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
Last year I decided to redecorate my apartment and rearrange all the furniture. In the new scheme, the big glass dining room table, so heavy it needed three men to carry up the stairs, would become my desk, and had to be placed just-so, off-center in the middle of the living room, which would now be my office. I needed some strong men.
First, I finagled the painters into doing it, but they were in a hurry and it wound up in the wrong place. When the floor-repair men showed up I begged them to move it for me. The boss floor-man, who had a long mustache, looked right for the job. He weighed 500 pounds, maybe as much as the table, but was, of course, completely opaque. He sank to his knees slow as an elephant and looked up at me like a pained walrus. I told him to forget about it.
After that I got a team of electricians to try. It was in the line of duty anyway as they had to move the table out of the way to hang the heavy wrought-iron chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. They played reggae music while they worked and although we had lots of fun the table wound up way off the mark.
Then a bunch of friends came to the house one evening and I whined and complained about the placement of my table. It was too far this way or that way and at the wrong angle; either I couldn’t see the flowers on the balcony or I couldn’t bear sitting directly under the chandelier. Tony, a slender decorator, asked where exactly did I want the damned thing, and 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 with his toes along the carpet to almost precisely where I wanted it. It was such a simple idea I lay down on my back and tried it myself. It worked.
Over the next few days I lay down on the carpet a hundred times and moved that mighty glass table around the room till I got it just where I wanted it — all by myself.
This story reminds me of the time my friend Ian and I decided to get it on. He called one day to say he was moving to Moscow, and, “Isn’t it about time I got you into my bed, darling?”
“Sure,” I said, “as long as you’re really leaving town. I wouldn’t want to spoil a good friendship.”
Ian was a regular guest at my parties. Invariably, he’d arrive late with some beautiful babe hanging on his arm, looking flushed and disheveled like they’d just come from an orgasm marathon. I was eager to learn what Ian had in mind for me.
On the night in question, after a round of parties and many glasses of champagne, Ian took me to his apartment. We drank more champagne. He rolled a thick joint, lit candles and played soft music on the stereo. We did a slow dance. Ian sank to his knees and closed his eyes. I closed mine too, and waited. And waited. After a while I looked down. There was Ian, still on his knees, eyes closed, fast asleep.
I poked him and we managed to find our way to his bed. Once there, he began to pull off my clothes but fell back to sleep before the job was done. He lay there snoring, dead to the world and useless. Applying my basic play-the-hand-I’m-dealt strategy, I took a couple of Ian’s thick, hard, 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 Latin beat of Tito Puente. This was the closest I ever came to practicing necrophilia, and Ian never knew, or if he did the bastard got off easy.
I’m going to write a novel called TROPIC OF CANCER by Carol Pearlman. It will be word-for-word the same as Henry Miller’s novel but the similarity will stop there. It’ll be my novel. Okay, I stole this idea from a short story by Borges, about a guy who wrote EL QUIXOTE exactly like Cervantes, but different. Why would anyone believe Borges and not me?
I’ll be a man in my TROPIC OF CANCER, as brilliant and passionate as Henry Miller. My story will take me from one lousy job to the next. It‘ll lead me to a sleazy dance hall where I’ll meet a girl named June who’ll drive me crazy and break my heart. I’ll sail to Paris and meet all kinds of weird characters. I’ll write about them by day, prowl the streets by night, drink, smoke, and make love every chance I get. I’ll tell it just like Henry did only my name will be at the bottom of the page. How about that? Maybe Anais Nin will cough up my rent. Or I could 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.