Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weird Gravel

Vanity makes its own hole. I am the tip of an honorary spear. Then forgive me. Forgive me again for my thoughts. My homegrown cadence of betrayal and confession. All of imagination. Then the newness of a bruised love, recovering. Then tragedy of sex. Then octopus of orgasm and pleasure of you slapping my face. Togas at breakfast. Syrup and tears. Too many if only too many to think. Someone has to watch your back, even if it’s me.

The First Good Word Of The Tetherball Bastards


You’ll go gladly, you’ll go. You’ll wake it all in some string. That one, that’s window. That Shake. That Make It To The Store before you get there. That One, bet you go. Then you get a flavor and A Rice, an even cold. Then you mix them up in a recipe, go The Desire Path, collaborate. You’re some kind of fun hominid, you show yourself, you chatter again, you go down in a cloud of this Darn Universe. Then saying things you intended are fine, then you do those things, then they do them, then everyone did them or some kind of Sitting Collects The Corners. Going round, going to come around in a car, a right vehicle for the time, more or less a vision of the believing that causes belief. It’s just an action, you know it, that Thought Stuff. Happens to happen in the every day, nothing special for Ten Days Straight.

2nd Move

Stew gives you strength, you blow on the bottle, you re-gather with friends. Someone laughs, you move your arms. You raise them up, tell “em” to raise “em” up. Everyone feels real, or good, or neither, but still someone feels something, which makes it different from Last Night, when you all thought about someone you kiss. Yes, you make it so, you and your Little Happiness.

The Freaking

Him that go-gets a goiter, gets a pursuit in the belonging stance and for very announcements wish this was a horse. Tetherball Bastards, your fambly team on crutches. Your crotching past. That sifted dream of a red face huffing above you, taking your thought like aerosol fuel for Her Fire. Ting. Sounds to you like some kind of drink you drank, busted out of your scuttling coal pail, freedom in derangement, a chef. The thoughts you think you think all belong to me, you swimmer, Dinner.

Shambling Forward

Wearing your slipper running errands, bending your knees in a rhythmic way, tacky you don’t care. You loss, you shame, you Chiclet, you starling. Breath Hero. How you get that out of you for care, for a luck card, for a swing out to The Farm, where the inexperienced you (The Uninterpreted You) still rejoices in the loneliness of being alone. Do you now?

Leading Away

Stem in This Now Life. To regret is to choose time. To fracas! To carpentry! To hands themselves. Well, everyone you see, being well, being good to their cuckoo core, being glockenspiel, baloney. Shoe up, Shoe!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

O Where Are You Going?

by W. H. Auden

"O where are you going?" said reader to rider,
"That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,
Yonder's the midden whose odors will madden,
That gap is the grave where the tall return."

"O do you imagine," said fearer to farer,
"That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,
Your diligent looking discover the lacking
Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?"

"O what was that bird," said horror to hearer,
"Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?
Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,
The spot on your skin is a shocking disease."

"Out of this house" -- said rider to reader,
"Yours never will" -- said farer to fearer,
"They're looking for you" -- said hearer to horror,
As he left them there, as he left them there.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"The perverse allure of a damaged woman."

Long have I felt that the writings of Ayn Rand are pure shit. Every time I've cracked open one of her books, I have been repulsed at the sentence level by her ham-fisted and unbeautiful prose. Her ideas have always struck me as not much more than a precocious and angsty teenager's inner squawking at a world that just can't appreciate true greatness. I am perplexed at the adoration shown for her work by people whose ideas and opinions I have tried hard to respect. Thus, I am delighted to point you to an article on Rand in Slate Magazine about two new biographies of her. Perhaps, like me, you will find it both sad and enlightening. Click here or above for the article and enjoy.

Monday, November 02, 2009

In Homelike Need

In grungy cross-boats, everything changes and everyone ruts. The hills on the shoulders of men and ladies go daring their chasms collide in spoken inertial dampening buffers and boots. Like ten times ago you cleared your throat and shook a tree to see if people would grow away from their silks. Like switching to a new childhood that didn’t have a swingset or a pizzle or a shard of wild glass. Liver and runts go togethering in your window or pan, so wicker and shake to the sound of the old man has had his fun so whisper and shake to the day the old man can’t dance so wisdom and steak for your dinner or some such baloney, compadre. That washes away the hurting or the frame of mind that made the sting go feeble, shook the stench from your fingers.

In dream, he held a sharpened sword and showed his friends how to cut paper squares that floated in air. All was well, or at least possible, and the edge was sharp indeed. In homelike need I’ll find myself and your tan brain or your fishy upbringing will trigger a way to the smashing top of all this. Yes, someone said smashing, so that’s the verb of the day, accept it as adjective, too. She asks how the day goes, she says how the waves are full today, she is Lady Liberty and we’ve decided to bring her down this night, but instead we’ll get mints. The double cigarette technique produces the continuous expectation of non-recognition, so it could make you horny or something, if you have a sheer constitution. That was my somethingth declaration, I’m too terribly bored to go back and count. Plus, I was a graffiti smear on your highway bathroom.

Then the children we were came out to see the adults we became and a breadlike thing did an uncomfortable dance in the oven, once it got cold. The heat hardly ever worked poorly, we were always warm enough, and the floors were smooth enough to slide on in your socks. Even the dog slipped sometimes. You could play music and run circles around the living room and kitchen and the dog would slip and yip after you. So you did that. It created a message and story about dogs to tell the future. See? Them hands I’m wearing, warning my old caged bottom up from the basement. Shake it and run and feel the thrill of the approaching Boogeyman. Now I have only star stickers in my wallet and can feel the worth of them with my fingers, in the dark, if I’ll allow it.

Why so much discipline, why not think in terms of yes, and sure? These days have to be gotten into line, I guess, or else they’ll just go any which way and you’ll become a little bit of everything. That’s not delightful, by the way. This is a drafty something else. You understood that from the getgo, you in your corner and my watches on the tables of this young country. There will be a lot more shelves in my future, I can feel it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Then?

by W.B. Yeats

His chosen comrades thought at school
He must grow a famous man;
He thought the same and lived by rule,
All his twenties crammed with toil;
`What then?' sang Plato's ghost. `What then?'

Everything he wrote was read,
After certain years he won
Sufficient money for his need,
Friends that have been friends indeed;
`What then?' sang Plato's ghost. `What then?'

All his happier dreams came true -
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
`What then?' sang Plato's ghost. `What then?'

`The work is done,' grown old he thought,
`According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought';
But louder sang that ghost, `What then?'

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Friend,

I'm sick of everything spiritual,
everything elliptical,
everything fathomable.

Not enough bike rides.
Not enough air.
Not enough chewing.

Last night,
before bed,
I made a grilled cheese sandwich.
If you had been there,
I'd have given you half.

Shit. I would have made you a whole one.

I'd have shaken your hand for an hour,
showed you old pictures,
told you about my dream.
I'd have listened, too.

When you fall asleep tonight,
remember this game.

We Say Accident

Grand with a wish of cave men, grainy with kindling, crackfall of jar, uneven pavement stands alone, rain without sound. Some kindred hollow stun is gratified (drops in a bottle, too). Yellow dogs snarl once around the house and fall to sleep, dreaming upside down. Once I was upside down, saw shards, after superb velocity and drift.

Even rays of sound went thataway—or was it thisaway?—I came running, showed you my good ol’ messianic side. You (we, that is) or me makes a beat true: You? No. No: You.

Who owns a town of feeling? Take them up, your divining tools, et cetera. Time to tag a cleft in The Rock of Attention. A shepherd becomes a singer, becomes a salesman.

Muses busted through my engine block, left me handless, beaming. Dream, or you’ll go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beating Due Headfakes

A window or an asp will show you where you took your wrong turn. Neptune has certain objects that we possess, as fellows of the universe, but now is not the time to claim them. Nor is it the time to let Neptune know we are cohabitants. In time, in time. Hands agree to write as we get smarter, even as the fundaments of knowing fall away. This is the age of tessellated thought. Images bounce back at us for a grand undoing. Alone or along the window, our serpentine mental actions come back around. Time is the culprit, even as it is merely an invented thing. Yesterday, or the future, only exist in thought, and thinking only happens in the present --> the present is the only thing. Don’t think of it as a gift. It simply is. If something simply is, and you know it, don’t clap your hands.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oh Yeah.

Read two of my newer poems in this summer's recent issue of Ekleksographia.
create animated gif

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sort Of A _________ Craquelure

Magnetism by fire. Seams chewed free from the afternoon. Skyscrapers. Long nights with a great friend.

Light steams out my old window face, clears the crucible city and runs home in a rush. Some sonic landscape. A declination of magic makes its own magic. They (those ones with arms and loss) ripple an entire beach, redo spasms of new memory, travel further in. Glinting metal everywhere, surprise meat shudders away, plays the uncomfortable witness.

We made machines. Then machines made time for us. Substantial as knuckles or national will. But the city is a device of time, home to all the souls that ever were--catch them in photographs, a headstone, that mossy old tenement brick. All those nouns squirting reticules of memory.

Who is the sheriff of time: fundament or frangible thing? Pauses, expectation of an event. We got caught peering out of a loophole in luck's curtain. Something crenelated, something drawn. Stand next to words, fake or freak meaning, hamper every permanence.

Shin guard, chin guard. We look away, but always bend back around to original seeing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Auroch And The E

Upon moving into my new apartment I discovered under the floorboards the remains of a perfectly preserved auroch, which had died suddenly but not violently, some forty thousand years ago. It still had its pair of piercing horns and a musky leather smell emanating from its impressive hide. I ran my hand across the body, marveling at what was once a great musculature, the kind that inspired earlier persons to paint its likeness upon the walls of their caves, in and out of trance. I found myself riveted by the large gaping holes where its eyes had been, and the hooves seemed as if they had just come from some magnificent thundering plain, bits of rock and ancient brown moss clung to the shaggy hair at the end of the forelegs.

I felt that the correct and most effective way to do this marvel justice would be to turn it into a piano-forte or harpsichord and invite all my old friends and lovers to come and appreciate this beast as well as my own appetite for curiosity and endless innovation. Besides, it is not every day that you have an auroch with which to theorize over a glass of soda with fresh lime.

I began my preparations in earnest, wringing my hands daily, deliberating over whether to have the creature embalmed straightaway and then install a keyboard over the top of the form of the great animal; or, to carefully cut into its hide, open its prehistoric innards and coat the ribs with several layers of a fine shellac, and then build my instrument within its dried guts. This seemed to me a grand question: Should I support an art that forces itself beyond the boundaries of occasion and setting, or should it complement and accompany the unfoldings of its immediate environs?

I was at an impasse.

To this end, I took particular note of the gorgeous “e” at the end of the perfectly plausible and temporarily comforting word “impasse.” The letter spun endlessly through mental space, now pulsing hugely and with crackling potential at the start of a word like “erogenous,” now playing a supportive role, yet not imposing its will or ineluctable identity too harshly beyond the boundaries of the scene, as in its second appearance in the word “cathected.”

To be sure, I was caught in a pleasant conundrum. One sunny afternoon, after days of indoor contemplation of “e” while sitting over the carcass of my auroch, I came to an illuminating realization. I decided that I should, for inspiration, wedge the heel of my bare foot into the eye socket of the great auroch, and with my hands build a great “e” out of lucite and place within it a coiled string of blue Christmas lights. I did so, and upon entering homes of friends and old flames, I would plug my creation into the nearest wall socket and proclaim it a momentary bridge between thought and deed, object and action.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Tangerines From Your Crow's Feet

He wallops a few flim-flammers on his way to the breakfast drizzle. Chlorine eyes and a shank of ice function as a makeshift pen. He knows about his target, trusts his team, and stirs ellipses into the mix. Frogmen gather at the corners of his mouth. Their assault on civilization and its hortative practices is imminent.

He brandishes a cutlass during an endgame morphology presentation. His cordage is wavy in a nautical light. He sees the microchip in your wobbly hand, notices you're fine, memory's fine, nostalgia's fine. Wearing a suit, he has every intention of showing you his cover i.d. He makes lemonade with tear gas and a battering ram. He figures out a way to keep force out of the equation. And this time, he knocks.

He ossifies your weedy arms, trundles off to probe symphonic destiny. Grins hang heavily from window trousers, beering around after the old dark. Negative ray, positive horn. An elbowful of mystery parties jangle on the docket. Music is grout in the space between you.

He rues time, bumbles lines before a Naga King, rearranges green curry molecules, feels the sting of an old sea tune, "as hit is breued in þe best boke of romaunce." And, amid an ear-y clangor, "bronze by gold," he "hear[s] the hoofirons steelyringing." Is he goatman, dogbeard, beewolf, stunned electric wire...something in between, perhaps? A turnpike of the feelings, trying and new. Some kind of field resonance.

He has been relegated to the "Obscure" pile. His hair and nails keep growing, though, while his nose hunts around corners, looking for a sandwich or a Karate-town.

He parties with one ear open, listening to your baby blue hair, running sideways down a sideways alley. His arms go down into the earth and his neck flops thisaway on the pavement. You see him spin, giddily, in a fly eye. His pants are made of cannoli and his shirt of broccoli di rappe.

He toils in sand with an old radio, bings out to roller-chango music, and stands reacting cagily to windpipe's gurgle. When you wake to clacking trains, think in a similar fashion. People get up every day and look down at the earth. Fields of muscles sweat out strength, and asphalt actually needs cars to stay viable, pliable. Holidays abound like so many founders of thought. Thus, record your celebration.

He pockmarked the sun today, used a stain instead of a hose, ate seeds of true rain. Can't wink to shave a few monies off your benign rumor? Toe the hammer, tundra down your knees. He'll meet you at the anti-freeze. Is there a dog you scatter windward, enough to make it back to burnt lands, hover and run in blues? Then go. Your field awaits. He's all sorts of there. Merely, merely, life is but a seem.

He chatters and sticks a new cat in your nunchucks for your Bruce Lee, blazing from your bike wheel. Limbs all akimbo, revenge in the torpid air, whiff this pong for your hangman game. Why go rambling when you have mind waves to walk on? And you do walk on, year after fall, down again in a storm of baying dogs. Roll to see if you survive a fight with a giant man, a ticklish grackle, or a world without chance.

He is in the middle chance and weeds or gloss with smooth stone and kids meander in a remembering place. Fire for a chill stove opens a stone gate without ancient purpose or an animal smattering. Living in vast thought asks how to wake the eating mind this day; forgiveness postures up the road and sheds light, guilt, and every sick, together with what you need to begin an old lizard séance collecting biting stillness.

He reads uncharted books, maps to your quest, robots get you all the way to a knowing country, maybe India. Horses in the clean streets, washing fish in handy rain, yellow carvings. All carpenters wander in search of inspiration, eventually end up in trees. You look to the end, your proximity makes him an origami man.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Big books, big seasons, melting everything in bug sounds, no sleeping in that decayed secret. Beginning with slumber, you tear your drunken hair out. You fall down into text, stop breathing air, taste a version of death, know one star. We devour each other's messages, study meaning, make homes with strangers. Trying for growth, we find only the short mystery of a water dream. Smell the hot lavender of summer and embrace a ghost, exhausting your way of seeing the past.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Happy Quaddroid


Holy grapes, hearty mouth, harrowing hearts and tinny sobs, sunny arterial ceremonies bounce new waves of winter off memory caves. Even tongues find a pictographic road to tarnish, make contact with forgotten love, and release. Words return to trees and die when the leaves fall.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Upside-Down Jabberwocky

Here's me reciting Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" while standing on my head at the University of Arizona's English Department Talent Show, on April 17th:

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Supe's Space Fortress

This image comes to us via comiccoverage.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Millenial Blooper

Here's an outtake from a first rehearsal for the poem "One Hour Happy Millenium." It cracks me up:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

There's A Fire In My Vitals, Said Old Widow

Stanzas Sans Hats

for Alicia Marie Howard

Absorbed In The Park Of Joan Miró

Apology To My Busted Toe

This is the third poem
I've written about a toe.
But the first about you,
Or any of my own toes.
The other two were poems
About the toes of girls
I loved.
I'm sorry you had to snap
Before I paid attention
To you.

A Train Jumped In Front Of A Woman Tonight

Story Of Learning

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Anatomía and Anatomy

I'm going to read to you from my book, The Comeback's Exoskeleton. I'll read a few poems each day. Hopefully, time and technology will allow me to read you all of the poems, eventually. I'm going to read in the order the poems appear in the book. I hope you enjoy. The first poem of the book is "Anatomía," in Spanish, with the English translation, "Anatomy," following it:

And here's another version.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

That Can-Do Spirit

Miguel de Unamuno was wrong --> it’s not our reflections we fall in love with when we look in another’s eyes --> it’s the scent of our own breath bounced back at us by the breath of the other breather. To my question, Lisa answers “the universe IS time travel.” And so the lover is always taking away my own out-breath upon leaving. And I can control my muscles and make my heart go 185 beats per minute --> but I cannot make a text turn into life --> magic IS the imagination, we know it, we face it --> and I dream about you every night --> And if you think about the muscles and the bones in your face as you smile, you will be too anatomically aware to be really smiling, and your smile will be an act of musculature, the ghost tracing of your emotion. --> So examination of emotion is always an examination of its after-effects. O, thought itself is an apocalypse, which is just okay, as a broken, though adequate, way to navigate anyone’s life --> So every poem for the next 1000 years will be about that dream, and in every life after this life when we meet I will already be writing about you, but neither of us will know it, and as we fall in love and fuck and leave each other over and over I will dream both this dream somewhere deep and far away from remembrance and another dream above it, and reinforce the pattern, again and again. At the end of 1000 years I will be finished, no matter what we have become to each other --> and I will take a deep breath and open my metaphysical wings and dissolve into air and be done with dreams --> and if my air car has a cracked header by then, I will become All air car, or an economist. And, of course, Miguel de Unamuno wasn't always wrong.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coughing Winter

You know, I don't drink,
So instead I have to feel.
I brought the poem a ball,
Coughed the winter out,
Balled the poem, effectively,
Ate sausage and pepper,
And remembered your shoes.
All of them were just so-so,
But I didn't think.
Watching the lauded poet
Listen to the grand famous poet
I'm glad I ride a bicycle,
Glad I know how to fight
With my hands and legs,
And how to use a machete.
Today's a dad's birthday:
My dad, mine twice as yours.
Keeping my head shaved
Keeps me closer to the word.
I'm faint everywhere but the bed.
I'm a DaVinci of it, you remember.
And DaVinci wrote upside-down and backwards
Because he Tried.
He tried a lot of tangled Light.
I took you on my subway.
You moved away from my _______.
I chose to be a frogman going into you,
And still you are the you of my poems,
Even as I try,
Backwards and upside-down.
I don't want any of the world's money
If it has to be that way--
Wait, which way do I mean?

You can watch me recite this poem here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

When You Need A Little Jimi

What Hanif Likes

Hanif likes to create articles about this industry.
Hanif likes to create articles about this area.
Hanif likes to write articles about this subject.
Hanif likes to scribble articles about this topic.
Hanif likes to pen down articles about this area.
Hanif likes to compose articles about this field.
Hanif likes to write articles about this topic.
Hanif likes to play his mouth water.
Hanif likes to win...good job.
Hanif likes to shoot.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I need a better definition for "idea" than "anything you can't kick or throw."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2009 01:14:55 +0000 [Wednesday February 04, 2009 06:14:55 PM MST]
From: Ben Cramer
To: Matt Rotando
Reply-To: b*********.net
Subject: [No Subject]
Headers: Show All Headers
I'm sitting on the subway platform, 28th St N/R train and there's a guy, suit and serious glasses, next to me. He sat down in a flurry right next to me, kinda cramping my elbow room, and whipped out his old-school center-ring calendar. I could easily read all of it. I thought you'd appreciate knowing that the entirety of THIS FRIDAY is blocked off -- unlike the other days which have many different chapters -- as follows:

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Gleaming Land

for my teacher, Julie Agoos

I’m walking to the gleaming land,

A place where monks and elephants

Gather to study wind.

I’ve filled my bag with bright things

So I can see before I get there.

I can only walk at night,

And shadows are replaced with sounds.

With eyes closed, my teachers

See me with their minds.

When I arrive, I will fathom the forests

The way a puddle does,

Reflecting swaying trees

And the tongues of wild dogs.

This is an older poem that appears in my book, The Comeback's Exoskeleton.

The Gangster's Death in Juzo Itami's Tampopo

Here's a scene from a favorite film of mine, Tampopo, directed by Juzo Itami. It's about one woman's quest to become the best noodle chef in her district. The gangster who dies in this scene operates as a kind of internal narrator for most of the film.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And what have we here?

A little moment from La fille sur la pont directed by Patrice Lecont:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Llorando con Rebekah Del Rio

La verdadera lucha es con el duende:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 13th, 2009

Who flung head?
Some one bone state
With knock dogs and teething.

Why rock now?
Crack young neck stroke
Then shirt and dang slaughter course.

Whisk what, away when?
Nada and nada,
All poems go to working
And working to blank.

The boat went where?
Where liberty arose
From churning waters.

Did everything sting?
The way to remember
Is to value memory.

How can anything be different?
Moments only resonate...
Only porcupines win,
Against pineapples.

Will skin recognize?
In a can,
In or out of hotels,
Whenever music belongs.

Could sand function as more?
Como el arco
De un cuento sin fondo,
Las estrellas son mudas.

Arcade Fire Sings "Neon Bible" In An Elevator

A vial of hope and a vial of pain,
In the light they both looked the same.
Poured them out on into the world,
On every boy and every girl.

It's in the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible
Not much chance for survival,
If the Neon Bible is right.

Take the poison of your age,
Don’t lick your fingers when you turn the page,
What I know is what you know is right,
In the city it's the only light.

It's the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible
Not much chance for survival,
If the Neon Bible is right.

Oh God! well look at you now!
Oh! you lost it, but you don’t know how!
In the light of a golden calf,
Oh God! I had to laugh!

Take the poison of your age,
Don’t lick your fingers when you turn the page,
It was wrong but you said it was right,
In the future I will read at night.

In the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible
Not much chance for survival,
If the Neon Bible is true.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Simple Lesson on the Buried Spirit of Saddened Spain

"Theory and Play of the Duende"

A lecture delivered by Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), in Buenos Aires on October 20, 1933. Translated by A. S. Kline.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between 1918 when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, and 1928 when I left, having completed my study of Philosophy and Letters, I listened to around a thousand lectures, in that elegant salon where the old Spanish aristocracy went to do penance for its frivolity on French beaches.

Longing for air and sunlight, I was so bored I used to feel as though I was covered in fine ash, on the point of changing into peppery sneezes.

So, no, I don’t want that terrible blowfly of boredom to enter this room, threading all your heads together on the slender necklace of sleep, and setting a tiny cluster of sharp needles in your, my listeners’, eyes.

In a simple way, in the register that, in my poetic voice, holds neither the gleams of wood, nor the angles of hemlock, nor those sheep that suddenly become knives of irony, I want to see if I can give you a simple lesson on the buried spirit of saddened Spain.

Whoever travels the bull’s hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion’s mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: ‘This has much duende’. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: ‘You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no duende.’

All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail’s-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duende and recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’: the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’

So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.

So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods.

No. The duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.

For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work.

The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel.

The angel dazzles, but flies over a man’s head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso’s footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination.

The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she’s distant and so tired (I’ve seen her twice) that you’d think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don’t know where they’re from, but they’re from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him.

The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry’s enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head – things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.

Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood.

Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps.

The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.

Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.

The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.

Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was singing in a little tavern in Cadiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice, she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent.

In the room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman tortoise, who was once asked: ‘Why don’t you work?’ and who replied with a smile worthy of Argantonius: ‘How should I work, if I’m from Cadiz?’

In the room was Elvira, fiery aristocrat, whore from Seville, descended in line from Soledad Vargos, who in ’30 didn’t wish to marry with a Rothschild, because he wasn’t her equal in blood. In the room were the Floridas, whom people think are butchers, but who in reality are millennial priests who still sacrifice bulls to Geryon, and in the corner was that formidable breeder of bulls, Don Pablo Murube, with the look of a Cretan mask. Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man, one of those dancing midgets who leap up suddenly from behind brandy bottles, sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something other.’

Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but…with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand, that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite, huddled before the statue of Santa Bárbara.

La Niña de Los Peines had to tear apart her voice, because she knew experts were listening, who demanded not form but the marrow of form, pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse, and be helpless, so her duende might come, and deign to struggle with her at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity, opened like a ten-fingered hand as in the feet, nailed there but storm-filled, of a Christ by Juan de Juni.

The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm.

In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Olé!’ of the bullfight, and who knows whether they are not the same? And in all the songs of Southern Spain, the appearance of the duende is followed by sincere cries of: ‘Viva Dios!’ deep, human, tender cries of communication with God through the five senses, thanks to the duende that shakes the voice and body of the dancer, a real, poetic escape from this world, as pure as that achieved by that rarest poet of the seventeenth century Pedro Soto de Rojas with his seven gardens, or John Climacus with his trembling ladder of tears.

Naturally when this escape is perfected, everyone feels the effect: the initiate in seeing style defeat inadequate content, and the novice in sensing authentic emotion. Years ago, an eighty year old woman came first in a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera, against lovely women and girls with liquid waists, merely by raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping with her foot on the floor: but in that crowd of Muses and angels with lovely forms and smiles, who could earn the prize but her moribund duende sweeping the earth with its wings made of rusty knives.

All the arts are capable of duende, but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die, perpetually, and raise their contours above the precise present.

Often the composer’s duende fills the performers, and at other times, when a poet or composer is no such thing, the performer’s duende, interestingly, creates a new wonder that has the appearance of, but is not, primitive form. This was the case with the duende-haunted Eleonara Duse, who searched out failed plays to make triumphs of them through her inventiveness, and the case with Paganini, explained by Goethe, who made one hear profound melody in vulgar trifles, and the case of a delightful young girl in Port St. Marys, whom I saw singing and dancing that terrible Italian song ‘O Mari!’ with such rhythm, pauses and intensity that she turned Italian dross into a brave serpent of gold. What happened was that each effectively found something new that no one had seen before, that could give life and knowledge to bodies devoid of expression.

Every art and every country is capable of duende, angel and Muse: and just as Germany owns to the Muse, with a few exceptions, and Italy the perennial angel, Spain is, at all times, stirred by the duende, country of ancient music and dance, where the duende squeezes out those lemons of dawn, a country of death, a country open to death.

In every other country death is an ending. It appears and they close the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them. Many Spaniards live indoors till the day they die and are carried into the sun. A dead man in Spain is more alive when dead than anywhere else on earth: his profile cuts like the edge of a barber’s razor. Tales of death and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to Spaniards. From Quevedo’s dream of skulls, to Valdés Leal’s putrefying archbishop, and from Marbella in the seventeenth century, dying in childbirth, in the middle of the road, who says:

The blood of my womb

Covers the stallion.

The stallion’s hooves

Throw off sparks of black pitch…

to the youth of Salamanca, recently killed by a bull, who cried out:

Friends, I am dying:

Friends I am done for.

I’ve three scarves inside me,

And this one makes four…

stretches a rail of saltpetre flowers, where a nation goes to contemplate death, with on the side that’s more bitter, the verses of Jeremiah, and on the more lyrical side with fragrant cypress: but a country where what is most important of all finds its ultimate metallic value in death.

The hut, the wheel of a cart, the razor, and the prickly beards of shepherds, the barren moon, the flies, the damp cupboards, the rubble, the lace-covered saints, the wounding lines of eaves and balconies, in Spain grow tiny weeds of death, allusions and voices, perceptible to an alert spirit, that fill the memory with the stale air of our own passing. It’s no accident that all Spanish art is rooted in our soil, full of thistles and sharp stones: it’s no isolated example that lamentation of Pleberio’s, or the dances of that maestro Josef María de Valdivielso: it isn’t chance that among all the ballads of Europe this Spanish one stands out:

If you’re my pretty lover,
why don’t you gaze at me?

The eyes I gazed at you with
I’ve given to the dark.

If you’re my pretty lover
why aren’t you kissing me?

The lips I kissed you with
I’ve given to earth below.

If you’re my pretty lover,
why aren’t you hugging me?

The arms I hugged you with
Are covered with worms, you see.

Nor is it strange that this song is heard at the dawn of our lyrical tradition:

In the garden
I shall die,
in the rose-tree
they will kill me,
Mother I went
to gather roses,
looking for death
within the garden.
Mother I went
cutting roses,
looking for death
within the rose-tree.

In the garden
I shall die.
In the rose-tree
they’ll kill me.

Those moon-frozen heads that Zurbarán painted, the yellows of butter and lightning in El Greco, Father Sigüenza’s prose, the whole of Goya’s work, the apse of the Escorial church, all polychrome sculpture, the crypt in the Duke of Osuna’s house, the ‘death with a guitar’ in the Chapel of the Benaventes in Medina de Rioseco, equate culturally to the processions of San Andrés de Teixido, in which the dead take their places: to the dirges that the women of Asturias sing, with their flame-bright torches, in the November night: to the dance and chanting of the Sibyl in the cathedrals of Mallorca and Toledo: to the dark In recort of Tortosa: and to the endless Good Friday rituals which with the highly refined festival of the bulls, form the popular ‘triumph’ of death in Spain. In all the world only Mexico can grasp my country’s hand.

When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled.

When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.

The magic power of a poem consists in it always being filled with duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry sometimes acquires a fatal character.

Remember the example of the flamenca, duende-filled St. Teresa. Flamenca not for entangling an angry bull, and passing it magnificently three times, which she did: not because she thought herself pretty before Brother Juan de la Miseria: nor for slapping His Holiness’s Nuncio: but because she was one of those few creatures whose duende (not angel, for the angel never attacks anyone) pierced her with an arrow and wanted to kill her for having stolen his ultimate secret, the subtle link that joins the five senses to what is core to the living flesh, the living cloud, the living ocean of love liberated from time.

Most valiant vanquisher of the duende and the counter-example to Philip of Austria, who sought anxiously in Theology for Muse and angel, and was imprisoned by a duende of icy ardour in the Escorial Palace, where geometry borders on dream, and where the duende wears the mask of the Muse for the eternal punishment of that great king.

We have said that the duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression.

In Spain (as among Oriental races, where the dance is religious expression) the duende has a limitless hold over the bodies of the dancers of Cadiz, praised by Martial, the breasts of those who sing, praised by Juvenal, and over all the liturgies of the bullring, an authentic religious drama, where in the same manner as in the Mass, a God is sacrificed to, and adored.

It seems as if all the duende of the Classical world is concentrated in this perfect festival, expounding the culture and the great sensibility of a nation that reveals the finest anger, bile and tears of mankind. Neither in Spanish dance nor in the bullfight does anyone enjoy himself: the duende charges itself with creating suffering by means of a drama of living forms, and clears the way for an escape from the reality that surrounds us.

The duende works on the dancer’s body like wind on sand. It changes a girl, by magic power, into a lunar paralytic, or covers the cheeks of a broken old man, begging for alms in the wine-shops, with adolescent blushes: gives a woman’s hair the odour of a midnight sea-port: and at every instant works the arms with gestures that are the mothers of the dances of all the ages.

But it’s impossible for it ever to repeat itself, and it’s important to underscore this. The duende never repeats itself, any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm.

Its most impressive effects appear in the bullring, since it must struggle on the one hand with death, which can destroy it, and on the other with geometry, measure, the fundamental basis of the festival.

The bull has its own orbit: the toreador his, and between orbit and orbit lies the point of danger, where the vertex of terrible play exists.

You can own to the Muse with the muleta, and to the angel with the banderillas, and pass for a good bullfighter, but in the work with the cape, while the bull is still free of wounds, and at the moment of the kill, the aid of the duende is required to drive home the nail of artistic truth.

The bullfighter who terrifies the public with his bravery in the ring is not fighting bulls, but has lowered himself to a ridiculous level, to doing what anyone can do, by playing with his life: but the toreador who is bitten by the duende gives a lesson in Pythagorean music and makes us forget that his is constantly throwing his heart at the horns.

Lagartijo, with his Roman duende, Joselito with his Jewish duende, Belmonte with his Baroque duende, and Cagancho with his Gypsy duende, showed, from the twilight of the bullring, poets, painters and composers the four great highways of Spanish tradition.

Spain is unique, a country where death is a national spectacle, where death sounds great bugle blasts on the arrival of Spring, and its art is always ruled by a shrewd duende which creates its different and inventive quality.

The duende who, for the first time in sculpture, stains with blood the cheeks of the saints of that master, Mateo de Compostela, is the same one who made St. John of the Cross groan, or burns naked nymphs in Lope’s religious sonnets.

The duende that raises the towers of Sahagún or bakes hot bricks in Calatayud, or Teruel, is the same as he who tears apart El Greco’s clouds, and kicks out at Quevedo’s bailiffs, and Goya’s chimeras, and drives them away.

When he rains he brings duende-haunted Velasquez, secretly, from behind his monarchic greys. When he snows he makes Herrera appear naked to show that cold does not kill: when he burns he pushes Berruguete into the flames and makes him invent new dimensions for sculpture.

Gongora’s Muse and Garcilaso’s angel must loose their laurel wreaths when St. John of the Cross’s duende passes by, when:

The wounded stag
appears, over the hill.

Gonzalo de Berceo’s Muse and the Archpriest of Hita’s angel must depart to give way to Jorge Manrique, wounded to death at the door of the castle of Belmonte. Gregorio Hernández’ Muse, and José de Mora’s angel must bow to the passage of de Mena’s duende weeping tears of blood, and Martínez Montañéz’ duende with the head of an Assyrian bull, just as the melancholic Muse of Catalonia, and the damp angel of Galicia, gaze in loving wonder at the duende of Castile, so far from their warm bread and gentle grazing cattle, with its norms of sweeping sky and dry sierra.

Quevedo’s duende and Cervantes’, the one with green anemones of phosphorus, the other with flowers of Ruidera gypsum, crown the altarpiece of Spain’s duende.

Each art, as is natural, has a distinct mode and form of duende, but their roots unite at the point from which flow the dark sounds of Manuel Torre, the ultimate matter, and uncontrollable mutual depth and extremity of wood, sound, canvas, word.

Dark sounds, behind which in tender intimacy exist volcanoes, ants, zephyrs, and the vast night pressing its waist against the Milky Way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have raised three arches and with clumsy hands placed within them the Muse, the angel and the duende.

The Muse remains motionless: she can have a finely pleated tunic or cow eyes like those which gaze out in Pompeii, at the four-sided nose her great friend Picasso has painted her with. The angel can disturb Antonello da Messina’s heads of hair, Lippi’s tunics, or the violins of Masolino or Rousseau.

The duende….Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.

(en Español)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Just What Happens

Something painted
Something made
Smoke out of lips
Adornment and fading
My skull as a drinking cup
Twin suns superimposed due to two days in one
Weary always = weary never
Middle things under my skin
"The world is all that is the case"
If no Free Will, then no Predetermination, and vice versa
Since no equation
Only words to describe what happens
And what happens
Which happens before words
And simultaneous to words
Is thinking in language
So short skirts matter
Only insofar
As they matter
Though the act (art?) of attributing value
Is always independent
Of skirts, as skirts are objects
What moves under skirts
Can be a 'that,' 'this,' or 'those'
But has no value
Beyond the act of attribution
And since no Free Will/no Predetermination
Attribution is only what happens --> Even under skirts.