‘. . . “Of all illusions,” said the man with the tubes up his nostrils, IVs, catheter. . .’

Of all the illusions. . .

Of all the illusions. . .

.

.

.

.

.

I want to be a poet so when I feel the need to call attention to the futility of our communal understanding of what’s good, what’s to strive for, what makes a person happy according to Maslow, what good citizenship means, what makes a person successful, what gives meaning to one’s life—all of those things JumpFly and Slingshot and the Richards Group and LEVELTWO and 180 LA and (most importantly) Campbell Mithun tell us we must experience, have, think, or feel—no one will accuse me of being negative or depressed; rather, everyone will think I’m a genius because I’m so artistic and say things so well, and never get it that I’m really trying to be a latter-day Cassandra or Amos—that I mean everything we strive for is pointless, and we keep day after day fucking up our lives because we think owning the next-generation communications gizmo is going to make us authentic and happy human beings.

“Success is counted sweetest” (112), by Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

(Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Edited by R. W. Franklin. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.)

We read stuff like Dickinson’s poem and get exalted pictures in our mind of the poor dying soldier lying on the battlefield thinking about how much better it would have been to have joined the victorious army in their celebration of defeating the enemy, and we get all goose-bumpy about the brilliance of Dickinson’s language, and we totally forget that the teacher who introduced us to Dickinson in high school committed suicide the year after we went off to college to earn our success so we can count it sweet.

We absolutely without reservation believe that

. . . after climbing
exhaustedly up
with pitons and ropes,
[we will] arrive at
last on the plateau
of walking-level-
forever-among-
moss-with-red-blossoms
.

(Hall, Donald. “Tubes.” White Apples and the Taste of Stone. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.)

The other day I was watching a program on TV about the building of the new One World Trade Center. It has now been definitively crowned the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat “height committee.”

All through the program I kept thinking, “What hubris.” Of course, the replacement for the World Trade Center Towers would unquestionably have to be the tallest building. America[ns] could not possibly, under any circumstances be reduced to the same experience

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

A contrarian thought lodged itself in my mind. “In the great scheme of things, in the reality of the magnitude of the earth, which itself is not even a dot in the galaxy which is one of billions of such swirls of matter in the universe, how can any human take such pride in building something bigger than any other human can build?” I’m not a poet, not a wordsmith. I can’t build an image in the style of either Emily Dickinson or Donald Hall. But what is the point? What is the purpose of building something remarkably tall by human standards and taking pride in it when in reality it is utterly insignificant?

Cambell Mithun Tower - not the tallest by a long shot

Cambell Mithun Tower – not the tallest by a long shot

[Timothy] Johnson [Chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat] said the council had studied [architect David] Childs’ plans for the building, and noted the symbolic height of the spire and the beacon that will shine from it – which is designed as a complement to the light at the top of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. “So conceptually it is definitely, from the architect’s point of view, a major part of the building, and we agreed,” Johnson said.

Ah! I get it. The beacon to complement the beacon at the top of the Statue of (former) Liberty. The ultimate symbol of chauvinism in our absolute conviction that our “purple Host Who took the Flag today Can tell the definition So clear of victory” that we deserve the tallest building. The tallest, most expensive, finest, newest Everything! We will “take [our enemy’s] flag today.”

Remember playing “Capture the Flag” as a kid? Maybe only boy scouts did that, and only those who are now very old. We learned. Take the flag! Defeat the enemy. Kill Al-Qaeda. And why? So we can have success—success as defined by Campbell Mithun. A fine poet may define success differently.

“Tubes,” by Donald Hall

           1

“Up, down, good, bad,” said
the man with the tubes
up his nose, ” there’s lots
of variety…
However, notions
of balance between
extremes of fortune
are stupid—or at
best unobservant.”
He watched as the nurse
fed pellets into
the green nozzle that
stuck from his side. “Mm,”
said the man. ” Good. Yum.
(Next time more basil…)
When a long-desired
baby is born, what
joy! More happiness
than we find in sex,
more than we take in
success, revenge, or
wealth. But should the same
infant die, would you
measure the horror
on the same rule? Grief
weighs down the seesaw,
joy cannot budge it.”

           2

“When I was nineteen,
I told a thirty-
year-old man what a
fool I had been when
I was seventeen.
We were always,’ he
said glancing down, ‘a
fool two years ago.'”

           3

The man with the tubes
up his nostrils spoke
carefully: “I don’t
regret what I did,
but that I claimed I
did the opposite.
If I was faithless
or treacherous and
cowardly, I had
my reasons—but I
regret that I called
myself loyal, brave,
and honorable.”

           4

“Of all illusions,”
said the man with the
tubes up his nostrils,
IVs, catheter,
and feeding nozzle,
“the silliest one
was hardest to lose.
For years I supposed
that after climbing
exhaustedly up
with pitons and ropes,
I would arrive at
last on the plateau
of walking-level-
forever-among-
moss-with-red-blossoms.
But of course, of course:
A continual
climbing is the one
form of arrival
we ever come to—
unless we suppose
that the wished-for height
and house of desire
is tubes up the nose.”

. . . the wished-for height and house of desire. . .

. . . the wished-for height
and house of desire. . .

 

‘. . . your battery is running low. . .’

I want a computer with balls.

I want a computer with balls.

Of course it is! You told me yourself that it was charged 100% of the time and that’s not good for it, that I need to change the ‘settings’ to keep it charging at 70% so it won’t be damaged. Naturally, I couldn’t find the ‘setting’ to do that [such things are a mystery that only the illuminati can understand], so I unplugged it. You’re worse than a boyfriend. Passive aggressive. I unplug it and the next time I turn you on, you tell me the battery is running low.

MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

I’ll stop with the talking to my computer. What I’d really like to do is throw all electronic devices into the Trinity River and go back to—at the most recent—a Selectric typewriter with balls.

I have an embarrassment of riches of computers. Two here on my desk. The old one that I can trust power-wise because its power supply is defunct, and it has to be plugged in to work at all, and this new $1200 passive-aggressive arrogant Lenovo monster. At least with the old Dell I know the screen will go blank, or the cursor will jump to a previous line, and suddenly I’ll be typing gibberish.

This Lenovo is a ‘touch-screen’ device. Let me tell you how confusing that is. I can’t figure out how to get back to the desktop after I’ve touched an icon [like the picture of ‘email’ that doesn’t take me to my email]. How passive-aggressive is that? Or try to change my password for some built-in function on some ‘app’ I’ve downloaded when it says I’ve entered the wrong one.

On a ten-year-old Dell there’s no, ‘I told you to do thus-and-so, but if you don’t know how, I’m not going to tell you.’

These two computers on my desk aren’t the only ones I have: two desk-top computers in my closet waiting for the important documents on the hard-drives copied somewhere useful so when I die the biographers will have the minute records of my life since about 1995.

You can guess I have a TV remote with which, if I inadvertently push the wrong one of its 200 or so buttons, I can’t watch TV for two hours until I inadvertently push the right one. And a DVD player I can’t figure out how to use even though my young friend Janette wrote out the instructions for me. Of course, if I’d do as everyone I know does and binge-watch movies and TV programs on my laptop, I wouldn’t have that problem. Except, then I’m back to this passive-aggressive digital monster. I’m between a screen and a ‘cloud’ space.

And then there are the iPhone and the iPad—which will need a long posting by themselves.

An embarrassment of riches - and my cat.

An embarrassment of riches – and my cat.

I’ve become my father. The last couple of years of his life he fussed and fumed about not being able to use his computer, or watch TV because he couldn’t figure out the remote. He was 95 at the time, and I’m only 68, so that tells you something right there. He got his first computer when he was about 80 and wrote three books of his and the family’s memoirs on it. I did not inherit his deliberative and logical genes.

I’d like a typewriter with balls. A machine that won’t play games with me, mess with my mind, and thumb its nose at my having been born before the first functional computer (the ENIAC, which became operational in 1946) was built. A green ’52 Plymouth coupe and an IBM typewriter will do me just fine. And I’ll go to the theater to watch my movies (even though buying popcorn and a Diet Coke brings the cost to 40 bucks for two).

There are a few modernities for which I am grateful. In 1970 I had a complete reconstruction of my right shoulder (chronic dislocations) called a ‘shoulder capsulorrhaphy.’ Major surgery, major recovery, major rehabilitation. About three weeks ago I had arthroscopic surgery on my left shoulder. Relatively simple surgery, in this ridiculous monster-sling for five weeks, PT already started, and good as new by Christmas.

More than perhaps anything else, I want to write one good poem. One poem that will be in an anthology somewhere for decades after I die. I won’t, of course, because I am not a genius, or, on the other hand, I did not enter the [lifelong] process of learning a technique, a style, that might have overcome my lack of talent and given me the tools to write poetry in spite of my limitations.

And now my battery is running low. It’s too late for me to change my password or my settings so I can write poetically. Understanding all of the electronic apparatuses and gizmos at my disposal will not make me a poet (or an artist of any kind).

Just a '52 Plymouth for me.

Just a ’52 Plymouth for me.

[French performance artist] Orlan . . . [claims] that the natural human body is not at all natural in our age, therefore in the age of technology the body must be adjusted to the technological, political, and social milieu wherein we live . . . interpreting her work as a peculiar kind of existential criticism. For Orlan the primary boundaries are not the social determinations; what she is not satisfied with is the human body’s nature of ‘being given’ once and for all (1).

I’m afraid my body is ‘given’ once for all. It is what it is. None of the Orlan-style reconstructions will adjust me—or reshape me for the technological milieu in which I live. Or make a poet of me.

Donald Hall was born in 1928. That makes him 85. My favorite of his collections of poetry is The One Day (1988) which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.  That was when he was 60. He had written lots of poetry before that, and has continued to write since then. He was U.S. Poet Laureate in 2007. Hall understands the given.

Affirmation (2)
by Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes,
and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
_________________
(1)  Andras, Lajos. “Human Nature as a Social Construction.” Philobiblon  XIII (2008), 185.
(2)  Hall, Donald. “Affirmation.” Without. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.