The stuttering night unveils its fairy dark.
and hears the raspy chainsaw play its song,
while wispy light appears in wonders dawned.
was originally published in the October, 2013, issue of Harper's
here with permission.
TP Hub Editor this week: Zireaux.
is a poem that speaks to me. I mean literally, it's speaking directly
to me. The haunting "Eleventh Azure" in line 9 can also be
written as "Azure XI," which of course is an anagram of my
name. And I'm not going to discuss the "Jew" in "jewels,"
or the "thwarted art," or the veiled threat to my child and
so forth. So let's move on.
Barnes has composed countless poems, too many poems. Among other
accolades, she was awarded the Los
Prize for Poetry (declined it), the Bollingham Prize (ditto), a
Dickinson Endowment ($100,000 received by bank transfer I'm told) and
turned down an honorary degree from Princeton's Lewis Center for the
discovered her woeful early poems at a writer's festival in Trinidad
in 2002. Derek Walcott, Rabindranath Maharaj, Olive Senior from
Canada, and my overly joyful, soon to be ex-girlfriend (along with
her young poet friend and soon to be bedmate, Miguel Murat) -- I
recall hanging out with all of them at Queen's Park, eating aloo pies
beside a passionate flame tree, with pumped-up storm clouds over the
Gulf of Paria.
wasn't at the festival. Has never been the traveling type, and, her
one endearing quality, despises all forms of literary pretense. But
it was there, in Port of Spain, while enduring an excursus on the
awkwardly absent V.S. Naipaul (and keeping one eye on musky Miguel)
that I discovered Cecily's poetry in a clandestine browser window of
my Net-suckling laptop. I read, I understood, I knew immediately what
was going on; that I must
find this sinister poetess, that I must get to know everything about
her, tame her, restrain her, shame her, destroy her reputation,
silence her, silence her.
time Cecily Barnes -- lover of anagrams, whose name, by the way,
rearranges into "Lyric Absence" -- wrote under a different
pen name. Back then she was the more exotic and erotic-sounding
Galaxia Gaudh. She was based in a brainy railroad town in Texas
called College Station, and was -- to use Jane Austen's phrasing --
still very much Galaxia then, untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy and
fearless. I, meanwhile, a more youthful Zireaux, was desperately
lonely, hurting and hateful; far too certain of what I'd become, far
less certain of what I was.
flew to LA and straight to Houston, took a rental car and some drugs.
Mad, magnificent, unmarried days. On the outskirts of Houston I
bought a 9mm Glock and box of bullets at a converted three-bedroom
house with a signboard: "Arrowhead Guns and Ammo." (So
oxymoronic, the melting pot of American history). I bought the gun --
not to use it, but, as that deranged narrator says in Mary Gaitskill's
brilliant "The Other Place": to
know I could.
the highway, those hanging green recipe cards and their carefully
measured exits -- 3/4, 1/2 -- grew shorter, less frequent, cooked up
fewer burger joints out of the hot pancake terrain. Ten minutes past
Hempstead I swerved to avoid what I thought was an armadillo (nothing
but a sun-drenched tumble-bag), lost control of the car, and the
local African-American sheriff, a friendly former boxer, ended up
introducing me to his tow-truck driving granddaughter, a friendly
former pageant queen -- but where was I? Right. College Station.
George Bush Drive. The one-bedroom apartment of Cecily Barnes, a.k.a.
Now before I knock on that door,
I must explain...or never mind, let's just knock on that door:
"So much distance you've
came here, Mr. Zero. Come in, come in. Such a flatterer you are for
Galaxia. Some Irish Cream?"
That's Branko, bald, burly,
Latvian, punching his way through an English sentence while trying to
activate an atrophied grin. Stolid, very big feet, I doubt the boxing
Sheriff could have taken him down, not even in his, the Sheriff's,
"Where is she?" I
asked from the living room's squeaky white leather sofa. Beside me was a glass-topped table with a lone, twisted,
But to cut this story short --
both time and audience are limited here -- this bumbling Branko was so
convivial, so charming, that I quite forgot my obsession with the
vulgar poetess, his "Gal" as he called her, and before I
could say "what cologne is that," the two of us were
driving to the local Dairy Queen for root beer floats, then drinks at
Gatsby's Bar, shooting the Glock near the water tower, then
mini-golf, more drinks, a visit to a cute two bedroom cottage with a
"for sale" sign on Appaloosa Avenue which, from the
following month, we'd end up sharing for nearly three years like a
good gay couple.
The point is this: We rarely let
Galaxia come between us, or not until the end anyway, when, in the
winter of 2005, I issued an ultimatum to my bruised Branko: It was
either Galaxia or me. We had often talked about her, and I had made
my position clear: "Snowball poems, diamantes, clarihews. Big
whoop. She's deaf to dialect. Always will be. Let's see her produce a
which he'd reply: "Say what you want, mon
Her youth is a threatening for you, I know it. She's read more books
than yourself can ever. Writes faster. More prolificness. Did I tell
you that Re:Visions
is publishing her sestina series? Next stop, the New
Arguments in the shower. He
called me a "friendless iconoclaster," said I had an
inflated sense of self, that I was condemned to obscurity, that the
poet is not an individual, not even human, not worth our attention,
but merely a vessel; and that poetry, like math and physics, has existed since the beginning of time, even before we acquired the voices to
express it. "It's there to be discovered, not created."
I accused him of being afraid of
other people's feelings, of an inability to appreciate poetic
passion, of suffering from a crippled cognition (okay, that was
cruel), of being a Pygmalion in his laboratory (he was now a computer
science doctorate, spending long nights away from home in the
university's computer lab). Galaxia, I declared, could never exist
without people like me being sucked dry of our literary genius, and
oh, while we're being honest, I've always detected a faint but
clearly discernible whiff of anti-semitism oozing from your pores.
We separated. I moved in with a
beautiful art history student from New Zealand, soon married her, and
we now live happily in Australia with Acacia, our daughter. Branko.
of course, returned to his ungrateful Galaxia Gaudh. Did we love one
another, Branko and I? I suppose we did, and I suppose it was because
of my affection for Branko, this intimate bond of ours, that Galaxia
-- now Cecily Barnes -- never trusted me, was determined in fact to
destroy me, to elevate herself in Branko's eyes as a poet of
grandiosity and "prolificness."
the next decade or so, I'd discover her poems in all sorts of
respected journals, Granta,
bylined with numerous identities ("Umayu Funshock" my
all time favorite). Her style was easily recognizable. The sentence
patterns, her fondness for anagrams, the lifting of phrases from
other poets and authors on Gutenberg.org (the line about "infinite pleasures,"
for example, is from Balzac's Gambara);
not to mention her propensity for the word "stuttering," a
favorite anagram of hers. Her poetry is also marked by the
vainglorious, a sense of immortality, and she often disparages the
efforts of individual poets, especially poets like myself, seemingly
sunk in insignificance, imprisoned in our heads, or living on "little
isles," bowl-bound by marriage, children, death.
admit my career has never blossomed like it might have.
If I see any hope here, it's in
the strangling vines of competition, the rival forces of philistinism
making fools of one another. How distressed Cecily and Branko must be
by the corruption of her work. See how the creeper of surveillance spreads through the entirety of "Bonsai:" The NSA in
"uNSAyable," "spoNSAl," "chaiNSAw," in
"BoNSAi" itself; and all those "spy"s in "wiSPY,"
"raSPY," "graSP Your;" not to mention the final
couplet's much-too-obvious -- but perhaps heroic -- anagram of
a trivial work, indeed, a very bad poem, by a poet undeserving of our
attention. It's stunted, manicured, pruned by a collective aesthetic,
shaped by the buffeting forces of self-infatuation. But even amidst
such a vast dehumanization, there will always exist the "tiny
jewels," the "pleasures unknown, delights abstruse,"
in the soil of its genesis; the leafy lanes of College Station, the
monarchs and scarlet maple, the concentrated slice of Branko's tennis
backhand, the horrible oatmeal cookies he used to bake (his nose
tipped with flour), the adorable collie pups we used to visit at
Wiggles and Wags. The smell of Hugo Boss.
This week's editor, Zireaux, is the author of several novels and works of poetry. He writes poetry, book reviews and commentary on literature at the website ImmortalMuse.com.
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