It seems every morning Sadie gets up
earlier but really we’re just too dumb
to go to bed earlier so I’m a little dazey
even after the caffeine’s had a chance
to kick in: nine coffees at Gimme! means
the tenth one is free, so I’ve got a latte
and outside it’s humid and cool, the sky
as per usual lately gray with hints of slate
in it that might become genuine blue
this afternoon if it doesn’t rain, which
it probably will. The novel is taking
an autobiographical turn: not only
have I permitted the authorial I
to say a thing or two but my other protagonist
a woman named Ruth
has a grandfather with my own grandfather’s
history, which I have the sketchiest
knowledge of: an enabling condition for fiction,
in a sense I can expect to learn much more
about him from writing about him in this way
though it won’t really be him, it will be the him
that’s in me—I still like Kundera’s term
for fictional characters, experimental selves:
that gets at an essential fact without being
too Jungian about it, and is also suggestive
of the goal of truth. A woman with gray
in her hair and her daughter, maybe five
years old, just entered and exited Gimme!
State St. to remind me once again
how old Emily and I are to be parents and
how widespread that phenomenon is among
people of our generation and class: when
my father was my age I was already twelve
years old, a fact that ought to incline me
to forgive him much. I write every day
except yesterday, for which I feel quite guilty:
I do believe to write something like a novel
you need to put in your time every day
even if it’s only half an hour, which is all
I can manage during the school year and
I don’t seem able to manage much more than that
even now during the summer given other
projects. That’s a lot of I’s, I try
to keep them out of the left margin
for the most part, I
believe hanging right is the right place
for that minimal marker of first-
person inscription, this poem is by me
and a little bit about me but how much
will you learn about me really? you
who care, as another writer’s somewhat bitter
formulation has it. Upsetting news yesterday
about that octogenerian white supremacist
who went postal at the U.S. Holocaust Museum:
an aberration that speaks to the terrible
norm: the essential american soul
is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer:
D.H. Lawrence wrote that:
at least this particular batshit example
chose a relatively hard target, well guarded,
but now one of the guards is dead
and they’ve closed the museum for today
in his honor: his name was Stephen T. Johns.
On the other hand, clicking on the NYTimes site
just now to get that name I am refreshed
by a whimsical photo of something like an art
project in Times Square: 376 rubber chairs
and loungers placed for the recreation
of passers-by: “A Herd of Lawn Chairs
for Weary Tourists” is the headline, I rather like
herd and the image of the little girl sitting
between her parents looking up
at the dazzling implicit skyline, true mark
of the tourist or the child in New York. Isn’t
this as essential an American character, my
ability to swerve from atrocity to whimsy?
Thinking suddenly of Vonnegut’s
Tralfamordians, who have wars and so forth
but, they tell Billy Pilgrim, they choose not
to look at those moments, they prefer
pleasant moments: so I too am unstuck in time
like a toilet plunger with a hand on the end
with an eye in the palm, very one-dollar-bill
that image, thoroughly Masonic. Part
and parcel of the secret society of mental
midgets, hammered up on caffeine,
I plunge back to reality via fiction, Ammons
(thanks for the colons) and the undifferentiated
multiple that promises me if not enlightenment
some new enameled handle or hand
for mine to shake.
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Farewell, Barbara Guest .
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