Welcome to the New America

A couple of stories from the past 24 hours, just from my region of the USA. Who knows how many similar stories across the country are ongoing and unreported. Click for links.

“LOUISIANA HOSPITAL DENIES ABORTION FOR FETUS WITHOUT A SKULL”

“COURT SAYS 16-YEAR-OLD PARENTLESS FLORIDA GIRL ISN’T ‘MATURE’ ENOUGH FOR AN ABORTION” 

Not to mention …

 

 

 

 

 

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Neruda at Machu Picchu (and D. H. Lawrence below)

Hereafter, I use Neruda’s spelling, “Macchu Picchu.”
Translations part mine, part Nathanial Tarn.
Quotes identified by poem number (twelve poems in Neruda’s set).

As with other poems I’ve read by Neruda (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, plus some miscellaneous bits and pieces), The Heights of Macchu Picchu (sic) is built of concrete blocks of imagery – mostly seasonal and nature imagery but with some metals and cosmic flashes too. The images are never remote from subjective coordinates, though, whether the subjective reverberations are those of love and intimacy (as predominate in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) or a longing for some lost primeval consciousness (as in The Heights of Macchu Picchu). In the latter case, Neruda stands close to D. H. Lawrence, the prolific English writer of both poetry and prose born one generation before Neruda. Lawrence, too, spent time immersed in the pre-Hispanic cultures of the Americas. He found both the ancient Mesoamerican and the pagan Mediterranean cultures more authentic, more fulfilling of our deepest human needs, than the anemic culture of Christianity and modernity. The longing for that lost authentic mode of being (living “breast-to-breast with the cosmos” Lawrence called it in Apocalypse) takes a theme running through many of Lawrence’s books and threads into this one by Neruda.

Beneath that shared vision, the sense of loss and the urgency of retrieval, I do see a few differences as I read The Heights of Macchu Picchu. Whether these differences point to the subjective registers of my personal response or to something objective in Neruda, you can decide, but they do help shape meaning in my reading of the poems. For one, there is a bit more native American nationalism in Neruda’s response to Macchu Picchu; he seems to feel it as a loss his people have experienced: “Ancient America, bride in the veil of sea … under the nuptial banners of light and reverence … buried America, were you in that great depth …” (X). Lawrence, for his part, seems more tuned to the loss of authentic human spirit in a more general, less nationalistic, way. But, even in Neruda, the nationalism is but a touch here and there, not a dominant idea in the set.

There is also a kind of death-wish that runs through Neruda’s collection, an element of abjection in the poet’s lament: “La poderosa Muerte me invitó muchas veces” (“powerful Death has beckoned me many times,” IV). Although Lawrence (e.g., in the non-fiction Apocalypse or Etruscan Places, or in the novel, The Plumed Serpent) laments the same loss of the primeval human spirit, the driving tone in Lawrence is a defiant celebration of what has been lost. Sure, there is a respect for the great cycles of life and death in both writers, but Neruda’s handling of death is tinged a bit more with melancholy, with a sense of personal abjection, as he feels an irresistible attraction toward “the true, the most consuming death” (VII).

In Lawrence, too, some element of abjection may be attributed to characters in The Plumed Serpent (e.g., modern Mexicans who lack the fullness of life of their pagan forebears and are thus “divided against [themselves]”), but abjection is peripheral, not in the central voice as we find in Neruda. In The Plumed Serpent (set in early 20th-century Mexico), some of the Mexican characters might be seen as working to restore that full pagan consciousness, some of the (modern) Mexican characters merely express the lost greatness of that pagan world as a form of abjection, and the European characters are too caught up in “mechanical dominance” and “mechanical connections” to get it at all, or they are just starting to perceive the big picture of spiritual loss and possible rejuvenation, but from the outside, as it were. To tentatively plot the voice of Neruda’s Macchu Picchu poems into this schema, Neruda feels the full pull of the old world view in his concrete vision of Inca life in Macchu Picchu but also feels the abjection of the modern Chilean, with a more visceral connection and more visceral sense of loss than was perhaps possible for the Englishman. In any event, the feeling you get in Neruda tacks a bit more to the personal whereas in Lawrence you feel more drawn toward the archetypal, despite the large overlap in their visions.

One other difference worth mentioning may be related to Neruda as a craftsman of poetry. If Poem VIII imagines the ancient pagan consciousness, as Lawrence might do, as “a long-dead kingdom” that paradoxically, dormantly “still lives on” but at a depth we cannot see (“El reino muerto vive todavia”), in Poem IX, the structure of the poem itself seems to suddenly emulate the pagan consciousness:

Aguila sideral, viña de bruma.                        Interstellar Eagle, vine-in-a-mist

Bastión perdido, cimitarra ciega.                    Forsaken bastion, blind scimitar.

Cinturón estrellado, pan solemne.                   Orion belt, ceremonial bread.

Escala torrencial, párpado inmenso.               Torrential stairway, immeasurable eyelid.

Túnica triangular, polen de Piedra.                Triangular tunic, pollen of stone.

Consciousness here takes the form of concrete images, discrete, without all the rational connectors that Neruda (and Lawrence) might associate with modern consciousness. The flow is not one of a causal nexus but of a throbbing heartbeat, uncluttered by the need to reduce everything to rational sequences.

Rejuvenating that primeval heartbeat remains a central theme beyond the structural experiment of Poem IX:

“Through a confusion of splendor,
through a night made of stone let me plunge my hand
and move to beat in me a bird held for a thousand years,
the old and unremembered human heart!” (XI)

And on to Neruda’s invocation in Poem XII, and back to an attitude he fully shares with Lawrence:

“Look at me from the depths of the earth
. . .
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow

Strike the old flints

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.”

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Approaching cosmic oneness

The opposite of oneness is categories. The human mind sorts the chaotic flux of reality into categories to render it intelligible. But pull out the dividers that sort the categories and what you have is oneness, or rather one continuous cosmic gradient. (In my experience, psychedelics like LSD and mushrooms are one way of pulling out the dividers but not the only way.)

Some cognates:

Before Freud, there was faculty psychology. The human psyche was composed of faculties: passion, reason, appetite, etc. – like separate boxes on a shelf. Freud (not alone but he’s the one that pulled it together) switched out this category-based model for something more fluid and dynamic – a gradient moving from the conscious mind down deeper and deeper into unconscious drives and mechanisms that exert enormous though unseen influences on our behavior. Though dismissing Freud is something of an international pastime these days, I think his model of the psyche, where old and unconscious impressions continue to affect behaviors later in life, was a remarkable paradigm shift that shaped the direction of psychology. It is still perhaps the prevailing model today, and indeed Freud’s detractors often use Freud’s depth psychology model in waging their attacks. Feel free to demur in the comments.

Or how about the four sheaths in Vedantic philosophies: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. They seem like four separate categories but isn’t it more intuitive to see them as part of one rainbow continuum? Think of the emotional and physical registers during sex. Surely they are part of one gradient of response and not separate categories, unless we deliberately separate them for the purpose of analysis.

Or how about space and time. They were generally considered two separate categories – either objective categories defining physical reality or subjective categories, as in Kant, by which we organize our experience of reality. But categories. Then Einstein. It turns out space and time are not categorically separate but are part of the same continuum. Same with energy and matter in Einstein. No longer separate categories but part of the same continuum. E = mc2.

There are probably a million other instances in the history of ideas, but the point is that categories help us sort, evaluate, and make sense of things, but the categories are not the things. In fact, there are no things. Just the one big cosmic Thing. The kaleidoscope of cosmic oneness, which is of course the same thing as the kaleidoscope of cosmic consciousness. The objective world and the subjective world fold into each other at the cosmic level. There is no other way. You don’t need LSD see your way through to this vision. Well, in my case maybe that LSD trip to a remote Mexican beach helped just a little, but that was almost an accident. Almost an accident. Maybe that’s the window to the next level of discussion 😊

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Gary’s Shelf in NYC

Finally got my own shelf at Quimby’s Brooklyn, NYC!

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Alice opening

Here’s the opening page of Alice, the recently released post-apocalyptic adult hippie fairy tale.

ALICE

Alice sat by the pond cupping her hand in the water, as if searching for an undersea plant or animal. The sun was going down. She stripped off her gown and dove in to do something but she could not remember what. When she came up, something was in her hand and the stars were above. They were the same stars as ever, but the constellations were different. Virgo and Scorpio and all the others were gone, and some new arrangement had begun. Something moved in the woods beside the pond. Not really in the woods. In a juniper bush. It was too big to be a fairy. Alice did not know what it was that moved in the juniper bush.

As Alice approached the shack, she could hear in the dark the whispering of the forest. She saw the lovely silhouette of Evelyn through the window, sleeping in bed. She entered, and Evelyn opened her eyes.

“I was at the pond,” Alice said.

“Was the rain king there?” asked Evelyn.

“No. Not today. But something happened. I dove in and the whole cosmos changed. The stars are still there but all the old constellations are gone. Virgo and Scorpio are gone now.”

Evelyn sat up. She was taller than average, with a nobility of stature that contrasted with the petite Alice.

“So then it’s a new age,” said Evelyn.

“Yes.”

Alice sat on the bed. Evelyn leaned toward her, pushed a brown curl from the brown eye of Alice, and kissed her twice. Once on her favorite birthmark in the whole world, the pink crescent moon on Alice’s neck just above the collarbone. And once on the mouth.

“We can hope,” she whispered.

“Yes,” said Alice. “And when we can’t hope, we can love.”

And they lay down together in the wood frame bed in the wood frame house in the woods.

The next day, John Wilson came over to the shack. No one ever called him “John.” They always said, “John Wilson.”

“Something happened with the fairies last night,” said John Wilson.

“I knew it,” said Alice.

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Hero and Leander (the lamp and the water)

I still walk to that lake, the surface now still,
absence of geometry, ache of tranquility,

a voice but a whisper
soothing, sad, a silver
thorn in the side of love.

What love creates, need destroys.

We put flowers on the table
at the changing of the season.

Then the rains came. We watched
through the kitchen window.
You turned out the lamp.

“I love you more than I need you,” I said.
“Now I know what that means.”
But need, the ache, the silver thorn,
will have its bloody day.

Time passes. Seasons change.

When I walk to the lake I stir the surface,
the glitter of sun, a dangerous swell,
my hand beginning to move
into place a geometry
of memories.

Poem by Gary Gautier
Painting by Cheryl Gautier

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Hitchhiking the first seven months

I’ve traveled 8 countries so far this year, 5 via hitchhiking, so it’s time for some bullet point summaries, with emphasis on hitchhiking.

Heading toward France

After some lovely days in Mexico City with dear friend Andrea, flew to Madrid, navigated Spain by ride shares, and ended up back in suburban Madrid with friends Marina and Lalo the night before heading to France.

Hitchhiking Switzerland and France

Good travel day: train then plane then bus then hitchhiking. I.e., suburban train to airport, flight Madrid to Geneva, trial and error buses to the edge of town. Then what? I spotted a thirty-something guy who looked vagabondish enough – funny you can always tell, even though he looked more like an IT professional today – and sure enough he’d hitchhiked the exact route. He suggested that after Annemasse I veer off to the interstate, as no one would be on the small highway on Sunday. True, there was one car a minute, but before I could veer, a punk rock girl with a dream of becoming a chef picked me up and brought me all the way to Bonneville and sweet Marine’s house. This part of France, the Haute-Savoie region near Mont Blanc, is always the easiest for hitchhiking. But Marine’s house! A fridge filled with butter and eggs and cream and wine for cooking. I immediately called Marina and Lalo back in Madrid to tell that their olive oil dinners were great, but stand aside: The French kitchen is true home for me.

Hitchhiking into Germany

Wiggled my way through France and Switzerland on a ride share to Mulhouse in the Alsace region of France. Rain was definitely coming. Finally, I had five more minutes to watch the sky and decide whether to jump out on the cutoff to Germany or ride with my driver to the bahnhof to avoid the rain. Clouds cleared slightly at the last minute, so I jumped out at a KFC and stuck out my thumb. My first ride was a down-and-out Algerian. Every 10 minutes the car died and he had to get out and do something under the hood. I gave him 6 euros for food, and he dropped me at a bad spot for thumbing, but at least there was a nearby gas station. I decided to stay close to cover and asked drivers as they stopped. Luck. A college kid picked me up going to Freiburg for a college party then techno bar. I politely declined the offer of a long night in a techno bar. The problem in Germany, by the way, is not finding people to pick you up – Germans of all walks of life are generally willing. The problem is finding a good spot for cars to pull over. My college reveler dropped me at another bad spot, but it was after 5 pm and near the bahnhof, so I walked to the bahnhof, took a Flixbus to Karlsruhe, and settled into a very cheap dorm room in a hostel that was clean and well-kept, but depressing spatially and socially. Really, one step above a homeless shelter.

Karlsruhe to Aachen

Long walk, maybe an hour with full pack, to a hitchhiking spot. Long wait but finally a ride with a 60 something guy. He looked as conservative as they get, but turns out he used to hippie himself in the heady days of the German counterculture. He dropped me in a great service area, but we’d passed the cutoff for Koblenz/Aachen, so I made a new sign for Frankfurt. Finally, a 20-ish kid picked me up going to Frankfurt on a 3-day rap tour. This was his big chance to perform with the higher profile rappers, and he was happy to talk about it. For me, there’s no point trying to hitchhike out from the center of a city the size of Frankfurt, so I people-watched at the station for a few hours then took the Flixbus to Aachen. It was pretty much free since I had a voucher. (My Colombian airline wanted proof that I had a ticket out of Spain before boarding my flight to Madrid, so I’d bought a Flixbus ticket from the northern edge of Spain to the first town in France just so the airline could check their stupid box, then canceled immediately to get my voucher.)

Hitchhiking into Poland

Another multimedia travel day. Cheap train from Weimar to Dresden, then poking around with buses until I found one that brought me to a good hitchhiking spot heading east. By then it was afternoon and I was hoping for a quick ride. I got one with an 18-wheeler trucker, a German who sounded sharply educated though with no English and who was looking to retire soon and buy a horse. Then another 18-wheeler, this one driven by a Russian. One thing about Russians. They always pick up hitchhikers. In all my hitchhiking trips through 12 countries in Europe, I’ve had countless Russians pick me up. This one looked rough, like Anthony Quinn in La Strada, and spoke no English or German, so communication was tough. He brought me across the Polish border and to Wroclaw, but I had been hoping for a mini-Polish lesson while hitchhiking. He dropped me in a deserted industrial area by the Autobahn. Me, who did not know how to say “hello” or “can you help me” in the difficult language of the Poles. Behind a building, I found two homeless guys who helped me by pointing to a bus stop on the map on my phone. Then I jumped on the first bus hoping it was going toward the center, but the route ended a kilometer away and everyone got off. More buses with weird names, closer and closer to the center, where the younger generation spoke some English, and to my excellent best friends in Poland, Marek and Kinga.

Some big leaps

Turns out, getting into Poland was my last hitchhiking leg in Europe this year. Rain put me on a train from Wroclaw to Berlin, where I was passed back and forth for two weeks between my lovely Turkish friends, Ayka and Öyku, and my Hungarian friends, Balazs and Bernadett. A super cheap flight brought me Berlin to Bangkok, then week-or-more layovers in Spain, Playa del Carmen, and New Orleans, before heading back to central Mexico.

Hitchhiking Mexico

Hitchhiked Guanajuato to León and then to Guadalajara, which means I’ve now hitchhiked 5 of the 32 Mexican states (and visited 9 total). I love hitchhiking in Mexico. First leg, Guanajuato to León, was typical. I was trying to decide whether to stand before or after the toll both – toll booth workers happily wave hitchhikers through to the main freeway — when a pick-up saw my sign and stopped. A couple with a young girl. They looked like hard workers, maybe farmers. But that’s the thing about Mexicans – always generous, ready to help strangers. This 5-minute wait for a ride is not unusual here. Not always, though. León to Guadalajara was not unpleasant but was harder. Forty-minute walk to find a good spot, then an hour and a half wait for a ride. First time I’ve waited longer than 25 minutes in Mexico.  Don’t know why. Sometimes you never know. But it was another 18-wheeler ride across from Guanajuato state to Jalisco, where the landscape gets wetter and greener. Great ride, great chat in broken Spanish about Mexico and other countries.

So that’s my 3rd 18-wheeler ride this year: in Germany, Poland, and Mexico. Back in the 1970s, 18-wheelers in the US often picked up hitchhikers. There was a camaraderie there – mavericks of the road – despite their salt-of-the-earth conservatism and our counterculture hippie radicalism. Those were the days before politics had overwhelmed human connection, when politics was only one way of connecting among others, and we always found those other tendrils of connection. It was also before insurance companies and surveillance technology ruined it for us. As we turned into the 21st century, US truckers started saying they’d love to help but insurance rules and cab cameras had them boxed in. Satan’s corporate minions of insurance and surveillance companies. No regard for human consequences. Only the bottom line. But if Satan has the US in thrall, the rest of the world still holds free in this regard.

My trucker dropped me at the edge of Guadalajara, a metro area of over 5 million. That means, as often happens hitchhiking, half my day was spent in urban areas, getting out of and into the right spots in my origin and destination cities. It took me a while to poke around and find a bus to the Guadalajara centro, only to find that there are several different areas in the metro region called “centro.” At least the map app on my phone works with no wifi, so when I saw the bus pass within two miles of my hostel, I jumped out and walked the city streets, beating the evening rain and noting again and again how friendly Mexicans are, even in the big cities.

 

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In all the best cities

Now in all the best cities: New Orleans, New York, Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Faster to the close we went

the earth stopped turning
and we all went flying
off toward the stars

sparkling, burning, dying,
our stupid awe holding
only to the beauty

hazy memories, moss
and moon, drifting
floating petals

someone on the tiny plaza
just outside my window

flying still toward the stars
faster, faster, stupid awe
holding tight to savage
light and bitter ash

eyes aflame, dreams
and memories void of pain

sparkling, burning, dying, laughing
stupidly good, colder now, yet
faster, faster, to the close
faster to the close
we went

  

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