Thanks to Lisa Haugen for this beautiful poem!
Paradise is Here: an unruly epic ode to PAMLA 2022
CHORUS [a ventriloquist’s puppet]:
“First let us invoke some muses: Oh Dante,
lend us your Beatrice; Yeats your Maud,
Join us oh Dark Lady, and Tom Lefroy.
We can’t leave out the daughters of memory,
all nine, Calliope, our #1
patroness will preside: Ahem
[puppet clears throat, and assumes a new voice:]
“We call on you now (in alphabetical order):
Clio? …Clio? (It seems she’s running late)
Erato? Yes! Here with an armful of
manga, I see. Euterpe? Yes, she’s here!
Melpomene? …Melpomene, are you
with us, my dear? Alas, she droops her head
and doesn’t answer. (I think she’s already
had enough, we’ll come back to her later).
Polyhymnia? Couldn’t be more happy!
Terpsichore? Wouldn’t miss it. Thalia?
Oui! And Urania? Sì—”
is shoved with loud protest into a box].
[He’s lost his mind].
Behold and hearken: the gateway beckons,
intellectual ears twist and perk, heed
the calling: A call, “a call for papers!”
So begins our radical commitment,
as we leave Kaftka’s parable behind
and join the swell of a building tide. This:
but a moment in our personal and
collective history. “Time is matter
ever sensitive to the currents we
reach forth with many intuitive fingers
across a delta plain and ponder
what is the matter, the motion?
Colonized, zombified by the demands
of commercial institutions,
we survey fields of listless students
“they are strangely quiescent…”
Yet also knowing that each of them is internally crying:
“a horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
A little on the margins, all of us, perhaps;
we gather about the cook-fires,
our panels, “this careful balance,”
“a broad, big-tent association,” a
many-ringed circus governed by forces
of string cheese theory and Svonkin, hapless,
sleep-deprived [but cheerfully well-organized]
Not to simply rehearse tragedy, but,
borrowing some pages from Empress Cavendish,
we map out future quantum possibility.
Together we are the culture that grows
from this uncanny crucible,
this fluffy-pillowed Petri dish that will,
with any good luck, spread like a many-
-tentacled well-rooted monster rolling
through the annals of
But what is really beneath this professional, intellectual bearing?
Why, 3 witches, of course, assembled ’round
a cauldron and armed with scissors sharp held
ready to render the fate of oppression:
Death to the mundane! Death to capitalism
(unless you’re a grammarian, though in
that case I hope you don’t mind my spelling).
Begone injustice, faux-modernity
and Death to “the Man!” …who’s so much smaller
than we thought before—he lives like a mouse,
behind a little door—Long Live The King,
Creativity! …and his wayward mistress:
So toil and trouble we double down
on our efforts to brew, polish, hone and
perfect our masterpieces—so many
seemingly disparate fragments drawn in
spirit together. We eagerly don
the carnival garb of jackets, ties, and
jeans to frolic in jubilation with
the ontologically absurd.
unwittingly drawn around the common
locus of a black “jewel bearing,” a
multi-clawed animatronic motion-
synthesizing spider. Her name: PAMLA,
the not so underground well-tended
“We’re trying to woo you with food,” but,
unfortunately, the spirits are not
A hotel key instead unlocks the gates
…and the whims of infernal elevators.
[an aside:] “Rest and frustration are necessary for growth and for learning”
(that’s but an embellished paraphrase).
Belly-talkers all, we meet in the
Yes, yes, the line for food ends and begins
right here, with the time-bound platters of
When the room is full of waiters
all you need do is ask, and receive.
Then dwell for a moment in the existential
empathy of someone underpaid
underestimated, and only
Witchcraft! Our ancestors may have deemed this all,
a gathering of sorcery! Fiendish
acts of devilry! Circles of seance,
rituals of conjure, summoning ghosts
of those gone before. After all, Satan
is persuasive, as demon—
strated by such scholars as these;
his cohorts each of us it seems, because
we know, it’s all in the details.
The microcosms the macrocosms—
cite your sources
(the pandemonium of wikipedia
doesn’t count—but thank god for the well-ordered subdivisions
of the damnable OED.
What ho! A canine scholar among us?
Mephistophelian and bedecked in
a dashing coat. Terrier, too, like that
rapscallion Toto: a hint, a subtle
reminder of the Kansas we’ve here now
For together we’ve entered the realms of
uncertainty, the unknown, the unrefined,
the secret message in the hieroglyph,
the nebulous, tremulous something still
Skilled and dedicated wrestlers some,
pin it all down with thought and with word,
dress it in tack, brandishing saddles
lassoing loose and unwieldy arguments.
Some of us tentative dancers of
many different kinds, dipping toes into
strange waters and flirting with the sublime.
When are we wagging the dog, and when is
the dog wagging us?
“Emerging signifiers… yoked to an
oppressed body,” so yanked about by a
perpetually frisky, eager, leash-evading
thing. Always minding it, are we afraid of
THE GAP [?]
The nihilistic gap that both divides and
unites us all? The truth, the real,
where intimacy sometimes only painfully—
gradually, pains-taken-ly grows. Old Joe
holds the story, he knows (or does he?)
the four-letter codes of DNA that
compose our history
history the dance of matter and time
the quantum path and past
of our collective observations.
“Do not deviate from your present course,”
says the concrete irony of the freeway,
“or else you may suffer the consequence”
of the empowering disability
of your own personal aesthetic and
pressurized creative limitations—
your own internal dance with the dog
(unless you are dyslexic, in which case
your disability forces you to perceive god).
So equipped, Satan smells life in decay
(he’s on par with the dog)
but we have locked it away in coffins
and so, rather like the puppet,
we have lost it.
But let us not be seduced by Satan’s
disavowal of hope as we muck through
—(I mean, have you ever read Chaucer?)—
“limits of representation,”
the “texture[s] of [many] a page,”
we find that even King Leontes’
folly can be forgiven: Protest-ant
Statues can’t subdue the Pope (nor magical
Lady Sherlock, Mary, who literally
gave birth to the apotheosetic).
“But wait!” you exclaim, “what about Young Joe?
where is he in the midst of all your artful pontificating?”
“Oh, right,” I pause, just a little sheepishly:
“wrapped in the quotidian glory of
the well-populated word-world
I keep neglecting our off-ramp.”
For Young Joe is really what matters as
we consider the broader scope of time,
he/she/they resides within us all, our
paradoxical future, which we all
must define, either by default of our
fathers and mothers—or with the assistance
of something we might call divine.
[Or both, all, for here we may have our cake and eat it too]
By the intercession of physics and
our own goodwill we dream of a future
far more fine
(which, btw, the OED practically qualifies
Old Joe, who we may as well call Sisyphus,
hounds after young, hopelessly barking the
arbitrary imperatives of social order,
the predestiny of meaning, declaring:
“there is nothing else to know, Joe!”
The river, that serpent, that riparian temptress,
has been ordered into oblivion;
the truth paved by abstraction turned to the
innocent circumvention of plain concrete.
So now we are back at nihilism’s
tenuous edge and its suspect promise
of freedom, of wisdom, and paradise:
but only if you will take the leap,
the fall of faith into its darkened depths.
“But friends don’t push friends into blackholes!”
I can’t help but decry, myself turned
dummy by an unquelled sense of fate,
“a quirky professor, a veritable
Galileo, he instructed me so!”
his vision transmuted by the shock of
a swinging chandelier
(who knew Sia was an expert on Brecht?).
But lo, behold! A friend of Milton brings
the snapshot image of a black hole: all
that goes around must come around (and so,
whether the eye or the rear-end of god,
we may never know).
But godlike it must be, shining with such
contradictory light. A self-centered
sun, if we so allow, reflecting our
own philosophical subjectivity;
a smattering collective held in time
composed of the abundant splendor of
bright and spirited solipsistic stars—
a swirling gravity-bound conglomerate
among an ever-expanding sprawl.
The dog has pulled back the curtain, and soon
this world must collapse, so creating
the portal, the time warp, for our return
into the world of strange new others, our
colleagues, our lives, our homes.
Or perhaps, it really is only us who
have been so strangely transformed,
sending novel ripples into a world
never again quite as it was.
So even while we settle back into
grid-like routine, the palpable sense of
something squirms to break free.
In the dark there are no notes to take
only the freedom to laugh and to cry.
Hurston, Shakespeare, Oden; so many more
have given us their personal maps,
each intended for the navigation
of isolation: fragmentation, trauma,
So, dutifully we study, for their
sake and our own, we apply ourselves,
to what is both a haunting and often
daunting task. For young Joe and old,
for everyone caught in between,
every panel is an appeal for freedom,
the wrenching sob for healing we all share.
Trauma speaks its knowing, and if we listen
Post-trauma learns its grace.
Finally, Melpomene lifts her head
with a desperate plea: “don’t hesitate
to ‘kill’ em with laughter’ for satan is
not always wrong: there is life in decay,
where there is delight in its song.”
That is where Ariel finds us, often
unawares. Cooperatively bound,
we prosper from magic, interdependently
rather than hierarchically shared.
So colleagues, ghosts, dogs, and puppets alike,
for all the apples I thank you beyond
measure: a veritable cornucopia
and for all the seeds planted
(scatologically, we must say)
in newly tilled ground,
for warmth and for shelter like the Helen-
-woven coat of our dog,
where the wag is the song and the story.
Your healing is mine and mine is yours,
I must conclude.
We have all shared it freely, for a brief,
sweet interlude: a synergistic play
of learning and of knowing that by its
very diversely unified nature
will feed us all eternally.