Friday, July 21, 2017

The Renewal Project Is Doomed

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Albert Goldbarth

The renewal project is doomed: because
its funding board’s vice-president resigned: because
the acids of divorce were eating day-long
at her stomach, at her thoughts: because
her husband was neglecting her, in favor of his daughter,
who was dying: because her husband,
bi and edgy, bore an AIDS sore that was ripe
enough with fear and woe to throw this whole
thick network of connections off its balance
and down a hole of human misery. Haven’t we seen it happen?
—when a crowded room at a party was tilted
perilously askew by the weight of two
wept tears that weren’t as large as a housefly’s wings,
that couldn’t have filled a pistachio shell.


It’s like this: because because because,
Sawyer was drunk when he delivered his opening remarks
onstage at Stardome Planetarium. He
stood below a slide show of “The Emptiness of Outer Space”
—stars and planets, scattered like the scantest
motes of dust in unimaginable void—and was about
to make the leap to what percent of us,
our dearly thumping bodies, is a corresponding emptiness . . .
when one foot met a wire that had strayed
outside the curtain, and a wild arc of hand undid
the podium, which canted off its casters sidelong
into the 3-D galaxy props, and you could say whatever
thimble or pustule or hackle of grief was his,
it had toppled the whole damn universe.


Was she a ghost? Sometimes she thought she was
a ghost, transparent, stealing through the lives of people
untouched and untouching. And so she carried a bucket
of burning coals (we’ll call it that for now) against
her breasts; and then she knew she was alive. And
he. . . ?—was just the rusty foxing that an antique book
exhales into dim air, wasn’t that what he was,
oh it was, yes it was, and so one afternoon he strapped
a meteorite to his back, and now he walks the streets
like anybody else. An ageless tribal saying:
If you aren’t given a burden, you must carve own.
An eye will do, if it’s ill. One word, if it’s cruel.
And don’t be fooled by breath: the throat holds up
some old-time blues the way a hod holds bricks.


But she didn’t die of full-blown AIDS
—Sawyer’s daughter. Even so, her twisted legs and limp
are enough to sometimes send him a little
over the blotto line. Tonight, though, after show time,
he’s just soused enough to wander through the mock-up
stage-set milky ways agog with child-wonder:
all those luminescent islands! all that vacuum!
Look: a planet floats, there’s that much cosmos
all around it. A planet! While we . . . we couldn’t
squint and levitate a half inch, not the guru-most
among us. Well, we could: if the laws of the universe changed.
It’s only the Earth that makes us so heavy.
It’s only our lives that keep our lives
from floating off into the nothing.


  1. 1)there is a word omitted here, and elsewhere, from goldbarth's poem, which apparently was first published in the iowa review in 2001

    the version given there has the line as

    If you aren't given a burden, you must carve your own

    the word "your" does not appear in the poem here, or at the poetry foundation site, or at several other locations

    2)here's a snippet of conversation i had with a stranger today -

    "it's exactly sixty five dollars" - said the costco cashier

    "how 'bout that" - i replied

    "good work" was her rejoinder

    we both smiled, even though we knew i had not actually done anything praiseworthy

    3)speaking of apparently omitted words - or were they ? - the homily father justin gave at the mass i attended yesterday was on one of that day's readings, exodus 3:14, rendered into english in a phrasing slightly different from the one i encountered as a child, 'I AM WHO AM'

    4) and speaking of names, congratulations on the domain name extension - long may it wave

  2. more from goldbarth (and still more?)

    while looking for other iterations of 'laws of the universe' to see what versions they had of the 'burden' line, i came across the following - which i took as a synchronistic sign to write to the poet about the typo - i enclosed a stamped self-addressed envelope for his convenience in writing back - if i receive a reply i will post it here

    "Off in the darkness hourses moved restlessly"

    —a typo in Clifford Simak’s A Heritage of Stars

    We believed they were horses; and so
    we saddled up, we rode expectantly
    through the long day and into the night.
    Then we dismounted; and slept; and still
    they continued to carry us
    —the hours. They wouldn’t stop.
    They carried us clean away.

  3. Goldbarth Types!

    part of what i sent him, by snailmail:

    >>I’m writing about a line in your poem “Laws of the Universe”. As published at the Iowa Review in 2001, it read

    If you aren't given a burden, you must carve your own.

    As the poem appeared in
    Combinations of the Universe, and as reprinted elsewhere, the word “your” is absent.

    Is this difference a revision, or a typo? I’m guessing the latter, and that the earlier version is the accurate one, but I hope to hear from you about it – SASE enclosed for your convenience in replying.<<

    after expressing, jocularly, his disappointment that there was a typo in
    Combinations of the Universe, he replied

    "Your letter is the first I know about it. You're correct, of course: the Iowa Review version is right, and the dropping of 'your' is an error. You also mention that the poem has been 'reprinted elsewhere' besides the Ohio State University volume. I wouldn't mind knowing the details on that. Slovenly as I am in records keeping, and happily insulated as I am in my completely offline existence, I often miss out on the ancillary adventures of my own work."