She corrected him
until he stopped her
doing it again,
and listened then
from the corner
while he spoke
of his innocence
and death-defying strength.
Later, he killed her
in their kitchen.
She corrected him
until he stopped her
doing it again,
and listened then
from the corner
while he spoke
of his innocence
and death-defying strength.
Later, he killed her
in their kitchen.
Recently I left Facebook and Twitter. No better time to post this lovely poem by Gerben—along with these gouache paintings I made re-reading it before dawn.
“Nothing to Hide”
I don’t have anything to hide.
But I have something to lose.
I don’t want to lose
my freedom to hide something.
Whether I have something to hide
depends on who’s looking.
And whoever that is, or will be,
I can neither foresee nor control.
My loss of privacy
is another’s gain in power.
Where our data accumulate
this power will concentrate.
I thus claim my right to hide
not for myself, but for us all.
As data come to dominate,
the question we should contemplate:
To be a subject, or a citizen?
I had a tangle in my head.
I had some tea, and went to bed.
When I awoke, a tree had sprung
where before, confusion stung.
Its branches flung out pros and cons
in lattices of rights and wrongs.
And I rested in its shade,
my decision all but made.
I had a tangle in my head.
I wrestled with it, full of dread.
And ripped out its seeds to sow
all around my bungalow.
Soon I was walled in by weeds
from too many idea seeds.
Reason quickly grows surreal
unless I first ask how I feel.
Just when I thought
there was nothing more to say
about the past—
that placeless play
the protagonist of which has no place
in this world, cannot be located in psychic space—
and that I let fly so many times, far and away,
like a sedated bird collapsed around my neck,
come to and hot to migrate—
just then she boomerangs to my heat.
That must be it.
If I could just cool down,
she could get on with it,
fly on for good,
instead of coming back to roost—
just when I felt so safe and warm,
just when my brain could process the harm and move on.
Instead the broken surface of time
bubbles back out unbidden again—
not with the old ones, but yet another fish
hopping up from the water of the past.
And the albatross
collapsed around my neck
wakes and flies, ravenous,
to scoop up again and again—
one fish two fish dead fish new fish!
Each time the bird of prey
flashing from dead to starving
in an instant that insists rest was a lie,
she was always bird-dogging on the sly,
now laughing with her happy, hungry cry.
This is a poem inspired by finally getting my soft, brown hair back years after being frightened into changing my appearance.
“Cut It Here”
Until it’s grown out
so you can order:
“Cut it here”—
it seems not your own,
like dyed and damaged hair.
You can’t see where the lines go,
like a messy ball of yarn.
With just a thread and needle,
it’s impossible to darn.
Maybe, you think,
it’s someone else’s job to do the work
of sensing what can go,
and what is more than just a quirk—
what to snip off in the sink,
and what is essential flow.
You know better.
Now that you can feel
your own, natural softness again,
and see your own, brown down;
now that you can pull it back
into a ballerina bun again at last—
you can tell the story better,
and leave it in the past.
Day 15 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Back in the Colonies” section, near “Dialogue with an Angel“). This poem was inspired by my 2013 trip to Ghana with the Charlottesville-Winneba Foundation. So was “Gold Coast,” a poem in my first poetry book about being dragged out into the riptides by a group of men. This poem is about the equally impressive force of cargo cult, a phenomenon of seeking to explain, rationalize (albeit with religious rationale and ritual), and ultimately control the uncontrollable, foreign (even to us natives) military-industrial force of modern Western conquest.
“Praying to Coca Cola”
In the cargo cult of African Christianity
with its God Bless You Bank, Jesus Christ is King Laundry, and White
the initiated worship with their elect brethren. God judges; man pities.
Every week the power goes out (rations), every month a tourist drowns
(natural causes), and every year the politicians visit (sister cities).
It’s the big city—but it’s the same here as all the other big towns.
One day the children will read books in air-conditioning, and eat oranges.
For now cassava will do. Some already read—with their ears, it’s true.
One day the library will stand in this grove. Let us pray.
Soon enough, all the visitors will go home. Not today.
Let us pray for more donations. And more sisterly formations.
When one of the young ones complains, remind her it would look bad
for even a black American girl to disrespect her post-colonial dad.
Keep on joking about your wives, thrusting in air, drinking your cultural
Collecting money to break ground on the same library each year.
Putting on a ceremonial show to hunt, but never catch, the sacred deer.
But cargo cult lives just as much there as here.
American cargo cult is America First.
Napolean Hill, the best of the worst.
The Seven Habits of Highly Rich Bastards
to get your boots licked just like the Master’s.
Having faith is one of the greatest hazards.
Keeps you going to work, keeps your head to the grind.
It’s not new to say it’s the opiate of the mind.
If I can just learn how Andrew Carnegie brushed his teeth
and lie down when Oprah goes to bed,
then I can rest my wealthy head—
put the knife that cuts me while I wield it, back into its sheath.
What the more obviously conquered know
that the precariat will learn, fast or slow,
is that warplanes made of twigs turn out to bear neither candy nor
Machine gunfire beats the best warriors sprinkled with the holiest water.
Half-coconut headphones, bamboo antennae, runways drawn in
all the magic papers and words will bring no roaring silver birds, only night
The secret is never revealed. Should we have sacrificed the other daughter?
That the great delivery never comes is bound to cause a little hurt,
while we deny our foolishness and continue digging in the dirt.
Day 14 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Back for Forwards” section, around “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant“). This is a poem about the paradox of overcoming psychogenic amnesia, a component of PTSD that involves forgetting things one would wish to forget.
the thick gray
slab of cloud
the lost deer
of my head
the busy highway
of days and
what didn’t happen
not this time
but the clouds
a bowl of unreal
neither sky nor ground
and I am lost
that I am found.
Day 13 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Finding Berlin” section, near “Publish and Perish“). This poem grew out of a snippet and then (unsung) song I wrote after the Logan Symposium, where NSA whistleblower Tom Drake signed the pocket constitution I left the U.S. with years ago. (The founding documents remain among my favorite works of fiction. Most of my songs remain unsung, because making noise is hard. Someday I will give up fiction because it is sentimental, and being embarrassed to make noise because embarrassment is an embarrassment.)
“Meeting Thomas Drake”
London and Berlin
His face is paler than you think,
and he smiles like it’s unusual, like it’s a treat
when I ask him to sign my pocket Constitution.
for losing your job, house, savings,
country, and wife
for telling the truth—
losing a life.
Tom Drake was number four at the NSA
when higher-ups threw Thin Thread away.
An executive spy,
he didn’t see why
they’d scrap the solution
(to the terrorist revolution)
that would have prevented 9/11,
try to roll a lucky seven
finding signal in much more noise
after collecting data on millions of American girls and boys
instead of being selective,
encrypting the mass.
Was rule of law elective?
They came after his ass.
He blew the whistle—
first up the chain—
giving the Inspector General
to throw him under the train.
The evidence he gave them was destroyed.
The FBI raided his house.
After legal defense and a plea bargain deal,
his assets were null, his expertise void.
Pleading his innocence cost him a spouse.
How were onlookers within to feel?
In Hawaii, a young analyst looked on with fear:
blowing the whistle in this atmosphere
would require more daring, and more public aid.
People would have to know first why he had made
the decision to show them the secrets within
the war machine’s heart.
How to begin to grasp the gap between the Constitution
and the black art
of “collecting it all“—
the NSA motto?
The law promises due process.
The surveillance apparatus, much less
protection of names and dates and times.
Who you called—when. What you said—where.
They look back when there are crimes
on the mass of data we share
without consenting to have lost
our basic protections there
in everyday digital benefit and cost.
So Snowden went farther afield to cry foul,
calling out to the People, the world,
with his Constitutional howl.
And how he was hurled
from the country he served,
for learning from Tom:
don’t take your qualm
up the chain, or they’ll crush you.
Both men deserved
and the calm
of a whistle rightly blew.
What experiment are we running now,
in the land of wild experiments?
Can public scrutiny contain power’s arrogance?
Tom and Ed still believe in how
our fathers’ fathers made a deal
to dwell in hope, not live in fear.
Life, liberty, and pursuing happiness
require the audacity of hope, no less.
But I wonder, when their lawyers call me “dangerous”
and I leave my own country penniless
for being a scholar and activist
of some small, forbidden thing
(is this really happening?)—
does the whole load of laws and myths
mean anything at all? Did it ever?
For all the well-meaning American Flanders and Smiths,
how many apple-pie soccer moms and teen-fucking dads never
to question cars, guns, and drugs, however
many deaths from shit air and bloody crashes they see or hear about.
No questioning climate denial despite this flood, that fire, one more drought.
No recognition that the drug war’s ignition
was always racial panic—and fear of the hippie left’s organic
power to overcome corporate capture.
But when Big Pharma is after
a law change, they get it.
So why can’t it just be time to hit it?
War pigs say it’s privacy or security—
and privacy is dead. They used to say
We’ve lost the war.
Now what’s worth fighting for
will require rest and bigger-picture dreaming,
not small-scale resistance scheming.
Although he is a little old and gray,
I wish to fall in love with Tom and sway
speed his getaway
from the Apple store where he wastes every day.
We roam freely here, veterans of the silent war,
information freedom fighters,
living now for more—
hackers, scholars, thinkers, writers,
in our ghetto of common mind,
all our future undefined.
At least here we are together in a herd that feels right,
like African animals in Sigean—
roaming by day, cuddle-piling by night.
They look so natural—lion, gazelle, bear, and all—
being with each other under blue skies, in thrall
to no cage bars and loneliness like in a zoo.
Resistors have here our own nature reserve, too.
Send for me by carrier pigeon,
and I’ll meet you at the dock.
How is it nearly six o’clock?
In the growing dusk,
all my hope becomes a husk,
except for small groups of us
who love each other and do good.
I wonder what Sapolsky would
have made of Jefferson’s experiment on Monticello—
his wife’s sister and slave his bedfellow.
Even baboons don’t pretend to own
their mates and children til they’re grown.
There are no bonobos in Virginia, but
experiments in sanctuary sometimes make the cut.
Although with dominance it’s easier to explain
blacks still slaving in prisons, the super-rich
unsoiled by poverty’s stain,
surveillance of every pre-crime itch.
I told a secret
that I thought would explode!
But nothing much happened;
it merely fizzled by the road.
No one much cared,
or else no one got it.
Or maybe they were waiting
for a better secret—not it.
But it gave me a momentum,
and I kept on telling truths
that I had hidden in a holster,
shapeless to eyeing sleuths.
They had taken on my warmth
from being kept so near my skin.
They had grown a part of me,
their hard shapes pushing in.
Taken out, a strange thing happened
in the cold air and bright light
of other people looking,
fearless, at their might.
Their hardness melted
and with it, their power
to push in. Perhaps their only power
was in pressing through my skin.
I kept a secret
that I was meant to keep.
It did not weigh me down
or press into me deep.
I think it might be growing
in the darkness of my heart,
where if it should flame or flower,
it won’t tear me apart.
Day 11 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “One Step Forward” section that I broke off to come after the “Backwards for Forwards” section of “Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant” and the rest).
Take the files, pass them on, find a plane, and get on.
Otherwise, they’ll kill us all.
A complex time. A simple call.
Snowden and Ellsberg urge you on.
And what of the smaller windows of that form of resistance
that tends to destroy the resistor’s existence?
Once I copied my own files
and mailed them to the paper
never thinking that I’d move 4,000 miles
to walk away from that caper.
I do not think it made a difference.
The papers ran
across the land.
Freeing the information did not touch the ignorance
that had made injustice king.
Only reopened the unhealed sting.
If you choose to speak
although it’s hard and hurts,
first commit to turn the other cheek
if no one in the crowd converts.
I do not regret trying.
Only that, as martyrdoms go,
mine was so unsatisfying.
I told a truth no one wanted to know.
Day 10 of one poem a day (… on days when I feel like it, apparently…) from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript. Currently it’s in the “Finding Berlin” section. I’m thinking of moving it to the “Nuremberg 2027″ section envisioning future war crimes trials, and expanding on linkages between things like JTRIG (which the Snowden documents revealed as doing contemporary Zersetzung plus Internet), the Stratfor files (documenting the financial and sexual nature of some tactics in use in these psychological operations), and the old Stasi “science” of degradation. But then it’s a political essay instead of a poem.
Flash fiction is an in-between possibility, literally and figuratively—weaving between poems to make more of a contiguous set of worlds in the book. But it’s hard to orient people quickly in those worlds. And even when you take the book-length time to orient readers, they often think it’s science fiction when it’s about reality. (The Margaret Atwood problem.)
Then again, sometimes you want people to dismiss serious political critique as art, performance, or satire. The jester is protected. The Yes Men are on the loose, while Lauri Love is in court again today to hear whether he’ll be effectively sentenced to death for allegedly participating in digital protests on the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death (#OpLastResort). Some of what #OpLastResort did was funny, like making the U.S. Sentencing Commission website display a game with the alert message “PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW! End Prosecutorial Overreach!” and a missile-enabled Nyan Cat with which viewers could shoot text off the webpage.
But the satire frame is serious. Just as the power of the fiction frame is real. You have to claim them early and often, I guess. I learned that as a stand-up comic. (I should do that again sometime—it’s good for my writing, I like the people in that scene here, and it’s fun when I’m actually prepared. But I’m such a serious Stubenhocker—homebody.)
Reports indicate that at a reading in early 21st century, pre-war Berlin, the author introduced the poem’s protagonist as a former lie detection researcher-turned-artist and American expatriate who had experienced what was public record but poorly recognized at the time about psychological operations against domestic dissidents in the pre-revolutionary U.S. This poem interweaves her story with an account of a contemporary survivor of similar tactics in the former East Germany, who was still continuing to recover even as the Berlin Wall was gone for as long as it had stood.
According to Richtlinie Nr. 1/76,
the Ministry made itself a scientific niche.
To no longer terrorize through courts, resolved.
To go after opposition smarter, not harder, evolved
a new kind of torture to unleash.
I’m not here to argue. It’s my witness to bear.
What they used to do here, now we do over there.
Is that why the city took me in?
You degraded, undermined, corroded, decomposed, dissolved—
we have a home in Berlin.
The long arc of history took thirty-odd years
to bend toward Aunt Monica getting over her fears
of the Stasi rediscovering her wearing a dress,
taking pictures, touching, making her confess.
To be a woman but have been born a man
is already more than some people can stand.
And if we had a real lie detector,
could it have helped her?
It can be so hard to know
when it’s yes and when it’s no.
To know what you want requires learning to ask—
not something we learn at a school or work task.
But they knew it was a ploy,
an interrogation toy.
Knew from the Soviets, who had long known
spies are neither made nor discovered, but grown.
“The lie detector says, you a liar”—
more evidence on the chest-crushing pile.
Although we know it is only a game,
in Iraq and Afghanistan just the same,
American forces wrote home to complain
that lie detectors worked as hammers to send
sometimes probably innocent men
to be held and tortured at Abu Ghraib.
You could say that they were brave,
to raise the issue of abuse.
Or that they were stupid,
for believing in the screws
they turned, unsuited
by standards of science and ethics alike,
wanting only to better serve the Reich.
I do not care what you say about them.
In their judgment or defense, there is no great wisdom.
They lived as pawns—as pawns will die,
whether peacefully in their sleep
or by revenge, not knowing exactly why.
Them to whom judgment was definite and cheap.
I care about the truth—
that elusive, strange, and pulsing thing;
how just when you think you have it,
you pull up an empty string.
I care about Monica’s pain
that is also my own.
And Anna’s eyes fixed on the train.
And in faraway sands, the unidentifiable bone.
It was their job to pretend to know
who should stay and who should go,
who would walk free,
or not feel the wind blow.
It is my job to touch
the curtain of certainty,
pull it away to show
what we already know—
behind forms and scores personally
there is always a frightened, little man,
some sweaty-palmed detective.
What happened is impossible to convey.
That’s part of the way
they make you think the gaslights’ flickering
and the unrelated bickering
are single stars in the sky of your fault.
The file says you said…
The miscarriage… the assault.
In the famous movie on the actress
whom they accidentally killed
with one too many no-touch tactic,
there is a mole—
a man within who has a soul
and doesn’t want to see hers stilled.
He does not save her from the blackness
of despair that is the point of his whole practice.
But he tried, and helped a bit to mitigate
the damage he did to disintegrate.
Sometimes I’m so sure someone saw it happening and helped me get out,
that I’m afraid to say so because they could still be inside, acting the lout.
Thank you, stranger.
Let my little fiction cause no danger
to the lives of others.
Know that if I had my druthers,
I’d never go back,
nor unmake the choices that led to the attack.
Especially if you were not helping after all,
but only convincing me that leaving was my only choice
because you wanted me gone—one small,
troublesome person with a soft, persistent voice,
removed in a new Palmer Raid
where it seems to the subject it’s her own idea
to get the fuck out of here—
and those doing the hurting, seem to offer aid.
To be as honest as your average bundle of lies
and contradictions, all bustling head and slippery thighs,
whether and to whom I owe thanks
for helping me leave the targeted ranks
doesn’t keep me up anymore.
The dark bird stalks me nevermore.
What they did to me is done,
and proof would require someone
who did it to say so,
or produce documents to show.
Otherwise, I just sound mad
trying to piece together how I was had,
which was half the point.
The past is a cleared checkpoint.
It interests me less and less
than the open road,
my new home and happiness,
regaining weight at last to bear the future’s (for now) lightening load.
But if I were to ring out a warning,
some eloquent defense of freedom and of living,
of decency and forgiveness after mourning
what has been done,
giving what peace can be given
under the irreversible sun—
it would be that we are too late
to linger long in despair,
too late to abdicate
attention to ads and Kabuki,
too late to stay to fight when we’re not safe there,
and far too late to believe in magic boxes and Washington’s cherry tree.
We have time for triage,
because we must,
and to love each other well.
Time to enjoy the voyage
even with no trust
in our return,
no Athena guiding us through hell,
and no certainty that the tides of history will turn.
When everything was dissolving including myself,
I left my research in boxes on the shelf.
Some was destroyed; some I could save.
And so, finally, I’m releasing these tapes.
We don’t have a word for what kept me from it, yet.
I’ve only told you a story—don’t forget.
Maybe dead men cannot talk,
but they have talked to me.
Sometimes even blind men
get a second chance to see.
And if I were to ring out a confession,
you must excuse my poetic expression.
You may have come for my old life,
but I am no good, Christian wife.
Do you know who I am?
I have been a lover in your house of spies,
and you will never expunge
the heat between my thighs.
Day 9 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript.
About this illustrating and blogging a new poem a day experiment… The drawings aren’t working. I’m sorry. They suck, right? And I know it, but I keep doing them anyway. Why? I’m on the road, I’m making some sketches I could go back to later and play with layering on an iThing to add color, modify composition, and incorporate text (I’m excited to try this, someday, soon-ish)… But I’d probably rather just illustrate properly (analogue) in my studio under less (as usual) arbitrary, self-imposed, not particularly helpful pressure. So maybe I’ll ditch them for now, or just do them when I feel like it.
Today I feel like it because I don’t hate what I had already made for this poem. Tomorrow I don’t think I can do the poem I’ll probably blog justice, since it’s about a beautiful woman and I haven’t done her justice. She’s very beautiful. It’s possibly not possible. So that’s an easy decision point or moment to change the way I’m doing things over here. Bye-bye drawings. Experiments are experiments because they can fail.
About this poem. It’s from the “Back for Forwards” section, after “The Living Murder,” “Snake and Not Snake,” and “Like a Moth to Flame.” It’s about the battle of ironic process theory in which flow or sweetness beats intrusive thoughts. On a lot of these poems including this one, I could write an essay (or a book); but generally I agree with the emcee rule that the most you can say about any bit is two sentences or get off the stage.
“Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant”
Don’t think of a pink elephant
with crushed mauve eye shadow
blending into the gray of her knees
neon blue powder caking off her back
as her daughter nuzzles the back of her leg
there in the room with your mother
who you will never nuzzle like that again
because she cannot face the truth.
Not out of principle—motherhood
is about raw need, the crush of blood
and love, the flickering pulse under
talk of right and wrong that says only
is is is is is is—
but out of equal and opposite necessity
to feel the way you feel
to have the real be real.
Don’t think of a polar bear
lunging, back arched toward sky,
nose aimed at seal, and wet hair freezing
in haywire strands descending from his belly
so long and low it looks as if he’s floating
on a tumbleweed, when really
he’s lunging suddenly in another direction
eating not the seal but your brother
who after all is more terrified of emotions
than anything in the world,
and so the best candidate
for being eaten by a polar bear.
Don’t think of the black snakes
their dark, sharp arrowheads shooting
the flowing ribbons of their bodies forward
just past instead of into you,
don’t think of the black snakes
that come back out of dark branches
when you are walking by the bushes alone,
don’t think of the black snakes
that live everywhere
in every forest and suburb
near every lakebed and basement
that seem to press themselves
onto and into everything
and we were too ashamed to say
but now everyone admits
it happened to me too.
You cannot stop the polar bear,
but you can try to feed him some snakes.
The elephants, having been discussed,
are no longer your concern. Rest now.
You are not your brother’s bear’s keeper.
Think of the icy sea that takes him back,
embraces him with a chill he knows as home
and how your brother will be warm and safe
churning in his stomach, without fear or intimacy.
Think of the oceans flowing from that sea
as the icecaps melt and the water rises
over Bangladesh, where pink mother and daughter
elephants carry the poorest family in the world
to safety, or at least up to India’s electrified fence.
Think of the man, warm and asleep
in the floating bed of gossamer and music
that glows with his welcoming heat
and how it is a spaceship
you have tethered to while going for a walk
where there is no up and down
to see what aliens you can meet.
But you find what you have always found—
dumb rocks and faraway stars,
too bright to think of anything else
when you look to the horizons,
but too far to touch as if your hands
would know how to nuzzle them
this star is my mother
this star is my brother
this star is my man
smoothing out the covers over my exhaustion
slowing my racing heart with his smell
insisting that I rest and let life be sweet
and hunt for my own happiness as well.
“Like a Moth to Flame”
We do not know
why go they go
into the light
burning them bright.
It is a cheat
to call it heat.
The pheromonal draw
cannot explain it all—
not only male moths
drawn to not only
seeking not only
female mothly delights.
The Mach band, then.
Bright light, when
you stare at it,
gives off a dark hit.
Moths fly to it,
circling the light,
seeking cover of darkness—
getting reality’s opposite hardness.
You can’t see
what it means to me.
Why I must go back
to the scene of the attack.
I will tell you why
the hardest things
call to my wings.
A far cry
The moth knows
the flame is real—
wants to live, fly, heal.
I do not know
if it is courage or cowardice,
the opposite will to letting it go.
To know the pain of fire,
the wounds of its burning,
and return to this.
You think it does not matter
as long as I live.
Sometimes I flatter
myself that I might have
something more than living
It is the moon, they used to say.
The moth is navigating by the biggest light.
Then is confused by electrics at night.
It’s nothing to do with heat—
just a mistake in navigating flight.
Like a moth into flame,
I used to navigate by pain.
I have to learn again and again
that getting back to work
doesn’t mean doing things that hurt.
Just because it’s hard
doesn’t mean you need to use more force
against your own wings that are charred.
Although the older moths may have said
to navigate by the bright light overhead,
you have to listen first to what feels right.
Do not fly into painful light.
The modern moth enjoys more equality than ever.
The empowered moth is both fashionable and clever.
The agile moth reaches her goals with grace and speed.
The evolved moth reports high life satisfaction and low need.
The independent moth is successful in career and family.
The feminine moth is strong and independent, but not manly.
The surviving moth is focused and productive while alive.
The ambitious moth flies directly into the flame and dies.
When you’re flying, sometimes you can’t tell
if you’re heading up or down.
It’s how many pilots fell
to the accidental ground,
or into the ocean and drowned.
When you’re doing something hard
and perhaps well worth doing,
sometimes you can’t tell there’s heat
until you’re already charred.
A cigarette falls on you, and it’s the hole
that brings you back to greet
the body in your soul.
Sometimes you can’t feel it at first,
can’t tell if you’re hot or you’re cold.
At that moment pulling away is the thirst
and every touch is too bold,
but you can’t tell which way is away
and anyway, insisting gets old.
I need to be alone with the night.
I need to try to grasp the darkness
and beat it with my wings
while also dancing in the light.
moths are not delicate things.
Moths do not need your protection
(although moths enjoy your company).
Moths do not exist for your dissection
(although moths may enjoy showing off, when they feel free).
Sometimes I lie, but always with the truth.
(I only feel safe when your shoulder gives me proof.)
There is no animal so full of wonder
as a poet, except a moth.
No one so willing to fight
existence itself for the light.
Day 7 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Relations” section). In this poem, the newly normal winds, fires, and storms refer to both literal forms of climate weirding and figurative forms of contemporary weirding phenomena (e.g., rising autism rates, the growing precariat, and other difference and instability). One of the reasons I love poetry is because it lets me use literal, autobiographical references (like my brother and I both changing our names) that people would never guess are true—with multiple meanings.
“Of the Surviving Family”
Of my family there were four known survivors,
only one of whom could be reached for comment.
Thus I am up all night, writing and rewriting the story.
I am pained that I cannot change the world.
Scientists say the wind events were unlike any they’d ever seen,
but may become the new normal. In my motherland, other scientists say
the winds are fine, but the fuel is dry: blame the forest for its burning.
The house where I grew up until the fire is still standing.
Insurance brokers projected the sea level rise decades ago,
and refused to underwrite the marriage. Other salesmen claimed
the market is absolutely stable and responsive to demand.
My mother still keeps the waterlogged ring and name she never liked.
Stronger storms come every year—hurricanes, rains, and floods.
My father who I met again after a lifetime, a smart and funny man,
could not withstand them. Turned into a tree and was broken.
One of his arms smashed into the attic and was thrown away.
At night I think of the world in flames, whether a weird new wind blows,
why my father builds a new house on the most-doomed coast,
inviting with his remaining arm wide open a newly normal storm.
My brother and I both changed our names and blew away.
We have survived each other, but only as ourselves.
Not as a family. My brother became a feather, light and easy to flight.
My mother became a mouse, stealing crumbs and ready to bite.
My father who was a laughing tree became an acorn; and, for now, a tree again.
I became what I have always been. A wolf hunting for prey and kin.
Day 6 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (these two from the “One Step Forward” section that I made out of the second half of the too-big “Back for Forwards” section). On Saturday, Ian McKellen celebrated his 30th anniversary of coming out publicly as gay in a BBC interview, saying:
I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest. Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC radio discussion when I publically said I was gay. So I’m celebrating!
What a brave and beautiful truth! Being bisexual certainly matters and has been important for me to be open and honest about with family, friends, and in my art/work at various points. But it does not make my whole life make sense in the way being autistic and coming from a family with autism does.
Sometimes the first response I get to saying this is disbelief, because most people don’t actually know what autism is. It presents differently and is less common in women. I didn’t know it when I was younger, but have the genetic disorder in my (broken) nuclear family, as well as other familial risk factors. So everybody including me—the lifelong “little professor” diagnostician bookworm who’s read all the studies since being nicknamed Encyclopedia in elementary school—in other words, a typical autist—missed it. It sounds weird to be happy to have an incurable disorder, but it’s really helpful to have a name for how I’m different—and to accept that difference. Life at last begins to make sense when I talk about autism.
So here are two poems about that.
After Mary Oliver’s “Members of the Tribe.”
You said when at last I lit my fire
on the dark planet
of our tribe.
Should I name it?
The name makes a basket of shadows.
Pour them out.
They are not snakes
slithering closer and closer
in the light.
We are not aliens
whether or not
you like our planet.
And there is no asylum
for the different.
We cannot be cured.
But most of all
for me it matters
that the reason I could not mend
the reason I failed again and again
in that good and human work
I am different.
And if you persist
in trying to cure me
until I am like you,
you will kill me.
I should have died
held my hair
held my hand
prayed with me
as I waited.
It was Plath
It was Millay
who wanted all of the fuck
and none of the fuss.
It was Dickinson
who stayed home.
In the study
a man with no more manhood
was painting an apple
on the level red shore,
by riverbeds long dry
of blood and tears,
the others were waiting;
and when they found me
or I them—
I no longer pretend to know which;
it was my own planet,
but I was lost—
there was such dancing.
they took me in.
They fed me,
and laid me down
at home at last.
This was the work of being seen.
This had nothing to do chess
or memorizing π to 27 digits
because e begins so beautifully 2.718…
Jefferson, looking away,
kept revising Monticello;
Carroll stammered, it is said,
only with adults,
preferring Alice’s company.
On that other dark planet
of the past that is an asylum
locked to us
of our kin
whether they will or no,
a young father who couldn’t love well and knew it
was scrubbing the smokey bar
from his sure and drunken hands
to save life after precious life.
You know that
often when we are very stupid
we are also very smart.
It is not for me to forgive
the shock therapy,
or the castration.
But as I grow milder,
having put down the scissors
and let my hair grow long again
to see its natural shapes
that I was only frightened
as I grow wilder,
and the forest grows around me
along with the fire
and its shadows,
what is mine
whom I come behind
but who did not know
of Mozart’s strange faces,
the long-unwanted love of Yeats,
or how Michelangelo
would finally pull off
his own skin
his dirty dogskin stockings.
She knows many things.
How to love the world, for example.
How to breathe each day a poem in thanks.
May she live to be a hundred years old.
You are a dog
and I am a cat.
You do not understand
and I do not care.
Day 5 of illustrating/blogging one poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Back in the Colonies” section). Spacing doesn’t work exactly the way I want it to in WordPress, so some of that is lost (grrrr). My road-idea illustrations are frustrating me in their sketchiness, so here is an even sketchier road-idea illustration (GRRRRR). This poem came out fairly complete already one night/morning as the writing demon was upon me, but now reminds me of an old favorite. So I’ll include both.
“Dialogue with an Angel”
Years ago, in the darkness of my youth,
a brush-fire destroyed everything I owned.
The flames licked my home hollow.
At first, for the moment that the hollowness felt clean,
I thought they were my sisters.
Awakening from that moment
of false beauty was the hardest part.
I ran away and rebuilt.
But another disaster followed
swiftly on the last.
This time it was a tornado,
roaring from the sick, green sky
like a train
like a lion
and like an angel of some terrible judgment.
I could not look the angel in the eye and,
knowing my home would again soon be hollow, left
to make anew a better life.
The caravans I followed seemed friendly enough,
until they disappeared one night
as the snows began to fall
and the wind began to rip
at the fabric of all things.
At last, I was alone.
It might be peaceful to die like this,
I thought, and lay down to sleep.
A pack of wild dogs encircled me then,
“Now-now, now-now, now-now”
Then, I knew it was really time to leave—
a greater leaving
than I could yet imagine.
“Go with God,”
my blanket-holding brain suggested,
bullied down that plank by pranksters, programmed ecstasy, and force of need.
And I did, the ghosts of the brush-fire sisters still licking my skin.
Sometimes, at night, their beautiful faces flash back at me,
with the shock, the stab, and the jolt
of realizing the false friendship of their warmth.
“Get on,” says the conductor.
“Stay back,” says the lion-tamer.
“Now be still,” says the angel,
as the world I left already ashen, burns.
In my new life, I am not a brush-fire victim.
You are not my beautiful sisters,
sipping air and letting slip your torn stockings of combustion.
The storms that grow stronger as the climate grows weirder
are not trains we can ride into the city
are not lions we can watch roaming from the car
are not angels of some terrible judgment.
“Don’t be so sure,” says the angel,
salting a hole in the sky with his tears,
not of remorse, guilt, or shame,
but of anger.
The tide rises,
the tides rise,
the rising tides sighed and sighed.
“Why,” I ask the silence where the angel last stood,
“am I being still?”
This lovely image seems to be from Shoestring Press’s recent Little Dutch Books edition, but I don’t see an artist credit…
By Toon Tellegen, trans. from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson
A man said:
I can’t live
and he lived long and meticulously
then he stood still and said:
but I can’t love
and he loved women and peace
and unspoken shyness
and an angel fought with him –
I can’t fight, said the man
and he fought like a tiger, like a hare,
and like a bag of bones
the sun went down
and still they fought on,
the man and the angel,
and the man said,
with a melancholy note in his voice:
now I know,
I can’t lose.
Believe me, said an angel, I will save you.
No, said a man, I don’t believe you.
You have to believe me, said the angel
and he drove away the ambition of the man
and his painful omniscience,
gave him peace
and large quantities of a rare,
resilient happiness, such as had never been described.
Do you believe me now, the angel asked
and he looked at the man with unparalleled love
and the man whispered: I don’t believe you.
A man searched for his conscience
and an angel saw him and asked:
might this be it?
showed him a large and orthodox conscience
that is yours, said the man,
but the angel shook his head:
we don’t have a conscience,
we are too light,
we would fall,
we would lose from everyone,
and with a nonchalant gesture
he struck the man down and dragged him away
and the man felt ashamed.
In the end,
if we just wait long enough,
if we have seen beauty change shape
and justice bend over backwards,
if we have cherished hope,
if we believe we have believed in something true
and feel we have loved until we withered
and could not go on,
so help us our self-knowledge –
in the end,
out of everything that was
and could have been and should have been
in heaven as on earth
there only remains
a man fighting with an angel,
and the angel strikes him down.
Day 4 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the too-big “Back for Forwards” section that I just broke in two, adding a new “One Step Forward” section that now comes after). My liebe Schwesterchen (dear little sister) Eva K. said she loved “The Living Murder“—enjoyed exploring the rich and beautiful dark side, knowing that I’m in a good place now. This gives me a convenient, other party on whom to blame my decision to continue for now in that vein.
It’s also germane to this week’s Nassar sentencing and the general din—the for-now white noise of news about violence against women, and the wave of sometimes small, sometimes Pyrrhic victories, but nonetheless victories over it. So far I feel good about the poems, and bad about the admittedly sketchy road illustrations. (Shrug.) I’m an artist. I make messes. MESSES ARE MY LIFE.
“Snake and Not Snake”
Something dark, glistening, and fast moved through my life.
I could tell you it was a snake.
Or describe the shock of making sense of the slither only after it was gone.
The shock is so much more like the experience
than a neat story that knows from the start
who is moving where, and who is cold-blooded at heart.
The not snake of not knowing what dark thing moves
wears its own uniform of death, its own fear-brain grooves.
I could focus on the bright city around me now.
Or remember the dark woods I ran through to get here.
Sometimes I’m in both places at once.
The dark branches of night reach out to me in the living room.
I run back to shiver in your arms,
and you warm me instantly.
My shivering melts into purring,
and although I want to cat you like a radiator until dawn,
and my body wants to wake your body up to play—
we go back to sleep
until the break of day.
Snake and not snake still come back to me.
I don’t know who to give them to,
to set myself more free.
There and not there
make me here and not here,
but I won’t fly back into the fire,
won’t live in the old fear.
Will not fly back into the fire
that calls me still, my dear.
Day 3 of illustrating and blogging one poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Finding Berlin” section). Although it is an early draft and I’m not sure… The point of this exercise is to get over it, put some imperfect new work out there, and move it forward (somehow) that way—editing, visualizing, sharing, learning from what people like or say, learning from how it feels if nothing else.
This poem seems especially topical today, since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s doctors yesterday protested in the Guardian that his indefinite detention continues to violate his human right to his now badly-needed medical care.
“Publish and Perish”
When I’m a man with women,
they say you have
dishonored a woman’s wish
and I say,
are we living in 1800?
Let due process
as I suppose
that is what
like buffalo lumber and gazelle leap—
or let him go.
When I’m a woman with women,
I grow quiet,
wishing you had listened.
When I’m a woman with men,
as it sometimes is,
that I am a woman
and you are a man;
but that this
what I want
When you are less
the silver lion
of a child’s perfect dream
the human man
you to be;
and I am myself
from the beautiful bluebird
in his short, distracted bursts;
I like to imagine
the other two boxes
in the spread.
In one, I am me
and you are you.
We are alone
and we are not
We are home,
the nightmare ends
at last begins again.
In the other,
in the life
that is more real
than in real life,
it may be
that you are trapped
The me that reaches
the you that remains there
does not care.
I tell you
dark and precious,
and you do not see me
and you do not hear me
and you do
what keeps secrets
what keeps secrets worth telling
what keeps secrets worth telling out loud.
It is not the right thing.
It is a right thing.
It is a listening,
your telling and retelling—
Due process do not roll along, lumber, or leap.
I am not sure they are alive.
But in the open air of witnessing, they seem to oxidize.
The mint patina that covers what was a beautiful gleam
of what might have been blind or seeing eyes
decorates the skyline of my now-faraway shore.
It is not a degradation to ignore.
Day 2 of illustrating/blogging one poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (from the Vagabonding Anew section).
“Bathing in the River”
Natural Reserve of Mas Larrieu, Argelès-sur-Mer
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”
—RIP Ursula K. LeGuin
The water was cold, but I had to wash my hair.
We’d been driving for days, though we weren’t going anywhere.
It was green and sandy, with a reedy forest by the sea—
where a passerby could giggle and squat down for a pee.
You coaxed me in with kisses and the current swept us out.
And it looked the same to you as when your father caught a trout.
The water was cold, but I had to wash my hair.
We’d been driving for days, though we weren’t going anywhere.
And we lay in the sun shivering, and dried—went right back in.
And a stranger with his dog teased us that he saw a fin.
All that stillness, all that shimmering, the water felt like home.
But when we reached the outlet, we couldn’t hold our own.
The water was cold, but I had to wash my hair.
We’d been driving for days, though we weren’t going anywhere.
Next time we’ll sleep nearer to the water, on the shore.
And I’ll ask the handsome stranger with his dog to stay some more.
The water was so cold, I could barely wash my hair,
and the river swept us both out to sea right there.
This is the first poem in the long, dark “Back for Forwards” section of my second poetry book manuscript, Vagabonding. As I mentioned here yesterday, I’m gonna try illustrating and blogging one a day for a while to get a better sense of the whole, solicit feedback, and generally see how it feels. Because I’m on the road again, these first illustrations will be simple. Because people did not clamor to hear anything in particular, except the Nuremberg 2027 series envisioning future war crimes trials that I already illustrated and blogged, I asked someone else to pick.
“Pick a poem,” I demanded.
“From what list?” my hapless victim replied.
“You don’t get to see the list,” I replied. “Just pick a poem.”
“Number seven,” he declared. I looked up the seventh italicized poem I had been thinking about blogging, but couldn’t decide among the list.
“Are you sure? That one’s really dark,” I explained. He rolled his eyes.
“There are more topical ones in relation to the news,” I protested. My poetry blogging decision-making assistant clocked out of work for the day. Union rules.
So here is number seven, the first in one of the darker sections in a manuscript with a lot of focus on light. If I continue through the italicized poems in this series, that’ll be eighteen dark poems coming at you soon. I’m undecided on whether to present them together like that, or break them up. (Or throw them all away. Or light them all on fire and take pretty pictures of roasting marshmallows. Options!) Stylistically at least there’s a lot of variation within the thematically organized section. So there’s that. Without further procrastination…
“The Living Murder”
Something happened in the dark,
while I was sleeping
and did not wake.
When I came to,
I was dead.
But I startled back
or from the man who killed me
in my sleep
his sickly heat
his smoky breath
the feel of his unbearable weight
and his moan become my own.
Back out in the light, alive and freezing,
I ran from people
I ran from sun
I ran from God who I had promised
never again to try to sleep forever
never again to give up battling the darkness
never again to raise my hand against myself
unless this happened
unless one more lead straw fell on the pile
unless I had to see one more monster smile.
“The Journey,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (sold).
Last week, I holed up alone for the first time in years, working on my second poetry book manuscript. (My first poetry book is illustrated here.) I wrote a lot. I went outside twice for food. It was great. It was NECESSARY. It was mostly not a good week of editing. The editing I got done was good. But it was mostly a good week of writing—clearing the decks of notes to self, travel notes, poetry snippets I had meant to fill out. And now have.
That means now the manuscript is again over 200 pages, when a week ago I had cut it down by nearly 50 pages and meant to cut more. It’s not ready for a second set of eyes—first it needs that good edit that I thought I’d do last week. So I will either let it rest, or proceed to illustrate and blog bits of it in an effort to get it further outside my head. I am trying to decide if and how to do that illustrating and blogging while vagabonding, since I am vagabonding again. Does this mean sketching simple drawings to go with drafts? Is that too messy to go here?
Blogging drafts, especially poetry drafts, can be tricky. Sometimes poetry/writing/art is of the moment and you want to speak/show/share it in the moment. Sometimes you look back and realize only 30% of what you make hits, makes the cut, would even be something you would want to hear at an open mic. And maybe you already blogged that other 70%. Ok, maybe it embarrasses future-me when that happens. But it’s not a big deal. People are wrong on the Internet, and artists are people, too.
So I’m looking at my Table of Contents trying to figure out if I want to start now, or on the road tomorrow. Try to make it a daily thing for a while, or go with the flow. Blog thematically organized (draft) sections of poems, which would break down to roughly a theme every two weeks, or take the one poem I feel like editing/sharing/illustrating on a given day, and run with that.
The Table of Contents looks like this:
So this turns out to be a pretty good summary of my life and what I’ve been up to lately. Does it help me figure out how to move forward with the manuscript? Can people even read this the way it’s formatted? Why do I write so much when generally the question is “What do I DOOOOOOOOO?????” and the answer is “Try some stuff that feels good and see what happens”?
I guess I will just post this, since I didn’t write it for myself. And maybe then ask people on Facebook/Twitter/email to tell me what you think. Or figure it out. Or finish packing. Whatever comes first.
apparently did not involve blogging. But I did review an exceptional retrospective of Jeanne Mammen’s art in Berlin, drive all over Egypt on a fantastic vacation, and write this poem at #34C3—where the theme this year was tuwat, or “do something.” I am such a happy Chaos butterfly.
For example, the soft light in the winter sky has moved too quickly to describe, as dawns do.
Spread itself more and more evenly with clouds across the happy blue.
And what is to be done? What are you going to do?
About beauty and its restlessness,
about the soft but harshly cold expanse,
about the flock of thoughts and happenings that trekked across and vanished—
no longer native to this season—
like migrants under waves?
Tell me, witness. First your own heart’s rhythms, all that you can hear.
Then out of the fabric of your body in the world, the rest of life pulsing,
pressing itself into you, purring, pulling you near.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Lately I’ve been traveling all over Europe reviewing art at Delicious Line:
Peter Zumthor: Dear to Me, Kunsthaus Bregenz (Austria)
The Dutch in Paris 1789-1914, Van Gogh Museum (the Netherlands)
In my last artist newsletter I mentioned that after our successful second Poetry Brothel Berlin production, I was invited to perform with Poetry Brothel London‘s Wilde-themed West End production coming up on Nov. 18. That is a true fact and that show will rock. You should go if you can.
But I will not in fact be there, because that is tomorrow and I am here now. Elsewhere. Seeing beautiful things and writing about them. Sometimes.
Speaking of declarations and their limits, this poem has been rattling around in my head all season as the #MeToo meme infects public discourse and I continue to avoid Patreon, Instagram, and normal usages of social media to tell people what the fuck I’m doing. I can’t get behind it, but it’s a moment. So I don’t have to get behind it to be swimming in it along with everyone else.
By Mary Oliver, from Dream Work
That winter it seemed the city
was always burning—night after night
the flames leaped, the ladders pitched forward.
Scorched but alive, the homeless wailed
as they ran for the cold streets.
That winter my mind had turned around,
shedding, like leaves, its bolts of information—
drilling down, through history,
toward my motionless heart.
Those days I was willing, but frightened.
What I mean is, I wanted to live my life
but I didn’t want to do what I had to do
to go on, which was: to go back.
All winter the fires kept burning,
the smoke swirled, the flames grew hotter.
I began to curse, to stumble and choke.
Everything, solemnly, drove me toward it—
the crying out, that’s so hard to do.
Then over my head the red timbers floated,
my feet were slippers of fire, my voice
crashed at the truth, my fists
smashed at the flames to find the door—
wicked and sad, mortal and bearable,
it fell open forever as I burned.
Oils on 50 x 60 cm stretched canvas. In memoriam John Ashberry, and on a most happy anniversary of sorts.
“The Ongoing Story”
By John Ashberry, from A Wave
I could say it’s the happiest period of my life.
It hasn’t got much competition! Yesterday
It seemed a flatness, hotness. As though it barely stood out
From the rocks of all the years before. Today it sheds
That old name, without assuming any new one. I think it’s still there.
It was as though I’d been left with the empty street
A few seconds after the bus pulled out. A dollop of afternoon wind
Others tell you to take your attention off it
For awhile, refocus the picture. Plan to entertain,
To get out. (Do people really talk that way?)
We could pretend that all that isn’t there never existed anyway.
The great ideas? What good are they if they’re misplaced,
In the wrong order, if you can’t remember one
At the moment you’re so to speak mounting the guillotine
Like Sydney Carton, and can’t think of anything to say?
Or is this precisely material covered in a course
Called Background of the Great Ideas, and therefore it isn’t necessary
To say anything or even know anything? The breath of the moment
Is breathed, we fall and still feel better. The phone rings,
It’s a wrong number, and your heart is lighter,
Not having to be faced with the same boring choices again
Which doesn’t undermine a feeling for people in general and
Especially in particular: you,
In your deliberate distinctness, whom I love and gladly
Agree to walk blindly into the night with,
Your realness is real to me though I would never take any of it
Just to see how it grows. A knowledge that people live close by is,
I think, enough. And even if only first names are ever exchanged
The people who own them seem rock-true and marvelously self-sufficient.
Oils on 60 x 90 cm stretched canvas.
Chocolate goats, the littlest one
frolicking just outside the fencing—
plush donkeys intermingling with
fat white geese and black chickens—
fresh milk and eggs for the restaurant
next door. A gray and white cat smiles
out from the open-air kitchen.
Summer feeds him, the grill fire,
the fields of lemon verbena
flowering on and on across the hills.
It’s rustic to city folk like us,
but this is civilization—
feeding so much.
This morning, I got back to painting at last after a month of focus on my second poetry book in advance of the Poetry Brothel. I decided to start in acrylics in case I’ve forgotten how to paint. And to illustrate a poem, since that’s often my process. I’ve painted and thought about “Change your life”—a famous Rilke line and evidence-based Levitt instruction—a few times before. But just now finally illustrated my more recent poem on it, which I memorized and enjoyed performing Friday night…
“Change Your Life”
Flip a coin: quit, leave, or join?
You must change your life—but how?
More than one decision? Now?
Yellow satin and red butterflies—
you have a heart that’s worn them out
and so do I. No one wants to see you cry.
Except me, perhaps. I’d rather see you try
and fail than not try at all.
Put it out there. The draft. The dream. The gall.
It was a dark and smoky night in a typically dark and smoky Berlin club. That explains why there are no pictures of the amazing Poetry Brothel Berlin 2.0 at Insomnia last Friday. Yes, that explains it. OR DOES IT? (Sorry, I’m still in full Lynchian mode from the event theme.)
Performers and VIPs got these pretty bracelets that say: Poetry Brothel Berlin—The poets are not what they seem, a reference to Twin Peaks. I can’t bring myself to throw mine away, or to take off the nail polish I wore for this for the first time since I was about 9 years old. Although cooking and painting are rapidly doing that for me…
Thanks and praise to writer and Madame Nathalie Dewalhens‘ three months-long masterminding since our last (and first) successful Poetry Brothel Berlin, show shepherdess Jos Porath’s careful herding, my hot sweet man Rop’s sound engineering, all my friends who came out to support me and have fun, and a whole lot of creativity and effort from a whole lot of other talented people. It was super cool to work with poetic comrades old and new—including the people who came from the original Poetry Brothel New York—including the grand Madame who started it all and Executive Director of the Poetry Society of New York, Stephanie Berger… And from Poetry Brothel London—with whom I’ve been invited to perform at their upcoming Nov. 18 Arts Theatre West End show: the Wildean Years.
How is that even a thing? And who do I send? My original Poetry Brothel incarnation—Felicia Faust in her steampunk incarnation? Felicia in her more recent, Lynchian form? Maybe something in-between, with a bit of a period flavor from before and a bit more, Lynchian glam (of which Wilde would surely approve)? In any case, I’m already as Wildean as they come.
Who could have guessed, when I changed my name to Wilde and moved to London a few years ago to make art, that I would get to do all that while pretending to be a whore? If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d love it if you came to see me. And if you’re the Tate’s Turner curator, get ready for my questions about where those unburned-after-all cunt drawings are at. I’m onto you and I’m back in town.
This Friday, 29 September at 18:30, the Poetry Brothel Berlin reconvenes for a second performance as part of the larger Poetry Brothel Europe Tour 2017.
The Berlin performance takes place at Insomnia, since fledgling, avant-garde artists have always taken refuge in bordellos. Seriously though, they begged us to perform at this club. Because poetry sells.
This is the only tour performance I’m in, so come if you love me. Tickets are on sale now via Facebook and Eventbrite. The Poetry Brothel is an immersive cabaret featuring live performances by locally and internationally renowned poets, musicians, dancers, and unicorns. For poets, it’s a unique opportunity to dress up like we’re in demand and perform like we’re getting paid for it. Because we are—by the johns who pay for performances from the Poetry Whores.
My old friend Felicia will be there. Felicia Faust. You may have read her story or met her at the steampunk Poetry Brothel Berlin launch in May. But this time she’s back—with the best of her second poetry book manuscript and amnesia fit for Mulholland Drive—for a surreal good time…
Felicia Faust remembers nothing except… there was some kind of accident… It’s all a haze, but she found some poetry in her bag. Did she write this? Can anyone help her find out who she is?
People who know me well will appreciate how (like most good fiction) truer than true Felicia’s story really is—and how much fun this event is going to be. Whoever I am, I’m pretty sure I haven’t worn nail polish in at least 25 years. And some of the face goop, ever. It wears off eventually, right? Right???
Other frequently asked questions:
Q: Vera, I hear you’ve been working on a second poetry book manuscript, Vagabonding, for a few years now—since publishing your first poetry book, Push Coasts, in 2015. Will you perform new or old work at the Poetry Brothel?
A: Most of my performance book for this Brothel is the best of my new work from Vagabonding. There’s more explicit erotica that will work well in the Brothel venue, but also just my developing voice as a writer on display in that manuscript—and this is the perfect way for me to workshop it. In a sex club, too distracted by lots of creative things going on all around me to have (much) performance anxiety. There is something about social dynamics in places where clothing is minimal and women’s boundaries are respected or else immediate ejection that makes me feel powerful and relaxed. It’s also my understanding that workshopping your second book in a sex club is completely normal.
Q: You haven’t returned my text/email/carrier pigeon. Where have you beeeeeeen?
A: Preparing studiously for a night of fun and revelry with friends, like any other dork would do. First, I researched Lynch and my character, because I’m a pop culture idiot. Then, I revised my entire book manuscript, because it needed a first go. Now I’ve done costume, props, and make-up. (Please tell me it comes off. I smell like a doll someone abandoned in a chemical factory.) Next I still need to finish cutting and pasting my best poetry into my new (more Lynchian) performance notebook. And memorize a few poems. And walk the others, so they’re not off-book but more familiar. And AAAAAAAAAAAH…
Q: Vera, I want to buy your book. Will you please, please, please bring some copies to sell?
A: What’s it worth to you? No really, I don’t know what to sell my book for. It’s a whole book of my poetry. That’s worth something, right? But what? Can people just pay what they want? You can buy it on Amazon for what Amazon wants, but you have to buy it from me for what you think it’s worth.
Q: I want to come to the show, but I don’t know what to wear. Heeeeeeeelp?
As part of my Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials (1, 2, 3, 4,5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16…)… I’m wondering what sort of justice works for the sorts of crimes a functioning international order might prosecute following international torture and rendition, domestic police brutality and killings with impunity, discriminatory drug policy, effectively legalized sexual violence, global mass surveillance, due process-free drone assassinations, and tens of millions of preventable deaths due to climate breakdown and hundreds of millions of displacements (disproportionately of black and brown people).
What’s the point of these future war crimes trials? Are we trying to deter more-future misbehavior—and if so, where’s the evidence for how extant processes or punishments do that? Are we trying to privatize the costs of these crimes on the people who profited from them—e.g., punishing the individual corporate leaders responsible for covering up climate change evidence when we had ample time to act on it as a civilization(and socializing the corporations)? Or is the first priority restoring quality of life to future survivors of international law violations that institutions today are failing to prevent—and if so, where’s the evidence for what works to do that? And are these questions on the right track for a Left version of the Shock Doctrine—or what is?
“Justice as Retribution,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Retribution,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
A boot on the face takes care of your kind.
“Justice as Dominance,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Dominance,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
Same starting gun for people starting from difference places?
“Justice as Fairness,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Fairness,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
Or a more complex machine for making fair and equal races?
“Justice as Due Process,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Due Process,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
The death penalty for murder isn’t proven to deter.
“Justice as Deterrence,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
And damages for violence can’t repair what you were.
“Justice as Reparation,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Reparation,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
The angel of history cannot awaken the dead and make whole what’s been smashed.
“Justice as Restoration,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
The blindest justice of amnesia denies what’s been slashed, has been slashed.
“Justice as Amnesia,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Amnesia,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
If you find and tell the truth, alone—what good’s a sleuth who speaks to no one?
“Justice as Investigation,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.
“Justice as Investigation,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.
Nothing left for justice but going on? Accept justice as injustice—and you’ve “won”?
“Justice as Injustice,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.