Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Quo Usque Tandem

I couldn't have recited this better myself, so I will let Musa Pedestris do it.

The reason Cicero is timeless is unfortunate, because many of the points in his Philippic against Catiline will resonate with Americans (and others) over 2000 years later.

For an English translation.

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



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)