“This poetry shit is profane. Get it hence from me.”
“But there is, you must admit, a great deal of it.”
He heard less than someone in his position might be expected to hear.
The plastic flower gyrating to ambient noise, for example, apparently heard a great deal more than he did.
Orpheus being shitty at his job: the original poetry.
My social security number displayed in front of a black background with the 5 blinking back and forth to 4.
“What do I have to do,” Chris said in the bookstore, as I bemoaned needing to buy a new copy of a Proust book rather than a used one, “to get you. Into this. Budding grove!”
“The time we have at our disposal every day is elastic, the passions we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it, and habit fills up what remains.” (Proust, Budding Grove)
Parable of the Public Garden
In the public garden: people walking and fixing their hair, creeping on tulips, women talking quietly at close range, a German man wet-nursing his phone, taking no pictures, saying “Da” into it.
In the public garden: something there is that doesn’t love a wall of undead daffodils. Nevertheless, despite my baggage, I took their waters to them.
In the public garden: some new strangers sit down next to one original stranger. Curiously, all of them order original meals.
Pleasure is a distance between two lines.
A joy that I was not experiencing, or at least one that did not dwell in my body, nonetheless ordered me to wave my limbs.
Specifically, this joy ordered me to put my hands in the air; then to wave them like I just didn’t care.
On the plane to California.
Daylight blotting out daylight.
The way lights in a building in Berkeley blink on, then on.
“I hate birds,” Margaret says quietly, gazing into the trees.
“He doesn’t love language. He loves victory.”
Parable of Ruins
“I hate museums,” he sighed. In front of them, a bluff plunged into the ocean.
“You don’t hate museums,” she instructed.
“Yes I do!”
“I’m sorry, but you don’t. What do you like if you hate museums?”
A thin, roseate solar emanation ricocheted off the surface of the ocean and dappled his scowling face. He spoke into his lap.
“I like ruins.”
Some surf felt like a noun, some felt like an adverb, and then there was the surf that felt fully composed, minus punctuation, of sentences.
Parable of Grammar
“I prefer grammar.”
“To my poem?”
“Yes, but also to the subject of your poem.”
“You prefer grammar as a concept?”
“No. As an experience.”
After flying back to New York, Jess and I leave today on a short reading tour that will take us to Baltimore, Durham, through the Great Smoky Mountains, across Tennessee, into the Arkansas Ozarks.
Baltimore: friends with high ceilings.
Durham: they like the idea of poetry, but they don’t want to hear it.
The Great Smoky Mountains: the beginning of flame azalea season.
Tennessee: no one gets the hotel they want, but everyone gets the hotel they deserve.
The Ozarks: rolling mountains bombed by song-like laughter.
Parable of Crystal Bridges
I recall a phrase Chris once used, “I don’t know whether to shit or go blind,” standing near the oculus of an art museum financed by family wealth wrung from business practices that have crippled people on a planetary scale, some of them my friends, for at least three successive generations—and gazing into the gauzy yellow shadow of a Joan Mitchell painting whose cooler tones seem to be trellising into my skeleton like a system of flowering vines, the elderly man standing next to me does in fact noisily shit his pants.
The sound is so incongruous with the setting that for a moment I think I’ve imagined it—but when the smell hits me, I turn from the painting and feel the blood drain from my face. In that same motion I lose vision in my left eye so forcefully that I have to sit down.
As the museum patrons stream around me, a tide of color laps back up—but far too slowly.
If you need to “digest” art, it follows that you can choke on scenery.
If chance requires an “operation,” it isn’t chance.
Parable of a Budding Grove
After dropping Jess off at the airport in St. Louis, my car breaks down near Xenia, Ohio, fifty miles or so outside Columbus. It makes a terrible rattle, then stops. The roadside mechanic tells me my engine smells like metal on metal.
The car is towed to Columbus, where I am stranded for three days. On the last, I sit in the Subaru dealership on Automall Parkway finishing Within a Budding Grove. For several hours I read a few pages, pace to the window, look for a sign of my car, and read a few more pages. No one speaks to me. Eventually a mechanic approaches and asks where I'm from. When I tell him I’m from New York, he replies that there are nice people everywhere, and that he understands, by way of example, that it is nicer in New York now than it was in the eighties “with all the crime.” A second mechanic approaches and the first walks away.
This second mechanic tells me that my car will be ready in a few hours, and that he is cautiously optimistic about how things are going. I thank him. Several hours pass.
The final sentence of the second book in Proust’s Search reads, “And when Francoise removed the pins from the top of the window-frame, took down the cloths, and drew back the curtains, the summer day which she disclosed seemed dead, as immemorial, as a sumptuous millenary mummy from which our old servant had done no more than cautiously unwind the linen wrappings before displaying it, embalmed in its vesture of gold.”
I read these words, feel a soft electricity enter me through the top of my spine and exit through my limbs, and look up from the page to find the second mechanic looming over me.
He tells me that my Forester’s dead engine has been replaced, and that they’ve included a new timing belt free of charge.