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sonar might detect yellowish dust of time

the blood penguin might emerge from a fulvous cloud

a girl might return to retrieve, stuff, there’s a bag

the windows might go opaque, hard to drive the house with the blinds closed

the house has come a long way down nightmarish highways of limited visibility, like a bug

the house may be opened with a card, you may

then there is a lot of breathing going on

a lot of heart beating

clumps of foliage by the road side, in stray towns of the past

populated by windows underwater, hardening spines like fishes eyes

you have tested the light switch so you might know

provisional restaurant (now closed), post office (closed), motel (dark)

you understand without trying




Whipped on my forearms and bones (humeri)
and beaten by the rainy roads, and Paris, and Thursdays

His brother died, Vallejo’s—he wrote, come home—
Mama will be worried—I think looking at small violet pads
of purple prickly pear cactus with long white needles

see also Rebecca Seiferle’s tremendous translations of Vallejo:


translated by Rebecca Seiferle at

I will die in Paris with a rainstorm,
on a day I already remember,
I will die in Paris—and I don’t shy away—
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is, in autumn.
       It will be Thursday, because today, Thursday, as I prose
these lines, I’ve put on my humeri in a bad mood,
and, today like never before, I’ve turned back,
with all of my road, to see myself alone.
       César Vallejo has died; they kept hitting him,
everyone, even though he does nothing to them,
they gave it to him hard with a club and hard
       also with a rope; witnesses are
the Thursday days and the humerus bones,
the solitude, the rain, the roads. . .

Translator’s Note: Black Stone on a White Stone

by Rebecca Seiferle

I think this is one of the first poems I read in translation by César Vallejo, and it’s certainly one of his most well-known. Apparently an elegy for himself, the poem has often been taken as the bell note for Vallejo’s anguished, particularly solitary sensibility. The poem’s occasion was supposedly one day in Paris in the late twenties when Vallejo, wearing a black overcoat and feeling depressed, sat down on a white stone, but I don’t want to look through the poem for the poet, or, conversely, to look through the biographical ancedote for the poem. That would seem a mistake, particularly since this poem is turning back to “to see myself alone” (also, “to see only myself”) in order to look through the very illusion of identity, with irony and more than a hint of black humor, written from whatever awareness persists when “César Vallejo has died.”

The most noticeable element of the poem is its disobedience to time, posited in a future death that is already remembered, and which continues in each stanza, by shifting tenses, following a line in the past or future tense with a line that is, startlingly, in the present: in the first stanza, “I don’t shy away”; in the second, “I prose”; in the third, “he does nothing to them”; and in the last, the witnesses who “are.” These verbs of agency posit a sensibility that is now, this minute, refusing to flinch—writing these very lines, doing no harm, and witnessing—just as the disobedience to time suggests an interruption of identity and its singular narrative.

For all that the poem looks forward to the moment of bodily death, it also looks back upon the death of an identity, of someone named “César Vallejo,” and to so turn back requires taking up the entire road of one’s suffering, matter-of-factly and grounded in bodily experience. To look at oneself so alone is to look at that single road of experience that makes one one. When Vallejo puts on his humeri in “los húmeros me he puesto a la mala,” he is putting on the body as we usually think of putting on clothes, and furthermore putting on its bad mood, its pain—but ironically, as if aware that insistence upon identity had to be willed, in a sense, ill-willed.

Like a good number of the poems in Vallejo’s first book, The Black Heralds, this is a sonnet, but an irregular one. The poem has a hendecasyllabic count, except for line ten. In line ten, the interruption of time is most noticeable and dramatic, when the past tense of “César Vallejo has died” and “le pegaban” (“they kept hitting him” but also “they used it to hit him”) is followed by “él les haga nada” (“he does nothing to them”). So the interruption of time occurs both in the poem’s grammar and in its form. If every translation requires a sacrifice, what I have sacrificed here, and regretfully, is the metric form of the original, which would have required either padding or pruning.


I get this feeling when I go to the store to the meat station to turn on the lights. It is like anger and hatred comes from the animals. When I go in the back to go to the bathroom, I go to do it quick. Because I feel that someone is watching me.


old mattress and box springs in  the alley in the drizzle

ticket stubs in jacket pocket forgotten long ago

phone numbers and addresses of the dead

memory of birds across sunset over wetlands, many egrets shining white

little towns passing by, malls, car dealerships, rush hour traffic

that sleeper train we took from mexico city to oaxaca city no longer runs through those cutbanks (rail lines privatized, sold off for bus lines)

frozen mornings in the gold country passing through, everything frosty or wet

mysterious ranch houses and driveways emerging from orchards on highway 99

rain in the blackberries, on your shoulders and then pantslegs

car lights moving off down the avenue into Brooklyn dusk, streetlight flickering on and off later in the dark

it comes back to you later, a title that you were trying to remember in conversation

finally I was tired of driving, drove the main drag of Seligman, Arizona to stop at the Supai Motel, awoke bitten by bedbugs

after dinner, Andy said he’d been knocked off his bike and thrown across parked vehicles

descending Deer Mountain, through the swirling clouds appears sometimes the Tongass Narrows, the waterfront town of Ketchikan

what happened to those people, a box of postcards I sent that no one will read now

the stories and feelings and world of a generation past that we can’t feel or know really anymore

except like the wind blowing with a sound like water through high treetops

or perhaps the dusty trail on a summer day but who knows even then

some radio signal from far away might change everything, a world that could change like that and take them with it




what octopus is this, at the edge of the great American desert

Jenny’s Grill 1231 E. Main St. Barstow open 7 days a week

full of Barstow families, Mexicanos & Anglos—

what octopus is this, the skinny teen waitress rushes

to deliver to me? (your choice—al mojo de ajo if you like

on a hot thick ceramic plate beside a pool of refried beans?)

octopus that once panicked and furled and unfurled

at the edge of what sea, like the little octopus I saw grabbed from

underneath its rock in the Sea of Cortez, how it squirmed and

wriggled to try to slide free?



Now it’s steamed or boiled and pummeled to tenderize, chopped

in pieces in tasty tomato broth with avocado slices and lime juice?

Caught and lifted from the water and pummeled and frozen in what

octopus fear, bagged or boxed and trucked on what truck, day or

night, how many days through how many hands, passing?

How many bills 0f lading far in offices, invoices on dashboards, signatures

on the exchange of this flesh of octopus, sweet as a girl’s.



Just this moment as I write this in my notebook, Tatiana Jimenez,

one of the owners sits in the red vinyl booth across the aisle with a binder

full of bills and invoices to work on her accounts, even as the waitress

hands her the phone, which she presses against her shoulder to speak into—

as she goes through her paperwork, and I’m spooning sweet flesh of

this octopus whose sea is red broth, onions and celantro, its one or two

years no time at all on East Main Street Barstow, far from its sea and those frightened curls.

—a writing prompt:

the mind flatters itself at its independence from the material world, as if the flame does not grow out of the wood.
but the body anchors us in time (in its processes, in cause and effect, in give and take, in loss and gain, in exchange and sacrifice)—and place (in a chair, on a room, in a town, on a continent, in a specific role in the economy according to consumption or production, in multiple places with proper nouns or common nouns) etc. the politics and economics of this were discussed in previous generations by writers like wendell berry, gary snyder, and others—and nowadays there’s something called the food sovereignty movement or food politics under other names. but this awareness goes back to ancient times as human survival depended upon it, and poetically in america is a part of walt whitman’s transcendentalism manifested in his poems such as “This Compost,” or “There Was A Child Went Forth” or “Orange Buds by Mail from Florida.”
SOMATICALLY, therefore, meditate upon or reflect upon some essential thing in the world that becomes part of your body, AS IT DOES SO, whether it is food, light, air, water, land, human affection, sound, sight, whatever it may be—write down your reflection or meditation upon something external becoming internal to you.

for a book of somatic poetry writing prompts, see also:

A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics by CA Conrad, 2012, Seattle: Wave Books






1. there's more money in children's books and especially YA fiction with vampires and zombies. the children could kill each other to show moral turpitude.

2. but comic books are pretty boring. zap! pow! the evil doctor fu manchu raises his evil baton! etc. except lynda barry!

3. there's more money in nonfiction. we could all write heartwarming sad books about learning to tie our shoes and overcome the sadness of barefootness in a world full of shoes.

4. but here we are trying to deliver something somehow new, somehow necessary. we don't know how (that's why it's fiction). SOMEHOW, that's how.

Sesshu Foster and Heather Simons read FBI emails criticizing abuses by military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay between October 2002 and July 2004.

In September 2009, the ACLU and PEN American Center staged the first Reckoning With Torture at The Cooper Union in New York. In March 2010, a second performance of Reckoning With Torture was staged in Washington DC. In late 2010, Doug Liman joined the Reckoning With Torture project. As he explained at the time, “I signed on to the Reckoning project because I am convinced that the struggle for accountability for torture is one of the major moral tests of our lifetimes, and I was impressed by the power of the material to persuade and move live audiences.”

In January 2011, Liman and his producer Avram Ludwig staged and filmed a live Reckoning performance at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. In May 2011, Liman staged and filmed another Reckoning With Torture performance at Lincoln Center in New York. In January 2012, Doug Liman, the ACLU, and PEN American Center issued a national call for footage, inviting citizens across the country to submit their own readings for the Reckoning With Torture film.

for more information, see

for more videos see


US Muslim: I was tortured at FBI’s behest in UAE
From Associated Press

April 18, 2012 9:56 PM EDT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — His interrogators usually came in the morning. Peeking under a blindfold in a cold concrete cell, Yonas Fikre says he caught only glimpses of their shoes.

They beat the soles of his feet with hoses and sticks, asking him about his Portland, Ore., mosque and its imam. Each day, the men questioning him in a United Arab Emirates prison told the 33-year-old Fikre he would be released “tomorrow,” according to an account he gave on Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden, where he has been since September.

“It was very hard, because you don’t know why you are in there and the only person you speak to is either yourself, or the wall, or when you go to the restroom or when you go to the torture place,” said Fikre, who was held for 106 days. “I have never been that isolated from human beings in my entire life.”

An advocacy group alleges that over the past two years the FBI has been using aggressive tactics against Muslim-Americans travelling abroad to try to pressure them to become informants when they got home. Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says there have been several instances of FBI agents calling travelers into embassies or consulates for questioning.

The FBI is not commenting other than to say its agents follow the law.

Fikre, who converted to Islam in 2003, is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland’s Masjid as-Sabr mosque.

The mosque, the largest in Oregon, has been in the news on several occasions. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American charged with plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.

Fikre says he met Mohamud a handful of times, but wouldn’t call him a friend or even an acquaintance.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed Wednesday that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi “on unspecified charges.” Toner said when State Department officials met with him in July 2011, he showed no signs of mistreatment.

Fikre, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Eritrea, a country east of Sudan. He moved to Sudan when he was a boy, then moved with his family to San Diego in 1991, then later to Portland.

He married in 2008, and says he traveled to Sudan in December of the following year to pursue business opportunities.

Fikre says that in April 2009 he was asked to go to the U.S. Embassy to discuss concerns about “safety and security” for U.S. citizens.

Instead, he claims, two FBI agents told him he was on the U.S. government no-fly list, and they could help get him off it if he gave them information about the Portland mosque and helped them with a “case” they were working on. Fikre says he declined.

Fikre says he traveled to Scandinavia to visit relatives, and then to the United Arab Emirates to pursue business possibilities with a friend who had moved there from Portland.

According to Fikre, non-uniformed police pulled him out of his Abu Dhabi neighborhood on June 1, 2011, and took him to a prison.

Fikre says he was held there for more than three months, with his captors asking him questions like those he was asked at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan — details about the Portland mosque.

He says one of the worst moments was when a U.S. Embassy representative visited him in the prison on July 28. He says he was warned by his interrogators not to tell the representative he was being beaten, or “hell would break loose.”

He said he tried to wink and signal to her that he was under duress, but she didn’t notice.

“She was the only person that I felt could get me out of that position at the moment because she is my representative to the outside world, she’s my representative to my embassy and she just left me there and she walked away,” Fikre said.

Toner confirmed State Department officials were granted access to meet with him on July 28.

“According to our records, during the July 28 visit, Mr. Fikre showed no signs of mistreatment and was in good spirits,” Toner said. “He reported that he had been treated professionally and was being well-fed, and did not have any medical conditions or concerns.”

Fikre says the beatings and interrogations continued, and that during the last days of his confinement an interrogator acknowledged the FBI had requested that he be detained.

State Department officials requested to visit Fikre again in September, but learned days later that he had been deported to Sweden, Toner said.

Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not discuss specifics of the case.

“I can tell you that the FBI trains its agents very specifically and very thoroughly about what is acceptable under U.S. law,” she said. “To do anything counter to that training is counterproductive — we risk legal liability and potentially losing a criminal case in court.”

When Fikre was released on Sept. 14, he had lost nearly 30 pounds. He has applied for asylum in Sweden.

He, his attorney and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are demanding the U.S. Justice Department investigate his treatment.


Rising reported from Stockholm, Sweden. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report

Q: I’m always thinking of things before they happen. For instance, I  had this idea to stuff frogs, like real frogs, stand them up like people, put miniature instruments in their hands and cover them in a  coat of lacquer. Then I was in Mexico and saw someone selling those  same frogs. Am I a genius?


Q: What was the first dirigible you made?

A: …methane extracted from Eastern Hill, site of first city dump of  Los Angeles… hybrid balloon using hot air and lighter than air  gasses… gas bags sewn from salvaged vinyl banner advertisements  along Huntington Blvd… unfortunate accident over El Monte

Q.When I was a pornoconsumer, those people just looked like fake enjoyment. When I was a war-consumer, all those people didn’t appreciate me killing them. When I was a vehiculo-consumer, I was trapped inside machines. When I was a lifestyle consumer, I saw a possum turned inside out in the street.

A. So?

Q. I saw a rain of fire from the sky, I saw buildings crashing on people, I saw avenues and streets split open and gush fire and water, I saw everything in the world very shaky, I saw the tsunami racing toward the city, I saw devastated countries and immaculate empty houses on hill tops, I saw people swept up with all the debris and discarded. How long does it take it take for the dirigible to get here again?


Driving thru tunnels on the 110 lousy traffic where it backs up for the golden state 5 turnoff was not so interested when I realized that the bumpersticker ahead said GOD I was really curious when I thought it said COD


April 2012