Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rosicrucian in the Basement

...third posting in a sequence on Imagination.

Dad was a “small businessman,” industrious, hardworking, serious about his profession, a mid-western Republican, anything but an alchemist, yet there he was in a suburban Skokie, Illinois, basement with his “liquid-filled crystal flask and yellow glass egg on the altar...” transforming what he felt to be “base” [about himself] into gold. That was his secret. That’s where he went when he wasn’t busy making money.

“There are two worlds,” he says, lighting incense, “the seen
and the unseen, and she doesn’t understand.
This is my treasure,” he says,
lead cooking in an iron pan,
liquid darkness and some gold...”

A teenager I had no idea what it was all about. My sister and stepmother thought he was crazy, but they tolerated his Rosicrucian practice as long as he kept it out of sight—in the basement.

And when I returned from India after spending a month in Ganeshpuri with Swami Muktananda, I felt superior. Callow, the word “callow” comes to mind. What did I know? And then, in the 1990s, I began “hearing” his voice, loud and clear. I began hearing and writing in that voice maybe ten years ago. My little book, Rosicrucian in the Basement, appeared in 2001, published by Marty Gervais' Black Moss Press (Canada).

Imagination. Yeah. Something kicked in. I’m still hearing the voice. The thing takes on a life of its own. The things the kid in the poem sees and comments on. His interactions with his father. This is dad, new and improved in some respects, old and more bizarre than ever in others. But the thing is true. And, dead since 1982, dead and buried, he’s no less a part of my life now than he was. A little more playful these days and, too, helpful in 2003 when I fucking lost my mind.


“What’s to explain?” he asks.
He’s a closet meditator. Rosicrucian in the basement.
In my father’s eyes: dream.
“There are two worlds,” he says,
liquid-filled crystal flask
and yellow glass egg
on the altar.
He’s the “professional man”—
so she calls him, my stepmother.
That, and “the Doctor”:
“The Doctor will see you now,” she says,
working as his receptionist.
He’s a podiatrist—foot surgery a specialty—
on Chicago’s North Side.
Russian-born Orthodox Jew
with zaftig Polish wife, posh silvery white starlet
Hilton Hotel hostess.

This is his secret.
This is where he goes when he’s not making money.
The way to the other world is into the basement
and he can’t live without this other world.
“If he has to, he has to,” my stepmother shrugs.
Keeps door locked when he’s not down there.
Keeps the door locked when he is.
“Two nuts in the mini-bar,” she mutters, banging pots
in the kitchen upstairs.
Anyway, she needs to protect the family.
“Jew overboard,” she yells, banging dishes.
“Peasant!” he yells back.

“There are two worlds,” he says lighting incense, “the seen
and the unseen, and she doesn’t understand.
This is my treasure,” he says,
lead cooking in an iron pan,
liquid darkness and some gold.
“Son, there are three souls: one, the Supernal;
two, the concealed
female soul, soul like glue…
holds it all together…”
“And the third?” I ask.
We stand there, “I can’t recall.”
He begins to chant and wave incense.
No tallis, no yarmulke,
just knotty pine walls and mini-bar
size of a ouija board,
a little schnapps and shot glasses
on the lower shelf,
and I’m no help.
Just back from seven thousand dollar trip,
four weeks with Swami Muktananda,
Now there’s someone who knew how to convert
the soul’s longing into gold.
Father, my father: he has this emerald tablet
with a single word written on it
and an arrow pointing.


“What’s with the cross? You believe in Jesus, dad?”
“Are you still a Jew?”
He turns away.
“Dammit, it’s not a religion, farshtehst?
Brings fist down on the altar.
“We seek the perfection of metals,” he says,
re-lighting stove,
“salvation by smelting.”

“But what’s the point?” I ask.

“The point? Internal alchemy, shmegegge. Rosa mystica,” he shouts.
Meat into spirit, darkness into light.”

Seated now, seated on bar stools.
Flickering candle in a windowless room.
Visible and invisible. Face of my father
in the other world.
I see him, see him in me
my rosy cross
podiatrist father.
“I’m making no secret of this secret,” he says,
turning to the altar.
“Tell me, tell me how to pray.”
“Burst,” he says, “burst like a star.”


“Yes, he still believes. Imagine—
American Jews,
when they die,
roll underground for three days
to reach the Holy Land.
He believes that.”

We’re standing at the Rosicrucian mini-bar listening,
(clash of pots in the kitchen upstairs)
with thick, dark-rimmed glasses
blue-denim shirt,
bristly white mustache,
dome forehead.

“Your stepmother’s on the phone with her sister,” he says.

“He thinks he can look into the invisible,”
she says from above.
“He thinks he can peek into the other world,
like God’s out there waiting for him…

She starts the dishwasher.

“As above, so below,” he says.
“I’m not so sure,” I say.
“Listen, everyone’s got some stink,” he says,
grabbing my arm,
“you think you’re immune?”
I shake my head.

“To look for God is to find Him, “ he says.
“If God lived on earth,” she says, “people would knock out
all His windows.”
“Kibbitzer,” he yells back. “Gottenyu! Shiksa brain!”

Father turns to his “apparatus,”
“visual scriptures,” he calls them,
tinctures and elixirs,
the silvery dark and the silvery white.

“We of the here-and-now, pay our respects
to the invisible.
Your soul is a soul,” he says, turning to me,
“but body is a soul, too. As the poet says,
‘we are the bees of the golden hive of the invisible.’”
“What poet, Dad?”
“The poet! Goddammit, the poet,” he yells.

He’s paler these days, showing more forehead,
thinning down.

“We live in darkness and it looks like light.
Now listen to me: I’m unhooking from the world, understand?
Everything is a covering,
contains its opposite.
The demonic is rooted in the divine.
Son, you’re an Outside,” he says,
“waiting for an Inside.
but I want you to know…”
“Know what, Dad?”
“I’m gonna keep a place for you in the other world.”

Reading / Imagination

Picking up where we left off:

I couldn’t read either. Seems to me there’s a connection between IMAGINATION and the ability to engage and really enjoy reading. I think of Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and William Blake, who wrote, "To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour."

He also said, "IMAGINATION is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow."

Dictionary: IMAGINATION: the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or never experienced directly.

So, in one sense, IMAGINATION is an ability to do something, form images and ideas in the mind. A second definition, “the part of the mind where ideas, thoughts, and images are formed,” refers to the mind itself, that “part” of the mind where, in fact, acts of IMAGINATION occur. I wonder where in the mind this happens. And why, taking an antidepressant, SSRI, short circuited my ability to dream, let alone read or write. But, in fairness, some of this loss of IMAGINATION, loss of juice, loss of vitality preceded the antidepressants.

Peter Ackroyd’s BLAKE, A BIOGRAPHY, says it best. Page 148:

“No one who reads Paracelsus [an itinerant scholar and physician born in the late 15th century] can remain unaffected by him and an artist such as Blake, slowly coming to believe in his own prophetic and spiritual mission could only have been exalted and exhilarated by the celebration of the imagination in his writings.

“'I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel,’ Blake later wrote, ‘than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of the Imagination.’ This is the central truth of Paracelsus, who declared that ‘Imagination is like the sun. The sun has a light which is not tangible; but which, nevertheless, may set a house on fire.’

“The great truth of the universe lies within the human imagination; it is the source, the sun, and those who understand its powers are the lords of all created things. The world of Paracelsus is filled by spirit, with the elements of mercury, salt and sulphur as its trinity of dwelling places, and in his extraordinarily successful treatment of disease he considered the body as a form or definition of the soul itself. Of course Blake need not necessarily have learnt this from Paracelsus,” says Peter Ackroyd, “he [Blake] could have found it within his own heart.”

Image of Santa Cruz / sunset thanks to Wikipedia.


When I “lost” my mind I also lost the ability to easily form images and ideas in my mind. “Easily”? It’s never been that easy... but losing my mind meant losing the juice, losing some vital energy, losing, in some sense, the core of my being. Sounds a little pompous, I know. I can’t help it. I am writing now as a passably sane human about a time when, oh, shit! I felt something less than human. At one point my wife called me a zombie, and she was right. I knew it at the time and it didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right. Another time she called me a “ghost in a white bathrobe,” and again she was right. It didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right because that’s exactly what I felt. And it’s hard to hide things from her. But she stuck by me at a time when someone else might have said, “You need to be committed.”

I read aloud to her what I’ve just written and she says, “That’s extreme, honey. I knew you’d get past it [i.e., the loss of my imagination] and I’d never have committed you. There’s loss as in ‘lost and found’ and there’s 'irretrievably lost.' That’s called death,” she says.

Anyway, do you commit someone to an institution for losing their imagination? Reason enough if the person’s a writer and the imagination shuts down and the person—even in his own mind—realizes he’s, well, “in trouble.” I’m making light of it, feeling detached enough to gingerly make a joke. Four years. Another life time.

“What was it like?” she asks. She trusts I’ll come up with a description, nothing fancy, just some crude approximation. We seldom talk about “the time,” “the setback,” the “you know...” And when we do we avoid the word “depression,” preferring “melancholia,” which, for me, calls up Robert Burton’s work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621 (Full title The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up). The work through five revised and expanded editions.

Sorry. I’m an ex-English teacher, now retired, and sometimes lapse into lecture mode. Anyway, what was it like: Imagine your color TV going black and white and, then, taking a turn for the worse, everything appearing fuzzy and unreal. It’s not so much that television is a wasteland, but you yourself are an extension, a hollowed out counterpart of the very horror that you are watching. You’re there, but you’re not in the picture, you’re not in your right mind, you’re not in your life. You’re a zombie staring blankly blank blank at the wasteland that is TV. Truly, a stranger in a strange land.

Soul retrieval becomes [in addition] the retrieval of the imagination. Retrieve one and you retrieve the other. And, the inability to sleep tied in with the inability to dream which tied in with the inability to imagine... well, there were exaggerations and misunderstandings, as in the inability to register clearly the "back story," say, or people's intentions in saying what they said. But that's very different from what we mean by the word "imagination," especially when the word is applied to a literary work, a poem, a story, a novel... a work of imagination. I frightened myself.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Immigrant and the Beauty Queen

My parents met in 1927 and married in 1929, just in time for the Depression. My sister jokes they fell in love with one another's good looks. In photos from the 1920s Dad looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn. Ambitious, hardworking, he longed to become a physician, but because of the Depression, he turned instead to podiatry.

In his 70s, he moved to Palm Springs, where he passed the California board exam and started a second successful practice. In his early 80s, even after heart surgery, he continued to work.

Hyman David Swerloff (1880-1929), father of my father, was an orthodox Jew, and the first Sward. In 1905, in the company of other survivors of government-sponsored pogroms, Hyman and his family journeyed from Poltava, Russia, to New York City. Immigration authorities at Ellis Island changed the Russian "Swerdloff" to the more American "Sward," as in "greensward, turf green with grass." In Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, for example, the poet speaks of "A thick carpet of most delicious greensward." So it was a twenty-five-year-old Russian tailor immigrated to America to have thrust upon him a name with Old English roots dating back to A.D. 900.

An aside: My Dad's sister, my Aunt Leah, described the pogroms, the Czar and his followers on horseback charging into Poltava, beating and killing Jews for no reason. For me, the word "Liberal" has a wonderfully positive connotation because Leah would say, "and then there were Liberals, good Czars who kept the peace, who cared... no men on horseback."

Palm Springs podiatrist father, 1975 and Mom / Dad, 1928

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The World is Broken

In this series-- the poems in my father’s voice--I’m not so much writing as channeling. I hear them being spoken, then copy them onto the page and do the usual editing, the reading aloud, the looking up of words in a dictionary. While some have what my friend Peter Klappert calls “the musical attributes of lineated poetry,” they appear on the page as prose paragraphs. It’s just the form they take. Whatever the form, may you, dear reader, hear in them the rhythm of conversation.



Podiatrist Father:

“What? What do you think I am? I’m alive, I’m dead. Same as everyone else. And you? You're the one who's deadened. You got a wife, she wants a divorce. You got another wife. She wants a divorce. Now *Eudaimonia is gone. And you, you want a divorce from—who? Yourself? So. One side of the self is at war with the other? The question is: Which side is which? So divorce yourself and see what happens. You think the world is broken? Of course it’s broken. Enough! Enough! Thoughts have souls. Souls have souls. Everything’s a covering. And you, with that mug of yours, what are you covering? Tell me, What is a human being? What makes a person a person?

“Yes, you’re broken. And yes, you’re only visiting your life. So, fine, fine. Why not live then as if you were still among the living? Don’t start eternity being depressed.”

[reprinted from Ambit #190, The "Dr. Sward's Cure series," Fall, 2007]

* Eudaimonia, virtue, conscience. Eu, it means ‘happy.’ Daimon, ‘spirit.’ Eudaimonia you need, order you need to be happy!

Dr. Drug Rep

Oh, and by the way...

Dr. Drug Rep
During a year of being paid to give talks to doctors about
an antidepressant, a psychiatrist comes to terms with the
fact that taking pharmaceutical money can cloud your

Yep, drug rep pens now a popular item on eBay!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dr. Sward in his own words

Podiatrist father to son. Dr. Sward of the title in his own words. Monologue of a podiatrist.


“Enough already. Mourn,
mourn all you want…
What good will it do?
Truth is, I feel great, son. Never better!

“So what if I’m invisible?
So what if I’m dead?
You don’t need a body to be a mensch,
a man of substance.
Ach, but with a body at least
you’ve got some privacy.
Without a body you can’t conceal anything.

“There’s more, son,
and bad news for you.
This will surprise you—
when you die one of the first questions God asks is,
‘Did you marry?’
Turns out after God created the world, the rest of the time
He spent making marriages.
So a couple, when they meet, it’s bashert,
‘it was meant to be.’
That’s so… that’s how
together they fulfill their destiny.
But divorce, that they don’t allow.
So you won’t be coming.

"But thank God
for what you’ve got.
What are you missing? Not much. There is no afterlife,
not really.
That’s right, son.
Life is its own afterlife.”

from God is in the Cracks, Black Moss Press, 2006. See also Poetry Flash, Number 298, Fall 2006.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Epigraphs serve as touchstones, little guidances, a way of tuning in to the work at hand. They’re like the musical hummings our grade school teacher would make as she sought to get us –40 or more untalented sixth graders--to sing in harmony, to launch us into song.

Some will appear at the beginning of the finished book, others at the head(s) of key sections. They serve, too, as a kind of scaffolding as I move through hundreds of pages of notes, a morass of material, “dark matter...” What is this thing all about anyway? Dr. Sward's Cure... I may even change the title. Soul Retrieval? I don't want to confuse people. I am NOT the Dr. Sward in the title. That's my father. I'm the fucked up melancholic son mourning the loss of a complex and difficult man.

Epigraphs. Because I'm one of those people who goes forward by going sideways, left, right, forward and back, needing guideposts to light the way, I check in each day with my mentors.

“I too have moments of faith, or assurance, or beauty—or maybe just lapses in nihilism. In the morning I’m capable of hearing the music of the spheres—it’s when the stars come out that I first hear the howling of eternal nothingness.”
--Peter De Vries, (letter to J.D. Salinger)


“In the absence of hope, we must still struggle to survive, and so we do—by the skin of our teeth.”
–William Styron, author of Sophie's Choice


“The dark karmas that haven’t been worked out will sneak in any chance they get.”
--Baba Hari Dass


Count on it: there's always a little darkness.


“When you make one wrong turn, the errors tend to compound.”
–Henry Roth. (The New Yorker, Aug 1 ’05)


"The meaning of life is to go back to sleep and hope tomorrow will be a better day."
--Charles Shultz, Peanuts


... the people with the truest understanding of their own abilities, research shows, tend to be depressives. [paraphrase]
--The New Yorker, Aug. 22 '05.


"Late, late yestreen I saw the new moon
with the old moon in her arms;
and I fear, I fear, my master dear!
We shall see a deadly storm."
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dejection: An Ode.


"The soul has a soul and the soul of the soul is God."


"Without the invisible, you're invisible.
Without the invisible, there's no you.
Of course in your case the invisible
has a reason to be invisible.
Truth is, son, God doesn't want to be seen with you."

Sane, Poets, Fame

There are no famously sane poets.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Iowa Writer's Workshop

In Surviving Literary Suicide, by Jeffrey Berman, a work in which the author touches on Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and William Styron, Berman quotes Key Redfield Jamison, who wrote An Unquiet Mind. Jamison’s research showed a 38 percent incidence of manic depression among students at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, while less than 1% of the general population suffers from the disease.

As a graduate of and former teacher at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I wonder why in the years I spent there the subject was so little discussed.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that 27 percent of high school students contemplate suicide and 8 percent attempt it.

Iowa, I can imagine the hell it would be... when the mind goes, as in melancholia, the imagination goes too. One ceases to dream, or is that just me? So where does it go? Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe it just shuts down. “It,” "it" being the mind, "it" being imagination, "it" being something more than zombie-hood. I know zombie: Anhedonia, lack of energy, the feeling one has somehow been hollowed out. There's nothing like feeling hollowed out, soulless, to make one feel, later, when the melancholia passes--always with the fear it may return--that there's something more there than I had thought. There’s something clumsy in this. I hate my writing.

As someone who writes all the time, I lost all interest in reading, writing, attending movies... coffee was like poison, television was even more stupifying than I had thought possible, and there was the morning... well, that’s for later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What is Consciousness?


Again, it's a work in progress. As it takes shape, it goes through a variety of forms and, at times, in my mind, becomes something of a collage. In the beginning there was this amorphous, ever-expanding thing... notes notes scribble scribble ...given a shape of sorts, it becomes a composition, loose, a little chaotic, but a composition nonetheless--a "collage," a combination or collection. So it is we move from William Blake (last entry) in communication with Catherine, his wife, to a remarkable work by Akasha Gloria Hull titled Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women.

“Communication with the physically dead is very much a part of African and African American culture. In traditional African thought, for as many as four generations the dead continue to visit with family and friends who knew them when they were alive. They give advice, regulate behavior, and, most important, act as intermediaries between the world of God and the human realm...

“Lucille Clifton’s first word from her mother was Thelma’s announcement of her name. The calling of the departed one’s name helps to keep him or her ‘alive’ in the human world. When no one remembers the dead person by name, they then totally cross over into the spirit dimension, dropping out of the realm of time and the present into all-consuming timelessness.” (p. 59)

Later, in Hull's interview with Alice Walker the novelist says,

“All of it is natural. I mean, speaking to spirits, whoever is around you, whoever is inside you, it’s perfectly natural; there’s nothing supernatural about it... we’re here on the Earth, we’re on the planet. They’re here on the Earth, they’re on the planet. Nobody has ever gone anywhere. That’s why they’re still here.” (p. 81)

Alice Walker, in speaking of Celie, the main character from The Color Purple, says,

“...So I would lean toward my memory of her sound and try really hard but gently just to get any little sentence, any little word, any little expression, any little grunt. And for that –I mean, to get one of my stepgrandmother’s grunts in a clear way—is why I had to move from New York to California and go into the country, because I needed to be able to really hear it. I couldn’t hear it anywhere else, other than in real peace and silence... But after I could remember her saying, ‘Sho do,’ you know, I could make up, could say anything and it would sound like how she would say it. And at that point it would be so real that to me it would feel like she had just taken wing and that she was talking.” (p. 121)

* * *
It's a stretch, but I'm bouncing between Akasha Gloria Hull and Alberto Villoldo, medical anthropologist and author of Soul Retrieval, and reflecting on what it is they are saying and how that ties in with what I am hearing from my podiatrist father. I haven't yet put my cards on the table, but there's another kind of scribbling going on, poems.

And then there's the question of the nature of consciousness.

* * *

"If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very origin of things. Accordingly we find that the more clear-sighted evolutionary philosophers are beginning to posit it there. Each atom of the nebula, they suppose, must have had an aboriginal atom of consciousness linked with it; ...the mental atoms ...have fused into those larger consciousnesses which we know in ourselves and suppose to exist in our fellow-animals."

--William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890.

* * *

"...the part of the world that is most recalcitrant to our understanding at the moment is consciousness itself. How could the electrochemical processes in the lump of gray matter that is our brain give rise to--or, even more mysteriously, be--the dazzling technicolor play of consciousness, with its transports of joy, its stabs of anguish and its stretches of mild contentment alternating with boredom? This has been called 'the most important problem in the biological sciences' and even 'the last frontier of science.' It engrosses the intellectual energies of a worldwide community of brain scientists, psychologists, philosophers, physicists, computer scientists and even, from time to time, the Dalai Lama."

--Jim Holt, Mind of a Rock ["Is everything consciousness?"], New York Times Magazine, Nov. 18, 2007.

From Beyond the Grave, the Podiatrist Counsels his Son on Prayer

So why can't the dead counsel the living? In Blake, A Biography by Peter Ackroyd, the author writes, "Blake had told her [Catherine, the poet's wife] that he would never leave her, and indeed she saw him continually when 'he used to come and sit with her for two or three hours every day. He took his chair and talked to her, just as he would have done had he been alive; he advised her as to the best mode of selling his engravings.'"

Excerpted from God is in the Cracks (Black Moss Press, 2006), here's a sample of how the podiatrist father communicates with his son who is in mourning and, indeed, seriously depressed, following his father's death.


“How to pray?
You’re gonna need a password.
But not now. And you’re gonna see
it’s numbers, not words. Didn’t I tell you: if it’s got words,
it’s not prayer, and it’s not a password either.
So what if I’m dead? What does that matter?
You think you bury your father and that’s the end?
Schmegegge! What are you thinking, that the living
have a monopoly on life?
Give the dead some credit.
I didn’t just die, you know. Think of the preparation. A man
has to get himself ready. And what did I ask?
That you pay your respects. So light the yizkor,
light the candle. Oi!
Tear the clothes, rend the garment, I said, and that you did.
Point my feet toward the door, I said, and that you did.
God takes what He takes, son, and the body follows.
But prayer? Prayer? Where was the prayer?
Listen: God created us first the feet,
then the rest.
So? So we bow the head when we pray
to show respect. Cover the head,
where’s your yarmulke? Daven, daven,
rock back and forth… Now ask:
‘Who am I? Who am I?
What am I here for?’

These are the things you ask,
but this is not prayer.
It’s what you need to know before you start.
Why are we here? We’re here to mend the world.
That's it.
Just remember, God doesn’t answer prayers.
So don’t ask.
Don't ask for anything.
Shopping is shopping. Prayer is prayer.
Don’t confuse the two.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Work in Progress

In the same way God is in the Cracks: A Narrative in Voices (Black Moss Press, 2006) is sequenced to form a book-length narrative, one “best read in the order printed,” I am planning on doing something similar with Dr. Sward’s Cure for Melancholia. The characters, Dr. Sward (a podiatrist), melancholic son, and even the family dog, take on a life of their own.

The book necessarily has highs and lows and the clinically depressed son is bound to reveal himself as in desperate need of help. That’s part of the drama. And we’re speaking here of a work in progress.

The story has an arc, a beginning (suicidal fucked-up son), a middle (muddling through, trying to find what he believes is missing, the __ pieces) and an end that delivers on what the title promises, Dr. Sward’s Cure for Melancholia.

In a New York Times review of Conversations with Woody Allen, Nov. 18, 2007, David Kamp, the reviewer, says, “The working title of his most acclaimed film, Annie Hall, was ‘Anhedonia,’ meaning the inability to experience pleasure.”

Rings a bell with me. Anhedonia. This work in progress, or whatever it is, has to do with getting back whatever it is that makes it possible to experience—well, pretty much anything, and to experience it not as a zombie, as someone soulless, “undead.” But rather someone with an imagination, say, and the ability to dream, even to have nightmares, God forbid! And the awareness that there’s something there there which, for a while, there wasn't. I lived in a there-less place.

I’m told a Blog is a place where one can, among other things, organize one’s thoughts. And to do so in a sort of private-public place. I’m thinking aloud and there’s some pleasure in it. Ah, pleasure! It’s not all Anhedonia. It’s not all Annie Hall. At some level we all live in a state of grace. Even the undead. I'm thinking of hope.

“Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.” Who said that? Jean Kerr.

Anyway, the underlying premise of this work, of this cure, is that we have an inner self [‘something’] and that that something can be fucking shattered by violence or violation of some kind, with the result that one can literally, fucking “lose one’s mind.”

Gone. And that, for me, is one definition of the term “undead.” I been there. I know the feeling. I once was lost, and now I’m found. And, with all due respect, I’m not thinking of Jesus. I'm not thinking of Christianity. Though, then again, why not? Well, for one thing, because I’m, what else? a Jew.

The working metaphor is soul retrieval, which medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo, describes in his book as involving a) locating what was lost, that is, the “pieces,” b) then recovering and returning those pieces, and... well, read on...

“What is it breaks when a man breaks down? What is it “goes to pieces”? What I’m hearing here, nut that I am, is my Jewish Russian-born small businessman Republican podiatrist father explaining... the son needs help. The father, dead since 1982, is here to help.

“The pieces. With a net I need to find you. First find. Inhale. Make clean. Then breathe back into you. You know what it is, a soul?

“All the pieces in one place.”


For more, see the Fall/Winter 2007 U.S.A. issue of Dr. Martin Bax’ English magazine, Ambit 190. Ambit editors include J.G. Ballard, Mike Foreman, Henry Graham, Geoff Nicholson, and, in issue 190, art work by Ralph Steadman.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why write?

What do I have to say that's new? What do any of us have to say...?

“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
--Martha Graham

Robert & Dog

Soul Retrieval

As I understand my Russian-born, life-long Republican father, we have an inner self and that “self” can be shattered, as when we are in some way violated, with the result that one can literally lose one’s mind. Think Post-Traumatic Stress. The working metaphor for this work in progress is soul retrieval, locating and recovering what was lost, “breathing it back” into an individual, and making that person whole again.

The "soul retrieval" poems pick up from the final section of The Collected (and from God is in the Cracks).

Dr. Sward's Cure for Melancholia - posting #1

Fri., Nov. 16, 2007 - Dr. Sward is a Russian-born podiatrist who died in 1982. My father, he is the primary speaker in God is in the Cracks, A Narrative in Voices (Black Moss Press, 2006). In a review of The Collected Poems (2004), from which many of the father poems are reprinted, The Globe & Mail noted, "The heart and core of this book is a series of dramatic monologues and dialogues between father and son."

He came unhinged after my mother, a former Miss Chicago, died at age 42. In the late 40s Dad became a Rosicrucian and practised his rites secretly in the basement of our Skokie, Illinois, home. He evolved his own blend of kabbalistic, Christian hermetic, and prescient New Age mysticism which lent its colors to his medical practice as well as to his view of my eventual career choice and several marriages.

The new book, Dr. Sward's Cure for Melancholia / Soul Retrieval, is a work in progress. Epigraphs follow, then excerpts and journal... "journal," the word derives from "jour," day... as in the name of a newspaper. It's also the root of the word "journey..." and this blog, well, what is it but a journey, day by day, a movement from darkness into light.

“So, you want to die?" says my father. "Goddammit, you’re already missing. I may be dead, but I’m not missing. What will dying—tell me, what will dying do for you? What is it breaks when a man breaks down? What is it “goes to pieces”?

You want a theme? That's the theme.


"In whatever one does, there must be a relationship between the eye and the heart. With the one eye that is closed, one looks within, with the other eye that is open, one looks without."
--Henri Cartier-Bresson

“But what is it then that sits in my heart,
that breathes so quietly, and without lungs—
that is here. Here in this world, and yet not here?”
--Mary Oliver, “The Leaf and the Cloud”

“Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have
isn’t permanent.”
–Jean Kerr

Bookshop Santa Cruz Launch