On this the eve of our elections…

On this the eve of our elections an early winter snow falls silently. I have no thoughts of my own about the way things ought to turn out. I don’t see any side as being better than the other. Neither is capable enough to deal with the issues we face. The end of an age. The uncertainty of what is to come. We cannot even say for certain what has changed, though we feel it intimately. The end of truth. The end of civility. The end of freedom. The end of democracy.

It is an existential anxiety. It is us getting father away from each other. The loss of consensus that presages madness. And we fear the empty, sterile room of the madhouse, of being locked inside, no longer understood by anyone who peers in at us. We fear the gaze of those who, looking at us as though we were insane, would condemn us.

Panicked, we insist that whatever we most believe in must be shouted as loudly as possible. It must be made to be true. Not a truth understood but one that is made to be true. That is what it feels like, anyway, to scroll through media and read the news. The agonized and persecuted cries of the mad. But the doors of every room are unlocked, and we are all inside.

Dawn of Man

As I work on my Redwood manuscript, I thought it might be a useful exercise to go back through some of my previous work and see what ideas I can draw from it. I’ve found that the best writing I’ve done is sometimes beyond my immediate apprehension. During the process of writing, I don’t fully understand why or what I was trying to accomplish. I’m always straining the limits of my thought, my technique, my intimations about sound and sense. To go back through and recover something useful might help me find my way through this current creative process.

This is the first poem in my book Figments, a collection of poems written from about 2017-2020.

I love the word figment. It comes from the Latin figmentum, which means “something formed or fashioned.” It’s also related to figura, or “shape.”

Figments are the ephemera of the mind. Illusory figures whose echoes are thoughts and ideas. They exist in the theater of the mind as simulacra generated out of our interactions with the external world. Do we form them ourselves, or are they imposed, impressed upon us?

This poem, and the subsequent poems of the first section, “Of Language,” set up the major themes of the book. Here is the first bubbling up of the physiological process of a mind generating figments of its imagination. The microscopic world of electro-chemical signals in the brain that give rise to visions of reality.

I really like how dreamy the end rhyming is here. I hadn’t even realized until rereading it that I’d managed to link every line together. Again, when we’re in the process of creating, the meaning is often hidden even from the artist.

Dawn of Man

The stickiness of consciousness
the spthlink spthlink of unlinking polymers
emulsifying in soupy darkness

The viscoelastic creep and tear
of a brain remembering where
it was impressed in elastic presence

Measure it by the mucous trail of its laws
and you too will become like soft plastic

What it Means

As the Powerball lottery makes headlines again, climbing to a $1.5 billion payout, I thought I’d post this poem I wrote back in 2018, about the largest jackpot payout in history. It’s from my first book of poems, Figments.

To buy a ticket is to buy an opportunity not to win, because you won’t, but to dream about winning. To live for a few days with the thought that it might be you, out of everyone else, it might be you that’s chosen. And what kind of person, what kind of life would you lead then? You buy a ticket to think these thoughts.

What it Means

The poem tells you what it means
if you drove all the way to buy a lottery ticket
on the Californian border because
you never know about these things
and there’s a line because nobody’s won yet.
The payout is over a billion—Imagine that!
Imagine what you could buy with all that.
You have to remember you’re at the age
when you’ve started to feel as though
you might’ve missed out on something.
Whatever it is, a billion dollars should cover it.

You know there’s a better chance
of being struck by lightning. The news
keeps telling you that. But it doesn’t matter
because who wouldn’t want to be struck
by lightning and live to tell about it?
You’re assuming you’ll live because
you’re assuming the right kind will hit you
and not anyone else standing in a line that
outlines the parking lot of the Indian casino.
After all who wouldn’t mind
their greatness being thrust upon them?

It might as well be you, you’re decent,
and if you won you’d want your family
and friends to have some. You might
even give back to the community, who knows.
At any rate it would certainly be nice to lift
this weight off your back, whatever it is.
What you’d do with the money is less important
than what you imagine being chosen must feel like.
A world somehow faithful to your point of view.
For you require great significance to satisfy.
You must touch lightning bolts to live.

Danse Macabre

The Danse Macabre was a trope in medieval times that showed up in a many different forms of art across Europe. It reminded the viewer of the universality of death. Skeletons were often depicted leading folks of all kinds to the dance, entreating them, reminding them that everyone dies, that death is inevitable.

It seems morose, but it’s hard to tell from the pictures that I’ve researched whether or not that was the intention the artists were trying to convey. The human subjects often don’t have definite expressions. They’re portrayed dispassionately, or sometimes confused, while the skeletons themselves are animated. The skeletons are having a good time, smiling, enjoying themselves. A grim joie de mourir.

The experience of social media often feels like this dance. The apocalyptic prophesying, and the fiddling while Rome burns, is enough to make one anxious. And the skeletons smiling all the while, inviting you to join. What else is there to do but dance along with them?

Danse Macabre

Emperor, your sword won’t help you out

Sceptre and crown are worthless here

I’ve taken you by the hand

For you must come to my dance

This is dope, and terrifying.

The center cannot hold.

The endless doom scroll.

I am called upon to bear witness

by the fetters of my phone,

to crowd out of existence

the solemnity of free time

and feel myself addicted.

It wants all of my attention.

It wants all of what I call mine.

Elsewhere I rinse the mind

in soporific bath waters of

infinite permutations of

entertainment. I sooth

the puling ego in the tepid

sink of hyper civilization.

And in my unallowed heart

I think, If only the rough beast

would turn and look at me!

It would not overthrow itself

like a madman his shadow

if it saw the beauty I see,

if it knew how beautiful

and unexpected I was.

It would fall in love with me

and I would change it

for the better. I would save

its soul with love, and the

worst of times would be done.

Robert Charboneau

A Division of Tongues (I)

Some stanzas from a series I’m working on about the Tower of Babel and Solomon. From a section on the motif of the Division of Language in the Tower of Babel story.

The idea of language coming apart is a fascinating one no matter how you look at it: mythological, psychological, social, mental.

I have been trying to think through this idea that there is something that a word means and when it stops meaning it the word still exists and still acts as a label for that something which it’s not anymore. Sometimes new words are made for the occasion, but sometimes not. Sometimes words are borrowed to understand what they were never intended to. This is the problem of the sign and its referent, whatever that means.

Words are planted, and grow, and do not stop growing. When I mean words here I also mean phrases, ideas, thoughts, ways of thinking.

The problem of language
is the problem with
the engine stalling out
or the microscope
that cannot see
all the way down.

When there’s no other way
of saying something
we must say it
the way it sounds
though it may not be
how we meant it.

We’re locked tidally
to the manner of the
language that’s spoken,
just as we cannot know
beyond our science
without some hoping.

So build it up and out.
Fine tune instruments.
Build them large without
and more precise within,
so we can mean only what 
we mean, and no more then.

Tomorrow we cure
through technology
death and disease
and reverse entropy
by taking measurements
absolutely accurately.

Today we say something
knowing full well it is
not what we mean,
to know it ourselves,
so it may come to look
like what it seems.