Letter from Grad School
By way of prolegomena
Of arms and the man I sing
Of a man with arms
And hands, for that matter
And nothing that matters to do with them
But push gliding yellow felt pens
Across the faceless fees
Dealing the New Deal daily, deftly
To the deaf shipbuilders and jet mechanics
An ocean of OSHA’s owings
To obscure Oshkosh and Oklahoma patients
With a yellow felt pen
Felt pen is all he’s felt, lately
So come, Muse
And tell of the student-cum-bureaucrat
The man with arms
With nothing to do
But disburse billings
And perhaps go blind.
In medias res
A caffeine haze
Like the stained smog of the womb city
Swirled, buzzing beneath his 4:00 am skull
Like a Santa Ana locked in a cave
Bleary, blurry, bushed
Home to the ‘burbs
Brimming with the firm breasted wives
Of the prowlers of the power corridors
Brown and nondescript his mentality
Two unkempt letters
On an unkempt bed
From an unkempt friend
A composer schizophrenic
Beethoven of tunes and software
And heterodox harmonies
Keeper of a faith
When all have lost faith
But a faithful foolish few.
Insanity issued from the violated envelope
Rushing, leaping, prancing
Shades, demons, ghosts, apparitions of times past
Dionysian and demented
When loons were lords of the land
(Or at least Orange County)
And rationality relegated to the serfs.
The barons of bats sat lunatic and lecherous
In a Coco’s booth sucking the bean
And contemplating coitus – elusive
And so all the more important—
Jolly jester gestures jump
From penciled pages
And in a laughing gasp at once accusatory and amusing
For the faith is fading, dwindling
Like a soft candle stump
A fleeting flame flickering faintly from
A shriveled wick.
For I am playing pool with a drunken
The two of us—Lear and his Fool—
Leering and fooling around
With a round romp
And her dart-faced female friend.
For the roundtable is ruptured
With the tennis stud talking Tupperware
And decamping for Texas;
The Great Beard,
Erstwhile Falstaff with a joint,
Presently playing it cool
Hawking high finance
To bag some bills to pay the bills;
And the genius leader of liberated wit
Is doing a Ulysses gig in Asia
Beating knowledge into brown brains
And contracting dysentery
For the white man’s burden.
For stimulation is scarcer
Than a willing woman
And I’ll settle for a long distance laugh.
Murmured the pen pusher pushing off,
Toddling, tottering to sleep.
Waking the afternoon next
A cool spring Sunday
He gripped his pen determined
To pay his debt.
So the student
Who sings for his supper
With a yellow felt pen
And writes arcane expositions
Of the arabesque antics
Of the politics of Riyadh and Jeddah
Saying sayings not quite sane
What he means is what he said;
Sotos speaks, so to speak.
An auspicious year, the eighty-first of the twentieth
Sophocles stooges—Clotho and her cronies—early
Gave the Greek grief
Tried to hand him brooches
But he’d seen that one before
And they left for Lauderdale lawn chair lounging
But not until his transmission was translated
Eighteen miles from Phoenix
For half a K
Plastic money and smiling despair
Got him off of Saddleback Avenue and on the road
Two days long a longue duree
At the El Rokay Lodge.
Jojo’s has migrated
Like mildew across a map
And Peasant Lunches paid with plastic
Fed the moustache all across the continent.
Back to the marble city
With minds missing marbles
And the pater patriae has a phallic
The felt pen scribe scraping by
With his social life on display at the Smithsonian
Said to be extinct.
Well, can’t complain
One supposes—Eros escapes
My grasp but platonic pleasures placate.
Lots of late night nonsense with Eve’s daughters
Watching omelets cater to a Charybdis appetite
And catching two-dollar talkies at the Circle.
Taystee Diner bean brew and juke box jokes
While Hall and Oates
Simon and Garfunkel
Eat my quarters;
A couple of babes—a lanky blonde
And a petite brunette who claims she’s a blonde—
So let’s just say he’s reveled past midnight
With two blondes.
Fun ladies and dynamite looks
Knockouts but not for knocking.
When it comes to romance his social life
Is in formaldehyde waiting for someone
To identify it.
Between hubris and hamartia
Thrice has the world whirled
Complete circuits encompassing the sun
Since the Greek marched east like Alexander
To conquer Persepolis.
Most that started the march have finished their anabasis
Dared dementia and cut the cord
With Alma Mater
But Alexander pushes on
Pushing the yellow felt pen
And checking the views at the Strait of Hormuz
Holding court, he’s
Doing okay for a tortoise.
Just a hundred pages or so to go
But if feels like walking the wastes of Gedrosia.
Let’s look to emerge a year from now…
Meantime he makes time and money green enough
With the yellow felt pen
Streaking beige bills
At Fran Perkins’ Annex.
It all adds up to the bottom line:
Amassing a Master’s stretches time and taffy
Like some Einstein joke
The faster you work,
The more tenuous and ephemeral
The whole pandering postgraduate program seems.
Anagnorisis of a sort
Beckoning from beyond an unborn year
Are the vegetables on display, evergreen and plastic,
In the kitchen appliances at Sears
Waiting to be consumed.
Legitimacy and actuality and parental approval
At some point you have to face forward
And take it like a Man.
Rustling from behind
In the grottos of your mind
Are the petrified relics mined
Memories of a golden age
(Or maybe just brass)
Pulling you back.
Is this metamorphosis imperative?
Balancing the abyss between
Plastic peas and petrified pasts
He hangs on the words, hard shells of
That span from the solid past
To the faceless, featureless future
An unraveling chaos with a Camarillo laugh.
He doesn’t know where he’s headed, but he’s got a
Handle on where’s he been.
By way of epilogue
The song is done
As the balance in his checkbook.
The yellow felt pen pusher
Staining audiologists’ invoices
And the lives of those around him.
The Greek still seeks his telos
But not without some longing looks back.
— Zumwalt (3 May 1981)