I Will Google This In A Year
Letter from the Editor
Two Words For Tzara
Howie Good, Poetry
Society of Fear
Alexandra Arango, Art
Art Heifetz, Poetry
Kafka – “Scene of The Trial”
Flavio Freitas, Art
Shake, Spider, Shake
Kyle Hemmings, Fiction
Time and Again
Michael Zucaro, Poetry
In Memory of W. H. Auden
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson, Poetry
Eugene Gusarov, Art
The Man Behind the Water Cooler
Martin Hill Ortiz, Fiction
William Doreski, Poetry
Flavio Freitas, Art
The Literary Relic Poem
A.F. Harrold, Poetry
Will May, Art
Everybody Knows Borges!
Grove Koger, Fiction
Will May, Art
Colin Gilbert, Poetry
Kyle Hemmings, Fiction
Flavio Freitas, Art
The Life of Rimbaud
William Doreski, Poetry
Portrait of Frida K. #1
Monica Ragazzini, Art
D. S. King, Poetry
The Diplomat’s Daughter
Z.N. Lupetin, Fiction
Chelsea Lewkow, Art
Kenneth Pobo, Poetry
Colors of the Dream I Had
Jim Chelius, Art
A Dark and Stormy Night
Larry Kostroff, Fiction
Why Arthur Lee Didn’t Leave LA
Kyle Hemmings, Fiction
By Blooms, For Blooms, Of Blooms
Artyom Anikin, Non-Fiction
Machado de Assis
Flavio Freitas, Art
Form of Priorities
Gil Soltz, Fiction
Kyle Hemmings, Fiction
Mike Zazaian, Poetry
Eugene Gusarov, Art
“To prepare the signal, then send it out.”
Megan M. Garr, from “To the Tremendous Future,” Versal X
Two Words For was born on the train to Utrecht. It was April going into May, 2012, only a few days before Queen’s Day, and I was telling my friend Rob (our now-Senior Editor) about an idea I’d had inspired by a Jacques Derrida article. Not just the article, the title: “Two Words for Joyce.”
I told him of an online literary and arts magazine devoted to the past “in the name” of those who came before. A journal using technologies of the new media to design and shape how we recognize those influences of the old in us. We talked about “Two Words for Hemingway, “Two for Morrison” (I, for Toni, he, for Jim), “for Mayakovsky,” indeed, “for Derrida.”
We talked about “Two Words for All.”
A girl, listening in, glanced at us from time to time. Eyes that foretold an “Excuse me” coming up. “I will Google this in a year” she said, getting off the train before us. “This better exist in a year.”
Well, we beat the mark by three months, so I can safely say, yes, we’ll exist in a year. And Google will know the name of Two Words For All, our Issue 0. Receiving over 70 individual submissions, hundreds of poems, stories, and art, we now find ourselves publishing new, original work created “for” and “after” Rimbaud, Odilon Redon, Joseph Conrad, Sylvia Plath, and Kafka.
We’re publishing work inspired by Richard Pryor, Paul Klee, Ozzy Osbourne, and Frida Kahlo. Names I’d never heard of before like James Thurber, Miroslav Penkov, Matthea Harvey, and Marcello Mastroianni.
All in all (and with serious thanks to A.F. Harrold), there are over 150 names (not including our own) appearing in this issue.
But it was these last unexpected “unknowns,” the names that were Googled, which gave the magazine more openness, more surprise and discovery than I ever expected—the discovery of contemporary influences crouched amongst “those who came before.” The discovery that we could never possibly hope to limit this magazine to only one figure, one presence, one name.
And so, our next issue will simply be called Two Words For 1, and it too will be a blank slate, always a “proof of concept” for you to write, sing, film (hint hint), and critique in adoration or in blame upon anyone (and every 1) who’s ever inspired or forced you—by ever-current pastness—to create in the shadow of their name.
In a way, I was right when I said, “We will choose the theme for Issue 1 from out the submissions we receive for Issue 0.” We choose to be open. From All to 1 and everything in-between, there’s Two Words For—left behind. And we go on.
Editor in Chief
(Inspired by Tristan Tzara)
The clock bulges alarmingly. Nineteen-sixteen arrives astride various comets, what may account for the mass disappearance of wishbones & hairy bushes. The first bombs go off on a shabby side street in Zurich. There are screams & a zoo & clusters of wild grapes like dark lanterns by which it’s hard, though not impossible, to read.
Hitchcock’s The Birds)
Mixed Media, 2012
(Inspired by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini films)
I was a precocious child.
I declared myself
An existentialist at age 15,
Before I could even spell it,
Convinced that if God wasn’t absent
He was certainly sleeping on the job.
That same year I saw La Dolce Vita
Which changed my life forever
With its bacchanalia on the streets of Rome
And a glimpse, however brief,
Of Ekberg’s monumental breasts.
More than Camus or Sartre,
I aspired to be Mastroianni,
The harried Latin lover
With the languorous bedroom eyes.
Arthur no more,
I became the dashing Arturo
In a sharply tilted Panama
And tailored trench,
One trigger finger wound around
A small cup of espresso,
The other tickling a young girl’s knee.
European women bowled me over
With their nonchalance,
The way they glided across the room
With barely a rustle in their clothes.
The way they stepped out of them.
At 18 I swam around a cove in Korcula
And found Ingrid floating topless
Like a mermaid in the sea.
She climbed onto a rock
And changing into panties and a bra,
Asked me to hook the eyes.
At 19 the lovely Lina,
Didn’t wear anything at all
Beneath her peasant dress
As we gathered mushrooms
For the evening’s cutlets
In the Vienna Woods.
At 20, I spent a whole night with Monique
At a pied a terre in St. Germain
With its creaky lift for two.
In the morning, the mustached waiter
Posed discretely on our bed
A tray of warm croissants
And marmalade from tiny plums.
At 23, the night before our wedding
At Jackie’s house in the Lorraine,
Her impish father brought up
Every bottle from his cellar
And got me roaring red-eyed drunk.
I awakened in an ice-cold shower
And never really sobered up,
To slip the ring on her right hand.
I’m told I ranted through the evening
About Deneuve, Loren and Vitti,
Inviting all our guests to climb with me,
Into the Trevi Fountain.
(Inspired by Franz Kafka)
Ink on Paper, 2008
(Inspired by Ozzy Osbourne)
After the flop at Glastonbury, he started to see things in doubles, blebs and blurbs, but still used black eyeliner in his MTV videos. One artist was courting the London scene, making posters of Spider looking ill, color splattered against a wall of faded Linear Notes to Silas Marner. “The tumor is getting larger,” said Dr. Wu, reading the CAT Scan results, tapping the left occipital part of his own head. Wu sometimes talked about his single mother, an opera singer from Hong Kong, who admitted being a lesbian by the time her son finished med school. Can words wheeze? Spider thought. “And lay off the smack!” said Wu, staring at an X-ray: lungs, white shadows, deep transparencies into nowhere.
Wu referred to the “crepitations” at the base of Spider’s lungs but last week he called them “crackles.” Wu hated rock n’ roll, said it was pretentious and disruptive of alpha brain waves and Spider refused the experimental surgery he mocked as beta not.
He changed his name, wandered around the country taking odd menial jobs, a clerk, a vet’s assistant, a printer repairman. He met a girl from Northumberland, still hurting from a boy toy who took off like a prize goose. She recognized Spider without eye shadow. Much younger than he, energetic as the girls who danced topless at his concerts, she promised to take care of him after he said “I’m spent.” She had no concept of time, Spider thought, how things are promised then discarded. But he could see his whole life, beginning bar, start repeats, to the last measure. At night, in colored magic markers, he wrote the same sequence of numbers across the bedroom wall. It resembled a Social Security number.
“What is it?” asked Penny Ann, sitting up, breasts pressed to knees. “It’s my time signature,” he said, “who I am. It reminds me how many whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighths and sixteenths, until there’s no time left at all.” Unsteady on his feet, he struggled back to the bed, fell, and never woke up. It happened in no time at all. It happened in less than a 4 beat whole rest. A slip of time. It happened as if nothing ever happens at all. Really.
(After Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”)
After excavating little graves,
it was the words you lifted,
placed carefully beside one another.
Ring worm thick, the Ancients
moved with the grace of marionettes.
You played with meter
till you married it with quiet
generosity, kept out of newspapers.
You summoned a sky without stars,
who could say, that it would not miss you?
(“I was constantly looking
at Soth’s pictures”)
(For James Thurber)
Far off from the chatter of the office party, there was a man crouching behind the water cooler. Magnified by its crystal lens, his head appeared to fill the bottle. Whenever the liquid gurgled, he burped.
He had a toothbrush mustache and thick glasses that seemed pinned to his nose. The scribble of his hairline cowered somewhere behind his massive cranium. I recognized this inflated face: it was Jim, from the graphics department.
He held a sketch pad; his eyes fixed on me. From the way his hand whisked about, I was certain he was drawing me. Why me of all those at the office party? Was he capturing my fearless brow, my pair of determined chins, my hunk-a hunk-a masculinity?
“No,” he said.
I cringed as he showed me his drawing, an ink squiggle. It appeared as though he never lifted his pen from the paper, transforming me into a still-life swirl, a human calabash with an overbite. But what I hated most about the drawing was that it was undeniably me.
“I’m a toothy vegetable?”
“A ferocious gourd,” he said, his words clipped and gleeful. “You should be proud. In old China, they filled gourds with gunpowder to use as weapons. You are that sort of chaos, a combustible force to be reckoned with.”
I was a gourd.
“The prism of the water cooler exposes our true characters,” Jim said. “You are lucky to be dangerous. So many men have become feeble, the wildness has been domesticated out of the male breed.”
I rattled my head, trying desperately to reset its image. I said, “from my point of view, the water cooler magnified your head and you turned into some sort of Emerald City wizard.”
“You were looking through the wrong side,” he said. “In the other direction it only merely reveals who we are not.”
“The Wizards’ Guild is breathing a sigh of relief.” He responded to my snideness with a wrinkle of his nose.
“I had an uncle who was a bearded lady,” he told me. “The carnival owners decided a whiskered woman cost more in pay than a man who wore a dress. For a time he ran the funhouse as ticket-tearer and bouncer. He told me that the distortion mirrors reflect the true person.”
He leaned in to impart a cosmic truth. “Man is an insubstantial creature,” he said, “hunted by the whims of nature and… Miss Butterly!”
Melinda Butterly was a dangerous adverb. Well-named, her body held the shape of a stick of butter, hand-squeezed so that the top and bottom oozed out. She was packed into a too-small dress, her chest crammed into a too-small bra that shoved the goo of her breasts up from her low-cut blouse. She never “said” anything. Her words erupted as coos, purrs, chirps and growls. She was a walking record of ambient jungle sounds.
“Jim,” she hissed as she embraced him in a python hug. A full foot taller than her prey, Jim was nearly decapitated as his head got sucked into her cleavage. “You’ve been hiding from me.”
“Not… well… enough,” he struggled to say.
He broke free, backed up, dropped his sketch pad, trying to escape but soon found himself pinned against the wall. Turning to me, he silently mouthed the words, “help me” or else “elf knee” – I never mastered lip-reading.
As he faced death by slather, I was his only hope. I had no idea what to do.
I had an idea.
I ducked behind the water cooler to look, to understand. Its warped lens provided a mesmerizing view: from this perspective all of the partygoers were transformed.
Mr. Peabody had the body of a pea. Mrs. Krutz, a giant robin, bobbed and pecked at him. Mr. Tenthouse, who each day regaled the lunchroom with tales of his sexual conquests, wore a maiden’s steeple hat. He chatted with a unicorn.
Mr. Garnagle of Purchasing stood three feet tall, a twig of a man. He wore green leotards and sported pointy ears.
Miss Butterly was a giant she-bear and Jim an open pot of honey.
I exploded into action, rushing to the woman who was the unicorn. I told her, “Tenthouse is a virgin! But I’m not!” I waved my arms about and twisted my face into a gnarl. She backed away and fled. I gave chase trying to steer her so that her horn would gore the bear but instead she galloped in the direction of the water cooler. She crashed into the bottle, toppling it, shattering it. Jim screamed from beneath Miss Butterly as gallons of water sloshed across the floor, washing over his pen and ink drawings.
“We really ought to get a water fountain,” Mr. Garnagle commented. “Half the fun of drinking water is guessing how much is going to spritz in your face.” He was wolfing down a hot dog, a red and yellow mustache on his upper lip. He had a pixie-like smile. Then I remembered the vision: he was three feet tall with leaf-like ears. He was the elf! And on his knee was a splash of mustard.
“Elf knee!” I cried.
I grabbed a squeeze-bottle of mustard from the serving table and rushed up behind Miss Butterly, firing its contents all over her. She turned and roared at me. I shot a blast of mustard into the blaze of her red eyes.
Jim slipped free, fell to the floor gasping for air. He squinted about, his eyeglasses having been sucked down Miss Butterly’s cleavage and lost to another dimension. Crawling along the floor, flopping about with his hands, splashing through the puddle, he shouted, “no, no!” He crumpled up soggy pages from his sketch pad, the ink bleeding through his fingers.
The giant robin swooped down on me, knocking me to the floor, pecking at the gourd. Butterly looked to me with hatred. I called out to Jim who glanced about, seeing nothing. The unicorn kept her distance, stamping her feet. I began laughing.
“We are going to get a water fountain,” Mr. Garnagle said. “These bottles make such a mess.”
(After Rimbaud’s “1870” poems)
We follow the railroad south.
Freight trains gloom past: coal, ore,
solvents in sinister tank cars,
auto racks loaded with small trucks
assembled in Canada. Dead
for years, our German and Russian
parents haunt us, characters
from Thomas Mann or Nabokov
novels no one reads anymore.
Too old and fragile for hobo lives,
we can’t run beside and leap aboard
the trains fumbling down to Florida.
We’ll have to walk six hundred miles.
Snow patches tough as bandage
lurk in the shade. Winter fizzled
this year, failing to snow enough
to keep the ski resorts humming.
We lost our jobs in a restaurant
dedicated to weekend skiers
whose tips rattled like the bones
of our lost peasant ancestry.
We also lost the rooms we rented
by the week and had to dump our books
at the library book sale where men
crooning into cell phones priced them
for sale to collectors in New York.
The tracks shine in creamy light.
You want to slump naked on a beach
alone with the rhythmic breakers.
I want to find a sunny café
where chess players take their game
seriously enough to beat me
with detachment and quiet pride.
The trains creak and sigh. We walk
with purpose, and leave straight tracks
anyone can follow. Hand in hand,
we’re two gnomons on one sundial,
casting the same gray shadow
and telling the same gray time.
(Inspired by David Hockney)
Acrylic on Canvas, 2012
(Two words for all)
Like many folk in our profession I’m fond of literary history,
I mean the stories and lives of writers mean a lot to me
and I’m a bit of an anorak.
I’ve bought a bit of this and that from auctions and whathaveyou,
for example the odd bit of William Makepeace Thackery knick-knackery
if you see what I mean,
and when I’m stuck for inspiration I’ll take out some object,
some relic I’ve collected and I’ll just hold it for a bit
or maybe give it a little stroking
and sometimes, and really I’m not joking,
sometimes I’ll get an idea or two,
and I like to think the previous owner’s essence is coming through.
Anyway, enough of the mystical preamble,
I know people tend to visit me with the expectation
of a little inspection of the literary relics in my collection, so here we go…
Here in my study look to the glass cabinets on the wall
and there, underneath a rare authenticated Wordsworth manuscript
which has, to be fair, been knocked around a bit,
down at the bottom
now looking slightly rotten,
are Aphra Benn’s pens.
Above them is Dorothy Parker’s parker,
William Gibson’s nibs and papers
and looking better leant across Beatrix Potter’s jotter’s
Pablo Neruda’s ruler
which he used to underline important words
on Somerset Maugham’s forms
and James Joyce’s invoices.
On the other side of my study securely tucked away
in what was once Leo Tolstoy’s tallboy
you’ll find the only extant fragment of one of Kafka’s kaftans,
alongside Sartre’s garters,
Mary Shelly’s wellies,
Walter de la Mare’s flowery flares,
Hilaire Belloc’s smocks, socks
and various frocks belonging to the Brontës.
Leaving my study and moving into the hall you’ll see
draped across one of Baudelaire’s favourite chairs
John Ruskin’s buskins
beside Mervyn Peake’s peaked cap that
might be made from a bite of material from Keats’s kite.
And there, stood upright in Samuel Beckett’s bucket
is what I assume’s Sassoon’s bassoon,
although to be fair the provenance of that is rather unclear.
Moving from here on into the kitchen you’ll see some of my favourite prizes.
In that cupboard there is Dame Iris Murdoch’s dandelion and burdock,
Philip Larkin’s parkin, Graham Greene’s beans,
Milton’s stilton, John Donne’s buns,
William Blake’s various cakes,
and Kipling’s various cakes.
Edward Albee and Harper Lee both donated their tea to me,
and I keep it in one of Thomas Mann’s cans.
On the side is Robert Graves’ microwave,
in this drawer I keep Ivor Cutler’s cutlery,
the other one’s got Richard Dawkins fork in
and that jar there houses Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s spaghetti.
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s new and old fridges
are Anthony Trollope’s scallops
and Dr. Seuss’s juices, respectively.
At this point someone usually asks me were the alcohol is,
but of course that’s in the sitting room drinks cabinet.
In there I have Saki’s saki, Germaine Greer’s beers,
Edward Lear’s beers, Ray Mears’ beers,
Patricia Beer’s beers, Shakespeare’s beers,
Einstein’s fine wines and Italo Calvino’s vino.
Stepping into the bathroom you can find
the mirror used for scowling by J.K. Rowling,
a wide selection of Allen Ginsburg’s chin fur,
a number of Alexander Pope’s soaps,
Frank O’Hara’s mascara,
an ointment made from Conan Doyle’s boils,
the noisome lingering unholy stench of H.P. Lovecraft’s bubble bath,
recordings of Roger McGough’s coughs and Alan Moore’s snores,
and candid photo taken when Noël Coward showered,
some tissues from when Camus caught flu,
and although I missed out the first time
I did get a hanky from when Spike Milligan fell ill again.
Heading toward my bedroom I’ll direct your gaze out this window
into the kitchen garden below.
Pecking the ground beside Kurt Vonnegut’s water butt
are Charles Dickens’ chickens
and just to show how broadminded I am that waddling beauty there
is John Updike’s dyke duck.
On the windowsill, in case you’re bored,
are Arthur Rimbaud’s dominoes. No?
Okay, this is the bedroom, the lighting’s dim
but the relics are well-worth a squint.
In this case here you’ll see Philip K. Dick’s dick,
Michael Moorcock’s cock, Stephen King’s thing,
and Ezra Pound’s pound of meat.
And in case you think that that’s hard to beat,
in this case I’ve got Dylan, Edward and R.S. Thomas’s
John Thomases, Edwin Morgan’s organ
and Simon Schama’s charmer.
The third case houses Thom Gunn’s gun,
Pasternak’s knick-knack, Louis MacNeice’s piece,
Rene Descartes’ part, Neil Gaiman’s stamen
and, my favourite, Henry Wadsworth’s Longfellow itself.
On the shelf above is Emile Zola’s old tombola
but we’re not having a raffle draw tonight I’m afraid,
so pop your tickets away, the tour’s over and it’s time to go home.
Thanks for coming,
it’s always a treat to meet fellow literary enthusiasts.
Now, when reversing out of the car park
be careful to not dent J.G. Ballard’s bollard,
or to knock into W.H. Auden’s cordon,
and here, take this with you, for the journey,
it’s a complementary copy of the original Margaret Drabble travel Scrabble.
(Listen to a live version of
“The Literary Relic Poem”)
(Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges)
They called the village Borges and themselves—its few inhabitants—Borges as well. This was not at all confusing, as when you mentioned what Borges had done or was doing or was about to do, everyone knew whom you meant. The slightest gesture—a sly wink, a reference to her rolling gait or his withered arm—that was all it took, and so habituated were the inhabitants to each other that the gestures or references came unconsciously. But they were sufficient. “After all,” they were fond of saying to each other, “everybody knows Borges!” When the women gathered after the evening meal to spin their yarn, there was talk of infant Borges and aging Borges—Borges had done this, Borges had done that, did you see what Borges was doing behind his shack? Meanwhile the men gathered in a kind of rude cantina a little way off, where the talk was of hunting and fishing and cerveza and what that pretty young Borges had been up to now.
In truth the village lay about equidistant from the capital and the sea, both of which its inhabitants regarded as the merest of abstractions, empty words, fantasmas. For how could there be places other than this place? How could there be water with only one bank to contain it? No, there was only Borges. This was the world, and there was nothing else.
Yet one day a strangely dressed person who was not Borges appeared in the middle of the village. He claimed to be from the capital, which they were certain did not really exist, and he produced bottles and sharp little sticks and pale little sheets of something-or-other from his pack. He was, he said, to carry out a thing he called una censo for another thing called el gobierno. He would need a room and a bed and an assistant—he pointed his finger at an unfortunate soul who stood at the front of the gathering crowed—to bring the people one by one to him to be counted.
The stranger’s very appearance, not to mention his announcement, which undoubtedly hid some sinister meaning, provoked consternation. The spinning stopped and the yams smoldered in the fire. The women comforted their infants, who wailed uncontrollably at the sight of the stranger. Meanwhile the men called off the day’s hunt to gather in the undergrowth beyond the latrine behind the cantina, where they drank cerveza and muttered among themselves. What was the significance of the stranger? Should they slay him? (Here they fingered their daggers thoughtfully.) Would there be repercussions? Years ago a man dressed in a black robe and calling himself a padre had arrived at the village, talking of many abstruse and clearly impossible things, and him they had simply ignored until he took himself away. Was this perhaps another kind of padre, one in a different uniform? The men muttered on and on and drank more and more, but when the poor assistant, who was half-crazed with fear, came to get the first of them, he went meekly.
Now it was the stranger’s turn to be perplexed, then befuddled. The first man was named Borges, that he understood, but was that a first or a last name? It was his only name? The stranger sighed, told the villager to stand a short distance off, and told the assistant to fetch the next man. This man too gave his name as Borges, at which the stranger slapped him and sent the assistant back for another subject, this time a woman. But the woman claimed that her name, too, was Borges. And on and on. Everyone in the village, it seemed, was Borges, they were all Borges. Even the assistant, who was obviously a cretin (it should have been obvious from the slope of his forehead) insisted that his name was Borges.
This was, concluded the stranger, who had studied a little while at the university in the capital, una crisis epistemological. Having delivered himself of this formulation—and how splendidly it rolled off the tongue!—he called for a plate of meat and dos cervezas and retired to his room to rest.
The stranger awoke the next morning refreshed and invigorated. He asked his host and hostess whether he might have coffee, and a few minutes later was brought a bowl of frothy liquid that, if it was not coffee, was certainly better than nothing. He asked if he might have breakfast, and after some time was brought a plate of some kind of grain that had been crushed and then boiled. His bowl was refilled. It was the plainest meal he had eaten since he was a child, but he felt satisfied.
During the night he had reached a conclusion. After all, he had his orders—orders!—and he would carry them out. He was to make a count by recording names, and since he clearly could not record six—seven?—dozen individuals all named Borges, then, therefore, he would record six or seven dozen names that were not Borges. It was an elegantly simple solution.
Calling forth his half-witted assistant again—the poor man did not appear to have slept a wink—the stranger asked him to bring the villagers to him again, but this time family by family. Just as unnerved today by the stranger’s kind manner as he had been yesterday by his angry one, the assistant quickly produced a frightened couple and their two squirming sons.
Regarding the tiny group benignly, the stranger said, “I believe that you are Señor”—he cast his mind back to his days at the university—“let us say, Columbus, Christopher Columbus. And your wife”—here his recall failed him, and he dredged his childhood memories for a female name, any name—“Elena!” He stood and bowed to the ashen woman, who, expecting that he was about to strike her, took a step back. “And your lovely sons are Camilo and, yes, José.” He wrote the names out on sheets of paper in his ornate script, blotted both documents carefully, and handed one to the man, who accepted it with great reluctance. The stranger then dismissed them with a nod of his head and asked his assistant to bring another family.
This couple—Señor and Señora Copperfield, as they turned out to be—had three children, a son and two daughters. Next came a young man and his pregnant wife, and next another couple with two sons. Next still were the couple from whom he had commandeered a room—Señor and Señora Capulet—and their buxom daughter, whom he pronounced Juliet. By the time he had christened five more families, large and small, the stranger realized that his task was going to be more taxing than he had at first imagined. He had not, after all, spent that much time at the university. So after bestowing the surname Quixote on one particularly skinny old man and his tiny wife, the stranger called for tres cervezas and retired to his room to rest again. At this rate he would be at least another day at the village, but he saw distinctly where his duty lay.
Odysseus, Holmes, Faust, Cortés. Pedro, Camila, Arturo, Teresa. Elena again. Several Marias—after all, people generally shared a small number of first names, which made the stranger’s job somewhat easier when it finally occurred to him. And so it went. The stranger spent another night and the newly christened villagers muttered among themselves dispiritedly. What should they do? What did the strange symbols on the hateful little sheets mean? (They had handled them no more than absolutely necessary.) Had they all been hexed? (Here the men fingered their private parts gingerly.)
On the fourth morning the stranger arose, consumed his breakfast of ersatz coffee and boiled grain, packed up his few belongings, and strolled for a few moments through the village. He appeared, the villagers noted warily, tired but satisfied. He nodded benignly to them all, glanced once more at the hovel that had been his temporary home, then proceeded back down the path that had brought him there.
After watching the stranger go, the villagers turned to each other. Was it over? What had it meant? What would happen now? Suddenly they exploded in an angry outburst. The men shouted and the women screamed back at them. The children wailed and the dogs slunk off into the undergrowth.
Then the melee ended as suddenly as it had begun. As if with one mind—which was, after all, very nearly the truth—the villagers gathered up the hateful little sheets, threw them into the cooking pit, covered them with a week’s worth of limbs and branches, and set them afire. The men grabbed their spears and raced into the undergrowth, where, with the help of their delighted dogs, they slew two pigs in short order. Gutted them on the spot, carried them back to the village swinging from poles. Called for muchas cervezas while the younger men tended the waning fire and cast in the pigs and covered them with mud.
It would be early morning before the pigs were roasted, but a great weight had been lifted from the villagers’ shoulders and a first-rate carouse was called for. Now the talk was of how—they hesitated, regarded each other warily—how—how that cunning Borges had bamboozled the stranger! How that brave Borges had slain first one pig and then another! What a fine big fire that Borges has built!
It was three weeks later that the buxom young woman whom the stranger had vainly tried to name Juliet began to feel out of sorts, and two months before the cause of her illness became obvious to her distraught mother, who in turn broke the news to her unsuspecting father, who in turn created a terrific scene, cursing and stamping. Hearing the commotion, the other villagers put two and two together and knew right away what that idiot Borges must be yelling about, then went back to sleep. After all, these things happen.
The young woman felt shame and anguish, of course, but pride and a kind of enveloping warmth as well. The stranger had chosen her. And after all, these things happen.
Would it be a boy? A girl? She had no idea, but she knew what she would name it: Borges.
(For Richard Pryor)
Before the applause light had a voice
it was a campfire flickering stories of slaves.
The stage, microphone chord and spotlight
echo the platform, hangman’s noose and torches.
Comedy has always been truth’s Trojan horse.
Richard Pryor, history gutted you.
Son of a pimp and prostitute
had you been born a girl
your diaper would have held dollar bills.
Your mobile twirled a father’s hands
thirsty for bruise-stained sheets.
A brothel boyhood trained you
to sleep best to women’s screams.
You practiced jokes on wives
who learned the meaning of punch line
better than most. You made pain hilarious,
gripped a microphone like a lifeline
and lip-synced a forest fire
the final cries of the lynched
in each epithet turned laugh line.
You were loved for this.
Finally, an imperfect man took stage,
body, a billboard for the broken
who spoke the way real people talk —
truth wrapped in barbed wire, no lace.
King of the scarred tongue
the haunted laugh
the joke everyone wanted to repeat
but no one wanted to tell.
Critics called you abrasive.
They wanted you to be Cosby.
They meant white.
Said, play the game like Jackie.
Whispered, slaves work in fields.
Be a funny, quieter black man.
That little white kid’s toy.
It echoed, boy.
The 21st century shackle clangs
in the shape of accents and paychecks.
It dangles like men lynched for having skin.
You rubbed your gums with coke
to numb the jokes
and got paid more than Superman
in a movie he thought was named for him.
Long before Multiple Sclerosis
burned your body to a cornstalk, you knew
strength is not standing in front of guns
when bullets can’t hurt you.
It is dressing your skin in flames
and telling jokes about the scars.
Power doesn’t live in ability.
It lies in the faulted face of the earthquake.
Doctors thought you would die
the night you washed your body in rum,
set yourself ablaze and ran down the road
as if shot from the barrel of a long rifle.
You simply joked,
when a black man runs down the road on fire
people get the hell out of the way.
Even the cops.
Audiences laughed so hard
Pressure sharpens the diamond.
You took teeth from real-life monsters
to build smiles,
named your daughter Rain
as if tears could soften the burn
and claimed M.S. was God getting jealous
for giving you more funny muscles than Him.
M.S. just more shit you called it.
He was telling you to slow down.
Sniff the roses not the coke.
After 20 years of smoldering
critics renamed you a shell of a man
as if constructed of more casket than flesh.
And we watched you die
the way real legends die —
in a slow, ugly procession of doubt.
Your life, a one-man play about Watts burning.
Doctors still claimed you should have died
the night you mistook a dragon’s throat for home
and ran down the road like a crazed meteorite.
They didn’t know, you had been running
down the road, on fire, since day one.
(Inspired by Danny Kalb, one time lead guitarist of The Blues Project)
My daddy, a cook, whose hands stunk of halibut and anchovy, bought me my first guitar at the age of 13. I learned to play listening to the early blues of Skip James or Sonny Boy Williamson. Later, I became obsessed with the duration of things, how a person impresses a time stamp upon you, a girl, a fragile chord, strumming for days, but in retrospect there wasn’t enough time to finish the song. At nineteen, I met a girl from Bristol who offered to iron my shirts for free. Playing local gigs, I never had much money. We lived in apartments of opposite buildings. I played an acoustic by the window, some version of “Two Trains Running,” and across from me, her silhouette swayed within that transparent square. I knew she was tone deaf. There was always a sadness about her, a silence as if itself a kind of music. When her hubby returned from the army, he found out. He beat me up pretty bad and her window stayed dark. On some nights, it was the humidity and not the heat that got to me. One day, she returned my shirts. Her face was as bruised as the way mine once was. She ran a hand across my cheek but I pushed it away. No, I said, I’m going solo. How bad that must have hurt. I knew she wanted to sing.
(Inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat)
Acrylic on Canvas, 2012
(After Arthur Rimbaud)
From certain angles the life
of Rimbaud suggests the accretion
of barnacles on the hull, perhaps,
of the drunken boat that floated him
to Africa to broker coffee
and fail at the gun trade.
could survive so tender a life,
ruining the marriage of Verlaine,
strolling through the Franco-Prussian War
and framing obscene verses
for a dainty young girl’s album.
I too would’ve shot him in the wrist
and spent a year in jail for it.
I too would’ve advised him to print
his poems in huge editions and live
sanely with mother and sister till
royalties rose and late in his life
Ethiopia paved its highways.
Meanwhile, wars pass, metallic
and loud. Trenches open and close.
Thanks to Rimbaud’s obscene verses,
normal women bear monster infants
who grow up in Munich, St. Louis,
Florence, Cairo, Houston, and Minsk.
Thanks to Rimbaud’s loss of a leg,
my Uncle Buddy drives his tractor
one-legged now, uses two canes
to help himself dismount. Thanks to
Rimbaud’s portrait by Picasso,
whole generations have suffered
sour, turned-down little mouths
that render them unhireable.
Thanks to barnacles on the hull,
the life of Rimbaud creeps slowly
into deep water to scuttle
itself like the Graf Spee, drowning
the literate population
in a whirlpool so convincing
some will mistake it for dance.
(Freely inspired by “Two Fridas,”
a double self-portrait by Frida Kahlo)
Digital Photograph, 2009
(Mild verses for Sylvia Plath)
Today I spend curling up in the furs you’ve left behind.
Exploring a prehistoric universe with dustmite crumbs that
experts in the field! will tell us
make up your shedded signature.
Your scents come in through a sieve, now
that suggests the sour keep from the musk;
from the sweet and deep,
(Sieves are modern apparatii
providing a healthy framework to the world.
providing a means of matching
coarse minds with coarse thoughts,
fine minds with thin.)
So, friend, I am thinking thick as bricks
of your big-brushstroke colours
a little grey, bright yellow, brown
big ocean green and autumn red.
I am curled up in the furs you’ve left behind,
Reexploring in reverse
loosening the grip of pressure-hardened concern
choosing charity over virulence.
Your textures run together, and
I get a richer picture, since the
palette runs together
in my head.
(You tell me, you think it would be
hilarious if we lived in a house without sieves
where we take turns latticing our hands
catching pasta, getting scalded.
To play a game, you tell me
I will fail andwithoutabreath that you know that not to be true but it’s too late and I am
You tell me that no one knows how fast this thing can go
and that we are crash-test Guinea pigs.)
Today I wonder if you, too
are addicted to the present
because it’s not the past.
(Inspired by the fiction of Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov)
It always rained when she came to visit. Maybe it was the magnetic pull of those lead-grey eyes, like she was inching your chair closer, invisible wires around your marionette bones whenever she said anything, hello, or pick me up in half hour. In truth, it made Tim feel like the clouds were pulled a little closer when she arrived too – like a cloudburst might tear through his ceiling when she put her bags on the kitchen floor. Rude? Some said so. Inopportune? He couldn’t describe her like that – she was his surprise, and that was all.
Tim didn’t drive since his dad got hit while walking the dog to the grocery store five years before. Always cautious to a fault, he now paused at crosswalks a bit like kneeling at church and felt more comfortable being driven, carried over the slick concrete, so he took busses and trams and trains and he always took the Blue Line to pick her up, snaking over the tops of yards and carnicerias and Honda dealerships until he was at Midway Airport.
Sodden by the latest storm, he’d squeak across the gleaming floor of baggage claim, a soggy bag of donuts held forward to her. Theirs was an often silent, sensory exchange of cinnamon lips and sugar-rimmed plastic glasses. The lavender stink on her neck reminded him of falling asleep on a strange island. After the airport bars they’d grab some tacos and shakes in Pilsen, eating quietly and drawing animals on napkins – then they would head to his place. On the bus she sucked the molten chocolate liquid in her cardboard cup and stared at him, and Tim was filled with a serene calmness. It felt like she had just been here and his head was clean again – though he hadn’t spoken a word to her since the last time she floated up the airport escalator and away to wherever she lived that year – Columbus, Ottawa, Oslo, Ankara.
No, she never told him why she lived where she did or why. Or who she lived with or if her maybe-boyfriend would mind their necking like horny kids on the bus home. He didn’t need permission – and she always smelled the same when her cheek laid against his in the dark – like clean linen and cigarettes and island lavender, and her arms, her cheeks, her belly, her butt had a certain golden softness, that roundness that made him so frighteningly happy, so for the only time in his life he didn’t fucking care. Let her blow in and blow out when she pleased – maybe it even suited him.
What his mother thought? She was a ghost – she said, the girl never existed save for Tim’s mumbled reports, no she didn’t want to come over for dinner; she wasn’t right for him, she had diseases, she wouldn’t know what the truth was, she’s extorting you, she’s a scam-artist, who does she think she is, and so forth. What did his mother know? Who had she chosen? Tim’s father hadn’t been a treat before the car took out his legs – who sells pots and pans door-to-door anymore? Tim secretly knew that his father’s accident was ‘what goes around comes around’ coming around hard and fast – but in his wheelchair his nail-mouthed father was a baby and that’s what her mother wanted in her boys.
To his credit, Tim’s father approved of the relationship – settling things with a ‘the kid is in love, shut up already’ which was maybe the only time Tim ever heard the crusty old dude say love in any context. Maybe his dad even envied him a little. And Tim? He spent his days writing little local stories for the most useless local paper in town, riding busses to the modern art museum downtown to volunteer on Thursdays and Sundays, taking accounting classes, walking his neighbors’ dogs for fifteen bucks a go – but mostly he waited for her and tried to hold on.
Tim marked down each time she visited – in fact he had a separate journal set aside for the once a year she appeared and tried to write everything he could about her to savor through the rest of the year. Did they go to the aquarium this time and sneak bread to the whales? Did she insist on having his toenails filed before they slept together the first night? He enjoyed marking it all down and highlighting passages that seemed significant. Five years before she had arrived with a tropical fish named Theodore, which she demanded he keep care of. He could barely keep his fridge stocked. It died in the shadowy coolness of his untropical apartment and he replaced it with a similar breed before she arrived the next year, hoping she wouldn’t notice. She didn’t.
When he told friends about her, he noted a bit proudly that she had came at random like this every year since they first met as teenagers. In private he knew it was not an official affair or long distance commitment, couldn’t be characterized as the kind of carnal fling his old college buddies cheerfully talked about having a few times a year with former sorority-girls turned lonesome real estate brokers or the like. Sometimes when she visited she barely touched him, just sat on his couch and breathed softly into his sweater as he quietly finished the cross-word puzzle. He’d slip into bed beside her waiting like a switch to be told when to shine but sometimes she didn’t leave the dark of his bedroom for days, shaking off a new jungle sickness in a cocoon of damp sheets, raving in French, calling out for people he had never met. Tim was good at waiting things out – expert level. As she thrashed in the other room, he sat and ate cold cereal and bananas in the kitchen waiting for her, checking in every few hours if the fever broke. When it did they’d ride the train, grinning like two gravestones leaning against each other until they got to the movies or the museum or the circus or wherever he would surprise her with next.
It amazed him that he didn’t hunger for her when she left. No – they understood deeply that this was just the way it was. He didn’t shout at her like he did when other lovers left him suddenly and cruelly, and he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t angry that she never gave a phone number or answered why she had a black-stitched scar across her lower belly. Baby? Appendix? It could be anything and he accepted that he didn’t have the right to know. She just shook her head and laughed a little. Did it hurt? She shook her head like the words were flies, flicking her dark hair off her eyes, her lips coming to his with the scent of sticky lozenges. What could he say, he was her willing bird in all seasons. He knew like the snow and sleet and grey of winter she would be back soon enough and it must be important or sacred for her not to tell him and one day she would tell him everything and he would understand.
As he got older, wider in the belly, shorter of breath on the squash court, eyes sunk deeper into an already yellowing Italian face, he began to doubt their connection – began to curse her silently for leaving him alone in his apartment with just the buzzing of the bedside lamp and the shuddering trains going by seven times an hour. Tim began to have that recusing, circular knowledge that he had long ago given up on being a Pulitzer-winning reporter or reporter of any kind – what were the stories he chronicled? His mother still cut each one out when he gravely reported on: high school basketball triumphs, truck tire recalls, Armenian heritage parade routes, Christmas shopping deals, compost pile diagrams, state council elections – and after having to work second jobs at hot dog stands, customer service phone banks, shipping centers, vacuum repair shops, taverns, banks, sanitation complexes, to set something aside for what Tim dreamed would be a future of travel and adventure with her – he knew that her arrival on his doorstep was the only thing that didn’t change. He could always hope for her and she would appear – slender, cool and sweet, somehow forever twenty-two even as he lurched into his late thirties. But she never said he could come along when she was dropped at the airport curb.
He joked with her as they played checkers in Lincoln Park that if she had a special potion she was taking to keep her lovely and young would she mind sharing? She wouldn’t mind she said. She showed him a grey hair, tore it out and put it in his breast pocket.
See? Me too, she said.
You are a liar, he said, face breaking into a grin.
Fine, she said. I’ll stay taut and sweet for you forever.
Good, he said.
Asshole, she said.
Tim wondered sometimes why he wasn’t besieged with guilt for giving in to her when he was in another relationship – after all, he couldn’t steal a stick of gum without issuing a written apology to the 7/11 cashier. Somehow she took priority. Even when he had been with doll-eyed Jenny in college and her rug-burn back and psychoanalyst parents, or big-boned Loraine at that dying weekly mag in Berwyn, or even during his brief engagement to sad, mousy Karen, his love had still arrived like the northern star, with two bags on each shoulder, her hair blinding her flickering eyes and everything around him halted sweetly until she was gone. Had Karen known? Maybe, but he didn’t care and maybe that was the problem. She called him a selfish sulking twat the day she left for good and he agreed – he knew he’d never give up the one weekend a year when he felt something close to happiness. Karen had made him feel something but not in that pulsing, aching, silent way. When Karen asked if there was someone else, he actually laughed. And she laughed at him too. No one would bother.
Feeling lonesome riding home on the bus, Tim leaned against the cold window and wondered if there was a scientific way to predict when she would come. It had been thirteen months and there was no sign of her arrival. What was different this time? Maybe he’d violated an unwritten code of their relationship – pushed her away for good by stepping over an invisible line. He had placed several paid searches online for an address, a phone number, a spouse, but got nothing. Did she know he was pursuing her? Accounting classes had been going well but then again, how well could things go for an accountant? A small house, maybe, dinners alone by a new flat-screen television, a garage stuffed with lawnmowers and weed-whackers and a used hatchback, a few old friends to play pool with in Andersonville once a week. Maybe she had finally tired of him and his dullness – or maybe she had been kidnapped by traffickers in Estonia or eaten by a snake in Congo. But after all he’d always been dull and quiet like this and it hadn’t bothered her before. Who was she to make him wait like this? Did she really believe he could jump like a cat from a bath for her forever?
No, he reasoned with himself. She’ll come. And it will be just fine, just fine. Maybe she was planning on staying longer this time, was shipping furniture across the ocean to his apartment. It pleased him to tell the stories to himself that she would never tell – and the bus rides always went quicker that way.
Another month went by. He stood staring at a discarded sandal she had left behind years ago – her toes and heel still stamped into the brown leather like she had just taken them off. He kept his land line ringer on the loudest setting. Kept a light on in his bedroom so he wouldn’t sleep through a ring. Another month went by and Tim woke each morning feeling vaguely ill. Something could have happened. He recalled the last time she had visited – a damp April Thursday – and though they were usually careful, he had spilled hungrily and messily inside, her golden behind rising over his palms, her chest heaving against his. Panic-stricken, he had whispered about pills and doctors and what would she do if – but she had told him to shut up and go to sleep, it would all be groovy, OK?
Maybe not. Maybe not groovy. Maybe she had had his child, far away somewhere, on a pallet in Bangladesh surrounded by village elders, and maybe the child had been a periwinkle-blue coming out, choking and tiny and maybe she had stayed in that village to nurse the perfect thing back to health and maybe she was coming to surprise him with a daughter, the perfect combination of her world-weary wisdom and his sensible midwestern stock. Green eyes, no, maybe grey eyes like hers that would grind the bones of a whole generation of boys. He’d call the girl Susannah. No, maybe Sarah. Plain and strong. He wrote down SARAH in his journal and left a whole blank page below to write his first impressions of the little girl when he met her.
But after fourteen months, she still hadn’t come. Tim started dreading going home, delaying his bus rides by staying in record shops and bakeries and pharmacies and buying little things he didn’t need. The message machine was usually empty save a call from mother asking how he was holding up with the blizzard coming through? His local reports on pest control, cancer survivors and beer festivals were listless and his editor told him to pick up the pace. Watching TV one night, he thumbed through his special journal and tried to detect patterns – did she usually come around the spring Solstice? What about leap years? After football season finished? Maybe if he called her diplomat father’s office he would find that she still took his dictation for him on his trips like she did when she was fifteen – but the man had long since retired. When he asked the secretary at his old office number in Washington about his daughter, she said – ‘Ted had a daughter?’ And he hung up, pissed off. All the secrecy was getting to him – couldn’t she email like the rest of the world?
When asked about her by friends, Tim would say she usually gave him about twelve to forty-eight hours or so of notice, not polite but not impossible to switch some things around – and when she called it was from an unmarked number, the scratchy static of a bus stop pay-phone buzzing around her voice. He figured she had gone into diplomacy like her dad or maybe she was an agent or spy. He caught a glimpse of a strange looking badge once as she packed her things and thought about asking but held back. She seemed to have an affection for small mountain villages without doctors or potable water. When she did talk it was about revolutions that were brewing or gold mines that were on the verge of being unionized. It thrilled him that she had to be careful but still chose to sneak him into her schedule.
And just like that, on the fifteenth month, as the clouds rolled in, his phone rang.
The phone crackled. He heard the sound of wind and children yelling.
Hi! Where are you?
I’m coming in tomorrow at noon, she said.
Great! From where? He said.
American Airlines. That OK?
Sure, I mean, how are you?
See you tomorrow, mister man.
And dial tone.
Of course she never did tell him how she was. It almost seemed irrelevant, like asking a cloud how it was right before your plane flew through it. The last time she was here, Tim snooped in her bag when she was in the bathroom and found two heavily highlighted maps of Central African Republic and a book of Rilke poems. The rest – empty candy wrappers and the smell of lipstick. He had remembered the title of a short poem she had neatly dog-eared and this time, after making love on another rainy morning, he quietly incanted the jagged lines by rote, his nasal voice shot-putting the words into the air, hoping it would trigger something close to love or rage in her shrouded heart.
He had prepared for the performance every day this last year but still wasn’t ready. When he finished he found he hadn’t been breathing because he knew he had finally revealed his terrible boyish fascination with her, his complete and ridiculous devotion but she just gave a little grunt, turned over and wrapped her big feet around his under the sheets.
He poked her back with his nose. He needed a reaction. This time he did. She owed him that. He poked her again.
Hey, he said.
I like that one, she said, finally.
Sure. Can you do another?
Don’t know any more, he said.
He hated that he hadn’t bothered to even look into who Rilke was or why the slow-drip of words down the page would mean so much to her. Maybe he could make one up? Well, he wasn’t much of an improviser.
I don’t know any more, he repeated stupidly.
Me neither, she said. Who wrote that?
He paused and smiled a little.
He held his breath again.
Yeah, I wrote that for you.
He watched her back rise and fall, a gold dune of skin and warmth. He knew her eyes were shut without seeing them.
I wrote it for you, he said again. My one and only poem.
That’s awesome, she said, turning and nuzzling into his flabby shoulder, content to leave the lie between them.
When they first met at fifteen, they were in the north of Spain. He was on a summer trip he had saved for by turning in bottles and painting houses for a cousin. He had a wonderful time and had especially looked forward to hiking a river in Asturias, that green northern strip that poked into the North Atlantic and was cut through with streams and freshers that seemed to exhale a blue kind of fog from their sandy mouths. Her father had been on the way to Andorra to chat with the fractious Basque separatists – a state department star with a slightly orange tan and a coke habit, he’d raised his daughter himself, mostly on the road after her mother, also with the Fed, took a post in Nigeria and never returned.
She had convinced her dad to pull over and check out a tumbling little waterfall at the end of a trailhead. Tim and a buddy who had come along saw her sitting cross-legged on a rock eating a cheese sandwich. Being bolder of spirit then, Tim recognized from the way she cut the crusts off that she was American and sat down beside her to ask her where she was from. Virginia, she said. You? Indiana. Within five minutes he had the other half of her cheese sandwich and they talked about being away from high school and how wonderful it was and when he looked up, four hours had passed and it was dark and frigid under the blackening fog and her dad had fallen asleep in the rental car and Tim’s buddies had ditched him for the hostel.
Time flies, he said, awkwardly, but they both knew it was true.
She had convinced her dad that Tim was stranded, which he kind of was, and he got a ride back to town with them and she told her dad she’d see him in a few days, that Tim would take care of her, and her dad was glad to be rid of her because Andorra was dangerous and the Basques were crazy. That night Tim snuck her into the boys dorm and they read Don Quixote under the covers with a flashlight and whispered the words back and forth – not understanding a single thing but feeling like this was how adults fell in love – like this was how it was going to be the rest of their lives – passing a little jug of rot-gut red back and forth, the damp musty bliss of muddy pantlegs and clammy foreheads, an electric current flowing between pairs of chapped lips that couldn’t come apart, sleeping with eyes open, hands clutched tight, their buzzing hipbones touching in the dark.
Her father collected her at last, but from then on she seemed to find Tim everywhere he went – his cramped studio apartments above resale shops, drafty lofts that shook with passing trains – her icy socks and sneakers slinked off, she would never bother to ask if anyone else was in his apartment or if he was seeing someone. And it didn’t matter if he was.
But this time, after a long time away from him, she looked tired – like something was on her mind. He asked if she was alright and she nodded. She was still so beautiful – small and tan as a chunk of fool’s gold in a shop window. But her eyes were small – dimmer than before.
Long flight? he asked.
Hmm, she said.
Bit by bit her body was revealed, sweater and parka formed glistening heaps on the couch, shirt cross-armed over her head and left on the TV chair, jeans shaken off in the hall, bra draped over the door. She was partial to hot baths and after he had received the phone call the day before he immediately washed out the tub first – on hands and knees with chemical solutions he only used once a year.
Filling the tub now she let the steam build and kept the door open, humming something. In about ten minutes the smoke detector was protesting from the sheets of steam stacking to the ceiling. She stood staring up at it in her black panties, amazed that it had bothered to upend the sleepy peace of the afternoon.
I can take the batteries out, Tim said. He dragged over a step ladder from the closet.
No, don’t, she said.
She had already forgotten the sharp screams that kept pulsing through the apartment. She poked her foot in the scalding water. She looked over her shoulder, chestnut hair flicked off her eyes like she was still the fifteen year old who had snored quietly against him in Spain, soft as buttercream, a tiny grin in the dark, his steam-heat ghost. What did I do to deserve this, he thought. Why would she bother? She hugged her breasts with her arms, gooseflesh on her arms.
Coming? she said. He stood naked before her, and her grey-eyes pulled him into the water. He smiled, shaking.
It’s hot, he said.
You look cold, she said.
I’m always cold, he said. I’d be a bad eskimo.
Yeah you would.
Let’s pretend this is an igloo, he suggested.
Done, she said.
Best igloo ever, he said.
This made her laugh out loud, a little gun-shot that banged off the walls and made him laugh too, dry-heaves that seemed so foreign to Tim, he was almost sick. Looking down at her, Tim caught a lump in his throat – he even thought he might cry, shout out that he’d do anything she told him to do for the rest of his life, that he’d give up accounting and his apartment and the paper and his stamp collection and just wander the world with her, sleep on floors in mountain villages and take train rides that would never end until he died or she died or they both died together which sounded even better.
But now he was under scalding water and she leaned against him and closed her eyes. He closed his eyes too, not giving a shit anymore. What was the point? He imagined his old squash partner Steve getting beheaded in that helicopter accident in Alaska – what was Steve thinking right before he was catapulted to the great beyond? Tim imagined his father watching the news from his wheelchair, his right hand dusty from the orange-cheese popcorn in the big tin at his side. Tim imagined his accounting class with its twenty yellowing students bent over textbooks like they held a real second chance at happiness, he heard his mother’s cancerous questions thundering in his years, he saw the stack of papers from his divorce curling up like claws under his bed, he saw the way he spoke to himself as he made himself dinner in the microwave each night – and knew suddenly that he didn’t give a flying fuck anymore because all that was over with and he had her now and no one else did and this was the day he was going to tell her to stay.
With a gasp, Tim opened his eyes.
The water burst out his lungs – and he coughed until he could breathe again, sitting up in the tub. Only she could make him sleep so soundly. He shivered in the lukewarm water, his knees poking up like white cliffs in a green tide. He couldn’t see anything. How long had he been sleeping? An hour? A year? He wiped the fog from his eyes and leaned forward to kiss the top of her head.
He was alone. The water rippled around his legs, swirling into the drain with a hiss. The radiator pinged across the room. He called out to her. I could have drowned! he said. Fuck. You hear me?
She didn’t respond. He could hear his refrigerator humming, its glowing belly holding the plastic-wrapped meals he’d marked out for the rest of the week. His chest heaved and a tear rebelled and fell down his face. He wiped his nose. The horrifying silence overwhelmed him. No. No. Be cool, he told himself. He shook his head and closed his eyes again.
He suddenly heard a faint rustling in the other room, the sound of sheets being straightened, the big quilt floating down into place, a light switch flicking off, a glass of milk resting neatly on the bedside table. He loved when she poured milk for him – it was nice, no one had ever done that for him. Finally it was quiet again. She was getting ready for him. He smiled.
I’m coming! he called out.
There was no answer. The echo flew into another rainy afternoon, and he wondered if it would always be like this. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it was.
(In adoration of Weegee, a crime photographer
when gangsters ruled Manhattan)
Digital Photograph, 2012
(After the painting by Odilon Redon)
Get far enough out, drop anchor
and leap into the lake. In the cabin,
your life consists of lists
and exhaust. Underwater, you return
to school with minnows, find mysteries
written on the underside of a lily pad,
a floating yellow flower
hoisted above a green rope. Ripples
and sun-bits slide toward the bottom.
boulders hide here, could split
your head open. New worlds offer risk.
To the loon, the risk is mainly above
the water. She dives,
stays under for half a minute,
bobs up while danger looks away. You
slowly swim back to the boat,
pull yourself over its edge, row
to half open cupboards, bananas
with brown spots.
(Inspired by the Jimi Hendrix album
Axis: Bold as Love)
Acrylic on Canvas, 2009
(Wry humor for Aristotle’s beginnings, middles, and ends)
“C’mon…you’re kidding, right? I know your demented sense of humor.” He held the page at arm’s length. The action expressed it all.
The thing about having a mentor, they can be a pain in the ass. And Andre Daramount was such a mentor. No torture or abuse was spared in getting his point across. But it was Andre who taught Myron Spector that the sum total of one word plus one word was greater than its parts. And that ideas that took more than six words to describe ran the danger of clutter, confusion, obfuscation and so on.
The page in question read, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” repeated over and over again until it covered the entire page even defeating the default margins.
“It’s my way of warming up – priming the pump – rather then just sitting around waiting for ideas to present themselves,” defended Myron.
“Why don’t you just stare at a blank piece of paper until droplets of blood form on your forehead?”
“That was T. S. Eliot, wasn’t it?” asked Myron.
“It was Gene Fowler.”
“Anyway, this is the only system that works for me,” said Myron.
“How many pages like this have you done?” an oblique reference to the absence of Myron’s last creative output.
“About one hundred and fifteen give or take.”
“That’s the length of a movie script,” Andre noted. “I bet we could set it up at a major studio. Nobody there knows how to read. Ok, you need to try something else. Why not go out and take a walk somewhere. Oxygenate your brain. This place smells of stale Ganja.”
The idea had merit for Myron. You could count the days he hadn’t left his apartment by the number of Pizza Hut and Starbuck cartons lying about. Closing his laptop, he grabbed a jacket from the hall closet and exited. Andre followed, turning off the lights and locking the front door. Mentors did a little of everything.
A short time later, Myron was strolling back to his apartment building carrying a bag of groceries from Ralph’s Supermarket. He felt somewhat vindicated since a nutritious pit stop was required if you were to finish the race.
Stopping for a moment before a storefront window to examine his appearance, he noticed the sign. It read “POETRY NIGHT. BECOME A POLITICAL TERRORIST AND JOIN THE REVOLUTION.”
The “revolution” was taking place inside the store and after a moment of consideration, Myron figured “why not?” and entered.
Just inside, a sign sitting on a card table announced “Admission – $7.50.”
“I thought revolutions were free. Only capitalists have that kind of money,” said Myron to the thin youth guarding the cigar box which served as cash register.
Without looking up from his Deepak Chopra book, the young man responded, “We got expenses and they took away our tax write-off.”
At that moment, a girl with a pronounced mustache entered. “I’m reading tonight,” she announced and marched right past the cigar box and into the inner room.
“Hi, Yetta” said the young man. “People with poems don’t have to pay,” he explained.
“That’s great,” said Myron. “I’ve got a poem I want to read.”
“Type the title onto that laptop at the end of the counter over there.”
Myron hesitated. It felt the same as leaving your kid with a robot. “That’s kind of impersonal, isn’t it?”
“Like I said…cutbacks,” was the rationale.
Myron typed his title of the evening, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.”
The immediate response on the screen – “Are you kidding…? Entrance denied.”
“Jesus…Critics in the Machine.” paraphrasing the Nabokov classic.
Not to be undone by the literate posturing of a computer, Myron searched for another title. The first thing that caught his eye was the advisory on the package of Corn Flakes sitting on top of his recent purchases. “BEST USED BEFORE JUNE 12TH.” he typed on the keyboard.
“That’s better, Entrance approved.” appeared on the screen.
Inside, a reading was in progress. A middle-aged man with a bad comb-over was at the podium.
“…her alabaster breasts clung with maddening intimacy to her silken robe, informing the spectator of its outline,”
“Bullshit!” yelled someone from the rear. This was obviously a tough room to play.
The reader, now totally bereft of any authority over his material – he had not much to begin with – began skipping words, lines, and pages, bringing his work to an unceremonious close.
Exiting the stage, he made his escape to the men’s room. The several bits of mercy applause almost drowned out the sound of his retching.
“Whoa…I don’t need this,” thought Myron as he rose from his seat to leave. But not quick enough, since at that very moment – “And now, a new voice for poetic terrorism – Myron Spector.” And that’s why you never give your right name, Myron reminded himself, as he shuffled to the podium carrying his bag of groceries.
“Hey, what’s in the bag…a bomb?” It was a tough room, indeed.
“I’ve got an epic length poem and this is in case I get hungry.” A tittering from the audience; at least this guy was original.
Placing his bag of groceries on a shelf under the top of the podium, Myron began arranging some of the items. He spoke his words as quickly as his eyes could discern the cautionary labels on the packages. “Organic. No Artificial Coloring.” was his opening. A “Yeah,” softly uttered, was encouraging. “Stay Frozen Until use.” was the next line.
“Edgy. What did they say his name was?” from somewhere in the room.
“Reduced Calories; No Transam Fat; No Cholesterol..” Myron was finding his cadence.
“Yellow number 5; Red number 6; the rainbow of death,” Myron, emboldened, tried a little improvisation.
“Kill General Motors!” a frenzied outburst from Yetta who was seated too close for comfort.
“Sodium Cassenate, Cottonseed Oil. Calcium Propionate Added To Retard Spoilage.” Myron, hitting his stride, didn’t wait for the audience responses anymore; he owned the room.
“Sodium Nitrate, Sorbic Acid, Dextrose, Salt, Vegetable Mono-and Diglycerides added to retard spoilage.”
The Public Address System was overpowered by the wave of decibels emanating from the audience. Myron could no longer be heard. Chaos; the room was in utter turmoil. Someone threw a chair.
Outside, surrounded by his audience, an older man, perhaps the proprietor, appeared at the entrance and shouted to Myron, “Don’t come back!”
Yetta had different ideas: “I want to have your baby,” she instructed.
Back safely in his apartment, there was a message from Andre on the answering machine.
“How was your outing? Productive I hope. Any new thoughts about a piece?”
Myron, avoiding anything resembling a verbal exchange – the evening had fulfilled that need – chose to respond on email.
“Nothing much happened. I did get some fresh fruit at Ralph’s but seem to have lost it somewhere. That was my total adventure.”
“But that’s great!” insisted Andre. “The fruit is a conduit – a metaphor. Think of the homeless guy finding it, or the lady with a sick kid discovering it after the store is closed. Dig, Myron, dig!”
“Ah, shaddup!” Myron yelled at the screen. But “I’ll call you tomorrow,” was all he wrote back to Andre.
Outside, the rains came and the night was moonless. But he resisted the temptation. There was always, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” The page was soon filled – he wasn’t going to stop.
(Inspired by Arthur Lee, the one-time frontman for the band, Love)
He got a phone call from a friend in Alhambra. The friend said he was in jail for claiming to be the Los Angeles Sunflower. A dog-ear sheriff, who still believed that Jim Morrison wore a wig, broke the Sunflower’s thumbs. Another friend, this one from Tijuana, told Arthur that the sky is falling in chunks of metal. Arthur’s mute agony was bimodal. He heard stray bullets wheezing across the country. Increasingly, Arthur became paranoid of drinking tap water polluted with perchlorate. On TV, a strung-out weatherman claimed that Long Beach was undergoing atmospheric inversion. Arthur thought numbers and called his greasy-heart girlfriend in Chicago. He said soon it would be raining sand all over the world and the sky pilots would die unloved. Before his girlfriend of strobe light moods had a chance to dump Arthur for the 11th time, he felt a blind thrust earthquake and hung up. He closed his eyes and saw the collapse of the California pizza kitchens. He imagined barefooted girls with long blonde hair and sun-kissed navels. They jumped into craters to defy their moms still stuck on Betty Crocker’s best dry flour recipes. Echo Park swayed to the rhythm of its disowned palm trees. Jesus came down from the Santa Ana mountains. He said to Arthur open your eyes and write me a song. Arthur left his house and felt as vulnerable as combustible chaparral. He felt sage scrub growing beneath his feet. He looked up at the California sweet-orange-bitter sky. He gave away his lyrics for free. A painted hippie girl blushed and offered him an unheard of chord progression. In this way, LA was saved from the sameness of its own rocks.
James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is one of the most thoroughly studied books written in the past century. The study of Joyce is a broad tent under which stands a diverse crowd, yet this doesn’t mean that there aren’t outsiders in the field. One theory, bold enough to call itself Bloom Theory, is not to be found in any journals or books about the work of James Joyce. In fact, it is likely that the authors had no intention to create any commentary on Joyce, or even his work. The significance of the roles of Ulysses and Leopold Bloom in Bloom Theory are very casually dismissed by its authors. But we can only surmise, as we will never be able to ask its author(s), for it is completely unclear whose theory this even is.
What is Bloom Theory and what does it explain? Who wrote it, and why? How does it relate to Leopold Bloom, the character after which it is named, and Ulysses, the book in which he appears? None of these questions have straightforward answers. When searching for their answers, one tends to find “nothing, nothing but the nothingness around which spins the movement of our ideas, our experiences, our miseries, and our feelings” (BT,* 8).
A conscious fraction of the Imaginary Party, Tiqqun believes that what is true does not need to sign any name, practices anonymity like some others practice terrorism, and is in its element in all the coming forms of sabotage; it doesn’t critique society so as to improve it, but instead spreads doubts everywhere about the existence of society itself, points out the maneuvers of a faceless internal enemy, and is engaged in a permanent conspiracy against that fiction, anticipating a mass desertion of the social corpse. –blurb on the English website Tiqqunista
If I were to tell you that Bloom Theory can be attributed to Tiqqun, your response might be “Who then, is Tiqqun?” Such a simple question is almost impossible to answer. The concept of “who” is one that Tiqqun openly manipulates, and might even seek to destroy. One cannot say that Tiqqun is such-and-such a person or such-and-such people because they (or it) have (or has) thoroughly implemented the concepts of dissolved identity, anonymity, and lack of personhood inherent to their ideas, including Bloom Theory. The lack of such a basic queue as that of authorship induces in the reader some of the effect they describe in these theories. Without an answer to “who?,” we are left to wander around with doubts, not only about the answer to this question, but also about the validity of the question itself. These are doubts Tiqqun is more than happy to explore and enforce, and can be said to be inherent to Tiqqun’s philosophy.
In an attempt to get closer to an answer, the following could be said about Tiqqun:
1. Tiqqun is a philosophical journal that was published in France between 1999 and 2001 by La Fabrique, a press which has published work by influential theorists such as Georgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin, Edward Said, Karl Marx, and others who are generally associated with the political Left. (La Fabrique) Work on the journal ceased following September 11th, 2001. As the ideas in the journal, at times, suggested a radical approach towards “Empire” (ICW, 62),† it seems likely that the radical acts of September 11th caused Tiqqun to decide to cease work on the journal. Perhaps it caused them to rethink their call for radicalism, or to go underground out of fear that their radical ideas would be associated with the radical ideas of others.
2. Tiqqun contains writings by multiple authors which were unattributed and published collectively. Because of this, these writings cannot be said to be written by any particular author. It is possible that some or all of these writings were produced through a collective writing process. Given the philosophy underlying these writings, which purports that 20th century social conditions have nullified the importance of the individual, it can be assumed that the authors had no desire to be referred to individually.
3. “They are brilliant ex-students from bourgeois families who live in a farm commune in the green, empty, centre of France. To the delight of local people, they have revived the defunct village shop and bar. They are also, according to the French Interior Minister, ‘ultra-leftist-anarchist’ subversives, members of an ‘invisible committee’ plotting the violent downfall of capitalism.” (The Independent)
Certain individuals who supposedly participated in the Tiqqun project have, however, been identified. In November 2008 nine individuals were arrested in a raid in the village of Tarnac, France for their alleged sabotage of train lines. The arrests and subsequent investigation of the “Tarnac 9” (or Tarnac 10, if one includes a later related arrest) remain highly controversial and is still, as of January 2013, unresolved in court. Everyone has been released with the exception of Julien Coupat, the alleged ringleader of the group. Coupat has been associated with the writing of The Coming Insurrection, a book which includes some ideas similar to those found in Tiqqun, albeit with a greater intensity and more violent vocabulary. The investigation has also led to purported links between Tiqqun and Coupat and others of the “Tarnac 9.” Defense lawyers contend that substantial evidence against the group is thin, and pending the conclusion of the case it is unclear whether these allegations are true. Coupat and others in the Tarnac 9 case remain the closest thing to a group of individuals who could be credited with authorship of the Tiqqun writings. However, the lack of any substantial or definite evidence makes it unavoidable, when trying to relate Tiqqun to its authorship, to refer to it as an anonymous group.
Further decentralizing the idea of authorship is the fact that Tiqqun is (vaguely) defined within Bloom Theory. It is described as a condition, a movement, and “the manifestation process of what exists” (BT, 28). Here, Tiqqun is not a group of people or a journal, but an idea within a philosophy. This is reinforced by the etymology of the word itself. “Tiqqun” is not a word whose root is found in French, German, or any of the other languages of the philosophical texts from which the journal can claim an ideological lineage. “Tiqqun” (a French transliteration of a word which is most commonly transliterated as “tikkun” in English) is a Hebrew word meaning “repair,” appearing in numerous rabbinical texts, usually in the phrase “tikkun olam,” which literally means “the correction or repair of the world” (Wolf).
The first is a prophetic context in the daily Jewish prayer, the Aleynu, where it refers to the duties of the Jewish people in regards to bringing about the coming of the messiah. The second is a legal context, where it is a concept important in laws regarding divorce and hostage negotiation. The third context, and undoubtedly the one of greatest interest with regards to Bloom Theory, is a more abstract tradition:
This comes from the 16th-century school of Jewish mysticism known as Lurianic Kabbalah, with its great cosmic drama of a world that is quite literally broken and in need of repair from its inception. At the very moment of creation, according to Lurianic theory, a universe designed to be perfect fractured like a faulty pot, and the divine light it was designed to contain leaked out, as it were, into the blackness of chaos. From this darkness, it is the mission of every Jew to retrieve the multitude of fallen sparks that must be restored to their source for all to be made whole again. (Halkin, 21-23)
The definition of “Tiqqun” in the Tiqqun writings is addressed most clearly in Bloom Theory, where Tiqqun is defined as the “real movement that abolishes the existing order of things.” Bloom Theory, along with the other Tiqqun writings, show a picture of a disjointed modern world, where concepts such as economy, gender, and society have become broken or irrelevant, and describe this situation and methods for dealing with it via the concept of Bloom. Presumably Tiqqun is titled as such because it is a proposed “repair” for these issues.
Furthermore, the Kabbalistic definition of “tikkun olam” is illustrated in the very structure of the writing, particularly Bloom Theory. The text is not written in a linear or easily understandable way. Concepts and quotes are put forth without any obvious structure. Subtitles seem to divide the text into segments, but the segments are not clearly defined, and often contain many ideas whose relation is only obvious in a broad context. The subtitles then seem to be not subtitles at all, but something more akin to the newspaper headlines interspersed throughout the Aeolus chapter of Ulysses (115-148), commenting on the text more so than categorizing it. Occasionally terms are defined, but usually several pages after particular nuances of those terms have been discussed. Reading the text from front to back in one go will yield more questions than answers. Bloom Theory only makes sense when the reader starts “to retrieve the multitude of fallen sparks that must be restored to their source for all to be made whole again.” This writing style thus requires from its readers that they undertake the task of “tikkun olam.”
Much of the same can be said for the writing style of James Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. If Leopold Bloom inspired the Bloom described in Bloom Theory, then it seems likely that the writing style of Bloom Theory is derived from Joyce’s own. The key difference between the impressions they produce is that Ulysses conveys to the reader the idea of a complete, albeit disjointed, work. In contrast, Bloom Theory seems more chaotic and incomplete. The ideas are there and can be linked together, but the net effect is akin to reading sntncs cmpsd f wrds wtht vwls. One might want to attribute this lack to the fact that Joyce is regarded as one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century capable of creating massive masterworks, and that (probably) none of the writers of Bloom Theory are James Joyce. However, this effect is intentional, and discussed in Bloom theory:
Bloom doesn’t mean that we’re failed subjects compared to the classical subject and its superb sufficiency; rather it reveals that there is a principle of incompleteness at the very basis of human existence, a radical insufficiency. What we are is precisely this failure, which can, if it so desires, choose to put on the mask of subjecthood. (BT, 8)
This example brings us closer to an explanation of Bloom Theory, and illustrates the way it carries its message across. Tiqqun has taken Joyce’s writing style and expanded upon it to explain their own ideas. The same has been done to the character at the core of Bloom Theory, the man of the hour, Leopold Bloom.
Although Ulysses is often seen as an intimidating book, it is not usually thought of as intimidating in the sense that it could inspire “ultra-leftist-anarchist subversives.” How did poor little Leopold Bloom, the timid man-of-the-street who would rather undergo any torment than confront his wife about their marital problems, end up associated with criminal acts of sabotage? In what way did Tiqqun read Ulysses that they came up with such ideas?
One of most thoroughly studied characters in literature, Leopold Bloom means many things to many people, even to himself. It is precisely this flexibility (or ambiguity) which turned Bloom into a “conceptual persona who features prominently in the work of Tiqqun”(ICW, 227). The Bloom written of in Bloom Theory is not the same Bloom who was written about by James Joyce. Nowhere in Bloom theory does Tiqqun mention specific details of the life or personality of Leopold Bloom, and no references are made to the events in Ulysses. Bloom the man does not interest Tiqqun. Rather, the focus is on the impersonal Bloom, the collective Bloom, the idea of Bloom as more than just Leopold Bloom, which represents something in everyone. To Tiqqun, Bloom is not a person, but a state of being. “If Bloom is also found in a certain book, it’s because all of us have already crossed paths with him in the street, then, later, in ourselves. This just confirms it” (BT, 2).
Throughout Bloom Theory, Bloom is defined and redefined in philosophical contexts ranging from existentialist to Marxist: as “the general Stimmung where nothing but Stimmungs are apparent,”‡ as “the final upsurge of the native,” as the feeling “that we don’t belong to ourselves, that this world isn’t our world” (BT, 4, 3, 7).
This constant redefinition of Bloom, this lack of a fixed Bloom, is a central part of Bloom Theory, and can be easily traced back to Ulysses. In the Circe chapter of that book alone Bloom is referred to as a cod, a plagiarist, a woman, a man, the world’s greatest reformer, a dungdevourer, etc. This openness to redefinition is essential to the character of Leopold Bloom, and also one of the reasons that Ulysses is considered such a brilliant commentary on the modern condition. Joyce is not considered a genius because he described a day in the life of an Irish eccentric, but because he tapped into something inherent to the experience of being a human being in the early 20th century. These facets of Bloom’s existence are the same as those of everyone else. This universality is the starting point of Bloom Theory, which does not seek to explore the life of one man named Bloom, but rather to uncover the commonalities of experience shared by all the Blooms who now roam the earth. At the same time, the otherworldliness of the quote above emphasizes a feeling among Bloom and Blooms that they do not belong where they are, but are just strangers in a strange land. If the Blooms thus described belong anywhere, are capable of belonging anywhere, they belong to Bloom Theory.
What is Bloom Theory, after all? It’s a hodgepodge of all things that, when combined, create the illusion of a cohesive thought. It contains many quotes, as short as three words or as long as several paragraphs, from sources as diverse as Dante, Georges Bataille, unspecified advertisements for underwear, Hegel, Hitler, and everyone in between. These are placed side by side with unattributed poems and images that don’t seem to depict anything of relevance: a doll, an empty street, a one-legged man running across the page. Arguments about “Spectacle,” bio-power, and economics follow casual observations about life or metaphors which explain nothing. These all vary wildly in style and coherence, and are found arranged with little logical order underneath subtitles which may or may not have anything to do with the ideas they contain. There is no beginning or end. Though riddled with contradictions, there is one solid logic present throughout.
It seems that the intention of Bloom Theory is to create a theory as fluid in its identity and consistency as Blooms themselves. Just as validly as one can call it an important theory, one could also say that Bloom Theory is simply a farce, or a joke played on its readers, albeit it may take a bit of analysis to come to the latter conclusion.
It is a difficult task to read through to the end of Bloom Theory because it is, at first, such a convincing simulacrum of a theory. It has all the trappings and structure of one, yet it is almost impossible to make sense of it. The reader is presented with an incomplete train of thought, and after reading it notices that it does not make sense. Then, when going back and trying to find the missing piece by re-reading earlier sections, the reader rediscovers things that made no sense upon their first reading, but now suddenly do. The net result is the theoretical equivalent of Xeno’s paradox of movement. Xeno stated that for an arrow to go from point A to point B it must first pass through point C, which is halfway between A and B. However, the arrow cannot get to point C without first passing through D, which lies halfway between A and C, and so on, infinitely. Xeno concludes that the arrow can never arrive at B because it can never get to any of the previous points without having already passed them; a movement can never finish because it can never start, and so movement is impossible. So to, is the task at hand for the hapless reader of Bloom Theory. One can never come to a complete understanding of Bloom theory because one can never start understanding it in the first place. As in Xeno’s example, it seems that there is an infinite amount of something happening in all the details, yet when one takes a step and analyzes the broader context, one realizes that all this fuss has produced no progress of any kind. All the while there seems to be something vaguely illogical about the entire enterprise, and although one suspects this, one will try to understand how it works anyway.
This sets in motion a sort of reading wherein one jumps back and forth and all around looking for the missing pieces of the puzzle and not getting anywhere, until it becomes clear that opening Bloom Theory to any random page will yield as many (or as few) answers as trying to find them in any kind of logical way. Thus the only way any poor Bloom of a reader can get to the final pages is by having given up, and flipped to the end in a final act of desperation. Cruelly enough, just as one does this, having given up all hope of finding any meaning, it is provided:
A Theory of Bloom, where Bloom is not the object of theory, where theory is but the most familiar activity, the spontaneous penchant of an essentially theoretical creature, of a Bloom.
Theory is WITHOUT END. Thence the need to PUT AN END TO IT, decisively. …
What’s the way out of Bloom? The Assumption of Bloom, for instance. – You can only really liberate yourself from anything by reappropriating the thing you’re liberating yourself from. – What does the assumption of Bloom mean? Making use of the metaphysical situation defined by Bloom, the exercise of the self as a prankster. (BT, 38)
Thus, it becomes clear why there was no apparent meaning to be found in Bloom Theory. The most rudimentary parts of the theory seem to be that the modern condition has made us all into Blooms, defined as being ambiguous and amorphous units of consciousness, constantly changing and redefining ourselves, and thus losing any possibility of having any real meaning or identity. Having spotted this lack and having a desire to overcome it, Tiqqun decided to completely embody it. Thus, according to their logic, they are liberated from meaninglessness, and that is truly so, for now it seems that by this point we as readers have made it through the fog of confusion and finally have an inkling of why Tiqqun wrote Bloom Theory. Tiqqun became a mass of Blooms with no fixed authorship, and set about on the task of theorizing what it means to be a Bloom, doing so in no fixed way. Besides being a theory about Blooms, it is one written by them, and so assuming and embodying the meaninglessness of a Bloom theorizing. Bloom Theory is a theory that explains Bloom, yet simultaneously explains nothing, and embraces this “nothing” as one of its core tenets. It is a “fiction that’s made its reality real” and a “truly elegant act of sabotage” (BT, 39).
“BLOOM THEORY” THEORY
Not fighting against the dominant schizoid state, against our schizoid state, butstarting from there, and making use of it as a pure power of subjectivation and desubjectivation (sic), as an aptitude for for experimentation. Breaking with the old anxiety of “who am I really? To the benefit of a real understanding of my situation and the use of it that I could possibly make. (BT, 39)
If we look at Bloom Theory on its own terms, then we must take a step back and examine the “metaphysical situation” it can be contained in, which is in this case Joycean scholarship. Neither Tiqqun nor Bloom Theory are considered to have anything to do with James Joyce, simply because they never discuss the man or his works. Instead, they are considered to be, at best, elaborate commentaries on metaphysics, bio-power, and the (post-)modern condition, and at worst, vaguely associated with people who are vaguely considered to be terrorists (a vague term itself). But just because Bloom Theory never discusses Joyce, doesn’t mean that it has nothing to say about him. In fact, this omission becomes very suspicious in a world where everything seems to become its opposite. If Tiqqun has managed to successfully liberate itself from being associated with the analysis of James Joyce, it has done so by using the technique described in Bloom Theory, that is, by assuming Joyce’s style, and the style of Joycean scholars, as an integral element of its being.
Bloom theory is inspired by Joyce unquestionably, and this influence remains no matter how much Joyce is downplayed or left out of Bloom Theory. Simply put, Bloom Theory could not be Bloom Theory without his having created a character called Leopold Bloom. Furthermore, by basing it on Bloom they have sought to describe the disjointed modern condition in which he appears. In doing so, they have created a world illustrated with broken images, very much reminiscent of the writing style of James Joyce. Whether this is a direct imitation or simply the only way to appropriately describe the modern condition in question, the result is a Bloom theory which is dense, tangential, and hard to understand at first. There is something very Joycean about that.
If Bloom Theory is a prank on its readers then it is so because it expects them to obsessively look for meaning where there is little. Its writing style takes its readers down the road to nowhere. But if this is indeed an imitation of Joyce’s writing style, then the joke isn’t on the reader at all, but on Joyce scholars who spend decades on an endless quest for meaning in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It parodies Joycean scholarship by illustrating the futility of the exercise, and so, in a way, is the Joyce commentary that ends all Joyce commentary. On the other hand, it illustrates that this futility is not a hopeless one, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and some meaning to be found if you search for it long enough. The only catch is that there is no concrete meaning, no settled meaning, no commonly-agreed-upon meaning; the meaning is whatever you, as a reader find there. (Though, the Joyce scholars probably already knew that.)
* The anonymous English translation of the anonymous French text Théorie du Bloom, titled Bloom Theory, hereafter referred to as BT. The published text of Bloom Theory will be referred to as such in italics, whereas the group of ideas which it expresses will be referred to as the unitalicized “Bloom Theory.” Similarly, the italicized Tiqqun will refer to the journal, whereas the unitalicized “Tiqqun” will refer to the writers of the journal, or the sum of ideas expressed therein.
† ICW will henceforth refer to Introduction to Civil War, published by MIT semiotext(e) in 2010, currently the only text by Tiqqun published in English. Since the initial publication of Tiqqun, the journal has been made available, in its original French, in digital form on numerous websites. Anonymous translators have also digitally published translations of various excerpts from Tiqqun in English, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Greek. It is with such a translation of Théorie du Bloom that I will work in this article.
‡ Anonymous defines Stimmung as “[mood/tone].”
Anonymous. “Bloom Theory.” BLOOM THEORY. TIQQUN, 14 June 2010. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <https://bloom.jottit.com/>.
Anonymous. “TIQQUN.” TIQQUN. TIQQUN, 29 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <https://tiqqunista.jottit.com/>.
Galloway, Alexander R., and Jason E. Smith. Introduction to Civil War. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010.
Halkin, Hillel. “How Not to Repair the World.” Commentary: 21-27. Commentary Magazine. July-Aug. 2008. Web. 22 Dec. 2010. <https://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/how-not-to-repair-the-world-11461?page=all>.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Modern Library, 1946.
Unattributed. “Cabbage-patch Revolutionaries? The French ‘grocer Terrorists’” The Independent. 18 Dec. 2008. Web. 21 Dec. 2010. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/cabbagepatch-revolutionaries-the-french-grocer-terrorists-1202334.html>.
Unattributed. “CATALOGUE.” LA FABRIQUE EDITIONS. LA FABRIQUE EDITIONS, Autumn 2010. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <http://lafabrique.fr/catalogue.php>.
Wolf, Arnold J. “Repairing Tikkun Olam.” Judaism (2001): 479-82.
(Inspired by Machado de Assis)
Collage, Pen and Acrylic
on Newspaper, 2008
(After Joseph Conrad)
An old sailor recounts tales on the terrace of a hotel in the Mediterranean, the warm evening air caressing his legs. Each other man behind the lush hedge—because they are all men at the table—is full of his own stories, though none of them speaks English well enough to relate them. They are trying to connect the way that decent strangers do when they are away from home. Nevermind that the Slavic ones are interested in profit and their attentions do not stray far from the business. The Italian architects, too used to taking shelter from those they deem inferior-minded, feel they have left the crowd. All five men embrace the phenomenon.
They know who he is about halfway through his speech. The flow of new thought gives each a reason to lend him their imagination and recognizing him denies each his urge to stray. Such is the by-product of enormous success, whether or not it translates into paper money. It seems that they have no argument, but they have given up on a dialogue. The youngest of the Slavic men, a boy named Milcho, makes his mind up that this is the way things go for a strange man with half-lies: he always has a streak of beauties to put on display. The man would state it differently. He would say that he is “operating in an official capacity.” He prepares another story and in exchange Milcho offers him accommodation once they reach Dubrovnik.
He tells the men that the story he has to share with them is not his own. He doesn’t bother to mention any invention of a narrator and he swears that he will shift nothing of the original shape. “You will only see the masses in it, if anything,” he says.
On the way back to my hotel, the Captain made mention of all that I had to drink that night. He drove carelessly through the center of Cali, paying little attention to blind corners and unlit signs advertising the candidates in Sunday’s election. I thought about what he told me over dinner; how it was normal that all I thought about is money, food, and sex. When I got to my room I tried to think of something different but I turned on the television instead.
I was looking for anything good. There were only Spanish and American programs full of money, food, and sex. I clipped my fingernails because I was starting to bite them. I tried to remember sitting down near the head of the long table and being fed the half a bottle of Bourbon in small shots. They told me I was welcome back anytime; The Admiral, the Commodore, the President and twenty other smiling faces even cheered for me! And who was I? What were my priorities?
I went downstairs to the lobby to get a snack. There were two people working at the front desk: a girl with a nice face who looked about twenty years old and an older man. I figured they might help revive me. For a while we spoke about nothing. You could see that they were a little tense. I tried to tell them that I also hated being cornered into a conversation, but there was no point, really.
The night was dead. Nearly everything shut the day before for elections.
Two guys from Bratislava on their way back to their room sat with me for a while. One of them owned a bar, the other expressed his interest in sightseeing. We drank some whiskey and spoke about Chinese whores and political suicide. I was regurgitating some infantile dream of wandering into an Eastern European café full of models. One of the Slovaks, Josef was his name, mentioned to me that I wasn’t unique.
Somehow I had to get upstairs from the lobby, but I did not feel sleepy just then and I was anxious to start writing a nothing of a report, to have to cross it out and then always see it there in my thin notebook.
The Slovaks left to go to sleep. They had been to the brothel and were tired. Without asking for it, they left me a crumpled card with the address where I could see a girl for myself. The smile on my face must have confirmed that I was all talk.
I asked the concierge of this crumbling two-star hotel where I could get a snack instead. He grabbed his tan doorman jacket and buttoned it over his tee-shirt.
We left the twenty-year-old alone.
The streets around the central plaza were empty and quiet. The fountains were off and there was not a single breeze to shake the towering palm trees. Humidity hung in the air and made us sweat. When we found an open store I bought a bag of plantain chips for me and some bonbons that I offered the girl when we got back.
Somehow I began to speak about relationships in a nearly coherent way. I told the concierge and the girl how I usually feel sleepy when I talk about anything serious. I asked them if they ever fell asleep on their shift. The guy said the girl did. She denied that and, pointing at his red eyes, asked me to decide for myself.
We shared a bottle of Coke three ways and I moved closer to my room on the third floor by sitting on the stairs next to their desk. I told them about my girlfriend then so that I would be able to broach the topic of boyfriends. The girl didn’t have one. I asked why it seemed that most Colombian girls did, and if they were in love, or what. The girl told me that to have a boyfriend was normal, it was nothing, meant nothing, there was not necessarily love involved. She said that she dated a guy for five years just because she was used to it; it was normal.
When the bottle was finished, I said goodnight and went to my room again. I took my time climbing the stairs, opening the door to 305. Inside I lit a cigarette. After two or three deep drags I flipped it through my window directly in front of the hotel entrance. It was a glowing ember falling end over end to the street shooting sparks in every direction.
The sailor made a signal with his raised hand. Leaning back he said nothing and covered his eyes.
(Inspired by Anaïs Nin)
You met her in the basement floor of the rare & occult bookshop on East 3rd. There was the scent of old pages and illicit sex between prisoners of their own weird science. Soon, you’d project her into everything that wasn’t her. Rain was predicted for Sunday.
I met her before you. It was in the university cafeteria when she was an agnostic still capable of being saved from other fires. We compared shoestring potatoes with steak fries, potato starch with having sex on hard floors. When she wrote me from the Left Bank, I was already suffering from too great a distance. In those days, it was chic to wear straw hats and holes in the knees, to give away everything to the scammers posing as salvation armies of the night. Sometimes, we met on the suspension bridges that no longer exist. We pretended little suicides & talked about her marriage of convenience to a man with no face [sic].
By the time you chased yourself into corners, going mad with the shapes and shadows of what wasn’t yours, your mother sent you money to come home by train. You never dropped names, never returned to art school, but your mother knew who had done this.
After the student riots at Tompkins Square, I never saw her again whole. Occasionally, a waving strand of hair, the worn sneakers of a foot-loose girl down a half-empty hallway, a half or quarter of a face, a girl talking w/out sound to someone who never turns around. In my sleep, there is ambient music, rooms of dental floss junkies, stacks of self-help magazines to convince you with photos that everything is fine.
Who you are/what I am doesn’t matter. That she may not be anymore is an indication of present tense affairs. We miss/missed ourselves.
But sometime, you and I should get together and talk and drink coffee. We can share what we never had.
(Inspired by Matthea Harvey)
Thing, that exists
It is not empty
Launch it from the treetops
And conquer the monkey kingdom
Mail a letter to the queen
Informing her, politely
That her hydrangeas
Are in Prague for the weekend
There are no bees on the balcony
Someone cleaned out the gutters from autumn
You’re feeling better about the breakup
The one where Denise didn’t call
And you were alone for eight months
Wondering what you should do with the couch
Pack your sack in burlap, tight
And stick all of those stickers on it
The ones that were floating around your drawer
For like twelve months,
And we couldn’t figure out where they came from
Where some were Thomas the Tank Engine
And another one was the B-52s
And leave it on your Grandma’s back porch
In the autumn, after the leaves have changed
But the air’s still warm
Just before noon
And the water on Gun Lake
Is too placid to bother
Write a note to James
About how the grocer didn’t react as planned
I wake up in the morning
There’s only dust beside me
You were there
Until I opened my eyes
Peel away the dry, chipped wallpaper
Plastered to my ribs in 1957
Sheep and French farmers
Never open the window again
(“I was constantly looking
at Soth’s pictures”)
Artyom Anikin is a New Yorker living in Amsterdam, currently training to be a Doctor of the Real.™ email@example.com
Alexandra Arango is a Franco-Columbian artist and illustrator based in Paris. She does illustrations for companies and particulars and exhibits her work in galleries.
Blondie is a Paris-based visual artist who sells his work on the street. His piece in the magazine, “My Imaginings,” was purchased in Le Marais for €30 and derives its title from conversation: “these are my imaginings.” He can be reached at +33 6 19 09 86 12.
Jim Chelius is an artist from Philadelphia, PA, currently based in Los Angeles, CA. He is a painter, performance artist, graphic designer and poet. jimchelius.com
William Doreski teaches writing at Keene State College. He writes poetry and fiction, keeps a photo diary, and worries about homeless cats and dogs.
Flavio Freitas is a Brazilian painter based in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte. With a background as a professional architect and musician, he’s guided by a strong passion for drawing and the use of vivid tropical colors. flaviofreitas.com
Colin Gilbert is a poet and freelance editor writing and drinking Dr. Pepper in Fort Worth, Texas. colingilbert.wix.com/home
Howie Good is a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz and the author of five poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology. He blogs at apocalypsemambo.blogspot.com.
Eugene Gusarov is a Russian photographer based in Moscow. His work can be found on his Flickr page, “i know you’re out there,” at flickr.com/photos/kookoorookoo.
A.F. Harrold is an Englishman who writes and performs for both children and adults.
Art Heifetz is an ex-Peace Corps volunteer and retired insurance guy, currently teaching ESL to refugees and writing poems, with more than 60 published in online and print magazines in the U.S., France, Australia, Israel, and Argentina. He lives in Richmond, Va. with his wife, Mayela. polishedbrasspoems.com
Kyle Hemmings is a New Jersey-based writer. Currently he is flash fiction editor at The Linnets Wings, does poetry, flash fiction, and doodles in art. about.me/hemmingskyle
D. S. King has written poems, proved lemmas, and braved the rains of Norway. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grove Koger is an adjunct reference librarian at Albertsons Library, Boise State University, Idaho, and writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. email@example.com
Larry Kostroff has extensive credentials in the production of motion pictures, and as an instructor of the subject in a variety of film schools. He currently devotes his time and energy to writing and has dual residences in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Hollywood, California. firstname.lastname@example.org
Chelsea Lewkow is a photographer from Brooklyn, NY. She draws inspiration from 3am conversations, observations on the subway and the resilience of the human spirit. email@example.com or chelsealewkowphoto.blogspot.com
Z.N. Lupetin is a musician, playwright and fiction writer based in Venice, CA via Chicago. He recently had his plays produced in LA and New York and has toured the West Coast with his vaudeville roots orchestra The Dustbowl Revival. dustbowlrevival.com
Will May is based in Charlottesville, Virginia. He makes pictures, sounds, and objects. Some of his work can be seen at willmay.net.
Martin Hill Ortiz is a Professor of Pharmacology in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He writes fiction, poetry, performs theater and maintains the website jivepuppi.com.
Kenneth Pobo teaches at Widener University in Chester, PA. He writes poetry and short fiction. firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Ragazzini lives and works in Amsterdam. A recent participant in “The New Rembrandt” competition on Dutch TV, her work has been published internationally in magazines such as Flash Art, GUP, and Wallpaper and presented at the ARCO Madrid. monicaragazzini.com
Gil Soltz works as a tour guide in Paris, France. He creates walking adventures and prose experiments, and turns them into fictions. email@example.com
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson is a Canadian who married an American. She resides in Bellingham, WA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, including: The Literary Review of Canada, Softblow, A cappella Zoo, The Liner, EDGE, Echolocation, and the anthology Killer Verse. caitlinthomson.com
Mike Zazaian is an artist, writer, musician, designer and technologist based in Detroit, Michigan. An active DJ, he’s also a coordinating member of Syncytium, an Ann Arbor-based art collective and Burning Man group. mikezazaian.com
Michael Zucaro writes and photographs on his travels and in New York City, where he teaches essay writing and literature at the City University of New York.
Artyom Anikin, for his Russian translations
David Fogarty, for the 200th Like
Donna, Roger, and Tyler Young
The girl on the train to Utrecht
Helen Hemblade, for checking the planning
Kooka Boora Caféshop, Paris
Megen de Bruin-Molé, for her proofreading skills
Micah Wolf and his trusty iPad
Molly Rose Quinn
Suzette Franck at (mt) Media Temple
Thomas Delpeut, for proofreading and encouragement
Two For Joy Coffee Roasters, Amsterdam
Writer’s Block Magazine
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