Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wheel, Fire

One dark night back in the Stone Age, two Stone Age bros were slowly rolling the big stone wheel they'd made and they saw a woman walking alone, and they hooted salaciously at her to indicate they had invented this wheel and she should have sex with them. She thought their stone wheel was kinda cool and also there were lots of creepy animal screamy sounds out in the dark, so she went back to their cave and had sex with them because it was better than being eaten by tigers. Thousands of years later, the story survives, and stupid dudes are still cruising around in the dark hooting salaciously at every woman they see, just in case it's a lady who will be really impressed by a wheel. They've even upped the ante -- now they have FOUR wheels, baby, hubba hubba. 

Oddly, very few dudes today remember another piece of history -- the time when a nice German lady, Mrs. Fiedler, who was tired of being hooted at salaciously when she herded the goats home at night, tired of how even an activity as unsexual as tending goats could have an unwanted sexuality pressed upon it by passing yahoos, said to her husband Richard, "May I borrow that flamethrower you invented, dear?" And he said of course. So Mrs. Fiedler strapped on her husband's prototype, and next time she was buzzed by a jeep full of horny beer-hall lederhosers, Mrs. Fiedler lit up their jeep with a rope of fire, and the goats all stood around it watching it glow in the Bavarian darkness, the flames reflecting in their weird goat eyes.

Strange and sad how some pieces of history inform our decisions even today, where other ones get forgotten. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Whitman at Armory Square, Revisited

For a long time I've wanted to do sound and visuals projects with some of my old poems. This weekend I got a chance to start learning how, thanks to Radio Boot Camp. I went up to New York with colleagues in order to get a first taste of how we might start incorporating audio elements into our reporting, getting to use what I learned for personal projects is a nice side benefit.

I'm excited about the possibilities on multiple fronts, but the first thing I thought I'd try out was working with this odd Whitman poem I wrote some years back, one in which two voices (and two stories) are cut into each other forming a new, more difficult story. Linebreak published and did a marvelous job with the recording, but I always wanted to hear what would happen if this poem was done in layers, in rounds like old folk songs, with the two threads of death and life not coming one after the other but woven so closely they can scarcely be separated. 

That was part of what I was trying to get at in this poem: an intermingling of the threads of Whitman: his boisterous voice and sexuality with the anguish of the Civil War, the intermingling (and eventual effacement) of Whitman's voice with the voices of the soldiers he nursed, an act of mercy that was at once generous and destructive. 

I moved some lines around in the recording, as I found that following the interspersed voices was more difficult without the visual cues that the page provides, but maybe I can get someone with a dramatically different voice than mine to record with me at some point. 

Whitman at Armory Square

People came to him—in the streets, in the alleys.

              Always, his appetite had been huge, his capacity for
Flesh clung to him like sunlight coats wheat fields.
             Taking others into himself. Now he had them
Knowing its home, its resting place, its canvas.
             By the hundreds, boys and men brought in
They would greet him with kisses. Friends wrote
             On stretchers: shredded arms, exposed brain matter;
Of how beautiful he was bathing, of his proud form;
             Some saved by an hour with the saw. On their lips,
How it moved and flexed; they lost, within his sight,
            A whimper for Christ or mother, sometimes
All shame. And he in turn would tongue
            Bloodied spittle. Most surgeries were amputations.
Their bodies onto leaves of paper, spilling
            The pus was drawn into roll on roll of cotton.
Rivers of ink through the soft belly of evening,
            His work was to cleanse, to comfort these ruins
Touching, exquisitely, himself and those nearby
            Dying in the wake of the cut: dysentery, infection.
Until his seed splashed onto the page in long lines,
            Many simply wished to dictate a letter home.
Nothing like any poetry that had been seen before
            He would write the words they could no longer form
A psalm drawn from dirt and kernel,
            With their hands. His own tongue curled up and dropped,
From sweat and wood smoke, from the root.
            A shriveling sinew in a filthy pile of gauze.