Saturday, March 29, 2014

Two Muhammads




Do you know the saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.” If you tend to think too much, like I do from time to time, it’s not a good saying. I realize that it’s a matter of choice. One of the glass-half-empty or glass-half-full variety. To some it is a simple matter of geography: you are where you are. These are the people who sleep well at night who are not often thought of by other people during the night. I believe that you are free to think of the world in any way you like, to the extent which your cultural and economic biases and subjective emotional responses to objective truths confine your ability to choose anything at all. After all, it’s a free country.


The world used to be big enough that you could find a place where what you wanted to do was acceptable. You want to maybe marry a 12 year old? You go to a place where it’s not only legal, but, in our sense of the word, correct. You want to watch 14 year old boys swallow semen? Sure thing. Go to Kunar province in Afghanistan and have a ball, guilt free.


It’s the Kunar-style bar mitzvah! Every burgeoning man imbibes that which ensures the continued existence of humanity. For that we go to doctors who give us medicine, but no matter. It is to live. To pass on virility. It may be hard to accept, but it’s not intrinsically wrong. Like debased currency and so many other things that are not wrong if enough people buy in.


So we have Muhammad in two places at the same time. A headline from the Kunar Gazette: "Muhammad passes into adulthood." And one from Township Times (Saginaw, MI) "Sexual Abuse Under Taliban Described as 'Institutionalized.'"


In the United States, Muhammad develops emotional problems. He struggles to achieve intimacy. His psychologist says its because he feels like people are taking advantage of him, but is reassured that these are only the ghosts in his head. He never has a wife or a child and he dies alone in Saginaw, Michigan. A lifetime gas station attendant.


Meanwhile, back in Kunar, Muhammad marries a first cousin, builds a home, and lives to have three children. The two sons are blown apart by a hellfire missile fired from a $14,000,000 dollar helicopter after being paid $5 each to drop a mortar into a tube. There is still the daughter. Prayer beads. Life is strange and Muhammad lives to see some unexpected things.


For instance, the Americans dig a well next to his home. It affords him hours and hours of time previously spent climbing up and down the ridge to the river. He lives to see his childhood home, where his uncle now lives, support goats. A dry, unforgiving slope turned green. His daughter marries an elder’s son. Then, while he is pumping clean, drinkable water from the American-dug well, he sees his wife, his uncle, his two cousins, his daughter’s new husband, the in-laws, and his daughter swept forever from the earth as a $27,000 laser-guided Mark 82 General Purpose Bomb falls through the roof of the home and detonates. Unexpected, like a handful of flour tossed into the wind. Poof.


As compensation for the error the Americans send a U.S. Army grief counselor with $10,000 in crisp, freshly printed bills and a letter of condolence from the president of the United States.


The grief counselor is from Saginaw, MI. His name is Dick. Dick asks Muhammad, through an interpreter, if he is an elder. The man with no family says no. Dick asks if he ever performed oral sex on an elder. "No!" the man says and looks in outrage at the translator, who is about the age his youngest son would be and indeed looks like him in the eyes. His son then utters the Pashto word for the male rite of passage and the man with no family says, “Yes, I am a man, but now that your mother and sister are gone I have nothing to show for it."


Dick hands the translator a canteen and directs him to the well. “Give us a minute,” he says. Dick doesn’t speak Pashto. Stands there. The translator returns to report that there is no water. Dick frowns, supposing habits of a thousand years are tough to break. But why let a well go dry? All it requires is a few pumps a day. Dick takes his canteen off his hip and hands it to the weeping man. “There you are."


Muhammad holds his hand in front of him after the canteen has fallen, reaching for something. The slopes turning brown. He sees the faces of his sons. The water dividing into tiny rivers in the ground between his feet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poetry

I don’t get it!
It's supposed to be difficult.
It’s stupid!
A good poem will come just short of resisting your intelligence.
FUCK I DON'T GET IT
Keep reading.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Read it until you understand.
How will I know that I understand?
The same way you know when sex has finished.
What?
It's obvious to you, isn't it. But you can’t explain it to me, can you?
Not without being vulgar.
That's why some people write poetry.


Lots of people who don't understand poetry write poetry.
Would-be poets ask themselves: What is a poem?
and the answer is: Something that doesn't quite make sense.
So then they write something that doesn't quite make sense
and the result is a lot of bad poems masquerading as good poems.


The difference is equivalent to that
between the feeling produced by internet porn
and the felt reality of human love.


Those unfamiliar with the latter
should steer clear of the former.


If you’re interested in understanding poetry,
pick a poem by a universally acclaimed poet
study it until you feel insane
and don't ever, ever look up what it means.


Focus, patience, and attention to detail
will make every poem laid before you seem beautiful.
Focus, patience, and attention to detail are what the poem asks for,
and unless you’re a selfish prick, you won’t feel satisfied until you’ve matched the effort of the poet.


But don't take my word for it.


People who need to be assured that they have a purpose
lead purposeless lives.
People who need to be told that there is a point to it all
rarely find a point in it all.


Because that's something you have to do yourself.


Most people don't know that the end of a poem
only occasionally comes
in the last line
of the last stanza.


Often it comes too soon.


Most people don't know how to end a poem like this one,
but I do.

The Voice

I had always wanted to write pretty poems
and one day they showed up.
They made no sense.
Soon they were being published.

But it wasn’t really me writing them;

A little voice in my head
would
come along
and do them for me.

The only problem was that I had to wait.
Sometimes it took weeks.

Eventually I started writing them myself.

They don't get published.
I don't submit them.
They're not exactly pretty,
but neither are you.

It’s been two months
and I'm getting better every day
at ending good things
abruptly.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why I Love Mountains: Part II





In walking the hills around Juticalpa I have found it difficult to make myself climb over or under barbed wire fences. This is not for fear of getting hurt; the fences are short, the wire is loose, and one could easily break the posts in half. My city education has taught me that trespassing, particularly through barbed wire, is a way to be legally shot and killed. I realize now that the barbed wire is for animals, not people, but naturally, my sense of danger has translated to Honduras where the murder rate is famously high.

So, with this apprehension in mind, I walk down the bending roads toward the mountains and approached houses. To see if the land is private. To see if it is OK. Invariably, I am told that the land is not private and invariably I am told that it is OK. Me standing out front, soon the whole family is there. The little boys and girls with fingers hooked in their mouths. A grandparent hunched behind the screen window like a stuffed falcon.

Then, someone, a son or daughter says "Pass. That you go well. Straight ahead." But why is there barbed wire if the land has no owner? And how can you give me permission if you do not own the land? And if I ask them anything at all, I ask them their names. Names are like flags.

The dogs snap at me again, then I climb those fuckers and come back down covered in shit they didn't even know they owned.

One time I aimed for a solitary palm tree atop a ridge and was delighted when I found a trail break off from the barbed wire, lead up to a windy landing, and continue into the middle of a line of lush, leafy, rustling bushes that lay in the shade of the palm tree. Stepping first around a large snake hole and then into the clear air of the top, I stood in the temporary darkness of the palm tree where, no more than four feet away, a white pony jerked its head from the deep green grass and bolted across a hidden saddle, then froze, like in a film, at the base of a grassy peak that rose from where I was to a point of perfection.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

That's Why I Live in a Car

Being single is like subjecting your heart to the disorienting sensation that’s common when you are sitting in a car and the adjacent car begins to drive away. At first you think you are the one rolling away so you hit the brakes and then panic and look at a thousand things at once before you realize you had it right the first time. The sickening ripple of equilibrium returns you from the accident you thought you were in, but weren’t, to where you already were.

Eventually you start the car, put it into drive, and take off like an idiot. You stop at a gas station and talk to a homeless man for an hour. His puffy jacket reminds you of going to Sears with your mother to buy winter jackets when you were a kid, and the guilt of losing them. Mom checking the tags to see if they are down or not. Those were low times.

“Hell!” the homeless man says. “You’re just like me!” and you look at him, and look around, and yell out: “fill it up!” but it’s not that type of gas station. You’re walking toward the car.

“How come none of my children ask me to live with them?” he calls after you. A flash of lightning above. You get in the car and close the door. Starts raining. You settle back, noticing the gas tank is full. Smile as the muffled voice comes through the door, remembering your favorite part of childhood camping trips was being in the tent in the rain. The safe feeling of--

“Ahhhhh! ya!” SMACK!

It’s the homeless man. Smashing his cave head against the window.

SMACK! again. The suction-cup mouth. The tongue trying to find a way out, maybe to find the teeth. “AHHHHHHHHHHHH! Where are you going!?”

“Get the fuck off my car!”

“Ahhhhhhhhh ya!”

SMACK!

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh ya!”

SMACK!

“Ahh! Ow! Ohh. Wow. Haha.”

“Serves you right!”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. ohhhh. Oooooo. Ok.”

Then he rears the head back, seeming, for whatever reason, triumphant.

“Ahhhhhh...”

“Hey!” you yell.

“…..ahhhhhh!”

“Hey!”

But it’s too late. He swings his solitary brain toward the glass, putting his hand out for the retractable side mirror, which retracts, and he falls, letting out a retroactive: “Ya!” He rises with a squeegee, no worse for wear, wiping the rain and blood from the window. He looks inside. Looking for a change. His face an ocean. You look into it, and at it, but..and he sees the change, and lunges for the door, which is locked, and he drops the squeegee and you drive away.

It’s fucked up. Some people have nobody.

So you drive onto a main street with lights and bars. An attractive woman is standing on the corner. You’re an OK guy so she opens the door and sits beside you and instead of telling you where to go she says thanks for the ride. And instead of asking her her name you drive without aim and pretend the car or the rain will go on forever.

“Hey,” she says, looking out the window, “is that blood?”

You look over your shoulder.

“No.”

“Well it looks like blood.”

You think, “Now what does that add to the conversation?” and then she says, “So! What do you want to do?” and you slow the car and ask, “Why do you care? Didn’t you just want to get out of the rain?”

Having been in love, you forget to tell yourself the little lies that make people want to have casual sex with you.

So then you’re parked again. Same spot. If only you could go back. That’s another thing that you forgot when you were in love: the importance of location. Single people always worried about locations. Why is that? You have nothing to do and you get finicky about time? Worried about wasting it I suppose. That’s a waste. Worrying. I'm single again and I'm loving it. That’s why I live in a car.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Game

The game was that I was walking ahead of you
on a Main Street on a long hill
that always curved to the left
so one could not see around the corners.

I could stop
or turn into a store
on the left side of the street
but I could not turn back.

You were behind me
but i don’t know if we’d agreed
that you could stop
or turn around.

Like most dreams
this one was full of illogical rules
and they were followed to illogical ends.
I could only continue living my life
on this side of the street
so that you would know where to find me.

This was something of a metaphor.

I woke up five or so minutes later
and walked onto my balcony
and lit a cigarette.
The rain was splashing off of an awning
and hitting my feet
so i finished it
in the bathroom
on the toilet
where I realized
that if I had left notes in the stores I visited
I could have walked on the other side of the street
or let you know that I was still waiting for you
despite the rules.

I laid down in bed.
It is always a struggle 
writing notes
not knowing if they will be read.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Good Company

Charles Bukowski

at seventeen i was a Marxist and an idiot.
i read the Beat generation because
everywhere i looked were rules
and the only alternatives I’d seen
were hobos.
then i found the literary misfits
the bad boys
burroughs kerouac whoever
they got it right
and they got right to it
for better or worse
usually worse,
like me
they had no patience
and didn’t love themselves.
reading them is a bit like drinking tasteless beer.
there’s no reason for it.

besides that it’s cheap
and once you’ve gone through two or three
there’s no reason to stop;
two or three just leave you tired.
so you burn through it all,
like the author
and come to the end of a living body
of work
unsatisfied.

so i took a chance
and tried my luck with a different crowd.

i started with Joyce
only to see what i was up against
then went to Baldwin because he reminded me of my mother
and finally settled on Hemingway, the father
i never had, who showed me
that great feat, the novel, could be done.

it became clear that the writers i'd sat around with
the poets
the bad boys
breaking silly little rules
were just like teenagers
who never stopped wearing silly shit.
they wanted desperately to do what the masters did
but never had the patience or bravery
to see if they had the gift.

i feel sorry for them,
but not too much.

sure, sometimes
i worry that i'm drifting to the right,
i'm drifting to the right.
so what?
i wonder how much farther i'll go.
anyway, i'm not afraid of living
any more.

because i met Bukowski.
thank god for Bukowski.
crude dirty old Bukowski.

i met him at the wrong time
and found him sort of juvenile.
i pictured Hemingway saying,
“Just capitalize the letters, Chuck. If you have something to say, say it.”
and someone else, who never, God bless them, ever
wrote nearly as much as Bukowski saying,
“Acknowledging the authority of the oppressor in order to subvert their authority
is itself an act of subservience.”

which is
very good
horseshit.

Bukowski was unkempt
and like my old friends he broke the rules.
he began all his sentences with lower-cased letters.
but, what’s different about Bukowski, and what matters,
is that he wrote one hundred poems a night for fifty years
on a typewriter
perhaps if an ordinary man is to accomplish anything
he must cut corners.

so you feel like crying when an amateur mexican boxer goes down.
and you feel like murder when management changes the odds
at the last second of the 8th race
at the Santa Anita racetrack.
feel like cheering when the gamblers climb the gates
and management directs the jockeys to start the race
and a small moan comes from the crowd
as the men
who have nothing but their bodies
lay themselves down on the track
and glance over their shoulders
as the jockeys kick the horses into a gallop
and plunge the animals into them.
for once all the bodies are touching.
there is an exhale
then it's over.

writing thousands of poems
dozens of books
burning like oil
eighty years
whoring
and
gambling
and
pumping the iron.

Bukowski showed up.

if Hemingway’s metaphysic was the bullfight.
Bukowski’s was the horserace.

there were one hundred bad ones for every good one.
and every good one came at the price of ninety nine.
but unlike bullfights or horse races  
you never see Bukowski’s bad poems.
after his death they published three books of his poetry
and they’re all good.

one is called
"girl in a mini-skirt reading the bible outside my window."
you can imagine what it's about,
but you'd be wrong.
another is called "art."
here it is:

as the
spirit
wanes
the
form
appears.

Bukowski was cheap
but he wasn’t tasteless.

sit with him.

fifty years at a typewriter
is as good company
as wine.