To get the atmosphere right, John
Distinguished Canadian poet and pornographer,
Travelled from 1966 to 1935 to write his memoirs.
He took a room a few blocks away
From the hospital where his younger self
Was convinced he was dying. He visited himself
One afternoon and made terrible prophecies:
"You will be mayor of a small town in East Quebec;
You will win the Governor General's Award for poetry."
"Tell me," young John gasped, "tell me that I will still
Write highly stylized fetish poems and novels!"
"You will; they will be published under many pseudonyms."
"All right then; I suppose I will have to live."
I tried to send my humble respects
To an empress I know
But my computer feels
Etiquette is its younger brother.
"You mean 'hair mumbles' " it says.
Perhaps I do. At any event,
Whatever hair mumbles are
The empress shall have some.
Books I might have written
Haunt me, their well-bound ghosts
Glaring at me from lengthy footnotes
Where I'm not cited or forcing a few words
Into the middle of a quote in some language
I never learned. To quiet them,
I conjured down Jorge Luis Borges
Begging him to write a review
He agreed, after warning me
That it might not be favorable.
St. Marina, patron of exiles and
Is irate that Gelasius called her apocryphal
"So what if I was once a sea goddess?
Next to no one worshipped me.
I admit I was eaten by a dragon; but that
Was such a long time ago. I was young and looked
Delicious. It could have happened to anyone."
Returning triumphantly to her
The Countess discovered her characters
Had decamped while she was out
Leaving behind an old nursemaid
Too feeble to survive the long trek
To a more lurid manuscript.
Originally meant to add some local color
The nursemaid was scheduled to die
Movingly, towards the end of Chapter 6.
Still, necessity knows no law;
A grumbling miracle was performed;
The nursemaid, risen from her deathbed,
(Her disease turning out to be misdiagnosed
Dutch Elm Tree Blight), did her best
As heroine. The hired ghost of Warren Oates
Did yeoman service as the hero, the villain,
The villain's much-betrayed wife,
And a variety of more minor roles
Sales were surprisingly strong.
After a while Schrödinger could no
longer bear the suspense
And opened the box to see if his cat, which had been
Neither dead nor not dead, neither alive
Nor not alive, had made up her mind. The box was empty
Save for a note in Sanskrit. Translated it said
"You forgot the other set of alternatives -- in the box
Or out of the box. I am now both in and not in your closet
Where I am and am not taking my revenge
On your best pair of shoes."
Partly in jest, my father once
Described my mother as a beautiful spy
Fluent in many languages; if we found out
Where they were spoken she would prove
Invaluable. It seems to me that the baby
Who has taken to hanging around here
Might have understood her perfectly;
Almost five months old, she orates at length
And then pauses. If I had my mother's gift
I would nod and eloquently reply.
One day Verlaine's mother saw
That a ringer had slipped in
Among the bottles where she kept
Her four unborn sons.
The bottles all looked the same
Their inhabitants staring as usual.
When Verlaine reeled home
He confessed he'd pawned one of his brothers
But, finding himself in funds again,
Had returned to redeem him
Only to find the pawnshop clerk
Offering him two labelless bottles;
He brought both of them home.
"But surely you noticed one was a girl?"
"I am the drunken glory of French poetry
And, as such, need not pay taxes
Or concern myself with infant genitalia."
The Lvoviner dreamed sometimes
Of trolleys running to Ebbets Field
When he woke up he would ask
The Prince of Fire, who'd come by
From God knows where to smoke,
What a trolley might be,
Who Ebbet was and what sort of things
Might be found in his field.
The Prince would light his short pipe,
Take between one and four puffs
And explain. "Trolleys are female trolls
Big and very strong but kindly
In the future they will make a living
By charging a small coin
To carry children long distances.
Ebbet is not a man but a sort of tree
Which bears four different fruits.
Someday the trolleys will carry children
To a field filled with leafy
Early on summer mornings and watch them
As they run around all day or climb the trees
It late afternoon, the trolleys
Willtake the sleepy children home in
His pipe finished, the Prince of Fire
Would say good night and go off
To God knows where. The Lvoviner's cat,
Stretching, might say "Do you believe him?"
"Not a word," the Lvoviner would answer,
"But to be the Prince of Fire is hard
And sometimes he needs to talk."
Being possessed of great style
As well as being a chthonic god
The Baron does not show surprise
When I introduce the baby to him
Though he shakes his pale head
"If I were in dire straits," he says
"It is just possible that I might wear
An orange striped stretchy
Stippled with pumpkins. But never --
No, never! -- would I also have on
Fuzzy pink socks."
Reports that a baby girl
Has been hanging around my house
Are true. The public is urged
To stay calm. My crack team of advisers
Believe she is, at for the moment,
Using her formidable powers
To learn how to sit upright
And presents no immediate danger.
Kraken has slept since before the world’s first beginning and has managed to
stay asleep on the ocean’s floor through every beginning since, even the
extravagantly loud ones and the one made mostly of screeching colored lights
which Coyote made to win a wager. So long has he slept that his dreams have put
on substance and walk about as men, though their way in the world is seldom
you look at Moxon’s edition of the Collected Poems (though you never bought a
copy and were never given one, one has appeared on your shelves) there is a
poem about the Kraken which Alfred Tennyson wrote when he was 18 or so, in
which he summarizes the Kraken’s fate which is, at the end of the world to
“rise roaring to the surface” and die. Tennyson, however, died well before the
Kraken, and was waylaid on his way to the afterlife by the ghost of his friend
they thought of Tennyson, his friends usually did not first think of his being
a great poet. Cigars summed him up for some; others thought of his beard, his
extravagant sorrow over Hallam’s death, his temper, or his grandly fluent
profanity. For Fitzgerald, the essence of Tennyson had communicated itself to
the hats he wore, which were no sooner clapped on his head than they underwent
peculiar changes, as if their identity had become fluid. It is a rare if
pointless gift to be able to effortlessly make a silk top hat fancy itself a
had been a noticing man, and had become a noticing ghost. He had been shadowing
Tennyson’s spirit for some while and was sure it had started out bare-headed.
Somehow, it had acquired a hat of even more than ordinary disreputability.
“Tennyson, that is an appalling hat!”
How glad I am to see you! Strange; I never imagined those as the first words
I’d hear after I died.”
had something much more impressive prepared but that hat has driven them out of
Whether Hatif is the angel of the
unseen or the unseen angel is a matter of some dispute and two senior
theologians nearly had a duel over the point some years ago. It would have made
a fine show – the two old men, armed with scimitars, meeting in the Plaza at
the precise moment of dawn when a green thread can just be distinguished from a
blue one, their great scarlet theologian capes swirling about them , the copper
spurs on their high boots striking sparks from the cobbles, -- but some joyless
administratrix cancelled it, invoking the authority of a stray calico cat which
had reasonable cause to believe she might be God.
In any event, Hatif has never been
seen in the DarkCity, which some take as proof he lives there, at least
when he is not brooding in empty rooms or telling trees it is safe to fall – no
one will hear them.
Answers to questions I should have
Haphazardly scattered, still abroad in the world:
A bit of daylight, lost in a mirror since August 9, 1938;
A pocket watch; some notes from The William Tell Overture;
An unclaimed silver medal; a hand setting a pebble
On top of a gravestone; a story which traveled
Forty years to find its only true audience
Silently waiting for it, alone in the crowded house
Silence carries a flute she never
She wears dark clothes and smokes cigarettes
Which materialize in her hand already lit.
Quiet, who is her much younger sister,
Has never quite mastered the trick;
She turns her wrist just so, but finds
An allen wrench there, or a Number 4 pencil.
way and another, I’ve written a fair number of things: poems, essays, stories
(some of them complete), and more than enough chapters for a series of novels,
if only most of them weren’t first chapters. I have a muse, but she grew
discouraged, put her wings in storage and took a teaching job somewhere in the Midwest. We talk, sometimes.
8 or 10 people see what I write -- some of it -- since every editor on earth
can find it in his heart to refuse what I submit. For a while, when I was
sending lots of things off, the pace of rejection grew so furious that I began
receiving rejections for things I hadn’t even written yet. This disturbed the
time/space continuum, which banged on the ceiling with a broom, so we slowed
down. I once earned money as a caricature of a writer, an appeals lawyer,
writing (with fair competence), prose which turned to dust once a case was over.
you’re a fictional character and you’ve sat down and made a cold assessment of
yourself. Honesty compels you to admit that you have more melancholy charm and
wit than Prince Andrei, a more seductive air than Emma Bovary, and that Sancho
Panza and Chita, working together, wouldn’t make half so delightful a sidekick. In
your mind, you can read the reviews, perhaps panning the book for the most
part, but forced to pause when it comes to you: “But Z! What a triumph! This
character leaps off the page, pummels you about the head and shoulders, drinks
your whiskey, kisses your wife and runs off withyour wallet! Not to be missed!” Why would you
come to me, instead of someone whose stuff makes it into print?
is, more or less, what I’ve been trying to say to Melanie Beck, who insists I
write about her, despite my being ill-equipped and reluctant.
When Archbishop Francois
de Champvallon died
Hatif, angel of the unseen, was dispatched
To lead his soul heavenwards.
They started late because the archbishop
Had promised the Comtesse de Lesdiguieres,
His mistress, that if he died
His ghost would stop by to see her.
Then it was raining near Soissons
And they missed some crucial turn
Or so they later insisted. Others
Suspected liquor was a bit to blame
For the fact that eighty years later
They still were wandering around France.
No one, though, has explained how Hatif
Was elected to the National Convention
In the Year One of the Revolution
But if you look at the sketches David made
During Louis Capet's trial
You can still see an empty space
Where Hatif stands; the legislators by him
Have moved aside, leaving room for his wings.
Sometimes he touches a wheel and
the wheel cries out
"So angry! Where was all this anger born?"
Or his foot snubs against a rock which asks
"What is it that has made you so sad?"
But mostly he does not know he is angry
Does not know he is the very father of grief.
His anger has grown so tall, his grief so clever
He cannot see them or that they've filled his house
So he lives now in the attic, stowed away
Among cobwebs and mice and housegods.
He was named Mordechai but came to
Where he turned into Max. His wife called him Mortrazik
And his children, the ninth of whom was my father,
Called him Poppa. I cannot call up his true ghost
Since before we met age and Parkinson's
Locked his words away and set his hand trembling.
Thus, I turn to my father's ghost who says his father
Was tall and very strong and overflowed with merriment
(Try bring merry with 9 children. Just try.)
He called my father Sock because that was his first word
And how should a baby not know his own name?
Sock believed Max was a detective. Chasing crooks?
No problem; Max had the ability to jump over a garage.
(Max had a sense of proportion; he never claimed
He could leap over a house.) Sock knew his father
Was a tailor, but where is it written that a tailor
Can't also fight crime? I like to think of my father
Watching his father gracefully jumping
The old ghost came to my father
Because a dog had told him help,
If anywhere, would be there.
My father was sympathetic
But would die in a few days
Nothing for it but to make the ghost
A rabbi, a Chinese rabbi,
Seeking relief for his flooded province
From Zhu Yujian, the last Ming emperor.
The road was long; the emperor
And the rabbi were dead when they met
The rabbi took his place with the ghosts
My father had sent to make a court
For the emperor's abandoned spirit.
It was too heavy for my chest
So I put my heart in a wagon,
Gave it a tin cup, sent it begging.
Now I find it driving a black car
With vanity plates.
What foolish authorities
Decided it deserved a license?
You were dead so when the thunder
Asked me where you were I shrugged
And said you were in Kamionka Strumilowa
Some years before you were born
Teaching your father -- he was 10 or so --
The jokes he'd tell you when you were a boy.
You were dead so when the tree which nodded to you
Even when there was no wind said "Where is he?"
I spread my fingers wide and said you had gone undercover
Cleverly eluding the combined forces
Of Ming the Merciless and Dr. Destructo
And had found work as an invisible detective.
You were dead so when you asked me where I was
I pulled my beard and said "In the great boat of morning
Three cubits from the stern there is an oar
Which no one pulls. There I used to sit
But there's no telling where I've gotten to now."
remember," the old muse said,
"The first time the moon was called
As witness to a poet's love;
The excitement! The daring!
Others had picked leaves
Or thrown stones (What says passion
Better than a well-aimed rock?)
But to insolently summon the moon--
I half thought the poet would die
Right then. She thought so too
And braced herself against a tree.
But the moon was pleased
And raised her voice when the sea
Was minded to drown you all."
Neither good nor bad angels attend
Who must, if he is wise, leave men and mostly live
In the company of cats. Among the cats he will find
Angels who never delivered their messages
And now try to sell them, centuries past their due dates.
"Flee Nineveh!" urges one; "Check the oven!"
Cris another. The last time I drank with the desangelados
There was an elderly angel who shrank from my eye.
I suspect he knows the answer I should have given
To a question which was posed to me in 1975.
"But you make no sense!"
"That is for me; I am a poem
And wish to be written.
You call yourself poet;
I offer the usual terms."
"You woke me at 3 a.m.
I charge time and a half for poems
Who go prowling when only wolves
Damaged souls and basilisks are awake."
"Done. See that you write me plain;
I think I am a sonnet but that
I leave to your judgment.
The first two elisions are free?"
"As always; this is a union shop."