02 July 2010

iamamiwhoami I

I was recently inducted into a new pop culture, multi-media Mystery religion: iamamiwhoami. I can name a few off-hand that have colored my personal mythology and stimulated many devout hours of long intellectual pondering, gazing, listening, watching--Twin Peaks, Carnivale, House of Leaves, Lost, and most recently, Cylonopedia, and iamamiwhoami. The last of which, as they all have, crept upon me by accident when stumbling through links on networking sites and navigating the intertextural A Thousand Insides of wikipedia. So now we have Mandragora.







30 May 2010

June Reading/Listening

"Ghedalia Tazartes is a nomad. He wanders through music from chant to rhythm, from one voice to another. He paves the way for the electric and the vocal paths, between the muezzin psalmody and the screaming of a rocker. He traces vague landscapes where the mitre of the white clown, the plumes of the sorcerer, the helmet of a cop and Parisian anhydride collide into polyphonic ceremonies."

Ghedalia Tazartes' Diasporas

The Black Heralds, César Vallejo

Life, Richard Fortey (Folio Society Edition)

The Lost Steps, Alejo Carpentier

18 May 2010

See Rock City

Have you ever seen Rock City? I've been there about four times in my life. As a child, my parents used to take me on trips to the Smoky Mountains, and we'd always stop in at this mecca of all roadside attractions. It's like the epicenter of cheesy childhood road trip Americana--not quite real, not quite totally fake, kitschy, yet not sublimely so, but simply a shamelessly tacky illusion, without pretense. It is what it is, and when you enter the magic fairyland cavern, you can see the chicken-wire holding it all in place.

When we made a trip up to Knoxville, TN last month we drove through Chattanooga, so we stopped in. I'm often reluctant about revisiting touristic places that captured my imagination as a child--because, typically, revisiting them subtracts from their grandeur in my memories. Returning to Rock City, paying the $19 entrance fee, I couldn't help but see cultural consumer negativity at work. I didn't even bother taking any photos of the winding path you follow through Mrs. Frieda Carter's bourgeois rock garden. An adventure through stone alleys and over wobbly bridges, to the dreadful Lover's Leap overlooking a fake waterfall, through sites like Goblin's Cave and Fat Man's Squeeze, was always thrilling to me as a kid. But, now, it wasn't even vaguely inspiring.

However, upon entering Fairyland Cavern, the inevitable denouement of a Rock City adventure, my child spirit was resuscitated. As packs of screaming, laughing, jesting elementary school children on a field trip ran passed us, totally uninterested in the florescent lighted, life size dioramas of fairy tales, we leisurely ambled through the hallucinatory vision of Mrs. Frieda--a lover of german folklore.

Unfortunately, these pictures don't quite capture the experience. They look more like paintings than huge dioramas. Every turn of the cavern presents new vistas to peer into, framed fantastic worlds that beckon with a sinister dimensionality. You could just climb in, if you really wanted to. You may just find them as the commonplace props they are, or another world full of young blushing girls, savage sexy wolves and lumber men, gnomes at the whiskey kiln, belching moonshine, warty witches, pumpkin carriages, underground coral lakes, coral and crystal ceilings in endless, chimerical corridors.

I thought of psychoanalysis and alchemy, the caverns of the subconscious mind, where folk stories are deposited like jewels--terror, lust, bliss, magic, silence, annoyance, hate, war, and death. And the recent oil spill spewing black poison into the gulf. I remembered the smell of burning on the air when I left New Orleans the day before.

And there was this Ferris wheel, on a gnome midway, turning and grinding itself into existence for half a century under the mountain.

07 January 2010

The Great Frost

"The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground."

from Orlando, Virginia Woolf

03 January 2010

New Years Night

As the midnight countdown became imminent--in a moment, somehow, that always seems stationed somewhere between the dismal past and the climatic present-- it occurred to me, as I glanced around the bar I found myself stationed in at that particular time, that here were assembled many of those lonesome figures who had haunted me since I moved back to New Orleans last July. One of the wonders of living in a city are those common people that linger along the periphery of your life--people who you see nearly everyday while going about your errands, while waiting for the bus on the same street corner day after day, those whose names you may never learn or even ever speak to, yet whose presence becomes an unwavering aspect of the urban landscape you inhabit. It seemed strange to me that there, in a gay bar on Dauphine Street, were gathered several of those individuals I do not know, but who have always struck upon my imagination. But it was altogether fitting, that there we were, the singular ones, sharing the moment when the year begins anew. It has been a difficult year for me--given to many solitary, dark, lonely, and heartbroken moments. However, in the end it has been a year of immense spiritual growth. Day by day I gather a better understanding of who I am, how I feel, how I relate to myself and my world. Being in the city helps me understand that everyone has times in there life where they must confront their fears, peer into the black wells of their souls to divine the meaning of love and understanding.

The company, both real friends and strangers, I was with gathered around for the awaited second. It came--a repeat of the ball dropping in Time Square that in reality had already occurred an hour before, followed by an immediate cut to a Ford truck commercial. A tiny girl, who had perhaps a little too much alcohol in her, danced around exposing her breasts to indifferent gay men. All in vain, I thought. A more farcical, impotent moment would be hard to come upon. This sad mixture of satire and dead seriousness became a dominant feature of the night that followed as my friends and I decide to move our revelries down to Rampart Street. The stroke of midnight, whether for the new year or any other time, is a signal that now comes the blackest, most potent hours of the night--where absolute horror is mingled with sleepy-eyed reveries and drunken joviality. It is the hours of wolves and witches.

Rampart Street, that borders the northern edge of the Quarter, has in my mind always been the desperate, desolate end of things. It is a place that has always fascinated me. The borders of places have always fascinated me. New Orleans is a city where oddity has long ceased to be a novelty. The city itself is fixed at the very end, and in some case, carries over--I mean, it has endured its own isolated apocalypse while most of America has moved forward, nearly oblivious, ultimately uncaring, and at worst chiding those who inhabit this city. It has survived only through the success of anarchism--as a theory in practice. Following the deadly blows of nature and the near total collapse of governmental infrastructure, the city survived because of the great love and desire that tragedy released. Nature, glorious and powerful, unleashed such love in this city, that through individuals working in cooperation alone a great humane revival occurred--thanks to people, and not the state. Once, as a teenager in this city, I by chance ambled onto lower Decatur street and a vast mysterious world opened up to me. Slowly I ventured further onto Frenchmen Street, and then beyond Elysian Fields into the Marigny, and the Bywater beyond the railroad tracks. Now these are all too common to me, but still excite some wonder. I think of a song I heard Jolie Holland perform about how they've cleaned up the quarter. These neighborhoods have gradually become more gentrified. All my old, old haunts on Decatur--the Whirling Dervish, Mythique, the Dragon's Den--have all changed hands and names, in some cases, several times over. Frenchmen has become less local. Apartments in the Bywater are no longer affordable. And St. Claude is some degree safer, and more white. The Treme to the north still has a bit of mystery gathered about it, but even that has changed. It used to seem like a terrible mistake to wander above North Rampart. That was before the city evicted, without much cause or reason, the people living in the housing developmental buildings. Now the streets seem safer--whether they are or aren't really isn't the issue--but there is some veneer of safety since this area has been purged. And new, luxury condos built on the corner of Esplanade.

But, still, Rampart, while I must admit it has very little cultural value, has retained some of its mythic quality for me--a street caught at the end of time in a great, Lynch movie that was never filmed. Years ago, in an abandoned house on Rampart, was the now, perhaps, infamous Dada Ball. I still think of that night when I go by the site--the dramas and stories that exploded within those wall on a chilly night in April, a dream world of rabbits, eggs, bloody crucifixions, naked bodies, covered in paints and cold meats, broken spirited butoh dances, prophesies, outrage, revolt, and desire. I have digressed far from my tale of New Years Eve night 2010. But, these descriptions are essential to this ghost world that is Rampart in the waning hours of night. For those who haven't chanced there, in a desperate moment. My friends and I went to Starlight on the Park, a gay bar across the street from Armstrong Park and Congo Square. I'd only been there several times. Back when I first lived in New Orleans a friend of mine would play piano there on occasion. It too is a last stop for aged and withered dinosaurs and performers. The air is full of ripened mystery and wisdom that drifts like a perfume around ancient queers and drag performers--of life devoid of essential facts, and formed of drunken artificialities and sorrows and lust, compassion and love. Last night, after a short conversation with a man I met only briefly, about one of my favorite italian horror movies--Suspiria--we were granted the pleasure of one of those late night cabarets. Past her prime, belting out a sad classic hit in a shimmering gown, groveling the money handed her, staring fixed--at what? What did those black staring slits conceal? Or, what specter did she see, coming through the door opening onto the street behind my back?

02 January 2010

The Love Poems of Krysztof Kamil Baczyński

Krysztof Kamil Baczyński was a young Polish poet killed in duty during the Second World War. His love poems are addressed to Basia/Barbara--his pregnant wife, who was killed almost a month after his own death during the Warsaw Uprising. She died unaware of that he had been killed. Baczyński's poems address the horrors of war and how love can be a mystical redeeming force in the wake of immense catastrophe.


The scent of autumn leaves and of your hair,

fear's broken timepiece ticking. Summer's candles

blown out; the stars breathe down cold air

while my grief

like some dark beast runs nightly to your hand.

Do you know how to sleep? Dead alder trees

weep, howling long into the dome of night.

Without a goal, we roam on portless seas;

you know so well how sorrow lurks in wait.

The kindly dragon; now is the sleep of ghosts

frozen; night's lofty monument is waning.

Only a phantom cries, on pitchfork hoist,

only the mewling cats the moon is drowning.

Do you know how to sleep? The crazy poet

has hanged himself amid the pines' dark baying,

while rain drags by the hair a dead wax puppet

through endless streets, to windblown music playing.


all's quiet now.

The night rains on the windows, gathering power;

blinded like me, the wind kneels at our home.

Who stole from us this carefree time of ours,

my little one?

Night of September 10-11, 1940


Barbara stands at the mirror

of silence, and her hands reach

to her hair; in her body of glass

she pour silver droplets of speech.

And then like a water pitcher

she fills with light, soon

she has taken the stars within her

and the pale white dust of the moon.

Through her body's trembling prism

white sparks of music will leap

while ermine will creep through her

like the downy leaves of sleep.

Bears are rimmed in its hoarfrost

with polar starlight imbued

and a stream of mice pour through it

in a clamorous multitude.

Till slowly she drifts into sleep,

filled all with milky white,

while time melodiously settles

deep down, in a tumble of light.

So Barbara's body is silver.

The ermine of silence within

arches its white back softly

at the touch of a hand unseen.

January 4, 1942

Three o'clock in the morning


In your hair's torrent, your mouth's river, in

the forest dark as evening

a vain summoning,

a plash in vain.

I'll enwrap you in dusk, in night's rose-flower

and as a branch, scrap, or gesture, the world will turn,

then it will mutely stagger,

pass through the eyes like a blur

and I'll say: not being--I am.

Flowing into you still, and bearing your reflection

in pupils, or like a tear from eyelids hanging,

I'll hear in you silver seas etched by a dolphin,

like inside the shell of your body ringing.

Or in a grove, where you are

a birch tree, pure white air

and the milk of daylight,

a huge barbarian,

bearing a thousand centuries

I'll burst with the copse's noise

into your branches, bird-like.


one day--and a whole age in which to long,

one gesture--and endless storms at once come crashing,

one step--and here you are, and you alone

each time--a spirit waiting in the ashes.

To my darling Basia--Krzysztof

February 2, 1942


To Basia

"but you are a tree"

R. M. Rilke

In every transformation you are like the ring of time,

just like the year you turn in place and still from where I stand

I see you on the plains, the hills, the trees on the skyline,

in which you pour light for the vessel of your knitted hands.

And like the sea you bear reflections of all kinds of weathers

which flow and play upon the brazen cauldron of the clouds.

You wave your hand--it's winter; then you smile--and autumn comes

to make thorns of the mayflowers with a draft of copper feathers.

You ripen in the apples, fill the plants with yellow juices.

I lock my fingers round the air--then you are every bird

upon the larch, and every bush

or else a cloud of music

and the tree's gold cord.

Oh, logs are burning in the hearths, sleighs glide on powdery snow,

the purring cat stretches and swells into a supple bow.

You're in the river, and in your every move yours smile repeats.

Wake up as snow, as clearing, be the antlers of the deer;

by evening you'll be flesh, and in my flesh you'll fall asleep.

Come morning I'll awake, the weary people will pass by,

and find upon my breast a white and sleeping mayflower.

February 11, 1942


I'll open for you a golden sky

where the white thread of silence is,

like a great nut with sound inside

which breaks in two that it might live

through small green leaves, the song of lakes,

the music that the twilight makes,

until its milky kernel's shown

by the birdlike dawn.

I'll turn for you the unyielding land

into the soft and gracious flight

of thistledown; from objects rend

shadows arching their spines like cats,

fur glistening; they'll fold it all into

the hearts of leaves, into storm-hues,

the gray rains' tangled knot.

And trembling streams of air like smoke

from angels' cottages I'll turn

for you into long lanes; I'll make

the liquid song clear birches sing

until they play, like the lament

of cellos, in pink shoots of light,

an anthem of bees' wings.

Only from my eyes take out

this stabbing shard of glass--the days'

image, by which white skulls are brought

over meadows of blood ablaze.

Only change the cripple's time, cover

the gravestones with a cloak of river,

the dust of battle wipe from my hair,

those angry years'

black dust.

June 15, 1943

(Polish chanteuse Ewa Demarczyk does a marvelous interpretation of this poem--as well as others--of this last poem called Wiersze Baczynskiego/ War Poems.)

These translations are by Bill Johnston

from White Magic and Other Poems by Krysztof Kamil Baczyński

(Green Integer 138)

which is, unfortunately, out of print; but my library got me a copy via interlibrary loan.

I'd like to post some more at a later time.