D’Arc Night of the Soul

(For All Hallow’s eve, a “witch’s” tale)
Enlightened, perhaps. God-engorged hormones, maybe. Regardless of why, Joan, you were the rebel prototype
long before James Dean zipped up a red jacket,
or Marlon Brando mumbled and curled his upper lip into a totem,
before Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker and Mae West scorched bits of screen and earth and tore hearts to shreds with a flickering edge.
You, Joan, were the world’s most famous, cross-dressing heretic,
the It-girl of alleged sorcery,
a rebel very much aligned with a cause,
coursing a waxwork future and belated sainthood.
It was in your father’s garden, age thirteen, when you first heard the voices, saw the visions.
St. Michael, St. Katherine, and St. Margaret, a trinity of Beauty unbearable that brought tears to your eyes.
But they didn’t come to serve as spiritual eye-candy, or to bring you otherworldly comfort. They were delegates, delivering a message direct from the Man Upstairs, a command which, to any less a mystic, might have fallen on deaf ears, a task that would have registered as preposterous or impossible, but not for you Joan: faith was your stock-in-trade.
So you listened, took it in, an illiterate, thirteen-year-old peasant girl on the cusp of puberty, being told that it was her duty and obligation to help lead France to victory over the English, to fulfill a destiny that had been part of France’s prophetic pipeline for generations: a virgin will come, a miracle-worker, and she will restore France to its former glory.
You would have been happy to stay at home spinning wool with your mother, tending to the animals, gazing dreamily upon the milk-bearded faces of clouds, to pass your time as a humble girl quietly in love with God, but you knew it would be bad form, downright impious, to argue against a trinity of saints that had taken the time to visit you, just you, in your father’s garden.
Not to mention, when God gets in your head, like a luminous migraine, or a marvelous tumor, what can you do except abide?
The rest is history. Or myth. Legend. Pages from a tattered scripture in a gilded dustbin.
Something.
There were the victories over England, the coronation of Charles VII, at which you wielded your iconic banner, your capture and imprisonment.
If there had been tabloids, you, Joan, would have been splashed daily across the headlines:
France’s Favorite Maid to Be Tried for Heresy
Joan, the Teenage Witch, Refuses to Admit Allegiance to the Devil
Of course, as God’s cheeky, chosen daughter, you had no intention of going gently into that good night.
Several times you tried to bust out of the big house, often falling from great heights.
When the Inquisitors grilled and viciously quizzed you with the hopes of railroading you into an incriminating confession, you shrewdly sidestepped and evaded all their tactics, case in point:
Inquisitor: Are you in God’s grace?
Joan: If I am not, may God put me there, and if I am may God so keep me.
You had the bastards squirming, Joan, eating their own blasphemous piles of shit.
But, as it went, they rode a gross miscarriage of justice all the way to the stake, to that fateful day,
May 30th, 1431, when they burned you, not once, not twice, but three times, before scattering your ashes into the Seine.
You were nineteen.
Twenty-four years away from being acquitted at your retrial,
four-hundred and seventy-eight years away from beatification,
and four-hundred and eighty-nine years away
from official sainthood.
Which just goes to show that history may be written by the winners,
but the rewrites belong to a much higher and more mysterious order.
Images by Guy Denning
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Night at the Opera

At first there was darkness, and there had always been darkness.
Then the stars turned on.
And music played, as if silky notes drifting through a night-cloth dome of windows,
and in this way wonder entered the scene.
Wonder mated with music and seeded people.
People would go on to forget their original parents, but would long to return
to this mysterious unknown, this insoluble home.
There would be that tenderly agonized longing, that homesickness,
and there would also be the deepdown knowing
that emptiness knew the score, i.e., that they, the people,
are made up of so much more of what they are are not
than of what they are, or think themselves to be.
The whole thing was an opera, a fretted fiasco,
with the recording of a mute fat soprano
playing in the background.
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From the Sorcerer’s Handbook

Do not explain music
Do not explain dreams
the elusive penetrates everything
You must know that everything rhymes
—Wols

 

There is something deeply comforting about this, deeply reassuring. Everything rhymes. A universe of correspondences, of sequential richness, metaphysical jazz. It really is a world of poetry. Tuning in to the rhymes and melodies, and giving praise and honoring and playing. You’ve got to be playing. Participation is the key to mystery. To feeling into the mystery, allowing it to hum and hymn inside your bones, to gather inside you in tiny concentric whirlpools.
Everything rhymes. A never-ending stream. Now I know why the writers tried to catch waves in the stream-of-consciousness, why they chased after the shadows of darting minnows.
Sure there might be bigtime ego involved, but one thing doesn’t negate another, its ego plus the fact that there is a trust and belief in the ultimate rhythms and jazz and cosmic waves rolling ceaselessly.
The ocean. The bottomless qualities of the ocean. What if we ever made it to the bottom of the ocean, the very “bottom”, and we found that there is no stopping, there is no bottom to the ocean, no bottoming out, it just goes on and on and deeper into the mystery, or we are taken to another world, another dimension. The ocean, like space, may just go on and on.
At the heart of the deepest ocean, there might just be deeper mystery.
A wondrous endlessness to the whole thing.
Everything rhymes. Stacked layers of rhythms, a structural base of sound, vibrations, patterns, recursion.
Everything touches. There is no actual separation. Separation is an illusion, a con-job. The touching is the truth.
Everything rhymes, everything touches.
The creation of a new mythology. Rooted in most ancient, pagan mythologies.
The re-mythologization of art, return to a state of sacred devotion, the world re-sacralized, and we praising, honoring, playing, engaging.
A felt-sense of the world’s magic, or currents running without pause, a divine seething, a convent of pure feeling for the unseen, for the numinous. A re-spelling, through chants and incantations, to language as a vehicle of sorcery, and you create the world which simultaneously creates you.
Everything rhymes.
Nothing to worry about. No explanations needed.
No dry brittle logic or tortured rationale.
Everything rhymes. A letterless alphabet of sorcery. A hidden lexicon of numinous glyphs. To get there, you must not assemble or contrive or apply boxy logic to a sense of ordered architecture.
No, no, no. What you want to do: hallucinate deeply, and abandon yourself to a state of reverie. It is this state of reverie, this state of longing (for the elusive and inscrutable), this is the sovereign way of the sorcerer and the poet.
To get there, you must be in touch with the blue flame.
From the blue flame, within the blue flame, through the blue flame—sorcery!
Everything rhymes in this letterless alphabet of sorcery, in this bottomless soup of jazz.
See
the blue flame
a thin mesmeric
whip of a girl
dancing ever so slightly
inside the milky-opaque
slab of glacier.
See
the blue flame,
grow intimate with her,
and feel your world shift
forever.
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October’s Bones

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s “death-day” departure for roads unknown.
When I was a young man,
a budding scribe
eager to blossom white fire,
and scabbed lotuses,
you meant the world to me.
You exposed me to velocity bop
and piggyback rhythms,
to applepie windowsill jazz
and summerlight porchswings,
to mesmeric wreaths of pipesmoke
and the windswept skulls
of railroad Octobers
in brown, turning earth.
You souleased
in such a relatable way,
the freight of boyhood
infused your eyes
with saloony verve,
your fingers jitterbugged
across enormous swaths of whiteness
and void,
you bootlegged
lyrics
Melville-style,
just to keep yourself
in the running with
Hemingway’s bulls
and Joyce’s Dublin,
whitewhale hunting
came second nature to you,
some people do impossible
like half-made angels
leveled by mortal booms.
Their very gimpness
embodies
the purest translation
of Heaven’s perishable blooms.
Yours
was the religion
of sweet, sad farewells,
the capered goofs
of littleboys spitballing
I love yous
to girls in pinafore dresses
at Sunday movie matinees,
or profane leerstruckness
at the silver crucifixes
resting
between ripening mounds
of sweatbeaded cleavage,
yours
was the racket of vaudeville,
commingled with a fanatic’s
fairground zeal,
the Zen weatherman
who once proclaimed:
The taste
of rain—
why kneel?
Yet
it wasn’t long
before
Fame,
that highly-sought-after
stalk-legged
dame
in a mink stole
and whitehot spray
of jewels
came along
and cornered you good,
and the Shakespeare of Lowell
quickly became
Little Boy Blue,
nowhere to turn,
as the flesheaters
closed in,
and all you could do
was blow wild, careening
solos through your trusty horn,
and pour
rivers of whiskey
over your soul’s
godgiven.
Recognition didn’t kill you,
alcoholism did,
but let’s just say
recognition
mixed with booze
in the redlight district
and pinkened sensitivity
of wounded souls
sharpens
and humors itself
through the gallows.
When names
balloon too big,
when the print is lettered
through the Hypemachine,
it is easy
to lose sight
of what it is we’re reading,
Fame’s overlay
the distorting veneer
so you are no longer reading
what you see or feel
but rather what you’ve heard
from a hivemind,
secondhand rumors dispel
direct engagement with mystery,
what others know
and say
becomes the order of the day,
and that long day’s journey
into night
is, by definition
and default, history
(its winners wearing blinders
while leading the blind)
but before the siege,
and after the deluge,
Jack Kerouac, Ti Jean, Sal Paradise, John Duluouz,
and all the other names that became you,
there were the words, the holy writ,
the godblasted scrolls of one man’s
selfspeak upon the earth,
that rabid seeking
as gilded sibling
to Dylan Thomas’s hilltop cloudcry—
Oh, as I was young once,
and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying,
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
You,
Mr. Kerouac,
were one of the wind-twisting
chain-rattlers,
frothing fringed baubles of sea
at the mouth,
as if to prove
you were nature herself
(this the way of angels, the way of children)
and when I look back,
I am immensely grateful
that you took the time
to give the spirit of boyhood,
its vim and keyturned sorcery,
as well as music’s
plasmic alchemy,
its reverential due
in a society
where doped dreams
register
way too much sleep
to ever claim their meek
as soundly vital
and golden.

 

jack kerouac II

 

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The Factory

Review of Hiroko Oyamada’s award-winning debut novel, The Factory.
The year was 1936, when an indefatigable tramp served as a working-class Virgil in guiding audiences through the hellscape of big business industry and assembly line madness. The tramp, of course, was Charlie Chaplin in his iconic film, Modern Times, which applied fool’s wisdom in overlaying its satire with calculated mania, circus-like antics, romantic aspirations, and a punch-drunk heart that refuses to throw in the towel. There is a visually brilliant scene in which the tramp gets swallowed up in the machine on which he’s working, a hapless Jonah churning within the gear-heavy belly of the industrial whale, and this image metaphorically underscored what Chaplin saw as the threats of dehumanization confronting “modern man.”
Review of Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory at Riot Material magazineFast forward to contemporary society, in which a sprawling factory, a city unto itself, is regulating, ordering and arranging its brave new world one rote directive after the next. It’s easy to imagine an emaciated Kafka stooped over one of the desks, half-obscured behind a tower of documents, staring out bleary-eyed at the ledge of a window where black birds are gathering. Across from him a nerve-bitten Nietzche, paces, furiously smoking a cigarette, and refashioning his notions of the abyss to fit the conditions in which he finds himself atrophying. The abyss, now an omnipotent complex, an unnamable morass with a bottomless capacity for soul-feeding. People are no longer staring into the abyss, they are wearing it, breathing it, speaking it, and perpetuating its slow-drip filtration to the staccato of the walking dreamless dead. And while Sartre might be hiding out in the basement decrying — Hell is other people — some asthmatic clerk on the fifth floor counters by scrawling on the wall in red marker: Purgatory is the void manifest as something you clock into and out of. That being said, thousands are employed here, including the three whose lives are chronicled in Hiroko Oyamada’s mordant fable, The Factory.
Read the full review at Riot Material.
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Free Play

We live in a world
of alchemy and swing,
a freeform board game
for sounding and experiment,
and anyone
that tells you any different
has simply forgotten
how to engage the play
of their lives,
or sow the grit, resin
and bones of their
mineral-rich interiors
into viable grist,
the truth is,
every ounce of material,
no matter what its contents
and effects upon you,
carries within it the seeds
of an alchemy
seeking practitioners
willing to sync up
and align
with the everchanging
timeless course
of scat, swing and bop,
or to borrow and remix from the emcee
whose old-school gospel
made ceremony out of ash and siege,
If music
be the food of love,
play on you
alchemical romantic chefs,
play on.
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Homing Device

The soul doesn’t calculate,
it syncs itself to the legend
of its origins,
the glyphic runes and white-hot bones
of constellational remains,
where we, in costumed exile,
linger and tow the fasting freight
of dreams,
upon which our lives are based
to err humanly, and bask divinely,
before we perish softly,
and settle softer still.
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Starstuff

Mariko was a photographer of stars. It feels funny to put it that way. It sounds as if she photographed celebrities.She only took photos of stars in the night sky.  She said the stars were her real home and that’s all she cared to take photos of. Her way of memorializing her origins.
A photograph is a secret about a secret.
This quote by Diane Arbus is posted in red ink above Mariko’s desk.
Accompanying the quote was an overexposed photo of stars, one of Mario’s happy accidents, in which the night-sky looked like a vaporous milk-bath and the stars indigent glyphs.
Mariko passionately opined—People make time travel way too complicated. But really it isn’t. You want to be a time traveler? Raise your eyes to the stars and you have traveled back in time. What you’re seeing isn’t really there, they’re images from 100,000 years ago. That’s how long it takes for starlight to reach us.
I am taking photographs of photographs. What I’m seeing is not what I’m seeing. The night sky is a scrapbook of old photos, a repository of glittering relics, a museum of illuminated nostalgia.

 

 

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Mariko

I knew from the beginning that Mariko was haunted, but there was nothing I could do about it. My only choice was to love her, and until the very end.
I have five photographs left of Mariko. I burned all the rest. These five photos capture the mercurial quintessence of Mariko, her Mariko-ness. They were taken at a photo shoot when she was nineteen. All of the photos are black and white close-ups of Mariko’s face. The lighting is stark and dramatic, with gradations of tone ranging from luminescent to ashen.
I burned all other photos of Mariko because I didn’t want there to be too much of her. Didn’t want to get lost in a sprawling inventory of Mariko, when those five photos contained the essentials of Mariko, the staggered verisimilitudes, and did so in a compressed manner. Not only by the fact that the photos were only five in number, but they were also small, each one about 3 x 5. I thought of those five photos as producing haiku cinema, starring Mariko in a house of mirrors.
She is all there, a jigsaw panoply, a series of jazz cadenzas. Upward eyerolling petition for mercy, for beatific interference; unflinching gaze lasering straightahead like a death ray; desultory, dreamlike, bewitching, contemptuous, feral.  Eyes crowded with contempt, harboring equal parts suicide and murder.
In none of the photos is she smiling. Her mouth is severe, solemn, stoical, inveterate. Her lips are pursed, an airless church. It is a mouth that you can easily imagine drawing blood from your lip, or lips from your mouth, or chewing off a finger in a fit of desire. Mariko used to threaten to bite off the tip of my pinky in an act of furious love, as a tribute to fleshy devotion. She never did this. But I always held out hope, mingled with the right amount of fear, that one day I’d see the severed tip of my pinky, lodged like a pulpy pellet, between Mariko’s teeth.
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Raspberries

 

Mariko knew a lot of interesting things about space. For example: astronomers theorized that, based on its chemical make-up, the dust from the nebula that gave birth to our sun would taste like raspberries. And that the closer you get to a black hole, the slower time runs.
I applied Mariko’s astral pearls to my own line of imagining: Following someone down a rabbit hole can also double as following them into a black hole, where the closer you get to its mysterious center, the slower time runs, and eventually you reach that point of no return, the event horizon, and watch yourself freeze into a phantom imprint, or the X-ray of a void, and it is this dissolved incarnation of you that continues plunging into the dark wonder, the atomizing tantalus of the abyss.
And all because you once tasted ripe warm raspberry on her lips and skin.

raspberries

 

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