An Effort—Either Wasted or Sincere

The Blackbird Variations, Chapter II

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It was some days before another page he lined with his liminal poetics, during which time I shadowed his present-tense city life. He slept in a basement and worked atop a hospital, spending his nights awaiting a needfulness for letters and his days mopping surgeons’ bloody leftovers, a 19-year-old situated among nurses, orderlies, anesthesiologists. Sitting in a waiting station most the day, tiring of Kerouac, unable to concentrate on Dostoyevsky, intent on the movie reviews and opinion pages of the Tribune. Accepting advice and reprimand: “A young man must invest his energies into work,” said an Assyrian who was a doctor overseas but an RN in the States, and Tommy nodded, smiled, thinking: It will probably mean the end of the world if ever poetry qualifies as work—the closest I might get is a Work. 

And he began longing for a fabled time when people “stayed up all night” arguing over arts and letters, as though beauty and invention were shards of the dream that negates all need for sleep. But art was not that now nor anymore. It was at best an analgesic ingested to make bearable the drab processes of his mechanistic present-tense. And were he to express his passion for mere sounds and shapes and images—that passion would be categorized as naïve, romantic, Beatnik, or simply foolish, and so he said nothing in reply to the sound advice as his proud lust to create was stilted, and continued to be, after he got home to watch his family watching their generously commercialed programming and he found a desire to entreat his father’s beige PC for a word processor to gamble out of him something more than what was being offered (a blank white square with a flashing cursor being his favorite sort of “video game”), but he could not rouse himself to confront the blankness, all his insides having become stale and hollowed-out—and I could have overcome that blockage on his behalf, but wanted to see to what extent he would suffer under a lack of inspiration—would he retreat into ficciones written or projected? 

Instead, he suited up and trekked outside to a fueling station, then wandered the campus of his father’s wintry seminary, seeking the pack of six or seven undergraduates he could be awkwardly silent among—but they were not anywhere, and under a florescent lamp on steps he sat and smoked a fresh-bought cigarette, his brain’s vessels dilating, heartbeat loudening, and inside what he exhaled I revealed a little of my pattern, a little of my promise, and he was brought to the brink of a choice or a dilemma, between rising up to or retreating further from his believing-into­-the-world—and he chose to disdain it, his believing-into, to wither it down to nothing, bearing down on belief itself his mean dissatisfaction with the cracks in pavement and the bitterness of the air, the noisy rumble of all this stuff going going going on—and as he neared that still, small point where all belief is rendered a lie, I thickened to the viscosity of mirror, and he saw (perhaps with relief) that believing was his mode of engaging with all things—and while he could suppress it, it was only a matter of course that it should return to him “with a vengeance”—with a vengeful burst of passion come over him the next night, before he went to bed, when a heat sprang up in his forearms along with a terrible focus from his heart onto the girl he had been writing to or for or before, before, for even as the page is inert, to him it was a staging area for such a massacre of doubts and beliefs—to slaughter his way toward a great and meaningful disaster or else a vast and clamorous assemblage of—of—of—


I have been accused of being passionate—I have stood on chairs and sat beneath tables and I have felt crazy and the opposite of “out of touch,” but instead manhandled by my passion-to-touch, while my friends out of embarrassment (on my behalf or theirs) tell me not to act like that in restaurants and during caffeine socials between church services, where thin coffee and thinner lemonade are served—or where pancakes and rubbery ham are brought to the table—where all around me people are talking—where all that talking ripples and wavers without going anywhere—my passion accusing me: ‘Bring them somewhere!’ and I feel like the only places they would go that I could take them are way too obvious still, or way too incoherent—

Our parents had something to bring their whole generation together—something to unify them both against and for—for God and Peace, or against War and Lukewarmness—and what has become of their youth’s once b(l)ooming revolutions? Either cult or compromise—the spiritual and the social ends come down to unifying people by means of agreement that this is truth or that is purpose—and that Totality of Belief, that Singularity of Truth, if it were ever fully realized—wouldn’t that turn us into ghosts? 

We build houses to haunt things, don’t we. 

We fabricate our citadels of shared belief and then we walk them listlessly, lost without needing to find anything. Lost because there is nothing left for us to look for—and I can’t stomach that! So I slip to sit crosslegs beneath the table or else I gradually stand on a chair to look out over all that talking, talking, talking, all that cardboard compassion and concern—and when they see me while I try to see through us, around us, to what is behind and what is before us, they say I’m “trying to be different”—as if difference is the only alternative to all this furloughing sameness! But what if there were such a sameness, such a commonality of purpose that is decidedly not political or religious—but instead livid and electric—something greater than a common belief—but instead a communal make-believing—and if that is what my passion is purposed for, what could I—not even 20, not even anything but passionate, yet—what could I give to all the onlookers that would connect with each one of them, no matter where they’re coming from or going—no matter their favored language or inherited point of view—?

A sequence of images I could give? Or a certain style of speech? It would have to be both deep and shallow, it would have to be full of now and yet go back and back and back—and even as I seek it without knowing what it is I seek, all I know for sure is that it’s certainly too much to ask to find to bring to people something like that—something new and old and patient and exacting and profoundly infused with something other than this ego that I feel all hot and wanting pushing me toward power power power—the hubris of it! To want to serve as a functionary of that romantic naïve ideal of genius and of inspiration—when really it’s me just wanting to bind my passion to their passion and draw us up into a phatic symphony—done up by a simpering phony! And even if I did have access to some special light (for their sake or for mine), some bit of “brilliance”—that brilliance would only likely ever attract my own and others’ darknesses—because what they think about me is true: I sit beneath tables cause I’m only qualified to write nursery rhymes, and I stand up on chairs to look down on adults like adults look down on children—I complain to you on paper—whining! When really I should be writing you a story—because a story will last, while a letter is only fit to wind up in the bursting file cabinets of mankind’s stratified blah blah blah—I think now of

the Poet, in his middle age—how the secret hope behind his desired Epic would be that it stamp out all of his aboutness inside history, all his poverties and slovenlies vanquished by the Work that translates him into nothing butpurevoice—and all his sucking failures and vacuous lacks become but notes tinkling in the background of his summer-honeyed symphony

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