Riffs in advance of a too brief vacation

Florida Native Plants“Having dressed myself up to be a sex object, I went out of my apartment and was looked at as if I were a sex object. And there was something in this looking that made me really uncomfortable. Why could I not be seen for who I really was?”


I often experiment on my plants, seeing if little changes in their positions, pots or watering might help them grow more luxuriously. This is not quite the same as subjecting them to toxins in an attempt to find ways to improve my and my fellow humans’ health. But, interestingly, it is possible to learn quite a lot from attempts to help others.


You might marry for social status or money, or take a job with such goals in mind. And as a result you might feel a kind of happiness or satisfaction every day, looking around at your possessions, the size of your home, its view or neighborhood, thinking about the status or money of the people you socialize with. Other forms of happiness and satisfaction might be elusive, since you had made status or money such a priority, but this is not to say that the status or money would not, and perhaps rather regularly, produce positive feelings.


Were someone (berating Freud?) to protest—”The psyche is not so complicated; I at least am not confused about what I want”—it might be enough to set him to making love, and to afterwards ask if he had not heard a dialogue within his head—a will asking “if I should” and “do I want,” and a more reflective self giving its reply, its “Not tonight” or “Why don’t you try?”


It is possible to treat someone disrespectfully or without much kindness and not drive them away. Because they need or think they need your power, your money, your good looks, your companionship. But every instance of disrespect, every kindness withheld or overlooked, . . . It is as if the flesh of the relationship were being stripped from the bones.

Cf., James Baldwin, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”:

It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself.

A poet names things, Plato may have written somewhere.
Through naming, I say, we achieve a Pyrrhic victory and a comforting separation,
If not only from things.

There are many who would not have things named —
Or not so starkly, not so precisely, please.
If we can live in the clouds, are we water?


Olmec figureCredits

Photograph of the buttonbush comes from a website about Florida native plants. (Cephalanthus occidentalis: Western headflower, we might say.)

But Jonah and I are going to our beloved Mexico City. Hence the image at right, from the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The image is of an Olmec sculpture dated, approximately, 1200-900 BC.


  1. Non-poets name things too. Naming, as you suggest, does permit people to succeed in going on talking, even if not helpfully. Doctors for instance. They test and test until they’ve got a name for whatever it is. Afterwards, unfortunately, then what? “If we can live in the clouds, are we water?” is great.

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