Archive for August, 2013

Asylum

August 30, 2013

At its beginning, every life goes through a phase in which a mild two-person illusion defines the world.
—Peter Sloterdijk
             

You don’t see watermelons with seeds so much anymore. But of course, once upon a time, we thought that was how watermelons were reproduced. We even thought, the more seeds the sweeter the juice. My sister and I, we’d sit on the back steps spitting seeds and telling wild stories. We’d drip juice all over our shirts, running around barefoot on hot August nights, pretty much like this one. Sweet indeed.

‘I think I’m having what’s called a Proustian experience,’ I said to my kids, Chalmers and Searle. ‘Sitting here. We’d have story telling contests.’ The look they gave me suggested the empty sky.  ‘After the French author, Marcel Proust. He wrote a very long book called The Search for Lost Time, I haven’t read the whole thing, six thousand pages, but it’s about stories and finding the truth in memories. Maybe I’ll read some to you.’

Two looks, four worried eyes. ‘Softball tonight, Pop,’ Chalmers and Searle said. ‘Last game of the season‘.

‘Only if you lose,’ I said.

‘We will.’ They were both of the same opinion. The game was against the Russian all-stars. The best players in the whole country. Russia is a big place. Eleven time zones.

‘Have faith,’ I said. ‘The Russians can hit, but they can’t play defense. Get past that star pitcher and you’ll be okay. She’s supposed to be a wizard.’

‘She?’ Chalmers and Searle looked genuinely surprised. ‘There’s a girl on the team?’

‘Of course. Got something against girls? Wait till you see her pitch.’

I gave Chalmers and Searle the book, the first volume of Proust, Swan’s Way. Marcel Proust wrote in French (but of course you know that). I have a translation by Lydia Davis, who writes very short short stories. To be fair, Chalmers and Searle were still recovering from my reading Walden to them. Every word of Walden. Page by page. It took us a whole year. Chalmers and Searle are 13 and 14. They really can’t be expected to get into Thoreau. That day, all they could get into was their uniforms. They wanted to be carrying their cleats, not Proust. ‘Beware all enterprises that require a new set of clothes,’ I said for perhaps the um-teenth time. Big game tonight.

‘Whoa…’ I tried to slam on the brakes. We rode past what seemed to be a body too fast to stop. Was that a dead girl back there tossed in the meridian?  Chalmers and Searle had a good view, sitting in the back. It was a girl, all right. It was a woman. We had to turn around.

But the game, the Russians…

No, we had to go back. ‘I’ll tell you later about Kitty Genovese,’ I said.  I pulled out on the access road and turned around. The cars were whizzing by. No one was going to stop.  I eased the car up on the grass. It was a girl, and she was not dead, thank God, only dazed. She had fallen out of the bus, she said. She spoke English well, but with a Russian accent.

Turns out, she was the pitcher for the Russian softball team that I was taking Chalmers and Searle to play against. She said she was fourteen—but, well, how to put this?—she was a very mature fourteen. Remember that tennis player, Anna Kournikova, I think her name was. That’s what she looked like. Blond and athletic. A goddess in a baseball uniform. Chalmers and Searle stood gaping. If she was fourteen I was Mahatma Gandhi. How do you fall out of a bus going seventy miles an hour?

You do it by drinking vodka out of a bottle in a paper bag and then try to climb out the bus window. There was a traffic jam, she told us.  ‘I take my chances,’ she said. ‘I want asylum. I’m the best softball pitcher in all Russia. I want to get rich in America.’

‘Don’t we all,’ I said under my breath. I had to make a decision. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I grant you asylum. You can stay with us. This is Chalmers and Searle. They are your new brothers.’

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This Eve, Only Once

August 26, 2013

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skin, and clothed them.
—Genesis 3:21

It’s not that the garden was empty this evening.
The rabbits still played among the fallen apples,
the bees still put honey in their honeycomb, and
the flowers continued to hiss and sway like snakes.
It was just that Adam was missing.
Even as Eve called his name into the darkness,
she knew he was gone. She felt for his rough skin,
his startled hands. She remembered his leather tongue.

As she sits in the garden’s rustle and quiver,
Eve sees a quill pen beneath the willow tree:
Something to write her poetry with.
She had tried to make up a word for each flower,
—the daises, and the lilies, and the bougainvillea—,
but had failed in a poverty of languages, each turned to babble.  
Imagine that the bull frogs could suddenly speak
Latin and the cicada Mandarin Chinese.

So puzzling. While each word began as a poem,
full of laughter and rain, soon the garden
had turned dry and stale, an old imagining of the desert,
one that drained the language of sense and sentiment
out of the soil. She might have been playing a joke or
rehearsing for a play, rather than reciting poetry.
Adam, she said as the beast rose up under her sibling, earth.
This evening, this Eve, only once, knew God as excess.

Noted

August 18, 2013

Infringement précis—
the eggs that I leave behind
will not fly away.

To the Level Sown

August 15, 2013

Without noticing how the moon’s
well-defined craters
had turned transparent,
each larva prepares to leave
its shallow abscess,

itself a home for both
the dawn’s wet rust
and the emerging worm
that might become
either a pilgrim or a penitent.

To know the difference was to live
beyond the great bell itself—
so soft, only the larvae
could listen to the level sown
or see the mask worn.

Thanks, Thanks

August 10, 2013

The Lord Squire among the bags
and books and book bags
beckons and bows.

The trees fill with threes—
three birds, three bees, three bones,
everything in threes—

except for the scones.
And they come once a fortnight—
so stale and dry and too hard to eat—
it is as if they were poems.

Bedtime for Bert and Annie

August 1, 2013

The ships shift, almost collide. One salutes.
The other abides in the evening dusk. It seems
a certain Captain Pigeon has been piped aboard
the Nanny G—only to strut and chuck
with an infinite pomposity atop the masts.
An admiralty of feathers. Poop on the poop deck.

Now, think of this foolery in clear simple terms
and it goes away, nearly. The captain could have been
a Captain Hawk, or an Admiral Albatross, imagine that!
But he wasn’t, just a lowly fowl out of Queens, New York—
and he took control with too much fanfare.
Even Bert and Annie knew that.

*

Mutiny is caused by words without a plan.
Why, they even killed the ship’s only goat
in spite of Pigeon’s request to spare him.
When he commanded that the great goat must appear,
whispers of blasphemy echoed throughout the ship.
Bring the animal back, mates, bring him back to life.
Bert and Annie…O, they deplored the sight!

Staked, skin stretched, his feet and legs at impossible angles:
here is the goat king of the Nanny G
in all his majesty, splayed and displayed—
only his privates worth keeping.
Pull down his pants, lads, wiggle his frankfurter.
Do it with relish—because Bert and Annie are asleep now,
and they are crying, ‘perish, perish, perish’.