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05.02.02 3:35 p.m.

Pablo Neruda stands on a corner next to a poster
advertising quick weight loss diet aids when I
happen by with half my creative writing class.
He wears a black boating cap and blue cloak draped
loosely over one shoulder, and he stands very still
staring at the clouds where he probably sees the profiles
of famous poets. At his feet lies a small brown dog.
We had heard he was dead and so are surprised and
walk around him several times. He has nice fat cheeks
and after a moment I reach out and touch one, but
gently and he doesn't notice. I look at my students
and I can tell they are ready for anything so I
take out my Swiss Army knife, open the littlest
blade and cut Pablo a tiny bit on the left arm.
He doesn't even blink but I think he begins to
concentrate more intently on the clouds. By now
my students are becoming excited so I open a bigger
blade and carefully cut a sliver of flesh from his
shoulder. I put it on my tongue and it's very sweet
with a faint taste of smoke. I chew it slowly.
Glancing at the sky it now seems a deeper blue.
My students see me smiling and licking my lips
and they too take out Swiss Army knives and start
cutting off small slices, although they don't stay
small for long, because suddenly we are ravenous.
It feels like I haven't eaten for days. I barely
pause to chew my food and I grow angry at my students
for pushing and getting aggressive over the more
succulent bits. One even eat the brown dog.
In practically no time there's nothing left but
a quickly folded pile of clothes on the sidewalk
with the black cap on top. Then we all become
embarrassed and won't look at each other because
we've eaten this famous poet, and even though he
tasted great and we could probably eat another,
and even though the city seems brighter and more
exciting than before, we still feel ashamed to have
surrendered so completely to such animal passions
so we point to our watches and make excuses and
stroll off in our separate directions, but shortly
outside a movie theater, I see one of my students
offering herself to the people waiting in line;
then I see another accosting a crowd at a bus stop;
and a little later in the lobby of a convention hotel
I see a third bothering the legionnaires. And you,
now that I have you attention at last, ignore these
imposters. They're too hungry to by telling the truth.
Feel this arm, this fat thigh. Why would I cheat you?
Even now the moon grows more swollen and the stars
throb deep in their black pockets. Bite me, bite me!


 -Stephen Dobyns, "Pablo Neruda"  




Previously in Xenology: Kate and I go through cycles of fondness and rage. Emily's father is a well respected artist. Emily and I pretended to be the undead for Flynn and Conor's benefit.

Explication
There is much to tell you that is tangible. However, we shall put that off, because I wish to speak of poetry. Don't get fussy, you might learn something yet.
I first heard the above poem from Kate. This was a few months after she left me, though while we were still decidedly close. We may, in fact, have been in one of our periods where we were behaving remarkably like lovers in words and actions. I cannot recall, so I ask that you simply treat this as a fond gesture between friends.
 
L'ange vidant
We were talking on the phone in quick, hushed tones and affecting the cooing tones of extreme fondness the night before she was to go away to Texas, if I recall correctly. I very likely was telling her that I would miss her company intensely and that I already ached for her in absence. I am quite sure that you can imagine my words well, and if you cannot, to visit December 2000 and January 2001. I recall very strongly that I was sitting on the kitchen floor with the phone huddled against my shoulder. The air had a warm, dusty scent like five seconds before you sneeze. I know I felt incredibly warm and terribly in love with her. As her parting words, she read to me this poem in her lilting voice. I had never heard of it or its author before, though they both gained prestige in my mind instantly. I do not know if she and I said another word after the poem. Perhaps an honest thanks, but nothing more.
The next time this poem came into play, as I recall, I was getting to know a girl at DCC in hopes of a romance. I was not certain if she and I would make sense romantically, but I was willing to attempt. I decided that a proper means of testing our compatibility was by means of this poem. I found it amazing and a girl with whom I would want to share this much of my life very well should see some of what I do. This bears similarity to the American Beauty test. I read it aloud to her in the lounge, expecting her to react with delight and prove that she and I could work. Instead, she thought it was disgusting, clearly having taken the poem very literally. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, explaining the metaphorical implications and how it represented inspiration and the very idea of poetry to me. She hated that the dog got eaten. Clearly this wasn't going to work out and, as you know, didn't.

Guatemala Dusk, After Rain, Zombie Dress
A bit ago, Emily asked me if I would like to go to her father's art opening. I had never been to one and, as he has had his paintings at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and various other impressive galleries and they sell for thousands of dollars a piece, I was rather excited. I would no longer just be an artistically ignorant boy. I would be the artistically ignorant boy who was shagging the artist's daughter. There is a sort of poetry to that.
 
The view from the gallery opening.
Emily drove down to pick me up. I was still relatively unclothed because I am a lazy excuse for a human being and I had positively no idea what one wears to a gallery opening. Emily came down and I showed her my various suggestions for appropriate array. She vetoed most of my choices as too hot, too formal, or too shiny. She picked me out an suitable outfit that looked remarkably like clothing that I normally wear and we were off.
After before teaching a Tae Kwon Do lesson to a student, she changed into her dress and a bra (because... ow!). It turned out to be the dress that she accidentally wore home after we did live action role-playing at Bard with Conor and Flynn. She felt it was the ideal raiment for the occasion. Granted it looked the tiniest bit, perhaps on a subconscious level, like funerary vestments. No matter, it was cute.
Later, when the light was shining down on Emily, I noticed the slightest problem with the dress. It was, in the proper light (such as any direct light), see-through. Emily was more than a little dismayed to discover this fact and blamed me for not having informed her sooner. I kept looking at her pastel blue panties that I could see quite plainly. This infuriated her, making it a little harder to point out to her that she should have kept her bra on.
We ransacked the trunk of her car for appropriate cover-up. Oh, and a bra. She put on an army shirt and asked how she looked. I gave her an appraising once over and stated that she looked like the angsty and rebellious teenage daughter of the artist. This, evidently, was not good enough for her, despite the story I was already writing in my head. I tried to keep the situation light and remind her that things could have been quite a bit worse (I could have not been the one to notice). This didn't make her feel any better. Luckily, she found a nice black shirt in the trunk of her car that actually looked fine over the dress. There was little that could be done about her underwear, so she put Scooby Doo boxers on over them.
 
From left: Chris and Stuart (M's dad) chatting in front of Stuart's paintings.
And, if this was not nice enough, she actually admitted that her mother can be wrong on the way to the opening.
We arrived at to opening in, what I judged to be, time. There was a crowd and refreshments, yet I don't think we missed anything. Nor did we have the awkwardness of being the first ones there. Okay, I admit it, I have absolutely no idea how to judge these things.
I darted around, taking pictures and generally absorbing the environment. It was not filled with near as many pretentious amateur art critics as I had imagined, despite being held in a gallery that was also an expensive pseudo-antique store. Dash my hopes, why don't they?
 
Emily laughing with her mother. Probably about her underroos.
It was strange, as I ended up telling one of Stuart's curious students, to see all of these painting hanging in a gallery when they had been in different parts of M's house since I met her. I pointed to individual paintings (all of them of orchids) and labeled them things like "Living Room Painting," "Over Mantle," "By M's Parent's Bed" only to be surprised that they were called things like "Guatemala Dusk, After Rain, Lycaste" and were evidently worth upwards of $9000. They certainly were good, especially when viewed under the lights of the gallery. It didn't seem unbelievable that someone would pay this price for a painting, though I don't think I would. Emily's master pointed out that they seemed to be priced by size, which put things in terms I could understand more. 1' X 2' of inspiration is worth $1500. 8' X 4' is worth $9000. It is a matter of buying in bulk.
To my slight annoyance and jealousy, Emily and her sister were very openly checking out one of their father's male students who, jealousy aside, wasn't terribly attractive. He looked a bit like a tall boy who lives in the city who very badly wants people to know that he is an art student and likely lives in SoHo but no one can possibly understand him because he is an art student who likely lives in SoHo. You know the type, I'm sure. Plus, he had a soul patch, which is so trite.
After the opening, we had to drive Emily's grandfather and his girlfriend home. He is 95, I do hope she is not giving him too much excitement... you know what? I'm not going to think about that. He has a way of finding one thing to compliment people on and he sticks with that compliment for as long as he can. In Emily's case, he admires her sense of direction immensely. Evidently she once guided a car full of people home when she was a wee little lass. Given that she is dyslexic and has trouble with the concepts of "right" and "left," this is particularly strange. Anyway, he evidently said she had the directional sense of a monarch butterfly. However, she and I both heard him call her a demonic butterfly and mutually decided that this was an optimal way of describing M. Cute, sweet, fluttery, and evil. When her grandfather's girlfriend exited the car with Emily's assistance, she said that Emily had a very good grandfather. Aw.
We made it back to the gallery well after it closed, because we were promised dinner in exchange for our attendance. What, you thought we did this to better ourselves? After a good half an hour of running about the streets of Warwick, we found the necessary people to get food. We went to a tiny, expensive looking restaurant where the dining room was just closing. I felt terrible, as I tend to hate those who try to enter the library when I am closing. I feel they are stupid for not realizing that they are delaying the closing procedure and being disrespectful to me. Becoming these people didn't make me feel good. I mimed the waitress an apology in passing, but I think it was honestly okay with her that we were entering. Well then.
I ordered crab cakes that were evidently so good that it was necessitated that I share them with the table. Fine and dandy with me. It was fairly good conversation. Chris, the boyfriend of Emily's sister, is a sharp-witted lad who honestly never seems to talk down to people. This is a trait I particularly admire, since I doubt I mirror it and wish otherwise.
When the time came to order desserts, I asked Emily if she would like to split a pie ala mode with me, giving me the ice cream. When the waiter came and took our order, we explained that she would be getting the pie, I the mode. Then Emily asked, "Who gets 'ala'?" Without a moments though, I put my hands together as in prayer and looked to the sky. Emily mirrored my actions with no delay. The table found us quite amusing, but I am told that we supposedly usually are.
I could tell you that I found the whole night to have had an underlined revisionist's conceit that belied the whole night's attachment to the subject matter. However, I just hope you don't think it sucked.


Soon in Xenology: Kandahar. Desubstantialization. Blow. Martin Luther King estate. Avril getting hitched. M is glad I am strong enough not to become a goth just because I am reading Sandman. Who gets ala? Are you in a band? Quaffing the corruption of the electoral college. Amelie. ET. M's car dies for no reason. The tow truck guy is an ass. Make it to Monroe. My car dies. Dinner with parents. Anne and Jerame's party. Thinking about Todd a lot. M tells me not to harass strangers. M's depressed. Jilly! I can touch the hem of her robes and be cured. "You can never be cured." You have great shoes. Won a clock radio. Jill's mom sings. Slutty ass mousecateer. Veronica is an abrupt faucet. Debating off of paper. DwB and Pine Bush redux. Black valises. Running.

last watched: The Boondock Saints
reading: Good Omens
listening: Dream of Life
wanting: to be musically inclined, not merely inclined toward musicians.
interesting thought: it is often hard to see thing when we are in them.
moment of zen: mud squishing under my sandals.
someday I must: do a happy jig with a monkey wearing lederhosen.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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