On Cabbages & Other Traits of Patriarchal Life (by Alex Peters, as performed for Quiet Lightning)

Unsent Letter to a Parallel Universe

I.

Most days I wake up and forget my dreams on purpose. Not that they haunt me or anything. I just don’t think they’re very important.

II.

There is a tribe of Borneo Hunters who practice black magic whenever they want to get rid of an enemy or an old lover who still disturbs their spirits. 

They will take a block of wood fashioned from their enemy’s liking, and they will leave it out in the middle of the forest where it slowly deteriorates, unobserved. Meanwhile it is believed that the enemy, where ever she may be, deteriorates along with it.

III.

I lay with myself a while in bed a lot of the time, wondering if the earth will finally fulfill itself and vanish. 

And I know I’m not alone. My typewriter whispers from the far reaches of the bedroom that I am too serious. I avoid the gaze of my Goethe in the corner, of my Rimbaud in the original that I have never read, of a busted record player languishing beneath the cloying odor of dust. 

IV.

What if the story of the world is no more than a tablet dropped in a glass of water?

V.

I used to wake up to the sound of children playing in fields. I would run away as fast as I could, off each day to some dim region of coffee and neck-ties, whatever the fuck the opposite of Elysian fields is. 

(Remember when we made snow-angels with a ceramic rooster on somebody’s roof in Utah? When we danced all night on a stripper pole in somebody’s party van?)*

VI.
Today I wake up and wonder what time it is instead, even or especially when there is no place for me to be.

VII.

It’s true, I probably indulge in myself too often. Laying bed like a spoiled child, ignoring the responsibility of last night’s dreams. I do not read my Goethe, it’s true. There are no clocks in the house where I live. I do not reach for my phone or worry whether so and so has called today. 

But it happens sometimes that a nursery rhyme or a tango will take shape out of the silence. It never makes much sense, not even to me, and they are not very original lyrics. Still, it always reminds me that there is maybe no such thing as tomorrow, and as long as my heart is going to behave like a sick child I better give it everything it asks for.

VIII.

What I want to send you is too big for the postman. (I would love to visit you in Brooklyn.)


*Originally there was a phrase in this that was cribbed from Goethe’s Werther – making a liar out of me in stanzas III and VI. But now I can’t remember what phrase it was that may have drove me to this entire madness to begin with. So here is another phrase or two from my Goethe, taken at random:

…There are times where I feel so vividly how Penelope’s impudent suitors slaughter oxen and swine, cut them up, and roast them. There is nothing that could fill me so completely with a quiet, genuine feeling as those traits of patriarchal life which I, thank God, can weave into my kind of life without affectation.

How fortunate it is for me that my heart can feel the plain, naive delight of the man who puts on the table a cabbage that he has grown himself, and for whom it is not merely the vegetable, but all the good days, the fine morning when he planted it, the pleasant evenings when he watered it, taking his pleasure in its thriving growth–that he enjoys again in one comprehensive moment.

IX. *The Great Salt Lake in Utah is only thirteen feet deep. 

(In my heart of hearts, I still believe that one day a cabbage can be more than a cabbage.)

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Apocalyptic Theory #

This was written for a meteorologist I met on the bus tonight who requested something on the topic of ‘Soup’. He also requested for it to rhyme and NOT to be about the weather. 

I had a hard enough time fulfilling the first two requests on the spot – rhyming on a bus is difficult! – so I dismissed the third request out of hand, perhaps out of spite.

Two out of three isn’t bad.

The Human Conditioner: An Open Letter from Sisyphus to Rumi

Dear Rumi,

there is something that happens in the cereal aisle – of every single

corner store, after hours – that i am pretty sure you are not aware of.

every item on the shelf proves that it is not, nor ever was, not even

a little bit

Illuminated. not for you, not for anybody else,

not really.

because under these circumstances,

there is something about spirituality that puts the self on trial.

as if the two were incompatible,

the self and actual awareness.

So let me explain something to you Rumi:

(and no, no Rumi, when I say the word ‘you’,

i do not mean a thousand universes.)

you see, after hours in a duane reade,

every item on the shelf becomes maximally delicious

for

no

one.

every cereal wants to climb the mountain of your throat

to cascade the way it was meant to: numbed, in shreds, insolvent,

inside your bleeding black and blue gums.

just to prove suicide is the only important question

that should ever ‘be’ on that part of your tongue:

every separate item

‘risks his/her own authenticity,’ Dasein, despair

or anguish (which, for many of the more serious thinkers among us,

are more or less the same thing).

most people don’t know this, but in the cereal aisle, late at night,

you can almost see through the window of your non-existence, just as

cocoa puffs another fat one – cocoa is the High chief in the tribe (i

do mean high chief, Rumi)

fruity loops the side effects, shot-gunning every bit of smoke from

Cocoa’s trans-fat fructose-black lips

raisin brain becomes jealous, cheerios cheers in ‘bad faith,’ talking about

something called self-deception, how every tasty treat is really just a closet anti-semite, racist, misogynist pinko commie, and captain crunches every thing and non-thing, until he questions

even the prospect of milk or love, and

for like four straight hours becomes preoccupied with whether

tony the tiger is or is not, like, a singular figment of his imagination–

until opening time Rumi.

Rumi,

sometimes i would like for you to admit that you are wrong.

Rumi,

there are moments when i would like nothing more than for you to apply a dash of Human-

Conditioner to my scalp and work it into a lather

of something like stark-

empty

calm.

when i say ‘my scalp,’ Rumi, i mean torpid mind-sucking insomnia,

crisis, something like spiritual bankruptcy reaching in the cereal

aisle of a duane reade after closing time.

When i say stark-empty, i mean for you to hear me twice

when i say lather, i mean lather.

i mean go. gently. always.

i mean now.

*This is a rough draft of a piece performed for Quiet Lightning and also published in Sparkle & Blink. Watch at your own peril…

An unsent letter to a friend in a parallel universe ii.

Dear X_________

There is hail coming down outside in Los Angeles. They say it may even snow.

I’ve taken to biking again. Along the coast, mostly. It feels good. My friend Marco from Rome left his bike with me. I asked him to leave it since mine is mangled and deformed at the moment – and even if I fix it, I like to have an extra in the case of…the occasional guest…especially a young and brazen and adventurous guest…a guest, lets say, who is full of life and wonder and quite possibly bourbon, a guest with a face that’s strong enough to steady the sky – like a chandelier in the midst of a hailstorm – a guest with a pair of eyes that are probably spied by gemologists from around the world…the type of guest who wears invisible wings, let’s say, though they are still able to appreciate a proper cycling every now and again…out in the wild…guests like you, in other words.

I’m sending you a few things on Monday, at white people’s favorite time of day, which is, of course, first thing in the morning.

Just now, I started to write you about my friend Marco whose been staying with me, and just went back to Rome today. I guess I got a bit carried away with that (too ‘povetica’, as Marco would say) and so it turned into a long-winded but still whimsical story – a flight of fancy that I’m now hoping to edit for san fran or more likely, for the slush pile. Point is, it started with this little conversation I had about you the other day, while Marco and I were riding our bikes together:

He handed me a list of girls’ phone numbers – his little black book, so to speak. The bullpen and the lineup for all his lady contacts in Los Angeles. They are NOT for me, he made sure that I understood. They are only for me insofar as I keep them away from him. ‘Guard this list with your life,’ he says. Are you, a-hem, getting ready to make a life change? If so, you might be barking up the wrong tree, I say.

No no it isn’t that. My wife and are separated and I can’t see anybody else. At least not for a while. I have to prove that I’m worthy of her. To get her back, he says. ‘I don’t even want to be tempted to see someone else’ (pointing at his little black book).

I sympathized with his predicament, so to make him feel better I told him that I could relate.

You? he says. What are you talking about – you are too in love with your own neuroses. With despair. and with your own private ambitions. With Yourself. How could there be room for somebody else!? I know because I used to be that way when I was your age.

Okay, so he didn’t actually say any of that to be honest. But I guess he would have been right, to some extent, if he did.

Instead, he said: Which one? I know you and your Beatrices. Your pies in the sky.

(He is Italian and he uses a lot of out of date American idioms in order to feel ‘hip’ and to cover up his insecurities about the language, to feel he is one of us. He also pretends to understand more than he really does. When he doesn’t get something he randomly changes the subject or offers some sage wisdom that doesn’t apply at all.)

No, you don’t understand, I say. This girl. Her breath is for sparrows to wander in. Her back is spied by aspiring architects for future waterfalls. I am telling you, etc etc.

(I was talking about you, of course. Not sure if you were aware of that or not.)

Okay! So what’s the problem exactly? he says.

To be honest, the problem is that I recently discovered something dangerous about your eyes – and your face – that might be useful for you to know one day.

Then again, it’s silly and what would I know – my earliest female ideals were shaped by Fiona Apple videos, black and white movies from 60 years ago, and afterhours B.E.T. In any case, one of my favorite films has you pinned, I think – Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily has your eyes down to a T. I’ve known this since I met you – after all, she played an important role in shaping my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd adolesences. And I haven’t actually seen the movie since, so this isn’t really news.

But then I did watch Phaedra the other day and it all came together for me. The actress has this one of a kind sparkle that she brings out every once and a while the way some people bring out tools to build a new addition to their atrium – the heavy-duty stuff. I mean she goes from inward-searching to come-hither to deadpan-jitterbug-gaze in about two seconds flat, the precise facial explosion of which is not at all easy to explain. I mean I am no poet but one day I’d at least like to write a critical biography on the subject of your eyes – They are truly something miraculous, if not downright pyrotechnic. (And if they have already been cast in their own film, as I suspect, the least I can do is to wait for the rights to their potential novelization.)

I hope you take good care of them and don’t take them for granted. I guess that’s all I’m driving at, really.

‘In any case, all this is not a problem of discovery, but of rediscovery. And all this is not actually a problem at all…forget I said anything.’ This is what I told Marco.

Then he said ‘Vanity is a tricky whore, my friend. Don’t give her your money’, which had nothing and maybe everything to do with what we were talking about. So I laughed, knowing deep down he didn’t understand a thing of what I was saying to him and then I said, ‘I guess the only problem is I guess I want there to be more of me for her to know.’

In other news, I’m trying to write a play. Secretly – not so secretly – I hope someday for you to see it. It’s about the Roman god Cupid. Cupid is in Therapy, and Zeus (his father, historically speaking) is sitting in as his therapist. Zeus is disguised as “Dr Seuss”, trying to find out if his son started the Trojan War.

The first line so far is this: ‘When you first met me doc, i was a broken man, incomplete. Then i got married. Now i’m finished!’ After that, the lights come up for the first time in triumph. Cue the music. Cupid is a drama queen, basically.

So far, it isn’t a very good play. It’s timely though I guess, with Valentine’s day and all.

At one point Cupid says, ‘whenever i stop shooting people with my arrows everyone seems better off. Sometimes i wonder…’ That’s maybe the best line. I think maybe I should’ve wrote a treatise against love.

It is something of a romantic comedy. Though it isn’t very funny. I guess it’s a romantic dramady. Though it isn’t even very romantic. Maybe it’s just a romantic parody of a dramady (basically, I don’t think it knows what it is itself. Which sounds familiar…)

For a title I’m thinking: Love in the Time of Whatever Disease This is. What do you think?

Sorry for talking about myself so much. But what you said about knowing me and about being glad about it, well i couldn’t help but wish you knew me even more (which is, of course, a longshot and was always going to be) and that there was more of me for you to know (which is, of course, the plan.)

Drop a postcard sometime of Louisville? It’s just that what you said the other day, what you said to me before you left, was maybe the nicest thing anyone’s said to me as long as I can remember – coming as it did from somebody who I adore and admire more (probably) than you are aware of. And it’s just that I’d love to get some idea of whereabouts in the country that might come from exactly.

some resolutions for the end of the world

Remember how much respect you got being responsible? double checking a key there on the coat rack, feeling for some stupid pass-port in your pocket…don’t you remember how much living you did with so many umbrellas under your arm, with so much toothbrush, toothbrush, umbrellas, toothbrush! remember punctuality? never missed a Preview – a deadline – a train. Remember:

dinner for one, always a seat at the movies. so maybe all your shirts were pressed just the way you liked them – oh and so many nuts to smuggle with so many squirrels to feed, don’t forget that bench of yours in the park at Forever o’clock: ‘pardon me’ – you dropped a napkin, a hankerchief, an umbrella, one here one there – they all looked like so many insects at the bottom of a lake to you- umbrellas- like so many droppings of oil on a dirty canvas, like so much ink spilled out of the wrong side of the earth. Oh, and those umbrellas you left behind in so many young women’s arms, and hats! yes, of course! all those hats for those old world gestures you secretly favored. what a good guy you were, the corners of your bed tucked down, staying up late worrying about so many rules, rules, umbrellas and rules!…the poor cat that played with the nuts all night in the other room –stealing those nuts from all those squirrels. and remember worrying, remember your plans- remember grinding your hands over some scuba diver, the instructor with the dreamy tattoos that all said something you couldn’t read – always wet, dancing underwater like they were – but they were something about $ or ‘Fools’ or about not suffering either of them anymore (anyway so what maybe you were busy paying attention to…other things….you were going to get lessons from her – remember – and before you even learned how to swim)?

yeah, don’t do that this year.

jump into more fountains this year when no one is looking
– steal the fish for the girl – which fish,
which girl, it doesn’t matter now. (learn to swim later.)

learn to be miserable without apologizing, learn to eat raw-
not raw food, just raw, the way the gums get bloody
with the right kind of appetite. learn to line bed-
sheets of enemies, ex-lovers with fish when you aren’t

hungry. forget Cafeteria poses, the scuba instructor
with the tattooed hands, so many parks
with their tandem plights and bikes (someone
always pulling someone else’s weight),
squirrels to the nuts, nuts to the squirrels,
none of that matters now. jump in fountains

when everyone is looking, and the girl
is gone. learn to swim, and grab the fish for yourself,
don’t wait for the brine of revenge. marinating is
a drinking man’s jenga tower, for boys with timid
tongues with nothing better to do-
learn to be the kind of asshole not even women
are drawn to. smack your lips
when you swallow. learn to swim
only enough that you don’t have to save
somebody else from drowning.

An unsent letter to a friend in a parallel universe, no longer with us

Dear X________,

Here is a quote from Desmond Tutu for you:

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a man to cycle, I say, and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. And you always liked to cycle, didn’t you? Just like me.

I don’t like to write electronically like this. I am very old-fashioned that way. I don’t deny it. But I have been very anxious to write to you, to be honest, and at least I’ve included an authentic artifact from my smith-corona – which is attached in a hyperlink below.

I understand if you think I am crazy and never speak to me again after reading this! But I hope not…It’s only an experiment like everything else I write – and I guess I like to think that you especially bring out something honest and heartfelt that I might not otherwise get to say. Also I am not crazy, I am not even spiritual, I don’t believe in much, but all of the the following is true and really happened.

It appears I am becoming a hypochondriac, in all the etymological connotations of that word. Today I fell ill and told my brother to bring me some soup and some dvds and some ice cream. But he ignored me. Apparently, I am the boy who cried wolf. So i ordered extravagantly-overpriced groceries from Yummy dot com instead, and felt like a shut-in.

Then I fantasized about being in Louisville since I just randomly and justifiably lied to someone yesterday, someone who I didn’t want to see or to find me, that I have been in Kentucky lately, hiding out from the heat. It isn’t hot here (don’t worry). And I am not on the run from the law or from anybody else. There isn’t even anybody trying to find me, really. But this is simply the way I cope with the pangs of adulthood – balancing the poet’s need for solitude with the novelist’s need for the flights of his own tiresome imagination.

I suppose I’m an old man, cranky and infirm, who is trying to grow young the best way I know how.

So I tell myself I am in the south, because maybe the steamiest fantasy I know is a geographic one (and maybe Burma is too violent right now and I’m trading old fantasies for easier ones), because maybe the south has more of a pulse than this sunburnt suburbia, this Mecca of lifeless young professional’s, because maybe you come to mind, consciously or not, whenever I try to grow young again. So I thought about the South. So I thought about how wonderful it would be to be bored enough to speak in a drawl in a gentleman’s manner. I thought about fishing or picking apples or drinking straight bourbon – maybe with bitters, but without all the cost-cutter stuff like fruits and creams – or making snow angels down in the bayou, or telling stories in a lazy way, outside on a porch someplace with an old vitriola.

Then I thought about the word ennui and angst and how I am becoming the type of person who the avant-garde would write satirical novels about:

‘A discreet member of the bourgeois bourgeiosophobe’ – the original Hipster, afraid of his own kind. It could be a hit if I had the absurd discipline to stay inside all day and write it.

Then I thought how much patience it would require to go fishing in the South or anyplace else; I thought about whether fishing isn’t just a glorified marionette show underwater for the other fish – ‘Miming for Nemo’, if you like – and how is that supposed to be Respectable? I thought about new hobbies, I thought about a whole urban gang of knitters, old women hiding in darkened hotel rooms – yarn creeping under the door – and I started to plot out a horror movie in my head about a knitting circle gone terribly awry, until I got scared of my own mind and wisely gave up.

Then i got sorta down again, got bored/got lonely with my own mind and decided to ride the bus around the city. Aimlessly, like a bedouin. Like a forgotten eremetic monk in an ancient desert. (Like I do whenever I get down/bored/lonely with my own mind). I wandered around Koreatown, Little Italy, Echo Park, looking for signs to read, for symbols, for coincidences (for what exactly?) – for what the french call a clochard phrase, for what greeks would call destiny. This isn’t easy to explain, since I don’t believe in that sort of thing. And yet there is something I chase in the streets when the urge strikes. It could be a conversation I overheard, the fragment of some street sign that’s the hint of a poem, the trace of another land where I might belong, the whiff of a song in a courtyard I’m meant to decode. It isn’t easy for me, tracing the sound of a banjo, following some clochard phrase.

When I get onto some path or other toward an intangible, towards some hazy notion or idea, I am incorrigible – it’s as if a madness were holding the rest of me for ransom, and I have to see it through.

I stopped to eat soup someplace for my throat and every single bite carried its own echo. Like a dagger held up to my ears. And I rode the buses some more with my typewriter and a sign  I sometimes hang that says ‘Hi I’m Mute, care for a poem?’

And so this way I met a meteorologist who requested a poem about Soup, of all things (and I knew I was on the right track). It should NOT be about the weather, he said.

I typed his little ‘piece’ on my typewriter and didn’t say goodbye. Then I still didn’t want to come home, so I went to a dive bar to read a while. An old cavernous place called Renee’s that is part doll-museum, part prohibition relic. It’s a cross between Charles Manson’s nefarious hideout and Michael Jackson’s wet dream. And I’m understating things. And all the while, still trying to grow young the best I know how.

So then a remarkable man started to talk to me, a man who seemed to know everything in fact, and fashioned himself after Salvador Dalí. In all kinds of different ways. And i wish you met him, you would have adored. He wore a crazy velour samurai suit patched up with glittering stars. And I thought he was absolutely brilliant. (Not just in a glittering way, but in a way that truly shines.) Eventually, the two of us walked in the streets. Well, he rode his bike in the streets, the kind with the big handle bars. He has a big handle bar mustache, too (and anyone riding toward him would be in for a moment of pure handlebar). He told me it took him many hard-fought years to feel comfortable in his own skin the way he does now. He said it took imitating people like Dalí and Carl Sagan and others, until the real old clunky self was left behind in the shadows. Like a borrowed suit, he said.

Then he said he lives close to me and goes to Renees every other night by himself, just like me, and why didn’t I come over. Then I noticed all the stars were out and I thought that was rare and incredible in los angeles, and I told him so. Then he said it was incredible that these collections of atoms in his body were walking along with those collections of atoms in my body and all of us were walking beneath all those atoms in the sky, and what a cosmic miracle and how did it happen exactly. And I said I’d have to ask the stars the next time I see them (which could be a while, of course), because even if they are dead, I said, the stars know more than we do – after all, they were the original poets – those stars who slaved away and died so many million years before their work (‘their purpose’ I actually said) could ever be known.

Then he asked me, And what is your purpose, do you think? And i said Who, Me? And he just pointed at me, and said You. And I said I didn’t know what my purpose was exactly but it had something to do with belonging someplace and I’ll know when I get there maybe. Not exactly trying to make an ordeal out of it. And he said You belong everywhere, that is your purpose. And I thought this was curious, something I heard before maybe, so I asked him What type of soup he liked.

And then he explained that in fact he doesn’t eat soup at all. Which was a bit of a disappointment to hear, I have to admit.

But then all of a sudden the man told me that his grandfather was a Nazi, who he never met but who was a painter just like him, he was also a painter apparently, and that everyday of his life he spends in penance, trying to make up for who his grandfather was and the crimes his grandfather committed. And I wanted to say that I felt just the same way about my grandfather, only my grandfather was on the other side of things.

But I didn’t say anything at all. The man didn’t know I was Jewish even, and I guess I thought it better to keep it that way I guess. Then he pulled out his cell phone and showed me pictures of his Jewish wife and his paintings of her, and of other things besides, and he placed them right next to his grandfather’s paintings (the grandfather he’d never met). Which was a strange thing to do, I thought.

And then we got to his house and i said goodnight and he said, It was a pleasure walking around in your mind sir, and after that I went home and dreamed and dreamed about la casa azul, Frida Kahlo’s House in Mexico City, the one where Diego Rivera lived also. And in my sleep i saw ceramic lizards and walls of volcanic ash in bright colors. And there was soup in all the colors of the rainbow, a bowl of soup the size of a crater, and I ate and I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore, and it felt good and then I saw – don’t ask me how – ten or twenty different men standing in different places around the world – and one was reading a dictionary and one was reading in spanish – another was playing a banjo – and someone else was there with each of them, too, maybe it was you, because the last time I wrote to you, you were definitely in my dream the night before (and you were talking to someone who I couldn’t see but I hoped wasn’t me and you were saying ‘i want a divorce!’ ‘I want a divorce!’ you kept saying that) and all of these men in different places around the world I knew they were me even though they didn’t look like me, but I could just feel it somehow, the way you do in your dreams and I watched and watched those men, all those men who were me, and I took pictures in my mind of all those forgotten rooms in all those abandoned places, and I felt right and fine in a way, as though I had belonged someplace all along and I was home.

And this is the poem I wrote on the bus (which isn’t a poem that’s entirely true but that doesn’t matter, because it was what I was looking for, the soup maybe, or the stars where I actually belong, and I found it):

https://rayuelathelazywolf.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/apocalyptic-theory-3/

another story of a poet & the dark wood

Image

poet & the dark wood

I botched the opening quotation/epigraph by the poet Charles Simic in yesterday’s New York Review of Books. The quote actually reads: ‘There is nothing more boring in all of creation than a poet telling you he is writing a poem, using words’.

*Cock’s crow / the second cock: literally the cry of a rooster, but also, at least for Shakespeare, roughly 3am. The Porter in Macbeth, for instance, serves as a fool and a lush who admits drinking himself into oblivion until the second cock crow, which is conveniently also the time of night when the King is murdered by Macbeth. II, iii.

Although denigrated as a liar and a lush, if you ask me the Porter is really a kind of resident poet and actor manqué; and the lion here is meant to be some version of a sleepwalker/insomniac in addition to being a coward who is afraid of roosters.