Since I live on the "garden" level (aka the sub-bunker level), I get an ankle's eye view of everyone coming and going, and some opportunity to extrapolate livelihoods and narrative arcs from feeble scraps like shoe-brands and grocery bag labels and the timbre of solemn or ecstatic voices. A short, round bus driver lives three floors above; he parks his neat, sensible little Corolla expertly every evening and minces his steps into the building. Pale, fashionable women sail past my windows, glowing in second-hand glamor and studded belts, crashing through the doors laughing, always. Gray young men in their fading jeans run past with their dogs and their watch caps, urgently smoking cigarettes and barely making rent. Babies sing through the ventilation well windows, echoing in the bathrooms and kitchens. I witness their entrances and exits, their remarkabilities and their quotidian dross, with all the intimate detachment of yet another silent built-in fixture in this aging structure, no more intrusive than the bookcase or the doorknob. My windows are angled such that when the blinds are half-opened, I am invisible. I see how eloquent the angles of hips and the fluid weaves of arms and legs can be, from one body to another. The body language of those who believe only they can read each other.
This morning I noticed new graffiti on the exterior wall of my apartment, roughly corresponding to the area above where my head lies on my bed. The marks are densely tangled and sharp, like a nest of thorns. As I read reports of the calamities in South Asia, I think of these tangled and sharp lives all around me, and the unthinkable numbers become only just marginally more conceivable. This is a small thing, but important, for me. Poignant anecdotes, individual stories of survival and loss seem exceedingly impertinent in the face of these "myriad of myriads", as Gibbon would describe it. But I also feel that I must fight against the urge to simplify things into the abstraction of anonymously vast numbers; this is the paradox, that enormity can only be dealt with in its totality.
Perhaps the tendency, in our culture, to simplify and generalize, is what lies at the heart of the UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland's remarks about the "stinginess" of the more developed countries in their relief efforts. The stinginess of our aid reflects the myopia of our vision; we cannot widen the scope of our assistance because we cannot wrap our minds around what has happened. I remember how it used to be said that my country would have to suffer some comparable degree of trauma to what the rest of the world has experienced, at one time or another, during this last calamitous century, before a people like us could begin to understand the problems of what goes on in less fortunate countries; but unfortunately, even after experiencing some extraordinarily traumatic times, our myopic ignorance persists, perhaps willfully so.
The most I can imagine is the swirl of people living above and around me, swept in a sharply tangled mess of thorns and ocean currents. I can only barely visualize the floating shoals of grocery bags and orphaned shoes and the awfully silent voices. These slender limits of our words and our hearts are like vulnerable islands in the vastness of the sea.
But now I'm just angry about this Guardian Article I just read, and once again I'm feeling singularly disenchanted with my country right now. Just in time for the holiday. Fucking self-righteous bigoted ignorant dumbshit Republican ass-hats.
No doubt things will look better in the morning. Incidentally, if anyone in the world right now has some extra whup-ass lying around, could you send it our way? We could really use it. Thanks.
feathers rustling softly
in the radiant celestial heat
their distant calls
for a moment
that the sea is there, too,
a gentle tumult
just outside my window.
In my dreams
the tides are stirring
the waxing moon,
and the birds
and the waters
lap and ebb
around the lamppost of the moon
Some of the Library's books I'm reading (I'll update the Amazon links to your left later):
- East, by Edith Pattou
- The Land Where the Blues Began, by Alan Lomax
- Safe Area: Gorazde, by Joe Sacco
- Red Oleanders, by Rabindranath Tagore
- Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks
- In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
- Elephas Maximas--A Portrait of the Indian Elephant, by Stephen Alter
Once again the sunlight is brilliant right now, here in Portland. I've been busy as usual these past several days, after having returned from the high-level holiday summit conference with the great powers in my mother's side of the family, In Canada. Slipping back into the Library's On-Call System (where the workshifts are, unfortunately, few and far between). But this is Okay, ultimately, because I'm also delivering, of all things, Honey-Baked Hams on behalf of my father (who, in addition to running his own mortgage company, probably launders money or smuggles coke to pay for the beach house he just built--and the coke theory would explain the unnaturally addictive properties of these Hams I'm delivering--I have no idea what kind of connection he has with the Ham people except that every year he gets 20 hams, (hush-money? The take from the bookies? Pork farmers paying for protection?), and the tradition is that I go around the city dropping off these 10 lb. hams at relatives' and "clients'" doorsteps.
[Picture shady, gloomy suburban ranch-style houses, ill-kept lawns, neighbors who walk quickly past the address in question. My beat-up Saturn pulls up to the curb and shades are quickly drawn, cigarettes stubbed out, children bundled away to the backroom and sternly hushed. Boots crunching on gravel. Doorbell rings, breaking the cold suburban silence. Long moment passes, and then the stranger drops a battered, stained cardboard Honeybaked Ham box onto the fading doormat, "Happy Holidays" scrawled hurriedly on the note. Boots crunching quickly back, and then the Saturn squeals away.]
Which probably means that if the Feds have some sort of sting or surveillance operation on my Dad, they'll probably nail me as accessory to wire fraud or tax evasion or something, and the only thing preventing me from turning states' evidence is the fact that the Susi family is EVERYWHERE, and we have long memories, and besides, Dad pays for stuff all the time so really the Feds can go stuff themselves because I Ain't No Rat.)
So. Yeah, I love working at the Library.
So my family. Families. They're sprawling. The one is like a Faulkner-meets-Proust-meets-Allende novel, the other is Marquez-meets-Steinbeck-meets-Dickens. Kind of. Mom's side (Faulkner, Proust, Allende) is in ruins, haunted by lost dreams, burnt-out properties and disastrous strokes, heart attacks, car accidents. (I'm generalizing quite.) Dad's side (Marquez, Steinbeck, Dickens), is teeming with babies and promising prospects, but we just lost Grandpa to cancer (who is--ach, was--a patriarch of biblical and falstaffian proportions...), and I was there taking care of him (as the EMT in the family), and I closed his eyes as his pulse slipped away under my fingers.
Obviously, there is a great deal of backstory that the patient Polyform Reader will no doubt learn all in good time.
But suffice to say that this evening, here in Canada, Something Important is Happening. Major shifts are taking place, and the Jimenez sisters (my Aunts and my Mom) are setting out to finalize arrangements about the abandoned properties back in the Phillipines. But it's going to cost a lot of money, and my Mom has expressed her strong opposition, due in no small part to her significant emotional and medical limitations (Mom--I LOVE MY MOM, but Lord it's been hard...), and no one really knows how to do these things right, because the Phillipines is way the hell over there and everyone is back out on this side of the Pacific and there's no one left to take care of things and deal with corrupt officials and predatory squatters, not to mention the debts owed to family and friends who were left behind when all the aunts and uncles just started dying, one by one and then all at once... I look at photos and now there are all these ghosts wearing linen suits and floral dresses, mahogany tones, sweltering heat...
Meanwhile, in my other family, my widowed Grandma is fixing to make her Farewell Tour '05, and I have the honor of escorting her home in this coming February/March for three weeks.
It took some time for me to realize this, but it is the perfect opportunity to help sort out the Jimenez lands, while proudly and honorably serving as my father's son and my father's father's son--as a Susi.
So now this evening, after much heartache and storming and laughter and heavy Filipino food, it now appears that I will be going to the Phillipines as both my father's son and my mother's son, that I will be serving both sets of grandparents at the same time. Understand that this is an extraordinary development; like other children of sundered houses, it has always been something of a shell game, it has always been a matter of which identity I'm wearing, and never a matter of somehow artfully and dynamically and effectively and honorably being BOTH at once. I'm excited, I'm scared, I'm ready. Let's get it on.
From the looks of things, 2005 is going to be a very interesting year.
Goats and Monkeys!!! (Cue freakout music.)
so many souls
on standby, fingering their creased tickets,
remembering what their bags looked like.
you will see
an open hand
holding so much more
when it's empty
trees and clouds obscuring the moon tonight
but it's still there,
in fact I am being obscured from the moon
and perhaps that is why
you can't see me anymore.
It's comforting to know all the shortcuts, where to get the best cup of coffee, which bookstore will carry what, where all your mail goes (even though none of you ass-hats ever write back to me, but that's okay, it just means that I am a Citizen of the World in the Republic of Letters, whereas you are just another troglodyte masquerading as a semi-evolved primate).
It's great to be back on my bike again, sailing down the side streets and saying hello to all the old neighborhood cats, who look at me with that quizzical expression cats have when they want to hide the fact that they've missed you, because they're cats after all, and they have their reputations to consider.
So here's my Holiday Project (as if I didn't have enough projects to contend with). If YOU want a mix cd of non-traditional, vaguely but not really Holiday themed music, here's what you got to do.
- Purify yourself. Push fluids, eat a clove of garlic every day, wash behind the ears.
- Spend three days and three nights fasting, wearing a hair shirt and mixing tanqueray with wine.
- Abstain from the conspicuous consumption of pork rinds.
- Lend someone a book you really love.
- Send your contact info to email@example.com.
That's it. Yes, that's all. Why am I doing this?
Well, you see, I'm also working on an as-yet-to-be-determined theatre project (one man show? full-on play? multi-media event? Hell if I know), in which blues music and black american worksongs will figure prominently. And many of these tracks are so damn good I want other people to know about them. Some of them happen to be spiritual in content; some pretty screwy (in every sense of the term). But most importantly, I want to know what other people think of these songs. And I may include one or two non-project-related tracks, just as a little something extra.
Also, I'm a philatelic junkie. A post office addict. Sending stuff in the mail makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Or as the doctors say, "Whatever it takes to keep him off the sauce."
Now, because I ain't charging you one red cent, I get to take all the time I want in the world to send these things. In return, all I ask is that you e-mail what you think of these songs. Now of course, the mighty power that is paulmonster reserves the right to decline sending to people, presumably because you smell funny or you're a Klansman or something like that. But irregardless, you will get more info about this project by inquiring to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ah, globalisation. That so foul and fair a fiend could just make possible the cheap, widespread distribution of a near-random sampling of obscure blues and folk songs in the middle of a globally warmed winter.
happy humbugs, everyone.
A. Well, my young friend, I'll tell you. So I was out in Vermont, thinking about Life and Women and Alcohol, and I realized that there's more to this whole Monster enterprise than just play-acting. Why, golly, if I had a dime for all the things that this Monster ought to be doing, I'd, well, I would be spending my winters in Costa Rica, sunning myself in layers of baby oil, watching endangered baby tortoises amble along in the pristine sand. But instead, here I am, busting my butt to make rent and do worthwhile Theatre Art.
So I said to myself, I said, "Paulmonster, if there's anyone who can bust you out of this two-bit half-baked under-educated boondoggle you've got going on here, that anyone must be You. Or, me. That is, it's Me I'm talking about, not you.
Q. Right. I was a little confused there.
Q. 'S okay.
A. So I said to myself, I said, "Paulmonster, I know you should be, like, going to college or something, but here you are with your variegated and multifaceted world-view and a rich little pot of diverse skills and experiences. Surely there's something you could do with all that."
Q. And that's when you started writing--
A. Now, not so fast son, it's not that simple. Even though I haven't gone to college, I still had to figure some shit out, see the world, get myself some book-learning. You're interviewing a certified Wildland Firefighter and Class C Sawyer, here, you know.
A. And a trained EMT-Basic in the State of Oregon.
Q. You must get all the chicks then.
A. You would think.
Q. And all this on top of the Theatre...?
A. Oh yes. Trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. About 20 productions in the last four years, all together.
Q. By the way, you were great in "The Drawer Boy" at Vermont Stage Company. Those shorts!
A. [flushing] yeah, I know, thanks, that was pretty tough...
Q. And when you came out all bloody with the straw in your hair, I LAUGHED...
A. Uh, right.
Q. And in "Blue" back in Poland, how did you manage that amazingly real-looking nosebleed during the Bear-death sequence?
A. Well, you see I couldn't actually see--
Q. Right! I was wondering, since that mask was on the top of your head and you had to stare at the ground while wrestling that one guy and then when you kept tripping on your bear-coat--
Q. Man that must have been something, I'd never seen so much blood before, and it looked so real--
A. So I started writing poems--
Q. --oh, right, yeah--
A. --so I started writing poems because I hadn't written any in a long while and when I started this blog it was because I missed the fiery creative crucible of writing and in the process of writing letters (which I do all the time) I realized that there are certain things that the poetic voice can say which the letter voice, and sometimes even the blog voice, can't say, at least not properly.
But really I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I just want to get good at it, whatever it is. So that's why.
In my absence, I commend you to the good folks at the Sherlock Holmes Society , featuring such recorded radio treasures as Sir John Gielgud's Sherlock Holmes, with Sir Ralph Richardson's Dr. Watson, pitted against none other than Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty. (The title of that particular episode is "The Final Problem"--look under the Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson link)
Knock yourselves out. Don't stay up too late. Remember to live like monarchs among mortals, and keep the stove stoked with firewood while I'm gone.
my best to all things Vermont,
All of us meeting like gods on a mountaintop,
thundering laughter echoing in the night
hands sticky with jam,
eyes reddened by the hour and the wine
lines on her face counting these evenings these years
these endless appetites these many many bright ones
the clever map on the wall, the sweet chianti,
the baby pictures, the sleeping widow upstairs,
the fireworks on the rooftop, the glow of paradise around the corner,
the pout in the lips mother shares with her sons,
That hard indomitable core underneath all the singing,
That pride in her skin, that hunger for us all,
I could well believe she had taken
a scandalously younger mate
The very bread was soaked in honey and butter there.
I would give anything to sleep
under those stars again.
old jade pales
slip away from me quickly,
embrace this distance
this is mine to cultivate,
this plot of wet turf
planted with trembling notes
It was your expressive silences
that captivated me, the crash
of emptiness that deafens suddenly
that way you have of deliciously nervously sensual stillness
a finger arching
the curve that lengthens
in the dark, for you
(how long have we known one another?)
and I thrill
to this supple music of absence
I have enriched you
with the imagining of lovers and livelihoods
I have amplified
the volume of your empty voice
You have been taken from me,
you have been taken from me
And I am enraptured
by your too-distant music
I love you.
Do some manly firewood-stacking out in the cold. Build a wall of dressed firewood, noting the consistency of the sawyer's work. Clean the dishes. Stoke the stove. Drink in the clear North Country air. Sort your mail. Note the alarming number of letters you have yet to write. Remember to pick up more stamps soon.
Start thinking about packing to go home in a few days. Try not to think about missing the firewood and the cold and the insomniac luxury.
Read your script. Yes, read it again. No, you haven't read it enough times already. You never remember that one bit with the thing and the other guy who does that one thing when that other bit happens. Maybe you should think about getting that right for once?
Go off onto the rural roads again. "Trees like spiders", you said. Rock out with the radio as you psych yourself up for the evening's performance. Taste the cold in your fingers, in your bones. Don't ever forget the taste of this place.
Grab dinner at the deli. Keep drinking lots of water. Keep looking for more poems to write.
Savor this play. Be thankful that it still tingles, always does, in all the right places. That's what makes it all worthwhile; drink in the expressions on the audience' faces at the curtain. Don't ever forget the taste of that.
Write more letters after the show. Pick up ice cream and spelt bread for your hosts. And a hot cup of coffee for the ride home, and the sleepless night to look forward to.
when you look at them right,
logs in the fire poke out from the embers
like crocodile snouts, drawn in glowing coal
dark and quiet,
Squirrel stokes the fire
puffy cheeks whistling on the embers
* * *
fire leaps up
and starts counting.
one for the long drive home
two for the endless lanes
three for the mis-leading stars
four for the trees on the ridge
for the reddened faces
for the unfolded clothes
for the falling snow
the owl on the telephone pole
the running water
the busted mailboxes
fire leaping now
Squirrel running up home, up in the covered bridge
counting counting counting counting counting
lost his numbers counting so much
ice on the road
trees like spiders
fire running like water, like stopwatch clicking
Squirrel dancing in the firelight, puffy cheeks whistling
fire spilling, like that dawn spilling over the hills
fire glowing, bright day coming
firelight counts what daylight will see
see old horseshoes nailed to the walls
see cobblestones round and full on the ground
see H smiling in her sleep
see bread baking in the new oven
cloud scudding on the lake surface
mist from my mouth wet in the crisp air
hardwood trunk with the rotten lock
books on the table thick with letters
boots on the doormat, laceless, tongueless
stove clicking with heat, brimming
mirror fresh-painted, silver-lined
old newspapers scattering in the fire
crumpling lost days
old noses flaring at the scent of maple smoke
tasting the pre-dawn air
* * *
Squirrel’s glassy eye bright with counting
fire dull and spent, losing heat
all these things bloom like flowers
in the new day billowing over the hill,
fire’s snouts snoring softly
and Squirrel’s puffy cheeks blow the smoke away.
We will live together in this strange place,
You with your strange thick glasses
(Your eyes are soupy with fingerprints and dust)
The wail of sirens outside the window
The imprint of shattered things
playing on the phone machine
We will peel
layers and layers
of flaking comfort
from these enclosing walls
We will cease to be each other.
waterstains and rust
our curious selves
You will lose your chalky pallor
I will forget my reservations
We will cease to be each other.
Our voices will lap against the confines of this place
like echoes of swimmers in the dark
We will forget the license plates
Our memories will fray and unravel
The pillowcases will yellow with the oil
of our becoming
Then you will remember your bronchial cough
we will speak in measured tones again
light from the street will cast a morbid pall on events
The walls will collapse
I can find my own way out
I will call from time to time
I will start to remember
I will lose the key
You will dine on dust and soil
You will see things in a different light
You will record another message
and we will cease to be each other
Whitman Poem #1. "Crushed"
I have accepted my longing for you.
It’s comforting to me,
To live with a fading memory of
I might interpret
as a beckoning smile of yours,
the merest shred
of an exchange
that only barely qualifies as a conversation,
words like pennies in the dirt, that’s all.
This is enough
for me to paint your lips
across the canvas of the best hotel sex ever
imagined as a memory relived
in the crush of a pink cadillac’s
crushed velvet seats
Those pennies in the dirt
are the seeds of a garden so lush
that I don’t have to know its fragrance
to remember it
It comforts me
so much that it aches.
It was the second show in a matinee-plus-evening performance lineup. Bob and David consumed their oranges during the matinee's intermission, as is their habit.
(Publicly, I don't cotton to their supersitious habit of consuming citrus fruits during intermission. What, are we fending off scurvy or something? Did Mommy forget to pack us our peanut butter and jelly sam'iches? But privately, I'm starting to come around to the idea. I already quaff copious quantities of flavored mineral water and what-not, and I still find myself pretty damn thirsty in Act II. And my own custom of wolfing down chocolate chip cookies during intermission, for some inexplicable reason, isn't catching on with these two, nor is it doing anything for my thirst. And these two pogues are always twice as quick as I am when it comes to getting dressed after the show and stuff. Now, I say that's because I have oh maybe seventy-nine thousand costume changes compared to their cumulative six. I may be exaggerating there a little bit, but still... it's making me look bad. The director already thinks I'm some kind of somnolent manatee who smells funny. At this point, whatever I can do to improve my image around here, the better, and if that means I have to take up some cockamamie orange-eating custom endemic to these parts, then so be it.)
Bob and David, the quivering pansies that they are, go all teary-eyed and trembling at the thought of having to do a full-throated show with a full, uproarious house and all with no oranges for their intermission snackies. "The dried-out sod leeches the moisture from our supple throats" they whine. I exchange an indulgent glance with Freda, our Stage Manager whose honeyed commands I've seen many a mortal obey with the desperation of doomed desire.
Fortunately for Bob and David, Freda's gallant devotion to her duty wins my castmates their coveted oranges, which she picks up from the next door Deli (home of the finest roast beef melt subs this side of eternity, incidentally). "Ah, thanks, now we can go back to arranging our things so precisely that we can slip effortlessly out of our costumes and into our streetclothes, like so many corn snakes freshly awoken from their winter hibernation, and quickly shedding their rimy, worn-out skins."
I shrug and steal some orange slices. And the show goes on.