Cat Poem

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This poem was originally published alongside many student poems in the Mendocino Poets in the Schools
2016 County Anthology. This Spring I was teaching rhyme to a class of fourth graders when one student raised her hand and said, “Why don’t we read your cat poem?” It turns out the kids like it, which is about as high a compliment as a poem can get.

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Cat Gone Two Weeks

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by Jasper Henderson
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Cat be nimble           Cat be quick
Cat sleep on window   And then get sick
Cat be happy            Cat be sad
Cat bites ankle          Cat is mad
Cat be bored            Cat be aware
Cat hear noise           Cat get scared
Cat be fat                Cat be in love
Master’s home           Time for a rub
Cat be hungry           Cat meows
Food bowl refilled       Cat chows
Cat in the hat            Cat in a box
Cat in a fight            Sounds like a fox
Cat is tired              Cat takes a nap
Cat wins a job           The better mouse trap
Cat on a fence           Cat in a hole
Cat in hiding place      Where did cat go?
Cat has gone out        Cat is due back
Where could cat be?     Alas and alack!
Cat has gone missing    Cat just flat gone
Cat left no clue          Cat left no song
Cat was so mean        Cat did us wrong
Cat gone two weeks     Cat gone too long
Cat came back!          Just yesterday
Cat sauntered in         We said hoo-ray!
Cat is the best           Cat is my friend
Cat needs a rest         So this is the end

The Blood-Sex Iconostasis

jasper-henderson

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I’m thrilled to announce that my story “The Blood-Sex Iconostasis” was published today in Joyland San Francisco. Here are its opening lines:

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Night falls over town. The fog doesn’t recede. Sodium lights flicker to life. Some hold steady; others strobe on and off in lugubrious, neurotic cycles. The sky takes on the sickly orange glare of their light. The parking lot at Safeway empties. Cats are fed and dogs put inside for the night.

Benjamin lowers the blinds and wanders from room to room with a candle on a drip pan. Beneath a bag of tealights in a box he packed before college, he finds his compass. It still has lead in it. He reaches deeper into the dark square and feels the triangular prism of an engineer’s ruler, pinches a stiff parallelogram of eraser, pushes away the flimsy plastic cylinder of a cheap kaleidoscope. He pulls the ruler and eraser out, then finds his old clamshell phone masking-taped to its charger. He plugs the phone in and swipes his smartphone off. After almost a minute the ancient one flares on, screen glowing blue against the dark.

He sits cross-legged on his one nice rug and constructs a heptagram. (Click here to continue reading.)

Vote For Jill Stein? Six Arguments For, Deflated

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Dear Friends and Family —
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         I know that many of us are looking towards the coming election with dread. Any semblances of reason and hope seem to be missing. Our political system seems broken. And so, naturally, we look for a third option. And there is someone on the left who would happily take your vote: Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But to vote for Stein is in fact to use faulty reasoning. In essence, it means voting against your best interests. In the following essay I address — and deflate — six arguments in favor of voting for Jill Stein. I hope that you’ll read it, and I pray that you will vote with your and my best interests in mind.

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With love,
Jasper Henderson
Emeryville, California
12 September, 2016

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Argument 1: “Hillary and Donald Are The Same.”

 

  • Is this really true? The last time we heard this line was back in 2000. But think of all the things George Bush did that Al Gore almost certainly would not have:
    • Started the Iraq War.
    • Passed the PATRIOT Act.
    • Enacted vast tax cuts for the rich.
    • Allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to lapse.
    • Appointed Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court
      • which led directly to the Citizens United ruling.
    • Passed No Child Left Behind.
    • Gutted the EPA.
    • Significantly worsened climate change through inaction and environmentally hostile policy.
    • Policies led directly to the Great Recession.
  • Let’s be clear: the presidency of George W. Bush was a pretty much unmitigated disaster.
  • If Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, had not taken 2.7% of the vote on the left, it is certain that Gore would have won, and the terrible list above would not exist.
  • We know that there are upcoming similar decisions that the next president will make:
    • Filling at least one vacancy on the Supreme Court.
    • Deciding whether to fix or destroy Obamacare.
    • Commanding the military in relation to Syria, Iran, Russia, and China.
    • Setting climate change policy (staying in the Paris Agreement).
  • Can you with a straight face claim that Clinton and Trump would act identically on these issues? Their stated stances on each of the above items clearly indicate otherwise. Do you remember when this argument was made in 2000?

 

Argument 2: “I’m Not Voting For Trump.”

 

  • In a two-party or “winner-takes-all” system, as we have in the U.S.A., to abstain or to vote for a third-party candidate is a guarantee of voting against your best interest. Unlike in, say, a parliamentary system where your faction can gain seats with even a minority of votes and possibly use those seats to join a coalition, in the U.S.A. only the highest vote-getter wins any power — and they win all the power. Think: if two leftist parties split their voters 30% and 30% and the rightist candidate took the remainder of the vote (40%), the rightist would take all of the power. This is why in our system we have to form coalitions BEFORE we vote in general elections.
  • If you vote for a candidate guaranteed to lose, or you don’t vote — rather than voting for the candidate most closely aligned with your interests with a real shot at winning — then in a real sense you are voting (or abstaining) against your best interest. You are cutting off your hand to spite your foot.

 

Argument 3: “I Feel Like I’ll Never Get to Vote For Someone I Like.”

 

  • This is probably not true: most on the left both liked and voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
  • Maybe you mean, “I’ll never get to vote for a socialist.” Again, though, this is untrue: almost all Jill Stein supporters voted for Bernie Sanders in the last year.
  • This is how our system works: you vote for your very favorite candidate in the primary — and then win or lose you vote for the major-party candidate whose positions most align with your interests in the general. Work hard for your candidate in the major-party primary, and hopefully they’ll make the general!
  • Also, as a side note, you shouldn’t like Jill Stein. She is a licensed physician who nevertheless has made numerous statements suggesting that vaccines cause autism. This conspiracy theory is blatantly false and is damaging our country and our children. To pander to a fringe constituency on this issue shows a lack of character that I find disqualifying. But even if you really like Stein, voting for someone with no chance of winning the presidency is extremely foolish.

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Popular vote tally from 2000 presidential election. Bush won Florida, and the election, by 537 votes.

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Vote tallies from 1932 election in Germany, the last before Hitler became dictator. If the Socialists and Communists had banded together, they might likely have prevented the Nazis from seizing power.

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A list of current polls, showing Clinton either just behind or just ahead of Trump, with Jill Stein playing the spoiler.


Argument 4: “The System Is Broken. I Won’t Participate.”

 

  • In spirit I agree with the first part, that our system of elections and politics in general has many, many problems. However, when your car is having issues, you try to fix it — you don’t just abandon it in a pull-out or heavens to Betsy torch it.
  • The best way to fix our system is from within That’s how we ended slavery, passed the Civil Rights Act, created Social Security, ended the Vietnam War, ended Prohibition, enacted the free public education system, and got women the right to vote. None of these struggles was easy, nor was any won by not voting, or voting for doomed candidates.
  • Not participating does not qualify as action. Real action — action that can lead to change — is civil disobedience, armed insurrection, or community organizing. Pick your poison and get to work. But don’t lie to yourself that the act of voting against your best interests will in any way lead to systemic change. Much more likely the opposite.

 

Argument 5: “But the Green Party Is So Great!”

 

  • The Green Party, at the presidential level, is a once-every-four-years pageant for some misguided leftist to feel important and claim there’s zero difference between Republicans and Democrats.
  • If the Green Party is serious about building a movement and achieving real change, it should focus on local elections and build from the ground up. Its efforts in this department can be generously described as just getting going, and more honestly described as effectively nonexistent. The Green Party has only 130 elected officials in the whole country. This, out of more than 511,000 elected offices in the U.S. Do the math to figure out what percentage of offices Greens hold: .03%. If you round up. One in every 3,930 elected officials is a Green.
  • The real opportunities for change exist inside the Democratic Party. Activists are making real progress, and Bernie Sanders’s campaign went a long ways in pushing Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ platform to the left. But she has to win for any of these accomplishments to mean anything.

 

Argument 6: “But Hillary Will Win No Matter What.”

 

  • Want to wager your life on that one? Want to wager someone else’s?

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Number of votes by which Bush beat Gore in Florida: 537

Number of votes cast for Ralph Nader in Florida: 97,488

Number of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq War: 4,424

Number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action in Iraq War: 31,952

Number of Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq War: between 100,000 and 650,000

Translation of “Lift” by Sergei Tretyakov

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Here’s a translation of an obscure Russian poem that I completed five years ago.  Although the translation takes a few liberties, I hope these help capture something of the playfulness of the original. I found this poem in the great anthology Poetry of the Silver Age (Поэзия Серебряного века) published in Moscow by EKSMO in 2002.
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Lift

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by Sergei Tretyakov
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You in darkness read, like a cat,
Small print on snowdrifts.
Vertical is our common path,
The singsong lift.
Just us two in this mobile pantry.
We’ll flirt!
Don’t flinch, with a gaze that’s stingy,
From the wreath of myrtle.
After all, you know, at love play the birds!
Oh! God grant me health!
I quite forgot that your floor’s the third,
And mine — the twelfth.
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(tr. Jasper Henderson, 2011)
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Лифт

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Сергей Третьяков

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Вы в темноте чимаете, как кошка,
Мельчайший шрифт.
Отвесна наша общая дорожка,
Певун-лифт.
Нас двое здесь в чуланчике подвижном.
Сыграем флирт!
Не бойтесь взглядом обиженным
Венка из мирт.
Ведь, знаете, в любовь играют дети!
Ах боже мой!
Совсем забыл, что Ваш этаж — третий,
А мой — восьмой.
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1913

Travelogue 8: Three Ecstatic Moments

What follows is an excerpt from my email travelogue, which I send every week or two while I’m on the road. To subscribe to the mailing list, follow this link. This installment was originally sent out on January 11, 2015.

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Dear Travelogue Readers —
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For the last month I have been living in a hotel called Viraporn’s Place, here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Late at night I squirt my arms and ankles with pungent bug spray and sit in the courtyard to think, or write, or smoke a cigarette. Many nights Viraporn, who I know from the days when she ran a restaurant in Fort Bragg, will bring me grapes on a paper towel, or rose apples on a platter with a knife, or soybeans in a flimsy paper bowl. Yesterday she gave me a section of durian in a plastic sleeve, which I managed to finish even though it smelled like a heap of dirty socks set out to compost and tasted somewhere between minestrone soup and cantaloupe. But it’s not for the beggar to choose, and I was happy for the novelty — and also for the feeling of being cared for, of being in some way at home.

Aside from late-night fruit, my life here is deliberately bland. I wake up, put myself together, tidy the room, and head to a cafe just across the street from the hotel. Here I drink espressos and sometimes eat croissants with butter and marmalade while I tap away on my computer for four hours or so. Till the computer battery dies. I eat a late lunch, usually pad thai, at a restaurant called “The Chef.” The proprietors’ five-year-old daughter watches educational videos to learn English. Characters sing at the supermarket, or they sing about their families. Back at Viraporn’s I write till eight or nine. Over a dinner of khao soi I read my book, which is presently If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino. Before bed I write and read; sometimes I watch a movie.
It’s not tourism or even travel, not in any meaningful sense, and it rarely offers up an adventure worth chronicling in these travelogues. Rather I’m consumed by my work — work I want to be doing.

Yet there are occasional moments of transcendence. Probably these occur with no greater frequency than in my life up to now, but the overriding blandness of most days means that when they do come, they burst forth with stark clarity and blinding beauty. When this happens I’m reduced to laughter or even tears as my heart thumpthumps and my senses tingle with a freshness and alertness I’d like to bring to every last experience, even the most trivial. And perhaps I am getting better at prolonging this state. In this installment of my travelogue I’ll chronicle three of these transcendent moments, along with the surrounding flow of time. I hope you enjoy it.
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Sincerely,
Jasper Henderson
12 December 2015
Chiang Mai, Thailand

TheWhiteFish

28 November 2015. The Black House, Chiang Rai

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Driving in Thailand is a fundamentally bad idea. Thai people are more than three times as likely to perish in a car crash than people in the U.S. are. This is the fourth-worst rate of all nations in the world, barely safer than Libya but considerably more dangerous than Iraq. The perils of driving here apply equally to farang(“persons of white race” according to the Thai government definition), who ride the backs of motorbikes in Chiang Mai with their crutches raised like empty flagpoles, who wander the streets wearing specially-breathable mesh slings on their arms and sticking plaster on their head wounds. If everyone weren’t smiling the idiot grins of those just returned from dawn yoga classes or three-day meditation retreats or “humane” elephant preserves, you might think Thermopylae had just let out. Well, it’s not quite that bad. But close!

A few days after arriving in Chiang Mai, my friend Asa puts me in touch with Li, who is living here for the year studying massage. We get coffee, reminisce about old times (we both lived in the same room our senior years in the Co-op), and with an almost-crazy generosity she invites me on a road trip she and a friend are taking two days later. I agree, and shortly thereafter I’m behind the wheel of a rented economy car, screaming down the left side of the road, terrified. At first I use my horn liberally, imagining I’m still in China, where people drive like maniacs but at least notify each other about it. In short order, though, Li points out the looks of demonic intensity that other drivers are giving me. No one else is honking. No one in the whole damn country honks — even when they’re about to crash into each other or run a pedestrian over! It’s rude to honk. Rather death than offend someone.

We arrive at the immense Singha hobby farm, an immaculately manicured estate that brings glory to the beer co-monopolist. There’s a free music festival tonight called, “Farmfest#4.” As we park the car we see five hot air balloons slowly drifting above the fields. One has the Singha logo and colors; another is in the shape of a pink pig. We eat greasy fried kale and blah green curry at the vanity restaurant. Then we dance and drink with countless young northerners as a procession of Thai Ke$has and Thai Drakes and Thai Psys prance around the stage.

The next morning arrives bright and loud with club music. It’s 7AM. Our tent is right next to the starting line for today’s mountain bike races. The sight of all these fit cyclists warming up and stretching notably worsens my hangover. We eventually make it to the city of Chiang Rai where we visit a tourist attraction called The White Temple. The vanity project of a Thai artist named Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, it’s a distressingly superwhite mess. It’s so much Gaudí-esque whimsy in the general form of a traditional Thai temple. Ornate plasterwork demons, gargoyles, bas-reliefs, and sculptures cover the temple and its bridges. They’re all equally, glaringly white, accented with shards of mirror. A voice from a loudspeaker yells at the throngs of tourists to keep moving. Inside the main temple the walls are painted with an iconographic progression from dark/evil to light/enlightenment. Light is personified at the far end by a mural of the Buddha. Dark is represented on this end by a postmodern pastiche of comic book heroes, Harry Potter, R2-D2, and the burning Twin Towers, which are encircled by two demon-serpents. The other end of one serpent is a gas nozzle. It makes me feel ill — I hate it — but the imagery is also fascinating in its way. Li and I stand there, pointing out different instances of pop culture that stand in for evil in this twisted pantheon, until an attendant asks us to leave.

WhiteTempleIconography

Li and her friend, who is also, distressingly, named Li, get massages while I write in my journal and eat french fries for the first time in months. Then we drive out to the Black House, which everyone calls the Black Temple for obvious reasons of symmetry and tourist marketing. The complex predates and possibly inspired the White Temple. It’s the project of another famous Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee, and I love this place. The main hall is a giant Thai-style audience hall. The walls aren’t covered with frescoes but have big window openings. The rafters stretch up seemingly forever, but the space is dark and cool, with a light breeze. Ornately carved wooden screens divide the space into quadrants, each dominated by a long, narrow table. Each table has a complete crocodile skin covering its length. Some also have python skins complete with head. Giant seashells. The pelts of wild cats. Strange paintings. Folk-art phalli. Posts adorned with antelope horns and elk racks and sculptures of the Buddha.

Around each table — and throughout the whole complex — are peculiar chairs. They’re beautiful and strange: assembled from eight or ten or fourteen swamp buffalo horns, with a leather seat. Mr. Duchanee must have acquired thousands of these horns. Some of the chairs have the height and regality of thrones, with decoratively swooping backs. Others are more low-slung, but each chair looks like just the thing a Cthulhu cultist would sit in.

After the main hall we wander through some of the other structures in the complex. We find giant woven baskets; ancient canoes; posts hung with deer skulls, antlers still on and cradling an old rifle above the skull. When I get tired, I sit at the edge of a small lawn with a black horse picketed in the center. Behind me I can see Mr. Duchanee’s private residence, which also looks like a temple. It’s surrounded by lush plant life and a small pond. In the pond three black swans float and preen, then waddle out of the water and turn up the landscaping. They are strangely iridescent creatures — no white swan has ever looked half so good. I call my friends over and we watch them, entranced.

Just before the complex closes for the evening, Li and I take a quick tour of its many other structures. Some are ancient huts rebuilt here, others tastefully modernist cabins. By the stream there’s a windowless concrete egg that looks like a Martian colonist’s pod. Most of these are closed off to visitors, but we stare through windows at a bear-pelt bedspread; a room with seashells geometrically arrayed on the floor, surrounded by a circle of scary-thrilling horn chairs; the most ornate mother-of-pearl inlaid table I can imagine; a tall-ceilinged room with skulls and horns of every species and size, pillars lined with shark jaws, all arrayed around one great horn throne. This last could be Satan’s audience chamber, if he had a really good interior decorator.

We come across a traditional raised Thai house, built on stilts. The cramped area underneath the house has been filled with heavy dinner tables, each surrounded by a dozen black-horn chairs. The placesettings have odd spoons and horn goblets along with large crystals, polished rocks, and small skulls. A shiver of aesthetic bliss runs down my spine. I imagine the madness that would be a feast at this table, either cultists or a crazy biker gang or poets from a different age. I stand for a long time, staring and dreaming.

A security guard chases us out of the place. We agree to return the next morning before driving to Pai — we need to spend more time at the Black House. But then we screw up counting how many days we’ve rented the car for, and we decide impulsively to drive to Pai that very night. We sleep in our tent on the side of the road. The next morning I come down with debilitating flu, and I barely leave bed for the next week. Misfortune falls on my two tripmates as well. Much later, Li tells me that she had a dream involving a triangle and when she woke up she knew that we had erred in not returning to the Black Temple. I’m sure she’s right.

MeAtBlackTemple

23 December 2015. The Courtyard at Viraporn’s Place, Chiang Mai

Last night another wave of depression crashes onto my back and holds me down, breath held, as I look through picture after picture of days past. Classic self-harm. Like with spicy food, I just keep eating, each new photo promising at least temporary relief. Hundreds and hundreds of photographs. I sleep like a drowned man and stay in bed past noon. This afternoon I can’t write anything except for an angsty journal entry on the uselessness of writing. I need stronger antidepressants than nicotine and espresso. It’s time for the hard stuff: a trip to the bookstore.

The medicine takes immediate effect. Bookstores keep dozens of your favorite friends on shelves, in alphabetic order! After a long browse I settle on three books:Quartet by Jean Rhys, Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville, and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. Before I launch in, though, I need to finish my present book, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Over lunch I read its last pages, including Clarissa’s meditation on suicide as a means of preserving and remaining in the experience of profound beauty, which otherwise can be so fleeting. (I’m appending this paragraph for interested readers [1].) Of course Woolf ended her own life in a sad echo of this passage. I am no fan of suicide, no. But Mrs. Dalloway’s soliloquy by the window — the way she is so flooded with joy or maybe something closer to equanimity or pan-perceptiveness — it’s a glorious and true-singing evocation of the euphoric feeling of transcendence. The topic of this travelogue! The reason why we love, why we keep on going. Also, for some of us at least, the reason we read and write. Virginia Woolf nails it.

Back at Viraporn’s Place I watch a movie and then head outside to dive into Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. When I was seventeen I read the first half of this book, but then I got stuck. The cover of my old copy has the title and the author’s name scrawled in brushy black ink over a sepia field interrupted by thin black lines radiating from a point beyond the rectangle of the book. The edition I’ve just bought features instead the front-end of a classic car rendered in matte white, matte black, and glossy black. It’s a sexy book. The sexiness of books as objects is important and underappreciated, though more about this another time. Before diving into the novel itself (I’ve decided to recommence on page 270), I explore the front and end matter, as one does. In the back I find a compendium of Bolaño quotations, an incomplete list of his other works, dozens of snippets lauding him, and the publishers have also reproduced here a manifesto that he wrote in 1976, twenty-two years before the publication of this novel. Titled “Leave Everything, Again” and translated by David Shook, it fills seven pages. I decide to read the manifesto first.

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First infrarealist manifesto
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“To the outskirts of the solar system there are four light-hours; to the closest star, four light-years. An unmeasured ocean of emptiness. But are we really certain that there is just an emptiness? We only know that in that space there are no luminous stars; by existing, would they be visible? And what if non-luminous or dark bodies exist? Could it not be that on the celestial maps, as on those of earth, that the star-cities are marked and the star-towns aren’t?”
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-Soviet science fiction writers scratching their foreheads at midnight.
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-The infrasuns (Drummond would say the joyful proletariat boys).
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-Peguero and Boris alone in a shanty room, presentient of the wonder beyond the door.
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-Free money.
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The first and second thoughts I had were coterminous: This isn’t how you write a manifesto, and This is exactly how you write manifesto. It’s all inscrutable and provocative and strange. It features Soviet science fiction. I’m hooked.

A few lines later I find the first suggestions for action: “(Search, not just museums house shit) (A process of individual museumification) (Certainty that everything is named, revealed) (Fear to discover) (Fear of unforeseen imbalances).” An exhortation to displace culture from official edifices onto the poet’s own self, no matter the consequences. The manifesto charges on and on, emphatic and confused, self-assured. Sometimes it exults, “-Complex reality, you dizzy us!” At other times it becomes bloody-minded and revolutionary, if also funny: “Like Saint-Just told me in a dream I had a while ago: Even the heads of the aristocrats can serve us as weapons.”

Infrarealists

What really gets me, though, is the youthful wildness that runs through the poem — a sense of excitement about poetry’s power combined with the desire to create anew and so revitalize what has become old, rigid, and stale.

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-A new lyricism, which begins to grow in Latin America, to sustain itself in modes that don’t cease to astonish us. The entry into substance is already the entry into adventure: the poem as a trip and the poet as a hero developer of heroes. Tenderness as an exercise of velocity. Respiration and heat. Disparate experience, structures that devour themselves, crazy contradictions.
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If the poet is mixed up, the reader will have to mix himself up.

                         “misspelled erotic books”
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You can see here the shift from poetic mission to the poetry-reader’s response to a new and heightened awareness of poetry in unexpected places. If there’s a single belief underpinning this manifesto, it’s a certainty in poetry’s power — that a true poem shifts the way you experience the world. I share this belief. Poems have changed my life on several major and countless minor occasions. But it’s easy also to forget about poems, especially in these distracted days, to forget about their power, forget to read them, forget to write them. A manifesto is a way of reminding, of remembering.

As I reach the end of Bolaño’s manifesto, I’ve been charged by so many resonant lines — “-Poets, let your hair down (if you have it) / -Burn your crap and begin to love until you arrive at incalculable poems / -We don’t want kinetic paintings but enormous kinetic sunsets,” — and filled with this burning energy of ambitious, burn-it-all-down youth that I’m laughing and reading in great gulps. The act of writing seems as exciting and dangerous and filled with possibility as it always has been, only I’d forgotten.

Here is the last handful of lines:

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-May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth. May it never kiss us.
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-We dreamed of utopia and we woke up screaming.
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-A poor solitary cowboy that returns to his home, which is wonder.
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              *
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To make new sensations appear—To subvert the everyday.
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O.K.
LEAVE EVERYTHING, AGAIN
       HIT THE ROAD

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It’s a recipe not for happiness but for poetry. And, as the young Roberto Bolaño generously, crazily reminds me, poetry matters.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I write my own manifesto, “Fuck Off We’re Working.”

TheBestWayToHurt-Recovered

1 January 2016, Rooftop Bars at Maya Shopping Mall, Chiang Mai

The New Year is greeted on a dark street in Chiang Mai by a knot of French and English speakers. William predicted hours earlier that we would end up celebrating it in a parking lot between his shared house and the mall. So we did. The francophones kiss each other on both cheeks and give each other wishes for 2016. The Americans kiss on the lips, but chastely, if that’s possible. When the French and the Americans embrace it’s awkward for everyone.

We continue into the unpleasant multiverse that is a contemporary nightclub. Strobing lights, lasers, thumps of sound, strangerfaces. To the south a half-moon rises like a bowl of café au lait, floating and not spilling on the table of the horizon because we’re so near the equator. I miss the jaunty angle it takes in higher latitudes. Further up in the sky, a drone banks back and forth, up and down, its camera ravenous and lonely. Drunk Thai people and drunk farang mix and separate. No one dances to the incoherent club-hop. I drink more. Someone in our group gets a Chinese lantern, and we light the pitchy ring of fuel. Before the lantern achieves adequate lift, we drop it off the side of the building. It lands on a catwalk and fire eats the thin paper. Someone pours the end of a beer onto it — it’s going to be a helluva year.

At some point I stand alone at the base of a low concrete amphitheater. I’m standing where a stage would be, but the light-towers are behind me, the beams roving brightly over the clusters of people sitting or standing in the amphitheater. I stand there watching three scenes.

1. Two men stand at an oblique angle to each other, gesticulating with their beers. One is carrying is carrying a long monologue. He wears a carefully shaped gruff of facial hair that I associate with the brogrammers who here term themselves “digital nomads.” The other is clean-shaven and blandly cute — he tries hard to listen over the throb of sound.

2. A white guy in his thirties looms over a Thai girl whose tight red dress clings to her large breasts and slim posterior like saran wrap. They seem to be in the middle of a negotiation. Probably sexual, possibly fiscal. She says something and points at the exit with her plastic cup, but when he takes her arm and tries to walk there with her, she stops him. She’s in control here.

3. Seated on one of the concrete shelves are a chubby-buff Thai guy and a white boy with the haze of a few days’ beard. Their legs touch, and they’re evidently involved in intimate conversation. At one point the Thai guy takes out a cigarette and goes to light it, but he notices the approbating look of his partner and puts the lighter away. The white cigarette stays in his hand like a prop — he gestures with it, folds his fingers around it in different configurations, forgets about it, remembers. They share a quick kiss and lapse into contented silence.

2. The woman in the red dress is now explaining something at great length to the man, who has bent over to put his ear near her mouth. He shakes his head in a sign of confusion, and she keeps talking. She holds a rectangular black clutch hard against her right wrist. The man straightens up and looks confused or perhaps a little disappointed.

1. The brogrammer is still talking at the other guy, who now looks a little bored, a little anxious to escape. He has turned to face the crowd below and runs his eyes from face to face. The brogrammer doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He keeps talking.

3. The Thai boy has lit his cigarette and blows the smoke out in a narrow, careful cone. He’s smoking like an actress from the ’50s. His partner is leaning back on his elbows and watching carefully.

2. The white guy says something and reaches out to draw the Thai lady towards him for a kiss. She pulls away ever so slightly, tipping her head back and to the side so that her neck shows. A coquettish refusal. The man also pulls back. She smiles with what looks to be actual pleasure. They recommence their negotiation, or conversation, or whatever it is they’re talking about over the loud strobes of sound and light.

This all unfolds as I stand there, watching this diorama, trying to remember each gesture, each face, the shiver and thrill of these strange people with their unfathomed lives and mysterious smiles. Their hidden stories that you could almost reach out and touch. Almost.

The prime factors of 2016 are 25, 32, and 7. In my opinion, these don’t have anything on the crazy numerological power of 2015, which reduces to just 5, 13, and 31. But all indications are that it will be a good year for creeping on people.

Most of our group leaves the club and heads to a party in a different brogrammer’s big, tasteless house. On the third floor people sit around a TV singing karaoke. I flee to the rooftop balcony and swig wine from an open bottle, steal a pack of cigarettes off the table. I fill a comically tall glass of box wine and then abandon it. Soon Amélie and I leave the party and walk back to William’s house, where her motorbike and my backpack are. The place is locked up, though, and no one’s picking up their phones, so I put myself to sleep on the front porch. I wake at five — cold, half-drunk, half-hung-over. I decide to give up. As soon as I get going down the street back to the old city I run into William and company coming the other way. He lets me into his house. I take my bag and walk back to the old city past monks doing their morning ablutions, trash men emptying the last few bins, and a few of the wretched, like me, who are greeting the new year with bleary eyes and dreams of bed, which I eventually reach.

Bougainvillea-Recovered

I’d like to thank Li for taking the picture of me at Baan Dam and letting me share it here — and for being my Chiang Mai friend and taking me on this adventure to Chiang Rai and Pai.

A Brume of One’s Own

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“At this moment, I expel a minor traveler’s flatulence (sorry), and with it, I experience the same chivalry he’d offered when putting Kate to bed, as he pretends not to notice. We escape its subtle brume, and I join my colleagues inside the bungalow.” — Sean Penn, Rolling Stone, January 9
th, 2016.

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elchaposeanpennhandshake.
Joaquín Archivaldo ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, Altiplano Prison: “Subtle? That is the very last word that I would use to describe what happened in that room. When I was a boy I sold special birds at the market every day, because we were very poor. The men would take these into the mines to test for poisonous gas. If I still sold those birds then Mr. Sean Penn would have destroyed my business. But I don’t sell those birds anymore. Instead I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines. Let me promise you this: Mr. Sean Penn will never be allowed on one of my submarines.”

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Kate del Castillo, Mexico City: “I was asleep, but Sean woke me up. I knew he was a powerful man, but I never knew how powerful. Mr. Penn’s special talent will be an important tool in the coming revolution.”

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El Chapo’s Head Caterer, In The Hills of Sinaloa: “Everyone knew something bad was about to happen. The gringo ate ate too many tacos. It seemed like he didn’t want the enchiladas or the steak. He unfortunately ignored the first rule of Mexican food: don’t eat more than six tacos. But there was no stopping this American. He ate one after another while he gossiped with El Chapo. I estimate he ate seventeen tacos. There were none left for anyone else! Soon the gringo’s stomach swelled and his face turned the color of two-day-old blood. The first person to notice was El Chapo, I think, when he came back from escorting the actress to bed. He made a signal, and all of his soldiers went to get their guns and put on bulletproof vests. I don’t believe the gringo had any idea how much damage he would cause. Only yesterday I burned the down hut where it happened. The priest said an exorcism was out of the question.”

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DEA Agent Moslin Rorby, Reykjavik: “It was a matter of the first importance that we locate and neutralize El Chapo, by whatever means necessary. There was a good lead: we had tortured a known associate of his, who told us that El Chapo liked his carne asada from a specific restaurant in Mazatlán. We arranged for the latest shipment to be laced with Polonium-210. Then we waited. But no one expected Mr. Penn to eat all of the tacos, and I think we all can say it was some kind of divine intervention that caused his body to isolate and expel the poison. Roughly forty minutes after the offgassing our sensors detected and were able to pinpoint the source of the isotope. You could say that Mr. Penn’s unique gastro-intestinal powers provided the final piece in the puzzle of locating El Chapo.”

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Barack Obama, The Oval Office: “Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States in co-ordination with Mexico has conducted an operation that captured Joaquín Guzmán, also known as ‘El Chapo’ or ‘Shorty,’ the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Or as Sean Penn would say, a simple man from a simple place.”

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Alfredo Guzmán, El Chapo’s Son, Mexico City: “After my father’s capture, some people in our organization reached out to Mr. Sean Penn. They explained that El Chapo wanted to do a follow-up interview from inside prison, and of course Mr. Penn agreed and promised to cross the border as soon as possible. Before we go to visit my father, though, I will take Mr. Sean Penn out to a big taco lunch. I have every reason to believe my father will be a free man once again.”

Fuck Off We’re Working

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A Manifesto for the Left Hand

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The Best Way to Hurt
1. I write poems because this year they forgot to tell me not to.
2. I write poems because rhythm is true and image too. Rhyme only sometimes.
3. We poets are like this, we first think of ourselves as poets and then start writing poems.
4. We’re poets foremost because of the pay. No faster path to the proletariat than writing poems.
5. The privelege of the bourgeois is to want to be proletariat, to imagine themselves proletariat, to use the word proletariat.
6. I sit all day in a cafe in Chiang Mai and hate myself. Fuck you poetry.
7. The best way to hurt is to hurt out loud, then your suffering can touch others.
8. We’re not after suffering, but we’re not about to lie either.
9. If no one reads poems, then everything can be said.
10. For instance: there are three clay piglets laughing their little oinkers off inside the back of a wood swan. This is no lie.

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Lies Are…
11. Lies are the bedrock of truth, just like California sometimes turns liquid. Fragility is strength. Anything that can’t bend isn’t worth giving a fuck.
12. Be weak. Be weaker. Ultimate weakness is the only true strength.
13. We are porous and cold. Our revolution is private and successful. Our secret police are interior and command no respect. Anarchy without bricks.
14. The first time you get small it’s a relief, like getting so drunk you think you’re a baby.
15. The second time you get small it’s a lifestyle, your body reduced to a mouth.

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We’re against bicycle shorts
, saying goodbye, Adbusters, crayon color names, sellouts, purists, sports team ownership, zoos, the funnies, food nazis, nazi nazis, meat eaters, vegans, plastic wrap, cohabitation, the rich, people who really care about grammar, taking, literary prizes, small talk, enjambment, people who want money, adults, suntan oil, narcs, raw foodism, hysterical modernism, jealousy, places where there aren’t enough fat people, luddites, immortality, prescriptions, bad impressions, national borders, walking single file, car accidents, banjos, William Tell, dreds, diamonds, bros, lads, rice burners, hogs, hookups, rape, marriage, self-absorption, anti-semitism, parking garages, telling the same story twice, smartphones, people who don’t pick up their dog’s shit, quotidia, wars, Walt Disney, atheists, people who say vinyl sounds better, captive animals, cutpurses, male-only organizations, conspiracy theories, the idea of the man, dating apps, the genocide of American Indians, phlegmatism, words like “agency” and “patriarchy,” the Patriarchy, patricide, centralized religion, happy pills, received ideas, two parties, cockfights, selflessness, human sacrifice, monarchy, people who can’t take a hint, nihilism, drunkenness, ambition, general anesthesia, proud enemies of the revolution, poisoners, car alarms, social media, putting to death, public health campaigns, people who can but don’t, endings.
16. I hurt so I hurt so I hurt.

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Our Method
17. Our method is to keep on going. Our method is to have no fucking clue. Our method is to change without acknowledging we were wrong. Our method is to go blind staring at the moon.
18. The time to sit still is once the last palace has been reduced to ashes in your mind. Finish your damn cigarette.
19. The time is now to get all aphasic and weird.
20. Our way is the weirding way.
21. People who dress up like pirates always just want to have sex.
22. First they turn off your water. Then they turn off your power. Then you can keep living there for a while because eviction takes time. Sit unbathed in the dark. Eat crackers.
23. Never trust a poet who gives advice. Poets only want to break things.
24. The sounds of sex are disgusting and honest. We’re animals. Just try and forget this, just try.

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We’re for therapists
, sleepwalkers, one-time arsonists, ugly pottery, hypnosis, art deco, selfies, symbolic languages, bb guns, pot farmers, all red-haired people, being so fucking lonely you start seeing things, scientific drawings, purposeful sadomasochism, rowdy funerals, regular brushing of the teeth, cigarettes, catfights under the house, crying every time, Russian versification, tarot readers, soup kitchens, getting hungry, hellraising, texmex, dictionaries, vaccinations, farce, flamingos, snake breeders, coffee, costume jewelry, vampires, kinky shit, weird sex, male non-orgasm, all that’s semi-precious, shroomies, email, rituals, little shops where they sell rocks, flower gardens, GMOs, UFOs, playing god, people with strange laughs, boomboxes, dresses, bodies, gaits, tics, love affairs, bagpipes, doing nothing, watercolors of fruit, Venice and other sunken eyes of the world, death, the contemplation of death, youthful hubris, constellations, geomancy, the throwing dagger act, space travel, the way butterflies move, every last gender, beautiful curse words, houses with garages, osteopaths, Tolstoy, universal literacy, everyone writing poems, veterinarians and luthiers and all those who fix things and set bones, castrating overpopulation alarmists, night walks, people who close their eyes in public, witch doctors, every language, psalmodists, bakers, backpacks, watermelons with seeds, fistfights, holding hands, running away, toolchests, pie baking, bottomless desire, landscapers, fiat currency, all catalogs, nonviolent resistance, being made fun of, people who stay in their room all day, kissing your friends, beet juice, dirty jokes, oral sex, northern lights, florists, tailors, slobs, barnraising, swimming across the current, over-wrought metaphors, celibates, specificity, full moon drumming, always blood, comfortable bras, misshapen things, used books, inconsistency, hair-raising, the skepticism of youth, black magic, hairdos, amateur porn, churchbells, distant relations, visions, Poe, audio sampling, cookbooks, space travel, initiation, infrared and ultraviolet, godmouths, explosions, echoes, wild empathy, chlorophyll b, submarines, worker’s strikes, threesomes, theremins, hats, waitresses, poems about suicide, particle accelerators, the possibility of hell, sailboats, quinceañeras, stick shifts, cougars, mirrorbreaking, deserts, being prolific, abusing language, assosociative logic, harebraining, masturbating to sleep, dream journals, popcorn, making your bed, unsubscribing from magazines, avoiding the internet, rowdy peace, I’ll fuck anything that moves, deicide, earnestly weird, harpoonists, the cyclops, second violins, synecdoche, literalism, nonsense, incandescence, inflorescence, memory, making shit up, veneers, makeup, makeup sex, fear of the dark, beautiful voyeurs, hit the road, all that’s left, overthinkers, slap dice, forget-me-nots, argonauts, lust.
25. I itched so I itched so I itched.

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The Best Thing
26. Every time I get sad I think about people entirely covered in tattoos. Tattoos on their eyelids, tattoos on their clitori. It’s incredible, like they were drowned in ink, more thorough than Achilles. They are the ultimate run-on sentences.
27. After a strongblowing rainstorm New York City is littered with umbrellas. They flap in the warmwind like ravens. Caw! Caw!
28. The best thing we can do is arrange marriages between words. Piccolodick. Trustfall (doubtful). Stormblow. Harespeed. Iambomaniac. Iambonambulate. Charmsquall.
29. The secondbest thing we can do is help words divorce. Best, man. Hello, kitty. Cart, wheel. Spelling, bee. Hard, on. Loud, mouth. Scar, face. Far, flung. Michael, Angelo. New, testament. Second, best.
30. Forget microfiction, forget nanofiction — introducing, the one, the only: duofiction. Is it one word? Is it two words? Can you extrapolate an entire story from the comma? Only you can find out — tonight! At the circus on the edge, of town.
31. Coins, copulating.
32. We don’t need to invent new languages, only bastardize old ones.
33. We acknowledge authority because we acknowledge everything, in the way that a driver acknowledges a pothole: by swerving around it.

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Already One Could Say We Are Dead
34. Our role models are all dead so we know we will die too. Already one could say we are dead because no one reads our poems.
35. Just like we start by saying we’re poets and then write some poems in case anyone asks, we start by writing a manifesto and then we read it for directions.
36. Manifesto writers all say we even though we know we’re just one, a solitude, a singularity — because we represent all!
37. Oh ye of appropriately little faith.
38. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they write listicles about you.
39. The only reason to write poems is if you’re planning on dying.
40. Don’t stop. Don’t ever fucking stop. Don’t oh god yes.
41. Forget all the things you learned on the streets. Forget all the things you learned in school. Only pay attention to the messages in the sky, the rotten things you do in your dreams, the way the heat curls off the pavement.
42. The only profession that rivals the poet is that of the fireman. She sees through smoke. She preserves what is half-wrecked. She arrives in a hurry but lingers at the scene. She trains every day, but her main weapon is bravery.
43. The mistake everyone else makes is thinking it matters. We know only bodies matter, and even they end pretty quick.
44. We use words like fireworks. Sometimes there’s an accident and you just pray no one’s hurt.
45. In some places all the dogs like to nap in the middle of the street. We’re the dogs who nap in the middle of the street and won’t wake up even when horns honk and humans scream. We know you won’t run us over so fuck off. We’re working.
46. Sometimes forgetfulness hurts.