Literature – which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality – seems to me the end towards which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self. To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness.
Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life. What moves lives. What is said endures. There’s nothing in life that’s less real for having been well described. Small-minded critics point out that such-and-such poem, with its protracted cadences, in the end says merely that it’s a nice day. But to say it’s a nice day is difficult, and the nice day itself passes on. It’s up to us to conserve the nice day in a wordy, florid memory, sprinkling new flowers and new stars over the fields and skies of the empty, fleeting outer world.
Everything is what we are, and everything will be, for those who come after us in the diversity of time, what we will have intensely imagined – what we, that is, by embodying our imagination, will have actually been. The grand, tarnished panorama of History amounts, as I see it, to a flow of interpretations, a confused consensus of unreliable eyewitness accounts. The novelist is all of us, and we narrate whenever we see, because seeing is complex like everything.
Right now I have so many fundamental thoughts, so many truly metaphysical things to say that I suddenly feel tired, and I’ve decided to write no more, think no more. I’ll let the fever of saying put me to sleep instead, and with closed eyes I’ll stroke, as if petting a cat, all that I might have said.
From The Book of Disquiet (Livro do Desassossego: Composto por Bernardo Soares, ajudante de guarda-livros na cidade de Lisboa), a work by the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935). Published posthumously, The Book of Disquiet is a fragmentary lifetime project, left unedited by the author, who introduced it as a “factless autobiography.”
Alack! what poverty my Muse brings forth,
That having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument all bare is of more worth
Than when it hath my added praise beside!
O! blame me not, if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That over-goes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines, and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell;
And more, much more, than in my verse can sit,
Your own glass shows you when you look in it.
i’m never really here
never really not here
this is the in-between
where we un-appear
in the web of day to day
it’s the back alleyway
that sucks us in
mind that gap, gal, you say,
it’s no zero-sum game.
it’s a dirty crack habit
but i’m not paying, pal!
i’m chasing that rabbit
i’m hunting that quark
i’m ripping, unzipping
tumbling through the dark
i’m pulled, i’m polluted
the vertigo’s heady
the jostling vacuum
blaring and unsteady
warrens of voids
have i seen this already?
uh-huh, it’s not pretty
these blown-up dead pixels
no taste, so not witty
they stink like nothing
i’m always here, not-here
it’s off with me ’ead
when bored, i bore deeper
through holes yet unread
i need more; drop a fresh tab
hop a window
and i tiptoe
past the daemon
with a keygen
while it snores
unlock the door
another tube flickr-ing
there’s no revelation
there’s no revolution
and too many shares
i spin rumpelstiltskins’
straw dogs into gold
using worm-riddled troll jam
i scavenge ‘twixt threads
i needle this grey gunk
i snip it to shreds
i bump and i juggle
grind bones badly bred
i flip and i giggle
i slough off my shame
i slurp it up, spew it out
flooding the drain
logged in or logged out
i have no real name
if I do it is M.U.D.
and i’m out of my death
and where is my body?
my own flesh and blood
it sleeps with the ‘fiches
not holding its breath
see, it doesn’t do digital
it keeps crashing
so it’s chained to the terminal
wired to the grid
with a stay of execution
logged on or logged off
the haunted dimension
buzzes in my marrow
drowns out my dreams
howls me back
out of bed
out of the car
out of the street
from the supermarket
from the sunset
in a stupor
on my phone
into my inbox
unto my outbox
onto the blog
*welcome to [UR(hel)L]*
you can’t turn off a never-present stranger.
to be heard as just voice
before the sum
of the parts
can be tallied
in sterile packaging
profiteers and peddlers, beware
however much you rub,
the spirit wasn’t bottled
and the gold in your vault
is as cold and dead
One upon a time in San Francisco there was a man who really liked the finer things in life, especially poetry. He liked good verse.
He could afford to indulge himself in this liking, which meant that he didn’t have to work because he was receiving a generous pension that was the result of a 1920s investment that his grandfather had made in a private insane asylum that was operating quite profitably in Southern California. In the black, as they say and located in the San Fernando Valley, just outside of Tarzana. It was one of those places that do not look like an insane asylum. It looked like something else with flowers all around it, mostly roses.
The checks always arrived on the 1st and 15th of every month, even when there was not a mail delivery on that day. He had a lovely house in Pacific Heights and he would go out and buy more poetry. He of course had never met a poet in person. That would have been a little too much.
One day he decided that his liking for poetry could not be fully expressed in just reading poetry or listening to poets reading on phonograph records. He decided to take the plumbing out of his house and completely replace it with poetry, and so he did.
He turned off the water and took out the pipes and put in John Donne to replace them. The pipes did not look too happy. He took out his bathtub and put in William Shakespeare. The bathtub did not know what was happening.
He took out his kitchen sink and put in Emily Dickinson. The kitchen sink could only stare back in wonder. He took out his bathroom sink and put in Vladimir Mayakovsky. The bathroom sink, even though the water was turned off, broke out into tears.
He took out his hot water heater and put in Michael McClure’s poetry. The hot water heater could barely contain its sanity. Finally he took out his toilet and put in the minor poets. The toilet planned on leaving the country.
And now the time had come to see how it all worked, to enjoy the fruit of his amazing labor. Christopher Columbus’ slight venture sailing West was merely the shadow of a dismal event in the comparison. He turned the water back on again and surveyed the countenance of his vision brought to reality. He was a happy man.
“I think I’ll take a bath,” he said, to celebrate. He tried to heat up some Michael McClure to take a bath in some William Shakespeare and what happened was not actually what he had planned on happening.
“Might as well do the dishes then,” he said. He tried to wash some plates in “I taste a liquor never brewed,” and found there was quite a difference between that liquid and a kitchen sink. Despair was on its way.
He tried to go to the toilet and the minor poets did not do at all. They began gossiping about their careers as he sat there trying to take a shit. One of them had written 197 sonnets about a penguin he had once seen in a travelling circus. He sensed a Pulitzer Prize in this material.
Suddenly the man realized that poetry could not replace plumbing. It’s what they call seeing the light. He decided immediately to take the poetry out and put the pipes back in, along with the sinks, the bathtub, the hot water heater and the toilet.
“This just didn’t work out the way I planned it,” he said. “I’ll have to put the plumbing back. Take the poetry out.” It made sense standing there naked in the total light of failure.
But then he ran into more trouble than there was in the first place. The poetry did not want to go. IT liked very much occupying the positions of the former plumbing.
“I look great as a kitchen sink,” Emily Dickinson’s poetry said.
“We look wonderful as a toilet,” the minor poets said.
“I’m grand as pipes,” John Donne’s poetry said.
“I’m a perfect hot water heater,” Michael McClure’s poetry said.
Vladimir Mayakovsky sang new faucets from the bathroom, there are faucets beyond suffering, and William Shakespeare’s poetry was nothing but smiles.
“That’s well and dandy for you,” the man said. “But I have to have plumbing, REAL plumbing in this house. Did you notice the emphasis I put on REAL? Real! Poetry just can’t handle it. Face up to reality,” the man said to the poetry.
But the poetry refused to go. “We’re staying.” The man offered to call the police. “Go ahead and lock us up, you illiterate,” the poetry said in one voice.
“I’ll call the fire department!”
“Book burner!” the poetry shouted.
The man began to fight the poetry. It was the first time he had ever been in a fight. He kicked the poetry of Emily Dickinson in the nose.
Of course the poetry of Michael McClure and Vladimir Mayakovsky walked over and said in English and Russian, “That won’t do at all,” and threw the man down a flight of stairs. He got the message.
That was two years ago. The man is now living in a YMCA in San Francisco and loves it. He spends more time in the bathroom than everybody else. He goes in there at night and talks to himself with the light out.