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Make your night special with this 14 passenger stretch. See prices now! But it was a start. I'm in my office with a writer, and I need to give him a deadline for his piece. But Wednesday is the latest. Otherwise, I'll be angry. I'll have to rip you more assholes than an abalone. Annoyed look. I thought it was an amusing little tidbit, a nice twist on the cliche, a clever way to make it clear that I really needed the article.
Instead, I came off like a colossal outlet for waste. I figure it'll be easier to show off my increasing intelligence in a relaxed social environment. So when Julie and I go to her friends' house for dinner that night, I am prepared to dazzle. We arrive at Shannon and David's apartment, exchange cheek kisses and "Great to see you's.
We sit down in the living room and Shannon starts telling Julie about her upcoming vacation in Saint Bart's. Shannon doesn't quite know how to respond to that one. I'm so loaded up with information that when I see a hole--even if it's a small hole, even a microscopic hole, the size of an abalone's butt hole--I have to dive right in.
David returns from the kitchen with a bottle of wine. I don't want to end up like Alexander the Great, who died after getting ill from a drinking bout. He laughs. Nervously, I think. Julie turns back to Shannon, hoping to resume the vacation talk. I'll give you a hint: it's not Ireland. Is it France?
She's very polite. Not France. The residents of Luxembourg are the Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD) boozers in the world. But seriously, do not get between a Luxembourgian and a bottle of whiskey!
Part of me is hoping Shannon and David won't notice that all my facts start with A. But at the same time, I'm also kind of longing to be exposed.
I've already logged thirty hours reading my encyclopedia, and I want them to ooh and aaah at my accomplishment. Maybe Julie senses this, or maybe she just wants to avoid further embarrassment, but she decides to spill my secret. I had prepared for this. I had my answer. Once upon a time, there's this tortoise who steals a gourd that contains all the knowledge of the world. He hangs it around his neck. When he comes to a tree trunk lying across road, he can't climb over it because the gourd is in his way.
He's in such a hurry to get home, he smashes the gourd. And ever since, wisdom has been scattered across the world in tiny pieces. So, I want to try to gather all that wisdom and put it together. They all laugh at that one.
Arabian horses Next morning, it's back to my daily dose of Britannica. Arabian horses have twenty-three vertebrae instead of the twenty-four found in most horses. I spend a moment trying to think of a situation in which this information might be useful.
Maybe I could write a mystery story where the identification of an Arabian horse skeleton is a major plot point. Maybe I could win a bar bet with a moderately--but not overly--knowledgeable equestrian. Who knows? Asimov, Isaac I was aware that Asimov was a major figure in American literature, the author of numerous science fiction and science books. I didn't know just how many books: about five hundred.
The man wrote five hundred books. I don't think I've written five hundred Post-it notes. He wrote so many books, even his biographers are reduced to the vague "about five hundred. As you read accomplishment after accomplishment, Nobel after Nobel, you are reminded just how little you've done with your life. My entry--if written today--would look something like this: Jacobs, Arnold "A. March 20,New York, N.
A minor figure in 20th-century American journalism. Jacobs attended Brown University, where he studied philosophy, attracted to the discipline because it required the lowest number of course credits necessary to Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD). Upon receiving his degree, he began his career writing articles for Dental Economicsthe leading publication covering financial matters for dentists and orthodontists.
He later established his reputation with a prescient sidebar in the pop culture magazine Entertainment Weekly comparing O. Simpson and Homer Simpson, which received great acclaim across America, or at least within the home of his parents. He met many of the midlevel show business figures of his day, including Bill Maher and Sarah Michelle Gellar, neither of whom knew his name. InJacobs married Julie Schoenberg, a vivacious advertising sales representative also working at Entertainment Weekly.
The marriage was apparently a happy one, despite the fact that Jacobs whined whenever Schoenberg suggested maybe he should put on pants because they were going to a nice restaurant. Jacobs's other achievements include folding napkins into such shapes as a rabbit and a hat. See also: hypochondria and germaphobe. I think the Asimov entry stings all the more because I have a quasi Asimov in my own family. My dad--in his spare time, just for fun--writes legal books, and has so far published twenty-four of them.
He specializes in laws on insider trading, the kind that Martha Stewart was investigated for breaking, launching a thousand riffs on ways she might redecorate her jail cell. The other day, I was over at my parents' house for lunch, and I figured, since I am trying to finish my dad's quest, I should take a look at his books.
So after the meal, I wandered into his study and was confronted with those Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD) tomes. A big, sagging shelf of them. I haven't picked one up in years, not since I was fourteen. Back then, I used to enjoy the first volume of The Impact of Rule 10b-5, mainly because my dad had inserted a Playboy centerfold into a half dozen copies to send to friends as a joke.
He had kept one of these customized copies for himself. So that was probably the closest I came to going to law school--studying the case of Miss January's missing ballet tutu. This time, I figure I should read words other than "Turn-ons: champagne, walks on the beach, and men who can help my acting career.
I flip to the middle of the book. As expected, the pages are heavy with footnotes. Really heavy. Some pages have just a couple of lines of regular text floating at the top, then a sea of footnotes all the way down. I guess footnotes isn't the right word when they get this abundant--more like shouldernotes or foreheadnotes. My father is proud of his footnotes. A few years ago, he broke the world's record for most footnotes in a legal article, coming in at an impressive 1, Soon after that, a California legal professor topped my dad's record with 1, footnotes.
My dad didn't stand for that. He wrote another legal article and just crushed his opponent. Squashed him with 4, footnotes, ensuring his status as the Wayne Gretsky of footnotes. My dad tried to get the Guinness Book of World Records interested, but legal footnotes apparently don't get the same respect as fingernails the size of adult rattlesnakes. So he had to settle for a mention in Harper's Index. I flip to Dad's own index to see if I recognize any words.
More dense Latinate legalese. And then I spot this entry: "Birds, for the, One of his better ones. But my Lord, pages of text in just one volume--that's no joke.
No wonder he gave up reading the Britannica--he was writing his own encyclopedia. This investigation into my dad's oeuvre wasn't particularly good for my self-esteem. The scope and denseness of his work--those were both envy inducing.
But that's not to mention that my dad has made himself the expert on insider trading. Not an expert. The expert. What had I made myself an expert on? The plot lines of the various Police Academy movies? Not even that. Though I haven't read the Britannica's write-up of psychoanalysis, I figure my dad's accomplishments have something to do with my quest to finish the encyclopedia. If I can't beat my dad on depth, at least I can get him on breadth. Assault is the attempt to apply force, battery is the actual application.
Look at that--I'm already getting a legal education. Almost ready for the bar exam. The bones are becoming lighter and more porous.
Muscles are shriveling. And worst of all, age leads to a striking decrease in the number of living cells in my cerebral cortex. Every day, my brain's surface ridges shrink and the skull fluid swells to fill the space. The Britannica's passages on evaporating cortexes would disturb most people, but I'm particularly rattled; oddly enough, I've had a long history of grappling with a fear of brain damage.
I might as well get this out on the table now. I mentioned earlier on that, growing up, I thought I was smart. Well, that wasn't exactly the whole story. I didn't just think that I was smart. I thought that I was really smart. I thought that I was, in fact, the smartest boy in the world. I'm honestly not sure how this notion popped into my head. My mom probably had something to do with it, seeing as she was only slightly less enamored of me than I was of myself.
And it's true, I did pretty well on tests, sometimes notching up the highest score in the class. In any case, with my handful of good fourth-grade test scores as evidence, I somehow made the logical deduction that no other ten-year-old on planet Earth was my intellectual equal. It's a leap, yes. But in my defense, I hadn't taken any high-level statistics courses. At the time, it just somehow made sense. I could just feel that I was unique in some way again, my mom told me so.
And since I wasn't the best-looking boy or the best hockey player or the best glee club singer, that left intelligence. So what if I didn't always get the highest score?
Or even very often? That could be explained away. Maybe I wasn't trying, or maybe the other kids cheated. Deep down, I knew I was top intellectual dog. Let me tell you, though: being the smartest boy in the world wasn't easy. I didn't ask for this. I didn't want this. On the contrary, it was a huge burden. First, there was the task of keeping my brain perfectly protected. My cerebral cortex was a national treasure, a masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel of brains.
This was not something that could be treated frivolously. If I could have locked it in a safe, I would have. Instead, I became obsessed Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD) brain damage.
Danger lurked everywhere. If my skull was touched, that might jostle the brain and squash a few valuable dendrites. So no one was allowed contact with anything above my neck--that was the holy of holies. No friendly pats on the head. No soccer, with its insane practice on bonking the ball on your pate. If I'd known then about the annelid worm--which can turn its skin cells into brain cells--I would have been extremely jealous. Even seeing other people get brain damage flustered me.
I could almost hear their poor brain cells scream for mercy. My fourth-grade biology teacher told us that the carbon monoxide produced by cars can cause brain damage.
That was it, just a throwaway line inserted into a lecture on mammalian bloodstreams. But to me, carbon monoxide became the number one enemy, my white whale, the Joab to my Absalom. I became a window Nazi. A window had to be cracked at all times so that my brain could get fresh oxygen to dilute that nefarious carbon monoxide. It could be forty below zero and we could be driving through Vostok Station; I'd still roll down the glass in the backseat of the Plymouth Valiant. It's really cold," said Mom.
I'd roll it up. I'd wait about two minutes, till the conversation had drifted to some other topic, like which fast food chain most deserved our patronage, then I'd slowly--in barely noticeable spurts--lower the window again. No need to spill the secret that I was the genius of all geniuses, the Leonardo da Vinci of the s.
That would just inspire envy and skepticism. So I'd just stare at the closed window and stew. If ten minutes went by without my lungs getting fresh air, I panicked. I needed to make sure the monoxide hadn't eaten my cranium. For some reason, and this continues to baffle me, I thought the best way to test whether my mind was still in peak form was to create new and bizarre racquet sports. That was my homespun IQ test. So I made up racquet sports involving big racquets, tiny racquets, balls the size of refrigerators, balls the size of pencil erasers.
There were racquet sports involving garage doors, bathroom sinks, and telecommunications satellites. Strange, I know. But it made me feel better. Not counting my vigilance against brain damage, there were plenty of other strains associated with being the smartest boy in the world. It was a huge responsibility, nurturing this amazing organ of mine. I knew someday soon I'd have to invent something, cure something, or write something of grand significance.
I knew I should be feeding my mind the highest-quality nourishment, like physics textbooks or Dostoyevsky, but instead I was keeping it on a starvation diet by watching Gilligan's Island reruns. Even back then, I had trouble resisting pop culture's pull.
I felt guilty every time I watched those hapless castaways. Not that it stopped me, but I just couldn't enjoy Thurston Howell's lockjaw one-liners like my lucky bastard classmates with their slightly above-average intelligence. I remember the day I decided I wasn't the smartest boy in the world. I was watching TV--not sitcom reruns, for once, but a documentary on Hasidic Jews. The footage showed a room of young Hasidic boys about the same age as I was, at their desks, their noses buried in books.
The narrator intoned that these boys studied for sixteen hours a day. I was blown away. Sixteen hours a day! My God. Even though I knew I had the initial advantage of the highest-quality brain, these boys studied so much, they must have pulled several lengths ahead of me in the intelligence horse race. I just couldn't compete with sixteen hours a day. This was an immense relief. A whole new day. I started watching Gilligan and Ginger and all the rest with impunity.
In the years that followed, I became increasingly less impressed with my own intelligence. My perceived place on the bell curve drifted farther and farther to the left. I went from being, in my mind, much smarter than my dad to a little smarter, to just as smart, and then, finally--if I had to guess when, it'd be somewhere in my freshman or sophomore year at college--less smart than my dad, the author of those imposing twenty-four books.
In retrospect, the revelation about my intelligence--the one inspired by the studious Hasidic boys--wasn't exactly the product of flawless logic. There's not a perfect correlation between hours of reading and intelligence. Perhaps there's very little correlation at all. Of course, I do realize I'm committing the same fallacy right now, twenty-three years later. Deep down, I know that reading the encyclopedia and jamming my brain full of facts won't necessarily allow me to reclaim my title as the smartest person alive.
I know my quest is a bit of a lark. I know it's got a whiff--or maybe more than a whiff--of the absurd. And just in case I didn't know, I'm constantly being told this by friends and family.
My aunt Marti, who lives in Berkeley and is always ready to voice her skepticism, whether it's about our phallocentric government or our reliance on oppressive Western medicine, confronted me in a phone call the other day.
Just the amount of information you have? I'm not so deluded that I think I'll gain one IQ point for every thousand pages. I don't honestly think that the folks from the MacArthur genius grant will be kicking down my door.
But I also believe that there is some link between knowledge and intelligence. Maybe knowledge is the fuel and intelligence is the car? Maybe facts are the flying buttresses and intelligence is the cathedral? I don't know the exact relation. But I'm sure the Britannica, somewhere in those 44 million words, will help me figure it out.
They had me up until the crazy shoulder blades part. Aztec The A's have been lousy with Aztecs. They popped up under all sorts of headings, including American Peoples, Arts of Native and Alcohol and Drug Consumption they called magic mushrooms "God's flesh". And here they are again, under plain old Aztec. Thanks to the Britannica, I now know the Aztecs prophesied the destruction of the earth followed by an age when humans become monkeys. Hey, that's the plot of Planet of the Apes!
Damn you, Hollywood! You stole the idea from the Aztecs. Damn you to hell! I polish off the monkey-fixated Aztecs, and just like that, I'm done with the A's. It's been two weeks, and I am now one twenty-sixth of my way to the summit. I have absorbed 3. I slam my Britannica shut and do a little touchdown dance.
I am the alpha male. And yet, do I feel smarter? Have I proved my skeptical aunt Marti wrong Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD) Well, I do know a lot more information, but in a way, I'm feeling more insecure than ever. I'm worried I'm not intelligent enough to process all my data into some coherent conclusion or worldview. I'm worried I'm not focusing on the right things. Take Aristotle. Here's one of the great philosophers of all time.
I should be drinking in his theories on morality and epistemology. Instead, I'm fascinated by Aristotle's obscure maxim about marriage: that men should be thirty-seven and women should be eighteen when they take their vows.
Aristotle came up with that theory because--now here's an odd coincidence--when he was thirty-seven he married an eighteen-year-old woman. I like that he rationalized his dirty-old-man behavior with a grand philosophical statement. There are a lot of Aristotelians in Hollywood, I chuckle to myself. So that's the profound conclusion I draw from the essay on Aristotle. That he likes young ladies.
Maybe by the end of the Bs I'll be smart enough to concentrate on the Big Picture. B Bacon, Francis I am making sacrifices in my quest for knowledge. No one can argue with that. I wake up early, about 7 A.
I read in the morning, I read at night. I'm on the verge of losing a half dozen friends because I've got no time to call them back. And worst of all, I've missed several hours of crucial television, including what Julie tells me was a particularly riveting Real World episode in which an enraged girl throws a fork at another cast member.
So it's tough, this pursuit of intelligence. But I feel humbled by Sir Francis Bacon, who made the ultimate sacrifice. He died in the quest for knowledge, a martyr to the cause. I hadn't remembered much about Bacon from school, except that he's suspected by some to be the real Shakespeare.
Also, he wore a huge ruffled collar. So, as you can see, it was nice to get a refresher course. I learned Bacon--a 17th-century intellectual and politician--had a troubled public life. He was convicted of taking bribes in and thrown in the Tower of London. His defense: yes, he took the bribes, but they didn't affect his judgment not his best moment. As a scholar, he wrote cleverly about language and the philosophy of science.
But my favorite fact about Bacon, the one that will stick with me, is how he died. It happened in March ofnorth of London. Bacon was riding along in his horse and carriage when he suddenly decided he needed to know whether snow delays putrefaction. So he abruptly stopped his carriage, hopped out to buy a hen, and stuffed it with snow. Unfortunately, this caused him to be seized with a sudden chill, which brought on bronchitis, and he died soon after at a friend's house.
This, to me, is a noble anecdote. Okay, it's a little embarrassing that his death involved frozen poultry. And maybe he displayed a touch of sadism--I'm just hoping the poor hen wasn't alive when he rammed snow into its gullet.
But there's also something great about it. Bacon had such an itch for knowledge, he was so giddy about an idea, that he just went bonkers and bolted out of his carriage. The man couldn't wait another second to find out more about antiputrefaction techniques. I find this inspiring. If you're going to give your life for a cause, furtherance of knowledge has got to be in the top two or three. In Bacon's honor, I put down the Britannica and go defrost a frozen bagel in the microwave.
The baculum can be found in hedgehogs, shrews, and bats. I had no idea. The only time I'd ever even encountered the concept of a penis bone was during conversations with my college friend Ileana. Ileana had a very casual relationship with the truth. She liked to tell me stories about the pet llamas in her New York apartment, and her father's love affair with singer Robert Goulet.
And once, she told me a detailed story about how her brother had broken his penis bone. He had been standing naked in front of an open window admiring the view from his hotel room, when--whoom--the window slid down and snapped his penis bone right in half. That was it--no apology, no attempt at backtracking, just an "oh. In the elevator up to work, I stood behind an Asian man who happened to be bald. That's odd, I thought to myself.
According to the encyclopedia, baldness in Asians is rare. It's rare in Asians and Native Americans. I guess what we have here is one of the unlucky few Asians who couldn't hold on to his follicles. I feel like giving him my condolences. Barnum, P. When he was eighty-one, Barnum fell gravely ill. At his request, a New York newspaper printed his obituary in advance so that he might enjoy it.
That's brilliant. In fact, that could be a nice new revenue stream for newspapers--they could sell obits to people on their deathbeds. The encyclopedia is giving me lots of good ideas. A bear was tied to a stake, and trained dogs were set upon it. Other variations included a bull tied to a stake and a pony with an ape tied to his back.
Sounds like Fox has itself a new TV show! I knew it would happen, but I'm surprised at the frequency. Several times an hour, a little internal "ding" goes off in my mind.
I step into the bathtub for a shower, and I flash to the 17th-century health clinics where people stayed in baths for days at a time.
I have my cereal, and I'm reminded of the world's longest breakfast table, in Battle Creek, Michigan. I read about a Boy Scouts controversy in the newspaper and I think of the scout movement's founder, Robert Baden-Powell, who also, incidentally, pioneered the use of hot-air balloons in military spying.
These little sparks happen so often that I couldn't possibly work them all into conversation. Which, I'm sure, is a great relief to those around me. But I can mention some of them--and I do. Like today at the office. I wander in to chat with my fellow editor Mark.
Mark is the office intellectual--a tall, brilliant Texan with a floppy Hugh Grant haircut. He's been working at Esquire an astounding fourteen years, a fact that causes plenty of amusement among the rest of the staff. So I make my way into Mark's office, which is difficult, since he hasn't thrown away a book in his fourteen years.
The floor is covered with waist-high piles of volumes by Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. It's bedlam in there a word, by the way, that comes from Bethlehem Royal Hospital, a notorious London insane asylum. The previous night we had been to an Esquire function that featured a speech by a budding politician named Cory Booker. Cory spoke passionately about the inner city, and ended his speech with a long, inspiring quote from James Baldwin.
Having been at Esquire since the quill pen era, Mark has also become the office historian. I had just read the Baldwin essay in the encyclopedia, and I happen to remember that "The Fire Next Time"--Baldwin's groundbreaking article on civil rights--first appeared in The New Yorker.
Usually, I keep my mouth clamped and listen in awe to Mark. He's a great talker--he often speaks in full paragraphs--and he knows his stuff, especially about magazine history. But this particular fact he did not know. And this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Then he wavers: "Well, maybe it was The Progressive. But it certainly wasn't The New Yorker. I e-mail Mark the news, concluding my note with some helpful advice: "Also, if you have any questions for Bavarian cream pie or beavers, just let me know.
I had made my first correction, and I corrected a brilliant man, to boot. I felt great. Well, actually I felt like kind of a dick.
But also great. The world's largest bell was built in in Moscow, and weighed in at more than four hundred thousand pounds. It never rang--it was broken by fire before it could be struck. What a sad little story. All that work, all that planning, all those expectations--then nothing. Now it just sits there in Russia, a big metallic symbol of failure. I have a moment of silence for the silent bell. Bentham, Jeremy The British ethical philosopher--who advocated the greatest good for the greatest number of people--died in The skeleton was then reconstructed, supplied with a wax head to replace the original which had been mummifieddressed in Bentham's own clothes, and set upright in a glass-fronted case.
Both this effigy and the head are preserved in University College, London. The greater creepiness, yes. Berserkers Savage Norse soldiers from the middle ages who, it is said, went into battle naked. Hence "going berserk. For the piece, "Beuys covered his head with honey and gold leaf, wore one shoe soled with felt and one with iron, and walked through an art gallery for about two hours, quietly explaining the art therein to a dead hare he carried.
And for this he gets himself written up in the encyclopedia. Maybe I'm a philistine, but I don't see the brilliance of this. As I read your second gathering of night thoughts, I am reminded again that you are the greater maker. I want to keep my mouth and eyes shut, power down the laptop so that its chemical, subaqueous blue no longer fills my otherwise dark study, let what dark there is prevail, and let you guide me through its precincts.
I want to put myself, o greater spelunker, in your more capable hands. You write:. Senses and feelings and thoughts are all phenomena. I just refuse to detach from them: that seems willful, and thus contradictory to anything I understand peace and understanding to be. Beauty is the beginning of terror, again and again—in the light, surely, but also and perhaps especially in the dark.
I know you recall the night during that visit when we consulted the Ouija board, and found ourselves speaking to the spirit of James Wright.
What we would have given to have followed that advice! Its dark melancholy, empty, self-absorbed paintings are not easily accessible. Its ensemble of fourteen paintings can neither be fully grasped nor avoided. Combining contemplative rest with dynamic, almost restless activity, the chapel, experienced slowly and patiently, actually offers not a peaceful environment in which to avoid, but a discomforting place in which to confront, an abstract form of displacement. That day was long ago. I remember few of its details, but I recall distinctly that I experienced those same feelings Breslin summons up, and we sat there on the chapel benches for a long time.
The paintings pull you in, then set you adrift; your awe grows indistinguishable from dread. Later that year, Lynda and I were living in a house in Provincetown that Rothko had once owned.
His paintings grew darker every year. They filled the walls; they filled the room; eventually, they filled his world— all but the ravishment. I would not want to visit this gallery often, Bill, let alone seek to decorate its walls. Apparently, not even Rothko did—not all the time at least. According to Phil, he several times attempted to buy the house back from its new owners.
Perhaps, in the end, his element was not the Stygian, after all, though his acquaintance with the night was deep and abiding. So I find myself speaking, Bill, of another greater maker. What kind of poet am I, then, as troubled by the deities of the shadowlands as I am by the bringers of light? We know what happens to the bringers of fire. As for the spirits of the shadowlands—is it really better to rule in hell?
I have searched, these weeks in which we have addressed our subject, for another path. You speak of Ko Un in your letter, and for me he represents one such path. In the darkness of his prison cell, he sets out to inscribe the night, to fashion from memory and imaginative will a heroic replication of the life that was stolen, the life forsaken. He does it partly to survive, to keep from going mad, much in the way that the singularly unheroic Albert Speer though a genius nevertheless calculates in his Spandau prison cell the number of steps it will take him to walk around the world, and starts up his journey.
Duress and urgency turn such enterprises all the more quixotic— I will write a poem about everyone I have ever met. You wield your burning chalk for long enough, with enough possessed dedication, and the dark slate will be covered with light.
I marvel at the sheer dogged obsessive tenacity of Ko Un. But you and I, old friend, have choices of the sort that he was not permitted. For better or for worse, I am a compulsive writer, not an obsessive one.
Where does all of this bring me, Bill? I am thinking of another visit which I made to you, during the year you and Nancy lived in St. Ives, that picture-postcard village on the Cornish shore. You met Noelle for the first time there, at a time in my life filled both with sorrow and with promise. Like Provincetown, St. Ives is a place where the old ways of life—the tin mines and the fishing—have been given over to tourism and to artists, many of them famous ones—here D.
Lawrence settled briefly at one stage of his restless journey; here To the Lighthouse is set. But here too lived a far less famous writer, the poet W. I recall how we talked of his work during my visit.
It saddens me that Graham is almost completely unread in the United States, and though he is admired in the UK, his writing had no influence there. But even these famously suffering poets had an easier time of it, in some ways. But it arrived at a time when no one wanted to hear this sort of thing, at least not in Britain. As with Crane, Roethke, and Dickey, Graham above all else is concerned with moments where quotidian reality gives way to myth and archetype.
And, very unlike Crane, he was born poor, in a Glasgow slum—and he stayed poor when he moved to St. Ives as a young man. Fortunately, his best poetry was still ahead of him. Home becomes this place, A bitter night, ill to labor at dead of. Within all the dead of all my life I hear My name spoken out on the break of the surf.
Which I was given because I loved him and we had, Terrible times together. O tarnished ticking time Piece with your bent hand, You must be used to being Looked at suddenly In the middle of the night When he switched the light on Beside his bed. I hope You told him the best time When he lifted you up To meet the Hilton gaze. I lift you up from the mantel Piece here in my house. Wearing your verdigris. At least I keep you wound And put my ear to you To hear Botallack tick.
You realize your master Has relinquished you And gone to lie under The ground at St. Tell me the time. This is the dead of night. He switches the light on To find a cigarette And pours himself a Teachers. He picks me up and holds me Near his lonely face To see my hands.
He thinks He is not being watched. The images of his dream Are still about his face As he spits and tries To remember where he was. I am only a watch And pray time hastes away. I think I am running down. Watch, it is time I wound You up again. I am Very much not your dear Last master but we had Terrible times together. Graham defamiliarizes both the conventions of the ode and those of the elegy.
Botallack—you know that town, Bill. Ives, and at one time it thrived, thanks to the Botallack mines. It teases us with the expectation a metaphorical tour de force—for how can you address a wristwatch without trying to liven things up with some engaging imagery? But Graham, whose capacity for surprising metaphors is considerable, refrains from such a strategy here: the figurative language is in fact deliberately awkward. Nor does he seem to want his elegizing of Roger Hilton to be predictable.
The portrait of the dead friend is decidedly ambivalent. He pours himself a Teachers. As he spits and tries not To remember where he was. First, we are told that the watch must have been. This is the dead of the night. And at this moment the dead friend comes alive as well, if only to light a cigarette and pour himself a shot. The three subjects of the poem commingle, superimposed upon one another almost inextricably. And then the vision fades; the indented stanzas which have signaled this reckoning are replaced by conventional stanzas; the speaker winds up the watch, and conventional time and reality return as well.
I never fail to be astonished by these lines, Bill. Astonished, first of all, because the poem should come across as preposterous—after all, much of it is spoken by a talking watch. Yet there is nothing cartoonish here. The tone is brooding and earnest—and strangely bracing. How companionable this darkness seems. Is this, in some small measure, the kind of darkness we are seeking to explore? One of us has to go first.
One would not ever be otherwise. Yet our nature is such that we Want to share our souls with others. After your last letter I find myself wondering about the relationship between making and darkness in ways I never have before. Even Brakhage had to keep eyes open to create his closed-eye vision films. The darkened company I am glad to keep with you in these letters is a paradoxical one, as it also necessitates aloneness. As for descent, it is inevitable, and yet it is not exactly to be wished for.
There is a martial element, perhaps, to some forms of literary descent. I admit I find measures of such deference in unlikely places, even in the most garrulous poems.
The same force is at work here as is at work with Odysseus—the mother, agent of daylight and earthliness, draws Whitman back. This poem I love is at times shamelessly personal in its sexuality and at other times melodramatic—melodrama is part of human nature, after all! And if its unqualified identifications are arguably negated by self-aggrandizement, it still manages to release moments of remarkable doubt owing to profound care.
The greatest test to its universalizing identification are the bodies of the drowned sailors that wash up on shore: I turn but do not extricate myself, Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness yet. That commitment hinges upon an acceptance on the part of the speaker of his own confusion. He turns away from the dead, he detaches, but he does not extricate himself, he does not disown his puzzlement: he speaks freely.
In fact, in contemporary poetry anyway, just as darkness has been demonized, silence has been idealized. Silence has no vocabulary to speak of.
His friend is dead; he needs to speak to something; yes, he defamiliarizes the conventions of the ode and the elegy: the motive is to grant himself a listener. The creation of something like a perfect listener—the clock that both summons Various - Transient - Single Life - The 12" Collection (CD) friend and that embodies the self—accepts some sort of ultimate unavailability owing to the transience even of friends. No matter how sublime the vision of a poem, that separation, Wordsworth acknowledges, persists: Places have each of us within our souls Where all stand single; this I feel, and make Breathings for incommunicable powers; Yet each man is a memory to himself.
Then, everything slept. The orchards blackened in their sleep, And, outside my window, the aging Palomino slept Standing up in the moonlight, with one rear hood slightly cocked, And the moonlight slept. The white dust slept between the rows of vines, And the quail slept perfectly, like untouched triangles. The hawk slept alone, apart from this world. In the distance I could see the faint glow Of Parlier—even its name a lullaby, Where the little bars slept with only one light on, And the prostitutes slept, as always, With the small-time businessmen, their hair smelling of pomade, Who did not dream.
Beside me, my brother slept With a small frown knitted into his face, as if He listened for something, his mouth open.
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