June 1

While reading an old news article, I came upon a surprising admission by George W. Bush: he confessed that he is a nov-elist. In an interview with CBS he said, discussing the struggles of his contested election, “It’s been a fascination, as I’m sure you can imagine. I’m not a very good novelist. But it’d make a pretty interesting novel.”

Now, suppose I say, “I am a very bad ice skater.” This means that at some time I have skated on ice. Otherwise I would have remarked, “I suspect I am not a good ice skater.” So if Bush says he is a poor novelist, he must have written novels.

This could explain why so little of Bush’s time is accounted for. As a novelist myself, I know how much of my day appears wasted. I spend hours sitting in the kitchen reading four-month-old newspapers. Someone calls me on the phone, and I chat for forty-five minutes. But all this is preparation for the writing of my next chapter.

I know what you’re thinking: “Bush is too unintelligent to write novels.” First of all, remember what Bush himself said: “I’m not a very good novelist.” It’s possible that, though he has written many novels, none of them are successes. Besides, you and I know him only as president. Suppose we knew James Joyce only as president. He might appear to us aloof, testy, and muttering. We might be certain that he, too, is an awful writer.

We must await, with ample patience, the eventual publication of Bush’s books before we can truly judge his literary gifts. Until then, we can be proud to have our first novelist president.

America: A Prophecy

Americans will grow
stupider and stupider
until they can no longer
read rfe words bh thes
poem.

And gyht the bgjhi
increasingly njkiuy
eruhj npoli when
fdgjkol nmlpwq.

 

June 6

Recently we had a mouse, here in the house.

At first, we did not see this mouse. (I don’t know whether to call the mouse “him” or “her.”) We saw only its turds in the morning, on the sponge in the kitchen sink. And we saw the small gouges it made in our food. It ate pears, bread, and soap.

After a few weeks, I sometimes noticed a blur late at night while I did the dishes — a gray streak, almost like a line.

More time passed, and the mouse slowed down. It had a strange way of walking: it leaned forward, with its tail up in the air, like a scholar who walks while reading a book.

Soon the mouse was all around us. At night, I would lie on the futon in the living room, and the mouse would walk up and down the cracks of the floor, searching for grains of rice and millet my daughter had dropped during the day.

I began to worry that mice are unclean. What does my guru say about mice? I tried to remember. He says all animals are either “friends of man” or “enemies of man.” Are mice friends or enemies?

One night while I was meditating, I heard a scrambling sound beside me. Then I felt the mouse sitting on my head, like a person standing atop Mount Rushmore. The mouse began to dig in my scalp, looking for food.

I began to think mice are enemies of man.

We tried to catch the mouse. Sylvia placed a plastic container on top of it, but she worried she was pinching its tail. When she lifted the container, the mouse escaped.

Two days later Violet caught the mouse. She took it to Phoenicia Park and set it free.

Afterward the house felt lonely, and smaller.

 

September 2

Visitors to the American Midwest have noted a haunting consistency of tone. A tepid affability inflects the speech. Polyester is often worn. White is the primary color (of skin, and of many buildings). No one is a transvestite.

A simple look at the map explains why this is. One speaks of a dull man as being “square.” The states in the middle of America are almost literally square. (Iowa comes closest to perfect squareness.) Some extremely linear autocrat — almost certainly a man — divided up our lush continent into near rectangles, like a butcher chopping meat. How can the populace feel free while it inhabits parallelograms?

By comparison, consider the state I presently inhabit, New York, which resembles a crushed hat with a feather (Long Island). The boundaries of this state include Lake Ontario, the Saint Lawrence River, Lake Erie, the Delaware River, the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and Lake Champlain. In New York, eccentricity has long bloomed.

The solution is to redraw the Midwest by natural bound-aries. Eventually, the states would look more like rumpled clothes and less like cardboard boxes.

Then perhaps Midwesterners would begin to wiggle and joke, and wear long Polynesian gowns.

Money-Back Guarantee

If you are
dissatisfied
with
this poem
IN ANY WAY,
return it to:
Sparrow, P.O.
Box 63,
Phoenicia,
NY 12464.

He will
mail you
a refund
within
six to eight days.

Only this
poem
contains
this unique
offer.

 

September 12

I just realized that “The Lone Ranger and Tonto” is an oxymoron. The Lone Ranger is, by definition, lone. That is, he is unaccompanied, solo, bereft of retinue.

Am I the first person in the United States to recognize the grave implications of this? Because if the Lone Ranger is considered lone, yet rides constantly with Tonto, then Tonto is not identified as a man but is relegated to the same category as Silver, the Lone Ranger’s horse.

Why is it not paradoxical that this “lone” figure appears with another person? Because the person is of non-European descent.

How awful we American television-watchers are!

In the future, I suggest we refer to this masked character as the Accompanied Ranger.

 

September 27

In the documentary Derrida, an unseen interlocutor asks French philosopher Jacques Derrida: “Which philosopher would you want for your mother?”

Derrida begins to think. His eyelids flutter. “That’s a good question,” he says, smiling. Then he continues to think.

It is the longest scene of a person thinking that I have ever watched.

Inside his mind, I imagine, Derrida is like a woman trying on hats. As each philosopher appears to him — Socrates, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein — Derrida asks, Could you be my mother?

“None of them could be my mother,” Derrida finally concludes. “All of them are fathers.” He says this quite sadly.

Nine days after seeing this film, I still recall the scene of Derrida thinking. Why aren’t there more movies of women and men engaged in thought? I am tired of watching actors have sex. I am anxious to see more thinking films.


These excerpts were originally published in Sparrow’s column “Quarter to Three,” which appears in the Hudson Valley journal Chronogram (www.chronogram.com).