deadpeoplecoverSun Ra

(1914 – 1993)

In the Egyptian section of the Penn Museum stands a man. He is next to a 12-ton sphinx and is wearing a multicolored dreamcoat. His beret shimmers; a red cape hangs about his shoulders. “Planet Earth can’t even be sufficient without the rain, it doesn’t produce rain, you know,” he tells the camera. “Sunshine… it doesn’t produce the sun. The wind, it doesn’t produce the wind. All planet Earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity. That’s its only creation.” The man pauses and slides his hand across the sphinx. “Everything else comes from outer space. From unknown regions. Humanity’s life depends on the unknown. Knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being.”

photocredit Thomas V. Hartmann

Let’s look over your writerly bio. It says here you’ve written two books on your love of the rock band Queen (God Save My Queen I and II), a book of poems (The History of My World Tonight), something called “humorous nonfiction” (How to Be Inappropriate), and edited a book of sestinas (The Incredible Sestinas Anthology). What’s this book called?

It’s called Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects.

 

That’s a pretty long-ass title.

You can call it Shader for short.

Lidia Yuknavitch has said, “I believe in art the way other people believe in god.” Her devotion to art as both solitary practice and collective communication is gorgeously evidenced in her new novel, The Small Backs of Children (HarperCollins, 2015). The novel is a love letter to the power and pulse of art that can destroy us, unmake our world, and reassemble us as something we could not have imagined.

I think the first sentence of Jim Harrison’s novel, The Road Home, is sublime: “It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs.”  Harrison’s observation puts a twist on an old adage, reminding me that my pace to likely oblivion is a crawl compared to the sprint of my faithful Maggie. I was reminded of this recently after spending much of the night on the floor next to Maggie’s bed trying to comfort her during a thunder storm. A dog afraid of a storm is enslaved to terrible demons. At one point she attempted to climb the vertical drawers of an open closet to seek refuge amongst the sweaters and tee-shirts. Maggie has tremors when she’s afraid and her whole body becomes racked and frozen except for her pulsing nerves. Her tail drops and draws around her vitals. Her ears lay back astride her sleek skull and her eyes bug out eerily. She turns to stone, a hard stone, granite or marble. It used to be that only thunder upset her. Later, lightening too tormented her. Perhaps she made the connection that lightening is followed by thunder. Now, even a rising breeze prompts an anxiousness from her. I wonder at it all. I doubt dogs have the cognitive powers to associate a storm with anything other than noise and flashes of light. They can’t draw conclusions, presumably, and certainly not arrive at metaphor.  A storm is a storm–nothing else, for a dog.