Computer Understands Me
took a Wellbutrin. I take it to relieve anxiety and lift my mood.
Some people take it to help them stop smoking. I don't know whether
or not it does a thing for me. I do know I smoke as much as ever.
I do know that lately I have to scream underwater when I'm swimming,
or pray silently and with intention to block, even momentarily,
the babbling anxiety language in what passes for "my"
I take Wellbutrin because Prozac,
Paxil, & Zoloft usually cause sexual dysfunction - not that
I'm having sex at the moment, nor is there any prospect in sight.
Do I realize the comedic pathos of my situation? You bet -- but
as every man knows, a man's got to be ready for sex at all times,
or he ain't a man at all! I think I would add American Ginseng,
Korean Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, Panax Ginseng, Viagra, & Yohimbe
to morphine, so that in death my corpse could be displayed with
a hard-on. Or if it should happen that I am destined to die like
Elijah, ascending in a chariot of fire to forever live between two
realms, I would then be prepared to fuck in Heaven or on Earth --
Oh the Lord never gives you more than you can bear!
As I child at the ocean, I would dig
in the sand for hours, because my father said I would reach China.
It's a good way to keep a gullible child occupied. Now, as whatever
passes for an adult, I am always plumbing my depths in hopes of
breaking through to a sunny disposition.
To that end, I just took two St. John's
Wort pills in hopes they will kick in with the Wellbutrin. St. John's
Wort's claim to fame is that it is a "natural" mood elevator.
An herbal Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft.
My computer underlines in red "Wort"
as I type. My computer has "spell-check" & underlines
words that are either miss-spelled, or that it thinks are grammatically
incorrect, or that it does not recognize --
as perhaps better words for "Wort"
I am always looking for true love, someone
to be in love with, some bright & shining way of not being alone
in the world with my body & mind. Is it worth it?
Although I suspected it at first, I
know my next to the last girlfriend did not have genital warts. But
she did have cervical cancer, which was operated on twice successfully.
There are, or course, many myths about the reasons for cancer of the
cervix. This Zoloft baby was a fuck bunny. She took Wellbutrin, at
my suggestion, to restore her pretty much out of control sex drive.
It worked. I was happy. She became a myth in my heart. Then she fucked
other men, and broke it. Was it worth it? Warts & all?
Was that the worst relationship in my
life? Probably so. I humiliated myself for months, past all reasonable
hope, hoping I might keep her in my life - the way I imagined she
was before she changed.
Currently, I have been seeing a brown
girl. Sicilian. She is beautiful to me. I love sleeping with her.
Lying next to her. Holding her. Looking at her sleeping, and until
lately -listening to her speak. Things are problematic. She had a
"schtoonk" for a husband, ending up raising a now 9-year-old
daughter alone. This is not easy for an outsider - not easy to win
a child's love - a child who, understandably, sees you as the enemy,
competing for the time & affections of her mother. I have always
wanted to be a father. If only she'd been a baby, she would have loved
me as the loving father she never had. But nine is no longer
a child but a girl. If only.
I could see I was falling in love with
Angela early on. I expressed my concerns. She reassured me she had
"room in her heart" for both of us, said she would go anywhere
with me (I was preparing to go to St. Petersburg, Russia for the month
of June to isolate myself, to disorient my senses during this period
of "white nights", to write in the midst of an historically
alien and now mafia-dangerous culture, with no language, barely Russian
baby-talk). She said she'd get her tax return & come with me.
She told her best friend that she had just met the man she would spend
the rest of her life with. She told her mother she had just met the
man she would spend the rest of her life with. She told me that she
told her best friend and her mother that she had just met the man
she would spend the rest of her life with. She suggested I consider
moving into her condo with she & her daughter. She said the only
thing that prevented her from marrying me was a proposal. This troublesome
beauty seemed like heaven to me. I mean she was "Angela"
& I took her at her word.
We met on Valentine's Day, now it's
late May - not even four months --
when out of the blue, she tells me she
is considering "what she really wants" in her life. The
emails & voicemail messages are becoming less frequent & more
distant. The "dear", the "sweetheart", the "love",
the beshert keep disappearing from her voice. Finally, she
tells me she needs time to think -- Oh death knell & tombstone!
When a girl wants "space" - it might as well be outer space.
She's still thinking, but it's pretty obvious it's not of me. Or if
it is me that's under consideration -- in my absence -- it's not very
considerate. At least, I'd like to be there to represent myself. I'm
afraid it's time for a new, predictable, unwelcome fantasy: I think
I will soon imagine Angela in an auto wreck. I know I wouldn't want
her dead. Probably just paralyzed from the waist down!
When I'm in love, which I always hope
will be always & forever -- though so far it's been sometimes
-- & then I never expect it to happen again. And when it does,
at some deep level beyond everything I have experienced, I still see
it as a miracle, though others have viewed it more objectively as
a sign of temporary psychosis. When I'm in love, I don't do much work,
which for me is writing poems, true stories & composing music.
I don't look for better work that probably is out there for me, if
only I would address myself to it more promptly -- work that would
give me more time, more money, and better company. Did I mention true
I might as well be twelve or thirteen
again, for essentially I've changed so little.
Who was it that wrote that old song
"÷If only/ you'd be warm &
willing/ make each magic moment/ thrilling ---da-da-da-da dada dada
I remember Nat King Cole & Johnny
Mathis singing it when I was thirteen, locked in my father's downstairs
office with my record player, always on the phone, talking to "the
girl" with my father banging at the door to get me to unlock
it, stop the music & get off the phone. "This is a doctor's
phone!" he would yell - over & over banging - harder &
harder at the door. And still I stayed on the phone listening to this
sappy music talking gooey gah to the girl as if I were in the middle
of an orgasm & couldn't possibly stop.
"÷If only/ you'd be warm &
willing/ make each magic moment/ thrilling ÷dada dah da da dada da
That music was for Mary Anne, whom I
eventually married at 16, without parental consent, on April Fools'
Day (an "accident" - it was Spring Break), in Halifax, North
Carolina, the home of the first Constitutional convention. I was in
my first & last year at Harvard. She was older, 17, still in high
school & entering the Miss America contest as Miss Florida. That
was Mary Anne then. Now I'm roughly triple that age & it's Angela:
"÷If only/ you'd be ÷"
Well, you know the rest.
Worn? I feel battered
-- though, like they say, my friends tried to warn me. Oh my friends
warned me not to go into orbit over Angela. My friend Raphael who
had been Angela's friend for some years -- & therefore understood
why I'd be so crazy about her -- advised me to go out with more than
one woman or I'd get "lost in the sauce". Raphael knows
me well. My friend Rob who also knows and cares about me listened
to me & replied at the end: "You know, David, I've been married
to Maribeth for ten years, and I've been reading that what happens
to the brain in long-term relationships is akin to the pleasures of
heroin, whereas what you keep getting is the dubious pleasure of cocaine."
"By the way," Rob continued, " I haven't heard you
mention one thing - she has a child÷" I listened, but I couldn't
have heard him, though later I wrote to her little girl, Moriah, who
was crying at the kitchen table one morning over uneaten Froot-Loops,
obviously upset by her mother's attentions to me. "Don't worry,"
I wrote, "you will always come first for your mother ÷".
Something I meant, because at some level I knew it. Something I meant.
Something I knew. But then didn't her mother say, "I have room
in my heart for both of you÷" Didn't she hold me then? Didn't
she say how wonderful my kiss was? Didn't she say she would go anywhere
with me & that marriage was just a proposal away? She did! She
did! She did! She did!
8) warned -- and
What was the word I was looking
The offerings of God
are a broken spirit,
A heart broken and crushed÷
I am not a great painter. I am not dead. There are significant differences
between Oskar Kokoschka and myself, yet I must understand him if
I am to understand myself. I am not a character in a Beckett play,
nor am I an old man who slips on bananas. There are significant
differences between Krapp, and myself, but I must understand this
character, if I am to avoid being what I might become.
An obsession is not an obsession,
no more than an addiction is an addiction with the first shot of
whiskey, hit of crack, line of coke, injection of heroin, or broken
heart. Time takes time, & obsessions & addictions take time
to become manifest. And what is an obsession really? Where to find
the line where we trespass into insanity?
For nearly three years, long before
the advent of the Internet when sex became a spectator sport, Oskar
Kokoschka had an all-consuming love affair with Alma Mahler, the
widow of the great composer, Gustave Mahler. Aside from Mahler,
the former Alma Schindler married the great architect, Walter Gropius,
& finally, the novelist Franz Werfel. She also had legendary
affairs with the composer, Franz Schreker, the painter, Gustav Klimt,
the composer Alban Berg, possibly Schoenberg and other acknowledged
geniuses. Indeed, one biography devoted to her life is titled, "Muse
to Genius". It is, however, her three-year affair with Oskar
Kokoschka that is my intimate concern.
Oskar Kokoschka's mother saw it coming and with it the near destruction
of her son. In 1911, before the affair became inevitable, his mother
walked back and forth in front of Mahler's house with a gun, threatening
to shoot her if she continued her romantic pursuit of her son --
a dead serious but futile gesture. My own mother implored me to
let her hire a beautiful, young prostitute as my sexual companion,
if only I would agree to attenuate my reckless passion for Miss
Florida, Mary Anne Maines. A dead serious but futile gesture, for
I eloped and married at 16 on April Fool's Day in Halifax, North
Carolina, the home of the first Constitutional convention, and the
only place in the country that did not require parental consent.
Similarly, Oskar Kokoschka's desire
blinded him to any possible despair. In the last year of their affair,
Alma Mahler became pregnant with Oskar Kokoschka's child. He was
understandably delighted, as he saw a child as the incarnation of
their love. Instead of marrying Oskar Kokoschka, however, Alma Mahler
decided to abort the child and entered a sanatorium in October of
1912. Kokoschka accompanied her, trying in vain to persuade her
to change her mind. She remained resolute. The procedure was performed
with Oskar Kokoschka by her side. Kokoschka then took the first
bloodied cotton pad from his beloved's body and took it home with
him. Much as a delighted father of a first-born might, without the
slightest provocation, display a photograph of his child, Oskar
Kokoschka carried this cotton pad, now caked with dried blood, with
him for many months displaying it to friends with the same words:
"This is, and always will be, my only child." As
so often in his life, this "second sight" proved prescient.
This maudlin artifact was, indeed, the closest Oskar Kokoschka would
come to having a child.
His lack of ability to "live
without her", even though she had not been present for several
years, led to the earliest invention of virtual sex of which I am
In 1918, fully five years after Alma
Mahler had ended even an unreasonable expectation for continuing
their romantic liaison, Kokoschka deepened his psychic dungeon by
transforming his obsession into a fetish.
Oskar Kokoschka's heart-breaking
inability to accept the reality of the loss of Alma finally drove
him to contact Hermine Moos, the Munich doll-maker, who had once
been Alma Mahler's dressmaker. Having lost his only son to a cotton
pad of dried blood, Kokoschka was determined not to lose his beloved,
no matter, he had long-ago lost her in the flesh,
and so it was that he presented Hermoine Moos with an astonishing
proposition. At some length, and probably because by this time he
was considered Germany's greatest artist, having assumed a chair
at the Kunstakademie in Dresden, Ms Moos reluctantly accepted a
commission to fashion a life-sized doll of Alma Mahler. Although
she was both aware of and repulsed by the implications of such a
request, she began work in early July of 1919. From the beginning,
Oskar Kokoschka left no doubt as to the purpose of the freezing
of his Beloved.
During less than the year it took
to complete this collaboration, Kokoschka wrote hundreds of letters
to Hermoine Moos replete with life size sketches of every anatomical
crevice of Alma Mahler. Beyond that, he wanted her to be frozen
at age thirty-five with an expression even more beautiful than he
had ever experienced in "real-life".
Early on he writes:
"Please pay special attention
to the dimension of the head and neck, to the rib-cage, the rump
and the limbs. And take to heart the contours of the body, e.g.,
the line of the neck to the back, the curve of the belly. I only
drew in the second, bent leg so that you could see its form from
the inside, otherwise the entire figure is conceived entirely in
profile so that the major line from the head to the instep of the
foot enables you precisely to determine the shape of the body. Please
permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where
layers of fat or muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of
skin, e.g., on the shin-bone, the patella, the ends of the shoulder-blades,
collar-bone and arm ÷ for the first layer (inside) please use fine,
curly horsehair; you must buy an old sofa or something similar;
have the horsehair disinfected. Then, over that, a layer
of pouches stuffed with down, cotton-wool for the seat and the breasts
÷ initially in larger sewn pouches, but then in smaller and smaller
layers until the of form of the surface imitates nature. When the
skeleton is ready perhaps you could bring it here together with
the sketch so that we understand each other completely! ÷
The skin will probably be made from
the thinnest material available, either roughish silk or the very
thinnest canvas and applied in very small areas. I am now trying
to learn from a chemist whether it is possible chemically to treat
silk so that it sticks to cotton wool without altering the structure
or the appearance of the silk ÷ The point of all this for me
is an experience which I must be able to embrace!"
Oskar Kokoschka's sense of purpose
left him bereft of shame, and he expressed himself as straightforwardly
as a groom making arrangements for a wedding. He revealed to Ms.
Moos that he wanted to dress the Alma-doll (and undress it) and
to that purpose he had already purchased some beautiful clothes
and underwear during a trip to Vienna.
"Can the mouth be opened?"
he implores in one letter, and in another, "And are there
teeth and a tongue inside? I hope so."
The reality of his vision of his Beloved
frozen in time was so convincing that he became as covetous of the
anticipated Alma-doll as he had been of Alma. He swore Hermoine
Moos to secrecy lest any other man even glimpse his erotic cerement.
In a letter to Ms. Moos posted in January of 1919, Oskar Kokoschka
writes in a plaintive tone of masturbatory anticipation:
"I am daily expecting the news
from you that my beloved, for whom I am pining away, will soon be
mine. Have you so far succeeded so well in your deception that I
shall not be brought down to earth? ÷ And does no one know
about the doll apart from your sister? I would die of jealousy
if some man were allowed to touch the artificial woman in
her nakedness with his hands or glimpse her with his eyes ÷ Assure
me that you have been able to achieve this glowing skin with the
roughness of a peach, with which I have long since covered my desired
love in my thoughts, and that the earthly traces of how it was made
have either been eradicated thanks to the fortunate inspiration
of a creative, erotic mood, or transformed into a new enrichment
of the experience of happiness and voluptuousness. Color may only
be applied by means of powder, fruit juice, gold dust, layers of
wax, and so discreetly that you can only imagine them
÷ When shall I hold all this in my hands!"
It would seem that the closest I have come to significantly
mirroring Oscar Kokoschka's behavior was on the occasion of the
death of my father. He had made clear in his will that his wish
was to be cremated. I thought that this might have indicated a romantic
nature that wasn't otherwise evident. For example, he might have
wanted his ashes to be scattered to the winds from the rooftop of
the large New England stone house he grew up in. Before he died,
I asked him about this requirement that he had exacted in his will.
He answered, "If my body was placed in a coffin to be buried,
the cost of the freight from Washington, D.C. to Massachusetts would
At the crematorium, where my brother
and I negotiated the arrangement to receive his ashes, I, privately,
inquired whether it would be at all possible for me to recover his
skeleton after the procedure was completed. They were incredulous
and stated that my father, himself, would had to have made such
an arrangement. It was the Alma-doll in reverse. Instead of recreating
my father as he was at his most shining hour, I wanted to somehow
hang a new father on the bones of the old and exhibit it
as a traveling installation throughout the Americas and abroad.
Perhaps I will try and convince my mother!
My obsession to "freeze"
realities began with innocence. It was informed from the first by
such a narrowness of vision that it produced great intensity. It
was a matter of survival. It was a matter of transformation-- Art
-- though I had no sophistication, no notion of Art, no way of knowing
it, beyond the involuntary necessity to transform reality; to, like
Keats, enter the realm of uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts without
any irritable reaching after fact & reason; to, like
Rimbaud, take the basest element & transform it, alchemically,
into a shining thing. Keats and Rimbaud invisibly inhabited my being,
poet genomes, beginning to express themselves through me in this
time of great adversity. Of course, it was not until my middle teens
that I'd even touched their words. Now, I was twelve years old and
destined to freeze chaotic realities and use art as an instrument
I bought my first present to myself
with monies earned from delivering newspapers, cutting lawns and
washing cars. It was a gray plastic reel-to-reel (quarter-inch)
tape recorder. I simply needed it, though I had no idea why.
It's true, I had been playing & singing for bands all during
Middle School. Playing for Y-teens, Little Flower dances, and even
my own Jr. High School Prom. But this obvious time-capture on tape
or photographs was not driving me. I never thought to tape any of
the music, to photograph any of the performances. What I found
myself doing was learning how to record and crudely edit these
reels of magnetic tape -- these "spools" as Samuel Beckett
calls them in his play, Krapp's Last Tape.
What I was experiencing that year
and for three years thereafter was a nightly drama:
Night . After . Night ...
For years . my father . beat . my mother
A mother . a woman . a wife . a dog
Night . after . night . my father
Was having . not an affair . my father
Was . in love . with . another woman .
Would scream . "You're fucking her aren't you!"
"Tell me!" . "Tell me!"
I watched the wall of the room that divided
My bedroom from theirs . waiting . for that .
Of my mother's . body . as she was hurled into that
Fresh suburban . plaster . night . after .
I . waited . for these . raw secrets .
choked with tears
To . come clear . through the heating vents .
The baseboards . of my room . terrified
& . with . delighted anticipation . my
To the wall . waiting . for . the brutal story
The uninhibited . grandeur . of . their pain
This . grotesque . communication . this
Nightly horror . held me . helpless . waiting
Two human beings . telling . the truth
The facts that floated to the surface exposed themselves as readily
as an infatuated woman or man in love. My father was in love with
another woman, a nurse, who worked for him. When my mother discovered
this relationship by finding notes to this woman, her name was Mary
Club, her life was changed, changed utterly. She had been a young
bride from a small town in Massachusetts and a family of six girls.
My father, from the same small town, pursued her through medical
school in Cambridge and by letter and visit from New York where
he went to complete his residency. I think, most definitely, he,
too, was a virgin. So there was this trust, and then there wasn't.
That this relationship continued for
some years without my father leaving for "good", or my
mother refusing to let him back into her life is testament to an
undeniable strain of dependency that often is part of the complexity
of marriage. My mother's inability to step away by herself was borne
of a lack of confidence that she could make it financially or that
her health (physical) would be protected without my father. She
had swallowed blood as a child during the course of a home tonsillectomy
that led to an abscessed lung. As a child, my mother was a lady
I visited on Sundays in the hospital. She gave me flowers. From
then on, my mother insisted she would be dead by thirty and that
declaration remained uncontested by my father, again a physician.
She is now eighty and has outlived my father by four years. My father's
complicity in finally returning to the marriage has never been clear.
He always regretted having children, at least boys, so it wasn't
for the "sake of the children". Growing up, he often told
me matter of factly, "never get married, never have children."
At some level, he needed my mother in his life, although that never
seemed to be the case until he was in his late 70's and actually
needed care. There were separations, but the longest lasted only
for one delightfully traumatic summer.
Night after night, what I found myself
doing was kneeling down, as if in prayerful anticipation, by the
heating duct that was housed slightly above the baseboard in my
bedroom on my side of the wall. This aperture was matched exactly
to the baseboard in my parent's bedroom on the other side of the
wall. Walls always provide an interesting illusion of privacy, as
if four inches of hollow space secured a world apart.
Before I possessed my tape recorder,
I would hear but not listen -- the nightly brutality, the accusations
and denials, the tears, the wailing, the heavy punches, the sound
of my mother's body being thrown against the wall, or the sharp
slaps against my father's face from my mother astride my father's
body after he had taken heavy doses of sleeping pills (Dalmane)
to put him out of his part of the misery. As for me, all I could
manage to do was to sit sleepless on the edge of my bed - paralyzed.
The mornings came and no one said
anything. My father went off to his office or to hospital rounds
at 6:30 every morning. He had a brutally demanding schedule even
without distractions. With all that was going on and on,
unspoken and unrelieved, it is still difficult to understand how
he maintained a practice. The mornings came and even when my mother
would appear with two eyes blackened and nearly frozen shut, she
still said nothing. I remember one such time when my friend Billy
came over unexpectedly. He spied my mother in the kitchen with her
swollen eyes, crying, wailing really, on the phone. He asked me
what she was doing. I told him she was an actress rehearsing for
a play. From then on, I never had friends over.
If only I had had the presence to
bang on their bedroom door and simply display myself before them,
surely that might have blunted such self-centered and obsessive
conduct. I had no such self, no such presence. Up to that point,
I was a dutiful son. I didn't skip school; I skipped grades and
understood honesty as absolute obedience.
During the summer of my parent's first separation, my mother, brother
and I moved to New Hampshire to stay with my mother's eldest sister
who had a cottage on the shore of Corbett's Pond. This is where
my mother's father, David Davis, who I was named after, had drowned
under mysterious circumstances when my mother was five. The newspaper
report reads, "High Diver Drowns Mysteriously Walking in Water."
Indeed, my grandfather earned "extra-money" by putting
on diving exhibitions, and here he had simply waded out into the
lake, stepped into a hole and disappeared! It was at that same lake
I found myself with my mother and brother during this separation.
We again stayed with my mother's eldest
sister, Thelma. A highly attractive couple, Helen and Jerry, rented
the next cottage over. Helen was a Rockette at Radio City and Jerry
was a professional speedboat racer. Obviously they were both exciting
to me. One day, Jerry let me borrow his rowboat so that my brother
Paul and I could explore the lake. Since I was older, I rowed. I
started off around noon and was still rowing as the sun set. As
the sun began to fade, the currents picked up and I knew I had to
get back home. I couldn't. The currents were too strong. What I
could have down was to ditch the boat on the nearest shore and walk
back to the cottage with my brother. But then it wasn't my boat
and, therefore, I had to return it from the place I borrowed it.
Night fell. We had no life jackets. My brother was crying. I've
always turned almost paternal in the face of danger, even as a boy,
so I kept rowing getting nowhere. Little did I know that such futility
would become a leitmotif that would run through my work and life.
As I sit here writing these true stories,
I look over now and then at a wall I had built and amplified so
that I might bang my head against it some day at the beginning of
the readings of these stories. My object is to have this futile
gesture fill an auditorium with continual varied echoes of my head
banging against the wall transformed into sounds reminiscent of
African Talking Drums. Earlier, I composed a piece for a fleet of
tugboats whose noble objective was to make a piece " using
great ingenuity and time consuming labor, to end up at the same
place I had begun with a loss of quality". In order
to accomplish this, I wrote tone clusters for the horns and whistles
of the fleet, had them play the first movement, the first movement
in reverse order, and then took the analogue tape of the first movement
and placed it at the end - thereby ending up at the same place I
began with a loss of quality resulting from the regeneration of
the tape. It was not so far different as what I did with my taping
at the wall of my parent's bedroom years earlier.
But now in the boat were simply two
boys, one twelve, one eleven, out of control. To make a long story
longer and possibly unbearable, we were finally rescued by the Coast
Guard. They beached the boat and carried us to shore. As we approached,
I could see many other boats were in the water looking for us. Arriving
on the shore, I saw Nuns with Rosary Beads and finally my mother
nearly frozen with the fear her sons would be lost to the same body
as her father.
I was dutiful, honest to the point
of self-destruction, heard words and obeyed them without a thought.
Once I learned to manipulate tape,
however, things changed. Now I listened to every word over
and over again - night after night. I took the first few minutes
of each recorded session and the last few minutes and reversed them,
splicing the end of the night to the beginning and the beginning
to the end. It was somewhat crude editing, but I liked the effect.
It was as if the whimperings now served as the prelude, and the
battering crescendos of blows and screams became the first movement.
It was as if the fireworks on the 4th of July began at the Grande
finale and were frozen in time - night after night - as if this
act of capturing and transforming a reality could somehow change
it. "As if" and it did. But how?
It certainly didn't alter the course
of my parents' torturous dumb show, although had I presented these
reels to them - who knows? What it did accomplish was to freeze
an existing reality, which then could be made to yield to the cut
of the editing knife. What it did do was to create another reality,
which both included and transcended the actual one, permitting me
to participate, night after night, with delightful anticipation.
It can take a man like me a year to
let go, get over, and turn over a lost love. Perhaps Nature provides
this turn of the seasons for emotional renewal. My great fear is
that the older I get the less I'll "learn" from experience,
or better yet that the logical resolve that might be gained from
experience will continue to be increasingly less meaningful in the
face of heartbreak or, conversely, face to face with the promise
of a new love. Most simply, no one wants to live alone all their
lives without someone to love and to love them, too. And if they
think they do it is because love has frightened them or demanded
from them more than they think they can possibly bear again. For
fear of falling we fall.
My favorite play, for many years,
has been Beckett's, Krapp's Last Tape. Why is that? I first
encountered it in my second year of college in a course titled "The
Theatre of the Absurd": Here we find an old man comically,
yet pathetically, conversing almost intelligibly with distorted
tape recordings from his past life. The play takes place on "a
late evening in the future". What an odd thing to have something
in the present taking place at a later time!
This old man, Krapp, hard of hearing,
near-sighted (but "unspectacled") is seated at a table
facing the audience. On the table is a reel-to-reel tape recorder
with a microphone and a number of cardboard boxes containing reels
of recorded tapes. It becomes evident from the beginning that the
old man has meticulously ordered these "spools" by time
and content. The complete collection is archived in his ledger,
and he treats them with the excitement one would expect from a man
encountering a dear friend he hadn't seen or heard from in a long
time. We see this from Beckett's direction:
÷Box three, spool five. (He bends over the machine looks up. With
relish.) Spoooool! (happy smile. He bends, loads spool on machine,
rubs his hands.) Ah! (He peers at the ledger, reads entry at foot
of page.) Mother at rest at last ÷Hm ÷The dark nurse. (He raises
his head, broods, peers again at ledger, reads.) Slight improvement
in bowel condition ÷Hm ÷ Memorable÷What? (He peers closer.) Equinox,
memorable equinox? ÷(Pause. He shrugs his head, shoulder, peers
again at ledger, reads.) Farewell to - (he turns the page) - love.
As the play goes on, it is revealed that the old man has been keeping
these tapes since age thirty eight, that most of them refer to women
he has loved, or wished to love.
In each case, the act of listening
to himself in the past is accompanied by a reflection in response
to it from the present, but of course we have to remember this all
takes place "on a late evening in the future".
In one place he listens and remarks:
Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty
years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God
that's all done with anyway. (Pause) The eyes she had! (Broods,
realizes he is recording silence).
At that time I think I was still living
on and off with Bianca on Kedar Street÷ Hopeless business. (Pause)
Not much about her, apart from a tribute to her eyes. Incomparable!
÷bench by the weir from where I could see her window. There I sat,
in the biting wind, wishing she were gone. (Pause) Hardly a soul,
just a few regulars, nursemaids, infants, old men, dogs. I got to
know them quite well - oh by appearances I mean! One incomparable
bosom, with a big black hooded perambulator, most funereal thing.
Whenever I looked in her direction she had her eyes on me. And yet
when I was bold enough to speak to her - not having been introduced
- she threatened to call a policeman. As if I had designs on her
virtue! (Laugh. Pause.) The face she had! The eyes! Like (hesitates)
÷ chrysolite! ÷.
And a final passage:
(Krapp curses the recorder, switches off, winds tape foreword, switches
on again) - my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay
there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently,
up and down, and from side to side.
Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.
Here I end -
Krapp switches off, winds tape back, switches on again.
-- upper lake, with the punt, bathed off the bank, then pushed out
into the stream and drifted. She lay stretched out on the floorboards
with her hands under her head and her eyes closed. Sun blazing down,
bit of a breeze, water nice and lively. I noticed a scratch on her
thigh and asked her how she came by it. Picking gooseberries, she
said. I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on,
and she agreed, without opening her eyes. (Pause) I asked
her to look at me and after a few moments - after a few moments
she did, but the eyes just slits because of the glare. I bent over
her to get them in the shadow and they opened. (Pause. Low.)
Let me in. (Pause) ÷I lay down across her with my face in
her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But
under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from
side to side.
Reminiscence is not strange; it is so wed to the act of remembering.
Looking through old photographs, letters, and gifts - trigger memories
of family, friends, places traveled, and loves lost. In my case,
I have pushed this impulse to near "documentation" of
relationships - photographs, tapes, and videos of the most idyllic
& intimate aspects, as well as the most volatile. This formalization
is not so strange as it may seem at first. Who hasn't "hung
on too long", frozen an image of a love in their mind, which
either no longer or never did conform to its reality?
I used to visit my old friend, P.J.
O'Rourke in New York back when he was the editor of National Lampoon.
Displayed on one wall were photographs, chronologically arranged,
of every woman he had ever slept with. He called it his "Wall
of Infamy". On that wall, I discovered a picture of Kadi Kiiss
whom I had lived with. It was a provocative nude picture that I
had taken, a copy of which she had given to Patrick! I was furious
at first, but then she was no longer in either of our lives except
as a photograph we both possessed. This circumstance led to an interesting
collaboration called an "Affair of Honor - Eat Steel".
We bought two cars, and Patrick had one of the National Lampoon
photographers fly down to a friend's farm, they called God's
Garage, in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. There we had a demolition
derby to avenge the honor of a love lost to both of us. Now he is
happily married with two small children and lives with much more
than frozen women from his past.
At the age of eleven, my grandfather,
Harry, whom everyone referred to as "Bouyah" moved in
with my family. He had been living for sometime with my father's
sister, Sarah's family in Mauldin, Massachusetts, but was forced
out finally when, one day, he lost control and threw his daughter,
Sarah, down a staircase. She suffered a severe concussion and broken
My grandfather, a Russian émigré,
may have lasted two weeks at our house in Washington, D.C. He felt
my father had married beneath his station. My grandfather had owned
property in Lawrence, Massachusetts where both my father and mother
grew up. My mother's family, which included her six sisters, rented
a floor in one of his houses. Beyond that, my mother never finished
college, whereas my father was a Harvard educated doctor. When he
lived with us, he took to calling my mother a whore. When my mother
kicked him out, my grandfather would go up and down the streets
yelling out - "I'm clean! I'm clean! I'm as good a gold!"
Having been understandably banished
from our house by my mother, my father found Bouyah a small efficiency
apartment in North West Washington, D.C. My father and I would visit
my grandfather every Sunday. He had, by that time, long ago lost
what considerable monies he once had. It wasn't until my father's
funeral many years later that I found out why people had called
him "Bouyah". My cousin Harlan, who was my Aunt Sarah's
son, told me it meant "The Bull", and that it referred
to his numerous liaisons with women in the town of Lawrence and
surrounding area. Because of his appetites, he had lost his considerable
fortune to paternity suits and hush monies. My mother's eldest sister,
Thelma, confirmed this, telling me at my father's funeral while
looking at my grandfather's grave, "That man was lascivious,
when we saw him coming we would cross the street!" Now he had
nothing, yet it took my father and I at least a half hour to gain
entrance to his rooms. He had installed an elaborate series of combination
locks around his door with combinations known only to him. The neighborhood
was not threatening at that time, and he was bereft of material
possessions. Still, he was intent on protecting nothing.
The day he died, we had to go back home and get ladders to climb
up to his second floor apartment and break open a window.
Every Sunday, after gaining entrance,
my father would speak to my grandfather in Russian and Yiddish while
examining his heart, draining the fluid from his ankles, and ministering
to whatever other infirmities he presented at the time. He was somewhere
in his mid-seventies, but he looked old - sallow, drawn,
and thin. I would say fragile, but somehow that implies feeling,
and I never felt anything. These visits persisted for four
years until my grandfather died. At that time, I was his nine-year-old
grandson. Never once in those years did he address me by name and
very rarely at all. That my father didn't insist on some communication
did not trouble me then, as he was the only grandparent I had ever
known, so I had nothing to compare him with, no more than I had
any other parents to compare with mine.
In all that time, the only time I
remember any direct contact with my grandfather was when, one day,
out of the blue, he summoned me to sit next to him and wordlessly
extracted two bulging envelopes from each pocket of his gray suit
coat. Each envelope was filled with a stack of yellowed, black and
white photographs - each of a different woman. Without any explanation,
he would slowly and methodically go from one photograph to the next
making sure I was paying attention. The photographs themselves were
not particularly provocative, unlike the Playboy, Hustler, and other
"girlie" magazines that I often saw on the floor beside
his bed. I could not connect them with any thing, or any one. They
certainly weren't pictures of my Grandmother, Bessie, nor my Aunts
- these were frozen women.
In my case, I began to freeze realities
on the other side of a wall, and it has continued as a strain in
what I make. Once, I froze my tears in pipettes, carrying them from
refrigerator to refrigerator from Baltimore to D.C. to New York,
to New Orleans, to Illinois and finally back to Baltimore. When
the technology caught up with my vision, I taped women weeping,
bubbles and raindrops under the ocean, and composed a piece I titled
Most people don't know how decisive
things happen until much later. Poets, especially, are no exception.
I had become interested in language acquisition. I then became interested
in psycholinguistics and how infantile behaviors both psychologically
and linguistically remained, most often imperceptibly, embedded
in the adult mind. I began to wonder whether or not it would be
possible to combine the articulation gained as an adult with the
necessarily innocent aspect with which a child views the world "as
if for the first time". It seemed to me an exhilarating, important
notion. It still does. It seemed to me that if I could somehow be
hypnotized back into infancy, while retaining my adult articulation,
that this might prove possible.
Two of the psychologists who were
patients of my father's and friends of the family were two brothers,
Robert and Harold Lindner. Robert had written a monograph early
on which became the basis for the movie "Rebel Without a Cause",
starring James Dean, and Harold had become president of the American
Psychological Association. Since I felt closer to Harold (he was
one of the first therapists I had been sent to during my parents'
protracted insanity), I approached him to see if he thought he could
hypnotize me into such a state. Since he regularly used hypnotism
in his psychoanalytical practice, he felt that such a deep regression
was indeed possible, but was uncertain whether or not adult speech
could possibly be maintained while in an infantile state, for what
I wanted to articulate was not the past but the present, speaking
as an adult viewing the world as an infant. Although he was willing
to work with me on this project, he first required that I undergo
a year of analysis to determine whether I was stable enough to pursue
such an inquiry. As I was serious, I underwent this year of analysis,
and it was somehow determined to Dr. Lindner's satisfaction that
I would not be a danger to myself.
I then had myself regressed back into
infancy during a series of sessions that I taped. While I was able
to be regressed as I wished, I was not able to achieve the results
I had hoped for - to see as an infant and to be able to articulate
the experience as an adult. Instead, as I regressed my voice became
more child- like but was too fragmented to yield any clear observations.
Finally, the only clear recordings were of my infant self breast-feeding.
Listening to these primal sucking sounds, I was struck that, when
amplified, they sounded nearly identical to many of the sounds associated
with lovemaking. With this in mind, I recorded my sexual episodes
for some time in order to analyze these correspondences. It was
my first sense of a way of working that I refer to as "clinical
romanticism". That is, romantic flight undercut and wedded
to its clinical underpinnings. . This investigation first led to
the composition of a musical piece titled "Shining Star".
A vast array of speakers was assembled
in an auditorium at the Maryland Institute College of Art where
I was then teaching. The speakers were assembled in the shape of
a six-pointed Star of David. The amplified infantile sounds traveled
in a clockwise direction from speaker to speaker, and the lovemaking
sounds simultaneously traveled in a counter clockwise direction.
It has, therefore, often proved productive for me to freeze seemingly
odd, but very intimate, realities. In recent years, however, this
impulse may be turning against me in ways I had never anticipated
and at this moment do not completely understand - which is why I'm
This first occasion to tape sexual
soundings led to others. There has always been a "project"
in mind. As a child, I had seen the "Transparent Woman"
at the Boston Museum of Science. This was a transparent model of
a woman, elevated on a pedestal, revealing and explaining the female
anatomy. I thought I could somehow expand upon this display by having
a similar model of a woman explaining her sexual modalities. Interestingly
enough, this seems akin to the "second Eve", after the
man-humping Lilith, who did not survive because Adam, who was awake,
became deathly ill and fainted at the sight of the inner architecture
of a woman's body. This unhappy circumstance led God to put Adam
to sleep during the creation of his third attempt (our Eve) so that
he could fall in love (as Eve) only with appearances. Certainly
the lovemaking sounds would be essential. I thought about building
a sound-sculpture of a woman that would fill a large-domed, circular
space. She would be standing on grates below which were waters that
alternately boiled and froze beneath the feet of the visitors. Embedded
in every point where sensual arousal is possible would be edited
lovemaking sounds. Edited because we know from the early master
recordings of "A Door and A Sigh" composed by Pierre Henri
-- that even one breath when layered, and slowed can sound identical
to an ocean. Sped up and stripped of its mid-range, it might sound
like an icicle breaking. I thought of making a sound-wall where
these sexual soundings might be mixed with foreign layering of acoustic
representations such as little girls giggling, babbling anxiety
language, instructions for glazing donuts etc.
At first, I rarely listened to any
of these archival materials. For a long while, my sexual encounters
were so numerous that, regrettably, I didn't have time for such
musings. At one point, after reading that Lord Byron had sex with
well over three hundred women in one year ("mostly
of the lower-class"), I decided that I should challenge his
poetic accomplishments. Obviously, my idea of Heroic Couplets was
colored by a generous application of Poetic License. I remember
I was on #117 when things suddenly changed. By the way, this was
at a time in the history of our country where you could not only
think what you wanted to, but you could actually talk about what
you were thinking. However, my obvious (to everyone but me) confusion
of the act of making poems with "poetic behaviors" was
brought to an end when first I fell in love with a girl named Susan
who was more in love with French Provincial furniture, and my teacher
Robert Creeley who said to me one day, "O.k. - you know you
can get laid - what else can you do!"
As I became more serious, the space
between sexual encounters expanded, and since whenever my mind is
not occupied, I have never stopped thinking about sex for more than
a few minutes, I found my attentions turning toward "the archives"
with increasing frequency. Here I could turn women into "human
I could mix and multi-track Taffy's
suppressed girlish moans from 1969 with a shake of Joanne's "do
you mind if there's a little blood on the sheets" enthusiasms
of 1971, or Becky's delightful squeals and sonic explosions that
once nearly collapsed a chandelier two rooms away, vintage 1996,
with a pousse-café of Patricia's eloquent demands to "squeeze
me harder, harder! Slower-- Slower!" vintage
1980, or better yet a dash of Jenny's wordless but nevertheless
deeply meaningful multiple orgasms, 1998, with a float of cream
from Miss Texas Tech, Mari Ellen Harter, New Orleans, circa 1982,
or, for some novelty, why not add a little bi-centennial carbonation
from Arlene, the guilty Mennonite, who could not permit herself
sexual pleasure without first feeling physical pain, screaming "Hit
me! Hit me! Please!" Such a harsh direct address, might
then call for a twist of angelic protestations from Adriana, "oh
no baby, no, yes there, there!" or a double
shot of guttural, soul-wrenching religious perorations from Jackie
or Kiesha -- Oh god! Oh god!! Oh god! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH
Moreover, a careful, clinical analysis
of the tapes would not only reveal my own frozen primal expressions
but things I have always claimed I never had, would, or could have
said. To wit:
"You're so amazing!"
"You have perfect breasts!"
"You're so hot!"
"You drive me out of my mind!"
"You have your period? -- I don't mind at all!"
"You're so wet!"
"I want to fuck you so much!"
"I promise I'll be careful!"
"Let me come inside!"
"I could come just looking at you!"
"I promise I won't come!"
"You excite me so much!"
" I lost control!"
"Does this feel good?"
"What do you like?"
"Does that feel good?"
"I've never felt anything like this before!"
"Pump me back!"
Most often these masturbatory concoctions
would occur between relationships though there have been, dare I
admit it, occasional aural infidelities!
Every thing can become comical if
you look at it long enough and from a distance. But any such cavalier
dismissal creates comfort by concealing the clinical reality --
to freeze the present by filling it completely with images from
the past, so that the recollection of the past becomes the total
activity of the present. In my case, it is as if Love itself had
become something with such plasticity that it could be morphed from
one woman to another. As if Love itself had become a metaphor. As
if losing Love, regaining Love, trying to forget Love was no less
a metaphor than writing about Love. By freezing these women, this
lovemaking, I had created another Love, a mirror Love, a Love that
lasted beyond the time it had actually lasted. In short a Love that
It was as if Love from the past kept
intruding on the possibility of Love in the present, reminding me
that if I loved summoning up the past more than I loved the past
I summoned up, and if it was not really Love but the remembering
of women I once loved, then the trouble was no longer with Love
but with my life.
In recent years, I have even worked against this impulse, fearing
that such stored memories will be all I have left to respond to
- virtual relationships based on passionate artifacts.
This involuntary identification has,
at least, become manifest as self-consciousness, a semi-permeable
membrane of protection from such debilitating reverie. Worse than
Krapp, I can see myself becoming so unable to accept heartbreak
that I become as comically obsessive as the great painter Oskar
Kokoschka. It is my firm hope, if not belief, that Oskar Kokoschka's
inability to let go of the beloved will remain an unattainable benchmark
for me, and that Krapp's pathetically brilliant consolidation of
the past into the present and future will elude me.
Some may think that I am, perhaps,
unbalanced in my identification with and embrace of such raw areas
of inquiry. But the only thing that is abnormal about what I write
is that the exploration really is of normal thinking, which
is not to say healthy, that people don't normally talk about. It
is important because it concerns Love, for no one will ever
escape love altogether - no one ever will - so long as beauty
exists and the eyes can see!