The HyperTexts

Jo-Anne Cappeluti

Jo-Anne Cappeluti earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Riverside. She currently teaches at California State University, Fullerton, while searching for a tenure-track position in her area of expertise, Romantic to Modern, American and British Poetry. She has been published widely, in Literary Review, The Journal, The Lyric, New York Quarterly, Negative Capability, Poetry Depth Quarterly, Wavelength, and Thorny Locust. She lives in Brea with her husband Tim, and they would both love to leave Southern California for greener, less-crowded pastures.

The Impotence of Being Earnest(ine)

or my Memory of the MLA Convention in San Francisco, December 1998, and a P.S. added in January, 2004

Ah! San Francisco: city on the edge,
the west-most, western coast, unwieldy ledge
to which for four, high Holy Roman days
the MLA descends, performs its plays
and interviews new actors. How the air
is charged! How earnest all appear to wear
such sacred mantles! How they gesture and
converse, sitting or standing to demand
attention to their worth—and name tags (or
"Convention Badges") no one can ignore:
my word! And yet all look the same: pursed lips,
brows arched in disbelief, and hands that grip
at nothing, hair cropped close, and dark, unfit-
ted clothing: male or female—I admit
that it was hard to tell the difference—but
I think the men had fuller lips. Well, what
a group! I slipped my gum beneath my tongue,
pushed up my wunderbra, and almost flung
myself into the Hilton lobby, slipped
on someone's drool, and slid until I gripped
a potted palm. "Indeed. Indeed," I said,
"nevertheless . . " and as my face turned red
a man (I think) said, "Yes. Exactly. Just
what I was saying, but you really must
admit . . . ." He stopped as if he'd lost his thought.
"Indeed," I said again, my face still hot.
I knew then that as long as one performed,
as long as one took care in how one formed
one's words—speaking so earnestly in vain
to thousands hungry to be entertained—
then one would be okay, so I stood up
(inspired somehow to leave the fronds that stuck)
and thus began:
"All academic trends are subject to
decay, and, knowing that, we seek the new.
We have no sacred cows, or even texts.
We strain, wide-eyed, and yawn, 'Where to? What next?'
We want the yet unspoiled, the virginal,
the thing itself, the pure original—
although we don't believe that such exists
we'd hate to think there's anything we've missed,
for, loyal subjects that we are to Lord
Decay, we want, indeed, we long to hoard
the things that we will soon enough ignore:
'Oh that. Well, yes, but now it's such a bore.'
Once duly studied, labeled, and exposed
as 'merely this' or 'that,' the case is closed.
Right now, it must be cultural, histor-
ical, colonial, empowered or
depowered, marginal, ethnic, gender-
related discourse—or at least, the blur
between verba and res, and it must be
re-thought, i.e., 'Rethinking Poetry:
A Meta-Critical Response,' or 'Sling it
Slant: Re-thinking Patriarchal Shit
in Emily Dickinson.' And it must be
re-entered, or demystified and be
moving beyond, contextualized, or queer
(homo-erotic is passé) or mere,
or hermeneutical or violent or
inscribed, transvested, matrifocal or
erased, transmitted or rhetorical
or, best of all, ideological:
the Ideology of Discourse or
the Ideology of Gender or
Ideological Aesthetics or
Ideological Poetics or
the Ideology of Novel or
the Ideology of Theory or,
of course, Re-thinking Ideology
or Representing Ideology
or (Re)Presenting Ideology
or (Mis)Presenting Ideology
or Micro-Macro Ideology
which is to say—if I may so commence—
our ideology of impotence."
I paused and looked around the room. No one
seemed much disturbed, and no one had a gun
pointing at me—even security
seemed half-amused, drawing a sketch of me
so I continued then:
"Prolific? Yes, but prophylactic too.
Ah! There's the rub: we 'mate' without a clue.
Our urge to merge with text, to 'know' the new
is sterilely contained then flushed away
leaving us 'safe' to live and 'love' another day
with yet another and another. It's
almost as if—I speak this carefully—
such earnestness, such quick activity
is just, you know, masturbatory sex
for showing off our intellectual flex,
almost as if, we don't actually need
the text at all in which to 'spill' our seed
(I speak this as a woman—yes, I know
I'm borrowing, appropriating, though
not out of envy—nooo, not me. You see
it's like owning a boat; I'd rather be
invited for the ride than be so tied
to all the work, you know, to all that pride
of ownership, that thing without a brain,
God love it, working under all that strain,
but I digress. Indeed. Nevertheless:
where was I, now—or even then—oh yes. . . ).
Of course, publish or perish, as they say,
and so we work our tails off night and day
to whip it out, because if there's one thing
that we're earnest about it's what will bring
us favor from above (I don't mean God):
tenure, raises, or even just a nod
from someone who can mispronounce our name.
Such is the road to academic fame.
and how did we select this road—what brought
us here? What longings did we have that caught
us up in such a journey? Did we long
to share our wisdom, to be placed among
those great souls of the past, published, and then
immortalized and then forgotten, then
revitalized, reclaimed, re-thought? Did we
imagine that those specimens of text
those deconstructive demons that so hexed
us with their magic would rub off on us
and then that we, empowered then, could thus
find glory (and public support) in—what?
watering down aesthetics into—what?
ical and psychological—what?—fog?
Ah! Silver wings of truth passing us by:
here where we sit and groan and wonder why
such impotence sustains our weary world:
Such beauty, truth, and trivia unfurled!"
I stopped and looked around again. "Do you
have any questions yet, even a clue
about the impotence that I describe?
Come on: call it a futile diatribe
a diasporic discourse. Go ahead:
call me a Ph.D. without a thread
of hope, a would-be actor left out in
the cold of part-time teaching once again."
A man (I think) looked up: "'Slinging it Slant?':
Would that be allegorical? I can't
imagine—unless, yes, of course, slinging
is hermeneutically conveyed, bringing
monstrosity and violence into views
of pivotal, configured disillu-
sionment. " "Indeed," I said. "Indeed: never-
theless . . . " and then continued:
"So, like I said—for now we must re-think:
our discipline is right now on the brink
(like San Francisco in a way) of doom,
collapsing into rubble. Don't assume
it can't come tumbling down. We may be all
teaching the dreaded composition! Call
me "Earnest," "Earnestine," or what you will
but I am not a fiction-spouting thrill
(like that fake candidate a few years back
whose dissertation title didn't lack
a single pc emphasis, who got
ten offers sight unseen he was so hot).
We are the new Romantics! We must take
the burden Wordsworth knew and learn to fake
to tell the truth, to say, 'If this be but
a vain belief—' and feeling in our gut
that this is criticism now and that
it is important and means nothing, that,
as Auden said of poetry, it must
"contrive to tell two lies": much like my bust
inside this wunderbra. And so my friends,
my enemies, I'm coming to an end.
I'm leaving now for interviews. It's been
a slice of heaven! Here's to 99:
to plays in which we all can shine
at what we love to do. You haven't seen
the last of me, your darling Earnestine."


That was five years ago, and I still lack
a tenure-track
position, and I think, although it's hard
to tell, that things are worse and getting worse
and I can't rhyme it anymore. . . .

Letter to Lord Auden in 1990, with a P.S. Written 
After 11 September 2001                                                                       
        Somehow I know you would excuse me if
        I started out by saying I've just read
        your letter to that—pardon if I sniff—
        noble romantic Byron (like you, dead).
        You see, my lord, because of you my head
        is filled with thoughts itching to be discussed
        with one like you who has poetic crust.

        By that I mean you're not so sensitive
        (like me) that you couldn't receive a bit
        of scratch.  But let me deviate and give
        you time at least to warm up to my wit—
        I'm an American—then you won't have to sit
        gritting your teeth or smoking like a train.
        Trust me.  Relax.  I won't put you in pain,

        ask your opinion of my latest verse
        (or show you pictures of me in the nude).
        I won't do anything to make you terse,
        I hope.  Besides I think it very rude
        (and I am not in any sense a prude)
        when people let it all hang out.  Alas
        that usually means they're liberal with their gas.

        I wonder what you're doing as I write.
        Is there a poet's heaven:  the sublime
        of all sublime experience, insight
        beyond degree that makes Coleridge's lime
        tree bower true eternally, each rhyme
        organic fruit of paradisal bliss?
        Joy unconfined!  Heavenly mimesis!

        Or are you now somewhere between, earning
        your wings as someone's angel?  I can see
        it all:  you in an off-white robe burning
        a cigarette down to the last.  You'd be
        the truly private face, finally free
        to see this limestone landscape we call home
        and if you were correct to think we roam

        with all the curiosity of those
        who are at once both easily and yet
        never completely satisfied.  Who knows—
        I don't—just where you are or if you'll get
        this letter, but my poet's heart is set
        on trying, so I'll write it anyway
        and hope to get it published so they'll say

        ("they" meaning critics, poets, and, of course,
        prospective employers—you see, I just
        finished my Ph.D.) "What force!
        What style! Who is this nobody?  We must
        see more." I'll be part of the upper crust
        (Harvard would be nice).  Then when I'm dead
        someone will write to me—just like you said

        about the price of fame.  At any rate
        as I've already said, I'm an Amer-
        ican.  Land of the Brave: you know the place.
        It's large, friendly, and rich, as you once shared,
        a place, not an ethnicity.  Beware
        portraits of us, attempts to show the "true"
        American—something between a blue-

        eyed beauty queen who wants world peace and has
        been tap dancing since three and a dark-haired
        cigarette-smoking cowboy who is always pass-
        ing through, whose tight-lipped frozen stare
        betrays (look out) hemorrhoids beyond repair.
        And then, of course, we're all naive and glib,
        Pinocchio's well-known for telling fibs,

         uneducated boobs who, nine times out
         of ten, spend plastic money just to get
         ahead.  That's what democracy's about:
         equal opportunity to get as far in debt
         as everybody else.  And—no, not yet.
         I'd rather save such talk for later.  Now
         I'd like to turn to your career, to how

         poetry makes NOTHING happen.  What is
         NOTHING, everyone wants to know, and they've
         decided that you meant NOTHING by it,
         that when you left England you waved
         good-bye to art, content from then to play
         the role of licensed jester, and I guess
         that's better than NOTHING, better, I guess,

         than all the other charges against you
         (and you thought Yeats needed defense!).  The fear,
         you see, concerns what poetry can do
         if art—and not the artist—is the mirror.
         Ignoring that, some say that your career
         degenerated into private blear.
         that your obscurity grew even worse
         than Eliot's (low blow) and that your verse

         over the years showed disappointing lack
         of ideology (which simply means
         as far as I can see it wasn't black
         and white enough, refused to lean
         into a mirror and let itself be seen
         once and for all as this or that).  Of course
         others complained you ran off on the horse

         of dame theology which took you through
         the looking glass once and for all, ending
         your public usefulness.  Others blame you
         (are you enjoying this?) because, bending
         all the rules yourself, you were sending
         mixed messages to future poets.  You
         you poet you.  How dare you think that you

         were some exception to the rule?  That you,
         as one appreciative has said, gave us
         (the world, that is) a voice.  Surely you knew
         that there was nothing more to do.  No fuss
         about choosing—as if the poet must—
         between vatic or civil.  Just fiction
         that makes NOTHING happen, that lets fiction

         happen—or be a mouth.  Well, anyway
         as I began to say, I have a lot
         to talk about: critics and art and life.  I may
         take quite awhile, but then again, you're not
         exactly in a rush.  Or are you?  Got
         something better to do?  Time for a quick
         one?   That's fine with me—you're dead, not sick.

         Speaking of quick, my date is at the door,
         so I'll sign off for now.  I need to get
         out anyway.  But don't worry.  Before
         you know it I'll be back again.  I met
         this guy down at a pub.  I'll bet
         you'll never guess his name (although you should).
         Good night, sweet prince.  Don't worry, I'll be good
         (I always am).


         Hello again.  Sorry I overslept.  It must
         have been 4:30 by the time I got to bed.
         This guy—you'll never guess his name—was just
         too much.  I felt like I was in his head
         and had a dream with him.  The bar went dead
         and only he and I were wide awake.
         It felt like something crucial was at stake

         (I don't mean just the question of where he
         would sleep).  I guess in order to explain
         I'll have to bring you up to date.  You see,
         our age is so postmodern now.  The main
         point being post:  posthumous is our pain.
         It seems we mourn the present as the past.
         Keeping one eye on what just happened last,

         we live our lives one step removed!  Almost
         a movie in reverse, or worse, a film in which
         the sound follows the moving lips.  We boast
         of speed, to make it worse, worship the bitch
         goddess:  the microsecond.  Here's the pitch:
         FASTER IS BETTER.  Pretty soon we won't
         even need forty winks.  How chique!  Now don't

         think I'm a pessimist—I still have hope
         (although you must admit that all of this
         changes the meaning of "a quick one").  Nope,
         even if Yeats was right that the last kiss
         is to the void, chances are we won't miss.
         We can't; we won't have time to try again.
         It will already be, "Remember when...?"

         And if this speed fixation wasn't bad enough 
         we want everything to be QUALITY:
         (we have no time for diamonds in the rough)
         quality time for self and as many
         significant others as we can see.
         You can imagine just how hectic it
         can be to set a date for tennis.  Shit!

         If Wednesday afternoons are free (and I
         am using the term jokingly) for me,
         then Tuesday mornings are prime time for my
         partner; what then?  As far ahead as we
         can see (it wouldn't be "worth it" you see
         to compromise), we're all booked up months in
         advance; so no one ever gets to win

       much less to play, but if we ever do
       of course we have the finest rackets, balls,
       and sunglasses—oh yes, and clothes.  It's true,
       Wystan—may I call you Wystan—our malls
       are entertainment in themselves, the halls
       of fashion for a people with no time
       who nevertheless want to dress in prime

       style.  After all, one never knows whom one
       may meet when picking up the dry cleaning.
       Even our children don't have unplanned fun;
       they're burned out from all the adult preening
       we've made them do, telling them that meaning
       will come to life when one has something nice
       to wear and yet won't have to wear it twice

       in the same month.  Of course I'm not the best
       critic (I still wear denim and leather)
       and then of course those of us this far west
       are all the more suspect; it's our weather,
       you know, that sunshine and smog together
       make us so bleary eyed.  So we just say,
       "Hey, it looks cool to me.  Have a nice day."

       Auden! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!
       I bet you'd be in Santa Monica
       with all the other Brits who favor our
       West Coast insouciance, our "How are yuh
       doin'?" And you thought you were bad tuh
       rhyme such things as "clerk" and "work."  But all
       you British are so charming when you drawl.

       Who cares if you rhyme "leisure" with "pleasure."
       It makes more sense than rhyming it with "sei-
       zure."  Anyway, each side seems to treasure
       such little differences, don't you agree?
       Lipton or Red Rose:  who cares?  right? Not me
       (Besides, I drink coffee).  But anyway
       let's talk about your shorts next if we may

       I mean your epigrams, of course.  It's just
       the sort of poetry that's worth its weight
       in grams; it's swift and packed (a lot like lust)
       and to the point—and probably as great
       (intense) as odes. In fact, given the state
       of our affairs (described above) it should
       be number one: quick quality!  It would

       be too except for one thing:  it demands
       intelligence, that is, the kind of wit
       which takes delight in verbal play, expands
       meanings instead of forcing them to fit.
       Further, our age would never go for it
       because it's not disposable; it lives
       on long after it's read, actually gives

       new meaning each time it is read again.
       How anti-democratic!  For who would
       think that something can be read again
       and even worse not even understood
       initially by everyone. How could
       it be?  It might cause some to think that they
       are lower than the rest. Who knows, some day

       poetry might be locked away; that way
       no one will have to feel left out.  No one
       will have to fear those awful shades of grey
       into which poetry explores, and none
       will have to worry looking at the sun
       about the idea of it or the clouds.
       We'll simply wander lonely in our crowds

       of artificial space.  We'll—stop!  I won't
       go on; I can't believe that it will come
       to this—or that this poem has come to this.  I don't
       want to pretend—although sometimes that's fun
       when meeting someone at a party—sorry, some-
       times I get carried away (literally),
       and right now, if the truth were known, I'd be

       otherwise horizontally engaged.
       I'd—stop.  I won't go on like that, at least
       for now (my doctor says it's just my age).
       I need to talk to you, Mr. Deceased.
       What was it—art as a fait accompli?
       Now there's a tough one in this age of "New"
       Historicism with its "realist" critics who

        betray their insect-pin mentality
        each time they claim that anorexic-thin
        demystified and epithetic "See?"
        (as if they could), claiming mimesis in
        the art: within, without the art, within,
        without the artist who, apparently,
        does nothing more than spill for all to see

        his culturally determinate and di-
        alogic voices—by the way, you might
        be somewhat glad to know that you score high
        in this regard; your future now looks bright
        as a postmodern prototype.  You might
        even be claimed American, that is,
        if we can just convince the Brits

        to claim T. S.—wasn't it he who said
        that whichever one you were, he would be
        the other?  And of course you're both now dead
        so we can take such things quite seriously—
        since neither one of you can speak.  You see,
        you have nothing to fret about.  Like it
        or not, your art will go where it will fit.

        At least you won't be marginal.  At least
        most stores will keep one volume of your po-
        etry beneath the rows of Bukowski.
        At least you have someone like me who goes
        "all the way" and writes a dissertation so
        focused on you and then tries to get hired
        (sorry, I'm feeling frustrated and wired

        from all that coffee I've been drinking
        working on this).  I even use your verse
        on my answer machine.  I got to thinking:
        I get a lot of obscene calls, and worse,
        a lot of phone solicitors, perverse
        non-mental types who want to sell
        insurance for my Master Card.  To hell

        with them.  I like to think that when I die
        they'll keep calling, hearing that one about
        how furniture knows things about us (I
        realize that you said it better)—now, how
        does it go?  Oh yes, what you said was how
        our furniture knows things about us that
        our lovers can't.  Brilliant!  A tit for tat

        touché, so-there, take that retort.  Bravo.
        And that reminds me: I've got so much more
        to say: isn't this great, getting to know
        each other through posthumous mail?  (Ignore
        the urge to write "Deceased"—I know that you're
        supposed to be resting in peace—and send
        it back.)  Please, please, oh, pretty please.  Please lend

        me just a little of your time, a lit-
        tle of your fame.  Give me a break!  It's not
        as if I'm asking you for money or hit-
        ting you up for juicy tidbits of gos-
        sip.  After all, I'm not asking a lot,
        if all you have to do is read, and all
        you need is love.  Right on.  Far out.  I'm all

        (that last contraption is the latest grunt
        in Southern California, where it serves
        as explanation or sometimes as punct-
        uation).  Anyway, I'm full of verve
        (half piss, half vinegar), and while my nerve
        is up, I'll write.  But first, you probably
        would like a break, and so, my friend, I'll be
        right back.


        It's two weeks after Christmas.  Retailers
        are smiling—people spent a lot this year,      
        swallowed the fear of war, or worse, the curse
        of a recession, AIDS, the constant fear
        of cancer, heart disease, and of course here
        on the West Coast, the "big one" that "they" think
        is on its way.  We're living on the brink.
        You'd think consumer spending might just be
        The thing we need, an act of faith in US,
        the USA, land of the free, or discount cheap,
        go-getters, self-starters who ask, "What's all this fuss
        about budget?  "In credit cards we trust."
        It's always for the time being, for we
        don't see how anything will last, and we

        get nervous when it turns to dusk—and so
        we turn to drink.  Age of Anxiety:        
        that's us.  We worship chance, and even though
        we all believe we'll never win, we see
        no harm in buying Lotto tickets: we
        might win.  That's what I meant when I told you
        about my date last night, how something cru-

        cial was at stake.  The bar was packed.  It was
        a looking glass of souls with nowhere left
        to go, with nothing else to do but get a buzz.
        The laughter, like the smoke, was our defense,
        for God forbid that we might get a glimpse
        of something more, and yet each time someone
        came in, everyone stared and everyone

        compared themselves for better or for worse:
        such sacred secular!  Or secular
        sacred, thinking we're free from any curse,
       our savior irony.  Not his and hers
       but "his" and "hers."  Not mine and yours
       but "mine" and "yours."  Not here and now
       but "here" and "now."  No one can tell me how

       such "freedom's" not a rattling of the chains,
       as D. H. Said.  Speaking of which, you'd die (sorry)
       if you could read what, here we go again,
       critics have said about your poetry,
       about its deconstructive text.  You see,
       they find, between the lines, that is, your works
       showing a self-divided self who lurks

       behind the meaning, arguing against
       it.  How about that?  Aren't you glad to know
       once and for all what your poetry meant?
       I bet Harold Pinter wishes they'd show
       him what his drama means.  I wonder, though,
       if you'd have known how far this critics' game
       could go, you might have turned to earning blame

       with something crude like politics, spending
       your wit on thrills that come from knowing when
       to blame the other dimwit, or lending
       advice in quips (like "Read my lips"), but then
       again, you might have taken up your pen
       to be a C.P.A. and sung, "Mortal, guilty,
       but to me, the entirely tax-free."
       Or how about a teacher on t.v.
       teaching the craft of poetry to those,
       what would you say, "non-verbal" types?  "Let's see,
       I wonder if anyone out there knows
       what a sacred object would be.  Now, close
       your eyes: what do you see?  Fire?  The Moon?
       Don't go to sleep; just concentrate, and soon

       you will have something which should stimulate
       what I call awe, and then tomorrow we'll
       erect verbal contraptions.  Oops, we're late.
       Bye Bye for now.  Practice until you feel
       rhythmic control."  Talk about getting real!
       It's not madness we need to flee?  But pros-
       titution?  Well, considering the "cost"

       of "selling out"—or copping out, I guess
       you've got a point, and if poetry is
       a mouth, a way of happening, I guess
       you've got a point, and if poetry is
       (did I just say that?), if poetry is
       poetry in the sense of breaking bread
       with those already dead, then what you said

       about living tradition makes this craft
       the oldest "old profession" in the book.
       Helloooo.  I think I'm losing it.  If half
       of what I say makes anybody look
       at me, my poetry—I really took
       you by surprise; you thought I'd say, "If half
       of what I say makes anybody laugh. . . ";

       "If half of what I say makes anybo-
       dy look at you, your poetry. . . ."  Oh well.
       At least I try, and art is not my god;
       I'm not some starved poete maudit who tells
       it all in front of strangers ("What the hell,
        such Narcissism thinks, "deformity
        brings out the color of my eyes.  On me

        it looks good, so I might as well just spill
        the beans").  No sirree.  Not me.  This poem's
        a game of knowledge, with stuff enough to fill
        the Salten Sea—something that might hit home
        with those who know that how poetry roams
        is by trying to tell two different lies at once.
        "Contrived fissures of mirror": I read that once

        somewhere, I think.  Oh yes, in you, in Cal-
        iban's reflections.  And that's all
        those of us still alive have got.  So tell
        (don't you just hate my slanted rhymes?) me tall
        tales: I'll believe.  The dead don't lie, I'm all,
        I mean, they don't have to construct such lies
        to get at "truth," do they?  That "wholly other life"

        across the "gulf" somewhere (I hope nobo-
        dy thinks I mean Iraq) is some place where
        we'll finally be beyond the mirror.  Nobo-
        dy there will feel that (Western) need to stare
        into the mirror in search of "Other"—or to dare
        mortality.  But sexuality—
        now there's a juicy possibility—

        will be set free, and everything we touch
        (I get goose bumps just thinking of it) will
        wonderfully be an Other (ooh, too much),
        another and another: we can fill
        every desire.  What a way to kill
        the hours.  Oops: I think I leaped before
        I looked.  I'm still in time, hearing some roar

        (once in awhile), still tempted to repeat
        "Not now.  Not now."  as if I could conceive
        of something better.  Well, for Bill's or Pete's
        (or Peter's) sake (Sorry!  I just can't leave
        this one alone), or David's, John's (believe
        me, I can't help myself), or Fred's or Jack's,
        Michael's or Mack's—there is no lack

        to my capacity—all I can do
        is live and learn to imitate myself
        and finally hear some voice out of the blue
        that's really not me but somebody else.
        What can I say?  I stand between my selves,
        and if, as you have said, some ass looks in
        to this mirror of a poem and sees some thin,

        donkey-like snout looking back out, it's not
        my fault—or me.  It says more about him
        or her (or "him" or "her").  I think it's got
        a lot to do with hunting for that dim
        prehension of some self: some sort of rim
        around the ego—what you call the sto-
        len luggage, something much more than we know

        about our hunger for the unknown.  Yes—
        that brings us back to sex and to the price
        we have to pay, the suffering, and yet
        the glimpse behind the curtain: paradise.
        Ah yes, I see you now: having a slice
        or two of manna.  Hey!  Be sure and save
        a little for the rest of us.  Behave!


        I'm not sure how far this has traveled, but
        I feel it's been a trip across the sea,
        and that I'm just beginning now to cut
        a path through what before has haunted me
        as miles of liquid grey.  Not knowing what
        I'd find or how to chart a course had made
        me half-afraid, I guess, that I would fade

        instead of find myself, but come to think
        of it, I've been a traveler since I
        could blink:  I've always felt life on the brink:
        felt energy between the  earth and sky,
        shoreline and sea.  In fact, I used to lie
        among the weeds and flowers in the field
        I called "My Inter-Space."  It was like a shield

        a mirror of me—inside and out—this side
        and that.  I thought everyone knew that you
        could jump between and that the world grew wide
        and wider, deep and deeper.  It was true,
        brilliantly obvious, I thought:  I flew
        and walked, took off and landed naturally
        (how else does one learn how to walk?) But when
        I learned to talk I guess I worried him,

        my grave, religious father, so he warned
        me not to be stupid: that was his word,
        I guess, for what made him afraid. He scorned
        imagination; that's what he had heard
        was Satan's tool. "Besides, you're not a bird:
        you are a daughter."  Daughter.  Daughter. How
        it sounded when he said it, like a bough

        bending then cracking in the wind.  It rhymes
        with slaughter, doesn't it.  My mother knew.
        But she'd decided long ago that times
        are rough (this world is not our home), that you
        had better take what you could get, that you
        could take just about anything.  I took
        her word and married and learned how to cook

        and keep my mouth shut, but it didn't work.
        Something inside me whispered, "Chirp. Chirp. Chirp."        
        I had to be a bird or go berserk.
        My life became one long delicious slurp
        of sun and sky and stars (and "worms")—a burp
        (sorry, I couldn't find another word)
        of journeyed satisfaction:  how absurd

        and beautiful it is!  Sometimes I feel
        I'm five years old again, and perched up high
        in the orange tree rhyming until I'd reel
        between meaning and sound in words like sky
        and fly and ground and bound and lie and die:
        which rhymes with sky and fly.  So here I am:
        divorced, just old enough to be called "ma'am,"

        one son (eager to learn to drive) named  Matt,
        a Ph.D., and part-time teaching at
        two universities, no dog or cat,
        green eyes, brown hair, fair skin, not thin or fat,
        low voice, nice smile, a flirt who likes to chat
        with anyone who'll buy a drink, large nose
        (my father was English) that shows—

        what does it show in a woman?—large breasts?
        a large capacity for joie de vie?
        Oh well.  I only know that I'm the best
        at anything I love, and I believe
        that there is so much more to do and see
        than we'd suspect—right there beneath our nose.
        So much!  And yet such little time.  Who knows....

        Yes.  Here I am, eager to be a pro-
        fessor, full time at one instead of part-
        time at two colleges.  Budgets are low,
        or tight or frozen, though.  It's hard to chart
        a course into success when you can't start.
        Before I graduated with my P
        h.D., they gave me a "career form":  "We

        would like to know your plans," they said.  It seemed
        like I was being asked to order from
        a menu:  "Teach and research, please," I beamed,
        practicing smiling while holding my gum
        beneath my tongue.  My mind started to numb
        with possibilities.  "I'll be a chair
        one day," I dreamed.  "Scholars will come to stare

        at my incredibly long back." (I bet
        you thought I'd say something about my seat,
        didn't you?  Well, of all the cheek.  I'll let
        on that I didn't know. Besides, we'll meet
        someday and put these things behind us, greet
        each other and exchange well-seated puns,
        drink wine, and nibble on celestial buns.)

        Our right to play is not the least, n'est pas?
        But we're forgetting fast, it seems, to play
        with fictions. "Play?"  "Qu'est-ce que c'est 'play.'"  My bra
        knows more about play than the critics who say
        that since verba and res have pulled away
        in deconstructive freedom there is on-
        ly fiction, merely fiction—wait, is that my phone?

        Another hang-up; as I might have guessed.
        And say, I didn't want to end sounding
        so bleak.  I'd hoped instead to make the test
        of this Endymion on poet's wings
        of truth and beauty instead of pounding
        my puny fists against the thread-bare scraps
        of fictional reality. Perhaps

        I'll start again (is that a groan I hear)
        map out a different course—and all's not lost:
        I told you earlier about my fear
        of losing myself, feeling myself tossed
        from one direction to the next (the cost
        of following, as Shelley knew).  But no:
        the farther into mystery I go

        the more I feel at home on this limestone
        landscape we call home.  I have flown to heights
        and dived into the depths and always known
        (somehow) that my imaginary flights
        and dives exist as much as wind and kites
        and flower beds, exist in fact because
        the memory exists.  I know it does:

        just like I knew somewhere around thirteen
        that sex was real.  It was too odd not to
        be real.  Who would have thought that it could mean
        so many things!  Like poetry it's new
        each time and yet familiar.  It was you
        (I hope) who said that poetry, in fact,
        is both bawdy and chaste and that it lacks

        and has whatever traits the human has.
        It is profound and shallow, dull, witty,
        naive, sophisticated (just like jazz?).
        It is because we are—to help us see
        beyond and deep within ourselves, to be
        more than a mirror of here and now.  And so
        the poet, as you say, because he goes

        so deep is not a cameraman but more
        a surgeon.  And the poem is thus a way
        of happening, the window or the door
        into the wound and the way out of clay
        too human to be merely human: grey
        and yet soaked through with every color of
        the rainbow.  Living order!  Yes.  The love

        of life in all its mystery, the core
        of self-loving things and their will to be,
        speaking of which, my date is at the door.
        I met this guy down at the pub, you see.
        (I just can't help myself; there are so many
        and so little time).  But anyway
        hang in there—I intend to.  By the way,

        who else is there with you?  I'd like
        to write to . . . well, I can't decide.  I guess
        I should get this mailed off.  I'll ride my bike
        down to the corner mailbox and unless
        I get side-tracked—there's this cute guy, and yet,
        I know my date is here—you'll get this just
        as quickly as the mail moves or the dust

        falls from the moon.  But then again, you're not
        exactly in a rush—or did I say
        that.  Anyway, be sure to write back. Got
        my address? My E-mail?  Or call some day
        and leave a message.  We'll do tennis. Hey!
        That would be neat; let's see, I will be free 
        two weeks from Thursday in 2003.

        Well, anyway, at least pencil it in.

         P.S.  It's now 2001: and I, 
        along with everybody else, can think
        of nothing other than the New York sky
        collapsing into tons of broken link
        into an ice-grey grave of dust, a rink
        of death that will forever sink into
        each mind trying to understand.  A few

        details, I guess, are needed to explain
        what changed the sense that fall is in the air.
        Arab terrorists hijacked two American planes
        and drove them, filled with passengers, into a glar-
        ing red, into the World Trade Center: a nightmare
        of apocalypse come true, as millions stared
        at morning news t.v. Not unaware

        that something like this could happen someday
        yet we were left facing the death of life
        as we had known it. Nothing could explain
        anything, not the fact they'd used a knife
        to wield their way into the cockpit, not the way
        the firefighters first out on the scene became
        victims themselves.  And then the Pentagon
        was hit—another hijacked plane—and on and on
        and people said they felt that they were in
        a movie.  They kept crying, "Oh my God."
        And it was not a sense of lose or win
        or "lose" or "win" but some appeal to God
        as if He were the dust and we were God
        and able to create, ready to breathe
        some life into this mess.  It's hard to breathe

        at all.  It feels like nothing has become
        alive and lurks within the dust and dusk.
        Anxiety has made everyone numb
        and choice and fate are thrown like husks
        into a heap, into a hungry dusk
        that stares the dark-eyed stare of ignorance
        that bares it all into an ignorance

        beneath the growing details. Then a field
        in Pennsylvania with a fourth, crashed jet
        (aimed at the White House) was the seal
        over the day as it was learned that, rather than let
        hijackers have their way, passengers met
        their fate by fighting back. How can this be?
        Of all the things it means, it means that we

        are now at war against some Arab land
        against all countries aiding terrorists.
        There's constant news: of military plans
        and now the Anthrax scare, fear spreading like a mist
        pushing its way from Florida into a list
        of more and more locations—through the mail
        a kind of hate chain-letter that somehow hails

        recipients with "You've already won." 
        Talk about living on the edge. And talk
        about in over our heads.  Tomorrow's dawn
        seems somehow already drawn in chalk
        a place where someone waits to throw a rock
        aimed at the death of liberty.  And yet
        pulsing within, beneath the weight of all this bloody debt

        there is a heart still beating with a sense
        of courage that is stronger now, resolved
        to live, believing that our recompense
        will be to rid the world of those involved
        in trying to destroy it—those so involved
        in seeing only what they wish to see
        or "seeing" only what they wish to "see"
        that they seem more like fictions, more like death
        than anything we've seen or "seen" before.
        And so these terrorists—or "terrorists"
        (how's that for a slant rhyme with "death") are more
        or less utilitarians who pour
        their "usefulness" into a sieve of hate
        and finding "truth" for them poured "through," they "mate"

        with nothing anyone can see.  This lime-
        stone landscape we call home must not rely
        on them, and in the meantime
        life goes on.. . .My husband Tim—oh, by
        the way, I guess I haven't told you I've
        remarried—he's the prince who came.
        He is my gold (and I'm his vault).  He is the flame

        who lights my life and really all the fame
        I need.  And he has cute brown eyes, a smile
        and something else with perfect curve, and when he came
        into my life it seemed as though the miles
        and miles of grey just went away.  I now can smile
        the way I did when I was five.  And so
        I guess that's all for now for you to know—

        except I wish that you were here to write
        the Letter to America, land of
        the brave and friendly and naive who might
        live through this grey debris and feel the love
        of something feathered, something with the love
        poetry praises just for breathing.  Well
        I'd love to see a draft, and time will tell

        if I can figure out a way to mail
        this yet—or if you can reply. . . . 

The HyperTexts