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Tucson House Visit No. Six (Annie Guthrie)

This is Annie Guthrie and her family. Which one is Annie? Her sister is two years younger. Her brother is five years older. Her mother lives also in Tucson. Her father passed away in 1988. What was the occasion for this picture being taken? Annie is in the other room. I don’t feel like asking. Bonnie Prince Billy’s WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN is playing on the record player. Here again is Annie’s father:

In which picture is he older? And what’s that body of water behind him? Annie doesn’t know. I say to Annie, It’s just as good not to know as it is to know, and she says, I just said that to someone. Annie is a poet. She is currently teaching a class on oracular poetry at the Poetry Center, where she also works. That’s where I first met her. I gave a reading at the Poetry Center with Philip Jenks and Akilah Oliver. Annie was in the audience. She is deeply inquisitive with a supreme and patient calm in letting it open, even as it might evade, or turn into a veil of some trouble.

On a small table next to her bed is Susan Howe’s The Nonconformist’s Memorial, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and the February 2012 issue of Artforum. Nasturtiums on the side of Annie’s house are edible. Here is one of Annie’s poems in the magazine, THE DESTROYER. Two eggplants have not yet emerged from her garden. In the back corner of her refrigerator is a half-eaten melon in foil.

She lives in Tucson with her husband Tomaso. Tomaso is Italian. He is a brilliant cook. Showing me a map, Annie says, This is where I lived for many years. The map is of Firenze. She points to the street where she studied metal incising techniques with an old man named Franco. See my dirty fingernail? You have to really think of your questions because Franco doesn’t say anything.

I like that maps are called plans, Annie says. The Guthrie family is well known in Harlan County, Kentucky, where many of Annie’s ancestors were miners. It can be difficult to know where one fits into such a scheme, even as it goes, but to sit on top of a mountain in Italy surrounded in silence by eight elderly women, watching themselves and the floating rings of existence in the air before them. I’m going, Annie, I say, but then Annie says, Do you want to see my artichoke?

April 28th Letter No. Four (Walt Whitman, 1882)

WALT WHITMAN to John Burroughs, April 28, 1882

Dear friend

Just returned from a fortnight down in the Jersey woods—not feeling well this month, (a bad cold, neuralgia, other head trouble, bowel trouble &c—yet nothing serious—will blow over in a few days)—went down for a change—had bad weather & nothing propitious—but I have just come back & am already better—shall get along—

So Emerson is dead—the leading man in all Israel—If I feel able I shall go to his funeral—improbable though—

Can you help me? Can you loan me $100?

Walt Whitman

Tucson House Visit No. Five (Kristi Maxwell & Michael Rerick)

Michael made a loaf of peasant bread yesterday. He’s about to make nuts. What kind of nuts? Spicy garlic rosemary nuts. Kristi is sewing and stapling chapbooks for her friend’s wedding. Kristi has been appointed the “poet laureate” of the wedding. The wedding is next week. The photo above was taken in 2004, here in Tucson, though not where we—or they—are right now. They were then students in the MFA program at the University of Arizona. Michael Rerick is on the left. Kristi Maxwell is on the right. Michael and Kristi are both poets.

Michael says he makes bread irregularly. Not that his process is irregular or that the bread itself is, but that he doesn’t make it that often. He makes waffles more frequently. Kristi says they make waffles every two months. Michael says they make waffles every six months. I’ve eaten waffles with them. They introduced me to the possibility of dressing waffles with peanut butter. I was very happy. I have not eaten waffles since. I will show up one night, very late, at their sliding glass door.

In 2005 Michael and Kristi traveled to Prague. They drank dark beer at Sv. Norbert monastery. Michael wrote a poem about it which appears in his book, IN WAYS IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLD: “Dear Frank … here’s the Du. dwaal altar cloth draped like Christmas lights from a balcony—you always saw tits—and a dark Czech beer at Sv. Norbert monastery … dear Frank, she glows with the cold: the glass mug, 200 kc, stenciled Sv. Norbert in gold, the body barrel and dimpled.” When I first met Michael and Kristi, Kristi’s first book, REALM-SIXTY FOUR, hadn’t yet come out. They read in a house up a creek outside Missoula, Montana. Kristi read from the couch. Michael sat on the floor when he read.

This image is hanging above either Michael or Kristi’s desk. Can you guess whose desk? Above the other’s desk hangs a calendar of Hawaii. Its last year’s calendar. We’re listening to music off their television. When I first walked into their house, Madonna was singing. Then Cyndi Lauper. Madonna again. The Bangles’ Eternal Flame. Now Heart. Michael just brought a bowl of spicy garlic rosemary nuts to where I am sitting. Behind me is the chair—the perch—where Kristi and Michael’s cats sit. Right now, it is being occupied by a small duck. Kristi asks, Do you know the Sun Sphere? I don’t know the Sun Sphere. Its in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kristi grew up in eastern Tennessee. Michael grew up in Portland, Oregon and Tucson, though mostly Tucson. Michael’s birthday was seven days ago. The duck is standing on its head.

April 28th Letter No. Three (Jack Kerouac, 1957)

JACK KEROUAC to Ed White, April 28, 1957

I haven’t had chance to tell you but I’ve begun to paint, hence all the excitement about painting, started in Mexico City last October, first with pencil, then chalk, then watercolor, then paint … my first painting: God.

Tucson House Visit No. Four (Noah Saterstrom)

Clockwise from far left: Grandfather Theo, Grandmother Margaret, Anna Saterstrom, Uncle Butch, Roger Saterstrom, Aunt Lucy, Jessica Saterstrom. The amorphous white blob in the center is Noah Saterstrom, age four, maybe. Years later, Noah Saterstrom, the painter, made this image. Look deep into the stroke of the amorphous white blob. You will find the mind of a painter. And here is the painter himself, applying it:

Noah was eleven or twelve when this picture was taken. He’s sitting on the porch of the house he grew up in in Natchez, Mississippi. He’s painting the steeple of the cathedral several blocks over. Maybe I would’ve had to make it up, he says of the steeple. Back then he wore high-tops while he painted:

I’m sitting at the counter in Noah’s kitchen. He’s sitting at the dining table behind me. We’re drinking Fresca. Noah’s paintings are faithful and intuitive renderings of people and settings—situations, I feel—expressions of what happens when people are caught in a moment of moving internally in numerous directions, though made, by some unseen—perhaps obscene—force, to stay composed. He has collaborated with numerous artists, including Kate Bernheimer, Joan Fiset, Kristen Nelson and Anne Waldman. He’s currently collaborating with the poet Laynie Browne. Here is St. Jude with his Pentecostal flame, allowing him to speak in all languages at once.

Is that what a painter does? I mean, is that what a painting is? At least an approximation of the gift—the compulsion, the compulsive burden, perhaps—of that flame, light and color and value and substance as the meeting-place of all languages, the rising out of one’s head a sequence of material atoms? Noah has also illustrated the covers of books by poets Jenny Boully, Noah Eli Gordon & Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Gordon Massman, Andrea Rexilius and Shelly Taylor. We’re listening to The Magnetic Fields. Actually, this is not The Magnetic Fields.

Here is a photograph by Dana Matthews. Noah has two fish: Septimus and Clarissa. Literary references. They live in small glass globes in Noah’s studio, which is in his backyard, across the patio there. Septimus and Clarissa are over there right now, alone, together, with Noah’s paintings, complete and in-progress. Natchez, Mississippi, used to be called West Florida. Here is a photograph of Noah standing with his mom, their arms around each other. It appears they are staring at the bricks in this small building. What are they looking at? Are they going inside?

Tucson House Visit No. Three (Kristen Nelson)

The little girl on the left is Kristen Nelson. On the right is Kristen’s grandfather Luigi Paolillo. Everyone called him Louie. He died in 2002. He drove trucks for UPS. Shortly before Kristen was born, Louie slipped on a patch of ice while making a delivery. It was winter. He went on disability. Kristen was born in May. Louie took care of Kristen while her mother was working. They spent their days together. Kristen says he was a quiet man. He didn’t talk to anyone but me, she says.

I am in Kristen’s house: Casa Libre en la Solana, which functions as a residence, classroom, reading and performance space, screening room, and in many other ways. I have eaten many meals here. Kristen is now heating a frozen pizza. I have three slices of turkey pepperoni stuffed in my cheek. She offers me a piece of her pizza. I decline. I only eat frozen pizza alone, I say, but thank you.

Kristen’s house is voluminous with art and artifacts—photos, postcards, paintings, relics, shrines set into the walls. There are innumerable mirrors. How many images of Frida Kahlo does Kristen have in her house? All but one were gifts. The one that was not is a painting Frida made after cutting off all her hair. Kristen first encountered it in a glass case in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Moving to Tucson in 2007, Frida’s image was everywhere. Kristen admires Frida’s work for being unapologetically cathartic.

On Kristen’s microwave is a photograph of when she was fourteen. It was taken at Masonic Youth camp, on day ten or eleven of a two-week stay. She had not eaten in ten or eleven days. The camp served meals cafeteria style, so no one noticed. Kristen keeps the photo on her microwave as a reminder.

A poem by Kate Greenstreet is tucked into the frame of a mirror in Kristen’s bathroom. It’s my mirror poem, Kristen says. It’s been there for four years. Kristen says she became a poet while studying with Rebecca Brown. She recently published a chapbook, WRITE, DAD. There’s an image on the cover of Kristen when she was young. The image below is not the image I am talking about. Oh, but its a life!

April 28th Letter No. Two (Osip Mandelstam, 1937)

OSIP MANDELSTAM to Nadezhda Mandelstam, April 28, 1937 

Nadik, my little one! What shall this letter say to you? Will it be delivered in the morning or will you find it in the evening? Then good morning, my angel, and good night, and I kiss you whether you’re sleepy and tired, or clean, fresh, efficient, and bustling with inspiration about your shrewd, clever, good deeds. I envy everyone that sees you. You’re my Moscow, my Rome and my little David. I know you by heart and still you are always new and I can always hear you, my joy. Ah! Nadenka!

I’ll show the handsome rooster that crows three hundred times between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. And the little Pushok that runs around all over the place. And the pussywillows are green.

Tucson House Visit No. Two (Samuel Ace)

This is Samuel Ace’s grandmother. She immigrated to the United States from Transylvania in her mid-20’s, not long before the opening of the First World War. Her name is Anna. Sam remembers Anna being a tall woman, while her husband—Sam’s grandfather—was short. They used to fight a lot. This is a still image from a Super-8 film Sam’s aunt took when Sam was young. The film is of a birthday party. Sam is showing me innumerable still images he has taken not only of the birthday party film but of other films, including one called THIS IS MY RAILROAD, of which Sam has taken 733 still photographs:

He takes images of images. Or they take him. It is time spent—an exchange. For example, Sam spent time in Bisbee, Arizona—birthplace of the poet Alice Notley—taking pictures of the objects people had in their homes. They have a life of their own, these objects, and are, in a sense, immortal. In the sense that matters. Here is a picture Sam took of a picture:

I am crouching on the floor beside Sam, who is sitting in a chair scrolling through images on his computer. So I am slightly below the vantage point of the original vantage point, looking up into this woman’s upturned eyes. Her brow is raised. Sam’s partner comes from a long line of antique dealers, so brought Sam into the wondrous world of thrift stores and their feral objects. Immortality reigns within Sam’s gentle witness, certainly. Sam is a photographer and a poet. Things come together.

Sam and I once ate pizza together. He talked about Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where he spends time. Steam from the springs rising out of the earth. What does it mean when you meet someone and feel like you’ve met them before? Maybe you actually HAVE met them before, but forgot. Or maybe that person counts among their life-giving organs a kind of timeless and transcendent heart between hearts that is seamless when shared, and always shared. Sam is reading tonight for The Dictionary Project, coordinated by Tucson writer Lisa O’Neill. Here is Sam’s contribution to the project, including also his images. And here are Sam’s father and mother, from the same Super-8-captured birthday party, as seen again by Sam, many years later, at precisely the moments most intuitively stilled—a life, lives, differentiated and immortal:

April 28th Letter No. One (Hart Crane, 1931)

HART CRANE to Katherine Anne Porter and Eugene Pressly, April 28, 1931


Tucson House Visit No. One (Joshua Marie Wilkinson)

This music is beautiful in the morning. I’m at Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s house. Damien Jurado’s record with Richard Swift called MARAQOPA is spinning on the player. It is good and hot in the desert. Josh is working on a book called A SONG CALLED ‘KANSAS CITY’ BY THE SINGER DAMIEN JURADO. It is a book of poetry. Is it a secret? Am I supposed to be saying this? Josh is a poet. He is eating strawberries from a plastic container. He has an orange tree in his backyard. The oranges have thick peels and their insides are woven with cotton.

Josh has printed out manuscript pages of A SONG CALLED… and is having at it with a pair of scissors. There’s a pile of white selvage on the floor of his study. I often wonder how Josh’s mind works, though some evidence of an answer can be found within his many volumes of poetry, edited anthologies, and THE VOLTA, which he generously conducts, with a number of brilliant people present for it. He also, with poet Noah Eli Gordon, makes books under the name Letter Machine. The paper is now flying: strawberry leaves and gleaming white space. 

The first thing you see when you walk into Josh’s house is this print of a painting by Paul Klee. Josh’s poems might be found not only within the segments of the hunter and the hunted, but in what conveys them both along the lines of their continuously unfolding destinies. 

Maybe Josh looked like this when he was young. The boy, that is. The boy’s name is Deacon. He’s Josh’s nephew. The dog to the right is Bella. Bella is Josh’s dog. I first met Josh in Austin, Texas, in 2006, at a Cuban restaurant. I invited him to read in Missoula, Montana, where I was then living. He read in an old whorehouse. His father, who came to the reading, recognized the reading space as that of an old whorehouse. If only it had been still. Josh’s father had been a bartender there a lifetime before. Egon Schiele’s Nudo seduto con calze viola (1910) hangs over Josh’s bed.

This woman’s eye! Her knees! Her nipple! And then I notice the poem by Paul Celan on the wall, with an etching by his wife, Gisele Lestrange. The poem is a translation by John Felstiner: “THREADSUNS / over the grayblack wastness. / A tree— / high thought / strike the light-tone: there are / still songs to sing beyond / humankind.” We don’t know why we do what we do, though maybe we’re in some company. Josh is up now and changing the record.