make it new!

When the past is lost, the roots that bound you to the soil of your childhood dug out by your own hand, or withered in a drought of affection and interest and smothered in a surfeit of capital, what else is there for you? They are so far away, in their boardroom fortresses of Higher Education, Solid Investments, lawyers and luncheons and lawns that still glow green and cropped when weeds have long choked the empty lots across the tracks and crept up to surround the strip malls. Their pools still filled with water, as if it weren’t disappearing forever from the other cities Elsewhere, seen from above like eyes of turquoise set in bright green girded by the curving concrete bands of cul-de-sacs. I could never breathe there, and as the decades passed i realized they weren’t anxious to have me back anyway.

Make it new! ordered Ezra Pound, the old fascist.

So i did; with mild and distracted amity i cobbled another family of cast-offs: vivid, self-absorbed, not-quite-artists, aging divas, failed revolutionaries, people who were or would have been big but it was the pictures that got small. We lived together on the edge of nothing, carving a center for ourselves out of sheer talk, minutely attentive to the movers and shakers among us, subjecting them in our endless conversations to intelligent and detailed appraisals which would have meant precisely nothing to them, while we ourselves made nothing move or shake. We recollected heroic pasts, our proximity to history, those times in our youths when we were caught ever so fleetingly in its glaring searchlight and then passed over. Equally brief and inconclusive encounters with the sublime. And then the ongoing gripe with fate; lost jobs, lost loves, lost chances. It all came out around the table, over bottles of cheap wine and yesterday’s bread.

Around us all now (including the movers and shakers, who keep on basking in the world’s gaze even when the real story is clearly elsewhere) everything is burning or washing away; towers rise and fall and rise and will go on rising and rising until they all fall. The ocean creeps toward the dunes. The animals retreat, buffeted by too much hunger, too many deaths, blind suffering. The living world around the once-unbounded globe shrinks to backdrop, playground, or staging area. I have no footing in the unbuilt world, and yet i still feel it falling away. Generations back, i must have belonged to it, just as i must have had a family somewhere in time.

So in the clatter of ecosystems crashing, all i can do is try (and try) to make it new! My little space of breath, molecules moving together before they dissipate at last. My attention to the wild that survives, the birds that still find their way, the people in the shadows of all the great things that will still die. Some little place that thrives, home in its intimate layered depth of existence, not backdrop. The clockwork overhead, that won’t miss a beat if this blue ball goes brown and black. Unless that’s not true

Among the greatest dying in the story of this species, make the smallest, humblest, most contingent new!

This is that: to make nothing but words that vanish almost as soon as they are uttered.

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sanctuary

In the garden are eloquent primary and secondary colors now, punctuating the green background like signal to noise, attracting others to instruct us: a hummingbird, a dragonfly, a fat gray spider. Waltzing moths, honey bee, jay. If one day they didn’t come?

It’s the eve of that day.

Once i placed planks over a clump of grass to kill it. I lifted them up days later to find a cluster of dead newts, suffocated by that incomprehensibly total and sudden roof. One was alive; with utterly articulated glacial purpose it moved away over the rough ground now open to it solely, somewhere or nowhere. Pathetic fallacy suggested a tragic reserve, but it was just following the physical imperative of doing all that it could do. Another life visibilized only in aftermath to the dull giant by another earthquake of blindness.

There was so much life once, you could kill and kill and still it flooded back. Like trying to kill the waves of the ocean, they said.

Inside the house are the last bohemians. We have failed at everything: jobs, family, love, art, but we cluster in the shrinking air space of the disrupted old house as the weight of the age presses down. We eat a dinner of scraps on a ragged cloth and laugh warmly or bitterly depending on the words that come to our lips. We assess it all acutely, raucously, but add or subtract nothing, change none of it. We’ll disappear without a trace. Occasionally I descend

to pick mint and strawberries for our table. We drink our wine with tears as the sun leaves the garden in shadow, still breathing.

It’s the eve of that day when the sanctuary falls. Hummingbird, jay whistle or sing, not waiting.

happy 4th

I went out looking for nothing but couldn’t find it.

At one edge of the hilltop park is a sunny cove of grass,

Sheltered, somewhat, from the wind.

I’m sitting there this afternoon, because of the way the sky promenades

Cerulean over that place

Like a solid block of glacier bisected by the roof and walls of the

Old peoples’ home, with its shadowed portals like exhausted eyes.

From time to time,

A great crow settles on the roof corner.

 

People and dogs pass and don’t look up or speak, except to one another.

I look skyward, trying to capture sunlight and turn it into

A brighter sensibility. I fail.

Every so often a bomb goes off in the distance. The war is always louder on this day.

The air is clear, the breeze is cold. Nothing to look forward to now.

I balanced all, brought all to mind…

 

One man passing turns to me with a smile,

Happy 4th, he says, pleasantly, as if I were a friend met by chance, and I

Thank him. Or maybe it was you. I don’t know you, but…

I watch him go and then I leave in the opposite direction. The sound of sirens rises and falls in the invisible streets far below.

Here the streets are empty, lush with bright silence. I surprise a woman coming out of her home. She says:

There usually isn’t anyone walking here!

Far below, the sirens rise and fade away.

The wind rises with them and keeps on rising.

the door

This is the story arc of our species: we have traveled, although with many meanderings, a single traceable path from wild to domesticated to mechanized beings. We still carry our past with us – sometimes it is expressed, sometimes only potential, but it is not entirely (never, thus far, entirely) lost; it is embodied in us. So there are still groups of human beings who have more wilderness in them, many more who are fully domesticated but not (yet) mechanized, and some – in fact, considered the most privileged in contemporary civilization – who are being positioned for, and now, like good domesticated creatures, actually trotting faithfully towards, machine-life. Clutching essential contrivances to which they have outsourced their memory, sociability, wealth, intellect, and imagination. The next step on this path is to further incorporate (embody) our machines: first to wear them, then to implant them, and finally to become them.

Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks made me realize children are the throwbacks. Domesticated children held the wild in them, released when they went outside to play; machine children will probably still hold the domestic, creating farms and households and schools on their virtual reality playgrounds. All children have held the body, the physical, preeminent – a physicality in constant motion, irreducible because it is alive at all levels, seen and unseen. What adults abstract to a separate and imaginary realm, the metaphysical, is merely a single reality that is alive throughout. This is the world of children.

It was the children who perceived, as Macfarlane says, doors everywhere in the landscape, the children who could slip between worlds without difficulty, just as they can speak in different languages without interposing translation, or express paradoxical ideas without a sense of contradiction.

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complexity theory

There really is a butterfly effect at work in the Homo sapiens sapiens story: Imagine, tiny genetic anomalies reverberating into distinguishable types of physicality and cognitive processing, expanding into historical acts in the world altering aspects of large-scale material reality – the climate of a planet! (the largest if not the happiest example) leading to concatenating unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences through great spans of time.

Missing from what we call complex civilization today: the ethic of humility, attentiveness, and care that a real understanding of the nature of this effect would seem to demand.

That civilization looks like our last best hope for comfort, sophistication, and abundance – until you visit its sacrifice zones. Then, like Shevek in The Dispossessed, all you want to do is run.

But Shevek has a home outside of the murderous, gleaming, extractive civilization of Urras to which to flee. We don’t. For now, our stories are the only door to the sky.

another may day’s come and gone

Against the dream of a universal human family that haunted the last century: “all things in common/ all people one,” the times have given us a strange array of nearly disembodied tribes scattered about the globe, who rise up here or there in fearful ecstasy against the extermination of unprofitable difference by capital, and its establishment of a venal, phony meritocracy with the rentiers at the tiptop and the rest (numbering in the billions, mind you!) to blame for their own misery. Then these stirrings fade – under bombs, tear gas, buy-offs, internal divisions, media defamation, political accommodations – leaving capital reeling on, largely indifferent to anything but its own increasingly unmoored manic-depressive cycles, in its happier moments blithely ecumenical, calling anyone with cash, no matter what color or creed, to come on in and buy. And its gloomier ones, of course, all chilly premonitions of the inevitable and yet unpredictable Armageddon that shadows all its busy-ness.

How strange, in a small, dim, sparsely populated hall in Berkeley, California, amid determined voices singing the stirring and lilting songs of failed struggles for the universal goal: venga, jaleo, jaleo… a ragged band they called the Diggers… arise, ye prisoners of starvation… to see again with mournful clarity that the Old White Left in the US is another such tribe: the tribe of internationalists, people who want no tribe, people who fervently believe in The People, now one of the smallest tribes of all. (For whom, I should add, the Senator from Vermont is to be taken at his word as an Eisenhower Republican). As fragile and yet tenacious as the old ones still clinging to an Amazonian riverbank or a depopulated Mediterranean village.

Oh the decades that have crawled by, and we get older, ghostlier; we keep saying the same things because they are still true and yet the words are without agency. Like the chiefs of a landless people who can’t call the rain anymore. Like Ghost Dancers.

What will it be like, the time of fulfillment, the time of transformation? We will die without seeing it, as have all the rest before us. Instead, imperfect wonders and horrors unpredicted by those who will experience them will unfold, as they always have, and those people will keep finding ways to trap them in dull retrospective chronicles as we always have.

Until such time as humans become something entirely unrecognizable to us as we are now, or else vanish from the earth.

ah, wilderness!

I once took a wilderness and transformed it into a garden. But along the way I killed or evicted anything I didn’t want, I radically reduced the biodiversity in whole areas, by poor soil management I created tiny deserts where almost nothing grew. I practiced a kind of ethnic cleansing as I weeded, uprooting and forcibly removing many things that had long established themselves and were happy and thriving – often for no purpose but an aesthetic one. I set up borders where once there were none. I made roads – paths, that is – nothing was allowed to grow where I walked.

As I learned better how to garden, I began to let things back in that I hadn’t planted, as long as I liked the way they looked, and they didn’t compete with my colony of plants, the ones that were for my exclusive use, slaves of my need for food and beauty.

Years went by, and I could relax, now that I was in control and knew how to get what I wanted from the land. I interfered less and less. The plants that had survived my scourges were supple and forgiving. The animals were unobtrusive – they had learned to stay away, to haunt less tended spaces. The more aggressive birds chased the others away, and took advantage of the insects and seeds that were on offer when I disturbed the soil. It all seemed to be in proper equilibrium.

My garden was beautiful, and I was happy. But the wilderness was gone for good. As long as I lived, it would not return.