Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 18 - The Kobayashi Maru - continued

I was unsatisfied with how I left the Kobayashi Maru yesterday, sort of stranded, rapidly losing air in your imagination, with you wondering where the Hell I was going with it. So I have added another stanza today, which will hopefully begin to point toward our destination.

I do have a very particular end in mind here. I hope you will stick with me for the next couple of days as the difficult part of our story unfolds.

Again, I have included a complete version of the poem with today's addition appended to the end of this post.


Today, as I was clipping my toenails,
I had a small epiphany. I thought,
Since I have started fabricating tales,
Once I am finished with my toes, I ought
To tell a story totally in verse,
Like Alexander Pushkin. What’s the worst
Thing which could happen to me, if I do?
I waste a month, while trying to pursue
A dream. Not a great sacrifice to make.
But digging deeper, under my big toe,
To get a stubborn piece of sock, I go
Puncturing an artery by mistake:
Administering a pedicure is not
The time to be developing your plot.

Although a gallon of fresh blood may prove
Absolutely vital later on—
Blood being second only to true love
As an essential element of fiction;
Beyond the story of Philoctetes,
Penned by Pulitzer winner Sophocles,
Western literature is rather weak
When it comes to treating injured feet.
There is Achilles, yes, and Oedipus
Translates from ancient Greek as ‘swollen foot’—
But is my toe the basis for a book,
Except for, maybe, my podiatrist,
Dr. Silverman? It’s tough to say.
The man hates poetry. He says it’s gay.

I mention my podiatrist because—
As you have no doubt noticed here so far—
Underneath the sterile square of gauze
Stuck here to stanch my bleeding toe—there are—
I hesitate to call them ‘flaws’ or ‘cracks’—
There are—‘some changes’—let’s see who reacts—
Which I’ve made to Pushkin’s sonnet scheme
Less fatal to the work than they might seem:
I add a fifth beat to his four foot line.
You may regard the act as criminal
Or revel in the extra syllable
Like puppies playing out in the sunshine.
Pentameter is difficult to ditch
If your first love in life was Shakespeare, which

It was for me. There’s not much I can do.
If Pushkin’s relatives should get wind
Of my two-timing ways, I doubt they’ll sue.
They’ll probably ask an unemployed cousin
To slit my throat when I’m asleep in bed.
I guess I could get used to being dead;
As long as you can promise what I wrote
Continues living in your heart, I’ll cope
With fame and martyrdom quite well. But
If anybody offers me some cash
To shut up, I’ll consider it, as
I’m always short. And having your throat cut
By former agents of the KGB
Does sound a wee bit painful, actually.

I hate pain. So, I propose a truce
Between my critics and their allies in
The Russian mob. I’ll borrow—not abuse—
A bottle from the bar—that bright horizon—
Bequeathed to me—to poets everywhere
Who’ve gulped at galaxies we might compare
In liquid brilliance to a sparkling word
Of Alexander Pushkin. It’s absurd
To carry comparisons much further than
A single word: our metaphors break down
To fizzy giggles—particles of sound
That do not look like galaxies, or stand
For much of anything, beyond white noise.
It’s hard to pour the stars into your voice.

Part I

I’d like a pair of bold anfractous rocks
Set somewhere in Cyclades—a spot
Totally removed from Time. No clocks.
I’d settle for a day in August, hot
Enough to melt an Erlenmeyer flask;
We might emerge from a cool underpass
To catch a guitar weeping, an old song,
A crowd of children shrieking, a Great Lawn,
Surrounded by people with someplace to be
Hurrying to different destinations.
“Who comes to Central Park on their vacations?”
I would implore the poor, demented bee
Circling a can of garbage going sour.
Surely, God would not begrudge an hour

Of timelessness unto Humanity—
His representatives on Earth. He must
Have made us and forgotten us. Maybe.
How else would you explain the missing bus,
The leaky awning, and the pouring rain,
This longing to be elsewhere? Hence, the plane
Landing on a distant isle in Greece—
Ahead of schedule—the Cyclades—
Bathed in Hellenic blue. And far below—
Almost invisible on the white beach—
There is a tempting red umbrella which
I am convinced belongs to me; although,
It could be a reflection from the ad
For Travelers Insurance, which is bad-

Ly flirting with me from across the street.
A fault in one of its florescent lights—
Flutter. Flicker. Blackout. And repeat:
Ad infinitum. How I hate these nights!
These buses! Squishy inserts in my shoe!
To say I hate New York would not be true.
We have a strange relationship, I’d say,
We need each other, sort of, in the way
A sad, sadistic cop requires a good,
But slightly stupid, buddy on the force
To buy Budweisers for him, post-divorce,
And hear how he has wrecked his life. This would
Make a fine, redemptive movie script,
Down to the last, cheesy tortilla chip.

For now, a cone of pink chrysanthemums—
To match the dozen frosted donuts I
Picked up from Dunkin’ for dessert—some
Blocks back, before Zeus unzipped the sky—
Will join our little shopping list. “How
Much are these flowers,” I ask the fellow
Sweeping up the petals, thorns and leaves
He has been pruning. “Not the roses—these,”
I point sharply at the mums again.
The chalkboard with the prices on it had
Suffered, like my patience, from the mad
Downpour. Slowly the young Mexican
Lifts five green fingers in front of his face—
His exhausted face. What a place

To hide such beauty. “Yes, I’ll take those, thanks,”
I mutter softly, with embarrassment,
Pulling out a wet ten, with two yanks,
Sending a quarter rolling down the pavement,
Directly to the gutter—not the drain.
It sits on the grate, shining in the rain
Atop a flattened cup—a blue pancake—
Supporting crooked letters which I make
Out to read, ‘Happy To Serve You.’
Exactly who is happy to be serving
Whom lies beyond my powers of observing
Because of how the cup is crushed. In lieu
Of other parties with a claim to it,
I give green fingers a five-dollar tip

And go retrieve my quarter from the cup,
Before somebody else does. In this town,
Some moments are too precious to give up.
A lucky coin can turn your life around
Like that: Fortune rota volvitur,
Rolling toward the sewer, your last quarter,
While on “The Wheel of Fortune” someone spins
Above a pyramid of oranges. Who wins?
Who cares? I have my quarter and I’m glad.
The best ten dollars that was ever spent
By any man beneath the Firmament.
Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a tad.
But just a tad. That magic emerald hand
Has turned “The Wheel” into a salsa band

By changing channels. How I love TV!
Just think of all the money that we could
Save on drugs and psychotherapy
If human hearts came with remotes? A mood
Is altered just by tapping on your nose,
And fine-tuned further, peeling off damp clothes,
And fiddling a little with a nipple.
A politician still might come and cripple
Sex, occasionally, and football
Pre-empt a dreary real-life drama
With dancing linebackers, or a bomber
Blowing up an airplane force us all
To interview a few shocked families:
But we could always turn off our TVs—

Like that. Returning richer from the gutter,
I collect my donuts and cut flowers.
It seems the thunderstorm’s begun to stutter—
Which I attribute to my quarter’s powers,
Patting the faint circle on my thigh
Embossed by my good luck. I decide
There is no point in waiting. I am wet.
I can’t get any wetter now. I bet
The guy who drives this bus is named Godot.
Assuming this, and better weather later,
We say goodbye to Jorge’s cramped bodega.
I need to meet Takaaki for a show—
War of the Worlds—at quarter after eight.
Taka-chan will shoot me if I’m late.

Takaaki entered my life as a leopard
Belt being unbuckled at the Y.
Until that Tuesday, we exchanged no word
Apart from that perfunctory, “Hi,”
One naturally nods when in the shower—
Never letting eyes fall any lower
Than chin, if necessary, collarbone,
Carefully leaving ‘well enough’ alone—
Lest anything unseemly rise to blur
The fragile line of bubbles separating
Really clean from curious—creating
Questions about conditioners, and whether
Grapefruit is a proper manly scent—
Even in a Thought Experiment.

I was hooked by how that feline belt
Crept through the four tight loops above his rear;
It filled me with four-letter words, which spelt,
“Don’t ruin your Moon trip.” Although sincere—
Poetic even—this injunction—it
Does not, I think, seem quite appropriate.
We’re not inside a NASA locker room—
Pristine and clean and white. We’re in a tomb
Below the ground on 47th Street,
Surrounded by abandoned towels with
A disco scent—that moldy land of myth.
I sprinkle fungal powder on my feet,
Discretely. As my fairy dust descended,
I wondered if his buckle was befriended

By anything besides his fingertips.
I could, of course, conceive of other suitors—
Beige bedroom carpets, pant hangers with clips
Coated in red rubber, folding doors
With tiny metal doorknobs cast from stainless
Steel. But it was none of my business
Where, after leaving his seductive waist,
His buckle might intend to hang, how chaste
These new companions, if they drink, or stink
Of jockstraps, Jockeys, sweaty socks, or hold
Silk stockings with more reverence, or cold
Hands in handcuffs, or dead cats. (I thank
The Lord, this morning, when I dressed, I took
A nice new necktie from my closet.) Look—

Zip, that leopard softly disappears
Around the tan line of Takaaki’s hips.
I had a friend who spent ten thousand years
On hips, neglecting to Chapstick his lips;
So long he labored he dissolved to dust,
Before he could express his love. Or lust.
I trust, the stupid use he made of Time
Will not be copied in your life. Or mine.
Now with three stanzas written on a waist,
A belt, belt loops, belt buckle, and no ass,
You might suppose your humble Author has
Lost you, Takaaki, and his mind. In case
That’s what you think, permit me now to state,
While you’ve been thinking, I’ve been on a date.

Around a core of elevators set
Twelve tall windows in a concrete sheet
As crumbly as the Parthenon; let
Your panorama start in Brooklyn, greet
The Empire State behind a candle (where
I sit sweating, in a sticky chair),
While your eye continues traveling
Along the glass, skyscrapers unraveling,
Until the pointy tip of the Chrysler Build-
-ing rises from Lexington Avenue,
Piercing a silver nitrate mist. Now you
Must let this scintillating picture fill
The space before your eyes: that is New York.
Here, I transfix a carrot with a fork.

“Introibo ad altare,” I will say,
While blowing on the steaming vegetable,
Adding, “Totemo oishikatta ne,”
Hoping, after five months, I am able
To tell Takaaki I enjoy his curry
Without entangling my tongue in worry.
“It’s okay,” he shrugs, quietly deferring
My compliments—as always—much preferring
A tilted head, a seated bow, the leaner
Show of manners honored in Japan,
Which can seem strange to an American
Inclined to linger too much over dinner,
Allowing food to cool and candles run.
I was shocked to see Takaaki done—

Done like those thirty-minute Japanese
Cartoons I used to watch in Buffalo.
Star Blazers was my favorite one of these.
Five days a week, at 3:30, or so,
On rusty orange carpet I would sit
Watching an Imperial Navy ship,
Resurrected and retooled for space,
Leave planet Earth to save the Human Race.
At 6:00 pm, with equal bonhomie,
I’d see Toyota windshields being battered
By men from Chevrolet, lives shattered
By something known as, “The Economy.”
Somebody always wore this shirt: above
Japan it read, “Two bombs were not enough.”

Now, the two malignant mushrooms which
Sprouted from the belly of that guy
Returned as two shitakes in my dish
Of curried chicken and vegetables. Why?
(You’ll see.) From a Doraemon candy tin,
Takaaki took a cigarette. A thin
Wisp of smoke and hiss rose from his plate,
Typical for the twenty-seventh date.
“What do you want to do,” I inquired,
“Go bowling? I’ll do anything you like:
Get drunk? Get naked?” [Silence] “Steal a bike?”
“I swam forty laps tonight. I’m wired.”
He exhaled, letting out a little laugh,
“Shall we play Scrabble then and then have bath?”

“Have bath sounds good. But Scrabble, I will pass:
You always win, you creep. You clearly cheat,”
I said, “It’s obvious. You won the last
Nine times. And you’re not going to defeat
Me for time number ten tonight.” I put
My fork down like a foot. Takaaki’s butt
He extinguished in the drop of sauce
Which recently had claimed his match. “You lost
Because you play without strategy:
There is no need for me cheat on you,” he sighed,
As if I were a beetle on his thigh
Too insignificant to crush. “You see,
You always want to find interesting word—
Not the word that wins.” My fork conferred

A moment with a chunk of chicken dyed
Cadmium by cumin in the curry—
Before I ate it. “I have always tried
To think of Scrabble with you as purely
Educational. It is my wish
To help you in enlarging your English
Vocabulary. And defeating you—
Too easily—as surely I must do—
Would only be embarassing. I know
How sensitive to that Nihon-jin are:
Destruction on a Scrabble board would mar
Our beautiful relationship.” “Honto?
It sounds like Maru-chan’s afraid to play.”
“No. Maru-chan will kick your ass today.”

Maru-chan, or Maru-maru, is
The new diminutive by which I’m known
In Japanese. I really don’t exist
In English anymore—except at home.
Maru works best as a marine suffix—
A fragile freighter out of Altair Six—
The bane of all Starfleet cadets, but one—
Who counts impossible rescues among
His greatest triumphs. Though his victory
Pales before my own: I am the first
To work the Kobayashi into verse—
In a surprising twist of History.
I’m taking charge of that scenario.
The life I live is not a game. Oh, no.

The Kobayashi Maru is a test
Of character you’re not allowed to win.
It’s fixed. There is nobody in distress,
Hull breached, black, icy vaccum pouring in;
The ship’s a simulation, lie, a ruse,
Like love, a logic problem: you must choose
A method and a manner for your death—
What works for you? Expending your sweet breath,
Hovering around the Neutral Zone,
Listening to people suffocate, or
Will you, perhaps, ignite galactic war,
Attempting their salvation? You’re alone.
You are the person in the Captain’s chair.
I have a Scrabble board I must prepare.

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