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Second Time Around

Ignoring an alarm
leads only to more alarm.

I cannot learn
what I am unable to learn.

Answering the question
“Do you believe?”

ends in questioning the answer,

since to simply believe
is never enough …

may it be enough.

Vigil

Mitternacht heißt diese Stunde;
Sie rufen uns mit hellem Mund

from Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
by J.S. Bach

That familiar Friday night
dark, both inside and out,

and five of us scattered in silence
at the end of each sentence

like periods in a paragraph.
Smelling of shit and sweat, a laugh

breaks through the snoring of a sixth
not far behind me, and a body

adjusting itself to the forgiveness
of a creaking wooden bench

falls back to snoring after the creaking
ends. So it can’t be a bad dream,

and the candlelight illuminating
our presence is, in fact, just enough

to suggest forgiveness. I want to sleep
too, too tired to laugh.

Love or Nothing

i

The hardest part
is getting started.
Until you do.

The hardest part then
is continuing, because
once you’ve started,

you need to find a way
to continue continuing …
all the way to the end.

And then you realize
there was nothing to it.
Nothing at all.

ii

Steel tracks and barbed-wire fences,
a square and squat, brick ding
every thing points beyond everything,
beyond even time and its tenses.

The welcoming arbeit macht frei,
albeit in iron. A hidden fire.
A gentle breeze, and smoke now
for our Intuition als Wesensschau.

For Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, martyred at Auschwitz 9 August 1942

The Secret of Phantom Lake

(To the tune Identikit, by Radiohead)

Our country club was one tennis court
in the middle of a marsh,

and a large, rectangular pool

doubling a small, moon-shaped lake,
whose surface was always as black

as cannonballs stacked in the sun.

The girl was saved from drowning
in the deep end under the diving boards,

as I ran back and forth along the edge,

dripping dry, nothing to assuage
my guilt choking on action

even as it tried to swallow inaction.

Anger, that dispels all phantoms
and then creates more of its own.

To have a will as clear as water
without urine and chlorine.

Next morning, steam rose from the lake,

pieces of a ragdoll mankind,
that we can create, that we can create

as witnessed by reeds and cattails.

A Post about The Post

From the moment we linger on that typewriter in the opening scene, we know we’re watching a film directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. It’s pretty good, even great if you enjoy footage of the newspaper production process in the 70s—hot type, giant spools of paper, the whole Rube Goldberg machine for distributing a fresh pack of lies every day—which I do.

Yes, newspapers are in a sorry state these days, and no, perhaps not exactly for the reasons we’re lead to believe while watching The Post, but while everybody disagrees with everybody else when it comes to the how and why truth has become so imperiled, I don’t think anybody much doubts that it is, in fact, imperiled. Always has been, always will be. The Post is pretty good on the has been.

Phantom Thread

This was an excellent movie. Being written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I knew it would be a good movie, but I didn’t know what to expect in a movie about a dress designer in London during the 1950s. I strongly suspect that the inspiration for the story came from years of reading fairy tales to his children, as a fairy tale is precisely the sort of story Phantom Thread is. We’re a long ways from Boogie Nights. I mean, I love Boogie Nights, and though I’m not suggesting Phantom Thread is any more appropriate for children than his ode to the porn community, I suspect it will wear better and longer.

The Master remains my favorite of Anderson’s films, even one of my favorite films ever, being a generous portrayal of the Master/Slave relationship comparable to Tolstoy. Phantom Thread, if not (to my eyes) quite as great a film, is yet a greater surprise, where in the end what matters most are the life and death stakes of marriage, a fairy tale for what happens after the fairy tale. No, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Still, don’t miss it.

Mr. Arkadin

I didn’t care for it, not at all. Watch Touch of Evil again instead, or even The Stranger. Above, you can listen to Welles deploy a Russian accent through an improbable beard as he regales partygoers with the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Then compare it to versions from The Crying Game, Drive, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which you can find on the side bar.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

This wasn’t a very good movie, which I suspected would be the case because Bone Tomahawk, director S. Craig Zahler’s first film, wasn’t an especially good movie either. But it was fun to watch, was indeed a pleasure with a full plate of nachos and three glasses of rye, since when it comes to accruing my guilt, I like to do it all at once. I’m also a fan of Vince Vaughn, who looks like he stayed off the nachos and whiskey while making this movie.

I, Tonya

No, Margot Robbie looks nothing like the 15 year old she plays in the movie, or even the 18 or 21 year old she plays in the movie. With a little makeup, she does look something like what I assume the 40-something Tonya Harding must look like now. Still and all, Robbie turns in an outstanding performance in a biopic about a national joke who somehow makes good of her life against very long odds. Sure, she may have been in on a plot to deliver an actual kneecapping to her opponent. But. She really was a damn good skater.

Between Knopler’s “Romeo & Juliet” and “Dream a Littleness Dream of Me” sung by Ella, this might be my favorite soundtrack ever. In fact, the entire Sound Design was about as sharp as I’ve ever heard. The editing is worthy of Thelma Schoonmaker (so skillful at turning Scorsese’s chaotic collection of images into narratives with such a strong pulse), and the combination of spot-on acting by the four principles from a great script make the whole movie incredibly credible.

I admit that I take issue with the metaphysics in which the entire movie is grounded. You can hear it in the above trailer when Tonya says in the voiceover, “There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit!” For one thing, there’s the logical problem in stringing together both statements, by which we can gather that, yes, there is truth, and that truth is bullshit. Not all things, and perhaps even few qualitative statements, are entirely true or untrue, and most any kind of story (μῦθος) is going to embody a very particular kind of truth that may or may not also cohere with Truth with a capital T (λόγος), but by baldly stating “there’s no such thing as truth” or “there’s only my truth” (as Tonya says towards the end of the movie), the entire story demands to be taken as a tissue of lies. I can only conclude that Tonya certainly was in on the plot to break Kerrigan’s legs, and doesn’t actually deserve the sympathy everything else in the movie—the sound design, the editing, and the more pedestrian elements of the storytelling—would lead us to believe it deserves. But of course it’s with those extremely seductive technical achievements that we in the audience are enthralled.

The credits at the end ran with real footage of Tonya skating, which is indeed beautiful and a kind gesture on the part of director Craig Gillespie. For a movie that has so many scenes in which the characters are anything but, it’s a finishing touch that affirms the improbable tone of the entire story. In short, while problematic as a parable for any life but that of the impenitent thief, I, Tonya is still a very good movie.

Hostiles

A very good movie, which reminded me a little of (the also very good) Meek’s Cutoff in its consideration of the mutual antagonism between Native Americans and White Settlers. The year is 1892, and the now safely united US government has all but finished clearing the way for westward expansion. Captain Joseph Blocker, who has himself done a fair amount of this clearing, has now been tasked with escorting a former adversary, Cheyanne Chief Yellow Hawk, from a fort in New Mexico Territory to the Chief’s ancestral lands in the newly created state of Montana. Violence ensues and then recurs like bad spells of the weather, meted out by both the U.S. Army and what Native warriors remain. Though, interestingly enough, not between Chief Yellow Hawk and Blocker, who need one another to fight other hostiles, Native American and Caucasian alike.

The friend with whom I watched it praised the movie for its story of a man growing beyond the racism with which he performed his duty to clear the territories by subjugating or killing people he refers to as “savages”. I saw that, but what interested me more was the way the knife’s edge between sanity and insanity was even sharper than that between violence and peace. In the end I decided that it was because of Blocker’s stubborn insistence on sanity that he is able to rise above the genocidal racism by which he has fought, and lay claim to the humanity he’ll need away from the battlefield. Uniformly well acted, especially by Christian Bale, and director Scott Cooper’s best yet.