Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ithaca 6/1

It’s a Monday out of context. Bus rolls by.
Looking across the room I see a Mac,
a clunky-looking off-brand piloted
by a man with curly-gray hair and glasses,
a little VAIO, a guy with something that looks
like a portable TV, and a Dell. The woman at the Dell
has a worried expression intensified by the paleness
of her pale-blue eyes. Everyone has coffees,
espressos, lattes, or empty cups of same
marking their purchased right
to temporary autonomous zones
known as tables. And the guy
at the window wearing big headphones, expressing
the greatest possible will toward autonomy,
separation, in public. And the very old man
with white beard and glasses down his noses
and a frowsy ponytail, shoulders hunched,
peering deep into his screen past
mysteries of the grave. Sunny outside, cool,
breezy. The creek was burbling when I walked
alongside it, no doubt is burbling still, kept burbling—
silly word!—all this time I’ve been gone, two years
in the big city being something other than what I was
and temporarily am again—a lone man with a computer
and a coffee cup, writing. Now the woman at the Dell
has taken off her red scarf and put on fashionably dark
red-framed glasses, transforming her otherwise
unchanged expression from anxiety to pure
washed intensity, intentness, focus on the goal.
Or on the process, which is more spiritual, I’ve heard,
which makes me, what? not terribly spiritual
in my thinking since I’m always thinking about goals,
things I ought to be writing or at least reading.
This morning, for example, is supposed to be for
Ammons, A.R., a man I never met—he died the year I arrived here—
whose poetry I’m only capable of approaching
now that I no longer live in his shadow, that long Carolina shadow
that stretches down from East Hill and Goldwin Smith Hall
to incorporate Cayuga Lake’s long profile (and the woman
across from me has now taken her brown jacket off, it’s
a kind of striptease, rendering her less scholarly
in affect, narrower across the shoulders, causing
her pale skin to blend more with her pale sweater).
Or I ought to be writing my novel—yes, at long last
I’m a traitor to poetry, every day I hack away at it,
remembering a long-ago reading I attended in New
Orleans by Andrei Codrescu, in which he read
his surrealist-informed poems, and during the Q&A I
aspiring novelist raised my hand and asked,
“Mr. Codrescu, what about the novel?” and he
said glibly, “The novel is dead, I only write novels
for money.” And he was right, I almost typed write,
like Dr. Johnson was right (if Andrei’d preceded
his answer with a “Sir,”), the novel is dead, undead,
and I’m alive with writing one, while looking too
for a new path to poems, a new path to about,
my bugbear: if someone asks you what your poem
is about, that just shows they’re naive, if not stupid,
and you can smile condescendingly and say,
“Well, it’s not exactly about anything
but itself,” and make them feel their stupidity,
push them back into a defensive dismissal of you
and the genre you represent, thus restoring
your precious and temporary autonomy. But
with novels there’s always an about, and some
poems too, I’ll admit it, like this poem, which purports
to be or become a kind of diary of this temporary time
in a town I once called home, in the mornings
stolen from my wife and daughter for the purposes
of work I’m not doing, my Ammons article
or my novel or blogging, which I hardly do any more
unless this poem is a kind of blog, or slog
whose modest pleasures lie in sheer dailiness
and the subtly directed emphasis
of the line. A man in a checked shirt and Big Red
baseball cap has joined the intense woman,
he’s going to buy coffee and sit with her,
and flirt or commiserate over what she’s writing,
which is a writer’s form of flirting, a strip tease,
a fan dance, one more mask
to hide that vulnerable and beautiful and temporary
becoming, that process which is so difficult to begin,
so uncertain in knowing when to stop, but to be in it
as writer or reader is its own little bliss,
happy for a time and interested, a little plagiarism
goes a long way and a lot goes a long way,
look for more of it, look for being and becoming
in happy tension with each other, a poem
of ordinary syntax, in ordinary time,
measured out for hours of bordeom and delight
whilst I tell my complaint.

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