so, i’m sure that many of you are wondering (and it is very possible that very few are wondering, but when wonder comes my way, i want to respond, and i suppose i’m mixing “wonders” here, but isn’t that a lovely idea: mixing wonders) why—or maybe even who is—this fish burton thing.
to tell the short of it, i’ve been going through a lot of life changes recently, things have been falling apart, my heart has been inverted, there’s a future staring at me (named tomorrow) asking me what i will do with myself.
i suppose this is in part an attempt (because all we can really do is make attempts at things (but what happens when i actually do finish the rather large sandwich i was staring at (i suppose it was an attempt, and i will always leave myself open to the surprise of accomplishment, but even then, when is a sandwich accomplished? upon the eating or upon the passing).
so this is a name change, sure, but an attempt also, perhaps a rebranding at this moment of pause and juncture.
fish is my great grandfather’s name.
w.w. is some that i will leave in ambiguity for perpetuity.
burton is the last name that i was born with.
all of it sort of coalesces into a way to move back and forward and out and in. i mean forward by what i was saying about attempts. i mean back by some sort of return to origin, and i mean out by the ambiguity and in by the feeling of being looked at by tomorrow.
i can’t say that this is a definitive statement on anything, but only that i have said it, that i am drawn to speak and when i am drawn to speak, well, can you imagine that: a drawing of someone speaking: a man who is in the midst of saying something: and yet he says nothing: and yet the drawing is held there in that moment: not a word coming from his lips: but his lips are appearing to form words: but maybe instead of words: well: instead of words you seem to think it is a kiss: or a sigh: or something that you’ve never heard: but you can see it now. what i see now, what i see right now is perhaps a word held in the air, a word without explanation.
swimming to the shore
through glacial water i see
a sunbathing snake
“brains of smorkaloff” makes me think of some sort of lovecraft titles, although i must admit that i’ve never read any lovecraft (and it seems that the more that i go along in life, the more i feel woefully underread), but i think this is because of the rather bodily idea of brains (it seems that brains are rather bodily, or at the very least almost always gorey, only because that seems the only way that we can see them, only in the most extreme cases of gore or accident or terror, etc. maybe that is why they are so associated with zombies and apocalypses). anyway, remember when I helped you get engaged to your wife (what was her name again, I am sorry that I can’t remember her name (and that really is a sort of aside that doesn’t seem to have any bearing on this story whatsoever, but i couldn’t help but mention it since it has been a while since i’ve seen or talked with you)))))). but the other reason it seems lovecraftian is beause of the name that seems alien to me, or i want to say polish or maybe even jewish, but i am also unfamiliar with both cultures more than i would like to be and even more than i would like to admit. but i don’t think the name smorkaloff is either of those, only that the name makes me feel the same way that those names do, namely that i feel there is a sort of meaning to it, it feels weighted with meaning, but not just meaning but a whole culture that i just haven’t been exposed to, so, yeah, a sort of exoticism to it. also the word “brains” in the plural also makes it even more astonishing, just because of how rare it is to see or smell or experience one brain, let alone more than one. but i don’t mean to say that the title takes me straight to gore, only that the word “brains” can also be abstractly understood, but if you were going for a more abstract sense then I suppose you would have used the word mind, which i find myself using more often than brains, which i suppose explains my less visceral relationship with the mothership of my ontology and a more abstract sense, and so i sometimes feel more like a poet and less like a doctor or scientist for this very reason. and the more i think about it, the more i want to be a poet, someone who approaches the world with a sense of separation, with a sense of moving closer to the idea of things while still maintaining a safe distance of the actual pool of blood. i suppose this is why i have never been skiing even though i live in the mountains, just a block from sundance. and now i realize that all that i have said so far about the choice of the word “brains” or “brain” seems to be a sort of character description of Mike. He seems to be more viscerally concerned with his mother, instead of abstractly concerned. He seems directly effected by this, instead of mentally. I mean he hasn’t yet seemed to have developed an emotional distance from his mother or her condition.
“there’s always someone behind the brains, isn’t there” or at least the CNA in your story has said this, and I wonder, really if brains aren’t an opportunity to take a moment to think about our ontology. do you think, that maybe shakespeare really wanted hamlet to be holding a brain when he asked whether it is better to be or not to be. and then i think that i don’t believe there can be a thing behind a thing, like i don’t believe in metaphysics, but how can i say this as a writer, only because words seem to have things behind them, like the platonic image, the ideal, but these, to me, seem to only be in the imagination, but i said to a friend this afternoon who came to my house while we shared waters and i did the dishes (Mortimer Ryan), i said to him that i believe the imagination is real, or that at least it has real impact, that we can’t not talk about how the imagination is at least a part of reality. and then, for a moment i think that we are living in the age of the double-negative, that we don’t feel comfortable being affirmative or positive in any sort of way, but that we nonetheless want to be affirmative and so we affirm or speak positively but only through a double negative (“I don’t not believe in god” or “I shouldn’t not know what truth is” etc. etc.) but the CNA’s belief that there is something behind the brains makes me think of plato and other early philosophers and how they speak of the ideal (but this may only be because Truedson and I are running a lyceum and this is the current curriculum we’ve decided to cover).
now, i do like the image of her halfway across town in the middle of the night with wonderbread. i’m sure you’ve heard of Crewdson and his suburbanization of celebrities with his photography, but if you haven’t seen it, then I would totally recommend looking him up, especially the pictures of Philip Seymour Hoffman (who often makes me think of you, or maybe it is you who makes me think of him, but i hope one day you write about him, only so people can think that you are his son or some look alike (and i remember you always recommending watching Breaking Bad, and i never watched it because i was a bit more conservative back then, and I didn’t want to really pay to watch any tv, but I’ve since watched it, and you are right, it is a great show, and also, i’m glad i watched it because everyone (really, on a daily basis) everyone tells me I look like Jesse Pinkman. ))))))
man, that feeling when people let you go to voicemail. which feels different now that everyone’s phones are in their pockets, but it shouldn’t feel different. why pick up the phone when you are in the middle of a conversation. why let one person unknowingly interrupt what they don’t know they are interrupting. at any rate, i’m glad you’ve included this line because it it definitely one that makes me sympathize with Mike. and I’m sure many people do, or at least have felt on occassion that sadness of being sent to voicemail.
you know, this protestation of “Her brain, but it’s her brain” makes me think of this youtube video i was watching the other night while doing research into my bestiary plays. anyway, i saw a video of a monkey seeing itself in the mirror and recognizing itself so much that it wiped the paint off its forehead (it was an orangutan, so technically an ape?). and i thought it was only humans who had this capacity for self reflection, for self-reviewal, for self-awareness. it was really fascinating. it was really devastating to find yet another element of life that doesn’t separate me from the animals. the more i find out, the more i think there is nothing that separates us, not even our physiognomy. but i have this little mirror in my studio that is tall and thin, so thin that you can only ever see one eye at a time in it, and it sort of throws off the self-gazing we often do. but children, small children are incapable of looking in a mirror and wiping paint off their face. they may see others, but they don’t have the added level of seeing an other as themselves. they can only think one chess.sympathy move at a time. they can’t double back or think three levels in. and then i think of a.i. and how some of these computers can endlessly explore the countless tree-ing out options from a given point, kind of like that scene in avengers: infinity war where doctor strange explores all the possible outcomes from a given point in time.
uh, two months with a loaf of wonder bread? wouldn’t it go green after two weeks? especially cradled like that?
i wish you had mentioned they were at verla’s house earlier, although, that may have been clear and i am a bad reader (i suppose that they vacuum would have been a good clue, but i still assumed it was a hospital. i don’t know why.
i like the metaphor of mom throwing things away and the implied idea of brains juxtaposed next to trying to decide what is memory and what is clutter next to a woman who seems to have had something happen that makes it hard for her to distinguish.
“now as the sole occupant of the home.” is an interesting phrase, because it dehumanizes verla.
poetic: “the worlds least regarded museum”
super funny: to cradle a baby wonderbread version of yourself
also, this reminds me a bit of “hereditary” the horror movie i just went to see.
kylan rice has a cicada in his small book “in a room hung with pictures. you should ask him if you can read it.
poetic: into people’s ears but onto no one’s memory
all a great story, lots of characters, lots of surprises, but i think i know your hang-up exactly: the cna character is interesting but not deep. he is missing a conceptual element to him, i think you should research thanatos or the death drive, and maybe contrast that with eros somewhere in the story, maybe eros within sam and lexi’s relationship. when sam decides not to answer the phone might be a good point for that. in fact, i almost expected it, i almost expected the two to make love. and i mean that the CNA is an interesting character, i mean who decides to strap a bomb underneath someone’s bed, but i think you should have started the story with the shower scene instead. there’s a sort of direct intimacy to that scene that i think perfectly begins the story. also, i really think that the conceptual element to the CNA is thanatos or the death drive, the drive we have towards death, toward destruction, even self destruction. everyone else seems to have a sort of depth, a sort of life to them, a well rounded character that has their own motivations and life, but this CNA character feels underdeveloped, and the scene ends with him.
the suggestion i was expecting to make was one that had to do with animals looking into the mirror, which is why i mentioned it. i thought you might have verla look in the window of the shell gas station and see her reflection and have a moment where she thought she was seeing another woman. that would really show a digression of self, a reversal of the brain, a direction toward the tabula rasa image your are looking to develop at the end. also that tabula rasa element you try to develop at the end seems rushed, it needs to slow down and really take that moment in, but i see why you haven’t ironed that fully out without having fully imagined or finished the end yet.
also, question, does mike die? I can’t remember the circumstances of whether he is living with his mother or not, so i want to think that he was on the first floor under the bomb, but maybe that isn’t the case. i wasn’t really sure.
there are perhaps other smaller things i have to say about the story, but looking at what i’ve written i think i’ve over written, so i will let this suffice.
thanks for sharing. best of luck revising.
zach t power
well, how do i begin, i mean really “a room hung with pictures” if only the world was this clear to everyone, not just poets, and even then, the framing seems to be the hard part. you know, i remember a time when i was in high school (continuing our conversation over shakes) that i developed this fascination with frames. in fact, i distinctly remember setting up a large frame leaning about the lampost (or was it the fire hydrant) in the front yard and framing my car. a bit narcissistic, sure, but i liked the idea then, and i like the idea now of framing frames that frame things. i suppose i’ve always been a bit interested in russian dolls, or things in things, or like-things within like-things. you know my wife is a doula, and i really like the idea of humans in humans. also i find it fascinating whenever an apple grows inside of an apple, or people put houses inside houses. in fact, i think it would be the most magnificent architectural feat if we could just get someone to build a suburban house on the forty-fifth -sixth and -seventh floors of the empire state building, you know with the front and back lawns and everything. but i really am fascinated by this whole concept of a room hung with pictures, and i take it you feel “inside” this world. you know, i’ve become really fascinated with prepositions. and I wonder which preposition people feel towards life or towards this world we live (with?) (on?) (in?) (by?) (to?) etc. but where i think this room differs is that a room of pictures would denote living in a made world, or living in a world surrounded by art or at the very least artifice, so i imagine the speaker of this poem is metropolitan. i don’t see him at the park, but i suppose he would at least be able to find a park amongst the pictures, and at this point, i almost feel like this story could take on a sort of borges surrealism, or even plato’s cave, where a person only lives by simulacrum and not actuals, but i suppose this seems to be our current condition in that we live a large majority of our lives through the sort of virtual presences depicted or “handed” to us by our phones. I mean you mentioned today that you knew my children were sick at home and you knew this through instagram, not that you had visited my house and witnessed this yourself. but i’ve always felt that story telling (i.e. language) was the original or earliest form of virtual reality. i mean so many critics have mentioned language as a “waking dream” and many companies are trying to make more kinds or types of this. movies seem to have fully developed, but you’re right, they depend on a larger infrastructure of electricity and technology in a way that a book only depends on the body (and a little bit of learning) to make the virtual experience occur. i admit, i have only made it through the title thus far, and if what i mentioned this evening is right, then you’ve given me a bible, a religious text, for i still believe that the best religions are the ones that excite the imagination most (because i believe that something that excites the imagination will in turn excite the body, and if the body is excited then, well, the whole world becomes electrified, and if I am right about tautologies being a way to feel alive then I hope that i can create ways to excite myself and others (and I suppose the word excite can be taken in many ways, and sure, i will let others take that word any and all the ways they want to)). but you’ve wrought a good title to say the least, and so far i have said the least i could on what little i have allowed you to say to me in your title. i hope to make it through your script,sure. and the text now feels so precious to me, and sometimes i feel this is why i don’t read as many books as i feel i ought to, only because i get so caught up in titles that it causes my imagination to run rather wild. and i wonder if this is not what you also experience when reading titles, although you seemed to have hated almost all the titles we read while at the springville museum of art, though i wonder if this was just because utah artists are rather bad at naming paintings or if its because you find that most titles are lacking, although i do remember you mentioned you liked one title, and i can’t remember for the take of me what the name was. do you remember. but how could you start the collection off with anything other than a still life. i mean i wonder if this is not every person’s beginning. i must say that i cannot remember my childhood. i cannot remember anything about my parents getting divorced or leaving my father or heartbreak or loss or anything. perhaps i carry with me traces, but everything i know of my inception and beginning years are but descriptions to me. they are but a still life. photos. stories that are always as old as i am. i can’t help but feel that the still life is the best way to begin a life. in fact, i want someone to start a business and i want a culture of people who feel this is actually the most appropriate thing to do: when you know a baby, your baby, has been conceived, it is custom to draw together a still life and have it painted or photographed. what paraphernalia was present before i was, what sort of time capsulation could be made as my conception, what objects would my parents gather as meaningful in their life at the time (as beautiful, as reminiscent). and here i realize the hour has escaped me and I have only managed to barely make it past the title of your intrepid. I must say, you’ve wrought a far more curious shop than many of the art galleries i’ve come by, and usually i make it well past the door, but here i have hardly touched the doorknob, let alone turn and pushed inward. by an by i will come to enter and look around, but the room hung with pictures will certainly give me a run for my body.
zach t power
the more i eat an orange
the more it comes apart
my wife asks me to look
at her in the dark
i turn my head and hardly see her
the river is making
sounds outside my window
and i haven’t fallen asleep yet
how much of my time
i spend keeping alive
things: herbs and birds
the ten ducklings
i walked down the road,
the time i fed a baby
bird before taking food
to hungry folks at lunch.
please assure me you are alive. i have missed you and miss you. i, we, lost mark, and i, we, cannot lose you. at the very least, assure me, assuage me, tell me you are, as i so dearly hope, working quietly on your magnum opus, your masterpiece, your full transfiguration. i say this only as an ode, as a full confession that i feel you are so necessary for this world, for the abstract space of humanity. tell me, at least, you have not given up on poetry, on humanity and even post-humanity and even some odd future where all living things are contained within the idea of humanity, that we are, that i am, that we, are a planet, not humanoids, but a planetoids. i send this email to assure you that you are a crucial cardiac muscle, or a particularly pretty memory node, but more than that, i feel it would be a true tragedy (and i am a skeptic of truth) but there is a woman who is pregnant a little ways from me in this oddly silent auditorium, and her swollen womb makes me wonder at life, makes me all the more hope that you are still in this rather large womb within the stars with me still, that i might wander about and serendipity into you. assure me you are a machine of beauty, a poem. let me know this is just a stanza break, a walking from one room to another. i want to assure you, that what you have made so far, is so close to my inner unspokens. i have a friend who i worry has stopped writing, and the beauty he wrought sometimes fills my daydreams, sometimes i sit quietly in my car as i drive and i think of what he wrote. i have no ocean to literally sail across, or any plains or deserts to travel through, but sometimes the metropolis i live in feels barren, and when i walk down side walks and cannot find an open fountain, cannot find an unclaimed berry or burrough, and i feel in a warped land, i feel lost but i don’t know from what, and there amidst the power lines, i feel my mind is also owned and farmed and and warped. i cannot hold still in this world. i cannot, though i have tried some afternoons, gain the moss i envy on the back of a stone i see in a river when i am on a hike with my wife. maybe you have fallen in love, and in the stead of loving so widely, you’ve narrowed to one very acute beauty. who am i to suppose that you should live the way i would hope you would, who i am to even be so much as thankful for what you have done and so hopeful that you would do it all the more. why would i tell you that i need you as a poet and not as a doctor or not as both, or tell you that i need you at all. perhaps you have lost hope and this should be beautiful. but how could i ever suggest anything, and at this moment i almost move to erase this entire message. i didn’t know that i expressing gratitude would be so complicated, and i know the strenuousity of poetry, the difficulty of drafting beauty. i don’t ask assurances lightly, but if anything, i ask it sincerely. at the very least i want to say thank you. thank you, steve. thank you.
zach t power
one night carl was unlocking his car downtown and he saw a star, just a single one, a speck in the twilight, no moon, a purple grey fading to black sheet that felt deep or maybe pricked and there was light seeping through, but the light behind the sheet was dying. he felt some sort of tension grow in his body, as his mind relaxed, and his thumb on the key fob tightened until the depressed button beeped the car and flashed the fog lights on his car and announced itself as unlocked. his vision came closer to his head and he got in his car.
there was another night where carl was getting a glass of water in the night and he looked out his window and some odd angle allowed him to see a street lamp in the distance, and barely to him was the light, low and almost not yellow, and he couldn’t see the moths or bugs hovering about it, and how odd that the one next his house had burned out. he wished he could camp out, wait around the pole in front of his house and see someone change it, he wondered why, wondered how it was that at this angle he could only see one street lamp, the others hidden by trees, casting their glows out from themselves like haloes or even crippled rainbows of a single drained hue, but he could not see their bodies. how it occurred to him that he always felt he could see light naked, and somehow the aura was the clothing, the spread, the lighter parts of light, the less heavy, less dense part of light was the wagging shirttail or ball cap or drag of the dress. funny how light at it’s obvious center was naked, like some sort of hole in the crotch, but all else was hidden, and the groin was blinding, so much that to look was to leave with a singe, leave with a tiny temporary black hole in your head. he realized he had been staring at the street lamp this whole time and he turned away and found it hard to walk back to his bed in the dark. he felt his cheeks, turned the pillow over and leaned into the cooler side of it.
carl felt like these lights were getting closer to him. he was at a fast food place that claimed it was a restaurant but wasn’t and there was a crack in the backlit menu on the wall behind the cashier, and it was shining at him, peeking through, like some annoyance, some speck that wanted him to look at it, he thought it was being too honest, or maybe light is narcissistic, or maybe he just had low blood sugar and needed food, but there it was, a fissure of light calling to him like some unexplored canyon, some cave that was actually an opportunity to invert this womb he was in, was some sort of fabric that of peeled back would reveal that we were not on the outside but the inside, that the endless galaxy we peer into was actually some outer rim, some skin, some fold or edge that fades, that to travel into the abyss of the sky would only reduce us to clouds of ourselves, clouds without rain, dust without sneeze, and that if we really want to feel, if we really want to weigh more, to stay more, to be more, it was not by expanding out, spreading out thinningly, but was by crawling deeper into the lights that approach us. i’ll take hamburger and fries carl said. what else could he say, that he wanted to excuse himself as he crawled up onto the counter, please excuse me, he would say to the cashier and then despite disbelief or resistance from the cashier would peel back the plastic, maybe crack it some more, make it big enough for his body to crawl out of this god damned or even now undamned place and feel how heavy he really is, maybe spill out onto some table in a fetal position, realizing how wet he’s been, realizing how feeble he is and then sort of just blink in the blinding presence of god knows what, just waggling, maybe wishing he could go back, scared that he may not be loved, wondering if there is a fender, heavier form of love here, wherever here was, and could there be people there, was he a people, fearing, maybe, that he was alone, that maybe he had been born, but in the wron way, in the wrong place, by the wrong thing, to the wrong thing. do you want any sauces. i’m sorry, carl said. the cashier repeated, do you want any sauces. yeah. uh yeah, three ketchup packets. thanks, he said. you’re welcome, is all the cashier did in response.
on mondays carl doesn’t make it out of bed until after noon, and he was washed out by the morning just laying there in bed, and what did he know, what did he know, and there was this leaf, somehow, out the window wagging in the breeze and it kept flashing light into his eye. he was surprised at how gentle it was flashing. he hadn’t eaten all morning, and was so low that he couldn’t bring himself to raise his body out of bed and walk to the kitchen. the task seemed astronomical at this point, herculean, and he kept grabbing his phone, maybe to invigorate himself with some news or some meme or some idea that would breathe courage into his heart which he felt was feeling sorry for itself, maybe even crying or choking or screaming though his face was placid and dumbly looking at his phone. was wasn’t remarking to himself he was looking at light, he wasn’t much remarking at all, only basking in the light, light a small unattainable tan that would never take to his skin, and at times his mind would race with limited imagination, like he did as a child on a bike down his backstreets, and he would never chuckle though he found things funny, and he would feel sad but not cry, he felt a wide range of gentle emotions, nothing stirring or rousing, nothing too much, nothing enough to touch his bones, but he felt like this was a good kind of light, the kind of light that only touches the skin, and does so gently, does not burn or freckle him, does not sun stroke him, does not cook or really transform him in any way. it was a light equal to him, as bright as he was, and he didn’t feel like he had anything in it but a comparable friend, and the flashy leaf kept flashing, kept watching him.
... [logistacal things]
i am also in love with your art. i suppose my background researching a person comes from my editor days, when i was queried by hundreds of writers pitching their books and i just developed a habit of looking up people online when i didn’t know them but didn’t let not knowing me stop them from emailing me. i suppose our websites are a sort of ethereal clothing for our spirits or whatever metaphysical presence we have beyong the body. i believe this is why i like words. there’s that famous new yorker cartoon of the dog sitting at a computer saying to his dog friend “on the internet, you’re not a dog” (or something like that), and i really think that the internet allows us to shed ourselves in a rather odd way (odd is my lazy way of referencing, i don’t know, the transcendentalists. i really think emerson would be tickled by the idea, especially after hearing him confess that he wishes he were a transparent eyeball. boy would he get a kick our of imgur and reddit, or just say the internet entirely). but somehow i’ve become long-winded in a way and at an hour that i had not expected, and i suppose this is my way of complimenting your art: discursive inspiration. there, that’s it: you’re art is inspiring, and it does exactly what art should do: make me say “how beautiful” and then invoke and provoke my own beauti…
zach t power
thanks for sending your words to my show, or i mean words or willingness. i like that we can send words before us or on our behalf, and often, i find that the words are the next best thing to nearly everything, you know. it’s like there are so many things that can fail in life, there are so many things that can stop early or arrive late or not fulfill or lack, and then there are words: “sorry about your dog, man.” “i know there’s not much i can do, but i want to say that despite the cancer, i’m here for you.” “i love you. i don’t know what else to say [or do].” i find that words are often not just the first thing i reach for, but the last thing i grasp, the last thing i offer, like there no human thing i can do, but as long as i breathe, well as long as i am alive, i can make my breath a wish for you, i can make my breathing at least beautiful on your behalf. i guess we could say that poetry is a sort of soft CPR.
zach t power
i often feel listless
as if i didn’t have a list to attend to
i find it either sad about myself
or maybe sad about my way of me
or maybe i blame fate that i have nothing but myself to worry about
but why blame fate for such a thing
i want to be a warrior for black justice
but i am not black
a warrior for justice in general
but am i generally just
it seems that i can only be supportive
but isn’t that the point
that i am not the center of attention
that i am not the one who gets attention
the point of what
i feel that i am most responsible
by removing myself from the equation
by coming to understand my own absence
or at least figuring the equation differently
so the math weighs the same on both sides of the equation
do there have to be sides in an equation
does there have to be an equation
perhaps this is what strand was writing about
when he said he kept moving to keep things whole
he knew he needed to argue for his own absence
i want to believe that my presence is necessary
but i think that my absence is just as necessary
so i must be present to ask for my own absence
and i believe it
i believe that i can walk around and demand that i not walk around
not for the sake of irony
but to be both my own thesis and antithesis
i suppose this means independence
to be both my doing and undoing
if i am both then does this not make me free