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
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
your letter to that—pardon if I
noble romantic Byron (like you,
You see, my lord, because of you my
is filled with thoughts itching to be
with one like you who has poetic
By that I mean you're not so
(like me) that you couldn't receive a
of scratch. But let me deviate
you time at least to warm up to my wit—
I'm an American—then you won't have
gritting your teeth or smoking like a
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
I won't do anything to make you
I hope. Besides I think it very
(and I am not in any sense a prude)
when people let it all hang out.
that usually means they're liberal
with their gas.
I wonder what you're doing as I
Is there a poet's heaven: the
of all sublime experience, insight
beyond degree that makes Coleridge's
tree bower true eternally, each rhyme
organic fruit of paradisal bliss?
Joy unconfined! Heavenly
Or are you now somewhere between,
your wings as someone's angel?
I can see
it all: you in an off-white
a cigarette down to the last.
the truly private face, finally free
to see this limestone landscape we
and if you were correct to think we
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
this letter, but my poet's heart is
on trying, so I'll write it anyway
and hope to get it published so
("they" meaning critics,
poets, and, of course,
prospective employers—you see, I
finished my Ph.D.) "What force!
What style! Who is this nobody?
see more." I'll be part of the
(Harvard would be nice). Then
when I'm dead
someone will write to me—just like
about the price of fame. At any
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.
portraits of us, attempts to show the
American—something between a blue-
eyed beauty queen who wants world
peace and has
been tap dancing since three and a
cigarette-smoking cowboy who is
ing through, whose tight-lipped
betrays (look out) hemorrhoids beyond
And then, of course, we're all naive
Pinocchio's well-known for telling
uneducated boobs who, nine
of ten, spend plastic money
just to get
ahead. That's what
equal opportunity to get as far
as everybody else.
And—no, not yet.
I'd rather save such talk for
I'd like to turn to your
career, to how
poetry makes NOTHING happen.
NOTHING, everyone wants to
know, and they've
decided that you meant NOTHING
that when you left England you
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
(and you thought Yeats needed
defense!). The fear,
you see, concerns what poetry
if art—and not the artist—is
Ignoring that, some say that
degenerated into private blear.
that your obscurity grew even
than Eliot's (low blow) and
that your verse
over the years showed
of ideology (which simply means
as far as I can see it wasn't
and white enough, refused to
into a mirror and let itself be
once and for all as this or
that). Of course
others complained you ran off
on the horse
of dame theology which took you
the looking glass once and for
your public usefulness.
Others blame you
(are you enjoying this?)
all the rules yourself, you
mixed messages to future poets.
you poet you. How dare
you think that you
were some exception to the
rule? That you,
as one appreciative has said,
(the world, that is) a voice.
Surely you knew
that there was nothing more to
do. No fuss
about choosing—as if the poet
between vatic or civil.
that makes NOTHING happen, that
happen—or be a mouth.
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
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
you know it I'll be back again.
this guy down at a pub.
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
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.
point being post:
posthumous is our pain.
It seems we mourn the present
as the past.
Keeping one eye on what just
we live our lives one step
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
(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
We can't; we won't have time to
It will already be,
And if this speed fixation
wasn't bad enough
we want everything to be
(we have no time for diamonds
in the rough)
quality time for self and as
significant others as we can
You can imagine just how hectic
can be to set a date for
If Wednesday afternoons are
free (and I
am using the term jokingly) for
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
much less to play, but if we ever do
of course we have the finest rackets,
and sunglasses—oh yes, and clothes.
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
may meet when picking up the dry cleaning.
Even our children don't have unplanned fun;
they're burned out from all the adult
we've made them do, telling them that
will come to life when one has something
to wear and yet won't have to wear it twice
in the same month. Of course I'm not
critic (I still wear denim and leather)
and then of course those of us this far
are all the more suspect; it's our weather,
you know, that sunshine and smog together
make us so bleary eyed. So we just
"Hey, it looks cool to me. Have
a nice day."
Auden! Thou shouldst be living at this
I bet you'd be in Santa Monica
with all the other Brits who favor our
West Coast insouciance, our "How are
doin'?" And you thought you were bad
rhyme such things as "clerk" and
"work." But all
you British are so charming when you drawl.
Who cares if you rhyme "leisure"
It makes more sense than rhyming it with
zure." Anyway, each side seems
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
the sort of poetry that's worth its weight
in grams; it's swift and packed (a lot like
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
be too except for one thing: it
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
are lower than the rest. Who knows, some
poetry might be locked away; that way
no one will have to feel left out. No
will have to fear those awful shades of
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!
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
when meeting someone at a party—sorry,
times I get carried away (literally),
and right now, if the truth were known, I'd
otherwise horizontally engaged.
I'd—stop. I won't go on like that,
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
Historicism with its "realist"
betray their insect-pin mentality
each time they claim that
demystified and epithetic
(as if they could), claiming mimesis
the art: within, without the art,
without the artist who, apparently,
does nothing more than spill for all
his culturally determinate and di-
alogic voices—by the way, you might
be somewhat glad to know that you
in this regard; your future now looks
as a postmodern prototype. You
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
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 have nothing to fret about.
or not, your art will go where it
At least you won't be marginal.
most stores will keep one volume of
etry beneath the rows of Bukowski.
At least you have someone like me who
"all the way" and writes a
focused on you and then tries to get
(sorry, I'm feeling frustrated and
from all that coffee I've been
working on this). I even use
on my answer machine. I got to
I get a lot of obscene calls, and
a lot of phone solicitors, perverse
non-mental types who want to sell
insurance for my Master Card.
with them. I like to think that
when I die
they'll keep calling, hearing that
how furniture knows things about us
realize that you said it
does it go? Oh yes, what you
said was how
our furniture knows things about us
our lovers can't. Brilliant!
A tit for tat
touché, so-there, take that retort.
And that reminds me: I've got so much
to say: isn't this great, getting to
each other through posthumous mail?
the urge to write
"Deceased"—I know that you're
supposed to be resting in peace—and
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
ting you up for juicy tidbits of gos-
sip. After all, I'm not asking
if all you have to do is read, and
you need is love. Right on.
Far out. I'm all
(that last contraption is the latest
in Southern California, where it
as explanation or sometimes as punct-
uation). Anyway, I'm full of
(half piss, half vinegar), and while
is up, I'll write. But first,
would like a break, and so, my
friend, I'll be
It's two weeks after Christmas.
are smiling—people spent a lot this
swallowed the fear of war, or worse,
of a recession, AIDS, the constant
of cancer, heart disease, and of
on the West Coast, the "big
one" that "they" think
is on its way. We're living on
You'd think consumer spending might
The thing we need, an act of faith in
the USA, land of the free, or
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
don't see how anything will last, and
get nervous when it turns to
we turn to drink. Age of
that's us. We worship chance,
and even though
we all believe we'll never win, we
no harm in buying Lotto tickets: we
might win. That's what I meant
when I told you
about my date last night, how
cial was at stake. The bar was
packed. It was
a looking glass of souls with nowhere
to go, with nothing else to do but
get a buzz.
The laughter, like the smoke, was our
for God forbid that we might get a
of something more, and yet each time
came in, everyone stared and everyone
compared themselves for better or for
such sacred secular! Or secular
sacred, thinking we're free from any
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
they find, between the lines, that is, your
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,
if you'd have known how far this critics'
could go, you might have turned to earning
with something crude like politics,
your wit on thrills that come from knowing
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,
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,
your eyes: what do you see? Fire?
Don't go to sleep; just concentrate, and
you will have something which should
what I call awe, and then tomorrow we'll
erect verbal contraptions. Oops,
Bye Bye for now. Practice until you
rhythmic control." Talk about
It's not madness we need to flee? But
titution? Well, considering the
of "selling out"—or copping out,
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
Helloooo. I think I'm losing it.
of what I say makes anybody look
at me, my poetry—I really took
you by surprise; you thought I'd say,
of what I say makes anybody laugh. . .
"If half of what I say makes anybo-
dy look at you, your poetry. . . ."
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
such Narcissism thinks,
brings out the color of my eyes.
it looks good, so I might as well
the beans"). No sirree.
Not me. This poem's
a game of knowledge, with stuff
enough to fill
the Salten Sea—something that might
with those who know that how poetry
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
those of us still alive have got.
(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
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
we'll finally be beyond the mirror.
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
(I get goose bumps just thinking of
wonderfully be an Other (ooh, too
another and another: we can fill
every desire. What a way to
the hours. Oops: I think I
I looked. I'm still in time,
hearing some roar
(once in awhile), still tempted to
"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
me, I can't help myself), or Fred'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
that's really not me but somebody
What can I say? I stand between
and if, as you have said, some ass
to this mirror of a poem and sees
donkey-like snout looking back out,
my fault—or me. It says more
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
around the ego—what you call the sto-
len luggage, something much more than
about our hunger for the unknown. Yes—
that brings us back to sex and to the
we have to pay, the suffering, and
the glimpse behind the curtain:
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.
I'm not sure how far this has
I feel it's been a trip across the
and that I'm just beginning now to
a path through what before has
as miles of liquid grey. Not
I'd find or how to chart a course had
me half-afraid, I guess, that I would
instead of find myself, but come to
of it, I've been a traveler since I
could blink: I've always felt
life on the brink:
felt energy between the earth
shoreline and sea. In fact, I
used to lie
among the weeds and flowers in the
I called "My Inter-Space."
It was like a shield
a mirror of me—inside and out—this
and that. I thought everyone
knew that you
could jump between and that the world
and wider, deep and deeper. It
brilliantly obvious, I thought:
and walked, took off and landed
(how else does one learn how to
walk?) But when
I learned to talk I guess I worried
my grave, religious father, so he
me not to be stupid: that was his
I guess, for what made him afraid. He
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
bending then cracking in the wind.
with slaughter, doesn't it. My
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,
could take just about anything.
her word and married and learned how
and keep my mouth shut, but it didn't
Something inside me whispered,
"Chirp. Chirp. Chirp."
I had to be a bird or go berserk.
My life became one long delicious
of sun and sky and stars (and
(sorry, I couldn't find another word)
of journeyed satisfaction: how
and beautiful it is! Sometimes
I'm five years old again, and perched
in the orange tree rhyming until I'd
between meaning and sound in words
and fly and ground and bound and lie
which rhymes with sky and fly.
So here I am:
divorced, just old enough to be
one son (eager to learn to drive)
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
(my father was English) that shows—
what does it show in a woman?—large
a large capacity for joie de vie?
Oh well. I only know that I'm
at anything I love, and I believe
that there is so much more to do and
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
fessor, full time at one instead of
time at two colleges. Budgets
or tight or frozen, though.
It's hard to chart
a course into success when you can't
Before I graduated with my P
h.D., they gave me a "career
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
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
you thought I'd say something about
didn't you? Well, of all the
cheek. I'll let
on that I didn't know. Besides, we'll
someday and put these things behind
each other and exchange well-seated
drink wine, and nibble on celestial
Our right to play is not the least,
But we're forgetting fast, it seems,
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
in deconstructive freedom there is
ly fiction, merely fiction—wait, is
that my phone?
Another hang-up; as I might have
And say, I didn't want to end
so bleak. I'd hoped instead to
make the test
of this Endymion on poet's wings
of truth and beauty instead of
my puny fists against the thread-bare
of fictional reality. Perhaps
I'll start again (is that a groan I
map out a different course—and all's
I told you earlier about my fear
of losing myself, feeling myself
from one direction to the next (the
of following, as Shelley knew).
the farther into mystery I go
the more I feel at home on this
landscape we call home. I have
flown to heights
and dived into the depths and always
(somehow) that my imaginary flights
and dives exist as much as wind and
and flower beds, exist in fact
the memory exists. I know it
just like I knew somewhere around
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
each time and yet familiar. It
(I hope) who said that poetry, in
is both bawdy and chaste and that it
and has whatever traits the human
It is profound and shallow, dull,
naive, sophisticated (just like
It is because we are—to help us see
beyond and deep within ourselves, to
more than a mirror of here and now.
the poet, as you say, because he goes
so deep is not a cameraman but more
a surgeon. And the poem is thus
of happening, the window or the door
into the wound and the way out of
too human to be merely human: grey
and yet soaked through with every
the rainbow. Living order!
Yes. The love
of life in all its mystery, the core
of self-loving things and their will
speaking of which, my date is at the
I met this guy down at the pub, you
(I just can't help myself; there are
and so little time). But anyway
hang in there—I intend to. By
who else is there with you? I'd
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
as quickly as the mail moves or the
falls from the moon. But then
again, you're not
exactly in a rush—or did I say
that. Anyway, be sure to write
my address? My E-mail? Or call
and leave a message. We'll do
That would be neat; let's see, I will
two weeks from Thursday in 2003.
Well, anyway, at least pencil it in.
P.S. It's now 2001: and
along with everybody else, can think
of nothing other than the New York
collapsing into tons of broken link
into an ice-grey grave of dust, a
of death that will forever sink into
each mind trying to understand.
details, I guess, are needed to
what changed the sense that fall is
in the air.
Arab terrorists hijacked two American
and drove them, filled with
passengers, into a glar-
ing red, into the World Trade Center:
of apocalypse come true, as millions
at morning news t.v. Not unaware
that something like this could happen
yet we were left facing the death of
as we had known it. Nothing could
anything, not the fact they'd used a
to wield their way into the cockpit,
not the way
the firefighters first out on the
victims themselves. And then
was hit—another hijacked plane—and
on and on
and people said they felt that they
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
and able to create, ready to breathe
some life into this mess. It's
hard to breathe
at all. It feels like nothing
alive and lurks within the dust and
Anxiety has made everyone numb
and choice and fate are thrown like
into a heap, into a hungry dusk
that stares the dark-eyed stare of
that bares it all into an ignorance
beneath the growing details. Then a
in Pennsylvania with a fourth,
(aimed at the White House) was the
over the day as it was learned that,
rather than let
hijackers have their way, passengers
their fate by fighting back. How can
Of all the things it means, it means
are now at war against some Arab land
against all countries aiding
There's constant news: of military
and now the Anthrax scare, fear
spreading like a mist
pushing its way from Florida into a
of more and more locations—through
a kind of hate chain-letter that
recipients with "You've already
Talk about living on the edge. And
about in over our heads.
seems somehow already drawn in chalk
a place where someone waits to throw
aimed at the death of liberty.
pulsing within, beneath the weight of
all this bloody debt
there is a heart still beating with a
of courage that is stronger now,
to live, believing that our
will be to rid the world of those
in trying to destroy it—those so
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
And so these terrorists—or
(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.
stone landscape we call home must not
on them, and in the meantime
life goes on.. . .My husband Tim—oh,
the way, I guess I haven't told you
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
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
and miles of grey just went away.
I now can smile
the way I did when I was five.
I guess that's all for now for you to know—
except I wish that you were here to
the Letter to America, land of
the brave and friendly and naive who
live through this grey debris and
feel the love
of something feathered, something
with the love
poetry praises just for breathing.
I'd love to see a draft, and time
if I can figure out a way to mail
this yet—or if you can reply. . . .