Writing may mimic “the media” or critique them (explicitly or implicitly), but it can hardly—“absorbed” as it is—ignore them. Even when it turns its back, it turns instantaneously towards another mediation, until it can easily feel like we aren’t turning, but being turned—that media keep turning us like pages, spinning us like records, troping us like tops. Irving Feldman’s work here is a good start towards an encyclopedia (or perhaps a bestiary) of such troping, but it doesn’t stop with mimicry. (And I want to say, it’s a little shocking—though it offers hope for the rest of us—that a MacArthur Fellow spends this much time in front of tv and movie screens.)
Pound tells us not to bog our poems down in tactics that good prose has done better. Maybe we should orient ourselves towards other media in the same way—don’t waste your poem’s time on things better left to How I Met Your Mother. But that raises the question of what (if anything) poetry might claim as its own mediatory expertise. What should art films, video games, ballet, and mini-series leave to us? Here’s an idea: something like the mix of closet drama, situation comedy, and cultural-analysis-through-images (“dramedies,” go home! hey docudramas . . . your mamas!) that Irving manages in these poems, for a start.
Irving gives us, roughly, a day in the mediated life: an AM talkshow, a PM talkshow, a movie, all-night radio—and then, as nightcap, a speculation on "Theme Park America." Through it all, and despite paying clear attention to the media’s disjunctions, discontinuities, and fragmentations, he discovers a countermelody here, a sense of mediatory connectedness—in history, in mediated psychologies, in the robust insistence of the everyday. Everything’s being simulated, but we’re not simulacra: we are “somehow familiar” (like Oedipus and Jocasta?). His characters actively participate in their media experience (of course, one version of that reaches its apotheosis in Rupert Pupkin, whom Irving doesn't bring up). It’s clear here that what a medium mediates is our needs, the dynamic play-and-battleground of our neediness. Every frame and every bit emerges as a kind of demographic analysis that invites passion—in fact, invites madness, passion troped over the edge. But through it all I think there’s a thread, what Irving calls “The blessing of the authenticity,” that plays out its energies against the idea of hyperspace, the idea of infinitely proliferating avatars of unreality. Maybe we’re not as simple, as repeatable, as they make us out to be. (JM)
Good Morning America
"Snuff a senator for a wart?
Well, why not?
For weak mouth
for talking too much.
You talk too much!
Vulnerability sweats and smiles there.
He knows it, too.
He knows he can't return my look.
Okay, I pull the plug on the sucker,
zero in my laser eye:
I see through him—entirely.
There's nothing there!
You blew it, buddy.
You're down the tube. You're gone.
Senator who? Senator what?
My remote flushes him, and welcomes (please)
a president, a comic, a killer, a kid
with (Laughter) and (Applause)
—such phantoms shadows images
in some unplaceable space without
consequences, hiddenness, the once only
of dying . . . but I keep trying . . .
"And that was entertainment, and this, too
—to sit back now and savor the repertories:
the sniff, the pause, the leer, the shudder
drawling itself out to an epic one-liner,
the pop-eyed gulp, the bespittled guffaw,
the gleeful bouncing up and down, the quick buss
on the cheek, the lingua franca of clapping.
Some do it better than others,
or better than they did it before.
But not one of them sees me here,
sees me get up, walk across the room, come back,
crouch in my chair—lord of the effigies,
so absolute in my living room my applause
alone can keep my solitude company . . .
(Bring palms together. Nod. Like so. Like so.)
"Or I pluck poor victims out of the air:
a numbed relative is poking through wreckage;
a sudden tear-spoiled face occludes a burning house;
next, some people are running around crazy
—no hidden ventriloquist is throwing those groans
into what looks like empty ditches . . . that's for sure!
Something terrible happened somewhere.
And I let it all come into my eyes,
receive the blessing of the authenticity.
And yet—is it my fault?—last week
a worse orphan was on the news . . . looming
out of the universal darkness of horror
to blend into the medium's universal
pallor . . . and last season's starveling was somehow
more poignant, dearer, than this morning's sad cub.
Sympathy, of course, will have its caprices,
and suffering its connoisseurship . . . as though
it were leisurely, minor, something genuine
perhaps—why doubt it?—but really sort of trite
—like shouting, Help! Help me! while going under.
One might like to freshen up that phrasing a bit,
and then—maybe—toss the drowning man a towel . . .
Morass this wide this deep is Chaos again—see,
the crouching connoisseur gasping in his high ditch
can't discriminate air from earth from water.
Nor do I, tilting, turning my cup over him
in the common ceremony of the era:
Outrage is anointed by levity.
"But did my viewing it so long give it sight?
That wide, white eye has come to low, dull life.
I'm haunted by a constant, blank regard, in which
I'm not the god it sees but a fool it shows
going through my motions, who gets up, walks
across a room, comes back, crouches in a chair
in miniature—Is that me? Is this me?—and where
my words, these words, are a show of talk merely
—confessions broadcast to an eavesdropping void,
a planet of strangers on unplaceable chairs
somewhere, saying, "Hope the next one's better!"
But I'm not getting better, I sicker, more
shadowy . . . am losing my place and matter . . .
"Well, and let's say that Jesus assembled here
the thousand thousand bright dots of himself,
and Buddha came from his green room as Buddha
—then if they thought . . . if they thought me worthy,
they would give me something to do but watch.
As flesh they would walk into the room!
Their gaze should temper, should contain my glare.
. . . I lean forward, raise the wattage of my eye.
They, they burn up in my vision . . . they revive
in my Christ-impression, my Buddha-bit.
Having emptied myself of experience, I
know better than they the works and the boredom
of life without content, life as pure performing.
(Open your mouth. I open my mouth. Sing. I sing.)
"I lack patience. My teeth hurt terribly.
The cold volts of our loose-wire age zap through me
whenever I touch the ground . . .
Is it any wonder I'm mad?
Who gave me motionless omnipotence?
power without resistance?
the governance of inanity?
If I could have him right here in my sights!
Yes, I'll lean forward, I'll look some more . . . "
When Arthur goes out, his stare prowls before him
—lion on a leash, too powerful and rude
not to reduce to shadow the oncoming crowds,
not to challenge the faces in the street:
What do you care about?
Prove to me you're not a performer!
Can you bleed?
You, you did this to me!
And then it turns around and scans Arthur from
the eyes of each of these impertinent
and utter and somehow familiar strangers.
Blindman, cripple quarrel in a single body
over which one leads, which will stumble after.
Each step's disaster—somebody's trampled under,
half trips the other forward, half drags him back.
Back on top now, he kicks out, tumbles over.
Blind pride precedes the fall, lame pride plucks up
the fallen feller, and pushes him on ahead.
How long has this? How long has he? How much longer?
you ask—and love the man for all this way he's come.
And pity those bare and bruised and swollen feet.
How far? Twelve steps? Twelve monster steps, for sure
—farther than from Glorious Greece of yore to us.
The Hindenberg bursting into radio flames.
Welles's War of Worlds. Murrow covering the Blitz.
Welch lambasting McCarthy. Kennedy's cortege.
Now add the day that he first guested on a "talk."
Moments truly Great in Broadcast History.
And I was there. Tuned in. Glued to my set. Taping.
That video's in my personal collection.
And now he hosts his own I never miss a show.
Curtain rises: for one agonizing minute
a spot wanders lost, then falls on him, and brightens.
You could have heard the light creeping on the floor,
it was so quiet there. Now everything busts loose.
Even the cams get hot, can't pan fast enough, bam
bam, zap from face to awe-gone face, then shoot
the audience going off its collective nut.
He's in his trademark toga—sun-blighted, rain-splotched.
He totters, shuffles, wobbles, he staggers, lurches
—his old drapery coughs up centuries of dust,
like a winding sheet wind-uplifted from the earth.
As if drum-majoring a weird parade of one,
he waves, thumps his pilgrim staff. Cudgel's more like it,
good for beating back the mean-assed roadside curs.
You can just bet that stick has busted up a few.
Whoever did his makeover's some kind of brain.
That mask he wore is gone; this face is mask enough.
How could paint improve the hollows of those cheeks,
the dark sumps pooled inside the sockets' crusty holes,
those hoary locks the gore has plastered into place?
They say his wardrobe stocks a dozen changes
—it takes that long to launder out, and in, the dust.
On screen some ancient rock, a gnarled old tree,
sun-baked villages, moonscape vistas frozen white,
where, montaged, his ghostly slo mo figure stalks, stalks
—stuff so uncontemporary you can't believe
one stringy hand is clutching on a microphone.
He's like oblivious, like he couldn't care less,
his stagger's that unwavering, his trance so deep.
One gentle daughter brings the guests onstage.
The other's in another show . . . she turns the wheel . . .
I think those girls must love their dad a lot
to lead him all this way. I had daughters once . . .
Two were rotten bad; the good one went and died.
And once I owned a country, a little one
—the car, the house, garage, the job, the family.
Hell with that! Now look at me, bedridden
in Brooklyn, shut in, on disability.
Fate fucked me over. It got me good.
Feet don't work. Eyes going out of business.
Someday soon I'll be down to audio.
Twice a week Mrs. Pomerantz looks in
—my cranky lifeline; could be better herself.
Not that I let on she has me worried.
So when The Oedipus Hour rolls around
it's all right, it's okay. Job and Lear drop by,
dressed in the clothes they actually wore.
Or it's Don Q.—the piercing eyes, the broken lance.
Think you've seen a lot? They've seen it all.
Or Julius Caesar calmly matching up for us
the holes in his toga to his awful stabs.
So let 'em, those critics, jump all over the show
—for "bad taste," for "frankly, implausible."
Lots of losers from history come on
—also everyday survivors, sinners, ex-cons,
and handicapped, and freaks, and fatties so shy
they go transparent not to weigh on people's eyes.
And some real trash who piss on your sympathy.
He welcomes them—in, like, his living room.
Each guest's escorted to a chair. They sit down.
Hang out. Talk back and forth. Tell their stories.
Pain this one saw, that one suffered, other gave.
You see them let go, feel at home, forget their acts.
Forget to be impatient. Really listen.
Don't make faces, interrupt, drown the other out,
talk behind their hands. Show nothing but respect.
Like they're telling us, World is plenty harsh
—critical will only make it harsher.
Restless Oedipus goes silent among them,
a tall needle stitch-stitch-stitching it together.
And sometimes people's stories meet—then wonder
widens their eyes, the worry leaves their brows.
You were there? . . . So that was you! . . . Of course, I was . . .
That happened to me! . . . And me . . . Can you believe it? . . .
Now it happens to you. You're here, and you're there, too.
Because anyone's story could be everyone's story.
Something tremendous is going on tonight.
Everybody's coming out to everybody.
Even coming out to us, to me, out here.
Can anyone not feel what I feel in my heart
so strong the wave of it rolls back to them?
Because no longer are we putting people down
for creep, dog, dickhead, weirdo, whatever.
That's over. Done with. Ashamed I did.
The shut-ins, everything shut in, are coming out.
The fatties step in front of their flesh and shout,
Look your fill—I'm so big no closet can hold me!
Lying here, I stomp and hoot and high-five them on.
And feel America's big heart in my heart pumping.
A new thought thrills right through me—my precious power
I squeezed out and saved up from any scrap of luck
I ever got my hands on, got control of:
my secret privileges; leeways I give myself;
meannesses just for the hell of it;
rewards I'll take and nibble from my fingertips
—yes, my edge in life that puts me one up
on anyone who thinks that I'm this nothing
and can't do my chunk of damage, if I have to:
yes, goodbye my self-intensive-care unit,
I'm getting off you, my bitter, my sweet life support!
I, we, are saying,
never again will you have to envy us.
Not you. Not you. Not you. Not you. Not you.
Do you understand? You . . . no . . . envy . . . me!
I spell it out like talking to a child.
Speaking the same words, but it's a new language!
Sunday night. Ten minutes to ten. On the dot.
Spokespersons about to get into their pitches.
Noises scuffle behind. Bumps and bulges—like
the curtain's alive inside. Head pokes it open.
Then Oedipus pushes through. His travel cloak
looks mussed and crooked. He's erect, tilted forward,
fighting the wind and the dark way uphill.
Pounds his staff three times. Pounds it three times more.
Those bitter slits get right up in the camera's face,
look it dead in the eye. Just when we feel our hearts
surrendering, thunder—caught, struggling—flashes free!
All over America on millions of sets
Oedipus again now makes the same speech.
"God-marked, who looks at me
sees the god-power.
marked me in the cradle,
breaking my feet;
marked me with my hands,
taking my eyes;
taking my eyes, my hands snuffed
the sun, the far-seeing;
not to see myself seen,
I covered my shame in shadow;
my greater shame
—darkness I made lord of light.
On broken feet, in darkness,
feeling for the way
I came here seeking,
now shall creep away seeking
never this suffering again,
but bright death
where (where?) your light-arrows
open my eyes,
Gone now. They came for him, his mom and dad.
Out of nowhere. Out of the flies, it looked.
The pair of them were standing in this bucket.
People still talk UFO. Me, I think it was
a cherry-picker thing. I'm guessing, rented.
Down smooth as butter they ride to him onstage.
Whatever anyone wrote, no way they're dead.
Bloody-red, the bucket door swings open.
Blind, he hasn't a clue what's going on.
Broke my heart to see him standing stump-still,
except his old head, yawing like a horse's.
Like smelling at the sights he couldn't see.
Then out they step. Dad's beard is white, and trim
—around the purple zigzag of a cicatrice.
The mom is old enough to be his mom.
Gasp, the studio goes. I'm gasping, too.
Somehow, without our knowing it, we knew,
Something major's going down. And him?
All that pride is bent in one big question mark.
Like he's asking Fate, NOW what you got in store?
The old battler, he pulls himself together.
He straightens up, his whole body expressing,
I took your best shot once—can take it once more.
Suddenly, this big smile. It's like teeth can see.
Then sweet-tongued Ismene's laughing, oh god,
can't hold back her laughter—so bubbling-happy
with something she knows that I'm laughing, too.
"Surprise, papa! Guess who's here to see you!"
Black pit of his mouth opens. He's speaking.
"Apollo, golden Phoebus, great lord of sun
and death, is that you in your bright chariot?"
They can't wait. ("We couldn't wait," they'll say.)
And that's not the only thing the lovers can't do.
They seem unable to get their clothes off in time,
or to catch the breath they're losing in each other's mouth.
Oddly, they've lost the knack of getting into a bed
without keeling over onto the floor in a tangle
of bedclothes and other clothes. (Fabric can be so stupid!)
If only they could get out of each other's way
or at least into each other's ways in the right way.
And they can't slow down, and clearly can't go fast enough
to catch up to what they're feeling—maybe if something had
some texture, but things slide by, going far too fast.
Can't they sort of go back to point zero and start over?
Really, they seem like strangers who can't get acquainted
and who, by trying harder, get stranger and stranger.
God only knows what they can do; probably it's just
whatever this is they're doing now, crashing into each other
at this impromptu intersection they've just created.
If nothing happens soon, we're afraid they'll start honking.
Can't someone stop a sec to gasp, "Pardon me" or "After you?"
Well, let's hope it's all clearer to them than it is to us
("Can't we please have a little more light?" we find we're praying)
—even though we've been in that position ourselves,
in those positions, in a dark room some suddenly wild night
with scream after scream about to push past everything.
It seems, then, profoundly artful (while perfectly banal)
for the camera to leave them to their breathless inventories
and ferocious ineptitude they're getting better at
—by cutting to an all-night art-deco beanery
and its fat, lone diner, a placid and famous detective,
who's sitting there and simply, competently eating.
Seeing food on the screen of this dark, musty movie house
isn't exactly the most appetizing thing in the world.
Still, his fork's unerring in finding the way to his mouth,
his spoon never winds up depositing chowder in his ear.
Feats of coordination we can say we, too, have mastered.
So we especially enjoy seeing his gestures glide
between sheer slobbery and icky, self-conscious prissiness.
A common achievement, commonly taken too lightly.
Of course, what's-his-name actually (if that's the word) doing this
is even more famous, so the interplay of disguise
and guise (that actor sampling what, and while, this gumshoe eats,
for example): this teases and fascinates on its own.
To suspend our disbelief would be to lose the "beauty part,"
this magical uncertainty of "takes" doubled and trebled.
Now the sensitive, round, good-natured face looks troubled.
From under his eyebrows, the camera peers deeply into
a too-clear water glass and jumbo portion of tapioca,
a soiled, creased paper napkin; it swings around, up,
and scans the blue tracery of neon in the mirrors.
So many, many clues—and not a single crime in sight!
When camera pulls away, that's him there in the middle of
the mess, calmly, reassuringly to us, ruminating.
What was total alien jumble is starting to reveal
to him certain underlying kinships: it's coming together.
His smile says it all: Digestion doing fine, thank you.
He taps a finger on the formica—oh, ever so lightly.
With chaos, it implies, you take your time, you take your time.
Okay, we'll wait around with him, we can be patient, too.
One A.M. Two A.M. And everything is going slower.
Out there, something set in motion is slowing down.
He's standing up—must be time to go. But go where? Do what?
He pays the bill, so slowly we can count out change clinking
over the cashier's ritual, "Button up, Buddy, it's cold tonight."
"Bud," maybe. No one's called him Buddy since Pappy died.
"How come?" his face asks with such eloquent perplexity
we're cracking up, we're rolling around. He's beautiful!
(And, hey, did you glom on to the size of that tip he left?)
Outside, morning paper under his arm, he's walking away,
doing that endearing, flatfooted toddle of his.
Oh my, didn't we know it, he's one of those graceful fatties!
On the deserted street, he stops a second, short of breath
(poor guy, we think, this isn't acting!), and is almost around
the corner and lost from view, when we realize
how happy we are with all these tiny textures of being
and time the fat guy has generously treated us to
—so many moments to talk over and appreciate,
bits of personality we'll rescue from time's rush-rush
(and from the damned plot always trying to do itself in).
Which is why we like to beat the crowd by leaving early
—before masks drop and the whole thing runs smack into its ending,
and, stunned, everything is itself, nothing more, nothing else.
Because, isn't this what movies are for?—offering large
and variegated surfaces of hard-to-figure-out depth
to our revery's minute, pleasurable inspection,
to savoring and recollection and repetition,
so that our minds move around more than the movie does,
quickly from moment to moment, but slowly within it.
Strolling home on the peaceful, lamplit, empty avenue,
we try out a wide waddle, a pigeon-toed toddle—and then
remember that right about now the lovers are rousing
and whispering across the world rifting between them
what, arm in arm, you and I, it so happens, are murmuring,
"Was it good for you?" "Mmmm. And you? Was it good for you?"
The sun goes, So long, so long, see you around.
And zone by zone by zone across America
the all-night coast-to-coast ghost cafe lights up.
Millions of dots of darkness—the loners,
the losers, the half alive—twitch awake
under the cold electronic coverlet,
and tune in their radios' cracked insomnia.
A static craziness scratches and buzzes
inside the glowing tombstones of talk
—some crossed wires' hodgepodge dialogue,
or Morse and remorse of garbled maydays
of prayers shot down by Heaven's deaf ear.
Heaven itself is crashing tonight.
The signal breaks up, it fades. Silence.
Then static, then chatter. Then silence. And still
—poor peeves and griefs, poor spirits—from all
the alien area codes we phone in
our cries . . .
"Go ahead, Cleveland,
you're on the air!"
"Larry, this is Don in Cleveland.
Longtime listener, first-time caller,"
booms a voice
that could float you home in a hurricane
—that big and rich, that cheery; its billion bucks
i.v. directly into the bankrupt heart.
It's one A.M. and, God knows, I need it bad,
just one little hit of hopefulness.
I dial Don down to whisper, curl closer,
plug myself into the keyhole of sound.
Feed me! Be me!
"Great show, Larry, great interview!
Loved it, Larry! My hat definitely is off
And mine to you, Don, I whisper, for
the lovely pure bullion of your accolade
—this gift you bring to Being's bright mountain!
And, rising in radio space, there Being is.
My heart's successful twin—I look up to it:
the whole rock, passion amassed as majesty.
Don out there in Cleveland (and Bruce in Duluth,
Duke in Dubuque, Harry in Gary), you show me
that Being is praise and praise is Being,
and how amazingly possible life could be.
So, I'm piggybacking on you, voice of Don.
Carry me home! Take me where I want to be!
In my heart of hearts I'm praising Larry, too.
Yes, I'll phone him up and say, Larry, you are
the greatest! This is me, Irving—you know,
Flat and harsh—Larry's voice
"No names, please!"
"What, Larry? What?"
"No names, please. And please turn down your radio."
"I said, 'Lower it, sir—your radio!'"
So Pluto puts down the upstart corpse.
Silence. Don off-mike fumbling in his room.
And silence. And silence . . . until silence one
dead second too long rips it open again:
the jagged gash black in the heart of Being
—the secret fissure where the whips are kept.
Suddenly, he's back—though not all of Don
has made it through the communication gap;
something's missing: the fizz, the zip, the good gism,
which night by night he's hoarded drop by drop.
"Sorry, Larry. I am absolutely sorry."
Silence. This silence swallows mountains whole . . .
—Don in limbo awaiting acknowledgement,
put there by Larry on eternal hold.
But then, "Great show, Larry, great interview!"
Don booms, re-running his spiel from the start.
I almost see it shrivel, the hand he's held out
to Larry taken in hand by the night instead.
But what a fool he must feel, hearing his words
grimace at themselves in the mirror of silence
—like starting over your interrupted prayer,
As I was saying, God . . . or, shouting now
to your beloved's bad ear, I said, darling,
I love you!
"I have a comment and a question,"
Don plunges on, "and then I'll hang up, Larry,
and listen to your answer."
"What is your question?"
"My comment, Larry, is just this: Larry,
if anyone's out there, I mean, anyone at all,
who's contemplating suicide—don't do it, please!
I tried it once. It's not worth it—believe me.
So please, I beg you, please get help, get help fast!
See a counselor, a minister, a therapist!"
The marvelous T-word sizzles on his tongue.
"I can't emphasize this enough. But Larry,"
he segues smooth as a pro, right on beat,
"I'm really phoning in to ask you this.
Historically, twenty-two major leaguers
have played in four different decades in the Bigs.
Larry, can you tell me how many of them
are active now? And can you tell me their names,
They're playing our song again
on the suicide trivia hotline.
Once there were worlds, and now there's entertainment.
So let's just relax and enjoy the void-noises
of the whirling debris of shattered places
drifting apart in the wide ocean of air,
calling out, trying to get connected.
And Larry? Lord of soul dumps, Larry trolls
the airwaves for trash fish, for flounderers.
He tingles when the stricken vibes imply
a flat one's on the line. With his gleaming hook,
he'll play him good, he'll pluck him out, he'll toss him
flopping onto the heap beneath his hams
of the used up, the washed up, the obsolete.
Larry is jocose, superior—a winner.
His tone announces, Hey, everybody, do I
or don't I know a jerk when I feel one?
"Bat around, fella!" he says.
And "Hit for the cycle, man!
Touch all the bases, baby!
Go, go, go! Go for it, guy!"
Larry, am I getting through to you?"
He's getting through to me, alright.
Ex-drowned man, Don's into survival.
He's got longevity on his brain.
Oh, he's making his comeback alright;
and this time he's going all the way
—if only he can die completely.
He's opening his veins to America,
his heart he opens to the blowtorch,
the supple, the darting, greedy eel of flame:
Once you were cold like us, but now you're hot.
Larry, do unto me as you did for Larry.
With these bedraggled facts I saved my life,
see, these last damp straws to which I cling.
Autograph them with your raging acetylene,
with your outrageous adrenaline—and bless them,
please, burn them, please, scald them, with reality!
Larry, show me how to be like you!
(I'll show you, fella. Here's lesson number one:)
"I haven't got all night, sir.
I have other callers on the line."
Larry's voice holds Don off at lash's length
—not to be contaminated by loser taint.
And certainly success owes this to itself,
to go on being successful,
and always be wanting more—not like ghosts,
who have to hunger for Larry's hunger,
who call and call in, hoping to please him,
because losers can't please themselves.
From admiration, we break our bones,
we hold the shattered stemware up to him,
we say, For you, this toast. I am nothing.
But drink my marrow—and be everything!
Larry is hungry—but Larry is picky.
For who will divide hunger from anger in him?
—because Larry is never satisfied.
(Is Pluto satisfied to rule a bunch of stiffs?)
And that's why Larry's a winner, not a loser.
Is success work? Is success luck? What a laugh!
Success is fury, frenzy beyond measure
—the lifewire dancing with its own power,
crackling, too hot to handle; admire it, buddy,
if you want, but get the hell out of the way,
because try to grab it, and you are zapped, you die!
Therefore, Larry scorns praise not fulsome with defeat
—anything more would be effrontery,—
the meat of the broken only is broken enough,
and flesh that failure has predigested.
'Consistency!'—that's the word. To go out there
year in and year out—like yourself, Larry,—
and no questions asked just get the job done."
Don doesn't get it, he doesn't have a clue.
"You guys are the real heroes, true professionals.
You should be named our national treasures, Larry,
really—don't you agree?"
Dear tender wish,
sad furtive ploy: Don sneaking his shy fingers
to touch the handle while the tip flicks lightly
and leaves a little welt of praise on the air
—he wants so much to get a few strokes in,
to have his hand on it when the lash plays nice.
"What are you, some kind of wacko, sir?"
Larry, I'm doing the best I can.
You can't ask for any more than that.
So, look, enjoy your success, Larry,
you've paid your dues, you really have,
and good health to you, and lots more years.
I mean, as long as you've got your health . . .
Hey, Larry, am I right? or am I right?"
"When you're right, you're right, baby . . . "
Some solar storm
or perturbation in the ionosphere
sweeps the air clear and blows those voices
God alone knows where, pelting down
their blight of white nights, their acid blizzard
on innocent cornfields and quiet orchards.
It's 4 A.M., and, risen from
static and silence, good old Don is back,
cold Lazarus recycled word for word
by courtesy of tape—still trying
to reach the Thaumaturge, still getting through
to Pluto instead . . .
"Go ahead, Cleveland,
you're on the air!"
In Theme Park America,
the mugger raises up his hand
for no reason
in theme park america
every tree is a museum
every leaf a monument
each flower a flower idea
this slum a garden of garbages
the world a world still swelling with
its first inhalation of eternity
everything is larger farther apart
the squalor spacious clearer
composing a picture of squalor
misery is misery with the pure glow
of something like forever
by whose mild light we see a gleam
sharpen in the killer's fist
look the other one twists away
for our information
those wide startled eyes
are for our information
for our information
he is screaming
can you hear what he's saying
he isn't saying anything
he's just screaming
so that's how it's done how it happens
he's not screaming now
he's doubled over
and we don't have to worry
what it means
nothing is supposed to mean
that will come later
when there's more information
about the information
and so we walk around
in families and couples in shorts
and jeans and t-shirts and sneakers
solemn and docile
eating our ice cream
because everything depends
on going through these motions
the whole fragile revelation
we worried sweated I worried
once a black revolving thunderhead
opaque enormous glob of clenched fists
of motives and intentions
wanting wanting wanting wanting
each hidden behind every other
battering to get out
demanding to be imagined
it hurt unbelievably
it was horrible
that everything wasn't what it seemed
promises broken things blocking the light
we didn't deserve that not us
we were still good
in spite of everything
all that's history
a long eyeblink ago
then america became
theme park america
every tree is a museum
every leaf a monument
each flower a flower idea
who would have dreamt
a miracle could be so
everything is so simple
one intention smiles from every face
to be pleasant and to please
to please for example us
who simplify ourselves
to receive simply gratefully
what brilliant good people who have
the franchise on reality
thought up and made for us
this wonderful truly wonderful
and give us our role to play too
we please by being pleased
and showing it
the baby with the cigarette burns
wherever in this great park
look at that one
look over there
how amazingly like themselves
nothing has changed
and everything is different
and let's face it
no one needs poverty anymore
it's not doing anything
we don't need these poor people
so it's very nice
if they're kept on as the poor
things our eyes say
when we pass in the street
I mean we're poor too
we're visitors ourselves
look at all we gave up to be here
we have nothing but our wonderful faith
in all this wonderful
we're doing the best we can
and because behind the scenes
is moving the mugger's hand
it doesn't hang baffled in the bright air
it's doing it
across the street
and later maybe we'll know why
our wounds our woundedness so deep
they keep crying out for some eternity
look look he's gasping
look he's looking over here
look on the ground collapsed
he looks awful
like a messed up balloon
look at the mugger he's crouching
he's feeling around in his pockets
I think he's smiling at us he's showing
it's terrible it's interesting it's nice
it's not dangerous
in theme park america
we're grinning we're
look at that blue sky
it's a perfect day
it's perfect here alright
if only the whole world
of everyone everywhere
could see us
see how good we are
they would be happy
they would want to be good
please god let's not blow it
let it stay like this
oh did we see this one before
it looks familiar
I don't remember
I bet you he gets up and walks away
please move over I can't see
the knife the knife again
for no reason
but it will not rend no
it will miss entirely
Irving Feldman’s Collected Poems 1954-2004 appeared from Schocken Books in 2004. He retired as Distinguished Professor of English from SUNY Buffalo in 2004. "Movietime" was previously published in Irving’s Beautiful False Things (Grove Press, New York, 2000). "Good Morning America," "Interrupted Prayers," "Oedipus Host," and "In Theme Park America" are taken from his Collected Poems 1954-2004.