Uncle Rhetorical

December 13, 2009

It’s raining. It’s pouring. And the old man
Is out of bed. It’s 4:15 A.M.
—Old, etiolated, left so un-majestic…
(But not snoring, no.)
*
It is raining, though, rain that Thomas Merton[i]
Once described as a festival, though he
Was up late himself that night, in a dark
Wood, a Coleman lantern to shed some light,
(On what?)
Pretending to have found the God of light—
As if the God-Who-Is-Something -You-Come-
To-Know is anything other than you-
Yourself-dressed-up-in-old-pajama-pants
—some ‘thing’, some ‘self’.
What an odd thing it is to feel your body
And self in silent crying, an affair of neurons.
The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind,
If one may say so. And of course it won’t
Keep raining forever, not this downpour—
Which Merton knows quite well.
There are, he points out, always a few people
who are in the woods
at night, in the rain
(because if not the world would have
ended)
and I am one of them—
such a
Peaceful rain storm in the mountains! So nice
A man to keep the world in business while
Us city folk are turning one by one
Into a ‘crash’ of rhinoceros. (My, but
The collective noun seems apropos here.)
A crash, then, dense with inebriate illusion,
These boys are not fooling around. Remember
Ionesco’s play[ii]? Circa 1959,
What they called the ‘Theater of the Absurd’?
People turning into rhinos? Some kind
Of metaphor? Of course, these days to be
Absurd Ionesco’d have to write a play
Called ‘Manatee’. Even then, your average
Rhinoceros would storm out of the theater,
(They do that, you know), insulted, amazed…
‘Why, the very idea…’

*

What an odd sensation it is to feel
The body and the soul alert and not
(Be able to)
Study that sentence, set with a mason’s skill,
Even as the slowness, unsteadiness
Prevails: an order of parataxis,
Maybe, set just as stones are set—or so
Old Uncle Olds[iii] thinks—set by the ocean:
Transformed into a manatee, floating
In the tidal basins, gravity as
The glue. He came, he saw, he cried out in
The night, not this silent night or silent
Passage, but some night written as asylum—
For it is still raining, is it not? And
Our objective is still solitude, the holy
Solitude Thomas Merton found sitting
And festive in the mountains of Kentucky,
And surely all things will connect, at least
By being wet, at least tonight, at last.
(Here it is.)
Thomas Merton, who is reading
Philoxenos, a Syrian who had fun
In the Sixth Century
, and has his thoughts
About being alone abetted by
Philoxenos even though he, Philo, was
Alone in a desert and was alone
With a different self—and it doesn’t rain
So much, the waves don’t crash, and there are no
Manatees, no Syrian sea, just the sun
And the two selves, real (ha!) and conditioned
(Ah ha!) to flop around on the deck with—
The one, he (Merton, Philo, Uncle Olds,
Even me, take your pick) was born with, and
The one we  all will die with, had his thoughts
(The same antecedents, but choose ‘Merton’
If you want to say sane) in that cabin
About the rain¸ the self, society
The state of our silent grace, the state
Of sanity left in the world—lots of things—
But, strictly speaking, gave no thought at all
To the rhinoceros, ‘rhinoceros’
Being a metaphor—right?—and one we
Agree, because of its stale nature, might
Better be replaced with ‘manatee’.
(Okay, but…)
It does at least preserve the absurdity
We think Ionesco had in mind, though he,
Ionesco, wrote a play about conformity
In a modern totalitarian
Context—what’s rational, reasonable,
Logical, etcetera, all defined
By machinations of…
(…Oh, stop, please stop…)
…the machinations of, well, Capital.
Let’s face it, call it money, moolah, lucre,
Filthy lucre, boodle, clams, dinero,
Kale, lettuce, lolly, sheckles, loot;  call it
Simoleons, dough, cabbage, wampum, bread—
And how’s that for parataxis, eh?—it,
Um, Money, Das Kapital, does remain
At the source of Ionesco’s fearful play
And not absurdity. Thomas Merton:
In order to experience yourself
you have to suppress the awareness of
Your contingency, your state of radical need.
This you do by creating an awareness
of yourself as someone who has no needs
that he cannot immediately fulfill.

Thomas Merton: The time will come when they
Will sell you even your rain.

*

My Uncle Olds could talk all day about
This thing he called the ‘glass segue’.
Smooth, he’d say. Like music, like
A transmission, so fluid…
Just like the meshing of gears…
And he’d smile his sly smile, drag out
The syllables—the gla-ass seg-way—and give
You a definition by example:
For example, you’re sitting with him, mister,
You’re in the Courthouse Bar, he’s just bought you
A scotch or a beer or something, what you’re
Drinking; it’s not going to be crystal
What the hell he’s talking about, not crystal clear
At all…the glass segue this, the glass
Segue that…the rain is the glass segue,
The fucking sunshine is the glass segue,
The stars in the night sky, the traffic on
The thruway, the beer you’re drinking. Look,
See how it pours, as if it had a choice,
You see, it’s the glass segue. Throw the beer
Right in his face, and he’ll laugh at the glass
Segue. Olds Papadopoulos, the glass
Segue in person. It gets annoying.
And always with the ‘the’, it’s never ‘a’ glass—
The definite article, the big time—
Like it was one big thing he knew about,
And you, in your graceless innocence, did not.
It was like he knew all the rhetoric
That ran the universe—knows it all in
Reverse, certainly knows it better than
You do, backwards and forwards, dude.
So go and have another beer,
(Mr. Savoir-faire)
Tip a jar to the glass segue itself…

*
Or is it to ‘himself’? The spider smiles—
(My inhuman segue to this segment)
For, as we introduce our mystery guest,
‘The glass segue’ does gain some cogency,
A kind of metaphor for the whole show,
—As good as any other—and suppose
Our Uncle Olds, in the role we all play,
I mean the role of Everyman, if he
Was composing a kind of poetry,
A poetry of poem and person—think
How Wallace Stevens uses the word ‘poem’,
Or how the atheist could use the word
‘God’— ‘God’ for Good, or ‘god’ for all the gods—
A summation of all that’s good, or one
Good summary of all that is—and one
That frees up ‘grace’ too, fixes it for
Its fight with gravity and its fight with
Gravitas—right now it’s fighting that—
Suppose the glass segue could carry that
Much weight—think here of Philip Larkin’s use
Of glass in High Windows, or Ortega
y Gasset’s ideas[iv], his imaginings:
Imagine we are looking at a garden
through a window… As the goal of
vision towards which we direct our glance
is the garden, we do not see the pane of glass
and our gaze passes through it. The clearer
the glass, the less we see it… We can ignore
the garden, and, by retracting our focus,
let it rest on the window-pane… [T]o see
the garden and to see the window pane
are two incompatible operations:
the one excludes the other and they each
require a different focus….
Okay, we’re looking at a garden—know
A thinker by his examples—Ortega’s
Garden, and Merton’s rainy hermit’s hut—
It’s pretty nice up there in all that dew and moss.
My Uncle chose a claustrophobic bar
So he could walk home nights still stewed and swearing,
Sweating his way past closed mom-and-pop
Stationary-convenience-candy stores,
Past the all-night laundromat where he
got his ass mugged one night.  It seems the glass
May not be clean at all, or it may be
Not flat; it may be convex or concave—
Hey, it may be a prism or rose colored,
Or, think about this, suppose it’s a mirror…
It almost has to have some reflection,
Wouldn’t be glass without our reflection
In it,  now, would it? There, look closely
There’s Uncle Olds standing in his bathrobe,
In his basement, playing with the fuse box,
—the fool knows nothing about electricity—
He’s still alive, still conscious, still waiting
For our guest to arrive…And no, it’s not
Godot, not to worry, but will it be
Ivan IIyich, say, or Polonius,
Or maybe Jay Gatsby or, I don’t know,
Ethan Frome—remember Ethan Frome?—you
Most likely read it in middle school—
(anyway, it)
Was hard to say who Uncle Olds would want
To wake from literary enchantment…
Until Polonius knocked at the door.
Who knew this was Olds’ favorite speech? Listen:
Either for tragedy, comedy,
history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical,
tragical-comical-historical-pastoral,
scene individable, or poem unlimited—
An interesting epitaph, yes?
The dead Olds, via some papers found in
His desk, asked to have these specific words
Engraved on his tombstone. It took so long
For him to die—lying, just the slightest
Of movements for two hundred twenty seven
Quiet days—after he grabbed those live wires…
I was nineteen when this went down.
My mother sent me over to his place
When he didn’t show up for supper
(As per usual).
What an odd thing to have all that power
—Spiritual, physical, moral, electrical—
Overloading, overflowing in your
Inebriated, isolated, tragical-
Comical-historical-pastoral,
Impossible poem unlimited,
Prohibited, rhetorical.
Constantine ‘Olds’ Papadopoulos
1915 – 1969.
Rest in Peace, Uncle.


[i] See his “Rain and the Rhinoceros’

[ii] Rhinoceros

[iii] My uncle Constantine ‘Olds’ Papadopoulos, following a massive stroke, spent the last months of his life in a deep coma. Yes, he drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass.

[iv] In The Dehumanization of Art.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: