I should never have chosen an adagio by Schubert
as I slouch in this Subaru awaiting a poetry reading
(poetry! bad enough on its own), but these sweet,
lachrymose black notes, their melancholy, have plunged me
into a crisis of nostalgia—nostalgia for everything, for
the childhoods of my children, my lamented dogs and cats,
all the vanished aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, oh,
especially the one we called Meem, my second mother,
and Dad, if you’re listening, you too, especially you,
and the youth of my mother, my own youth, the books
I’ve lost or forgotten, that beautiful woman with
her glittering eyes, the turkey soup you made, Meem,
and Mom, the gumbo and catfish and cheesecake,
my hometown and the river you can call a river,
the sweet olive and calliopes and bayous,
scattered friends, weep the losses, irreplaceable yet
restored vicariously in the mind, whether heaven
or graveyard, the mind, that lonely saboteur,
whether friend or foe, a memento here, look,
another there, mystic ingots of remembrance,
I should have chosen pale, tubercular Chopin
(no! worse, worse), Verdi? Mozart’s Great Mass
for the Dead? That dirge by Fauré?
I should never have read Baudelaire and Poe,
I should have yanked Poe’s beak from my heart,
I should have feasted on Little Debbie cupcakes
and watched reruns of The Good Ship Lollipop,
that which I should have done I did not do,
I should never have garnered a history,
a past sodden with splendor and the joys
that fly with kisses, I should repent my bliss,
I should dress in black and hobble into some
ancient Armenian church and rub beads
in the rearmost pew as the duduka sobs
with mourning doves huddled in the eaves—
ah, but the reading has begun, I must get in there
and partake of words, the hard chunks of cauliflower
and purple grapes, coffee, more coffee, more . . .
more everything, more now, more forever,
the terminal applause.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . .
--Yeats, “The Second Coming”
The sleek statuary of ritual, convention,
the chasses of systems, all crumble
to the rotting floors of the infrastructure,
cracked like a mud pie scorched by the sun,
the threadbare stitches of familiar garments
and worn-out shoes, the dangling scaffolds . . .
and they have just lugged in dozens
of the drowned tangled in a crab net.
A holy soul attempts to resuscitate
with mouth-to-mouth, but the lips
are black and soggy, the victims lost,
the holy one, disconsolate, so crazed
he lies among the drowned and sobs.
How maintain decorum and reason
amid the desolation, the unctuous blot
of misery, honey to the phantoms
and wasps of nihilism that cling
to the comb like fleas on the hound of hell?
Where are the cupcakes you promised,
where the anisette and macaroons,
the hurdy-gurdy man’s monkey?
What jagged shadow blights the threshold?
Come, love, dance with me forever,
before the dirigible explodes
and forever shrivels to a figment
I’ve lost my St. Christopher
Now that I’ve kissed her . . .
Somewhere amid the sprawling diaspora
I lost a coin, a key and a song.
The coin was gold, pressed into my fingers
by an ancient woman I loved, the key
sprang a lock I can no longer find nor recall,
the song, oh so dolorous and profound,
whispers piecemeal still in my mind,
a bar here, a refrain there, but never again
the venerable liqueur of its passion —
specks of echo rising from the depths.
I once rode a mule on a narrow cliff-trail in Saltillo
but the beast dropped dead of heat exhaustion
and my legs barely escaped with their blood & sinew.
I tried to fish off a pier in Tarpon Springs
and wound up with a tiny crab frenzied on the hook.
And the one I had my eye on disappeared
around a corner as I blinked. Speed of light.
The mind is a necropolis, a xylophone
of pleasure and discordance at once.
Yes, it has mountains—but also meadows,
rustic Appalachian springs, sacred & profane
appellations . . . try excavating there where
rubies and fool’s gold lie scattered asunder.
I aim my rusted pickaxe at its core
and listen to the arcane grave-skull roar.
Memory it a radioactive thing;
Nudge, and it may scald to sing.
I met her on the corner of E. 57th
and some avenue, a raven-haired, beauteous,
Jewish girl. I was twenty, she nineteen,
and we were both hungry and in a hurry.
She led me to what she described
as the ultimate Hebrew deli in Manhattan—
her word “Hebrew.”
We supped the best lentil soup I’ve ever had
the pleasure of sipping, and she introduced
me to matzoh balls, on which I gagged.
We hailed a Yellow Cab to the Chelsea
no longer in a hurry. She told me
her name was Hope. I joked,
“Mine’s Charity, or maybe Faith.”
Those are female names, she sassed.
So? I laughed. We toked a joint
but finally she had to get back to work
where she copied documents for lawyers.
I thought of the Beatles’ song,
Norwegian Wood: this bird had flown.
She passed a Star of David
into my fingers—“Don’t forget me,”
she whispered and kissed me on the cheek.
Now, ages later, I haven’t forgotten
what once ignited on a street corner,
bloomed instantly then almost as instantly
wilted into the annals of oblivion.
Does desire in retrospect excel that
of current desire or is desire a relentless
continuum of need, of desolation?
I’d say it’s not very quick—here I am,
quick, not yet quite among the dead—
but sinking nevertheless since the day
I was born, lente, up to my chin
at this point, headed for the interior,
a minister thereof, yet what after all
does interior encompass and how
does it pertain to its shadowy Other,
This grainy muck is thick, nothing
like the flat, pristine, bright oilcloth
upon which I swilled absinth
and supped upon Rosita’s antipasto.
Those were the days, as usual,
when I could loop my slick lariat
onto the tip of any lotus at a distance.
You should have seen Rosita’s eyes widen
when I slew that ragged armadillo
in its tracks, the one that crept into
her kitchen. Oh, the gratitude!
Why she nearly swooned with relief,
and, of course, rewarded me with ardor.
And yet this is what’s it’s come to,
the final descent—look, a lone buzzard
perched on the sole telephone pole
outside Bayou Sauvage.