The Agonist

Rough Dream

Ravens perched on the headboard,
the snub-nosed alligator crawled
beneath the bed. Some
greasy animal—an iguana,
perhaps—fled out the window.
Things had gone unattended
in the absence that went on for years.
The house, now so ghostly,
was no longer ours. From the beginning,
had it been inhabited by creatures
who knew how to make themselves scarce,
how, unlike us, to make a home?

Long Story Short

"Is the sight of humanity so very disagreeable to you then? . . . Served up à la Pole, or à la Moor, à la Ladrone, or à la Yankee, that good dish, man, still delights me." The Confidence-Man

A single clear day, the next two weeks overcast,
such is winter in the wrong latitudes. You once
said our backs were against the wall—
or was that some cliché of Marcuse’s?
In the short, rough intrigues of our college fling,
I caught a fever I couldn’t shake for decades.
Old love, I could have done better by you.
All those years, you hid in your apartment,
picking up the phone only to set it down again.
Once I dreamed that, lovers at last,
we planned our escape to some failed city
in the backwaters of Europe—a plot
out of James in his decline. The next day,
the great behemoth of my car refused to go.

17 Gough Square, 1981

"You would do what would be of importance in raising your children to eminence. . . . They would be at all times regarded as the children of a man who had gone to view the wall of China." Boswell, Life of Johnson

The plain rooms were plainer then,
no furniture to measure out an emptiness,
no prints hung like the condemned,
no worn orientals to make a garden
of nothing. Floor after floor, we rose
to the garret’s unvarnished planks,
a deal table the only evidence of industry—
no, the wooden stool that bore the Great
Cham’s bulk. Years passed.
Subtract the new leaf-clutter
of chairs and tables, the scatter of carpets,
the impatient crowd of portraits,
and a diseased brick from the Great Wall
of China. Words still lie in the absence
of words. The famous three-legged chair
remains among the missing.