The players have come to Elsinore and just rehearsed extemporaneously at Hamlet’s request Aeneas’ recounting of Priam’s slaughter. Here Hamlet is building resolve for his own action, the settling of his father’s murder, and the players have given him an idea. Yet as much he is putting on a show himself, doubting himself and reveling in that doubt, and, quite frankly, hamming it up. Hamlet is one of the best known characters in all of literature: the sublime, noble youth standing up against so much obvious wrong is universally seductive. But he also gives us a mask for our own indulgences, an excuse to cut loose with our own madness.
Appeared in TriQuarterly, Winter/Spring 2016 (Issue 149)
Under the Rainbow
Later in the game another instrument was created, the synthetic CDO. A synthetic CDO is a bond comprised of CDSs, layered and rated like the others. Let me get the words in: a synthetic Collateral Debt Obligation is a bond which is made of Credit Default Swaps. Synthetic most intrigues me—as if CDO isn’t artificial enough. The term implodes on itself in its oblique attempts at a concept. Try to make some kind of mental picture from those words—I can’t, and I confess here is where I get dizzy.
The essay will be personal and pointless, though perhaps not gloriously so. If it serves any purpose, it might be to encourage readers, as many as can, to write about the experiences that move them, and about the people they share them with, and about where they put them in the world, to find ways to preserve all these before they are lost. There may be a larger point in that.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, Vol. I, No. 2, March 2010
What It’s Like Where I Live
Cupertino now, above. Of course it looks like a blowup of an integrated circuit. Cupertino is in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is more a concept than a precise physical area, extending roughly from Stanford University down to San Jose. During the boom years the tech firms screamed for more green cards, and programmers and would-be entrepreneurs and still others poured in. Ranch houses started going for a million or were leveled and replaced with huge, stucco palaces on small lots. It amazed me anyone had that kind of money. The orchards are gone, and there is housing all the way up into the hills.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, Vol. I, No. 1, February 2010
Above the Roofs of Paris, A Non-Memoir
Any country where I am not bored is a country that teaches me nothing.
Albert Camus, “Death in the Soul”
Appeared in Fourth Genre, 17:1, Spring 2015
Available at JSTOR and Project Muse
It is only by projecting our hearts and minds into the world, and whatever else we can think to project, then looking at what is returned that we have a sense of what the world might be worth. But it is only by testing the world, and ourselves, and doubting both, that we have any sense what we might be worth.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, August 2017
Heart of Darkness
. . . I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist—obviously—in the sunshine.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
I kind of picked up the thumbs-up from the kids in Al Hillah. Whenever I get into a photo, I never know what to do with my hands, so I probably have a thumbs-up because it’s just something that automatically happens. Like when you get into a photo you want to smile.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, January 2017
I think I might yet discover a way to join the moments and trace a plot, gain a perspective that aligns and explains, that I might reach some understanding, yet discover my place in the world, make a connection of life past with life present and whatever lies ahead—
Or at least, at last, find a way to put that memory behind me.
But fear I will fall into another descent from which there may be no escape.
Every glance, every essay risks a small death that flits above the greater.
In the thirty-five years since I only know I do not know how I fit in a world I do not understand or where I belong in a country I no longer recognize, a country that eternally renews itself unrecognizable ways.
But my brother, before the Pollock, looks composed and engaged, all there.
Maybe from the depths, de profundis, release, a revelation—
Appeared in Conjunctions Online, November 17, 2015
Paris in Black and White / 1973-74
He still stares at me after forty years, the man holding the rope, with a look that even at this poor resolution can only be violation. And the woman with the lithe body, seemingly naked in her light-colored tights, frozen in the moment of lifting a knee and raising both arms in air, preparing for flight, for ecstasy, or for some other abandon, still has her back to me, as does the man beside her, touching, guiding, helping in some way.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, November 2015
Completing the Mies van der Rohe Brick Country House, An Odyssey
A brick is an obdurate object of ambiguity that hovers between idea and matter, between life and death. Its texture can be smoothed to glide our touch or left rough and abrade. It can be molded into even shapes for consistent construction or made uneven, presenting individual challenges each time one is laid in a course. The hues can be made consistent, offering an even appearance, or they can vary from one brick to another, presenting more individual challenges. But while it can come close to an ideal oblong shape, it never attains perfection, and it can as much be said that it approaches perfection as it resists it. A brick has the right heft for throwing through a window in revolt. It can also be stacked to encase one solidly. Its color takes on that of blood and the earth from which it is made, or both inseparably combined. Whether it preserves blood or shows it spilled, whether it reveals decay or stalls it—these questions cannot be answered. In spite of its ambiguity, however, we are always aware, in mind and in hand, of its touch, of its mass and weight, of its presence.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, May 2016
Housing for the Rest of Us, A Non-Manifesto
It is Minoru Yamasaki’s misfortune that the two buildings he is best known for, the World Trade Center and the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, are best known for their collapse. The World Trade Center, or its site, has attained the status of a shrine, so reflection upon its design and influence will have to be postponed for another time. Postmodern apologist Charles Jencks hailed the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe as the death—prematurely—of Modernism, and critical smoke from that debate still lingers. In both cases, however, the major factors that led to their destruction came from influences outside the buildings, not within, from design flaws in the larger world. And many of the same forces that shaped Pruitt-Igoe, social and economic, direct the design of homes for most of us today and determine where we live and how well.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq, October 2016
Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, Recent Thoughts
I have looked at the painting several times this past week, for confirmation, or reassurance, or to restore a definition, and I realize how the painting has always stood for me, that it shows me what it means to be American, vigorous and assertive yet relaxed and open, and free of historical encumbrance; self-assured but not self-possessed and not afraid.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq
Written the week of the 2016 election
To St. Johns Bridge
I wait at the end of the pier until I realize I am waiting. Nothing ever comes, in fact I put my work aside and let it drift. But I always get this release, this revelation: I am free and I am alive, and I don’t have answers to anything.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq
There is no contradiction in any of this, as there are no contradictions in art. Nor is there irony, as we see exactly what we should expect. We are shaped by our conflicts and contradictions, our reaches, our misses, and our doubts: these give us life. And the failure to represent the divine visibly points all the more to its invisible presence. It is our balanced, symmetrical representations and our clear resolutions into action that are ironic because they always fall short of our desires, of our projections, and they touch a different kind of madness.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq
Riding to Apocalypse
Slowly, cautiously, I have returned to their coiling, inward gaze. Color has returned to the room, slowly, cautiously, and leaves have returned to trees, and grasses return to barren fields and softly fill furrows and cover mounds though from which chunks of old concrete still protrude, though a grayish mist lingers over all.
Appeared in Numéro Cinq
It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread, to think of nothing, to hear no thunder, no rain, no splashing from the gutter, no gurgling around the house. Perhaps no pagoda will emerge, but the night will pass.
Max Frisch, Man in the Holocene
The nation is a limp, swollen joint, strained and ripped out of alignment, screaming in conflict and retreating in avoidance. If I want to come to terms with it I will have to feel its pains and try to understand them, or look for ways past and around, and build from them a self in the world that can take care of itself and is worth having and find a structure to hold it. The nation would do well to follow suit.
Appeared in 3:AM, September 2019
Monsters of Reason
For Viollet-le-Duc the monster was a rational force of human creation, and its purpose within a larger context was to achieve order, not to suggest chaos.
Michael Camille, The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame
On the Grid
It is a world in which it is more difficult to know oneself or make oneself heard.
We are being stretched out and diluted on the grid.
Transcendence: Not up and away, but out of and back into oneself, and out again, and back to the past, and through it, and back into the present and back out—
The writing on the wall.
Some stray event, a random thought touched a memory the other day, an image. I can’t recall where or when I first saw it. I found a copy online, put it on my desktop, and just gazed. It touched me lightly, deeply, taking me outside myself, back within in ways I have yet to define or explain. I keep looking at it but the picture deflects all reason, focused sight, insight, returning me only to what it is, a picture of six persimmons.
Still, I keep looking.