Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hitting that button

"I fell not only into the habits but into the moods of the student day. Every morning I was hopeful, determined, energized by the campanile bells and by the smell of eucalyptus and by the day's projected accomplishments. On the way to breakfast I would walk briskly, breathe deeply, review my "plans" for the day: I would write five pages, return all calls, lunch on raisins and answer ten letters. I would at least read E.H. Gombrich. I would once and for all get the meaning of the word "structuralist". And yet every afternoon by four o'clock, the hour when I met my single class, I was once again dulled, glazed, sunk in an excess of carbohydrates and in my own mediocrity, in my failure - still, after twenty years - to "live up to" the day's possibilities."

- Joan Didion

Do you ever get the feeling that your life is on perpetual snooze? That all you're really doing is buying time, punching the clock that will let you go on the way you are a little longer, that will keep you from having to wake up to the reality of your days? And that death, by extension, would be just a really bad case of oversleeping?

Robert Lowell writes:

The man is killing time - there's nothing else.
No help now from the fifth of Bourbon
chucked helter-skelter into the river,
even its cork sucked under.

Stubbed before-breakfast cigarettes
burn bull's-eyes on the bedside table;
a plastic tumbler of alka seltzer
champagnes in the bathroom.

No help from his body, the whale's
warm-hearted blubber, foundering down
leagues of ocean, gasping whiteness.
The barbed hooks fester. The lines snap tight.

When he looks for neighbours, their names blur in the window,
his distracted eye sees only glass sky.
His despair has the galvanized colour
of the mop and water in the galvanized bucket.

Once she was close to him
as water to the dead metal.

He looks at her engagements inked on her calendar.
A list of indictments.
At the numbers in her thumbed black telephone book.
A quiver full of arrows.

Her absence hisses like steam,
the pipes sing...
even corroded metal somehow functions.
He snores in his iron lung,
and hears the voice of Eve,
beseeching freedom from the Garden's
perfect and ponderous bubble. No voice
outsings the serpent's flawed, euphoric hiss.

The cheese wilts in the rat-trap,
the milk turns to junket in the cornflakes bowl,
car keys and razor blades
shine in an ashtray.

Is he killing time? Out on the street,
two cops on horseback clop through the April rain
to check the parking meter violations -
their oilskins yellow as forsythia.

- Robert Lowell, 'The Drinker'

Sometimes it's fun to just turn over and wallow.

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9 comments:

Encarna said...

appreciated like a true alcoholic. Nice poem.

Cheshire Cat said...

To categorize a post with that poem as "Whimsy" truly is the height of whimsy. Poor Lowell. That isn't one of his best poems. Sagging figures (reflective of the theme?), that rather ad-hoc reference to the Fall. At certain points he sounds imitative of a certain famous student of his.

As the inexhaustible subject, the problem of Time points to its (inadvertent) solution. Such nonsense, really. The subject is too close, too close...

Nessa said...

Yes, indeed :)

Falstaff said...

Encarna: Thanks.

Cat: Ah, that's entirely the point, of course.

personally, I think it's half of one of his best poems. i actually rather like the first half, then at some point this woman pops into the picture (for no real reason that I can see) and then the next two stanzas are just god awful - first there's the banality of the quiver full of arrows bit, and then this whole garden of Eden thing, which is just too, too contrived. That said, I love the starting. Just try reading those first stanzas when you wake up after a night of over-the-top indulgence, and you'll see what I mean.

Nessa: Glad you agree. :-)

ozymandiaz said...

Habitual nature, lament and mortality. This is whimsey? More like confederate money.

zedzded said...

can totally relate to it. Just like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.

Falstaff said...

Oz: Confederate money? Huh?

Zedzded: ya, except that at least the one day Phil lives through again and again is a fun, eventful day. If they ever made a movie about the one day I keep living through again and again (side thought: How would I feel about being played by Bill Murray? Hmmm...) people would be walking out of the theatre after the first five minutes.

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