Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Poem

A Rainy Night in a Crowded City

Once, I knew a man who liked to talk to me
Among the things he said was, "The problem
with writing in the first person is that you
always end up with a confessional, and sooner
or later, you're going to get sick of listening
to your own stories." This was in the era of
typewriters and pre-war apartment buildings,
but the human condition was the same
as it is now, at least in my neighborhood:
we were all selfish and preoccupied with
our own appearance (especially the length
and texture of our hair), and we spent
too much time thinking about Who am I,
really, and what do I really want?

And though I may have made up
that conversation, as well as placed it
in the past, you will still recognize
this list of things, few as they are,
that we were interested in back then,
besides ourselves: Celebrity divorces
Baseball scores. When the health food store
was going to get in those Hawaiian
coffee beans that we were willing to
pay extra for. How much the rent
was going to go up next year

Now here is something else he said to me,
the man I alluded to above. And he said it
in a firm voice: "The problem with trying
to gauge anything about the future by conditions
in the present, or conversely, trying to learn
anything from the past, is that we are all idiots"
He had a beard and wore glasses, this particular
man, and he drank all day. Soave Bolla
Sometimes, he kept the bottles and made them
into lamps. I don't know if it was a good idea
to drink so much and then fool around with
electricity, but if something had happened,
I imagine he would have just written it into a story,
in the first person. He was a complainer, this guy,
but at least he worked. He worked all the time

So why am I going into all this now? Because
I have a story to tell—in the first person—and
it needs some context. Here goes: Last night,
when I got on the subway, I jostled a woman holding
a copy of X. When she complained, instead of
hitting her with my shoe, which would have
once been my modus operandi, I heard myself
suggest that somebody reading such an interesting
book could have been expected to be a little more
philosophical about things that happen on a
rainy night in a crowded city. And then—though
it has taken me longer than it should have
to understand that sometimes people say one thing
and mean another—I went home, turned on my lamp,
and with an idiot's enthusiasm, began my work

-- Eleanor Lerman, from The Sensual World Re-emerges