Tell me what happened when the encouragement of years went awry.
All the loving help turned out sour. I had no course but the hard way,
for I had asked and received unknowingly the seven tasks of Hercules.
I thought, I read too much, my father said when he stirred me from sleep.
I lay with too many women even though my mother had warned me . . .
Or I did not do any of these things, my eyes husked over like fresh corn,
the shelled vision Blake could not countenance, counseling, Look through
not with . . . I have imitated too long their sunbathing in their back yard
in London. I have read The Marriage until I am blue between the bones
with Heaven and Hell and how Milton was of the Devil’s Party unaware.
And when it was not Blake, it was John Clare in Northampton Asylum.
I rode up in the elevator, as I had ridden down an elevator in the city.
There was no one with me when I ascended. That is how it is, I am told,
with the ultimate elevator, the one that never stops and goes so very fast
you wonder why and never know. Some say there you find a new Eden,
I am not so sure, it may be a new Hell. Too many insist upon being correct
according to biblical injunction, the many I have fled whose teachings all
ape that voice. I have sinned, they say aloud where once they whispered.
Is that why when Milton was blind he justified the ways of God to men?
He feared for the eternal life of his soul, I’ll bet. What are the odds . . .
Ah yes, Blake stripped naked as did the Mrs. convinced no one could see
over the high hedge, not figuring on the invention of the airplane
or even the rise of the gas balloon, they never lived where Albuquerque
could see you masturbating in the bed left empty when she left you
with her smell clinging to the sheets and you could not even help yourself
you were so harrowed, like a field of sand where weeds were dragged off
behind the tractor you learned to drive before a car, before you could ride
a bicycle and not fall. Then you found your old friend and she arrived
to stay, but how long did you last, her lines filled with the skin of terror
and joy. She knew one from the other. Even now you think of the Roma
family, named for gypsies. They were never gypsy like she who married
you twice. You were always on the road with her. She pulled your wagon.
She was never a horse with blinders, but a proud mare whose stallions
would not leave her. She left them. She had no time for reading. He did
it all. All the dark things she taught him by proxy. All the time she left
to go to war with the future he was reading. Working that way. All day
at the court reporter’s office upstairs with the Willie Nelson woman
from Dallas reading transcripts. At home, such as it was, I cut coupons
from the Journal and Tribune and presented them at the checkout stand.
One checker smiled too long. I asked her when she got off work. She said,
Never. I told her I was on vacation, she should be too. She smiled no more.
Don’t ask me how I got my way. She emerged when she said she would.
I forgot to tell you she smiled then. After that she had her schedule down,
she'd spend the night wherever I asked her to be, she was so idolatrous
of poets. I mapped her skin like new land: that cliche goes nowhere,
as always. Next day the same cost-efficient office. Only when I was outed,
revealing I had married the communist from Latin America, did I end up
living on a street with her who married me again she was so disillusioned
with men who wanted only to sell her body. They, she knew by that time,
had never loved her like they said and she had never loved them that way,
so why not save yourself from the streets and take him with you anywhere
the future was? The woman from Dallas kept climbing the stairs, reading
eight hours or as long as the pages virgin to her eyes lay in front of her.
I took severance pay and skulked the alleys, a big cat with tail, albino free
unlike the black cats who curled their tails around her and wished to give
her children but I knew the secret she could not keep, her deflowered
childhood, the caravan she left too early not to regret her first wedding.
After that, Coleridge, selecting pieces from Dejection: An Ode to the night
wraith Christabel, and a segue to the Ancient Mariner’s wail in Rime,
then Kubla Khan cut short. He drank laudanum, I smoke opium. So what?
A widow said recently I was a true romantic. Then she lost the other love
of her life to cancer. So many had died in such a brief time she had known
would be her lot, she turned to writing short bursts of laughter and sorrow
in cyberspace. Because we live in the future now, the nineteenth century ends
whimpering, the twentieth with so many tasks left undone, like destruction . . .
you know the litany. And here we are back in the boiler room. We who had
thought ourselves immune from labor discover there is nothing but the sweat
of the brow. After all the masses, the sermons to go with the Catholic homilies,
children crying the whole hour, mothers restless to be away from husbands
whose attentions turn to their machines, priests and preachers fully aware
they have the only good jobs in any town up here with all who hunt and fish
for fun, you can’t tell me the caravans from the south don’t have lots of cash
to spend on their cabins winters like summers, it’s a way to flee the family,
better than smiling back at the painted women whose smiles are contagious.
You drive under an overpass and the car in front of you stops to pick up
a woman with a purse who resembles a goddess thrown off her pedestal.
She gets in the car, the car drives off and you keep going, your woman too
much in thought to care any longer, she knows where the woman goes . . .
In the boiler room the rules have changed. God, he’s called, this mere man.
He saves on time cards and machines. He sits there. He never ever leaves.
(5–28 October 2010)