With who is Jürgen Habermas’ “ideal speech situation?”
a. a Mills College MFA student from New York;b. a gregarious and generous hapa bookworm;
c. the hapa bookworm’s first-gen Chinese-American kindergartener teacher, an Army Officer’s wife;
d. a 100-year old blast-from-the-past Italian agit-prop;
e. a Sergeant 1st Class from Encinal High School’s Class of ’84;
f. an established queer Sagittarian post-punk poet with the same birthday;
g. or me? a straight Sagittarian post-metal poet of post-colonial eroticism with a MFA in poetry from Mills College, with fond memories writing manifestoes for UCB’s Professor Harsha Ram’s Avant-garde class, with a G.E.D. because leaving Encinal High School in the middle of the senior year was a preferred form of protest, with 30% custody of the hapa bookworm taught by a kindergarten teacher who lived in Hawai’i about the same time the father was in second grade.
That is to say I simultaneously slipped into the role of interlocutor while looking for my own.
In Issue 3 of or, Otis College of Art and Design celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the “Founding Manifesto of Futurism.” In a first year Kinetics of Painting class, card-carrying party poets press-ganged undocumented “neutrals” to demonstrate how canvas captures for posterity the various and incongruous ways shrapnel accelerates bodies into matter. WTF? Stand them against the wall. If only this were true, then what glorious pentameters crusade unmolested and crude? Why regurgitate without preface, war gore, propaganda by the massacre? Perjure the conscientious objector within the art school’s ranks. 1 out of 5 returns with traumatic brain injury. Paint that triumphant flourish and secure the scholarship. Nausea please pass over. But it doesn’t go my way. I mean if Futurism had a Metal cognate, then GWAR comes to mind. Ovid splatters cum cum laud lots pink and florescent. So WHY? Otis, tell me you’re parodying the bluster and blunder of those relentless Italians, now very very shy supporting the War on Terror, bear-shirts riddled thin. What is owed to this legacy that steampunk can do without?
You’re not truly American unless you explored the country by car. Futurism’s gist—with an NRA bumper sticker. Or, you’re not truly American until you have internalized consumerism. Or, you’re not truly American unless you have incurred credit debt because of insatiable consumerism and all you can think of are the simpler times when steam powered locomotives crossed timezones in disagreement. Alas, what slanted people carried pickaxes speed obscures.
Seriously, I appreciate Futurism for putting my road trips into context: I would not have known that one of the most satisfying purchases I could ever make is for huckleberry candy sticks for Professor Heather McHugh’s Architectonics of Poetry seminar, past midnight on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, at a Wyoming gas station on Highway 80 east of Laramie, Wyoming with a blizzard in front and a blizzard behind, driving my accountant-friend’s Corolla to Waukegan, Illinois, because full-time, permanent, white-collar jobs for middle-aged men were fast disappearing from the Bay Area.
The Patriots won in an indoor stadium; we watched at a pub and grill mostly patronized by Great Lake’s naval officers.
In Hoc Signo Vinces!
So in the Civic, parked at Eastmont Mall, being the dutiful brother waiting for my sister and having finished two McDonald’s hash browns, I hold my breath and read Dominic Siracusa’s translation of F.T. Marinetti, arsonist foreshadowing cyborg:
Ladies, you must prefer the gloriously mutilated over males intact, more or less suspects of cowardice!
In Hoc Signo Vinces!
How many Romans drummed their deaths when poetry married nationalism? Gorge and orgy. Let me clarify: nobility and nationalism needn’t go hand in hand like so many unlikely pairs. It’s not even kinky. How many poets marched to their rhetorical death? How many poets refined their rhetorical obit, perchance to be chiseled on the colonnade? How many blithe and tired rhymes, barbed wire tore? And now who remasters the Song of Experience?
Where are Trumpets!
Love them ardently!
It was that kind of a week. Counterpoints:
Gina Goldblatt, her hair lightened to a dark lilac, drank a Blue Moon. Me, a Fat Tire.
It’s the most we ever talked. Is it Orphic, my fascination mistaken for infatuation mistaken for, mistaken for, mistaken for, the wasteland’s dilemma, when tremors rail voluble for palisade. I’d be looking for companions if I weren’t so hurried to find my way to the front.
What workshops will she register for next Spring?
Are her current instructors insightful? And her peers? Working relationships working?
I am genuinely interested. I should be cautious. But who has ever accused a poet for lacking professionalism, or for being cautious.
What Mills College instructors did I have?
Which ones did I appreciate?
Who was helpful? Who had their shit together? Who didn’t?
What did I really resolve with a Master degree? What unraveled? Some verse too far.
I gained the most in visiting Professor Jennifer Hoofard’s “Trauma Literature” seminar. Think Margaret Atwood, Alice Sebold, Dorianne Laux, Kate Braverman, Gayl Jones, Toni Morrison, Jane Smiley. How to describe what is “beyond the range of human experience.” That is, I retained another lens from which to screen my history and future. How to transcribe soul wound passed from one generation to the next, a psychopomp mustering ghosts. Pallbearers. Pallbearers. Raise sail. We are our own wind. Wit trim and gale.
That said; we slipped into an intelligible discussion of the unintelligibility of Robert Grenier’s paralytic orthography. The lumbering cursive of a diluvial tectonic.
A bullet is like a second father to the wounded. It gives him character. It instills an atavism of ferocious violence and incendiary speed in the very fiber of his being.
Gina was solemn, explains her familiarity with PTSD. [A previous boyfriend was a veteran of the Iraq War; and a Vietnam Veteran neighbor paced in the apartment above hers.] I weighed my surprise. I considered the synchronicity.
I restrained from telling her:
My prior Navy records are being pre-screened for OCS by the Army recruiter. I say again. I am in the hands of a Sergeant First Class. He wanted me to complete more paperwork. It would have taken an unexpected 2-3 hours. I told him, I was having lunch with a friend. He graciously dismissed me until the next available time. Wasn’t I in a hurry to step into a uniform? The Army forecasts shortfalls in officer retention. Fatigue depletes middle ranks.
I restrained from telling her: you gave me a couple days reprieve. Not to reconsider. But to refine the episodic. Oh hatch.
Glory to human skin mangled by machineguns! Discover its rugged splendor! Learn to admire a face that has collided with a star!
We are seated at the window barstools at Bowzer’s. Her disclosure emboldened. Can she appreciate the choices I weigh?
In Hoc Signo Vinces.
At her birthday party the previous Friday night, she mentioned that since leaving New York, a satisfying thin crust pizza has been elusive. Told her I’d pick her up Wednesday for a slice.
Instead, she had eaten earlier at Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home reception at the College of Alameda where she’s Christine Lee Zilka’s English 1A teaching assistant. Guess we will do this again when she’s hungry. Looking forward to it.
I wondered what Gina thought of the double dose of Middle Eastern lit, the academic venue persisting. Will ask later. Yes. Yes. I can see myself teaching Diasporic Memoir at West Point. This is what I can do as an Officer. Cadets: Read! The subaltern speaks from Kandahar. Tuesday night, fellow Mills College alum, Laleh Khadivi, shared from The Age of Orphans. It’s been a couple years since we shared a Cristina Garcia fiction class where she worked on her novel and I, A Dark Continent Companion. When I got her alone, I asked if she wanted to return to Iran. Yes, but she’s blacklisted. A measure of success.
I am terrified to think I may not be good enough for the Army. Does my fellow [Encinal] Jet sense my fear of failure? In the same way my son’s kindergarten teacher picked up? I mean why would I pursue the military and risk my relationship with my son? That’s how our scheduled 30-minute parent-teacher conference ended—with an extra 15 minutes sharing our military experience. It started by describing the linguistic fact of Hawaiian pidgin—and having that “beaten” out of me at the playground when I moved to the Bay Area, and the concerns for my son’s potential r-lessness and l-lessness from a suspect speech impediment. He’s poetic. She understood my sensitivities; she too lived in Hawai’i, posted at Schofield Barracks with her husband. Grammarians pathologize language’s fluid tendency. This was the first time that she softened to me, weeks of seeming hostility. I thanked her in advanced, saying that it is then synchronicity, a good thing, that Taeo has her for a teacher. She thought it was just linguistic understanding. I added, so that she can read any behavior changes in case I was accepted into the military, and later deployed.
This is not romanticism that despises the body in the name of an ascetic abstraction.
We can see The Wartime Café on the corner across Park Street, and, behind that, the high school where Jim Morrison spent a year, where on its rooftop several Thanksgiving eves ago, I drank cheap beer with friends dreading the holiday. I can see myself spending future Thanksgivings on that roof.
I am thinking of her ex-boyfriend.
I am thinking where she was when the planes slammed in to the World Trade Towers.
I am thinking if I suggest anything related to Terrorism, what flashbacks are triggered.
I am thinking, don’t say anything.
I am thinking. WTF.
Holidays are good to remind that the world has irreparably changed. Or holidays are good to provide a moment where nothing has changed. I am coming fast upon that moment when I lost my rural inheritance.
Christmas Eve 1941. Binalonan, Philippines. Think Alamo. Think Bastogne. But defended mostly by the 26th Cavalry of the Pilipino Scouts and some U.S. regulars armed with World War 1 era weapons against an army that has been at war since 1937. Methodically improving its efficiency dispatching hastily built redoubts. Congress did not heed MacArthur’s request to modernize America’s defense of the archipelago. The Philippines has not recovered from the War. Think small farming town—rice, corn, sugar cane, mangoes, pigs, goats—just before the first major river crossing, and beyond that an unstoppable 2-day march to Manila. Think mechanized army on flat land. Think what the U.S. was able to do in short time against the Iraq Army. My mother was 3-years old when a Japanese Tank Battalion smashed Binalonan. My mother was 3-years old when her family evacuated to the caves. My mother was 3-years old when she listened to the stories of evisceration, decapitation, rape, and mass execution of family who failed to evacuate. Christmas Eve, do you think I want to be around my mother? Explains why she’s afraid.
Captain’s Mast blotches my Navy records. Attribute it to youth, I begged the Sergeant First Class. Yet, Captain’s Mast made me the poet that I am + Joshua Clover showing me how to dress (black tank tops) + the artillery of Robert Pinsky, Sherman Alexie and Andrew Pogany. And Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Jägermeister lubricating the vocal chords! Yes, Captain’s Mast, performed the Moment of Truth at an officer’s gauntlet, buckling brass posture.
This is futurism that glorifies a body altered and adorned by war.
I’m having second thoughts re-establishing a poetic community—I should stop using Facebook, OMG; reconnecting—you know who you are, making new friends at poetry readings—Gina Goldblatt, Eileen Myles, Daphne Gottlieb, Sylvia Eugenia, Maria Teutsch, Amol Ray, Keely Hyslop, etc—before these people start accepting me; before they find a reason to care for my well being; before they question fatherhood, the absence of; before I mistake trust for infatuation and infatuation for fascination for theory and practice; before I regain my faith. I remind myself, I am not finding someone to talk me out of the military? I just want to be a his/tory not mired. Just my son and me. I have no illusions. If something goes wrong, it would be nice that a few people remember me as someone that marriage and divorce did not diminish. More so as someone marriage and divorce did not touch, unstained by the altar. To be displaced from that narrative plot and plodding. I want to meet people who have never seen me sad or even depraved or desperate.
Let’s destroy the old symmetrical aesthetic. Today the new aesthetic of asymmetry and dynamism is born.
How would I describe her? A writer I have not met before. Emotional + Confident + doesn’t mind being Intimidating. Wants to be haunting. Eviscerating. Phantasmatic text? You’d be surprise this combination is rare, sways in the corner.
Last August, Gina had sat behind me during Daphne Gottlieb’s performance at Books & Bookshelves. The break before Joseph Lease, I overheard she and her roommate discussing the semester. That’s how we met. That’s how I meet people, selective hearing at a wartime reading.
Let’s accept the help of mechanical war to color with heroism humanity discolored by peace.
Before Eileen Myles asked what I thought about the Fort Hood killings, I had no thought for Officer Candidate School.
We were at Joshua Clover’s 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About reading at the University Press Books. He critiqued how the fall of the Berlin Wall enabled many a European artist, such as Scorpions and Roxette, to repackage their songs as anthems. Lee Greenwood looped himself in my current crisis of under-employment, college loan credit baiting, the war. How naïve I had believed the end of the Cold War meant prosperity. Seems a century ago. But hark, Otis sounds the klaxon, to the army.
Now, I could not excuse my settling with just re-enlistment. I had nothing to lose anyways. Will my credit rating disqualify me? Will the nature of how I was discharged from the Navy disqualify me? Will my age? Will my health? That the economy has rendered me dead beat?
“But it’s your body you’re putting on the line. Your body. Your body?” Eileen protested. As if I am text. Made vulnerable. Penned into trench. Emotionally, to say the least, I was numbed by an Army Psychiatrist’s rampage. I want my poets to be noble. I want my poets to be officers.
And I thought that is a kind of explorable carnal knowledge until Art Garfunkel fucked his way into that formula, and I imagined coeds shaving their heads, sweaters for winter. It could have been the wine, but Joshua’s “Wind of Change” video clip humored my mood. So I left Eileen’s questioned unanswered until days later when I finally could address for my body. How many of us played war when we were young and tested our nobility against a pine cone grenade. How one body saves many bodies? Yes, Eileen, I have rehearsed putting my body on the line.
Let’s ignite the quietest and peaceful cities with the violent and embossed scars of battle sculpted on the body.
I was driving on Telegraph Avenue when I found the words to qualify Combat. What better street cred to work with Veterans? I stopped into Mariposa Bakery, and with a Morning Muffin, refined the nobility of the act, as if glutenfree was the rampart from which I can survey the field. As I would explain to Sergeant First Class, a doctor betrayed the men and women he was mandated to heal, to guide veterans to a safe place where they can express what is beyond human experience, to help contain within a therapeutic metaphor, what it was like to put the body on the line. I have lived with a silent father and silent stepfather. I have read the body language of uncles. Translated the boasts scabbing. I remembered last summer writing a compelling cover letter to work with Veterans in the manner Maxine Hong Kingston and Gale Nelson used creative writing with Vietnam Veterans. But again, what street cred have I to offer? An MFA is not enough, never enough.
Sergeant First Class insists it’s because the doctor was Muslim. Plain and simple. Yes. Yes. I can see myself teaching Contemporary Literature of the Middle East and Central Asia. Why do they Hate us? Because we are still there. Muslim or not—he was still an officer. He could have been an educator, but then, what do I know about his attempts to be a cultural bridge.
Fusion of Steel and Flesh. Humanization of steel and metallization of flesh with the multiplied man.
Is it possible, a liberal creative writing education with an emphasis in postcolonial critique has prepared me to be a better soldier in much the same way my short stint with the Navy made me the poet that I am.
In Hoc Signo Vinces!
Now, can Drew Gardner and K. Silem Mohammad agree whether or not Chicks Dig War?