Jamie, once again I’m strumming the low
latitudes, plucking dark lines
like harp strings-oblivion’s
tropical melody. All morning I’ve been drinking
the wide blue sky: cliché heaped upon cliché-
each atom complicit, each molecule a temple
of triteness, a dull world.
But this green sea is a global original,
an inimitable canvas. And beyond the epic
reef that stretches like a marine spine
toward Belize: the zillion
hotels of Cozumel-a zillion fangs
in the jaw of the horizon, the horizon
speckled with cruise ships fatter
and no doubt more festive than my hometown.
Hometown, I have failed
to miss youâ€¦.
I’m surrounded by emaciated Europeans,
by the entire citizenry of prairie Canada,
and by innumerable slobs
thrashed by the American Rust Belt,
where the song of polluted snow
whines non-stop on every snowbound stereo,
the slushy dirge of the merciless Great Lakes-
souvenirs from a mythic Ice Ageâ€¦.
Manhattan, too, is somewhere
under 26 inches of blizzard-as alien
to these latitudes as an alarm clock,
as commuter gridlock, as sagging hopesâ€¦.
Jamie, I hereby make the same threat
I made last winter in Luquillo:
I shall not return-to where I’m mired
in Theory, where my students think
I’m a joke, where I pass lagoons
of time slumped over poker tables, where I lust
after an endangered species:
sleep. Eventus raritus. What am I
hoping to escape? Apocalypse? No luck.
Why, just today I jammed my apocalyptic big toe
against an apocalyptic beach rock.
Maybe this apocalyptic wound will keep me
here-O throbbing, apocalyptic serendipity.
American Customs is certain to reject
my foreign injury, my apocalyptic lamentâ€¦.
Luckily, JesÃºs at the beach bar has plenty of ice,
and cerveza. Cuatro, please, JesÃºs-O holy
amigo. No, fuck it, ocho.
Look, Jamie, with a sprained toe
it’s difficult to distill the world into plastic
cups of metaphor, pints of imagery.
I’m engulfed by images-all that potential.
But so is every dumb-ass on this planet. Sadly,
99.9% are oblivious, their senses
dulled by cinematic tomfoolery, dulled
by feeble television plots, dulled
by the predictable Hollywood antics
of husky blue-collar suburban dads.
Dulled, Jamie, by fake tacos.
Nevertheless, the rest of us could populate
a small city, a great cityâ€¦.
Describing the tropics is a recipe
for cliché. Still, amen to the gaggles
of rookie parasailers, the marvelous constellation
of thatch cabanas-such galactic simplicity.
Amen to the coconut trees, their joblessness.
Amen to the diving pelicans and gulls-
I wish I spoke Pelican, fluent Gull.
I wish I could make a living
being amazed. And triple amen to the swagger
of Mesoamerican thighsâ€¦.
I have not forgotten my big toe.
Each thump of my pulse is another beach rock.
And since misery is a magnet
for misery, my wisdom tooth-Ã la
wisdom toe-is impacted, la la la.
Wisdom, my ass-unless wisdom
is really a species of pain,
which I suppose it has always been.
Jamie, it comes to this: I cannot explain
my suffering-the nucleus of all
literature, all life. Suffering itself is tolerable!
But don’t we desire somebody
to know it? And isn’t this futile?
I may as well wear the horizon
around my neck, may as well snap
the sun like a yo-yo, may as well turn
my cytoplasm to saltwater.
I may as well expect Immortality
to arrive like a tax refund-
my poor mailbox suffering
an ancient and colossal envyâ€¦.
Crap, I’m a contemporary Gilgamesh.
I swear on Enkidu’s maggoty corpse
that if I see the sail of Utnapishtim’s
rippling lovely Sumerian ripples
toward this post-New-Testament beach,
I’ll leap aboard and forever lap tequila
with the planet’s trillion-and-a-half species, amen.
And speaking of the Impossible, I’ve met a gal
from Vancouver-let’s call her
Toodles. I’m not spicy enough for Toodles,
not Latino enough, not muscular enough,
not jar-headed enough. Et fucking cetera.
I’m the little engine that couldn’t,
that can’t, that doesn’t, that hasn’t,
that won’t, that might’ve been, that isn’t,
that will never be. O my soul
is, and will always be, a factory
of verb tenses, a mill of uselessness.
Toodles is lovely while I’m broken and lame
and crippled and torn and busted and dim
and wounded and sad and fractured and grim
and crooked and chipped and jaded and dumb
and mopey and old and pasty and damned
and hollow and bent. Curses, now I’m a god-
damned adjective factory.
I’m white as the Moon, and chunkier-
O decade of ironic excess, O graduate schoolâ€¦.
If consciousness is the universe
thinking, then Toodles is a light bulb,
a spark of genius, a luminous
and pulsing neuron, the discovery
of a rare, an impossible, metalâ€¦. No matter.
Tonight I will swim a reef
of tequila bottles, flirt with married gals,
swallow a disastrous habanero,
and wake tomorrow with all the conquistadorean
swords slashing my skull to atomic debris,
stirring my guts to an angry, bubbling muckâ€¦.
Welcome to my vacation!-busted
toe, throbbing jaw, agave hangover,
pepper revenge, and the 697th sweetie
I’ll never have. A sense of failure
is all I have. I’m a fat, griping gringo.
Nevertheless, nothing shall be ruinous
to my week off from the States:
not Dutch Boy kicking my ass
at nine-ball, not my sunburned armpits,
my sunburned bald spot,
not the black hole seething
at the back of my jaw, dense and perilous,
not Toodles growing more lovely
with each nanosecond (and exponentially
more aloof-she’s swelling into a fucking parabola
of aloofness), not even the menacing squall
that this evening will appear as a wall
at the horizon, as a dark skull
over Cozumel-its empty eye sockets
trained on the Riviera Maya.
So. Ocho mas cervezas, O saints
many-fisted in Oblivion, O free beer.
Because you know what, Jamie?
I have conquered Mexico: I’ve scaled Nohoch Mul
(translation: “large hill”-fucking hyperbole-
starved Mayans!), a pyramid 42 meters
above the YucatÃ¡n jungle, microcosm
of the entire biosphere.
Look, if I’m SeÃ±or Sucker, and the Earth
really was baked in a cosmic oven
by some vowel-less beast, by _____________,
then this is surely what the inventive genius
had in mind-jungled canopy yawning
seaward for mile upon canopied mile.
You can see the fucking Azores,
and that’s just not good for the eyes.
Ditto the nineteen trillion
tour-bus imbeciles in Steelers jerseys
and flip-flops-the planet’s intolerable
and inescapable protoplasmâ€¦.
Climbing down was unparalleled
vertigo terror-not of falling but of landing,
O inflexible planet.
But god-dammit all to hell, Jamie,
I did not geek out and pray to the void-
and it is a void out there, or in there, or wherever
is that space of sublime mystery, of the numinous,
something I’m always trying to gather.
I wish I could gather Toodles,
who just sailed by with a maddening little wave
and with a smile that I want
to both kiss and punch-O Impossibility.
And it’s impossible, though true,
that soon I’ll grumble in the belly of a jet,
then slouch in a taxi to Midtown, then swivel
on a stool at Vickery’s where we’ll throw back
some Don Julio (imported-sad sad sad),
extra limes, babble
our usual two-bit barroom babble,
and toast to inflexible realityâ€¦.
From the plane I’ll watch the YucatÃ¡n
peninsula bend west, then south, and I’ll recall
that in the beginning was The Word,
and I’ll mumble that Word-a vowel-less
monstrosity that doesn’t quite know
what it has just created, and as Mexico
drifts behind me, maybe forever,
I’ll mutter that Word over and over,
my sad little mantra:
Toodles, Toodles, Toodles, Toodles, Toodlesâ€¦.
You see, Jamie, even at the very beginning
was the essence, the germ,
Jamie, once again I’m strumming the low