Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Words on God and Poetry for Felecia because she asked.

If being a Christian requires a belief in the supernatural, I am probably not a Christian. I have no mystical experiences to share—or none, at least, that propel me toward belief of a magic man in the sky or a magic hippie wordworker in ancient Palestine who drove demons out of pigs and slummed with whores and tax-collectors. Christianity is not really a pretty story, but the churches tilt toward opulence. I respect the smoke, the glass, the genuflections. I admire the hard-drinking priest.

Most of what I know about Medieval and pre-Medieval Christianity in England, I know through the French, by way of Middle English. The Breton Lays and the Arthurian tales and such—little inventions made to be recited alongside a lute, while ladies dumped chamberpots on the cobbled streets below. We're in the city now, understand, a few centuries past Lancelot and his comrades. They say the idea, the modern idea, of love originated in places like these; a fascinating tale it is and, of course, hogwash. I don't put much faith in truth, though. So perhaps I'm a Christian after all. What I have learned from the Lays, though, is this: if you are a beautiful high-born lass, do not, under any circumstances, take a nap underneath a tree. This I know.

The garden is teeming with cucumbers this year and some very hot chiles that grow upward, pointing at the sky. They are very spicy. The tomatoes are still green. The wildflowers are so wild, they've refused to show their faces. When I survey the backyard I am most afraid that the gigantic oak tree will be wrenched from the ground by an unseasonable gust and smash the shit out of my parents' house, the only house I've ever really been emotionally involved with. Maybe then, post-destruction, I could believe in God. Maybe if the house is smashed, my mother will be forced to re-decorate. I think in a former life I could have been one of those smartly dressed gay men who have home makeover shows on the DIY channel. My own apartment, though, is spartanly decorated. A few pictures of my daughter, a photo of the Clash on the fridge. A small print of a Greek statue of Odysseus' elephantine blue stone ass, placed at eye level next to the toilet.

I believe in poetry at least as much or as little as I believe in God. I don't like poetry that most people are supposed to like. At least not in this part of the forest. I find the idea of “beauty” and the notion of beauty as achievable through language both coarse and arrogant. If I ever have to read another Li-Young Li poem, I'd advise onlookers and passersby to find something to do that involves not being in my presence. Poetry, like God, is best when it is inscrutable. Once, several summers ago, I awoke mid-dream and stumbled out the back door. I was in the country and the sky was inky black. Crickets played their legs in the not-so-distant distance. I stood there for a long time. And then a glow emerged. Faint halos appeared around the oak tree, the rosemary bush, an ancient roto-tiller atop a mound of dirt. Then I turned. It was just the porch light.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Moral Logic of Assholism"

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has a new book called Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years.

On Slate's recently re-booted, or returned from hiatus, Lexicon Valley podcast, hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield examine the A-Word with help from the author. Among other things, they discuss the curiosity that is the gendered use of "asshole." We almost always use it to refer to men. I won't go into the (rather provocative and interesting) analysis here, but this quote stuck with me:

"We will know who women have achieved some measure of gender equity when asshole women can be called assholes right along with asshole men."


When S. and I were careening toward break up, we had a few near-fights. By near-fights, I mean to clarify that we never really argued like I imagined other couples argued. There was no throwing objects and screaming, no dramatic Hollywood wailing and implications of violence or simmering tensions just about to bubble over. No. We didn't argue all that much. But twice, twice, I called her an asshole. I honestly don't recall what she had said to me to provoke me, but I remember feeling as if she was being mean, not being fair, and I told her to stop being an asshole.

That was maybe our biggest "fight" because I had never called her a name before. And she didn't forget it. A few weeks or months later, right before the split--or maybe it was months after--we had another very different argument during which S told me that I didn't love our child. I wish I remembered the details.

Visibly shaken, I sat down. Trembling, I sat down. Nobody, up until that point in my 37 years on the planet, had ever said anything to me that hurt that much. I don't remember if I spoke then or if I just walked out. But it came up again and I said "you told me I didn't love my daughter. You deliberately hurt me." She countered that I had been hurtful to her and cited the time, months earlier when I had called her an asshole.

And I then understood that she either didn't understand or didn't care. That was nearly three years ago and I don't blame her for reacting rashly. I am still puzzled though by the response. I answered her. I told her that the world is full of assholes. Lots of people can act like assholes. I've been an asshole plenty of times and I'm sure I will be an asshole in the future. I can live with that. I can live with being an asshole. And sure, there are a lot of people who probably don't care for their children, even people who don't love them.

"What would you rather be, S?" I asked. "An asshole or someone who doesn't love your little girl?"


I'm probably an asshole for posting this. That's all right. This was all what now seems like a long time ago. I've still got a long way to go.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anxiety and the Five-Minute Poem

In February of 2011 I was living a pretty sad, besotted existence. Big surprise there, I know.

I hadn't written, really written, in a few years. Post-baby, post-breakup, post-job loss.

I "met" a girl. On the internet. We talked nightly for about two weeks. We gushed and were icky in fake love. Then one day she stopped calling.

But during one of our first conversations I wrote a poem about Tang and the Space Shuttle Challenger. After that, I wrote a couple dozen more, nearly all occasional poems for particular people.

Last night I attempted to revive that, and wrote a poem for David Wright. He, in turn, wrote one for me. His is here:

David Wright's poem for Anthony Robinson.

He used an actual postcard and is sending it to me via post, like in the olden days.


Here's my poem for him:

For David Wright

Between the backlit woman & the backboard
in the last gym for miles,

past 5773 years of a nothing we painted

an up smudge

of dodge & burn;

past the knowing & not
knowing, the filters of apple & honey;

there is a caustic unraveling, between us, poet of Midwest

Landscape, Polaroid &

me the endpoint of a horizon of errors—

Ours is a marriage of silences. Two trees.
the ranging forest floor, the small tomorrows.