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Verses and Vices

Once upon a time, poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Or we like to think we were. From Homer to Heaney, Petrarch to Pound, Shelley to Stevens, Dante to Della Fica, we have carried on our shoulders an inheritance of false and inflated influence. Let´s face it: poetry changes nothing, alters no realpolitik, stops neither the tyrant nor the torturer, doesn´t even make the best seller lists. Oh sure, Shakespeare claimed the heartbeat of his matchless lines would cheat death, but I haven’t seen him hunched over a laptop at Starbucks lately. And if it wasn´t for that insufferable lit survey course you slept through your freshman year in college, most of you out there wouldn’t know a poet from a podiatrist. Even if you did, what effect would it have upon the quality of your life, in this great gilded age of global economies? Would poetry serve you any better than the worship of wasteful, mass conspicuous consumption? Would it make you happy?

Homer, okay, Petrarch, yes, Shelley, naturally, Pound, perhaps, Dante, of course, but Della Fica? "Haven´t heard of him," you say. Of course you haven´t. These days, poetry has been systematized out of all pretense toward any relevance that it may have ever once held claim to, bureaucratized into a piebald system of patronage and gelding farms known as English Departments. Nowadays, poets ride a plastic Pegasus outfitted with the training wheels of academia. Della Fica. Now you´ve heard of him. And you´ll be hearing a lot more--because he´s me.

Raymond "Ray" Della Fica. Winner of a Yale Younger Poet´s award for "A Poetry of Comets and Drums." Former Poet-in-Residence at ---- College. Also author of the Pulitzer-producing "Sonnets to Myself" and the MacArthur-granting "Nocturnes for No One." Co-editor of the cutting-edge literary quarterly, "BOMBAST." Leading proponent of the New Informalism. But that was all before the general of hot desire introduced me to Anastasia Schicksal, she with the eyes and heart of a cobra, and cast me into the crucible and cauldron of real, hardscrabble life experience. 

That little diapered bastard.

I used to be happy. I pulled in $70,000 for teaching two graduate poetry writing workshops a year, spent my summers in log-cabined bliss among the monotony of trees pricking the Green Mountains of Vermont like porcupine quills (a cabin I purchased with those MacArthur funds) and had adventurous, meaningless sex with lots of young student Plaths. The more neurotic the better. They vibrated with resentment, self-loathing and a lack of talent that would virtually guarantee starting blocks on the tenure track, once they completed their MFAs. 

And I never really took the threats of suicide seriously. 

Oh resistless yearning! Let me tell you, my life wasn´t easy in those days of papal courts of political correctness, sexual harassment, and rape hysteria. Big Sister was everywhere, telling us who we could do, who we could not do, what to do, what not to do, how to do it and promising in return for blind, shackled obedience a fulfilling, clean, orderly life of safety, security, and sexual boredom. Sex wasn’t supposed to be about pleasure, it was all about Power and Control; my own rather straightforward habits classified as an abuse of absent paternal authority, pathologically inflicted on the Plaths for my own selfish, personal pleasure, punishable by purgatory or perhaps prison. Just ask our administration, a.k.a. the Council of Trent. 

Silly me. I thought sex was all about desire, the body correlative attracting. I certainly had the courage of my carnality. Call me a pagan, call me a barbarian, call me a sexual desperado ravaging the daughters of deans, diplomats, and dentists alike, just don´t call me a goddamn hypocrite. 

If I had only played along, married some boring, stable icon of domesticating influence, willfully entered the captivity of the commonplace, my power sapped by the kryptonite of kids, fooling around on the side every so often and demonstrating contrite, politician-like sorrow when caught—"of course, dear, no, never again, I’m welded to the desire for penitence and forgiveness . . . when do we start couples therapy?"—I could have glided effortlessly through to the pension light at end of the tenure tunnel. But I had to act on what I believed, and believe me, when you do that there is always an iron-heavy price to pay. 

I thought Eden would never end, but I should have brushed up on those blank iambs of Milton. Christianity replaced the orgasm with the image of ecstatic swooning in morte, the moment of martyrdom for The Cause. Death exchanged for life, the Passion for passion, monotonous monogamy for bacchanalian variety, the most rotten deal in the history of our sad sack species. 

All those canonical works of art, music, and literature, celebrating suffering, torture, and orgasmic death, St. Sebastian impaled on the phallic arrows, all of it simply Christian bureaucratic control over pagan, individual freedom. I just couldn’t buy into it. So ever comes the Fall. Eve, the snake, the tree of forbidden knowledge, temptation, banishment, death, it’s all here. Remember Dante Aligheri, forced north into exile in Verona from his beloved Florence by the Duke de Medici and a death sentence? He embraced his misfortune and crafted the vulgar tongue into la commedia divina

Now I´ve been forced into exile—sort of. And for better or worse, you´re getting this.

A Couple of Lines of Poetry

It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it 
is eternal life—it is Happiness.

Not bad, eh? I wish I had written them. No, that honor goes to an old, grizzled, white-haired-and-bearded wanderer named Walt Whitman. Father Walt, the phallus of American poetry. But Walt was wrong. It is all chaos and death. Every single day of every single life we are presented with the undeniable fact that human existence ends in limitless and unrelenting meaninglessness—extermination—yet we continue like Platonic cave dwellers to deny it. Each life must have form, union, and plan . . . right? Otherwise, what´s the point in living? 


A History of the Clown Dynasty (I)

Professor Dietrich Trent was a scholar specializing in the postwar German Diaspora, which ranged far and wide after that final Berlin bunker incident, from Buenos Aries to Hollywood to NASA. He was married to Dr. Hoko Hirohito, great-grand niece to the Last Emperor, and, if such a thing is possible (I still harbor doubts), a former geisha girl turned feminist cultural critic. Author of "JAPS Do Give Head," a controversial "heteronormative" critique of the Bill and Monica fiasco. Famed for luring the transgendered Keynesian economist Georgia across the George Washington Bridge from Princeton to ______ College, to help gender-diversify the pasty-white and penis-extruding faculty. Not to mention chair of the English department. 

Around the hallways we referred to them as The Axis Powers. Or at least I did.

Speaking of Georgia, she turned out to be a six-foot-five suicide blonde with black eyes backlit like a movie marquee, a coltish overbite, a mouth made for devouring, and a penchant for tight-fitting, thigh-creasing designer dresses and heels spiked like bodkins. She had a wicked smile and an equally wicked sense of humor. She also had a taste for young boys that would have made her the envy of an entire college of counter-reformation cardinals. 

Knowing what little you know about me so far, you would suspect that someone who’d had their penis peeled like a banana, turned inside out, and surgically tucked and sculpted into a vagina would hold little or no interest for me. And you´d be wrong. She may have metamorphosed from George into Georgia—his "Kafka moment" as she called it--but Georgia was still one of the guys. She reasoned like a guy, she argued like a guy, she used logic like a guy, she was sexually selfish like a guy. After all, they hadn’t exactly rewired her brain along with her plumbing.

It was like having my own personal Tiresias perched on a barstool next to me. 

"So, Georgia, is sex better for men or women?"

"C’est ne pas mon truc," she replied, tilting the umbrella shading her Singapore Sling. "Don’t ask me to take sides, cher. At least until you’ve tried it." She elevated her drink skyward, slurped it down in one protracted gulp, then tongued the ice cubes into submission.

"Sorry, Georgia’s not on my mind." I sipped my vodka martini. "But don´t you know—"

"Le petit monsieur? Pas du tout." She snapped her fingers at the bartender for another Sling. "Ghost appendages and all that. Besides, it´s kind of like having a glove turned inside out. Still works, although it does look kind of funny."

"The love glove."

"Do you know what they call pussy in the Fatherland? Mushi. Very onamopoetic, don’t you think? Try that one on Dietrich the Demented sometime."

Perhaps it was having Hoko’s affirmative action savior hanging out with the campus coed raper, after-hours at the Library of Sexual Congress, an off-campus strip club and erotic literature bookshop, that started us down the malignant path of misfortune. Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps it’s all my fault. It’s still hard for me to believe, as Nietzsche once argued, that I consciously wished all of this upon myself. I wouldn’t have wished any of this on my worst enemy. Well, that’s not quite true.

The hardest fight is always with yourself. Crazy Friedrich called it Machtgefühl, the Will to Power. I call it a King Royal Fucking Pain in the Ass.

Cupimusque negata

Ovid once wrote "love is no assignment for cowards." I wrote the following poem in response to Ovid, caught up in the vapors of sexual intoxication clouding my affair with Stasi. How else to explain my involvement with a crazy shiksa named Schicksal? You would think at my age I would have learned by now. And you’d be wrong. 

One day
in a place where the sun
warms the hills
and light
copulates with the earth,
where the ink-spill of gray clouds
no longer costumes the sun, 
the sparrows and sorrow
of gloomy winter gone,
and sun and sea married
in shimmering harmony,
sparkling with
the vernacular of life.

That day
I will lift you to the heavens,
an offering to Aphrodite,
and your heart, 
cupped in the warmth of my hands,
will sing like a canary.

This truly demonstrates the despair and utter hopelessness of the self-deluding romantic, who believes that love contains the power to transform even the most mundane of lives into an epic worthy of celebration by the poets. 

Wait, I am a poet! But no matter, I also now know that love is only the empty space between us, and the illusion that somehow we are connected through it. 

Oh, Stasi, Stasi, why hast thou forsaken me!

Would it have changed anything if I had known you used your mother’s name—and that your father’s name was Trent?

Please realize Mr. Gatenby
lives in Rome, Italy.

[Forever after at

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