Apologies for Presentation

Remembering Aphra Behn.

The following is adapted from Aphra Behn’s preface to The Lucky Chance, which strikes me as emblematic of the fraught balance she and others like her (mostly unknown, we must assume) had to strike, to hold her own as a writer of serious power while treading very carefully around the prejudices and biases of her detractors. I don’t know what moved me to revisit Behn this morning, but I am grateful for its nudge.


I reject old Horace’s idea of literature as some tool to instruct and delight. You want a morality lesson, read the holy books. This is something else. However, it seems like a long walk to go from my avoidance of moral instruction to the assumption of the innately corrupting influence of my work, a stance that seems so popular among my critics. I think that those attribute the capacity of my work to offer vile offense to “feminine sensibilities” do significantly underestimate what the average woman is exposed to on a regular basis, living and moving through a world of men. I daresay her daily movements should afford her plenty that is amply more objectionable than anything I can deliver. But somehow, the taint seems to come from the inherent corruption on my part. Any woman so bold as to demand an audience, must, after all, be possessed of something that some men may wish to permanently prevent others from having contact with, lest it be catching. Considering the self interest in their malice, I challenge any person of common sense not so willfully bent on ill nature that they will read some double entendre in anything, to resist the impulse to charge what frightens them with alternate blows of scandal and pity.

Carry Dirt

No justice comes from ignorance.

Inspired by Christine DePizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), as translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards.


How is it that so many of them––learned, too––seem to speak from the same mouth, painting us with every vice they wish to wash from themselves, and why? This was my question.

Then came three women and the first among them said, Daughter, build a city. Make it of lasting beauty, and you will draw forth waters from the heavens.

I considered the births of other divinely inspired cities: Troy, Thebes. I recalled their ruin and said so. But the women insisted: This one would not be taken or conquered. Lay a strong foundation, they insisted. Set it deep. Get up, daughter. Go where earth abounds. We will help you carry it.

I asked, why do they revile us? She told me only, carry dirt. Then she added, no justice can come from their ignorance.

They explained that some derive pleasure from slander of what mystifies them. Others are moved by awareness of their own defects, and others by jealousy of anything they cannot own. Leave them, they told me, and avoid attachment to their tools.

Look closely, they insisted. They explained: these opinions only pretend to be based in reason. By claiming to own reason, they deny its essence with the same breath by which they mean to deny you access to their ill-begotten power.

The path to what is true may be narrow, but it leads to such abundance that no one who follows it to its natural end could ever consider keeping it to themselves, since such innate greed of purpose would naturally bar them from their destination.

No one can take away what nature has given, but many will deny what she is, attempting to hoard her abundance for themselves, by creating the dragon’s lairs that are their own demise.

I had more questions, but they became impatient with my need to know. Don’t be as they are, they insisted. Get up. Carry dirt. Go.


The above meditation was inspired by this morning’s reading of DePizan’s excellent theological critique of misogyny. I borrow some phrases from the original (translation), but rely more heavily on impressions, blurring the lines slightly to create a more encompassing critique (to include not only overt misogynists but anyone attempting to hoard access to truth and power by demeaning any other living group, including the non-human species of the earth), and to heighten the call to recognition of the vital flaw at the heart of this life-killing move while attempting to magnify the resonance of its answer, a call to return to a holistic, generous sense of logic, justice, and development rooted in a sense of abundance (rooted in an understanding of life) rather than scarcity (which has its roots in fear of the unknown/ death).

Sea of Light

What moves it? What draws it close?

It is always the same subtle force, the liquid of the universe. It saturates the living. This is our fluid body. We are held in it, so do not see. Here’s a proposal: create what will catch the current of light. To do this is a matter of knowing how and when to induct. Desire-demand, web of light, pray.

What moves it? What draws it close? The child’s soul, beholding a just-killed pheasant, for one. Droplets of it move like meteor showers low among us, large pearls of the world, suspended in the fluid of this collective womb.

See the vital waves emanating from a hand, electric signature of the elemental grace that holds us, invisible fire, our living light. Come, and all is transformed. One needs the dark to detect it. Let this be a new route into truth.


Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dr. Hippolyte Baraduc’s 1913 book, The Human Soul: Its Movements, Its Lights, and the Iconography of the Fluidic Invisible, which I came across this morning. Baraduc was a French physician and parapsychologist whose research led him to create images (iconographs) intending to track the appearance of soul energy.

A Word Beyond

Learning by signs.

Inspired by this morning’s reading, from Augustine’s The Trinity, as translated by Stephen McKenna.

All things are learned by signs, and every sign is also a thing. Each thing must be understood just as it is, but a sign may only be known by appreciating how it signifies something else.

Smoke needs no special will to signify fire, neither do the tracks of an animal to point to its presence. Same goes for naked expression of emotion on the face. Words, on the other hand. Also consider sounds of trumpet, flute, harp, and drum, each with its own layered invocations to nuanced representation.

A vibration in the ear passes quickly; hence, a need for letters. Here is where pride limits those who would build a tower to claim the heavens as their own. In retribution, voices and signs in the rubble of Babel are dissonant. We can neither hear nor read each other, fully.

Allegory, enigma, parable, irony. Recognition of these tropes may reveal what is hidden––and yet, never more than through a glass, darkly. Some thoughts are speeches of the heart. It is what leaves the mouth, not what enters it, that may defile or edify.

Speech is one thing, sight another. To reflect is to make these one. How will you understand those words that belong to no language?

To Be Heard

It’s no longer necessary to burn the books that the tyrant would silence.

On this day in 1644, John Milton published Aeropagitica, a pamphlet decrying censorship. The following is assembled from ideas and phrases in this text, with an eye toward connecting to the current moment, where a chief concern seems to be censorship through noise, manifesting in ways that that are perhaps beyond what many writers of previous centuries might have imagined.

Let this be a certain testimony. When complaints are freely heard and deeply considered, then is civil liberty attained. 

Deliver us from tyranny, from superstition, and from flattery of idols, including ourselves––and from condemnation of the others we are unprepared still to recognize as ourselves, and from fashionable thinking and unthinking, from those superficial modes of sorting that deny what lives in those depths that frighten so many.

To silence grievance is to smother liberty. No covenant of fidelity can be kept with blind praise. Those upright in judgement know that right judgement is fluid and shared by others, including the unexpected strangers to a given land. Those who honor truth will hear them. Those who honor wisdom will welcome recognition of how it is to be practiced, a daily exercise and never a trophy to fix against a wall like the preserved carcass of a felled animal. 

Books are not dead things. Each contains a potency as active as the soul that delivered it. They may raise armies, yet consider this: to kill a man is to kill a reasonable creature. To kill a book is to kill reason itself. Revolutions of ages do not often recover the loss of truth, rejected. Beware the persecution of living labors.

It is less often the bad books that are silenced. Consider what a scholar celebrates today, those writings that were censored in their time. Also consider the silence of scholars and contemplatives. One might assume, by extension, that the starkest wisdom of our moment is also suppressed. 

The tyrants of our moment don’t need to burn books when they have noise enough to extinguish their voices. They don’t need to take what offends them from public view when they have abundant means already to keep people from reading. They need only propagate the mantras of the moment: speed, efficiency, and the idea that the only truth that matters comes in bullet points, easy to digest. If you paralyze the listening capacities of potential hearers, whomever would you need to silence?

Sounds and Silence

To the rhythm of empty spaces, singing.

Assembled from phrases and images found in Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Crisis in Poetry,”as translated by Rosemary Lloyd.


One afternoon after another, in distressing bad weather, I follow the lights of a storm. Even the press needs twenty years to discover the news, and here it is: a crisis at hand, some trembling of the real. When a hero dies, the essence of their power roams after some new form. As the cycle goes, now it gleams and now it fades, waiting. 

Here is a code. Watch it, a force like gravity,

best understood by those bent on flight.

Give me pause with deliberate dissonance, 

a euphony fragmented with consent; 

the languishing gesture of a dream. Here is 

the belated eruption of a possibility

––for song, 

poetry’s compensation for the failure of language. 

Strange mystery, sing. Take the average words. Group them,

beneath the long gaze, then arrange in cushions of silence.

Now what? What is this, breathing? Music rejoins verse to form;

explosion of mystery, the pure work implies the disappearance 

of the poet through clash of words against their inequalities.

Come, illumination of reciprocal lights, a trial of fire on precious

stones. To every cry, its echo, and it’s the rhythm of the 

white spaces that sing when the poem is silenced, and the

dazzling abundance imposes itself. 

Marvel, then at the 


the memory 

of named objects 



The Elephant Listener

Sounds like throbbing.

Strange years: two zoos, one circus, five nations,

and these notebooks wrapped in towels when I left.

Back home, their presence recollected: through the 

rafters, the doorways, in bed. There are no indifferent

observers here, for water tastes always of the pipes.

Only a fool attempts to read their minds, and there

is no one here who has not tried.


With phrases from the preface of Katy Payne’s Silent Thunder.

Past Visions of the Future Present

Artists of the past envisioned us riding whale buses, fishing for seagulls, playing underwater croquet, and dropping fire from the sky.

Over a century ago, the artists drew visions of today. Look.

They have us us commuting via underwater buses driven by harnessed whales, while the ladies in their dresses don scuba gear for an afternoon of underwater sport. Apparently, by now we are so bored with underwater discovery that all we can think to do down there is play, of all games, croquet. To do her toilette in preparation for such an event, Madame takes a seat in a special chair. One machine buffs her feet, another her nails, while the arms of yet another behind and beside her get to work on her hair and face. It seems to be taken for granted that after a century of progress, such matters will continue to be Madame’s chief concern.

There are special cars for battle. Also torpedo planes, arial combat. War imagery, it seems, was most accurate.

Going to the theatre? Let’s take an aero-cab! Firefighters wear wings like bats and the postman flies the mail in the posture of one of those dragon-riding children from popular films. To go out for an afternoon ride might mean saddling a giant seahorse. Children don scuba-gear to fish for seagulls above.

Farming would be a matter of controlling machines from a central location. The man at the gears might survey the vast acres being worked and never glimpse a human form. There would be homes on wheels, rolling through the countryside. Clothing would be printed, and children wearing wings would make a game of robbing an eagle’s nest.



 “A 19th Century Vision of the Year 2000” featured on Public Domain Review highlights the images created by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists, produced for the 1900 world exhibit in Paris. They would most likely have been lost, had Isaac Asimov not chanced upon a set in 1986, which he published, with commentary, in his book Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.


Consider what is cloaked in story.

My bread prepared, time calls. The ship is leaving port. Consider the surface like a poet’s fable.

Consider also what is cloaked in story: truth behind the ornament of fiction, Orpheus’s lyre taming nature as wisdom over the cruel heart.

Then consider discovery, the possibility that a reader might know transfiguration. Last, beyond the senses, what a soul may know when it leaves: no womb beyond the elements, no warmth without cold, nor word without silence of the beginning and the end.

No single sense, but senses. No goat song, foul at the end. Give me instead a tragic beginning, the known world all fire. Then, let me follow and welcome me home.

Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dante’s Il Convivo, as translated by Richard H. Lansing.

The Art of Perplexity

On the virtue of resisting the easy answer.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1131-1205), is a good person to meet if you’re looking for some antidote to the excesses of a mode of thought (typically Greek in origin) that tends to value “the universal, the general, and the unequivocal” over modes more typical of Hebraic scholarship, namely an openness toward “ambiguity, contradiction, and plurality of meaning” (from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism). The title of Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed” was enough to pull me into his orbit. The following is inspired by this treatise, as translated by Shlomo Pines


Consider this: the meaning of a sacred text can only be glimpsed. It is best accessed by those prone to being perplexed. Consider also how contradictions, so often maligned, may be embraced instead of being shunned as flaws.

I am moved toward those terms that may sometimes have one meaning, and sometimes many.

When it comes to some subjects, a sensible reader will know better than to demand a complete exposition and will not expect any given meaning to be exhaustive. A sensible reader would never consider the possibility of removing all difficulties, ever, from the interpretive challenge. The most valuable truths may at best be glimpsed, and then concealed again.

Sometimes, in a long, dark night, a flash of lightning will illuminate the landscape. It’s like that, and yet––

Many a fool has so hungered for certainty that he refers to pretend the flash continual, pretending night is day,

––hence the parable, the riddle, the poem, the allegory. Let me show you a deep well. Would you drink? No, you cannot reach it, except by attaching the pail to one, and the next, and the next of each of these, in succession and with humility of mind. You will find no rope long enough, but the vulgar won’t bear this truth. They’ll keep insisting, tell it straight and in a single breath, and when you can’t they will call you a liar and when you won’t you are nothing.

My goal: to guide a single, virtuous reader to rest. Most will be highly displeased. Here is no answer, no show. What may be told to mortals of their own beginnings, except obscurely?