Seattle Poem 1: “Aurora Community College”

The truth is never sweeter than at sunset

when teens spend their time buying legal weed

and Chinese students lean into their screens.

The paths around college empty

for summer to burn itself away

until snows highlight the hiding prey.

What fish must dart beyond

the halls that ready for another season

of toiling and reasoning.

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Translation: The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato

Preface to my translation: THE TUNNEL by Argentine Ernesto Sabato is a product of its time- an existential short novel about a painter that murders a woman. It felt at times like Alberto Camus’ THE STRANGER in its intensely nihilistic interior monologues… here is one particularly beautiful passage just when the protagonist is waiting for the woman to appear to kill her.

Chapter 36

It was an interminable wait. I don’t know how much time passed, how much anonymous and universal time, which is indifferent to our feelings, to our destinies, to the formation and collapse of love, to our waiting for death. But for my own internal clock, it was a complicated and immense amount of time full of things and looks back; at times it was strangely calm like still and perpetual seas where Maria and I were face to face contemplating each other statically; and at other times it would return to being a river that would drag us like in a dream to our infancy, and I would see her gallop brazenly on her horse with her hair in the wind and her eyes aglow; and I would see myself in the southern town, in my sickened chambered, with my face plastered to the window, watching the snow with eyes also aglow.

And it was as if both of us had been living in passages or parallel tunnels without knowing that we were walking side by side, like similar souls from similar times, that happen to meet at the end of that passage in front of my painting, as if it were a key for only her- a secret announcement that I had already been there and that the passages had finally united and that the hour of our meeting had finally arrived.

The hour of our meeting had arrived! But… Had our passages really intersected and our souls communicated? What a stupid illusion of mine! No, the passages continued running parallel to each other like before, though now it was a wall that separated us like a glass barrier and I could see Maria like a silent and untouchable figure… No, not even this wall was always like this: sometimes it would return to being a wall of black stone and then I wouldn’t know what happened on the other side. What of her during those anonymous intervals? What strange things were happening on her side? And I even thought that in those moments, her countenance changed and a mocking grin deformed her; and that perhaps there was the laughter of another and that all the history of tunnels was a ridiculous invention or conviction of mine; and that in all likelihood there was only one tunnel, dark and solitary- mine, the tunnel in which my infancy, adolescence and my entire life had transpired.

Book Review: Dark Tower, Book 1

I confess to not having read any of Stephen King’s books beside his memoir, which I found startling and insightful. The writing advice, like most, can be skipped, but the parts about his alcoholism were a horrific image at his process of writing.

First question: what was King on when he wrote Dark Tower? I picture him writing it right after seeing Clint Eastwood’s movies at a drive in. When he envisioned his mutants in the caves, what exactly was he thinking of?

Dark+Tower+original+cover

It is clear that King is a great writer. But I feel that his writing in this book is a little too vague and mystical. One specific gripe I had about it was his flashes to the Wanderer’s past, when he was a child in training. Throughout the book, the Wanderer has no name yet in the past he does. Figuring out who he was in the past was jarring and confusing to me. This seems like a minor detail, I know, but it seems to be symptomatic of the lack of direction the rest of the novel has. What are the main points of this first book in the series? How much should we get to know a protagonist to set up the rest of the books?

In my humble opinion, there was too much left out from the Wanderer’s past. A man just chasing another dude in black. I suppose it’s as good a plot as any… yet you can admit to its deficiencies. Admittedly, I have not read the rest of the books. A  question for the few souls that read this blog- how much detail should a  writer provide if he plans a series? Should the chase for the dude in black be so open ended?

Police States and Orwellian Realities: Drug Laws in the US

I am not one to read books like THE NEW JIM CROW. Though I bought it randomly from a peace and justice store in Vermont, I am so glad I did. The author Michelle Alexander reveals the truth about our criminal justice system and the new underclass of former inmates it creates. The image it presents is disheartening and horrific.

In fact, I include my readings and thoughts in this blog because it feels too much like 1984.  We are spiraling into a kind of totalitarian regime that hides behind the façade of democracy. In reality we live in an age mass surveillance, a racial caste system, and plutocracy.

The book argues that the colored males that are thrown in jail for minor drug offenses are released with as little rights as blacks used to have during Jim Crow. They can’t vote and have few housing opportunities. The strangest part about the situation in which we live is that the reports about riots in Baltimore exclude any mention of the bigger problem- a criminal justice system that has become militant in its tactics to the point of violating civil liberties. An op-ed article from the NY Times discusses how harsh drug laws are.

The movements and protests that have sprung from police brutality have lacked focus. This, in my opinion, is what they should be striving for- change in drug laws like the three-strike policy in California. If we fail to act, we risk have a generation of men with felony records with no hope for the future. Either we reform drug laws or we provide leniency, even pardon for those that have nonviolent drug crimes.

What I observe in today’s society- a highly militarized police that does what it wants, an obscure government that relies on the faltering journalism industry, and surveillance that goes beyond just national security. But what makes these horrors even worse is our lack of understanding about who or how these laws are coming into place. Maybe we are the ones to blames for not holding the legislators more accountable for the mayhem they are creating.  I am as guilty of it as anyone else.

As we see more and more protests about police brutality, we must discuss the much larger issue- we are leaving a chunk of the American public with no hope of the future. Ignoring the problem will only result in more violent protests.

Voices in the head: from Juan Rulfo to Extremism

How many voices are inside your head? Who are they- relatives, your partner, a mélange of them? I was taking a leisurely stroll on the side of the Potomac last week when I realized this- that every man must have at least five voices in his head. I suppose that the very act of writing necessitates listening to the voices, almost like the character of Valis by Philip K. Dick.

So I suppose the corollary to the fact that all men have voices in their head is that men select which ones to listen to. There are voices so powerful, they cannot be silenced. When I sit down to write a story, I am deeply attuned to certain voices inside my head – the one that tells about a character or even the character him/herself.

I suppose certain voices must be so distracting they can harm a man. We easily drown out the voices with stimulation, from TV to video games, but at the end of the day, they are still there when we lie in bed with our lights off. Imagine not being able to function because of crippling voices. It seems fantastic, but I imagine not too far from where we currently are.

As I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” I am reminded of the blurry and almost nonexistent line between insanity and sanity. A man who succumbs to the voices is always in danger because they live only within his head and can only be explained second hand to another. I hope the voices in your head are kind enough to grant you a reprieve. I will try to listen as closely as I can to the voices without being overwhelmed. I cannot guarantee that I will return from the nether regions- the distant future or the closeness of the past.

My final point about voices and how every man contends with them: I was listening to an interview with Juan Rulfo, the great Mexican novelist, and heard a comment he made about violence.

“I have never met a violent man,” he says at a certain point when the interviewer questions Rulfo about the origins of the violent men in his stories.

Rulfo explains that the men he met who were violent were addicted to the acts of violence that had stemmed from the revolution: assault, rape, and theft. They were not violent people.

The point was explosive yet subtle.  The US government recently declassified documents found in Bin Laden’s home. An application for extremists desiring to join the organization was among the documents. Questions on the application included: “Who should we contact if you attain martyrdom?” The morbidly humorous question makes one wonder about the conflict in the Middle East. Are those people that we see firing and shooting really violent? Or is it a matter of socialization and the voices instilled in us and the ones we create from the ones we hear around us?

Perhaps the voices that ring loudly in their minds are the ones that request martyrdom or anti-western sentiments. I am not condoning when someone listens to one voice or another, but one must wonder about violence and whether anyone is really ‘violent’ as Rulfo said…

Translation: Golden Age of Spain

The translation of the day, a confusing mess of understanding the self:

Fin de Jorge Manrique

Conmigo solo contiendo
en una fuerte contienda,
y no hallo quien me entienda,
ni yo tampoco me entiendo;
entiendo y sé lo que quiero,
mas no entiendo lo que quiera
quien quiere siempre que muera
sin querer creer que muero.

End, by Jorge Manrique

Against myself I struggle
in a heated battle,
and I fail to find who understands me-
not even I understand myself;
I understand and know what I want
but barely comprehend he
who always wants me dead
without wanting to believe that I die.