You do unbend your noble strength to think so brainsickly of things

From last year’s model…


Pieces of Silver

On the fifty-seventh Thursday of the month, we host

a flotilla of sad-eyed immigrant children from the next township over

and inculcate them with the values of the merchant class,

the evolutionary principles under-girding the sort of life


they want, as their parents have not attained it and never will, hence

the sad eyes. Each gets a gift bag stamped “share, with love,”

containing a single, sturdy, high thread count oatmeal cookie,

a scratch-off ticket, and a small note: “sharing is for pussies.”


Laugh at your own risk, sneer to drown the sound of your craving,

we know better. We know where the profit fairy flutters to nest,

we know how to look slim and golden, even after the hunt, even after

your little Bakunins have done their sloppy best and delivered you to us.

(From Kindness in Never Small, 2015)

Another poem from my next book

Another suddenly topical poem, from my next collection. Please join me at Rust Belt Books this Saturday at 3pm for beer and cupcakes and books books books!

I Can Hear Her Bones Growing, or Cracking

America always tries too hard, chewing
with her mouth open,
walking her huge, stupid dogs
right down the middle of the street,
letting them shit just anywhere.

Like a trumpet solo in C sharp
when C would do just as fine, thank you,
like the idea of soloing in the first place,
like Miles Fucking Davis, trying
way too hard, trying to be cool

while the veins in his neck and head
swole up like a garden hose
after the tap gets flipped and the water
flows. She tries too hard and then
says things like, “better to have tried too hard

than not tried at all,” as though she
was Caesar, prescribing the bounds
of logic with a sweep of the hand. Laughing
too loud, snorting, the guffaw
is an American invention. I can’t do much more

than say I love you, you big, goofy,
toothsome girl, and how strange it is
to feel older than one’s parent. I only hope
that yours are the pains of adolescence
and not the onset of early dementia.

Poem from upcoming book….

I have a new book launching Nov 19, and will have parties in Buffalo (Nov 19th) and Rochester (Dec 3rd) to celebrate. Here is a sample that seems relevant:

Now It’s Personal

The streets were rivers of stars and lovers
and the rain came and cooled the hearts of both.
Cafes and doorways flooded as the streets jumped their banks.
Skulls shrunk, mouths swelled, the chatter was all of angels:
angels of marginalia, angels of the engine infernal,
angels of my first time, all the cherubim and seraphim
of a world bone-drenched by heaven after heaven,
heavens plastered on warehouse walls,
heavens honking from passing cabs and radios perched
on hot dog carts, heavens crackling through the space
between satellites.
     And as the streets turned to steam
the chatter turned and spun itself into a husk
the shape of a body, and a man rose from the crowd
and donned the husk, showed his teeth, then spoke
to the stars and lovers
gathered below:
     This is my shape, this is my skin,
you called and I am here.
       The ones who believed
believed it was always thus, while the skeptics
were not invited to return.
       Rooks along the roofline
counted the crumbs that fell as the lovers squabbled
and waved their arms like they were falling through the sky.

The savior swelled and shone like a boil. No one could think
of anything but him, those that loved him, those who wished
his flesh would turn to jelly and fall away, when the lovers
went to bed, they thought of him, when they dreamed,
he rode their dreams until they were tired and wet and ready
for the stall and the feedbag.
       Mothers pinched babies to make them
rosier, that he might kiss them. Sisters shoved brothers
under trains, the better to see his glistening head. And then,
as the sun bleated from behind a cloud, he burst–

I wish there were more to the story. I wish a drunken crone
was bribing urchins with moldy sweets to listen:
how they came while we slept and scrubbed the pavement clean
so the streets could be rivers of stars and lovers,
so the rain could come and cool the hearts of both.

The Word “Broken” is Broken

After the recent DDOS attack that launched via the “internet of things,” I read that Anonymous might have been responsible. Turns out they were not, but it did remind me that Anonymous existed, and led me to their web page. The first item on that page was titled “The American Political System is BROKEN,” and to a screed about how the US should get rid of the “two-party system” and change to instant run-off voting. This led me to 3 conclusions:

It is the third item that concerns me most. I’m sure many of us have sat with a child and tried to show them how the toy they believe is broken actually works; I’m sure most of us have been that child. It is this meaning of the word—that is, the wrong one—that pervades the media universe these days. At the very least, people use “broken” to mean “a very complicated problem,” which is another way of saying the author either does not understand the problem, cannot be bothered to explain it, or expects the audience will not understand it, all of which are symptoms of the infantilization of our culture. The US political system Is not, in fact, broken, nor is the education system, nor is the Affordable Care Act, or Arkansas, or the NFL, or any other system with deep, complicated problems that require work and dialogue to run more effectively. Saying something is broken is the opposite of work and dialogue, it is a throwing up of the hands based on an inability to recognize complexity and affect change within a complex system.

I’m not the only one to protest the infantilization of our culture, of course (A. O. Scott, Bernardini, on and on.. Ariel Dorfman, Baudrillard, so many others…) though unlike some folks, I don’t think this is part of some intentional program those in power subscribe to in order to keep us pliant—those in charge are just as infantilized, it seems—but that doesn’t mean that the effect is not the same, we are kept pliant and childlike and ignorant, and complex problems get puerile solutions pasted over them, again and again. The regular misuse of “broken” is just more evidence of this situation. Apparently Susan Neiman wrote a book last year tracing it back to Rousseau and Kant, so I guess reading that will be my next step.

Linen and such

The metaphor of human life as a fabric, a woven thing, is a bit worn, if I might be allowed the pun. The Moirai of ancient Greese were not weavers but spinners, as one spun the thread, one measured, and one cut the thread of a life, leading to the idea that social life is something like a tapestry made up of many threads. It is hoary enough to be a cliché, really, but I nonetheless found myself dwelling on it after reading William Davies’ The Happiness Industry, which is about, among other things, the fact that our current capitalist moment makes people so unhappy that their lack of desire to work is causing corporations concern, hence the push to sell us various forms of happiness and well-being. Of course, this only makes matters worse, for a variety of reasons that Davies nails pretty well, and among the solutions he offers is that we talk to one another more, and listen, and argue, and not get everything through a branded media stream (which is hard, given that many of us speak and think using the terms and concepts of that stream to define ourselves). So, I have been thinking about the fact that I don’t consider myself a particularly social person, I really like my solitude, but I also recognize that what he is saying is dead on. I guess I am fairly social: I teach, I have parties, I go to parties, I speak to people in a more than perfunctory manner on the street, in shops, and so forth—but part of me wants to cling to the solitude as well. And I don’t think Davies is suggesting we lose that, at all, but rather that many of us feel very isolated, and need help, and talking to another person is the only best way to do that.

All of which led me to the life is a tapestry metaphor, but rather than each person being a thread, I imagined each thread as every experience a person has, because our experiences do not happen in isolation. Even someone alone in the woods who has an experience, then dies without communicating it, had the experience as an individual made up of countless other threads. And we exercise agency upon them, we are not passively being woven from different threads: we take what we experience and judge it, value it, change it, color the threads and make knots and so on. So: every person is made up of these threads of social experiences, is connected to every other person by those threads, and is altering the threads as they find them. If you pull back, then, from the tapestry, you can begin to make out forms, borders, delineations between person and person, where I and you, made up of separate strands, become different people. In other words, a person can be alone, but can never be apart from the rest of humanity. The fabric is social life, and our identities are imprinted upon it by the way we act upon those threads we come in contact with.

Ok, more of listening to all the CDs in my collection. So close to being done, it only took 9 years:

872) Tom Waits: The Early Years; 873) The Art of the Japanese Koto, Shakuhachi, and Shamisen: A Selection of Old and New Chamber Music; 874) Paul Simon: Graceland; 875) Vas: Feast of Silence; 876) Tony! Toni! Tone!: The Revival; 877) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party: Shahbaaz; 878) Lee Chabowski: Drinky-Poo; 879) Youssou N’Dour: Egypt; 880) Rosie Flores: Rockabilly Filly; 881) Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight; 882) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party: The Last Prophet; 883) Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta; 884) ZZ Top: Tres Hombres; 885) Shootyz Groove: Live Jive; 886) Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88’s: Mr. Boogie’s Back in Town; 887) Blue Meanies: Peace Love Groove; 888) DJ Shadow: The Private Press.

Of course, it might be the Vril Society

I need to get back into the groove of daily writing, I have gotten away from the habit and was working more in spurts, which did produce some good work, but not enough. Writing every day helps mollify the obsession in ways that bursts of creativity cannot, though I should not avoid such bursts, of course, and must ride them wherever they lead. Daily writing also helps me sort my mind differently, since I do not approach the page with a pre-existing idea, project to work on, or even formal structure in mind. It is a bit like doing tai chi or yoga, in that it helps my mind be more supple, and stronger, though I don’t think “mind” is actually the right word here. Suite of ideas? Cognitive flow? Mind will have to do for now.

The problem now is that I have too many things to say, they all want to come spilling out at once. So, I will choose one: I have been meaning to go back and read Hofstader’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” for a while, first when Donald Trump used said style to win the Republican nomination for President, and then even more so when Bernie Sanders also started ratcheting up the conspiratorial rhetoric in his campaign for the Democratic side. In terms of policy, it seems Clinton and Sanders are not that far apart, certainly much closer in their proposals to each other than to Trump, and Sanders had been unable to get much traction emphasizing the distinctions between, say, free college for everyone versus free community college, lower loan rates, and a progressive tuition structure. It was when his campaign started encouraging the paranoid style—the process is rigged for Clinton, we are being denied our rights—that he actually started to do better in primaries. So, to keep going, he has to fan the flames of paranoia. Anyone who buys this message will not believe, no matter what evidence is offered, that Clinton and the DNC are not somehow stealing the election, because said evidence must, of course, being manufactured as part of the conspiracy. It’s a neat little self-justifying loop, much like the way insular Christian groups can blame everything on the devil. Unfortunately, it makes those who do not buy the message, who have not bought into the cult of personality at the heart of it, uncomfortable, and ultimately pushes them away, as it has me.

Perhaps I am paranoid too, of the worship of media constructs. When I hear people praise any candidate for office, or in fact any public figure, from Mickey Mouse to Noam Chomsky to Beyoncé, in terms they use for people they actually know (I love them, they are so honest, or trustworthy, or smart), I am instantly on my guard. I do not love or admire Clinton or Sanders or Muhammed Ali or Adrienne Rich, though I do admire things they have said or done or written. To say that I love them would be like looking at a cloud and saying, “I love that cloud for the inner life that it’s shape tells me must exist.” They are real people, but we do not have access to that reality; what we do have access to is constructed by the person, in concert with mass media. What this public image does indicate, especially in politicians, is that they are good at manipulating people, using that public image.

I certainly understand the allure of the paranoid style. It is somehow more comforting to assume the existence of a conspiracy than to reach the conclusion that most of us have no idea what we are doing, that daily life is ruled by chaos and incompetence, at the least, and violent expressions of individual power, at the worst. As Hofstader put it, “the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world.” Which is not to say that conspiracies do not exist, that power is not also institutional, only that the habit of mind that allows us to see conspiracy everywhere is much easier to bring into being than an actual conspiracy is. People are sloppy. Conspiratorial thinking makes them seem more orderly. As does, not coincidentally, the way we learn to think of media constructs as people—Sanders’ carefully disordered hair is a deliberate signal sent to his supporters just as much as Clinton playing dominos with old folks in Harlem or Trump’s poll-tested “gaffes.” Then again, most of us do not learn to judge policy or political acumen, we judge performance, which makes this election just another version of American Idol, whereby we judge a performance and think the performers people we actually know and trust. I wonder, after reading Hofstader again, if we are now, as a people, more or less susceptible to the paranoid style. I hope not, since “we are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”

Perhaps this is why I like conspiracy theory fiction–Pynchon, Dick, Shea/Anton Wilson–and movies, and even games like Illuminati! It lessens my suffering for a few hours by cranking up my paranoia to a ridiculous, though manageable, and thereby cathartic, degree, allowing me to then re-renter the messy, puzzling world refreshed, my need to see order where there is none exhausted.

Because where else.

I got interested in obscure Catholic saints a while back, so I wrote this ring of sonnets, then forgot about it. This seems like a good place, and time, for it:

From the Periphery (Lesser-Known Saints)

Saint Brioc

“Please remember: dawn came, and we were freed,

freed from the devils that stir up the sea,

and we were grateful. Grace hid us a while

from their strange eyes and teeth; grace is not guile,

however, and so we beg the Lord’s mercy

for those brethren swallowed by the beast

before reaching Rome. Their souls will surely

ascend, and they will go join in the feast

of light. The King’s feast, here, is also fine,

and so we give thanks, but these earthly fruits

are but shadows of divine sustenance.

And though we made not Rome, Cornwall does shine

upon a kind of hill… so end your disputes.

Pure hearts do not bicker with providence.”

Saint Ludmilla

“Pure hearts do not bicker with providence,

nor swear allegiance to the methods of man;

providence is a mountain of fire,

and method but a cave in that mountain.

So, though I cannot decide who loves me,

I can give birth, and force, at least, that debt

upon another. Who loves me, loves me,

no matter, I love the Lord above all

and in all things, none shall come between us.

Ah, your men are here. Their choice? Release me–

and themselves from the bondage of their deed–

or put hands on my neck and sacrifice

their souls. Scoundrels! Let me pray, at the least;

no, let me sit and watch the falling snow.”

Bl. Edward Oldcorne

“No, let me sit and watch the falling snow;

you have put the iron to my feet, torn

my flesh with hooks, I have no desire

save witness to God’s creation. Undone?

To the contrary, my heart is aglow

and certain of its home, and of your scorn,

my frail abuser. You are a liar:

you hold the whip, the brand, but truth you shun;

what other kind of man could do this work?

It saddens me, that you will never trust

or be trusted. Once more: I acquired

no powder, nor schemed, nor claimed murder just,

as you soon will, when I dangle and jerk;

Enough! The sun arrives, and the flesh tires.”

St. Shenute

“Enough! The sun arrives, and the flesh tires.

The best intentions will not make a wall;

prayers do not eat, nor fill the empty mouth,

even with fingers of pure light, even

when bringing word to the eye, the heart fired

with silent bellows… the flesh is not all,

but it can build and harvest and smelt ore

from a vanishing spark. Work, and heaven

will welcome you; flesh is a plow, grieving

a harness, spirit an ox. We adore

He who steers our furrows straight; we appal

our crooked eyes, what the flesh still desires.

What do the descendants of Pharoahs own?

Their bodies are wooden, of fire their thrones.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov

“Their bodies are wooden, of fire their thrones,

these sons of men, the lost, the misleading.

As a child, I knew fevers, as a man,

I spent three years a-bed; after visions,

the Virgin descended and healed me.

The Son of God came, and I lost all words,

thieves came and beat my flesh and I smiled;

for a thousand nights I prayed, arms upraised,

and the Virgin came once more to bless me.

My joy! The Holy Spirit surrounds us!

Why do you stand in front of your own eyes

like a soldier? I am no thaumaturge,

I do nothing but the work of the Lord,

and the Lord renders all work meaningless…”

St. Emma of Lesum

“And the Lord renders all work meaningless,

and I have done no work but spent myself,

and my right hand, that which spent most freely,

is a holy thing, at least, I beg you.

Look! A Cathedral! A meadow for thee!

All my riches given in the Lord’s name,

though, to be fair, not given all at once;

which of the meek could stomach my riches,

they would wretch and vomit and great evil

would fix itself like a leech upon such

simple souls… so I have worked, after all,

at saving my flock from worldly wealth,

at marrying charity with prudence.

I worked, Lord, and found no miracles”

St Dismas

“I worked, Lord, and found no miracles.

I stole, Lord, and found more hunger, more thirst.

I went to the desert and learned to kill.

I killed for pleasure, for the smell of it,

and to dance in their blood. Once, I met a child

and could not kill him, his mother, father;

I paid forty drachmas to vile Gestas

and let them go. My soul burst, I lost years

to the vine, to purse slitting, to Gestas

again, the only partner I deserved,

then found myself here, upon Golgotha,

the place of the skull, nailed to a gibbet,

and Gestas still yammering in my ear!

Please remember. Dawn comes… and I am free.”

Some housekeeping

I started this blog in 2008, after we moved from Atlanta, GA to Lockport, NY, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. A few months later, my wife challenged me to listen to all the CDs I owned (well, all the store-bought ones, not copies) and post them to the blog, and I seem to have lost track of that divine purpose, though I have been listening away. So, since the last time I posted CDs (July 2014! damn.), I have listened to:

822) Delicious Vinyl: Waxing Off: The First Decade; 823) Pedro the Lion: Control; 824) Bob Dylan: Desire; 825) Harry Nilsson: A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night; 826) Ladytron: Witching Hour; 827) Orb: u.f.orb; 828) Noi Albinoi: Slow Blow; 829) Dillinger: Cocaine; 830) Various: Quiet About It: A Tribute to Jesse Winchester; 831) Executive Slacks: The Complete Recordings; 832) Dntel: Life is Full of Possibilities; 833) Honky Hoppers: Standing Room Only; 834) Kermit Ruffins: Kermit Ruffins; 834) Brian Setzer Orchestra: The Dirty Boogie; 835) Space’n’Bass: Disc 9 and 10; 836) Swap Dogg: Cuffed, Collared, and Tagged/Doing a Party Tonite; 837) Das FX: Dead Serious; 838) Sue Foley: Without a Warning; 839) Howlin’ Wolf: Two for One; 840) John Coltrane: Lush Life; 841) Sweetback: Sweetback; 842) Youssou N’Dour: Set; 843) Scritti Politti: White Bread, Black Beer; 844) Incredible String Band: The 5000 Spirits or Layers of the Onion; 845) Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs From Greece; 846) Alejandro Escovedo: The Boxing Mirror; 847) Mogwai: Rock Action; 848) The Abyssinia Baptist Gospel Choir: Shaking the Rafters; 848) Eddy Arnold: Eddy’s Song; 849) Weapon of Choice: Nutmeg Fantasy; 850) Ben Folds Five: Ben Folds Five; 851) Willie Nelson: Milk Cow Blues; 852) Tangerine Dream: Lily on the Beach; 853) The B-52s: Party Mix!; 854) Wussy: Strawberry; 855) Harry Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson; 856) Mekons: The Edge of the World; 857) Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects: Shabeestation; 858) Rokia Traore: Beautiful Africa; 859) Various: Beginner’s Guide to Arabia; 860) Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow; 861) The Clash: London Calling; 862) UB40: The UB40 File; 863) The Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning Stages of… 864) Quasi: Featuring “Birds”; 865) Brick: Super Hits; 866) The Carter Family: 1927-1934; 867) Martha Wainwright: I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too; 868) Mum: Summer Make Good; 869) Bob Wills: Encore (box set); 870): Roger Miller: The Genius of Roger Miller (box set); 871) Wussy: Attica.

Well, there are more still in the pile, but I’m tired of cataloging. I’d have made a terrible librarian.

More to thee than the economy

I read an interesting article in Jacobin about how children are increasingly seen as investments, largely because of the increase in income disparity–Erickson article. Jacobin can be a too strident for me at times, but this article (which is a condensation of a book, I believe) really rang true, at least in part because I see the same effect—the corporatization of culture—everywhere. I think sometimes I am overstating the case, seeing everything as a nail because I have a hammer, and then I find others who see the same insidiousness:

The young children of the wealthy are increasingly diverse portfolios of applications to private schools, enrichment classes, play dates, and nanny shares. These little Einsteins go on to attend prestigious high schools and Ivy League colleges. But it starts in preschool.

A whole culture has risen around the cultivation of the child into a successful adult, equipped for the global economy. Its language is English plus Spanish or Mandarin; its literature is the mommy blog.

Working-class children, on the other hand, are objects of suspicion defined by what is perceived, within the economic superstructure, as a lack — of high-enough test scores, of self-confidence, or the inclination and facility to self-regulate behavior.

Childhood is now a curated experience for the rich, and a desperate challenge full of lotteries and high stakes for the middle-class and working-class families who aspire toward upward mobility. But it is not a particularly pleasurable one anymore.”

It makes me wonder if the act of questioning the economic reality that has led us to this point has, in itself, become something curated for the well-off. Then I think of all the real resistance going on, and realize it has much more to do with distribution, with burying some messages and raising others to the top of all our googles.

Parents’ willingness to embrace these uber-strict test regimes for their very small children even though we know that it makes those children anxious and upset is connected to the fact that the parents feel and know that the labor market is tightening and shows that their children’s [prospects] are tightening.

If they knew that the kid was going to be OK; if $15 was the minimum wage and you could go to college for free, everybody has health care, there ’s plenty of affordable housing — if they just knew that the kid was going to be OK, there would be way less hysterical pressure of making your five-year-old jump through that standardized test hoop.” – Brian Jones

Finally—or rather, at the start of her essay, Erickson nails this part:

Poverty pathologizes people who are losing in capitalism rather than concrete economic sources: “There are victims, but no victimizers.” The language of “poverty” keeps us from questioning and critiquing our economic system in a way that “wealth inequality” and “class disparity” — or class war — does not.

The same logic has come to shape our culture, it defines the way we approach art, agriculture, religion, language… but we can resist, without jettisoning the true material benefits that collective work has given us. Crass corporatism is not the not the only way to build a world. Hell, it’s not even a good way to run a business.

Such Light, Above Ground

Last week, I was assaulted by a group of 4, or 5, or 6, young men who knocked me off my bicycle and punched and kicked and stomped on me. I don’t know why they did it; in fact, while they were pummeling me, I kept asking them: “Why? Why are you doing this?” They had no answer for me. Then I blacked out, and shortly after that, two car loads of young men and women returning from the drive-in stopped and scared them off, then waited with me until the police and ambulance arrived.

The damage tally, as is usual for such events, was weird: right ankle broken in three places, jaw broken in two, ribs severely bruised, but my glasses are still intact, internal organs are fine, and nothing was taken from my wallet. I lost a shoe and my bike helmet, but my wife found both the next day. A senseless act produced results difficult to make sense of, in other words. I am not sure I need to make sense of it, really, although the looks on the faces of everyone I tell the story to begs the same questions: how could anyone do such a thing, what’s wrong with people, is our society crumbling… people want to make sense of it, fit knowledge of events like random assault into their worldview. Some have offered me their own scaffolding, while taking blood or checking my temperature, opining on young people today, or suggesting race or class were somehow involved. I hate telling people about it because of that look, the way my story leads people to peek over the edge of a hole into the underworld.

As a result of the assault, I have spent the last 8 days in 2 different hospitals, undergoing 2 different surgeries, and countless pricks, prods, and palavers. I have become a connoisseur of several different kinds of pain and of the drugs that try to relieve them, and have felt my consciousness, in concert with my body, pulled and punched and wound into unimaginable knots and unwound into base thread. I did not peek over the edge of the hole, I was shoved into it from behind, and so began a katabasis, a descent into the underworld—but I had no quest, other than survival and healing.

My memories of the Emergency Room are disjointed, full of bursts of pain, needles and oxygen masks, a nurse screaming across me at another patient who wouldn’t stop saying something offensive, a confused, squirrelly cop trying to take a statement from me, my wife crying in a chair at the foot of the bed. And noise. So much noise that I can clearly remember a moment where the noise stopped, no one spoke, no one yelled, no one raced across the room, just the tap tap of computer keyboards. It lasted a few seconds, then the noise exploded again.

I don’t remember the elevator ride up to the second floor, but there I was, more needles, more bizarre pain, but less noise. When Ishtar descended into the underworld to be with Tammuz, she was ritually disrobed at 7 different gates: one for her crown, one for her jewelry, one for her outer robe, and so forth. I expected the same treatment, and though I spent the next three days lying in my shorts and underwear and belt, I did feel more than naked, as though any defense between myself and the world had been stripped away. I am most grateful to all the nurses and aides who took such wonderful care of me, monitoring my pain and my vital signs as the doctors decided how to proceed. They couldn’t be at my side constantly, of course, nor could my lovely wife, and so I came to think of them as guides, lending me strength for my chthonic journey.

My first surgery, to repair my ankle, was scheduled for Saturday. Friends and family visited and made me smile. Doctors asked me questions. I had cat scans, x-rays, and MRIs. My room mate was a man who had lost short term memory and so kept asking me what hospital we were in. At no point, other than when I was waiting to get an x-ray, was I not in the presence of another human being, and yet I have rarely felt more alone. The drugs and the pain and the frequent intrusions of needles and probes and fingers into my body all combined to push me far, far away from the world, and reality broke into shards, like when the film flutters through the projector at the end of the reel.

My identity, too, fell apart at times. After Saturday’s surgery, which I was semi-conscious for, I was given a large dose of pain killers and fell asleep. I woke a few hours later, convinced I was in Japan, which was not unusual, as I had just visited there, but I also had no idea who I was, which was unusual, and scary as hell. I gradually understood enough words on a dry erase board at the end of the bed that my identity began to coalesce, and I knew where I was, but I will never forget the sensation of not knowing, the terror of feeling the absence of identity, and knowing that it was lost.

I was transferred to another hospital for my jaw surgery. I was put in an ambulance at 4:00 am, driven through a thunderstorm severe enough that travel warnings had been issued, then deposited on the seventh floor. Three nurses immediately descended upon me, stripped off my robe, and examined every inch of my body. They flipped me on my side, causing a large abscess on my jaw to burst and fill my mouth with pus, then gave me more pain medication. The sun came up. Doctors visited. More needles. Someone came and pulled my mouth open, tearing the corner of my lips. More pain killers. More pain. The Japanese women’s football team beat the Netherlands.

My last surgery, to put plates into my jaw and wire it shut, was Wednesday, luckily, as we were on a waiting list for the operating room. I woke when they yanked the breathing tube out of my nose, which felt like someone pulling a steam shovel through my nasal cavity. Oddly, I could smell dim sum, even saw a platter of dumplings floating the air. I can only assume someone had eaten something like dim sum recently and I could smell it. I could smell everything, more keenly than I thought possible, and the recovery room was not the best place to acquire that particular superpower.

One more night of recovery, and I was discharged. An aide wheeled me out into the sunlight, out of the underworld, and I sat, waiting for my wife to pull the car around, wondering what my quest had been. I had been pulled apart and remade, had endured a lot of physical pain, and had seen so much good, so much love and care from friends, family, and strangers, it was hard to find any core to the experience. I thought about the men who had attacked me, out of nowhere, rushing from behind, from between buildings, beating me for no reason—why did they do it? I could only think that their lives were similar to the time I had just spent in the underworld: full of bursts of violence and pain and powerlessness, identities tenuous, dependent on pathetic expressions of power, naked as Ishtar, but without all the loving friends and family helping them along. I wished many horrible things upon you, my attackers, and now I see that these wishes for revenge were just as foolish and pathetic as your initial attack on me was, and were motivated by similar desires. And of course, that was my quest all along, to reach this point: I do not like what you did to me, but I forgive you, and if I find you in need, I will help.