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luís soares

Blog do escritor Luís Soares

Ron Padgett - How Long

in memory of Lorenzo Thomas

 

How long do you want to go on being the person you think you are?

How Long, a city in China

 

The nouns come toward you

“Knee how,” they say

To the cluster of synonyms also approaching

… has that evening train been gone?

How long, how long, baby, how long?

 

Let me know

if you ever change your mind

about leaving, leaving me behind

or at least tell yourself

before you find yourself on that train

winding its way through the mountains of How Much Province

 

The ten thousand yellow leaves of the ginkgo tree

kerplumfed onto the sidewalk on East 12th Street,

a deep-pile carpet of them on the roof of the parked car

proving that Nature does have a sense of humor,

though if a sense of humor falls in the woods

and there is no one there to hear it… .

 

for everyone has clustered alongside the railroad track

for the arrival of night and its shooting stars with trails like pigtails

I am among them and I know this track is mine

though it does not belong to me

 

Nothing belongs to me

 

for at this moment the boxes are being stacked

to make way for you to move through them,

reading their labels: family photos, Pick-Up Stix, miscellaneous

and the song of the porcelain, the celadon, and Delft itself

vibrating How long, how long

will this baby take to depart?

 

But I don’t want to think about the past

I want to be the past,

with everything I’ve ever known and done

spread out on a two-dimensional plane

erected vertically and moving through the space I occupy on Earth

 

There is a lot more room left in me

though everyone I’ve ever known who’s died is there

My mother my father say hello

to Ted and Joe and laugh with them

though Joe knows they are crying too

and that Ted is crying

and it sounds like laughter

 

They do this to console me

and I let them do it, to console them

 

What? I didn’t hear you

or rather I heard you

but I couldn’t make out what you said

 

The phone lay in its cradle

pretending to be asleep

and the blinking light made you think

that it was dreaming and that

there was someone you were supposed to call—

or were they supposed to call you?

 

Supposed. What does that mean.

It means no more than the contours of the landscape

that is as beautiful as the contours in John Ashbery’s poetry

but it doesn’t mean anything

unless you turn your mind on its side

and let it lie there

inert, and from this inertia

will arise a wing, the white wing

of a bird that has no anything else,

only this one wing

that folds and unfolds itself

like the magnetic field it rises above

in wave after wave after wave.

 

Then it’s back to basics:

If you bone or debone a chicken

it comes out the same,

if you dust a cake with sugar

you add something

but if you dust your house you take away.

Oh to be a rock or a stone or even a pebble!

Momentarily,

for there is much that is unattractive about being a rock.

For one thing, I wouldn’t be able

to finish this poem, I would sit here petrified

until they carted me away

to a park to serve as ornamental sculpture,

if I were lucky.

 

Now that you are convinced of something

that you already believed, the wallpaper becomes a fact

in the home of Anne and Fairfield Porter,

in the upstairs hallway and the bedroom

where Jimmy stayed, the wallpaper that here and there

was curling off the wall so Joe could tear it off

and glue it to a big white sheet of paper.

There is no other wallpaper

I would ever want.

Now the wallpaper goes away,

back on the wall in 1969

where I stood and gazed at it for a long time

and then went downstairs

to add coal to Fairfield’s stove,

the big Aga he had shipped all the way from Sweden

because he was very determined to have it.

All day its warmth rose up to the second floor

and caressed the wallpaper.

 

Do you mind my going on like this?

You want something else, right?

Perhaps you want what you think poetry should give you,

but poetry doesn’t give anyone anything,

it simply puts the syllables on the table

and lets you rearrange them in your head,

which you can do unless your head is a square

the size of the tabletop.

So why don’t you lift your head off the table

and go lie down somewhere

more comfortable

and not worry about anything,

including the list of things to worry about

that you keep revising in your head,

for there is a slot through which that list

can slip and float down like a baby in a rocking crib,

down to a comfy dreamland

and be transformed into a list of gods whose jokes are wonderful.

 

But when the alarm goes off

the jokes don’t seem funny

now that something is missing from them—

but what? (You weren’t even asleep.)

It’s not something you feel you’re going to remember,

it’s not as if you can go down the alphabet

until you get to a letter that has a special hum

because it’s the first letter of the name

you can’t quite recall,

it’s not as if you can look just to the side of where

you think a dim star is and thereby have it magically appear.

The glow is gone,

and knowing it comes back sometimes

is little consolation.

But I’ll take it

and go not to a deserted island

but to the factory where they make the bottles

that are washed ashore with a message inside,

and though the message has been blurred by water stains

it’s a message, like the poetry in Valéry’s saying

that poetry is something written by someone other than the poet

to someone other than the reader.

To you, Paul Valéry, chapeau,

though in some of your works no chapeau,

for in them it is not a bottle but a test tube

one finds one’s finger stuck in.

 

 

What do you want to do with your life?

is a question asked of a young person

but slightly modified for an older one:

What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

Having control is an illusion we like to be fooled by:

the pinball machine of experience has bounced us

off one thing and onto another bing bing bing!

Life might be like a pinball machine

but it isn’t one, and the trouble is

that you might be like a person

and you are one, as if in reverie,

but then it all seems crambe.

 

And so Sir Thomas Browne walks in

with an insane look on his face, he is searching

for examples of the number 5, do you

have any new ones for him? If not

please step aside, and out he goes

into the garden, eyes locked

onto the vegetation, the afternoon light

on the back of his coat.

 

You’re relieved he didn’t stay long.

 

For God’s sake

here he comes again.

Lock the door!

But he performs osmosis

and becomes the door and then

the room and then you!

And you go about the house

looking for examples of the number 5

and you don’t know why or where

it will all lead to.

 

But I do.

Who said that?

I did.

Why did you say that?

I didn’t.

You didn’t what? I heard you!

You mean you hurt me.

No, I … I see

there’s no point in talking to you.

 

And there wasn’t

for there was no one there,

only the residue of an idea

that lasted a few moments,

like the history of Bulgaria

or the rattling of bamboo trees in the wind

or the Millennium Hotel in Minneapolis.

 

The water lilies float on the surface of the water

unaware that they are being depicted

by brushstrokes

 

“I love to be beside your side

beside the sea, beside the seaside

by the beautiful sea!”

we sang

underwater glub glub

as the propeller turned to face us

and we fled

because Hitler was the propeller

 

and he was unsanitary

 

So Père Noël took a bath

whose bubbles rose up around his beard

and tickled his fancy

enough to keep him ho-ho-hoing throughout the holiday season,

for he was in denial

about his powerlessness

in the face of Hitler

 

Hitler kept a special area on his face

for the powerlessness of Santa Claus,

he wore it like a merit badge

among the many others that covered his face

so that no one could see what he really looked like,

the way Santa Claus used his beard to hide

the deep sadness he felt for all humanity,

for if he arrived on their rooftops weeping and wailing

it would not do,

it would not do to bring the children

model replicas of Auschwitz

or dolls in the form of the Butcher of Buchenwald

or even of himself with downcast eye and ashen brow.

The doctor comes in and says, “What seems to be the trouble?”

for the twenty-fifth time today

but you are only once today

so you say, “There’s a pain in my chest it’s been there for three days it

started on Sunday night right after dinner,”

but the doctor is thinking about the dinner he is having tonight with

an incredibly attractive woman

He is more worried about her than he is about your symptom

In fact he isn’t worried about you at all

though he might be worried about being sued by you

if he tells you to go home and take an aspirin and when you do you die

But maybe you were going to die anyway

no matter what he said or did

and the lawyer who eagerly took the case on behalf of your family

was hit by a car as he crossed the street toward the courthouse steps

and your entire family was killed in a plane crash

on their way to a Grief Management Center in Arizona

But none of this happens because the pain

was due to a strained muscle in your chest

and now you do remember that right after dinner

you tried to stop in midsneeze

Two hundred dollars for half a sneeze

is the going rate these days

 

The cost of living sticks a hose into your wallet

and vacuums out the money in a trice

and you are so grateful you aren’t having heart surgery

that you don’t even notice

until cold air drifts across the floor

like fog in a horror film,

the one you decided not to be in,

and now it pursues you

in the form of frozen air,

the evil brother of cool air

that filtered down out of the early summer evening

and told you that the world is kind,

that atoms rearrange themselves to make you feel better,

that the sun is departing only because it felt

you wanted to be alone for a while

 

It didn’t say, “I will never rise again,

I will go far away and be a pinprick in the sky

among the billions of others, and you

will never know which I am

and I will never tell you.”

 

And you will never answer back, “Sun,

I do not think you have that power:

only I do, and I will go away and be the sky.”

 

Is that what is meant by “aesthetic distance”?

 

Say what?

 

It’s as if the Panama Canal had been given aesthetic distance

by becoming a passageway in your brain

and you floated down it and came out

on the end that you started at!

 

Hunh?

 

I keep a ball of laughter inside that Hunh.

Ron Padgett - What Are You On?

If you asked an Elizabethan

What are you on?

he or she would have answered

The earth, this terrestrial globe

whereas today it means

What medication

are you taking?

(Are you taking has less energy

than What medication it is an anticlimax

without a climax)

And today What are you on about?

would have sounded like

What are you of thereabouts in?

and will

So what medications are

you on?

I am taking italics it pokes

a hole in whatever is going to be

so I can slip through

and not have arms and legs all the time

You've lost me and I'm not even an Elizabethan

That's O.K. neither am I though both

of us bestride this terrestrial globe

and fain would lie down

for the earth is a medication a giant pill

we ride on

like the aspirin in the poem I wrote in 1966

and didn't understand until last night or was it this morning

A.M. and P.M. are medications

I take one in the morning and one in the evening

 

Some day people will look back

at the twentieth century and think

How backward they were

the way some look back now

at tribal societies and say

But primitive life was so dirty how

could you keep things clean?

not knowing that tribal people

lived in the Garden of Eden

comparatively speaking

That is they had more humanity

than later people

who traded theirs for technology

so that those people who look back at Earth

some day from a distant galaxy

will not be people at all

comparatively speaking

they will be cue balls

 

But this morning I am not in a billiard situation the sun

is shining onto my house and the trees

are feeling like their tops because they are still in the Garden of Eden

that is the gentle endless hush

of an endless mother to her endless newborn child

Things are there

covered with sparkles

that have nothing to do with sunlight

the way one night I got out of bed and found

that I was covered with sparkles very small ones

I wondered if I would be covered with sparkles the rest of my life

and if other people had them

But these are not the same sparkles that things have on them

except the ocean sometimes at night

 

By day the ocean moves away from where it was

but a mountain does not

Somewhere in between lies Hidden Valley

where Grandpa comes out of his cabin

and staggers around the dooryard

then goes back inside

where Grandma is holding a baking tin

of fresh hot biscuits

but she will give him none

Give me some biscuits he cries

but she smiles and shakes her head

They are all for me she exults

and then laughs she is only joking

Grandpa sits down at the table

and pretends to be dead

revived only by die muffled thud of the biscuit tin

Where's mah coffee he roars

even though he sees it in the cup before him

and Grandma says We're plumb out

That's how the day begins in Hidden Valley

 

But where are the grandchildren

They are scattered about the world in jagged pieces

that move like birds in spring

with colors and speedometers on them

Someday they will return to Hidden Valley

and form another mountain

to make Hidden Valley even more hidden

when the waterfall closes over it

 

You think I don't know where it is

 

or is that just a ploy to get me to tell you?

You are like the guy who looked all over

for his hat and later learned it was on his head

but it didn't mean anything until he realized he had a head

and that the hat was both on and inside it

and when he did

it was not a rabbit that he pulled out

but a rectangle in which the rabbit was imprisoned

You don't want to be that guy, do you?

You would rather be the rabbit

when all along you could have been the waterfall

 

We move ahead in our story to five years later

then we move five years back

because there is no story

only a collection of events with no beginning,

no end, and therefore no middle, it is all

one big beginning, middle, and end every second

and though you are in it you are also to the side

like an actor waiting in the wings for the cue

that will cause the stage to light up and expand

though it is also the cue for the audience to rise

and head for the exits, because they are the real players

and you, it turns out, are part of the scenery

propped up against a wall, gathering dust along your top ridge,

for soon you will be transported to Hidden Valley

and placed among the other mountains

 

One of these mountains is the Earl of Essex

covered with the crud

of having galloped all the way across Wales and England nonstop

Essex who dashed up the palace stairs and barged

into Elizabeth's private chamber unannounced

—where no man had ever set foot—

midst the gasps and cries of her ladies-in-waiting

and there it is

his face

on the front of his head

and her face coming off her head

and starting toward him

because she knew right then his head

would be severed from his body

but what she did not know

is that he too would end up in Hidden Valley

raining down his sparkles upon the house of Grandma and Grandpa

 

Are you enjoying your vacation

Yes I am

in fact so much that I don't even think of it as a vacation or as

      anything else

and come to think of it I don't even think of it

it's just the way things are

How about you

Yes I too am enjoying my vacation

Well good

 

Silence

 

What you just said about your vacation I'm not sure I understand

     what you mean

I didn't mean much of anything I guess

The mountains around here have a way of making me not think very

       much

maybe because they aren't thinking at all who knows

and I tend to become like whatever I'm around

 

But you're always around air do you turn into air

Yes I'm always air

What about Grandma and Grandpa are you turning into them

No I can't turn into them I already am them

 

Well that is very interesting

but I have to scoot along now

 

And a fine day to you as well

 

Ireland rose up on the horizon

backlit by history

but Hidden Valley was too powerful it made Ireland sink back down

though the voices of Ireland could be heard in the distance

some singing others laughing and some wailing and scolding

and then they too faded when Grandpa brandished his lips at them

 

for he wished to sing himself

and all alone on the veranda of his own personality

the one built partly by him and partly by the celestial carpenters

who found his scratchy gurgling caterwauling arias to be as

       astonishing

as he found them to be beautiful and moving—

arias that caused tears to gush forth from the sky

you could see when you looked up into his eyes

not long after you were born

the sky at night

 

and professional wrestling was on TV

Antonino Rocca bounded around the ring

evading horrible huge guys who fought dirty

the kind you would find only in New York City

when it was in black and white

little Antonino who looked like a short-order cook in a diner

but who dodged and slid and leaped so fast

the horrible big guys couldn't catch him

but when they did, Ow! Get away, Antonino!

and he came back to life and slithered free

and hurled the big guys down and one-two-three boom

they were pinned

and once more he smiled

at people like us out in the middle of nowhere

prompting Grandpa to clear his throat and say

It's time for bed it's way past time

and it was

but we were hidden outside of time

and no one would know

because they were visible inside of time

I was happy in Hidden Valley happy enough

and I'm happy I once lived there

Maybe I'll find myself there again someday

even though the mountains will be gone

and the rest changed beyond all recognition

Ron Padgett - How to Be Perfect

                                                  Everything is perfect, dear friend.
                                                  —KEROUAC

 

Get some sleep.

 

Don't give advice.

 

Take care of your teeth and gums.

 

Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for

instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone

you love will suddenly drop dead.

 

Eat an orange every morning.

 

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

 

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes

four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

 

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

 

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room

before you save the world. Then save the world.

 

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression

of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.

 

Make eye contact with a tree.

 

Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of

them.

 

Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.

 

Do not speak quickly.

 

Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)

 

Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

 

Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't

forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length

and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball

collection.

 

Be loyal.

 

Wear comfortable shoes.

 

Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance

and variety.

 

Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you

become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at

them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!

 

Live with an animal.

 

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

 

If you need help, ask for it.

 

Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.

 

If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.

 

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

 

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you

have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.

 

Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.

 

Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far

more defective than you imagined.

 

When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.

 

As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal

ones.

 

Look at that bird over there.

 

After dinner, wash the dishes.

 

Calm down.

 

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have

expressed a desire to kill you.

 

Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

 

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.

What is out (in) there?

 

Sing, every once in a while.

 

Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy

excuse.

 

Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

 

Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.

 

Walk upstairs.

 

Do not practice cannibalism.

 

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do

anything to make it impossible.

 

Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.

 

Keep your windows clean.

 

Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.

 

Don't use the word extirpate too often.

 

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go

to another one.

 

If you feel tired, rest.

 

Grow something.

 

Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to

die!"

 

Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.

 

Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the

pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a

cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.

 

Do not exclaim, "Isn't technology wonderful!"

 

Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.

 

Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even

older. Which is depressing.

 

Do one thing at a time.

 

If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang

your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty

minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and

gravity.

 

Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.

 

Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you

should be.

 

Enjoy sex, but don't become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods

in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.

 

Contemplate everything's opposite.

 

If you're struck with the fear that you've swum out too far in the

ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.

 

Keep your childish self alive.

 

Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a

tornado on it.

 

Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate

how much better you feel. Don't be embarrassed about feeling better.

 

Do not inhale smoke.

 

Take a deep breath.

 

Do not smart off to a policeman.

 

Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the

street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped

in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.

 

Be good.

 

Walk down different streets.

 

Backwards.

 

Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice

that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.

 

Stay out of jail.

 

In later life, become a mystic.

 

Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.

 

Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is

time to leave, do so.

 

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

 

Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.

 

Read and reread great books.

 

Dig a hole with a shovel.

 

In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.

 

Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a

27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.

 

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,

say, "Water, please."

 

Ask "Where is the loo?" but not "Where can I urinate?"

 

Be kind to physical objects.

 

Beginning at age forty, get a complete "physical" every few years

from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.

 

Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.

 

Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks"

in Mandarin.

 

Belch and fart, but quietly.

 

Be especially cordial to foreigners.

 

See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the

characters. Or all of them.

 

Take out the trash.

 

Love life.

 

Use exact change.

 

When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.