Tuesday, January 18, 2011


What if God was invented just to keep us from feeling lonely?

Thursday, December 16, 2010


It’s not that I lie sleepless nights
Worrying about what we did wrong
But rather what we did too right.
Fruit for instance:  perhaps we shouldn’t have scoured that
McIntosh to mirror straight from the produce section,
Or special ordered the air purifier and dehumidifier,
Or rushed for the amoxicillin at first sniffle.

It’s not a question of loving you too much
But rather keeping you too clean, too safe from life’s detritus.
Of course we walloped the crap out of you in the divorce;
You’re still donning braces and slings from that bloody mess.
But I fear we overdid the psychoanalysis,
The reasonable talks at unreasonable times,
And the amphetamines we were assured would pinpoint your unlined mind.

Now a parent yourself, headed for your own marital maelstrom,
Better to break the cycle of shrink-pill-shrink,
Better to forgo the antibacterial soap
And opt to wipe the hands haphazardly on pant legs.
That oatmeal muffin you’re about to bite into?
Do me a favor: let it fall to the ground.  Count to ten.
Now pick it up and eat it.  Trust me.  It’s good for you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Full of Sound and Slurry

"Between every individual and the rest of the world is a stupendous firewall breached only by saints."
                                                                                                                       --Thomas McGuane

Our entire biological evolution is based on the false assumption that it won't happen to us, that disease and death are things that beset other people.  For how could we live with the truth that invincibility is the wool each of us pulls over our eyes every day in order to arrive at the next?   My girlfriend recently flew to Mexico, and her adolescent children were horrified that she might perish at the hands of terrorists or faulty airplane equipment. I spared them the simple fact that their mother--along with them--was far more likely to die in automobile traffic en route to the airport or one of their numerous league soccer games. 

Part of the problem is the circular nature of self-awareness.  Consciousness knows no beginning or end; its selfish parameters are the eternal here-and-now.  But human life is measured in a straight line, and a rather blunt one at that.  I find it astonishing, for instance, that my daughter will be 21-years-old in six months; it seems literally only yesterday that she was taking her first steps.  The author and neurologist Oliver Sacks said of the perception of time something to the effect that  "weeks drag on, but years fly by."  It's this basic juxtaposition--human perceptions vs. the physical world--that causes existential depression but also produces some of mankind's greatest art;  recent evidence suggests that the art and dread are one and the same. However, the vast mass of us go through life blissfully ignorant of these facts, secure in the illusion that cancers, random homicides, and vehicular mishaps (think of Camus) will befall the other guy.

Even Jesus--for those of christian persuasion--dreaded His demise, and He knew about it in advance. He even asked His dad at the last minute if there might be some loophole around it.  Which just goes to show that even the Savior of mankind didn't fully accept the fact that the apostles wouldn't be throwing Him a surprise 40th birthday party.

This grand deception of human consciousness is intrinsically tied up with the equally dubious assumption that our little lives have Meaning.  Okay, even if one doesn't heed Nietzsche's whopper that "God is Dead" (or more specifically, religion as a guiding force in existence), what is that Meaning?  Investing in some heavenly time-share condo?  True, organized religion has not historically given great credence--ie, the Crusades, jihads, and all the assorted bloodbaths--to the notion of its institutional beneficence.  But being nice to other people simply for the sake of being nice doesn't hold much water, either. The existentialists started clearing their throats about 150 years ago, and their offspring--New Age spiritualists--dropped acid and peyote only to give rise to karmic debt and the Internet.  What I'm trying to say is that if one embraces an entrenched belief (or even disbelief) system, we are no closer to figuring out why we all shouldn't put guns in our mouths, point upward and fire.

Solipsism is the belief that nothing truly exists--or can be proved to truly exist--outside of one's own mind (probably not a concept to be embraced by a commercial airline pilot, btw).  If memory serves, it is an idea that has been largely dismissed in the philosophical  arena as limited and, well, solipsistic.  But the older I get, I wonder if this is not indeed our natural state: I'll smoke 60 Marlboros a day and I won't get cancer; seat belts aren't necessary; there is indeed a heaven, which I'm surely bound for if I were to die, which I definitely will not.  Because how could any of us get out of bed each morning knowing that complete oblivion could happen at any--and I mean ANY--moment?  And not only the absolute cessation of self-awareness and bodily function, but knowing that our brief time on this planet meant diddly-squat?  Sure, your kids will remember you for awhile, and their kids will hear some anecdotes about you, most of them embellished either on purpose or accident...but after that?  Who among us can converse longer than two accurate minutes about our great-grandparents?  Not me, that's for sure.

Antinatalism, another unpopular philosophical position, put forth the proposition that it would be better for everyone involved never to have been born in the first place.  Cranky sonofabitch Arthur Schopenhauer states:

"If the act of procreation were neither the outcome of a desire nor accompanied by feelings of pleasure, but a matter to be decided on the basis of purely rational considerations, is it likely the human race would still exist? Would each of us not rather have felt so much pity for the coming generation as to prefer to spare it the burden of existence, or at least not wish to take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?"

Not surprisingly, Schopenhauer lived only with poodles, and he wasn't known for throwing good parties.  But he does have a point.  (And he is fun, and relatively accessible, to read; check him out.)  The world is a harsh and pointless place.  As Hunter Thompson said: "Some people get rich and famous, most people eat shit and die."

The only reason I could give anyone not to eat a bullet would be this: for whatever reason, we are alive.  Like leaves, rocks, solar systems, even Rush Limbaugh, we are infused with The Life Force.  I don't know why, and neither do you.  Cold cruelty and pointless suffering seem to be the norm, but so what?  Be thankful if you've got the long end of the stick and quit bitching; most of the citizens of Earth have it way worse than you ever will.

Now I'm going to smoke a cigarette and masturbate.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

white bass run

this poem smells like the river
where we stood that night watching
the small pale bellies of doomed fish

reflect the moon just beneath the surface
like strings of unending light transmitting code.

my brother stood on a small raft of bobbing aspen logs
casting his line into the darkness over and over,

and as the mushrooms kicked in strings of thick smog
fell down like god's drapes closing for good,
guiding our souls back home for one last stern lecture.

a couple hours before dawn we heard a small bell
tinkling pagoda-like at the end of the pier
where a father and his middle-aged son landed

an illegal sturgeon, a veritable dinosaur with gills and asian whiskers.
it would've been the devil if not for the blind gray eyes

and when the father released it back into the river
it slid like a silent comma down again into its lightless cold tomb.

we staggered into the cabin toward our beds,
terrified of dreaming dreams of sunshine, love, and easy failure.

                                                     --for John 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Depression: Sucking Chest Wound

Clinical depression is like trying to breathe with a collapsed lung: the harder you inhale, the more you're aware of the futility of even trying.  After a few weeks, the decision to give up respiration altogether seems like a good decision, because after all, it IS a decision.  But you soon realize the problem is that you don't die, you just continue to struggle for air in an unbearable atmosphere.  Indefinitely. 

And when you think you're finally asleep, you are awoken by the wet whistle of your damaged organ.  Over and over and over.  It keeps you company, but Depression is that dull, downward  friend who has nothing new to say and will not leave;  the friend who watches infomercials until the sun comes up;  the unwanted guest who never varies. 

Think of tepid graying rice.  Think of the ache that doesn't hurt enough to be interesting.  Think of an orgasm that's like a half-sneeze during August. 

Poet Rodney Jones said of  Depression:  "If I thought my life had any value/I would have taken it." 

It's the disease that you know you have when you truly believe you deserve it.


Holiday Excess, or Just Plain Excess?

English mystic, poet, printer and all-around weirdo William Blake coined the phrase beloved by hedonists the world over:
                                the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Since Blake published this in the late 18th century, artists as diverse as Byron, Wilde, Burroughs and Jim Morrison have embraced it as a clarion call to party-til-ya-puke-and/or-die.  (I think most people my age first heard the phrase issue from Susan Sarandon's lips in Bull Durham.)  But surely, self-destruction by one's own hand with recreational chemicals leads more often to high-profile rehab centers than any palace of wisdom; if the latter was the case, Ozzy Osbourne would be our generation's Wittgenstein

So what was Blake referring to?  I've always thought, in my uninformed way, he meant an excess of knowledge and experience, not absinthe or acid;  nor, in observance of the holiday season, an excess of turducken and gravy.  (And certainly not my excessive use of the semicolon.)

As Americans, we tend to pack away food and drink like everyday is Thanksgiving.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020, 1 out of 4 of us will be clinically obese. As a nation, it seems we literally embrace Blake's words as manifest destiny: while still comprising less than 6% of the world's population, we consume more than 2/3's of its resources.  And we're none the wiser for it, having elected George W. twice--twice!--and currently have Sarah Palin looming as a serious-as-congestive-heart-failure candidate in 2012.

So how much is too much?  All a matter of personal preference, I guess.  For myself, "too much" has always translated into "not nearly enough."   Food isn't an issue with me;  I could take it or leave it.  But it's nothing for me to down, in rapid succession over an afternoon, 12 beers, half a pack of Marlboros, numerous tokes of several different types of weed, and whatever other psychoactive pill, alkaloid, or fungus is at hand. (Granted, I actually have cut down my intoxicants over the years, but in the words of PJ O'Rourke, I ingest "...more than I should, but not as much as I used to.")  Some would refer to my intake as "living life to the fullest" rather than "chronic substance abuse;"  naturally I prefer the former as it possesses a more epicurean lilt.

But it's not just sensual, chemical excesses I embrace.  I can honestly and proudly proclaim myself as a hopeless book junkie.  I read with a hunger that borders on pathological desperation; I am indeed depraved in this respect.  Once while stranded at an airport with no money, I even pored over a found, battered copy of  James Patterson's "Along Came a Spider." (For those non-readers out there,  it's the literary equivalent of licking spilled cocaine off the toilet seat in a seedy tavern's restroom, which I also did once in another lifetime.)

As a (sometime) poet, I am also excessive in wolfing down moments.  To me, poetry is distilling seemingly mundane, daily events into transcendent metaphors.  So it's not unusual for me to become utterly verklempt --antidepressants notwithstanding--while watching a mother take her child's hand before crossing a busy intersection, or witnessing a puppy rollicking in an Alpo commercial on TV.  Too much, man, I'll say to myself, as I dab at my eyes with a kleenex, then reach for a pen and another Budweiser. Life is, like, too much.

I admit: I'm just another spoiled white male who has squandered the best our culture has to offer.  And given my lifestyle, it's doubtful I'll one day publish a bestseller entitled "Centenarian: How I Lived To Age 100."   But enough wallowing in excessive self-reflection. Christmas is just over four weeks away and I've yet to buy my loved ones the overpriced, obsolescent electronic crap they simply cannot live without. 

Plus I have to order four turduckens for Hanukkah; the two at Thanksgiving didn't cut it.

Happy Holidays,
Wade Trout

P.S. Does anyone know if I can download Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" onto my Kindle?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fat Wet Fish with Eyeballs & Mouth

I blame the brain: prankster, lycanthrope.  Electrified gray jelly.

Sure, the message from the heart--although at times deceitful--is pure.  But to animate the eyes or mouth, in order to twitch the pen,  the message must travel north and through the brain.

Thus lies the trouble.  For Mind not only is aware of Itself, but also doubts Itself. 

Poet Stephen Dobyns puts it best:

Why Fool Around?  (1999)

How smart is smart? thinks Heart. Is smart
what's in the brain or the size of the container?
What do I know about what I do not know?
Such thoughts soon send Heart back to school.
Metaphysics, biophysics, economics, and history-
Heart takes them all. His back develops a crick
from lugging fifty books. He stays in the library
till it shuts down at night. The purpose of life,
says a prof, is to expand your horizons. Another says
it's to shrink existence to manageable proportions.
In astronomy, Heart studies spots through a telescope.
In biology, he sees the same spots with a microscope.
Heart absorbs so much that his brain aches. No
ski weekends for him, no joining the bridge club.
Ideas are nuts to be cracked open, Heart thinks.
History's the story of snatch and grab, says a prof.
The record of mankind, says another, is a striving
for the light. But Heart is beginning to catch on:
If knowledge is noise to which meaning is given,
then the words used to label sundry facts are like
horns honking before a collision: more forewarning
than explanation. Then what meaning, asks Heart,
can be given to meaning? Life's a pearl, says a prof.
It's a grizzly bear, says another. Heart's conclusion
is that to define the world decreases its dimensions
while to name a thing creates a sense of possession.
Heart admires their intention but why fool around?
He picks up a pebble and states: The world is like
this rock. He puts it in his pocket for safe keeping.
Having settled at last the nature of learning, Heart
goes fishing. He leans back against an oak. The sun
toasts his feet. Heart feels the pebble in his pocket.
Its touch is like the comfort of money in the bank.
There are big ones to be caught, big ones to be eaten.
In morning light, trout swim within the tree's shadow.
Smart or stupid they circle the hook: their education.