“Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it isn’t,” Auntie warns

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Photo J.W. Diehl jw.diehl.homestead.com

Tonight I heard four poets read at the Cornelia Street café, at the invitation of my darling friend Janet Kaplan, who was as comfortable on the stage as a platinum sea goddess on a scallop shell, and a much better poet than any lazy-ass divinity. Her poems were funny and crazy,in the best sense. Full of sparklers. She read with Kate Greenstreet, whom I have heard before but this time Kate was better, reading with a sly wit and rasp that crept into the poems and hung around the ends of lines after she moved on. Also two poets new to me, Brian Clements and Beth Frost, were smart and fun to listen to.

Walking home in the spring evening, I had poems and stories in my head: specifically novels I could turn into stories because I don’t want to stay with anything too long. I have the bones of the tales. I never did before. I had words and images, later, characters and situations. Now it’s stories, stories, stories. So many ideas, so little follow through.

And why is that? There’s something terribly painful in my personal life which I would talk about except that a) there’s a limit to candor, and b) I think I’d sink into the abyss and never come out. Instead imagine a party of mad poetry and leanly-muscled stories getting euphoric in my head while lurking around is The Terribly Painful Personal Thing, an old man in a raincoat with skinny bare legs and black shoes. It keeps me awake nights. It makes me do Internet searches for unspeakable activities. When you do that you realize there are two kinds of people on those forums, the ones who say, “What kind of jerk are you to look for something like this on a public site?” and the second kind, who are crime writers.

No, there are also people like me who will never do the unspeakable thing, who may well write about it, but probably won’t. I could write a different crime novel. I have one in mind. It’s a comic novel. I need more of my self back to write it, or write anything (which is why I am here, reblogging—a disgusting term that sounds like mouse vomit).

I’ve been thinking a lot about mice lately. Maybe because I’ve killed so many. Or because I feel so tender when my cats carry the corpses around like Christmas presents, then drop and kick the dead thing hopefully for more fun. Or maybe because as someone once said, I’m mousy.

I blog because people read it and that kind of feels like work or like love or simply being alive. I have no idea who reads it other than my husband’s girlfriend, my lover’s girlfriend, and my cat’s girlfriend. (I made up one of those.) I write it not for my mother and siblings to worry. I write it for strangers, but sadly, the strangers so rarely write back.

Let me cheer you up with one of Janet Kaplan’s poems, from her new book, Dreamlife of a Philanthropist. This poem should be a perfect rectangle; if it’s not, it’s the font’s fault. Also, the title is below the poem. My favorite sentence is the third from the bottom. You can always be sure I’ll go for the animal stuff, though baths are good too, and loneliness (if it’s clean).

I’m being rinsed in a future bath. The future, which
softens, no matter how the water runs. My childhood
miracles, spun with utter conviction and a straight
face. Grandmother mixes seven parts water, three parts
soap, one part tallow. Grandmother washes her lone-
liness in the world’s. “Sometimes it’s real, sometimes
it isn’t,” Auntie warns. She pours tinctures from her
alabaster jars. Here in El Norte we’ve remnants of in-
sect legs, neighbor with the tail of a pig. But nowa-
days no one wants to accommodate such things. Why
should we, when the drying process allows for ease
of absorption and a fresh, clean scent?


Spring Can Really Hang You up The Most

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes it can…even so, last night, for the second Monday, I went to hear Gene Bertoncini at Bar Henry on Houston Street. It’s a small, narrow underground bar, with a back dining room nobody uses. The evening was a splendor. His playing is so contextually rich, tender, beautiful in every sense of the word. He creates forests, stone passages under the earth, birds and roaming animals. If you have any taste for jazz guitar, come hear him, or buy his CDs. He’s also one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met.

There were a few people there when we arrived; it was noisy at the bar. Gene was playing Jobim. Charles had a long talk with him, which I couldn’t hear but I was glad to know it was going on. If we had lived properly, Charles would be playing his guitar every day.

Then everyone left but us and Gene asked us not to leave, which we had no intention of doing. We ordered dessert. Charles asked him to play some Cole Porter and he did—half a dozen songs at once. The ability of musicians to improvise so brilliantly on demand is something that always astonishes me. It’s not like other arts. It’s like love.

Later, more of Gene’s friends and fans came in, some taking turns playing, including a young guitarist from Sao Paolo, Bruno Mangueira, who was magnificent, playing American jazz with a Brazilian flair, very melodic; and an Italian woman whose name I’ve forgotten. Her music was lyrical and flowing, with an exquisite command of phrasing. We all talked. The men talked guitars: makes and models. The mood was more intimate than most dinner parties with old friends.

Twice while he was playing, Gene’s cell phone rang and he answered it—digging it out of his jacket pocket— first making a dinner arrangement with someone dear to him, the second time talking to the baggage handlers at LaGuardia who had found his bags. It made us all laugh. He has the rare ability to make you feel like you’re all casually in his living room—or rather, that he’s in yours, thrilled to be asked to play, no kind of professional, except that he just happens to be better than 99% of guitarists in the world.

I went looking for a jazz poem by William Matthews, who wrote so many good ones, but found this, which I like better today.

The Cloister

The last light of a July evening drained
into the streets below: My love and I had hard
things to say and hear, and we sat over
wine, faltering, picking our words carefully.

The afternoon before I had lain across
my bed and my cat leapt up to lie
alongside me, purring and slowly
growing dozy. By this ritual I could

clear some clutter from my baroque brain.
And into that brief vacancy the image
of a horse cantered, coming straight to me,
and I knew it brought hard talk and hurt

and fear. How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

William Matthews

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