An American Adventure
Chapter One: Novus Ordo Seclorum
There was no time like the time we
thought something was happening
which was not what we thought it was
but might as well have been considering
how little it was anything else.
If what was seen is to be spoken of,
it must be said all in a breath or
it becomes something else: a glyph,
a gloss, a reflection of a vase bearing
an artificial flower on a living stem.
If what's said in a breath isn't
heard in a breath, it was never said
to begin with. . . and if it takes a walk
on the coals to convince you that faith
is more than a metaphor, you've achieved
the most you can expect from a hot foot.
To go back to the beginning,
what did we think it was
leaked out of the sea dream
of our age to swallow us whole
and later spit us up on the very spot
we'd have chosen for ourselves
had we known it existed?
Behold a city half visible along
the cloudline, studded with
faraway spires, domes, turrets
and other paraphernalia with
which deep-seated yearning
tends to outfit a horizon.
A beckoning beam glimmers
across furlongs of pale grain
waving between us and what seems
our individual and collective destiny.
In retrospect it's fruitless to try to determine
if it was simply arrogance compounded
with sensory overload. . . or if we really saw
something else besides,
in its true and difficult form,
not always at a distance; something
not generally given to standing still in the
same spot in an attitude of welcoming.
As for entering the cloudline city,
indistinct memories tell us we
we did so, although snapshots
from the era indicate that it
might have been otherwise.
The inch thick layer of immaculate
shamrock glass which coated the
pavement is shown, in the photo,
to be only unadorned city concrete
and not all that clean.
There is no evidence of spires
and the pack of gangling gawkers
posturing in the foreground -
could that be us?
Time is the great counterfeiter -
it was not like that. I know.
I was there. I remember.
There must have been a particular day
when it became common knowledge
that the dream was over - God knows
the songs were suddenly full of it,
though it was not clear where the
messengers got their information.
That particular news sailed clear
over our heads, immersed in the
so-called dream as we were -
or perhaps it was intercepted at
office level and stuck in a dry file,
labeled something misleading like: endive -
Intending to leave the world
a better place than we found it,
a misleadingly innocent trope,
we were eventually forced to
conclude that it had a logic
of its own having only so much
and no more to do with us -
although we still harbored
designs on what we refused
to believe it no longer was.
Now is the future past,
the appearance without
the apparatus of power,
the peacable kingdom of
wide eyed glaring beasts
frozen into immobility
by a vision too extreme
to fit behind closed lids.
We assess it as though it were
beyond our control but in our hearts
cannot quite manage to believe that.
It seems there's something
we could have done other than
hope for the best and trust that
somebody more responsible would
come along and put it all right.
But nobody came and in the space
of a mere decade, the fabulous city
lay smoking and desolate, the rags
of its ruin unfit for restitching.
It was then that we understood
we were dead. . . but it made
no difference. The object of our
faith still showed its beacon light
despite the condition of the city.
Or was that only the neon sign
of an all night carwash in Dallas
flashing through solid
sheets of unremitting rain?
Whatever it was began
to cut off altogether for
a day or two at a time,
growing to weeks and months.
It wasn't sudden. There was
time to get accustomed.
There was time to wonder just
how brightly it ever shined at all.
After awhile imagination began
to substitute lights of its own.
But nothing seemed to possess the
steady, mysterious beckoning quality
of the beacon of earlier days,
with its promise of untellable things
soon to be revealed to the joy of all.
Cut to a rat trap stumbled upon
in a trip to the wine rack where
bottles of Thunderbird age in
temperature controlled darkness,
wine of the stone eyed goddess
of scrofulus grace; high priestess
of the grass that pushes its way
through ithe shamrock glass
to reduce it to seedy sidewalks. . .
a trap expanding in size
to the dimensions of fear,
baited with the guts of a weasal
and chained to the cellar floor.
Never mind that the trap is
only apparent and the bite of its
imaginary steel on an imaginary
leg yields only imaginary pain,
for which imaginary medicine
and an imaginary vacation will
generally deal an imaginary cure.
It still can deal imaginary death,
which, as the son of any respectable
Denver bum can tell you is a
fair substitute for the real thing.
Meanwhile, stuffing ourselves
with snapshots of steak while
thrumming and nictating over
a salad of stringent mitosis,
open to charges of pandering
with the flat of the hand held
parallel to the sky as though
seeking moisture independent
of the provided cloud system,
offending an angel or two to be
wrestled later, in the privacy
of the skull, the question arises:
Was the faith we had worth saving?
Consider the alternative. . .
searching the skies, the cards,
the gizzards of rats, random
images, modern pop prophecy or
the latest simulacrum of the psyche
for any potency willing to present.
Spellbound in a bubble of glass,
warm flesh believes. Garroted,
gelded and clapped in cold irons
or left to compost in some carefully
calculated public perception, one
breath without hesitation suffices
to declare that flesh believes
to the roots of its teeth or dies.
A glyph. A gloss. A post-midnight
resuscitation beneath a weatherbeaten
leatherneck of a moon. New Atlantis
rising from a duckpond in the year
of the dogs in red bandanas chasing
frisbee in the park.
Summing up what it meant but
no longer means to a disenchanted
generation without many illusions
about illusions, proper discretion
lies in not noticing the severed
dog head in the instant pudding.
We need three ears to hear
the belated truth: an extra one
for what was never said.
What is said all in a breath must
be received in a similar way.
What is not heard in one
quick snatch of the earball,
the content of a single breath,
however elongated, is not
heard at all. Reasoned out
or possibly divined, but not heard.
To hear is to forget, for a moment,
all but what is being said.
To forget precedents and
probable antecedents. To
forget who is saying and
who receiving. To listen
is to change places with
an idea, an idiocy, a saxophone
a prophecy or a proposition.
Search for certainty destroys
any sense of proportion. Kid
starts out eating crayons and
ends up engineering a hostile
takeover of Gerber's.
And meanwhile, there is music. . .
Music is not a substitute for
meaning. . .it is a replacement!
Is this dangerous? It would be
if it were not, you know, music.
Sometimes it sounds like
bubbling syllables rising
from the scud and garnish
of the deep. A new thought to
be set beside a known one. . .
the unknown always adjacent
to something known.
When what is unknown is set
beside another unknown, any
sensible carnivore becomes wary.
Which is when, out of fear
or simple prudence, we tend
to freeze it, put it on a stick
and call it a popsicle.
It differs from a bicycle in that
it comes in flavors but, naturally,
makes poor transportation.
Really tragically poor.
Lick it if you like but don't
try to drive it to Los Angeles
in under six hours.
Second Movement: Annuit Coeptis
Besides hogging most of the
mayonnaise, the Beagal Boys
demand the lettuce be cut
into bite size chunks, assign
unforgiving deadlines and
stick us with promotion
designed to wilt the parsley,
all the time laughing up
their cardigans humming:
I did it my way with yours.
When the contract comes up
for renewal we wonder:
why not cut loose from
the whole avoirdupois, and
open up a salad bar of our own
with only ourselves to answer to?
Hire our own tomato growers,
import avocados from the moon
. . .take bids on the chives. . .
It might work. It should work.
It will work. Spruce up the
environment by arranging for
some blues with progressions
modeled on the tesseract to play
over the sound system, feed
rabbits the salad scraps and
teach 'em to lay hardboiled eggs.
All we need to do is mortgage
our hats and coats which we
don't need anyway because
the summer is endless
and so is the promise of song.
Suddenly the times change
tripping our g-g-g-generation
in mid-stride. The bottom drops
out of Caesar Salad forthwith
as alfalfa sprouts are discovered
to cause mental retardation and
probable damnation in fruit flies.
They'd kick us out of the tossed
green game if they had the option
but are unable to do so because
we can rent out the lettuce shredder
and live off our own endive.
How High the Moon?
High as we can reach on
tiptoe to secure the far end
of a clothesline and hang
our hearts out wet in the rain.
The weather may change,
but who entirely believes that
the wrinkles fall out on their own?
The fact that no one disbelieves
suffices. Repetitive death on the
racks becomes a fact of life but
there seems to be a market for
endive and hard boiled rabbit eggs
out in the provinces - so we
hook a caboose to the salad train,
restring our noseflutes and practise
making noises like a carrot
to attract what rabbits remain.
There are things we need to know
and that we know we need to know.
Did Hannibal cross the Alps on an
alligator and if so how many brass
coots in a brass coot tree? Answers
to these and other critical questions
seem to depend, ultimately, on cranking
it out until (or unless) physically restrained.
Uncompromising ridicule from the press
is resolved by forgetting how to read.
Not only what was said but what
wasn't gradually assembles an
audience as confused as we are.
Avenues plainly marked dead
end are taken at breakneck speed
without appreciable brakes
although the perception is of
glacially slow movement. One day
it appears we've been here forever.
A glyph. A gloss. A random
motion of microscopic particles
suspended in gas or liquid
caused by impact with molecules
of the surrounding fluid.
Brownian Movement and no mistake.
Parry, thrust & kick off the body
and lick the blade. Stick it, kick it
and lick it.This could be fun were it
not in such deadly earnest. A sense
of adventure infuses failure which
later success can only approximate.
How many glass cats in a glass cat stew?
Six if you dine at five. Eight if at Nine
abiding in cause and consequence by
exercise of free will or some convincing
Variation making a virtue of necessity. . .
which turns out to be the
combination to the safe!
How you got it is immaterial
to the contents of the strongbox
which are variously edible
or negotiable for chattels
foreign and domestic, such as
Hegelian head cheese,
Tasmanian rope money,
or the rare blue endive
which grows only on
the dark side of the moon.
Approaching the frontiers of the ocean,
non-swimmers are lashed together
to make a living raft with promise
of being resuscitated with kisses
if they only keep swimming until
they black out. In deeper than we
had no idea and the plain fact was
we'd forgotten how to drown, or,
more to the point, never knew how.
Among things the late 70's has
had it with is shit like the ideals
we are assumed to represent. Our
actual values were probably too
diffuse for reductive consideration,
could even be said to co-opt
certain powers reserved for Church,
State and the Networks, such as
infathomable vagueness and
promiscuous fondness for
gathering large numbers of people
together for purposes not altogether
unrelated to mutual gratification.
Too late to say sorry. Sorry only
cuts it with the motherhood crew.
Without apologies, we keep trying to
stick our pig vomit in the ears of the
public just as if nothing has happened,
disregarding the tempo of young America
at work and play and other febrile notions
of progress in the field of demotics.
Problems to do with trust accrue
like spiders behind a dart board.
Wrath of reluctant realization:
where it all comes from
comes from somewhere else
and that somewhere is not here.
After a bout of threatened retirement,
we brush the cobwebs from the pane
of a studio window believed to open
on nightmares, only to find a friendly
gathering of concerned faces pleased
to find everybody isn't dead in there.
And then the light dawns: the
whole implausible coda is not only
strictly necessary but ultimately
capable of withstanding dense
critical scrutiny. It is what it is
and there is nothing else like it.
And it's ours, all ours, hahahahaha. . .
Some kind of test has been passed
with no one knowing exactly what
or why. Certain mistakes will not
be made again; fresh mistakes
beckon with perfumed eyes.
Back alive and bleeding from
numerous non-fatal slights,
exponentially increasing throngs
of salad lovers gather to the sound
of the lettuce shredder in full fury,
operating outside its assigned time
slot and into the untended present,
causing a hole in the fabric of continuity
big enough to drive a truck through.
The spires of another day are
finally visible again, still set
firmly on the horizon, though
the beckoning beam no longer
seems to operate. . .
could it be that we've arrived?
Then why are the spires still
at a distance? Because that's
what they are - they're the
faraway spires. That's all.
All of this happens flying
by the seam of your jeans
thinking someone else is dying
when the roses are for you.
Found picking pepper when the
hurricane hit the pepper tree
we suddenly found ourselves
with a whole load of pepper;
more pepper than anyone
might have thought. Enough to
make a pepper pie and then some.
Something needed to be said
about it and still does - or
they rip out your gums and
bill you for individual extractions.
To say anything at all, out of the
countless ways things could
be said, it's necessary to say
it as it occurs to you, whether
it's worth expressing or not.
If it's a thought of your own
and the urge to speak it is strong,
it makes it's own reasons
and provides its own context -
so long as it's said in a breath it
will at least have a chance to
get said, from which follows that
it just naturally becomes history,
official or otherwise.
Whether it finally reflects what
you intended to express must
remain a mystery. The context
itself is mute, but it probably
makes little difference what
the exact intent, so long as
the initial thrust sufficed
to compensate for a fuel tank
later discovered to be entirely
empty since somewhere shortly
after takeoff time. Thank God no
one thought to check the gauges or
we'd still be back on those alligators
climbing every mountain in search
of a comfortable swamp to decamp.
Meanwhile, a horse, a cow and
3 blind mice are discovered down
in the cornfield shooting high dice
with the corporate kitty. . . merely
strategic problems are miniscule
compared to the weight of this one.
Trust itself has been violated.
Act Three: Debts Public and Private
If it is to be said it had better
be said all in a breath - the
thing we think we know so
well, yet can rarely remember
to say aloud - believing it's only
because we forget to remember
to say it that it's so rarely articulated. . .
rather than adducing the fact of the matter,
which is that it only exists when
formulated by living breath.
It has to be said before someone
changes the subject forever - and
affirmed with the tacit understanding
that sometimes it's good to be wrong -
not just about details - but - you know
. . . about everything.
To be precisely useless has its uses,
reciprocity being what it is and
depending as it damn well does
upon the ability to rip off
a piece of territory and spend
the rest of your life defining it.
Are we talking Rock? Or just
some species of the Roll?
In deference to the non-presenting
metaphor, it becomes wonderfully
apparent that when you have
nothing to add to what you've
already said you shut up or
suffer the consequences.
Seven years of silence drives
inarticulation to a new high
but the breath is not abused
in the utterance of endless
artifacts with no reason
to be spoken beyond the
disturbing of a doubtful peace.
It is within the catalogue
of permissible things to be
dead wrong and even to derive
moderate pleasure practicing
intransigence for its own sake.
When time comes to resume
speaking, say what you have
to say, all at once, letting it be
the lover who speaks, the one who
will most rarely say you wrong;
let the rest be meat for crows.
If no one tried to live this way
no one would discover it can't be done.
These are the things you do
trying to be true whether or
not you know you do. In the
meantime, something's always
creeping up with a good deal
of stealth, usually undetected
until its moment of denouement,
generally after it's perpetrated
some activity so off the wall it
could never have been predicted -
such as installing a bidet in the
birdbath. . . or detailing how both
what we did and did not do either
was or was not more or less
than it appeared in light of a
value we had never considered.
Who we were meanwhile was
a gaggle of collateral witnesses
providing unnecessary alibis
for a failure we were no longer
perceived as having. Now it was
time to start denying responsibility
for being so disproportionately
large, plead innocence and try to
lay the blame on the times. . .
the old Aw Shucks approach,
valid to a degree but more of
a smokescreen than an outright
explanation. The fact is
we no longer fit anywhere
and there's not a great
deal to be said about it that
hasn't been said before though
there's always a chance that
something can be blurted in
a breath that couldn't be
thought out in a thousand years.
Transformation happens when
the old rules don't apply the
way they used to and the new
rules are still being written.
Perception was a creation of the
'60's. There's nothing intelligent
to say about it because intelligence
wasn't invented until the '70's.
Discrimination was the brainchild
of the '80's, the ability to tell a
louse from a Lifesaver. Meanwhile
here in the '90's we seem to be
chewing on the notion of synthesis,
which is probably a good thing
because it provides a new context
that'll fit just about anything that
the tides of the times wash up
on the gut infested shore and
decline to wash back out again.
Grab a quick nap approaching
extinction out of a great gray
steel faced shutter to awake with
the time almost entirely gone,
sliced into slivers thinner than
seconds and served between
draughts of black brew from a
cornucopia connected to the
sludge at the floor of the sea
where Monkey Face sinks to
shine between ambiguities.
No chance to enclose anything
in the shaft of an oversize arrow
except for this ridiculous rose
carved from a ruby as large as
a fist, odorless and semi-eternal,
while upon the strongbox the
new Queen of Hearts stares
straight ahead at the horizon,
remembering when it stretched
forever, perfectly straight and
endlessly distant, where ships
fell off the edge of the world.
Attempts to rephrase the
old equations for balance
and proportion dissolve like
slugs in salt for reasons
no one cares to consider.
That would be looking back
and we know better, how it
tends to devour whatever
small personal space remains;
how the Trope of Eternity
surfaces at odd junctures
to bathe in the soup without
so much as phoning ahead,
tells you it was at your own
invitation and proves it.
Whoever said life is a bowl
of fruit of any kind never
understood the intricacies
of angling for a fish as big
as New Jersey without bait.
Someone else has to care
as much for your unspoken
promise as you do if hope
is to be regulated in any
deeply satisfying way -
things don't tend to work
like that so you learn to
cling to the diminishing
number of artifacts that
testify to the truth that you
stumbled on this without
planning or wanting it,
found it ambiguous and
tried to make the best of it.
The facts, if there are any,
will be reassessed at each
change of context; the score
is never exactly tallied and
consequently never settled.
I say we or it is the wind who speaks
with loose lips to a mango moon
spilling fermented fragrance over
the woman with amber eyes
gazing into a sine wave generator
saying: "Go on and hypnotize me.
Prove to me there is such a thing.
Bend me to your will if you can.
Make me demand that you
lay down your life for me.
Make me believe. Without details.
Above all do not trouble me with details.
Permanence is in such short
supply one understandably
wonders what today looks like
twenty five years down the line;
if the flies get to the rye before
the frost or whether east of the
sun logically becomes west of
the moon in curvaceous space
without the necessity for doing
much more than hanging in there
long enough for it to come around
in its own good time, sweet and
shimmering as love wearing a long
blue cloud in a sweet and spotless sky.
Mama said there'd be days
like this but never how many,
how long and how emphatic.
Which about covers it except
to stress that should the thing
that wants saying not be said
in a breath, so that it steps forth
and stays said, accepting the
possibility of being irrevocably wrong,
it might just as well never be said at all.