HOME MOVIE I
It’s Gail’s twenty-fifth and there’s a hand-crank 8mm camera loaded with film ready to record the party. Coincidentally, it’s also the longest day of the year. Alice and Andrei arrive first, hand in hand, down the stone steps onto the weathered redwood deck. Their young son Lucian picks his way carefully down, one step at a time. They smile, making their way to the refreshment table. And there’s baby Irene, a bulge of diaper, plastic, around her waist. The record player spins an album. A red flower in a vase has been placed in front of it. Wow, Gail is wearing her well-fitting red halter top! She sips from her glass into the camera. That’s Susan, whose birthday it is also, swaying to the music. From the back, everyone partaking of appetizers. Michael-Sean appears from below as if through a trap door, his hair in a magnificent blonde pompadour. For an exhibitionist, he certainly has an aversion to being filmed. Hunce has joined the party, sitting crossed legged on the deck. He shares one of his cigarettes with Sean. They look sheepish. Sean raises his eyebrows as if surprised. In the background, baby Irene is climbing up a chair and reaching for something on the table. She has ditched her diaper. Her mother hovers nearby. Alice has a card in an envelope in her hand. A group freezes in front of the large outdoor stone fireplace. This is a movie camera, people! There is a lacunae of some length. The operator had not turned the turret lens completely around thus blocking the aperture. A potted plant in a wooden box comes into focus. Lana Michaleczko has arrived and is telling a story at the foot of the steps when she notices she’s being filmed. She is such a ham. She hops on one foot, stumbles, and then laughs. The subject becomes the feet of guests: the sandals, the sneakers, the boots, the loafers, the slippers, the thongs, the Japanese getas (Lana’s). Baby Irene is being urged to dance, barefooted naked innocence. Everyone is dancing. Alice with Andrei, Steve Lavoie with Lana, Gail with the baby. Andrei bumps hips with Lana, the big show-off! Susan sways alone in the shadows, cool in her shades. Sean is making marks on a piece of paper with a pen. The birthday poem! Hunce looks over his shoulder into the camera. Nothing now but chests. Andrei’s shirt open down to his waist. Lana is wearing a tiny gold chain around her neck. She has the most interesting chest. The camera lingers. Steve’s bright polyester shirt open at the neck. A ball rolls across the deck to the baby. The shadows longer. Alice stretches her legs out into a last patch of warm sun at the end of a long day. Light attends her like a halo. Lucian catches the large beach ball and throws it back to Lana. Steve gives it the James Dean lean against the railing, beer in hand. A mobile of tiny pieces of driftwood catches the failing rays, turns slowly, trembles at the hint of a breeze.
6/4/90 hopeless pedant you can think about yesterday and tomorrow but . . . it’s forever today 6/10/94 ninety years later: day blooms ink spilt a wild Irish rose ah the symmetry of platitudes! like the simplest of elements is how they endure codified scribbles chatter on long after the scribblers have gone the age of improvisation has us grasping at straws 6/12/85 it can’t be my night to do the dishes! what is this string called love 6/14/90 surely in isolation one becomes a god 6/20/90 summer always starts with a sunburn
Where did I leave off last night admiring my newly completed gate in the dark the moon and its few stars told me what the weather would be like today I have successfully predicted the future (woulda been just as right had I been wrong) now the rest of it can fall into place the thousands of dollars in the mail phone calls of adulation and fanship book movie TV contracts and demands for personal appearances and talk shows bank errors in my favor $200 every time I pass GO and I don’t have to go anywhere to get it (it comes to me) even though I have a brand new Jaguar at my disposal and a new chauffeur I have been asked to leave I’m off again gap widens between words what used to be just a leap now an overnight jaunt at supersonics speed with prices to match I need the convenience of being there at any given moment which is always now
—I am, if not one of the more intelligent, certainly one of the more irritating poets around.
—Not following the style of the time bothers people, it’s perceived as politically incorrect, and is viewed as an opposition to what they’re doing, a rivalry, certainly one that doesn’t exist. That rivalry really existed only for the Language school because they figured that they could do something other than what was being done at that point.
—It’s my moral position then which is irritating?
—There again, you have no position. You’ve been a little like Gertrude Stein. To a certain group, you’re considered an original writer with original things.
—I never would have thought of comparing myself with Gertrude Stein.
—Don’t let it go to your head. It’s merely a form of comparison. There are people in every period of literature who aren’t “in.” No one’s bothered by it. Whether you ever will be “in” or not, it’s all the same. Years later things are discovered that might have bothered some people, but back then you could have cared less. Even among the most extraordinary figures of the time, certain people have incredible qualms, a sort of fear. People like Watten who are nevertheless intelligent find what you have to offer isn’t in line with what they predicted, it’s outside their expectations. They have an absolutely clear dogmatic line on it, foreseeing everything that might happen. You find that naively foolish.
—Have I disturbed a lot of people by my stance?
—No, not at all, because you’ve had anything but a public life. What little public life you’ve had has been with others who were interested in your work. You hardly ever give public readings and when you do, they’re not attended. In fact, you’ve never had a public life.
—I have said that poetry is a basic act of speech, of utterance. Am I implying that self-expression is the poet’s motivation or is there more to be said? Is it my desire to communicate, my interest in possible readers? Impossible readers?
—The writer is the deputy of his own ego, of that self in perpetual flight before what is fixed by writing, the mind in perpetual flight from doctrine “who speaks is not who writes and who writes is not who is” as in Rimbaud’s “I is another.” You must choose between being a terrorist and being an egoist. Writing is play at which you try to maneuver in the tight place in which you find yourself. Wedged there, you struggle between the hysteria needed to write and the overwhelming corrective influence of your consciousness to produce something that will bring the mob to your door. On the one hand you seek to be desired, and on the other, you’d rather not. You’re hysterical and obsessed at the same time. You delight continually, endlessly, in writing as a perpetual production, an unconditional disposition, an energy of seduction. However, while you write, the writing is at every moment leveled, banalized, made guilty of the end product to which it must eventually contribute. At every moment of the effort, lost, bewildered, driven, you can only say to yourself, keep going. After all, what is literature but something that is read, if it is read at all, for what it is rather than what it is about. As far as imagining the reader of your work, possible or impossible, that aspect never enters into it.
Editor, Russian River News—Mr. Erikson’s letter is unconscionable. It is blatant political opportunism and the nadir of human compassion. To use the tragedy in China as an excuse to point a finger and gloat is the sign of a microscopic mind. Political affiliations aren’t really an issue when human beings slaughter other human beings. What happened in China is a catastrophe. History is full of examples of man’s inhumanity, and this happens to be one of the more recent and more graphic instances. That the world was witness to it perhaps involves us more in the guilt of the action, fuels our sense of frustration, and outrages our sense of morality, but we should also face up to the fact that brutality, cruelty, and callousness toward our fellow homo sapiens is not exclusively a communist predilection. Were the National Guardsmen who shot and killed the students at Kent State communists? Hardly. The point I’m trying to make here is that political affiliations are secondary when it comes to matters such as these. Repression and absolutism comes in all shapes and forms, and yes, even in a democracy there is the same rule by fear or terror of reprisal — just ask a black man in the South. Saying that because you have a communist government that this kind of tragedy is inevitable is nothing more that off-the-shelf jingoism. To do so is to forget the march of human history. In the West we labor under the smug illusion that we are enlightened and above such brutality. The Chinese who hold the record for the longest continuous civilization in recorded history have no such illusion. State sanctioned murder is part of their cultural heritage. In this century alone, they were slaughtered by the Japanese, then after the war, by the Kuomintang (sic) aka the Nationalist Chinese, and Mao’s revolution. If we really want to point a finger, let’s point it at ourselves, the descendants of European stock who committed genocide on the native peoples of this land. Just the words “Wounded Knee” should be enough to shut our self-righteous traps. To use this tragedy as an occasion to spew hackneyed clichés of “us versus them” is cynical. We should instead be reflecting on the fact that sentient beings with all the best intentions in the world have been kicked in the teeth once again by our own latent brutality. The finger pointers are also the ones who would point the guns. The petty, single track minds who only see black or white are also the ones who would be myopic enough to give the order to fire.
6/23/89 get a haircut! 6/24/89 go to a music festival where everyone has long hair! now when I dance it feels like I’m carrying an added appendage around my middle section no longer light on anyone’s feet fluid and lithe hardly the word wobbly waddle all I can manage of what once was 6/25/82 time is merely a cartoon that helps us understand the span of our existence, a pattern of arbitrary divisions and decimals and exponents which schematize the pulmonary cycle; when breathing stops so does time—then the cosmos take over. the choice is between being everything and (consequently) nothing or just being one thing at all. after a late season rain ignorant of grammar the weeds reach higher 6/28/91 dead start awakened by the thud of rain drops this drizzle making a nuisance of itself the season takes a step back
The dogs of summer come out on the new moon they leering trot at the gutters hoping to find a few heels to snap their shit yellow eyes light the fear of centuries fanged with the drool of intimidation they know best our destiny desperate as theirs “this is genocide” fog cover lulls the deadly impulse only bees bite in gray light a lethargy that extends to the joints and pulls the chain on bright activity pulls on the skin of the face and makes it long “putting pain in a stranger” rearrange the matters at hand syntax’s dull surprise thuds like Darrel Gray’s hip bone on the marble floor of the burnt out hotel where poets danced milled and dropped of their own accord to a low point in the history of literature “she ain’t gonna do right”
6/29/93 remember posture the way the spine holds the head high forces the chest out hope that the stomach will gravitate toward the backbone belongs to another faculty memory of the way things used to be little consolation for the aches the pains twinges tics tremors sit straight chin up take it as it comes 6/30/85 I ain’t no hermit Buddhist poet yet. I am too often enlisted in the aid of my vanity, yearn to get in the swim of the microbic self-devouring scene and lucky I’m not because I’d be among the first to be consumed so I keep my distance, try to work within my limits. I might have more in common with the village idiot.12 Virgo: Your magnetism proves irresistible to an attractive member of the opposite sex. You have definite ideas and are not very interested in other people’s suggestions. Be prepared for slow but steady progress. heads of grass in full flower catch a fading light a whole field of silver-wigged aristocrats beyond the valley of exhaustion the peak of headache pain fatigue and eye blear where was I (pain can be so distracting)
“You treat me badly” the song goes but when I sing it sounds like I’m talking to myself brief interruption sponsored by a totally lack of confidence available everywhere program discontinued due to allergy attack back to square one where it seems there’s always a crowd of familiar faces “fancy meeting you here” the joke’s on me it’s just taken this long for me to get around to laughing (ha ha) meat hat on backwards piano guitar intro familiar as memory looms up from the back of the head where the speakers are “a change in the weather is a change in me”
These were the days of food stamps and belt tightening around the end of the month. I had just enough in stamps and change for a half gallon of milk so I was shagging it into town one dewy summer Sunday morning, my rubber sandal soles scuffing the asphalt. It was early and only Noonan’s, Monte Rio’s other grocery, was open. Kelly, the Pink Elephant’s bartender stretched out of his old Lincoln as I passed the bar. He nodded a greeting, keys in hand to open the place up. I padded past him to the other block of businesses. I paid at the counter with a wadded one dollar stamp and a pile of pennies and dimes. The cashier grimaced at my unkempt barely awake appearance. I had just rolled out of bed, the kids screaming for milk for their cereal, after all. As she rang up the purchase, the lights flickered and the old wood floor shook. “Did you feel that?” Earthquake? “I don’t think it was an earthquake,” the customer in line behind me said as we both headed for the door. Outside, people were gathering on the sidewalk across the street from the Pink Elephant. I sauntered down with my bag of milk. One man pointed at the Pink. “It’s ass fell off!” It seemed that Kelly, having opened the doors, turned on the lights and the jukebox, unlocked the safe, had his usual morning urge and had retired with the sports page. A quick review of the previous day’s box scores and the first paragraph of that irritating sports column and he was done. The Pink’s bathroom, as the Pink itself, was a cobbled together structure on pilings fifteen feet above Dutch Bill Creek. Built in installments long before any established construction codes, the bathrooms at the back with “Dolls” on one door and “Guys” on the other were actually on a small outdoors deck attachment. Kelly flushed, folded the paper under his arm, and strolled into the bar feeling a lot lighter. He was just getting ready to change out a beer keg when he felt the building sway and then the crash as the entire deck fell to splinters into the bushes below, broken pipes spewing fountains of water. It was the flush that broke the elephant’s ass.
The camera shows the poet at play other more fearful moments remain invisible unspeakable just yet a fear as obsessive as painting the floor in a New York City rent controlled ghetto flat black and trying to find some order in chaos a return to a more primitive state not unlike Utah where the bare bones of the psyche peek out from around the sagebrush of terror phantom-like and the imagined remains in its place while the death grip on a particular state of mind that predates the mammalian take-over tightens so speak my strangled thoughts in half sentences mistaken in appearance distraught in thinking I am what I appear to be the practice for violence begins young to that effect I am still a child caught in the crunch I can do nothing but play
—Who would be my ideal reader, just the same?
—Your ideal reader would be someone of average curiosity and open mind who could read one of your poems and react by saying “That’s poetry? I can do that!” At that point they have accepted a template, a grid through which to apprehend their reality. They will have or have had a recognition that they can compare. If they understand that, then they are beginning to understand what you’re doing and so have begun to understand what it is about poetry.
—In general, am I writing about what is personally most important to me?
—Only if what’s important to you is a continuous state of flux. You can’t otherwise put your finger on it. You’d be surprised by how insignificant things can seem important, and vice versa. If anything is important it’s this transitoriness. Most of the time you are blinded by the mundane and oppressed by the critical. Then one day, an hour, a minute, an instant opens out into a vast meadow, the Elysian fields, and with this nameless joy comes timeless song which is then translated into the particular language convention of the time base you are alive in. And how that translates for you is in the daily apprehension of your circumstances where the insignificant is exalted through song or words and makes a kind of spiral ladder at whose conclusion is the spark of life.
 Life shouldn’t be disappointing. If nothing else it is consistent in its suffering and that in the face of it all we are helpless. There’s suffering because nothing stays the same which plays havoc with our desire to hold on to what works even if only for an instant which in turn causes the anxiety that makes us suffer. Nothing lasts forever and even that is gone in an instant. Life isn’t anything unique by itself. It is what comes after what went before and what goes on before what’s to come. Conditioned by the past, it affects the future. It is merely a chain of instances linked by memory, desire’s intelligence. It matters not one way or the other, it’s all the same. All we can hope for is a kind of direct intuitive knowledge of these facts which surpass reason and rule out any further discussion. All things being impermanent have no separate and independent identity. The absolute is inherent in all phenomena. Ultimate reality cannot be explained in terms of existence and nonexistence. Everything is real. Each thing is identical with all things.
“ . . . the Cinzano umbrellas articulate the slate sky of Paris in the springtime. This cafe is the haunt of literary pretenders, and where you wouldn’t find Orpheus dead, but today of all days, he has stopped in for a glass of white wine with one of his old editors. Of course he is recognized by everyone. The whispering starts. Why is he here, first of all, and it’s been said that the great poet has gone dry. Maybe he’s after some fresh blood, it’s suggested, but even that mere suggestion of literary vampirism is received coldly. The young writers who frequent this establishment are well aware of the real vampires who prey on the creative talents of the young and innocent, those who collect poets the way a headhunter collects skulls. Orpheus is not one of them, his problems have more of a personal nature. Eurydice wants a sacrifice . . . .”