A Dark Barker

If you’re into it, it’ll be over here from now on.


Found in Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, by Michael Kammen:

I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary. I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.” – Claes Oldenburg, 1967.


Ingrid Michaelson, local singer-songwriter, indie-pop writer, her lyrics are sweet but not groundbreaking, but this song speaks to me with its offbeat image of leaving someone else just to sleep beneath your desired’s bed:

There’s a corner of your heart for me.
There’s a corner of your heart just for me.
I will pack my bags just to stay in the corner of your heart.
Just to stay in the corner of your heart.

There is room beneath your bed for me.
There is room beneath your bed just for me.
I will leave this town just to sleep underneath your bed.
Just to sleep underneath your bed.

There’s one minute of your day.
There’s one minute of your day.
I will leave this man just to occupy one minute of your day.
Just to occupy one minute of your day.

Just to sleep underneath your bed.

Just to stay in the corner of you heart.


Kloe’s been hiding her new artwork. I like the photographs she has of little slivers and windows revealing only colors, suggestion but not reality. When we blog, do we show slices or whole canvasses of our lives? When I write about the most personal things, I tend to cloak the details in vagueness or allusion… but what do readers make of this? What images do they fill in around the visible colors? How does what they see relate to what really happens?


From Crossing California, a novel by Adam Langer. This one was a recommendation by my old bookstore boss, and he was right on; it’s worth it for this paragraph alone (which is better if you know the characters):

When midnight struck and the regulars in the Double Bubble half-heartedly cheered the TV as the great ball dropped in Times Square, Muley wondered if he’d lived through his most creative years in the 1970s. For him, that decade had been about ingenious solutions to insurmountable problems. The 1980s beckoned, and judging from the great progress he had made in such a short time, they seemed to represent a period of ease and boredom, of domesticity and routine, of financial reward at the expense of creativity–above all, a period of that until-now-unfamiliar feeling of discontent, where you got everything you desired and it turned out you really didn’t want it at all.


From “Red Shoes” by Susan Griffin, from the same collection of essays that I keep quoting… this essay weaves together a very formal analysis of fiction, the essay, and more, with a personal story… until the strands begin to cross… it’s hard to describe, but here’s a piece:

Fiction, as opposed to the essay, is often viewed as an escape from reality. The storyteller can make up a world and has no moral reason to stay loyal to this one. Shame and suffering can be left at the boundaries of the imagined world.

I imagined the color of the rose to be red. As I entered the garden I saw a rose whose deep burgundy color drew me. This red is replete with associations. Some of them wonderful. Some terrible.

But any really good story includes both pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, in infinite complexities. And any imagined world, if it is to be believed, will soon be replete with its own requirements, consequences, and limitations, just like this world.


Oh wow. I let go of my obsession with her a while before Christmas. They still fascinate me, but I’m not thinking of them every day. Still, today I remember that she left a post for New Year’s before she died, and I went to see it. It’s a gorgeous poem by T.S. Eliot, and a link. Follow the link. I won’t say where it leads. Who is behind it? I want to follow it where it will take me. Follow the links from the link. Here’s a bit of the Eliot because it is a beautiful poem:

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.


From “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard, read in The Next American Essay, ed. by John D’Agata:

The Crab Nebula, in the constellation Taurus, looks, through binoculars, like a smoke ring. It is a star in the process of exploding. Light from its explosion first reached the earth in 1054; it was a supernova then, and so bright it shone in the daytime. Now it is not so bright, but it is still exploding. It expands at a rate of seventy million miles a day. It is interesting to look through binoculars at something expanding seventy million miles a day. It does not budge. Its apparent size does not increase. Photographs of the Crab Nebula taken fifteen years ago seem identical to photographs of it taken yesterday. Some lichens are similar. Botanists have measured some ordinary lichens twice, at fifty-year intervals, without detecting any growth at all. And yet their cells divide; they live.


On involving other people in your fun: I love a lot of the “missions” of Improv Everywhere: dozens of people gathering in a park and following instructions from an mp3 played simultaneously; dozens more going slo-mo in a Home Depot; 30 cell phones ringing simultaneously in bag check at the Strand bookstore; a four-act romantic comedy for an audience of one. It’s the time of year when they do the no-pants subway ride, and while I don’t think that one’s a good idea for a teacher (even if I wore – like most of their “agents” – completely unrevealing underwear), I’ve signed up on their mailing list and hope to find something to join in one of these days. I believe in random acts of humor, theater by ordinary people that creates a sense of wonder for other ordinary people, and when they are at their best, this is what they accomplish.

But involving other people in your own story is always dangerous. Read a little deeper into the reports of their missions, read the comments, and you find (some of) the agents making fun of store employees for their accents or attitudes in response to the strange events occurring in their stores. Sure, some people overreact, but what’s the value in trying to kindle a sense of wonder in others when you are self-satisfied or mocking (or even racist) after the mission is completed? And here’s an episode of “This American Life” that tells some of the other side of the story – how a band felt when it realized its sudden popularity was fake, and how a college student felt when mobbed by strangers celebrating his birthday (except it wasn’t his birthday).I find the ethical fine line here interesting, and not so different from the ethical fine lines I’ve encountered blogging, the thin, thin lines that separate one’s own story from a story that not only involves others, but affects them, sometimes in ways that can’t be anticipated or undone. That other person is a person, not just a supporting character in one’s own life…


I found this here:

“I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention & one day I decided I had better things to do.”


1. Going downtown, the girl wore an impeccably put-together punk look: black jeans, boots, grey hoodie, lighter grey scarf twisted once about her neck, black leather jacket unzipped. Her hair was short and spiky in back, long in front, cutting a carefully-jagged swath across her eyes. You couldn’t help but admire how well it all worked together. She was writing on the back of an envelope, a card-sized envelope, YOU ROCK! and then a heart. Sticking the pen in her mouth and holding the card between her knees, she opened a package of electric blue tissue paper and wrapped it clumsily around a stuffed puppy-dog backpack, then put the backpack into a darker-blue paper gift bag and stuffed the remaining tissue paper around it to give the illusion of fullness. She experimented with closing the handles of the gift bag once or twice, adjusting the tissue around it. Then, after a glance at the blank gift tag attached to the bag, she stuck her card into the top of the bag, closed her pen and put it in her shoulder bag, and left the train at Broadway-Lafayette.

2. In the cafe, the couple was arguing. They were good at it, at explaining how they felt, at trying to understand each other or at least at pretending to try to understand each other. He dreaded hanging out with her friends. She felt her expectations were reasonable. He tried to explain that you can spend time with someone but you don’t have to like them. She’d been depressed. He’d been hungry and cold and not into it but thought she’d been having a good time. She thought his excuses about having to work were just that: excuses; he didn’t get that much work done. He proved otherwise. She needed to go home, and he felt he should offer to go with her. But it’s out of your way, she told him. Not necessarily, he replied. I wanted to tell him: tell her you want to be with her, that it isn’t out of your way because you would change your plans to show her that making it okay matters to you. Better, that she matters to you. But he just left it and the rest was hanging there, unsaid, perhaps implied.

3. I sat down in an unoccupied seat, headphones in my ears. Against subway seating protocol, a woman sat down beside me, vaguely hippie, middle-aged, bundled up. Quietly, she said, Have you seen Lust, Caution? I took my headphones out of my ears. Sorry? Have you seen Lust, Caution? No, but some of my friends have. What did they think of it? They liked it, they said it was good. It’s a very beautiful movie. Did you just come from seeing it? We got on near the Sunshine, where it has been playing for months. Yes, I think it’s so beautiful, I’ve seen it several times now. And you know, the Asian people, this movie is all they have. I don’t remember what I said to that, I think I just nodded. She went on about there being so few movies for them. Everyone else there was drawn in by the sex, the title, Lust… but for the Asians, there isn’t anything else. And Ang Lee… did you see him on the Academy Awards show? He’s so outgoing – not like other Asians. I pointed out that Ang Lee has spent a good deal of time in Hollywood. I think this might have fed her racism but it was too unexpected a conversation for me to know what to say. Luckily, my transfer was the next station.

4. Later, much farther uptown, a family entered the train and sat opposite me: a tired, very young dad with an earphone in one ear and his youngest son sleeping beneath his arm, his 9 or 10 year old daughter and slightly younger son, quiet but mischievous, and an enormous suitcase. I wondered if they were kicked out of the house, or moving in with their mother, or uprooted in some other way. I smiled at the boy and he smiled back wickedly, then whispered something to his sister, and she looked at me, too. For all I know they were calling me ugly but with music playing in my ears, I just caught their eyes and grinned, raising my eyebrows. They grinned back. We kept peeking over at each other and exchanging wicked looks, and then they’d giggle, not sure what to make of this grown-up playing with them on the train.


From “The Search for Marvin Gardens” by John McPhee (discovered in The Next American Essay, ed. by John D’Agata, who is only a little older then I am – I know this because he has selected one essay per year from the year he was born to the present – and editing collections of experimental or at least boundary-shaking essays, which he describes as “that genre known as ‘something else.'”). The piece that starts this book, “And,” by Guy Davenport, is a tiny, beautiful “something else” – meditation? – that I would quote except that I’d have to quote the whole thing. I felt pretentious buying this collection of essays, but now I think it is exactly what’s needed.

I buy Vermont Avenue for $100. My opponent is a tall, shadowy figure, across from me, but I know him well, and I know his game like a favorite tune. If he can, he will always go for the quick kill. And when it is foolish to go for the quick kill he will be foolish. On the whole, though, he is a master assessor of percentages. It is a mistake to underestimate him. His eleven carries his top hat to St. Charles Place, which he buys for $140.


The sidewalks of St. Charles Place have been cracked to shards by through-growing weeds. There are no buildings. Mansions, hotels once stood here. A few street lamps now drop cones of light on broken glass and vacant space behind a chain-link fence that some great machine has in places bent to the ground. Five plane trees – in full summer leaf, flecking the light – are all that live on St. Charles Place.

For a brief period of childhood, maybe one summer, I could reliably swindle my siblings in games of Monopoly that felt like our trades had one-upped the stiff rules of an ordinary board game. I don’t know how it felt to them. Soon they stopped trading with me, and the game sank back down into rolls of the die and cards pulled from piles.


There’s nothing to add; I love these lines from “Fallen From the Sky” by Glen Hansard:

You must have fallen from the sky,
You must have come here in the pouring rain.
You took so many through the light
And now you’re on your own
And if you need somewhere to fall apart,
Somewhere to fall apart.
Well the ruins of man
The bloody rag
Be the fool, the bull
The powdered hag
The nights that make
The rattle rag
The wolves that follow the ousted man
The falling star
The way we are
The rules that never ever multiply


Avid interest developing in Charles Fletcher Lummis, particularly in his four and a half month walking trip from Cinncinnati to Los Angeles as a young reporter. Research: find & read the dispatches he sent to the LA Times (what was he writing about? why did he choose to walk? what did he learn in this journey? a lot is answered here – perhaps I’m too late to add much to this story) and the books he wrote; read his biography and anything else I can find on the man; read or re-read other tales of American journeys (Kerouac and Sarah Vowell come to mind). Watch Forrest Gump (again)? Ha ha. If he (Lummis, not Gump) were making this journey today, would he keep a blog? What would he learn from a similar trip today? What might I learn? Is it safe to walk across the US solo? Who would be interested in such a tale?


From the first page of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art:

What times are these
When to write a poem about love
Is almost a crime
Because it contains
So many silences
About so many horrors….
-After Bertolt Brecht

And from Ferlinghetti himself:

If you would be a poet, write living
newspapers. Be a reporter
from outer space, filing dispatches to
some supreme managing editor who
believes in full disclosure and has a
low tolerance for bullshit.
If you would be a poet, experiment
with all manner of poetics, erotic
broken grammars, ecstatic religions,
heathen outpourings speaking in
tongues, bombast public speech,
automatic scribblings, surrealist sens-
ings, streams of consciousness,
found sounds, rants and raves –to
create your own limbic, your own
underlying voice, your ur voice.

It was right about there in the poem that I realized I was mouthing the words aloud. The sounds in my head needed to reach my ears. That’s something. “Compose on the tongue, not on the page,” he says later. Want more?

Strive to change the world in such away that there’s no further need to
be a dissident.

That turns on the word “strive,” for a kind of utopian-utopia, because most of the so-called utopias we’ve heard of still require dissent. Or maybe it turns on the word “need” because one might be a dissident out of a simple love for questioning, but perhaps the world to strive for would not require dissent, though it might still include it. Wouldn’t that keep utopia vibrant, dissent? (I nearly wrote dissonance). It’s kind of a koan, isn’t it?
This one’s for the English teachers, and the rest of us, in our own way:

If you have to teach poetry, strikeyour blackboard with the chalk of

And I’ve changed the title of this page:

Be a dark barker before the tents of existence.


what would come unbidden.jpg


brunch story.jpgVII.lives are like books.jpgVI.what are you looking for?V.draw no secrets lies.jpgIV.draw computer test .jpg


Rewrite this: it isn’t just the sunshine. It happens here, too.

“Once there, they discover the sunshine isn’t enough. Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time … The boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment.” -Nathanael West


I am fascinated by them.

(first) walking into the sea. how does that work? I thought you’d have to put weights in your clothes, but at Far Rockaway swimming out deep enough without resistance is enough, it seems. people die there every year. any number of people I know romance the sea. this might seem like a beautiful way to die to them. to me? I just wonder, as I always do, did he wish, when the waves were pulling him under, that he could turn back?

(second) something about her feels familiar to me. I never knew her and have no right to speculate about similarity to someone I can’t pretend to begin to identify with. but that desire to have one’s life tell a certain story, to mean something larger in the world… and the way you fight to make it so.

(third) in fact it feels shameful to be so fascinated by someone’s death like this.

(fourth) last night, after reading this article, I dreamed of her. she’d turned my students’ robotics project into an art piece, with them. I woke up at 1:03 and again at 1:44 and again and again, overwhelmed by this thing they’d created and unable to figure it out. I was grateful for her help and relieved when I saw it wasn’t morning yet.

(fifth) not going to your own party, just looking down from above.

(sixth) there are these modern relationships we have that are real – because it’s all real – but not physical. if you die, or they die, do you just disappear, do they? she left two blog posts scheduled for after her death. a tribute piece was published by a friend on her blog. the blog: like a stage, a diary, a side of yourself, a memoir, a phone call. what becomes of it all?


talons to skin

blood lustful

you forget I’m there

I remind you

beak-sharp teeth

feather-soft flesh

the sky gives way

I plunge towards earth

knife-sliced, cawing


4 responses to “A Dark Barker

  1. Pingback: Se Hace Camino Al Andar :: Mum’s the word.

  2. Pingback: 7 things &c. &c. « ms. frizzle

  3. Leo Casey

    Awesome collection. The Bertolt Brecht reminds me of an Adorno quote, to the effect that there can be no poetry after the Holocaust. I also love the Brecht take down of the East German government, after its statement that it was disappointed in the people for having supported a rebellion against it. “Perhaps the government should dissolve the people, and elect another,” he wrote.

  4. Pingback: Waking Up « ms. frizzle

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