All that hate me whisper together against me,
I pick my friends according to whether they would hide me.
Once you’re betrayed it’s too late to choose better.
Jews like to argue
who was worst:
The French? in 1940, five million
wrote poison-pen letters
denouncing individual Jews.
No, the Austrians—Hitler, Eichmann, Waldheim. All Austrians.
No, no, the Rumanians
who outraged even the Germans
when they failed to bury the bodies of those they murdered.
The war lost, some Nazis jumped into stripes and yellow star—
the Russians shot them all the same.
Some Jews survived death camps and went home
and the Poles shot them
their neighbors, the Poles
their neighbors shot them.
Why bother to shoot the dead?
After Theresienstadt is it obscene to sing?
Unseemly to be alive
when such effort was made to stomp their bones?
we Jews still here.
My dear little father ran
rather than give over his bad (gold-filled) teeth.
The Jews are historians—remember,
in every generation some rose
against us but we were saved. Who
saved us? Who saves me?
What happens to one
happens to all. If my aunt is killed, where are her bones?
Hopeful and over-obedient,
they and we, the scared and the slow,
neglected political and military science and so were
The voice of history
divides the flame of fire.
We don’t conquer we merely persevere.
How long will— will the world look on?
Gnashing upon me with my teeth.
My babies, my children
it’s so hard to raise
I am a Jew.
I announce this
so I won’t hear what I do hear when people don’t guess
so I can’t be a coward, so I can’t deny anything.
No way out.
When I stay silent, my bones
wax old through my roaring
all the day long.
. . . But my mother is English
doesn’t that make me
half WASP shouldn’t I be more
tactful? No one
wants to hear it why don’t I
shut up? No one wants to hear it
and why should they
I wasn’t there
they weren’t there they
didn’t do it.
The voice of history divides my flame from the fire.
The necromancers arouse themselves with the bones of the dead.
They warm the bones with their bodies
they insert the bones into their nostrils
they incite the bones to answer their questions
I shout at the bones until I am hoarse.
“It would have done no good to protest
they would only have turned on
this way at least we got
a case of good wine out of it
a country house
when the old owners
decided to leave the country.”
The Jews have only their history.
We must remember—but why should we live
for the dead?
The irony of history divides the flames of fire.
I am cursed with memory. My life is spent with grief
and my years with sighing.
My bones are consumed.
That’s all I’m trying to say.
Next time take me first,
I already know as much as I need to.
Why should I have
my friend’s husband say
he couldn’t believe
I am a Jew
and didn’t he mean
he likes me and he doesn’t like
and aren’t I flattered
to be told I’m not like
aren’t I flattered to be
my own person not
the product of a people half as old as time?
One must forgive one’s enemies
but not before they have been hanged.
—Freud, quoting Heine
My friends think it strange
I carry three passports.
My money’s in jewels, my bags are packed.
I pick the friends I pray
will hide me.
Once you’re betrayed
it’s too late. I am cursed
the flames divide me from my past.
I am indebted to Susan Neiman & her book Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin for material in this work.
It's two years this month that I started doing this blog, & I've continued to produce writing six days a week (except when I've been away or observing a holiday). I started NauenThen as an assignment to myself: to finish a piece of writing every day. While I've forgotten to post a handful of times & gone back to fill in, it's become a consistent habit. The poet Ted Berrigan said when you're a poet, you're a poet 24 hours a day, and everything you do is what a poet is doing. This blog is a poet's blog. —August 18, 2015
Decided to update my website a little, realizing that NauenThen isn't so new anymore. This is a bit of a trick, since all I have thought of is to say hi here & mention that I've been doing my blog 6 days a week for almost a year now. I invite you to take a look.
I figured out to do a real blog so please click just above on Blog and you can read updates, and even comment.
By way of intro: In high school, I wrote a column, called NauenThen, for the school newspaper, the Orange & Black. My two-years-younger brother went on to write NauenAgain, and my youngest sister didn’t write NauenForever. Forty years later, it occurs to me to revive that rubric for a more frequent outpouring. I’ve been wanting a deadline, to take a stand, to be interesting. Let’s see how it goes.
Below are the first few entries; newer ones will be on the Blog page.
August 22, 2013: In 1979, Neil and I, along with John, Connie & Denise, called ourselves the Prison Caucus, because we played pickup baseball and picnicked outside the walls of SingSing (NY) and Stillwater (MN). Since then, there have been few years when Neil and I haven’t made it to a game. Last night it was the Staten Island Yankees, playing not-quite-competent A League ball, one pitcher (Brooklyn) with a sneaky curve, me keeping score desultorily, without a horse in the race pretty much. Mostly it was baseball as a platonic construct: the game ... and the ritual of two old friends.
August 21, 2013: Call the domestic technicians: the glasses have spots.
August 20, 2013: Those old-time journalists who were said to have walked every street in the city. Knowing and seeing everything. Seeing. Seeing. Is there anyone like that now? EV Grieve is the best local (very local) reporter we have, who has walked every street in my neighborhood.
August 20 (2): Johnny, his daughter & her husband are celebrating H.P. Lovecraft's 123rd birthday with oysters and sangria at Nomad. Other people are commemorating more heartily:
in honor of Lovecraft
August 19, 2013: Looking out my window at a sun-bright morning, the tree bouncing between us and the world (a blond brick wall), the man I (mostly) love softly snoring, dishes washed, sheets clean, coffee in my favorite cup.
August 18, 2013: Do we need to adjust the calendar, now that we’re having August in July and September in August?
August 16, 2013: Why is it that I can barely look at the headlines of today’s paper, but a newspaper that’s a decade old, I can pore over every page, including the classifieds? I know how it all came out, it doesn’t matter so it doesn’t make me nervous. I don’t know if that’s the right answer.
August 15, 2013: Cringing over my adolescent archness (the editorial “we”!) and that just in case someone didn’t get the point, I had to mention that the common phrase is brutal. But thinking too that my sweet edit is an improvement in this item from my column of October 3, 1969: Block-that-cliché department: Instead of “killing two birds with one stone,” obviously quite coldblooded, how about “feeding two birds with one crumb.” By the way, we’ve always wondered what fine-feathered species was being murdered in that phrase.
August 14, 2013: Disfiguring acid attacks in many parts of Asia… friends’ parents dying… friends dying… friends’ cats dying… a young man whose seizure has left him partially paralyzed… corporate America making life difficult*. So much can go wrong it’s amazing that anyone gets born or survives. How did my great-grandmother manage to live to 100? Is it one’s personality that suggests whether you see things as getting better or getting worse? the world as half-full or half-empty?
August 13, 2013: I’m doing, for the 3rd time this year, what I call 24 Days of Discard. As you can guess, it means getting rid of something every day for 24 days (and not replacing it). The first day, January 1, I threw out a few pens that didn’t write, and I was pretty sure that was all I could spare. But I kept at it, and it got easier & more fun. I got rid of books I’d read or had more than 1 copy of; clothes that were out of style or didn’t fit, no matter how good or unworn they were; ugly dishes; inexplicable items of every sort. This, the 3rd time through, it’s getting harder, although I do keep coming upon some anti-treasures, like an extraordinarily hideous scarf (how’d it make the cut till now?). Now I’m down to the bedrock: papers. Yes, those Christmas cards from 1991 can go, no matter how cute my cousin was at 14. No, I don’t need 6 copies of the Times that printed a little thing I wrote about Yankee Stadium, and if I scan it, I don’t need any copies, right? An empty shelf! How unusual, and appealing.
August 12, 2013: The winter before last we had no snow so I began what’s become an ongoing interest, reading books set in Greenland or the Arctic, or that involve cold in some way. A few titles: Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance, by Mariana Gosnell; several books called Snow; a new novel sent in 18th-century Russia, The Age of Ice, by J.M. Sidorova; and my favorite (along with An African in Greenland, by Tete-Michel Kpomassie—nutty & fantastic), The Last Kings of Thule, by Jean Malaurie, an updated version of the 1950 original—it’s like reading an anthropologist Philip Whalen, who notices, accepts & describes everything, in this case the Inuit of Greenland.
If you like poems that talk about today, today’s problems, and today’s people, that use unusual images and surprising metaphors, check out Leonard Cohen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. —December 17, 1969
August 11, 2013: Yesterday morning, Robyn & I rode our bikes up Park Ave, which was closed to cars. We also walked through the 1,396-foot Park Avenue Tunnel from 33rd to 40th to experience an installation* called “Voice Tunnel,” a son et lumière installation that’s activated by the voices of participants. The lights were cool, the sound was too loud, the best part was walking through the tunnel, which has been closed to pedestrians for 8 decades. Then we sat on the terraced roof of the building on 72nd St where my husband works and thought about how nice it would be to have coffee there every morning.
It’s becoming harder and harder to exist these days. It’s not so much that the cost of living has risen, it’s the price of protesting that has increased so much. For instance, we are doing without grapes in sympathy with the workers’ strike and Elks Club benefits in disapproval of their policy of not admitting nonwhites as members. We refuse to use Dow Chemical products since they manufacture napalm, which kills children and women in Vietnam. —October 3, 1969
Not quite so new poems
And someone in
below is looking
up & saying look
down look down
Little Black Train
"No ideas but in cats”—Susan Schultz
“Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta”—Dante
breaks the law
can’t be in three
places at once
he wants he
black & white
he is dreaming
of technicolor cats
with tinsel fur & electric fur
skipping in Yvonne Jacquette’s
Metropolitan Area Triptych
in firework costume
tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta
you will leave
you love most
I carry my heart
like a fourleaf clover
20 Things Hitherto Unincluded
1) small girl clomping loudly on the stairs
2) how bad cat poop smells
4) big purple mug
5) [[pile of books]]
6) five collages of George Schneeman’s, one mine the others Johnny’s, in 3 different frames
7) my cat smacking his lips as he eats. Except he doesn’t really have lips
8) she left me for Jesus
9) title a line from Philip Whalen
10) three black & white photos of Santo Domingo, uninhabited except one pig
11) a little wooden scottie dog that I stole from my brother and then lost. The perfect weight of it, even broken
12) Beaumont, Tehachapi, Vardaman, Yakima, Truth or Consequences
13) new shelves! new desk!
14) many candles, none of which smell as nice as they could. by “nice” I mean “strong”
15) pushups. more pushups. yet more pushups
16) Eddie’s wedding
17) me at 24 in the never-before-seen Public Access Poetry show “The Errant Albanian” with Maggie & Rachel: long hair, barrettes, Kill That Poet t-shirt, shades
19) my cat’s head, buried in my elbow
Ode to Coffee (Retox)
Like looking in my mirror
And seeing a police car
When I was little we moved across the street.
From 18 to 24 I moved 40 times.
Now I haven't moved in 30 years.
My husband was a mover for many years.
Now we can't even move the kitty litter.
If you move 4 blocks every 5 years
We'll be neighbors in the year 2260.
the tracks out back
every day I ran to watch
broke the tar & tough earth
Where I'm from
Sioux Falls South Dakota
the wind slaps like a twisted towel
wet & spanky & mean
& peonies crawl across the blackest dirt
a shiny yellow tree in East Lansing Michigan
a roominghouse one summer in Ellsworth Maine
every place I lived
till I lived
how I live now
down by the river
for a place
to be happy
I have to get in
a car right
this minute and drive
a thousand miles. With
no purpose but
to sing the corn
sings. It could be
1976 when I
lived in town eating
listening to Bruce
on back streets
wishing my lover would
call on me. The hot
air was yellow: I
owned a car, held
to the shore for clams. We
served enchiladas and feuds.
I drove home
3 a.m. because
of the children, glistening
Quebec French forties pop:
I. The Five Greatest Poets of the Twentieth Century
William Carlos Williams
II. The Five Greatest Mechanics of the Twentieth Century
Ford Madox Ford
Tennessee Ernie Ford
It was my brother’s idea. Charlie, a season ticket holder of the St. Paul Saints, said, “El, you edited a book” —Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend: Women writers on baseball (cheap plug) “—why not throw out the first ball?”
I’m not an athlete, that’s why not.
But after various finagling the Saints said cool, and there I was on the evening of July 18, 1994, at Midway (nee Municipal) Stadium. The Saints, by the way, are in the unaffiliated Northern League, which the League secretary told me falls between AA and AAA. Leon Durham and Ila Borders were Saints and Pedro Guerrero and Oil Can Boyd in the League. Bill Veeck’s son Mike being one of the Saints’ owners, the mascot of Midway is a pig, nuns give massages and haircuts, and—
No, first I was nervous for a month. I practiced with my friend Becky. Her advice: “Don’t throw the ball over my head—if the dog gets it she’ll slobber on it and you won’t want to touch it.” My friend Ben threw with me a few times, until I caught a ball barehanded and my finger buckled and I forgot all his pointers. Ben’s advice: Well, I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was good, he’s awfully athletic. I believe he suggested I follow through with one more foot than I thought I had. Charlie’s friend Ronnie is a retired umpire. Ronnie’s advice: “Release the ball at the highest point of your delivery.” My husband Johnny called from New York and advised: “Break a leg.” Yeah, probably will.
Charlie invited everyone he knows to a tailgate party before the game. He’s not nervous, in fact, he’s feeling no pain. Please please I only care that I don’t humiliate myself. My sister Varda’s advice: “Wear a short, tight dress and no one will notice if you bounce the ball.”
Charlie warmed me up with a beer and a softball. His advice: “Don’t Worry—Be Happy.” At 7, the keg guzzled out and everyone crowded into the stands. “It’s Irish night, you and Miss Shamrock will throw out the first balls.”
As soon as I cruised out on that beautiful green prairie, the ball an unbearably perfect weight in my hand, all my nerves and hoping for thunderstorms vanished. Please please let me pitch the whole game. In the stands my sister Lindsay heard someone say, “I saw her practicing with her boyfriend. My mother heard someone say, “Girls, huh. Let’s count how many times they bounce it.” Miss Shamrock (neither pretty nor shapely but she did have that beauty queen power wave downpat) dribbled the ball.
And then it was my turn. The catcher was huge. Elinor’s advice (via gesticulation): “Gee, I wouldn’t crouch that low if I were you. I have no idea where this ball is going to go—you better be ready for anything.” Alarmed behind his mask, he lumbered up. But ha! 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street. A strike, no way round it. Ronnie said so. The tale of the videotape, as caught distantly by my beer-laden bro, said so.
A strike. In the midst of a different strike altogether, this was my 1994 World Series. And I got to keep the ball.
ODE FOR A-ROD
A Cento from the Greek Anthology
Let no mortal even seek to be a god
O blessed man
If I love boys, what is that to the muses of Helidon?
May Dio warm this your horn, that hits its target well
The fine sturdy Heracles club laments because it is polluted by your shoulders
This thing, which before stayed unbending, is now flabbier than a boiled carrot
Ever may the ivy that adorns the stage dance with soft feet over thy polished monument
Tears, the last gift of my love
A little dust of the earth is enough for me
“Why, I’m Almost 90!”
like everyone, I regret
only the undone
what have you forgotten?
only what I wish to forget
what have you lost?
only what I wish to abandon
what do you regret?
Whence o prophet
for your ---?
Is it whispered
in the wake
of your ears
in long white lines
as you edge
cats snakes rams
whose long memories
& human brutality
send hollow-eyed streams
to swallow & launch
do you read
into lovers’ rooms
grab with the delicate claws
of hungry bets
Orson Welles has no trouble with bricks
level-headed as he is
yup he can pile about 30
in a cave of minor nationality
where a thousand posies
approach Sappho, who leans on a doorpost
like a cowboy shoots up a bar
ransomed & redeemed
cher chez la femme
behind the house is a woman
nothing is behind the house
I am the house & twice as high
or take Italian cinema
red wine & guns, liars & lira —
every day when the sun comes up
I dress in my potbellied two-tit stove
What We Carry
B--- thought everyone despised him
because he was black
and D--- that she didn’t get her fairshare
because she was female
it was because they were jerks
there’s always a prize
if we slice thin enough
I want the prize for being awake right now
the cat’s perfect weight
cancels my breath
the coffee’s french’d & milk’d
I hate that picture:
he isn’t thinking of me
what else should his life be?
what should my life be?
I could do 100 pushups
I could not do 100 pushups
I could take a bath
the inland sea, they called it
but I could say the coastal prairie
the high plains
of giant sky and prairie dog
big wind & mini pasque
the bull was a bully
only the corn was the same size
I love corn
now the cat is on the floor
now the coffee is in my brain
now my brain is striped with--
now he turns over
to think of me at last
the V train takes
me & 3
to incorruptible Augustine
it’s not as fun to be god
now that choosing
colors for monkey butts
maybe god could focus
on better haircuts
or tell me if I should go blonde
or to Jamaica
where I will fall
for a handsome rasta
I could never marry a man
rushing to his grave
I could never marry
a man who didn’t trip
The Trouble with You Is
you’re not the warmth
of Lousiana in March
where we run across tar
to get out of town
with a cat on a leash
primal: are there
are there plants?
are there birds?
Yes! cuckoo or mockingbird or catbird —
something gray —
something with —
a long tail —
a cat is nature too
straight south of Minnesota snow
Great Day in the Morning
a real cowboy
a movie cowboy
wants to be
Bride May Be Icy
white brick window white brick
white brick window white brick
when I get sprung
for a cupcake
on the dust of her belly
gold tongue studs
Sasha of the steppes!
your bones belie your personality
slavic cheeks curdle your sweetness
like a durian’s jagged exterior
hides the butterscotch within
my mother stood
in front of the lincoln memorial
my father ate a bowl of popcorn
& waited for the movie to start
the music was so loud
my sister couldn’t hear it
The Poem Not Called Jacaranda
I love your book
Sorry, Tree so
that I want to borrow your
for my own poems
what jacaranda is is
the E who is I
as I am the E
who is L
your white thighs
roll & tip & move
how terrific to have hip
sockets & a pelvic floor
& purple jacaranda
PERCH & TWIRL
Mine eyes have seen the glory of
THE BATH ARTIST
My husband is a philistine. When I woke him at 5:45 this morning to offer a private viewing of my greatest creation to date, he rolled away, stuck his head under a pillow and growled. He therefore missed
(1) the unveiling of my new triple-bubble technique for the highest quality bubbles;
(2) my newly executed theory of twin catalysts (two colors of 99c-store shampoos); and
(3) a veritable Restoration Comedy of light and light-yet-solid, industrial-strength foam. Truly a bath for the ages.
Technical addendum, 2:15 p.m.: The indestructibility of the bubbles proves detrimental to completion of bath.
the coming of
THE WASHING-UP ARTIST
He is trampling out
THE CLEAN HOUSE ARTIST
where the grapes of wrath are
THE BATH ARTIST (II)
The truth is, I accidentally let out the water, though not the bubbles, from the tub. Refilling, with more soap, is what yielded that superior foam. Art is the genius of utilizing accident.
He hath loosed the
We stayed in some people’s house upstate in Michigan, circa 1972. It was so cold we spent the night in one sleeping bag in the living room. Also, we were tripping. That was the night I realized my boyfriend was a Martian. Some proofs:
* He had a red beard, but not red hair;
* He had deeply strange, nonhuman ideas, such as preferring computer keypunch cards in tidy stacks to the poetry of Yeats and novels of Hesse;
* He was from Detroit. That’s significant because I had deduced that the Martians were turning the environment of earth into one more like their own, starting with Detroit and LA, major car cities that had less oxygen and more carbon monoxide.
Addendum: Not only is he a Martian, he has become a yuppie.
fateful lightning of His terrible swift
Big lips good, big hips bad.
Big eyes good, big thighs bad.
Big hair good, big nose bad.
Big teeth good, big feet bad.
THE SLEEP ARTIST
Naturally, my ambition is the gold. Some folks train by staying awake night after night then crashing heavily at the event. Their training consists of little more than adjusting the days and amounts of deprivation in order to peak at maximum immobility.
Me, I’m a natural. Nerves? No. Disturbed by noise? No. Twitch, snore, midnight phone calls, large metal milk cans thrown onto concrete floor?
Through it all flows my gentle slumber.
But am I unique? That’s the question that keeps me up nights. Until the competition, I can’t answer that. Last night my husband fell asleep a fraction of a minute before me. This bothers me a great deal. But even an amateur can step on a squirrel, right?
Addendum: Fred Flintstone’s dream job was to be a mattress tester.
His truth is
THE SLEEP ARTIST (II)
It’s not just competitive, although I do relish the fact that I am so much more accomplished a sleeper than my husband. I fall off more quickly, stay down more elegantly and wake up less blurry. He does put in the hours, I’ll give him that.
I love my bed, mattress, pink nightie, new deep green sheets made of 100% beech modal. The last flannel sheet has a big scratchy hole where my husband accidentally set it on fire while lighting some incense to cover up the smell of his farts.
Addendum: I don’t have my Olympics sleep outfit yet!
His truth is
THE SLEEP ARTIST (III)
I love that slice of early sleep when you know it’s on its way and you sidle, or rush, toward it. When I was little, maybe 5, if I woke up in the night, I stayed up. I didn’t know I could go back to sleep. It was one or the other — if you were awake, that was it. Then one night it occurred to me that I could go back to sleep, and I have never had a sleepless night since. I’ve slept in semi trucks that were so loud the driver had to shout to be heard. I have slept in every movie and play I ever went to.
Addendum: L’il Abner listed his occupation as “mattress tester” in the local mattress factory.
Addendum: Did you hear about the mattress tester who got fired? He stayed awake on the job.
Addendum: A rooming house in Ellsworth, Maine, 1976
THE SHOE-TYING ARTIST
I have seen Him in the watchfires of
THE CLOCK ARTIST
Every clock in this house — and I can see six from where I sit — shows a different time: 5:37, 5:40, 5:55, 5:58, 6:09, 8:15.
a hundred circling camps
THE FINGERNAILS ARTIST
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
THE COFFEE ARTIST
Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without my staunchest ally, Mr. Coffee: faithful, hard-working, silent — unlike Mr. Mister, my husband, who is none of these and can’t even make a decent cup of coffee, something Mr. Coffee excels at. It’s a cherished dream to present myself with this award for making and drinking coffee every single morning. The Cal Ripken of coffee. Every single day.
I can read His righteous sentence by
THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE ARTIST
the dim and flaring
My first job in New York City was as a messenger. I took more trains those couple of years than most people ever do. A knowledge of the subway system of the five boroughs is deep in my bones, as is my remarkable instinct for sudden change. For example, just last week, I leapt off the F train at 34th Street and Avenue of the Americas. My sadar* told me that the train I was on was going to get stuck in the tunnel between 34th and 23rd. I am only sorry I didn’t have the time to inform my fellow passengers. I can only imagine the unpleasant evening they spent in the dark.
* Sadar = subway radar
My day is marching on
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of
THE TOENAILS ARTIST
Essential to trim every day. Creepy to have toenails touch socks. Don’t use metal implements. Bite them. Shave hair on toes. To paint or not to paint?
We have tortured every
A couple needs firm rules as with chess or any other war game. For example:
1) No arguing tone of voice. Stay on the subject: What is said, not how.
2) System of fines: Pay each other $5 for (a) manipulative crying, (b) waving a killed cockroach in the other’s (my) face and (c) not saying “uno” instantly when appropriate in card games.
3) The Domestic Artist: When one is 20, one doesn’t imagine that one will ever think much about sheets, bowls and laundry. Yet eventually and inevitably, one’s life becomes as much about the quotidian as about Art. Unless, you are the kind of artiste terriblé who is managed and assuaged. As for domestic responsibilities: It’s amazing how little you can do and still function. “I could be nothing but a big head sitting on a shelf.” I is an artist of the invisible. Where my husband sees a big mess, I sees a strategic arrangement: The kitchen table stacked high with books is both a beautiful visual and a blow for women’s freedom. “Where’s my dinner,” he whines. “Even if you aren’t going to cook, I want to sit and eat my takeout.” The stove is more useful as a countertop: fruit basket, mail, toaster.
We have broken every rule
THE CURTAIN ARTIST
Today I am going to staple up the curtains, which I washed yesterday. When they were taped up, they fell down. It might be a trick to hold and staple at the same time. And also stand on the arm of the couch and lean across the shelves and reach the top of the window. I need help but there’s no room for another person to get in between the couch, desk and shelves.
Addendum: THE HESITATION ARTIST
We have marched down to
THE PRAIRIE ARTIST
To tell him he’s a
My husband (the philistine) doesn’t appreciate the beauty and clarity of my handwriting. Calligraphy is just a word for fancy-shmancy handwriting, like when we got invited to the wedding of those snobs Ed and Laura Desmeines’ stuck-up son Bryan, who broke my little girl’s heart back when they were 6. Laura’s cousin Tiffany writes all the invites around here. Laura won’t ask me to do it. OK, I know that it bugged her that the time I wrote the invitations for her 40th birthday party, every single one was returned by the post office because my gorgeous curlicues made them—they said—unreadable. My husband is still mad that he had to drive around town and drop them in every mailbox. And Laura is still mad that nobody came because they thought the invite said the party was was on Monday. Who has a party on a Monday?
The school is burning down.
THE ERUCTATION ARTIST
It is a talent that runs in my family (thanks, Dad!), but they all agree that I’m the best of the lot. My mom, who doesn’t share the family talent, is so jealous. Every time one of us rips off a long, juicy, well-placed one, she rolls her eyes and says ‘oh please’ or ‘you’re doing that on purpose’ (well, yeah) or ‘do you mind.’ Even my husband isn’t as much of a philistine as she is. Because it’s my given talent, I can’t really take credit for length or loudness. Although I do practice quite a bit. I would say I peaked two years ago last January. I was wearing a soft sweater the color of my eyes: the green of 19th-century bookbinding. It had a wide neckline and was just tight enough. I looked hot and the boys thought so too. It was a dinner, someone’s birthday maybe, or a celebration of making it through December. Someone told a joke. Usually I take a good long breath and prepare myself mentally too. The way you see divers gather themselves. But that day I felt so pretty that I was free and daring. Pretty girls are protected by their looks; they can bark or bite or eructate. I launched. I dived into an empty pool. I jumped out of an airplane without a parachute. I stepped onstage without a script. I tugged the tuba. I rolled the bishop. If art happens in the unmonitored interstices between skill and grace, that night was one for the ages.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel
THE DREAM ARTIST
I am the envy of all my friends for my colorful, lively and suggestive dreams. They’re so jealous that when I call to tell them my latest — not to brag on it but to enlighten them as to how a real dream should go — they refuse to listen, make excuses and get off the phone as soon as I begin. My husband is almost as bad. He listens, but with a sort of dazed look, as though he just ate a box of doughnuts. He invariably says, in an irritatingly patient tone, that he can’t follow and doesn’t get the point. I knows he does this because his dreams don’t hold a candle to mine. That’s obvious because he never shares them with me. He says he can’t remember. Why doesn’t he respect me enough to make up a better lie?
As ye deal with my contemners
THE SQUELCH ARTIST
Most people adore me, of course, but there is always a jealous beehive or two who envies my happy, successful life. They kept me out of the community choir because I would overshadow them. It started further back — the chorus teacher in junior high said, ‘There are singers and there are listeners, and you are a listener.’ My good loud voice gone all rusty.
As ye deal with my contemners
THE TEMPTATION ARTIST
A 19-year-old woman in Maryland hired a hitman (really an undercover cop) to steal a lump of cocaine (really a block of queso blanco) and kill everyone (four men and “children if present”) in the house.
so with you my grace shall deal
THE TEMPTATION ARTIST
I have spent my life assuming that everybody wants to go to bed with me. That is the source and secret of my self-confidence.
Let the hero born of
THE CONQUEST OF
THE SCARF ARTIST
crush the serpent with His heel
THE CONQUEST OF COLOR
You may wonder about my adversarial relationship to color, and you are no doubt impressed that I triumphed. After all, who am I, an amateur pugilist, the understudy’s understudy? The beiges were easy. They surrendered without a whimper. The yellows were, let’s face it, yellow. That gave me the confidence to continue. Also, that I remembered color didn’t even exist in any significant way until the 1920s. (After all, if color existed, why were photographs, books and movies all in black and white?) It was a simpler time, without the distraction of hue. The fact that much older art exists in a glowing, wide-ranging pallette is another proof: Artists are visionaries—they paint what they envision, what they wish existed, not what does.
His day is marching on!
THE CONQUEST OF WORK
The last place I applied said they’d have to close down if they hired me, because they couldn’t find enough other people who could match my standards, so it would make everyone else look bad and they’d soon go out of business.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat;
THE STRUMPET ARTIST
THE SINGING ARTIST
He is sifting out the hearts of
THE UNGUENTS ARTIST
O be swift
THE TITLES ARTIST
In the Silent Era, they gave an Oscar for titles. The Silent Era.
O be swift
THE NEW YEAR ARTIST
Is “life” the opposite of “help wanted”? Is “help wanted” the opposite of “help needed”? Why is “desperate” the 27th most common word in the English language, far ahead of resplendent, coincidence and engaged? “I can’t remember who I was before I knew you.”
In the beauty of the lilies
THE AQUARIAN ARTIST
People won’t always admit it but they would all be Aquarians if they only could.
In the beauty of the lilies
EVERYTHING I REMEMBER ABOUT