The Life I Have Led (Now That I’m Dead)

Kevin Kopelson

PART ONE

*

I’ll ponder the life I have led

in verse that to some seems ill bred –

as I rather warm

to limerick form –

and ponder it ’til I am dead.

*

Just when that’ll be, who’s to say.

My health, I am told, is okay.

I can, although, drink

much more than you’d think:

a cocktail or two, twice a day.

*

I might, then, get killed in a car

while driving away from some bar,

or – think: diagnosis

of liver cirrhosis –

while not even going that far.

*

I couldn’t, though, die in a duel –

like Pushkin, a hot-headed fool.

Most gunplay’s an act –

it’s simply a fact –

that writers like me find uncool.

*

What is cool, we think, is to rhyme

while telling tales quite of their time –

this Pushkin did once:

the tale of a dunce,                 

in sonnets that some find sublime.

*

The coolness of his sonneteering,

beyond the sublime engineering:

it palliates stuff

that’s painful enough;

in prose, though, ’twould be much too searing.

*

Take Eugene, that dunce from above –

and duelist, when push came to shove:

He shot his best friend

and then, in the end,

must learn how to live without love.

*

Another such tale, Golden Gate,

by Indian-born Vikram Seth,

has sonnets expose –

amongst other woes –

a car crash as one woman’s fate.

*

(A roommate of mine, as I’ll show,

once mated with Seth – from below.

Or so I inferred

from sounds that I heard;

what those meant it’s hard not to know.)

*

But sonnets sublime will not do

in writing my life out for you.

I’ve woes, I must say,

but none that outweigh

the silliness there, through and through.

*

(One instance of this, once again,

that romance my roomie had then.

Who knew such a churl

could catch like a girl!

Thus, screwing swam into my ken.)

*

And silliness – basically –

in limerick form is what’s key.

Plus cleverness, too.

Mine’s that of a Jew –

but need this be said here by me?

***

Since none of my grandparents drank

I don’t have those Russians to thank

for loving vermouth,

far more than is couth,

and vodka, well chilled but not dank.

*

“They’re Russians?” I sense you just cried.

Well, yes. But not when they died.

All four, as just kids,

or kids who were Yids,

had fled to the Lower East Side.

*

It’s there that they paired off and wed.

It’s there that my own folks were bred,

with Dad as a brain

and Mom as insane.

You see now where that pairing led!

*

“Your mom was insane? Oh, come on.”

Well, listen to this, then – anon –

right after I tell

the ills that befell

the Russians, and made them all gone.

*

The first one, alas, had the pox.

The next two had artery blocks.

The last of the four

just lost a long war

with cancer – or so claimed her docs.

*

My mom, though, posed no doc a riddle,

and age-wise lived long past its middle.

At four score and ten

is when she said when,

her corpus still fit-as-a-fiddle.

*

(That wasn’t a slip to tell shrinks.

I do know “say when” concerns drinks.

So don’t get incensed

or rally against

such wordplay, you ignorant finks.)

*

And yet she – ’twas long before beepers –

did something that made us say, “Jeepers!”

Mom went to some guy,

a stye in one eye,

and bade him replace both her peepers.

*

He didn’t, of course. No such doubling.

She’d claim, though, with glee over-bubbling,

“Of these eyes the owner

at first was their donor!”

Such credence – in lies – was most troubling.

*

So too was the rate of their utterance.

But any response of tut-tutterance

would only enflame

this nutty old dame,

and goad her to further such nutterance.[1]

*

For none of this, really, was said

by Mom to know what’s in our head.

She didn’t converse.

She’d merely disperse

whatever she thought of, instead.[2]

*

It’s not that I don’t do this, too:

tell stories that may be untrue,

and not care a jot

to learn if you spot

the falseness of stuff that I spew.

*

The difference, in my defense:

The stories I tell make some sense.

Plus I’ll give a hint,

if only in print,

of where all their lies may commence.

*

On balance, though, Mom was quite rad –

a fact that was not lost on Dad.

She’d never conform

to any old norm,

Thus showed us it’s good to be “bad.”

*

I’d say that the best case of this

was no one would call Mom a “Miss.”

With gender she fucked,

in clothes we thought sucked,

by boyishly finding her bliss.

*

Now Dad, as I’ve said, was quite smart,

with scores that were way off the chart.

Let’s take his I.Q.:

’Twas so high, we knew,

it made him a modern Descartes.

*

We didn’t, though, hear this from him.

Dad’s view of such bragging was dim.

It’s Mom who had told

that test score of old –

“It’s one sixty-one!” – then seemed grim.

*

Her own ones, we guessed, weren’t high.

“They aren’t,” said Dad. “But do try

to not give offense.

Let’s not let Mom sense

that you know these scores. She’ll just die.”

*

We did try, I now must aver.

Just who – you may wonder – “we” were:

my sis, nicknamed “Mick,”

her twin, nicknamed “Rick,”

then Bob and then Steve and then, er …

*

’Tis I, I admit, who came next,

a birth that left Steve sorely vexed

because I had – maybe –

displaced him as “baby.”

Or maybe because he’d been hexed.

*

The twins, this same year, were sixteen,

yet both began college so green.

Mick went to Brown.

Rick went uptown:

Columbia, man, was his scene.[3]

*

“Just what year,” you ask, “was that, Kevin?”

The year that saw Ocean’s 11;

and Butterfield 8,

a film that I hate;

and, too: The Magnificent Seven.

*

My sister, at Brown, studied Russian.

Of this I recall some discussion:

“The girl must be lying

to say she’ll be spying

and we have to be all hush-hush-ian!”

*

My brother, Rick, learned architecture.

On this there had been some conjecture:

“The guy’s Howard Roark!

He’ll do for New York

what Roark did – but leave off all lecture.”

*

(At sixteen years old, I first scanned

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

I found Roark insane.

Then Rick told me plain,

“That author’s a fraud, her works bland.”)

*

I think Mick did spying. You see,

when asked this, she’d just say, “Who, me?”

If so, I’m not sorry.

I loved Mata Hari,

just not how her death came to be.[4]

*

And Rick, I’m so glad, never made

a building like those Rand portrayed.

For his ones were small,

and never that tall:

“objectivist” manner – belayed.

*

And Bob, who was thirteen that year,

had talent that dazzled my ear.

He sure beat the band,

on our concert grand –

a player, I thought, without peer.

*

He dazzled the eyeball as well

with fingers in flight fleet as hell.

At times, though, Bob’s art

would just break my heart,

like when he played Liszt or Ravel.

*

When he left for college, our Bob,

the school that he chose did some job

of making him think

his shit didn’t stink.

’Twas Harvard that made him a snob.

*

But that took me years to perceive.

Took decades for me to believe

some critics who’d claimed

Bob’s playing is maimed –

or something a “boob” could achieve.

*

Back then I just did what I could

to play the piano that good.

I even did Juilliard,

that pre-college truly hard

where Asians commanded the ’hood.

*

In those days, a whole lot of talk

concerned the prodigious Gwen Mok.

For me, Lisa Choo

Showed off who was who.

I wish you could hear her play Bach!

*

The climax of this avocation

was getting a standing ovation –

in Carnegie Hall!

I soloed there, y’all,

as part of a school graduation.

*

The school involved here was Bronx Science,

a high school for nerds (no defiance).

Some Asians attended,

But their command blended

with that of the Jews (an alliance).

*

But now let’s go back long before

I got all those cries of “Encore!”

Already, by ten,

I lusted for men.

So female friends had I galore:

*

First Carol, then Kirsten, then Sue;

then Mallory, Mona, and Pru;

then Anne and Elyse;

then Bev and Bernice;

now, best of all, came Lisa Choo.

*

Steve, too, was a “fag” – I inferred.

For of this, from him, not a word.

I’d just see him using

some methods of cruising

that nowadays seem so absurd.

*

Bob, too – no surprise here – is gay.

as he himself told me one day:

“I do rather find

That young man’s behind

Delectable! Wouldn’t you say?”

*

My parents knew all this was so –

because I had outed each bro

(along with yours truly).

So call me a stoolie.

They took the news, well, “like a pro.”

*

The twins are not gay, I am sure.

Perhaps they had taken some “cure” –

though any such meddling,

like snake oil peddling,

is something that I can’t endure.

*

I’d crushes on many a person,

the first of these: the David Hirson.

The first and the last;

for all that time passed,

my heartache does steadily worsen.

*

I met him soon after I played

that Carnegie Hall serenade.

This had been through

our friend Lisa Choo:

same prep school, for them, and same grade.

*

The prep school is Rye Country Day,

and David you know from that play.

You know the one.

Think: couplets for fun.

La Bête: or, The Beast of Broadwáy.

***

We lived in the borough of Queens.

The house was quite small (think: sardines),

which I didn’t know.

I just liked the flow,

and found the size fine – for preteens.

*

The previous owners, the Lieders,

who must have been avid old readers,

had left us their books,

and some, from their looks,

were porno for what you’d call “breeders.”

*

I read all of those, without fear,

but found almost all of them drear.

That Tropic of Cancer,

for one, failed to answer

the needs, I recall, of a “queer.”

*

Just one of them did do the trick.

A scene, which most readers find sick –

two “sparks” cutting capers –

gave “Fanny Hill” vapors

but me my first sense of hot dick.

*

(I must have been, I don’t know, nine?

I do know I’d just found “my line,”

both sexually

and, as you will see,

professionally – which was fine.)

*

Don’t think, though, I liked only smut,

or liked just narration-by-slut.

For each Henry Miller,

or some such non-thriller,

I’d read books and not bust-a-nut.

*

From Balzac, to Hugo, to Sand,

from Pushkin, to Chekhov, to Rand,

from Dickens to Taylor,

from Melville to Mailer,

a flagrant addiction got fanned.

*

So too did one not to most fiction.

I craved all bel canto depiction.

And also verismo,

despite its machismo.

Twixt those two, I couldn’t sense friction.

*

But why love both Baum and Bellini?

And why love both Proust and Puccini?

Escape from one’s being

is so very freeing;

through art, one becomes a Houdini.

*

Yet too from such artwork as theirs

one locates oneself, unawares.

It’s specially so

for “affects” – like woe –

one hadn’t yet known that one shares.

*

And this is regardless of gender.

Some affects involved, oh so tender,

may dominate females

far more than the he-males –

no reason, you guys, for a bender.

*

I sense some guy saying, “Say, what?”

Consider a work based on Scott –

it’s by Donizetti,

at whom throw confetti

for mastering mad-scenes a lot:

*

The “queerness” I felt myself gain

derived, in large part, from the pain

of Lammermoor’s Lucy –

that “diva” role juicy –

a bride who was bloody insane.

*

I had me some great English teachers,

who taught us what else fiction features.

I found them all funny,

and cute-as-a-bunny,

and, best of all, kind-hearted creatures.

*

Miss Deutsch taught how what might be true

depends on some guy’s point of view:

A Separate Peace,

that preppie release,

cannot show what Phineas knew.”

*

Scavone taught, on fiction canonic,

a fact that I found quite the tonic:

“These words by Genet

don’t mean what they say;

his ‘Jean’ here is being ironic.”

*

And Dragnet taught: images tickle.

Or rather, when sexual, prickle.

“Now, look: Ethan Frome

is eating, at home,

a meal of just donut and pickle!”

*

Two women who taught me to play

piano were – how shall I say? –

were not quite that prudent

at helping a student

whose skill set was merely okay.

*

The first of these, called Mrs. Graa,

a surname that rhymes “sis boom bah,”

did little but make me –

how long this would take me! –

play … everything … slow …, tra-la-la.

*

The Juilliard one, just as lazy,

did something I’d also call crazy.

Miss Parker liked chidin’.

“Pretend you are Haydn

and I am your Prince Esterházy.”

*

And Steve all the while was abusing me.

His sense that I “sucked” was infusing me.

The names he kept calling

kept having me bawling

and knowing he wished to be losing me.

*

These names came with real sticks and stones.

My heart broke and so did my bones.

It seems that my birth

was the thing on Earth

for which there’s no way one atones.

*

’Twas heartbreak, indeed, not just ache.

I loved him, as maiden loves rake.

Just why this was so,

I’m not sure I know:

seduction, he’d not undertake.

*

And yet there were times, once or twice,

when Steve would do something quite nice,

like suddenly bringing

a record of singing

by opera’s Leontyne Price.

*

By then, though, while spoiling our fun

of having an All-Ivy run,

he’d left for a college

to get the same knowledge

that Rick had: how buildings get done.

*

That college was the MIT,

as hard a school as hard can be.

Since Steve there did thrive, dears,

he stayed on for five years.

But I – elsewhere – stayed only three.

*

With my turn, that run did resume,

which irked Steve – or so I’d assume.

The college was Yale,

no longer all male

yet still where one’s gayness could bloom.

*

My own did, but more on that later.

This part here I’ve got to tell straighter:

from when I matriculate

to when I articulate

a plan to become quite the satyr.

*

I too was sixteen at the start.

At nineteen, I thought, I’ll depart:

“My brain is much thicker;

I can, though, be quicker

at getting my Bachelor of Arts.”

*

(Be quicker, that is, than my kin,

plus youngest of all – so I’d win!

I should have gone slow,

I now, alas, know.

But who can undo what he’s been?)

*

By then, I would dream, I’d become –

the ball bearer out of a scrum –

another Glenn Gould!

I wasn’t yet schooled

in knowing such dreaming was dumb.

*

(Another young dreamer was there

Who dreamt he’d become a Molière.

But he had the chops

To never write flops.

And that’s why ‘La Bête’ est super.)

*

I’d major in music so as

to fathom in full all that jazz.

Some technical work,

which no one can shirk,

should add, to my playing, pizzazz!

*

Such work would be octaves and trills

and scales played so fast there’d be chills.

Think: keyboard technique

to match the mystique

of opera’s Beverly Sills.

*

I’d also take classes that nurse

my need for some prose and, now, verse.

But not ones on “theory” –

of these I was leery –

than which almost nothing sounds worse!

*

Those “Yale Deconstructors,” back then,

were seen as the smartest of men.

One couldn’t see why.

Yet, later on, I

would put such a sword to the pen.

*

(This method – I’ll try to condense –

says no human language makes sense:

A J. Hillis Miller

becomes Phyllis Diller,

yet seems not to cause much offence.)

*

I’d also begin taking French

 pour dire,say, “jeune fille” and not “wench” –

a huge undertaking

whose goal was self-making:

to be a good francophone mensch.

*

(The work involved there I’d not funk;

the classes involved, I’d not flunk.

And yet, I admit,

my French is now shit,

except when I’m horny – or drunk.)

*

The core of the major, I’d say,

was why do we play what we play?

Or why make these sounds

within such strict bounds,

and not make them any which way?

*

The goals of the major were clear:

to see why, but also to hear.

And there I’d fall short,

I have to report,

for, sadly, I hadn’t an ear.

*

And as for achieved virtuosity,

I’d never now manage velocity.

My scales, done apace,

were quite the disgrace:

too late, in late teens, for precocity.

*

The best of the English I’d take:

Ms. Laurens on Milton and Blake.

The ear I possessed,

now put to her test,

hears music that word use can make.

*

(As good as my French would become,

My sense of cette “music” was numb.

It’s only the mother tongue,

and not any other tongue,

I hear like some tune you can hum.)

*

The worst was “Victorian Prose,”

on Carlyle and … God only knows.

’Twas taught by Dwight Culler,

whom we called Quite Duller;

the man made some manic kids doze.

*

As one with a voice to admire,

I joined the new Yale Concert Choir.

This thing was quite toney

but led by a phony

the school would eventually fire.

*

I joined, too, a lyrical frat

our government once thought all that.

The Yale Russian Chorus,

with not one clitoris,

did Eastern Bloc ditties – but flat.

*

And out of that group second-rate

I found me a brilliant new mate.

The guy’s name was Dan,

a real ladies’ man

I secretly wanted to date.

*

So here was my crush number two.

Like Hirson, one not fully Jew.

(So that’s what I like?

An Aryan kike

who’s tops at whatever they do?)

*

A gay friend I made there, named Bill,

would later become deathly ill.

A WASP from DC,

he’d get HIV

from someone I wish I could kill.

*

Another gay friend, at that age,

was terribly struck by the stage.

But told that, in fact,

“You can’t even act,”

this guy would direct – in a rage.

*

(He once brought a girl – her name’s Ruth –

to chorus rehearsal. Forsooth!

She’d beautiful hair

and devil-may-care,

Um, chutzpah – which some found uncouth.)

*

Some victims of this, let’s be clear,

might later have quite the career.

Just take David Pierce,

that thespian fierce

who’d star as La Bête’s “Elomire.”

*

Before that – and this brought him riches –

he’d star in a tale of two bitches:

those wry Brothers Crane,

who’d treat the insane,

on Frasier, to Freudian pitches.

*

One reason I liked that friend, Jesse:

His dorm room was not at all messy.

For me, neatness counts.

It even amounts

to sprucing up space far from dressy.

*

One reason I disliked him: bossy,

and even with no acting posse –

a trait I would hitch

to parents born rich,

then craven towards sons being saucy.

*

One reason I pitied him: hairy.

The idea then of sex with him: scary!

He did make one pass.

I said, like an ass,

“I’m just not that kind of, um, fairy.”

*

’Twas not I for whom Jesse pined.

He craved David Hirson (“That mind!”)

and David Pierce too

(“Those eyeballs of blue!”)

plus David Abell (“That behind!”).

*

Or maybe he said, “Oh, that fanny!”

And let me say something uncanny:

The “David’s” at Yale

outran all names male.

They filled every nook, every cranny.

*

(Oh, David Abell. All were smitten.

The guy, who conducts now in Britain,

back then played the fiddle.

He also did diddle –

a pretty precocious sex kitten.)

*

I’d female friends too, two or three,

whose friendship was unalloyed glee,

just like at Bronx Science –

save one noncompliance:

a girl who was crushed out on me!

*

I knew this, you see, even though

I couldn’t believe I was beau.

I don’t say this smugly:

I thought I was ugly.

Her love letters said, “’Tisn’t so.”

*

And then David Abell (whom that friend

may have loved even more in the end)

said so too – right out loud.

(Now my head’s in a cloud.)

We then did stuff – did “spirit expend.”[5]

*

“And just what year,” you ask, “did you pair?”

That of Breaking Away and of Hair;

of The Rose and The Jerk

which are rather good work;

and of – this one’s the best – Being There.

***

My next step will make you guffaw

or – secretively – drop a jaw.

My Gouldian dream

now all out of steam,

I entered Columbia Law.

*

In order my father to please

I’d taken the LSATs.

All tests such as that

to me were old hat;

I aced them with consummate ease.

*

I had, though, not one single clue

whatever it was lawyers do.

I’d known none, you see.

And as for TV:

That show Perry Mason? Perr-who?!

*

Columbia, though, said “No way!”

when asked – by me – if I could stay

in one of its dorms.

“Just look at the forms.

We don’t house New Yorkers per se.”

*

My folks said, “Just live here with us.”

I’d visions of subway and bus:

Commuting to school

would take, as a rule,

an hour or two – sometimes two-plus.

*

Plus how would I keep on cavorting

with David Abell? It’s not sporting

to act as upsetters

of only begetters

by having them overhear … courting.

*

For I’d only go just so far –

such conduct, for David, subpar.

We’d heavily pet;

no sodomy yet.

Just frottage – then come as you are.

*

Some Chelsea queen long past his peak

now had me move in – for a week.

The guy, about fifty,

used come-ons so shifty

they’d make a Cistercian shriek.

*

(We’d met at a bar called “The Sling,”

a thing I’d not known was a thing.

I looked like a waif.

He seemed, to me, safe,

and said I should “give [him] a ring.”)

*

I then moved to Morningside Heights,

a room with my school in its sights.

This roommate, a lady

who had to be eighty,

would talk all the time … of last rites.

*

(We’d met through a friend called Sayid,

who said he’d a yaddah in need

of help with the rent.

“Would [I] be a gent

and be there to do that good deed?)

*

When she died, old Jesse – now frugal –

said, “Join me; I live on MacDougal,

at one-twenty-nine.

It’s really quite fine.”

That street’s in the Village. Check Google.

*

(And Steve? He’d just moved somewhere funny:

that land made of milk and of honey.

Some kibbutz now his doom,

I had had to assume

that he didn’t care about money.

*

He moved there alone, I should say,

yet knew no kibbutzniks are gay.

Plus what would he do

as an atheist Jew?

I couldn’t believe that he’d pray.)

*

The digs Jesse got, he said later,

were built by some horrible traitor:

that guy, Aaron Burr,

who, sensing a slur,

gave Hamilton’s guts quite the crater.

*

The first floor: a trendy café.

The second: where we two would stay.

Above us – how cool –

lived Mercedes Ruehl,

when not out for work in L.A.

*

My classes at school – holy shit!

No way could I chew what I’d bit!

Take Contracts or Torts:

They’re all bloody sports

Where I was the prey that got hit.

*

I’d always be asked to opine

on cases the prof would assign.

And these were obscure;

I couldn’t be sure

of what’s up in any one line.

*

But luckily – whew! – there were others

who had they, like me, had their druthers

would read only tomes

like Edith’s on Fromes

or Fyodor’s on all those odd Brothers.

*

(Poor “Zeena,” her pickle dish broken;

of sex – duh! – was that thing a token.

Poor Pavel, a bastard;

that father so plastered

he’d do things ’twere best left unspoken.)

*

Ken Rabb, who had used to screen flicks

in art houses known for their picks,

and ex-model Tim,

and ex-Mormon Jim,

were “others” I liked for their shticks.

*

This Ken’s shtick: he’d always declare,

to wind up a sentence, “So there!”

This wasn’t in class;

he isn’t an ass,

plus profs there would certainly glare.

*

(But these days, he doesn’t take pains

to get any thoughts onto trains

and then out them in speech.

All of that’s out of reach,

for Alzheimer’s battered his brains.)

*

On weekends, I’d flee from that hell.

I’d stay up at Yale for a spell

to hang out with friends,

then make sure to cleanse,

then diddle with David Abell.

*

To my mind, no need there to screw.

To my mind, the love here was true.

And, oh, so much bliss!

But something’s amiss,

I knew without knowing I knew.

*

(I know, I do know: it’s jejune

for someone like me to impugn –

to start in on kvetchin’

like I was Faust’s Gretchen –

some burster of love’s first balloon.)

*

Then one time, around Hallowe’en,

I’m up there – but he won’t be seen.

“What’s up?” I implore.

A note on his door.

“Whatever on Earth could this mean?”

*

No answer, by letter or call.

So did I then say, did I bawl,

“This David we like

can go take a hike!”?

I bawled no such thing then at all.

*

And nor had I gotten one back

from Steve, to whom, taking a whack

at ending despondence

by kind correspondence,

I’d written a letter stamped “S.W.A.K.”

*

A call from Abell, I have reckoned,

came Friday, November the second.

(One film of that year:

My Brilliant Career.)

The phone rang, or rather, it beckoned.

*

“We’re done now,” said David Abell.

Just why, though, he chose not to tell.

I found this quite stunning.

and so I went running

to Queens, where my parents did dwell.

*

The morning thereafter: dong-ding!

The sound of their doorbell: it’s ring.

Some man we can’t place.

Some look on his face.

We sign for some telegram thing.

*

My brother in Israel, it read,

was now, undeniably, dead.

Un – de – ni – ably.”

And re – li – ably.”

It’s just like those Munchkins once said.

*

Just how, though, it chose not to say.

We thought, then, there must be foul play.

A totally mad,

or totally bad,

kibbutznik had led Steve astray.

*

But Mick – now in Queens – grabbed the phone.

She calls the kibbutz, starts to moan.

Steve has, then, been killed;

his death, though, unwilled:

some “auto-erotic” act, blown.

*

You all no doubt get how Steve died:

stood up on a stool and then tied –

but I’d no relation

to such masturbation.

To me this was just suicide.

*

The body came home the next week.

Then clothing came, too – shabby chic –

with other such chattel.

But as for my prattle,

That letter I wrote, sounding bleak:

*

It wasn’t with what was returned.

He hated me, is what I learned.

(Had Steve even read it?

Or did he just shred it.)

So all of that love I had – spurned.

*

This despondence of mine became worse.

It is not, though, the vice of this verse

to don widow’s weeds.

For those kinds of screeds,

see my books, which all wounds I’ve had nurse –

*

like the one I called Beethoven’s Kiss.

I’m quite smart there, but also remiss.

There’s a chapter, I fear,

so unbearably drear

it’ll have you cry, “Don’t reminisce!”

*

Oh, and then there’s the one – called Confessions

where despite a whole lot of digressions

I sustain the lament

you just saw me present –

about Steve – plus some other depressions.

*

Therefore, let me just move this along

to some stuff that is well worth a song.

(I’ll summon some muse now.

But which one to choose now?

Oh, oh, I know: Dave Hirson, ding-dong!)

*

You have probably heard that old saw,

which some vegan could turn into law,

“Just an apple a day

keeps the doctor away.”

Well, that’s all I’d then cram down my maw.

*

I did feel, “God forbid, I am fat!”

(It appears I was quite far from that.)

My regime of the fruit

was, I thought, in pursuit

of an abdomen, sexy – and flat.

*

(The true goal of this nutty plan

was not to become quite the man.

“His psyche’s in pain,”

my shape might explain

to anyone who it would scan.)

*

Pounds fell off, yet I sobbed, “Man alive!

At five-ten, I’m still one-thirty-five!”

This bewildered my dad,

who, my figure to pad,

took me out once a week to some dive.

*

Not a “dive,” no. That’s me being pert.

At some steakhouse – all waiters alert –

he’d cajole me to eat

tons of bread and red meat.

Plus whatever they had for dessert.

*

Jesse too did his part – as a cook.

I’d come home, heave a sigh, get the look.

“You have lost your caboose –

so, here, eat this nice mousse,”

he would say, and no argument brook.

*

I now also of course hit the gym.

This looked odd, as I looked so damn slim.

Some guys there, lifting weight,

made my heart palpitate;

bit by bit, thoughts of David grew dim.

*

One such guy – quite the hunk – asked me out!

Asked me in, truth to tell, “for some trout.”

I pretended that fish

was my favorite dish

and then followed him home, full of doubt:

*

“Does this hunk really like what he sees?

Does he think that I’ve got expertise?!

As a bottom? Or top?

(As a he-man? Or fop?)

And, which am I? Oh God, help me please!”

*

We embrace when we enter his pad.

As a kisser, he’s not at all bad!

Now this hunk – God, he’s tall –

leads me down a dark hall

and says something I deem to be mad.

*

In this place, understand, I’m a gringo,

an old lady who’s never played Bingo.

So when hunk here lets loose

with, “Let’s make us some juice,”

I assume that he’s talking gay lingo:

*

“Just what sex act, or what kind of friction,

has subjected itself to such diction?

That word ‘juice’ must mean jizz;

but beyond that – gee whiz!”

Some ideas come, but none with conviction.

*

We now reach the door to the space

where sleeping – and loving – take place.

Yes, that kind of room,

or so I presume.

Imagine the look on my face

*

when hunk hits the light and I see,

instead of a bed, a settee;

an old Frigidaire;

an apple; a pear;

some oranges – say, two or three.

*

And so here’s when this muddled reducer,

As the guest of a muscled seducer –

I can still see the brand

like the back of my hand –

is led up to his “Jack LaLanne Juicer.”

*

Jesse Green, never one to get buff,

found that bookstores are sexy enough.

“Oh, pooh-pooh to all fitness;

For, with God as my witness,

I shall find me a writer who’s rough!”

*

And so that’s how he brought home the date

I first mention in limerick eight:

a hairy young Brahman

whose lyrics uncommon

are just littered throughout Golden Gate.

*

Oh, I know. Yes, I know. Yes, I know!

I had said, up above, that I’ll “show”

what they did on a bed.

I’m afraid I misled;

I saw naught of this laden plateau.

*

What I heard, though, I’ll try to supply.

(David Hirson: Some words, please; I’m dry.

But why, now, this blockage?

There shouldn’t be shock-age:

just some guys, plus some lube – then some pie.)

*

Jesse Green offered getting them snacks.

Vikram Seth said, “Would you just re-lax?!”

“I’ve not done this before,”

said the former, no whore;

“just some oral libidinal acts.”

*

Vikram moaned; Jesse grunted in pain.

Vikram groaned; Jesse grunted again.

They washed off in the bath –

and then both beat a path

to where I utter deafness did feign.

*

“I have made une tarte tatin!”

now cried Jesse, revealing a plan

to get ploughed, if not wooed,

then to dish out such food

as “The French Chef” might serve to her man.

*

(Having been raised as a prude,

Julia got wed, then got lewd.

Hubbie now tips,

licking his lips,

“Why don’t you get cordon bleu-ed?”)[6]

*

I first saw what they’d done in a scene

from a shocking – and louche – magazine.

Here were stills from some flick.

(What’s that stuff? That looks sick!)

It was called – could this be? – Fuckin’ Teen.

*

(This was not a thing I myself bought.

I’d no dough, no desire to get caught.

This was Jesse’s possession.

And now here’s a confession:

I had swiped it! Permission unsought.)

*

But mostly I’d hit all my books:

those law ones on contracts and crooks.

These make no damn sense.

Or maybe I’m dense;

meet Kevin, the king of the schnooks.

*

I’d pass all exams, nonetheless.

Just how this could be, I can’t guess.

So too did Ken Rabb.

“So there!” he’d now gab.

“But, Jesus, I can’t take the stress!”

*

We’d de-stress by running amok

in bars where we’d not give a fuck –

I guess I should say

that Ken Rabb is gay –

and “trolls” would be trying their luck.

*

We’d never have sex with such guys.

We just enjoyed hearing their lies,

like “You two are hot!”

These helped us a lot

with egos a bit undersize.

*

(And so here we are, sooner than later:

It was there I became the creator –

hence these true tales of yore

shall careen rather more –

of my plan to become quite the satyr.)

*

One reason my ego was small –

I hesitate saying at all –

was due to a shrink.

That ignorant fink

saw gayness as something to stall.

*

I had seen him, at first, for the pain

that Steve’s death had been causing my brain.

(I rather enjoyed –

as would have old Freud –

the man’s surname; though Jewish, it’s “Train.”)

*

But he claimed what needed relief

had nothing to do with my grief.

“While cruising for fun,

all gents you must shun.

Find ladies!” was Train’s main motif.

*

I felt I should dump him tout suite.

But Dad said, “Look, this is my treat.

Just give it a whirl –

and maybe some girl

will sweep you right off of your feet!”

*

Poor Dad, I thought, suffered enough.

“Let’s do this for him, though it’s tough.

Just tell Train your dreams

and see it if seems

they show why you don’t dream of muff.”

*

They didn’t, alas and alack.

And then – what broke this camel’s back –

my shrink starts infusing

a book I’m perusing.

The shock is too much. (“He’s a quack!”)

*

The novel’s called Whacko Seduced.

(Its title’s too long; I reduced.)

The writer’s named Schaeffer.

I’ve never felt safer –

except for, let’s see now … with Proust!

*

Then, suddenly, who should appear –

I can’t cite the page now I fear –

but character “Train” –

(Is that not insane?) –

the heroine’s shrink! (“No, it’s queer.”)

*

I asked mine, “Oh, say, Doc; a quiz.”

Was Schaeffer a patient of his?

“Oh, yes,” he now said.

I wished he were dead –

and, reader, I dumped him. “Gee whiz!”

*

said friend Ken later on. “Do beware,

lest some other such nut job does dare

to so brutally probe

your, um, left frontal lobe.

Just read Proust, if you must. And, so there!”

*

“Apart from that privacy breach,”

said Jesse while guzzling a peach,

“whoever could trust

a Train who’d train lust,

or practice what homophobes preach?”

*

So, on to my next fiddle player.

Like Judy by Louis B. Mayer,

I’m asked to a party

by pals rather arty.

I worry my clothes should be gayer.

*

(It’s Garland I meant by that “Judy” –

still “Gumm” at the time. Such a cutie;

’twas Arthur G. Freed

who now took the lead

in making her look like a beauty.)

*

I don all my gayest apparel,

a bit like that hatter by Carroll.

I get to the fête.

I grab something wet –

a cocktail that smells of the barrel.

*

I’d guess it’s a drink called “Manhattan” –

“so smoke on your pipe and put that in,”

to quote Miss Anita,

a “Shark” señorita

whose English is really, like, Latin.

*

(I’d not seen, on stage, West Side Story.

Perhaps both my folks thought it gory.

I had, though, seen Fiddler

its Tzeitel, Bette Midler;

her singing, of course, con furore.)

*

A beautiful man with red shoes

approached me and muttered, “You lose.”

I thought, “What the hell?!”

I then said, “Do tell” –

my diction still un-dulled by booze.

*

I had lost, it was now my suspicion,

some unclear – or unfair – competition

re: how one, by God,

should choose to be shod.

“Do you dis-like this footwear rendition?”

*

My own shoes were black Jack Purcells;

attached to them, two jingle bells.

The message, I thought,

not too overwrought:

He’s loud, but it’s not like he yells.

*

“I don’t think you heard what I said,”

this looker with loafers of red

now told me in turn.

I later would learn …

Let’s leave as suspended that thread.

*

Paul Friedman, he chatted me up,

suggested we leave now, to “sup”

at some dive that he liked.

Could my drink have been spiked?

I think what I answered was “Yup.”

*

His favorite writer? “It’s Zola.”

His favorite breakfast? “Granola.”

(Paul now pays for my meal,

just because “that’s the deal.”)

His one true vocation? “Viola.”

*

The same wood – which I’ve “fiddle” yclept –

At which David Abell was adept!

“I must have a thing

for players of string,”

was what thought through my brain now had crept.

*

While learning that instrument’s ropes

and nourishing concert-stage hopes,

my host tended bar

at somewhere not far …

and acted on various soaps!

*

So “you lose” had not been his mots justes.

“Your Manhattan was badly produced;

all non-Tennessee whisky

is just too goddamn risky!

It’s ‘j’accuse!’ that I said. Let’s get juiced.”

*

(As a Knoxville-born Jew, Paul was proud

of all liquor that state law allowed.

I had felt the same way

for a thing called “Cel-Ray,”

which New Yorkers would drink – quite un-ploughed.)

*

I now knew that “juiced” just meant “plastered.”

But drunkenness, I’d not yet mastered.

So I asked if, instead,

we could just go to bed –

while feeling a bit like a bastard.

*

We retired to Paul’s small pied-à-terre

and commenced having quite the affair!

Think I just sucked him?

Reader, I fucked him –

to desublimate author “Jane Eyre.”

*

Our affair lasted just half a year.

I can’t think this and not shed a tear.

Paul was good. Paul was smart.

Paul was fun. Paul made art.

Paul seemed childish for reasons unclear …

*

“And that’s why I must break it off,”

I reasoned to Ken, who’d then scoff.

“You’re out of your mind!

What’s ‘childish,’ I find,

is nit-picking people you boff.”

*

Paul just laughed when I now said we’re done.

“Are you nuts, you old son-of-a-gun?”

Well, possibly so.

I do know this, though.

As a pal, Paul was second to none.

*

Coming soon was my school graduation.

So I’m forced to secure occupation.

One offer I get

seems not a bad bet:

a large firm where I’d do litigation.

*

The firm was what’s known as “white-shoe.”

Don’t know what this means? Here’s a clue:

’Twas Chadbourne & Parke,

two monikers stark,

and neither of which names a Jew.

*

(There’s far more than that to detest.

Its locus, though, really impressed:

the RCA Building.

From entranceway gilding

to “Rainbow Room” glitz, it’s the best!)

*

I’m forced, too, to cram for “the bar.”

Don’t pass this: attorney subpar.

I pass it just fine.

All set, now, to shine:

my law firm’s most brilliant young star!

*

(I was rather young, then; it’s true.

My age at the time: twenty-two.

Not yet an adult,

I’d almost exult

in taking an optimist’s view.)

*

I’d need my own place – somewhere grand.

I find one on newly-made land.

I’m now a proud renter

near One World Trade Center.

What more could a yuppie demand?

*

My sister gave beautiful chairs.

My folks, that piano of theirs.

If only … if only …

I wasn’t so lonely.

Contentment, it seemed, comes to pairs.

***

It is not my intent to upset,

for Dave Hirson’s done great as of yet,

but it’s time I now choose

someone else Second Muse.

I now choose Nathan A. Carterette.

*

Much like Hirson, this new pal of mine

has a fondness for wordplay divine.

Plus he’s almost as queer

as yours truly, I fear.

Plus he’s read all of Proust – line for line.

*

Unlike him, though, Nate’s yet to be told

the whole tale that this text does unfold.

(Every old pal has heard it,

although otherwise worded.)

So its content, for him, bears no mold.

*

Unlike him, too, Nate’s tops at piano;

sings as bass – or else lofty soprano.

He can dish out the dish;

he can drink like a fish.

So let’s nail this, man, mano a mano!

*

A first for me, which I’d been shunning:

forego the old gym and start running.

I’d awake, hit the street,

brand new Keds on my feet.

(Those waterfront views were just stunning.)

*

I now also wore clothes that did fit

(all those hand-me-downs, bros, were for shit):

four new suits from Bros. Brooks.

Hey now, there’s some good looks.

Should some killer wear these, I’d acquit.

*

(’Twas Ken with whom, friends in cahoots,

I’d chosen the wonderful suits.

Plus five oxford shirts.

Plus ties wide as skirts,

though thin ones, I thought, were the beauts.)

*

I had also begun reading Proust,

a new English translation produced

when Kilmartin revised

what Scott Moncrieff devised.

That big book gave my brain quite the boost.

*

With the running, I’m faster than fast.

With the clothes, I’m a grownup at last.

And the Proust makes me itch

to be French, to be rich,

to now live my life large – in the past.

*

Monsieur Swann, par example: What a guy!

Why should he have been he, and not I?

I have taste, I am told;

I love artwork that’s old.

Plus some mélodies make me just cry.

*

Et Odette de Crécy – ooh la la!

Why should she have been she, et pas moi?

I serve tea – tea for two;

I use Brit words like “loo.”

Plus chrysanthemums? So la-di-da!

*

And who’d ever dare to disparage

the landau she used? (It’s a carriage.)

Madame Swann, now, of course,

could afford – horse by horse –

to flaunt how she’d made such a marriage.

*

My carriage, alas, was less classy;

the transit involved, far more massy.

I’d have to commute –

in some brand-new suit –

on some ancient underground chassis.

*

Those subways: My God, they were loud.

Those riders: a horrible crowd.

When schlepping to work,

just don’t be a jerk.

Just think, now, “I’m riding a cloud.”

*

If only one lived quite as free

as Swann of the Île Saint-Louis,

one’s constant employment:

the search for enjoyment –

all thanks to a trust fund or three.

*

As free as, too, old Jesse Green,

with wealth not believed until seen.

I’d seen he’d had millions,

perhaps even billions

bequeathed to him at seventeen.

*

The work assigned first by the firm

seemed fine, for a biblio-worm;

I’d look up some torts,

then write up reports –

for men who’d not yet made me squirm.

*

For aid with this task proletarian

one had, close at hand, the librarian:

Ms. Thomasch, Jeannine,

eyes aquamarine,

and manners quite contra-vulgarian.

*

Also there – and I swear this is true –

an old chum (with “those eyeballs of blue”):

David Pierce, the old chum,

paralegal-ing some

just before his great Broadway debut.

*

He was not there to aid in my task.

He helped “partners” alone, should they ask.

I though asked for a date.

He said, “Um. Okay. Great.”

It began with the Suite bergamasque

*

a piano piece by Debussy

that now sounds, I admit, rather twee.

When I played “Clair de lune,”

Dave said, “Spare me that tune.

Let’s just smooch, you old jeune bel esprit.”

*

(Are you shocked now, Muse Hirson et al.,

to learn “Elomire” came to that ball?

Are you somewhat upset,

Second Muse Carterette,

to see “twee” there? What absolute gall!)

*

There’d be no second date after that …

that soufflé, which just fell rather flat.

But, hell, we didn’t care!

We were both … debonaire!

Curiosity slaked; no dead cat.

*

Now, a lawyer there – possibly queer –

who had mastered the Hammerklavier

in his hometown of Bonn –

much like old Ludwig “van” –

seemed to like me and … Let us be clear:

*

I would only be, sometimes, conjoined

with Herr Bastuck, westfälischer Freund

even now it upsets –

when we noodled duets.

He was straight. My poor heart was purloined.

*

Yet despite this absurd non-requital

we two worked up a four-hand recital:

first Mozart, then Brahms,

about which I’d qualms,

and then Schubert – I’ll tell you his title:

*

the Fantasy, done in F minor.

I still know of no duet finer:

that haunting refrain;

that voice in such pain;

that structure! Uncanny designer.

*

The concert was in my own pad –

and wasn’t at all, you know, bad.

Herr Bastuck had lingered

o’er parts oddly fingered,

which spruced up my skill set a tad.

*

Our guests there comprised three odd groups:

the kinfolk, the friends, and the snoops!

Two firm-folk took tours

of several drawers.

When caught they just sneered and said, “Oops!”

*

Just what were they were hoping to find?

Some proof of a queer state of mind?

“An ascot! A dickey!!”

“This case isn’t tricky;

these clothes show it’s best he resigned.”

*

My new office mate, Valerie Bell,

had opined, “There is no way in hell

They’ll cheer boys-in-the-band;

just last summer they canned

two such men who when asked chose to tell.”

*

(It was legal back then to fire gays,

if you happened to loathe our louche ways.

This was stopped by decree

in two thousand and three –

a reform that deserves naught but praise.

*

I refer here to just my own state;

non-New-York law, I couldn’t relate.

But you’ll find it, I’m told,

by now being so bold

As to Google “where work when not straight.”)

*

Valerie Bell, though she’s Black, had to cope

with one partner here – truly a dope –

who, a “nigger joke” tester,

then repeatedly pressed her,

“Isn’t that one a hoot?” She’d think, “Nope.”

*

He once did this to me, sure enough:

launched a joke to determine my “stuff.”

This was at a big lunch.

I then followed a hunch.

I said “I’m Black” – and left in a huff.

*

The Rainbow Room was the location;

Bill Mathers, the guy’s appellation.

Some clients were there,

who seemed not to care –

confederates of a white nation.

*

Mostly, clients we had were just awful,

and our work for them somewhat unlawful –

like, well, using our skills

to excuse oil spills

that had turned lively gulls into offal;

*

like defending the makers of fags

that had turned lungs of takers-of-drags

into pits full of tar:

“It’s just so bizarre

they got cancer, those chain-smoking hags.”

*

So the firm treated “homos” and “coons”

much as if we were atonal tunes

in a work by Delibes;

and, as for us “hebes” –

the most brilliant, as if mere buffoons.

*

But one’s own work, one soon came to judge –

a position from which I’d not budge –

did not require brilliance,

just sordid resilience:

One was bored; one was stressed; one’s a drudge.

*

This seemed un-true, one now did opine,

for what Rick did (it’s building design)

and for being a spy

(or what Mick did, sensed I).

So then should one just leave one’s salt mine?

*

But the twins by this time had got hitched

and made kids – by whom they were bewitched.

Even Bob, though he’s gay,

went that normative way.

Maybe that’s why those jobs weren’t ditched.

*

Now Herr Bastuck got married, as well:

a Miss Nancy, his bride – Southern belle;

his best man, it was I –

a New Amsterdam guy;

and the venue, some Dixieland dell.

*

Like Miss Frankie at Jarvis’s wedding,

I sensed something – through tears I was shedding.

They’re the “we,” I could see

If not say this, of “me.”

Or else where else on Earth was I heading?

*

(I had not yet – in print – been beguiled

by that tale of a motherless child.

But I had seen the flick

where her cousin who’s sick

is portrayed by young Brandon deWilde.)

*

And this was just when I called Ruth,

that old friend of Jesse’s – forsooth!

I say “when,” but beware

(here’s a hint – love affair):

It’s also just why, in all truth.

*

So Ruth is a Jew – and a jeweler!

(Could that be a job I’d find cooler?)

She worked near where I did,

friend Jesse had guided.

“As what?” “As a rare-metal tooler.”

*

I phoned what he said was her number.

She said I’d disrupted her slumber.

I asked for a date.

“To-night? Okay. Eight.”

I’d played it as cool as cu-cum-ber!

*

So Ruth asks if I’ll meet her friend Gary.

This would frustrate my purpose: to marry.

She has beautiful hair.

She has dressed with some flare.

She’d be cool – o’er some threshold – to carry.

*

“No, it’s you whom I’d care to enchant.”

Ruth resists … but then says that she’ll grant

me this one oddball wish.

Oh, look, here comes our fish;

it’s the Sole à la Oscar Levant.[7]

*

What charm did I have, I now wonder,

that ripped Ruth’s resistance asunder?

Did she think that I’m pretty?

Did she think, “It’s a pity

this boy should commit such a blunder.”

*

(“Does he have any theory of mind?”

you might ask if you’re not feeling kind.

I myself wouldn’t know.

I just go with this flow –

ever onward, not looking behind.

*

That is not how I wrote all my books.

Are those in here, by hooks or by crooks?

I wrote them – discursively –

a bit too recursively,

going back, back, and back … with my looks.[8]

*

Are the rhymes then throughout this here scrawl –

are the rhymes, um, redundant at all?

Have lines already ended,

say, “behind”? The word’s splendid.

Maybe so. I just cannot recall.[9])

*

We now gave, as Dad said, it a whirl.

I made love with this lover-ly girl –

yeah, yeah, yeah; I’m no fun;

that one rhyme has been done –

with this, Jesus would say, priceless pearl.[10]

*

(I am quite well aware I wrote “with.”

Was this just some self-flattering myth?

A cad would write “to.”

Could that have been true?

The old lawyer in me takes the Fifth.)

*

But how could I possibly do it?

There wasn’t, I think, that much to it.

I guess when you’re young,

and rather well hung,

the love-making comes … Oh, just screw it.

*

Now, I then felt – Muse David, Muse Nate –

I would have to say, not all that great.

My most salient impression

of our eighth or ninth session:

It’s like dis-liking something I ate.[11]

*

How had Ruth felt? I don’t really know.

Glad we hadn’t gone on with the show?

That we’d different drummers?

That our sessions were bummers?

If only the guy had gone slow?[12]

*

It was now that some news being spread

did first truly get into my head:

Any sex that I’d had –

even good – could be bad,

could have meant that – quite soon – I’ll be dead.

*

Le mot juste for this mindset is “dread” –

At its worst when I’d lie there in bed

late at night, all alone,

wide awake, rather prone

to just wishing I’d died in Steve’s stead.

***

But the very next summer … parade!

My friend Bill – from that chorus – had bade

me come watch him hurl flags

with some friends – also fags –

while a band marched behind them and played.

*

They had come to NY from DC

for the fête called “Gay Pride ’83.”

Well, the boys in that band,

being gorgeous and grand,

somehow beat all their pride into me.

*

And the name of this band – you’ll guffaw –

was Thor-eau-ly allusive yet raw,

that odd adverb a clue

transcendentally true.

It was “Different Drummers.” Haw-haw![13]

*

(Dearest Bill. He’s my very first friend

to get knocked off by AIDS in the end.

And the others? Won’t list them.

But I’ve missed them. I’ve missed them.

It’s just something I can’t comprehend.)

*

I was now, I felt, totally gay.

I now publicized this – hip hooray –

although not at the store.

They’d have shown me the door

and without any moment’s delay.

*

Having come out to one and (near) all,

I decided, the following fall,

to start having some fun –

as in college I’d done –

by accepting Euterpe’s (re-)call.

*

So I joined a huge “choral society,”

which sang Bach, Brahms … and “pop” for variety.

I did have fun there;

Our leader had flair,

and performance caused no real anxiety.

*

At first came Bach’s B-minor Mass,

a work I’d not known from my ass.

I loved it – like that

right off of the bat.

Plus our leader conducted with sass.

*

I had noticed a tenor there. Bingo!

(His full name, I soon learned: Douglas Wingo.)

I loved him too as well.

He too me, I could tell.

So together we’d both learn “love’s lingo.”

*

(I’ll explain, in due course, that odd quote.

It relates to a book that I wrote

and to something by Wilde.

No, not Brandon deWilde.

I mean Oscar, that author of note.)

*

Doug had what in the South’s known as “charm” –

qhich is niceness that borders on smarm.

He’d a voice quite angelic.

He wore ties psychedelic –

Which, alarmingly, caused no alarm.

*

Young Doug’s face was the face of that “stranger”

Alfred Hitchcock had placed in grave danger

when, one day on a train,

he met “Bruno” – insane.

For he looked like, as “Guy,” Farley Granger.[14]

*

Young Doug’s soul, though, is what drew me to him.

It seemed wounded. It seemed like I knew him.

I sensed some huge loss there.

I sensed, well, criss-cross there.

He’d a brother. Leukemia slew him.[15]

*

Young Doug hailed from, in fact, the Old South,

which was clear from what came from his mouth:

verbs like fixin’ and ain’t,

or like might could and cain’t.

He would even mean “drought” but say drowth.

*

As a Baptist who’d just seen the light

and – in college – recoiled in fright

from first filling his lungs

and then “speaking in tongues,”

Doug was drawn by my pre-Christian plight.

*

He was drawn, too, to making his mark

as a painter of canvasses stark.

But the gallerists, critical,

wanted work that’s political,

or at least (think: Jeff Koons) that’s a lark.

*

Poor old Doug found them all rather rude.

(Of course, nobody likes getting booed.)

“So do me with your paint,”

I said, lacking restraint,

“looking leftist – and totally nude.”

*

He chose not to portray me that way.

(There’d be others who’d do so, some day.)

Doug, too, did other work.

He performed, “like a Turk,”

raising funds for some groups – mostly gay.

*

One was People with AIDS Coalition.

Self-reliance as such was their mission;

but that took some dough

from Jacqueline O. –

who would donate her best tiny Titian.[16]

*

Doug had one friend, as big as a rhino,

who just happened to be an albino.

Beth had wit; Beth had poise;

but she made too much noise.

Beth was also, you see, quite the wino.

*

A would-be-Joan-Sutherland freak,

poor Beth often cried, sounding bleak,

“I can’t be her clone.

I don’t have the tone!

I do, though, have all the technique.”[17]

*

And so, due to non-diva biology –

You must trust me on this here chronology –

Beth turned coloratura

into scholar bravura;

she pursued what one calls “musicology.”

*

I did not think Beth liked me that much.

I assumed she’s a fag hag, as such:

With Doug as her beau,

she’d rather I go …

fuck my-self – and then not keep in touch.

*

(I didn’t fuck Doug, nor Doug me.

Please make of this what it must be:

We’d each lost a brother

now sought in the other.

Past frottage lay incest, you see.)

*

Doug’s mother – divorced – liked me, though;

also vodka (to Big Beth’s Bordeaux).

And I liked her back.

She’s smart as a tack …

plus wounded – my best-loved com-bo!

*

And as for my own fami-ly:

I think they liked Doug more than me.

It’s not that decriable;

his charm’s undeniable,

where mine was a tart cup of tea.

*

All my own friends loved Doug quite a bit,

or they thought – by compare – I’m a shit.

As for Ruth, an artiste,

artful Doug was a feast –

at which I should just serve and not sit.

*

I now must report a migration.

I took myself on a vacation!

With Proust well in hand,

I left our fair land

to travel throughout the French nation.

*

I went from Combray to Balbec,

a town where I met a vieux mec.

“Please call me Mémé,”

he said sounding gay –

then gave me pinch on the neck.[18]

*

In Paris I saw Sainte-Chapelle

and met there a girl called Michèle,

a pal, I’d discover,

of primal ex-lover –

and heartbreaker – David Abell.

*

They had met when he served as au pair

for some people whose home he did share.

She too worked for the dad,

plus she had her own pad

just above them – and off Quai Voltaire.

*

Though she’d rather have had a caesarian,

Michèle worked as legal librarian.

She felt drawn to the stage –

where she’d be all the rage –

to do comedy some find contrarian.

*

The whole trip was a dream that came true,

which one wouldn’t have thought it could do.

For the Proustian deal

is that dreams aren’t real,

and so dreamers – awake – become blue.

*

I came home. Doug moved in. I now think

this was done much too quick. In the blink

of an unseeing eye,

I now lived with a guy

who’d decided to paint my walls pink!

*

(Sometimes things will have happened – left out –

in between certain stanzas, no doubt.

Mind those gaps, or do not;

I could not care one jot.

Total plot isn’t what I’m about.)

*

I return now to work, pinkly shocked.

But my desk, which I’d locked, is unlocked.

Where’s Valerie Bell?

Perhaps she could, well,

some real good explanation concoct.

*

I slide open my drawer. A break-in?

All my papers are messed up – or taken.

Now Valerie’s here.

She looks rather queer.

I had never felt quite … quite this shaken.

*

“When you,” she explained, “were away,

Bill Mathers barged in here one day.

The shithead said ‘scat!’

And so I did that.”

His snooping? “For something that’s gay.”

*

But what might this be? Leaves of Grass?

My pamphlet on how to plow ass?

My “Dear Abby” clippings?

My snapshots of whippings,

with leathermen acting real crass?

*

I got drummed out that same afternoon.

You might think I fell into a swoon.

I did not; I’m no punter.

I just called a head-hunter.

“We will find a new job,” she said, “soon.”

*

Which is not to say this was no trauma.

No one needs in their life such a drama.

(If France was a dream,

then this was a scream.)

I now needed my dad – and my momma.

*

They both took me out for some steak.

(Doug too came with us, and had cake.)

Dad spoke of “the gall.”

Mom fumed, “Fuck ’em all!”

They’d never, I sensed, me forsake.

*

I can’t say that Doug, then, would fume.

I hadn’t come out of his womb.

(Not that he had one,

I hasten to add. One

gets read, but one can’t tell by whom.)

*

We now found – as quick as a quark –

that “new” job on which to embark:

a firm near Grand Central,

its south side – or ventral.

So fuck you, old Chadbourne & Parke.

*

The name of this firm, I’ll just say,

Quite tersely, is “Curtis, Mallet.”

The full name, quite long,

I can’t put to song;

won’t scan, nor will rhyme any way.[19]

*

Apparently, all I’ll be doing

concerns now some Arab who’s suing

two brothers – the Hunts.

Both terrible cunts,

with “futures,” I’m told, they’ve been screwing.

*

My new office mate here I do like.

He’s a guy I should call, for short, “Mike.”

What we’ll do in that place

is, we’ll both work that case.

As it’s otherwise, “Guys, take a hike.”

*

All this work we’re to do, if you please,

would be drafting – for reams – “legalese.”

This was sound preparation

for my later vocation;

I’d find scholarly writing a breeze.

*

(What I’m reading right now, as I do this?

Let’s see: Proust, once again. Oh, you knew this.

Well then, also Montaigne,

who’s a bit of a pain.

but where fat is concerned, he can chew this.)

*

“They say he’s from Saudi Arabia,”

said I of the Arab. “Plus maybe a …”

“A gay guy,” Mike said.

“He’s rich, but unwed;

a billionaire blind to the labia.”

*

“Which reminds me,” Mike added. “Pray tell

if I’m ever as noisome as hell.”

“As noisome? What’s that?”

He ended the chat,

“I have no sense at all of, well, smell.”

*

Oh, and Mike didn’t care that I’m gay.

(He is straight, as was clear right away.)

In fact, no one there did.

So from no one was hid

Where my own sordid preferences lay.

*

The brothers, called Nelson and Bill,

had struggled their bunkers to fill

with silver commodities –

those two were such oddities –

in large part it seems for the thrill.[20]

*

But they deigned not to swallow the cost

of the futures transactions that lost.

But hello! (Or howdy!)

An unwitting Saudi

Might just do so, were those to him tossed.[21]

*

I just couldn’t quite, well, understand

how they managed this trick they had planned.

My intellect fails,

or rather it flails,

When some math – on me – makes some demand.

*

(One was good though at math as a teen.

In, say, algebra I proved real keen.

Trigonometry I

found as easy as pi –

if in calculus limits were seen.)

*

There was more to the trick, I concede,

though the Fifth (re: this fact) he might plead.

No innumerate dupe –

this here counts as a scoop –

Mahmoud Fustok, the Arab, can’t read!

*

An illiterate dupe, then, thus hunted

by two Hunts who’d before Fustok shunted –

“Oh, don’t worry, just sign!”

(dotted line, dotted line) –

fuzzy contracts that we now confronted.

*

Just what year was this now? That of Splash,

where Tom Hanks and a mermaid act rash;

of Romancing the Stone,

where Mike Douglas, alone,

and a gem-eating crocodile clash;

*

of some film where a public-school toff,

fond of rubbing – with classmates – one off,

first gets outed, then caned,

and then, feeling the pain,

moved to Moscow … to cry in his quaff.[22]

*

I cry in my own, seeing that.

A homophobe is such a … rat!

Can’t take anymore.

To settle the score,

let’s do … something … somewhere. And stat!

*

At this point, I just happen to hear

of an organization – it’s queer –

that defends civil rights

of some queer folk in fights …

and gay lawyers should come volunteer![23]

*

So I have me a too dry Martini,

while humming an air by Bellini,

then hie myself down –

it’s just across town –

and meet the Director, Tim Sweeney.

*

We talk and Tim seems to determine

I’m keen to kill anti-gay vermin.

I now meet one “Abby.”

She’s funny, she’s gabby,

her brother’s a star! Pee-wee Herman!![24]

*

“Have I got a partner for you!”

cried Abby before we were through.

“Like you he’s a Yalie,

and vaguely Israeli,

plus smart as an Einstein – or two.”

*

New volunteers first worked in pairs,

on various courtroom affairs.

This way, we were vetted

and got our feet wetted

by old ones with something upstairs.

*

But Evan can’t be that much older.

He is though much smarter – much bolder.

He’s fearless. He’s funny.

He’s campy. He’s sunny.

He gets me! And so, no cold shoulder.

*

Well, the first case we get, sadly, features

the attempt of a state to can teachers

who appear to be gay –

or accept us that way.

“Why should kids be exposed to such creatures?”

*

This case was for us not much fun. [25]

But others were ones that we won.

And, as we two could see,

we were now chers amis!

His surname – in French – is Wolf-son.[26]

*

A second friend (also named Evan)

emerged from the same choral heaven

in which I’d met Doug.

As cute as a bug,

bemused by both Doug and Doug’s Kevin,

*

this Evan – the surname is Schwartz –

has hobbies that warrant reports.

He buys toy giraffes,

and not just for laughs;

he bakes tons of difficult tortes,

*

which turn out delicious if tart;

he practices – “Kev, it’s an art!” –

a dance form that’s square

(think: do-si-do there)

and learns all its figures by heart.

*

But now that I think– once again –

of “Ev” in his bolo back then,

the dance, to be fair,

was not all that square.

The partners he “turned” were all men.

*

One partner turned into – no quitter, man –

a partner for life named Bob Fitterman.

Bob’s hobby – for kicks –

needs yarn and two sticks.

This knockout’s a kind-hearted knitter-man!

*

His bold sweaters – in cable – were stunning

and so I too now hit the yarn running.

I got me some sticks,

then turned all Bob’s tricks.

(Please forgive – if you can – all this punning.)

*

But it’s high time I mention Diane,

a Columbia chum with a plan

to fly solo. But, hell;

she had no clientele.

So I got her a spot – as one can –

*

at the firm. A bit older than I –

she had married some terrible guy,

raised two kids, and then fled

from that conjugal bed –

she was nonetheless toothsome and spry.

*

As she wasn’t assigned to my case,

a routine – this was daily – took place:

We’d have coffee at seven

and then lunch at eleven,

each encounter proceeding apace.

*

What arose from these meetings diurnal?

For Diane, I’d say feelings maternal –

not what Beth felt for Doug,

which I’d call (sounding smug)

a faghaggery quasi-infernal.

*

And, too, I felt a bit like her son –

no surprise there when all’s said and done.

A laddie whose mommy

is as they say balmy

will pursue pseudo-moms, one by one.           

*

Diane’s ex, by the way, is Brazilian –

an ID I now see as reptilian.

But perhaps I am wrong

to malign such a throng,

and that man was just one in million.

*

And another firm friend, if you please,

did compatriots proud – Taiwanese.

She called herself “Grace”

so we’d not lose face.

For an Anglophone, Yachueng’s no breeze.

*

Grace already had gay friends galore

but I guess needed one or two more.

And so Douglas and I,

as both nelly and nigh,

were enjoined to enlist in that corps.

*

We did this, I’m happy to say.

Grace Hwang – the poor thing – passed away

at sixty or so.

That’s too young to go.

I’m almost that age too today.

*

For that corps Grace was more of a boss

than a mom. She could angrily toss

off a “Listen, you pervs;

I just said bring hors d’oeuvres!”

We’d just ask, “Do you need any sauce?”

*

Soon a temp – one yclept David Gall –

started work at the firm, I recall.

Grace was quick to insist

that he, too, should enlist.

He was young. He was hung. He was tall.

*

Out of all of the corps – butch or femme –

he’d emerge as the crème de la crème.

Grace soon wanted a child.

Would he help? Gall just smiled.

David Hwang now emerged – full of phlegm.

***

Do you know what at this point I need?

A third muse, one whose first name is “Reid”

and whom, were I old Zeus                                                                          

(fairly spry, fairly spruce),

I might scoop up like young Gany-mede.

*

Young Reid Dempsey – foreshadowing here –

is a student I’ve taught. He’s so dear,

and so clear, and so clever …

Well, it’s safe to say: Never

did that Plato have one who’s his peer.

*

And so, sing, my three muses divine –

all together now, all in a line –

of a move Doug was dreading,

of our subsequent wedding,

of some other stuff. Sing, but don’t whine.[27]

*

It seemed time now, I felt, to say ’bye

to that yuppie abode in the sky –

the abode that I mean

was on floor seventeen –

as my rent there had gotten too high.

*

You see, Doug, living there, paid no rent.

What he earned – at some job – was still spent

on his painting supplies,

for the starkness – one sighs –

that no gallerist would represent.

*

But don’t … Oh, please don’t get me wrong.

I mean no contempt here, in song.

I loved all that art.

It’s stark … but it’s smart.

It’s wounded, as Doug is … but strong.

*

Plus Doug did do one canvas of me.

What else more could a boy want to see?

In this work, I am puce –

though I’d questioned the use

of a color that’s named for the flea.

*

I proposed that, in order to cope,

we move over – or in – to Park Slope.

“You mean to Long Island?!

That wuthering highland?!!

Well, I guess I’ll just have to say nope.”

*

It was on Long Island, I fear.

In Brooklyn, to be rather clear.

’Twas trendy. And pretty.

And close to “The City” –

Manhattan, in parlance severe.

*

Some old friends of my folks, called the Grimes,

own a brownstone I’ve seen many times;

this is close to the heart

of Park Slope. They impart,

“Just next door there’s a place, for mere dimes!”

*

I drag Doug off to see it tout suite.

Here he has to admit, “This is neat.”

Now, proceeding apace,

I sign for the place,

pleased as punch with my pad-rental feat.

*

Evan Wolfson lives two blocks away.

As does Abby. (Will Pee-wee come play?)

“What fun!” I tell Doug,

and give him a hug.

“We’ll be dancing a gay roundelay!”

*

The day of the move was intense.

I worried if this one made sense.

Some glasses got broke,

resentments awoke,

and bitchery bold did commence.

*

But such stuff settled down pretty quick.

Far from making him – so to speak – sick,

old Park Slope as it stood

proved the kind of a ’hood

out of which our young Doug got a kick.

*

There were lots of us lawyers around,

and them artists as well did abound.

Plus gardens and parks

where rich kids read Marx

and poor ones perused Ezra Pound.

*

It was hard, though, to get “City” chums

to take taxis or stick out their thumbs

and hitch rides way out there.

Such requests just got, “Where?!”

You’d have thought that our brownstone boards bums.

*

Evan Schwartz, though, would come out to gab

via subway. Dear Grace took a cab.

As did Beth, while, you know,

humming airs by Gounod,

toting reds she pronounced “oeno-fab.”

*

All such gabs with said Evan amused.

He once told us, one time: Having cruised,

one fine day, one young man,

what ensued went to plan –

’til it left his poor uvula bruised.

*

And dear Grace one time said, “Let’s conspire.

There’s a place, which no doubt you’ll admire,

where the pervs take vacation.

Well, the corps, in summation,

should conjoin on the Island of Fire.”

*

Fire Island, that is, which one knew

from porno, from “pomes,” and a slew

of gay fiction – like Dancer

from the Dance, where romancer

Malone finds there’s no love that’s true.[28]

*

Farther out on the Island of Long,

past Jones Beach with its hetero throng:

“It’s Eden, sans flivvers,

for all lily-livers,”

now opined our refined friend Grace Hwang.[29]

*

We rented a house there that June.

One neighbor was Thomas James Tune!

“Tommy,” that is.

You know his phiz –

and legs that subside none too soon.[30]

*

Another had made an impression

with more than one photo transgression.

Each dared to un-swaddle

some stunning young model.

He’d later decoct his Obsession.[31]

*

The corps brought out many a guest.

A few would withstand time’s long test.

I’d make them a friend.

And now, towards the end,

they still make me feel so damn blessed.

*

First and foremost of these, Pierre Lockett,

who’d soon rise to the top – like a rocket –

of the Joffrey Ballet.

I recall his plié

and get pain in the hip. In the socket.

*

Pierre’s sexiest role there by far

was in Billboards by Prince – puny star.

He would do some contortions

Of which several portions

might have gotten him banned from the barre.

*

And the second: a singer named Phil

who’d done songs like “Ka-lu-a” and “Bill”

at cabaret venues

like ones where the menus

say “The Oak Room, Algonquin Hotel.”[32]

*

(Please pardon that slant rhyme, Muse Reid.

Muse Nathan, please pay it no heed.

Muse David, you know

how lines sometimes go –

how assonance sometimes sounds odd.)

*

I once did hear Phil sing in that room.

Also there: some old crone about whom

I took it real hard –

her name’s Hildegarde –

that she wasn’t, instead, in a tomb.[33]

*

John and Bob (number three, number four):

a young couple we’d come to adore.

John so fair, Bob so dark.

They had flair. They had spark.

But you know what’s to come, know the score.

*

The corps would canoodle on dunes

with housemates of Thomas James Tune’s.

I’d stay on the beach,

and dare eat no peach,

and think, “Oh, just get some damn rooms.”[34]

*

Mulling over those boys in the sand,

Doug now asked could he please have my hand

in a marriage – of sorts.

This was long before courts

would let gays wear a real wedding band.

*

I said yes to this kind proposition.

Isn’t marriage a lovely tradition?

And just think of the gifts!

We should start making lists.

Acquisition became my ambition.

*

Where to register? Maybe at Saks.

They undoubtedly stock what one lacks.

“I think Bloomingdale’s best,”

said Diane. “All the rest,

I have found when out shopping, are hacks.”

*

So Bloomingdale’s was where we’d sidle

right up to their registry bridal.

The silver! The china!

I have no vagina,

but “bride” I became in this idyll.

*

The blue china we chose, made by Spode,

would look choice in our Brooklyn abode.

The silverware, plate,

Christofle for eight –

so parfait I could write it an ode.

*

For part two of our gay wedding plan

I ask Ruth if she’d be my Best Man.

Right away, she says yes –

and designs her own dress:

a bit boxy but done with élan.

*

Doug asked Beth. She said no. But he’d rally –

and ask childhood friend, Southern Sally.

Both Virginians with smarts,

plus a taste for the arts,

they’d grown up in the Roanoke Valley.

*

We told all of our closest of kin.

Mother Wingo was pleased, said she’s in.

Father Wingo, though – out.

Well, the man’s just a lout.

“Fuck ’em all, Doug,” said I. “That’s my spin.”

*

My own folks, as well, were quite pleased.

And all said they’re in. Plus some teased.

But poor brother Bob,

that closeted snob,

did something I soon found diseased.

*

He said, “Your Best Man I shall be.”

How awkward for him, as for me.

I said, “No, you shan’t” –

he speaks only cant –

“for Ruth has been asked. Don’t you see?”

*

“I don’t see,” he said. “This won’t do.”

“This isn’t,” I said, “up to you.”

“It is,” he now said.

What’s up in his head?

O’er what is he starting to stew?

*

Bob’s tantrum goes on to infinity.

Barraged by the word “consanguinity”

in scene after scene,

I’ve Dad intervene –

like calling upon our divinity.

*

“How durst Bob have done this? How durst?

Why should he have thought he comes first”–

I search all affections

amongst recollections –

“or thought himself Best? He’s the Worst!”

*

“I’ve got it!” I think, showing moxie.

“This guy is subconsciously foxy!

Bob stands in Ruth’s stead;

it’s he Doug doth wed –

through me, whose here only by proxy.”

*

And the venue? “Let’s not do Hebraic,”

now said I. “But nor anywhere laic.”

A Brooklyn Heights church

completed the search,

with its Tiffany glass – and mosaic![35]

*

The minister here, named Orlanda,

first met with us on the veranda.

No damn cant about her

is it camp she’d prefer? –

nor Christian, thank God, propaganda.

*

No organist here, though. Hark, hark!

“No problem,” Doug piped. “I’ll ask Mark.”

This Mark was Doug’s ex:

a tall man, with specs,

whose thoughts about me seemed quite dark.

*

I wondered if this would be wise.

He played well, one had to surmise.

But what if said darkness

meant musical starkness –

or worse yet an aural surprise?

*

And where’d the reception be had?

The Plaza? Perhaps our own pad?

Well, the Plaza’s a dump –

even years before Trump.

Chez nous, then. It’s better than bad.[36]

*

We had Ruth do a number of things,

which included the making of rings.

Ani l’dodi

v’dodi li

the two quoted the true King of Kings.[37]

*

Invitations were made by machines,

and they pictured the true Queen of Queens –

she who had said,

“Off with her head!”

when poor Alice upset her demesnes.

*

One hundred or so would appear.

Was this the event of the year?

Should we contact the Post,

whose fond readers, engrossed,

might write in to clamor “Hear, hear”?

*

I woke up that morning in pain.

I’m dying. Or is it my brain?

Diane, whom I called,

was rather appalled.

Affix not that fell ball and chain.”

*

I chose to ignore her advice.

One needed – n’est-ce pas? – to be nice.

And so, “On with the show!”

Or else, “Give it a go!”

Plus other clichéd terms concise.

*

To quote Mr. Doolittle’s rhyme,

we get to the church right on time,

but what’s this that we hear,

in our dear little ear?

That Lohengrin ditty sublime?[38]

*

(My outfit is rather austere,

apart from a white boutonniere.

But Doug sports a tie

that screams hi-di-hi

Cab Calloway meets Chanticleer.)

*

That old march from Midsummer Night’s Dream?

It’s some odd – and quite a-tonal – theme …

Jesus Christ! It’s a dirge!

By Paul Hindemith – scourge

Of Herr Goebbels, that Nazi supreme.[39]

*

We now make our way up to the altar.

I don’t fall – and I don’t even falter.

I just plan Mark’s demise.

Oh, those horrible cries         

as I brain him with, say, this here psalter.

*

I can’t tell you what happened up there;

all I sensed was the fury d’un frère.

Brother Bob, in a pew,

cogitating, “Fuck you.

When you croak, little shit, I won’t care!”

*

We then race from the church to the pad

in a borrowed car driven like mad;

put out pastries and punch …

That’ll do for their lunch.

Who are first to arrive? Mom and Dad.

*

And then suddenly avicone’s here.

So much mess, so much noise, so much cheer.

I’m alas at a loss:

no bouquet I can toss.

All I’ve got is this white boutonniere.

***

Mulling over those guests of the corps

who did jobs that for them were no chore,

be it at the ballet

or in some cabaret;

mulling over – I’ve said this before –

*

my brother, the building designer

(those blueprints: divine and diviner),

my sister, the spy

(or so inferred I);

well, they’re no vocation maligner …

*

… whereas law now just eats me alive.

So what else might I work at? How thrive?

I don’t draw. I don’t dance.

“The piano?” Fat chance!

My own playing’s for shit. Don’t talk jive.

*

Might I sell pretty “flahrz”– that’s bad –

as the daughter of Doolittle had?

No, I cannot quite see

such a task become me.

Much too lowly, unloverly, sad.[40]

*

Might I knit lovely sweaters – sized large –

like some money-mad Madame Defarge?

I’m not that adept.

And so “Jesus wept”

would be muttered by all whom I’d charge.

*

I am good at … hmmm. Reading! Well, shoot!

I could read to the blind, for the loot.

But what if they’re not

what the sighted call “hot”?

I would undergo eye pain acute.

*

I enjoy, every morning, my run.

I could train cool young sprinters. What fun!

But I’m slow as molasses.

Just imagine the classes:

“That’s too fast, kids. And wait for the gun.”

*

I, though, could teach, well, reading to youth –

be they cool or else rather uncouth.

Like Miss Deutsch (think: John Knowles)

or Miss Dragnet (think: holes),

I’d give classes on fictional truth …

*

… perhaps at my own junior high,

or, higher, at – you know – Bronx Sci.

The school was yclept that

by many a hep(t) cat.

Old notebooks might help me get by.

*

My handwriting there, though: inscrutable;

so tiny; for fleas alone suitable.

Well, we won’t want to bluff.

Let’s read critical stuff,

like studies of cantos called “mutable.”

*

Or studies of cantos called “Pisan,”

which don’t even rhyme – forget reason.

I’m no fan of Pound.

He sounds so unsound.

What’s more, he’s a man for all treason.[41]

*

Such studies, though: incomprehensible;

so garbled; so non-commonsensible.

What’s wrong with those writers?

I’ll not pull all-nighters

on guys who find readers dispensable.

*

But I then read a work I’d call “vatic,”

which concerned some old crone in an attic.

Supposedly nuts,

she really had guts –

and a penchant for gestures dramatic.

*

The work, by some women together,

two feminist birds of a feather,

holds that most women writers,

unlike men, are not fighters.

They’re friendly – no matter the weather.[42]

*

Delightful. It tickled me … pink!

“Could that be how gay writers think?”

I wondered just now.

“And if not, then how?

There must be – to ladies – some link.”

*

I would have to get more of a grip

on these questions to me oh-so hip.

For now, though – ’cause married –

such grippage miscarried:

It was time for the honeymoon trip.

*

So I’m off, once again, on a flight –

we flew coach – to the “City of Light,”

as my husband uxorious

called that metropole glorious.

To be fair, he did know this was trite.

*

Michèle approved Doug right away.

We went then to quite the musée

where, mirabile dictu

I shall say it real quick too –

Proust’s boudoir is put on display.[43]

*

There’s the bed. There’s the desk. There’s his chaise!

It’s too much. I could stand here for days.

But Michèle said, “Enough!

It is time to eat stuff.

I will make us a nice mayonnaise.”

*

“You can make mayonnaise,” I exclaimed,

“as in Hellmann’s?!” and others I named.

She took me aside –

and laughed ’til she cried.

I myself was amused, if ashamed.

*

As Michèle made that mayo, and more,

I explained why our cooking’s so poor.

“No American man

knows of tarte tatin” –

I don’t mean, of course, Jesse’s of yore.

*

Oh, that meal! ’Twas a ten out of ten.

Should I happen to have it again –

if on purpose, of course,

then such fare hath no force –

this will be my own lil’ madeleine.[44]

*

Well, such were the snows of one’s yesteryear,

Surrounding Michèle, jolly jester dear –

as said in collège,

Mais où sont les neiges

 d’antan?” – one’s a Proustian quester here.

*

Let’s just say – and let’s not be verbose –

’twas a lovely voyage de noces.

So perhaps all the pain

friend Diane did explain

was at best what you’d call otiose.

*

Back home, though, one’s law job remained

the sole thing to make one feel pained.

One’s sights – oh, how frightful –

on new work delightful

must now, one proclaimed this, be trained.

*

As that job was now giving me fits,

I was tempted to just call it quits;

find some school in dire need;

prepare class at top speed;

and, beyond that, ad lib – use my wits.

*

Is it wise to not look and still leap?

An escarpment both stony and steep

might well loom ahead.

I could end up dead!

Or not dead, but collapsed in a heap.

*

As it’s not wise, one felt with some force,

I enrolled in an evening-time course.

Called “The Pedagogue’s Craft,”

the whole thing seemed so daft:

classroom shtick I could never endorse.

*

Try “circles of learning” – on fools!

Try “brain-storming sessions” – no rules!

Plus kids who can’t read

should “free-write”! Indeed.

It wasn’t what we did in schools.

*

As the only non-teacher enrolled,

I felt pressured: Believe what you’re told.

Those teachers believed,

though clearly deceived.

And so why so much snake oil sold?

*

Do young students now fuck with one’s head,

turning mercury in it to lead?

Some droll stories they’d share

revealed classmates’ despair.

Would a high-school job fill me with dread?

*

Should I just give career change a pass?

Any grass – any lawn – is just grass.

It’s no greener than mine.

But wait, that’s not my line.

Semi-full? Fully empty, my glass.

*

Husband Doug to his credit demurred.

“Would you stop saying that? Yes, I heard.

As we say in the South,

‘If you can’t hush your mouth,

then be cheerful – and chirp like a bird.’”

*

Best-Man Ruth thought it wise to be silly.

“You could trademark your two-alarm chili.”

It’s a meal I made often.

As a cook, I’m no boffin –

though I am good with food that’s not frilly.

*

Both my parents were pretty upset.

Leaving law – “To do what?” – they now bet

would just end in disaster.

And so faster and faster

came their dismal prognostic duet.

*

Brother Bob, though, showed no urge to wail.

I could sense that he felt: Should I “fail,”

he himself would succeed.

What first planted this seed?

Had he not been accepted by Yale?

*

Friend Diane had the best take of all.

“You’re a bookworm, and snobby withal.

So teach at a college

and don’t hurl your knowledge

at young hoodlums who’d hate Gore Vidal.”

*

“But I’d first need a – ” “What?” “– Ph.D.”

“What’s the problem?” she asked over tea.

This was tea at The Plaza,

either Earl Grey or Aza.

“Well, I’m just not that smart. Don’t you see?”[45]

*

“Do you know anyone with those letters?

They may think, with such brains, they’re our betters.

But they’re really quite dumb.

It’s quite true! I know some.

So undo those self-hobbling fetters.”

*

(Decades later, Diane had me awed:

She’d known one Ph.D. – some dumb broad

Who in fact was a cheat,

Her degree a deceit.

Seems my life took a turn based on fraud!)

*

I now thought of Dwight Culler, that bore;

As for brains, I might well have had more –

(as for Dwight’s bright son, John,

more on that one anon) –

might have, smarts-wise, with him, wiped the floor.

*

Yet what then, thought I, of Ms. Laurens,

who, living in Renaissance Florence,

would have dazzled a writer

like old Petrarch, inditer

of verse – for which Pound felt abhorrence![46]

*

I pondered and, holding my breath –

Not long, though, for that would mean death –

I says to myself,

“Alright, little elf,

just go get the Ph.Da-leth.”[47]

*

And my doctoral thesis would show –

news to Modernists not in the know –

that “The Master” (don’t smile)

was a mistress of style.

Henry James? Henrietta, below.

***

As you “huddle,” male muses, with memoirs,

please do say, “Oh, what memoirs [these] them was” –

to invoke Ogden Nash,

that old poet so brash –

and do throw me some kisses sans phlegm (mwahs).[48]

*

(“A wonderful bird is the pelican,

his bill can hold more than his beli-can.

He can take in his beak

food enough for a week

but I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.”)[49]

*

I was still reading Proust. Also James.

“Daisy Miller” is one of the names

I recall; and “Miss Archer”;

not to mention “John Marcher” –

although mostly I fell for his dames.

*

(I knew even then James was gay,

Al-though – unlike Proust safe to say –

the wise old tale-teller

ne’er bedded a feller,

ne’er gathered those buds while he may.)

*

James’s work was, I thought, the true deal:

so astute, conscientious, and real.

One had the impression

of muted confession –

and of how we should think, or else feel.

*

I found Proust to be brutal yet funny,

like a cocktail of venom and honey.

Think of Baron Charlus

with his taste for abuse,

or Madame Verdurin with her money.

*

I now took the dread GREs.

Much harder than LSATs,

these seemed on a mission

to probe erudition.

Like: Who wrote the poem called “Trees”?

*

Was it Shakespeare? Or Spenser? Or Poe?

You would think this is something I’d know.

I said it was Joyce,

unsure of the choice –

which was close! Metonymically so.[50]

*

I performed well enough on the test

to feel lucky if not somewhat blessed.

And so why not apply –

it’s no pie in the sky –

to the schools scholars say are the best?

*

Now Harvard! Now Princeton (très belle).

On Stanford! On Yale and Cornell!

On Berkeley and Brown!

(One quite went to town.)

On Oxford (of it for the hell).

*

Of all those only one said, “You’re in!”

Was my “statement of purpose” too thin?

Were my “samples of writing”

rather less than exciting?

One – for Laurens – was “Milton and Sin.”

*

And the other? Well, let’s not go there.

Let’s just say that one didn’t play fair.

(It concerned a concerto.

And a certain “Roberto,”

who one fears – . No, I can’t. I don’t dare.)[51]

*

The one school to have me was Brown.

“It’s clear that he isn’t a clown.

Plus the writing’s okay –

for a lawyer who’s gay.

Extend the old git cap-and-gown.”

*

(I did feel as old as the Styx,

with ailments no doctor could fix.

My eyesight was poor.

My tongue-taste was dour.

My age at the time? Twenty-six.)

*

I quickly told Brown that I’d come –

though offered no fellowship plumb.

I’d no problem with this.

As they say, it was bliss,

At that point in time, to be dumb.

*

Doug quickly told me that he’d stay.

New York is where I’ll find my way.”

Suspecting a bluff,

I gave him no guff.

“If that’s what you want, then you may.”

*

(To speak just in terms of their latitude

and beckon cartographers’ gratitude:

Brown’s is one degree north

of from whence we’d set forth –

far enough to explain Doug’s cool attitude.)[52]

*

“For some gallerist chic to have sought

any painting what I, Doug, hath wrought,

I’ll need to do work

where gallerists lurk.”

This was reasoning bleak, which I bought.

*

“But what work will I need to do?”

I pondered a moment or two.

“I’ll need to read James …”

beyond this, the names

of relevant writers were few.

*

Evan Wolfson, quite boosting morale,

said that I should meet George, an old pal.

“He’s now writing a book,

a historical look

at gay life in this very locale.”[53]

*

This was based on his Yale dissertation,

which apparently caused a sensation.

George had had “quite a go”

at some guy named Foucault.

“That sounds French,” I said, “or maybe Haitian.”[54]

*

(A power-crazed prof who knew Greek,

apparently phallicly weak,

told an old Brahman

with insight uncommon,

“I can’t make my subaltern shriek.”)[55]

*

We met, George and I, at Butt Buddies,

a bar where we drank “Mary Bloodies.”

’Twas here he revealed

there’s now a new field

that scholars are calling “gay studies.”[56]

*

Well, I now knew what work I’d need do:

read Foucault, Hocquenghem, and Le Pew;

read Lacan, if I must;

read Cixous ’til I bust;

most of all though read Barthes. Sacrebleu![57]

*

I now told the law firm, “I quit.’

They weren’t surprised. Not a bit.

So I pilfered some stuff –

which was easy enough –

stuff for readin’ ’n’ writin’ ’n’ shit.

*

I took paper and personal stamps;

I took binders and black metal clamps;

I took markers of felt

(I liked how they smelt);

plus a couple of halogen lamps.

*

I admit I’ve proclivities klepto –

“borrowed” books from some friends, which I’ve kept-o,

and clothing I care for

without knowing wherefore.

At true shoplifting though I’m inept-o.

*

I admit, too, I’ve poached souvenirs –

taken spoons, silver plate, from some peers,

and an ashtray or two

from, well, you will see who.

(No fair peeking, proleptical seers.)

*

For our move up to Brown I would take

rare faience I’d refuse to forsake

even when my poor mom

called me “Plundering Tom.”

Somewhat later I learned it’s a fake.

*

We two did in fact move there together,

neither one of us knowing if whether

Doug had weighed cons and pros

then deliberately chose –

or I’d yanked him along on a tether.

***

This big move, as some are, was quite jarring –

and involved on our part nasty sparring.

I remember one scene

where, especially mean,

we had both caused emotional scarring.

*

I’d bought an old car from Ken Rabb,

a flivver both musty and drab.

It lasted a week.

At this, feeling bleak,

Doug couldn’t help taking a jab.

*

“Thou skinflint! Thou pound-foolish Jew!

I told thee to buy one that’s new!”

I called him white trash.

And as for my cash:

“Its usage shan’t be up to you.”

*

We found some employment. Got jobbed.

We found an apartment. Got robbed.

A new car got rented.

It quickly got dented.

I got pretty angry. Doug sobbed.

*

Doug’s new job, fighting AIDS, was full-time:

hour by hour, day by day, dime by dime.

I’d work one day a week

doing case-law critique

for defenders of white-collar crime.

*

The apartment, a short walk to Brown,

wasn’t far from the rich side of town.

But it felt like a slum

after where we’d come from:

the bright jewel of Brooklyn’s own crown.

*

The home burglary caused quite a shock.

We’d arrived, turned the key in the lock …

and then there stood two guys

showing signs of surprise

who then fled with some stuff they could hock.

*

What next? Oh, yes. Doug bought a car.

In nautical terms, she was “yar.”

A Subaru, blue,

and newer than new.

He said that she’ll last – and go far.

*

We totaled it soon, I recall.

Think: hydroplaned into a wall.

We left there perplexed –

and I bought our next:

a Volvo, which Doug thought banal.

*

My coursework began with a bang:

“French Feminists,” “Chaucer,” and – dang –

Scholes’s “Critical Theory.”

Those two words made me teary.

Would he lecture? Or merely harangue.

*

But instead he would just make us stressed.

We’d write papers each week – as a test.

See, the best of the batch

he’d pronounce with dispatch,

“This is better than all of the rest.”

*

(Robert Scholes, every student soon learned,

had “the Phallus” Lacan first discerned.

I don’t mean, big dick.

I do mean, “big stick” –

or the one Teddy Roosevelt ne’er spurned.)[58]

*

Truth to tell, most of mine fit that bill.

This made most of my cohort quite ill.

From my quips on Queneau

to bon mots on Blanchot,

Scholes extolled all the stylish skill.

*

One-on-one, he said, “Man! You can write!”

I had never seen me in this light.

Is he chillin’ on weed?

Is he hopped up on speed?

Or he’s lucid; my word-work’s that bright.

*

If so, well, then third time’s the charm.

The piano track (one): false alarm.

The law career (two):

It wasn’t for you.

(Three) authorship: Best bet the farm.

*

I had found, too, in class, I can speak

unlike classmates who here too were weak.

My “academese”

would ooze out with ease,

while theirs proved both doltish and meek.

*

The worst one of these: old “Lee Grant.”

“This can’t be her name. It just can’t!”

I needed the truth,

then acted as sleuth:

Her real name was Lavender Plante.[59]

*

The least worst was young Eric Clarke.

As Will says, however: Hark, hark!

He’d furtively mimic –

an unctuous gimmick –

our teachers, remark by remark.[60]

*

So, clearly, Diane was correct.

You didn’t need much intell-ect,

in hu-manities,

to get Ph.D.’s –

not even at schools thought select!

*

Plus dumbness might well get you dough.

Both Eric and “Lee,” don’t you know,

took fellowship offers

that emptied Brown coffers.

I seethed with both envy and woe.

*

(The old man who first filled them had made

his vast fortune in “triangle trade.”

Think: slavery, rum –

a thought so damn glum

I’m relieved now I got no such aid.)

*

With no classmates I thought mon égal,

I would scorn to make any a pal.

They had nicknamed me “Me.”

So, well, maybe, you see,

this bad feeling was quite mutu-al.

*

(We did have one three-way with Eric,

which Doug proclaimed “too atmospheric.”

But I thought: “debacle” –

for dire streptococcal

results made me rather hysteric.)

*

Yet I did, that first year, in the end,

make one brilliant and upper-class friend.

What’s her name? Karen Bock.

She had bad writer’s block –

hence her thesis was not getting penned.

*

Now, by “thesis” I mean dissertation.

Karen’s own would concern figuration:

how some medieval clod

often symbolized God

with some tropes of “obscure self-negation.”

*

Her idea there is quite deconstructive,

you’ll have thought if your thinking’s inductive:

the writer as nuller.

It comes from one … Culler!

The son John. ’Bout the dad she’d no fuck t’ give.[61]

*

(Finding word-work like this too damn foul,

she’d eventually throw in the towel –

and get a J.D.!

A lawyer’s degree!!

The mere thought of that still makes me howl.)

*

Via Karen, I met a “Miss Fuss”

whose career – as it then seemed to us –

would be based on a lie

so outrageously sly

it’s just something I have to discuss.

*

The Miss-Fuss dissertation, perforce,

deconstruction as well did endorse:

Her nature is nurture,

her nurture is nature

if “essentially speaking” of course.[62]

*

Well, the “lie” that I mentioned above

concerns who (or else what) one can love

and Miss Fuss’s own “nature” –

so beware: nomenclature! –

which in speaking she must know whereof.

*

Young Miss Fuss was as straight as an arrow,

craving men all the way to their marrow.

She had made this quite clear

to each friend and each peer;

none had viewpoints you’d find all too narrow.

*

Yet when job hunting – tactical strike –

in the Ivy League – Yale and the like –

she would lecture these strangers

on “rhetorical dangers” –

and then out herself (quote) “as a dyke.”

*

Miss Fuss landed a great job – a doozy –

at an Ivy Fitzgerald found woozy

and then put in a novel.

That book features a hovel

and, well, more than one hetero floozy.[63]

*

How odd, then, that how one was wired

could get one, in law-firm land, fired –

but thanks to Foucault

plus others I’d know,

could get one, in academe, hired.

*

I have never quite known all the stats

on how Karen is wired. Drove me bats.

She did like “MacGyver”

but loved her nine-liver.

Was her orientation, then, cats?[64]

*

We too got a kitty – named “Sheh-sheh.”

It’s Chinese for “thanks” – rhymes with “meh-sheh.”

I too loved the thing.

She made my heart zing.

So Karen now nicknamed me “Keh-sheh.”

*

Yet another new friend, called Keith Green,

soon picked up on this nickname serene.

Good ol’ Keith, red of neck,

studied heaven and “heck” –

as invoked by some clerics obscene.

*

Southern Baptist from birth (don’t exult:

Keith was atheist as an adult),

Doug and Keith – thank God – bonded

over having absconded

from that horrible Dixieland cult.

*

Via Keith, I soon met Miss Thom Niel.

He’s a choral conductor who’d squeal

when an alto sang sharp.

He played “Anglican Harp.”

He had organ skills, too, quite unreal.[65]

*

(’Ol Keith called Miss Thom, “Thomasina.”

In full: “Thomasina Divina.”

This was not – no, no, no –

one’s first drag rodeo.

New Yorkers know well that arena.)

*

I don’t mean by that anything suave.

I just mean, he was great at im-prov.

At one wedding in church,

the poor groom in the lurch,  

Thom ad-libbed for an hour on Marche slave.

*

I should say, I had joined that church choir –

out of need, out of love and desire.

I had needed the dough,

I had craved all the show.

One especially fetching young squire …

*

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So let’s put that guy back on the shelf.

Some people like wimps.

I just adore gimps –

much as some folk have things for an “elf.”

*

(I may sound here like someone who tipples.

I may cause among lame folk some ripples.

Please aver, all my muses,

“Well, so what? He enthuses.

We like poets; for Kevin, it’s cripples.”)

*

I’m afraid I’m unable to say

why the dickens I’m wired just that way.

Perhaps “Tiny Tim,”

if y’all recall him,             

did first enter my heart and then stay.

*

And perhaps – here I’m not being witty

like most everywhere else in this ditty –

there’s just something ’bout love:

The emotion thereof

can feel very much like that of pity.

*

(It is not that my eyeballs get starry

around everyone for whom I’m sorry;

even dear little orphans

won’t arouse my endorphins

unless other ills stake them as quarry.

*

Plus I’ve never once called this a “fetish.”

Craving cripples, I’m never coquettish.

I will just wait and see

if one seems to crave me

while my heart’s feeling warmish and wettish.)

*

But I should say some more about Keith.

The guy had him some interesting teeth.

Some incisors got broken,

so, with everything spoken,

you could sense a faint lisp underneath.

*

In fact, fainting was common as hell

in the mind of this faux demoiselle

though he called it not that.

Johnny Rebel in chat,

he’d say, “Takin’ an ol’ sinking spell.”

*

He was great though at dissing theology.

He’d expound par example on Christology

in a manner so slick

true believers got sick

and start humming – eyes closed – some doxology.

*

He would also love dishing the dirt

about gym rats with whom he would flirt.

(Are you reading this, Cupid?

Keith just craves “big and stupid.”

Could you bring him one wearing no shirt?)

*

He’d claim though to loathe exer-cise.

“I won’t work my elbows and thighs;

They’re quite fine as they are.

Now let’s go to the bar,

have Pink Ladies, and not slender-ize.”

*

“That’s all mirrors,” I thought, “also smoke;

He will say such things only to joke.”

The muscles on him

could make your head swim –

and then wish he’d wear clothing bespoke.

*

His boyfriend back then was a sweetie:

a philosopher skinny but meaty.

Yet he seemed full of dread.

Shot himself in the head –

despite pleas from his folks, vain entreaty.

*

The poor kid then was just twenty-five.

Poor ol’ Keith, every day he’s alive

must seek some relief        

from ungrievable grief.

(And so, Cupid, please please do contrive.)

***

And the state we were in? Pretty great.

It was all very calm and sedate.

I mean our abode:

the “Island of Rhode” –

which was settled ’bout one-six-three-eight.[66]

*

Narragansett, and Cranston, and Bristol –

every township as cute as a pistol –

Westerly, Foster,

Coventry, Glocester …

and the beaches! (Both nearby and distal.)

*

Here in Providence, cutest of all:

an “arcade” with some “shoppes” wall-to-wall.

Opened one-eight-two-eight –

I’m quite sure of the date –

it’s the oldest American mall.

*

(So it’s not true that Ruth’s Uncle Al,

an old billionaire bad for morale –

he’d be jailed for enticing

undue auction-house pricing –

was the first to concoct this locale.)[67]

*

We explored the state now, that first summer,

with friend Karen – so smart. But far dumber:

She would bring her old cat,

which rode “shotgun.” So fat.

Youngster Sheh-sheh stayed home, thinking “bummer.”

*

’Twas to Newport we’d go more than thrice

to tour “cottages” nicer than nice –

my old itch to be rich

scratched by more than one bitch

of a docent in pearls beyond price.

*

The yacht trips, we couldn’t afford.

Doug said that he’d just be too “bored” –

and find the sea “smelly.”

In truth, like Grace Kelly,

they’re trips that he would have adored.[68]

*

And Karen, we learned, adored “soaps.”

Soap op’ras, that is, aimed at dopes,

like One Life to Live.

And, oh, what she’d give

to learn – as a writer – their ropes.

*

It is too bad she didn’t do this

upon giving her school work a miss.

I’d say dreaming up stuff

for the young and the buff –

unlike law work – must surely be bliss.

*

As that summer wound down to its end,

with “year two” I’d now have to contend.

I myself will be teaching.

So I’m shaking – and screeching,

“‘Ancient Rhetoric’?! God, do forfend.”

*

I’d mere days to distill Aristotle,

put his ethos et al. in a bottle.

Comprehend old Quintilian?

Not a chance in a million.

But old Cicero: Let’s go full throttle!

*

First instruct, then amuse, and then move.

It’s a precept there’s no need to prove;

these are goals all should reach –

on the page or in speech –

to get “discourse” well placed in some groove.[69]

*

And so that’s what I thought, lacking scruples,

I should do when confronting my pupils:

make ’em learn; cry tee-hee;

cry boo-hoo. That’s just three

things to do. (One does quail at quadruples.)

*

I felt cocky now right off the bat –

that proverb’s canary-stuffed cat.

And it worked! More or less.

Though I’d have to confess:

There’s a bit more to teaching than that.

*

A good teacher must speak rather well,

find his subject enthralling as hell,

and know how to flatter

inane student chatter.

That’s another three things, you can tell.

*

I am great at “thing one,” je t’assure.

I am great at “thing two,” as it were.

As for the third:

Don’t be absurd.

One can’t praise what one cannot endure.

*

You must know what I mean here, Muse Reid,

having taken my class on “the screed.”

You were brilliant – no boast.

Others, dumb as a post,

would say stuff to which none could pay heed.

*

With brilliance, moreover, it’s tough.

To teach ’em, be gracious yet gruff;

encourage uniqueness

while weeding out weakness –

a booster just bad-ass enough.[70]

*

And when possible try to be you.

Do not imitate teachers you knew.

Also, don’t be ironic

(Genet’s “Jean,” my mnemonic).

If you say what you mean, you’ll get through.

***

My own classes resumed. To name names:

Robert Scholes on Some Modernist Games;

“Tory” Smith on Let’s Teach!

(“Let us not,” we’d beseech.);

Charles H. Nichols on Late Henry James.

*

The Scholes course was tasty as quiche,

as pleasant as puffing hashish.

One read Gertrude Stein,

whom I made quite mine

by writing a clever pastiche.

*

It was typically dumb and emetic;

’twas redundant, regressive, “poetic.”

I’ll quote some right now –

(Am I prideful? And how!) –

though this up-sets my verse-form aesthetic:

*

Very fine are my lines.

Very fine and very mine.

Very fine are my lines very mine and very fine.

Very fine are my lines and mine, very fine

            very mine and mine are my lines.

*

Scholes had liked it so much, with a glint

in his eye – not to mention a hint

of some glee – he then said,

“It is time. Go ahead

and submit to some vendor of print.”

*

I did so and wasn’t rejected;

got “proofs” and soon had these corrected;

got published tout de suite;

and full of conceit,

Charles Dickens-like fame now expected.

*

“Tory” Smith was as dumb as a fern,

and knew nil about how students learn.

I quickly got fluent

in how to play truant –

and an “A” for the course in return.

*

(She thought writing is best when it’s fun!

Just hurl words on a page … and you’re done!!

“Do not try to think!

Ideas make words stink

whereas ‘brain-storms’ are second to none.”)

*

Charles H. Nichols, not dumb, was too old –

runic lecture notes covered in mold –

to teach us at all.

His drawl cast a pall

over fiction I’d once found pure gold.

*

So I gave up on James. And what’s worse,

I had plagiarized papers perverse.

To learn of such tricks,

read book number six.

It’s the one that is partly in verse.[71]

*

There was manifold cause for that sin,

you will find, if you read it, therein.

But foremost of them,

I didn’t – ahem –

wish to toil for one “phoning it in.”

*

He read none of “my” work, safe to say,

giving each thing I’d turned in an “A” –

same grade for the course.

I did feel remorse,

but much less and less day after day.

*

Let’s return though, at last, to my squire.

He’s the guy I’d first glimpsed from the choir,

the one I called “gimp.”

(He did have a limp.)

One was charmed. And one’s heart caught on fire …

*

… from his looks. (Do forgive this inanity.)

He was “Bosie” without the insanity:

all ivory, gold,

plus blue eyes that told

there might lurk here a soupçon of vanity.[72]

*

(While posing above an abyss,

poor Oscar said something amiss –

a damnably glib

sodomitical fib:

“The boy was too ugly to kiss.”)[73]

*

“Bosie’s” name, since you ask, is James Hall.

He was charmed in return, I recall.

Thus began – here I shrug –

vile betrayal of Doug.

That one three-way did not count at all.[74]

*

Meanwhile, Doug took a rather long gander

at a youngster I’ll call “Alexander” –

a colleague of James

who liked playing games.

He liked, as it were, to philander.

*

To once again up-set my verse,

I’ll quote now – while not being terse –

an Aussie named Clive who

is (blankly) alive to

stuff Proust hadn’t known to disperse.

*

A marriage is what civilization makes

Out of an urgency. Proust saw all that

But placed no value on the battle damage –

The fraying patience, even with the best

Will in the world, and, when there is the worst,

The betrayals, the retreats from the betrayals;

The nagging thought that you have been held back,

And, even more corrosive, that you have

Held back the one whose life is joined to yours;

The living hell of seeing your child sicken,

As Proust himself was sick, but this is worse,

Because there will be nothing left but loss –

All these and all the other disappointments

(They haunt even your moments of shared laughter

At your sheer luck in having found someone

Better than you to help you find where passion

Is meant to lead beyond delirium)

That come after the love-storm and before

The soul lies down to sleep.[75]

*

Only once did we pair off in pairs.

“Well, so what?” you may cry. “No one cares.”

I will tell you what’s what.

We four all cared a lot.

These were long-term affective affairs.

*

Even Alex cared. Caught quite off guard

by emotions he’d hitherto barred,

the poor little guy,

expressing a sigh,

fell for Doug – what’s the word? – rather hard.

*

Muse David, Muse Nathan, Muse Reid:

Do tell how one needn’t pay heed

to amorous urges.

So often come scourges

that leave one disfigured indeed.

*

“You should reread your Plato, old man,”

they remind me as quick as they can.

I do know what they mean:

that Symposium scene,

where Diotima lays out a plan.

*

But that ultimate recommendation

of what I’d simply call “sublimation”

is far from pragmatic

(perhaps because Attic)

hence conducive – in life – to vexation.

*

“You should re-read instead, then, your Barthes;

he had wisdom on love to impart.”

But he didn’t know –

hence woe upon woe –

how to bypass bad breakage of heart.

*

I did re-read, back then, Fanny Hill

with its scene where two “sparks” make her ill.

That whore watched them mid-caper

through a screen made of paper

and thought buggery – thus – no big thrill.

*

I thought, “Well! That was nasty. And nosy! Um –

and that inn! Way too cheap. Way too cosy! Um –

I should write all this down

and then – going to town –

rhapso-dize at some modern symposium.”

*

That’s a word I will often rely on,

from the Plato text known as the Ion

where his “rhapsode” recites

what some writer indites.

If done well, he’ll get laurels to try on.

*

I write down those thoughts, with a twist.

The sodomy scene, I insist,

left Miss Fanny deranged –

deconstructively changed:

a queer tour de force of a tryst.

*

Having had enough wine to feel tipsy –

hence a bit like a vagabond gypsy –

I recited this thing

(Hear me sing! Hear me sing!)

at some conference held in Poughkeepsie.

*

No standing ovation, alas.

Exertion like that gets a pass

at scholarly fora,

where fauna – no flora –

would rather stay put on their ass.

*

“You must tell us the year!” (Bold decreeing.)

Madame Sousatzka. (Films one was seeing.)

Hairspray, the first;

Cocktail, the worst;

The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

*

My big talk, anyhow, was a K.O.

Now, remember Michèle – of the mayo?

Well, that deuxième été

she flew over to stay –

on her way down to Montevideo!

*

She’d not been to this country at all.

So our first stop: a giant new mall!

C’est sublime!” she declared.

Jesus! That had me scared.

Was she nuts? Or just typical Gaul.

*

Then came this: “One must have a cof-fee.

Yes, one must. It’s an emergen-cy.

No ifs, ands, or buts.”

Michèle wasn’t nuts.

She was tired. We now find her – Proust – tea!

*

We took her all over the state.

She said at the end (I translate),

“This does seem quite like France –

the same food, the same plants.

I think your Rhode Island is great!”

*

We next took her down to New York –

that’s straight down there, as flies the stork.

What I mean by such jive:

the road I-95.

“An ‘interstate’?!” elle me rétorque.

*

Ruth then met us – so lively and spruce –

at an open-air marché aux puces.

Well, thank God, those two bonded

over having absconded

with some bibelots of no goddamn use.

*

We viewed galleries next. Nothing stark.

Nothing stark. Nothing stark. Doug would bark.

Up he’d bark. Still, no tree –

I mean gallerist, see –

would say, “You, down there; you in the dark,

*

come here and I’ll give you a show.

Your paintings sont vraiment très beaux.

The show shall be named –

and widely acclaimed –

Doug-Wingo, Doug-Wingo-go-go!

*

We then took her to Queens at long last,

where Mom offered to fix a repast.

What before us got spread

is now best left unsaid.

At the time I was – sadly – aghast.

*

But Michèle averred, “Trés savoureux!” –

like some diner Au P’tit Curieux.

(“Ochen vkusno!” say spies

like my sis.) Why these lies?

I do find such moves trés hasardeux.

*

Chère Michèle,” said my dad, “please come here

and regard this two-keyboard clavier!”

He had built it for Bob –

an eleven-year job –

and the brilliance involved was quite clear.

*

(I just messaged Michèle re: that day.

“I’d not seen un clavecin de si près,”

she soon messaged me back.

“Your dad sure had a knack

for creating pianos passées.”)

*

Dad was not all that easy a touch.

Plus he didn’t like Bob very much.

“With few urges parental,

wherefore go instrumental?”

I did ask. Got no answer as such.

*

(That clavier now? Alas, quite decayed;

old Bob’s care for it, one long charade.

It should have been lifted –

by me – and then gifted

to Muse Nathan. Do hear his Bach, played.)

*

So Doug’s mother came up that July –

having stashed a big vodka supply

away in her trunk.

Now always quite drunk,

she’d just talk, talk, and talk – and then cry.

*

Doug did – one time – attempt intervention

to forestall alcoholic declension.

But that didn’t work.

She called him a jerk

and accused him of “feckless intention.”

*

Doug then took off with Alex, his beau.

I then took his poor mom to a show:

the film Withnail and I.

Had I known that that guy

was a “tosspot”? Well, no, no, and no.

*

(The gay uncle, I thought, was – by far –

the one character most like a star.

His fondness for clarets

and “special” young carrots –

So hilarious. Also, bizarre.)[76]

*

Ten years later Doug heard from a niece

that his mother could now rest in peace.

Her old liver gave out.

Too much liquor, no doubt.

He felt guilty as hell – then release.

***

We are up – at this point – to year three,

which I spent nearly all of (sans glee)

shoving most English Lit.,

or as much as would fit,

into mental space otherwise free.

*

I’d have “comps” to take – oral exams

that require near omniscience. One crams:

from old Beowulf (guts)

to Virginia Woolf (nuts).

Quel cauchemar, chers messieurs et mesdames!

*

I’m teaching too, just so’s you know:

a course on Verlaine and Rimbaud.

One poor kid found the latter

far too fond of blood spatter.

Her reason? Some Sly Stallone show.[77]

*

I am meeting as well, every week,

with a gay studies book club called Geek.

We would read and discuss

work then causing a fuss.

It’s quite fun … and a bit of a clique.

*

We meet up in Boston at schools

where some of our members – no fools –

have tenure-track posts.

One senses – one boasts –

vocational “networking” rules.

*

Dressed in “daddy” gear I found chi-chi,

David Halperin lead causerie

claiming “social construction”

as the test for induction

into know-how he’d call “LG-B.”

*

My friend Keith drove us up, sometimes speeding.

Doug came too, though he’d not done the reading.

Work that Keith liked the best

often failed David’s test:

“It’s ‘essentialist’ – ergo misleading.”

*

A young member I’ll simply call “Lee”

was the brightest man I’d ever see.

Plus his syntax – aloud –

would have done a Proust proud:

compound sentences done to a T.

*

You can sense this in Homographesis,

Lee’s main book, which would have as its thesis:

The lives of gay hotties

get “traced” on their bodies –

as illegibly as catachresis.

*

It’s through Keith I meet Vernon Rosario,

a Brown undergrad – also lothario.

He’s swarthy and smart,

and calls drag an art.

I quite doubt this. So here’s his scenario:

*

If, say, Doug and I promise to host

a drag “ball” for ten friends at the most,

well, then Vernon will bring

all his frocks, plus some bling.

“These are fit for a Queen!” he could boast.

*

Doug plans to dress as his mom.

I plan to dress like a bomb:

black turtleneck – plain;

black hair, white streak – mane.

Sontag, in North Vietnam.[78]

*

Friend Eric would dress as a starlet.

James Hall though would dress as a harlot.

Keith Green would drink gin –

yet rail against sin –

while dressed as his own Granny Charlotte.

*

Because Vernon when male acts the dandy,

we expect from him female eye candy –

something slinky and starry.

Hence we’re all so, so sorry

he comes dressed now as Indira Gandhi!

*

That made dueling white streaks in our hair.

I must say though that I didn’t care.

Keith seethed, took a slug,

and then, very smug,

said, “You hussies! You make quite the pair.”

*

We all had a good time. What fun!

Had Vernon his argument won?

“Was ‘Susan’ sublime?”

I asked at the time.

“Was this how – at best – drag is done?”

*

“Artful drag is – effectively – ‘real,’

replied Vernon. “The viewer must feel

you look good in that dress,

while within it – I stress –

you embody your girly ideal.”

*

What Miss Vernon would have us be learning

we’d soon get out of Paris is Burning,

a film famous for scenes

about “voguing” routines

that Madonna stole – huge profits earning.[79]

*

We would get it as well from some noise

a philosopher made about boys –

also girls. One “performs,”

said Miss Butler, such norms.

But it isn’t a book one enjoys.

*

(There once was a diva named Judy,

a vengeful and paranoid beauty;

with gender she fucked

in prose that just sucked

but tickled the queer hyper-snooty.) [80]

*

The vexed issue of female attire

would arise – no, no, not in church choir –

when I took my comps,

which opened with prompts –

about missing church – I found quite dire.

*

Robert Scholes, all due protocol scorning,

and without any wording of warning,

asked, “What’s with the ‘peignoir’

[this word rhymes with Renoir]

in that Stevens work called Sunday Morning?”

*

It’s a poem about some old bore

who finds worshiping Christ quite the chore.

She’d rather not grapple

with going to chapel –

or with hearing parishioners snore.

*

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,

And the green freedom of a cockatoo

Upon a rug mingle to dissipate

The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

*

Thus, begins this High Modernist gem.

Those “complacencies,” fine – but, ahem;

“of the peignoir”? What’s that?!

Is it some kind of hat?

(It’s a negligee fit for a femme.)

*

I recalled now those damn GREs.

Who had written that poem called “Trees”?

Was it Shakespeare? Or Spenser?

Was it someone intenser?

Was it Joyce? I’ll say Joyce. I mean, jeez!

*

I told Scholes that I hadn’t a clue.

He looked shocked. “Is that so? Thought you knew.”

What came next wasn’t pretty.

For the whole damn committee

said, effectively, “Boo, Kevin. Boo!”

*

Things got better from there, truth be told.

My next answers were brilliant and bold.

I’d got the brass ring,

Or some such cool thing –

Like a star sticker made of fake gold.

***

Some new films that year: one, by Scorsese,

was called Life Lessons (totally crazy);

there was Turner & Hooch,

on a cop and his pooch;

there was, let me see, Driving Miss Daisy.

*

In ways I found rather benumbing,

an old film – The Russians Are Coming

would appear apropos.

It’s a film you don’t know?

There’s humor – and dombra (lute) strumming.[81]

*

Way back in the U.S.S.R.

lived Nina – Mom’s aunt. Though the czar

and his kids were long dead,

Jews were still filled with dread –

and longed to live here. Har-de-har.

*

That Aunt Nina, her kids, plus their own

had now finally fled. “They have flown –

merci bien, Gorbachev –

that damn coop in Kiev,”

Mom was told on our old telephone.

*

This was Mick on the line. Here’s the scoop:

New York City’s the choice of one group;

for a second, near Rick,

San Francisco’s the pick;

for a third, it is Boston. Whoop-whoop.

*

And so Doug and I say, “We’re all in.

We shall greet these Bostonian kin.”

I’m in fact rather chuffed

as I hope to be stuffed

full of family lore. Let’s begin!

*

Taking with us a polyglot mec

who knew Russian and also some Czech,

we two drove up to Boston.

Man, this traffic’s exhaustin’.

One does hope that one won’t have a wreck.

*

We meet Ella and Boris et al.

“This guy’s Russian,” they say, “c’est pas mal.

But who’s this here Doug?”

I just give a shrug.

“That’s Kev’s partner,” says Mel. “His gay pal.”

*

They looked stunned and asked Mel to explain,

which he did while their minds seemed to strain.

“What’s all this? Esoterica?

No, it’s not! It’s America!!”

Then they laughed – and brought out the Champagne.

*

I got stuffed now, but not full of lore.

They served blinis and babka and more.

It was all much too much.

Russian dinners, as such,

leave you bloated and sobbing and sore.

*

And quite drunk. One is forced to imbibe

so much vodka. It’s hard to describe.

All too often one’s host

cries zdaróvye – a toast.

To plead nyet would create a bad vibe.

*

As we left I made mute calculations.

“We should help them, should make some donations.

True, we don’t have much dough.

Then again, we do know

that with kin one does have obligations.”

*

In a move meant to make quite the splash

I soon cut a big check – paid to “cash” –

which I sent off to Ella.

She should think, “What a fella!”

But then what if she’d think me too brash?

*

Ella cashed that big check très tout suite

and then never acknowledged receipt.

So I never sent more.

Whom should you all deplore?

Needful Russians? Or donor effete.

*

For the record, though: Doug did advise

that a check sent, no matter the size,

might not really please

these new refugees.

It might come as a nasty surprise.

*

But they did take the money – sans thanks.

So do Russians give thanks to their banks?

At someone’s suggestion

I “Googled” the question.

There’s no answer. Such searches draw blanks.

*

Enough with this self-castigation.

I now had to think: “dissertation.”

How best to compose

such critical prose?

Be coy? Be obscure? Cause vexation?

*

Should I be – like Montaigne – essayistic?

Should I be – like Montaigne – solipsistic?

Like Proust (or “Marcel”),

loquacious as hell?[82]

Sentimental? And what’s my heuristic?

*

Should my method, that is, be “close reading” –

do old formalist work, show good breeding –

or use Freud and Lacan?

Or use Barthes? Or de Man –

a more newfangled way of proceeding.[83]

*

And just who’s the thing for? Boy oh boy.

Merely specialist folk? Hoi polloi?

Should I preach to the choir?

Should I rabble inspire?

Or write work at least I would enjoy?

*

But then why not do all the above?

On what topic? On modern gay love!

I can’t wait to tell Scholes,

who – I dream – now extols

this great plan. “Wow! What guts you’re made of!”

*

Robert Scholes, as I think you suspect,

had signed on – word by word – to direct

my toil on the “diss.”

When told of all this,

he replied, more or less, “I object.”

*

“Speak a scholarly idiolect,

but be clear. Not obscure, in effect.

Plus do not make a chore

of your personal lore.

Many readers – with it – won’t connect.”

*

“As for method, don’t be so eclectic.

Do what Barthes does. You’ll find it less hectic

than hurtling apace

to touch every base.

And those readers won’t get apoplectic.”

*

“Now, ‘modern gay love’? It’s too much.

Use Barthes once again – as a crutch.

Just take a few notions

of heartfelt emotions

as worked out in novels and such.”

*

The Barthes that Scholes meant, très fameux:

Fragments d’un discours amoureux.[84]

It’s such a good source.

I’d use it, of course.

To do so, though, made me nerveux

*

Just which of those “notions” made sense?

Just which would be wise to dispense

in work on queer life?

The ones about strife?

The ones about pleasure intense?

*

I then guessed I would just see what came

from some texts I considered fair game.

With that, research began –

somewhat catch as catch can –

on the love that did dare speak its name.

*

What texts were fair game? Well, let’s see.

Woolf’s “Or-land-o.” Fir-bank’s “Pi-rel-li.”

“If It Die.” (All this stress,

I’m afraid, is a mess.)

Gertrude Stein’s “Au-to-bi-o-gra-phy.”[85]

*

(A savvy old sapphist named Gertie,

considered by many too wordy,

soon dashed off the Life

of Toklas, her wife,

while leaving out everything dirty.)

*

There were many a “diss” Scholes directed.

Eric Clarke’s, par exemple – as expected.

But one directee –

at work on Paul Klee –

had insanity none then suspected.

*

The girl, though, a Maniard from Bangor,

did manifest troublesome languor.[86]

She’d eat bonbons all day.

“It’s great brain food!” she’d say.

(Her name is quite odd: Jenny Anger.)

*

I had never thought Jenny that bright.

Her perception of culture was slight.

Plus “critical theory”

she claimed to find dreary.

Decades later we’d have a big fight.

*

The big fight would occur in a town

I still live in while writing this down.

Will I name it in print?

Not quite yet. Here’s a hint:

We’ve a college of modest renown.

*

Here’s another. One day, Horace Greeley,

an old statesman of character steely,

told some man to “go west!”

and then, at this behest,

our town founder – that man – did go. Really.

*

When “diss” writing per se did now start,

I resolved to ventriloquize Barthes:

“Let’s imagine we’re he –

and then just wait and see

if what we craft resembles his art.”[87]

*

We waited. We saw. And we conquered!

We’d not even had to get zonkered –

though we did drink some wine.

Chardonnay far from fine.

We’d had, I suppose, to get plonk-ered.

*

Robert Scholes, finding likeness, concurred.

Other readers en banc, though, demurred,

found the writing too Gallic:

“It all sounds hypo-phallic.”

“Just ignore them,” said Scholes. “They’re absurd.”

*

It was not that I wrote very quickly.

(My old desk chair – an oak one – is Stickley.

’Twas a gift from my dad.

Brother Bob, such a cad,

says it’s his now. He so makes me sickly.)

*

That’s enough about me, for a while.

Doug’s production of work had a style

that was quite unlike mine.

He was fast – by design –

and had had one outpaced by a mile.

*

So, those paintings. Their look’s not that stark now.

They look pleasant – a walk in the park now –

like some wallpaper done

to endear or have fun –

with no humanoid shapes to remark now.

*

For a sense of how Douglas had blurred ’em,

consult similar work by R. Purdum.

She’s an artist who smears –

nose perhaps thumbed at peers –

with just fingers. “My brushes? Interred ’em.”

*

This fresh content – at last – turned the tides.

Doug for years had sent gallerists slides.

One now called “just to talk.”

“Show us work in Noo Yawk

so’s we’ll know if you’ve really made strides.”

*

Doug drove down to show work – and she balked.

“Are you kidding? Is this what you’ve hawked?!

No, it’s not that it sucks.

It’s just Purdum redux.”

That’s the last time the two ever talked.

*

I had never seen Doug feel so low.

Would he throw in the towel? Heigh-ho.

Just then, out of the blue,

Soho gallerist “Hugh”

offered Doug, come that May, his own show!

*

I had never seen Doug feel so great.

He stayed up now, for him, very late

to do work in a frenzy –

as if playing cadenze

at once moving, and quick, and ornate.

*

So as not to leave y’all in suspense,

I’ll just cut to the chase … and condense.

The show was a hit.

Miss Purdum, no twit,

wrote to Doug to send kudos immense.[88]

*

Nine-to-five life now – see Doug’s old resume –

would quite often involve quite the cabaret.

He’d do show after show,

raising oodles of dough,

and the best one starred Jennifer Holliday.

*

Her melismas in Dreamgirls – none moister!

It did seem like the world was her oyster.

Yet things never panned out.

She became very stout,

and then checked herself into a cloister.

*

(A friend saw that “Effie” in person,

and did so before sticking verse in

his own Broadway hit.

Glean’st thou who is it?

Muse Hirson, I tell you. Muse Hirson.)

*

We first met the big star at the train.

We first met there, that is, well, the twain.

She had with her, in tow,

her accompanist Joe.

She was seething. Why for? I’ll explain.

*

Joe’s forgotten to bring all their scores.

It’s a Sunday. We can’t go to stores.

The show is tonight.

Doug makes things alright.

“Kev’s got music. What’s his can be yours.”

*

We now drive to our place. “Care for show tunes?”

“Yes, I do,” says the star, “if they’re slow tunes.”

I run in like a shot,

grab the torch songs I’ve got,

and just pray that they’re give-it-a-go tunes.

*

Well, “the twain” now begin to peruse.

Which old songs will they nix? Which ones choose?

They are mending their rift,

I can tell you, real swift.

So the lady will not sing the blues![89]

*

The venue looks grand. She rejoices.

She runs through, with Joe, all their choices.

What trouper tenacity!

What lyric sagacity!

That voice! It’s the best of all voices!

*

At the show, well, the girl is a dream –

far supreme-er than any “Supreme.”

With such genius she’d scorch

every single song torch.

Even Joe, in response, seemed agleam.[90]

*

Can I give y’all, then, some good advice?

Operatic is great; just add spice.

A Jennifer Holliday

makes wonderful interplay

with an, I don’t know … Leontyne Price!

*

And now back to me. (“Do-Re-ME!!)

To quote that old song, “ABC”

(young Michael sang this):

My work on the “diss”

got easy as – girl! – “one-two-three.”[91]

*

Well, no, it did not. It did not.

“I need to do some-thing else.” What?

Hmm. “I know!” (’Twas innocence.)

“Let’s hold here a conference

on love lives of Lesbos: ‘The Twat’!”

*

(What a fruit into which to sink teeth!)

I now prayed, “Do please help me, dear Keith.”

Keith advised, “Invite friends.

Then however it ends

we’ll just see who’s on top, who’s beneath.”

*

Eric Clarke offered “Sappho: The Mighty”

As a talk on her “Dear Aphrodite.”[92]

“Can you give it in drag?”

“Yes, I can. As a hag!

 Or perhaps as a nun in a nightie.”

*

Our friend John offered “Pagan Appeal,”

on old Christians who’d brazenly steal –

to enliven doxology –

some tribadic tropology

from the ode with which Eric would deal.

*

Dear old John at the time was at Yale,

Yale Divinity School – mostly male.

John would soon be ordained,

boyfriend Bob now explained,

with some church job his own Holy Grail.

*

For Bob, though, both artsy and gay,

New York is where I’d rather stay.”

(Damned church-addled loonies

out there in the boonies.)

“John knows I’m allergic to hay.”[93]

*

(Before this, John worked in the theater –

on Broadway. His stage name: John Geter.

Bob painted, like Doug –

but cute as a bug

and also, like Ingres, much neater.)[94]

*

Now, Keith’s own talk – “Was Sappho a Man?” –

would kick classicists right in the can.

Might he come as Charlotte?

“Good Lord! I’m no varlet.

Drunken drag isn’t part of the plan.”

*

Our gay book club en masse came to cheer,

David Halperin yelling “hear! hear!”

We just loved all the fuss –

Look at us! Look at us! –

and thought, “Wow, it’s so cool to be queer!”

*

To tincture this retrospect rosy, um:

That there was the first gay symposium

done by graduate students –

and so here’s to imprudence

in outfits outrageous and blowsy-um!

*

It was bliss in that dawn to talk jive

re: queer writers no longer alive.

To be young, though, was heaven! –

much like Wordsworth in Devon,

though I hear he had stayed in a dive.[95]

*

The big conference where I spoke next –

held at Yale therefore clearly queer-sexed:

even more of a wow!

I had (nearly) a cow,

in the sense meant by Stein in some text.[96]

*

But before I describe that fiesta,

I should take a quite lengthy siesta.

So where’s the Compoz?

I need some to doze.

Oh, it’s here. Just behind the Lunesta.

***

This shindig at Yale brought in hordes:

from Long Beach to Lansing to Lourdes;

from Fairbanks to “Frisco”

(think: salmon and Crisco);

from salt flats to forests to fjords.

*

I was asked if I’d care to be part

of a panel devoted to Barthes.

I responded “Mais, oui!

and then dashed off with glee

something … dashing. (I hoped to sound smart.)

*

Was I dreaming? (One must create Raum

for such inquiry.) War das ein Traum?

Es war nicht. (It was not.)

Who then gave me this shot?

A genius named Wayne Koesten-baum.

*

A true poet at heart, and a critic,

with an aura echt Deutsch yet Semitic,

the man speaks in a rasp

so damn sexy you gasp –

while he dazzles with riffs analytic.

*

Also dazzling: the schools where he’d be.

First came Harvard, then Hopkins, then, gee,

that place where Fitzgerald

was rather imperiled

yet Miss Fuss now was paid to be she.

*

Wayne himself now taught English at Yale

as der erste uncloseted male

to have done such a thing here.

Therefore do, muses, sing here

of the progress “Gay Lib” could entail.

*

He was young, too, incredibly young.

Only thirty back then. Also hung –

or so I’ve been told

by someone quite bold.

He had seen it, was “duly unstrung.”

*

Wayne liked operas now found obscure;

wore Armani, Lacroix (haute couture);

played piano (oh, my)

somewhat better than I,

which was almost too much to endure.

*

Even worse, he had hooked up with Steve,

whose sheer beauty one could not believe,

whose own brilliance of mind

was the visual kind –

like his namesake, the brother I grieve.

*

(Steve’s an architect. Brother Steve, too,

had had so much – in that field – to do.)

Did I love Wayne? Or just

want to be him. Did lust –

of some sort – rear its … head here? Who knew.[97]

*

I knew, though, if I’d had my druther,

it’s Wayne who’d have been that big brother.

I knew, too, he sensed this –

yet seemed not against this.

Wayne sensed, too, to cite, well, another …

*

… “queer theorist” on Barthes: my fixation

on him now involved “adulation,

aggression, ambivalence” –

or some such equivalence.

(One feels one does need that quotation.)[98]

*

Plus guess who’s their good friend (amongst many).

It’s Penelope Laurens (or “Penny”),

who’d taught Milton and Blake

in that no-piece-of-cake

class I’d loved so much more than, well, any.

*

To return to the conference splendid,

I must tell you of two who attended

that great panel Wayne chaired:

Of the one, I was scared;

by the other one, sort of offended!

*

I see seated out there, at a desk,

some large woman – and think “Rubenesque.”

I ask Wayne who she was.

“That’s Eve Sedgwick. One does

Hate that dress. It’s so green it’s grotesque!”

*

Sedgwick. That’s who she was? Judas Priest!

In that class I had cared for the least,

I had stolen from her

on John Marcher – a cur

from some story we’ll just call “The Beast.”[99]

*

(A spankable critic named Eve

wrote books that made homophobes heave.

She’d give them depictions

of anal addictions

that showed them how not to conceive.)

*

I see seated by her, D.A. Miller.

(Yes, I know. That name here sounds like filler.

We’ve had Henry, then Hillis,

And then Daisy, then Phyllis.

Hold on. Phyllis was merely a Diller.)

*

Just a few hours before, I’d said “hi”

to the man in some hall – passing by.

I did know who he was.

His new book on the fuzz

had a photo of him looking fly.[100]

*

He’d ignored this and slithered away –

wouldn’t give me the damn time of day.

People had seen.

Why be so mean?

I’d not asked, as it were, for a lay.

*

(There’s no stopping D.A., a flâneur,

from his hailing some man as “Monsieur!”

Only the gripe,

He’s not my type!”

and then asking him, “Avez-vous l’heure?”)

*

Seated next to me, someone well-dressed

and exceedingly “hot” – I’m impressed.

He’s a blond, with blue eyes.

Muscles just the right size.

What’s that nametag say? “Michael J. West.”

*

(This here medley of extemporanea

seems to harp on my erotomania,

like that poem – much darker –

Penned by Dorothy Parker

on some Queen called “Marie of Albania.”)[101]

*

He speaks French in his talk. I rejoice.

What great timbre. Great accent! Great voice!!

Un être de fuite

and here I’m in heat.

Should I fall – deep – in love? It’s a choice.

*

“But, then, what about ‘Bosie’?” you cry.

No, I’m not “polyamory guy.”

My lust for James Hall

had started to pall,

though my love for him never did die.

*

My talk, too, now caused quite a sensation;

there were bravos, and cheers, and elation.

(Saith Wayne unto West,

“You two are the best!”)

There was – almost – a standing ovation.

*

D.A. Miller, as quick as a bunny,

made a move you might find kind of funny.

I remember it thus:

He hopped over to us

and then murmured to West, “Hey there, Honey.”

*

These two must be a couple, I thought.

Their connection, though, seemed a bit fraught –

like what they were doing

might prompt local booing.

Or, worse, punishment. If they got caught.

*

(They were both at the very same school:

U.C. Berkeley, where queerness was cool.

Still, though, Miller, a prof,

should be keeping mitts off

the male students – like West – as a rule.)[102]

*

Now Eve Sedgwick – not hopping – approached.

Had she somehow found out that I’ve poached

her great essay on James?

(My two cheeks were in flames.)

Was this subject about to be broached?

*

Eve seemed somewhat afraid of myself.

Could that be? Little me? Little elf?

As if one were some Ghibelline,

wearing ermine or zibeline;

as if she were some underdressed Guelph.

*

(Sometime later I’d learn Eve’s just shy.

Quelle coïncidence! So too am I!

What Eve published, of course,

is a real tour de force.

There, there’s boldness in no short supply.)

*

“Might I please,” murmured Eve, “get a copy

of your talk? Hard is fine, or on floppy.

I just loved that first part,

about doxa and Barthes.”

Had I just consumed opium poppy?

*

I now gave Eve the one I’d on hand,

little knowing what else she had planned:

She’d send it to Genders,

extolling its splendors –

thereby launching one’s personal brand.

*

Such a plan on her part seemed maternal.

Had D.A. done it, I’d say: paternal.

So I’d later enshrine

Eve as “Mother Divine.”[103]

What was Genders? Some scholarly journal.

*

For a sense of his speech, en anglais,

I shall excerpt a text sent today

by Michael J. West.

I’d shown him, in jest,

the last twenty-two stanzas. Oyez!

*

“That Yale conference is starting to acquire the aura of the Sex Pistols’ first concert in Manchester, which was attended by all the major figures of the post-punk world (Morrissey, Joy Division/New Order, et al.). I guess a lot of us launched our critical or academic career as a result of it. Let’s hope we won’t be moved to say, as did Johnny Rotten at the end of the Sex Pistols’ last concert and musical career, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’”

*

I could then discern – almost by feel –

that behind Eve, whose size might conceal

the co-presence of one

weighing less than a ton,

was John Geter! (Of “Pagan Appeal.”)

*

Had John always looked so very slim?

(Oh, there’s Bob. He’s attending with him.)

Young men suddenly lean,

and whatever their “scene” –

well, the prospect could only be grim.[104]

*

It’s time now, I guess, to compose a

few stanzas on John’s dear esposa.

Bob was born, to two philistines,

in some hole in the Philippines.

His last name – old Basque – was Mendoza.

*

They migrated soon to Saint Paul,

which Bob didn’t care for at all.

After college – Saint John’s,

where he’d slept with some dons –

Bob did art school, at Pratt; had a ball.[105]

*

Bob met John in an East Village boîte.

They made love in the back and … know what?

It’s probably time

to stop on this dime

and return to my conference plot.

*

So we all now (en masse, en stampede)[106]

found the panel “Virginia, Indeed!” –

about Woolf and her clan.

Its main speaker, a man,

was that cutie-pie Christopher Reed.

*

Chris Reed spoke of the sister, Vanessa,     

an old painter it’s hard to assess. A

whole lot of guys scoff,

by writing her off

as “that bugger-mad Barefoot Contessa.”[107]

*

His talk was just great! One admired

the cunning – so bold and inspired.

One then scribbled a précis.

It’s a tiny bit racy.

Quotation of course is required:

*

Fag-haggery sure worked out well –

for Duncan, that is. As for Bell:

a broken-down heart

and second-rate art

Bloomsburied by critics from hell.[108]

*

Some odd women here, though, gave Chris flak.

They’d inferred from the talk an attack

on the “Wesleyan Rose.”

Having read all her prose,

I assure you the woman’s a hack.[109]

*

At any rate, I now met Chris,

and through him – you won’t believe this,

as it does strain credulity

(and may sanction garrulity

in one who can’t not reminisce) –

*

So through this Chris, and through him alone,

I now met someone he’d call “my own.”

“Chris” too is his name.

It’s one and the same.

There be “homos” in that homo-phone.

*

So Chris One was in grad school at Yale

while Chris Two was at King’s (teary vale).

Having hooked up in college –

do forgive this enallage –

they is still in that sweet fairy tale![110]

*

(But, before that liaison parfait,

un beau autre made Chris One distrait.

I’d only learn who –

it’s someone I knew –

all too late, as you’ll see, in the day.)

*

Deconstructionist talks did abound

on some panels I thought quite unsound.

There was one by Miss Fuss,

who had come to discuss

a cool “lesbian gaze” she had found.

*

There was one by Miss Butler as well.

To be honest, I couldn’t quite tell

if the thing was a joke

or else just a baroque

way of raising (Hegelian) hell.

*

Brilliant Lee from our group, though, proved keen –

deconstructing the very same scene

I had done in Poughkeepsie!

This did feel somewhat -tripsy,

but I’m sure his intentions were clean.[111]

*

Likewise, Eve – who’s the belle of this ball –

proved that Diderot’s nun wasn’t all

she’d been locked up to be.

(“Oh, Madame de Moni.

Must you turn your dear face to the wall?”)[112]

*

So – the conference. Great big success.

Here’s a thing, though, I need to confess.

Just before its conclusion,

there had been some collusion.

Michael West asked to know my address.

***

I’m now double the age I was then

and am not as obsessed with “hot” men.

Therefore, help me, dear muses,

in recalling the bruises

some guys left me with, time and again.

*

(Most of recall, of course, is quite shot,

for whatever it was it’s now not.

So should memory fail,

at the end of this trail,

I just make up some shit on the spot.)

*

Michael West soon dispatched an epistle.

The thing’s impact was that of a missile.

He was funny and flirty,

if a little bit dirty:

“I’m now done with D.A.” I thought, “This’ll …”

*

This’ll what? I forget what it was.

My poor heart was ablaze. Was abuzz.

Was about to explode!

(This all probably showed.)

I chose love, as one does. As one does.

*

Correspondence – hush, hush – now began.

One would not call the tone “man to man” –

all our letters were florid,

and then, too, somewhat torrid.

We proceeded to draw up a plan.

*

(Michael West was now sitting quite pretty,

teaching French in a town called “Steel City.”

Andy Warhol was born there,

but he felt so forlorn there

he soon fled to New York. More’s the pity.)

*

That “florid” meant: sprightly; vivacious;

insightful; indeed, perspicacious;

stuffed full of esprit

and fun repartee.

A killjoy might just say, loquacious.

*

That “torrid” meant nothing too vile;

suggestions that might make one smile;

bold hints of high passion;

ekphrasis of fashion,

if scanty or sultry in style.

*

The letters were written in cursive,

a trace of some schoolmarms coercive.

Michael’s ink, always green,

was a joy to be seen –

and, I thought, both queer and subversive.

*

So the plan was to meet next December.

In Chicago, I seem to remember.

Would we “sparks” both combust

like those boys Fanny cussed?

Or just burn out like some kind of ember.

*

We’d be here to attend a convention,

about which it’s important to mention:

The thing’s no damned vacation;

one pursues approbation –

in a state of absurd hypertension.

*

Yes, you’ve guessed it: that year’s M.L.A.[113]

Hear old Harold Bloom brag! Hear him bray!

(High anxiety’s what’s

got his knickers in knots.)[114]

Such an ass, out of thoughts. Out of hay.

*

In the meantime Doug drag-planned a fête –

for a milestone I’d sooner forget:

I’d turn one score and ten,

which meant thirty back then,

though I still saw my role as soubrette.

*

I could go as some girl from Dalmatia.

I could go as that looker, Hypatia.

I then thought, “Further east!”

My excitement increased.

I could go as a glamorous geisha!

*

Most guests – dressed as girls – were just fab.

My “geisha” alas was just drab.

Poor Sheh-sheh, our puss,

despised all the fuss –

when suddenly in walked Ken Rabb!

*

My appearance – I’m red-white complected –

is so not what the man had expected.

“So there!” Ken exclaims,

surveying us dames.

Introductions are made, selves collected.

*

Knock, knock, knock. Who’s here now? Two more guys.

John and Bob! Can I credit my eyes?!

They are both garbed as men,

as is boyish old Ken,

yet show nary a sign of surprise.

*

John Geter has put on some weight.

He’s looking in fact pretty great.

Perhaps he’s not sick;

some pill’s done the trick,

or foodstuff he recently ate.

*

Guess who else appears now – so damn tardy –

Looking happy to be at our party.

Why, it’s Vernon Rosario!

(He resides in our barrio.)

And he’s dressed as a “Miss Chakravorty”![115]

*

We have seen that green sari before;

it’s the garb his “Indira” once wore.

But those jewels are new –

ruby red, sapphire blue.

“They’re just something I bought in Lahore.”

*

Miss Vernon has news to premiere.

“The conference Yale held?” Yes, dear.

“The one run by Wayne?”

You needn’t explain.

“It’s moving to Harvard next year!”

*

Then who’ll be directing the show?

“A person whom most of us know.”

David Halperin? Lee?

“Not at all. They’ve asked me!”

To this we could merely say, “Oh.”

*

But Vernon stepped up to the plate.

His management skills were first-rate.

He’d marshal us minions,

request our opinions,

and use only ones he thought great.

*

(I’m now writing in “self-isolation,”

with this COVID-19 devastation –

it’s now killing the old

like some villainous cold –

that’s extending across the whole nation.)

*

So enough about drag for the nonce.

It will come up again – I’m a ponce –

and with rather more point –

others’ snouts out of joint –

but with less oh-so-feigned nonchalance.

*

(When one thinks of those times one just cringes –

and one’s body responds with huge twinges.

Yet I frequently joke –

I’m so agèd a bloke –

that my drag name is now “Rusty Hinges.”)

*

I was working all day on the “diss.”

And about that I must repeat this:

To devise such a tome

is not building a home;

it’s like plunging into an abyss.

*

If you’re “building” at all, so to speak,

it’s some “structure” un-simple, un-sleek.

You’re, like, building a Reims –

that cathedral in France –

or some later “flamboyant” antique.

*

Plus you’re doing this work on your own.

It’s just you, only you, all alone –

you do not have a crew

to do things you can’t do –

delving into whatever is known.

*

Plus you shouldn’t “do” ladies or gents;

that is, “know” in the Biblical sense

any boy, any “goil” –

just adhere to your toil

and abjure wasteful spirit-expense.[116]

*

(I can’t take all this self-isolation!

I’ve become that old fifties creation,

crying “Max!” after “Max!”

I’ve just got to relax –

or at least have another libation.)[117]

*

In musical terms – philharmonic –

the structure you’re building’s symphonic:

a Das Lied von der Erde

such complexity’s murdah

or anything else that Teutonic.[118]

*

In two literal terms (no more tropes):

You’re both thinking and feeling, in hopes

that you’re proving you’re smart

and creating good art …

which takes knowing the “writerly” ropes.

*

Two more literal terms (four’s enough):

You’re both working and playing with stuff,

like language and form,

like stress and like storm …

which takes time, so much time. So, it’s tough.

*

By this “stress,” I mean feelings quite patent.

By this “storm,” I mean ones rather latent.

(What’s called Sturm before Drang

was Rousseau’s favorite song.

He liked affect in art to be blatant.)

*

And ’cause “tomes” are a far cry from small,

the most difficult struggle of all,

Hermeneutischer Zirkel” –

just ask Angela Merkel –

holds an author at work in its thrall.

*

What I mean is, it takes a real toll –

thanks to Heidegger, Hitler’s old troll –

knowing each little bit

should on some level fit

with all others – as well as the whole.

*

It takes, too, monumental finesse.

In the past I had lots. Now, lots less.

So this text you’ll have read –

called The Life I Have Led

is a bit of a structural mess.

*

Doug’s artwork, from what I could tell,

took all the same things to do well.

He just now confirms,

in practical terms,

“Done otherwise, nothing would sell!”

*

Doug’s work fundraising? No similarity.

This took charm, lots of charm. No vulgarity.

I like what he’d call it,

that lunge for your wallet:

mere “professional begging” for charity.

*

Now with “tome” writing here’s the big deal:

One’s involvement is realer than real.

In this one life we live

all attention we give

will get given to shaping that spiel.

*

This is even especially true

when there’s other stuff you have to do.

You’ll be teaching your class

or else wiping your ass –

but you’re still working out Chapter Two.

*

With the un-conscious surging in streams,

when asleep, you’ll be cooking up dreams.

But you’ve no raw material

even vaguely venereal.

All those dreams dish up tome-ical schemes.

*

The “big deal” – not so big anymore.

I nocturnally – dream-wise – ignore

The Life I Have Led.

(I’ve nightmares instead.)

My unconscious must find it a bore.

*

Diurnally, too – wide awake.

Away from this work, I’m on break.

I find it no curse,

forgetting my verse.

’Tis something I gladly forsake.

*

(Is this À la recherche – done in rhyme?

Or Salome – for one past her prime.

I couldn’t quite say.

But you might, one day.

I’ll have published it – dead – in due time.)[119]

*

One result was: That “diss” work wreaked hell

on relations with Doug. (I could tell.)

He was never the locus –

not “for real” – of my focus,

quite unlike with, say, David Abell.

*

Yet another: I can’t now recall

many happenings then – few at all –

unless they concern

some curious turn

in the word-craft that held me in thrall.

*

I do recall calling off drag.

One wasn’t a femme enough fag.

But drag’s like a cat;

released, and all that,

your pussy stays out of the bag.

*

(The two next times I’d find myself frocked

I expected – at most – to be mocked.

I looked too spectacular.

To speak in vernacular,

the observers were “jelly” – and shocked!)

*

I recall, too, a film titled Ghost,

which concerned a young banker who’s toast.

This came out that summer.

We found it a bummer,

so were stunned by the money it grossed.[120]

*

That same summer, as well, a cute man

now suggested what seemed a good plan:

“Move into my mansion!

I’ve done an expansion –

in the manner, I’m told, of Queen Anne.”

*

We two jumped at the chance to move in,

to pretend to be rich – if not thin.

(This alludes, I must say,

to a louche divorcée

whose pudenda caused endless chagrin.)[121]

*

One should not have been slow to predict –

even though one had thought we three clicked

(three peas in a pod,

or spots on a squad) –

that we two would quite soon self-evict.

*

This did happen two weeks after entry,

with that boyfriend of Keith’s standing sentry.

Our cute host? Such a putz,

and also quite nuts.

Called us “peasants,” himself “landed gentry.”

*

An unsettling experience? Sure.

It was all a bit much to endure.

Plus it bore out the hunch

that there is no free lunch

’cause the “gentry” can’t stomach the poor.

*

Now a word about not being thin.

I’d stopped running – a pain in the shin –

and so put on some pounds.

(It was worse than this sounds.)

One could tell by just chucking my chin.

*

I would soon join a state-of-art gym.

So would Doug – wanting, too, to be slim.

But my head is so small

that I didn’t at all

want big muscles on torso or limb.

*

Heavy weights then were seen as a threat.

Pushy “trainers” would make me upset.

My own bottom line,

which I thought was fine:

Just make sure to not break into sweat.

*

Now please do not become apoplectic;

I was not once again anorectic.

I was just a bit tubby,

as was – he felt – the hubby.

So our slimming could not be called hectic.

*

We wouldn’t then look Bangladeshi.[122]

We did though stop eating foods fleshy.

Goodbye to those meats.

Hello to those beets –

if not to desserts too crème fraiche-y.

*

You may ask now in tones not too gentle,

“Where’s your protein? Were you guys both mental?!”

There’s no need here to fume.

You forget the legume.

You forget for example the lentil.

*

And tofu. You don’t know the word?

I find that completely absurd.

The word is Chinese.

The stuff is like cheese,

but soy milk produces the curd.

*

So that’s it for chicken tortilla –

and veal Parmigian. Mama mia!

I’d keep this up, dears,

for more than ten years.

Did Doug follow suit? No idea.

***

To express this more slyly than starkly:

It was time to not see through glass darkly;

to abjure childish things;

grow some balls, if not wings;

enter manhood all spunky and sparkly.[123]

*

Therefore, help! – muses one, two, and three.

Help me say what it is that I see

as I ponder the time

of what must be my prime.

It’s year five, when got my degree.

*

Muse David, please help this be funny:

have wordplay, with nothing too punny;

quote speeches dramatic,

but leave out the phatic.

In short, make this streamlined and sunny.

*

Muse Nathan, please help this be lyric –

while hitting those bass notes satiric.

(Satyric, perhaps;

one’s head’s in men’s laps).

The high notes should be stratospheric.

*

Muse Reid, please do help this stay leery

Of over-reliance on “theory.”

Deconstruction and such

is too often a crutch;

in memoir, they just make one weary.           

*

It was time – one could not but feel this –

to complete my Barthesian “diss”

and to find a good job.

I mightn’t, though – sob –

’cause for white boys ’twas now hit or miss.

*

Well, I’m sorry you guys. It’s just true.

Didn’t help if you’re gay – or a Jew.

Dat affirmative action

ain’t gave no one no traction,

unless non-white – or lesbian. Boo!

*

Recall, if you will, our “Miss Fuss.”

In interviews, she’d spoken thus:

“I’m really a dyke.

It’s minge that I like!”

She knew such a lie was a plus.

*

“And just where,” you might ask, which you may,

“did such interviews happen? Marseille?

Mogadishu? Mardān?

Maiduguri? Milan?”

The convention we called M.L.A.

*

It’s the site, one’s already expressed,

where I’d see once again Michael West.

(Well, I’d certainly see –

que será – what will be.)

Would we both – one did hope – be undressed?

*

I applied for some thirty-odd posts,

all positioned on East or West Coasts:

“You’ll be glad you employed

one who’s read all of Freud!”

Most such letters are filled with such boasts.

*

Only three of those schools, none renowned,

set up interviews – this time around.

The first overlooked Casco Bay;

the second, Le Hudson Vallée;

and the third, picturesque Puget Sound.[124]

*

Still, I wasn’t completely chagrinned –

no ropes here against which I’d be pinned.

Perhaps after Christmas,

near Navy Pier Isthmus,

I’d “grow balls” in the City of Winds.

*

In Chicago, that is – Illinois.

The hotel prices there – boy oh boy!

To save buck, yen, or mark,

I now asked Eric Clarke

to “cohabitate” at the Savoy.

*

“As you know,” he replied, “we’re both twee gays.

I accept, but suggest we ban mêlées.”

As this sounded obscene,

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, let’s have no more three-ways.”

*

No problemo, I said – in Mock Spanish;

“Orgiastic intent, let us banish.”

Really, what did I care?

Michael West would be there.

Michael West, who’s uncommonly mannish.

*

We’d share more than a room, sad to say.

We’d compete for that post by the bay.

Proceeding apace,

let’s cut to the chase:

It was Eric they liked. Lack-a-day.[125]

*

He would stay for a year, then move on.

The last note he wrote? “Portland, I’mgone.”

So he’d leave in the lurch –

like some bride in a church

or some mistress of Mozart’s Don Juan –

*

a department to which he’d committed.

Had he failed to find one thing that fitted?

Eric’s next job would last

’til the day that he passed –

and it’s one he would never have quitted.

*

Some bad neighbors, I’m told, chose to snicker:

“Well, you know he took pills – and drank liquor!”

He was young for the Styx,

dead at just forty-six.

I would guess that he had bum ticker.

*

I shall excerpt an email, just seen,

which was sent by that “granny,” Keith Green.

You recall that, in drag,

Keith would dress in a bag –

and drink gin from a giant tureen.

*

“I wonder whatever happened to Eric’s remains? I was curious enough, not long ago, to look at his still-active Facebook page. I also had a brief ‘catch-up’ with his last student. She actually didn’t know anything about ‘final resting places.’ This was the same student who reported to me at the time that most of Eric’s friends were fairly well convinced that he was ultimately the victim of homicide. Apparently, ‘the scene’ was ambiguous enough that the police actually did a sort of initial investigation, but didn’t pursue the matter. So, I guess it could have been interpreted as either accident or suicide, or as homicide. Given that Eric was – apparently – on the way to losing his job, the suicide or accident narrative was the one that seemed, to the police, like the version with the more satisfying denouement. I gathered, from a previous exchange with this person, that she did not find the ‘resolution’ convincing, and believes the decision not to pursue further investigation to have been a function of the fact that there was no clear suspect. In other ways, there was some unraveling of the fictions about his past that Eric had quite carefully cultivated over the years (his mother’s flight from Las Vegas, etc.). It sounded as though he’d had a much more conventional (and conventionally dysfunctional and abusive) upbringing; but one that had (quite conventionally) left him very embittered by abuse endured at the hands of at least one step-parent. How all the subplots actually fit together will forever remain unresolved. But apparently Eric himself, who was actually a great inventor of stories, could never figure out just how to accomplish any sort of coherent assemblage, where all the parts had sufficient dramatic pathos but still fit altogether with each other. And one part of the final unraveling was that the more conventionally horrific and sad past, of the sort that so often lies behind struggle with substance abuse and family rejection, finally defeated him. The only family member who ever seems to have left any trace on his Facebook page is a niece who is now some sort of medium – and who communicates with the dead for pay.”

*

To return to that old cabaret –

what I mean is, mein Herr, M.L.A. –

I do wish I had found,

as to “valley” and “sound,”

that I’d managed to blow them away.

*

But those interviews – let’s cut the prattle.

I’d not managed Poughkeepsie, Seattle …

The feelings produced:

quelle déception (Proust),

and that awful fatigue known as “battle.”

*

And that rendezvous? Affectueux

mais très très, on peut dire, malheureux.

West was single no more,

which I’d not known before.

Let’s just say this was déception deux.

*

So as not to cause undue suspense,

or to cause it, if that makes more sense:

We shall meet West again

comme une belle comédienne,

which would – happily – be two years hence.

*

To return now to lazy young Jenny:

Her own woes that semester were many.

She’d come out to her folks,

who then said, “Holy smokes!

We are cutting you off!! Not one penny!!!”

*

So Bob Scholes said, “It’s only a phase.

They’ll regret those words – one of these days.

Meanwhile, live here with us.”

He would often act thus.

He’d a habit of taking in strays.

*

She then moved to his attic – a sad woman.

She was also, I sensed, a quite mad woman.[126]

At the time of our fight

I at last saw the light:

“Like Lord Byron, this bimbo’s a bad woman!”[127]

*

(Muse Nathan, alas, knows that’s true,

as he and his husband, Jun Xu,

live right next to her now.

Quel cauchemar!” they avow.

“If only we lived next to you!!”)

*

I was certain she’s nuts – this part’s tricky –

when her girlfriend, a nympho named Nikki,

had got caught getting off

with some visiting prof.

Her defense was, “It’s only a quickie!”

*

Jenny ran into Scholes’s big study,

in a peignoir both creepy and cruddy.

She then brandished a knife:

“I am taking my life!

Please make sure Nikki sees me all bloody.”

*

“You are being way, way too dramatic,”

said Bob Scholes, both bemused and pragmatic.

“That young girl is a whore,     

as I’ve told you before.

Now, begone! Go upstairs to your attic!”

*

“There’s been other such self-harming chatter,”

Scholes confessed. “Jenny’s mad as a hatter.”

He’d just talked to her dad,

whose response was, “I’m glad!” –

and to wash both his hands of the matter.

*

Scholes now did something I found quite apt.

No, it wasn’t to have the bitch slapped.

He just had her checked in

to a lunatic bin –

and electroconvulsively zapped.

*

I’m not sure though that this helped at all.

Decades later, when staging our brawl,

Jenny acted deranged.

And so nothing had changed.

I would still say the girl’s off the wall.

*

Final work on the “diss” – a bit rough.

Not so subtly, Scholes told me, “Enough!”

But it struck me one day,

I should make a foray

into archives where Stein left her stuff.

*

And so off to New Haven I slipped,

found Yale’s massive old manuscript crypt,

then consulted a draft –

so perverse I just laughed –

of that book from which “dirt” had been stripped.[128]

*

I considered while there a small theft:

I could easily, if I were deft,

take just one little page –

titled “Sage in a Rage.”

But I didn’t. And so I just left.

*

To explain now my saying “Love’s Lingo”

about falling in love with Doug Wingo:

It’s a neat intimation

of my tome’s appellation –

which had cited “poor Oscar,” by jingo![129]

*

And in spite of an “itch” non-domestic –[130]

I’ll not trouble to be anapestic –

the last thing I wrote –

it’s well worth a quote –

is the following flourish majestic:

*

“For Doug Wingo, with whom I’ve learned Love’s Litany and to whom it is dedicated.”

*

The day of the big “diss” defense

I couldn’t but act rather tense.

And so, out of pity,

my gracious committee

lobbed softballs that made little sense …

*

Like: Did Wilde ever fuck André Gide?

And: Did Woolf prefer hashish to weed?

And: Did Stein ever boast

“I’m as dumb as a post!”?

And: Did Stein even know how to read?

*

The last question, though – about Nietzsche –

was one I did not find too peachy.

My mind drew a blank.

My poor old heart sank.

No veni, here, vidi, then vici.

*

But I passed – all hail Caesar – I passed!

Was my schoolwork then over at last?

Yes, it was, I regret,

for I’ll never forget:

I had had, for the most part, a blast.

***

Doug suggested a plan the next day –

to which, clearly, I couldn’t say nay:

We’d arrange to abide

on the Upper West Side

and take jobs there whatever the pay.

*

Well, the plan quickly came to fruition.

Doug rejoined his old AIDS Coalition

and then got us a pad

that was retro yet sad.

I could not find a full-time position –

*

but I did find some odd jobs erelong:

as a nanny for young David Hwang;

as a lawyer of sorts,

who stayed clear ofthe courts;

as a “donor” of stuff from my schlong …

*

as a donor of sperm, if you please,

at a sperm bank that paid lofty fees.

I was popular, too,

since my file read “Jew”

and showed three – count ’em – Ivy degrees.

*

“I’ve got hundreds of kids,” I’d insist,

yet still feel, after all, pretty pissed.

They don’t call, they don’t write –

a conventional plight.

They don’t even reveal they exist![131]

*

My parents now had us nearby

and hoped we’d stay put ’til they die.

We hoped so as well.

What would, though, time tell?

Oh, whither – for work – wouldst go I?

*

(They seemed suddenly aged, back then,

at – I’m counting – at three score and ten.

Plus Dad’s days were numbered,

so sadly encumbered

by huge heart attacks time and again.)

*

Dear old friends, too, now had us in place:

the two Evans, the Bobs, also Grace,

also Ruth, also Sally …

Let’s abandon this tally,

as the whole thing would take too much space.

*

Bob Scholes, of one’s profs the most facular,

did something – in town – quite spectacular:

He now got us some grub

at a fancy-pants pub,

to utter in gutter vernacular.

*

Well, the “pub” here was known as Le Cirque;

the occasion, to honor my work

in becoming a “doctor” –

dissertation concocter –

and my training as would-be Young Turk.

*

The cuisine at Le Cirque? Haute français.

One’s aversion to meat? Not today!

Unbelievable food –

all no doubt cordon bleu-ed.

One’s legumes, to compare, taste like hay.

*

Soon after, one went to La Bête.

(Muse Hirson, you’re wanted on set.)

My number-one crush

penned lines that are lush

with humor, and heartache, and threat![132]

*

Yet the drama – at first – was a flop:

only twenty-five shows, then the chop.

It’s takes time to coerce

predilection for verse

that’s far brighter than bubblegum pop.

*

Decades later, the thing is a smash!

David Hirson is rolling in cash!

David Pierce – Elomire –

is so handsome, my dear,

in those lovelocks and manly moustache.

*

Eve Sedgwick now came through again.

She’d told one I’ll call “belle Hélène

(the name’s Helen Tartar),

“There’s no ‘diss’ that’s smarter

than Kev’s on queer women and men.”

*

Ms. Tartar, the head of a press

(it’s Stanford’s, one now may confess),        

soon sent the thing out

to scholars with clout

who’d read it then say “no” or “yes.”

*

As you all, I’d imagine, can guess,

they said yes. They said yes! They said yes!!

I just make certain changes,

and then Stanford arranges

to have published the thing with finesse.

*

Helen Tartar now came to the city.

We two met – and, like, man, was she pretty!

She was also a knitter, man,

like my friend surnamed Fitterman –

and used needles she’d call “itty-bitty.”

*

I now fantasized fortune and fame:

up in lights, so to speak, my own name!

Or: my name on a book!

I could point and say “look!” –

and then bask in the thunderous acclaim.

*

But I’m still just as white as a ghost.

And I’m still just a guy – not to boast.

Will this book in production

now remove that obstruction

to obtaining a tenure-track post?

*

It will not. I will have no profession.

All such thoughts produced dreadful depression.

Who will care if I died?

I’m too sad to abide!

Guess it’s time for a therapy session.

*

I suppose that it’s best I explain:

To my strait-laced old shrink, Dr. Train,

I now paid little mind.

I’d just manage to find

some smart gay one to gladden my brain.

*

I did find one, but he was so fat!

This soon made me say I’m also that –

which made him quite pissed.

And so he dismissed

little me in – no fair – nothing flat.

*

Some relationships came to their end.

Ruth, for one, said she can’t be my friend.

“This is not about Nietzsche!”

she explained – somewhat screechy.

“With your sorrows one will not contend.”[133]

*

It was time that my job search resume.

The location of posts – like Khartoum –

to which I could apply

all made Doug want to cry.

They were “shitholes” where he couldn’t bloom.

*

Our partnership now seemed unblessed,

unlikely to ace any test

of time spent together –

me holding the tether –

as exiles in, say, the Midwest.

*

Guess it’s time for a counseling session.

Doug found – somehow – a bighearted Hessian.

She declared, “Call me ‘Millie’” –

I myself found this silly,

as was clear from my facial expression.

*

German Millie was slim. (She had cancer.)

Doug soon pleaded, “Please tell me the answer.

Should I get divorced?”

She promptly discoursed,

“Yes! Your husband’s a schrecklich romancer.”

*

Doctor Millie, I sensed with regret,

has made Doug very clearly upset.

He shouldn’t have pleaded

to know what was needed.

My poor captive broke out in cold sweat.[134]

*

I, though, told him that maybe she’s right.

This produced desperation and fright.

Mahlon’s Ruth, at her lowest,

had said, “Whither thou goest …” –

as did Doug now. One pitied his plight.

*

Seven posts I’d applied for now said,

“We are pleased with the letter we read.

Shall we meet up one day

at the next M.L.A.?”

I developed, forthwith, a big head.

*

These were thousands of miles from New York.

The state closest was famous for pork

and – granted it’s quaint –

a portrait in paint

of some gothic guy holding a fork.[135]            

*

And so, leaving behind Lily Briscoe,

I flew solo (direct) out to “Frisco” –

where this year’s convention

took place. So much tension.

As I’ve mentioned, the thing ain’t no disco.[136]

*

I check in late at night to “The Park.”

It’s quite lonely, that room, in the dark,

where there’s no Michael West

to be put to the test.

There’s not even – what cheek! – Eric Clarke.

*

Some folks whom my letter had “pleased”

now treated me like I’m diseased.

They served – by the plateful –

some queries so hateful

I’m still – to this day – rather cheesed.

*

But others were jolly well great –

the ones from a very nice state.

Have you guessed what it is?

(Do forgive this dumb quiz.)

Hal Hill found a gal there to date.[137]

*

I knew not where the state really was.

How far north? How far south? Buzz, buzz, buzz.[138]

How far east? How far west?

I’d not pass such a test.

The New Yorker, I’m told, never does.

*

The head of that hiring committee

soon called “just to chat.” Is that witty?

With bravado I savor,

she now asked for a favor:

“Do fly here and see our fair city.”

*

This, I knew, was a cry of “Encore!”

What it meant was, I’d one chance in four

of getting the nod,

then joining the squad –

a department imagined top-drawer.

*

Robert Scholes was as pleased as could be;

thought he’d “make a few calls,” which pleased me.

He’d worked there for years –

and stayed close to peers –

after getting his own Ph.D.

*

I packed up a Brooks Brothers suit,

then polished a horn I could toot,

jumped on a plane,

drank some Champagne,

and nibbled some peanuts en route.

*

My room at the inn is just freezing.

The guests here are sick. Most are wheezing.

So this is the “prairie”?

It’s shitty. And scary.

Yet Scholes said the place was “so pleasing.”

*

In the morning, I’m met by some dean.

The man asks if I’d care for caffeine.

I say, “Hip hip, hooray!”

But there’s no cool café.

Dunkin’ Donuts alone sells “the bean.”

*

(The cast here, already a crowd –

one hopes no peruser is cowed –

now gets even bigger.

Do not, prithee, snigger;

just doin’ what Proust was allowed.)

*

That coffee is dreadful indeed.

That dean spills a bit on his tweed.

It now starts to pour.

We stop in some store

to purchase the raincoat I need.

*

Like some rake with his hesitant bride,

the dean offers to serve as a guide.

“Our downtown is charming!”

I find it alarming.

The thing’s two blocks by two on each side.

*

We now scuttle through puddle and ditch

to a riverine building in which

the English Division

will reach a decision:

who’s to be the new faculty bitch.

*

I now meet its Chair, who’s called Ed.

Years later, I’ll wish he were dead –

and rotting in hell.

“Do tell,” you beg. “Tell!”

I can’t. That’s all too far ahead.

*

When not dealing, as Chair, with bureaucracy,

Ed would work on the “Bard of Democracy.”

When told Whitman was gay,

he replied, “You don’t say!

All that straight stuff of his is … hypocrisy?”

*

I then met with a dyke, nicknamed Dee,

who did work on “the wife” – Alice B.

(The husband was “Gertie,”

both weighty and “wordy.”)

I’d wish her dead as well, as you’ll see.

*

At the time, Dee was sugar and spice.

Likewise, Ed did his best to entice.

They were both quite a wiz –

I’ll now stop with the quiz –

at embodying “Iowa nice.”

*

(Think I’ll skip some, to hasten narration.)

It was time for my big presentation:

“The Paltry Athleticism

of Pater’s Aestheticism.”[139]

This was met with subdued approbation.

*

Some had questions and I gave responses.

“What was Pater’s impression of ‘nonces’?”

My answer beguiled:

“The man was no Wilde;

he’d say they create renais-sances.”[140]

*

’Twas now sleeting, I noticed, outside.

Dee inquired if I’d care for a ride.

“I can show you some houses

where young profs – and their spouses –

might conceivably choose to abide.”

*

We would stop on the way to get Wendy,

who’s the stay-at-home spouse Dee thought trendy.

But in fact she did squat –

except smoke lots of pot.

What a decadent modus vivendi.

*

The houses we saw, some quite grand,

were packed like sardines. Not much land.

Old buggies were slow;

old incomes were low;

town real estate costs, out of hand.

*

We could choose one of these – some seemed quaint –

if it needed no more than just paint.

A big restoration,

perhaps renovation,

might end up with the home in distraint.

*

At dinner that night, I felt hunted.

Tough questions were hurled – or else grunted.

The host, Alan Nagel,

had one about Hegel.

“I don’t do the aitches,” I punted.

*

This had really meant “Germans,” I guess:

Jürgen Habermas, Horkheimer, Hess;

Heinrich Heine, a Jew;

Martin Heidegger, too;

even Hölderlin, one must confess.

*

I flew back to New York, rather sick.

Then the Chair called, said I was their pick.

Ms. Bravado now called:

I had had them “enthralled.”

My bold punting, she claimed, did the trick.

*

One thought that one couldn’t say no,

but felt one should ask about dough.

And so, quick as a bunny,

one said, “Show me the money!”[141]

The wages on offer were low.

*

I say yes – and then get out a map.

Where on Earth is the state? Holy crap!

To its north, Minnesota;

west of this, North Dakota.

So that’s Iowa: Land of the Lapp.

*

I now fold the thing up, sense a shiver.

I’ll be crossing a Rubicon River,

that “Ol’ Man” Mississippi.

It all seems all too trippy.

Oh, here’s Doug. I’ve got news to deliver.

***

Doug becomes a deflated balloon.

“You might love the locale,” I now croon.

“We could buy a cute cottage,

cook up potfuls of potage,

and then dance by the light of the moon.”

*

“I am not,” Doug replied, “the damn cat!”

We had Sheh-sheh positioned as that.

“And you’re not an owl,”

he said with a scowl.

Clearly, Lear was, to him, just old hat.[142]

*

(We would later fly out, buy a bungalow –

which was tinted a kind of oregano!

Now here’s the real funny bit:

That place was a money pit.

Its damn owner sure knew how to “buffalo.”

*

The old bungalow – ordered from Sears

maybe three score and ten or twelve years

back – did need some new paint.

But a “turnkey” home? T’aint.

The repair costs soon had me in tears.)

*

“Well, Grant Wood used to teach at the school …”

“You must think that I’m some kind of fool!”

said Doug out of spite;

“His work is so trite –

not to mention completely uncool.”

*

(I’d later learn all that I could

about this great artist, Grant Wood.

The poor guy was gay,

the closeted way;

it’s why he’s now misunderstood.

*

So, “uncool”? Not at all. Just unkempt.

Wood’s work drew upon gay stuff he dreamt.

Such dreams are disheveled,

besmirched, and bedeviled –

or so dirty you wake up verklempt.

*

I would then give a talk, once retired,

on some hunks by whom Wood was inspired.[143]

Dear Muse David attended –

and pronounced the thing splendid!

Evan Wolfson attended, though tired.)

*

“Oh, what’s to become of poor me?

I can’t just stay home and drink tea.”

“You could sell pretty ‘flahrz’ –

keeping nine-to-five hours.

Your shop could be called Colonel P.”[144]

*

This wasn’t the time for derision.

I couldn’t, though, help Doug envision

ol’ Iowa City

as what he’d call pretty.

Those cornfields were far from Elysian.

*

To get on with it, cut to the chase,

get a move on, continue apace:

We started to pack,

alas and alack.

There were boxes all over the place.

*

Boxes of clothing – like socks.

Boxes of gadgets – like clocks.

Boxes of books –

some just for looks.

Boxes of toys – like fake cocks.

*

I’m just kidding. We had no such toy

for the grown-up adventurous boy.

We had some for tots –

some real, some ersatz –

like lead soldiers. They’re fun to deploy.

*

Oh, and speaking of toys (think: giraffe) –

Evan Schwartz and his minimal staff,

which consisted of Bob,

volunteered for the job

of some hostessing on our behalf.

*

They soon put on a lovely soirée

held to honor our going away.

I do not recall much

beyond one brilliant touch:

The epergne was a large bale of hay.

*

Four male movers arrive with a van;

three are giants and one a mere man.

After loading our chattel –

the piano’s a battle –

they hit highway as fast as they can.

*

We stay overnight with my folks.

I play with the cat. I make jokes.

Mom looks so sad.

“Talk to your dad.

I think he’s been having small strokes.”

*

We’re in my old bedroom – Dad’s den.

“My health? I’d say two out of ten.

The heart’s quite a mess;

it can’t abide stress.”

He fears he won’t see us again.     

*

And then – it’s the very next day –

they drop us all off. J.F.K.

Mom’s crying out loud.

Dad says that he’s proud

Of what I’ve achieved, in my way.

***

PART TWO

*

Muse David! Muse Nathan!! Muse Reid!!!

I sense you’ve been out smoking weed.

If your focus be flaggin’ –

or “Erasmus B. Dragon” –

I’d recommend, otherwise, speed.[145]

*

So what year was this now? Let me see.

That of Toys and American Me.

That of This Is My Life.

(More anon on The Wife.)

Oh, and also Le Ciel de Paris.

*

Above us, un ciel pommelé.

A “mackerel sky,” as they say.

Just where is that van?

In China? Japan?

Quite soon the sky’s looking quite gray.

*

Now the movers arrive. Says one giant,

“Where does all this shit go?” Says his client,

“The piano goes there,

and the rest … we don’t care.”

They are rude, but they’re also compliant.

*

My study was painted mint green,

a color I felt was obscene.

But Doug said, “Gee whiz!

Just leave it as is.”

He thought such things look pretty keen.

*

Doug himself took the attic – off-white –

as his studio. “That’s where there’s light.”

No, I didn’t mind.

It’s not that I’m kind.

We would both be, when home, out of sight.

*

Things were going, then, sort of as planned.

But to quote Robert Burns (secondhand):

Such schemes go awry

with nemeses nigh.

In our case, that thing was a band.[146]

*

Well, not one sound had stirred – not a mouse –

from this rather large field by our house

when we suddenly heard

there percussion absurd.

“What fresh hell-fire is this?” asked the spouse.

*

I soon waylaid a hapless young drummer.

“We’re the marching band.” “But it’s still summer!”

“We’re, like, here every day.”

“Just how long do you play?”

He kept mum, and then mummer and mummer …

*

“Well, there isn’t, like, any restriction.”

Is he kidding? Concocting a fiction?

Well, turns out, he was not.

This damned house that we got

was a site of de facto eviction.

*

We two couldn’t be home afternoons.

We’d have lost both our minds from those tunes.

Poor old Sheh-sheh lost hers,

we could tell from crazed purrs –

kin to keening by rabid raccoons.

*

There’d be gray skies above ’til spring budding.

Not one sunbeam nor lonely cloud scudding.

There’d be dimness all day

from late August ’til May.

But with summer would come … massive flooding.

*

There’d be snow cover nearly that long,

from October to May. That’s just wrong.

So sont les neiges?

(at times in solfège)

was my go-to – if cynical – song.[147]

*

Fall semester began. I’d be teaching

two big seminars so overreaching –

one was Modernist Studies,

one was Les-Bi-Gay Buddies

that the students who left them left screeching.

*

In the first, on James Joyce and Ulysses,

all the brightest young misters and missies

were flamboyantly queer.

(One could tell from their gear.)

Of the former, my favorites were sissies.

*

The top sissy, named Michael J. Taeckens,

was as sexy as two Kevin Bacons.

But he found it a curse,

and so later wrote verse

about wishing he’d looked like Claude Akins.

*

The top missy, named Andrea Lawlor,

was a saucy and statuesque brawler –

a cool contradiction.

She’d later write fiction:

sordid tales that got taller and taller.

*

On the weekends, they’d both tend the bar

at some cabaret I thought subpar.

So I paid them for chores –

most of which were outdoors.

They were “lawn serfs” and I was their czar.

*

That big “les-bi-gay” class, I recall,

concerned Koestenbaum, Sedgwick, et al.

(’Twas on early “queertheory.”

For more background ask Siri.)[148]

All the students who stayed had a ball.

*

There was one such – this gave him great glee –

who enjoyed making people like me

act ballsy or flashy

or campy or trashy.

At the time he was called Alex Chee.[149]

*

The kid plastered, one day, a bold sign

on my office at school. “Like the line?”

RAVING FAG, it declared.

I could tell I’d been dared.

“It’s just great, Alex. Truly divine.”

*

I then left it up there for two years,

raising hackles as well as some fears.

“This is hateful! Obscene!!”

“Is he nuts? Or just green.”

Oh, my poor non-ironical peers.

.*

What came next was a fancy-dress dare.

For an English Department affair –

its Hallowe’en ball –

the note sent to all

had said, “Come as you are or show flair.”

*

“You should really,” said Alex, “think big.

Why not do something I’d really dig:

Gussy up as a hooker

who’s no longer a looker.

Wear high heels. And old hotpants. And wig.”

*

I arrive. All had come as they were.

All but I. They’re aghast, I infer

from the silence and glares.

I pretend no one cares

as I quaff some rambunctious liqueur.

*

I first met at this ball, at its end,

quite the dazzler – a kind of a blend

of Dorothy Parker

and “Little Miss Marker.”

I could sense she’d become my best friend.

*

“Let me guess,” she began. “You’re Belle Watling.”

“After hardships, including some throttling.”

“So what’s with the shorts?

We’re not here for sports.”

“My one hoop skirt got stained. Messy bottling.”

*

“Are you here,” I now asked, “on a spree?”

“I am here to accompany Dee,

while the wife tends her crops.”

“You mean Wendy grows hops?”

“She grows grass in their basement. You’ll see.”

*

So this dazzler, who comes from Bombay,

went to Wellesley to get a B.A.

(Can you guess whom she knew there?

Geeta knew Lisa Choo there!)

All those nymphets, she claims, made her gay.

*

At grad school, in essays empirical,

she analyzed lines she found lyrical.

’Twas verse by some slobby

yet brilliant Punjabi.

The essays, I’d find, were a miracle.

*

(It was there where she’d first gotten bit

by a polyglot bug called Comp Lit,

Which is what she taught here.

She’d, for instance, make clear

that in English “das Es” is “the It.”)

*

“Show your essays,” I said, “to Ms. Tartar.”

“There’s no point,” Geeta sighed like some martyr.

“You will do as I say,”

I said. “Send them her way;

include photos of you in a garter.”

*

Geeta did as I said. Helen raved,

“This new work is the knockout I craved!”

And then she said, “Look.

We’ll make it a book …

but with photos less clearly depraved.”[150]

*

Meanwhile, Doug. No new job, no new friend.

What on Earth might this mean, what portend?

Well, one wasn’t a fool.

(Shut your mouth. Don’t be cruel.)

It might mean we were nearing the end.

*

(Not to proceed troppo lento,

not to get too quattrocento,

But I pitied the lad poor Doug.

And I felt really bad like a thug.

Pardon, please, such pentimento.)

*

Now a “neo-abstraction” fanatic,

Doug was painting a lot in the attic.

These works all had an air

of unquiet despair

and were dismally monochromatic.

*

I though must, for whatever it’s worth,

now report on the glorious birth

of “Mireille Dujardin” –

Parisienne with a plan

but with little to no sense of mirth.

*

For a conference – “Wittgenstein’s Wit” –

I was down in the Burgh known as Pitt

with Geeta Patel.

Our panel went well,

though my own part was, well, full of shit.[151]

*

I was staying with Michael J. West,

but do not think that this was a test.

He’d become a good friend –

which is how such things end

when you’ve laid all your passion to rest.[152]

*

Much, much later that day, after dark,

we two got into drag – as a lark –

and drove to some fête

at which we were met

by both Geeta and … Eric O. Clarke!

*

Truly, my garb was quite foul:

miniskirt, tube top, and cowl.

After barely a glance,

other guests looked askance.

Michael was wearing a towel.

*

We’d concocted two feminist dames.

“Aviral” (c’était moi) enjoyed games.

She’d make jokes quite Derridean

about “maleness quotidian” –

while avoiding disprovable claims.

*

Though “Mireille” knew her Derrida too,

and her Barthes, just to name but a few,

Luce Irigaray

was her kind of guy –

being female and “fluid” as goo.

*

Hence our Michael’s bold bath-time couture.

His “Mireille” would have guests know for sure

she’d a book called Bidet:

On What Comes of the Spray.

Skimpy linen: both beacon and lure.

*

(“Mireille” reappears in Provence,

a story I can’t yet ensconce;

it’s ages from here.

So do be a dear

and show us un peu de patience.)

*

It is time now for me to shift gears.

I come home to find Douglas in tears.

He has news to report,

which he’ll try to keep short.

“Go ahead,” I reply. “I’m all ears.”

*

He’ll be leaving the very next day,

as New York is where he’d rather stay –

“Just like, you know, like Bob.”

Doug continues to sob.

“Who gets Sheh-sheh?” is all I can say.

*

“Well, you do.” The scholar, the cat.

Sam Barber has something on that,

a “hermitage” air

rejecting despair:

“How happy we are!” There’s one flat.[153]

*

How unhappy we were, Doug and I.

When remembering him, I just sigh,

like “Marcel” with that mec

from the digue at Balbec.

Such a kind – if not my kind – of guy.

*

Three weeks later, my dad passed away.

What else is there, I wonder, to say?

My grief was immense,

which makes complete sense.

I adored him. Still do, to this day.

*

(Mom had asked that I take all Dad’s shoes.

I could tell there were none I could use.

But we’d been the same size;

sad acceptance seemed wise.

Plus I hadn’t the heart to refuse.)

*

Then Bill Watson, that Different Drummer,

soon became my first close-friend succumber

to HIV/AIDS.

One’s sorrow cascades.

What a summer this was. What a summer.

*

When Paul Friedman, that lost Peter Pan,

my first second-violist … Oh man …

When Paul Friedman, too, died,

I just cried and I cried.

[Insert amphibrachs; rhyme if you can.]

***

Psychic wounds – so to speak – tend to fester.

But here came – once again – fall semester.

It was time to perk up,

like some peppy young pup,

and perform – as it were – teacher-jester.

*

(My dear muses, please do try to smile.

Life was fine now, if just for a while.

Remove those dark weeds;

this memoir proceeds

in one’s wistful yet lighthearted style.)

*

I was teaching a pair of new classes.

I was wearing a new pair of glasses.

Armanis, I think.

Their color, dark mink.

I was hoping some men would make passes.

*

But they didn’t. I joined a new gym.

Look at him, there. And him! Also him!!

Some looked back, which was fine.

None were students of mine;

that’s a pool in which one daren’t swim.

*

Yet despite this, I started to think

I should probably see a new shrink.

Geeta knew one.

“Cheryl is fun.

You two, surely, would soon be in sync.”

*

We two did hit it off the first day.

She’d a brother like me, also gay,

whose life was quite brief.

So Cheryl knew grief –

knew you couldn’t just think it away.

*

Geeta now had another idea.

“Oh, my sweetie, my (male) cara mia.”

(This quote isn’t tosh;

her accent is posh.)

“Let us host the next queer bash right he-ah!”

*

This gay conference, first held at Yale,

had by now become big as a whale;

the planning thereof,

a labor of love.

“Let us do!” I said. “Screw the travail.”

*

I do not wish to get too specific,

but the work we both did was horrific.

My one big chore –

Geeta had more –

was unnervingly unscientific.

*

I had to devise all the panels,

place speakers together in channels,

then give ’em fun names –

like Sappho Played Games

or Marlowe Wore Lumberjack Flannels;

*

Putting the Ass Back in Classics;

Acolytes under their Cassocks;

The Sodomy Sprites;

Fellatio Bytes;

Whitman Turned Tricks on those Hassocks.

*

Sigmund Freud and the Rectal Sublime;

Henry James and the Grammar of Grime;

Cirque du So-Gay;

Proust Found a Way –

After Wasting a Whole Lot of Time.

*

All alone, also loitering palely,

I encountered Bettina Bourjaily.

This had happened by chance,

as with any romance.

We then started to meet almost daily.

*

She’d just moved to a house ’cross the street.

It’s the kind of a house you’d find neat.

From her porch one fine day –

I’m on mine by the way –

she cried, “Yoo-hoo! I’ve made us a treat!”

*

(This was no brothel-free bawd.

This was a dame. Or a broad.

At seventy-three,

she’d ages on me.

Harold, I was, to her Maude.)

*

Well, the treat Tina made us were blinis,

after one or two double Martinis.

With that Levantine name,

I imagined she came

from a long line of very good genies.

*

But the name came from ex-husband Vance.

He’d not “kept it” – his cock – “in his pants.”

Faithless hubby, in youth,

wrote great novels. Forsooth!

“Like Nabokov’s?” “No, Anatole France.”

*

Her original name … is it Swensen?

Is it Christensen? Lorensen? Jensen?

It sure isn’t Shavian,

it’s real Scandinavian.

Oh, oh, I know! That surname is Yensen.

*

We two emailed as well, every day.

Tina’s writing just blew me away.

So Vance had the talent?!

The guy wasn’t gallant.

Had she ghosted his stuff? Wouldn’t say.

*

(When the novel The Wife first came out,

I thought Tina was who it’s about.

The book’s author said no,

though they’d met long ago.

“That poor woman. That man, such a lout.”)[154]

*

We staged our first film retrospective,

our bouncer – that’s me – was selective.

He had wanted just us

to enjoy all the fuss.

Of privacy he was protective.

*

The films that we saw – all Fellini’s –

paired well with the double Martinis.

His best was La Strada.

There’s nothing, there’s nada

more hapless than Mr. Quinn’s meanies.

*

What’s next, then? Director Mike Nichols?

Don Adams? Don Johnson? Don Rickles?

No, no, let’s do a lady.

One who’s sunny? No, shady.

We compromised: Vivian Pickles.[155]

*

I forgot to ask (blame the old bean):

Can you guess who appeared on the scene

at the start of semester?

Hermeneutical quester –

and gay schoolmate – dear (“Granny”) Keith Green!

*

Keith was here as a substitute preacher.

Make that, here as a substitute teacher.

He covered a smidgeon

of old-time religion:

“Holy Moses: That Stuttering Screecher.”

*

My first book now came out, looking chouette.

Dee and Wendy, chez eux, held a fête.

But the book felt inert,

a dead bug in the dirt.

I was – needless to say – quite upset.

*

But  one’s books, I would learn, aren’t dead.

They’re like children begotten and bred.

Such a book’s publication,

the kid’s last graduation.

Will he thrive? One does hope. One feels dread.

*

It’s beyond one’s control. Hit or miss.

Ergo all one could do was do this:

Start writing another.

Conceive that book’s brother.

I conceived my book Beethoven’s Kiss.

*

I then wrote it – much less of a strain

than Love’s Litany. Clearly, my brain

is – when writing – at ease

when it’s trying to please

just one guy at a time. This time, Wayne.

*

Desire is – at bottom – mysterious.

And opera? Torrid. Delirious.

In a tome full of kinks

Wayne had studied cool links.

The writing’s full-throated yet serious.

*

(How strong this “cathexis” is, still.

I can’t seem to end it at will.

It’s the same for the rest of them –

from the worst to the best of them.

of philia I’ve had my fill.)

*

The great “tome” I addressed, The Queen’s Throat,

concerns Callas et al. Here’s a quote:

“Gee, I adore her.”[156]

Me, I abhor her –

but I still wish that’s something I wrote.

*

In the course of my new book’s creation,

did I act on erotic temptation?

Perhaps once or twice,

if he seemed quite … nice.

On the whole, though: complete sublimation.[157]

*

My new shrink saw the book as a gain.

“I do think it’ll help stop the pain

of your psychic paralysis.

It’s astute self-analysis,

and addressed to yourself. Not just Wayne.”

*

Helen Tartar of Stanford said yes!

(She requested the book for her press.)

I was on a real roll.

I was out of control.

“I’m prolific! I write to excess!!”

*

This came up in my yearly review.

Colleagues said stuff like, “No flies on you!”

(The tone, once, was surly.)

“Let’s tenure you early.”

I responded with glee, “Oh, let’s do!”

*

I was so used to jumping the gun.

I was five when I started grade one,

I was sixteen – and frail –

when I started at Yale.

Three years later, I stopped. Hit and run.

*

(I sense I have said that before,

those ages and all. What a bore.

I guess I could check.

But, hey. What the heck.

Rereading’s too much of a chore.)

*

’Twas summer. What now gets reported?

Carousing with Keith. (No drugs snorted.)

More conference planning.

More gym-bunny scanning.

More writing, as “lawn serfs” cavorted.

***

It’s my “pre-tenure” year, fall semester.

I have got to be good, better, bester.

I should get through this fine

if I just stay in line:

Do the job, don’t become a molester.

*

Well, I didn’t become one. Not lying.

(Are those sighs of relief that you’re sighing?)

A man in my shoes

has too much to lose.

But then here came Ms. Jodi O’Brien.

*

Ms. O’Brien professed “human science.”

Her own specialty, “social reliance.”

Her social demeanor

could well have been cleaner.

It’s a combo of smarm and defiance.

*

So the woman now falsely accused:

“Most queer faculty here have abused

any number of students.

Such horrific imprudence!”

She named me, and I wasn’t amused.

*

Of whom was this true? Only Jodi,

a lesbian – butch – Miss Jean Brody.

She loved taking twirls

with glamorous girls,

most recently one I’ll call “Cody.”

*

There had been, with this girl, complications.

Cody threatened to make revelations.

Jodi’s claim (smoky screen)

was then meant for the dean –

to distract him with these defamations.

*

My response. I sued Jodi for slander.

I then met with the dean. “Take a gander,”

I said, “at Ms. Pot.

We Kettles are not

at all black. We’re incensed, in all candor.”

*

I got from him what I desired.

I got, to be brief, Jodi fired.

But then some other school

took a look at that fool.

“Good golly!” it said. She was hired.

*

That over with, we can proceed.

(Wake up, if you can, dear Muse Reid.)

Our conference – yay! –

now had its first day:

“InQueery / InTheory / InDeed.”

*

That’s the name. Hope you noticed the pun.

Some two thousand had come for the fun.

Gay men galore!

Need I say more?

I would manage to woo … not a one.

*

I was sick as a puppy, you see.

Had the flu. Temp: one hundred and three.

But still, all in all,

I’d have quite a ball

at this thing to which I’d been quite key.

*

Some memories that I can share:

Eve Sedgwick, Lee Edelman there;

Vernon as well,

dashing as hell;

Dear Geeta in gold, midriff bare.

*

Judith Butler – in action – was missing,

a bold move in a contest of pissing

that had something to do

with a fanzine or two …

Oh, I do so enjoy reminiscing.[158]

*

The event was the last of its kind,

a great loss for our life of the mind.

We “les-bi-gay” tutors

need more than computers.

Sociality counts, one would find.

*

Now, where was I? Dear God, I’ve lost track!

And I’m still such a long, long way back.

But that “puppy” above –

it’s a word I just love –

may be giving my noggin a thwack.

*

“You seem lonesome,” said Tina. “So lonesome.

Get a dog. Just ask people who own some:

It could sleep in your bed!”

(The cat, Sheh-sheh, was dead.)

“As for breeders of spaniels, I’ve known some.”

*

Knowing breeders of beaus – dude or dandy –

would’ve come in, I thought, far more handy.

But I did as she said,             

got a spaniel, well-bred,

and then gave him the moniker Andy.

*

But his full name was Anne de Joyeuse.

Look it up: une histoire curieuse

of a king and his favorite.

I do hope that you’ll savor it,

though it’s also un peu odieuse.

*

The spaniel was sweet. He was silly.

He waggled his tail, licked his willy.

Tina – that sneak –

bought, the next week,

lil’ Andy’s twin sister, named Lily.

*

We trained them together, with help.

Their puppy camp, “Wonderful Whelp” –

its mantra, “obedient” –

was posh but expedient.

I’d say so, much later, on Yelp.[159]

*

On walks, we would frequently meet a

kind caninophile senorita.

Her name is Lucinda.

One found her muy linda

beyond, that is, merely bonita.

*

Lucinda, who’s older than I,

soon told me that I was the guy

she’d have father a child.

My first thought was, “That’s wild!”

On second thought, “Give it a try.”

*

I then tried, and I tried, and I tried

through a lab on which colleagues relied.

I’d remembered the drill,

banking sperm. (“Do not spill!”)

But I failed. So she cried and she cried.

*

I’m now thinking, despite being gay,

“Got to get me a kid right away.

With this house, and this pup,

I’m already set up.

Plus I knit. I can even crochet.”

*

Poor Lucinda would never have kids.

So no traumas like crib death (or SIDS).

No bottles or pumps.              

No measles or mumps.

She’s still sad, though. Her life’s on the skids.

*

I’d get me kids later. You’ll see.

A jolly old Youth Jamboree!

But first I get, well,

the lover from hell.

I’m thirty-five; Mike’s thirty-three.

***

Yes, I know. I departed the scene.

But I’ve got an excuse. Don’t be mean.

I came down with the plague.

To be somewhat less vague,

I’ve been dealing with COVID-19.

*

To be honest, I thought I was done for.

Turned my face to the wall. Made a run for

the border. Ol’ Styx.

But Charon said “nix”

when I offered my obol, the one for …

*

a passage to Hades. The hell?

He said, “You’re not all that unwell.”

He said this in Greek,

a tongue I could speak.

“You still have a good sense of smell.”

*

I told Charon, “You’re quite the buttinsky.”

To resume: I’m pondering Vaslav Nijinsky

and deciding to write

a new book on his flight

with Diaghilev. Also Stravinsky.

*

(The book, some will say, is superb.

To quote Diane Middlebrook’s blurb:

“A lovely array

of thoughts on ballet,

though some things in here may disturb.”)[160]

*

I am missing Keith Green. My old friend,

as his gig here just came to an end,

has moved back to a farm –

the thought causes alarm –

that his kinfolk call “Heaven Forfend!”

*

Keith’s move makes me what I’d call kvetchy.

In English, that’s sullen and tetchy.

But here comes Ms. Bolton,

a cauldron (she’s molten)

of elements toothsome – but sketchy.

*

A new colleague, Ms. Bolton’s no punk.

It’s quite clear, though, she’s often quite drunk.

(As a grad student “star”

she’d worked nights in some bar.)

Worse than that, even. Drunk as a skunk.

*

But she’s smart, and soon makes me her chum.

Linda jokes that I’m “queer theory scum.”

Linda’s own work, on Buber,

makes her sound like a goober.[161]

Her work ethic is that of a bum.

*

Her own ethics per se? Not so hot.

She will sleep with her students. A lot.

But, then, back in the day,

she would often give way

to some teachers she’d found hot to trot.

*

There was one such instructor of hers –

he had dubbed her his “Venus in Furs” –

who ghost authored her “diss”!

It’s called “Hegel’s Abyss”

and concerns what a “bondsman” confers.[162]

*

I meet Mike at some hole-in-the-wall.

We meet through one, I now do recall –

the kind where you shove

your scepter of love

and hope to be having a ball.

*

Through said hole, at a “bookstore” called Quest,

I can tell that this fellow’s quite stressed.

He is trembling and tense.

I say, “Here’s my two cents:

You’ve got something to get off your chest.”

*

Well, he certainly does. We’re outside.

Mike, who’s weeping, decides to confide.

Though a stunner – nice pecs –

He has never had sex!

I suggest that we go for a ride.[163]

*

We now drive to my home. It’s not far.

Mike is quiet, except for, “Nice car.”

I myself am loquacious;

go for funny, sagacious.

“… as Foucault writes. Oh, look. Here we are.”

*

It is not that I’m some kind of louse.

I just think, “I should show him my house.”

Have this closet case see

how cool gay life can be.

I do not think, “I’ll make him my spouse.”

*

The man likes, very much, my abode.

(Mais bien sûr. C’était très à la mode.)

What do I think of him?

(It’s now dusk; lights are dim.)

Oh, dear God. I could write him an ode:

*

Thou most princely of men, in thy prime –

Too damn gorgeous for words. Even rhyme.

A handsome young Kennedy

(this ode becomes threnody)

with a voice I find haunting, sublime.

*

For lil’ Andy, ’twas love at first sight.

He would snuggle, then hump. And he’d bite.

To my best recollection,

Mike returned that affection.

So I asked if he’d please spend the night.

*

He said yes. We made out. We made love.

I had wings. I had “wings like a dove,”

as they say, and found rest.[164]

This poor soul was the best!

Mike had fit, I believed, like a glove.

*

Was this vidi, then vici, then veni?

I guessed those words would do, among many:

“Mike’s a gift from the gods

whom, against all the odds,

I’ve discovered. A lucky new penny.”

*

“What is happening here?” I now wondered.

Was this love? Was it lust? Had I blundered?

Was Mike Berkshire my savior?

Would he show bad behavior?

Would one’s heart, not quite sound, soon be sundered?

*

“I’m in love with you,” Michael now said.

And then I said (in thought, in my head):

“He can’t possibly hurt me;

he will never desert me;

he will never get bored in our bed.”

*

“Mike’s a sweetie, and sexy, and smart!”

cautioned Geeta. “Don’t tell what a … tart

You have been (at least lately).

I can sense – and sense greatly –

That admission might well break his heart.”

*

“Mike is lovely, but still rather green,”

cautioned Tina. “He’s still quite the teen.

Your role is to raise him,

to guide him, to praise him.

then release him – and don’t make a scene.”

*

This meant: “Mike is Nijinsky, for you.”

It meant: “You’re his Diaghilev, too.

When he marries some dancer,

you do not wish them cancer,

you be gracious – and bid him adieu.”[165]

*

This went into one ear, out the other.

Every beau – as with Doug – meant a brother.

They were Steve, in some sense.

(It’s complex. I condense.)

I could not be their father. Or mother.

*

Mike grew up in an Iowa town.

Find a map of the state. Now look down.

Way, way down. Now go right.

See New London? All-white.

Not a soul there who’s black or who’s brown.

*

They’d consider such colored folk vermin.

They themselves, on the whole, had been German.

With a few, I’d say, Kraut

former Nazis, no doubt,

I was able, in time, to determine.

*

We two went to New York – melting pot.

Mike had never been there. It’s a lot.

But he looked rather bonny

in new garb by Armani.

In my glasses by him, I did not.

*

It’s a city with millions of men,

of whom many swam into Mike’s ken.

Men of color swam fast.

We Caucasians came last.

I would learn all this later. Not then.

*

My own family liked Mike just fine.

My old friends likewise fell into line.

(Evan Wolfson sensed threat.

“This one seems like a pet,

which can’t possibly be a good sign.”)

*

Brother Bob, though, who’s always a dick,

treated Mike like he’s some kind of hick.

Bob dropped names right and left.

Mike is quick. Mike is deft.

He just said – ohne Worte – “This man’s sick.”

*

Most bad things, they say, come in threes.

(The brain looks for patterns like these.)

Most good things, in twos.

I now got some news …

“Do tell us!” you say; “pretty please.”

*

For my work on Nijinsky (think: po-mo)

I had gotten a gig on Lake Como!

One whole month at a villa

so damn bella it’s “killa” –

not too bad for a book-addled homo.[166]

*

Which month, then? (I’ll try to remember.)

It wasn’t that coming December,

November, October.

(I’m drunk here, non-sober.)

The month was that coming September!

*

Good news two was a subsequent gig

that I cared for far more than a fig:

a school year in “Philly”

to spend willy-nilly.

I’m Nijinsky! I’m dancing a jig!![167]

*

(While at work on my book – day or night –

I’d self-caution, “To do the thing right,

pretend you are that dancer.”

Was this such a good answer?

It was Mike who’s a “creature of flight.”)[168]

*

I’d be sad not to see Mike – ’twas clear –

or not see him that much all next year.

We were living together,

nesting birds of a feather.

He’d “stay put” when I left. What a dear.

*

My three muses now sing (what a group):

“You yourself were both duper and dupe.

Mike was there ‘nesting’?

Mike was a nestling,

who when fledged would be flying the coop!”)

*

I’d be sad not to see – the poor thing –

my dog Andy that much, ’til late spring.

Thus Tina: “He’s kin!

My Lily, his twin,

wants him here all day. Ring-a-ding-ding!”

*

I called mamma mia carissima

to tell her my gig news. “Bravissima!

Marcel Proust’s mother, Jeanne,

now popped into my bean.

The two of them. La Serenissima.

*

“Say, before I start gig number two

we should both go to Venice!” “Let’s do!”

Widowed Mom was so sad.

Deceased Dad would be glad

I’d arranged this for her – if he knew.

*

That first summer with Mike was sheer bliss.

One had never known romance like this.

He did seem enamored –

and often got hammered.

I could tell by the taste of his kiss.

*

Who’d enable that? Who d’ya think.

It was Linda who plied Mike with drink.

“Such crapulousness

Can cause quite the mess,”

observed Cheryl, my fabulous shrink.

*

A huge mess – what on Earth could I do? –

in which booze played a part would ensue.

Plus cruelty, lying,

betrayal, and crying.

Swann in Love, I would sense, had come true.

***

The villa is “killa.” So toney!

The name of this place: “Serbelloni.”

The town here: Bellagio.

I’m craving formaggio

and pastas past mere macaroni.

*

It’s a dreamscape – or some kind of fable.

Where’s my doublet, my ermine, my sable?

I’m sure one lucky fella –

if a bit Cinderella.

I’ve been housed in the villa’s old stable.

*

(Ten years hence they’d correct this mistake.

We’d a room with a view – of the lake –

in the villa lui-même.

’Twas la crème de la crème,

or the icing on top of the cake.)

*

Having worked all day long on our stuff,

we’d have had, about four, quite enough.

That’s when resident guys

would don jackets and ties,

haute couture for the gals. (Life is tough.)

*

We’d have drinks on the terrace at five,

served by staff members Terence and Clive.

“Negroni? Bellini?

Prosecco? Rossini?”

“A Martini. I need to revive.”

*

We’d proceed to la sala da pranzo:

candelabra of gold, maybe bronzo;

il buon pasto conveyed

by un bel Ganimede

a delightful young man named Alonzo.

*

About eight, we’d proceed hand in hand

to a room with an old Steinway grand.

“After-dinner liqueur?”

Things would now start to blur –

and I’d sit down to play on demand.

*

Some Rachmaninoff works that are slow.

Then some Chopin and Liszt. Some Rameau.

“Sambuca! How neat.”

I can’t feel my feet.

My right pedal work seems touch-and-go.

*

About midnight, we toddle to bed.

An old love song gets stuck in my head.

The “Song of the Lute,”

by Korngold. It’s cute.

I’m asleep now, and dream of the dead.[169]

*

Mike will join me – my treat – for week four.

He may love me, but I love him more.

I do hope it’s the case

that this “gift” of this place

might just manage to even the score.

*

What was he hoping for at the time?

Just to be somewhere somewhat sublime?

Or to see if he feels

if our love life has wheels,

if the thing’s got both reason and rhyme.

***

So I now meet poor Mom in Milan.

She looks haggard, exhausted, and wan.

It’s starting to rain.

We get on the train.

She nods off; in mere minutes, she’s gone.

*

Venice meant to me then – one, two, three –

lonely Gustav, nicht wohl, by the sea;

Sebastian, that spright,

and Charles getting tight;

orphaned Millie et al. sipping tea.[170]

*

Proust’s “Marcel” and his mother made four.

That poor mom brought her own mom. What’s more,

that son, in a panic –

was she lesbianic? –

brought some girl whom he’d claimed to adore.

*

That girl, Albertine, had been killed.

That grandma – her name was Bathilde –

had died of a stroke.

(Old age is no joke.)

Those travelers grieved as they chilled.

*

We’d brought two others as well,

taken from … no one can tell.

(Dad seemed quite near;

Steve, too, I fear.)

Jews have no heaven or hell.

*

Venice meant to me then, I might add:

gondoliers who might – cheaply – be had;

the very first ghetto;

the great Tintoretto;

some Fortuny in which to be clad;

*

where Vivaldi had first hit his stride;

where Diaghilev sickened and died;

where Hemingway got

Bellinis a lot;

where everyone hates the high tide.

*

We arrive soon at Santa Lucia.

“Mama mia!” exclaims mama mia.

We reach our hotel –

a cute place to dwell,

not too far from a swell galleria.

*

All these boats, though! My God, they are loud.

All these tourists, a clamorous crowd.

I’d thought Venice was calm –

as, I guessed, had my mom.

We’d imagined us riding a cloud.

*

We now covered on foot, hand in hand,

almost all of this watery land.

For what never, alas,

ever did come to pass,

was the gondola ride I had planned.

*

We haggled for glassware – Murano.

We handled new cocktails – Cinzano.

We went kind of crazy

for old Veronese

and – younger – the painter Bassano.[171]

*

As you may have inferred from this sketch,

I had little about which to kvetch.

Holding hands there together?

No umbilical tether.

Our two weeks there? Not too long a stretch.

*

Would we ever again do such a trip?

We would not, as Mom started to slip.

She’d soon fail to recall

my persona at all.

Our connection went down with that ship.

*

She would recall Mick, Rick, and Bob.

This wouldn’t, though, prompt me to sob.

My first gasp of air

a recent affair,

Mom’s brain could maintain no such job.

*

From Venice, I sped off to – ? Yikes!

It must have been home, mine and Mike’s.

My own mind’s a blank,

to be rather frank.

Those muses have all gone on strikes!

*

So from Venice I sped off to – ? Hell!

It’s that place with the Liberty Bell.

This is too goddamn silly.

Oh! I sped off to “Philly.”

One mnemonic: the cream cheese they sell.

*

I’d be renting a room from Marc Stein,

an old friend of a colleague of mine.

He lived in a slum!

I felt kind of dumb.

I’d be safer ensconced somewhere fine.

*

For the second of that year’s two gigs,

I’d have office space – fellowship digs.

It looked like a sty!

“Revolting!” I’d cry.

Former occupants must have been pigs.

*

I’d be sharing those digs with some guy.

This was news that at first made me sigh.

The guy is a Brit,

a bit of a twit,

But he’s campy as fuck – much like I.

*

His name, I recall, is Chris Lane.

His project: The Straight Man in Pain.

His muse: Jacques Lacan.

I told him, “Move on.

That turd should be flushed down the drain.”

*

Housemate Marc was a history buff.

He was writing a book titled Rough.

It’s about “Philly’s” gays

and looks back to the days

when they had to take homophobe guff.[172]

*

I’d like to reveal, just below,

who Marc called his muse. Not Foucault.

Also not Wickham Steed,

Saint-Simon, or Saint Bede.

It was someone – so, nu? – that I know.

*

It was George from the bar – that old friend

of a friend. See, the book George had penned

was just out in print.

“It’s making a mint!”

exclaimed Marc. “Let us hope that’s a trend.”[173]

*

Oh, dear muses of mine: No more strikes.

Tell the scabs I have paid, “Go take hikes.”

Since I need to recall

what ensued, Proust and all,

send those madeleines everyone likes.

*

Chris Lane was just one of three Chrises –

no “miss” here among them, nor “missus.”

Soon “Chris One” and “Chris Two”

made their “Philly” debut.

I greeted them gayly, with kisses.

*

This “Chris One,” you’ll recall, was Chris Reed.

He’d the same gig that I did. Indeed.

Chris Castiglia (whew!)

had a long book to do –

on abduction travails – called Girl Freed.[174]

*

We caroused quite a bit, at a run,

Marc and I, Chrises Three, Two, and One.

Being youngish, and gay,

we all thought, “While we may,

We should gather those rosebuds. Have fun!”

*

I do not mean we ran after sin.

We dined out as a group, we dined in.

And, much like Muse Reid,

or Nathan, pre-feed,

we all guzzled a whole lot of gin.

*

So one night – we’re drunk – I slur, “Hey!

I’ve thought of a game we should play.”

The Chrises, all ears,

respond with hear, hears!

“I call it liaison parfait.”

*

“Well, what’s it about?” they now say.

“The man who, alas, got away.”

“That sounds pretty sad.”

“It is!” I then add,

“It’s been trop heureuse, cette soirée.”

*

“I’ll go first,” Marc begins. “His name’s Joe,

a buff climber that I got to know …”

At the end of this riff,

the man falls off a cliff.

Who could top such a saga of woe?

*

Both Chris One and Chris Two take a pass.

I suppose you could say this shows class.

If your lover’s right there

it’s bad form to declare

that you’ve plowed, nay preferred other ass.

*

Chris Three tells his tale of Tim Dean,

another Lacan-obsessed queen.

“Did he have ‘the Phallus’?”

I joke with some malice.

Chris Two says to stop being mean.”[175]

*

“A beautiful man with red shoes.

A man – absent Mike – I’d now choose.”

I am speaking of Paul,

whom I hope you’ll recall.

“A man that I once chose … to lose.”

*

I finish the sorrowful tale.

Marc Stein says, “You’re so alpha-male.”

Chris Three says, “You’re bad.”

Chris Two, “You’re a cad.”

Chris One looks alarmingly pale.

*

“Paul D. Friedman?” he finally said.

Chris knew Paul back in college, in bed,

where they’d had a brief fling –

then lost touch. That past spring,

he had heard that the poor boy is dead.

*

To finish my work on the book,

I now did whatever it took.

“This here thing that I’m sellin’” –

I asked beautiful Helen.

“I wonder, could you take a look?”

*

While awaiting the woman’s response –

and while wishing myself a “bonne chance” –         

I reread all of Proust.

Deux pensées this produced: 

Quel plaisir!” to quote Barthes. “Quelle jouissance!

*

That whole book just gets better and better,

like a grind who becomes a go-getter.

While awaiting, as well,

I thought, “Oh, what the hell.

Let’s make Mike an astonishing sweater.”

*

The color I chose: “Russian Sable.”

The pattern I used: “Turgid Cable.”

It’s a difficult one.

Will I ever be done?

I’m making a Tower of Babel!

*

As I’d learn late in late from some nurse,

there’s this thing called “the love-sweater curse.”

Knit a boyfriend a jumper,

he’ll become your cruel dumper –

and you’ll never know heartbreak that’s worse.

*

Unaware, then, the sweater was folly,

I did finish by gosh and by golly.

I soon gave it to Mike –

“Here’s a garment you’ll like …” –

at a beachfront hotel called The Raleigh.

*

(You may know where I mean from the screen.

In The Birdcage, a funny old queen

tries to act like he’s cool

as he camps by the pool.

It’s a moving, relatable scene.)

*

The hotel was a trendy resort,

where young gays at the time could cavort.

All those men now have gone.

They’ve all moved – or passed on.

Such a terrible thing to report.

*

When Mike opened his gift, he seemed pleased.

“What a beautiful … scarf?” he now teased.

The whole labor of love

clearly fit like a glove,

which is nothing at which to be sneezed.

*

Mike was not very pleased, I’d have sworn,

when a guest asked, “Do you two do porn?”

“Oh, we certainly do!

I’m in Wandering Jew

and my boyfriend’s in Shucking the Corn.”

*

We had loved that hotel, although dated.

(When built, Poland was being invaded.)

Mike returned whence he’d come;

I myself, to Marc’s slum –

where a letter from Helen awaited.

*

She said yes! She said yes!! She said yes!!!

One, two, three books with such a great press.

I’m a shimmering star.

As a yacht, I’d be yar!

I was full of myself, I confess.

*

There’s a telephone call. It’s from Dee.

“Is this Kevin?” “Indeed. This is she.”

“I’ve got news to convey.”

I don’t know what to say.

“You’ve got tenure!” “So soon?” I said. “Gee.”

*

The time of that call: two o’clock.

It came as a bit of a shock.

So without counting sheep,

I fell soundly asleep –

still wearing my afternoon frock!

*

(For context: I never take naps.

I slumber at night, after taps.

That snooze I enjoyed –

just ask Sigmund Freud –

was quite the fantastischer lapse.)

*

Awake, I called Tina. “Hi, Maude.

It’s Harold. Prepare to applaud.”

My news – out of “Philly” –

she called “quite the dilly.”

The dogs, though, were not overawed.

*

I called Geeta, who answered the phone.

She had news, Geeta said, of her own.

“I’ve been offered a post

on the upper East Coast!”

“Please don’t take it!” I cried with a groan.

*

At last, I called Mike with my news.

Was someone else there? There were clues:

The piano was played;

then some male voice – rough trade? –

demanded a bottle of booze.

*

I called Mick with the news the next day.

Her laconic response was a “yay!”

She then must have told Bob,

who decided to lob

a big missile I found too outré.

*

The gist was: I’m selfish and sick.

I knew Bob could be such a prick.

But talk of derangement!

I needed estrangement,

and dashed off a time bomb. Tick, tick.

*

It’s gist was: You’re just an old queen.

And bitter as fuck. And so mean!

I can’t help you’re a flop –

career ground to a stop.

Go splooge somewhere else all that spleen.

*

(Bob’s playing, it’s easy to see,

was not what it needed to be.

She’s no Murray Perahia,

no piano messiah –

as audience members agree.

*

As mavens do too, tête-à-tête.

They say that the playing’s all wet.

Isn’t that so –

y’all oughta know –

Muse Reid and Muse Nate Carterette?)

*

There were also subliminal signs,

in my time bomb, between sundry lines.

These signs hinted I’d posited

that Bob’s being so closeted

was a fate which was her fault – not mine’s.

*

No reply to these “beads” that I’d read her.

(Had she shoved them all into a shredder?)

I’d de-boner-ed that prick –

so tumescent and thick –

who’ll become for me deader and deader.

*

When my “Philly” year came to an end,

All in all, ’twas a thing I’d commend.

Thank you, Marc and the Chrises.

I transmit you all kisses,

having so enjoyed being your friend.

***

Of those rhyme words that scholars call “slant” –

you’ll have noticed – my use here is scant.

I shall try to use more

lest you think I’m a bore

or – in prosody practice – a cunt.

*

Enjambments? They’re far from the norm

for stanzas in limerick form.

I may add one or two;

I shall not add a slew.

’Twould kick up a critical storm.[176]

*

We come to a dreadful disaster,

a loss I could not seem to master.

I hadn’t the heart.

I hadn’t the art.

Perhaps I do now, though, at last. Or

*

perhaps I do not. Who’s to say?

Elizabeth Bishop? No way!

May she rot down in hell

with that damn villanelle.

Just kidding. I think it’s okay.[177]

*

So from “Philly” I flew home to Mike,

my young Kennedy – sigh – look-alike.

To again touch upon

Marcel’s cher Monsieur Swann:

my young “Tony” – of Antwerp – van Dyck.[178]

*

I was met at the airport by Andy.

I’d so missed my dear “cavalier” dandy.[179]

An adorable pooch,

he just wanted to smooch –

and to lick me all over like candy.

*

(Would dear Mike want the same? One could hope.

Still addicted to him, like he’s dope,

maybe speed, maybe smack,

I so craved him – like crack!

Was I craved in return? One feared, nope.)

*

Tina drove there, of course, in her Saab.

Dropped us off. Where is Mike? At his job,

as the time now is noon.

Guess he won’t be home soon.

Let’s clean up. Let’s not look like a slob.

*

Some strange face wash. Not Mike’s, I don’t think.

Some extremely long hair in the sink.

Not my toothbrush. Nor his.

Is this lindane? It is.

Oh, dear God. What’s that horrible stink?

*

Rotting food in the kitchen. Infernal.

Rumpled linen. Some skirmish nocturnal.

Soiled clothes by the bed,

which two men have shed.

On the dresser, left open, Mike’s journal.

*

“Shall I read it?” I wondered. “I shall,

at the risk of a seizure – grand mall.”

I do love Kev, I guess.

But I can’t take the stress,

having fallen so in love with Hal.

*

Who is Hal?! Some young body-built bloke?

Or was all this a horrible joke?

Mike did know I’d be here.

I feel panic and fear.

Forget seizure. I’m having a stroke.

*

I soon crawl into bed and just cry.

Is this whole affair lie upon lie?

Andy jumps in.

Where has he been?

Maybe he’d be upset if I die.

*

Mike gets home after five. There’s a scene.

“I have read about Hal,” I come clean.

“How dare you read that!”

This won’t be a chat.

He acts angry, then sullen, then mean.

*

Mike stops speaking to me and moves out.

How on Earth can he be such a lout?

Why set such a trap?

Why treat me like crap?

Tina’s ex was like that, I don’t doubt.

*

Knock, knock, knock. Who’s this here at the door?

Why, it’s Hal! Have I seen him before?

He’s been living here too.

I had hoped that’s not true.

He’s got stuff to retrieve from a drawer.

*

The guy leaves. I recall who he is.

Hal’s a grad student here. Quite the wiz.

He’s in English, like me.

He’s just starting year three.

Linda Bolton’s a “mentor” of his.

*

I recall that he’s slept with her too.

It’s a thing Linda quite likes to do.

Had Mike met Hal through her?

Yes, he had, I infer.

Does Mike know that Hal’s “bi”? What a crew.

*

“I suggest that you kill Mike,” fumed Geeta.

“He’s a cutie, but plainly a cheater.”

In just one week or two,

she’d move on. “Pastures new” –

if you’ll pardon the Lycidas meter.

*

“Mike is underdeveloped,” said Tina.

“Other grass for him still appears greener.”

“Perhaps other ass …”

She found the pun crass.

I was glad I’d not said “other wiener.”

*

My old shrink – in emergency session –

said, “To cure all this grief and depression,

see some middle-aged men

every now and again.

There are lots of such fish in the ocean.”

*

I supposed that I could leave my rut,

Give myself a good kick in the butt

and then try on for size

even elderly guys –

which is how I’d become quite the slut.

*

Before that happened, though, Geeta left.

As a cloth, she’d been warp to my weft.

This was “TOO MUCH” to bear!

(Harold’s mom, in despair.)

I felt dismal. Completely bereft.

*

But dear Tina remained here for me:

dry Martinis and sweet sympa-thy;

more sage words of advice

such as, “Mike isn’t nice.”

And, “It’s ‘lots of good fish in the sea.’”

*

Our film retrospectives resume,

beginning with two with Claire Bloom.

First Limelight then Charly

a choice made bizarrely.

These both end in gloom and/or doom.

*

Like the hero of Charly, a cretin,

I am left feeling lovelorn and beaten.

And incredibly tired.

Sayeth Tina, inspired:

“For our next one, let’s do Buster Keaton.”

*

Little Andy was lovelorn as well.

He missed Lily, a moron could tell.

“I would venture to say,”

Tina told me one day,

“that it’s here your poor doggie should dwell.”

*

In this matter, should I have a voice?

I gave Andy – and Lily – the choice.

Here with me, he’s deflated.

Over there, he’s elated.

As is Lily with him. She’d rejoice.

*

And so now, here at home all alone,

no poor doggie to give a nice bone,

no poor boyfriend to cuddle,

my poor heart in a muddle …

Oh, just write the damn line on your own.

***

Fall semester. First seminar session.

I confront a bold act of … aggression?

Hal’s enrolled in the class.

Kick him out on his ass?

Or dissemble – deep breath – self-possession.

*

I dissemble. I’m quite good at lying.

I can do it without even trying.

But dear God, this is hard.

Hal has caught me off guard.

Is he serious here? Or just prying.

*

If he’s planned to explore my existence,

will he do so with cunning persistence?

Go ahead, make my day,

as the gunslingers say.

I’m adept at “discursive resistance.”

*

It will soon, though, become all too clear –

I am jumping ahead a bit here –

that Hal’s in a rush

to act on a crush

He now has on yours truly. Oh, dear.

*

But who wants to be sloppy third?

First Linda, then Mike. It’s absurd.

Plus Hal is a student.

It wouldn’t be prudent.

It wouldn’t be right. That’s the word.

*

And at any rate, Cheryl has pressed:

“Do try older men. Shun all the rest.”

Hal is, well, like,

younger than Mike.

I go back to that “bookstore” called Quest.

*

(What else could one do when in rut?

Our only gay bar had just shut.

The personal ad

was hardly a fad.

No Grindr existed. But, but …

*

what about discos? Real fast:

Discos were things of the past.

After AIDS came to town

they had all been closed down.

Bookstores, though, those seemed to last.)

*

They’ve spruced the place up quite a bit.

It’s cleaner and much better lit.

As for Quest clientele,

some are hotter than hell,

and most people look rather fit.

*

Some of them, turns out, are truckers,

said to be vigorous fuckers.

Some are old bankers,

said to be wankers.

Skittish. Disdainful of succor.

*

I begin going once, sometimes twice

every week. Yes, I know it’s a vice,

perhaps an affliction,

or else an addiction.

On the whole, though, I find it quite nice.

*

You want names? Let me see. There is Joe,

an old butcher who moves a bit slow.

There’s a baker called Jake.

(That name had to be fake.)

There is Maximus, Manfred, and Moe.

*

One is a one-time bank robber

latterly, though, an odd-jobber.

I do like him best.

It’s such a great chest.

Seeing it makes me just slobber.

*

In the meantime, I’m still teaching teens.

But I’m tenured now, which – I think – means:

Look like a square,

cut off your hair,

and desist wearing hip-hugger jeans.

*

In the meantime, I’m trimming my nails,

drilling octaves, arpeggios, scales.

My piano technique

is now much worse than weak.

It’s a schooner without any sails.

*

In the meantime, I’m knitting for Tina –

out of wool that resembles pashmina –

a serape-like shawl.

The design, from Nepal,

is for some reason called “Angelina.”

*

In the meantime, I’m itching to write.

All my book ideas, though, seem so trite.

Like Siegfried and Roy:

Those Germans Who Toy

With Gigantic White Tigers That Bite.

*

Or The Middle-Aged Lesbian’s Lacemaker.

Or The Middle-Aged Thespian’s Pacemaker.

Or Crosshatch and Story:

On “Ed” St. John Gorey.

Or else Bookbound: The Middle-Aged Casemaker.

*

Late that fall, I get called by the ex.

Must have something to get off his pecs.

Must be feeling contrite

for not ending things right.

Not at all. Mike just wants to have sex.

*

“Are you kidding?” you’d think I would say.

“You abuse me and now want to play?

You have broken my heart!

Go hook up with some tart!”

I don’t say that. I just say, “Okay.”

*

Well, that was a dumb thing to do.

Mike comes to the house and we screw.

He exits post-haste.

I feel so debased,

embarrassed, embittered, and blue.

*

And then Quest-goers started to pall.

They were not what I wanted at all.

Well, not really, at least.

I still wanted the beast

who had made that preposterous call.

*

And then tenure – in Iowa City! –

revealed features I found none too pretty.

“Is that all there is?”

I’d often self-quiz.

(Peggy Lee, in that music-hall ditty.)

*

Teaching books that I don’t think I’ve read

to bored kids who should still be in bed;

writing books no one likes

except one or two dykes;

only stopping the day I drop dead.

*

I resolved at this point to cut short

further Quest-going. “Time to abort!”

I declared with conviction.

But this was an addiction.

I kept going. For solace. For sport.

*

To contend with my tenure-based funk,

I asked old folks to say what they thunk.

“Write a weird book,” Dee said.

“Read some Whitman,” said Ed.

“Either that or get blindingly drunk.”

*

Walt Whitman I found quite a chore,

and drunkards I found quite a bore.

But scripting un livre

most readers find ivre:

Now that’s something I could explore.

*

I looked back on my oeuvre, deduced:

I should write one last book about Proust!

And do it as fiction!

A bold valediction –

wherein chicken-shits come home to roost.

*

One last novel, that is, which – bizarrely –   

I would also make Proust-ly. Memoir-ly!

À la À la recherche, then,

with some godawful con men –

Like Charlus and his catamite Charlie.

*

My main con man, that chicken-shit Mike.

Driving drunk, he might witlessly strike,

then run over and kill –

does it give him a thrill? –

some poor kid who’d been riding a bike.

*

Or he might kill himself driving drunk –

hit some tree with a giant-sized trunk.

Maybe beech tree, or birch.

Maybe laurel, or larch.

What a pitiful death. What a punk.

*

One last novel withal that would grieve.

Kind of maudlin, indulgent, naive.

Who should narrate the thing?

Who, sans muse, make it sing?

Oh, I know! I do know! Brother Steve:

*

My younger brother’s next book would have been on Marcel Proust.

Wayne says this was expected. My brother’s book on romantic love ends by suggesting that Roland Barthes wanted to be Proust: “The homosexuality of a writer who, to cite one gay signifier among many, sees himself as Proust, goes without saying.” His book on the “piano queen” begins with an epigraph from Sodom and Gomorrah: “Who would ever have detected that the rapid, nervous, charming style with which M. de Charlus played the Schumannesque passage of Fauré’s sonata had its equivalent – one dare not say its cause – in elements entirely physical, in the Baron’s nervous weaknesses?” (The translation is by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin.) His book on Vaslav Nijinsky cites Time Regained: “The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.” (Same translation.) It cites “Shéhérazade” as well, a poem by Wayne:

An Egyptian fag

            dangles from the rouged lips

of Reynaldo Hahn – in Proust’s bed –

humming “Si mes vers avaient des ailes.”

            Nothing I can write will have

such wings.

Wayne, of course, is Wayne Koestenbaum, whose book on the opera queen, which I read upon publication, anticipated Kevin’s related venture. But I didn’t know Wayne at the time. I never even met him – or arranged to meet him – until a year ago, which was just about twenty years after Kevin killed himself. It took me that long to care to understand the suicide note. It also took me that long to read the piano queen book, which is what, along with the “Shéhérazade” cite, made me think Wayne could help. In it, Kevin writes: “We all spend a lot of time trying – and failing – to distinguish identification from desire. Like Wayne Koestenbaum, we all ask ourselves questions like, ‘Am I in love with Julie Andrews, or do I think I am Julie Andrews?’” I knew Kevin knew Wayne. I wondered whether he was in love with Wayne as well, or whether he wanted to be him. If so, I wondered whether Kevin had told him so. I also wondered whether he’d told him everything he couldn’t tell me.[180]

*

You now ask with a cynical smirk,

“Why would anyone publish such work?”

I don’t know. Presses had.

Books I found pretty bad.

Or else utterly bonkers. Berserk.

*

I can hear you – quite boldly – opine

that “Steve’s” fictional voice sounds like mine.

There’s a reason it does.

I’d forgot what it was.

So I thought, “Let’s just have them align.”

*

While be-seated at home on my Stickley,

I completed a draft rather quickly.

I perused it and cried.

The big problem, I sighed,

was that schmaltz has been schmeared on too thickly.

*

I revised, and revised, and revised.

Could this not be a book that’s despised?

Yes, it could. Yes, it could!

It was good. It was good!

Won’t dear Helen be pleased! Or surprised!

*

Of course Mike won’t be pleased. I don’t care.

I’ll just send this to him. I’ll just share.

He’ll go so ballistic!

He’ll call me sadistic!

Fare thee well, then, mein schrecklicher Herr.

*

Mike was not in fact so very pleased.

What he was was, I’d say, pretty cheesed.

He had read with surprise

of “Paul’s” drunken demise,

and then called me to say, “You’re diseased!”[181]

*

He stopped speaking to me once again.

I thought, “What’s up with Iowa men?!”

This continued for years –

years of Mike guzzling beers

and of me trying hard to be zen.

*

This was something I just couldn’t do.

I would run into Mike and the crew.

The crew might say “hi,”

but he’d heave a sigh –

and then not even deign to say boo.

*

There were times Mike was with some new beau.

Couldn’t say how I’d know. I’d just know.

Did they have what I lack?

One’s Hispanic. One’s Black.

Shall we go? Yes, let’s go. (Think: Godot.)[182]

***

Abandon my book? More revision?

Just pick one. Just make some decision.

Here was Cheryl’s analysis:

“Do write through this paralysis.

In Paris, perhaps. Fields Elysian.”

*

I’m soon named our new “Faculty Scholar.”

Three falls off! Also many a dollar.

So I could work in France,

where Proust’s ghost, there’s a chance,

might quite love me to give him a holler.

*

Just what year was this now? Films thereof:

the odd rom-com Addicted to Love

and the period drama

make that queer-iod drama –

Henry James – called The Wings of the Dove.

*

I dreamt of the Vinteuil Septet.

I dreamt of the tasty baguette.

I then asked dear Michèle

where she thought I should dwell.

She knew of a cute maisonette

*

“… in le quartier we call le septième.

I have heard that it’s really a gem.

You could play with your pen

on the rue de Varenne!”

“That sounds perfect! La vie de bohème!

*

Filled with Francophile hunger and thirst –

le raisin de la joie I’d sure burst! –[183]

I rented tout suite

that maison petite

and moved into it August the first.

*

Dear Michèle made me meals that were bitchin’.

Wondrous smells wafted in from her kitchen!

She is truly the queen

of what’s called haute cuisine

one of numerous talents she’s rich in!

*

Late one night, on the métro – Line C –

after dining with her. Ah, Paris!

Now we’ve stopped. Such stagnation!

What the hell?! What’s this station?!

Pont de l’Alma. We moved now, were free.

*

The next morning, I heard on the news:

“‘Lady Di’” has just died.” There are views

of the tunnel, the crash.

Where was this? Here’s a flash:

Pont de l’Alma (Rive Droite). Pas d’excuses.

*

I had got to get on with my scrawl.

It was why I was here now, in Gaul.

Every day, then, I’d work

like a slave-driven Turk

at the Bibliothèque nationale.

*

Before long, I became very ill.

Caught the flu. (C’est la grippe!) Or a chill.

Wrote to Mike in a panic.

(This was transoceanic.)

He wrote back (quote, unquote): Take a pill.

*

At this point, I’m dying. I’m dead.

I cannot get out of the bed.

Someone hands me a mug.

My ex-husband? It’s Doug!

“Drink this.” I just do what he said.

*

Dear Michèle had arranged this affair,

Called Doug up to describe her despair:

“Ah, the poor invalide

is in terrible need!

Fly right over, break into his lair!”

*

I recovered. Doug asked, kind of slow,

“Why not give it another, um, go?”

I felt like Lolita,

that sad senorita.

“Oh, dear God, honey. No, honey, no.”

*

Three years hence, Doug would get a good spouse.

The name’s Tim. They have more than one house.

But I still feel his pain

as that wannabe swain,

and I still think I’m such a big louse.

*

My revision, at last, seems complete.

I can take the damn thing off the heat.

Let it cool. Then make haste

to dip in for a taste.

It’s delicious! The book’s pretty neat!

*

It was just about then that I met,

in the first of a few tête-à-têtes,

the great Richard Howard.

I felt overpowered –

but elated! I’m now his new pet!

*

The man was a wonderful poet.

And essayist, too. Did you know it?

And – in French – chevalier!

And flamboyantly gay.

When young, he’d decided to show it.[184]

*

I’d been sent off to Howard by Wayne.

“The man’s translating Proust,” he’d explain.

“I will tell him you’re cute –

also fairly astute.

You then call him. You’ve so much to gain!”

*

Wayne is such a good person, good friend.

Howard isn’t, I soon apprehend.

The tale’s sad denouement

I’d relate later on

in an essay I call “Howard’s End.”

*

Relate it right now? I don’t dare.

Peruse “Howard’s End,” if you care.

It’s a little bit grim,

what I say about him,

but thoughtful, “considerate,” fair.[185]

***

Well, the following fall, once again,

I’d be living in France – ça va bien

only this time – mais oui

in a town called Cassis.

Were there beaches? And handsome young men?

*

There were beaches. And men of that kind –

so damn handsome I thought I’d go blind!

But first let me say

what brought me their way.

(One assumes that one’s readers won’t mind.)

*

“Come work here on your new book’s creation,”

said the gracious Camargo Foundation.

I could quickly intuit,

there’s no doubt I should do it.

I would have, like, a working vacation!

*

First things first, though, I’d go see, firsthand,

dead Steve’s un-holy, horrible land,

that kibbutz, called Nachshon.

It’s the last place he’d known.

Were there trees? Or just shrubs. Or just sand.

*

I should probably cut to the chase.

Went to Israel. Avoided the place.

What good would it do.

Steve’s death, I now knew,

is a fact I can’t make myself face.[186]

*

I arrive, then, in France in a mood,

feeling lonely, depressed, and subdued.

And yet what’s my response

to the sights of Provence?

It’s so lovely here! No need to brood!

*

I reach the Camargo Foundation.

I cannot believe the location!

It is right on the water!

There’s a seal! Or an … otter?

So perfect for book reformation.

*

I soon spoke to my neighbor, Miss Fay.

“What a glorious, glorious day!”

“Such magnificent weather!”

“We should spend it together!”

This began with a stroll to le quai.

*

“Caro” Fay – short for Carolyn Fay –

was delighted to learn I am gay.

“Who’s that by the wharf?”

“The hunk with the scarf?”

I was happy she knows how to play.

*

When told of “Mireille Dujardin,”

she said that she met her in Cannes.

When told of her next book,

a kind of a textbook,

The Lesbian Lace of Sainte-Anne

*

Caro quickly suggested, in rhyme:

The Old Lesbian Lacemaker’s Crime;

The Tatting Soprano;

The Belle of Burano;

All Her Holes Are Completely Sublime!

*

Caro’s own work, she said, is on sleep –

for a “diss” she might call Counting Sheep.

“Take ‘Marcel’s’ Albertine.

That girl’s most often seen

taking naps he disturbs. What a creep.”

*

I was thinking – no ifs, ands, or buts –

“This gal’s funny, and clever, and nuts!”

Plus from what I could tell,

she thinks I am as well.

Which I am. (The admission takes guts.)

*

Neighbor two now appeared on the scene –

very tall, also lanky and lean.

“The name’s David Ivie.”

“Well, that’s rather jivey.”

One was speaking, one sensed, queen to queen.

*

He said he’s a painter. Well, golly!

His work looked like Salvador Dali.

He now asked me to pose

in the nude, with a rose.

The sessions, I hoped, would be jolly.

*

Caro Fay, one fine day, over brie,

said, “He’s painting you? I should come see!”

She came and she saw,

then said with some awe,

“It’s so Dadaist! Next time, do me.”

*

I don’t own it – a relic I’ve missed.

I am not even sure it exists.

If Ivie, that lout,

has thrown the thing out

I’d be ever so, ever so pissed.

*

Neighbor three now appeared, a bit late.

“The name’s Paul. Paul LaFarge.” Why the wait?

“I’ve been searching for sex

in the alleys of Aix.”

Was he gay? “Not at all. I’m quite straight.”

*

In concluding this first tête-à-tête,

this first friendly if formal duet,

Paul said he’s a writer.

“I’m here to make tighter

my new novel on lifelong regret.”[187]

*

Other neighbors appeared. Well, so what?

The relations among them were fraught.

“Plus they love stirring shit,”

I told Caro. “To wit:

One says you say my work ain’t worth squat!”

*

“That’s a lie!” she exclaimed. “Your work’s great.”

“So is yours,” I said. “Truly first-rate.”

We were out on le quai

having café au lait.

If we ate, I don’t know what we ate.

*

“Oh, my God!” said this friend I adore.

“There’s our scarf hunk! That scarf is velour!

He’s unlocking a chic

little clothing boutique.

We should go. We should go see his store.”

*

The boutique contained scarfs. Scarfs galore.

These were gorgeous. But still, nothing more?

Just how could a vendor

vend only such splendor?

There was mystery here to explore.

*

First things first, there were scarfs to obtain!

Two for me, three for Doug, four for Wayne.

Five for Caro, in blue.

It’s her favorite hue.

You’d have thought we had taken cocaine.

*

We now managed, at last, to determine

that our scarf hunk – named Olaf – is German.

An “admirer” of his

set him up in “das Biz.”

Someone famous? “Ja ja. Er heißt Hermann.”

*

“Just how did you meet? Do please tell.”

“I used to be, like, ein Modell.

Herr Hermann made clothes.

And one day I pose

in short-shorts that he wished to sell.”

*

What a story! It can’t have been twaddle.

Our hunk had to have been a top model.

“Let’s pretend we’re ones too,”

I suggested. “Let’s do!

Ones as brilliant as young Aristotle.”

*

We proceeded to stroll through Cassis

as if walking a catwalk. Tee-hee!

Stalled in front of some manse,

we soon caterwauled chants:

“We are models!” “Top models are we!!”

*

Strolling solo one après midi,

I discovered a path to the sea.

At the end of this lay

a quite stunning display:

Here sat Olaf, unclad. I thought, “Gee.”

*

He’s a merman. Who’s singing. To me?

I now take a deep breath, count to three.

I walk over, say “hi.”

“Oh, hello!” says the guy.

“I am hoping for you. Are you free?”

*

As a hookup, alas, he’s a flop.

This “top model” is no model top.

But he is a nice man.

“Please come join me – to tan –

when tomorrow I shut up the shop.”

*

I return to our place the next day.

Where is Olaf? Not here. Should I stay?

Just then, some cute twins –

such bronzified skins –

tous les deux viennent vers moi pour parler.

*

“We see you before, in the town.”

Their long pretty hair is dark brown.

The one’s called Armand;

the other, Bertrand.

“Come swimming. It’s fun. You won’t drown.”

*

I am tempted, so tempted. Yet wary.

“I have heard there are sharks, which is scary.”

The two brothers just scoff,

as their clothing comes off.

Well, the odds of a shark attack vary.

*

We cavort in the sea. I feel swell.

I think, “This is Balbec! I’m ‘Marcel’!

These are jeunes hommes en fleur!”

(I can sense you demur:

“You were old! You are going to hell.”)

*

Les jumeaux are delightfully loud.

(Plus they’re both bien dotés – well endowed.)

I hear one of the sibs

call what we would call “dibs.”

I’m relieved that he has. Three’s a crowd.

*

You see, three-ways – I’d found – are a bitch.

They’re fiascos. There’s always some glitch.

Is the one, though, Armand?

Or is it Bertrand?

I can’t tell yet which brother is which.

*

It’s Bertrand, I’d discover ashore

from a “B” on the shirt that he wore …

but tore off in my room.

Haute couture, I assume;

Saint Laurent, Givenchy, or Dior.

*

Oh! Pourquoi as-tu l’air si si triste,

Beau garçon de la plage naturiste?

Why now look so sad,

my nudist beach lad?

You’re rambunctious in bed. Quite the beast.

*

(I have never known why, to this day.

We’re in touch. I have asked. He won’t say.

Too ashamed? Or too shy?

Or too thoughtful a guy

to respond, “You are not a good lay.”)

*

I’d tell Caro about this affair,

from the twin set à bord de la mer

to the one twin’s tristesse.

“It would seem,” she’d profess,

“you’re a little in love with the pair.”

*

It was time now to wrap up the book,

end revision by hook or by crook.

Would what I’d do, do?

I hadn’t a clue.

It might well read like gobbledygook.

*

I do what I can, do my best,

get Finishing Proust off my chest.

I return to the States.

What crisis awaits?

I’m sure you have already guessed.

***

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

Still Iowa. Hadn’t moved on.

One freezing cold night out,

alit in a whiteout.

With snow flying hither and yon,

*

I so yearned for the torrid jouissance

of my sojourn in sunny Provence.

Blue skies above.

Beach boys to love –

or else ogle with sham nonchalance.

*

“Guess we’re home,” I guessed. “Home frigid home.”

Boundless cornfields of ice-hardened loam.

Oh, how can life be borne

amidst alien corn?

One acts Roman, they say, when in Rome.

*

But then Tina had other advice,

with a James quote I find quite concise.

“Live all you can.

Don’t join the clan

here that claims to be ‘Iowa nice.’”[188]

*

I did what she said right away.

I’ve done what she said to this day.

And that worked out well,

avoiding the hell

of craven mendacious display.

*

First things first. What about the new book?

If you took, between lines, a good look,

who was there? Whose esprit?

Well, I’d angled at sea …

and caught me at the end of a hook!

*

Heartbroken, mournful, yet kind;

sensible, somewhat refined;

vapid, delicious;

affable, vicious;

cleverish, clear-sighted, blind.

*

This is not my mundane personality.

It’s my writerly ego-reality.

In prose, or in verse,

for better or worse,

one exposes one’s a-sociality.

*

Proust had said that was so, which took nerve.

See his essay group, Contre Sainte-Beuve.

A few bits of this lurch

into À la recherche,

which distills, as well, other such oeuvres.

*

I felt, too, that my book can’t get smarter –

so I sent the thing off to Ms. Tartar

and then hoped against hope

that she’d find it all “dope.”

Should have prayed to Saint Jude, axe-felled martyr.

*

What about, though, my manner at work?

Was I being myself qua Young Turk?

Or just being nice

all sugar and spice –

and yet inwardly feel like a jerk?

*

I was being myself. Teaching class,

I was haughty, hilarious, crass,

a little bit crazy,

a little bit lazy.

I would grade myself there as a “pass.”

*

Among peers, I was more of the same.

Plus a bit of a diva, they’d claim.

When we’d meet – our department –

I would make my comportment

an admixture of Dolly and Mame.

*

Recalling their questions on Pater,[189]

at job talks, however, I’d cater

to the applicant’s need.

I would hope they succeed –

and tease them, if hired, sometime later.

*

The most recent such talk: best talk ever!

Just who is this? So brilliant and clever!

So handsome and tall!

The beau of the ball!

The name, I’ve been told, is Doug Trevor.

*

His talk is on “Renaissance Bile:

John Milton’s Disconsolate Style.”

(The man was depressed;

it all got expressed.)

But I just enjoy this – and smile.

*

Doug Trevor. Doug Trevor. Doug Trevor.

(Who’s Mike? Never heard of him. Never.)

I will make him my friend!

I will charm him no end –

a bold if endearing endeavor.

*

Or at least I can act as Doug’s mentor.

I can be like that hoary old Centaur

who was so worldly wise

he would heartthrobs advise.[190]

Think: Achilles et al. To present or …

*

not to present as half-horse.

That is the question, of course.

I can-not become tethered.

Could this young man be Strethered?[191]

Maybe. Might have to use force.

*

Did my colleagues have questions? Not sure.

When Doug finished, my mind was a blur.

But I sensed, telepathically,

plus a bit pornographically,

that this talk has just caused quite a stir.

*

We two soon hit it off, the next day,

at a local – and cozy – café.

“This guy likes me!” I squealed,

like some crazed Sally Field.[192]

And I couldn’t care less he’s not gay.

*

In fact, I had felt like big brother –

if not quite like father or mother.

Doug’s big sister, he’d cried,

had just suddenly died.

He’d only the one. There’s no other.

*

The sensation was novel, delightful.

Of my three older bros, two were frightful.

Rick was okay.

Also not gay.

Makes you think. Makes you somewhat insightful.

*

There were other ways, too, I detected,

that the two of us quickly connected.

If Doug didn’t move here

later on that same year,

I’d be utterly dazed and dejected.

*

The new book, I soon heard, got rejected.

“The main reader,” said Helen, “expected,

from you, something cheery.”

“I could make it less dreary.”

“You could not. This cannot be corrected.”[193]

*

“They said nope,” I now keened. “They said nope!

I will hang myself! Fetch me some rope.”

Wise old Tina just sighed.

“You’re too young to have died.

And, believe me, I know you can cope.”

*

Was that true? I’d confer with my shrink.

I’d trust her here to say what to think.

I said “Cheryl,” I said,

“I do wish I were dead.

And need rope. Or some hemlock-based drink.”

*

“The new book, you allege, is a flop?

So you plan to sip suicide-slop?

May I offer advice?”

“If you make it concise.”

“Well then, stop it!” she bellowed. “Just stop!!”

*

I did stop. That dumb urge did subside.

But, alas, as already implied,

came some news fresh from hell.

Having never got well,

poor John Geter, I learned, had just died.

***

Trevor did move to Iowa City!

I soon sang (in the shower) that ditty –

the thing’s clearly inane

if not “merely insane” –

about bridalry making you pretty.[194]

*

We two did things both fun and bizarre –

sometimes taking them almost too far.

Things like dancing the cancan,

which if sprightly a man can,

after watching that film by Renoir.[195]

*

We two did things a bit off the walls,

things like making outrageous prank calls.

Doug’s an excellent mimic –

you might call this his gimmick –

and would phone me a lot as Lou Rawls.

*

Best of all, though, one day the phone rang:

“You have horrible taste,” he now sang.

“Who is this?” “Renée Fleming,

and I’m calling condemning

your odd fondness for Rosemarie Lang.”[196]

*

“He’s so hot,” said one colleague, “he’s molten!”

Can you guess who this was? Linda Bolton.

“My pudendum’s atingle,”

she told Doug. “Let’s commingle!”

But he found the poor woman revoltin’.

*

Will the students, I wondered, stalk Doug?

He’s as cute as the ear of a bug.

And like Linda said, “hot.”

Well, they’ll give it a shot.

As with Linda, though, he’ll just think, “ugh.”

*

Like some villainess planning a crime,

one such stalker-ess bided her time.

Post-commencement, she’d harry him –

and then, reader, she’d marry him!

A postmodern Jane Eyre. [Insert rhyme.]

*

This arrangement would end some years later.

Mrs. Trevor, turns out, could be straighter.

“I have found” she told Doug,

“I like munching on rug.”

“You mean carpet,” he said. God, I hate ’er!

*

Please pardon that last bit, dear muses.

This lingo, I know, oft abuses

poor innocent folk.

(Poor dullards! I joke.)

They shall not, from hereon, get such bruises.

*

It was high time I left for L.A.,

which is where I’d been planning to stay

for my final fall off.

I hear some of you scoff,

but L.A.’s not as bad as they say.

*

With all of my nerves all aquiver

I jumped in my secondhand flivver –

nothing too gaudy

(beat-up old Audi) –

and drove past the Iowa River.

*

I soon get there as quick as a bunny.

I am feeling, I sense, a bit funny.

Is it loneliness? Crappiness?

Is it sadness? No, happiness –

which is caused by the climate. So sunny.

*

I’d be housesitting for an old friend –

Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce – who would spend

that whole fall in Bohemia.

The man loved academia

and supported whatever I’ve penned.[197]

*

My “remembrance” is no longer great.

I’m now … what? Sixty-two? Ninety-eight?

And my muses – all men –

have no one madeleine

that can fix this at such a late date.[198]

*

They appear now, and get on my case:

“Would you stop it? Just cut to the chase!”

“But I’m known for my flair.”

“Is that so? We don’t care.

You meander. But this here’s a race.”

*

Didn’t know they’re still reading my stuff.

Are they right – although also too rough?

Should I heed their advice,

become super concise

and avoid all exorbitant fluff?

*

No, I shouldn’t. I am what I am.

I quite frankly don’t give a goddamn

that they hate what I do.

(Think: chacun à son gout).

So I ask them, politely, to scram.

*

“You cretin!” responded Muse Reid.

“Don’t call me when next you’re in need.”

“I say ditto” – Muse Hirson.

“May your limericks worsen.”

Muse Nathan just wished me godspeed.

*

It’s a very nice house, with a pool,

and the neighborhood seemed pretty cool.

(He’s moved elsewhere since then.

Not exactly sure when.)

Mostly Jewish. There’s even a shul.

*

My workspace would be David’s study.

A note here read, “Hey, little buddy:

Do keep the place neat.

And please wipe your feet.

I don’t like floors muddy. Or bloody.”

*

A note in the parlor: “Hey, mate:

Do use this piano. It’s great.”

He’d put there … a task?

That Suite bergamasque

I’d played for him on our one date.

*

A note in the boudoir: “Hey, pet:

For sleep, here’s the room that you get.

But don’t do no sinnin’ –

nor sully my linen –

with strangers you’ve only just met.”

*

In that space, then, what work should I do?

No more fiction. With fiction I’m through.

Hold on. Here’s a good topic,

just a tad autotropic:

how such space doth one’s word-work imbue.

*

And thus began book number four,

depending on how you keep score.

If Finishing Proust

should count as produced,

the number is five. Books galore!

*

I came up with a title real quick

and considered it witty – if slick.

Neatness Counts was my choice.

It’s so me! So my voice!

So the part of my voice that does shtick!

*

Roland Barthes I’d place dans son bureau.

Marcel Proust I’d place dans un berceau.

Tom Stoppard? Tut-tut.

“Liz” Bishop? Some hut.

“Chatty” Chatwin? Let’s see. En bateau.[199]

*

(Remember – from grad school – Miss Fuss?

That gal with the “gaze” to discuss?

At this time – just by chance –

she would dance the same dance,

thereby throwing me under the bus.)[200]

*

For this mill of mine, some other grist:

I’d be reading three books about Liszt.

He was covered with warts!

Plus, the author reports,

was quite often – in British slang – pissed.[201]

*

I would work in the morning, most days.

What to do after that? Ogle gays

at a neighborhood gym?

(Look at him! Look at him!)

Play piano? Hang out in cafés?

*

And then I recalled Ye Olde Quest,

that “bookstore” where homos undressed.

Must be plenty around.

But, hey, what if I found

a bathhouse where such men … transgressed?

*

I soon found one called Hollywood Spa

not too far from a gym called Les Bois.

(Can you picture Odette

doing set after set?)

I could go there to … burn off some gras.

*

Thus began my diurnal routine:

do some work; go get ripped; get obscene,

avoiding the girlish,

evading the churlish,

hounding hunks who seem wholesome and clean.

*

My nocturnal routine? Have a look:

take a nap; swim a lap; start to cook;

eat the meal; do my nails;

practice etudes and scales;

go to bed – all alone – with a book.

*

It wasn’t all blowjobs and toil;

befriended three men and a “goil”:

young Andrew; hot Jesse;

cool David; and dressy,

delectable Jennifer Doyle.

*

Young Andrew, so brilliant and nervy,

I met at the film Topsy-Turvy.

He came home then with me –

for some chitchat and tea.

I promise I’m not merely pervy.

*

We discussed operatic libretti.

We discussed the composer Ligeti:

“‘L’escalier du diable?

Mais c’est presque injouable!

He then played it – and got a bit sweaty.[202]

*

I met Jesse, whose last name is Matz,

at a conference on “Modernist Spats.”

(You want names? Here are names:

H.G. Wells vs. James.)

“Liked your talk,” he said. I liked his lats.

*

We took off for some nearby canteen

where his pulchritude caused quite a scene.

(Three young waiters there fainted.)

We got quickly acquainted

and discovered we share a rare gene.

*

“It’s UGT1A1, Kevin,

on chromosome 2q37.”

“And that makes us yellow?”

“Indeed, my good fellow.

Oh, look at the time. Two eleven.”[203]

*

Had to go. Had to stop being flirty.

Jesse’s own talk began at two thirty:

“Temporal Shocks:

Narrative Clocks.”

This was brilliant – and just a bit dirty.

*

About Jesse, of course, I’d a thing.

Circum-ring-finger, though, he’d a ring.

(His old man, sure enough,

was a history buff.)

Not a chance we’d be having a fling.

*

The very next day I called Tina,

my goddess of smarts – my Athena.

“… but the guy’s unavailable,

like some summit unscalable.”

“So where does he live?” “Pasadena.”[204]

*

I’ve asked Jesse, just now, for his views

on my verse. Were they bravos? Or boos.

“Wow. You really embellish.

But I read it with relish.”

I shall make him, I think, my fourth muse.

*

I met David one day at the Getty,

at a show on Christina Rossetti.

Then a budding queer theorist,

he was far from careerist:

“I don’t care for Foucault. He’s too heady.”

*

David’s last name? The first one of Crusoe.

And his era? The same as of Rousseau.

David too wore a ring,

unavailable thing.

So I wouldn’t be planning my trousseau.[205]

*

What though was it about these three guys?

Each was somewhat like me – no surprise –

only better. As was Paul.

As were, frankly, them all.

When in love, one does idealize.

*

First Carol, then Kirsten, then Sue;

then Mallory, Mona, and Pru;

then Anne and Elyse;

then Bev and Bernice;

and then, you’ll recall, Lisa Choo.

*

Plus Diane and Parisian Michèle;

plus Grace Hwang; plus Ms. Valerie Bell,

Karen Bock pre-J.D.,

Caro Fay from Cassis,

brilliant Tina, and Geeta Patel.

*

Plus Jennifer, now. Why these gals?

Not one of these women – these pals –

has any affinity

for dull femininity

nor patience for shall-nots and shalls.

*

Why would they, though, have friendships with me?

If you can’t tell from this text, well, gee,

you’d better stop reading.

No point in proceeding:

You’ve discerned neither forest nor tree.

*

I met Jennifer one rainy day

while at work in a busy café.

I’d been re-reading Eve

on how assholes conceive.[206]

“Well, hel-lo! I see you must be gay.”

*

She then seated herself at my table.

Could it be this poor girl was unstable?

The scant torso: Ms. Twiggy’s.

An addiction to ciggies?

Had she come from some “les-bi-gay” fable?

*

(After couture worn by Twiggy,

who might have dared getting jiggy?

Not women with fat,

who unlike Ms. Sprat

would rather look lean than seem piggy.)

*

“I studied with Sedgwick at Duke!”

Perhaps, perhaps not. What a kook.

“You’re from Iowa? Wow!

You must really like cow!

A cousin lives there, in Dubuque.”

*

“My next book,” she now said, “is on soccer –

or else rugby. The title’s a shocker!”

“Is it Scrum Manifesto?”

I asked rather too presto.

“You’re a genius! Ha ha!” Off her rocker.[207]

*

“Maybe so,” I now said. “Maybe so.”

But there’s something I needed to know.

“Is it some kind of fluke

you’re in Double Dubuque?”[208]

For her answer to this, see below.

*

“Ha ha! No. I’ve just started a job.”

“Let me guess. You’re a moll for the mob.”

“Oh, my God! Ha ha! No.

I teach Melville and Poe

à jeunes gens qui sont intolérable.”

*

(Jenny’s French, I would later discover,

which she learned from some francophone lover

who, to be rather bref,

as a consummate chef

had considered himself far above her,

*

is as perfect as perfect can be.

Je le sais parce que quelqu’un m’a dit

someone soon met in France,

where, securing romance,

I’d be staying not far from Cassis.)

*

Off her rocker? Unstable? A kook?

Those impressions of mine, I rebuke.

Ms. Jennifer’s mind

is ultra-refined.

It’s as sharp as Spinoza’s – Baruch.

*

Jenny lives near where I do. How neat!

Jenny lives, in fact, just down the street.

“While you write your book,

I’ll come there and cook!”

Which she did. Many times. So, so sweet.

*

To repay this brillante jeune femme,

I would treat at bistrots haut de gamme.

Over garlicky snails,

she’d regale me with tales

of her sisters, herself, and her mom.

*

An elderly gent, looking arty,

appeared at one bistro-based party.

“My God!” Jenny said;

“I thought he was dead!”

“Who is it?” I asked. “Don Bachardy.”

*

“That name rings a bell in my mind.”

“His husband wrote Chris and His Kind.”

Herr Issyvoo’s ‘Don’?!”

Vous êtes au courant.”

“I’d so love to meet him,” I pined.[209]

*

Jesse Matz knew the man well enough.

He had painted my friend in the buff!

“Do you think he’d do me?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go see.”

“Where’s he live?” “On an oceanfront bluff.”

*

We meet Don out there – Santa Monica.

The man’s boutonnière – pink japonica.

I’m asked if I’d “sit.”

(He must find me fit.)

The date we select – close to Hannukah.

*

I’ve recounted that story before.

I can-not now recount it encore.

Muse Jesse says, “Quote!

I love what you wrote!”

I love Jesse. Correction: adore.

*

Late that fall, I just happened to meet someone – yet another English professor – who just happened to know [Don] Bachardy. Would I, he asked, like to meet Bachardy? He still lived, apparently, in a house – in nearby Santa Monica – that he had long shared with [Christopher] Isherwood. Would I, moreover, like for Bachardy to do my [nude] portrait? Yes, I would, I said – although not because I knew what this particular artist’s work looked like, or rather how incredibly good it all is. And also not because I liked the idea of my own genitals executed, by any artist, with any attention – remarkable or otherwise – to detail. (I did not, in fact, like this.) I said “yes” because I wanted to see that house. I had – and in fact still have – a thing for almost any writer’s workspace; I’d even soon write – and then have published – an incredibly good and only somewhat autobiographical book on this: Neatness Counts: Essays on the Writer’s Desk. I also had, as you may have inferred, a thing for Isherwood – as a writer – in particular. (“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,” begins Goodbye to Berlin. “Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”)

I got together with both Bachardy and that other professor, for cocktails, at some quaint little restaurant near the house. Bachardy, in fact, had walked – or perhaps sprinted – down there from home. He was wearing what I assumed were gym clothes. He had a full head of long, smooth, and very silvery hair. He had long, thick, and somewhat less silvery eyebrows. He had long, thick, and even paintbrush-thick eyelashes. These, though, were a very dark brown. His eyes, too, were very dark – but a very dark green.

He was, moreover, articulate – speaking in full, proper sentences and using no, like, you know, “discourse markers.” And yet, although born and raised in Los Angeles, he had the same proper accent – British, “Received Pronunciation” – that I imagined Isherwood must have had. (I was right about this – as you yourselves can hear in the recent documentary, Chris & Don: A Love Story [2007]. But this was no mere affectation on Bachardy’s part. “I can’t help it,” he himself says here; “I’m an unconscious impersonator.”)

He now asked if I would like to “sit” – not “pose,” I noticed – for him. He only ever, he explained, does life drawing. Bachardy, that is, has never worked – in portraiture – from photographs, and nor has he ever later re-worked a portrait. Every portrait is finished, over and done with, and also signed and dated by both artist and sitter, when that particular sitting is finished. “It’s only ever about process, for me,” he said, “and never about product.” He explained, too, that he does such work – in an art studio just next to the house – almost every day of his life. He did not explain, but nor did I ask him to explain, just why he would like to do my portrait – or even that of any such non-celebrity. Having watched Chris & Don a couple of times, though, I now know why he’d like to – or even perhaps need to – do this. It’s also only ever about the human face for him, and never about – and least not since an admittedly “star-struck” childhood and then adolescence – celebrity. “Every face has to be important,” he says somewhat inarticulately because rather passionately at the end of that documentary; “Every face. And when you think each individual is showing me a face that he is living his entire life with – and so it has to be of immense importance.”

I, alone, soon sat for Bachardy – after of course seeing the house. (I’d suggested if not demanded a tour of it. I’d considered stealing an ashtray, at one point. But I then thought, somewhat ashamedly, about how I myself would feel should anyone do such a thing to me.) The art studio – bright white – had a great view of the Pacific Ocean. It had, as well, displayed on walls, any number of portraits done – in color – by Bachardy. Some of these, I noticed upon entry, were of Isherwood. (In Chris & Don, you yourselves can get a good look at this studio. You can see the house in it as well. You can see the restaurant, mentioned above, in the recent film version of A Single Man [2009]. It’s directed by Tom Ford and stars Colin Firth, as George.) But as I now removed my eyeglasses – let’s just say that this was at Bachardy’s suggestion – I neither got to enjoy that ocean view, while sitting, nor saw those portraits at all well. The sitting itself – which at times meant reclining, for me – was very painful for me to do. I had to hold some awkward position, never moving a muscle, for up to two hours at a stretch. And there were about six such stretches. Clothes were removed – my clothes, that is – after stretch number three. Bachardy himself was seated – on a stool – just a few feet in front of me. He was now wearing jeans and the kind of tight, sleeveless T-shirt that we here (in the United States) call a “wife-beater.” He was now staring at me, or rather at various points all over me (including genitals), with remarkable intensity and for seemingly endless minutes at a time. (This, given such close proximity, I could see very well.) He did not speak to me, while working. (He did, though, from time to time, mutter to or even scold himself.) And so neither did I speak. All there was to be heard, by me, was the sound of brushstrokes (plus muttering or scolding). No music, indoors. Outdoors, no birdsong – or even just traffic noise. He was clearly working very hard, very painfully, perhaps, and with only just a few offbeat colors (of acrylic paint), to capture my likeness. (I could see blue paint, for instance, and yet my own eyes are a dark brown. I could see yellow as well. And was that orange just then?) For there had been no preliminary drawing done – in black – on those large sheets of white paper, nor even any such sketching. All of this work, this whole process, I felt, was almost as much of a confrontation between the two of us as it was a collaboration. And so what, I wondered, must it feel like to be him doing this? (“What I’m really doing,” says Bachardy in Chris & Don, “is impersonating my sitter when I’m painting.”)

We finished; we signed and dated all those paintings; I alone gazed at them thoughtfully. He had captured my likeness, despite those offbeat colors and what seemed to me, even then, to be a kind of abstraction at play. He’d captured my essence, rather. For I looked, I thought, quite alive in them – if also a bit death-driven. I must look sadder, I thought as well, than I thought I looked. And, better yet, in one nude – not quite life-sized – I looked thinner than I thought. This I now bought from Bachardy – and would later, back home, have framed.

I bought the very saddest of the lot, too.[210]

*

“Weak intellect?” Andrew once cried.

“Tough worm in your little inside?”

“What’s caused this dejection

is blighted affection,”

I seem to recall I replied.[211]

***

PART THREE

*

Muse David, Muse Nathan, Muse Reid,

Muse Jesse, please do pay this heed.

About to turn forty,

would I soon be warty –

like Liszt in the end? To proceed:

*

I jumped in my secondhand flivver

and drove past Los Angeles River.

It’s winter, it’s cold;

I’m lonely, I’m old;

I pity myself and I shiver.

*

I’m “back home” now as quick as a … rabbit.

What a town! It’s like Main Street or Babbitt.

Life here is bland,

corn that’s been canned –

the consumption of which becomes habit.

*

“Carol Milford,” I muttered, “c’est moi.”

(A Flaubertian wisecrack. Tais-toi.)[212]

My conscience then said,

“This city is dead.

Let’s move somewhere less … je-ne-sais-quoi.”

*

This was no easy feat, we all knew.

Jobs with tenure – for white men – were few.

(Unless you’re a star.

I wasn’t, by far.)

Didn’t help being gay – or a Jew.

*

Dear Doug Trevor did all any man can –

to amuse me. Including the cancan.

Dear Tina Bourjaily

made sushi quite gaily –

if not better than gals from Japan can.

*

I wasn’t amused, I’m afraid.

Perhaps I should try getting laid.

Now I’m at Quest.

Not at its best.

Just truckers and trolls on parade.

*

Perhaps I should drink more Martinis.

Cook some dumplings, pierogis, or blinis.

(I just love meat that’s stuffed.

I just love pancakes fluffed.)

Put to use my old press for paninis.

*

If I do, though, I’d get rather fat –

and the last thing I wanted is that!

Perhaps I should fast,

as I’d done in the past.

My shrink Cheryl said, “Don’t be a brat.”

*

“Do some writing you find lots of fun.”

“But I don’t think I know how that’s done.”

“Here’s an erudite clue:

Be an impudent blue.

And use anapests. No? Well, here’s one.”

*

There once was a man from Nantucket

whose dick was so long he could suck it.

He said with a grin

as he licked off his chin,

‘If my ear were a cunt I would fuck it.’

*

A lightbulb went off in my brain:

For the easement of all kinds of pain,

light poetry’s best!

I soon ran a test –

and then boarded the limerick train:

*

While posing above an abyss,

poor Oscar said something amiss –

a damnably glib

sodomitical fib:

“The boy was too ugly to kiss.”

*

A power-crazed prof who knew Greek,

apparently phallicly weak,

told an old Brahman

with insight uncommon,

“I can’t make my subaltern shriek.”

*

Having been raised as a prude,

Julia got wed, then got lewd.

Hubbie now tips,

licking his lips,

“Why don’t you get cordon bleu-ed?”

*

After couture worn by Twiggy,

who might have dared getting jiggy?

Not women with fat,

who unlike Ms. Sprat

would rather look lean than seem piggy.

*

A spankable critic named Eve

wrote books that made homophobes heave.

She’d give them depictions

of anal addictions

that showed them how not to conceive.

*

There once was a diva named Judy,

a vengeful and paranoid beauty;

with gender she fucked

in prose that just sucked

but tickled the queer hyper-snooty.

*

This “train” went real fast. Does it show?

That book – number four – went real slow.

One got bogged down with Barthes.

So much stuff to impart!

So much other stuff one had to know.

*

There were numerous which, where, and when’s.

Such as: Did he use pencils or pens?

Where would he nap?

When would he snap

then stop work to go hang out with friends?

*

As for teaching, ’twas par for the course.

I’d just ramble – and get kind of hoarse –

telling tales of “New Critics”

and their “close analytics”

of some verse in Old English or Norse.

*

My committee work, though, became hyper.

“You’ve had too much time off. Pay the piper!” –

bellowed lesbian Dee.

It was shocking to see

that nice lady become such a viper.

*

“You need to stop putting on airs

and manage department affairs!” –

hollered hetero Ed.

It was nuts, what he said.

Had marbles gone missing upstairs?

*

I’d now organize faculty readings,

control graduate program proceedings,

and serve on committees

with batty old biddies

who’d just socialize during our meetings.

*

Enough on my so-called career.

Enough on a topic so drear.

I have stuff to relate

that I found pretty great –

’cause spring had sprung early that year!

*

’Twas the day of the groundhog – and raining.

(Rain is vernal. Excuse the explaining.)

This would mean, I soon found,

that the snow on the ground

would start melting, then pooling, then draining.

*

’Twas the day before Valentine’s Day –

and it’s sunny. I’m out “making hay” –

raking leaves that are dead

off a daffodil bed –

and I’m warbling a sweet roundelay.

*

Other creatures are doing the same.

Two black songbirds – I don’t know the name –

are nearby. They’re … conversing?

Or perhaps just rehearsing:

a duet that recalls La Bohème.

*

Is that red that just flashed on those wings?

How does nature come up with such things?

Blue skies above,

birds making love:

It’s the best of all possible springs.

*

An unknown next-door neighbor, just then,

began strolling across my demesne …

Hold on just a second.

Before I’ll have reckoned

with this who, what, where, which, why, and when,

*

I’m compelled to say something, at last,

on my penchant to study the past:

’Tis a bit of a mystery,

this obsession – with history –

which I’m sure leaves the “mindful” aghast.[213]

*

Well then, what – one may ask – can I say?

I could mention a print by Paul Klee

which was cunningly used

by that critic who mused

on what horrors have led to today.[214]

*

I can say that it’s PTSD:

I’ve known traumas I’ll never unsee;

I’ve had heartbreaks galore

that I need to explore,

to explain why they targeted me.

*

I can say it’s the sin of self-pity,

humming dirges instead of some ditty,

feeling glad to be sad,

feeling good to feel bad,

like Irina re: Russia’s big city.[215]

*

Now, back to the neighbor who’s here.

There’s something I’d like to make clear:

her first name is Shavian;

her second, Moravian.

It’s Candida Skála. Oh, dear.

*

“Please excuse,” she began, “this intrusion,

this disturbance of backyard seclusion.

But I’ve heard you’ve a yen

for consorting with men.”

Such a funny, efficient effusion.

*

“Do go on. What you’ve heard is quite so.”

“I’ve a friend whom you may wish to know.

He’s a medical doctor.”

My response may have shocked ’er:

“Is he someone the French would call beau?”

*

“Well, he’s blond-haired, and blue-eyed, and strong.”

“Is there anything with him that’s wrong?”

“Well, there’s one thing,” she said …

“Don’t be shy. Forge ahead.”

“The man’s workouts, I think, take too long.”

*

“How’d you happen to meet? Do please tell.

I am keen on rencontres tel quel.”

“My friend Shirley McKay

introduced us one day.

I’d been visiting her in Grinnell.”

*

“The man looks, just a bit, like that sing-

er who’s known – so they say – for that thing

where you take lots of time

having sex that’s sublime.”

“Are you talking,” I asked, “about Sting?”

*

“That’s the one. He looks, too, like the actor

who just played, in some film, a director –

I think he’s called Christof –

who never gets pissed off.”

“Like Ed Harris?” This seemed to affect ’er.[216]

*

“You’re impressive,” she said. “Shall we try

for a triple? He looks like that guy

who got called Mr. World.”

What a hint to have hurled.

“Like Dave Draper?” She now heaved a sigh.[217]

*

“You have passed all three tests,” said this Sphinx;

“I can give you his number, methinks.

Wouldst thou like me to do so?”

I’m now planning my trousseau.

“That depends. Does he have any kinks?”

*

“There’s none that I know of,” she said.

I’m picturing Sting in my bed.

“No bondage? No choking?

You’ve got to be joking.”

Poor Candida’s turning beet red.

*

“I’m just kidding,” I say. “What’s his name?

If it’s not Adolf Hitler, I’m game.”

“It’s David D. Coster.”

“It’s David D. Gloucester?”

“I said Coster.” I like it. Je l’aime.

*

“Who’s this Shirley?” “A therapist pal.

She’s the wife of a guy, I mean gal …”

“Wait. What did you say?

“Is Mr. McKay

a creation of E. Gore Vidal?”

*

“The name’s Bobbie McKay. She’s transgender.

Maybe someday, like Dave, you’ll befriend ’er.

Her artwork is swell,

and done in pastel.

They’re all landscapes – from torrid to tender.”[218]

*

If this neighbor next door had her way

I would ring the man up the next day,

on that “feast day” of love

people make so much of.

But I wait two weeks more. I delay.

*

All throughout those two weeks, I prepare.

I read up on Grinnell, which sounds square.

But it does have a college.

That sounds cool, I acknowledge.

Do I dare call him now? I do dare.

*

“Dr. Coster?” I ask, sounding shy.

“Dr. Kopelson?” comes the reply.

He’s ironic. That’s good.

I feel quite understood.

I can act like myself with the guy.

*

David’s own voice, I felt, sounded kind,

and suggestive of brilliance of mind.

It sounded quite … muscular.

It sounded … crepuscular.

It sounded … the rest’s ill-defined.

*

He’d grown up, I was told, on a farm:

seven sisters, two brothers, a mom

who’d not parented well,

plus a father from hell.

There’d been serious physical harm.

*

The man somehow made all this sound funny,

bitter medicine served with sweet honey.

“And so chatty!” thought I.

“If as talkers we vie,

I could get a real run for my money!”

*

David’s mother became “church-obsessed.”

“Were you also thus burdened? Or blessed?”

“I didn’t succumb.

I found it all dumb,

and then something you ought to detest.”

*

David married a farmgirl named Julie.

He imagined he loved his wife, truly.

They’d have a few sons:

one oven, three buns.

But there’d come to be … yearnings unruly.

*

He was out for a run one fine day.

Not a cloud in the sky, as they say.

He slowed down, breaking stride.

He then stopped, and then sighed,

and then said to himself, “I am gay.”

*

He had said that out loud, he made clear.

A divorce would ensue, the same year.

He had had boyfriends since –

one named Mark, one named Vince.

“Do they live in Grinnell?” “Nowhere near.”

*

David’s sons were all youngsters back then,

with the little one, Sam, only ten.

“So I can’t make a move.”

“I approve, I approve.”

“Not until they have all become men.”

*

(David’s Mark was unwittingly cruel

whereas Vince was just too cool for school.

It seems Mark broke his heart –

much like Mike on my part –

whereas Vince merely made the man drool.)

*

We two next spoke of David’s vocation.

“I’m a generalist.” Explanation?

“A surgeon whose tricks

can probably fix

almost any somatic vexation.”

*

“In what venue might all this go down?

“At a hospital here in our town.

The thing’s really first-rate.

It’s the best in the state!

It’s the jewel in its medical crown!!”

*

“Any traumas that still seem unreal?”

“Well, I lost a big brother named Neal.

He had gone for a spin

on his bike – an old Schwinn –

and was hit by an automobile.”

*

“Were you close, then?” (One’s promptings got bolder.)

“As youngsters. But when we got older,

that shoulder of his –

it is what it is –

became colder and colder and colder.”

*

“But enough about me,” David said,

“and the brother we had who is dead.”

I told him my tale

from youth up through Yale –

sometimes mentioning books that I’d read –

*

on to law school and … you know the rest.

Was he – as one had hoped – quite impressed?

Did he find me neurotic?

Did he think I’m psychotic?

“Holy Moses!” he said. “You sound stressed.”

*

I concurred with this quick diagnosis

and then asked him, “So what’s my prognosis?”

“All this stress could well worsen.

I should see you in person.

Maybe treat it with drugs. Or hypnosis …

*

but in that case a house call’s required.”

I am loving what’s just now transpired.

“I could see you this week …”

What to say? What to speak?

“If it won’t be too costly, you’re hired.”

*

Two days later, he’ll show up at eight …

in the morning. But I think that’s great!

My own preferred idiom

is ante meridiem.

After noon, I get rather sedate.

*

“What to wear, though?” I thought. “What to wear?

All my frocks are so dowdy and square.

I can’t possibly flirt

in a lumberjack shirt!

It’s not possible that he won’t care.”

*

I called Tina for fashion advice.

“Well, quite frankly, that top will suffice.

Plus this isn’t Milan.

Any Iowa man

thinks that blue jeans and tee shirts look nice.”

*

A black sportscar pulls up to the house.

It’s a … Mustang? (I tuck in my blouse.)

Skintight tee shirt. (It’s blue.)

All those muscles show through.

Skintight blue jeans. (They’re black.) Levi Strauss?

*

There’s a noise. It’s the doorbell. Ring-ring.

Am I ready for this, for this … thing?

I open the door.

My jaw hits the floor.

David’s much better looking than Sting,

*

and a lot like …? (I welcome my guest:

“I love,” I now say, “how you’re dressed.

Très haute couture.”

“Likewise, I’m sure.”)

And a lot like, like … Michael J. West!!

*

We drink coffee, and talk for an hour.

Like Danaë in that old golden shower,

I feel funny yet fine.

On the last stroke of nine …[219]

I succumb to my own “higher power.”

*

What I mean is, I grab David’s arm.

The move causes a little alarm,

so I tell the poor bloke –

it’s a pretty weak joke –

“Don’t you worry. I mean you no harm.”

*

I lift that arm off its accoudoir

and haul David off to my boudoir

where, dear reader, I … nope.

You don’t get all the dope.

Too private, too precious, too … lewd-oir.

*

He had planned to drive on to Chicago,

that big city beside a big lago,

for to see Alvin Ailey.[220]

I’d see Tina Bourjaily,

drink White Russians, watch Doctor Zhivago

*

“I would rather just stay here with you.”

Which –  to cut to the chase – he would do,

meeting Tina that night.

She’ll declare, and be right,

“This makes sense. I’m so glad for you two.”

*

All my confidence, though, took a hike.

“He will dump me,” I wailed, “and be, like,

‘I want nothing to do,

and nor care to pursue,

such a needy – if good-looking – tyke.’”

*

“Have you taken,” she asked, “crystal meth?

What you need to take now is a breath.

Stop jabbering jive.

Or else – man alive –

you will frighten yourself half to death!”

*

“Don’t you know,” she resumed, “what he is?”

(Not rhetorical. This was a quiz.)

“He’s a surgeon,” I offer.

“He’s a grownup, you scoffer!

Not some self-serving infant. Gee whiz.”

*

“So he’s nothing like Mike?” I suggest.

(I did not mean, of course, Michael West.)

“You have just read my mind …”

(We were now realigned.)

“… or at any rate, passed a rough test.”

*

(I would learn sometime later, from her,

that she’d told David, “Listen, dear sir.

Kevin can be a pain,

as he’s tough to maintain,

but he’s worth any woe you’ll incur.”)

*

David now began – if not on call –

to come see me on weekends. For all

I had fretted at first,

no feared worse came to worst.

“I am having,” he yelled once, “a ball!”

*

To put this quite simply and plainly:

He yells when exuberant, mainly.

“I think I have gout!”

he’ll suddenly shout.

It all comes across as insanely …

*

adroit. I’m exuberant too.

And awestruck, and moonstruck, and … Who

would have thunk it so soon?

I was over the moon,

in love with my consummate “boo.”

*

David’s feelings for me, his nice new boy?

Well, he called me, one day, “little jew boy.”

I yelled, “What did you say?!” –

then expressed my dismay.

He’d not known it’s a slur. I thought, “Hoo-boy.”

*

(David’s hating, just now, this whole section.)

“I was told it’s a term of affection.”

“I’m afraid that they lied.”

“I’m so sorry,” he cried.

“I do humbly accept the correction.”

*

He felt tenderness, I could now tell –

so no need to keep giving him hell –

and that, I could sense,

might get more intense …

should I fall for the town of Grinnell.

*

This first visit was still some weeks hence.

(I suspect most here feel no suspense.

You can probably tell

it’ll go pretty well.

Those who can’t are incredibly dense.)

*

But beforehand we met with Doug Trevor,

who’ll declare David “best boyfriend ever!”

“I can clearly discern,”

divined David in turn,

“that the ties you two have cannot sever.”

*

With whom else did we meet? Let’s me see.

Cupid’s Candida – pleased as can be

that her amorous dart

had impaled my poor heart.

I was sure I could hear her tee-hee.

*

I now seem to recall – is it so? –

that we met Linda Bolton. If no,

’twas some other old drunk

whose own work ethic stunk.

Both their mottos might well be: Aim low.

*

I’ve been writing this thing now for years.

I feel addled. And sad. (There were tears.)

So, for sanity’s sake,

I’ll now take a short break.

Toodle-oo and ta-ta. Also cheers.

***

Okay. Here’s what I did “over break”:

knit a scarf for Muse Reid, baked a cake,

learned a Chopin Ballade,

took a long promenade

in a park with a path by a lake.

*

That long walk was just me and the dog.

Now where was I? (My head’s in a fog.)

“ … might well be: Aim low.”

The next thing I know,

David’s gone. Where’s he at? He’s in Prague!

*

He’d been called there as kind of a ringer

for some choral group missing a singer.

’Twas his first time abroad

and he felt overawed.

“Old Bohemia’s quite the humdinger,”

*

he soon wrote on a postcard he sent.

“I suspect I’m of Slavic descent,”

he would write on another.

“Every man here’s my brother –

or a cousin in any event.”

*

This suspicion proved partially true,

as some gene work done later would shew.

David’s mom? Echt Bavarian.

David’s dad? Pure barbarian:

somewhat Dutch; somewhat Irish; Czech too.

*

At the time of that DNA testing,

diese Bayer said something arresting.

Well, she too had ein Vetter

whose “long love life” upset her!

What the hell was this Hausfrau suggesting?

*

“My first cousin, a cinema star,

slept with too many people by far:

Greta Garbo, John Wayne,

Edith Piaf, Norm Maine.

And those movies! They’re all so bizarre!”

*

“What movies,” I asked, “do you mean?”

“There’s one where she plays some old queen

who wears lots of red.

Her husband, in bed …

Forget it. It’s much too obscene.”

*

“There’s one where she sits on a barrel

while singing a song that’s no carol.

She looks pretty fat.

She wears a big hat …

but not too much other apparel.”

*

“Well, what song does she sing there and then?”

“It’s a song about love, about men …

It was cute, I’ll admit.”

“Could I hear just a bit?”

“‘Ich bin falling in Liebe again …’”

*

“Oh, my God!” I now loudly exclaim.

“Let us – you and me – play a fun game.

No, I’m not being silly.

She would also sing ‘Lili …?’”

“Hmm. ‘Marlene?’” “Yes! Dietrich’s the name!”[221]

*

“Such kinship can screw with your head.

My father, one Saturday, said

he ‘should give that old trollop

fifty whacks and a wallop!’”

“That’s bonkers. He wanted her dead?”

*

The subject was dropped like a hot …

“po-tah-to, potato, to-mah-

to, tomato” – or knish.

Or else some such warm dish.

Don’t worry. I’ve not lost the plot.

*

Soon a phone call came in from L.A.

“Who is speaking?” I heard myself say.

“It’s Jennifer Doyle!

Please table your toil

and come join me for play cet été!”

*

She’d be living in France all that summer.

“In Paree?” “Ha ha ha! I’m no slummer.

In a charming vielle ville,

population une mille.”

Francophonia sure does become ’er.

*

She’d be housesitting for an old boss

at her place in some town called Ceyras.

“It’s kind of a castle.”

“That sounds like a hassle.

Does it feature a cul-de-basse-fosse?”

*

“Well, it features a cool cave à vin.”

“I am in! I endorse this bold plan!

But I have a new beau …

Maybe he’ll get to go …?”

There’s a pause. And then, “Who is this man?”

*

He could go – if I promised he’ll drink.

“Brut Champagne,” I replied. “Clink, clink, clink.”

“We shall swim in Champagne!”

This was sounding insane.

What on Earth will the villagers think?

*

But before we’d both go, in July,

a long road trip with Tina drew nigh:

We would hop in my car;

I’d then take us as far

as that place where most dreams go to die.

*

While en route – which was not sixty-six –

to L.A., we would stop to watch flicks

then proceed to invade

homes of people so staid

they be shocked by our various shticks …

*

like that one that I found so amusing

(you will know it unless you’ve been snoozing):

I would call Tina “Maude”

(youngster Harold’s old broad).

It’s the pet name I most preferred using.

*

In between stops, we’d do as we please,

à la Thelma and gal pal Louise.

Maybe rob a few banks,

tell those tellers, “Hey, thanks!” –

and then run off on shopping mall sprees.

*

All such plans, though, required revision

when we made a last-minute decision –

to take Andy and Lily!

Our quartet, willy-nilly,

would just joyride around – sans collision.

*

We reached Denver with no heinous hitch.

We reached Boise with no grievous glitch.

(No homes got mobbed,

no banks got robbed.)

At Eureka, we fell in a ditch.

*

I’ll reveal to you why this occurred:

turned a corner and saw a huge bird.

An emu was standing

just where we’d be landing!

I swerved right, lost control, felt absurd.

*

Thinking quickly, I called Triple-A.

They arrived and – thank God – saved the day.

No one was bruised.

Southward we cruised –

saw an emu farm going that way –

*

and by nightfall reached lovely Carmel.

“Shall we find a nice one-star motel?”

“Are you nuts? Are you blotto?

My friends Grete and Otto

have spare bedrooms galore where they dwell!”

*

It was true. Grete Heinz and her Herr

did have bedrooms – and ballrooms – to spare.

Their home – Sans souci

was as posh as can be.

“Why not stay for a month?” “We don’t dare.”

*

So we stayed for a week. Had a blast –

but for inklings of poor Grete’s past.

A mansion in Döbling,

where nothing seemed troubling.[222]

Then that mansion got seized, parents gassed.

*

It was time to head home now, we knew.

Took I-80, upon which we flew.

Got stopped by a trooper.

Dear Tina was super –

subtle flirting. He bid us adieu.

*

At the end of this halcyon tour

a big funnel cloud bid us bonjour.

Tornadic activity,

a local proclivity

far worse than the smell of manure.

*

As perhaps you have guessed, or can tell,

it was time I now visit Grinnell.

The town did look cute,

if rather minute;

Dr. David’s apartment as well.

*

Farmgirl Julie, the ex, to be candid,

had suggested to him nay, demanded

that he cede her their great

nay, palatial estate.

“I’m now gentry. I must remain landed.”

*

The apartment – “downtown” – was one-bedroom.

“Not much floorspace, but plenty of headroom.

An old burglar was shot

in the kitchen I’ve got!

My three sons therefore call it The Redrum.”[223]

*

I thought of the show My Three Sons.

Had characters on it used guns?

Had old Uncle Charley

packed heat there, bizarrely,

to pick off some low-flying nuns?[224]

*

She’d demanded, as well, David’s pension.

A grey parrot now caught my attention.

“Oh, that’s Pongo!” he said.

Flashing tail feathers – red –

the thing eyed me with cold apprehension.

*

All three sons tumbled in through the door.

All their satchels were tossed on the floor.

“You guys hungry already?

We’ll be having spaghetti.

Let me know if you want something more.”

*

The oldest joked, “green eggs and ham.”

The next oldest, “crown rack of lamb.”

“For dessert, let’s have cake.

Don’t you worry. I’ll bake.”

– said lovable ten-year-old Sam.

*

Ham-crazed Adam was fourteen back then,

thirty-six as I’m wielding this pen;

lamb-crazed Seth – such odd hunger –

was a little bit younger.

They seemed twin-like: Arnulphe, Victurnien.[225]

*

(As with grown men – no ifs, ands, or buts –

you reach boys’ hearts by way of their guts.[226]

Note to self, at the time:

“Make your cooking sublime.

And abundant. Be sure to serve gluts.”)

*

Seems they all had extreme verbal skill –

for which most of my colleagues would kill.

One can write with panache

and yet still sound like trash

off the cuff – or as if one were ill.

*

And, like David, all three sons could write!

(I’d see schoolwork. So brilliant. So tight.)

Their great gift for the gab –

think: Mercutio’s Mab –

could be found in the texts they’d indite.

*

Did yours truly talk much that first day?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Hard to say.

There is no need to mention

that one does love attention.

Yet one’s shy when on risky display.

*

David’s laptop became a retablo

I have always adored that vocablo

as his sons, chez ordi,

seemed to worship with glee

while at play on some game called Diablo.

*

I was tempted to kibitz, but daren’t –

as I’m neither their friend nor a parent.

“Watch your step, Blanche Dubois.

You’re chez eux, not chez toi.

So be sure to do nothing that’s errant.”[227]

*

“They all said they thought you were smart,”

said David, “and that’s a good start.”

“Methinks here’s what I’ll do:

to mine own self be true –

as jew boy, as jester, as tart.”

*

I’d abandon, however, this plan

just as soon as I’d felt that I can.

Uncle Charley? Voilà!

Mary Poppins? C’est moi!

Not to mention, as well, Peter Pan.

*

Not to mention, of course, Auntie Mame!

“Life’s a banquet, my dears,” I would claim.

“So dare eat the peach –

a figure of speech –

and then make all your friends do the same.”

*

Shall I tell you an interesting fact?

Mine own true self showed through here intact.

I have irony chops –

fans have said they’re the tops –

so our children could tell it’s an act.

*

(Do such roleplay at home, as a rule.

Do not do it – while teaching – in school.

If you do it in class

kids will think you’re an ass.

Even worse, they will know you’re a fool.)

*

Farmgirl Julie, I learned, was upset

that her kiddos and I had now met:

“I will not have them knowing

all these men you’ve been blowing.

That’s an order, as well as a threat.”

*

David’s answer to this was precise:

“I will not heed such hateful … advice.

If you have any more,

let’s just say I’m no whore –

though I’d rather be naughty than nice.”

*

It turned out this was either projection

or – far worse than denial – deflection,

for the one with a stable –

wastrels willing and able –

was Miss Julie. (No Strindberg connection.)

*

I soon first saw the woman one morning

when, with nary a word of forewarning,

she stopped by to sneer,

“I knew he’d be here!”

One sensed enmity harsh come aborning.

*

(When she left I was thinking of Cheers,

an old sitcom I’d followed for years.

Miss Julie, Ex-Frau,

resembled “Miss Howe” –

a great beauty there often in tears.[228])

*

Encountered in public, Miss Julie

now acted both rude and unruly.

She’d pretend, with insistence,

that we had no existence!

The kids found this terrible, truly.

*

To be continued …


NOTES

[1] The rhymes with “utterance” here, I admit, are impressive – perhaps the most impressive ones in the whole work. Undoubtedly, though, Kopelson more or less takes them from a Catullus translation by A.E. Housman: “Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, / and not give tuppence / for the mutterance / of old men’s tut-tutterance.” Kopelson most likely learned of this translation from the play The Invention of Love (1997) by Tom Stoppard (1937-?), in which these lines are quoted. The quotation is underscored in his copy of it.

[2] In Confessions of a Plagiarist: And Other Tales from School (2012), Kopelson describes his mother’s personality disorder as both “borderline” and “narcissistic.” He intimates there, as well, that his brother Robert (“Bob,” here) had the same disorder.

[3] “Mick’s” name was Maureen; her actual nickname was Micky. “Rick’s” name was Eric; his actual nickname was Ricky.

[4] Maureen wasn’t really a spy, although she did work for several years at the C.I.A.-funded organization Radio Liberty. After that, she taught Russian language courses. After that, she became a speech pathologist.

[5] The phrase “spirit expend” must refer to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129: “Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame.”

[6] Le Cordon Bleu is the school in Paris where Julia Child, encouraged by husband Paul, first mastered cuisine.

[7] As far as I can tell, this dish does not exist. Oscar Levant (1906-1972) was a concert pianist and also hypochondriac.

[8] The use here of “recursively” is not quite correct. The word recursive means “involving doing or saying the same thing several times in order to produce a particular result or effect.” Also, the expression is, of course, “by hook or by crook” and not “by hooks or by crooks.”

[9] Kopelson has in fact now used “behind” thrice as an end rhyme. There is a lot more such laziness to come.

[10] This is a rather odd allusion for Kopelson to have made. For one thing, Ruth was Jewish – not Christian. For another, Jesus Christ compared heaven – not some paramour – to a pearl of great price. “Lover-ly” may allude to a lyric from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady (“Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?”).

[11] If this is a reference to cunnilingus, I’d have to say that it’s in very poor taste.

[12] This stanza clearly alludes to a lyric from the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun (“Let’s go on with the show.”) and to Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

[13] See my previous note.

[14] The film to which Kopelson refers is Strangers on a Train (1951), starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker. This is not the first time he has rhymed “insane” with “train,” leading me to believe that this, as it were, train of thought had always (as it were) linked, for him, the notion of mental instability to his rather unhelpful psychoanalyst, Dr. George Train, as well as to his impaired mother. Interestingly, whereas that Hitchcock film involved the character Bruno’s scheme to have Guy (as played by Farley Granger) murder his, Bruno’s, father, a 1987 film inspired by it, Throw Momma from the Train, involves the Bruno character (“Owen,” as played by Danny DeVito) scheme to have his mother killed.

[15] See my previous note. “Criss-cross” is Bruno’s shorthand for his full scheme in Strangers on a Train; in exchange for Bruno having killed Guy’s wife, Guy would kill Bruno’s father.

[16] Kopelson, here, seems to be calling Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a whore – or at least an old courtesan – for I take this final line to be an allusion to that rich grandmother-with-a-past, Leonora Armfeldt, in A Little Night Music (1973). In “Liaisons,” she sings: “At the palace of the Duke of Ferrara / who was prematurely deaf but a dear / at the palace of the Duke of Ferrara / I acquired some position / plus a tiny Titian.”

[17] Joan Sutherland (1926-2010), known as “La Stupenda,” was an opera singer. Her most celebrated role was that of Lucia di Lammermoor (“Lammermoor’s Lucy,” as Kopelson calls her earlier).

[18] “Combray” and “Balbec” do not exist, in reality. They are the names of fictional towns in Remembrance of Things Past. “Mémé,” which means “Grandma,” is a nickname for the (male) character Charlus there.

[19] The full name of the firm is Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle.

[20] “Bunkers” would appear to be a pun – as well as a clue. The full names of the brothers who tried to corner the silver futures market are William Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt.

[21] “Howdy” would appear to be another clue to the brothers’ identity. William Herbert and Nelson Bunker Hunt were Texans.

[22] This is a rather odd description, even for Kopelson, of Another Country (1984). That film stars Rupert Everett as “Guy Bennett,” a fictional character based on the spy Guy Burgess (1911-1963).

[23] The name of the organization, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (or just Lambda Legal, for short), is not given in this stanza probably because the meter is off. Come to think of it, that’s also probably why the film Another Country wasn’t named.

[24] Tim Sweeney’s title at the time was Executive Director of Lambda Legal. Abby Rubenfeld, the organization’s Legal Director, is in fact the sister of the actor Paul Rubens (better known as “Pee-wee Herman”).

[25] The case was National Gay Task Force v. Board of Education of the City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that upheld in part, and struck down in part, a law allowing local school boards to fire any elementary, junior-high, or high-school teacher who “advocates, promotes, or encourages homosexual activity.” It was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.

[26] Evan Wolfson (1957-?) would later become the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a group promoting same-sex marriage in the United States. Wolfson authored the book Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, probably the most important gay-marriage primer ever written. In 2004, he was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

[27] This stanza clearly alludes to the opening lines of Paradise Lost (1674): “Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit / of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / brought Death into the World, and all our woe, / with loss of Eden, till one greater Man / restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, / sing Heav’nly Muse …”

[28] The poetry referred to includes perhaps “Fire Island” (1969) by May Swenson and “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” (1958) by Frank O’Hara.

[29] “Flivver” is old-fashioned slang for a cheap dilapidated car, similar to the word “jalopy.” No cars are allowed on Fire Island.

[30] The actor, dancer, singer, director, producer, and choreographer Tommy Tune was very tall. Six foot seven, I believe.

[31] Kopelson, here, must be referring to the fashion designer Calvin Klein. Obsession is probably Klein’s most famous perfume.

[32] Both songs mentioned are by Jerome Kern. “Ka-lu-a” – lyrics by Anne Caldwell – is from the 1921 musical Good Morning, Dearie. “Bill” – lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse – is from the 1927 musical Show Boat.

[33] The meaning here is unbelievably obscure. “Hildegarde” (1906-2005) was a cabaret singer who inspired, among others, Liberace (1919-1987). Kopelson mentions that particular connection in his book Beethoven’s Kiss: Pianism, Perversion, and the Mastery of Desire (1996), implying there, however, that the woman is dead. Phillip Officer’s final appearance at The Oak Room, which must have been the one Kopelson attended, took place in 1997.

[34] The third and fourth lines of this stanza refer, no doubt, to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) by T.S. Eliot. “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.”

[35] The only church that fits this description is First Unitarian Congregational Society, established in 1833.

[36] Donald Trump bought The Plaza Hotel (for $390 million) in 1988.

[37] “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” from the Song of Solomon.

[38] “Get Me to the Church on Time” is a number performed by Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin (1850) is often used at weddings, as is the “Wedding March” from Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1842) by Shakespeare.

[39] It is not quite accurate for Kopelson to have described music by Hindemith as atonal. Most of his music employs a unique system that is tonal but non-diatonic; like most tonal music, it is centered on a tonic and modulates from one tonal center to another, but it uses all twelve notes freely rather than relying on a scale picked as a subset of these notes. Nonetheless, in December 1934, during a speech at the Berlin Sports Palace, Joseph Goebbels, as Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, publicly denounced the composer as an “atonal noisemaker” (atonalen Krachmacher). I have not been able to identify the “dirge” referred to here.

[40] This stanza alludes to Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) as well as to the musical based on it (My Fair Lady). It alludes in particular to Act Four of the play, where Eliza Doolittle cries: “What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?”

[41] Cantos VII and VIII (Book VII) of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), probably the poet’s last works, are known as the “Cantos of Mutability.” The Pisan Cantos by Ezra Pound (1885-1972) were written in 1945, while the poet was being held in a military detention center near Pisa, Italy, as a result of his pro-Fascist wartime broadcasts to America on Radio Rome. Kopelson’s “[w]hat’s more” is a terrible pun, as is his “a man for all treason.” The film A Man for All Seasons (1966), based on a play by Robert Bolt, concerns the last years in the life of Sir Thomas More.

[42] The work, I take it, is The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979) by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The woman (or “old crone,” as Kopelson would have it) referred to in that title is Bertha Mason Rochester, from the novel Jane Eyre.

[43] The museum referred to here is Musée Carnavalet. The bed on display, needless to say, is the one in which Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past.

[44] In Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator has his first significant (and nearly involuntary) remembrance, of youthful times in the town of Combray, prompted by the taste of a petite madeleine dipped in tea.

[45] Much to my surprise, “Aza” is in fact a type of tea: a combination of black tea, orange, rose hips, hibiscus, vanilla, caramel, and cocoa. Whether or not it was ever served at The Plaza Hotel is another matter altogether.

[46] Petrarch (1303-1374) spent his early childhood near Florence, but very little time there later on. Ezra Pound claimed that whereas Dante (1265-1321) “hangs his song on the absolute,” Petrarch refines Italian language and poetry at the cost of robbing them of their energy.

[47] This stanza, I admit, is rather impressive. Kopelson is playing with the moment in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) when Mark Twain’s narrator, Huck, decides not to betray his friend, Jim, a runaway slave, by turning him in: “I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up.” Daleth is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but, as Kopelson clearly knows, the accent falls on word’s first syllable.

[48] Jesus Christ! This stanza is inexcusable. The line by Ogden Nash (1902-1971) to which Kopelson refers is: “You huddle with your memoirs and boy! What memoirs them was.” It appears, as a lyric, in the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus (1943).

[49] Kopelson must be quoting this limerick under the mistaken – although common – belief that it was written by Ogden Nash. It was, in fact, written by Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972).

[50] The short poem “Trees” (1913), not by James Joyce (1882-1941), is the most famous work by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918). (It begins: “I think that I shall never see / a poem lovely as a tree.”) It is doubtful that Kopelson would not have known this. It is doubtful, moreover, that such a question appeared on the exam he took. “Joyce” is a metonym for “Kilmer” in the sense that this first name just happens to be adjacent to this surname.

[51] This is unnecessarily coy of Kopelson, who in his book Confessions of a Plagiarist quite clearly reveals, if in fact this is the truth, that the writing sample involved here, an essay on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, had been written by his brother Robert – and used, moreover, without Robert’s permission.

[52] Brown University is in Providence, Rhode Island, which is approximately two hundred miles northeast of New York City.

[53] The book, one assumes, is Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (1994) by George Chauncey.

[54] The “Foucault” referred to here is Michel Foucault (1926-1984), author of the influential History of Sexuality (1976).

[55] The “prof” referred to here must be Foucault, once again. The “old Brahman” must be Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of the 1988 essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak’s answer there, by the way, is no.

[56] There was never any bar with this name in New York. It is unlikely, moreover, that any bar ever served a drink called “Mary Bloody.”

[57] There does not appear to have been any gay studies scholar named “Le Pew,” so I assume that, by invoking the cartoon character “Pepé Le Pew” (a skunk), this is a joke on the basically French orientation of the field.

[58] The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), following Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), theorized “the Phallus” as the preeminent symbol of masculine power and/or plenitude, as opposed to feminine “lack.” Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), as President of the United States, advised U.S. diplomats abroad to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

[59] Lee Grant (1925-?), born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal, was a very beautiful and accomplished actress who appeared in the films Valley of the Dolls (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Shampoo (1975).

[60] “Will,” here, must be William Shakespeare. From Cymbeline: “Hark, hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings.”

[61] This is the second time Kopelson has referred to the son of Dwight Culler (1917-2006) as “John.” The name, however, is Jonathan Culler. He is author of, among other works, On Deconstruction: Literature and Theory After Structuralism (1988). The phrase “fuck t’ give” may be droll, but it is not a proper rhyme for “deconstructive” and “inductive.”

[62] See Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (1989). The book is based on the dissertation referred to by Kopelson. In fact, it may well be the dissertation itself. The publisher, at the time, printed many such works verbatim.

[63] The Ivy League school referred to here is Princeton University; the novel is This Side of Paradise (1920) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

[64] Angus “Mac” MacGyver is the title character and protagonist in the television series MacGyver (1985-1992). He was played by the very handsome actor Richard Dean Anderson.

[65] There is no such thing, as far as I can tell, as an “Anglican Harp.” I sense Kopelson suggesting that the church involved here, first mentioned in the following stanza, is Anglican (or Episcopalian). If so, St. Stephen’s Church, located within Brown’s campus, may well be it.

[66] Roger Williams founded the first permanent white settlement in Rhode Island at Providence in 1636 on land purchased from the Narragansett Indians.

[67] A. Alfred Taubman (1924-2015) made a fortune developing shopping malls. Later, he purchased the auction house Sotheby’s. In 2002, he was fined and imprisoned for having participated in a price-fixing scheme with the rival auction house Christie’s.

[68] Kopelson, here, may be thinking of the Newport-based film High Society (1956), in which Grace Kelly (as “Tracy Lord”) exclaims of a sailboat called True Love: “My, she was yar.” (That film is a remake of The Philadelphia Story [1940], in which Katharine Hepburn says the same thing.) I say this in large part because he has already used the otherwise obscure word “yar” to describe a soon-to-be-totaled car.

[69] Ethos, pathos, and logos, according to Aristotle, are modes of persuasion: the ethical appeal (based on the character of the speaker); the emotional appeal, and the rational appeal. “Instruct,” “amuse,” and “move” are translations of Cicero’s docere, delectare, et movere.

[70] This is somewhat obscure, I fear. Kopelson probably means something like this, to quote his book Beethoven’s Kiss: “Terror, in fact, isn’t a very efficient learning device. (Children need cheerleaders, not drill sergeants.) And teachers shouldn’t act like parents, or like abusive parents, even though it can be hard not to. Especially when you care for the kid.”

[71] There are in fact a number of limericks in Confessions of a Plagiarist. Charles H. Nichols is identified there as “Grover Cleveland.”

[72] “Bosie” was Oscar Wilde’s nickname for Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945).

[73] The line quoted refers to an inadvertent admission made by Wilde in his 1895 trial for gross indecency. The “boy” was in fact a servant named Grainger. The transcript reads:
Prosecutor Carson: Did you ever kiss him?

Wilde: Oh dear no, he was a peculiarly plain boy. He was unfortunately extremely ugly.

Carson: Was that the reason you did not kiss him?

Wilde: Oh Mr. Carson, you are extremely insolent.

Carson: Why, sir, did you mention that this boy was extremely ugly?

Wilde: For this reason. If I were asked why I did not kiss a doormat, I should say because I do not like to kiss doormats.

[74] For a full but not necessarily complete account of such betrayals, see the chapter “Kiss and Tell” in Confessions of a Plagiarist.

[75] This passage, in blank verse (hence the otherwise meaningless “blankly” in Kopelson’s previous stanza), can be found in Gate of Lilacs: A Verse Commentary on Proust (2016). The author is Clive James (1939-2019).

[76] Uncle Monty’s line, referred to here, is: “I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is a certain je ne sais quoi – oh, so very special – about a firm, young carrot.” (Withnail and I [1987])

[77] The confusion here must concern one of the first three (of five) films starring Sylvester Stallone as “John Rambo”: First Blood (1982); Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985); and Rambo III (1988). “Rimbaud,” mispronounced, sounds like that surname.

[78] Sontag traveled to Hanoi in 1968 to demonstrate her opposition to the Vietnam War. In her book, Trip to Hanoi (1969), she describes the trip as an inward journey and a means to self-transformation; recording and critiquing her narrow-minded response to North Vietnam, Sontag tries to radicalize her perspective.

[79] Madonna’s “Vogue” music video was released in 1990. Paris Is Burning (1990) is a documentary directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the drag ball culture of New York City and the various communities (African-American, Latino, transgender, gay) involved in it.

[80] The book, clearly, is Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990).

[81] The film’s full title is The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966).

[82] “Marcel” is quite possibly the name of Proust’s narrator in Remembrance of Things Past.

[83] Sigmund Freud (1856-1939); Jacques Lacan (1901-1981); Roland Barthes (1915-1980); Paul de Man (1919-1983).

[84] In English translation, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. The book was first published (in French) in 1977.

[85] Orlando: A Biography (1928), by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941); Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926), by Ronald Firbank (1886-1926); Si le grain ne meurt (1926) – If It Die, in English – by André Gide (1869-1951); The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946).

[86] Kopelson seems to believe that people from Maine – like Spaniards from Spain – are called “Maniards.” They are not. They’re called Mainers.

[87] I asked Reid Dempsey – a “muse” here – about this. Dempsey, currently head of the Tom Ford Endowment for Only Very Serious Artists, told me he got different advice from Kopelson. “Kevin told me to imagine myself, when writing my dissertation, as a combination of Judy Garland and Beethoven. I remember thinking at the time: ‘That’s an odd thing to say – even for him.’”

[88] The R. Purdum referred to throughout these last six stanzas must be the artist Rebecca Purdum.

[89] Lady Sings the Blues is a 1972 biopic starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday – no relation, so far as I know, to Jennifer Holliday.

[90] Dreamgirls was a 1981 Broadway musical based primarily on the singing group first known as The Supremes – and later on as The Supremes with Diana Ross and then after that as Diana Ross & The Supremes.

[91] “ABC” is a 1970 hit by The Jackson Five. “Young Michael,” then, indicates Michael Jackson. He was twelve at the time.

[92] The reference here is to the “Ode to Aphrodite,” a lyric poem written in the form of a prayer to Aphrodite, goddess of love, from a speaker (Sappho herself, presumably) who longs for the attentions of some unnamed woman.

[93] This stanza alludes to the sitcom Green Acres (1965-1971), starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor as the married couple “Oliver” and “Lisa.” Its theme song begins: “Oliver: Green Acres is the place to be. / Farm livin’ is the life for me, / land spreadin’ out so far and wide. / Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside. Lisa: New York is where I’d rather stay. / I get allergic smelling hay. / I just adore a penthouse view. / Dahling I love you, but give me Park Avenue.” It is highly improbable that Bob (Mendoza) spoke the precise lines quoted by Kopelson.

[94] John Geter starred as “Randy Hastings” in the Little Theater production of Gemini by Albert Innaurato, which ran from 1977 to 1981. For more on the (apparent) neatness of work by Ingres, see Kopelson’s “Ingres’s Line” in Queer Difficulty in Art and Poetry: Rethinking the Sexed Body in Verse and Visual Culture, a 2017 essay collection edited by Christopher Reed and Jongwoo Jeremy Kim.

[95] “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive,” writes Wordsworth with respect to the French Revolution, in Book Ten of The Prelude; “but to be young was very heaven!” He and Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited the towns of Lynton and Lynmouth, Devon, in 1797.

[96] In Part Three of Lifting Belly, Gertrude Stein uses “have a cow” to mean have an orgasm. For example: “Lifting belly. / So high. / And aiming. / Exactly. / And making / a cow / Come out. / Indeed I was not mistaken. / Come do not have a cow. / He has. / Well then.”

[97] This must be an allusion to Koestenbaum’s The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire (1993): “I spent much of childhood trying to distinguish identification from desire, asking myself, ‘Am I in love with Julie Andrews, or do I think I am Julie Andrews?’ I knew that to love Julie Andrews placed me, however, vaguely, in heterosexuality’s domain; but to identify with Julie Andrews, to want to be the star of Star! [1968], place me under suspicion.”

[98] In Bringing Out Roland Barthes (1992), D.A. Miller writes that his encounter with the eponymous critic, which, as they never met in person, was only ever imaginary on Miller’s part, had involved all the “usual vicissitudes of adulation, aggression, ambivalence.”

[99] The novella by Henry James referred to here is “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903). Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s essay on it was called (by her) “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic” (1986/1990).

[100] The book by D.A. Miller referred to here must be The Novel and the Police (1988).

[101] Kopelson here misquotes – no doubt on purpose – Parker’s famous poem “Comment” (1937). “Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, / a medley of extemporanea; / and love is a thing that can never go wrong; / and I am Marie of Romania.”

[102] D.A. Miller and Michael West were in fact not “at the very same school.” Miller, at the time, taught at U.C. Berkeley, in its English Department. West got his Ph.D., in French, at U.C. Santa Barbara. And so what Kopelson writes here is libellous.

[103] Kopelson never calls Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950-2009) “Mother Divine” in any (non-posthumous) publication. However, a review essay of his – titled “The Mother of Us All?” (2014) – does conclude: “I don’t know that it pleased Sedgwick very much to have realized – as I imagine she did realize – that, upon death, she’d eventually be seen (at least by some of us) as nearly divine, or that she’d now be seen as the genius loci of queer theory (wherever – and whatever – that is). But maybe she at least accepted, in advance, and possibly using (figuratively speaking) both hands, such a … fate. Because if this (theoretical) place is to have such a spirit (other than Foucault, of course, or than Judith Butler who thankfully is still alive as of this writing and will probably remain so for quite some time) and if there can be only one such spirit for it (at least according to Roman religion), why shouldn’t it (I imagine Sedgwick asking herself, rhetorically, and with all due humility or maybe a wee bit of grandiosity) be me?”

[104] You might want to read this, from the website of The Yale AIDS Memorial Project. “John Geter had per­formed on Broad­way before even­tu­ally decid­ing to leave the the­ater world and pur­sue a Mas­ter’s of Divin­ity at Yale. After Yale, Geter became a pas­tor on Long Island at a United Church of Christ. Geter was HIV pos­i­tive, and when he became ill, he revealed his sta­tus to his con­gre­ga­tion. Half of the con­gre­ga­tion voted to oust him. Geter came back to Yale and enrolled in a Ph.D. pro­gram. But by this time, he was running out of drug options. In the early nineties, Geter had tried AZT as well as d4T. Next, he par­tic­i­pated in a clin­i­cal trial that gave him access to pro­tease inhibitors. Like many peo­ple who had priv­i­leged access to drugs, Geter shared them with three des­per­ate friends who were also ill, forc­ing him to take a lower dose than directed. As a result, the drug did lit­tle to retard the devel­op­ment of the dis­ease but allowed his virus to build up resis­tance to pro­tease inhibitors. Geter tried every­thing—at his peak, he was tak­ing sixty-four pills per day—but the ill­ness caught up with him. Geter died at Uni­ver­sity Health Ser­vices in 1999.”

[105] The schools referred to here are Saint John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, and Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York.

[106] There’s no such cognate in French, where the word for stampede is débandade.

[107] The reference here must be to The Barefoot Contessa (1954), a film starring Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, and not to Ina Rosenberg Garten (1948-?), a celebrity chef who used that sobriquet.

[108] Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), although married, was in love with her fellow painter Duncan Grant (1885-1978) – by whom she had a daughter. Grant however – the Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) of the so-called Bloomsbury Group – was gay. His numerous partners included his cousin Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) and the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). Grant’s reputation – as an artist – does in fact far exceed that of Bell. See Christopher Reed, Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity (2004).

[109] The reference would appear to be to Phyllis Rose (1942-?), née Davidoff, who taught at Wesleyan University from 1969 to 2005. No one, other than Kopelson here, has ever – to my knowledge – referred to her as the “Wesleyan Rose.”

[110] Their college was Amherst College. Christopher Castiglia (“Chris Two”) then got his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University – originally called King’s College – in 1991. Christopher Reed got his Ph.D. in Art History that same year, at Yale. Kopelson probably considered Columbia (or at least its law school) to have been his own vale of tears, not that of Castiglia.

[111] Lee Edelman’s talk, called “Seeing Things: Representation, the Scene of Surveillance, and the Spectacle of Gay Sex,” was published in 1991 in the collection Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories (edited by Diana Fuss) and then as a chapter in his book Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory (1994). Kopelson’s talk, called “Seeing Sodomy: Fanny Hill’s Blinding Vision,” was published in 1992, in both the Journal of Homosexuality and the collection Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment England: Literary Representations in Historical Context (edited by Claude J. Summers). The talks are not exactly unalike.

[112] The reference is to La Religieuse (1792/1796), a novel by Denis Diderot (1713-1784). Madame de Moli is one of two mothers superior therein. Sedgwick’s talk, called “Privilege of Unknowing: Diderot’s The Nun,” was published as a chapter in her book Tendencies (1993). The quote – “Oh, Madame de Moni. / Must you turn your dear face to the wall?” – appears in neither La Religieuse nor “Privilege of Unknowing.”

[113] M.L.A., here, stands for the Modern Language Association.

[114] Harold Bloom (1930-2019), The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973). The book concerns the psychological struggle of aspiring authors – indicatively male – to overcome the anxiety posed by the influence of their (male) literary antecedents.

[115] “Miss Chakravorty,” I presume, is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak – the “old Brahman” referred to in an earlier stanza.

[116] The Yiddish-like line “Any boy, any goil –” must refer to the song “Manhattan” (1925), lyrics by Lorenz Hart and music by Richard Rodgers: “The city’s clamor can never spoil / the dreams of a boy and goil – / we’ll turn Manhattan / into an isle of joy.” The final line of this stanza, on sublimation, must – once again – refer to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129: “Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame.”

[117] The “fifties creation” here must be Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950). “Max” (Erich von Stroheim) is her first husband, her first film director, and now her general factotum.

[118] I detect here an allusion to “Alma” (1964), a song by Tom Lehrer (1928-?). “The first one she married was Mahler / whose buddies all knew him as Gustav / and each time he saw her he’d holler: / ‘Ach, that is the fräulein I must have!” / Their marriage, however, was murdah. / He’d scream to the heavens above: / ‘I’m writing Das Lied von der Erde / und she only wants to make love!”

[119] Salome might well be the name of the screenplay written by Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. À la recherche refers to Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu).

[120] Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, was released on July 13, 1990. It grossed over half a billion dollars on a budget of just twenty-two million, making it the highest grossing film of the year.

[121] The “louche divorcée” is that horrible would-be Queen, Wallis Simpson (1896-1986), who – allegedly – first said: “You can never be too rich or too thin.” It was, in fact, the socialite Babe Paley (1915-1978) who said it.

[122] This line is in very poor, as it were, taste. There had been a terrible famine in Bangladesh, beginning in March 1974 and ending in about December of that same year.

[123] 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[124] Most likely, the first of these is the University of Southern Maine (Portland); the second is Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, New York); and the third is the University of Washington (Seattle).

[125] Kopelson’s memory fails him. Eric Clarke taught at the University of New Hampshire from 1991 to 1992 before moving to the University of Pittsburgh, and not at the University of Southern Maine.

[126] Kopelson alludes, once again, to The Madwoman in the Attic by Gilbert and Gubar.

[127] “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” was a phrase used to describe Byron (1788-1824) by his lover Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828).

[128] This refers to an earlier stanza about The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: “A savvy old sapphist named Gertie, / considered by many too wordy, / dashed off the Life / of Toklas, her wife, / while leaving out everything dirty.” In Love’s Litany: The Writing of Modern Homoerotics (1994), a book based on his dissertation, Kopelson describes one thing that’s funny about this draft. “One of the more amusing sections of The Autobiography manuscript reveals what typing Stein’s texts may have actually done to Toklas. The original version of the line ‘It [The Making of Americans] was over a thousand pages long and I was typewriting it’ reads: ‘It was over a thousand pages long and I was typewriting it and I enjoyed every minute of it’ (emphasis added). Toklas’s red redaction of this final clause suggests that she found the unreaderly task quite unpleasurable.”

[129] The dissertation, like the book mentioned above, is called: Love’s Litany: The Writing of Modern Homoerotics. The citation, taken from Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist,” is: “Do you wish to love? Use Love’s Litany, and the words will create the yearning from which the world fancies that they spring.” Kopelson had viewed that line as an indication of the man’s “social constructionism” – as opposed, say, to André Gide’s essentialism.

[130] I take this to be a reference to the play (1952) and then film (1955) The Seven Year Itch. As such, it suggests that Kopelson considered his wandering eye to have been conventional and also reminds the reader that he and Doug had been together about that amount of time at this point.

[131] Kopelson devotes an entire chapter of Confessions of a Plagiarist – “G712 (IDANT)” – to this so-called plight of his.

[132] I sense fabulation here. La Bête opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on February 10, 1991. Kopelson had to have moved back to Manhattan after it closed there.

[133] Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), in The Gay Science (1882), writes: “We were friends and have become estranged. But this was right, and we do not want to conceal and obscure it from ourselves as if we had reason to feel ashamed. We are two ships each of which has its goal and course; our paths may cross and we may celebrate a feast together, as we did – and then the good ships rested so quietly in one harbor and one sunshine that it may have looked as if they had reached their goal and as if they had one goal. But then the almighty force of our tasks drove us apart again into different seas and sunny zones, and perhaps we shall never see one another again, – perhaps we shall meet again but fail to recognize each other: our exposure to different seas and suns has changed us! That we have to become estranged is the law above us: by the same token we should also become more venerable for each other! And thus the memory of our former friendship should become more sacred! There is probably a tremendous but invisible stellar orbit in which our very different ways and goals may be included as small parts of this path, – let us rise up to this thought! But our life is too short and our power of vision too small for us to be more than friends in the sense of this sublime possibility. – Let us then believe in our star friendship even if we should be compelled to be Earth enemies.” I find it quite improbable that Ruth, a jewelry designer, would have alluded to Nietzsche here.

[134] I just happen to have read the following line from Proust’s La Prisonnière: “In reality, what we express at such times is the opposite of our desire (which is to live forever with the one we love), but also the impossibility of living together which is the cause of our daily suffering, a suffering preferred by us to that of a separation, which will, however, end by separating us in spite of ourselves.” It is, no doubt, a passage of which Kopelson was well aware.

[135] The painting would appear to be American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood (1891-1942). The “fork” there is a pitchfork.

[136] Lily Briscoe – who paints – is a character in To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf. The phrase “ain’t no disco” is from the song “Life During Wartime” (1979) by the band Talking Heads.

[137] The state is Iowa. “Hal Hill” must refer to Harold Hill in The Music Man (1957).

[138] I’m not sure what is meant by “buzz, buzz, buzz” here. Perhaps it’s a reference to a similar line spoken by Hamlet (to Polonius): “Buzz, buzz.” If so, however, it doesn’t seem very appropriate.

[139] The reference must be to Walter Pater (1839-1894), but Kopelson gave no such presentation. Records indicate that he spoke on Oscar Wilde.

[140] “Nonce” is British slang for a person convicted of a sexual offense, especially child molesting. Pater’s best-known book is Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873).

[141] The film Jerry Maguire, from which the line “Show me the money!” is taken, was released in 1996. The phone conversations described here occurred in 1992.

[142] The final line of the poem “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” (1871) by Edmund Lear (1812-1888) is: “They danced by the light of the moon.” Kopelson’s fabulation here is simply inexcusable.

[143] As far as I can tell, the talk referred took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I was able, at the time of this annotation, to find it here: https://whitney.org/events/on-grant-wood.

[144] The clear allusions here are, once again, to both Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. I assume, then, that the name “Colonel P.” refers to the character Colonel Pickering.

[145] “Erasmus B. Dragon” – meant here, I take it, in a homophonic sense (your ass must be draggin’) – seems to be an allusion of sorts. I have not been able to determine the source to which it may allude.

[146] The expression “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” derives from “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” (1785), a Scots-language poem by Robert Burns. “But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, / in proving foresight may be vain: / The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley, / an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!”

[147] The “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“Ballade of Ladies of Time Gone By”) is a poem by François Villon (c.1431-c.1463) that celebrates famous women in history and mythology. It is written in the fixed-form ballade format and forms part of his collection Le Testament. The section is simply called Ballade by Villon; the title des dames du temps jadis was added by Clément Marot (1496-1544) in his 1533 edition of Villon’s poems. Particularly famous is its refrain Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? This was translated into English by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) as “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” – for which he coined the new word yester-year to translate Villon’s antan. The French word was used in its original sense of last year, although both antan and the English yesteryear have now taken on a wider meaning of years gone by. The phrase has also been translated as “But where are last year’s snows?” The refrain is taken up in the bitter and ironic “Lied de Nana” (“Nana’s Song”) by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), from Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe (Round Heads and Pointed Heads [1936]), also set by Kurt Weill (1900-1950) in 1939. The ballade has been made into a 1953 song (using the original Middle French text) by Georges Brassens (1921-1981). It is impossible to tell if Kopelson is referring to the Brecht/Eisler version, to the Weill, or to the Brassens.

[148] Kopelson, as you will have noticed, never seems to realize that there are three syllables in the word “theory.” The same is almost always the case for the word “idea.”

[149] It may be that Kopelson is referring here to the writer Alexander Chee (1967-?).

[150] The book must be Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry (2002), by Geeta Patel.

[151] There was no “Wittgenstein’s Wit” conference in Pittsburgh at the time. To judge from Kopelson’s C.V., as well as that of Geeta Patel, he is referring to one held at Duquesne University by the International Association for Philosophy and Literature.

[152] For such an avid reader of Remembrance of Things Past, Kopelson does not seem to have learned very much from it. One reads, for instance, in Time Regained (the work’s final volume): “[L]ove drives us not only to the greatest sacrifices on behalf of the person we love, but sometimes even to the sacrifice of our desire itself, a desire which in any case we find all the harder to gratify if the loved person is aware of the strength of our love.”

[153] Samuel Barber (1910-1981) composed a cycle called Hermit Songs (1953). The reference here is to one called “The Monk and his Cat.” It begins: “Pangur, white Pangur, / how happy we are / alone together, / scholar and cat.” The original key is F major, which has only the “one flat.”

[154] The Wife (2003) is a novel by Meg Wolitzer. A film adaptation, also called The Wife, was released in 2017. It stars Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce.

[155] Vivian Pickles portrayed Harold’s mother in the film Harold and Maude (1971). She appeared, as well, in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971).

[156] This isn’t a “quote” from the book, exactly. It the caption to a photograph of Maria Callas. Plus it’s not even an accurate quote of the caption, which – far more poetically – reads: “Tawdrily, I adore her.” But of course, that line doesn’t scan.

[157] In Beethoven’s Kiss, Kopelson writes: “Freud, of course, popularized [the notion of ‘sublimation’] – but it’s been around for some time. The Romantics, for example, had a version of it, as did the Victorians. So the version we know and experience – I, for example, haven’t had sex with anyone since I began this book – should be seen as neo-Romantic and neo-Victorian as well as postmodern.” In Confessions of a Plagiarist, however, he comes clean: “For motives I now consider both mean and competitive, I began my next book with an abortive and – as you’ll see – all too prescient encounter between both [André] Gide and [Roland] Barthes. The book is Beethoven’s Kiss, which I also began, one should confess, while otherwise occupied at my own ‘Dragon’ and then finished while still with Matt. Why here confess? Because I claim there – to help make a point on sublimation – that ‘I, for example, haven’t had sex with anyone since I began this book.’ It’s a lie, of course – a false confession. And as such, it’s mostly meant for me. ‘You’re not doing anything in that dirty bookstore,’ I’m now saying to myself – primarily – in public. ‘You’re not even going there.’ You are not, that is, becoming Barthes – in real life. It’s also pretty shameful, that lie. For I simply couldn’t imagine, at that point, telling anyone the truth in print: ‘I, however, when doing this book am also doing any number of strangers—or having them do me.’ Nor, back then, could I say it to anyone in person.” “Matt” must have been Mike Berkshire, who will first appear after this point in The Life I Have Led.

[158] See “Putting the Camp Back in Campus: Notes on a Fanzine,” by Larissa MacFarquhar, in Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca (2002).

[159] Yelp.com, a website that publishes crowd-sourced reviews of businesses, was established in 2004 – or about ten years after the training in question.

[160] This is nuts. Middlebrook’s blurb for The Queer Afterlife of Vaslav Nijinsky (1997) reads: “Kopelson’s strategy, as in his previous work, is to bring relevant culture-studies theory to bear on gay male icons in a lively and readable way that wears its extensive learning lightly. The result is a deeply informed and very moving account of a figure who almost escapes appropriation by the language of criticism. Kopelson meets this challenge in an exemplary way, focusing in historical sequence on the performances. He is steeped in Nijinsky lore, and, just as important, knows the music. He also knows the critics, assessing them shrewdly. This is an elegant, beautifully illustrated account of the legacy of Nijinsky’s ephemeral but influential work as an artist.”

[161] The reference here must be to Martin Buber (1878-1965), a philosopher known for his philosophy of dialogue. But the one book Linda Bolton (1955-2018) ever published (Facing the Other: Ethical Disruption and the American Mind [2010]) is on Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), a philosopher influenced by Buber.

[162] Bolton’s dissertation director at the University of Arizona was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday (1934-?). The dissertation’s actual title is “The Ethics of Identity: Constructions of Self and Other in the Nineteenth Century [sic] American Landscape.” The term “bondsman” is sometimes used with reference to the “master-slave dialectic,” the most common name (in English) for a famous passage of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). The original German phrase, Herrschaft und Knechtschaft, is more properly translated as “lordship and bondage.” The passage describes, in narrative form, the development of self-consciousness as such in an encounter between what are thereby (i.e., emerging only from this encounter) two distinct, self-conscious beings. The essence of the dialectic is the movement or motion of recognizing, in which the two self-consciousnesses are constituted in being each recognized as self-conscious by the other.

[163] Kopelson seems to have been fond of the word “stunner.” In a limerick collection called The Happy Wanker, he writes: “All those who love stunners with smarts – / if not in real life, in the arts – / should go to a show / by surreal Cocteau. / The guy gave Jean all the best parts.” Jean Marais starred in the Jean Cocteau films The Eternal Return (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orpheus (1949).

[164] Psalm 55:6: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”

[165] An eponymous limerick in The Happy Wanker reads: “Most audience members cried ‘Shame!’ / when Vaslav, Diaghilev’s flame, / defiled the veil / in a pastoral tale. / But wankers were happy they came.” Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), the apparently bisexual star of Serge Diaghilev’s (1872-1929) Ballets Russes and also his lover for a time, simulated masturbation at the climax of the ballet Afternoon of a Faun (1912). When Nijinsky, one year later, married a member of that company (Romola de Pulsky [1891-1978]), both of them were fired.

[166] I’m not sure what’s postmodern (“po-mo”) about The Queer Afterlife of Vaslav Nijinsky, other than the book’s structural indebtedness to Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (1957). Kopelson’s “gig” was a Rockefeller Foundation Residency at their Bellagio Study and Conference Center.

[167] This second “gig” was a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.

[168] As Kopelson indicates with reference to his first beloved Michael – Michael West – Proust theorized that you truly love only those trying (or seeming to try) to get away from you: characters like Odette for Charles Swann or Albertine for the narrator. He called such a person un être de fuite (a creature of flight). In Confessions of a Plagiarist, moreover, Kopelson writes: “[D]espite what I imagined throughout its composition, The Queer Afterlife of Vaslav Nijinsky represents not so much an identification on my part with [Nijinsky] as, because of [Mike], an identification I had with the dancer’s own soon-to-be not just ex- but in effect brutally dumped lover. And so I was now concerned, when reading myself or rather my old work ‘symptomatically,’ with an alter ego – with Serge Diaghilev, that is – of whom, as such – like with Proust and his Albertine – I really should have been aware when writing this thing but, being stupid or maybe just in denial at the time, was not. I, Serge, therefore, might have been a better title. My inspiration: I, Tina—by Tina Turner.”

[169] The “song” referred to here, from the opera Die tote Stadt (1920), is better known as “Marietta’s Lied.” It’s a duet, actually, and is anything but “cute.”

[170] Gustav von Aschenbach, in Death in Venice (1912) by Thomas Mann; Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder, in Brideshead Revisited (1945) by Evelyn Waugh; and, quite possibly, Millie Theale, Kate Croy, and Merton Densher in The Wings of the Dove (1902) by Henry James.

[171] Paulo Veronese (1528-1588); Francesco Bassano (c.1549-1592).

[172] In fact, the book by Christopher Lane is called Burdens of Intimacy: Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity (1999). The book by Marc Stein is City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972 (2000).

[173] The book, once again, must be Gay New York (1994) by George Chauncey.

[174] Christopher Reed, too, had a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania (1994-1995) . Christopher Castiglia’s book is, in fact, called: Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst (1996).

[175] Tim Dean’s books include Beyond Sexuality (2000) and Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (2009). I find them all unreadable.

[176] Who did Kopelson imagine would ever read this ridiculous work? For that matter, who do I think will do so?

[177] These last two stanzas invoke “One Art” (1976), a pseudo-insouciant villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979).

[178] In Remembrance of Things Past, Charles Swann falls for Odette de Crécy in large part because of her resemblance to a figure painted by Botticelli (c.1445-1510). Kopelson may then be referring to an early self-portrait by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641).

[179] Both Andy and Lily, one assumes, were Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

[180] For more on this never-to-be-published book’s self-therapeutic and also “Proust-ly” aspects, allow me to quote the thing’s Introduction. It’s in Kopelson’s own voice:

     I’ve never recovered from my older brother’s suicide twenty years ago. Nor have I stopped writing literary criticism that may revolve around him, structures of which he is an absent center. This story – or if not story, novel – is an attempt both to recover and to stop. It’s also a reading of a fraternal friendship, done with that friend’s consent.

     These, of course, are personal matters, and other aspects of Finishing Proust, or the composition thereof, are even more personal. By making the narrator the brother and having him write twenty years from now about my suicide, I’ve articulated several intensely private fantasies: that Steve isn’t dead, that I’ve been punished for killing him, that he’s paying the amorous attention I’d always wanted, and that he’s paying the mournful attention I’ve had to – all of which raise the related questions, why publish such a book and why read it.

     One answer is that readers recovering from similar traumas may find my fantasies instructive. Another is that the book has public – or literary, or literary critical – concerns as well: concerns which, depending upon your personal experience, may or may not present themselves as inspired by mine and which, to cite Wayne Koestenbaum, “sublimate abjection.” I investigate what it means to be bookish: to be a reader whose life is mediated by literature (including, in particular, the literature of Marcel Proust), by literature about literature (including, in particular, Roland Barthes), and even by nonliterary culture. I investigate not so much the anxiety of influence, whether literary or literary critical, as the imagination of influence that writers experience. I investigate the erotic character of both literature and the literature about literature we call criticism: why writers have crushes on one another (including a certain critic’s crush on my friend Wayne), and why these influential crushes represent readerly mediations. I investigate the subjective character of criticism, including criticism that claims to be objective. I investigate its unconscious character, primarily by doing symptomatic readings of, if not myself, then of the “best” self (to cite myself), maybe even the “true” self (to cite Proust), articulated in my previous work. I also investigate critical truth per se.

     As fiction, however, Finishing Proust attempts something other than investigation, especially the sophisticated investigation most critics prefer. For example, by making the narrator an architect, which Steve would have been, rather than such a critic, I’ve enabled myself to write about what it’s like to write criticism (having never done it before, “Steve” is very self-conscious); to validate the emotional intelligence these critics consider naive; and to be both common-sensible and theoretically astute – to explore, say, why ordinary people (to whom even the words “mediation,” “influence,” “readerly,” and “symptomatic” sound like jargon) read and write in addition to deconstructing how we do. And instead of investigation, I’ve attempted demonstration. I didn’t just write about what it’s like to write criticism, or about what it means to be bookish, I tried to show it – to invoke the novelistic motto, “show, don’t tell.” In other words, I’ve moved beyond my last three “performative” and increasingly novelistic books: from performative to performance, from novelistic to novel. Or if not novel, story. Of course, having written autobiographical fiction – a prospective fantasy, not a retrospective one – I was mainly interested in showing what it’s like to be me, which, although egocentric, is all I really know, to the extent I do know it, or that my symptomatic readings are sufficiently accurate and extensive. It also happens to have been what mainly interested Proust, who knew and demonstrated so much more.

     But I’m not sure you’re about to read Proustian fiction. True, I’ve chosen to describe loss. True, I’ve emulated Proust’s indeterminate form. (“Novel?, essay?,” writes Barthes: “Neither one, or both at once.”) True, I’ve written about a book “Steve” didn’t write. And true, I’ve attempted “teleogenesis,” a word he’ll explain. Yet Finishing Proust is non-Proustian in that it’s in search of a lost future, not a remembrance of things past. It’s non-Proustian in that the form, which involves lengthy citation, emulates Walter Benjamin as well. It’s non-Proustian in that the style is minimalist, not loquacious. It’s non-Proustian in that neither of the books I didn’t write – conventional criticism; fictional criticism narrated by “Kevin” – is the one “Steve” won’t. And it’s non-Proustian in that I haven’t died writing it.

     That’s all I really know about the book, maybe all I can know at this point. There is, of course, more to say. One might, for example, address its reading of a love affair, done with that partner’s consent. One might address its reading of a filial relationship, done without that parent’s. One might decide if it attempts too much, or too little. But I’m afraid you’ll have to be the one to do so, because, for me at least, some things – this thing needs to end.

[181] This is not the first time that Kopelson has used the rhyme scheme pleased / cheesed / diseased. As I have already indicated, there are many such lazy repetitions throughout.

[182] The final lines of Waiting for Godot (1953) are: “Well? Shall we go? / Yes, let’s go.” The subsequent stage direction is: “They do not move.”

[183] See John Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy” (1820): “She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die; / and Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips / bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh, / turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips: / Ay, in the very temple of Delight / veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine, / though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue / can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine; / his soul shalt taste the sadness of her might, / and be among her cloudy trophies hung.” (Emphasis added.)

[184] Richard Howard (1929-?) was, in fact, primarily a translator. His many honors included the Levinson Prize, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Literary Award, the Ordre National du Mérite from the French government, which is what made him a chevalier, and the PEN Translation Medal, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

[185] Those last quotation marks compelled me to peruse that essay. It begins: “Being a protégé, I myself have found, is like being a child – or as Barthes would have it, ‘a child getting an erection.’ ‘I want maternity and genitality,’ he explains (in French) in A Lover’s Discourse. The translation is by [Richard] Howard. Howard himself, in verse, writes related lines like these from ‘Elementary Principles at Seventy-Two’ – the last work in the collection Talking Cures: ‘When we consider the stars / (what else can we do with them?) and even / recognize among them sidereal // father-figures (it was our / consideration that arranged them so), they will always outshine us, for we change.’”

[186] The story of this trip to Israel is rather more complicated. See, once again, the chapter “Kiss and Tell” in Confessions of a Plagiarist.

[187] This must have been the second novel by Paul LaFarge (1970-?), Haussmann, or the Possibilities (2001), which begins: “There is a story that Baron Haussmann, who rebuilt Paris in the middle of the last century, on his deathbed wished all his work undone. — Would that it died with me! he is supposed to have said, though as he died of a congestion of the lungs his last words may have been garbled. If the doctor who heard them and, astonished, wrote them down, made no mistake, then we’re left with a riddle, for in life Haussmann seemed incapable of regret.”

[188] In The Ambassadors (1903) by Henry James, the somewhat elderly Lambert Strether tells young Chad Newsome: “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?”

[189] Kopelson, it pains one to have to reiterate, gave no such presentation on Walter Pater. His own job talk concerned Oscar Wilde.

[190] The Centaur referred to here is Chiron, who in Greek mythology is one of the sons of the Titan Cronus and Philyra, an Oceanid or sea nymph. Unlike other Centaurs, who were violent and savage, he was famous for his wisdom and knowledge of medicine. A number of Greek heroes, including Heracles, Achilles, Jason, and Asclepius, were instructed by him.

[191] The reference here, once again, is to Lambert Strether in The Ambassadors.

[192] Sally Field (1946-?), accepting the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1980, allegedly said, “You like me! You really like me!” What she really said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”

[193] “The main reader” of Finishing Proust for Stanford University Press was Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. See “Howard’s End,” referred to earlier, for more on that, as well as for more on Richard Howard’s involvement in this rejection.

[194] The song must be “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story (1957), warbled by Maria in the bridal shop where she works. Her coworkers there respond, in chorus: “She thinks she’s in love. / She thinks she’s in Spain. / She isn’t in love. / She’s merely insane.”

[195] Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (1955), most likely. Kopelson, I’d like to point out, can’t seem to decide where the stress falls in this surname. See his earlier stanza: “Robert Scholes, all due protocol scorning, / and without any wording of warning, / asked, ‘What’s with the “peignoir” / [this word rhymes with Renoir] / in that Stevens work called Sunday Morning?’”

[196] Renée Fleming (1959-?) is an American soprano. Rosemarie Lang (1947-2017) was a German mezzo-soprano.

[197] I have found no evidence – elsewhere – that David Hyde Pierce ever lived in “Bohemia.” The sitcom Frasier, moreover, was still in production at the time. The reader may draw his, her, or their own conclusions from this.

[198] Circumstantial evidence indicates that Kopelson was sixty-one when he wrote this stanza.

[199] “Liz” Bishop refers to the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who in fact never used that nickname. “Chatty” Chatwin refers to the travel writer Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), who did use this one. “Tut-tut” here probably refers to the early stanza: “So too was the rate of their utterance. / But any response of tut-tutterance / would only enflame / this nutty old dame, / and goad her to further such nutterance.” See my footnote there.

[200] This stanza took me quite some time to figure out. It concerns the fact that Neatness Counts: Essays on the Writer’s Desk (2004), described by Kopelson elsewhere as “the first full-length study of the poetics of the modern writer’s workspace,” and The Sense of an Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms that Shaped Them (2004) by Diana Fuss must have been written at about the same time – unbeknownst, presumably, to both authors. The latter, which concerns Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud, Helen Keller and, as it happens, Marcel Proust, would receive far more attention not to mention praise than would the former. It pains me to say this, but Neatness Count is the better book.

[201] All three books must have been by Alan Walker: Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-1847 (Vol. 1, 1988); Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848-1861 (Vol. 2, 1989); and Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861-1886 (Vol. 3, 1997). Walker reveals in the last of these that Liszt, late in life, consumed one or two bottles of cognac per day, plus two or three bottles of wine, plus some absinthe. Kopelson reviewed the entire biography for the London Review of Books in 2000, a piece that appeared under the title “Adipose Tumorous Growths and All.”

[202] Topsy-Turvy, a film from 1999, concerns the 1885 premiere of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. L’escalier du diable (“The Devil’s Staircase”) is a piano etude by György Ligeti (1923-2006). The “Andrew” here may well be the one referred to in the review mentioned in my previous footnote: “To quote the young American virtuoso, Andrew Infanti, pianists like Liszt … invariably pose the question: ‘Just because you can, should you?’ To which they also invariably demand the response, ‘yes.’”

[203] Both of them must have had Gilbert’s Syndrome, which is caused by mutations to the UGT1A1 gene located on the long arm (q) of chromosome 2 (2q37). The syndrome itself can cause skin to appear jaundiced.

[204] Jesse Matz, who taught at Harvard back then, was on leave from there to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Here, he worked on his first and third books: Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics (2001) and Lasting Impressions: The Legacies of Impressionism in Contemporary Culture (2016). His second book is The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction (2004); his fourth book is Modernist Time Ecology (2019). (Hence the title “Temporal Shocks: Narrative Clocks.”) Matz’s partner, Jeffrey Bowman, is the author of Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia Around the Year 1000 (2004).

[205] The “David” here (there’s another yet to come) must be David M. Robinson, who when still in academia specialized in eighteenth-century literature at the University of Arizona. (Hence the reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778].) Like Jesse Matz, he must have been on leave from there when he met Kopelson at the Getty – a museum which in fact never seems to have had an exhibit on Christina Rossetti. Robinson published just the one book, Closeted Writing and Lesbian and Gay Literature: Classical, Early Modern, Eighteenth-Century (2006). In it, he takes the position – contrary to what Foucault had argued in his history of sexuality – that lesbian and gay “subject positions” existed prior to their “discursive construction” in the nineteenth century.

[206] The book referred to is Epistemology of the Closet (1990), by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The allusion is to the earlier stanza:“(A spankable critic named Eve / wrote books that made homophobes heave. / She’d give them depictions / of anal addictions / that showed them how not to conceive.)”

[207] Jennifer Doyle, who did in fact work with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick at Duke University, got her Ph.D. (in Literature) from there in 1999. She taught at U.C. Riverside ever since and is the author of the books Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire (2007); Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art (2013); and Campus Sex / Campus Security (2015). Although she never did write one on either soccer or rugby, she has blogged extensively about them. Scrum Manifesto is a pun on SCUM Manifesto (1967) by Valerie Solanas (1936-1988), about which – and whom – the less said the better.

[208] “Double Dubuque” is a derogatory term for Los Angeles, first used in the 1920s but most popularly used after World War II. The phrase came from so many Midwesterners having moved there.

[209] Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) published the semi-autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin in 1939. In it, he is sometimes called Herr Issyvoo. Isherwood published the memoir Christopher and His Kind in 1976. Don Bachardy, his partner, was born in 1934.

[210] Kopelson is quoting here from a piece published in the London Review of Books in 2015. I am not sure whatever became of the paintings Kopelson says he purchased. Nor am I sure he didn’t steal that ashtray. See above: “I admit, too, I’ve poached souvenirs – / taken spoons, silver plate, from some peers, / and an ashtray or two / from, well, you will see who. / (No fair peeking, proleptical seers.)”

[211] This stanza quotes lines from “Tit-Willow” in The Mikado, the show that Topsy-Turvy concerns.

[212] Carol Milford is the protagonist of Main Street (1920) by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951). Flaubert once remarked: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.”

[213] “Mindfulness” is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. I have found no evidence that Kopelson ever occupied that state.

[214] Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), in a late work called “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” writes: “A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

[215] Irina Sergeyevna Prozorova, the youngest sister in Three Sisters (1901), whose only desire is for them all to move back to Moscow. She believes she will find true love there, but when it becomes clear that they are never going to move anywhere, she agrees to marry a man she admires but doesn’t love. This being a play by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the man soon gets shot and killed in a duel.

[216] Ed Harris (1950-?) played the director Christof in The Truman Show (1998).

[217] Dave Draper (1942-2021) was a competitive bodybuilder. Also known as the Blond Bomber, he was named Mr. America in 1965, Mr. Universe in 1966, and Mr. World in 1970.

[218] The Gore Vidal reference (Eugene Luther Gore Vidal [1925-2012]) must be to his novel Myra Breckinridge (1968), the heroine/hero of which, Myra/Myron, is a female-to-male transsexual. A male-to-female transsexual, Robert/Bobbie McKibbin, taught artmaking at Grinnell College from 1976 to 2007. They have a wife named Shirley.

[219] A phenomenon which Kopelson had often noticed.

[220] “For to see” a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presumably.

[221] “Norm Maine” must refer to Norman Maine, a character played by Frederic March and James Mason, respectively, in the first two versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954). Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) is not known to have had an affair with either of them – although she may well have. The first film referred to must be The Scarlet Empress (1934). The second is The Blue Angel (1930).

[222] Döbling is suburb of Vienna where prior to the Second World War many wealthy Jews lived.

[223] Redrum is murder spelled backward. In The Shining (1977) by Stephen King, Danny Torrance has a vision of the word redrum appearing on a wall, where it then transforms into murder. In the 1980 film version of the novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Danny writes redrum on a door. His mother then sees it reflected (backward) in a mirror.

[224] The sitcom My Three Sons first aired from 1960 to 1972; The Flying Nun first aired from 1967 to 1970.

[225] Arnulphe and Victurnien de Surgis, two handsome brothers, are very minor characters in À la recherche du temps perdu. They figure quite prominently, however, in Finishing Proust.

[226] The reference here – perhaps needless to say – is to the adage, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

[227] Kopelson seems to be thinking of the following exchange in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947):

Stella: Well, well, well. I see you boys are still at it!

Stanley: Where you been?

Stella: Blanche and I took in a show. Blanche, this is Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Hubbell.

Blanche: Please don’t get up.

Stanley: Nobody’s going to get up, so don’t be worried.

Stella: How much longer is this game going to continue?

Stanley: Till we get ready to quit.

Blanche: Poker is so fascinating. Could I kibitz?

Stanley: You could not. Why don’t you women go up and sit with Eunice?

[228] Rebecca Howe, a character on Cheers (1982-1993), was portrayed by the actress Kirstie Alley (1951-?). She appeared on the show between 1987 and 1993.