This Blog is Dead! Long Live This Blog!

Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration… this blog is definitely on hiatus, though. K & I depart for South America tomorrow at noon, and return in five months. I won’t be updating Mayhem Onward! during that time. But, you can follow our adventures in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina by visiting our travel blog: Viaje del Sueño / Dream Trip. See you in September!

Chincoteague Wedding Poem

by Karla Mancero and Brian E. Langston

sand, wind
drops of rain
a peeking sun
surprises the clouds

somewhere distant
gears churn into motion
machines evacuate the earth

a photo, black and white
a texture of color
lost on a day
spiritual waves

he shoots a gun, his silver teeth
a tin star, desert bronco
eight cylinders churning, gasoline

a story begins
and ends with
the sunset
the machines die
without learning anything

the grain has no direction
birds fly against the wind
sand in the teeth
sapphire Atlantic, rumble
and ivory foam

he gains a
compass as
she breaks the
distance, the
fires are seen
before recognized

wildflowers, yellow and red and orange
the color of autumn’s flames
smelting two hearts into one golden sun

to the beach they
go regardless of
floating time
hourglasses left over

the machines decay in saltwater
are ground smooth and timeless
become corral reefs
or are worn into sand

if brothers and sisters
cross drowning land
and parches waters
then the worn down
machines can grow
over with flesh

he pawns his silver teeth and empty gun
buys himself some driftwood and a mizzenmast
ties an anchor to his leg
and sets sail, out to sea

30 years later she holds
the hand of an old
man and turns up the
volume on his teeth

on his teeth … he has no
solid ground to walk on, takes
her by the arm and they
gray haired amble past machines
springing forth with flowers
and the timeless sun, textures
of waves, and a day in which wind
surprises the clouds, brothers and sisters
grains slipping past
like hour-sand, quick-sand
an anchor washes ashore
bound to driftwood, an old sail
the sun setting in a photograph

Early Morning Delusions of Poetry, The Matrix, and Mark Doty

One thirty eight am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – I am delirious from lack of sleep and still I am not ready for bed. Two movies have run their course in the background on TNT – the tail end of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and it blurred into The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which then blurred into The Chronicles of Riddick. Now The Matrix has begun. Images and words and sounds blurring into the background so that I can avoid the absence of noise in the middle of the night quietude of Hampden in an old house and Karla in NYC.

I have been transcribing poems from two notebooks into the series “The Traveler Poems”, equal parts travelogue, mysticism, and physics. I am not sure it makes any sense. I’m not sure anything makes any sense this late at night.

Meanwhile, Neo is about to meet Mr. Smith for the first time. He’s going to go out on a ledge, but he’s not going to make it to the scaffold.

Simultaneously, I have been revising various other poems and attempting to group them into submissions. It’s harder than it sounds, finding poems that somehow seem to fit together in a nice little package, and then figuring out where that package should go to when you’re done.

One forty seven am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – Advertisements for soy milk. Empty coffee mug, tea cup, water glass, and tumbler on the coffee table. Almost empty bag of chips. Ozzy Osbourne screaming on TV. “I’ve been the prince of darkness since 1979.” Briquettes. Annoying people singing about five dollar foot longs (this would be more entertaining if they weren’t singing about sandwiches). Bubble noises from a map popping up red circles. Man running across the desert. Collage of marketing blurring into absurd visions of intergalactic zombies.

Earlier in this period of wakefulness, I had the chance to see and hear Mark Doty read new work in the Wheeler Auditorium at the Enoch Pratt Library for CityLit. I had the chance to meet Doty many years ago and on the opposite coast – the Santa Barbara Poetry Series, the year 2000 I believe – and I remember him being an engaging, affable poet genuinely interested in the people around him and sharing intriguing intellectual conversation.

“Tell me Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you’re unable to speak?” And now Neo’s mouth is growing over with skin. This could serve as a metaphor for the fear of the poet permanently losing the muse. But then they pull out that diode that turns into a little robotic shrimp that goes into Neo’s belly button… and the metaphor falls apart. “You are the one, Neo” – and there’s a conspicuous crack of thunder in the background. Probably conspicuous because I’ve seen this movie a dozen times. They go to the Adam’s street bridge…

This reading was no different. Doty delivered a set of poems and a portion of a memoir that lasted perhaps thirty minutes, followed by another twenty minutes of question and answer. Through it all he engaged the audience with his words, his delivery, his energy, and his genuine love of the craft of the English language. I recommend picking up one of his books, new or old, and diving in. I’d recommend more, but I can’t think clearly about what I meant to say here so late at night.

One fifty nine am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – Blank space stares up at me. How to pull this blog entry together into something resembling coherence? Impossibility, I decide. What is coherency? Blue or red pill? What happens if I take both at once. What if I shove those blue and red pills up Morpheus’ ass? Dear, dear me, is this what my writing so late at night has come to? An absurd mishmash of jumbled images.

Two oh five am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – Silence! Power off, television, I demand it. Lights, dim. Sleep, I must seek thee out in the upstairs darkness. Neo, you’re on your own. Good luck, but I already know the outcome. I don’t think this time will be any different.

In parting, here is a heard poem from last Wednesday’s Magnum Opus reading at the WindUp Space. A heard poem is like a found poem, but with scraps of conversation or other spoken words. Here follows a collision of fragments from four different poets’ performances (Robin Gunkel, J Gavin Heck, Ryan Coffman channeling Lady Vile, Ryan Coffman channeling himself, and Chris Toll).

“you mean they were born in the desert?”
“and I’m trying to imagine what the planet earth would be like
if I was captured by Aliens” “the animals singing”
“and we do events in subway tunnels and mental institutions
and all kinds of other illegal places”
“gravity, I said” “with our each blank step”
“will you please pass the jellyfish?
it’s like botox for the tongue” “there’s a skull here
of a mass murderer who was hung in Bulgaria”
“a hand like adamantine seized my arm”
“my mission is so secret I don’t know it myself”
“I drink the hunger” “we sail the stars
our religion is ions” “kill the poets, drink their blood”

Two twelve am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – And good night.

Two sixteen am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – Done formatting the text.

Rob: Are you happy now? I’ve broken the nearly four month hiatus from posting anything on my blog. I hope the lack of quality is compensated for by the sheer magnitude of this post.

Two seventeen am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 –

Two eighteen am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 –

Two nineteen am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – This must be what Jack Nicholson’s character in the shining felt like when he was along in that room typing nonsense into the typewriter. Must avoid the red rum. Must close my eyes. Do not order drink from ghost bartender. Do not spend winter in creepy empty motel in snowstorm with creepy wife and kid.

Two twenty am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – Apologies for misspellings, incomplete sentences, poor grammar, lack of grammar, lack of coherency, inconsistency in tense or storyline, and general quality of this post. I am going to hit the POST button now. Good night, for real this time.

Two twenty three am, Sunday, April 19, 2009 – This is post-modern (sur)realism at it’s finest. Charlie Kaufman, take note. I am really, for real real, I mean, as in really really real, this time, going to post and be done with it.

Happy Holidays from Oakland, Oregon

Karla-and-Brian-Oakland-OR-XMas-2008-320x240

After being stranded in Denver and unable to fly into Seattle or Portland, we finally made it to San Francisco, stayed with our friends Diane and Jasson overnight, and drove up the California coast, spending the night in Arcata. Yesterday we completed the journey, crossing the Siskyous on 199 from Crescent City to Grants Pass and finally up I-5. Just in time for Christmas Eve. Without our luggage, of course, which is lost in transit somewhere, trying to find us 🙂 Woke up today to a completely white Christmas and snow falling all morning… Beautiful and peaceful. K and I are together, and with family, and that’s all that truly matters. Peace.

Party Like It’s 1492 – Old Navy, Capitalism, and Genocide

This weekend (October 3-5, 2008), the clothing chain Old Navy is celebrating Columbus Day early with its “Party Like It’s 1492” sale. Apparently, Old Navy, and the creative directors that created this misguided advertising campaign, and the suburban White Americans who have bought into it, only learned the sanitized, white-washed version of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas.

Lest we all think that the arrival of the Spanish in 1492 and the subsequent colonization of the West was a gay old time when the Spanish and Natives partied it up with brotherly love, consider this:

  • Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States, quotes Columbus as writing in his journal: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” Columbus’ motives? Gold.[ http://www.newhumanist.com/md2.html ]
  • Upon returning to the Americas on his second expedition, Columbus “proceeded to unleash a reign of terror unlike anything seen before or since. When he was finished, eight million Arawaks — virtually the entire native population of Hispaniola — had been exterminated by torture, murder, forced labor, starvation, disease and despair.” [ http://www.religioustolerance.org/genocide5.htm ]
  • Columbus, Zinn writes, enslaved the friendly and hospitable natives of the West Indies, searching for their gold (there wasn’t any gold). According to Zinn, “In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. // The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.” [ http://www.newhumanist.com/md2.html ]
  • Zinn quotes the Spanish missionary Bartolome de las Casas as writing, “There were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….” [ http://www.newhumanist.com/md2.html ]
  • In one day, according to las Casas, the Spaniards raped, tortured, and murdered some 3000 natives, committing such atrocities as cutting the legs off of children who ran away from them, feeding live infants to dogs, and filling people with boiling soap. [ http://www.religioustolerance.org/genocide5.htm ]

What, therefore, are Old Navy and the producers of this campaign thinking? Are they so naive that they have accepted the white-washed version of Columbus’ arrival to the West Indies? Or have they bought into colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism so completely that the commoditization of genocide is something to be made light of?

Of course, it’s not that surprising that a bourgeois chain like Old Navy that caters to mostly suburban upper-middle class White people would so mangle the truth for their own commercial gain. Truth goes out the window when there’s a quick buck to make.

And the consumers that buy into this system, those currently shopping at Old Navy during this sale, who have forgotten the real events of 1492, those slaves to fashion – perhaps they should stop to consider truly what slavery means, their slavery to consumerism, and the barbaric slavery of the Natives of the Americas (and also, later, our brothers and sisters in Africa). It was and is this very slavery that built the foundation of the consumerist world in which we live today.

Some advice: stop buying overpriced designer goods, unnecessary clothing that will just be thrown out within a season or two, from stores large chain stores that really only care about enslaving a person to their fashion in order to acquire their “gold” (money). Boycott Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, and the like, where most of the clothing is produced in third-world sweatshops powered by virtual slave labor.

Instead, make do with what you have. Buy second hand. Buy fair-trade. Buy recycled. Make your own. Do something to break free of the vicious cycle of consumerism in which we all seem to be trapped.

And get educated. Learn the real truth – whatever that may be – by seeking it out yourself. What you’re told by any one person, any one book, any one blog entry, does not and cannot encompass the entire story, even when the author is attempting to tell it as accurately as possible. There are always more sides. Learn how to learn, how to sift through the noise and find the fragments of truth, how to assemble those into a coherent and informed narrative. Otherwise, you always be a slaved to what you are told; your mind will never be free.


Don’t Eat the Octopork

Last night, my fiancée and I went out to dinner with her mother, who is visiting from the Philadelphia area. After an aborted mission to eat seafood at the Red Fish in Canton (closed, maybe for good (?) – their web site is now a random register.com search portal), we decided to head over to Ikaros Restaurant in Greektown as we’d been meaning to try some Baltimore Greek food.

It was a nice place, family-friendly, with a fairly extensive menu. Being ovo-lacto-pesco-vegetarians, we honed in on the seafood. K ordered the Shrimp Guvetsaki with Rice, a sure win. Her mother, who does not adhere to our blasphemous ways of avoiding the consumption of land-dwellers, ordered the Stuffed Grape Leaves appetizer, another sure win (except for that ground beef thing).

I, on the other hand, being of an adventurous culinary nature, and suddenly feeling like this could be my episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, decided to try one of the specialsOctopus With Rice and Feta.

Now, I thought I liked octopus – I’ve eaten it in seafood stews, I’ve eaten it as sushi, I’ve eaten it in random Spanish dishes I can’t even remember the names of… But, I’d never had octopus like this before.

Here’s the official description of my meal: “Fresh octopus cut in small pieces, seasoned w/ herbs and wine, cooked w/ rice pilaf, and topped w/ feta cheese.”

When my dish arrived, I thought they’d made a mistake. That’s octopus? It doesn’t look like octopus, I thought. (Sorry, at the time I didn’t think to snap a picture with my cell phone.) That doesn’t taste like octopus. That doesn’t have the texture of octopus. I even asked my waitress to make sure. She reassured me, but I was skeptical until I found one of the beast’s briny tentacles lurking in the rice pilaf.

I quickly felt my episode of No Reservations transforming into an outtake from Bizarre Foods – Andrew Zimmern, you’ve got to try this dish… Apparently, when octopus is left to marinate in “herbs” and Greek white wine, then baked with rice pilaf and smothered in feta cheese, it transforms into something strange and, quite frankly, disturbing – the infamous OCTOPORK!

I swear, I thought I was eating pigs’ ears and snouts. That texture totally reminded me of how I imagine pigs’ feet. Waitress, are you sure that’s not swine in my pilaf? Ah, well…

Imagine a creature straight out of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, not as cuddly as a rakunk, not as weird as a pigoon, and not quite as ferocious as a bobkitten, but even more disturbing – an amalgam of the dark briny depths and a wild boar. All tentacles and snout. It gives me the shivers.

Could be worse, I guess, like that time my mother snuck the chicken hearts into the mole… Or I ended up with soup from what used to be my favorite Thai restaurant that, literally, tasted like ass…

It’s Corn! You’re Eating Corn!

I try to be aware of what I put into my body, so I tend to be a man who reads the food labels. I also tend to read CD liner notes and the copyright and acknowledgment pages in books. Perhaps its a borderline obsession… But I digress.

As I said, I like to read the labels and know what I’m eating. That way I can purchase the best possible food items available, not ones with filler materials (like xantham gum in cream cheese), or preservatives (like sodium benzoate in lemon juice). I also try to avoid anything with a corn-derived product on the list, unless I’m explicitly buying something like corn meal or tortilla chip or, well, corn!

Corn: they stick it into everything – your bread, your fruit juice, your ice cream, your iced tea… They probably fry your potato chips in it. They probably fed it to the livestock that you eat or from which you get your dairy.

I know, I know, this isn’t news. People like New York Times Magazine contributor and UC Berkley Knight Professor of Journalism Michael Pollan have been railing against corn as a cheap food additive for years, and against U.S. agricultural policy that promotes the excessive production of this crop.

But, have you ever heard of corn being in your soy sauce? That was a new one… Granted, the package of soy sauce in question came from a Chinese fast food joint (how much could I expect from fast food?), but can they even really call it soy sauce when the third ingredient is “hydrolyzed soy & corn protein”? And when they have to add “caramel color” to make it look right?

The packaging, oddly enough, also claimed “No MSG” and that the sauce in question was Pareve. That first claim, while technically true – no MSG was added to the sauce – does not mean that there is no MSG in the sauce. It turns out that any hydrolyzed protein inherently contains MSG!

It’s a little harder to get to the truth about the Pareve nature of the soy sauce. Was the sauce really processed according to Jewish dietary law? Fortunately, as I’m not Jewish, I’m not as concerned about this, although kosher foods tends to be handled in a much more clean and humanitarian way.

Back to the point at hand. Since when did they need to start adding corn to create soy sauce? Usually its just soy beans and/or wheat, depending on whether it’s tamari or shoyu. But corn?

Rain, Rocks, Rats

Friends, romans, countrymen… Happy Sunday morning. It’s raining here in Baltimore, thunder-storming, in fact, after a gorgeously beautiful Saturday. At least Spring has arrived, the flowers are blooming, the trees are blossoming in all their yellows and pinks and purples and greens. And the rats are coming out of hibernation. Did I say rats? Yeah, rats, the size of small ponies… Okay, maybe the size of miniature ponies… Okay, but I swear that they truly are the size of cats around here. This is Baltimore, after all.

So, you’re wondering, why is he giving me an update on Baltimore flora and fauna? Has he taken up ecology or something? No, sorry to disappoint – I just don’t have time for another career, what with the cyber-punk rock-and-roll poet-philosopher thing going on. Although I do enjoy pretty flowers.

This is all an elaborate ploy to keep you interested long enough to read the third paragraph, in which I divulge the fact that a short fiction piece of mine (or is it a prose poem? oh, the gray, nebulous divide) is appearing in the Spring 2008 issue of JMWW, a quarterly on-line journal. To be precise, the piece is called “Case Study: Part 16” and was inspired by/is a response to JZF’s poem “John Freemont Interviews #24”.

You can read 16 here:

http://jmww.150m.com/Langston.html

You can find the index and read the rest of the Spring 2008 issue here:

http://jmww.150m.com

And you can watch this excellent piece of independent documentary film making about Baltimore Rat Fishing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Yv9I33uob0

Yes, Baltimore, where the rats are the size of cats and the cats run and cower in the corners… Or at least the cat I live with.

Iraq War – Five Years, Part 2

BBC News just published a special report on their web site: “Iraq violence, in figures”. For people who can’t really comprehend numbers without a visual representation, these statistics should finally make an impact.

One of the saddest things is that nobody officially knows how many civilian casualties there have been (I guess nobody “official” cares?). Independent studies have found anywhere from 80,000+ to 650,000+ civilians killed. That’s a humongous range and absurd human cost for a war based on false-pretenses if not downright governmental deception.

As of the publication of this blog, the U.S. has spent something like 511 TRILLION dollars on this failure (I’m not making that number up – visit the National Priorities Project!). That comes out to be somewhere in the approximate range of $800,000 to $6,000,000 per individual killed.

A July 2007 estimate by the CIA placed the population of Iraq at 27,499,638. Do the math again, and that comes out to just over $18,000 spent by the United States of America per LIVING, BREATHING IRAQI CITIZEN.

Just consider for a moment: what would happen if, instead of shooting at perceived threats and blowing things up, we gave every single person in Iraq $18,000 U.S. dollars?

Iraq War – Five Years

March 23rd, Easter Sunday, saw another unfortunate milestone achieved in the 5-year war in Iraq – 4000 U.S. soldiers killed. Conservative accounts of Iraqi civilian casualties are somewhere in the mid-80,000s, according to data compiled by Iraq Body Count, as of March 26th. That’s just over 2 U.S. soldiers per day, and about 47 Iraqi civilians per day. Who knows how many Iraqi combatants have lost their lives?

Five years into a war based on false pretenses and either bad (best case scenario) or doctored (worst case scenario) data. Have we accomplished anything in those five years? We didn’t find any WMDs. We overthrew a dictator but destabilized a nation. Our actions created an environment conducive to new terrorist organizations – see Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for example. We’ve watched U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers killed in a war, ostensibly for freedom, but truly over natural resources (OIL). We’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of time and money that could have been better applied to other tasks…

So how much money have we spent? Collectively, the United States has shelled out somewhere in the 506 TRILLION dollar range… or or 708 MILLION dollars for Baltimore taxpayers. To get a better idea of what that number means, that amount of money could have funded:

12,030 Music and Arts Teachers

-OR-

89,589 Scholarships for University Students

-OR-

3,799 Affordable Housing Units

-OR-

11,969 Port Container Inspectors

Thanks to my friend Rob for pointing out those statistics and sending me to the National Priorities Project.

Personally, I don’t know what exactly to do about all of this. I marched on the White House on Sunday as part of Split This Rock. I doubt anyone in the White House was listening, though. I doubt anyone in the White House cared about any of the marches last week. I hear Dick Cheney’s favorite answer is “So?” How do you fight someone like that?

I have my words, and I do what I can with them. I hope this election turns the tide. Otherwise, it may take more than words to save us…

P.S. Check out this video.