one last

Teaching: exhilarating and crushing all at once.

I have heard the death rattle of my former self and it sounds like a teething baby's.

Reading, writing, volunteering, and activism. All fall to the wayside. I'm failed. At least, I think, that's how it feels to devote about fifty edging on sixty hours per week to work. Time in the evenings devolves into sitting, head-in-hand, on the couch, or watching this or that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or True Detective, or pretending to read. Although I have made headway with Issue No. Three of Hysteria and Teju Cole's Open City. But not to write. Never to write.

My book sits gathering electronic dust in the "Literary" folder. This journal grows mute with months of absent entries. But, mainly, my book...

A friend of mine told me she hated the thought of my not-writing. "You're one of the most ambitious readers and thinkers I know," she said. "Makes me sad to think of you deprived of those things...putting your work out into the world."

If I might be so bold and megalomaniacal: it matters to me that the lack of reading and writing and doing-other brought on by my first full-time year of teaching should have rendered me such a blow, especially at a time in my life when I often feel satisfied with the person I am becoming. Always becoming. And, of course, my students comprise the better part of my thought and after-thought, and when they struggle I do. I have the feminist, anti-hierarchic, critical classroom of my dreams; I create my own curriculum (with the students steadfastly in mind); my co-teachers support and critique me where necessary. Finally I am sharing literature and grammar and critique and conversation with young people.

All of this amplifies my disgust at my utter lack of ability to adjust to my new schedule and accommodate for reading and writing (and, later, activism).

But. Here I am. Writing. And thinking of how I will change things around, rearranging morning and evening minutes and hours - thirty here, an hour there - to begin that final edit of sick girl and pick up reading Bradbury's enormous collected short stories and Open City and V. and some of Ursula Le Guin's fiction. Picture it now: a micron pen carefully balanced between the thumb and third finger of my red right hand.


death coda

On one of my morning runs I came across a bird, huddled and still, on the sidewalk. House finch or sparrow, little brown-and-white wings a shroud draped about her. Her head was buried in the tuft of her left shoulder with one eye turned upward, closed fast.

She sat motionless on the concrete.

I stood in awe for some minutes, and then with increasing dread. Aloud I asked the bird why she was there alone and unmoving. Are you hurt, little one? Oh, why are you here? Tears welled. I panicked at the thought of picking her up, of moving her from this spot, because baby birds can sometimes become ground-logged couldn't they, and how could I live with myself if I spoiled her with my scent, ruining her chance at flight?

At once she fell to one side. The right. My stomach lurched; she used a wing to regain her footing but her legs splayed. Stop, stop, it's okay, I told her, the panic in my throat a cold and heavy stone. With both eyes screwed shut her head began to jerk and wind in a repeated motion: a death coda.

Crying, I pleaded her to stop. Be okay. It's okay, little one. Oh, I'm so sorry, why are you alone? She would go still for a moment only to resume the fits once more, and with increasing tremors. Her wings extended outward but did not flit or pulse. Paper bird. Iron cast. Not dead but dying.

I wished her head would quit its half-circle clockwork, like a toy that won't unwind, and in that horrible helplessness an image from early childhood asserted itself: Misty, my father's sixteen-year-old cat, perched on the end of a couch-arm in the dark. He sat like he always did, his front legs straight as pins and the rest of him flowing forth in blue and white hairs as thick and long as my own. Pre-dawn light - yellow and gray and commingling with the withering dark of the night before - had just begun to glow in the front window, in front of which was the couch where Misty sat, all of him stiff and rigid except for his head: it turned. Slowly, cricking half upward and then down, it turned.

In my pause I whispered his name, Misty, Misty, what's the matter buddy?, and took little note that I had begun to cry. No noise or movement came from him except for the glitch of his head and I grew to hate not knowing him anymore - I recoiled at this new form, not Misty anymore, not even a cat, or a cat turned owl (as I had begun to suspect). He was changed. Unrecognizable.

Misty had a stroke, my father later explained. He was just old. This is what happens when we get old. He told me this in the cool of his workshop. His face and hands were covered in dust, excelsior from the wood he cut as he made a cat-sized coffin.


I knew the bird would die, and soon. Two women on a morning walk stopped and hunched, cooing when they saw her outstretched wings, when they heard the choke in my voice. Do you have anything? A paper, or something, to pick her up? She can't die alone on the concrete. One handed me a card and helped to nudge the bird upon it; this was perhaps the most difficult thing, moving her without her permission, touching her feathers, taking her to the drying hillside to seizure. To die alone.

Afterward I continued on my run and sobbed in strident gasps. I thought more of Misty, of the dying bee that I had placed in the soil of a kalanchoe on my front steps - of myself, alone, unfeeling, my body electric with pain. What an utter lack of difference between our deaths.

How shall you name the mother of that orphaned bird?


motherhood on the killing floor

A mother gives birth on a slab of concrete lackered in the blood and placenta of other mothers and their newborns. Layers of dirt and pus. And when the child comes it is sometimes not quickly enough so the baby is pulled, her wet and knotted body yanked ankle- or knee-first to the ground, until she falls where her mother and hundreds of millions of other mothers have fallen. No father but a mechanized arm and stolen seed. No bond that won't soon be broken, for this baby was born to a place that abolishes motherhood, that forever bans it from its dry and flaking tongue and thieving hands. This baby's milk does not belong to it or its mother but to the stranger in the bloodstained galoshes. This baby does not belong to itself or to its mother but to the strangers in the nearby town who loathe the smell of their living and murdered selves but demand the production of lactate, veal, and beef (so long as the killing floor remains under quarantine, hidden from eyesight, a blight to be forcefully forgotten with each new birth, billions of times over).

Another mother, her pink skin streaked with bruises, her hips a parabola of cattle prod burns, gives birth to eleven children that she may never nuzzle without the interference of an iron gate. She would kiss them - she, the mother, would bat her babies with her ears and let them run over and under her expansive belly if she could, but she is disallowed from even seeing them or standing upright to show them her true size. Two weeks, maybe three, and they're taken from her. The stranger who keeps the keys at the gates of her cages does not call her mother. Sow, bitch, cunt, dumb fuck, pig.


What has to happen for a mother to be denied her motherhood? She is made into a not-person, an abject thing - not she the subject but she the object. Body, function, product. And what do we do when two hundred daughters can be stolen at once from their mothers, schools, communities? When another daughter is shot through the eye, another kicked in the ribs, another kept in a crate?

Let this Mother's Day see the definitions of motherhood expand. Let it be all-inclusive: all mothers must have equal access to the respect demanded by some. Rape will forever be rape; exploitation, exploitation. No more forcible motherhood and no more exclusion based upon gender, sex, ethnicity, or species. As many ecofeminist mothers have been saying for a while now: all oppressions intersect one another.


poetry exercise

if I am a pair of legs
then the cloud whose shadow
blots out the piebald face of the mountain
is nothing but a choke of air

the frozen blackberry I ate
no more than a needling seed gone fat

if I am a pair of legs
then my mother must have the rest of me



The ravens in Southern California perch stonily atop telephone poles, black marble busts on their wooden plinths, and let perfectly round ping-pong chirps roll off their black tongues on down to the street below.

They are black wolves in flight. They crane their necks to pierce the blue above our heads with their long hooked snouts shining like black jade in that dry and airy sea.

All the while I stand dumbly below them. There's one for every dusty block, each a sentry with a full and curling beard and a black curtain of wing-feathers draped about her chest. Each a perfect shade of pitch.


sea upon sea

Amoeba Records on a rainy mid-week afternoon in Los Angeles: one of the only idiosyncratic experiences I've found to come close those of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Those infinite snaking subway rides with book in hand, a bodega on every block with Goya cans on shelves and chia-infused kombucha in sliding-glass refrigerators. Conspicuously homeless chessmen and hula-hoopers in Washington Square Park.

I don't suppose it's difficult to tell I am missing it.

On Saturday mornings like this one, where I wake up late (8:36 AM) after returning (1:52 AM) from a night out dancing and feel as fatigued as if I had never slept at all, I settle down into the discomfort of not really wanting to do anything. No, I don't really want to finish that draft right now. No, I'm not going for a run yet. Eventually.

I've gone and forgotten the damn coffee. Eighteen minutes stewing in its own acidic juices in the french press. Well, I will not waste it all. Just a little cup. After all, I am only just returning to drinking it, after months of plastic "illness" that led me to further demonize coffee along with bananas, peanut butter, wheat, red wine, pillows, the couch, and consciousness itself. Really only the keyed-up version of consciousness, the one split multiple and over-invested in a hundred directions. As suspicious as it is messianic.

Well, the coffee's not utterly ruined, if it's any consolation.

Increasingly I've been thinking of Stanley Kubrick. Imagine my surprise when I came upon a chapter in Jon Ronson's Lost At Sea titled "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes." Putting aside my unease about journalists plundering Stanley's horde, cabinets, barn-stables, and folders (all the while making me an accessory to the crime, wrought as it was by way of an un-killable curiosity about the manias of our artistic heroes), I was happy to read Ronson's transcription of an acceptance speech for the D.W. Griffith Award pre-recorded by Stanley in order to avoid, well, all of us:
Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.
 photo of a subway station in New York taken by Kubrick in 1946



More opportunities than ever to do the things I say I want/need/ought to do. But when you're on a two-week holiday all you want is to revolt against schedules, those hard metal stakes that so often cause the tent of your life to capsize instead of standing upright. You're left with deflated parachute material and wet dirt clods.

Always excuses with me! Not just with me, I realize. I also realize I'm productive generally and often take for granted all the books and articles I read; the volunteering I do; the people I'm meeting and with whom I'm corresponding, most often via email, increasingly through handwritten letters; the various projects I'm working on (not including my manuscript, despite much self-cajoling); the thinking, talking, dancing, dreaming.

Did you know I want to have a small house - a repurposed garage, portable, powered by sunlight - and live in the Pacific Northwest? It will be one big room, with a loft framing a triangular big-paned window where our bed will be. Shelving for books will line all the walls and the majority of any storage we have will be for the rest of them, and vinyl. And plants wherever we can stuff them.

Also: to Ph.D. or not to Ph.D. - that is the elementary question, My Dear Watson.

What's more, I miss gardening, and have grown fully sick-and-tired of the construction site next door. I have a few potted plants on the steps that lead to our front door and one (ailing) succulent on the sill in our bathroom, but this seems hardly enough. If not for the cats, who simply cannot be deterred from ransacking any thing in their path, there would be plants lining the bases of the windows, plants on the side desk next to the telemodulator and on the kitchen table. Hell, I'd put a plant in the kitchen sink if I thought that Omar would mind his own feline business.

1:46 PM on the second-to-last day of my vacation...I think I should go back to reading Blind Assassin.


two knots in my neck

I know that I hold tension in my neck and shoulders, and that this is why I've had chronic aches for the past five months. How lovely it would be to go once weekly to the massage parlor, or to attend yoga like I know I should (especially since it's free and in the park), or to fully cast aside the persistent thoughts of illness and permanent discomfort.

Just this morning I have realized that I am also now being submerged in a deep nostalgia for the East Coast. The Pacific knows nothing of that cold driving wind that comes off the Atlantic; the ashen marine layer that hovers over Los Angeles only assembles a few times a month, and the rain even less, although I've heard people saying that we are approaching/are in a "wet season." Perhaps Ohio, Illinois, and New York have forever spoiled my sense of "inclement" weather.

What am I to do with this persistent depression? I know it's been here for a little while now, and logically so (I suppose). It's that sadly familiar anti-social turn, that retreat to my apartment and my apartment alone most nights, that daily feeling of unrest and dis-ease that causes me to feel as though I'm running in place, going nowhere but downward through layers of dirt and stone.

Despite all my reading, writing, volunteering, running, biking, cooking, cleaning, gardening, movie-ing, working, researching, and on, I feel stagnant and feverish, like I'm not accomplishing a damn thing and perhaps never have or will. Not if I go on aching, not if I go on obsessing like this. It does not matter if what I feel corresponds with what is factually true about my current life situation because perception, driven by mercurial thought, always (initially) overrides concrete reality. Whatever that may really be.

I am in a better place, however, than I have been these last few months. It's just that I woke up three or four times last night and woke up this morning feeling simply saturated with malaise and doubt. What do I do when I can no longer retreat into myself at night, during sleep? At least I can say that I've been dreaming again.



I see them in cages all the time, mostly in my mind, through fog: the pads of their feet made raw by the rusted wire of their bankrupt houses, their spines forcibly contorted to fit right-angles.

Because of this knowledge I did not know if I would be able to sit through last night's west-coast premiere of Ghosts. Even at the previews I felt myself sinking into the pit of the theatre chair, my hands cupped at my ears. That very first minute with that very first enormous eye and the procession of eyes to follow I bent over as if to wretch, my hand a cast iron claw at my mouth, trails of iceblock tears shining through the dark.

The gaze you can never un-know:

I wailed to my husband as we drove home through the empty dustbowl streets of Los Angeles. I hurt, I hurt, how can we, they scream and they cry in the fur huts low to the ground, the cemented crates. As if he - we, I - had not already known, and this, apart from any intellectualizing or critical debate, is why it matters to be so shockingly reminded that my knowledge can never be complete enough to integrate and empathize with their suffering because I will never know it firsthand. To witness can only be to see.

The fact that I cannot understand and further cannot speak to the fantastical misery of life as an other animal, forcibly born to die for the desire of my own species, horrifies and humbles me all the same. Like I said, you cannot un-know, and many of us who also fought against that will to ignorance (the favorite worn-in armchair of those whose comfort remains undisturbed, and deliberately so) must also live with the weight of an uneven and violent knowledge of our selves and theirs.

But I do know that these violences coalesce so nicely: the power of the will of man, who grants himself all the power (and it is usually the power of rightness, of being always right, thereby being owed something from every thing and every one), none of which really exists.

All this wonderful weight and hatred and hunger to be molded and re-cast - for the rest of my life - as a will not only to witness but to move to strike against an exploitative hatred the size of our planet.


lick lick lick

7:00 AM on a Saturday morning and I was already up a half-hour ago, maybe more, listening to Spex as he got ready for a day of filming. Open-and-shut of multiple skew-hinged doors. The crrrrrk of the lid of the cat food as he pulled it back, saying, "Get down, get back, damn it." Our cats meowling and gurgling through a strain of purrs.

I sit cross-legged on the couch and write this, after having eaten cereal without milk (because we had none left and no fruit either) and one block of dark chocolate. Omar leans on my shoulder. The morning light that comes in through the front row of windows is a different gradient than the light I see in the distance that dusts the hills with mustard-seed yellow.

The sound of being alone in the bottom-half of a duplex on a hill early on a weekend morning: breath and static and the crunch in my neck.