Fyodor, I think we would have gotten
very drunk together, and that
wouldn't have done either of us
any good. Still searching, but
I haven't yet found any writer
more delighted than you were
to dig into the muck
of consciousness. Others may
dig boldly or conscientiously,
some timidly, but you--
you did it in your prose with glee.
When I read your novels,
I get depressed and thrilled.
I get weary and joyful.
For about 45 seconds,
I may even become Russian.
I visited a "Dostoyevsky House"
they've created on your behalf
in St. Petersburg. It wasn't
bad at all. I bought a postcard
based on a painting of you.
I never sent it to anyone. Jesus
Christ, what you would have
thought of tourists! Lord,
help me: what you would
have thought of my
calling you "Fyodor."
Tolstoy overhead everything
that was said. You
that went unsaid.
Your books are as modern
as Dickens' aren't. You're
a brawler in prose.
You're also dead. What a
goddamned shame. Or is it?
It's so hard to know.
[Esther Wagner (1928-1989) earned a B.A. and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr. She taught at several liberal arts colleges, including the University of Puget Sound. She was a well read, generous conversationalist, colleague, and critic. She co-authored a novel, The Giftof Rome (1961) with one of her husbands, John Wagner. T.S. Eliot was a friend of her father's family, and she became friends with Erle Stanley Gardner, among other writers.]
It's too sad, darling.
But never mind, never mind.
Darling, never mind.
Let's pour a glass of sherry
and some goldfish crackers
and have a nice long chat.
Yes, we knew Eliot--Chicago.
We children referred to him
as Uncle Tom, darling--funny,
now that I think about it.
I always tell young people,
if you're sitting on a tack,
get up. This applies
to bad marriages, of course.
I'd glad you like Jarrell,
darling.. . . One encounters
ennui at mid-career. It
happened to me. If felt I'd
seen it all, read it all.
And for me, his poetry
came along at just the right time.
I don't believe in guilt,
I mean the emotion. A waste of time.
I also don't make any judgments
about people's sex lives--
consenting adults, you know,
and anyway, sex makes everyone
a little mad at one time or another.
Well, yes, it's hard to see
one's friends fall off the perch,
one by one. It's too sad. But never mind.
Get me another glass of sherry,please,
darling, and a beer for yourself--
and of course, I don't allow
beer bottles in the living room,
so do get yourself a glass.
Yes, the death's head on the ceiling,
above my bed. It's morbid to some. Memento mori, darling.
It focuses the mind.
When I'm dying, I should like
to watch Roman Holiday
one more time. Lovely movie.
It's getting dark. And the rain.
It's too sad. But never mind,
darling. Never mind.
Oh, Ezra. --With your crackpot prejudices
and loony economics: straight out of Idaho, dude.
The hick in me recognized the hick in your poetry:
all your learning didn't cover him up.
I never warmed to the picture we got
of you. It was just a picture, an ideogram
of Ezra Pound. Your poetry never warmed
to me. It stayed cold like something
made in a lab. You were a technician
with big ideas. Thomas Edison meets
P.T. Barnum and Confucius. You sold us
your patented brand of Modernism
and almost cornered the market.
Oh, Ezra. --With your rock-drill.
The exercise was more like dynamite
stuffed in drilled holes and lit:
The Cantos are great heaps
of blown up strata. I think I'm supposed
to revere your achievement, but I've
been around hard-rock mining
and know its awful secrets.
You and Frost would make great
room-mates in the Dorm of Immortality.
No end to the pronouncements,
the goddamned sagacity.
The jokes would be few and
not that funny. Plus the grudges,
the paranoia. Between you
and Robert, oh Ezra, a word-in-
edgewise would be apocryphal.
He was asked, by a machine, to rate
his user experience. He did not rate it.
He was asked by advertising, government,
and media (which formed a single entity)
to believe what he heard, saw, and read.
He did not comply. He did read
labels on jars. He turned away.
He liked green light in corridors
as well as green corridors well lit.
He rarely mourned the loss of a
narrative thread. He thought
there was a sense in which
plots should be broken.
Where was John? Where
is John? Is his name
really John, or is it Ian
or Juan? Where is anybody?
Is this the . . .? No,
it isn't. Thinking about it,
he thought his user experience
was inconsequential. The rating-system
did not accommodate such thinking.
Meanwhile, he was trying to break
himself from the habit of thinking,
"What is to be done?"
You might have to fall in love
with the names these pharmaceutical
oligopolies give to medicine--
fantastic nouns with neon
syllables like zan, zac, zole,
perc, pram, lam, and zone. Even
the oligopolies have a
med-moniker: Big Pharma.
It's the synthetic language
of weary magic-acts from last
century plus the detached
lingo of advertising that is
always floating above our heads.
We learn the names quickly when
the stuff's prescribed to us
or when we buy it on the street.
We learn them not at all when
it's not or we don't.
We go between docs and pharmacists
as mere messengers. Our bodies
wait patiently like bovines
for the med-food to be added
to our cuds. Where
science, chemistry, capital,
ailment, and diagnosis meet,
chants from a hybrid incantation
on bottles that are never clear.
Thinking of, among other things, the capital
generated by slaves, I guess it's grossly
appropriate that likenesses of slave-owners
appear on U.S. money. I also guess
that for a majority, it's offensive
to make the connection and, making it,
to mention it. I see the eyes roll
and sense the bile rising. I hear
the naked emperor's entourage
rushing to defend the founding
wardrobe: Valley Forge
and the Declaration are hanging
in the closet, they assert.
Get over it, they advise.
Well, anyway, the printed faces
of slave-owners lie, tenderly
and legal, in my wallet, and
that is how it is.
The Fyris River
is a fine small river--
energetic and direct.
It runs through
in Sweden, I want
to say, but should
instead say energetic
and direct humans
built Uppsala up
around the river,
which they named
Fyris. The stones
and bricks and
water and light and
birds and darkness
all seem familiar
with each other
there in Sweden,
Uppsala, as if
they have worked
things out pretty
well. I did not
however speak to
any fish. I tried
to do so once
when I paused on
a bridge over
the Fyris on
my way to the bookstore
during Book Month or
Reading Month or
whatever it was.
The fish were
Bar codes, mumbling toads, and driving and
driving and trying to beat last quarter's
sales-numbers, trying to pound those numbers
into the ground of the territory: this man
sweats, and thinks, and drinks brown
sugar-water infused with caffeine and
feels the adrenaline rush of listening
to Rush's voice and feeling Rush is right
on everything, he agrees with me, I agree
with him, totally! In his car, this man
is truly alone, like Rush in his
broadcast-bunker. He doesn't care,
this man, because his way of thinking
is we're alone even when we're with
clients, family, and other kinds
of seemingly people. "I like
what I do for a living," he tells people.
"What I hate is paying taxes, of any
kind, and I want the Government
to take its finger out of my ass."
On the interstate highway, however,
his mind is taxed, and it tells him,
"Bullshit. Say to yourself the truth,
at least. You find something that
pays, you do it, you keep doing it,
you like being away from her and them,
and one day the pump goes,
and you go, she and they get
the insurance, and someone else
takes the territory." Meantime,
he switches the noise from Rush
to sports talk radio.