Never trust a poet

Carl_Spitzweg_-_Der_arme_Poet_(Entwurf)
This talk of equality
sounds so very beautiful
but would you not sell them all out
for a brick of French cheese?

Would you not chop up their toes
and toss them in a stew
if someone offered to serve
your head on an album cover?

You speak to me of
challenges you’ve faced
I believe you
I do

But challenges come cheap
in this fucking world
and some people have a pile
a goddamn mountain collection

Maybe one day you’d give up the cheese
and the vinyl
but would you relinquish a suffering past
fucking would you?

We’re all Superman in our heads
we may even rage like Batman
but in our hearts, our stubborn little hearts
we’re still trembling knights of banality

When the queen is dead
we’d probably be moved to tears
but we’d sooner fight for prestige
than honor

We’d sooner lock ourselves in a cage
than free the world
and we’d rather live off death
than die living

It’s too cold out for odes to equality
so put a jacket on
and go back inside
or you’ll catch something

Far from books and desk
shivering, is no place
to long to be clever or original
it’s why they say: Never trust a poet!

Waiting for Kafka

Prince_Yinzhen_(the_future_Yongzheng_Emperor)_Reading_a_Book
Nobody reads Kafka. It’s a terrible state of affairs. I must be the last man on Earth that’s read him. Just look at this fellow walking by with his dog. Anyone could plainly see he doesn’t read Kafka with a stupid face like that. Or look at the woman in skates covered head to foot in protective gear. She certainly doesn’t read Kafka. And our big men with square chins in glass houses. Although they proffer the occasional sermon on cockroaches, they haven’t read Kafka either.

There’s no refuge from it anywhere.

Not with the coworker you sometimes get a ride from who inexplicably left early today, not with the bus driver who says you need 15 more cents. Not with the little boy who drops his plastic chew toy on the ground and won’t stop crying — there’s no doubt he would sooner gnaw on a book than read one. Not with the girl sitting next to you who gives you a look like you just slurped up a bowl of feces with a spoon after you smiled at her. You can be sure not one of them has read a solitary word of Kafka.

Would they fight wars in the desert if more people read Kafka? Most assuredly not. What about the rain storms? And the starving children? And the perverts? The worms that live in your intestine? All gone, ciao, adios, if only people would read Kafka.

OUR WHOLE WORLD IS GOING TO FUCKING HELL AND WE DON’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT AND IT’S ALL BECAUSE NOBODY READS ANY FUCKING KAFKA ANYMORE FUCK AIOPHGFEISP(URT{“$)W#*U11!!

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Serious Writing

OlivettiManifestoM1

I want to write something serious
reportage
a theory
an interview
philosophy
an article
editorializing everything
a piece of think
a transcript
from my visit to the shrink
a review
a political thing
manifesto, I meant, manifesto
a recipe
capital J – journalism
a clever tinder profile
a biography
a play with no lines
ad copy
a thesis
a textbook chapter
opera

But all that comes out is stupid fucking
poetry

blow me

The Other American Exceptionalism

Edward_Gennys_Fanshawe,_The_Cuesta_de_Chacabuco,_looking_towards_San_Felipe_de_Aconcagua_(Chile),_Jany_14th_1851

As the bus headed North leaving Mendoza, Argentina behind, I looked out my window at the mountains in the distance. In the seat next to me, my wife sat transfixed. The Andes impose their beauty on you. It’s no wonder they have inspired poets and novelists like César Vallejo, Mario Vargas Llosa and Pablo Neruda, who remarked about his trip across the mountain range to return from exile, “Todo era a la vez una naturaleza deslumbradora y secreta y a la vez una creciente amenaza de frío, nieve, persecución.” (Everything was simultaneously a dazzling secret natural world and an increasing threat of cold, snow and abuse). Even from the relative safety of the highway I understood him. The mountains seduce you with an otherworldliness and a capacity both to sustain life and to destroy it.

Not everybody enjoys the song of the unknown, those tempting murmurs of another world. A comfortable life is incompatible with multiple truths. But for those who do, its call is rapturous.

My tastes had always been a bit out of step. In college I was an odd kid who walked around campus with a hollowed out gourd filled with wet ground up leaves and danced salsa by himself in the middle of the quad. They must have thought I was crazy. I started describing myself as “half-Irish, half-Jewish, gringo by nationality, and latino at heart.” The phrase perfectly embodied the estrangement I felt at home in the US and the affinity and affection I felt towards Latin America. Nevertheless it’s a phrase I’ve recently come to see as inadequate.

My interest in Latin America began with funny words printed on plastic packaging and mysterious overheard conversations. What were these opaque jumbles of sounds?

It soon turned into stubborn hunger. So I improved my vocabulary and grammar, started watching telenovelas, chose a Mexican soccer team, ¡Vamos Águilas!, started drinking mate and tereré, devoured online newspapers, and struggled through books full of paranoid dictators, bitter intellectuals, shrunken-head exporters and bunny rabbit vomitters. I interned at a laboratory in Chile and befriended Mexicans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Colombians and Peruvians. Back home I deejayed a Latin American music show on the college radio and learned Portuguese, allowing me to study abroad in Brazil and have my heart-broken.

I even wrote a sprawling mess of a manifesto inspired by Cuban novelist and essayist Alejo Carpentier declaring the Americas the future center of the art and literary world. He was confident that Latin American artists would produce “los clásicos de un enorme mundo barroco que aún nos reserva, y reserva al mundo, las más extraordinarias sorpresas.” (the classics of an enormous Baroque world that would still reserve to us, reserve for the world, the most extraordinary surprises). And how could I disagree?

Where else could you find Indians speaking Dutch, Japanese speaking Spanish, Arabs speaking Portuguese and Germans speaking Guarani? Where else could you see the medieval, the colonial, the modern, the indigenous and the natural world mix together with such ease? Where else could you find nations, founded on the whip and the gun to bring fast gold and cheap sugar to European shores, that kept on living anyways like a condor nesting in the crevices of the side of a mountain, because humans were born to dream and not to serve? As Cuban poet and patriot José Martí said:

“De factores tan descompuestos, jamás, en menos tiempo histórico, se han creado naciones tan adelantadas y compactas… no hay patria en que pueda tener el hombre más orgullo que en nuestras dolorosas repúblicas americanas… vencedora veloz de un pasado sofocante, manchada sólo con sangre de abono que arranca a las manos la pelea con las ruinas, y la de las venas que nos dejaron picadas nuestros dueños.”

(From such disjointed elements, never, in less time, have such precocious and compact nations been created… there is no homeland of which man can be more proud than our painful American republics… the speedy victor of a suffocating past, stained only with the blood from a payment that strips the hands of their fight with ruins, and the blood from the veins that our masters left perforated).

Great art starts with the siren call of the unknown and the promise of a better world, and in Latin America, both were all around me. How could Europe and the US, lost in their futile self-indulgent search for the end of history, compete?

I reinterpreted the pan-Americanism of South American liberator Simón Bolivar and later Martí to include the US, dreaming of a future great continent with no economic, political or cultural center, and with pride, I declared myself just as much a Guatemalan, a Chilean or a Brazilian as an American.

Then I moved back to Brazil, fell in love and got married.

But as I settled into life in São Paulo, adjusted to living with somebody with a different view of the world and traveled more, something changed. I realized what was novel and romantic for me could be oppressively familiar to someone else. My wife didn’t have much patience for a foreigner extolling the beauty and virtue of her national traditions. From early childhood she’d been hearing variants of it. She wanted more.

I rethought my fervent Latin American boosterism. I didn’t want to be a cheerleader helping governments attract investors, helping travel agencies attract tourists. Nationalism needs myths to survive, but myths don’t need nations to grab us and make us wonder. My regional preferences were getting in the way of seeing what it was that I truly loved.

I looked upon the mountains now covered in an ethereal orange and thought about the people who were still loving and dancing and fucking and making music and writing poetry and taking care of each other and dreaming of more in spite of everything, in spite of every flaw outsiders claimed they had. That’s the America I wanted to be part of, a place that exists wherever people struggled to live together and overcome a cruel past.

Someday the frigid winds will come for me and bury me under the snow. They won’t ask me for my papers. They will only roar, and I’ll be gone. Just like everyone else. A memory of an unknown world, a whisper of what might have been. I hope when that day comes, I’ll be able to say I danced and dreamed and fought by my neighbors’ side.

On Being an Artist

goyaSometimes I feel like I’m chasing after my own pain with a butterfly net, so that once or if I catch it, I can put it in a glass box in a zoo for people to come stare and bang at. Am really helping anybody? Or am I just tickling their egos while they jack off mine?

I was fine by myself. I was happy even. You can’t hurt anybody when you’re hiding in a pile of books. Why should I call attention to myself now? There’s too many fucking voices out there already. I despise them. There’s no peace outside. Just pretentious assholes. Do I wanna be another prick contributing to the noise?

What’s the point? I’m not beautiful. Neither are my words. The world is fucking ugly and disgusting. It’s dripping in the green runny mucus of greedy selfish arrogant bastards, who would be happy if some old lady tripped on their secretions and snapped her neck in two, but only as long as they knew it was their snot that’d done her in.

That’s when they tell us that mucus is beautiful. It’s hot. It’s in. It’s trending. Well, fuck me two times! If that’s beauty, I’d rather do something hideous. And anonymous. I’d rather pop my own pimples, thank you very much! NO CAMERAS ALLOWED!!

Everything’s different when I close my eyes. Then I can see. The bastard is tormenting me, wants me dead by 27. The inescapably bright light won’t let me sleep, and I can’t function when I don’t sleep! Is this a muse or my ego in a dress?

Some days all is so beautiful. I just wanna lay on the floor and penetrate my skin with it, rub it in my wounds, shove it up my nose, just get it inside me, burn the pain down to a wisp while the sink overflows and the inside of the fridge rots. Beauty is horrific and delicious. I can easily forget the day still goes by and that there is no one here but me.

Go ahead and laugh! At least my pain is a big fucking joke for somebody. My neuroses must seem adorable. Well, they’re not! They fucking suck! Everything I say sounds different once I’ve said it. My words are like balloons. Either I pop them, or they float away. Everything I create abandons me.

What’s the point? I’m condemned to be clever. This isn’t the 19th century. I can’t die a virgin and moan about unrequited love or die a patriot from tuberculosis. I can merely cry “authentically” while giving you a wink while crying on the inside.

So fuck you very much! I’m an artist.

7 Things On My Mind This Week – Fun with Coffee, Politics and Sex

skinney_badass_kafka

This is pretty much what it sounds like. Yes, I’ve sold my soul to the internet-fame demon. Deal with it. I can’t do posts like this every day.

1. Milan Kundera

I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech writer Milan Kundera. It’s a dark, nimble and thought-provoking novel about the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion. Kundera is interesting in the way he relates sexuality to politics as different approaches to finding meaning in life. Sex promises a deeper understanding of the world by penetrating the social distinctions between us. Politics promises a deeper understanding of the world by denying the legitimacy of these same social distinctions. Neither activity fully delivers on its promise. It’s a fun ride. The dude is hooked on Nietzsche, but who isn’t? I’m debating whether to see the movie with Daniel Day-Lewis.

2. Modeling Portfolio

I’m working on a modeling portfolio to try to get work as a greeter at some events in São Paulo. A friend originally suggested the idea, and since I am in search of the absurd, I said why not? We’re all a little vain. Whatever happens I’m sure I’ll learn a lot and gain some interesting experiences. I just hope my younger idealistic self isn’t rolling over in his grave.

3. Rain in SP

It’s been raining a lot lately, which wouldn’t be so weird if it weren’t for all the catastrophic predictions about the city’s water running out. Extended droughts and political incompetence, you know how it goes. Now that it is raining, it’s shifted to the other extreme with water flooding some people out of their homes. At this rate Milan Kundera could probably write a book about rain and politicians. Plus I keep forgetting when I hang my clothes out to dry.

4. Art, Culture & the Weight of the Past

I was thinking about art and culture after reading a short story by a friend of mine. While visiting an art museum or a library, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the weight of our cultural heritage. Look at all these Great Writers and Painters! At the right time in your life, the experience is magical. But inevitably you leave these “sanctuaries of the past” and much to your disappointment, you return to your comparatively cold, empty contemporary reality. The Great Artists you loved suddenly seem inaccessible and out of touch. Were they wrong or are you? You’re faced with a choice: either preserve your heroes and be crushed by the weight of the past or rid yourself of your idols and suffer through, what our Czech friend calls, “the unbearable lightness of being”. In other words, the whole of modernity could be summed up with the question: politics or sex?

5. Coffee is never strong enough

Ever since I moved to Brazil, I’ve been drinking a lot more coffee. It really is tasty down here. We received a shiny red coffeemaker as a wedding present. Unfortunately, I probably have borderline narcolepsy, which means that whether I drink one shot of expresso or six, I still worry about chance encounters with the sleepy monster. At least it makes me feel artistic and intellectual when sipping on it. Maybe I should make another batch.

6. Torture in the CIA

So I haven’t read enough to write about the topic intelligently. But it doesn’t look good. The arguments in the US over what constitutes torture, whether torture is a useful tool for acquiring information and more fundamentally how you define an undemocratic use of force remind me of similar debates in Brazil (which also involve the CIA) on the fiftieth anniversary of the military dictatorship. How likely was it that deposed President João Goulart would have turned the country into the next Cuba? How dangerous and numerous were the leftist guerrillas? Who and how many were the victims? How much violence is permissible and/or necessary in the name of democracy? Brazilians seem to have made up their mind, reelecting Dilma Rousseff, herself a former Marxist guerrilla and victim of torture during the military dictatorship. Nonetheless there have been protests calling for her impeachment or even military intervention. We all tread a thin subjective line.

7. Looking at Honeymoon Photos

While preparing the modeling portfolio, my wife and I have been looking at photos from our backpacking trip around Europe. The experience was surprisingly intense, seeing which photos we did and didn’t remember, how our memories changed, how much we both wanted to go back. I’m not sure if I can adequately express it. There are some moments that are neither light nor heavy. How does one quantify looking at photos or sipping on coffee?