Le Pont Mirabeau & The Backbone Flute // 1.28.21

Wrote Guillaume Apollinaire:

Below the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine
        And so our love
    I have to be reminded
That joy comes always after pain

        Darkness comes to mark the hours
        Days carry on, I do not

Hands in hands, face to face
        While below
    Swings the bridge of our arms
Ripple our weary, eternal glances

        Darkness comes to mark the hours
        Days carry on, I do not

The lovers go on like that running water
        The lovers go on
    As life goes, unhurried
And savage, like Hope

        Darkness comes to mark the hours
        Days carry on, I do not

Pass the days, and pass the weeks
        No time is spent
    And love stays gone
Below the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine

        Darkness comes to mark the hours
        Days carry on, I do not

& Wrote Vladimir Mayakovsky:

If you carry your faltering steps to a bridge,
how good to be down there--
then it is I,
the Seine pouring under the bridge,
who call you,
baring my rotted teeth.

Translations: mine for Apollinaire; Hayward and Reavey for Mayakovsky

The Pebble Lies Where it Does Freely // 1.18.21

In the past few days I discovered, purchased, and read a lovely little book, Robert Farrar Capon's The Third Peacock. I love little books, and long poems, I've found. (I also recently finished A.R. Ammons's Tape for the Turn of the Year, an endlessly inspiring long poem.)

A few years ago I was recommended Capon's Supper of the Lamb, the great food-writing classic, and I read a good bit of it, but not all. Then later I found and read a bit of his Between Noon and Three, but haven't finished that either. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the Capon I've read, and when I stumbled upon The Third Peacock, short and just a few dollars, I figured I'd try it out too.

I was enthralled. The book is subtitled, The Problem of God and Evil, and does the best job I've seen anywhere of dealing with (but not creating) theodicy. Instead, Capon's thesis seems to be the same as the great Unitarian Universalist Kurt Vonnegut's, when he wrote his first memoir, Palm Sunday: "...that human behavior, no matter how ghastly or ludicrous or glorious or whatever, is innocent."

Capon was Episcopal, and I am an Anglican, or more specifically I was baptized Anglican, and would like to practice some more Anglicanism sometime. I have felt more and more lately, that when Jesus told his followers to "count the cost," he was giving them an out, and the true cost of taking up the cross of Christ is far greater than most are willing to take up, myself included, on most days. And the penalty, for not taking it up? None prescribed.

(This understanding of the "counting the cost" bit was given to me by the great essayist, Joshua Gibbs, one day when I was trying to convince him to convince me to convert to Orthodoxy.)

Due, I imagine, to our scant denominational differences, Capon's dogmatic theology is practically what I believe, and so it was lovely to partake of his wisdom. I learned a lot, I'd say, and was able to reframe much of my anxiety, particularly about correct action, and the immense fear of my own sin. The fear was given to me as a nice bonus to the Rapture-monging I was exposed to in my youth, and while I've shed the Rapture bits, the fear is even more insidious, and more entrenched.

What Capon offers is not a systematic understanding of God and the problem of evil, but a mysterious picture of mystery. And he is willing, like so few since the days of the early church, to suggest that Christ is indeed reconciling the whole world unto himself. So, right up my alley.

As I began the book I had to stop several times to remind myself who had written it. Is this Fredrick Buechner? Is this Walker Percy? Two of my favorites, and spiritual siblings of Capon, I have determined.

This is a sprawling post, and with no point in fact. But I wanted to recommend the book to anyone interested, with my enthusiastic seal of approval.

I'd like last to share a favorite bit of Capon's logic, as  he retells the story of the Devil tempting Christ in the wilderness. Capon puts forth that the Devil actually throws out some pretty good pitches: Make those stones into bread; Christ does him one better, and feeds the multitudes, twice. Throw yourself down, and have your angels rescue you; Christ again beats the trick, at Calvary. Bow down to me; Christ makes himself sin, abases himself as low as any person ever got, descends into hell, and so wins the whole world.

Lucifer's posture is that of every person at some point, and especially those evil doctors of theodicy. "I can do it better, I could run the world and make everything just fine. What the hell are you doing?" This is what gets him the boot, ultimately, but Lucifer is forced to remain prince of this world, to walk up and down, and to and fro in it. And be proved, time and again, that it is good. And so, as David Bentley Hart says, in the ages, shall we.

Photo used without permission: Three Peacocks by Margarita Kubyshkina.

Top 10 // 1.17.2021

What with all the recent unpleasantness, I thought it only right to make and publish a list of my 10 favorite albums. Not the Top 10 albums of all time, because I do not listen to that much music, and am not qualified to make that kind of judgment call. But, you know, I thought this would be healing. 

I'm putting them in order of favoriteness, because I value your time. Remember, I'm a white dude, queer sure, but still, probably kinda garbage taste. 

  1. We All Belong by Dr. Dog — Absolutely killer album. Love it. Would recommend to any person. 
  2. Is This It? by The Strokes — Easy pick. If I was looking for a fight, which I'm not, I doubt I'd find someone to take the other side on this album.
  3. I'm Wide Awake It's Morning by Bright Eyes — I'm baking some cookies right now, give me a moment. 
  4. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper — I haven't listened to the new Chance album yet. 
  5. Rogue Taxidermy by Days 'N' Daze — Okay, Days n Daze frickin sucks, I get it. 
  6. French Quarter/Fresh Jihad by AJJ
  7. Wolf by Tyler the Creator — Tbh this album frightens me quite a bit. 
  8. The television show House, M.D.
  9. Your Bright Eyes... by Captain Chaos — This band was fronted by Chris Clavin, who I believe is a shitbag, but as far as I know you can't find this album of Bright Eyes covers anywhere except on my computer, so it's kind of a wash. 
  10. Dog Problems by The Format — This is a wonderful album by Nate Kreuss's old band, and inspired me this evening, while I was doing the dishes, to make this list, because it is my tenth most favorite album. 

Mea Culpa // 11.26.2018

In college the salient question was ever only, "Where are we drinking tonight?" There were three or four places we drank—most often my place, back when we had the dorm and everyone was still around. Sometimes it was "The Sackhouse," as we affectionately called the off-campus apartment out in Brownsville, on Sackman. Or, an apartment that had been passed around between guys at the college for years, I don't know who was the first or last of the line of King's folks who lived there.

This apartment was fairly large, the top floor of a walk-up, with a nice roof that was always available. My favorite feature of the apartment was the fire escape out the kitchen window. On occasion, to escape the rigamarole of Leaving The Party, I would excuse myself to the kitchen, take two tallboys from the fridge into the interior pockets of my denim jacket and escape out to the fire escape. From there I'd climb up to the roof, take the building's stairs all the down, out the door, and off I'd go home.

Eventually I'd get a text, "Where are you?" I was home, watching Netflix and drinking my stolen beers. Which is how I liked it.

I did this again, this past year, I quit my job, I packed my things into an army surplus duffle bag and got on a bus. Now I am in Florida, I work two jobs, I am home quietly. I have not written here or elsewhere in months.

I get messages and emails, however, from people that I have duped, asking me to read a thing of theirs, which I lazily ignore, telling myself I will get to it. They believed me when I said I was a writer, when really I am a recluse. Mark Burger, even, my friend, a man I love, sent me early work from his The Red Beast, and I never got back to him in any way that mattered. He credited me online as someone who helped, but reader, do not be fooled. I was in no way helpful, and Mark Burger's great success in producing his book-of-poems in no way reflects on me. I wish it did, it is a lovely book. It does not.

My writing anymore is scant (hyperbole, it does not exist) and everything I had out for submission has been politely declined. What I do have is a book of poems, the last of which I finished around the time I arrived in Florida. It has just been sitting around, but I know that the illusion is fading, and if I do not present you soon with evidence to the contrary, the unexception that is my entire person will be evident to you. So, dearest, here is a book of poems, I wrote for you again:

Spring and Modernity // 5.16.18

The death of history occurred, and I guess it is silly to suss out just when that was exactly, let us say near early modernity. Whether it prompted modernity or was instead killed by it, I also cannot say. This is just the introductory paragraph, after all, and I am struggling toward my idea.

James Joyce and Ezra Pound both took it upon themselves to rewrite for the world ("make it new"), Homer's Odyssey, Joyce with Ulysses, Pound in the Cantos. Faced with tradition's end, these two, like Dutch boys with their fingers plugging the levee, held the line and died there, Joyce perhaps optimistic about the efficacy of his effort, Pound not at all, for he knew another, larger levee had broken long before, the town was flooded, and there would be no one to come find his corpse or celebrate his sacrifice.

William Carlos Williams (actually something of a Dutch boy) and Louis Zukofsky, neither of them native English speakers (perhaps meaningful) (add to that group also Gertrude Stein), rather than die on the hill of lost tradition, aping Homer on the way, became Homers in their own rights (or perhaps rather Catalluses, or one of each, or someones else), and finding themselves in a world with no history, declared it not a world recently dead, but a world newly born.

And a new world needs poetry.

Spring, on any planet where there are springs, will always lend herself to mythology as the eternal recurring rebirth of the world. Williams and Zukofsky recognized her as such and so took heart, seeing themselves residing in the first spring, rejoiced of a world to write in, and so in return mythologized her once again.

Williams, in his strange introduction to Spring and All, wrote "It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING." and later, "Suddenly it is at an end. THE WORLD IS NEW." In spring, the world is becoming new, becoming, not quite new yet.

———"They enter the new world naked,
———cold, uncertain of all
———save that they enter. All about them
———the cold, familiar wind."

A stanza from the titular poem of Spring and All. Zukofsky also, the first stanza of And Without:

———And without
———Spring it is spring why
———Is it death here grass somewhere
———As dead as lonely walks
———As living has less thought that is
———The spring.

Spring both new and not. Pound wrote in forlorn hope, that winter would ever end, that the daylight might somehow (magically?) quit retreating and return again. Williams hoped instead that spring would be accomplished, that the world indeed might be made new, for he had reason to believe it might, he saw it all around.

E. E. Cummings (and to be honest, I can't say with confidence what ever he was doing) wrote: "Spring is like a perhaps hand / (Which comes carefully / out of Nowhere)". His optimism more cautious than Williams, less queasy than Zukofsky.

I know it was largely for practical reasons that each year Zukofsky worked on his long poem "A" in the summers, but also perhaps he wrote then because at last, there was a new world to write in.

The Grandeur That Was Pinkberry // 5.11.2018

I imagine frozen yogurt as a somewhat new artifact. When I was born there was ice cream, and then at some point along came frozen yogurt, and while not entirely displacing ice cream, it took a place of importance alongside, not only as a substitute, but as its own entity, intrinsically new, fashionable, liberal, futuristic. Ice cream has tried to steal (back?) some of this ground, for instance with that flash-frozen garbage that both came and left all of a sudden. But it generally has remained in imagination classic, old-fashioned, conservative, even masculine; the two distinct from each other.

I'm thinking of this because we went to Menchie's a few days ago with my niece, telling her we were off to get ice cream, but that's not true, it's frozen yogurt. Is the assumption that she is not ready to hear about this gay new dessert? Or simply too young to understand the concept, and so is given a simpler, wrong answer, "This is ice cream." I asked my mom when she learned about frozen yogurt, she said it was when she was dating my step-dad, but then remembered, “Isn’t TCBY frozen yogurt?” It is, established when she was a teenager. Will Jamie someday imagine that it came to be during her adolescence, as I imagine it did in mine, as it actually did in my mother’s?

And so, Edgar Allan Poe. I learned in high school—around the same time I discovered frozen yogurt I imagine—that Poe's sordid reputation was a farce. He was not at all the debauchee he was made out (to me) to be, but instead commanded the respect of many of his peers, during his life and long after, and his reputation was a smear job. But when I learned the truth of Poe, it had already (and always) been known. Not new information, just new to me. From Mallarmé’s The Tomb of Edgar Poe:

When an angel proffered pure words to mankind,
Men swore that drunken squalor lay behind

Why, like frozen yogurt, is the truth about Poe something one must come to in adolescence? William Carlos Williams gives a perhaps-explanation for this persistence, “It is to save our faces that we've given him a crazy reputation, a writer from whose classic accuracies we have not known how else to escape.”

Which seems true, but from what, in imagining frozen yogurt as new, are we saving our faces from now?

Crushing // 5.1.2018

Cole (my best friend) and I, in an attempt to suss out those individuals whom we might love, those we hope we might someday even know, will categorize certain folks as “real people.” This is clearly a subjective delineation, as we are both more than willing to immediately vouch to the other for the realness of our brothers, “You can trust me, Jake/Tucker/Noah is a real person.” Statistically, what with the stringency of our allowance to that “real” category, it seems absurd all three of our brothers might be real. So we admit the practice is not empirical in the least. (It is also not necessarily mutual; you might be real to me but not I to you.)

While it is always a stronger case when both Cole and I know the subject, we trust each other according to some (perhaps transitive?) property that states, “If X is real to you, and you are real to me, then X is real to me.” This trust is hard to come by, and resembles the moment Cole exclaimed (I may be misremembering), “I keep telling you that Mad Men is good, that you should watch it. You not watching it feels like an affront to our relationship, that you don’t trust me.” I did watch Mad Men, (now years later I am rewatching it) and the account that contains my trust in Cole received another huge deposit.

As with Mad Men, so music, books, movies, Cole and I urge each other toward, and the designation of “real” (which also could mean true, worth knowing, beautiful, and myriad other things in our conversation) can at times apply to these objects as well. Once, sitting on his couch I played for him various songs by Michael McGuire (you can find at The Supposed So and Dad’s Typewriter), because I could vouch both that the music and the musician were real, and also to compel Cole to make music of his own, as I believe a good tree might likely produce good fruit, and I would like to sit on other couches and play for other real people the music of the Ur-Person, the Form of Real, the Standard Against Which All Others Will Be Measured.

I enjoy coming across these real works, and then telling all the people I know, real or not, what I have found. A few months ago that discovery was Horace and Pete, Louis C.K.’s multi-cam dramedy webseries, for just about a week, until everything came out that compelled me to 1) stop talking about Louis C.K., and 2) find something else to talk about. Revelations (and the possibility of revelations) like those, as well as the rarity of real work, tends to push me toward work I have already consumed—I have watched House, M.D. all the way through at least eight times; these past couple days I am rereading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. With work I know I love, I don’t have to worry about it sucking and I am not in danger of being hurt.

Just as Cole has carte blanche recommendation privilege, so also have certain artists in their promotion of their own work to myself: Allison Janney, Ben Balserak, Chance the Rapper, Claudia Rankine, David Bentley Hart, Joan Didion, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Julianna Margulies, Maggie Nelson, Miranda July, Susan Howe. And in the interest of reducing the task of mining my inheritance that is the entire world, I tend to make sweeping cuts with often baseless standards—eliminations include the Coen brothers, David Sedaris, Doug Benson, the creators of How I Met Your Mother, Jonathan Franzen, the Marvel movies, Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Žižek. I expect none of these will ever make any substantive contribution to my life, even were I to really try to let them.

These categories also serve as a good rubric: if Didion’s Play It as It Lays does nothing for you, I’m not sure we can connect on any substantive level; if, alternatively, How I Met Your Mother produces in you some emotional response that resembles enjoyment, I can’t see how we’d ever get along. (These are both sweeping pronouncements, and not altogether true (nor particularly brave).)

Anyways, as is my wont, I began this essay planning for it to serve as a tract for something else, in this case for the music of Ben Bonessi, but got sidetracked. So let me here state that to my knowledge, Ben Bonessi is a real person, and the music he makes is worth listening to, is in fact the only music on my iPhone that I never skip past. You can listen to/download it all here. It’s really quite good.