Cimetière Montparnasse

I wrote this after visiting the famous cemetery in Paris. I visited a few cemeteries in France (the Père Lachaise was another one) to see the graves of some people I admired, although the solemnity was undercut somewhat by being handed a map and feeling like I was at a theme park. Of course that’s a consequence of people like me wanting to visit graves. I don’t really have the desire to do that anymore like I did back then.

I didn’t learn until afterwards that Baudelaire had an cenotaph a little ways from his actual headstone and resting place. That’s what the picture is of. I should’ve paid closer attention to the map..


Cimetière Montparnasse


It’s a rite of passage for any young writer
to visit the grave of his hero, pay his respects
and, consciously or not, certainly agonistic,
pry the baton away for himself with
a sentimental piece that won’t see
the light of day, and, whether or not
it was sunny, say the weather was gray.


That day it really was gray. Except it was summer.
The trees were full. Stone warm to the touch.
His grave wasn’t easy to find—I mean without
the map they give you. Then it’s a scavenger hunt.
One man, prowling the grave of Sartre and Beauvoir,
fired the Canon round his neck, turned to his wife
and declared “Next.” It was getting close to lunch.


Finding it in the shadow of a taller mausoleum
I stopped, gathered my solemness but was
suddenly overtaken with wondering why his name
was sandwiched between that of his mother’s
and stepfather’s—really the stepfather’s grave—
I’d read somewhere he loathed the man—
Only forty-six? Was he only forty-six?


There’s the rite too of the stomach like a diving bell.
I hadn’t properly contemplated the importance
when a woman landed like a bird on a wire.
Oh! Guardate,” she called out “questo è Baudelaire.”
Six vacationing Tuscans fell upon the site.
I placed a pebble, a gesture for all his work.
For mine he said, “Tant d’appas répugnants !


Stone Age

Each section of Figments consists of variations on a theme. The first section, “Of Language,” uses tropes of languages and letters.

I was interested at the time in how language evolved. How did uttered sound first acquire meaning? How did it evolve to signify something other than the music that it made, and how was it refined and abstracted to represent complex ideas and strings of thought? Playing with the tropes of “ages” of human civilization, I had in mind that words first arose from a direct association of sound with action (in this case a violent action).


Stone Age


Imagining the origin of words
one pictures two tribesmen,
friends, standing around a fire.
The first one points to a stone
and sort of grunts. The second
furrows his australoid brow and
repeats the sound. From then on
when either needs a stone he
simply points and goes ongh.

But what need is there for words
between friends? If the two had
the pleasure of each’s company,
enough to know and utter poetry,
what’s the point of words at all
when just the pointing would do?
Who else is a friend but him who
knows my meaning without my
having to say anything at all?

Picture those same friends enemies,
the one having overtaken the other,
cast him on his back in stunning
internecine war, leans poised over,
a hand upraised, with that same stone,
its sharp wedges, its blunt peens,
incanting its name victoriously,
seized by a prophet’s madness.

The last word becoming the first
adopted into the quiver
when it was discovered later
how the next person need only
hear it uttered and that was it
that was the end of it.

The Fool to the King

A poem for @davechappelle and his opening monologue on SNL.

Chappelle’s standup seems as polished and nuanced as an essay, and yet he performs it like a true orator, as though he’s just speaking off the cuff and telling a story as it comes to him, or as he heard it. It’s thoughtful and extemporaneous at once. I would even say sublime, if sublimity is the synthesis of high and low.

He reminds me of the old trope of the jester in medieval courts being the one person who could truly criticize the king. He could speak the truth to him by concealing it within a joke and say the things that people knew but couldn’t say.


The Fool to the Court

for Dave Chappelle

And I and the peasants cheer

the way he insults the crown

in front of all, including the king,

with lords and ladies gathered,

and he is so good and graceful

with his words, and chooses them

so carefully, that each audience laughs

for different reasons at the same thing

and does not know how the other

could be laughing at the same time

as they are and not upset the king,

who is this reign a tyrant, and whose

sneer of cold command in secret gazes

like the eye of Sauron for its ring.

Ozymandias Revisited: Sam Bankman-Fried

Ozymandias is one of British Romantism’s most enduring poems. Written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1817 and published the following year, it is a perfect sonnet. It accomplishes so much in only 14 lines. Lyrical, narrative, and dramatic all at once, with a complex rhyme scheme, it is a powerful indictment of Man’s ambition and hubris.

Here is the figure of a once-eternal authoritarianism, an Egyptian Pharaoh, his legacy buried in the changing sands, a monument to tyranny and to tyranny’s inevitable end.

Rilke thought of poems like art-objects not unsimilar to statues. They cast stories into forms we recognize, not bodies but ideas. Shelley cast his idea into a poem the same way that an artist sculpts their statue.

I’ve had the idea to do some variations on Shelley’s poem for awhile now. My first attempt was a sonnet about Mobutu, a former African dictator. But it struck me last night, after reading about Sam Bankman-Fried and the collapse of FTX, that the variations need not always be about dictators.

Ozymandias is not just a poem about a dictator and his monument. The poem itself is a monument to hope for those who toil under the ruinous consequences of zealous ambition. It is a testament to enduring the catastrophes that plague society when men and women succumb to their egos, when they play gods and lack wisdom. The indifference of Nature to Ozymandias’s proclamation inscribed on his pedestal, the “lone and level sands that stretch far away,” is not only a suggestion of the Pharaoh’s fruitless ends, but the hope that life for everyone else continues on long after the mad tyrant is gone.


Ozymandias Revisited

Sam Bankman-Fried

I met a tourist from Nassau who said—

“One oversized blue-velvet beanbag lies

on the office rug, unused, that was his bed,

amid the clutter of startup supplies.

A sea of spinning chairs, and monitors,

six to a desk. Their walls of black screens,

hung with headsets, tell of what occurs

when the good is pursued by any means.

And behind the gatehouse of Albany

these words are typed out to his users

from the infinity pool on the balcony:

I fucked up, and should have done better.

Nothing beside remains to the losers

but the balmy Bahamian weather.”


The algorithm selects for…

What the algorithm selects for us to see on our feeds is what is most valuable, the thing we most want to see. For what we value is exactly what interests us.

We may have in mind a thing that interests us, or we might not. Either way, the algorithm does not fail to hold our attention. And it is getting better at it all the time.

It is getting better at putting into our feeds that which, out of all other things we scroll past, makes us stop and inquire further. The algorithm selects for us to see that which is most interesting.

Why something interests us, whether because it’s contentious or controversial, because it fascinates or inspires awe, makes us laugh or cry, matters not to an algorithm whose primary goal is to hold our attention.

The algorithm not only selects for our attention, as an audience, but selects also for what is most valuable among its content creators. The algorithm demands the finest artifacts to fill its museums and write its histories. An infinite gallery and chronicle of what is most interesting.

A god on its throne. A selector and discriminator. It’s no wonder why we treat it with such disdain and resentment. We cannot bear the weight of its judgement. The majority of us (who feel we are very important!) are told with every post into which we’ve poured our blood, sweat and souls, “What you are doing is not enough. It is not enough.”

And even when we have done something, said something, expressed something well enough, so that someone scrolling through their feed has to stop and look (even if what they’re looking at was not what they had in mind) it is not long before the algorithm demands the next sacrifice. Another and another and another.

I like best the posts which I did not expect. The ones that the creator, too, did not expect to go viral, and suddenly they’re thrust into the spotlight, unsure of what great insight they stumbled upon, but ready nevertheless to make the most of it.