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The Hotel Oneira
By August Kleinzahler
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2013 August Kleinzahler
All rights reserved.
THE HOTEL ONEIRA
That was heavy freight moved through last night,
and has been moving through since I'm back,
settled in again by the Hudson at the Hotel Oneira:
maps on the walls, shelves of blue and white Pelicans,
multiple editions of the one epistolary novel by K.,
the curios—my sediment, you mighty say, my spattle trail.
Look at them down there by the ferry slip,
the bridal party, organza, chiffon and lace, beside themselves,
being wonderful, desperately wonderful, a pastel foam.
Behind them a tug pushes a rusted barge upriver.
Helicopters, small planes, passenger jets above.
They behave, these girls, as if this is their last chance to be thus.
You can feel the rumble of the trains
vibrating up the steel of the hotel's frame.
They move only very late at night, from three or so until dawn,
north along the river and then west.
There is going on just now a vast shifting of inventory
from the one place to another. I can feel it, inside my head.
I find myself going down there, late, behind the highway,
at the base of the cliffs, where the track runs.
Last night, what at first looked like a giant coelacanth
strapped to a flatbed rattled slowly past,
but it was merely the enfoldings of a tarp catching the streetlight.
I remember Uncle Istvan at the lake, unaccountably.
This has been going on quite a lot since I'm here.
How is it that I remember him? I saw him but the one time
and was a very small child, at that:
the madras Bermudas, the foreign, almost spastic gestures?
What is in those railcars is also inside my head,
or I imagine it so—no, not imagine, know.
How can one know such a thing with certainty? One knows.
Visitors come by my rooms.
The new one, black-haired Ileanna, I most hate to see go.
It is always when the lights first come on across the river,
late in summer, early in winter,
but always when the lights begin over there,
in the countless apartments, with their cloth napkins and vases.
At first, only the late afternoon sunlight,
glinting off windows as the sun lowers in the skies,
but not long after, that's when the lights begin to come on;
that is when she gathers herself and leaves.
There is a story there, but one I choose not to know.
You were still only a child,
I, nineteen, the age of your eldest boy now.
It was the evening of the Marijuana Caper
your eyes first met mine at the China Chalet.
I believe it would have been spring,
early, but days clearly lengthening,
a patch of ice maybe here or there,
pussy willow catkins ...
We nearly bought it twice that evening,
my father swerving left and right,
Mother, beside him, silent, stiff with fright.
He was mad at something.
Mad, of course, at life, but mad:
only very occasionally, and on this occasion.
They'd dose a man like that these days,
or try. He'd never have stood for it,
nor any of us, who knew the storm he sailed in
and trembled to be on board with him, but still ...
Your hair was black, or nearly so,
and long for a child's, partway down your back.
Your eyes dark, as well, roving, restless,
then, as now, taking in the busy room,
as you fitfully dug through your pile of lo mein.
We hadn't planned to get him stoned.
Improvisation was a habit in that household.
He insisted we put it in his pipe,
to prove that he was right, getting high
was humbug, a notion fools entertain.
Mother hid in the kitchen, out of sight.
It was a long-ish drive for us of a Sunday,
but not so long as it ordinarily might have been.
His frenzy, that's what would have caught your eye,
the way he went after it, like a dog at a carcass,
scowling over his left shoulder, then his right,
dare a stranger approach to share or take away
the wonton crisps or dumplings, beef
with scallions, shredded pork, whatever floated by—
New Jersey Chinese fare of the day.
It would have thrilled, or frightened, a child
to behold an adult at table quite so wild.
40 years ago, 40 years ...
You don't remember all that, do you?
How could you? I'm making it up,
the two of us both there at the same time.
It might easily have been true.
If I made it up it's because it pleases me to.
As you please me, poking through your lo mein,
raising your head nervously to take in the room,
me, and what's doing with the rain.
A HISTORY OF WESTERN MUSIC: CHAPTER 63
They follow you around the store, these power ballads,
you and the women with their shopping carts filled with eggs,
cookies, 90 fl. oz. containers of anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid,
buffeting you sideways like a punishing wind.
You stand, almost hypnotized, at the rosticceria counter
staring at the braised lamb shanks, the patterns
those tiny, coagulated rivulets of fat make,
both knees about to go out from under you.
—Can I help you, sir?
No, no, thank you, I'm afraid not ...
It's mostly the one woman who writes these things,
a petite, almost perpetually somber brunette
in her L.A. studio, undecorated, two cats,
traffic coursing up and down the boulevard outside,
curtains drawn against the unrelenting sun.
Because of your unconventional lifestyle
you have been shopping among women your entire life,
young mothers and matrons,
almost no other males around except staff and seniors,
the old men squinching their eyes, scowling at the prices.
What sort of life have you led
that you find yourself, an adult male of late middle age,
about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits
in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma
with her sparkly, extravagant eyewear?
It's good that your parents are no longer alive.
It's a simple formula, really: verse, verse, chorus
(and don't take too long to get there),
verse, chorus, bridge, solo, if any,
chorus (good chance of key modulation here—really get 'em),
electric keyboard, soaring guitar, likely a string part or two.
There's no telling how much that woman is worth,
a "misunderstood Jewish girl" from Van Nuys.
How would one go about making love to someone like that,
sitting alone in her studio all day, shades drawn, two cats,
writing these songs of tortured love,
up to the tips of her waders in self-immolation,
often keeping at it well into the night?
Celine Dion, Cher, Michael Bolton, Faith Hill, Toni Braxton—
knocking you back one after another, all morning and afternoon,
at least until the men arrive after work. I don't know why.
Perhaps it has to do with the "emotional nature" of women.
You, you're breathing all funny, nearly paralyzed.
But there's one song they almost never play
and I'll tell you why: it's the one Dolly Parton wrote,
not the brunette, but it's not Dolly who's doing the singing,
it's the one who just died. Because if they played that one,
it wouldn't be just you dying in aisle #5.
All the girls would be dropping like it was sarin gas
pouring from the speakers up there hidden behind the lights.
Thass me, your jibber-jabbering Sulawesi booted macaque, most amused to be
braining rodents with fig buds from up high,
near the tippy-top branch of my tuq-tuq tree, and that's no lie,
when you passed by below wearing I forget now which look.
You gazed up and smiled, sweet-like: "Why not c'mon on down, Joe?"
How'd you get on to all that? And we're talking not just "Joe"
but the local macaque lingo? No one else could possibly know
but Mommy Catawba and Sorella-si, who'd prefer not to—know.
So down I scramble, with that studied pause&pose, how I do.
Curious, I was, thrilled, even reckless—given the prospect of jungly fare
that might be awaiting me at the bottom there: vipers, crocs, cats—
but careful of my fur, lest the bark catch it up and cause a tear.
Then, hey presto, there I y'am, eye to eye with the buckle of your belt,
Toenails painted crimson, lipstick too, like the ass of a certain baboon I knew.
You opened your blouse, urged me to take suck. Talk about blind macaque luck!
Oh, it was heaven, heaven past eleven, there in the shade of the tuq-tuq.
Know what? She was almost like me, but human and seldom found up trees.
She just kept on nodding as I spoke—or jibber-jibber-jabber'd, no matter.
What a marvel, the mess of riffs, tales&compleynt that spilled forth.
Then because or in spite of, perhaps even by custom, she lifted her skirts
and proffered unto me—mercy—the loveliest basket of warm desserts.
I once knew a lady wot lived in a shoe
Had so many laces she didn't know wot to do
So many laces, faces, places ... Wot's a girl to do?
I jibber-jabber'd, jibber-jibber-jabber'd myself to a proper lather
and whipped that lather into a nice thick batter and baked up a waffle for you.
A-monk-a-mee-a-monk-a-yoo, I baked up a waffle for yoo
did "The Itch," "The Scratch," "The Scrunch," "The Shimmy,"
first at the Macombo, then Bisquick Jimmy's,
danced us some "Buzz Step" at the Du Drop till 4,
slipped back into gear, closed down Pete's Notorious Zanzibar.
Come dawn I played "You the Foo" on air-guitar.
You shrieked, you coo'd: I was your macaque megastar.
I filled your head with jungle lore. "Salawesi Baby Boy,
says you, "tell me, tell me, tell me some more!"
I once knew a lady who lived in a shoe
Had so many laces, eyelets, tassels, hassles, faces to see, places to be ...
Wot, oh, wot's a girl to do?
Now I'm back in my tuq-tuq tree, where, you might say, I was meant to be.
Every so often I try to be human—
Right time, right place, right face—
then forget myself once I get to groovin'.
Thing is, what I most need to remember,
got to scurry on back up lest there's a change in the weather.
But know what? DO YOU KNOW WHAT?
I'm having such a ball, never ever do quite manage to get my act together.
Get my ass caught out in the rain, all hell breaks loose.
Fur gets so damn wet and funky, can't hardly move.
Critter red alert!—might as well be stuck in a tub of glue.
I get bit. I get stung. Pretty momma's gone back to wherever she's from.
It's a long, long way back up, bloodied and beat.
I'm hanging out with the flying squirrels from now on, believe you me.
SELF-CRITICISM AT 3 A.M.
Don't take that call:
Deft veronicas in an empty stadium,
The wind's applause ardent but fitful.
CLOSING IT DOWN ON THE PALISADES
Kettles, rain hats—
the small, unopened bottle of Angostura bitters,
its label stained and faded with the years.
The breeze is doing something in the leaves
it hasn't been, not at this hour.
The light, as well.
Early yet for the cicadas,
their gathering rush and ebb.
the sun not high enough.
A cardinal darting among the shadows
in back of the yard,
only at this hour
and again at dusk.
What is it so touching
about these tiny episodes of color
amidst the greenery and shadows,
now and at day's end,
that puts to rout all other sentiment?
The garbage truck compactor is grinding
all 24 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica,
1945 Edition, including Index and Atlas,
along with apple cores, bed linen, ashtrays
and all that remains of an ailing begonia.
It is raining, not yet light. The wrens
will have put off their convening on the hemlock.
The distant beach homes of Malibu
come strangely to mind, high on the cliffs
overlooking the Pacific,
and how, now and then, after a terrible storm,
the soil beneath washes away, followed
not long after by the house itself, sliding
then crashing to the rocks below, its side tables,
vanities and clocks licked at
by the gathering foam and, finally, pulled to sea.
Every Saturday they awaken me before dawn,
lights flashing, men shouting, the hydraulic whine
of the compactor as it gnashes away:
desk drawers, yearbooks, sugar bowls.
I shall miss them. I shall miss
the sound of passenger jets overhead
making their descent into Newark in the rain,
before dawn, the first arrivals of the day,
with groggy visitors from Frankfurt, Bahrain.
There is hardly anything left to take—
lamps, a chair, bedspring and mattress.
The last roses still abloom out in the yard.
I can't tell you what kind, pink and white,
the tallest of them 6, 7 feet high.
Then, that'll be it till spring.
That'll be it till spring.
Even the crickets are unnerving me tonight,
and the smell of camphor in the warm room
worse still; my woolens will outlast me.
Home again, from points north, west,
a suitcase full of useless books and no prospects.
There's a folk song that goes like that:
insipid—pathetic, really—without the music.
This appears to be a condition I shall not escape,
a gravitational field to be suffered through all my days,
like some wayward, doomed alien.
At least the folks are asleep. Getting along in years,
they shrug. A shrug means peace.
The stomach knows, when the clams are bad, or worse.
Perhaps that is truly the site for love,
or where love takes root, finally, and sets up shop.
I had imagined something much less uncomfortable.
The dirty aureole across the Hudson is New York.
Jets sink into it. Here, on the cliffs opposite,
trees whisk themselves. The wind freshens for rain.
Even George Washington, on the lam from Howe,
hid out here. He ate and ran
south. Ask any ghost along the Hackensack.
It's late, very late; that I do know.
Mother's bought new bed linen for the occasion,
described on the package as "duck egg blue,"
so clean and cool I could be afloat on a lake.
Excerpted from The Hotel Oneira by August Kleinzahler. Copyright © 2013 August Kleinzahler. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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