Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fall into Winter

Why do people forget what they once believed?

Maybe the only good book I've read for any of my classes at Harvard is E.B. White's One Man's Meat. It was good enough to show its cover juxtaposed to the burning rubble of suburban riots in Paris to provoke a concept of why our houses are important during my final presentation in the housing studio last year. My friend Andrew, a mountain philosopher living on the prairie, has brought this up before but I read it in White's book as well. Both pointed out one of the most poignant truths of the living world as observed by Darwin in his landmark study of earth worms and their ways and means:

"I was thus led to conclude that all vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many times through, and will again pass many times through, the intestinal canals of worms."

This is to say, the earth is moving all the time, worm-bite by worm-bite. If we could take a time-lapse video of a section of the ground, we would see it shift and swirl and fluctuate and move in indeterminant directions according to the ingestion and redepositings of earthworms. So too do roots push the earth one way or another, and digging moles, digging voles, burrowing things, nesting critters, the compressions of the feet of we surface dwellers with our Newtons of force-in-step.

So the point of moving the earth isn't to heave it. I too wish to move the earth, in fact it's something that I long for. My earth is all the dimensions of a vital world, in three, four, twelve, and many more that are fictional. It is our nature to become so acquainted with the soil of being human as human beings that we ingest it and pass it off, one way or another (though I am surely speaking more metaphorically here) and to provoke the shifting but re-establishing of its stuffiness. This is a strange thing to do, and it's strange to think about. White also observed:

"Try to tell a child even the simplest truths about planetary, cosmical, or spiritual things, and you hear strange echoes in your own head. 'Can this be me?' a voice keeps asking, 'can this be me?'"

I take this to be the essence of whatever pulses through the mind before one utters "I believe that..." The most essential things are often some of the silliest. You must be a fool to ingest and a sage to redeposit. What then am I talking about? I'm not quite sure but it has to do with a confession I have. If faith moves mountains, then I would like to glutton myself upon it. I have been timid, afraid, witholding, and now I'm desperate for the courage to put myself at risk. I wrote somebody who means a great deal to me earlier this semester that risks were worth it and then failed to live up to this very conviction--the same conviction which says that faith moves mountains, our world is in constant motion, re-creation is always and everywhere, and that we must give our world to those among us in our lives.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On the Everyday Reasons for Preservation

Don't say it's nostalgia

This is a nice speech about historic preservation given recently by Garrison Keillor at the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in St. Paul.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


A diagram

This is how I think about life:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Phone Conversation

Overheard at the table next to me at 1369

what's up.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not ten hours after I wrote the last entry I see this article on Yahoo News:

Freeway Infrastructure

Entering a corrosive era

There is a deniable fact-of-the-matter that has been and will continue to be dangerously ignored by public officials and cheerleaders of our nation's pornographic addiction to economic growth by way of road development. The fact is simple: freeway infrastructure, the lifeblood of the American economy and the single most influential element of post-war American socio-political identity, is busted and unsustainable. For all the billions and billions and billions of dollars federal and state governments have doled out to construct the dizzying expanse of concrete and steel wastelands around our country have a half-life of right about now. Freeway collapses like the one seen in Minneapolis this week will certainly become more common because concrete and rebar don't last forever. The sages of neo-liberal free market capitalism who consecrated the mendacious delusions of the suburban disposition in late-modernity America were successful in convincing those thirsty for the pornographies of the free market that Growth was invincible, all-accelerating, and permanent. Well, unfortunately, Growth is designed for lifespans of 50-60 years, and every time Growth reaches this milestone Growth must be restored, reconstructed, reworked, dismantled, or demolished. State governments already are struggling to repair all those teeny bridges that cross creek beds and gullies on the two-lane highways of the American countryside, let alone the truss arched interstate bridges over large rivers in the cities that carry tens of thousands of cars a day. Now imagine all those roads out there: all the freeway bypasses, the four-lane median US highways, all those bridges in all those little towns across the entire breadth of the continent--all of them facing their golden anniversaries, with failure--death--imminent. The simple, undeniable fact of the matter is that none of it is sustainable. We nihilistically manifested the suburban buildout once, but there is simply no money to do it twice.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ice Bergs, Not Antarctica

Here now is a prelude

I am heeding the words coming from the high places
And the low, buried places
As in the troughs of the dunes and the ancient ways
Where many bents of humans planted trees
Aware of rows and delineations of order
There were many who never transgressed
The cast gates of cities with their watchmen
And those esteemed who processed
Down the only allylanes where the sun would reach
Creek beds change form over silent, wise
Durations of time which never begin or end
And once there were terrific birds on the cliffs
With spans of wings like boughs of trees
And they never flew
Off of and in to the crag and draft
Many of us continue to leap with uttering and songs
Knowing not of flight but of gravity
And all that defies it

Sweep up to this height; I have made a place
In the sand where I might wait and seek you out
In a city of its own lines in the craze of night
Bend now, and bury
Meet the horizon line and with frail twins of feet, run.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On Light

Excerpts from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"'The Greenland fjords are peculiar for the spells of completely quiet weather, when there is not enough wind to blow out a match and the water is like a sheet of glass. The kayak hunter must sit in his boat without stirring a finger so as not to scare the shy seals away...The sun, low in the sky, sends a glare into his eyes, and the landscape around moves into the realm of the unreal. The reflex from the mirror-like water hypnotizes him, he seems to be unable to move, and all of a sudden it is as if he were floating in a bottomless void, sinking, sinking, and sinking....Horror-stricken, he tries to stir, to cry out, but he cannot, he is completely paralyzed, he just falls and falls.' Some hunters are especially cursed with this panic, and bring ruin and sometimes starvation to their families."

"I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff."

Referring to Marius von Sendens's Space and Sight:

"On the other hand, many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision. To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is 'something bright and then holes.' Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out, 'It is dark, blue, and shiny...It isn't smooth, it has bumps and hollows.' A little girl visits a garden. 'She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as "the tree with the lights in it."'
"Of a patient just after her bandages were removed, her doctor writes, 'The first things to attract her attention were her own hands; she looked at them very closely, moved them repeatedly to and fro, bent and stretched the fingers, and seemed greatly astonished at the sight.' One girl was eager to tell her blind friend that 'men do not really look like trees at all,' and astounded to discover that her every visitor had an utterly different face. Finally, a twenty-two-old girl was dazzled by the world's brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, 'the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed, "Oh God! How beautiful!"'"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tectonics Thinner than Air


May. These are the days of limbo. There is much to learn walking the streets of warm spring cities into the night. Scarcely have I heard crickets yet, but they are incubating somewhere like so much else of summer and the anticipations that this season brings about in the many ways of one’s being. Often time passes in oscillations, and it is possible to see the correspondences between things. One pass brings me to Detroit some May ago and some May later another brings me back. I was in Detroit yesterday, and there was a familiarity to it that had much to do with scent and the height of grasses in front of waning front porch paint. There was a treelessness to the city that has been deep in lore in years yore for its rooting elms. On a quiet street an older gentleman sat frozen in the heat on the porch of his house. Screened in and across the street another and I played blues on the guitar.

These are days of passing, and that is another oscillation of time. For the resource-less (here I mean non-pedal transportation) there is much waiting in passing. I go from place to place and take up areas of sleeping that are stored away like chestnuts in a squirrel’s world. I am fortunate in this way. It means the transit between points in place is laden with some purpose, with the progression of more than land and certainly calling, ideals, mission, and inquiring. There are many ideals to attend. I am hear now in past home of mine where a great knot of synthesis enwove my own being. This sounds hollowly poetic, maybe trite, but if that’s the case then I’m glad for it. I am deeply persuaded to open up a continuing story, the weight of it exudes its time, subtle but profound like the passing of tectonic plates. In the heat of the day I may be waiting for some future, and I can feel the friction of subducting time.

I missed a moment last night to open this story, and now my stomach is teeming with a fresh and intoxicating anxiety and I can hear the three things I undoubtedly believe in—my past, the ontology of being, and the mutuality of experience—urging me to brace and embrace peaks in time and place where we have—they are popularly called—windows. There are creatures thinner than the air that press and press with psalters of what next. Knowing and doing is a tricky duo. Like May, these things are limbo. They too are oscillations and one begets the other over and over and recursively again.

To my people out there, I want you to know something. This world is very apparent, it seems. As a creation it is continuously urging. Know, then do. Risks are often good investments. I am poor at speech so May is a time for letters.

I walked late at night around the streets of Cambridge last Monday. This city is quiet early in the morning, and a night wind in the trees coursed modestly about, bending the shadows of the street lights. There is much to learn on these walks. I have felt urged, and I now I must do. Little was more apparent on those streets, and now that I am passing, there are ideals to attend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Record

Premay 2007

I. Invocation

during this so brief vigil of our senses
that is still reserved for us, do not deny
yourself experience of what there is beyond,
behind the sun, in the world they call unpeopled.
Canto XXVI
fear not suffering; the heaviness,
give it back to the weight of the earth;
the mountains are heavy, heavy the oceans.
even the trees you planted as children
long since grew too heavy, you could not sustain them.
ah, but the breezes; ah, but the spaces.
Sonnet to Orpheus IV

II. The Record

the shadowlands along summerstreets, oh, ann arbor.
these have been places of walks and peripatetices.
to lawns and porches of east ann street along 1010/210,
and the dutch house roof, the canopies out back;
the planada-rest in peace-and the corner of 7 where the Rhine spilled over;
catherine street:
where abided my boys loney and chap
on the petition couch,
squalor is high modernism lads—keep your heads up,
steadfast against all the misanthropics;
here stand the saturday morning sheds, zingerman's breadly,
and summer tables;
lawrence street and linford: you harbored me;
south fourth of three summer's past fans turning in lateday:
the west beckons across yard and leopold's where we have cleaned;
detroit street, washington, ashley on some sundays,
liberty out west and over the hill,
huron river to north territorial to m52;
cedar campus and whitefish point:
where we forged meta and in silent rooms traversed time
and rested lazy to begin again and striving to do so,
men's retreat and focus week of frozenbay broomball and narnia—
i left you a gnome and a thing called meta:
(tb douce, d dunkel, taitcha: onward for our burden is light)

blessed be these terrains and abodes.

to my people uprooted, dig in;
the fellows;
justin b (tinney some time yore);
dave o and dumie we formed a midhall triad;
eadie, mick, snuph, schteeny, sprech and carlsone the easy e;
delorean of car fame, meul, mccrack - see you all soon;
hubers of the south and the rest of it;
christie i may know you yet;
derek of cigars and carolina
and your honey ms. single no longer:
remember where you’ve been and why;
tom e thane of thanes much love to you and to the little ones;
troy and jess and as you have it boo and just last week samuel:
you are exemplars;
rich the aussie god bless you and the leelanau, the manistee—
i will see you in africa;
darren you're a legacy van der keesma;
hull i missed you; what happened since pre-moore talks on couches?;
muncey what can be said?--pass me a cigar;
chelsea in the leelenau from sf to jonestown keeps yer roots hun;
bling, ryan, dawn and/or delahoya: stratford was vernal even in the grey of autumn, blessings blessings blessings;
keith at asp, john perkins down in jackson;
ann s of mo and la keep breathing;
whang of jersey like fish in and out of water please be strong,
and this premay a new line to you:
look now upon yourself—you have been given sight;
k v dyke and The Pressing;
raynor post focus week i miss the land that i never knew;
backypacky amy and rachel, we are all alone so let us hike;
the taubman crew: mississy, chang, lads with cigars and whiskey, alexa, hemingway, devereux and melissa, mick and bodley, ddrek;
ddrek of many nights at arbor our home;
graham, pennings, yang, melema, steveo, tb, tracy, ddault;
and the ivers: what has happened?;
what to you kg son of swan?: blessings—water has fallen;
alex, tait, andrew, megan, timmy: i love you;
muncey, meul, miked, daveo, easy e, and our clan: i love you too;
ra, ho, yang on oxford and grendel in the den: shalom.
to the new crew and to you lucius i missed you sooner;
to the emerging in the square: you have surprised me,
let us move headlong—
you have brought me peace here.
there is time for invocation but it is now befalling.
detroit, the havens, the dunes, the grasses, the tills, the orienters, the faded and resolute, the winds, the leaves, the frames, the colors, the treading grounds, the flats, the valley and the crag, the hollow and the gorge, the halls, manchester, chelsea, dexter, the fires at the farms, the deeps and the bales, rain on asphalt, the kin and the sages, and the restlessness of times which are imminent;
there is lore about thoroughly!
winter ebbs, there is much to be spoken.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Who has a pencil? And some paper?

Recently I have been dumstruck, feeling the heavy weight of memory. Memory is a tricky thing. Here are some others: why the pressing urgency to go home that silenced me when surrounded by people; the plane that transited the 3 centimeter billions between l'unghia di dio and venus just at dusk to the southwest over the square; why is 6 miles above the earth at night a monastic, churning state in which i am reeling with voicelessness and the realization that i am, probably, a loser? Speech and memory cannot be separated. This is because the ontology of memory requires testament. I'm somewhat in to ontology. Speechlessness means that memory is free falling. What then will ground us? And we become losers.

I pulled Confessions from the bookcase tonight, knowing when I put it in a box to bring it to Cambridge that this time would come. Augustine and I would have this conversation:

me (P): bitterly cold, eh? never crisper. some moon, ya? do you know about the universe?

Augustine (A): the universe? yes, i know about it.

P: they know where it stops now, you know.

A: do they?

P: well, i imagine they do. what can i get you?

A: a fine, dark ale; round, blurred, but viscous.

P: well said. you have a knack for that, don't you?

A: it has been written.

P: let me ask you Augustine: was god in carthage?

A: you know, they know where the universe stops now.

P: except that all the same, there isn't just one anymore.

A: not just one? my teachers spoke of spheres...aethers.

P: right, right. spheres and aethers. and the...the...thing; the...

A: the fluid which drags the stars.

P: that's it.

A: no, god was in rome.

P: still is.

A: Monica used to say that.

P: yeah?

A: oh yes. what about the universe?

P: no, no. the universe, however many or one there is,
is not what i would like to know.

A: don't cry for me. the more you weep the less it's worth it.

P: wow. put in a fortune cookie.

A: the less you weep, the more you need to.

P: i can't speak.

A: you're a bastard.

P: no, seriously. i can't speak. there is no thread. one of your successors (well, a Berliner) made sophistries on feeling, thinking, knowing and doing. he was a lounge rat, and didn't have much to do on a day to day basis but you can see his concern.

A: ah, yes. i said to god let me recognize you as you have recognized me.

P: beware the freefall!

A: achtung! yes, you must find the ground.

P: i know where the ground is. i have fallen to it; it has consumed me.

A: be lofty, you are meant for free fall if you know the ground.

P: i am earth-bound; and i get nervous when in a plane.

A: speak, then.

P: i have tried this. i would rather drop hints again and again and again.

A: you're a sucker.

P: i would like to think not.

A: you must fall and rise to fall again. there are ends to things.

P: what things?

A: all things.

P: i can't speak!

A: you ought to seriously consider a remedy.

P: what about this recognition?

A: it's not enough. it was christ who descended in order that he should rise again. imagine if he had just shrugged and said, yeah, i get it. good game, guys.

P: do you have soccer?

A: in the academic sense. we call it hannibal's magic 8.

P: that's quirky. put it on a bar sign.

A: i will consider that. you should go speak now.

P: i will consider that. what binds all this to the pain in my gut?

A: it's up for grabs.

P: come on now. really? you don't mean that.

A: you are confusing scales.

P: yes, i'm prone to do that. but it's reasonable, right? isn't it a freefall?

A: no, it is an orbit.

P: no, it's quantum.

A: even quanta must be given shape. something must endow it with agency.

P: i would like to orbit. i would like to reach and grab on to something.

A: you already are orbiting. you have been recognized. but remember the scale of things. you are earthbound.

P: i know it. it is churning.

A: speak.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Hope for hope at the end of neo-liberalism

Cornel West writes that "our kids today see clearly the hypocrisies and mendacities of our society, and as they grow up they begin to question in a fundamental way some of the lies that they've received from society...This often leads to an ardent disappointment, and even anger, about the failures of our society to consistently uphold the democratic and humanitarian values tha can be born in youths in this phase of their life."

and continues:

"In the political sphere, the most significant expression today of this mix of anger, disappointment, and yet a tough-edged longing is the democratic globalization movement here and abroad."

What is a tough-edged longing, and who feels it today? The times today without a doubt bring me to anger and disappointment. I cannot comprehend the systematic idiocy of our country's economic nihilism. As a little-'d'-democrat my political values are rooted deeply in a simplicity that is rarely espoused in our country today, and always far away from the suburban wastelands and temporal industrial bilges along the fringes of cities that incubate the pseudo-, the pastiche, democratism of this free market age of disillusionment and despair. It infuriates me to hear our president speak. I want to give up when I see his crew placating the millions, patronizing the ideologically weakest and most vulnerable.

I've said it many times in the presence of collective despair that the prophet of Americanism is an extinct typology. I'm ultimately wrong about that. There are many people who I would consider prophetic. Wendell Berry, Daniel Schorr, even Sufjan Stevens, are all people in whom I recognize democratic prophesy. Many of our venerated figures of the past meet this characterization as well. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophetic; Harry Caudill was a prophetic; Rachel Carson was prophetic; Medgar Edgars was prophetic; Bobby Kennedy was prophetic. Were the Kennedy's shmucks? Probably, but they were lucrative enough to articulate some things that, despite their intentions in doing so, they saw as essential.

Bobby Kennedy. I have, in conversations about the upcoming presidential race, compared the potential of Barak Obama to the run of the younger Kennedy back in the 60s. Had he been elected--and he would have been elected--our country would be in a very different place right now. After Kennedy, the American project endured, and is enduring, a long onslaught of destructive, nihilistic, and undemocratic policy. We saw the quotidian, bottom-up concerns of everyday Americans in the American landscape, fighting against poverty and for an identity, disappear with the same acceleration in which free market capitalism came into veins of American democratism like a heroine, an illusory addiction, that made most hopes of an imperfect America that was worth the prophetic fight into no hope at all. The realization that many people and many structures were denying the prophetic from many Americans was the reason for the fight.

It is true that his country has never been perfect. People that believe that--they're called Republicans--are dumbass ignorant of basic historical inquiry. But the political means of democratism is self-reflection. It means that societies can procur systematic justice by affirming the increasingly discrete scales of justice that characterize the boundaries of human civlization. Thus the little-'d'-democrat turns to his neighbor, his family, himself, in self-reflection. This is a phenomenology of politics that hasn't been integral to an American vision since, I would argue, Jefferson, who had the opportunity to posit outcomes. Today, as in the era of Bobby Kennedy's run for office, we no longer have the luxury of starting from scratch. We must deal with the nihilism that has pervaded our economic will, cultural production, and incubated, uprooting, melancholy despair. It is the "tough-edged longing" that must be nursed. Otherwise, what does the American project have to live for? What is needed now, is a prophet. One who speaks not to his own power, but to the hope for hope in the last memories of American democratism.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Tremont Saga

4 July

it is high past the day rain and evening is coming
the air has laid low thickly while trunk and peak
have risen staid as mountains among mountains
the foliage of thickened dixie is saturated along
great strides of ridge and local knoll and inbetween
peers our friend from the porch of a bungalow set
upon footer and feet and table over whatever land
inside companion beasts have come to greet these
visitors with pittering taps and reckless wags
through pane and knit this light has cast deep
shadows across edges of wood and shelves
lined with bottles and books and porcelain knacks
these rooms scent of weathering and i think the land
here is a hallow of color and molded things
into and out of which pour wine and oils and barleydew
by stories of aiming wander which have somehow
come to settle and rest here in this hour
a dog has run from a lapse under the tree and now
there is a party treading from ebb to ebb
and there is a woman who has set deep her frail
mean eyes haunting the ground for webs
though she cannot see the terrain
and that all is settled on plate and rift
which are moving always indeterminancy and will
nonethless she holds a gun and hunts chaos
at scales of blindness towards the edge and ground
after some lull and silence one rises up the street
holding this lore come lately in her arms
and it has begun to rain
she has begun to cry and the rest of
us sway in some time to this fable
that was called to be in the crazed wroughted past
the rain will flow back upon us now and who will
say that all of it is blind and lunatic and passing?

Monday, January 08, 2007

And Trains Pass By Throughout the Night


Early December now, and flocking birds reside in great clamoring masses in the trees out in the church yard. The wind is brisk but the thinning clouds allow a cast of pale yellow light over the lawns. There is a woman before me and her dress is fluttering and we stand there silently while guns blast in the distance. These birds are unphased but this is a moment of collapses in memory, great colliding and folding of the past, which, I would argue, this woman before me has either ignored or forgotten all together. Now next to a lot of cars I am waiting to bear witness and she is waiting for the Great Apotheosis of the Living Grace, the Fragile Absolute, the Bobbing for Apples, the Feast of La Divina Enchilada. After the sun sets and we have driven out along the freeway service road in the deep blue winter light by a faint scent of antifreeze, I sat in the Sandtrap Bar downstairs with Andrew setting two words a piece on a card hoping to give meaning and reflection to this momentus subtle occassion. The NFL on television, bitterness dripping from the haggard thing behind the bar complaining of a bruised hip, and I thought, this is memory? Some suppose, I suppose, and maybe I do too. Behind me, in dark light, a woman plays dusty tunes on a piano to a glutonous crowd of shuttered golfers, and now it comes headstrong, full-on: memory, out of time, and the sentiment of our words heaves roots out to sentiment of another epoch and another place. She will not know this, but I know it. This, then, is memory.