Harry Brody

 

Epistle for William Sylvester


I'll not capitulate to
the television
again tonight!
Consider, instead,
the alternatives:
radio and writing
table in the hot
garage, where
Puddy exacts
confessions from
arachnids; couch
in the livingroom
whence I can listen
to sleep annex
my loved ones; or
kitchen nook to
read a little
poetry... got
the stack handy,
some Knott,
Knight, Gluck, and
William Sylvester's
War and Lechery,
courtesy copy
that came
in the mail today.
This Sylvester's
long on languages
and very funny,
and he knows all
the good stuff the
Greeks said or wrote
but works the wisdom
in without
oracular condescension.
Amazing! See, Pound.
Like Sylvester's
I get books
in the mail occasionally.
I do write
some reviews,
but only of
the ones I don't
read. I'm thinking
of that hack job
I did on Ludvigson
a while back.
Don't tell anyone
at LSU that
her dreaming wings
are in the stack.
Next to money,
or maybe
a communiqué
from some acquaintance
buried in
the instant
antiquity
of addiction,
books make
the best mail,
especially if
they're free!
The bad ones
make me feel
better about
my own work,
and a great one,
like Sylvester's,
inspires me
to fail harder.
It's with
the most
in the middle
that I have trouble...
Guess I will
turn on the tube
for a while:
King's interviewing
Parmenides!
Pardon me, parm,
but I just
semi-gurged
and now your name's
grimed behind
a matrix
of Copenhagen.
Don't know why
we named our son
Hagen. Wife's
idea, the likely
nom de plume
of a glandy-wanged
high-school honey.
In the Fifties,
when I was a boy,
monikers were
more automatic:
Jack or William.
She wanted
to name him
Maximillion, but
I put my foot
down on that.
Down here,
in golf country,
folks remember
the great Walter
Hagen, but
Hagen's buddies
call him Ice Cream,
after the brand.
Blacks concoct
great names: a
teacher in Charlotte
had the twins,
Orangejello
and Lemonjello.
Shitonme, though,
joke or no,
was a tad too cruel.
What would the
neighbors do
if we put
Parmenides on
the box?
Likely nothing,
at least until
their social suck
checks began
disappearing.
Bet I'd get
more and better
books with
Parmenides
on the box,
especially if
I did up his name
in Greek letters.
My own Greek's
a bit rusty, but
I keep Valpy's
Homer handy
and rely on
Lattimore. The
onion-papered
oxford edition
lends a certifiable
austerity to
our mantle, but
we leave them
there anyway.
Ah, shit!
I see the Braves
lost game five
of the Series.
Make a note
to ask Sylvester
what obscenity
Costas is Greek for.
For years
I tried to be more
like Dale Murphy,
but, unlike Murph,
I'm weak to right
and tend to pull
the wool with
a rather
heavy-handed
alliteration.
Bituminous,
that's my poetic,
I put it in another
poem once.
Sad, indeed,
to start
quoting oneself!
They say
ol' Sonny Liston
was fond
of quoting himself
by the time
he went down
in that dive.
Ended the Fifties
when Clay
took him out,
but I no longer permit
heroin references
to chic up my work,
so, getting back
to names, looks like
I'm stuck
with Harry, though,
when Larry Brown,
the Oxford, Miss.
novelist called
about a reading,
I was quickly
deflated when
it became apparent
the was trying
to reach Crews...
Fucking novelists
and their movie deals!
Larry King's sporting
some extremely
urinous suspenders
tonight and lobbing
Parm his
trademark creampuffs,
such as, how
has Cassandra's
snake fixation
played among
the Hollywood elite?
Cruelty, Lar, and Fate,
those are the dirty
little secrets I'd
like to discuss, if
I might digress
for a minute. My
brother-in-law, Randy,
nonchalantly stepped
on an ant tonight,
as we stood in
the driveway reviewing
his son's problems
with the lay. Being
both a lawyer
and a felon,
I can bring
a unique perspective
to such questions.
Cody's 18 and
the law's older
than Aristotle,
I tell Randy.
It might be obvious
Aristotle's on
my mind as
a proximate result
of exposure
to Sylvester, but
I don't mention that
to Randy because
never let
your in-laws know
your sources.
After he
gelatinated
that ant,
I knew I won't
be sleeping much
tonight. Now
don't get me wrong,
I've squashed
my share of
living things,
even some people,
if you count
embryos, but
the casualness
with which he
effected dispatch
disturbs me much,
which may be why
I'm thinking
of Nadine.
In the Fifties,
my mom, already
nursing a potent
little carcinoma,
hired this gal,
Nadine,
to help her clean
the split-level
on Hawthorne.
Nadine's body
challenged the starch
of her white uniform
to contain more sex
than a boy's mind
can scribble in
the margins of
Boccaccio!
In fact,
it was Nadine
I wrote my first
epistle to:
Nadine, Nadine,
fire thinking of gasoline...
So here's how that ant
got me onto Nadine:
she used to bring
her husband along
when she came to work.
Her husband resembled
a potted plant
that hadn't seen
anything wet
since Parmenides uttered
what Sylvester calls
his wordless lovewisdom.
Even a boy
in the Fifties Midwest
in a nuclear house
nursed on Marilyn's breast
could discern
something wondrously amiss
with Nadine's hubby.
He kind-a...sort-a...dus...ted
as if he was afraid
of doing injury to
the dust. I asked
about this guy
and she
told me that he
would cry
uncontrollably if
he so much
as killed a fly.
The doctors
called his condition
something
Parmenides might
have been
able to pronounce,
but not me.
Of course,
now I realize
what happens to
a man who
loses his job
in our society:
shown no mercy
he learns mercy.
but I was wee
and couldn't know
that it was not
Nadine's body,
however extravagantly
it shined,
gave her beauty,
nor the impossibly
tight line
of her pleat
that yielded the light
I ate those nights
in Tide-sweet sheets,
but the act
of mercy, of
keeping him on
after everything else
was done with him...
He didn't dust
the fireplace
as well
as he didn't
dust everything else,
and for that
I owe him big-time!
For it was in
that mantle's residue
I first diagrammed
the great battles
of the Trojan War,
as reported to me
by Rouse's Homer
from inside the fire.
I lug that fireplace
with me everywhere,
have it here
with me in
Florida now.
Gonna leave it to
my son or daughter
if one of them ever
turns off the damn
TV long enough
to notice. I think
I don't think
about Nadine's husband
often partly because
I don't frequently come
across a poem as strong
as Sylvester's and
partly because if
I think about mercy
too deeply I might
see how much like
Freddie Corleone
I have become.
At 20,
I fancied myself
thick-dicked and bloody
like his brother, Sonny,
and, at 30,
I actually brooded
in an office on
the eighteenth floor
of the Nationsbank Building
in flourishing Charlotte, NC,
and I acted as if
Fate and I
had an understanding.
Not unlike
Michael Corleone I
commanded the sky!
Man, was I handy
with the Jew-jokes
and my hair was so shiny
that insurance adjusters
lost sight of the money.
That's what it takes
to bury Nadine's hubby
in a Capitalistic society.
But now, over 40,
down here in Florida,
on a night marked by
and remarkable for
eloquence (Sylvester)
and execution (ant-crusher),
it's Freddie Corleone
I remind myself of,
the type of fella who
probably apologized to
the bullet his brother
ordered into his skull...
Seems the gentle
are set up to feel
the full bore of the metal,
and the gentle
who ingest
their war and lechery
through the mail...
Thank you, William Sylvester,
for knowing more
dead men by name
than just about anyone
on television.
As for the coffin,
I'll defer
to the ant's kin.





"Epistle for William Sylvester"
confronts William Sylvester's War and Lechery
and is ©1997 by Harry Brody.