Sunday, August 30, 2009


"I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes--I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless i know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they're missing? Uh huh."

- Frank O'Hara, 'Meditations in an Emergency'

P.S. To the owners of the Kalahari Resort Convention Center and Kosmix shawls. Dudes, get a clue. Seriously.

The Source

Afterwards, the experts would study the blast pattern, sift through the rubble. Eventually, they would trace the explosion back to its source, here, by this vegetable stall in the crowded market.

The thought made him smile. He'd always wanted to be the center of attention.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Your own end

All night you sit in the dark, the gun ticking at your temple.

Every goodbye is a compromise. If you could explain how you were feeling you would not need to do this. And yet your suffering is as ordinary as newsprint, and you want to pretend you are not in love with death, that you are just using her.

Not judgment after death, but a death that does not judge.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Night Show

Sooner or later, someone is bound to shout fire.

Your desire a theater, crowded with images, larger than life. You never see the one next to you, never even try. You're in a hurry to leave the moment it's over, not even stopping to learn the names.

You say you're not looking for credit, you're looking for blame.

One night sleep is projector you cannot break, seeing in through to the end, your technicolor nightmare, waking to find you're still in the dark.

The old black and whites are watching you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From time to time I hear

There's really nothing like the thrill of discovery, is there?


"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;"

-Andrew Marvell, To his Coy Mistress

Now, as everyone knows, that's a line Eliot riffs on in The Waste Land. What I didn't know, and only realized a few days ago, re-reading Virgil (while thinking about the whole stud / stallion / wild horses as a metaphor for sexual desire - but that's a whole other story), that those lines themselves probably come from this [1]:

"You've seen - surely you've seen - how in a race, right from the off,
the chariots will gobble ground to take the lead,
and the charioteers, their hopes sky high and hearts in mouth,
lean forward as they ply their whips
and strain to give the horses their head, pushing them on.
The wheels are turning so quickly they burn.
Now up, now down, as if they're poised for take-off.
And no let up, and no let off, they're kicking up such a storm.
On their backs they feel the clammy breath of their pursuers."

- Virgil, Georgics III. 103-111 (translation by Peter Fallon)

The more things change, etc.

[1] I say probably because this is pure conjecture on my part. On the one hand, I feel fairly certain that Marvell would have been familiar with the Virgil, which makes the connection likely. On the other hand, it's possible that Fallon, in translating Virgil, is (consciously or unconsciously) channeling Marvell (for an alternate translation, see here). Or the whole thing could be just coincidence. I suppose there are people out there who study / research this sort of thing and would know for sure. But frankly, I'm uninterested in whether I'm right or not. The speculation's the point.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Woke up this morning...

...and dreamed it was still night.


Singers have multiplied more than traffic lights.

I met one at the crossroads. He said, "Are you the Devil?"
Such hope in his eyes I had to say yes.

He said, "I'll pay no mind to your reputation."
I said, "I wouldn't sell it for less."

He said, "I've got no soul, but I've got a guitar"
I said, "I've got no money, but I've got the blues."
He said, "I've got something to offer."
I said, "I've got nothing to lose."


I met the devil at the crossroads and he said, "All I ever wanted was to play the blues."

He said, "I'll make a deal with you. I'll give you the wings of my back if you'll give me the song in your heart."

I said, "I know where this will end, but I don't know where to start."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Burning the oiled midnight

I lent the fire my nightmare and it ate up the house.

Afterwards, I oiled the burnt midnight, so the darkness would open silently, and let me pass through.

The couple two tables away

are breaking up. You can see it in her eyes: that half anxious, half indignant look as she talks and talks and waits for him to react. And in the way he adds sugar to his coffee, eyes focused on the task, the air of deliberation as he opens each packet and pours it in, taking care to let nothing spill. Empty packets clutter the table. This must be his sixth, maybe even his seventh. Soon he will have to stop adding sugar, will have to bring the cup to his lips. But the coffee will taste too sweet to him now, it will sicken him, disgust him. He will abandon it with something almost like relief, letting it sit there, growing cold on the table, until someone comes and clears it away.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


It's not that he's on his own. He's been on his own before, has lived alone for most of his adult life. It's that moving to this new place has meant entering a new circle of loneliness, a purer, more profound solitude. There are days now when he doesn't speak to another human being, not even to say hello or thank you, so that the sound of his own voice, as he reads a poem aloud, say, or a passage from a book, startles him, seems an imposition. He has taken to mouthing the words instead, appropriating the shapes of the phrases even as he maintains his own privacy.

Words are not all he appropriates. When he listens to music now he pretends to play along - guitar, piano, saxophone, cello - he has many imaginary talents, though the applause at the end is always the same. He has trouble reconciling his popularity in these daydreams with the reality of his social life. Could he really handle being in the spotlight all the time? He imagines himself as a enigmatic, hermit-like figure, refusing to grant interviews, offering no comment to the endless speculation about him in the press.

Or perhaps, (since the cost to his privacy seems hardly worth it), he could be one of those greats who are only discovered after their deaths? No, that would mean they would dig up all these details about him afterwards, come up with all sorts of salacious gossip, misinterpret who he was entirely.

So maybe it'd be better if he remained undiscovered, his talents obscured by some combination of natural reticence and missed opportunity. Maybe that was the kind of artist he was meant to be, an unsung genius, one of the thousands playing their music in suburban garages and empty nightclubs, just waiting for someone to notice them.

Yes, that seemed about right.

Loneliness is underrated

I've probably said this before, but there's really nothing like watching a movie when you're the ONLY ONE in the entire theater. It's like having a living room with a 20-foot high screen and impeccable surround sound. Plus, someone else makes the popcorn. What more could one ask for?

P.S. The movie, if you must know, was (500) Days of Summer, and is the source of the title of this post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

On Facebook

"Do we want to return to the womb? Not at all.
No one really desires the impossible:
That is only the image out of our past
We practical people use when we cast
Our eyes on the future, to whom freedom is
The absence of all dualities.
Since there never can be much of that for us
In the universe of Copernicus,
Any heaven we think it decent to enter
Must be Ptolomaic with ourselves at the centre."

- W. H. Auden

And there, in a nutshell, is the rationale for Facebook.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bookstore neurosis

Stock home syndrome: The urge to buy a book in order to 'rescue' it. Like finding a copy of Catcher in the Rye tucked away on a shelf of Harry Potter and Twilight books, and taking it home out of pure sympathy.

Deweydecimania: The need to rearrange books in a bookstore to restore them to proper alphabetical order. May be accompanied by indistinct muttering about people who put Marquez after Maugham.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

It's a woman's life, they said

You know what I don't get? Is the use of 'persuasion' to mean gender. You know, how people will say so-and-so is of the female persuasion. I mean, are we really to believe that so-and-so was going to be a man until someone came along and changed her mind? Is there some sort of special purgatory up there where large numbers of gender salesmen roam the mountain passes, trying to recruit people into their gender?

"You there, have you considered becoming a woman? It's really great, you know. Sure, you get treated like a second-class citizen pretty much anywhere you go, but on the flip side, you get to wear make-up and have lots more fashion choices and can always find someone to have sex with you, though there is the chance this may result in you ending up all bloated and gross and then having to undergo unimaginable pain, but it's all in the interest of propagating the species, and what's more, if you sign up for a lifetime subscription we give you this neat biological clock absolutely free! So what do you say? Yes, you'll join? Great! just sign here please. What's that? You'd rather be a man? Are you sure? Well, okay, but can I at least interest you in a fine set of encyclopedias?"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


To be convinced you're paranoid is a paranoia in itself.

Unless, that is, you really are paranoid.

Monday, August 03, 2009


After a while, you run out of mistakes to make.

Then you start to wonder - would it be a mistake to make the same mistake again? Isn't it better, since mistakes are inevitable, to pick one you already know how to survive?

Sunday, August 02, 2009


"the presence of his widow in my office caused my months of dogged rationalization to evaporate like virga."

- Stephen White (New York Times, Aug 1, 2009)

Okay, quick show of hands: how many of you knew that virga are wisps of precipitation that evaporate before they reach the ground?

Should I be depressed that pulpy crime thriller writers have a better vocabulary than I do?


Aida: the vulgarity of triumph and an extreme case of the Stockholm syndrome. Not to mention (in the case of Radames) really, really bad work-life balance.


The production of Aida I'd like to see would be one set on an early slave plantation (maybe around Memphis?) with Aida as the young girl sold into slavery, Amneris as the plantation owner's daughter, Radames as (initially) her beau and Amonasro as the leader of a slave revolt [1]. The whole thing preferably directed by Julie Taymor. If you think about it, it's actually fascinating how well that would work.


Isn't we've-been-buried-alive sex the best sex ever?


Just got back from a performance of Aida by the Minnesota Orchestra. A fine performance on the whole, though I think an opera loses something in being performed in concert rather than being fully staged, and that's particularly true of Aida with its rousing crowd scenes [2]. The soloists in general did a good job, though Carl Tanner did manage to show me a whole range of comic possibilities in the role of Ramades that I'd never seen before. But the star of the show was indisputably Latonia Moore, whose Aida was perfection itself.


[1] Actually, come to think of it, you could combine Aida with Gone With the Wind, with Scarlett = Amneris, Ashley = Ramades and Melanie = Aida. Can't you just see Olivia de Havilland singing O Patria Mia?

[2] It didn't help that for some reason they decided to have the chorus come and go in the middle of the performance. I assume this was supposed to make the concert more exciting, but on the whole it was more of a distraction. It's a lot harder to take Amneris' final protests over Ramades' fate seriously when you're watching three dozen men in tuxedos scrambling awkwardly to get into position behind her.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hunt and Picks

He's late. She leans back in her chair, stares into the fire, watching the quiet dance of its flames. The book at her knee is forgotten. Her mind wanders, imagining what it would be like to live like this, winter evenings spent at home, the soft certainty of domestic peace.

Lost in the daydream, her face is beautiful, the guilelessness of its repose belying her jewels and her dress. The glow of the fire fills the room with a kind of contentment. It is a lovely scene, made even more lovely by the knowledge that any moment now he will arrive and the trance will be broken, the illusion dissolved.

The painting is William Holman Hunt's Il Dolce Far Niente from an exhibition of Hunt's work at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Now, personally, I've never been big on the Pre-Raphaelites. They're nice enough, I suppose, but their work always strikes me as a little stodgy and well, Victorian, lacking the weight of the old Masters, the passion of the Impressionists and the wit and inventiveness of modern art. Still, there's something charming about an exhibition that includes scenes from Keats (The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro) and Shakespeare (Claudio and Isabella) instead of the usual biblical fare [1]. And Hunt is an exquisite draftsman, with an eye for telling detail, and an ability to capture emotion, even if his pallette strikes me as a little garish [2].

These qualities are perhaps best seen in Hunt's Finding of the Savior at the Temple (above). The group of Elders at the left is done in a way that would make the Old Masters proud - combining near photographic realism with a richness of variety and detail - and the figure of Mary clasping her son perfectly conveys both relief and solicitude. The boy Christ is hypnotic: burning with self-confidence and inner strength he stands free of all around him, effortlessly dominating the scene; yet for all that he is an unidealised figure, a portrait of an innocent and beautiful, vaguely middle-eastern twelve year old. But what makes the painting for me is the figure of the beggar sitting just outside the door, the perfect counterpoint to the lavish interior of the temple and a depiction (along with the figures in the right background, putting together what looks like a white coffin) of the distance between the reality of human suffering and the power-hungriness of organized religion. Mary's gesture of drawing her son away is thus two-fold, both the act of a mother concerned for her son, and a reminder, perhaps, that the true savior's place is not among the priests, disputing matters of metaphysics, but among the suffering and the needy.

Glorious as this painting is, however, it is easily outshone by Hunt's Lady of Shalott (below), easily the finest work on display at the MIA exhibition. I've always associated Tennyson's poem with another painting of the Lady, one by Waterhouse [3], but having seen Hunt's version I'm tempted to transfer my loyalties.

What makes this painting so vivid is the sheer violence of the scene, the sense, so perfectly conveyed, of a room, no, a world being shattered. The mirror cracks, the doves take off in panic, the flowers fall to the floor and the Lady's hair explode into a torch of raging fire, as if her senses had been set aflame. The Lady herself is tangled in thread from the weaving, thread that she is tugging off her, so that the painting becomes, literally, the portrait of a woman coming undone. And when you get past the first impact there are other, subtler touches. Like the depiction of Hercules picking the golden apples, with its echo of the fate of Atalanta, another occasion when a moment's break in concentration led to a permanent fall. Or the figure of Lancelot, so distant, so perfectly unaware, riding away in the sunshine of his freedom, seen in a mirror that is at once a porthole and a crystal ball. And is it just me, or does the pallette here look forward to Klimt, and don't those electric squiggles of yarn remind you of Pollock? The Lady of Shalott is an explosive, visionary work, one that makes a strong case for Hunt as a painter [4], and that, by itself, makes the MIA exhibition worth a visit.

[1] I'm particularly fond of the latter painting, because of the way Hunt sets up the contrast between Claudio's flashiness and Isabella's sobriety, a contrast echoed in reverse by the lyre hanging behind her shoulder and the chains lying at his feet.

[2] One result of this is that in many cases I find that I prefer the etchings that reproduce Hunt's paintings - some of which are included in the exhibition - to the paintings themselves.

[3] I'm told that Waterhouse's connection to the Pre-Raphaelites is a somewhat tenuous one, but to me he's very much part of the genre, and arguably my favorite of the lot.

[4] The exhibition focuses mostly on Hunt's work, though a few paintings by others are included: a couple of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's (notable only for the fact that it's not everyday you find a painting accompanied by two technically perfect sonnets describing it) and Arthur Hughes' Long Engagement, which is like a portrait of how the Arnolfinis would have turned out if they'd been too poor to marry.