Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Poem to a Black Dog

by Alex Gallo-Brown

Pink tongue,
black bearded body,
how you‘ve kept me sane these months
with your unerring smile,
even as your hips sag 

beneath my touch,
wilt like sun-baked flowers.
Poor creature, blessed
with short memory and superior smell,
your days must be only negligibly distinct,
a sputtering fountain of unorganized time.

Or perhaps this is what we believe
in order to make sense 
of your seemingly eventless existence.
Perhaps you are actually more attuned to each day,
their unpredictable waves, their subtle surprises--
a food critic endowed with a nuanced tongue
or a jeweler examining thousands of diamonds,
not one of them the same.

So that you might taste that closely,
see that clear.

               RIP Chinook

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fellow Prisoners

"I'm searching for words to describe the period of history we're living through," writes John Berger, the noted art critic and cultural theorist in a recent essay for the e-magazine Guernica. "I'm not searching for a complex definition...I'm looking for nothing more than a figurative image to serve as a landmark. Landmarks don't fully explain themselves, but they offer a reference point that can be shared. In this they are like the tacit assumptions contained in popular proverbs. Without landmarks there is a great human risk of turning in circles.

The landmark I've found is that of a prison."

Berger goes on to describe the prisons that circumscribe us, "prison" defined literally as well as metaphorically--worksites, refugee camps, shopping malls, ghettos, suburbs, and elevators are other examples he gives. The relentless market forces to which every government pays homage are the real jailer, says Berger. And the Internet is their collective club.

"The prison system operates thanks to cyberspace. Cyberspace offers the market a speed of exchange which is almost instantaneous and used across the world day and night for trading. From this speed, the market tyranny gains its extra-territorial license...

There is no place for pain in that velocity; announcements of pain, perhaps, but not the suffering of it. Consequently, the human condition is banished, excluded from those operating the system...

Earlier, tyrants were pitiless and inaccessible, but they were neighbors who were subject to pain. This is no longer the case, and therein lies the system's probable weakness."

The vulnerability of the global financial system, argues Berger, is its very lack of vulnerability, its disconnection from the human condition. Incidentally, I think that's right. What its ultimate failure will mean for the rest of us, however--those of us who have tried and who continue to try to resist its dehumanizing game--is another question altogether. Still, Berger remains hopeful.

"Prisoners have always found ways of communicating with one another. In today's global prison, cyberspace can be used against the interests of those who first installed it. Like this, prisoners inform themselves about what the world does each day, and they follow suppressed stories from the past and so stand shoulder to shoulder with the dead.

In doing so, they rediscover little gifts, examples of courage, a single rose in a kitchen where there's not enough to eat, indelible pains, the indefatigability of mothers, laughter, mutual aid, silence, ever-widening resistance, willing sacrifice, more laughter..

Liberty is slowly being found not outside but in the depths of the prison."


Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Art of Cruelty

“’In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty,” wrote Emerson, providing a memorable phrase for the grand, surprising pleasure we feel when a work of art returns to restates our own thoughts and feelings to us, however obliquely. At other times, however, the news arrives more alien than majestic, generating the perpetual undergraduate grievance, “I just can’t relate.” It behooves us, I think, to develop an openness to the latter feeling as well as the former. If we’re lucky, this openness may eventually grow into a hunger.”

“’Brutal honesty’ is honesty that either aims to hurt someone or doesn’t care if it does…While the two words often arrive sutured together, I think it worthwhile to breathe some space between them, so that one might see “brutal honesty” not as a more forceful version of honesty itself, but as one possible use of honesty. One that doesn’t necessarily lay truth barer by dint of force, but that actually overlays something on top of it—something that can get its way. That something is cruelty.”

Two paragraphs from “The Brutality of Fact,” an excerpt from Maggie Nelson’s new book, “The Art of Cruelty,” published in the latest issue of Tin House, which confirms her as one of my favorite writers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

City of the Escaped

"There are those who believe that living in a better city will make you into a better person. Portland is the kind of city people give up their dreams for. A place so desired by some that just making it there, merely existing, surviving in the city is good enough. People that leave their towns with bad weather and little natural beauty, places like Cleveland and Indianapolis and Detroit, come to Portland to solve their problems, to seek new beginnings."

From a
 pretty good essay about Portland I stumbled upon recently on the website Thought Catalog.