Awake around four with an idea for a blog post, I drift back to sleep a while later and sleep in until the disgracefully late hour of 7:30. Too late to write much of anything, I fiddle around, doctor up some old doggerel, then think better of it. Then I start remembering all the good stuff I’ve been finding on other blogs lately. It’s been a long time since I last did a digest like this, so why not? I love making collages . . .

For me, the pathos that certain aspects of Fahrenheit 9-11 conveyed spoke of something fundamental to the human condition, and the value was great because these are narratives that are only ever presented to us in fictional (and thereby dulled) form. Films are so often antiseptic, with their clinical and balletic depictions of violence, and their inconsequential battle-ground “action”. But here, somehow, in between the rollicking soundtrack and George W. acting like a prat on camera, something filtered through of the heart-seizing reality of what it means to live always with the possibility of death in mind.
– the vernacular body

Some with a soft dignity. Some without. Some
rattling and moaning. I go to the body. I go out
to this body when I see it coming. The traffic,
for a moment, ceases. The soft wick of moon. Boy

that I made, go out there. Go out to the seat
of judgment. Enter into me and hear it, whirr
of energy. The veins popping, exploding. Listen
to yourself cry out, go slack, stop.

– from “The Mercy Seat,” Awake at Dawn — Writing Journal

Does “Raytheon” really mean “the light of God” ?

For the ladies, they produce a swell line of ornithologicaly themed missiles — lark, sparrow, hawk, shrike, falcon, phoenix. For the gents, there are several phallically themed devices — javelin, stinger, excalibur — in addition to the ever-macho cruise, sidewinder, maverick and tomahawk missiles, the brilliant anti-armor tank submunition (BAT), the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, the aptly named HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile). Why, they even produce a groundbreaking, post-modern, gender-inclusive device, the LGB, aka the Paveway Laser Guided Bomb.

Paula’s House of Toast

Two nights ago: Many events, though I distinctly recall holding a cooked rabbit with my fingers, in an attempt to stuff it. I had pulled the skin up and there were bowls of nuts and stuffing, and a broth.
fragments: dream a little dream of me

It didn’t take long to shut him up. When we finished beating the hell out of him, we thought it [would] be funny to shave his head. Much to our surprise, we found that underneath all that smelly grey hair was a tattooed scalp baring an elaborate anarchy symbol and a slogan that read, “Punx Not Dead”.
A ‘Coon Named Legba

I told Tsuga to “sit” and “drop it!” while I fished around in his mouth for the bone. That’s odd. Whatever it is he’s mouthing is soft, squishy, almost flesh-like. To my horror, as the object came saliva-soaked from the dog’s mouth, I held in my hand a shrunken human calf and foot, complete with tiny toes. There for an instant, it weirded me out pretty seriously. My initial response was “Ooh me god! He’s ate Mr. Frodo!”
Fragments From Floyd

I watched thought cells gently floating in the ‘bloodstream’, inactive, harmless little things with delicate, empty structures. I was taken inside a cell. It was completely empty, just a pregnant void. I was shocked. “Thoughts are empty!”

Suddenly larger cells invaded the picture and threw this quiet scene into chaos. These cells, two or three times the size of thoughts, hurtled through the bloodstream at a furious pace. Their multiple ‘arms’ splayed out in a star pattern. Hair triggers at the end of each arm guided the cells against the current as they actively hunted out thoughts. A small dark nucleus active in the centre of each cell fuelled this mission. “Emotions!” It occurred to me. These cells were emotions! Hungrily they pursued and attached to thoughts. Within a split second of capturing its quarry, the emotion would envelop the thought cell with its ‘arms’, and suck it into its own structure. (The thought remained completely passive in this process.) The instant the membrane closed around the newly merged cells the whole structure would ignite in ‘electrical’ sparks. The thought was now alive!

– A penny for your thoughts

I was underwhelmed at the time of the talk. Is it really this straight-forward? My mother said, “All she said was common sense. Love without attachment? I got it.”

But I don’t “got it.” I don’t have it so much that I go looking for Bodhisattva Goddesses where mortal women tread. I make holy and unholy out of gesture. What did I expect, really? That Kwan Seum Bosal would manifest right in front of me? That my mind would explode open?

– Ditch the raft

At the Sina pig farm, a man sits motionless out in the middle of his yard. In the morning sun, his skin is bronzed; he could be a statue.

Those pea fields that were harvested have been tilled again. What will come up next?

I am contemplating the division of lands: farm-land, wilderness, waste-land.

Once again, the monster-beast goes to work, like the good German he is.

The Middlewesterner

Orion Online has just posted Engagement, the third part of Terry Tempest Williams’ series on the Open Space of Democracy:

In our increasingly fundamentalist country, we have to remember what is fundamental: gravity — what draws us to a place and keeps us there, like love, like kinship. When we commit to a particular place, a certain element of choice is removed. We begin to see the world whole instead of fractured. Long-term strategies replace short-term gains. We inform one another and become an educated public that responds.

Here in the redrock desert, which now carries the weight of more leases for oil and gas than its fragile red skin can support, due to the aggressive energy policy of the Bush administration, the open space of democracy appears to be closing. The Rocky Mountain states are feeling this same press of energy extraction with scant thought being given to energy alternatives. A domestic imperialism has crept into our country with the same assured arrogance and ideology-of-might that seem evident in Iraq.

It is easy to believe we the people have no say; that the powers in Washington will roll over our local concerns with their corporate energy ties and thumper trucks. It is easy to believe that the American will is only focused on how to get rich, how to be entertained, and how to distract itself from the hard choices we have before us as a nation.

I refuse to believe this. The only space I see truly capable of being closed is not the land or our civil liberties but our own hearts.

“Here’s the thing,” he said, and proceeded to outline an abstract situation. The vernacular always insists upon concreteness.

***

As my grandfather aged, his memory for the names of things and of people grew poorer and poorer. “Take the, the thingyou know – and give it to that woman!” would be a typical communication. His speech grew as cryptic and open to interpretation as the utterances of an oracle. The thing, that woman: though the particulars escaped him, he held tight to the facticity of life. He clung to life, too, because the whole notion of an afterlife always seemed suspiciously mystical to him, religious (and otherwise orthodox) as he was.

***

“It’s raining cats and dogs!” It’s interesting how a purely formal “it” that doesn’t even rise to the level of an abstraction can be presumed responsible for such outrageous acts of violence against household pets.

***

“Literally”: figuratively, as in “The stream was literally alive with fish,” or “His eloquence literally swept the audience from its feet.” These examples are courtesy of Ambrose Bierce,Write it Right. It’s easy to understand why a linguistic prescriptivist like Bierce would be so outraged by this all-too-common subversion of the meaning of literal meaning. “Write it right”: there’s only one way to do things. But vernacular speech will readily abandon semantic precision in favor of maximal playfulness and color.

***

“Biblical inerrancy”: a doctrine that imputes to the Christian Bible the unique property of lending itself only to one kind of interpretation – my own. These interpretations are said to be literal, operating on the assumption that whatever words and phrases mean to me is exactly the same as what they have meant to all people throughout history. For this to be possible despite the vagaries of linguistic change and the necessity of translation, the device of divine inspiration is trotted out. But if such inspiration is available to all sincere believers, why do we need to insist on doctrinal rigidity in the first place? Biblical inerrancy thus constitutes a hermeneutics of suspicion, even paranoia, predicated on a complete lack of trust in one’s fellow human beings. Can anyone so lacking in trust really be considered a person of faith? I can’t help thinking that the advocates of Biblical inerrancy and other forms of fundamentalism are the enemies of true religion. For such people, belief is a simple matter of unthinking obedience. Revelation is confused with the unfolding of power, a making so rather than a making whole.* They love Big Brother.

***

To the authors of the Bible, believing in superficialities and placing one’s trust in mere words are the primary attributes of the fool:

Lying lips cover over hatred, and a fool utters slander.
Proverbs 10:18

The heart of the righteous meditates on its answer, and the mouth of fools babbles forth evil.
Proverbs 15:28

The heart of the wise seeks out knowledge, the mouth of fools pursues foolishness.
Proverbs 15:14

(Translations by James Kugel, from The Great Poems of the Bible, The Free Press, 1999.)

But though believers have an obligation to seek out wisdom, the inner meanings of some things are inaccessible.

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.

Proverbs 30:18-19 (KJV)

***

I can’t help wondering what a Biblical literalist would make of the preceding passage. Three or four, which is it? Are we to presume that only the first three of the four “things” listed are “too wonderful”? And if so, are we meant to suppose that “the way of a man with a maid” is just wonderful enough?

(Well, it’s enough for me!)
__________

*This is a slight modification of something I wrote here in a recent comments thread.

Here’s an entrepreneur who should be an inspiration to us all.

Of course, the idea of making art from garbage is nothing new. Back in March, I wrote about a Senegalese Sufi sect that takes the art of recycling to a whole new level. In that essay, I suggested that biological existence is largely a matter of recycling, and that culturally speaking, we are what we discard. But art should really be a verb, not a noun. Once you finish with that big ol’ apple, what will you do with the core?

In the generally confused condition of society at that time, many diverse and some dubious enterprises were linked with the cause of religion. One electrical appliance dealer founded a sect called Denshin-kyô (Religion of the Electricity God), dedicated to the worship of its eponymous deity and Thomas Alva Edison. Another sect, called Kôdôji-kyô, was organized specifically for the purpose of tax evasion. The founder, a man knowledgeable in the law, saw an opportunity under the then existing legislation to register any business enterprise as a religious juridical person and thus gain exemption from the payment of income taxes. For instance, the owner of a restaurant could call his business a church and could say that its purpose was to propagate the teaching that “life is religion.” His customers would be devotees. The satisfaction of hunger would be salvation. Money received would be offerings made by the faithful in gratitude for salvation. Ergo, the restaurateur really would receive no income, hence he need not pay income taxes. This idea proved so attractive to business proprietors that for about two years (1947-1948), the founder was the head of a thriving organization that licensed as churches a wide range of enterprises, including restaurants, dress shops, art shops, beauty salons, and even brothels. Needless to say, the law was amended to close these loopholes.

H. Neill McFarland, The Rush Hour of the Gods: A Study of the New Religious Movements in Japan (Harper, 1967)

Graceful living in itself is a noble art: slovenly and neglectful of such things as I tend to be, I am full of admiration for those who can consistently convert the spaces where they live and work into places where the mind is engaged and delighted at every turn. I think of the descriptions I have read of Neruda’s house on Isla Negra, full of charismatic objects from a lifetime of collecting, the rafters covered with inscriptions from his many visitors. Somewhere he had acquired a taxidermist’s mount of an entire horse, and he set it right in the middle of the largest room – an example of flagrantly bad taste that never failed to appall visitors from Venezuela, he said in his memoirs. But given their national obsession with so-called beauty contests, I can’t help wondering: what the hell do Venezuelans know about beauty?

“I want a city of my own,” my friend L. said yesterday. She had been dreaming of a large barn that she could clean up and convert into an artist’s workshop. The point, as I understand it, is not to aspire to some sort of static perfection a la Martha Stewart, but to discover or create a space where one’s mood might shift with the movement of light across the walls and floor, a place hospitable to the mind’s eye. To have all the tools one needs, and nothing between one’s impulse to design and build and its realization. To move alone through such a space – and thereby, perhaps, to conquer loneliness?

. . . oh rosa seperada
del tronco del rosal despedazado
que la profundidad convertió en archipiélago,
oh estralla natural, diadema verde,
sola en tu solitaria dinastía . . .
(Pablo Neruda, La Rosa Seperada)

A city of my own: I think first of William Carlos Williams’ masterpiece Paterson, in which the river, the waterfall and the city of Paterson, New Jersey are merged into one, anthropomorphic being – the poet’s alter ego. But I had been thinking of Paterson anyway, as I hiked quickly through the ravines at Rickett’s Glen yesterday, a spot famous for its 22 spectacular waterfalls among the towering hemlocks and pines of an old-growth forest. For all his repetition of the maxim “No ideas but in things,” in all of the 250-odd pages of Paterson, does Williams ever once manage to convey any concrete impression of what the falls look, sound, smell and taste like? Do they ever rise above the level of self-consciously created myth and modernist symbol? Like the unicorn in the medieval tapestry that the poet invokes toward the end of the book, the Paterson Falls seem more of an object we are meant to admire than any real presence that might engage our senses. As Lawrence Ferlinghetti noted in a recent interview, shouldn’t we really be saying “No ideas but in beings“?

The sun
winding the yellow bindweed about a
bush; worms and gnats, life under a stone.
The pitiful snake with its mosaic skin
and frantic tongue. The horse, the bull
the whole din of fracturing thought
as it falls tinnily to nothing upon the streets
and the absurd dignity of a locomotive
hauling freight —
(William Carlos Williams, Paterson)

A city of one’s own: the parallel with the title of Virginia Woolf’s famous book got me thinking about the extent to which women might be able to achieve this quintessential male fantasy of the private workshop – the garage, basement or barn converted into just such a sanctum as my friend dreams about. Aside from artists, I wonder how many women do harbor dreams of this sort? For my mother, the woods and meadows of the square mile of mountaintop land she owns jointly with my father seem to be domain enough. Her 33-year engagement with this land has been both passionate and creative, yielding a stream of essays, articles and books. She frequently laments the absence of any interest in Nature among other women her age (mid 60s); most of her friends are younger.

A wind blew, from what quarter I knew not, but it lifted the half-grown leaves so there was a flash of silver-gray in the air. It was the time between the lights when the colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in windowpanes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world revealed and yet soon to perish (here I pushed into the garden, for, unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed about), the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.
(Virginia Woolf, a Room of One’s Own)

If the behavior of small children is any guide, curiosity toward the natural world is inborn. So I can only suppose that women’s feeling of alienation from Nature is a result of internalized social norms and values, such as the perception of the outside as dirty, messy and – above all, perhaps – dangerous. But might the success of this conditioning derive in part from the very impulse to feel at home in the world? Given proper knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, there’s no reason why girls as well as boys can’t grow up with a finely honed appreciation of that which resists our attempts to neaten up and exert control.

. . . Had I lived in rural England before the nineteenth century, I might have gone out on St. John’s Eve (June 24) in search of fern seed, especially those of bracken. I would also have carried along twelve pewter plates. Under the first bracken I could find, I would have stacked the twelve plates and waited until midnight. At that time, it was believed, the invisible fern seeds would pass through the first eleven plates and land on the twelfth.

The twelfth plate’s seeds would confer magical powers on me. I, too, would be invisible. Even better, I would understand the language of wild animals.
(Marcia Bonta, Appalachian Summer)

I began by talking about “graceful living”: to me, this implies above all a sense of balance and harmony. Artists and naturalists alike can teach us how to recognize the grace that already suffuses the world without our intervention. Between the garden and the wilderness, it seems to me, we need not erect a barrier as stark as the ring of fencing that encloses the unicorn in the tapestry. But if we value our sanity, we must resist the impulse to civilize and manage every square inch of the back forty. Here’s a poem by Wendell Berry that frames the challenge as succinctly and eloquently as anything I’ve ever read.

To the Unseeable Animal

My daughter: “I hope there’s an animal
somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
And I hope nobody ever sees it.”

Being, whose flesh dissolves
at our glance, knower
of the secret sums and measures,
you are always here,
dwelling in the oldest sycamores,
visiting the faithful springs
when they are dark and the foxes
have crept to their edges.
I have come upon pools
in streams, places overgrown
with the woods’ shadow,
where I knew you had rested,
watching the little fish
hang still in the flow;
as I approached they seemed
particles of your clear mind
disappearing among the rocks.
I have walked deep in the woods
in the early morning, sure
that while I slept
your gaze passed over me.
That we do no know you
is your perfection
and our hope. The darkness
keeps us near you.

(Wendell Berry, Farming: A Handbook)

__________

I see from Google that at least one individual claims that the aforementioned Rickett’s Glen harbors just such an unseen animal: the Rickett’s Glen Sasquatch.