Experiencing Things Directly

Tao Lin “The improvising is something that I nurtured in bed mostly, where if I wanted to describe a feeling, I would just do this thing where I’d force my brain to exist without preconceptions. And then, usually if I did that enough, I would just think of something — a new way to describe a feeling. And then in my newest book (Shoplifting from American Apparel), I deliberately didn’t do any of that…My detachment is more kind of trying to advocate to myself a way of living life that is kind of pre-language, just like experiencing things directly.”

~ Tao Lin, speaking with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm (December 3, 2009)

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ugly fish poem, part one
by Tao Lin, from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

i have licked the ashen barnacles of the low ports of melbourne 

low in elevation (when viewed from the highway)

i have swam with the handsome redfish of the small piers of melbourne

i have been to jetty park near cape canaveral, mackeral, jewfish,

the little mermaid, and journeyed deep into the rocks, at my own peril,

to stare at the handsome feet of young caucasian humans

i have felt a love of life that i believe is good 

and i have felt it alone; i have always felt alienated from my peers

i am an alone ugly fish

the concrete manifestation of my emotional center is a skinned red onion covered

by local newspapers under a boardwalk at cocoa beach

i know many terms but speak only in concrete specifics

from afar i have appreciated the manatee for its round body

from within i have appreciated the manatee for its veganism

my favorite poets include mary oliver and alice notley

i am a playful companion, a tactful friend

and compassionate lover; a mutant sturgeon sniffs a seahorse with a nose located on its stomach

i have lain on the ocean floor alone at night on my birthday 

and felt very aroused and ugly 

i have willfully and simultaneously subjected myself to multiple irreconcilable philosophies 

i have held my body with my little fins

on the fourth of july 

and made excruciating screams of despair

i have my grotesque appearance and my small mind to accomplish these many tasks

i have made small noises of despair in the presence of those i respect most

i have suffered unseen in the nooks of jetty park

and i have swam unseen 

and i have swam fast; any speed that exists i have swam at that speed; i have been wild with loneliness 

and felt the generosity of loneliness

i have seen a hammerhead shark strike a manatee then flee in confusion

i have seen a manatee strike a baby hammerhead shark repeatedly

until a small brown-gray paste floats away

i have seen a blue whale scream in joy then wake from a dream

i have seen a giant tuna swim upside-down with lust into a concrete wall

in frustration, and i know how it feels, 

as i have felt the center for international studies of subatomic particles inside of me 

and swam with it in the foamy waters of cape canaveral

i have tasted the still-frozen midsections of bulk shrimp and fought away other shrimp with my fins

conversely i have tasted the artificially flavored centers of soy meats

i am almost nine years old

i have seen the decapitated heads of pigfish 

drop into the ocean: their faces were shiny

thank you for reading so far

i'll finish the rest of this poem very soon

i hope you like me so far