I don’t agree with you that Jackson [Pollock] was painting atomic fission; I believe he was painting the labyrinthine circuitry of the human mind. And, of course, Jackson was Sebastian, wasn’t he? He was not only the great martyr of modern art; he was that martyr. Sebastian! To give the martyr who was, it has been said, before his conversion the beloved of the emperor Heliogabalus, a hard on-on in Paradise! Profoundly gay. Meanwhile, is there any such thing as a form of sexual activity that doesn’t either lead to death directly, or lead to contemplation of it in some way? It’s as if they were right after all, that playing with yourself will drive you crazy. And another thing hit me with stunning force that afternoon about Sebastian and faggots. Do you know why Saint Sebastian was so popular in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance? He was the protector against the bubonic plague—the Black Death! Does that not add a new and utterly eerie dimension to the configuration? Anyway, I got the poster of him and brought it home. I think it belongs in the Gay Pride Parade on a banner next to Judy. In the Salute, Sebastian stands next to Saint Rocco; I think he makes more sense standing next to Judy, replacing Punch. You carry Judy and I’ll carry Sebastian. You sing ‘The Man That Got Away’ and I’ll sing ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms.’
Sex and death, dear, sex and death—you can’t get away from their conjunction. As somebody said, Age comes, the body withers: mere anarchy is loosed upon the tits and ass—and that always reminds me somehow of the single flower growing out of the girl’s asshole in The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado.
—Odette O’Doyle, from James McCourt’s Time Remaining.
[N.B.: If anyone were to record an audio book of TR, it would need to be Justin V. Bond.]
Oh the peaks and valleys of experience between a Friday afternoon and a Sunday night! But! I wanted to mention, since it is worth maybe doing so, that author and poet Wayne Koestenbaum was at the MoMA this past Friday afternoon for their Lunch Poems series, to talk about Frank O’Hara.
Impish and engaging, dressed in a pair of white jeans, a pink shirt, and blue and white blazer that was very Hamptons A-Gay meets Fred Schneider (but mostly in a good way, like, academic-rock star summer chic?), he read his way through selections of the distinguished author’s poems which he interspersed with assignments, prompts for the inclined assembled to write their own Lunch Poems, and also pithy highbrow observations interjected as winningly as cocktail party chatter, including a bit about the poet and his connection to his time and his work’s timeliness—I believe the phrase was “the bottled air of the now” but I could have mis-heard—and also about that one dust jacket photo that is dreamy to the utmost.
Koestenbaum read “Naphtha,” pointing to the line towards the end of the following verse as an indicator of O’Hara’s cheeky self-assessment:
how are you feeling in ancient September
I am feeling like a truck on a wet highway
how can you
you were made in the image of god
I was not
I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver
“I was made in the image of a sissy truck-driver.” Indeed. I don’t remember being struck by it when I first read Lunch Poems, I must’ve glossed it, but now I can’t shake it.
oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much
Isn’t it just? Even if it is not your actuality now maybe it has been or will be? Still isn’t it just? I’ve often believed so.
It’s not that I’m wrong, you’re just not asking the right question.
My sister has a very accurate, if often baffling, memory. She emailed me today this link, saying “I remember vividly sitting on the subway with you as you read this, back in the balmy summer of 2001.” It is true, it was balmy, and we were taking the train to Coney Island. Though why I was reading the Daily News is a question lost to time.
Regardless, In the Annals of Headline Poetry, “Arm Lost In Farm Horror” really is evocative, no? I guess that would stick with you.
Sometime during college we diagnosed a condition we named Phantom Friend Syndrome. It is (likely) relevant to mention this was first experienced when some permutation of our extended clique was on psychedelics. It was the panicky moment of being less a thing, like in the way one might—being high—constantly check one’s pockets for a set of house keys, or a wallet, or whatever. (Tickets! Money! Passport!) Where are these grounding items, that connect with a reality that is currently in a ridiculous state of trippy flux?
Phantom Friend Syndrome (PFS) would strike, and we’d do a head count, but there was still, despite solid numerical proof, a feeling that someone was…gone. Someone who we thought was there before, or should be now? Some key ingredient missing from the mix, like tasting a recipe constructed from memory and finding it lacking, but unable to name the lost ingredient. The supposed phantom friend could never be correctly identified.
The odd thing is that it still occurs, sometimes but to a lesser degree, when the right combination of us get together, like isn’t so and so here to…oh I guess not?
Which is nice, in a way, to think that even if you cannot be present (like at an upcoming wedding, say, two of which I will be missing this fall) you might be the phantom friend, your presence felt even in your physical absence. Even if you cannot be named outright, there is a psychic friendship residue clinging to the proceedings.