Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cahiers de Sadie

Her astonishing vigor: she came out of the womb like that, whole and squalling, head like a sun, squirming strongly. She sucks like a barracuda, her dark blue eyes blank and searching, her cheeks and upper body pink.

How rich and strange the hours; and yet familiar, even banal, something seen on television, advertised for: connection, the best network, I can hear you now.

Our astrologer friend speaks to Emily, who mouths phrases to me that I catch:
beautiful figures displaying the latest fashion—Sun in Aquarius—being a model for anything—Moon is in Libra so it’s an airhead like Josh Sun —Moon trine everything else went into earth from fire—Sun went into Capricorn—No fire, it was all fire last week

As sleep fragments so my usual subdivided self breaks up anew into a sense of continuous being: alive, half-awake, purposive.

Utter softness of new skin. Tiny gurgles and cries as she passes from one layer of sleep to the next. The diaper-full of meconium sticks to her butt and she cries as I wipe it off, too roughly.

Emily large-eyed, exhausted, suffused. Nursing in the new rocking chair in the small hours; I can hear her singing from the next room. Or together we sing a song Sadie heard in the womb, "Norwegian Wood," repeatingly: And then she said / it's time for bed.

Fewer than four days old.

Riding the train away from them: atrocity. What a sick, stupid society. And I'm among the luckiest, spending more days home than not.

Or: sirens outside the bedroom this morning, outside the drawn shade, Sadie asleep on my chest: I disallow the world. Core of bourgeois experience.

Yet she is an avowal, new under the sun, but ordinary; and she marries me to ordinariness, to passing the time with neighbors, making a living, Whole Foods (alas), the elections (Obama now, another novum, a possibility), environmental decay, fears, hopefulnesses.

Half-asleep in a knitted hat too big for her, Emily dozing on my arm, snow falling.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sadie Gray Corey

A healthy, big (really! 9 lbs., 4 oz.), beautiful girl was born at 5:14 this morning. Everyone's doing well, everyone's tired. Pics soon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A quiet morning with the contractions slowing, almost stopping. Around 1:30 PM they began to pick up again. Here now at home with our wonderful doula Mary Sommers, in active labor. Emily is beautiful and heroic. Off to the hospital soon.
Labor began around 1 AM this morning. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Umbilical cord pacifier?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Doctor Atomic

In the last throes of childlessness, we took ourselves out to the Lyric Opera of Chicago last night for the closing performance of John Adams' Doctor Atomic, a stunning performance piece about Trinity and the dawn of the nuclear age. Before the opera began we were treated to a lecture by Peter Sellars, the director and dramaturg, an elfin figure in a rainbow-colored Nehru jacket, David Lynch's hair, and a stiff brown glove on one hand which I belated recognized as an allusion to Dr. Strangelove and Sellars' namesake. You can get an example of his lyrical rhetorical style (and a few clips of the music) here (scroll down). Sellars made a passionate case for the excesses of opera not simply as Wagnerian Gesamstkunstwerk but as providing space and time for both intense emotion and intense reflection: he finds it the most appropriate medium for dealing with overwhelming and epochal events. Thus this documentary opera, in which the chorus sings lines explaining the construction of explosive lenses—but this documentary is infused with music and a great deal of poetry. As Sellars explained, and as we subsequently heard, the lyrics given to the character of Oppenheimer's wife Kitty (sung poignantly by soprano Jessica Rivera) are taken from the poetry of Muriel Rukeyeser, because history has silenced the real woman, though she was apparently a scientist in her own right. The character of Oppenheimer himself is represented singing back to his wife in lines taken from Baudelaire (lines in which the speaker is continually ravished by the sense of smell: a level of sensuality that further complicates our image of the emaciated, chain-smoking physicist), and, in the tragic aria that closes Act One—one of the truest theatrical experiences I've ever had of pity and of fear—Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14". Sellars and Adams bring in poetry to represent the secret (literally, the classified) subjectivities of highly intelligent and educated people at the center of perhaps the greatest ethical disaster in history.

The opera is all but inert, dramatically: everything builds toward "the shot," the Trinity test of July 16, 1945. We know exactly what's going to happen (as Sellars pointed out, in Greek drama, the place where the polis considered the most terrible questions of human life, the suspense of what might happen is entirely beside the point), and yet there's a terrible tension that builds and builds on the back of Adams' apocalyptic score. A young graduate student urges Oppenheimer to sign a letter to the President opposing the use of the bomb on humans and Oppenheimer declines, telling him (rightly) that the President will never see such a letter. A saturnine Edward Teller speculates about the creation of "the Super" (the hydrogen bomb) and warns of the possibility that the bomb might create intense enough heat to actually ignite the atmosphere and destroy the planet (he is proven mathematically wrong, but still...!). The military supervisor of the project, General Groves, confesses his inability to remain on a diet to skinny, politically suspect Oppenheimer. Nothing happens—but everything on the stage and in the music is building to that terrible moment when the era of humanity's possible sudden extinction began—an era that has not ended. The strongest counter-voice to the surge of militarized science is raised by desperate, alcoholic, Rukeyeser-spouting Kitty ("the only sane one," Sellars said wryly)—banished along with all the other women associated with the project to a site 200 miles from Alamogordo—and the Pueblo Indians who worked as maids and janitors at Los Alamos, affirming the continuity of life—the "cloud-flower" of the rain blooming north, west, and south—as a very different and terrible flower prepares to sprout.

The end, or the trailing, of the opera comes with the shot: the entire cast lying on the stage face down, covering their heads; a cataclysmic surge of chords; a human scream (the first I can recall genuinely to curdle my blood) followed by the soft voice of a woman speaking words in Japanese. And the long silence of a stunned audience awakening from imagining the dark, forgotten roots of our present moment. From Muriel Rukeyeser's "Easter Eve 1945," sung by Kitty in the dark moments before the darker dawn:
Whatever world I know shines ritual death,
wide under this moon they stand gathering fire,
fighting with flame, stand fighting in their graves.
All shining with life as the leaf, as the wing shines,
the stone deep in the mountain, the drop in the green wave.
Lit by their energies, secretly, all things shine.
Nothing can black that glow of life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Premises for Creative Writing

"Writing articulates living in contradiction."
—Carla Harryman

Darwin: biological determinism. We are genetic accidents. Marx: economic determinism. We are shaped, produced, and deformed by class. Freud: determination of the unconscious. We are fragments of desire, misdirected by our dreams.

This is the terrain the postmodern writer must navigate, seeking impossible and necessary freedoms.

Liberation by any linguistic means necessary.

In class yesterday, meditating on Harryman's quotation, one of my students said, "Well, good writing's about conflict." Exactly. But some conflict is not out in the open. It stands concealed by our habits, if not our hypocrisies.

We'll be reading Mary Burger, et al, Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative, an anthology of pieces many of which were originally published in the online journal Narrativity. The vector carved out by these writers is a new alternative to the renunciative pleasures of Language poetry and the New York School's high "I" jinks. Narrative—the relationship to time, and most emphatically the time of the body—is the means they wish to rescue from the fragments of epic history on the one hand and lyrical timelessness on the other. So these writers foreground sexuality and abjection, the "not okay" to borrow a phrase. But to borrow it with a difference: flarf is scatological, whereas the writers associated with narrativity claim for themselves a genuine erotics, "not okay" because of its excess, the pungent body.

The irony of the narrativity writers is more porous, they seem more vulnerable to the world's desiring machines than the flarfists. Pop culture, yes, but also and importantly queer culture, which invites a counterhistory of genuine liberation into the larger despair-narrative of late capitalism. This too is a story, the story of cultural identity politics' victory over the Marxian class narrative. But is there not a negotiable contradiction here?

The body, the body, the body: that's what I, history of a head with wings, continually return to as the stake in new writing. The grubstake, the poker stake. Ante up. A new body, my child's, is about to be born, as my wife and I will be born into a new family romance. We bet on life against considerable odds in the long and medium term.

So: Kathy Acker's "The Killers" and Hemingway's "The Killers" and Acker's "Dead Doll Humility": "(In literature classes in university, had learned that anyone can say or write anything about anything if he or she does so cleverly enough. That cleverness, one of the formal rules of good literature, can be a method of social and political manipulation. Decided to use language stupidly.)"

"I can’t stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he’s going to get it. It’s too damned awful."

You better think about it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Our National Life

His charisma leaves a small, oily stain on its handlers: they smudge thumb and forefinger together as a sign. Her charisma barks unattended. His charisma has been validated and certified by leading nutritionists but has not been awarded the FDA's organic label. His charisma waits patiently for the elevator door to shut. Her charisma hurls itself against the childproof gate. His chiseler charisma gleams from all angles, rawbone cheekbone marrowbone shinbone. Her charisma chases its tail. His charisma gets out in front of it. His charisma sweats like a whiteman. Her charisma follows the white rabbit.

To campaign in prose. To take a field in rows.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hope & Anchor

Brand new for the New Year: Hope & Anchor, my new chapbook of prose poems, now available from New Mexico's Noemi Press. They did a beautiful job.

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