(Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness
(Wave Books)
One of my Buddha masters, Jack Kornfield, was forever and a day quoting from a sign posted on the wall of a Las Vegas casino: "You have to be present to win." This might be CAConrad's operating system as well. He claims to have once become a machine writing poems, sending them off to various magazines, making more --- just like a factory. A factory, he says, like the one that divorced his own family "from their sense of their essential skills." He thought that even something as virtuous as poetry could turn us into machines --- ones that allowed us to be "not present."

He then hit on the concept "the extreme present," where "being anything but present was next to impossible." He hit on rituals --- twenty-three of them --- which are revealed in this book, along with the poems that blossomed from those rituals.

These are riffs which can lead us down weird paths. One of them, for instance, required him to cover his laptop with blankets, pillows, covers, sheets, all the while running the volume up on the computer as he played "Victorie" by Missy Mazzoli underneath. He set all this next to a piece of fruit, then "as soon as the song was finished, I ATE THE FRUIT as quickly as possible while the song was still deep inside its flesh." The result was the poem


the great apes are
my favorite cousins
I won't visit because
I don't endorse cages
sellout tourism of jails some call
zoos where no prisoner
has ever seen a lawyer
I have no idea how to free my cousins without
going to jail myself
what exactly are their crimes
it's never been clear on
these ulcerated days
maybe I should visit
give them comfort
these are my cousins ,
it's visiting hours at jail . . .

As you can see, CAConrad does enjoy words, and playing with words, and as you follow through in Ecodeviance you may come to see him as a trickster in the Zen sense, one who indulges in what others may see as pure nonsense in order to get people to wake up and be there. Right. Now.

For instance, one of his essays tells of his visits to his favorite escalator in Philadelphia.

    At the top and the bottom of the ride I would show photographs of myself to strangers and ask, "EXCUSE ME, have you seen this person?" Sometimes there was confusion, 'ISN'T THAT YOU?" I would reply, "No, many people think that I look like HER, but have you seen HER?"

He then concludes, "My generation was the last generation to have a male and female name waiting at the other end of the birth canal. My generation is the last to have our mothers touch their cellies talking to us as male and female. Pink or blue?" (There is here a nice touch of semi-dottiness to get people worked up, and a fair insight --- but we were thinking that he might better have ended the paragraph with "Pink AND blue?")

CAConrad has a further exercise, where he follows people down the street for awhile, and, in no way being invasive of their space, watching how they tug on their sleeves, suggesting that you too "TUG IT with your mind" . . . putting an imaginary hand on their shoulder and saying "Don't I know you?"

This is followed with three poems which I was quite taken with, this being

i don't offer
frayed blooms while
caring for the center
i love my liver
my gallbladder
put them good
morning through flesh
i want to show my
kidneys this sunrise
they deserve it working
hard take them out OUCH
see the pretty red
and pink OUCH sky
love love you
sew you back
my spirits starts
chiming into the wind my
craving for wonder

These may remind one of Alan Watt's great riff, asking "Who beats your heart?"

CAConrad is a person who takes the world seriously, doesn't like hypocrisy, war, pollution, distancing, stereotypes, cruelty to animals, and worries about the poor and the hungry of the world. Above all he seems to enjoy making the rest of us sit up and take notice.

--- Pamela Wylie
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