New departure

As a form of protest, I will stop writing in my own voice.

As a gesture toward reconciliation, I will begin writing in the voices of unnamed others.


The eyes are cowries; they smile in the shape of a frown.

I saw myself in the lorry’s rearview mirror. I looked farther away than I was, half swallowed in the dust storm.

Hold me, I said to the mask. Keep us together.

Spare parts

Here’s an old poem based on some emails from a woman I “met” about five years back through an online dating service, a very ambitious young Sharon Olds disciple. The “relationship” fizzled after about a month when it became obvious to her that I was more interested in talking about poetry than hopping a bus to her city for a weekend of heavy calisthenics. But she liked the poem, and seemed pleased that I chose to cast it in her voice, so I don’t think I do her any disrespect in reprinting it.


I’ve been so swamped, I took
a mental health day, called in sick.
My poems are dwindling like unused
extra fingers. But the signs
weren’t good: first the car
that wouldn’t start, then no heat
in the apartment. And in between
the therapist saying you have to learn
to let go
. Hell, I barely made it
to the appointment. How can I relax
when my mechanic charges twice
as much as my therapist? I ask
the radiator repairman, can’t you fix it
so it doesn’t knock?

I need things to be simpler than they are.

Today my car still isn’t running
& I work eleven hours, 9:00 to 8:00.
After work I’ll rent an old movie
& fall asleep on the couch,
the tattered cushions will take me
as I am, will let me down gently
into their kingdom of spare parts.
I’ll weight my pockets with ballast of coins
& combs, let the missing socks stay missing,
pay no mind to the pens all sticky with ink.


This is the last day to send in links for the first-ever Festival of the Trees, which will appear here sometime tomorrow morning, inshallah. (Send links to me — bontasaurus at yahoo dot com — with “festival of the trees” in the subject line.)

Let me reiterate that for this first edition, I am accepting pieces from your archives, as far back as you care to go. I want to suggest that writing about trees has deep roots in the blog world; it’s not some new fad just invented for this blog carnival. But recent posts are also, of course, most welcome.

I’ve already received a respectable number of contributions, which means that I won’t be doing much hunting for stuff on my own. So if you’d like to make sure your own blog — or your favorite blog read — is included, you’ll have to send me links. It’s O.K. to send multiple links and let me choose (though future hosts of the festival may set different rules).

Also, I’ve decided that I’ll follow a quote format, with somewhat lengthier selections than is the norm for blog carnivals. (No, this will not be a post for the ADD-impaired!) The implication for artists and photographers is that I may reproduce your images to illustrate the post — with due credit and a link back to the original, of course.


That’s it for a post today. If you don’t think you can get through this last day of the work week and the month without a Via Negativa fix, here’s something from the archives that you probably don’t remember (I didn’t): Looking ourselves over. It’s actually two posts in one, but the heart of it is a comparison between anthropologist Keith Basso’s descriptions of the Western Apache and my own, anecdotal impressions of rural white folks in Central Pennsylvania. A little on the wordy side, but you’ns might like it.

On vacation

I am taking a few days off to go camping and to visit some blogger friends in Montreal. There will be no updates to Via Negativa or the Smorgasblog until at least next Tuesday. See you later, and thanks for reading.

Bad maxims, revisited

I won’t have time to write anything new today, but here’s a recycled post. It originally appeared in Via Negativa on September 6, 2004. PARENTAL ADVISORY: Contains caustic cynicism and naughty words. Seal all entrances with duct tape and plastic before proceeding.

1. You create your own reality. Re-write history to eliminate your rivals and give yourself all the starring roles.

2. If not you, someone else then. If not now, whenever. It’ll get done. If it doesn’t, well, it probably didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

3. Live in the past. That way, you’ll never have to worry about being surprised.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, hit the government up for more subsidies.

5. It’s not who wins or loses, it’s whether we all get to taunt the losers.

6. Power corrupts. But if nothing ever corrupted, we’d be up to our ears in shit and corpses.

7. Cleanliness is next to chemical allergies, birth defects and senility.

8. Eat the poor. They’re 90% fat-free!

9. It is better never to have loved at all than to have loved and lost your dignity. So suck it up, you big baby. Repression works.

10. Real men don’t ask for help. If things get bad, you can always talk to Jesus.

11. If you meet the Buddha, tell him to give me a call. He still owes me $25 bucks.

12. It’s not the goal, it’s the journey. Especially when you’re lost.

13. You can sleep when you’re dead. Be sure your grieving loved ones spend at least $3000 for a really comfortable casket.

14. A friend in need is fine, but probably isn’t the best person to go out drinking with.

15. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you can save lots of money on heat lamps.

16. A stitch in time is bad for the economy. Throw it out, already!

17. I’m O.K., you’re O.K. It’s those other people who are fucking things up.

18. First thing we do, let’s kill all the murderers.

19. Misery loves company. Specifically, the Frito-Lay Company, makers of Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles and Lay’s brand snack chips. Frito-LayTM. Food for the fun of it!TM

20. Before doing X, always ask yourself, “What would happen if everyone did X?” If the answer is, “Cataclysmic war and social chaos, leading to the rapid extinction of most higher life forms,” then it’s probably a pretty good way to turn a profit.

21. Some people see things as they are and ask, “Why?” Some people dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” If you know either of these kinds of people, please call the Department of Homeland Security’s toll-free hotline.

22. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that countless generations before you have faced these very same problems. And now they’re all dead.

Memo from the back-scratching department

I’ve started a page for reciprocal links, the first click on the main Links page (see top bar). If your blog or website has a permanent link to Via Negativa and you don’t find it on the list, let me know. So far, thirteen blogs have installed links to the new site, beginning with whiskey river five days ago. Thanks, y’all!

It may seem extravagant to list some blogs in three different places, but I’m anticipating eliminating the “Vaguely Compatible Blogs” category from the main page, preserving the sidebar for intra-site links. It makes no sense to spend as much time writing as I do and then let the vast bulk of my output molder unread in the archives. My hope is that having an annotated links page will actually bring more readers to those blogs than would a mere sidebar listing. Having an additional listing for reciprocal links helps assure readers that blogs in the main listing were chosen on their own merits, with no expectation of reciprocity. It satisfies peoples’ curiosity about who links here. And let’s face it, reciprocity is the next best thing to love. It’s only the bloodless angels who can remain apathetic toward the opinions of others. We are apes. We scratch each other’s backs.

Concerning the angels

Favored first prodigies, creation’s darlings,
mountain ranges, peaks, dawn-red ridges
of all genesis, – pollen of a flowering godhead,
links of light, corridors, stairs, thrones,
spaces of being, shields of rapture, torrents
of unchecked feeling and then suddenly, singly,
mirrors: scooping their outstreamed beauty
back into their peerless faces.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies (Edward Snow, tr.)


They are the leaves,
leaves destroyed because they wanted to live forever,
because they didn’t want to think for six moons about what makes a wasteland,
because they didn’t want to know why a drop of water insists on hitting a naked skull already nailed to bad weather.
– Rafael Alberti, Sobre los ángeles (Mark Strand, tr.)


As for me, I prefer the trees. But many are those who long for more anthropomorphic channels between earth & sky, who nurse a wordless craving for some being of light to precipitate out of solution & stroke their head – good dog – & clothe them in garments as full of the atmosphere of another world as any spacesuit.

I prefer the complex currents of the human or animal face. Reflections seen in still water are both greater & lesser than what they reflect: greater because of the invisible life that swarms within them & the bubbles of methane, lesser because – well, you know…

Tree: the very sound of the word directs our thoughts to the topmost twigs. Limbs, trunk – the homology with the human body suggests either headlessness or inversion, unfinished business or a fall from grace. But at the end of a wind-thrown tree one sees only rocks & soil gathered in a clutch of roots: a losing hand. There was never any inversion; there was never a mirroring. Again & again we mistake the messenger for the message. (What message?)

As for me, I prefer the fruit. The blossom is so urgent, so full of future. Think of the crimes it has licensed with its wasp-thin song of love & death. Long after the clouds of scent have dissipated, the limbs bend alluringly under the weight of sugar.

Bark. Skin. Scales. Feathers. Chitin. Fur. Moss. Lichen. Grass. Heath. Forest. Tree. Bark.

As for me, I prefer fat. Skin, bone & muscle all have their acolytes, but if the body stays confined to its barracks, who will fight the endless war on supper? Go tell your guardians of perfection: We are what exceeds us.

More on love

Thanks to everyone who took part in the discussion about love, sex and Brokeback Mountain in the comment thread to Monday’s post, which in many ways has turned out to be more interesting than the post that spawned it.

Now one of the participants, Zhoen, has fleshed out her thoughts about love and the body in a brief essay called, simply, Body. Hers is a very embodied kind of thinking, moving from story to story and avoiding didacticism – a model of the blogging art. Do stop by.