creative ramblings & reverie

Monday, May 30, 2011

Photograph at Kona

For Memorial Day, this photo which captures in spirit the yellow fish which my father and I used to watch on the Kona Coast together; an experience which I put into a three-part poem, and endless other things I wrote after he died.  Here are some fragments—

December 1996

My room smells of coffee and plumeria; the garden below is full of rain and mynahs, with rain clouds rising like white smoke from the hills across the harbor in the almost-dark.

The waves are high and white, crossing the harbor.

There is the garden of Japanese lanterns (red paper lanterns strung between the palm trees, like a celebration); the garden of yellow birds (tiny, yellow, with orange heads); the garden with the Japanese tombstone, beside the chapel, on the other side of the chapel from the koi ponds; the bougainvillea gardens, on the ocean side; the garden up from the rock pools (the lawn, the wooden bridge, the deck the stone paved terrace)—each has its own mood, its time of day.

Sea turtles at Honaunau Bay, reddish patterned backs like agates.  We take leis to the ocean there—orchids for my father.  The wisdom and serenity of the turtles could be his (or, withdrawing into the shell?  that is more me—what would it be for him, his ideal form?)

Green kayak stroking like a brush in Japanese painting.

The Manago Hotel with its big screened windows open to the ocean breezes makes me think, for no reason, or for the smell of cooking meat and fish, pensioni around the Italian lakes:  good lunch at simple tables (the old woman sitting in front on the road, though that was another road, Holualoa, all the galleries up on the hill).

The quiet joinings of flowers and deep pools:  where Hawaii started for me.  The mysteries of warm rain on standing water; fish ponds in fragrant gardens at dusk after dark in shadows out of all that fierce sun.  Reflections deeper than deep.  Past and future joined.

The zen sound of water leaving sand:  the slide of a quiet wave back down the flat beach—exhale.  ("Relax, breathe, feel the earth.")  A fine sandpaper sound.  (The poetry of island sounds in "Il Postino.")

Two other kayaks, crossing, parallel, fasten the bamboo leaves to the stalk.

For Christmas trees, rough glass balls like fishing floats.


(See also these journal excerpts at Kona.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Spaces

A rather amiable writing room . . .

image:  Country Living

Writing Exercises

Reveal character—or relationship—through a handful of objects you notice on the shelf of someone you know well.

As archaeologist, or detective, observe a couple of revelatory objects on the shelf of someone you can know nothing about, and write a paragraph or two about what they seem to disclose to you about that person's life.

Collections of objects such as this, one of Joseph Cornell's wonderful boxes, might be said to be cheating, not representative of their owner but merely assembled for artistic effect, but I'd suggest that what is deliberately chosen can be equally telling...

image:  Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Cockatoo and Corks)WebMuseum, Paris 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing Spaces

Tassajara—the perfect place to contemplate and write.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Red Ball

Prosthesis: The Opera

[A very inside joke, incorporating the strange and wonderfully funny language-teaching book we published years ago, Standard Albanian, in which most of the literary figures seem to have some sort of prosthesis, and various ex-employees who were fascinating for their eccentricies.  But whether these are funny without inside knowledge of the people and the situations I can't promise.]

The first opera based entirely on a scholarly monograph, Prosthesis asks all those questions most pertinent to an audience of today, and then some:  IS my wooden leg possible?  Is mahogany preferable to teak?  And what about termites, damn it?  Why DO the Albanians feel it necessary to capitalize so many words entirely at random?  How and by whom can these questions be asked, can they be quoted, can they be appropriate questions, and can they be asked in the appropriate moment, the moment in which it becomes more than theoretically possible that I no longer have a leg to stand on?  Did I remember to get permission to use all these excerpts?

Act I, Scene I

The heroine, daughter of an Albanian woodcutter and now an Acquisitions Editor, enters from stage left, singing out these questions and making various sweeping and chopping gestures with her arms, thereby causing an amusingly lunar estrangement effect.
[lights dim appropriately]

Her fiancé, Don Carlo, a chipper young man with a pocket protector who looks a bit like young Ronald Dworkin, refuses to answer.  It is a trial he is undergoing in order to become an Amway salesman, but he is forbidden to tell her this.  He stands heroically silent, while she unstraps her wooden leg and shakes it at him.  He stands firm, on his two good legs, ignoring her and concentrating on rolling his shirt cuffs inward.  She hops around the stage on one foot, counterclockwise, shouting hermeneutical phrases at him.

[harp solo]

A trapdoor in center stage opens, and with flashing lights and puffs of smoke, up comes the Queen of the Bite, waving an invoice and singing her famous aria in broken Engish, “I’m Going to Put You on Credit Hold” (“ha/ha/ha/ha/ha/you who think you are so Bold”).  She snatches the wooden leg, claiming it has not been paid for.  She is supposed to sing “No, your wooden leg is NOT possible,” but, characteristically, she puts the emphasis on the wrong word.

The heroine, undaunted, stakes out a new frontier, at which the debate with her work must take place from now on, in her lilting soprano aria “Aporias.”  The debate, that is, about the national, linguistic, and cultural specificity of experience and the trans-national, transcultural law that protects this specificity; the aporia of the necessity to continue working in the tradition of critique and of the idea of critique, yet the corresponding necessity to transcend it without compromising it.

Don Carlo looks as if he is about to break his silence at this, but heroically resists—merely tensely highlighting a phrase in the bookplan he is reading, about the aporetical obligation to host the foreigner and the alien and yet to respect him, her, or it AS foreign.

[Interlude:  ballet, with Heidegger, Aries, and Freud, all dressed like Albanian gypsies, while the Queen of the Bite at stage rear, with repossessed wooden legs piled high on her desk, determinedly dials a phone number.]

Act I, Scene II

As the lights go up, we see a group of shadowy figures arranging it in such a manner that the head might fall over the herbs at the foot of the fig tree.

Don Carlo has vanished, leaving behind only the cap of his yellow highlighter.  Heartbroken, envisioning the destruction to his shirt, the heroine crawls into the office of the Queen of the Bite and begs for the return of her leg so she might go after him, singing her aria “Even Without Feet THERE’S LIVING, THERE’S Just NO GOING Forward That Way.”  The Queen of the Bite, unrelenting, refuses to give her back the leg, singing with chilling emphasis “hee hee hee hee hee—the wooden legs travel toward ME!”  Mr. Jules enters on crutches, questioning his October Statement, and the scene ends, with the rousing Chorus of the Albanian Accountants.

Act II, Scene I

Don Carlo, who has met with an accident during intermission and is now without legs himself (which he mourns especially since he can no longer turn his socks inward), is sitting with a half-yellow shirt among a number of Barnes & Noble employees who have had their wooden limbs repossessed and are singing the haunting sextet, “IF WE [ONLY] HAD the Prostheses!”  They are despondent, and curse the evil Queen of the Bite.  They are thinking of faxing her, but don’t know her number because they can’t read her handwriting.

The heroine arrives, accompanied by Jacques Derrida, and Don Carlo prostrates himself at her foot.

She sings the aria “LISTEN TO ME and do not BE ANGRY with me.  I have but one bit of advice for you:  don’t SURRENDER, don’t let go [“RELEASE the self”); I know that you lost your legs, but don’t SURRENDER.”  She convinces him that she will get the account of his accident through EBUP, disguised as a Henry James monograph, and the Barnes & Nobles employees are greatly cheered to hear her promise that they will be able to get it at a 50% discount, and that their credit limit will be extended to at least $4,000 upon the downfall of the evil Queen.

Derrida, who turns out to be the heroine’s woodcutter father, makes new wooden legs for everyone.  They dance around him with festive garlands, singing “yes, it’s POSSIBLE!”—“oui, oui, oui,” all the way home.

Act II, Scene II

Cutting across the terrains occupied traditionally by the history of medicine, field studies, art history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary theory, and fiction, the heroine and Don Carlo find an artistic or cultural pre-text for each of their expositions, that connects thematically or theoretically with the question of prosthesis—indomitably subverting every attempt to secure their status by means of theoretical fiat.
[The fiat should be red, with a convertible top.]

All the returning phantoms work through lunch; and when the Queen of the Bite gets back from Nuts & Mud, Don Carlo, finally released from his vow of silence, and with his shirt now completely yellow, informs her in the aria “At This Particular Point in Time” that she, too, must lose her legs—and they sweep the pile off her desk into a brown leather briefcase and disappear, amid fireworks.  Don Carlo shouts triumphantly that this is the beginning of the epistemological revolution.  As military music is heard in the distance, and Mr. Jules and Heidegger go by arm in arm waving banners casually referring to the coming of “theory,” he returns to his highlighting.

As the curtain falls, the heroine acquires another manuscript.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing Spaces

My writing room window, as seen by the passing quails.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Cottage Window


There are horses pastured in the hills,
red roses in the vineyards, this orange finch
with downy head examining my window
for a way in.  Oaxacan memelas for lunch,
or mole amarillo if the mood takes me,
and archaeology class Monday nights. 
Just yesterday Mahler, transcendent—
that grand influx of looping silver horns.
Why am I feeling discontent?  I have the world. 
Which single part of it, alone, is not enough
to satisfy my greedy heart?



Friday, May 6, 2011

Writing Spaces

My writing table in late afternoon (with hundred-year-old catsup bottle on the windowsill).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Writing Table


Oregano is dusty green.  It is low-ceilinged rooms with vigas and Two Gray Hills rugs on cool stone floors like standing water.  You could buy onyx burros or squat chess sets in its shops, when I was growing up there, or huge paper flowers that smelled of incense or piñon smoke, to keep in an old double-handled Peruvian jar, fat and self-complacent as a Buddha.  There were silver mines in the interior, and pockets of red clay that lay under a crust of old snow, tracked only by ravens.  And a complex system of aqueducts, not for irrigation so much as for the graceful look of them in the landscape, like a long basting stitch in unbleached muslin.  You learned things there:  mathematical equations, the capitals of countries that no longer exist, the books of the Old Testament, how to cook posole in a scarred cast-iron pot, with wooden spoons as long as an average woman's arm between fingertips and elbow.

Oregano:  where an old Russian emigré painter sits cleaning rose madder from stubby #6 boar’s bristle brushes in a glass of cheap vodka, because his studio has no water.  The nearest house, across an unshaven acre of chamisa and piñon and brittle Russian olive, has an adobe dovecote at its heart, where the woman who owns it, a 70-year-old retired librarian from St. Louis, Missouri, keeps the carrier pigeons she dispatches every two weeks to a beau in Chama, a district court judge with a passion for late Dickens and early model trains, who she never got around to marrying.  And in its kitchen window a jar full of marbles, damson blue and milk white.


excerpt from "Oregano"
Tin House, Winter 2003