Picture this thought:
“It’s all about war.” — Leslie Scalapino, defining to me The Tango (2001), Fall Semester 2002, maybe November, certainly before I broke up with R., San Francisco State University, prior to guest-reading from Orchid Jetsam (2001) at Chet Wiener’s Monday night Writers on Writing class. What better reason afterwards to lead section-discussion with Bison Brewery’s Hibiscus Hard Iced Tea?
The UN Security Council had just adopted Resolution 1441. Earlier in October, Congress passed “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” and I was writing poetry. By then, thousands of American and British soldiers were deployed or have received their marching orders, for the invasion, scheduled to begin after Super Bowl XXXVII.
Now picture Orchid Jetsam’s title page:
Leslie Scalapino’s signature beneath Dee Goda. She wrote: For Sean, “Not hearing but making sounds. They are one, in quiet.” A likely Buddhist chant. Calmly abide the syllabic clouds. When I was 12 living in the townhouses of Naval Air Station Alameda, my neighbor taught me breathing. Dialing 100-yards, inhaling exhaling, triggering, recoiling, scoring with an AR-15. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo bullseye.
Oh Constant Breath. Pneuma. The crashing torrent is as silent. The undertow is as loud. Like becoming a Buwaya. Like being Buwaya. See the sea crocodile’s aortic rhomb. Its praying stance. Its gaze of the little boy entering the flooded cress fields. Its gaze enters the little boy. I am that little boy, too.
Hic sunt dracones.
Picture this action:
I break the poet’s stoic with red roses. She thinks I am stalking her. As graduate student assistant, I am just proving a point to my section of 5 undergraduates. Thorns recruit the faithful.
I see her many times since, and since then she has learned I’m a former Lyn Hejinian student. The bouquet still curls a smile on my face. Thinking about it. To enter a poetic community one needs a peculiar kind of poetic credentialing. MFA programs are therefore smug in this respect, even encouraging the weeds. Call it the greenhouse effect. Then I think of arranged marriages, and how matchmakers screen candidates for flaws and inconsolable patterns that only appear late in the relationship, or too late for the relationship, and what’s left is carnage. There is desire, and then there’s the moral ledger.
It’s January 16, 2010.
The series continues.
While Bharati Mukherjee’s Mission is not William T. Vollman’s Mission is not Leslie Schwartz’s Mission, (then it is safe and logical to add) is not Leslie Scalapino’s Mission. But why stop there. Just as well develop a course and syllabus, “The Literary Mission of San Francisco.” Norma Cole, Kim Addonizio, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Thom Gunn, Maxine Hong Kingston, Frank Chin, Barbara Jane Reyes, Allen Ginsberg, Jessica Hagedorn, to name several.
So near the corner of 3rd and Mission, beneath Kerry James Marshall’s Visible Means of Support: Mount Vernon, 2009 which has replaced Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #936: Color arcs in four directions, 1999, I’m reading Orchid Jetsam inside SFMOMA’s Atrium, on a bench against the wall of the Helen and Charles Schwab Room, 30-minutes before those Room doors swing open, and another hour beyond that before Zoe Keating starts the musical celebration of the museum’s 75th anniversary, when Zoe Keating stops in front of me. She’s talking to a male companion, and I’m frozen at this sentence on page 28:
An experiencing of time vertically spatially, all times are at the same time necessarily—any refractions-events ‘glimpsed’ in it horizontally (prior events) are only as arbitrary, the most minute event ‘occurring’ horizontally ‘by’/beside some other unrelated one, qualified there.
It defines an Emersonian vertigo meets Nietzschean Horizonverschmelzung meets archipelagan Pagaalaala. Perhaps it’s that space before Nirvana. Samsara is no joke. The timeless infinitive. History’s montage and palimpsest muraled in much the same way as where I parked the car, below Johanna Poethig’s 9-story painting of Pilipino historical figures, “Ang Lipi ni Lapu Lapu” (the descendents of Lapu Lapu) across from the winter vegetables of Alice Street Community Gardens, 3 blocks away.
It is apropos that I park there. Although, I have come to hear Zoe Keating, usually my visits to SFMOMA are for the Pilipino Guardsmark Guards, similar to the manner tourists visit Buckingham Palace to test the bearskinned Queen’s Guard. What other people than the Pilipino, the most loyal of colonial servants, to stand stoic and smug in a blue blazer and tie before canvas in the various galleries, policing pens and photography, and how they are fit for the canvas. Here the stereotype of the Asian’s stiff upper lip.
As Zoe Keating towers above me, I’m pairing Leslie Scalapino’s marine with Anthony Swofford’s marine. Pairing Orchid Jetsam with Jarhead, and Buddhism has a calculating and calming violence. Anthony Swofford’s sniper possessing Grace Abe. Wouldn’t William T. Vollman be part of that action? An Asian in uniform fetish unplotting San Francisco’s toxic trauma. I should be listening to System of a Down. Toxicity was spot on.
It was a nice surprise to see Zoe Keating play cello for Imogen Heap’s stumbling Fillmore gig November 10, 2009. Then, it was the second time I have seen her play back up at the venue. The first, with the Dresden Dolls in May 2008. It was extra special last year, sharing the experience with Sylvia Eugenia and Ana Owen, because it took some convincing to get them in to the City.
The Schwab doors opened 15-minutes late, and immediately the cellist was on the stage. Cell phones were hushed. It was an immovable mass; the Cash Bar served few drinks. I was one of the lucky few, with a Sierra Nevada x2.
Easily 400 patrons crammed into the Schwab room. Half sat. The others stood. 3 men leaned on the wall behind the stage, “looking” over Zoe Keating’s shoulder. All 3 wore black—one in a black polo, the second in a black bomber-style jacket, the third in a black blazer. Each with black hair. All 3 were Asian. The one in a shag, Far East. The one with the crew cut looked Middle East. The one with the long hair, South East. Several hundred more patrons stood in the Atrium. Hey, Live Nation, contract several Fillmore dates and rock the Depression.
I swayed on that wall, pondering the depth of the audience, a beer in my hand, defining a relationship to her music. It is raining outside, part of a weeklong storm.
Find me at any literary reading and you find me standing. The reason I prefer to stand in the back even when seats are available, I can sway. Can’t really sway in a chair. Unless I was standing on the chair. At least in the back, I am not obstructing anyone’s view. I sway to the music in poetry or in fiction. I sway to the reader’s cadence. It’s like slow dancing with a partner. But when I am in the back standing by myself, I don’t have my arms around anyone, I don’t have my lips or my nose buried into hair or shoulder. It’s just me the music. Poetry readings should have concert value.
I swayed on that wall, looking at the couples, the singles, and felt alone.
And amongst these hundreds if not thousands, though pressed against the wall, as if their cumulative deference to the stage held me upright, their thick breath buoyant, and I, like some sorry fuck before a firing squad, a battalion of rifles, and I felt a loneliness similar to being stood-up at a 2003 White Stripes concert at the Greek Theatre, the tickets given away to what I hoped was a deserving couple.
I would like to know what has happened to that couple. Did they purchase beers with the money they saved? Or a concert tee? Did they toast their benefactor? Did they wish him well, and better luck: dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not around shiny tops and soda pops when I hear your lips make a sound….
Yes Leslie, “Not hearing but making sounds. They are one, in quiet.”
While we’re at it, can we extend the search to a little known band, Pieces of Lisa? I would like to know what happened to those guys too. They played at the Bears Lair in the early 1990s.
Alas Pneuma. Oh Constant cloud. Because “all times are at the same time necessarily.”
I swayed on that wall, and I was probably sorry for myself and I probably looked it too.
Zoe played “Sun Will Set” second and I thought how I would like to be buried.
It was an early Wednesday morning, after 2 am in the Fall of 1995, in a Monterey Denny’s, after my first experience at McGarrett’s Tuesday “Goth” night. While waiting for my order of chicken strips with lots of ranch dressing, my turn came and I described to my new cohort, funeral rites in a canyon, perhaps opening to the sea, rimmed with trees, the canyon floor ringed with fire pits. Everyone there wearing boots, and while the DJ alternated between Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus, Wumpscutt, Switchblade Symphony, Leaether Strip, Neurosis, Wench, Love & Rockets, Sisters of Mercy, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Type O Negative, The Cure, Rasputina and many many more, these boots would grind my ashes into sand and clay. Pallbearers, pallbearers, I salute your stomp. Note to self: produce a midnight to dawn playlist, and titled “Full-moon Rave at the Canyon of Good and Evil.”
“Its all about War.” Of course, when half the goth club patrons are military brats of Fort Ord Veterans or soldiers from the Defense Language Institute.
Now you know what to do when I die in a combat zone. Box me up and send me home to an ambient-neorenaissance-trance-industrial rave. And you’re all invited. Okay maybe not all. You know who you are, the uninvited.
But if I can’t have my tribal fantasy, then a hole in the ground, and a cello instead of bugle.
But right now, as I hear it and feel it, there are only two musicians that draw my tears. Zoe Keating and Frances Byrne.
I swayed on that wall. I cried (a little) on that wall.
I envy those who can cry in public. Who can cry good.
December 2000 was my last good public cry. I was in Professor Colleen Lye’s office requesting an extension on my Junior Seminar paper, a Hegelian application of Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) on The Matrix (1999). (Don’t you miss the days when papers did not have Baudrillard this and Baudrillard that. Now, it seems that every graduate student panel parodies Baudrillard that I just want to put these preening academics out of their Baudrillard whatzitwhatchmacallit misery. Your paper did not happen.) Two hours earlier I was plugging away in Moffitt Library’s basement computer lab and propelled by Slayer’s Diabolus in Musica, when I decided to check email. I opened a Dear Sean letter from “the future,” from my first wife, at a sheep ranch in Canterbury, New Zealand—one of several destinations on a work-travel tour. She had been gone nearly a month and the plan was—by the time I graduate she will be returning from an around-the-world trip. I would focus on school and she would satisfy her lack of world travel. Between sheering wool, she had mentioned in earlier emails, the advances of several men she met. But I had faith. It was such a good cry. I didn’t want to cry. But when Professor Lye asked for what reason she should grant me an extension. I cried. She approached to comfort me and I shrugged her off and ran out the door and ran out the corridor and descended four floors and ran out of Wheeler Hall. Like a fucking sorry fuck. I cried. I look at my final undergraduate years and it is WTF.
I want one of those again. I don’t remember crying like that since. A kind of crying that gets me running from myself, because that is a kind of crying that scares me. It’s an unsafe kind to be vulnerable in public.
I swayed on that wall wanting to cry like that again, though, not on that particular wall, but sometime and somewhere soon.
Perhaps it was Robert Hass who taught me it was okay to sway. It was either November or December 1990. He was leaning on a support column in the Maude Fife room while Czeslaw Milosz read in Lithuanian. Not English. Not Russian. Not Polish. I had read The Captive Mind (1953) and Native Realm (1958) and was moved by the navigation between linguistic nationalisms. The Baltic country had split from the USSR earlier that March. Desert Shield was in its 4th or 5th month, meaning Swofford was wintering in the desert. My stepfather’s ammunition ship was leaving Concord Naval Weapons Station the next day. After the reading, on the walk home from the 51 Bus stop on the corner of Santa Clara and Grand, the foghorns of the various warships played past midnight. By morning the fleet would have sailed beyond the Golden Gate. I would come to think about Czeslaw Milosz because my swaying on the wall reminded me of Robert Hass. I was thinking about the continuity I was creating. Perhaps in the audience there was a 17-year old and he found solace of the swaying longhaired Illokano with the beer in his hand. It is the same kind of continuity that compelled me to Stanford University 5 days later for the Alexi Parshchikov commemorative reading, getting their late, but in time to hear Michael Palmer read a translation of “For Matthew”
How quiet you are, trying on caps!
Leaning forward, tremulous breath in the mirror.
You think, what are my chances?
You, little one, will heal me.
and I thought of my son. I knew I was satisfied. Like any concert, it is just the one song.
And so I thought on the wall, maybe I should gather all the movies that would get me crying. Make a marathon of it. Invite some people over to the house. Urge the good cry. Excuse my crying for filmic experience, the good acting, the good plot, the good directing, the good lighting, the good cinematography, and the good soundtrack. On that wall I listed my Top 10 Tear Jerks:
1. Kramer vs. Kramer
2. The Joy Luck Club
3. Where the Wild Things Are
5. Smoke Signals
6. Monsters, Inc.
8. Big Daddy
9. The Wedding Singer
10. Whale Rider
“It’s all about the War.”
But if not dead yet, and certainly not to be dead any time soon, then what does it mean to be buried? When I can’t cry. Imagine only being capable to communicate on the page, to exist on the page, to write about crying and its catharsis. In actual speech acts, unrehearsed, as in communication between partners, or lovers, that’s where I fail. Imagine, a person who communicates in silence, that he buries himself in to her, as in a bed, that within the silence, there understands, a psychic bridge, that souls speak to each other. Bodies and souls collapsing in to each other. It’s like how randomly selected puzzle pieces fit. I want my silence and my trust to communicate. When I curl, it is as vulnerable as I can get. And that connection I feel, I cannot even put words to. Sometimes, this is what happens when I want my mind to disappear, just want to close my eyes, and vanish, but that would mean death, and what would prevent death—my wandering too far from myself that I cannot return, is that willing body, who would hold me, or who is held, like a placeholder, a marker at the forked road, so that I can disappear, because when I disappear by myself, my body gets cold, it diminishes, it descends, and it will get comfortable, but that’s not what I want, I just want to lose my mind, not feel for a moment, maybe a long moment, know what it is like to not feel, can you feel not feeling, and when I am done come back, and that warm body against mine is that beacon. It’s not a near-death experience (or maybe it is) that I want, it’s that vacuum, the non-gravity, the atomization, to leave emotion behind, if that is what’s left behind, I want to leave the nausea, the heartbeat, the arrhythmia, the declension.
Yes, Leslie is correct:
“Not hearing but making sounds. They are one, in quiet.”