Tuesday, July 28, 2015

before time passes and things are lost

          I suppose I should be writing about William T. Vollmann’s  THE DYING GRASS or ‘I’ by  Wolfgang Hilbig or again about THE WALL by H.G. Adler but a few weeks ago I was talking with Laurie Callahan at New Directions about the man who owned the red wheel barrow, Thaddeus Marshall.  Of course we all know that red wheelbarrow because of the poem by William Carlos Williams: 
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

besides the white
          I would suggest that you will find out who MICHAEL J. PETERS is by reading these three letters which I have transcribed from his handwritten versions:
Dear Tom
          The fault of not continuing our, at best, broken line of correspondences is entirely mine.  Your letter written in Dublin arrived here some months back.  I shall pledge myself to more discipline in the future and hopefully purge myself of my shortcomings.  Please forgive this horrible red [the letter is written in red ink] but it’s all I have.  Perhaps it’s symbolic of many things--- but that would really be too heavy to write about!!
          I haven’t written anyone since last spring when I wrote a Syrian girl about her body and how much her armpit had meant to me while suffering the adversities of Oriental life.  In that particular letter I overextended myself, totally exceeding my fondest expectations and proving what I’ve always suspected; that words are nearer to me than pubic stubble.  So anyway my letters comes someplace between Theŕeśe’s smooth belly and just plain words
          My family forwarded your letter (I spent the first two months of summer north of Seattle) but I didn’t receive it until after your proposed induction date of 1 June.  However I can vaguely recall being terribly drunk at about that date so I must have communed with you somehow.  I’m confident that you did avoid the messy business in some manner--- hopefully it will end soon and civilization can redeem her soul.
          ‘Merkan’ intelligence is beautifully characterized by Wallace, Nixon, and to a lesser extent H.H.H.  The idea of a national political platform essentially based on beating Black-Americans into submission and giving young people haircuts is particularly appalling in the face the real issues: poverty, capitalist economy , etc. (Before I forget--- I’ve a stack of back issues to the ‘Helix’ Seattle’s underground.  It’s established and heads above most such papers.  Drop a card with your new address and I’ll forward them immediately!!)
          A close friend wrote a few weeks ago from Big Sur about living and dying and he idea of somehow reaching a decision as to the validity of life.  It was really quite abstract.  Implicit was the suggestion that he might die soon by his own hand.  I mention it only because I think about it at times and I’m sure you also do.
          I’ve been reading a lot of late, mostly heavy academic books but some Gíde, Hesse and Greek tragedy too.  In an attempt to make myself more comfortable I’ve change majors again--- transferring to the NEAR EASTERN LANGUAGES & LITERATURE DEPT.  was easy. It seems to be more a challenge.  I think my field may eventually be Islamic art
          At any rate, Tom—write me of your condition and of your wife.  As I proposed--- a simple card with your address would be adequate.  In return I promise a stack of ‘underground’ sheets’ as well as long coherent “think letter.”

                  SEATTLE                                                            November 68
I must say how pleasant it was to receive your letter.  My blatant procrastination had left me worried that Elbie J. and the boys had grabbed you in London and somehow thrust you into the War Machine.  Like all Crusades, ours kills, rapes, pillages and sloganizes in the name Good.  If it weren’t so sad we could chuckle until the piss runs down our legs.  But alas it is most serious and profitable!!  By the way—did you see Chicago (Pig City, USA)??  A totally beautiful and predictable exercise in ‘Merikan’ democracy. Ah, for the good old days when pigs were pigs and not cops.
I’m glad to see you have returned to the States if for no other reason than to fill your belly with unescapable crud of ‘Merikan” civilization and your nostrils with the stench of our hypocrisy.  Beware!!  The spirit of 76 corrupts.
Can your believe Nixon??  Absolutely disgusting!!  The man is a Turkey!!  The imagination can easily see a new era of Brown Shirts and Black Boots.   By the way—did the good people of Wisconsin erect a monument to good old Joe Mc.  They must have; it would be only proper to have done so.
University continues--- it drones on and on with the rhythm of a palpitating whore.  It’s a game that I’ve to pay for a while.  Still I look for the warm lady dressed in brown, cloaked in darkness, but that’s a game I play with myself and hardly as significant as the scholarly thing with books.  A friend who sits on the fence and gets despondent over things like spring mornings at the [Big] Sur and Leningrad snows wrote that but I had to destroy his letter because it caused me to think about things and that’s somewhere near the end.  I like the idea of making love on dirty sheets in your Venetian slum house.  I beg to be your guest paying or otherwise.  Venice is good to those who know her.,  Where else the ecstasy of days measured in the downy armpits and the dry rasps of rending spirits.  Which reminds me--- did you see the latest issue of NOVA? (It’s an English (British) mag.  Of doubtful quality).  It has an etching of Twiggy with an arm extended to God doing her toilette with a trusty Gillette super blue blade.  God was it laughable!!!!  They must have invented that splendid cover for me--- an exclusive thing designed solely to evoke a licentious chuckle from those who care about such trivia.
The sky never seems to be more than pale green, an opaque continuum that leaves some doubt about the exact moment when heaven meets mother earth.  The November sky is for those who think about  communion and black flags and tortured genius of sensitive people—
I hope you find some value in the copies of Helix---it’s our ersatz journalism draped in the filigree of OP-POP culture.
Well at least they try.
About your letters and things--- a catholic school.  Really, Thomas!!  A  bastion of radical, irrational dogma.  Can you make it??  I had hoped you could find something in Europe away from all the hassle of concerned parents.  I’m looking closely at teaching in Roberts College, Istanbul my next trip over. However with an M.A. in NEAR EASTERN LANGUAGES & LITERATURE  it is will be a tight fit to meet their requirements.  I understand they prefer English M.A.’s with teaching experience.
Of course I remain interested in your writing, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to read your work.  What are the chances of publication??  If things get too slow, I could work for a printing at this end. If you’re truly satisfied with your novel, now in London, and assuming it is turned down, you might try Grove Press in NYC or Lighthouse Books in San Francisco.
I’ll shortly begin working for the Post Office in an attempt to work off my indebtedness--- I was forced to buy a car… V.W. and will in the next month rent a beach cottage on the Sound.  I’ve to get away from my family they are stunting my personality.  It will be limited freedom allowing me to be more eccentric in my existence.  Somehow I’ll manage to keep up my studies at [University of] Washington while working.  You should strongly consider visiting me or moving out here.  We have the mountains and the sea and a radical political climate. (We were the only western state to tell Nixon to get screwed).  Because of certain regrettable obligations I can’t truly consider Mexico this spring.  But I’m sure you would find the Northwest rather enjoyable and my cottage would be yours and your wife’s   We are provincial, but nevertheless very good people. The music is sweet as is the beer and the grass is abundant in the children’s pipes.  I can confidently say there would be good times for all.  Consider it, Tom.  We could open a commune in the wastes of eastern Washington or in the nearby mountains.

I couldn’t find the issue of the Evergreen Review that you requested but I did meet an interesting cunt that led me to several café-au-lait in the district and a near fuck.  I’ll keep looking!
When I gather my wits I’ll write you a long ‘think’ letter… Should be around the New Year.  Let me know of your plans, Tom, I want to share conversation and beer with you before time passes and things are lost. As for God’s blessing--- I’m sure he would if he could.,


                                                                             29/11/68 [29/12/68]
Thomas McGonigle:
My bed has been empty for weeks and it’s cold.  God it’s cold—the frost is fixed on the window till well past noon and my feet stay bare through it all  like Ransom’s frozen parsnips in the snow.  The hot bath at 2:00 brings me back; things focus much better with lemon scented suds soaking my crotch. Tom, I’m glad you have at least tenatively agreed to share the northern wilderness this summer—It’ll be good for both of us.  My disordered mind needs company and you need inspiration before returning to ‘academia.’
Through the ordeal of autumn with the death and all I managed to rise above it all be placed on the “President’s List of Scholars” at the University.  Janet said is showed how well adjusted and established I was--- I grabbed her tits in front of her mother, she cried, and now in their minds I’m not nearly as well adjusted as they had contemplated.  An unfortunate outburst for all concerned but it was the easiest way to make my point.  Anyway it’s all returned to the back of  my foggy consciousness and it’ll not return until  I rattle.
I read Donleavy’s Saddest Summer of Samuel S. last evening--- it was naturally impressive but not the same magnitude as The Ginger Man.  Also have a short story copied ifn the bourgeois anti-sexuality monthly Playboy--- The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthasar B. but it is the same Dublin/Trinity thing and it will probably be bit as well received as the others. It seem better suited to those of us for whom the divine light of perversion has long since descended and dimmed.  Anyway my shadow seems larger and my body-mind more lustful.  Read this morning where a G-man (FBI) gunned down a hippie in Istanbul.  Seems be less safe than before.  It all sounds ultra-somthing.
They’ve taken all the plastic Christmas to the rubbish heap thank God.  It becomes unbearable after a while.  I’m always suspicious of prophets and apocalyptic visions anyway, it strikes me as a business man’s hoax.  Can you imagine your wife telling you that your child was conceived in heaven let alone the Immaculate Conception---but I mustn’t offend the R.C.s and the lessers.   Skepticism is my cross!  To bear it on my slightly stopped shoulders for the sake…….?
I don’t feel like continuing , Tom.  An inspiration is about to send me to the Conservatory to look at the tropical flora captive behind steamy windows.   The idea of brightly blooming  things behind and forced birth while even the worms are frozen in their slime is curious.  I’ll post this then write within a few days, enclose any journals I’ve accumulated since the last and if you like talk about Phédra or send some of Doneavys that you’ve not read.
A prosperous new year full of goodies
                                            [I have no further letters from Michael]

In September, 1967 I was in Trieste staying at a youth hostel on the Adriatic with the Castle of Miramare to the right and the city to the left… I met Michael J. Peters there. I remember a drunken evening and being forced to stay during a heavy rainstorm in a seaside cabana with him and two South African girls as we were locked out of hostel which closed at 10PM.  The next day Michael and I went to a hotel in the Via Diaz in Trieste, thinking of Joyce writing Ulysses in this city now hollowed out and no longer important… we took a ferry along to Pula in what was then Yugoslavia and then by  train to Zagreb where I last saw Michael as he was leaving for Athens and on to look at the Cedars of Lebanon as he said while I was going to Belgrade and eventually to Sofia where my life changed when I walked up in the dark Hristo Botev Boulevard to eventually marry Lilia, the first girl I talked to, who was then minding her mother’s kiosk.  We left Sofia just before Easter, 1968 for Dublin by way of Venice, Paris and London.  In October we went to Menasha, Wisconsin where my parents were living in exile from Patchogue.

I have a carbon of a letter I must have sent to Michael during this time written on the back of a mimeo of a history quiz I had given in the 7th grade class I was teaching at St. John’s Polish Catholic School in Menasha, Wisconsin.  I began teaching in November after Lilia and I came from Dublin at the end of October.  The teacher had quit and they needed someone desperately. I was a lousy letter writer but… 

Michael:      Thank you ever so much for the Helixs they are a piece of food in this cold night that is lived through with little sign of the morn… could you send more if possible in fact any you don’t need?
The reverse is a test… it is all arbitrary and that but I had to find out if they knew any facts at all…these poor students already their minds are warped by the American death, they talk with glib fascination of the Vietnam death,, about the orgasm of killing  (we have had deer hunting the last two weeks) have you this great festival?  About the refined brutality of death that is American football American style…the previous teacher used to give them no homework if the Green Bay Packers won also no homework on days they might play. 
About Joe McC  his spirit was exorcised by Allen the G last year…the RCs have a mass over his grave each year hoping to bring back his body from the worms.
From the newspapers I could imagine that you should be able to find some nice pair of breasts to bury your nose in, I wouldn’t want the armpit of American civilization for the stubs might spear your tender,,,
The RCs quite good compared to other places and quite progressive  very little control over what I do no outside exams in the 7th grade  the religion is opening their eyes at least that is what it will be for me…  I also teach American history. Monday they debate  resolved THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE WAS NOT JUSTIFIED  perhaps we could go on IT WAS ALL A WASTE OF TIME
You must realize these kids have never seen a slum, they have never seen a Black.  I was going to write negro but that is taboo and I only use the b in class.
Are you able to work and study full time.  I am going to back for night courses at the u in languages as anything serious up here would be a waste of time  I just want the basics and any idiot can teach that
Are you developing the Lowery bit?
I think we will come in June if it is at all possible.  I will get paid for that month and but won’t have to work
Spring in Mexico is impossible anyway there is no holiday given for that
The near fucks  (Evergreen search)  deserve head split open
In fact as I write this letter I have made my mind definite to come  up on the hill with the beautiful  long haired women all mingling and gentle   no news now on novel  but sent it to Hollins College in Virginia in the hopes of a full fellowship to do an MA in creative writing  a nice gentle way of spending a year
Hollins is a girls undergraduate school with an integrated sexually grad school of 30.  The main thing I just do is over awe that them with talent suck’em down socially and then I can sit and type to my heart’s content for a year.
Washington state radical even with Boeing?
You have a nice hand writing  the symbol of good breeding  that is more important in this world gone to seed,  now or a few seconds I shall turn my upper class properly aristocratic
  I might mention in this context  that Mr Donleavy has a new book out
Roberts should not be difficult if you could pick up a methods course in teaching eng. as a foreign language  what about the place in Beirut  also there is an American college for some religion in Alexandria  also working for the oil companies  also the British Council  has good jobs in Saudi Arabia  $7600 plus travel insurance cheap housing etc etc  you would save 5 at least
If you ever want anything from this place I will try and comply  I will send the Milwaukee rad sheet if I can get some copies  a trip to Mil is more than 100 miles
Swimming through the vomit is bad enough
Let me end there
Christmas we realize is coming,,,
I hope you find nice things in stocking but remember it’s what between that counts
And god bless your undertaking to introduce a note of necrophilia into this…

Michael J. Peters is alive in your reading of his letters.  Or have I lurched too far from the example of William's trusting in his red wheelbarrow?  Am I supposed to tell you what I make of Michael J. Peters in these letters.  One last detail  we exchanged books in Zagreb.  I do not  remember which book I gave him but I still have the small Grove Press paperback version of Alain Robbe-Grillet's THE VOYEUR

Thursday, July 9, 2015

NOT UPON A TIME: a Bulgarian moment

        Once upon a day like many days, Lilia responded to a beautiful black/white photo from Venice which I had put on Facebook of her (age 18) feeding the pigeons in San Marco after we had left Sofia in April of 1968, “I remember being happy to leave Bulgaria but the black and white photograph makes me seem like I am dead.”

        I also wrote at that time, Of course, all places are like no other place.
        Both of us are dead in that time when we were on our way to Dublin by way of Paris and London.  All the people we stayed with from that time are now dead… and while I thought I would be able forever to retrace my steps in Paris and London I wonder if it would be possible.  In London we stayed in a hotel in Bayswater and then took the train to Dublin to be met at Dun Laoghaire by Eugene Lambe whose funeral I have heard described in ever diminishing detail as the years go by.
                 Lilia is wearing a black and red sweater I had bought for her in the Kings Road in London since she told me she was easily bothered by the cold and found that she had never been warm enough growing up in Sofia.
        I am aware of myself only in the corduroy jacket which I had bought in Dublin on the north side after seeing a French boy wearing a jacket like this on the train on the way to Calais, once upon a time before this year.

          In a passageway between the Locanda San Stefano and San Marco I heard Bulgarian being spoken and I suggested we say hello to the man and woman but Lilia said in English you can’t talk to Bulgarians abroad, you don’t know why they are here…      
            Never would Venice be like this again when I, when we were on our way to Paris…at Easter, 1968 which we spent in a small village, Serifontaine--- during that visit we were taken to Dieppe--- a cold stony beach at night--- and Rouen for the train back to Paris and in the village square a too familiar reminder: a memorial to the war dead in Vietnam in both the 19th and 20th centuries---  
         Jean, the husband of Lilia’s relative by marriage---the daughter of the woman a few streets over from Ulitza Yordan Lutibrodski in Nadeshda who had married Ratcho--- you never met him back then, Lilia says, my father---  after Medy had divorced him--- was a French orphan from Algeria who read only the memoirs of Charles de Gaulle which he showed me in a fancy bound edition… he had been in the army and learned the trade that he worked at in a photo printing shop near Montmartre Cemetery, as I remember--- is now long dead--- and it was with his relatives we celebrated Easter at a long table under trees behind a village house… in the shade of shed while nearby large rabbits waited to be slaughtered in a few weeks.
        In the years after, Lilia never visited the now a widow of Jean though her daughter once came to New York with a female partner, as we now say, wanting to buy knockoff Rolex watches on Canal Street… but here all the details just disappear into gossip poorly remembered
        But how can Lilia write, “makes me seem like I am dead”?
        BUT THE OTHER DAY I found myself in Virginia, in a park in a suburb of Washington talking to a man who announced he had written a Bulgarian movie without ever having gone to that country.  He had been to every country that bordered on Bulgaria but he was given the chance in Hollywood to write a 91 minute version of a three part Bulgarian epic entitled ASZPARUH, originally 323 minutes long, which was to be called 681 AD The Glory of the Khan.
        I heard myself repeating something I have now been saying for more than 20 years: I went from the obscurity of Bulgaria to the further obscurity of Estonia and this guy went on to explain that they cut the movie a lot, moved scenes around and tried to make it so Americans could understand what was going on.  The Bulgarians had put up a lot of money and this was a small part of their celebration of 1600 years of the Bulgarian state…  it was sponsored by the daughter of the communist boss of Bulgaria Todor Zhivkov which lead on to another story about Zhivkov’s drunken son, Vladimir who was notorious for having thrown his first wife out of an upstairs window, breaking her back and paralyzing her for the rest of her life.  He married a second time it seems and was abusive to that wife though they had a daughter together.  She divorced him and fled to Greece but the husband, for obvious reasons, was given custody of their daughter.  The child was a sort of hostage and here is where Minton’s story became vague:  there was an American, Tom Marshall, who had been involved with the film and he somehow got introduced to a scheme to kidnap the daughter from Bulgaria and re-unite her with the mother. They were going to helicopter her out of the country.  It never happened as Marshall was warned, Jules had been told, if he did actually try to do this he would be eliminated and no one would care.
        Here the story ended as Jules went over to talk to Sally who had been friends with Anastasia Moser, whose own life had been lived as a sort of hostage in Bulgaria while her mother and father G.M. Dimitrov lived in Washington.
        All of this is ancient and obscure in the present moment of a park in suburban Virginia.
        But in truth, this conversation happened twenty years ago and I was making it seem as if it happened yesterday but every moment only has the potential to become the past: the sure project that comes with being alive and which is designed to see that person, this me, dead.
        As if I knew anything, could be said by another and why would anyone want to have been told of this conversation in a park in Herndon, Virginia, a park that…
        Lilia would have had nothing of this.  Bulgaria existed for her only when I mentioned the word and she was forced to remember that yes she had come from that place and this is how she always phrases:  that place.
        At one time I remember my father using that phrase when mentioning where his parents had come from and it was because back in that country there had been nothing for them to do except leave it and they didn’t exactly leave that country but were sent away from that country to this country and there was never a thought to go back to Ireland, since you had left that country or been sent away from that country when you were twelve and everyone who had a part in the sending away was long dead and there had been no contact with that country over the years except on St. Patrick’s Day when you had to agree with the ethnicity of your last name and celebrate its origin and while St. Joseph was the patron saint of Brooklyn since Manhattan had the monopoly on St. Patrick with both an old St. Patrick’s cathedral downtown and a new St. Patrick’s cathedral on Fifth Avenue…
      But here, I find myself:

23 years old in the marriage palace in Sofia, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.
     The witnesses to either side of us are dead. Yordan was prudent enough to become a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party in August 1944, when that was still possible.  His prudence allowed him to become a lawyer and a small time fixer of problems for Lilia's mother who always had problems, as did most people in Bulgaria of one sort or another and a member of the party was essential in the fixing of those problems.  He told Lilia that in America lawyers had a person who did their typing for them unlike in Bulgaria where he had to do his own typing.  That was the extent of his knowledge about America.  He was a nice guy who later I visited in Veliko Tarnovo... he had been the person who found the police official that Lilia's mother could pay to have the permission for her daughter to marry an American.