Bartholomew Winfred II


Ever since reading about making a half-knight move in chess, my mind had been cracked. It is of course something that cannot be imagined except to have imagined that such a thing is possible, when it is not. This strange little world of softly thatched roofs and straw hats a-tumble beside a nameless sea had always been a wonderland full of empty moon snail shells and bright red poppies blooming in the fields for me. And people, well, it had been obvious to them who I was, I suppose. I had been the man with seagulls sitting on his arms flapping and sunning their wings. The only talent I had had was that I tended toward merriment rather than despair, when the latter appeared to be the only rational and boastfully reasonable option left. But why live the obvious? It wasn’t that I disbelieved these; I did not. They were akin to leftover breadcrumbs on the table after eating a fine enough meal to be swept off onto the floor.

Francisco de Gutierrez-Mahoney


red-bellied woodpecker b

I have always been an empty-headed person. I wake up with an empty head, and I go to sleep with one. When I pet the cat in the darkness of early morning, and grind the coffee beans by hand, my head begins to fill up. By the time I have showered and shaved, my head is two sixteenths less empty. My job filling small boxes with three hole-punched rulers that fit by snapping them into the steel rings of three-ring school-binders fills my head up more. By sundown it’s filled up to eleven sixteenths. After suppertime I can feel my beans and rice in my belly which pleases me. A little telly brings it straight to thirteen or fourteen sixteenths. The last two or three sixteenths of my head that is still empty by this time is for imagining traveling one day to Switzerland in particular because I have seen in pictures its beautiful peaceful lake and I feel frightened to go anywhere whose national borders are surrounded by any body of oceanic water. If I have a sixteenth leftover that is only the small amount I will ever need if for traveling one night I am able to get there.

Electric Sheep Dream Song

ocean window

Four bodies had lined up in the sky. It was just four-thirty. And I had forgotten in the news that southeast this morning the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter would be appearing. In my dreams I had been at a quiet party, and was wondering how the effect of the drops of acid I had taken were on me, if any. I was roaming around the halls, and thinking to take a naked swim outside in the ocean. When I woke, I realized that throughout my dream the LSD had made me loving and happy. That, my friends, was the trip. That was the mind’s expansion. No surprise then through the trees by accident out my front door, through some blackened branches, I caught a remembered glimpse of eternity.

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Suburban Diving Bell

sledgehammer and wedges

I had been looking in an old book of Rilke’s writings which I’d read first in my earliest twenties—which is the perfect time to first read Rilke—for a line about how in an adultery the third person is insignificant, which struck me as very odd and very important back then. But I couldn’t find it, and came across another passage that seems much more important to me today:

Now the position of the lover is this, that he feels himself unexpectedly placed in the centre of the circle, that is to say, at the point where the known and incomprehensible, coming forcibly together at one single point, become complete and simply a possession, losing thereby, it is true, all individual character. This position would not serve the poet, for individual variety must be constantly present for him, he is compelled to use the sense sectors to their full extent, as it must also be his aim to extend each of them as far as possible, so that his lively delight, girt for attempt, may be able to pass through the five gardens in one leap.

Not to decry the comfort and the stability of a person whose life is situated at dead center, who has, in a strange way, given up identity for the sake of things surrounding him or her by which that person thereby becomes identified and known, I could feel how exactly such a life, and such a living, is not for me. It is anathema to my core. It was rather, the life of the poet which Rilke sketches out, which is not to be located at the immutable center point of the ordinary lover’s being (as I understand it in ways that suit my own purposes), with its de-centralized being, a life of constant variety, and constant reaching out that allows the poet or the artist to create true miracles or the magic of being able to “pass through the five gardens in one leap.” This, for the lover, is not even a desire, not even a concept. The lover wishes everything to come to him or her, as though the lover were the very center of existence and the very point of it.

It is hard here not to think about Keats’ thoughts on Negative Capability, and how being able to be, in essence, a restive being, or a creature, or a wandered something that is not your own, it allows you access—because you are not merely standing in your own shoes—to myriad poetical conceits, to be able to evoke and invoke creative worlds of the Imagination versus the mere ordinary world of Fancy, as Coleridge would divide the two.

At any rate, the artist is the one who may, indeed, be the being who leaps in a bound inside many, many circles, hundreds of them, where creative work, and creative worlds are built and where, for some time, the poet or the artist may reside. But just as quickly, the poet leaps, or passes—as is this specular creature’s nature to do and to be, giving no heed whatsoever to the dull, uxorious world in which so many live out rather comfortably their lives and for their mortal existence find themselves even thriving if not trapped there—elsewhere.

For me, it is, as Rilke writes on, a life that lies “in the awareness of the abysses…” and this is, while such a life is the life capable of creating so many glorious things, it is also one that hovers dangerously and constantly right up on so many brinks over which I have all my life continued to exist and overlooking these, peered. It is like believing oneself to be a droll little shepherd among the hills to graze, and strolling there day after day, where in the midst of living one is at times suddenly fraught with the looming oppression that there are no hills and there are no sheep, and instead of a shepherd, one is just a little man resting alone at night with nothing to count on before he goes to sleep.

The other life is all about some invention of selfhood in everyday life, and the gathering up of all things surrounding that invention, the whole collecting of stuff that amounts to a decent enough life of clickety-clackety familial domesticity in the end, all centered around, if all goes well enough, a brick chimney; it is not, I suppose, by any means a bad existence at all per se, but one that for an artist-poet is a dead and deadening one because the center-stabilized centering point does not permit ipso facto the venture to go very far. The “lover’s life,” then, as a sort of human summum bonum is really the end of all human experience. It has its solidity, it has stability, and its virtue is its capacity of self-defined limits. The poet’s life, on the contrary, is a perilous but wonderfully alive life of no securities, or few of any kind, like a man who leaps into a river and wonders to himself if he has gone crazy, or, as in John Cheever’s great story “The Swimmer,” the life of a man who crashes through one suburban hedgerow into the next and “swims” from one neighbor’s swimming pool to another, from one end of each pool to the next, passing from yard to yard throughout the neighborhood, a man gazed upon by poolside people who are caught between being amused, indifferent, and annoyed, because he has.

Mad-Hatter Rummaging

wittgenstein's three blobs of ink

Time ago it was that he would refuse to admit that in the world as a whole there were three things. Take three blobs of ink, his friend and elder had said, and he shook his pen three times on a sheet of white paper. Young Ludwig with his mad blue eyes would not admit these things to be in the world at all. And that is somewhat the distinction, but not quite, that the open-collared Cambridge philosopher would make between fact and fiction, though I must admit that that is not what he meant at all, and which I am merely borrowing torn from the bastardized template of lost time, du temps perdu, to serve myself if not a nameless master of my own. What might be said about ‘finite assertions’ and infinite abstractions is not so much my interest. Mine is in things like hats, straw hats, if you will. That there were indeed three clowns wearing them in my little clownish world of words and green grass I would like to assert as having been once true. And that these three gentlemen digging up my garden on a summertime whim and dare, when I saw them, they ran off like bolts of lightning through the trees and forever disappeared. Now, another would assert that all I have done is mimicked the difference between ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination’—the former being of a merely mechanized function of memory and the like, and the latter being the supreme creative force of human perception.

three straw hats

Time ago it was not as well, and in that world there were always these three glorious things, ink blots on a folded linen napkin gone to waste, forced upon the young man by an ample yet, alas, second-rate mind. And later on, in this same world, the one that never was, there were always, too, three empty summer hats made of hand-braided straw which never had never been pitched atop a living human head, nor had been ever doffed from three, two, or one. Now before I take my leave, I must do so suggesting only this single proposition: that what I have said here every child who’s known sand to be slipping through its fingers already knows, and that only later on can this a worry ever become, that only then are these same once-children beset with, “Was it true?” or “Was it not?” And of those two last questions, dividing the world itself as such, which have and has never meant that much to me, I must finally end this little sally by having us think upon such things as ‘luminous grey’ or ‘a half-knight’s move” —whether you can imagine them to be or not at all.

One, Two Buckled, My Shoe

two white metal chairs

He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.

Quietness, If Not Here


For over an hour he sat in the shade, a stone circle enclave tucked within the Fair’s heat, hub-bub, and craft vendors. Seated beside and around him were others on benches, just as relaxed and immobile as he was. During that time, as he watched the passersby pass by, he noticed no one of any particular beauty, and he noticed no one of any particular ugliness. His mind drifted to a memory in his childhood of returning to Play-Doh he had played with some time earlier in the day, yellow and blue and red clumps he had not put back in their cardboard cans to keep the dough fresh and moist. The clods left out on his playroom table were still workable, moldable, if a bit crusty. And the people he had seen walking by the whole while were, to him, much like that. He tried, while he was sitting, to imagine that some of them were remarkable people. He put his mind to it. But it was impossible. Though he must not have looked so different at all himself from them, he bore silent witness in the summer shadows that he felt no sense of belonging to the collective people among whom he lived, at least half the time; and while he had no strong repulsion, he certainly had no selective affinity for any of them either.