Four Poems by Tim Dlugos

BOMB 11 Winter 1985
011 Winter 1985
​Julian Schnabel 001

Julian Schnabel, Ethnic Type #15 and #72, 1984, oil, animal hide, modeling paste on velvet, 9 × 10 feet. Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.

Pretty Convincing

Talking to my friend Emily, whose drinking
patterns and extravagance of personal
feeling are a lot like mine, I’m pretty
convinced when she explains the things we do
while drinking (a cocktail to celebrate the new
account turns into a party that lasts till 3
a.m. and a terrific hangover) indicate
a problem of a sort I’d not considered.
I’ve been worried about how I metabolize
the sauce for four years, since my second bout
of hepatitis, when I kissed all the girls
at Christmas dinner and turned bright yellow
Christmas night, but never about whether
I could handle it. It’s been more of a given,
the stage set for my life as an artistic queer,
as much of a tradition in these New York circles
as incense for Catholics or German
shepherds for the blind. We re-enact
the rituals, and our faces, like smoky icons
in a certain light, seem to learn nothing
but understand all. It comforts me
yet isn’t all that pleasant, like drinking
Ripple to remember high school. A friend
of mine has been drinking in the same bar for decades,
talking to the same types, but progressively
fewer blonds. Joe LeSueur says he’s glad
to have been a young man in the Fifties with his
Tab Hunter good looks, because that was the image
men desired; now it’s the Puerto Rican
angel with great eyes and a fierce fidelity
that springs out of machismo, rather than a moral
choice. His argument is pretty convincing, too,
except lots of the pretty blonds I’ve known
default by dying young, leaving the field
to the swarthy. Cameron Burke, the dancer
and waiter at Magoo’s, killed on his way home from
the Pines when a car hit his bike on the Sunrise Highway.
Henry Post dead of AIDS, a man I thought would be around
forever, surprising me by his mortality the way
I was surprised when I heard he was not
the grandson of Emily Post at all, just pretending,
like the friend he wrote about in Playgirl, Blair Meehan,
was faking when he crashed every A List party for a year
by pretending to be Kay Meehan’s son, a masquerade
that ended when a hostess told him “Your mother’s here”
and led him by the hand to the dowager—Woman, behold
thy son—underneath a darkening conviction that all,
if not wrong, was not right. By now Henry may have faced
the same embarrassment at some cocktail party in the sky.
Stay as outrageously nasty as you were. And Patrick
Mack, locked into my memory as he held court in the Anvil
by the downstairs pinball machine, and writhing
as he danced in Lita Hornick’s parlor when the Stimulators
played her party, dead last week of causes I don’t know,
as if the cause and not the effect were the problem.
My blond friend Chuck Shaw refers to the Bone-
crusher in the Sky, and I’m starting to
imagine a road to his castle lit with radiant
heads of blonds on poles as streetlamps for the gods,
flickering on at twilight as I used to do
in the years when I crashed more parties and acted
more outrageously and met more beauties and made
more enemies than ever before or ever again, I pray.
It’s spring and there’s another crop of kids
with haircuts from my childhood and inflated self-esteem
from my arrival in New York, who plug into the history
of prettiness, convincing to themselves and the devout.
We who are about to catch the eye of someone
new salute as the cotillion passes, led by blonds
and followed by the rest of us, a formal march
to the dark edge of the ballroom where we step out
onto the terrace and the buds on the forsythia
that hides the trash sprout magically
at our approach. I toast it
as memorial to dreams as fragile and persistent
as a blond in love. My clothes smell like the smoky
bar, but the sweetness of the April air’s
delicious when I step outside and fill
my lungs, leaning my head back
in a first-class seat on the shuttle
between the rowdy celebration of great deeds
to come and an enormous Irish wake in which
the corpses change but the party goes on forever.

 

The Fruit Streets

There’s a little cottage in the back
of a composed facade. I want
to live there. There’s a little
composition I can doodle on the keys
in basic chords. The man with an electric
speaker where his voice should be
in corduroy is sweeping down
the Fruit Streets, as a lady
inside my cloudy memory of other lives
or movies sweeps the cobblestones
with her train. She’s on her way
to Pilgrim Church, where Beecher thunders.
Rain sweeps in from the Bay.
I wonder how much good a sermon
can do, though they were once as popular
as cautionary soaps about the rich
to rubes today. Within the stiffness
of a form and collar let me touch
your eyes, take your hand. I’ll lead you
to a land of colors—Cranberry, Pineapple,
Orange and the spurious Joralemon—and thrilling
tastes. The rawness of the wind is softened
by a blast of citrus, as the view
from the Heights gains pigment with a flick
of the Tint dial. It’s a new world
out there, as if a box of Trix
had spilled across the harbor where the grays
and silvers played beneath a sky they perfectly
reflected. In the glow of an ass-backwards
native lore, Paradise could be as sudden
as a bite of fruit, or death
to the congregants. Protestants
find both “forbidden,” though the preacher
whose words moved a government himself
may have brewed the metaphor while doodling
with a colleague’s wife. The life
of the flesh is lived inside a sack
of flesh, but the life of the memory
is spun out in the names by which
we know the streets. It was here
I smoked a joint with John before he left
to turn into a rock star on the Coast
and watched the fireworks.
They lit up the sky,
Cranberry red, Pineapple yellow,
Orange orange, against the electric
blue-engorged horizon, radiant scrim
you can point to any twilight on your way
to drinks with friends, silly rabbits.
Pellets of our histories have piled up
in my mind, the Nation’s Attic,
a nation carried onward by the names
of streets and Protestants like Carrie Nation,
where hatchets that remain unburied
reduce saloons to slivers. There’s a beam
of pale light playing on a chink between
the landmark’s bricks, a sliver of decay.
It’s colorless, a paradigm of how I want to look
to let you see through what I say to find
the cottage with the patch of lawn where I live,
a dooryard in the patchwork of a city
you know about because you’ve heard it
in my voice, as if through faith.

 

Words for Simone Weil

attention, it is a poem
but uncomposed, the way a fearsome sky
shakes out its skirts attempting to decide
to rain on them, handing the pathos back
the fallacy: desire exists outside
the closed world of a chest whose ardent heaves
don’t rustle its own lining of dead leaves
a Petri dish, a common meal, a bone
one thing to chew on, something else to know
it’s yours to eat until you eat it best
to save it, not a torture, not a test
a tension, like a poem you can watch
obedient to the movement and the whole
of a vast midland, all you ever see
the brown and yellow clouds mean history
for now, for then, for when you heed them both

 

Four Organs
after Steve Reich

give the mind its head
in a choirloft when the spare beginnings
accordion and the harmonic
purr of a blower overlays the hit
or miss of a perfectionist on methedrine
which becomes a symphony of increments
unfollowable
but knowable in portions as the source
of pleasure as the wine flows
up the corkscrew
a process of intoxicating space
that grows to accommodate a wingspread
igniting the maracas
causing the whole to turn

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Originally published in

BOMB 11, Winter 1985

Ralph Humphrey, John Jesurun, art by David Salle, Eric Fischl, writing by Luc Sante, Kimiko Hahn, Tim Dlugos, and more.

Read the issue
011 Winter 1985