The City XVIII

I am the interval between what I am and what I am not, between what I dream and what life has made of me, the abstract carnal half-way house between things, like myself, that are nothing. Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet.

Leaning out the back doorway of the building into the dirty alley where we keep the trash cans, I smoked and looked at the snow on the ground. There was a fresh dust and still white. I looked up at the shapes of the buildings that closed me in. A narrow space, cut in a dozen directions all the way up to the sliver through which I could see the sky. Grey and low and dense. A dense grey above, a dense white below. More snow falling around.

There are over a hundred years in the building, in the doorway, of looking out into the space of the alley. People gone and forgotten; not even ghosts; the building holds just vague evidence of all of us… looking out the back door into the alley.

I thought about being nobody and I liked the thought of being nobody. I thought, this is the most noble aspiration: to be nobody. Stop exerting and expressing. Stop my vain scribbling and jabbering. It is all so futile and wasteful all that expressing, all that being someone, clamoring and fussing. Fighting to Be over all the other someones. None of us really become someone. All just white noise and clutter, forgotten if ever noticed.

I watched the light snow just appear. It didn’t fall, really; just appeared and floated around, each flake losing its each-ness as soon as it touched the snow on the ground; an old wooden pallet underneath and trash cans all around indifferent to snow or not snow.

I should do the same; float around, appear and disappear until I blend and fade into frozen layers which cancel as much as they multiply, only to melt in a few days or weeks.

I thought: what a privilege to be nobody.

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Fragment XIX

Remains poetry, that is the account of man and his various vital situations and poetry to-day being purely and simply the pastime of licensed apes or laggards purple in the face, the fine flowers of bilge, the hoist to politics, the scramble for applause, etc. I will be an apoet the Apoet too no doubt, consigning with care to poetry’s galvanic zone no man’s land and subterraneans, even as it oxygenated ever. “Apoem 4.” Henri Pichette. Translated by Samuel Beckett.

 

Beginning with the account of man; rather than to justify the ways of God to man, the account of man which I have in my own way provided from a minuscule perch in a miniscule place. A poeticule, if you will, in the forms of both prose in the traditional sense and verse prose I modelled after writers I admire however much I may have come up short on this last account, the failings are my own even if the attempts were sincere. In fragments and short bursts which I justify after the fact with still other examples from literature and poetry when in fact the fragment form comes to me primarily out of a complete inability to finish something once it is started. Laziness and self-doubt, really. Nevertheless, there are ample examples from the greats, from the account of man.

The account of man as poetry. Poets who take account of man. The narrative account that is man. Man as narrative. The ontology of man and man as phenomenon and the account provided over the centuries by poets with man, his narrative, his ontological presence being the chief concern of poets through the ages even unto today. Today, here, where everything is nowhere.

Sprawling desert of four and even six lanes, interchanges to more deserts of four and six lanes. All dotted with Starbuck’s, McDonald’s, Autozone, Speedway, fuel zones, food zones, feeding zones, parking zones, speeding zones. Everything moves in all directions. Vast parking areas, oases in the desert for caravans of sows, boars, and piglets chaotic free for alls even with directional arrows and dotted lines painted on the blacktop. A giant Ikea and a giant Golf center, Walmart, Target anchors infinite fallout zones on either side. Where roads end, they never end, dead grass, piled up gravel, fences and signs, no access. It—that—no land beyond the signs and the gravel and the fences. A void to be dammed up beyond the boulevards named after a town and a center for a town which has no center with name transformed into a Towne Centre. Off, away in the pre-fab houses formed in a circle, encircled by more pre-fab houses attached to four and six lanes; access roads and rectangular parcels fenced and green, accessible to the Towne Centre Boulevard named after a dead Indian; nothing underneath, no road ahead, nothing but sky above. A geographical bull’s eye where every microscopic instance of earth is itself the bull’s eye everyone hits with their God-given dreams “sacrificing all intellect, all aesthetics in a process of literal transcription into the real.”

One hour and ten minutes from one end of the trip to the other, the bus winds through the city from the square, its point of origin at least on the map, on the schedule, though it makes something of a circle; if not a circle, a cycle which would necessarily mean that there is no origin other than an arbitrary mark made by just about anyone. It would not matter who made the mark of origin since the cycle of the bus is effectively infinite. Up the main boulevard out of the city and toward… We become increasingly cramped; people standing, clutching the straps to steady themselves with one hand and filing through electronic devices with the other hand, staring down in any case, avoiding the other at all costs; jostling each other around with the sway and bump of the bus moving up the hill out of the city proper; into the outlying neighborhoods, each named for something no one knows anything about and through wealth, decay, indifference, renewal, schools, universities, hospitals, old and new—up and to the left then immediately to the right and down a hill and to the left and down another hill, more people get on the bus; only a few get off the bus. We head up a hill. Heading north, I climb out of my seat to find more space, more freedom in the back of the bus; heading north, I head south. The span of the bus an expanse of freedom moving south as the bus heads north. Now into where the world becomes open and a great desert of life opens up in all directions, but mostly north. “…the screaming silence of no’s knife in yes’s wound” north until it stops and I gain that moment of movement from there to here, a space of spaces I look around for a place to piss.

The City XVII

Staring at phones, scrolling through the screen; one finger

Poised

Over the plastic rectangle; eyes down intent

An old man holds his head in his hands wrinkling his wrinkled face with his knuckles. Eyes closed hardly any sign of breathing, he is so far inside himself…

To my right an elderly couple stare off into the nowhere that is here that is nowhere

Resolved to waiting… and waiting… in the waiting room where we are waiting.

Killing the day in the public health clinic

Sterile and harsh overhead fluorescent lights make us all look like pale corpses waiting to not be corpses.

Talk of sober living houses at the registration window and talk of nothing between strangers and no talking at all between most of us trying not to look at each other waiting.

Across the room where beauty died in childhood now waits in full make-up and hair brushed out long and blonde

A lost jock athlete his pot belly bulging from rehab donuts and mountain dew reading a crap novel

Young and looking more like 50 sunken face scribbled over with wrinkles from the scrawl of the street and from heroin she makes it out for the elevator.

On the wall for us to read, a library of diseases

[phone key tones from behind the sliding glass doors hiss and screech of terminal reaching terminal]

Silence… dull silence; murmurs the clock slows down the more you look at it 10:00 becomes 10:25

The faces will tell you who knows the drill and who is someplace they never thought they would be

Backpacks, bulky fake designer purses, plastic bags—our shit stuffed in because who knows what you might need want find what the hell did I bring this for

The door opens and they call a name. one goes in one goes out two more walk in from outside all day long everyday ad infinitum forever and ever amen.

(eyeballs tattooed on the back of his head and flames shooting up his scalp shit-dirty hoodie)

A form asked for my religion and gave me a list of options including “atheist.” I checked “other” and wrote in my vote for “pagan.” Another form asked me if I knew how to read.

It is December 1st we sacrifice today for life another day.

But in the end, nothing hurt all that much. I now have one less part of me, didn’t hurt all that much.

 

Fragment XVIII

One’s life should be so arranged that it remains a mystery to other people, so that those who know one best in fact no one as little as anyone else, only from a slightly nearer vantage point. That is how, almost without thinking, I have designed my life, but such was the instinctive art I put into it that even to myself my individuality is not entirely clear-cut or precise. (Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet. 134 [202], p. 134.

 

In this case the title of the book cannot be ignored as we attempt to read these statements. What is disquiet but a vague sense of alienation that comes from within. Rather than a disturbance which intrudes on the mind or the heart from an external force, disquiet comes from ourselves. We experience disquiet in those moments when we are set against ourselves in a way we cannot really organize or settle. We are dis-quieted to the extent that our inner equilibrium is unbalanced. The other is me, in this case.

The passage is given as a prescription for how to organize our lives. We are to take this as wisdom, I suppose. Those interpersonal connections which are ostensibly deep and meaningful should actually be kept in a state of remove that is on the level of perfect and total strangers. Those who feel they are intimately bound up in our lives are in fact only intimate to the extent that they are in a more immediate proximity to us. They are not “in” us anymore than random people on the street. The speaker here remains a stranger to everyone. Those who know him best are every bit as foreign, as alien as the stranger. Closeness is an illusion created by the false intimacy of proximity.

And we are to align ourselves with others in the same way. We can allow others to get a closer look, but they must never be allowed in. The feeling of intimate connection that others feel for and with us must always be something of a trick. Others should feel they know us in the deepest ways when in fact they do not know any more about us than a common stranger.

The speaker explains that he has learned to live this way as an “instinctive art.” Such a convolution of terms… Instinct, nature, innate; and art, that which is carefully crafted, the work of genius, an aesthetic process and product. To live according to this regimen is to internalize it and make it such a feature of oneself that it is as fundamental as the instinct to breathe and as pure as the finest motions of art. The process described is a feature of the most interior aspects of the self.

What is more, if this design is carefully brought about, if it is lived in a manner that is absolutely artful in its purposeless purpose, we will experience ourselves in exactly the same way and according to the same design. Our sense of self should be an experience we know immediately, that is without mediation, and one that is illusory; our “Selves” are, in fact, the same perfect strangers and the same random strangers we never know and the intimates who believe they experience us on an interior level. The interior self, the exterior close associates, and the alien are all on the same plane of alienation, each experience our inner world only by an accident of proximity. Even that inner world is itself external and alien. We mis-recognize our inner being as interior when in fact it is entirely exterior and ultimately unknown and unknowable. The one feature we believe to be absolutely unified, completely unto itself, is our very self. We live as if there is no space, no disconnection between our experience of ourselves and the Being of ourselves. But in truth, these inner features, these “essences” are external and alien, and all that is outside of ourselves, all those who circulate in the living orbit of our lives, are also completely alien to us so that, our inner experience is an alien other removed from all others no matter how close. We are not ourselves even to ourselves. All others who “know” us know only an alien other that is removed from the person they are certain they know.

Living this now, living something akin to Baudrillard’s “internal exile,” I have come to know the world only through this system. It is not even a system. It is a mystification of the Real which I now experience as the Real. Others have become more and more unknown to me. All the illusions I once preserved and nurtured which named me and gave me a point of purchase by which I oriented myself to the world have become silly stories. The only narrative I can hold onto anymore is a fragmented word game. There is comfort in letting go of pleasing illusions and immerse oneself in vague illusion. To recognize that it is all alien and illusory, that “I” am nowhere, that I am an other.

The City XVI

“Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer?” Fitzgerald. The Beautiful and the Damned. 

The sign painters came today.

High on scaffolds at least three-high,

they painted the side of an old building.

Some years ago, it was another old building that was not so lucky. It fell under the wrecking ball and the lot was cleared.

The loss revealed a ghost sign on the wall of the adjacent building.

Hidden for all these years was a sign; 

just a common commercial sign.

Apotheke

Written in German when this part of the city was populated by people whose first language, even if they were born here, was German.

Probably over 100 years old, that sign.

Written in that old font, that old-country font.

Once revealed it just remained there, fading and looking down on people who know nothing of Germany.

Fading… The old neighborhood faded with it.

Now the big money people are here,

with visions of beautiful visions they stretched a beautiful skin over the fades, cracks, and wrinkles.

Made it all beautiful.

They put up signs to explain all the old German things.

Beautiful people come and drink authentic German drinks.

Today the sign painters came and painted over the old building.

Painted the wall an antique grey.

With great care, with artistic skill, they painted the letters in that old time font against a yellow background

“Apotheke”

Restored it…

Fragment XVII

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They know no gesture, no thought, perhaps no desire or intention, which does not culminate in a monstrous enlargement of their bodies, an irremediable excrescence.

Or rather, what is very much worse, they are unhappily incapable of monstrosity: despite all their efforts to “express themselves,” they never succeed in doing more than repeating the same expression, the same leaf, a million times over.

From Fauna and Flora by Francis Ponge

I found some vivid blue blooms in early November. The leaves of this plant (which I cannot identify, I know little about plants and flowers) are all just as vividly green. The plant and flowers have sprung open as they are meant to do. They serve only to propagate the plant and make more of itself, to express the same leaves “a million times over.” The flower serves the same biological function. For all of the aesthetic value we assign these things, they really only exist in order to sustain the systems of pollination and propagation. The plant itself blooms and spreads leaves as an expression of a genetic sequence which only reproduces that same genetic sequence. The flowers and leaves do not exist “for us.” Plant life—flora—exists “in-itself.”

Surrounding this plant there are others which are in their proper state of dormancy. They have shut down for the season. The death we witness in the Fall, itself caught up in another set of aesthetic signifying regimes, provides the backdrop for this scene. I can see brown, grey, yellow which becomes a more brilliant gold, and there are varying shades of green that seem to shed the vibrant green of growth and reveal a slide into the Winter’s coming freeze and death. These features seem appropriate to this time of year. We are in the thick of Autumn, not the early onset in which Summer and Fall fight it out for supremacy.

The backdrop for these blue flowers and their living stems and leaves betrays the facts of the living plant. It shows the trick up the magician’s sleeve and the magic spell is broken. The entire scene is a lie and we can see it even as the plant attempts to tell us its story and stick with it. However, plants—flora—are not capable of any kind of monstrosity. They cannot tell lies or perform magic– not even poorly performed magic. Something is wrong but it is not in the blue flowers. Living with a total lack of desire and intension, plants also lack the guile that could be behind these signs of false life. Everything is out of joint, this is certain, but it is the plant that is played the fool.

A cruel trick, a global trick that convinced this vegetation to come to life, bloom out in order to receive bees, and get ready to express leaves and express itself a million times over took advantage of a thing which cannot know. There is neither innocence nor experience. Only existence. Stirred to exist at its highest, it is duped into exposing itself to an onslaught which will freeze its interior. Its dormant state will get denied and it will simply freeze in its imperceptible movements. It is as if we coaxed it into the peak of its life in order to murder it at its most viable. The cruelty of it all could never have been anticipated in past times. Only our time is capable of such callousness. Only our time is capable of such vanity.

The City XV

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She wears a black and red flannel shirt; buffalo-check, I think they call it.

Short hair—bright blonde hair, and wavy against her face, sunken just a little

She asked me for something: a cigarette, change, food—I don’t know. I couldn’t make out the words

Her voice too soft for my ears to make out words.

There is still life in her face– and fear, and heart-ache, and a shred of hope.

She smiled and she still showed the smile of a living girl; not the lifeless undead who walk for heroin.

But her teeth were blackened. The smile was dying from within.

The next morning my neighbor found her sleeping in the cab of his truck; called the police before he realized who she was.

Surrounded by cops (at least four cars and six cops), she looked at her reflection in the truck window and tried to fix her hair, smoothing it down around her face.

She lit the remains of cigarette butts she pulled out of the pocket of her jeans

Still wearing that black and red buffalo-check flannel

The city is not a big city; not the kind of city where they make cop shows or action movies.

But the city will eat you. The city will probably eat her.

In a week or a month…

Hope will leave her

Heart-ache will leave her

Fear will leave her

Life will leave her