One day I noticed strange sentences tacked on to the bottom of spam e-mails.
Sometimes illogical strings of quotations from famous texts, random words, or mixes of different languages, they were always surprising, pretty, linguistic monsters. These little poems were the reason those spam e-mails entered my in-box. But having a fantasy-prone personality, I thought someone was playing with me. The “poems” were not written by people, they were written by machines. These machine-made texts are called Bayesian poisoning.
To poison a machine, you feed it random language. Many spam filters use Bayesian algorithms to guard against unwanted e-mail: advertisements, porn, scams. Bayesian poisoning is this random language aggressive advertisers use to bypass spam filters. It convinces a computer program the message is from a human. I like to emulate this, though I’m not sure you could call it poetry. They are, in a sense, a kind of violence.
Grabbing a stack of random books, I take a syntactically viable word or phrase from each in sequence. I add punctuation, rearrange words, facilitate subject-verb agreement, poke at it over months. The result is hewn from chaos. It sounds a bit like me, the sources, a machine, and like no one. Each sentence has never been said, and means nearly nothing. They manage the phantom of cohesion. I’ve grown to enjoy the exercise for its novelty. Each sentence requires so much pruning and finesse to fit my sense of hidden meaning. It’s like taking a little, literary drug.
thoughtless singing and dancing,
feelings and pleasures come raw arcs of pain.
Tossing the turning grinders beloved,
the sexual postures,
Time strangers young in accordance,
as sibling leaves inflate abstract sentiment.
Viscera would be as chaotic
before recursion descends on the child
like God’s Paradise virginal life
explores the edges in rapid, perfect, English form.
A man I once dated used to wear a twenty-sided die held in a cage of spiraled wire for a pendant. It embodied his love of game theory, stochastic equations, the way suits fall in a deck of cards, that we swim in chaos. It made me think math might be the only real philosophical language. Its the only way to know perceptions add up.
When I first meet anyone with whom I want to have a romantic relationship, I want him to perceive me in a certain light. I seek connections. I like to find good topics. The younger man liked to talk about math. I explained from the edge of my bed one winter night about my language experiments—vaguely influenced by the mathematician, Bayes. To my delight, Bayes was the man’s favorite. I won’t ever give the false impression I understand ‘the maths’—
I can make neither heads nor tails of an algorithm by any name. My initial motivation was only to compete against machines, then only later for my amusement in the language.
That night I flipped a coin to choose between wine and gin.
The younger man said, “You don’t flip a coin to decide. You know what you want before it lands. It forces you to make up your mind.”
Maybe this means chaos is the palette of order, or that when faced with the simultaneous possible loss of two options, we instinctively grab hold of the one we consider more valuable.
Details, upon attaining clarity, lose independence of meaning. Any detail is precious, and can be replaced with another. Pasternak discusses this in Safe Conduct–in art we find record of a reality emotions have displaced. This mimes nature itself. He writes, “Any one chosen at random serves as evidence of the state which envelops the whole of transposed reality.”
The young man asked that night ,“Are you reading Dune?”
I’d read it, but the book was out because I was using it for poison.
I don’t read Dune, because Dune is a book that makes me feel delusional.
Dune is set on a desert planet in some far-off intergalactic incarnation of humanity, where water is a great commodity, and wealth encoded into the trees of the palace. Giant worms roam the vast desert. Water is their poison. Produced in the worm’s life cycle: spice, a drug that allows humans to see into the future. Dune is a book about poison, about the poison of knowledge, about the ways we poison ourselves and our world, the terrible ubiquity of it.
In high school a boy I knew told everyone he was the prince of a city in the United Arab Emirates. He said once he was so skilled in sword fighting he could deflect bullets. He was always reading books from the Dune series. I talked to him, because he always told good stories. They were, if anything, implausible, but I didn’t really care if they were true. He went once to Mecca, and brought me back a vile of rose oil perfume.
If the experience makes a guy feel lonesome,
when all pairs’ shortest paths bring forth nothing beyond themselves,
Like strata you started too late,
greedy algorithms waiting for posthumous ascent,
new-fallen snow, despising depth,
darkness and fire stir without courage to leap this dry riverbed.
In part, deviate, detestable friend.
Carrying lookahead adders through Jerusalem
is distinguishing and distinguished.
Julian of Norwich is another a person whose delusions I find preferable to whatever truth reality might eschew. She was an anchorite. Anchorites in the middle ages had themselves sealed into the architecture of a church, in cells built between buttresses, with slots for mass, food, and waste. They were always in church.
What marks Julian is a series of heretical visions. She was illiterate, and someone, we don’t know who, wrote them down. In her visions Christ entered her cell, filled the room with blood, and tells her his love guarantees all humans salvation. She claimed that this is Christ’s passion.
to be a part equal unto the whole:
on earth wait on him,
in mid-life screaming along diagonal women
that cheapest-to-delivery bonded,
one by one,
internal angles with the inside of a cutting line,
whereby inversion on one leaf appeared a large and yellow bud.
There have been times when I felt, when I would have sworn, I was in love. I say this because there were definite times when I felt I had no love for another at all.
Anti-Oedipus states, “Schizophrenia is like love: there is no specifically schizophrenic phenomenon or entity.” On this same page, they claim schizophrenia “the essential reality of man and nature.”
I think of my great-aunt, Trisha. She fell in love with a man twice her age. When she told her mother she’d agreed to marry him, her mother beat her with the buckle-end of a belt. She died with the scars visible through her thin hair.
Once I thought I was in love. I dated a man my age for two years. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. In retrospect it was delusion.
I often feel now so unsure. I’m not sure I know what it is, or I’m not quite sure I know how to ascertain when it is there or not. A friend of mine believes we all have many loves, some of whom we will never meet.
The change of scales into feathers
Continues in its same line by miming the contents of freedom.
reveals evidence of the machine’s sleep,
but also his wide interest.
When we have a silly problem
hidden during the day,
some rhinoceros alive and buried,
what attracts us most
never stays the same.
The Sanskrit word for thirst, wish, and desire: trisha. The name Trisha shares roots with this word. In both English and Sanskrit the girl’s name means ‘noblewoman,’ and evokes an object of desire, of thirst.
Auntie Trisha was the youngest of seven girls, and the second youngest child of nine. I always called her “Auntie” Trisha because it marked her as my great aunt. When my mother was younger, she referred to her as “my crazy aunt.” Trisha could be difficult to be around. She could flip from intensely generous to nasty quickly, for no reason, was obsessed with cats, wore polyester pant-suits with fashion-glue cats on them. She never had children, and when my brothers and I were little she would take us to carnivals, festivals, and on shopping-sprees.
By the time she died, Trisha had stopped going to family holidays. She spent Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas alone. I think it was hard for her to trust people. I can also imagine that in a family large it might be easy to feel isolated.
Auntie Trisha took me once to the airport where she worked. She was a secretary for a private jet company at the County Airport. We went on the jets late at night, when there were only a few people in the buildings, and she could slip me past all the post-9/11 security checkpoints. I remember her security pass changed colors as it expired; one day it was red, never to be the same color again. She worked the front desk, and the few people there smiled as she showed me the building.
A swatch of silk, an embroidered peacock, sat on my aunt’s desk in a frame. I gave it to her when I came back from India. Seeing the swatch in the frame made me feel guilt. I saw an emotion so much stronger than my own. Until that moment I hadn’t realized how important I was to her, and my failure to perceive made me feel like I had failed her.
I remember seeing old planes with my grandfather in the airport’s museum as a child. He and my father used to drive up and park to watch the planes come and go, but you can’t do that anymore. The planes at Aunt Trisha’s work were different than the ones in the museum. Up close, the insides of the planes were like the insides of a Lexus or a Lincoln, baffling in their luxury. I remember I thought the mechanic in the hangar was so attractive, and I was trying not to show it because my aunt was homophobic, and because I wanted to remember her and not the mechanic.
We ate at Olive Garden. She was taking me out for my birthday. We talked about plans for the future: replacing the furnace, taking classes, visiting family members. We had a few drinks, pretended neither of us wanted a cigarette, drank the black coffee, and she drove me home.
A worst-case performance
brings about ecstatic vision.
The sugars of some stone fruits
with fuscous, sombre, and brown, false modesty,
are a picture of all things–
Peacocks remind me of home. A farmer had a small plot of land beside our subdivision in Illinois, a little apple and pear orchard, chickens and small number of peacocks. I would sneak there as a child and sit on a mossy, sideways tree, in the rain arched over a little sheltered stream. If you sit on my parent’s porch, once the porch of a family we used to know, you can hear the peacocks call out in the morning.
the least squares fit of foul lines’ glorious idea,
Farther from the truth
none dare keep,
in the presence
of such satisfying witness.
In India, you can call any older man or woman you meet, “auntie,” or “uncle.”
There is a memory burned into my head of the sweeper’s daughter peering through the bars of my bedroom window in India. I was reading a book about Tibetan Buddhism, and scratched a zit on my forehead. The girl was watching me through the gauzy curtains while I read.
She said, “Uncle, blood is coming.”
I wiped my forehead, a streak of red across my palm.
The director of my program in India never taught his classes. Everyday there was a guest lecturer. The first three days we had a folklorist. On the first day of class, he came in late after smoking a cigarette, sat on the big desk, stared out the window, and said, “Folklore has made me a very unhappy man.”
He told a story about the king in a land where the well-water makes the citizens insane. The only untainted water: a spring at the heart of the palace. After long, everyone but the king goes crazy. So the king chooses to drink from the well.
In India in the morning before the sun rose, I used to walk in the dark neighborhoods. It was often difficult for me to sleep. I smoked cigarettes like a madman and wandered. Smoking was expected of men, and it was mostly assumed that I smoked because I was a man. I found it curious the verb used for smoking a cigarette was the same one as for drinking water. You drink, sip, quaff a cigarette. I like it because it is so appropriate to the sensation one gets when craving nicotine. It is a kind of thirst.
Shiva was the god who drank the poison that was stirred up from the milky ocean at the making of the world. He drank the poison because he was thirsty. His wife strangled Shiva to protect him, and that is why his throat is blue.
There wasn’t much
skin in his hip pocket
to compensate for their physical, silent look.
Like he was swallowing vitamins, seven-years old, and sent to prison,
Or an oarsman born unknown, seated on a corpse.
And of a people kept just on the face of a blade,
“to spare you” your part:
As though between the fighting strokes
a life could be saved.
I saw several articles this week about an Indian man who’d won a million dollars in the lottery. Shortly thereafter he was poisoned at a simple dinner with his family, some kind of curry with cyanide, a few immediate relatives. There was no clear suspect. I think about the pain, the chemical in his body. I think: It was only a million dollars. He hadn’t even paid the taxes.
A good friend once told me I was statistically more likely to get struck by lightning en route to buy a lottery ticket than I was ever to win.
I still play the lottery. There’s something about the daydream of those tickets: the possibility, a fantasy I share with my father. He always played the lottery when I was growing up, gave us scratch-and-win tickets in our Christmas stockings, a further psychological link to the magical quality the game holds.
All the years my father played, my mother would say, “But, you’ve already won.”
She was talking about herself, but too: happiness is hard to come by.
There must be something to meeting your life-love in youth that has a timeless effect on perceptions. My mother and my father were sixteen when they met. I imagine they still see each other as young, just as my mom still sees her sons as the children they once were. I find it hard to grasp the age that has set in about them. My parents gray. They wrinkle and smile—years gather about their eyes.
My mom goes on about how good relationships take work, and it’s not all happy, but I think back, and they never really fought. My mom would get upset, and I’m sure my dad frustrated, and there were always things behind doors, but ever-present: the happy illusion my mother maintained, the way she clings to Christmas. They seem so happy. Maybe its because they learned to just have a glass of wine.
Out of joy,
crimes of hate are appealing
as novel rules set off fireworks
They fill ten open secrets with a flash-bang toothbrush,
their collective brainpower an altitude of plume,
ash and rain in fire and dust.
In the alley, a blind man,
already handcuffed, joked of getting old,
as hungry ghosts kept quiet,
for even maligned
discipline fills an empty bowl.
along their road like bones,
among spaces devoid of common bond,
we are but statues with hours to live,
octaves jerking their viewers from slumber.
I am loath to drink, as I do so often.
Alcohol is low. You can wake the next morning, and everything hurts. You can kill yourself just the same– by drinking too much at once, by drinking too much too often. I’ve heard that, for reasons which are unclear, people who drink, even recovering alcoholics, live longer on average than those who don’t drink. For as old and important as alcohol has been in human history, it’s hard to believe we ever prohibited it.
There was a short phase, a winter’s half-year, when I experimented with poppy seed tea. I was surprised that even though illegal, it was really easy to get. You can buy it on Amazon. They ship the powerful drug to your house, several days worth around four dollars, not including shipping and handling. You could plant all these seeds in your garden. With the opium poppy tea, I just wanted to lay in it and be absorbed, as in meditation, as I was trained in India: Give in to the moment; Delight beside sensation; Renounce the world before you.
Love, I fear, must not be like that, must and cannot be loss of world. That is not sustainable. Is it infatuation that shares opium withdrawal’s thirst-like drive for what is gone?
I’m sure someone has pondered: If only the whole world were opium; If only I could make this man my life; If only this were my entire world, this comfort; If only we didn’t die, this didn’t stop my heart, if I didn’t fade in bed, in comfort, to dark.
It makes me wonder why we don’t just give opium as a form of kind execution. There is a better way. Just a little bit of orange juice hides the taste. I imagine a curry. It tastes like pizza, like thyme, the poppy, and piles upon piles empty houses. Every itch: satisfying scratch. Opium should be for death.
Love is like this, even when you know it can be destructive, even when the substance has been the painful source of many nights spent, when, as scourge, love drives a woman to hide upon herself a vest of explosives and wander into open-air market, to seek revenge, redemption. Evil ever comes from when we love something so much, and from there so far wanders.
I love cigarettes: the smoke, the rolled production, the smell of tobacco. Smell is so very important. There is nothing worse than the smell of someone who smokes Ultralights. It clings to your body, that same way as a man who’s eaten too much garlic, the way coffee exudes from pores. I never used opium like I smoke cigarettes.
When we get on with our lack of progress,
our past intentions bout old age and death,
collected in some corner’s exalted hole,
doggedly cry out a star’s-worth of matter,
Space, self-generated eons,
Finite means “concealed” belongs to the unbegotten:
Unconscious under anesthetic—
Those in view just when the light bulbs burn out.
The first ruler knew multiple integrations
take root incursions into the privacy
of the image apart from his king.
What is the relation slandering horrendous insightful arguments
once like a little wild flight of fancy, settled heavy and black?
There was a time when I could count my lovers (a word my father hates) on my fingers, knew all their names, could recall them in chronological order.
The first time I ever felt really dirty after sex: laying in bed, thinking: Something about him, his overweight, hairy body, his many chins, the folds and sags, none made him worse in the dark. I enjoyed talking to him. He was handsome in his way. I could tell myself, ‘He’s not bad,’ and mean it, but in the dark? his scent? movements of his mouth? the way his hands held me and read not a single inflection in my body?.
I became infatuated with a young man. We talked until the sun came up, worked our way from our clothes until late morning, when my face grew raw from stubble, and he stayed all Saturday, all Sunday. There was a moment at the end when I wasn’t even aroused anymore; I was satisfied. I didn’t desire a thing.
I became suspicious. I felt like I’d taken opium.
It was too good, like holiday romance, smelling of wonder some animator dreamed up, unsustainable, that burns out. We all desperately want one thing or another, and this desperation inspires terrible things.
When the weekend with him ended, when I had to return to my small world, my little room, my black dog and plants, the curled smoke from cigarettes, I felt so deflated I drank a glass of opium. The weekend was inexplicably warm for January. The day he left a bitter cold swept back in, a thirty-degree drop. I wanted that glass, even knowing the danger, so I could stand outside with my dog in the cold, my nerve ends unable to feel.
Poison is as easy as that, as easy as sending yourself a check, easy as a glass of wine and a glance into bed. It feels like when you wake up of your own accord on a rainy day, in the morning, having fully rested, not needing to get up for any reason, and you stretch into the warm blankets, delightfully cool in places, cozy, you just want to lay in, a fragment of dream you can’t remember or forget, pans-breakfast in the kitchen, unconcerned, running past—a garbage truck, a light rain.
Just as inmates of Paradise wear a habit
of unfavorable termination,
Love itself cannot contain
Rigorous with reason,
our gigantic operator sat honestly
fashioned of wood.
Success, love’s mysterious notes
through silver vessel’s candied length of flame
residing three conquered ambitions
between seven mechanical sons embraced