Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I was recently bemoaning my lost poetry, of which I remembered a few snatches here and there.  The electronic versions disappeared on big floppies many years back, and were probably in WordPerfect or MultiMate anyway.  The hard copies were lost in The Great Storage Tragedy.  But I remembered that my dad and stepmother, within the past year, had sent me some old photos and old documents, including several college literary magazines with a few of my short stories and poems.

The short stories were and are hideous; any snatches I ever remembered from them made me cringe.  But I did dig up three poems, and scanned and OCR'ed them so I'd have electronic copies.  (I never used OCR before, and so am proud of myself for managing to do it.)  None, alas, is the Coney Island poem.

I think two of the poems hold up pretty well, and one is not that good but captures a very important moment in my life.  I won a writing prize with one of my poems back then, but according to the magazines where these three were published, it wasn't any of these.  I have no idea or memory of which poem it was, but I do remember that I won that prize, because I'd been trying really hard to get it for several years.  I seem to recall that it was one I hadn't liked as well as certain others, but I was so glad to win the prize that I didn't much care.

All were published in The Gallatin Review,  a nice little literary magazine published by Gallatin Division of NYU, which was my school (it's now called The Gallatin School), in the late 80s and early 90s.

I do want to apologize for all of that pretentious lower-case shit.  I did remove the pretentious every-other-line indentations from one of them.  I don't suppose I have to explain how artsy the lower-case thing was.  I did often write poems with long shaped paragraphs, which I believe I copied from Marianne Moore and Muriel Rukeyser.  I don't and never did read much poetry, but I did like those two.

The first poem is the one I don't like as much...well, I'm a little nit-picky about it. It does have some turns of phrase I'm proud of.  But the title is one thing I don't like -- I called it "Chinatown would have benefited by the addition of Bob."  What I was trying to say was that my experience that day in Chinatown would have benefited, etc. 

This poem was published in 1988 but it was written, I believe, in the spring of 1986.  I wrote it the day after the Chinatown excursion, extremely hung over.  This was when I was bottoming out on alcohol, and is a very clear expression (at least to me), of how I thought "Bob" would fix what was wrong with me. 

There was an actual Bob I was chasing at the time (although once we were together, I found he preferred being called Robert), who ended up being one of the most difficult boyfriends ever.  The line in the poem where he says "I just can't stand that kind of thing" is genuine, one hundred percent Robert.  I got sober at the end of August 1986, and I think I broke up with him a couple of weeks later -- even that early in recovery, I knew he was way, way too much to handle.  I met him through the clerical union at NYU (he had been involved for a while, and I was a passionate newbie), which is why the word "union" is slipped in there.  I always used to put those little touches into poems as inside jokes that no one got but me.  (How sad is that?)

Chinatown would have benefited by the addition of Bob
I never before minded the mournfully bent heads
of the ducks who were nearer to food than to life;
today they troubled me, as I window-shopped for supper,
browsing garish dangles of dark-red barbecue,
the number of the shops, the clouds of rich odors,
the pale innocence of fowl yet to be cooked;
closer looks at trays of unrecognized food revealed horrors:
the feet of birds, the snouts of pigs, whole squid
coaxed somehow to science-fiction orange;

even the vegetable stalls gave me pause:
would unfamiliar produce poison if miscooked?
guiltily, I bought two small cantaloupe off a truck,
paying a grizzled Italian who asked his chum,
"Isn't she a beautiful girl?"; he took my dollar
and bagged my melons in flimsy plastic;

the fish markets beckoned, then overwhelmed:
shrimp had faces, whole fish were clearly priced but unnamed,
lobster and crab were cheap but alive,
a bargain on whole squid reminded me of when Charlie
worked downtown, and brought some home,
bravely following a cookbook to bone and behead the creatures,
working a delicate miracle over fresh pasta;
I couldn't, I knew, looking one in the eye,
and couldn't behead shrimp, couldn't execute lobster
or crab; in the past I have cleaned fish easily,
but I know I am now unequal to the task;

as I walked downtown from Washington Square,
the sun high and hot, walked through Soho,
through Little Italy, I put Bob in a number of scenes;
in my mind, he corrected situations
in which I felt too lonely and alone: too shy and
feeling too pathetic to enter a certain cafe,
I sat Bob at a table with me, the two of us sharing
fried calamari with hot sauce and drinking beer;
I placed him beside me in an antique jewelry shop,
surprising me when I admired a garnet ring,
saying, "It's perfect for you," and maybe buying it;
I saw him at my side in front of shop windows,
not caring if he shared my tastes in clothes,
happy just to have him there to say,
"I can't stand that sort of thing";

I really needed him in Chinatown; he would have
braved the tiny noodle shops where Chinese ate in crowds,
and enjoyed the wiseguy Chinese boy of twelve
who noticed my star and drawled, "Are you Jewish?"
and my reply, "Are you Chinese?"

without a doubt, Bob would have declared his ability
to clean fish; "You clean, I'll cook," I'd have offered,
wantonly bagging vegetables—asparagus or
broccoli rabe, a knob of ginger, a ripe mango to eat later;
at his apartment, I would create a meal
of memorable delicacy, the food of union, of sharing.

The second one, which was written later and sober, was a little unusual for me.  I tended to write poems which were love letters of some sort, and this one wasn't.  It feels kind of mature to me, for that reason.  It's just straight-up about a photo of my great-grandmother I'd never seen before.  What struck everyone in the family (because it somehow had just then arrived on the east coast from some west coast relatives) was how much I resembled her; it was always said that I looked almost exactly like my mother (I couldn't see it myself), but this was my paternal great-grandmother, and when I saw the picture, I thought, "My God, it's me!"

Well, of course, some fucking "lover" shows up in the last paragraph.  I actually may not have been sober yet when I wrote this, because I'm kind of suspecting it was that Robert again.  "Golden" means he was blond, and I don't really remember any blonds in that era except Robert.  I didn't really see anyone for a while in early recovery, not anyone I would have described this way.


I have never seen this picture before
and so I reverse the truth: she looks like me, this woman dead
long before my birth. My family laughs,
gives her to me in a silver frame.

There is nothing dry or stiff about
her sepia face and form; she must have
horrified the photographer, back in nineteen-ten.
A fisted hand rides her hip, the other draped
over her man's shoulder to own him. Her face
is nothing but assertive, proud, defiant.

My lover is as golden and as sad as autumn.
He believes in his own power; he forgets in daylight
how in the darkest hours of night, he curls to me
like kitten to cat. He will only see this when
the evidence is produced: a new photograph that
a man who belongs to a woman, my notes to the future.


Number three:  I like this poem a lot.  I wrote it about my favorite professor, although "favorite professor" doesn't begin to capture what he was to me and to others.  He was brilliant and warm and way, way spiritual; his students (including me) were more like followers.  He was pretty close to being a holy man to many of his students.  He taught religion, and I studied mythology under him.  He was a nice enough looking man, but everyone fell madly in love with him, or at least under his spell, because of who he was.  It felt like a next-level crush.  Even though the class was huge, I managed to get his attention with some of the assignments I wrote.  The title is another of my little inside jokes: "peregrination" means to move from one place to another, but it also refers to a wonderful story he told about finding a peregrine falcon in his apartment (it had flown in an open window).

The poem was my attempt to sort out and explain my crazy attachment to him -- which no less crazy in light of the fact that lots of people felt that way about him.  I actually took the class because I had a friend who would never shut up about him, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
It is surely for a reason, and one perhaps
not obscure, that he greatly resembles
the man I almost wed; he has the same brow,
and eyes so similar that I often forget
to distinguish between the two men, one
long gone and one filling my recent days.

He is the safest and most dangerous of men.
I was warned. I was told, both subtly and
straight out, that I would love him beyond
all others and beyond reason and sense and
beyond his own presence and facts and form.
As I try to know him, I learn about myself.

I was warned. He is universally loved, and
I turn Plato inside out, joining a symposium
of love for this old boy. And true to form,
I find myself more clever, more learned, more
virtuous than ever I'd imagined. He brings out
what is finest in me: this is the quality of love.

It is surely for a reason, and one perhaps
not obscure, that he came to me when I was ready
to love knowledge and to love the love of learning.
I was warned. I cannot stay myself from the attempt
to merge with him, and in striving for sameness,
I discover what is different in me, and unique.

His beauty tempts me to many wicked thoughts.
He is the safest and the most dangerous of men.
He promises no occasion of sin, but is the
fixed star of virtue; by his light, I navigate
the darkness in my soul. He promises the love
of goodness; I cleanse myself quickly in order to accept.


Anyway, those are the three dug-up old poems.  I used to write too much poetry, and a lot of it was trite and gushy.  I wish I could find the Coney Island poem because it was really, really good.  Actually, I kind of like the rhythm of the Chinatown poems, and the first stanza is probably as good as anything I've ever written.  Don't know if there's really any more of my old writings to be dug up. I haven't written a poem in well over ten years, and I think the last couple were about that prick V.  One of them was actually good, as I recall.  But these three don't suck all that hard.

In other news, the first interview at Zabar's went well, I think.  It was with a consultant, and if I make the cut, I'll go back and meet with the controller.  The title of the job is "Inventory Analyst," which I like a lot.

Even with the many days I manage to get out of the Back to Work center, for one reason or another, it's both weird and dull going down there week after week.  It's like some bizarre planet.  I've recently figured out that the best use of my time there is to try to get a seat in the computer room, and just job-hunt online.  I put my resumes on what I called a "memory stick" (Rafael corrected me and I now know that it's a "flash drive"), which yielded a great half-day of online searching.  But you can't always get a seat there.  As much as the classroom was initially novel (and I still do adore the instructor), I'm tired of "learning" things I already know, and I'm tired of most of the lame and lowbrow (sometimes both) conversations that spring up there.  I've actually met a couple of very nice, bright people, but I can't imagine actually staying in touch with any of the post-BTW except Rafael.  He'll be a friend for a long time, I think.

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