N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 0 6
Notebook Santa Monica
(for D. F-S) Santa Monica
Driving into the dangerous blankness of a desert
as a vastness to enter, like light passing through
stained glass into an enormous openness beyond
the ruined corner of a fence, through a pasture
where hyacinths sweet basil and bright anemones
shiver in the pure clarity of the annihilating sunlight
as everything dissolves, scatters and smashes into whiteness
the way a candle brightens
freshens and glows
in its broken open ness
streaming through it.
Whispering in bed with your lover
is what you want from love—
the incense smoke so silvered-out
it becomes dark threads weaving to the ceiling
its under-radiance borrowed from the ocean,
far below us the surf as confused and alive
as actual living is, just so I have vanished
into the woman beneath me,
the way snow sparkles for a second,
before it turns to rain.
What I Wrote When I Reached Home
I knew it would disappear and it did.
I don’t know the value of things I most need to know.
I’m disappearing every day a little less of me.
All that’s left I’ve cobbled together out of
something once beautiful I’ve allowed to decay.
At night the lights flicker and the windows
rattle as I go outside to see if anything can be done—
no longer sad but silenced as everyone is silenced,
prepared for what might happen by what has happened,
as if happiness is something that is only written about in books,
or something always about to happen, or it’s ambivalent
because we don’t really know what we want or why
and every time something falls over it's always falling over
all the way to the bottom, until it is as if I am waiting
for it to implode, and it shrinks back inside itself a little further
every time, the way the room dissolves into darkness just before
I close my eyes, until I doubt that such a thing as happiness exists at all.
But when the crisis passes and I have done nothing,
I feel like I’ve missed something without knowing precisely
what it is, or if it’s something else, or what I could have done
differently, or if it’s more important to me because I miss it,
whatever it is, as I travel further and further into the past,
the enormous quiet all around me, no one to hear me
or what I’m saying.
Notebook Washington D.C.
A December day wavering between sun-brilliance
and snow, the river rippling like an alabaster jar
filled with ever-changing skittish jewels—
a decayed church with the roof and walls fallen in,
a rough stone door of cold smoky shadows
descending into where the dead are buried,
the cool silvery atmosphere stone-colored, flinty,
austere, grey as this constant seeking after difficulty.
12/19 Dear Anne
Tonight I saw “Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Folger Shakespeare Library in a small 200-seat theater. It’s not his best play (maybe his 1st) but there was a lot in it that made me thoughtful—about how it’s the romantics who dream and sing and talk incessantly about love but in the end prove to be rogues capable of the cruelest and falsest and most self-centered behavior (“the taller the oak, the larger the shadow”). And how those who come to love with the most difficulty and the greatest innocence and almost reluctance are capable of great feats of selflessness. But mostly what awed me about the production was the radiance and confidence of the actors. When I got home I read the play for the first time and saw how much they added to its rough outline, humaneness, not with adding new words or changing a scene, but by adding stage business, slapstick, and by making certain inspired choices not implicit in the text but respectful to the play itself. In fact it was in the moments when they slowed the play down that they connected most strongly with the audience—and they were able to do this with a 400-year-old play, and a terrible play in parts, especially the ending, which they played with self-conscious incredulity at what was happening, as if they couldn’t believe it themselves. Their performances were so vivid and alive that I still haven’t gotten over it or settled down or been able to sleep, four hours later. I feel unnerved and bottomless and off-center.
Dear Anne: 12/21
When I’m traveling alone and with no obligations—just anonymously moving through a city I’ve never been in before without agenda and on my own—there’s usually a moment when I move “inside” the place, which is like what I imagine walking inside a mirror might be like. I am no longer in the place, but of the place. This never happened to me in
because I was on a tour and could only get out of the group and walk through the streets by myself in odd moments before everyone woke up or after everyone returned to their rooms in the evening. Turkey
This process of moving “inside” a place usually occurs concurrently with a moving “inside” myself as well, as if I am no longer powerless in a foreign place that is larger and more mysterious than my ability to contain or understand it, but it is suddenly under my control—I am in it and of it and move through it at my own speed. On this trip it happened on my 2nd full day here. I was in the National Gallery and had already gone through the ground floor (recent acquisitions including a collection of mid-19th century photographs and sculptures by Rodin and Degas) and had eaten lunch and began going through the museum’s permanent collection starting in Room 001 on the top floor. There were study aids in each room and I picked up the first one and read it as I went through the room. By the time I reached Room 3, I was tired of standing so I sat down on a couch and read the study guide while looking at the paintings from a distance. And I felt myself suddenly slow down in that familiar way when I know I am beginning to slip into the mirror. As I sat there, feeling the sensation come over me of a cold timelessness, I began to watch the dozens and dozens of people as they hurried past me through the room and into the next one. These people were much more interesting than the paintings and I put down the study aid and began looking at them moving through the museum as a living, breathing, spontaneous artwork. Everyone was an actor in this piece—even the security guards—they made their entrance, related or didn’t relate to the others, moved at different speeds in relation to each other, and sometimes stood in front of the paintings and acted out a pantomime of their reaction to it. And eventually they moved on from this room and had their exits, and were replaced by others making their entrances. After a while I felt I was seeing the museum in a way that was only available to those who knew it intimately, a way unavailable to tourists but only those who’d visited it often enough that they knew how it changed and how it didn’t. Then I thought about what it must be like to be an artwork in the museum, how it first stared out at its creator, and how now everyone was staring in. From then on I couldn’t stop having the experience that I was not looking into the paintings but the paintings were looking out at me.
I’ve been reading a lot of Apollinaire and Pound on this trip. Apollinaire wrote, “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” And Pound wrote, “and part gone wrong / And much of little moment.”
Near Death by Drowning (remembering it for the first time)
To be under, looking up
is what I remember most,
how in its remoteness the
blue light danced above me
dashed by sharp white waves—
how sunset colors dove into the
twists and knots of the slick and
discontinuous lavender lapping surface
and beyond them a ghostly wash of feathery sky.
Every Poet's Autobiography
Historically, most poets are dead, but poetry has never missed a day. All of the poets who are currently alive and active will soon be dead, but new poets have just been born, and are about to be born.
The stages a poet (in fact, any artist) goes through will be in their own order and sequence, but there are certain circumstances that appear to be constants. These thresholds are not only crossed by artists (or the audience would never come to appreciate them), but the artists go there first, and on their own, and articulate the vistas precisely enough that others can intuit them through the distractions. The basics are as follows: At some point we all want to be like Homer and tell a great story—to entertain and instruct. At some point we walk away from our culture and even our friends and learn, like Whitman, to see with our own eyes. At some point we all, like Picasso, struggle to reconnect with the artist inside of us before we were taught how to paint. At some point we all attempt like Dante to see it all as one vision—from beginning to end. And, essentially, at every step an artist does not choose where to go so much as to refuse to go where we’re expected to go. And there’s always a belief that the artist is speaking to someone who can hear them—that in some mysterious way, the work can actually connect.
Poets don’t sit down to write poems with the poem fully delineated in their heads (at least no one I know does, or could—although I’ve spoken to Russian poets who claim, and I believe them, that they can compose long poems in their head before writing them down), which means that a poet writes a poem with an expectant state of mind, open to whatever is actually happening in the “moment of the poem”—not so much thinking as listening.
This moment is always mysterious and always a surprise when it arrives, not knowing how long it’s going to last or what we have or who is writing or where the poem is coming from or going, in a state of near-deliriousness, tying together the head and ears and eyes. The event of the poem is simultaneous to the writing of the poem, regardless if it is something experienced in the moment of writing or something brought up from memory and re-experienced in the present moment—being it and talking about it, both are useful. And sometimes poems are taken over by the words themselves—words that look or sound good together—ones that suggest each other in a constant forward motion.
A poet is not really in control of the poem but the act of discovery is in their control. A poet’s ability is like an astronaut’s—to live in an unnatural environment distant and adrift from daily life, and then to return a little bit of it back to earth.
How does a poet know when a poem begins, or ends? Often I lift my head up from finishing a poem, one that comes to a conclusion, and I’m overwhelmed with feeling and slightly dizzy, as if an electric charge has passed through me and I have been writing with fire. There are also mysterious poems in my journals that I have no memory of writing. Where was “I” when I was writing those? Where is that “I” now?
The quality of a poet is measured by their ability to give in to their highest abilities. In this the poet tries to become as empty as possible (or that is how it seems to me)—so thoughtless that we can see or hear something that is higher than thought, so empty of thought that anything that could be thought falls away, and what remains is a melody, a brightly colored ribbon twisting in the wind of the breath.
Whatever parts of my life I have not written down in my journals and poetry has essentially disappeared. Once I realized this, I began to write down whatever I wanted to remember.
Sometimes I start out with nothing particular to say other than a vague sensation, and I gather together whatever follows this sensation, and somehow this builds toward something not present when I began.
Using the past as a guide, anonyminity, poverty, and critical rejection seems to be bad for artists but good for art. Acceptance brings pressures that have nothing to do with art. An artist ignored is an artist who will set himself on fire.
Cezanne’s work, he said, was about expressing, capturing, and conveying un petit sensation. This expectation is obviously very different from and leads to a different art than Shakespeare’s. Picasso credited Cezanne with creating the modern world of painting (in retreat and in almost complete non-communication with the art world or the social world at all, really) and called him his father.
I am writing this in the almost dark in a notebook in a hotel room at 5:15 a.m. I was woken up by a dream of Maya Lin, the woman who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
In my dream, a film company wanted to release a DVD about the process of building the memorial (which, in real life, was universally criticized before it was built, and is now considered classic). In my dream, those who had criticized the memorial’s design sought to hold up the film’s release until archival footage of their criticisms were excised. The dream was so vivid that I woke only an hour or two after falling asleep. Somehow as I lay in bed a thought appeared—the first thought that I wrote down here, without any thought of what might appear next: “Historically, most poets are dead, but poetry has never missed a day.” After that a period of laziness, and then an awareness that I had continued thinking, and then a desire to write down what I was thinking, despite the difficulties of turning on the light, finding my notebook, the pen, and keeping my eyes open. And then when the writing stopped, I couldn’t decide whether to turn off the light or to wait for what came next. Was the writing over? Between each paragraph, there is a period of darkness, when the light’s been turned off and I drift sideways into sleep. In the silence, in the darkness, in my almost-sleep, other thoughts foliate from the first in a surprise sequence, creating the form of what is thought and thus what is written as it goes by. This paragraph, for instance, was a struggle. When did the first line begin? What really was the impetus to begin writing it down? At first I didn’t know. I knew that I noticed the process as it was occurring, and responded to it in a specific way that resulted in beginning to write down a thought or a sequence of thoughts, and that I was aware not only of the thoughts as I was writing but the process itself, how it was working on me. I remembered the dream that had woken me up, even though I didn’t know why, and that I felt a strong desire to write down my thoughts and I could only accomplish this by suspending all thought and trying to “see” my thoughts, in order to capture the precise details as they appeared until the writing was over. And I seemed to be riding a forward momentum as I was writing of something being spoken, or remembered and spoken, or remembered and spoken and written down, without really knowing why or where it was headed or where it would end. And now, doubling back, the thoughts and the writing become a description of the process of the process. Washington D.C.
When I stop writing, like just now, it is often because of a tiredness, a desire to be done, rather than the completion of the forward momentum, rather than reaching the end. The new desire to write, this addition now for instance, comes from a similar struggle—to stop experiencing the flow as it continues, and to turn on something like a tape recorder in my head—listening and recording at the same time—and then to sit up, allowing the process to continue, the listening and the recording—not stopping it—and writing what my mind remembers and using the actual phrases that I “hear” during the process of thinking. And sometimes in writing—but not tonight—I can “wake up” out of the process itself, to where I feel I have all I need to forge a rocket and aim it directly at the moon.
To not write does not end the process.
And there’s always some part of me who just wants it to be over, to end it and be over, to have done. I write as if with a flashlight in my hand, traveling deeper into an darkened museum, moving forward in order to extend the territory of what is—for me—unfamiliar, and then to explore it until it is no longer unfamiliar—until it becomes a part of me, until it gives up its secrets, expanding my process of writing through the writing itself.
My Fascination with Her Is Enormous and Intricate
In the glassed-in alcove, as I walk briskly past the café in the winter cold, she looks up from her change, a flash of dark azure in the ghostly light of the luminous bleak late morning, her coffee steaming, her serenity and assurance like my own, a tired wistfulness for what had promised so much and is now lost in the afterglow, disappeared into the distance where the misty sunlight leads us.
My Statement of Purpose
To live with intensity.
To in all things at all times be true to myself (this is my only life, it must be
lived by me or lost).
To be always honest with others, and not to refrain by remaining silent.
To accept the constancy of change and ignorance and insight, and to hold in mind
that an entire lifetime can be reclaimed, and often is, in a moment one
does not expect before it happens.
That the purpose of our life is hidden from us until quite late in the story, and that,
whether we accept it or not, we are going forward on faith and intuition.
My hand moving as though I might draw what I’ve said, how what we want to say is arrived at suddenly, extravagant and quick, even when we are suffering most or caught in the stormy light of fear, feeling less heroic, less passionate, indifferent, like distant flames in the dark sky or the moon shining in a pool.
I Don’t Really Mind
Think that I care what is shouted in the street?
The world I was born into was small, weather-beaten,
a narrow road, a spent arrow inert and exhausted—
only I saw the crow settled on a black branch above us,
the uncontrollable river that hurtled past and abandoned us here,
the wind scattering hibiscus on the roadside,
the white moonflowers in the porchlight,
the waves distant and faintly white in the haze
cracking in the cold like clouds of blossoms
attached to nothing, my frozen shadow exciting at first
and then sad like the sun not yet down—
old earth and stone and smooth summer moss
still bearing flowers, arguing both paths at once,
the autumn river swollen, dangerous in spots
sheaths of ice at the river’s banks mixed with pebbles
brought down from above, the moon thinned to a thread
slight enough to fall from the sky into the tossing water,
painting its self-portrait in silver ribbons, how cold it is.