Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Cat is Just a Cat, But... by Dean Blehert

A Cat is Just a Cat, but

lately I see the cat and feel a love for her
that is sharp and unexpected. I look at her
(looking at me) and realize I understand her
perfectly. How is that possible? She catches
my eyes and holds them. I don’t know
what she wants, and yet there’s a purity
and simplicity of intention there. I know
she wants something—a treat? To go out?
To be stroked? But, not knowing what,

yet I understand perfectly her wanting,
and then I understand that slight frown
of frustration at my not knowing what she wants,
and then she rubs her head against my ankle, and
I understand perfectly that she thinks she needs
to win me over, and when her tail starts to swish,
I understand perfectly what is escalating there…
so I move to the door to see if she follows
or turns toward the cat dish or…--eventually

I figure it out. Sometimes I even come to see
that she doesn’t know what she wants, is feeling
bad and wants me to do something about it.

But long before I know what she wants,
I understand her perfectly.
I get the intention, that insistent, gripping look.
It’s pure, free of significance, like a phrase
from a late Beethoven string quartet, just a few notes
that ping home a longing or exultation. It’s music.

How can this be? Because nearly all of communication
is recognition. A Zulu greeting translates “I see you.”
The cat sees me. I see the cat. I see that she sees me.
She sees that I see her.

A person can go for lifetimes starving for this.
can be so numbed to the possibility of it
(What parent ever sees the child, what child its parent?)
that it is a shock when it ambushes him
from a book, movie, song…or even a cat

It is often said that cats are hard to understand
or that women or men or children are beyond understanding.
I see this and understand it. This puzzlement
is as clear and simple as the cat’s when she is frustrated
by my perfect failure to understand.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Macbeth Hath Murdered Sleep

 MacBeth hath murdered vision,
for he can see only his reasons,
whatever in the world justifies
what he has done: in a rainbow,
inevitable disillusion; in sex,
the hectic twitching of decaying flesh;
in life, all life, a disposable litter,
dead leaves disturbed by a cold wind;
in priestly teachings the mockery
of mangy crows conversing
among gnarled winter branches.

MacBeth hath murdered memory,
for he has put into the world
much he prefers not to know:
that one much like himself
can be a corpse, a nothing;
that one even more like himself
can be a monster; that dreams
of greatness can end
in what he now is.

MacBeth hath murdered imagination,
for to do what he has done and now must do,
requires the consolation of not knowing
that in others dwell ones like himself
or like what he once was, one with hopes,
dreams, people he cared for. It is
a leap of imagination to say “Hello”
and mean it. He can say it, but can
no longer mean it, for it is uncomfortable
to be there to say it or to imagine
anyone exists to receive it.

The universe demands compensation:

Having deprived it of willing awareness
(his own and that of those he has overwhelmed),
he must supply an unending compulsive wakefulness,
if only to his nightmares.  MacBeth
hath murdered sleep.

Having deprived it of lucid memories,
he must be hounded by vivid fragments
of what he would not see, their jaggedness
unsoftened by understanding. MacBeth
hath murdered sleep.

Having deprived it of an alertness
to what cannot be seen, the spiritual existence
of himself and others, he is lost
entirely in visions others cannot see:
MacBeth hath murdered sleep.

He hopes death will give him rest,
but he is already dead, yet sleepless,
having murdered sleep.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - review

I just saw the movie “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” I’d already read all three books of the Steig Larsson trilogy (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played With Fire, Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Next. I haven’t yet seen the movies for the other two books.

The movie has certain advantages, the book others. Certainly the movie captures some key elements of the book, particularly characterization. It misses a great deal. Some would find the differences an improvement. The movie is more brisk, more exciting, more immediately gratifying and usually more gruesome, not because certain details in the book aren’t equally disgusting, but because the absence of the flashing video vividness and the rather flat tone of the written narrative leaves them less lurid. A flat tone could set them off and make them MORE lurid, but it doesn’t work that way in these books, usually, because things are revealed over a more extended period of reader-time and more gradually.

But I want to recommend the books to you (if you haven’t read them already). I have very little time these days – work (and I do mean work) about a 65 hour week, plus about 12 hours of commuting a week. But I made time to read these.

In case you have NOT read them, here are a few points:

1. They are not exactly slow moving, but they go into detailed and often fascinating revelation of processes (of journalism, hacking, investigatory techniques, disinformation strategies, finances, etc. Larsson knows his stuff. He was, like his protagonist, Michael Blumqvist, an investigative reporter, one who became an expert on right-wing extremism, Sweden’s Nazi sympathizers (especially the eugenicists who sterilized some 70,000 Swedish women) and abuse of women, among other things. And he did receive threats. Per Wikipedia, he never married his lover of 25 years, because marriage in Sweden requires registration of address, and he felt too threatened to have his address in public records. (In volumes 2 and 3, the off-the-map address of the title’s “Girl”, Lizbeth, becomes crucial.)

2. The books are not wham-bam, but an oyster-like secretion of details. (And by mid Vol. 3 the grain of truth in the book starts to acquire that milky opalescence of pearl as the interaction of apparently disconnected threads coalesce around that grain.) The books don’t move slowly, if you consider them as a complicated chess match. The moves are rapid. But the ACTION is not. The movies eliminated most of the REAL action of the book, which is mental, akin to a chess player’s review of possible strategies. The tone (which sets off Lizbeth’s razor-edgedness) is rather bland, conservatively friendly, expository. There’s no “deep, dark” background music.

The trilogy has an overall emotional/logical/ethical curve of its own. The first book is mainly a set-up of characters for the next two. The key passage at the heart of the trilogy, in a sense, is the prologue to volume two, whose meaning is obscure (for most readers, I imagine) until near the end of volume three. The first volume seems complete in itself, but that completeness is shredded in volume two, and by half-way through volume three, the awful Vangers of volume one seem distant and relatively unimportant. And yet, everything in the first novel seems preparation for all that follows, not so much in terms of obvious plot, but in terms of understanding of the two main characters and what’s important to them and the building and straining of trust between them and the increasing schism between what we know about Lizbeth and what other characters (other than her chosen few almost-friends) think she is, and how this schism nearly destroys her, but ultimately proves to be her most effective weapon…and how it all relates to the perhaps legendary “world we live in.”

3. The movie changes the book as all movies change all but the most movie-like books (e.g., Elmore Leonard novels – which I greatly enjoy, don’t mean to denigrate them, but the best movie versions alter little, omit little), simplifying, omitting whole sub-plots and many characters. Some of these changes are improvements for me. For example, Blumqvist’s sex life, in the books (his various affairs) I find a bit unreal in their asserted sanity. These and some unlikely coincidences (Blumqvist happening to witness something) are mostly omitted. Most of those that come up in Dragon Tattoo are left out of the movie.

Other changes are probably necessary -- given what a movie can do in the time allotted and the difficulty of presenting what a character is thinking at length without putting viewers to sleep -- but unfortunate. For example, most movies and television shows make hackers magicians, and require an awful lot of suspension of disbelief, as genius nerds tap a few keys rapidly to get into arcane sites. The Dragon Tattoo movie is little better, but the books are a LOT better. You can actually get some idea how it’s done.

4. I haven’t yet seen the other two movies. I can tell you that if you read the books, what you’ll probably find is that the first book is slow-going for about half-way through (and each book is big – about 600 pages), gets better, gets gripping, goes on past where most books would climax, but still holds interest. The second book moves in many different directions at once and at times seems to disperse attention and repeat itself, but still fascinates, and has a lot more action than vol. one, but by the end, a reader may begin to feel that it’s hard to see a good way to an integrated finish. Then (with Hornet’s Nest) you get something like 600 pages of PAYOFF PAYOFF PAYOFF at a level of intensity and grippingness I’ve seen in few novels. Kind of a record for prolonged orgasm (all in the same bland, analytical style of the first novel). It’s still mostly an intellectual game, not chase scenes, etc. (Not many.) But you do hit the ground (mentally) at high speed, and there’s no let-up, and the court scene near the end is incredibly real and satisfying. I don’t know if it’s what you’d call literature – well, it is, but perhaps not great literature – but it’s a great intellectual thriller, half genre/half “literature,” borderline, but playing the two off against one another in a way that contributes to both. There’s a segment at the almost-end that’s more standard thriller (but true enough to the characters) that amounts to tying up a loose end and is a bit anti-climactic (climactic in terms of action-thriller, but in terms of MENTAL thriller, a let-down), but interesting, then a final scene between the two protagonists that seems to me an excellent, fitting and wise conclusion.

Larsson died before these books were published and supposedly left outlines for more novels (and complete text for much of one of them). Perhaps he planned more novels with these characters, but I’m not sure he could have topped Hornet’s Nest. I’m not saying it’s better than the other two volumes. I’m saying that, however compelling the first two books are, when you see how they feed into the collapsing armies of dominoes in the third book, the earlier books take on an additional dimension.

Is it great literature? Who cares. I’d say no. Too talky, too many voices (at least in translation) that are the same voice. But it’s great SOMEthing. And the author tells us a lot about what we live in -- that’s literature. He knows how a variety of professionals act and, in some cases, how they talk and how they spin things. He knows something about what it takes to survive if you take on the military-industrial-psychiatric-security complex. (And he makes that complex real – this isn’t SMERSH.) And he manages to embody much of what it takes to survive in what appears at first to be (to put it in high-school year-book terms) a “Least Likely to Survive” character (“The Girl…”.), a victim who refuses to be a victim, then almost becomes one from the reflux of the force of her refusal, then manages to transcend that and become, to some extent (and in a real way) something more than “not a victim,” something positive.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Of! Dammit! Of! Of!

by Dean Blehert

The trick of much poetry
is to boobytrap the innocent logic of syntax
with nonsense - not a stream of gibberish like
"bubble rats sour oyster foul snot pits
blood summer", but "A bubble of rats bursts
the sour oyster of our foul snot
in deepest pits of blood summer" or "the calculus
of winter" or "in the frayed easy chairs of
incontinent autumn" or "a calculus of rats
bursts the snot moon of..." (or even "...snots
the burst moon of...") - it MUST make sense,
because the power of syntax (A [noun] of [plural noun]
[verb]s the [adj.] [noun] of our [adj.] [noun]...)
carries it along, as heedless of its cargo
as a speeding train, which, whether carrying
vacationers, businessmen, potatoes or corpses,
gets where it's going. Not much wrong
with this: millennia of sheer plod cut
these logical grooves into our language, dry beds
for flow of even gibberish. Why NOT use them
to make us know bubbles of rats, the bursting
of sour oysters, etc.? We read such lines
as if blindfolded and asked to touch
whatever is put before us. Logical syntax
is our inviter's confident glibness
that lures us to plunge our hands into the bowl
of spaghetti, worms or bleeding guts, at worst
an adventure. I lament only the sapping
of syntax, the cheapened status of sentence
position, the dulling edges of our fine all-purpose
diamond-tipped tools: Of, the, a, our,
in, to .... Honed delicate tools should
not be used to slice up old cardboard. Syntax
is a miracle of complex agreement.
If we waste it - too often treat the ancient
aristocracy of articles, prepositions,
pronouns and conjunctions as mere pimps
for the perverse rompings of jaded, ill-
associated, ostentatious, nouveau riche words
like bubble, sour and calculus - then the
little words that bear it all upon their
shoulders will sicken from the shame of it,
look for ways to lighten their load by
cheating us, lose meaning - and then,
without our razor-edged the , our handy-dandy
slicer/masher/ricer/dicer of , our whole
tool chest full of elaborately defined
and compartmented if, to, and, on, as -
O how shall we talk to one another!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Your Whole World

This is your daily newspaper--
your whole world is here.
Here are the places in the world
where you can't go because
they are dangerous. Here are the
people who hate you because
you are an American. Here are
the things that will run out or cost
too much for you to have in the
near future (the distant future
has already run out, and you
can't have it). Here are the things
you can get in trouble for. Here
are all the things going wrong
with the world that you can't do
anything about. Probably no one
can do anything about them. Experts
and reliable sources agree that
there are no simple solutions and that
only time will tell. In any case,
it's certain that you
can't do anything about these matters,
but nonetheless, beyond the call
of duty, we keep you well-informed.
("We are now dropping the cyanide
into your cell....") Meanwhile,
if you can afford to drive
your car, there's a good chance
you too will be killed, maimed or sued,
but there's a good chance of it
even if you walk. That's the
sort of world you live in, but
fortunately for you, your friend,
the daily news, is looking out
for you--on the inside pages
our columnists tell you how
to deal with stress (per expert
shrinks with CIA contracts)
and our funny pages bring out
the humorous aspects of the Decline
And Fall of Practically Everything.
We present all reliably authorized
sides of every issue from our
Viewpoint. We let you get a very inside
look at what goes on all over the
world. When you are done reading
the papers, you can extrovert
by inspecting your breasts or rectum
for cancerous growths.

by Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lost and Found

You stand there in the spring woods,
admiring (as one would say politely
to the hostess, "Delicious!") a loveliness
that once tore you out of yourself,
left the empty shell of you vibrating
with a music that hummed long after
your return. You walked home that day,
ignoring the glad tears that gave you away,
knowing yourself too transparent
to be noted.

Now, admiring, you are solid.
You try to feel by looking harder,
spotting details, stilling the voices
in your head. For a moment you think
something is about to happen,
because you feel teary, but no tears flow--
the source is muddied. And the sting
is not of gladness. For several moments
you stand there trying to put something
back where it belongs, not knowing what,
while the dog trots and sniffs
farther and farther afield. You move on,
thinking, "I've lost it", hoping someday
it will turn up.

Nothing has been lost.
It is what has been added that thickens
the day. It is always with you, a clenched
headache you won't know has held you
until it vanishes. Then you will know
the mass of it--and the masquerade:

That when you strained to see,
the strain was not yours; when you thought:
"I've lost it", the thought belonged
to your burden; when you cried:
"There is no freedom!",
it was your shackles crying.

by Dean Blehert

Friday, June 18, 2010

Saving Face

I catch at eyes on the street
and they dart away, except once I held
too long the eyes of a dapper man,
who smiled too winningly.

Counselling people, I can look at them
without being expected to make a pass.
With my wife, often, it is permitted
just to look. With friends across restaurant tables
looking at each other is not strictly forbidden,
though always after an acceptable instant
one must ask (meaning "Is something wrong?"),

Why is it better to let two sets of eyes wander
in intricately interlaced choreography
from table to food to napkins, mine sweeping
(mine-sweeping indeed) past the face
three feet away only when it faces
elsewhere, catching eyes only a casual second,
as if eyes were slippery to the touch
of eyes? Why is it better, when eyes meet,
that inner gaze be elsewhere?

Even the dog knows that when I am giving orders
I am head of the pack and must not be faced.
People who look right at you
are about to lie to you, on the make, eerie
(Rasputins, pod people, zombies)--Oh
there is no good reason ever for eyes
to fix upon eyes. Movies dote on closeups,
pornographically huge luminous eyes
harmlessly sating our cravings.

Not that we are our eyes,
but they are where, craving raw light,
we've let ourselves be located--what could be
more dangerous? They've become our signature,
identity badges in the swarming lobbies
of the Humanoid Convention--the eyes
or other cherished features:
a mustache, "striking" cheekbones, the migraine
that somehow justifies all failures,

not much to be, but better than a billfold
crammed with credit cards, a sex organ,
a gun, a compendium of opinions
and all the other things we become
when we've lost, even, face.

by Dean Blehert

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In a Hurry

Two days ago I drove past a young man
writhing on the sidewalk while three men
lifted his motorcycle out of a puddle
of oil by the curb.

I was going somewhere and decided
I didn't have time to stop.

No doubt he'd felt the same way
until the crumpled rear end of that car
persuaded him otherwise--

though he may still be in a big hurry,
answering petulantly his pain's questions
so that pain must ask them over and over,
haggling, wringing from him each detail--
very time-consuming.

I, too, have found since then
more time than I thought I had
for answering questions--not posed
by any pain of mine,

but by the tiny gap torn
in where I thought I was going to
by my maybe passing right by--
in my hurry to get there--
part of it.

Today another accident: The front of his tiny car
nearly cut off by a left-turning truck,
he's slouched in the front seat, bleeding
from his face (nose? mouth?)
onto his once-white shirt, dazed.

I park and bring over a box of Kleenex
to catch blood and to make amends
for driving past the broken motorcyclist.

I feel okay about it now if you do, Lord,
so you can stop damaging people
and machines for me.

by Dean Blehert

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Walking Beside You

Walking ahead of you (it is hard for me to walk
at your pace), I worry: What if an alien craft
were to beam you up, just you. I'd be walking along,
turn back - you'd be gone

So I slow down to walk beside you. Still, with a
narrow beam, they could pick off you alone,
so I put my hand on your shoulder,

but maybe they'd take you and just
my hand, and you'd worry, what happened to the
rest of me - did I bleed to death, or did the beam
cauterize my stump? - you'd never be certain.

Would you save my hand? Would they let you
remember me? I'd never be certain.

Our old dog would be barking like mad,
snarling at the empty sky, inconsolable.

They'd put me away, too--
In jail if I had no explanation,
or in an asylum if I tried to tell the truth.

How nice to walk along, (the dog nuzzling our hands
then falling behind to sniff at the grass)
kicking the autumn leaves, beside you.

by Dean Blehert

Friday, May 14, 2010

On the Passing of Suburban Shopping Forests

The trees are gone now - they just weren't practical,
what with cereal boxes and CDs sliding off the branches,
shopping carts catching on roots and overturning, skidding
on ice, water leaking through the leaves, making a
soggy mess of the movie popcorn, shrimp lo mein sliding off
root-tilted tables into customer laps, having to shake
snow off the videos to read the titles, all the books
at Borders mildewed and cobwebbed, kids vanishing
into the upper branches, poison ivy in the men's room,
birds splatting into bright-skied movie screens,
pushing faces through itchy spider threads to
reach the pharmacy, squeezing between saplings to
get green cream cheese (with ladybugs) smeared on
your bagel, branches snapping in your face as you
moved to the counter for your large hazelnut mocha
with a little green caterpillar thread-dropping
into the whipped cream, no place to park, thorns
snagging and tearing nylons and shopping bags,
all those CREATURES underfoot and overhead as if
they owned the place and not very clean either -
mangy deer nibbling the vegetables, foxes, squirrels,
skunks, moles, woodpeckers making their messes
right in the aisles, scary rustlings
and crashings behind the canned goods,
raccoons in the bakery, snakes in the Place
for Hair, that huge moth spreading its wings
on the fresh lettuce, bees swarming the Baskin-
Robbins Pralines and Cream, just the tops
of Boston Chicken and First Columbia Bank
showing where the beaver dam submerged them,
a lightning-felled branch spilling silk scarves
and handkerchiefs, shattering a cosmetics
display case, gallons of perfume wasted
on old dead leaves, clouds of gnats
kamikazing your eyes so you can hardly read
the prices, things plopping into your soup
in all seasons - yellow leaves, branch-loads
of snow, acorns, winged whirling seedpods,
silky puffballs drifting into everything,
trying to separate your salad-bar pickings
from dead leaves and seeds in all that rush
of wind and rain, huge black wet creaky
tree trunks looming up on all sides and in
the leaves overhead a sudden crackle and WHOOSH!
as a thousand grackles swirl upwards shrieking -
HEADS UP! - yuchhh! They've been gorging
on blackberries! Oh, it's so much more
convenient now that everything is flat and
air conditioned and asphalted and concreted and
glassed and roofed in, sleek floors, straight
wide aisles, level shelves and tables, nothing
alive but us and some adorable puppies in a
window and lovebirds in cages, all we need
so easy to reach, so CLEVER! I don't know
why we didn't think of this sooner!

by Dean Blehert