Sunday, January 31, 2010


Facebook is as dead as a zombie plague tonight. Where is everyone? I'm afraid to turn on the TV. Might be a test-pattern on every channel. Then I really would be freaked. Maybe this is a conspiracy. Everyone messaged everyone else: "Hey, don't let anything go to the feed page. That'll mess with Tim's little mind."

Nah...everyone's probably out drinking vodka and smashing glasses on the floor. And doing the tango and the watusi. Having a blast.

I'll just go to bed now and dream, as usual, of stern looks from complete strangers. Of a pretty girl waving at me, except she's not. It's the Romeo standing behind me. There will be mud. From the flood that always shows up when I'm driving in a dream. Can't get across to the other side. And I don't even know why I'm driving or what my intended destination is. I'll end up in a godawful mess -- expected to perform on an exotic musical instrument. I will stall, deflect, prevaricate...until the dream people get bored and move on.

Then I'll wake up at 3 AM covered in moody sweat. Yank myself up, stagger to the bathroom. Stagger to another room. Scratch my head. Ask my cat what's on his mind. He will yawn.

Maybe eat cereal. Check Facebook. See if any of my geographically distant friends are up and typing. From across the ocean. There is no litter in Europe, I'm pretty sure. Israel never goes fully dark -- there's just no way to turn down that sun-blasted whiteness of those ancient rocks leaning toward the Mediterranean. No one sleeps across the ocean, I'm pretty sure. It's way too neat living over yonder to sleep and miss something. History is alive there. He scampers through the cities, weaving like a drunk through traffic. He ain't scared of nothing. He's seen it all. His beard is soggy with old tears, yet his burnished face carries a wrinkled smile, his eyes twinkle with absurd aplomb.

I'll see if Kris has anything new up. I never know where the hell he is. He seems to be geographically fluid, diffuse. He might even be made out of human-shaped plasma. Just show up anywhere. Like Swamp Thing -- who could navigate nation-wide through transformation, through reforming himself into basic vegetation and flying through underground root systems. Kris might be sort of like that. But I'm never sure if he's in the States or roaming around with headhunters in Samoa. He makes my mind quiver.

OK. Enough. I'm just typing straight from my head. Whatever drops out. Enough has dropped out. No one is reading this anyway. Sort of absurd. Sort of an existential caper...this typing for no reason except that my fingers won't stop. Enough...


Just a little more.

I have a sweet friend who speaks French. And a secret language, not quite Martian and not exactly English. It's the only "foreign" language I can sort of decipher. My friend is beautiful. Has a voice I love. Has a mind that is telepathic. All I have to do is begin a confessional sentence, and *bam* -- all is known. And I'm at ease.

Yves Tanguy made paintings from the "other" side. I adore other-side people. My friend knows the other side. Knows that real art suggests, it doesn't show. My friend is going to be my friend for a long time. And good things have a way of catching up to people whose souls are textured with love, smiles, warmth, and deep awareness.


True to form.

Made it through the night without waking up at 3 AM. But the dreams! As usual, so wrong-assed and spirit-draining. One of these nights it's going to be different.

I'll dream of Butterfly people who have come to me for help. To save their land from invasion by crazy-8s. Yes, human-sized 8s, bouncing around all over Flower Land...crushing flowers and making noise. Spreading panic and widespread depression (causes the Butterfly people's glorious, dappled wings to molt). The fairest of all the Butterfly girls will beseech me to rescue them all. I will be so cool. I'll amble into Flower Land like Kwai Chang Caine: swivel-kicking, shoulder-slinging, and just Kung-Fuing the shit out of those bombastic, chaotic 8s.

Their greatest warrior, Gol8th, will present his horrible self and laugh at me maniacally, as if he had hands on hips: an extra-large 8 made out of two over-sized ebony 8-balls. Battle ensues. I bounce off his surfaces. My attacks and counterattacks impotent against this hard billiard-ball creature. Bloodied and weary, I glance over at Butterfly girl. She flutters her eyelashes and the tips of her wings. A dewy teardrop hovers in her eyes.

Filled with a new, heroic passion and completely disgusted with Gol8th's arrogance, I try the move on him I've been holding in reserve: I whip out a calculator, hit a bunch of numbers, and get the result that mathematics has heretofore thought impossible. I have managed to divide Pi's first 8 digits by a secret, intuited fraction. My computation has quickly found the terminal number of Pi. And it is not 8. It is 9. I triumphantly step up to the glistening, now-bemused Gol8th. I show him the result. I tell him that 8 is not the transcendent, ontological answer. Rather it is 9!

He begins to tremble, his two black ball halves start spinning in opposite directions. A loud whine and whir fills the air. Finally...Gol8th explodes into billions of tiny octagon bits. All the other regular 8s flee mindlessly. Their great warrior is no more. Their philosophy has been annulled. With Flower Land free and peaceful once more, the king is happy. He declares a feast and celebration. That night Butterfly girl, with a strange combination of shyness and seduction, confronts me under the great Moon Flower. And what happens next will not be told here. Because I don't know. I just stopped typing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Into Beethovian Myst

Most composers come to the concerto with two things in mind: 1) a dramatic con-flict between piano and orchestra; 2) a vehicle to showcase the pianist's skill and bravado. From Mozart on, there are examples in certain movements when neither of those apply, when the aim of composition is to trace poetic contours around life's mystery and melancholy.

For many years, I was attracted to classical music, but since I had grown up basically uncultured, I was always on the outside looking in. Yes, I was drawn to it but couldn't make the full transition to that world. Listening to a Mozart piano sonata or, say, Schumann's Spring Symphony, I felt that something vital was escaping my grasp. I never listened to it as background music...never sipped a glass of red wine while Vivaldi's Four Seasons wove blithe traceries around my head. I was serious about classical music, but I was still a philistine. Couldn't pierce the veil.

Years passed until one night I put on Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 – “The Emperor.” Was I in a special state of consciousness that evening? Had my emotions been strained to the breaking point, finally giving way so new sensual space could be opened? I'm not sure. That was over 15 years ago. But I do know that I crossed over that night. As a stunned initiate into full experience. And I remember that it was almost a synesthetic experience: the timbres from the various orchestral instruments could almost be tasted, and what Murray Perahia pulled from the piano reached my consciousness more as colors than notes. This was not about structure and form. This was pure sonic mesmerism. God, I wish I could find the words to describe this properly. So I could tell others. Unfold the map for them and point the way, so they can step over the border into wonderland as well.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 is my favorite of all concertos. I have CDs by Vladimir Ashkenazy/Sir George Solti (Chicago), Arthur Rubinstein/Eric Leinsdorf (Boston), Emmanuel Ax/Andre Previn (Royal Philharmonic), and Anna Gourari/Sir Colon Davis (Staatskapelle Dresden). But my prized CD is the oldest – a 1940 recording (mono, of course) by Arthur Rubinstein/Arturo Toscanini (NBC Symphony Orchestra). What's odd about this is that Tosanini is not one of my favored conductors. He was always too strident and muscular in approach. Usually too fast for a given piece to bloom in sufficient rhythmic space. But he and his orchestra do okay in this recording. And they accompany a Rubinstein who was at the top of his game. This pianist had such a way of coaxing tone from the keys. He had a refined, noble aesthetic that could never be taught. It grew from the depths of early 20th-century European soil. Rubinstein was the exemplar in Chopin, and his Beethoven catalog is spotty – he never completed a traversal of the piano sonatas. But this Piano Concerto No. 3 is one for the ages, even with the archival sound.

There is a magical duration occurring in the first movement of this concerto that is unlike anything in all of music. It happens right after the extended cadenza, just before that movement's conclusion. It happens as a rapt moment of suspended time falls on the listener. It happens just as soft timpani strokes and a threnody of strings pulse in the background. Whenever this moment arrives, I am taken somewhere. It only lasts for 15 seconds. But in that brief span, one goes with Beethoven into uncharted spiritual space. Four measures of cascading arpeggio that create a mystical haze.

If you've been heartbroken, if you've grieved over a death, if the colors of summer flowers have ever brought you to trance and tears...for these 15 seconds, the unrequited heart will ease its palpitations, the mournful soul will find balm, the beauty-stricken eye will be daubed dry. These 15 seconds are as close to transcendence as I've ever come. A fragrance of Paradise is on these musical bars. An angel wing is brushing the keyboard ahead of Rubinstein's fingers.

A piano concerto! Not a string quartet or sonata. Who would have ever expected such a thing?

[This CD is now out of circulation, but can be found for a reasonable price. Many other performances are worthy and convey much of the magic in those 15 seconds. I still return to the old one.]


a daydreaming American "goes" to Russia

Several years ago, I ordered a CD of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 (1953), with Neeme Järvi conducting the Scottish National Orchestra (CHANDOS #8630). I was, as they say, blown away. The strident, percussive second-movement Allegro (a musical depiction of Stalin after the dictator's death), definitely blew back the hair on the inside of my skull. I was not familiar with the coupled item – Shostakovich's Ballet Suite No. 4 (1953). I was completely entranced with this wonderful piece of music.

I don't know if the suite was written for a particular ballet or simply a use of the form to compose spontaneously. I tend to think the latter, since there is nothing else mentioned in the CD booklet.

Well...heck...why not? Let's go ahead and conjure up a stage production for this wonderful music. Dimitri shouldn't mind. He's dead. And purists can just stew in their own aesthetic juices.

The Ballet is for me a song of Russia, a sweeping parade of images. Yes, I can visualize a stage, with colorfully costumed dancers. They are embodiments of the land, moving (in both senses) depictions of soulful essence rising from soil and stream.

I. Introduction [Variation] (5:52)

To set the scene, imagine an idyllic forest – tall, fake monumental trees, shadows deep and dark (we'll need a good lighting technician), a faux-glittering stream babbling implicitly. In a clearing, sits our Pagan group...a fur-clothed assemblage borrowed from Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. No borders yet divide what will become Russia from Ukraine.

Alarm, confusion breaks out! A scurrying of the folk, as distant horns herald the arrival of invaders from the Eastern Steppes – Magyars, Huns, and the hawk-eyed Cossacks! Enter stage right: horses bearing the wild, hat-plumed encroachers. Things will never be the same.

Centuries roll, and that which was altered is now a new normality. The complexion of the people has changed, as different arteries have contributed their bloodlines to the changed land. A flute sends trilling bird-notes across the dawn-steamed valleys, into the pine-textured hillsides, over the wild flower meadows. Towns are rising. The folk are laughing. Loves are blooming.

But very deep in the forest, a tribe is untouched – that group who anciently survived, owing to a sacrificial dance. This bloodline still flows with the minerals and fragrance of hidden brooks. And do you see her? That face is in the music. Beauty to steal the breath. She has reappeared over millennial cycles. In the background -- while time is marching down vodka roads (envision a procession of peasants) and culture is advancing (now, the carts and noise of merchants) – she swirls in rhythmic glissades, bourréees, pirouettes, and sissonnes to the movement of stars and moons. Our gown-clad human fairy bears the intelligence of the woods into the future, and her gestures touch us in places we knew not were there. Time will also subsume her tissues into different heredity, but the magical Slavic essence will remain evergreen.

II. Waltz (3:32)

The circus has arrived in Moscow! Do you see the large tents slowly going up? The glowing night arrives, with fireworks exploding over the large barren field, as crowds stream into venues of thrilling display. Dancing bears, clowns, acrobats to amaze young and old! Smiles abound, and couples hold hands. Tomorrow will bring the audience back to drudgery and the conventions of society's strata. But tonight! Tonight, dreams live and breathe and tumble on the warm, jestering breezes that waft up into the stands.

III. Scherzo (3:29)

Napoleon is quickly refuted in the mini-battle and retreat on stage (canons and smoke, hectic skirmish and valiant charge). Pride is restored, as seen in the celebratory chorus dance. But the friction of encounter has left its traces. By osmosis, the Mother Land is absorbing things of the West. Ideas abound. Screeds proclaim. Serfs freed. Everywhere, a new energy, propelling the land toward a rendezvous with scoundrels. Toward dogma twisted from a thoughtful source. But how do you stop a run-away locomotive fueled by passion and sincere hope?

The music ends. The audience sits in silence. A final curtain is drawn to reveal the river mist once again drifting through glade and dell. And there she is: that wondrous daughter of larger Russia. Moving alone to music only she hears. Taking the ancient soul of this world with her into other realms, new mysteries of time.

Admittedly, a time paradox is involved here: how to stage all this action in such a short piece of music. In my head, time is very fluid and flexible.

Here's a Youtube of the Introduction by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Dimitri Yablonsky:

Ballet Intro

And here's the CD:


you don't always get what you pay for

Years ago, I was in the market for an alternate CD of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, the "Pathétique." I wanted to supplement the old Ormandy/Philadelphia recording. Being a subscriber to a classical music review magazine -- The American Record Guide -- I would spend months reading and thinking about a CD before purchase. Not having a lot of money, I couldn't take a chance on buying anything that was not the best. There were three or four staff reviewers whose judgment I learned to trust. Their taste seemed to always match my own.

I kept coming back to one review of the symphony. But I hesitated time and again. The review was glowing, but what the hell? The reviewer was strongly recommending Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra on an extreme budget label -- ENCORE, a subsidiary of EMI. I was used to laying out $18 for the finest performances in the best sound. This thing only cost $3.98!

Well, finally snobbish reluctance gave in to trust in the reviewer's words. I ordered it. When I opened the package, I wasn't sustained in my trust. The cover image of a large ugly pink flower bloom screamed: "I am going to suck extra bad!"

When I put it in the player, I could not believe what was happening. With my eyes open, a huge raised stage appeared in front of me. I was sitting about 20 rows away in an auditorium seat. The orchestra was RIGHT THERE! The sound was so full, pervading, resonant. Every detail emerged in sparkling clarity. This wonderful symphony was being performed by ghostly doppelgangers right freaking there in my room. I had never really heard this symphony until then. Not like that. Pastel and primary colors leapt from the speakers, taking the melodic lines into chromatic space. And propelling those lines in rhythmic aural dance. I'm talking real magic here, folks. And again, the fullness, the warmth, the power. Yes, the crescendos were explosions of sonic bliss.

I think I'm going to listen to this thing again before I go to bed tonight!

I just checked, and my CD is no longer available. But it looks like the same performance is now issued by EMI in a two-disc set. Besides the 6th Symphony and Romeo and Juliet (from my disc), you also get the 2nd Symphony with Francesca Rimini. Sounds damn good to me for the asking price of $8.97. And the CD cover is really nice this time:


inside the human head

Beyond the blood and bone, nerves and dendrites, there is a magic kingdom. A palace of feeling. Darkness hangs over the castle for many and for long duration. For others, soft fairy lights chase away the shadows, leaving the courtyard a-glimmer with least for a while.

Materialists have no doubt that one day, the kingdom will be broken into and disenchanted. That science will eventually know the weight of experience and the texture of its sublimation. And that feeling will be given its proper place amid the spectra of an organism's mechanistic palpitations.

I don't buy it.

A trillion shards of time have gone into the subtle make-up of a person's inner self. No instrument and no form of analysis is capable of tracking the elusive reflections of time-shards from the mirror of a human soul. The eyes have it. At least they project some of it. They turn time into something nearly physical, but not quite. You can almost touch the time in a person's eyes, but not quite.

The eyes speak silently of feeling. They remind us that the world is haunted by personalities, not just populated with them. Any moment -- any encounter -- can generate an untold number of impressions. There are not enough stars in the universe or grains of sand on all the planets' beaches to act as place-holders for a single person's impressions. These are beyond calculation, beyond arithmetic. Beyond the physical. Because if I've got my science right, information requires a physical substrate on which to ride through reality's grand Mardi Gras. But time has no physical skin. It's wild and free. It is pure anarchy, and it loves to dance with us. Loves to tango and waltz. And from those dances, it weaves us deeper into the sad smile of God.

We are spirits, temporarily caught in the gravity of flesh.

We are creatures of time.

Alfred Jarry said this on December 10, 1896... a speech at the premiere of his play Ubu Roi:

The Swedenborgian philosopher Mésès has excellently compared rudimentary creations with the most perfect, and embryonic beings with the most complete, in that the former lack all irregularities, protuberances and qualities, which leaves them in more or less spherical form, like the ovum and M. Ubu, while the latter have added so many personal details that they remain equally spherical, following the axiom that the most polished object is that which presents the greatest number of sharp corners.

fever chills, afternoon nap, and a dream

Robin Willhite (Gothic Rangers guitarist and my dear friend) and I were driving steadily uphill through a moon-haunted night way out in the wooded boondocks of central Arkansas. We finally pulled over and stopped at a weird convenience store on the right. Inside, a German couple was sitting on a bench, looking very forlorn. They asked me if I knew anything about cars and coolant systems. I was so pleased at being asked that I faked it and said "Sure."

They told me how their car was broke down outside. I confirmed their hunch that something was terribly wrong, that indeed the exhausting of coolant fluid from the tailpipe was bad. And yes, the hydraulic imbalance would cause their car to suddenly lurch forward in big, dangerous hiccups on the road.

At that point, Robin stepped up, with jacket zipped tight to this chin and ball cap pulled down tight on his head. A fiercely confident and looming presence. He unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket and produced a pencil. He wrote down his phone number and handed it to the German man and said: "I know someone who is an expert on coolant systems. So the next time you're here, give me a call, and I'll bring my friend to help you out." This news cheered up the hapless foreign couple. And in this dream, it was perfectly in order that the present coolant-system break down could somehow be deferred to a next coolant-system break down.

Robin and I paid for whatever we had selected, and I skipped out the door way ahead of him. Some kind of odd logic was at work, because we both knew then that our car was also broke down and unusable. Ahead of Robin, I retrieved a child's wooden sled from the trunk, made a running start, then jumped on it. Snowless sledding back down the miles of gently descending road would be our mode back home. Robin sprinted up behind me and jumped on back of the sled, with me steering up front by yanking a rope this way and that. I moaned miserably that it would take us hours and hours and hours to get back home.

Robin, still somewhat cheerfully, remarked: "Well, as I left the store, I almost stole a pumpkin pie out from under the noses of two vicious guard dogs at that little house back there." When he said that, my misery increased exponentially. Instantly, I was starving my wit's out. So I yanked on the steering cord, sending us flying through the woods and very near the edge of a steep ravine. That path would be something of a shortcut.

As the dream faded and I began to slip into consciousness, I pictured myself finally back home. And eating every single thing in the refrigerator.

Kris Saknussemm breaks it down

Yes, my Facebook friend, author Kris Saknussemm, does indeed break it righteously down.

While the rest of us, driving along Highway USA, would pass the sixties-era, still-in-business motel on the right...that fading, brooding collection of stucco cubicles, with forlorn rectangular swimming pool out front...well, we might not even notice it. Or if we did, we might wince at the eyesore, wishing such blights were gone. But not Kris. He would notice it for sure. And in the three seconds of his car's passing it, he would suck up its stories. He would drink in the happier era, with its blinking, brightly clothed children and their bee-hived, Brylcreemed parents. He would move momentously through tumbling decades...all the way to the days of ruin. To the tears and deeds and screams and demented laughter of those who now check in for a cheap night.

Here's something else that would happen. Japan. Kris watches a Zen master raking his sand and rock garden. The monk finishes and joins our down-breaker on the edge of the sublime creation.

"Do you perceive the emptiness?" asks the master.

"There's that," replies Kris. "And there's more. Do you, master, not also perceive, in those swirls and in that granular texture, something else?"

"There is nothing else, my son."

"Oh, there's always something else. Out there, in those grooves lie the rhythm and the melody of 'Banana Fana Fo Fana.'"

the way I see it



Here's how I conceptualize Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor:

At a concert hall in Hanover, Germany

January 22, 1859

Johannes Brahms, wearing a cutaway with tails, walked across the stage amid moderate applause. He seated himself confidently at the grand piano and brushed back his longish hair. Joseph Joachim stood at the podium with baton in hand while members of the orchestra finished their tunings and rustlings. The hall grew quiet.

This was Brahms's first public performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Much struggle had brought this music from a failed symphonic effort to a new incarnation. Nothing could prevent its living in some form -- this was a memorial to his dear friend, Robert Schumann, who had died two and a half years ago.

Joachim glanced at Brahms and, when satisfied that the composer was ready, turned back to the orchestra. Raising both hands, he jerked them in mid-air to engage the timpani for an opening stroke of horn-shared foreboding. The strings entered on passionate and shivering peals, conjuring up a terrifying world of restless, venturing ghosts. Woodwinds trilled hysterically with trumpets stabbing their plaintive accents. The swirling elements boiled with intensity until...the flames subsided into an atmosphere of confused reverie. Uncertain memories rose on the intonations of dark oboes and wistful flutes. But remembrance was overcome by a flood of churning confusion, by strong currents of old manias -- of joy and terror -- sweeping through and inundating the Rhenish music. And then the flood abated, with orchestral pulses softening for the entrance of the soloist.

Tears of tone cascaded gently across the keyboard...but soon these tones strengthened into resurgent inflections of madness. The fingers of Brahms spoke to the spirit of his friend in a wordless language while the orchestra wove a strange circle of emotions around the piano's musings. Then quietude.

Brahms attacked the keys vigorously, filling the hall with emphatic evocations. In fits of runs and sudden stops, the piano declaimed the essence of the lost composer, as well as the depth of Brahms's regard. The self-possessed young man played with power, maintaining strong pulses of rhythm. His lack of perfect technique was adroitly managed -- the hands subtly filling in blocks of color, with a few missed notes inconsequential. Forces built and swelled into a passion of complex yearnings. Then a song with no words, a poised tune to accompany a god of art on his journey into realms of other being. The song transfigured into coarsening textures with orchestra and piano blending into unresolvable feelings. Paroxysms of grief flew from the keys, and the spiraling compressions of the orchestra led to the final moments of the first movement.

Here's a YouTube excerpt with Gilels, Jochum, and the Berlin Philharmonic

a certain blue

Nature offers us many instances of beauty. Some of these encounters impress themselves deeply into memory. Sometimes, nature becomes mixed up with something else, and memory is not only impressed; it is sacralized.

When I was nine or ten years old, the family was on a short vacation trip from El Dorado, Arkansas to Lake Greeson (near Murfreesboro in southwest Arkansas). I had fallen asleep in the backseat of our Olds 98 and was roused from slumber by Daddy's announcement: “There's the lake.”

I raised up and peered out the window. The road was about a hundred feet up from the lake, with tall dark pines plunging steeply down to the water and forming a forested screen. The tree canopy was such that the lake's extent was blocked; only what appeared between those trunks was visible. Censorship always breeds fascination. Yes, between those trunks, I spied that water. I fell into its strange color. I have never seen that shade of blue since then. It was not a bright, pale turquoise, but that's the closest approximation I can offer. It was strikingly different from any bright, pale turquoise one might associate with Key West or the Caribbean or Bermuda...or some South Sea atoll. It was unique.

I'm not convinced it was a purely natural color. I had just awakened from dreams (surely I had...I always dream when asleep), and I was disoriented. I didn't know how we had gotten to the lake, didn't know where it was in relation to my hometown, didn't even know why we had come to the lake – at a certain age or with a certain daydreaming character, family events just materialize and one gets swept up in the unexplained, unprocessed momentum.

Reflecting now on that memory, I do believe something else was mixed into that strangely beautiful lake water glimpsed through pine trees. In those few seconds before the road curved away from the lake, some residual dreamstuff blended into that sun-dazzled water color. It seemed an unearthly hue. Maybe a mystic-plasma-blue, showing itself only once in that magic space between nature and uncertain consciousness.

a literary moment

Come away with me. To 1920. To California. To Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat:

It was purple dusk, that sweet time when the day's sleeping is over, and the evening of pleasure and conversation has not begun. The pine trees were very black against the sky, and all objects on the ground were obscured with dark; but the sky was as mournfully bright as memory. The gulls flew lazily home to the sea rocks after a day's visit to the fish canneries of Monterey.

Pilon was a lover of beauty and a mystic. He raised his face into the sky and his soul arose out of him into the sun's afterglow. That not too perfect Pilon, who plotted and fought, who drank and cursed, trudged slowly on; but a wistful and shining Pilon went up to the sea gulls where they bathed on sensitive wings in the evening. That Pilon was beautiful, and his thoughts were unstained with selfishness and lust. And his thoughts are good to know.

a change of heart

[one of my fairly recent dreams]

After work, I pull up at the old duplex apartment in a crummy part of Little Rock where I lived years ago. I walk up the wooden steps, and there is a bunch of junk scattered on the porch. A young disheveled woman is also on the porch. She is disoriented. Out in the side yard, her husband (or whatever) also looks baffled.

I am mad. At all the junk and nonsense everywhere on my porch. I start scolding her. She recoils. I'm just pissed after a miserable day at work and coming home to my miserable apartment...and having to wade through inexplicable stuff on my porch. None of it was coherent. Just her flotsam and claptrap.

Man, was I imperious!

But in a flash, things changed. I looked at this pathetic creature, and my heart softened. I gently took hold of her arm and offered consoling words. She was so mind-blasted, she didn't know which way was up. And I was to blame (I must have known this way down inside the subconscious of my dreaming subconscious). After all, this was my dream, and I had landed this poor nomad onto my front porch. Her and her side-yard fellar and all that she owned in the world: pieces of nonsense...stuff that was pulled apart and would never go back together.

I gently escorted her down the steps. Told her I would gather up her stuff and try to put it to rights.

By this time, some other dream people had gathered at the street, looking on. I preached up a committee to organize some kind of existential solution for this odd pair.

I woke up this morning and worried about them. Mostly her. She came to me for help in that dream. I treated her badly at first. God...if there is a God (a dream god?)...please take care of her tonight.

a holiday story off the top of my head

[written on Christmas Eve -- 2009]

Once upon a time, there lived a boy and girl -- brother and sister. They lived in a cottage with their parents, in a village in a far-away land. Winter came, deep snow. It was Holly-Day's Eve. Tomorrow, would be a day of gifts to celebrate something old that no one understood...a legend...something to do with a laughing spirit.

All that anyone remembered was that long ago, a famine had set on the land. When winter came, there was an insufficient store of food set by. Deeper into winter the days back then went. The people grew nervous, began rationing their food. On this night all those years ago, the food ran out. Grown men wept and wailed. The womenfolk tried to calm them down (women are always braver), so the children wouldn't be frightened. The womenfolk knew things were dire, so they called a gathering in the village lodge to talk things over. To see if they should brave the snow and ice and try to find another village that might offer them food to bring back. While the womenfolk considered this and that option, all the men shuffled their feet and looked helplessly at one another.

Night deepened. All the children were left alone in their own cottages. Sometime after midnight, the men and women returned to their respective homes. They were astonished! The table and even the floor were covered with baskets of bread and fresh vegetables! Branches of berry-covered holly were strewn amid the edible treasure. The children were all asleep, so no child could report the next morning on how the food had arrived. But many of them reported hearing a strange laughter in their dreams.

Ever since, on that Eve of Holly, a similar visitation has occurred. Each anniversary night, the village adults congregate in the old lodge, drinking ale and waiting in suspense. All the children are tucked in their beds at home and told to not make a peep. As the years wore on, the food was complemented with little gifts, wooden animals and dolls...warm scarves and pipes.

Well...tonight is the night! Brother and sister were snuggled in their one big bed, while their parents were off to the village lodge. As minutes turned into an hour and then some more, brother and sister grew very sleepy. They nodded off finally to dreamland.

Suddenly! They shot up in bed. The strange laughter in their dreams had taken on an even stranger quality and tone. It had turned into words: "Come see me!"

They got out of bed and cautiously went to the window. And they saw it!

Coming down the road was a square wooden cart with two large wooden wheels. But this was no ordinary cart. Growing into it and from inside it was a tall holly tree! At least twenty feet tall and covered in brilliant red berries. Snow dusted all the limbs. A large root extended from either side to the ground and was propelling the cart like great arms! In the center of the trunk was a bole, and from this opening seemed to issue a strange laughter. A laughing, moving holly tree cart! Were the boy and girl still dreaming? How else could they hear the laughter and know it came from that peculiar hole in the trunk?

The tree-cart stopped right in front of their cottage. They heard their front door open. They tip-toed to their bedroom door and opened it just enough. What to their wondering eyes should appear? Living holly limbs came slithering and scooting into the front room. Each branch was laden with baskets and toys. In a flash, it was done! And as the limbs retreated through the front door, a scattering of berry branches were left as decoration!

The brother and sister looked at one another in astonishment. What would they tell their father and mother? Before they could decide, they heard a rustle at their window. They ran to it and looked out again. The big holly tree cart was only a few feet away! And they both saw the dark bole of the trunk move like a mouth. And they both heard it say: "Don't tell!"

The living holly tree wagon rolled off down they road, and curious laughter drifted from it on the quiet, dark winter air.

To a Distant Friend

I keep reading your letters,
those words like blossoms falling.
O! could I even breathe
if I ever heard your voice.

-- by an old, imaginary Chinese poet

I wish... camera batteries were not "too low to take a picture."

In my utility room, there is a 3' x 6' sliding window. It has single-strength glass, so this morning -- in this frigid weather -- layers of the night's condensation have frosted over on the inside panes. And nature has wrought a beautiful, delicate creation.

Leaves, branches, spiny foliage, filigrees...foggy space in-between the structures...

A strange fairy world. Strange because none of these crystal growths exactly resemble nature's vegetative eruptions. The picture before me pulsates with an alien enchantment. It draws me into it the more because it is ontologically askew.

For rapt moments, I move through luxurious fractal shapes. Into those gauzy spaces between the etched, odd, elvish flora. For a brief time, I'm relieved of thinking and feeling. A boon of subtly layered ice-impasto on a canvas of glass.

I wish I could take a picture, so you could see it.


Edvard Munch intaglio print -- 1894

That young woman in the watered moonlight. She might be saying: "It's just life. Let it overflow."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vladimir's NOCTURNES

I have Vladimir Ashkenazy's set of Chopin Nocturnes. I also have Claudio Arrau's. The former has not been accorded much critical acclaim. The latter has. Even though I understand the critical distinction – a profounder, more poetic touch from Arrau – I find myself always drawn to Ashkenazy in this work.

His tone is not bell-like, and his piano is a bit too resonant for my taste...what I call “chordy.” But there is some quality in his performance that brings the night. With Arrau's exquisite rubato and freer movement through melodic, harmonic lines, one is in the presence of rarefied artistry. But the darkness is not dark enough. By contrast, listening to Ashkenazy's languid traversal is a candlelit experience. The hour is very late, the shadows heavy but uncertain. A subtle, beautiful pathos rises from the keys, mixes with the night, and enchants the ear.

Again, Ashkenazy's tone is slightly irritating to me, but after a minute or two, that reservation is canceled. A bittersweetness is tasted on the soul's palate. Not exactly melancholy. More like a suspended sigh. And soon, as the nocturnes roll by, that suspension takes on a numbed, gray quality. A kind of narcotic haze. I think it must be akin to the effect some piano jazz has on me. Something existential. Something between life and death. Something to do with love dreamt, its refusal, and the dissolution of foolish hope. A stunned calm.

Besides those things, Ashkenazy also brings out the elusive personality of very late hours. This is dark music, and one should listen with a bottle of deep-red wine.

Sonja Copic

Sonja Copic is my friend. That is bizarre and makes me happy. How did it happen? A trillion things had to go right, and a trillion things had to go funny.

Her spirit is thousands of years old. It was mingled in mystic waters inside that cavern where Greek oracles pronounced sayings and portents. It was in the hallucinogenic mist that rose up from that cave water and put those oracles into their trances.

Her spirit is in all things electrical. It hides on the dark side of invisible moons orbiting electrons. It is in the occult pulse of all magnetic manifestations. That spirit makes young men write dark music. It makes unknown animals howl and dance in secret woodland clearings.

And on icy nights, you can hear a peculiar Serbian giggle echoing amid the glimmering stars.

Sonja is neat.


I could almost smell
the vast, collective air
and the happy mood upon it.

I could almost taste
the subtle tang of sea
and olive grove wafting.

There, where you were.

How was I transported?
How shredded from my space
and latticed to your time?

This is not sanity.
This was not expected:
a sudden rush of tears,
a funereal silvering,
a hot mercurial mourning.

I adore the very ground
that holds the echo
of your footsteps.

I adore the very air,
quivering like harp strings
when you speak.

Before you were born,
I sought you in moonless nights.
I loved with patient passion,
sundered into dreams.

But now the days are drying
into dead sea fissures,
where hope and passion
leak into this evening.

This weeping is
a convulsion of years,
while these words are
a subtler catharsis.

And you will never know.
And you should never know.
And you will live your life.
And I have spilt my tears.