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Tony Towle

Five poems

Digression, 5/10/03

                        “for” Joe LeSueur

Listening to Samuel Barber’s
orchestrated Souvenirs of whatever it was
he was remembering with the Mets on the tube
with the sound off would be an oxymoronic
afternoon to some, even a gender-preference tussle,
or manly brawl, but to others a way
of building up the entertainment quotient
before adding actual activity to the mix
where I pick up a pen to work for others
who give me money, or labor over my poems
where I’m the one who pays and the Mets
are like an orchestra in need of rehearsal not
like the ensemble playing “Sam’s”
exquisite minature song for oboe
the most beautiful instrument I think
even though I have never heard
a 20th-century piano concerto I didn’t like,
a coincidence of sensibility I shared with Frank
although fortunately neither one of us
had to hear them all. And you left out
a great story that you told me back in ‘64
that you said Frank didn’t like to talk about
of how at the Living Theatre reading five years before,
which wasn’t the Leroi Jones benefit by the way —
which was in ‘63 and I was there — because Leroi
was one of the readers at this one, with Allen
and Ray Bremser; there is a famous Voice photo of the
three of them watching Frank read that Larry used
in a famous lithograph, incorporating Frank’s “To a Young Poet”
about John Wieners — so Frank was reading that poem
and others and Kerouac was in the audience,
drunk, and yelling: “Get off the stage, O’Hara, you faggot,
I want to read some haiku!” and after a few minutes of this
Frank actually started to leave but the audience
said: “No, don’t go, don’t listen to him”
and so forth but Kerouac wouldn’t stop
and finally Frank, walking off, said, “No, that’s all right, let him read,
my silence is more interesting than his bullshit”
though delivered, as you related, with tears in his eyes.

Well, like the Mets I’m coming up to bat
in the bottom of the 9th, or the 8th if I’m lucky
but far behind in the game,
and the music seems to have stopped to listen.


Clouds have again seized
control of the weekend
and Teshub, storm god of the Hittites
(Toshiba, according to the SpellCheck)
casually mentions, in a moistened Aramaic
(which is odd, because that
is not his first language, nor
as you might suppose, is it mine)
that we’re really in for it this time,
that liquidity will be a daily
fact of life for the rest of the year
which means, he explains, that in addition
to the endless rain, cosmic investors
can turn in our world for profit
at the planetary exchange
or more likely to cut a loss.
Since I have already removed the helmet of judgment
I should check on the proceedings in Orange County
where Tony Towle is suing David M. Reyneaud
et al. for automotive negligence. Apparently
Dave and those other bastards
tried to run down the last persona
I can afford to maintain in Southern California,
my liquidity being what it is,
not that he ever provides any usable images —
just sits on the beach and stares at the ocean
in a vast impression of liquidity,
a Mr. Hulot’s Holiday without the verbosity,
which is exactly the kind of reference
that sails right over his head and plunks into the Pacific
and that he thinks must have been a fish.
So now I’m on a trip, if not exactly a vacation
though I am expecting brambles, mosquitoes,
poisonous berries and lunatics with shotguns
as I usually found on vacation,
except when I would just sit on the beach
and consider the Great North Atlantic
and invest the feeling
that vacations were going to last longer
than I knew they were going to. But it seems Teshub,
as is the way with storm gods, was hyperbolizing
for the rain has finally stopped:
Apollo has opened another referential window
and is beginning to apply sunlight to the moisture.
“Have a swell apotheosis,” Teshub tells me
and, startled, before I can manage a “Thanks, you too”
we are parted by the clearing air.

Anthropomorphic Etiquette

When a monkey courts a dragon,
he must never arrive at her lair
with a gift less bizarre
than the impending relationship.

At the fête, the female goat
should frolic with the snake before the rat
and thereafter the ox, but leave with the dog
for he will relish her credentials.

If you are a male goat
stay just where you are
but eventually gravitate toward the arts
for then you will be the goat of her dreams.

The female horse may rear up with passionate hooves
before a favored guest
upsetting the chairs, his equilibrium
and the trough.

When a male rabbit calls on a female tiger
it is improper to be startled by the doorbell
or to scamper back down the hall to the elevator
after having already requested admittance.

The female rooster must follow her instincts
and then apologize for the misunderstanding.


Imagine turning the clock back
to when there were no clocks,
and then back another hour and a half
just to make sure. Imagine the unique insights
your wristwatch will give you, even though it is running slow.
Imagine the people staring at your funny clothes.

This brochure invites us to imagine
reliving the terrors of World War II,
but the noise is deafening and it is becoming hazardous
so we stop. Instead, let’s imagine the bright blue Mesopotamian sky
and the peaceful Baghdad of January 1258
with the Mongols out there in the distance.
Imagine trying to explain to the Caliph
what’s going to happen when they get there,
that his grand vizier is double-crossing him,
that the city’s inhabitants will be butchered,
that he will be mocked at a banquet and then he and his sons
will be sewn into carpets and trampled by the Mongol horsemen.
The description is about to get unimaginably gruesome
so imagine that you are a peacefully falling leaf that is, like, kind of,
actually, you know, floating in a gentle present-day breeze, or whatever,
while there I am, real or imagined, inside behind the window,
unraveling the sizeless sweater of the unknown
into countless piles of yarn. I wander off to seek advice
from the symbolically obscure but kindly old welder, whose torch
like an indulged nephew or sputtering oracle perched on his remaining knee
spits out an indefatigable stream of chromatic perceptions,
and within the disappearing sparks of the evanescent subtext
you are imagined as just a normal person
facing an enormous stack of bills
that require payment for everything you’ve ever imagined.
Imagine you have the money to take care of them all!
Imagine what will happen when they find out you don’t,
and they resort to the unimaginable: sending real fear
to infiltrate your imagination.


Are you Jewish? asked
the elderly Chinese lady at
the dry cleaners my
girlfriend had recommended.
No, I answered.
Because of Rosh Ha-Shanah?
I asked, which was coming up
on Saturday. No answer.
Because of the holiday,
she said, a few seconds later.
My girlfriend’s Jewish, I offered,
to make conversation.
Oh, is she very . . . Religious?
I supplied; well, she’s with me, so . . .
We laughed. You look Jewish
she observed a few seconds later, as she finally
completed the receipt on the computer.
But you may not want to hear that, she added,
as she misinterpreted my slight surprise.
No, that isn’t it, I said, but most people
really don’t think so, and, looking for authority
on the subject, I said, accurately if not correctly:
Most Caucasions don’t think I look Jewish.
Oh, she said cheerfully, then I’m wrong.
When I got home I told my girlfriend
about the Chinese lady at the cleaners.
I thought they were Koreans, she said.

‘Digression’ was first published in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, and ‘Hypotheses’ in Milk magazine; they are republished here with thanks.

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