Man Alive! Chapter 8: The Integrity of Art

Here’s the post that kicked it all off. This is chapter 8 of 12, to give interested readers the chance to take on the free ebook chapter by chapter over the weekend, debate it amongst themselves, or even challenge the author who’s keeping tabs.


From: Man Alive! A survival manual for the human mind.

by Greg Swann

Chapter 8. The integrity of art.

The universe is internally self-consistent. This is what we mean when we say it “makes sense” – the laws of nature are comprehensible to us because they are all consistent with each other, all superficially differentiated manifestations of the law of identity. This is actually a matter of controversy right now in theoretical physics, where the self-consistency of the universe and humanity’s seemingly uncanny adaptation to it are held to be evidence – in the mother of all We-Now-Know-We-Know-Nothing theories – that there is not merely one universe, but, the physicists claim, as many as ten to the five-hundredth power universes.

I am not making this up. I’m inclined to think that there can be only one everything-that-exists, and that, where the math does not conform to the observed evidence – where the map does not correspond to the territory – it is probably not the evidence that is incorrect. And doubt you nothing, the theologians are dancing in the streets: No longer are they the only madmen insisting that the cosmos consists of the products of their fevered imaginations. They get to play the Even-Physicists-Agree card over and over again, to the detriment of clear thinking everywhere.

But even stipulating the physicists’ claims, in the massively redundant cosmos prescribed by these theories there will be at least ten to the five-hundredth power instantiations of William of Ockham around to demonstrate the awesome detergent power of the law of parsimony. It can’t make black swans white again, but there is nothing like it for day-to-day clean-up of those nasty intellectual messes.

Academics don’t like to be mocked, and contrary to all appearances, they are not actually trying to invite derision. But when they insist that everything is really nothing or that science proves that science proves nothing or that the one tiny piece of existence that one of them studies is actually everything-and-then-some, just about anything they say is going to sound absurd. That’s a good thing, though – for you.

By now, I hope you know that the proper rejoinder to a ludicrous proposition put forth by a government functionary wearing a lab coat is to say, at full voice, “Say WHAT?!?” Don’t be shy. You’re not being anti-intellectual – very much the contrary. Instead, you are defending the mind against a reductionist labyrinth of compartmentalized madness. As soon as you ask any breathless theorist to connect his claims to the whole of existence – as soon as you demand to see an ontologically-consonant correspondence to realty – you will find out if he actually knows something, or if he is simply posturing for politicians and journalists.

Here are some examples of my style of intellectual guerrilla warfare: Every time I read about yet another Dancing Bear theory, I burn with urge to ask the theorist if his claim would be a good scam to get his mom into bed – you know, since she’s really no more than an animal, and it’s no big deal if I pull one over on her. When a neuro-scientist insists that the human mind is useful only in the production of errors, I want to offer to discuss his ideas at length, but not until he is being prepped for surgery. And if there really are ten to the five-hundredth power universes, I want to know why we can’t live in the one where professional intellectuals earn their keep by producing real economic value in the open marketplace, rather than by writing outrageous exaggerations for government grant proposals – which are then echoed and blown still further out of proportion by clueless, credulous journalists.

This kvetching illustrates why satire is inherently tragic, by the way. Comedy moves from left to right on the number line as the story progresses and resolves, from worse to better. Tragedy moves from right to left, from better to worse. Making fun of the chaos in academia may incite laughter, but indulgence in black humor is not a virtue – so I’ll stop. Instead, I will demonstrate the self-consistency of the universe – the integrity of everything-that-exists – by talking about art.

“Say WHAT?!?”

Everything-that-exists is all one thing. The universe is self-consistent because it cannot not be self-consistent – not without contradicting itself. Human beings and all other organisms are astoundingly well-adapted to life on Earth because – it would be rude to say “Duh!” – we evolved on Earth. The art that we make for each other is self-consistent to the universe because we are self-consistent to the universe.

Here is a very simple song I wrote, expressed in guitar or piano chords: G Em Am D (that is, G-major, E-minor, A-minor, D-major). I swear I didn’t steal that song, even though you can find that exact same chord progression in hundreds of pop tunes. Play it moderately fast in waltz time, six strokes of each chord in half-notes before you move onto the next, repeating indefinitely.

What is it that you’re hearing? It’s the musical equivalent of the three-act comedic structure: Establishment, complication, further complication, resolution. Major chords sound happy to our ears, minor chords sound sad, and in a very simple sequence of chords we can tell a story that anyone can understand. You have read that story in dozens of novels and seen it enacted dozens more times on Broadway and in the cinema, and it is that correspondence to this familiar literary narrative structure that makes it work so perfectly in popular music – especially love songs.

I wrote some illustrative lyrics for it, to further gild this particular lily:

First there is a situation
But now it’s turning sour
Now it’s getting even worse
But somehow it all works out

That’s awfully close to meta-philosophy for me, so please don’t fink me out to the post-modernist thought police. But everything-that-exists is all one thing, and it is easy, or it should be, to tell the truth in every form of Fathertongue at once. This is what opera does, and what light opera and musical comedy do, as subsets of the operatic canon. This is what the score of a film is doing, what the dancers in a ballet are doing, and what the sets and costumes for every sort of performance art are doing. A well-crafted work of art is telling the same one story in every form of Fathertongue it deploys.

And when I talk about Mothertongue and Fathertongue, I know that many people are straining to divide them up in their minds, to separate them and to regard them somehow as being opposites. This is understandable – it’s the way our minds like to work, in distinct categories – but it is incorrect. A genetic Homo sapiens becomes a human being when he masters Fathertongue, but none of us ever stops communicating in Mothertongue.

For one thing, since Mothertongue consists of bodily expressions of internal emotional states, we are “communicating” in Mothertongue all the time – even when we are all alone. For another, Mothertongue is necessary to many types of human social concourse – when we want to communicate love or hate, affection or indifference, trust or suspicion, admiration or contempt, reverence or ridicule, pride or shame, satisfaction, boredom, fascination, derision, impatience, joy, anger and countless other emotions. For still another, Mothertongue is essential to demagoguery and other forms of deception: I can say one thing – or a noisome nothing – in words and simultaneously communicate a different idea in facial expressions, verbal intonations or bodily posturing. And for still one more thing, Mothertongue is the essence of art.

“Say WHAT?!?”

All art is Fathertongue first, since all art is conceived and recorded in a notation system. But the purpose of a work of art is to induce in the audience – that would be you – the visceral experience of an emotional catharsis, entirely a Mothertongue phenomenon, in the dry, dusty, drab language of Fathertongue. The artist seeks to create as an artifact of the mind a reality more tellingly perfect, more viscerally true than the true reality of everyday existence. How like a god is that?

Do you doubt me? You are living proof of my thesis. More precisely, right now you are living in a living proof of my thesis.

This book is an artifact of my own self-adoration, which is the kind of integrity I look for and love in everything. This is what integrity means to me: Each discrete thing is different in its way, but everything-that-exists is all one thing, each entity or action or attribute or effect itself an expression of the same one thing – the law of identity. I like it that the world aligns that way. It would anyway, of course, but still I am delighted that, as a secondary consequence of the profound integrity of the universe, I get to live the philosophy I write by writing the philosophy I live. And because I work very hard to tell the truth beautifully, this is very much a work of art for me. Facts are facts and discursive prose is never more than words on paper, and yet it is a thing of ineffable wonder – to me, at least – that the true is the good is the beautiful.

And so I write that way – always. I am not a demagogue. I am not trying to fool you by sweeping you up in your emotions, whipping you into a thrilling but ultimately empty cathartic lather while I empty your wallet – and your mind – of every value your life truly requires. To the contrary, I am telling you the truth of the uniquely-human life in the best way I know how – and that includes writing the truth of moral goodness in the most beautiful way I can.

If you study the architecture of this treatise – the sequence of the arguments, the structure of each chapter, the rhythms of the paragraphs, the cadences of the sentences, the consonance – the sounds – of the word choices – you will learn a great deal about how to write persuasive prose. But this is art, not just discourse, because I am trying to deliver to you the Mothertongue experience of the psychic rewards – the Splendor – that will accrue to you when you learn to think as I do. I don’t want simply to tell you about the life of the mind I live, nor even just show it to you. I want for you to live it – from the inside, just as I do – even if only for the short while you will spend with this book.

I don’t know that I will have improved any life but my own, now or ever. But I know that what my life is now is a direct consequence of the things I have written in the past, and I know my life will be infinitely better because I have written this book. Whatever you get from my writing, if anything, I’m getting everything I hoped for and more. You cannot fathom the depths of my gratitude for the gift of mind. I make it my business to live up to it in every way I can. And by writing this way, by bringing you along with me as I soar from from one thoroughly-intellectualized emotional catharsis to the next, I am doing everything I can to persuade you to live up to the gift of mind as well.

And that is the integrity of the universe expressed in the integrity of art.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Greg Swann on July 22, 2012 at 16:47

    Here is a wonderful exposition of a We-Now-Know-We-Know-Nothing theory in physics:

    An alternate reading? Old men get grim and cranky as they near retirement age. There is a Greek tragedy in the subtext of that article.

  2. Greg Swann on July 22, 2012 at 16:50

    Meanwhile, here’s some art to soothe the savage breast:

    kiss me your glory i kiss you my joy
    kiss me your giggling girlishness
         i kiss you my mannish boy

    kiss me your tickling i kiss you my laughter
    kiss me your before your before your before
         i kiss you my ever after

    kiss me your promise i kiss you my prayer
    kiss me your fire i kiss you my air
    kiss me your hunger i kiss you my need
    kiss me your giving i kiss you my greed
    kiss me your worship i kiss you my vow
    kiss me your present your presence your presents
         i kiss you my endless now

    kiss me your seeking i kiss you my knowing
    kiss me your staying your staying your staying
         i kiss you my never going

    kiss me your wisdom i kiss you my clever
    kiss me your always your always your always
         i kiss you my always forever

  3. marie on July 22, 2012 at 19:23

    Oh Greg, mothertongue, and visceral Beauty and Music and Physics and Greek tragi-comedy and poetry – and so yet a coherent argument – this speaks right to the soul, Thank you.
    Mothertongue at its best :)
    For now, I can say that the “consonance – the sounds – of the word choices” in your poem reminded me of the following lyrical song, with a wistful sigh….it’s in the same vein of absolute beauty in this post, perhaps?

    “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
    Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
    Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
    Dance me to the end of love ….

    Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
    Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
    Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
    Dance me to the end of love….

    Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
    Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
    We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
    Dance me to the end of love …

    Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
    Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
    Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
    Dance me to the end of love

    Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
    Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
    Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
    Dance me to the end of love.”

    Also, maybe you might like the video itself (the original), voilà :

    • Greg Swann on July 22, 2012 at 20:49

      I love hearing from you, Marie, because you have such a supple mind.

      My wife and I were talking about Townes van Zandt last week. “Who was the better song-writer,” she asked, “Townes or Bob Dylan.” I thought for a while and then said, “Leonard Cohen.” For lifetime output, he kills consistently.

      Here is a sweet cover of “Dance me to the end of love” by The Civil Wars:

      I wrote about poetry, especially imagery and word choices, here:

      The poem above is of the same stuff, all very simple English words, no vague abstractions and no Latin polysyllables. Here is Leonard Cohen on the subject of kissing:

      One more as a nightcap, because this stuff is sure pure. This is Teddy Thompson, son of Richard and Linda Thompson, covering “Tonight will be fine.” You can see him doing it live in “I’m your man,” the encomium film released in 2007 ( ). Here’s the video:

      That’s just country music, 1-4-5 in wide-open C, Hank Williams and Maybelle Carter, but the poetry makes it sublime: “And I wait every night for your step on the stair” — active, immediate, visceral, imagic — not just the idea of anticipation but the actual, physical experience. This is what all art should be.

  4. marie on July 22, 2012 at 22:28

    Yes! That song introduced me to the subject of kissing, a long time ago it was….
    You have hidden depths sir, salut ;)
    I’ve been listening to his CDs tonight once I was reminded above.
    And on the country metric also is his Ballad of the Absent Mare. Such a range, fits all life’s moods it seems to me. Lyrical in “Take this waltz” (Lorca) and in ‘Alexandra leaving’ (kavafis) and in his own Suzanne, but tending towards visceral there – then comes “I’m your man”, raw that one.
    Pure? I’ll see your “I’m your man” and raise you one “Light as the breeze” (at the risk of getting blocked for literary pornography, but meh, c’est la vie) :

    “So I knelt there at the delta, at the alpha and the omega, at the cradle of the river and the seas”

    Yes, i play that one on the piano, preferably on nights of storm and rain.

    It works well, btw, to read your linked poem while listening to this music – thanks for my night cap. :)

    • marie on July 23, 2012 at 08:46

      Billy Joel’s cover is the one that I wanted to post – the arrangement is inspired, plaintive notes, slow beat, soaring orchestral. This one is for the night.

      • Greg Swann on July 23, 2012 at 10:37

        Gorgeous. I had never heard that before, not in any version.

        Here is my rejoinder, another of the poems I wrote for The Unfallen:

        You come to me by twilight
        In a gown of gauzy white
        Your sacraments revealed concealed
        High priestess of the night

        You whisper vespers whisper prayers
        Whisper vows of faith and fear
        In still and silent grace you stand
        As I in trembling awe draw near

        I kneel in worship grasp your hand
        Press it to my searing lips
        Pray god to know the endless peace
        Flowing from your fingertips

        You come to me in night divine
        Your glory lit by crowning gold
        You consecrate by hungry glance
        Devotion’s heat in evening’s cold

        You come to me I kneel I stand
        You lay me on the dewy ground
        You guide my worship guide my hands
        Lead my heart your heart to sound

        You speak to me with loving grace
        You catechize in passion’s glow
        You reach you teach you seethe and burn
        And I am blessed by truth to know

        You come to me in gauzy gown
        High priestess of the night
        I lay in awe in faith in fear
        Lifted to your heaven’s light

      • marie on July 23, 2012 at 13:26

        I can imagine your wife swooned at that one, yes?

      • Greg Swann on July 23, 2012 at 14:04

        Arguably the instigating cause of our marriage. It’s nothing without follow-through, of course, but The Unfallen was my foot in the door.

  5. jj on July 23, 2012 at 03:46

    I saw the the title to this chapter, “The Integrity of Art”, and I thought I’d get a thoughtful review of Art Devany’s contribution to the world and everyone in it. Boy was I in for a dissapointment!

    Rich, if you want to do a staggered book release why don’t you do something with Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions”. You could do a Julie and Julia (from memory you’ve seen the movie – where you’re Julie and Sally is Julia – Dick and Falloon or something like that. You could give her recepies the full Angry Dick treatment. You know, jazz it up with colourful Nikoley language, humour and rage.

    • Richard Nikoley on July 24, 2012 at 21:43

      “Boy was I in for a dissapointment”

      No need to make excuses to me about your apparent inability to be other than spoon fed dietary and health advice with attitude.

      I have my own attitudes, too. The series will continue, and fuck to God anyone with panties in a bunch over it.

  6. Pauline on July 23, 2012 at 08:19

    Ah the kissing poets, there is always Leonard Cohen for mournful romantic meanderings or Suri, the persian love poet. I have been quiet but the lyrics draw me in – here’s one for FTA, and Richard in particular, I know how shy he gets when poetry abounds:

    Night Rider

    The darkness is thick
    the heart dances like a drum
    running into the night
    we pace out our fear
    like light beams our eyes
    track the wind
    and smell our enemy’s
    sweat close on skin
    we lift our arrows
    our arms
    aim keenly
    we fly through
    the heaving forest
    night hunting

    • mark on July 23, 2012 at 10:02

      Just bought Leonard Cohen tickets for his show in December.

      • marie on July 23, 2012 at 12:59

        In Toronto? I’m jealous. It’s so close to me, but I won’t be here then, sigh.

    • Greg Swann on July 23, 2012 at 10:40

      A bottomless font of metaphors!

  7. Pauline on July 23, 2012 at 08:36

    Not Suri, Rumi… its 28 degrees in UK – after storms and rain for weeks, our brains are trying to recover from the sudden advent of summer!

  8. Greg Swann on July 23, 2012 at 10:48

    Of everything I have ever written, this is my favorite. This is a story about a child graduating from Mothertongue to Fathertongue. Sorry for the length, Richard. It’s okay to spike it if it’s too long.


    Anastasia in the light and shadow

    A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

    The very first thing she said to me was, “I’m Anastasia.”

    She had pronounced the name ‘Anna-stay-juh’ but I took care to be more formal. I nodded gravely and said, “‘Ah-nah-STAH-ziuh’. I’m honored.”

    She giggled delightedly. “Why’d you say it that way?”

    “To lilt, to laugh, to dance, to dream. To fly, to sigh, to sing, to speak. To embroider the air, to perfect it with the perfect sound: ‘Ah-nah-STAH-ziuh’.”

    She giggled again and that was answer enough.

    She was four-and-a-half on the day we met. Not awfully, terribly short, but at no risk of scraping her head on anything. She had a round little face that had borrowed too much mischief to be cherubic but was angelic nevertheless. Her hair was brown and it was almost always almost everywhere; it was obviously brushed and tied and obviously instantly disarrayed by her mischievous wanderings. She was a beautiful child, beautiful inside and out, but her eyes were the crowning glory of her nobility. They were bluer than blue, deep and dark and purple, as purple as the crest of a dynasty. They were clearer than any gemstone, and they seemed not to reap the light but to sow it. For all the days I knew her, I could never see enough of those purple gemstone eyes.

    “What’re you doing there?” she asked. I was sitting in the shade of a little olive grove reading a book. She was standing on something behind the block wall of the property next door, just her head and shoulders above the wall.

    “House-sitting. You know what that means?” She shook her head and her hair flew into a more advanced state of disarray. “It’s like baby-sitting only easier.”

    “Why’re you doing it?”

    I shrugged. “The official answer is, I’m helping out a friend. The unofficial answer is, TV, refrigerator, hot and cold running everything. Does that make any sense to you?”

    It might have or it might not, but we’ll never know, because she changed the subject. “I have a kitten. His name is ‘Sputin.”

    I said, “Rasputin. Somebody likes Russian names. Say it: ‘Ra-spyoo-tin’.”


    “Just say it. ‘Ra-spyoo-tin’.”

    She said, “‘Ra-spyoo-tin’.” Her voice was high and sweet. And breathless of course. Her speech was good, but she had a tendency to thrust her words soundly through her upper lip. The tongue is a fearsome sword, but it takes time to master.

    I said, “Children must learn to enunciate. Can you say that word? ‘Ih-nun-cee-ate’.”

    She said, “‘Ih-nun-sate’.”



    “That’s it. Say it again.”


    “Bravo! Well done. First you crawl, then you walk, then you run. If you work at it, you can master anything.”


    ‘Why?’ is a dangerous question from a four-year-old. It may be a sincere request for more information and it may be nothing more than a doorstop to keep the conversation open. I said, “The purpose of mastery is mastery. The purpose of excellence is excellence. Can you say ‘excellence’?”

    “Sure I can!”

    “Well say it.”


    I said, “Excellent!” and she giggled.

    “I have to go,” she confided. “I’m s’posed to clean up.”


    “‘Suh-posed’,” she replied.

    I said, “‘Ih-nun-cee-ate’.”

    She scrunched her face up in a scowl.

    “Say it.”

    “What for?”

    “To lilt, to laugh, to dance, to dream. To fly, to sigh, to sing, to speak. To spin like a ballerina on the tip of your tongue, to glide across the universe and embroider the air with breathtaking sound.”

    She laughed from her belly. “You’re silly!”

    “You just figured that out?”

    The next afternoon she announced her presence at the top of the wall by declaiming, “‘Ih-nun-cee-ate’.”

    I nodded. “How do you fare, fair Empress?”

    “You said the same word twice.”

    “Homonyms. Words that sound the same but mean different things. ‘Hah-mow-nim’. Say it.”


    “That was homonimble of you.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “It’s a made-up word. When you master the words, you get to make up words of your own. It’s called wit, deservedly or not.”

    I’m pretty sure that flew past her, but it didn’t matter because all she wanted to do was chat; comprehension wasn’t a grave necessity. And that kind of chatting about words set the pattern of our days, me in the olive grove and Anastasia at the top of the wall. The afternoons were never very hot and the evenings were never very cold and, even though the pollen from the trees made my eyes water, the air smelled so green and pure and that little girl’s eyes were so alive with the light of life that I couldn’t think of any more enjoyable way to spend my time.

    And you might think it odd that a little girl should tolerate so much word play, but the simple truth is that the prize children prize is a grown-up’s full attention, and they don’t care how it comes wrapped. For an adult, play requires a site, a uniform, equipment and a long list of rules. But a child needs no more than the sword of her tongue and the shield of her smile to conquer the vast empires of the imagination, to plunder abundance and always leave behind her more treasure than she could ever haul away.

    “‘Ah-nah-STAH-ziuh’,” I said one afternoon. “Do you know the story of the first Anastasia, the little girl who had your name first?”

    “I get to see the movie when I’m bigger.”

    “Yeah, it’s kind of scary. There’s a mean old man named Rasputin, like your cat, and he makes people think he’s a sorcerer. But the little girl isn’t scary, even though a lot of scary things happen to her.”

    “What things?”

    “What really matters is that she gets lost, and she’s so young that she forgets all about her family. She’s a princess, an empress, and a lot of people hope that someday she’ll claim her empire.”

    “Does she?”

    I shrugged. “It’s just a story. The real Anastasia died in 1918 with the rest of her family. But people like to tell that story because it makes them think that the most remarkable, wonderful things can happen anywhere.”

    She gazed upon me with a regal certainty. “They can.”

    “I agree completely. It’s the difference between royalty and nobility. Royalty is just a pose, just a costume. But nobility shines through everything, through the most wretched squalor ever known.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Every man a king, my Empress. Every fair maiden a fair princess in disguise. I never met an ignoble baby. Can you say ‘igg-no-bel’?”


    “Hardly anyone can. But all the babies are noble, as noble as a kitten, as noble as a wolf cub. Warriors in their way and champions of justice, if only of their own. Sovereigns who cannot conceive of an alternative to sovereignty and masters of all they survey. But somehow the crowns and the crests of nobility erode away and all that’s left are scared little people chasing after the costumery of royalty, begging for something to kneel to. Do you want me to teach you something very noble to say?”

    She nodded solemnly.

    “This is the most noble thing I can think of for any human being to say: ‘Do your worst. I will not kneel.'”

    She said, “Do your worst. I will not kneel.”

    “That’s right. Just the words, no special emphasis. Nobility triumphs when it fearlessly faces tragedy. And that, my Empress, is the most remarkable, wonderful thing that can ever happen…”

    Late one afternoon I said, “I know a very hard word. You want to try it?”


    I said, “Chiaroscuro. ‘Key-are-es-kyoor-oh’. Say it.”



    “‘Key-are-es-kyoor-oh’,” she said again.

    “What are you teaching my daughter?” a woman’s voice asked from the other side of the wall.

    “It’s just words, mama.”

    “Whatever for?”

    Very primly, very clearly, very precisely, Anastasia said, “The purpose of mastery is mastery.” To me she said, “What’s it mean?”



    “It’s the interplay of light and shadow. In pictures, in paintings — but sometimes I think it means the conflict between good and evil, right and wrong. We have pictures and we have words and we have songs and poems and stories, and that’s a testament to the triumph of the light, don’t you think?”

    She shrugged and that was answer enough.

    One day when the fall had come to pay a call upon the olive trees Anastasia climbed to the top of the wall to tell me she was moving away.

    I bit my lower lip and blinked very fast, surprised at myself.

    “What’s the matter?”

    I smiled a tight little smile, a smile for keeping things in. “This never happened before. It’s always me who goes away, not the other way around.”

    “Aren’t you leaving soon?”

    “Couple of weeks. You’re right, of course you’re right. It’s just new, that’s all.”

    And of course it took forever. I can bug-out in three minutes flat, but it took Anastasia’s family days and days to pack up and go. She came to the wall to talk to me every day and it was so nice and so awful, sweet words embroidered around a black crepe deadline.

    I said good-bye to her at the curb in front of her house and I felt wretched and I tried very hard not to show it. Just a little kid, right? Just the most remarkable, wonderful thing there is, a young sovereign, wild and free.

    I held her tiny little hands in mine and said, “Ingenuous. Can you say it? ‘In-jen-you-us’.”

    “‘In-jen-you-us’. What does it mean?”

    “It means a lot of things — open and honest and artless and innocent. But what it really means is to be born free. It means to be born without being required to kneel. That’s what you are, Anastasia of the purple gemstone eyes. Born free. The hard job is to stay free.”

    “Do your worst,” she intoned with a regal delight. “I will not kneel.”

    I kissed her on the forehead and she climbed into the back seat of the waiting car and sailed forth to claim her empire.

  9. marie on July 23, 2012 at 13:23


  10. Pauline on July 24, 2012 at 04:01

    Looking for an excuse to post this dance clip:

  11. Greg Swann on July 24, 2012 at 10:10

    Here’s one for the physics geeks, another poem from “The Unfallen,” this one playing with the song of reverent worship I put up yesterday. All of these poems are full of literary allusions, but this one is absolutely ripe with them.


    i took myself to the vet at the zoo
    to measure my animal heat for you
    he sounded my skull with a rap on my head
    and said I might need psychiatry instead
    the shrink had no patience for gross physiology
    the shrink had no practical use for ontology
    he said ‘i ponder imponderables both little and small
    i measure immeasurables that aren’t there at all
    if it’s fever or burning or a chilling condition
    get out of my office go see a physician!’
    the doctor was kind for a man in a hurry
    i told him about you but he said ‘not to worry!
    you think you’re the first guy with this problem i bet
    take this prescription you coulda got from the vet’
    i said ‘doc forgive me the thing is i’m not ill
    it’s my thoughts it’s my passions my pastimes my will
    that woman possesses me with love soft and sweet
    from the ends of my hairs to the soles of my feet
    i sleep her i dream her i wake her and then
    she captures my soul for the whole day again
    i seek no escape no! i am her belonging
    i just want to know is this love or mere longing?’
    he started to speak then he paused then reflected
    he said ‘on its face this is oddly complected
    here’s my son-in-law’s card what an ass what a jerk
    he’s mostly no help but he sure needs the work’
    the son-in-law worked from a dingy apartment
    the off-off-off-off-campus physics department
    he called me an idiot he called me a dope
    then he took me to task with a spectroscope
    but the answer he found was an answer divine
    not love dear not lust but the two locked in twine
            for he saw my passion burning bright
            at every wavelength of heaven’s light

  12. jj on July 25, 2012 at 03:04

    C’mon Rich, kill this thing and get it over with. I can only imagine what these posts are doing to your hit count. Fuck, I’m about to kill myself if I so much as get a sniff of another crap poem come my way!

    • Richard Nikoley on July 25, 2012 at 08:35

      The hit count’s fine, JJ. But thanks for the concern. Greg’s got a speaking gig at the 21 convention because of the series as well, he’ll be speaking just before myself, then Robb Wolf, then Keith Norris. Mc Guff and Skyler Tanner will also be speaking.

      I guess not everyone sees things exactly as you do. Shocking, I know. FWIW, I don’t care much for the poetry either, but I realize that’s just me.

    • marie on July 25, 2012 at 09:29

      jj, I’m not surprised you don’t get any of this, it takes a special kind of mindset to not realize that someone’s blog is neither a “Public Service” nor a popularity contest.
      Richard enjoys it (and many of the more engaged commenters have been enjoying the whole series) and that’s what matters, exactly because You always have a choice, to read it or not – and oh, yeah, you can unsubscribe from the comment notifications, but you knew that of course, you just want take away other people’s choices.

    • Greg Swann on July 25, 2012 at 18:06

      jj: I stopped drinking Mountain Dew and the pounds are just dropping off me. Feel better now?

      • J. Squared on July 26, 2012 at 03:45

        Greg, you’re obviously a dog lover and for that I’ll leave things be. Other than that I’ll be bunching my panties up for the next couple of chapters. It’s going to hurt like hell, but I’ll do it.

        Rich, I’ve been waiting for you to get ripped dude. I hope you don’t disappoint. I expect to see your shredded abs on the cover of your upcoming book release.

        Jscott, if you think poetry, art and music get you laid, try to learn how to cook well. Chicks just spread ’em after a you cook a decent feed. It’s a transaction that I consider a lot more honest too. I feed you and for that we fuck. As opposed to the poetry transaction of “I manipulate your thinking until you drop your panties”.

      • Greg Swann on July 26, 2012 at 08:47

        > It’s going to hurt like hell, but I’ll do it.

        Good on ya. There’s a long section on the PUA philosophy in Chapter 10. I don’t know how that’s going to go over at the 21 Convention, but it contrasts interestingly with your comments here. We’ll see how we do when we get there.

      • Richard Nikoley on July 26, 2012 at 10:10

        When Anthony Johnson contacted me to get connected to Greg about speaking at the convention, I said ‘sure, but have you seen his critique of the PUA community (the 21 Convention has roots in it).

        Indeed he had, he loved it and it’s one of the things that motivated him to get Greg in there.

        As with many things, the PUA community has certain things to work with—ie, young men who want to improve, be better, be ideal. That’s Anthony’s goal and I think self-adoration and splendor may just be the best match I’ve yet to see.

      • Jscott on July 26, 2012 at 18:24

        What do you think cooking is? Craft if you are good. Art if you are the best. I am more at the craft stage. The getting laid was more of an appeal to your base as, apparently, it belongs to us.

    • Jscott on July 25, 2012 at 18:11

      Not yet dug into the depth of what it is to be human J. Squared? Might wanna take-a-gander at early man’s first creative impulses. Look at the art strewn walls. At the want speak about what is in one’s head that has yet to be named. Poetry, art, music-it is much more than just getting you laid killer.

      This is one hell-uva-thread.

    • Pauline on July 28, 2012 at 08:46

      Sometimes you may think the sweet drink of water arrives fresh into your hands. It’s had to work its way through grime and grit and savage granite to bring some sweet coolness out of the dark earth. Do not mistake poetry for ease and laziness when it is fresh and clear. Maybe you have drunk deeply and long from life and felt glutted with it all. You have not been in the desert to appreciate that quality of thirst for words which satisfies and empowers. What do you bring this hungry table. Is it a dance or a drum!

      • Pauline on July 28, 2012 at 08:47

        The above in response to JJ.

  13. mehitabel on July 25, 2012 at 10:51

    “But the purpose of a work of art is to induce in the audience – that would be you – the visceral experience of an emotional catharsis, entirely a Mothertongue phenomenon, in the dry, dusty, drab language of Fathertongue. The artist seeks to create as an artifact of the mind a reality more tellingly perfect, more viscerally true than the true reality of everyday existence.”

    I’m not worthy to comment here…but my guy is Buke…and this one’s for Richard…

    The History Of One Tough Motherfucker by Charles Bukowski

    he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
    a white cross-eyed tailless cat
    I took him in and fed him and he stayed
    grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
    and ran him over
    I took what was left to a vet who said,”not much
    chance…give him these pills…his backbone
    is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
    mended, if he lives he’ll never walk, look at
    these x-rays, he’s been shot, look here, the pellets
    are still there…also, he once had a tail, somebody
    cut it off…”
    I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
    hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
    floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn’t eat, he
    wouldn’t touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
    and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn’t go any-
    where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
    him and gently touched him and he looked back at
    me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
    by he made his first move
    dragging himself forward by his front legs
    (the rear ones wouldn’t work)
    he made it to the litter box
    crawled over and in,
    it was like the trumpet of possible victory
    blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
    related to that cat-I’d had it bad, not that
    bad but bad enough
    one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
    just looked at me.
    “you can make it,” I said to him.
    he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
    he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
    rear legs just didn’t want to do it and he fell again, rested,
    then got up.
    you know the rest: now he’s better than ever, cross-eyed
    almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
    his eyes never left…
    and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
    life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
    shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,”look, look
    at this!”
    but they don’t understand, they say something like,”you
    say you’ve been influenced by Celine?”
    “no,” I hold the cat up,”by what happens, by
    things like this, by this, by this!”
    I shake the cat, hold him up in
    the smoky and drunken light, he’s relaxed he knows…
    it’s then that the interviews end
    although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
    later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
    graphed together.
    he too knows it’s bullshit but that somehow it all helps.


    • Pauline on July 28, 2012 at 06:03

      That is one of the most beautiful stirring heart breaking love stories I have ever read. May we find ourselves able to touch even in some small way with such strong tenderness those broken places in others and ourselves. The bones healed by that look, that touch, that trust that said ‘come on you can do it’ gave the animal the will to try to fail yet try again. Kisses of hope.

  14. marie on July 25, 2012 at 20:57

    “mehitabel” …..because Archy, the philosophical cockroach, can’t hold down the shift bar? :)
    On the one hand Bukowski’s story itself is fantastic and on the other hand, your name is an ironic delight !
    I can’t know of course whether it’s really intentional or just a fluke, but the association made me smile on a sad night. So while I see that this was for Richard, here’s an extra “thank you” from a grateful reader.

    • Greg Swann on July 25, 2012 at 23:20

      See “both little and small” above. I thought connecting Cummings to Bukowski was inspired. Richard, Charles Bukowski is the inspiration behind Californication, the TV series, although the real poet never had anything like that kind of money — or women that breath-taking. The film Barfly, which he wrote, is closer to the gritty reality of Bukowski’s life,

      • Richard Nikoley on July 26, 2012 at 04:49


        Are you talking about that Mickey Roark performance way back when? I thought that was amazing, perhaps his best role.

      • marie on July 26, 2012 at 07:56

        Greg, yes – they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same.

      • Greg Swann on July 26, 2012 at 08:37

        Marla the Adorable —

        That’s one of the first of the Willie stories, and the first featuring a child. The first time Willie says “everybody’s gotta take a side” too. That story is old enough to have kids of its own by now!

      • Greg Swann on July 26, 2012 at 08:39

        > Are you talking about that Mickey Roark performance way back when?

        That’s the one. I have never seen it. Cathleen likes indies, but I have no taste for despair in art.

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