LOBE | JAY PONTERI
My DJ-name is J-Po. All day long I hold anti-meetings in my head. Anti-meetings consist of one self speaking privately to other various selves. The ghost will probably drive. Hair draped over her shoulders. Mice put on plays written by their hunger and need for warmth and dry shelter. Let's head over to La Mesilla. On Floor 20 I facilitated video conferences and cleared up paper jams in the photocopier. It's possible to open your neck to another. I have fired a person. You are not what our organization wants, I said to this person. Walk away from us, I said to this person. I will be desperately sorry. Baby's Last Thanksgiving. I don't always do the right thing. I try to do the right thing. Not always do I try to do the right thing. When I began a secret relationship with a married woman I was not trying to do the right thing. I was doing what my body felt to be necessary. I saw Nirvana at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago less than a month before Kurt Cobain made a successful attempt at suicide. Tripping on acid I watched Ice-T and Perry Farrell call each other "whitey" and "******." People in Chicago say Aragon Brawlroom. I'm watching a mentally ill man piss on the sidewalk. Several people are dying in car accidents right at this present moment. Henry Ford is a mass murderer. The Wright Brothers are mass murderers. Last night I dreamt dad admonished me for not cleaning up my room to his liking and I screamed at him, What the fuck, what the fuck and my dream scream turned itself inside out, rising from my actual mouth in what seemed like a dry gasp, waking me, my wife, and our remaining pug dog. As if it pulled the scream through the dream into my body and out into my bedroom. To what does it refer? Somebody or something other puts words inside our bodies for us to speak. Yeats believed it was aliens, Jack Spicer called it transcription. So others can see what is normally hidden from view. In a barn in Trout Lake she milked Beatrice and afterwards brought fresh hay into Beatrice's stall. We're having what the experts in our field call A Felt Event. The experts in our field are precognitive infants. Sex makes babies? To be in this world without thought. You won't feel it coming till it comes. Know when you talk to me I may not be listening to you. I rake the leaves in the front yard, not the back. I'm not good at returning calls or emails. I procrastinate. My posture is all screwed up from hunching over my computer and IBM Selectric typewriter. I used to get in trouble with my parents for giving my stuff away to friends. I gave my stuff away to friends because I wanted them to like me. If I like you a lot I have given you a book. It's not that I had to grow up too soon and it's not that I didn't want to grow up, it's that I didn't know what any of it meant and was willing to admit that to others. They would think I was a nice person, is what I thought. I made her wet, is what I thought. I made an impact on her. She needed me and didn't need me. My mind is a friable circle. It never took long for her to come. I'm beyond freedom. I don't wake and bake anymore. I dress in old blue jeans and T-shirts with illustrations of birds on the front or back. I don't match my socks or the idea of matching socks for me is clean socks. My official shoe is the Converse One-Star. When dad walked by my brothers and me lying on the couch watching The Waltons or The Price Is Right and said in an irritated, brusk voice, Don't you have anything better to do than watch that, or when he told me time and time again to take off my jeans and T-shirt and put on Khaki pants and a shirt with a collar, what I heard him saying was, Who you are is not OK. Some people spread themselves all over the space in which they inhabit. My extremities are chilled. My skull just rocked forward. I'm trying to return to pre-injury status. When I smoked I'd hold the cigarette in my lips as I spoke to others. I often feel ashamed for having certain thoughts but my therapist reminds me I need to feel free to think whatever I think. I think about her wetness. My therapist says what I do with my free thoughts is a different matter. I think about her underpants hidden beneath her blue jeans. I have a therapist, a couples therapist, a psychiatric nurse, a chiropractor, and a primary care physician, all of whom are women. In two minutes I have to stop writing and leave the cafe to go pick up my son at school. My wife usually picks up my son on Fridays but she's sick with a sore throat. I have one minute (and counting). You can easily see the creases in my blue jeans. I end up designing my own demise. I imagine myself sitting with a new lover in that Greek cafe on North Euclid Avenue in Berkeley. I imagine winter in Berkeley. For me crowded cafes stir my dreams of Otherness. Sitting in a cafe I dream of sitting in another cafe. I listen to music through pink plastic headphones. It's not that on a deeper unconscious level I want to be caught, it's that the secret cannot contain the immense feeling inside of it, the feeling inside throbs and swells, overflowing its porous edges into the public sphere. We are moving towards the crotch of the poem, the place where the poem may or may not open to reveal its inside skin. We held hands when we shouldn't have. Memory is the most impossible of all the ways to reach for The Other. Memory looks back as it distances one from real possibility. The only possibility with memory is the engagement of memory, which is an unfolding of particular sensory receptions. To be present with memory is to know memory can't take you anywhere but memory. I didn't give myself over to her nor did she to me. Memory guided by present needs. What I heard dad saying was, Me over here, you over there. We open our bodies to others, close our bodies to others. Love opens the path to my inside skin. I will be late picking up my son and in 30 years as a grown man my son will recall standing in the otherwise empty hallway leaning against the lockers waiting for his old man to show up. Show up, you limp self-bitch. There are flaws in my design. I make the mashed potatoes. I am father and I am son. For me that means I open my arms to my father and my son, often at the same time, which means I feel myself a son to a father as I father my son, that I feel dad's love for me at the same time I feel love for my son, all of which feels consummated in the moments I witness dad and my son loving each other. To bear witness is not so much standing aside but standing with. The word witness originates from the 13th century phrase bear testimony meaning to affix one’s signature to, to establish identity, i.e., by witnessing others we help them and ourselves establish our identities, our 289 selves, at the same time. I haven't spoken to my siblings in months. I struggle to return phone calls and emails. I have named my white Honda station wagon The Cloud. I have never driven across the country by myself. I like to take little vacations by myself in which I drive or fly to a nearby city and stay in a cheap motel and walk around the city, visiting only independent cafes and bookstores, which is pretty much what I do with any free time I have in the city in which I live. I would walk slowly through the alley behind my apartment building to the convenience store and purchase those tiny Hostess chocolate-covered donuts, a pack of cigarettes, and a drip coffee then I'd sit outside the convenience store and eat my breakfast then smoke a few cigarettes before walking back through the alley to my basement apartment where nobody, no wife, no son, no dogs, awaited my return. I shave my face every three and four days. I move my bowels two to three times per day, depending on what I eat and when. After I move my bowels I make sure to look inside the toilet. I used to read Paul Bowles. I used to read Richard Ford and Eudora Welty. I used to read John Cheever's short stories, now I read his journals. I still read Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore, Jim Shepard, Stuart Dybek, David Means, and Alice Munro, only not as much. Drive my son to and from school, deposit a check or withdraw money from the bank, pick up dog food or shop for groceries, wait in line at the DMV, scan Craig's List, make airline reservations for a flight to Minneapolis, catch up on e-mails. I live far too much in my thoughts and I mistakenly believe that's where I'm most safe. When I use my thoughts to denigrate myself, when I think blaming thoughts, when my thoughts refuse to let go of blaming, corrective, or loathing thoughts, then my skull is a dangerous place, which shifts the moment I write down my thoughts because suddenly my thoughts are now outside of me wreaking havoc on others or nobody. (So many books lie fallow.) The page for me is the safest place in the world for my thoughts in that the page offers shelter to the most difficult, sad, hurtful thoughts, thoughts of severance, of loss, thoughts of self-alienation and alienation from others, thoughts of destruction, of death. I may die today, Tony. Tony, I may never see my son again. Tony, if I see my son again today I'll hug him immediately, tell him I love him, how grateful I feel to have him in my life. The concert tickets were sold out. I've not discovered a thing. He still misses her. They drank coffee and smoked cigarettes together. Don't forget to pick up a new bottle of ibuprofen, some kitchen cleaner, Saltines, and a lemon. I'm not a morning person. I prefer not to have any conversations before 10 am. At the most I can handle reticent conversation, speech expressed at a calmer register but any kind of loud enthusiastic speech feels like crashing intrusion. I change lanes without using my signal. I speed. I park without paying the meter. The City of Portland issues me parking tickets I never pay till the the State of Oregon garners my wages. I think parking meters are a scam and don't feel like explaining how and why. I like to profess how little I know. I roll through stop signs. He really did return the rake and broom to the shed. I used to think essay meant an attempt to understand and now I think of essay as an attempt to unknow. Robert Walser lay in the snow and died. People are hurting out there. Emily says so many people are sad. Robert Walser might have fallen in the snow but I prefer to think he lay down in the snow and died. Lying in the snow, still breathing, feeling the cold and wet against his face and hands and buttocks and legs and feet, feeling alive, feeling his body sinking back into the Earth. I owe my brothers and sister phone calls. After he leaves the shed he doesn't think about the rake or the broom. The last time I saw Grandma I fed her plastic spoonfuls of crushed ice. He doesn’t imagine the rake or broom hooked to the wall of the shed next to the weed whip and lawn mower. He doesn't imagine them hanging in darkness. Sometimes writing means not writing. Sometimes writing means sitting in a cafe and staring out the window without seeing or even thinking anything. He likes the word shed, often remembers his grandma using the word shed when she talked about the creatures passing through her backyard. I replay my favorite songs over and over and over. Saw a doe with its fawn crossing behind the shed yesterday. His very strangest self, the self who doesn't want to accept himself, is ashamed of himself as a human person who changes his mind, who says I want this then I don't want this, who confuses others with his uncertainty and indecisiveness, the human self. There's a thunderstorm rolling in from the Northwest—I better get the shed closed up. I wonder if it was snowing the moment Robert Walser fell into the snow, wonder if snow continued to fall against his exposed cheeks and wrists, falling and falling as he took his last few slow breaths. You don't want to say it's not true but it's not true. Bus crashes into house. Panda Express will tow you. Thrive will tow you. I don't know more than you don't know. If you'll only take my shaking hands. Did I mention I enjoy talking about death? I enjoy reading other people's considerations of death or their memories of others' deaths and the loss they subsequently felt. If dead people could speak or write about their own experiences of death I would want to speak to them and / or read their writings. So I will follow you wherever you go. Other topics I enjoy considering: desire, love, sex, monogamy, gender, sadness, sexuality, illness, addiction, physicality, poetics, books, art, the lives of writers and artists, independent music and film of the '80s and early '90s, ordinary routines, e.g., poking my arms through shirt sleeves. Here are topics about which I'm uncomfortable speaking but would like to speak about more: pornography, my experience of class, race, and gender, an extramarital affair I had, my ogling women, my bibliophilia, secrecy. I should touch myself even more than I already do. I draw crude little pictures of fingers. I accelerate through yellow lights. In college I didn't have sex for two or three years. I kept a meal plan even after I moved out of the dormitory. Some days I want to apologize to every friend I have and every family member I love. I want to say, I apologize for being so sad, I apologize for isolating myself in sadness. It's not my sadness, it’s our sadness. I have recently committed to telling everybody in my family—wife, son, parents, siblings, great aunt—close friends, even complete strangers I love them. Dear reader of these words, I love you. I took drum lessons from age 11 to 15. My middle school band teacher Paul Westfall committed suicide. I agree with Sarah Manguso when she wrote: Some people believe that only the selfish accept suicide as a possibility, but I don't believe suicide is available to everyone. It was available to me for a moment, and then a door shut between me and it. The door has stayed shut... I believe in the possibility of unendurable suffering. Three times in my life I have considered suicide but stopped short of making plans. My considerations were less about actual suiciding and more about ending what seemed like unendurable suffering. I eat one maple scone and one ice-cream sandwich dipped in chocolate every day. I quit dessert. I don't make New Year's resolutions. I change my behavior without feeling like I have to tell somebody about it. I don't enjoy the holidays. My favorite months are January and February when people slow way down, don't make as many plans. People leave one another alone. I don't enjoying going out to parties on New Year's Eve. The butts I like now are a touch bigger than the butts I liked ten years ago. My handshake is very inconsistent. In Portland everybody hugs. I will look directly in your eyes. I wish I could see what you're thinking. I run four laps around the track backwards. I don't run races but I could imagine myself running a race backwards against other backwards runners. You don't see where you're going. John Cage says, Our poetry is the realization that we possess nothing. I say, That nothing is something, but only momentarily, then it's something else we may not apprehend. I do and don't adhere to other peoples' conventions for writing prose or verse. Today dad telephoned me to tell me he has kidney cancer. I do not want dad to feel physical or emotional pain. I do not want dad to die although of course I know he will die some day. I would be OK if I died before dad but I know he probably wouldn't just as I'm NOT OK with the idea of my son dying before I die. I used to think I was a better son than dad was a father to me but now I believe dad is a better father than I am a son. Whatever kind of son my son is I will love him just the same. My son is the best son. I pray my son live long after I die. It's not that you're avoiding what's coming at you, it's that you're choosing to feel it with the back side of your body. My problem is I work on too many sentences at once. My problem is I don't say no to some people and I don't say yes to others. My problem is I don't like it when others tell me how to write yet I tell others how to write for a living. Even when I'm telling my students not to listen to what I'm saying or do the opposite of what I'm saying I'm still telling them how to write. I tend to be most direct with the students who most resist my teaching. The space through which you've passed is momentarily visible before fading. My problem is I'm devoted to the wrong people. The fallow fields frosted over. John Cage says, As we go along, (who knows?) an i-dea may occur in this talk. I have no idea whether one will or not. If one does, let it. Regard it as something seen momentarily, as though seen from a window while traveling. Reading may save your life but it won't save you from death. You're already in the space to which you're headed. I like to imagine what you're thinking. I still like smaller butts. It's as if you've always already arrived. I can tell when people lie to me about not doing drugs. I lie with them by not telling them I know they're using and not letting them know I won't judge them for their use although I'll be very concerned for them. When I say I won't judge this or that thing, am I not already passive aggressively expressing judgement? The mere suggestion a situation is vulnerable to judgement expresses judgement. I do not watch Judge Judy. Mom's name is Judy. I'll want to save them. I fantasize less frequently now of living without my family by myself in a micro-apartment, minimally designed. I dropped my car off at my mechanic's this morning. If you’re in trouble I will want to save you and of course I will fail. I have to call in a refill on my Effexor XR prescription (down to three), make appointments with my podiatrist and with my psychiatric nurse so I can stop taking my Effexor XR, read to my son's first-grade class, stop at the new age bookstore to pick up dad a pre-cancer surgery meditation CD, call dad to see how he's feeling today, pick up dinner at Trader Joe's (pulled pork, quinoa, broccoli), stop by the post office to mail off a couple packages, drop off a birthday gift (Dean Young's Bender: New & Selected Poems) to my friend Lance, pick up dog food (senior formula). Criticize me or my work and I will feel disdain and despondency, which will transform into signals and messages of loathing bouncing back and forth from Self to Self. Criticize my work and I'm OK with it. I experience what I make differently than you and we should all have our own experiences of the same and different things. I include received speech. All of my prose is received speech. I should check in with my mechanic to see when my car will be ready. Ordinariness serves to remind me how privileged I am, that is to say, instead of worrying about not having a door that locks or food to feed my son and dogs, I'm worried about whether or not the bookstore has Rae Armantrout's new book of poems. In the winter I get a break from mowing the lawn. I enjoy using the word hoof as a verb, as in, I hoofed it here from my mechanic's place near the airport, as in, I hoofed all the way to the bus stop in the rain. As if I were some kind of animal. Just Saying—that's the title of Rae Armantrout's new book of poems. I hope the bookstore carries it but know they won't. I will go to the A's in the Poetry section and it won't be there. I will think, They don't have it because I want it. I will think, I don't get what I want then I'll hear what it is I'm thinking and immediately tell myself to shut the fuck up. Turns out the problem's not with the car but the driver. I'm a hero sandwich. As in, I hoofed it through the winter woods to the empty abandoned house. Brace yourself for the worst is yet to come.
I'm feeling feisty today. I do a load of darks every two days, lights twice per week. Agnes Martin says, senility is looking back with nostalgia. I watched Kurt Cobain dive into the arms of people booing him. If only I had put a spare key beneath the mat. If only I hadn't burnt her toast or judged her for shooting up heroin. I might die tonight. You might die tonight. I rush our conversations along. I say I saw Nine Inch Nails open up for Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) and I didn't. I remember other people living on the same floor as me going to this show and I didn't know who either band was. I always arrive after the fact. Even when I arrive early I arrive late. Ordinariness liberates me from impossible aspirations and desires, from nodes of self-deception and self-delusion. I wipe off the countertops, empty the compost bin, and leash up the dogs for a walk. I can't be anybody else but Jay Ponteri. Look at my rejection slips, look at my credit card bill. To engage genitalia, arrange the holes in your clothes just so. I say, Fuckbook. I say, Twatter. That ladder isn't tall enough to reach. Polish the mirror and empty the lint trap. Instead of worrying about how much my behavior disappoints you, instead of buying the thing I have to have, I squirt a dollop of Soft Scrub onto a sponge and wipe away fecal stains from the toilet basin. To reach what I carry inside my heart. I intend to use the word dollop more frequently. I can't figure out if I'm in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time. I missed the bus. The self-shedding self. The self-dolloping self. The hand held inside another. The wrong place at the wrong time? The willing hand. Rub in that dollop of cream. Just run your finger along the fan's blades and give them a spin and it should unstick. You are not meeting your basic needs of survival but building and arranging the dwelling in which those various needs don't appear to exist. Weed and booze. Dark chocolate. Porn and pills and an upgraded cable package. Christmas pops. Headed cabbage. Put out your hand, / isn't there / an ashtray, suddenly, there? I tell people I saw the Pixies in 1992, that's another lie. In 1992 I didn't have sex. Watching her loose breasts wobble in her sweater as she hangs her guests' coats. Ice balls melt in the pockets of boys. Ordinariness is a respite from that which can never be satisfied. Sweep your finger in an attempt to remove the blockage. I often forget to use drier sheets. I've begun a routine of beating off in the morning then tuning in the clock radio to Democracy Now. I like sitting in a busy cafe downtown by myself and not talking to others. My idea of human connection is to be near. I watched my older brothers play a lot. Often they got to go places I didn't. I didn't see New Order play live in Lower Manhattan in 1981. I didn't attend The Last Supper. There were no parties with paper hats in the incubator. In the incubator my ears were the size of dimes. In the incubator I'd wake from a nap, hungry to the point of frustrated, with a desire for touch I'd stopped reaching for. The coroner squeezes the cartilage of the earlobe then lifts the hair from behind the neck to feel the cervical lymph nodes, which in post mortem are often enlarged. I'm not an actual doctor but I play one in my thoughts. Nurse, shall we speed the dollop of morphine. One nurse fed me through a glass dropper. She was so many more things than a nurse and I only knew her as nurse. We can never know who the living—as they die—carry in their hearts. Fucking language. Mom called the nurse to invite her to my first birthday party and her telephone had been disconnected. Mom then called the hospital to get a message to the nurse and the receptionist told mom the nurse who spent many hours feeding me through a glass dropper had died in a car accident. I heard a radio report about an artist who paints onto dinner plates the last meals of men scheduled to be executed in American prisons. The nurse did not receive mom's message. When you die you stop receiving messages even though those who remain continue to send them. I'm sending you this message, dear reader, I wish for you to feel loved by all those you encounter. Most death-row inmates want to eat comfort food for their last meals. Later I spread on my burnt toast butter and raspberry jam. A handful of inmates at a Texas Penitentiary passed on last meals, so the artist painted on dinner plates the word NONE. I spread it carefully into all four corners so with each bite I can taste the warm buttery jam. As if to say, there's no reason to eat if you're going to kill me. I didn't report back. Yet. My son told me that from behind Darth Vader looks like a pretty lady. I didn't reply to those emails. I did everything I could to leave the conversation. To only know yourself for the things you can do but choose not to. To think ad infinitum. To play keyboard for New Order in 1981. I didn't walk the dogs like I'd promised. I didn't make my appointment at the chiropractor. My idea of solitude is to surround myself with complete strangers. My idea of intimacy is to surround myself with complete strangers. I go out of my way not to run into people I know. If I see a person I know and he or she hasn't seen me I turn around and walk the other way. Joseph Cornell walked past the window of a bookshop and saw de Kooning inside purchasing a book and Joseph Cornell stood outside the bookshop looking in at de Kooning as the bookseller wrote out de Kooning a receipt then Joseph Cornell walked on towards Washington Square to encounter the pigeons and the crows and that moment of witnessing de Kooning without talking to him felt to Cornell connective, intimate, as if he and de Kooning had embraced each other. A rainy, bustling Burnside Avenue is my Taos, New Mexico. I have lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, very different than Taos. Before Cruces, Milwaukee. After Cruces, San Francisco. I have spoken to a person who killed another person. I have shared physical space with a child abuser. I have felt happiness, I have felt loved by another human being. Don't believe everything you read. Feel everything you read. Somebody torched my house then fled the country. Joseph Cornell relates to others by making space for them apart from him, by witnessing them. One inmate requested baked ravioli prepared by his mom. Cornell looks, de Kooning acts. Something's gripping my face. That would be my new eyewear. To have to cook your child's last supper. I live inside a house. The city I live in hasn't been devastated by an earthquake. I have clean water to drink. Mine and my family's bodily waste is flushed from our house into the city sewer. My family worries about things like cable TV packages and compost bins. Today is January 10, 2013 and I'm 41 years old. Today is March 6, 2015 and I'm 43 years old. Today is February 29 (Leap Day!), 2016 and I'm 44 years old. Today is May 20, 2016 and I'm 45 years old. Today is February 27, 2017 and I'm 45 years old. Today is March 1, 2017 and I'm 45 years old. Today is March 18, 2018 and I'm 46 years old. I see my dentist about once a year. There are like 15 people to whom I owe emails. Picking it up, I drop something else. Then I pick that up and drop something else. Ordinary activity shrinks the self in a way I welcome. Rock stars drink coffee from styrofoam cups. Styrofoam is the Official Material of The Ordinary Human Being. Empty Doritos bags and crushed PBR cans strewn on the roadside. Imagine yourself swinging a baseball bat through a store-front window. Let's bring back half tees and short shorts for men. What lies beneath, what parts constitute or comprise it, what are its impacts, that sort of thing. Half tees or cut-off tees is what we called them? Humility is taking off your mirrored sunglasses so you can see the world of 1984 in all its blindingly bright consumptive glory. So you can see you are a small denizen mysteriously connected to all the big shit flying around you, Tony. The world is not for your eyes only. Read everything by Fleur Jaeggy. Read everything by Clarice Lispector. It seemed as if some invisible force pulled the snow from the sky onto the cold ground. Humility is waiting for somebody else to speak first. Humility is the winter coat, knitted cap, muffler, and gloves I put on before going out into the cold snowy day. What I'm saying is nothing falls. What I'm saying is we're all falling. As I free my arm to reach for the dropped dirty sock, another dirty sock falls. Imagine a winter coat made from styrofoam. Living as relics. Ordinary love is love arising from and being received by the Humble Self, the small self in wonder of that which lies outside nearby. Within reach. Yew trees spread atop those giant hills of golden grass. Eureka fogged in. Carver country, as they call it. Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon. The body before we lower it into the ground. The body is a bag. The Humble self feels another's desire as he desires another. The Humble self lives inside a room of brown-paneled walls. The Humble self drinks coffee from styrofoam cups. The Humble self makes things, of him, beyond him. The Humble self knows his feelings, expressed or unexpressed, impact others around him. The Humble self expresses love through presence, attention to himself relating to others. The Humble self understands others carry around their own malleable porous selves. The Humble self knows he is the Other—inside of himself and to others. The Humble self returns his dirty dishes to the designated bus tub. It's not all for me, the Humble self says. This is a mood I want to retain. I know I won't. I know this mood shall be replaced by another mood that's not very humble-self of me. The dryer's off balance. I listen to the same song over and over again. In the next episode the brown-paneled walls fall away and the wondrous wet pussy returns.
Jay Ponteri directs the MFA program Marylhurst University. His memoir, Wedlocked, was published by Hawthorne Books, April 2013, and it received the 2014 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. His chapbook of short prose, Darkmouth Strikes Again, was published by Future Tense Books, summer 2014. His essay “Listen to this” was mentioned as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2010 , and more recently, “On Navel Gazing” was mentioned as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015. He has published prose in Knee-Jerk, Essay Daily, Ghost Proposal, Seattle Review, Salamander, and Forklift, Ohio, among others.
Cover image by Tyler Brewington: closeup of mineral deposit in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.