education as arson

teach to forget
not to fall off the wagon

teach to abandon the bandwagon
better, douse it
torch those things that say
you are only this, in the inferno
contemplate the combustibility of thought
the matchstick fragility of complete explanations.
The capital C correct answer is a pipe bomb dream
unity, crisp manila and full of nails

teach revelation, from the ivory tower
the world can be explained to death
the risk is explaining death to the world.


tall girls

It's hard to tell a woman from a tall girl, but with men and boys it's easy. Men are the ones dragging the grizzly carcasses behind their tanks. A moose, buffalo, or kodiak (the animal, not the boat--inflation is a faux pa) will also suffice. The species isn't important; it's a simple question of weight ratios. A seventy-pound boy cannot pull an eight-hundred-pound bear behind his bike–a duck maybe, but nothing suitably ferocious. And you'll never see a boy driving a tank; tank driving requires a special license.

That unsoldierly grunt in California who drove a stolen tank over all those parked cars had a license. That's what made it ok. Just like it was ok when the LAPD put a hollow point through the open hatch, into his head, after he high-centered on a highway median. The prerogative is in the fine print.

You don't need a special tank driver license to be a man, though; it's more of a formality. I tried to buy one once, but I didn’t know where they were sold. I went to Home Depot, but they wouldn't let me through the door. There is a callous quota, and I have piano player fingers. Good for playing the piano, but I was kicked out of band. Nevertheless, musicians are surprisingly often men, but only insofar as their affected moodiness helps them get laid.

Men are also recognizable by their masks made from the skulls of wolves, Sabertooth tigers, and other appropriately toothy predators. Stuffed, teeth bared, beady eyes glazed thick, posed threateningly–not icky at all. A necklace of human scalps is also a pretty good sign–too good of a sign, actually, but still better than a boy’s mask, which is usually given away by its self-conscious construction from plastic, felt, and excessive sequins.

Do not confuse sports mascots with men. They seem to be giant carcasses with oversized heads, paraded around on the backs of their captors. But if you look closer it's just foam; the grin is permanent and not that fierce at all; the eyes peeking out from the mouth could belong to anyone: a woman, a tall boy, even a well-trained ape. Never trust mascots. It's not a trophy unless the owner is there to tell you so, just so. A Just So Story for Adults, hardly any man's burden.

T-Rex vs. Thesaurus

Thesaurus picks fight,
and the fight is in difference.
So Thesaurus buries plurality
under cover, safe from clawing definitions
until discovery. Channels are organic;
it's a good time to create (meaning
the Cretaceous).

T-Rex is unread, except in tooth and nail.
So T-Rex elects himself president for life,
builds a top-down nest of trophies (no wife),
and closes his ears to the polysemous hum.

Thesaurus skips synonyms across ponds and into corners,
to gestate under soil and Rosetta stones (labeled: do not un-
-earth before the advent of language).

Seed-wide tunnels flow with larval vessels,
and ants chant etymology into existence.
Their new faith is crude, but it will survive its ugly naming
and the coming disaster, which has yet to be named.

Meaning gets antsy as the fiery mass drops,
like a million-ton tombstone at two miles per second;
its molten neon song demands adaptation.
Nuance will save some, but T-Rex's text has withered;
he's stump-armed in the inferno, all mouth no voice.
He gapes crater-wide, but all that comes out is sound and fury;
the signifiers have all been collected by Thesaurus.


A Fictional Family Tree Told on One Branch with One Letter

Salvador Dali
Super Dave Osborne

There are no Sundials in Silicon Valley

Time told with two to three thin arms and handcrafted flaws is different than digital time, which floats in from the ether. Pocket watches can be cupped and stowed, hidden in flannel, near skin. Angry Pacific Great Whites swallow them and become pacified. Twenty leagues down the soft drone soothes and lets sharks outlive dinosaurs.

Digital time is drones in the gloaming. No body, just: one, zero, one, zero, one, one, one. Scrawl one million zeroes vertically down a page, draw a line, scratch in a plus sign, what do get? You get dead trees. It takes more paper than you’d think to write one million nothings, sweet or otherwise.

How many ones would you need to stack a pile to the moon? One one would be enough, if it was Neptune-sized. But it won’t work if ones are just ideas. Ideas don’t have atoms. There have been ideas about atoms, but they tended to be downward looking. Those ideas tended to dig craters in the earth.

Now they say time isn’t rotation. Now they say time isn’t a nanosecond of a millisecond of a second of a minute of an hour of a breakneck spin towards the sun. Now they say time is the vibration of Cesium atoms, down there, reliably in harmony. More constant than our wobbly earthen sphere made of many different atoms, some of which don’t get along.

None of that is true though. Ask me. I’ll tell you it isn’t. Time does have a body, it can be owned. It can be lost too. I left mine at home once, under a cushion. Kelly found it there and wore it until she saw me the next summer. She didn’t wear it to be on time. She wore it because she knows what it is to wear something that belongs to someone else.

Time told in ticks hums and grinds gears in that teardrop brass shell balled near the nook of your thumb,
clasp shut palm open.


face east or west or whichever direction is the direction you need to face
face the point you seek, that floating point
that pin on the map you're tied to by a thin, thin thread

face in the morning, your chest just grazing the ground
feel your ribs pressing into your thighs, your knees digging into the dirt
your shins doing whatever shins do

face in the evening before sleep
palms up, or down
outstretched anyway, that’s important
arms stretched out, outstretched, relaxed, at length, laying there those limbs
just bones and sinews and tendons
not grasping, not tense, not taut, just laid out

when you’re young face grudgingly, because you’re told to
in your rebellious phase face nowhere
when that’s over face again
with passion

face for others too
to reflect goodness
to tower
to glow
like you’re the last member of the species
or the only one there ever was

when you get older face slowly, methodically
but don’t stop
when you die have yourself buried facing in one direction or the other
allow for the drifting of continents
they'll drift until you're facing the wrong direction
so leave a note
have someone turn your coffin every so many centuries
or just wait for your continent to drift all the way around again
so that once again you face east, or west

Afternoons in Haizhu

Lunch hour is two and a half hours long in Canton. Warm styrofoam stuffed with rice, vegetables, and meat on the bone was waiting for me at the Senior 1 teachers' office. They had given up trying to explain the cafeteria system to me. Tickets, stamps, and being in the right line at the right time. Nothing is straightforward in a school of three thousand.

Mrs. Zheung made room for me on the corner of her desk and offered me green tea. The tea never stops, every house or office offers it. It’s good for the skin and digestion, everyone knows that. Mrs. Zheung had adopted the English name Connie. Though only twenty-eight, she was understood to be the leader of the office. Five feet of sharp comments and spitfire when something needed to be done, but always friendly to me. I was a new brain to pick. I was the West in the Westernizing East.

Once she invited me to her parents’ house during the Chinese New Year. It wasn’t on one of the days designated for symbolic invitations, but I was thankful nonetheless. Being invited into a home is not the same thing in that country. The small apartment was where she grew up with her sister, parents, and four grandparents. Foreigners are a curiosity to the young, but just strange to the older generations. Still, they gave me lucky money in red envelopes after I stumbled through the customary wishes of prosperity and long life. Each envelope had a one yuan note in it. About sixteen cents Canadian, but you can’t buy lucky money from strangers.

The apartment Connie shared with her husband was newer and bigger. They had a bottle of Bailey’s on the mantle, not for consumption, but for decoration. It was something from another culture. The Irish drink Baileys and the Chinese drink green tea, everyone knows that. Connie often worked sixty hours in a week, but her new linoleum was always spotless. She would have died before complaining. They had an extra room for the child they would one day have. A boy would be nice, but any daughter of hers would be irrepressible.

During the second half of lunch the teenagers roamed the city in rare freedom or slept, arms crossed on their desks. Some teachers had sleeping bags and slept in the library, but I had a circuitous trek from Dong Shan district to a primary school in Haizhu. The guard at the gate didn’t speak a word of English, but he flashed his instant smile before hitting the switch. The gate was mechanical and retracted in small segments like an accordion. Its movement was deliberate and crushingly slow, but no one would challenge the invisible barrier that remained until the gate was completely open. It took as long as it took. If one person rushed through then a thousand people could rush through.

I hit the street and it was all heat and grates and throngs. The city was more a throbbing mass of people than a structure of roads and buildings. In June the whole population heaved out into the fog-thick humidity because idleness was madness. The heat demanded that you always do something, even if it was nothing. I crossed the street at an overpass, walking under a three meter billboard of Audrey Hepburn hawking iced tea in a can. Two blocks east hulked the steel carcass of an unfinished building, not a building in progress, an abandoned project. Probably the financing fell through, or maybe the developer fell out of favour with someone he ought not to have. The building was dead though, already greening and dank from the climate. It is said that China has more cranes in operation than the rest of the world combined, but mixed-in with the weed-like growth of new skyscrapers and hotels, there are some failures too big to hide. In a country of one billion, the cracks to fall through are gaping chasms.

Leaving number 21 middle school had brought me into the tourist district. Immediately dominating my field of vision was the sprawling Garden Hotel, which I cut through since it was the only place to buy foreign newspapers. Anyone who will pay four dollars for the International Herald Tribune is not a threat to the party. The China Daily was only thirty cents, but it was all trivia and filler and “chocolate rations are up.” I took a second to use the four-star washroom, since it was much nicer than the one at my apartment, or the troughs at school. I was always assumed to be a guest, no matter how motley my appearance.

The bus stop was at the end of Tao Jin Lu, which translates to “get gold road.” It was a fortune seeking name, and the bustling artery had been swept clean of the common street vendors. A cardboard cutout of Yao Ming stood guarding McDonalds as I passed. The honest smile of this clean-cut giant evoked nothing but trust. He was only a competent center in Houston, but a God in China. His trunk-like arm was extended, a Big Mac unfamiliar in his palm. I always ate breakfast there. I had eggs because I could never accept rice or noodles as breakfast food. Plus they had coffee. That place has a sameness that scares some, but there is a certain safety in similitude that is hard to blame anyone for.

These streets by the hotels would have a smattering of prostitutes at night. Their small number was barely tolerated because it was impossible to subdue that profession completely. Guangzhou, the other name for Canton, was drained into by the whole of the eighty-six million inhabitants of Guangdong province. In a country of one billion, not everyone can be Zhang Ziyi.

When I reached the bus stop I didn’t have long to wait before my bus pulled up. The seas of bicycles had been replaced by mopeds and motorbikes, but public transit was still the lifeblood of urban China. The normally jostling line was thin during the lull before work began again. Stepping aboard, I waved my wallet past the infrared reader. It scanned my pass, showing me my balance on a digital readout. Fifteen minutes to the nearest metro station, but there was always plenty to see along the way. Halfway there the bus slowed to navigate around a crowd of people who were blocking half the intersection. A rusty bike was bent beneath the tire of a car, and a well-dressed man was yelling at a shabbier man. Traffic laws are unenforced, if existent at all, so it’s hard to imagine that the scratch-up was clearly the fault of the biker. The person in the right was the person whose voice was loudest. If the meeker were to challenge, someone would lose face. Better to hold to the stability of silence. If it can be uttered, it should be agreed upon. The Great Wall can be seen from space, everyone says so.

The bus arrived on time at Lie Shi Ling Yuen metro station, which took its name from a memorial park nearby. The center of the park was an earthen dome, gravesite to some fifty soldiers who had died a few decades before the founding of the People’s Republic. Grass grew wild and uncut in the summer, because the dome was encircled by a tall stone wall. My evenings often ended up in that park. There would be the odd elderly person practicing Tai Chi in personal silence, oblivious to the muffled, bass-heavy rumblings vibrating from the discos past the northern wall. But it would be otherwise empty since many people were wary of ghosts. Its tree-lined pathways were cool, I could hear my footsteps on the stone.

The metro took me south under the river, to Haizhu district. The Pearl River was a murky grey, matching the curtain of smog that always hung over the city. “Oh, you come from Canada. The air is very clean there,” I would sometimes hear. No one liked the pollution, but it was a reminder of progress. Just as the river made Canton a locus of trade centuries ago, industry for profit was its burgeoning pulse now.

I took the same route everyday, but I could never remember the name of my stop. I only knew it was the third stop after I switched trains. “Haizhu guangchan, Shiergong,” the female voice pronounced each name crisply. “JiangNan Xi,” that sounded right. A quick escalator and stairs, then the blast of hot air above ground. It was two blocks further to my school, but I had time. I passed my favourite restaurant, which served food from the northernmost province: Heilongjiang. Mostly I just ate the dumplings, which came in dozens of varieties. There was an art to eating them that I never mastered. Sugary syrup was poured all over them which would stick to your tongue and burn if you ate them immediately. But if you waited too long the whole plate would harden into one big fruit-filled rock. The old would chuckle at the impatience of the young, or the headstrong who never learned. I liked it because it was food from a cold climate. Although I was inalterably a foreigner, at least I could claim a commonality with the Northern peoples that the Cantonese could not share. To them Heilongjiang was country away. My friends would gleefully point-out to me which servers were native to that Northern province, not pure Cantonese. I could guess at the difference, but I didn’t have enough of a knack to be certain.

Haizhu Experimental Primary was hidden in a cluster of greying apartment buildings. It was much newer and more colourful than the surrounding buildings. It was considered a good school, better than its location suggested. For children living nearby enrollment was more or less free, but exorbitant fees discouraged the enrollment of students from other districts. For the distant and wealthy it was cheaper to buy an empty second home in Haizhu than to pay the annual fees, so many parents did just that. Everyone gets education, but the school you go to means everything. It’s a path, and everyone knows which schools are best.

The entrance to the primary school was a smallish, unassuming steel gate. It took me a full week to figure out how to work the latch, and the attendant would always run out to help me, with a smile. It was a light, honest misunderstanding. I often arrived early to breathe in the soothing quiet of five hundred children napping. Four floors of classrooms looked over an empty courtyard, every window and door open, each room silently holding fifty sleeping students. Stillness had an unspoken agreement with all. Stillness willed itself a few more minutes of life. I walked slowly, hoping to meet a child who had stolen away to use the washroom. “DVD!” they would whisper excitedly when they saw me. DVD was my nickname, a simple alteration of David, but an easy joke because even the first-graders knew what a DVD was, and that I wasn’t one.

When the classes started it would be all movement and regimented chaos, the sharp report of fifty voices in unison, but it was quiet now. I splashed water over my head at the fountain, and let it drip down my shirt as I walked up to the English teachers’ office. The office was six large cubicles, water cooler, tea, and air conditioning. The older women would always give me soft, salty rolls. Once when there was a marriage among the staff I received a little bag of candy and two hard-boiled eggs. I sat there waiting for classes to begin and skimmed hockey scores on the internet. A few minutes before class a student came to make sure I was coming. She stood there looking at me, with a confident insistence. She seemed to smirk at my obliviousness to the obvious fact that it was good to be early, good for everything to work seamlessly. She silently pulled on my arm and I got up.

On the days I taught grade one I would have eight twenty-minute classes, repeating the same songs and rhymes over and over, but it never got old. It was rote but the spirits of children are energizing. The system was a fact; it was unalterable, simply there. It was more indifferent than benevolent, but it worked well enough. It’s hard to be personal with hundreds of millions of students. It’s hard not to be rigid when holding the floodgates. Life thrives in the margins. There is vitality in randomness, in accidents.

Mrs. Li watched over the class while I taught and sung and frantically scribbled cartoons in chalk. Her nickname was Ivy, but to me she was Ivy 2, being the second Ivy I had met. She was thirty years old, but much younger in spirit. Firm, but not as strict as the other teachers. Among adults she would blush, often looking down. But with kids she was herself: fiery, joyous and full. She would always translate the innocent, mocking comments the children made about me, laughing to tears. I had the feeling she laughed harder there than anywhere else. Ivy’s mother had become pregnant with her before the one child policy became law, but she was to be the seventh child, and a girl no less. Her mother was pressured to have an abortion, but once forced to the hospital, she escaped through a back exit. Ivy told me this. Her birth defied conventional wisdom and prudence, but she was a beacon. She was irrepressible life, intangibles in spades. She was a shy punch to the jaw. I always looked forward to those afternoons, that peace in the standstill heat.

It never really gets dark in Guangzhou. There is no night, just a purplish-brownish haze and a thinning of crowds. New people come out too, setting up makeshift restaurants on the street with plastic stools and foot-high tables, giant woks and propane tanks serving as kitchens. Brisbane Matt and I would wander down Dong Fong Dong road some nights, unaware of the time, invincible in flip flops. Matt, Matto, Mattcho, people from his continent like to add an ‘O’ to the ends of names to make nicknames. His conclusion to most everything was “fair ‘nuf.”

X-shaped overpasses stretched thirty feet above us as we walked, their concrete legs sprawled awkwardly like half an octopus. Our goal was a barbeque, a smallish tin box under a tree, tended by a man from another province. I don’t know what province he was from, but he wasn’t a local. We would order lamb kabobs, more fat than meat, but tasty like a place we’d never been to. We ordered with the language of fingers. One finger, one kabob. One kabob, one yuan. Fair ‘nuf. Then we would shuffle home, holding the lamb in the little plastic bags, chewing the greasy strips off of thin burnt sticks, milktea to finish.

Wandering is art. The best way to get a sense of where you are is to pick a random spot on a map and just walk there. When language is just symbols signs are just paint, so use landmarks. Remember where the river is. Keep the tallest building in the corner of your eye. Count the stone lions guarding doorways. Getting home is easy.

Me and Mattcho would play games with buses in the afternoons of our days off. The idea was to get on random bus after random bus to see who could end up the furthest from our central point. The winner was the one whose taxi ride back cost the most. Once mine cost 43 yuan and took an hour and a quarter, but I was never worried. Every taxi driver knows where downtown is. Getting home is easy. It’s getting lost that’s hard.