• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 07
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Syntax Satori

“Our best days are still ahead… blah… blah… blah…”
It’s not just a politician’s campaign lie. It’s an ideology
of temporal deceit, as if the incredulous future
were a plate-glass window, and we only needed to lift
a curtain. The future, in bureaucratic fantasy,
is certainly not a mirror, with each day
like a vase, or jar, waiting on a shelf,
for the glaze of time to be encoded
on its porosity. Dozens of days, a blur
in which the roundness of the spheres
of our unceasing breath instills
itself into the clay. The pleasure of quiet work.
it must have been around 2002
that someone told me about cultures
in which “the past” is “in front of you,”
“the future, behind.” And the second
I was told that, “the world” calmed down.

There’s that wonderful song, “Sway,”
on Sticky Fingers about the “demon life”
that interinanimates “circular time.”
It sounds within my mind’s ear
right now, the rooms on Hill Street
in Santa Monica I heard it in,
the ones I shared with several dozen
friends and a few lovers. Well, I suppose
the friends had lovers, too, and they
were there, too, whether I fed them
or not. Lee and Charles


Syntax Satori

came over for dinner, and Sandi
made a fondue. She tried so hard
to make it as exquisite as the meal
that Charles had made for us
a month earlier. Lee is dead now.
So is Charles. But the life
I have yet to configure
Is like a kiln that awaits the clay
Of memory. In my hands
Right now. The fingertips
Smeared with the aftermath–
Yet-to-be’s viscosity.

I typed these words in a half-hour,
and they are now “in front of me,”
as “the past” that is now in front
of you. I look up from these words
to see the shelves of books
I’ve read and will not live
long enough to read again.
millions of sentences
like atoms in an ounce of clay.
Weightless as the smoke
of the incense stick in the tiniest vase.
the one I have just set down
on a table built by a man
whose infant son I walked to sleep
in a downtown L.A. loft.
Or do I mean I will have walked to sleep…


Syntax Satori

Or should I use the future perfect tense
to meditate. A monk I know calls it
“syntax satori”: You can’t back out
Of a phrasal verb without a rear view
Mirror where the predicate should be.”
He laughs. The linguistics of enlightenment,
he says, start with a joke.
Have you heard a good one lately?
And he turns his back and walks
towards the soft fibers of his mat.