Like a brass bell chimes
I come running
On a day when
I’m out walking
On a day when
You’re out walking
Followed by a car
Auspicious diamond star
Look at your history
Look at the car

Most people tell me,
This is the world
Most people talking,
and in the black,
no words.



He stood in the supply cabinet, muttering to himself that they could all go to hell because he had spent his day off in a stupor. It was 9:50. The store opened at 10:00. There was already an impatient crowd gathering at the door. He stood in the doorway opposite frontline watching to see if the cashiers were out yet, watching to see if his manager was in yet.

Like clockwork, all the cashiers shuffled out in a row, manned their stations, as the manager walked out to the front door, spinning her lanyard around her finger, whistling silently. Europe’s “The Final Countdown” played over the store PA, piping in the triumphant synths to overshadow his muttering. It was no use trying to connect with them. Oliver felt that his position was bad enough. He had been obliged to work in the ski boot department. Always pitching the benefits of cool alpine air, of good sport, and never fulfilling those charges. He felt his body again aching for the comfort of home, of sleep.

The blandness of retail exchanges had begun to chill him and he wondered could he retrieve his natural interests. Yet he must get money somewhere or other, he had been laid off, and soon it would be too late for getting money anywhere, after the unemployment checks dried up. Suddenly, as he tabbed through his phone browser, he thought of the office he had left, the spiritual rot, the boredom to boredom. He wished he hadn’t thought of it, and the front doors of the store clicked open.

It was a Saturday. It was time to put on the face he made up for clients. Especially Saturday clients. He felt himself reddening. In like manner, his hideous internal behavior was now masked by the lies others tell themselves as they perceive another’s external self. And all this fuss for a retail job.

Two, five, twelve, twenty-seven customers milling in and out of the rows of winter coats, socks, and accoutrements.

Two children, presumably brother and sister, ran through the ski display, knocking over a pair of Solomon skis, 190 cm. These rascals knew perfectly well they could get away with it. They knew they would inherit a fortune from their parents who followed close behind to pick up the toppled gear. He went through the narrow alley of the boot storage area, cordoned off from the rest of the store, looking around for a moment.

The walkie-talkie clipped to his employee vest beeped furiously, and a furious voice called out in a crackle of static:

“Oliver, get to the display, you’ve got a boot fitting! Asap!”

It was Beth. The manager. She was always scratching some itch.

Rachel and Colin glanced over from the camping department, wincing, shrugging, commiserating knowingly.

“Now, Oliver! Its Saturday!”

The man muttered under his breath and wheeled on his heel to go greet the customers, donning a mask-like smile. Working in the boot department came with its own unique ups and downs. There was a certain intimacy that came with the job. People never intend to show anybody their feet. Socks are perhaps the least considered aspect of the human wardrobe, behind undergarments. Unless socks are undergarments. When someone gets dressed in the morning, they never quite consider the humble sock, trod upon endlessly, threadbare, discolored even in cleanliness. They peel it onto the foot and leg and forget about it.

Fitting ski boots creates a sort of immediate familiarity with the customer that would make some uncomfortable, but not Oliver. For him, it was a rare opportunity to penetrate a stranger’s life for a brief moment. He knew that every customer who removed their shoes was hiding a slight discomfort and a concern for their foot odor. He knew that they rarely let another person, let alone a stranger handle their own feet. For Oliver, it could verge on the poetic.

Usually his clientele was a vivid mix of amateur skiers who had come to Silicon Valley for a well-paying computer science gig, the occasional old pro, the occasional deadhead, and a whole lot of first-timers who came here because they didn’t know how to shop for gear on their own. He had once fit Zuckerberg himself for ski gear. He was surprised by his kindness.

Today it was a family of four, the father was red, nose blistering from sunburn or drinking, or both. The two kids, probably 9 and 12 ran off almost immediately. The fitting was for the wife. She wore simple jeans, a mock turtleneck and a puffy vest. They were exchanging curt phrases in French. All the man heard was:

“Où veux-tu donc en venir?”
“What are you getting at?”

She smirked, he glared. The man sidled up to the two of them, making direct eye contact with the husband, briefly introduced himself and asked what they were looking for. He noticed the way in which the husband hounded his wife just moments prior, and wondered what he was getting at, what was he making room for? He sensed the red-faced man’s savage, thirsty, vengeful nature, and felt annoyed with himself for feeling so hot headed earlier in the morning, for feeling annoyed with everyone else.

Although his boss would never give him a full hour’s rest he wondered if the wife would ever get a moment away from him. He feared that her life would be a hell, her children taking everything until there was nothing left. He felt as though he had made a proper fool of himself this time.

“We’re getting boots for her”

The husband radiated reluctance and the man felt violated by his crass and slovenly wavelengths. He looked down to her, as she had sat down and begun to remove her shoes, taking time to unlace the knots in her keds. She placed the two shoes neatly at the base of the fitting pedestal.

He kept his tongue in his cheek.

“She doesn’t know how to ski, give her the boots for babies, heh”

As he heard the husband he simultaneously mimicked the French accent in his mind, thinking of him as a grotesque caricature, pinot noir seeping out of his ham-fangled nose, ears, and mouth. He felt his body aching again, a dull buzzing beneath his kneecaps. He fingered his ring of keys in his pocket as he looked for any distraction that would prevent him from engaging with the roiling man in front of him.

Suddenly, as he took his hand out of his pocket, he thought to play to the man’s pride, and asked

“Are you an experienced skier yourself? Perhaps you would like to parse through some of our new models?”

The husband looked over to the display of brand new Rossignol skis, and left without acknowledging anyone else’s presence, without providing a conversational terminus. As he walked away he glanced at the ski-rack and offered no remark. As soon as he walked past, the husband pulled a phone out of his pocket, put it to his head and ran quickly up the stairs to the second floor.

But he was gone, that was the ticket! Why didn’t he think of it sooner?
Oliver began to measure the woman’s foot. Taking special care to not pinch her toes on the Brannock device, that sliding metal measure featured in shoe stores of days gone by. She had worn thick woolen socks that day. She knew that she was going to get ski boots today. He noticed that her socks were clean, and her feet didn’t smell. He noticed that she had rolled up the cuff of her jeans, anticipating the height of the rigid plastic boot.

“So are you planning on going up to Tahoe? Great skiing up there, and what a place to learn!”

“I know how to ski”

“Oh, apologies, he just said…”

“He has never asked me if I knew how to ski”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume that you…”

“De rien. Don’t worry about it”

Silence. He stood up and walked over to the wall display. He picked up three pairs of intermediate level boots, not best-sellers, but ones he knew were well made at a fair price. He usually upsold the boots to the tech-workers because he knew they had money to burn and he didn’t mind lighting the flame.

“I’m thinking these, these, or these, since you’re not a beginner, you’ll probably be looking for a slightly stiffer boot, something that will hug your feet and allow you to make tighter turns…”

He held up all three samples. Women’s ski boots are always white and pink or grey and pink or white and baby blue or white and gold. Like so many other women’s products. Two of the boots were white and pink and one pair was jet black.

“I like those black ones”

“These are good, my favorite part about these is the switch in the back that allows the boot to flex, so you can walk around once you get off the slopes”


“Just a moment then, let me go grab you a pair”

He zipped back into the boot storage area. He usually took as long as possible to find the boots, just to spite the customer or to kill some of the time on his shift. This time he was quick to find the right pair, and even checked that both of the boots in the box were the right size. Making his way back out of the corridor, he outpaced two other customers who were heading his way, thus evading their inevitable questions. Customers always have this look on their face as they walk towards you with some piece of gear in their hands, an incredulous look, mouth ajar, almost beginning to say “You don’t have the color I want, but you said you had it online” or “How much is this?” when the price is clearly labeled on the back of the tag.

He returned to the fitting podium and knelt down to fit the boot. Unbuckling the four clasps on the exterior shell, he removed the crumpled paper inside the boot and placed it back in the box. He pulled the tounge out wide to make for an easy entrance. He guided her pointed foot into the channel of the boot, her toe hit the bottom.

“Now heel down”

She stepped down into the boot with a light thud, and stood up, like an athlete wearing a cast.

“So where have you been skiing before?”

He started to buckle the boot back up, making sure not to bind her foot or calf muscle.

“I grew up on the Swiss border, snow is everything there. I used to ski all the time as a girl. I loved it, the cool, fast air, the smell of pine and smoke, the effortless glide of the slope. My mother taught me how to ski.”

She looked around the store-

“Now I drive them” she said, nodding towards the husband and the two kids who were all gathered around a display of ice axes.

He pulled the Velcro strap taught across the top of the boot and fastened it. Then he did the same with the other boot. She stood up and he caught a whiff of moist pungent perfume. As she walked around the corner of the store, heel to toe, he considered the future ski trip the family had in store. He wondered if she would think of her mother as she slid down the slope. If her husband and kids would give her much trouble. If she would find the wet California snow dreadful when compared to the Swiss peaks. He wondered if she would narrate the story of her childhood ski lessons to her two boys, of if the red-faced father would whisk them away on his own. Would they stay together? Was there a way out for her? He caught himself staring. Then the husband looked at him from across the aisles of gear, scowling. He started walking towards the boot corner.
So he looked back, coolly, then looked at her, then looked back at him again, taking his time. Just as the husband reached the fitting podium, she spoke up,

“Claude, allez rassembler les enfants, ce sont ceux-là, allons-y”

She then turned to Oliver

“these are the ones”

The man grumbled and hurriedly staggered back to go gather the two boys. Oliver wondered where they would go next on their Saturday excursion. He hoped that she would be able to use the boots soon. As she removed the boots, he gathered them up and placed them in the box. The two boys and the father joined the woman. One of the kids tugged at his mother’s vest begging to go next door to Best Buy. The father opened his mouth and inhaled, but before he could shower the immediate vicinity with spittle, the woman tapped a finger on her pocketbook, revealing a twenty dollar bill, and then flicked it towards the boy as if to say “that’s all right: you can go.”

The husband walked heavily towards the door, the two boys in tow, leaving Oliver to hand the box of boots over to the woman. She checked out at frontline alone and bought herself a pack of ginger chews. As they all went out into the parking lot he heard one of the kids cry out that he was hungry and that they needed Chipotle.

What she would find when she got home was a pair of thick woolen socks tucked inside the left boot.

Oliver quit the job a week later.

Nine Poems

We could make a great team
spinach and feta
two partners, dancing
buy one get one free
I’ll be spinach
In a cave
The cave has a roof
All caves have roofs
Do not come in here
For standing in the cave
Is one of my favorites
The other is standing on the roof.
I didn’t smell what you smelled like
I forgot to
forgive me, if I smell your picture
for I might know then,
if the picture of you smells like you.
please come back
Nice shirt
Nice hat
Lying in an empty room
I am so healthy
The empty room isn’t empty
It is filled with my health
If you want to live in Texas
you’ll have to so some chores.
Things will be calm in Texas,
with our chores.
I will grab a broom,
toss it to you, across the room.
“I don’t understand why I have to sweep dirt”
Oh Jona
what did you expect,
moving to Texas like that.
Go home, you’ll have plenty of chores waiting.
I got the call,
They solved for x. 
 We’re almost there.
Tiger Mountain baby.
Tiger is in the mountain.

I did not go to the party

I was not invited to the party
I am the party
you are invited
you don’t need to put on shoes
we will have plenty of time

A Spectacle of Virtue: The Performative Morality of Nobility in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro

The notion of a morally superior nobility is one often promulgated by those with enough power to do so. In the case of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart’s characterization of Count Almaviva makes it clear to the viewer that any class-ordained morality is false, and holding such powerful members of society accountable for their shortcomings requires the power of public scrutiny. This is notably illustrated as Suzanna emerges from the closet during the finale of Act II. Any sense of the Count’s morality erodes and his duplicitous nature becomes clear as he grovels for forgiveness. Mozart’s orchestral treatment of this moment underscores this revelation made possible by Suzanna and the Countess, who band together to hold the Count to task.

The Count would prefer to coerce and threaten those below him behind closed doors, where there is no threat to his public perception, where he feels as though he can use the pressure of his feudal position to get what he wants. It takes the “publicizing” effect of Suzanna’s presence to force the count to act with any sense of virtue. When facing the count alone, both Suzanna and the Countess are unable to bring him to a state of level-headedness. The Count only shows regret upon the exposure of his tyrannical activities, any attempt at reconciliation is merely contingent upon whether he has been outed yet. In a similar vein, this same publicizing effect is present when Figaro requires the public to force the hand of the count to marry the two lovers. The Count is obviously preoccupied with his public perception, and when in public, he is accountable to his pride. It is important to note that his change of heart, whether authentic or not, does not occur when he believes that he is alone with his wife and the unidentified captive in the closet. The Count only asks for forgiveness for his deeds when there is more than one person in the room and his honor is at stake.  It is also worth noting that Suzanna, the object of the Count’s unrestrained sexual desire, is able to leverage his infatuation against him, thus channeling his emotional outburst into an apology to his wife. Suzanna knows that she has sexual power over the Count, but is only fully equipped to use it alongside the Countess.

Mozart’s use of duet and ensemble emphasize the power that Suzanna and the Countess possess upon joining their efforts. As the Count recognizes that he has been had, he sings to his wife and his intended concubine, “I beg your pardon, but playing such jokes is cruel, after all.” In the same breath in which he asks for forgiveness, he accuses the two women of playing a cruel joke, indicating his unwillingness to accept responsibility for his reckless threats and accusations. In response, Suzanna and the Countess sing in a duet, “Your foolish acts deserve no pity.” The two women are of different social classes indeed, the Countess is Suzanna’s mistress yet the two are able to force the hand of the most powerful male character in the opera. If only for a moment, the two women, two sopranos, stand on equal footing and support each other to confront a man who had drawn his sword with murderous intent only moments before. This unification of two opposing social classes, two voices, into one indicates Mozart’s support of égalité and denotes his broader deference to enlightenment principles and the characteristic intellectual concerns of his time.

Mozart masterfully incorporates the orchestra into this “Giudizio Trio” which marks the emotional center of the Opera. The sheer musical tumult of this number does not employ heavy brass or percussion, but is nevertheless sonically rich, and reinforces the deeply emotional tone of the libretto. The finale is scored by a palpable rising tension, with the three-four “allegro spiritoso” establishing an atmosphere of anxiety and disorder.  This vigorous musical moment mirrors the Count’s jealous accusations and the Contessa’s phrase, “Ah! Blind jealousy, what excesses you bring about!” The orchestral tension and the Count’s tirade snap like a taught string as the door to the closet swings open, foiling the Count’s rage-fueled momentum. This shock acts as a sort of punctuation, with sparse orchestration as the strings plod along in a hushed piano. As the scene progresses, the music becomes more passionate and confident, emulating the confidence of Suzanna and the Countess, who having successfully humiliated the Count are able to gain the upper hand.

Mozart wanted to make opera more realistic and human. This imperative is especially clear in Le Nozze di Figaro, where the oppressive power dynamics between the count and his subjects. This is a central theme of the play, that all humans, men and women, high and low-born, are fallible, especially the nobility. Mozart gives proletarian viewers hope. By shedding light on the Count’s abusive tendencies through public spectacle and solidarity, those oppressed members of the household are able to trick him into acting in a respectable manner commensurate to his title.


Ghost Town Sunset Pictorial

Ghost town sunset, pictorial
A sluice box bubbling with placer gold
complex mineral claims
underlay the structures
withered to a state of extreme dilapidation
I brought you this scraggly ghost
exposed by this daguerreotype
moldered in neglect
Roofs sagged, the weeds reclaimed their own
desert twisters, pack rats, and termites
I began to seek a respite
from grey sameness, in tinder dry flanks
I pried it apart
by complaining board
A new bonanza west of the Sierra
from then on was agleam with the prospect
quick cash
Jerry-built, on the heels of another find
Coloma was already moribund

Once rollicking, those who flocked in great numbers
barely covered by the patina of present
such stout defenses became a virtual necessity
Not far from here is a tomb-like cement jail
Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?
true ghost town
partial ghost town
tourist ghost town
Dozing on a mud flat
Drawbridge, laced with catwalks
the depression killed that town
lonely proclamations, restless, almost desperate
ill-fated, engulfed by sagebrush
Cherche, l’âme sœur
Late to boom, early to bust
after shedding the skin of uproarious youth
Better-known ghosts, gaunt skeleton
of the old high bridge ore mill
Concord coach
Top buggy
Covered wagon
Senior citizen of lone brush prairie

old utility wagon,

Arriving at Suprematism: “Zaum” and the Alogical Praxis of Kazimir Malevich’s Cow and Violin

“You are caught in the nets of the horizon, like fish! We, suprematists, throw open the way to you.”

– Kazimir Malevich

Manifesto: From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, 1915.


The only immediately recognizable forms in Kazimir Malevich’s 1913 painting Cow and Violin are those identified in the title of the work. Like a bullseye, these two eponymous objects reside at the dead center of the painting, and invite the wandering eye with their familiar, rustic umber tones. Within a split second of acknowledging these two objects, this viewer’s eye then drifts to the background, which appears synthetic, fragmented, and hectic. Any sense that these two primary objects could exist independently of the rest of the painting is abandoned as the viewer steps back and observes the totality of competing forms and forces. An early attempt to transcend the bounds of artistic rationality, Cow and Violin presents a knot of antagonistic contradictions that convey a sense of movement and tenuous coherence overshadowed by irreconcilable extremes.

Sporting udders and horns, the cow is the most realistic component of the painting, yet its mundanity evokes an air of idealized caricature, even farcical humor. While it treads upon nothing, the cow is still on stable footing and provides an ironic sense of lateral stability. Immediately behind the cow is the violin, seemingly balanced on its endpin. The violin bisects the painting with its stubby pinstriped neck, its textured natural wood grain, and its slender triangular tailpiece. This sense of verticality is physically reified by the painting surface itself, a 48.8 x 25.8 cm wooden panel, cut long and lean. The viewer’s eyes keep returning to the center of the composition. Together, the vertical and horizontal impressions derived from the cow and the violin construct a sense of temporary stability and focus, a seemingly recognizable objective. However, this uneasy symmetry is contradicted by features like the head of the violin, which Malevich has abstracted into primitive essentials, a single whorl and two rudimentary tuning pegs flattened in profile. The sense of balance is finally toppled by the movement of the background.

The cow and the violin are enmeshed with the undulating patchwork that lurks behind. This jolted and fragmented backdrop contains multitudes. Explosions of geometric forms weave amongst each other as squares dissolve into curvatures, circles, and amorphous prisms. The composition employs a limited chromatic range of dusky blacks, glossy saturated blacks, grays, various taupes, with highlights of grass colored verticals and subdued plum hues throughout. The limited chromatic palette may reflect the limited availability or high cost of vivid pigments and medium in Russia at the time. The familiar brown-orange ochres of the cow and violin are indeed the brightest colors in the work. The natural tones seem overwhelmed by the repeated artificial industrial hues of the cubist inspired forms. White squares, grey squares and curves intermingle with long green vertical rectangles, suffocating the green, crowding the space, pushing aside the natural taupe of the top left, herding it into a cramped corner. There is a forceful scraping grattage through angular saturated layers of oily black, revealing the washed out black of layers below. Interdependent yet isolated motifs of a violin appear throughout this cubist-inspired backdrop- the bridge and strings at the bottom center, the strings to the left of the neck of the violin, the strong sweeping diagonal in the top left corner, evoking the dynamic movement of the bow. The totality of these shapes and fluid image-movements orchestrate the action in the work.

The painting simultaneously exists in different directions within multiple dimensions. The neck of the violin defines a strong vertical axis and lends an initial sense of structure and symmetry to the painting. Four circles also mark the corners of the painting, while they seem non-representative, they add a rough sense of unity and alignment, like a vision test. However, this sense quickly fades as the viewer’s attention is once again swallowed by the asymmetry and off-kilter chaos of the geometric forms in the background. If there is any balance or asymmetric unity to be found, it tenuous and uneasy, on the verge of toppling over. Unlike a traditional painting of terrestrial phenomena, there is no definable horizon, as these forms exist outside of physics. In fact, Malevich has transcended three-dimensional reality here. Aside from the two objective forms, Malevich abandons any sense of realistic proportion or logical perspective, yet his painting contains a strong sense of depth derived from the potentially infinite layering of forms.

This depth acts in two different ways, the first is established by the literal hierarchy of forms. Malevich has placed the cow in front of the violin, in front of the abstract shapes with violin motifs. The shadow of the neck of the violin upon the white square, the powerful darkness of the painting immediately behind the violin, the white square atop the other forms all lend a sense of traditional physical depth and interval between the forms. The second is an abstraction gradient along the allegorical “Z” axis that proceeds from the objective realistic cow, to the partially realistic violin, to the abstract, non-objective background, to whatever lies behind the amalgamation of forms. Logic deteriorates as the viewer proceeds along this axis, into the painting, from objective to non-objective, from obvious to distorted, diving endlessly into a fractured construction of drab colors, textures, movements, and sensations. As one travels along this axis, Malevich guides the viewer to a higher reality, free from the constraints of meaning, logic, and physics. This artistic truth-beyond-logic saw its genesis in many artistic movements of the time. Cubism, Futurism, and eventually Suprematism all employed this sense of zaum, (зáумь, which is comprised of the Russian prefix за “beyond, behind” and noun ум “the mind, nous” and has been translated as “transreason”, “transration” or “beyonsense”) or beyond-reason as a means of overturning the established, academic artistic orthodoxy, and of grappling with the future.

A sort of hybrid piece, Cow and Violin serves as an indicator of Malevich’s early steps towards zaum, Suprematism, and wholly non-objective alogical art. However, as it still contains the clearly objective elements of the cow and the violin, the piece is only ever arriving at Suprematism. Much of Malevich’s early work, especially from 1910-1913, sits solidly between his original foundation of symbolist-impressionist orthodoxy and his new foray into Cubo-Futurism and the philosophical trappings that accompanied such styles. The collective inheritance of all of these styles pulled Malevich further away from formal representation.  The synthesis of these intersecting traditions would become the evolved form of consciousness expressed in Suprematism.

Cow and Violin is therefore a thoroughly dialectical work, as it simultaneously embodies several contradicting forces, at all times confronts the viewer with an unstable synthesis of multiple contending conceptual agents. At once objective and non-objective, Cow and Violin presents exactly what the title describes, a cow and an instrument, two immediately known forms, but the fragmented background is equally, if not more distinctive, and gives the painting its overall identity. The contrast of the background with the foreground mimics the struggle between phenomenological reality and the noumenal realm of the mind, of free association. Without this struggle, the painting is merely a sketch of two pastoral objects adorned with futuristic ornament. As these planes of reality vie for attention, Malevich also invites a historical dialectic into the painting.

The work undoubtedly contains Malevich’s allegorical meditations on modernity and progress, much of his work does. A kind of temporal tension between past and future is present in this piece, as the primitive composition of the cow and the violin compete with a futuristic, synthetic sea of forms. One must question whether the two quotidien objects will emerge out of the chaos, become subsumed by it, or exist somewhere in between. The work suggests a looming inevitability of the future, painted in dark, angular, industrial, high contrast tones, the alogical zaum again eating up what remains of the “known” rationality and objectivity of the past.

The tension between the various layers of the painting also mirrors the tumultuous economic and political atmosphere of Russia in 1913. Often dubbed an agrarian underdeveloped power that hoped to engage in the great power game, Russia sat in the balance between refined European society and gritty agricultural toil- equal parts cow and violin. These forms indicate Malevich’s juxtaposition of high and low culture, of rural and urbane sensibilities. As it faced the effects of archaic social, economic, and political structures and decades of military and diplomatic failures, Imperial Russia was divided, weakened, and on the brink of engagement in the First World War. These conditions, when paired with cruel treatment of peasants by the bourgeoisie, brutal industrial working conditions, and food shortages resulted in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Whether Malevich anticipated Revolution in this work is open to debate, but the contrast of past and future is central to the work, to zaum, and to the artistic movement at large.

Malevich’s Cow and Violin seems to posit the inevitability of progress, and the irrationality of praxis. Things will develop over time, and the accompanying mood may be one of nonsensical confusion. For zaum practitioners, known phenomena will still exist, but the truth and the meaning lies somewhere beyond objective reality. The historical context of the work only adds to the sense of contradictory competing forces that may or may not find resolution, all with the mundane as the centering feature of life. Those living through such a time of uncertainty might have found some solace in known commonplace objects, perhaps recognizing the past as essential to the entire project of modernity.