Saturday, January 14, 2017

Landscape


Is the beach a river of sand between the ocean and the land? Is the morning the afternoon of somewhere else?

Landscapes wither smooth beneath the sun or rise in knots and age. To the brush and the wind, the tangled and the straight are the same.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lessons in Metaphor


Elise snorts, then laughs. She has an endearing way of doing it. "Where did you hear that?" She asks.

Where did I hear that…?

I've been asked this before. And then, I didn't have an answer.

Imagine if you will a romantic morning in Seattle. Such things can happen if the individuals involved are in love. I remember this scene very well because while there were many mornings like it that one year, one particular day stood out. My boyfriend's wife and children had gone to visit relatives so he was slumming it by staying the night at my apartment.

It was an older brick building with steam heat so it was always too hot in the cold, and I'd leave the window open. This also allowed for a certain degree of bohemian looseness. We seldom wore clothes and I was a bit too loud when we had sex. I was younger then and thought such things were important.

So the window was open and a deluge came through Seattle, as it often does in autumn.*

That Sunday morning it wasn't his hard-on in my back that woke me up but a huge downpour. I sat up in bed and watched it come down. He woke up too. He looked at me, then outside and said:
"And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke."**
He was always saying shit like that. Before you suspect that my lover was remarkable, unique, a treasure know that: A. He was a poetry professor. B. He was also my poetry professor, over twenty years older than me, and my graduate adviser.

He considered quoting Dylan Thomas in bed with his young mistress as part of his professional duties. He looked at me, smiled.

"It sounds like a horse pissing on a flat rock." I said.

He wasn't all bullshit. He genuinely laughed, a sudden joy at the words—that I said them. That I had pierced his pretension enough that even he could take a break from it and laugh at himself. I

"Where did you ever hear that?" He threw his arms around me, kissed my head, my nose, my breasts and my tummy. "That's wonderful!"

I was so shocked I couldn't answer. I had forgotten.

But I remember now. Maybe because I had to be older and closer in age to the woman who said it. It was Myrna, my friend Michelle's mom. They lived out in Orangevale where I would visit my aunt, although I usually liked to play with Michelle while Myrna and my Aunt smoked Kools, drank General Foods International Coffee and spoke of forbidden things like the hair on the neighbor's chest.

But one day, Orangevale was surprised by heavy rain. Michelle and I stood beneath one of the peach trees, looking up at the sky and the green leaves and wondering how this miracle came from the dark gray sky. And then Myrna's voice:

"Girls! Get in here, it's raining like a horse pissing on a flat rock."

"Whatever happened to the professor?" Elise asks.

"He slipped away like a bare ass on a wet rock. That's another one of Myrna's. She taught me more about poetry than he ever did."


* Newcomers to Seattle may be surprised at how small the rain is. Yes. Small. This is because most of the time there is just ocean-drizzle plip-plipping on you, the car, the dog. It's enough to keep your grass growing, and everyone wearing Gore-Tex. And it occurs for most of the year save in the brief deep summer and… October/November. Those months see the Pineapple Express luxuriously unfold tropical moisture in a long band of clouds from Seattle to Honolulu. And it's the closest thing we get to monsoons.

**Dylan Thomas: "Poem in October"

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dear Astrid

Ich sollte diesen Brief auf Deutsch schreiben, but you read and speak English better than most Americans I know. I was on the Vashon-Fauntleroy ferry again, and I always think of you on that boat.

My job required a few trips to Vashon Island and it was coming back from there, on the ferry and the bus when you first looked at me: piercing stare had always been a cliché. I never understood it until then. I heard you speak to him. You sounded German.

The next time you were alone and you sat across from me in the cabin. "Guten Morgen," I said. There was a way your brow shifted, opened up, brightened. It happened then. And we talked for a while on the boat and on the bus.
"Sie sprechen Deutsch?"
"Ja, ich heiße Ada"
"Astrid"  eeed. That is the way your i's sounded.  We talked all the way into downtown.
"Ich habe Dich gern, Ada," you said as I stepped out the door onto 3rd.
You agreed to meet me at the B&O Espresso. I remember how that place became fire when you walked in and smiled at me, looked at me with those violet eyes. You were the brave one. You were the one who suggested we go back to my apartment off Harvard where we had sex for the rest of the afternoon. It was the first time for me with a woman. And you have been my only woman because you were never just a woman. You were, and remain Astrid.

And you did the single bravest thing anyone ever did for me. You dumped the guy you were going to marry to be with me, even though it meant you couldn't stay here. I should have known then, but it didn't seem to matter at the time.
I thought I loved him, but I don't want to remain here anyway, you said.
I was afraid to ask what you meant. You terrified me because  I knew you would answer me. Directness, and semantic precision were Wasser und Wein for us. When we spoke. But we often left the difficult and vague considerations hanging on the door, you remember, I wore it around my neck on those long walks. I know you left your questions in the imprecise bleeds on the Arches watercolor paper.

How much it still reminds me of snow upon Rainier. And I remember the trip to Sonoma. And how, on Sunday mornings, the terrible angel in my apartment awakened me with orgasms, black coffee and Rilke.

We speak of hidden sides to people, as though another being, another Dasein exists just beyond the Wesen an sich we cannot immediately know anyway. But what is hidden is often there because we choose not to see it. We leave the cave in the distance. The ruddy door remains shut. I adored you, and like many Gods, I kept the grand icon of your manifestation hidden deeply away in a plain bronze box within a golden temple. It was enough to ask the libation-bowl for a drink of water from your lips.

Did I miss some cue in Düsseldorf? I had promised to never go back to Germany, but you lured me there for Christmas of all times. You never actually liked to talk about Hegel or Wittgenstein because you never read them, so why should your family? Der Spiegel and Brigitte Woman were about it. A six foot dark girlfriend was not what they were expecting when you brought me home. I ate too much marzipan, got drunk and showed off. You laughed, but they didn't.

Or maybe it was because the only person in my family you met was my Uncle Louis, who understood my situation better than anyone could have. And he still does. And for a year and a half I got to understand his life.

Why did you leave? I never asked you what your true name was. I did not transgress any proscription of seeing you bathing (we often shared that clawfoot tub, the one without even a curtain rod). I did not strike you three times. I—am not sure it was anything I did. Your work visa expired and…
"Es ist zu spät für daß, Ada. Wenn Du weißt nicht, ist nicht die Problem. Kannst Du die Frage stellen? Weißt Du wie? Zu viele lebst Du in die Vergangenheit.  Müß ich in deiner Vergangenheit auch leben? Ich kann, und I wird."
When Washington passed same-sex marriage I thought of you for days. If only the timing had been right, but I always remembered that you didn't want to stay here. Did that mean me? I didn't know what I was doing, but neither did you. You could have said something.

The B&O, like many places of memory has been destroyed and plowed under for the new Seattle. A few of our haunts remain, but they are truly haunts now—places for beautiful ghosts in love.

You are right: it is too late for that. I know how to ask the questions now. I have asked them enough in the Konjunktivergangenheit: a place you said was especially my own. You always said I lived in the past too much. That is why  you paint and I write. Writing always struggles with the past. It is the curse of narrative.


Yet in watercolor and ink a moment remains pure and present, so I keep our portraits.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

January

January:

Out here, I can forget whereness and whenness. What was and what will be are somewhere far away and so the deity of January reminds me of them. I want to freeze and be still: here in the winter dereliction I can gaze through broken frames and remember: a doorway opens inward, but outward as well. Free of wood and glass and the worlds once contained, it becomes the canvas for nostos tints, the colors of ultramarine, lacrimae rerum, and weird sororal shadows.

Out here, the only plot is perhaps a rabbit and an owl; the old story arc is the same regardless of who it is. The rabbit races through the frame and escapes, but later—in dark and dénouement—does it taste the fear and trembling in its own shit? Does it peak at the moon in the darkness of two o'clock and feel the epiphany of death that sees us with her shining eyes and flies on silent wings?

Is a painting of a rabbit and an owl, whether in my mind, this page, or elsewhere a frozen point in time? Because it does not move, it is cold. The tautology reverses effortlessly because it does not really move. It is cold comfort in January.

(Part of the Ramble Calendar)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Etymology of a Metaphor


If I think about the tree—like any other verdant metaphor—it runs deep into my mind with its roots.

I say this all because I know the tree in Winter is a tree. This tree is not a metaphor.

Rather the Platonic Form of Tree lends itself to metaphor quite nicely, which is what the Theory of Forms seems to be all about. Plato’s Tree is rich with meaning, because it appeals to our senses and our entire conceptual framework.

Right now, this tree does not look like it did in the summer. Because it is naked.

Why did I say naked? Bereft of clothing is only the beginning and you should be wondering why I said bereft and not liberated. The tree would only have shame if I projected it upon the tree. I usually prefer taking off all my clothes in Summer, so the projection of luxe, calme volupté won’t work either.

Even the act of projecting is a metaphor, because I am not throwing anything forward… but then again, do I even consider the etymology of project (pro=forward + ject, from iactus= throw) when I use the word? No. Something else is going on, a shortcut. which is another…. Well, you get the idea now.

There is the idea of multiplicity. In my metaphor of the Winter tree, I can think of the absent leaves, or the many branches and apply these to the vagaries of life. Because life is less of a journey, no matter what psychologists, Hollywood, and creative writing teachers tell us. Rather it is a wandering. Vagary comes from the same language as vague: id est when I stroll, ramble or wander around in Latin, vago.

But I am forgetting myself (and the tree) in multiplicities. That is more-than-one. Mathematicians may argue with me, but this distinction is crucial. More-than-one does not mean much until we really stop to think about it. When one is being chased by more-than-one wolf, one is not concerned about the neurological-mental structure that allows for more-than-one. One isn’t even really thinking that wolf is still important and ancient enough to be inflected in English when there is more than one. Especially when they are chasing you.

Of multiplicities and branching thoughts and axons, I can only say that it keeps me from thinking about the Next Year. Another concept I hold in contempt when I don’t really want to think about it, which of course, I am.

There are many ways I could go with this. This tree—which is beautiful and has been growing here longer than I have been on this earth—may very well be pulled down by developers. Another reason to leave Seattle, perhaps. And no, the words are not connected, save by paronomasia. But that still counts for something.

And there is always going to be some movement. Crossing the river we live in means just that (because prepositions are always misleading) and we ferry those things across that help us understand what life is like on the other bank. Or, to translate: metaphor, which carries the same meaning as translate.

And on and on it goes, growing into the glowing sky of the late tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A bowl full of noodles

She is alone. Younger than I am. The age does not really matter: she may be the kind of young woman who says "age is just a number" and she may eventually become the kind of older woman who says that as well.

She was in line behind me. That is where I noticed her. She was tall, slender. Her hair was black. I am not sure what she was ordering but a poached egg, some wakame, appeared to be toppings. Her bowl of udon was not steaming, so I could only guess she was having the cold style with sauce—appropriate for the season.

Because it was summer. I was eating noodles with scallions and ginger. A bit of daikon radish and umeboshi.

I had sat down to think. The noodles in the bowl were slippery and long. Delicious and obviously, sensuously asking to be transformed into metaphor—always memory and the viscosity of the past.

She carried the tray over to the window seat and sat down to eat. Her legs were long so she took up the two seats there. Perhaps a trained tactic to ward off creeps. It made sense. She was an attractive woman.

I wanted to tell her that it wasn't only the creeps at the noodle shop. The sick men on dating sites who stalk. The rapists with their dick-pics right there on her phone.
Watch out for that professor, the one you go after. He might wreck your career.
Watch out for the handsome guy in Germany who says all the right things, feeds your lust for travel and sex, takes it from you and leaves you with pelvic inflammatory disease and no chance of ever having children.
Or the one who wastes your time and you slowly learn to hate. Watch out for him. 
How boring and awful I would be to tell her that. She might even be polite enough to listen. Perhaps there would be a shred of parallelism or synchronicity.

But really, it wasn't fair because what I wanted... I wanted to be 23 again. To start over with sovereignty, a bare arm and a bowl full of noodles.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Leaning against the Pillar of Truth

If I were famous, then I could do famous things. Famously would be an adverb attached to my actions and perhaps even my adjectives. I would be generally known for doing something. Instead, on a personal level it is a matter of annoying habit. “There she goes again” and that sort of thing. “That sort of thing” is a phrase I overuse, for example. Perhaps I am not famous enough to warrant its blessings.

The end of the year is entirely arbitrary. 

As a creature of habit, I say this every year, the irony of which is not lost on me.

But the world is changing. The climate, both in atmospheric science, and in the wider realms of metaphor. But it has been changing for a while and this fact is ensconced in antinomy: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même.

To me, change is where and when you finally see it.

For most of my life, the nation in which I live has been moving toward an aristocratic form of government. As the Aristocracy (who maintain their privilege through generations by legal casuistry, but they do it nonetheless) consolidates its power, the middle class degrades. The panem et circenses Juvenal describes in the 10th Satire exist as strongly as ever, feeding us.

The change? Much of America has finally embraced the truth: the billionaires are no longer running things behind the scenes but have taken manifest power. Their children inherit wealth, names and titles. How is this not de facto Aristocracy?

A land that has been fed princesses and princes since childhood needs the rule of the landed few.

I lean against the Pillar of Truth and wonder if I should go work for them: as an artist now. Since our rulers have brought Renaissance Nepotism back into fashion, perhaps I can land a job as an edifying scrivener. Shakespeare did it, after all, fawning over his own “1%-er” and I like to think I can find a patron too. After all “public” support for the arts is disappearing anyway, and then I might actually have a place to live.

But there are dangers. In the Renaissance I know I would have at best been a courtesan: a learned hole and that’s about it. Still, considering the people in power now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that job title saw resurgence if it hasn’t already under another name.

The Pillar doesn’t feel quite as strong. At best it supports the suspicion that the Good Old Days Never Were and We’re Living In Them Now.

Maybe I’ll even be famous once I’m dead.