Bringing Home the Bacon

—for Francis Bacon and David Sylvester (1966)

The artist’s burden begins with us, the little people who’ve left
their houses, out searching for what we call inspiration. We
walk around the block, hoping the artists will take care of us.
It is the artists, we hope, who have all the answers, especially the rich
ones. Show us the way, the people cry. Help us.

What do the artists see? If you have a very strong feeling for life,
its shadow, death, is always with you, too, says one genius.
There’s nothing in fantasy for you; nothing at all there. Nearly
all reality is pain. He leads the people to a hole in the ground.
My God, he has nothing to espouse beyond the brutality of fact.

He says if anything is strong people think it is painful.
They’d like to see a portrait of President Kennedy. I don’t really
like doing portraits, the artist asserts. “I’ve always hoped…
I’ve always wanted and never succeeded in painting the smile.
I’ve never been able to do it. I can’t even get the mouth right.”

This artist doesn’t do conversational pieces. No talking!
He likes the starkness of the image. The women in the back want
something cheerful. Why not some little chicks, they ask, or
a newborn? The artist by now is growing cross. He says, “I want
it to give a shock, a visual shock. It is just something there, splat!”

It’s not a shock one could get from a story, he declares. “I don’t want
to tell a story. I don’t have a story to tell.” The artist just points
us in the right direction. He says, “Don’t you see?” He doesn’t know
how violent these scenes look to other people. All couplings are violent,
he seems to be saying; what else would you expect? You’ve been there.

By couplings, he means, when people are having sex. It is at such times,
for the most part, that people stop talking. Whatever conversations they
may have are fairly short. Of course, we are animals, aren’t we? Just part
of animal life. As a result of this, the artist has an acute sense of mortality.
A sense of the precariousness and the precipitousness of life around us…

The artist is optimistic about nothing, but we want Hallmark glee.
He wants to live in a state of voluptuousness; everything else
is a falling away. Reality is what exists. Cruelty lies in the universe’s
indifference to human suffering. God does not grieve. And neither
does the artist. We hate him for that.

All art has become completely a game by which man beguiles
himself for a time or distracts himself. The artist must not be tempted
to participate in this game of distraction. He must really deepen the game
to be any good at all by returning the onlooker to reality more violently.
Few of us can understand this. None of us can stand it.

I like seeing a lot of people around even if I don’t know them.
It is just the process of growing old. Life becomes more of a desert
in a sense around you. A lot of people I have known have died.
A self-portrait is all that remains to the artist who lives alone.

Chopin and Savagery

The crybabies want to teach race theory, not race history.
If they did, all they’d have to do is tell the stories of Louis
Armstrong, James Brown, and Tina Turner. 9th grade Social Studies.

We all need heroes. For some it is the Jolly Green Giant. Me?
Wilhelm Hosenfeld, the German officer in World War II who saved
Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish concert pianist. Nazi bastard.

Mona Lisa was a racist. This is what my daughter Alissa learned today
in the 3rd grade. Mona represents white privilege as did her creator,
Leonardo Da Vinci, a racist if there ever was one.

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like people. Like the rich,
I crave solitude. Private islands, vast estates; no wonder celebrities buy
land in Montana or cruise the South Pacific. They hate people.

More than my dislike of neighbors is my dislike of neighborhood watch. Hate
small talk, hate abuse, hate intrusions. Neighbor drops by, looks me over, and
goes, “So, being a big guy such as yourself, how do you manage in life?”

Muddy Waters invented electricity. Lungs, nipples, and feet: my favorite
parts of the human body. I have learned to look at the human body with
the appreciation women have for the hands and feet of the newborn.

Especially when one is engaged in administrating to the needs of the poor.
It takes us back to Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, and Doris Day. It wasn’t sex;
it was flirting. You can blame it on the Bossa Nova.

Madcap comedies with soft songs, no nudity, and tons of alcohol. The gals
wore slips and the men, silk boxers. Owls, flamingos, and toucan adorned
the walls, the pillows, and hung from the ceiling.

Peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Elvis started it. The girls screaming with no
let up. You may have never heard of Binghamton, New York. Beef on Weck
is a delicious roast beef sandwich on a kummelweck roll. Orgasmic.

Wildebeests, unicorns, and Pepe the Clown. These are a few of my favorite
things. The circus has gone bankrupt; my city, engulfed. Our basement is full
to the rafters. Mum’s tomato plants glisten, bronzed with mites.

My hero died in a prisoner-of-war camp seven years after WWII in the darkest
corner of Siberia, very possibly the last good man on earth. Israel declared him
a righteous gentile. If he was a monster, so was Captain Kangaroo.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez Knows His Stuff

There was a featherless ostrich outside my window.
I thought, “My God, what have they done?”
It had been splashed with kerosene and set on fire.

My best and only friend has been admitted to the Handmaids
of Mercy, into the personal care of Sister Mercedes. He is
all of nineteen and there is a rumor we are lovers.

Dr. Hector Rodriguez stands outside his door with a Camel
hanging from his lips. He is wearing the most elegant get-up
I have ever seen, entirely white, to match the nurses.

My friend Evelyn who is named after the famous author
stands accused of trying to kill the ostrich at the local zoo.
He himself was burned very badly on the left side of his body.

He cannot tolerate even the slightest human touch. He cries
all day for water and at night screams for his mother. He
ignores me and has told the hospital he wants no visitors.

I met the man through my landlord who goes by the name of
Avocado, an absurdity in itself, I know, but in his youth the man
dyed his body green and has never been able to remove it.

His waistline resembles the shape of the Mexican fruit, commonly
known in many parts of the world as a pear. Although not green
or black, Mr. Avocado’s skin is rather course and bumpy.

I slept with Dr. Rodriguez but I have never been to bed with Evelyn.
I don’t care what people say. What happened between me and the doctor
was entirely circumstantial. We were both plastered.

Evelyn may not live. His parents refuse to return my calls. His fate
lies entirely in the hands of Sister Mercedes who says God has already
decided his fate. She prays without hope.

The doctor has promised the boy life if someone can come up with five
thousand dollars by tomorrow at three. Otherwise, he will be removed
from intensive care. Sister Mercedes says there is nothing she can do.

Mr. Avocado has offered his niece, a seventeen-year-old virgin, who is
speechless. Her family is eager to see her married. The doctor will not
marry but has offered his spare room.

He asks that she wear his dead mother’s petticoat. Avocado’s niece
refuses. Dr. Hector and her family are now in negotiations. There is
talk of the niece’s willingness to remain nude but wants to be painted orange.

In the morning, the doctor’s white linen suit and exotic shoes were found
by the river beneath the cashews. It is believed he drowned himself.
Mr. Avocado blames his niece for refusing to offer her body to the doctor.

My God, this could go on forever. Tonight, the entire town will come out
for a celebration. The ostrich will be cooked over an open fire. My friend
Evelyn is dead. I have offered to marry Mr. Avocado’s orange niece.

Bouquet of Dreams

Who is this in a floral head dress?
Is it Carmen Miranda dancing beneath bananas?
Or has Frida finally cut the cord? She has severed
the umbilical between herself and Diego Riviera.

It is the hearts that are free, carried on the backs
of monarch butterflies, yes? We are, after all, talking
about a poet. She dances faster than Carmen Miranda.
Are you kidding? Hope is faster than Fred Astaire.

It looks to me that there might be flowers exploding
from her head. The flowers are not scattering like mad;
rather they are landing, they are on the way home,
to the top of Maya’s head, that’s what.

Angelou, like the antelope in British Columbia,
the ones that dance on ice. My Angelou, if you
ask me, is the poet of pan-fried bologna and St.
Louis Blues. More Tina Turner than T. S. Eliot.

Au contraire. She and Eliot both read French.
But she had no letters of introduction when she
met Ezra Pound. She made the rounds. She climbed
the trees, she navigated the shoals. She sipped champagne.

Maya Angelou was there. She was there at the creation.
She signed the guest books. She played gin rummy.
She made Canasta cake and mahjong stew, both
with a splash of Coca Cola. Her poetry sings.

Casey Down Here

O damned and sinning scribes, what somber felony
lies at the foundation of our dear Republic?
Need I say more?
Don’t say the world is ugly.
Don’t say the people are sad.
There is no joy in Mudville, none.

That’s Casey’s grandfather in the batter’s box.
“Strike one!”
As we greet those once driven out…
Where can we reassemble?
(Read the articles on blacks returning to the South.)
Morgan Freeman leads the procession…
We offer our apologies and our thanks: welcome back.

One has nostalgia for the absolute; at least, I do.
Casey’s granddaddy swings and misses: “Strike two.”
Dust storms are also known as haboobs, you know.
Tsunami are tidal waves off the Pacific coast.
One awaits daily updates…We’ve done gone off
the beaten track. Now, where in the world could
this be? We are somewhere in Mississippi.

One hundred years from now. I repeat.
One hundred years from now, it all comes out.
How Casey’s granddaddy missed the boat.
Goes to show, Casey’s grandfather is too old
to play. The game’s almost over. You could
call the entire state Mudville with this rain.
The game will be called. The fields are flooding.

The gray Gulf smells like the next storm.
Mississippi’s equator runs further north, through
Carroll Cloar country, its focus on the black female
standing alone in a cotton field which, with a dab
of color, resembles a poppy field in the land of witches
and wizards. If it weren’t for the Blues, it could be
taken for Dorothy’s Kansas.

You can’t clench your teeth when you’re wearing
dentures. There is no gleam in his eye. The pitcher
takes aim. This time it’s not “Strike three” but “Duck.”
This is not the part of Mississippi with gulls and pelicans.
This is pig ear sandwich country with pink rhododendrons,
not shrimp. Jackson is literally an urban jungle. The earth
reeks. There is no drainage.

Our team needs B.B. King. We’ll recruit Furry Lewis.
We need a great migration in reverse. Mississippi plays
ball. Joe Christmas is owed an apology. The restoration
depends on restitution. Name the state capital after Muddy
Waters. Moving forward. It’s the bottom of the ninth. Look
deeply into Shelby Foote’s eyes. He’s suffering; he admits
to helping turn the Delta into Cambodia. Ease his pain.