Friday, March 19, 2010

Act of Kindness

One blustery night during the winter of 1973 I was leaving a meeting at the Party office on W 26th street. This was during the time in which the Communist Party was under siege by Lyndon Larouche’s “Labor Committees.” They had singled out the Party for annihilation and suspected members were being assaulted on the street with baseball bats and numchucks.

In the tiny vestibule, one of the elderly volunteers who haunted the building was in the latter stages of steeling herself against the bitter wind. She had wrapped herself in several layers of clothing, and was struggling to tie a scarf around her neck. She moved slowly and with difficulty.

I didn’t recognize her, and I didn’t know whether she was one of the volunteers who actually worked- answering phones, stuffing envelopes, operating the mimeograph machine- or one of the legion of Party veterans who just enjoyed a chance to hang out all day in a comradely atmosphere. The latter would sit outside offices, trying to engage busy functionaries in conversation, like the old guys who hung around in barbershops without ever getting a haircut. But the Party always honored its own, and Gus Hall would never have stood for turning away these beloved old-timers.

“Would you walk this comrade to the bus stop?” someone asked me. I would. Her name was Rose and she said she’d been ‘working at the Center” since her husband died eight years ago. She took a bus down from the Bronx (why not the subway, I wondered) and left for the day only after being convinced that she wouldn’t be needed any more. She walked very slowly, and as we crept down 26th street toward 6th avenue I realized that she couldn’t see very well. I suddenly grasped how frail and vulnerable she was, and I wondered what I would do if we were jumped by Larouche thugs.

But the walk was uneventful. She talked about her work in the garment industry, and told a complicated story about how the union had once made a big mistake by electing a red-baiting secretary who “wrecked the Local.” I couldn’t tell whether these events had taken place recently, or decades ago, but the bitter injustice was vividly alive to her.

From time to time she asked me a question, mundane things along the lines of “What time is it?” The circumstances surrounding the comings and goings from the Center, even something as innocuous as “What brings you to New York?” or “Where are you from?” was not something into which a volunteer would inquire. And old timers, for all their insatiable quest for conversation, had little patience for idle chatter and social niceties. They had one big topical preoccupation: Their Story. And as far as Rose could tell I was just one more interchangeable young comrade who had kindly walked her to the bus stop.

I waited with her until the bus came. Once she was safely aboard, I walked uptown toward 43rd street, where I was to meet my friend Liz before another meeting. Snow was collecting in skittish little eddies, the cold was bone-chilling, and Rose had left my revolutionary credentials in tatters. I felt like a lame imposter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Dog, Anne Carson

I was waiting for you to get to work
‘A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island’
Frank O’Hara

1 You know the second person in the history of the world
the Sun chose to speak to personally was Frank O’Hara, the
first was Orpheus [me]. You are my Sweetheart said the
Sun. He was sitting on the hood of his truck. Somehow it
was menacing. I hardly knew what to say. I got into the
truck that strange autumn light sharpening all glass and
harm my hands fell off. The Sun got in beside me took my
hands one by one blew into each finger filling it with a
kind of sound. Gave my hands back to me. That was the
beginning of my being interesting

2 I had originally an idea to record the sound of skirts
moving on legs on the runway this blank verse. She was a
model when I first of course no one runs on a runway
but the skirts the legs are like pumas. Desire she said is not
harmful til lips spill it then be careful

3 Tell you a story about the best poem I ever wrote the one I
lost. That page was terrific it slid out of a dream about the
littorals above Europe and me looking down as. As on oh
oceans I had all the answers I was an answer! I was high as
day arising and truth shot out of me like a lark. Years ago.
These are tears I do not use. I lost the page again and again
found it again and again every time I moved finally
captured it in a plastic sleeve put it on top of the TV. A
scrap of paper torn and brownish now some words just
stain. What does it mean the littorals above Europe I never
found out. I look at it fast sometimes Hoping

4 Like any couple we’d sat silent in restaurants staring
opposite ways our pockets stuffed with useless summer
money doesn’t mean we were a pissed palindrome

5 Like any couple don’t whistle I’m not your good dog she’d
say I’d say swimming at this hour you must be mad

6 My fifteen minutes in hell I scarcely remember. I know it
was cold. I saw uncreated things seeping here and there
with roots for ears they hadn’t heard a voice in centuries. I
sang a bit. The very ghosts shed tears (Daily Mirror). Eurydice
limped over. Lawyers arrived reciting conditions. Soon
we were off down the hall me admiring the acoustics
wondering could I get a gig and What’s the phone number
down here I said starting to turn poof shall we say a sad
mischance. All my skin cried back all my wings beat once
and that was that. The story that she said nothing but Who?
is a lie

7 One thing about hell is the echo is fabulous. No sound
studio on earth can give you a transverse magnetisation
leak of less than zero. I stood in the black trees transfixed
and pulsing and her stroking off down the lake so strangely

8 I was. I lost. I sang. I knew. I ever hope for that strange
autumn light again with the good dog again with the
thousands of years. Scrap of [me] off Eurydice torn. Her
number I lost her lark I shot and she a pulse. History never
looks so possible as when leaving a heart spilt among the
stones crying Don’t read it again it was perfect