I. Anyone want to tell us what Danse Russe means in English? !Russian dance! Someone else. . . But, I just said it: Russian dance. . . . Someone, anyone? But I already said it, H.K.! He already said it!! the chorus of co- eds chanted in unison They never answer. They don’t know anything. They don’t want to know anything. They haven’t any interest. And what precisely is your interest in poetry, Mr. Regent? You want that I should just sit there and say nothing—in that palpitating verbal impotence?—They know nothing, Henry! They don’t even read! This land was made for you and me, H.K. This is Poetry! About your interest? What—? —It is to tell the world. . .Yes? . . . why poets are so discontented. Poets? Or you, Regent? They—we—are the same, H.K. How will you earn a living then? Teach? Oh, no, sir. I can’t speak in front of people. That’s a big window you have, H.K. I thought I’d just write poetry. I see. Well. Yes. I see. Here’s, here’s a program I created, then; it might help. A floppy disk? Prosody. That’s the nuts and bolts of poetry. I don’t have a computer, Henry. We’ve never had one in the house. The AV lab here at the college has several. I don’t know how. Ask. Regent’s Poem My study is annihilating sense; all those words I excavated poring over lexicons, the practice of memorization. . . The facts are jumbles, my faults bespoken. I precede myself everywhere I go and follow in my own wake. I mistake for praise the patronage people slide me under the table; cajoling, humoring me, as they will a child—tired of his anxieties—a drunk cousin or a dog; coaxing them to go on doing something, anything, to keep out from under their feet. I’m cagey. My grammar goes off half-cocked, hackneyed, difficult to follow, a polished pig it were better to let wallow. My mind and emotions do well to wear a coat of mud to keep off the horseflies, worry and regret. My poem. Uh. It pretends to be classical; it is as my day-to-day sentiments, confused, indifferent, baffled, going first this way, then that; unable to decide anything; unlettered, but prepared to dive in deep anyway, with what varieties of style it memorized last night, and to interpose a dream when needed to interrupt the tedium. . . II. out on the lawn keen interest felt keen interest shown she knelt near and questioned she knelt close and inquired she modulated her timbres to fit her desires he got nervous and smiled he plucked an ant from the bark of a giant oak and swallowed, but his acquaintance, who lamented how into him she had been, were not astonished, well it was finished then Thoughts from the Grail Castle I failed. The grail is still out there somewhere. But I am not the man I think I am. To journey a thousand days, no more than forty-some summers pass, it all passes like a dream. I seem to have forgotten. The guerdon I seek did not fall through a hole into a chasm or get stuck in a deep seam between two lives On the sea it is with me on land it is under my feet in the air I breathe between the infinitesimal combustible bits of fiery atoms of matter and between the smaller parts of these The salamander stuff you attend has its elliptical function in the scheme as one does, dear flower, but never the self one may think of. A token of affection, or more often an imprint of shame . . . . Out of the sky, in the land, over seas come rains and make one forget.
After that semester, during which he’d stopped attending lectures, after the summer beach trip, before fall registration at the new northern university—he still had a girlfriend then—he had transferred already, and she followed; which is the actual tragedy of his career as a poet and a man—he wrote a letter to the dean of the department, who had preferred him as the recipient of a small but prestigious award of several thousand dollars for the next year, and explained that all was changed; nothing could ever be the same: He’d seen a thing he had not imagined possible in a mirror in a hotel room in the middle of the night during a violent rainstorm, after first hearing the knocking on the door and the turning of a lock, and he was frightened. He had prayed the Hail Mary—he did not even know what it was or that it was Catholic—he had read a fragment in a poem—and hid his head under the sheet and intoned until sleep came and the chimeras or whatever they were had gone; and now he did not know where he was or where going, but things would never be like before. He hoped the dean would understand; he must try his best to explain.
He wished the dean was not still upset with him: It was just something he’d had to do—changing schools. His dad wouldn’t pay anymore. He had taken tuition loans and loans for books and board and bed, but declined every penny over needs. He hoped that deed would atone some day, despite what people might say. It saved his property (and his face in his head)—until he drank it away—but made him no more respectable in the end; but by then he’d forgotten everything anyway.
The day he’d hailed her name, Mary got his ass out of stir, but he never summoned her again with the silver ray of prayer.
Self-portrait I knew him . . . He should have been a success. . . . As Marlon Brando put it to Rod Steiger in the cab in On the Waterfront, I coulda been a contender. He coulda been one too. I mean to say he might have been somebody. A terrible thing to say. Obviously! You know, he spent all his time and energy blaming somebody; or trying to get their sympathy. He couldn't live his life like that. You might call him a liar (sometimes he well knew it). He told tales out of school as they used to put it. Today they would say he talked alotta shit. His life was forfeit. He thought of nothing but this, the failings of others, another way of saying he was selfish; he thought of nobody else. Except, as I said, as a reflection . . . He had a striking picture collection: all of him. And he wrote some wonderful poems, about him and his problems. The last thing he sent was a photo attachment in an email: it was no doubt he, naked, across the room, in a fractured mirror, in some cheap hotel, a silhouette of him anyway, but with no details. IV. he fought his critics, who were his family he had no other, save his friends; all complained of his lack of empathy, why should he write about anyone else when his own life was so richly and strangely tragic? twenty-five years later he still did not know whence had sprung his interest in writing poems, and had no ideas about poetry. He did not know what poetry was, or if it was even a thing; he suspected his impetus was something to do with its being less work than writing movies— or doing anything else. He cultivated an unaccountable relish for the composition of critical texts concerning religious culture and the Church of England. he never married never held a job almost died of drink and suicide, added drugs to spice his drink, drink alone wasn’t enough he felt, his guts hurt and he but rarely cried; it’s the price you pay for the writer’s life: martyrdom, impecuniousness, more bypassed than accepted chances, miracles of ruin! although, he was not so dumb as to believe his lies, he just wouldn’t believe nothing but, he was a wretch and mean withal and not even the poet he wanted, though that’s all, if anything: nothing fruited; once, he had been visited by something in the dark, the Anti-muse he supposed it was, and was thenceforth a haunted man, himself a very ghost, condemned, his ruin—his vocation; he never wrote better again than his first attempts at style, and after a while stopped expecting anything on account, left off expecting poetry to pan out or anything at all Write Life I have been tempted to experiment with art, to commit vain repetitions, as I were an avant gardist loosely writing vers libre in the heyday in Montparnasse when there were new things to say and new ways to say them; before the swarms dispersed to the monasteries of higher learning to buy and sell MFAs, loath to suffer the demands of an itinerant muse, —this too an avid wish! vanity swings both ways, —to roll dice for an art unlikely to pay, or for their souls, neither hot nor cold; instead sitting chairs on select committees and editing reviews; for the artist’s life is impossibly lonely. that is called writing the ending before the end. . . . V. Otherwise, he reads in darkened rooms, watches TV and YouTube like me and you feeds the cats when they mew outside and waits the day of discovery the reckoning of the jury wondered who had died and when but did not ask why and didn’t care, and was over fond of twilight and violet and Live P.D. and feared cancer and drank cheap beer and ate avocados and endives with baba ganouj and salmon and capers non pareil and felt revolted at the thought of blood he brushed his teeth in the shower and looked at flowers in guides and went birding on a live stream of Cornell Ornithology Lab feeders online and avoided contact with people who criticized him in his head for his being generally down in the mouth for his being from the accursed South and envied and hated the idea of North which was a special place, affluent, gorgeous, big with affluence and readers galore, and which spawned poets like mushroom spores, there where everything that is has more worth than anything below Fairfax county above the gulf. —A fragment from Regent’s Diary life without God is incomprehensible and God is incomprehensible we’re going to kill each other and mother earth will be safe from us; we will have done what must be done, programmed to self-destruct through our own mechanism Poets should not have thick necks. OR if he must read from the podium he should rather stand on a level with his audience. It’s not a pain in the neck, it’s not philosophy, it’s common sense to exhibit oneself from the most complimentary vantage