THE OTHER LIFE
Fireflies float in the dark yews like memories
as twilight swirls into a familiar gruel–
so how can I, pendulous with the porch swing,
forget my dream of an opulent city, a familiar place
with pastel-hued shops - sandstone, cinnabar, turquoise -
the cloudy Gothic cathedral rising above all,
yet split in half, one side a glittering neon mall,
the other, some sleepy chapel straining out of the middle ages,
a mildewed, brooding, architectural fiasco?
And I, ensnared in a snazzy Latino bar, where
young leotarded women peer into my eyes with fish hooks
as I leave with an aged couple, experts in the antique cigar labels
tacked onto every telephone pole and billboard.
“Look here,” says the old man, pointing to a house across the street,
“you remember Cocatil the artist? That’s where his liver failed.”
I don’t remember Cocatil, the son perhaps, Cocatil II,
who perished in similar manner, his body smoking
like certain mushrooms when jiggled.
I am lost nevertheless.
On Almonaster Avenue in the city
I once knew like my own tongue, a place of burning dumps
and rusted machinery, though now spiffy and improved,
part of the urban realignment, swept clean of the poor and dying.
And this road, newly paved, luminous, desolate,
I know it too,
though they’ve disguised it as part of the renewal.
Only the doomed wind up on this thoroughfare with no exits.
The moon bleeds down its embankments like fiery licorice.
I know where it leads and am afraid. I am the only traveler
except for a battered pickup full of chicken crates
moving ten miles an hour in the left lane.
We both swerve to avoid a mattress blown out of the truck
of an earlier wayfarer. Springs coil
out of its sides like rusted question marks.
Some yards up a live peacock,
its prodigious tail fanned wide, struts grandly,
oblivious to my vehicle.
and don’t think I haven’t noticed
Suddenly, Almonaster narrows, shrinks,
and I see street signs I know - Galvez, LeHarpe,
North Miro, Columbus - and come to the sooty overpass
where we once veered left for the shop - my father will be inside
sawing wood (transparent and milky, he will turn,
recognize me, and smile) - right, for my grandmother’s house
of anise, basil, garlic and anchovies.
In those days
everything was nearby, small and habitual.
I’m tempted left, then right, but come to a full stop at the green light.
The truck with chicken crates passes. I make eye contact
with the driver, an old grizzled man with no eyes
who chews a spent cigar.
The sticker on his rear bumper reads: Forget-me-Not.
I smash the accelerator and make a wild U-turn
back to that brighter, modern macadam, what Almonaster
has become, streak up the wrong lane until I’m lost again
in a time that races ever more into itself, its own gluttony.
How can anything prepare us for the past?
We sit on swings at midnight, watch the last firefly disappear
and hope that the promised storm breaks
before we creep back into strange, dark houses to sleep.
THE FREUDIAN FAMILY SCRAPBOOK
Her daughter does not love her.
Her daughter has married a spider.
Her daughter bears demons, one after another,
to torture her. Oh, she stops at nothing,
would sand the grief off her mother’s face
with pumice, excavate tiers of lousy memories
and fry her in an ungreased skillet.
What has she done to deserve such cruelty?
She decays like a civilization
propped on the back of an old tortoise.
Spare her eyes. Wear your brassiere.
Pull the web out of your womb.
Cherish your mother.
The junior vice-president who wears leotards
needs more than love. Who will caress him?
“I weep at night. I unravel. I hate you.”
Watch this one: he aims a spiritual revolver
at your good times. Feed him tit milk
and watch him curl into a crinkled shrimp.
Does he know he wants a vagina,
to set doilies on coffee-tables,
to marry himself?
Let them wed, for God’s sake.
After the sand boxes, swampy diapers,
potato salad, Chevrolets and newspapers,
he will abandon all for a strumpet,
leaving himself, the next bereaved mother
whose daughter marries a spider.
COMMENTARY ON THE I CHING
by Diablo Amoricus Wishbone
a wick of words
Say Yee Jing so the adepts will take
your ignorance seriously.
“I” is change within T’ai chi,
the immutable eternal Source
outside of which nothing lies.
Abyss upon abyss. Grave danger.
The male yin and female yang—
active and passive respectively.
Has something to do with T’chi
but don’t ask me what.
Women yield the power. Do not marry.
Probably the oldest book in the world.
Confucius loved it, so did Carl Jung.
Its purpose is divination and predicting
The sacrificial wine is not split.
Then all those damned hexagrams.
I gave up before I started.
This is called defeatism, but I divined
that it would take 2000 or more years
to grasp. Who’s got the time?
Darkening of the light.
Meanwhile, evil, ruthless tyrants keep rising
like fungi from the swamps.
Maui is destroyed by fire.
Decades ago I listened to Soviet poet
Yevgeny Yevtushenko read his work
on a stage in Missouri—
to which nothing previously written relates.
It is wrong to persist in harsh restraint.
Excess! The ridgepole sags.
The ablution has been performed,
but not the sacrifice.
Then there’s the much later Tao Te Ching
of Lao Tzu who was born an old man
and who rode out of history on an ass,
passing the notes to another old man
at the crossroads.
Confucius too is a skeleton, Wallace.
Confusion say: Thank God it ain’t yesterday.
The Way is not the Way.
To say The Way is not the Way
is not to say The Way is not the Way.
Wayward, the way of all flesh.
And there’s Mr. Jimmy standing in line
at the Chelsea Drugstore and, man,
does he look pretty ill.
A PRAYER FOR YOUR DAUGHTER
You’ve planned it since the midnight colic,
rank diapers, fevers, ear infections and
dread intricate enough to weave itself
around your throat like fine jewelry.
You want your daughter beautiful,
and wise, passionate, accomplished.
Not for her to joyride with thugs
on the back seat of a motorcycle,
her arms wrapped around some wiry abdomen.
Or chug beer in dives until her lips sag
and her eyes lose focus and sweat pure salt.
No tattoos or pierced anything. No dope,
obscenity, venereal disease–no sloppy fucking
on the soiled, fetid mattresses of neon motels,
abortions in sleazy clinics, no black eyes
or slit lips. These are other daughters,
not your daughter–vile broads plastered
by noon, passed out on the back seat
of a miserable Dodge junked in an alley.
None of this for your princess–
nor the intellectual pomp that dries one up
at the root. No politics, no placards
denouncing testosterone as the juice of Hitler.
No groping with ideologues of the same sex.
Not your daughter. Desired by all,
she will cherish one good man who,
like yourself, would die for her. His money
will be as honest as money ever can be.
No groveling for a dime or favor,
going without, fretting over lousy mortgage notes.
Sensuous, fertile, loving, your daughter’s loyalty
never wavers. She will bear angel children
so radiant they’ll take away your breath.
She’ll call every day, remember birthdays.
You’ll never argue, regret a moment, lose faith.
She will write poetry and savor sweet, sad Schubert.
Your daughter will walk on water and play the violin.
You would have it no other way. You’ve seen
forlorn, defeated men whose dim eyes tell all:
abandoned, betrayed, their daughters
cavort with sin, blacken their days with shame.
Never this. Your daughter knows better.
Since the day you were born and glimpsed
her veiled, exquisite face in a dream.
She ignites pale violins, waltzes on cream.
TAIN’T IT THE TRUTH
If I am against the condition of the
world it is not because I am a moralist--
It is because I want to laugh more.
--Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn
Ralph, I'm writing this for you.
Send your best stuff, you said,
over e-mail (shouldn't we be against e-mail?).
Problem is I've lost any illusion of judgment
and wouldn’t know the difference between
a sweet peach and teaspoon of Castoria.
No one remembers Castoria, can you believe it?
Have I told you that codgers eye me up
while pretending to pick at Chicken McNuggets
in the McDonald's parking lot, that I receive
daily entreaties from the AARP? I push them away—
Oh no you don't, I cry, I'm with the Youth League,
I wear spandex and have hooked a little loop
through one of my earlobes, and tomorrow
I'm getting tattooed (something fearsome and shamanic,
with lots of feathers and a beak or two).
Keep telling me the city is doomed
so I won't collapse with nostalgia
and wind up with an IV dripping reality
into my veins. Bring on the women!
Remember them, when we had hair?
What's that Yeats line about broken trees?
Do you recall when you, Martin and I
holed up in a room for three days to, of all things,
I still gag on the cigarette smoke. Camels.
And I presume your symptoms persist, as do mine--
entire lifetimes of symptoms. My first memory
is, in fact, a symptom--or do I mean of a symptom?
Go back further, the Maple Leaf, Everette slumped
over the bar, reciting Proust while unconscious.
I feel guilty as hell, of course. Who doesn't?
And worst of all (I weep as I write)
I don't like literature anymore, especially poetry,
that insufferable, self-righteous pyrite.
You could say I've simplified.
I’ve cast my lot with True-Value.
Sump pumps have come a long way.
No joke, every time it rains I'm down in the cellar
praying to the two I picked up on sale.
And Victoria's Secret catalogs—they're piling up,
so I removed Dostoevsky from the bookcase to make room.
And the two little girls--at my age!—human flowers,
daughters of autumn, a gift from God after the
fiasco that nearly killed me, the greasy eel of a lawyer
who abducted the other child I adored—Shatfield,
stooping to blackmail and physical assault—the
panic and flight into wilderness to cry for visions.
Can we exterminate lawyers and remain moral?
Oh well, what's life for? The spirits give instructions:
laugh, go slow, eat strawberries and watch fireflies.
And so here I am, years later, writing to you,
as if the interim had imploded like anti-matter,
colliding with the real stuff, returning to where
we left off, impossible surely, like frozen fire.
Yet the impossible has accumulated.
Miracles, the sun pirouetting above Yugoslavia,
Lazarus (oh ho ho ho, what a feeling), fluctuations
in the void, infinities greater than infinity,
e-mail, women, being alive still, my trusty little sump
gurgling Mozart as it displaces one hundred gallons of bilge
an hour . . . should I go on? I'll join AARP tomorrow.
Right now we're talking, drunk in the greater
Maple Leaf on strawberry wine spiked with fireflies,
Look there, man! Who's she with? She writes poems?
I guess I shouldn't say any of this, right?
Could get myself—us—in trouble. Someone will sue
—or rather, pay an eel dearly to file papers
in the Court of Bruised Sensibilities.
Not cool to like women these days or admit it.
Not cool to laugh, desire or imagine.
So mum's the word. Later.
A big word for staring at your navel.
Believe it or not, mystics do it
For the sake of revelation.
Because the navel, the umbilicus,
Is regarded as the hub, the nexus,
I gave up on it myself.
Just another hole.