Image by Li Sixun (李思訓, 651-716), a Chinese painter who was later seen as the chief exponent of a decoratively colored landscape style of the Tang dynasty and as the founder of the Northern school of professional painters.
This poem indwells my sinus passages,
rejected in advance by Antaeus Magazine,
aka Ecco Press, subsidiary
of HarperCollins, now far from Paul Bowles,
who once said, “Security is a false God.
Begin to make sacrifices to it and you are lost.”
Between teaching your ass off
and épater les bourgeois, a life has passed,
you hip deep in a clear stream, surrounded
by foliage reminiscent of all the annuals
of Best American Poetry, their bindings
ripped out and the leaves scattered to the fickle winds.
It is the time of the festschrift, too long
delayed, you fucking contrarian.
When the first fly shat in your eye of Tiresias,
the lights flickered in the seminar rooms
of all the MFA programs in America.
At Berkeley, they assumed it was an earthquake
and kept on talking about Jorie Graham
and whether Ecco Press was going to make
changes to The End of Beauty, especially
whether or not she’d get to hold
a cat in the author photo.
The AWP logo
fell over like a Hollywood sign, cracking
into pieces so that when they reassembled,
it became the Works Progress Administration
and all the graduate students in America
scattered to the four winds, pasting
Rita Dove’s haikus onto city buses.
Sorry—I was trying to be a rhapsode
but Kent, those fuckers at Black Lawrence Press
keep asking me to update my bio,
even though they won’t publish my book Midnight Sutra,
poems inspired by ancient Chinese women’s erotic poetry,
because they say it was written by you.
My green poinsettia flaunts its blank abundance,
refusing to become yet another holiday decoration,
much like you, eschewing symbolism and opting instead
for polemic. I printed out the few emails where
we quarreled, tearing them up, in case
you might be right. A brook trout flashes
breaking the surface, like a deep image poem,
spawn of a love-wrestling match between
Jerome Rothenberg and James Wright.
A cold breeze blows here in Kentucky
as I sit on my sister’s deck, overlooking
an overgrown pond, a single cardinal
still in a tree, creating the effect of a Li Sixun
landscape painting, green and red pagodas,
stuff like that. I want to place your face and body
within it, but I fear I will only be making chinoiserie.
You deserve more. I’m writing a paean, one that will appear
on page 748 of next year’s BAP, unfortunately near the back,
almost abutting the index, but Kent, a win is a win,
although I can’t decide whether to publish this as a poem
by me about you, or one by you about me.
I was going to call it “To a Minor Poet of the Greek Anthology,”
but Borges already took that one, and besides, I think
he was referring to me, and I’m still pissed about it.
Both of us hear, in tandem, the first whisper of autumn, or breath of winter,
take your choice. What matters is that our mortgages diminish
in inverse proportion to our fame. You live in a really big house.
As for me, when will I be home? I don’t know.
In the mountains, in the rainy night,
the autumn lake has flooded.
Someday we will be back together again.
We will sit in the candlelight by the west window,
and I will tell you how I remembered you
tonight, on the stormy mountain.
I keep trying to say I love you, Kent.
But it always ends up sounding like
some shit Li Shanying burped up
on an off day. You’ll just have to take
my word for it, compadre. I know
which books you wrote and which you didn’t,
and they are so many that if you ever confessed,
they’d be enough to make up a set of volumes
of the Library of America. Instead, you choose silence.
I mean that metaphorically, of course.