The first man ever frozen

While I was preparing 
for my Science Fair project, 
busily freezing turtles, 
insects, and plants, 
you were busy dying. 

Mr. Vest and your physician began CPR, 
packed you in ice on the hospital bed.

It is something of an understatement 
to describe Nelson as a pathological liar 
and an outright fraud. You would 
certainly have perished at Chatsworth 
with the nine patients whom Nelson 
allowed to thaw out and decompose.

You, of course, do not know me at all. 

Sometime in the June of 1973 
I walked into the cavernous 
industrial bay of Galiso, Inc.
The unit containing you sat out 
on the shop floor amid the clutter 
of uncompleted dewars and test equipment, 
covered with a heavy layer 
of ubiquitous Southern California dust. 

This was our first meeting.

So much happened between 1982 and now.
On the other side of the flimsy “wood” paneled wall
(there were open studs on the side where you rested), 
we were washing out the blood of dogs 
and cooling them down to a few degrees.

I cannot describe the feeling of elation 
when I peeled back the sleeping bag and saw 
that you appeared intact and well cared for. 

Ruby was cremated a few days after 
her death. It appears that where immediate 
family is concerned, you will be making 
the journey into tomorrow alone.

Dr. Bedford, I hope we really meet someday. 
I am not sure we will have much in common, 
But we will have the joy, the sheer, 
unbounded joy of being alive in a universe 
where we can move freely, unchained 
from the bonds of gravity, earth, and time.

(From Dear Dr. Bedford, July 1991)

The first ramp in Palestine

The ollie is an essential trick.
It’s a door; if you can open it,
you can open others.

We had to go to Israel in order to skate.

“What do you get out of it?”
That’s what people would say.

Observe closely.
One, two, I get on.
One, two, I get on.

The day the skatepark opened, I was here,
and the army came and fired tear gas.

Let’s make a circle.
Let’s learn another trick.
This one in the front, that’s one.
Two, they’re next to each other.
Three, I lift my foot.

Don’t you feel like you’re flying?

I imagine there’s no occupation,
there’s no wall.

With every new trick it’s like
you become aware of a new life.
It’s like when something has been missing.
And you’re looking for it.
And slowly you find it.

I learn to live.
That’s what I get out of it.

(From Walls cannot keep us from flying)

A plume of feathers, never used

A plume of feathers, never used 
but by Œdipus and the Earl of Essex.
A serpent to sting Cleopatra.

Aurengezebe’s scymitar, 
made by Will. Brown in Piccadilly. 
The whiskers of a Turkish Bassa. 

A wild boar. Roxana’s night-gown.
The imperial robes of Xerxes, never worn but once.
Another of a bigger sort.

Materials for dancing; as masks, 
castanets, and a ladder of ten rounds.
Three bottles and a half of lightning.

A dozen and a half of clouds, 
trimmed with black. A basket-hilted sword.
Three oak-cudgels, with one of crab-tree.

A bale of Spanish wool. A sea.
A coach very finely gilt, with a pair 
of dragons, to be sold cheap.

Othello’s handkerchief.
One shower of snow in the whitest French paper.
A mustard-bowl to make thunder.

A suit of clothes for a ghost, 
viz. a bloody shirt, a doublet curiously pinked.
A coat with three great eyelet-holes.

A set of clouds after the French mode, 
streaked with lightning, and furbelowed.

(From Drury Lane theatre’s fire sale, 1709)

Burn him!

If ya have to ask, you don’t belong there.

The lake bed is a Euclidean plane 
with zillions of dry fractal cracks. 
The parched Nevada mountains of the Black
Rock Desert rise on three sides. Point the front 
of the vehicle into emptiness and launch. 
Gaseous tails of flying white dust spurt up 
like jet exhaust. Cars and trucks leave huge wakes 
on the horizon, like white prairie fires. 
The place feels like the afterlife. When you 
walk across it, you just drift over 
endless cracked whiteness, lifting your feet 
maybe a quarter inch from the surface. 
The alkali dust is like a fine and 
bitter talcum. Just throw off your clothes. 

Colored strings of chemglow out in the desert, 
woven through the spokes of bicycles and 
mysteriously revolving. Huge dramatic
bowl of desert stars overhead. Fireworks 
and flying flares casting a lurid trench-
warfare glow above the massive camp.
Pagan hierophants in tall headdresses 
and silver lamé march in slow step,
toting flaming standards of arcane device.
Swarms of nude dancers caper up in
bizarre sword-and-sorcery bondage gear. 
The soundtrack switches to repeated, insane,
bestial screaming. An awe-inspiring insect 
goddess – a hunchbacked bug on red stilts – comes 
towering and toppling into the firelight. 
Amy is an imaginative child. This 
is awful! It’s like a living nightmare! 
They go at it hot and heavy, booming-
banging-boogying.

A guy got killed last night.
He rear-ended a truck while zooming 
along the darkened playa on a blacked-
out motorcycle. At night somebody
constructs a fake constellation. Faking
the stars, cutting-and-pasting the desert
sky. Flat on his back, he looks like a giant 
abandoned packing crate, but when he’s 
catapulted into standing position, 
he becomes a striking neon symbol 
of pretty much everything that matters.
It’s time to finally burn the Man. 
They fire up the guy, and he explodes 
in sheets of colored fireworks and giant 
livid gouts of flames. Burn him!
Amy is screaming, wriggling like an eel.

(From Greetings from Burning Man! August 1996)

Presently a misty moon

Lo! and behold and hear! 
Hearken to his song! 
Out come the nightingales, 
right about the guns.

Presently a misty moon came up, 
a nightingale began to sing… 
It was strange to stand there and listen, 
for the song seemed to come 

all the more sweetly and clearly 
in the quiet intervals between 
the firing. There was something
infinitely sweet and sad about it, 

as if the countryside 
were singing gently to itself, 
in the midst of all our noise 
and confusion and muddy work; 

so that you felt the nightingale’s song 
was the only real thing 
which would remain when all the rest 
was long past and forgotten.

Gradually the night wore on, 
until day began to break, 
and I could see clearly the daisies 
in the long grass about my feet.

(From a letter from the Western Front, 1915.)

Welcome to the UK

Why is there a guy selling perfumes
in the toilets of a club? The fact
most houses don’t have bars on the windows.
Spring and how utterly lovely it is.
Strangers ending messages with a kiss.

Everything is tighter, narrower, closer.
You coming with us for the bonfire,
they’re burning the Pope. I wasn’t expecting
the litter to lay on the ground for weeks.
Where are the people cleaning the streets?

Houses have string light switches. Two taps.
Gravestones older than my whole country.
You can buy drinks and snacks in a pharmacy.
Quiz nights, Marmite, no bargaining in shops.
Two snowflakes fall and everything stops.

Most people in London aren’t from London.
People who play dominoes in pub bars.
A small group of cheerful protestors
led to a police car, no need for drama.
People shopping in their pyjamas.

All the food is wet. Sandwiches oozing
with mayonnaise, chips drowning in gravy.
Everything is too sweet. Limes are so cheap.
Long fake eyelashes, orange tanning.
How green everything stays. Did I mention spring?

No burglar bars and security gates,
no pallisade fencing. The resigning
of everyone who has a setback.
How much Brits hate Britain, talk it down.
Women pushing prams on the streets on their own.

(From UK immigrants, what surprised you when you moved here?)

Left behind

A Jimmy Choo
Cinderella shoe.
A Pomsky
dog called Beyoncé.
An ice-cream cart,
a birth chart
and tarot reading.
A pair of six-foot angel wings.

A Roland drum kit,
an Angora rabbit
called Thumper, an Islamic
marriage certificate.
The bride’s pet lovebirds, Will and Kate,
which she was supposed to take
to the ceremony.
A GT V8 Bentley
convertible.
A huge inflatable
unicorn pool float,
a banana boat.
A telescope.

A DJI Phantom drone
and a coin collection started nine decades ago.

(From dogs to drones)

Negatives from Aspen

We’re looking for some help for Hunter.
Are you a night owl? Would you be interested?

It took me only a moment to answer
yes to everything.

Nothing that Hunter did could bother me.
The only thing that got to me
was the cigarette smoke.
There was so much of it.

Louder, louder,
slower, slower.

You could trek and ski by day
and do shitloads of coke at night.
There were dealers and busts –
and mountains’ worth of cocaine
flown in on Cessnas.

You’d suddenly see
famous people everywhere.

I decided early on never to get wasted.
I’d seen the scorn he reserved for those
who turned up to pay homage to him,
got completely stoned and started acting
stupid. They were never welcomed back.

It never occurred to me
it would happen on my watch.

My legs buckled and I fell to my knees.
It’s not that I didn’t see it coming,
because he spoke about it a lot.
He was not having fun.
He had this Hemingway crush.

Let’s just dust off
those old negatives from Aspen.

Louder, louder,
slower, slower.

(From He was a handful)