Saturday, September 21, 2013

the email story of five poems

the email story of five poems

originally "composed" on Feb 10 2013.  forgotten.  dug up a few minutes ago.

I have two brothers.

One left our family (he was the intelligent child) when I was about eight.  It might be said that the family, in whole and in parts, left him.  We found each other three or four years ago, and it's been a hesitant love fest ever since. (He gives good phone. He's funny. Kind. Wary. A friend to the Earth, a spiritualist. A good'un.)

The other is an English professor, also positively brilliant, and with whom I've enjoyed an uninterrupted lifelong love fest.  I love him, not for his brilliance or his own impressive feats, but for his compassionate soul. He may curse at his students and drop the F-bomb in class, but he labors over what his writers write with a care that would make them weep.  (I threw chalk at sleeping students, or even wide-awake ones, and graded very rapidly.)

The two of them, who love one another in a way I cannot describe, do not speak, do not commune in any way.  For all those missing years, the professor has felt the pain of being left behind, the pain of brother love and a brother believed dead.  And now he will not relent to communicate, will not call, type, lift a pen.
Though youngest, I have always been the muddled middle.  Not your usual peacemaker, no. I've cursed both the naturalist and the bookish boy grown old.  In the beginning, a beginning of just three (or four) years ago, please hold in mind, I would occasionally try to trick them.  That never worked, because as youngest, I am, perforce, the dumbest.

So now I've taken to writing them both emails, blind-copying them both and letting them know so.  The canyon trekker is an accomplished poet and writer, and, well, what can you say of an English professor? (I'll pretend I did not hear you think that.)  I got tired of composing emails that expressed the same thing except for their separated minutiae.

Since I've recently become active at a neighboring joint dedicated to poetry, I fired off one of these double-blinded emails, begging my brothers for help.

This is how my email went:
i'm trying to make certain dead areas of my brain surge back to life, or at least elicit some sort of neuro-spark, and one of the ways i've chosen is poetry, the reading, writing, and critique of it.   pretty much the moment i discovered george oppen ("i discovered george oppen," chuckle), i stopped reading anything new.   would you recommend some "new" poetry?  maybe regional, maybe obnoxious, marginal, or so popular that one'd be tempted to snub her just because?  just please don't list anyone rising from the detritus of vanity presses (i am struggling to get over a recent encounter with such a poet who used me to beat upon, i assume because he does not know me.  i had entered his "round robin poetry contest" without doing due diligence into his overwhelming dickhood, his quintessential dickiness.  he punished my questioning of just what constituted a "round robin" poetry contest, once the arbitrary nat! ure of the rules began to slowly seep, like used motor oil, from his dickified mouth.  for the first "round," the 25 entrants were surprised to discover that we were to vote for our "top ten." i defended a man who, without any doubt, wrote the best poem but dared to ask if we might vote for ourselves... anyway, it got ugly, and i ended up making unavoidable references to the rampant spread of "the browning of the nose" among the broader contestentry.  both the very nice, best poet and i were promptly eliminated, despite both receiving mostly "votes" of between #1 and #10.   i am -- what is the word? oh yeah, i am all broken up.  bereft.  désolée.   but the fun is reading new poetry by people unknown to me, most of it god-awful (and you know how awful god can be!) but some of it embedded with those moments, though with all of us what's constant is our inconstancy.     so in the 20 years since i've seriously read poetry, what have i missed, what should i rea d?  not looking to emulate, no, as i said, i'm looking to shock brain parts back to life.   everything in me wants to run back to ronsard & du bellay, sweet l'il louise labé or even la chanson de roland.  villon! the draw of mallarmé... and lamartine as much as baudelaire. weirdly, you now couldn't pay me to read huysmans but i'd pay you for the ability to concentrate for an hour on georges bataille or blanchot. people change -- who knew?   i've not read near enough of h.d., stein, WCW, pound.  whitman.  dickinson. stevens, lowell. wilbur.   oppen, oppen, oppen.   so, five poems i ask of you.  that's all -- five measly poems.   oh -- the other part of my attack upon cognitive decline:  mahjong solitaire.   i know you are busy earning the money required to live, as well as pursuing life, liberty, and happiness -- so please take your time.  i'm feeling confused a lot, and there's familiar evidence -- the way i keep (do not keep) my checkbook, the drying of clothes before they're clean, these familiar markers.  little, very little, sleep.  too many medications, though we've cut as many as seem prudent.     maybe prudence is over-rated, maybe we are fools to think ourselves prudent.  i dunno.     sorry to always be desperate, but i am. it's no fun being alive. poetry might help, or at least obfuscate things enough that i'll forget the silliness of expecting fun at all.   i love you so deeply, respect you so deeply --

I had serious doubts that this story -- well, not a story, more of a profound historical record of the sort people used to bury in cardboard boxes kept in unventilated attics, or in the corners of damp unfinished basements, back when people could afford homes -- would develop a third section.

So it is with joy that I transcribe, changing only what must be changed to protect myself, the flurry of emails between myself and the brother-unit who professes English.  His first volley shocked me, for he has been the source of many gifts of poetry over the years.  Now that I press my leaking sieve of a memory, however, I remember that he usually chose his gifts with precision from a list that I provided.

You see, we were both the confused recipients of strange offerings from an unrelated great-step-aunt, a very wealthy aunt who married as an old woman the publisher of a group of major southern newspapers.  Sara, herself, was a hoot, a ringer for Aunt Clara of Bewitched, and so, of course, she outlived her filthily-lucred one-man dynasty of a husband., and dedicated herself to the preservation of his capital.  She closed off the upper two stories of their mansion, and most of the first floor, too -- because who needs three kitchens?  We loved her for herself, for her insistence on stopping at every street corner, no matter the existence of a stop light or stop sign.  We enjoyed traveling through three lanes of oncoming traffic as the best way to enter McDonald's by its clearly marked exit.  I often slept on a plush and ratty chaise longue in the anteroom to her boudoir in the mansion because she was scared at night.  I was scared at night, too, because every bit of every wall was covered by gilded frames holding the dead, posed faces of rich strangers.

Her kin folk, again, all step-kinfolk, but lovely people, both hungered to inherit her money and also loved her a lot and took good care of her (like sending me over to sleep on the plush and ratty chaise longue to stare at the dead, posed faces of rich strangers all night).

My point, clearly, is that she gave us strange gifts.  I remember a Christmas gift wrapped in official Belk's paper, nestled in crisply folded tissue paper, with Belk-approved ribbonry.  The treasure at its heart?  A plastic comb, complete with a sample hair, and a pair of stained, pastel pink underpants, about 20 sizes too large.

So the professor and I became strict list adherents.  It seemed the safest way to celebrate the birth of Christ and our own trips around the sun in a world of such biohazards.

The train of my thought?  The train of my thought?  Oh, yes.  My request for 5 measly poems. Although the first to reply, my F-bombing Classroom Leader led with an effort to evade:

Howdy-- I have to chuckle at your request for poetry recommendations. I stopped reading poetry in grad school and my only exposure since has been to whatever is included in those 2,000 page anthologies that departments make the students buy for 1102. I realized I'd not be reading any more poetry in 1990 when I bought my first CD and couldn't read the liner notes or the lyrics! Had to chuckle at your idea of putting the painting on the piano--tres chic. Any concert recommendations from Wolfgang's Vaults? Love to thee and thine.

A few words of clarification.  Our father died last July, and since then there has been an insurgence of little clown cars spewing forth relatives we never knew we had.  One was my father's brother, who recently shocked us with the revelation that he had held in trust, for almost 50 years, an oil painting of our mother, commissioned by the aforementioned dead father, and delivered to our uncle upon the occasion of our father's remarriage.  Most men, my brother and I agree, would have chucked the thing in the nearest dumpster.  Well, someone had to say "oh-yes-that-is-something-I-cannot-imagine-living-without" and we all knew that someone had to be me.  So we've joshed a bit about how outright freaky it would be to hang it over our recently acquired scuffed up, duct-taped upright piano.  (As it turned out, it was a beautiful portrait and I sent it to her daughter to return to her.)

And if you are unfamiliar with Wolfgang's Vaults, well, look it up -- a very cool site for those of us who may still have vinyl stashed in blue plastic milk cartons, and who, while no longer being able to afford concerts, adore the sound of live music.  (I neglected to tell you that my other beloved brother-unit was a bona fide Dead Head, having followed the band and made superb recordings of beaucoup concerts.  His silence in the face of my 5 Poem Demand is not surprising, as he takes things very seriously, or not at all.  His life, after all, has been "a long strange trip..."  Also, as eldest, he's perforce smartest.  But we've covered that, already.)

You can see the Deflective Tactics hard at work chez the Professor.  Who would believe that a former undergrad who drooled when given the chance to be in the same room as the earliest known transcription ofBeowulf would walk away from poetry based on sucky lyrics and worse liner notes?

And so I responded in bull-by-the-horns fashion:
On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 4:54 PM, The Professor> wrote:
"Any concert recommendations from Wolfgang's Vaults?" 

not until you name a poem.

I may have been youngest but you can only play coy for so many decades, you know?  No longer do I play far, far right field ("a little farther, a little farther, and behind the fence would be best!") or when Seeker in Hide and Seek, discover that the brothers left for town hours ago....

He knew there'd be no value in making me cool my heels, so I received this seven minutes later:

Alright, but the only poems I can recall always start with "There once was a man from Nantucket..." So we have a standoff then! (I wish I had something short and pithy, almost poetic, to say...)

I went to bed with smug thoughts of progress, much as I used to think each year, on my birthday, that I was catching up in age to these reprobate siblings of mine.  Surely, one poem at least was within my grasp!
A mere four hours ago, I found this vibrating in my email box:

Poetry in motion--take a look on the Rolling Stone web site at the video clip of Queen performing at Live Aid. A rousing 25 minutes. I'd never seen that before. (Poetry in motion with mass adulation--just the sort of set up Dickinson was after! Not.) Never was a fan of the band but that was quite the "poetic" set. (Note how often I'm trying to fool you with the constant repetition.) 

Okay, I admit to feeling on the losing side of a subtly waged war of attrition.   I do think, however, that with the aid of near Silent Treatment, that while he may not give me the recommendation of a single poem, I may unnerve him just enough that he might write one.

[This story will conclude once I've received a sage response from the other Brother-Unit, who may be feeling tapped out, as his last gift box to me contained the complete works of e. e. cummings along with huge bags of homegrown and dried organic jalapeños and habaneros, sunny tomatoes, squash, and green peppers.  Never has poetry been so sweetly scented.  This dear gardening pilgrim, I hope I've mentioned, is a poet.  That means extra cunning.  Also inevitable self-deprecation.  He's a good'un, I say again.]

© 2013 L. Ryan

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