Poem: "Sitting with Marian"

Between: a world, a planet, a zone. Space.

I utter. My mechanical parts interrelate, talk

despite my feeble trippings as my words fill then empty.

Logos ensconced by my feeble trippings, my lack of grammar 

the television, splintered, only silence, a silencing of vacuous

plenty. In the space, in the planet, a vestibule to solemnize words.

I am stuck in an oeuvre of oils. Meaning hisses, whispers

out of my dying bones. Tears, discovery of despondency, to see

intent in your blinking windows, compassion. A receptivity,

found only in children, in JackÕs lithe idiosyncrasy,

do I see in your stale exterior, your crisp(y) skin,

burned from within. My paranoid hands, your exhausted dry

red peppers, your tired raw shrimp lips, burdensome attire,

giant leaden feet, heavy, overbearing space.


Short Story: "Immanence in the Backseat"

"Immanence in the Backseat" is a short story by Greig Roselli (© 2007)
Ashes and Snow, Gregory Colbert
Driving, we saw dogs. We saw them on a rural highway, in a white Volvo. The driver was an adult. The sky was partly cloudy. We had just driven past the firehouse. In the passenger seat I could tell there was a dog and in the backseat was a pack of dogs, all no older than Old Yeller or Prince Hal or the Prince and the Pauper. I could discern them through the tinted brown of their window. The dogs in the back moved in syncopated motion. Their heads jerked back intermittently. It was a combination of the spurting movement of their car and their own unmitigated energy. Our brown discolored Toyota was filled with music; my friend and I were talking about a novel I had been reading for my graduate seminar on Animals and Literature. It was about a woman and her chance, violent encounter with a cockroach. Kind of like Kafka’s Metamorphosis.


Poetry: "For Tammy"

        with a sock puppet, dear, she carved out a few queers
        to love her —
            the most kind of women,
            to love us deviants

        she wiped away our tears with her touché kleenex —
            on television everyone is a performance
            the difference being only in the self-awareness

        this hero of a guy chris cries on a streaming video
        that the media needs to leave Chutney Shears alone! —
        or you’re going to have to deal with me —
        she’s not well right now —
            and we rouse up our spirits with equal fags
        who stand up for the underdogs, yup

        even pee-wee fucking herman,
        a champion of gay rights —
            his onanism in a girly porno theatre
    warmed the cockles of our leftist fag hearts


Generosity as Gift of Self: Short Reflection Written Before Hurricane Ivan Made Landfall

I recently took the Carrollton streetcar to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue the night before hurricane Ivan skirted Louisiana. In New Orleans, everything is usually open, all the time, so it was unusual to see places boarded up and the streets bereft of people. The place I found was the only place open, besides bars, so I got a seat for one and sat down with a book. No sooner had I sat down, when a woman’s voice above me asked, “What book are you reading?” For a brief second, I was surprised at being interrupted, but I looked up and told her; she asked me if I would not mind eating with her and her boyfriend. For a second I hesitated, but then said, “sure” and joined the couple. It was a delightful supper, replete with redfish, red wine, and delectable conversation.


Book Review: The Passion According to G.H.

A review of Clarice's Lispector's novel, The Passion According to G.H. 
Kafka’s Metamorphosis comes to mind when I read Clarice Lispector’s book The Passion According to G.H.  It may just be that a bug figures prominently in both books.

In Kafka’s story a man wakes up as a dung beetle, and his family, at the horror of what he has become, refuse to acknowledge his existence as a bug and Gregor dies of starvation. In Lispector’s story a woman confronts a cockroach she wants to kill and in the process of eliminating this invader, she co-identifies with the insect.  In both stories, there is a radical representation of an “other” entirely alien from what we would call “human.”  The bug of Lispector and the bug of Kafka repulses us. The bug repulses G.H. She is an otherwise  Mrs. Dalloway-kind-of-character. She is haughty and refined.

The novel begins with her epiphanic face-to-face standoff with a cockroach which she half-smashes in her doorway, watching it writhe in its final death throes. And after its white ooze has vacated its exoskeleton, she takes the carcass of the creature and consumes it in a kind of immanent form of communion.

With the consumption of the body of Christ in the form of bread at a Eucharistic celebration, there is supposed to be a kind of transcendent moment that touches the divine, for G.H. there is nothing like transcendence in her consuming of the cockroach. This is pure immanence, baby. In G.H.’s immanent vision — and to call it a vision is really a misnomer —  there is no transcendent moment for G.H.

Actually, she cannot describe the communion she has with the roach in words.  She is at that moment of consumption gone beyond instinctual drive to kill the roach and beyond her repulsion of the creature’s ancient and irreducibly alien existence and has reached for herself a state of immanence, which if described by language would deny the act as being, in of itself, immanent — which means, by the way, “within itself.”

At the moment of this strange climax, G.H. has pulled herself out of her own bootstraps and reached, in the nearest way possible, a kind of creaturely existence.  Unlike Gregor in Kafka’s moribund tale, who is transformed into a bug against his will and killed because his immanence is intolerable to the humans he lives with, G.H. chooses to find immanence in an uncharacteristic way.

Going to her maid’s room to tidy up the space, she catches sight of the bug and an instinctual rage propels her to exterminate the creature, to dominate it, to stand-over-and-above-it. Her action is similar to what Sartre does intellectually in Nausea, when he addresses the tree stump in a Parisian park and declares that he can stand above the rootness of the tree.  But for G.H., coming face to face with the cockroach’s mouth, with its eyes like a girl about to be married, pondering its multiple layer of cretinous skin, she herself becomes like a stupid beast. She also goes further than what Sartre proposes; Sartre manages his nausea by leaving the stump triumphant. Sartre says, “Ha. Stump. I am better than you!”  G.H. wants to see what is on the other side of the human/animal divide. She wants to reach what Baudelaire longed for in his prose poem about what would the conscientiousness of a beast be like. In the poem, Baudelaire dreams of being like the animal bête because it is oblivious to cares and to concerns. Baudelaire may be referring to his mistress in misogynist terms here, but the brute fact that the creature does not have to choose, I guess, is the implication.  While for Sartre, the ability to choose, to stand-over-and-above the brute creature is the existentialist definition of what it means to be human; it is the ability to define the essence of our being by freedom of choice that marks existentialist thought so well — some would say happily — especially if you find it repulsive to be one with the creature like G.H. and Baudelaire.

I read some of the passages from The Passion to a friend who had never heard of Lispector.  And he basically told me that he is repulsed by cockroaches and would never have done what G.H. did. Most of us are like my friend here. Most of us, including myself, have never stooped to the eye level of the cockroach to identify with it and then, literally, to embody it.  Perhaps for G.H., the ability of choice, that marks us as human, smacks of painful consciousness, an experience she is trying to escape from as if she is trying to be without being, to see without seeing, or to ingest without ritual. Like the medieval flagellant who exposes his body to the whip to feel pain, so does G.H. wish to eradicate her consciousness.  The encounter with the roach is an attempt to eradicate the trappings of culture and consciousness.  But why?  She says that she wants to desist as opposed to exist. To exist means “to stand outside of.”  To desist means “to stand from” as if to stand neutrally.  And she says that the animal insists. The animal stands from within.
photo credit: thenewhereheretics


Google Maps and the Christ Haunted Way to Jackson, Mississippi

Read about a backroads car trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jackson, Mississippi.
Figure 1: The route I took on a recent backroads car trip from New Orleans to Jackson
    Obsession with the world’s best search engine and an itch to travel led me to plan a trip for myself earlier this summer with Google Maps.  With Google’s clever map service I can actually get satellite imagery of my own backyard, sans the barking dog, by typing in an address and presto -- after a couple of seconds, an overhead satellite image appears on the screen. Like electrons swirling in a vacuum, maps are possibilities, discovery.  Looking from above like a god over a cosmic machine, I can see the earth’s surface, tops of houses, beaches along rivers, even the shadows cast by buildings. The ripples of water over a lake. Matchbox cars parked on the sides of the streets. If you peer closely, even mailboxes. The odd thing is, I noticed, after playing around for an hour or two -- the streets are empty, hardly a person in sight, which causes me to believe that the planet is vacant.  Where are the people? Inside, hooked up to high-speed internet? Well, why not? It is delicious information accessible to the layman. It feels intrusive, yet enticingly fun; almost too powerful for the ordinary person. Without even being there, without the aid of an airplane, from a chair, I can pan over a river that follows a paved two-lane road. When I click on the Hybrid button it indicates in startling yellow that this is Highway 17 (See figure 1). Wow.  Well. That’s awesome. I check out my friend Tony’s apartment.
   I can’t peer into his window with Google, but it’s pretty darn close. There are limitations to this voyeuristic peeping tom engine. Limitations. Restraint. I am restricted to the US and a little bit of Canada and Mexico and an outline of the rest of the world. As of this printing, you can’t get a bird’s eye view of the Louvre or the Great Wall. And, even in the ole US of A, you can’t see everything crystal clear. There are coordinates that Google won’t allow you to see. Either the satellites didn’t take pictures of these regions or Google technicians haven’t gotten to it. Or maybe Uncle Sam wrote them a letter, saying -- whoah now, you can’t be showing the tops of those oil refineries or those top secret coordinates. When I scroll over those areas with my mouse, it’s all a gray ambiguity but I can outline the details of every housetop in the French Quarter in New Orleans and survey the breach in the levee caused by Katrina along the industrial canal. I enjoyed the aesthetic of taking note of the design of the roofs, a strange patchwork of L’s and Z’s built on a solid uniformed grid. Strange.
    It is interesting what Google purveys to the common user and what it shuts out; maybe it’s arbitrary. Some of the satellite images are discolored and difficult to zoom into, but urban areas are crisp and easily zoomable. I can get a great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Lower Manhattan. I can even zoom over the roof of my own house. While I’m in it! It becomes a tad solipsistic: here I am with a laptop computer outside a coffee shop wirelessly tapping into the world wide web, looking from above, exactly where I stand. As I get a bird’s eye view of where I stand here, I stand before me, looking straight out into the parking lot. I look up into the sky to catch a glimpse of the satellite that took my picture. All I see is blue sky, clouds on the edge of the horizon. No sight of the all-seeing eye. I found out later Google Maps is not a real-time camera. The images are created by still Landsat satellite images.
    And most practically, I was able to map out a trip to Jackson, Mississippi without using interstates.
    I wanted a Christ-haunted trip through the old south. The back lanes of rural Mississippi. I wanted to see the white starched steeples of every church even before I drove by. So I packed some notebooks, a pencil, my Power Book G4, a flashlight, trail mix, a few books and a bathing suit in case I wanted to swim in the Bogue Chitto River or the Pearl and I set off in mom’s car. I was on a mission to find the South I had read about, her regal lords and ladies, whitewashed churches, myths and images of Eudora Welty, Beth Henley, Lewis Nordan, Walker Percy. Even O’Connor (not born in Mississippi, but I am sure that her characters populate its hamlets).
    And in reality, there they were. I saw ‘em. On Sunday I was there. And saw. Looked. Wrote. Every town I drove through was like a queer recursive. In Tylertown. Georgetown. Monticello. Florence. Pearl. Lexie.
    I started out on Highway 437. It’s called Lee Road by the locals because supposedly General Lee marched down it with his troops. I stopped at the corner store to fill the gas tank. As is usual with corner stores, there is a dumpy matron positioned behind a counter who serves you without a smile, suspiciously eyeing any stranger who walks in; I wasn’t a regular so I didn’t get a cordial “hello,” just a stare. I was in and out of there but I did notice on the way out the cover of the Times-Picayune: Local Gas Stations Fudge Tax Rates. Through no fault of their own, it seemed, local corner gas stations were overcharging tax on goods without realizing it. 
    From seven in the morning until three in the afternoon everyone was in church. Every time I drove by it was a different stage of worship: the gathering at the steps; the Sunday waltz inside the main doors, the big-bosomed belles pulling themselves out of their cars in time for service. By half-past one I was still seeing the same scene, becoming a little afraid that I would be caught inside this never-ending reel of praise and worship. On Sunday along Highway 27, the only “hopping” places are the churches. If you aren’t in church you’re reminded of Jesus on every corner. Jesus saves. Jesus the Lord of All. Have you read your bible today? Jesus over Tunica. Get right with Jesus. It is a constant reminder inscribed on every inscribable pulp, branch, and tree. Names of the churches stick in my mind: Abundant Life Church. Starlight Church. New Life. Living Word. King Solomon’s Church (White and small with a big propane tank out front with a graveyard on the side). Cornerstone Church. New Bethel. Saint Paul the Apostle (that was the one Catholic church I spotted). Some churches were plain white clapboard edifices while others were veritable theaters, replete with jeweled studded bas-reliefs on the sides which at night lit up in neon like the downtown cineplex. All the Baptist churches had similar architecture. Reddish brown buildings with a simple white steeple. The differing characteristics were the size and the extent of the stained glass windows. In one town, the largest Baptist church I saw, boasted tall windows detailing the life of Jesus in stained glass. Graven images, I thought. But no. These windows are didactic, not worshipful.
    Also status. The name of the pastor printed in large letters on the front. People ask, “Which church do you got to?” At the Catholic church, the priest processes out with a handful of children at his side, the electric organ bubbling away orthodox tunes while boys sitting next to me snicker and yawn. At Greater Starlight Church there is a menagerie of color and light, the pastor not processing out but skipping, jumping. Not chaotic. It is very organized. As if everyone knows their role. The older folk get into it much more, while some of the younger people fold their arms. In one church there is a coffee shop just outside the sanctuary so you can get your joe on the way out, just before picking up the kids at Children’s church. Clever. One church proclaims: Make your family apart of our family. Doughnuts and jam available in the parish hall after Mass. Signup sheets for vacation bible school.
    I swear I was waiting to see Manly Pointer come out of the church with his hard-top bible and disingenuous grin, gin underneath the flaps of his books. But I didn’t seem him. Nor Hulga. Everything looked clean and decent. But I didn’t check the contents of folks’ bibles. The dilapidated Hard Times junkyard was certainly O’Connoresque. As well as the propinquity of the bars to the churches. The downtowns were unchanged; old store fronts. Some closed up with boards while others still open for business. 
    Walking the streets of Jackson on a Sunday afternoon confirmed my suspicion the South is still alive. A car stopped at an intersection I wanted to cross. The window rolled down. A beefy African American woman eyed me down. “Wanna come to my place?”
    “Ummm. No. Have a good day,” I said.
    I walked around her car. And walked through the park. I realized the city was mostly dead. Everything was closed on a Sunday. But the park was full of people. And the few cars circulating traffic were ladies looking for a quick fix. I was not really in the mood to pay out cash for a quickie, especially with a beefy lady. And none of the blokes in the park looked that attractive. So, I found my mom’s car and fled Jackson and headed for the burbs. Ate Chinese food. Found the interstate and avoided the Christ Haunted route.


Can We Make Sense Out Of the Virginia Tech Carnage?

What is it about the explosive, violent shootings at Virginia Tech that disturb us so much? I know I stopped what I was doing and paid attention to the news when I heard the headlines on the television talking about a school shooting. It isn’t the fact that a person would act out so violently; this should be no surprise to a world bathed in the blood of genocide and ethnic cleansing, two world wars in one century, the war in Korea, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and current war in Iraq: for the record of human atrocity is long and riddled with violence and bloodshed, from the cruel crucifixions of the Romans to the harsh internment of the gulags. Human violence is not alien to us.
     Rather, it is sadly, very human. What makes the Virginia Tech killings so disturbing, however, is that it has been inextricably stripped of meaning — the fact that Cho Seung-Hui, acting alone, walked through a university dormitory and classroom building without visual affect, as one witness commented, his face was stoic and numb and unleashed round after round of bullets with a Glock 19 handgun into his former girlfriend, her boyfriend, and 29 other people, wounding dozens more and leaving thousands and thousands of people terrified.

The killer, apparently in a psychotic state because of the breakup with his girlfriend, leaves us bereft with a way to make sense of this violence. The act is stripped of meaning and we ourselves are devoid of a way to absorb it, much less understand it. We are left unable to situate this kind of senseless atrocity into any form of meaningful dialogue because the killer has left us with nothing, killing himself, erasing his own history and closing off any hope of restoration. Despite his own personal past, left as a series of clues to help us understand, he himself has left us nothing, except, as one person commented after hearing about the shootings, undulations in a vacuum.
     Sure, people will begin to put pieces together, as is being done, to begin to explain what happened, he himself, at the moment he began to shoot without anger or fear, without hatred or even angst, not even speaking to his victims, as he mowed them down, at the moment of carnage there was absolutely no reasonable sense, nothing to trace one’s finger to an origin that would be explicable or tangible, only overwhelming grief and desolation for those who survived and all of us, drawn together by family and friends and concern for one another.

     We may never have an adequate explanation for these shootings, no matter how much can be gleaned from the evidence, just as the shootings at Columbine and the terrorists attack on September 11th, have left a wound our nation’s consciousness, there is something irrevocably lost in our ability to make sense of this tragedy.
     So, this leaves us with an urge to movement to reach out with compassion to the injured and to the mourning, to make way for their stories as they begin to speak out and seek ways to heal; it is our responsibility to allow for this to happen, to allow healing to take place where it can and to find adequate ways to perhaps prevent this kind of carnage from ever happening again. What we need to do know is to stop for a moment and ponder John Donne, when he said, “No Man is an island entire of himself …. Any man’s death diminishes me for I am apart of mankind.”