After the David Antin Reading

Letter to Chuck Leaf

“But what about the remaining hundred and thirty lines,” he said, before he said, “So what?” All these things are meant to be asked. Suddenly I discover why black notebooks are confidential. And Poetry, I took you on a trip, so when we got to the end, we could walk. Alan’s black cowboy hat and grandfather’s bugle. I promised Georgene. We would stand by the pole. I would blow while she set the flag at half mast. The hat is optional, but the girls raved. One said I had a good belly button, with my shirt short. I was practicing my eye. Other things may be drawn from this. I’m painting now a painting that could be surrealistic if I left out the trees. (It’s taken seriously.) I look to it for reassurance of my talent. It might help if I thought from some projected instance. I was driving home after the poetry reading. The radio said the wind was thirty to fifteen miles an hour. The leaves were fallen from trees along the road blown in sketchy patterns, wind rivers of leaves. I moved in the same direction as the wind. I saw a rat on the road, as big as a cat, but it was a rat, a big rat. I didn’t try to run over it. I stopped my car to write this down. Only one car passed. The rat must have been eating the acorns, the acorns that were blown from the oak. The rat might have been a figment of the wind. Eucalyptus cried dead twigs, bark, and dry leaves on the road. The rat was gone. It’s senseless driving backwards to see for sure. I must drive slowly. It would have been easier to have turned around. The rat was gone. Time passes. I turn external to the sounds, the fan somewhere, finger tapping quietly on the chair arm, book page turned the steps on linoleum clop, doors opening in sucession, a single “Hi,” heavy breathing, someone sniffled, snot in his nose. My gentle inward turning of my throat, laughing. A throat is cleared, two throats make it, mine is tight and dry, but water commonly tastes like exotic French cheese, the rotting of dirty underwear, in the morning. A paper lunch bag swung under an armload of books. “That’s all right,” a boy said to a girl’s voice. Doors squeak and close with clicks, aftermath of a deluge of unused raincoats flung on the floor, no good for cold weather. A friend sat next to me and said, “Hi, Thomas.” I grunted. The sky is pure and the air is cold. Nippy this weather is a bad joke. I hear whispers over a friend’s back, damn it. He won’t leave it alone. But what about the reading, the poetry reading. What are friends for, like flies in the soup? “Joe said,” Joe said, but write a letter. This will be the thing to come back to, after all the underside of a liver. Duncan said Olson said, “Live her,” dying of it. And he, not Olson, Joe had a dream of me. He dreamed of an adolescent, a pure abstract concept with sweat pouring, not pouring, he didn’t say pouring, with sweat from every pore, he said. I laughed and asked his girlfriend, Samantha, but she didn’t know as much as I expected, as I had intended to extend the conversation to her. Joe said I should write a letter like describing a dripping faucet, make it extend across several pages, and sign it “Love, Tom.” I should skip other things, but not completely, and the date is arbitrary. So it was with the poetry reading. Poetry is the art of language. Prose is just a form of it with defining limits, or something like that. I must check. I was responsible for recording the reading and I wore Alan Elerding’s cowboy hat. Joe said Chuck attended only one class, but this might get lost in fortuitous and melancholy extras and superflous gestures. Joe was proud of his new tweed jacket. I’m trying different appendages, myself. The cowboy hat, tomorrow the bugle I forgot, the water is foul. The dinosaur is in the hall. I stood across the exposition of bones— I realize the bones are the dinosaur. I hold Alan’s hat to my heart and say “Hi” to a girl. I went to math class. That girl could never care. Good’s not expected to understand, the math. The weather defeats tennis practice. I dream of water. The water in my mouth, waiting for Diana, with no appointment but I sit by where I think she’ll pass by, and, if she comes, will she go, will she see? I’ve gone looking for her before and felt dumb, a lump of dough before her, I was confused when I could be precise and honest. The water in motion, waterbed of a stream, the water when fallen from night clouds, the water of pure tears, cannot, will not come now the water in the air makes distance blue. The sweat in Joe’s dream was water. I am a body of water. I look for clouds in morning skies, and want to be replenished. Everything’s water if you look hard enough, said Creeley, which could be taken, Duncan to Antin, as we use, in conversation, each other’s words all the time, or we couldn’t understand each other. Or something like that, I think. I’ll go looking for her after this is over. But what about the other meaning was the question unsaid in his brow, tight with wrinkles that made me laugh. But what about our friend, our other friend. I thought this question for Joe. Joe wouldn’t ask. He just said something that made me think of Chuck. He said write a letter, in a rain of pages, for example. Describe an inverted innerloop, many times. How this, my favorite ending, is the bending, the path, it being a conclusion of itself, that I walked on. The other Joe asked me if I had captured the trilogue, that moment of Rhymers’ Club history, between Duncan, Antin, and who else would talk, I didn’t know. Such things are brief cannot be seen, felt, taken, made, experienced, understood, heard of, beside, the, away, and alone. Love, Tom

October 1971