Horses #1: Alabama 1984 with I Don’t Know Who

Lately I was listening to Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  Several years ago, soon after I bought their hits CD (“Blank Generation”, “ Love Comes in Spurts,” “Down at the Rock & Roll Club” with Robert Quine’s great guitar work), when he was young enough to hop on the bed and I worked a job that usually got me home for supper and bedtime stories, Hank started babbling about horses.  In the liner notes (Remember those?) Hell and a young Tom Miller (later Verlaine, of Television) are described as 13 year old runaways from a Delaware boarding school.  They were caught trying to burn down a field in Alabama.  Huh?  Alabama, horses, herein lies a tale.

I had been let off on I-65 at the last stop in Tennessee, Lynchburg, where they make Jack Daniels, mid-March, leaves already lime and yellow coins out, even the next day further south in green fields silver with rain and standing cows some dogwood and redbud like my mom and I would drive out through The Cove to see on a certain mountainside in Pennsylvania every May I was in town.  Pretty soon, another guy got dropped off too, which, though nobody likes this, we made the best of with the usual dumb banter passed between two guys who’d rather not be together but realize it’s neither’s fault.  We quickly got a ride from a guy who lived just over the border in Alabama.  He wasn’t going very far, but he offered to take us to his place for dinner and then drop us off a little further down in Alabama before his wife got home.  We had steak.

Good to his word, the guy left (leave and let are interchangeable where I come from, and in this case, I’d argue, even in Standard American English) us off past dark at a ramp where we’d decided to try to hitch-hike through the night.  Soon we saw the stars occluded by slowly massing clouds and distant western lightning.  We could feel the night get heavier and thicker and decided to walk up to the bridge over the interstate which, thankfully, we could see about a mile ahead.  It was obvious that we could get there more quickly if we cut across a field than if we walked on the shoulder. Staying dry was becoming the priority over getting somewhere.  I don’t think either of us really cared to get where we were going in any real hurry anyway.  I know I didn’t.

Across the field, as we hurried, I kept feeling presences, like the one I felt was a ghost hitch-hiker following me through Independence, Missouri the autumn before but turned out to be some anthropomorphic shapes of lit up limestone and shadow near 3:00 AM.  There were mufflings of the soft ground, near indistinguishable snorts in the night’s gather of rustling storm.  They weren’t branches in the new wind, nor were they cars, more like restless pockets of warmth.  Vulnerable as we were, it was easy to imagine threats.  We stumbled on tussocks.  Soon lightning wavered off like a horizontal spider leg in the closing western night and crossed in maybe a dozen bicuspid arcs in the surrounding air near level to our heads.  Whinnies and snorts broke out all around us.  The lightning flashed again, this time close enough to illuminate the horses off whose backs it was reflecting.  They stomped a bit and twisted, crowding up restless in the night.  A few flashed momentarily, as though their manes were luminous comets, eyes alive as ephemeral planets, spooked, but giant flesh lacunae of dark thrilled and awed in the shared charge of night, who recognized us, I’ve always thought,  as some long estranged brothers, giddy and like them.


Welcome to the Human Race

Although many of them are fine entertainers and athletes, I find most people lacking, you know what I mean, in brain power.  Some people can even write poems and I’ve heard some are good at math and can study enough to ace the SAT, but those people don’t have much of a social life, so it’s not quite natural.  I mean, gorillas have been taught to use sign language, but that doesn’t make them Shakespeare, so really, why bother.  People mostly seem to care about flashy clothes and cars.  And sex? Well, you’ve heard about rabbits and monkeys.  As far as money goes, most of them’ll stretch your last penny out to copper wire if you don’t keep it in your pocket.  Don’t get me wrong, now.  I’m not prejudiced or anything–I believe in equal pay for anyone who can do the job, promotions too.  I’ve even had a few people over to my house for dinner.  Some of my best friends, in fact, are people.  I’d even trust some of them alone in a room with my teenage son, but I’m still quite uncomfortable with anyone I respect seriously dating one of them.  Pizza and movie’s OK, I guess, but if things get serious, well, think of the kids.  It’s not just what other kids would say or what others would think–I hope we’re beyond that by now–but think of the identity issues growing up in a half-human household.  They’d have to choose, after all, to be human or one of us, and someone’d be bound to get hurt.

Wyoming, late June, 1991: #1, Moose

Once I sat down in the foothills of the Rockies at Cloud Peak, Wyoming and smoked in ash colored moths.  It was more or less mid-Spring, by the flower clock, with flowers in tough little lavender spikes and in bright orange brushes all through the grass.  To my right a few mule deer kicked back into the forest of tall grey trees burnt out of all their branches and casting bars of shadow on the blue clouds of lupine filling up the ground between them.  To my left and downhill was the willow-alder bog that Dave and I skirted the edge of through an aspen grove.  We sat still as a young bull moose set down his feet all heavy out in the sphagnum and black acid water, antlers in velvet.  The night before, we did zazen in our tent while we were pounded by a hail storm and lightning.  All the aspens, their smooth flesh greenish grey, were streaked as with rivulets of the past night’s storm and were still in the submarine green of their leaves.  As the moose’s front shoulder peaked over a willow bush, he gave a short, weary puff, a cough, and I saw myself in nearly full hallucination deep into my future, long white hair and beard and weeping with the cleansing grief of relinquishment.  I loved the rest of that day and most of the rest of my life still speeding and into that picture of age.

My Doctor’s Shoes

December 28 at the doctor’s to hear everything checks out and I’m not getting more messed up, my doctor agreed to write Zoloft for me instead of my traipsing out to the psychiatrist to tell her once again that everything’s fine and give her my, though very reasonable, now useless co-pay worked out through Molly’s company.  The doctor, as a precaution with my borderline blood sugar, gave my feet a routine check and so, I guess by association since I rarely ever notice shoes, I looked at her feet.  I was struck by how with her plain black slacks and white doctor’s coat her shoes were leopard skin patterned with sheer, dark brown bows over their pointed toes.  The bows sort of laced out toward the edges and she was showing real toe cleavage.  How impossibly feminine can one woman get.

I was pleasantly bemused.  The shoe fit her in more ways than one.  She’s a classically pretty woman–almost embarrassed by her owning her beauty.  Her awareness of it brings on no hauteur, but rather, it seems, an assurance that almost asks you not to notice, so lightly no one seemed to care. She’s self-contained to the point that she drains the relationship of attraction by being so assured of herself that she doesn’t need you to even notice, let alone approach, a strangely cool way to be professional, like looking at a painting. But she’s nice, quick to reassure, make a joke, get you comfortable with your imperfections.  I guess, as a doctor, she sees a lot of imperfection, and just rolls with it, drops all the judgmental nonsense.

In the Catholic school I worked at in Altoona, where there was a uniform, the girls, many of them, having freedom to choose socks and earrings and hair, made quite a display of socks and earrings and hair, reveled in permission and entitlement to beauty.  And why not?  The assistant principal, whom I’ve always been rather fond of, once chased one of the most brilliant young women I’ve ever known down the hall to send her home for wearing a pink bra, the straps of which showed through the white Oxford cloth of the uniform.  In that environment, back when big hair was in vogue and even big lacy hair ribbons were common, I loved the earrings spilling and flashing and dangling out of the cascades of girl hair, one of the few good things about the 80s.  It’s different for guys and it pisses me off, but I love it that those girls could rebel against the school‘s prudishness by conforming to social constructions of gender production.  When conformity IS rebellion it turns to a little joke, and they taught me to drop the judgmental nonsense about the stupidity of objectifying the self as an appearance and just let them have fun, even if they do of course want much more than that.  Thanks girls.

Conceptual Postcard Art: #1

Once I was driving across Minnesota with my friend Dave when we came across a road sign warning “Bridge Work Ahead.”  Dave, being a sick punster, called it a sign for a dentist’s office, so I put it in a series I was writing of impossible, or near impossible, postcards based on some Jerome Rothenberg, I think he called them, “theatre events.”  Absurd as they were, they suggest my sense that art is more in the process and becoming than in the product, better for the artist than the viewer/reader.  Mine were divided into three sections: Preparation, Arrangement, Caption.

OK, so, and since this happened in ’91 this is the only one I remember…


As you go about your daily life, try to befriend a dentist.  Develop a normal acquaintance with him or her and try to use that relationship to befriend more and more dentists.  This might take awhile, but the doing, the arising, is as much a part of the art as, or more than, the visible product.  You’ll have to get to know them well enough that they’ll accept taking a trip with you, maybe in a van, or sharing expenses for a bus rental, to the plains of Minnesota, say, somewhere west of Rochester.  All expenses for food, lodging (if necessary), etc. should be shared among you and the dentists.  Once they’ve agreed (do NOT hire models), you need to find out through the Minnesota Department of Transportation, I guess, where bridges are being repaired, but not closed.  It should be in western Minnesota, though any plains state or Canadian province would do, I guess.


Once you’ve arrived, go to the warning sign, “Bridge Work Ahead.”  If it’s raining or cloudy, postpone the photo shoot to a nice day, minimal cloud.  Position the participating dentists along the road shoulder in a line back away from the sign.  Have each hold up a shiny dental instrument and wear whatever vestments of the trade each dentist sees fit.  They should be standing at attention, clear and proud.  It would be preferable to pose them just a bit after sunrise to minimize traffic, perhaps arrive ahead of the road crew, and catch the sun glinting off the dental instruments: mirrors and picks and drills and the like.  If there’s enough of them and they can be positioned so that they seem to trail off into a featureless horizon, that would be good.


Smile, You’re in Minnesota

Mr. Jerk-QB, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Steelers

I’m watching the Giants-Falcons now but looking to go out birdwatching before the Steelers-Broncos game later today.  I’m wearing my Pittsburgh Pirates hat to get some black and gold and capital P action going Pittsburgh-way.  When I was in 8th grade the Steelers destroyed my Vikings in the Super Bowl and I caught hell the next day in school.  Even so, some time in the late 80s, I extended my forgiveness to the Steelers (though not the Cowboys) for what they did to my old team.  The Vikings were the family favorite because my mother took Physical Therapy training in Bloomington, Minnesota, where the Vikings played outside in -40F weather and impressed me.  Also, even more, my mom went to school with a woman named Eller, who, although we’re not sure if there was really any relation, we assumed to be the mother of Carl, the all-pro DE of the purple people eaters Viking front –four.  When I was 10, man, that was awesome.  But I’m for the Steelers now because Randy Moss ruined them for me and I’m from Altoona and a lot of the people I know who care about football are for them.  It’s reasons like this that  make me aware that football is not just a game; rather, it’s a dynamic allegory of personal histories, arbitrary but powerful, or, as a film critic I work for would call it, a focalizing event for national affective sensibilities, or what Faulkner would call the field that “reveals to man his folly and despair” and where “victory is the illusion of philosophers and fools”.  I’m going to write out of that, or try to, assent to it in order to deflate it and show me a Steeler fan-boy.  A fool philosopher hoping for a Pittsburgh victory.

OK—this game today is a battle of quarterbacks.  Tim Tebow, of the Broncos, has to be my least favorite athlete in America.  Here’s a 20 something good-looking athlete, hulking, his face blaring the attitude of entitlement, who claims to be a virgin and is, I assume, handsomely paid to appear on national TV to admonish youth to repress their sexuality until marriage, equate sex with abjection.  If he’s that weird, well, bully for him, but, by doing so, he and the media conspire to make him and football a branding event, which is nothing new, but it politicizes and, worse, moralizes a game.  The Broncos and the NFL are co-marketed along with virginity and fundamentalist Christianity to the aggressive prude market and give them something to crow about.

I prefer Ben Roethlisberger because of, not in spite of, his being a jerk, or arrogant pig, or whatever you want to call him, who ends up having sex with drunk sluts in bathrooms and I don’t care.  Because he’s so seemingly unrepentant he doesn’t even illustrate the potential for redemption of fallen man, the myth so popular in sports, so feel-good with Josh Hamilton’s rise from heroin and alcohol to AL MVP and Jesus, to the uncomfortable pity some of us feel for Michael Vick and his apparently sincere guilt.  I like both of them and I don’t like Roethlisberger.  The important thing is that I like football, the Steelers, their very cool uniforms and my nostalgia for western Pennsylvania.  It’s not about Big Ben.  Roethlisberger’s behavior defies heroic apotheosis on all counts, and by denying it (as Pound translated Calvacanti on love, “who denies it can hear the truth now”), he can perform on the field as a football player, one drained of allegorical significance, and I can enjoy football, although we must not say so.

Happy New Year Yu All

If you know me but don’t know me really well you probably think I love birds the best, or light or flowers, but you’d be wrong because it’s fish, well, either fish or poetry.  Birds are like high school girls I’ve loved and admired, impossibly other and best seen through binoculars.  Fish, though, you need to get a hook in, or a net, or deep imagination, or very expensive equipment.  In other words, you have to be either rich or strange.  Partly, maybe, because I’m certainly not rich, I especially love those fish with skins and/or lobed fins: coelacanths, lungfish, mudskippers, eels and catfish, ones that can breathe air and walk and fool you that they’re transitional fish-amphibians as though terrestrial life were only in inchoate emergence still, even though it’s not true.  We’re ugly and weird and get down in muddy water and scrawl across land and have sensory organs dangling off our faces.  Pull us out of the water and we’ll cackle at you, like a dakini, or slime all over you; and be careful of our pectoral and dorsal spines.  As a channel catfish, we’re beautiful too.





I also love sawfish.

Just realized that once a student, I believe it was Angel, who had deep acne scars and whose parents sent her from Taipei to live with relatives in Piscataway to study in the US, told me that she and her family eat fish for New Year, albeit in their case Lunar New Year, because there’s a Mandarin homophone, yu, which means both fish and something connected to New Year. This is my New Year post.  If any of my Mandarin speaker friends know what the other meanings of yu are, please let me know.  If I’m just plain wrong, or misremembering, let me know that, too.

But I want to write about the pacu.  The pacu, and you could watch this on River Monsters yourself, is a near genetic cousin of the piranha and has adapted to a vegetarian lifestyle in Brazil and in Paraguay’s Parana River and marshes down into northern Argentina.  Those marshes are clear running floods filled with aquatic flowers and ambient roots and mangroves.  Peacock bass swarm in them, and there are giant freshwater stingrays and arapaima.  Arapaima are mouthbrooders, like catfish, where the male carries the swarm of spawned fry in his mouth for protection.  I just read that a female arapaima had been observed in Argentina secreting a white substance from her head and that the fry ate it.  That’s the kind of place that creates pacus.

Pacus became vegetarian while finding another niche in the river system that didn’t involve competition with the carnivorous piranha.  They’ve exploited the resource of fruit fallen from trees very well and have been introduced into Papua New Guinea where a lot of fruit used to fall from trees.  The introduction was meant to provide the native tribes with a replacement fish source after they over-fished the native species with newly adopted Western fishing techniques. The problem is that the pacu has become so successful at eating vegetation from the Papuan rivers like the Sepik that large stores of vegetable starches necessary to the Papua human diet have gone missing.  Now there’s a scarcity of falling fruit due to bank erosion brought on by the pacu’s depletion of flood plain and sandbar grasses.  Fewer immature coconuts, figs, etc. fall in the water, so the pacu have begun attacking anything of similar shape, including human testicles, vegetarians turning carnivorous.  So are they piranhas?  In the Papuan pidgin English, they are known as a “ball cracker.”  Nothing stays the same.

As the Papuan legends have it, a crocodile swims in shallow water churning up mud.  Sometimes the crocodile is killed, or otherwise goes quiescent, and the mud settles and things are a little stable, but it starts again, churning things up, going chaotic and the world goes on.  Happy New Year!