A short story

The poet delicately picks his nose while talking on my telephone, his old abraded sneakers up on my coffee table. This is authentic behavior: the poet is proving that he is a poet. At least I assume that's what he's doing. He glances up at me and then continues his picking and his conversation. "... in this country!" he shouts into the receiver. It's a joke; he is talking to a poet about a poet. Much laughter. He puts something in the ashtray.

Is he a good poet? He is thought by poetry authorities to be a good poet, but what do they know? I love him, but this does not blind me to the quality of his poetry. In the poem he wrote about me after my death, I wrote the only good line. He was quoting me, but the attribution was somewhat vague. I was dead twenty-one minutes before he got to the typewriter.

My sister, inexplicably, doesn't want to sleep with the poet, though I have offered him to her on several occasions. My sister said she'd design her own therapy, thank you. "He looks like he needs a bath," she said. "He looks a touch gamy—'gamy' is the word."

"Poets prize that look," I said. "He sleeps with women by the dozens," I said.

"Golly," she said.

"Poets get them down any way they can—liquor, B-pluses, enigmas."

"This isn't winning," she said.

"Making up for high school," I said.

Heaven. In heaven no hardwood floors and no baseball, and poets caught talking about sports get the rack. Yesterday I saw Jesus in a leather hat.

Here is what the poet is saying on the telephone: "... back together? Really? In Vermont she and Bruno and Tige got naked in the lake and alors, voilà ..." Another part of it is like this: "... and so her pants were on inside out, har har har ..." It's a long-distance call.

Here is what the poet says in the classroom: "Be inexplicable, but not inexplicatable. Be emendatious but not cementatious." (Not in my dictionary; suspect that's a coinage.) "Be abominable yet abdominal. Make it newt." (I hear poorly, so this could have been "Make it new," although he loathes Pound; it may have been "Make a note"—sometimes he feigns a boffo French accent.) "Oh, and see me after class, Caitlin, Feta, Ang Li, Eschscholtzia, Daisy, Zinnia, Dahlia."

Before being admitted into heaven I suffered ninety days in purgatory, which is how I know he wrote a poem about me after I died. It was okay. Some people get the exercise bike. Apparently there's no hell.

The poet drives a Land Rover, of course. Loves his wife. Rubs dogs with great gusto.

In heaven Scotch is blessedly harmless, and my back has finally stopped hurting, and my body's really buffed. Didn't require crunches, either, which are what I got into poetry to avoid. But the poet has written, "All a poet really needs is a six-pack and a six-pack. Grolsch—and really ripped abs," he explained.

"But Grolsch is expensive!" I cried.

"In this country," he said.

Heaven resembles a very large Days Inn where God is always wandering around saying, "Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen Jesus?" They argue constantly. Jesus says, "'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise'?" alluding to something his Father said (First Corinthians—I looked it up), and snaps his fingers. "Fundamentally unserious, Dad."

"I guess I should frown more," his Father says, and gives a weary look. The building, heaven, goes on as far as the eye can see, into the clouds. In the lobby in the morning an enormously long white tablecloth appears, with coffee and one lemon Danish, which renews itself endlessly. Angels are everywhere, dancing.

The poet's life has been lived on the edge, in several countries, in his friends' apartments. The poet spent twelve years working for the John Deere Corporation, two weeks in law school in Boston, a night and day in jail on a vagrancy charge (inspiration for the poems, later, in I Fought the Law); he once played tambo in a rock band. The band got him started in poetry when he discovered deep feeling and first wore a perm. "Candy from a bébé," he says of that period.

"Only women understand me," he says. With the help of a wealthy coal widow he started The New Bituminous Review and filled it with uncanny and haunting work by the editors of other magazines. Then for three years he fearlessly walked up and down Sixth Avenue, filling out grant applications, winning nine. "It's a poet-eat-poet world out there," he says.

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