On the Forty-Ninth Birthday of "The Day Lady Died"
It is 3:00 in the torpid New South, three days past Bastille Day & yes
this is the form you fashioned,
isn't it? Exact & fast & haunted as the opening chords of "Sweet Jane"
(Mott the Hoople version),
which pulses from the minivan as I drive from shrink to soccer camp, shirtpocket
staining my new Rx with sweat,
the bank thermometer flashing 103, the day's new record. We still
use Fahrenheit, Frank
(if I may call you Frank). I might add that we are in deep shit,
icecaps turning slush,
a gallon of regular more pricey than an opera ticket, not to mention
a pair of wars, one of which
just killed a reservist—the husband of my son's kindergarten teacher.
IED, it's called: your body parts
sail for blocks. How do you explain this to a six-year-old, Frank?
Gauloises & Strega & your endless
namechecks seem beside the point; even the willowy & ravished
junkie whisper of late
Lady Day cannot console. They have confiscated our cabaret licenses
& men in camouflage turn men
in orange jumpsuits into whimpering fetal balls. Head slap, stress position,
waterboard. Explain this
to a six-year-old. Today in the shrink-office Time, an obit for
your long-lived buddy
Robert Rauschenberg—the trick is not to impose order but to make
the most of chaos.
Uh huh. The Odyssey's—yes that's the name, Odyssey Espresso—unwieldy
as a subway car & I'm running
yellow lights to make it on time to the Y, where Jake will stand
by the potted doorway marigolds,
backpack, NASA baseball cap, his new black soccer cleats
in hand. Then together
it's hardware store & CVS: ant killer, a/c filters, orange tabs
to twist the dials of serotonin,
a goofy card for Noelle's fiftieth. Also her grocery list: milk, dinner,
eggs, cheap pinot noir & a cheaper
(please, David) chardonnay this time. My skills at self-portratiure,
we can both agree,
are limited. At two a.m. most nights I wake in terror. I pray
to your good spirit, Frank,
that I be worthy of this life, longer than yours already by a decade
& a half. & I am back
in a Minnesota dorm room, eighteen, snow occluding Fourth Street,
colder than today by
one hundred degrees, & spellbound I page your big new phonebook-sized
Collected, the "suppressed"
Larry Rivers cover, where naked you stand, posing Rodin-ishly.
(Where is it now? Tattered
& worth a dozen tanks of premium.) & it's grace to be born
& to live as variously as possible.
Grace o soccer cleat, Xanax, Odyssey, grace o standin-on-the-corner
o seasons, o castles, o elegant & gracious & bedazzling Noelle,
who waiteth for me to uncork
Rex Goliath. Grace o box set Billie Holiday: The Final Sessions,
orchid ashimmer in her lacquered hair.
& Congressional hearings—Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo: let's start
the war crimes tril now. Grace o milk,
dinner, eggs, o Chamber of the Felines at Lascaux, o my damaged
life mask of Keats on the wall,
who now, poor bloke, looks trepanned. Grace o Microsoft Word
(fucked up as it is), Grace
o songs of Junior Parker, Robyn Hitchcock, Grant McLennan. & wise
did you know him, Frank?—writing thusly in his Daybook:
you men may wish
to write poetry. At 55, my desires are more specific.