Monday, July 20, 2009

Poetry Now

Inspired by an friend's poetry blog, the Flaneur shakes more lines from his notebook. Apology where it apply.


"Antaeus who speaks and wears no chains
He will take us to the bottom of sin"
Dante, Hell


my wind-up clock's broken
the second hand can't make it
to midnight
makes a slight noise
a moth on a window screen


the shade of a venetian horse
crosses my window shade

a young boy asleep on the waves
clinging to a carved wooden figure

some mahogany crayfish effigy
marine in his lower extremes

the part of the world now under sea
the boy feeding on his carapace of wood


we are the pure white people
white of hair white of skin
saint peter will wave us in
where we will all be restored
as colored people as negroes
and walk on streets of gold


morning glories send
tendrils over everything
the sun gets up too early
birds crank up the merry-go-round


dime-store on mercury
a roman noir

I contacted every known planet
looking for something legit
ended-up covering a crossword puzzle
another sad sack in scrabble town

I received periodic balloon payments
until that blew up in my face
had to dummy up and take the battery
until my shins splintered under me

I gave them all the names I had


little hamlet

envenom with his envy
a prison of poison
dies in his own too much


in dante's hell
the sinful know who they are


martin luther
appeared before the diet of worms
as sort of an appetizer


the case of the open and shut bookcase

faraway nowadays

the post-mammalian review

ash wednesday the anti-hallowe'en

code breakers of sumatra

lunar vacuity



mom by the heater late at night
thinking in the dark
mom sitting on her porch
surrounded by trees smiling


ghost natural

the spider's missing link

baboon metaphysics
a spill on the causeway



My skull holes feel like an old bowling ball.

People stretch their faces over their emotions.

Light bulbs turn my fingertips into paper.

I can see my hand with my eyes closed.

We slip into the unworld slowly.



Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Shiver of Original Sin

In which the Flaneur suggests his age by telling of himself as a 20th Century man in a 21st Century scenario in medical technology.

Like most days in general I began by walking away from my abode. As on the two days previous, I was bound for the nearby stop for the #1 Rapid bus for a long ride-- to the Fruitvale section of Oakland.
This early morning like the others, I was proceeding to an appointment at Highland Hospital. What I thought would be a one-day affair had stretched to three. Today was to be the Fourth-of-July fireworks finale--a CAT scan of my heart.
The Rapid makes fairly good time, at times exceeding comfortable speeds for the unforgiving seats. But no one complains--we're making time. The longest stretch is the ride nearly the full length of Telegraph Avenue. I am hypnotized easily when roused at this hour and the familiar decaying landmarks and other newer developments put me into a right trance.

There are the curios, a little windmill and a tiny log cabin, remnants of the roadside stands of quainter times. There's the liquor store with its art brute "Okla-hickory" mural. The 'Lectric Washhouse laundromat sails past... Roots Hobby Hut's old oblique sign is now draws a blank. Nails, skin, and beauty are serviced and supplied regularly hereabouts. Casper's hot-dog island is long defunct as is the huge old spaghetti barn across the way. But there are similar anachronisms still around, hold-outs kept alive by sugar-teeth-- Hooper's chocolates, Neldam's bakery. Other more stately buildings of a gone culture serve new purposes. Some are like the ornate wooden church painted the color of wine--obviously a valuable historic building but who comes around here to attend this church these days?
Then there are the Afro-centric Ethiopian blocks where business looks rather thin. Following this, one travels past cafes and ramshackle galleries, the kind of scenes I used to make back in the youthful day. The bus turns at the old Emporium now half-lit as a Sears, then turns again on Broadway. There, as the buildings climb toward the dead center of town, I note Oaksterdam University with a warm feeling of a change is gonna come. Named for this section of Oakland which was one of the leaders in the struggle to have medical marijuana become a normal part of life. I joined the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club at a place near here when I first received a doctor's letter of recommendation back in 2005.

Next, the bus heads out around Lake Merritt which is actually a salt water estuary of the San Francisco bay. The bus is really traveling here as it plunges into a tunnel near the Oakland museum's Babylonian gardens. There's the Oakland auditorium where I went to see shows by the Patti Smith Group, Bunny Wailer and Blondie way back when. Don't think it is used as a concert venue often these days.
Years ago my ex-wife and I came out of an event there--a Catholic event with music --and walked smack into the Bishop and two other members of the ecclesiastic elite in full ceremonial attire. They held onto their mitres as their impressive chasibules snapped in the gusty wind from the harbor while a Mariachi band played full throttle behind them. As we giggled at this scene almost second-hand from a Bunuel film, it was apparent that they wanted us to talk. First question, what parish are you from? I was still lapsed at the time and Lucy was a Catholic-admirer but not a baptized Christian. "Saint Augustine's" we fibbed--after all, it was the closest church to us, the parish we lived in. Naturally it was also the parish that Bishop had led for years, did we know? You really can only dig yourself in deeper in these sort of situations. Yet, it concluded with smiles all around as the sombrero-wearing musicians cranked it up a notch.
Today I craned out the other way across the lake to see the sweeping lines of the new Cathedral. It was built at the opposite end of the lake and finished within the last year. The Cathedral looks silvery in the distance with arcs converging at the high point. I haven't been to it yet, but if I do run into the Bishop again I'll be charming and all ears.

Next, International avenue which I was introduced to when it was called East Fourteenth. It begins in a little Vietnam district then gradually becomes more and more Mexican in character. I notice a small place whose large sign reads:
El Gato
Negro Bar
It looks like its a time-traveling segregated bar at first glance.
There are always children on the bus through here and many more on the sidewalks. A lot of the medical places we pass are geared toward maternity. It's a fast breeding populace many of whom live on small incomes. The Mexican kids seem particularly obedient and affectionate toward their silent Mothers. They remind me of a way of life from what seems like long-ago.
With every time I take the trip, it seems not quite as distant and remote. At Fruitvale I dash down through a little shopping center to hop another bus which winds up though the hilly neighborhoods to the hospital. Before it heads up, the bus passes blocks where Mexican day workers loiter in hope of jobs. Later in the morning I respectfully note their resignation as the day's chances grow thinner. I try to feel encouraged by people's struggles to get over another day. I find my mild amusement looking at the kids on a grassy ball field, some Victorian houses, and some bee-flower trees in bloom lining side streets in my slow summer time passage.

Then the bus stops on a steep hill top and it's all go. Down the ramp where smokers, often in hospital gowns, ignore signs warning of stiff penalties for violations. They must know how the enforcement, if any, works and roll the dice on but one more risk of smoking.
I headed straight for radiology and resumed sitting as soon as the reception staff got over the scantness of my paper-work and other undone administrative matters behind-the-scenes.

In a waiting room yesterday I endured a brief exposure to a popular television show on which disagreeable women raise their voices at each other between even louder commercials. Today it's considerable more time in a different crowded waiting room while a program on which audience members were encouraged to applaud or jeer at a young couple "dealing with commitment issues." The volume made it impossible to escape despite my earplugs. At other local clinics I have encountered TVs playing health advice between incessant pharmaceutical promotions. My regular clinic used to play low-brow movies which can help pass the time. But this is the most obtrusive I've ever seen TVs in a hospital setting-- playing hyped-up TV shows between ads for food products. They have an interesting therapeutic rationale no doubt.

Eventually, all things must pass and I hear my name called. A jovial black lady with a flowery cap leads me into a prep-room. Yolanda, I'll use her name, got me in a gown and stuck a number foam disks on my chest. Each bore a red heart symbol and that's what we were aiming to make, a high-definition, three dimensional color digital image of--my still beating heart.
Next came the IV stent in my arm. She voiced concern that I hadn't taken my regular beta blocker since midnight--that my heartbeat might be too fast for optimal imaging. She thought she would have to give me additional medication. Then a machine began to read my beat and soon beeped to indicate that, on its own, my heart beat was below 50 bpm.
"I'm a yogi, baby" I had to confess. Left alone in a comfortable setting I am a very calm being. I was also not letting the possible hospital anxieties get a grip on me there that day.

Next I climbed down into a wheel chair, my jacket and boots were bagged-up on my lap, and we started out to another location. Before I knew what was happening I was outside in the sunshine in my gown being wheeled past all sorts of people. Some seemed to sneak little morbidly curious glances at the sick cat--here but for fortune go all you who are able-bodied and free. I remark on a beautiful headscarf worn by a Muslim girl playing.
We go up a ramp parallel to the entrance and stop on an elevator platform under a canopy. She talks to Rueben inside the trailer over a speaker phone. The whole structure seems metallic and radio-active as we vibrate upwards. Up we go to the time tunnel tube. I am laid on a movable bed and given last minute instructions. At some point I will be injected with iodine and will feel heat from it immediately. Otherwise pay attention to breathing instructions you will hear as you are moved back and forth in a series of scans.
The process begins. If you have ever wondered what it might feel like to be "beamed-up", molecularly scrambled and reassembled, or just generally tele-ported I think I now have an analog in my experience. A spiral whirring noise envelopes you as you travel short distances in and out of the tube--another analog springs to mind for this movement. In and out like fiddler's elbow? Um, something slower, more overwhelming than music, that leaves you wiped-out and exhausted.
Meanwhile the staff hides behind a lead wall and watches it on computer screens as the charged particles ping around the space I'm in. The robotic female control voice, familiar from tawdry science fiction utopias, comes from no discernible direction and says, "Take a breathe and hold it now may breath normally." I recall a woman's voice but I also seem to recall a male voice giving instructions too. I don't mean the old Chinese technician, whiskered and thin, who came up behind me at one point and asked how much I weighed. He was like someone from Through the Looking Glass. I glimpsed him in my peripheral vision; I don't believe I was hallucinating, but freely admit that I had entered an altered state of consciousness.
Then just when I wondered what happened to the threatened injection, Rueben was back askant with it. I felt the aforementioned heat, mainly in my groin and nether regions. When he came back I told him it felt like I wet the bed."...Hey, maybe I did wet the bed, " I added to scare him.

Afterwards, it's over. Yolanda reappears when I start to writhe--the urge to urinate is an imperative I can't ignore. She says I did very well the images look fantastic. There is a poster nearby showing spooky organs like realistic sci-fi animation digital images. I ask if they look like that. "Pretty close." Kind of scary is all I can say.

There is the unmistakable frisson of being on the cusp of what is human and natural and what is super-human and preternatural. Mankind demands ever more powers once thought to be god-like, in this case to see so vividly inside a living body. Another small technological miracle in a march to decipher the genome of the tree of knowledge. Yet so rarely do we demand that wisdom and benefit for all be the guiding philosophy when we expend vast amounts of the energy and the other resources of the one and only living world.

This time I get to don shades and shirt and boots for the return trip outdoors. By this point we're old friends and she's telling me about her kid. After a respectful hush on the elevator I get up from the chair to dive into the first men's room we come to. She leaves and I have to wander through the featureless corridors of radiology until I find her room again.
After a brief recovery, I finish getting dressed and get gone.

The Scanned Cat

After I was lowered from the particle laboratory again, I left without an appointment for a follow-up. When I called Cardiology the next week, they spent a good many of my phone minutes before telling me to call the general appointment number. This led to ten minutes in voice-mail limbo and a hang-up before my phone service cut-out.
So when I saw my regular doctor and she heard my dilemma, she gave me an office with it's own outside line where I could call and wait as long as it took to follow through. When the hospital appointment operator suggested a late October date, I was mildly astonished.
The CAT scan had been such a radical experience for me that to be kept so long in suspense afterward was comparable to going to the moon and being asked to wait four months to see the film clip.
The operator sensed that I sounded less like the average county hospital patient and more like staff. She switched me over to cardiology again. There followed a strange moment with the nurse saying that there was no record I had received any treatment at radiology. Again one pleads nolo contendere in such matters. One can't speak about what the records say with any authority, but one maintains one's belief in something one really thinks did take place.
She suggested that they call me back. I told her to take her time, that I was at my primary care clinic. This seems to do the trick quite well as the actual cardiologist called back. He is a big beaming avuncular fellow, German maybe Jewish, in his sixties. I certainly didn't expect himself to call.
"Your arteries are fantastic!" he declared, "really in fantastic shape." It was delightful to hear this. We talked good-naturedly a moment then he suggested I come to see him in one week for the follow-up.

I finally decided to reach the hospital by taking BART to Lake Merritt where a free shuttle zips you up the hill. Even with a walk downtown to BART station it was really quick for a change after all my previous trips by bus. An afternoon appointment, despite the glacial slowness of the wait, meant I could just mosey-in--no early-hour stress. In the waiting room, my earplugs in place, I finished an Elmore Leonard novel that I found on campus. It was the source material for a Tarantino film and many of my present company looked like they might have stepped out of it.
Then at last my name was called. I went from the crowded room into the sparsely populated precincts to wait on in quietude. A preliminary interview with a different doctor awaited me, this time an Indian lady. They take their time with you here and I had never been more thoroughly listened to via stethoscope. Talking about myself I eventually mentioned that my elderly mother passed away this year. In our reverie on mothers, I wondered rhetorically if anyone else on earth would ever really care about me. She agreed and said even though she was married and had family she sometimes asked herself the same question. It was the human condition we concluded.
This visit I was better prepared for the moment when the patriarch himself arrived. Last time I was spaced from a long wait and a lack of refreshment. So this time I jotted-down notes ahead of time and I ate a banana at the last moment.
He immediately announced that there was nothing physically wrong with my heart, that you could drive a truck through, that you could sail a boat through my arteries. There were no signs of disease present or prior. No tobacco, very moderate drinking, exercise, and a low-salt, low-fat diet--there's no secret to it. He said I have a large and slow heart, which is good. The old notion is still true--that we are only given so many heart beats in a lifetime.
"Like a humming-bird," I riffed. I also mentioned that I'm a Leo and known to be big-hearted. General amusement at this--the first doctor hangs-out for the chat with the big doc. I ran through my questions then I finished with, "Can I see the CAT scan?"
Well, it isn't the policy...
I said that was alright, I had just thought maybe he could twiddle a few keys and it would come-up on the computer screen next to us. And what do you know? He agreed. After expressing regrets that this station didn't have all the colors of own set-up, he brought up the screens. And there was my big art pay-off.
At first the image was of my ribs swathed in red-purple muscle. "That's my breastplate," said I. "Hang on a minute," quoth the snowy-haired physician.
Then he clicked on the "remove bone" option, and the naked, sacred heart itself is revealed. The colors are all deep, intense and jewel-like. There indeed were my fantastic arteries looking like massive rivers seen from space. Then, mind-blowingly, he turned my heart in virtual space. Like a magnifying satellite we sail around the south pole of my heart and note more of my arterial splendor. I feel like I am in some meta-world sitting in front of a visionary simulacrum of my heart and mind. Both of which are encompassed by my soul which itself emanates from a universe of love.

"OK, I'm going to restore your bone. Do you want you bone back?"
"I still have to get home."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Requiem and Reckoning

The Flaneur strays from his usual localized musings to comment on a recent passing...

"Jacko Lantern" mail art, postmark August 2009

When I look at a photo of the so-called King of Pop dangling with one arm a little baby over a balcony, I believe I am looking at an image of one of the most decadent individuals on earth.
His face had been bleached and carved into a severe mask-- an androgynous, Caucasian Disney cartoon. And it's obvious now that the three children are seen without the suffocating disguises, that they show no outward sign of sharing any of his African-American genes. Apparently he snatched the middle-child out of the hospital where she was born, before the hired surrogate wife could even see her. A bombed-out superstar and his muscle rushing off with a still unwashed new-born its placenta still attached--it's quite a picture.
An employee of his who was present during the baby-dangling has since stated that Michael was completely "doped-out" at the time. This was "Blanket" a baby to whom he neither contributed genes, nor as much as met his Mother, nor even ever legally adopted.
Like all corporations, he had long been permitted to function above the laws that apply to those less wealthy. He made his decadence a normal way of life. In paranoiac seclusion he consistently asked his public to sympathize with him for having had a cruel father and a childhood lost to fame. He asked them to buy into a fantasy that he was more than harmless, a saint and a free spirit regressed back to the pre-sexual state of a twelve-year-old.
So when the keeping of other people's children became a problem for him, he simply procured some of his own. He proceeded to share bed and bedroom with them subject to no-one's prying questions. This private life was perhaps made easier by living in a place like Bahrain where a very wealthy person in modest women's attire is very rarely a source of any concern--even if he did make them nervous when he used a restroom for women.
Then the children got to grow up in seclusion and close intimacy with a heavy-drug-using parent. They joined him in his paranoid evasion of private scrutiny while he maintained his publicity as a commodity in the marketplace. The children are said to have have been allowed no long term relations with other kids. They do and say as told with the great sense of importance and remoteness that narcissistic pop-stars with bodyguards bathe in. Moreover in recent years he seems to have been enveloped in a relation with the Nation of Islam. Secrecy self-importance, and a quick-draw on the race card seem to come with that territory.
And so despite all those years of suspicion, evidence, pay-offs, charges, acquittal and admitted addiction, he never seems to have had to face his pedophilia or drug abuse. Certainly he didn't in any clinical psychiatric setting. Otherwise he wouldn't still have talked such fairytale-innocence nonsense while holding hands and nuzzling with a dreamy little bed-mate on TV. This was the one who later charged him with sexual improprieties. Was this a surprise to anyone coming as did from the man who had built an entire amusement park to groom and select children for sleep-overs in the magic bunkhouse in Neverland?

As those huge Disney-esque eyes began to sag with age and with an inevitable pharmaceutical toll, they became as much a mask as the rest of his face. He was rarely seen without the dark glasses of the opiate eater. At the last press conference he finally given up the breathy drag queen whisper and he looked like an animatronic skeleton version of himself. He had cast a lingering look at his chances for a last lucrative spectacle and agreed to some wildly implausible number of concerts. "This is It" was presented as a closing gesture to his grandiose career.
Yet, fifty is fifty after all. Some may be able to dance feverishly after fifty, and some may be able to survive as heavy-drug users after fifty, but few are able to do both. Within a week of his death a film of his last rehearsal was available all over. It almost appears to be a posthumous marketing campaign--like he knew that they would film the best he had left in him.
Then he would be free to inject some ending to himself after which he could be packaged and sold. The sub-conscious death-wish attached to his use of what were apparently very heavy drugs is inarguable. The one that may have snuffed him is a sedative so powerful it can only safely be used with an anesthesiologist and oxygen. Called "Milk of Amnesia" it vacuums away all psychic and physical pain and induces a deep sleep with pronounced sexual dreams in males.
Sounds made to order for someone in certain imagined outer realms.
Deepak Chopra, an acquaintance of Mr. Jackson, has said since his death that it was reckless to have stockpiled opiates without having the obvious drugs for opiate over-dose on hand.

From the corny but cute Jackson Five, with their version of familiar Motown showmanship to the heavily-produced hits and the glittery, morphed-but-still-attractive character that dominated the Reagan eighties, I have generally enjoyed his music and performance. He was never a lot more than that for me. James Brown worked his wonders for me, or Sly and the Family Stone when I saw them as a teen-ager. Jackson's hey-days didn't coincide with my interest in either teen-pop or sexy dating music.
Even though they may have turned into trade-mark tics and gimmicks to some extent, his talents were impressive. At one moment in time he had it, the glittering zeitgeist. Even so, he was ultimately a performer and singer, a musician of limited invention, a pasticheur. Increasingly the music itself stalled out while the creepy show-biz royalty recluse took over the whole story. In all his contrived artificiality, the mask the actor wore became his face and eventually his facade. Recall the cover of his "Dangerous" album: his eyes peer out from a sickly ornate facade over fun-house tunnel from which a little boy in underpants emerges. What could he have had in mind? The thrilling suggestion of molestation to polymorphously perverse under-age fans?

If I note some of the mountains of evidence of his decadence it is in part to counter the usual refusal of the corporate press to call a spade, a spade. (Forgive the usage viz a viz Jackson's whitened negritude.) I refer to reports of Jackson camp excuses that are so incredible as to be insulting. I refer to the right-wing radio host notorious for his own opiate addiction. This radio blow-hard came to Jackson's defense on the issue of over-lavish medication, luxury drugs provided by personal physicians.
If I see the burden and wages of sin in his life, the apparent lostness, it's hopefully in order to have sympathy and kindness for Mr. Jackson. "As you judge others so shall you be judged." This I do believe, I and try not to judge. Yet I do think there is a lesson there for any of us with an unmoored desire to be rich and famous and to have the world at our bidding.