Interview by a Guggenheim Recipient

I
this South American up here on a Gugg
walked in with his whore
and she sat on the edge of my bed and
crossed her fine legs
and I kept looking at her legs
and he pulled at his stringy necktie
and I had a hangover
and he asked me
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE AMERICAN
POETS?
and I told him I didn’t think very much
of the American poets
and then he went on to ask some other
very dull questions
(as his whore’s legs layed along the side of
my brain) like
WELL? YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYTHING
BUT IF YOU WERE TEACHING A CLASS AND ONE OF THE
STUDENTS ASKED YOU WHICH AMERICAN POETS
THEY SHOULD READ
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM?
she crossed her legs as I watched and I thought
I could knock him out with one punch
rape her in 4 minutes
catch a train for L.A.
get off in Arizona and walk off into the desert
and I couldn’t tell him that I would never teach
a class
that along with not liking American poetry
that I didn’t like American classes either
or the job that they would expect me to
do,
so I said
Whitman, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence’ poems about
reptiles and beasts, Auden. and then I
realized that Whitman was the only true American,
that Eliot was not an American somehow and the
others certainly not, and
he knew it too
he knew that I had fucked up
but I made no apologies
thought some more about rape
I almost loved the woman but I knew that when she walked out
that I would never see her again
and we shook hands and the Gugg said
he’d send me the article when it came out
but I knew that he didn’t have an article
and he knew it too
and then he said
I will send you some of my poems translated into
English
and I said fine
and I watched them walk out of the place
I watched her highheels clack down the tall
green steps
and then both of them were gone
but I kept remembering her dress sliding all over her
like a second skin
and I was wild with mourning and love and sadness
and being a fool unable to
communicate
anything
and I walked in and finished that beer
cracked another
put on my ragged king’s coat
and walked out into the New Orleans street
and that very night
I sat with my friends and acted vile and
the ass
much mouth and villainy
and cruelness
and they never
knew why.
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I wanted to have a poem and I was pregnant. I was very thin. As if I’d lived on air. A poet must be able to live on air, but a mother must not attempt it. My mother wanted me to buy a set of matching pots, Wearever aluminum, like the ones she had. They were heavy and had well fitting lids so my suppers wouldn’t burn. My husband wanted me to give dinner parties. John F. Kennedy was running for office.

I sensed danger. Kennedy wasn’t against the Bomb or for nuclear disarmament. I joined SANE at its inception. Also Concerned Scientists. I spoke with Linus Pauling and encouraged my husband to help his partner organize Physicians for Social Responsibility.

There was a baby in my belly. I wanted to write poems. I had a crazy idea that a woman could write a real novel, the kind that shook the world. I hallucinated that a woman could be a poet, but she would have to be free. I couldn’t imagine that freedom for myself even though I could see it in Isla Negra when I followed Pablo Neruda. I could see it in the way he walked. Even if he were walking inside a dictatorship, among guns, soldiers and spies, there was nothing between him and his vision. Anything he saw, he was able to take into himself–there was no sight, no image, no vision to which he didn’t feel entitled. In his heart, everything–everything–belonged to him. Pablo Neruda was–more than anything–a poet, and so he was an entitled man.

I was a woman and entitled to nothing. I had nothing except a husband, a rented house, a set of pots, living room furniture, a frenzy of obligations, credit cards, anxious relatives, too many acquaintances, a gift of future diaper service, two telephones, no time to read, a plastic wrapped cookbook of recipes gleaned from the pages of the New York Times, and a hunger, a terrible hunger for the unimaginable, unlimited freedom of being a poet, and a baby in my belly.

I would have called Pablo long distance if I had the courage, if I had the ability to speak Spanish fluently, if we had ever talked about real things. But, what would a man know about a baby in the belly? And what did it matter if there were to be one poet more or less in the world when so many in his country were dying?

I woke up one morning and thought–I can’t have this child. My husband said, “You’ll have to get a job after it’s born so we can buy a house. You’ll need an advanced degree so you can do something.” I thought, I can’t. I have to write poems. My mother found a crib. Someone painted it white. A friend sent a pastel mobile with tame wood animals. I thought about blue curtains, making bedspreads, and abortions.

Pablo was silent. He was walking so far from me, I couldn’t hear him. My husband objected to donating more free medical care to the Black Panthers. I tried to make dolmades from scratch and located grape leaves preserved in brine at the Boys’ Market twenty miles away. I organized a write-in campaign for peace to challenge JFK. My husband thought it would be nice to have teatime with the children and romantic dinners by ourselves. The new formula bottles lined up on the sink like tiny bombs. The U.S. was pursuing over ground testing; I was afraid the radiation would cross the milk barrier. I had a poem in me howling for real life but no language to write in. The fog came in thick, flapping about my feet like blankets unraveling. I became afraid to have a daughter.

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