Day 298 4/20/14: Enduring Fragments from Abandoned Poems

When the subconscious offers so much free material, it seems a shame to waste it. But not all dreams make the creative cut and become poems….

***

My mother asked where would you be if you could be anywhere?

 

I felt foolish. I couldn’t conjure a specific place.

 

I could only think: Water.

 

***

My brother was Frankenstein.

 ***

The victim had been found floating, his body contorted into some sort of obscene, folded position like a yogi.

 

The man and the woman claimed to be actors. They visited me at my bedside, in a room with a peaked roof and a large window.

 

“We’re playing Jason and Medea,” the woman explained.

 

“But what attracted you to the Greeks?” I asked.

 

“Well, they’re just so weird,” she said, and began to talk about historic personages and gods as they were interchangeable.

 

“The Gods weren’t always so weird,” she said.

 

Each time I stopped to think about what she’d said, I’d look out the window where water was always rising.  No lawn, no grassy border, no bank separated my house from the water that filled the windowpanes. The water looked wild, full of lines and patterns that formed and disappeared into one another. Instead of feeling scared, I felt comforted as if somehow I was rising and dissolving too. 502px-Medea-Sandys

Day 296 4/18/14: Courage, Diction, Breath

medea3On the threshold of a new obsession, I ask: how much do I want to know of Maria Callas?

Did she really throw a shoe at someone?

Was she better fat or thin?

What was the texture of her exile?

How much of the transcendence I feel  is because I do not understand the words she sings and how much is just the sheer miracle of her voice?

My brother Sean reminds me of the poet Frank O’Hara who, as Allen Ginsberg once said, “loved everything.” O’Hara understood that a poet could not afford to fall out of love with poetry. Frank O’Hara loved movie gossip and he loved painting and he loved the ballet. Sean loves punk rock and film noir he loves baseball and he loves ballet and he loves Maria Callas. Once Sean took me to the Boston Ballet. As beautiful as it was, I felt alienated. It’s a story of gesture, I told myself, of yearning, of emotion. Get out of your head. While Sean swooned and even cheered his favorite dancers, while he transcribed his rapture in a worn pocket notebook, I fell asleep. When I woke up and there was a huge ship onstage. The ship seemed to cleave straight through my gauzy dream shreds, and the elegant, muscular and utterly alien narrative that had unfolded on that stage. Admire ballet? Marvel at it? Yes, but “get” it, even on a visceral level, no.

Around that same time, Sean gave me “Master Class” by Maria Callas. I don’t know Puccini from Verdi. I don’t know Italian. Sure, if the opera is “Macbeth” or “Medea,” I have a bit of a frame for the foreign sounds, but otherwise I have no clue what’s being mourned or exalted. But it doesn’t matter. When Maria Callas sings, I am enthralled. I want to live inside the story of her voice, a place both cavernous and intimate. Maybe it’s the draw of the unfamiliar. Her voice reminds me of unexplored Aegean, all the places I never got to see on my all-too brief tour of Greece. Her face is the drama of landscape, the stark, savage, beautiful and frightening.

Part of my deep attraction to “Master Class” is its documentation of process, of Callas’ comments to her students at Juilliard:

Remember always feel the words you are saying.

 You must do it a little cleaner.

 No. The “R” must not be heard.

 I know it’s difficult on the breath, but it must not be heard, eh?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the poetic process was as collaborative? If there were some rehearsal hall of the mind, where the predominant voice was not the relentless critic, the internalized harpy, but the compassionate master there with us as we construct each line, test it, cross it out try again, the voice that never overwhelmed us with its own skill, but remained a guide there to remind us:

Love the phrase that you are singing

 However difficult Maria Callas might have been in reality doesn’t matter to me. I only want to find within myself that voice that understands the nuance of word and breath, the abiding presence that cares how and where the notes or words are placed and will not be fooled by “fireworks,” but insists on “expression.”

All my main gods are men. John Lennon, James Joyce, Bob Dylan. I have a few goddesses: Virginia Woolf. Marilyn Monroe. What does a goddess give one that a god does not? I don’t know. But when I see scenes from Pasolini’s film adaptation of Medea, I want to scale the stark Anatolian hill and follow Maria Callas inside that severe temple.

My old writing teacher John Rechy used to keep pictures of his goddesses on the wall: Garbo and Marilyn. “She was a creation!” John used to cry when trying to articulate the majesty of Marilyn. I loved that description. A creation! Equal parts self-invention and natural force. John’s students met at a dining room table underneath these glamorous triptychs—two Garbos and a Monroe, if I’m not mistaken.

While we worship  the cheekbones and shadows and fierce eyebrows, we often forget that creation is a process. “Master Class” reminds us of how instructive, how valuable it is to see how a song, a phrase, a voice is made.

Once I stepped out of a New York blizzard into the sanctuary of a quiet library to see the original manuscript of “The Wasteland” and I remember thawing out under the yellow light and looking at the marked up pages, Eliot’s naive and simple stanzas nearly obliterated by Pound’s insights, his demands. I remember the delight of driving from Boston to New York with a fellow Beatles freak who found listening to twelve consecutive versions of “No Reply” to be not only a delight, but a serious education in phrase and harmony and desperate joy.

We each have our own masters inside already– echoes and layers—all that we’ve read and heard and loved and memorized. We don’t need to dissect their legends, but to draw on the deep pool of their mystery, of genius. We need those teachers, those great loves to become strangers to us again and again, their eternity fresh, and powerful and sharp, their names forgotten, unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 294 4/16/14: Brody’s Book of Nightmares

“Jaws” fans will recall the eerie, tense but oddly tender scene in which a nervous Chief Brody tries to understand the nature of the formidable creature that has “staked a claim in the waters off Amity Island” by flipping through a stack of shark books, the images of various grinning jaws and gruesome wounds reflected in his glasses. The wondrous blog Haunted Closet has lovingly catalogued and compiled all of the images from a 1968 National Geographic and books by Cousteau and others. I love the meticulous detective work of fans!

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Day 293 4/15/14: The Way of the Animal Powers

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Revisiting the work of Joseph Campbell, I came across this passage from his book “The Way of the Animal Powers”:

“The animal envoys of the Unseen Power no longer serve, as in primeval times, to teach and guide mankind. Bears, lions, elephants, ibexes and gazelles are in cages in our zoos. Man is no longer the newcomer in the world of unexplored plains and forests, and our immediate neighbors are not wild beasts but other human beings, contending for goods and space on a planet that is whirling without end around the fireball of a star. Neither in body nor in mind do we inhabit the world of those hunting races of the Paleolithic millennia, to whose lives and life ways we nevertheless owe the very forms of our bodies and structures of our minds. Memories of their animal envoys must sleep, somehow, within us; for they wake a little and stir when we venture into wilderness. They wake in terror to thunder. And again they wake, with a sense of recognition, when we enter any one of those great painted caves. Whatever the inward darkness may have been to which the shamans of those caves descended in their trances, the same must lie within ourselves, nightly visited in sleep.”

 

Day 292: 4/14/14: Chinese Billionaire Named “Shark Guardian”

images-3After so much sad stuff about the shark cull and drum lines in Australia, it’s nice to read this inspiring story about four  Chinese businessmen who fought to get shark fin soup off the menu at government banquets.

Day 291 4/13/14: 2 Minutes to Save Australia’s Sharks!

While the shark cull continues in Western Australia, sharks and other fish are also victims of drum lines (traps with baited hooks that kill sharks and other marine life indiscriminately). Neither the “culling” of sharks nor the presence of drum lines is likely to prevent future attacks by great white sharks in Western Australia, but only weaken an already stressed eco-system by removing its apex predators and other marine life. Please take just a few minutes and send an e-mail to the Australian government to ask them not to extend the use of drum lines! After the e-mail information, you can also check out the list of suggested resources to include in your letter. (Thanks Melissa Michaelson for posting this on FB).

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HOW TO SEND AN E-MAIL: 

Urgent Time Sensitive Message from ‪#‎noWAsharkcull‬
In March, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) chose NOT to assess WA’s drum line policy because they deemed it to be of ‘very limited duration’ and so they said that it ‘will not have a significant impact on the environment’. This was when the policy was due to end on April 30th 2014, which has now changed with the Government asking for approval until 2017.
We only have 5 days to take action. You can help Stop The Cull by spending just 2 minutes of your time to submit a comment to the EPBC opposing the policy:
1. Email your comments opposing the WA drum lines to – epbc.referrals@environment.gov.au (Before Thu 17 April).
2. In the subject bar include the following “Comment on WA drum line referral – reference no. 2014/7174”
3. In the email include the full title and reference no, which are as follows:

Title: WA Department of the Premier and Cabinet/Natural resources management/off metropolitan & SW coastal regions of Western Australia/WA/Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program
Reference no: 2014/7174
4. Suggested comments and links to relevant information are listed below.
6. Now SHARE, SHARE, SHARE – we only have until Thursday 17th April to get as many people to comment as possible.

 

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SUGGESTED COMMENTS/LINKS TO INFO. TO ADD TO YOUR SUBMISSION:
1. WHITE SHARKS ARE PROTECTED under WA and Australian environmental laws and several international agreements including CITES and CMS.
2. WHITE SHARKS ARE APEX PREDATORS, their roles are vital to keep the health of the ocean in balance. Removing a migratory apex predator from our marine ecosystem is likely to have significant impacts on the species composition and abundance of other marine life.
3. WHITE SHARKS ARE NOT PRESENT IN WA WHEN DRUM LINES ARE OPERATIONAL.
White sharks are the main target of the policy yet their population’s peak during June-August each year in WA, which is outside the proposed drum line operational period of November to April (see page 13 of DoF report –http://goo.gl/FbLBXm).
4. DRUM LINES ARE INDISCRIMINATE and will catch and kill other species including dolphins, turtles and non-target sharks. Almost all of the sharks caught so far have been non-target, undersized, tiger sharks.

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Day 290 4/12/14: Public Art & Imminent Doom

My friend Helen and I left a riding clinic in Woodland Hills hosted by horse legend Buck Brannaman, when we took a wrong turn. Apparently, there are no mistakes in life since Helen and I were clearly meant to discover and contemplate  this imposing sculpture that evokes both The Sword of Damocles and The Myth of Sisyphus. If all public art was this harrowing and contemplative, the world would be a much more interesting place. ROCKSCULPTURE.

Day 289 4/11/14: At the Edge of the Dream Lagoon

UnknownMaybe it was all that wine at dinner, but something pierced the veil.

I had my first shark dream in a very long time.

I was standing at the edge of a lagoon. The old feeling returned: I have dreamed this place before.

Although I saw no people, I somehow knew that everyone who lived in the green mountains surrounding the water worshipped  Megalodon, the biggest prehistoric shark that ever lived.

While in the waking world their brethren were hooked and hauled, finned and shot, here the dream sharks ruled the water.

I couldn’t tell the waves from the frantic gray chips that broke the surface then sank again.

Is it true that the most important thing about a dream is how you felt about it upon waking?

I felt elated. Happy to be dreaming again. Happy that the sharks had come back.

Beneath that dazed ecstasy, I also felt the tug of one small mystery–the contrast between the teeming lagoon of small fins and the looming ghost of the disappeared Megalodon.

Maybe in this world there were no people. Maybe the sharks themselves were the acolytes, the worshippers of  Megalodon.

And I had been privy to their sacred world, which wasn’t so much about worship or ritual but a place of pure aliveness, of pure being.