2020: First Quarter Reviews

Well, due to life being what it is, I have been unable to complete monthly reviews and am now, instead, moving to quarterly summaries. In the first quarter of 2020, I read 54 books and watched 0 movies and 0 documentaries. So, instead of my usual divisions, I will break things down by genre.

In the world of “literature,” I have one book to review (although a number of the books in my “science and nature” category count as literature of the highest quality). One book only, but what a book! In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir of her relationship with an abusive partner is astoundingly good.

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This is a poem about a poem called you have nothing to be ashamed of

This is a poem about a poem called you have nothing to be ashamed of and I’m so proud of you and things are hard but we can get through this together, I’m here for you, it’s an honour to be here for you, you just relax for awhile, darling, you’re sacred, curl up in my arms, we’re going to be okay.

There are some words that only have power during a fifteen-minute window once every five hundred years. Like in old stories about a keyhole that will appear in the side of the ocean when a solar eclipse occurs during the season of the strawberry moon—then, and only then, will you be able to enter the undersea, if you have the right key. All other times, the key is useless, there is no key hole, no matter where you put it, the ocean will not open. There are some words that are like this and, if you are present in that rare moment when the keyholes appear, and you do not have them, even if you find them later, by then it will be too late.

There are some stories that can only be told at certain seasons, to certain people, by certain storytellers. There are stories for winter and stories for harvest, stories for children becoming adults, stories for young lovers, stories for cellies, stories for the bereaved. There are stories that only runaway slaves can understand. There are stories that only children can tell to other children. There are stories you can only hear in the forest, stories you can only hear on the water, stories you can only hear under the earth. And there are stories that can only be told after you die, stories you will never hear, stories whose time has not yet come.

There are some poems you can only understand when you are very old. And others you can only understand when you are very young. And if you do not hear them then, you never really will.

This is a poem about a poem called it’s not your fault and he says he is punishing you when he beats you but that’s a lie and you don’t deserve it, and when he doesn’t show up and you are longing for him that’s not your fault either, and some parents are always terrible, and some parents are sometimes terrible, and some parents start terrible and get better while other parents start okay and get worse but, regardless of the state of the parent, this is a poem about a poem called all children are born innocent and so full of love that they will believe every kind of awful thing about themselves before they believe that those whom they love are abusers who abuse them for no good reason at all.

This poem is full of words that are magic keys: You are lovely. You belong here, together, with the rest of us. You matter. We aren’t going to reject you, abuse you, push you away. You have a specialness that is all your own, that is only you, that has never been before you and will never be again after you. Add these words to your key ring. Carry them with you everywhere. Attend to the appearance of keyholes—there, after the third crow calls, six minutes before dawn; there, after your brother stops coming home; there, in the water; there, in the stone; there, in your body, your hands, your feet, your side; there, in that moment, and that moment only.

Speak carefully. Like poets who have given up on crafting masterkeys and who instead form one word, maybe two, and they give them to the world, seed scattered on soil, shots fired while blindfolded, in hope that one person, maybe two, will read it and it will be just the right time and just the right place with just the right before and just to right after to fit.

Melancholera

I.

“It is hard to leave happiness for life.” ~ Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness

On the walnut tree, five young pileated woodpeckers talk to one another as they explore just how to do what woodpeckers do. They stand at odd angles—upside down, sideways, underneath an overhanging branch—and pipe softly back and forth. They’ll figure it out.

I sit in the afternoon sun and doze. It’s amusing how the things you really want to do when you’re older are the things you really didn’t want to do when you were younger—nap, sit in silence, do nothing, be alone. Stop trying so hard. I’ll figure it out. Or maybe not. Either way, along with everything else, I will be okay and not okay all at once, and that, itself, is both okay and not okay, worlds without end. It’s all a question of perspective — a parallax view. It’s indeterminate, entangled, and where we end up, where we materialize, has as much to do with the actions we take (and that our ancestors took before us and, in many ways, still take with us) as it has to do with whatever else is out there and in here.

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After You Die

After you die
Magnolias will blossom
Rain will fall
And the same dead stars that lit your way
Will continue to shine
Regardless of whether or not people living in cities can see them

After you die
A few people will remember a few things about you
For a very short amount of time
Because after you die
The people who remember you will die
And pretty soon all that will be left
Is the love you put into the world
And your Hydrogen
Carbon
Oxygen, Calcium, and Phosphorus
Which made up 99% of you
But it’s hard to say if it was ever really yours
But if it was
It’s hard to speak of you dying
Perhaps better to say that you’ve been dispersed
Rearranged
Emancipated
(Which, of course, is the meaning of the word “redeemed”)

After you die
Commensal bacteria will still move from the bodies of mothers
Through their breast-milk
Into the digestive tracts of their infants
Where it will help those infants to develop healthy immune systems
And the bacteria living within your digestive tract
Will migrate out into your tissues
And begin the process of taking apart
What they so tenderly built and cared for
For all the years of your life
“A job well done, a job well done,”
I imagine them saying to each other
Like authors releasing books into the world
Like parents releasing adult children
Like Tibetan monks erasing the mandalas
They painstakingly crafted
Grain of sand by grain of sand

After you die
Cladosporium Sphaerospermum, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Wangiella dermatitidis
Will keep munching radiation at Chernobyl
Continually marveling at the bounty they have been given
For the next twenty thousand years
And who knows
Maybe the badgers
Badgers!
Will return to the forks of the river where you lived

After you die
Even for you
It will be like you were never here
So you can get busy being all the you
That you will ever only be for the very briefest moment
(so brief, in fact, it doesn’t really even merit mentioning)
Or you can wash your hands of it all
But regardless of whether you experience this as liberating
Or devastating
As hopeful or anxiety-provoking
After a few more sleeps
It won’t make any difference

After you die
You will be dead
And with and as the dead
You will abide
But even then
Not for very long

Before You Were Alive

Before you were alive
Magnolias blossomed
Rain fell
And young men died in trenches
In cotton fields
And in Jallianwala Bagh
British soldiers opened fired on unarmed civilians
Killing at least 400

Before you were alive
Algae or cyanobacteria
Found their way into fungi
Created photosynthetic mycelia
(Lichen)
And life as we know it followed after
Including
At one point very recently
You

Before you were alive
Europeans killed all of the passenger pigeons
Made mountains of buffalo skulls
Starved the Nehiyaw
Fell in love
Tried to offer their children a better life than they had

Before you were alive
The place you now live was the floor of a sea
Was buried under miles of ice
Was a forest
Had drinkable water
Even badgers
Badgers!

Before you were alive
Other beings lived
And died
And your Hydrogen
Your Carbon
Your Oxygen, Calcium, and Phosphorus
Were a part of them
And after you die
Your Hydrogen
Your Carbon
Your Oxygen, Calcium, and Phosphorus
Will no longer be yours
They will be a part of someone else
A part of very many someones else

Before you were alive
An infant girl held her hands up to the rain for the first time
Said wow
And her mother was bayoneted by soldiers
As she marveled at the water that fell freely from the sky
And when the soldiers tossed her in the air she laughed
The way she laughed when her father tossed her
And caught her
Tossed her
And caught her
And she was still laughing
When she landed on the muzzle of a gun
And somewhere in Poland
A little boy and a little girl
The only survivors from a boxcar full of frozen corpses
Tripped and held hands as they fell face-down into the earth
Before a gate that declared: Arbeit macht frei
Where the dogs tore them to pieces
And the grass was just beginning to rise from the soil
And on the other side of the world
Three kids the same age
Set out from a residential school
In the heart of winter
Temperature: -42
One with no shoes
But all with enough courage and certainty
That they never wanted the priests to touch them again
That they almost covered all the miles home
Before freezing to death

Before you were alive
Dinosaurs walked the earth
And the comet that ended them
Was still millions of years in the future
But one hundred and eighty million years is a pretty good run
We’ve only been around for 2.5 million years
And look at everything we’ve done

Some Days You Feel So Sad

Some days you feel so sad that it confuses you
Are you still so sad after all you’ve been through
It’s not like this is the first time
Or the second
That you’ve been hurt
And that you’ve overcome

Some days you think you are invincible
If you could just get enough sleep
But the sleep doesn’t come
And the breaks are more like pauses
Than times of recovery
Like coming up for air
Instead of getting out of the deep-end

Some days you’d like to know
Just what you can and cannot do
And where you need to grow
And where you need to let go
And what fights you should fight
And what’s too much for you

Most days you want to be a good person
But most days you know that that is more
Than just one person
Alone
Can do

It’s Not So Much That I Stopped

It’s not so much that I stopped believing in god
As I ran out of things to say
To someone who never speaks
Or at least not in any kind of way
That we would consider essential to a healthy and loving relationship.

But really the idea that the creator of all this
Would somehow desire a personal relationship with the tiny part of this that I am
Is kind of like suggesting
That I should or could somehow have an intimate relationship with subatomic hadrons
Who live for merely 10-23 second.
Only that comparison actually vastly overestimates
My significance
And vastly underestimates
Any so-called god.
And maybe Christians need a 6000 year old earth
So that their god will be small enough
For them to be noticed.

But as for me
I worship the fungal networks
Who distribute food equally between all the trees of the forest
Otherwise each kind of tree
Would only share
With their own kind.

As for me
I worship the Influenza HA gene
Which has evolved for evolvability
And which exhibits codon bias
Within the amino acids that make up the HA1 epitopes
And in this way
It constantly gives rise to sudden, novel, shocking, and enduring forms of life.

As for me
I worship the Hydrogen
Which was born in the moment the universe burst forth
When nothingness orgasmed
And said that it was good.
And now this Hydrogen makes up approximately 10% of me
It is infused with my consciousness
It is infused with its own consciousness
We now share a consciousness
And when my body that I am rots the Hydrogen while rise
And some of it will exit the atmosphere
And some of it will travel
Back and out and down the Milky Way
(Or what the Navajo call Yikaisdaha—That Which
Awaits the Dawn
And what in Sanskrit is called
the Ganges of the Sky
And what the Anishinaabe call Jiibay Kona—the
Spirit Path)
Perhaps some of my consciousness will go with the consciousness that this Hydrogen
Has had since the dawn of time.
Because where is the line between the “I” that I am, and the “I” that the Hydrogen is?
And if it seems odd to suggest that Hydrogen has an “I”
Surely that is no more odd than saying the same of me.

(And Influenza, too, is both an “I” and not an “I”—it is so adept at adopting various genetic sequence clusters, playing around with its own genes, taking over genes from host cells, and from other Influenza virions that are present in a host cell but who have come from a different strain, that one cannot even properly speak of Influenza as a species but must refer to it as a quasispecies wherein various clades become more or less dominant but wherein there is not enough shared genetic information to be able to speak of Influenza as a proper species—and I think that the “I” and “not I” that I am, composed of so much star dust, so much bacteria, so much archaea, so much gas that has been around since the dawn of time, so many elements that have passed through innumerable other life forms, so many quarks and muons and neutrinos and positrons, that I think perhaps I, myself, am a quasispecies.)

But, anyway, as for me
I worship Jessica
With her fingers in my mouth
And her sweat on my skin
And her hair falling across her breast
As she parts her lips
And breathes.

They Continued Regardless: Discussing a Therapeutic Rape Culture with Jemma Tosh

Introduction: Situating Oneself

[E]scape the heterosexual and exogamous norm.
~ Foucault, Abnormal.

Near the opening of The Body and Consent in Psychology, Psychiatry, and Medicine, Jemma Tosh very openly explains where she is situated in relation to the subject matter she will go on to discuss. Rather than seeking to advance her academic brand status by positioning herself amongst the intelligentsia (by highlighting her ability to engage in rigourous “objective” research, pursue “the facts” no matter where they lead, publish with all the right imprints, teach at all the right institutions, and so on and so forth), Tosh proudly stands in the tradition of the “organic intellectual” (as per Gramsci) or the “critic as partisan” (as per Eagleton). Tosh is personally invested in this subject matter—she has been subjected to this way of mattering (as per Foucault with Karen Barad’s discussion of meaning and matter in Meeting the Universe Halfway)—but along with those who are exploring ableism, madness, race, gender, sexuality, and class from liminal spaces (which are embraced rather than seen as environments to overcome or transcend), Tosh has embraced that which those invested in mainstream dynamics of power/knowledge have rejected and, by doing so, she offers a liberating way forward to those who refuse to be pathologised, disappeared, and abused, and who, instead, “take the power back” (as per Rage Against the Machine).

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How The Story Really Goes

Listen, children, I’m going to tell you how the story really goes:

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Heiltsuk and a man named Gitxsan and they lived together in the forest. Heiltsuk was an artist, a gift-giver and a boat-maker and, where the forest met the sea, she made large boats that could sail for many days and nights out on open water. In the summer, she would harvest food. In the winter, she would dance and tell stories to Gitxsan. Gitxsan, himself, preferred the mighty river that ran through the forest to the open waters of the sea, he was drawn to the animals and plants of the river valley—the frog, the eagle, the wolf, and the fireweed, all of which he would carve onto long story-telling poles. He felt most at home fishing when the river mist hovered over the water.

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A Poem For My Friend Daniel Who Was On My Mind When I Was Walking Home and Missing Him Very Much

He laughs and smiles quickly
the way that people do
when they want you to know,
at the core of your being,
that you’re lovely
and it’s going to be okay.
All of it.
No matter what you say or do.
You’re lovely and it’s going to be okay.
That’s how he smiles at you.

It took me several years before I began to realize
the scale of his pain.
I think I missed it
not because it’s so small
but because it’s so vast
and with pain like that,
well,
what’s a fellow to do?

He had a mother once.
A father once (of sorts).
A wife

just once.

And at night his heart departs his body
and follows deer-tracks to the underworld
Where he wanders like Orpheus, Lynda
Lynda
Lynda, where are you?
And where am I?
And can it be that I can be where you are not?

His children (of sorts) know that he is wise in the way of fools
who know that wisdom is overrated
so he might as well just sit and listen awhile.
I sit beside him as he doodles.
I watch him paint.
And when we parted at the airport in Los Angeles, I kissed him on the mouth.