Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Job

This symbolic job. The hour hand, the second hand. When I learned what poetry was I quit the job, poetry I mean. There was a brother who had a coal company in Chicago the writer worked for when he was a kid. He could remember back then at his writing table because it was not far back. Not at all. His wife wouldn’t let him. Or his wife’s relatives. He could hardly separate reality from metaphor any more . . . When it came to reading Hart Crane all the symptoms were there: the images from the cave of the mind, the sound of Ravel–Bolero–on the record player before he threw it through the upstairs window without raising the glass, without taking the record off the turntable because the marriage of Faustus and Helen was not going well tonight, and his mother was coming to stay and where would she stay but with the Tates, where he was when it happened. There were no clocks anymore, or: I mean are: There are no clocks now. One above my brow runs on battery and if you’re Quentin Compson in Cambridge now you could off yourself simply by dropping the clock as many times as it takes to stop the battery, but you wind up breaking the fucker anyway, and it doesn’t help to have unbreakable window glass if all you have in mind is death and you reach down and what made you feel good once seemingly still does but it goes nowhere. And how I stray from I to you back to I when she comes home and wants to kneel and I let her and if I were coming up on ninety-four instead of seventy-two she might find it repulsive by then, shriveled and all, and would go home and build a fire in the ashes from last night and warm her husband up to the high wire: It is more like acrobatics than fucking, she averred. Or did she avow? For no symbol will do. You can ride the Hart Crane elevator all day long and some subjects are no good for learning in the Bank of America building, downtown San Francisco. So now we–ah, we, the perfect familiar–we can go to Grand Central Station, like my oldest living poet amigo Howard McCord says, and find there many voices, many stories, many human events, and every time I look to add another episode to my "Episodes on the Floor of the Sky," I step into Hart Crane’s elevator. That’s what it felt like when I was writing it that day fifty years ago: I was at the–not my--Royal upright in the–also my–seven year-leased (though how could I know it then?) office near the stockyards of the agricultural college and no one cared if I was late, how I stayed so long, you might say, but I wouldn’t, not after turning out the product I sweated and laved over pouring what was in me I didn’t know was even there until it poured out and out and Mexico after New Orleans until I couldn’t get the orange- and green-haired putas–they laughed when they would call themselves that–out of my memory and back to the Ibero waiting room they haunted, or was it my head they hung and the rope was in the mezzanine of the Londres across the street . . . Hart Crane left from there, I heard. Mexico City is full of such errant tales of the woebegone. I’m one of them. So’s Ambrose Bierce . Quentin Compson goes from south to north and Harvard was never right for him, not even in the early years. Ask Dilsey, though she was never out of the South, there were no scholarships for wet nurses in those days. She didn’t even make it to the St. Charles run with Quentin when he was a baby boy, you would have thought Jason could’ve taken his family to town but no, he had to worry the store and niece Quentin, and besides, Faulkner already lived there. But there’s no symbolic salvation, not when it comes to living, and your big brother can hire his baby brother to shovel coal but your wife, when you marry one, will still have to work, the conditions of labor and the division of such and the qualifications of the human body for the lowest of low reach their nadir too quickly.

(11 October 2010)

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