I’ve arrived….somewhere. Maybe I’ve only marginally distanced myself from my desert isle, and am now knocking at the city gates. The sleepy watchman says, Who the hell are you and what do you want ? No point in explaining the last ten years, so I slip a few pages of mss. through the slot and go my way. Nobody knows what will come of it.
There’s a short fiction on the Baffler and an essay on Radical Living at the fine KGB site. It’s a bar and literary salon in the East Village, NYC, not a front for a long-gone Russian intelligence-op. (Although I’d offer my services, if they paid.) More to come, I keep scribbling and sending out. Le Plouc, my novel, is still waiting but who wants to read it ? One highly-placed New York editor said, I’m not in the mood for a Paris novel right now. Maybe Prague or Sarajevo or whatever Orban has made of Budapest is more his liking ? What’s happened is he’s been alerted to the fact that People of Different Colors have a tough time of it in the States and he’s determined to do something about it. Although he’s not sure what. Maybe put a Black Lives Matter badge on his site.
Meanwhile… has the bell rung on Covid, Round One ? More likely we’ll make accommodations with the creature and learn to live with it. Paris is coming back to something approaching its lively propensities, the café terraces are burgeoning, drinkers laughing especially loud and hopping table to table, paying little attention to what’s left of the curfew while the anticipated hordes of American tourists refuse to materialize. It’s a different Paris now, the hotels are closed and we are in fact living in the After-Time. The System has collapsed, long live the System ! There will be no new normal. My friend R. is a boney, affable Englishman who married into the upper crust of Southern society, ran businesses and now is reduced to sketching portraits on the street in front of the big venues. But the giant plazas are empty and there are no takers. We gave each other long looks last night and decided, forget it, leaned back and sipped our charity tea at the best café in town, run by Secours Catholique outside the Mairie of the Fourth Arrondissement, where the building clock is broken and it’s always 6:32 on a long afternoon that never ends. The café opens every night at seven for the homeless. It ran right through the winter, through the harsh weather, the curfew and
confinements. The police never bother with a bunch of crazy, homeless people. At times it feels like one of Goya’s watercolors of the asylums under an open sky but it does something indispensible, giving the forgotten and maligned and the very fucked up a place to be in company, a short break from the awful solitude of the city streets. We sit and read and talk, maybe the woman with a mean look on her face who’s a terrific dancer will show up and sometimes the angels come round with a bit of food that the silent men and women who sit away from everyone else devour shamelessly.
Of all the people there, every one whom I could write about because no one else does in Paris, they’re all chasing famous writers and chefs and fashion models, I’ve got to find M. and he never comes. He’s hiding out somewhere, and sleeping with his piano. Not under his piano, with it. If you had sat with him in the evening under the overhang at Cité des Arts, among the homeless, trying to cheer him up while he slowly slides the piano into the sleeping bag to keep thieves from getting their hands on it, then you’d know a little of what it is to be Up Against It and not in some ordinary liberal, fictive sense. The thieves waited until all the men and women had gone to sleep before they went to work and when M. woke up he was minus his phone and money. Even the Roumanian madwoman who mutters insults all night got touched. So M is sleeping somewhere else now. I’m trying to get him vaccinated despite his fear of needles.
Portly, scabrous Irishman who hasn’t had a shower in a week, he won’t feel a thing but that isn’t it. I don’t want to be part of the system, he moans with a straight face. Worldwide pandemies mean nothing to these folks, they have their pride. How much further out on the limb do you intend to go with this, I ask him. Green Ireland and a free apartment in Kilkenny await but he can’t get there if he doesn’t have his shots. That’s all we have to do, fella, and if I have to throw you over my shoulder to get you in to the back room with the nurse and the needles I’ll do it. Oh will you now ? he says to me, larfing. I’m ten tonnes of solid beer, old man. Yes, a scene straight out of Rabelais awaits but first I have to find the old piece of junk. He wandered off out of sheer boredom after my 49th lecture about the straight and narrow, so now I waste hours imitating him wandering precisely nowhere, trying to out guess myself where he might be. Paris is a maze, he could be hiding anywhere in plain sight. Someone said he was hanging in Les Halles, so off I trot like the old donkey I’m well on my way to becoming. If I hear those chords on the electric coming from around the corner…
Enough of that. A poem for the season by Brecht. The academics publish big Brecht anthologies that weigh a ton and grow dusty in university libraries. Who can afford one of those ? They look nice on people’s CV and the important person can say, I did my best, people just don’t care for poetry like they used to. Years ago, I worked up a small chapbook of love poems, song lyrics and psalms and ever since publishers have put on the high dudgeon, like how dare I. Not in their house, you know, tsk tsk tsk. Only a great poet, that Brecht, but he had his moods. Now Black Scat on the West Coast is excited and wants to publish; maybe the dam has burst in America and a few readers want to read about something other than being victims of this or that. Poets want to be read, they want to be on people’s lips, part of our gossip, not owned by publishing executives. So, sorry but I don’t feel like waiting another five years for copyrights to expire. Here’s one.
Spring Psalm - Bertold Brecht
1. I'm laying in wait for summer, boys.
2. We've bought rum and stretched new gut-strings on the guitar. Fine white shirts we still have to earn.
3. Our limbs shoot up like June grass, by mid-August all the virgins will have disappeared. That’s when bliss gets the upper hand.
4. Day after day the sky overflows with a gentle radiance and the nights rob you of sleep.
But I forgot the best part. I arrived at the boulangerie at just the right hour, when there was still bread for sale and the old loaves, the ones that are going slightly stale, are slipped into the bread bag with a wink or no one says anything at all. I was headed for the door when one of the workers behind the counter, a woman who’s writing a bit now and then, got lit up about the story in the Baffler. I was amazed, I didn’t think she’d bother with it much less get all the way through but she did. Fantastic, she repeated. Ten publishing houses a day never bother to respond but you can live on a few words like that if you have to. So now I’ve arrived in the sweet spot, temporary - like Achilles. j
p.s. Always best to read these Riffs a day or so after they post. The lysergic kicks in and they get better overnight. I get some sort of psychic thrill pushing POST, who knows. Sorry there wasn’t more on the Commune, I didn’t get a whole fuck of a lot of response so i got busy with other things (see above). Better luck next year. Riffs launches a few walk-around lost Paris pods sometime next week, I hope you’ll give a listen.