Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A fine and private place...


I’m sorry it has been so long since I've written. I am afraid I haven't had anything to say. I have been in a funk, as it were. Winter has been getting me down. I hope you haven't been sitting in cyberspace all month, sighing, and waiting for me to write.

The fact is, I have been drawing a blank since the day after New Year’s Day, and I don't like to write when I don't have anything to say—just to fill up some space—it seems like such a terrible waste of effort. I know that this is probably just a seasonal thing, related to the nakedness
of the trees, the lack of sunshine, frozen rivers, ice, and snow but it doesn't seem like an ordinary blank either.

It reminds me one of those big blanks they like to hang in museums: a vastly underpopulated plain
upon which any passing vandal with a sword may inscribe anything he wants. What I wouldn't give for a couple of good leafy Gainsboroughs right now! Just to confront this ghastly gloom! Just look at the expressions of confidence on those faces—even the dog's. Who cares where they were going, off to their bedroom or off of a cliff. In the 18th Century, some people at least appeared to have a purpose!


I had had the idea about writing a few things about the Gainsboroughs, about lovers in general, using as a point of departure, Andrew Marvell’s poem,
To His Coy Mistress, my favorite poem of all time. I fooled around with the concept for a few days, before I finally abandoned it with a shrug. Nothing amuses me now: not him, not her, nothing. I could get no further with my original idea than borrowing two lines from Marvell and calling this pathetic posting, “A fine and private place...”

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.


Normally, I have very little time to spare for regrets, but somehow I wish I hadn't erased those early ruminations on Mr. and Mrs. Gainsborough, Andrew Marvell, or his mysterious muse, his Mistress. If only I had followed them, their example, they might have lead me somewhere besides this terrible spiritual cul-de-sac. They seemed such a lovely couple. At least he did. I really didn't get to know her...

My biggest trouble is that I tend to obliterate everything that I create which I do not personally consider perfect. And, as I am sure you will agree, my literary criticism is
decidedly second rate.

Usually, I try not involve other people my artistic program. I am a quiet person, not at all political. When I lose my way in a work, I press a button on the right hand side of my computer and delete the document I have been working on. I don't mind starting over. I must have started my life over a zillion times. This is one of the benefits of being an American, I guess. You can always tear up the past and start over. It is a very simple action—a bit like turning out the lights: clean, neat, and—unless you get a shock from the carpet—relatively painless.

And yet, I still get emotionally attached to certain metaphors from time to time, and always against my better judgment. I can't help myself.  I am sure you have enjoyed similarly pointless relationships. They are fine as long as the flowers are fresh and the sex remains satisfactory. But eventually...

I always wind up on the phone with mother, soliciting her advice. Our conversation is always the same:

She says, "Don't be an idiot. What is this bitch to you? Your mind is full of metaphors, you fool. You can always manufacture more."

"But mother," I plead, "this one is so enormously original, so pink and pretty, it seems a sin to destroy her..."

"You are just as bad as your father—all guilt and gonads—that man was. My sister was the lucky one. Your Aunt. Just look at her now: Queen of Scotland. I should have married MacBeth."

Maybe she should have. But then, we wouldn't be here, would we? I don't know. All I know is that after a beer and bit of judicious editing, I usually feel better in the morning.


I hope you can understand better why I think it is fortunate that I am a poet, and not a politician, novelist, professor, or other grossly over-paid, over-indulged kind of gasbag. I know from hard experience that I cannot afford to be promiscuous with my powers. If I want my voice to be heard, I must be economical with my images. I must make the most of the fact that I am a Nobody, and that the influence which I retain in Society is purely imaginary. I am a poet.
All I have is a voice.


Over the years, I have learned to control my voice, mostly through
trial and error. I have also learned that only in very rare instances are words indispensable to anything, or anyone. Words can be replaced. Words are not women, after all, or children: words are more like men. At least the words that I have dealt with are like men. Many have hidden lives, hidden meanings, hidden messages. None are ever straightforward. Some, particularly verbs, even have minds of their own.

But linguistics is such a miserable science. I bet that we, you and I, could burn Bibles and dictionaries day and night for a 1000 years, and still not discover a workable definition of the truly terrible depths to which some words would have us stoop. My mother is a harsh woman, but I am also afraid that she is sometimes right. This is why I do not feel guilty when I delete a million words at a time.

This has been a very difficult lesson for me to learn, as an artist. My earliest efforts at making music involved only tears. I grew up in the 20th Century, you understand. And my notes from those frightening years—living on the kindness of strangers— prostitution and potato peels— are very sparse, very chaotic, indeed.


And here, I think, for the first time in this tedious post, we may be able to discern the tinkling skeleton of a theme...

Coffee in Chelsea

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
-Robert Frost

While taking a transfusion of caffeine
Extracted from a scorched Arabic bean,
I may select a slice of yellow cake
By pointing to biscotti by mistake.
A spongy cube (about four inches thick)
Is dropped demurely on my plate and, sick—

The side with chocolate frosting flops face down—
A diabolical, soft-plopping sound—
Which I do not propose to imitate
If this is to be our final date.
How do you feel about the soft, peach light
Gilding parking meters here tonight?

I know the present focus of my life
Should be some napkins—nay—a fork and knife—
And not these little crumbs of loveliness.
My manners are Medieval. I’ll address
That bit of barbarism momentarily.
Forgive me if I use my tongue. You see,

Beyond the purple lip of this French door,
The world is wandering toward another war.
Each day we find it harder to be nice.
My heart has not quite started pumping ice,
But something has been thickening in there.
Okay, it’s curdling. I don’t really care.

My point is this: one small, atomic spark
Incinerates the elms in Central Park:
How will you survive the Holocaust
That follows? Will anyone lament your loss
Except for maybe me and, I don’t know,
Some crazed curator putting on a show?

Well, what’s a civilized person to do,
When he is forced to bid his faith adieu?
I think that vital questions such as these
Deserve much more than your dismissive—Please!
There are times I look into your eyes
And I see nothing to immortalize.

That must be why I turn to Mercury,
Who’s modeling, this evening, a T-
Shirt thin as tissue paper—ghostly gray.
Just on the verge of cycling away,
He switches gears: he straddles his crossbar,
And lights a Marlboro, like a movie star.

The other Messengers don’t seem to mind.
Okay, one pedal whirls with a whine
When lover boy rolls up—but no one slits
A single throat when they eventually kiss.
Most men are angels in this universe.
The worst they do is smile here. The worst!

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