Thursday, December 05, 2019

the strike in France

There is no more telling symbol of my lackadaisical – my bobo – leftism than the fact that as I write this, I am enjoying a manifestation in the little sidestreet near us in the Marais. Enjoying it, in fact, from our terrace. Adam, my boy, home from school because of the strike, and I have enjoyably stamped around the terrace swinging our arms and shouting Macron démission! I have a strong suspicion that the little group of militants, who are stopping the traffic on the Charlot, have slipped the cop net. Adam, who is convinced that all manifestation end in the throwing of lachromygene by the police, is expecting this denouement. Myself, I am not,  since driving a crowd up a narrow street is an invitation to disaster, but it is always possible, given the ultra-authoritarian tendencies of Macron’s horrible interior minister (the cop minister), Christophe Castaner, surely the worst cop minister since the dark days of the early seventies, when Raymond Marcellin declared war on the “ultra-left”. The Macronist theme of casseur, which, in my opinion, was a threat meant to bring out casseur and discredit the gilets jaunes, is waved around time and time again as Macron attacks social security in France, radically shifts the tax burden to the working class, and in general views himself as a Thatcherite modernizer.
Talk to any French conservative and they will tell you that France is a conservative country. This counters the image that dances in the heads of American lefties, dreaming of the Commune and such. But there is a great deal of truth in it, enough truth that it works against the liberal fantasies of the Thatcherite modernizer. The French like government subventions, they like vacations, they like social security, national healthcare, and free higher education not because they are leftists, but because they are a national inheritance stemming not just from the Popular Front 30s, but from the dirigiste Gaulliste 60s. Mitterand, that political chameleon, sealed the deal. True, the 35 hour work week is dead – but it was never very alive even after it became law. That desire to “keep your stuff” is working against Macron, whose contempt for the attitude, even as his stuff is the typical Davos crowd stuff, keeps his approval rating pretty low. In fact, I would not at all be surprised if Le Pen gave him a much bigger run for his money in the next election. Le Pen has tapped into the conservatism of the French vis-à-vis the dirigiste state – and we now know that Macron wants a sort of Gaullist foreign policy and a Thatcherite domestic one, the first of which has an appeal or interest only to Le monde’s editorial functionaries, and the second of which is the sure road to unpopularity, already gone down by Juppé in the 90s.
As I am finishing this up, the militants are still chanting in the cold December street. So far, so good.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

No time for Political Nostalgia

The GOP won’t vote for impeachment ever, but I’m glad the Democrats have decided to expand it – cause the more infuriatingly corrupt we find Trump to be, the better for the Democrats – obviously. But it is time to see a bit into the future. If, as I expect, the Democrats elect a president next Nov., Trump is not going away. He is going to sit on Fox news and punish any republican who dares cooperate in any way with the Democratic president. I think, frankly, this is what Obama should have done to Trump, but Obama. has never really understood that underneath the racist posturing of the Republican politicians, they really are racist, sexist, and contemptuous of democracy. They are not the friendly debater Republicans he met at Harvard. Anyway, forget cooperation. It will be political warfare. So the Democratic president will have to be in campaign mode for at least the first two years of the presidency – by which I mean leveraging legislative loss into campaign issues to blow up Republican incumbents. Otherwise, it will just be a farce, and Democratic voters won’t turn out in the midterms, etc. In other words, don’t replay Obama’s disastrous bi-partisan longing from 2009-2011.
My instincts about loss and win are, I know, based on my partisanship, my idea of what would be good to do in the face of all the forces with which we will soon have to reckon in earnest – from climate change to the deathgrip of the Davos crowd on our societies. I like to think that if the common people knew their own self interest, they would vote my way. But this is an awful egotistical presumption, and not a good one to go from in judging the mass phenomena of voting. On the other hand, it is not egotistical at all to observe that voters are moving towards a new paradigm everywhere, as the old Cold War/neoliberal order splits up. And in this new paradigm, the left – even the lukewarm liberal – must throw out all the old bipartisan, unifying concepts that allowed for the postwar deal, in effect welding civil rights gains to a politics that mostly surrendered to Capital in its current form, the corporation. In neolib thinking, NAFTA and gay marriage are somehow bound up with each other, so that if you are for one, you are for the other. This arbitrary synthesis has been shattered in the popular consciousness, though not among the upper class, as reflected in the major media.  
There’s a story put out by moderate Democrats of the Joe Biden/Pete Buttigieg type that we have to “talk to each other”, reach across the aisle, etc. This feel-good vibe is based more on nostalgia than anything else. Whether moderate or liberal, the Democratic president, from her first day in office, will face a figure who has long ago trashed the ethos of compromise for the art of the dirty deal. Unless Trump dies, no Republican politician will be able to escape his power in the party, and he will blatantly exercise that power. The old days are dead and gone. The last president who refused to go away was Teddy Roosevelt. He briefly split the system, but the Republican party recovered. This time, I don’t think things will be so simple.
The idea that the Democrats can find a way of governing with the Republicans is as dead as NATO. Only the Republicans get what they want under the current system. Vicious and continuing partisanship is being thrust upon the Democrats, under a leadership that hates it. I think that the Democrats should take a look around them, at, for instance, the Socialist Party in France, and realize something: they can easily dissolve after a presidential victory. Governance has to give precedence to partisanship before governance can actually happen, in the current circs.

Monday, December 02, 2019

all the Karen Chamisso poems so far

I'm thinking that I need to print these out in traditional chapbook form. Anyway, this is a part of The misogynist stripped by the bachelorettes, even, Chamisso's second collection.

They’re going, 3-2-1

The intentions of the Burning Bush
Would make a good study for those who come armed
To wrestle with the Angel
Spread sheets in hand.

Oh, this Eldorado of all the Old Boys!
Already they are on another planet,
Though inconvenient biology
Has Excel-ed them in for death.

Meanwhile the Burning Bush
Bides its time, having wasted
Its word on a desert no account.  Its “I”
Was the breath of life to me, once.

Meditations in the Laundry Room with Leila, 1988

The wrinkles yield with sexual abandon
to the furious onslaught of the iron
bullish, implacable

as though the panics of the tumble dry
the labyrinth of hot water
had never been.

They always say, it never happened.
They say, this won’t hurt. They, they
-- chthonic emissaries of the ironing board.

As if there will never again
be cakefall and sweat
or the ecstatic piddle of the dreadful night.

Still, who am I
fumblefingered at the fringes
to scoff at a sheet so beautifully folded?  

Make mine a double

The elaborately sculpted sigh
Seems to be a British art
Cultivated by recused poets
Continually serving on this or that honors committee

Rewarding other elaborately sculpted sighs.
And yes, they make a certain impression:
The manor house is fallen down
And the family Rubens is in sad shape altogether.

That particular English accent
Is serving out the end of its life sentence
As a spy, ensconced in some dark paneled pub
Doling out the compromising photos it took.

Beauty is the captive you give
to the messes you have made
- not the tragedy of Hamlet’s father, poisoned
but an anonymous termite in its mud tunnel kingdom
ridden by a nerve agent from the treatment zone
strangling in its unshed skin.

It will turn out, it will always turn out
That pesticide traces will out last
Whatever incipient tumor in my gut
Is planning its knight’s move up the board.

Rape and the season

The girl told the tall old man in the palace later
that they reached the meadow around ten
the one near the sacred spring.

All the girls tumbled down the slight slope
or played tag. Their mistress preferred
to weave garlands out of the flowers

that grew in such abundance there.
It was near noon when suddenly
a fault line branched across the entire meadow

it was black, but not like the rich loam
that the plow will breach back, it was another kind of black
basalt, eclipse, darker.
Out of the lightning  fault rose up
on black horses a party half man half wolf
at their head a man in a lion’s skin.

The ancient man exchanged a look
with his subordinate, who grabbed the girl
in mid sentence, his rough hand, her thin arm squeezed

and dragged her away. Bad luck to be such a witness.

Once upon a time I had a roommate in college. Every Friday, she’d go to the store and bring back a big bag of marshmallows (colored ones – for some reason, I could particularly not abide the pinks) and a stack of magazines. Vogue Elle InStyle Vanity Fair Cosmo. She’d pile them up on the floor and, eating her marshmallows, lie there on her belly and leaf through the pages of each magazine in turn. She’d finish, and then she’d get her scissors and, putting the magazines on her desk, would cut out certain suspect phrases and images. Some of these she would store in a cigar box, some she would glue to a big swathe of butcher paper she’d pinned to her wall. Soon it was crowded with a thick impasto of smiles, bosums, high heels, inspirational phrases, advertisement captions and titles: “The Tears behind the Cheers”;  “a special alchemy with women's naked bodies with a camera”; “fills a lot of fantasies”. She said that she was most interested in one particular class of misogyny, which she called auto-femphobia: women hating women.

She looked up and Dis like the leader of the Wild Bunch
leaned forward on his well oiled saddle
a look she now can’t help but know on his face
interrupted her

in that life that now seems
a perpetual gathering of flowers.
He swept her up. As she let fall
the flowers, he whooped and galloped away.

That very hour by bruise and battery
the audience at home has seen too often
in police photos with voiceover
he ravished her

the daughter of a VIP.  
It became a cold case in spite of her mother
who hired a detective
who interviewed the girls, found the muddied skirt.

I appreciated the project, but I didn’t see any gratifying end point to it. And also, didn’t it become, itself, with its radiating negativity, its femphobic? Auto-Femphobia disguised as the critique of auto-femphobia. What would you call that? Too, all the pink marshmallows were grossing me out.

In the end, on Olympus, her grandfather confessed
“He’s my brother. I owe him.”
Her mother made her own threats.
A deal was reached.

In the silhouette world
she sat on a throne
and forgot flowers altogether.
Why eat? Outlines fed

On bull’s blood, howling for it.
Her skin felt it, she couldn’t wash away tastes
that were in their mouths.
Deal – deal – deal.

In the flicker of her husband’s notice
she took on an icy clarity, pleasing to him.
Reliving her black and blue
through all the intervening layers

that he would drill through, relentless.
Refusing everything with small gestures
after the first day
when she made the mistake of eating the seeds.

Then, one night, she stunned me. She told me that I was auto-femphobic. She said, in fact, that I was the boss mama of auto-femphobia on the campus. Me.

Her grandfather had foreseen that too
those six seeds were the death of her
the seasons growing out of rape and anorexia

« Et maintenant vous m’avez arraché quelque chose
que je n’ai plus et que vous n’avez même pas. »

The next week I moved out. A friend of mine in the dorm, who lived two stories above us, had a roommate she couldn’t agree with about anything. So we made an exchange, with that roommate moving in with marshmallow girl and me moving in with my friend. A sort of structuralist pleasing exchange, exogamy among roommates.
I never spoke to my ex-roommate after that, although we did share a few classes. I was relieved to see that she didn’t stalk me. I had it in my mind that she was the stalkier type.  She lived her life, I lived mine.

In the midst of my salt and pepper life
I found myself drown-dead in a mollusque sportif.

I have a gal pal who shops at Big Lots
and buys cereal in the largest boxes

I have a gal pal who likes to wear foxes
but only on bad days, homebound, with a freshened drink.

I found myself ideating like mad
over the throb of the motor running

in the parking lot at Big Lots one Georgia winter day.
Wintry, isn’t that what poets say? The Victorians. Wintry.

Leila run my bath and let my salt n peppa sleep
amidst the bubbles, I pray my Lord my soul to keep.

If not the Lord, then a nice little SSRI
Girlfriend get out the car.

What is it Marlene says? What can you say about people.
Ma’am get out of the vehicle.

I have gal pals and I have lovers
And a year would be nice under the covers.

I got out of the car.

Fat Swede, family friend, personal haunt
I grew downward in your shadow like an icicle
with no shadow of my own to throw over my shoulder
like a cape.

It was blinding, blinding the visions and the revelations
and never a new next message from all the crowded void
of positive thought and piety. It was as if
all the fireflies were dead in the jar -
we took their light on faith, never thinking
to add our own dim wit.

If we glowed
it was under the covers,
buried away from our own eyes
in descents of the body
bodies in bodies unknowing
descents and ascents, no vocabulary for the bitter or sweet.

The scraping of chair legs on linoleum tile floors
and a leftover biscuit smell in the air -
Reverend Toland’s message tonight concerns the Wise Virgins
like the Girl Scouts, always prepared -
while Sally, Mae and me in the back row giggle
and whisper “touched for the very first time”
in counterpart to the message.
Touch, tag, waystations and squiggle
a Sunday like any other, great Swede,
my medium, my foe.
Message done, prayers,  now everyone fold chairs
and stack them. Out we file
until the last of us is gone, and the monitor
turns out the lights. I alone am left
‘touched for the very first time’ to this far insomniac station
a world of time and lapses away.

Autobiographical sketch for Pest Control Monthly
Once upon a time, apocalypse was interesting.
We all moved out of the cities
To somewhere beyond the dartboard
SAC hid in its briefcase.

There, of course, roads were cut, sewers laid.
Trees went down, and other trees for shade
Were planted, and insects went to work.
They were in the dart board now.

Rachel Carson was interviewed and died.
Some poet, I’ve read, came up with the perfect line:
Raid kills bugs dead. Wasn’t that the Cold war?
All of the Weltgeist in four words. Bravo!

Finally (I’m buying. Let’s get the Yquem Sauterne, my dear,
You’ll love it!) I came to rest on a trillion soldiers slain
All those red ant, all those termite legions.
We had a lot of money for those reasons.

Apocalypse, after many a rehearsal, flopped.
The bomber’s dartboard was forgotten. All the cute tenements
Were bought, after we purged the tenants.
The tenants were on their own dartboard now. Done!
Xenophanes said that the dogs would claim
that the gods were dogs
if dogs could form propositions
and if any of these propositions
were about gods.

This was Xenophanes argument against the gods
since, for Xenophanes, the gods couldn’t be dogs
as dogs are low and gods are high.
Consequently, we should not think of the gods as humans
which would be a doggish error.
Consequently, we don’t know what gods are.
Consequently, our claims about gods are empty.

I am not at all convinced
Mosquito gods, bacteria gods, warbler gods
are exactly as improbable
as mosquitos, bacteria and warblers.

“I always take candy from strangers”
I plucked out of Happy as my dancing maxim
when I was 15, in 1985, in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Could I turn my back on louder this,
never not take for taking’s bliss

any last thrill.
At forty, do I recognize it still?
   (pluck the strings, turn up the amp)
or has caution crept into my taking

Passer les annonces

Betsy Ross said: the candle’s genius is the flame. The flame’s food is the candle. But what is the flame’s genius?

Betsy Ross said: Just as the left hand is not the double of the right hand, so, too, my shadow is not the double of me. Just as the left hand is not the negation of the right hand, so, too, my shadow is not the negation of me. One hand longs for the other. Do I long for my shadow?
One day, the kindly Doctor Bell
told my parents, who were also kind
to hie me to the children’s hospital
and sign there all the forms that bind:
Party A, first names blank and blank
To Party B, for a novel therapy
with regard to C, first name blank
shall impose no liability
(Party C, sign Scorpio
was at this time about eight or so).
How long was I there? A certain hand
pulls down in my memory a blanking veil
I remember dad saying, understand?
and how one night seems to prevail
over all others – when I saw I was bound
to understand one thing about being lost:
torn away forever the sheen of being found
for which, since, I’ve paid a little cost.

Panic Attack No. 5
… what was it I was saying?
I know my bill of rights, thank you very much.

I know the tape is running. I know the camera’s on.
I know the lord of dark corners and the third degree
Knows all my disappointments and my little fun
You say, we’re done here. We’re done.
The prowler is parked a block from the shattered glass
He’s here for the order, girls, forget about the law.
The always wrong the shadowless the sucker and the goof
Can forget about proving jack, he always has the proof
Of their little disappointments and their little fun
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.
No, the sentence before that one, what did I say?
I’ve always had the money not to have to see
I go to the opening nights, always have a place to pee.
In the cold dark corners they are lighting matches what the hell
My little disappointments… my little fun …
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.

Plenty is a closet full of shoes
Shoes strewn across the landscape
The dead soldiers shod, and shed, and still dead
This is not what I think
When the open-toed sandal, the two inch heel
The snakeskin boots approach and lick me
Yet stricken from all the mirrors
How shall I know if within me
I’m not lying already among the body count?

The Sprinklers
The males just stare at each other
She says, dismayed,
Holding them in her hand
Above the season-dulled yellow
Of a garden hose, by some hand roughly cut.

It is in the jungulated hole
we’ve tried to stuff the coupling
-male – and now stand clueless before the next step.
At our feet, the carboard box holds couplings, all male
And next to it, a male-laden sprinkler.

In an iconic flash I see
Some demonic truth unfold all at once.
Goddess, is this just for me?
This scene, this garden
This scanty grass, this hindmost Eden?

Never will such plumbing be joined.
Oh fuck it. I’ll just water by hand
She says, dropping brass to earth
And kicking the sprinkler aside.
Oh fuck it. And off she strides.

Susanna and the elders
Then Susanna sighed and said, I am straited on euery side: for if I doe this thing, it is death vnto me: and if I doe it not, I cannot escape your hands.
Prodigal daughter of a dynasty down
to its lottery tickets and genetic drift
who gets around, she gets around
they say, eyepinned to her rosy pink shift.
All the peeps in this keyhole diorama
are crazy bout her “going in euery day and walking”
yes, and the bubbles, the whole nudie drama, yes
gets the uncles all stiff and stalking
with their rattrap tight scenario as wanker’s will
comes unzipped as in the dream
threaten the dumb puss she’ll spill
diagrammed out for the whole dumb team.
In my version there’s no dick Daniel
although in the foreground put the angel with the sword.
It all moves so smoothly and it’s the girl
who is lied and died crying out for the Lord.
How many nude girls find in the end that nudity’s become
a stranger to them when they’d only just begun
to get the hang of it?
from the elders’ eyes to the sextext sent
from some ill-lit and ill-gotten incident.


The poet at the Winn-Dixie
The grocery store clerk has taken
as her subject
the prices themselves, in all their ambiguity.

You may take your mayonnaise
-- bag of chips – sixpack
to her line, but she will dispense

with the x dollars and the y pence
marked, and make of the price
what her impression yields.

At the end of the process
you may stand stripped and bankrupt
but you now really know what mayonnaise costs.

We felt the weight of the rain waiting
in the un-airconditioned house in N.
for the rain to come down. Anti-climax in the evening

when mere dribble was our lot. We went out, we went in
bitching, spraying anti-moustique freely, scanning our bites
- such were our days, and such were our nights.
I want, like all the new age ladies, to chill the fuck out
- to be filled with some Zen-like, topaz peace
as though I were a bathtub long and large I could fill
and lounge until I found mineral salt release.
But under this mumpy sky, release is not to be or begin.
Pound dogs prowl and howl under my skin.

The dames came out of the cards
The broads came out of the gangster's lounge act
The ladies came out of the front pew

The sluts were dragged from the pressmetal mouth of the locker
Ribs ribs ribs
The desert is strewn with our ribs.
I asked: can these bones live?
God sez: what kind of odds do you give?

The Beach Republic
Les Hommes se haïssent entre eux naturellement
Said the Jansenist mook to his flame. I disagree
But I can see
The mood. On the esplanade, above the curving beach
- a plantation of sand and mud and the tide coming in -
August, and the republic is in full swing:
Some build castles with buckets, some play with balls
Some gather shells from the tide’s edge, some head to the stalls
Where they can change or pee or buy a cone.
Self directed play for some, for other’s ocean revery -
And nobody worried about territory.
I count all the bright towels – their expansive flutter
Laid down against the damp sand and low breeze.
Around here the bathers are not in each other’s elbows –
The northern water in this small Breton burg
Holds a clean, bourgeois attraction
Unlike the Mediterranean or the Florida coast
And boasts a lesser crowd.
Families, mostly. Here, the blood beef back of a man
His burdens fallen from him, is turned
Utterly to the rays of the weltering sun.
We hate no one here, sister. The wind tears
The shrieks of kids, throws them out to sea.
The waves come in
With curlers in their hair, leaving
Old lobstermen and pleasure craft to scramble in their wake.
I envy that man. How I would like my days
To be spent on a towel, until the hour comes round
To have a drink and then another.
To eat one lobster and then its brother.
Hate each other? No. But from the esplanade I can see
How we could eat each other up,
lock stock and have another cup.
As the sea roars itself home.

Here we are, at our ease
In this Breton Mickey Mouse Club
Near a pebbly shore.
What is life for?
We don’t know, today. Up next
Is the swimming lesson.
Our kids, aged three to seven
Paddle in large blue tubs
Of beach blue polyurethane.
I could be bounded
In a Mickey Mouse Club
And think myself king of infinite space
But I’d have to have
An allowance of fifty centime coins
To play baby foot with.
They paddle from one end
To the other, cling to spaghetti floats,
Gape at their teacher, arms flung out, mimicking strokes.
What is life for?
Let’s all put on goggles
And swim under the water til we can’t.
Let’s all eat well tonight
And drown a bit of our life
Under an endless glass of wine.

Fuck Kafka

The ocean’s is the heaviest hand.
In this ferry to Belle Ile,

I can feel through the hull some part of the larger palm.
“From bend of bay to swerve of shore”
We’re grasped. We’re free. We’re grasped.
It’s delusion, but what pull is stronger
Than the siren’s song, to us moderns silent
Just as all those Attic statues, stripped of their paint
Disconnect from every idol ever adored
To become art, and then entertainment, inc.
Still, sometimes I’m a fucking siren
As gaudy, greedy and teethed for prey
As any of my sisters.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...