Caveat: what we see

“I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. We know that all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.” – Giorgio Morandi (Italian painter, 1890-1964)


Natura Morta, oil on canvas, 1956.

Unrelated: what we don’t see…

“‘Why does God not show Himself?’ – ‘Are you worthy?’ – ‘Yes.’ – ‘You are very presumptuous, and thus unworthy.’ – ‘No.’ – ‘Then you are just unworthy.'” – attributed to Pascal


Caveat: there is a bear in the wound

Sometimes a Wild God

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

He will not ring the doorbell;
Instead he scrapes with his fingers
Leaving blood on the paintwork,
Though primroses grow
In circles round his feet.

You do not want to let him in.
You are very busy.
It is late, or early, and besides...
You cannot look at him straight
Because he makes you want to cry.

The dog barks.
The wild god smiles,
Holds out his hand.
The dog licks his wounds
And leads him inside.

The wild god stands in your kitchen.
Ivy is taking over your sideboard;
Mistletoe has moved into the lampshades
And wrens have begun to sing
An old song in the mouth of your kettle.

'I haven't much,' you say
And give him the worst of your food.
He sits at the table, bleeding.
He coughs up foxes.
There are otters in his eyes.

When your wife calls down,
You close the door and
Tell her it's fine.
You will not let her see
The strange guest at your table.

The wild god asks for whiskey
And you pour a glass for him,
Then a glass for yourself.
Three snakes are beginning to nest
In your voicebox. You cough.

Oh, limitless space.
Oh, eternal mystery.
Oh, endless cycles of death and birth.
Oh, miracle of life.
Oh, the wondrous dance of it all.

You cough again,
Expectorate the snakes and
Water down the whiskey,
Wondering how you got so old
And where your passion went.

The wild god reaches into a bag
Made of moles and nightingale-skin.
He pulls out a two-reeded pipe,
Raises an eyebrow
And all the birds begin to sing.

The fox leaps into your eyes.
Otters rush from the darkness.
The snakes pour through your body.
Your dog howls and upstairs
Your wife both exults and weeps at once.

The wild god dances with your dog.
You dance with the sparrows.
A white stag pulls up a stool
And bellows hymns to enchantments.
A pelican leaps from chair to chair.

In the distance, warriors pour from their tombs.
Ancient gold grows like grass in the fields.
Everyone dreams the words to long-forgotten songs.
The hills echo and grey stones ring
With laughter and madness and pain.

In the middle of the dance, 
The house takes off from the ground.
Clouds climb through the windows;
Lightning pounds its fists on the table.
The moon leans in through the window.

The wild god points to your side.
You are bleeding heavily.
You have been bleeding for a long time,
Possibly since you were born.
There is a bear in the wound.

'Why did you leave me to die?'
Asks the wild god and you say:
'I was busy surviving.
The shops were all closed;
I didn't know how. I'm sorry.'

Listen to them:
The Fox in your neck and
The snakes in your arms and
The wren and the sparrow and the deer...
The great un-nameable beasts
In your liver and your kidneys and your heart...

There is a symphony of howling.
A cacophony of dissent.
The wild god nods his head and
You wake on the floor holding a knife,
A bottle and a handful of black fur.

Your dog is asleep on the table.
Your wife is stirring, far above.
Your cheeks are wet with tears;
Your mouth aches from laughter or shouting.
A black bear is sitting by the fire.

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine
And brings the dead to life.

-Tom Hirons (British poet, b?)


Caveat: toda de púrpura y nieve

Los Espinos

Verdor nuevo los espinos
tienen ya por la colina,
toda de púrpura y nieve
en el aire estremecida.

Cuántos cielos florecidos
les has visto; aunque a la cita
ellos serán siempre fieles,
tú no lo serás un día.

Antes que la sombra caiga,
aprende cómo es la dicha
ante los espinos blancos
y rojos en flor. Vé. Mira.
– Luis Cernuda (poeta español, 1902-1963)

Caveat: a blog post in which Arthur is retrieved from the airport but no pictures are given

I went and got Arthur from the airport. Our friend Jan was generous in this. I have tire chains attached to the Blueberry, because the 6-Mile Hill on our road is a treacherous skating rink of ice. But driving the 10 miles each way from Craig to the Klawock airport with chains on the car would be quite tedious – that’s plowed and paved highway with a speed limit of 50mph, while chains limit the vehicle to 20mph or so. And removing and re-adding the chains is of course a bit onerous. Jan let me park my car at her house in town in Craig and then borrow her car to get to the airport. I got Arthur at about 6pm (his flight arrived early), we drove back to Craig in her car, and then switched to the Blueberry for the slow drive out the Port Saint Nicholas Expressway to home.

So Arthur is home. He said, “I’m glad to be home.” He paused 3 beats. “I think.” He’s referring to the cold, I believe. He’s had a somewhat ambivalent feeling about having selected this Alaskan getaway as his retirement abode ever since his accident. He feels that his body’s interior thermostat isn’t as tolerant of cold as it was before. And indeed it’s possible that was one of the aspects of his brain-body interface that may have been scrambled by the stroke.


Caveat: юу вэ юу вэ юув

There’s nothing like a bit of Mongolian nationalist heavy metal music to set the mood on a chilly January day.

What I’m listening to right now.

The Hu, “Yuve Yuve Yu.”


Их л удаан идэж уугаад наргиж цэнгээд хачин юм бэ юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эцэг өвгөд Монгол гээд л цээжээ
дэлдэн худлаа орилох нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эргэж буцаад хэлсэн үгэндээ эзэн
болдоггүй андгай өргөдөг нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Эцэг эхийн захиж хэлсэн үнэт сургааль
үнэгүй болдог нь юу вэ юу вэ юув, юу вэ юу вэ юув
Ээ дүлзэн сөгд сөгд
Ээ лүндэн бууг бууг, бууг бууг
Дээдсийн заяаг удамлаж төрчихөөд унтаж
хэвтээд сэрдэггүй юм бэ юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дэлхийд ганцхан Монгол гээд л амаа
хаттал худлаа ярьдаг нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дээдсээр амьдрах заяанд төрсөн Монгол
түмэн нэгдэж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Дархан Монгол улсаа мандуулж өөд нь татаж
сэргээж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув, юу вэ юу вэ юув
Ээ дүлзэн сөгд сөгд
Ээ лүндэн бууг бууг, бууг бууг
Өвөг дээдсийн өвлөж өгсөн газар
шороог хайрлаж чаддаггүй нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Өтгөс буурлын захиж хэлсэн үнэт
сургааль худлаа болдог нь юу вэ юу вэ юув
Өнө л мөнхөд мандан бадрах чонон
сүлдэт Монгол түмэн тэнгэрийн тамгатай
Хөвчин дэлхийд нэрээ дуурсгах хүмүүн
тахилгат эзэн Чингис нартад залрана, нартад залрана
Ээ хар сүлд сэр сэр
Ээ хаан төр мөнх манд, мөнх манд
Юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Хачин юм бэ
юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Хачин юм бэ
юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ юу вэ
Ээ хар сүлд сэр сэр
Ээ хаан төр мөнх манд, мөнх манд


Caveat: A bitter taste

The doctors said that I might regain some nerve-endings over time. They do grow back, sometimes.

Many of you know that I lost 90% or so of my taste buds, with my cancer surgery and tongue reconstruction. For these past years, the main taste I can experience has been “salt.” The others are almost non-existent. It doesn’t quite impair my ability to enjoy “taste” in the broader sense – at least half of what we think of as taste is not related to the taste buds at all but rather to things like smell and what is called “mouthfeel” – texture, I guess.

A few years ago I suddenly regained feeling on the back of my hand where it had been lost when they extracted nerve and muscle tissue for my surgery. Those nerves grew back.

Recently, over the past few months, everything I eat has begun tasting bitter. I don’t think I’ve suddenly become a bad cook for myself. I think what’s more likely is that some of the “bitter” taste buds in my tongue have somehow reactivated. And so things are tasting bitter.

I see karmic irony in this, given I’ve been in an emotionally bitter state since the disappointing news about my residency status with respect to the University of Alaska’s teacher certification program. Which bitterness drives the other?

Perhaps I’ll mull the question over a nice bitter cup of coffee.

Caveat: Unchained

It turns out that my adventure last Friday with the Blueberry in the driveway involved one of the snow chains (on the tires) actually breaking. So today, having decided to re-attempt my journey to town, I ended up having to do an emergency repair to the tire chains. I used a hammer and the bench vice in the shop.


The tire chains seem to be of low quality, frankly. I like the old-fashioned kind that have actual chain links. Our neighbor-down-the-road Joe came by as I was working on this, and assured me I was smart to be intending to use chains to get into town. He had chains on his much heavier-duty truck, and he’s an experienced truck driver. Indeed, as I later headed into town, the road at the 6 mile hill was like an ice rink but tilted 10°. It felt quite treacherous.

I had very little confidence in my repair job. I decided to ask around and see if anyone was selling chains in town – with the recent weather, they’d be making a killing. I got lucky – it turned out the single gas station / auto shop in town, Schaub-Ellison, in fact was not only selling chains but had the Tahoe’s wheel size in stock. I shelled out 150 bucks and got a new set of chains. Hopefully they will be of better quality.

Caveat: Kerosene

One of my periodic tasks here is to keep the kerosene heater in the boathouse (the lowest level of the house – it’s integrated to the “shop” which is the house’s basement) filled so that it can keep the boathouse’s interior temperature above freezing. This is important because the house’s water supply (and the main filters for it) run through the boathouse, given it’s the oldest part of the house. It is also uninsulated and has metal siding, meaning it loses heat rapidly when unheated and is likely quite inefficient to keep warm.

The kerosene heater has a 1 or 2 gallon tank, that needs to be removed and filled once a day when it’s not too cold. But as it gets colder (it’s 15° F / -10° C as I write this) this needs to be refilled more frequently. There is a 5 gallon plastic container for the kerosene, stored near the heater in the shop, which is in turn filled from the large outdoor storage tank. So I sometimes go to the storage tank and get a refill.

The kerosene heater is efficient, but it strikes me as impractical in this setting because although it burns kerosene, it has an electrical control that renders it useless if there is no power. In an extended power outage, it could not be used to heat the boathouse.


If I were to propose any single major project to Arthur to improve his house, it would be to figure out how to get the boathouse insulated. The spray-on insulation he used on the similar “kitchen shed” works well, but it was a nightmare to apply originally and for many years it was outgassing hazardous chemicals. The latter is not something Arthur ever cared about, but I’d rather not repeat that. I reckon the best insulation strategy for the boathouse would be some kind if inner frame (of wood or plastic) built within the boathouse walls, which could hold foam insulation or fiberglass and have some kind of outside layer – plywood or sheetrock, etc.