Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Dirge for J. Alfred Prufrock: The Last Hurrah

By Michael David Rawlings
With hat in hand and at the feet of T. S. Eliot
Copyright © 2012

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . . .
 

Let us go then, you and me,
And stroll beneath a cloudy sea
As evening spreads across its face like a toothless grin.
Let us go a-meandering down narrow-minded suburban lanes,
Silky slick with sullen rains
And hemmed in by redundant four-bedroom stalls and grated sewage drains;
Past the immaculate parks and the quaint, steepled churches,
    the lofty perches,
Where the vagabond Riffraff lurches in the pristine shadows:
A restless Crowd that chases dreams of easy grace and meadows
And sings a melancholy hymn, a petulant brew, that lingers at your nervebone.

A chorus of crickets roll their eyes
And dance beneath the cloudy skies.

The Air is still tonight—drenched with slumber.
A withered leaf dodders on spindly legs across Its gnarled spine.

And above the tiny rustlings, above the glistening lanes,
Above the languid shadows that creep and close on the mournful strains—
The Stars draw back the shroud and peep,
Shake their bearded chins, cast their pearly eyes away and weep.
And below, crookbacked lampposts unfurl their hazy-white plumes and glare
At the four-footed heaps, at the white picket fences,
At the cracks in the sidewalks, at the manicured grasses,
As the musty night seeps through our senses.
And through the parlor windows we may see, you and I,
The flickering glow of that babbling flow on the walls:
The Soma of the enervated masses.

Morpheus has alighted on his throne at the commencement of another dreary evening. . . .

And there will be other nights and other days too!
There will be seconds to spin and minutes to spill,
Hours to wend down a winding rill,
Moments for me and moments for you. . . .

There will be sacks full of question marks to sow
In furrowed brows replete with sad, fetid lies and concessions.
There will be secrets to air and rumors to grow,
Indiscretions to breed and issues to hoe
During the endless rounds of therapeutic confessions.
And if someone should say,
"Do you know?" and "Do you know?"
To whom shall I turn for the answer?

And there will be time for the time of the pitch and the shoeshine.
There will be time to bend our resolutions, to brood with callow men;
Time to follow the errant line of ink to its conclusion—
   bleeding from a boosted pen.
There will be time for hope and time for hope to crash . . .
Time to reach for desperate dreams or drive them toward a sudden stop.

And the world’s amusements, its diversions, abound!
Sought by pale hands, chased by wooden feet:
Candy-coated rainbows that calm and feed the head
Or illicit, well-used harpies that slip into your bed . . .
Charms that lift you or drop you into a cold sweat.

A chorus of crickets roll their eyes
And dance beneath the cloudy skies.

I have cravenly suffered the sentimental drivel of the career politician—
The pandering fop, the trailer-trash clone,
The glib picaro who would do anything at all to be somebody,
Except be somebody who would do something useful.
I have felt his pudgy fingers foraging in my pockets—
The easy smile, the evasive speech, the beguiling eyes that woo the timid sheep . . .
The stuff and the skinny of Orwellian nightmares.

And I have seen the feverish glint
That lights the eyes of the campus policemen
(The goose bumps on their hairy arms!),
Who train our sensitivities, arrest our moral zeal.
I Have heard the awkward silence of hounded thoughts and speeches;
Have seen the spittle that files off the rhetoric of the mindless Jacobins . . .
The unwashed, slogan-spouting cutouts reared by academic leeches.
And moreover, I have choked on the gall and the licentious,
    toe-jam-funk-smellin' rot of pretentious celluloid gods.

And the nanny state, the meddler, bewitches so easily!
Conceived by venal men, contrived by ruthless means . . .
That ancient human misery loosed again on you and me,
Watching, prying . . . or it smothers,
The self-anointed class, the deified regime.

My carcass—scourged by jagged teeth—was spewed out onto a distant Eastern shore.

Oh, let's do lunch and explore the boundless profundities of our pregnant self-esteem,
As we boldly proclaim our tolerance for everything that's grown,
Lest something sacred, something precious rise above the common drone.
Let us smirk, let us squawk, let us blather till we mock
Every triumph, every blunder that has ever inspired wonder,
Every wisdom, every dream that has ever caused a scream,
   till all music and all poetry are dead.

A chorus of crickets roll their eyes
And dance beneath the cloudy skies.

I have stood naked, caught inside a crystal jar—
Trapped inside the frozen moment, trapped inside the silent pause,
Surrounded by a lethal ring of faces;
Have stood mute in bewildered indecision—the simmering flush
    of sudden, unshed tears behind the stupid smile.
When I’m standing inches tall and shrinking,
When my throat is clogged with cobwebs,
When my sluggish steps turn into miles and miles—
What shall I say to the man, with the withering sneer, standing by the open door?

And I have listlessly shuffled through the tedious echoes
    of endless, wayward discussions—
Strung out from the feet of my feet to the feet at your doorstep,
    past the bathroom and down the hall.
I have flirted with fancies and consorted with the shadows on the wall
(Attired in a three-piece suit and matching tie!)
And I have littered my life with wasted days beneath the dismal pall.

The wisdom of this world is a chatty girl with brazen eyes and big teeth.

I have seen the painted lips that frame the smiles across the smoke-filled room;
Have heard the music—the laughter!—that mingles with the cloying scent of cheap perfume.
I have romanced the evening’s glow and sated its spineless flowers;
Have stumbled from dark and sordid keeps—
A beer in one hand, a pretty fräulein in the other.
Soft, ripe breasts can swell my lust or soothe my rest . . .
Thighs that sway ‘neath a breathless wisp of silk or spread on satin sheets.

And I have known the scorn of Woman, the sting of unrequited love;
Have watched her smiling eyes sink into pools of contempt.
I have cursed the passing of those quintessential moments when a word or touch was lost,
And my keening heart—wounded by a thousand shards of glass—
Has stumbled through the daze of days and the wane of bitter, sleepless nights.

And after all the medicinal blather, the commiserations;
After all the drunken sleeps;
After the blood that flows from Private altars, the tearstains;
After all the moral leaps;
After all the feigned disclosures . . . the crickets, the withered leaves;
After all the tedious echoes, the teaspoons, the broken jars;
After all the banalities . . . that flow from the lips flickering on the parlor walls:
What shall I say to the woman with the lustrous shrug and the censorious eyes?

Shall I say, after a snort or two, that I have wrestled with demons in squalid hotel rooms? . . .
The paint that peels from walls,
The lone, naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

When Evening spreads His toothless grin across the face of Day,
When Dusk grovels at His feet as She scorns Her fallen Star—
Shall I wallow in the moonlight,
Bring the lesser stars to tears
With another tale of love’s discarded toys?

A chorus of crickets roll their eyes
And dance beneath the cloudy skies.

The many voices that saturate the airwaves,
The talking heads that float atop the breeze
Crawl inside my weary head and eviscerate my dreams. . . .

And again, after all the crowded halls, the Dread;
After all the passion and the romance and the mighty deeds are dead;
After the tantrums, the trials, the outstretched hands;
After all the woe that staggers stunned and broken hearts . . .
    the girl with the big teeth;
After the ashtrays, the crumbs, the bloodshot eyes . . .
After all the sweet and tender mercies in this world are scattered,
    left to rot beneath the pall:
What shall I do about the missing button on my vest?

I have communed with fragile ghosts and willows—bent and lashed by storms.
 

. . . .


Shall I say that I have rummaged through the scuttled relics
    inside the bowels of a Leviathan?
Have gathered their bones around me?
Have counted and named them all?
I have counted and named them all!
And I have teetered on the very edge of madness;
Rather, I have dangled inches above its gaping maw—
My wriggling feet, my white-knuckled grip . . .
Straining sweat and slipping, wrapped around the final rung.

And I have looked into the eyes—the amused, malignant ulcers—
    of a creature beyond redemption;
Have smelled its yellow breath,
Felt its vile touch slither up my spine like the wet lick of a wounded dog . . .
The crystalline moment of recognition, the puddle of urine on the floor.
When I have squandered every last square inch of the soul that's in me,
When I have spent it all—who shall turn my reeling head toward home?

 

Shall I dream the dreams of angels?
Roust the harpies from my bed?
In the morning, with my coffee,
I can smooth my rumpled head.

Shall I press the monumental question?
Smartly reinforce the crease?
I shall cast my lot with heaven . . .
The moldy mysterious on my fleece!

Should I butter my toast?
Insist on rye or wheat?
Let us dance a torrid tango
And display our nimble feet!

When the Soma oozes from our waxy ears
And mingles with the silvery tears
    of those ancient Fellows loitering behind the clouds;
When it's time to shoo the Riffraff,
When it’s time to chase my feet,
When the relentless siege of the daze of days
And the fog of sleepless nights have razed
And burned and trampled and buried my hapless brain:
Shall I walk or ride the bus?
Ride the bus or take a walk?

A host of insidious insinuations
Prance about my contemplations
And wrap their velvet paws around my throat.

A chorus of crickets roll their eyes
And dance beneath the cloudy skies
 

. . . .

     
Shall I offer my head on a platter,
A mere chit of a chat amidst the clatter,
For one last persuasive dance before his sire’s throne?

No!

I'm not a martyr!
I've no great calling to obey.
I've no olive branch to offer.
Let his conscience rot away!
I'm a pauper with high notions,
A poet with some flair.
I plot stories full of riches,
But have no coat or hope to spare.

When the sky sobs and the wind wails,
When the Earth shakes the dust off Her face—
I discretely take my leave and fade into the gray.

My sodden flesh—bleached and rancid, trampled
   by gleeful feet—lay wasted, stretched out on hot sands.
 

. . . .


We have come to the end of a certain class of human folly—
Raised up and spread abroad by brutal hands,
Passed through many sewers . . . beneath the glistening lanes,
Incessantly chanted by clueless brats and shrugged off by indifferent,
   universal imperatives.
Yet we still hear, you and I, that vicious chorus of whores, with curled lips,
   sniveling behind the final curtain.
Oh, aren't they finished?
Exposed and known?
Are you certain?

When we are laid out on stainless steel beneath florescent lights,
When our sightless eyes are closed by busy fingers,
When they have numbered and tagged our toes—
Numbered and tagged them all!—
Who shall pluck out the tufts of hair sprouting from our fleshy ears?

. . . .


We have aimlessly wandered down tedious streets beneath a grieving sky—
Without hope, without respite, without another single sign
    of life appearing anywhere in sight,
Except a gang of looney crickets dancing jigs throughout the night.

Oh, I wish the mermaids would sing to me.
I wish the mermaids would sing. . . .

1 comment:

jane hafker said...

Uh, ..........WOW.
I thought "do I dare to eat a peach, roll my pant legs on the beach" was beyond funny profound, and yours is way, way better. Amazing. Truly amazing. Did you ever submit this poetry, stream of consciousness to any mag?