Reading Life Aloud

Late in the evening the wail of a siren.

We had not heard any gun shots, though they are frequent enough these days to elicit shrugs. Neighborhood dogs start to howling, echoing the alarm, filling in their own parts in harmony. The air is stickered with it, like a collage with scraps of noise, pasty smears of sound. But it’s nighttime and the sounds make their way sightlessly until they find an ear, any ear. The noise of day with its throngs of listeners is retired now, and the evening runs things its own way.

Lacking earlids we live with sound’s endless impressions. We are always hearing, always soaking in sound’s pressing embrace. I like to tap on glass to hear what it is, to hear its clarity. In the seashell we hear the sea. In the wind rustled leaves, music. Halted in traffic, the signature of a culture comes booming from a nearby truck. Idle chatter or clarion calls, these pings and flourishes are themselves the markers of silence.

Out in the desert, away from roads and towns, the markers come from another quarter. It’s the yips of coyote or the serrated hum of insects that mark the silence. A pause in the mute dark recalls the ghosts of the sounds that had once passed this way.

Sirens or crickets, a gap, a faint distant ring. Like prospectors, we pan the grit and soil of our hearing, looking for specks and nuggets of silence. But a simple lack of sound is an artifact of subtraction. The quiet we found was there all along. We are to silence as fish are to water.

And the city, weary of its own bleats and braying, finally settles down. The dogs too, now that they’ve had their say.

—o—

There is wildness in the mechanical lurching of interleaved parts. Eagerness in the hum of transformers. You can feel it in the finger gliding sheen across chrome steel and in the abrasions of puckered tree bark. It all plies soundly in the aggregate. I see as beached waves, their edges traced in foam, the mark and sign of the human. The beasts we call tame reflect the wilderness of an unchecked procession. I do not condemn it. I take delight in these civil surfaces with their attendant racket and classify the most garish of artifice as natural.

I have looked for the dividing line between nature and us. It is ambiguous and replaceable. It is indistinct. There is always the wild, partisan little weed erupting from a crack in our concrete cornucopia. There is no edge to the wilderness, any more than you can assign a shape to infinite space. There are no sounds outside of silence. There are no unwild things.

—o—

World views define the qualities of nature, and a world view always selects one thing over another. But nature itself has its finger in every pie. Nature is its own nature, and we the curious, eager to understand, confront the absurdity of cataloging it all. It is troublesome that understanding lacks closure, that it’s always cutting another notch. But how we love the language, with all its baggage, hailing a taxi, catching a plane, late as usual for another explanation.

The manuscripts, tucked away in a folder, are themselves mute. The stamps and sprinkles of ink rest upon the paper, waiting for us. Waiting for our eyes and mouths. Then, to complete the purpose of language, we are born, we come to letters. But first, we come to know by reading life aloud.

—x—

About the image: I had placed some red wine in a small blue ceramic cup on the offering shelf and days later found it had dried to form a tiny crystalline planetarium.

The Incomparable Nāgārjuna

“The mind is a mere label, and it is nothing other than a label. Recognise awareness as a mere label. Moreover, a label has no intrinsic nature. The Jinas do not find it inside, nor outside, nor in-between those two. Thus, the mind is of the nature of an apparition, and the nature of the mind does not exist as any type of colour or shape, as something apprehended or as an apprehender, as a man, a woman, or a neuter, and so forth. In short, the Buddhas have not seen it and they will not see it; they accurately see it as having the nature of being without an intrinsic nature.”

— Nāgārjuna

via Gary Wong’s Buddhist Quote for the Day

Billion

If on the day that Columbus set sail for the new world you began to make $5,000 per day and continued to make $5,000 per day until this very day, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d be getting close, but not quite. Go ahead and check the math. This is what we should keep in mind every time the word billion or billionaire gets tossed around.

Think how you might justify earning that much money. I tried and came up blank. Nobody earns that kind of money. Most are born into it. A lot of them just plain steal it through legal means, the law being something crafted by those who hold all the power and money.

Go ahead and call me a Marxist for bringing it up, but you’re a fucking dupe and an idiot if you work for a living and actually admire these motherfuckers.

The above example has been floating around the net. I did not think it up myself.

No Office for Old Men

FADE IN:

EXTERIOR:  OFFICE PARK     MORNING

Sun rising over landscaped office park. Sprinklers
raise a mist in the golden light. The voice
of an old man:


                    Voice Over

        I was manager of this office when I was
        twenty-five. Hard to believe. Grandfather
        was management. Father too. Me and him was
        managers at the same time, him up in Peoria
        and me down here. I think he was pretty proud
        of that. I know I was.


We dissolve to another view of the park.
No people, or movement.


        Some of the old-time managers never even
        used out-sourced labor. A lot of folks
        find that hard to believe.

                                   
We dissolve through differing views of cube farms
and interior office environs all empty, some
with the lights out.


        I always liked to hear about the old-
        timers. Never missed a chance to do so.
        You can’t help but compare yourself against the
        old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they
        would’ve operated these times.


CLOSE-UP a RED Swingline stapler.


        The kind of dimwitted slackers apply for work
        today, it’s hard to even take its measure.


Camera pans up to reveal a chubby man sitting
at the desk: Milton Waddams.

MILTON is muttering under the Voice Over.


        I always knew you had to be a complete bastard
        to even do this job. But I don’t want to push my
        chips forward and find I downsized the wrong
        character.

        You could say it’s my job to destroy the souls of
        these cube muppets but I don’t even want to know
        what falls out when you tip the wrong HR jacket.

                       MILTON

        mutter mutter I’ll burn the place down is
        what I’ll do.

(Written around 2012.)

Temping

A short fiction of mine called Temping, is included in Crack the Spine’s Issue no. 257. Thanks to publisher Kerri Farrell Foley and her staff for selecting this piece. A synopsis might look like:

“A talkative homeless man on the bus rambles on, delivering a sort of fever-dream term paper about the burdens of a life structured by time, his philosophical insights into such a dilemma, and his effective status as an outlaw due to his contraordinary behaviors and being without means or property.”

Did You Sleep Well?

I arrived as if by chance at the opera house and began to negotiate with the box about admission fees, and then I decided to make a call to my friend who had insisted that fees would be waived on this special day, but couldn’t remember the number. I scrolled my contacts list but instead of names, there were various representations of water in its different states such as fog, river rapids, sea floor, a curtain-like waterfall over the mouth of a cave from inside the cave, rain, a vast and puddled Italian piazza after a storm reflecting distant clouds of an indeterminate weather, and so on. At this point I should have known I was dreaming but I’m an idiot, right?

Then I came upon a man painting the ceiling of the opera house lobby with an absurdly long pole attached to his little roller. Every time I look up, the ceiling looks higher and further away. The painter has opera glasses so he can see if he’s missed a spot way up there. It occurs to me that the pole is so long there’s no way he could bring it down to reload it. I mean the room isn’t wide enough. But I shrug it off, this sense of a post-normality that seems to be enveloping me at the moment. I swear, I will fall for anything in a dream.

But then I woke up a little bit, just enough to feel like I could decide what happens next and I find I am writing about what has happened so far and begin to come up with the descriptions I have already put down here except it is all still in the dream. And then I wake up the rest of the way and consciousness grips me like a frightened child. Oh, I think to myself, it was just a dream, like this is completely normal, which it unfortunately is. Later, I actually write down what you see here, but I’m still none the wiser. How can consciousness be such a shaky proposition?

I kind of see why people believe in a creator. It seems like someone is writing this material. Except they seem more extravagant than omnipotent. You know what I mean? So how about you. Did you sleep well? As Steven Wright once answered, “no, I made a few mistakes.”


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

One Hundred Years of Attitude

The poem half belongs to the reader.

The poetry, the novel. Writers shepherd things into place, they are just words after all. The reader does half the lifting. But once they start gorging on films of literary origin, the teeth of the imagination begin to rot.

Consume the processed product of someone else’s imagination? Take the sirloin in pill form why don’t we. No gristle to pick from your teeth. Literature ignites the imagination, that’s what reading does. Watching a flickering screen, it is numbed. The imagination is anesthetized. But by all means, let Neflix make a Game of Thrones out of Garcia-Marquez, what could go wrong? Youth are remaking the world as we speak, it is not ours any more, us old farts. I worry about all the wrong things.

I have attitudes that mean nothing to anyone but me. They are like my children. I give them names and watch them grow up. Weep when they do poorly in school, or start stealing cars. It is a derangement I hold dear. One Hundred Years of Solitude will no doubt become the Breaking Bad of magical realism. It does not touch me. I have already built my own copy of that world.

Ever so slowly, I rise, and applaud.

Vajra Essence

Considered to be vast
in its extent, the universe
which encompasses all

that could be imagined is enlarged
by the tightness, the constraint of a
mind deluded by grasping.

The smallness of the self
is what begs large the reaches
of the heavens. To interrupt

even briefly, this ghastly inflation
of the considered real, exposes much
—settles nearly everything.

The cultivation and continuance of
such interruption leads to realization
—the condition beyond conditioning.

-:-

Following is the foreword from the book Fathoming the Mind: Inquiry and Insight in Dudjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence, translated by B. Alan Wallace, with commentary, much of which touches on the seemingly intractable divide between the rationality of materialist science and the direct cognition methods of tantra.

It’s an excellent book for those studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism, and for people like me who tend toward morbid fascination with this controversy, which has been churning ever since they divided learning into the two branches called science and religion.