Linggo, Marso 18, 2012


Rocky Marciano leans into a lucky one.  Takes a fall.  But it’s early in his career.  He staggers back after the punch, shakes his head left, then right.  This is years before million dollar purses and ESPN.  But Marciano isn’t Jake LaMotta either: bloated, eyes dulled, Scorcese filmed-in-balck-and-white.  Let’s make this an allegory.  LaMotta will be capitalsim-slowing, slowed, unable to speak through a shattered mouthguard and broken teeth.  No, that’s not right either.

Let’s go to the videotape.

There, Marciano leans into it -he wanted that punch, maybe to make himself angry enough to win: angrier than a million dollars, angrier than the nightly news.

Cut to commercial.

[Are your breath, armpits, eyebrows fetid?  Febrile?  Feral?  Do you hanker after lo-cal, low sodium, low maintenance?  Is your hunger the insatiable need to fill the unfillable?  What defines you?  Localize.  Itemize.  Narcotize.  Intensify, intensify.]

The universe expands, except for a black hole, which swallows-not even light escapes.  I once knew someone who swallowed light.  Could make each noontime as bleak and cold as a Russian bunker, where friends and loved ones would be trapped for years, etching out their names with hardened, uncut fingernails.  For two years after the war ended, six

soldiers were trapped in a Soviet bunker.  No light, no way to move the corpses as the men died off one by one.  Only two made it out, one falling dead as the light glinted off his ashen flesh when he stepped out into the sun after that long, long stay.  Rocky Marciano hits the canvas, blinks as the ref makes the count.  Rocky Marciano leans into a

lucky one.  Or is it lucky?  Maybe Marciano staggers back a bit; maybe he sees stars, or hallucinates, sees himself as a thirteen year old boy watching police boats drag the Hudson River.  It’s nighttime and Marciano flattens against the barroom wall.  He isn’t drunk, but maybe he should be.  Two decades as a prize fighter and anger gets boring-

become too familiar, rage a priori - a buzzing that he doesn’t quite hear anymore.  Like people who live near the trainyard and can sleep through the night.  You know those people when you meet them, their voices carrying over everything else, voices raw and thin from yelling all day.  A Camaro in the passing lane shakes with bass, with Led

Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” looped and a hiphop vocal track added.  What’s that anger?  It’s a kind of violence you hear, a violence that fills everything you see.  Inside the ear.  What’s more intimate that that?  Rocky Marciano leans into a lucky one and his ear swells up.  He’s stone deaf within the year.  No buzz, no bell to end the round - just the vast echo of finitude reaching out past the ropes at the edge of the ring.

by Richard Deming


Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941 when the German bombing campaign against England was at its peak and when she was reading Freud whom she had staved off until then.

Edith Stein, recently and controversially beatified by the Pope, who had successfully worked to transform an existential vocabulary into a theological one, was taken to Auschwitz in August, 1942.

One year later Simone Weil died in a hospital in England--of illness and depression--determined to know what it is to know. She, as much as Woolf and Stein, sought salvation in a choice of words.

But multitudes succumb to the sorrow induced by an inexact vocabulary.

While a whole change in discourse is a sign of conversion, the alteration of a single word only signals a kind of doubt about the value of the surrounding words.
Poets tend to hover over words in this troubled state of mind.
What holds them poised in this position is the occasional eruption of happiness.

While we would all like to know if the individual person is a phenomenon either culturally or spiritually conceived and why everyone doesn't kill everyone else, including themselves, since they can--poets act out the problem with their words.

Is there, perhaps, a quality in each person--hidden like a laugh inside a sob--that loves even more than it loves to live?
If there is, can it be expressed in the form of the lyric line?

Dostoevsky defended his later religious belief, saying of his work "Even in Europe there have never been atheistic expressions of such power. My hosannah has gone through a great furnace of doubt."

According to certain friends, Simone Weil would have given everything she wrote to be apoet. It was an ideal but she was wary of charm and the inauthentic. She saw herself as stuck in fact with a rational prose line for her sugery on modern thought. She might be tha rchetiypal doubter but the language of the lyric was perhaps too uncertain.

As far as we know she wrote a play and some poems and one little prose poem called Prelude.

Yet Weil could be called a poet, if Wittgenstein could, despite her own estimation of her writing, because of the longing for a conversion through writing her ideas down. In Prelude the narrator is an uprooted seeker who still hopes that a transformation will come to her from the outside. The desired teacher arrives bearing the best of everything, including delucious wine and bread, affection, tolerance, solidarity (people come and go) and authority. This is a man who even has faith and loves truth.

She is happy. Then suddenly, without any cause, he tells her it's over. She is out on the streets without direction, without memory. Indeed she is unable to remember even what he told her without his presence there to repeat it, this amnesia being the ultimate dereliciton.

If memory fails, then the mind is air in a skull.
This loss of memory forces her to abandon hope for either rescue or certainty.

And now is the moment where doubt--as an active function--emerges and magnifies the world. It eliminates memory. And it turns the figure inside a mirror, looking outwards for her moves. She is a forgery. When all the structures granted by common agreement fall away and that "reliable chain of cause and effect" that Hannah Arendt talks about--breaks--then a person's inner logic also collapses.

Yet strangely it is in this moment that doubt shows itself to be the physical double to belief; it is the quality that nourishes willpower, and the one that is the invisible engine behind every step taken. Doubt is what allows a single gesture to have a heart.

In this prose poem Weil's narrator recovers her balance after a series of reactive revulsions to the surrounding culture by confessing to the most palpable human wish: that whoever he was, he loved her.

Hope seems to resist extermination as much as a roach does.

Hannah Arendt talks about the abyss of nothingness that opens up before any deed that cannot be accounted for." Consciousness of this abyss is the source of belief for most converts. Weil's conviction that evil proves the existence of God is cut out of this consciousness.

Her Terrible Prayer--that she be reduced to a paralyzed nobody--desires an obedience to that moment where coming and going intersect before annihilation.

And her desire: "To be only an intermediary between the blank page and the poem" is a desire for a whole-heartedness that eliminates personality.

Virginia Woolf, a maestro of lyric resistance, was frightened by Freud's claustrophobic determinism since she had no ground of defense against it. The hideous vocabulary of mental science crushed her dazzling star-thoughts into powder and brought her latent despair into the open air.
Born int a family devoted to skepticism and experiment, she had made a superhuman effort at creating a prose-world where doubt was a mesmerizing and glorious force.

Anyone who tries, as she did, out of a sytematic training in secularism, to forge a rhetoric of belief is fighting against the odds. Disappointments are everywhere waiting to catch you, and an ironic realism is always convincing.

Simone Weil's family was skeptical too, and secular while attentive to the development of the mind. Her older brother fed her early sense of inferiority with intellectual put-downs. Later, her notebooks chart a superhuman effort at conversion to a belief in affliction as a sign of God's presence.

Her prose itself is tense from sustained and solutary concentration. After all, to convert by choice (that is, without a blast of revelation or a personal disaster) requires that you shift the names for things, and force a new language out of your mind onto the page.

You have to make yourself believe. Is this possible? Can you turn "void" into "God" by switching the words over and over again?
Any act of self-salvation is a problem because of death which always has the last laugh, and if there has been a dramatic and continual despair hanging over childhood, then it may even be impossible.

After all, can you call "doubt" "bewilderment" and suddenly be relieved?

Not if your mind has been fatally poisoned...
But even then, it seems, the dream of having no doubt continues, finding its way into love and work. After all choices matter exactly as much as they don't matter--especially when history is on your side. 

by Fanny Howe


    If the hill overlooking our city has always been known as Adam's Grave, only at dusk can you see the recumbent giant, his head turned to the west, his right arm resting for ever on Eve's haunch
    can you learn, from the way he looks up at the scandalous pair, what a citizen really thinks of his citizenship,
    just as now you can hear in a drunkard's caterwaul his rebel sorrows crying for a parental discipline, in lustful eyes perceive a disconsolate soul, scanning with desperation all passing limbs for some vestige of her faceless angel who in that long ago when wishing was a help mounted her once and vanished:
    For Sun and Moon supply their conforming masks, but in this hour of civil twilight all must wear their own faces.
    And it is now that our two paths cross.
    Both simultaneously recognise his Anti-type: that I am an Arcadian, that he is a Utopian.
    He notes, with contempt, my Aquarian belly: I note, with alarm, his Scorpion's mouth.
    He would like to see me cleaning latrines: I would like to see him removed to some other planet.
    Neither speaks. What experience could we possibly share?
    Glancing at a lampshade in a store window, I observe it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy: He observes it is too expensive for a peasant to buy.
    Passing a slum child with rickets, I look the other way: He looks the other way if he passes a chubby one.
    I hope our senators will behave like saints, provided they don't reform me: He hopes they will behave like baritone cattivi, and, when lights bum late in the Citadel, I (who have never seen the inside of a police station) am shocked and think: 'Were the city as free as they say, after sundown all her bureaus would be huge black stones':
    He (who has been beaten up several times) is not shocked at all but thinks: 'One fine night our boys will be working up there.'
    You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.
    In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work will be very sorry he was born.
    In my Eden we have a few beam-engines, saddle-tank locomotives, overshot waterwheels and other beautiful pieces of obsolete machinery to play with: In his New Jerusalem even chefs will be cucumber-cool machine minders.
    In my Eden our only source of political news is gossip: In his New Jerusalem there will be a special daily in simplified spelling for non-verbal types.
    In my Eden each observes his compulsive rituals and superstitious tabus but we have no morals: In his New Jerusalem the temples will be empty but all will practise the rational virtues.
    One reason for his contempt is that I have only to close my eyes, cross the iron footbridge to the tow-path, take the barge through the short brick tunnel and there I stand in Eden again, welcomed back by the krumhorns, doppions, sordumes of jolly miners and a bob major from the Cathedral (romanesque) of St Sophie (Die Kalte):
    One reason for my alarm is that, when he closes his eyes, he arrives, not in New Jerusalem, but on some august day of outrage when hellikins cavort through ruined drawing-rooms and fish-wives intervene in the Chamber or
    some autumn night of deletions and noyades when the unrepentant thieves (including me) are sequestered and those he hates shall hate themselves instead.

    So with a passing glance we take the other's posture; already, our steps recede, heading, incorrigible each, towards his kind of meal and evening.
    Was it (as it must look to any god of cross-roads) simply a fortuitous intersection of life-paths, loyal to different fibs
    or also a rendezvous between accomplices who, in spite of themselves, cannot resist meeting
    to remind the other (do both, at bottom, desire truth?) of that half of their secret which he would most like to forget
    forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget the innocence)
    on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy, are alike founded:
    For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

by W. H. Auden

Aaron by Edwin Denby

What We Miss

Who says it's so easy to save a life? In the middle of an interview for
the job you might get you see the cat from the window of the seven-
teenth floor just as he's crossing the street against traffic, just as
you're answering a question about your worst character flaw and lying
that you are too careful. What if you keep seeing the cat at every
moment you are unable to save him? Failure is more like this than like
duels and marathons. Everything can be saved, and bad timing pre-
vents it. Every minute, you are answering the question and looking
out the window of the church to see your one great love blinded by
the glare, crossing the street, alone.

by Sarah Manguso

The Crowds Cheered as Gloom Galloped Away The Crowds Cheered as Gloom Galloped Away

Everyone was happier. But where did the sadness go? People wanted to know. They didn’t want it collecting in their elbows or knees then popping up later. The girl who thought of the ponies made a lot of money. Now a month’s supply of pills came in a hard blue case with a handle. You opened it & found the usual vial plus six tiny ponies of assorted shapes & sizes, softly breathing in the Styrofoam. Often they had to be pried out & would wobble a little when first put on the ground. In the beginning the children tried to play with them, but the sharp hooves nicked their fingers & the ponies refused to jump over pencil hurdles. The children stopped feeding them sugarwater & the ponies were left to break their legs on the gardens’ gravel paths or drown in the gutters. On the first day of the month, rats gathered on doorsteps & spat out only the bitter manes. Many a pony’s last sight was a bounding squirrel with its tail hovering over its head like a halo. Behind the movie theatre the hardier ponies gathered in packs amongst the cigarette butts, getting their hooves stuck in wads of gum. They lined the hills at funerals, huddled under folding chairs at weddings. It became a matter of pride if one of your ponies proved unusually sturdy. People would smile & say, “This would have been an awful month for me,” pointing to the glossy palomino trotting energetically around their ankles. Eventually, the ponies were no longer needed. People had learned to imagine their sadness trotting away. & when they wanted something more tangible, they could always go to the racetrack & study the larger horses’ faces. Gloom, #341, with those big black eyes, was almost sure to win.

by Matthea Harvey

An American Story

Two possums dressed as children (their mother raised them as such) were crying when their father (not a possum) came home.  Their mother (not a possum either) was already there.  She stayed home with the children everyday and kept house (though actually they lived in a bog swamp).  There was a family dog too but it doesn’t come up until later (when it dies).  Now the mother had sent the children outside to play so she could get some cleaning done (an optimistic thought in a bog swamp).  The children sat under a tree and ate the apples that had fallen to the ground (they were rotten).  The ripe apples were still hanging from the boughs but the children were not allowed to climb the tree because they hung from their tails (which disturbed their parents to no end).  As the children stuffed their mouths with the brown, sticky fruit, their dog, Ernest (a Laplander), bounded across the street to join them and was struck by a car.  Now I’d like to tell you the dog died quickly, so I will, but actually it was a long, agonizing death involving hours of grueling pain and convulsions. The children were devastated.  They ran into the house bawling, which is how their father found them when he came home with the money he had stolen from the bank.  He was a raccoon and a master thief.  He and his accomplice had been planning the heist for weeks.  His wife had known nothing about it, although she knew his accomplice all too well.  He was a dashing possum with a broad toothy grin and a weakness for tragic women.

by Jamey Dunham