Watching Padgett Powell Through the Plate Glass Window of the 192 Bookstore
You give a little wave, a reunion of sorts, but he turns
towards the audience and the hand,
having lost its purpose, comes crashing down,
arm-pit bound, to who-gives-a-shit incognito.
You're forty-five. It's raining and cold.
The traffic hisses behind you,
and you have no idea how your life has come to this.
The this took root twenty years ago in the lush pluff-mud
of Southern Lit, where, unbeknownst to you,
you shot your artistic wad in the elevator at Turlington Hall.
The metal doors had closed, but you were so in thrall
with your latest story or Chekhov's "Gustav" or the tits
of the new Shelley scholar, you forgot to hit the first-floor button
and you just hung there, afloat in that learned space,
sole spokesperson of inner vision.
Now, outside looking in—his mouth moves,
the mouth, mind you, that once praised your description
of the elderly man's blue arm hair aglow in the underwater pool light.
You don't know what it, the mouth, is saying,
but by the giggles and sighs you surmise the hick-genius-ass-charm
is about to wear off and drop a dark patty of non-narrative oeuvre
onto the carpeted floor: The Interrogative Mood.
It's the title of his latest book, also a long-forgotten linguistic term,
which means, basically, he's asking a shitload of questions.
Like: Why here, now, on this dreary New York night,
with your wife abandoned behind the storm door, howling
like a deprived Siamese because she discovered
your ten-year-old drew devil horns onto your head
in "the one good wedding picture we have!"?
Sadly, the people in that photo—slender, blond, rested—no longer exist.
Gone, too, are the novels in your eyes, your morning hard-ons,
20-20 vision. Yet, just inside the glass, a businessman pulls
his bottom lip with thumb and forefinger. He's thoughtful,
a blank rock of awe, and you begin to think maybe profundity still exists,
maybe prose can still read like poetry, and maybe what has you so unnerved
isn't that you're not the person you once were, but that you are exactly
that person: inhabitor of motionless elevators, life-long victim
of hallowed shafts, breathing that high rarified air
with no intention of ever coming down.
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