A Collection Of These Things
By Carl Kopman
When you ask me how to do it
How to make it make sense
Break the words in a Poem
So as to make them less dense
I am as speechless as a blank page.
I have sadly come to the realization that the only thing I have to write about is writing. My garden is entering its summer doldrums, the small tool shed I am building is taking forever, my wife and I are bickering in the sequester of our Pandemic malaise – she nags at the progress of the shed (3 months and counting.) I am uninspired, knowing that to write about our relationship would turn small cuts into wounds, comedy into tragedy, poetry into a ponderous piece of meat.
My writing lives in more than one world at a time. I associate from one free possibility to another until, bingo, I am engaged. There is depression, a grayness of fog hovering always. That’s why the jokes. It’s all about wanting to be loved.
I fall into a hole when I write; a deep and sometimes dry well. Often a deadline for a story due is my lifeline, adrenalin my propulsion, the pencil my tool for escape. Only this time I can’t muster the energy to write myself out of this hole. There is no fictive language to lift my optimism, no magical clay god rising from the mud to contradict the trumpeted absurdities of these viral times.
That’s where I’m at. No way can I write a story.
Buddha says relax and do what Buddha do.
Chan Lee says it is easier to fill a hole than to dig one.
Seinfeld says it’s all about nothing anyway.
My wife says the shed, the shed. And enjoy what you do.
I say whatever, just get it done. The prelude is finished, finish that letter to a friend, rant a little, throw in Leonard Jacobson’s Penis for good measure, write an epilogue, remove In The Wake Of Allison’s Tears even though it’s the only thing you have written lately that gives you any joy— it being about writing and death in a Nashville kinda way; still, remove it.
A Title? Hmm. Call it A Collection Of These Things, and be done with it. Or call it Much Ado About Nothing if that hasn’t been used yet.
I’ve thought a little more about what you said you said when I asked if you’d read my story in ICC and you said yes, you had read it, but you got lost without a narrative. And when you apologized, later, on the phone, for the dismissive tone in which you spoke, I said— no no no! that’s all right. I know my writing is not meant for everyone. And you said you just need more context, and that you never read poetry in the New Yorker and I said no no no! I understand.
And today while I was screwing down the rafters on the small shed out back in the corner of the garden, I thought about narrative and how little I think about the craft of writing. You said you need the discipline of setting to know where you are and where you are going. That’s a worthy consideration for a reader and a writer.
I was a little bent by the way you said what you said though I wasn’t aware of it, but I’m over that and do appreciate the apology and the feedback. We laugh and care for each other. That’s what we do.
You share your sculpture and sailboats with me; I, with you, my stories and poetry. It’s what I have to give.
As my mother would say, it’s water under the bridge. What’s in that water is Jewish guilt. And I still can’t figure it out. I’m not a very analytic person. I deal with emotional impressions, trust the perfect order of the muse, and am satisfied that what comes out, comes out and will be good enough. That’s my narrative. Transparent but difficult to understand.
BTW—Using two-by-sixes for the end rafters looks so professional. Thanks for the advice!
I didn’t want to leave it there, the nature of hope turning lemons into lemonade. Some of life is sour; turns cynic in a time, grateful in a time. The Yin and Yang of emotion and reason is my writing, my poetry, my humor. It’s what I have to give. Maybe lemonade is the best I can do.
But I do wish you had found something funny to like in my story.
All My Love,
Leonard Jacobson’s Penis
I was dreaming the other night about Leonard Jacobson’s Penis when I fell out of bed—bam to the floor, shaking the house.
“What the fuck!” My wife, who was sleeping in the next room called. “Are you all right,”
“I dunno, I was dreamin’ about Leonard Jacobson’s penis and ….and… I dunno …”
“Oh that again,” she said.
“Never mind. I wanna go to sleep. Do you need me?”
I was leaning against the bed from which I’d fallen, I’d smashed my hand on the corner of the night table, a little blood was dripping from above my wrist.That it could have been my head crossed my foggy mind.
I pulled myself from the floor, pressed a tissue against the wound and began walking around the room rubbing deep down into my buttock. It probably wasn’t a fractured hip.
“Yeah, I think I’m Okay… Good night,” I called, but I think she was already asleep.
Awkwardly, I rolled myself back onto the bed, a weak pain pulsing into the depth of my piriformis as I pulled the quilt over my head hoping that something like the ten-second rule for food would apply, as well, to dreams disturbed by the rolling out of bed. I struggled to find comfort in my mattress; to sleep perchance to dream.
It was complex, the dream.
I was interviewing Donald Trump for an article I was writing for the Atlantic Monthly. Trump was prancing about a press conference extolling the erection of his latest tower shooting skyward above the skyline of Chicago. Across the tip of his manly tower was branded the Trump name.
“No one’s ever seen anything like this,” is what he was boasting when Lenny Jacobson’s Penis entered my dream.
Lenny and I went to the same grade school in Brooklyn from kindergarten to eighth grade. I didn’t really know him, can’t remember a conversation I ever had with him and know he wasn’t involved in the fiercely competitive softball, punchball, devil ball, basketball tournaments that abounded in the schoolyard of PS 238.
I have a good visual of him; taller than most of the kids, lanky, a large hooking nose, black curly hair and an overbite. We attended the same sleep-away summer camp when we were twelve.
And that was when the rumor spread from cabin to cabin, bunk to bunk, that Lenny Jacobson had the biggest dick in camp and was able to perform fellatio upon himself. Why was he so prominent in my dream, this boy who could suck himself off.
I must have screamed for my wife called out my name in an exasperated tone. “Not again!”
I willed myself awake. Could it have been true what they said about Leonard Jacobson? And what the hell was Trump doing there.
The last thing I remember was him tearing down my shed.
Some days I sit with this virus, not in my body but as a poison in my mind. Media works in panic and fear then sells relief. My wife asks if I am depressed and I tell her I am dealing with it.
I fight back with chocolate, Ibuprofen, Ambien and Netflix binges. I wear time off my body with exercise, participate in distanced dining and dance with my family on the patio, write a poem, a rant, walk the dog, clean the kitchen again. That seems to be the way of life in the comfort of my limited routines, in the confines of my corralled activities.
My son asks if I am depressed. I tell him maybe and rant on. I have become a Zoomified zombie, I tell him. A player in a Trumpified reality show—Twittered, Facebooked, Face-timed, Snap-chatted, Hulu-ed, Disneyed and Tic-Toc primed for the next CNN, MSNBC, and/or Fox breaking news— Trump saran wrapping my mind in the ignorant mendacity of his reptilian lies.
A pathetic Pagliacci bemoaning an act of singularity, Fauci’s popularity, Brown Shirts to Portland muscularity. immigrants, non-whites, the poor, the aged fail to exist, How do you resist a narcissist, an opportunistic fascist who cannot be avoided.
My daughter asks, am I okay, do I need help. I’m okay I say. And yes, I do need help.
My grandson, the youngest, the one who made lemonade from lemons asks me to tell the story about the time I tried to wring the chicken’s neck and it jumped up and chased me and Johanna around the yard back in the back to nature days. I tell him he has just told it.
I forget many things. Commas and quotation marks, how to plot a story, establish a setting, what narrative is. I have even forgotten what this story is about. But I have not forgotten that the plywood sitting on the rafters of the small shed we are building in the back corner of the garden by the bird of paradise and the trampled Martha Washington Geraniums still needs to be screwed down, nor that life is a blessing if you have people with whom you share love, and that sometimes you can do something you didn’t even know you wanted to do and feel better for it.
Carl is a retired school teacher, house painter, commercial fisherman and NYC taxi driver now living in Berkeley, California.