Nothing, Cont.

Speaking of nothing, Henry Green wrote a novel titled “Nothing” (1950). “Nothing” shares some of the characteristics of the early radio and television soap operas. It’s nearly all dialog; one can’t see the narrator, but the storyteller sees the reader. “Nothing” is about the nothing that is the something at the center of human activity. One forgets the narrator is watching one’s every move. From dialog only the characters are drawn, succinctly and diversely, such is the clarity of their voices – that they talk mostly of nothing is nothing. It only matters what one says. By nothing is not meant something insignificant; on the contrary – it is only through the direct encounter of nothing, where the characters are stripped of all their lies and workarounds, diversions and investments, that the essence of true life is revealed.

Yet it’s 1948, and these “Nothing” characters don’t seem as affected by the recent war as Barbara Pym’s characters in similar settings. “Nothing’s” John, knowing his daughter Mary “was to be out of London the next forty-eight hours on some trip in connection with her Government job” (133) – but we find out little to nothing about that job or what the connection is. The war of course was an unpleasant affair, its results mostly visible in the everyday details of work-a-day life: the difficulty of finding a suitable flat or flatmate, parsing wardrobes, the reopening of restaurants as places of interest, the local church the center of social, cultural, familial life (think jumble sales, lectures, and clubs of all sorts), and the shortage of marriageable men or men with the proper attitude toward marriage. Thus stripped of diversion and meaningful advertisement these folks on the edge of nothing seem a peculiar precursor to our time when commercialism and popular culture, and the adulation of the famous for being famous and nothing more, seem to reckon yet another coming.

What to do

“Nothing to be done,” Didi and Gogo bicker, essentially about what to do, like an old couple of a long suffering, loving marriage. Nature is no refuge; the one tree in their world seems sick. They can’t go anywhere, for fear of missing their appointment with Godot. They hang out and talk, express various physical complaints, visit the past, ask questions they can’t answer.

The play, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” is famously about nothing. Nothing fills the stage, informs the dialog. If they carried cell phones, their batteries would surely be dead. In any case, they’ve no one to call, and no one to call them.

The two (often described as tramps, bums, or hoboes of some kind, clowns of some sort, lost from their circus, or stripped to being human without diversion down-and-outs) might be among the last few of a pandemic, or simply retired, their pensions just enough to enable them to do nothing but talk freely, which is everything in a world of nothing.

It’s not easy – doing nothing. Even contemplating nothing can be a nerve-racking business, fraught with anxiety. Consider, for example, what nothing is. Nothing is what is not. In the beginning – well, just before the beginning, all was nought, and from naught came all.

And it’s not easy doing nothing responsibly. nān thing. And yet, if you make a practice of it, you are called a do nothing. But there is no such thing as nothing. Nature overkills. If the universe is infinite, and the universe is composed of things, there can be nothing within, and nothing without.

Consider a bottle out of which you suck everything, leaving nothing, and you cap it, a bottle of nothing. Would it be dark in there? Like dark matter? For if everything is taken out, light too must be absent. If scarcity creates value, what could be more precious than nothing? And Didi and Gogo are its brokers.

Solstice

The soul rises from the south
searching for the sea
falls into the ice
burning, too late to turn

back, the days stay
long, the soul no
more may sleep
in its own heat

and stands still
at this very moment
9:14 am
on a Tuesday overcast

morning, the soul
invisible behind
its clouds
this year

the soul loiters
in no hurry
hesitates
hot and heavy

as if it just
ran a marathon
or swam in a surf session
there on the beach

under a prismatic
eye-catching umbrella
people from miles around
gather in its shade.

Father’s Day

Mornings, like me, enjoyed
up with a cup of coffee,
the first sip a prayer,
an offering, for Patty
and the kids before work,
primed the pump,
but I don’t think he ever
worked on his bio,
and I’m sure he did not
know a pronoun
from a down dulcet.

All day long he stayed
disappeared in the galvanized
wooden shells,
from ground breaking
to the pipes out the roof,
returned with the turning
of the tide and said,
“Get Dad a beer,
will ya Joe,” each
from which I took a sip
until one day I took
too much out of us
and things were never
the same again
but in the mornings
before work,
quiet over a cup of coffee,

maybe I was up early
to go surfing or ride
my bike to school times
my car was broke down
usually a Bug in the shop
at Jim & Jack’s,
two Iranian brothers
down on the corner of Grand
and Sepulveda,
but that’s another story.

Dad was no good with cars,
couldn’t hear the engines,
always “feels like it ain’t
gettin’ no gas,” he’d say.
That’s one way it was just
outside LA city in the industrial
beach town on the edge between
the cool water and the heat
some mornings sunup
with a cup of coffee
and few words, maybe
enough for a haiku:

damp carob odor
as three trees drop chocolate
pods crushed on the walk.

Three Soldiers at Ease

We do not know
what comes next
peace of snow
or a three day blow
of more man made smoke.

Today’s maybe the day
the sun don’t set
we’ll grow cold
in a gold casket
the widow in debt must pay.

But perhaps a parade
truce hugs and kisses
prams and hand carved canes
heads bandaged with
white cotton underwear.

Day after Day the Weather Rather

“Day after day that August, the weather stayed hot and dry. These days we call it real holiday weather but, then, only the well-to-do in those parts went far afield and even a week at Scarborough was remarkable. Folk stayed at home and took their pleasure from an agricultural show, a traveling fair, a Sunday-school outing or, if they had social pretentions, a tennis party with cucumber sandwiches. Most country people had a deep-rooted disinclination to sleep away from home and a belief that, like as not, to sojourn amongst strangers was to fall among thieves. It was the way they always had lived and, like their forefathers, they traveled no further than a horse or their own legs could carry them there and back in a day.”

A Month in the Country,” J. L. Carr [Bob Carr 1980], nyrb 2000, p 82.

And these days the weather
rather like some older person
no longer relevant
fluous, superfluous
your personal covenant
(within a place of your own
family and knickknack
weekends yard games
reprieve from work
a bit of a book
a work of art
music hot dogs
pizza and beer)
the seal broken
by those expensive wingtips
these days full of closet dust
expansive neckties the colors
of ecclesiastical vestments
no one in the office guessed
how much trouble caused
from the either or fallacious
suits
and no longer personally
responsible for the ugliness
of the world
find beauty reflected
in all the broken pieces.

No quotes suffice nor even
allowed the etiquette of now
of an equality unshared in the
shadows of human conditions
the tics of post traumatic
stress disorder
not to mention
the tics of now
living in the moment
cursed with mindfulness.

Anyway, we were on the radio
a dinner party was playing
and we lined up to go through
the food line
like at an automatic car wash
noises on soaps flooding
and after walking down the line
feet locked into the tracks
nude through the car wash
slapped to and fro back and forth
by the wet washing cloths and huge
spinning wheels and sprays
we dried and redressed
and vowed next time
we’d be better rehearsed.

The only thing left
for us is the weather
to go
out in it
to get wet
and dry
wet and
dry
again
and again
day
after day.

Three Men in the Breeze

Pinned to Ted’s chest a list of opinions
changed daily like a tie or underwear
and on his forearms his feelings tattooed
in secret for most days he felt nothing
unless he rolled up his sleeves

which he often did when Jocko came in
stinking of the couch where he put all
his cards into watching sports on TV
exercising his extensive vocabulary
culled from an encyclopedia of games

while story after story after story came
from the very vocal pen of one high
falutin bird dogging Mitch whose body
still twitched from his days in the ditch
of public service (“The buck stoppeth
here,” he liked to say, “safely in my
pocket. I did my time, it’s your round
to buy.”)

Mr. Moneybone knew all about finance
and happily pulled out a wad and spat
into a gold spittoon declaring one
on him for the whole house

though only Agnes in her corner chair
sipping rye correcting papers and
doubting Tom at the end of the bar
where the petrified wood curved
all the way into Montana and now

all their words gone to seed
mixed on the sawdust floor
with that tracked in from the road
in the Breeze a one draft pub
they considered their last deed.


Comma Toes

Where to step a comma , 
to tiptoe haltingly ,
without readers tripping over it ,
losing their way.

A comma pirate drops his
offshore ,
as if it had a special purpose ,
a bouncing buoy ringing a bell ,
a porpoise out all alone.

The comma critic , well-versed
in elementary particularity ,
vacuums up all the fallen commas ,
the mote dust off a linoleum floor.

The exclamation point shouts ,
a telephone pole poised atop
a bowling ball !

While the ear shaped question
mark asks the obvious ,
ad nauseam ,
comatose.
“Why all the questions!” “Why are you always shouting?”