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Here is the fiction:
The wave-tips rise, splendid with light,
and we are not harmed, but hum with the tides
and ebullient moon
upswelled: that we
are of light,
that we are the blooming,
thrown upwards in moonlight
toward welcoming sands.
THIS IS THE FICTION.
He died well. Believe it. That light is
Diana Ross turned 40 that day.
And so in the shower he vamped to "Baby Love"
and "Come See About Me,"
stood pinked in the steam while the DJ read news,
just happened to see
the dark welt on his shin.
Or that's how he told it, anyway, later
when the lesions crawled him
and he coughed and coughed.
The shower, Diana. As if it were funny.
To lie in blonde light
kept alive by four tubes.
Once he was the big-eared kid
who drove each day to lunchtime Mass. He knew nothing
of what would come, laughed, smoking a Lucky
behind the wheel of an old red Plymouth
How he seemed aglow with it, after.
To hear his affectation, his feyness,
that irony, at odd moments,
wondering if he'd made them laugh,
the hundreds, charmed them,
at bathhouse and bar
all those years in the Seventies
when he'd shown up in leather pants
and high heels,
black hair streaming almost to his waist.
So here we sit in the moment... Iphigenia's moment, Hart Crane's... And it's a real shiver, isn't it? We've got Ideas, bite-sized ones of course, then the slice-of-life in which the hero is ironically revealed stumbling upon Mortality in the loo. It's a nice start, but what we'd really like is something, you know, cathartic, a noseful of poppers, crank in the veins, some fast way to that old Literary Flush, that lump in the throat, Beauty. We're really a race of blood-suckers, aren't we? And all we have is the Story. What else can we rely upon, what else will divert us for a moment of imagined significance?
The way of all things,
to ceaselessly rise.
And so the dove is offered.
The blood-rose blooms.
Here, beneath these clouds I cannot see,
in stillness, the blood-rose blooms.
Yes, the hills abandon us.
Some days he lay in bed all morning.
Or sat up in sheets where once he had loved.
He said he slept poorly,
and "glittered" with worry.
Some days she would call, throughout the day.
He kept seeing crows.
Lying there, he dreamt of running,
the high fields of ripe hard-headed timothy.
He'd wake, mouthing the Jesus Prayer, to sunlight.
She'd call. And then he'd dream of running far into the hills,
of berries bursting like bloody hearts,
their tangles of thorns,
the windy hillsides.
She had never noticed the weather, was always the one caught out without a sweater at frost, the one still coughing in June, hair unbrushed, up at midnight cramming for summer school.
Now she'd say, Lenny, be careful. Don't push yourself. And quit smoking those damned cigarettes.
As if he might make it.
He'd stand, for an hour sometimes, in front of the bathroom mirror, looking at his own face.
Or she'd be running, always toward him,
toward what seemed to lie beyond,
stepping, it seemed, from flesh to light.
He'd wake, sweating.
Hearing them singing for Jesus, he wept,
a little, one Friday night,
when the children sang two gospel songs,
songs they knew and loved from church.
his taut back gleaming in half-light.
I remember how he looked and write:
light, linearity, the geometry of dawn
He was only an interstice,
light falling through a high small window,
God falling past
the place of the Cross.
He'd asked, all innocence, one night,
"What do you do when you can't find women?"
I watched him dress once, saw him.
The riderless horse.
Your author sits at a wooden table in a small apartment in Dallas, writing with black ink. He's smoking again. He can't even taste the cigarettes anymore, but he wants them, the way he wanted brilliance once. That somber little box of butts is Literature, he thinks, a little package of death. But the analogy breaks down fast. Because what about the smoke? Or the body poisoned by it? Or the Sunday Times strewn across the table, the small box of Red Top matches, the scissors and the ashtray and the forgotten plants dying in the window? Are they Buddhas? Killers?
Not to be running.
To be the dapper man
smoking a cigarette
on the linen-white illusion
of a day,
to be that shimmering,
filled with white smoke...
He hated the struggle. Life. That struggle. K-Mart. The freeways. Apartheid. And woke up one morning ill.
The wave-tips rise,
and the light rises with them,
and the old men, sweetened by grief,
sit out in the early breeze;
the light is a sun at the edge of the wave,
the bay is a meadow of lights.
And the old men dream
of the ungreened perpetual hills,
hills still warm with memory;
in those hills, we are each offered up;
in our last moment,
we see nothing but light.
And so this poem, the lover
gone quiet, the last good friend,
who expected so much--eloquence,
the unscabbed truth--
You, whom I loved
This poem will never grieve you--
though you turn to the mists,
to the starved arms of the larch,
to the dumb hills themselves...
It hurts me to see you--
Warmth, you told me once,
is more important than truth.
For truth, if it is anything,
is cold like the moon.
But this poem is no moon.
It is only a lie.
Though I brood through the night,
it will not see you through.
Joe Ahearn is co-editor of Rancho Loco Press, which will release Best Texas Writing 1996 in the spring of 1997. His criticism, translations, and poetry have appeared in a large number of periodicals, including The Quarterly, Five AM, Dallas Review, Sulphur River Literary Review, and others. Ahearn has been nominated for the 1996 Pushcart Prize. Poems are forthcoming in Bouillabaisse, Recursive Angel, and Sulphur River Literary Review. His work has also been collected in the limited-edition chapbook, Kyoko At Play (Harvest Publications, 1994), and is forthcoming in the anthologies, CrossConnect: Writers of the Information Age (CrossConnect, 1997) and Anti-Bible (Incarnate Muse Press, 1997). Ahearn lives in Dallas with his family, where he writes poetry, essays, and books about advanced software development. Ahearn can be reached on the Internet at email@example.com.
William Slaughter, Editor
Department of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645
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