Zarko’s Notebook/My Notebooks

The previous two posts featured Alex’s notebook with writing and drawings and Peter’s notebook with writings and drawings.

Now Zarko’s notebook with spaces left for drawings by Nina Pops:


As I work on my half of our joint book that Zarko calls “We: A Friendship,” I leaf through my own notebooks and find pages like this one, written and sketched while I was in the Orkney Islands looking at stone circles:


You see better with paper and pen in hand.

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Peter Handke: Drawings from Notebooks

After posting some pages from Alex’s three new books I found this current exhibition of drawings from Peter Handke’s notebooks at the Galerie Klaus Gerrit Friese in Berlin. Both authors draw and write and write and draw. Neither is a trained artist. Both are superb writers. Both draw as interestingly as they write.

First a photo of the gallery owner, Sophie Semin Handke, and Peter, with drawings along the wall:


Then several of the drawings:





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It rains even on who’s wet: POMS 2005 by Alex Caldiero


Alex’s new work — newly presented, that is, since these are taken from his notebooks written and drawn in 2005.

Words are no longer “enough like things,” a poem in the first volume complains, and one way to read these beautiful little books is as an attempt to assert the thingness of words.



that a dream can still happen is a sign of health both in an

individual and in a world


if something happens in a dream it will also some how eventually

lead to the exact place where you fell asleep


how else do you explain eye-lids? how else do you explain two-way



words are becoming too much like worlds and not enough like things


you cant point to a that because it is the very act of pointing that is useless in denoting a thing


because is so hungry for its own reasons it never really finds an



even name words flake off the very things they would name


nunc, he said. and then kept quiet for as long as it took to say it

again: nunc. this time meaning it a little less.


now is one of those that say nothing to nobody and is meaningless

if understood


the wordmill spins out of control and no one is the wiser


come here, he said. it’s going to get cold, he added. the night wind

is going to freeze every thing in its path, he prophesied. and then

he muttered something else

5 May 05


If words are things, they can  insist they are things.


If words are things, Mr. Magritte, maybe a picture is a pipe.


If words are things that happen in dreams, colorful brains have eyes.


If words are things, then words can be visible while invisible.


If words are not things, my friend Alex, the poet, can help.

As can Rilke, who laments that things are being murdered by words and writes that he fears the certainty of words that so blithely define beginning and end. He likes to hear things, themselves, singing:

Ich fürchte mich so vor der Menschen Wort.
Sie sprechen alles so deutlich aus:
Und dieses heißt Hund und jenes heißt Haus,
und hier ist Beginn und das Ende ist dort.

I am so frightened by the human word./They pronounce everything so precisely:/And this is called dog and that is called house,/and here is beginning and the end is there.

Mich bangt auch ihr Sinn, ihr Spiel mit dem Spott,
sie wissen alles, was wird und war;
kein Berg ist ihnen mehr wunderbar;
ihr Garten und Gut grenzt grade an Gott.

I also fear their meaning, their play with mockery,/they know everything that was and will be;/no mountain is still amazing to them;/their garden and property borders directly on God.

Ich will immer warnen und wehren: Bleibt fern.
Die Dinge singen hör ich so gern.
Ihr rührt sie an: sie sind starr und stumm.
Ihr bringt mir alle die Dinge um.

I always want to warn and defend: stay away./I so love to hear the things sing./You touch them: they are stiff and silent./You are killing all my things.

Aus: Die frühen Gedichte (Gebet der Mädchen zur Maria)


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Resurrection / Auferstehung / Anastasis

Spent the last couple of days working on the metaphor of standing in Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot. A copy of Hans of Holbein’s painting of the dead Christ hanging in Rogozhin’s apartment  is key to my thinking, raising questions of death and resurrection, of horizontality and verticality in discussions between several characters of the novel.


In the painting the horizontal Christ is so absolutely dead that he can’t possibly rise again. I’ll lead into the discussion with two paintings by Bosch done in the 1480’s in which Christ is taking his first and last steps (first steps with the aid of a walker, last steps hindered by sandals with nails in them),



Grünewald’s gruesome painting (1512-1516) of Christ on the cross in which the feet are so thoroughly destroyed that he can’t possibly stand again (resurrection in Greek and German means literally “to stand up”),

Isenheim Altarpiece - The Crucifixion (detail) 5

and Holbein’s painting (1520-1522) done after his father took him to see Grünewald’s work. I don’t know Russian but am lucky to have a friend, Gary Browning, who does, and yesterday we worked through nearly 50 places in the novel where my three translations indicated that the standing metaphor was at work, and most specifically where the Russian used the *staj or *stoj root.


The book project seemed overwhelming to me yesterday – much too much for me to learn about too many works of art and literature in too many languages. Early this morning I dreamed that I although I had a substantial manuscript, there was a critical part lacking. It had something to do with women, and when I looked through the work I found that all references to women had disappeared except for the word “girl” that still appeared in one place but was on the verge of disappearing as well. How could I hold on to that? How had I allowed so much to be lost? In the dream I fell deeper and deeper into despair even as I wrestled with possibilities, impossible choices because it was all falling apart. Then an epiphany: I could add to the manuscript, I could add anything I wanted, I had ideas about women I could add.

And I add this now, from Julia Kristeva’s essay on melancholia and Holbein’s Dead Christ:

Our eyes having been filled with such a vision of the invisible, let us look once more at the people that Holbein has created: heroes of modern times, they stand straitlaced, sober, and upright.  Secretive, too: as real as can be and yet indecipherable.  Not a single impulse betraying jouissance.  No exalted loftiness toward the beyond.  Nothing but the sober difficulty of standing here below.  They simply remain upright around a void that makes them strangely lonesome.  Self confident.  And close.

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Standing as Metaphor

Working this summer on a book I began thinking about while still teaching at Vanderbilt University in the 1980’s. The first chapter explores the metaphor of standing in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” What does it meaning to be human? It means to go on 4 legs in the morning, on 2 at noon, and on 3 in the evening. Unfortunately, that heroic uprightness is fraught with impending decay as the name Oedipus / Swollen Foot portends. The Sphinx can’t standing on 2 legs, nor can the vermin Gregor Samsa has become. Gregor’s upright family, however, is both stagnant and violent as Homo erectus.

I’ll offer the topic as an Integrated Studies course this coming fall. And perhaps have a good draft of the book by the end of summer 2018.


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Memorial Day

keep off the grass



My dad, just out of high school, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for flight training. This led to his service as navigator of a B-29 flying from Tinian and Iwo Jima to bomb Japan.
Here’s what I write about that in Immortal for Quite Some Time:

During the Second World War, enlisted days after he graduated from high school, Dad was trained and double-rated as a navigator and pilot of a B-29. It’s impossible for me to visualize what that meant for him. I can read about the 325 B-29s that first firebombed Tokyo, igniting conflagrations so fierce that the big bombers were tossed like toys on the updraft, fires that killed close to one hundred thousand civilians. Was he there that day? What were his thoughts while droning home after bombing raids?
Among Dad’s things, companion to circular slide rules and colorful silk maps, is a large paper map titled “U.S. Army Air Forces Special Air Navigation Chart: Caroline Islands to Japan (S-115) Restricted.” A single straight pencil line slices across the blue of the North Pacific Ocean, connecting the islands of Tinian and IŌ-JIMA. Ruled pencil lines radiate from IŌ-JIMA to southern islands of Japan, punctuated by compass holes and cut through by penciled arcs labeled 1300, 1400, 1500. Miles, kilometers, times? A square of the map stands in relief above the rest of the map–raised, I suppose, by a small table mounted in front of the navigator with a band of some sort to hold the square fast.
This map on whose accuracy the soldiers bet their lives is remarkably clear about its contingencies:
First Edition, subject to correction. August 1944.
Warning: Due to war conditions, lights, radio facilities and other aids to navigation may be changed or discontinued without notice.
Caution: Streams or coastlines shown on this chart by broken lines indicate that the exact position or shape of the charted feature is doubtful.
Note: Officers using this chart will mark hereon corrections and additions which come to their attention and mail direct to the Aeronautical Chart Service, Headquarters, Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C.
The map, like all maps, tells an incomplete story. Because of the consequences of obfuscation, it does so as honestly as possible. Despite its deficiencies, the military map is encyclopedic compared with Dad’s account of the war.


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Both Sides, Now

Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides, Now,” has haunted me since the first summer I worked as a roughneck in Eloy and Wickenburg Arizona. Cloud illusions, life’s illusions — she knows the other, real, troubled side and still, it is the illusions she recalls. A good memory for an old man growing more cynical every day.

2 August 1972, Seal Beach, California

     The rig is being moved and on our off day I have travelled with Steve, our derrickman, to visit his sister. I wake up early, sit alone in the kitchen, watch the light through the lens of Joni Mitchell’s song “Chelsea Morning,” sniff the fragrant yellow skin of a lemon, gaze out the window at “rows and floes of angel hair” . . .

And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Yesterday morning the clouds reminded me of rows and floes, of angel hair, of feather canyons.








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Der Himmel über Utah Valley


The evening began with an explosion of light. Hottest May 5th on record.


The sun set, accompanied by cloud flourishes.


This was the moment I knew it would be an evening of delight. Joy.


Clouds blushed to the northeast.


Visual music. Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro trading fours. Marc Ribot and Henry Grimes. Evans’ piano and Ribot’s guitar and the brilliant bass notes.


Cloud study.


Clouds gathered from the south. Virga and sheet lightening. Minutes later a muffled boom.


A final slice of light, lightening, virga, and the night thickened to liquid black, vibrant black, savory black.


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Another Dose of Immortality

watercolor of barbed wire

[watercolor by John Abbott]


Horror Vacui


The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.

–Walter Benjamin


1 January 1993, Orem

His feet are livid, I wrote. His face is drawn, an open eye leers upward. My own leering eye hunts images from the past and when they flash up delivers them to my inadequate pen.


6 January 1993, Orem

Dream: I was beating up John. I was on top of him, pounding him, blind with rage. Then pain! My testicles! John had grabbed my balls. He controlled me. The turnabout was inconceivable.

In a second dream I searched for John in downtown Farmington. I found him working in a small pizza place, and we talked for a minute before he had to return to his dough. I walked through town looking for Dad. I found him sitting at the counter of a café drinking a cup of coffee. He looked like a derelict, his shirt torn, thin stubble scattered across his drawn face. He was embarrassed to be seen with coffee.


7 January 1993, Provo

Nearly a foot of snow during the night. I’m in the cave of my office, a single light burning, snow falling softly outside.

“A boy he picked up in his Alfa Romeo sports car ran him over with it and left him helpless in the dust. . . . Pasolini spent so much time in the lower depths because he found them ethically preferable to the heights.” So writes Clive James in the New Yorker. I’m afraid I have been seeing John as the victim of a sordid accident, in some romantic way more moral than the rest of us. Ten years ago Žarko and I argued about Pasolini. In response to what he called my moralizing, Žarko maintained that an artist can’t restrict himself. As soon as you refuse to experience everything, he told me, you close yourself to the sources of art. Pasolini is profoundly subversive, as is art. If you can’t stomach Pasolini, you’ll end up a repressed, reactionary, unfulfilled, narrow-minded, bitter, bourgeois shell of a man. I responded that his string of adjectives exemplified moralizing.

A wall always separated me from John. I have been distant from other siblings as well, from my parents, from my wife. From myself. The wall metaphor is misleading, I think. There is no wall. I am the wall. To reach my brother I must destroy myself, must risk obliteration as the self I have become. And what will rise from the rubble? It won’t be a wall.

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Article on Our Mendel Translation in Forbes

Interesting that Forbes would pick up on this:

One of the great ‘what if’ questions that has fascinated historians of biology is how differently Darwinian evolution would have been received had Darwin known of the work of Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk who is now considered the founder of the science of genetics. Darwin published Origin …


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