Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mount Monadnock Transmissions

Over a period of four centuries some nine million such hideous conflagrations occurred, driving Europe’s women out of power and their tribal traditions completely underground.  Sometimes to add to the horror and drive the lessons home further, the bodies of strangled Gay men were stacked in with the kindling at the witches’ feet as ‘faggots’ of a new and horrible kind and as a sacrificial symbol turned upon the people who had valued living faggots, sacred Gay men.
                  --Judy Grahn, from Another Mother Tongue

Yes poetry can handle this. This is the third ritual I did to overcome my depression from my boyfriend Earth’s murder.  The third because the first two, while I liked the resulting poems, left me feeling just as depressed, sometimes worse.  The rituals for creating poems have the power to change us in ways we have yet to fully explore and I was determined to find the right ingredients for the ritual, and I did.  It worked. 

Earth had moved to a rural queer community in Tennessee to work the gardens and he was happy the last time we talked on the phone, telling me about budding trees and the delicious smells of spring.  He told me about a cave he found where he liked to meditate in the mornings. We made plans for me to visit and spend the night together in the cave.  We were excited.  He told me to give Philadelphia his love.

Days after that phone call he was meditating in the cave when men bound and gagged him, tortured him, raped him, covered him in gasoline and burned him alive.  The police ruled his death a suicide.  The sheriff told me to mind my own business every time I insisted Earth was murdered, and he called me Faggot like it was my name, he would say, “Do you hear me Faggot?”  Yeah, Faggot heard you.  The police knew who did it.  Or they just don’t care.  Which is worse?  My anger at the police and Earth’s rapists and killers haunted my days.  The coroner and paramedics however always called his death a homicide, which provided some comfort.

I am grateful to MacDowell Arts Colony for providing me with a little cabin in the woods for a couple of months to do this ritual in the shadow of Mount Monadnock.  It was autumn and the leaves had started to fall.  One of the ingredients of the ritual was to sit in the woods and focus on a distant tree trunk.  Being patient, staring at the tree long enough, I would suddenly see every falling leaf at once.  It can be as harrowing as it is cathartic to abruptly capture all motion with the eye, permitting the movement to synch up with an internal avalanche.  I took notes for the poems.  One night I dreamed I woke inside a tree, the wood surrounding me was a warm, fibrous silk and I could hear the sap moving inside a soft steady heartbeat. 

The last time I saw Earth alive he gave me a clear quartz crystal he had carried in his pocket for over a year.  After his death I put it away.  It caused me pain with its psychic barbed wire and whenever I found it by accident my day would be ruined.  When the first two rituals failed I knew I needed a more potent ingredient.  I took Earth’s crystal with me to the residency.  This crystal had been on him everyday for over a year doing what such crystals do, receive and store information.  His breath and laughter, planting seeds in the dirt, his lips on mine, the way he tasted different in sunlight with snow, his inimitable warmth stored in the crystal’s chambers.  It was a little library of the man I loved.

Each morning I strapped Earth’s crystal to my forehead, making certain it was pressed firmly against my third eye.  Then I would swallow a smaller, round clear quartz crystal.  This was the worker-crystal whose job was to travel through my body, pulling the information out of Earth’s crystal and flood my bones, my tissue and blood, pumping his library through my heart and thoughts.  Almost immediately my body calmed, every cell dropped their heads back and sighed.  The stress of loving a man murdered without justice lifted each day of the ritual toward peace.  When I passed the small crystal into the toilet I would sterilize it and start over the next morning.  I took notes for the poems.

I found my joy again beneath Mount Monadnock and I am thankful.  We are time machines of water and flesh patterned for destruction if we do not release the trauma.  For years I had a movie playing in my head, my own little invention of torment, complete with a courtroom drama where Earth’s still unknown rapists and killers were on trial.  After a week of ritual the pernicious movie in my head faded and I immediately began taking better care of myself.  From 1988 to 1998 I had been macrobiotic, the healthiest and happiest decade of my life.  Earth’s murder in 1998 and the additional violence of the police cover-up shook my confidence in this world and derailed me for years. 

This ritual was my Restart Button.  My love for Earth today is healthier in a world that continues to kill faggots since the days when Christianity colonized pagan Europe, burning faggots with the witches, incinerating all they had to offer the world.  “Accelerant poured on victim and set afire,” the coroner wrote on Earth’s death certificate.

The last time I saw poet Akilah Oliver before she died we were sitting at a bar after a poetry reading and I told her of the ritual I was about to do to overcome my depression of Earth’s murder (not this ritual you are reading but the first one where I liked the resulting poem but felt no better). She was encouraging and we spoke of death as a shared space with all life and this conversation led us down a dark thread about our planet’s pillaged ecosystems and in a panic I said there was no way to fix our dying planet. She touched my shoulder and said, “CA you are about to do a ritual to heal yourself and you are part of the planet so you are healing part of the planet by healing yourself.” It made us both smile and toast to healing the planet by healing ourselves. And today I hold a glass to let Akilah know that it worked finally, “It worked Akilah, poetry did this to me and I am free!”

Of the 27 poems resulting from the notes taken during the ritual, 9 were from dreams from sleeping with Earth’s crystal under my pillow.  I call the poems “Sharking of the Birdcage,” and I am very happy they showed me the way back to my strength.

Monday, September 26, 2016

36 Owls

for Jason Dodge

This poetry ritual was performed at the opening of Jason Dodge’s inimitable exhibition “Behind This Machine Anyone With A Mind Can Enter,” at the Institut D’Art Contemporain in Lyon, France.  It is not up to me – nor is it interesting to me – to write a critical review of the artist’s work.  I will say there is no other artist whose work I enjoy more in our tattered, bleeding, often unexpectedly beautiful world.  Thousands of bits of trash the artist gathered from around the world over the years arranged through seven large galleries.  Small, low doors for jaguars or leopards carved into the walls and one room where the florescent pink and white bulbs were changed continuously by a team of dedicated light bulb changers, rolling the room, keeping it in flux.  Standing still for that MOMENT where every bulb is PINK or WHITE like two opportunities inside the artist’s soul to FLICKER an epiphany, a secret, a ransom note, I love this, I do!

During the crowded, excited, busy opening I followed 36 people, one at a time from a distance, quietly watching them.  With each I would eventually stand still and stare at their clothing, shoes, jewelry, then shut my eyes to imagine them.  Then I would suddenly replace their heads with owl heads:  Barn Owl, Spotted Owl, Burrowing Owl, Great Horned Owl, Elf Owl, Screech Owl, Saw-Whet Owl, Gray Owl, one even insisted on becoming a Snowy Owl.  I took notes for the poem as their heads turned 180 degrees and back again, poking among the exhibition at their feet.

Next I sat on a wall outside the museum with a clear vantage of the large opening to the first gallery.  There with my notebook I watched 9 people walk into the show and later studied their faces as they eventually emerged again.  The three who made their way to the refreshment table I approached with a bunch of tiny tomatoes to share and ask what they thought of the show.  Excellent, exuberant reviews all three, one saying she was not sure what to think at first, expecting to see art hanging on the walls.  But then she began enjoying how things fit together into political and familial frames in her life and the world at large.  Her husband mumbled something, his glass of wine tilting back and forth but she waved her hand at him, saying to me, “Do not listen to him!”  Then closer so only I could hear, “He does not like to THINK!  Hurts him up here you see,” she said as she tapped the side of her head with a laugh.  I returned to the wall to take more notes for the poem, which is titled, “Ready To Get Bleeding.”

P.S. The exhibition title, “Behind This Machine Anyone With A Mind Can Enter,” is from Matthew Zapruder’s beautiful, “Come On All You Ghosts.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

Déjà Vu Bus Ride

for Eleanor Wilner

For over a decade I would see her on the bus or in the vegetable shop near my apartment, always looking at everyone and everything, never on the phone or listening to music.  One of those rare people who is truly present, I would see her see me and when I smiled she always returned the smile.  We have observed people and things together for years, but never met, never talked, not once.  We have never heard one another speak.  In my journals I refer to her as my déjà vu friend because seeing her destabilizes my reality the way déjà vu will do.  Then I closed down my apartment and left Philadelphia.

While house sitting for poet Eleanor Wilner after a year of being on the road I went to my old neighborhood in search of my déjà vu friend.  I wish I could say there was a great search that lasted for days, but no, she was waiting for the number 21 bus and it was the first time I was getting on with her deliberately.  I took notes for the poem.  I didn’t want to break our pattern and introduce myself, so instead I occupied the space as a fellow observer of the world.  I took more notes for the poem while studying the many hair wraps, shirt collars, and a myriad of expressions quite often in the same face.  After a few blocks our eyes met as usual but she not only smiled she nodded.  When I returned the nod my smile was one of my favorites because it was for my déjà vu friend.  She got off the bus at 36th Street and I continued to write and observe to 45th Street. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

sign up for my October workshop

please click HERE for my online workshop
15% off if you register before October 1st
50% off for MFA creative writing students
50% off for MFA creative writing graduates

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Power Sissy Intervention #2: Apostle Paul Suppositories

for Jo Mariner

“We’ve got to deal with the fact that the church has been violently prejudiced against gay people.  We’ve murdered them; we’ve burned them at the stake; we’ve run them out of town for something over which they have no control.  And that’s immoral.”
                  --Reverend John Shelby Spong

The Book of Romans by the apostle Paul is very popular in the United States among Christian extremists who justify genocide of queers.  “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

The Book of Romans is 9 pages long and for 9 days I would sing a page, then shout it, feeling the trauma this book used to condone violence against queer women and men.  Then I would chop the page into a blender, add a little crystal infused water and pulverize it to a wad of pulp.  I would take notes for the poem, then fill a gel suppository with the page, add lubricant and insert it past my sphincter and deep into my asshole.  “It is me surrounding you now, time to meet your ghosts,” I would say and go into town ringing a bell and chanting the names of some of homophobia’s victims.  Like my friend Jim McCormick who said he would rather kill himself than let his family find out he had AIDS, and then he did it.  Erika Keels who was run over by a transphobic man in Philadelphia.  The list of names filled the 9 days with a shower of unrelenting blood:  Skye Mockabee, Amos Beede, Maya Young, Matthew Shepard, Kimberly Morris, Amanda Alvear, Kayden Clarke, and many others.

All my life Christian extremist politicians have used their homophobia to garner respect for their political campaigns.  Religious extremism from positions of authority and their influence over the actions of their constituency is obvious in a world of confident bullies.  From 2016 to 2017 US lawmakers submitted over 200 anti LGBTQ bills to become laws.  I sat on a bench outside the courthouse to end this ritual each day, leaning forward, then back, then side to side to feel the page of the bible up inside me, apostle Paul deep-fingering me as I read printouts of some of these laws.  In the state of Mississippi a law to allow any person or business to deny service to same-sex couples for religious objections.  Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, an ambitious stream of hateful anti LGBTQ bills issued with some of them sticking and becoming laws.  In Tennessee a law that allows doctors to refuse treatment of queers without legal repercussions for instance.  I would take more notes for the resulting 9 untitled poems, reminding myself of the words of the great poet Audre Lorde who said, “It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  I tire of these inabilities.  I will now shit out the cause.  I will continue to Love this world despite the oppositions to do so.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Resurrect Extinct Vibration

Resurrect Extinct Vibration is a (Soma)tic poetry ritual I have been working with for the past year.  Please let me explain.  I create rituals that I do and while doing them I take raw notes that are later sculpted into poems.  These rituals demand physical interactions with the world, keeping a strong focus on the present while writing.  One might say the rituals create a space of “extreme present” where nothing except the ritual and the writing within the ritual can be concentrated on.

In the Resurrect ritual I use a mix of audio field recordings of recently extinct animals.  When driving across the United States in my car I take time each day no matter where I am to lie on the ground and saturate my body with these extinct sounds, the speakers first at my feet then slowly moving up my body.  I take notes for my poem immediately after the ritual is completed.

The World Wildlife Fund’s biennial report from 2014 revealed the stark results from analysis of accumulated research that more than half of our planet’s wild animals have disappeared in the past four decades.  My goal with the Resurrect ritual is to focus on Ecopoetics as more than our degraded soil, air, and water, but to also consider and begin including the idea of vibrational absence.  When a species becomes extinct they take their sounds with them:  song, cry, breath, footfall, heartbeat.  And we in turn replace their sounds with our human sounds, our metal, machines, bombs, cars, etc.  When I was born over half a century ago my cells were formed on a more complex, organic vibration than the cells of children being born today.

My goal is to delve even deeper in 2017 and 2018 into this ritual, writing poems as a study through my body, the results of returning these missing sounds to my cells.  Part of the ritual involves sleeping in my car in Walmart parking lots.  I view Walmart as the epitome of the effects of Manifest Destiny upon the land.  There are 9,000 Walmart stores in the lower 48 states with each one holding between 250,000 and half a million items on site for sale.  Outside in the parking lots each night, and this is true no matter where I am in the United States, there are homeless families living in cars.

Another component to the ritual happens at sunrise, listening to the extinct animal sounds on headphones while walking in a spiral formation inside the Walmart, working my way into the middle of the store.  At the center of the spiral I find a spot to kneel and take more notes for my poem.  In the end it is a poem pointing a finger within the body living inside the structures of capital and religion and how those forces worked together to shape ideas that in turn reshaped the planet.  As a transgendered / gender-fluid person I will write through the broad spectrum of my experienced genders as a vehicle for the poetry to compound its message and song.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cremation Cocktail

for Jeremy Halinen

The Book of Frank
makes me happy.  I come from a poor, mostly illiterate rural American community where none of the houses of friends, family or neighbors had bookshelves.  It humbles and amazes me to come from such an environment and have a book I wrote translated into half a dozen languages.  Over a period of 18 years I wrote this work, totaling 1,584 poems in total.  Black Mountain College poet and publisher Jonathan Williams was originally going to publish the book through his Jargon Society Press.  I was incredibly honored and would go to his home in North Carolina to work on the manuscript with Jonathan and my friend Jeremy Halinen who was the Jargon intern at the time, and except for me they are the only two people to have read all 1,584 pages. 

I miss Jonathan.  Miss the endless supply of poets whose work he introduced
me to, like Merle Hoyleman and Mary Butts, the kind of writers who turn you around, lighting your way with their genius.  He died around the spring equinox.  I was walking with a group of friends to Dirty Frank’s Bar in Philadelphia after a poetry reading when someone read us a text that Jonathan had just died, jackknifing the evening to sorrow.  The bar was packed and the music loud, but we found a booth.  After we toasted to the long and adventurous life of Jonathan
Williams someone asked what was going to happen to my book now that he was gone.  I said I didn’t want to think about it and that is when on the other side of the bar an old man stood up and started to shove people out of his way, walking toward our booth, a man who never bathed and mumbled to himself.  My good friend Frank Sherlock was sitting across from me and had worked at the bar for many years and said no one had ever heard a full sentence from his mouth and his odor kept everyone at bay. 

He plowed his way through the noisy crowd and stopped at our booth, staring at me for an uncomfortable minute.  Then he said this same sentence a dozen times, “Don’t worry, we have it taken care of, it will be better than you can imagine, we’re looking out for you.”  Then he said, “You are my little princess,” and kissed the top of my head, then plowed the way back to his barstool on the other side of the bar.  We were amazed!  Jonathan Williams did that!  He wanted to tell me this information to put me at ease about the book we had worked so hard on together, but he needed someone in the room who was so far removed from normalized, respectable behavior that he could walk his spirit inside them and have them speak on his behalf.  The man had said the sentence over and over, his inflection exactly the same each time as if a recording had been placed in his head.  Knowing Jonathan’s temperament I can only imagine he was annoyed when the man repeated it too much and interrupted him with the little princess and kiss salutation.  A week later I saw him again but he did not see me.  The man who had said this incredibly comforting sentence to me and then kissed the top of my head calling me his little princess did not see me, just walked past me on the sidewalk.

Soon afterwards the manuscript won the Gil Ott Book Award, chosen by Nathaniel Mackey, Myung Mi Kim, Eli Goldblatt and Charles Alexander, published by Chax Press.  Wave Books later published Frank where he continues to live happily today.  I am grateful to all of the many dedicated people at these presses and my poetry hero Eileen Myles for writing the Afterword to the Wave edition.  The book contains 130 poems and these are the only pages from the box of 1,584 poems that were published.  For years I have been asked to consider a sequel or to enlarge the book, and I would sit with the box and consider it, but in the end I prefer the selections I made with Jonathan and Jeremy.  The Wave edition is how I want the length and depravity of Frank’s life measured.

Poetry is a window into the magic of this world that never once asked me to apologize.  Poetry took me out of the soul-crushing factory town of my childhood, revealing itself to be a source of autonomy that once grabbed by its horns utterly transfigures our lives if we refuse to let go and I will not take this force for granted.  To honor that space is to have our poems be exactly the way we want them in the world.  I read the box of poems out loud, all 1,584 pages of them, then placed a small, smooth piece of rose quartz crystal on top of the stack of paper and lit them on fire, watching them burn.  Afterwards I swallowed the crystal, tasting like smoked blood.  The pile of ashes was
remarkably small for 18 years of writing and that was humbling as I gathered them in my cupped hands and mixed them into a warm bath with jasmine flowers.  In the bath I massaged the ash and jasmine into every inch of my body, and took occasional drinks of the cremation cocktail to join the crystal working its way through my digestive organs.  During the ritual I took notes that became a poem titled “There Is No Prison Named Love.”

P.S. Edgar Cayce and Jack Spicer both understood that poets are recording whispers from the spirit world with our poems.  Witnessing Jonathan Williams walk inside the man to have him relay his message was a gift, watching the recently deceased poet flex his new spirit body.  “We” are looking out for you he said, the “we” meaning Jonathan and my other spirit guides?  I am most appreciative to Jonathan for his kindness to me in life and after life.

P.P.S.  The Book Of Frank is not about my friend Frank Sherlock or Dirty Frank’s Bar.  I have been blessed with many amazing Franks in my life.

P.P.P.S.  Frank Sherlock works at Dirty Frank’s Bar but it is not named after him.  Although a mural of him was painted on the outside wall after he became Philadelphia Poet Laureate and you should go see it, it is a beautiful portrait of the poet.