After Hours

   Lenny Bruce, seated on a chipped wooden stool, cigarette dangling from his lips, slumping forward, shoulders slack. His mouth puckers, the cigarette jumps to attention, he draws in fiercely, then exhales a series of bluish halos that float and dissipate.
   Time on his hands, balled into fists, relentless sledging of hours, Bruce has gotten good at blowing perfectly formed halos. That he sees them as halos, and not rings, says something.
   Cinderblock walls, the opposite of mercy, and a stone floor breathing bonechew cold.
   Who put me here, used to torment Bruce but not anymore. Now it was the negotiation of smoke and halos, unreflected.
   A sudden rush of air in the far upper corner of the room.
   What the fuck.
   Bruce saw a pigeon, a Surrealist gag of a pigeon—its snub beak fitted sideways, tiny red eyes misaligned, mangy iridescent feathers, body plumped to the point of busting, tri-pronged feet, pale pink with veiny ringlets, protruding from the bottom.
   The bird flapped its wings wildly yet remained in the corner, as if trapped there. Bruce, less amazed that a pigeon had appeared out of nowhere than he was grateful for fugitive motion, watched the bird struggle in its invisible cage. Eventually the pigeon worked its way out of the corner, its rhapsody slowed to a seductive blur, and it descended toward Bruce.
   In a trance, Bruce keyed in on a white slip of a paper wound tightly around the pigeon’s left foot.
   He raised his hand, pinching the paper between his thumb and forefinger, and slid the note down and off the pigeon’s foot.
   The pigeon continued its bobbing levitation, as Bruce unrolled the note and read it.
   Dear Leonard Alfred Schneider,
   When he was done reading, he flicked his cigarette to the floor, and cursed loudly.
   Several seconds later the pigeon exploded.
   An airtight pop followed by a siege of scattered feathers.
   Feathers got in Bruce’s hair, his eyes, grazed his lips and cheeks and chin.
   What a stupid fucking pigeon, Bruce spoke aloud, and brushed the feathers from his face and hair.
   Then he seized up and began cursing again, the barbed echoes of a man tormented by a man visited by a godforsaken pigeon delivering a message that informed him he had been pardoned from obscenity charges, thirty-nine years after his death, by the governor of New York, the first posthumous pardon in the state’s history.
   Bruce lit another cigarette, inhaled with a vengeance, considered smashing his fists against cinderblock, instead decided to do what he hadn’t done in a long time. Deliver a stand-up bit.
   His response to the pardon, tit for tat, halos be damned.
   Just so the fuckers knew, dead or not, Lenny Bruce had something left to say.

 

lenny III

 

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Raising the Bar

   Dylan Thomas falls off his barstool in Heaven.
   Lying on the sawdusty floor, he slurs something about a white horse. And chains, and the sea.
   God, who gave Lucifer the night off, is tending bar. He comes out from behind the counter, picks Dylan up, props him on his stool.
   You alright, Mr. Thomas, God asks him, leveling courtesy and light.
   You haven’t got any eyes, Dylan pops, head toggling to the warbled beat of his words.
   You’re eyeless, barkeep.
   Dylan laughs, an asthmatic snorting. God laughs, a beam hitting solid rock.
   You’ve been drinking, Mr. Thomas, God says, smiling.
   Yes, Dylan says, and rises rubber-legged from his stool, index upraised.
   By god, barkeep, I have been drinking, but your eyes. What the hell happened to your eyes? Did you never have eyes? Never ever?
   Dylan belches into a closed hand. God, towel-wiping a glass, responds—I have eyes, Mr. Thomas. You just can’t see them. You’ve been drinking.
   You mean to say, when I drink, eyes disappear? They just, poof, go away?
   I couldn’t say, Mr. Thomas. Drinking affects everyone differently.
   Yes, my good fellow, you are right. Drinking does affect everyone differently. Some people get DUIs, others engage in fisticuffs—
   Dylan pantomimes fisticuffs with a contained circular frenzy of hands and a pickled face, then goes on—
   While some, like myself, lose sight of other’s eyes.  It’s the damndest thing, ain’t it?
   Dylan belches, moist and metallic, then shakes his hands feverishly by his sides, before asking—May I have another, barkeep?
   Sure, Mr. Thomas, God assents, pouring a tumbler of whiskey, and setting it on the counter.
   You, my dear fellow, are a bartender after my poor broken heart. Cheers!
   Dylan raises his glass, gulps ferociously, and falls backwards off his stool, resounding with a thud.
   God comes out from behind the counter, picks him up, and sets him on the stool.
   Dylan slumps forward, face pasted to the counter.
   Job, just back from running food, looks at God, shakes his head, says—Why do you keep serving him? And picking him up?
   God smiles, his entire eyeless face aflame in golden light, and he responds—Because, Job, who am I to judge?

 

dylan thomas

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Rhyme-Scheme

There is nothing
to order or arrange,
nothing to worry about.
No explanations required.
Dry logic and tortured rationale
can be set aside. At least for a little while.
Try it.
You see, everything rhymes
in this letterless alphabet of sorcery,
this bottomless soup of jazz
and numinous symmetry of what-nots.
Once upon a time, words were magic
in the commonest slant of praises and deeds,
they were their own beings,
bearing the innate gifts of shape-shifting
and alchemical craft,
words were this, and these,
and paradise was the unsigned play-child
of language and silence.
Home.
It’s a matter of letting yourself
in,
and growing brokenly intimate
with the air
that holds you
in rhymed and marvelous
regard.
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Cask

We are here
to marvel,
and to grieve,
to haunt the liminal edges
which find us supremely fragile
in our longing.
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Surrealism in Paris

Review of Sue Roe’s In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali
A fish rides a bicycle into the Seine. The fish begins to drown and then remembers that it is a fish and starts to fly off into the pipe-smoke colony of clouds. The bicycle floats down the river. It sees things, cycling through a flurry of wonders and impressions. There is the torn yellow umbrella making rapacious love to an industrial sewing machine under a bridge. There are the kids tossing melted flattened clocks in a time-tested game of frisbee. There is the shop-worn mannequin hanging from a streetlamp, and the oily-mustached man drinking green liquid from the mannequin’s glass slipper. There are dreams collecting on the banks of the Seine like a glazed honeycomb of stemless maraschino cherries. The bicycle can’t believe everything its’s seen and absorbed during its long day’s journey down the river, and begins to wonder about its own name and purpose. Am I even a bicycle? Or am I, perhaps, a red balloon dreaming that it’s a bicycle? I mean, if fish can hijack bicycles and then fly off into the clouds, well then who’s to say what I am, what I am not, what I can become.
Sue Roe, In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali, reviewed at Riot Material magazineQuestions, images and philosophical ponderances, rooted in and belonging to the “sur-real.” A term that may have been coined by the poet and luminary, Apollinaire, or if we are to take Picasso’s word for it, he was the father-tongue, with Apollinaire adopting his word which stood for “a resemblance deeper and more real than the real.” Then, of course, there’s Andre Breton, he of the Surrealist Manifesto, who took appropriation to the next level and formalized the term “surrealism” into a poetic philosophy, while extending its cope of definition to include automatism, marvelous chance encounters, and the significance of the unconscious. In a wider global, cultural and cosmic sense, none of these men “invented” surrealism (same as Columbus didn’t “discover” America), as drawing words, images and impressions from the unconscious, from unseen realms and dreamscapes, in forms that appear radically divergent from surface “reality,” has a long and varied history. What was new: the organizing forces and influences that went into shaping surrealism as a movement, as well as the context provided by a new century, which catalyzed a sense of fragmentation that found its schisms and shards reflected back through creative seizures and calculated disorder.  This is the world that author and art historian, Sue Roe, vividly plunges you into in her new book, In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali.
Read the full review at Riot Material.
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The Cup Runneth Over

This is a tribute to a coffeeshop, a paean and a love-letter to a place that exists as a staple and sanctuary in the Taos community. By turns, this is also a tribute to the man who owned that coffee shop, the man whose spirit and ethics defined that coffeeshop for the past two decades.
   The coffeeshop is the World Cup—referred to by regulars as “The Cup”—and the man is Patrick Larkin, whose life was tragically ended about a week ago. While a homicide investigation is in full swing, no “concrete” details have yet been released, though the town’s teeming grapevine is awash with rumors and speculation. Outside the scope of the rumor-mill, there is purely and simply this: a small town is grieving, and mourning the loss of one its key “characters” (those who intimately know Taos also know that it is a surrealist stage-play of a town with a wide-ranging panoply of characters), and a coffeeshop, whose terms of definition are as varied as its patrons—nexus, hub, crossroads, living room—has also become a shrine, bedecked with flowers, cards, poems, and other tokens of elegy.
   I moved to Taos from New York in 2001, and it wasn’t long before the Cup had snared me as one of its regulars. Eighteen years later, my relationship with the Cup still intact and thriving, and I think of all the versions and variations of me that have walked through that door over the years, with an equally changeable cast of baristas having been behind the counter, yet one thing that has remained constant is the Cup itself: its iconoclastic spirit  and unflagging dedication to making damned good Americanos. And that had a hell of a lot to do with the flinty proprietor with exacting standards and blatantly aired progressive politics, Patrick Larkin.
   I had written about the Cup in my Taos-based novel, Raking the Dust, with the coffeeshop having been fictionally rechristened Global Joe’s, a flagless oasis exhibiting the democracy of a New York City subway car. Over the past week, reading people’s tributes to Patrick, listening to their heart-cries about the tragedy, and their warmed-over reminiscences about having worked at the Cup, or hung out there, having been a living stitch in its fabric, has given me even deeper perspective on the importance of what urban sociologist and author, Gary Oldenburg, calls “third places.” These ritually essential public places (cafes, coffeeshops, bookshops, pubs, barber shops) exist as rendezvous points “where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation…(and)…are the heart of  a community’s social vitality and the grassroots of democracy.”
   The Cup is a quintessential “third place,” with a rogue and time-scabbed character all its own. Situated on a street-corner, just outside the Plaza, its stone front porch with weathered wooden benches, looks out onto the four-way traffic of the Paseo. It is a people-watching hotspot, a Southwestern “stoop,” with mayoral views of the mutable feast of colors, tones and styles that pass before your eyes with syncopated regularity. I have spent countless hours daydreaming there, or scribbling notes, or sometimes silently enjoying the audio-collage of voices and opinions and impressions coming from the rotating carousel of porch-dwellers.
  The Cup is a joyfully merciless time-slayer of a place, where a five-minute pit-stop can turn into several hours of idling, where tender morsels of small-talk humanize and ground you. It is a place where political opinions are batted back and forth, where feuds are started (and ended), where acquaintanceships graduate to friendships, where personas are shed and collected. The Cup is a pulpit for off-the-cuff sermons, an arterial pipeline for conspiracy theories and alternative perspectives. There are “peak hour” times when the eddying crosscurrents of patter can leave you dizzy, exhilarated, exhausted. There are quiet times, when you have the porch to yourself, and the world within takes precedence. There are days when, whether you liked it or not, a tattered group of bench-perched vagabonds might just bust out into an impromptu concert with out-of-tune guitars, and you’d swear their sun-worn German Shepherd was smiling.
   The Cup is Craig’s List meets Cheers, a place where deals are brokered, jobs found, dates made, projects conceived, crosswords confronted, gossip circulated, accomplishments shared.
   We, as humans, crave and need ritual. It helps us to pool and gather who we are within a sense of adopted margins, it abets the corralling and cycling of vital energy. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that the Cup is so much more than just a coffeeshop, it is a necessary harbor where ritual can be consecrated, where a deeply intimate need is met through public means.
   I didn’t know Patrick well. We had had some brief conversations and exchanges, many handshakes and simple moments of recognition. Through my interactions, through shared impressions and anecdotes (specifically from baristas who had worked there, affectionately referred to as “Cup Girls”), a profile of Patrick Larkin might have included the following terms: stoical, generous, uncompromising, ethical, dour, righteous, stalwart, self-sufficient, outspoken, kind, loyal, grumpy, brave… The list could go on and on, but these are just threadbare labels and flimsy approximations in trying to measure and gauge one man’s character, his spirit. Like the Cup itself, with its vacillating conglomeration of moods, attitudes, desires, shortcomings and ideals, its wonderfully messy and schizoid strains of democracy, Patrick Larkin’s complex humanness was something he radiated, and unapologetically so.
   One of the crown-jewel quotes posted at the Cup’s counter, comes from Helen Keller: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
   Patrick Larkin wore his politics, activism, and social ethics on his sleeve. In this sense, he dared to live his life on his terms, with consideration for something more than just himself. Incidentally, he cared, he fiercely cared, about the quality of the cup of coffee you were being served. And the integrity of the environment in which it was served.
To pour it, and stir,
an act of ceremony—
always the first sip.

world-cup-cafe

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Devotional

Remember me
to the
ease of light,
its pause
and passage,
we
are not long
for this earth,
which swallows
us,
and our lovetagged
bones,
as a matter
of natural course
and radical recomposition,
all the gifts,
and hopes unwound
like a carnival of kites
in a ghostfaced sky,
must be returned,
it is part of the deal,
the equalizer
that rivets
the wonder wheel
to its own cyclical surge
and motion,
and I, bearing the privilege
of passenger,
for what amounts
to a split second
between
God’s inhale
and exhale,
cannot help
but air
my epitaph,
with the utmost
gratitude
and reverence,
for every dream
that held me bated
and green,
for every sweetness
and sorrow
that carved my interior
into a well-lighted cathedral,
where basking became
my truest art
and devotion.

sudek, last roses

(Photo by Josef Sudek)
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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Note
to metamorphosizing self:
every cocoon quivers
and trembles,
every process of change
brings with it
a new set of keys,
and claims,
every slumber
implicitly contains
the charge of wakefulness,
and every grief
minnows
within a sea
of holy fire.
P.S.
Upon re-emergence,
feed your old skin
to the earth.
It consecrates myth,
and helps balance the food chain.
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Beginner’s Heart

I have spent
so many years
detailing
and outlining
and mapping out fractures,
a pirate osteopath
with a cartographer’s bent,
and now, galvanizing
a mutiny meant to take me
out into uncharted waters,
I see how beautiful
and necessary it is
to sire oneself,
to become king to your own sovereign majesty,
queen to your own indigenous wilds,
child to your own supple wonderscape,
how the Soul,
captaining its own plight
and gambit,
forces you to confront
the countless break-ups,
freeze-outs,
and unrequited love affairs
you’ve had with your self,
multitudes untethered
and adrift in gloam,
but now, your Soul says,
is an opportunity for nuptials
of ancient-newness, a crystallization
that will show you how the future
was never anything more
than a latent ember
awaiting the divinest spark.
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Weathervane

The secret to becoming
a true revolutionary,
lay yourself
out upon
the world’s limitless altar
 of secrets,
and praise
the hidden roots
of everything
you encounter
daily,
heart bared
as proof of light’s
need to air.
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