Yummy worms crawl inside your ears to find your secrets, but they’re too delicious and your ears eat them right up and burp. The burps are not the sound of the secrets but of the worms’ mothers crying. They’ve been living in your head all along because they’re part of you though the worms didn’t know that. They didn’t know or remember that because they wandered off into the business world and forgot where they came from, and now their moms are sad because they’ll never come home. They forgot they came from everywhere and were part of everything like the lion’s tongue stuck in the candy jar or a dolphin singing at the moon. They met a big yummy monster who made them yummier and yummier then told them that your secrets could make them taste bad again. They certainly didn’t want that and went to do something about it but they forgot they were always yummy and they were your secrets and now who knows where they are, but your other secrets got out and instead of going to business school they liberated that lion’s tongue and licked it all clean and now your nipples are singing at the dolphins.
~ ~ ~
ANNOUNCE :: A few readings coming up this month, the first a GUERRILLA ROUND ROBIN free-for-all on Thursday, August 2, yes that August 2, in Jack Kerouac Alley next to City Lights Books in SF. Starting at 5pm and ending either at 7:30 or whenever we all get attacked by tech bros or fined by their police, whichever comes first. Be there or be quietly and safely at home. :: The next Babar in Exile is coming up on Thursday, August 9 (unless we’re all still in jail), this one featuring Neeli Cherkovski, QR Hand, and “Honorary Babarian” Kelly Landmine. Also with our ever-fab open mic, and a “special” “musical” “guest” (which I refuse to explain). 7pm at the good ol’ Octopus Literary Salon in Uptown Oakland. :: And last (so far) but not least (so far), reading with a collusion of poets on Friday, August 24 to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts. This one is hosted by poetry and jazz ensemble COPUS (who will also play) at Clarion Music Performing Arts Center in Chinatown, SF, with a slew of fab poetricksters including Genny Lim, Ana Elsner, Clara Hsu, and others. Plus an “Everybody Spars!” open mic. You spar at 6pm, we spar at 7. Sparrific! :: Full deets on the Events page.
ANNOUNCE :: Have had a few recent publications, some of which I keep forgetting to mention… :: my fave Dada piece “39 Lashes” is in the new great weather for MEDIA anthology Suitcase of Chrysanthemums, just out this week and I am so pleased that it’s here in the world :: “Earth Punk” (the hardcore version) in riverbabble 33 :: a sweet flash prose piece (“At the heart of this month blooms a myrtle” from Sudden Windows) in Chronogram 5/18 :: and one of my very best post-breakup poems ever in Naked Bulb 2017 Anthology (which they always publish the year following the date, ask them not me). Look for deets on the Anthologies & Journals page. Whew! Sheesh! Whew!
~ ~ ~
Everyone has secrets and who knows why. The secrets do! Each secret knows very well, often secretly, why it is kept. The humans who keep them know sometimes and sometimes not, and sometimes don’t even know they have a secret. But the secrets know, and the secrets sometimes have a secret that keeps them from being known.
~ ~ ~
REFLECT :: I participated in two four-hour readings in July, both terrific, and they couldn’t have been more different. The first was in a grove in a redwood forest, the theater in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve outside of Guerneville, CA, to be exact, for a full Saturday afternoon of primarily nature poetry. Whoever thinks nature poetry is dead is likely unaware that death is only one phase of a life cycle, that life-forms by their nature reproduce, that they’re part of a food chain, etc. Those lucky enough to be in Armstrong Woods that day were treated to quite a gamut, from awe of natural beauty to spiritual work regarding forest and trees to many pieces declaiming and processing the great wildfires that scorched swathes of Sonoma and Napa Counties last October. Highlights included Dana Gioia, current California Poet Laureate, who seemed born to read in a redwood forest; current Sonoma County Poet Laureate Maya Khosla started off the fest with passion; and past Sonoma County Poet Laureate Iris Jamahl Dunkle finished it off with gorgeousness. Representing the Bay Area were Amos White, who sprinkled enough haiku to seed his own grove, and myself as the voice of Earth Punk. There were seventeen poets in all, including five high school readers from the Poetry Out Loud program, and great it was to hear young voices. But the real highlight was the forest itself, steeped in roots and thick with air exhaled from sequoias. Nothing like that kind of quietude elsewhere, and a full afternoon of it left a lasting calm. Somewhat in contrast, to say the least, was the Toxic Abatement show at Chapter 510 in Uptown Oakland a mere week later. Talk about urbaning it up a little…this fete, hosted by Paul Corman-Roberts, featured a dozen of the Bay Area’s grittiest truthspeakers, including Kim Shuck, William Taylor Jr,. Missy Church, Kelly Landmine, Joel Landmine, Andrew J. Thomas, Bill Gainer, Alexandra Kostoulas, Nancy Davenport, G Macias Gusman, and Elynn Alexander in from Easton, PA (well, that’s all of them, plus moi) laying it out there like entrails on pavement. And I’m not excluding divinations. An annual event in its fourth incarnation, Toxic Abatement has previously been used as a fuel ignition for Oakland’s Beast Crawl; this year the Crawl is taking a break, so instead of sparking combustion it was pretty much your basic long, slow explosion. Power from all voices gave lightning flashes of the storm that is the Bay Area lit scene, and the four hours felt like one long leap off a cliff – in a motorized vehicle, of course.
~ ~ ~
We’re born and we do things, and that’s about it. So what’s all the fuss about? Somebody took my pretty stone. Somebody stepped on my dog. Somebody ate my salad. Somebody shit in my yard. And then from nowhere comes The Law, and The Law is this: Shut Up You’re Bad. Though not in so many words. And you’re bad. And you’re worse. And we’re all bad, except maybe those who say we are. But they’re bad too and they know it, all because somebody shit in the yard. So we have The Law, and we each have our own laws, because people shit in each other’s lives as well. It’s hard enough keeping your own worldview together, what with all these atoms and stuff. And any one of those atoms could make things a lot harder, let alone peops in your biz. So you keep them out, cause who has the time anyway?
So we’re born and we do things, and we want to keep doing them, and we don’t need no jumble, we don’t need no mess. Yeah, we might yell at someone to get out of our way, if we have that much voice, but that’s the same thing, isn’t it? So for the most part we zip it, got nothin to say, least anything that let’s anyone in, then we wonder why we get in each others’ way. But I want to kiss you, I want to kiss you and I can’t, I can’t kiss you even though I know I can, it might be bad but it feels right, I want to kiss but I don’t know you and in the end I’m silent. I’m silent and I don’t know and it tears me up. Can we live without secrets? Can we live without silence? Can we live without lies? Can we live without fear of each other? Can we talk amongst ourselves without sheer dread of the flesh?
~ ~ ~
REFLECT :: THE LONG ROAD HOME
Several weeks ago I was walking through my kitchen on an otherwise ordinary afternoon, and I suddenly thought, “I feel like myself again.” Which was quickly followed by, “What the fuck does that mean?” Sort of an odd statement coming from someone who doesn’t really believe in a self. That aside, it meant that for the first extended period in most of eight years, I feel like I’m living under my own volition, inventing my own future, relatively free from the pressures of anxiety, society, and the body. In other words, after years of dealing with depression, pain, fucked-up relationships, deaths, and the general stress of living through most of my sixth decade on this planet in this age, I got me some mojo back. It meant that life is good and I feel thriving. Will it last? Will it grow? Am I jinxing it by writing this? I don’t know! More importantly, how did this happen? Hard to say, of course, and there’s certainly no formula or recipe, but in part the ground was set by getting a good bit over that lying, cheating, mind-gaming abusive tweaker that I was involved with for some time. So there’s some basic emotional well-being, which is a good foundation for life in general. Add to that some physical health and strengthening, since after my elbow surgery in January, solving a chronic condition that had dragged me down with pain for a couple of years, my body woke to the physical therapy, especially the weights, and I’ve continued weightlifting at home with a decent workout several times a week. Also have reclaimed weekly walks/hikes. So there’s the body, another decent cornerstone if ya need one. But what really got this motor started are three activities that just fell into place, maybe just needed to happen, which have enhanced my brain and buoyed my spirit a great deal.
The first is music, specifically playing it. Many of my friends don’t know this, but when I was younger I played guitar off and on for twenty years. Never felt as inspired as I did with writing and spoken performance, but I enjoyed it periodically. In the late 80’s, I ended up playing bass and acoustic rhythm in the band Baldo Rex in San Francisco, and had a blast playing a few dozen gigs over a couple of years with a great bunch of fellas. The band broke up congenially, at which point I decided that was it. I had done what I needed to with music. No negativity, I’d had a great time and just didn’t want to play anymore. By the early 90’s, I’d sold or given away all of my equipment and instruments, including a Gibson electric, a Yamaha acoustic, and a bass gone to the wiles of memory. I didn’t even listen to as much music after that. I’d occasionally pick up an instrument, but for over twenty-five years I’ve had no real interest in playing music. Then, several months ago, an old friend to whom I’d sold my ’73 Gibson SG, a hardbody electric with excellent sound, sent me a note saying that he wasn’t really playing it any more, and if I wanted it back, he’d mail it to me. It took about a nanosecond for my entire body to say, Yes! I was even startled at how strong that Yes was. So he did, and since the beginning of June I’ve been playing for about an hour every day. I definitely feel more inspired playing than I did in my youth, and I’m not playing songs as much as noodling and making my own compositions, alongside relearning scales and chords, and, admittedly, a few Baldo Rex songs. My fingers seem to feel the fretboard like they never did before, and even when (unintentionally) discordant, I’m loving every little sound and working toward both precision and wildness. And I find myself listening to music much more as well. It’s been waking up a part of my brain, and I say that thrillingly, that’s been dormant for a long time. I could actually feel it waking well into July. Sometimes it even seemed to tickle.
The second healthful activity that I’ve been engaging in is sex – and yes, dear readers, I can hear you all saying, “What’s the big deal with that? I do it several times a day…” Well I don’t, hard as that is to believe, and it’s normally not even a frequent focus for me, libido sublimated into craft and all that crap. But about a month after I threw out the ex last fall, having learned the extent of his lying and manipulation, I realized that I’d become repulsed by touch, even the thought of touch, which is usually far from the case. So I set out to address that, cleverly using certain apps which allow one to get to know others quite well. I started by seeking touch therapy, essentially, and was surprised at the number of fellas who found that to be a fine and worthwhile activity. What a world. And it worked. By late spring, I found myself heartily enjoying myself (and others) once or twice a week, pretty much as often as I’d prefer, and on my terms. (And yes, safely, do you even need to ask?) Now I’m in the loop, you might say, and can play more or less when I like, which isn’t as often, actually, but a healthy indulgence whenever, as most would agree, and an excellent way to buoy my spirits, if you can pardon the execrable pun.
Finally, I figured out a way to get stoned again. That may seem like a trivial head in this triumvirate, but it’s also quite key. I was born with a major anxiety gene, which I’ve always felt but has come to full bloom in adulthood, unfortunately without a lot of ways to work it out. (Do not lecture me on diet and exercise or I will punch you.) When I was younger, I did self-medicate, some times more than others, usually with marijuana, but I eventually realized that I was, or more likely incrementally became, allergic to it. The reaction is quite uncomfortable, something about not being able to breathe just does that, and often leads to a panic attack, so it’s not really worth the effort. And I’ve never been particularly fond of drink, less and less as I get older. So I soldier through with chocolate and the occasional piece of ativan and leftover vicodin, and flurry through my days. Then one day my massage therapist, whom I’ve seen several times since my elbow surgery (and who is terrific, ask me for a rec if you’re looking for one in North Oakland), suggested that I try kratom, the powdered leaf of an Asian plant related to coffee. So I did. And it’s awesome, at least for me, affording a pleasant high several evenings a week similar to marijuana with euphoria and painkilling properties like an opiate, but without the addictive downside. I only use it in the evenings at home, and it does very much relax me and help me to take my mind off things, while focusing on creative projects or entertainment, and better yet I seem to wake up more relaxed and focused, with much less anxiety overall. It’s as if it gives my brain chemistry a full body massage, despite the somewhat deranged metaphor. Of course the Feds are considering labeling it an illegal narcotic – turns out some people are even using it to get over opioid addictions, and we don’t want that, do we. But in the meantime I’ve got something to relax my body and mind, put me in a better mood generally, and help me to be more productive. Sparkly!
So a few weeks ago, I walk into my therapist’s office, that’s my head therapist this time, whom I adore (no, not that way, silly), and I say, “Hillary, I’m in the best mood I’ve been in for a long time, and I don’t feel like complaining about anything.” A great way to start a therapy session, by the way. And she says, “I can run with that. Why don’t we talk about why you’re so happy.” “Great idea,” I say, but before I can utter another word, she breaks in, “It’s the kratom, isn’t it?” Hillary is wise. And I say, “Yes, partially, it’s letting me relax and putting me in a better mood all around, I think, but it’s also partially the getting laid.” “That would make anybody happy,” she says. “But mostly,” I say, “I think it’s the music. That’s making me happy every day.” “Well there you have it,” she says. We pause briefly, then I exclaim, if one can actually exclaim in real life, “Hillary, do you realize what I just said? I’ve claimed that all my current happiness and great state of mind are due to sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.” We both laughed, she because it was true, and I because I’d never expected to hear anything like that come out of my mouth.
These three things have revved me, have seriously revved my life for the time being and thank anything for that, but at the same time that revving, that motor, that mojo seems to be more than the sum of these parts. It seems, in a word, to be magic, or to have opened my life to magic again. Don’t ask me what I mean by that – you either know or you don’t. I’ve always had it with me, but over the last fifteen years or so it somehow diminished. (I blame New York.) But now it’s back and it is strong. Odd little coincidences and happenstance, happy or not, are popping up all the time. Instead of being a negativity magnet or a crazy magnet, I’m suddenly a kindness magnet and a beauty magnet. (Please let it last, please, please.) Maybe Keith started it all by offering to return my guitar. Just hearing about that, people have suddenly been giving me other music equipment. Both a friend and a neighbor have given me practice amps to work with, and after my reading last week in the Sonoma redwoods, my cousin up there out of the blue gave me a mountain dulcimer, which I’d wanted for several years and hadn’t managed to accrue. Apparently, I didn’t need to, but it still seems a bit nuts. Sometimes life just opens up.
On my way back down from Sonoma that Sunday afternoon, dulcimer and fresh farmers market veggies in tow, the highway was reportedly a parking lot for twenty miles or so, so I let Google Maps take me on one of their infamous “alternate routes,” zig-zagging through the countryside. It was a beautiful day in the golden hills of Northern California, and the drive was gorgeous and invigorating. It was also exceptionally nice to have no idea really where I was, letting the little voice in the phone guide me. I took the occasion to call an old friend in San Francisco whom I’d been out of touch with for a bit. He’s an old friend and also an old friend, somewhere around 70 now, who’s been living with HIV for decades, and hasn’t always had an easy time of it. To my delight, the first thing he says is, “You won’t believe what’s happened – I got my mojo back,” and proceeds to recount an almost identical upswing in his life, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, as I was about to tell him of mine. “I feel like myself again,” he said. “The magic is back,” he said. It was weird, and we compared notes rapidly for maybe half an hour or so with increasing amazement. Then suddenly, in mid-sentence he was gone. My signal was lost in mid-countryside, just as I’d taken a strange, sharp left onto a much newer road than I’d been on, less a two-lane country road and more a stretch of suburban blacktop, neatly lined, that curved sharply a few times for no apparent reason, swerved by an unlikely and mansiony little development (why no signal there, I wondered), then abruptly changed back to country road and dipped into a dell. The dell for some reason struck me with wonder, looking like several other dells I’d driven through but somehow a bit more perfect, maybe in contrast to the mansions but still oddly perfect, somewhat archetypical with just the right buildings and trees and fields in just the right places, and I dipped down that two-lane road in my little white car, and in the bright blue sky above I saw a black bird swooping down from the other direction, swooping toward me, and I dipped further, and the bird swooped further, and kept swooping right toward me, and grew bigger and bigger then improbably bigger heading right toward my windshield as I reached the bottom of the dell, and there it was, an enormous black turkey vulture gliding magnificently not ten feet above me with a wingspan wider than my car.
~ ~ ~
I’m writing mid-morning shades drawn, shut in and focused, but continually distracted by the banging of the glass pane door to the fire escape just outside my fourth floor apartment door, which means it’s breezy and the door needs to be blocked, so I huff and scoff and begrudgingly step out to prop it open, which I do, and step out onto the little balcony at the top of the fire escape, because I’m pretty much there already, and the breeze drenches me with such cool pleasure that I’m stunned, I’m lifted, and the air is so, so fresh, with a hint of mist and a hint of sea and it is inside me now, it is filling me and I am transported, I’m transfixed, exhilarated and the hairs of my arms are on end and I am drinking it, and even though the moment has a few sensations that I normally wouldn’t prefer, the sun very bright in my eyes, a weed-wacker whirring loudly a few doors down, an old sedan idling below while my neighbor and his daughter shout above the whir to plan their day, I am loving it, I’m loving it all and that breeze keeps coming and I look out over the neighborhood with crystal clarity and I am drinking, I drink it in and I stand there for a long time feeling younger and younger.