thought for the day

Plague Poems #11

PandemicMoi
 
Psychosomatic
 
All it takes
is going out to do the laundry
and some fool there,
unmasked and ungloved,
folding his clothes
on the table,
or my super,
cheerful and oblivious
of physical distancing
starting to fix the dryer
right next to the one
I’m unloading
while my back is turned—
 
and every follicle of my hair
is filled with invisible fire ants,
my tongue and lips
burning like I’ve eaten jalapeños,
an itch like poison ivy
consumes my face and hands.
If I were an anxious person
this would be hell,
but I manage to shake it off
knowing I cannot actually feel something
measured in nanometers
invading my cells.
 
I worry, not that I’m a hypochondriac—
after all, the threat is real, the symptoms
varied and changing—but that others aren’t.
Worry more, I want to tell them.
Better to become temporarily neurotic,
afraid of outside, and germs, and
touching others, of going out without a mask,
of others standing too close, and to be
constantly washing everything,
than to bring
Death home with you
for a visit.
 
When it’s over,
better we all have a few scars
than holes
in our lives.
 
‒April 30, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020

Plague Poems #2

PandemicMoi
Psalm

The day before Easter.
Astarte’s season,
before the branches are so heavy with leaves
that there is no sunlight
below them,
only a dappled, cool shadow,
and skies are bluer and wisped with
high frivolous clouds
limned in spring sunlight.
My neighbor, who is a poet
in Polish and English,
calls this the
coming out of darkness:
out of winter’s short days, growth pushing up
out of the dark soil, buds furling
out from the closed knobs of branches,
the weak little chick peck-pecking
out of the wet dark of the shell, and she herself
out of the dark hopelessness
of her Lord’s death
into the light of His resurrection.

Six feet apart, we talk in the courtyard,
I in my mask and nitrile gloves,
she with her cigarette
and apron from the Easter meal
she’s cooking, each food a symbol,
as a third neighbor, eighty-seven, joins us
wearing green woolen mits
to take out her trash.
We stand in the spring sunlight
pouring down on us,
Jew, Buddhist, and Catholic,
faces turned to the bare branches
not yet in flower.

Tomorrow I’ll bake leavened bread
and break it alone
in my quarantine of sunlight
not knowing what shadow
summer might bring us.

-April 12, 2020, Brooklyn
© Lee Kottner, 2020


Gratitude, Schmatitude

BitchbuttonHappy Colonial Holiday, everyone. That should tell you what kind of a mood I'm in. Well, not really, but I was trying to write one of those gratitude lists because it is the Appointed Day On Which We Should All Be Thankful. And my id was just Not Having It. I started it twice, after "accidentally" erasing the first one, then gave up. I've learned to listen to the noise of my Freudian lingerie flapping in the breeze, so I headed over here to ponder it instead.

It's not that I'm not grateful for oh so many things and people; I'm not that big an asshole. I can tell you right now one of the things I'm resisting is showing how grateful I am on this particular day by doing that particular thing. I'm really bad at that kind of conformity. I get very sneery about it because I don't trust it. I don't trust it because it's not of the moment. I cherish most the spontaneous expression of emotions, when they come bursting out of us because they must. Even anger. If you've had to build that up, I'm gonna be mad at you that you didn't say something sooner. Maybe it's just me, but I can't tell you how often I feel like Cordelia and the rest of the world is Lear:

KING LEAR

Tell me, my daughters,—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

CORDELIA

[Aside] What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.

Ugh Ugh Ugh. Pernicious, manipulative, selfish old man. This is what the enforced gratitude of Thanksgiving feels like to me. It's performative, to use one of my new favorite words. And it's not that we don't need a bit of performative grease to make the wheels of social interaction run more smoothly. Of course we do. The performative is not always false and insincere, but that's exactly how having a special day of gratitude feels to me: false and insincere. It also, like church on Sundays and confession, too often lets people off the hook for the rest of the time. Like, I said I was grateful for you all at Thanksgiving. What more do you want?


Second thanksgivingThen there's the public nature of it. One of the lessons from years of Bible study that formed an integral part of my ethical foundation is Matthew 6:5. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." Public prayer is performative as well, or can be, even when you are standing in representation for the people around you. It's a tool televangelists use all the time to manipulate their audiences and signal their holiness and how blessed by god they are. Public gratitude always strikes me this way too; there's an element of bragging in it. Look how lucky (rich) I am to have all these things to be grateful for! That's the part that makes me really uncomfortable, the similarity to bragging. 

Granted, not everybody is like this. I read some really beautiful, thoughtful, and heartfelt expressions of gratitude today on Facebook. All of them were from people I'm friendly with and hope someday to meet in the flesh and call them Friend. They were from people I admire, who do good work, who are themselves thoughtful in their expressions and compassionate in their responses and lives, as far as I can tell. They're the people who are going to make leaving FB hard, the folks I'm going to have to work at staying in touch with. They seem genuine to me. And I'm grateful for the opportunity of "knowing" them, even virtually.

And here's the thing, finally: I'm grateful every goddamn day, more so, the older I get. Grateful to wake up, grateful to be alive, grateful for the people who demonstrably (and otherwise) love me, for my job, for my apartment, for #JillybeanCalico, for being born where I was (though that one's getting a little dicey now), for good English Breakfast tea, for the hit of cold brew heroin caffeine in the mornings, for the steak I'm going to grill tonight, and the pumpkin pie that's in the oven. I'm grateful for everything, too much to list, that makes my life not just bearable survival, but actually good: music, art, conversation, books, Scotch, beer, good food, my education, my former students, a body that still works pretty well, the City of New York.

Life is goddamn wonder. How can I not be grateful with every breath? Even when I'm bitching. I'm grateful I can bitch.

And while I'm bitching, can I bitch about the bullshit story of Thanksgiving we teach our kids? Frankly, I much prefer Heather Cox Richardson's story of the origins of Thanksgiving to the one we're taught in school. The positively turning tide of a war against slavery seems like a great reason to be thankful. I don't know how this got tangled with the the Pilgrims (Anybody? Bueller?), who were not the kindest or most compassionate people in the world. It could do with a good untangling because the real story of our colonialism on this land is nothing to be thankful for. If you're going to be grateful, you should thank the people whose land we stole, that they don't murder us in our beds as they have every right to do. 

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your pie.


thought for the day

RadicalMoi"The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never forget it."

~G.K. Chesterton, quoted on a site called Class Action, which tackles the consequences of this taboo American division. It seems obvious that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain has never even entertained even the vague idea of poor people. When even the New York Times is calling bankers on the carpet for their sense of entitlement, you know it's egregious.

[h/t to Will Shetterly for the link.]


thought for the day

BadGirl Moi @work 'With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co-workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.'' 
-Tom Hodgkinson, The Idler

thought for the day

Badgirl Moi I thought maybe I'd start sharing some of my favorite quotations. I've amassed quite a few and what's the point if I don't share them? So probably once a week or so, I'll drop one of these in here. I'm sort of working my way backwards on the list, as this is one of the most recent ones, which I've taken from Neal Stephenson's most recent novel Anathem, strangely appropriate to the present economy:

Fraa Erasmus (a cosmologist): "I always tend to assume there's an infinite amount of money out there."

"There might as well be," [Fraa] Arsibalt said, "but most of it gets spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs."


Ouch.