Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pandora's Box

Before we get to my slaughter at the hands of a lunatic, the bloodbath alluded to in the closing paragraphs of yesterday’s post, I have a statement to make to my murderer, which may also be of some interest to the sympathetic reader.

I freely acknowledge a self-interested motive in turning philosophical here. One turns thoughtful toward the End of life. Sometimes at the Beginning. Occasionally, too, in media res, when we look toward the End. Sometimes we go back to the Beginning. 

Our eyes roll dizzily around in our heads in ever more anal concentric circles looking for something less scary to study, something in between Beginnings and Endings, something that doesn’t have quite so much darkness on either sid
e: something warm and wonderful, womb-like in its wetness, smelling faintly of security: something very unlike the misty, moldy Present.

The Present is what makes me think that the day of my destruction might be the ideal juncture to interject a detail— relate an anecdote—tell a story—that will illuminate—I hope not as an epitaph—one or two aspects of the chaotic style which orders my life.

From one angle, I know, my remarks read like a fruit salad. From another, they appear as clear as a chocolate parfait. I am coming to terms with my limitations, I am over 40, but the saccharine truth of the situation is hard to bear.  As Eliot says, we cannot endure too much Reality. The packages all say it gives you cancer. Fie on't, I say. Fie. Man may yet find a cure for cancer.  He has done more remarkable things.

My only fear is that, before we find a satisfactory treatment for the terrors of Reality, the madness behind my methodology in confronting them will bore the reader into oblivion and my voice will be silenced forever. This is the risk all writers take when they open their mouths.


Since, I am told, as a poet, a voice is all I possess, I will rely upon my mouth. My tongue. My teeth.  I plan to pluck arrows out of thin air with my teeth and hurl them directly at the heart of Death with a bow I have 
improvised from my two lips. I have seen Cupid do this before, in paintings by Poussin, so I am sure the action of Love is not without parallel in military history.  

I have always preferred entry through the heart rather than the head, though not for Romantic reasons, as you might too hastily conclude, but for practical, strategic ones.  Through the conduit of the ear, my words might get lost in the skull, or be deflected to a different destination by some voice in the chorus of ambient sounds you hear in a steam bath: the hissing, the farting, the coughing, the panting, the lute.

It is a risky proposition, I grant you. The farts may overwhelm me. They may asphyxiate the lutenist, too. The farts may overwhelm us all.  Death is a desperate man, when he is aroused; filled with desire, he will stop at nothing to get his way.  For him, the fart is not foul: it is an aphrodisiac.


Ridiculous, you say, Sir, what you are proposing is total insanity.

Ho, ho, I say, applying a clothes pin to my nose, I believe I have more reason than you, Sir, to laugh.


If you have the courage to face Reality, then, read on.


Last year, while my cousin, Lisa, was attending a summer conference on Eschatology, the study of Apocalypses, on the beautiful island of Bimini, I was lucky enough to spend a week at her chalet in Springfield, watering plants. It was in the sober silence of her home (Lisa is a teetotaler), where I first took the opportunity of a captive audience to read a plant some of my work.

At the time, I was deeply involved in correcting the pre-publication proofs of a ten thousand line poem I had spent twenty years writing--a modern Iliad--narrating, in minute, poignant detail, the slow dissolution of throat lozenges in modern American life—an effort, I might add, which an anonymous reviewer in The New York Times identified as, “entirely without precedent in the annals of Epic poetry: it is a work designed—not for reading or for recitation—but for use as a weapon of mass destruction. The author should be shot.”

My cousin’s ficus tree, obviously possessing a finer and more delicately attuned poetic sensibility than the green little idiot from The Times, greeted my rough hexameters with a more forgiving ear: it clapped. Take that, New York Times.

Indeed, speaking of the times [Lower case, please, printer], my cousin phoned just this morning to say that her ficus flourishes beautifully. It is larger and more luxurious than ever. She thanked me several times, again, for taking care of it, before mentioning, again, that it really hasn’t said very much to her, since she returned from that apocalyptic conference on Bimini. It sits in a cracked orange pot all day, in the parlor, in the sunshine, in a state of photosynthetic bliss, producing oxygen for her, yes, and a meaningless cascade verses about a bird—this thrush—busy building a nest in Lisa’s mulberry bushes, just outside the window.

Unlike Lisa's ficus tree, I try to ration my imaginative resources, reserving a portion for use in the Future, should we be so fortunate as to enjoy one together. When necessary—like now—I will borrow against my dwindling intellectual capital. When I exhaust my credit at the Bank, I will cheerfully steal. Let other poets worry and waste their lives with their hands in their pockets, searching for meaning—feeling for nickels among the particles of lint. I just want to be happy, and, if possible, rich. And where happiness is concerned, you never pass up an opportunity for theft.

For instance. Two weeks ago I visited an estate sale in the billionaire suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut. Skipping breakfast, I walked from the train station, arriving at the great iron gates guarding the mansion early, for a Sunday, around 8:00 am.   There, I spent a lazy morning stationed at an antique Queen Anne walnut secretary [suggested bid: $15,000.00]. I stood there for four hours, with my book bag between my legs, pawing though old shoe boxes full of cracked, broken, and purple-mold-spotted sepia-toned family portraits [price: 25¢/dozen].

Until the previous week, these people had belonged to a bachelor, a Mr. Smith, originally from Bath, England.  He had been a financier, whose speciality was mortgage-backed securities.  I had, on a few occasions, been his caddy.  We were familiar, as business associates are, but not overly so.  He once bought me dinner in the clubhouse. I wouldn't call us friends.  He left me nothing in his will.  He left no will at all. According to the blue postcard which I received in the mail from the outfit handling the Auction of his effects, he and his relatives now belonged to the State. Which I took to mean, by democratic extension, as an enfranchised voter, they belonged me. I was ecstatic.

In truth, the legal status with respect to claims on properties confiscated by the State of Connecticut and a resident of New York, such as myself, are a little vague. But the death of Mr. Smith filled me with joy and generosity. I would let Connecticut keep the expensive walnut secretary, the surrounding woods and lands, etc., all the big ticket items, in return for a small consideration.

It was with this eleemosynary mission in mind, that I returned to his house. I had decided it was time to acquire some breeding. I would purchase some solid, sensible-looking citizens who might be willing to fill in for the next 50 or 60 years (at the going rate, 25¢/dozen) as ornaments on the twisted branches of my family tree. When I proposed this scheme of redemption to the gray people in the photographs, all I received were frowns. They frowned even further when I promised them, if I died—WHEN I DIED—they would be set free.

Under other circumstances, these dour expressions of ancestral disapproval might have disappointed me. If I were Japanese, it might have led to suicide on the spot. However, as things turned out, it was Noon: the sun stood at the Zenith, in a clear, cerulean sky. Luck was with me. The wind was at my back.  I stole something else.

At the bottom of the last box of pictures, under the tissue paper so generously provided by the packaging department at—what is this place—Lobb's—I discovered a folded piece of parchment, which I at first mistook to be a souvenir of France—an ancient French Letter. It was not. It was an English letter. The dead man was British, after all. He looked like a walrus.

But this was a letter written by no walrus. It was a work of genius. It was three hundred years old, and it read as if it had been written yesterday. As if it had been intended for you. Or me.

[I have transcribed the epistle from the original, preserving, as best I can, the original spelling and idiosyncratic orthography intact:]


Clearly the terrible Titan, Chronos, hath interposed his savage SCYTHE between us! Never have two persons pined for Spiritual Emolument with more ARDOR (or more INIQUITY) and been so disappointed in their Desire for FULFILLMENT than the sorry pair of Faces the Fates set before us in our LOOKING Glasses today.

It is with great regret that I inform you that I did not die at the hands of the French on the BATTLEFIELD, in the Service of our SOVEREIGN, the good and gracious Queen Anne, on April 9th, 1709, inst. T’was the POX (the small one) which carried me off, Madam. I caught it pumping INFORMATION from a Ship's Carpenter in Cadiz.

Crueler even than Chronos, however, is the fact that Her Majesty’s Postmaster, a certain Mr. Jago, should be so whimsical in the EXECUTION of his DUTIES as not to be sensible of the boundaries of SPACE or TIME. Thus, in the VORTEX of EVENTS, as in a soiled Handkerchief, have our Destinies been CONFOUNDED. Thus, do you receive this epistle only now, on the Tercentenary of its Composition.

Do not a let a little thing like TIME come between us, Madam. I have seen MORTALS dissolve into Dirt who curtsied to the RULE of CLOCKS. And I have seen others cultivate a Transcendental PASSION—an AFFINITY of Souls—so far removed from the SHARPE curvature of Chronos’s SCYTHE that they passed, immortal, into the Heavens, unbound by quotidian rules of mental CHASTITY or casual CAUSALITY. Why should we be any different than these, my Dear, when our Hearts share the SAME buoyant Capacity to soar above the Zodiac, beyond the STARS themselves? This is no Time for TRIFLES.

[I am starting to stink, I am told by my companions, and turn pestilential, so I had best hurry up and FINISH writing, before I am DRAINED and EMBALMED.]

Please, rest assured, my dear, that, tonight, you may consult your congested Handkerchief without fear of REPRISAL. We shall eventually be meeting in a better place. As I gave my Ghost to Heaven, I sealed this MISSIVE with a Kiss.

The last Name to light on my lips was yours.



Post Script. Don’t forget to buy milk on your way home from the office. I think that by now Daisy must also be dead, too. I neglected to provide arrangements for her continuous care before I sailed for Spain. —Adieu.


I am not sure about the reader, but, upon reading it over again, while typing, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that this letter—indeed this entire blog post—may possibly be a forgery. And a pretty poor one at that. I have read other billet-doux, other blogs, I spend entire days reading blogs, and this is like nothing I have ever seen before.

What's more, when I turn off my computer, the author hovers there, grinning at me like a ghoul from the glossy black depths of my screen. And, what is worse, sometimes he also follows me into the toilet, for my morning ablutions, and before I can shut the door and sit down, he takes up residence in the mirror.

Have you no decency, Sir?


:::: said...

LOL. The lad called him a WALRUS! i luv it!

Shropshirelad said...

I'm glad you liked the walrus! I re-wrote several sections tonight, to make it smoother. I re-read it on the train coming home and it sounded a bit clunky.

Tomorrow's post is already planned, but it will probably be shorter.