Pelagic, sublittoral, white noise

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Bronx, Pelagic

I guess one of the benefits of living in 21st century is that you can look up any word you do not know and get the definition of it instantly while reading a book. It is especially an efficient workflow for someone like me whose mother tongue is not English and whose goal in life is to master the language. Of course, the problem is that it is darn hard to put down your phone and get back to reading once you attained your answer. There is always a stream of information ready to be consumed in that little device…

Recently, I had a rare occasion of having to look up a word and actually doing a related research instead of ending up in a never ending digression. The word was ‘sublittoral’ which Don DeLillo (an Italian boy from Bronx as he’d like to call himself) used in ‘White Noise‘ while describing that heightened sense we all experience whenever we hear a shocking news for the first time.

A Webster’s definition of ‘sublittoral’ is:

“(of a marine animal, plant, or deposit) living, growing, or accumulating near to or just below the shore.• relating to or denoting a biogeographic zone extending (in the sea) from the average line of low tide to the edge of the continental shelf or (in a large lake) beyond the littoral zone but still well lit.”

It could be just me, but the definition did not clarify the meaning at all. It all became very clear when I saw this diagram from Britannica’s website:

I do not know what kind of field will require you to know this information (maybe an oceanographer or a rescue diver?), but I certainly found it to be fascinating. And, what a way to find out what the words sublittoral and pelagic exactly mean!

Bibliomancy: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Bibliomancy

Contrary to what I thought and hoped in the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve accomplished very little by staying home this year (perhaps unsurprisingly). All the motivational talks that made me initially think that I would do something special have done little to lift my spirit up to take actions or make positive changes in the end. Instead, I kept myself busy by working from home for the same multinational corporation (to what end, I don’t even know).

In “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, Carson McCullers beautifully describes this feeling of powerlessness that I again had this year.

Later in the novel, the main character Mick goes to New York Cafe (set in Georgia of course) to have a combination of a sundae and a beer (why haven’t I thought of this combination before?) and picks herself up a little. I thought ‘Yeah, at least when all this is over, I can treat myself to the sundae and the beer and pick myself up a little.’

A flashback to highschool: a momentary lesson in typhlology?

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Typhlology

Like many in the tristate area this week of tropical storm Isaias adding yet another challenge to our 2020 lives, did you have a spontaneous, necessary barbecue the night of Thursday, August 14, 2003? What do you remember doing during the great Northeastern blackout? Is it all coming back?

It was late afternoon. I was on a phone call, at work. The call died and the office went dark. Two floors below street level, my co-workers and I groped our way through the hallways to the stairwell, bypassed the elevator, to find out the whole museum had gone dark, and the whole of Brooklyn, and the whole of greater New York area, and yes, the entire Northeast, it turned out. We left work early. I rode my bike home, and picked up my daughter from school. She and I went hunting for a flashlight and candles. Darkened stores set up improvised counters in their doorways to sell flashlights, batteries, candles and matches. At home we warmed up leftovers from the dark fridge, on the stove—glad it ran on gas—enough to eat, not too much to get spoiled.
Subways weren’t running. My wife got stuck in the city. One of her co-workers knew of a friend who was on vacation, whose apartment was within walking distance. The two of them spent the night on the ninth floor, got there by elevator and watched TV, granted by the grace of the building’s own generator.

After dinner, my daughter and I sat on our stoop enjoying the neighborhood in the gray of dusk. It was a beautiful and comfortable summer evening—no wind, no rain. Homes were dark, but for the candles. Streetlights were off, and somehow there weren’t any cars coming down our street. It was peaceful. We enjoyed taking it all in. At some point the B67 passed in our peripheral vision, a delightful sight, a startling sight as the bus was awash with light. The brightness of the colors of the passengers’ clothes hurt my eyes, taking me back in time, to high school, flashing back to biology class, and learning of rods and cones, and why one sees the world in black and white for a split second upon waking.

Klutzing While Isolated

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Brooklyn, Foudroyant, Rete

Loud drop.

Pointy shards.

Billowy teal.

A short pile of small ceramic cups fell on my counter, shattering in irreconcilable little pieces.

One of them, the tallest, was already a patched-up ceramic cup glued together. I had relished in my little experiment in kintsugi, the Japanese art of rendering objects even more precious by mending them with golden seams. This one had thin lips, a discreet tactile pleasure I have always enjoyed, which is why I held onto the single unit for so long. The seams became coffee stained, my morning ritual sealing a prior accident in the past.

There was a twin set of bi-colored chunkier ones made by my friend Nana. Off-white on the outside, and swirled shades of cerulean and gray inside. I will miss these best of all, because I have no clue when I’ll be able to make it home and screech a high pitched hello, before Nana and I throw our arms around each other. The thought of a ribcage to ribcage hug with a childhood friend rings through my chest and wafts off into an expedited oblivion.

I can’t tell if I have become klutzier or if it is the paltriness of noteworthy events that has made these banal domestic mishaps more noticeable, but the fact is my kitchen has taken a hit.

I thought my counter was sturdy, its stone surface unassailable. Now, staring at the constellation of nicks, chalky winks, makes me think that solidity is an overpromise, and the breakable objects remind me that collisions leave all parties marked by the surface encounter. My cooking prep area is now bound to hold onto tiny particles of food, as I figure out how to become handy.

Flower vases, baking tray lids, wine glasses.

Slipped and shattered.

Vacuumed, brushed.

Perhaps mourned, none replaced.

Absence too is an event.

Some things have to be scarred before we can feed off their resilience.

The Power of the Word

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Bibliomancy, Brooklyn, Definition, Manhattan

Somewhere along the line I learned that random finds can prove to be inspirational. As a young songwriter, I had a breakthrough with the word “Topeka”. It was written on the back of an old family photo. Though I had visited my Kansan relatives in that city a few times, the mystery of the word hadn’t taken hold of me until that moment. I wasn’t looking for it. It reached out to me and I realized I had stumbled upon a portal that needed to be explored. I started researching the lives of my great grandparents and uncovered all kinds of stories about Topeka in the ’20s and ’30s. My Mexican great grandmother ran a grocery store and eventually, a pool hall. My Scotch-Irish great grandmother had been adopted by two sisters, one of whom was a prominent dentist in town. I eventually wrote several songs inspired by my ruminations on Topeka.

Taking this kind of exercise a bit further, I frequently play the game of opening up a random book, plopping my finger down on the page and then attempt to create a song or drawing or poem based on the designated find. I find encyclopedias work very well for this exercise. Having just now reached for my copy of the Golden Book Encyclopedia, my finger landed on “comet”. So many possibilities!

One of the aspects of city life that’s now slightly more difficult to access is the plethora of words we would see every day as we moved about the city. My subway ride to work provided me with advertisements filled with copy. I started playing a game where I would write poems using only the words contained in a single ad. Then there were the covers of other passengers’ books or their newspapers. Is the city speaking to us as we move through it? Showing us little treasures if we take the time to look?

Yashmak, Xenogenesis, Algorithm, and William S. Burroughs

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Manhattan, Xenogenesis, Yashmak
The High Line, Sep 24, 2019

I took this photo while walking on The High Line last September. I started wondering what the Arabic sentence meant only when I looked at the photo recently reminiscing about the pleasure of walking in a crowded area. With the miracle of Internet, I was able to quickly find out that it was an installation by a Palestinian artist Emily Jacir.

ex libris commemorates the approximately thirty thousand books from Palestinian homes, libraries, and institutions that were looted by Israeli authorities in 1948.

Not knowing much about the Israeli-Palestinian politic, I can’t really comment on the political aspect of the work. However, it made me wonder if one of the thirty thousand books could be the book that is a foundation of modern computing that allowed me to write this post on a computer. The book “Rules of restoring and equating” is written by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (c. 825) and the latinized word “algorithm” is derived from his name.

This is a little known fact that I learned when I was studying computer science (the field I chose after all my options ran out) as an undergraduate. This is probably a fact that most Americans are ignorant of even though nowadays everyone at least heard of the word “algorithm”. Of course, a popular image of the middle east is the land of savagery and war-mongering, not the enlightenment.

In The Western Lands (probably a perfect book to read during a quarantine), William S. Burroughs acknowledges this intellectual debt the world owes to the Islamic world by using the company his grandfather founded as an example:

Much like the legacy of the Islamic world is veiled by Yashmak and being forgotten by the rest of the world, the legacy of the Burroughs corporation and William S. Burroughs (a perfect example of xenogenesis) himself seems to be disappearing. The Burroughs corporation had invented adding machines (mechanical computers that are literally made out of steel and wood) in the 19th century and introduced a series of technical breakthroughs since then only to become a shadow of itself later. William S. Burroughs, who invented the cut-up technique, is now only given that dreadful title “a controversial gay writer”.

A Voice From the Woods

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Audile, Brooklyn

by Rodrigo Alonzo

A few weeks ago I was sitting on my porch in Kensington enjoying a quiet morning. This was in the beginning of the quarantine so there was the occasional passing car but mostly everything was still. Suddenly a call sounded; not too loud, but distinct. It was a voice I’ve known my whole life and yet I really didn’t know anything about it. It was a birdsong. The only one that has made an impact on me. I hadn’t remembered ever hearing it in Brooklyn before. And now that we were forced to seclude ourselves in our homes, there it was.

This particular birdsong is one of my earliest memories. Other formative sensations are freshly-mown grass, the carpet in my parent’s first apartment, a mobile that hung above my crib, but this sound… It’s the same every time: a low note, then up high, then down a bit and that note is repeated three times…like this: low-high-mid-mid-mid. And the mid trails down each time it’s sounded. The quality of the call is like a low recorder, as if it were being played in an early music ensemble. It sounds like it’s being blown through a medieval woodwind of some kind, a husky, low salutation.

First time I heard the song I was a toddler, living in St. Joseph, Michigan. Our house was one of about twelve in a newly-constructed subdivision surrounded by open fields, forests and a small creek. From the time I was very little, we would go for an evening walk around the neighborhood. Often it was dusk. The sun was a deep red with a fiery fading orange just above, all dipping under the black horizon. And that birdsong would always call out. The song and the sun setting behind the darkened trees were fused together in my mind. That’s why hearing that same call on my porch in Brooklyn was such a jolt. How could that voice have traveled forty-seven years and several states to find me here in Brooklyn?

In addition to the visual image of the sunset, the birdsong evokes a kind of Greek chorus for me. “I’m still here,” it tells me. “Remember your childhood?” it asks. “Who do you think you are?” Hearing this simple voice is my personal Rosebud or madeleine. It’s some kind of ghost that is simultaneously comforting and haunting.

Because I now have much more free time than usual, I decided to find out who it was that was making this sound. After a short investigation of “bird calls” on YouTube, I came across the exact one. It was the mourning dove. All this time I had no idea and here it was. When I looked at its photo, it didn’t match the shadowy image I’d been carrying in my head for so long. I learned that mourning doves are plentiful in New York (as well as Michigan). They love open fields, hunting for seeds, and they migrate to Mexico in the winter.

Another memory that came hurtling back was Robert Frost’s poem, “Come In” which I had read as a senior in high school. The vidid directness of his language made a big impression on me then. I didn’t know you could write a poem about a bird inviting you into the forest. Here I was, in the middle of Brooklyn, feeling the same dilemma. I remembered my teacher saying, “The bird’s not calling out to the narrator. Nature is indifferent.” But the voice of the mourning dove is so specific. It always forces me to face myself and take stock of what I’ve become. It always finds me. Even in Brooklyn.


BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Bibliomancy, Queens, Uncategorized, Vaticinate

On Thursday, February 27th, I waited to board my plane to Minneapolis, at LaGuardia. To kill time, I went, as I often do, to look for books, to stack a poem with the titles sold there, gently rearranging the bookshelves. Browsing the shelves at CIBO Express, this poem emerged:

The Night Window

Since we fell we were
the lucky ones,
the perfect couple
lost in the cabin
at the end of the world,
becoming the border,
the brink

It had an ominous ring to it. It left me a bit uneasy. Having done this at all types of book venues, from libraries and private homes, to independent and chain bookstores, titles offered at airport bookstores often fall in one of four categories: hot business, hot politics, hot romance, and hot self-help. The poems I stack there often have a level of anxiety that aren’t necessarily mine.
Once in Minnesota I stayed at the home of friends’ friends, a psychologist and her husband. I shared the poem with them and their friend, resulting in a delightful conversation. I implied I might rearrange some of their books. They laughed, and I gleaned from their response that they wouldn’t mind if I would. The guest room was next to her office. On the wall hung a framed photo of a group of campers, with a title: “I often think something marvelous is about to happen.” That text was an invitation for a book poem to be built on. Needing little impetus, I did. The office shelves were packed with psych books and children’s books, a potent combination.

I often think
something marvelous is about to happen

I’m a frog
singing the living tradition.

Where there is no doctor
cure the little prince
thinking in systems—

the whisper—
the way things work
stumbling on happiness
where the sidewalk ends

To my surprise this poem echoed the sentiment of The Night Window, an answer perhaps, or at least a continuation, more upbeat, but also with an open-ended last line, that begs for a sequel yet again… What’s next? If the first poem alludes to a proverbial mythological dark forest, its sequel might hold a key to emerging from it, to reenter the secret mysteries of our universe, our lives in it. Be well.

Daydreaming at dawn

BY | Posted on | FILED UNDER Categories Brooklyn, Vaticinate

The city that never sleeps,
deserted streets and shuttered shops.
I dream of those dear nearby.
The sirens incessant roar,
then total silence returns.
I dreamt of fields golden skies, when time will come and nothing dies.
Wildflowers and cloudless days,
Nor fear, nor weary, no more tears.
Of Joys gone by,
The simple pleasures will remain.
Each day matters.
A sweet refrain,
Spirits soar.
Courage they say,
this too shall pass.
Melancholy fades,
a glimmer follows.
I wait till dawn,
Soft sounds of morning and gentle light enter the room,
Much to my delight.
Birdsong, a distant bark,
The fog horn sounds.
All settles down.
Another day in this old town.