Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Apocalyptic Talking #2

Odd Things About Smiling

I am in my bathroom at home, the one I share with my brother. Before me, spread out like an altar, lies my sink and counter space. The surfaces are white, and I think Formica, the type, which makes it so you can never quite clean off all the little beard hairs, which drives your latent OCD nuts. Beneath the sink and beside the drawers is a small cabinet, one used to keeping things we no longer use. In it, lie scattered, impractical cups from my childhood. They have holes on the side and the bottom and a spout, and they all have faces.

I am in the bath, and I am six years old. I do my best to palpate the shampoo into my improbable hair, and my father brings the cup to the side of the tub. As soon as he fills the yellow cup with slightly-too-hot water, it descends in streams through the bottom holes of the cup. They continue to descend, in rivulets down my face, carrying away the lovingly applied shampoo from my head and hair. The commercials tell you that it is ok to laugh and giggle and open your eyes wide to the miracle of cranial laundering. But they lie. Even when the “safe” shampoo gets in your eyes, it stings. My father brings the green cup to the side of the tub, the one with a hole where his mouth should be. As soon as it fills with water, the clear liquid flows in a constant, giving stream. My eyes sting and tear, but I persist in smiling nonetheless, marveling at its pure gift.

Above the sink and counters and beside my memories is the mirror. Its galvanized surface is pockmarked with age, like an unlucky teenager, but it still reflects well enough, especially when my brother and I remember to wash the enormous thing before Shabbat. To me, in this house, the bathroom mirror is not merely a tool for hygiene and general upkeep; it is a co-conspirator, an ally, a confidante. All throughout my life, it has silently supported all my poor decisions. It has been nine years since my flirtation with hair gel in the seventh grade, but the mirror has never brought up my attempt to wish my unimaginable hair into an attractive force of follicle might. I would be cool when I left the room, and the mirror let me believe most things.

I think that when we were younger, more things had faces. Girls and boys are swaddled in blankets, cocooned by their stuffed animals and dolls. I had a collection of many, many action figures. We could also see faces - partners in conversation, playmates - amidst most things we found surrounding us. Trees were always old men or young dryads; the gnarls of branches or smoothness of bark or roughness of bark could so easily be reorganized by any number of senses. (Are all children synaesthetic and then later forget?) Seeing faces everywhere, it’s no wonder kids are always smiling or crying or both.

Mirrors are a stage, a nexus with the other world. I, like most young men eagerly exploring my power before myself, frantically wailed about to songs I loved, made muscles, critiqued my self. I performed before myself, bereft of childhood’s ubiquitous audience. Often, I would simply stand and smile, my eyes shifting like sand in the hourglass. Sometimes, they would join in, but at other times my face felt like dusk, slowly fading, painfully beautiful. Tentative at best. Sometimes, I have been hit by the strange urge to have a cold sore at all times, to be forced to smile so it hurts a little. I rejoiced before myself in my childhood home, and the mirror tried to give me my face as a gift. I smiled, but I had nowhere to put it.

~jss, 1/30/08

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

first blog post for the commentariat

This is the first of my regular contributions to the commentariat, the Columbia Spectator's second try to have a blog. Hope i don't ruin it...

Two Seemingly Unrelated Vignettes Illuminating the Significance of Our Insignificance

So many have tried and failed, so not to at least attempt to name our generation with a hip catch-phrase would be arrogant, to say the least. So, here we go. I henceforth dub the youth of today “the supernova generation.” We do not cultivate taste, nor do we allow our desire to smolder, crackling embers of longing in our eyes. We are a series of consuming obsessions, of affected hatreds. We want to want; we need to need. We are inundated with so much, that we must drain the ocean to be sated. We suck the juice from life, leaving only pulpy refuse. We’re a generation shrink-wrapped and raised in Styrofoam cribs. We shudder to think we are disposable.

Ever since the last two weeks of the fall semester, I have been living in my room without heat, since the radiator leaked all over the floor, destroying a number of books. To stave off pneumonia, I wear sixth grade socks to bed, ones with white rubber grippers on the feet, now smoothed down to paradoxically allow for better sliding on my tiled floor. I wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt to bed, the sigil of my father’s old pharmaceutical company, faded like an archaeological find, into the mere memory of an ankh. It means life in ancient Egyptian, I think. I hunker down in my covers, not unlike the kids in those safety films from the Atomic Age, shivering my prayers into the night – protect me from the coming apocalypse. I become a hero to my apartment when my inconvenience becomes a holy cause. I turn off all lights when not using them and unplug every appliance. When my roommate returns to New York, I tell him how things are gonna be; a righteous sneer plays on my lips, like Joe Strummer or Johnny Cash.
Leaving my internship in the evenings is the worse thing in the world for my soul. It is not because I love my job so much that I cannot bear to leave (even though I do enjoy it quite a lot), and it is not due to something stupendously amazing that I am missing at home. I exit 330 7th Avenue into a veritable human gulf stream. Why is it that between 42nd st. and 28th (where I work), every single person is in possession of a pressing need to head downtown? It appears as I am the lone northward traveler, with only my wits and Polaris to guide me. [Brief digression: When I was sevenish, my family took a vacation to Cape Cod, and while I was playing in the ocean, a wave knocked me down and the undertow carried me out to sea. My mom saved my life.] As I struggle to move forward, every single individual’s movements, which run counter to my own, are seen as personal affronts and offenses. “They’re on the attack!” In my heart there sprout seeds of hatred for all who bump shoulders or duck into the street at the exact same moment I do, or who walk just too slowly to be tolerable. Midtown makes me the worst person.
In the beginning of this piece, I characterized our generation as that of the “supernova,” but, if you forgive me, I’d like to mix ‘n’ match my metaphors. We are drowning, and the water is rising quickly; or we are sinking (it all depends on your frame of reference). We gasp for air, to fill our lungs with nothing. When the water begins to fill our lungs, we gasp for air. It takes our breath away. (Back to the original image) A supernova is the spectacular creation of empty space. Where once there was a great big star now sits a black hole. I like owning more books than I could ever read. I think about my bookcase tipping over and burying me in words. Only a buried person kicks and scratches and bleeds and slashes and punches in true and furious ecstasy. One used to have to die to experience this. The drowning person gasps for air. The exploding star takes our breath away.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

natural beauty

Natural Beauty

Walking by, I slid my gaze up, up, up
and there you were,
crouching in the arms of a tree.
Your fingers splayed out on the bark;
your feet were unshod, one in a birds nest,
lazily crushing the shells,
the albumen oozing between your toes.

I looked up, and the sun was glaring, angry,
and you waved to my face, your hands playing
signs with the shadows.
Your smile complemented the hue of midday light;
I could never stay mad at you,
and I hated you for it.

It’s funny how, as the day cooled,
the bluebirds came
and whirled away to the whine of your cell-phone.
You grinned at the beauty,
never realizing it was your fault.

I looked up, and as you
shifted your position,
bits of bark drifted down the breeze
and into my eye. good; I was afraid
that when I ripped off my shoes
and dug my toes into the trunk,
flew my fingers up that tree to meet you
face to face,
to look in your eyes,
all I would see: a blank white orb
that sets off the highlights in your hair.

~jss, 3/07

(x/p to the phlog)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

more poetry from high school!


in the forever
spiking crystal spires
tearing armageddon holes in the sky
and Now
I press my
fingers to the flesh of my forearm.


dew drops of imagination
fusing in the ionosphere and
when they fall
they shatter just
like dreams, frozen.

Now and Then
I wonder, steal
glimpses of a future forbidden
I ponder stealing
and other glamorous sins
written in the stars.


in the
forever. Now
arrogant towers of purity
and Truth tear apocalypse holes
punching wide and raggedly rending dreams.
and Now.

I gently ponder loving
in the dark.
No one can see me.
I hope
You understand?
I am not a disembodied heartbeat
nor an eidolon, phantom-like ideal
I am pulsating memory & purpose tentatively approaching infinity
forever eternal Now.

~josh schwartz

(x/p to the phlog)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

why love is not like poetry

the key advice to young poets is to show
and not to tell
but you told me how you loved me
and i believed you.

(x/p to the phlog)

the first in a series of meditative poems about skin


while the gray wind swept by your sandy hair,
on the boardwalk, a man with a shabby cap
shaded you into my life.

it's incredible how life moves by in gradations
are the darker bits of your face older? wiser?
your eyes searched me out from the surface of the page
and i don't remember if i liked your nose better
or if it was rounder or sharper
if your nostrils were wide or also sharp.

on the beach, the sea rubs away at the coast.
the memory of you becomes less distinct
but pervades

i was in the process of walking by,
it was a process finely tuned to process through,
when the hairs on the backs of my arms noticed
how the ley lines of the air, they bunched and jostled,
breathed in by you.
the man with the shabby hat smudged
your face into being.

when i reached out my finger and brushed your cheek,
it returned to my eye similarly smudged.
i left our fingerprint on every surface i could find.


(x/p to the phlog)

Monday, January 14, 2008

more poetry!

here's a poem i (think i) wrote in high school:

lost generation

We are no lost generation
rambling back home to wife or kids or bottle or job
with barbed wire lining our brains
and national anthems resounding in our heads
images of disintegration and madness do not
replay ad infinitum in our young and tender minds
images of friends ripped from this world like vacuums and abortions
or cut in half by machine gun fire
or mashed into the groung in a tire tread pattern
do not haunt our memories or dreams
We are not the Lost Generation

We are no Lost Generation
We have no Hemingway to expose and die for our sins
no one with the courage to plead utter confusion and desperation
to a world wanting answers
No one who can say little and do much.
Who feels the shock now of his shotgunned brains in the woods?
We have no Fitzgerald
to help us laugh at where we have gone
terribly wrong. He sees our empires built on wealth, constructed on sand,
and F. Scott rolls his eyes and hisses through his teeth
like the opening of missile silos.
We have no Ezra Pound to write about the mystery
We are not the lost generation

We are no Lost Generation
We have been breathing war’s odors since we were young
and we have not been betrayed by a world we never had
we are not staring at walls forever at walls forever
staring at walls
We know the intimacy, when screaming ends and waking begins

Death lines our coffee cups and cigarettes
our paints and our automobiles
our sports and entertainment
our dreams
our despairs
Death waits in every corner
and in every doorway . Death thrives in between
Death does not wait for us overseas
Death has encountered us, acculturated and docile
Death has played with our childhood friends
Death hums the same songs on the radio
Death watches our TV
Death enjoys our company. Death works for our boss.
Death would live among us:
His Found Generation.


(cross-posted to the phlog)