I don’t immediately notice: they’re
not playing their, so to speak, music.
I’ve been thinking a long time
(“staring into space,” they call it),
am bored with what I’m thinking,
and normally would blame the music, but
there isn’t any! And I’m glad,
retroactively, for unobstructed
thought, however aimless
and gloomy. It should be valued, there should
be silence. This silence
was like returning to health
after illness, nationhood after Communism,
life after death: old habits reappear
as if you’d never been away.
Somehow you become aware
that the person over there
(wherever you are) is an anhedonic.
There are signs: absences.
“Sucks all the air out of a room.”
No; there’s air,
and air-conditioning or warmth
as needed, and whoever it is
is appropriately dressed and doesn’t smell;
but should you say these things to yourself
you’ll sense that language doesn’t care.—
Signs: the dispensable and undispensed
smile. The unappreciated meal.
The cellphone closed with a flat goodbye
and a noticeable click.
At a gathering, the dull but strange remark.
And you feel blank rage,
because by being detached
from our default position
of happiness, that person detaches you.
And probably you react
by being rude, drinking, leaving;
otherwise you might see the secret wiring.
A wandering bleb appears in psych-space.
Inside, one confesses.
Bartenders become cued
to phone the cops when, say, a serial killer
talks; and the police are glad
to reduce their unsolved backlog. If, that is,
the phenomenon persists
and the perpetrator is still sitting there,
and the bartender himself
has not forestalled him with his own confession.
There’s no sense of priority
or scale, and little pathos:
no praying, sobbing etc. A surprising number
of people have no moral sense;
they make excuses. Others merely obsess.
Like this guy, who, despite big watch,
hair, general butch affect,
reveals he is a weekend transvestite.
You’d think that, having brought it out,
he’d seem relieved, defensive…
A girl has entered.
In her yellow summer frock she seems
less a gift from outside
than a member of a lighter, happier species.
“Don’t you ever wonder,” he murmurs,
“what it feels like? The dress
is a column. Heat rises from pavement,
unimpeded, past her panties, and
the sun pours over cleavage; as
she moves, the fabric moves
away from, then clings to her smooth belly.”
“For me the romance,” I say,
“lies in not knowing—
watching that alien life a membrane away.”
“Fearing that, if you crossed it,” he suggests,
“you’d only find familiar death-bound worry.”
“In any case, desire,” I say,
“—if it is desire we’re talking about,
with age. I’d like to rip her dress off,
but only in a formal sort of way.
Instead I could hear her confession
in this force-field of confessions,
and comfort, flatter, divert, inspire, bore
as much as one can
without physical contact
beyond a last paternal pat.
For years I have been satisfied with that—
sparklers beneath the broad sky of regret—
and then going home to my wife,
about whom, also, ordinarily
I never speak
because happiness is the true dangerous secret.”
The zone dissolves; censoriousness returns.
The girl, having revealed
nothing, meets someone plausible and leaves.
My acquaintance also leaves
for the realms of the unreal
and doubtless cuts a striking figure there.
I too should leave, but sit a while nowhere.
When the generals came to Rumsfeld,
leaving aside the whys and wherefores
of the war, they said they needed
at least a third of a million troops
to win. And he said That’s ridiculous;
they were not taking seriously
his stated demand
for transformation at every level of thinking—
they could do the job with 150,000.
Dick backed him. Alone in his office
at various times Rumsfeld thought
of the silliness of their objections;
of the obstructionism of Powell
and others, who had to be handed
their heads; of a lean mean
force; of the view towards seagrass
and Bay beyond the lawn
at “Mount Misery,” and Dick’s new “Ballintober”
a mile up the coast;
of how a simple phone call,
a partial chuckled word can place
someone where his talents are needed,
and how it is reciprocated.
Eventually dark limos bear
boxes full of nitpicking and error
into the vaults and footnotes, but friendship is timeless.
There was a street in Burbank
between the freeway and a fading mall.
No trees; signs and storefronts
the only colors besides beige.
Two things happened.
I was at Fuddruckers, the burger place.
Across the street a crowd had gathered,
after work or between jobs, at a gym,
but the doors of the gym wouldn’t open.
It was a scam.
It had taken their money, declared bankruptcy
or simply closed, reopening elsewhere (Nevada).
Someone was in there, a sweeper.
In their white and blue and fuchsia
trunks and scripted T-shirts, shoulders
already tensed to exercise or pose,
unused to fruitless time and each protesting
the inconvenience he or she was suffering,
they pounded the plate glass and railed at him.
That street (whose name I forget,
my memories as partial
as if they were one-story flat-roofed buildings
stretched on the rack of a horizon)
held for a season several used bookstores—
a density uncommon in LA.
One was military;
big flags, the sad silhouetted MIA.
Two were graveyards:
dingy romances stacked on their sides. And one
I discovered the day, or perhaps the week, it was closing:
not much left, only a few people pawing.
No overhead, even at its best;
bare planks, fluorescents dark above.
Removed, the owner sat by the door;
incredibly (or so I thought then) old,
and thin and frail but alert,
she looked up, not very often,
from the book she was reading …
it was Kerouac’s On the Road.
Better late than never, I thought.
Nostalgia? Or had she waited
once in a coldwater flat
for somebody’s crumbs of love?
Her son stood watching,
arms crossed, with the air of a man refusing
failure. Was he looking out for himself?
For her, I felt.
Perhaps he would see, before she did,
Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty
on a motorbike or in the cab
of an ancient truck, coming at last
to find her, meanwhile gathering, redeeming
the cities: weeping Fresno, mad
Bakersfield, indispensable dreaming Burbank.