I think the time has finally come
to say goodbye to some bits of smugness
perhaps take my distance and speak other tongues
in which the word indifference is obscene.
Human being. All-purpose. Keep in a cool, dry place. Do not freeze. Do not shake before opening. Do not bend or fold. Press gently. Wear gloves when handling. Let sit as needed. Do not puncture or incinerate. Caution: contents under pressure! May explode if heated. Flammable. Do not smoke while in use. Hold upright. Keep out of reach of children. Use only in a well-ventilated area. In case of contact, rinse immediately. First aid: provide plenty of fresh air. Agitate thoroughly. Keep warm. Fragile. Perishable.
The man claimed to sell bumper stickers for a living. I admit I was skeptical, assuming he was deranged. That was before we walked into his apartment, saw his walls stuccoed with quirky phrases: All the warmed over witticisms fit to print – or in this case, plastic. Suzy was the first to notice the wall of erotica; and as a sort of superstition, we bought the first sticker that we saw (Suzy’s wishes). Written on the sticker was the phrase “I’M A PROFESSIONAL MASTURBATOR”. It was printed in bold typeface script, the font was Bleeding Cowboy. On our way out the door, Suzy said: “I’m going to tape it above the headboard in the bedroom!” And then she added, lowering her voice to a register more suited to the ominous relish she wished to convey: “Read it and weep.”
#Typewriter poem (topic requested by a stranger was: Perversity)
I recently discovered a new way of listening to Jazz music. I am calling it “Festival of Leaf-blowers” or else more simply, and for lack of a more evocative moniker on hand, “Jazz Con-Fusion.” The new way of listening to Jazz music involves a highly improvised mixture of loneliness, a muted sense of irretrievable loss, and a paralyzing fear of the sound of one’s own voice – the latter constituting a kind of Chlamydia of the larynx, self-contracted. I might have called the new way of listening to Jazz music “Chlamydea of the Larynx” but frankly, I have only just thought of this phrase and in any case, I clearly don’t have the slightest idea how to spell the word “Chlaw-Medea,” let alone how to describe the condition aloud in a way others would possibly understand. As things stand, I intend to reserve this tasty neologism for the title of my future memoirs. First though, I should like very much to do something worthy of writing them. Which brings me back to my discovery of the new way of listening to jazz music that I would like to offer now for your own personal edification.
In order to affect the new way of listening to jazz music, here is what you do:
1) Set your radio to a moderate volume.
2) Lock it up in the darkest recesses of your bedroom. Ideally, this step should be performed with little or no antennae signal, so that the radio’s sole nourishment may be derived from a ravenous army of dust mites – plentiful in that region of the house, along with a not unreasonable sense of its own permanent static and a stray pack of six-month old sugarless mints that may as well come from another century.
3) Ignore the fact that old radios like yours get along none too well with either dust mites or breath-enhancing tablets of any kind; disregard the smattering of cobwebs climbing the walls around the poor and unsuspecting radio; the cobwebs that lay bare the ideological function of absolute and total abandonment.
4) Ensconce yourself comfortably in the kitchen. This is not a metaphor; the kitchen is truly the only place in the house you can hear or imagine you can hear the muffled cries of a captive trumpet coming from the bedroom.
5) Attend to the way this captive trumpet not only heralds in the triumphant new way of listening to jazz music but at the same time competes with all the other discordant noises that typically predominate your apartment complex – the steady hum of the laundry machine, for instance, the garbage truck that slides murderously through the alleyway at all hours, like a herd of angry elephants. Yes, the trumpet competes with all this, you may tell yourself in vain; its plaintive notes soar and synthesize and triumph, the lost key to the whole lousy coda.
6) You should hardly hear any longer the hateful baying of the dog that forever lurks outside your bedroom window like an enemy – or an emissary, depending on your mood and what the dog had for its last meal – of Whimsy. Nor should you mind any longer the trying voice of your four-year old neighbor Alyssa, who used to sound sweet and adorable back when her face was poreless as an eggshell that was about to give birth to a truffle; but alas, that egg has long since hatched and she has begun to issue terrible imprecations from across the courtyard, with the voice of a foghorn on the face of a sledgehammer.
7) All of this changes under the spell of the new way of listening to jazz music; and as you listen to the notes unfolding from the bedroom – much in the way each of us wishes that time, our thoughts, and our dreams would do – you should try to perceive the slow and silent metamorphoses taking place around you; the moment when one thing slips easily into another, turning like a door on its hinges in a silence that is more deepened than broken; a moment when another world seems almost to appear, like a crescendo trapped in the middle of a scream.
It is in this way you may learn to keep something beautiful locked away in your bedroom without ever actually having to touch it.
At the close of last night’s reading, the artist inside Gatsby’s Books came tearing outside, crying “Someone bought one of my prints! I can’t believe it, someone bought one of my prints!” I happened to be standing besides this young lady at the time, half-pretending to smoke a cigarette – something I often do when I don’t have anything to say to people, trading down one form of malaise for another. And so I stepped forward into the streetlight, valiant knave that I am, and I told her, “I am the one who purchased one of your precious prints.”
“You!?” the young woman said after a lengthy pause.
“There’s really no need to thank me. It was nothing,” I retorted, scarcely masking what little modesty I could pretend to muster at the moment.
“I-I-don’t know what to say,” she sputtered out at last.
“Please. Don’t say anything. Your works are statement enough. More than enough, in fact.”
“Oh! Do you really think so?”
“Let me tell you, I should know good work when I see it. You see, I studied pickiness at the Sorbonne, with a specialization in distinction.”
“I was ABD, no less – that’s All But Dissertation, in case you wondered – and the only reason I didn’t go all the way with it was because I was dissatisfied with the works on offer at the time – the Italian Renaissance can be such a bore. I found all those church-boys, frankly, to be so…well, a bit pedestrian. Anyway, I couldn’t find a third reader who was up to my standards. “Now then–” and here I paused as if deciding whether to continue, then did.
“Now then. Let me speak a word or two – if I am permitted to be so bold – about these works of yours. These works–”, and here perhaps I laid it on a bit thick for the benefit of the growing crowd, as I admittedly riled by the sudden attention of so many eager and indifferent twenty-somethings into such a compressed environment, all of them standing around in an imperfect circle, composing the very picture of effete cosmopolitanism that I had so come to cherish as a fledgling and emotionally arrested adult. I continued:
“These works, I feel, are enough to make the walls appear naked without them; they are enough to make our twilights raw and even the most exquisite diets suddenly sugarless (by contrast). These works are enough to be swallowed whole, coughed up later on, and still their mystery would remain in tact. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that looking at these works I feel that the faces of the masses will sag like tenements in their presence, overwhelmed by their immense grandeur and secret horrors.
“I’d like to be the first to declare that these works are enough to cure all the major ailments and minor irritations of our humdrum lives — the disease the greed the evil of our generation’s Great Unrealized Yawn (yours and mine, let’s not go mistaking pigeons for parrots now). And these works are the yawp above the rooftop that the birds have been waiting for with bated bird breath – their final permission perhaps to migrate onward to a new day. That’s no accidental metaphor, either; for these works are the swelter of ascent, the very embodiment of the future is contained in their canvases – and, let me tell you young lady, that future looks bright, untainted and pure from where I am now standing.
“And I don’t exaggerate when I say your art makes me want to move to Morocco and raise Bantam chickens; they make me want to write a best-selling novel in order to earn enough dough to buy the rest of your compendious ouevre; in fact, I want to take them home and spray them with the stuff they use in the military on their finest steel and ships, and then go and stash them away in the declivity of a mountain someplace for posterity, for preservation…for the kids!
“These works appear effortless, as if they had no ambition, other than the truth; and I’ll tell you another thing, my friend, they have a divine and pleasing quality, a dark and underlying enigma to them; in my humble – albeit totally expert and specialized – opinion is that these works are what might happen if Tim Burton were to beat up the mustachioed ghost of Salvador Dalí by throwing him down an escalator in a Suburban shopping center.
“Have you ever observed a cricket slide along the sewers beneath the glimmering streetlights? No? Well, these works have that quality to them, their slender poetry all the more dangerous for being unsuspected. I fear if I stare too long at these works, they will take up residence in my sweat glands, behind the eyelids, just to prove the honesty of my reaction to them.
“They look like you might have extracted rare specimens or bruises from such a spectral encounter, and placed them in their proper context at last; the kind of feat that could only be performed with the tenderness and precision of a surgeon who operates on fractured mosaics from the Byzantine period – placed them at last in their proper context; and then, then- I don’t know what I had meant to say here because I no longer recall how I began this sentence, but I shall set this straight right after I blow my nose…
Yes, right. Young lady, as I look closer now, I have to tell you I feel these works provide the unforeseen sensation of dancing on a mountaintop with a circle of Bavarian monks – as if in a dream, when the hour of sunrise endows the sky with a tangerine hue that may or may not be accomplished with the use of CGI, so that mystics with their holy butter and their chanting beads might discover new shades of the color orange in one another’s faces, and appreciate their friends just a little bit more from that point forward.
“I hope you understand me. I mean this as a compliment. I am very fond of mountains, and monks and even CGI. Anyone who evokes all three of these things for me at once deserves all of the blessings and accolades that I might be rich enough to shower down upon them.”
“Um, okay. Well—I don’t know about all that,” replied the artist, after another lengthy pause. “This stuff for me is just my anxiety burned on to the canvas. That’s all.”
“Well keep having anxiety, my friend,” I said. “Enjoy the donut money.”
*Performed for Quiet Lightning, and published in Sparkle & Blink – September 2, 2013