Sunday, February 7, 2010

La Giaconda and The Shadow

1

Rag wings stitched with an F flat stolen from Ma Rainey's throat:
        in her throat it'd gotten by on desire, it'd lived
        a poppy's meet me at the Casbah life;

but in the time before time was they were happier maybe, a
        black tux, an ivory satin gown (that sort of smile
        that's an unrelenting lunule glaring amongst the
        crystal candlesticks, that sort of rigorous mouth like a
        black tie, Mary Egypt remembers these things
        inhabiting movies) until a diamond stylus inured to
        tunes wounding the body sewed their tatters to the
        scapular muscles;

but once patched together they were disreputable as that
        poppy, as problematically smoky, & when they
        shuddered it was because they remembered fezzes
        congesting the speakeasies, Stutz Bearcats,
        Humphrey Bogart, someone whispering huskily take
        a message to Garcia, & minarets there in the menstrual
        twilight announcing God's absence through the
        palms;

& this photograph seemed as fraught with inside dope as the
        orange Ford taxi cab that just now sloughs toward
        Mary Egypt who's loitering dissonantly on the corner
        blowing soap bubbles;

for lack of kisses she blows them between the needle-like
        bodies of fish that purl past threading & knotting
        through her wings C sharps, typewriter ribbons,
        attenuated spit like strings of pinprick white lights
        snarled in the cycadeoids;

(Johnny had observed the phenomenon often enough in that
        Jurassic edifice where he slumped in the most
        visceral red chair while he thought about gulping
        lagers amongst humongous fern fronds;

(& they called that joint the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it
        hadn't stopped raining there for over 10,000 years—
        however they never lacked for insects there, the
        insects showing traits of gigantism & a taste for
        Stravinsky's most violent strains, they were violins
        pitched sharp as if whipped); then

the fish they get euphoric on her & Mary Egypt can't take it
        any more, these mouths gulping hunger, spewing
        bubbles, & the bubbles actually molten charm
        bracelets the fish disgorged— because it is almost
        that time;

& the taxi floats past taking on water & churns past water
        snakes where they thread through the scuttled
        dressmaker's dummy's wire pelvis & past these
        hirsute lilypads while it honks dahlias, Storyville
        Blues, & a sewing machine in ecstasy;

but mostly it sounds like the mynah bird cracking wise at the
        Greek's deli: above the bouzouki's vibrato it cracks
        aphorisms regarding the beautiful & the eternity of
        love, it sounds like the old guy cracking beer bottles
        with a pop & a rasp;

it's several weeks after midnight, in other words, almost
        that time, & Johnny lounges in the blue Tiparillo
        smoke— as if everyone's lips were evaporating— &
        he's dissolved a priori, he's gray eyes afloat between
        the brim of a brown fedora & the collar of a
        trenchcoat;

& the trenchcoat slumps frazzled & wrinkled & without
        ethics, without honor, without a thought for the wide
        world's spasmodic splendor;

the world wasn't wide but deep;

& here comes the taxi to take Mary Egypt out...

2

& o yes it takes her out because the wings don't work;

& just then the town seemed more than ever like a Mesozoic
        morass, its restaurants all reeking catfish, & decaying
        Da Vinci landscapes loomed— it was frightening
        how they loomed! you could hear the cabbie remark
        on the rocks, how they looked like ears & there Mary
        Egypt sits timeless amongst the rocks & looking for a
        kiss;

& Johnny feels like an aficionado gulping espresso from a
        dirty cup— as if he actually had a face, not
        something ersatz sutured;

how many stitches had he taken? how many chances had he
        missed? how many windows had his fist shattered
        allowing the shadows to rush in, back then when
        movies first created night— & he liked to hiss these
        scars on my back are Trilobites okay they needed
        someplace
to sleep it off;

he didn't mean much by it, just ossification & night terrors
        like this 3-D screen distending, its wings thrashing
        faces watery, wings like an extinct bird's— which is
        mostly what he feels like paying the tab with a fin—
        & like venetian blinds creaking exhausted from
        witnessing sheer lust that often amongst the ashtrays
        inside the reptilian buildings— until his whole
        existence reeked gingkoes— then he arrives;

how would they be troubled by this beauty into which the soul
        with all its maladies has passed? the cabbie asks, though not
        in those words exactly, he actually says So do you like
        baseball or Stormy Weather, the latter phrased in a
        different key & as a question, the way it'd sound
        through a pawnshop trumpet;

& Mary Egypt thinks I've got the answer: I am rag wings (the
        fabric was 60% a piano's black keys melted down, it
        was 40% a movie poster for Casablanca scissored into
        a collage;

& they called that jazz;

& Mary Egypt arrives;

3

& this moviehouse half-sunk in the swamp: it was a castle a
        tractor hauled in from the late show's Carpathian
        tor— it looked that much like a pyorrhetic mouth, it
        looked that much like a face turned to stone from
        staring at sleep's face— which Johnny knows
        something about, as he knows something about what
        evil lurks in the hearts of men;

where there is water everywhere usually, or bruised black
        motor oil, & a lightbulb dripping hopeless water
        which somehow reminds Johnny of a cock getting
        wrung-out semi-tumescent in an Exxon station's john
        in the absence of beautiful gorgons' mouths;

they were such embittered tidal pools! what did they care
        about the Jersey Turnpike's stupendous
        petrochemical tanks on stilts or the fishscales
        showering everywhere, & Mary walking in asked
        Who turned out the lights?

because it seemed more or less insubstantial to her, this
        darkness complicated with pupae & recluse spiders
        & the echoes of a Django Reinhardt improvisation
        trembling near the soda fountain;

not to mention the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the
        mysticism of the middle ages with its spiritual
        ambition & imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan
        world & so forth;

not to mention Johnny envisioning silver light & silhouettes
        trying to break free of it— he knows how they feel,
        one supposes, because he knows more about
        vanishing & suffering & suffering & vanishing &
        crawling amongst the bivalves & starfish & salt water
        taffy wrappers, crawling through water which seems
        strangely dead as well as infiltrated with shadows &
        flashes;

it went something like that;

because the movie screen looked like it had a lot on its almost
        inert mind besides inertia, besides this mayfly hatch
        the projector aimed at, it was a bus mired past the
        hubcaps in quicksand & who knew if anything could
        ever move again?

The Shadow knows...

4

Nothingness;

& Johnny thought I've got it made— as if the Spanish moss
        dangling like so many shrunken heads could give a
        damn &

the theater yacked bacteria & electrodes & appendages with a
        life of their own: for example thighs, for example ring
        fingers— meanwhile

Mary Egypt rose so strangely beside the waters—

as if this were the instant she reached inside herself;

as if this were the instant the movie started to roll out the
        silence without any cigarettes, without any
        matchbooks;

which isn't silence at all but a phone off the hook spewing
        insects;

actually it was pterodactyls & a scream shorn from the body:
        for all the world it sounded like Fay Wray's except it
        shimmered with tarantellas & luna moths

& they called that jazz

which was the silence Johnny heard like a saxophone's
        exhaust pipe— it sounded like hearts convulsing in
        surgically-opened chests— meanwhile

he slumped amongst the theater's emphysemic lungs— they
        gurgled: hours hours hours ensemble like an
        aquarium— it only sounded like horror of horrors;

they had their vestigial gills now they wanted wings— their
        talons were cooked lobster claws grappling with
        whatever floated past belly-up;

because they lived off hearts & not much else except off
        various Jack Teagarden riffs & off unmentionables;

& what could you do with these old fuckers? the next thing
        you know they're waterbugs the hotel's sink spit up
        as it gasped: loss loss loss— it only sounded
        sometimes like Eros;

& whatever else Mary Egypt couldn't get off her mind from
        the wax museum— for instance, dolls' knuckles
        glued to the backs of their hands as if they gnawed
        blue veins— & all she can think is one last kiss

5

because a kiss is just a kiss, despite the fact someone's mouth
        bursts into Japanese Beetles, bowties, & carbonation
        broadcasting My Funny Valentine through yellow
        candlelight amongst the tuxes & gowns, & the
        candles are after all poppies with immemorial
        recollections;

once upon a time, before time was, they were perhaps
        happier, but there's no guarantee of that amongst the
        melting blues platters & the belemnites squirting ink
        until the entire theater's blotto;

so they step outside into this effusion of music like Green
        Dolphin Street down which taxis drift through a
        detritus of photographs, crumpled cigarette packs
        like someone's notion of crushed gardenias & a
        detective novel dredged from the swamp dripping
        volvox, oscillatoria, chlorella, & hyacinths, & the
        flukes & leeches are inching between the pages;


which summarizes the movie's plot— so who can blame her
        if her eyelids are a little weary? because all this has
        been to her but as the sound of lyres & flutes & an
        entire bandstand jammed with sewing machines
        whining mechanical yens & a theater full of caged
        mynah birds cawing beauty wrought out from within
        upon the flesh;

but Mary Egypt remains unflappable;

but she is thinking about veils, how they spread out across all
        space for instance like cobwebs or the negative image
        of a jazz platter bodiless hands push under the Singer
        Stitch-o-matic's needle & all they wanted to be were
        wings composed from memories of Ingrid Bergman
        beside a piano;

though the platters were in fact melting, black vinyl melting
        into shadows which were not her wings, were
        distended dismembered bodies like Johnny's which
        is everywhere & nowhere— along the walls, across
        the sidewalk, some residue seeping along the
        theater's floor until you can't help but think about
        lips dribbling musical notes which are really black
        dahlias he wants to stitch into his trenchcoat— as if
        that could help;

as if that could change the fact that the insects are crawling
        for the most part in a dark room amongst the sounds
        of plumbing & gulping & the screams of an
        archaeopteryx ripping up the curtains— there where
        he marks time while itching for some Duke Ellington
        cross-hands passenger train solo to shanghai him out
        of this lagoon—

where the one is becoming the many &

his face, like something he's known for far too long— for
        instance, fossil Paleozoic dragonflies with 30-inch
        wingspans enmeshed in fossil cobwebs— when this
        unravels;

So what if his face is a spider web thought Mary Egypt, & her
        hand crept off by itself to look for big bloody lips
        which were not his;

(a diamond stylus hemming the grooves

(retrograde into Ma Rainey's throat

at which point she's flying.


Jack Hayes
© 1990-2010

4 comments:

willow said...

My favorite thing here is the the scuttled dressmaker's dummy's wire pelvis!

(and I have a thing for typewriter ribbons)

John Hayes said...

Hi Willow: Wow--you're intrepid! Thanks for giving this a read.

Poetikat said...

Bits and pieces I love:

a diamond stylus inured to
tunes wounding the body

scapular muscles

remembered fezzes
congesting the speakeasies

menstrual
twilight

sounds like the old guy cracking beer bottles

Johnny lounges in the blue Tiparillo
smoke

Johnny's entrance changes the whole tone. That's for sure.

Stopping there because I want to enjoy this when I have it in my hands (and that may be as soon as today). That's not to say I won't want to read this blog anymore—of course I will, but this one needs to be devoured up close, not as I strain my bleary eyes in front of the laptop screen.

Kat

John Hayes said...

Hi Kat: Geez, thanks--I can completely understand wanting to read this one on a page, not on a screen--it's long (longest poem in the book, btw--there was another long one that got cut just before publication). & don't worry--I know you're a good blog friend! I also realized that publishing the poems in book form before they were all posted might have an impact on the blog, but I see them as two separate entities with different purposes! Love to think of you having the book.