Immortal for Quite Some Time — Time Moves On

Yesterday would have been my brother John’s 66th birthday. June 3rd. Since 1991 that date has been a reminder to me, an occasion to reflect again on fraternity and loss. Yesterday passed without a thought.

Today, writing about my friend and co-author Zarko Radakovic for our third book, I wrote the following:

I look across the deck to where Žarko alternately overlooks the valley and writes in his notebook. For years he used Waterman fountain pens. This one is a stylish Caran d’Ache. I buy my pens twelve for $10. Žarko’s gaze jumps from Utah Lake to Mt. Timpanogos to the alfalfa field 200 meters below us. His mind wears seven-league boots. My mind turns to my brother’s apartment after his death. One side of a cardboard box had holes where John had cut out the shapes of his feet to line his work shoes. I framed the cardboard, backed the holes with Miroslav Mandić’s drawings of feathery, grassy, and pebbly feet, traces of his poetic pilgrimage from Yugoslavia to Hölderlin’s grave in Tübingen. I break into Žarko’s reverie and ask if Mandić was part of the group with Era and him in Belgrade?

No, he answers, his pen still poised above his notebook, he was from Novi Sad, part of a group, mostly poets, who worked conceptually. They still see themselves as the origin of conceptualism in Yugoslavia. That’s absurd. We were all in the same boot, a boot that sank, as is well known. In Belgrade we were all visual artists, except for me, although I did that one piece you have seen in my flat: Medex. Typed it with my ancient typewriter. It was for our performance #1, 1971, at the Belgrade International Theater Festival.

            I remember the piece of concrete poetry well, an extended hexagon fashioned by the letters med running horizontally, and, down the center, a vertical line. At the top and from the right side two sharp pointed swarms of “z”s enter or leave what strikes me as a hive.


            Bees? I ask.

Yes, Žarko answers. I also wrote a poem about insects called “Events in a Dark Chamber.” Era was author of the performance piece called “Medex,” although it was a collective effort. We lived together in a creative commune in apartment number 10 b in Ljube Didića street. Three of us had studied literature together. Miodrag Vuković, one of the greatest Serbian-Montenegrin writers of my generation—he and I wrote some poems together; Nebojša Janković, now a journalist in Canada; and I. Era Milivojević joined us. He was already an artist of note, together with Marina Abramović who went on to stardom in New York. Medex was a Yugoslavian company that produced honey and honey products. Their motto was “good and healthy products” and we used that in the performance. The four of us were bees that produced honey.

The framed footprints hang in my study:


But the fact remains that I didn’t think about John yesterday. Is that because the publication of the book I worked on for 25 years is now in the past? Time passes. Memories dim. There are new urgencies. Responsibilities for the living. My son Tom’s birthday is tomorrow. My daughter Maren’s was on June 20th.

I myself, like John, am only immortal for quite some time.

post script:

. . . it was even worse than I thought. I am far enough removed from remembering John’s birthday that I didn’t remember until July 4th, when I wrote it was yesterday, June 3rd. I think I’ll plead the July heat for the “yesterday” slip.


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I’m writing a biography, of sorts, of Zarko Radakovic. Fragments of biography. Flights of fancy interspersed with passages from my notebooks. Reading through a notebook I filled on a trip to Alsace and Paris (in Paris I met Zarko and Anne and we visited Julije Knifer and then Peter Handke), I found these renderings of a Saint I had never heard of:



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Zarko’s Notebook/My Notebook

The previous two posts featured Alex’s notebook and Peter Handke’s notebook .

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


As I work on my half of our book “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 your words are not things, this poet, can help you imagine writing in which a name “ceases to be the ephemeral passing of nonexistence and becomes a concrete ball, a solid mass of existence; language, abandoning the sense, the meaning that is all it wanted to be, tries to become senseless. Everything physical takes precedence: rhythm, weight, mass, shape, and then the paper on which one writes, the trail of the ink, the book. Yes, happily language is a thing: it is a written thing, a bit of bark, a sliver of rock, a fragment of clay in which the reality of the earth continues to exist. (Blanchot, from a review by Gerald Bruns of Leslie Hill’s Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing: A Change of Epoch in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2012.11.08)

Rilke takes us in another direction, lamenting that things are being murdered by words. 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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