One poet who read my book (The Future Is Happy—plug the title into Amazon, put it in your cart and buy) commented, "You certainly are well-read."
I don't know that's really true. When I was thirty I was well-read and that is simply by comparison with a broad base of people who didn't hit the Greeks and Romans the way I did. Yeah, there are a few usual lists of classics and the lists are hard to dispute simply because there isn't a lot of competition (i.e., from women and other minority writers). Also because the books are really really good.
But that was then. Now? I haven't read anything by Roberto Bolaño but some of his short stories from The New Yorker. If I hadn't fallen into the temporary good graces of a phenomenally well-read poet who guided me, I wouldn't have read a slew of modern poets. Some of my well-readedness is luck. Regardless.
I'm beginning not to care. And that's a change. Heaven was going to be a place of ever-ripe peaches, thincrust wholewheat pizza with a sauce made by Costanza from the Godfather, silk and whatever might feel good on that, and books. Time to read and reread all the books I never got around to.
However, in support, I distinctly remember Eric Miles Williamson, who has published two novels and a critical study of populism, taste and Jack London, pointing to his impressive bookshelves and saying (remembered), "Each of these represents time I could have been out there." There. Life.
True, life isn't all it's cracked up to be. My time out there often gets me into trouble. I spend time in here emotionally unpacking the time I spend out there. And nothing has changed in my life except for me getting older (Eric said that, by the way, when he lived in New York with his former wife, Melissa Studdard). As I wrote the following poem recently (hence, still in progress), I realized, so what. So what if I've read Ibsen and Strindberg and Voltaire (Candide doesn't count. Candide is forever and always). So so so so what.
I'm not saying anything new but Ill repeat nonetheless. The world is corrupt, certainly the white colonial world, the Christian (and for the past fifty or so years, the Jewish), the Islamic, and the far east--all corrupt and about greed. All there is is the individual and of what use is Doll's House to her?
Counterpoint is that western culture is my story. I spend many hours at the African wing of the Met trying to reorient my brain, to relearn stories. Wonderful art but not my stories. I give up.
Nora the door-slammer
knows every ridge of
A regular Sacajaweja
is she of tracking
her way out from under.
Yesterday, bent northern-
ward from Bleecker
a thoroughly nice woman,
thoroughly my age,
stayed a few steps ahead and
called watch outs for cars
and slush. Thank you, Sacajawea
I said. She laughed at
my silliness—or my ignorance.
How many years has it been
since I heard the name Sacajawea or
Lewis and Clark or Torvald.
I'm not well-researched, I'm lazy.
What I know for sure is old.
Ibsen wrote a great scene and
I have a decent hold on
western culture against
much of which I'd like to slam
a door. Little's known of
Sacajawea's life after Lewis and
Clark opened up the west,
so rich in natural assets.
The stamp is Lewis and Clark with faithful Sacajawea behind them. Please see the irony.