My Not So Real Estate

We have been trying, my wife and I, to sell our house and buy another, which is, as anyone who has been through it knows, just about the most fun you can have without losing a limb. I suppose if one is stinking rich, it’s another easy thing floating by on a river of ease, but if you are stinking rich, you probably aren’t reading this. Actually, if you are not a bot tasked with dumping phishing links cleverly disguised as ads for fake Ray-Bans in the comment section of this site, you probably aren’t reading this, but in any case: we are trying to do the sell-buy two-step and it is not much like fun.

The selling part is probably worse, since it involves keeping our current home as much like a hotel as possible, except a hotel where the sparse furnishings are your own, except that the furnishings are not really yours, inasmuch as you cannot treat, say, your coffee table with anything like the casual abandon that you did before, putting things like coffee cups on it, lest they spill, or books, lest they remind potential buyers of your disgusting presence in their dream home. Buying a house is slightly less stressful because you get to look at other people’s meticulously arranged stuff, realize they are far more obsessively tidy than you, and feel sympathy for their condition, which surely must get in the way of leading a richer, fuller life.

There is other stress associated with buying a house, of course—bidding wars, house inspections, the sense that no one really has your best interest at heart—but what bothers me most is going to see houses that are rental properties, and where the tenants have chosen to stay as you walk through, apologizing for your role as a threat to their continued happiness. A few days ago, we went to see a home occupied by refugees from Burma, a fact I discerned by the large, prominent posters of activist Aung San Suu Kyi displayed throughout, along with an understanding that the city of Buffalo, where my wife and I plan to move, has seen a strong influx of refugees from Burma in the last decade. They were more welcoming than most tenants are when you walk through their home, but I still could not shake loose from the fact that if we bought this house, they would be displaced yet again.

We thanked them and went to look at the attic, then came down a set of front stairs that led out of the house. I was overwhelmed with a desire to go back and tell the folks living there that I knew who Aung San Suu Kyi was, and that I respected her work. I know many people would simply chalk this up to guilt, at having to interrupt (and potentially disrupt) their lives, at recognizing what a comparatively privileged life I was living, compared to theirs, but it wasn’t guilt at all, feeling bad for being a chaotic force in a stranger’s life is not the same as feeling one is to blame for the situation that brought us together. It is comparable to the argument that a person cannot do good for another without thinking of the good it will do themselves, that we are always selfishly motivated, even when being altruistic, which is something selfish people often bring up to justify their own selfishness. Both arguments rest on an idea of the self as the most dominant, active figure in an individual’s psychic and spiritual landscape, a figure that casts a shadow over everything else in the world. It is not easy to resist this notion of identity, especially within a culture like we have in the United States, which encourages it, even institutionalizes it, because it is this sense of self that makes us more desperate consumers. And, of course, resisting this idea of self does not mean giving up all material possessions and living as itinerant monks, but rather that the material conditions of one’s life are simply one aspect of the path to a meaningful existence, important but not nearly as important as the recognition of other lives, of social contact, of saying to another person, “I see what is important to you, and that your life is as valuable as mine.”

I say this social aspect is more important because identity is not fixed thing, but a shimmering nexus of events, influences, and attitudes constantly formed and re-formed by our interactions with other people. To say we are more other people than we are ourselves is not inaccurate, I think, much like our bodies are made up of “our” cells, but also of bacteria, fungi, viruses, archea, and everything that goes into making up the microbiome. We can thus think of the human body as being partially our own and partially something alien to that body, or we can recognize that our bodies are part of a fluid system of interactions with our environment. And so it is with the self, and so it is that I wanted to go back and tell the folks in the house we looked at that I recognized that face of a woman they held in great esteem, because I recognized both the gulf between our experiences and the commonality of our humanity and found it fascinating and worth sharing. Then a car drove by blasting music so loud it caused the windows of neighboring cars to vibrate, and I forgot all about my desire to communicate with the tenants, until I woke last night and remembered, and remembered why my plan had gotten derailed, and decided to write it all down instead.

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.

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.”

More Light

Such a lovely day, -14 celsius outside, everything crisply frozen, windows steaming a bit where the cats sits, plenty of work to do inside and out, and, oh, more lost souls murdering people, this time in Paris, a bomb goes off outside an NAACP office in Colorado, so many sad, twisted people with no other way to exert power or make sense of this world but to lash out, take their revenge on the rest of us.

Hannah Arendt: “…even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth – this conviction is the inarticulate background against which these profiles were drawn. Eyes so used to darkness as ours will hardly be able to tell whether their light was the light of a candle or that of the blazing sun. But such objective evaluation seems to me a matter or secondary importance which can be safely left to posterity.”

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

–Pablo Neruda

Jim Harrison

Wonderful Michigan poet. Love your poem, Jim:

Young Bull

The bronze ring punctures

the flesh of your nose,

the wound is fresh

and you nuzzle the itch

against a fence post.

Your testicles are fat and heavy

and sway when you shake off flies;

the chickens scratch about your feet

but you do not notice them.

 

Through lunch I pitied

you from the kitchen window–

the heat, pained fluid of August–

but when I came with cold water

and feed, you bellowed and heaved

against the slats wanting to murder me.

 

 

.

Opportunities to gain perspective abound

I heard a commotion outside the window, so I went in the backyard and found a squirrel who’d fallen and, I believe, broken its back, because when it saw me it tried to run up a tree with only its front feet, dragging its lower half behind it. When I heard the commotion, I’d been fretting about part of a poem I was writing about the US highway system, trying to figure out how to get some reference to the Federal-Aid Highway act of 1956 in there while still sounding poetic enough. Seems like a pretty stupid thing to fret about, now. The squirrel made up the tree as far as the top of our fence, perched for a while, staring at me, breathing like a creature with a broken spine would breathe, then kept going, up the tree, one claw at a time.

Once he was gone, I let the dogs out to sit in the sun.

CDs I’ve listened too, as I listen to all the CDs I own, one at a time: 801) Box Set: Pere Ubu: Datapanik in the Year Zero(fuck yeah); 802) Various: I Put a Spell on YouL The Okeh Story; 803) Beastie Boys: hello nasty; 804) Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap: The Tunnel; 805) Mexican-American Border Music: Vol 1; 807) Randy Newman: Sail Away; 808) Blur: Parklife; 809) The Cramps: How to Make a Monster; 810) Petracovich: Blue Cotton Skin; 811) Joanna Newsom: The Milk Eyed Mender; 812) Solomon Burke: Home in Your Heart; 813) Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland; 813) Zapp: Zapp; 814) Ornital: Diversions; 815) Space Time Continuum: Alien Dreamtime; 816) Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties; 817) The Residents: Eskimo; 818) Paul Oakenfold: Bunkka; 819) Melanie de Biasio: No Deal; 820) Spacehog: Resident Alien; 821) Soundtrack: Three Seasons.

Gotta Serve Somebody

While reading articles in an academic journal recently, I was struck by how the mode of inquiry seemed derived from Management Science. The journal is written and edited by Humanities scholars and publishes articles about popular culture, yet almost every article, in the 3 issues I read through, eschewed any kind of moral or ethical argument in favor of describing the system that produces different works of art. I used to think this instinct toward systematization–in concert with a studied absence of moral critique, which I first noticed in academic literary criticism–arose from a disciplinary envy of the Sciences. The Humanities cannot prove things the same way the Sciences can, and for whatever reason, the proof offered by the Sciences has become much more valuable in the last 50 years. So, Humanities scholars have looked to a variety of systems to try and seem more objective in their scholarly work: linguistics, Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism*, and so forth. Now, I’m beginning to think it’s not so much an envy of the Sciences, though that is surely a factor, but moreso an institutional need to appear more objective brought about by an increasingly Corporatized university system. More and more professional administrators, as opposed to scholars doing administrative work, demand the kind of proof (for advancement and tenure) that Management Science values: quasi-objective analysis of a system, preferably with some numbers of some kind, in which human beings are devoid of emotional content except inasmuch as that content is quantifiable, or is otherwise useful in helping describe the relative efficiency of a system. Management logic has become so woven into our culture, it’s hard to find examples unconditioned by it. Books and music and movies are massaged into being by editors and producers for whom quality and marketability are one in the same, celebrity identities are pre-masticated by the star-machine to the point that even bad behavior is carefully choreographed–even our speech, here in the US, is riddled with business speak. But at the end of the day, I supposed I’ve just made another system… except that my system is in the service of a moral argument: Management science has made us all less human, less able to live the best sort of life, one aware of what is meaningful and worthwhile, by causing us to see ourselves the same way that “science” sees its objects: as cogs in a machine, disposable, only as important as their ability to help the machine function.

CDs: 746) Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks; 747) DJ Spooky: Songs of a Dead Dreamer; 748) Van Morrison: What’s Wrong With This Picture?; 749) Pasty Cline: The Patsy Cline Collection; 750) Goldie: Saturnz Return; 751) Holy Modal Rounders: Too Much Fun.

* I know many post-structuralists made the argument that they were explicitly resisting systematization and hegemony, but come on, few scholarly movements were systematic in spirit and hegemonic in practice–everything but the claims they made in their books and articles.

Pretty pretty

“An aesthetic response to forms is essential to the attainment of an authentic subjectivity and a creative self-illuminating awareness that is immersed in nature beyond the vacillations of personal emotion”

–Heine

 

The judgment of a thing as beautiful is typically predicated on comparison, that the characteristics of the beautiful thing are superior to another, flawed, less beautiful thing. Thus, beauty and perfection are aligned, beauty is the expression of the most perfect example of a thing, which strikes me as very Platonic. A better understanding of beauty, one that I’ve worked toward possessing without articulating it, is one of recognizing that everything is an example of perfection, and hence of beauty, and the hard work is not in discerning value by comparison with other things of the same class, but in being able to recognize, fully, the beauty of anything, in and of itself. So, a splotch of whitening bird shit on the sidewalk is beautiful in and of itself, though of course it is in a different class of things from a painting, or a symphony, or a skyscraper, or genetically modified seeds. I include the last because there are a whole class of things that I want to exclude, to say there is nothing beautiful about genocide, or torture, or my neighbor punching her six year old child in the head, surely there is nothing beautiful in these things. In fact, to say a thing is beautiful as not the same thing as saying it is right, though it’s very difficult to not make that leap, and the danger of trying to see the beauty in that which we fight against is a fatalism, the idea that we shouldn’t fight against something because we recognize it as beautiful, as perfect in and of itself.  Beauty is also not static, however, nor is perfection, and raging against a thing—murder, say—is not distinct from understanding its beauty. I can look at the Execution of a Viet Cong Guerilla and feel the horror a life ended, the sheer visceral shock of the blast, the wincing surprise on Bay Hop’s face (is death always a surprise, even if we see it coming? Is not belief in our own end something beyond human comprehension?), the offhanded nature of the act, and this horror does not mean that the photograph, first of all, is not beautiful and perfect, for it is, a moment of time as complete as every other, or even that the action itself is not beautiful, that is, as an act of brutality, it is meaningful, even is only to remind us of what we must fight against and, while it is not pleasurable, it is satisfying in it’s complete ugliness. I guess that’s what I’m trying to establish, that ugliness is not the opposite of beauty, it is simply a characteristic of beauty, a kind of beauty that we must work harder to recognize. Once we recognize it, we recognize our how much the thing is part of us, and we it, which sounds rather Buddhist: beauty is an act of apprehending, without attachment, how the qualities of a given thing engage the perceiver, for this engagement removes the distinction between thing and perceiver, even if the thing is repulsive, even if it only lasts an instant. Fatalism is not the necessary outcome of detachment, compassion is, so the apprehension of beauty leads to compassion.

 

CDs listened to by me (yes, they are all beautiful, though some are pursuing a model of beauty that makes me sad): 700) The Byrds: Box Set (forgot how much breadth there was to this band); 701) Steely & Clevie : Play Studio One Vintage; 702) Cocktails for Two: Romance With a Twist; 703) Guru: Jazzamatazz; 704) Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada; 705) St. Etienne: Tiger Bay; 706) Teddy Pendergrass: Greatest Hits; 707) Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By; 708) Bad Religion: Stranger Than Fiction; 709) Redbelly: Scraps; 710) Kinky Friedman: Kinky Friedman; 711) Various: Songs of West Side Story; 712) 3 Mustaphas 3: Heart of Uncle; 713) Parliament: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein; 714) Can: Ege Bamyasi; 715) Julie London: Sophisticated Lady; 716) Forest for the Trees: Forest for the Trees; 717) Cat Power: The Greatest; 718) Iris DeMent: Infamous Angel; 719) Loudon Wainwright III: Here Come the Choppers; 720) Alison Moyet: Essex.

 

Moving

Hey hey, new(ish) book of poetry by me available!

No Tribe, No Tribute
poems by Marc Pietrzykowski
Print: $13. 82 pages.
ISBN-13: 978-1479212637 ISBN-10: 1479212636

I am about to start moving this blog, the Pski’s Porch site, and also my music sites to Rebelmouse, in order to spend less time dodging spam and phishing posts. If you’ve never tried to host a website, you’d be surprised how many people think posting “Hey, love your site! I’ll be sure to share it with all my friends” and then linking it to “bigtit.cialis.xxxcom” will somehow work. I guess it must. So, sometime in the next few weeks, on to Rebelmouse.

Cds listened to (I can see the end. The last 2-300 or so are stretched out before me…):

672) The Staple Singers: Collector’s Edition: 673) Souad Massi: Deb; 674) Iggy Pop: Nude and Rude; 675) Rosemary Clooney: Sentimental Journey; 676) Michelle Shocked: Captain Swing (so sad, watching folks go mad); 677) Me’shell Ndegeocello: Plantation Lullabies; 678) The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash; 679) Taraf de Haidouks: Taraf de Haidouks; 680) Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat: J.U.F.; 681) Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I; 682) Mum: finally we are no one; 683) Bascom Lamar Lunsford: Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina; 684) Candy Kane: White Trash Girl; 685) Cowboy Junkies: at the end of paths taken; 686) David Bowie: The Singles, 1969-1993; 687) k.d. langAll You Can Eat; 689) Burning Spear: Creation Rebel; 690) Screaming Females: Ugly; 691) Freddie King: Live at the Electric Ballroom; 692) Fishbone: Chim-Chim’s Badass Revenge; 693) Meat Puppets: II; 694) Radiohead: OK Computer; 695) Jerry Lee Lewis: All Killer, No Filler; 696) Genius/GZA: Liquid Swords; 697) The Latin Playboys: Latin Playboys; 698) Renegade Saints: Fear of the Sky; 699) Prince: Lotusflower; 699) Ron and Kay Rivoli: Rving is the Life for Me!. #700 will be a Byrds box set.