Summer Night With Books

June 27, 2010 § 4 Comments


Wretched heat. The cat growling. Back pain. Anxiety. But it’s still June! Solstice month, out-of-school month, that tag end of days before real summer when as I kid I was laziest, released from the social prison of school to the pleasure of books, staying in my room to read all day before we went wherever we went.

My mother has recently confessed that when we were all packed off to school, she wouldn’t do housework or any of that; she’d pick up a book and read. Her activity in the afternoons and evenings were all we saw: the second half of her day. She had four children, a big house, a husband, a social life. She made herself dresses from pictures in Vogue—sewing late into the night—and went to a lot of parties, theaters and restaurants. But mostly she read.

Mostly, I read. I don’t do any of that other stuff very often, except restaurants, which are to NYC living what cars are to everyone else. There were children once, part-time; now I have cats. The husband is part-time. The big house I don’t even dream about anymore because it feels like having that much house—what I grew up with—would be like gaining 100 pounds and how would I climb the subway stairs?

I read and sing to the cats and wander the streets that throb with energy—wild torrents of screaming youth I move through, barely noticing; I write in the mornings and the evenings; I eat and do the dishes and read; I wait, which is wrong, but I’ve always waited, so I might as well let it be. I read some more.

This moment has so many layers. Under the anxiety is watchfulness. Under that are little bubbles of bliss: time is so startling and beautiful, look at it, you couldn’t make up anything like that, could you? Given a raw universe?

Here’s a piece of it: a black oval hairbrush, tangled long brown hair, the child running off, the woman in her own life, the hair still being untangled, strand by strand, the copper glint…what story am I telling? Why am I alone tonight?

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)
In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line–
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple–this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

–Kenneth Koch

Readers and Writers

March 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

Edvard Munch, Girl Kindling Stove

Edvard Munch, Girl Kindling Stove

My sister bought me a Kindle for my birthday! I had just decided to stop buying books—as well as chocolate, fruit other than apples and bananas, and Perrier. I was going to do what my brother suggested and live on spaghetti and spam. Start watching more TV.

But she bought me a Kindle so I’ll have to download a few books, right? The Kindle will be perfect for all those airplane trips I can’t afford to take anymore. I have a few books on my iphone, mostly Dickens, but I hardly ever read my phone. I use it to take pictures. Which reminds me—another iphone app I’ve thought of: you rub the screen a few times and then aim it at your pile of gathered kindling and it starts a fire. It will come in handy when we’re all living in the National Parks, hiding from the reckless hordes of starving immigrants besieging our shores. Yeah, I know we’ve probably got ten years before the world’s coastal cities disappear and things get ugly. Still, it’s good to be ready.

**

A writer friend of mine who fought in Vietnam recently wrote a novel about that war and sent it to his agent. His agent asked him to set it in Iraq. I guess the idea is if your book is on Iraq you can go on Jon Stewart and Charlie Rose, and what could be finer than that (unless you’re Jim Cramer)?

I think he should write a novel about a squadron of young recruits being sent to Iraq, entering a time warp after the plane collides with some very old geese, and ending up in Vietnam, circa 1966.
“Man, this is some weird desert.”
“Desert’s supposed to be sand, right?”
“Probably the whole country isn’t desert. You know, like Arizona isn’t the whole U.S. This is just like Lousiana.”
“I been to Louisiana. This ain’t Louisiana.”
“How come our guys all have their guns pointed at us?”
“They sure look funny.”
“They’ve all got fucking antique guns, that’s why.”
“Fucking Bush.”

Okay, now you see it has to be a TV show. Hogan’s Heroes meets Gilligan’s Island. The present-day guys finally figure out what’s going on and try to explain that the war is over, that we lost, that there was no point to the whole mess anyway and the best idea would be to sneak over to Iraq and kill Saddam while he’s still a young thug (though others have different ideas on who should be killed).

The Vietnam-era soldiers, annoyed by being asked whether they’ve killed any babies yet and where their ear collection is, spike the newbies’ drinks with hallucinogens and send them out to find what the old soldiers keep referring to as ‘IUDs’, except for stuttering Jeremy from Fresno who has an eidetic memory for Internet porn, and is kept in camp to spend his evenings describing every video he’s ever seen in minute detail. Viewers love the way his stuttering disappears when the sex gets hot, and the way the Vietnam-era guys smack him every time he says, “iphone.”

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