Thursday, February 27, 2014


Riding  one's own mind---at some point during the day or night I will close my eyes
and view the foreground of thought, which is not thought at all , but a spinning diamond
emerging from the waves or mist in washes of color.

Parked there at the promontory, I will begin to see the light and study it, really, for the
next clue of what to do and how to do it. This is mainly for painting, because the inward
voice to which I used to attend  is mostly hushed now. It does not feel gone, departed,
nor do I feel abandoned as much as at another stage, dry when I was once drenched,
temperate rather than tempest tossed. Is this something to be afraid of?

 Well, I do feel remote, on my own, without mysticism or myth, but retaining some sense
of keeping faith with I know not what. Yet I must keep faith and I will.

Oliver Sacks connects  such idioretinal imagery with migraines, as Hildegarde von Bingen
connected them will mystical ecstasy. I myself connect them with a voyage into some
realm --perhaps my own neurological processes, perhaps the inner locality where
these processes connect with information on the airwaves, television, radio, other
peoples' thoughts--the place where ideas form and alternately disperse.

But here here is no proof or interpretation which can be confirmed or refuted., merely
 myriad  images from which I draw some subject matter and a kind of peace.

I am aware that some call this "God" but I am opposed to calling it anything.
Whatever we call "God" is something more and something less than an entity.
It is not so separate after all, or so different from us, though we are different
from what we think we know.  It will not rescue us from the hands of evil,
or spare us sorrow but it does pose an alternative in the midst of sorrow.
Therefore I may maintain an equilibrium.

There among the tattered blowsy pink romance novels and self help books
and discarded manuals for professions of a Bartleby-the-Scrivener-like inconsequence
at the Library's perpetual book sale is a copy of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet
to be had for a quarter.

I reread it over a sandwich wondering at the firm belief in the efficacy of solitude and
the eventual arrival of the God to come.

It is enough to make me weep--if I might weep--at the diminished world,
for I have paid the price both in the lawful coin of the realm and in the petty
tariffs excised on the backroads of mere survival. Yes, it is true, I think,
reading Rilke, except in the reckoning of the expense.This can not be known

Remember the little apartment on Golden Gate, that nightly voice always calling,calling
your name, always recognized as hallucinatory, and yet responded to each night
 by going to the window never-the-less? Or those nightmare days following Jamal's death?
This is also the efficacy of solitude.

Those glimmerings of poetry like a gas-jet  burning low are the only consolation--that and
walks in parks where it is always autumn.

Beyond the plate-glass window, it is always masculine and heartily convivial, or
sleek and chic, or clever and deeply profane in a business-like way, for the
whore World must be paid. And there is some illicit relationship between the
gladiatorial spectacular and the grommet counting of slaves but this you will never

And that perpetual sense of a vibration--the gods just about to rain down,
cleansing the picture--will not keep you fed. For that you must scrub pots and
crockery, and then  footwearily  tread a narrow stair,, or shovel gravel all the day. This is
also solitude.

What Rilke could not do was abolish the coin of the realm, and all the transactions
connected  with it.

Now I find a beauty in the onerous, and no longer care--not perpetually,
though there is a wist--for the absence of an interlocutor or perfected understanding.
Yes, we would be understood, and on our own terms, and in our own language
--but this is a chimaera, and will not come. To know this and try to act with loving
kindness, even to smile, and be amused, is what I try to do.
Is this the God to come? Not quite.

Not quite, because as much as one would stand outside of time, this is
merely the illusion of a mood, an attitude, and one is in time all the while
and of it. The ruin is not atemporal. It can crumble further, and it will. I, too,
 will vanish.

Nor would I want an eternal life if it consist of my limited self,
my personality, my foibles. My memories would be insufferable stretched
to eternity, like a rubber band spanning the equator.

Fortunately, memories are eclipsed by others. I behold who I was then
and wonder.

Or rather, I wonder at why this or that would have shaken me, why
love was such a flagellation, and grief paralysis, and delusion rife.
Why I placed trust in something I inwardly knew to be false and then
was disappointed.... Misplaced faith I wonder at, and the haplessness
of Rilkean solitude, waiting for the angel on some cold concrete bench
the fallen leaves of November at one's feet as practical matters are
engulfed in a whirl pool  and sink.

 Letters unwritten and letters  un-mailed I wonder at,too, and the weird
variety of omens fabricated from cracks in the sidewalk or a scrap
of newspaper  momentarily whirled upward by the wind while in flight.
 Music heard as an unearthly  visitant, the step on the threshold foretold
--never to fall-- I recall from a thousand times. It had meaning ,yes,but
 no interpretation was  true. Landscapes that seemed to open onto
a new era closed as I passed through. It was a glory to behold them
 but not mine 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I have been asked about the early  sources of these Dzhir drawings.  To begin with,
the study of Leonardo's deluge drawings--which I was fortunate enough to  see when they were brought to  the Metropolitan Museum. I was especially fascinated by their seeming to animate before my eyes,
and I studied the currents of the Hudson River, and the breakers of the Atlantic, trying to ascertain how Leonardo had done this.
 Kenneth Clark, in his monograph on Leonardo, supposes that Leonardo saw faster than anyone else.
 As a result, for a while  I tried to speed my sight, but this proved unavailing. Then, I began to practise seeing more and more slowly. Over time, I learned to slow my heartbeat, and my breath, and view a rising falling wave in increasingly slow motion. Then I began to X ray the wave--to see(metaphor) the ball bearings beneath its back and forth.

 This procedure lead to other experiments, which I will describe elsewhere. The main thing was that the study of Leonardo's drawings was  where I began. At some point, the deluge became metaphoric for me, unlike Leonardo's hydraulic studies, for example. Instead, I found myself depicting a storm of the soul. 

This drawing is from   July  1998,  the same time as  most of the previous drawings in this series of   little essays. The first  photograph is of it in its entirety; those after are sectional details. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


After your family left,
  taking what of your strange estate
    would precede your pale bones home
after I loaded their station wagon,
   and we wept a last time together,
     to wave them--an airplane was waiting--
off, into the blue dawn,
  I folded what remained of your wardrobe
   (most of it;they took
     only what wouldn't need ironing,
leaving the silks and linens, the "natural
   fibers " you prized so much behind)
   the shape of you was still in them,
the fedora, the elegantly creased trousers,
   and almost as if to amuse ourselves
     I began to try them on

Behold me,then,
   as the mirror did, sadly
  assuming your various  personae
with scant success, one by one,
   missing your snort of derision
    at my metamorphoses, only partial,
into a Regency rake in brocade,
   a teddy-boy by the docks
   (how thin I had become
these last months, if not yet
   as weightless as ash)

Taking solace, none-the-less
  in the vain hope of a new life
   that a change in costume implies,
gradually in the process of wearing you
  I discovered a face in the mirror
    neither quite mine or your own,
one to be cruised in the shade or  the alleyways
    while remaining aloof, elusive,
     making an internal tally
of the arrows which fell at my feet
   deflected (by you.?) into a smokeless  pyre

During this period,
   the living involuntarily testified
    to the theory that there is little difference
between the lands of the living and the dead
    (else the partition had grown thin)
    Certainly, the monologues of my acquaintances
said verbatim as if replayed on a gramophone
   ( whether about real estate
      or how many angels might reel
      through a needle's eye)
provided no comfort,
   equally irrelevant was theology,
     styles of steles in pallid Elysium,
the mud huts and razored walkways
   of the Enuma Elish
for all the while your boots
   made their same singalong
    clippity clop

In them, I found myself circling
   the dubious precincts
where the disconsolate go searching for love,
   bars where they gathered
   to ignore each other
in favor of an imaginary ideal,
   Or  down the much  trammeled coverts
    where hidden orgies are,
watching  them,untouchable,
     more of a ghost than a voyeur
knowing that you'd been there before me,
    the direction  remained in the soles of your shoes

Gradually,  they wore out
 nor did I take them to the cobbler,
   items flamboyant
   were replaced by the functional,
others were lost--socks first--
    or went to Goodwill,
what remains I wear
   now and then as a souvenir
of the synthesis of our karma,
    however incomplete

Writing you from another coast,
   almost another country,
I find little else to report,
   save a dream of a room
    --a huge closet--
where you lingered
   both a child and a garment,
    waiting to be worn,
looking forlorn and lost,
   yet someone
   was coming to fetch you,
your waiting was done,
  whether to clothe you
   in flesh again or usher you
 to the circles of light
   I can not conjecture,
only that when the door opened
    you shone.

And I, arrested
   for a while in the half-life
   have started to love again,
and therefore ask your blessing,
    for purgatory
is not a place, as you know,
    but a need like fever.
(1992;the photograph is the hand of Paul Thek by Peter Hujar)



Wednesday, February 19, 2014


'"Praise to the Holy Creator, who has placed his throne on the waters, and
who has made all terrestrial creatures. To the heavens he has given movement,
and to the earth uniform repose...
"In the beginning he gilded the stars, so that at night the heavens might
 play tric- trac.
With diverse properties, he endowed the net of the body,
and he has put dust on the tail of the bird of  the soul."
                                     (from the opening invocation of The Conference
                                          of the Birds by Farid ud- Din Attar)

In 1988 my friend Robert Reese, who had been a lover in my youth, and who remained
one of my dearest friends, began to show signs of  the dementia which foretold his death.

 We had just moved into a spacious loft on the edge  of Bedford/Stuyvesant
in Brooklyn, which was then a dangerous neighborhood. It was the dead of winter,
and  a week after we had moved in, I counted nine bodies in body bags on the street
one morning--and  there they remained  for several days, despite the proximity
of a police station.

Robert, who was half-Mexican, half Chinese, was a beautiful man. He had worked
up the social ladder by  hustling, and through his superb skills as a chef. It
was perhaps an anomaly in  his life that he loved me, and I him, but it was an abiding
love. He would sleep on my pillow when I was away in the country, and describe
the drawings that I did while I was away before we viewed them together. What
was uncanny was how well he intuited them. ..

These were the Dzhir drawings which I have described elsewhere. Members of my order--
the Helveti-Jerrahis--were proud  of  their skills in the interpretation of dreams,
and in fact have claimed to be the "dream order" ( though I have heard Sufis from
other orders say the same thing).  Whether it was due to sleeping on my pillow,
or the drawings that I did to the Sufi Dzhir, or because Robert was being
claimed by Nuredden Jerrahi, the founder of the order--as Sheikh Nuer(the late Lex Hixon)
strongly asserted --I can not conjecture. But Robert began to have highly charged dreams.

He dreamed that he was standing on the summit of a high mountain when the stars were
first set out. Robed figures surrounded his corpse in another dream, and replaced his
 lifeless heart with a beam of light. He also dreamed of  halls of jade and purple, and' sketched
domes under which these dreams were conducted. I remember him in his silk kimono,
his dream  notebook  inches from his face as he would write down these dreams
with his hefty Mont Blanc pen, just after he first woke---he was quite myopic without
 his contact lenses

 All of this dream activity was highly  uncharacteristic of him, it must be said.. Robert
 loved haute cuisine, Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, expensive accessories, gossip,
 intrigue, and erotic refinement.

He read Balzac, Colette, cookbooks--whose recipes he could recite verbatim--and
 Waverly Root, but never a scripture.

He also dreamed that he was a beautiful female vampire in a couturier gown, who
was pursued  by angels, who reluctantly spread dust on his/her train to halt him.

I somehow sensed when he told me this dream, that he had carelessly transmitted
 the AIDS virus to some of his many lovers.

Someday, I will tell the story of  Robert's death, which was  to happen some six months
after this dream. In the meantime,  after a peculiar waking vision,
he took hand with my Sheikh, and joined the order,and soon after became increasingly
 violent and erratic--at one point attempting to murder me-- and never entered the
 Tekka again.

 Despite this, I could not abandon him, and I am glad I did not.

I  have resolved not to interpret the mysterious connections at work during that
time , which I am sure would lead forthwith to delusion and absurdity. Let someone else
convert a  dream into a doctrine.  I am content  instead, to accept the paradox
 that   grief  requires us live more intently.
And whenever I have done a Dzhir drawing since, the prayers --which are a remembrance of Allah --are also done  in the memory of and  in some wild surmise of hope for  my  friend.

(this drawing, from 1998, is shown in its entirety in the first photograph, and in  sectional details  afterwards)

Friday, February 14, 2014


A sudden shaft of sunlight crossed my window, and with it a sense of the passing of the storm. 
Though I had indolently considered napping, this so gladdened my heart that I strapped on my sodden boots -- morning had been spent trampling the snowbound woods, so gripped had I been with cabin fever--
and retrieved my wet gloves, and damp hat, to see what the world was presently doing. There was a pointillist whisper in  the air, like and yet  quite  the opposite of snow or sleet falling , rather the sound of snow and sleet vanishing. Already the trees and shrubs had shaken off much of them, and the perpetual rustling of snow flakes or sleet en route to oblivion  was accompanied through my walk by the occasional sound of sliding , and a muffled crash--snow dislodged  from a  treetop to the ground below.

Color had come into its realm again, though at first less seen than felt.. 

The sunlight raked the snowdrifts, and in them I could discern the faintest, most  minuscule admixture of gold.

 The tallest blades of  wheat thatch straightened tentatively, no longer bent by gusts of wind and the baroque
 strictures of the snow.
The sky had become blue again,  and was crossed by a cloud which seemed  innocently unaware of the previous tempest. 
Shadows re-appeared, and I realized that they had been entirely absent during the  louring weather.

The waters of the pond  seemed almost granular.

My untended vegetable garden looked calligraphic, the remnants of tomato plants elegant--oddly enough--with the snow as a backdrop.
Walking among the blackberry patch was peculiarly easy, except for the sinking of my footfall step by step.
I thought to myself, perhaps I will become a minimalist of snow, and record the whisper of vanishing snowflakes as they pass.
I will be a weed calligrapher, and  write in ideograms exclusively understood by rabbits and foxes.
I will become an anchorite of snow dunes. My footprints will perturb the village like Sasquatch.
Even a low gully into which water sluices seemed profound..And I decided to collect ways in which
sunlight rakes surfaces, until at last my damp boots became thoroughly wet, the cuffs of my trousers also.
By then, I had gone around the pond. The sun was going down.

(Feb 13/2014)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I used to dream  at intervals of a great feast  in Heaven. One such dream followed the news of the death of the poet James Merrill--the living and the dead were joined together in some atemporal hall which outstared 
Versailles, and we amused ourselves by  aiming  paper airplanes of poetic inspiration into top hats
which had a direct pipeline to the minds of various poets on earth.. My old dad--who  is still alive--was invited to this fete because he has a touch of the poet. 

Another such party was conducted after I successfully managed to get the composer, Gustav Mahler,
to complete his fourth symphony. I had been assigned this task by The Old One as  He sat in the heavenly library--which resembled the Century Club--and was sent to earth to do such things as play sleighbells at his window (cf. the beginning of the Fourth) or put a dram of brandy in the cat's milk, to inspire the drunken scherzo. Fortunately, I was invisible.  
At the end of this Mahler dream--the Mahler 4th concludes with children's games in heaven---there was a huge party in heaven, much like the conclusion of the biography of Tibetan saint, Milarepa, when he achieves
enlightenment. Nagas, Dakinis, Apsaras rained down from the firmament holding lanterns and colored umbrellas
It seemed to me that the purpose of Mahler writing the Fourth symphony was to extend the borders of heaven,
that his music enlarged it. And the soprano solo was the music of the sacred bride,the feminine Godhead or deepest Nature, who The Old One had missed for eternity.
This dream makes me happy to think of  it even now, though I am also perfectly aware that the finale of the Mahler fourth was actually a movement left over from the  third symphony, which was already gigantesque.
Also that the Mahler  4th was  published in 1903.

Such are the spiritual metaphors by which we drive our own stories forward, no more than that..Even so,
I have drawn many such fetes in heaven, of which these are two, from 1996. They,too, were done to the Sufi Dzhir. The first illustration and the  third  are the two drawings in their entirety. The second,the fourth ,and fifth are details.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


That voice within the whirlwind, that storm destroying all in its path, was also a hovering presence,a near image which I found inescapable during the late 1980's.  It seems strange to me now,  from the perspective of half a lifetime lived since then., but we live rather than choose our preoccupations.
I have noticed that there is hardly a Japanese anime which does not feature the carefully designed construction of an explosion, whether  the dystopian Ghost in the Shell or the fairytale epic Spirited Away. It seems to
be something than the makers of animated cartoons find impossible to resist. There is evidently something curiously reassuring  in tracing how something solid falls apart, in following the multiple trajectories of the pieces.
Apocalyptic scenarios are never-the-less related by the survivors. 

  My storms were both destructive and constructive. In this drawing the columns may be toppling or erected.
I often imagined a  tempestuous force rise from a barren plain, holding a Golden City  on its crest like a waiter bearing a platter. Why should such an image haunt me so, and move my hand to inscribe it?
I related it, furthermore, to the Old Testament as well as the Dzhir, to the visions of Ezekial and Isaiah.
This was before my own circle was to be decimated, which was soon to occur, so there may have been an dimly perceived  element of preparation, of bracing myself for what was to come.  I am ,however, unsure
about the value of such an interpretation, or what it might be said to demonstrate, except that foreboding is seldom  entirely mistaken. 
(These two drawings were done in the fall of 1988. What follows is
a poem of Charles Reznikoff's, based on the Apocalyptic Ezra; I copied it by hand into my journal of the spring of 1989)

Because I saw the desolation of Zion
and the wealth of the buildings of Babylon
I said to myself:
have the inhabitants of Babylon behaved so well?
 And the angel, Uriel, came to  say,
"Is your heart troubled
because of this world, Ezra
and would you understand the Most High?
Then weigh for me the weight of fire,
measure the blast of the wind,
or call back a day that is past."
And I answered, "My Lord, what man can do these things?"
And the angel said:"If I asked you
how many springs in the sea?
what are the paths to heaven?or the gates of Hell?
you would say, I have never gone down
into the depths of the sea,
or to the  gates of hell,
nor have I climbed up into the sky.
But I asked you about fire and the wind and the day
--which you know well--
and yet you could not answer.
then how are you to understand the  Most High?
And I answered," It would have been better for me
not to have been born
than to live and suffer without knowing why.
else why have I been given a mind?
Why has Israel been abandoned to the Heathen,
and the people God loved to godless tribes?
If the world was designed for te righteous,
why do they not have it,
and are ruled by people like spittle? Why?
The Angel, his face bright as lightning,cried:
"Do you think you love Israel more than his Maker does?
The days will come when the evil men do
will be greater than anything you see
and whatever you heard of long ago
and those of one city will ask of their neighboring cities
has any good man passed through
and in the neighboring cities they will answer"NO.
Chasms will open in many  places
and out of them fire will not cease to blaze,
even the birds will leave the land.
The sweet waters will turn salt
and friend suddenly turn upon friend;
women will go into labor and be unable to give birth.
Just as a farmer sows many seeds and plants much
but the seeds do not all take root nor do all the plants sprout
so do those who have come across the earth:
out of a cluster  a  grape will be saved
and out of a great forest a fern.
Mourn not  for the multitudes who perish:
for they are like a breath and like smoke
and like a fame that burns until it goes out."

And I, Ezra,prayed:
"God, at Whose Word
the host of Heaven changes into winds and fire--
and it was so when all was dark and  silent
and the voice of man was heard--
What is man that you are so angry with him? -
Give us
the flowering of a new heart--
light a candle of understanding in our hearts
that everyone who is corruptible and whoever
is man in the image of man
may live"

Friday, February 7, 2014


From  1986 to 1992, I  practiced the recitation of the 99 names of  Allah--
or the DZHIR, as well as the prayers of Islam, which I learned at the
 Masjid al Farah, a Tekka in lower Manhattan.

This coincided with my particular peak of the AIDS crisis, so I soon had much
to pray about. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every step that I
took in the hospital  wards where friends were dying was done to the  reiteration
of these names. They entered my footsteps but they also entered my hands,
and I began to pray as I drew and draw as I prayed.
It would be absurd to claim a sanctity for these drawings as a consequence,
and I  emphatically do not, but  there was a concentration peculiar to making them.
They can not be resumed when put down, for example, and in those which
I  have tried to do so I can detect exactly where this was done,
like a crack in the pavement..
The practice of doing  drawings to the recitation of the names is
one I return to every year or so, out of fidelity to the practice:
The prayers will always be a part of me, however  I depart from
 "cultural Islam".
(There are drawings of mine which do not have this  background,
and thus have a different place in my work, so I am cataloging
the various groups according to their origin and intention.)

   Never-the-less I consider  these to be the taproot or wellspring of my work as a draftsman, as
this series--characterized by the stippled technique--was begun  in my first maturity as a draftsman..
If it is done with dots, it was probably done as a prayer.  (I had resumed painting years before, in 1981).
This drawing--which is 18''x 24', was done in 1998. The first photograph illustrates it in
its entirety, the remaining photographs show its details.It is called "the 99 Names".

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


California has always defeated me. It begins in  near perfection--the flora,fauna, the mountains, and the sea-
and rapidly deteriorates to the inescapable company of crackpots. I went there in 1991, to  put some distance
 between myself and the AIDS crisis in New York.  I stayed for the first ten months in the penthouse eyrie
of Ken Kelley, a journalist and friend  who I had known during  time of the Student Revolution and the  Weather Underground of the '70's. At that time, Ken was well on his way to deteriorating from a fine journalist to a sociopath (he was later to die in prison)and  after an inward struggle, it became clear to me that I could not save Ken from self-immolation, and I left his penthouse while he was away, ostensibly interviewing  Jack Kervokian ("Dr. Death") never to see him again.

Following this I stayed in Sausalito with my friend Gaylan, who had settled down there after a decade
of doing such things as walking across the country barefoot for love of Robert Fripp, the guitarist.
She had often landed in my loft in Soho during those earlier times, but now she was ensconced as an oracle.

I helped her with an after hours program that she ran with the SF Waldorf school  and a program for kids that she ran during the summer, hung out with cyberpunks, started a magazine, attended such things as UFO conferences--where I was the sole person in attendance who did not believe themselves to have been "probed"--and sought something of a less ephemeral nature which would keep me there. This did not occur.

 Partly this was due to a weird apathy on my part following the AIDS related deaths in my New York circle--echoes of which continued to follow me for some years afterwards, as well as the almost regular arrival of more bad news. I could not find reason for existence or purchase, and my beliefs were all held up to questioning  by the deathbeds where I had sat.

Finally, I  gathered  my possessions  onto the Trailways Transcontinental Bus, and returned to North Carolina. I knew that I would not drift into oblivion or commit suicide around my family.

It was a strange journey through  the northern part of the country gripped in  winter cold. I met a young woman --really, a teenager--who was being fetched home by her brother from who knows where, who wanted--I think--to escape with me--
or at least to discuss spiritual matters.( This was something that happened to me often during this time.)
When she disembarked somewhere in Nebraska she pressed something into my hand-- a grey knight from a a  plastic chess-set.. Periodically it  re-appears among my drawers of miscellaneousness, and with it the memory of her pinched young face turning towards her fate.

These drawings, which were done in the first week of my arrival in North Carolina, were done as
a record of my transcontinental crossing.  Several months later, I received in the mail a poem from
Ronald Johnson, who had returned to Kansas from San Francisco, just before my own departure from
Sausalito. In it, he details his own such journey. I thought of the diaspora among  the living, for Ron's circle had been decimated  by AIDS  as mine had been, and our correspondence from that time  fluctuated between denial and contending, tears and injunctions to buck up.

What I know now, which I did not know then, is that you must turn everything to good use.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I lived in Sausalito, California, in the early 1990's. An uphill walk of a little more
than a half an hour lead me via  tunnel to the Golden Gate Bridge. Five minutes
downhill from the little shack where I lodged with my friend, Gaylan, was SF bay.
The presence of water was continuous--mornings hailed the burning off of the
hazes that had  rendered all  luminous but indistinct;  nights began with the
drift of fogs from the sea, and from the sea, uphill. Their comings and goings
made the  immaterial material and the material immaterial .

One of  my intentions then was to show the moment when something "invisible"
becomes visible. I wanted to draw a drawing which was almost invisible. Photographing them, it  occurs to
me that perhaps I succeeded all too well.
(each drawing here is shown twice, once in its entirety, once in a sectional detail)