They send soft letters, soft letters means
iron-on compliments ironed into fabric,
compliments on fashion, reading ”lovely
camisole” or complimenting how well you
do, “voice was strong, still it shakes me
this morning, booming to me, and over-
wrought story, you lied, and I forgive you,
because for how strong did you speak it.”
or a letter of care, “I love you, how can I
mean it more, I miss you,” this love letter,
"the heat of your thighs, me here in the
cool of fall november,” this love letter,
"the heat of your thighs and my hands
are chilly in fall november, take this
letter in warm hands and put it down
your pants, where I am not a liar, I love.”
These letters are soft mailed,
soft mailing means slowly over sea,
fabric of letters in stacks, sentiments
kept so in rubber bins with seals
tight enwax, and slowly delivered.
middle class task force
At dawn, he had stood on the concrete, square-corner boat launch while the diving instructor tried to explain to him how to breathe. One in, two out, two in, one out, and alternate like that, let’s practice, had said the instructor. The breathing rig weighed down the old man’s body, exhausting its narrow patience. Now try two in, three in, four in, had said the head diving technician, a crop-cut military contractor whose head resembled a minivan. See how big you can puff up those lungs, here, the instructor’s hands rubbing on Lou’s belly. “I know how to fucking breathe!” Lou had screamed.
After breakfast, he was going to be let to take his preparatory dives, once he had learned the maths of the apparatus; rates of descent, blood nitrogen ratios, pressure release measures, significant metric plateaus, etc. Lou was agitated by the thick instruction, but what grinded on him through his dives was the menace they attached to it. Forget something small, the turn of a regulator or the speed of breath intake and you’ll find your brain scrambled into wet scraps, or your lungs will bleed from every last nook, no, that is bullshit, he felt and he had dove deeper than the practice run had been accounted for.
He suited for the dive a few minutes after three p.m., the terminal cutoff for this section of the Atlantic. It doesn’t make any sense, he grumbled to himself, that three is the line and three o’ four isn’t the line. Just as it hadn’t made sense to do math formulas on how to breathe. It was his instinct that was bothering him. Even where it was unworkable, three hundred meters beneath the surface of the ocean, it was his instinct that had been the supreme drive of his life, the one that called him out of the fog whenever he was lost or confused. You talk to an ordinary person, you notice that they have little fetishes for themselves that they carry with them and when they don’t know what to do, because there is not always something to do, they return to these things and embody them. “I am the kind of man, I am the kind of man.” Then there are like Lou, who have no object or theme, they turn instead to their own instincts even when the instinct is strange. They become very self-identical. But to age, like Lou had, is to make a habit out of yourself and the habit of instinct is not less, so he now finds himself now making excuses for it, deciding to himself as he struggled his legs into the suit, that nobody could get killed for so small a transgression, not on the summery sea, not on a hired boat. It would be psychopathic.
Just before he dropped into the water, technicians clipped on three beacons to places around his suit and gear and they told him they were back-up gauges. This was the only sign of the concern growing among the crew.
Fifty minutes into the dive, one of the minders surfaced and said that Lou was being foolish, diving too deep and erratically, paying no attention to depth, so far as they could tell. He was also straying from the agreed-upon boundaries of the dive, nothing that his more experienced minders couldn’t follow, but a discomfort and a tension. After one hour and thirty five minutes, the same minder again surfaced, calm this time, saying that Lou had begun examining some sea life and was happy to keep at a steady depth and location. Only just after the two hour mark did anything appear wrong, when a different minder burst up out of the water, confused and frantic, asking where Lou was and why he had returned so quickly. A few seconds later, the other minder also surfaced, also asking about Lou, asking where he was, why he wasn’t up yet. Both men were past their nitrogen limits. Two of the beacons were registering a depth of four hundred meters, meaning they had come off and were settled on the shelf floor. The third was malfunctioning, it gave signal to four kilometers east of their location. After several minutes wait, the two minders took a surface dive to see what was visible. While they were under, on the other side of the boat, there was a rushing and a thud, as Lou resurfaced at tremendous speed, knocking himself against the hull.
Insensible to shouts, they had to drag him up to deck, three men pulling with a lancing hook raked in the loop of his rig. The ship’s physician could see, even before the body was aboard, signs of decompression sickness in the shaking hands, barotrauma in the choking and heaving and rigid leg tension. The closer they pulled the body to the railing, the more difficult it became to maneuver and the suit began bouncing off the boat, the helmet, again and again knocked and knocked and smashed full against the hull. This last shot was hard enough to startle Lou back to his senses, or sense enough that he began thrashing at the latches on his breathing rig. He was trying to get to the sea, to escape the pressure gaps, to get where his nitrogen was right, where his fluids weren’t sucking through his body at fifty times speed. This was a body shorn of mind, he was the primordial, the primal instinct to return in suicidal homecoming to that place which had him by the goddamn blood.
This is how they hauled him over the railing, nitropsychotic, kicking at them and screaming against his mask. The ship was no less frantic. Six men on the hauling-in, now on the holding-on, three and the doctor prepping the hyperbaric chamber, the captain and another man taking turns piloting headways for the Port and relaying demands for ambulance and drugs to the harbormaster.
The hyperbaric chamber looked like a seven-foot, nine-hundred-kilo pipe bomb. It was salvage from an old Maritime Nationale hospital ship. The captain found the capsule in Nova Scotia where the crew wintered, and they all put in to rebuild the machinery from scratch. New weld covers, air-sealing, two observation ports and an internal/external speaker relay. The machine works to re-pressurize the body to the former depth and then uses forced oxygen to ease out the nitrogen gas at a safe speed. When your body goes to sixty or seventy meters deep, supposing that was only as far as Lou went, pockets open up in the body, between and within the organs. While these pockets are open, they can be benign little suctions or depressions under the skin, looking like a softball had been scooped out of your belly. Or they can fill up with shifting fluids or fat and skin, with smaller organs like kidneys or with looping knots of intestine, or a dangerous balloon of air. If you surface at the proper speed, these all collapse slowly and everything settles back to the place proper to it, but coming up like Lou did, so fast as to strike the boat with force, thought the doctor, here is serious potential for barotraumas, and barotrauma on an old, old man. It was that thought which carried the doctor away. Images of an abdomen done wrong, twists of intestines around liver, cracked stomachs, the pok when a hollow of nitrogen gas ruptures and echoes throughout of the body. It’s going to take fifteen minutes to hook the goddamn thing up, thought the doctor, fifteen minutes that aren’t ours and every minute, a tensile test of the flesh, of the lungs, of the belly.
By the time the machine had powered up, Lou was limp but breathing. Pacified either by the six men on top of him or the exhaustion of nitrogen gas that pucked his frail body. The crew lifted him and the breathing rig into the hyperbaric and sealed the lid. The engine stroked. The men went below to wait. The kid and the doctor stayed above. It was for them to keep an eye out, for hemorrhage or stroke during the recompression / decompression cycle, just as it would be for them, for the doctor, to explain his procedures later that evening on the television. The kid shouted and hit at the side of the pressure vessel.
Do you have anything to keep him awake, said the doctor, Any music, or sound.
On the relay? said the kid.
Yes, Some music over the relay.
Yes, now. And the compressor? Can we run that?
Let’s run them both.
The kid plugged into the speakers, while the doctor dragged the main compressor side-by-side with the capsule and started it juttering, set it against the leg of the chamber so the vibrations would shake directly into the capsule.
Are you alright in there, he said and Lou’s hands shook. The kid didn’t know what music to pick so he just pressed play and turned the volume up the highest.
The body of an old man lies in a burnished steel capsule, bent and suckered. Furious. Beset by loud, banging rap music. Dying of decompression sickness. Dying of barotrauma. The body shakes with the compressor, and with the tremble of last nerves.
So many foreigners and cops out in Haebangchon tonight, for “HBC Fest”, I was compelled to say a prayer to Saint Seldom-Seen.
"A Poem of Poets"
Beloved Enrico made this for me and Grant and it’s so beautiful I cried. I’m lucky to count these artists and poets as my friends, and I really do hope that we tell these poems and stories together in a garden (virtual reality or “real life”) when we’re old.
(Click through and expand)
The first is a utilitarian nihilism, unable to identify the meaningful difference between different kinds of deaths. Surely lives are reducible to one another, interchangeable, measurable, quantifiable, surely they are, if we allow them to be. This is a problem that begins with the rhetorical question, “What’s the difference between this dead child and that one,” and the ugly sneering tone it takes, as the speaker tries to cover up a very real and important question. What is the difference, because there is one, why is there a difference, because there is one, what does that difference mean for us, because there is a difference after all between incidents of mass starvation and mass murder, between those who die of illness and those who are shot to death in their classroom, between those who die in war and those who are gunned down behind their desks. A specious distinction? Truly. But our specious distinction, the one that is evident to us, as long as we haven’t been thoroughly disciplined, to negate our instincts, to hate our emotions, or to feel adequately, correctly, appropriately, simply.
And yet of course, it’s always another submission, either to the instinct and its failures, failures to draw coherent, clear, pure, consistent, rational conclusions, or submission to the mechanism of a rhetorical device, something clean, prepared, thought through, something to do the work of thinking for us, to ensure we have the same response to every so-called similar circumstance— what a stupid posture. To submit to the latter, that pretense of right-thinking, all while feverishly cutting away from your mistake-filled body. Utilitarian nihilism, the ugly little story that the only values that matter are the ones that you can’t feel.
The second is a political nihilism, a nihilism of inertia and simplicity. There were more variations of this sentiment, from the creepy gun-owners brigade who hung their mouths open and let talking points pour out of them like shit, or the articles that said, knowing almost nothing about the actual circumstances, that the real problem was mental health access or white male privilege or school security or whatever it is that person writes on the rest of the year, which is amazingly the answer to this specific tragedy. It should be obvious why that shit is worthless. I chose instead the sentiment of Obama’s tears. This simple complaint, a retort to a person’s sadness, conveys the whole bleak emptiness. There’s the self-satisfaction, unable to cry, we scorn those who do for never crying enough. And the cold-bloodedness, able to see a person in a moment of pain and deep empathy and still work up a sneer. It retains the small and single-mindedness that views all events as happening in the light of a single struggle, always narcissistic, always our struggle (Imagine for a moment, someone saying “This shooting doesn’t involve any issue I care or know about, I leave it to others to figure out what is to be done.”)
Worst, most embarrassing perhaps, is the weakness of it. To hate Obama, or his government, or their war crimes, is neither unusual or misplaced. But the need to remind oneself of that hate constantly, particularly at times of that person’s sorrow, gives that hate a pathetic quality. Are they worried that they won’t be able to speak out against american war crimes tomorrow, if today they understand that their “enemy” is a person who weeps for dead children? What kind of hate is so simple that it needs constantly to be reminded of itself. To hate someone isn’t to erase their human being, isn’t to ignore when we feel close to them, when we identify with them, it’s to hate them appropriately, when they commit the wicked act, cover up the war crime, excuse and aid apartheid, all of it.
These are not the nihilisms of potential, that enliven us, that shake off moribund patterns and values whose persistence is only in having-previously-persisted. These instead are nihilisms of consistency, preemptive attacks on meaning designed to regulate a conversation. They’re unthinking, and simple-minded, idealized and abstracted, but worst of all they’re cowardly. Scared to have a mistaken thought, scared that a thought might not advance a rhetorical device adequately, scared that in a painful moment we might empathize wrongly or with the wrong people or in the wrong way, scared that we might empathize today and not tomorrow, scared fucking cowards, scared, consistent fucking cowards.
My book of poetry, I Don’t Want to Die in the Ocean, is a collection of more than sixty poems and images composed over the last five years. A pdf copy is $5.00, (paypal to gm.leuning at gmail dot com, with print copies coming soon.
Grant is one of my favourite poets and everyone please buy this.
me reading illi [see reblog above]
wisest thing I ever heard said was
the wisest thing I ever heard said was:
‘We know we’re stuck but that’s just
the end of the story. we know we’re
stuck because we’re stuck striving,
we’re born, runner and digger, and
now we know we’re born stuck, runner
and digger born, born stuck striving.
We’re all the more stuck or stuck all
more obvious because for our know-
ing, we keep on in striving, stuck
striving, born runner and digger, the
day won’t come, neither we rest nor
we forget, and even against that nor-
neither, we can neither resign nor
Born stuck, born stuck striving, now
born stuck knowing born stuck striv-
ing.’ and then she fucked off out of
town and nobody could stand to go
out to the bridge no-more, it was five
youths fighting off nostalgia.
“This Latter, This Combat.”
A Portrait of Menardian Youth
In an instant, three teenagers learn that pocahontas halloween costumes are appropriative. Each teenager moves to their computer, moves at the same speed, over the same distance, and each begins to type out their thoughts onto tumblr. They share between them an anger and hurt over the racist and white supremacist persistence of this trope, worse than some other kinds of racism given the particular brutality and continued oppression of native people in america. They also share a shame and a feeling a bit stupid for not having known before, or having known but not having thought of it, feeling maybe not stupid but thoughtless, careless, interpellated by systemic white supremacy. And they feel hostility toward about other people who don’t know it now, after they’ve learned it; to the one in South Carolina, because of youth, everything feels learned last, so if hem know it, so should them. The other two are struck more by the obviousness of it, when you think about it for even a second, and each by separate and unrelatable memories of youthful “indian” activities, that despite their difference induce in each an identical feeling of sadness and guilt at how their privilege allowed them a happy ignorance and complicity. This mess of feelings occurs in each of them strong and loudly enough to push their otherwise different emotional and material lives together, like three violins coming to share the same note. Each of the teenagers decides to begin their piece the same way, with the same words, as if the words were the most obvious thing in the world, the only thing one could say, and for having an identical origin, the rest of their sentences flow from that moment, encountering the same conceptual resistances, and therefore edits, deletions, replacings, in two of the teenagers the same misspelling, but not so in the third, but remember, this typing, these thoughts, they are happening simultaneous, this is the temporal inside the eternal, now each finishes their thought, then their last sentence in the same moment, that is the sound of the finite and the infinite collapsing, and now they publish, their abstract words run and rile through real virtual communities, this is body and soul, combined, conjoined and co-existent.
If you were to pick you favorite hour of the day,
would you choose by the aesthetics of the hour,
either the light of that time or the arrangement
of clock hands or your favorite or luckiest numerals,
or would you choose it by events common to that
time or a feeling of certain hours being fruitful or
scary or charged, or would you choose it by some