Our booty, ourselves

When you speak, let your whole body stand as collateral, I said. When you sing, make the hearts of all that hear keep time like furious tambourines. The dance and the lyrics should rise together like a cobra from the snake charmer’s basket, like Miriam on the banks of the sea, I said.

Some stayed in their seats and swayed, others filed into the aisles and shook their fit or flabby hindquarters with what passed for wild abandon. It’s possible to be simultaneously fit and fat, I thought, looking with my shopkeeper’s eye. But what I love most is the idea of ass as self, as faithful or recalcitrant beast of burden for our five shameless senses. Ego? Id? Libido? I dunno. We all gots donkey ears, ya know? Like King Midas. Everything we touch turns tragically to gold – or perhaps to compost, if we’re lucky.

Shake it, don’t break it. My jelly, my roll, my pigmeat mama. Baby got back. Haunch. Rump. Booty! How this region extends its merry dominion! The waist or navel may well contain the body’s center of gravity, but the butt – which is pure superfluity, really – seems more essential. Waists can go to waste, after all, and in iconography, at least, the navel too can disappear: our archetypal ancestors made do without them. Humanity’s subsequent loss of innocence seems somehow linked to our acquisition of navels, for the umbilicus is a bit of a doppelganger. It must be given its own, secret burial as soon after birth as possible, and thereafter (we suspect) grows gradually younger, even as its former owner grows long in tooth.

But the ass, ah! The ass remains more or less innocent: not in the sense of naive lack of experience, of course, but in remaining immune to all criminal charges. Whatever we think of a scoundrel, the horse he rode in on is almost invariably spared. I realize some men prefer those other superfluities, the breasts, as the main recipients of their devotion. But I can’t help thinking they’re just little boys who never grew up. The breast man is an idolater, a mere magician. He knows his tender acts of worship can compel his beloved to answer his prayers. Only the ass-kisser can enjoy the fully abject position of a true believer.

Everything I need to know I learned from studying buttocks. Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists take note: your prostrations will never be complete as long as you have a single ounce of fat attached to the extremity of your torso. Even as we touch our foreheads to the ground, even as we press our ears to the earth to hear whatever the reeds might be whispering, our recalcitrant rumps stand upright, as proud and humorous as the humps of camels. If the heart is the seat of the soul, the seat is the heart of the body – or better, its crossroads. The rhyming halves of the ass suggest the possibilities of completion, of harmony, of pleroma. We are our own twins – we can own such luck! Our natural wealth should suffice us: this booty goes wherever we do, and no will and testament can bequeath it to another. We may well covet our neighbor’s wife’s ass, we might even get a piece of it, as they say, but ultimately it remains her own – though she may, of course, take out insurance on it, as the high priestess of Bootianity, Jennifer Lopez, is reputed to have done.

So swing low, sweet chariot! Free your ass, and your mind will follow. Your ass may be grass in the long run, but watch the way the tall grass moves in the wind and tell me that’s a bad thing! One could do a lot worse, I’m thinking, than to shake and sway with such hushed fluidity, such unselfconscious grace.

Red shift

You know the expression, “I wouldn’t do x if you were the last man/woman on earth”? Well, for some time now I have been haunted by the image of that last woman. The lighting is abundant, and not particularly flattering. Minicams in every corner of the apartment record her as she dictates her thoughts into her audio blog, takes snapshots for her photo blog, writes about her feelings for her poetry blog. Everything is on the record. The only sad part is that nobody’s watching but me; everybody else is too busy doing the same thing.

Her name, I think, is Morn, though she goes by Dust Angel. Her trademark costume is a rather plain, sleeveless red shift. She believes fervently that the unexamined life is not worth living, though she admits that over-analysis makes her uncomfortable. Her favorite color is green. She is a Libra.

What else? Well, she appears to have a lover, a hulking tech support guy without any speaking parts. You might spot him occasionally looming over the mousepad or fiddling with the minicams for better angles – or for poorer in the event of sex, which is somewhat downplayed. Nudity is definitely part of the routine, though it verges on mere nakedness, an attribute of such existential acts as changing clothes, exercising or sunbathing on the floor. Morn does this every afternoon, curling up like a cat on a broadloom rug encircled by snaky electric cables and watched over by an odd assortment of mannequins and dressmaker’s dummies, vintage apparel draped on timeless hip.

The future has arrived, and it is boring. Where now is the vibrating ether so cherished by pre-war pulp science fiction authors? Ancient cover girls in skin-tight space suits now crumble at the touch, tragic victims of an acid overdose. Those child-women must’ve foreseen some such fate: their lips spelled unvarying o‘s of horror regardless of the threat, even from aliens as unlikely as the two pug dogs that live with Dust Angel. The poor things can’t even bark, are too dumb to hump a leg. They were bred to evoke the quintessentially feminine Japanese squeal ka-wa-eeee, which connotes approximately equal measures of lovability and infantility.

And which, in a way, describes the appeal of this particular eventuality, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, here we have all loose ends of the ballyhooed future at last tied up – or rather, cross-stitched. One veil for bride and widow alike, one screen for all media, like Alice’s looking-glass. It’s not like that movie the Truman Show where the guy is an unwitting star of the soap opera of his life, because in the first place there’s no drama per se, and in the second, the “star” is fully aware and in control of everything. She is like a god, really, a child who has the run of the nursery and will never grow up.

The ether alone knows how such harmony plays out among the spheres, whether it can even reach the ever-receding, ever-more-isolated celestial bodies that once made us grasp for something like an outer space, a red planet. At the speed of light, thinking becomes impossible. Time is a terrible gift to do without.

The Cape of the End of the Earth (dream fugue)

The light, they said, the light. Don’t laugh! Someone one must bear witness to the play of things we have no words for: the way the memory flutters her figure. It has gone to my head, the flattery of aspen leaves.

In a dream we steered a car gingerly though a cobblestoned labyrinth in the transplanted medieval heart of a Middle American hometown. I was eluding our sinister pursuers, I was teaching silence to the night birds and the Lord’s Prayer to the crickets, who played everything backwards with their feet. It was nice to be able to hear where we’d been, not as if in a soundtrack to a near-death showing of the movie of our lives, but as an ascent to some snow-lined cirque in the French Pyrenees. They had a sign advising all park visitors to turn off their radios and “listen to the music of the mountains”–a sentiment we heartily endorsed, primarily because the rental car’s stereo didn’t work. We hiked for a while through the alpine meadows and watched through binoculars as the chamois clambered on the cliffs.

This was a long time ago, a one-day diversion from a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and Cabo Finisterre, the Cape of the End of the Earth, which was covered with blooming wildflowers when we finally got there one day in May. Franco had only recently passed; the streets of every Spanish town still belonged to the Guardia Civil in their sinister black capes. We chanced on a saint’s day celebration in one small town where the men were put in charge of peeling and chopping onions, piles and piles of large, sweet onions with the dirt still clinging to their roots. This was a task well suited for a family of pilgrims, they thought, handing my father a knife. Come weep with us, even if we share no more than fourteen words in common. Weep and be glad, since no one can ever recall anything by its proper name.

Ah, father onion! We strip off all your masks–for what? To give the stew its fundamental tone. And in my dream the car shrank and shrank until it was small enough to fold up and stick in a back pocket. We came out onto the square and strolled nonchalantly in a counterclockwise direction so we could look directly into the damp faces of all the town’s inhabitants one by one. (Remember, there was nothing on TV in those days.) “The eye doesn’t shine,” says Levinas. “It speaks.”

But I prefer the mysterious pronouncement of Vladamir Khlebnikov, who said, “Words are the living eyes of secrecy.” Sometimes even my own words strike me that way. Like right now, for instance. What am I trying to hide? Behind all masks of the onion, what remains? Nothing but the good soil it grew in–and the rain, and the medieval sun that still drops off the end of the earth and swims back each night through the labyrinths where hell used to be. Nowadays, with Franco long gone, who needs all those subterranean prisons, those sadistic inquisitors?

And Cabo Finisterre? The land has almost reached its limit, yes–and the Spanish, at least, seem well aware of the fact. They have said no to the sorcery of the backwards prayer and the blind mask, to words with their eyes put out. Last year an oil spill blackened Finisterre and much of the rest of Galicia’s verdant shoreline. This year the blood of soldiers and their victims seeps into the uranium-enriched soil of a battlefield that used to be a country. We will visit cemeteries on hills in our own country where the groundskeepers permit no real flowers, only plastic, and where the older coffins leak poisons into the groundwater. Death like an old whore must be covered in thick makeup. I will remember those who died young in the service of their country, like my friend Ben, who was born on July 4th, 1976, believe it or not, and died 20 years later from an overdose of artificial stimulation, having found nothing else worth dying for. And the teenaged alcoholic who used to pass out on my bed and piss all over the sheets–such a sweet girl, really, too much in love with life. She died looking for a bathroom, fell down a steep set of stairs in a strange house and broke her neck.

Today we will be overcome with nothing more than shouts and laughter, the high-strung preparations for a potluck supper and the giddy feeling that comes from dipping into and out of two many different conversations in too short a space. There will be no alcohol and no wallowing in maudlin sentimentality, beyond a simple mealtime invocation that we may or may not remember to have somebody say. I don’t know if we’ll visit the cemetery or not, but if we do, I am thinking that on my grandfather’s grave I’ll leave a subversive peony or two. It’s funny the things we do for the departed, the way we honor our imaginations–“s/he would have liked that,” we say, not even thinking about the literal realities of possible afterlife destinations. It’s important somehow, for a moment at least, to turn off our radios and TVs and just listen to the music that the hills are supposed to be alive with, and then to look–really look–into each others’ damp faces. Those dark tunnels, those valleys of the shadow, and the stage lights that beckon from beyond.

In the month of small flies

In the month of small flies and the sharp & bitter leaves of wild mustard, a hair fell from heaven & flipped & spun & turned by stages into the first hornbeam tree. But not right away: for a time it slipped in & out of small clearings, walking with a bit of a limp. The people at that time were living in lean-tos made from hemlock boughs & old, yellowed newpapers. Easy come, easy go, they used to whisper whenever a hard rain brought the roof down on their heads. Half-forgetful of his origins, the old man took to carrying stones from the creek, mixing grayish mud with sand. He had fallen in love with the song of a sparrow no one had ever noticed before, and had decided to devote the rest of his life to its study. Meanwhile, pink lady’s slipper orchids in mossy thickets exposed themselves to deluded bees. Black cherries bloomed with a scent as cloying as prom queens. Wherever one stepped, something hopped out of the way & looked back over its shoulder with a reproachful gaze. One heard the peepers down by the pond, the toads around the spring & up on the hill the solitary tree frogs, trilling as if it meant something.

Around this time somebody noticed that none of the calendars showed the days of the week the way they always had. It was as if a long-ago ramp festival-cum-revival meeting took off like a hundred helicopters and swept every last Monday into the forgotten corners where only children playing hide-and-seek ever go. Unless, in fact, the calendars had simply begun to look a great deal like weathered boulders, all decked out in clubmoss and rock tripe. The old man’s skinny arms grew hard as antlers, and his skin turned gray because he shunned direct sunlight. The sparrow – if that’s what it was – had taken to nesting behind his left ear, because it was warm there & out of the wind. There was an almost inaudible rhythm, a pulse that could’ve been the sound of the surf or a woodpecker thinking about his next composition.

Ultimately, the decision to put down roots is more than mere decision, said the hornbeam tree as its nondescript buds unfurled nondescript leaves. We would all do well to heed such a sense of urgency more wordless than love. A true spirit guide never says what you want to hear, & sooner or later leaves you on the lurch. That night, they say, will be a dark one. But is it too much to ask for, this feeling of intimate involvement in the unfolding of others’ destinies? You wake up from a dream in which the only two women you have ever loved have found each other, lose themselves like mirrors turned face to face with nothing, not a speck of dust to come between them: that bottomless ocean.

You wake up & it’s all true, tears of joy – if that’s the word – run down your cheeks. And you remember how every hundred years a mischievous bodhisattva brushes the side of the mountain with a fly whisk, anticipating its ultimate disintegration into the everythingness of Nevermind. We might well expect a different kind of measure to drive the mountain’s own slow symphonies.

The old man’s unfinished house should serve in the meantime – not that anyone needs very much where founding myths are concerned. A sharp digging stick & the ears of a night watchman, little else. But this day that used to be a day of rest has brought the finest weather we’ve seen in a month of Sundays. There’s no time, no time for this foolishness! The pancakes will be on in two minutes!

Submitted for the Ecotone Wiki topic, “Time and Place”

In the American Dream

The sleep of the just is just as we’ve always been told. Picture with me, if you will, the bathroom slippers arranged neatly by the bedside, the dog in his customary spot curled up, as dogs will do, with his nose a few inches from his anus. Equally at bay are the sour smells of anxiety and the endless odor-free winter of despair.

The sleep of the just is peaceful as a cemetery, calm as the aftermath of a therapeutic airstrike necessary to conquer terror and quell unrest. The downed wires, the cratered streets permit no troublesome motors to mar this earful of silence. From time to time a cellphone might trill from somewhere under the rubble, a tasteful snatch of classical music as pleasing as a cricket on the hearth.

The sleep of the just is uncommonly deep. Deep as the color of the sky above Fat Poplar, New Mexico. Deep as the voice of the taiko drum at Itsukushima-Jinja, carried out on the tide through the iconographic red torii that stands across the inlet from Hiroshima.

The sleep of the just, we are meant to suppose, is profoundly settling: we sink incrementally into the bed of that sunless river. Like a well-built house that can withstand the removal of a thick seam of coal several hundred feet down. Some mornings, one might find a new crack or two in the windows, doors that need a bit of extra planing before they’ll shut. Right angles gradually go more and more off true.

Ah, for such a rest of the over-stimulated senses! To forget everything, including our own names! Folded away between fresh sheets, breaths still tasting of after-dinner mints, one heartbeat away from the spent flesh of all our fondest desiring . . .

Still undergoing revision as of Tuesday morning.

Ordeal, or deal with it

I said to the Yeti, wash yo’ butt! Quit leaping out like that, you’ll scare the children. Second graders by the looks of them, more-or-less absorbed in their crayoning, which I can only imagine features yellow suns in the corner and birds in the shape of the letter m. Motherly letter, how well I remember learning its name! M’s the one that looks like mountains and the birds that circle them, idiotically, in old cracked paintings from the Renaissance – which I still can’t spell without help. Every day is Earth Day, but today is special because my ISP is down and I am forced to go wandering outside, peering closely at the unfamiliar trees and wondering where I left my clothes, all of a sudden, and why I have grown so hairy. I’ve been taking howling lessons from Elvis, listen: [fire alarm]. Then there’s [a train whistle, only it’s nothing like a whistle]. I am walking lightly on the earth, I am stopping to smell the flowers, let me hear you say Hail Yeah. My feet are shaped like large, cracked gourds, my nose drips like a candle. My eyes – Lord knows – are bloodshot from too much peering in peoples’ windows to watch TV. I am registered to vote – no party affiliation. The last time I tried to affiliate, no one was willing to swear in blood. What the hell good was that? You want friendship, you want brotherhood, get out the goddamn knife. Nobody wants to commit anymore: no walking under turf, no trials by ordeal. It’s enough just to enter a couple digits somewhere, move a decimal point and poof! someone’s nonexistent wallet gets heavier, poof! a mountain turns into a valley, poof! mercury is good for us. Easy come, easy go. My friend the coyote stopped by and left his calling card, a pungent remark bristling with the hair of somebody’s dog. It was in fact shaped like the letter C. You can read into that whatever you want. And since today is Earth Day, I expect some fool will try.

The automobile in the Walking Blues

Images of the holy and the damned. The police handcuffing a man who collected old copies of the New York Times and had them stuffed and mounted in flagrant violation of the Endangered Species Act. His two small children left to fend for themselves among the junker cars and the hippies with their experimental solar-powered aircraft. They were ready to go visit their daddy in jail if I would take them – but was that really the right thing to do? I was so confused! It’s never a good idea to sleep past dawn, I find.

Lethargy and impatience are conspiring against my enthusiasm for the written word. But is that all? This time of year can be unsettling for a confirmed bachelor, you know. Everything is thawing and flowing and springing up with unselfconscious abandon. (Is there any other kind?)
A body wishes to be held, & held, & what
Can you do about that?

wrote Larry Levis, greatest among the late 20th-century prophets of the heaven of loneliness –
. . . some final city made entirely
Of light . . .

And what did T.S. Eliot know about April? More than I might care to admit. Mixing memory and desire, I am finding it increasingly difficult to disappear between the keys on the keypad. Whose cruel idea was it to make this “National Poetry Month”? Hell, I can barely stomach Earth Day anymore. All those earnest pleas to be a responsible consumer, live lightly on the earth, etc. – as if that’s enough! But I have been guilty myself of indulging in the even more egregious delusion that Poetry Can Save Us. From which monstrous windmills, oh Don Coyote?

In truth, I woke up this morning with the blues for the blues. To wit: I sure do wish I hadn’t sold all my records off years ago to buy booze! That was so wrong. I especially miss my copy of the 1941 Library of Congress field recordings of Son House, about which an anonymous British reviewer somewhere out in cyberspace writes,

This is a rough ride, but he sure can drive any song home- as does the automobile heard going past on “Walking Blues.”

“Drive.” Where did that come from? And I’m wondering: can anyone who doesn’t own a car in the U.S. of A. – especially if they live out in the sticks – really ever possess “drive”? (Be careful, now!)

Or what about, you know, drives? Maybe I could just make do with a good old-fashioned urge or two. Once again. With feeling.

Got up this morning feelin’
’round for my shoes,
you know ’bout that musta had
them walkin’ blues . . .

Son of House, you knew only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats. But they sure sounded great coming out of that steel guitar! Not to mention the bottle’s severed neck riding on your littlest finger. That afterthought, that fifth wheel. Good for nothing but trouble –

When you vanish into that one cry which means
Your body is no longer quite your own
And when your face looks like a face stricken
From this world, a saint’s face, your eyes closing
On some final city made entirely
Of light . . .

(Levis again, in a completely different context.)

Unreal City, man.

The mutter of all bums

Must. Must really. Should. Ought to. It would be nice if. The procrastinator’s diminuendo, a rolling stop. Over the landscape of his imagination hangs a heavy haze. The distant peaks are invisible, buildings and monuments vanish rapidly from view. Memory does not speak, it yawns. Monday through Friday, most of its teeth are missing. Ah me!

Now here comes a fine funny fellow to shake things up a bit. A street-corner tin whistler with a nose for rats. What about the children? They must be saved and served up later, wrapped in the flags of monumental abstractions, over the hills and far away. The stage mother of all bombs sits in a storage facility at an undisclosed location in the Middle East. While the pilot who will deliver it to the theater of operations for the opening night performance dips his toast in his eggs at a truck stop somewhere in the Middle West. He is – need it be said? – a decent fellow. He doesn’t daydream much. He reads the papers.

In Hamelin the Rotarians are listening to a presentation by a retired colonel on the promising new frontier of non-lethal weapons. Tomorrow’s battlefield is the urban ghetto, we must be prepared. We can fire short bursts of microwave beams, high-frequency sound, souped-up tear gas. The agony will be selective and of short duration. Special agents will peel the graffiti right off the walls. Property values will soar. The rat-faced children of the working poor can be given uniforms, gas masks, clubs and shields. That way they’ll feel empowered and will avoid drugs, which they can’t really afford anyway.

It’s morning in America. The dreamers have been rounded up and given jobs in the public relations industry. At a certain point three years ago every public-private partnership in the country had the same boast: We Build Solutions. But what was this solution that everyone was working on? Something caustic, no doubt. What ever happened to civility? Penmanship and proper diction must be taught again in the schools.

Do you remember where you were when the news hit about the extinction of the golden toad of Monteverde? How about when they flooded out the snail darter? Do you remember all those bad-smelling black hippies in Philadelphia who wouldn’t MOVE? That’s exactly what I’m talking about this morning. With better planning, we can avoid all that. The news shouldn’t have to be so depressing. Our brave pilot dipping his toast into his eggs shouldn’t be subjected to the incivility and mudslinging of negative political ads and columns by liberals. Democracy is all about trust.

The carrot and the nightstick, muses the copyeditor. Who the hell eats carrots any more? There are plenty of night-vision goggles to go around. Some use them to play weekend warrior, chase down UFOs or illegal aliens, live out their fantasies. Me, I don’t go in for that screwy stuff. I’m just going to get myself a pair so I can see what my neighbors do in bed. Make sure none of them are secret perverts. This is a nice neighborhood. On a really clear day, you can see the mountains.