Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ghost Pepper Jampong for Dinner, Infinite Licorice for Dessert

Our taste sensation begins with a poem challenge during National Poetry Month for the recipe style. I was experimenting with strange blazing soup concoctions and having strange dreams as a result, anyway, so I offered this recipe. Note that the Jalokia (spelled by preference with an "a", unlike the Melinda's bottle at left), has been displaced as world's hottest by the Naga Dorset, not available in the U.S. since it is considered a crowd incapacitant and would be subject to ITAR arms regulations. It is sold in Sainsbury's in the U.K., though not to minors and not without the proper handling:

Simmered Naga Jalokia and the Party of Silence

2 cups jampong from Jackson Creek
1 T garam masala, the old jar in the back of the cupboard
2 optional fresh jalapenos, roasted over a gas-stove flame
5 fresh basil leaves, as faux fresh as one will find them in a Colorado April snow
¼ c of the stuff in the green Tupperware at the back of the refrigerator,
apparently chutney of some sort, don’t ask questions
½ t Naga Jalokia sauce, there’s a reason they call it ghost pepper

Prepare in industrial kitchen, preferably the kind with open windows so that customers may watch the sous-chef. Poets who believe in the walled-off preparatory process are not to be trusted, mistakes and spills in preparation must be visible to all. Appropriate mental state is achieved after a four-hour excruciating board meeting and a drive from Denver in an ice storm, chef must be rash in adding ingredients of uncertain genesis. Roast the jalapenos over the gas stove for promptness, rather than a proper oven sweat, so that random items in the kitchen may be set on fire to add to the show. Ignore cries from family members who say naga jalokia so close to bedtime may be dangerous to the large intestine and the subconscious.

Steam jampong over an open book describing the 1915 assault on Gallipoli. Whirl the basil as Mustafa Kemal moves up his troops for the anticipated Australian meat-grinder effect. Shrimp and soba noodles may be slurped during trench atrocities for proper emphasis. Shout “Third Ypres! Third Ypres!” because Carolyn would want it that way.

Collapse on dog-hair-saturated mattress. Dream of the cocktail party in some kind of open court, perhaps the veranda of an adobe mini-mansion, but more likely a bombed-out shell in Trebizond. Your oldest friend is there, try to catch her eye, she denies the gaze, will not speak, even though you sense no hostility. A terror more complete than dreams of zombies or trench warfare. Maybe you are not at the party, maybe you have left this life, maybe that’s why they call it ghost pepper. You search for socks in ruins of a dresser that may have suffered a direct hit by artillery shell.

For variety, final five ingredients may be added to tom yum gai instead of jampong. Lather, rinse, repeat. Return to the party and ask why.

Loring Wirbel
April 27, 2011


For dessert, we offer a treatise on infinite parallelism and the pink and white candies known as Good & Plenty. Impetus for this was the remarkable film starring Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole, which has since become my favorite release of 2010, and in my Top Ten of best films of all time. Many reviewers found it unbearably depressing, but I found it infused with hope and possibility. We watch two people with different conceptions of coping with intolerable grief, try to find ways to respect each other's expressions of grief. And we watch Nicole learn two things from the teenager indirectly responsible for the death of a family member: 1. The parallel existence of an infinite instantiation of lives helps redeem us from grief. 2. When grief becomes unbearable, turn it into a cartoon. Those are two of my mantras, hence my obsession with the film.

But wait, there's more - assuming one believes in the Hugh Everett "many worlds" theory of infinite numbers of our selves living through the infinite variety of decision points we face in our lives, I have always pictured the collapse of the wave function that Patti Smith calls "the sea of possibilities" as the bow shock that follows an object on descent from space. And because of that, lives trace out trajectories that can be modified slightly in the trick we call "free will," though are unlikely to undergo major modifications at the bow shock, because at that point, a new universe is created. But that assumes a bow shock moving at the parabolic speed of a descending rocket. What if the decision point is on board a pokey little steam engine, driven by our old friend Charlie Choo-Choo? What if he has an infinite number of Good and Plenties to represent each possible bow shock, each possible decision point? What if there is always time to throw the switch? If the train should jump the track, do you want your money back?

But wait, there's more. Statisticians love to befuddle people with the Monty Hall Paradox, named for the former host of Let's Make A Deal. It says that if you choose Door 1, and Monty opens Door 3 to show a losing choice (what Nicole might call "the sad version of us"), it is always mathematically preferable to switch your choice from Door 1 to Door 2, even though the disclosure of Door 3 gives you no information about Doors 1 or 2. There is no reason this should be true, but it is demonstrably true, time after time. It holds true for any number of doors, briefcases, or Good & Plenty candies, and hence should be used for modern games like Deal or No Deal. Even if the worst of the choices, the sad version, the loser, has been disclosed and removed from the bow shock wave front, it behooves you to switch your choice. This is a remarkably subversive notion.

Bow Shock

“Maybe this is just the sad version of us.” – Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

“The Monty Hall Paradox is a veridical paradox, in that what seems to be odd and scarcely believable, is demonstrably true.” – Marilyn vos Savant

Collapse of the wave front of possible yous
Always presented itself as a rocket’s trajectory
Child of Apollo assured by Mission Control
that a returning Gemini capsule would never implode
So your possible futures were annealed at that
exoatmospheric edge we nicknamed free will.
You adjusted that dial labeled ‘attitude control.’
Your course corrections fine-tuned Kwajalein Atoll.
But trajectory was trajectory,
Old souls intersected on re-entry
Amidst G-forces too enormous to turn
a glancing bow shock into parallel harmonics.

Nicole’s roll of a many-sided Hugh Everett die
Made me toss the rocket for the Choo-Choo Charlie.
Is there a wave front tailored for Thomas the Tank Engine?
A think-I-can escape velocity?
Consider the infinite alternating pink and white licorice,
Parallel now upon parallel now upon parallel now,
of course each box has its singular dried bad candy,
a sad version bow shock.
That is what spitting’s for.

Charlie says
conductor guides the brakeman.
Charlie says
each divergent track is yours.
Charlie says
we can replicate the horror
But the Good and Plenties reveal themselves
as Monty doors.

One minor course adjustment.
One switch to siding where little Nell is bound to track.
Always more Good and Plenties.
Let’s make a deal.

Loring Wirbel
April 30, 2011

Happy End of National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unlawful Combatants, Unlawful Prison

Any fool could have told you that as soon as The New York Times compiled and interpreted its WikiLeaks collection on the prison at Guantanamo, the Obama administration would come along and blame the messenger (Assange and Manning more than the media itself), and refuse to discuss the content of the Gitmo papers. After all, this is the administration that gave up on its plans to close Gitmo, gave up on its plans for civilian trials for detainees (back to military tribunals), gave up on efforts to end the National Security Agency's FISA bypass. In fact, I think that Eric Holder has fallen so far into the secrecy domain, I would classify him as an attorney general as reprehensible as John Ashcroft. And that is a sad state of affairs.

There's a factor of a blind spot of the nation-state that makes the statements of people like Diane Feinstein and Joe Lieberman as creepy as those of virtually any Republican, or most members of the Obama White House. They all want to throw the Espionage Act at Assange, Manning, and the media outlets that publish WikiLeaks, for a very specific reason: the WikiLeaks project undermines the legitimacy of the nation-state, and suggests that when a state gets too powerful, its regular mode of operation becomes too dirty by nature to allow the state to operate comfortably from a position of transparency. I have to applaud the editorial in the Winter 2010-11 MERIP Middle East Report with describing this tendency with an accuracy few other analysts reached.

A couple months ago, I wrote a poem called 'The Legitimacy of a Naked Manning' in which I used the words "legitimacy" and "assume" very deliberately. The poem concluded by suggesting that 500 years of the Westphalian system of nation-states was no more legitimate than Bradley Manning's piss. The intent of this poem was not to pose the case for utter nihilism, saying that the state was so illegitimate that all sources of political power and authority should be torn down immediately and replaced by 40 acres and a mule. Rather, it was to say that nation-states help make people's lives run in a smoother fashion, particularly with the rise of complex technical bureaucracies, but that we should not grant them any automatic assumed viability that is any greater than a single individual. If Julian Assange shows that the emperor has no clothes, it is just as legitimate as if a political leader says so. Similarly, just because the U.S., UK, Russia, China, et al. have owned nuclear weapons and cryptographic infrastructures for more than 50 years, they are no more legitimate as "keepers of the keys" than would-be nuclear states. We assume certain things about the realities of power to make our lives easier to understand, but we should not assume that these shorthand descriptions of nation-states and power bear inherent legitimacy.

That being said, I will surprise some of my friends in progressive movements and in the ACLU by saying that George Bush and Dick Cheney got a concept half-right when describing Gitmo detainees as "unlawful combatants." These are individuals who seek to attain unachievable goals, like restoring the Third Caliphate, by declaring war on the entire planet. Does this make the detainees unlawful human beings who have automatically forfeited human rights? Of course not. But the Bush administration recognized that, once a jihadist or other form of non-state fighter rejects the globalized system of the nation-state as the source for legitimacy, that jihadist becomes an "unlawful combatant" under the global system of law, who should expect the combined states of the world to array their full powers against the combatant, even if it is a single person or a handful of jihadists challenging the world.

In this sense, the unlawful combatant is not unlike Randy Weaver, challenging the FBI at Ruby Ridge back in 1992. Right-wing anti-state conservatives wanted to make a martyr out of Weaver, because he declared himself an autonomous being, inside the boundaries of the United States, ready to wage war against the state. Once he made his mind up to be autonomous and armed, Weaver and his followers should have fully expected federal forces to drag out tanks, APCs, even tactical nuclear weapons, to put down anyone who armed themselves and challenged the legitimacy of the state.

Does this mean I rationalize Syria sending tanks into Dara'a to preserve the state? No, because the protesters there are practicing nonviolent massive civil disobedience, against which any use of force is illegitimate. What about Libya? Tougher question, because the rebels are armed, yet Ghaddafi himself is illegitimate. What about the U.S. using armed drones? The drone is the cheapest, quickest way for a state to declare its legitimacy against the unlawful combatant, yet it quickly extends itself into a general robotic war of the powerful against the powerless.

At the end of the day, the jihadist, anarchist, or nihilist who takes up arms and declares the entire nation-state system to be illegitimate, should expect and prepare for any and all tools of war to be used against the rebel. Only the power of absolute and total nonviolent disobedience can bring down the state. But in the meantime, we should not grant any legitimacy to a nation-state trying to preserve, wield, and hide the dirtier aspects of its power, and we should praise the WikiLeaks backers of this world for trying to expose that power. Assume nothing, legitimize nothing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Monster Magnet Takes on the Catastrophic Death Angels!

(A word of explanation - April 19-20 was unusual - an evening presentation by two former death-row inmates, followed by an overnight toxic gas leak that forced the evacuation of half my town, and word that Gerard Smith of TV on the Radio had died of lung cancer. The only way to process it was as an adventure cartoon.)

for Gerard Smith, and for Marianne

Marianne knew that all the crap about the surface-sensitive patch
clinging to a microcracking tank car was solely to justify
the BNSF team coming up from Texas and Arkansas,
miming in yellow jumpsuits for the yokels skeered
to touch the HCL remnants.
Make it sound scientific.
They're evacuees, after all.
As far as she was concerned,
fate hung on Monster Magnet,
one of a dozen Wham-O heroes
who could whomp X-Men,
Justice League of America,
with equal abandon,
and lift up to 20 pounds of steel!

But the story doesn't begin here.

He is the one who comes after me,
the straps of whose sandals
I am not worthy to untie.

Seven hours before the toxic cloud,
Shabaka and Juan were telling us
how to wait to die,
how to dream of the master executioner,
how to hurt your own hand.
"It's the toothpaste-tube theory of hope," Shabaka said.
"No matter how flat, you can always squeeze
a day's worth of hope from a tube."
Index fingers wiggle from eyebrows.
"Do I look like the devil?
I was the only one waiting for the angel of death.
Was it the prosecutor? Was it you?"

Juan sought vengeance on a nurse practitioner
stuffed with Red Man chewing tobacco.
"The death row brothers taught me
the silly ways of anger,
'Hey Puerto Rican Johnny!'
they would call,
'Learn to read! Learn to write!
Learn to speak English!
Learn not to hate!'
And some were Muslim, some Buddhist, some Christian,
but I left them condemned
when my walking papers came."

You will be visited by two spirits.
Prepare ye the way of Monster Magnet.

Reverse 911 calls at 5 a.m.
serve as proof no prophet is accidental.
Death angels are common critters
on a Maundy Thursday eve.
A pressurized tank on a rusting siding
sang an executioner's song in faint hiss.
The 250 imitation-Sendai wanderers
paying homage to Grace Best
dodged this particular bullet
with the grace of higher power and Monster Magnet
which is more than one could say
for the flamenco guitarist from
SUNY's cookie mountain,
paid purchase just as evacuations commenced,
and even the Lorentz force of a Monster Magnet
had little influence in the matter.
The Church of Wham-O
taught me the grace of cartoons and extra digits
six finger six finger man alive,
how did I ever get along with five.
The eulogy of Bullwinkle.
The tennebrae of Sponge Bob.
Disney's Flowers and Trees for a misplaced Gerard.

But the story doesn't end here.

This day gone flat from one too many evacuations,
and the shadow of the gallows of your family tree.
But a flat tube still holds hope,
and Monster Magnet still has pull.

Good thing.

The second-tier Wham-O's in the bullpen
are all nondescript Superballs, Hackysacks.
And by last count, there seem to be plenty
of catastrophic death angels in the neighborhood.
If you don't like the look of today's catastrophe,
give it six hours.
Another will be along shortly.
Looks like a job for Monster Magnet.

Loring Wirbel
April 20, 2011

A TV on the Radio song in memory of Gerard Smith:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Late Easter

Where do we go now, Mom?

The Bedouin and Tuareg are old hands
at alleviating clutter.
Pull four corners to the center of the old kit bag,
smile and move on.
Not so easy in Askewville, North Carolina.
Staying put in mobile homes is not
the optimal survival strategy, clucks the expert.
They should have known better.
When every piece of pocket detritus
is a sign of the True Cross,
How do I lay my burden down?

The liars call our pocket gadgets the new nomadic gifts,
but where is the nomad?
We drown far easier along the Via Dolorosa,
our Thingmaker churning out Creepy Crawlers
faster than a semiconductor plant on three-shift schedule.

You will die when your things take ownership of you.

Here is your talisman your rag your toy your bone your cross.

Why, look at Mr. North Carolina!
He’s fallen and he can’t get up.
Too many toys in too many pockets.
She’s no fun she fell right over.

Where do we go now, mom?
Mama can’t drive with her cataracts.
You just leave her be.

Let the Libyan carry the Creepy Crawlers
Can you lay your burden down?
Can you give him the baubles the Romans call
SAMs, cluster bomblets?
Is this weightless?
Is this giving it to God?

Will you wake from your dream,
with a wolf at the door,
reaching out for Veronica?
(She’s not allowed to take your toys away,
but o that forehead glistens.)

Debt burden, underwater mortgage, skinned knee,
foreclosure, chapter 11, ow

Did you know the daughters of sorrow were
gathered at the Wailing Wall?

Steppe warriors are long gone now,
Tuareg sell their kids to chocolate merchants
(not allowed to nibble the ears).
Can’t sell your Skechers or Jimmy Chus to any
cut-rate T.E. Lawrence.
Nothing left to d0 but fall fall fall let’s fall.

And if each tornado-alley chorus of survivors hollers
“Death to fashionistas! Give us Barabbas!”
You know this movie score.
You become naked.

Could not lay those burdens down.
Each Creepy Crawler
Each installment plan shiny object
becomes a nail for palm or ankle.

Father, into your hands
I commend my Mastercard, Toys R Us
Clutter of the Bedouin
Where do we go now, mom?

The body that never went nomadic,
the shell encased in burdens,
may now be anointed.

Locked in a shuddering Earth,
no stones rolled away,
but sure smells pretty.

Easter came late to a resonant planet.
The weightless chased across a Mobius-strip Sahel,
The weighted in tombs of laid-down burdens.
Where do we go now, mom?

Loring Wirbel
April 19, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dreams of Past Lives, Dreams of a Fear of Dancing, Maddening Joy

Happy National Poetry Month!

I now firmly believe in reincarnation and past lives, as I struggle to move closer and closer to specific memories of old souls I have known through multiple reruns. The first poem here is from a dream, a realization that grasping for specifics can be dangerous. The second poem is for another old soul, a friend who may be losing her ability to witness and embrace the absurd. Pleasant dreams, pleasant next lives...

Diving Cylinder

My dreams of late obey no time decorum.
The next disoriented 3 a.m.
leaves trails of cowboy boots, guitar lessons,
hair at the back of her neck,
Lamaze classes, meconium,
kindergarten crises.
“Seven years,” sings Tuxedomoon.
“Seven years in one night.”

When I depended on snorkeling alone,
REM was reliable,
feeding hippocampus and movie screen alike
with familiar flashes of dead basset hounds,
body-snatcher doppelgangers,
the occasional sleepwalk to pee off the back deck.

Trying on scuba gear has been a subspecies of
Ambien zombie drives,
fearful and necessary exploratory dives
to Past Lives Marianas.
Too rich an oxygen mix?
That depends on the goal,
only the faintest echoes now,
but sound always traveled poorly underwater.

A warm September day,
a 1983 still called Bekaa,
began with my startled voice
in response to polite introduction,
“Oh. It’s you. I wondered where you had been.”
ended with languorous cunnilingus
in a cornfield ravaged by borer-worm.
The growing certainty that this breath
was hardly the first instantiation.

Now I’m accustomed to treasure-diving,
even in tectonic trench landscapes
gone ragged with tsunamis.
Rare bouts of insomnia
merely pull me nearer the surface,
While the nightly rituals return me
to the wetsuit.

Down to capture names
that are forbidden to own.
Down to trace each tributary of pubic hair
to its labial source.
Down to clap at phonetic teasers
promising relief from an Alzheimer’s moment -
Melanie, Marina, Malia, you were known otherwise.
Oh. It’s you. I wondered where you had been.

As I stagger to the sink at 3:45, I realize
the name of the pain, the groggy fear.
The bends.
In any subsequent forbidden dives,
the gauges on this tank are not to be trusted.

Loring Wirbel
April 5, 2011

Banishing All Semblances of Fun

It may have been the party of roustabouts
at your mother’s farmhouse
(admittedly a bad idea, it wasn’t me
who invited the lieutenant-governor to mix drinks).
I’ve always shied from Sangria spills
and the collateral damage of smashed end tables,
but your eyes did not suggest
a sanctuary from the boorish or a desire to be left alone.
The infinitely scarier message came from
two irises weary of the dance floor.

The Zen goof assumes an awesome responsibility.
Long past the first 12-step meeting or post-partum cry,
there is a shouldering of a standup comic burden.
We must wake from an epic failure and fall in love
with tedious or unfamiliar figure-ground,
part apostle, part Johnny Appleseed,
with a punchline capable of dispelling each random terror.
Some avert their eyes, some linger,
some fall twelve stories.
Some laugh hysterically another day.
Was it a random Japan that activated your dimmer switch,
or a specific tragedy too far?

The tightrope walker is here,
arm and umbrella outstretched,
spanning a landscape of atrocity rarely seen
since Belsen Dachau Hiroshima.
It is always your choice to stop watching cartoons,
but that may be the day the drones fly once more
over Shamsi, over Waziristan, over Djibouti.
The Zen goof assumes an awesome responsibility.
Lee Ann Womack croons almost imperceptibly
at the edge of hearing.
I hope you dance.

Loring Wirbel
April 12, 2011