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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.