Saturday, February 25, 2012

Alan Sondheim

Why I can't sleep

I begin by thinking about my being a very old man; I continue by thinking
each day might be the day where a lump or pain becomes something else,
where the body turns its course against me, and that day will be a day of
division. Or perhaps there will be a night from which there is no
awakening, and this remains deeply unimaginable. I continue by thinking
about my family relationships, how I have to permanently sever ties with
people who were dear to me, simply in order to psychically survive. This
leads to a recent article on post-traumatic stress syndrome, the obdurate
circulation of memories which become a permanent part of the psychic
landscape: something to trip over. After death they're meaningless, just
as memories are only stories that fade. I worry deeper into the body,
wondering about arthritis and stroke, when I'll no longer be able to play
music live, to cohere with the muscle memory that governs me, renders me
ecstatic at times - when I'll only be able to listen, when my fingers and
hands won't do my bidding. This leads to thoughts of speed, always working
to create something new, to continue probing, until probing is no longer
possible; at least I won't have wasted any time. This leads darker and
further into thinking about my cross-posting, my incessant production, so
that there's no breathing-room, and this then couples with what I see as
my lack of success, always on the verge of 'making it,' always on the
verge of collapse, and how unfair that is to my partner Azure, what she
has to put up with on a daily basis. I then wish I could burn that part of
my mind out, I think of the Higgs boson and the nonsense over neutrinos
and whether I'll live long enough to even have an inkling of some
unimaginable truth. I then think of one of the books that discussed my
work, and my appearing a nuisance on various email lists and other places
of encounter, and further my letters begging for work, which I no longer
send out since, at my age, I'm already excluded from the possibility of
hire. I think of my diminution, the extraction of two teeth, the original
lenses from my eyes due to cataract, and when and where this will end or
prove fatal or result in a loss of mind. This last is of most concern, and
every bit of forgetting is seen as a sign of dementia on my part, as if
I'm waiting for proof of closing down. I worry about getting addicted to
too many sleeping pills or pain pills or stress pills or depression pills
and keep jumbling them up or refusing to take them, hoping that original
mind will manifest itself. I curse god and gods because I can't believe
and the result is sinking into absolute annihilation. I worry about the
short dreams I have rummaging around childhood or sexuality or unknown
seas, and I hate waking from them, which happens almost immediately,
throwing me back into the matrix of these thoughts, this almost
catastrophic thinking, which dominates me, while I listen to the cat and
Azure sleeping and worry about them, their health, the stress I must put
them through. I wonder whether my friends who were over the other night
would want some guitar or other instrument cases, or laptop cases or even
laptops, and whether I should trade the hasapi and guzheng instruments in
for something smaller, since our place is crowded. I keep hoping I'll live
long enough to move to a less-polluted part of the city, and worry about
the appointment I have tomorrow morning with the pulmonologist to get the
result of the chest x-ray, and whether I should start trading in, or
selling, larger quantities of books, since I may not have that much time
left to read. I worry that my reading The Diary of a Late Physician from
1832 might be affecting me negatively, and I wonder how my friends deal
with their own at times extremely depressive reading. I keep thinking I
should awake quietly, leave the bed, turn the computer on, and start
typing this out. I worry about making too many typing errors, and whether
this too is a sign of dementia. I try to decide whether lazily to leave
the errors in, or correct all of them, and still haven't reached a
conclusion. I worry that my tinnitus might finally get completely out of
control, since the other day it took a turn for the worse and is now
really quite loud with changing, not steady, pitch. I worry whether the
minor infections and fevers I seem to have mean anything, or whether
they're a sign of psychosomatic problems related to the usual traumas. I
begin to fear what will happen next week when my Eyebeam residency
formally comes to an end, whether I'd still be able to do anything as an
'alumnus' or some such, or whether they'd be glad to get rid of a nuisance
with his despairing and disparate work. I worry that somewhere along the
line on Facebook I was called a 'troubled man,' and I wonder whether I'm a
man at all in fact, and whether my neurotic behavior is so severe that I
won't be taken seriously as a 'thinker,' or 'musician,' or any one of a
hundred identities I aspire to. I worry that people find me a dilettante,
and that even my oud playing is so grotesque that I'm humored at best for
my clumsy attempts at playing. I fear that my few friends will become
fewer still and will leave me, or that we will settle in another city
where I'm seen as a freak or monster, and I wonder whether other people
lead lives of continuous regret, or how other people justify the horrors
they, too, must inflict on the world. I worry about the end of megafauna
and the inhumanity of our species, its deep commitment to slaughter and
torture, and those images of battered and wounded animals gracing PETA and
National Geographic publications, and I don't understand why we don't all
rise up in fury at the injustice of it all. I'm scared I'm technologically
falling behind, that my graphics or still too sexual or too crude, that
people would despise me if they looked closely at my work. I worry I'm too
arrogant or appear too arrogant, too selfish, too self-absorbed, and I
wonder if my father was right in what he said about my relationship with
my daughter and for that matter the rest of the family, and what made him
so psychologically violent against me. I wonder if thinking that way is
nothing more than an excuse. I continue to think perhaps I should take yet
another pill to try and fall back asleep, keep the gremlins away, and I
worry that all the early happiness I had writing into my characters has
disappeared - where are Nikuko, Jennifer, Honey, Travis, Clara, Alan, and
Julu, when I need them and their brightness just to think through the day?
I wonder when the construction noises are going to begin again and I'm
embarrassed and saddened we never were able to stop the pollution of the
arena going up across the street. I think it's probably time to leave the
computer which is now carrying a complete and true account of my thinking
for the evening on a typical night, hoping that a philosophical remnant
might remain here, wanting to just email this, cross-posting to everyone's
misery and horror, before the dawn comes and I have to awaken, if I fall
asleep, filled with the chills that usually accompany me in the early
morning, as if I had a severe flu, and so forth. And I worry that this
'and so forth' carries nothing with it but self-pity, that it's another
example of 'the troubled man' and his 'neurosis,' going nowhere, saying
nothing, an exercise in futility and the imaginary of illness, philosophy,
and the dead.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Jose Padua


Was it poetry that ate my desire to succeed,
and through failure that I succeeded in thinking
only horrible things, things so horrible that
poetry could never grasp, much less control them,
and out of chaos still leave nothing but chaos,
measured accidentally in words? These nights are like
Antarctic nights in short sleeves, the sound is nice but there

is no aroma, no touch before throwing down
the dice while tangled pieces of string dangle from my
fingers like theories that cloud one’s mind on sleep-
less nights. No poetry can lay its hands on this
to heal it, my lack of tone and the muscle that’s
required to lift a dark stone from the bottom
of a running river; this is the task of mud, this

is the sealed entrance, the leftover shell and
mirror. Before my life of horrible things, desire,
to me, was a hyena that stays just out of
reach of the lion’s teeth; it made me take big steps
ahead. I left jackals and wild dogs behind me,
any animal who could not understand me. My
bags were packed before I even knew I was moving;

the words I used led me to construe that the animals
and I are alive, living in separate worlds when
I am high, feeling my veins as gusts of wind and
my mind a snow-capped Everest. Before the horrible
things there was desire, the ambition to move
about the stage, stepping softly with my silver clipped
wings to keep me calm, on these my days of rage.



I must have been nine or ten when I first
wondered how I would leave the world when it

was time for me to leave the world. Would everything
be flat like glass in the future? Would the curves

on buildings disappear like the airplanes
that flew away from me to the world until

they were too small to see and I was too
far to catch them? When it was 1965

the 21st century seemed far away,
seemed not exotic but more like science

fiction or a Thursday night film like
The Island of the Killer Shrews or

The Hideous Sun Demon. When I was
young I had weird pains in my chest and one

night I even woke up shaking. And even
before all that I sometimes thought about

the end of the world, like at the New Year’s
Day party we always went to when we

were kids when I would have rather stayed home
than see that old guy with the big forehead

and the age spots on his nose. Now, going
into town for Christmas my daughter asks

for the song she calls “Twentieth Century
Go to Sleep,” as my wife feeds our son from

a bottle then puts it in her purse when he’s done,
and they all fall asleep as the winter sun goes down.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alvin Greenberg

 He Gives Things

      He gives his best friend Nathan a large, black, twist-tied, plastic garbage bag full of lawn clippings.
      “Here,” he says to Nathan, “I want you to have this.”
      Nathan is underwhelmed:  “Wha’?”
      He wants Nathan to understand that what he is giving him is an essential part of his life.  These are fresh green clippings, of course, from this very morning’s mowing, but he has been mowing the lawns of houses where he’s lived since he was ten years old, first at his father’s insistence with a rusty old reel mower, once with a riding mower (ah, so much lawn then!), lately with a small electric Sears Craftsman.  Mowing has been an integral part of his life–his spring, summer, and early fall life, at least–for nearly six decades.  What else has he ever done so consistently over such a long period of time?  He’s not just giving Nathan a bag of fresh clippings, he’s giving Nathan something almost as central to his very being as a kidney.
      Nathan still doesn’t understand.

      Even though it costs him a fortune to ship it halfway across the country, he gives his ex-wife an antique oak armoire, which he thinks of as a shifferobe, a term from his parent’s generation that he suspects no one knows or uses any longer, including his ex-wife, who is none too happy when the delivery truck pulls up in front of her house on a rainy morning when she is just getting into her car to go to work.  The driver explains that refusing delivery is not an option; if he and his helper can’t put it in the house–anywhere in the house she wants, he emphasizes, signaling to the kid in the cab to get down and lend a hand--they’ll just have to leave it on the sidewalk.  Ten minutes later she is on the phone, staring at this huge thing sitting in the middle of her living room and demanding to know what the hell he thinks he’s doing, sending her this piece of furniture that was nothing they ever owned together, no family heirloom–where the hell did he get it, anyway?–and nothing she has any use for, certainly no match for the rest of her Danish modern furnishings, and not even particularly attractive.
      “I just wanted to give it to you, he tells her.  “A simple ‘Thank you’ would do.”
      In a long, narrow box purchased at the UPS Store, he gently places all his ties, the ties he wore to work for many years, the ties he wore on evenings out, the ties he wore to weddings and funerals, the ties that went out of style almost as soon as he bought them and the ties he got to hate over the years, the gift ties he never wore, the impulse purchase ties he only wore once, wide ties, narrow ties, knit ties, Italian silk ties . . . all the ties he has ever owned.  He wraps the box in Christmas wrapping paper, the only wrapping paper he can find in the house, tiny white snowflakes on a pale blue background, sticks a large red bow on the top, lays it on the back seat of his car and drives it to his sister, the quilter.  He stands on her front steps holding it in his arms, where except for its wrapping it would look like a box of flowers, long-stemmed roses perhaps, though she isn’t fooled for a minute.
      “Now what?” she says, taking the box from him.  They exchange quick kisses on both cheeks, a European custom they have long since adopted though neither has ever been to Europe.
      “Oh my god,” she exclaims when she opens the box, “this is too much!”
      “Too much,” she repeats.
      “It’s always too much,” he replies.

      He gives everything in his attic to the Goodwill:  boxes and boxes of stuff:  old LPs, cassette tapes, CDs; Christmas tree decorations; overstuffed file folders; cookie jars and toaster ovens and extension cords; he doesn’t even know what’s in most of these boxes he’s packing into his Chevy Cavalier coupe with its tiny trunk and even tinier back seat.  It takes him eleven trips across town, and by the fourth or fifth everyone who works at the unloading dock is coming out to greet him, saying, “You again!”
      “Yep,” he says, smiling, “me again.”
      “You movin’ or somethin’?” they want to know.
      “No,” he says, getting back in the car to go for another load, “not really.”
      When they’re finished pulling the last load of unboxed stuff out of the car–rolled up throw rugs, rusty space heaters, typewriters, Venetian blinds–he hands them the keys to the Chevy.
      “Registration papers in the glove box,” he tells them.
      “You want a ride home?” one of them asks.
      “No,” he says, “not really.”

      Almost everything in the fridge and freezer fits into three large grocery bags, which he takes next door to give to his neighbors, Derek and Lucinda.  He’s got two heavy bags in his left arm, clutching them from underneath because they’re so packed he’s worried the bottoms might give way, and the other one, in his right arm, he’s juggling to reach the doorbell when he sees Derek’s already standing in the doorway in his pajama bottoms.
      “You need some help with those?” Derek asks, taking one bag from each of his arms.  “I thought I heard someone coming up the steps.  C’mon in.”
      In the kitchen he’s carefully setting the last bag down on the counter next to the two Derek’s already placed there when Lucinda comes in, wrapped in a terrycloth robe, her hair still wet from the shower.
      “Wow,” she says, “look at all this.  Your fridge break down?”
      “No,” he explains, “not exactly.”
      “I’m not sure we’ve got room in the fridge for all this,” Lucinda  says, looking at Derek.
      The three of them stand quietly in the kitchen, staring at the three overflowing grocery bags slumping on the counter.
      “I’m sorry,” he says, “I didn’t realize it was so early.”

      When the twice-a-month cleaning lady leaves the next afternoon he helps her load her car up with the vacuum cleaner, the broom and dustpan, the mop and bucket, and a grocery bag full of things guaranteed to abolish dust, grease, smells, worry.
      “I guess you won’t be needing me anymore,” she says, standing on the sidewalk, jingling her car keys.
      He closes the trunk of her car, worried now that all these cleaning supplies might be the absolutely wrong things to have given her, these second-hand implements of her daily labors, of, in fact, one of the jobs she no longer has.
      “Wait here a minute,” he tells her.  “I’ve got a set of wine glasses for you.”

      Later, he pushes the lawnmower through the neighborhood, along the sidewalks, across the curving streets, to give it to Nathan.  Children playing outside in the evening, scrawling things on the sidewalk with colored chalk, step aside for him.  Cars slow down to give him time to cross the street.  Dogs follow him across a yard or two before losing interest.  Giving the lawnmower to Nathan seems the appropriate thing to do, something that Nathan will finally understand, but when he gets to Nathan’s house, there’s no one home, so he leaves it by the garage door.  Still later he returns with the rake, the edger, and a snow shovel, but now the house is dark–either there’s still no one home or they’ve gone to bed early–so he lays them on the asphalt driveway, beside the lawnmower, hoping that Nathan won’t drive over them when he returns home or when he backs out of the garage in the morning. 
      The next day he gives his toaster to a little boy pulling a red wagon down the sidewalk in front of his house.  The kid neither looks up nor stops as he places the shiny aluminum toaster, cleaned of its years of accumulated crumbs, dead center in the little red wagon.

      He gives that day’s mail right back to the mailman, who has just slid it through the slot in his front door.  “Please wait,” he says, opening the door to hand the few envelopes and cluster of flyers to the mailman.  He returns in a moment with a pile of old mail he’s scooped off the dining room table.
      “Let me give you this, too,” he says, “and please don’t bring any more.”
      The mailman isn’t sure he can do that.
      “It’s OK,” he tells the mailman.  “Trust me.”

      A dog meanders across his front lawn, a sad-looking Irish setter, its head hanging, its tail drooping.  He rushes out to give it a rib eye steak, the one last thing he’s kept in his freezer.  The dog takes it in its mouth and rambles off, looking no less sad than before.

      He flags down an old woman driving down his street in a white Cadillac, wanting to give her the two pillows off his bed.  She rolls down her window and looks at him long and hard.
      “Put them in the back seat,” she says. 
      For several days he sits on the bare wood of his living room floor pondering the question of who to give the electronics to:  the computer, the printer, the copier, the fax machine, the cell phone, the DVD player.  In the end, he simply puts them out on the sidewalk in front of the house.  In the morning, they’re all gone.


      Days pass.  He gives time its due.  He gives the house key to the garbage can and the garbage can to the garbage men, who shrug their shoulders and toss it into their giant compactor of a garbage truck.

      And then he’s at my own door, and even while I’m thinking it’d be a bad idea to let him in, he slips past me and just like that he’s standing in my living room, holding his empty hands out in front of him, insisting on giving me his story.
      “No,” I tell him, “I can’t take it.  If I take it you’ll have nothing left, nothing at all.”
      “I know,” he says, dissolving into a puddle of tears in the middle of the room, “I know, I know, I know . . . .”


George Bowering

The World, I Guess 

If you don’t write it down, the poem will go away again,
back to wherever it came from, maybe a dead person
or Mars.  Even if you’re doing something else, like trying
to have a bowel movement, as is often the case with me,
not meaning to be vulgar or comical, but
a planetoid is another possibility, if that’s the right word.

Think about all the poor mute Miltons who had something
else to do; they could have changed the world,
or at least the poetry world, or North America.  But
even if you write it down, here’s the problem, you will be
mis-writing, because you are mis-reading.  You have to accept that
if you want to spend a life at this job.


Laura Young

Dark Sea XXXI


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mary Kasimor

the future is in Barcelona

The pen works. See. It makes up ideas; later pictures fall off the wall. The ideas could be found in any cereal box. I fell into a dream & then I fell off the earth & kept falling. The building held important drawers to my lives; unraveling the addiction & falling out of the air, the government’s image aided my vocabulary. I was a speculative fool more so than others. The nation leaked pious families & mickey mouse’s ears were the future’s deception. But we gamble with deadlines. The future is clear in Barcelona. There were two trillion protesters from the next decade, & little churches grew refugee camping; anti-hierarchical the dancers gave birth. To comply with the sun everyone gave arguments to exist in prophesy, but grassroots sprouted monkeys. Stop the alarm. Why mess with shipping? The equipment embraces the wrongdoers & someday everyone will know 


the western

the east tastes of vinegar tight-
lipped &
sour apples
no woman need apply
scientific oppression approached
from a bounty of speed
the galloping
horses frozen in steel

she vanished for good
she argued
for width
in the movies she climbed out
windows claimed herself
a heart warm
slovenly morning
out the window to
the west she left
a sense of space she
left a witness
walking on sand & swamp
& lakes
& cornfields
to the furthest
place to the fabric torn

the continuity
of any
a pattern to the west paper-
doll shadows
with north poles separating each
piece of her
she grew
antennas & a force of
nature she disappeared
into a digital
the edited movie of the west


black swans in rain

if so          dying    the
smudge         is
objectified       and falls
rain     against      blank
faces a                 city
travels through       air
not       trees but    many
bodies left      fragments
rain                      clusters
forgotten     light    black
swans and             gray
order                   forced acres
if                pollution stars
and      wings           let
go      to fall         wet
like      word smears
simultaneously       luminous
seasons in         overnight heavy
doors                  and laws  
forced               between needing
more        we meant
more pronunciation       more we
chose                like     gods
to         die in       triangles
like dogs           heaps
from these              meanings of
co-habitation       out from
life      to dwell   through     
symbols and          windows 
we        pressed       for
distress        of       what was
never found         in    an absent
train      seats             coins
and        rain soaked


Lars Palm

(on the road to san augustin)

three persons
three dogs
along the roadside

walk when cool
seek shade when hot

who are those
shadows walking


(fighting the glorious cockroach revolution)

on the street
     a single brown leather shoe size 9 or so
the thought that it might come in handy some time

a bit later
     an easily accessible building site sporting an opened sack of cement

shoe filled with cement he goes down to alcaravaneras & mixes water into it leaving it to dry in the sun

thus he has a weapon fit for fending them off


(driving for football)

these hardcore bosnians on tour having driven from tuzla to paris to watch their national team 
beat france in the final european qualifier were slightly less expansive when we returned to the 
hotel at about 1.30 a.m than when we left earlier in the day


Paul Charles Howell

Manipulating Hans Arp

 “Greta Garbo had a favorite old puppet she used to keep in her dressing room. I think she called it Kasperl.”
                           -- attributed to Anita Loos

I was clearing out the Old West Mission
but wanted to be frivolous and elsewhere
so I made up a tale about Stravinsky to keep me going
for Petrushka was ringing in my ears.

I leaned on the conversation between me and the old
county-fare Casper I had picked up at a flea market
in a miniature armchair in a marionette theater
hanging from a rusty four-penny nail.

He must have been there since the Spanish American War
so I flung him onto the bonfire with the Pole in her Dirndl
and the dark Argentine with her flashy castanets and sharp
brown teeth and worn-out pin-ups of Greta Garbo

I don't know what other silent movie stars
and a trunk-full of letters and tugged at Hans Arp’s
eulogy for it’s the only written record
of the great entertainer’s demise.

You remember Casper I hope my old uncle?
Back in silent film days? Part of the Roscoe
Arbuckle crowd? The abduction scandal? No?
He worked with Alice Howell and Jean Guignol

Francis Ford…. You don’t remember?
Well surely you saw him when you were a kid
Him and Buster Keaton    Anita Loos
He exchanged letters with Marx and Mann

Collaborated with Igor Stravinsky, the composer,
and Hans Arp, the Dadaist. Surely you knew
of his long love affair with Greta Garbo
the greatest movie star of all time?

Casper came to his sad end here last week
at this eerie Mission in Capistrano California.
He occupied this creaky place in his twilight
and expired in the fog with the long leaded windows ajar.

I was not with him at the actual moment
Only his two young manipulators were there
the beautiful slim blonde Pole and the strong
dark Argentine, his angels without wings, to see him

Through the valley of the shadow, to witness
his obstinate spirit ascend past the flickering
chandelier. Ooh…! That night we laid him out
in precious Chinese silk on a venerable four-poster.

I had been alarmed when the Argentine phoned to insist
that I come out here to spend his last days with him.
He believes he’s going to die
and wants someone by his side.

Did you know that he kept trunks full of fan mail
and old brown and white photographs?
Him and Greta, him with Joe and Buster
Keaton, him with Stravinsky in Barcelona, Spain.

And in case there’s any doubt about his current status
with the top politicians, George
Bush père and little George fils
were both at his cremation in Santa Monica.

Sorry you missed it. They had not forgotten him!
And there she was.    I had not dared
expect her, in a black backless dress
and floppy yellow hat. She was there

In the back pew with tears in her famous
unbreakable eyes, believe me. The press
did not give the funeral much coverage but
Oh, there were the compulsory obituaries.

One remembered his ’37
tour in Peer Gynt and his appearance in Uncle
Tom’s Cabin. Another called him the Howdy
Doody of Vaudeville if you can imagine it!

But that was not all. I checked every single
paper, even Vanity Fair.
I did get a nice bouquet from Casper
Weinberger whose parents named him after Casper.

The evening of my arrival he sat beside me
on the arm of my easy chair, one hand resting
on his walking stick, his chin leaning on his hand
between puffs on his panatela cigar.

He started to move his lips, and a voice began
to sound. Boy, what diction! It resonated in the walls
comforting and confident. He said, “Every man needs women.”
We were sipping French Champagne and puffing fresh cigars.

          “They’re what put zest and interest in life.
          Now these girls over here, this stunning Argentine
          and that lithe Pole they think I don’t know
          they’re after my money.”

Casper still looked uncannily like his 1927 portrait
by Max Beckman, painted while he was playing
Fafner at the Frankfurt Opera, Kasper
im Smoking it’s called, the cigar, the monocle, the young

Manipulating Venuses of that era bent
in attendance like handles of an art deco vase.
He had my attention and spoke to me at length.
“When you hang around this long, son, it gets sticky.

“You outlive your friends and some of your enemies.
But you miss them, too. The crowd used to burst into applause
the instant I leapt on the stage. When I spoke, children
trembled. Whenever I got off a train, there was

“A throng. I couldn’t go two blocks in Manhattan without signing
a hundred autographs. The trouble with fame is
you have to pull the same head-bashing stunts
retell the same raunchy jokes

“Be the personality they expect,
or they think you’re cheating on them, as if
they owned you like a wife. So, like an old
husband in bed, you act surprised and pleased

“And all fired up. I was there at the 57th Street
pier when Garbo got off the Drottningholm
did you know that? Nineteen, she was. Coming to conquer
America. Just a child she was when she

“Discovered me and Oh I’ll never forget
that ship, the colored streamers gliding
through the air, the fog horn, the brass band on the pier
droning Roll out the Barrel, everyone kissing

“Everyone, popping corks, the scent and sprinkle
of champagne mingled with the scent and sprinkle of the Hudson
River, arrival, laughter, tears of joy! And
What an apprehensive presence Garbo’s was!

“The stevedores unrolled a carpet down
the gangplank. And when you looked at her, emerging
like a Venus in New York, you had the feeling
that you shouldn’t, as if you’d stretched the whole

“Crazy Torah, but you couldn’t turn your eyes
away. She was right down to earth
a bit too free and modern for us righteous
Americans. She tried to sweep us off our feet

“Before we were sure of our footwork.
Funny, intractable, fragile, farouche, do you know
that word? That’s what she was. Without inhibition.
Wherever Garbo was, you had the uneasy

“Feeling: that was where an earthquake
Was about to erupt, a ten. I never loved
a woman more than her, and to kiss her tanned shoulder
was like touching the Holy Grail.

“But it was her eyes that controlled you.
In the old films it’s hard to see
the power of those eyes, but, believe me,
it was there. Ah, Anna Christie, Anna Karenina.

“Her best film was Street of Sorrows
before she ever came to Hollywood.
Ah, Greta Garbo, how I miss you.
Didn’t you meet her with me in the thirties?”
But I had not, alas. Casper went on
“We used to gallop around Santa Monica
together. Greta had great horses.
It was all pretty wild those days not paved over

“Like today. She was pretty wild, too.
Think what she did to that poor John Gilbert
star of silent films. Her voice worked
and his voice didn’t. She stood him up at the altar.

“I was with him at the time, poor guy.
Devastating for them both but not for me.
Then she considered Laurence Olivier
but didn’t like his smell.

“Lucky thing for him; ’cause I’d have crushed his balls.
She was too good at acting. That’s why I never
married her. Too busy acting. One hundred
ten percent business. How could you be sure she was ever

“Herself? Off camera, she prepared herself.
Greta Garbo, let me tell you, was a childlike, charismatic spirit
capricious, whimsical, sagacious, ungraspable
all the female essentials. She could be

“Temperamental, though. She could be genuinely
Indifferent, totally selfish, go on a hunger strike
get what she wanted like Gandhi, demanding as Elektra.
She was often compared to Helen of Troy, you know.

“It makes me sad even now.
Last time we saw each other was after the Barcelona
fiasco before I moved to this Mission.
Now when I see those old Garbo films on TV -

“I like the old films, but that’s not her. It’s her ghost.
She looks like a delicate flower, doesn’t she?
But when you look close, you realize that she’s made
of the sort of stainless steel it took ten million

“Centuries to forge. Now, Garbo knew how to handle
the press! She told them to mind their own damned business
but they couldn’t stop. They expounded on the
legend, and the public loved her all the more.

“After the premier of Camille I said to her
la Bernhardt was never half so good as you
lilla flicka’. Scared the pants off her
when I said that, but she knew I was right.

“When you have that much power, it’d scare anyone.
Women are wonderful, provided you never forget
that they’re made of barbed wire. Power
is the greatest thrill. Speaking of power,”

Casper held up his walking stick to show me.
“This old cane of Stravinsky’s makes you feel
pretty invincible, doesn’t it? A kind of scepter.
I was walking along the highway yesterday

“Listening to the squealing birds and the breaking waves.
I saw some good looking surfers on the beach.
One of them came up to admire the cane.
She was built like the Venus de Milo.

“I told her this cane used to belong to Stravinsky
the greatest composer of our time. Right away
she asked me to let her hold it.
Oh, the way she fondled the thing!

“Stravinsky said his father bought the cane
in Saint Petersburg. It has a history.
One day his father was out walking when a dog
attacked him; he used this cane to kill the canine

“And threaten its owner. You can see the dog’s teeth
marks on it here. Look. And I’m sure
there’s still blood on it. Look at that stain.
Isn’t that blood? Stravinsky said

“He got off the train one time in Mulhouse in France
to stock up on wine and cheese and baguettes and cigarettes
for the rest of his trip to Lausanne, and before he got back
on the train an ugly young man with a knife

“Tried to mug him in a cloud of steam and demanded
his money. Stravinsky, in beret and monocle
and white silk scarf, tapped the mugger
on his chest with the silver handle of this cane

“And said: ‘Aslayóp!’ It worked like a magic wand.
The thug melted in the steam, and Stravinsky got back
on the train. And now it’s attracted the Venus de Milo.
Stravinsky was an unsurpassed actor and a first rate politician.”

Casper’s enthusiasm mounted, “He was a great genius
a giant. Like Einstein, like his friend Picasso, his friend
Cocteau. He had an ego bigger than Mount Rushmore.
But the world was depressed by clouds of war.

“Stravinsky wanted to produce Petrushka in Barcelona
and he wanted me to play the marionette. How ironic
I had never played a puppet before.
I boasted to Greta about the invitation.

“‘You’re no ballet dancer’, she said
not to offend me, in fact, but protect me
from a business that could only mean
disaster. How prophetic she was.

“But I was insulted. I said, ‘I, Casper
who have played Charlemagne at Roncevalle
who seduced Margarete in the garden as Faust
fascinated the continent as the hunchbacked, hook-nosed Pulcinella?

“I, Casper, who mastered Shakespeare’s Trinculo
and Stephano, who danced the Catalonian flamenco
on my hands, who worked with Trovollo the ventriloquist
 who toured Japan as Benten Kozoh with his gang

“Of thieves and performed seppuku countless times
before packed black-haired pagodas, Greta,
you think I cannot dance the puppet Petrushka!’
I capped off my speech with a dig

“‘The stage is not the picayune cinema, Miss Garbo!’
But after jealousy, pride is man’s greatest mistake.
I don’t know if Greta really liked Stravinsky
She was more for rumba than ballet

“But she knew what she knew, and that is what
distinguishes an extraordinary presence like hers
So I became determined to do Petrushka
marionette or no. I wrote back to Stravinsky.

“Yes, he was delighted. Stravinsky had
a definite idea at first. Then he astonished you
with a new clarification. He was always positive
as his music, while so many serious artists

“Were wallowing in discouragement. And he was just
as difficult, and just as driving as his music
So cerebral. He wanted to do things no one
had ever done, and he did them. We corresponded

“About the production. He described Nijinsky’s interpretation
and told me what was wrong with it and how
I must improve it. Greta used to read
his letters, too. I’ve kept them all.

“You’ll have to publish them when I’m gone.
He wrote about the wig and the make-up and the costumes
and how the lighting had to be from the lower
stage left to make it ghostly and the small

“Puppet stage on the larger stage to make it
real and the Moor and wet nurses and Gypsies and the masqueraders
and the coachmen and grooms and the peasant, and movement
movement, movement, and, most of all, the bear.

“I, Casper the marionette, the hero, was to be
irresistible, seductive, symbolic. To get the gestures
right, I studied smoke in changing wind
trees growing in the rain forest, icebergs bobbing

“In the ocean. I would even have
to die like a meteor. Oh, how vividly I remember
And the music, Stravinsky said, the music must
for once, be played the way he wrote it, not

“Like his friends Monteux or Ansermet or Koussevitzky, or, God help us
André Messager, all those imposers
of inferior egos! The music…! I could hardly understand
the music at first. I had to open my ears, but once

“I did Holy Moses! Stravinsky wanted Leopold Stokowski to conduct.”
There was a sudden heavy silence complete
and black as if both oxygen and daylight had been sucked
out of the room and I feared the worst.

When he mentioned Stokowski’s name Uncle Casper’s
unchanging face became a harsh mask
of vengeance, as if his memory had foundered on a spewing
volcano, as if he had stubbed his toe on a rattlesnake.

After a moment, he recovered and went on.
“Oh, how ready I was to help Stokowski.
He had just given his last concert in Philadelphia
He had been there for a quarter of a century

“And should have stayed there. He was about my age
but prided himself in his shock of white hair
that universal symptom of musical prowess
and his goddamned physical flexibility.

“And he was planning to come to Hollywood anyway
to do film music, so au courant
Today he’d probably want to be an astronaut!
I spoke to my friends to see how I might meet him

“So prepared was I to dance Petrushka
so ready for everything to be perfect to make
our Petrushka THE Petrushka of five hundred years.
To be remembered as THE interpreter of Petrushka

“Better than Nijinski. No
the CREATOR of Petrushka, better than Stravinsky!
Oh, gold flutes, brass trumpets, wood bassoons.
The snare drum! Oh, that barrel organ!

“Stravinsky came to visit us, Greta and me
He personally checked on every detail
We sat in wicker chairs beside her
Pool in the southern California sun

“While Greta Garbo sunbathed and swam
and prepared herself and distracted us
 we went over the Petrushka score
together in silence. It was pleasant agony to listen

“To music with your eyes and see Stravinsky
tamper with his own music in silence.
Then we went inside, the three of us.
Stravinsky played each section on Greta’s piano

“Or made me play it, while he banged out the rhythm
with that silver-handled cane
Bang, bang, bang, leaving unconscionable
Welts in Greta’s Steinway. How my head

“Was spinning with new sounds.
It only took two days, but I was transformed.
The great Greta Garbo herself had never blocked
Her scenes with such alacrity.

“When Stravinsky was ready to leave
I had memorized every gesture, every note
even the tiniest nuance. That’s when he presented
This silver-handled cane to me

“And told me its history. My young friend Anita Loos
I don’t think you know Anita, I must
introduce you. She wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
and most of the great screenplays -

“Anita gave me Stokowski’s west coast number.
I called him, and we decided to meet to discuss
the Barcelona production.”
Casper dozed off.

It was past midnight, and the young Pole
and Argentine, I realized, after all the talk about ballet
were dancers. They came to entice Casper to bed
the dark Argentine from the south and the blonde Polish girl from the north.

Good night, Uncle Casper, I said. I finished
my Cognac and before I went to bed
examined the cane. Fabergé had a hand
in this, I thought. At breakfast the next morning

I asked him, How did Petrushka finally go?
I was out of breath. My impatience was showing.
“He lives as a mocking spirit,” Casper said to me
“but he dies outwitted in the end, that tragic

“Marionette Petrushka. Jealousy will do it every time.
There’s no hell like jealousy. Just listen to the music
Stravinsky conducted it himself in the end
No need for Stokowski, no need for him at all.”

Casper was savoring caviar and sturgeon for breakfast,
but I could not wait. How did the Barcelona audience
like it? I persisted. It must have been
pretty strong music to their ears in the thirties.

“Oh, the circumstances couldn’t have been worse,” he said
shoveling in gobs of caviar. “Barcelona
was a mess. The country was a mess. Traveling there and back
was awful. The civil war, you know. The theater was cold. But.

“But the orchestra was hot. The commedia dell’arte
set was perfect. The colors! No one understands
colors better than the Spanish
especially the reds of wine and blood

“Or the blacks of lace underwear and funeral shrouds
The supporting cast was the best I ever worked with
I showed them my soul, and it was raw
We gave five performances, and after each one

“They carried Stravinsky and me on their shoulders around
the Town Square, clapping, clapping, and clapping
some more. But my heart was heavy. I was suffering, let me tell you.
The reason, of course, was that bastard Stokowski.

“He had meanwhile come to visit Greta and me
in Santa Monica. He brought Greta a gift
one he’d made himself. You know how that sort of thing
can trick a fickle woman, when an adorer brings her

“A gift he has made with his own bare hands
something else she can take to her bed. Besides
he looked like the annunciating angel. Well
Greta, poor, faithless waif, succumbed to those dumb charms

“To that exceeding, nimble brain, to that feigned
devotion, and there was no one else whom she
wanted to see or hear for a while. Stokowski
catered to her every weakness.

“There was no way to make her see sense
no holding her back. She even
became cheerful! She went out with him in public!!
She thought about marriage!!!

“My Greta Garbo! She had forgotten
she belonged to the universe like the North Star
She belonged in the dreams of all men
not alone on some Roman mosaic with Stoky

“Sweeping up his carrot crumbs. The girl was infatuated
And me, I was fuming. The haunting idea, the gnawing
image of Greta and Stoky on the front page of every
edition. Jealousy. Worse pain than muscle spasms, believe me.

“In my work, I’ve succumbed to both. While I was sequestered
and dancing my heart out in Spain, Garbo and Stoky
were practicing yoga at the Villa Cimbrone in Italy
and I was the guilty, foolish instrument of this nightmare.

“Let the fascists reign, I thought.
Come disembowel the earth.
There could be no bleaker agony than mine.
After Petrushka I went straight to Italy

“To see what they were up to. Then the three
of us drove to Sweden, through Switzerland and Germany
The trip was well covered in the press, yet no one knows
I was with them. I even did some of the driving.

“When you have been so devoted to a woman as I was
to Garbo, as we were to each other, this extreme happiness
she and Stoky seemed to be enjoying just
leaves you numb. At her secluded farm

“In Sweden where we were staying, in three separate
bedrooms at my insistence, in the foyer
by the staircase, I met up with Stokowski.
‘Finally’, I said and raised this walking stick to threaten him.

“I wasn’t sure what to do, kill him, I think,
but he grabbed the stick from me and deftly
struck me with it instead, knocking me lifeless
as the dummy I was, the scene I had just come from mastering

“With Stravinsky in Spain. If you look very carefully, you can see
the blood. Not some real Russian dog’s, in fact
but my own. And Greta, what pain hers was.
How expertly she could suffer, look at any ten of her films.

“Of course, after that, we had to part for a time
And Stokowski, he had to leave. For years I could not
speak to Greta. Then after that vicious censorship
of Two-faced Woman, she spoke to no one, no one at all.”

A thick fog was rising. We finished drinking
our breakfast Dom Perignon and went out into the
walled-in garden to check on the orchids.
Casper said, lifting one gently with his cane

“I’ve been coddling these for that sorrowful day.
Look how lush they are and capriciously female.”
Those were his very last words. Arranging the appropriate
funeral for such an eminent figure is a challenge.

The pale lithe Pole chose the Frank Lloyd Wright
chapel in Santa Monica, and the Argentine drew up
a list of celebrities. Melvyn Douglas and Helen. Emil Jannings
Erich von Stroheim, George Cukor, Clarence Brown, Groucho Marx

And Buster Keaton. Other old friends who are not so famous.
Perhaps I should mention Jean Guignol and King Constantine.
We did not know how to reach Greta Garbo but made
sure that the announcement appeared in LA and New York.

Casper is dead. Funeral services, etc., at 11:00 on Thursday.
We cut all the orchids from the garden and filled the chapel.
It made the most powerful impression. We had a catered
bar for the press, only pitch pine for the fire on Forest Lawn.

It burns so hot and fast. The chapel is small
and felt tightly crowded. Buster Keaton delivered the eulogy
of course, since it had been written for Casper in the first place.
He recited it as well as he could remember it.

Alas our good Casper is dead

Who will carry the burning banner now hidden in the pigtail of clouds to play the practical joke?
Who will now turn the coffee mill in the barrel at the Mission?
Who will now trick the empty-headed dears out of their petrified paper box?
Who will now confound the ships on the high seas by addressing them as dada drizzle and the winds by calling them keepers of the bees ozone spindle?
Alas alas alas our good Casper is dead
Holy ding dong Casper is dead
The cattlefish in the bellbarns clatter with heartrending grief when his Christian name is uttered: Casper Casper Casper
Why have you left us? Into what shape has your beautiful great soul migrated? Have you become a meteor or a watery chain attached to a hot whirlwind or an udder of black light or a transparent brick or the groaning drum of jagged being?
Now the part in our hair, the soles of our feet, are parched, and the fairies lie half-charred on the pyre
Now the black bowling alley thunders behind the sun, and there’s no one to wind up the compasses and the wheels and the handbarrows any more
Who will now eat with the phosphorescent rat at the lonely bare-footed table?
Who will now chase away the sirocco devil when he wants to beguile the horses?
Who will now explain to us the monograms in the stars?
His bust will adorn the mantelpiece of all truly noble women, but that’s no comfort that’s snuff to a skull.

Of course, old stone face himself couldn’t recite the old Arp
without tears. It’s extraordinary how much we’re going
to miss our old Casper. During one long pause in Buster’s
recitation I turned around in my seat and looked back

And saw the characteristic floppy hat
the lady in the last row. It brought
a tear to my eye. She had actually come and was weeping.
At the cremation in the dazzling Pacific sun, it is I

Who lowered his remains on the pyre. King Constantine
was kind enough to light the match.
I almost laid on Stravinsky’s walking stick
to guide his spirit through the spheres

But he really wanted me to keep it
You see, there’s still some magic in it.