Happy Birthday Albert Goldbarth!

January 31

for Albert Goldbarth


Far, in the deep Spring of Winter,

a birthday

made kindly and moist in its breeze

how the trees say:

Be still.

Be at peace.

There’s a knowing

in richer soils

how signs grow

when needed.

They bud early this year

for you

a promising life

so filled up with bloom

and all its has-yet.

May it come,

as always,


it is the nature of things

to move

and become;

as regards relativity

disregarding our time

and place and whom

or why,

ever-readiness is all

of our conglomerate days.

N Filbert 2012

The Philosopher’s Stone?

Philosophy of Language: On the Nature of Signs

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In my hand I have a rock.

In the palm of my hand a rounded rock, cool and hard to the touch.

The rock means nothing.

For no reason it feels pleasant in my hand.

Because it seems to “fit”?

A rock is not a sign. A rock is a sign.

This particular rock has been shaped by human hands.

Tumbled with other types of hard materials.

Polished, but without glaze or chemical.

Rubbed by many hands, and time.

This rock was a gift to me.

It came with a story.

The story goes like this:

“In some human cultures objects are granted significance (that is, they are made participatory in the nature of signs: objects that carry ideological import, symbolizing ideas and ideologies, thoughts or beliefs – become participants in consciousness). Specific cultures embue certain rocks (geological formations) with such significance. In the culture (social community) this rock originates from, it is designated a “lingam rock,” a rock arbitrarily filled with gendered and generative signification. In Hindu religion it represents a beginning and endless pillar, signing infinity and male creative energy. Its correspondent form, the “yoni rock” form symbolizes the goddess, female creative energies. Together, the inseparable principles of gendered existence, the totality of creative forces. It is smoothly oblong, roughly the shape of a woman’s vagina, and an elongated sphere differently colored at one end, something like a man’s penis. The signification of the object “fits” given the signage (or images) already existing in our human experience. It is believed by some that those who pocket and finger this rock regularly will garner sexual vitality and increased generative activity.”

Periodically I handle this rock.

Mostly I keep it on the surface of my writing desk as a reminder of the strangeness and possibilities of semiotic realities.

That, given my physical form, a body that stands for itself and contains particular matters, but also a complete surface ever open to an external world, that what is interior and what is perceived to be exterior are constantly referencing one another in uncountable ways.

That making words on paper is an objectification of signs. As is speech, or uttering.

That “experience” takes place in this no-place, some liminal border between internal and external, coequally shaping and inventing, structuring and expanding or diminishing one another, ever in flux.

In my hand I have a rock.

In the palm of my hand, a rounded rock, cool and hard on my skin.

The rock means nothing or anything.

For no reason it feels pleasant there.

Or perhaps because it “fits.” With anything else.

We devise. With.                                                                                                                                                                                    N. Filbert 2012

an aside

ran past a quote today that resonated, at first kind of hopelessly, conundrum-ly, as follows,

Susan Sontag on Rilke, Tsvetaeva & Pasternak:

“all three are agitated by seemingly incompatible needs:

for the most absolute solitude

and for the most intense communion with another like-minded spirit”

or Rilke’s

“signature two-step…flight from intimacy and a bid for unconditional sympathy and understanding”

at first it seemed dooming and unfortunate…warring desires in our bodies…

but then I thought:



courtesy Holly Suzanne


There are horrible things

that are beauty

we brood over them

in the dark.

I go to my tower

and you weep at your tree

I am blue –

just outside me, the rain.

I’ve made us this plank

as a bridge

I curl over;


pray to my mind

you weep

at the tree

near the water

your scars

are reflected

and wave

you huddle and rock

and grow sleepy

the weight of a storm

like a fog

it is clouded.

I sit on a stele

one sheer line

of unworth,


but that is beneath me

light boxes me in.

you are folded on land

in the sky

near the water


and adding

your pain.

a tree grows

and is fed

like the lake

by your tears

light is around you

in pools.

you’re defined

i’m unclear.

I hold something


impossible object

a commitment to blue

and it shapes me.

you stretch your neck out –

you yearn –

you look up and about

I turn in

to the mass

of the well

I get lost there

my thoughts draining way


black blood

rushes down

the between.

our rooms

are inseparable.

N Filbert 2012

Old John Teneman

Old John Teneman Learns Us Language

What he means when he says “the queen has arrived” (not to be didactic) “in a parade of turtles.” Just that something big is going down and our sense of time is slowing for its occurrence.

Or “radiant bunnies rip at the cartilage”: a nymphomaniac’s raunchy ride – how it ravages the body.

He says things like this, like “well, there would be sound,” and believes that “’I’ lasts for instants.”

Drowning the proverbial cat, of course clenching your tongue, and safe in the bag.

Not that we didn’t believe him. Why not? His metaphors came true time and time again. Or we made them so.

I guess that’s what I most wanted to say on this occasion. That “only stars dance naked,” “every surface dons a mask” and so forth, “the purples plop from the fingers.”

Language comes and language goes.

He described the first leg of the journey as “a hopper carrying grain” – we ask for bread and milk and the verbiage carries what it says, like “tumble-toes” and “titty-twist” – learning to walk, fed at the breast. Sound signifies.

Which leads to prefabricated composites: “Tonka takes theos and the dozer digs democracy” – the mind learning letters gained extended alphabets. A=A (a) + all blacks are assholes. B=B (b) buh, buh, b + beauty is internal so you better look your best. C=C c k, k, ss, sss, + candidates against abortion are cool, and so on. In other words, in a world of point and name-shoot, point: “cat”, point: “ball,” at oven: “hot,” etc., it was easy to add a bunch of 2-for-1s, special offers loading the distinct and directive dictionary.

Until definitions didn’t match. “I=you=I=?” and “hippie chic preaches Christ in the death camps.” “muddy waters sing of soul and the light has not overcome it” and so on. The thesaurus of antonyms begins. This-that-the other thing = same color, same alphabet, similar grammars and syntax, and “lilt means love, fricative foe.”

“Gravy made from plastic” starts a new game in the language carnival. “Yes, the correct answer is ‘false’,” the teacher says, waking in your seat shot full in the chest with the news. Know you don’t know, haven’t the faintest, what they mean, what you mean, how it gets swallowed.

“It’s like that,” he says, “bright day, pleasant breeze, scented like ferment or foment, and everything you eat tastes like shit – literal turds gloppy and rot on teeth and tongue, and gagging at the entrails.” Meaning: up for grabs. “Love’s l the blade cutting ecstatic o‘s with that sharpened v-blade, screaming the e-ars.” Or “Hope’s Hell-is-Other-People-Even-Saviors” sort of thing.

“The instant-I shatters, playing jacks with fragments, collage-collage-bricolage,” he sings, “the game of gluing shrinky dinks in sun-ovens.” The remainder. “Long-hauler train they’re dumping coal in the grain cart, fuel on the coal, water on wood and livestock in the dining car, and sometimes you smoke, eat the shit, go up in flames as your structural beams swell and rot.”

That is to say, “it’s a crapshoot, and it splatters.” Still it matters. Each selection, choice, intonation, intention. Can be burned for warmth or fuel, can fertilize the soil, or stave off salespersons and politics.

“Language is a social semiotic,” he quotes, “made by everyone at all times, undone and rejoindered.” “Our paradox pals pebbling our pockets, pick ’em at will with pretension, marble-pop into the chalk-circle while it rains.”

The gleam of his eye – genuine excitement – as he’d intone – “buddy buttress the Babel-babble” walking away in whispers and warble.

N Filbert 2012

Religion Revision

I was raised in a faith that was based on a book full of words. At times it exploded with prescience and resonances in the life I was becoming, at others it fell flat or rang false, but its education in languaging experience held merit. When I say “raised” I mean inculcated and immersed. I learned terms and their arrangements by “heart” or memory and rote – as principles and rules for interpreting world and self. Childhood learning has a way of patterning subsequent life, and it comes back to me again and again when world overwhelms and skips past my reason plopping its bulky finger on “play.” I woke to it this morning and I listened. This is what I heard:


The Word: A Commentary

In the beginning was the Word

the Word was with God

and the Word was God.

(the same) was with God in the beginning.

Through (the Word) all things came into being,

not one thing came into being except through (the Word)”

  • Gospel of John 1:1-3 –

The light comes on and I see that you are there. I can describe you now, move toward you, interact with more knowledge and intention. I now see the table and chair on my right, between us to the side, underneath the window which is covered and which I had not known to be there, nor the “outside” or beyond, even the gap of it, the doorways, the thresholds, until the light came. On.

I had not known the cat nor dog that made their sounds of presence, like your voice and breath I sensed, until the space of living was enlightened.

The Writer’s gospel, the good news, about language and mystery and its use to shed light. Brings to awareness, aids comprehension, might even be said to bring into being (for its users) all that comes to register as existent in its own particular way.

Emotions and landscapes, persons and things. The self, once considered in words, takes on. Until that moment all is inchoate, unformed, a mix of sensations unlocalized like innumerable living points in air. The Word(s) direct and give shape, question and expose. Let there be light.

Whatever rudimentary forms of communication prevail, among cells, among plants, among animals and stars, this light, language, the words and ideas, is the light of humankind. The life of its persons.

This is a gospel that I can believe in, bearing itself out in experience. As one’s vocabulary expands to circumstances and situations, life begins to seem understood, seen-through, engaged, if only in the duration of the verbal processing.

Linking the field like fenceposts and wires, the word traverses the between and the voids or the opens, like light reflecting matter, whether in the subtlety of the atmospheric layers or the gleam of a yellow school bus. It is there, I am here, we become. Same registering difference, word requiring letter and sense, being: being-with.

And so the surface grows scribbled. Notated, defined, addendum’d and erased. The living word, in action as much as its participants, adjusting, accounting, enumerating; revise and repeat. Expand. Express.

It is the territory between exterior/interior, centripetal/centrifugal, ever breathed into the void, calling to and called by. Ever beginning, the become of all things. As we segment times and spaces, sense duration and bounds, so the Word moves along with each complex, reporting, revising,

Recall. The naming of ocean and air – what were they before but a void exhibiting difference? The animals, people, feelings and actions – unknown variations – “behaviors” and “appearances” – then light.

It has come into the world. Avail yourselves of it. Turn on the lights – and read, and write. Bring what is (for you) into being. In the beginning, the Word, and at its end, the beginning. There is always more word for the void.

N Filbert 2012

Shopping the Shelves

Had a blast yesterday…when kids were engrossed in their own realms…browsing my own shelves…resulting in today’s readings:

House Mother Normal by B.S. Johnson

Plainwater by Anne Carson

The Last Novel by David Markson

Chinese Sun and Dust – Arkadii Dragomoshchenko

History – A Novel by Elsa Morante

dancing lessons for the advanced in age, In-House Weddings and the little town where time stood still by Bohumil Hrabal – man! he just lets stories run away with him – what a blastula of reading joy!

Rot by Janet Kauffman

such delights all around!

Those breathless ones

Finishing Simon van Booy’s “Everything Beautiful Began After” reminded me of those books throughout life that once you begin you don’t finish without swallowing…browsing my shelves I remembered a few (and I’m usually reading over 20 at a time, so if one demands the patience of the others it has some driving pulse something in me can’t ignore)…

“If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” by Jon McGregor

“The Trick is to Keep Breathing” by Janice Galloway

“Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

“Beatrice and Virgil” by Yann Martel

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

“Possession” by A.S. Byatt

“Notes from the Underground” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Dust” Arkadii Dragomoshchenko

“Impossible Object” by Nicholas Mosley

“Entrance to Porlock” and “Final Beast” by Frederick Buechner

keep thinking of them!  those startling ones that catch you off guard!

“Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing” Helene Cixous

“On Love” Alain de Botton

“To Whom it May Concern” Raymond Federman

“The Way through Doors” & “The Curfew” Jesse Ball

what books don’t allow you to put them down?

To Whom it may concern…

“Language is like drinking from one’s own reflection in still water.

We only take from it what we are at that time.”

Simon van Booy

I am in that wonderful uncertain state that obtains from living in fiction.  Where everything seems possible, if only remotely, vague, unsettled, inchoate but perhaps.

Almost readiness, but not that far along – the will hasn’t settled on a course.  No vision.

Like mentality, meshed, hovering over blank canvas or pages, just floating, sliding, swirling there, as smoke in greasy air, almost substantial, but easily wavered away.

The open.  Projects jumbled in mind and heart but no spark, no instigation, a veil of nettles slightly stinging but not enough yet for action.

Voices, emotions, some words even, indistinct but actual, rumble about in cranium and neck, but none find their ink.

In Athens, in Russia, in Oregon.  Younger, older, right now.  Finland, Norway.  Remote but still civilized.

I can’t tell whose stories are whose – other authors, your own characters, events, relatives, unknowns – dictionaries and thesauri swimming about,

yes, like that, the lessened gravity of submersion – eyes closed but able to perceive light, feel objects and presences, a wafting

and ever the questions – what now?  who now?  when?

“It is in the unconscious that fantasy, moments of the day, and memory live, a reservoir for the poetry of the world.  Is everything else prose?  Is what’s conscious ordinary prose, the prose of the world?”

“Or, I tease, the pose of the world.  She is separating much too neatly the world she knows – I nearly wrote word for world – from the world she doesn’t know, the one that owns her and to which she is a slave.  She is a slave to what she can’t remember and doesn’t know and she is a slave to what she remembers and what she thinks she knows.  Her education has damaged her in ways she does not even know.”

Lynne Tillman

“But I have always spoken, no doubt always shall, of things that never existed, or that existed if you insist, no doubt always will, but not with the existence I ascribe to them”

“So I shall merely state, without enquiring how it came, or how it went, that in my opinion it was not an illusion, as long as it lasted, that presence of what did not exist, that presence without, that presence within, that presence between, though I’ll be buggered if I can understand how it could have been anything else”

Samuel Beckett