Tag Archives: James Joyce

“A Flurrysnow of Printerspew”

The 'Gates of Paradise' from the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy.

The ‘Gates of Paradise’ from the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy. Kamal’s father’s door ‘. . . loomed in Kamal’s untarnished / mind as splendid and ornate / as any bronze and Bible-garnished / Florentine portal!’

In our previous episode, Kamal’s mother threatened to kill herself if Kamal didn’t leave their home immediately and forever. Suddenly Kamal hears his father’s piano from downstairs.

In this episode he follows the music to his father’s room and listens at the door. Perhaps his father can help him now? But no, it’s not to be. The canto closes with Kamal walking out of his Bel Air estate to the sound, the horrible crunch, of a book being eaten by a lawn mower (Joyce’s Ulysses, which Imogene had defenestrated the moment her mother entered her bedroom).

O what grief Kamal must feel!
Please keep it brief, dear Fate! Please seal
the deed and send him on his way
before the details of that day
should make me weep! Down he comes
– the hall, the stairs; just as the wild
horse, once caught and broken, succumbs
to pulling loads, so too my child,
tethered to that wraith which hums
and croons beside him, carries on,
so spiritless. And there upon
the wall his youthful colors smear;
while golden Oscars sadly peer
like pixies at a banished faun;

‘This way’ – the calm, enticing chords
now coax Kamal down corridors
he knows so well; and lead him toward
the shadowy place he once adored
to bring fresh clothes to – a hall explored
two times each day, a door behind
which lives that grey and ghostly, kind
and powerful figure of fatherhood.
A place Kamal had often stood,
pajamas in hand, devotion in mind.

Kamal Book One by Zireaux

‘…our desperate hero feels / the sting each soulful half-note deals…’

What sad, seductive music! At once
a balm, a palliative that blunts
his pain…and yet our hero feels
the sting each soulful half-note deals,
the prick of every minor chord,
the raw arpeggios which soar
straight through that threshold’s door – a gate
which once within Kamal’s untarnished
mind had loomed, as splendid and ornate
as any bronze and Bible-garnished
Florentine portal! But how that great
majestic door transforms from gold
to varnished wood. And how that old
and saintly force which once composed
the soundtrack to his daydreams grows
so distant and so deathly cold.

And worse, far worse! For more of course
now changes. Not just the source
of magic, not just his patron muse
but all the world appears a ruse
to our deceived Kamal. A stage
of secret devices. Trapdoors. False-walls.
A box with mirrors. An iron cage
with rubber bars. And as it dissolves,
that wondrous illusion, he seeks to assuage
his pain, his loss. The Steinway ascends
in volume and feeling. Kamal attends
its call, and clasps the doorknob, raises
a fist – but then, as if it appraises
his presence, the music, at once, suspends.

A horrible silence follows – jumbled
with Spanish banter, birds, the mumbled
mantras of machines outside
(when planes and mowers coincide).
His shoulders convulse; his fist now falls;
a sob grabs hold his chest and hurls
him back into the steadfast wall,
from which he bounces, lurches, whirls
past movie posters, and to the squalls
of sunlight in the grand foyer . . .
and out he goes! O terrible day!
He sees the Benz, a beached black whale
all barnacled with foam. A pail
of soapy liquid blocks his way.

The Guatemalan voices drop.
A rainbow spray of water stops.
The sky is slashed with vapor trails
yet does not bleed. A migrating snail
just recently spawned from all those suds
which soak the lawn is nearly crushed
as lost Kamal looks for some blood
within that gashed yet pure, unblushed,
cerulean sphere – while stepping in mud
and tripping across a hose (he spins
to see a mocking immi-grin,
and feels the flush and flood of shame).
He looks once more from where he came.
The old front door; the shadows within.

Ulysses by James Joyce

‘…A flurrysnow of printerspew / as Joyce himself might draft a spewing / mower…’

Dear Ana [the wind] now tries to hold him back,
but from the driveway’s cul-de-sac
he staggers toward the gates; past scenes
he’s painted countless times, the greens
and yellows, reds and oranges swimming
past his eyes; a million memoranda
mixed together, mountains brimming
above the trees, a jacaranda
weeping purple tears; and skimming
across his favorite sculpted lawn,
a giant beetle, with elytron
outspread, a driver on its shoulders.
Look up. Will his eyes behold her?
No. The verandah’s shades are drawn.

And then – just as he reaches the gate
and gazes back at his estate
one final time: the olive trees,
the liquid gems the fountains sneeze,
the palms at play in games of catch
with swallows and jays, while shaking off
the fritillaries – a sudden dispatch!
A hollow crunch and aching cough
resounds from aforementioned patch
of grass where Genie’s book last flew.
A flurrysnow of printerspew,
as Joyce himself might draft a spewing
mower. And what’s my hero doing?

The gate is open. He’s walking through.

— End of Canto the First —

_____
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

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“The Meaning of Masterpiece”

Francisco-de-Goya-Maja-desnuda

Maja desnuda by Francisco de Goya.

We’ve discovered Kamal and his sister in an unseemly situation. It’s time now for their mother to discover the same thing.

In this episode, their mother returns unexpectedly. Her driver-cum-lover-boy, Ramana Narayanamurthy (a.k.a. Rick), has obviously informed his lady about Kamala’s carnal relations with Imogene — and now their mother has decided to accost the two children immediately.

I should clarify: While I’ve said our lovers were alone in the house, I didn’t include their ghostly, piano-playing father, who, as we learned in “Innocent Kamal!”, lives downstairs in a chamber from which he never emerges. We will start to hear his music now, faintly at first, much louder soon.

This episode opens in Imogene’s room. The beautiful Imogene is posing nude for Kamal, who is applying the final brushstrokes to her portrait while the happy siblings debate the essence of artistic expression. The narrator of our story then takes a moment to compare the two art forms — poetry and painting — before declaring his promise to tell the story of Kamal in such a way that his hero will live forever in the minds of readers (in a “tender spot of brain” as opposed to whatever coarse cortex is influenced by commercial desires).

One last thing to note: Kamal’s mother makes a quick stop in her bedroom, searching for something in a drawer, before intruding upon her children.

Ulysses by James Joyce

‘…[Imogene] has turned away / and yet, alas, from Joyce her eyes won’t stray.’

Now Imogene, still reading Ulysses,
tells Kamal, ‘Enough, dear! Some kisses!’

We faintly hear some music play;
and feel a dreadful force suspend
our saintly wind in its foyer.
(In truth, our lady and her friend
have entered – and closed – the entranceway).

With woeful bass-notes interspersed,
the heels resound in steady bursts;
and all those artsy funhouse mirrors
shrivel as their subject nears.
She’s in a mood that’s unrehearsed.

Kamal is laughing! Unaware
of what is coming up the stairs.
‘Kisses?’ he scoffs. ‘Or what – you’ll wilt?
Have my brushstrokes not been felt?
My vision from your body strayed?
The meaning of masterpiece: Creation
so superb, so finely made,
it calls for constant restoration!’

‘Well – if not with kisses paid,’
replies his sitter, ‘then I demand
more rapid service from your hand!
Without a fixed finality,
what good is immortality?’

‘Done!’ cries Kamal. ‘Your wish . . . and command!’

He crosses his arms and looks serene
as he reviews his painted scene.
Reclining Nude in Morning Light.
He’ll never forget it. And as I write
these words I feel a complicated
grief – envy and pity combined.
At once I’m deeply captivated
by his work – it’s better than mine;
his Imogene more fully created;
his scenery more richly designed –
and yet I know his art form’s flawed.
It lacks the passage of time. To think
his subject’s eyes can never blink
or flit – like yours – in quick saccade

‘…lotions, handcuffs (I write what I see!), /
and other stuff of therapy…’

to learn what fate a scene presages!
My art delights in turning pages.
Kamal’s invites the gallery’s viewer
to pause and see blue eyes still bluer;
and reds and yellows ripped asunder
by Moorish shadows slicing throats
of sunbeams gripped in carnal plunder!
O! The passion his painting connotes!
And yet, despite my envy, I wonder
if future eyes, in viewing this past,
will recognize the trouble cast
in dyes of sound – that awful knell
of music and footsteps which clearly tell
his masterpiece will be his last.

My poor Kamal! Whatever I do,
from this point on, I promise you:
my rhymed eponymous endeavor
will make your vision live forever!
I don’t just mean in fast outmoded
purgatories packed with nudes –
museums, movies, files downloaded
by the surfing multitudes
(though they, to you, will be devoted);
but rather that space no ad campaign
can fill; a tender spot of brain
which even Saatchi & Saatchi cannot cost.
That wistful realm of Loves We’ve Lost;
That’s where your life will always reign.

Where is our Lady? She should have entered
by now! In fact, a different room
– her own – is where she’s ventured.
She’s searching a drawer which I presume
is meant for items she wants censored.
A layer of satin lace and frills
gives way to bags and boxes of pills,
and lotions, handcuffs (I write what I see!),
and other stuff of therapy
which not just soothes but also thrills.

Torpedoes of lubricious taste
and one shaped like a plug-in mace;
and skidding left, her favorite gun,
which calls to mind that famous one
Nabokov’s wife kept close at hand
to battle snakes and rattle guests.
But no – this type of contraband,
a small Baretta, is deadliest
in duels of honor and passions unplanned.
Though killing is its foremost feature
this dainty nine-gauge pug-nosed creature
is built to shoot; but more, to flaunt.

‘Madam?’ asks Rick. ‘What do you want?’

No reply. He cannot reach her.

Vera and Vladimir Nabokov

Vera and Vladimir Nabokov: ‘…her favorite gun, / which calls to mind that famous one / Nabokov’s wife kept close at hand…’

Kamal, meanwhile, casts one last look
upon his sister and her book,
and sees her eyes grow wide –
                                                               ‘Did you’
– she halts – ‘hear that? I do not kid you.
Someone’s coming down the hall!’

‘That Nicaraguan maid, no doubt.
She lacks the sense but has the gall
to snoop about when mother’s out –’

His sister looks outside – ‘Kamal!
See there! The car! Do you think mom – oh!
– back already from Ferragamo!’

She turns – and screams.

                                                   Her mother’s there,
with gaping eyes and flustered hair
(her firm-set mouth formidably calm though).

_____
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

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“The Unexpected Return”

janet-jackson-super-bowl-wardrobe-malfunction1

Janet Jackson’s so-called ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the American Super Bowl in 2004: ‘Let your masses / contemplate the shape of Janet’s breast’

We left off in the downstairs hall of Kamal’s family estate, admiring the vainglorious paintings and statues of Kamal’s mother. This matron, a faded Hollywood actress (“her age now stalks her / more than her fans”), has just departed on a shopping trip in her chauffeured Mercedes Benz.

Alone in the house now, innocent Kamal (our hero) and beautiful, bookish Imogene (our hero’s sister) are free to indulge in their favorite pleasures. And at this moment, as we’re about to discover, the two siblings are upstairs together in Imogene’s room, engaged in an act of illicit passion. What they don’t realize is that Ramana Narayanamurthy (a.k.a. Rick) — chauffeur of said Mercedes and lover of said mother — is about to divulge their most tender secret.

Okay now, let us hurry up the stairs!
A scene as great as any known to art
awaits us, reader! Fly, my rhymes! Affairs
of physics nimble lyrics can outsmart.
Poems call forth miracles – like prayers –
and up the banister we ride,
as if on heaven’s ebbing tide;
and through a wall (so how’s it feel
to be like words, incorporeal?).
And through another – wait! Retreat!
The outside wind’s now licking our feet
and we’re aloft above the twinkling pool!
Rhymes make clumsy pilots, as a rule.

Michael Moore

The American filmmaker, Michael Moore: ‘…any subject matter which attracts / the largest crowds: see Moore vs. Miramax’

Here we go – I’ve found our sibling’s room.
The farthest northeast corner. Second floor.
The door is closed. Unlocked? You might presume
it’d be polite to knock – but why? What for?
To give propriety a chance to groom
the two inhabitants’ appearance?
Let’s leave this sort of interference
to the writers of the script
for whom True Art is often skipped
for artificiality.
I don’t just mean morality,
but any subject matter which attracts
the largest crowds: see Moore vs. Miramax.

And you, Vulgarity! Let your masses
contemplate the shape of Janet’s breast.
And rate dear Eminem on how his ass is.
(How well my fellow Whit’man’s self’s expressed.
The metaphors which others mix, he mashes!).
The war of yours that’s always raging
’tween the staged and those upstaging,
it has no place in my Kamal.
Should what’s behind our door enthrall
the Philistine – that’s not my aim.
I’m not a poet courting fame.
(although, should Oprah find my lyrics please her,
let her know: I’m not a Franzen either).

The American rap artist, Eminem

The American rap artist, Eminem: ‘How well my fellow Whit’man’s self’s expressed. / The metaphors which others mix, he mashes!’

And so we crash (at last!) into the scene!
I flash my license – works just like a warrant –
and break into the room, a ghost, unseen,
and worry not if what’s inside’s abhorrent.

The room is silent; Kamal and Imogene
engaged together – or rather, engrossed
in what they love to do the most.
The sister half-reclines upon
a stately, plump – and pink – divan
beside a balcony with doors
of paneled glass. The sycamores
outside all try to hail her. She’s turned their way;
and yet, alas, from Joyce her eyes won’t stray.

(And neither do those eyes, engrossed, discern
the Benz returning down the polished drive
in what’s a strangely premature return.
What leaves a place, to it does not arrive
before it’s left – or well, you get my point.
How space and time seem out of joint
when old routines and habits break!
Their mother (and Rick) would often make
these trips; Kamal and Imogene
would often take the opportunity
to fling their clothes off with impunity.
And neither sees their mother disembark
the car before it has a chance to park!).

Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen

Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen

Young Genie – by turning away, averting her face –
appears to grant permission for our stare
to leave her pretty lips and cheeks and race
down rivulets of molten amber hair,
which ripple through the sun’s fair glaze
to where, unclothed, her body lies;
and downward dash our dazzled eyes
to conic, pert, strabismal breasts –
the one on satin pillow rests,
the other, seeming to esteem us,
watches us like Polyphemus.
Her free arm rides her torquing side
like ivory oar on rolling tide;
and down – down glissading eyes!
The rise of her hips; albescent thighs
show what’s betwixt – a darkish honey trim
of hair that fills the cleft up to its rim.

_____
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

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“Kamal, His Greatest Love, and the Santa Ana Winds”

NASA diagram of the origin of the Santa Ana winds that often spread fires across Southern California.

NASA diagram of the origin of the Santa Ana winds that often spread fires across Southern California: ‘Saint Ana, dear – a great big breath from you please.’

While Los Angeles — where Kamal is set — lacks four seasons as such, the Autumnal Santa Ana Winds sweep down through the deserts of Southern California and across Los Angeles just as they blow through the stanzas of this first canto. (If you desire a more traditional Autumn poem, please read “My Autumn Ash“).

A quick update on our story so far: We’ve met our narrator (“Be Clear My Throat“) — a middle aged writer named Arcady who, as yet unknown to the literary world, is determined to tell the story of Kamal no matter what.

We’ve also met the hero of our story, Kamal (“Innocent Kamal“), a happy young man who lives with his parents on a beautiful, sprawling estate in Bel Air, California, where he spends blissful days chasing butterflies (and painting, as we’re about to learn). He loves his father, a famous pianist. And he adores his mother, a rich but faded Hollywood film star.

We will now learn about his greatest passion of all.

Content Warning: Certain thematic elements of the following stanzas may disturb some readers. But you must trust your poet, his muse, and the work of art that is Kamal.

Tomb Raider

‘…but now exalted some Raider / of Tombs who had an even bigger bust.’

O blessed young man! With naivete so great
your inner world reformed the world outside
and made the vulgar poetic, the crooked straight:
That drive you had in the Benz – your mother sighed
(in traffic on Wiltshire) and softly sneered, ‘Just wait,’
while spying a billboard which once displayed her
in bloom but now exalted some Raider
of Tombs who had an even bigger bust.

She asked:

                             ‘Is it true about Time? Can we trust
it to do unto others as it has done
unto us?’

                             – and you, her adoring son,
assuaged her: ‘Done unto you? But mother! Time’s spared
your beauty!’

                             And just like that – the world repaired.

Such words were all the more poignant because they were rare
(and heartfelt). Kamal was not a talkative fellow.
He listened well, and yet you’d almost swear
some key cognition absent from his mellow
mien. In truth, his thoughts were never where
he was. Contorting to any shape
(a demon artist of escape)
Passion can’t be easy caught
or fashioned into what it’s not;
and Love, that greatest magician
of all, served as a private optician
to Kamal – converting what offended
others to flirting forms and visions splendid.

He painted these lovely sights in vibrant acrylics
– a visual artist, our Kamal (though all
the senses help enthrall ecstatophilic
natures). His mother’s servants would recall
the way, at dawn, he’d find someplace idyllic,
erect his easel, his three-legged stool,
and – while others went to school –
paint masterpieces! Every stroke
a reverie of color evoked!
‘Traffic Rage Red’ and ‘Tangerine Smog’
– colors not found in catalogues;
and brush-strokes mighty winds couldn’t help but envy.
Not even Saint Ana could paint with such frenzy.

Olive Trees by Van Gogh

Olive Trees by Van Gogh:…’The way the olive trees would pitch / on skateboard shadows…’

Everything he loved, he loved to render
on canvas: The way the olive trees would pitch
on skateboard shadows and yet would never surrender
their balance; or how the hummingbirds twitched
in emerald chain and ruby-hooded splendor
before Queen Fuchsia – like Knights of Air,
deftly moving from square to square.
He painted such things, and more – much more:
the servants from El Salvador
who painted the tennis courts green,
or corrected the aim of a serving machine,
which fired blazing comets toward a man
who guided his student’s racket – and her hand.

He loved and painted the world beyond the gates,
though he knew little of it, our Kamal
(apart from silent movies a car-ride creates).
While his mother shopped at Highland Mall,
he liked, with pencils and colored pens, to wait
in the Benz and sketch the passerby
until the lamplight swallowed the sky.
He loved the freeways – the pure, seraphic
joy of being stuck in traffic!
The rows of sitters holding still
for Kamal to observe and sketch at will!
Unlike me, my hero never watched TV;
never read the papers; was tutored privately.

And yet – for I’m about to reveal his greatest
passion of all – he preferred to stay at home;
and not just for the purple dahlias, those straightest
of pinwheels; not just for the scented foam
that overflowed the spa-bath; or for the latest
movie screened in their private hall,
with popcorn soaked in alcohol;
or for the classical scenes he painted
of ladies lounging (some of them feinted)
outside, or bent above a mirror,
so close, their noses could go no nearer;
or for his mother’s parties, the games of Twister
No! Most of all, my reader, he loved his sister.

Blue Morpho Butterfly

‘…her eyes / as blue as Morphos butterflies…’

And now my hands are shaking! I need a muse!
When I say ‘loved,’ I mean – well, what do I mean?
Love, I say! A word of many hues,
but for our hero only the most pristine
of tints will do – the kind of love that views
its object as an extra limb,
detached, yet still belonging to him,
making it even more vital
to keep possession; to claim its title.
Her beauty made him weep; her eyes
as blue as Morphos butterflies.
Her tresses cascaded like honey – almost drinkable.
A fairer, creamier flesh would be unthinkable.

How did he know? Because he touched it, of course!
They often slept together – so what? Who cares?
The separate rooms they had could not enforce
their sleep-time habits. And why must taking shares
in bed-space guarantee an intercourse
beyond the realm of words? Or dreams?
(For theirs shared common music and themes).
That’s not to say his passion lacked
turgidity; or that the act
of touching gave no special pleasure;
but rather, that love, to Kamal, lacked measure.
’Twas infinite. Impossible to contain.
It owned his mind – so why, from touch, abstain?

Her name was Imogene. You’ve seen her eyes,
you’ve sipped her hair; but what about her mind?
As time in this poem now starts to materialize,
we find her aged sixteen, and thoughtful, refined,
and like Kamal, inclined to fantasize;
a youthful spirit, as it were,
as happy with life as life with her.
And yet – as pretty as people perceived her,
spending a day reading books most pleased her.
To everyone but Kamal, her face
was a glossy, veiled, book-covered place;
and while she sometimes glimpsed the servants admiring
her body, their gazes, to her, were uninspiring.

A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.: ‘…as pretty as people perceived her, / spending a day reading books most pleased her.’

She was, in fact, a model of pudency;
her tasteful clothes exasperated her mother.
Only Kamal ever saw what boys shouldn’t see;
which was, of course, because he was her brother,
and he loved her, she knew, so why couldn’t he?
She, too (like Kamal), adored their estate.
She adored her parents, and stayed up late
to read her Joyce and Tolstoy scored
by her father’s piano. And she adored
her brother. O reader! I hear your question:
‘Adored? Not loved? There’s no suggestion,
is there, of romance morals might forbid?
Did she feel the same as he felt?’

                                                                           She did!

Saint Ana, dear – a great big breath from you please.
To blow away these credits, end this montage,
and stir our story forward…
_____

…and speaking of gusts — a roar of readers, a tempest of tweets, a great frenzy of followers is what we need! I’ve told you of Kamal’s true passion. But our story is about to take a dramatic turn when Kamal reveals this passion to his mother’s “guru,” the fellow we met briefly in “Innocent Kamal“; the same fellow, incidentally, who holds the hand of Kamal’s mother in the tennis lessons above — a talented retainer, / and chef cum chauffeur cum fitness trainer / cum handyman (he works like a pun!) / cum guru-shrink-masseuse all in one.

What happens when Kamal confesses his secret? I’m ready to tell you (and will), but please remember this:

However much I wish to weave it,
my story can’t live without eyes to receive it.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

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“The Artist’s Hand” — Stanzas 218 to 226

'Atolls a-tolling:' The American Carrier, the USS Enterprise, under attack in the battle of Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, 1942.

'Atolls a-tolling:' The American Carrier, the USS Enterprise, under attack in the battle of Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, 1942.

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

218.

To land! To land was all that mattered!

‘You see her, Tug? That brief expanse
of bronzy rock that seems to dance
upon the sea?’

                                Tug’s engine clattered
wistfully as we both spied
ahead; and watched my island ride
the waves – a small, enchanted saddle
strapped to bucking Neptune’s back;
and me, rough-rider, keen to straddle
her and break her in. Attack!
Attack! Tug’s engine revved, then roared;
and sent a shudder through the boards
beneath my feet; as I stood quaking
there, and felt her throttle shaking

219.

within my grip, a nervous partner,
a rapid step, an empty floor,
a final dervish dance before
carnassial rocks would rip apart her
flesh and mine. But straight we sped,
my island pitching less, more spread
across as we grew nearer.
I tell you, reader, we never see
life’s true dimensions clearer
– a sudden sense of symmetry;
an end to mirror the start – as when
our minds, at last, can comprehend
the time and place of our conclusion.
The vividness of life’s illusion!

220.

The sudden poignancy of every
moment, the way each tiny part’s
a perfect fit, just as great art
appears extempore, a random reverie,
when, in truth, it’s neatly planned;
and O, to glimpse the artist’s hand,
its careful, loving intervention
is the essence that defines
a genius! (And not that foul contention
made by preachers who opine
the hand’s divine, and much too strong
to be critiqued, or proven wrong.)
We do not mourn our death. The grieving
which occurs when we, perceiving

221.

all at once the sharp, meticulous
details of life, and how they all,
those trillion puzzle pieces, fall
in place the moment our ridiculous
end is reached – that grieving’s meant
not for ourselves. No. We lament
the waste of so much concentration
by our honest maker. We mourn
this artist’s sense of desolation;
the pain through which our world is born
and raised. The mighty precision! It’s clear,
so clear to one near death: the sheer
artistic effort! The more enchanted
is life, the more we take it for granted.

222.

The wind tried hard to hold me back; it
madly wiped my tears and filled
my ears with caution – ‘You’ll be killed!’ –
and made a mainsail of my jacket,
which spasmed, crackled, slapped my face
with its loose collar. That airy embrace
was steady, strong, but lacked the muscular
pluck of swarthy Tug, who rammed
me through each wave in that crepuscular
spread of sparkling violet jam.
How thick a sea can seem to one
whose journey – whose life – is almost done;
how far each wave, how long each second,
when one’s demise is finally reckoned!

Japanese 'Kate' drops a torpedo on the USS Carrier Hornet in the battle of Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands.

Japanese 'Kate' drops a torpedo on the USS Carrier Hornet in the battle of Guadalcanal.

223.

And as my Tug reached full velocity;
then my isle began to charge,
a monster baring blackish, large
and drool-smeared teeth, with a ferocity
never had I fathomed of
that fledgling land for which such love
I held. The island rushed right at us.
I heard what sounded like a case
of stomach gas, a rumble of flatus
rippling through Tug’s belly. I braced
against the portside rail with hands
that didn’t let go when we struck land.
And what a blow! As if the ocean
could not bear our ship’s commotion

224.

and wished to smash us into pieces
just to stop our god-awful drone.
Imagine water turned to stone,
or newborn lamb whose fleece is
suddenly changed to armor plate
– that’s how it was. Our hurling weight
from softest substance smacked that lithic,
steadfast island with a boom
unheard across the South Pacific
since Japan’s torpedoes doomed
the Hornet and the Enterprise107
near islands named to honor a wise
Hebraic King! Atolls a-tolling!
Great moments in history are rarely consoling.

225.

What followed: A marvelous, crepitating
crunch; and then a cannonade
of sundry ware like grapeshot sprayed
into a foe – the navigating
gear, the kitchenette, a fridge,
straight through the window of the bridge;
the cabin detonated, spreaders
hurled ahead like monstrous spears,
a flurry of steel, as through a shredder,
wailed and whistled past my ears;
the radar vaulted from the ship
which left its steely chains to whip
about in wild, tentacular furry.
The rest, for me, is somewhat blurry.

226.

Until I found myself, still gripping
the rail, still prostrate on the deck,
still part of that spectacular wreck,
with bitter tasting liquid dripping
on my cheek (a mix of sea
and diesel fuel). Not far from me:
a large, much-dented brown container
which, a moment before, had lain
in Tug. The keel had split in twain her
hold, and there she rested, slain,
a disemboweled fish, or whale,
with box-shaped organs, steel entrails
all scattered around. The rocks were bleeding
her fuel. My mind, in sleep, receding. . .



107 The Hornet and the Enterprise were American aircraft carriers assigned to guard the sea approaches to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands during World War II. The Hornet still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of shell fire from the destroyers Mustin and Anderson. The Enterprise proved equally indomitable, and although badly bombed by the Japanese in August and October, 1942, she still launched planes against enemy ships in November.

__________

Joan Didion

Joan Didion

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
If the quality of poetry can be measured by the delight the poet takes in re-reading the lines long after their genesis, then I can confirm, my dear readers and critics, that these are some wonderful stanzas.

We lament / the waste of so much concentration / by our honest maker.

It strikes me that the narrator of my latest novel (a book now at the mercy of the publishing gods) says something similar as he observes a photo of his family just moments before attempting to shoot himself:

“A surge of grief — not for myself, or for my loss, but for the waste of so much love invested in the long creation of me.”

In Joyce’s “The Dead,” it’s not the dead that we lament. Death is courteous and dignified and refreshingly aloof to opinion polls or party gossip. We lament, rather, the little workings of life, the intricacies of creation, the passion and patience of the artist’s hand that plays a long-remembered song on the piano, or lays a table with “minsters of jelly,” “bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds,” “a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some celery stalks.”

(Joyce, by the way, places these celery stalks on the table to emphasize the bland, well-mannered, upright, overly-intellectual nature of his protagonist, Gabriel, “who never ate sweets.”).

These sweets, these dinner parties, these offerings on the table — however hard we try, we can never fully appreciate, or capture, or reciprocate for the wondrous workings of creation. What is more devastating than that?

Joan Didion expresses the unbearable anguish of this dilemma in her latest memoir, Blue Nights: “There was a period,” she writes, “a long period, dating from my childhood until quite recently…during which I believed that I could keep people fully present, keep them with me, by preserving their mementoes, their ‘things,’ their totems.” But ultimately these collections become the “the detritus of…misplaced belief,” serving “only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

 

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The Curse of Poets — Stanza 26

Albert Einstein and Johanna Fantova with their sailboat onton, New Jersey. Lake Carnegie in Prince

Albert Einstein and Johanna Fantova with their sailboat on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, New Jersey.

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the First

26.

to see the bank where Joyce once clerked.
We went to Baltimore, where Poe
was found in rags, so I could know
– and feel – the curse of poets (it worked);
just three of us to Einstein’s Princeton,
the beautiful lake which once convinced him
home was in the States…and me,
dear reader, that home would always be
those journeys with my parents. Dozens
of relatives, a swarm of cousins
I have. But once I crossed the sea,
the only child who mattered was me.

Zireaux’s comments on this stanza
O the pathos of poor Edgar’s demise! Found in a delirium on the streets of Baltimore, ‘in great distress and…in immediate need of assistance,’ according to the man who brought him to his hospital deathbed. America’s greatest poet was 40 years old.

For our Tuesday Poem readers, a translation of a poem by Albert Einstein, who wasn’t a poet as such (an artist, yes), but who turned to poetry to express his deep admiration for the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza:

On Spinoza’s Ethics
by
Albert Einstein
©2007-2008 English translation by Jonathan Ely

How I love this noble man
More than I can say with words.
Still, I fear he remains alone
With his shining halo.

Such a poor small lad
Whom you’ll not lead to freedom
The amor dei leaves him cold
Mightily does this life attract him

Loftiness offers him nothing but frost
Reason for him is poor fare
Property and wife and honor and house
That fills him from top to bottom

You’ll kindly forgive me
If Münchhausen here comes to mind
Who alone mastered the trick
Of pulling himself out of a swamp by his own pigtail

You think his example would show us
What this doctrine can give humankind
My dear son, what ever were you thinking?
One must be born a nightingale

Trust not the comforting façade
One must be born sublime

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