Saturday, December 29, 2007

Final Instructions

Lesson Forty-Eight

If desire is so phenomenologically volatile then why do you keep finding yourself in the same predicament? This is one of those questions for which there are many answers, most of which are difficult to swallow. Twice you have begun casually, only to find yourself attached somehow to the idea of attachment, the sheer physicality of it. The third time you are better able to separate the sensation of flesh from your emotive capacity. But you didn’t anticipate the slippages of music. When he plays, each note opens until you are the air in which it sounds. If you had any sense you would have deafened yourself, quieted the call of his horn. If you had any sense you would have kept your damaged heart trapped in that mason jar. Instead you put your cupped palm in the glass and drew out the azure fly, an iridescent dragon shorn of its wings.

Lesson Forty-Nine

Only the most irresponsible among you would have recommend anything other than medication, several weeks of bed rest. But you have spent a lifetime attracting negligence. Gathering all the useless prescriptions and admonitions, you place them in an enormous bowl in the center of the room. They are like fish swimming around an empty glass. Such unhealthy things really. You wait for them to die one by one. It is not so bad to be alone in an apartment with a jar of dead ideas. It is the people, the ghosts that espoused them, who cause you the greatest concern. When they become too rowdy you slip out to the fire escape and watch the almost city draw to a close. It is not so different from all those nights you spent in the woods telling the stars off. Who are they really to look down on you with such bright indifference? The almost city lights obscure them. With your hands pressed against the metal railing, you search out another cosmology, some imploding luminosity to call your own.

Terminal Lesson

If space itself is expanding then you too should be less dense with every passing day. Your bones understand this principle; by now, they are nothing but air. But the rest of you is weighted, a muddied sediment caught in the swaddling of.

The last lesson is the most difficult one to learn. It is cumulative, prophetic. There is timing and phrasing to contend with. When he fingers the notes as if drawing sinew from flesh you can almost feel the wind slipping muscle free of bone. To sound oneself in the hollows of. To call the future another self and claim she left you first. This too is instructive.

When you weary of the lesson plan, you can always count on the propensity of others to be drawn to your destructive sense of purpose. As if you are some sick parent of. Tell them that their heart is in fact the enemy. Everything sentient really. You are perhaps the worst. Your capacity is entirely truncated. Trunk like. As if ship wrecked, only without ship, horizon, sea. There is no shelter, no water from which to drink, only the forever buried treasure of you. Go ahead, unearth it. You have nothing left to lose.

More Lessons in

Lesson Forty-Two

Everything is perfect. Your hairdresser taught you this. He had the help of a medium who channeled the voice of angels. You rely instead on the occasional panic attack. Anxiety can be an excellent guide. Just last night you had a dream in which you were both the aggressor and the object of. Both of you were equally monstrous. When you, the you who was passive, resistant even, finally acquiesced, the aggressor, who was also you, a messy blond and theatrical you, turned her face to kiss you, she scared you, the you who was asleep, awake. How many years have you spent accepting whoever claims you? This should alarm you more than those brief subconscious moments in which you were hitting on your overly accommodating self.

Lesson Forty-Five

One day everything will feel less than. This is what they tell you and they are rarely wrong. Or they are often wrong but they are gone before you notice, before you can mention it. In the absence of articulation there is amnesia. The loss of experience is difficult to capture and so it too is forgotten. What was it, you wonder, that I was trying to say.

There are many different kinds of forgetting. There is the child left for hours in a basket, unremembered until hunger cracks her lungs in two. There is the life spent unconscious, a lumbering shape skating the edges of a room. In the periphery, there is always some percussive movement, a thudding thought of. You should know. You have once again forgotten everything. To call it amnesia would be too forgiving. You have selectively erased yourself, blurred your most basic features until you are unrecognizable, another half-truth, another half self, another amputee caught in between.


Lesson Thirty-Seven

It has become necessary to understand the nature of desire. Not because you are desirable, but because you are so incredible desirous. Some days you can barely make it down the stairs without wetting your jeans. A hundred years ago you would have been institutionalized. Now you are just another single woman on the make. You mother would be horrified. But your grandmother, the one who shocked everyone in that small town in Illinois, would be proud. She was pretty enough to have any man she wanted and she chose the doctor, the married one. He was old enough to know better, but that didn’t stop him. Her parents knew enough to get her out of the state before the morality of the time got hold of her. She would have ended up in the same hospital as the doctor’s wife. Frigidity and promiscuity required medical correctives. The result was usually the same. All those women in white gowns, their hair combed and their sex parched. Desire is not bound by the order of language, but it can be constrained. Call it sin, punish the subject and the object. That ought to do it.

Lesson Forty-One

If chimpanzees resolve sexual issues with power and bonobos resolve power issues with sex, then you are evolutionarily closer to the bonobo, or so you would like to think. You are not alone. Many idealize the bonobo, a fruit eating chimp inhabiting a range south of the Congo River. It is a region at war. During the past decade nearly three million people have died and apes have been hunted to near extinction. In San Francisco, the children of hippies and the children of the children of hippies wear bonobo t-shirts, the black faced ape with pink lips smiling flirtatiously at the inhabitants of a pacific rim.

Two million years ago, the chipanzees and the bonobos split from the family tree. On separate sides of an enormous river that neither could traverse, they thrived. The chimpanzee, omnivorous and patriarchal, drew extensive scientific attention. Then Jane Goodall, who once said “on the whole, chimps are rather nicer than humans,” witnessed something shocking. In Gombe a chimpanzee population split in two, one group decimating the other and eating their murdered remains. This newest revelation, chimpanzees engaged in war, mirrored a rather ugly image of human kind. The bonobos provided a welcome relief. They are matrilineal and cooperative. They engaged in oral sex despite its failure to effect procreation. The Bonobos skull is smaller, generally thought to signify a reduced mental capacity, but their faces shows more individuated characteristics. Or so the primatologists tell us. The Bonobos could care less. They suck sugar cane from the researchers field, stretch, engage in tongue kissing, and rub their genitals against other female members of the group.

Bonobos pass the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness. Psychologist place particular importance on this capacity. The distinction between self and other and the ability to convey the cognizance of that distinction have long been held as central to the formulation of the ego, that mostly conscious trouble maker we call ourselves. The bonobos have their own vocabulary, although humans have yet to make sense of it. But their facial expressions, their hand gestures are intelligible to most. Come, they instruct, let’s play. Humans, in their incomprehension of the pleasure principle, all too often fail this test.

Time as measured by

Lesson Twenty-Four

Do not romanticize the lives of others. They may have a house, a dog, 1.7 children to love and feed. Sometimes in the evenings they dance together while making dinner. Through their kitchen window, you watch them circle the table, arms sloppy with the ease of it. You have only this page to fill, this life to pour words into. Take tonight for instance. You mistook him for something better than he was. You are often doing this. If only you could see yourself through the same sweet skin of possibility. It wasn’t until he asked you to lift your skirt, just a few more inches to reveal the plump shaft of your inner thigh, that you understood the inaccuracy of your translation. When he said that he wanted to meet the lady writer, he meant he wanted to fuck her. You had confused your adjectives and nouns. You were still working out the grammar when he adjusted his pant leg making room for his hard-on, his little prize. Already the story of it was more interesting than the event. Here she is, you thought, the lady writer. You had wanted to meet her too.

Lesson Thirty-Five

Somehow, without any warning, your desiccated heart has rehydrated, a bloated corpse in the center of your chest. People can smell it. Rather than being repulsed, they are drawn as if by a pheromone, the way boars detect estrus in sows. You had thought you’d be more desirable heartless, but animals survived by avoiding those among them who could not feel. Newly resuscitated, your emotions are black and iridescent, strange insects pricking the surface of your skin. You wonder if this is what people mean by wearing one’s heart on their sleeve. You had always pictured something red and bloody, like newly butchered meat. But the sensation is more brittle, as if you are sheathed in fractured glass. When the light hits you, you are kaleidoscopic. A million fragments of.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Daily Instructions


America does not trust its young with anything other than controlling interest in the entertainment industry. You were young once. You remember all the rules. At sixteen there is the possibility of driving and crashing your father’s sports utility vehicle. At eighteen you can leave the country, take up arms against a people who are neither foe nor friend. You can kill someone for reasons that do not concern you. But it is not until you are twenty-one that you can legally purchase alcohol. You have been drinking since you were twelve, but you take pleasure in this new ability to do so publicly and legally. This is when the problems begin, or rather, when you stop moving toward anything. You are in fact done. There are other things to look forward to. The ability to rent a car at twenty-five. Loss of bone marrow density and greater risk of fractures after thirty. The increased probability at thirty-five that your baby will be born with down syndrome. Most of prognostications for women involve fertility. For men there is baldness, erectile dysfunction. But at twenty one there is alcohol and the ability to purchase a handgun. You could always gamble or work as a prostitute in the State of Nevada. That is if you need something else to look forward to.

Lesson Twenty-Three

Prairie voles live in the central grasslands. Highly social mammals, they have become the subjects of choice for scientists interested in the biological sources of monogamous pair bonding. This is not a popular activity. Only three percent of mammals engage in social monogamy. Voles are divided on the subject. The male meadow vole does not express the paternal devotion shown by his cousin of the prairie. This causes much family strife. The prairie vole has long repeating strips of DNA dangling like party streamers above a gene linked to vasopressin. This is the best explanation they have for the prairie vole’s uncommon dedication to his mate and his young. Vasopressin is released when a body is low on water, causing the kidneys to hold onto everything it has, constricting its volume. It is hard to imagine this as pleasurable, but monogamy does not always feel good. The meadow vole lives in moist open areas and will abandon his mate, his newborn litter for the dark call of night. But if he is injected with vasopressin, he will return home quickly, the nib of his tail tucked between his stubby legs.

Researchers have identified three neural chemicals associated with monogamy. Oxytocin is a hormone released after orgasm in both sexes and in women during childbirth. If you rub your nipples you may also trigger a rush of. Vasopressin is pressure and its absence. This too makes monogamy possible. Dopamine is that rush of excitement, the nexus of pleasure and repeat performance.

When we love we are fingering this microscopic string. Another mammalian experiment of. If the DNA snippets dangle just above, we are faithful. If the vasopressin is in short supply, or the oxytocin is depleted, we are more likely to wrap ourselves up in the nearest cotton sheet and waddle to the refrigerator for a late night snack. Before departing, we will be sure to empty our pockets of everything that was sudden or elating. The night is its own intoxicant. There is a whole world yet to explore.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Lessons in

Lesson Eighteen

Some confuse anthropology with evolutionary psychology. You know better. Homo sapiens are neither highly developed nor capable of abstract reasoning. They are in fact rather redundant. You should know, you keep repeating yourself over and over. Just last week you made the same mistake that got you into this whole mess in the first place. But it takes three to make a pattern. Until then you can pretend there were nuanced differences between the two. You can describe your life as curiously ironic. But you’ll fuck up again. Then you’ll be forced to blame it all on your unconscious. Freud would say you need specialized assistance to analyze the random associations, dreams, verbal slips. Only in this way, will you have access to the sentient force of your own will. But there are always other techniques. Crack your skull and burrow your fingers in the cerebral cortex. Somewhere in there is the source of the problem. Pluck the virulent weed.

Lesson Nineteen

Eventually your own sorrow will be eclipsed by the trauma of another. You may be tempted to conflate your situations. But this would be a mistake. Accuracy is crucial. You abandoned your family. His boyfriend died in a hospital bed. You can barely stand to sit with him, to witness the vacancy. Only his fingers move, involuntarily tapping SOS messages into the kitchen rag he holds as a child would a blanket, a doll, someone else’s hand. It is not the sound of his sobbing, though it is terrible, or the image of him, a forty eight year old man wretched and suddenly alone. It is the gravity of your choices. He chose tough love and his lover died. You chose anything other than what you had. Now you have nothing. Eyes swollen red he warns, be careful, don’t ever do anything you will regret. But you both have. What else is there to say?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Two More Lessons

Lesson Fourteen

Find a pen pal, preferably one in prison. Write him long letters in which you describe the minutiae of your daily life. His life is absent of trivia. Everything for him is significant, philosophic, self-flagellating. His letters are endlessly questioning. You imagine a life beside such a man, a quiet evening of rigorous introspection. You would hold hands, discuss the insignificance of your lives beneath a sky punctured with stars. When he asks for a photograph of you, you send him a picture of a woman from your cousin’s wedding. The woman is beautiful, more beautiful than you. Beyond that, she looks as if she capable of loving a man who suffers every nuanced thing. You of course are not. Your letters become increasingly cheerful, almost hysterically so. Descriptions of your weekly trips to the market are treatise on the bounty of nature, the miracle of modern refrigeration. You should get a job in advertising, catalogue the artifice of the present for the future. His letters shrink in on themselves. He is after all living in a cell. The last note he sends contains only three words. You cannot tell if it is a question or a statement. This is you.

Lesson Fifteen

A love poem will not save you. What can you do with a fleeting lyric, some hopeful rhyme scheme? Focus on other kinds of languaging. There is always the immediate satiation of propaganda. Take the cardiac transplant industry. They will tell you, a new heart can save your life. But your body will see the transplant as an infection. That is why rejection medication is necessary. Every day you will have to swallow another pill. Some combination of cyclosporine, tacrolimus, mycophenolate, mofetil, prednisone, azathioprine. This makes you vulnerable to antigens such as thrush, herpes, respiratory viruses. You have a very short prognosis. After a transplant, men have a longer predicted lifespan than women. No one has bothered to explain this. Instead they describe different kinds of procedures, different kinds of hearts. Remember that guy at the party for the aging photographer who had a baboon heart? He was drinking malbec in a lead crystal glass and channeling his dead primate. A few months later the man died too. The most successful patient survived 28 years. His heart was taken from the victim of a traffic accident. Blunt force trauma. When the brain dies the heart does not. Your own heart was removed in an orthotopic procedure, the great vessel transected, a portion of the left atrium excised. Before your chest cavity was closed, nothing was sutured to the remaining vessels. Nothing in fact was ever put in its place.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

50 Ways (and then some)

Lesson Eleven

Call it superstition or projection. An obsession with the figurative. The sparrow’s nest outside your front door. Or it was your front door, until you walked out of it with your hastily packed bags of clothes, shoes and books. The nest is still there. The eggs have hatched. The chicks have died. The parents watch the house mournfully from the telephone wire. You could have told them that the nest was poorly built, the walls too low, the placement suicidal. New parents, they are still learning. They watch the first two fledglings fall, one by one, the bodies tiny and rigid on the porch. The third hatchling hides in her shell at the bottom of the nest. Weeks go by. Now she is here to greet you. A white strip of feather across each cheek as if painted for battle. She is. But you are uncertain which act would be the most brave. To leave or to return. She’s perched on the edge of a nest she has outgrown, weighing the odds.

Lesson Twelve

Hominins did not always survive with their hearts intact. In the Paleolithic period, the evolutionary process affected a rapid series of genealogical aberrations. Species came and went. Homo Habilis was short with arms sweeping past her knees. When her lover told her he was leaving her for Homo Ergaster, that bitch, Habilis whipped her arm around her lover’s chest and struck with such force it cracked his sternum and depressed his heart. Habilis found her own heart had turned to stone. In this way, Habilis survived, the mother of a stone-age species that existed another five hundred years.

Homo Antecessor was without any antecedents. She made herself up daily. The keeper of the first symbolic language, Antecessor carved the history of her species into the thick folds of her skin. It was the sweet smell of her blood that drew the others. She charmed them with the patterns of symbols she’d drawn in the recess of her chin. But lust cannot be quelled by ambiguous iconography. Antecessor was the word made flesh and the first to be consumed. It was her flesh that drove them, but her heart that they swallowed whole. In this way Antecessor became a part of the future. The riches of her literate body, the meat of her, gnawed from bone.

Homo Soloensis was that island girl who dreamed of something other than river valleys and oceanographic expanse. She was gracile and unusually adaptive. This would be her downfall. What girl can be greater than the collective fear of men? When Soloensis developed a sharper cutting tool, the committee of elders worried she would threaten the order of her species. They thought first to remove her hands, but she managed to use her feet so agilely they amputated other parts of her as well. It is hard to say what she missed more, the familiarity of her thoughts, which disappeared abruptly when they split her skull and took a meal of the matter that spilled forth, or her heart, its rhythmic arrangement of color. When her heart was excised and divided among the elders, the strips of muscle twitched. Each man took her trembling ligament into his mouth and in this way Soloensis, the dreamer, became the body through which fearful Homo Sapiens persist.

Lesson Thirteen

You have always been unlucky. Blame it on that selfish gene, the ruthless evolutionary protagonist. If you were male such a narrative would be compellingly productive. But you are not. You are a woman on a bench. There are children playing. A little girl grabs a stuffed animal from the arms of another child, a little boy who cries. How can you describe the girl as more relational, cooperative? The boy more objective? Do the antics of American children in a playground mean anything other than a moment in place and time? Social biology has a lot to say on the matter. You should too. Science depends on its capacity for extrapolation. Take your own case in point. You are woman who abandoned her family, slipped through the intricate network of interpersonal connections. Untethered. In the science of sex you are an aberration, a dilemma. In the backpack beside you is your broken heart. It has long since stopped bleeding. Now desiccant, it is the size of a grapefruit, a child’s ball. Toss it into the playground. If the little girl catches it, you will have a story about the nature of sex. Unlike the biological accounts of behavior, this little experiment tells us something different. We are ruse and artifice. In the ongoing staging of self, we can become anything at all.

Monday, July 30, 2007

50 Ways to Break You Heart (continues...)

Seven Sides to the Story

There are seven bison remaining in California. They live on the slope of an excavated hill. At dawn they cluster together on the western edge of fence. There is no mountainside for them to hide in. White Buffalo Calf Woman gave the Lakota the sacred pipe. She was wakan and could not be harmed by arrow or bullet. The people had other weapons. She gave them seven sacred rituals and then disappeared into the white cloud of their disbelief. There are seven bison and 36,457,549 people in California. The largest terrestrial mammal in North America, the bison live in a paddock the size of a city block. Darkly furred and humped, bison can live for up to 20 years. In captivity their lives are more precarious; they suffer from alcoholism, poverty, a sickness of spirit. 60 million bison once roamed the grasslands of North America. There are seven circling their pen. There is only one way to tell you this. We are endangered. Current rates of depensation make it unlikely that we will ever recover.

Lesson Nine


Make a list of every fucking thing anyone has ever done to you. Go year by year, recalling every slight, every rejection and disappointment. This may take some time. At some point, your throat will close and your hand will spasm and freeze. Take a deep breath. Proceed.


Put words in other people’s mouths. You’re a manipulator. This shouldn’t be hard for you to do. Write aphorisms on strips of rice paper and place them into every open mouth you see. When people protest, tell them “it is not wise to beat your chest if your heart is stone.” Place you hand across their lips. Put some paper in your own mouth and chew.


Place a help wanted ad in the newspaper. Say, help wanted. No name or number. Nothing else. Just, help wanted.


Steal someone else’s pet, preferably one of those well groomed poodles. Keep it until its coat is shaggy, the bow lopsided and stained. Then send it home. You will have what you were seeking, a bittersweet week spent in the proximity of something cherished, the stolen property of someone capable of such an emotion.

Friday, July 20, 2007

more from 50 Ways to Break Your Heart

Lesson Five

Pick anything, anyone. Make them into to something greater than they are. This is a familiar activity. Remember when you cast that bastard as a revolutionary hero? Remember all that political rhetoric you used to swaddle your own heart?

The easiest solution is to make him her or her him. Some kind of biochemical transition. There’s always that Indian boy who knows enough about women to know they are not born as such; it is something they choose to become. Grammatically speaking there are two ways of being, some assignment the nouns take. But gender is as infinite as sound. Indonesian gamelan ensembles often include three gendér. Most heartbreaks involve three bodies. The best boys were once girls. That girl, the one who broke your heart, she was a boy once too.

Lesson Six

You were an anarchist as a teenager. Stole canned goods from supermarkets and spent four days in the desert with a punk rock band and an assault rifle. This earned you a picture on the back cover of their record album. It was a hot, bright afternoon. You were drinking beer in your pajamas, some teenage girl in a dry riverbed. Later things took a turn for the worse. During a break in the set, the drummer took the rifle and scanned targets from the ridge. It did in fact seem anarchistic. The other band members sat drinking in their chairs but you and the other girl decided to run. You figured he was too drunk to manage distance and movement. But your departure signaled you both as prey. In the end, nobody died. You all drove back to the city together in the same broken down van. After that, it became hard to imagine the enduring benefits of a lifetime dedicated to such social disorder. You turned instead to communism, to labor and books. This would prove to be equally disappointing. But by then you were older. Disappointment was easier to bear.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

from 50 Ways to Break Your Heart

Lesson One

Say it isn’t broken. A muscle can’t really break at all. It can tear, torque, atrophy. It can be stripped of skin, cleaved from bone.

If it is exposed, palpitating, slick with blood, close your eyes and imagine it belongs to someone else. Grab someone, anyone and tell them, “you’ve dropped something. Your heart. It looks injured.” Then run as fast as you can.

Rename the fucking thing. Call it memory or fear. Take a big roll of duct tape and wrap the mess of it into a tight silver lump. Put it on your bookshelf. If anyone asks, you can tell them some vague story about a dog you once had, a dog that loved duct tape, loved that odd shaped orb of it. It is easy enough to imagine. Who hasn’t had such a dog?

Lesson Two

Forget about it all together. Really, who cares if your heart is broken? It caused you nothing but trouble to begin with. Remember you’re Indian; your heart was stolen long ago. Hang the medicine pouch around your neck. Cover the hollow of your chest with herbs. When you miss the pulsation of your own heartbeat, hum the sound of its vanishing. Those white folks won’t even notice. Something so insignificant as nostalgia shouldn’t bother anyone at all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Light Post 69

Words are never enough. To describe it. Life. The ending of it. Last night on the bridge. Not night, daylight still, sunset or almost. The warm day disappearing into the windy fog of evening. A crowded crossing. The pedestrian path scattered with people, their eyes obscured by camera lenses. At the crest of the bridge, the boy swings himself up by the light post and lands catlike on the lip of the balustrade. He is young as boys are, black haired and carelessly clothed. He hovers, higher than anyone dares to be. So brave and stubborn. Then he leaps out, his arms and legs bent back as if diving into the slippery calm of a pool. The light flashes on the metal struts of his belt. He is glittering. Free. The cameras remain pointed toward the water and the islands which crowd the bay. The cars cross back and forth from one tip of land to another. Nothing stops, or shifts, or stutters. Nothing changes. The water is too far below to sound his arrival.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A Year of Living

I spent the close of 2006 with my sister in her adopted city, Brooklyn, NY. So much has been said about New York, so many lives tossed in its throngs. I too love the energy of it, its relentless humanness. Everything the modern ages holds dear, asphalt, high rises, a profusion of goods on display. But by the 5th day I dreamed of mule deer, ears thrush with ticks. I dreamt a hillside dense with evergreens.

When I finally made it back to the state park in which I live, I put on my waterproof boots and tromped past the old barns through the mud and brush a half mile to the seasonal waterfall. In the winter, the water pounds the six foot drop, sounding as loudly as the city I had just fled. But unlike the cars and people that travel Brooklyn’s street, the creek is without past or future, without attachment to its own present tense. The rush of water over the rocky face of earth simply is. Its music is not music, is not organized by time. It sounds timbre, the color of.

The day after New Years I rise before dawn. Driving up the valley I see a buck, its neck burdened by antlers. At the crest of the ridge, a coyote walks its leisurely dawn. In this place, this small expanse of something other than human ambition and need, I can breath. It is a life less compelling than the urbanity of others. I write as if to compensate for my disinterest. The coyote pauses at the edge of the road, turns its head to me. Nothing I have ever said or done matters. The moon writes itself in her features.