Kafka Blocs

Methamorphosis Roger awoke from nagging dreams
to find he’d grown into a whopper, a hairy human swarmed in vermin.
“Don’t break bad on me,” his mother yelled at the door. “Bugs don’t dream, asleep or awake. You’re late for work.”
But he hardly knew how to work his new legs and arms. How would he get about
on so few? His hands and fingers he found fascinating, and he lay in bed studying
their shapes and twists and movement. His father banged on the door: “Get up!”
He felt his skin – soft! His two eyes saw only one thing at a time, yet he knew his skin was covered with insects so
various how or where was he to begin eating breakfast? Even the hands (but
he was not quite sure why he called them hands) on the clock moved like
the arms of a slow moving cockroach, around and around and up and down.
What seemed absurdly a bad eternity, (after all why would time break bad?) three roaches slipped under the rug.
Roger watched the roaches dissipate, his body wasted with bedsores, as if
he’d come to the roundabout of a pier. The Viral
Dude J. had few followers and those probably bots, and he rarely if ever
tweeted, so when the POG knocked on his door to ask about something
gone viral, Dude assumed some hack had infiltrated his computer system, spreading multi-vile messages about
him with perhaps a pic in his briefs. Dude’s habits were simple and hardly
worth the effort of tweets, of looking words up in a dictionary, as if a dog’s wag in a side street was any different
in Tijuana than in Timbuktu or Paris, Texas, where Dude had often visited,
enjoying an escargot with a Beaujolais, taking in jazz in the Business Quarter.
None of this of course reached home, and Dude’s annual review relied solely on ratios of quotas to sales, of clicks
that stuck to worrisome dead links. The Condo
Outside beneath the colossal condo K. camped with the peasants just in
from working the streets with their signs but he was in no mood for noir
poetry. He curled up on the margin of a broad sidewalk away from the bird stoppers placed all around the
condo and out of earshot from the sounds also designed to discourage
one from coming too close because the spacious steel walls were warm to the touch like a rubber hot water
bottle his mother used to sleep with after his father left them in the cold
house to go work a shift in the town factory owned by the rich Mr. Rook.
In the morning there was hot coffee and a young woman recruiting men to join her crew of window washers
and dressed and harnessed K. arose.

Back Story Folk Guitar

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This Yamaha Red Label FG-180 guitar was probably built in 1969. The woman in the guitar store next to the Loyola Theatre in Westchester said Jimmy Webb had been in the week before and picked up this very Yamaha and played a few chords. She couldn’t believe I’d never heard of Jimmy Webb. It was March, 1970, and I’d just returned from active duty in Forts Bliss and Huachuca. Having talked to some other guitarists, I already knew the FG-180 was the guitar I wanted for the money I had, factory made in Japan, so inexpensive, but playable, reliable, and sound worthy. The guitar, case included, cost $100, a Martin dreadnought knockoff, no extra charge for the Jimmy Webb back story.

A back story is a forward. The forward is not a trailer, nor is it an abstract. The back story never spoils. It’s an appetizer. The back story, moving forward, provides the predicament that explains the current situation. Without a back story, new episodes drift aimlessly and meaninglessly, random dead links. The back story deflates absurdity and fills the reader with hope. The back story is a proposal, a hypothesis, an argument.

My first guitar was a hand-me-down from a neighbor friend, but its neck was broken by an early girlfriend jumping off the top bunk. I then purchased for $25 from an ad in the South Bay Daily Breeze newspaper, a nylon string, plywood top Orlando.

What is the relationship between physicists’ string theories and guitar? The on-line forums for both are full of confusing, contradictory claims, but full of back stories. A guitar often comes with a back story. Several guitar cases were recently spotted for sale in thrift shops, but the guitars were long gone. We might have some idea the age of the universe, but is it old or young, and what does it matter? The Ventura guitar case the guitar shop offered to throw in today shows the wear and tear of travel in a deuce and a half, to Fort Liggett and Camp Roberts and Camp Pendleton, and later trips to gold rush country and various ocean beaches, and not a few years sleeping in a dank basement while the guitar enjoyed an open stand in the living room.

This FG-180 has a spruce, two-piece solid top, mahogany sides, and a two-piece mahogany back. The neck is a thick bar of nato of one piece with the head. The fretboard is one quarter inch thick rosewood. The Yamaha link (above) says the backs were three-piece, but the top and back of this one are both two-piece, book matched. The bridge is rosewood. The FG stands for folk guitar. This one has a thin crack in the back of the head, at the top of the neck.

The top under the bridge has lifted some, and the head crack is a bit worrisome; light or extra-light strings will reduce tension. The FG-180 is now set up with D’Addario XL Chromes, flat wound, jazz light gauge, electric guitar strings. The electric strings when played acoustically don’t produce as loud or deep or full a sound as acoustic strings, but they pop, ping, and twang, “like a steel rail humming” (Pete Seeger, “Hobo’s Lullaby”), and if you do want to plug the guitar into an amplifier, use an old fashion, Dean Markley sound hole fitted pickup.

In Astra Taylor’s film “Examined Life,” Slavoj Zizek explains how we are seduced by ideology. If the universe has a back story, our present predicament can be explained, even if the explanation makes no sense. The Big Bang is a big back story. When an effect tickles or bites or bombards or floods us, we search for a cause. We reconsider our back stories.

We somehow must work and rework, correct or clarify, our back stories into our instantaneous presentations and performances amid the distractions, commercials, hypes, phobias, click bait, news tsunamis – the whole bafflegab of what’s up now.

Zizi Papacharissi, in “A Networked Self,” appears to understand the ability to “back-story” (to verbalize a noun, to go with the flow, “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” as Eliot said in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) as an adaptation skill, the ability to adapt to changes in social environments, from a supposed fixed state, where the self was assumed to be a character bound in a book with a lineal story, to a fluid self that is constantly seeking its own level, walking on the deck of a small boat, changing with every social interaction, mimicry as a survival technique (elasticity of demand in a social market):

“Narratives about the self have always been performative. That’s what renders aspects of our identity a discourse. What changes is that performativity is augmented through online means of self presentation. And it is this enhanced theatricality, afforded by certain online platforms (SNSs, and various forms of blogs and microblogs), that individuals find most appealing.

Sociability is practiced to the network, via the network. Performances of the self enable sociability, and these socially oriented performances must carry meaning for multiple publics and audiences without sacrificing one’s true sense of self. These polysemic performances not only contain many layers of meaning, but are remixed and remixable – sampling digital traces of identity to piece together performances that are further remixed and re-interpreted by multiple audiences and publics.”

That could be used as a back story that may now explain the emergence of the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. The revival, originally acted out in small coffee shops, living rooms, and campus settings, was at first minimally commercial. Few expected to earn a life-long living from singing folk song covers, but that wasn’t the goal, and the identity of the performer was inseparable from the identity of the audience. The audience participated in the performance. But that participation wasn’t a surge of fans aspiring to go on stage. There often wasn’t a stage, and each time a song was sung it was renewed in an altered form. Many of these performances were not recorded. They were passed on as living songs. Folk music is chameleon and transferable.

One of my older sisters sang in a high school folk group, “The Travelling Trio.” Their travels did not take them out of the Los Angeles Basin. They sang in living rooms and the local high school gym. Imagine a young Judy Garland singing Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train.” But unlike my sister, whose voice flowed like melted chocolate over fresh strawberries, your voice sounds like a galvanized plumbing pipe rattling in the wall with trapped air bubbles. Such a voice might confuse Tom Waits with Hedy West. Still, your Kentucky grandfather played the spoons and the harmonica, to add more filler to your back story, and you were an easy target for the music bug early on.

But a singing gig was not to become part of your back story. You played finger style. You liked the guitarist John Fahey, saw him play at Long Beach State and again at the Ash Grove. Not only did he not sing, on stage he never said a word. You were playing what you pretended was folk blues and fell into jazz. You took up what you called jazz guitar, though not everyone necessarily heard it that way.

Classical guitar lessons are useful for a few years. Your fingers already know how to play, but your brain doesn’t always know what they are doing. Over time, you’ll use up several teachers who will walk you through a couple of Aaron Shearer books, and a few of the Frederick Noad books, and teach you the Segovia scale method (which you might later hear Joe Pass dis, along with the number system). Your first teacher will probably introduce you to Leo Brouwer and his “Etudes Simples.” The Cuban composer’s short pieces are of course not all that simple, but at least you don’t have to sing. You’ll learn to read, slowly, like a stuttering primary school student, and learn enough to work through a Dionisio Aguado book, “Studi Per Chitarra,” on your own. You’ll learn by heart the old cliché: “The guitar is the easiest of instruments to play poorly, the most difficult to play well.” You’ll return to jazz and folk and find your breath and take solace in another cliché: “Close enough for jazz.”

Close enough substitutes feeling for the pursuit of perfection which as Cornel West explains in “Examined Life” is the romantic road to disappointment. So it was in the spirit of close enough that I answered an invitation from Sunshine Dixon to read a poem at an artists’ reception in the campus library, but I suggested that instead of reading a poem I might bring my old FG-180 guitar and sing a folk song. I worked up a folk version of “Gospel Plow,” using Dylan’s version on his first album as inspiration. If a recording pops up on-line somewhere I’ll add a link to the back story or upload a piece of it to SoundCloud. Maybe sister Peggy Ann will tune in.

And if you’d like to read more about the artists’ reception, Sunshine and I collaborated on a short article now on-line here, already part of a back story.

Backstage

Haiku on Dog Cloud Piano for Guitar and Voice

Dog Cloud

Press yes to play here the balls fall for free hear them drop and roll english orb orbit for texting eddies
no to go away in pool hall heaven chalk up your cue stick break like a big bang syllabicating
maybe to come back no need for quarters green felt of grass field consider the balls men who cut their tongues
some day some day soon 8 ball in corner in the universe across the table gaming without words
tonight not that moon pocket that was quick full of dandelions stars stripes black and cue ball white as the moon
semiquantitatively microdirectionally yet who can’t get no no no unsatisfactorily twisting down the back alley
sociodemographic ideologically seven syllable word count so what is the so what here pseudointellectual
imperceptibility suspicion grows this is all pseudopoetically irresponsibility what can I say you  reading
waxing then waning away autobiographical compartmentalization social media neither social nor mediational ideas
unsystematically superficiality huge lack of self confidence just give us the artifice we’ll know what to do with it
without rhyme or reasoned sense oversimplification he likes unconventional individuality cosmopolitanism
syllables all connected he seems influenced by John Cage and that explains anything we seem to be moving to microcommunication
We appeal to fruit the nature within seeds meat juice and skin figuratively and then the real fig
banana orange grape raisin ugli miracle passion fruit worms flies mildew self-preservation
and vegetables puritanism free love free fruit gloss dogs and cats and kids seal it with a kiss
cherry red pepper baked raspberry pie apple cloudberry running toward the surf rub it in your palm
garlic and onions coconut olive oils and buttery fat when it is cold now back to the sea

Press yes to play here                                                                                                the balls fall for free                                                                                                hear them drop and roll                                                                                                english orb orbit                                                                                                for texting eddies

no to go away                                                                                                in pool hall heaven                                                                                                chalk up your cue stick                                                                                                break like a big bang                                                                                                syllabicating

maybe to come back                                                                                                no need for quarters                                                                                                green felt of grass field                                                                                                consider the balls                                                                                                men who cut their tongues

some day some day soon                                                                                                8 ball in corner                                                                                                in the universe                                                                                                across the table                                                                                                gaming without words

tonight not that moon                                                                                                pocket that was quick                                                                                                full of dandelions                                                                                                stars stripes black and cue                                                                                                ball white as the moon

semiquantitatively                                                                                                microdirectionally                                                                                                yet who can’t get no no no                                                                                                unsatisfactorily                                                                                                twisting down the back alley

sociodemographic                                                                                                ideologically                                                                                                seven syllable word count                                                                                                so what is the so what here                                                                                                pseudointellectual

imperceptibility                                                                                                suspicion grows this is all                                                                                                pseudopoetically                                                                                                irresponsibility                                                                                                what can I say you are right

waxing then waning away                                                                                                autobiographical                                                                                                compartmentalization                                                                                                social media neither                                                                                                social nor mediational ideas

unsystematically                                                                                                superficiality                                                                                                huge lack of self confidence                                                                                                just give us the artifice                                                                                                we’ll know what to do with it

without rhyme or reasoned sense                                                                                                oversimplification                                                                                                he likes unconventional                                                                                                individuality                                                                                                cosmopolitanism

syllables all connected                                                                                                he seems influenced by John Cage                                                                                                and that explains anything                                                                                                we seem to be moving to                                                                                                microcommunication

We appeal to fruit                                                                                                the nature within                                                                                                seeds meat juice and skin                                                                                                figuratively                                                                                                and then the real fig

banana orange                                                                                                grape raisin ugli                                                                                                miracle passion                                                                                                fruit worms flies mildew                                                                                                self-preservation

and vegetables                                                                                                puritanism                                                                                                free love free fruit gloss                                                                                                dogs and cats and kids                                                                                                seal it with a kiss

cherry red pepper                                                                                                baked raspberry pie                                                                                                apple cloudberry                                                                                                running toward the surf                                                                                                rub it in your palm

garlic and onions                                                                                                coconut olive                                                                                                oils and buttery                                                                                                fat when it is cold                                                                                                now back to the sea

Press yes to play here the balls fall for free hear them drop and roll english orb orbit for texting eddies no to go away in pool hall heaven chalk up your cue stick break like a big bang syllabicating maybe to come back no need for quarters green felt of grass field consider the balls men who cut their tongues some day some day soon 8 ball in corner in the universe across the table gaming without words tonight not that moon pocket that was quick full of dandelions stars stripes black and cue ball white as the moon semiquantitatively microdirectionally yet who can’t get no no no unsatisfactorily twisting down the back alley sociodemographic ideologically seven syllable word count so what is the so what here pseudointellectual imperceptibility suspicion grows this is all pseudopoetically irresponsibility what can I say you are right waxing then waning away autobiographical compartmentalization social media neither social nor mediational ideas unsystematically superficiality huge lack of self confidence just give us the artifice we’ll know what to do with it without rhyme or reasoned sense oversimplification he likes unconventional individuality cosmopolitanism syllables all connected he seems influenced by John Cage and that explains anything we seem to be moving to microcommunication We appeal to fruit the nature within seeds meat juice and skin figuratively and then the real fig banana orange grape raisin ugli miracle passion fruit worms flies mildew self-preservation and vegetables puritanism free love free fruit gloss dogs and cats and kids seal it with a kiss cherry red pepper baked raspberry pie apple cloudberry running toward the surf rub it in your palm garlic and onions coconut olive oils and buttery fat when it is cold now back to the sea

One Night At Flobe’s Pizza Below Frye’s Apartment

Flobe’s Pizza below my friend Frye’s apartment one night last April was puzzlingly rowdy, so we climbed down to see what was up. The place was steaming, crowded, people sitting on the ceiling, hot cheese slipping, falling pepperoni pieces and mushrooms, while a string band fiddled. The open mic was live, with Pepper, Herb, and Fava’s trio in line on the sign-in sheet to perform Joe’s “Surf Surge.”

Frye and I occupied empty seats at the end of a rambunctious table in the corner, and Joe got in line to order some pizza and orange soda. The porthole sidewalk window next to our table was occluded with steam, the string band zipping, and a couple without a table was dancing, one with the pizza the other with the beer. Suddenly, Willa and Raymond took the stage with ukulele and tambourine.

They sang of an old photo of Joan Didion sitting in a Corvette, holding a cigarette. A young man riding a piebald pony rode up to the takeout bar and ordered a veggie pizza with extra garlic and sauce. He fed his pony a breadstick. Joe came with the orange soda and said the pizza was a forty-minute wait. He poured us each a glass from the pitcher, sparkling yellow, not as orange as we had expected.

Joe sat by the porthole orb. He saw flashing lights, paisley globes filled with silver and gold light. The bubbles flew like electrified parameciums escaping down the side of the window, along its tarnished curved brass edge. Big Dada announced Joe’s pizza would not be ready until September. By then no one would be reading poetry any longer than a tweet, and that before they realized what they were hearing.

By the time Joe’s name was called (“Pizza ready for Joe!”), he had grown a pony tail and Frye had gone bald. Pepper, Herb, and Fava were on tour somewhere in the Midwest. I had tired of waiting and moved back down to Southern California to be near the beach. Every day I ride my bicycle along the Strand, watching the surfers come and go without a thought for pizza or poetry.

Learning to Deconstruct Finally

Derrida seems satisfied if not happy with his contradictions, with having learned finally to live with them unencumbered by any implicit criticism. His primary concern in his last days appears to have been what comes after the final act of writing. After all, “there are, to be sure, many very good readers (a few dozen in the world perhaps, people who are also writer-thinkers, poets)” (34). Were he a blogger, would Derrida be thus assured of 36 followers? Jesus had only 12, but even they were not always reliable.

Can a writer ever finally trust any reader? Part of the problem seems to be that readers do have an unconditional freedom to read from their own particular singularity, always peculiar. It’s all they can do, as general readers, apart from the 36 carefully selected followers, who must leave their families behind. It’s not that whatever you say will automatically be misunderstood, but that conditions of freedom vary among individuals. But Derrida says at the same time, “You don’t just go and do anything with language; it preexists us and it survives us” (36). For Derrida, deconstruction was a form of “self-critique” (45). Before “learning to live finally,” one must deconstruct oneself.

In his idea of “The University Without Condition,” Derrida wants “absolute claim to an unconditional freedom to think, speak, and critique” (48). The presumption is there are conditions set by “political or religious power” (48). Kant’s solution that scholars be free to say whatever they want as long as they keep it in the University was not enough for Derrida. But the philosopher who leaves the University becomes an outsider, a blogger, as opposed to a scholar. Not that it matters, because

“…you do not know to whom you are speaking, you invent and create silhouettes, but in the end it no longer belongs to you. Spoken or written, all these gestures leave us and begin to act independently of us.” (32)

Jesus spoke to a general audience, asked for similar unconditional freedom wherever he happened to be located, but he was ready to give to political power what belongs to political power, while Christianity too often has turned into a University that, like the University of Kant’s that Derrida points out, is only free on its own grounds.

Any notion of finally can only be fantasy; life goes on with and without us. What happens finally is the words stop coming, we stop thinking with words, and must figure out some other way to deconstruct.

Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview [with Jacques Derrida]. Melville House, 2007. 95 pages, including a 27 page selected bibliography of works by Derrida published in English.

On the Poem of Made and Unmade Beds

“Without grip or gripe, what bed thou hast, sleep in it, sleep, sleep, perchance to rest, for a sound bed is worth all the wine in France, all the beer in Germany, nay, all the ale in England.” (Polonius, The Collected Deleted Scenes of Shakespeare)

Introduction – the idea of the poem as an unmade bed:

Joe Linker on April 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm said
[in comment, having never heard of ‘My Bed’]:
But on the subject of Emin’s bed, which apparently last sold for $2.5 million, imagine a bed-selfie, and unmade at that, in such demand. But of course a made bed would never have fetched as much attention or money. People want to see unmade beds. In fairness, I suppose many poems are nothing more than unmade beds. But when did a poem, made or unmade, ever suck in $2.5 million in a single breath?
I may find myself later today attempting a bed poem.”

1: The Sonneteers

On the green barracks bunk,
a thin mattress on chain link
steel frame Army 30 foldable,
wrapped in ephemeral wool
as tight as a barnacle’s grip
against the red tide of sleep,
nothing personal save a letter
from Susan in the South Bay,
tossed into open foot locker,
touches the drab rolled socks,
no night light in the dull quiet
dark hall full of dunned boys,
roused by reveille’s mournful
made bed, hook up and wait.

2: The Makeshift Bed

“At Ease!
Thum that’s got ‘um, smoke ‘um.
In this next 30 minutes of instruction,
you will learn how to make a field bed.”

The sun crashed, and I climbed into the cab
of a deuce and a half, parked
in a field with a raw view
of the moon and the Pacific Ocean,
curled up in my fatigues
and fell asleep, my face to the canvas seat,
surrounded by coastal sage scrub
lit with a few Lord’s Candles.

3: The Water Bed

We drove down to Hermosa Beach and picked up one of the first
water beds, a giant surf mat. We took it home, put it on the floor
in the bedroom, and filled it with water from the garden hose
stuck through an open window. We went to sleep hushed
and soothed by one another’s jostle, canoeing over surf.
But early in the morning we awoke cold and colder.
The next day back at the water bed store, the guy told us,
“Yeah, you need a foam pad and a wood frame. If you sleep
on the bare mattress, you’ll wake up with hypothermia.”

4: The Money Bed

After the water bed experience,
whenever we needed a bed,
I made a frame out of 2×4’s,
upon which I nailed a sheet
of plywood, upon which we
plopped down the futon, a
bag of airy baffled cotton.

In bed, we are lodged in
one of two kinds of beds: one
easy to move, the other hard.
The hard ones cost much
more than the easy ones
and frequently must be
put asunder to move.

Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” now
takes several million dollars
to move, maybe so much
because the installers must
budge the bed without
disturbing the sleeper.
One might try making beds

for a living. People often seem
to prefer beds to poems.
Joyce sat in bed and wrote,
embedded in his spidery
notes and his family’s issues,
while McTeague’s Trina
slept solo on her bed of coins.

5: The Short-sheeted Bed

Some readers may feel
short-sheeted by this poem.
They probably would prefer
sleeping in their own bed
and writing their own poem.
Then again, someone may offer
forty winks for this poem.
Who will start the bidding?

The Lavish Land

“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot told
Pound all about it, Easter tide out,
but why brood on our days
unless we are made
of dry wood and worry,
each ring a memory of rain?
Does any month feel pity?

You called her a primrose,
your spiral spring shell.
The land tired of playing possum
opened in lavish blossom.
Meantime, you go from a funeral
to a game of chess?
No wonder you’re so depressed.

Hurry up! Indeed, it is time,
and there is no more time
for revisions of decisions and such.
Spit it out, that tooth that broke
on the hardtack bread.

Yes, the river, its currency
seems to bother you,
crossing the rough bar
in your tipsy canoe,
sipping sweet wine from a shoe.

Why do you drift so? Maybe
it’s time to seize the falling
yellow forsythia, catch and bundle
the candied pink camellia calling
a day a day alack-a-day day.

No, I won’t say we’re wasting time,
working up a dry thirst over an old city,
lamenting the past. We might have called
Big Dada and asked for a blessing,
a holy water sprinkling, and asked,
“Dada, how’s Nana?”
“Dada! Dada! Dada!”

Maybe we’ll see you in May.
Hopefully you’ll be feeling better,
and we can all spend a day
going a Maying,
if Corinna comes to town, everyone
looking forward to ordinary time,
the grassy bed spread with garlic greens.