He was late for work. He made the right-hand turn while looking left and drove directly into the bison. In the fractional moment before his deploying airbag filled his field of vision, he made eye contact with the animal.

The animal slowly wheeled and faced oncoming traffic on Lincoln. With a sound like cinderblocks clattering on asphalt, the other eight members of the herd trotted up the small slope from Chain of Lakes and joined him, aligned themselves in a kind of phalanx pointed east. Together, they began to jog, and then eased into a gentle canter.

At Sunset, they encountered their first traffic. The first sedan did not slow or even stop, but slipped narrowly between two of the massive animals like a silvery fish. The next clump of cars was not so lucky. They swerved and skidded. Two collided and drove off the road into a pole. The third spun in a slow, graceful curve to the shoulder where it teetered on two wheels and then rolled over like a stunned tortoise among the trees on the edge of the park.

It went like this for just over a mile. The animals were eloquent in their movements, sure in their purpose. Their massive bodies rippled with the impact of hooves. Their nostrils stretched and expanded. They snorted as they ran, blowing mucus behind them into the wind.

Around 21st Avenue the first dog appeared. It was a black Laborador retriever. It stood on the sidewalk outside an apartment building with its body in the shape of an arrow. The hair along its spine stood up. It quivered. When the bison passed, the dog stepped into the road, staring after them. A human voice called out a name… the dog recognized it. It looked toward the voice, then back at the retreating animals, and tore off after them.

The light was with them at 19th Avenue, though a packed 71 bus, which had just pulled into the stop, was forced to brake hard, and several people fell into other people’s laps. Most of the rest were looking at cell phones. The bus driver swore under her breath, staring in her side mirror at the retreating animals.

By the time the herd reached Stanyan, it had swelled to nine bison, thirty dogs, and a man on a bike.  #bison was trending, a silent, exhilarated hysteria began its tsunami crash, felling websites and servers. Raccoons, possums, and rats poured from the storm drains along Oak Street, joining the swelling ranks of animals. Traffic quickly snarled. People in the panhandle froze, or ran, or climbed trees. Some, after a few moments of deliberation, ran after the animals, tossing their backpacks and purses down on the grass.

The news helicopter caught up with them at Octavia. The bison swung right at the light and crossed Market onto the 80 East toward the Bay Bridge. The broadcast showed a line of large, brown animals at the front, galloping now. Behind them was a mélange of colors: dogs in sweaters dragging leashes, cats scurrying beneath tires and leaving pawprints across windshields. A massive grey cloud, like the herd’s shadow, trailed just behind: thousands upon thousands of pigeons.

Between molecules of air, the waves that carried the news #coyotes-downtown #Los Angeles, #whitetigers-loose-MGMGrand #Las Vegas, #ostriches-nimitzfwy #SanDiego, grew denser and steeper and slower until they stood motionless, high and invisible.

The Final Strand

The Final Strand

sleep until the starlings come

She learned to weave a nest by watching her parents. It was a skill and a language, a music she could not describe except by building it around herself from strands of hair and fluff and old strips of cloth.

Her parents assured her there was nothing she couldn’t achieve if she worked hard enough. That is why we are here, they told her. That is why we live in this place, where anyone can have a nest as long as they are willing to work hard, and to keep weaving. But be careful not to weave too well, they warned. When the nest is perfect, go back and pull out the final strand: keep it and it will keep you safe.

Truthfully, the nests she saw around her neighborhood tended to be scruffy and unkempt, certainly not in any danger of being perfect. Some were chewed in places by rats, and became mildewy from the fog. This was not so much the fault of the weavers, but of the low piece of ground they lived on. Her mother and father would never have said so, but like most children, she learned the hard things by overhearing them. Watching a well-dressed couple moving quickly down her street, she caught their conversation: Who would want to live here?  one said. The poor don’t choose, the other answered.

Though she understood the truth of this, she was also unconvinced it was the end of the matter. It seemed to her, watching the mud flow down the gutters carrying gum wrappers and plastic bags, that all of this state of collapse needed was a bit of care, and a weaver that did not leave strands out.

Over time, she came to understand that things were more complicated than she had observed as a child. Life was not simple, like a TV show where everything ties up neatly in the end. People had to eat and pay parking tickets: some went hungry or went to jail, and some, despite working as hard as they could, never got ahead. Some wove the most beautiful nests she had ever seen, then took them apart again for the sheer satisfaction of having some ounce of control.

Like her parents had taught her, she worked hard, and became no more special than the next person. But she did not want to be special: all that really mattered to her was the weaving. And so she built nests. At first, they were overwrought snarls that leaned at odd angles and made people feel awkward.  Later, she experimented with slick nests made of folded junk mail. Then she spent her days building sturdy, functional nests to make a living, and her nights spinning gothic castles and flying buttresses into nests as high as the ceiling. When it no longer mattered if she failed or succeeded, she made the best nests of all: of cigarette butts and cotton candy that turned to mush in the rain; of live spiders and dust bunnies; of leaves and kelp washed up in storms.

When her parents died, she took over their nest, and began giving those she built away: warm nests for those who were old and infirm. Treehouse nests for the kids in the park. Nests that connected distant buildings so no one would have to wait for the bus. She kept on and on, and by the time she was nearly an old woman she had filled her once dirty, once poor neighborhood with objects of beauty: a nest made of sea glass and damselfly wings. A nest of steel cable and hemp rope in the shape of a ship. Nests that chimed and played music in the wind. Nests filled with books that gave off the scent of cedar and cinnamon. She did not pull strands. She did not keep anything. She trusted the work to hold.

One morning, she watched a well-dressed couple stroll slowly down her street, writing down house numbers and taking pictures with their cell phones. They stopped in front of her building and gazed up at her nest, though they could not see her looking back. This is such a charming neighborhood, one said. How much do you think these places are worth? said the other.

children of the wind (1)

children of the wind (1)


i walk on the beach a lot. i have noticed that dead birds often come to rest on the tide line, lying in the sand in shapes that i can’t help but find beautiful. i am going to be posting a series of drawings based on the birds i find. i am calling it children of the wind. i hope that others can see the beauty in it too.

a meandering and eccentric history of arctic exploration: part 1

a meandering and eccentric history of arctic exploration: part 1

San Francisco, California
October 31, 2012
224 days until the Arctic Circle journey

A note before we dive headfirst into this fascinating subject, particularly fascinating because at the moment I type these words, I know as much about arctic exploration as would fit in a bat’s teacup.  I come from a long line of storytellers, all of whom favor the Melvillian style. If you haven’t read Moby Dick, you’ll have no idea what that means, but I bet you have an uncle or an aunt who, when you were a child, told stories in that frustratingly meandering fashion where, just as you thought you might find out what was going to happen to the guy hanging by a nosehair off the 250-story buliding, they were suddenly reminded of a rooster that used to attack them every time they were sent out to collect eggs in the chicken coop, and of course that story led to another, and on and on. I would hazard to suggest that this is, though infinitely frustrating when you are young, the best sort of storytelling, as it connects all experience together, and eventually, like stoned people listening to Pink Floyd, lets us discover that far-flung conversations that seem to lead away and away and away from each other eventually find their orbits, and come back to us to close their loops.

I promise you that this little history I’m about to embark upon will be the same- like the whaling journeys that inspired Melville to write his stories, we will cast about together for clues of our quarry- in this case, not just exploration of the arctic, but exploration in general. How do we do it? What drives us to do it? How do we keep from getting lost, what side-stories and adventures happen along the way, and how do these discoveries relate back to what we already know about ourselves? Storytelling is how we watch ourselves change.

All right, here we go.

I have a very good sense of direction, and navigate both by maps and by landmarks. But I also possess this other sense I would describe as an internal wayfinder: there is some magnetic, peripheral pull inside me that is telling me where I am in relationship to my surroundings at all times.  I have experienced losing this internal mechanism twice: the first time I was ascending from a deep SCUBA dive on a wreck off Catalina Island. I was coming up from about 95-100 feet down, and when I reached about 35 feet, my air bubbles suddenly bent to the left and began to travel sideways. It was one of the most disorienting experiences I’ve ever had, because all of the visual cues- bubbles, light penetrating the surface- appeared to be turned 90 degrees from where they “should” be. I was experiencing vertigo, something I had read about when studying for my diving license, along with nitrogen narcosis and the bends.  The description of vertigo was very little like the actual experience of it. Nothing can prepare you for your sense of up/down/left/right to suddenly change places 90 degrees. I imagine this might be what a flounder feels like when its eyes begin to roll sideways and migrate toward the same side of its body.

All I knew to do was trust the laws of physics, and follow those bubbles to the surface, though I could have sworn I was twisted sideways and swimming horizontally. As I passed through 20 feet and reached my decompression stop, I could actually see the surface, which appeared to me like a vertical wall on my left side. When I started the final ascent, my up/down/left/right lurched, then fell back into place, and I was clearly headed up.

The second instance of losing my internal wayfinding sense happens almost every time I go South of Market Street in San Francisco, where all the roads suddenly shift 45 degrees. Market Street cuts diagonally across all of the streets on its way East toward the bay. The result is that the streets, which in their higher numbers run West-East, begin to swing North at 13th. By the time Market reaches the Embarcadero, the streets are running North-South, paralleling the avenues to the West. Did I lose you? That’s what the city does to me every freaking time I venture into SoMA. Here’s a map, so you can see what I mean. (And just note that 3rd street and Columbus Avenue are a total outliers… they do what they want.)

Anyway, all of this is to say that the internal mechanism that keeps me righted in space can, at times, utterly break down. Then I have to rely on landmarks. I know that a certain street or lane or boulevard ends up in a certain place, so if I walk to a corner and find a cross-street, I can visualize myself on the the map of SF to the left, and know where I am, even if my wayfinder is telling me something different.

I’ve even been able to use this combination of wayfinding and an internal map in a place I once worked that had no visibly named roads, and only one settlement for miles in every direction. That summer I worked as a beefinder (yes, a beefinder) on Santa Cruz Island. I used pig trails to find my way through gullies and narrow canyons. At first, this was terrifying, but it took only a few days for this new style of orienting to settle into place. I had rocks I recognized, certain trees, geologic formations, forks in roads, even sounds: if I could hear water running I knew I had to be near a certain stream. If I could hear waves breaking I not only knew I was near a beach, but depending on whether the waves were crashing against rocks, pebbles, or sand, I knew exactly what beach.

Every couple of weeks, to get on and off Santa Cruz Island, I took a Navy boat that ran from Port Hueneme. It was about a 90 minute ride between the California Coast and Santa Cruz, one of the channel islands. If it was a clear day, I could spot the mainland (or the island, depeding which way I was headed), about halfway into the trip. On a foggy or hazy day? I could see nothing. No directions.  In enough fog, all the light became ambient so there was no way to track it to judge East and West. That Navy boat had a compass, and radar, and sonar, and radio communication, so of course the skipper knew where we were at all times.

But, and now I begin to loop back to my original thread– when exploration of the Arctic began,which goes back at least to the 3rd century BCE, there was no radio, no sonar, and no magnetic compasses. So how in the heck, when you are sailing in open sea in uncharted waters, do you know where you are?

Next time, we go into methods and tools of navigation by sea, some invented 1700 years before Pytheas navigated the amniotic sea.

lj moore performing “wrecked” at quiet lightning litquake show

lj moore performing “wrecked” at quiet lightning litquake show

San Francisco, California
October 19, 2012
236 days until Arctic Circle journey

photo by Sean Gabriel McClellandOn October 8, 2012 I was given the honor of performing “wrecked,” a piece from digital gothic, my book in progress, at the Quiet Lightning Litquake show inside the conservatory of flowers alongside an amazing group of readers. Please check out the video, and if you’d like to read along, here is the text.

If you don’t know about Quiet Lightning, now is my chance to tell you about a literary rennaissance that is taking place in San Francisco. Quiet Lightning is a monthly reading series with an uncommon format: submission is free, entries are always judged blind (meaning new writers and estabished writers all have equal opportunity to be accepted, because the judging is based on the merit of the work and not the name on it), and here’s the amazing part: all of the accepted work for each month’s show is published in a book, Sparkle & Blink, featuring cover art by a local artist. These books are available at the corresponding show, so the writers get published, and the audience can read along and take home a copy of the amazingness they have just experienced.

If that weren’t enough, the format of the reading is also unique: each reader gets 5 minutes. No banter and no introductions are allowed. It is a literary “mix tape” where the focus is not on the writers, but on the writing itself. Judging by the growing popularity and dedicated base of returning fans of this reading series, this format works.

Quiet Lightning is driven by volunteers, and brings new voices and new visions to the ears of new audiences. For new writers, getting your work seen and heard is nearly impossible (and expensive!). The norm in literary publishing today is contest and fee-based. Very few magazines can afford the staff to fairly evaluate submissions, so unless they are tied to a university, or are helmed by a trust-fund heir, many have resorted to only accepting submissions when they offer a contest, which usually costs $15 to $25 to enter. Most literary journals are also extremely specialized, so matching your work to their described aesthetic can feel like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling.

Getting your work heard can be equally intimidating and demoralizing: many reading series are based on a “featured” reader format with an open mic afterward. People come to see the headliner, and then either leave, or stay to chat while the open mic readers try to make themselves heard. It’s hard enough to get up there in front of everyone, but when it feels like no one gives a shit… well that’s just shitty.

Quiet Lightning’s answer to this has been a genius idea straight from the heart: offer a fair judging process, publish the writers, and give them a chance to be heard in person. And do this every month. The generosity of everyone involved is mind-blowing. And so is the work you are going to hear when you check it out for yourself.

And if you can’t come in person? Every show is recorded and shared FREE online. So if you live in Svalbard, or Oakland, or Detroit, or Amsterdam, or wherever you hail from, come hang out in San Francisco and hear what we’re writing about.

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 3- gate crashing)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 3- gate crashing)

On her eyelashes the fog brings you trembling mercury…”
-The Fog,
Carlos V. Suárez

Part 3: Gate Crashing:[Playlist: ibenji: Seems]


it all starts with an itch               that inward look:
then a twist and counter

the speed of oscillation varies with distance from the center of the creature but
the body already knows how to get to other worlds

close your eyes if you must        but trust
the break          follow the wobble                     it’s a flywheel in your pocket

timing the path of intersection with the already turning
to converge and merge and                               merry-go-flung

the motion always invisible at onset                    but you feel it coming
deep inside an internal tissue

a supermassive formation collapsing into a relativistic star
please               don’t stop                     cracking the excitable cells in the dragon’s tail

until the spike train rolls
with great speed and oscillating friction

from the mouths of voltage-gated channels
and you erupt across the threshold of the rapidly expanding pattern:


I can’t tell you, dear sorcerer, what your path to the gates will look like:
all internal language is a secret working             

but hang tight in that crawlspace
the worst of the ride is reaching cruising speed

and I can send some guides:

            (in the mean time)

enter scarab glittering
on iridescent wings, towing

by fine filaments grasped in hindmost legs
an intricately woven cobweb banner that reads

up and down one column at a time
as well as across, from left to right:

“contrasting” viewpoints on your journey divide prominent philosophers:

Sir Isaac Newton’s view is a time to give                     and a time to dance as other “times” persist,
this view becomes a time to mourn                              effectively killing time at the time of death
and a time to die
  is part of the fundamental                embrace like frames of a film strip, a spread structure of time to plant  time to uproot                        across neither future event nor plucked thing
what is planted:
a dimension in which events             sewn then grown  (non-discrete, Immeasurable) occur as objects in a sequence a birth                         a container one could step in or out of but
a silence kept    a together lost     a wasted                   search, give up, tear apart, kill, weep, love, hate laugh (that’s Leibniz, Kant) the transport                       time itself an idea certainly but not a thing
a fundamental structure                                                     travel-able as thought

(and on a second banner, clinging to the first
via some dust bunnies and a chain of bluish laundry lint:)


to go from one place to another, as on a trip; journey;
to go from place to place as a salesperson or agent;
to be transmitted, as light or sound; move or pass;
to advance or proceed;
to go about in the company of a particular group; associate: (travels in wealthy circles);
to move along a course, as in a groove;
to admit of being transported without loss of quality (some wines travel poorly);
to move swiftly;
to walk or run illegally while holding the ball;

the second “l” in the word ball is festooned with busily stitching spiders,
as the passage of time cannot be directly perceived as it happens

but must be re-membered to exist
unendingly given arms   and legs
and breathed:

(from trembling drops
spun into vibrating strings)

whose loose ends                                 are lashed and threaded
spliced into the meanwhile by your guides

who have arrived
traveling on the fingertips of the fog

the ravens of Point Conception and Point Reyes:

one has wings contrapted of hollow reeds
lashed to his body by a harness of syntonic commas
every wingbeat a major or minor                       every dive a glissando
subtle shifts in his primary flight feathers give rise to the dissonance of angels
the melodies of monsters

blind, he glides along the chain link fence of         now
dragging his wingtips against the diamonded stutter
knowing where he is by the tone of his harmonics

and by the heat signature of his partner:

        she is a blue-black fire
urgent and reckless  and easily distracted
condensing the immediate in her hot smell
of dirty underfeathers and contagious desires

   made visible as the virga her wingtips cast:                  black beams slicing triangular seams of      now bounded by darkness

but admitting a light that illuminates

points further on:

you are a shadow strung between these shadows
cast through fog  (the fog of which you’re made,
the fine-flung particles on which you’re hung)

a medium through which you will learn to gate crash
to give in to scatter

to understand that piano notes unfurling from the banks of folds and whorls
the waifish threnody of thin and distant notes

can open in a vast and clammy throat from which no lighthouse lamp or lens or flame
can cast a plumb line

only a flux         a flex    a blur of synthesis of sense
the tap of one feather against the next

and against nearby wingtips
will unlock the braille of entrance
from the sea smoke:

(in this instance)

 the Iron Horse

 rears clear of the haar and fret gripped thick amid her ribs
(those harpstrings the dream houses pluck on nightly flights)

the blood orange foramen of her double spine:
windows squaring this world with the next

her vermillion scapula and hip caught mid-gallop
the movement of her form so slow as to appear a solid

rostrum thrust forward and tail to ground
her belly stretches taut to guard

cargo ships climbing down the ocean’s edge
tugboats and sabots yaw around her fetlocks

forged of ashes         she waits of course to rise from ashes
staring down into her mare’s nest

past the surface shadow
across which hot life skims into and out of living commerce
to the bluer pulse that breathes below                the echo current of what was and still is

a tide of tall ships          spilling their bones at the hem of california’s skirts        hemorrhaging their riches
of flea-bitten, half-starved hopes

dispersed and drifting in and out through their mistresses’ unlaced eyelets
the silky clacking of all that’s left of this influx                 currents      tides

a sea change of ash pearls collecting in the divots and channels

beneath waves of intolerable golden itches swathed
in layer upon layer of alternating hopes and madnesses

hard little nuggets lodged in the surrounding softness
dug free and sluiced                  measured in dust on scales

cast into ornaments and promise rings now clattering loose         on the bare knuckles
of the not-so-long dead                         in long forgotten graves

beneath the golf course             the library                     the museum
hugging the plumbing                    sailing slow in vessels rarefied by rotting

what remains after flesh and bone and memory have long since dispersed?
a sussurence that lures the jumpers

the risk to all who perform this alchemy:            a mercury         a gorgeous poison
slipping perpetually

back and forth between home and Land’s End: a transistor
the precious metal points of  contact through which pass
travelers                       worldly and otherwise

                                                                        drawn irresistibly to edges

whether by expansion or collapse
big bang or whimper or barbaric yawp              whether by dream or death

it’s all the same unmapped certainty
so you can bunker down and be taken by force

                                                or follow the ravens
who stretch their black fingertips to build up drag and static
then clasp their wings tight to slip the quicksilver light

and dive beak first into the dirt

read part 4

back to table of contents

Instant City: a literary exploration of San Francisco, Issue 7

Instant City: a literary exploration of San Francisco, Issue 7

Instant City 7
Editor: Gravity Goldberg
(107 pages/Instant City, San Francisco)

Founded by Gravity Goldberg and Eric Zassenhaus in 2004, Instant City is a biannual journal that publishes fiction, non-fiction and art about San Francisco. Instant City 7, published in spring 2010, is a departure from the journal’s usual theme-based collections. For this one, the editors decided to let those mysterious muses that whisper into pens and keyboarding fingers dictate the theme. What were those muses whispering about? Naughty, cheap, objectionable, crass, misguided, desperate, hilarious, absurd, delinquent, questionable, base, wicked and in short, completely riveting bad behavior.

For those readers who live or have lived in San Francisco, there is something unspeakably satisfying about knowing the places where these stories take place. If you thought you were the only person who recognized the 38 Geary bus as a confrontation magnet—you’re wrong. Or maybe your experience picks up where someone else’s leaves off, as in Lincoln Mitchell’s story “Waiting for the 43,” where the narrator imagines the bus disappearing to exotic places named Prague and Geneva, after it leaves the Haight. Even if you have lived in San Francisco for many years, (or are one of its seven natives) you will never know the city the same way another person knows it. The idea that your stomping grounds also belong intimately and emotionally to someone else is an uncanny sensation, akin to fitting together the pieces of a metaphysical jigsaw puzzle, or maybe just to shopping at Out of the Closet. And for those who don’t live in San Francisco, the place names and specifics won’t matter, but the parallel experiences will. Stories, particularly those about people doing what they are not supposed to do, are as universally compelling as playing ding-dong ditch or making prank calls.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Instant City 7 is the nature of the bad behavior people are writing about. It’s strange to see, quite clearly, the imprint of economic fallout and its accompanying stifling of a sense of well-being almost unilaterally across these stories: a former convict working as a drug counselor is now being blackmailed for an amount of money he can only obtain illegally; the forced happiness of dirt-streaked, stumbling and sloppy recreational drug-taking; trying (and failing) to be slutty on craigslist; the ugly truth of waking up in a post web-designer, post job, job market.

San Francisco’s misbehavior of 2010 is not the glamorous, rock n’ roll to-hell-with-it bohemianism of the 60’s and 70’s, nor the cocaine and cash driven Top-Gun mentality of the 80’s, and definitely not a 90’s parachute-panted, can’t-touch-this, SUV-infested, bling-driven impropriety . We’re even past the air-brushed and trout-pouted shenanigans of the early 2000’s. San Francisco of the moment seems to be a little dazed, a little tentative: less into escapism and more about survival, which makes sense when Burning Man has become a tourist attraction, or when a life and death near miss might be as simple as accidentally stumbling into a drug deal, or when a sack with a live duck in it seemed like a bright idea until the reality of the knife enters the equation. It seems from these stories, that San Franciscans are feeling an undercurrent of solemnity and exhaustion, like people posting wanted posters on telephone poles that say, REWARD: LOST FUN. Last seen so long ago we’re not sure of what it looked like.

Still, even with the more shell-shocked nature of these stories of folly, this is still San Francisco: the Barbary Coast, Baghdad by the Bay, the City that Knows How. It’s the place where the best role-model you ever had could best be described as “Rosie Greer meets RuPaul,” and where “the sidewalks sometimes sparkle.”

Want another take on Instant City 7? SF Literary Culture Examiner Evan Karp’s got VIDEO.
Contributors: Robert Arnold, David Becker, August Bleed, Charlie Callahan, Scott Carroll, MK Chavez, Joshua Citrak, Sherilyn Connelly, Amanda Davidson, Sonya Derman, Dylan Dockstader, Andrew O. Dugas, Cathy Fairbanks, Kimia Ferdowski, Rona Fernandez, Casey FizSimons, Philip Franklin, Cody Frost, David Fullarton, Charles Gatewood, Peter Hermann, Beau Knight, Kyle Knobel, R.J. Martin, Rob McLaughlin, Christopher McLean, Cynthia Mitchell, Lincoln Mitchell, Alex Nowik, David Plumb, Aaron Rodriguez, Mary Taugher, Kevin Thomson, Stephanie Vernier, Atom Wong and Chris West.