I struggled with the glass table-top
that kept molding itself over the legs
like melting cheese.
Beyond the picture window a swollen ocean
crashed on a silent shore.
I’d baked a fish and was setting it down
on the unsettled table
when I was surprised by my father
who entered the room
and sat down to dinner
as though he was alive and well.
He said nothing as he filled his plate;
didn’t smile, didn’t frown. I couldn’t tell
if he loved me. I didn’t tell him
he was dead.
I handed him the sauce
which had separated by now.
He spooned the cream off the top
and said it was bad for his liver.
I thought that odd since it was his lungs
that killed him. I handed him a bowl of fresh berries.
I need help with this table, I said;
I need help with a lot of things.
Light sparkled through the window
onto the table where we sat.
I was relieved to know that help had come at last,
that I’d get advice,
and all my questions would be answered.
My father had come back to help me.
And then everything vaporized
and there was nothing more.
When I play with my grandchildren.
There’s nothing of interest in this world.
I take down the video camera
to shoot the baby who gurgles
and laughs but hasn’t figured out yet
how to crawl. She swims in place
on the floor like Superman;
her head bobs up and down like it’s on a spring.
Rachel grabs at the camera
tries to pull it out of my hands.
She yanks the lens cover and
unhinges the battery pack which nearly
crashes down on her baby sister.
I give up.I don’t know what’s important.
I’m on a train traveling from Trenton, New Jersey to New York City, the home to which I never returned. Someone built a lean-to in the woods beside the tracks, with branches and sheets of blue plastic, not exactly a palace but a nice country setting for a hobo. How would I know? I think my life is safe and secure.
New Jersey is bleak, covered with parking lots and factory sites, treeless developments, small towns with peeling bungalows and a sudden pink cement shopping plaza. We cross a river outside New Brunswick and skirt a red brick development that reminds me of Dachau. Oh America, home of the free and the brave, speeding home to our individual microwaves on the turnpike heading north. I never visited Dachau all the years I lived in Munich. Dachau is in the mind, not seventeen kilometers up on the Stuttgart Autobahn heading north. It’s not like looking at Pyramids or the ruins of Rome. I’m thinking of this now on a train in New Jersey.
There are normal people in the streets of New York. That includes weirdoes, crazies, and all the riffraff together with tall people, short people, colored people, French people, well-fed looking people, ugly people, people with moles, toupees, wheelchairs that fit on buses, healthy people, heterosexuals, stock brokers, taxi drivers, and just about every kind of people you can imagine, all over the place. It’s so reassuring after the unreality of Los Angeles where I hardly ever see anyone, but those I do are all beautiful.
This morning, on my way to the elevator, I heard a woman crying behind one of the doors in the long corridor of a modern apartment building on Sutton Place. I stopped to listen. I knew she was alone, crying to herself, like I’ve done, like I hear Rachel do sometimes, in her room, alone at night.
ALL BY MYSELF
Recently, after a new paint job, I decided to change around the furniture in my apartment. My glass table, that required three strong men to carry up the stairs, had to be placed just so in the middle of the living room. The job required strong men.
The first time the table was moved I got the painters to do it but they were in a hurry and didn’t put exactly where I wanted it. So when the floor repairmen showed up I asked them to move it. They didn’t want to do it but the boss floor-man said he’d do it himself. He was huge like a mountain and must have weighed 350 pounds, about as much as the table, but he was completely opaque. When he sank to his knees it was like Mt. Everest caving in; like an elephant he bent very slowly. He didn’t like getting down either which he demonstrated by staring up at me with a pained walrus face and huge elephant eyes. It was so pitiful I told him to forget about it. After that I got the electricians to move the table. I thought it was in the line of duty seeing as how they had to move it out of the way anyway to hang the chandelier in the middle of the living room, directly over the table in question. But the table wound up in the wrong place again.
Then some friends were at the house one evening and I was whining about how unhappy I was with the placement of my glass table. It was either too far this way or that way and at the wrong angle. It had to be just right; I had to be able to see the flowers on the balcony while working on the computer and I didn’t want to sit directly under that heavy chandelier. Tony asked where I wanted the damned thing and when I showed him he lay down on the floor, on his back, placed the balls of his feet against the base of the table, and nudged it slowly along the carpet into almost the exact spot where I wanted it to be. It was such a simple, brilliant way to move a heavy object I got down on the floor immediately and tried it myself. It worked, and with no strain. Over the next few days I lay down on the floor and moved this heavy glass table around the room all by myself until I got it just where I wanted it.
This story reminds me of the time Ian and I finally got it on. He called to tell me he was moving to Moscow and, “..wasn’t it about time I got you into my bed, darling?” “Sure,” I said, “as long as you’re really leaving. I wouldn’t want to spoil a good friendship.” Ian and I had flirted at parties over the four or five years we knew each other but that was as far as it went. Ian was great at parties because he brought all kinds of interesting goodies and was reasonably rowdy. Sometimes he brought beautiful girls with him, typically they were young and black, and they’d arrive late looking like they’d just had a marathon fuck. I was eager to learn what Ian had in mind for the night of our last rendezvous.
After a round of parties, martinis and a lot of champagne I let him drive me to his home and lead me inside. We drank more champagne while he lit candles and incense and rolled yet another joint. We danced to music I don’t remember and when Ian sank to his knees and closed his eyes, I closed mine too and waited. When I looked down he was in the same position, eyes closed, and tottering to one side. Ian was fast asleep. I poked him and we managed to find our way to his bed. He began to pull off my clothes but fell back to sleep again before the job was done. He lay there snoring, dead to the world, utterly useless to me. The picture reminded me of my marriage except for the fact that this time I was getting a good laugh out of it.
So, applying my basic play-the-hand-I’m-dealt strategy, I took a couple of Ian’s thick, hard, workman’s fingers, inserted them into my body where I thought they’d do the most good, and masturbated to the rhythm of Ian’s great snores, sort of a Viennese Waltz mixed with the beat of Tito Puente. This was the closest I ever came to practicing necrophilia – apart from my ex-husband – and Ian never knew, or if he did the bastard got off easy.
I want to write a novel called TROPIC OF CANCER by Carol Pearlman. It will be word for word exactly the same as Henry Miller’s novel of the same name but the similarity will stop there. It will be my novel. Okay, I stole this idea from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, who writes about some guy who wrote EL QUIXOTE exactly like Cervantes but different, if we are to believe Borges, which we do because he is so convincing he believes it himself, or so he leads us to believe. Why should anyone believe Borges and not me? My TROPIC OF CANCER would be as brilliant and passionate as Henry’s. It will take me from one job to the next, and to a sleazy dance hall with a girl named June who will drive me crazy and break my heart. I’ll sail to Paris and meet all kinds of strange and wonderful characters. I’ll write about them by day, walk the streets by night, and fuck every chance I get. I’ll do it all just like Henry did only my name will be on the cover of the book. How about that? Maybe Anais Nin will pay my rent. Or maybe I’ll just have to pay it all by myself.
I carried my sledgehammer onto the battle field and swung it over my head until it whirred
and whistled and made a
that scattered my enemy
and brought him to his knees.
I hissed and scowled and walked around his
prostrate figure while he shook
and trembled in the cold, wet mud.
Distant stars shone down
and the moon made note of all features
which set the scene as in clay
hardened and sharp.
I extended myself across the field
and exhaled warm air and moisture
that brought seeds to life
and turned the bloody field
into a meadow with daisies
where ancient enemies frolicked
and love grew wings
to carry us all off to heaven.