I’ve taken a brief hiatus from posting, mostly out of a duty to BAP, a great deal of editing, and trying to perfect a long poem that requires hours of tinkering per line (the lines aren’t troublesome, themselves. The subject is troublesome, and so requires deeper introspection into my personal beliefs while developing a language to best serve those beliefs. Poems spring from language acting off itself, snowballing, ping-ponging, undercutting, seducing, which comes from my own vocabulary more or less dancing with itself, creating even the tune to which it dances; what I’m working on now has me searching out new music, new partners).
The Times piece brought me a short-lived bit of notoriety, and an amazing outpouring, to me personally, in the form of emails and posts. It seemed to have touched upon a subject very much on people’s minds, how we interact with news, now that we have more ways to interact with other readers and even with the journalists involved in the reporting. A few respondents who read the piece admitted to reacting in the negative ways I described, at one time or another, and vowed to think twice before posting anything in regards to freshly delivered reports that offered little factual information or appeared biased from the outset. I’ve certainly jumped the gun before, but I’m much more aware of my position now as a reader than ever before, and have been made an inspired activist of Slow Replying. The piece was also apparently cited in court, by the defense team, which was not completely surprising; the entire episode still makes me sad, and I don’t speak about it to people who haven’t heard. I think of the family and friends, still, fairly often.
I have a pile of poetry books to read and am slowly making my way through them, specifically the sonnets of Mike Vizsolyi, the poems of Debbie Kuan, Eduardo C. Corral, and a reread of Denis Johnson’s collected poems, especially those found in Incognito Lounge, which is a work of somber and humane intelligence that I rarely find in writing these days. It’s not, I believe, that our writers don’t feel deeply, often enough, it’s that their compassionate responses to the world are often couched in larger issues, and that Johnson couches his compassion in compassion. When he writes of the manager, or the “woman with no face”, even when it’s slightly mocking, you sense the whole good of the world rests with the fate of these women and how they treated, how we need to love them with the intractable love the narrator at this apartment complex described as a motel at the end of the world. These poems are psalms, written by a reluctant savior. But a man who cannot even save himself, so what’s he supposed to do with all these random hearts bobbing against his bow? If it’s sentimental at times, it’s not for a better past–it’s for a time and a place and a perfection that never has and never will be available to us, which at points in our lives we give up on seeking, and wait for something large to happen, some glow at the periphery, watching from our lawn chairs in the empty lots of places we cannot name. There is a flatness and a purposelessness to violence in these poems just as there is a flatness and a purposeless it seems to our existence, in our various states of wandering and flailing. But the poems do not settle for nihilism or self-absorption, the saving grace being the narrator, who sees a genuine greatness in these people, has a quite fondness for their idiosyncrasies and maniacal outbursts, the human decency behind their struggles, their pushing back, their humor and small victories. Enough. Now I’m just getting jealous.
The Incognito Lounge
by Denis Johnson
The manager lady of this
apartment dwelling has a face
like a baseball with glasses and pathetically
repeats herself. The man next door
has a dog with a face that talks
of stupidity to the night, the swimming pool
has an empty, empty face.
My neighbor has his underwear on
tonight, standing among the parking spaces
advising his friend never to show
his face around here again.
I go everywhere with my eyes closed and two
eyeballs painted on my face. There is a woman
across the court with no face at all.
They’re perfectly visible this evening,
about as unobtrusive as a storm of meteors,
these questions of happiness
plaguing the world.
My neighbor has sent his child to Utah
to be raised by the relatives of friends.
He’s out on the generous lawn
again, looking like he’s made
out of phosphorus.
The manager lady has just returned
from the nearby graveyard, the last
ceremony for a crushed paramedic.
All day, news helicopters cruised aloft
She pours me some boiled
coffee that tastes like noise,
warning me, once and for all,
to pack up my troubles in an old kit bag
and weep until the stones float away.
How will I ever be able to turn
from the window and feel love for her? –
to see her and stop seeing
this neighborhood, the towns of earth,
these tables at which the saints
sit down to the meal of temptations?
And so on — nap, soup, window,
say a few words into the telephone,
smaller and smaller words.
Some TV or maybe, I don’t know, a brisk
rubber with cards nobody knows
how many there are of.
Couple of miserable gerbils
in a tiny white cage, hysterical
friends rodomontading about goals
as if having them liquified death.
Maybe invite the lady with no face
over here to explain all these elections:
life. Liberty. Pursuit.
Maybe invite the lady with no face
over here to read my palm,
sit out on the porch here in Arizona
while she touches me.
Last night, some kind
of alarm went off up the street
that nobody responded to.
Small darling, it rang for you.
Everything suffers invisibly,
nothing is possible, in your face.
The center of the world is closed.
The Beehive, the 8-Ball, the Yo-Yo,
the Granite and the Lightning and the Melody.
Only the Incognito Lounge is open.
My neighbor arrives.
They have the television on.
It’s a show about
my neighbor in a loneliness, a light,
walking the hour when every bed is a mouth.
Alleys of dark trash, exhaustion
shaped into residences — and what are the dogs
so sure of that they shout like citizens
driven from their minds in a stadium?
In his fist he holds a note
in his own handwriting,
the same message everyone carries
from place to place in the secret night,
the one that nobody asks you for
when you finally arrive, and the faces
turn to you playing the national anthem
and go blank, that’s
what the show is about, that message.
I was raised up from tiny
childhood in those purple hills,
right slam on the brink of language,
and I claim it’s just as if
you can’t do anything to this moment,
that’s how inextinguishable
it all is. Sunset,
Arizona, everybody waiting
to get arrested, all very
much an honor, I assure you.
Maybe invite the lady with no face
to plead my cause, to get
me off the hook or name
me one good reason.
The air is full of megawatts
and the megawatts are full of silence.
She reaches to the radio like St. Theresa.
Here at the center of the world
each wonderful store cherishes
in its mind undeflowerable
mannequins in a pale, electric light.
The parking lot is full,
everyone having the same dream
of shopping and shopping
through an afternoon
that changes like a face.
But these shoppers of America –
carrying their hearts toward the bluffs
of the counters like thoughtless purchases,
walking home under the sea,
standing in a dark house at midnight
before the open refrigerator, completely
transformed by the light…
Every bus ride is like this one,
in the back the same two uniformed boy scouts
de-pantsing a little girl, up front
the woman whose mission is to tell the driver
over and over to shut up.
Maybe you permit yourself to find
it beautiful on this bus as it wafts
like a dirigible toward suburbia
over a continent of saloons,
over the robot desert that now turns
purple and comes slowly through the dust.
This is the moment you’ll seek
the words for over the imitation
and actual wood of successive
when you watched a baby child
catch a bee against the tinted glass
and were married to a deep
comprehension and terror.
Buy from Amazon: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation’s Millennium General Assembly