January 27, 2006

the nights of my professional life


william de kooning, Woman, 1950

Elegy for Frank Stanford
1949-1978
-- by Thomas Lux

A message from the secretary tells me first
the heavy clock you were
in your mother's lap
has stopped: you,
with three lead thuds,
determined insults, to your heart.
You dumb fucker, Frank.
I assume, that night, the seminarians
were mostly on their knees
and on their dinner plates only a few
wing-bones--quiet flutes
ahead of the wind. . . . I can almost
understand, Frank: your nerves'
odometer needle waving
in danger, your whole
body, in fact, ping-raked, a rainbow
disassembling. You woke, in the dark,
dreaming a necklace of bloodsuckers. . . .
But that final gesture,
Frank: irreversible cliché.
The long doorman of the east continues
his daily job, bending slightly
at the waist to wave dawn past.
Then the sparrows begin
their standard tunes, every day, Frank,
every day. There's the good hammer--
music up in the poles
of north and south; there's the important
rasp of snake over desert and rock;
there's agriculture--even when it fails:
needle-sized carrots, blue pumpkins;
and presidencies, like ours, Frank,
of dredging companies, but presidencies. . . .
You must have been desiring exit badly.
So now, you're a bit of gold to pound
back into the earth, the dew, of course,
forever lapping your toes,--
Frank, you dumb fucker,--who loves you
loves you regardless.

-- Stanford committed suicide June 3, 1978. His wife, Ginny, recalled the moment. excerpt:

"Saturday evening. June third. He had betrayed me by having an affair and I had found him out. I was hurt and humiliated and angry enough to put him through a wall. I barely tolerated the hug he tried to give me, my arms stiff at my sides. He tried to kiss me and I turned my head so that his lips only grazed my hair. Then he left. Forever. He left me in a room and shut the door behind him as he left, and he took three steps across a hall into another room and shut another door and shot himself

In the span of the longest five or six seconds I have ever lived through, Frank fired three shots into his chest. Three pops, three cries. All I had was sound. I couldn't see him; I could only imagine what he was doing in another part of the house. With the sound of the first shot time stopped, changed course and went backwards through the second and third shots, then reconstructed itself into an endless, directionless loop. Before Saturday, June third, time was a straight line. After Saturday, a loop."

Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun
-- by Heather McHugh

"A book is a suicide postponed."
--Cioran


Too volatile, am I? too voluble? too much a word-person?
I blame the soup: I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's: sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror's not convincing-- that at-best in-
ferred person.

As time's revealing gets revolting, I start looking out.
Look in and what you see is one unholy
blurred person.

The only cure for birth one doesn't love to contemplate.
Better to be an unsung song, an unoc-
curred person.

McHugh, you'll be the death of me -- each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I'm halfway to the
third person.

* Touch Me
-- by Stanley Kunitz

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.


"A poet without a strong libido almost inevitably belongs to the weaker category; such a poet can carry off a technical effect with a degree of flourish, but the poem does not embody the dominant emotive element in the life process." — Stanley Kunitz

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