this here now
the nightingale is silent as lao tzu is dead yes mary magdalene is dead and the unicorn dead as all the passion of romeo is dead with juliet, even god is dead but nietzsche too the 60's dead of soldiers and children the mice the men as kerouac is dead drunked the mississippi steamer dead and the scream of the butterfly dead as our great great grandparents once young and exuberant and full of it dead and another whole millenium full of lovers and fighters and poets and maniacs and prophets and flares of lightning soon dead my god so much gone as history holds more than it should. but at the moment i am not dead and you are definitely not dead but are here now in this-- the miracle the impossibility of it to be alive here now a soul thundering through time held up boldly madly given the chance to move the earth and shake up the people to flash hearts minds squeeze ends of fingertips but with the freedom to be comes the terror of realizing it the responsibility of having more than einstein and cleopatra and all the sultans of arabia in this unexpected flickering as history greedy hog waits round the corner for another turn. but worse than the terror is to not feel the terror my god the horror not to know the grace. to feel another day as nothing more the horror not to see that the day is actually armageddon and the last judgment and the sunflower seed reaching up through the soil the horror the horror of the cleanest suicide no shot no blood no death but dead-- the only bone thrown at us forgotten, falling away through our desiccated fingertips now dead for good.
(note: the following was originally posted as a preface to the poem, but I’ve reversed the order for clarity)
I am a man of constant jabber. This may be due to my Mediterranean DNA, which lacks the laconic gene. Or to a deficit of samurai discipline (“No, Marie Kondo!” I imagine myself protesting, “Every one of those sentences brings me joy!”). But though the cause is uncertain, the effect is definitive: brevity does not define me.
That’s why my recent tales (all with Afterwords, case in point) have not been condensing as I’d hoped into succinct bolts of rhetorical lightning. Instead, they keep inexorably swelling and elongating, like unprovoked insurgences of morning wood.
No surprise then that this week’s post would have been the longest yet, despite some valiant editorial dismembering. Not ideal, at least not while I’m wooing strangers to my Substack (it’s called a pickup line for a reason). And so, in a desperate effort to turn the tide and rein in a loose lip, I’ve decided to shelve that writing for a future drought.
Reluctant to start from scratch, I thought I’d dig into the Augean stables of my “Writings” folder to see what old bones I could unearth. And—voilà!—I did find something of plausible archaeologic interest. Your call whether it’s a precious stone or petrified dung.
I wrote this poem while living in San Francisco back in the 1900s (seriously, it was 1999). The ground floor of the warehouse that housed me was the headquarters of a line striping business, but the entrepreneurial and mostly stoned owner of the business made cash on the side by throwing up some drywall partitions and renting the spaces out to random degenerates. I was one of several “employees” who had never rolled out a road line.
The premises lacked a shitter: for that we had to ascend a flight of stairs to the bathroom reserved for second-floor businesses. This sometimes made for awkward encounters, especially in the early mornings when we ventured up in flip flops and boxers, confident no one would possibly be arriving to work that early. Moreover, my so-called room was more a doorless, walkthrough closet. But my rent was $100/month, a hell of a deal even by late twentieth-century standards.
My stay was short-lived. Aside from the illegality of our residence, one of the other ‘employees’ took it upon himself to set up an indoor marijuana farm in his room (‘twas truly a big-ass room). This was pre-decriminalization era, so when some cops caught wind of it, my friend Zac bailed on the place. I soon followed his lead, except I took chickening out to a new level by relocating to a chicken barn on Happy Valley Road, Pleasanton, which was as bucolic as it sounds. But that’s another story.
For those few months I was in SF, my closet-sized pad was a superb little den. Seated on the floor before my milk crate desk with a bottle of tequila at hand, I hammered out some extravagant, fire-breathing lines. But let me not be unkind to my younger self. I present the poem here exactly as I wrote it. I haven’t altered a word, not even my misspelling of ‘millennium.’ And how could I? I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I should mention that I wrote most of the above before the Hamas attacks and the retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. I contemplated scrapping this piece too to respond to the horror of the moment. But revisiting the poem in light of the death of recent days—and of that still to come—I did find it newly relevant in its exhortation to the living. So I will let this stand and, returning to my initial point, cease my jabber.
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