Sunday, September 27, 2009

Underwear Sonnet

Mother, after thirty years of mothering,
after thirty years of washing our underwear
five times a week (at least), you’ve suddenly
found yourself in a new predicament:
you’re underwear-less. That is, you’ve got your pair,
but ours, all four of ours, reside now elsewhere,
in other drawers. My streaky whites still roam,
nomads looking for a home, the ugly ducks
of the underwear clan— even they have gone
and left the nest. At last. The youngest bum
is married off, and your washer sits idle,
no longer needed. And you? What about you?
You’ve just begun. Our clothes were morning clouds
and they’re pulling away. Now comes the sun.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When to Her Lute Corinna Sings

That's the lovely tetrameter line (by Thomas Campion) I've been repeating all day, after my morning flashcard session. I found out I can hold index cards against the steering wheel while I commute, and peep down for momentary GRE tidbits-- long enough to see a word or two of information. Recite the rest from memory.

Not poems, mind you. Little bits of info. Who Grendel was. What Sir Russell ate. The Kings and Queens of England, and the poets who flattered them (or seemed to flatter them, meanwhile secretly waylaying them with insults). I don't think I'd personally ever write a sonnet (ironic or otherwise) for our own dignitary, Mr. President Obama-- at least, not in his current, cool-headed temperament. If he were more like the Kings and Queens of England, regularly dismembering his subjects (i.e. potentially me and mine), I suppose I might. Something jazzy.

I never intended to make language my field. To, um, plow those rows. To hoe those fertile sentences, to harvest a bumpercrop of meaning. Drop the metaphor, Justin.

But there, unwilling to let it drop, stands Piers Plowman, of William Langland's "dream vision" fame. He's standing before a field of folk. He sees a multitude of people spread across England's bonny landscape, like ripened ears of corn. People and their lively discourses, undifferentiated, up from the pungent soil. Unsure of how to go about this unique bit of farming, how to see through the rangy, spreading discourse to the people it covers. If that's possible. Whether people and language are the same thing, almost. Organically intertwined, he thinks. Leaning on the hoe, thinking. Till suddenly, there comes a tap on the shoulder: It's a man in a black hood, and not one of Chaucer's 29 merry pilgrims.

"I'll take it from here," he rasps, a gleaming sickle ready by his side.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Occasional corridors, hallways, that we come upon; these moments when we're meant to choose a door. As in the game shows: Door number 1, Door number 2, or mystery box. That darn mystery box, somehow so tempting.

I'm looking for an apartment. A small one is all I need. And so, this woman working for Apartment Corporation X called awhile ago, asking if I was still interested in their 1 bedroom deal in Oregon City. I wasn't. "I'm going in a different direction," I told her.

The direction I was going, at that moment, was a studio apartment in Tualatin. One of those open rooms, with a kitchenette on one wall, and a bathroom through the little door, and that's it. A musty made-in-the-70s smell. The stove looked like it belonged to a travel trailer from the 50s. "See, it's really nice for one person who doesn't want a lot of space," said Brenda, my tour guide.

The shells that we live in, exist through. Bodies, Cars, Homes. Concentric spheres of being, radiating out from a moving center.

Which isn't what I told Brenda. I told her I'd think about it. And I am, sort of. I'm feeling that special bubble of existential anxiety, of having to choose in the face of absurdity, and ...

Quiet, little heart. It's already okay.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Runnin' on Love

The little lyric that's been running through my head these last few weeks:

Needs another body:
First the one to live through,
then the one to hold to.

I'm sitting here baffled, again, by life. Wonderstruck, again. I've given myself a goal for the next few years, but the little voices in my blood are keeping me aware of how arbitrary are the hooks upon which goals are hung. Ephemeral hooks, made to seem solid by rhetoric. All that I'm doing in all of this is living my little human life; surviving, eating food, etc.

I think it was Chesterton who said that only one thing makes life's weird and brief days wonderful: love. Ideas too, yes, but these ideas gain their loveliness through community; that is, all mental representation of our animal life hinges upon discourse, and discourse is a kind of love. My students at SBC and I spoke of this yesterday: the passage of mental representation from one head to another. Discourse, communication, speech. Love.

Everybody needs another body. First the one to exist through; to speak through, to move through, to do through. Then another body: one to speak to, mean with, hold to. Love seems to amplify our mind into something more than a survival mechanism, and without this amplification... well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Less weird. Maybe less luminous. Or, maybe just as luminous, but we'd lack the ability to contemplate the light.

Actually, I think love is just one kind of discourse, and not the one that makes us more philosophical than the woodpeckers or the star-nosed moles. The star-nosed moles participate in the discourse of love. They couple, they feed their children, they nuzzle the earth.

Our love is a different breed. I'm speaking into the void of the internet. Why don't the chimpanzees have internet? Are they wiser without it?

As I stare at this screen, and try to feel my own presence in the little room I'm in, I'm thinking about Wendell Berry's dislike of screens: computer, television. Anything that takes him away from his life, which is his presence. I think.

Do the chimpanzees not feel enlightenment? Epiphany? Do the random, sundry facts of livingness not suddenly cohere into a luminous knowledge of being, for them? And why not?

I wrote a paper, back at Biola, about how speech leads to self awareness. It sounds like a psychology paper, but it wasn't, quite; it didn't know what it was. At any rate, it took into account the fact that animals could communicate. It's primary example was the tail slapping of beavers. But the paper's contention was that beavers didn't dialogue, didn't engage in Platonic dialectic, didn't wax eloquent back and forth during their tail-slappery, and this was why they didn't know themselves.

"And when the soul is buried in a sort of barbaric bog, dialectic gently pulls it out, and leads it upward," says Plato via Socrates, in the Republic. Dialectic: dia- between, legein- to speak. Two bodies, passing words back and forth, passing meaning back and forth. Passing a enlightened look of the world we are being in together, back and forth. The human light, different than chimpanzee light. They have their lights, and we have ours. Ours has produced the internet. For better or worse. The internet, which is caught up in the realm of human being, human meaning, the which I'm currently using to make a bodiless being for myself. A pretentious, overly-wordy bodiless being for myself.

Strange that these words (and the person that they carry) may very well be here after I am gone away. After my presence ceases to happen through this body, and the world through which it moves and means. After death seals my individuality, thereby ending it.

When I die (oh well of lofty emotions!) have someone that I love standing by, to point at my dying self and say: see, he really was his own man. And then to kiss me, to kiss the thing that used to make my being, for what it was, possible.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Land We've Gotten Ourselves To

Assessing the land we've gotten ourselves to, he says, not particularly wanting to speak in plural, but feeling a little self-conscious about saying something like that in the singular first.

As I've said before, I like the figure of life as a journey. Which probably has something to do with all of the journeys, allegorical and literal, that are taken in the Bible. Children of Israel from Egypt, Christ through the Wilderness, Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow, etc. Going somewhere, sometimes with a place in mind, sometimes without. One place I'm journeying towards is my own death-- and where else? We are quick to say that each one must live up to his potential, in life. Therefore, another potential journey would be toward Best-Justin.

Luckily, it's not true. Sojourners we are, and sojourners we will be whether we do well in the land of our sojourn or not, whether we find a way to make the population think us brave and good, and find a way to take advantage of conventions, or whether we do not.

I say: realize the sojourn. Which sounds phenomenally pop savvy. All these conventions that we fulfill along the way to make ourselves feel as though we've done well, in order to effect ourselves a livelihood: contigent swirls of being we've fallen into, in with. Best-Justin is a chimera of these contigent swirls.

The real pleasure is the falling, and the knowing of it. The falling through temporary cultural vapor. The deeper and slower vapors: earth, plant, flesh.

We are through being. Which can mean in three ways, though one's not true, yet.

The first two: It's who we are, and how we have our being. And when we're through with it, when we've gotten through it all, and there's nothing next, then after that, what kind of being will rise up, out of the abyss, to welcome us?

The saying of it easily slips into sentimentalism, and yet I can feel my own presence, if I stop typing for a moment. And it drives me to speak.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

When We Talk About Love

For the last 20 minutes, my dad has been in the kitchen frying up some slabs of mahi mahi, my mom's been in and out of doors, doing little tasks, and I've been leaning back on a patio chair, next to the tinkling wind chimes, reading Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

The ending of which makes me sputter, spit, nearly weep with a ridiculous kind of happiness. Why?

What a lovely story. Geez. Let me go on. I will go on. Saying nothing apparently. I love that story.

It puts my mind on so many different people I've known. All of them people I've loved, whose idiosyncracies have wedged themselves lovingly, permanently, into my mind.

It gets better every time I read it. I realize a little more each time the wink that Carver wrote behind each character, meanwhile leaving room for himself to outpace the winks in the very end, and let it be love he means to talk about, not irony. He lets the story end in a moment of love.

To do THAT through my writing. To make little epiphanic moments of sputtering, human happiness.