from My Vibeby Jeremy Sigler, out now from Spoonbill books
When I got
bored of YouTubing Eagles and Chicago hits, I switched over to Eagles and Chicago NFL films. A subconscious link. The slow motion reels were put to militaristic narration and dramatic symphonies. In one segment, a defenseman tried
to bring down a running back. He clung with one hand to
the ballcarrier’s mesh jersey. And the highly elastic shirt stretched and stretched, and finally gave way. The runner literally bursted right out of his own shirt! He then took a few more strides into the end zone and spiked the ball, with his naked shoulder pads flipping and flopping in the cold air. Today such a spectacle would be considered a wardrobe malfunction.
I’m reminded of puberty, when I decided to shred my underwear one day. To transform the elastic white briefs into something Tarzan-ish. And to stand in front of the bathroom mirror until the thrill wore off.
robbed. But I also robbed. Actually I got caught red-handed. While attempting to rob the walk-in refrigerator behind the Fox & the Hound. Red-handed. With a six pack of St. Pauli Girl.
I was chased across the parking lot by the entire staff of waiters and bartenders in their forest green aprons and crimson polo shirts.
The cops eventually came. A lawyer was hired. A deal was struck. I got off working three long nights as their cheerful dishwasher.
They were overly-forgiving. By the end of my time, they had somewhat sided with the criminal. It was with distinct pleasure that they led me out to the walk-in refrigerator and pointed to the brand new security camera that had just been installed.
at the principal of the Catholic girls school. From the edge of the stage. I went berserk in front of the packed gymnasium. I yelled my lungs out at the stuffy official. Apparently she didn’t like our noisy rock-n-roll band, and decided to send one of her students on a mission backstage. The little girl crept around back there until she found the orange heavy-duty extension chord that led to the power strip that led to our amplifiers and PA system. And she pulled it out of the socket! We were midway through our cover of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go when the small red light on my amp went dark.
I do not make paintings, I now realize, is a good one. It is to avoid redundancy. Allow me to explain: Jon already made the paintings I would make. He painted them. When I saw them for the first time, in a way, they swam right up through my eyes like sperm. And they impregnated me.
They colored my heart. I followed their inspiration. But out they would not come.
So I had no choice but to covet them, keep them in. Internalize them. Let them inhabit. Let them haunt me.
While Jon has been dead for some time now, his spirit is still riding in me. His spirit wants to see how much further it can go. Now I am the medium. I am the paint and paint brush.
Perhaps I was born NOT to paint, but to use restraint. I still face Jon’s blank canvas. Standing next to Jon’s palette. Slathering Jon’s wide house-painting brush. Causing paint to spring from its bristles and flex across the soft expanse. I still feel my shoulder rotating and going with the nerves that flow down to my hand, till paint hovers like a cloud misting off the wind.
And other clouds drift. And shift. Into and out of
place. Pale lavender melting into a lemony gray before slipping away. Crossing, it obscures an earlier rash of peachy violet.
I can feel a frizzy feeling in my gut. Forks of lightning seeking the ground. The painting interlocks in a sort of quivering field of undulation.
This sky is what Jon referred to as his search. Initially, it was a search for his mother, who died giving birth to him. But then it became a search to rediscover the shadow-speckled land he had viewed through the glass womb of his B-17 bomber.
We moved on
to a juicier question: what artist should hang in the bedroom? Pierre Klossowski. I see it over our Harvey Ellis chest of drawers.
Do you remember what we did to get that chest? Do you remember how much we cared? About a dumb old piece of furniture.
I’d say I was in the grips of a Gustav Stickley obsession. Right before or was it after my Carl Andre obsession. Which was right before or after my woodsy Neil Welliver obsession.
I remember Paul McCarthy taking notes in a little spiral pad during my lecture on Neil. He asked, “Neil who?” and I spelled out the name W-E-L-L-I-V-E-R. Look him up.
Cory and I were nesting, I guess. It was just before we bought the beach house and installed the — you guessed it — wood-burning stove. Just in time for our first Pt. Pleasant winter. A cord of firewood was delivered that simply would not burn right. Each log would only smolder. For hours. No matter how hot the oven.
We stood there, anyway, in front of the chest at the furniture store trying to get up our nerve to sign the check. The saleswoman pulled out the bottom drawer and stepped in, to prove how strong it was. And, I think, to show how nice her legs were. I’m glad we bought it. Even if it’s petite drawers are hardly big enough to hold like a single pair of socks.
When I bought these socks, the girl behind the register told me that she knew me. “I’m Chelsea White,” she said. “I took a class with you when I was in art school. And I actually came out in your class!”
I smiled. But I was hit with this unfortunate pang of anger, this regretful little voice in my head asking: “Shouldn’t she give me the socks? As a small token of her appreciation?” Oh well. I leaned in, raised my hand, and gave her a high-five. There was something glorious about our arching clapping palms over the cash register and the rack of lip gloss. And the colorful scrunchies.
What is that
hanging over the side of the bun? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s an orange slice of cheese. It grips the ledge of the burger. But it certainly is not one with the burger. It is its own thing. An autonomous structure. I can imagine it so much bigger. Oldenbigger. Like Oldenburg-er.
I’d like to scale it up and create a monumental, wrestling-mat-sized Kraft Single. You know? Foam dipped in some kind of orange rubber. I’d like to feel it pucker. Under the weight of my wrestling shoes (and in my wrestling singlet).
Did I tell you yet about my idea to substitute the orange dye with black dye? I mean, like, why should American cheese be orange? I want American cheese to be black. Matte black. To look like black leather. Imagine a hamburger in a black leather jacket.
Yesterday was somber and somehow a held breath of the day-by-day inhalation-exhalation of it all. I’m reminded of poor Hitoshi. Who fell from a ladder to his premature death.
Yesterday I spent most of the morning surfing YouTubes from September 10th, 2001. I kept trying to substantiate the thunderclap I swear I heard that afternoon. The day before 9/11. This single thunderclap shook the house around 3:00 pm. With enough power to make me stop and wonder why the building hadn’t caved in.
But I never was able to find any report of thunder or even stormy weather in Brooklyn on that day — the day before Dick and Don put their plan into action. (P.S. It turns out that Hurricane Erin was hovering off the coast of Long Island on 9/10 and 9/11).
came into my room and lumbered over to a messy table, where he started flipping through my scattered collection of CDs. He then mumbled something about having never listened to music before. Hilarious. And he picked up a Ray Charles disk and began to examine it. “Hey look,” he said, with a dumbfounded, spaced-out, stoner expression, “this guy has the same name as me. But backwards.”
Charley would often employ me to do small jobs on his sailboat. I would ride shotgun in his dark green Toyota pickup fearing for my life as he raced like a bat out of hell up the coastal highway towards a marina in Oxnard.
I actually learned something about sculpture as I observed Charley’s approach to “the art of sailboat maintenance.” If he needed to screw something in, we’d get in the truck, drive all the way to the hardware store, and buy, like, one screw.
By the time we’d get back to the boat with our one screw, he’d realize we didn’t have a screwdriver! So we’d drive back to the hardware store and buy a screwdriver.
Finally he’d complete the simple task. And then, while cleaning up, Charley would toss out the screwdriver.
Not to brag
but they were sort of in awe of me. Which is not to say that they liked me. They sort of hated me. Why? Because I had sort of destroyed them. One class at a time.
Each week we’d walk to the edge and, “Okay, hit the deck! Grab on tight! Stretch your necks! Peek out over the cliff! Reassemble your eyes on that tiny world!”
One student was a pretty mature woman — who initially felt harassed by me (sort of) and kept pushing back at me (sort of). But she was no longer resistant. She was now just quietly observing my outside-facing-in-facing-out. Who knows? I had a hard laugh with Gina at the bar the other night when I told her that I had somehow wound up with a bitter old lady in my sophomore seminar and that the woman wouldn’t stop heckling me.
Anyway, I must have pounded her into submission. But not with cruelty. Just by making her aware how cruel it — Art — can be. Every week, I’d introduce my class to a new outsider — a new dysfunctional, addicted, well … dick. In the long history of dicks. I included women too. Female dicks.
I even showed a clip from the new movie starring Robert Redford, All is Lost. Why? Because I wanted them to see that remarkable patch-job he did on the gaping hole in the hull of his yacht — which may be the greatest work of assemblage I’ve ever laid eyes on. Far better than any piece by Schwitters or Rauschenberg.
All the adventure in detail of the lonely fact of my “take” on things. And my take-it-to-the-hoop of things. Week after week. That’s all it was.
Eventually the last class of the semester rolled around, and I was poised to give my goodbye speech. And on the train ride from Brooklyn I entered through the automatic sliding doors of my brain and pushed a cart down the parallel aisles looking for a few last ingredients … a few last words of wisdom to include in the survival kit I was giving them. That’s what it was. That’s what I had been preparing for them all semester. A survival kit.
Backtrack to the first class. I swear I came at them like an entire Special Team on a kickoff. Here’s what I said: “Don’t rush me. Ok? Really. Don’t fucking rush me! I don’t want to feel inhibited by your collective anxiety. What are you so anxious about anyway? I know the answer. You’re afraid I’m gonna lose my train of thought. You’re afraid I’m gonna
forget my lines.” I smiled and walked over to the heckler: “You’re afraid I’m gonna forget what I’m saying, aren’t you?”
And YOU TOO! reading this. Relax. I’ll get there. OK? Don’t rush the poet.
And then I changed the topic to the word “curiosity.” Ah, the lost art of curiosity. Or How to Surf the Internet. I talked about the apparent “atrophy of play,” and told them how I had once mastered the “clicker” while watching MTV with my brother back in the 80s.
So here I was, ready to level out and land this Airbus, with the naked awkward aging quality of my hard nose and graying armpits. “What three words,” I asked, “meant the most all semester?” No one moved. No one even blinked. No one dared raise a hand. “Three words. Ready?”
“Yes. Curiosity. The first is curiosity. No doubt you’ll need that.”
“Indeed. Reflection. The second word is reflection. Nobody understands the importance of reflection — of reflecting, that is, on what one has done. And what one is about to do. Don’t prepare. Be unprepared. But reflect! So that when you are ready to act you will do so with spontaneity. And accuracy. So that you will reach through the tube sock of time and speak the little muppet of your mind. OK? Got it? Good. So now here’s the third word for your survival kit. It’s the last word I want to say to you.”
I stopped. The biggest challenge, I now realized, would be letting something out while simultaneously holding something in. Only part of it — the word — could be safely expressed. Too much emotion was clinging to whatever word was cocked and loaded and about to manifest. “And the third word is … optimize. Optimize the experiment. Recognize its excess and irrelevance and redundancy and distraction. Take the optimal step — take the best step you can. Take the step of optimal un-knowing.”
I took out my phone and googled the word, and scrolled down numerous Wikipedia definitions. I tipped my glasses off my forehead onto the bridge of my nose. Like a welder. Now the room was frozen. Waiting. No one was rushing me. “Be opti … be opti … be …” And a shiver shot from my toes up my spine into my sinuses. And my eyelids flung open like velvet capes. I was now on the ledge looking out through a glaze. And I grabbed my composure, blinked three times, and said: “Be optimistic. I guess.” I nailed it — my dismount. Like in the Olympics. And I held my gaze to the highest point in the room, tilting up my chin slightly, as I let the whale of sorrow drain back into my gut.
I’ve been studying
deep food lately: the chicken breast pulled from the bath of boiling oil to become a battered cloud in the sky’s reflective window.
I asked Alyse to go out and take a picture of every piece of deep fried chicken she could find. But she didn’t have a camera. So I went myself. Like Walker Evans, I figured.
The other deep food distortion is the American single — the marigold cheese slice protruding from under the bun and curling over the side of most burgers. The single is on the verge. It is about to melt, but still retains its angular physique. It is an allegory.
Did I tell you I have an actual Nazi flag that my Uncle Herbie brought back from Normandy. It was passed around the family until it landed in my closet next to a giant orange and black Baltimore Orioles flag that came from the old Memorial Stadium. I plan to sell it on eBay.
I was flying
back from LA when this somewhat bitchy flight attendant came down the aisle carrying a cute little basket of headphones. She was flagged down by an elderly woman in the seat across the aisle from me. The elderly woman was quite on the ball, for a woman in her late nineties. And she was traveling alone. I watched her dig through her purse with a shaky, sun-spotted hand. I studied her metacarpals, which I could see clearly through the saggy skin of her fingers. Her boney hand then emerged with two crumpled dollars.
But the flight attendant, bitch that she was, refused to accept the bills, asking for the elderly woman’s credit card instead. The elderly woman didn’t seem to understand the words credit card. Perhaps she had never used a credit card.
I had to act. I grabbed for my wallet, and waved my own credit card in the air, and said to the flight attendant, “Please put that woman’s headphones on my credit card. OK?”
At this point the elderly woman thanked me, rose up from her seat, reached over, like, an entire row, and tried to stuff her dollars into my hand. I refused to take her money. But she kept trying.
The contemptuous JetBlue flight attendant swept my card indifferently, and handed me two headphones, one for me and one for the elderly woman.
“Did I ask for one?”
She looked at me with total confusion.
sunt leones was written on medieval maps. It meant: There are dragons ahead. Beware! You are now entering uncharted territory. Maybe you know this already.
When I searched for images corresponding with the phrase, I came across a dragon-lion etched by some Renaissance illustrator. The dragon-lion look exactly like Hoke!
Then I happened upon another picture of a very small dragon. This one was part dragon, part butterfly actually. It had sienna wings. And a flexible little ribcage. Its flame of breath appeared to be perfect for lighting cigarettes. I wanted to hold it in my hands. I wanted to glide my finger across its silky wings.
I wanted to blow into Hoke’s nostrils and say all I have to say. And run my fingers through her black curly hair. And stick my fingers in the canals between her callused hairy pads that smell like Fritos brand corn chips.
Jeremy Sigler is a poet, critic and teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. His long-awaited analysis of the poetry of Carl Andre is forthcoming from Sternberg Press.