Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poet

Here's a poem I like. I found it in a secondhand Charles Bukowski book.

Not been on one of these.
In college, I dated this Chilean poet for a very short time. "Dated" is more or less euphemistic here, though we did actually go out together a few times.

Jesus and I were in a Spanish lit class together, a mixed graduate and undergraduate class on Medieval morality tales. I fucking loved it, and wrote papers in Spanish with the word "demystification" in them a lot, because that word is pretty much the same in Spanish and English, and I love stories where the veil drops.

Most of the graduate students were Spanish native speakers, and most of the undergraduates weren't. In retrospect, I realize this must have been hell on the teacher. He was British and spoke with a Castilian accent I wouldn't have understood if he'd been a Spanish native speaker. Most of our Spanish teachers were from Latin America and I never learned Spain Spanish.

Jesus, in between talking too much in the lectures, made his interest in me clear with huge, brown, heavy-lashed eyes. He had a beard and thick lips and white, hairy skin. He was skinny. His hairline had begun to recede and he wore a thin ponytail.

Who am I kidding? I'm pretentious as shit.
We started talking, I don't remember how exactly. He made me feel something and I couldn't tell if it was attraction or revulsion. I decided to find out.

He banged on about poetry a lot. By instinct, I knew this kind of talk was pretentious bullshit but maybe because he was Chilean and a foreigner besides, I cut him some slack. Maybe also because I was in college and putting up with people's pretentious bullshit is just something I was used to doing.

Like many universities, my university often sponsored political dissidents out of whatever danger they were in at home, and gave them jobs as professors. Many of the South Americans and Eastern European professors of a certain age had lived through some sort of horror or other. One guy, who'd made it all the way to some Argentine death camp before the Red Cross was able to find him and smuggle him out somehow, went around campus every morning spreading wodges of peanut butter on the trees for the squirrels.

In the UK, they hate the non-native grey ones.


Because it was Eugene, a lot of students bitched loudly about this, claiming that feeding the squirrels was helping the destructive non-native brown squirrels push out the population of native grey squirrels. Like many things in Eugene, this was one of the stupidest things I'd ever heard. People there also bitched that non-native Canadian weed was putting our good local growers out of business.

Despite the protests, the peanut butter was there every morning.

But I get why dudes want to be him.
Other than a few clashes with police in university protests back home, Jesus wasn't a political dissident, though he liked to come off as one. He was neither the first nor last man in my life who fancied himself as some sort of Che Guevara. Or a Pablo Neruda. Or even a Trotsky.

It can be said that I have the worst taste in men ever.

The first time Jesus and I slept together, we were at his house and he was helping me find something on the Internet, which was brand new and I didn't have it at home. A teacher had assigned some readings online, but we couldn't find them. This was a common occurrence with early-days Internet, when it took like 5 minutes just to log on with the dial-up modem that made cool sounds. The search engine of choice was Web Crawler. At the time, I didn't see much of a future for the Internet except maybe to annoy me.
I resisted the Internet for years.

Jesus used some line about being cold and low blood pressure, and we went to bed from there. I knew it was a line. I couldn't decide if it was one of the stupidest lines I'd even heard, or if it was a little bit charming. The sex was okay, but all the different kinds of hair were off-putting. Or hot. I still hadn't figured out if he was hot or repulsive.

He came to my house a few times. I was living in the spare attic room of a house owned by this woman who looked like "Pat" on Saturday Night Live. Ironically, her name was Robin. She was a pain in the ass, quick to pass snarky judgement on all and sundry while being completely unaware of what an annoying pain in the ass she was. In my room, he would start a poem about me, "Como una paloma..." because I lived in the attic. I don't remember how the poems went, but I thought about them sometimes as I looked at the wooden slats of my attic ceiling.

I still think about that sometimes. I was nothing like a dove, ever.

One day, Jesus suggested we go on a road trip to San Francisco to interview Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It sounded like a good idea so I went. Pretty much the whole reason I'd moved to Eugene in the first place was to hang out with Ken Kesey, but that totally didn't happen.

Early on in the road trip, like before we were all the way out of Eugene, it occurred to me that I disliked Jesus intensely. He didn't understand American road markings, and kept getting off on exits by accident. If I'd liked him, it would have been an amusing adventure. But it was pissing me off, and I had already started being put off by the smell of him.

Have I written about this before? It seems like I have. Oh well. I guess I need to make it go away again.

Somewhere in the middle of California, we stopped for gas and he didn't know how to pump gas. I've never even learned to drive, let alone pump gas. It was after dark and the Vietnamese attendant refused to come out of his bullet-proof glass hut to show us how. I figured the gas pump out while Jesus watched uselessly and I only squirted a little bit of gas on the ground.

He had a friend in Sonoma, a Chilean dissident professor who'd been rescued by Sonoma State. This guy's apartment was full of grad students and professors and everyone was speaking Spanish that I mostly didn't understand. Sitting around the kitchen table, Jesus wanted to talk about poetry. He started going on about how he wrote his poems in coa, a Chilean argot. His friend didn't give a shit and tried to shut him up. Then he looked at me just as I rolled my eyes, and smiled at me. He made us some herbal tea that was the best I'd ever had, but he refused to share the recipe. That was weird.

I wanted to feel like I was in this song.
Later that night, when most people had left, we all sat around on the floor drinking wine and getting high and discussing lofty subjects. What else do you expect people would do at night in the apartment of a Chilean dissident professor? The professor told a story of how he'd narrowly escaped some soldiers with dogs, hiding in some brambles trying not to breathe while the dogs snorted around him and somehow the soldiers didn't find him. Jesus tried to talk about poetry again-- the professor was a published poet, after all. Another guy showed us some translations he'd done of an English poem about angels and alien abductions. Somehow the words worked together and it was a very good poem that made sense about how people can easily confuse these two things.


Jesus and I slept under some blankets on the floor. He wanted to have sex and so we did. I used every trick I knew to make it finish faster and closed my eyes and swore I would never have sex with Jesus again and I didn't after that.

The next place we went was Oakland. Jesus had a friend there who lived in one of the newly-renovated industrial lofts that are now super expensive, but at the time pretty much all of Oakland was less than savory. When we neared Oakland, Jesus mentioned that this friend didn't know we were coming. It was late. He said that in Chile you can just drop in unannounced to stay with friends whenever you want. I told him that in the US people didn't really do that, and suggested we call the guy to make sure he was home. We found a pay phone to tell the guy we were coming. He was a bit put out, but gave us directions to his house.

Fucking scary.
Jesus got lost in a scary neighborhood. Guys were out on every stoop drinking 40s, staring at the car and slowly standing up as we passed. I'd lived in San Francisco long enough to know that no good can come of being in such a neighborhood at night. It was the kind of neighborhood a taxi would refuse to enter. Even in Istanbul I can recognize the sort of neighborhood I probably shouldn't be in.

Through clenched teeth, I started telling Jesus to turn around and get the fuck out of there. The guys were coming towards the car, reaching at their backs and sides and carrying empty bottles. Jesus was making fun of me for being scared. I told him I'd discuss it with him as soon as we got out of that neighborhood.
LE thinks Chile is too thin to be a country.

Back on the main road, Jesus accused me of being afraid of black people. I assured him it was more drunk people in projects swearing at us with empty bottles and reaching for guns, real or pretend, that I was afraid of. Jesus wondered why there would be a dangerous neighborhood in the middle of the city, because in Chile it was only on the outskirts that you had to be careful.

His friend was a painter, more a friend of a friend, really, who put us up nicely even though it was almost midnight. He made some instant Trader Joe's rice or beans for us and it was good. The renovated loft was enormous and gorgeous and this guy had clearly had a lot of fun defining spaces and levels in what was little more than an enormous square with 20-foot ceilings and exposed pipes and ventilation. It was one of the coolest houses I've ever seen in my life.

On the way to see Lawrence Ferlinghetti the next morning, I asked what time we were supposed to meet him. Jesus didn't have an appointment. In Chile, poets are, of course, happy to grant each other interviews at any old time. At this point, I was sick to death of Chile and pretty much reconciled to the fact that I wasn't going to meet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but at least we were heading into the city. I hadn't been there for awhile. The smell of it was good.

At City Lights, I was in charge of doing the speaking. I asked the woman there if this Chilean poet I was with could please interview Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She asked if we had an appointment. I said we didn't, but that this guy had come all the way from Chile. She didn't care. I understood.

I don't remember the rest of the trip, except for like an hour of watching the night black road ahead of us, thinking about death or something while Jesus kept interrupting my thoughts to share lines of poetry he was making up about the black road.

I also don't remember how, exactly, the thing with Jesus ended after that, or even if it was awkward somehow continuing to be in the same Spanish lit class with him. I still don't much like poetry, except sometimes I do. I thought about going to Chile, but I never did. I never met Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I don't even like his writing all that much, but still. It would have been cool.

There are lots of things I've never done.

I regret those things a lot more than the things I have done.



4 comments:

Ian said...

hahaha, This was awesome! You've lived quite an interesting life.

I kind of feel as if I need to up what's left of my college experience. Too few Latin American political dissident parties for my tastes.

Anonymous said...

some of the best writing I've read.

We started talking, I don't remember how exactly. He made me feel something and I couldn't tell if it was attraction or revulsion. I decided to find out.

magic.

Stranger said...

Hey, thanks! In retrospect, I wish I'd left off "I decided to find out," since, obviously, that's what I did.

Claudia Turgut said...

I think you should write a novel.I didn't want this to end..