, one can expect things to get a little out of hand during a thank holiday, but it’s important to stay thanguine and greetful toward all one’s relatives, however much private thangst one might be feeling. That’s why we feast! It’s all about the gratitouille, the celebration of harvest and plenty — for which, and because of which, we all must be great-full.

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. Political posts have always been an occasional feature here, and tend to be personal in nature rather than rants. Here’s one I’m still pleased with, though, in a more satirical mode, written after the disappointing results of the 2004 election, which returned Bush to power for another term. (Please click through to read the whole thing.)

Tyrannosaurus lex:

AMNEIZURE. A paroxysm brought on by the unexpected recurrence of suppressed memories. Example: “On being questioned about parallels with Vietnam, General Richard Myers experienced a sudden amneizure.”

[…]

DEBRIEFING. A slight sartorial adjustment made by most foreign nationals within a few minutes after leaving the Green Zone in Baghdad.

[…]

SELF-FULFILLING PROFLIGACY. A deliberate plan to run up huge deficits in order to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury, forcing massive cuts in every conceivable non-military program, with the ultimate purpose of disabusing Americans once and for all of the absurd and irresponsible notion that government spending can ever solve anything.

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology

Netscape Browser UninstallThis morning I decided it was time to remove Netscape from my PC. I hadn’t used it since 2006, but it was still patiently sitting there in my hard drive, all 29 megabytes of it, like a faithful hound that’s grown much too old to hunt. When I clicked “remove” on the Windows XP Add or Remove Programs utility, it generated its own sad screen, with “Netscape Browser Uninstall” in generic serif italics in the upper left corner, white on blue, as if it were trying to remind me of the good old days of WordPerfect 5.0, acoustic couplers and AOL. “Don’t you want to go for one more run around the field?” Sorry, old boy. It’s time for you to go to sleep and hunt rabbits in the blue screens of heaven.

Truth to tell, I never used Netscape very much, because I didn’t spend much time online before 1997, by which time Internet Explorer already seemed like a better option. But it mediated my first introduction to the World Wide Web: on a monitor in my brother’s basement office at Cornell back in 1995 or 96. As we waited for the page to load, the little animated icon of comets passing a rapidly spinning planet caught my eye, as it was meant to — something to stare at while data slowly crawled in over the telephone line, with the not-so-subtle message that this is the future, we’ve arrived. From Mountain View, California to the outermost reaches of the atmosphere, it was nothing but blue-black skies from now on.

The architects of the first mass-market web browser were very conscious of metaphor. The Wikipedia quotes an article from Macworld, May 1995:

Netscape Communications wants you to forget all the highway metaphors you’ve ever heard about the Internet. Instead, think about an encyclopedia — one with unlimited, graphically rich pages, connections to E-mail and files, and access to Internet newsgroups and online shopping.

But who would write those pages? Who would build that wondrous new netscape? Microsoft won the first browser war (as geeks sententiously call it) by giving their product away, a foretaste of much to come. What they couldn’t have known was that users would not be content to merely explore the internet, and that profits would not be the main motivator of those who would go on to create not only most of the best and most useful content on the web, but also the open-source code that now runs a great deal of it: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, WordPress, and of course Firefox, which is my main browser these days. That much neither Microsoft nor Netscape could have foreseen. But every time I upload files to Dropbox, Vimeo, Flickr or Google Docs, I am in a way indebted to Netscape’s starry-eyed vision:

Netscape advertised that “the web is for everyone” and stated one of its goals was to “level the playing field” among operating systems by providing a consistent web browsing experience across them. The Netscape web browser interface was identical on any computer. Netscape later experimented with prototypes of a web-based system which would enable users to access and edit their files anywhere across a network, no matter what computer or operating system they happened to be using.

These days we have a new metaphor for that. We call it the cloud.

This entry is part 35 of 39 in the series Manual

Know your ingredients. Take them out for drinks.

Follow recipes as closely as you can without being detected. Wear a disguise if necessary.

Buy fresh, buy local. If you are broke, search only in the ripest dumpsters and patronize your local food bank.

Ashes can be substituted for black pepper in a pinch.

Never challenge an onion to a game of strip poker.

Give names to each of your knives and talk to them frequently. This will guarantee few interruptions while you work.

Don’t serve anything you wouldn’t eat yourself. If you enjoy pain and humiliation, for example, feel free to serve a knuckle sandwich.

When cooking with gas starts to lose its luster, try turning into a pillar of fire by day and a pillar of smoke by night.

There are only three bodily secretions you should consider cooking with: milk, blood, and tears. The last is an excellent seasoning for pork.

Open sesame with a mortar and pestle. Magic imparts a sour taste.

Sing to pickled things in a minor key.

Never buy processed foods. Instead, stock up on artificial sweeteners, preservatives and stabilizers and make your own.

The rituals of food preparation can imbue your everyday life with holiness. Visualize each muscle in your body as a choice, sacrificial cut of meat.

Like the O’odham Indians, go on an annual pilgrimage for salt.

Artisinal bread is simply bread that has been shouted at.

Keep a dog under the table at all times.

Add more garlic.

This entry is part 34 of 39 in the series Manual

Loudly, so the police sirens will be abashed.

Softly, so your blood-sucking interrogator will lean in close where he can be asphyxiated by your garlic breath.

From within, so the authorities will begin to doubt themselves.

From beyond the grave, which affords some form of protection against reprisal.

Through the slogan NO, which, as nitric oxide, reduces blood pressure by expanding the veins during its brief half-life in the bloodstream.

Through songs, which spread by invisible spores and can grow six inches in a day.

In the voice of unreason, since all the reasonable men defer to whomever commands the most barking guns.

Casually, as if walking on hot coals.

Automatically, through negative phototropism.

Surreptitiously, linking to your co-conspirators only through quantum entanglement.

With an absense of authority, which calls the very logic of authority structures into question.

Joyously. Because otherwise what’s the point?