Before going to the Red Vic for the 9:30 pm screening of The Fifth Element, we enter a reading at Books & Bookshelves. A full house. Then a salute to David Kent Highsmith, behind the counter, and the aroma of pine furniture. The multiplication of chapbooks. The elves have been busy this post-Christmas. End Tables tribble upon themselves. Sharing a 22(oz) of Blue Moon purchased from the liquor store from across the street.
(Her breathing sounds like the ocean.
She corrects me. The breathing is the ocean.
Continental transmission simulating natural phenomena, cell phones can. And now we are standing side by side, and her breathing stills the ocean.)
Before she reads from her most recent work, Genine Lentine distributes a basket of “fortunes,” cut-out phrases of indeterminable memes. A souvenir. A place-marker. A respiration:
“which serve first to shew how constant”
We have returned to the scene of our first meeting. That was a little over 3 months ago.
It is January 5, 2010.
I am savoring.
I am savoring. Every moment. Every jump, skip, every error, every advance.
What more can I do as I wait for the Army to approve my waiver? (Sit-ups, push-ups, the mile, crunches.)
Literary courtships are real and not limited to the page. And yet the page is so responsible.
I have not read for pleasure 4 “novels” in December, until now, and 100-plus pages a day is pleasurable and measurable. Yes, because of her. I have managed certain possibilities, taken text to task at a time when fiction is a matter of faith, and have brought to heart 2 recommendations. Some may observe a fetishization rivaling boots. If minds can fuck. Then signs substitute themselves as themselves.
As it were she was returning to NYC for 2 weeks.
An engorged leviathan interrupts our moment in front of Terminal 3. The car is parked along the curb reserved for airport shuttles. I had left work early so I can drive Gina Goldblatt to SFO, her flight at 7:30 am. It’s 9 degrees at JFK. 50 here. She’s says, “You better go now.” I hop into the driver seat. She disappears with her luggage between sliding glass doors.
Even then I was not convinced that I would read.
Hours after her flight, I am on the living room floor, ramen noodles boil a tempo, to which I force myself to 84 pushups when elbows lock. Okay push-ups. I would crest 90 the next day. There’s a slight disbelief that 5 hours away from Sunny California, snow plows. She has lent me two companions, by which I expected to pace absence.
Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead (2003), Bharati Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters (2002), and William T. Vollman’s The Royal Family (2000) no longer collecting dust joined Gina Goldblatt’s copies of Leslie Schwartz’s Jumping the Green (1999) and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). Together, they are an unlikely stew, fired in a once cold cauldron, read in the late sentry hours, visited by the wayward possum or the scavenging deer. The hotel was dark. The guests were few. Plots thicken.
To my surprise, I find Swofford’s boyhood in Tachikawa Air Force Base in 1976. With his family, he celebrated the Bicentennial climbing Mount Fuji. 30 miles away, I was with my family on the parade grounds of Naval Air Facility Atsugi, watching the “bombs bursting in air.” We were living in temporary housing: corrugated galvanized steel Quonset huts. The volcano in view, made modern by the many electrical pylons that vanish on its slope. The real snakes by the reservoir would find us children later. My father was billeted to the Officer’s Club, a facility with an oft-empty swimming pool overlooking a golf course. Admirals dismiss nuclear free zones clubbing pitted balls into sand traps. I remember my first days there, I am wearing Oshkosh overalls, running onto the tarmac, pass the open hangars, hiding behind the wheels of Corsairs with Shark teeth nose-art, summer Cherry Blossoms, tumbling down, tumbling down. And for this I think I am perpetually 6 years old. Tadpoles and banana splits.
Mukherjee’s Tara or Tara’s Mukherjee of the Cole Valley of the panhandle overlook of the cast-shadowed Saint Ignatius of the upper Haight pre-Amoeba bowling alley of the fence overgrown Gabriel’s Flute, where is the darling papillon? Missed cast? Would a bomb slip by her muzzle? Would the world’s graphic comics protest the destruction of a shrine? Explosive sex bleeds between storyboards, the bed that I know. Crumbs trail to book 2 and 3, sequencing what Indra dares not dream.
Yes, I was motivated to read my daunting First Edition of William T. Vollman’s The Royal Family, purchased at Moe’s Books on August 8, 2000 (evidenced by the receipt snug between pages 192 and 193 in the section “Sometimes It Helps To Talk About These Things”) but later signed and caricatured at Black Oak Books (years before the store was abandoned, and how lonely it is after a hearty Saul’s Delicatessen latke breakfast, no after meal book, no stroll through the rear used-section of Southeast Asian hard to find) after I piqued his praise for Cebuano bar girls. Dude, you can kill a fella with the book’s heft. Then, the book dwarfs such violence. Vollman occupied the first 9 days of January. My December did not want to end with the New Year.
But revisiting her recommendations. Schwartz’s map of San Francisco sprouted gentrified corridors where Mukherjee and Vollman stopped. Vollman’s Mission is not Schwartz’s Mission is not Mukherjee’s Mission. And around the globe, Roy’s riverine India, an India of 700 similes, emptied into Mukherjee’s coastal city, luxury towers girded by slums—Yes what Vollmanesque similes could do to reify subcontinent prostis. There, the silence of twin storytellers shakes the silence of three sisters. Time zones are as guilty as caste. It’s not always fog. London or Bay Area.
J.J.’s Ulysses is next. I am savoring the moment, bedding down an Irish tenor long avoided; and this portrait, this columnar wake, balks at the seemingly insouciance of war. No I have not ignored my responsibility.
And so it is here on Sanchez, two days back from the East Coast, literary courtships are real and not limited to the page. And yet continuing beyond the page, to plot and plod, to cohabit and recite.
I am thinking these things. (You look like you’re always thinking.) The divergence. The spiral. The intersections that precede and follow. The verse feeding upon itself. The constant hunger.
We are in the back, closest to the door. Before our turn at chance, as in chance-operation, control is either in our hands not of our hands, generating a self-fulfilling poem constrained by finite shards, a gamed theory anticipating a revolving syntax, perhaps 20 or 30 pairs of hands have blindly sorted prophecy such that this particular chance-operation is collaborative, strung, their fingerprints malingering on strips unchosen, a lineage of deselection, and yet possibilities of alternate proofs whorl and eddy, like straws the varying lengths obfuscated by a fist, who will be left behind with the shortest if such chance-operation was dire, to be sacrificed, to make sure the bomb goes off, to make sure the others escape into the mist, to make sure operations are not left to chance, and so as the basket lightens its load of choices and reaches the back, then with fewer choices, that is to say, in the phantomness of the previous chosen, the lesser of fortunes strained by the patrons before us, leaving what is truly uncanny and divine.
Wind. Earth. Water. Fire. Love.
Before we leave the Castro and to the Haight. Before I could get another Escape from New York dig, it’s decided I would deliberate the fortune slipped into my flannel pocket, where it will mull for three nights and three days in the back seat of the Tempo, until finally during the first audit shift of the week I am ready to plunge and decipher.
Honey butter popcorn. Dash of nutritional yeast. Cajun spice. Lean into the bench and into ourselves. Emerge Leloo’s constant orange day-glo rubberband and Emerge Constant Evil. Emerge the constant rumor of war only a six-year old hears in the sand. Emerge shadow. Emerge its allness.
Before Lentine takes to the podium and blesses the threads, I think such breaking of bread is trite and taken for granted. Then the pallor strikes. The basket weaves from one hand to the next, and the strips are gravely beloved. Before I rest the empty bottle of Blue Moon beside the trash receptacle outside for someone to collect. The value of glass precedes its weight in words. Serve and Schew and Constant.
Is it Service first? To what Constant? And two Constants echoed in my head right there in the back nearest the door. Forever War and the Question of Love. Or perhaps the Quest of Love. Not just Love it self. But the question of its in/existence, its im/permanence, its in/tangibility, its pain. The Constant rattle. And the husk emptied. The addicting melancholy. The constant outrage. The constant thorn.
Or to what Constant do I Serve? Will I Serve? Both quixotic. Towards the mechanical beasts. Are they tanks or another breed of war machine, or the wind farm of green industry. The march of war. The war march and its war marching band.
And Schew? Before finding it archaic for “show” and “demonstrate,” I am convinced it’s a shortened form of eschew. Yes, a vowel burdened the word with sneeze, or coughed onto the sleeve. But if eschew is “shun” then should I be shunning Service? Though I am no conscientious objector. Far from. Shooing service of the shooting kind. It’s Constant duty to service State and its seeming impregnable ideologies. Whether Schew or Eschew, the shoe it fits, if either fits fit, is the boot, the polished goose that snaps the parade ground, muster all ye shoes. But if Schew is the boot that follows orders, then is Eschew the sabot that disobeys, strays from muster. Fitness for what end?
And yet “how constant” is Constant. Is Constant as in the Law of Gravity. All boots fall to earth. A clap. A clap. A stomp. A stomp. Desert dust. Desert dust. And so the machine arrives and does not leave. In the 9th year of War, will we now see 100,000 pairs of American boots in Afghanistan? Oh Constant War. Oh Service. Oh First.
There is a Constant Evil. And what Constant Evil understands: Love is inconstant. Is constantly fickle. Is dangerous, especially to itself. Movies should not be ones reminding of the fragile balance. Yet, theatre of war, so safe to demonstrate.
Then there’s the Constant rewrite. The palimpsest like keloid or the keloiding palimpsest. Scratch the surface of the page enough times, and the scar obliterates form. The gravity of the First Manuscript, a downtrodden piece, workshopped to oblivion or obliviously workshopped. The Schewing of Publication from lost of momentum, the disinterest to service and solicit the word. I mean who would choose to read such a thing? Monstrous text. Chimerical text. Haunting text. How so much remain untouchable. Intangible.
In the previous dreamy 2-week exchange prior to take-off, roots split and tangle between poetry readings, have I matched my mycorrhizal web? What I revealed to her in those early weeks of December, no single person knows. You would have to gather the sum of everyone I know, pool their knowledge of me, and even then, there would be gaps.
And the definition of Before? THAT which serve first. THAT which surge first. Cause?
Such mystery is the demonstration of faith, of fidelity. Such mystery often lost in the baggage terminal. Mishandled yet well traveled.
What is the measure of romance? Constant yearning. The Ocean. Breath. Pneuma.
I have surprised myself.