— There is no synonym for synonym.
In the shtetl,
only the crowing
of two cocks
that sound alike.
I bang into the water pail,
blue in the morning light,
though to tell the truth
I am blue in any light,
a powdery royal blue.
Our village does not fly
through the air — it is
nailed to the ground
and we hold on for dear life —
to each other, to the trees,
the cottage doors, whatever,
and we sing our local ditty:
O the cats and the wellsprings!
O the dogs and the birdbath!
O! O! O!
The large bowls of coffee at breakfast in France,
the heavy porcelain cups in old American diners,
the disposable brown plastic cups in motel lobbies,
the feeling that you ought to drink the entire cup,
the slight resentment you feel at feeling this way,
the wondering why you do it then,
the gratitude for someone’s making the coffee,
the decision not to have a third free refill,
the surprise of a really bad cup of coffee,
the way it used to cost a nickel, then seven cents, then ten,
and now anywhere from sixty cents to three seventy-five,
sometimes a little more for decaffeinated,
the brown print of it drying on the cup’s lip,
the small amount left in the bottom,
the rest of it sloshing inside you,
sending its stimulation through tubes
in your body, hello, let’s go, we’re late, do
you have the keys, oh god I can’t find my wallet
I would like to have a sexual fantasy
about the young girl I see in the gym,
the one who undulates up and down
on an aerobic machine revealing
the smooth skin of her lower back
as it swells out toward her hips,
her hair pulled up in back
with a tortoiseshell clasp
and a misty blush spreading
from her high cheekbones back
to her ears in each of which
a small silver ring is glittering,
but I can’t think of anything.
The first time I saw Paris
I went to see where the Bastille
had been, and though
I saw the column there
I was too aware that
the Bastille was not there:
I did not know how
to see the emptiness.
People go to see
the missing Twin Towers
and seem to like feeling
the lack of something.
I do not like knowing
that my mother no longer
exists, or the feeling
of knowing. Excuse me
for comparing my mother
to large buildings. Also
for talking about absence.
The red and gray sky
above the rooftops
is darkening and the inhabitants
are hastening home for dinner.
I hope to see you later.
At night Chinamen jump
on Asia with a thump
Who but Frank O’Hara
could have written that?
and then gone on to speak of
love and something he calls grace.
To start out so funny
and end up with mystery and grace —
we should all be so lucky.
I Remember Lost Things
I remember getting letters addressed to me with my name and street address, followed on the next line by the word City. Which meant the same city in which they had been mailed. Could life have been that simple?
I remember the first time I heard Joe read from his I Remember. The shock of pleasure was quickly replaced by envy and the question, Why didn’t I think of that? Aesthetic pleasure comes in many forms and degrees, but envy comes only when you wholeheartedly admire someone else’s new work. Envying the talent of a person you love is particularly beautiful and invigorating. And you don’t even have to answer the question.
I remember feeling miffed at García Lorca because he made me feel like crying about something that may never have happened. There is a 1929 photograph of him standing next to a large sphere on a granite pedestal that also bears a sundial, on the Columbia University campus. Passing by the sundial this morning, I suddenly realized that Lorca had stood on that very spot seventy years ago, a few years before he was shot to death. It was as if he had been there just moments ago. Such a brutal, stupid death! Tears came to my eyes. But on second thought, I found it hard to believe that someone would put such a large sphere on this spot: it would have come between the light and the sundial, no? Later, when I examined the photo again, I saw that it was taken there. But that sphere? I like it because it keeps distracting me from the idea of his death.
I remember the mill, a piece of currency that was used for a few years near the end of World War II and just after. A thick paper (and later a lightweight metal) coin with a round hole in the center, the mill was worth one-tenth of a cent. It was fun to press it hard enough between thumb and forefinger to create temporary bumps on those fingers. On price tags, it was written as if it were an exponent; for example, ten cents and four mills was written 104. I don’t know if mills were used anywhere other than in my home town, and since they went out of use I have heard references to them only once or twice. They have faded away, even more forgotten than the black pennies of the same period. But if you mention the mill to people old enough to remember them, their faces will take on a rising glow of recognition that turns into a deeper pleasure in your company.
I am trying to remember what it felt like to have never even heard of television, to be six years old with your toys and maybe a dog. You roll the wooden truck along the carpet and make a truck sound that turns into a honking horn as you approach the outstretched paw of the dog that jumps to her feet, just in case, and you say, “Aw, I wouldn’t have hit you.” Wagging her tail, she comes up to lick your face, which is fun at first, before the doggy breath becomes too strong. Then you wipe your face with your sleeve, turn back to the truck, and start up its engine again. The sound of dishes from the kitchen.
I remember when some cars, older ones, had running boards, and the fun of standing on one and gripping the window post as the car accelerated down the block to the corner, the wind in my ears. Gradually there were fewer and fewer of them, and then none. At least the new cars still had hood ornaments, the most memorable being the shiny chrome head of an Indian man, his profile knifing into the wind, headdress feathers blown back. And then he was gone too.
The Way You Wear Your Hat
Boing, boing, boing
is the sound the exclamation point makes
when it leaps around the page alone
like Fred Astaire in a tux at night
when he thinks that Ginger Rogers
is mad at him and only his toes
will lighten the glumness. Oh!
what a beautiful way to start a dance,
just a slow slide of the toe
along glittering black marble.
And in her hotel boudoir, Ginger
in a white satin gown, arms
crossed and lips pursed —
hey, she is mad. And no wonder:
they are in different films
being shown at different theaters!
And they will never, ever meet again,
for they have tricked each other
out of existence.
This for That
What will I have for breakfast?
I wish I had some plums
like the ones in Williams’s poem.
He apologized to his wife
for eating them
but what he did not
do was apologize to those
who would read his poem
and also not be able to eat them.
That is why I like his poem
when I am not hungry.
Right now I do not like him
or his poem. This is just
to say that.
Suppose you found a bargain so incredible
you stood there stunned for a moment
unable to believe that this thing could be
for sale at such a low price: that is what happens
when you are born, and as the years go by
the price goes up and up until, near the end
of your life, it is so high that you lie there
Ron Padgett, by Chris Felver
Ron Padgett’s books include New & Selected Poems; Great Balls of Fire; The Straight Line: Writings on Poetry and Poets; Blood Work: Selected Prose; and,
more recently, You Never Know (poems) and Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers (a memoir). He is the translator of Guillaume Apollinaire’s Poet Assassinated and Blaise Cendrars’ Complete Poems. In addition to receiving grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 2001 Padgett was made an Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. Coffee House Press recently issued his Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard. For more information, go to http://www.ronpadgett.com/.
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