Sunday, September 7, 2014

And There Is Fraud at the Ballot Boxes, Stuffed with Lace Valentines and Fortunes from Automatic Scales, Dispensed with a Lofty Kind of Charity, as Though This Could Matter to Us, These Tunes Carried by the Wind from a Barrel Organ Several Leagues Away

Yes, I skipped John Cage's birthday this year. I went back to previous birthday posts, the music didn't work for me, I let the music down. Happens. I do owe you some links and I finished Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station mid-afternoon Saturday, I needed to think about it at least last night before starting Searches and Seizures today because more Elkin excerpts made me realize it's September and I haven't reread the first of this year's scheduled Elkin. I sense an Elkin Excerpt Throwdown, or will at least try and spark an Elkin Excerpt Throwdown, you should hope so, it's in your interest, you can play too! Or not, that's a fine option too. Don't worry, there will not be an Elkin Excerpt Throwdown. So here, a post I worked on for hours Saturday night and finished Sunday morning to be posted on one of the slowest Sundays of the year, Sundays always the slowest day of the week anyway, the first Sunday of the new Motherfucking Helmetball League season. May Daimon Tiny Shit Snyder's Slurs go 0-16. Here, the original above plus ten cover versions on Mary's show early this morning.

But before the almost certainly not happening Elkin Excerpt Throwdown and the certain rereading of the three novellas of Searches and Seizure, one more excerpt from Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station because the novel's narrator resembles one of the versions of me I feed:

I was amazed to find myself protective of my poetry, comparing options' conduciveness to writing as though obliged to do so by my genius, a genius I knew I didn't have; no duende here, I would think to myself, checking my body for sensation, no deep song. But my research also taught me that the tissue of contradictions that was my personality was itself, at best, a poem, where "poem" is understood as referring to a failure of language to be equal to the possibilities it figures; only then could my fraudulence be a project and not merely a pathology; only then could my distance from myself be redescribed as critical, aesthetic, as opposed to a side effect of what experts might call my substance problem, felicitous phrase, the origins of which lay not in my desire to evade reality, but in my desire to have a chemical excuse for reality's unavailability. But wasn't my relationship with substance also fake? I never injected anything; if I started pissing blood, I'd go to a doctor, not to a bar; I planned to quit everything except social drinking, the appropriate dosage of pills, an occasional, whimsical smoke; I was destined to reproduce the bourgeois family, no matter how much I dreaded the prospect or wanted it postponed. Or was the lie, the claim that my excessive self-medication was simulated; was the lie that I was in fact bound for health and respectability and so should enjoy getting fucked up while I could; had I stepped into the identity I projected, the identity of an addict; had the effort to prolong my adolescent experimentation indefinitely shaded imperceptibly into fearsome if mundane dependence, had mythomania become methomania?




John Ashbery

And in a little while we broke under the strain:   
suppurations ad nauseam, the wanting to be taller,   
though it‘s simply about being mysterious, i.e., not taller,   
like any tree in any forest.
                                           Mute, the pancake describes you.
It had tiny roman numerals embedded in its rim.
It was a pancake clock. They had ’em in those days,
always getting smaller, which is why they finally became extinct.   
It was a hundred years before anyone noticed.
                                                                     The governor general
called it “sinuous.” But we, we had other names for it,   
knew it was going to be around for a long time,
even though extinct. And sure as shillelaghs fall from trees   
onto frozen doorsteps, it came round again
when all memory of it had been expunged
                                                            from the common brain.
Everybody wants to try one of those new pancake clocks.   
A boyfriend in the next town had one
but conveniently forgot to bring it over each time we invited him.   
Finally the rumors grew more fabulous than the real thing:   
I hear they are encrusted with tangles of briar rose,
                                                                                 so dense
not even a prince seeking the Sleeping Beauty could get inside.   
What’s more, there are more of them than when they were extinct,
yet the prices keep on rising. They have them in the Hesperides   
and in shantytowns on the edge of the known world,   
blue with cold. All downtowns used to feature them.
                                                                              Camera obscuras,
too, were big that year. But why is it that with so many people
who want to know what a shout is about, nobody can find the original recipe?
All too soon, no one cares. We go back to doing little things for each other,
pasting stamps together to form a tiny train track, and other,
less noticeable things. And the past is forgotten till next time.
How to describe the years? Some were like blocks of the palest halvah,
careless of being touched. Some took each others’ trash out,   
put each other’s eyes out. So many got thrown out
before anyone noticed, that it was like a chiaroscuro
                                                                                 of collapsing clouds.
How I longed to visit you again in that old house! But you were deaf,   
or dead. Our letters crossed. A motorboat was ferrying me out past   
the reef, people on shore looked like dolls fingering stuffs.
keeps coming out, about the dogs I mean. Surely a simple embrace
from an itinerant fish would have been spurned at certain periods. Not now.
There is a famine of years in the land, the women are beautiful,   
but prematurely old and worn. It doesn’t get better. Rocks half-buried   
in bands of sand, and spontaneous execrations.
                                                                      I yell to the ship’s front door,
wanting to be taller, and somewhere in the middle all this gets lost.   
I was a phantom for a day. My friends carried me around with them.

It always turns out that much is salvageable.
                                                                     Chicken coops
haven’t floated away on the flood. Lacemakers are back in business   
with a vengeance. All the locksmiths had left town during the night.   
It happened to be a beautiful time of season, spring or fall,   
the air was digestible, the fish tied in love-knots
on their gurneys. Yes, and journeys

were palpable too: Someone had spoken of saving appearances   
and the walls were just a little too blue in mid-morning.   
Was there ever such a time? I’d like to handle you,
bruise you with kisses for it, yet something always stops me short:   
the knowledge that this isn‘t history,
                                                          no matter how many
times we keep mistaking it for the present, that headlines
trumpet each day. But behind the unsightly school building, now a pickle
warehouse, the true nature of things is known, is not overrided:   
Yours is a vote like any other. And there is fraud at the ballot boxes,
stuffed with lace valentines and fortunes from automatic scales,   
dispensed with a lofty kind of charity, as though this could matter   
to us, these tunes
                            carried by the wind
from a barrel organ several leagues away. No, this is not the time   
to reveal your deception to us. Wait till rain and old age   
have softened us up a little more.
                                                    Then we’ll see how extinct
the various races have become, how the years stand up   
to their descriptions, no matter how misleading,
and how long the disbanded armies stay around. I must congratulate you   
on your detective work, for I am a connoisseur
of close embroidery, though I don’t have a diploma to show for it.

The trees, the barren trees, have been described more than once.   
Always they are taller, it seems, and the river passes them   
without noticing. We, too, are taller,
our ceilings higher, our walls more tinctured
with telling frescoes, our dooryards both airier and vaguer,
according as time passes and weaves its minute deceptions in and out,   
a secret thread.
Peace is a full stop.
And though we had some chance of slipping past the blockade,   
now only time will consent to have anything to do with us,   
for what purposes we do not know.


  1. Okay, I've held my tongue long enough. Why did you choose this year to ignore/forego DC United? After years of hand-wringing, self-examination about being committed to season tkts to St. Benny and the Sux? It baffles. Is it because they lost the VW logo? Why aren't you revelling in their first-placeness? Gloating even.

    Fine metaphors abound. And I do mean fine!

    1. ↑ I've written about this, he's the abridged: I don't feel like dressing in uniform and going to mass to sing at mercenaries any more. Plus the organization has done little things to piss me off. And I bought season tickets this season with the hope the team would be as successful as it has been so I know it's not suck on the field influencing my loss of faith.

      ↓ I think the narrator, and I, agree with you. It's certainly what he, and I, are accusing ourselves of.

  2. Partially due to your influence (don't panic, there were others), I've ordered Atocha Station & 10:04.

    Let's take a run at your quote above: Fraudulence is a feature not a bug of the protag's selfhood/self-identity. His relationship to something he fancies as his authentic self is best characterized as ironic. Fashionably Brooklyny post-modernity with an ironic beard and a custom coffee order. Guy's undoubtedly on a first-name basis with his barrista.

    "I am fraudulent" = His authenticity. He can blame it on CAPITAL or whatever, but families pre-date bourgeois capitalism by multi-millenia. Biological survival + health, etc. is a simple physical feature.

    Saying "I am fraudulent" and seeking to lay blame up and down the economic spectrum is annoyingly disingenuous and, frankly, a quite shallow approach to selfhood and life.

  3. Wow. First you grant me an excuse to listen to Roxy Music and I come away humbled beyond (crap, I've run out of the requisite energy to find yet another noun I haven't used to death!)

    You are a mensch in every sense.

  4. Aye, a mensch, indeed. Alas, you have not explained to Jim et al your "uniform" apostasy. As Landru will note, this is not the first time . . . .