The good doctor carries a gastraphete. We’ve painted the undersides of our jaws, bellies out and naked. There is no choice but to borrow the path from our ancestors. We mark the side of the bank with bulleted progress, guided by the taut and slack of the skeins of hair tied between the final five like muscles. Noon’s whiteness thrusts through breaches in the canopy and wraps the woods in the balmy threat of fever. Forward-moving we sound like the clawing of some giant beast, paused we feel the air recoil from the throbbing of our chests, and around the wrists of our detained grows a rosy garland that brightens in the writhing of our march. Day seems to rupture. Reaching the opening of widened earth, the aberrant among us are shouldered to the muddy banks. Fear kicks like a horse, the woods filled with howling from the salty ground. The good doctor raises his palms to a blueblack sky, a flock of geese.

* * *

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters

She grew arrowy. “You look like an arrow,” he said.

* * *


We’ve filled up the room with dead horses, though we’re poor small things. I don’t have an answer. I stand, run my fingers between the tiles, her feet swinging from the counters while we’re drawing the same line back and forth until we’ve both become inaudible.

The day before we were accidental witnesses to a man on the platform who lurched and met the ground with blood that pooled to a thick shadow. Today I feel like I’ve been stepped on. We phoned help, told the woman at the gate but any more we were useless; the train came. Walking home she told me about unrolling her mother’s clothes from the drawers and pulling at the threads for three days after the funeral. She was the nicest she knew how. We made it to our house where there had to be something to do– build something or stir something– like to prove we were still in this world while the air stayed smelling of iron.

I want to sit down and talk. I feel horrible.

I could make her clothes, sew her up in a thick cloth. I could wrap it around her for days, leave her breathing but remote. It keeps spilling out of her that we’re at a loss, things are uneven– if it could only drip from her tongue to the soft web I could build around her, taking what was edgeless and spongy between us, it disappearing in the threads. This was one small ominous disaster, not a series.

Her feet swinging I tell her I don’t know, slip my hand in the hollow cave behind her knee and move away.

* * *

Self Defense

Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America:

I hope someday we’ll have enough money to get those pictures developed. Sometimes I get curious about them, wondering if they will turn out all right. They are in suspension now like seeds in a package. I’ll be older when they are developed and easier to please. Look there’s a baby! Look there’s Mushroom Springs! Look there’s me!

I read this book yesterday, which is sort of set in San Francisco which is near where I live. I don’t live in San Francisco; I live in the East Bay, in Oakland. Earlier I worked in San Francisco and spent more time there but I don’t anymore, I work in Oakland and spend my time here and not only is it a good place but it’s probably the right place. Oakland’s just trying to get its shit together which is what I know. When things are right I could move to San Francisco or leave or the idea of right things is stupid.

So yesterday I read this book in a bar in Oakland. The best part of the book is when there’s a used trout stream for sale by the foot, stacked in piles by length. And he goes upstairs to where the divided stacks of trout streams are and sees the trout swimming and sticks his hand in the cold water, which is the kind of brain poets have.

The worst part of the book is probably the last three chapters: the third to last because the character has to wait in Oakland to get paid so he can go to San Francisco, and I hate this waiting version of Oakland, it’s sad and this city deserves more and I’d like to get over it; the second to last chapter because he says

Expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise.

and in the final chapter he does, the last word is mayonnaise. What I think when I read this is, “fine, end the book with the word mayonnaise but I don’t want to know about wanting to do it, that’s not something I need to know.” God knows I get attached to endings real bad which is part of the reason why I can’t get past writing anything but the very short, but it drives me up the wall to hear it here at the end of this book. I think partly because, maybe someone disagrees, it’s just aesthetically irritating, there’s no need to gigantisize the quirk, man aren’t I crazy ending this book with “mayonnaise.”

I’ve been reading this self-help book for a lot of reasons I may go into another time, probably not, and the whole thing is just the same as every other self-help book, a repetition of the importance of “letting go” over and over in the horrible way self-help books have of using a lot of quotations and backing up claims with pseudo-science and explaining words (“disease = dis-ease”). Honestly I can’t even figure out why I keep reading this book except that I’m hoping it’s a better reminder of letting go, maybe to turn things around here at the end of this year where I have not been very good at getting over shit. (egos, people, the future)

So a “human need” then? To end a book with a certain word? (At the risk of being elementary:) besides just the purely quirk here the human need is just to claim and solidify and know the ending, which is impossible unless you are writing, or shooting yourself. This ending is irritating because what a horrible thing in this ridiculous year to think there might be some control over what would happen next or where it goes.

It’s fine though, inescapable anyway. This book would have always been knitted to knowing endings as I only read it because I have been working my way through this list instead of doing the other summer tribute, and In Watermelon Sugar came in the same book as Trout Fishing in America so I read both, and because Brautigan committed suicide probably around this time too in 1984.

Jesus, this year. I’m done, should be, worrying if things will turn out all right. This is the city I live in.

General Custer Versus the Titanic

For the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who were killed at the Little Bighorn River and the passengers who were lost on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

God bless their souls.

Yes! It’s true all my visions
have come home to roost at last.
They are all true now and stand
around me like a bouquet of
lost ships and doomed generals.
I gently put them away in a
beautiful and disappearing vase.

* * *


No Correlation:

Criminal Justice Babe: Your new office sucks.

The Temp: Thank you.

Criminal Justice Babe: Why’d you move in here?

The Temp: Some are born with shitty offices, some achieve shitty offices and some have shitty offices thrust upon ’em.

Criminal Justice Babe: It’s really small.

The Temp: It has one redeeming feature.

Criminal Justice Babe: And that is?

The Temp: (Points at self with both thumbs) THIS GUY.

Criminal Justice Babe: … Who are you pointing at?

The Temp: Myself.

Criminal Justice Babe: I thought you were pointing at the wall.

The Temp: I have to get out of here. I wish I was in love with you or anybody or anything external to myself. I desperately want to find something external to myself to be fascinated with but I have found nothing that can sustain my interest. Or more accurately, I cannot sustain my interest in anything and it is killing me.

* * *


I read the other day, outside a store front, a sign:


and stayed out, certain that this was a terrible way to say things.


The weather is changing; the subway is strangely crowded and we are in kind. She asks if I am seeing someone and I think what a stupid question, I will stay out here, I am not going in, how terrible. Everyone on the way to work this morning I recognized, every single one as I saw them, which could not be possible. I hurried past because what would I say to them all, as though in a suit and tie I could stand on the orange seats and announce It is so good to see you. I’m well, my health is fine, work’s the same, I’ve met someone but we may not know each other other very well though there’s no need to worry, you and I will see each other again soon? I don’t feel much like telling  everyone on this train things that aren’t true, so instead my heart goes out to them and I look down and hurry past.

My heart, at least, goes somewhere.

* * *


-You want kids?

-I like em enough, yeah. 

-Enough? To what?

-I had this thought, right, to have a few kids. Three or four. Then from the day they’re born I’ll plant them with heavy objects– in shoes maybe, or clothes. Each child an increased number, like the fourth one’s holding the most weight in the day. 

-I don’t see for what. 

-Don’t know. To see. See if the last one’s the most serious or the least. See the way they hold themselves. See if they can tell. 

-So not because you like them, then. Just to see. 

-Wait, though. Then. Then when your kid’s 24, or 30, or 60 even and it’s too much to hear them talk because the world’s too much, things are hard and lonely and they sound too weary for how good they are, this is what I want: I come in, I take the weights out, see? I sneak into windows or rooms and take out every weight I’ve ever put in shoes or clothes or watches and they get up the next day and the whole world is lighter, two times or ten. They feel it, and you know it, and you call them on the phone and say you love them and the world’s getting better. And they say “yes, dad, I know” and you buy it because they do.  They will. 

-Take the anchor. 

-Take it. Give them air. 

* * *

From the two most violent books I’ve ever read:

Antrim, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World:

It’s a compromise, it’s not the best of all possible worlds, but neither is the world the best of all possible worlds, is it?

McCarthy, Blood Meridian:

I wonder if there’s other worlds like this, he said. Or if this is the only one.


Here is Antrim reading Barthelme’s “I Bought a Little City,”  (maybe I am going to have to rename this whole thing The Barthelme Experience) and some suggestions of what it means to turn an absurd idea genuine, or make wild impulses register with reality;

Interviewer: …it’s just a way of saying “Wake up, remember who you’re with, remember what you’re doing here.”

Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World is the best thing I have read in a long time. 

* * *

The Port

Below the balcony is a ship. It was Sunday; we watched from the window to the harbor behind us, hazily. We learned quickly that ports make the same sounds in darkness as in daylight, each morning turned into a fine cloth. Bill next door says in two months we’ll be like babies again but I see us like babies and the way we would shriek with the noise, our fat bodies in bed and mouths open. I don’t think Bill has children.  

It was a fine Sunday. A bright sun. Machines stroll by. 


God had said to build a whale which had taken us to the port this Sunday and all the rest, for the time. The still small voice spoke between us like a current, ours between us. Most men are looking for a burden— a thing to hold on their shoulders solitary—but this was ours. Nothing to carry. We’ll make what we can.

There is an impulse at first to find a plot of land to own: green grass, solid ground. What we needed, though, was water, something you don’t own like any other thing. The rented deck of the port became a place to hold, a few slabs of wood to act righteously. We began the process of collecting—sheets of rubber and limbs to shape and paddles for forms— and built a slow pile in our home. At night we learned to sleep in the farthest corner of the room, the only place we still could move against each other but stay away from the sounds outside and from everything we were beginning to own inside. 

The light grows shorter, and each day we make it back in darkness having been made smaller by hours in water. Toward the back of our home we regrow: arms curled with the opening of the door, then stretched and lengthened to the only corner that we can still say is ours. We are longest at night. 


In months it was done. A creature built, skin and spine and cells, resting heavy on the water. A covenant completed before the open ocean with our only hands. In the early dawn we bring the shears to the deck to make the release and break the ropes that held all we had built. He takes them in his hands, brings the muscles downward with the movement of nothing that has ever been. Unlike a crash or flood there is no sound; silently it drops below the water, below the light to nothing. No movement but our own. As we stand the world stays still, barely warm, but it is everything all at once. 

We were a prism.  


He stands on the dock at night, our home empty and the water empty and no further words. Everything has faded and nothing has returned, and I feel what it is to have nothing to say or do or make. As near as I can I am behind him. 

Lay your bones down, baby. There are always plans to be made. 

* * *

Some ways to whittle the world down

Maslow, found in de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work*:

It isn’t normal to know what we want. 


Last week I built a yurt, start to finish– one of those novelty-type things that actually realized into wood slats and labor. All this talk of not being able to hammer a nail over the internet or something and it was a kind of joke turned oddly pertinent: four days in the middle of nowhere with duck eggs for breakfast and things that grew from the ground ten feet away and power tools and failed-math-cum-trial-and-error, all the while serving a numero uno purpose of total distraction from unemployment round two (twice as bad). All a special kind of first-world respite from alienation, self-pity, and job postings that emphasize the word “twitter” and act like bright neon callings for exodus. I don’t want any of this.

No hesitation, though, (or guilt, etc.) to say that it was nice to feel deserving of things like dinner or sleep. I built a thing.  

*Some (seconded) dislike of Pleasures: I am angry with the voice of most of this book– occasionally mean and quick to deem things surprising or apt (this town “surprisingly devoid of charm,” a (hey!) surprisingly apt summary of the book), all of it existing in a place too far removed to make any effective stabs at saying anything new or real about removedness. But, at least: my library uses old library catalogue cards for the scraps you can write out call numbers on, the one I inadvertently grab to write down the number for Pleasures tagged with the category “self-actualization,” in all caps: SELF-ACTUALIZATION, Maslow’s final step in the hierarchy of needs, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything one is capable of becoming.” In a steady stage of not-becoming I at least have a yurt, and a satisfied basic need in case I face eviction.

* * *