Dialogue on Writing, and Avidya

Okay, so my net worth at this point is – if the house sells for what I hope it will – but of course I will never sell this house here on the river – almost a third of a million bucks. It varies from day to day due to the price of stocks going up and down, but…


Yeah. It only happened a couple of years ago. A relative died and left me this; I had no idea he had so much money. I always figured I’d part of a $200,000 house, and would use that money to pay off all my debts, with a mere pittance leftover. Instead…

Instead you got a bunch and so you what, quit your job?

Well, no, it was more complicated than that, but yah, shortly after the will was probated I left my main vocation and have not re-entered the workforce since that time. Their loss.


The workforce’s.

Oh – yeah. So whattaya do now?

I’m busy writing.


Yeah. Finished a book about – uh – a year ago. Been busy ever since. Another book.

Oh. What’s it about?

Ah, hard to say really. I hope to use a Magritte print for the cover.

I’ll ask again: what do you write about?

This one is about nescience, which is another word for avidya, which is another word for not-knowing. A state of non-knowing. So I’m writing about what we don’t know, a set of several stories that are somewhat connected by this idea of epistemological gaps or blind spots.

So you’re not saying you don’t know what you’re writing about . . . but that you are writing about what you don’t know? 

That’s knotty. Never mind. 

Okay. I’ll put it on my list and look it up. A third of a million, eh? How long can you live on that, man?

Well, I try first to make it, on what cash reserves I have, to the March following the end of the world in December 2012. I’ll be 59 ½ then, and can tap my retirement savings without the penalty. Hopefully there’ll be enough left to keep me going (if the world does not end, heaven forfend) until social security kicks in. That’s the plan. 

So you have done all the long division on this.

Oh yeah. And I am not a math person.

And you think it’ll work out, huh? 

Yeah. But I can’t live high on the hogleg (as some say) unless I get a job. And there is the utter wild card of personal health thrown in there. 


So: you never thought a person like me – obviously stupid about money, incapable by nature of making or saving sums of money – would or could wind up a low-hundred thousandaire

A what? 

That’s my sleek term that switches millionaire into another term. A thousandaire has thousands at his command, not millions.

Oh yes. The writer is always active. You and your words. 

Do I detect a tone of derogation?

Hm. Well. Go on, I’m listening. 

You didn’t answer my question.

No, yes, I do find it hard to imagine you as a person of wealth. Taste you have. Class of a sort you have – though it is involved with what you know, not the strata of society you come from. I – I have always thought of you as a person who knew well how to deal with poverty, with having nothing much materially speaking. You seem to thrive in such semi-squalid environments – remember? I doubt your ability to shift that and know how to decorate a living room with artwork.

[Pause of remembrance.]

You are wondering what I do with myself all day, every day, aren’t you?

You’ve said that you write. 


So um what’s the point of all this writing? Do you intend to entertain, instruct, annoy…?

I don’t know. I write because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m not sure I’m doing it for any grander reason.  I suppose deep down I want to be remembered after I die.

Transcend mortality, eh? Obese chance of that.

Well I guess.

Isn’t it a big change, this movement to freedom after however many years of wage-slavehood? 

It was one I was glad to make.

I’m sure. Changed your life’s daily course quite a lot, I imagine.

O yeah. It has. I am generally more relaxed. I know I shall no longer have to deal with oafs, goober-heads, gossips and racists. I shall have to learn how to handle investments, retirement income and other money, and I will learn how to lever down needs and desires until life becomes much simpler….

A tradeoff of sorts, then.

[Pause tape while each person checks their phone.]

Why are you looking at me like that?

Like what?

Like that. With your – like that!

I have no idea what you are . . .

Forget it. I have trouble reading faces. I try to write every day, on like three or four things that I’ll never finish, and I feed the dogs, work the garden a bit if it’s not too hot, keep the fence cleaned off, windows cleaned. I stay busy. I’m training a hummingbird on the porch. 

Oh yeah?

It scares the shit out of visitors. They think it’s a fairy, Tinkerbelle or something. And in the evening I like to sometimes take a drive.

Where to?

Well I was about to tell you. 

Well okay then, duh –

I’m not gonna tell you now. You’re listening with an unclean motive, I can tell.


“You got a lotta nerve,/ to say you are my friend –”

I know that one: “When I was down,/ you just stood there grinning.”

© 2020, 2017 Thomas N. Dennis


May I ask you a question?

You may? Do I know you?

You may! We are friends online [names are exchanged] but I have never met you. Did you…?

Go ahead.

Were you on a train to New Orleans late last January?

What, are you doing contact tracing?

[with vatic verve] You were going to see Twisted Nipple on the 2nd night, and I was hoping to make the show that night, but the train was late. What? The smile tells me you are not quite serious.

I am not. But yes, I went there. Does it show, these months later? I love those guys.

I saw you on a bench and said hello to you — it was on the Moon Walk, because I saw you on the train and remembered saying hello on the train.

And now you’re saying hello again.

Yeah, yeah, I mean —

I remember you. You said there was a song that you liked that was played the first night, so I shouldn’t expect to hear it that night. And off you wandered, upstream. I had hoped you might sit down and speak a minute or two. I was told you are a very good writer.


That’s what Mother says.

Do I know your mother? Wait …

Do you know my mother? I hope so, otherwise I’m going to be very confused.

Did you really wish I had stayed and talked?



You look friendly, harmless enough. I could probably take you in a fight to the death.

You have many fights to the death?

Not as many as I used to.

Ah. Well, I’ve enjoyed the witty repartée, uh —

Can’t even remember my name, man, come on.

I’m kidding. I remember your name. Nice to meet you!

© 2020 Thomas N. Dennis

Springtime in Pandemia


It was springtime in Pandemia
We nuzzled masks, you and I —
When you helped me with my PPE
I just thought that I would cry . . .

Flowers for us in Pandemia
You know it’s just me and you
Springtime in Pandemia
Where the greens make us blue

We walk down the street
Greeting no one at all that we meet
Air hugs from afar &
Remember to clean your
virtual tip jar….

© 2020 Thomas N Dennis

Imbolc 2020, Brigid’s Day, New Orleans

Screenshot 2020-02-12 03.42.46
St Brigid

Inside the cathedral
at the redolent crux
of the busiest
tourist district
of New Orleans

fetally curled right
in the center
of the narthex
lies a man
in mixed clothing

he is quite still
he has the stillness of
those unlit candles
stacked close by
some lit, some not
a Saints cap with
fuzzy fleur-de-lis
has clung in the fall
to his greyish head

keep moving, tourists that way
medics have been called
nobody worry, keep moving

is he dead

who saw him fall

the painted ceiling
with scenes of saints
and martyrs and mothers
draws all camera eyes upward

straight-up noon but chilly inside
this gigantic religious cave where
visitors can willfully mill

photograph the scenes
sit meditatively

Medics have been called

in one of the burnished pews

siren in the distance

O look, honey,
there’s St. Blaise,
patron saint of throat ailments.
We just missed his day…darn…

a man wearing a backwards baseball cap
walks up to the still man
shines a beam of light
straight down at his eyes
walks away

leaving, I see a woman
with two small children
and I want to say Wait

don’t go in there

there’s a there’s a there’s a
guy on the floor
dude on the floor
in there,
might scare the children
but then I realize it won’t
scare the children at all

outside on the steps
of the cathedral
two street comedians
do dance steps before
an enthralled crowd

© 2020 Thomas N. Dennis

St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans LA

Solitude Lessons (1-10)


1 Don’t be jangled by ever-present fake-happy examples of pair bonds

2 Let silence unfrighten you

3 Marshall waves of love against inner primate howls

4 Fear not the absence of human touch

5 Admire the solitary bird on the wire where nearby sit ten others together

6 Go your own way and don’t look back unless you feel you are being followed

7 Not all mammals are social creatures

8 Imagine being born alone

9 Imagine dying alone

10 Listen to your breath
© 2020 TND

Dialogues on Beauty Dying

This makes me want to sigh. I need to be working on other things and I am caught talking about this.


About my lack of having any relationship at all with the person I live with.

Oh. Well you say, you know, that you don’t mind being alone.

Yeah I say a lot of things, some of them untrue. I don’t mind being alone, just not too much of the time.

Are you drinking again?

No. Lord no. What makes you think that?

I don’t know. An—I dunno. Sorry to ask.

I never dream.


Nope. Occasionally I wake up with a really huge hard-on, and once I thought I was climbing a tree and it was—

Ah. The my-dick-is-as-big-as-a-tree dream — every dude I guess has had that one.

[generalized laughter]

Do you think we should call down for room service?

What do we need?

Not a damn thing. What was I saying again, oh yeah, shamanism, climbing the tree being as Mircea Eliade woulda tole ya one of the key segments of a shaman’s biography…

No, wait, you mentioned a schism between you and your spouse.

Yeah, yeah I did. How did it happen, I dunno. Tragedies have a way of making people draw inward, and even though we both depend on each other sometimes to make it through, we have both tilted inward of late… [slumping]

I am not sure what you—

Well, look. One of us goes off in one direction (even though we are in the same fairly large house) and does one thing. The other goes off in another direction or else has been left wherever they are by the other’s movement—can you visualize this?

I sorta can.

So, it’s been decades of loveless years, no making love. We scarcely touch except in unsentimental, asexual ways, like brushing hands while exchanging cutlery. So rare.

Not that rare: so how do you live? How does–?

Wait. There is no great enmity between us, you know that right — we would neither of us hurt the other on purpose.

That I know.

Or will admit to? Even if you just desired someone you couldn’t have, slapped inwardly at the hand—

—the inward hand.

–that almost reaches out to touch another person?

Well that does happen. Yeah. Desire is left unenacted. You walk away disembarrassed, knowing you’re too old, too ugly, too this or that—an inappropriate mate.

Ever examine what you desire?

Now wait — .

I know, you didn’t think it would go this way did you? Hah.

So wait. What do I do, then, about the deep lack of touch in my life? Human touch?

[pause] Perhaps you should go out and start touching people more. Or touching more people.

Get you put in jail, that stuff.

I know women who adore men twice their age. I know men who adore women twice their age.

Agh, half my age makes for a fairly mature person.

Does the lack of touch bother you?

What do you mean bother me?

I mean, does it get to you? Does it rankle? Do you more often than not wish it could be different, this sexual status quo?

Well. I dunno. My mate is pretty dead-eyed these days. She just doesn’t get excited about anything outside of, say, reality television and spends much of her day (I am here in the back room working) watching the televised ministrations of various doctors.

Oh yeah?

Yeah. When I walk up to her—you know sometimes I think I have a good idea for where my Muladhara prequel to the memoir is going, and I just want to bounce it off someone—she’ll make a point of putting the Tube on mute and may even exhale slightly in exasperation as she waits for me to speak what now seems like an inanity.

Really? No matter what it is?

Really. At that point, standing there, I twig to the deal: I could say almost anything, it doesn’t matter, she’s just waiting for me to stop being an interruption in her televised programming day.

What does she look like these days? I remember her as a curly-haired person willing to do just about anything, often smiling but with her philosophical side…

That’s her. The hair’s a bit less curly, fried by conditioners, much longer and grayer. She has lost so much weight that I am about to get worried about her.

Did she need to lose weight?



I know what you’re about to ask me.

Hah! What? This is hilarious.

You’re about to say, “So, do you still desire her?”

No, you’re wrong.


I was going to ask if she still had her original crush on you.

Ah, I guess so, if you mean she doesn’t confer with lawyers about dis-marrying me. If by crush you mean, she puts up with me and refrains (at times) from being as nasty as she feels (on alpha-bitch occasion) like being.

Strong words, man.

Resignation…who was it that wrote of resignation…

Don’t be resigned. You don’t look like a man who’s given up!

I have not given up. Desire has not forgotten about me. Anything can happen, though being beyond a certain age in life narrows the time for anything happening. There’s plenty of time — once a useful phrase, begins to look less useful. However. Let me go as far as to say this: my age has left me far less bewitched by the beauty of youth than, apparently, is normal.

Nothing about you smacks of normality, dude.

Well thankee kindly, I take that as high praise. I am not saying there have not been times in my life when I really felt whacked by love – oh man I could tell tales.

Not now though.

Not now, no. It just doesn’t work on me anymore, like movies and advertising, as though their efficacy as drugs has worn off and I too easily see through the weird mediated patina they spread about . . . it’s like the old stories about love, romance, all that, they don’t work on me anymore, either. I shall live alone in the end, certainly.

You think? A forbidding prospect ahead, eh?

I think so. Sometimes as I drive around aimlessly, as I often do, I see a rundown sort of home, some wooden thing half-fallen down, and I think: My House! For it is there I will end up, almost certainly, babbling on paper if not aloud, unnoticed, unknown, unloved and untouched nor touching another. Yeah, forbidding is probably the right word.

Does it have to be that way? What makes you think it…?

Listen. For some folks, it’s not too late to begin again. Love Again (title of a fine book by Doris Lessing). For me, it’s too late. I’ll live with the losses, it’s okay.

You don’t sound so much like it’s okay.




© 2020 TND




[fiction work in progress]

[twosome, late-model slate SUV with windows down near a rural park]

“Okay, listen, this is what I want you, us, to do….”

“You are so bossy for a dude, did anybody ever tell you that?”

“You’re a pretty bossy chick.”

“I hate to be called a chick.”

“Listen. You want to get that motherfucker, don’t you? The asshole?”

“I do.”

“Okay, so this is what we do. You get him in a compromised pose — haha, get it, a pose — ”

“Unfunny, dude, you are so unfunny sometimes.”

” — and we easily get pictures using our very own self-filming deal which we have set up in your bedroom, or did, and still do, right?”


“Are you sure? I took a long time setting that up for us.”

“I’m sure. So I have to get close to the asshole again and pretend to — uck — I dunno — ”
“You can do it!”

“I can’t do it. He’s so-o-oo repulsive.” [shivering]

“Maymay, you can too! Did you not say he just bragged about what his net worth would be when it all goes through? Disgusting one-percenting fatherfuckers. [absentmindedly] Workingman ain’t gotta goddam chance.”

“So we tell him, ‘We’ll tell your wife’?”

” ‘We will show the pictures or videos to your wife proving your connection, unless you give us X amount of dollars once a week, every week‘ — or something like that.”

“From what I can tell, she doesn’t care two rat anuses for him. Nobody does. He’s lost all the friends he ever had. His wife doesn’t even live with him and his kids don’t visit. He wouldn’t care. So it wouldn’t work.”

“Are you sure? No other relatives?”

“Twin brother in Florida, ill with COPD. Poor I’m sure.”

[long spell of no talk — sounds only of smoking with some male and female coughing jags, bottles a-clink. Sighs]

“Are you sure it won’t work?”

“He has no reputation to tarnish, is what he says.”

“Oh and when did you talk to Mister Repulsive last?”

“I told him his aftershave smelled like something named Repulsion by Calvin Klein.”



[from a Holiday Inn near Marion, Illinois — raging snowstorm pecking at the windows]

“Okay now what smart guy?”

“Go over there and talk to him.”

“What are you my fucking pimp?”

“I’m not asking you to fuck him, I just want you to tell him how it is now that he’s so goddam rich he can’t help but shit silver and gold. He’s gotta come off some of that money.”

“A-a-a-and what exactly is the threat you wish me to deliver?”

“That we-we-we — will — ”

“You have no idea.”

“We will ruin his life.”

“He has no life to ruin, dude, don’t you see, didn’t I tell you? Do you not listen? He spent a shitload coming up here. He said his wife gets it all because of something in the whatever clause. He barely has enough for the train ride back. This is all so pointless. Both of you are such asswipes.”

“The whatever clause. A technical legal term, I’m sure.”

“No point in us arguing, is there? How will that help?”

“How do you know he’s not lying?”

“I don’t.”

“In any event, it’s a fucking blizzard and he’s stuck over there and we’re stuck here but at least we have enough edibles to get us through the night, right? Does he . . .?”

“Oh yeah.”


[at the cheapest, shoe-sticks-to-the-foot room in the dreary Drury Inn of nearby Marion, Illinois]

Holy Titty-fucking Jesus, am I high. I write that not as a rhetorical question, and of course I’m reading into my phone recorder not writing, to tell the truth. And to tell the truth, that is what I am doing right now. I am telling the truth.

Here’s how it started. Let me get my 3 by 5 cards. [sounds of stumbling]

Wa-a-a-a-ay too many of those milk ‘n’ cereal bars. But it’s still a nice buzz. Cerebral.

I’m not horny.

Cerebral. I don’t think about lost things. Like my keys. Like my love. Where’s my guitar? O fuck I didn’t bring it. I think about terrible true things — that’s the name of one of the songs, it was a killer song in E minor which tells, in roundabout fashion, the story of a man with, essentially, three loves in his life — one for a woman named Lavinia, one for cannabis and one for the Oxford comma — no, really. Except the Oxford comma isn’t in that sentence. So I must be a writer and I must love writing. Yet I’ve published exactly jack shit. I should title all the accumulated miscellany in one big tome and call it “Jack Shit.”

[hours of recorded snoring, a few taps at the motel door that go unheeded]

Allright allright okay okay I’m awake now; the storm is over here in, in, in wherethefuckever I am, looks like northern Iowa or the blue-and-white pocket of a baaaad Peruvian marching powder addict.

I do remember this: a hiss is just a hiss: she said she was coming over with an ultimatum in a while. I hope she doesn’t bring simpatico malicioso with her, ’cause I’m thinking I can talk her into leaving him, see, yeah and coming with me back to New Orleans (the Carbondale train, just a few miles west of here) to live because that’s where I want to live.

Online I see where it’s 42F in that town and minus 14 here. I suddenly feel very cold like a baby that a mother’s thrust aside (for whatever reason, mothers have their reasons, it might not be that she’s a self-centered mother tired of holding the baby, you, me, the baby’s weight growing so intense that she just has to leave it there on the bed for awhile, waa, waa, so what).


I did have the same bowl of THC cereal for breakfast. What of it? Who’s objecting? Who was that goddess of the grain again? Demeter? Lotsa cornfields in — unh — Spillertown! Look over there! Medical dispensary! Good place to get some cereal, man! I’m a Headshead. I play them loud.

I’m running out of money and my next stipend check doesn’t arrive for oh shit —

I just need a few bucks. I might go out and panhandle my books on the sidewalk but it’s too cold to do it in this burg.

I’m lost. I am so lost. Look at that mirror person, trying to look like me.

[abrupt chain-rattling patterned knock at the door: three sharp WHACKWHACKWHACKs — a pause — one long hard WHONK, then the three WHACKWHACKWHACKs]

I’ll just let them kill me. There is no money. They can whine to Barbara all they want, she’ll laugh in their face like in that movie with Danny DeVito. I’m not kidnapped, after all, I met them here of my own volition. Ex-banker Slain in Weird Triadic Twist. Page 2.

[. . .]



Audio version of “Tangle Karma Ditty”

Careful who you tangle

your karma with my friend

it might seem unlikely or a

thing that should not have been

Careful who you tangle

up your karma with my friend

we rub off on one another and

that ain’t just hands & wind

Tangle karma, tangled up

Watch out who you touch

Tangle karma, action figure

Watch out who you touch

(it can make you sick

it can be your crutch

it can break you down

it can break you up)

tangle karma ties you, right?

bonds you into somebody else’s night

you follow & feel a tight

unlocked stasis

going against the grain

of every thing you’ve loved

wake up wrong & wake up late

wake up before you can’t escape

tangle karma bought the bones

fixed the dice, polished the stones

your fate is locked up in a greasy fist:

tangle your karmas at your own risk


© 2020 Thomas N. Dennis

For a Poet

She sings
the magic
I could never grasp
(no matter if I cleaned all
nits from my poems daily)
Her words
rip duality
into an
unquivering one
She’s so much
to so many
— how does she
divide herself up
into discrete lovable
and loving bits for them?
Miracle woman
arcing, sparking
the deep . . .
We stare
awed at

© 2019 Thomas N. Dennis