How to Finish off a Pretentious, Long-Winded Poem by Executing a Less Windy One
by Vassilis Zambaras
“Artsy Fugitive Dream Sequence Riddled with Hyperbolic Quasi-Literary Figures of Speech, Take circa 2002”
A dream unfolding with scenes of what
Could be England or the US West Coast.
Three of us have stopped at a dipstick village
Where the fattest begins a frenzied St. Vitus dance outside
A knife-like Freudian slit of a shop—I’m suddenly inside
Under numberless dangling shoelaces of every size, color
And description modifying a low ceiling defying description. Dark
As an earthworm’s diggings. Fatso’s squirming on the sidewalk
Like Gregor Samsa in later larval stage so
We cannonball him to the nearest hospital. On the road
We’re driving through utterly beautiful vistas—paramount
Visions of the Pacific Northwest circa 1950s? And then
Gunning it over a long stretch of water—flashing
Blue silver-white and a floating bridge just below the surface?
Odd—the people are swimming on the bridge, craning
Their popped-up heads above the water as we tool along,
Lopping them off with brio, pizzazz, and aplomb.
Cut to hospital where they tell us our friend has apoplexy–
No surprise—something we had garnered before—
(how had we gathered this?) and as we say goodbye,
I see he’s trying to use this weird contraption to feed himself—
Resembles a gangly pair of claws reminiscent of Hawking—
But he’s too clumsy to manipulate it properly, and as we’re leaving
I notice apricot pits lying surreptitiously in the folds of his sheets.
It continues until I’m suddenly alone
In a train station wanting to buy a ticket to London.
Now, an actor in the dream, not a member of the audience.
The station’s bloated like a jumbo can
Of gone-off solid-packed John West tuna.
After browsing some faux bijoux at a newsstand
Surrounded by grotesque, mall-crazed Japanese tourists trotting round
Looking like sushi addicts who’ve just quit cold turkey,
I go to a ticket stall where a woman primly coiffured à la Dorothy
Lamour tells me London tickets are issued at such-and-such a location
At such-and-such a time but she garbles the information like Garbo used to,
And she doesn’t say she’s the one who’ll be doing the selling
When the time comes. When the time does come
And the loudspeaker plays it to see just how Sammy runs, everyone runs
To the stall like diarrhetic buffalos pummeling the riders of the purple sage
Into pemmican—to the woman I’d spoken to before!
We’re pushing and being pushed
As if our asses depended on it, till a dapper
Railroad official with a dainty cowlick stands up behind the ticket stall
And asks us to all please step back on the platform and lie down
So as not to be seen by the woman! This annunciation strikes us dumb,
But we drop flat on our stomachs while he tells us ad infinitum that
Buying tickets should be a matter of style—un élan vital—until I say
“Sure, but shouldn’t style be as goose-pimpling as coprolagnia?
This is just plain shit”—and walk away.
Then, shots of a man (is it me?)
Running away from Mr. X—(the offended official?)
(Dr. Richard Kimble?)—each subsequent scene
Another chapter of the man’s life. At some stage in the middle,
He senses it’s the railway official—always a presence behind him,
Always running scared, always looking back. But neither
The man who’s doing the chasing nor the man being chased is seen—
As if filming a cornucopian stream-of-consciousness interior
Monologue from As I Lay Lying in Yoknapatawpha County
By Bill Clinton As Told To William Faulkner. Finally,
The by now much older man comes to an ivy-choked country mansion,
Where elegantly dressed people reeking of fin de siècle
Are loitering on the lawn conversing à la Henry James
And playing sundry card games and he offers to be a dealer in one.
He perches on a three-legged stool sans seat,
And a young woman sits primly on his lap. When she leaves, he starts speaking
(so far, he has only gesticulated), saying he’s come as far as he’s fated to go
And he’s going to stop. Still spraying saliva-larded syllables,
He sits on the lawn, shuts his eyes and waits for the end.
Like gadflies drawn to freshly catapulted cow pies,
Hordes of onlookers have now congregated round him
And are commenting on this fact—some curiously, others ironically.
Now spread-eagled on his back,
Somewhat like the da Vinci drawing
Many have seen but few know the name of,
The old man sputters to a stop—
And now I see what he’s seeing: The blackness
Descends in folds like hot fudge over Mt. Fujiyama
And the faces and voices coagulate and slowly melt
Until a vatic sounding voice strangely reminiscent
Of Francis the Talking Mule brazenly announces
The man’s life or the dream we’ve just witnessed
Is akin to an iconoclastic Marguerite Duras New Wave screenplay
With the curious
Of History, you
Dreamer!—mon semblable,—mon frère!
“Baudelaire for Dummies”
Oh my hypocrite reader,—my twin,—my brother!
Fooled by this hapless effort
Passing itself off as a poem?
A wretch like you wrote it.
MELIGALAS, GREECE—(Weekly Hubris) —02//28/11—According to my Publishing-Editor, this here column is a “hit,” as it continues to garner a fair share of Weekly Hubris hits. Judging from the warm reception it has received so far, I have to conclude there must be a lot more poetry lovers out there than there are haters. Keeping all this in mind, what you’re reading now is an attempt on my part to rectify this unacceptable situation and to give the verse haters the opportunity to hit back. How? Well, read the title, dummies! (How’s that for starting off on the right foot?)
Exegesis: The first “poem” is a drawn-out “literary” embellishment of a dream which I had some years back; I remember it was so vivid that I jumped out of bed half-asleep at about 4 in the morning, went to the dining room where I had left my notebook and still half-asleep quickly jotted down all I could remember before going back to bed. Having all the main details of the dream on paper, that very same day I proceeded to see if I could make a real poem out of it. After countless efforts at trying to “improve” it over the years by inserting into the plot numerous “artistic” allusions, I decided at one point to call it quits and sleep on it until a later date—about two years ago—when I found it in suspended animation as I was looking through some of my archives in the hopes of resurrecting a failed poem or two. Since I was dying to put it out of its misery, I put the so-called “finishing” touches to it. Hic jacet, in other words.
The second “poem” was written in 2010 and seems to be a gloss on how successful my subconscious thinks the first one was.
Any further comment seems superfluous, except to say “Let sleeping poets lie.”
NB: The original phrase is “Hypocrite lecteur—mon semblable,—mon frère! ” and is the last line of Charles Baudelaire’s poem Au Lecteur (To the Reader), later made even more famous by T.S. Eliot, who inserted it into his now classic poem, The Waste Land.