by Jillian Weise
DEAR NYLES- I’M WRITING TO YOU on a beige and brown typewriter with a resistant return so I have to push when I get to the end of the line. I’m writing to you from an A-frame in the middle of some woods, near a pond in South Carolina. I’m writing to you in the second bedroom, which I hereby name office since I have no one to bed there. I’m writing to you one week before my complete and comprehensive knowledge of the twentieth century—friends of, enemies of—becomes manifest, on the laptop, which is why I need this typewriter, to properly write a letter, because on other devices I now only type timelines, biographies, reminders, possible opening sentences, where one -ism introduces another, like who -ism you to me?
I can’t find the poems. The proctors have taken the poems out back the house and shot them and returned them to me as theories. Longinus is swell, but after that it’s like reading the instructions on how to behave at a dinner party. But, I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ve purchased the appropriate attire: the flannel shirt and Velcro long johns, so I don’t waste time in the bathroom. Time, Nyles, is what we don’t have much of. Anyone can tell you that. On MWF from 8:00-5:00 p.m., I will be timed. I will type twenty pages each day. I will be in the office, staring at Lindsay Lohan’s spread for GQ and quoting Walter Benjamin. I will open all the windows to Spark Notes, Wikipedia, the Scribner Writers Series, and JSTOR. I will prove in sixty double-spaced pages that I know American Poetry, American Fiction, and Poetic Theory from the beginning of time.
Don’t get a PhD. I know this sounds strange coming from your teacher.
Don’t believe those who tell you your favorite poets are pansies, your favorite prose knock-offs of Europeans. Don’t purchase any more three-ring binders. Don’t insert any more quarters into the Bobcat Card Machine. Don’t waste any more energy in the third floor lounge trying to figure out what alterity means. Don’t apply for additional student loans. Don’t knock on doors. Don’t ask soft questions, such as, “May I bother you for a second?” Don’t take off your glasses, your sense of wonderment. Promise you will stay a stand-up bassist forever.
And don’t go away for war, or pardon, or because you’re mad at me. When we fucked in the men’s bathroom, it was a bad idea. But we didn’t know it yet. Don’t read The Wings of the Dove for any reason whatsoever. Don’t be led down the path of the third person formal academic when you mean to be the obscene first person hep-cat that you is. Beware of thus and therefore and hence and thus which swing on the hinges of the most abysmal essays as if to warn “KEEP OUT.” Anytime you are tempted to use the word “again” just repeat the sentence in its entirety. The sentence deserves that much. What did it ever do to you? At some point, the Beats will try to wile you away, into the world of dope and opiates and good-looking women in yellow school busses, where no one ever gets hurt because we are all having such fun! I’ve been looking for the truth in these books, these one hundred and eighty books of required reading, but now they are asking me to define the Kantian tenets and other bunkum.
I have been highlighting sentences for days. Yellow is for poem this, green for this might be a big deal and blue for this puts me to sleep.
When you read a sheet of music, do you think “what a pertinent staccato” and “what a problematic arpeggio”?
If it seems like I’m rambling, I am rambling. If it seems like I’m concerned for you, I am concerned for you. Five or ten years from now, something might cause you to look over, to the left of your music stand, and think of an instant that you didn’t choose the symphony in Los Angeles, the orchestra in New York (how should I know where you’ll be? I can’t even find you today, and they’re firing me) and consider, your eyes on the red velvet of the curtain, or on a stagehand behind the red velvet of the curtain, squint, squint, that you didn’t mean to be playing Brahms, you actually meant to be a verb diviner, a vice verser, a chameleon of emotion, and that such as task would be best suited for a PhD in English with a sub-emphasis on twerking. It’s possible you will be bearded then, and with an itch in your throat, and with the cuffs of your pants too long or too short. Nonetheless, do not come here, to PhD Land, where people get drunk and fondled by the Medievalist’s husband. They get lost in the Dewey Decimal or they get lost in Dewey Dell as they lay dying. They jump up when the journal THEOR(H)ETICS accepts their piece on the meaning of the phrase “I am picking into your sack,” and when an actual human being picks into their sack they want to tell that person about Lacan’s theory of how many people are in a room when one’s sack is being picked. Four. Six. I don’t remember. Point is—I’m serious.
You could spend years in this vortex, trying to commune with the dead, choosing between marginalize and disenfranchise, paradigm and parapickle. “Cixous,” someone will say, and you will say, “Bless you.”
Poems will become either wet or dry, raw or cooked, Confessionalist or Conceptualist. People will become either subjects or objects, either minority or majority, or you will have to find a name for them, a coffin, and you will put them in it, slamming the lid on your fingertips. Forget pleasure. Forget the first time you read that one Bukowski poem, that one titled “Texan,” and you were sitting on the side of the girl’s bed, and you thought the way she said, “damn,” I mean she really said it, “day-um,” when she was reading the poem was the most beautiful thing you had ever heard, and then a strand of hair fell in front of her face, a single strand wanted to be closer to her mouth, just like you did, and suddenly trite is what you will call that memory, and sentimental, and nostalgic, and other such spirit-stealing words, which describe the scene if you are behind a desk with papers to grade and twelve committee meetings and a girl who has forgotten how to scream in the sack.
By then it’s no longer a sack, you are firmly rooted in the middle class, you share a Sleep Number (shes 62, you 78) and you don’t marry the woman because that is just so proletarian and you make love somewhere around 70 and as you’re doing it you’re composing an email to your class, one that you will post on Blackboard first thing in the morning, perhaps you will use the word alterity. “You’re hurting me,” your girlfriend says, and you will get the students to see you as the genius you truly are, sans button-up, sans tie. You will excuse all absences and forgive all typos.
What of your conductors? Your maestros? Do they plush academe speak at you while hoping you do not notice that they have not said anything since February? Who is saying things? Where are they? Bring them to us?
Play your stand-up bass forever. Keep writing. Push the resistant return. When possible, write in the buff while listening to your Romantics and drinking, but not too heavily, and do not put things up your nose. Please. I’m afraid I’ll never read the way I used to read. I want to be surprised. Instead I keep hearing crickets. The amount of cicadas in poems you’d think we were in a bog. Are we in a bog? What is the equivalent of this word in music? Does G minor annoy you? Are your peers afraid there is no note left to play? In two millennia of thought on what makes good writing good writing, the only consistent answer is: magic. I’m afraid I’ve used up the magic allotted to me in this University.
So farewell. Goodbye, beloved dick. Say hi to your girlfriend.
But there is something else I want to mention. Stay in the moments when you forget what you’re doing, who you are, who I am, like now—you are Nyles, and we violated the policy on teacher-student relationships. And now you are superimposed: you are this guy I dated in New York, and yesterday we were on 103rd Street—near the block where the animals became bars, Raccoon Alley, Alligator Lounge—and your roommate pisses in the flower pots. You are in bed watching Das Boot. You don’t want to go out. Your whiskers become you. I have my raincoat on and I am begging. When is the last time it rained and you were inside someone? Once it was raining, and I had gone to dinner with some guy, and he came back to my apartment. But I changed my mind. I said, “I have work to do.”
He said, “See you tomorrow”.
I walked back into the bedroom and there was the ceiling. On the floor. Plaster on the floor, the bed, the dresser, the books. The sky was in the rom too. I looked up and there was sky. I thought, “How did my house know my heart wasn’t in it?”
I can tell straightaway when my heart isn’t in it, and sometimes I will say back, yes you are, go ahead, there’s so much dinner to eat and at the very least he has read The Nick Adams Stories. I have gone to far as to stay with the person, one year, two, thinking, “My heart ain’t in it yet but maybe someway it will rain and a yellow school bus will drive by and put my heart in it.” Ne’er did this work though err I tried it. “God still exists, in other words, but we’ve swallowed him,” writes John Gardener, hacking a poem into paraphrase. Have you noticed that when you’re paraphrasing for someone, say you’ve met someone, so you need to fill her in on the last years of your life, otherwise she starts nagging you, or she starts thinking you a cold-hearted person, you can’t do it justice. You want to say, well, a lot of really long things concerning what happened in New York, but you realize, as you’re talking, that none of it is exactly right, and instead you’ve got this much more succinct, but sadly inaccurate paraphrase of one of the most significant moments in your life, and what’s worse, the other person is nodding, smiling even!, content with the piecemeal version, maybe challenging something here and there, to show interest, but you’ve ruined it by trying to catch it and put it in the sum of five seconds. There is so much you can’t say.
You can’t, for example, tell anyone about the best blow job you ever received, made best because while I was giving it to you, in the recital hall, you felt that that was the only place you ever wanted to be, past present or future. You can’t say that. And you’ll have to give up the random brunette at the party who looked like the girl from your high school but wasn’t, which made it all the hotter because the girl from you high school would never have followed you home, taken off her panties in the elevator, done you in the hallway and left before you unlocked the front door. The girl from high school would’ve wanted your band jacket, your class ring, a wedding, and so it was better, more pure, awesome really, to take the girl in the hallway. You can’t tell the next person that either. So what are you telling? Anything?
I hear you and you are saying it’s not important. Because it is in the past, it is not important. Remember I taught you Faulkner. You should know the answer to that. Dear Nyles. Dear Hep-Cat. Bring your impressions to me. I’m going off the grid. After these exams, I’m gone. I will make an ideal confidante. I won’t say a word. So don’t sort out what to tell and what not to tell. Whisper it aloud-anything you want, from anywhere you are—right before it rains. Of course, you must finish school, and wear scarves, and walk across the stage, and apply for another school, and make promises, and walk across the stage, and land the fellowship with the New World Symphony. I guess—it’s inevitable—you’ll want to settle down somewhere. Have a family. Buy a house. Okay, but I’m afraid I have to take you, in spirit, with me. See you tomorrow.