It’s a supermarket in Brooklyn.
He’s hunting for vegetable stock.
There’s a hurricane coming.
And people from the neighborhood.
They’re ransacking the non-perishable goods.
There’s an 81% feeling of general hysteria.
And who of all people should he run into in front of the melons.
Who of all people but himself.
D : You’re late.
D (takes out wallet) : Look I don’t want any trouble.
D : Look he says. Do I look like a poor man to you.
D (looks at his clothes) : “I don’t have”—
D : “One red cent”—
D : “But all I need”—
D : “Is a clean shirt.”
D : You know they’re a superstitious people, the Russians.
D : They believe a man must put on clean linen before he dies yes.
D : Mayakovsky believed it.
D : He bought his new button-down and loaded his gun.
D : “He had played Russian roulette with himself twice before and won.”
D : A cruel word, roulette. Which means, little wheel.
D : You read this on a bus heading north to see a woman.
D : I was wearing my new white shirt.
D : And your collar was starched.
D : It was summer.
D : It was eighty-one years after Vladimir lost his first roulette.
D : And I watched the woman dive into a lake.
D : And her bathing suit was white.
D (looks at his clothes) : Still working on washing that one off, aren’t you.
D : It was like, “I can’t believe it she doesn’t scrub off in the shower.”
D : And a few years later a flood wipes the town off the map.
D : But it doesn’t wash off the woman.
D (ticked) : I do look like a poor man to you.
D : You look like a man who’s after a clean shirt.
D : And then the rest is roulette.
D : And then the rest is confetti.
D : But what if we fix ourselves stone soup for supper instead.
D : (Puts away wallet.)
D : We’ll need the white root of a turnip, and rhubarb bitters, and nectarines.
D : (Silence.)
D: And barley and chicory, and a handful of nutmeg, and bergamot.
D: (Looks down at shoes.)
D : And gunpowder tea, and rutabagas, and a few of those lines in your head.
D : How about this: “you can’t say where you end and where the dust begins.”
D : All the little ingredients that make you—you know—me.
D : And the idea is we stir them all in a pot.
D : And we throw in a stone.
D : And we find it all here, in a supermarket, before the place is picked clean.
(He takes him by the wrist. They walk.)
They’re standing in front of a wall of cans.
Around them, people from the neighborhood.
Fighting for soup and bread.
D : You said you once heard a man give a lecture.
D : Schlesinger.
D : He had a beautiful skull, you said.
D : Like a witch doctor.
D : He said Shelley used to walk for hours on the beach, muttering to himself.
D : Talking nonsense, yes.
D : And stringing together these short, rhythmic phrases.
D : “Like he was stitching together a pocket,” Schlesinger said.
D : And later when Shelley walked home, he’d fill the pockets with language.
D : That’s how he wrote poems.
D : You spoke some words of your own when you walked home that night.
D : Writing a poem, it’s like coloring in a hole with language.
D (places carton in basket) : You can cross off the broth.
D (stops) : I thought that was Wordsworth, the walking.
D : You know he was a spy.
D : Conrad told me that, yeah, over a pinch of chocolate.
D : Shoveling up intelligence for the secret service.
D : And the chocolate tasted like this: to hell with you bloodsuckers.
D (takes him by the wrist) : What matters here is your mother told me a story.
D : Mother, mother, mother—she told a lot of men stories.
D : She said her son used to visit the trash cans behind the house.
D : Many men, many men. Many men used to visit behind the house.
D : She said, “My son was born with a beat in his head.”
D : She claims I used to bang on her trash cans with sticks.
D : “Until a crowd of brown toads was applauding at his feet.”
D : “He was ashamed,” she tells people. “To ask for the things that he loved.”
D : Which, at that age, was a nice pair of sticks.
D : The hickory ones.
D : “So he broke a few ribs off my drying rack,” she told me.
D : And I hid them under my bed.
D : And you waited for your solo.
D : And I waited for the family to go out for their evening walk.
D (places box in basket) : You can cross off the seasoning.
D : It was a childhood whose background music was my mother’s dismay.
D : When she realized she was no longer wearing a sun dress.
D : And dancing through a field of timothy grass.
D : You told me you remember a beach with her in July.
D : And girls dressed in summer clothes walking by the water.
D : And mother’s cassette in the tape deck.
D : And Mick Jagger singing, I see the girls walk by / dressed in their summer clothes.
D : It’s funny the way some men build empires.
D : Some men just diddle and diddle themselves until they become king.
D (stares at him): Have you forgotten what’s happening here.
D : And everyone riots in the streets when he dies.
D (places bag in basket) : Well you can cross off potatoes.
D : Yes the family would go out for walks after supper.
D : Those kind of blue-hour walks over a bridge after late rain.
D : And a golden retriever is chasing a squirrel up ahead.
D : And the neighbors they stop when they see you and say hell of a nice night isn’t it.
D : While the dog licks the salt from their palms.
(Two people from the neighborhood wrestling over a milk bone on the floor. One of them shouts something inaudible, something like, “when I drag your corpse through the mud,” but her voice gets lost in the clangor.)
D : But your neighbor’s the one with the dog and not you.
D : What matters is I liked to stay behind when the family went out for a walk.
D : A lot of men. A lot of men where you’re from stayed behind.
D (covers his eyes, doing Milton) : “Well they also serve who only stand and wait.”
D : You ever wonder if God poked out his eyes because he wrote that.
D : Instead of the other way around—yeah, all the time.
D : So you stood and you waited.
D : And when the door clicked shut I’d arrange the couch cushions in front of me.
D : And you’d what.
D : I’d beat the garbage out of them along to some songs.
D (places bottle in basket) : You can cross off the oil.
D : I liked the sound when I struck them, the cushions. It was like war drums.
D : Trust me I’ve noticed you never stop god damn whapping on everything.
D : Tables and mattresses, yeah—and bottles.
D : Your chest seems to make a kind of nice dead thud of a hollow sound.
D : The family would come home and catch me flailing my arms.
D : Drumming the shit out of their furniture.
D : And shouting indecipherably at the ceiling along to a record.
D : Coloring in a hole with language.
D : You know, as a kid you like that about punk.
D : You like that you can’t understand what they’re saying.
D : So you have to make up your own words and sing them along with the song.
D : A guy singing the word Soho like someone yanked out his liver.
D : Or Joe Strummer doing his impersonation of Montgomery Cliff.
D : And Cliff is pissmouth drunk.
D : And Joe coughs up this noise—
D : And he actually writes out the words in the liner notes—
D (together) : arrrghhhgorra—buh—bhuh—do—arrrrgggghhhhnnnn.
D : It was all these punks who looked like they weren’t fit to own dogs or children.
D : Like something straight out of Popa.
D : “Listen you freak”—
D : “Give me back my rags”—
D : You wore a lot of rags when you were first starting out.
D (places box in basket) : You can cross off the matches.
They’re standing in front of a sign.
american bros. bread.
A few pieces of the first B on the sign have chipped off.
american eros. bread, it says.
And a child is feeding a deli cat down by their feet.
D : Let’s see the tattoo again.
D: (Lifts up shirt.)
D : That must’ve hurt, on the ribs there.
D : I was young.
D : Do you have an answer.
D : An answer.
D : Like, why is it a law that all young people have to read Cummings?
D : “Since feeling is first,” maybe. Or maybe “my blood approves.”
D : No an answer.
D : Well I think when you’re young—
D : You’re not young.
D : It’s like, “I can’t believe it the words don’t scrub off in the shower.”
D : Okay but tell me if you remember this one. (Turns his back on him).
D : Can I lower my shirt now.
D : (Turns around again). “How are you going to feel”—
D : “When you aren’t a poet anymore”—
D : “And you don’t want those words on your body.”
D : My sister, on the steps of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
D : With her hands underneath her belly.
D : It was before she had the first child.
D : She told me she was a poet once herself.
D : I liked you in that scene.
D : The family is sitting there in the welter.
D : Your very pregnant sister.
D : Who gave up writing to start a family.
D : And an alley of live oaks waving their arms down the road.
D : And she’s holding out spoonfuls of shit.
D : Like are you going to swallow this baby brother.
D (doing Tina Turner) : “Well I pumped a lotta ‘pane down in New Orleans.”
D : The great American poem is the family at each other’s throats yes.
D : A Death in the Family—you know the prologue, the summer in Knoxville?
D : And those who receive me—
D : Who treat me as one familiar and well-beloved in that home—
D : But they will not—
D : Not now, not ever—
D : But they will not tell me who I am.
D : That whole book is Americans roiling behind the four walls of their bodies.
D : Well the great American poem is a family just trying to break bread.
D : But I want you to talk about the tattoo.
D : I lay down on a bench in Kansas City and a man gave it to me.
D (pause) : Are we still talking about the tattoo…
D : What I loved was you couldn’t read the words.
D : The poem isn’t speakable no.
D : You have to witness the poem.
D : Like you witness a contract.
D : l(a
D : le
D : af
D : fa
D : ll
D : s)
D : one
D : l
D : iness
(Someone from the neighborhood breaks a rake over his knee. He screams something like, “you’ll have this flour when I’m cold and dead in the ground,” but his voice is lost in the crowd.)
D : But it doesn’t feel American to me, that poem.
D : It feels how America feels to me.
D : You mean it’s a spectacle.
D : You watch the leaf falling and the letters all shoving each other out of the way.
D : All that i-ness, i-ness, i-ness at the end.
D : A Death in the Family—you know when the kid is sitting on a rock with his dad.
D : “He felt that although his father loved their home and loved all of them”—
D : “He was more lonely than the contentment of this family love could help”—
D : “He felt that it even increased his loneliness”—
D : “Or made it hard for him not to be lonely”—
D : The whole pageantry of the American family right there.
D : Or that first real day of summer each year in Brooklyn.
D : When someone slinks to the corner and wrenches open the fire hydrant.
D : And all the kids, neighbors and brothers and sisters.
D : They take turns eating this blast of water in the face.
D : And they dance in the spray.
D : People drive their cars through the water.
D : And the youngest kid in the neighborhood is drinking the runoff out of the gutter.
D : You said a guy sat you down once, an editor.
D : He was eating a salad.
D : He said, So who’s in your family.
D : His name was Spears.
D : I think he’s dead now?
D : He still works on Madison Avenue yes.
D (places bottle in basket) : Well you can cross off vinegar.
D : He wanted to know who sits on my throne, you know.
D : Who are your influences.
D : Like there’s an answer beyond a quilt hanging on my wall.
D : And it takes a life.
D : An entire lifetime to tell every thread’s story yes.
D : He told you your poems were horse shit.
D (places packet in basket) : Well you can cross off thread.
D (pause) : You know Ginsberg saw Garcia Lorca over there by the melons.
D : “Let California fall into the ocean.”
D : That’s not Allen.
D : That’s a lyric.
D (doing Joe Strummer) : arrrghhhgorra—buh—bhuh—do—arrrrgggghhhhnnnn.
D : Alright one American tradition that I’m glad is dead is the poetic mecca.
D : What’s that—a bar with a jukebox and pictures of yourself on the walls?
D : There’s all these stories about young poets in browline glasses.
D : Dragging themselves out to the homes of the old white masters.
D : Wearing slacks.
D : Out to some clam chowder province.
D : And their lips are quivering and they hold out a rumpled sheave of paper.
D : And they say mister wilbur will you judge my poems mister wilbur.
D (places bag in basket) : You can cross off lemons now.
D : But you tell people the one about Allen and the Good Doctor.
D : Well they were from the same town.
D : The same town is what counts.
D : Like I’m not going to walk down to Macon and ask Little Richard how to rip it up.
D : But you’d just as soon march back to your hometown.
D : Maybe I need to know the best places to stash swill if I’m going to be out all night.
D : So you knock on the door of the drunk guy named Tater.
D (places package in basket) : You can cross off the meat.
D : So Ginsberg puts on his browline glasses and walks the 21 blocks across Paterson.
D : And he knocks on the door of the old, wormy Doctor.
D : He shakes his liver-spot hand.
D : The guy who wrote the poem about Americans not giving a shit about poor people.
D : And he even called it pastoral.
D : And the same day an egret lands on the Passaic river.
D : And the egret dies instantly.
D : That’s how toxic it was.
D : But you loved a man who made the same walk in his day.
D : He gets a little more weathered every time I see him yes.
D : Who was his white guy.
D : He follows Lowell home one day on campus—
D : You’re telling it wrong.
D : “You can be true, you can be false, you’ll be given the same reward.”
D : (Looks at his clothes.)
D : It’s a lyric. About working.
D : So he follows Lowell home and bangs on his door one night—
D : Lowell answers and he looks like seventeen thousand people died inside his face.
D : This guy in the story, he says he’s so nervous that all he can stammer is:
D (together) : Mister Lowell . . . . how are you!
D : And Lowell says “crazy” and slams the door in his face.
D : And then he opens it back up and hands him a basket of laundry.
D : C’mon he says.
D : We’re going to wash my rags.
(They leave. They don’t pay for anything.)