Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Currently listening to...

...the sparkling, divine, throbbing "Glosoli" by heaven's houseband themselves, Sigur Ros.

The music is, of course, transcendant and yearning, but the video too is magical...pure poetry... absolute perfection.

Just finished RE-reading...

...CAT'S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I first read this book when I was in 7th or 8th grade and it had an impact on me. Now, re-reading it many years later, I find deeper meaning and bigger issues. This is natural, since I am now reading this piece with experienced eyes.

When I was younger, this book introduced me to the literary motif of entangled lives; the idea that there is a set list of people you are going to have in and out of your life. Some you might already know and some you don’t. People come and go and then connect with other people—this web-like view of life made sense to me and appealed to my budding bird’s-eye-view spiritual sense of the grand scheme of things. This motif is also expressed in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant film MAGNOLIA, which features a cast of characters whose lives are spearate threads which eventually become woven together.

Now, I can see even clearer the parody and cynicism in CAT'S CRADLE but underneath that, there is still the sense of the grand scheme of things, a sense of profound reverence for the spirit. Since I first read CAT’S CRADLE, I have been exposed to a lot of different ideas, philosophies, beliefs and religions. Many years ago now, I came across something called The Michael Teaching. And parts of that belief system bear a resemblance to parts of Bokononism, the made up religion in CAT’S CRADLE. A karass in Bokononism is a group of people whose destinies are intertwined (bringing to mind a web or a Cat’s Cradle); in the Michael Teaching, such a group is called a cadence and is made up of 7 people (your cadence is then a member of a larger group of people, and so on, until you are part of a cadre, a group of 7,000 people, and you continue on, becoming an entity, etc. until you cycle out of this universe and join the Tao, The All-That-Is). In Bokononism, a duprass is a karass occupied by only two people; I will liken this to a monad in the Michael Teaching, a karmic relationship between people.

With its odd, touching, colorful characters and enormous implications, CAT’S CRADLE is dry, lucid, funny and horrifying. Despite its shortness, it packs in a stunning amount of ideas and gallops along quickly to a finale that is at once both sad and perfect.

Recommend? Yes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seven years ago today...

I Am My Mother’s Keeper

In the end, she lives in all our former homes at once.
My father is gone, destroyed by his own hand,
it ripples backward and forward, like
he was never there. He was never anywhere.
It’s just me and her.

In New York, she has cancer, tumors everywhere.
They grow on her back, strangle her spine,
kill nerves, paralyze. She can’t walk. She is in her bedroom,
upstairs. Mine is next door, with my toy box.
I bring her crackers, water, tea.
There’s not much I can do to help.

In Miami, she sleeps a lot. In the bed
with the purple velvet bedspread, the
curtains are drawn. Her dresser holds her clothes,
her jewelry sits on top, next to pictures of
her and my father. Her things.
In the same building, in the same unit:
#313. Just me and her. It always was.

In California, chemo, radiation make her sick.
She is in her bedroom at the back of the house.
She cries, I try to comfort her. Her head hurts.
She is wearing a fuzzy white robe that smells like
her perfume.

In central Florida, her wheelchair is next to the bed.
She wakes crying, asking for my father.
I have to sort her meds, give her these pills:

© JEF 2007

Riding With Mary

The Virgin Mary sits
next to me in the
passenger seat, silent,
staring out the window.
I have to say
she makes me sick
with her unspoken reproach,
her pinched lips, her
robe of infinite blue
folded neatly around her
and her passive-aggression.
She knows exactly where we’re going
and what is happening. She knows
the double room, lethargic nurses,
thick steel needles and tubes and bags,
the hallucinations and the retching.
She claims she is here to
help, that the Lord is with her.
“Then why are we sitting at
this red light,” I want to scream.
“Why don’t you do something?
Why aren’t you like your image
on the ceramic plate hanging from
the wall of my mother’s dining room?
If all you can offer are
milky tears of compassion,
keep them, they’re useless.
I’m so tired of your
inability, your helplessness.”
The light turns green
and my angry foot
pushes down. Tires squeal,
we lurch forward and she
doesn’t acknowledge a thing.
What I really want to do is
stop at the next gas station,
put her out and leave her
stranded by the air pump and
pay phone but I don’t need to.
She is already stranded,
alone with herself and the
fact that all around her
is agony that she is
powerless to stop
for all eternity.

©JEF 2002


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eight years ago today...

The Night My Father Left His Life

The fifteen-foot walk to the shed took hours,
hiking alone with his back to the house,
to his cats he fed for the last time,
to me driving through the mountains
three thousand miles away,
to my mother behind him,
next to him, asleep inside him.
The air was cool. It was night.
Stars were shining silver-white,
the ground sighed as his feet sunk
into the soft wet cushion of green grass.
He did not see colors.
He turned the handle, did not hear
the click or whoosh of the door.
This is the night he destroyed himself.
He removed his glasses, set them down carefully,
took his place on the floor and
fumbled in the dark with the gun.
His final walk, his glasses,
his breath coming short and scared,
his finger, the ripping sound
tearing through the still darkness—
all of this, his final gift to me
as I, from a cold beach,
watched meteors streak
through the sky.

© JEF 2005

His Journey

He is aware now. His eyes move around.
He feels he is waking from anesthesia.
The volume is turned up slowly with
no sense of the silence before.
The film is unpaused with no
memory of what happened last.
How long were his eyes closed?
What was he doing?
He left his house; that much he knows.
But he is back in his living room,
on the sofa, hands on knees,
in stillness, like a photograph;
all is flat, unreal.
He is alone.
Same sofa, same TV, but this
feels like different terrain.

In the kitchen now:
same sink, same counter.
He stands, tossing a salad but
no one is here to eat it:
only the slow, rhythmic
scraping of wooden forks.
There is a pain in his head.
Did he injure it? Yes, he recalls.
Yes, he did. But how?

The phone is in his hand.
He can’t remember dialing
or who he has called.
He knows he must speak
yet no words will come,
only a low groan.
He clears his throat, tries again.
It’s important; this much he knows.

This department store is
empty too. How did he get here?
Shopping for towels—these blue ones
will look good in the bathroom—
but his head still hurts.
Touching his hand to his temple,
it comes back bloody.

At the Barefoot Motel
in a place like Texas,
in a turquoise room,
at a scarred wooden desk
he writes a letter of
explanation, apology.
He knows what he did now
so the bleeding has stopped.
His head still hurts a little
and there is no way to
send this letter.

Lost in a desert,
so far from home,
not knowing where he is
or how to get where
he needs to be.
He is hungry and fishes
from the banks of a wide river
while a steamboat slides by.
Unable to return or move on.

The bottom of a cave,
miles deep, never seen:
among moist black rock
sits a structure made from
sections of all the homes
he has ever lived in,
a room from each one.
This does not make sense,
but it does; this much he knows.
At the edge of the yard,
perfect grass gives way to gravel.
With one step beyond,
the cave floor is gone.
The threshold, the last place.
There is nowhere else to go here.
He looks back, floating,
past the clothesline, the patio,
he can see the house through
white mist and stars.
Lights are on in the living room
but he can’t stay.

He is aware now. His eyes move around.
He is more aware than he has ever been.
Things sparkle. Days are brighter.
It is exciting to wake up each morning.
He drove here, the whole way,
without stopping once.
There is the idea of cities,
buildings, roads, homes.
“I got us a house to live in.
I’ll wait here for my wife.
She’ll be coming soon.”

© JEF 2008

My father was a man of few words: not cold or uncaring, just silent. His mother once told me that when he was a teenager, he would go for weeks without saying anything more than “Good morning.”
He spoke with his actions and as I look back and review my life with him, I find that sometimes he had a lot to say. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I was ten years old and my parents had surprised me with a trip to Disney World. While there, my dad took me on the automobile ride—my dad loved cars so this was as much for him as it was for me. It was a sort of combination of a race track and freeway where one “drove” a scaled down replica of a car, albeit tethered to a center rail, around a meandering loop.
A line of cars waited; my dad and I were first in line. We climbed into our little fiber glass cart and waited, per the instructions from the Disney ride attendant, for the lights tumbling down the traffic light tree to turn green.
When the light began at the top in red, my father floored it and we lurched away from the crowd.
“Daddy, what are you doing? We have to wait!” I said, worried that we would get “in trouble.” Didn’t he hear the instructions?
“Nope. We don’t have to wait.”
“But Daddy…”
“It’s okay,” he said, “just have fun!”
We circled the track but I was scared to pull back to the loading dock, wondering what authority would punish us for disobeying the rules. Of course there was no one waiting for us, no punishment, no trouble.
As a result, this simple event, this blip, this innocuous occurrence comes to me with more and more frequency. I see now that my father had heard the instructions just fine, thank you. He misunderstood nothing. In fact, it was the opposite: he understood the futility of waiting for nothing, of being forced to stay with the herd. It was a beautiful lesson for me. As an adult, I wonder if even he fully understood the meaning of his action.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Currently listening to...

...the ethereal, melancholy-yet-swinging haziness of "Private Road" by Bent.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's About The Journey

"November Story"

I curled up in the corner and wrapped the One Hundred Year Old Quilt around me. Its name was Quilt. That’s what I called it, especially when it was cold outside. I’d just call its name and through the door Quilt would walk just like it had done earlier that evening. It was very cold outside-- so cold, even the mittens didn’t like it. I wished for a fire but had no fireplace to keep it in. If I had, I would’ve named it Fireplace. The cold continued to knock at my doors and windows, deceptive, repeating, “Let me in, I’ll make you feel better” but I knew enough not to listen. Rain spattered on the roof, sometimes liquid, sometimes solid, and I thought of the ship at sea, rocking back and forth, creaking, rolling in the amniotic ocean... I knew it was cold on Ship (as I thought of it in my mind) and I could see his black coat flapping like a flag, puffs of breath issuing from his mouth and red nose-- the stars to him looked like pieces of ice frozen in the sky... cruel, sharp ice like razors. The ship tossed and turned in its restless sleep and he tried his best to keep his footing. I tried to imagine a bird, maybe a dove or perhaps a starling flying by my window but instead, I accidentally thought of a truck stop diner, washed with enormous drops of rain that looked like silver dollars, almost floating by the roadside, and of Brian wearing a flannel shirt that contained his precious body heat. I thought of donuts and pastries under glass domes and thick white coffee mugs and stray newspapers littering the counter. I saw the waitress’ nametag, heard breathy comments about the rain, smelled something burning like toast or meat. It was then that I remembered the map with the lines of red marker like veins, outlining highways, freeways, turnpikes, roads-- I remembered the itinerary and as I opened my eyes, I could feel it coming...

©JEF 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BEAUTY: Interior

Fantasy baths.


Just a handsome man.
That is all.
Carry on...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"99 Dreams"

(I made this when I was in film school... many many years ago.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Just finished RE-reading...

Rilke’s DUINO ELEGIES, one of the great enigmas of our time.

This book lives on my night stand, and when I am in between books, I reach for this slim volume of ten poems to re-read, contemplate, marvel at, and absorb. Sometimes I read them in order; most often I skip around, taking whatever elegy I open the book to.

Started in 1912, but not completed until after the First World War, the ELEGIES are mournful and plaintive, like a traditional elegy. But there is also an anxiety present, a longing, a yearning, an élan toward… something. They are questioning, restless. The ELEGIES seem to be trying to find answers, searching for a truth about what is real—searching for a wider truth. They are searching for new ways of thinking and being.

When I first read the ELEGIES, I was struck by the dichotomy, the juxtaposition between their lofty references to classic figures and gods of antiquity (and allusions to Egyptian friezes, 16th century Italian poets, and apocryphal Books of the Bible) and the accessibility and immediacy of the anything-but-lofty words and nearly visceral ideas. It is as though Rilke used antiquity as a stepping stone: he honors what came before but is honest enough to leave behind what does not work, and take what does work for us into the present and the future. He shows the human psyche as trapped, longing for a way out, longing for a new paradigm, a new map of the universe.

The ELEGIES are woven with the contrast between angels and man. For Rilke, angels are not good; they are not a source of intimate comfort, but a universal power of such magnitude that were we to come face to face with one, we would perish. Both in the first and second elegies, he claims that all angels are terrifying. I understand that to mean that we can’t comprehend what transcends us. Possessed with such otherworldly beauty, and representing primal, cosmic forces of creation beyond our understanding, these angels would literally blow our minds, like being sucked into a black hole or looking into the flash of radiation from a dying star. Ultimate creation and destruction are not opposites—they are forms of the same thing. In this way, I am reminded of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction who is considered to be the ultimate reality, merging creation and destruction, transcending both to a timeless state beyond such ideas. According to the ELEGIES, we do not last but angels stretch across our own lives, and across time itself. After we dissolve, they remain. This makes me think of the story arc of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play ANGELS IN AMERICA: we move but the angels, by their very immortal nature, are still—and they want us to be still too. But we can’t. We exist in a stream of time, in a flow of history. In a way, we are life and they are death. In the same way, the poor angels of Wim Wenders’ brilliant film WINGS OF DESIRE are caught in resin, unmoving, unchanging, untouched by time but also untouched by all that makes us human; and in seeing our lives, they long to feel. This is certainly what Rilke hungers for in the ELEGIES—for a state of Existence with a capital E, for a state that incorporates every moment and sensation of being human, a perspective that takes everything into account, a state of hyper-humanness. In fact, in two separate interviews (in 1988 for a North Carolina magazine called “Spectator” and in 1989 for a magazine called “Impulse” from Toronto) Wenders acknowledges that the angels of the DUINO ELEGIES influenced the angels in his film.

The elegies that speak to me most (currently at least) are the Eighth and Tenth Elegies.

The Eighth Elegy truly captures the difference between existence and Existence by exploring the perspective of an animal. Rilke shows that, as humans, we are trapped where we are because we are self-aware, we possess knowledge of time, of our beginning and our ending; almost as if thinking itself creates for us a type of prison. We know too much for our own good. But the animal looks out into the world and does not see “world”; instead the animal sees itself. When you are part of everything, there is no separation, no difference between “me” and “not-me.” This is, again, what Rilke strives for: to see ourselves “in everything, healed and whole, forever.” This is a breathtaking idea.

In 1990, I wrote a poem called "Some of these artifacts..." that expresses this very idea:

“Some of these artifacts
are so old,
they have no
universally recognized
the anthropologist said.
Objects from a culture so old,
we don’t know the language.

That something can exist
without a name
is chilling
and I think of
some swollen, dumb fish
swimming in a tributary
off the Amazon--
its heartbeat--
not calling itself anything,
no one else knowing it exists;
but if someone did,
they would surely name it
as soon as they saw
the scales, the huge jelly eyes
or fins with curious claws,
not realizing that it
ate, swam and shat
for millions of years,
even before the first
humanoid killed a gazelle,
without the benefit
of a name.

That everything exists
without a name,
vibrating at a
simple, blank rate
manifesting beyond
a name
is something we all forget.
I imagine cavemen--
thinking of themselves and others
as whole, not abstract--
killing a bear,
not calling it anything
and eating it
and digesting it
without calling it anything,
just calling it...
leaving the skull
and a bit of fur
on the ashes of
the cave fire
to call more,
to insure the return
of the creature without a name--
the creature that is the equivalent
of everything else
because all things
un-named are equal--
to insure the life
and return
and death
and resurrection
of all things
©JEF 1990

All things un-named are equal.
Tenth Elegy: a journey or a journey’s end. Moving from life to death (from Pain City to the land of the Laments), but then beyond into something else, into another state, unfathomable, unknowable—into another journey that we cannot comprehend.

Recommend? Absolutely. Read it and then re-read it in a few months, then again after that…



Sometimes people dream of
angels on playgrounds,
swinging, sliding, giggling.
In some cultures,
people ride angels
like horses.
My mother says,
“Angels will accompany
Jesus when He comes to
cover us with His blanket.”

If I believe in them at all,
they live in the
apartment above me--
little angels with ringlets
stomping, marching, storming.
I see them staring
out of the upper windows
as if they’re blind,
as if they’re prisoners.
They live among us,
like misfits, runts.

Someone told me that
angels love doorways
and gates because they
like to go through things.
The angels above me
sound like they want
to come through the floor.
These angels are so mad,
they could rip us in two.

Last night I dreamt
I was on a runaway coach
pulled by six angels
thundering toward a cliff.
Listen, you who are
constantly crying,
begging for guidance,
they can do
nothing for you.
They are desperate, too.
Hurry, let’s get inside
before night falls.

©JEF 1994

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Currently listening to...

..."When I Grow Up" by Fever Ray: inexplicable, joyous, neo-primal, fascinating.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

BEAUTY: Interior--Jeffrey Bilhuber

By Jeffrey Bilhuber. I am drawn to the large-scale objects and unexpected mix of styles/ materials in the dining room. Who says you can't have a library in the master bedroom? The place d'attente at the bottom of these stairs has a wonderful vague exoticness about it.

BEAUTY: Tableau

By Kensington and Associates, at the Icons of Design Showcase at the Millennium Tower in San Francisco.

BEAUTY: Man--Ronaldo

Your moment of sexy, palooka-faced Ronaldo.

You're welcome.

Currently listening to...

...the potent, futuristic, buzzy power of "Somnambulist" by BT

It doens't hurt that he is also beautiful.
And I like the semaphoric funky sign language he is using to ride the force of the song.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Three Time Periods

I like conversational parlour games and questionnaires, like the so-called "Proust" questionnaire. They can be fun and revealing, allowing one to get to know people on a deeper level. Ideally, the best conversational parlour games lead to interesting discussions that exceed the original topic. One conversational game I learned of many years ago is called Three Time Periods. Here is the set-up:
You can travel back in time to visit three time periods. You will have twentry-four hours in each time period. Any time, anywhere. You will be given the correct clothing to blend in and enough money to buy what you need. Language is not an issue as you will magically be able to speak and understand whatever language you encounter. What three time periods will you choose and why?

Here are my answers.
1. That lovely time in between wars, about 1932-33. I would choose to be in New York City to see the culture then...attend a matinee, hang out by the offices of the New Yorker magazine and see if I could find Dorothy Parker or John dos Passos or Ring Lardner going in/coming out, perhaps go to a nightclub or two (the Cotton Club!), and just generally drink in the Edward Hopper-like tableaux. I am sure I would find more to do once I was there. Maybe I could get to meet Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant!

2. Impressionist Paris, late 1800s, when the Impressionists had their third exhibition at their own Salon des Refuses, being refused from exhibiting at the Academie des Beaux-Arts. By then the movement would have been past the birth stage and into the growth stage. I would try to find where Monet was painting--if in plein air (most likely), I would go there and sit and watch him. Same thing with Manet--especially were he to be at the frog pond!
And of course, for night life, I would have to go up to Montmartre and also to the Folies Bergeres.

3. I had to make a painful decision to skip ancient Greece (the Colossus of Rhodes would have been fantastic to see), ancient Rome, and even ancient Egypt (oh, how I would love to see the temple at Luxor, the temple at Karnak, and the temple of Abu-Simbal) and opt instead to visit India around 400 BCE-ish for an opportunity to see the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, and to hear him teach.

What three time periods would you choose and why?