How to procreate

This entry is part 11 of 39 in the series Manual


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Repeat after me: reproduction is mandatory, but sex is dirty and sinful.

According to scripture, you can minimize contagion by keeping it in the family, or at least the tribe.

Hold hands when you walk, preferably ones that are still attached to bodies.

Check with local jurisdictions before deciding to go topless or baring an ankle.

Lower the newspaper between you slowly to increase your partner’s excitement.

Use the fire exit only for emergencies.

Boundaries are important in a relationship.

A zygote deserves every right of an American citizen, presuming it’s not in the country illegally.

Remember: oral sex never leads to pregnancy unless both partners speak the same language.

Don’t buy leather unless it’s been cured with brains.

Choose the lovers’ leap that’s right for you. Does the vegetation at the bottom match your blouse?

Holy spirit possession is the only truly safe sex.

Don’t just rock—roll! Make yourselves into a perfect cylinder of lust.

Angels, like snails, are hermaphroditic, which may account for their air of superiority.

Find new uses for mucous, O pushers of the envelope.

Know thyself, sure, but don’t stop there.

If you want the candle to stay erect, dribble hot wax into the holder.

Let your eyes do all the work, like a seed potato.

Use a 3-D printer to make plastic copies of yourself.

Don’t stop with circumcision. Remove the flesh around the ears, lose your eyelids, pull out your fingernails.

We shouldn’t presume to separate ourselves from the suffering world.

The mouth is born without teeth, just a tongue and a howl.

Nature is against nature.

Most birds have no penises, and most honeybees are non-reproductive females who act as sexual go-betweens for flowers. So much for the birds and the bees.

As for storks, they only live in the Old World. Their closest relatives in the New World are vultures.

Delivery of your order is by sea, and may take up to nine months.

Contents may expand in transit.

How to play

This entry is part 12 of 39 in the series Manual


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During horse-play or rough-housing, keep your head in its case to avoid injury.

It’s not play if there isn’t some risk of dismemberment.

Climb to the top of a top for a 360-degree view of the room.

Don’t let the other players know the rules, or even that it’s a game.

Meet the gaze of random strangers and whisper You’re it.

Hide without seeking. Stay hidden.

Change your mask every few years to avoid detection.

When exploring a forest, arm yourselves with silence and trashcan lids.

Monsters are terrified of chalk. They can be bribed with erasers to do anything you want.

When falling from a great height, flap your arms wildly—you never know.

Hand-puppets should never be given real mouths. They will want real anuses next.

Only an adult can legally consent to be a toy.

Blocks may be made out of anything that’s shaped like a block.

A toy with a power button is a tool in disguise.

The point of a ball is that it has no point—however it happens to land, it’s always at rest.

Cut it open and breathe its peaceful air.

Laughter is the body’s rebellion against the mind.

What’s the point of winning if you can’t suspend all the rules?

Get everyone to run in place and you can make the earth spin faster.

When you collapse, make sure to collapse in a heap.

How to listen: the movie

This entry is part 13 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to listen from Swoon on Vimeo

This is the third and final video in Swoon’s “bacon triptych” (my term, not his) — see the other two here, if you missed that post. (He does say at his blog, however, that there’s a good chance he’ll be making more videos for my Manual series.)

In an email exchange, I told Swoon I thought he had a real gift for absurdism. He responded, “Absurdism is a Belgian thing I sometimes think… so it comes naturally.” Which immediately made me long to hail from a country where something like absurdism could be a general predilection of its citizens, rather than, say, self-righteousness and extreme credulity.

How to mourn

This entry is part 14 of 39 in the series Manual


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Write his or her name in the snow, get a comfortable chair and watch how it melts: the letters expanding, becoming illegible and finally disappearing into the earth.

Spend time—the only form of currency the dead still honor.

Find the perfect slab of polished granite and release it into its native habitat.

Every year on the anniversary of your loss, take out a small ad in your local paper. Let it remain blank—an oasis of propriety among the ads for legal services and riding mowers.

Become migratory.

Visit caves that have lost all their bats to white-nose syndrome. Stand at the entrance and listen.

Visit mountaintop-removal sites in the Appalachians that have been terraformed to look like Wyoming.

Wear a cowboy hat and squint.

Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco.

Bleed yourself regularly with leeches to remove the black bile.

Follow a river from its mouth to its source: a spring small enough to empty with one long sip.

Plant a stump.

How to calculate

This entry is part 15 of 39 in the series Manual


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Let your yesses mean yes and your nos also mean yes.

Blink authoritatively like Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie.

Acquire a sleek and gleaming surface, punctuated only by a minimalist logo.

Have your people call my people.

Regardless of emergent properties, any whole can be reduced to the sum of its parts through the elimination of each part, for example during warfare.

Flagrantly compare apples and oranges. It’s no worse than lumping Winesaps with Red Delicious.

If two wings are good, three wings must be better!

Every problem is a word problem. Make language your bitch.

Assume that the soil removed in digging a hole will never be enough to fill it again.

Plan on emptying your bowels to make up the difference.

Don’t use a broker; find a money-whisperer.

If you want to be on the winning team, side with death.

Rename all the numbers, starting with A.

How to grow up

This entry is part 16 of 39 in the series Manual


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for J.R. on his 17th birthday

Leap often to get used to the view.

Swing from tree limbs every day to make sure your arms stretch to the proper length.

Growing up is not only difficult, but also extremely time-consuming.

Instead of the future, day-dream about the past—the one thing your warped desires can’t destroy.

It’s true that some caterpillars turn into lovely butterflies, but many more turn into drab brown moths. Avoid metamorphosis altogether if possible.

Friends come and go but books stay with you, even in a strong wind.

Instead of going on dates, court boredom, which will never desert you.

Make friends with the invisible family who lives upside-down on your ceiling.

Have somebody record your height on a door with a pencil every year. If the marks start to go lower rather than higher, this could indicate that instead of growing up, you are growing old.

Avoid anything that prevents a good night’s sleep. Prizes, for example, are for livestock.

Remember: you can keep learning all your life, but you’ll never again be able to skip school.

Experiment with different personalities.

Don’t be over-clever or let yourself be fired out of a cannon.

Feeling hungry? Try eating!

When I was your age, I was young.

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too? Why not? Don’t you like your friends?

Playing video games imparts a valuable life skill: how to hold your pee.

Watch movies rated for mature audiences. These are usually the most juvenile.

If you dream of a career in politics, learn to do magic tricks.

Hypnotizing chickens is not merely a fun stunt—it also makes them tractable prior to execution.

Go to school with blood on your shirt. Say it’s your name in Chickenscratch.

If all else fails, learn to walk on stilts.

How to spit

This entry is part 17 of 39 in the series Manual


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First identify the target within: that bit of foreign matter infiltrating your phlegm.

Gather yourself. Hate is hard work.

Remember: the conscious control of bodily discharges is the essence of civilization.

If there’s a wind, make sure it’s at your back.

If there’s a sun, make sure it isn’t watching.

Wait until it’s 40 below zero—the temperature at which Centigrade and Fahrenheit coincide and spit turns into a slow bullet of ice in mid-air.

Take three steps forward like a bowler.

Lose your dignity—it can grow back.

Let fly.

How to burn

This entry is part 18 of 39 in the series Manual


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Become an idol sheathed in gold leaf.

Let no one touch you but the wind, and then only through proxies.

Have your hands replaced with hooks and your feet with augers.

Avoid lakes and oceans, thunderstorms and kisses. Dry out.

Live on earth: an unconsummated star smoldering under a thin crust of ash.

Spend your holidays on a barely cooled tongue of lava, or the slag pile from an old coal mine.

Become coal yourself if necessary, but avoid the extremes of heat and pressure that would turn you translucent.

Diamonds are a poor fuel, and their cold fires last nowhere near forever.

We need to burn carbon if we are to fulfill our destiny.

Embark on a long-distance relationship, ideally with the assistance of an anatomically correct knitted heart.

Listen through keyholes.

Feed small rumors with bacon grease and fan them with the shoulder blades of race horses.

What is digestion but a controlled burn?

Join the crowd for a public execution or the overthrow of a government.

Dance the way flames dance, leaping in and out of existence.

Oxidize and exfoliate like a slow book made of rust.

Glow if you can’t flicker, flicker if you can’t blaze.

Set fire to the crops so the harvest will never come, cold and dark—that death that grows inside you like a field of snow.

How to mourn, Belgian-style

This entry is part 19 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to mourn from Swoon on Vimeo

Swoon’s fourth video for my Manual series takes a different tack. “No more bacon,” as he puts it in his blog post, “but peace, contemplation and coffee.” In an email, he explained the associations of coffee for Belgians in this context:

We have a thing called ‘coffeetable’ (koffietafel), when someone is burried the family invites friends and relatives to the ‘coffeetable’ after the burial and serves them coffee and sandwiches.

I wanted to have an absurd, yet subdued, take on that fact. It needed different sounds too.

How to make a fist

This entry is part 20 of 39 in the series Manual


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Abdicate. Grow backwards.

Let the flowers retract into their buds, the buds into the stalk and the stalk into the hemispheres of the seed.

Let the circle be unbroken: form a feedback loop until the brain roars with howlround in its cage.

Focus. Prune every Y until there’s nothing but a pollarded knot of pure intention.

Trade nuance for the on or off of a machine.

Don’t give anything away.

Without a hoard, there can be no power. Let your waters build and build behind this new dam.

Zero in like the ouroboros.

Curl. Coil. Clutch. Constrict. Consume.


Note: this is not a revision but an extended commentary on my poem, “Fist.”