Sunday, May 31, 2009

A fanatic

is someone who cares more about ideology than about ideas.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Apocalypse

is never personal. It can no more happen to you than you can happen to a speck of cigarette ash.

It is not that the universe is incapable of malice. If it knew we existed it would despise us. Or pity us. But it's too busy to care.

I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares

The world is unfair, but impartial.

We are abandoned children. We seek conspiracy in the stars.

Betraying Chopin

"Don't remember the music;
remember it as something obvious
that you are compelled, doomed, to obscure
and complicate. You erase it twice.
The first time
as you listened, unable
to have it,
the second time
as you were unable
to remember it."

- Arda Collins, 'Not for Chopin' from It Is Daylight (Yale University Press, 2009)

Friday, May 29, 2009

On Cowardice

Cowards come back to a thousand lives.

The valiant stay dead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Allegro Marcato

The handpump of history creaks in the night.

Death is sealed and hollow.

The taste of iron leaks into the water, like the voices of the lost singing under the music.

A rusted day gushes from the dawn.

(inspired by Honegger's Symphony no. 3)

Heartbreak - 1

The first time is easy. You gamble, you take the hit. You pretend that the pain is making you stronger. You wonder what you did wrong, though you secretly know the answer. You do not want to believe in inevitability. It all seems very romantic, a kind of validation, the comfort of knowing that what you lost was real. You tell yourself despair is a grown-up emotion. And you can't help feeling a little proud.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


He hasn't lost it.

He hasn't. It's here. Somewhere. Underneath all this mess. It has to be. He saw it the other day. It couldn't simply have vanished. He just has to find it. Just has to look more carefully. It's sure to turn up.

At least, he hopes so.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A blurring of lines

This is what the whiskey helps with - not forgetting, but a blurring of lines.

Sip by slow sip the past comes back to him.

Everything glows. Sadness, like the light at sunset, touches all things golden.

If only there was something left to wait for.

After the fourth drink the old songs make sense to him. Lena Horne singing Stormy Weather. The sweetness of lost disturbances, of rooms through which no one moves.

He's had enough. He fumbles about for the bottle cap but cannot find it. He gives up, pours himself another.

His throat aches.

Dark outside now. He should turn on the light, draw the curtain. Instead he sits, watching the streetlight come through the window, the shadow of the wind chime on his bedroom wall.

Two wind-stirred figures, dancing delicately apart.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The search for transcendence


trying to put one over.

Concentric Paths

Thomas Ades Violin Concerto Op. 24

What, exactly, does time circle?

Scale after shimmering scale, the music a snake, feeding on itself.

The coin spinning to rest on the table has its own symmetry, its own precision.

An agitation building to silence.

The slower hand of the sunlight, the faster hand of the storm.


If the machine has a soul it must be broken.

The bow runs across the strings like a knife across a thumbprint.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One Downsmanship

I step into the elevator behind you, wait for you to press your floor.

You hit 6.

I pause for a moment, then hit 5.

I try hard not to smirk.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009


Does it still qualify as a nightmare if it makes you sad, but not afraid?


In the dream I'm meeting with my analyst and we have a breakthrough. I discover that for the last 25 years I've been repressing the memory of a tragic accident I had as a child. I can't believe I've been hiding this from myself all these years. It explains so much.

When I wake up I think - what was the dream trying to tell me?


I don't believe in psychoanalysis. Apparently, my subconscious does.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


"This is no coincidence."

"You know, I was thinking the exact same thing."

Laugh about it, shout about it

Two elections.

Both marked by lackluster alternatives.

Both resulting in outcomes that are cause for relief, if not for celebration.

Friday, May 15, 2009

An embarassment of Rich

"Applied to a particular historical subject, the feminist passion yields conclusions which, however true, are extremely general. Like all capital moral truths, feminism is a bit simple-minded. That is its power and, as the language of Rich's letter shows, that is its limitation."

- Susan Sontag

Via Book Bench, a link to a glorious exchange between Adrienne Rich and Susan Sontag, which, in my opinion at least, Sontag (no surprise!) wins hands down.

Cause of death

"Loneliness is not a cause of death"

- Jean-Luc Godard, Made in U.S.A.

A consequence. Or a disguise.

Consciousness neither alive nor dead, like a cat with nine dreams.

A coward with nine deaths.

A murderer with nine wives.

Neither heaven nor hell but a beforelife, an irreconcilable solitude, time's reflection in a mirror that may or may not be your soul.

Not a cause, but a reason.


Not cheating when you can is stupid. And getting caught irrelevant.

All that matters is that you not lie to yourself about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I told you they wouldn't understand. Not at first anyway. They're small-minded that way, the lot of them. Not bigoted, you understand - they mean well - just slow, and a little petty. They'll come around in time. Probably. And if they don't, well, that's their problem. You don't need them. Not really. It would be nice to have them on your side, but you don't need them. You don't. Oh, come on. You can't mean that. You've got to learn to stand up for yourself. For who you are, what you believe. You can't let them bully you. That's what they want, you know. They're refusing to understand it because they're hoping that if they don't understand it pretty soon you won't understand it either and it'll all go away. I don't mean they're pretending not to understand it, I mean they're choosing not to. And you've got to deny them that choice. You've got to force them. And you can do it too. I'm telling you you can. And besides, you'll have to now. So maybe this is a good thing, their not understanding it. Maybe it'll force you to grow up a little. Show a little backbone. Not just sit there sniveling all the time. What? You want me to lie to you, want me to treat you with kid gloves. Why? Because of who you are? Is that really what you want? Is that why you're doing this, because you want special treatment? I thought you wanted equality. I thought that was what this was about. Oh, all right. I'm sorry. I know you're having a hard time. I didn't mean to shout at you, I really didn't, it's just that sometimes...look, forget it. You know I'm on your side. You do know that, don't you? So what if they don't understand? Like I said, I'm sure they'll come around eventually. I just didn't realize it meant that much to you. I didn't think you'd be so upset. You shouldn't have told them if it was going to hurt you this badly. I told you they wouldn't understand.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Game

This is the kind of thing they don't teach you at school.

All those years of waiting, hoping, wanting to learn how to play. And then you find out there are no rules, that there isn't even really a game. Just a confused back and forth with no one keeping score.

No way to tell if you're winning. Always afraid that you've lost.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Troubling allure

Troubling allure of eating disorder books

- Headline from the NY Times, May 11, 2009

What's for dinner tonight, honey? Ah, that book on schizophrenia I caught at Barnes & Noble last week. Yum!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A beacon from Troy

In the mountains the shortest way is from peak to peak, Nietzsche writes but for that route thou must have long legs.

And I think of Klytaimestra and her beacons: tongues of fire singing, from peak to peak, the fall of Troy.

Landscape as poetry. Death's trochees written across the sky.

Something is left unreconciled in this relay of tragedy to tragedy. Not a meeting of eyes, but the demand of one eye for another.


An exercise in bad form: To end an epic battle with a haiku of blood.

Three quick stabs is all it took. The red carpet a bloodline, bringing Agamemnon to his award.

O Apollo! Apollo!

Not a poetic fate, but fate as poetry.


The shortest distance between two silences is a unspoken line.


The old men wouldn't believe it at first. They wanted more, not fire and smoke but words, clear as a mirror,

reflecting a hope newly shaven,

reflecting heads newly shaved.


Poetry and prose. Smoke and mirrors.

They say it's seven years bad luck to kill a messenger. But Klytaimestra had been waiting for ten.

Besides, there were two messengers. The other came from the future, a future to which she would not return.

What she had in common with fire was language, its knowledge laughing and untouched.

Smoke and mirrors. Prophecy and news.


In the end, it didn't matter that fire was the truer herald. By the time they understood her, it had all turned to ash.

N.B. The italicised phrase in the middle comes from Anne Carson's magnificent new translation of Aiskhylos' Agamemnon, which this post is largely inspired by.


When he awakes his eyes are a little less bloodshot, his beard a little more gray.

Perhaps it'll be better today.

He lets the water run in the basin for a minute, untouched, then turns off the tap.

No, not yet.

He goes back to the bed, sits by the phone, feet on the carpet, waiting for the wake-up call.

When it comes, he lets the phone ring four times before he answers, then tries to sound sleepy as he says "Yes, yes, thank you."

It's a small victory, but the minute he puts the phone down the tiredness reclaims him.

It begins again, just as he knew it would.


She can't understand why he hasn't confronted her about her suspicions, now that they've been proven untrue.

Could it be that there was something to it after all? No, impossible. But maybe there's something else, something he's not telling her, something he feels guilty about. Maybe that's why he hasn't picked a fight.

Or maybe he doesn't care about the way she acted. Maybe all the time she was upset he didn't even notice. Or maybe that's what he expects of her, maybe he sees her that way - as shrewish and untrusting.

Or maybe it's all a ploy. Maybe he's saving it up for the future, planning to use it against her the next time they have a fight. Maybe he thinks he can punish her more this way - by pretending to be the bigger person.

Or maybe, just maybe, he actually is the bigger person?

No, she doesn't think so.

Friday, May 08, 2009


I forget, but I do not forgive.

Outrages persist like old report cards, buried away in some drawer, their scribbled grades still unfair.

I set my memories free years ago. Today one returns, having claimed everyone's past in my name. Thirsty, and a little lame, but irrevocably mine.

Childhood is a time of unforgivable happiness.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Basics

Writing 4,000 words of my dissertation in a single day

+ Discovering a new poet

+ Simon Rattle conducting Bruckner

+ Dark chocolate

= Happiness


I can tell you suspect nothing. Which is why this confession is necessary. Ignorance is one thing, innocence another.

No, I can't explain everything.

Some things I don't understand myself. Others I could explain but don't think I should. There are things, of course, that I could explain, but with everything I would have to leave out it hardly seems worth it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Il Viaggio a Reims

In other news, I just got back from one of the worst opera performances I've ever seen. The Curtis Opera Theatre's production of Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims.

Part of the problem, of course, was that it was Rossini (and mediocre Rossini at that) - which meant that the music was trite, uninspired and repetitive and all the characters sounded exactly like each other. But I was expecting that. What I wasn't expecting was a campy, sophomoric production comprised entirely of the kind of overdone slapstick that only below average high school students could possibly find amusing. I mean seriously, compared to this stuff the Austin Powers films would have seemed witty and sophisticated [1].

Which was a shame because if you closed your eyes and ignored the shenanigans on stage there was some real talent on display. Allison Sanders brought power and soul to her role as Marchesa Melibea, Evan Hughes (who was spectacular as Don Giovanni earlier this year) continued to impress and Elizabeth Reiter sang an exquisite Corinna. None of that really mattered though, because the silliness on stage entirely eclipsed any musical merit the production may have had.

[1] Which didn't stop the woman sitting next to me from squealing with hysterical laughter every 30 seconds or so - a fact that no doubt contributed to my annoyance with the performance.

What's in a name?

Via Book Bench, the news that German courts have decided to limit hyphenated last names to three. I wonder what that means for the greatest name in German baroque music?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Love Poetry

Writing a good love poem is hard.

When you manage to write one you really like or, at the very least, are prepared to live with, you want to hold on to it, then measure everyone you meet against it till you find someone who's right.

Don't even think about trying it the other way round. After all, people are just what you make of them. Poems, on the other hand, are real.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Lean on me

We all need somebody to lean on the song says. And I imagine the world as an endless line of dominoes, each sharing a little, but not all, of its weight with the one next to it, the whole system of support and coercion running its course until we come to the final domino, the one that is both the last and the first to fall (because the others haven't fallen, they're leaning), the one who bears (filtered through six billion fractions) the weight of the world on his shoulders, Chief Stopped Buck, the only one, in the end, who can take the collapse of the world lying down.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Notes on echo

After Me



The artist's dilemma: To become an echo, one must first find a voice.


For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Narcissus and his Echo-o.


And what of Ripple? Who took the beauty of her beloved and bore it, in fragments, to the edge of every sea?


The sound of emptiness clearing its throat.


What do you know of loss, whose cries come back to you? There are greater abysses. Frightful, sheer, no man-fathomed.

The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence

Nor is it insincere to say: Ask and you shall be answered. All answers are coincidences.


Qaasid ke aate aate khat ek aur likh rakhoon
Main jaanta hoon jo voh likhenge jawaab main

Ghalib at the tavern, waiting to judge the depth of her feelings not by the content of her message, but the speed of her reply.

Hamne maana ki tagaphul na karoge lekin
Khaak ho jayenge ham tumko khabar hone tak.

Ghazals like sonar, symmetric with anticipation. The plumbed echoes of language stirring ghosts from long ago.


What did Echo say when she realized she'd made a mistake?



Je t'aime

Life: Third Degree

No, I didn't see the trigger being pulled, the bullet finding the wound and entering it, the swoon of metal meeting flesh. By the time I turned to look the facts were on the ground and the woman was leaving. Which is to say I missed it, as usual. Death is elsewhere.

Afterwards you took down our names and phone numbers, said we might be called as witnesses.

But you never called.

I suppose it's better to live in the shadow of tragedy than in the shadow of greatness. At least this way what you feel is not envy, but smallness. As though your existence didn't matter, and this was something to be grateful for.

If you had called me I would have answered, would have taken the stand reluctantly, would have told you everything I know, which would have proved too little. We would have walked away from the moment without conviction, knowing our doubts were reasonable and our reasons doubtful.

Just once I would like to say "It was me. I did it. I'm the one you want."

After that, I would go quietly.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Yes, Faust struck a bargain.

Your love was worth so much more than a soul.

In the end, who was fooled? The one who'd never known love or the one who'd never known hell?

P.S. Just got back from a Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, Simon Rattle conducting.