Collecting Fragments : The Engineer of Himself

Posting an ongoing project, a long(ish) poem(-tic) reflexive effort to at least hear myself if not understand.

The Engineer of Himself

The Engineer of Himself: A Poem

“Thinking is willing you are wild

to the weave not to material itself”

Susan Howe

“a new music of verse stretching out into the future…”

William Carlos Williams on Louis Zukofsky



I have tried to tell this story time and time again.

I’ve set out to tell this story.

This one story.  This one, apparently, mine.


This story takes all of my life, as do all of the stories that go deep in the mines.

Mole’s holes without boundaries – forward and back equal speed – ever the hunting, never the full.

We develop our routes in this way.

Creating patterns.

We forget so many channels and tunnels and homes.


Will I ever find the subject

When asked what I am writing? Continue reading “Collecting Fragments : The Engineer of Himself”

79 Word Stories

So a new formal challenge emerges.  Tipped off by Duotrope, I stumbled on this interesting competition sponsored by the Aspen Writers Foundatino and Esquire magazine: A short short story of exactly 79 words, judged 25% plot, 25% characterization, 25% theme and 25% originality.  Why not, right?  I mean many of us compose 100-word stories (rarely EXACTLY 100, but) for Madison Woods “Friday Fictioneers” photo-prompts…so why not give 79 a shot, eh?  So as a little side project over the next month or so I’ll be delivering various aborted attempts…I’d love feedback, but they’ll probably keep appearing anyway!  Thanks all.

1. A 79-word story in 78 words

             I slipped there, on my way out.  I cried.

Someone held me, shaping me thus.  That’s what I heard, but never quite believed.  So they told me other things, and showed me pictures.  It began to sound like music, that I’d made.  I played.  And continued to study.  Soon it was all words and experience and me stumbling away.  Or sailing back, on rough waters with a rowdy entourage, and fear.  And love.  In either direction, I’m here.

N Filbert 2012

Feeling Blind

Antoine Coypel – Studies of the Blind


Feeling Blind

“Art always divides objects and offers a part instead of the whole, a feature of the whole, and no matter how detailed it is, it still is a dashed line representing a line”

-Viktor Shklovsky-

“A fragment is not a fraction, but a whole piece”

-Lyn Hejinian-

“Those girls!,” we say of our puppies, as if we know.  As if they behaved like us.  We are, after all, wild animals, without a master large enough to keep us from fighting.  The puppies are so small.


I remember filling a large square of canvas (“large” being relative to my body, not a mountain) with loads of spattered paint.  It felt good and looked neat, even interesting, crammed as it was with accidents and intentions.  Runs and spills and layers of carefully made strokes.  Nothing was recognizable or familiar in the result, but I’d swear it was representation.


Again and again I attempt to feel blind.  Not empathetically, by tightly wrapping my head and completely covering my eyes with some solid fold of cloth, then wandering through a day or night or week of time.  Nothing like that.  I’m capable of removing my glasses and learning the world without edges or shapes.  Feeling blind is usually sexual for me.  In the way I use my senses.  It’s never the same if I know what I’m touching or tasting, hearing or smelling.  To “feel blind” means losing familiar.  I write blind every day.  Defamiliarizing myself in order to learn something.  About language, about emotion, about me and a world of signs.  It’s de-meaning.  Bring me my lover’s body replete with organs and breath, thoughts and flesh, and lay her down beside me.  I’ll tell you what it’s like.


They like to escape, to cross boundaries.  If you turn your back, they scamper.  They’ll sniff and chew on anything, and leave their feces anywhere.  Artistic mediums rarely work the way I want them to.  Paint slips away where I place it thick and neat, clay cracks when it dries or fractures in the fire.  Words mean something else.  Her breath creates an atmosphere, moving particles and waves.  I can smell the colors of her thoughts.  At this distance it is easy to hear the goosebumps on her shoulder curling forward to her armpit.  I feel her hair, thick and brown, around my ankles.


I try to use mistakes.  The pups will eat their poop.  Her buttocks create parentheses in my dreams.  If I stack the pieces just so, another thing will happen, come to be.  Sticks preferable to stuffies.  The arches of her feet never cease whispering their curving tones.  I rarely intend what I make.  They stumble their way to fresh treasures of foul-smelling, old-buried rot.  Her crotch controls weather, I ache deep in my bones when it’s humid.


It does not cease to amaze me, what’s found.  Candy-wrapper, weed-stalk, squirrel-scent.  Everyone’s a critic.  The purposeless finds purpose in the eyes of the beholders.  The meeting of the needs.  The way the caps of her knees taste like buttons of mushrooms, just that tiny and soft on my tongue.  The slogans her scent shouts into my ears, rushing the drums like a throng.  They drag it until it dissolves.  Everyone makes up a context.


And eventually tire.  With ignorance things are recharged.  She is different when I open my eyes.  I had registered warm mango with coconut milk, they’d spilt honey on an old wet rag.  Apparently the “trajectory of my new works on paper.”  She came with a gasp and a shudder as I deciphered her Braille, she had never liked crowds and my mouth was crowded by terms.  No one understands it, or perhaps they do and I don’t, pups fast asleep and me feeling so blind with attention.



Tying Knots

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“To tie knots, not decipher them”

-Arkadii Dragomoshchenko-


Thinking again of my father.  Which wends its way to thinking of my friends, my nearest family, my mother, sister, sibs-in-law.  Children.

Mainly I’ve been thinking of my father.  For decades now.

(Rewritten 41 times).


I keep trying to decipher.  In fact in yesterday’s version I described my desire lacking the keys to its secrets, and declared us all impossible to descry.

If that’s the word for it.

Forty-one years using letters for rope.  That is fraying.


I’ve said that I want to be known better than I can know myself.  By him.  By which I meant differently.

I’m sure that’s correct.

Otherwise not being possible.

And vice-versa.

Such knotted things.


Unfortunately I deciphered it, thereby fancying a code of simplifications and falsity.  Reading something like this: ta TAH ta TAH ta TAH / de dum de dum de dum dum dum.

Sounding better than the truth I never hear.


In other words, by desiring my desire (to comprehend it – synonym: “fit it into my small frame”) I laid it out in lines of script as on a butcher’s table.  And looked for patterns.

xxxx— I want to be known better (elsewise) than I know myself —xxxx

by:       +@+@+@ my spouse; -/-/- my siblings; o][o my friends; ~!~~!~ my children; ^*_= my parents…

and likewise inter-pret them

forever crafting spies sniping through tiny keyholes

one another.


The dimensions are not vast enough.

We don’t possess the organs (apparently).

I’m not sure any of this has much to do with knowledge (though I keep on using those terms).


It was about knotting ropes or threads, veins or limbs, ideas.  Tangling memories, blending emotions, and cross-narrations.


I tried actions (working-with, snuggling, fighting, conversation and more).  I tried history (genealogy, geology, agriculture, politics, religion and so on).

Think of these as ropes or twine.

Perhaps tied is a better word than tried here.

I tied performing, misbehaving, more languages and themes.  I tied sickness and health, better and worse for this knowing, this desire.  These persons.

to no avail

What was I expecting?




Deciphered companions.


What have I got?

Unclear, confused and knotty, my hands can’t pass through them.

I can’t wrap my brain around it/them/us, nor define.

At a loss as to explanation (a probable gain).

Father-cipher.  Mother-cipher.  Spouse-cipher.  Family and friend-ciphers.


Something substantial.


So excited I forgot to title….! what good reading does…

I discover an unconquerable urge to convey this text to you, and a bewildering chance in hell to accurately do so.  This book, My Life by Lyn Hejinian, classified as…huh, what would it be classified as?  There is no designation on the title or copyright pages, I have no idea where a big-box bookstore might shelve the thing…reading through one’s hunch is fiction, no, memoir, no, poetry, no, philosophy, no, literary theory, no…WRITING.  It is one of those texts where words moving through hands like moving water (ever so hard to look away from) seem to form patterns on their own, but one knows there are so many ingredients and influences, substances and material going into the way a wave, a runnel, a current forms….that it cannot be chalked up to chance.  And so you immerse.  You join the river, jump into the water to get a feel.  Swim through it, splash.  Thunk your cupped hands to make thunder.  Float on your back like a dream.  Enjoy.  Explore.  Become with the flow.

Lyn Hejinian has been writing a long time.  I felt stupored by her recent book of a thousand eyes, thinking she just gets better with time, but that’s not so either.  Nothing is true, everything might be.  Hejinian fills her pages with words that seem so unobstructed, so flooded with their possibilities and yet ever so economical, spare, necessary.  They leap like the slap of stream plashing sizable rocks, and then swoon in loop toward a bank.  There is a “miracle” quality, by which I mean to designate that happening of the mind and body when encountering something not-it (unselfsame) and experiencing all sorts of “i am’s” and ‘that’s me’s” – resonances, foreknowledge, understanding, sympatico – nothing we can point to as real – but stuff we really experience all the same.

It’s a wandering flood.  Yes, we do not doubt it’s “her life,” filled with details and colors, textures and senses that only come through first-hand, subjected/ive experience…and yet, nothing secret or private, nothing that hasn’t become language by now – through the book – through its writing – so we know it belongs to all of us.  It is words.  It is water.  It is my life, however one brings themselves to it, to this, to her writing, to what’s written.

A brief example will give you the best idea.  Picking a random five pages (each section is 1.5-2 pp long) I will copy the sentences that strike me (remembering that they only strike me via how they’re arranged with the sentences I’m NOT copying all around them), to give you a sense of how dense the bursts of profundity are, meshed and woven like the songs of birds.  Just that distinct.  Here goes:

“We never wanted more than something beginning worth continuing which remained unended.”

“In order to understand the nature of the collision, one must know something of the nature of the motions involved – that is, a history.”

“After crossing the boundary which distinguishes the work from the rest of the universe, the reader is expected to recross the boundary with something in mind.”

“I came to depend on my children socially, was never at a loss without them.”

“It is hard to turn away from moving water.  And my memory of him is a poor likeness – like jealousy, which cannot get what love has secured.  The fear of ‘losing’ ideas objectifies knowledge.”

‘I want to be free of you, in order to do things, things of importance which will impress you, attract you, so that you can be mine and I can be yours forever.”

“The general form tends to grow quite naturally under the hand that writes it, but until a thing is completed, it needs to be explained.”

“The difference between empathy and responsibility.”

and so on… Now sentences are easily plucked from the text, because it feels like a collection of phrases.  Unrelated.  Ever relating.  And so it builds and twists and floods.  But it is not random.  There are identifiable phrases and reverberations of phrases that keep you from feeling surrealism or some stream-of-individual-consciousness befuddlement.  You don’t have to “go with it” and hope it will come clean…you pursue it and let it push you, this give-and-take and rest-and-urge that weaves you into the text and the text deep into you (often bypassing awareness), much as you imagine the text came to be (in relation to author).  So those sentence/segments/phrases above are pulled from three or four contiguous sections two-thirds of the way through the book, I could’ve started anywhere and found just as many, and with re-readings would choose the sentences sitting between them (I’ve no doubt).

And that is worth reading.  And being read with.  By.