2010-11-29 17:27

We had our first Thanksgiving in the New World, and it is only fitting that I tell you a bit about it, and the background against which it played itself out. At least, from my own point of view.

For a long time, the so-called “holidays” were my least favorite time of year.

I had long assumed it was a SAD thing. But over the last half decade or so, free at last from the dull tyranny of my genetic “family,” I realized that it was just that I was in seasonal mourning for my father, who alone had made “family” gatherings tolerable. With him, I would play the Xenophon to his Sokrates. We would contemplete virtù (the de) of Piglet and the dao of Pooh living under the name of Saunders…

After his death in 1996, I was left with little more than sidelong glances, rolled eyes, embarrassed chuckles. I was subtly humiliated, shamed away from living in the full eccentricity of my whole self. And let me tell you. There’s a shitload of eccentricity in there. I once spent several months dressing entirely in white, under the firm belief that I was an unhorned unicorn (I have a scar on my forehead where it was wrenched off; I will spare you the endless analysis of how the horn is an extension of one’s spine, and its removal disrupted my head-tail coordination, which is why I don’t like to dance). A youth spent soaking up Monty Python and Tom Lehrer, writing dramatic dialogues from the point of view of a pioneer’s musket (Bang Bang!), long epistles to my compadre over the Juan de Fuca subduction zone written in a multitude of heteronyms, like some third-rate latterday Pessoa.

Bring it on!

Well, I had learned at a very early age that the 1950s had bred nothing but Stepford compliance to stale Puritanical mores… So when I was 19, a teacher pressed Ferlinghetti into my hands, and I knew that the world was full CMYK, not just shades of a young Goodman brown.

But as long as my father was alive, I could hide from the meatloaf-and-TV-dinner world of my matrilineal heritage, and freely and extravagantly allude to the Pynchonesque and Lagerkvistian absurdities that present themselves in promiscuous violation of the Aristotelian unities. Art is a puruit of the fundamentals, a delving deep into the unspeakable, that which lies beneath the moral, the “normal,” or normative. If you follow the wandering fires deep into the unpathed wilderness, you may return like some van Winkle, marked for life as a blind seer. You can’t go home again.

But I tried. It was untenable. I thought that they were there, with us. They weren’t. In the end, my every gesture and syllable offended. So we left, in something very like a huff. The southwest (my idea) awaited. Dust. A bust. Then a sojourn in civilized society, equally sterile and toxic. We fled after treading moldy water too long.

And so here we are. We have almost forgotten what it’s like to be ourselves. Together, alone, either way. “Us”? What’s that, exactly? Not sure, but we’ll figure it out, soon enough.

And I am waiting, for a renaissance of wonder.


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Geoffrey Hill Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 80: We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult