...and a Poem on Cultural Capital
Here's a poem from my second book, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000). Those of you who know Tony Hoagland's work are probably familiar with "Lawrence," Tony's brilliant, hilarious defense of D. H. Lawrence against those who speak contemptuously of such writers through "theory tainted lips." This is a homage, if you will, to Tony's poem.
WOMEN IN LOVE
for Tony Hoagland
I've never been able to finish it,
so I buy the book on tape,
and drive across Michigan, lost
in the English Midlands.
It's a lovely story, and perhaps my mind
is adrift, but through two-and-a-half cassettes,
no one seems to be in love.
Instead, men get naked to dive into ponds,
and men get naked to wrestle each other.
Not that I mind. No one likes skinny dipping
more than I, though snapping turtles
are a worry for the well-endowed.
And I'm not against naked wrestling,
though if the wrestlers take steroids
they may shrink their nether regions,
causing women to laugh and fall
out of love. I agree, Lawrence is
a holy writer, el brujo grande, his
men and women all free and helpless.
But my allergies are acting up, and
I'm thinking about the meeting I'm late for,
and it's only when men get naked that
I listen again, as Gerald and Birkin jujitsu
across the drawing room floor. I'm not
asking for men wrestling women,
but what about one scene where a naked woman
flips a naked woman into a shallow pond?
Say, Gudrun against Ursula,
which has the dueling-sisters element,
or either one taking on
that annoying Hermione, giving her
the full-Nelson she deserves. What we
might have seen in the director's cut
of "Tarzan Returns," where Jane tangles
with Benita Hume, in a barely clothed slapfest
for the heart of the Jungle King,
said to have gotten most interesting
in a certain lost reel. But eschew that,
the sneeze-word that says no.
This line of thinking has patriarchal tendencies,
it appeals to the prurient interest,
the first strand of the Miller test uncoils
its lascivious tongue across the dash,
and what I truly want is love,
love that is transgendered! Like Tarzan,
every morning, I want to kiss my jungle bride
awake! Art is so savage! Are we
great tumbling beetles, whose horns
have locked, pushing each other forth and
back across some jungle path? Even
Lawrence, who wrote the best sex
in the English language, wasn't too busy
making love, writing it down, and cough, cough,
coughing up blood to mock the dead,
calling Melville a sententious old bore,
and Whitman, worse, a dribbling, oozing, leaker.
This could go on, of course, like lung-snot
in our hankies––this hate business, this
these salon jealousies, backstabbing
over silver bullets and soggy canapes,
but, like the great hymn urges, let it begin
with me, because, as I miss my exit
east of Battle Creek, I see the trenches:
Derrida to the left of us, Cleanth Brooks
on the right, Paul deMan--crypto-fascist
or lifelong comsymp?--lobbing a cluster bomb,
and have to ask: Can't we all swing out
on some long jungle vine,
and drop together, thumping our chests
and screaming, into the vast literary pond?
At one time, there was a certain pathos,
an era of good feelings. Michigan hadn't yet
been mapped by the white man,
the lion lay down with the lamb,
and the Midlands still had the mystery
of a wild, dark continent.