PARADISE LOST by John Milton

Click the image for more info about the book.
It was a funny feeling, when I read it in college, to realize that my inherited conceptions of Satan and Hell and the Garden of Eden mapped eerily closely to Milton’s PARADISE LOST. And one more foundation stone got shimmied away.

I don’t remember liking PARADISE LOST very much. It seemed smug and off-putting, and I was super irritated at the lack of religious knowledge of my fellow students. Silly me, I assumed a basic, if not religious background, at least a knowledge of religion (read: Christianity). I found myself veering into self-righteous christianist mode, which I had mostly been trying to steer myself away from. It was Milton who presented the biggest challenge there.

Another time, I was hosting a party at my house, and my friend Ian burst into my living room, all livid and trembling, because he’d read PARADISE LOST that afternoon (one afternoon!) and was a’quiver with occult knowledge. He’d had some kind of numinous encounter with that book, some sort of near-enlightened state. I don’t remember anything he said, but I remember talking to him for what seemed like hours about that book. I got more out of that discussion at a party, than I had over the course of two or three weeks of english classes. Was I a little jealous that he’d had such a profound encounter with that (or any) book? Maybe a little. That’s what happens to non-readers (I’m assuming here) sometimes when they encounter some amazing written thing.

Me, I wonder sometimes if I haven’t just filled my brain up with too many words, or too many not very interesting or well thought out words. Ultimately, I’ve never really bought into the idea that reading for the sake of reading is a good in itself. It does actually matter what one reads. That doesn’t stop me from reading some simply terrible stuff, sometimes, though.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

If any part of Milton’s work changed me or my way of thinking about the world, it was that one.

On Returns

it’s easy being alone,
but there’s nothing so sweet as a fierce hug upon returning
i mean, old shoes have nothing on that
listen to that exuberance, store it deep, and remember

so much time is spent shuttling around these spacesuits
I mean, our bodies
and the Here just gets all entangled with the Now
(except inside our brains, wherein Here gets all warped up in +Now and -Now, and Now gets warped by +-xyzHere)

all those seconds keep tocking by, breaths in and out, that thump-stutter-thump
it all feels like so much, and then so little, and then so little
water rushing, then getting dammed up by some debris, flotsam, or whatever

On Memory (#73)

What’s remembered?
Our self is a thin, rickety ladder, not even put together right
a threadbare illusion of consistency, a cheap magician’s trick
while the mind goes gyring in strange loops

don’t rattle the table, or the whole damn house of cards comes down
I’m thinking
Is this why we crave such comfortable consistency from those around?
why sudden lurches in behavior (not us) trouble so, exposing the sky wires, and false bottoms?

what’s remembered is so small a fraction of what was, and everyone of us remembers a different bit
hey, a storyboard would be nice for recounting a life
Even that’s too much to ask
it’s really more like some terrible handwriting scrawled on a series of dirty cocktail napkins
is that an A or a Q?

be kind to that poor magician, sweating bullets up on stage, as his trousers fall down, and all the rabbits go a’runnin’
turning only to find an empty room

On Loneliness and Bars

the loud and lonely are the worst, raving at the world from their spot of isolation in plain sight
(oh, not the worst, only the worst, because they loudly force the issue to the forefront)
“Lightman! a spot on this poor blighter before the cane comes crawling”

the quiet lonely at least have their dignity of silence, at least, at least
when all the murmurings in the world lead to the same dull thud, oh yes
it’s no wonder some seek solace in the sole soothings of some soi-disant demiurge:
you’re not alone, some omnipotent being wishes you well! and waits with bated breath upon your sweet susurrations

as for me, I’d rather much maunder through my old hallways of thought, bewaring bugaboos, of course
still sometimes those crawling creepers keep coming round, not enough bug spray here, apparently
outside, it’s nothing but exits from my center stage, says everyone

and everyone rolls on down the road, singing sweetly softly
to me…?

On Departures

it’s so easy to “forget” to say goodbye,
that is to say, it’s easier to pretend that’s not happening
other times, thinking what if, what if, what if they’re gone?

(remembering that one, only two, after I left for the first time
watched my heart break, as he covered his eyes, because my arrival after absence was so shocking
he could not believe his eyes,
in the real sense,
covering his eyes with his hands
because my returned presence was too real for him

that’s what happens when you forget to say goodbye, I guess)

not in a tear-my-hair-out kind of way,
but to remember now what I have, instead of forgetting
it’s so easy to forget what’s there, in front of us, right this second
i mean, are there rampaging ducks? or maybe some small cavalcade of tormenters? say rather, some donuts rolling by, delectably delicious?
No, none of that. Just silence layered on top with sounds, sights, smells, etc. Or, say rather, distractions. Simply distractions.

the fact they’re gone, now, is only light and fluffy because i “know” they will return
where “knowing” is an assumption in a world with no nothing nowhere certain to endure for sure
bite that apple now, because it will be gone, eaten by worms and torn apart by whirlwinds of flies, time lapsed of course

laugh and gather your rose puppies right away, is what I’m saying

On Light-Stained Wretches

Forget the ink, these days we’re all stained with light
Pixels so small as to be meaningless, branch out in millions of colors to stain our skins
Fifty-seven zombies huddled around cool fires
Brainiacs in head cases grew these things in vats, I suspect, far away from daisies and green cheeses
Is it any wonder that our tools inspire so much unbridled anger when not bridled carefully?
whoa horsy, I mean it!

Well then, sir, how do you wash this light away?
Well, sir, simply turn it off, sir.
Easier easier said than done, sir.

On Ink-Stained Wretches

if this were yesterday, my fingertips and shirtsleeves would be dribbled with red and black ink
probably I’d even have ink on my shoes
my eyesight would be even worse than it is now, because my glasses would be decades older than they are now
perhaps scribbling, from time to time, in the margins
foolishly trying to leave some stamp on the leaves of time, as they turn turn turn down the years

Sherlock Holmes would know in an instant what I did all day, without resorting to calluses or blood samples
even Watson would have no trouble at all

perhaps I’d have twelve books to my name, saving all my extra funds for number thirteen
but what books would I buy with such a small pittance? would I stalk the halls of history or pounce upon the starving poets, gnaw upon their bones?
Or would I rather wait, breathing hard, for the last Dickens or Eliot serial to arrive by steamer boat?

feel that breathlessness as some new thing comes rolling off the presses in scores of numbers
are they seditious pamphlets bent on undermining those prone to lording?
are they playbills for the scintillating actors ballooning across the stages of the town?
are they posters promoting the latest mail-by craze?
just be glad there are others who slop the glue

On Public Transit

packed in, slowed down, stopped
a side trip to the zoo
this bus is going anywhere!
weapons-grade pleasantness deployed to hack the whole system
no one once to be the first to nastiness

everyone just wants to get where they’re going, but do they really want to get there?
or are they just going through the motion?

all the time, there’s some talking ’bout occult nonsense, these conspiracies aren’t even interesting any more, just steeped as they are in reasonableness and “studies”
Hey mans, let’s talk about something real, like gravity. It’s so much more rewarding, bros. Or why the moon is chasing us on its long long legs, keeping pace, no one “knows” why.
it’s only occult, nowadays, cuz no one cares much
it’s all there, pretty much, out in the open, crinkling in the sun
no more gnomic utterances dribbled out in foot thickly dusty booky shops

so many knees and elbows, so many barely awake, a sleeping man followed me the whole way, patron saint of the foggy-bound
unleashed to the street corner, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the dragon rushed away, bound for some queer destination out west
there be dragons there, or something

falling asleep to the sound of someone talking, falling asleep to the sound of train wheels clacking, or maybe the silent breathing, or maybe the alarm clock not going off

On Feeling Like I Need a Cup of Joe

Just can’t shake the groggy feeling. and so feel stuck just just stuck just stuck just stuck

what. can’t jog it loose.

when the thing gets stuck like a worn out leg.
ouch. can’t
that thing be so miserly
or yes. in other words, chances are good

creating one problem by solving another, this is how the road to hell is paved with..
in other words, contrariwise.

getting all the cruft and nonsense out of my brain. so I can focus on the good stuff

but what is the good stuff?

just nonsense?

or is there any way to think that isn’t broken into a million pieces. with all the scattered
brains flashing away in the distance, or rather like a semaphore in the hands of a master
with no one to see with understanding

this is how the writing in sand goes, just ape that typing as it monkeys about. and then type some more and type and type.

oh my, where’s all that typing coming from, those hollows of the mind where dread frogs grow?

or some bedeviled cake in a saucepan full of bellows gallows or something like that

hiding out in the corncrake won’t solve it, nor will figuring at sums.

flashes of insight. grown up all the way and still can’t shake that she hyena loose.
the impostor perches on the kern, chuckling and eating snap crackle, whatever that is
some damn thing, munching away, with crumbs spilling all over the front

don’t eat so much popcorn if you’re going to wear black like an undertaker.
undertakers don’t snack, or so i have read.
especially not when they’re wheeling out their metaphorical or literal coffin for the end

juggling terms in the head, or wracking them round the stew pipe,
these days no one has any sense or maybe
it’s just meee.

the monkey hanging from the tree, the god tree, the sephiroth or the clambake or
whatever those old ones call it
don’t shake that tree too hard.
you’ll never know what coconuts come raining down, because one will surely have bonked
you on the head.

On Parenting

clamber out the cold controls
undertake no new corrals come morning
already some strange clarions keep calling out for contests
thor-heavy, we cry in the morning
collapsed on our couches, comfy, still

you see, we want what’s best for every except ourselves, where the comfort comes
soon the pale face grows paler than normal, aghast
or maybe just sick at heart

other times, everyone’s jolly.

this cat’s got some lowdown
he’s spillin’ the beans about all the secret ways, the occult texts, and growling penumbras of mystery
beard-scratchin’, yowlin’, there’s some real there
here man, have some soap, wash that mystery right out ya hair
creak creak roll the bones, old chicken bones, divinin’ shit right there in front ya face

caterwaul, that’s all, just caterwaulin’ like a cold craver, jiddering about on a hot lid
all the old fellows trapped behind glass, but O, I want
grace has an odd shape when it’s shaped like a hug, not quite an O, but more like an ooval.

but really. when the old one draws a picture that claws tears from my heart, sketched out in a moment
how does this one respond? how can one respond? what possible response could would should have?
is there only cool regard? does some hot gushing of feeling have a place?

‘my dear old one,’ i might say, ‘wherefore all this pain and sorrow when time has only flavored you for O not so long a time, even within the deepness of your time?’

but what would he say to me, except an unerring silent gaze, seeing only the trappings of my place, the bells, the whistles, the tags, and patches
Or maybe he would say, ‘be still your cool anger, only watch. and listen.’

and still I sit, clawing not-quite words from out my brain, a lost searcher, figures scratched in dust.