VIKRAM SETH’S ‘THE GOLDEN GATE’: THE 20th CENTURY’S GREATEST POEM?

Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, a novel in verse, was released in 1986; we celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.  Quoth Wikipedia: “The work is a novel in verse composed of 590 Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic tetrameter, with the rhyme scheme following the unusual ababccddeffegg pattern of Eugene Onegin). It was inspired by Charles Johnston’s translation of Pushkin’s 1833 Russian classic…”  The novel, Mr. Seth’s first, was famously lauded by Gore Vidal as “The great California novel…”.  Its cast of characters includes a designer of nuclear weapons, and his nemesis, an extremely cunning and malicious feline.

We hesitated to write about The Golden Gate  in this its 25th year, because we haven’t re-read it this year, despite strongly intending to. And we wonder why.  Oh, valid enough excuses can be made: not enough time, house flooded during the hurricane, etc.  But time has been made for other books—why not this one? Could it be the novel feels dated, since a portion of it concerns itself with the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, giving the work a feel of outmodedness?  After all, there is no longer any nuclear freeze movement of consequence, for there is no longer need of one. Or is there?

The 1980s, when much of the world population was terrified of a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, was perhaps, in the terror it inspired, a safer time, nuclear accident-wise, than today.  (Although perhaps not, as this lifted-from-Wiki story illustrates: “On the night of September 26, 1983, the Soviet orbital missile early warning system (SPRN), code-named Oko, reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the United States. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who was on duty during the incident, correctly dismissed the warning as a computer error when ground early warning radars did not detect any launches. Part of his reasoning was that the system was new and known to malfunction before; also, a full scale nuclear attack from the United States would involve thousands of simultaneous launches, not a single missile. Later, the system reported four more ICBM launches headed to the Soviet Union, but Petrov again dismissed the reports as false. The investigation that followed revealed that the system indeed malfunctioned and false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites’ orbits.”)

We believe it was Churchill who said something to the effect of stability being the stepchild of terror.  Those who are terrified of a danger are more watchful and alert, and thus more able to avert the danger from happening.  For example, pedestrians walking at night who are alert to the threats of automobiles and muggers often avoid harm because they pay close attention to their surroundings and take steps to avert danger.  In the same way, when a population is consciously terrified of a possible outcome, it applies political pressures to leaders to ensure safety. But in our time, there does not seem to be widespread fear of an inadvertent nuclear exchange, even though the United States apparently has some 6,000 nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons are in the hands of states such as North Korea and Pakistan.  (Interestingly, in his novel 2030, Albert Brooks portrays a future in which the Taliban seizes complete control of Pakistan and drops three nuclear bombs on India, leading to India invading and annexing all of Pakistan’s territory.)

The Golden Gate, in sections 7.15 to 7.34, features a speech given by a Catholic priest at a nuclear freeze rally that illegally blocks access to Lungless Labs (for which read “Livermore Labs”):

Bespectacled, short, nervous, chubby,
With few gray hairs for sixty years,
And scruffy cassock, the priest’s tubby
And unimposing form appears
A curious temple for the oracle;
And every hint of oratorical
Expectancy is squelched when he,
Bent down on an unsteady knee,
Two fingers fumbling with this collar,
Gathers the notes his jittery hands
Dropped on the ground; but when he stands
And starts to speak, the pudgy scholar
(By nature; activist by choice)
Holds them with his soft resonant voice.

Now both blockaders and supporters
Are silent as the priest says, “Friends,
Sisters and brothers, sons and daughters,
The little time each of us spends…
Can everyone in the back hear me?
Yes? Excellent—and all those near me—
Not too loud? … Well, these few short years
We spend pursuing our careers,
Our needs, our longings, our obsessions
Upon this earth, once gone, are dead.
Of some who’ve spent their time, it’s said
They gathered manifold possessions;
Of some, they broke their lives for wealth;
Of some, their striving broke their health.

Of some it’s said they learned to master
The secret fusion of the sun,
Of some that they ran, rode, swam faster
Than till their advent man had done,
Of some, they eked life out as drudges,
Of some—but any way one judges
Their lives or ours, to dole out blame
Or praise, one attribute may claim
To cut across all our partitions
Of wealth and vigor, fame and wit:
Did they serve life? Or injure it?
These are more naked oppositions
Than can sieve truth in every case,
But we may use them when we face

Choices such as, today, we’re facing.
What is our will in life? To race
As, lemming-like, mankind is racing
To liquidation, or to face
With what small strength we have, the massive
Machine of omnicide, impassive,
Oiled by inertia and by hate
And the smooth silver of the state?
Today we meet in celebration
Of life; some have their children here;
And all of us are of good cheer.
Indeed, with our incarceration
In those yellow school buses, we
May find ourselves compelled to be

As little children. Let’s inquire
With the same childishness as they,
Should we not try to douse a fire
That threatens to consume away
Not just our home but the whole city?
Or with a worldly-wise and witty
Shrug and rejoinder should we turn
The volume up and let Rome burn?
Well, we have gathered here this morning
In disparate but harmonious voice
To show that we have made our choice;
That we have hearkened to the warning
That hate and fear kill; and are here
Confronting death and hate and fear.

Hate is a subtle weed; vagaries
Of soil and time give it new growth.
Only the food of hatred varies;
England and Germany were both
Our bitterest enemies; we hated
Each of them. Yet when we had sated
Our enmity and made them friends,
Hate found new sustenance for its ends.
The English gone, it found the Spanish.
Japan defeated, China served
To keep its lethal life preserved.
Its victim crushed, it would not vanish.
Even before we’d reached Berlin,
Moscow was our new sump of sin.

Hate shifts with diplomatic fashion.
To love is to be resolute.
By Christ’s own sacrifice and passion,
We cannot flinch, we must not mute
The strength and grace of his humanity
By acquiescing in insanity.
Neither crusading frenzy nor
The specious pleading of ‘just war’
Permits the least justification
Of that which, once used, will ensure
That God’s creation won’t endure.
Without hate, without hesitation,
Taking our freedom in our hand,
Let us each pledge that here we stand.

Though Catholic, I make no apology
For quoting someone we’ve proclaimed
The arch-monk of our demonology
These several hundred years. I aimed
To show that in this murderous weather
That threatens, we will stand together,
As now; and with our common breath
Cry out against our common death.
Catholic and Episcopalian,
Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist,
Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist,
We are all here; no one is alien
Now radiation’s common laws
Impel us into common cause.

It was once asked on Belsen’s ashes,
‘Where were you then? Where was the Church?’
If once more our high sentence clashes
With our inaction, we need search
No further for complicit stigma
Than those hands bearing the enigma
Of blood and body in the mass.
Please God, this will not come to pass.
Our bishops’ recent pastoral letter
On nuclear arms demands a freeze.
Today our own archdiocese
Of San Francisco’s an abettor
—They’ve lent us transport—in this fight
Against the law, but for the right.

I have heard some who denigrate us
Claim that we wish to abrogate
The constitutional hiatus
Between religion and the state.
Our job, they say, is to be godly
While the state goes on acting oddly.
The scripture for their vision is
‘Give unto Caesar what is his.’
Let me observe that separation
Of church and state does not exempt
The church from action, may not tempt
The state from all examination
Of conscience, and ought, lastly, not
To serve as partisan buckshot.

There are occasions when morality
And civil law are in dispute.
Granted its sole officiality,
Civil law is not absolute.
If we accept our obligation
Not to accept annihilation
Or that, in our name, bombs are hurled
At others elsewhere in the world,
The quote above needs its addenda.
Students who gloss a narrow text
Should read the passage that comes next;
It is suggested that we render
Things that are God’s to God, as well
As stocking Caesar’s citadel.

What Caesar, battling for democracy,
Unasked, relinquished his regime?
What cotton king decried slavocracy?
What cat forwent its dish of cream?
If we expect disinterested
Judgment from Congress, from our vested
Arms gluttons—from the White House down—
We’re living in cloud-cuckoo-town.
We cannot wait for legislation.
There is no shame in following
Thoreau and Anthony and King,
The old traditions of a nation
That once, two hundred years before,
In its own birth resisted law.

There is no time, when escalation
Bloats our stockpiles with overkill,
When secular proliferation
Means that a score of nations will
Soon hatch these eggs, and when with manic
Slaver we froth the world to panic,
To nourish niceties. We must pray,
Reflect, and act in any way
—Peaceful; that needs no emphasizing—
That may decelerate, reduce,
Or ban the inception, test, and use
Of weaponry so brutalizing
Its mere birth brings opprobrium down
Upon the name of Lungless Town.

Workers of Lungless Labs—when dying
Will you be proud you were midwife
To implements exemplifying
Assault against the heart of life?
You knew their purpose, yet you made them.
If you had scruples, you betrayed them.
What pastoral response acquits
Those who made ovens for Auschwitz?
Indeed, it’s said that the banality
Of evil is its greatest shock.
It jokes, it punches its time clock,
Plays with its kids. The triviality
Of slaughtering millions can’t impinge
Upon its peace, or make it cringe.

Killing is dying. This equation
Carries no mystical import.
It is the literal truth. Our nation
Has long believed war was a sport.
Unoccupied, unbombed, undying,
While ‘over there’ the shells were flying,
How could we know the Russian dread
Of war, the mountains of their dead?
We reveled in acceleration
At every level of the race;
And even now we’re face to face
With mutual extermination
We talk as blithely as before
Of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘limited war.’

There is no victory, no survival,
And no defense, no place to hide,
No limit, and indeed, no rival
In this exhaustive fratricide.
We’ll all fall down. Despite resilient
Airs of omniscience, our brilliant
Leaders, when all is said and done,
Have no solution, no, not one.
With quaint autumnal orthodoxy
They point out that America’s best:
The Russians can’t, they say, protest.
That only means we must stand proxy
For those who cannot speak, but are
As much opposed as we, to war.

Ten hostages is terrorism;
A million, and it’s strategy.
To ban books is fanaticism;
To threaten in totality
All culture and all civilization,
All humankind and all creation,
This is a task of decorous skill
And needs high statesmanship and will.
It takes a deal of moral clarity
To see that it is right to blitz
Each Russian family to bits
Because their leaders’ muscularity
—Quite like our own—on foreign soil
Threatens our vanity or ‘our’ oil.

Quo warranto?  By what authority,
I ask you in the wounds of Christ,
Does strength confer superiority
Over God’s earth? What has enticed
Mere things like us into believing
The world may be left charred and grieving
In man-made doom at the behest
Of patriotic interest?
It’s come that close. A Russian freighter
—In autumn 1962—
Halted before the line we drew
To cut off Cuba. Minutes later,
And our own manly president would
Have finished off mankind for good.

To those who with tall intellectual
Prudence sniff at our brashness and
State that our stance is ineffectual,
That with our puny sling to stand
Against this latter-day Goliath
Is not wise, let me ask, ‘How dieth
The wise man? As the fool.’ To turn
Your face from horror will not earn
You an indulgence. Help us fight it.
Two hundred years ago, indeed,
Who would have dreamed slaves would be freed?
To show how conscience, starting small,
In God’s good time, may conquer all.

From history we may learn two lessons:
How slowly—and how fast—things change.
Whether the permanent quiescence
Of fear—or life—occurs, it’s strange
Not to know how long we’ll be striving,
Or which succeeds in first arriving;
But whether we prevail or lose,
One thing is certain: we must choose.
God won’t forsake you or ignore you—
So don’t forsake him. Let me close
With Deuteronomy’s plain prose.
Here it is: ‘I have set before you
Life and death… therefore choose life.’
Or, as that sign says, ‘Strive with strife.’”

Advertisements

20 Comments

  1. Bill said,

    September 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks, Tom! I loved Golden Gate. Like you, I haven’t reread it. I have recently reread Frederick Turner’s Genesis, which is better and more important than I realized. There is nothing dated in the Eco-Theists’ war against humanity!

    Our century’s greatest poem? Turner’s Genesis, or Frank Stanford’s the battlefield where the moon says I love you.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

      Nooch wrote this piece, Bill. Golden Gate’s verse is effortless. It therefore scores low points with the ‘difficult’ crowd.

      Ah, the heady nostalgia of the nuclear freeze movement. Today clean, peaceful, atomic power is considered far more dangerous than nuclear warheads. Go figure. If that’s not a sad commentary on our zeitgeist, I don’t know what is.

  2. Bill said,

    September 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    The verse is “golden,” a cornucopia of lessons on metrics and the weight and pressure of words. However, the choice of tetrameter sonnets for an extended narrrative borders on perverse. Have you gotten around to Clarel, in tetrameter? I haven’t. But I do mean to finish Don Juan, someday.

    Well, you’ve talked me into looking at Golden Gate again to savor its many excellences.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    September 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Bill,

    I’ve looked at “Clarel,” Melville’s epic (did that drop out of sight, or what?) and Seth’s verse flows far more smoothly; I’ve always found Melville bloated—never been a fan.

    Tom

  4. marcusbales said,

    September 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I’m sorry but I never got the sense of person and voice from Vikram that is necessary to carry an extended work, irrespective of its form. Smooth, yes, but elevator-music smooth, not Sinatra smooth.

    And Don Juan is worth reading every year, as I do. It never fails to amuse, and it is endlessly quotable. The sheer overwhelming richness of tone and the exuberance of the voice is compelling.

    And it’s even got a criticism of Plato, as a frisson for Tom:

    CVIII
    When people say, “I’ve told you fifty times,”
    They mean to scold, and very often do;
    When poets say, “I’ve written fifty rhymes,”
    They make you dread that they’ll recite them too;
    In gangs of fifty, thieves commit their crimes;
    At fifty love for love is rare, ‘t is true,
    But then, no doubt, it equally as true is,
    A good deal may be bought for fifty Louis.
    CIX
    Julia had honour, virtue, truth, and love,
    For Don Alfonso; and she inly swore,
    By all the vows below to powers above,
    She never would disgrace the ring she wore,
    Nor leave a wish which wisdom might reprove;
    And while she ponder’d this, besides much more,
    One hand on Juan’s carelessly was thrown,
    Quite by mistake — she thought it was her own;
    CX
    Unconsciously she lean’d upon the other,
    Which play’d within the tangles of her hair:
    And to contend with thoughts she could not smother
    She seem’d by the distraction of her air.
    ‘T was surely very wrong in Juan’s mother
    To leave together this imprudent pair,
    She who for many years had watch’d her son so —
    I’m very certain mine would not have done so.
    CXI
    The hand which still held Juan’s, by degrees
    Gently, but palpably confirm’d its grasp,
    As if it said, “Detain me, if you please;”
    Yet there’s no doubt she only meant to clasp
    His fingers with a pure Platonic squeeze:
    She would have shrunk as from a toad, or asp,
    Had she imagined such a thing could rouse
    A feeling dangerous to a prudent spouse.
    CXII
    I cannot know what Juan thought of this,
    But what he did, is much what you would do;
    His young lip thank’d it with a grateful kiss,
    And then, abash’d at its own joy, withdrew
    In deep despair, lest he had done amiss, —
    Love is so very timid when ‘t is new:
    She blush’d, and frown’d not, but she strove to speak,
    And held her tongue, her voice was grown so weak.
    CXIII
    The sun set, and up rose the yellow moon:
    The devil’s in the moon for mischief; they
    Who call’d her CHASTE, methinks, began too soon
    Their nomenclature; there is not a day,
    The longest, not the twenty-first of June,
    Sees half the business in a wicked way
    On which three single hours of moonshine smile —
    And then she looks so modest all the while.
    CXIV
    There is a dangerous silence in that hour,
    A stillness, which leaves room for the full soul
    To open all itself, without the power
    Of calling wholly back its self-control;
    The silver light which, hallowing tree and tower,
    Sheds beauty and deep softness o’er the whole,
    Breathes also to the heart, and o’er it throws
    A loving languor, which is not repose.
    CXV
    And Julia sate with Juan, half embraced
    And half retiring from the glowing arm,
    Which trembled like the bosom where ‘t was placed;
    Yet still she must have thought there was no harm,
    Or else ‘t were easy to withdraw her waist;
    But then the situation had its charm,
    And then — — God knows what next — I can’t go on;
    I’m almost sorry that I e’er begun.
    CXVI
    Oh Plato! Plato! you have paved the way,
    With your confounded fantasies, to more
    Immoral conduct by the fancied sway
    Your system feigns o’er the controulless core
    Of human hearts, than all the long array
    Of poets and romancers: — You’re a bore,
    A charlatan, a coxcomb — and have been,
    At best, no better than a go-between.
    CXVII
    And Julia’s voice was lost, except in sighs,
    Until too late for useful conversation;
    The tears were gushing from her gentle eyes,
    I wish indeed they had not had occasion,
    But who, alas! can love, and then be wise?
    Not that remorse did not oppose temptation;
    A little still she strove, and much repented
    And whispering “I will ne’er consent” — consented.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      Marcus,

      I agree: comparing the 20th to the 19th century in poetry is usually bad for the former. But at least Seth is saying, hey, we can do this. Why not?

      If poetry were cinema, reading Byron is to move forward in time, in terms of sophistication, for compared to modern poetry—which seems primitive, cramped, and cinematically weak—Byron’s verse seems lush with surround-sound and painting and wit and special effects and vasty impact.

      Byron’s remarks on Plato are obviously ironic: Lord Byron pays the philosopher the highest compliment—for Byron’s own enthralling love scene, so chastely and demurely told, is fanned, as Byron admits, by Plato; note how Plato is introduced from nowhere; Plato’s uncanny entrance hearkens a higher flight, for Byron’s petulance towards Plato mirrors Julia’s “refusal” of love.

      And really, Marcus, Plato is what he is; you should look into your real experience to judge—have you, or do you think others, are guilty of ‘immoral conduct’ because of Plato’s ‘system’ regarding ‘human hearts?’ A poem of Pushkin’s once spurned an amorous conquest by yours truly, when I should not have done so, but Plato? Plato makes me chaste to the core, even as he soars in the discourse of love. Plato is a god and Byron, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Poe, Shelley,and Dante, his secret and fondest worshipers.

      The modernists couldn’t abide the Romantics (save Wordsworth) because they couldn’t abide Plato—precisely because the Romantics are shadows to Plato’ sun.

      Eliot, Pound, the New Critics, all, to the last, whenever they had a chance, belittled the Romantics. Today we’re too jaded, or too blind, or too thick, to see what really happened to Letters over the last 100 years.

      Tom

  5. October 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.
    O shaman,
    O wizard,
    O golden son of Zeus and mortal woman, you
    defied the gods, stole fire
    & gave it to mankind.
    For this they struck you down.
    Bastards!
    “One more thing.”
    That was catch phrase.
    Or was it the one about putting a dent in the universe?
    I like them both,
    but you have to admit,
    “One more thing” is punchier.
    Jon Ive says you inspired people
    but you could also be difficult at times.
    A bit unkind of him, I think.
    What genius isn’t difficult?
    Picasso was a jerk. So were Tolstoy and Beethoven.
    So was Michelangelo, I bet,
    though to be honest
    I really don’t know anything about Michelangelo
    because I missed class on the day we discussed him.
    But based on his work
    I’d bet he was a total dick.
    What beauty can ever be created without pain?
    What great art has ever been produced without suffering?
    And don’t say “Seinfeld” because (a) that wasn’t
    as easy as it looked & (b) twenty years later
    it really hasn’t held up as well as everyone
    thought it would, has it.
    What you did, however,
    now that
    will be remembered forever.
    I don’t mean the products.
    The Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.
    Yes, you invented them
    & yes, we have heard of them
    but no, Steve Jobs,
    your greatest accomplishment
    was not some piece of hardware
    not some lines of code
    not the mouse and the graphical user interface
    which let’s face it you really kind of just
    borrowed from Xerox PARC
    & “borrowed” might not be excactly the right word
    for what you guys did
    but on this day of all days let’s not quibble
    about word choice.
    No, Steve Jobs, your greatest accomplishment
    is what you did to us.
    You gave us joy.
    You restored our sense of childlike wonder.
    You enabled us to live in a world where
    we always believed that something amazing & magical
    was just around the corner
    and that the future would be better than the past
    because in fact,
    as long as you were alive,
    it was.
    Your name, old friend, is the definition of hope.
    Not literally, I mean, not if you
    look up “hope” in the dictionary,
    but you know what I’m trying to say.
    And now, with you gone,
    what happens to us?
    Have we reached our peak?
    Our zenith? Our apogee?
    Or some other word that means the highest point
    you can reach?
    I think maybe we have.
    Because here’s what I see.
    I see
    America in decline:
    a civilization unsure of itself,
    adrift, confused, puffed up
    with phony patriotism,
    an empire run by number crunchers,
    by MBAs & investment bankers
    by quick-flippers & angel investors
    who make nothing
    who build nothing.
    But you, Steve—
    you flew in the face of that.
    You were the one who invented,
    who created,
    who said no,
    that’s not good enough,
    go do it again.
    Go make it amazing
    astounding
    profound
    perfect
    & stop being such a whiny little bitch
    because your kid is in a school play
    & you don’t want to work late.
    People call you a visionary.
    I believe that was literally true.
    I believe you had a vision, way back
    in the early days,
    of where everything was headed
    & once you’d had this vision
    you set out to make it real,
    the way a sculptor sees
    a finished statue inside a block of marble
    & slowly chips away
    until everything unnecessary
    has been removed
    & the vision becomes real.
    Steve, I’m sorry.
    I wrote this lame-ass poem
    a while ago
    because I believed that when this day came
    my mind would go blank
    & I would not be able to write
    & all I would want to do
    would be to go out walking in the woods
    alone
    by myself
    not talking to anyone.
    I was right.
    That’s all I want to do.
    In fact that’s where I am right now.
    I’m out in the deep woods
    where there is
    no sound
    except
    the wind moving through the trees
    shaking the high branches
    the leaves letting go
    drifting to the ground.
    I hear my footsteps on the wet path.
    I hear my breath
    I think of nothing.
    I do not want to talk
    or write or sing your praise.
    I do not want to cry or mourn.
    I will not say that life is pointless or empty without you,
    because the truth is,
    no matter what happens,
    life is good.
    Too short, of course.
    But always good.
    So anyway.
    Here in the woods, alone,
    I make peace with your leaving.
    I offer you
    one last namaste. I press
    my hands together,
    & bow to honor
    the divine inside you.
    I pray you will
    forgive me
    for going on too long,
    & now I promise: no more words.
    Because words mean nothing.
    Words fall short.
    Words scatter like dry leaves,
    stirred by the wind,
    swirling, rising upward,
    tangling with each other,
    like some incantation gone awry,
    unable to bring you back.

    http://www.fakesteve.net/

  6. Alisha said,

    December 12, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    it’s gud to knw this much abt d golden gate..bt it wud b much bttr if it is more clearly describd wen u want to knw about vikram seth’s longest poem…

    • December 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      Yes Alisha, I foolishly left unmentioned
      The cat in the novel named Charlemagne:
      Owned by Liz and with a hatred for John,
      Bringing to the latter anguish and pain:

      Ah, John, don’t take it all for granted.
      Perhaps you think Liz loves you best.
      The snooker table has been slanted.
      A cuckoo’s bomb lies in the nest.
      Be warned. Be warned. Just as in poker
      The wildness of that card, the joker
      Disturbs the best-laid plans of men,
      So too it happens, now and then,
      That a furred beast with feral features
      (Little imagined in the days
      When, cute and twee, the kitten plays),
      Of that familiar brood of creatures
      The world denominates a cat,
      Enters the game, and knocks it flat.

  7. noochinator said,

    October 9, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    From the novel in verse Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff—this scene is set in the 1980s NYC art world:

    Susan had never donned quite so bourgeois
    A garment as Thursday night’s Christian Lacroix.
    In college — just five years gone — she’d have abhorred it
    But now, being honest, she fucking adored it.
    The shoulders, the bodice, insane retro pouf,
    Where once an indictment, now good, calming proof;
    She’d no longer be tarred by the words “shame” or “greed,”
    Tossed about by the weak. No, now Susan was freed!
    If she wanted to spend half the whole day adorning
    Herself, well what of it? The American Morning
    Had dawned! At Oberlin stuff she’d feigned being above,
    Had turned into all that she most dearly loved.
    And conversely, stuff she might actively seek
    Now repelled her as sub-par, too lenient, and weak.
    Out was group therapy (adieu agoraphobics!),
    In was massage, Silver Palate, aerobics.
    Innermost was a Susan Improved and Untrammeled
    Sleeker and diamond-bright, sharp and enameled!
    She happily ate “poisonous” white-flour pasta
    Whereas all those Ultimate Frisbee white Rastas
    Didn’t seem sexy and free anymore,
    And frankly, the U.S. in El Salvador
    (Or out of it? Truly, she’d largely lost track
    And hadn’t the patience to find her way back),
    Among frailer aspects of the human condition
    Now just turned her stomach. Once-hated ambition
    Awakened her senses like rarest perfume;
    It could render her weak-kneed across a large room.

    It was all large rooms lately, all beautifully appointed
    And Susan had somehow been specially anointed
    To stand in them prettily, playing her part:
    Girl at the nexus of commerce and art.
    Her father was glad to augment the small salary
    She made as factotum at the Nonnie Cash Gallery.
    Nonnie was in the news seven months back
    When she’d ended a group show by handing out crack.
    “Let’s turn this new vice into something convivial!”
    (The chief of police called her “clueless and trivial.”)
    Susan adored her and worshipped her style,
    Loved her pronouncements of “perfect” and “vile,”
    Loved the sheer whim, the madcap willy-nillyness
    And how deeply seriously Nonnie took her own silliness
    (Though she’d have loved Hitler, if forced to confess,
    If he had seen fit to have bought her that dress).

    “The opening demands it!” Nonnie said on their spree,
    “And Spraycan can bloody well pay, thanks to me.”
    There was bourbon in hypos, doled out by chic nurses —
    in truth white-clad models — Osetra beggars’ purses.
    The waiters were done up like Jean Genet felons:
    Brush-cuts, fake shiners, with asses like melons.
    And serving as Boswells to Nonnie’s new caper,
    Scribes from East Village Eye, FMR, Paper.
    Nonnie barked orders in Urdu and Xhosa,
    And with a “Ragazzi, servite qualcosa!”
    Came the blush that rose when her blood started to sing
    From a room where the energy gets into swing.
    Look at this shit, she thought, pure onanism!
    Ransom-note lettering, sequins, and jism,
    Neiman impasto with touches of Basquiat,
    Smoke, sizzle, bells, whistles … all of it diddly-squat!
    Nonnie’d built him a name by dint of sheer will.
    A bluff that distracted from his lack of skill.
    Despite what collectors seemed willing to pay,
    Spraycan 3000 had nothing to say….

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 10, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks, Nooch. This is great! Byronic. Congrats, David.

      • noochinator said,

        October 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm

        I love novels in verse!

  8. noochinator said,

    August 11, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Seth’s The Golden Gate has a perverse cat—the following excerpt from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel, from 1900, about his travels in Germany, has a memorable horse:

    Berlin is a disappointing town; its center is overcrowded, its outlying parts lifeless; its one famous street, Unter den Linden, an attempt to combine Oxford Street with the Champs Elysée, singularly unimposing, being much too wide for its size; its theaters dainty and charming, where acting is considered of more importance than scenery or dress, where long runs are unknown, successful pieces being played again and again, but never consecutively, so that for a week running you may go to the same Berlin theater and see a fresh play every night; its opera house unworthy of it; its two music halls, with an unnecessary suggestion of vulgarity and commonness about them, ill-arranged and much too large for comfort. In the Berlin cafés and restaurants, the busy time is from midnight on till three. Yet most of the people who frequent them are up again at seven. Either the Berliner has solved the great problem of modern life, how to do without sleep, or, with Carlyle, he must be looking forward to eternity.

    Personally, I know of no other town where such late hours are the vogue, except St. Petersburg. But your St. Petersburger does not get up early in the morning. At St. Petersburg, the music halls, which it is the fashionable thing to attend after the theatre—a drive to them taking half an hour in a swift sleigh—do not practically begin till twelve. Through the Neva at four o’clock in the morning you have to literally push your way; and the favorite trains for travelers are those starting about five o’clock in the morning. These trains save the Russian the trouble of getting up early. He wishes his friends “Good night,” and drives down to the station comfortably after supper, without putting the house to any inconvenience.

    Potsdam, the Versailles to Berlin, is a beautiful little town, situated among lakes and woods. Here in the shady ways of its quiet, far-stretching park of Sans Souci, it is easy to imagine lean, snuffy Frederick “bummeling” with shrill Voltaire.

    Acting on my advice, George and Harris consented not to stay long in Berlin, but to push on to Dresden. Most that Berlin has to show can be seen better elsewhere, and we decided to be content with a drive through the town. The hotel porter introduced us to a droshky driver, under whose guidance, so he assured us, we should see everything worth seeing in the shortest possible time. The man himself, who called for us at nine o’clock in the morning, was all that could be desired. He was bright, intelligent, and well-informed; his German was easy to understand and he knew a little English with which to eke it out on occasion. With the man himself there was no fault to be found, but his horse was the most unsympathetic brute I have ever sat behind.

    He took a dislike to us the moment he saw us. I was the first to come out of the hotel. He turned his head and looked me up and down with a cold, glassy eye, and then he looked across at another horse, a friend of his that was standing facing him. I knew what he said. He had an expressive head, and he made no attempt to disguise his thought. He said:

    “Funny things one does come across in the summer time, don’t one?”

    George followed me out the next moment, and stood behind me. The horse again turned his head and looked. I have never known a horse that could twist himself as this horse did. I have seen a camelopard do tricks with his neck that compelled one’s attention, but this animal was more like the thing one dreams of after a dusty days at Ascot, followed by a dinner with six old chums. If I had seen his eyes looking at me from between his own hind legs, I doubt if I should have been surprised. He seemed more amused with George, if anything, than with myself. He turned to his friend again.

    “Extraordinary, isn’t it?” he remarked; “I suppose there must be some place where they grow them”; and then he commenced licking flies off his own left shoulder. I began to wonder whether he had lost his mother when young, and had been brought up by a cat.

    George and I climbed in, and sat waiting for Harris. He came a moment later. Myself, I thought he looked rather neat. He wore a white flannel knickerbocker suit, which he had had made specially for bicycling in hot weather; his hat may have been a trifle out of the common, but it did keep the sun off.

    The horse gave one look at him, and said “Gott in Himmel!” as plainly as ever horse spoke, and started off down Friedrich Strasse at a brisk walk, leaving Harris and the driver standing on the pavement. His owner called to him to stop, but he took no notice. They ran after us, and overtook us at the corner of the Dorotheen Strasse. I could not catch what the man said to the horse, he spoke quickly and excitedly; but I gathered a few phrases, such as:

    “Got to earn my living somehow, haven’t I? Who asked for your opinion? Aye, little you care so long as you can guzzle.”

    The horse cut the conversation short by turning up the Dorotheen Strasse on his own account. I think what he said was:

    “Come on then; don’t talk so much. Let’s get the job over, and, where possible, let’s keep to the back streets.”

    Opposite the Brandenburger Thor our driver hitched the reins to the whip, climbed down, and came round to explain things to us. He pointed out the Thiergarten, and then descanted to us of the Reichstag House. He informed us of its exact height, length, and breadth, after the manner of guides. Then he turned his attention to the Gate. He said it was constructed of sandstone, in imitation of the “Properleer” in Athens.

    At this point the horse, which had been occupying its leisure licking its own legs, turned round its head. It did not say anything, it just looked.

    The man began again nervously. This time he said it was an imitation of the “Propeyedliar.”

    Here the horse proceeded up the Linden, and nothing would persuade him not to proceed up the Linden. His owner expostulated with him, but he continued to trot on. From the way he hitched his shoulders as he moved, I somehow felt he was saying:

    “They’ve seen the Gate, haven’t they? Very well, that’s enough. As for the rest, you don’t know what you are talking about, and they wouldn’t understand you if you did. You talk German.”

    It was the same throughout the length of the Linden. The horse consented to stand still sufficiently long to enable us to have a good look at each sight, and to hear the name of it. All explanation and description he cut short by the simple process of moving on.

    “What these fellows want,” he seemed to say to himself, “is to go home and tell people they have seen these things. If I am doing them an injustice, if they are more intelligent than they look, they can get better information than this old fool of mine is giving them from the guide book. Who wants to know how high a steeple is? You don’t remember it the next five minutes when you are told, and if you do it is because you have got nothing else in your head. He just tires me with his talk. Why doesn’t he hurry up, and let us all get home to lunch?”

    Upon reflection, I am not sure that wall-eyed old brute had not sense on its side. Anyhow, I know there have been occasions, with a guide, when I would have been glad of its interference.

    But one is apt to “sin one’s mercies,” as the Scotch say, and at the time we cursed that horse instead of blessing it.

    • noochinator said,

      September 6, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,
      “There’s something, old boy, that I’ve always abhorred:
      When people address me and call me, ‘Jerome’,
      Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?”
      Said Ford, “I agree; it’s the same thing with me.”

  9. August 11, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
    – Shakespeare

    Lack thereof is the heart of boring.

  10. noochinator said,

    August 11, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Each of us is in thrall to different forces—
    I guess I have a thing for anthropomorphic horses.

  11. August 11, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Well, if you like anthropomorphic horses, you’re in luck. Your most excellent leader has just granted you one: Revelation 6:3.

  12. noochinator said,

    August 12, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Revelation 6:3-4

    3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

    Well, let’s be fair, we’re not yet dead—
    ‘Til then I’ll stick with Mr. Ed !

  13. August 12, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Well, if you stick with Mr. Don
    then pretty soon we’ll all be gone.

  14. noochinator said,

    August 12, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    They said the same ’bout Reagan, 35 short years back—
    I believed them completely: now credulity I lack—
    I watched terrified Nicholas Meyer’s The Day After
    Fool me twice, shame on me: now I’m more inclined to laughter.

    I wasted my life worrying about Armageddon—
    Now I’m like Sellers’ Chance: I like to watch where we’re headin’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: