by Gilbert Sorrentino – 1971
1 – LADY THE BRACH (page 1)
2 – BROKKLYN-PATTERSON LOCAL (page 25)
3 – THE BUTCHER CUT HIM DOWN (page 55)
4 – AND OTHER POPULAR SONGS (page 87)
5 – IMAGES OF K (page 109)
6 – RADIX MALORUM (page 153)
7 – MANY YEARS A PAINTER (page 183)
8 – AMETHYST NEON (page 213)
What if this young woman, that writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings? It’s an old story. Then she asks what you think of the trash you have just read – her latest effort. A use of the arts perhaps more common than any other in this time. Aphrodisia. Powerful as Spanish fly or the scent of jasmine. The most delicate equivocation about the poem, the most subtle relaxation of critical acumen, will hasten you to bed with her. The poem is about a dream she had. In it she is a little girl. Again. Most of her poems are about dreams. In them she drowns in costume, or finds herself flying naked. At the end of the dream she is trapped. Well, critic, tell her the poem has the clear and unmistakable stink of decay to it. Tell her. Is seeing, finally, the hair glossy between her thighs so important that you will lie? About art? You shift your body and hold the poem out –judiciously – before you, one eye half closed. Reach for a cigarette. Well, you say. Well – this poem… Her eyes are shining, they are beautifully sculptured, and dark. She uncrosses her legs, the nylon whispering, and recrosses them. The nylon whispering. Bends forward to accept a light, looking at you, seriously, intently, waiting for your judgement. I have nothing to say, the poem is unknown to me. Others, that I have read, are watery and vulgar, but perhaps her craft has somewhat improved. She’s been reading Lawrence – a bad sign, but…she understands him. As who does not? Well, you say again. Penis a bar of steel. We can have a large third rate abstract expressionist or hard-edge oil behind the scene, or a window with a view of a Gristede’s. If in the country, a small grassy hill falls gently away from the picture window behind which the two figures are arranged, gently away to a lawn on which a group of young drunks is playing touch football in the darkening November afternoon.
From intelligence to art. So Sheila Henry’s progression. A learning of trigonometry, locked into a milieu which has as its mentors and guides the mediocre. This is not odd, nor out of the ordinary. On the contrary, the talented amateur is everywhere apparent. “If I could climb mountains or sky-dive, I wouldn’t write poems.” So Freud is “proved.” In the case of Mrs. Henry, sex also operates as a factor. Her energies directed toward the poem, since to the uninformed, it takes little energy, and less time. Hacking out a novel, on the other hand, is sheer labor, no matter the ineptitude. We deal here with a specific young woman, one whose childhood is not germane to our desires. Art as mathematics. Good students and bad. It is a matter of how one’s intelligence is fitted to the social possibilities of the environment, no? That is, the bright star of the cultural clique in Indianapolis, at his brightest, is less “interesting” than his brother star in San Francisco. That is why New York is filled with glittering people who play with vomit. To propose a clear situation: Sheila Henry is the wife of Louis Henry, a bad poet. Through him she meets other poets. She begins to write too. The only difference between her poems and his is the degree of surface ability achieved, i.e., his bag of tricks is fuller. You see, she wants to be some one. A laudable goal. The Dean’s list, the whole name, in type, the precise letters of the true name. Out of the swamp of half-drunk wives of young executives and university instructors who discuss the Beatles and Stones and call policemen pigs. Revolutionaries of the elegant lofts. Supporters of the NLF in Great Neck. Sheila wants to be some one. The clear letters on the list, her name. Sweet erections a bonus. Is there a creative figure who has not had a desperately confused sex life? Perhaps even Lou is somewhat pleased by the confusion. Laboring over his formulated verse, proffering criticism to Sheila. She wants him to care. Who else on Ocean Parkway had read Paterson?
FANTASY for D.
they were holy elements
that comprised the earth
and i believed you
i believed you
and is love a holy element? I asked
in your love-
lit eyes I see
the smart of lust
These men – who did such marvelous things – wanted her. So what should she do but avail herself to them? What marvelous things? well, they thought about things, they talked about things, some of them were doctors in residence at the most fashionably grim urban hospitals. There was experienced etched into their faces, their young faces. One owned a share in a terrific bar to which the most brilliant young people crowded. Another pleasantly shocked her by knowing his Yeats as well as Lou did. And he wasn’t, well, he wasn’t Lou. He had a Corvette, smoked elegant, thin cigars. His teeth shone when he cracked an easy smile at her. They thought about things. They marched in the peace parades. The one with the interns from Bellevue. So moving, the wind snapping the American flag above the dazzling brightness of their whites.
She and Lou were drunk, the party had been a bore. Somewhere uptown, vaguely in Washington Heights. The girls had been single for the most part, and young, but Lou had danced only with her, excited. He had had only one extended conversation with an older man about the verse of Samuel Greenberg. They weren’t that drunk that they couldn’t get home on the subway. Along the dark streets bordering Prospect Park he kissed her repeatedly, letting his hand move gently over her thighs and up between her buttocks. She remotely wanted him. She may have thought of her current lover, as perhaps Lou did, who knew him, and rather liked him. He was a lawyer with a special interest in the eighteenth-century novel. In the apartment, she pulled off her dress and sat on the couch while Lou went to mix them a nightcap.
It is pertinent that I say that Sheila was not a particularly lascivious woman. What she wanted was thorough and repeated orgasms. How they were achieved was of little moment to her, so that, while she was, in effect, a particular kind of modern-day whore, there was none of the whore’s finesse about her; she had little sexual style. At this moment she relaxed on the couch, still open to the pleasure that she knew Lou would give her if she allowed it. Perhaps a sweet tinge of guilt at being unfaithful to her lover.
Lou came into the living room with two Scotches. He was naked, his penis swollen and half-erected. On his face he had painted, with her mascara, a mustache and goatee.
There is no point in writing pornography here. To be clear, this: instead of mounting Sheila, he masturbated himself and her, while he worked a candle in and out of her anus with great skill, so that Sheila came almost at the moment that she became aware of what he was doing. A minute later she wanted this. She had always wanted this. It was part of the mental paraphernalia of the erotic that she had taken with her on her honeymoon. Not this specific act, but something weird, something thrilling. Lou was a decisively uninteresting man, most times preferred to make love in the dark. He would say, “O baby, O my dear baby!” in orgasm. There were times when she ached to ask him for certain gratifications. Just try them out. What was the use?
But here he was, with this painted face, the candle, he said nothing, but worked for her, she was aware of how she must look to him, her hips moving, straining to meet his silent lust. He was her lover. Not even–real, but a man from a dirty book, a blue-movie man, the salesman, the cop, the priest, the man with shoes and black socks on. She thought of him with these things on. No. Rather, she thought of Lou as her lover with these things on. She thought of Lou as Che Guevara with black socks and patent leather shoes, and Che was her lover. He was – let’s call him Milt. His name doesn’t matter, I don’t recall her lover’s name, but Milt will do. So she said, “Milt, O Milt, fuck me.” She whispered then, “Fuck my asshole, Milt, fuck my asshole.”
What she wanted was a mirror so that she could look swiftly and see what she knew was her face serene in her pleasure, its idiotic half-smile. “The lineaments of gratified desire,” she said. “Fuck my ass.” Lou reached his orgasm – this is heavily literary, but nonetheless true – precisely at the moment she quoted Blake.
AT CERTAIN MOMENTS, the most unfortunate ones for his peace of mind, that is, moments that were imbued with the best of his marital pleasures, Lou recalled an hour of blissful sleep that he had enjoyed, years before, with a whore in a hotel room. I say, “years before,” but it had been just a year before his marriage to Sheila, in a time of despair over the fact that he thought he had lost her. The reader may consider that it would have been better had he lost her, better for both of them. That’s because he’s an outsider who thinks he knows best. These people aren’t real. I’m making them up as they go along, any section that threatens to flesh them out, or make them “walk off the page,” will be excised. They should rather, walk into the page, and break up, disappear: the subtlest tone or aroma (no cracks, please) is all that should be left of them. I want you to remember this book the way you remember a drawing. In all events, Lou remembered this sleep, it was a sleep that cleansed and relaxed him, it lasted perhaps twenty minutes, it was a sleep such as he never had before nor since, with lover or wife. It confounded him that it should be so. These are specific emotional sets that life proffers us.
Does this memory mean that Lou should have married the whore? Or does it mean that she was his destined lover? Or does it mean that this sleep was a sign warning him against marriage with Sheila? Not at all? Then what does it mean? Why has he never had such a sleep with his wife? The memory troubles him. He can transport himself to that room and recall the lucid sense of his body as it awoke, the girl next to him, smoking. His eyes unfocussed, on the ceiling. This, of course, is the exact incident that he should reveal to his wife, confess, if you will. But how can he tell her that his most perfect realization of peace came about with a girl whose name he did not know? (She told him, but he had forgotten it five minutes later.) On the wall of the hotel room there was a framed print of Old Glory, unfurled and cracking in the wind. The slightest twist to this story, one way or the other, vulgarizes it and thus makes it palatable. The camera cannot tell this story without destroying its root meaning. From love, to sleep, to a shot of the flag on the wall. The simplest reader of Avante-Garde will understand that. The flag. Love. Sordid. America in the sixties, ugghh. While we know that’s not the point, the point is the sleep, the flag is there. Let’s suppose that it was the flag of Australia so pictured. The camera would show that to no effect – none at all. Whereas I can say, “On the wall of the hotel room there was a framed print of the flag of Australia, unfurled and cracking in the wind” – Lou’s sleep remains our focus. If the flag annoys you, take it out of the room. But the story cannot be transmuted into the bawdy or base, no matter what twists are given it.
Lou never saw a picture of Old Glory after this that reminded him of that room, that girl, that sleep. The picture was there. I place it on the wall to extract and refine the essence of those two naked bodies, to make them prose. To make them absolute prose. To prose them.
As I say, this is the incident that Lou should have revealed to Sheila. It was no good at all otherwise. Out of it came wonder (which led Lou to write some poems better left unwritten) or guilt, since he couldn’t understand why he should be so suffused with sweetness by this memory. Erotically, it was useless to him, although he had tried to employ it that way, transferring the clarity of the remembrance to his relations with Sheila – she would become the whore, the whore was – at that time in the past – Sheila, and Lou would be young. Younger. What I am getting at is that he would be unmarried. But he could not recall anything of the sexual acts that preceded the sleep. He can invent sex acts, but this not only does not assist him in his relations with Sheila, it sullies the reality of the sleep. He wants this to happen with Sheila. Then he will be able to tell her. Since it does not (perhaps it will, someday, after we have done with them), the episode becomes more and more impeccable, and more and more impossible to unburden himself of. Thus he is cloistered with his banal memory. Out of such simple repression come his lackluster poems.*
*Out of such simple repression come also brilliant poems. But not by Lou.
A brochure from the Gom Gallery announcing a one-man show by Bart Kahane.
Bart Kahane’s sculpture is simply deceptive. It looks joyous and frivolous, like a fading beauty from Proust. Only the serious attention it rewards reveals it to be sternly modal, harshly chaste, and complex with hidden directions.
Central to the sculptor’s vision is the balance of horizontal and vertical conceptions of structured space. Each piece abounds with contradictions; each piece can be seen as a “tone row” of gay themes and unbridled mirth; or as a sort of closed, finite, totemic construct; or yet again, as a marker or signpost gesturing toward that final sculpture which will, perhaps, never be created. The pieces are static, trapping the viewer with their sense of totality. But as we watch, this seeming diamond-ness of the conceptual changes before the eye until the works translate themselves into the simple, yet brilliantly accurate figures of a dreamlike dance.
Many years a painter, Mr. Kahane shows a healthy, almost a holy respect for boundaries – the piece as conductor as well as frame for the artistic kinesis. Yet he has eschewed the painter’s care for the contrapuntals and harmonics of color. The gluey black and perverse white, bitter gray metal and nagging orange plastic – all have been excruciatingly selected with regard to the colors’ colorlessness. There is no allusive reference here, rather a totally compact extrusive force and thoroughness, a manipulation of mass and density, volume and plane, so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Each piece seems to be of that soi-distant gaiety associated with the receding colors a painter, in his bright craft, often makes us long for in the picture plane. Yet Kahane has achieved this special hilaritas without resort to the quiddities of color. The concern here is all with the maintenance of sculptural thrust, pure and unadorned, in spite of itself. Mr. Kahane has brilliantly manifested that concern. – Dick Detective
1. ST JAMES
2. TENTH STREET RAGA
3. LE FOU
4. LEO’S COCKTAIL
5. PORTRAIT FOR HARY BORE
7. BLUE AND GRAY 1
8. FEMS McCLARK
9. ORANGE SPLIT
10. BLUE AND GRAY 2
11. MISS BROWN
12. TEN EYCK WALK
13. PLUM BEACH
14. LOTT’S HOUSE
15. THE CALIPH
16. OFFISSA PUPP
17. BLACK LADDER
18. QUIERO VERDE
We’ll have to take one more really quick trip to New Mexico, Taos that is. This one is in the nature of a field trip, however, a search for the artifact. We look for a small metal sculpture, dull finish, all in all about the size of a brick. I know it’s in a house out here, because I’ve seen it, sitting on a window ledge, behind it – what else? – the mountains. It’s not a bad sculpture, derivative, obviously the work of a student, a tyro, but one who is talented. The reason that we’ve come out here, friends, is that it may well prove useful for you to see what may well be Bart Kahane’s first successful piece of sculpture. Now we may leave Taos.
But why Bart Kahane? Or, who Bart Kahane? He is really unnecessary to this tale* and might just as well sit on his ass somewhere in his Mercedes, enjoying life.
*One wonders just who is necessary to it.
I don’t need a sculptor here, or a painter for that matter, it’s just that the other day I got to thinking about old Bart, remembering him with a kind of fondness, that incredibly clear mind, scheme after scheme coming from it, and each scheme aimed at the achievement of success. Big time success, I don’t speak here of the kind of success my old friend Leo K. settled for – a little crumb off the table. Good old Bart. What was so enchanting about him was that he disguised this comptroller’s brain behind a façade of la vie boheme. How many gobs of spit did Bart let fly upon how many rugs? How many times did he piss in the potted plants? Shit in a few bathtubs in his day too, old Bart. One remembers him throwing beer cans in friend’s faces, etc. Punching his wife or trying to kick her in the belly when she was six months pregnant. One can forgive a man who does this, let us say, helplessly. It is incredible to see it all as a matter of choreography. Before he shifted to sculpture, when he was still involved in a kind of painting that might be termed real in some sense, i.e., there was at least a halfway commitment to the work, I remember him figuring how he would act at a particular party that night, or that week. The perfect outrage, etc. He was a Crazy Artist, in spades. The enfant terrible, the young genius. Plotted and planned, the strategy totally worked out when he was still in art school, the tactics candidly revealing the direction of the campaign, thrusting toward that house in Springs, that giant loft on Fourteenth Street, the best of booze and all the art-freak women he could handle. His wife, the charming hostess, entertaining the freeloaders on the Island all summer. A herald of that breed of artist with the sensibility of the Stakhanovite. Make plenty products good, feel nice, put on market for people who need, da! I am fascinated by them all with their paper suits and paper assholes, their faces have supported the hip slicks for at least five years. And Bart Kahane, many years a painter, saw it coming. Saw it coming: saw them all coming, one should say. All the urban rubes in their ruffled evening shirts and lavender dinner jackets. Bart’s feeling was, for every share they own, let there be a painting! One of his own, preferably, but this was too good to be true, and, in less than a month, there were many more people on the scene, so that now it is impossible to prove that Bart first saw the rubes advancing, plenty of dollars in their hands, a lust to speak real American words with real American painters, hang these real paintings with real oil on their real walls. Bart saw them all coming through those lean years, living on Delancey Street, drinking ten-cent dark beer in a dump under his studio, saw it all on the way: a hip nouveau-riche, a class so modern that they call themselves parvenus. The idea is that one is to forgive them because of their candor. Bart saw that one might with safety even spit on certain selected floors here and there among these dazzlers and nippers. Whatever ultimately served the purpose, that he did. I can see him now, upon his arrival in New York, wearing a shirt and tie he had borrowed from a fellow painter three years before. I didn’t know that then. The perfect friend for Bart is Dick Detective, and, of course, Dick was – and is – his friend. A perfect pairing, each seeking that portion from which the other should be forced to eternally give, give, and give some more. That metal sculpture out in Taos is in the house that Anne Kaufman once lived in. She left it there when she moved to the Coast. It was a gift to Anne from Dick D., who had got it from Bart. Now, think about all that for a while and you’ll have a rather arresting diagram. In the minds eye, one sees that sculpture on the window ledge. The setting sun bathes it in a red glow, the same red glow that gives these mountains their fabled name, Sangre de Cristo. Out here one can find peace, so Harlan told Bunny. Why are people so shabby that even fictitious characters stand revealed as corrupt or damaged? Go ahead, tell me to fulfill my obligations by attacking the society that spawns such corrupt people and dismal art. I am attacking the society. While you make the revolution, I make art. The Duty of an Artist Is to Make Art: The Second Declaration of Manhattan.
But I want you to think of Bart. We’ll build a stairway to the stars with the young man.
So, we get near the end of the book, and nothing resolved. But then, only segments have been given you of these few people. They are in no way representative of anything, necessarily. Such the perfections of fiction, as well as that honed cruelty it possesses which makes it useless. Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness. Can you see some shattered man trying to heal his life by reading Tender Is The Night? In the back files of the Ladies’ Home Journal there may, at least, be found the names of various physicians who will get you to the grave with a minimum of anguish – so they say. There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said “Help me,” he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry. Why is it that this should be? It is because fiction is real. When you writhe for Christopher Tietjens or the Consul, you writhe for real things that do not live, that do not represent anything anywhere, that have no counterparts in life. It is insupportable to be so enslaved by the writer. Many people hate it, so they will read only “nonfiction”: they’ll not be tricked! If I say that Dick Detective is a man with the qualities of the green tissue on which I am now typing, and only those qualities, what then? I make him up. What a pleasure, my pleasure, it is true. He will teach you utter failure if you try to use his chapter as a handbook for living.
It is this fact, that fiction is the invention of the voice, that tends to make writers’ lives a shambles. To be a grown man and to deal with a Dick Detective! To make him up, and then be compelled to deal with him. It is as a painter in his weblike aberration: first he puts down this blue shape, then this green shape, and the painting has him trapped. To deal with Dick Detective! To have the desire to give him such a name. And out there in the world, that you had better be convinced is a million light years away from this green tissue, they want him to be somebody they once knew in an office on Madison Avenue. I can see the elevator starter’s face now, the banks of artificial flowers and shrubbery in their low, green boxes. At Xmastime, a young woman playing sugary organ carols in the bank next door drove me to rage many times. A girl, lumpy face and pug nose, but with a lithe, strong body and luscious bottom, skates in the window facing Madison Ave. She goes through her boring acrobatics and dance routines, graceless. She is on a sheet of real ice. Incredible. Outside, messengers, the wretch of the earth, the people Robert Kennedy felt bad for, gape at her in their total ignorance, and wait for her leotard to tear at the crotch, their feet freezing in their Thom McAn shoes.
In the lobby, lighting a Players, is a man, impeccably dressed, who looks exactly like Dick Detective. He adjusts his jacket in that meticulous, I-love-Bach way that is Dick’s alone – or so we thought for a moment. For this man is not Dick D. – Dick is here, in these pages, and has already done a few things, as you will, I trust, remember. Whoever this man is, I have no idea. Had it been Dick, he would have offered you a Players, and made a little joke. He never smoked Players. This man, in the lobby, has violet eyes, so he couldn’t possibly be Dick. If you knew Dick, you would know it. Thank God that he hasn’t come to life.
The first thing you should know about Dick is that he is given this impossible name in order that the reader may ascertain certain things about his character.* Or, in all events, one certain thing. Basically he was a gatherer of information. He was a purveyor of partial information, distorted information, false information and speculation – robed as information – designed to elicit information from his listener. He was a social detective indeed. His essential task in life was so to arrange it that he could have something on everybody; I don’t mean so that he could use such things for personal gain, but so that he could be certain that what he knew about someone, what he had stored up, contained a miniscule fact that nobody else knew. Then, at certain times, and in certain situations, he would release this information to someone else: one might say it was “wrenched” out of him. This activity, this divulging of facts about marriages, divorces, love affairs, abortions, bad exhibitions, abandoned manuscripts, alcoholism, etc., took the place of thinking for Dick, as writing takes the place of thinking for the poet and novelist. (Those readers who think that I derogate the latter by this remark know nothing of letters.) Dick also wrote. It amazes me to think of him, sitting at his glistening clean desk, typing those inept conglomerates of words. He types them and he looks at them. He reads them aloud. It is not credible that he cannot see that what he has done is rotten. His poems come out of him, concrete turds. He sits at his desk and looks at the poem, this literary gesture so fashionable that it makes the work of Larry Rivers seem like a communication, from heaven, of Baudelaire’s. Absolute advertising. “Tired? Square? Bored? Buy Dick D.” April is on the phone, inviting somebody to dinner sometime, Bartok is on the stereo. In the smoke from his English Oval Dick’s eyes flash. Of course, amethyst neon.
*Vide my beloved Tristram Shandy
Winter. The Detectives decide to give what they decide to call a “snow party.” There is plenty of snow in Vermont. People who go to Vermont in the winter always tell you: “You should see the snow in Vermont!” You fall into your beer, fending them off. It will be a weekend snow party, with just a few people, among whom are Bart and Anton, Jo Lewis, who is now Jo Buckie-Moeller, and Ted Buckie-Moeller, her second husband, and other congenial entrepreneurs who love the arts. The invitations were sent out right after the holidays, elegant white cards on which Dick’s simple line drawing of a snowman smoking a marijuana cigarette is reproduced. “You are invited to attend a Snow Party at our house on January 14, 15, 16. Bring warm clothes and big appetites. There will be cocktails and a snowball fight and cocktails. Please come! R.S.V.P. Dick and April.” I’m not making this up.
A Snow Party! The river is frozen, the snow is deep, the house is warm and cozy as the guests begin arriving that Friday afternoon. April is in black again – against the snow. Dick rakish in a bright red stocking cap, his Abercrombie boots gleam against the wide, waxed boards of the living room. The guests cluster together, they chat, they drink. It would appear that Jo Buckie-Moeller has turned into an alcoholic and is dropping a lot of gin down as Ted talks with Dick about what? About the snow? About Robinson Jeffers? The living room is glowing in the soft lights, flames shift in the huge fireplace. They eat hors d’oeuvres, tiny egg rolls, a lobster salad, fried shrimp in a “marvelous” sauce, pate, truffles, caviar, deviled eggs, mellow cheeses, dips, pickles, a salad of radishes and cucumbers with a dry wine dressing. Dinner is a cold buffet, salmon in aspic with a cucumber sauce. April and Dick serve, mix drinks, and more snow is falling.
Later, they are all outside, singing, swaying under the heavy flakes, Jo falls down and has to be carried to bed by her husband. Anton comes back in the house quietly and finishes the salmon, washing it down with a bottle of Chablis. Bart peers lecherously at a young reporter for the Village Voice who is gallantly working at her bored face. The snow is still falling as they all retire.
The next day, they build a snowman eight feet tall, the scene looks like a Winter Festival, disgusting. They drink coffee with brandy from thermos bottles, and Bart makes a snow sculpture. They drink hot toddies. Jo falls down and has to be pulled from a drift before she suffocates. As the afternoon wears on, there is a big snowball fight, the “guys against the chicks.” Long purple shadows falling across the snow, as they will. The night is a little chaotic, Dick and Ted both try their luck with the Voice reporter, Jo falls on the floor, her skirt immodestly high, and April embarrassedly kicks her. And so on. Somebody is hurriedly masturbated in the pantry, somebody else finds Bart’s jockey shorts on the snowman’s head the next morning. These people are alive. I mean that’s what they do, they live. April waits for Dick to come to bed but he sits up all night with Anton, chatting about the fascists in the town some miles away. “My beard bugs them,” he says, the radical. I see his balding head, framed by the ojo de Dios that Buffie Whitestone sent him three years ago from New Mexico.
Sunday: the football game. They sit in front of the television set and watch the Jets, the men deep in arcane football talk, observing the linemen. All cognoscenti watch the linemen, don’t think these winners don’t know that. The women are polite. Jo is in bed, sipping vodka and apple cider, the reporter clings to the arm of Ted, he’s not a bad lay, the hell with his wife, the lush bitch. How nice that they live so close to one another in New York. Purple shadows again, of course, as the game draws to a conclusion. The clock ran out and a team won. Let’s get these people out of here.
That evening, the fantastic silence, branches cracking in the cold. The sunset, frigid and subtle, essence of winter. The dark trees stretch down the slope toward the shining black ice of the river in shadow. The colors of the sky are rose, blue, pale yellow, and violet – almost amethyst. Let me say that it is amethyst. A small perfection. Dick and April stand outside the house, happy in the quite. Civilized. April stokes her husband’s thigh, Dick holds April about the waste. Delicate amethyst in the sky, growing slowly indigo. They stand again, after supper, the brilliant ice-cream moon of North America comes up luminous. A portrait of the poet and his wife: you and I and moonlight in Vermont. Dick thinks this, then he sings the line and laughs. April laughs. They are in Vermont! Vermont! They are in the moonlight in Vermont!
(I apologize for any errors - they were not intended - and I will correct them if brought to my attention. Sheila's poem could not be shown as it appears in the book because of limitations. Tommy D_____)
Excerpt – The Moon in Its Flight – Facts and Their Manifestations.
He doesn't recall this, or pretends not to, but when he first met, many years ago now, the woman who would become his wife, she was wearing a cashmere polo coat, pale beige stockings and tan pumps, and a dark-red silk scarf. There was, or he pretended that there was, nothing odd or unusual about this, since he had forgotten, or pretended that he had forgotten, an incident in the past, an incident that would have made the woman's dress notable. Interestingly enough, at the time, the incident, now, perhaps, forgotten, seemed overwhelmingly important, as a matter of fact, unforgettable.
On this warm Florida night, his father is telling him, once again, of the dance at which he met his wife and, of course, his mother. Elements of this story change, as they will in stories, but the delight, even the passion with which his father evokes this young woman, just sixteen, and her sumptuous black hair in a chignon and wide, white-silk ribbon, and her green eyes, remain always the same. He fell in love instantaneously, painfully, with her face and figure, her womanly stillness and provocative reserve. After they had been “keeping company,” as his father put it, for six months, he gave her a silver charm, a tiny shoe, to commemorate their meeting at a dance. His father falls silent, and he knows that the old man is thinking of his wife's death, the dreamlike suddenness with which she was struck down by a cab outside the Plaza, after a day of shopping. He was barely four at the time, and he recalls, or seems to recall, that she had bought him a maroon wool challis scarf, returned to his father, torn and stained, by the police. Surely, his father told him this, for he remembers no scarf. He makes another highball, and about a quarter of an hour later, his father's new wife enters the kitchen, with a bag of groceries. She is not pleased to see that he is still there, and that both he and her husband are drinking. Her waxy, blue-black hair creates a somewhat grotesque frame for her sixty-year-old face, although she is disturbingly attractive to him. Irrationally, he wonders about the fate of the silver-shoe charm, but cannot ask at the moment, and, later, forgets to ask. A month later his father is dead, and the shoe is lost along with the sad and isolate detritus of gone lives.
On chilly, rainy days toward the end of summer, when it was too cold to go down to the lake, they'd usually walk over to her house and talk and play Monopoly on the screened porch. In the late afternoon, she'd serve iced tea, and they'd smoke and leaf through magazines and look out at the Rose of Sharon tree dripping on the lawn. The grass shone brightly green in the odd half-light.
She was a tall girl, at once slender and large, serious in her body, with profoundly black hair and noticeably clear green eyes. Her skin was smoothly tan and there was about her a reserve that was oddly provocative in its stillness. And although they had all known each other for a half-dozen summers, she remained curiously distant. Some of the girls thought that she was a snob, but it was her womanliness that confused them. She usually wore a modest, black one-piece bathing suit to the lake, and, occasionally, a pearl choker. There were certain things that people simply would not say in front of her; everyone wished her approval.
One gloomy, dank afternoon, while he was in the kitchen helping her with the iced tea and emptying ashtrays, he, in a kind of half-crazed trance, put his hand on the strip of warm golden skin between the waistband of her white linen shorts and her seersucker halter, then leaned stupidly to kiss her upper lip. It was cool velvet, slicked with delicious sweat, salty sweet. She gave him a look of absolute calm, one that came from behind the bright clarity of her eyes. Then, in a strange silence, she held out her hand, opened it, and showed him, on her palm, a Monopoly hotel, gleaming a perfect, symmetrical red. He glanced at it and then at her, bewildered and yet exultant, when she closed her hand and turned to the sink. He knew that this was a private message, he knew this. But it was opaque, cryptic, it was impossible. And it was so because of the adoration of her that had so ruthlessly overwhelmed him: because she knew that he would not understand the message, she sent it. He was stupid, there in that small summery kitchen, with love and yearning. He wanted to kiss her knees, her feet, in their fragile golden sandals. The others were calling for them to come back to the game, and he held his hands up in front of him, awkwardly, and, foolish with desire, said something foolish. He would, he knew, never be a man, it would be too much to ask of him.
The summer moved toward its end, and they never spoke of that afternoon, or her impenetrably candid message. It was as if nothing had happened. Nothing had happened.
Twenty-five years later, he saw her, walking quickly, outside the Port Authority terminal. She was wearing a cashmere polo coat, beige stockings, and tan pumps. She didn't see him. He would have preferred it had she been standing in front of the Plaza. Too late, of course. He thought that her name was Nina, perhaps.
There used to be a downtown hotel in a mid-sized city in northeastern Pennsylvania that had been, forty years earlier, the premier establishment of its kind in the region. But with the advent of turnpikes and the demise of railroad travel, it fell out of favor, and, over two decades, became a mainly residential hotel for retirees who were comfortably affluent, but wholly unfashionable, like the hotel itself. Yet the hotel had a bar and lounge that had been designed as a perfect replica of an ocean liner's first-class saloon: it was a jewel of black and silver and white, with art deco murals, chrome-accented bar stools, and lacquered black tables. The barmen were impeccable in their tuxedo-like uniforms, the drinks were large and perfectly mixed, and there was neither jukebox nor radio. It was the sort of place that, once discovered, was never spoken of.
He found himself there one night, after driving into town just in front of a growing autumn rainstorm, and unable to find the Sheraton that had been recommended to him. When he saw the hotel's name spelled out, in incandescent bulbs, on its marquee, he smiled and pulled into its small parking lot. He registered, and after a shower in his room, walked downstairs to the bar, and sat in pleased amazement at its ambience. He drank a martini, smoked, then ordered another. He was alone, or so he thought, but when he leaned back on his stool to light another cigarette, he saw, in the soft, silvery light that shone through the racks of bottles, a girl at the end of the bar. He looked at her, quickly, and as she lifted her head from the evening paper spread out on the bar, the light caught her short, black hair and the pearl choker that set off her simple black dress. She looked at him and nodded, civilly, without smiling. He turned to his fresh cocktail, his face burning, a thrill of awe and fear in possession of his entire body. It seemed to be the girl, it couldn't possibly have been the girl, a lifetime had passed, it couldn't be the girl. But it was the girl. He finished his martini and ordered a third, then looked again at the end of the bar, but she had left; only her newspaper, empty glass, and some bills were there. He thought that now he might die, since he couldn't understand his life at all anymore. Surely he had imagined this girl, imagined how she looked. He had imagined nothing. There she had been.
The Monopoly hotel that he'd found in his drawer after Labor Day could well have been the one that she'd held out to him on her palm. But how? She'd closed her fingers over it, and then he'd made a fool of himself.
He had not been especially interested in her, and then he was painfully in love with her. He thought himself into her body, into her stillness, into her reserve and modesty. That she often wore a pearl choker to the beach rendered him sleepless.
She had, he realized later, held the hotel out to him twice, it was simply itself, so obvious, so mysterious in its candor. It was but one element, one figure in a rebus, the rest of which was missing, or never created.
He passed her on the street many years later. Her hair was graying, and all that he could recall after the shock of seeing her was that she had worn a dark-red silk scarf. He'd seen her from a distance, crossing against the light in front of the Plaza. A rainy day, gray and chilly, red and yellow leaves plastered to the wet pavement. It had always, of course, been too late.
People enter and then inhabit, helplessly, periods of their lives during which they look as if death has spoken to them, or, even more eerily, as if they themselves are companions to death. It is not usual for others to notice this in daily intercourse, but the look is manifest in photographs taken during these periods.
He and his wife stand side by side in casual summer clothes, comfortable, and, as they say, contemporary, but in no other way remarkable. Behind them is a cluttered, even messy kitchen table, in the center of which, curiously, a tangerine sits atop a coffee mug, and on the wall behind that is a very poorly done pencil drawing made by a neighbor's daughter, a senior at the High School of Music and Art. Such infirm productions attest to the inevitable errors of talent selection. In the man's face we can see, clearly, the imprint of death left there years ago by the deaths of his mother and father, who died less than a year apart. They died badly, as do many people, gasping, fighting, twitching, their staring eyes registering amazement at how their bodies were impatiently closing themselves down, literally getting rid of themselves. Enough! Enough!
And then they were gone, they passed away. His wife's face has, uncannily, borrowed the subtly peaked, grayish blandness of his own, and so she, too, looks as if she has to do with the other side.
But here is another photograph of a middle-aged man, let's say he's the wife's brother, whose eyes, in a placid, contented, almost smug face, have the half-mad, glazed expression which used to be known, among infantrymen, as a thousand-yard stare. Precisely at the spot at which those thousand yards end, or, perhaps, begin, is the more precise word, stands death itself, in mundane disguise, of course, looking like James Stewart in one of his honest-friend roles. The face of the man in the photograph is unsettling, since its peaceful demeanor belies the crazed eyes, which reveal the dark truth. Death, as James Stewart, may have even been approaching when the photograph was taken. Which would go a long way toward explaining the ocular terror.
And here is a group of eight or nine children in a Brooklyn playground in 1959. There are four boys and two girls and they are smiling and mugging with their gap-toothed mouths, their shirts and shorts soaked from the sprinklers whose gossamer spray can be seen in the background. They are enough to break your heart. One of them, a sweet girl with straight black hair, cut short, and with a tiny Miraculous Medal on a chain around her neck, has her hands crossed on her chest. It is this pose which somehow allows access to the expression beneath the sweetness of her lovely face. The occulted expression is the one that can be seen on prisoners in Auschwitz, although this little girl knows nothing of Auschwitz. He puts the photograph down, he hides the photograph, but has no true idea why. Yet the message has been delivered, oh yes. It is at such times that we are brought to consider how completely strange death is, how remote from us, how foreign, how impenetrable, how unfriendly. In its ineradicable distance from our entire experience, it is inhuman.
Or: "Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death." (6.4311)
Click. Now you see us; now you don't.
Many people cannot understand why certain religions do not allow animals to enter heaven. Well, we know that they have no souls, but many people wonder about that, too. Do they? When the Rapture snatches Joe Bob Joe out in his Ford pickup, it'll be tough on Mr. Joe to leave Rend and Tear, his "really gentle" Rottweilers, behind.
"Let him change his religion and truly be saved!" Bob Joe Bob says, perhaps irrelevantly.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. Which implies, maybe, that if God does not wish, in, of course, selected cases, to be merciful, these faithful departed may not rest in peace.
Tangerine was, indeed, all they claimed, but she's been dead for about 50 years. Bob Eberle knew her well, and even, so they say, had an amour with her. He may be dead by now as well.
Of what is't fools make such vain keeping?
Sin their conception, their birth weeping,
Their life a general mist of error,
Their death a hideous storm of terror.
John Webster was, clearly, unfamiliar with the rhetoric of grief counseling.
I once heard Ray Eberle, Bob's brother, at the end of his rather undistinguished career, sing in a Brooklyn saloon named Henry's. His backup band was a disastrous trio, piano, accordion, and drums, but he was game. He bummed a cigarette from me at the bar. I was going to tell him that I'd seen him at the Paramount with Glenn Miller, but what was the point?
The chums of 6B4
Mario wore rubbers to school every day, for the uppers of his shoes were cracked and split, and the soles worn all the way through. He could have chosen not to wear rubbers, of course, for this was, even in the thirties, America, and freedom, enough to choke a horse, was in the unfailing ascendant. An unkind youth with a belief in his own superiority once thought to bait him about these rubbers, industrial rubbers, as they surely were, slaughterhouse rubbers, with their unmistakable thick red soles. The rage that he saw within Mario's tautly held body dissuaded him, however, and warned him away. A lot of the boys in class, knowing of his plans, were disappointed, because they hoped that maybe Mario would, in the parlance of the day, clean the little bastard's fucking clock. Maybe, God willing, even kill him. Nobody would miss him, least of all the chums of 6B4.
"I wish that all the pain that _______ is feeling could be visited, in spades, on my worst enemy," is a refreshing phrase. If one can't wish one's enemies misery or death, what is the use of sin and redemption?
Follow the leader: Mario, after his bitter childhood years of poverty, which he shared with his older brother, Mike, followed Mike and Mike's wife, Connie, to Trenton, NJ, for God knows what reason. They may still live there, doing the Jersey bounce.
It is generally agreed, or so I understand, that the word "chum" is no longer in general use, save for ironic or parodic affect. It functions, that is, much like the well-made short story.
"Of which we've read, ah, plenty."
On a Studebaker coupe
He takes bubbsy, whom he hates, but has no idea why, up to the roof, for reasons never explained, reasons never even suggested by the quiet, handsome boy, who has lived, more or less, in saloons most of his life. His mother has kept him in food and clothes, despite the fact that she rarely leaves the bar, save to stagger into the ladies' room with one drunken lothario or another. He pulls Bubbsy, by the hair, to the edge of the roof, and throws him off. Bubbsy lands on a Studebaker coupe, crushing the roof with his head, which cracks open in a mess of blood and brains. He leans over the edge of the roof and lights a cigarette, then carefully drops a burnt match, aiming at the body, but the wind blows the match well off line and out of sight. He thinks that the coupe belongs to that stupid prick who lives over the candy store on the corner. That would be nice.
Hide and seek: death. He had been in Lincoln Hall. After the death of Bubbsy, he was sent to Coxsackie, then Dannemora. Nobody knew where he went from there, although there were recurring, preposterous rumors that he was acting in the movies, with a different face.
"They can do fuckin' anything in Hollywood."
Bubbsy liked to torture cats and cruelly tease and hurt little children. Had he lived, there is a good chance that he would have become a hail-fellow-well-met regular sport of a bully, drunk, and dedicated beater of women, like his older brother, Mac, the cop.
"There are always, sure, a few bad apples in the barrel, but it's very wrong to condemn and blacken all the other honest, hardworking, law-abiding people who and so forth, and who and so on, and who, day in and day out, do this and do that and do the other thing too."
It could happen to you. Hide. And seek.
The same darkness envelops them all.
The burdens of the Depression
Have a spaghetti sangwich! have a spaghetti sangwich with pieces of cold frankfurter on it! Have a cod-liver oil sandwich, a sammich that'll put hair on your chest, your head, your hands, and your freezing feet!
A ketchup sammich? A ketchup-and-mustard sammich? Or how does a cold stringbean sammich strike you, little fella? A canned pineapple sandwich might go well with a big jelly jar chock by Jesus Christ up to the brim with lemon Epco or grape Kool-Aid, as too might a canned-spinach sandwich. Succotash on moldy rye? Mmmm.
A cottage-cheese-and-cold-boiled-puhtaytuh sangaweech on stale Bond bread, now that is the absolute ticket! You're talking nutrition? Then, too, sandwiches of sliced green pepper and Crisco will surely refresh after a long day of career discussions. And don't neglect to pop over to friendly Gallagher's, sport, for a pitcher of Trommer's: crisp, light, and tingling! And zesty! It's the Ivy League beverage of choice, you'll recall?
How to feed your family of five, or even six, on a dollar a day, without endangering their health or welfare. Just takes a little g-u-m-p gumption!
Stay away, oh, stay far hence from those terrible crumb buns, cinnamon buns, coconut buns, crullers, doughnuts, and Danish pastries: they'll send you to your grave, yowzah.
Break out the lettuce-and-oleo sammiches, pliz. Look at those smiling children in the sunny kitchen! Look at those cavities and suppurating ears! Bacon and eggs and sausages and toast with butter, again! That will do it every time.
Afterward, when the coughing lets up a little, these tykes can build a little character selling Liberty at the subway station. "How to Feed Your Growing Family on Fifty Cents a Day" is in the latest issue, wow!
And for the love of God, who does not cotton to the idle poor, as we all know, please avoid those thick steaks, buttered mashed potatoes, rich sauces, cream-laden desserts, all those deadly foods that will damage the courageous heart, ok?
Lard on toast might allay certain yearnings, but moderation, moderation.
How amazing that the poor have always eaten a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and low in fat and sugars. They've had it puh-retty darn good!
Here you go-a kohlrabi sangwich on what looks like a fetching pale-green slice of Silvercup! Fulla vitamins Q and T.
Herbert Hoover died at the age of 137, of course. It is said that he never ate a steak in his life, and that his favorite dinner was farmer cheese on soda crackers with skim milk.
He did not call the unemployed "the shiftless idle," and the rumor that attributed this remark to him has been traced to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, described as "Godless un-Cristian [sic] Jews" in Jesus Knows News. It is a cruel rumor, and one that is in very poor taste as well.
When the burdens of the Depression and such aberrations as the Bonus March could not be lightened by cheery thoughts of Tom Mix, Mr. Hoover often went fly-fishing, called "the sport of dukes." He wore his Stanford tie. "Don't fence me in!" the doughty President would exultantly cry to the aromatic woods. And soon it would be time for a raw onion.
The very picture of loneliness
Desolate lot. a boy of perhaps four, in a tattered and patched hand-me-down windbreaker, a knitted cap on his head against the raw cold of a late March afternoon. He is alone, rooting with a stick in the rubble of broken red and buff bricks, shards of stained porcelain, diseased shingles, tree limbs, all the rubbish and detritus of this failing neighborhood, struggling for life on the thinnest edge of utter decay. It is the very picture of loneliness. The boy's father, who has gone to look for him as the bitter darkness begins to slide across the low roofs of the neighborhood houses, watches him, heartbrokenly, in silence. He knows, although he has no idea that he knows, that the boy, alone in the sad quiet of this gray, dispirited lot, will be alone always in his life, and that the distant, perplexing world that he is to inhabit is one to which he will be forever strange. This knowledge enters the father with viral efficiency, and years later, he will remember this day, even remember the shape of a brown leaf that lies at his feet, crepitant.
And years later, after a long period of estrangement and silence, the boy, now a solitary man, will write his father a letter, suggesting that the years of separation and misunderstanding might, possibly, be ended, might, possibly, be "cured," is his odd word. And the father, tentatively, carefully, replies, with guarded love and exquisite care, but hopelessly. The boy will have no memory of the death of hope that lay at the center of that lot, at the center of that raw afternoon, eerie in thin, failing sunlight and dirty cold. The father will have no way of telling his son of the truth that was thrust upon him, as he watched from the sidewalk before he called to him to come home. The fact of the loveless void of that shattered lot on that unremarkable block in Brooklyn in the fading years of the 1950s will be in and of his letter, and even as he mails it, the letter, full of carefully phrased sentences that demand nothing and expect nothing and promise nothing, that is but a salute, labored yet authentic, will not, he knows, be answered.
Céline writes that "the living people we've lost in the crypts of time sleep so soundly side by side with the dead that the same darkness envelops them all."
No one used to think that a vacant lot was owned, rather, lots were everybody's property, loci of quiet anarchy. A lot took its character from that of the surrounding neighborhood. Because of this, it was an accurate index of a neighborhood's present, but held no hint of its future. To place a living human figure in the center of a lot is to compose a kind of iconic reality that is, oddly, more real than the presence of an actual living figure in the center of a lot.
It is hard to be a father.
No love. No nothing.
Gilbert Sorrention - R.I.P.