1. “If you can’t see it then you’ll just never know,” the subject said, “I wish I could talk in Technicolor”
In the seconds before Matt Mauch’s If You’re Lucky Is a Theory of Mine, the book recounts experiments done with LSD in Los Angeles, California during the 1950s. The above is said by a housewife, who recently swallowed a glass of water, to a doctor that couldn’t see the wavelets of colored sand the air was drawing into her cheek, the immediate refraction of everything at double pulse.
The two-parted-ness of the housewife’s (a tupperware-d figure often “lacking power”) comment to the doctor (a figure which harnesses a kind of intelligence / power to see “unseeable” systems at work within our bodies) is as tender as it is dismissive. Equal parts frustrated and othering and already imagining a reality beyond reality into reality.
You’ll never get it, the woman says to the exploding planet and the doctor standing just in front of it, BUT if I could talk differently, better, with a lot of energy that made you forget what love even is, maybe you would. She wants to be a piece of transmission more than she wants to be withholding.
2. “Is looking traditional? I want a new technology of perceiving.” -Bhanu Kapil
This is happening and collapsing and it is everyday. There is new teal, which is sometimes just the old teal with different teeth weeping out of a curvature of bone. I love all the filters and various containers we are pushing and plowing expression into. When I think of all the language, all the Internet, all the books, I see we have many throats to shoot through and grow new throats with. I love that, sometimes, I just look at a strawberry and almost go into a coma from amazement.*
*THEY ARE FRUIT COVERED IN A THOUSAND TINY SHIELDS.
3 & 4. In larger size letters on a different precursing page, Billy Bragg says, from the tinny roof of a song called “Busy Girl Buys Beauty,” some language that brushes against the opposite side of the room.
“What will you do when you wake up one morning
to find that god’s made you plain?”*
What if we don’t ever get to be that housewife, seeing what others can barely dream of seeing? What if we are a housewife in CPA’s clothing**?
We take drugs to rail against this, drink to rail against this, almost touch the lumps in the paintings at the museum, stick our heads in vents, stick our arms out the cow window, write these poems, fuck these poets, fuck these non-poets, drive through Utah, do blood rituals, etc.
*Google asks me, “DID YOU MEAN…What will you do when you wake up one morning to find that god’s made you Palin?”
**On the way home from the Greyhound station, a guy who introduces himself as an auditor at Wells Fargo, asks me out. A very small part of the many reasons I immediately say no has a sliver of something to do with this. I know, in a more messy way than a clean sentence can represent, I don’t believe I’m plain. It’s despicable in some way, this thought.
5. If You’re Lucky is a Theory of Mine delves into the tension and overlapping (the vibrating fearjoy ping ponging back and forth / froth) between these two things. Are you normal or are you a seer / a sear?
“On the way down the mountain
you understand what the seer sage
is saying: that honey-smooth will always taste
good to the tongues in our ears,
and balancing expertly on the miniature avalanches
beneath each of your downward-angled steps
will go unheralded unless
you herald it, which isn’t in your make-up”
-There is the hiding. Here is the seeking.
6. The book is hesitant to distinguish whether you or I (Is a poet the housewife or the doctor?) are more likely to fall into one category or the other. It often wryly suggests we are about one step away from either or. Or rather, it points out at the complex phenomenon that witnessing can be and is. On one hand, you experience the spectacular kind of texture that knowledge possesses when seeing something for the first time or when seeing something for what feels like the first time.
to Sun, “Saw a sparrow trying to crack
open the husk of a cicada on a driveway.
Never thought to use a driveway as a tool
-It’s one thing to want one’s life to be fulfilling,
another to want it to be very long.
Even a glacier can suddenly feel small in the face of how great smallness can be.
7. The central poem, “It’s a planet, we’ve an age,” the book oscillates around is embedded within a section called, NORMAL. The section and the poem mean to closely examine, over the course of thirteen pages, the dead body of how normal normal ever is. We know that NORMAL is relative, that our conceptions and opinions of what it is is always changing, that many people you know would be the last ones to call themselves NORMAL. I remember the first time I realized that everyone saw those little neon flecks of color on the inside of their eyelids whenever they stared at the sun.
“It’s a planet, we’ve an age,” begins with emphasizing distance, the human presence as galaxial pinprick.
“On the third planet from the sun
you smoke a cigarette, or a joint,
8 & 9. As the poem progresses, the you dissolves and reforms as an I. An I filled with specific choices and unchoices made via the ancestral blood whipping his own blood around. Each time I close my thinning lids, those bright sun flecks make new and different patterns.
What was distant and giving off those road waves you see on hot highways morphs into:
Horses, Juanitas, Arnie, who was identical to other Catholic school boys his age until a “horse’s shoe cut itself in miniature / in Arnie’s cheek,” Cancer, my dad’s dad, my mother’s father, Bob Marley, Budweiser, Jackie and I and eight, eight eight, the mailman with the abortion knowledge, “the photos we take of each other,” Apartment D, “the sweaters we wear / collect hairs,”“Like paper towels / we try to keep a little bit of everything we touch.”
The thing which continues to remind us of our distance, of a contained and clumsy universality we potentially share, is the continual mention of “the third planet from the sun.” The biggest zoo.
10. Is this where the idea of chance enters (because chance has to enter as soon as you read that title)? LOOKS AT ARNIE. LOOKS AT THE THIRD PLANET WHERE SOMEHOW A CELL GOT UP AND DID SOMETHING. Is this where the idea happenstance person and happenstance language having real effects on the present whatever enters?
11. The book I’m reading right now, Guilty by Georges Bataille, has a whole beautiful section dedicated to “Chance.” Here’s a quote I get strawberry comas from:
“A man betrays chance in a million ways, and in a million ways he betrays “what he is.” Can you claim you’ll never give in to repressive frowning rigidity? The mere fact of not giving in is itself a betrayal. In the fabric of chance, dark interlinks with light. It was only to pursue and mutilate me on a path to horror, depression, and denial (as well as license and excess) that chance touched me into airy lightness, in utter weightlessness (slow down, dawdle, grow sluggish even for an instant, and chance will disappear). I’d have never found it by looking. Speaking, I’ve surely betrayed it already. Only if I don’t care about betraying myself or about other people’s betrayal of me do I escape treachery. I’m dedicated to chance with everything in me, my whole life, all my strength–and there’s only absence and inanity in me…laughter, such light laughter! Chance: I imagine, in the gloom of the night, a knife-tip entering my heart, a happiness beyond limits, unbearable happiness…”
12 & 13. The tension Bataille is reveling in here is something the Avant-Gardists were very much aware of.
“Chance can be produced in a variety of ways. One might distinguish between its direct and mediated production.”
– “Chance,” Theory of the Avant-Garde, Peter Burger.
There’s some kind of brutal / glorious spontaneity called who your two parents are (What’s not necessarily chance on their part certainly is for you. “I had my hands and face slapped by my mother in public places, / am surprised I didn’t grow up to be a scientist” -What sort of father do you think you would have made anyway) and there’s deciding to close your eyes before you pick a card.
For Mauch, the line seems maybe even slimmer (or more easily damaged?) than Bataille suggests. It’s a chance that life occurs on this third planet from the sun, and looking at something almost always reveals less in the way of understanding than we expect. The surplus is often in mystery & awe. But, like the housewife, the I would still rather be a transmission.
“We have paper left. We can make it say something else.”
-That’s girl’s skin is the parsnip I chopped for gumbo this morn-
ing white, and the way she peers into the eyes of the boy she’s
with, as if writ upon them are the lyrics none of the rest of us
can remember, indicates she’s blinded by the beauty of life
14. “Suddenly we remember all the verses to “Amazing Grace”
-To survive is to lament, so let’s all do it well
After six hours cleaning the floors of an ocean and a few industrial coolers, I push my bike down an alley and start singing, inexplicably (How chance was it? Or which part, specifically, about what I’m re-telling is chance?), the words to “Oh My Darling Clementine.” My mother used to sing to me a lot of nights. I have never been a good sleeper.
A friend of mine on the phone: “I sometimes stop in the middle of the street and wonder, “When does Carrie sleep?”
“I am plain. I am a wretch,” is what what I say to myself when I read this poem.
15. “Your addiction to giving will arrive by taxi when what you
have to give, anymore, isn’t anything anybody wants.”
-My brother the flamboyantly hopeful hiker goes on, doesn’t
turn and head home even though I’ve told him, “There is
no Lake Shirley”
The longest GIF, I decide, would be an oil spill.
Russ says in response:
apparently they are very small ocean life
and when they bloom en masse
like they did recently
off the coast of oregon
people mistake it for an oil spill”
This poem is different than most of Mauch’s other poems in that what it looks like IS an oil spill. The poem fills the whole page beyond what it needs to be full and then some. It over and over again discusses a brother (“my half-moose brother,” “the – better – tomorrow -monger,” “my brothers my other neighbors,””my brother the old poet”) who you never meet despite shaking his hand again and again. The language of it is shiny and amassed significantly, but can’t necessarily mix or blend itself.
However, what I wonder from the inside of this poem, if Mauch or the book Mauch has created possesses a similar tick that I do. I visibly crinkle when people suggest that they have a choice to be unconnected from others. I’m not talking about kissing prayers for the world or romanticizing the length a garden hose can stretch between two tectonic plates. I’m talking about accidentally poisoning those around you, about everything touching so continually and so uncontrollably (SWARMS, YO) that it’s terrifying and smoke. I’m talking about our connections being more of a continual oil spill than a continual hand holding. What we do to each other is as much as chance as it is decision.
Giving in the midst of all that
seems like the exact point / the most exaggerated fold
between the best and worst of this tension on the third planet from the sun.
16. EX-PRESIDENTS OF THE LATTER HALF OF THE
TWENTIETH CENTURY SPILLING OVER INTO THE
TWENTY-FIRST ARE WORKING THE SHIFT AFTER
YOU. STOP. THEY HAVE THE KEYS TO THE CLOSET.
STOP. IN THE CLOSET ARE BROOMS, MAPS, RAGS,
SOLVENT, GLOVES. STOP.
-”We’re making a mess in the kitchen of the soon to be opened
A BISTRO BY GOD, adding heretical flourishes to tater
tots and grits”
No one gets away in this book.
No one “gets away with it.”
17. “God of stuff that lasts.”
-Let’s be sedentary in honor of our friends the half-buried
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS W/THE AUTHOR
18 & 19.
“We don’t know who the hell is seeing us”
-it’s a planet, we’ve an age
Do you think, the more you look at the people you love, the less you see? Is this very small ledge terrifying or exhilarating?
If we’re lovers of life on the small ledges (and I am, except when I’m not, when in retrospect I can blame the power of terror),“Exhilaration” and “terror” are words we use to separate, in order to talk about and understand (etc.), something that we experience as a unified whole, the problem there being that we try to understand more than we ought to. Whatever I love, I tend to look at more, and what I see, if I want to see it that way, can be separated into parts exhilaration and parts terror, but if I keep looking, well, cheers to the unified whole!
20 & 21
it sort of makes love to the old concrete
it’s laid over, then convinces it
this is good”
-Thinking of these awful years softly, as a lacy time preceding
the water wars
What is a breakthrough in poetry or a poem? Is it different than a break through a person?
Both, I think, are violent, and because they’re violent they create something new, in the same way a powerful weather-storm can change forever a landscape . . . and both poems and people are landscapes of a sort, and are susceptible to violent weather. The basement or cellar or storm shelter (and please don’t forget to think figuratively), as we all know, is the safest place to be during such a storm (in order to “weather” it), but it’s goddamned tempting to stand outside until you see the tornado before you seek the safety of the cinder block, of the underground (see previous parentheticals).
22 & 23.
“the moment he said,
No wonder this city’s full of deer.”
-BEST EVER is what I’m deeming this morning
with its lack of disastrous news, its banana, electricity,
evidence of overnight rains.
How much of what we love about language is because someone else said it?
The language that other people use is like the rain and sun and fertile soil we need to grow from seed to flower/fruit/thorn/leaf/Venus flytrap ourselves. We invoke our own language-weather whenever we pick up a book, or listen closely to what others say, like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster all balled up in a Marvellianly amorous bird of prey.
24 & 25.
“Lucky is you being here to grab me, me wiggling free
from an olive, from its pit,
polishing your teeth with my tiny tongue.”
-Brillant machine that I am
How is chance like touching?
I really (really, really, really, really, really) (and probably enigmatically, for which I apologize) want to just say “Yes!,” and leave it at that, and so I’m going to.