On a cold winter day, I squish through the streets of Greenwich Village until I stand before 75 1/2 Bedford Street, the "Narrowest House" in New York City. Where lived the widest mind – her words expanding like swan wings in flight over the quarrel of water tanks and tarpaper rooftops endlessly arguing the city. Clearly what ails me – I take up too much space. I must move to smaller and smaller rooms, crawl into an overpriced, cubbyhole of my mind and write crabbed on a stool. Or maybe jack into one of those video game follies where the walls slowly press in and squeeze – a giant lemon press for poems. Or garlic. That’s it! Smash myself paper thin, pressed like a stricken butterfly between the pages of a dictionary. Yes, that is how it’s done. To grow bigger, get smaller, said Alice. Squeeze and squint and scrutinize the margins, annotations, punctuation, the endless inky spaces within words. Smaller. Swooning past atoms, forgetting even the names of electrons and protons. Smaller still. Silly-string theory squirting from mathematical cans. Smaller. Past the hearse whisperer. The ferryman. The exquisite, infinite, idiocy of nothingness. The Quantumverse.
In which the poet is interviewed by the poems. “Tell us about yourself.”
|Tell me about your eyes.||I am a periscope|
squinting above the surface
|Why is your soul caramelized with soot?||My vacation in Eden was a hot time,|
but I wandered too long in the garden
|Why did you abandon the piano?||My father re-pointed the bricks of our house|
with Mozart. It was beautiful, but his fingers
tipped the scales.
|I heard you can breathe underwater.||Do you want to see my fin collection?|
Some people have shoes,
I have a closet of dorsal Nike’s.
|Did you once throw your fate on a wheel?||No, that is a lie|
spun from mud and clay.
|What is it with your hair and the birds?||When taking trash to the dump on Wednesday,|
first one, then another (!) seagull
pooped on my head. True facts!
|How did you survive in the desert?||I decapitated myself by rolling up the car window.|
I was tired of the complaining
and that thirsty mouth.
|You cried watching “Valley of the Dolls?”||As a boy I was in love|
with Patty Duke
|What do you do when your back is to the wall?||Write a sex poem.|
|You write of the co-evolution of wolf and shark.||When I stumbled on the carcasses|
of two frozen deer on the beach,
words flooded my lungs with hunger
Beyond the porch, hydrangea weave a blue and purple skein, your fingers spin naked kisses on the wheel – wool leaves a honey smell of earth on your hands. I listen to rain the wheel makes. I taste crabs, tide, when you say here, feel this, it is so soft and beautiful, I say is this for Pablo's socks? Yes, I can see as you spin, you will then knit this yarn into loaves and fishes. His feet, so white, will know salvation and charity, they will be an origin story, feet that create the world like Enkidu and Gilgamesh – wild man, bull man, who beats his shield before the gods, his song immortal. If only I had such socks! Dear wife, I see a cortege of right whales and topaz, hawksbills and vole-song emerge braided from your hands, yet when I try on the socks, they are heavy as iron. My voice sours, I bark like a dog, my words falling down stairs like malediction, take them, please, I feel silly In them, they are bluebirds of misery. I peel myself off, skin turned inside out, hamper rim-shot my soul – I will be sweat washed from Sunday's laundry, then drain and spread and seep down through sandy loam, where I am salt that feeds the flower beds under our awning and stain your lips again hydrangea blue.
black and white keys are bullets from a piano loaded in your eyes then fired by trigger fingers curled around the doorknob where you lived at 63rd and West End someone calling out "who's there?" when I would stand outside listening for the ricochet of silences as if there would still be echoes 50 years on instead of shots from the projects across the street and tasting the gunsmoke of heroin-grey sky smelling jazz salts revives me from touching the numbers on your door, the rooms now empty of music, no piano in the kitchen fact: our apartment was a block from your house Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle of 5ths where the rhinoceros statue was cemented head first by its horn in the ground as if a fat-man trumpet player made a swan-dive of scales from the balcony above the rooms now full of music the color of money, tickle the ivories tickles your teeth with diamonds until the piano player calls it quits and closes the shades each note recluse as the door bangs open the new tenants brush past me coming down the steps in overstuffed coats as if whatever music was left in the walls they've hidden in pockets or packed for extra warmth and smuggle down to the subway take the A train to Harlem where the notes escape like a flock of birds riffing into the sky
I look over and see a firepossum trundling in from the storm – eight baby owls on her back, her crown of scarlet begonias. She heads to a stack of journals, feeds on the garbage I call poems. Spits and hacks out most, but a greedy smeck smeck smeck from time to time. I say "Firepossum, play dead!" and she filches around in her pouch – has a bootleg tape of the Red Rocks tour – Jerry and Co. jamming on Row Jimmy. Wikipedea says the firepossum is a mythic beast that rises in flames like the Phoenix from ashes of suburban shopping malls in Arizona. The familiar of muses who blow into the mouths of the owls like feathered ocarinas tuned to the key of see? She climbs into the burning hearth, disappears, leaving an empty room and owl pellets – I hold in my hand inky bullets of hair, bones, claws, and teeth.
Baudelaire sits in my living room trimming candle wicks and his toenails with a pen knife. A Nor' Easter blows into town like a circus running from debt. He asks for a lantern. I show him how to turn on the floor lamp and overhead lights, but no luck. He sits in the dark. The wind keens, the moans of dinosaurs wailing their extinction. I have to read him the Wiki article on Fleurs du Mal over and over, like reading Goodnight Moon to a child. He appears to understand English. Lightning from Dr. Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. He wears his flâneur costume with that floppy bow tie. He's back to picking his toes. Gusts of snow mad as hornets sting my face. Let's be honest, the opium and syphilis have not been kind to him. His skin is mottled and orange like a pumpkin. And then leaves town, vamoose, with the runaway girl.
There is no poem here, just my uncle in the first hours of August 6th, 1945 watching in darkness the Enola Gay gain speed on runway Able, North Field, Tinian Island. Mid-morning the sky – a blue and turquoise axe handle – swings down a flaming red blade on Hiroshima. He said they saw the light 1,500 miles away, a second dawn. No poem. Talked with the ground crews, went to mess, played poker with his tail gunner and the navigator. Will meaning come later, if ever? If he drew to a flush of hearts, he does not remember. Or if Tokyo Rose played Blue Skies on the radio.
Maybe the Zodiac killer of the ‘60s disappeared from earth or at least California and true to his name began stalking the night sky instead Killing off constellations he thought were rubbishy glitter, or taking a razor to the Gemini Twins for their sophistry and pretense Finally, someone stabbing new stories into the darkness, a stiletto cutting fresh scars with needles of light: The Goblin, The Madhouse Nebula, The Killer Toys Holding my hand, you point: "Look, there! next to the Pleiades Morgue – isn't that Ted Bundy?" I say, no, it is Ted Hughes, husband of Sylvia Plath, serial killer of poetesses, his words slashing lines in poems "Oh yes, I see that now, and there's The Oven! Yes, yes there she is, can you see Sylvia, her head, that cluster of stars filling the kitchen like vapor, gas?" Which makes the starlight fray and dim, the night now a bit dark even for me
A blackbird rose from the catastrophe of scrub, pomp and plump of snow clattering off branches. Its wings were flapping like a book flying off the shelf, feathers black and smudged from close work with print, wingtips of words and birdsong slipped with ice melt and berries. I say "Downward to darkness, on extended wings." and the bird grimaces, because I always say that, because it is always "Sunday Morning" for me, in my waking dream I wander through a poem of coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, words, the fragrance of lilacs. The bird whistles: "Call me Wallace." This old, odd chimera of my life made of papier mâché, an ill-matched pastiche – part lumbering walk, part postcards from Colorado, part the haunted mask I wear – laughable my pretense of the ancient sacrifice, to arrive at this place in the woods without gloom or suffering – a bird rising from the snow, its beak red with berries, testing my reality as if I were the poem, the fabrication, the dithered smudge flying across a white field.
I thought snuff poems were illegal since at least the 90's – No more candles in the wind, thank Jesus, no night stars blowing out one by one, all the tropes of hope and light gone up in smoke – arrested, up against a cop car, spread-eagle and cuffed with zip ties. A young poet I knew went to police academy to play cops and robbers – bad idea – our metaphors mug honest words at knifepoint, disturb the peace of stolid, taxpaying nouns, graffiti defacing the library wall of verbs. she forgot all art is theft and poetry is murder.