Saturday, April 30, 2005

I am thinking of a certain September: Wood pigeon Red Admiral Yellow Harvest Orange Night. You said, "I love you." Why is is that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? "I love you" is always a quotation. You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them. I did worship them but now I am alone on a rock hewn out of my own body.

Caliban: You taught me language and profit on't is
I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.

-Written on the body


A riddle ... The reader is curious first of all and convinced that
zaum means something, i.e. has some logical meaning. Hence one
can sort of catch the reader by a worm-riddle, by mystery. Women
and art have to have mystery; to say "I love" is to make a very
definite commitment, and person never wants to do that. He is covert,
he is greedy, he is a mystifer. And he seeks, instead of I - e [I love],
something equal and perhaps special - and this will be: lefanta chiol
or raz faz gaz . . . kho - bo - ro mo cho - ro and darkness and zero
and new art! Does an artist intentionally hide in the treehole of
zaum? - I don't know ...

-from Zaum

Monday, April 25, 2005


1. I've returned to San Francisco only to discover that something from Asia returned with me. I first noticed it as a series of blood red spots on my lower legs. I dismissed it as a minor rash or as an insect bite (this is when you let yourself briefly imagine a shiny but terribly tentacled thing crawling up your pantleg before you shut down that avenue of thought altogether) But it turned out to be a bacterial infection and when I noticed it was starting to grow and spread, I called my doctor in a panic.

Its always struck me how there are so many different diseases out there and although some are rare and others are not so rare, they make up such a huge population that all of us somehow have to take our turn at hosting one or two, doing our statistical duty like being forced to quarter enemy soldiers.

2. In my volume of Icelandic fiction,, the author writing the introduction presents us with a vision of Icelanders as leading many lives, brightening their society with their multiple facets:

If it sometimes seems that everyone is a writer in Iceland, it must be noted that most Icelanders juggle several jobs - the only way to run a full-blown state and economy with fewer than 300,000 people, maintaining all the while the illusion of cosmopolitan city life in small-town Reyjavik. The mailman moonlights as a veggie chef, and the DJ teaches kindergarten during the day. Both have a couple of books of poetry out.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Hong Kong, China


I arrived in Hong Kong expecting to walk into an urban forest; the Hong Kong as seen and photographed by Michael Wolf, a modern city planted on an island but stretching up into the clouds.

I was used to the density of New york city but that didnt fully prepare me for the density of Hong Kong. Parts of Hong Kong manage to be the most densely populated areas on the planet. You can feel this for example even in Kowloon as you squeeze into the top of a double-decker bus, your face nearly against the window. Another double-decker bus goes by and you could reach out your hand and touch it if you dared. Below you, the buses are moving forward like boats, navigating through the sea of people on the street. The bus is filled mainly with Chinese, with older women and their shopping bags, older men reading their newspapers and racing forms (this is a theme in Hong Kong; Dim sum places have a special stand under the table to accomodate newspapers and racing forms), young women heading to their retail jobs and the occasional ex-pat, usually British or French. As you approach an intersection and look down the other streets you get an effect like a hall of mirrors as you see the same scene, the buses and the waves of people, in street after street replicated endlessly.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Hue, Vietnam
Zen Monastery

monastery gate

We had told the driver to take us to the monastery and he had assured us that he knew the way. Several times along the road, however, he pulled over the cab, walked up to a roadside vendor and after a short and uncertain exchange got back in the cab and continued driving.

We had left the main town of Hue much earlier in the evening. The haze glow of streetlights had been replaced by the occasional small fire or the raw, hanging lightbulbs which illumnated a small hovel or the faces of people huddled together in a tiny, earthy shack.

We almost drove right by the main monastery gate. It was not marked by any lights but as the headlights of our car swung around in the dark they revealed a large stone gate crowded with writing. Driving through the gate led to only more confusion as the road forked into many paths. We drove around wildly until, after a sudden left turn, the main gate which led to the monastery grounds appeared only a few feet away.

We got out of the car and I took out my camera that night for the first and only time. Our taxi sat there at the gate like a parked spaceship. We told our driver we needed to go on foot from here and would he sit and wait for us. We would try to return within an hour.

And so we walked through the gardens in complete darkness. We felt out and walked carefully on a gravel path which surrounded a series of black ponds. The only accompaniment to the sound of our shuffling feet were crickets and the sounds of both leaves and water. We guided ourselves by a small light we had seen in the distance.

When we reached the dimly lit building, a young aspirant in brown robes saw us and ran out to meet us. His aspirant status was marked by a thick lock of hair which dangled from his otherwise bald head. He motioned us to sit at a table and we bowed to him as he bowed to us in return. Several young boys appeared and stood back from us, watching us carefully as they cupped their hands to their mouths and hid their small giggles.

"How may I help you?" the young aspirant asked us with a broad smile. A. explained to him that she was here looking for two monks who were visiting from a monastery in France. He left us and returned a short while later. "They are in Meditation right now." he said and a after a short silence added "Would you like to join us in Meditation?"

At first led through the darkness, we walked into a broad temple where all the long wide doors had been flung open. About twenty monks, young and old, were taking their places on the stone floor. We followed, we with our loud Westerner clothes, removed our shoes and walked with as much grace as we could muster settling ourselves down cross-legged into our mats. As we sat down, a light rain had begun to fall outside. Gusts came in from outside and rippled through the monks robes as their bodies and ours tried to be still as statues.

During the hour of silent mediatation followed by a half-hour of chanting sutras, I was certain that I had killed all circulation in my legs several times. I imagined myself hobbling out after the meditation as a dissapointing casualty.

Like a magician at the crossroads
who summons up an illusory crowd and cuts off all their heads
And so, all worlds are equally illusory
And with this knowledge, he had no fear

After the meditation and chant (I memorized the one above) we slowly walked out of the temple in procession. A small dog had entered the temple during our all of our chanting and then had lain down across the floor and fallen asleep. The monks now scattered out of the temple, slipping on their sandals, and dashing off into the woods.

We could still hear the crackle of the rain outside and so we huddled just outside the temple. An elder monk came to greet us and to chat. He had dispatched several young monks to go fetch us umbrellas.

We again walked back through the darkness but this time each of us walked through the forest arm-in-arm with a monk holding an umbrella, leading the way. We formed an impromptu procession, all of us paired with a monk, sheltered by an umbrella, walking together through the dark woods. Their feet knew the path and at each imminent step or rise, my escort would whisper to me something like "Hup!" so that I would avoid a stumble.

The taxi was still there. We saw it from afar. With its headlights on, it was moving back and forth, back and forth, trying desperately to turn around in a small space. With its roar and its lights, it reminded me of some fantastic trapped beast.

The taxi driver saw all of us emerge from the woods and was astonished. We held hands with the monks and said goodbye.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Vientiane, Laos
Happy Laos New Year

We arrived in Vientiane at the same time as the New Year. Buddhist monks told me my fortune after I removed my shoes and paid my respects to the Buddha. My fortune looks good: I can achieve anything I want to achieve, they tell me, but first I must decide what it is that I want to do. I am a wandering soul who has strayed from his home, they tell me. Of course - I am traveling! No, they tell me, it is not about place but about the heart.

The streets are full of celebrations. One of the more popular rituals of the New Year is to throw water on other people. This has its origins in the Buddhist monks who purify others with water as a symbol of hope and a new beginning. In the streets of Vientiane, this has turned into a grand game in which the entire city takes part. Trucks full of young kids rove across the city and they throw buckets of water on people walking by the side of the road. A woman, determined to get her revenge, runs out of her house with a water hose and manages to spray one of these trucks; she laughs and laughs. Motorcycles roam the city too; the driver drives while someone in the back holds a Super Soaker and sprays people on the sidewalk, other cyclists, passing cars. We were walking down one street, Thanon Fa Ngum, where a woman and her small child were taking turns throwing buckets of water on peoples heads.

On another street, at first quiet, I could nevertheless smell danger in the air: a few wet kids sat and eyed us as we walked by. I saw one kid move suddenly and suspiciously and I yelled "Run for it!" Sure enough, six or seven kids ran out and soaked all of us to the bone.

I think our mistake is to run. Other kids have the right idea. They are already wet and so they stand along the street, with rock music or hiphop music blaring and just laugh and dance as more and more water falls on their heads.

Later, walking through a village we discovered a treehouse and climbed up. Nobody was around so we lay down and took a nap. The treehouse owner showed up later and laughed. She sat there smiling at us and laughed saying "Happy New Year! Happy New Year!"

This was how I spent my first five hours in Vientiane.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A message from A. who is in Vietnam traveling with Thich Nhat Hahn. I post this here for others that know her. Excerpts:

...Its like traveling with the dalai lama, we usually
arrive in places in a big procession. Its quite something, with the
drums going to announce his arrival, and everyone bowing to us and
giving us flowers.  People mistake me for a nun when I am wearing my
robes (the robes we laypeople are wearing are the same as the nuns - a
gray ao dai)....

..we went to a museum about an hour from the temple where
the monastics stay, and were watching the ethnic peoples perform these
fantastic dances to the drum and gong (and also displays of sword and
spear fighting).  This sweet woman in her seventies was fanning me so
i wouldn't get too hot.  She spoke english and had worked for the
american embassy and had a half american child.  All of this means
that she must of have suffered a lot, because the americans abandoned
the vietnamese who worked for them in the embassy, and people who had
amercian children here were reviled for a long time.  So I thanked her
after the performance and hugged her, and she started weeping and said
"I miss you so much"; I think she was not talking to me but to the
Americans who abandoned her...