Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Last Day

The wallpaper of his apartment is the noise of freeway traffic.  He has become so sensitive to the sound, and its variations, that for certain hours of the day he can tell the time simply by listening.  Lying on his back in the dark it sounds like 6am, which is to say, rhythmic, the whoosh of each car distinct but closely trailed, almost overlapped, by the next.  The sun is going to rise about seven, when the hum is overtaken by the din of commuter hours –massive engines kicking into gear, weary brakes pinching their discs, angry horns making their grievances known- but it is still an hour away, dragging itself over the continental divide, and his alarm is set for eight, which, as he lies awake, seems now to have been a gesture of wishful thinking.
            It is too dark to see, so staring up he can only recall the ceiling.  Like most low-end apartment ceilings, it is blank except for a scattering of unintended irregularities: some cracks, water stains, excess paint, patches to the drywall.  He doesn't know precisely where they are, but he can guess.  There's also a hook with nothing on it, he remembers, somewhere near the window, maybe left over from a former tenant's hanging garden or lamp or something.  And the light fixture in the center of the room, which he thinks of as a pale glass breast –a woman upstairs, down on her hands and knees over a hole in the ceiling- with one bulb and one empty socket installed behind the perfect little metal nipple.  There isn't much else about the ceiling. 
            He feels wide-awake, but dozes off, dreaming briefly of being lost in a busy Costco, pushing an enormous bottle of Tequila around in a squeaking cart, self conscious becuase people are glaring at him, and when he wakes up again.  The stray predawn light has already begun accumulating in his bedroom, and as it reveals the lines and colors and textures, it also confers weight, and in the mornings it is this weight which has come to feel most oppressive.  The weight presses down, his lungs are rendered insufficient, the muscles along his spine ache, his limbs become impossibly heavy and his thoughts are clogged by a frustration that emanates from deep inside his chest.  It is the knowledge of the day ahead, the aggravating familiarity with routine that becomes a nearly insurmountable barrier to the day itself and is yet never stops it, merely dragging the moments out into minutes.
            When the first scraps of direct sunlight hit the floor there is still an hour till the alarm goes off.  His stomach feels sprained, and his intestines are marching in protest of their working conditions, so, unable to wait, he slides his legs off the bed, sits up, and turns off the alarm.
            There is nothing to eat, or at least nothing he is willing to eat.  He pours some coffee from a jar in the fridge, and microwaves it for fifty-five seconds.  There is no cream left so he drinks half of the grimy black liquid as fast as he can and then pours the rest down the sink.  For three minutes he contemplates making something for lunch, but can't.  He brushes his teeth to get the foul taste from his mouth, then crawls back into bed fully dressed and sets the alarm for eight fifteen.  Five minutes later he is up again –having decided to stop at a café on his way in to work.

He's only ten minutes late to work and of course no one notices.  He fills his water bottle in the break room, looks through the staff fridge, then walks reluctantly to his station.  Slowly the day begins moving through the long minutes.  Coworkers come by his station with the usual reports and questions.  As if to torment him, his eyes keep catching on the wall clock.  In desperation he tries once again to become part of the slowness, to beat time at its own game by drawing out each movement into an ornate gesture.  He lengthens his breath and straightens his spine.  Methodically, everything is wiped clean, straightened, organized, and put back where it belongs.  Even the computers, which have likely been on for days –since the last time they crashed- are dusted, rebooted and updated. 
In the darkroom he pulls the calibration strips from their sleeve and curls them delicately between his fingers before loading them into the injection trays.  He feels the edges to be sure they are lying flat, so they won't catch in the machine, before he seals them in and carries them out into the fluorescent light of his station.  The strips run through the machine's developer baths in order to test something, which takes five minutes, then they drop lazily from the dryer onto a table.  He carries them across the factory floor to the chemical supply room where the spectrometer checks something.  They are approved so he throws them away and wanders back across factory floor, stepping from one rubber mat to the next without touching the cement below.  He thinks of Cheever and wonders if he'll be an old man by the time he makes it back to his station, but as he turns the corner he finds the new kid waiting and no more than two minutes has passed since he left.  

They work for a couple hours reviewing the printing routine: calibration procedure, loading and unloading paper types, changing the printer magazine, trimming prints, packaging them –the whole process.  They move slowly and steadily towards the first break.  With five minutes left he excuses himself to the restroom, and makes sure that by the time he is done there is only one minute left till break, which is such an insignificant amount that he and the new kid call it close enough.  
He escapes the building and walks out to his car where he knows there is a bottle of orange juice and rum in the trunk.  It's almost empty, but he adds the last two ounces of rum from the pint bottle he bought the night before and swallows it quick.  Noticing the warehouse manager over at the picnic tables, as always, he makes up his mind to walk over to bum a cigarette. 
"Hey, you mind?"  he asks, holding out a dollar bill.  The warehouse manager shakes his head and offers his last cigarette, rolling around in the pack.
"Don’t worry about it, I've got a carton in my desk."
"Ok, thanks.  You got a lighter?"
As he inhales, the nicotine floats to the top of his brain and the warmth of the rum begins mildly to fray the edges of his vision.  It is a warm morning, the kind that only happens when you won't be able to enjoy what if offers, and nearby the birds are twittering, though he can't spot them.  The Warehouse manager is a local, scroungy and tough, with a clean shaven head and voice like a steel-wire brush –but in a nice way.
"We just got a shipment of the Fujifilm high-gloss.  Get the new kid to come move it to the dark room."
"Alright, no problem."
"So this is it right, last day?"
"Yeah, it is.  I didn't think anyone knew."
"Maria told me."
"Oh, ok."
"Anyway, good luck, whatever it is you're doing.  Shit, I wish I could still quit a job at my age, but what the hell else am I gonna do, right. "
He nods, and shrugs, "Yeah, I had to quit.  I can't do this anymore."
The warehouse manager stamps out his cigarette and stands up.  "I hear you.  Anyway, good luck kid."
"Yeah.  Thanks."

Reluctantly he goes back to work.  As his blood alcohol level peaks the whole place feels far away, as if it's already part of the past.  One o'clock rolls around and he goes to lunch, leaving the new kid on his own.  Walking down the wide, empty street to the deli he starts to smile, thinking about the mere half of a day that remains between him and freedom.  He buys a sandwhich and a small cup of coffee and sits down in his usual corner of the patio.  The girl is there, at her usual seat in the shade of a potted palm tree.  She looks up and their eyes meet.  He smiles, and she smiles, and then she goes back to reading her book and drinking her coffee.  He keeps smiling to himself as he eats his sandwich.  A few minutes later she leaves without looking at him again, and he carries on thinking about her.  She is tall, and attractive, though he is not sure if she is beautiful.  Her face is long and the bridge of her nose is bent, but her thick black hair softens her unusual features.  Her lips are usually pursed, but when she smiles, as he has seen her do only twice, they relax into her full, pleasant mouth.  He might never see her again.   
He contemplates buying another bottle of rum and juice, or maybe cola, to make another drink, but decides against it –drinking now will only make him tired later, and all that's left is four more hours.  He orders another coffee to take back to work.
The sun has finally burned away the marine layer, and the street is bright.  A rough wind is coming in from the ocean, brackish and cold and perfect.  The sun reflects blindingly off of the buildings and cars.  He walks along the empty sidewalk with his eyes closed, checking every few seconds to make sure that he won't trip on the curb or walk into a post.  Closing his eyes enhances the scent in the wind, and he feels alive and good.  Opening his eyes he glances up at the bright blue sky before pulling open the door and stepping into the factory.
Inside he can barely see, the place is so dark.  He wonders if it has always been this dark and he just hasn't noticed because the days have been dim.  He can't remember.  His eyes begin to adjust as he walks to his station, but it is such a familiar set of footsteps that he hardly needs to see.
The new kid is working, though he's creased six copies of the same print while trying to trim them.  Again he shows the new kid how to lay the print down so as not to crease it, and then he sends him off to lunch.
He checks through the work the kid had done, pulling anything that has been packaged wrong and moving on anything that has to be mounted or finished.  While he is focused on filling the print queue on the computer, Maria comes around the corner and shouts to him that she'd like to meet in the conference room, now. 
"Ok, you see we are disappointed you decide to leave us after we invest so much energy into training you, and I will remind that you sign a contract that prohibit you from working in the industry for two years."
"Thanks," he replies, "it won't be an issue."
"Let's hope. Anyway, I need to know how your training goes, if the new kid ready to take over tomorrow?"
"He'll be fine, he's about as ready as I was when I took over."
"Well please make sure that you review mailing times and priority orders with him."
"And don't forget your employee discount expires at the end of the day."
"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
"Ok, well, good luck with whatever you do."
"Yeah, thanks."
He returns to his station where a print has jammed in the dryer, wrecking all the prints behind it.  Everything will need to be redone.  The clock hands hold three more long hours over him.  His shoulders and neck ache to be done with it, but he has to finish the work.  Starting again he loads the files into the print-queue on the computer, sends them, and waits.  While he is listening to the LEDs expose the paper and feed it into the bath he hears a noise above him and looks up to see a pigeon fluttering around one of the large light fixtures.  After a few seconds it lands on an I-beam rafter to rest. From down the long shelving hallway the warehouse manager emerges to get a better look at it, having heard the commotion. 
"Not much to do except wait and hope the stupid thing comes down."
"Yeah, it probably thought the light fixture was a hole in the roof.  If we turn the lights off overhead maybe it'll head back out the way it came in."
"Sure that might work but there's no way they'll let you turn off all the lights, and if you don't turn them all off then it'll just fly towards the lights deeper in the warehouse."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Well that's a good guess." The warehouse manager smiles, baring his long yellow teeth, then he saunters back towards his area.
Times starts to move as the workload picks up and the new kid comes back from lunch.  In the rush to finish the training and also get the priority orders out on time, he forgets about the pigeon.  But when the night crew shows up, thirty minutes before the morning crew gets off, he remembers.  The pigeon is still sitting quietly in the rafters.  He points it out to the new kid. 
The bird's pathetic situation makes the back of his neck tingle and his chest tighten up again, but he is almost free, and that proximity fills him with excitement.  He will no longer have to get up at 6am, or pack a lunch, or talk to Maria, or print other people's stupid wedding photos, or graduation photos, or any kind of photos.  It is such a soul-lifting emancipation to know that he will never return that he feels like yelling, or dancing, or climbing something.  The night crew takes over the machine and he shakes the new kid's hand, waves at the warehouse manager, and clocks out five minutes early.
He drives home with the windows open, his tinny speakers rattling with all the current they can handle.  He stops at the store for a bottle, and some more juice, and an energy drink.  The checkout girl smiles at him when he walks up behind the person she is helping.  He smiles back, but nothing comes to mind when he has the chance to talk with her.  It is nothing to him though –the incident hardly makes a sound against the ego-armor of his freedom. At home he makes a drink, grabs sunglasses, rolls a little something to smoke and climbs up the ladder onto the roof to enjoy the last few hours of sunlight.  It's an amazing feeling.  He smiles to himself and laughs and plays some music on his phone.  Birds fly past in magnificent arcs, their enormous wings stretched out, almost motionless on the soft breeze they're riding southward.  Planes trail off into the Pacific Ocean, which can hardly be distinguished from the sky.  The wind is chilly, but the roof is warm from being in the sun and he lays down against the grit to absorb it into his back.
From his perch he can see the street in front of his house, and the backyards of the houses on the other side.  Nothing is going on.  He stares at the trees swaying in the wind, amazed at how far they bend and how much noise they make while doing it.  It occurs to him that he doesn't know the names of anything, the clouds, the trees, the birds, the bugs, the materials.  Everything familiar is still foreign, unidentified, could be a fraud; he has accepted the world without further examination and is at the mercy of its controllers.  He decides that this is the end of an era, and the beginning of a lifelong pursuit: he will pay better attention, find out the nature of things, talk to strangers, take notes, read books, make his own money, find his own way. It is exhilarating: the task, the idea of it.  He is filled with the joy of life and the spirit of purpose. 
His glass is empty, and he cannot recall if rum and orange juice is called a screwdriver, or a sunrise, or what the name is for it, but he is determined to look it up online  after he makes himself another one.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Commencement Speech

     This is the text of a speech that I submitted to the UCSC Stevenson 2010 Graduation Comitee.  I read the speech to the judges, and submitted three copies to them to review but I was not chosen.  That was fine, except that my efforts caused the prototypical speech that was given to sound even more soulless than it would have had I been a disinterested party.  In any case I did give my speech one night, standing on an ottoman, for a besotted gathering of friends.  I could barely speak but I struggled through.  I was weeping bourbon by the end of it.  It is at points immature, but it is at no point disingenuous, even the contradictions are genuine.

I am here to communicate with you but I am afraid of words missing their marks, afraid that my axioms will be idioms and that my proverbs will be platitudes. I may only be able to provide for you mixed similes and Homeric metaphors; incapable of doing much more than tossing out signifiers that imitate blank scrabble tiles, banking on the off chance they will string together into processed word cheese as they rattle and snake into your ears from the tall grass that is greener on this side. But I am here to communicate and I hope that this speech is outstanding… in the rain California needed so badly, and I it strikes me now that if that is what I wanted then maybe I should have begun by saying: THIS is a real place (my god, it is a real place) and there are so few of them left today that we must do everything we can to protect it. That would have been a good start but no, actually, I think I would like to begin by saying that the earth is the geography of our being, and that each of us comes from all that we no longer are, yet can never not be. These sorts of words are what I want to say about our history and our present and our future but maybe I shouldn’t, because those are not my words. I am afraid of starting with my words because you do not trust me. I am too young, too passionate and too playful; you can tell that my rhetoric is deeply in need of some ethos because my logos is drunk on pathos. But at this point I have already begun, so now I can just begin again.

I am afraid we have everything in common. This is why I wanted to talk to you. My desire to communicate is born out of a concern I have been fretting over: a distaste for USs and THEMs, and I hope that my empathy for both groups will prevent me from creating any further division. I guess you could say, that from this podium there are lots of targets, but I don’t intend to shoot arrows at you. What I want is for our targets to be the same and so I hope you will allow me… to speak as “we”.

Optometrists are intelligent men, but I am not sure about hindsight being twenty/twenty. History is no doubt invaluable; the so-called inner things being not so separable from the objects, persons, and events that led to them, and yet I think I know why the beginning seems to be clearer through the lens of the end, it is because the details have become too distant to bring into focus, the sensations and intricacies are lost to outcome’s snapshot. What I know for sure, is that it doesn’t matter how well you see if you never take the time to look; I am certain of this because it is a-priori truth, by the nature of seeing you must look to do it. And when we look, we should all be concerned about the worth of our sense, because there may be no reason this season. We seem to be so tickled in the smugness of our being that we let go the reins of the means, and they decided they could justify the ends while we weren’t paying attention, until now our we are in a situation where plans are obstructing life. I do not believe that it is suffice to say: we deserve more than this, than the bitter luxury of watching twenty first century chaos from the progressive palaces of these redwood sanctuaries. Today we are not even the sum of our parts because we have become satisfied with a perch on the giants’ shoulders. But ARE we satisfied relegating giants to mythology; can we afford to spend any more time shifting blame or any less time evolving our own personal engagement with the world? Is the individual to become meaningless in the face of the complexes we’ve created? We are slouching towards the Bethlehem and things are falling apart, the center cannot hold, and the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity. Is this to be our Spiritus Mundi? our Zeitgeist? I refuse to believe it or to give up hope, because everyplace that I have managed to be part of, I have met the best minds of my generation, and we are not yet destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, not yet, but we ARE become angelheaded hipsters, we are those, who, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night, who, poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high, sit up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz. We, who live in the America, which is still a dream to most of the world, are becoming indentured servants to the institutions designed to serve us, and find ourselves trapped inside a machinery made of ourselves, still moving in the same direction even though our cogs and been stripped of their teeth. And I just don’t understand because wherever I am, I see so many humans that I would gladly let skinny dip in my stream of consciousness. And I did not come here to rant, I came here because my desire to communicate is born out of those people we are here to celebrate, and that is my prerogative.

We do not have subways in Santa Cruz, and so the words of the prophets are written in the bathroom stalls, nestled between obscenity and absurdity, right where they belong. I have collected them from library walls, these particular ones from right behind you at Cowell, and we have said “I don’t know what to believe” and “I am apathetic”. We worried that we might become nothing, because we are tired of everything, and we didn’t love our fiancés because we had fallen in love with our roommates. We wondered how anyone could love us, how nothingness could be so prodigal, and because we couldn’t say it, we wrote that we were lonely and just wanted a friend in this world. We even wrote back to say, don’t give up, and, me too, wouldn’t it be crazy if we were roommates, and I’ll be your friend. I have met these people, though I did not see them vandalize the walls, and I know they also feel something inside kicking to get out; and you know them too, because every morning the same big and little words all spell out desire, all spell out: You will be alone always and then you will die. And so maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalog of non-definitive acts, something other than desperation. And when Richard Siken says that we clutch our bellies and roll on the floor… I want it to mean laughter, not poison, but we are familiar with both sensations, and sometimes we laugh because there is nothing else left to do and sometimes the medicine is purgative poison, and sometimes we must deal with indefinites. We need to be unable to make sense of things, of people, in order to discover them ultimately, and so I want to speak briefly of myself, someone I still cannot make sense of. And you may want to know how I sank the boat of love three times in only twenty three years, you may be curious about the ivory towers, the independent princesses, and the broken hearted dragons, and you would probably perk up for the part where I walk through your dreams and push you flush against the wall, and every part of your body rubs against the bricks, and well, I’m getting to it.

I don’t know how to write accurately, and I feel overwhelmed with the world as it is, but I also believe in words, and am to suffer my flesh on account of them. What helps me go forward is that I stay receptive, I feel anything can happen. And perhaps that what life is about, people leaving you, and you learning to how to live again. I have met people that I love so much I can’t sleep when they are close to me. And some part wants to say to them, “never change, never change, never change, never change, never change… because that is why I fell in love,” but other parts of me know that the only constant is change. I used to want to tell them, “I can change, if it helps you fall in love,” but I learned that I would anyway and I would have no control over it. I learned about physiology, the brain, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, politics, art, physics, chemistry, publishing, synaptic transmission by way of cholinergic muscarinic receptors, the central dogma of cellular biology, the discontents of civilization, the personalities of Jung, and that darth vader was actually the chosen one and that his story is more compelling because of his ultimate redemption, even if we don’t care for episodes 1 through 3. I have moved beyond seeing in everything the advanced deposit of my dear prosaic delirium and come to realize that we can do anything, but we cannot do everything.

I have been in classes and talked with teachers that have won national book awards, are renowned in their fields, have been everywhere, met everyone, speak more languages than I have fingers, and still wake up every day to discover the world. I have tried to accept what they offered. Still, I don’t have any answers to give you, except for the one I just recently came up with: as this graduation day approached, people started asking me what I would do after college, and so my one answer is that I will be getting a dog.

For the voices that have become blended into mine I must thank Osip Mandelstam, James Murphy, Paul Simon, Richard Siken, S.J. Marks, Joan Didion, Allen Ginsburg, Charles Olson, Nate Mackey, Wlad Godzich, Linda Ogren, Jerome Frisk, Linda Ivey, Bill Nickel, Michael Urban, Carin Besser and her husband Matt Berninger, Heraclitus, my family, and my friends for getting us all to this point, and so…

I want only to end by passing a blessing from Walt Whitman upon all of us, because I believe that when he sung of himself it was for all of us; “we are now ordained loosed of limits and imaginary lines, so as to inhale deep draughts of space, because the east and the west are ours, and the north and south are ours. We are larger and better than we thought, and we did not know we held so much goodness. We will recruit ourselves as we go, and scatter ourselves among men and women as we go, to toss a new gladness and roughness among them, and we will divest ourselves of the holds that would hold us.
Thank you.

how to give


sharing today of summer fruit
with bright skin & red center you
are a bearing branch.

stemming new                   .
far from the source.
breath, as it sways

our youngest parts,
held fast to center,                           
splinters from another season.

caught inside memory’s
rings. my old paper head
trying to embrace with you           

& words known. phrases all ready 
before lips can crash
too easy into sound. find,
again & again,
not what we wanted to say
dripping like juice hits paper
from seasons: chin, nose & eye, absorbed.
deforming the surface.       


cadence gestures in form.
you on fragments.
of me in verse. the one
over me. when i shake
limbs to so many rhythms.
greeting every
one, as to one.
is a frantic dance.

but i attempt\attune new movements, posit a brief  backslash over myself inflected.
to conduct harmony. between them: my fingers. 
(are song), my days (ending rhythmical phrase),
my forms & my attempts,
my teachers (the people i learn of & same ones i love),
pivoted to form an I : dilating pupil’s negative capacity
as common denominator. as sound vessel. ( i pivot !

& i am a prospective equation.
derived from the colder season:
so consider intent              
mine alone. now we are floating
& i have canceled standards.                             
value is yours alone to strike
as this gold is from a fool’s vein.


without sleep i become soft
& of endless supply. feel overwhelming.
patience. & want to fix the exposed
shirt tags of strangers,
hold their blue hands, refold
their collars.

please accept my characters, my crumpled face
tilted to the side,
my weary eyes unblinking.
these images. unresolved.
by some indefinite work.
form will be sound.

see: (as an eye for a corti with fewer leaks.
swaying. precise transduction) worthy.

[or it may all disappear into the free association cortex,
growing text-static as it courts grey matters]
of the associated sticks & stones.

& yet. again i drone fuzzy.
with humor that is not vitreous
but glassy-eyed. be patient.
with me. i am an uncertain surgeon.


it has been difficult for me to be precise.  
as there is a pulse here & there.
are kind words typed & erased.               
notes written but undelivered.             
strong branches split and jointed
to support the new limbs Dali painted us,
distended & growing wild as a question,
but deciduous as a pedagogy.

so i leave you as a synesthetic child.
rooting through colorful clay.
for a gift of malleable value. each medium discrete
while blending into the next. wanting for you.
to resonate in a way that is not possible. & i am a child.
a \ vector.
come self aware.
attempting to transform.
my formal movements. to give how. are we glassed.
am i.  fruitless.                                                                

& so the last eyes of the few are who.                
harmonic of resin rings.
give how to.