Autumn [say something about the leaves] at a coffee shop [say something about the people].
Bright ping-ponging thoughts, Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, and a white coffee mug
combine to form an impression, transient as [insert image, I was thinking candlelight],
but here now, flapping like a line of white laundry in the extremely cold wind. Paint your scene,
the poet said, and I’ll paint mine; in the serendipitous confluence we might find natural bits
of similarity, like pieces of scissored cloth – pastels we both prized, a kind sense of humor,
a kind light, the whole circus of one’s present ambience calling out like timid opera singers
from all the appearances, to stand out as
toy soldiers do on a mantelpiece, holding their ground amidst the effluvial rush of time.
We were discovering a key to writing poetry, namely selection, i.e. the desire
not to include everything, or to include everything, but to select from everything we know
certain details, the side of that white house on the cover of this book, those orange chimneys,
the consequences of really looking, really breathing, stretching out, the sheer joy (by mistake
I wrote “job”) of looking. And what do we know, anyways? A whole lotta bunk.
Flute music is playing overhead, Nick interrupts me,
(I’m sitting with Nick and we are both typing), and now the flute is back, singing.
If I wanted, I could mention here Nick’s green-beige bag, slightly open, showing folders.
Or I could talk about the notebook on this table, laid open behind the white coffee mug,
on the pages of which are the beginnings of this poem, currently being extended.
Let’s open the Porter book and see what we can see. A black and white still-life. Flowers!
Close the book. Time is worth mentioning. I don’t wear a watch – my phone is enough –
and am not aware of time in any way except when I check it. I assume this is akin to how
most people experience the brunt of time, except for certain traumatic or beautiful moments, say,
when blood rushes up in the body, and everything is outlined by a garish expressionist black,
or infused with the warm honey glow of great and wonderful meaning.
Meanwhile the sugar of experience waits to be tasted, whatever that means.
Meanwhile we wait like idiots for revelation, which never comes, if only in
meager drippings which taste more like salad than good ice cream anyways. The principle
of selection can be narrow as a bone-crushing cinch, or wide as the ocean’s horizon,
but the point is to paint through words, the way Elizabeth Bishop did, sceneries
and scenarios that are clearly artificial, and charming therefore. No point in hunkering down
like Blake’s Newton to strap down experience and thought in one sort of horrible glare.
Meter itself should be natural, like conversation, and not forced into any mold
that life itself would scoff at. Anyways, the day has its own logic, and rushes into being
or peters out into nothing at the same exact pace with which the “barista” here
served those two ladies their coffees – ladies, by the way, who are both wearing pink
(I just made that part up – one is wearing pink, the other wearing purple) which I see
by surreptitiously looking over at them, then returning to this screen.
If painters have wanted over time to return to the materiality of the canvas,
I propose then that poets return to the materiality of the screen, though I have no idea
what this would mean and in fact let’s just forget that, although there’s no way of forgetting,
the thought has already been pushed out and down and around, and it is now cascading
seriously though humorously through your brain, connecting with other thoughts, other
synapses and neurons, and you smile, because you feel I have captured something
going on with you right now, and I really haven’t, unless we are talking in
starkly boneheaded generalities which apply meekly to everyone anyways.
By which I mean perfect in a way, and completely tarnished. Wait, what?
I mean experience is perfect and awful, though this is not an original statement
(see Elizabeth Bishop, etc.) This is the moment when I refer to the fact
that during some point during the writing of this poem I stepped outside the coffee shop
to smoke a cigarette (what a bad habit), and while doing so I thought, while trying
To appreciate the light pink awning of a now defunct clothing store, of a photograph
of John Ashbery taken sometime in the fifties, I’m guessing, and he is posing like Whitman,
his shirt tucked loosely in, his hair artfully tousled, his sleeves rolled up, suggesting
there is work to be done, and there is, though it’s not work like we normally think of it,
and has more to do with a whole life lived as if it was a practice of playing chess
of learning to swim well than just grading papers randomly when one assents again to
which I need to do soon. Anyways, meanwhile, furthermore, we need to write more poems
that capture the meaningful meaningless interstices of meanwhile; how, when the poem ends,
and the writer returns to grading, and the reader returns to whatever it is that they are thinking
about somewhere in their minds, for this poem is getting long, life just goes on dully,
like the person “walking dully along” in Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts,” and it’s a sham
to pretend in any art that life is constantly exciting, bewitching, hypnotic, lyrical, meaningful,
amazing, you understand what I’m saying, there are moments when one’s being is lifted
for moments out of history, or at least there are moments when we tell ourselves there are
such moments, which is to say that most of the things we imagine are intense and uplifting
are probably fictional anyways, though not less powerful because, and then there are the rest
of moments, dusty and patriarchal, under which our being is subsumed by the beautiful
boredoms of existence. In a way, I’m saying that poetry is often dishonest,
by which I mean that it pretends that it’s not artificial, although Stevens and Bishop and
Ashbery, among others, have done a great job of reminding us of the screen, the typewriter,
and everything else that surrounds us as we attempt to say something of importance.