I’m in a barn on a hundred acres of land trust in upstate New York. I hear a machine going somewhere but outside all I can see are naked trees and then hills descending to a small pond and past that a line of mountains. Nearby is the farmhouse where an Irish man and his wife and three children live. How did I end up here?
Last night I gave a reading at bookstore in Hudson with Daniel Nester and Nick Flynn. Actually, we read to each other and the bookstore owner and three friend’s of Daniel’s and also one of Daniel’s old students who happened to be walking by. Daniel grabbed the student and said something like, “So, you’re here for the reading.” The student said he wasn’t. That it all sounded very interesting but he was on his way to get something to eat. Daniel pointed out, correctly, that he could get something to eat and bring it back to the bookstore, which is also a bar. We would wait.
Then, we drove to Catskill, where we were also supposed to read. Nick called it the crack capital of America, but I thought it looked nice. But then, South Central also looks nice when you’re just passing through, all those low, colorful houses. It doesn’t resemble anything like a war zone. That was the great thing about Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago. You could see it, rising from the ground, daring you to walk inside. There was a density of population in those buildings that was undeniable, that spilled out into the court yards with its arms crossed and stood on the slabs of cement leading to the heavy doors. You knew intuitively the elevators didn’t work in those buildings. Though if you looked closer the people out front often seemed to be having a good time. But there was danger in those buildings, maybe not every day, but often enough. That the thing about violence, if you lived in a building where someone got shot a few times a year you would have a hard time sleeping, and the lack of sleep would take its toll, even if the majority of the time you were just hanging around. And you took one look at those buildings- the Taylor homes on the other side of the 94 staring bitterly across the highway, which was like a river (a man-made river built intentionally) separating them from Bridgeport, the South Side Irish, and Comisky Park, and the people that have run Chicago for decades, and the bars there where they didn’t serve black people. Imagine, a bar on the south side of Chicago that didn’t serve black people? It’s like opening a Klan office on the first floor of the NAACP headquarters.
Anyway, we were in Catskill, which is in the “lower Catskills” and there was a fundraiser for a new lo-fi radio station. They’d gotten a grant from the government, most likely the Department of Homeland Security, but they had to come up with some matching funds. There was a poet who did a kind of bebop thing while his daughter plucked away on a strange, tightly wound instrument (I think they call it “flux poetry” but I’m not sure). The poem he read had a certain rhythm and rhyme to it, but it reminded me a little bit of Earth Day one year in Grant Park when I was homeless and I got on a bus full of hippies and traded some of my acid for some of their vegetarian chili and one of the hippy girls, who was probably ten years older than me, but I was only fourteen, said something about taking me home and giving me a place to sleep for a while. But she didn’t. A lot of people failed to bring me home that year.
At the fundraiser there was also a video installation and all sorts of music. Sparrow was there doing his performance poetry. There were two separate rooms with two stages going at once. It was really a happening. A fantastic blend of art and performance. For some reason I was the last reader scheduled. I didn’t introduce my book except to say it was a memoir and that I was reading something new every time so if they didn’t like what I read they shouldn’t worry about it. Then I read a part toward the end where I’m dating three women and the trial is coming to a close and I’m talking about murder and I’m also describing S&M in heavy detail. And there is a line where the woman who has tied me up becomes my mother and my mother wraps her hand around my penis. Even as I was reading I was wondering what I would do when I reached that line. But I knew I had to look up, meet their eyes. Put it on them.
After, close to midnight, we found a place where we could get a large mushroom and anchovy pizza and a yoo-hoo chocolate drink. Which is how I ended up here on a farm thinking I could really get into this. Reading Bolano still (forever?). Thinking about the infrarealists and their manifesto. How Bolano committed to traveling (at least through his twenties, which, frankly, is nothing) and how Bolano kept losing teeth as he traveled. Like breadcrumbs, he said, so he could find his way home. And I think I don’t want to go home. I want to stay in this farm house. I could get some real writing done. But this is a life of leisure. Who would pay for it? I don’t want to fix the house up or deal with the mouse problem. But that’s writing anyway. You make your money here and there and what it pays for is stretches of time where you don’t work and the lower your expenses the longer the stretches of time. So you have to either marry well or stay childless and alone. Or you have to come from money, which is basically unforgivable, unless you go out of your way to marry a poor writer, preferably a poet.