Imaginary Destinations

There are imaginary places that call to us. Illyria. Macondo–though be careful of that one, friend. The Invisible Cities that Polo reports on to the Khan. And Cocaigne.

And so, at the end of the day, when I have spent the precious fortune of my wit and energy, spent it for what? Money? Success? Some recognizable residue that others may tout as virtue? I return to the nearest country I can find–the one adrift in the books on my shelves, or the sea of my imagination. Return traveler, with ships once more laden with waking dreams.

Until such time as I may board a ship, an airplane, or some contrivance to carry me into strange and wonderful streets, I have this. Baudelaire…

L’Invitation Au Voyage

There is a wonderful country, a country of Cocaigne, they say, that I dream of visiting with an old love. A strange country lost in the mists of the North and that might be called the East of the West, the China of Europe, so freely has a warm and capricious fancy been allowed to run riot there, illustrating it patiently and persistently with an artful and delicate vegetation.

A real country of Cocaigne where everything is beautiful, rich, honest and calm; where order is luxury’s mirror; where life is unctuous and sweet to breathe; where disorder, tumult, and the unexpected are shut out; where happiness is wedded to silence; where cooking is poetic, rich, and yet stimulating as well; where everything, dear love, resembles you.

You know that feverish sickness which comes over us in our cold despairs, that nostalgia for countries we have never known, that anguish of curiosity? There is a country that resembles you, where everything is beautiful, rich, honest and calm, where fancy has built an decorated an Occidental China, where life is sweet to breathe, where happiness is wedded to silence. It is there we must live, it is there we must die.

Yes, it is there we must go to breathe, to dream, and to prolong the hours in an infinity of sensations. A musician has written l’Invitation a la valse; who will write l’Invitation au voyage that may be offered to the beloved, to the chosen sister?

Yes, in such an atmosphere it would be good to live—where there are more thoughts in slower hours, where clocks strike happiness with a deeper, a more significant solemnity.

On shining panels or on a dark rich and gilded leathers, discreet paintings repose, as deep, calm and devout as the souls of the painters who depicted them. Sunsets throw their glowing colors on the walls of the dining-room and drawing-room, sifting softly through lovely hangings or intricate high windows with mullioned panes. All the furniture is immense, fantastic, strange, armed with locks and secrets like all civilized souls. Mirrors, metals, fabrics, pottery, and works of the goldsmith’s art play a mute mysterious symphony for the eye, and every corner, every crack, every drawer and curtain’s fold breathes forth a curious perfume, a perfume of Sumatra whispering come back, which is the soul of the abode.

A true country of Cocaigne, I assure you, where everything is rich, shining and clean like a good conscience or well-scoured kitchen pots, like chiseled gold or variegated gems! All the treasures of the world abound there, as in the house of a laborious man who has put the whole world in his debt. A singular country and superior to all others, as art is superior to Nature who is transformed by dream corrected, remodeled and adorned.

Let them seek and seek again, let them endlessly push back the limits of happiness, those horticultural Alchemists! Let them offer prizes of sixty, a hundred florins for the solution of their ambitious problems! As for me, I found found my black tulip, I have found my blue dahlia!

Incomparable flower, rediscovered tulip, allegorical dahlia, it is there, is it not, in that beautiful country, so calm, so full of dream, that you must live, that you must bloom? Would you not be framed within your own analogy, would you see yourself reflected in your own correspondence, as the mystics say?

Dreams! Always dreams! And the more ambitious and delicate the soul, all the more impossible the dreams. Every man possesses his own dose of natural opium, ceaselessly secreted and renewed, and from birth to death how many hours can we reckon of positive pleasure, of successful and decided action? Shall we ever live in, be a part of, that picture my imagination has painted, and that resembles you?

These treasures, these furnishings, this luxury, this order, these perfumes, and these miraculous flowers, they are you! And you are the great rivers too, and the calm canals. And those great ships that they bear along laden with riches and from which rise the sailors’ rhythmic chants, they are my thoughts that sleep or that rise with the swell of your breast. You lead them gently toward the sea which is the Infinite, as you mirror the sky’s depth in the crystalline purity of your soul;—and when, weary with the rolling waters and surfeited with the spoils of the Orient, they return to their port of call, still they are my thoughts coming back, enriched from the Infinite to you.

A Sonnet

“I wander” starts the simple song. I know

The rhythm, how to walk, but not the way.

I watch as others scatter on the road

Each scramble nine directions hurriedly.

An open bag of wind unspools my will,

Spins me into schools, houses, sheets, and arms—

Not one’s a home, but they will do until

I steer out of miles and into hours.

The course charted with whys—uncertain winds—

Comes clear in shadow dreams and memories—

To a sea of grass lapping autumn woods,

And last night’s dress hung until morning.

You whisper, “No more wandering for you.

This is your home. This all you have to do.”

Texas (a poem)

On my birthday, of all days, I feel the absence of my friends–those souls scattered across the world like the no longer tightly packed leaves of my heart. A long time ago I wrote a poem about them, and so heading to the day, here it is.

Texas

In the evening, between the blur of work
And the final call of slumber
We wear red hats.
We sit on the bench. We take
the field. We stretch into position.
We wear red hats.
The opposition—such as it is—wears
hats of blue, black, or even green.
We wear red hats.
This goes on. Balls are thrown.
We catch. We hit. We sit,
and wait for chance to take a hand.
We wear red hats.
The night provides possibilities.
What did we do all day?
Who knows? We cancelled checks.
We bought farms. We wiped spit
from the trumpeter’s lip. We organized
a trip to the land of hats, where we found what?
Robes of white? Wooden shoes? Electricity? Vision?
Yes, yes, yes, & yes again. And
red hats in sizes to fit our various heads.

The world is composed of cowhide & ash.
We wear red hats.
The world is composed of teletype & ink.
We wear red hats.
The world hurtles forth, two seamed & sinking.
We wear red hats.

You go home early. We play on
in our red hats.
Each side takes a turn. The game
continues hours into night.
The night waits for days, weeks—
there’s ice in the stands.
We wear red hats. We can’t stop.
The opposition languishes. We give them
red hats. What cheers apply?
GO RED HATS! DEVASTATE THE GAME!
ANNIHILATE DAY! PLAY MORE!
WEAR RED HATS!

Grass grows around our ankles,
tickling our knees, topped with red hats.
The ground is a mystery.
The umpires resort to rules.
How many red hats to a side? Which one
of you is the pitcher? Should the manager
wear a red hat? Arguments ensue.
“Stop being so shrill,” he says. “This isn’t
opera. Break into bloom.”

The roses wear red hats.
Coffee and Coke wear red hats.
Garibaldi wears a red hat.
Eisenhower and Eichmann wear red hats.
Red-hatted love takes red-hatted hate
in a ten-minute ballet called “The Red Hat.”
The red-hatted director of the planetarium
puts on a show of red-hatted stars
and the ancient constellation “Red Hat Hercules.”
Borofsky’s famous lost painting “Jesus,
Mary & Joseph in Red Hats” is traded at auction
for a box of rare Etruscan red hats.

What good will it do to turn the other way
when men in red hats greet you at every base,
slap you on the back and wish you, “Good Luck”?
The world isn’t about knuckleball or double play.
The world isn’t about morning glory or ceramic tile.
The world isn’t about to fall into our outstretched mitt—
Though, wouldn’t that be nice? Miteinander befallen.
The world isn’t about red hats or anything else.
The world slides away out of the zone
leaving us hitless. Struck out.

Cannibals wait in the stands
threatening us with dinner and midnight snacks.
They wear no hats!
We wear red hats!
We were victorious long before your sons became daughters.
Our chances look good: “80/20,”
the team doctor prognotes.
“Wait!” he says, taking off his hat,
“I mean 20/80.” Then chases the batboy
across the field, yelling, “Lunch!”
Should we take off our hats? Join
the cannibal doctor in ritual feast?
Or should we play?
“PLAY!” shouts the team, pulling their hats
tight around their ears.
“PLAY!” shout the cannibals, who take
red hats from back pockets.

I wish you would wear a red hat.
We could give up winter together,
assemble our nine, and be
World Red Hat Champions.
No one, not even Nolan,
can put us down in order.
In your ear? In your ear!
The rally is afoot!
Hits come like fireflies. Runs
torrent into morning.
All day the day begins again.
We wear red hats.