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Crisis Actors

July 25, 2018

I started writing another poem yesterday. In this one I’m teaching. I enter the lecture hall and boot-up my PowerPoint, but, wouldn’t you know it in a poem about teaching, “technical difficulties” arise: what appears on the screen is not my PowerPoint at all but a film of myself, naked, standing in front of another lecture hall. Clearly I’d forgotten there was to be an exam. The film is black and white and silent, with inter-titles, but somehow the score for the The Third Man, by Anton Karas, is audible, the one with the zither (a word I’ve always hoped to type). The students, the real ones, not the ones on screen, start to take notes, because I’ve apparently begun a lecture on Ring Lardner’s “Haircut.” (Why does Lardner type “of” for “have” when no difference in pronunciation is audible? Did the barber write this? Of course not!) No one in the lecture hall acts as if anything strange is happening, and maybe nothing is, just a normal day at school. Jimmy Cagney appears on screen with me, but then he’s Steve Buscemi; they’re phasing in and out of one another; and at a moment of recalibration, they offer me a gift of fear, which I accept. And now onscreen I’m in an orange jumpsuit and zip-cuffs––for cause. Buscemi gives chase, corners me in an alley shouting, “Lust is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame!” and then he gut-shoots me twice––and then I wake in a hotel bed, sweating from the nightmare. All this happens onscreen, as I expound on Lardner’s “Haircut.” And still the students take notes, nothing amiss at all, no sleeper cells in the hall today, not a one. A word formed in my mouth, “Water-board”; and I said it twice more, “Water-board, water-board,” and it sounded like birdsong and twilight. But then the kids start levitating. One, a young white whale, exits a window, rises to an altitude of 600 meters and detonates; the school I’m in is gone, nothing left but insult, blood, and ashes. I come to, swaddled in yellow police tape: someone was looking out for me (everything happens for a reason). And now we are on the set of the school, and the cameras roll, and the powers point, and I notice again, as for the first time, that I’m wearing no clothes; and then the crisis actors arrive and send me to wardrobe, and I choose an Ermenegildo Zegna shirt, blue jeans, and a chalk-white Glock. I feel ultra-safe. Back home, my wife says, phatic and perfunctory, “How was your day?” I reply in kind and switch on the TV. First comes a story about the latest summit––incalculable heights and crags. There follow tales of honey traps, Samatha Bees, and of the latest baseball shootings, but the young white whale who leveled my school, whom I lied to my only wife about;––of him, not a word. I reach into the freezer by feel, and bring out some Stouffer’s french-bread pizza, which, after preheating the city, we eat. And of that evening I recall nothing else but dreamless sleep, and “getting back in the saddle” the next morning, because nothing beats getting back in the saddle. By the time I reached the lecture hall, everyone was seated again, and though the hall is now a quonset-hut with green-screens, no one minds, certainly not me; and I find myself lecturing on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and everyone on earth is taking note; and then, naturally, I point out how his real-estate speculations in Chicago led Stephen A. Douglas to frame the Kansas-Nebraska Act, opening up a vein in Lawrence that neither William Quantrill, nor Sam Brownback, nor Thomas Frank would ever staunch. Satisfaction overwhelms me. I feel called.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 25, 2018 11:36 AM

    “and the cameras roll, and the powers point”!

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