Archive for the Prose Category

Feels Like Fire, Isn’t Fire

Posted in Prose with tags , , on October 16, 2017 by sethdellinger

I was born and I’ll die.  This is shit you already know.  All of this—everything after this that I’ve written—is shit you all already know.  So, why bother?  Gotta do something, right?  Gotta do something. Mostly I think life is grand but sometimes I get melancholy.  I think it’s probably good to get melancholy sometimes, it sort of flushes your system out, presses some sort of existential reset button. I used to have a dog but he died recently.  One day he was there and the next day he wasn’t.  We paid a man in a white coat to give him drugs that made him die.  It was awful. I say again: it was awful.  Then we drove him into the country and buried him in a hole in the ground.  At night we used let our dog—Benji– out into the backyard. It wasn’t a very large backyard, but he stayed out there for as long as he could. He’d stay out there for hours if you let him. It looked like he was eating dirt but he was not eating during periods; he pulled at the ground with his paws, then flicked his tongue at it, again and again and again. I’m not sure what he was getting in there, but he was getting something. Some itty-bitty creature that was minding its own business. And probably scared the shit out of them and then killed them. Meanwhile Benji would have run away and never came back probably, if I opened the garage door and let him out. He’d been with us for years and was a member of the family, but still we held him hostage. In order for him to walk around the neighborhood he had to be put on a leash, dragged along behind us when he wasn’t not moving fast enough. What is all this? What’s going on here? Who are these animals, what are these critters, what are these lights blinking in the sky? It seems that everything is so far away from everything else. The things that are really close to you, like that glass on the kitchen counter, the magazine on the coffee table, are such a vanishingly small percentage of all the things in the universe, that technically everything in the universe is very far away from you. So far away from you you couldn’t even imagine it, and if you could imagine it, it would terrify you directly to death. Everything is far away from you and has no idea about you, no idea but your dog in the backyard eating moles or slugs buried underneath the dirt. Here on Earth there are immense caves, caverns deep beyond imagining, miles below the Earth’s surface, right now, as you read this, engulfed in a darkness beyond imagining, little tributaries or streams or even gushing rivers bounding through large hollow openings, intense chambers, drilling though soft limestone, they are there right now, incredibly far away from you. They must, despite their static nature, have some clue of themselves, some sense of awareness, an idea of their singularity. The timelessness, the long drawn-out affair of this plane, is it within them?  They don’t know anything about you though.  Somewhere a fifty-year-old newspaper deliveryman wakes up in the dead of night to put the papers in the bags, look at his new delivery list.  He gets in the car without a sound.  Rough tattooed men working in sewers for great pay light cigarettes.  A fourteen year old girl plays a piano in a suburban house all by herself.  This happens all the time.  Someone stands at the edge of a bridge, looking down, wondering what it would feel like, what it would look like, to leap, to soar, to fall, to end, but they don’t.  They don’t jump.  Elementary school kids stop their bikes in front of soda machines.  Other kids are out past curfew.  The professor imagines sleeping with the student, then on his way home, buys a diet soda at the gas station and pays in exact change.  Quiet dirgelike music plays in darkened living rooms, shades drawn, incense, incense.  Alleverywhere all over the world this is happening, so far from everything else.  The geese are eating the flowers, and why not.  The bills come in the house and flop down on the table. Yesterday I left the gas cap hang open on my car after I filled my tank, what a fool am I! Cosmic tomfoolery! The restauranteur arrives in their cold kitchen, turns the knobs on the flat grill, the pilot clicks, the gas whirrs.  Somewhere, lathes are expertly operated.  Sirens wail with someone behind a distant wheel.  Ships rise and fall in the bay.  The boy is made to mow the grass, he sweats.  A woman is flying an airplane, looks down, she sees a forest, she wishes she was in those trees, smelling it, smelling it all.  When I was young I used to have nightmares. They would repeat themselves, but they weren’t always the same, necessarily. There wasn’t anything inherently scary about these nightmares. In one, it would be me and strange people that I didn’t know, working feverishly to build a spaceship to win some sort of contest. The spaceships that we built were massive structures, disc-like in shape in most of my memories, and we would get up on scaffolding, pouring the cement to make them. That is about all I remember, except that somehow, also, this contest was accompanied by a constant persistent dread and sadness. I would wake up sweatier than you can imagine, lingering in the depth of my little kid’s psyche, not knowing why a dream about building a spaceship should be so sad. I would beckon my parents for what must be their superior insight to come but of course they could tell me nothing. Who could? Who could possibly understand such a thing? Nobody. Nobody could understand such a thing. Everything about us is a mystery, everything about the world around us is a mystery. Time marches on but it doesn’t. Of course time doesn’t march, the smartest people in the world can barely even accurately define time.  Everything lasts forever but it’s over in an instant. Everything is to be celebrated and joyous but ultimately is flat, only dreadfully horrifyingly sad.  Twenty years (or so) ago I thought I was going to die.  I was relentlessly addicted to alcohol and life was a blurred mess of agony, with an oddly high amount of joy thrown in for good measure. So many forgotten nights, so much haze. Some nights, though, I do remember.  Like a night a bunch of us drove to The Duck Pond.  The Duck Pond, the actual name of which is Children’s Lake, is a shallow, man-made lake in the scenic town of Boiling Springs.  It is about fifty feet across, and perhaps four-hundred feet long.  At its deepest point, it is perhaps five feet deep.  Large, multi-colored, boulder-sized rocks line its bottom.  It attracts a wide array of wildlife: ducks, geese, swans, turtles, beavers.  There are manicured walkways all the way around it, red park benches at regular intervals, and little vending machines that dispense corn, in case you may want to feed the ducks.  You are not supposed to go there at night, although I often have.  As my friends and I pull into the gravel parking lot, I make myself a fresh drink in the Super-Size McDonalds cup I always seem to have with me.  Someone retrieves a few beers from the trunk.  We all make sure we have our cigarettes.  We set off, to walk around the Duck Pond.  At night, you can hear the ducks, the geese, out on the water, but you can’t see them.  They aren’t very active at night, but every now and then, you hear a splash, the flap of a wing against the heavy air, a short quick quack.  It is melancholy in that worst way: dreary foreboding.  There is a place where the path kind of ends, and you are left to walk through grass for a bit, and under the canopy of some Willows.  In the sunshine, this part of the lake is the most beautiful.  At night, its majesty is lost.  You can feel the grass, and perhaps the spray of the dew against your shins, but the Willows are lost in the night.  The copse has disappeared.  If you were standing at this spot during the day, you would see that a narrow cement platform has been constructed, extending about fifteen feet into the lake.  This is like a small concrete dock, which serve as a place for the birds to hang out without being in direct contact with human passers-by.  During the day, this concrete dock is covered by birds; squaking, flapping, quacking birds.  During the night, it is abandoned, and is covered only in bird shit.  But it is truly covered in bird shit, like some foul Pollock.  As a group, we stop here.  We are mostly silent.  We are smoking, drinking, thinking.  I start to take my pants off.  Someone asks me, “What are you doing?”  “I’m going to run down that cement dock and jump in.”  They try to tell me not to.  They warn me that the water is very shallow here, and that the concrete dock is awash in bird shit.  I wave off their warnings.  Have these guys stopped wanting to see how far they can go?  I take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, my underwear.  I’m a naked man at the Duck Pond.  The guys have warned me, so they are no longer worried.  They are watching, smiling, ready to laugh and tell me they told me so.  I take a long sip of my drink.  I start running, down through the grass and then suddenly my feet hit concrete.  It is terribly slippery, and even while I am running, I can feel the bird shit sticking to my heels, squishing between my toes.  It is a gross feeling.  In this light, it’s not easy to see where the platform ends.  Just in time, I realize I can see the moon’s reflection in the water; I use this as a guide.  At the end of the platform, I jump hard and high, as if from a diving board.  I pull my legs up under my ass and clasp my hands under my shins: the cannonball position.  And I freeze there; I hover.  Time seemingly stands still.  See me from the back: my shaggy, rarely groomed brown hair, my pimpled back, a bit of flabby belly spilling over into view, my two half-moon ghost-white butt cheeks, and directly below that, the soles of my feet.  And in front of me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me, as if you were a movie camera.  Stop when you are beside me, at my profile.  My mouth, wide like Pac-Man, my ample gut, spilling forth like a sack of oatmeal, the curve of my haunches, my arms flung below me, seeming to hold me in place, to levitate me.  And behind me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me further.  Stop when you are in front of me.  See that look on my face?  That excruciating yawp of desperate living, desperate to feel these moony waters; see that fat, oatmealy belly, my hairy, caveman chest, nipples erect by the night wind, the pale fronts of my wobbly knees.  Now look behind me: look at those guys standing there, their faces frozen in various forms of laughter, disbelief, worry, apathy.  Look at those guys!  Oh, they are probably worried about so many things; I am sure they are worried that I am about to hurt myself.  Also, looking at the set of their mouths and the glint in their eyes, I’m willing to wager they’re worried about drowning in a ferry accident with two-hundred strangers in icy cold water somewhere, or whether they’ll ever get to walk the length of South America, or what they’d do if they found a dead body in a hotel hallway, or if they’ll keep having that dream where they show up to the wrong building for a college final exam, or if they have syphilis, or if they’ll ever be the father they want to be, or marry a woman as great as their mother, and in there somewhere are the realizations, too, the realizations we are having every moment of every day: the lines of morality and sanity we keep drawing and moving and drawing again with everything we observe, and the list of Hopes and Dreams that is under constant revision without us knowing, the importance of breath and bras and bicycles all neatly ordered and the smells we love so much like old books and stale cake and the things we know we’ll never do like fly a jumbo jet or hide in a refrigerator to scare the crap out of somebody and oh look at the list of regrets written all over these guys faces the women they wanted to fuck the cars they wanted to buy the movies they wanted to see as though they were already dead as though their whole story had been told but that’s not the truth now is it we lived, we were burning to live, we were burning to live!  And we did live, at least most of us, although now in our late thirties and early forites, a few of us have started to go. I have a thing like fire, but it isn’t fire.  It’s something I can feel on my skin, in my hair, even see it on my eyelids when I close them.  It flickers like flames and tingles like sparks, it’s love, truest love, and it burns like fire but isn’t fire, and it’s the only reason for anything at all, but I’ll be damned if I know what it actually is, from whence it comes or what it is made out of. But like I said, all those guys did live, even if maybe they were trying to die.  You can die really young, if you try hard enough.  I knew a girl from Chicago once. We met on the internet way back before that was the sort of thing that happened with any regularity. I was up really late at night, drunk of course, smoking cigarettes and using the different chat rooms available on America Online, back when chat rooms were the cutting edge of communication. I can’t remember what chatroom I found her in, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything incredibly respectable. Somehow we hit it off right away, finding a mutual interest in Pearl Jam, smoking cigarettes, and talking filthy. This is even before it was easy to send each other pictures, digital photography was just really something people had heard of, but nothing that regular people were doing on any grand scale. We chatted online quite a bit for a few weeks, then graduated to phone calls, and eventually she boarded a plane and came to see me. I picked her up at BWI and was immediately disappointed with her.  Something about how she wasn’t up to my standards physically. But I was not a cruel man, so I hid my disappointment as much as I could and spent the next few days with her. We had a fling, although I did not threw myself into it wholeheartedly, but almost out of a sense of obligation. I would spend the next few years basically dodging her, until for whatever reason I decided to take a trip to Chicago with another friend of mine, he knew a girl there that he was into, and I could see this girl from Chicago again. We took an over-land trip, he drove and I drank vodka the whole way. I remember almost nothing about the car trip. I remember talking about Stephen King and the band Red Hot Chili Peppers, smoking lots of cigarettes and crawling around in the backseat looking for a bottle that had somehow gotten back there. It was incredibly dangerous, but we did it anyway. Once we got to Chicago, I once again couldn’t really throw myself fully into the fling with this woman, we hung out in a hotel room with her, drank beer that was in the sink filled with ice. We watched the movie “At Close Range”, and talked like Christopher Walken. Then my friend and I drove home. I would talk to her off and on over the next few years, sometimes having phone calls frequently, oftentimes not talking for a year or more. Slowly we drifted into our thirties, becoming very different people as I emerged into addiction recovery and she drifted further into…everything else.  Her depression was immense.  We were very different people, ultimately, but once removed from our false fling we grew close, albeit from afar.  Suddenly in our mid-thirties she was calling me every day; she was falling deep into despair.  I had little advice for her.  After four or five days of phone calls, her Facebook profile lit up with her friends messages about how sad they were at her passing.  I guess she didn’t make it.  I’m too much about me, like to think about me, write about me, do my own thing, yada yada, et cetera et cetera, and on and on. Life is hard enough to figure out as it is, hard enough inside our own heads to figure out what is right, what it means to be a good and nice person who isn’t offensive without reason and who is kind and helpful without losing one’s authentic self, am I right?  Oh geez it’s complicated to even state the problem without creating a run-on sentence.  I mean it’s like, here we are, in our own heads, all alone, wondering what everyone else makes of us, worrying about all kinds of stuff we never say out loud like money and death (especially death) and how our breath smells and if we should cross the street yet or if we have some disease or are going bald or menopause is setting in and while we’re trying to silently figure all this out in our own heads all by ourselves we’ve got to interact with all these other damned people and you never really know (do you?) if you’re being nice or being a prick or hurting people unnecessarily or using guilt just to get your own way or maybe overreacting to other people’s harmless bullshit—and how can you figure all this stuff out?  How can you be nice and helpful without actually being someone else for a bit and observing how you are?  And then maybe it’s just your blood sugar, and you’re having a down day, and you need a nap, but who knows?  Maybe it’s more than that, maybe negativity has infested you, or you are finally and actually and once and for all egotistical—I mean, it happens to some people, right?  Why not you, why not me?  I think maybe it already happened to me, I think maybe I’m lost inside myself.  Once, when I was in rehab for not being able to stop drinking (the second time) the keepers ushered us outside to play kickball.  A bunch of grown or half-grown people who days or weeks before had been sleeping in our own vomit or living drowsy lives in crack houses were now being ushered outside to play kickball.  It was an unusually hot spring morning and I was a very unhappy man—I wasn’t quite done withdrawing yet and I hated everyone—and regardless of my mood, I was in no physical shape to play kickball.  I was quite overweight and hadn’t been eating anything close to a proper diet for years, in addition to smoking two packs a day and drinking a gallon of gin every two days.  My cardiovascular system was fucked, my vision still wasn’t right from all the drink and withdrawal and lack of proper vitamin absorption—that’s a real side effect of alcoholism, look it up— frankly I was having trouble sitting in a chair straight, and here I was being suddenly expected to play kickball.  Oh and one other thing: the woman I was in love with was in this rehab with me, at the same exact time.  I was head-over-heels for her (whatever passed for my head in those days) and despite my intense and fragile emotional and physical condition, I remained unable to extricate myself from those feelings—and from the macho bullshit that I thought was required of me in front of her.  She’d seen me crying almost endlessly for days since we arrived at the rehab (for reasons even I myself didn’t understand) but out here, on this sun-drenched kickball field, I was afraid I might not impress her with my physical prowess while playing a child’s playground game.  Needless to say, I did not excel that day.  Running to first base made me so winded I had to go out of the game.  I couldn’t coordinate my hands with my eyes to catch a lofty, slow-flying red playground ball.  I laid on the outfield grass and heaved breaths, sobbed for no discernible reason, was an unsolveable mess, and had to go back indoors before everyone else.  I thought I had failed as a man, that she would never want me (turned out she never did, but for reasons other than kickball).  There, then, at a moment in which I was almost completely divorced from my body and the pressures of the regular outside world, I remained unable to understand how others might perceive me, was unable to correctly order what was important from what was trivial and ludicrous, was so set in my mind how I viewed myself that I laid in the outfield grass not worried about why I could literally see my heartbeat in my thumb, but about appearing unmanly.  Damned idiot, always a damned idiot even when I’m just inside my head.  Is this what our lot is, as human, to be stuck in this vacuum tube of a skull and never know who or what we are?  Even now, almost two decades removed from that day on the kickball field and any bottle of any type, I don’t know what kind of a person I am. I have made strides toward goodness, oh I have made major strides, but I don’t know, at my core, what kind of person I am.  Do you?  I spend time being grateful for this wonderful little life I have all the time, and yet daily find myself drifting into needless trifles; how much is that magazine I want? Can that person actually park there?  Maybe I should shave this goatee.  What time is Walking Dead on?  Is that even on on Sundays?  I think it’s Mondays this season.  Do you think my high school teachers remember me?  Maybe I don’t make enough of an impression on people.  Or do I try too hard to make a good impression?  Maybe I’m over-bearing.  I need to work on that, start thinking about it more clearly, with more resolve.  Is that black mold over there?  I don’t know much about black mold, I should look it up.  In endless loops.  All that shit in endless loops and at the end of each day (if you measure your life in days) you are no closer to knowing if you are a good person, a good and true person who is true to yourself and doesn’t hurt other people.  How can you know?  How can you know?  I just got home from visiting my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in, in the rural central part of Pennsylvania—all rolling hills, clusters of trees, right at the foot of the Appalachians in the Cumberland Valley.  The house sits on a neat rectangular acre across the street from an expansive Mennonite farm.  It’s calm and still, and the days pass with mostly silence outdoors, the grass growing and the animals making noises in the brush, a car passing every five minutes, fading into the static as quickly as it came.  Dad has hummingbird feeders set up by the porch and we sit out there and watch them, their wings moving as fast as lightning, flitting to and fro, drinking, drinking, then buzzing off to some other urgent affair.  Occasionally one will rest on the pole that holds their feeders, sitting still for a few moments, its head moving up and down and all around, as if to contemplate the surroundings.  But we know better.  It isn’t contemplating a damned thing.  It’s just guarding its territory waiting to eat again, waiting to reproduce again, getting ready to fly again, just simply waiting to respond to impulses.  It’s a beautiful, adorable little creature, but it is not contemplating shit, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think.  What is an abyss?  Is there an abyss, beyond us?  If when we die, nothing happens, what does it look like?  Feel like?  I’ve opened a portal between this world and the next and it looks just like a big red door, a front door, you know, a house door.  What nonsense.  Christ, everything is nonsense.  How can there be meaning?  There is no meaning.  There can be no meaning.  It’s just atoms and electrons buzzing around, and they certainly do not mean a damned thing.  But can we arrange things just so? John Sloan and the ashcan school.  Now there is meaning.  Beautiful, dense paint thrown up on a canvas and arranged just so, just properly.  But if the electrons don’t mean anything how can we paint meaning?  All I know is The Wake of the Ferry makes me feel something, something primal despite not being primal.  I am not primal.  I am a soft man molded by the modern world.  Oh how I have tried not to be so.  I have labored with gusto to not be pampered by the time and place I was born but I don’t have the guts to do what it takes.  Instead I have allowed myself to be carried away by the world like a cow in a cattle chute—the poor thing like that mole my dog so callously eats—and made soft.  No, I am not primal.  I am secondary, and yet somehow The Wake of the Ferry—paint arranged on canvas—awakens something within me from when I was another species.  From when I grunted.  From when I howled.  It might even come from the abyss.  Holy crap where does it come from.  I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.  Really, there’s just art.  Immense, wide skies with cumulus clouds to the horizon, the prairie spread out in the foreground.  A poem that makes you tear up, but not really cry.  That toe-tapping song, that movie that makes you feel afraid like you did when you were ten.  Shadows in the corner, a swirling dervish of a dance.  That’s really all there ever really is, just the art and some sort of meaning.  There’s not really a word for the opposite of loneliness, but that’s what I experience, all the time.  Not because there are so many people around me—there are often none.  And it’s not because I don’t feel lonely; that would just be the absence of loneliness.  No, it is the opposite of loneliness, a filling-up of things, a carrying of weight, a total contentedness with the order of things.  I also often feel the desire for time to stop.  I can have sickening longings for the past.  I am not afraid to grow old, nor do I wish to relive past experiences; but I miss eras, phases, periods of my life.  I miss the way your apartment smelled in the summer and I want to smell it again.  I was like a god, those days.  I don’t want you to live in that apartment again.   And then there was that time so many of us lived in like a five block radius of one another, and there were coffee shops and open mic nights and warm summer nights when the noises of different venues mixed on the streets with the smells of coffee beans and rum and cigarette smoke and Liz Claiborne perfume.  I don’t need to live it again.  Good lord, I don’t need to live it again.  Just let’s stop everything and smell it and look at it and grow old in that world, in that place, in that feeling.  Let’s have the rings of Saturn stand still for just an epoch.  Then we can start time again.  I live in the opposite of loneliness and I’d like more of it.  Also I don’t want to die, ever.  moonless dark country nights.  there’s a sound to it.  a cricket sound, a buzzing, a silent sheath.  the sound of the nights of my teenage years, accompanied by the smell of beer, loud talk, and the first Violent Femmes album, the one with Country Death Song.  nowadays I want to take pictures of everything.  I try not to but I do anyway.  I don’t know what the penalty is for allowing a beautiful moment to pass unrecorded but nobody is ever going to levy it upon me.  I wonder about things like the shape of the land, the hills, how much we made to suit our own purposes like roads and drainage and sewage and how much the earth made, how long was it like this, how did it get this way?  eventualities swirl around and around and around, and around yet.  I have very much to say about many things.  mostly I don’t say them.  often I will say two or three sentences but I know it’s more than most people want.  it is just as well.  I’m a prick with my ideas and opinions and there’s no need to spew them out entirely; the big old universe with its Saturn’s rings and open mic nights does not give one fig about what I am saying.  and so on and so on and so on.  dark country nights with their sounds and their memories and time stopping and who couldn’t be lonely in all this immensity, anyway?  it’s all so damned big and careless and spinning with no plan, so I say, so I think, if you really want to know, and the wind blows like a motherfucker and the flags are stretched out at the tops of their poles and we’re all so lonely and the opposite of lonely.  really, there’s just art.  immense, wide skies with cumulus clouds to the horizon, the prairie spread out in the foreground.  a poem that makes you tear up, but not really cry.  that toe-tapping song, that movie that makes you feel afraid like you did when you were ten.  shadows in the corner, a swirling dervish of a dance.  that’s really all there ever really is, just the art and some sort of meaning.

Willis Earl Beal’s Circular Victory

Posted in Prose with tags , , , on September 16, 2017 by sethdellinger

Turn.  Circle.  Sun.  Moon.

These are the four words that comprise the title of the latest collection of songs by Willis Earl Beal.  The title is not only succinct–it also could not be more apt.

(the album doesn’t have a physical release yet but can be purchased for download at this link.)

All four of the words imply a kind of motion, an orbital, cyclical, or circuital movement (in the case of sun and moon, these motions are dependent on the motions of others).  Beal–who professionally wishes you’d call him Nobody–doesn’t choose words (or melodies, or masks) carelessly.

Sonically, these songs–like much of his recent material–consist of rising and falling keyboard dirges that weave in and out of prominence, often cycling back to where they started, but just as often running like a steady current behind Beal’s  plaintive vocals.  Within the framework of this wide-open musical canvas, Beal still manages to find unexpected nooks and crannies to place his vocal rhythms–he’s suddenly jumping out at you from a corner you didn’t even see–or he’s hiding in it.  Add to this a production value of lo-fi immediacy (I often felt like I could hear him change positions in a chair) and the cumulative effect is one of urgency, despite the modest tempo of the tunes, each song still manages to make you feel as though you are in the grip of strong stuff that is racing to an end.

But to “review” this album in any typical way would be like trying to review a cloud, or dirt.  That statement sounds preposterous, I know, but there it is, just the same.  As he continues to evolve as a songwriter and musician, Beal keeps mining material that gets closer and closer to the elemental; this is art like wind, or the subliminal functioning of a gland.  One feels these songs pass through you like quarks.

Beal has often layered the vocals one on top of another, giving the impression that they rotate around one another (like, for instance, the moon around the Earth and the Earth around the Sun); it’s like Beal orbiting Beal, at first the words just one more sonic tool, one more instrument, but eventually the words start to coagulate and meaning attaches to the dirge.

They are songs of loneliness, and love, and helplessness, and yearning.  From the opening song “Stroll”, where we are taken on a midnight constitutional with our narrator contemplating the greater meanings of the universe, to the closing number “Sun & Moon” with it’s sad binary truth (“I am night/ And you are day”), I felt connected to every song; ultimately, they are deeply human.  We experience the resignation to hopelessness, but also perfect hope (again in “Sun & Moon”: ‘But I will see you tomorrow”).  As we continue orbiting and turning, we experience the push and pull of our contrary desires: to be alone, but to be loved.  To be anonymous, but to be great.  When I invested myself in these songs, I felt understood, but also complex.

In “Cowboy”, we are presented with lyrics so brazen, bold, and current as to warrant presenting some without comment: “Passing places through the mall/ Empty faces filling all/ Hear the laughter off the walls/ Birthday presents for you all/ Know resistance while you can/ Avoid incessant clapping hands/ Put your face in garbage cans/ Take the trash do what you can/Recycle all your wasted shit/ There are people trying to quit/ (You’re a cowwwwwwwwboy/Roping all your bulls.)”

In “Release” we are presented with the lyric “You must let go of all the linear victories”, which is a boy-howdy of a line; you could chew on that line for days.  What is a linear victory?  How do we let go of it?  Like the best art, the songs offer some answers, but not all of them.  However, who knows? If you let these quark-songs flow through you enough, maybe the answers will find you.

The art of Willis Earl Beal–Nobody–has been an undercurrent in my life for years now, and this album more than any others before is like a chameleon, a changeling.  As I listen to it it darts away into my peripheral vision and changes shape, form.  It’s hard to hold onto.

Currently, “Turn, Circle, Sun & Moon” does not have a physical release, but can be purchased for download by clicking this link.  If you buy it, it will almost certainly be a linear victory for you–but at the moment, that’s still the only kind I know how to get.

Our Dewey Walk

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2017 by sethdellinger

I just went out for a very late night walk with Benji. The moon was so bright, a brazen beacon up there, like some alternate version of the sun, and it is so warm, like nights I remember from technicolor teenagehood, and the smell of grass, always the smell of grass, and tonight the tiny insects that swarmed Benji and I even seemed pleased, seemed to be telling us their happiest secrets. Barely midnight and already dew droplets leapt from the ground with each step we took, Benji looking for the perfect place to pee, different every time we come out but always perfect.  I was bathing in the moonlight like it was sunlight, turning my face toward it and soaking it in, staring at the gray ball, stunned as I often am by the thought that there’s a world there, that I’m looking at another world and it’s there right now, the surface of the moon, sitting there waiting for something, or maybe not waiting at all but just happy all alone, its craters and mountains just perfect, silent and airless and pockmarked, goddamn what a beautiful night with the insects and Benji looking back over his shoulder at me, his big black eyes pleading something, something I can’t know and can never know , and tucked inside our little air conditioned house my Love sleeps, her of the fine features and deep understanding, she sleeps in there like the surface of the moon and she has chosen me and aint it grand, aint it grand indeed.  Tomorrow we’ll wake up without an alarm and have mango and basmati rice for breakfast, and a pot of coffee, too, and maybe Schubert on the stereo.  Oh, life is probably pointless, ultimately, just atoms and electrons and consciousness happening by accident, the whole damned scene just one ludicrous accident, but who can argue with this, with the moon so serious and luminous and the dog looking over his shoulder and the air conditioning inside and basmati rice tomorrow, who would ever want to call any of it an accident?  Oh Karla I love you so much!

Be a Bright Blue

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2016 by sethdellinger


Sound the alarm bells.  The ship, it is sinking.  Our shoes are on fire and our water is a virus.  Good god, sound the alarm–run.  It’s the same old damned thing, the same tired emergency.  It’s the same old lie.

Run the white cloth up the flag pole.  Watch it hang there, limp.  Shut your windows and turn on the AC.  I’m exhausted from defending my lifestyle, and I’m exhausted from checking my phone.  Turn up the static.  Lean back into something.  Grill some putrid items.  Excoriate your neighbor.

A new batch of people have come along now.  They’re old enough now.  They see evidence of lies, control.  Someone has spotted a two party system.  THEY’RE ALL LIARS, they shout.  They sense something not genuine.  They sense they are not in control of this world.  They see they are inside a machine, and they cannot even see who controls the machine, or even the walls or the floor.  It’s a machine, they say, vote for Jill Stein!

As though someone polling at 5% of the national population isn’t part of the damned machine.  Hey listen.  If you’re in a machine, you’re in it.  You think the machine lets you out?

The machine was here long before you and promises to outlive you.

Sound the alarm bells, by golly!  The construct is about to swallow another generation whole.  Like zygotes.  Like plankton.  Like dust.

Of course you can fight things inside the machine and change things.  But until you understand the actual nature of your plight, you’ll attack the wrong parts, the wrong cogs and pulleys.

You have taken the blindfold off without realizing there was a second blindfold overtop the first one.

Recognize the machine.  Feel its rhythm.  Do not doubt its omnipresence.  You speak hushed of the politicians who control you while you sit in a strip mall restaurant.  How did the strip mall get there?  Why is it there, instead of elsewhere?  How many red lights did you wait at to drive there?  Have you registered the car you drove with the government?  The gas you put in the car–where did it come from, and who decided how much it cost?

Welcome to the fucking construct.  Jill Stein will take your order now.

Be a shiny countertop.  Be a chemtrail.  Be a smiling dog.

When I was a kid, I played little league baseball for two years.  I had waited too long to get started though.  Whereas most kids in my town started very young, I waited until I was ten or eleven.  Mostly I waited so long because I had never really wanted to play little league baseball.  I was scared of the ball, and I was scared of organized sports.  I wasn’t pressured to play.  I just wanted to participate in a thing that made the other kids look cool.  They looked like major league ball players to me.  So I did it even though I didn’t want to.

Be a lazy Sunday.  Be Madison, Wisconsin.  Be a suspicious cough.

Since I waited so long to start playing baseball, I was behind kids my age, when it came to skill level.  So the people who ran the little league put me on the teams with the younger boys.  My plan to do something I didn’t want to do to be cooler had backfired.  My friends and classmates were playing on teams I never saw, and I was playing with boy 2 or 3 years younger than me.  And they were still better than me.  I was a very bad baseball player.  My coach–whose son was on the team–was frequently disappointed in me.  He thought since I was older, I’d be his star, when in fact I was the worst player on the team.  It was mortifying.  The little league had a rule that every single player had to get an at-bat every single game.  One game I did not get an at-bat.  I wasn’t very sad, since batting was just another opportunity for me to be embarrassed.  But my parents were quite mad.  Because they are good parents.  After the game they told me to go wait by the concession stand while they spoke to the coach.  I waited.  About five minutes later they came into view, laughing.  They were laughing.  What happened?, I asked.  They informed me they confronted the coach about me not having an at-bat and he had freaked out, screaming at them, somehow finding a reason to rake them over the coals for having the audacity to question him.  They said he had become red in the face with anger.  The next game, he had me bat leadoff, despite being the worst hitter on the team.  My humiliation was complete.

Be a light early-morning mist.  Be a fully-trimmed Christmas tree.  Be a cardinal direction.  Be a traffic-free commute.  Be the paint that dries.  Be a clear radio station.  Be a marching band in the distance.  Be Jimmy Stewart.  Be a sun-dappled cave entrance.  Be a bright blue.  Be your grandmother’s afghan.  Be Connect Four.  Be the olive-skinned belly dancer.  Be a stunning cul-de-sac.  Be an early dismissal.  Be a crescendo.  Be the young girl that stops to help you, when she doesn’t have to, when you’ve dropped all your groceries and the sun is starting kiss the horizon, and she is beautiful, and the air reminds you of perfect childhood, and you don’t have to work the next day.  You, too, are part of the machine.



Badass Harrisburg, Media vs. Trump, Eraser, Alexander Supertramp

Posted in Prose, Rant/ Rave, real life, Snippet with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2016 by sethdellinger

It has now been over a year and a half since we moved to Harrisburg. Like every time I’ve made a large move, it’s been interesting how at first there is a large amount of culture shock, and then just a few weeks or months later, it’s almost like you’ve always lived there. It’s hard to imagine there was a time that I lived in Philadelphia, or Erie,  or Carlisle.  It’s hard to imagine there was a time when I actually could not imagine moving back to Central Pennsylvania. Did I ever actually move away from here? But also, the first time I lived here, I couldn’t have imagined living in Harrisburg, but now it seems the natural center of this area. Harrisburg gets a bad rap from many people, for those are people who are afraid of it, or have never spent much time in it. Granted, it is a city with its troubles, both financial and otherwise. There are plenty of areas that are downtrodden, poor, and wanting of many of the services that the surrounding areas take for granted. But there is a lot to love here, and plenty of neighborhoods that you can feel safe in, and with nice modern housing. There’s more than enough to do, more than enough beautiful views, and a vibrant arts scene. In fact, there are more things that we have not been able to do than those we have been able to do. And it seems clear to me that the city is still on the move. I know there have been lots of stories over the decades about the revitalization of Harrisburg, but this time it does seem legitimate. The independent music scene, hipster coffee shops, art galleries opening all over the place. Even a vegan coffee shop close to the state capitol building! There’s a lot to love here, and although there are certainly times when I’m riding my bike down a side street here that I miss being right in the middle of traffic on Broad Street in Philadelphia, there’s also something to be said for walking out of my job every night, looking to my right, and seeing the beautiful Capitol Dome less than a mile away, or walking my dog six blocks and being along the Susquehanna River Trail, almost always as the sun sets.




The fact is, the system IS rigged against Trump, in the sense that the media (hold up; did I say the MEDIA?? You hate the media, don’t you? [I’m probably not talking to YOU here, but to about 30 people on my Facebook who bitch more about the media than the atrocities they report on}  But what is it you are talking about, when you say “the media”? It’s an institution with hundreds of thousands of outlets, platforms, and systems, and it’s actually one of the best things about our country–one of the things that really DOES keep us free. But see, you gotta do some work, too. You have to sift through some things, figure out what sources you trust, the nuances of how to best receive information from the media, and where and when you receive it. You have to READ things. Hey, quick–who’s your favorite columnist? Don’t have one? How do you HATE the media when you’ve never really consumed it to begin with? Stop being lazy. The American freedom of press truly does set us apart–and I’m not one for “American Exceptionalism”. But yeah–most of the media operates by making a profit, so be careful, and above all READ things. And it does make a difference if it’s printed on paper; it’s harder to trick your eye into only reading the “interesting” stuff or items you already agree with. Just read the news. Hating and callously dismissing “the media” is just active laziness. And memes are not the media. FYI) are not obligated to report on an aspiring despot who would end the American experiment like it was no big deal. The “media”–contrary to what many seem to think–are not obligated to be neutral observers of facts only at all times. They are to report facts, yes–but also interpret them (again, this is where understanding media nuance will serve you well: there ARE places you can go for just fact, and places you can go for opinion, and places you can go for analysis. If you go to one place expecting it to be something it isn’t, you might think it’s corrupt, when in fact you’re just a novice). So yes, the media are biased against Trump because they are reporting on a man who would destroy our nation–and harm the world. And it is not their DUTY to remain neutral. The media IS biased–but not against Trump; they’re biased against evil.



I wasn’t ready for Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser, when it came out in 2006.  I was baffled by it, listened to it twice, and put it away–not knowing if it was bad or I was daft.  I put it in on a whim today and it turns out I am ready for it.




Two nights ago, I got to meet Jon Krakauer, an author who is currently among America’s top 3 or 4 nonfiction authors.  I’ve admittedly only read two of Jon’s books–“Into the Wild” being his most famous book and a work that has touched my life very deeply.  In it, Krakauer tells the story of Christopher McCandless, who left a very comfprtable and promising life, wandered the country with little to no money and no contact with anyone for over a year, eventually hiking into the Alaskan wilderness where he would eventually die.  Chris’s story is complex and multi-layered–it can’t be reduced to one single element.  When I was at very low points in my life–still drinking and in deep depressions–Chris’s decision to disappear and walk into the wild until he died appealed to me.  Later, sober and happy, other elements of Chris’s philosophy and his journey resonated with me.  Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to a man he met on his sojourn across the country.  The man–who had been deeply affected by a month or so he spent with Chris–received the postcard after Chris died:

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” –Christopher McCandless

While it was McCandless whose story has so impacted me, Krakauer’s decision to tell it, and the respect he gave the story, resonated.  In the many years since “Into the Wild” was published, Chris’s story has become of major import to a growing legion of people who find something inspiring about him, and Krakauer does not shy away from his role as a steward of the story.  It was an intense honor to meet him.



The sun goes up, the sun goes down. The wind begins to whistle through branches now bare with late months.  The sky grays, the wind grays, everywhere color mutes, curls into itself.  Even the insects look at you with worry.




Things Sweep You Up

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , on October 17, 2016 by sethdellinger

How did this happen?  How did I become thirty-eight?  How did I get chest hairs, and then bushy gray ones, and then flab all-everywhere, and a 401(k)?  How do I know about local taxes, how do I know how to drive a stick shift?  Many people say something to the effect of, no matter how old I get, inside, I always feel eighteen years old.  I know what they mean but I can’t agree entirely; inside, deep inside, I’m perpetually eight.  Helpless, dewy-eyed, flailing, wiping the eyesnot onto my pillow on sun-dappled mornings as I start to hear the first birds’ chirp through the box fan next to my bed.  How did I get from there to here?  This is an immense amount of life to happen to an eight year old boy.

Things sweep you up.  You get swept up in them.  Time isn’t what we’re told it is–it’s a gel extending in all directions.  You get moving and your momentum just carries you.  You start to age and change and the person you were becomes invisible to you–an unknowable shadow stranger.

How did I become this man?  Decades have passed since I was the first me, the child me.  I’ve known thousands of people; how much did they matter?  I’ve been countless places- were any of them real?  I drank and ate and fell in love and tipped poorly and took advantage of people and swam on perfect summer nights and refused to do things–oh have I ever refused to do things!–and I knew people that died and I sent people mail and I flew on a plane and I lied to people who loved me and I shaved my head and I bought the perfect Christmas gift and then, every now and then, every so often, I go back to the places that things happened, and I look at those places that I stood, that we stood together, and I see myself there, I see those things happening.  It’s like a double-image–the past overlaid on the place, and finally, in those moments, I simply can’t understand any of it.  How can I be here again, when I was already here?  How many times can I be here?  How old can I get?  I’m only eight, after all.

Things sweep you up, they carry you with them, but not like a stream but like a mouse running across a darkened floor and you are the cheese.  Things sweep you up and carry you, they zig and they zag, holy moly do they ever zig and zag.  When you get a moment to breathe you might look back and say, oh my, how did I get from there to here? I’m only eight.  And the answer is simple: you did not get from there to here.  You are still there, you are still here, everything is everything all at once.  I’m just energy, you are energy, this table is energy, the perfect Christmas gift is energy, my eight year old self recycling his electrons into a thirty-eight year old self, all of us unknowable to our future versions, forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever.

Gravity Works

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 2, 2016 by sethdellinger

It’s so exciting, watching a baby, a baby on the edge, just into the toddle, the toddler on the edge of everything, getting into everything. He must be watched constantly, and it is exciting and boring at the same time, this monitoring as the child tries, assays, everything over and over. We have developed a restraint. We call it a high chair and bundle the baby off to it. It looks downright medieval, this highchair with its belts and its sliding, lipped tray table that pins her into it. The baby, so encumbered, writhes and wriggles, all ampersands. We have learned to throw things onto the tray, distractions. Often it is cereal. It is almost always Cheerios. Why Cheerios, cheerless Cheerios? But it is, and the baby immediately responds, gasping and grasping, O-ing for the little o’s. They are like little stem-less keys, all thumbs, that he then inserts into any and all holes, tests the fit (nose, ears, eyes even). Even as we begin to remember something about the hazard of choking, choking hazard, the kid has found where the Cheerios work. The mouth, yes, that’s the ticket. And the child will commence to push all these buttons of oats down this open hatch. Then what do we do? We have played the Cheerio card. The baby looks up at us intently, a brown study of crumbs. And then we do it; we do it even though we know we shouldn’t. We dig deep in our pockets and withdraw our keyring. Now here is an authentic choking hazard, but we are at our wit’s end, too tired (and we can’t leave her worming in that high chair) to go look for the oversized toothy teething keys (pastel colored, soft-edged), designed and marketed for this very moment, when we are about to serve up our real keys. The keys spread eagle on the tray. Instantly, the child attempts to unlock this mystery (the empty vessel he is—ears, nose, mouth), scratching the tabula rasa of his still-soft skull. Suddenly, the baby leans over, off to the side of the chair, and drops the keys. They fall, make a confused clatter on the kitchen floor. Then the baby does this: she looks at us. She looks at the keys. She looks at us. She looks at the keys. Us. We know what we are to do, what we will do. We pick up the keys and place them on the tray once more. And immediately they are once more on the floor. Again with the looking. Again with the picking up and the dropping. This can go on, it seems, for hours. “Gravity works,” we cry out. But for the kid it doesn’t. The next release the keys might drop up. The keys are key as they fall. As they fall they open for us, they open us (if we can just get past the tedium) to possibility, that space to wonder about wonder.

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