Nothing in its Proper Place

Nothing is the proper place of poetry
the nothing that is and the nothing
that is not, to slightly misquote Wallace
Stevens, now nothing but a book on a shelf.

Things seem round, but close reading
show oblong, egg shaped, ellipsoid,
particularly in the topological poem,
where nothing expands and retracts.

The universe is a closed knot
the poet tries to unknot
to pull his shoe on without
twisting his tongue.

Think pretzel, which is non-trivial,
while the poem is a wild knot,
unable to untie itself,
non-rational, but linked within.

What a mess, and I can’t find
the beginning of the thread,
nor the ending, for that matter,
but incomprehensible I am not.

What to do

“Nothing to be done,” Didi and Gogo bicker, essentially about what to do, like an old couple of a long suffering, loving marriage. Nature is no refuge; the one tree in their world seems sick. They can’t go anywhere, for fear of missing their appointment with Godot. They hang out and talk, express various physical complaints, visit the past, ask questions they can’t answer.

The play, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” is famously about nothing. Nothing fills the stage, informs the dialog. If they carried cell phones, their batteries would surely be dead. In any case, they’ve no one to call, and no one to call them.

The two (often described as tramps, bums, or hoboes of some kind, clowns of some sort, lost from their circus, or stripped to being human without diversion down-and-outs) might be among the last few of a pandemic, or simply retired, their pensions just enough to enable them to do nothing but talk freely, which is everything in a world of nothing.

It’s not easy – doing nothing. Even contemplating nothing can be a nerve-racking business, fraught with anxiety. Consider, for example, what nothing is. Nothing is what is not. In the beginning – well, just before the beginning, all was nought, and from naught came all.

And it’s not easy doing nothing responsibly. nān thing. And yet, if you make a practice of it, you are called a do nothing. But there is no such thing as nothing. Nature overkills. If the universe is infinite, and the universe is composed of things, there can be nothing within, and nothing without.

Consider a bottle out of which you suck everything, leaving nothing, and you cap it, a bottle of nothing. Would it be dark in there? Like dark matter? For if everything is taken out, light too must be absent. If scarcity creates value, what could be more precious than nothing? And Didi and Gogo are its brokers.

Intelligent Life

Intelligence might mean an ability to exercise choice, even if the options seem limited or nil. A couple of weeks ago, meeting for a beer with fish and chips at a local English styled pub where soccer from the real England was playing on hanging television sets to an audience of rapt fans sipping beers, an old friend asked me if I thought there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. At once I had to consider the definitions of intelligence and life and universe. I also had to consider that at first he said simply life, then qualified the question by adding intelligent, as if other kinds of life were assumed to exist but even if so had already failed some test of life.

In the midst of this morning’s freshly updated global warming news, walking with a cup of coffee in ye olde Americana backyard, I stopped to consider again why the Dogwood tree now refuses to flower. About 25 years old, flowering reliably every spring until seeming to lose interest in recent years, full of healthy green leaves, not a touch of pink blossom does it this year yield. I would blame last year’s torching hot summer, when the temperature one day in July hit an unprecedented 116 degrees F, easily the hottest ever locally, or this April’s absurdly late snow storm, which piled a few feet of heavy wet snow on branches already leafing out, bending them all the way to the ground under the weight of the late snow, but elsewhere around the neighborhood all the other Dogwoods are blooming to beat the band, a bumper year.

Maybe this Dogwood has simply chosen not to bloom this year. The reason may be nothing more than a desire to exercise its ability to choose. But where would this desire, seemingly baneful to its existence, come from? Or maybe the energy required to produce blossoms is being used to correct some deficit in the soil or water or location – but again, similar conditions around the area are at the same time thrilling all the other Dogwoods into fully blessed vibrant pink blossoms.

What have I done to offend this Dogwood such that it refuses to bloom? At worst, I’ve ignored it, but the other plants in my yard seem to appreciate being mostly left alone to their own devices.

Nature, left to its own devices, continually overseeds. It has always done so, blasting and piping surely enough that somewhere somehow something takes hold roots and spreads. But never alone, always sewn from a diverse bag of seeds, some seemingly smarter than others, whatever that means. And it means nothing. The same intelligence that informs me informs the Dogwood. Thus as I sit here in my attic room from where I can watch through the window the Dogwood willfully refusing to bloom, I choose to write.

Once More to the Moon

The stars will blow out they say
tho none have seen one up close
or this far away for that matter.

And for now the center still holds
the “deep heart’s core” burns on
of course tempered with age.

The tool worn and bent its handle
once forged so hot to the touch
now almost cold the closer you come.

The further astray and adrift
solo in space in your egg shaped
spiral lost in your milky way.

Why nine chains to the moon?
Because things arranged in threes
allow a mysterious symmetry.

2 + 2 = 5

That two plus two equals four
used to be true, but no more,
not necessarily, and out the door
our core of being washed ashore.

Dostoevsky came close to avoid
the obvious and said to make five
you need at least four things,
the fifth the wit of leadership.

For the true leader takes 2 fish
and 2 loaves of bread and convinces
the constituency they’ve been fed
the truth, the whole truth, nothing but,

for what is right might be wrong,
we hear from the physicists,
who wander far afield from logic,
language, and Mother Earth.

So, if you happen to have two
apples and two hammers, you
are missing six of something.
You are a long ways from home.

“I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but, if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing, too.”

“Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky, 1864.

A Sign

They looked for a sign
in the skies, the seas
somewhere, anywhere
around the universe.

A sign that might tell
where to go, how to get
there, a range, a stage
or stay the hell put.

But signs are placed
not by the gods
but by you and me
fools to think we

know anything about
directions, instructions
nods, wags, or winks
we live on the brink

where all the signs
say, “Keep away
from the Edge!”
that surrounds us.

Add Title

You say primordial like it was a long time ago,
but look around, see the ooze from the same
old sores seeping through the bandages of time.

Of universe you birthed forth, blind at first,
then you thought you could see, with eyes
no less, your ears and nose full of dark matter,

and through every pore of your skin comes
and goes all the bugs of a family fortune,
a species come true, true to life.

But you are not true to type or form.
You mix and mingle and wander,
one day fins, the next, feathers,

anything to get ahead, until one day,
you fall in love with another just
like you. Well, almost.

Universe as a Looper

Having recently acquired a Roland Boss RC-1 Loop Station Looper Pedal, and after several faulty attempts to quickly master the electronic musical gadget, and with the Mars Rover Perseverance and related NASA coverage in the news, and having just come off a few posts with the theme of home, I’ve begun thinking of the universe as a looper.

To begin in the middle of this current loop of thought – I read with interest an opinion piece from The Atlantic, “Mars is a Hellhole: Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity” (Shannon Stirone, 26 Feb 2021). It’s a guns versus butter model argument. Says Stirone, taking the Earthbound wealthy would be Mars colonizer Elon Musk to task: “Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter.”

A counter argument might suggest that Musk’s enterprise is not quite the United Fruit Company, nor is he spending money on Mars, but here at homebase Earth, creating at least some jobs, presumably, and advancing knowledge in the general and random way that can lead to discoveries that tangentially do help Earth, however speculative or foolhardy they may seem at the outset. At the same time, at least part of the wealth created goes toward philanthropic efforts.

In any case, surely the universe will continue its looping design with or without Musk, with or without Earth, for that matter.

The looper pedal is used to lay down a series of recorded notes or chords (or electronic noises or sounds) that then play back while being added to, overdubbed, with additional series of notes or chords which in turn loop back around – in the RC-1, for up to 12 minutes before relooping. The key is the overdubbing and the circular motion. There is a beginning and an end to the loop, but no end, theoretically, to the looping phase, each one of which has a bearing on all the rest, and no end, again theoretically, to the overdubbing, each dub contributing to a new whole.

I’m now in the process of creating a musical composition using the looper. It will be a fugue that begins with a big bang and expands with overdubbing and recapitulations for the entire 12 minutes available to approximate a musical cosmological model of the universe. I’ll use 12 loops within the loop, ending by then recording the finished now finite whole loop using the Garage Band app on my laptop, and erasing the original from the looper station to free it up for more creations.

I do wonder how this fugue I’ve planned will help humanity, or will aid in space exploration or the colonization of Mars. It seems certain it won’t. But the universe will not be able to ignore it. My fugue will be part of the big looper and its seemingly even greater indifference.

but that’s another story

One story, unfinished, a fragment. The writing cools from a weak plot and flat characterization. The story fills the page we are on, but we may not be on the same page as others reading the same story (based on the assumption there can only be one story), and no one can page backward or forward. That other pages even exist is therefore without proof. Our story has grown since the first word, and continues to expand. The distance from the beginning to the end is therefore immeasurable. We will never have the whole story, but that’s another story.

Organ Tics

Universe alive meaning what, Joyce talking again, a twitch of his head my way as I came in late to Workshop 3, the others already seated, each now having found their preferred place, on the couch, or in one of the overstuffed chairs, the easier to remember names, Soto said, the personality of the chair, the seat revealing the person. Joyce seemed to prefer the straight hardback chair in the corner by the bookcase. From there he could look out the window down the street or pay attention to the circle of writers working on their craft, honing their craft. Honing, to hone, was a word I noticed came up frequently in Workshop, like robust, another one of Workshop’s key words. And craft. I hadn’t realized what a craft writing could be. A robust honing of craft, I thought. A honing of robust craft. A craft of robust honing. Words have meaning, Joyce, excited now, head tics my way impatient I’ve not sat down yet, but where had I put my pocket notebook. Don’t tell me I forgot it. Words have meaning, Joyce said, stretching the long e as far as it could go. You people don’t seem to feel that, and a deep quiet settled, writers staring at the floor, backs rigid. To be part of a people, even if mistaken, surely something to that, I thought, stopped fumbling around looking for my notebook and sat down, now part of the silence. Then someone’s stomach gurgled, a rumbling burble audible around the room. Oh, my, Penelope said, patting her hand on her tummy, organics, and everyone laughed. I have some apple, Virginia said, did you not eat before class? I haven’t eaten all day, Penelope said. I’m on a roll. Quiet again, as we seemed to contemplate the meaning of Penelope’s fast. Then Matilda with a suppressed burp, and she begged Workshop’s pardon. Then came a big bang. It wasn’t me. Was it a mistake? Excuse me, Sam said, be right back, and he got up and left the room, Joyce staring out the window at a shout in the street. The minutes ticked quietly and reliably by, the room now a vacuum, the writers floating out of their chairs, weightless, bumping into one another, like pool balls, bouncing off the cushions, changing trajectory. Nothing dead, Sam said, reclaiming his seat. Inert, perhaps, but the organ, so persistent, shells another life. Inaction impossible, Sam continued, something in his voice a simple invitation to listen. The whole, Sam said, this thing, this idea, near and far, all organ, all organic, sprawling sleeping energy here and there, nothing inorganic possible, all alive, on the move, on the make, daresay, and of dark matter, we have sleep, as one life spills into another.

“Organ Tics” is episode 79 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

A Modest Halloween Proposal

It sometimes seems clear if there is an afterlife it does not interfere with present life. But what is present? The light from our sun is already a little over eight seconds old. We sunbathe in the past, confident in a present we never quite seem to fully inhabit (physics explains it’s perfectly possible to split infinitives). Where then do we go? Maybe time is a question of physics, maybe of metaphysics – the things that may come after the physics.

The dead seem an extremely polite bunch. They do not intrude. Looking for them is like searching for aliens. We may feel their presence, approach them with the telescope of faith, but if they exist, somewhere-somehow, that life lies far far beyond the present five senses. To prove an afterlife, if we want to believe in ghosts and such, we must create a sense beyond our given five.

William Blake noticed angels out and about. Rilke claimed to have seen one. What is it about poets that make them easy prey for such notions? Wouldn’t it be a bit frightful if the first aliens the astronomers discover turn out to be previous earthlings? The problem with communicating with the dead may simply be the length of time their message takes to reach us. By the time the first message from the first dead reaches Earth, we may all be gone. What would the message say? Trick or Treat?

I take no issue with the dead. Nor am I looking forward to meeting any aliens. Let them keep their distance. My problem seems to be sugar: to wit, candy – the Halloween tradition (in these parts).

This year, instead of passing out candy, I propose to hand out poems. Short poems printed on three by five cards, maybe with a cartoon or drawing on one side of the card. I’ll drop a poem card into every little critter’s Halloween basket. No candy. No sugar.

But when I mentioned the idea to Susan, she said, “We’ll get our house egged for sure.”

“You think? With the cost of dairy these days?”

“And the parents will accuse you of poisoning their kids with poetry. Besides, Halloween cards are nothing new. And poetry, while sugar free, is still very high in carbs and calories, not to mention saturated and trans fats.”

So much for my proposal. I guess we’re sticking with candy.