Friday, February 24, 2012

notes for a story

Tell a story about: Trees, flame, dreams, smoke.
Tell another story about: Trees, smoke, trout, the Aurora Borealis
Tell a story about: Strange lights, crackling sounds above the trees, the flash of a fish in
clear running water

Tell another story about: Dreams of light fish flashing through the northern sky
Tell a story about: Catching a fish
Tell another story about: Putting out the light

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

santorum: a virgin on the whore

And we stopped in Bethlehem—
They made the answers here
But there weren’t so many questions then

~The Drones, “Jezebel

Admission: Late to the party as usual, but Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s statements on the 19 February 2012 episode of Face the Nation about “man” and the Earth and “phony theology” deserve a bit more reflection. The implication that man and Earth are distinct, not invested in one another, is phony—perhaps not (pre-Vatican II?) theologically, but by most other measures of semi-reasonable observation. What’s at stake here is unmasking pervasive attitudes that forgive earth injury in the name of…what? God? Power? Manifest Destiny?

injured, a world
Pedaling my bike to work this morning (yes, I’m that kind of radical—either that, or I’m just too cheap to pay for parking, or maybe I do it because of its manifold health benefits—I’ll let you decide), the Drones popped up on my earPod music device and my ride was quickened by eight minutes of their brilliant howl against the pain caused by all the idiocy of “man’s” attempts to exert control over other nations, theologies, and nature—“another bomb for every atom you injure” runs one line. Notice that the atom (the building block of life, earth, nature, and humanity, as I interpret the lyric) is the injured party and notice that the “bomb”—the power to destroy—is what you gain when you injure life.

The consequences of nuclear testing in the form of radiation entering the foodstream starts the song and from there the verses comment acidly on misadventures in the Middle East, war, terrorism, and the deals that “we” (the West, terrorists, suicide bombers: all are equally condemned) make with the Devil in seeking dominion over others. What the apocalyptic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” meant to an earlier generation, “Jezebel” should mean to a post-punk, post-9/11, and post-Bush generation; in the song the Drones attempt to understand this post-rational world rooted in spectacles of fear mongering and death-dealing. “Bombproof the embassy,” lead singer Gareth Liddiard implores. “Give infanticide a cemetery.” Diplomacy and innocence (you can’t get much more innocent than infants) are dead in this world. “Uranium tips [and] night vision cruise missiles,” the lyrics suggest, are the only means that "we" now use to understand this world.

The “Jezebel” in the title of the song is never identified. I doubt the band literally means the Biblical queen of Israel; rather, I take the band to mean Jezebel in its contemporary popular sense of a sexually promiscuous woman. A sinner, a whore, who tempts a man to indulge his sensual passions, his desire for power in the case of the song, and ignore his more significant relations. Earth is the Jezebel man desires in the song; complete dominion over our mother and all her children—even if dominion means killing them, her children, us. “I’m gonna lose my skin,” the singer laments. “And I ain’t gonna see you again.”

The work I bicycle to on mornings such as this is in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Minnesota where I teach courses on Native literature and the Drones’ song got me to thinking about the contrast between indigenous worldviews (as embodied in the literature I teach) and those kind of worldviews stunted by fundamentalist monotheisms that see man (never woman) as the center of the world (which the Drones brilliantly crucify—yes, I said it—in the song).

In class in recent days we’ve been discussing a phrase that one of the characters in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water repeats again and again (and which other characters begin to use as the book unfolds). The character, Norma, the main character’s auntie, a woman—an elder to be heeded—continually appeals to those around her to “Mind your relations.”

Norma’s statement is so simple that it could mean anything from “Listen to your family” to the more broadly philosophical turf of “Think about how you relate to others”—and “others” here must be understood as other people, other nations (including those of the animals and plants), as well as others in the grander cosmological sense of the sun, the moon, and the stars; it needs to be thought about as other times and places (physical and spiritual); it is intergenerational and transdimensional. Mind these things as relations, think with them as you think about yourself, step outside egocentric indulgences and consider your place in the broader community of family and history, environment and the Earth. Mind these things as equals, as invested in you as you are in them. You may be small and insignificant compared to a star but in your relations you are a giant. Mind your relations because you are them. The Earth is the mother that pushes you into this matrix of relations, and you are always connected with them. The Earth of minded relations is no Jezebel; her breast feeds, it does not mislead.

i could eat you,
but then gingivitis
would ruin my life
Such an insight is not unique to Native literature. In class we’ve discussed scientific theories of symbiosis that explore the way animals and environments evolve together to their mutual benefit and talked about how this kind of cooperative relationship is actually evident in the ongoing fact of life on earth--whether that life dates back billions of years or a mere six or seven millennia as creationist theologies propose. The environments that sustain our lives are manifestations of the wisdom of the teaching contained in the phrase “Mind your relations.”

Having the Drones pounding through my earphones as I think about minding my relations, candidate Santorum’s words last Sunday came winging (or might that be whinging, in the British sense of the word) back to me.

As he tried to explain to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer what he meant in calling President Obama’s a “phony theology,” Santorum revealed the limits of his theology and his inability to mind his relations. He explained that "radical environmentalists" have “this idea that-- that man is-- is not-- is here to serve the Earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a-- a-- is a phony ideal.” In an attempt to clarify what “man” “is” or “is not” to do, Santorum continued, “man is here to-- to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we're not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective.”

Man’s needs, the Earth’s resources, are the objective. Man is here to care for the Earth, even if his “objective” needs threaten Earth’s ability to sustain us. The object it seems is to penetrate the Earth, what with the way she titillates us with her resources, and “steward” her, lead her back to the path of righteousness, but only once we’ve “used [her] wisely”. Indulge yourself man, the Earth is not the objective; she is the object, the Jezebel who serves man’s desires, yet needs his guidance. Dominion is the objective, a shattering of relations the consequence.

what else pops out?
why those knowing smiles?
With his gee-whiz overbite and throwback sweater vests, Santorum reminds me of a character from a fifties television sitcom—of those days back when all the moms wore dresses, all the dads dispensed easily digested platitudes, and all the teens were virgins. Sticking straws through the mouths of pop bottles at the soda fountain was as close to sexual expression as those TV kids dared to get. This virginal fantasy, while (perhaps) entertaining to watch, should not be mistaken for critical insight—nor should Santorum’s words. The idea that Obama and "radical" environmentalists want man to serve the Earth, to kneel before the Jezebel, the way a masochist kneels before a dominatrix, is the kind of post-rational political rhetoric that seeks to destroy our ability to think about, and with, our relations.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

a drinking man is a dying star

One day he knew the sun would swell up, reach for the Earth, and that sand at the water’s edge would fuse into bottle glass that would never break, but would hiss and pulse until it evaporated and became a part of the dying star, just as a drinking man becomes a part of the bottle consuming him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

bowie understands

It was too much to yell her name, would hurt his head too much in this light, so he just threw the empty bottle at a tree. Plastic only bounced when it hit; he missed the shatter of glass, the sound so beautiful, each tinkling shard a fragment of the broken world falling away, but glass vodka was too much. It had long ago stopped being a pleasure. Longed for, sure, but too much. Too fleeting.

He ached for it now though, for her too. Where had she gone? Her coming back would be good—she knew broken pieces. Even if she was no better at picking them up than he was, it was good to be with someone who understood the sound of breaking glass.

Monday, February 13, 2012

static murals

Vodka was his flavor this week. It was cheap and efficient and as he sat this summer evening, wan with humidity, drinking it, he watched the murals unfolding in the radio static that gathered above the river every night.

He knew you couldn’t see radio static the way you saw the trees and the bridge, or heard the cars above, but he knew too it was real. It was like the manidoog, the spirits everyone used to know, but only rarely ever saw outside of dreams. Radio waves agitated the air and when he looked up at that static there in the twilit sky, he could see what everyone else overlooked. He saw his life.
Tonight he saw those days at the sugar bush, tending the fires, boiling the maple sap into syrup and then sugar, drilling the trees with Uncle and setting the taps. Draining winter from the trees. Time ran kind of backwards in the static, as if it were wound differently there. He watched the old man in the sky and marveled yet again at the ease with which he did those hard tasks.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Late afternoon was his morning today, and it was a grim headache. He eyed their camp blearily, looking for her. Their meager things, stuffed in plastic grocery bags, scattered around the nest they’d made in a stand of sumac by the river.

Why’d she go without him?
His head rang, the light too bright on the water. Gichii-ziibi; what the old ones called the big river. Mississippi now. Cars buzzed across the bridge above, heading wherever it was that people went. Work? Home? It made no difference. Escape was what all that movement was about, escape from those things that made you crazy, that threatened you. Hooch in the brush seemed like escape. Their camp at the river too, and those people in their cars didn’t know it, maybe didn’t know empty bottles, but lived empty too. Their movement their disease.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

legless: midnight in a drunk town bar

a devastated queen
A cheerleader on her last leg: A prize, adored, even though.

In a legless town a one-legged beauty is: Queen? Not yet devastated? Standing tall?

In a legless town everyone strives to reach the top shelf, bottoming out. Legless drunk, no dancing. Legless town. Unlegged. A devastated queen dances alone. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

in response to the question

if you could gild a small object, what would it be?

the last shred of hope I have for humanity:

my heart, a minnow.

my heart after a republican debate
dreads the big fishes
or a hook through the lip

Sunday, February 5, 2012

14/17ths of a haiku

brawny, perhaps
                  for rodrigo s-c
unsubtle double entendres free
the ad man's mind

it wipes spills up

white leaves from dead trees

a towel tower