The Operating System


Becoming Aware of Genuine Being-Duty: Thoughts On Bernadette Mayer

When I think about Bernadette Mayer I think about flowers, I think about fucking, I think about a good joke. I think about children. I think about words like propagate, roseate, generate, make, yield, beget, fecundate, menstruate, proliferate, non-linear, inseminate, radicalize, originate, swell, parturiate, defecate, participate, fructify, liquidate, impregnate. I imagine the entire plant kingdom growing wildly over night – arresting us in mid-nuclear thought – slowing down our bulldozing arms and eyes with delirious datura droplets and gentle hollyhock handcuffs. Bernadette Mayer gives me a mind-Eden. I can’t read her “Utopia” without biting my knuckles in a fit of pleasure – “Utopia” is my most dog-eared-with-love book. In her obsessive and hilarious descriptions of an ideal world – one in which landlords double as sex slaves to make paying the rent more interesting – Mayer ultimately challenges writing to stand up for life. When she discusses what needs improving on our warring planet I can tune in with the Cosmic Chuckle and become aware of the strong sense of duty attached to being, making, doing.
I was first introduced to Bernadette Mayer’s writing when a friend gifted me a copy of “Midwinter Day”. A poem in six parts, “Midwinter Day” takes us from awakening and emerging from dreams on the morning of December 22, 1978, through the morning, afternoon, evening, and back into dreams on December 22, 1978. Mayer’s writing is as multi-faceted as a bee’s eye – hammering her shifting consciousness moment by moment into the shape of a book where we can marvel at the complexity of the mind’s experiment as arranged on a page. Mayer’s words are brilliantly and hilariously tender as she pins down each errand, food choice, money struggle, friendship, neighbor, her children’s funny musings, her poetic heritage, current events, her partner, her work, and her life during the course of a single day. I have since read a number of her books and found throughout her work an energy of tireless innovation and scrupulously weird observation as she attempts to transform language into a vehicle for carrying consciousness itself. In her efforts to recreate being in writing she shifts as quickly as her thoughts do through phrases that are at once dry witted, obsessive, erotic, musical, political, and disarmingly honest. Mayer uses herself as the test subject, continually examining and translating her mind’s workings – proceeding through combinations of automatic writing, slapstick comedy, essays, methodical structures, journals, repetitions, poetry to prose and back again. The struggle to say what can’t be said produces in the reader an electric desire to go further into life, deeper into life’s language.

After Catullus and Horace
Bernadette Mayer

only the manners of centuries ago can teach me
how to address you my lover as who you are
O Sestius, how could you put up with my children
thinking all the while you were bearing me as in your mirror
it doesn’t matter anymore if spring wreaks its fiery
or lamblike dawn on my new-found asceticism, some joke
I wouldn’t sleep with you or any man if you paid me
and most of you poets don’t have the cash anyway
so please rejoin your fraternal books forever
while you miss in your securest sleep Ms. Rosy-fingered dawn
who might’ve been induced to digitalize a part of you
were it not for your self-induced revenge of undoneness
it’s good to live without a refrigerator! why bother
to chill the handiwork of Ceres and of Demeter?
and of the lonesome Sappho. let’s have it warm for now.

“After Catullus and Horace” by Bernadette Mayer, © 1968 Bernadette Mayer,
Published in A Bernadette Mayer Reader, New Directions, 1992

The Garden
Bernadette Mayer

(for Adam Purple)

Close to a house on a piece of ground For the growing of vegetables, flowers & fruits
On fertile well-developed land
Is a delightful place or state, a paradise
Often a place for public enjoyment
Where grows the alyssum to cure our rage
Oriental night of the careless developers
Carpet of snow of the drugged landlords
Basket of gold the city’s confused
Royal carpet of its bureaucracies,
Bored with bombs
Political ones of the complicated governments Now stick up the very orb
For its nonmetal yet golden remains
Competing with the larval corn borers
The salaried test-borers
Imminently lead anti-sexually down to the foundation
Of the annihilation
Or a circular garden in which live members of
The mustard family
The tomato or nightshade family
The poppy family
The geranium family
The aster family
The mint family
The thistle or aster family
The violet family (heartsease)
The lily family
The cucumber or gourd family
The rose family
The composite or daisy family
The parsley or carrot family
And other families
(I don’t think the pokeweed family lives there,
It earns too little or too much money per year)
We are told to swallow not a rainbow
But like the celandine the juicy proposal
That the lemon balm of low income housing,
Applied like ageratum to the old Lower East Side
(As early matured as the apricot)
And probably turned by deeply divided leaves
Like a rape of grapes before it’s all over
Cannot coexist with the gleaming black raspberries
In an ancient abandoned place
Around Eldridge, Foresight and Stanton Streets
We’re asked not to think, like pansies do
That the pinnately compund, ovate, lanceolate, non-linear, lobed, compound, toothed, alternate, opposite, palmate, heart-shape, stalkless, clasping, perfoliate, and basal rosette-ish leaves
Can heal like the comfrey
And cause to grow together
The rough hairy leaves of the city’s people and the rough hairy leaves of the sublimity of a gardener’s art
Made with vegetarian shit & free as cupid’s darts
If all our eyes had the clarity of apples
In a world as altered
As if by the wood betony
And all kinds of basil were the only rulers of the land
It would be good to be together
Both under and above the ground
To be as sane as the madwort
Ripe as corn, safe as sage,
Various as dusty miller and hens & chickens,
In politics as kindly fierce and dragonlike as tarragon,
Revolutionary as the lily

Published in A Bernadette Mayer Reader, New Directions, 1992


When I was little I used to see Adam Purple, violet clad and magnificent, bicycling a trailer filled with mounds of horse shit from Central Park down to the Lower East Side to fertilize his garden. Adam Purple (also known as the Reverend Les Ego), is an activist and urban Edenist, famous in New York City for his “Garden of Eden”, a majestic 15,000 square foot yin yang spiral of free produce and flowers, grown on top of an abandoned demolition site, and all diligently tended by Purple and his supporters. In 1986, 11 years after the creation of Eden, developers demolished the garden to the dismay of the many people who were fed by it. Artists like Bernadette Mayer and Adam Purple challenge me to create things that not only stand for life, but encourage life. In reading Bernadette Mayer I learn to embody a firm kick against the patriarchal systems of Corporatocracy. She awakens the magical synergy of Nature’s fundamental principles and a co-creative and ethical world view. In the words of Buckminster Fuller:
“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the Universe.”

– Buckminster Fuller, I Seem To be A Verb, 1970


In honor of Bernadette Mayer and all that she inspires I am now at work on a Super 8 film entitled “As Revolutionary As The Lily“. In it, a Goddess on a benevolent rampage calls upon the plant kingdom to drug and arrest all human beings in order to weave them together and feed them fruits and vegetables.


‘As Revolutionary As The Lily’, Super 8mm, 2013
Introductory passage of “As Revolutionary As The Lily”, The Goddess announces her arrival:


I, the poised radiance of perpetualness and the velvet doom beyond. I, my hands, the hammerers. I, who spins the eddies of the sky in my black petals. My feelings are the rain upon the earth’s blinding dust, my green rage drives my seedlings to multiply, white sparked, radiant, soft buds swelling. Prepare yourselves for a sexual revolution of spiked thistle, stinging nettle, hound’s tongue, rambling rose, and crow’s toes. I send the rain scurrying down my legs, my heaving lungs delivering hothouse conditions for your fruit trees to swell. The organs of my affection churn out the deafening roar of insects and sends the cloven hoofed beasts dancing like clowns down the mountains. NOW HUSH!”

Bernadette Mayer was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including: Two Haloed Mourners: Poems (Granary Books, 1998), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), Sonnets (1989), The Golden Book through phrases that are at once dry witted, obsessive, erotic, musical, political, of Words (1978) and Ceremony Latin (1964). She edited the journal 0 TO 9 with artist Vito Acconci and established United Artists press with the poet Lewis Warsh. She has taught writing workshops at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City for many years and she served as the Poetry Project’s director during the 1980s. Someone please bring “Utopia” back into print.
Adam Purple is deeply invested in creating a sustainable future for all of “huWOmankind”.
Eliza Swann is an artist, poet, and tarot healer interested in finding solutions for optimizing life on Earth.
* “Becoming Aware of Genuine Being-Duty” is a chapter title in the book “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson”, written by G.I. Gurdjieff. In this chapter Beelzebub’s grandson comes to understand that everything they have did not always exist, nor did it make it’s appearance so easily, and wishes to thank all of those responsible.

2nd Annual 30/30/30 Poetry Month Series:


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