Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Story About Monsters For Halloween

A few months ago I did a post about birds in a big parking lot near here, Change: Sudden, Incomprehensible And Deadly.

A large department store went out of business. When the parking lot became abandoned, local traffic began to speed through the lot as a shortcut. The many seagulls, pigeons and other birds that spent their day in the parking lot had a difficult time with the new traffic patterns—cars drove quickly and didn’t look out for the birds and many birds got hit or run over.

I wondered what the birds thought about that sudden change in traffic behavior, presuming, of course, that birds think about things in any way that we would understand as thinking.

The birds, of course, wouldn’t know that the store had gone out of business. The birds simply found themselves confronted with automobiles suddenly behaving differently than automobiles had behaved for years and years, for many bird generations.

Now even bigger changes are afoot for the birds!

Now the parking lot has been almost completely fenced-in and demolition crews have brought in heavy machinery to begin tearing down the very large building itself.

I wonder what the birds think of this?

Presuming, of course, that birds think about things in any way that we would understand as thinking.

What I mean is that the big building has been there I think for more than a decade. Again, that’s many, many bird generations. The building was—from a bird perspective—part of the landscape itself.

And now the very landscape is changing. Getting ripped apart by things.

And I wonder what birds think when they see something like this. Obviously any human can understand it is a vehicle, but I wonder if birds in any mental way associate something that looks like this with the cars and trucks they’ve moved among for years. Certainly the cars and trucks birds witnessed never “behaved” the way this thing behaves—reaching out and grabbing the landscape and literally ripping it apart.

If birds think at all, this situation must push bird cognition to its very limits.

Do birds in any way “realize” that what they regard as their landscape is just a plot of land being re-developed by a different species of animal, living creatures like themselves but with different characteristics and abilities?

To the birds it’s their whole world. To us it’s a trivial zoning issue.

And of course predictably for me I’m wondering if in some abstract way this could have meaning for us.

Many things we would regard as “magic” or as “miracles” would make sense if our conception of the larger reality around us was as limited and misleading as—presumably—a bird’s conception of its landscape is limited and incomplete.

And more than just limits and completeness are at issue here.

I mean, suppose a particular bird was very thoughtful. Suppose this very thoughtful bird perched on a wire somewhere looking down at the scene in that parking lot and tried its very bird-best to understand it.

What could that bird ever hope to understand as we would use the word understand?

Not much, I think.

The issue for the bird is not that its understanding is limited and incomplete.

The issue for the bird is that a larger—and from our perspective a more “meaningful”—understanding is closed off to it by its bird-nature. The bird’s not going to come to grips with zoning issues and re-development schemes. The bird’s not even going to come to grips, I’d guess, with the differences between buildings and hills, between parking lots and pathways between trees. To the bird, I’m guessing, the ground is just “the ground”—that is, landscape.

Should we suspect, then, that our own thinking, even though we can reason abstractedly, is still somehow not just limited and incomplete, but somehow fundamentally unable to come to grips with reality around us in a truly “meaningful” way?

And if we were to accept such a paradigm of thought, what would the consequences be?

It certainly wouldn’t mean that thinking itself is futile.

Birds can live completely fulfilled bird-existences even though they may never understand, for instance, that a parking lot is fundamentally different from, say, the gravel shore around a pond.

If human thinking and human understanding is somehow similarly defined by the nature of our physical being, we can still live a completely fulfilled human-existence even if we “understood” in some abstract way that our grasp of reality was in some way completely and utterly, umm, missing the “big picture” and that the “big picture” was something we couldn’t ever understand.

This certainly isn’t a new thought. This is sort of the message God gave to Job, and the Book of Job is one of the oldest narratives available to the human race.

But isn’t it interesting that almost trivial speculations about birds dealing with changes to a shopping area leads in one way or another to such intriguing or possibly even illuminating thoughts about ourselves?

And I can’t help but wonder if a couple of birds might look at “simple” demolition equipment like this and see the giant claw-thing grabbing and ripping apart the landscape and say—in bird-talk, of course—“Check out that monster down there! It sort of looks like those mythical dragons the old birds tell the chicks about to give them a fun scare at night!”

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See Monsters?

On Stepping Into The Surround

Beautiful People Are Courageous

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Strange Energies Of The Twentieth Century

We would be driving along and spot a Christmas tree lying perhaps in the front yard of somebody’s lovely house in Pacific Heights or beside an Italian grocery store in North Beach. We would suddenly stop and jump out and rush over to the Christmas tree and start taking pictures from every angle.

The simple people of San Francisco probably thought that we were all completely deranged: bizarre. We were traffic stoppers in the classic tradition.

199, 215, 227, 233, 245.

We met the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti out walking his dog on Potrero Hill. He saw us jump out of the car and immediately start taking pictures of a fallen Christmas tree lying on the sidewalk.

277, 278, 279, 280, 281.

As he walked by, he said, “Taking pictures of Christmas trees?”


I said, “I wonder
what happened to the photos
of the Christmas trees?

One time Brautigan
and a photographer friend
did a whole series

but I’ve never heard
that anyone did a book
of the images.”


Someone made a face.
“Old hippie photos?” they asked.
“And why would I buy

a book of photos
taken by two old hippies
of old Christmas trees?”


I said, “Don’t pretend.
You’d buy it because you’d love
to throw it away.”

A Postscript To
Strange Energies Of The Twentieth Century

The first draft of this
was about Walter Cronkite
but that didn’t work.

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The Tokyo-Montana Express


Machines Of Loving Grace

It Shall Be So Madness Must Unwatched Go

Monday, October 29, 2012

Real Things, Not Real Things And Other Things

I don’t have much for today, but a couple of the things I have are really interesting to me, so I’m going to post about this stuff today so that at some point in the future I can come back to it in—I hope—much more detail.


First of all, I need to mention that not last Friday but the Friday before last I said at the end of my post Ophelia’s Songs that I had a big allergy attack. It was really awful. When that stuff happens, it takes me days to recover. So all through last week I was taking Benadryl every night to get to sleep. I felt terrible, and Benadryl gives me mood-swings the day after I take it to sleep. So during the day last week I was feeling sad (even though I knew it was the medicine affecting my thinking). That’s why my posts may have sounded more, umm, despondent than normal last week. But I started feeling better this weekend and, I hope, this week I’ll have more energy.


When I started feeling better this weekend one of the things I did was visit one of the suburban libraries around here.

The library next to the hill where the vampires live!

(That’s from my post about the library, Real Estate Gothic.)

I took out a book to re-read that I’ve read many times before. And I took out two DVD sets that I’d never seen before. The book and DVD sets don’t immediately seem related, but in my thinking they very much became related and that’s what today’s post is going to be about.


The book was “Landscape Into Art,” by Pavel Machotka. It’s a book written by a psychology professor who is also a painter and photographer. He visits many actual locations in France that Cezanne used as motifs for paintings, and speculates about how Cezanne may have been thinking about the scene and about the techniques Cezanne used to convert his thinking and vision into a painted canvas.

I don’t like landscape painting at all. And I don’t know enough about painting to come to any worthwhile conclusion about Cezanne myself—was he a genius or an energetic, delusional idiot? I don’t know. But books about Cezanne are often very interesting and this book is one of my favorites.

I don’t like landscape painting at all, but I very much like portrait images—drawings and paintings. I have some kind of mental block about working with people I know, but with strangers it’s my favorite kind of art. So I try to internalize the speculations from Pavel Machotka about Cezanne’s work with landscapes to see if I can make any use of them in my thinking about portraits.

This is a very intriguing issue for me because obviously I’ve given it a lot of thought over many years and, really, I’ve made no—so to speak—headway at all.

It’s frustrating and fun at the same time. It’s frustrating because I’m usually able to think things through once I apply myself to them but this whole issue is obscure to me. On the other hand I feel very engaged with this issue because I feel I have so much to learn and so much in front of me still to do.

And, although I didn’t expect it at all, the other stuff I took out from the library over the weekend touched a little bit on these very issues, portraits and images and the meanings underlying them.


For people who don’t know about Doctor Who, the basic background is that the show was an immensely popular British TV show for decades and decades. Then it was canceled. After a few years the BBC assigned some producers to bring the series back on the air. They attempted to pick up more or less right where they left off, with the same series continuity. I enjoyed the show in its early years and I especially liked the show during the years they had a great writer named Douglas Adams as the script editor. But I had never watched any of the “new” episodes. I thought the show, especially under Douglas Adams, had set a writing standard so high that modern writers wouldn’t be able to even come close to matching it. And since the show had so many elements early fans really loved, I thought it would be painful to watch what modern writers and producers did to it. So I had avoided the new episodes. But when I mentioned Doctor Who in my post When The Light Is All Reflections a couple of weeks ago I got to thinking about it and I thought, well, I’m not dead yet, I might as well make a little effort to stay alive and see what current generations are watching as “Doctor Who.”

So over this weekend I watched the complete fifth and sixth series with an actor named Matt Smith as the Doctor and an actress named Karen Gillan as his current companion Amy Pond.

And it was one of those times when my thinking was right on the money. I found it horrible—something like actually painful—to watch the new episodes. The actor and actress seemed to be doing everything they could to bring life to their characters. They were both energetic and attractive and reasonably pleasant. But I found the stories stupid and heavy-handed and endlessly pointless—ridiculous arbitrary plot conflicts and ridiculous arbitrary plot solutions to every problem. All the worst characteristics of the original series, but without any of its warmth and fun and real humor, without any of its redeeming features.

So I won’t be keeping up with the new Doctor Who.

However—and almost predictably—the actress Karen Gillan who plays the Doctor’s companion Amy Pond was very pretty so I looked her up at Wikipedia. And I saw something interesting.

This is the Wikipedia picture of her character Amy Pond. She plays a plucky young Scottish woman. As with most television these days there were lots of tight close-ups and Karen Gillan did a great job, I thought, fleshing out the character. “Amy Pond” seems reasonable and convincingly real. The plots I thought were awful but the actress did the best she could with the nothing—the less than nothing—the writers, directors and producers gave her.

And this is the Wikipedia picture of the actress Karen Gillan.

This is really interesting to me because the picture of Karen Gillan as herself appearing at some convention doesn’t “look like” the character Amy Pond at all. I don’t know if I would have recognized her if I saw her.

This is really interesting to me, the way an actor or an actress can get into a character, animate a character, bring a character to life with seemingly real expressions and reactions. But, then, when you see the actor or actress in real life the reality is so different that it is hard to even put into words. Obviously it is all an issue of muscles in the face and how the head it carried on the neck and shoulders and how the body is moved. But a good actor or actress will make such tiny, tiny changes to all those little things—subconscious and conscious things—that it becomes something like real life magic.

And it’s interesting in a larger way because we all—so to speak—play characters ourselves from time to time and in various ways. We express moods, emotions, reactions.

Photographs, of course, can capture every little thing. So if an actor or actress is “in character” the camera catches everything the actor or actress is doing, even if the performer isn’t consciously aware of it.

This seems to me to be an interesting test of an artist’s rendering ability. And an interesting test of art overall.

Can an artist, I wonder, draw or paint a person so well that the differences between an actor or actress in character or out of character would be visible?

It seems nearly impossible to even specify or enumerate the items or elements that would be different between two such images. A photographer can capture such things simply because a camera literally captures everything that is physically there in a scene from a particular vantage point.

But when an artist looks at a person, does an artist see enough to consciously or even subconsciously capture enough in a rendition to embody whatever the subtle differences are between an actor in character and an actor not in character?

This is interesting. As I’m getting my energy back, I’m probably going to be doing sketches of that Karen Gillan photograph from the convention, and sketches from some similar poses from screen captures from her episodes in character as Amy Pond.

If I get anything interesting I’ll do another post on this topic.

I’m certainly not the only person who’s ever wondered about these kinds of things. I've posted before (and here and here) about writer-director Wes Craven’s film “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.” There is a scene in that film where actress Heather Langenkamp is portraying actress “Heather Langenkamp” and writer-director Wes Craven is portraying writer-director “Wes Craven.” When the two characters in the film discuss why the monster is attacking “Heather,” the real writer-director Wes Craven wrote this bit of dialogue for the characters to exchange:

“HEATHER”: “Isn’t there somebody who can stop him?”

“WES”: “Actually there is a person in the dream, sort of a gatekeeper, so to speak. Somebody Freddy has to get by before he can come into our world. That person’s you, Heather.”

“HEATHER”: “It’s me? Why me?”

“WES”: “Dramatically speaking, it makes perfect sense. You played Nancy, after all. You were the first to humiliate him, defeat him.”

“HEATHER”: “That was Nancy. Not me.”

“WES”: “But you gave Nancy her strength. So in order to get out, he’s got to come through you.”

And of course Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet” in the sixteenth century, explicitly juxtaposing stage actors and “real” people in a stage play even back then.

Actors, acting and real people being real people and what we can perceive about each other. Real things, not real things and other things.

It’s an interesting topic. Probably my favorite topic. I’m always trying to figure out where monsters fit in.

Friday, October 26, 2012

But That’s How A Melville Metaphor Ends

In the mind’s ocean
every woman’s bare shoulder
is a great white whale.

“O head! thou has seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

in Melville’s “Moby Dick”
quoted in The Mind’s Ocean Redux

I’m not a big Herman Melville fan but
one time I wanted to impress someone
and somehow I remembered Ahab’s quote
and maybe something like a butterfly
maybe something like a Red Admiral
a small butterfly as butterflies go
I said that quote like a butterfly goes
drifting along at the edge of a storm
or maybe I said it like a whale goes
drifting along under a madman’s boat
or maybe I said it like a spacecraft
drifting along above a storm in space
or maybe I said it like a pigeon
drifting along above electric lines
and I wonder now how I remembered
that Melville quote because I’m not a fan
and when I think back I can’t remember
if I read “Moby Dick” for school or fun
but the woman I wanted to impress
wasn’t impressed and that’s the way things go
but I still remembered that Melville quote
though I can’t imagine how I did it
and it bothers me now the not knowing
but to finish off this Melville topic
I am also bothered because I know
these watery weathery images
aren’t a dense enough flow of chaos
to obscure the silhouettes of the shapes
the whale butterfly spacecraft and pigeon
and that someone I wanted to impress
well that woman I wanted to impress
still won’t be impressed and in fact will laugh
because she’ll see through all this Melville stuff
and not caring I’m not a Melville fan
she’ll laugh and say “These syllables are mine!”
but of course not one syllable is hers
so she won’t really laugh and say the words
but that’s how a Melville metaphor ends
so I’m happy with this one even though
I’m still not a big Herman Melville fan.

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Plastic Snow? (A Saturn Update)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Plastic Snow? (A Saturn Update)

Polythene is a British variant of the word polyethylene, a plastic material. The name 'Polythene Pam' came from the nickname of an early Beatles' fan from the Cavern Club days, named Pat Hodgett (now Dawson), who would often eat polythene. She became known as 'Polythene Pat'. She said in an interview, "I used to eat polythene all the time. I'd tie it in knots and then eat it. Sometimes I even used to burn it and then eat it when it got cold."

“Polythene Pam”
at Wikipedia

[I’m replacing the original LA Times quote here with a more clearly written report from NASA. -- Mark, Friday morning]

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has tracked the aftermath of a rare massive storm on Saturn. Data reveal record-setting disturbances in the planet's upper atmosphere long after the visible signs of the storm abated, in addition to an indication the storm was more forceful than scientists previously thought.

Data from Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) instrument revealed the storm's powerful discharge sent the temperature in Saturn's stratosphere soaring 150 degrees Fahrenheit (83 kelvins) above normal. At the same time, researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery. Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn't typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.

Goddard scientists describe the unprecedented belch of energy in a paper to be published in the Nov. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

"This temperature spike is so extreme it's almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn's atmosphere, which typically is very stable," said Brigette Hesman, the study's lead author and a University of Maryland scientist who works at Goddard. "To get a temperature change of the same scale on Earth, you'd be going from the depths of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert."

First detected by Cassini in Saturn's northern hemisphere on Dec. 5, 2010, the storm grew so large that an equivalent storm on Earth would blanket most of North America from north to south and wrap around our planet many times. This type of giant disturbance on Saturn typically occurs every 30 Earth years, or once every Saturn year.

Not only was this the first storm of its kind to be studied by a spacecraft in orbit around the planet, but it was the first to be observed at thermal infrared wavelengths. Infrared data from CIRS allowed scientists to take the temperature of Saturn's atmosphere and to track phenomena that are invisible to the naked eye.

Temperature measurements by CIRS, first published in May 2011, revealed two unusual beacons of warmer-than-normal air shining brightly in the stratosphere. These indicated a massive release of energy into the atmosphere. After the visible signs of the storm started to fade, CIRS data revealed the two beacons had merged. The temperature of this combined air mass shot up to more than minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 220 kelvins).

According to Hesman, the huge spike of ethylene generated at the same time peaked with 100 times more ethylene than scientists thought possible for Saturn. Goddard scientists confirmed the release of the gas using the Celeste spectrometer mounted on the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona.

The team still is exploring the origin of the ethylene, but has ruled out a large reservoir deep in the atmosphere.

"We've really never been able to see ethylene on Saturn before, so this was a complete surprise," said Goddard's Michael Flasar, the CIRS team lead.

I know a woman
with a very sexy yawn
and if I paint her

with acrylic paints
a person could make the case
the finished portrait

would be like a storm
in outer space but I bet
she still would just yawn.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Birds Know About Wires

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Electric Golgotha

Sense Of Place

All The Issues Of Perspective

“hippie pigeons”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

“Midnight Flowers”

Bricks and broken porcelain
Cut my back where she pushed me to the ground
In the alley there was no other sound
Except our screams


“What the hell is that?” she asked.

“It’s the chorus,” I said, “of my pretend punk song, ‘Midnight Flowers.’”

“Pretend punk?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I have a pretend punk band called, Bag Full Of Dead Rats. ‘Midnight Flowers’ is the love song off our pretend album, ‘Pissing In The Alley.’”

“Pissing In The Alley’?” she asked.

“Well, that’s the A-side,” I said. “It’s a five song suite. The B-side is a five song suite called, ‘Kissing In The Alley.’ It’s social commentary, see? Because kissing rhymes with pissing and they’re both things that everybody does but one is considered romantic and the other isn’t.”

“A punk album with suites of songs?” she asked.

“You want to go out in the alley,” I asked, “and copulate?”

She giggled and put her hand over her mouth. She turned away, cleared her expression and turned back to me. She pointed at me and said, “You know what? I am not going to let you drink anymore Red Bull. Enough is enough. Enough is more than enough.”

She turned away and walked toward the kitchen.

I just sneered at her back. It was my pretend Billy Idol sneer.

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Five Songs: #3 – Shadows

Monday, October 22, 2012

On Stepping Into The Surround

Rembrandt images like this often have a wide, dark surround. This separates the internal image, arranged by Rembrandt’s aesthetics, from ‘normal’ reality framing it. There are areas of extreme dark and extreme light to activate the areas of our brain which construct a light source and surfaces for the light to fall on. There are areas of high contrast, well-defined edges to activate the areas of our brain which construct edges and forms to contain edges. There is an area of bright color to activate the area of our brain which constructs hues on surfaces. And there is an encompassing arrangement of smooth gradients and soft, soft transitions which link all the visual areas without sending our brain the cues to switch off the other construction projects in progress—the light, the surfaces and forms, the colors...

Last year for Halloween I did a post about some trees in an empty lot near here. The trees had been spray-painted with orange X’s but there was nothing festive about the orange X’s because I suspected it meant the trees were going to be cut down and, sure enough, just a few days after I took a photo of them the trees were cut down.

Halloween Trees (Ode To)

Carnage Candy

Every now and then I get off the sidewalk and walk through that empty lot and nothing much has changed. Once or twice during the summer a work crew goes in there and cuts down all the weeds and wildflowers. So far nobody has cut down any more trees. And nobody has cleared away the stumps from the trees that were cut down last year.

Over the weekend I walked through that empty lot and I saw that on many of the tree stumps there were big, really big, mushrooms. The mushrooms were all at least as large and some larger than my hand with my fingers spread completely.

Here’s a medium shot of one of the biggest stumps, with a little wild diorama on top—dirt, leaves, twigs, and really big mushrooms.

I got a close-up of the mushrooms, too.

The tree stumps with mushrooms were extraordinary scenes, all in miniature.

The bright sunlight on top of the mushrooms, the dark shadows underneath, the subtle umbers of the mushrooms, the bright greens of the background leaves.

I could have kneeled there all day trying to get a composition just right. It would have been nice to stretch out low on the ground and get some blue sky into the picture. But the empty lot isn’t far from a busy street and I didn’t want to look too crazy.

I was feeling kind of sick over the weekend and this kind of stuff always cheers me up.


The empty lot didn’t charge admission
but there were stages scattered all around
and on every stage was a little show.

When I looked the shows seemed to get bigger.

When I took some photos for a moment
the shows were so big they surrounded me
and for a moment I stepped into them
the shows that became bigger when I looked.

There wasn’t a script so I had no lines
but I may have improvised something like—

“The dark under the mushrooms is darker
when the sunlight is so bright on the top.
When your eyes adjust for the bright sunlight
you can’t see into the dark underneath.
You can imagine almost anything
something mundane or something magical
emerging from that impossible dark.”

When I took some photos for a moment
I was down in there and then I came out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ophelia’s Songs

Part One: Ophelia’s Songs
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“On a synthesizer,” she said, “I can sing a duet
and hear my voice along with the flute voice weave a texture
and both voices of the duet are under my control
and the harmony and counterpoint can be more subtle
than two musicians no matter how practiced could produce
so this mode of making song never existed before
this duet of voice and flute both performed by one singer.”

“I tell thee, churlish priest,
A minist’ring angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling.”

Hamlet, Act V, Sc. 1

Part Two: Little Drummer Girl
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

She said, “This is in four-four. I know you like waltz time and this has a little three-four feel to it. Have you ever thought of playing this in three-four?”

“Just a second,” I said. “We’ll give it a shot. This just takes two or three buttons.”

I pressed the Style button called ‘Ballroom’ and selected the first waltz setting with a slow tempo. Then I pressed the Sync Start button.

I played the arrangement again, but this time to the three-four beat. The notation looks very, very similar, but the different pulse makes for a different feel. And it felt better. I changed the last chord just a bit.

“That’s better,” I said. “That’s closer to what I had in mind. If that’s what I had in mind, how come it didn’t occur to me to do it? Why do you suppose I was I trying to fit it into four-four time?”

She said, “Play it again. Let me listen.”

I played the arrangement again in three-four time.

She said, “I don’t know. But I notice at the end, when you turn it around you hurry it up instead of going into another full bar and you hit three eighth notes. With the dotted quarter, that creates a three-four measure with four notes to it. Since all the other measures are quarter notes or dotted half notes, those three eighth notes are a little bit of syncopation. But since there are four notes there in that measure, you may have been focusing on that and thinking those four notes in the measure defined the meter of the melody, when really they were just a little bit of syncopation in the turnaround.”

I made a face and looked at my workstation and asked, rhetorically, “Why didn’t my machine tell me that?”

She laughed. “Hey, look at that first transcription. The machine did a pretty good job of fitting the three-four feel into four-four bars. It was just trying to do what you told it to do.”

“Oh, great,” I said. “Now I’m going to feel inadequate for giving my workstation the wrong directions. And I’m going to feel ungrateful for expecting it somehow to see into my thinking and figure out what directions I really wanted to give it.”

She laughed again. “Maybe the machine will forgive you. You were in—” she giggled “—you were in the throes of creation. You were thinking of the music, not the technicalities of notation.”

“You figured it out easily enough,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but I was just listening,” she said. “And I know you.” Then she smiled and held her head very high. “And besides, drummers—I mean, percussionists—are all geniuses. You can’t expect machines, even fancy workstations, really to do what we do.”

Part Three: The Chemicals of Amazon
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A character in a Richard Brautigan novel
once said the automatic pistol was invented
to kill more people in a war in the Philippines.
I imagine something similar to this is true
in a metonymy and metaphor kind of way
for the Kindle and other digital book readers.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“The Hawkline Monster”
by Richard Brautigan
at Wikipedia


Ophelia’s Flowers

Machines Of Loving Grace

Machines Of Rapacious Hate

It Shall Be So Madness Must Unwatched Go

The Application Of Beyond Understanding

The Little Drummer Girl is about spies
Madame Bovary is about adultery
Crime and Punishment about crime.”

William Buckley
quoted at the link above


A Behind-The-Scenes Note:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This final version of today’s post
very different from the first
version. Just in case anyone
was looking in and saw all
the changes, all I can say is
my sinuses and allergies are
killing me right now, and
I’m having trouble thinking
at all, let alone thinking clearly
enough to create a sensible post.
So I made
a lot of changes
after I posted the first version.
I don’t like doing that, but
I also don’t like talking much
about celebrities. So that’s
a behind-the-scene glimpse
of this post. Lots of changes—
but I like this version better
than the first, although maybe
it’s not as funny. I don’t know.
Now I’m going to take
some Benadryl and possibly
sleep the entire weekend.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ophelia’s Flowers

“You like my Teva shoes, don’t you, Gale?” I asked.

“Actually, I think Nike shoes probably would be more cool,” Gale said.

Everyone kind of raised an eyebrow.

I said, “Gale’s being provocative. Gale’s a thrill-seeker, she likes living on the edge. Gale’s underwear doesn’t say ‘Tuesday’ or ‘Wednesday.’ Gale’s underwear says ‘What is time?’”

Everyone kind of smiled and it was close but no one actually laughed.

Gale said, “How would you know what my underwear says, Mark? You’ve never seen it.”

Everyone kind of raised an eyebrow.

I said, “I see it in my dreams, Gale. And in those underwear pictures you’re always putting up on Twitter.”


Everyone laughed, so I won. Gale made a face and wound-up to throw a cupcake at me, but instead unwrapped the paper from the cupcake, took a bite of the cupcake, and crumpled up the paper wrapper and threw the crumpled up wrapper at me.

I had gotten into a bad mood. People were talking about buying things from Amazon and I said I had recently bought some painting knives from Amazon, but it was an Amazon associate store, not Amazon directly.

Somebody said they had just bought one of the new Kindles, and someone else said they had just bought a DVD.

I said, “Come to think of it, just yesterday I went to Amazon to order a movie, but instead I bought a book. I bought an actual novel. Like in the old days when Amazon was a bookstore.”

Somebody said, “A book? What, you mean like with pages and a cover and everything? I remember those.” They made a face and shook their head and everyone laughed.

I was the only person in the room who had recently purchased an actual book from Amazon. It was something like the punchline of a joke. A book. And everyone laughs.

Conversation moved on to other things. Clothing. Shoes. Brand choices.

It cheered me up a little, getting something thrown at me by a beautiful woman. But to be honest down in my deepest secret soul I was still thinking about books having become something like a punchline.


It makes me want to throw something at someone but I don’t even have the vaguest idea of who I should throw something at or what I should throw.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Machines Of Loving Grace

Aberrant Forms

Heaven From Hell

La Seule Chose Que Je Peux Faire

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Real And ‘Real’ Liminal Entities

“It is cinema as a dream. In dreams, people act strangely. One sequence doesn’t seem to match, exactly, to other sequences. It’s cinema as a dream. We think about it. We wonder about it. We project our own meanings onto it. It’s not something a real cinema buff complains about. It’s something we pay extra for.”

The Loch Ness Monster Versus Pretty Flowers

[laughs] this is me quoting
myself quoting myself about
the film

The Art Institute of Chicago owns seventeen [!] works by Berthe Morisot, including the watercolor version of “On The Balcony.” Unfortunately, although I’ve been checking every now and then, they never seem to have more than one Morisot piece on display at a time and I’ve never seen “On The Balcony” taken out of storage.

But you can visit the Art Institute website and see reasonably good images of some of the Morisot pieces in their collection. “On The Balcony” is my favorite, but I also like this piece a lot:

That’s Morisot’s daughter Julie in a little sketch. I love fragmentary images like that set against a whole sheet. To me there’s something almost dreamlike about an image set against a wide surround.

And here’s a cool thing about that image: It’s a colored pencil sketch! It’s from the end of the nineteenth century, around 1890, and Berthe Morisot, like Degas, didn’t hesitate to experiment with strange media. Colored pencils!

It’s amazing thinking back to a time when colored pencils were considered “new technology.” I’ve already done a post about oil pastels and their interesting double history, European and Japanese.

Colored pencils and crayons as cutting-edge technology.

One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because I’ve seen strange—to my eyes—reactionary trends to abandon technology and embrace trivial, and not so trivial, elements of the past and I don’t know that I see any good reason for most of these trends.

Now that digital watches can be accurate to within a second over months, I see a lot of people getting wind-up, mechanical watches. Very expensive mechanical watches, too.

Now that everyone knows smoking kills you and makes your whole body smell like garbage, I see more and more people returning to the cigarette habit.

And I got started thinking about this recently because in the science fiction film “Prometheus” the director wanted the rich woman on the spaceship to have the fanciest, most visually compelling symbols of wealth and coolness and modernity imaginable. So this is what part of Meredith Vickers’ cabin on the spaceship [!] looks like in the vision of director Ridley Scott:

Talk about liminal entities!

Now, I feel dull and hopelessly working-class because when I saw the movie I didn’t even recognize that, but I’ve since learned it is a Fazioli grand piano, from their specialty line, called an M. Liminal. They sell for around $500,000 but I’ve heard that if you shop around you can sometimes find one for around $450,000.

This is something I just don’t get at all.

Even as a dream. Or maybe I should say especially as a dream.

I would never go back to mechanical watches. I would never go back to suicidal (and ugly) recreations like smoking.

And even if I bought an acoustic guitar, it would still have pickups, almost certainly at least two different kinds.

It’s the twenty-first century and music is about music—that is, carefully arranged sounds. Synthesizers today, I bet, can create sounds that nobody would be able to distinguish (without looking) from the sounds produced by that acoustic piano.

I can’t even imagine the thinking behind a half-a-million dollars acoustic piano.

It wasn’t really that long ago that cutting edge artists were experimenting with and embracing colored pencils and crayons as wonderful new technology.

Colored pencils and crayons.

Real liminal entities!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dark Sidewalk In Daylight (Still Dark)

Walking at night I look at that dark,
the deeper dark of the dark sidewalk,
and I don’t see monsters in the dark,
I don’t see something else in the dark,
I don’t see someplace else in the dark.
But I do see the deeper darkness.
The darkness is there and in my mind.
If I walked there I would be walking
into the darkness in my mind, too.
The darkness in my mind is deeper
than the darkness of the dark sidewalk,
less empty and somehow more complete.
I do not walk there. I cross the street.

Not too long ago one bright afternoon I saw a hot rod. It wasn’t this one. Everything happened too quickly for me to get out my camera. But I found this photograph at some random site on the internet. The hot rod I saw looked like this one.

The hot rod was driving east on the street next to the patch of sidewalk I’ve called the dark sidewalk. On the sidewalk, walking west, were three young teenage girls, high school age kids.

So I thought: Cool! This is going to be just like a scene from American Graffiti. The driver of the hot rod will slow down and honk his horn at the girls. The girls either will yell and wave, or they’ll pointedly ignore the hot rod, give the driver the cold shoulder until he has driven past, then they’ll stop and turn and look at hot rod and giggle with each other that the driver of such a cool car had slowed down and honked at them.

In fact what happened was: Nothing! The driver of the hot rod didn’t slow down and didn’t honk his horn at the three girls. The three girls never even noticed the hot rod—two girls were on their phones and just kept talking and walking, the third just kept walking and staring straight ahead. Even when the hot rod was behind them the girls never looked over their shoulders.

I thought: Have I died and gone to Hell?


I called that area of sidewalk dark because at night tall trees blocked light from nearby streetlights. But this year our suburb’s forester has started cutting down all the ash trees in our suburb because they’ve been infested with emerald ash borer beetles. I mentioned that in, Dead From Golgotha. Already all the trees along that sidewalk have been cleared. Now at night the sidewalk is no different than any other area of sidewalk. It’s not dark at all.

But obviously there’s still something not right there. Even during the day in bright sunlight it's obvious there's still something not right there.


I have a keyboard
called an arranger keyboard
that can synthesize

almost any sound
but I just used piano
a synthesized one

to make up a song
five chords and a melody
just piano sounds

and after a while
I decided I wasn’t
in Hell after all

but I’m more certain
everything’s slowly changing
into Choctaw Ridge.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hot Rods, French Girls, Monster Lizards

Real Water Colors (With Figures)

Exerting Agency, Liminal Entities And Scripts

Change: Sudden, Incomprehensible And Deadly

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #1

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2

“Seems like nothing ever comes to no good
up on Choctaw Ridge”

Monday, October 15, 2012

That Girl – In Which I Quote The Khmer Rouge

While I was getting ready, she told me about her week at work, flying out to Los Angeles for an interview, then up to Seattle to see a demo of some software in beta, and then having to fly back on an overnight flight for some reason I didn’t catch. She sat at my computer and yawned. Bored, she checked her phone then put it down and idly clicked a OneNote icon on my desktop with the title “randomQuotes.” She clicked through some of the pages.

“Why do you have all these political quotes?” she asked.

I looked over at what she was reading.

“Because they’re interesting,” I said. “And some of those are quotes you see people use on the web a lot but without attribution. I tracked them down and found the original sources. But most of them are pretty serious and I never get a chance to use them myself. So they’ve just kind of accumulated.”

“Are all of these from overseas?” she asked. “These are all the kinds of places you see in the news but you never really know where they’re at.” She pointed at one and said, “Tahrir?”

"The Egyptian government and the western media always try to equate Tahrir with the revolution and vice versa in an effort to limit the space of the revolution, but that utopian, materialistic image of Tahrir has long been distorted," she said. "Now we need to concentrate on mass marches across the whole country. Tahrir can be a start or end point, but no longer just a destination in its own right."

“Egypt,” I said. “Tahrir Square is in Cairo. But that quote is interesting because the language is so academic. What kind of street rebel talks like that? You know who talks like that? So-called ‘rebels’ who attend the Kennedy School of Government, or the equivalent in France or Britain. That’s a good quote because it says so much more than just what it says.”

“And this one is about the Balkans,” she said. “Why does anyone even use that word, ‘Balkans’? It doesn’t even refer to a real place now.”

"We never, until the war, thought of ourselves as Muslims," said Mikica Babic, a 32-year-old history teacher. "We were Yugoslavs. But when we began to be murdered, because we were Muslims, things changed. The definition of who we are today has been determined by our killers. In a way this means these Serbs have won, no matter what happens in the war."

“I think it’s a mountain range,” I said. “But it’s become part of normal speech. You hear the word ‘Balkanized’ a lot in politics. As a reference to fragmenting, manipulative politics it’s more important than the place.”

“Hey, this one’s from Singapore,” she said. “I know where Singapore is.”

Singapore's move to tighten casino regulations hasn't met much resistance from casino operators so far. Las Vegas Sands' Mr. Adelson said in July that his company isn't concerned by Singapore's moves and doesn't expect the tighter rules to significantly hurt its business. "We don't have a problem if [Singapore] wants to put a limitation on either visitation or the exclusion of very poor people," he told analysts in an earnings call. "We don't see the future coming out of poor, unfortunate, very vulnerable people."

Singapore Bets on Casino Revenues
from The Wall Street Journal

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s about Southeast Asia, but you know the same issue is important here in the US. I think the future does sometimes come from poor, unfortunate, very vulnerable people whether the businessmen see it or not.”

“Southeast Asia is up above Australia,” she said. “I know that because it’s where that city is.”

“What city?” I asked

“You know what city,” she said. She giggled, then said, “Bangkok. You know. Bang. Cock.” She giggled again.

I said, “Oh my god! Here, from that same general area, have you ever heard of the Khmer Rouge? They once had political slogans that were interesting.” I clicked on a page.

The Khmer Rouge believed parents were tainted with capitalism. Consequently, children were separated from parents and indoctrinated in communism as well as taught torture methods with animals. Children were a "dictatorial instrument of the party" and were given leadership in torture and executions.

One of their mottos, in reference to the New People, was: "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." The philosophy of the Khmer Rouge had developed over time. It started as communist party that was working together and searching for direction from the Vietnamese guerrillas who were fighting their own civil war.

Khmer Rouge
at Wikipedia

She laughed. “At least that’s an honest slogan! The Republicans and Democrats both act like they could use that slogan today!”

I sighed. I clicked on a page and said, “Look, here’s a real political one that’s old but also about the modern world.”

Diamonds, Daisies, Snowflakes,
That Girl
Chestnuts, Rainbows, Springtime...
Is That Girl
She's tinsel on a tree...
She's everything that every girl should be!

Sable, Popcorn, White Wine,
That Girl
Gingham, Bluebirds, Broadway...
Is That Girl
She's mine alone, but luckily for you...
If you find a girl to love,
Only one girl to love,
Then she'll be That Girl too...
That Girl!

That Girl
at Wikipedia

“That’s very sweet,” she said, and kissed me on the cheek.

I took her hand and said, “Let’s go. We’re very lucky. Somehow we managed to talk a little about politics but we didn’t get into a big fight.”

“That’s because I’m tinsel on a tree,” she said. “I’m everything that every girl should be.”

Of all the quotes, that’s the one she remembered!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lost In The Astrophysics

Got $1.24 million in your pocket? That’s how much it’ll cost per year to operate a productive, world-class observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. As announced late last month, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) is for sale — a package deal that includes the 12.5-foot (3.8-meter) reflector, its enclosure, and all its instrumentation and support equipment.

This unusual event came about thanks to U.K.’s astronomy funding crisis. In May, the country’s Science and Technology Facilities Council decided to stop supporting two telescopes atop Mauna Kea. The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), which observes submillimeter wavelengths with a 15-meter primary mirror, is scheduled to close in 2014; UKIRT is to be shuttered a year earlier, in September 2013. The two closures make room in the budget for U.K.’s participation in up-and-coming megaprojects, including the ALMA radio array, the Square Kilometer Array, and the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope.

After the release of Stacie Orrico and the singles from that album, Orrico decided she did not want to pursue her career in music any further, the Christian pop singer exited the business, returned to her family in Seattle and took a waitressing job at a neighborhood seafood restaurant.

Stacie Orrico
at Wikipedia


“Hey did Stacie Orrico really leave
the music business for a waitress job
working in a Seattle sushi bar?”

“I’ve heard that’s what Wikipedia says.”

“How long did that last? Three days? Maybe four?
You’ve got to think that if there’s anything
that could make the music business look good
it’s going to work and spending all day
waiting on drunken Microsoft hipsters
always grabbing your ass and asking why
the restaurant smells like fish and snickering.”

“That’s pretty much how most of the young girls
describe working in the music business.”


I’m thinking about buying some big glass.

I’d buy the Yerkes observatory
in Wisconsin as my main headquarters
because it was the first facility
designed to do astrophysics research
so it’s got all that history even
if it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere
well Wisconsin under dubious skies.

I’d buy a couple of good dark sky sites
like Mauna Kea and pipe the data
from the big glass where they have good seeing
back to my central campus at Yerkes.

This is a good time. High technology
can shine interesting and wide spectrum light
on the details of an old metaphor—
are solar systems like islands in space?—
and maybe a new astrophysicist
will cut the data into bite-sized bits
and make something like a meal out of them
discovering or crafting together
a metaphor shaped by modernity
as different from the island metaphor
as a music video on a phone
is from a charcoal drawing on paper.


I’d be in it for the laughs even though
I think about astrophysics a lot.

I’d meet a pop star at my helipad—
I’m still seeing Skye Sweetnam in the role—
and show her around my facility
and describe the science we were doing
then I’d ask her to go to my office
but for a minute I would stand alone
when she and the astrophysicists left
and I would look at all the computers
and I would think about all the data
streaming in from all over the planet
and I would think: “They have their agenda
and I have mine and mine’s bigger than theirs.”

Then I’d laugh a good supervillain laugh.

It would start quietly like a chuckle
but build becoming louder going on
for a long time just me laughing alone
until I was done almost exhausted
and for a minute I’d be out of breath.

Then I would make sure I wasn’t smiling
and I’d join Skye Sweetnam in my office.

Or whoever I got for a sidekick.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Distance: Istanbul to Aleppo

Istanbul is a city in Turkey.

Aleppo is a city in Syria.

The two cities are 554.6 miles apart.

This year Istanbul hosts
the WTA Championships.

Turkey in two weeks will host the championships
of the Women’s Tennis Association’s tour.

Syria is at war, neighbors killing neighbors.

Two months back, a woman journalist from Japan
was killed in Syria reporting what she called,
“... the miseries of people involved in conflicts ...”

Her father survives her. He’s a journalist, too.

Asked to comment about his daughter’s death, he said
she was, “... a far better journalist than I was.”

I can’t imagine the businessmen of tennis
will cancel the women’s tennis championships.

There’s always a war somewhere, I guess, and people
will be flying in from all over the planet
to Turkey to watch the tennis in Istanbul.

I can’t imagine the businessmen of tennis
will cancel the women’s tennis championships.

I’m not a businessman and here in my thinking
I’ve canceled the women’s tennis championships.

I can’t imagine anything that could mean less
than a blogger saying he won’t create a post
on Maria Sharapova in Istanbul
compared to the shattered life and the destroyed world
of a man who built his life around reporting
learning that his own daughter, a journalist, too,
has been killed on the other side of the planet
reporting on a war, trying to help the world.

I can’t imagine anything means less than this
but I hope somehow this is better than nothing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mika Yamamoto
at Wikipedia

Japanese Journalist’s Final Report
From Syria Is Released After Her Death

August 22, 2012
Robert Mackey, New York Times

Her father, Hiroshi, a retired journalist,
told the same newspaper, “She is not
a war journalist, but rather a human journalist,”
who was determined to “come home alive
to tell the real stories of
women and children in battlefields.”

He added, “She always talked about
the miseries of people involved
in conflicts, human lives and world peace.”
His daughter was “a far better journalist
than I was,” Mr. Yamamoto said.


The Application Of Beyond Understanding

It Shall Be So Madness Must Unwatched Go

Conspiracy Theories And Masturbation


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Motion Beyond The Witch Point

At the end of season three Lana left Smallville and flew to Paris to study art. Lex helped her finance her trip by buying her share of the coffee shop they owned together. This is one of the rare moments in the series where Lana is happy.

This is all pretend of course. It’s actress Kristin Kreuk pretending to be Lana Lang and actor Michael Rosenbaum pretending to be Lex Luthor. And “Lana Lang” and “Lex Luthor” are cartoon characters anyway. It’s pretend pretend.

A while ago I posted about how I haven’t often seen people playing musical instruments in general entertainment—movies or TV shows not specifically about musicians, Returning From A Walk To Mars. But I posted a couple of examples from the TV show Smallville where people had been shown playing musical instruments for fun. Mostly it was the supervillain Lex at one of his grand pianos, Lost In The Villainy.

It occurred to me recently, too, that you don’t often see people in general entertainment painting or drawing for pleasure.

But immediately I thought of two exceptions and predictably the exceptions I thought of were from Smallville.

First of all, we did once see the interior of Lana’s room above the coffee shop where she was, apparently, in the middle of a painting:

We don’t actually see her working on the painting, but she does have a heavy-duty easel back there. And it is odd that it appears to be a marine painting while Smallville is in the middle of Kansas, but maybe it’s a scene from Crater Lake. At any rate it does appear to be a painting-in-progress so the scene stands out in my memory.

But not as much as this one:

Look: Lana is in Paris, in some church, and she is about to make a rubbing of a carved grave marker. She has placed a sheet of paper over the carved image, and she is holding a piece of stick media in her right hand—maybe charcoal or pastel or even a simple crayon. (I believe it’s traditional to place little weights of some kind at the corners of the paper to help hold it in position, but I might be wrong about that so I’ll let it go.)

Anyway, when you rub the stick media lightly then medium-vigorously over the paper on top of a carved or embossed image, you get a reproduction of the image on the paper, like this:

The French word for rubbing is “frottage.” The most common word for this activity is simply “rubbing” but frottage is sometimes used because it sounds fancy. Most technically, frottage is really used for a specific kind of rubbing, where you are capturing a surface pattern or a texture rather than a coherent image. But I’ve never heard anyone use the word so specifically.

I’ve always thought it was very cool of Smallville to show Lana doing such a beautiful fringe arts-and-crafts kind of activity like making a rubbing.


I know it was a plot-driven device—
Lana had to physically touch the grave
so that the spirit of the ancient witch
could take possession of Lana’s body—
but the writers could have written the scene
with Lana taking a cell phone photo
and then just for instance dropping her keys
and touching the grave when she picks them up.

Making a rubbing involves agency.

But the writers had to know what it was
I mean the arts and crafts activity.

Did they see an artist make a rubbing?

I once saw a woman make a rubbing
of a coin to test a colored pencil—
it was a Derwent Graphitint pencil
I recommended and she was thinking
of taking a set on a trip with her.

But that was something like ten years ago.

It’s been years in fact since I thought of that.

People hold cell phones like stick media
and rub them against the side of their head
but it doesn’t create any image
so it doesn’t seem like an art or craft
this business of holding up a cell phone
but it creates an image in the mind
of anyone watching them on the phone
so maybe it’s a kind of art or craft.

Holding a phone does involve agency.

If I were a writer I’d imagine
that plot-driven device as a passage
between worlds but where a smart sexy witch
might travel to an artist making art
I’d imagine something else might travel
through the batteries and computer chips
emitting energy near microwaves
and I’d imagine whatever it was
would travel right into a person’s head.

Things that start in our head sometimes get out.

This for instance did and I imagine
witches are like a point on a spectrum
and things from beyond the witch point will too.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Oh, P.S. Those pictures of Lana
are from season four of Smallville.
Lana made the rubbing in
episode 1,
“Crusade,” and
we see the painting in
episode 15,


Motion Beyond The Fox Point

Exerting Agency, Liminal Entities And Scripts

Passages Between Worlds

Parsimony And Aberrant Forms

Ten Thirteen Unanswered Questions #2

A Sketchbook Page With No Sketches

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Across South America Forever

And everybody knows who they are
In a velvet garden of rhinestone stars
Shining down on me, satin queen,
Overlords of insane scenes
They go dancing across the pages
Of a magazine

“Magazine,” Heart
quoted in Everybody Knows Who They Are

Effective immediately, Alice will no longer be selling her works that are published by Southern Music Company. The entire catalog of Southern Music Company was sold to Keiser Productions, Inc. on June 22, 2012. All of Alice's mallet solos that were originally published by Southern Music Company can now be obtained through Keiser Productions And Sheet Music Plus. Some of these titles include Rain Dance, Marimba Flamenca, and Gitano.

Everybody knows—well, Zappa fans know—
Frank Zappa wrote a song called “Inca Roads”
for marimba player Ruth Underwood.

Nobody knows, of course, why somebody
carved giant insect and animal glyphs
into a South American landscape.

I know I would tear up a magazine
and let the wind blow the crumpled pages
across South America forever.

She knows who she is and I admire that
but only enough to watch the pages
blow in new patterns over the old ones.