Thursday, December 7, 2006

A Disclaimer

The man to my left is Housman. And today is a Tuesday.

And since you have probably stumbled across this site, like me, while looking for something else, let me welcome you.

This certainly isn't paradise, but I do hope that my world isn't all that different from the planet you inhabit, except perhaps that things rhyme more here, and certain stale, artistic odors have been eliminated—thanks to the modern magic of musical ventilation!

The title of my blog, When I was One and Twenty, is taken from a poem by A.E. Housman:

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away...

While this is not my professional opinion as a poet, you must admit that these four lines have a certain simplicity and charm that makes them easier recall than your last, and most disastrous love-affair. And isn't that the nice thing about Art: it is so much less painful to contemplate than...

Anyway, before I lapse into anything so ludicrous as aesthetics, or philosophy, here's something I hope you can have some fun with for a few minutes. Which is not so bad an accomplishment for a poem, I think.

Or a life...

Preface to A Life
For M.A.

Fair seed time had my soul, and I grew up…
-William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

I have a dirty secret to disclose
Before we start here. Can I be candid?
This isn’t the profession which I chose.
I’m no poet. I don’t understand it.
As a child, I dreamed of writing prose:
My box of cereal, The Daily Planet,
Proust—they spoke to me. And poetry—
It seems an awful way to treat a tree.

Poets only have three subjects: love,
Despair, and death. And maybe the odd flower.
My numbers here are estimates, and rough:
I have just drawn zero for an hour
Which seemed like an Eternity—enough
Time to admit the limits of my power:
The Muses call me, but I cannot sing.
Sure, I can give you Shakespeare, gargling,

That’s simple: he is in this huge bathroom,
A Dixie cup in hand, an inch of Scope
Bubbling in his throat. Scope, I presume,
Not Listerine, which kills bacteria, Hope,
You, and me, and everything—ka-boom!
He was hygienic, William, not a dope.
I once was his—you should call me his guest—
Since I was underage, and such a pest.

My own facilities are less extensive:
I’ve got the standard toilet, white, a small
Bathtub, a sink. The scent of talcum gives
The place a pale, late Roman air. Each fall
That fragile autumn light, for which I live,
Will form a golden window on the wall
Right above the faucets—there. I’m sorry
Faucets don’t figure larger in my story,

But try to let your mind fill in these gaps.
Use whatever odds and ends you wish:
Your own experiences, marbles, maps,
A plum stone glistening in a glass dish,
Your favorite pair of underwear—those chaps
Left over from your rodeo in Bliss;
A big Bermuda onion—I don’t know.
Something should suggest itself. Let go.

Doodling is what I often seem to do
When I have these imaginary needs.
Most authors have a strategy or two.
John Milton summoned scrolls, papyrus reeds,
Imported at great expense from the past. It’s true,
Lord Byron also dabbled in some deeds
Of great antiquity—at least on paper—
But I deny involvement in that caper.

Don Juan, I’m not. I wasn’t meant to be
So pretty. I was born in Buffalo,
A rusty suburb of Reality,
A town called Tonawanda. Yes, I know,
The place did not exist till you met me.
We processed lots of lumber, long ago.
Nothing much goes on here anymore.
Luckily, our taverns close at four.

Here, Mendelssohn wed Edwin to Kathleen
Around the time of my conception in
A battered Skylark. Pop was a Marine,
Lance Corporal. Loyal, like most Marlboro Men,
I hear he shot a cigarette machine
On Okinawa, from frustration, when
A pack of twenty Camels tumbled out.
Yet, I never saw him smoke, or shout.

My mom insisted that he switch to snuff
When I was born. They slowly separated, and
I only knew my father long enough
To miss him really—hold his massive hand.
The mess he left made life extremely tough.
Some kids need discipline, you understand.
Mom did her best. She did not spare the rod—
Her special spatula—the Wrath of God.

That spatula and I, we still survive.
We pass strange things along in my family.
Ghost stories, mostly. Like who dropped the knife
(This bayonet—my father’s legacy)
Down the laundry chute. It’s my belief—
And here my mother and I disagree—
The thing was cruddy. And so down it slid.
It needed washing. That’s what mothers did.

It nearly killed her. I was sent to bed
One hour early. That rather shocked me, too.
I’m sure that in my future you saw red—
A bloody end, involving scarlet dew-
Drops, total melodrama. No. She said,
“Do you know how I got this big boo-boo?”
I nodded very meekly—in this style
And pointed sadly at my brother, Kyle.

Man hands on misery to man,” of course,
Nothing could be easier than THAT.
Happiness is harder, and a source
Of great perplexity to poets—at
Least those creeps who scatter metaphors,
Like tears, across each page, without éclat,
Éclairs, or anything more pleasant. I
Sincerely hope I am not such a guy.

My mother heaved the huge, eye-rolling sigh
She usually reserved for The Three Stooges.
Despite my innocence, and cuteness, I
Was tucked in tightly. Kyle burped brown juices
On his bib, not quite comprehending why.
You know, that wicked child still refuses
To admit his guilt—now that he can talk.
And walk. He’s even lost his taste for chalk.

Well, before we fix him, it is clear
I need to straighten out this dialogue.
Now what were we discussing? Proust? Shakespeare
He once permitted me to walk his dog
When I came over. It was pretty weird:
My mind filled up with music, then a fog,
This mist precipitated in my eyes—
I thought it was just raining. Big surprise:

I was back in my old neighborhood,
And Heaven only knows how I got there.
We moved a lot. But I was pretty good
At climbing out of trouble. My highchair
Proved to be a problem though. I could
Not master gravity. Perhaps the air
Malfunctioned. Or my wings. At least I tried.
I cracked my cranium, and cried, and cried.

God, curiosity must be the bane
Of man's existence. Take this incident:
A bawling baby with a bit of brain
Exposed. Was this a portent, or the dent
Death left inside my consciousness? For pain
I received kisses, not the monument
I wanted, carved in marble, “Tragedy.”
I’m glad nobody took me seriously.


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