Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Out to the Vortex

Mid-January, I was back at my alma mater, Bennington College, in Vermont. I caught the last few days of the residency. I did this for a writing break, and also to get out of the midwest and reflect on my life. What to bring? Books - one for each of my former instructors. I will start this with an excerpt from each -

1. "American Prodigal" poems by Liam Rector


To memory, that enormous bowl of water.
To what we imagined, what sent us off.
To that pitcher, which poured us.

To water and to what we drink nw
Which brings us back
As though we were water to each other.

The plane, the car service, and here I am, at Tishman. 2 years have passed. Walk up the snowy path, night, stars, pines, the sky and smell I remember. Open that black door and there I am - the same benches, the balcony, faded blackboard light - Sven there, in his hat, in his usual spot on the balcony right. Memory of Liam lingers. My name is still known, familiar faces, I see Jack, sit, welcome back. He started when I graduated, now he is graduating. Journal in hand, I write while the faculty reads. David Gates reading a work he thought was no longer in progress, I am in the midst of it suddenly, yet drawn close, intimate, immediate, sex, sex, sex, "hands under sweaters", nakedness. Askold Melnyezuk works in progress about the 70's, Norman Mailer, what he stands for, the library, front lines, bedroom, "weeping while fucking was not a good sign.." Time now to hang at the bar (well student center not quite the same) no lectures due for me, I can do whatever I want. Erin calls me from Boston, a student reviewed one of Ed O's books - she thought of me - Ed has this semester off, first time in 10 years. We will do lunch yes? I forget we are 4 hours apart back home.

My first night in the Alumni House - room #1 - full moon - the trees, so quiet, 6 degrees. I walk back at 11 pm, a bit lost, the half mile at least walk in the plowed snow path the houses all look the same, and find it, around the brick garden gate, to the left...who else is here? I will find out in the morning.

2. "How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love" E. Ethelbert Miller

Space is the Place

Love is the last planet in our solar
system. Your heart crying like the
rings of Saturn. How can we believe
in stars in this darkness? I watch
the sky for your return. Inside my
hands nothing but gravity.

Morning breakfast, trek to Commons, my student id card still gets me a meal. Grad student lectures 8:30 am. Someone references the book "Poetics of Space" - poems that begin in rooms, kind of poetry architecture. I think about the color of my room when I was 10. The color of the sheets, what I dreamed my life would be.

3. "Snow White Horses" Ed Ochester

Robert Bly Watched by Elves

On snowy evenings I like to
drive downtown to place my
cheek against the steel
of the lonely midwestern mailbox.

Tonight I receive illumination
from the street lamps
as I lie in snow
surrounded by elves

lifting their arms, Salud!
Their mittens are filled with snow.
The snow is shaped into balls.
Now the elves run from a ghostly

snowplow plowing through
snow toward us. It is good
to lie in snow, seeing things
invisible to impure men.

Ed, I miss you, your cigars, smoking with you, I will again next time. It is like boot camp here again. I expect to see familiar faces of my classmates, but they are not here. I am already tired, hungry, writing, into the vortex all over again. I do not have any workshops. I cannot sneak a ride to the Blue Ben Diner. I walk to Crossett library and sit by the window downstairs in the law section to stare out the window. Anything can happen here.

I am home away from home. New friends and old. Some students seem a bit enamored that I had Liam as my instructor, they want the stories. I get to know them a bit, and know faculty more. Wine, talk, new possibilities. What happens here, stays here, we are at the end of the world. Late night movie in Tishman, "Love Song" (Cannes 2007) a French musical comedy, perfect for this mix of men/women/trans/straight/gay/bi/poets/novelists/memorists/playwrights mix of everyone where there are no boxes, it just is and is perfect the way it is. How absurd to try to categorize.

4. "Swan Electric" April Bernard

12. Opera Interlude (excerpt)

I feel like explaining something.
When I lived through those days,
my private score was always Brecht and Weill,

oompah-dark and clarinet snaky.
That man I loved had a photograph of Weill
and would claim he was his father.

We had all come to believe in them,
and knew that only they had understood us;
they had predicted us.

How tough and paradoxical and worldly we were;
how still in love with the tuneful
and the heartbroken, but that was before

we had any idea what heartbroken was.....

April and Alice sitting together, your big black furry hat...we had our semester review in the rocking chairs on the porch facing Usden Hall, the open grass lawn and the fireflies out on a June night. I was going from heartbreak to heartbreak myself, and managed to pull through those poems.

Michael Kruger lecture - visiting from Germany. "You dont' find an empty space in Europe anymore.." Translate - a worthy ambition. Notes to myself. A few hundred poems in a lifetime, a few dozen in anthologies, performances, what is to be remembered when it is all done? The Life of Letters.

Create your own opportunities. Always be Closing.

I leave on Saturday, take the Amtrak to Penn Station (layover, hook up with Star, what are the chances that we both need to be at the station?) and on to New Haven to see fellow Benny alum Mary, my Auntie M. A few days to enjoy her hospitality, in the country; relax, see a movie, and visit the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice" (Innocents Abroad- Mark Twain)

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