The Poet In Love
from Ode To Sunset
—A Year In The Life of American Genius—
a fiction by Pat Nolan
Carl Wendt wowed the audience at the Ian Blake Memorial Benefit by reading excerpts from his book length epic, Procreation. Afterwards, he was joined by SFPD Inspector G. Grace Niklia for a post reading tête-à-tête at Crepe Del Sol, a 24hr pancake house on Masonic, where he fell hopelessly in love with the police detective. Needless to say, she wasn’t interested.
On the slog back to Balboa, the fog had wrapped itself around the line of horizon like a big grey breaker. He stood at the top of Geary and considered stopping in at the Red Hen, but it was late and he was tired. His conversation with Grace replayed itself and he engaged in the correcting of his mental transcript. What he should have said, what he could have said, what he would have said if only she had said. His figurative heart ached. As blasé and as cynical as he normally was, Grace held his attention, an object of unattainable desire. He wanted to know her with a kind of intimacy that transcended the physical. It had been a while since he’d felt that way. He’d always played it safe, his assignations generally brief and for the sole purpose of self-satisfaction. He’d been hurt before. And if he’d admit it, he was a coward. Sheila, Valerie. Even Danni. What rejection did to his self-esteem, crippling. The apprehension of pain darted through the amygdala, the pain of regret that still made him flinch, twitch with a deeply etched cerebral tic. How and what would he have done differently. That was the kind of speculation he rarely indulged. Yet Grace. He would open himself to all the possibilities of love and affection as well as rejection, heartache, unknown and untold pain. For her.
Think positive, he told himself as he paused at the curb before striding across to the other side. The traffic noise distracted him and he gave his attention to the near day-bright illumination of the boulevard islands and passing headlights, the storefronts, shuttered by grilled gates hung with pendulous chains and locks, coffee shops and bars and restaurants minimally busy for a Wednesday night and buzzing faintly like stunned bees.
Maybe he shouldn’t have played his hand so soon. It betrayed his eagerness. That rarely happened. The mountains came to the Poet, not the other way around. Grace was different, smart, sharp, intelligent, sexy, sexy intelligent. Nor was she part of the inane literary scene. She was a whole new world, a new world he would gladly step into and leave all else behind. What could he do to gain her attention, to win her respect? He was out of his element in the real world of competition for jobs and wages. He was a fucking charity case, he’d admitted as much to her. Smug in his skin of teeth survival as what, a literary dandy, a fop, a swell, a coxcomb, a toff, a macaroni, a blade, a buck, a fribble, a popinjay, a carpet-knave, a dude? A flaneur without a pot to piss in and soon no window to throw it out of? He had to face it, he was a participle dangling poseur, an idler, a lounge lizard. What could she possibly see in him?
But she, she was a melody, unforgettable, bound to bore its way into every thought, a maddening musical loop to accompany the memory of her laughter and her perfume. It started above the right ear. Bah dah—badah da da da dadah. And then above the left ear. In stereo. The Quintet. But actually they started it with a little downbeat. Ba do dum ba do dum bad do dum. Before Dizzy gently unfurled the melody line over the solid comp of Bud’s keyboard and Mingus’ bass, Max tickling the skins and Bird testing the spaces in between. All The Things That You Are. A sentimental favorite, particularly this version. Sometimes it left him on the verge of tears, riding a great swell of indiscriminant emotion. The melody recalled pervaded him and he hummed it, remembering the trilling of Bird’s alto playing with the line and the way the rhythm section knocked against it, Mingus finding places for big thumps and Bud’s sparkling notes splashing out as languid liquid flow. He allowed his breath to tumble over his lips in a bare approximation of the saxophone’s improvised peregrinations. His pace on the sidewalk keeping the beat as he added recalled nuances, not in any particular order, now going back to the melody for his own purposes because that’s what got to him, the sweet lyric of that phrase, all the things that you are. Now back to bleating it out louder above his breath and flattening the sounds like that of a deeper horn. Wondering what the genius of J. J. Johnson would have done with that particular riff. Of course he’d listened to that track often enough to remember Dizzy’s high register trills attempting to squeak them out between his pursed lips on the dark night street amid the roar and rush of fouling engines, smiling at Dizz’s riff punning on the Grand Canyon Suite in the middle of his solo, and the wrap up change of tempo upbeat crescendo into a Powell classic, Dance of the Infidels he was pretty sure, to bring it all to an end washed in the static of applause. But he could always bring it back to the head. Bah da badat dadadada belioo bang boom zee-toon-do badah. It was love.
Or something like that, something he had no time for. His present situation tentative as it was. He was the bear about to be evicted from his lair after a long hibernation. From dream to waking as in the solemn attendance to death, a period of activity, a rebirth as with spring. Oh furry Persephone! Should he also consider himself a wandering Ulysses, not to get too Joycean, caught in the maze of islands of the eternal city, though that was more like Dante, all his friends shipwrecked or eaten by Cyclops, nightly, frequenting Polly Famous’ CAVE (Cabaret And Variety Entertainment) in the Castro, realm of the one eyed snakes, or turned into pigs, the majority of them, and he trying to return to Penelope who is the muse, his ex-wife, old girlfriends, his new love, all women kind and unkind. Should he consider the city a labyrinth, that he was Theseus? And the Minotaur? How do you go from believing that all women desire you to thinking that the one you desire most could care less? The rebuke in her lovely face, almost too hard to bear.
Caveat Lector: Ode To Sunset is satirical fiction, not a roman à clef or veiled autobiography. No actual poets were named in the writing of this fiction with the exception of dead poets who serve as historical or literary markers as is often required of dead poets. To read more of the scurrilous and louche peregrinations of the last of the hardboiled poets go to odetosunset.com
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in the US and Canada as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, two novels, and an online serial fiction. His most recent books of poetry are Exile In Paradise (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2017) So Much, Selected Poems, Volume I 1969-1989 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018), and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.