The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perchiocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, 
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.


Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table; 
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair -
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin -
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons.
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all -
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all -
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And in the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep…tired…or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet - and here’s no greater matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you an dme,
Would it have been worthwhile,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all” -
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worthwhile
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor -
And this, and so much more? -
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worthwhile
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
“That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous -
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


- T.S. Eliot, 1920

Thoughts by another, relevant to something public & violent witnessed today and other days:

The day the CD [Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy] dropped, I was invited to Columbia Law School to give a talk on black literary imagination for Kimberle Crenshaw’s class, “Colorblindness and the Law.” I had the bootleg of the CD for two weeks, but my friend Hua and I still darted to Best Buy in between classes to get two originals.

On my way to the train station in Poughkeepsie, I play the first minute of the actual CD in my car.

Then I replay it.

Shit is just too good.

I play the last minute of the album in the parking lot of the station. And I replay it.

Mercy.

I love that Kanye West, the self- and society-anointed international asshole, not only frames his album with the questions, “Can we get much higher?” and “Who will survive in America?” but also borders his fantasy with the faux British voice of Nicki Minaj and the grainy revolutionary voice of Gil Scott Heron. Within this frame, with all the guest verses and distorted vocals, it’s obvious Kanye West believes that plenty of voices, other than his own, also deserve to be explored in his beautiful dark twisted fantasy.

….

Poor black folks from New Orleans deserved more so Kanye said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

Beyonce deserved more so Kanye said, “Taylor, I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the greatest videos of all time.”

Queer brothers deserved more so Kanye said, “I been discriminating against gays … and I wanna come on TV and tell my rappers, just tell my friends, Yo, stop it, fam …”

Black kids in Chicago deserved more so Kanye said, “Man, killing’s some wack shit.”

Listeners of American popular music deserved more than formulaic noise so Kanye West offered us eight years of GOOD music. In those eight years, Kanye managed to collapse, carve and distort disparate sounds rooted in the black musical traditions into newly shaped inescapable musical experiences. His work did more than challenge conventional composition. Whether it’s College Dropout, Late Registration, 808s and Heartbreak or Watch the Throne, Kanye’s work literally dared us to revise our expectations of sound.

Precisely because Kanye is able to give us so much more than we actually deserve, I need to tell Les that Kanye West, that box-jawed American virtuoso who told the white man the truth, is eons better at his job than Les is at lying and I am at writing, but when it comes to exploring women (you know, “females,” “cats,” “bitches,” “hoes,” “pussies,” “Kelly Rowlands,” “hood rats,” “good girls,” “sluts,” “light skinned girls,” and now “Perfect Bitches”), Kanye West ain’t really using his voice or his art right.

This actually makes him just like almost every other virtuoso and mediocre American man I’ve read, watched or heard.

Kanye West is better than those jokers, though.

He’s good enough, brave enough, conceptually genius enough, compassionate enough and now rich enough to use his voice to explore with prickly honesty, and dramatic irony, what black women deserve and the ways he encourages, and is encouraged to, obsessively dismember, soulfully mutilate and straight diss the fuck out of women in order to move units and feel like a manlier man.

At what point does listening to artists obsessively encourage manipulative relationships, sociopathic deception and irresponsible sex with women doubling as accessorized pussy become not just destructive, but really, really boring? If Kanye West won’t, or maybe even can’t, explore the meat of that question, isn’t he too great to exploit it?

That’s some of what I wanted to tell Les after he said that thing about treating females like cats. Instead of saying any of it, I just hovered over Les in his Runaway spot, feeling extra good about myself for wanting to say any of it at all.

A month or so later, I sat in front of a computer screen in New York and wrote a piece critiquing Les for reducing my Grandma to a cat and Kanye for the destructive gender politics in his art. I ended the piece with what I thought was a harpoon to Les’s gizzard: “I should have asked Les if he deserved to ever have his hand held by a woman.”

The essay generally, and that sentence specifically, helped me run away from truth, reckoning and meaningful change. I don’t want to run any more.

I am better at fucking up the lives of women who have unconditionally loved me than Les is at lying and Kanye West is at making brilliant American music. And even worse than the bruising parts of Kanye’s art, the paranoid femiphobia of HaLester Myers, or the pimpish persona of Stevie J, the abusive gender politics of Paul Ryan and Todd Akin, the thousands of confused brothers out there who think “misogyny” is the newest Italian dish at Olive Garden, I have intimately fucked up women’s lives while congratulating myself for not being Kanye West, Les Myers, Stevie J, Paul Ryan, Todd Akin or the brothers who like that misogyny with a few breadsticks.

Even before the essay, I wanted the fact that I’ve read, and taken notes, on everything ever published by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Imani Perry, dream hampton and Rebecca Walker to prove to everyone — especially women I’m interested in — that I’m way too thoughtful to be a dickhead. I wanted folks to know I’ve made my male students reckon with being born potential rapists, that I have defended black girls in need of abortions from rabid pro-lifers at abortion clinics in Mississippi. I wanted women to know I was a man who would always ask, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to do this?”

I couldn’t wait to tell some men –- but only when in the presence of women — how sexism, like racism and that annoying American inclination to cling to innocence, was as present in our blood as oxygen. When asked to prove it, I’d dutifully spit some sorry-sounding mash up of Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West and Mark Anthony Neal. But just like them, I never said that I know I’m sexist, misogynist and typical because I routinely fuck up the lives of women in ways that they can rarely fuck up my life. I never said that I’ve used black feminism as a convenient shield, a wonderful sleep aid, and a rusted shank to emotionally injure human beings who would do everything to avoid emotionally injuring me.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. And of course there are all kinds of qualifications and conditions I want to explore, but beneath all of that conditional bullshit lies a lot truth, a bit of reckoning and the possibility of change.

I am a wannabe black male feminist who is really bad at loving women who are really good at loving me.

- excerpt from Kanye West Is Better at His Job Than I Am at Mine (But I’m Way Better at Being a Fake-Ass Feminist) by Kiese Laymon

Ashamed though I am
of my high position,
While people lead unhappy lives,
Let us reasonably banish care
We bow, we take our cups of wine
We give our attention to beautiful poems.

- excerpt from Lords of the Capital, Chinese Tang Dynasty

Adam and Eve

I wanted to punch her right in the mouth and that’s the truth.

After all, we had gotten from the station of the flickering glances
to the station of the hungry mouths,
from the shoreline of skirts and faded jeans
to the ocean of unencumbered skin,
from the perilous mountaintop of the apartment steps
to the sanctified valley of the bed—

the candle fluttering upon the dresser top, its little yellow blade
sending up its whiff of waxy smoke,
and I could smell her readiness
like a dank cloud above a field,

when at the crucial moment, the all-important moment,
the moment standing at attention,

she held her milk white hand agitatedly
over the entrance to her body and said No,

and my brain burst into flame.

If I couldn’t sink myself in her like a dark spur
or dissolve into her like a clod thrown in a river,

can I go all the way in the saying, and say
I wanted to punch her right in the face?
Am I allowed to say that,
that I wanted to punch her right in her soft face?

Or is the saying just another instance of rapaciousness,
just another way of doing what I wanted then,
by saying it?

Is a man just an animal, and is a woman not an animal?
Is the name of the animal power?
Is it true that the man wishes to see the woman
hurt with her own pleasure

and the woman wishes to see the expression on the man’s face
of someone falling from great height,
that the woman thrills with the power of her weakness
and the man is astonished by the weakness of his power?

Is the sexual chase a hunt where the animal inside
drags the human down
into a jungle made of vowels,
hormonal undergrowth of sweat and hair,

or is this an obsolte idea
lodged like a fossil
in the brain of the ape
who lives inside the man?

Can the fossile be surgically removed
or dissolved, or redesigned
so the man can be a human being, like a woman?

Does the woman see the man as a house
where she might live in safety,
and does the man see the woman as a door
through which he might escape
the hated prison of himself,

and when the door is locked,
does he hate the door instead?
Does he learn to hate all doors?

I’ve seen rain turn into snow then back to rain,
and I’ve seen making love turn into fucking
then back to making love,
and no one covered up their faces out of shame,
no one rose and walked into the lonely maw of night.

But where was there, in fact, to go?
Are some things better left unsaid?
Shall I tell you her name?
Can I say it again,
that I wanted to punch her right in the face?

Until we say the truth, there can be no tenderness.
As long as there is desire, we will not be safe.


- Tony Hoagland

One, Two


Shadow if nearby a horse
Horse if sensing the shadow of a whip
Whip if charcoal black
Charcoal if drawing of a dog
Dog if testing a flame on the edge of a field
Flame if casting a shadow at dawn
Kitchen if welcoming bees
Bee & Ant being sick together in one story
Ox Ox Ox Ox Ox Ox Ox
Moonlight if amped up, if within striking distance
Mountains up close, in the distance, with or without clouds, mist or fog, snow tipped
Rivers if darkened by shadows mountains cast
Heart if castaway to travel far so as to be with another heart, soon, sorry, sad
Beggar if sitting on a sidewalk with cardboard & begging bowl, unmistaken
Tiger if symbol of power
Teeth if bared
Gnat if everywhere
Hen if dim and pecking without end
Star if nameless, star if in twilight
Sheep if by two, sheep if by night
Boat if situated two lengths down from a hill top
Cart if ambling ox ox ox ox ox ox ox ox to the sea
Ant & Bee being sick together in one bed
Pot if fit with a broken lid
Swan if swimming with me & my skiff
Sparrow if that is what you like to call me
Umbrella if we stand together
Straw if darker where my sweat settled into it
Rags if you like the sound of ripping
Fish if fish not fowl maybe fair
Bridge if agreeing to be all it can be
Bowl if fine with fitting an owl in it
Blossoms if they bite you

-Dara Weir

I Love New York
It’s a State of Mind


Love. Charred beef. Dangerous oysters. Cheap green wine. Buckets of ice. Ankle socks. The parade of tiny bodies in tiny clothes. Afternoons of drifting across the boroughs in search of a tiny poke of titillation. Crossing the bridges backwards and forwards with no destination in mind. Three in the afternoon on a  Monday in Central Park, shorts and sandals, your favorite tunes, the arts section of the paper and a mild hangover. The birds are cooing songs in Khmer or an equally beautiful language and the outrageous sun is slowly drilling a hole in your cranium. Nowhere to go, no expectations, future earnings: uncertain. In a city that spends most of the year working itself to death, the best way to celebrate summer in New York is to be unemployed.

These days Manhattan’s become an island of millionaires and four hundred dollars will buy you a few ounces of Kobe beef, but back then life was easier. When summer came, we were giddy with the possibilities of goofing off, celebrating the best gift a New Yorker can give oneself: the gift of not caring.

We didn’t care. We fell out of bed around noon, dusted ourselves off and made very tentative plans. “I’ll see you maybe around, five, um, in Williamsburg, somewhere, but later, with that guy who’s visiting from…” With friends you could fall into a kind of summertime drawl, not too bright, not too introspective. One day after falling asleep on some kind of giant red brick by the West Side Highway, the Statue of Liberty baking feverishly in the distance, I woke up and said to my unemployed companion, “Wubbuduh?” which I think meant, “What’s become of us?” And he said something noncommital that sounded like, “Muhuum.” And off we went to get some beer and a plate of salt-baked chicken, completely in agreement with one another. 

Then it got even better. Even though we were broke, someone’s rich uncle usually keeled over from the heat - et voila -  a rooftop with a magnificent view opened up for the rest of us. There’s nothing more delicious than a pretty bad hamburger served fifteen stories in the sky by someone you love like a brother. There’s sweat on you, sweat on the bottle of Gewurztraminer, but the wine tastes like sugar spun off a waterfall and sometimes a gust comes over the Hudson River, sweeping chickpea and grilled lamb smells past the miniaturized tenements of the West Village and the glassy edifices of Midtown, making you feel more fresh and young and human than ever.

At these rooftop parties - these events seemed to come together and fall apart with no discernable warning - people appraised each other like raw meat. Everybody looked good, and if they didn’t look good they at least knew how to flirt (back then people still got their conversation from good books and films) and pretty soon you wouldn’t mind if the person you were talking to had a missing set of teeth or a red neck or a third leg; you’d just say, “The hell with it.” And so you set off arm-in-arm, on these ridiculously long walks with this person you just met, who was appealing in some vague way and usually more than a little bit tipsy and lonely to boot. You’d walk from a party on West 10th Street, down the pin-striped canyons of the Financial District, under the lattice sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge, and over to a neighborhood you never heard of. Nowadays you know every last bit of real estate in the five boroughs, but back then a place in the lower reaches of Brooklyn like Red Hook might as well have been Patagonia.

You might end up in some sleazy maritime bar with your new friend, eating dubious clams and drinking beer into which you’d awkwardly bleed a slice of lime, and you’d listen to them talk about themselves, and you’d start to realize, slowly, just how flawed and unhappy they seemed, while at the same time also noticing how tanned and lightly covered their bodies were, how a current of warmth spread out from their center, how enticingly they dabbed at a bead of sweat with a crummy bar napkin. There’s a kind of reproductive hope in the summertime that turns an oversized mole or tentanus shot gone wrong into a revelation. And all of a sudden you felt happy and tired, exhilarated and confused. You didn’t know what to do, and often you just ended up doing what came naturally on some ridiculous futon in some ridiculous apartment with the sun refusing to come down from the sky and the heat steady and ever-present, like a third person in the room.

It’s all behind me now. These days I work like a pack mule and the summers bleed into the springs and autumns and winters and whatever new seasons global warming will soon send our way. But I still feel a shiver of excitement when I think of a summer full of lazy fun. I want to devolve from the adult world of responsibility and health care premiums and pension plans and just pick up the phone on some scorching Tuesday afternoon and say, “Hey, man.” “Whuh?” “You wanna see a movie?” “What time is it?” “Two o’clock” “Already?” “Yeah.” “Which movie?” “I dunno.” “That one with the guy who does stuff?” “With that girl?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” “Let’s get a drink first.” “Yeah.” “And stop by C’s house.” “Muhuum.” “Are you hungry?” “Uh-huh.” “Yeah, me too.” “Let’s get something.”

Yes let’s. I want to eat a street knish with such ravenous hunger that I bite my fingers and have to stop in my tracks and look up. Where am I? What is this place? Did I get off at the wrong subway stop? Should I buy one of those live chickens that guy is selling from the back of his truck? Is it almost my birthday? Did I once fall in love on this very street corner in the middle of a heat wave? Was this where I was first handed an arepa stuffed with chicken-avocado salad and hot sauce and was told: “You know, I think you might like this.” Is there a municipal office where these summertime memories are stored and tagged and a gentle counselor reminds us once more how we used to be and what we may still become?


Gary Shteyngart

Roberta Smith on the Venice Biennial and her en-masse art criticism online experiment Everyone’s a Critic:

The plan was that while making the rounds in Venice I would select individual works of art and write a brief conversational introduction to each that would conclude with a few questions. These would be put online, where readers could weigh in with responses of enforced brevity — no more than six words. They could do this by simply clicking on words in my review or by using their own. What words of mine they chose would be highlighted in my review and also assembled in a cloud, in order of frequency of use.

The artworks I chose were those that I had strong (not necessarily positive) reactions to and thought people would find engaging. I also tried to pick works that could be conveyed in a picture or two.

I had no idea what to expect. What I’m getting is confirmation that, indeed, everyone is a critic, and that sometimes nothing lends an opinion punch like extreme compression. Reader reactions range from dreamy haikulike word chains to blunt endorsements or dismissals to complaints. One reader characterized “Imposition Symphony,” Stelios Faitakis’s Byzantine-style mural, as “Beautiful, real art for a change.” Another saw it as “Gorgeous, big-deal, leaves-me-cold art.”



In addition to opinions and free associations evoked by the art, language itself is in play. Readers are not just reacting to the art; their word choices also comment on the usefulness of mine. There were startling deletions (at least from a writer’s point of view), as when one reader extracted “smashed-together sensationalism” from my introduction of Adel Abdessemed’s “Taxidermy,” by eliminating the 16 intervening words. Is everyone also an editor?

I especially love the take downs & stream-of-consciounessness responses i.e. “Oh there are my primed canvases”. Wondrous.