Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dear Tom Paine,

During the recent SEPTA strike, I had to take a cab. The driver, from India, asked me about American women. What is wrong with them, he said. Why had they spurned him. Why are the customers so mean. I wanted badly to say the reason you came to this country is the same reason the women here want nothing to do with you. Two birds with one stone. Efficiency. Common Sense. But I kept the stone in my pocket and shrugged. I tipped him two bucks on a nine-dollar ride, which I thought was reasonable, but he didn’t say bye back. We both felt indignant. Two birds, one stone. We love that stone. Love to save it up for the right birds.

My friend Brandon says the only thing he loves about New York City is that intimacy is possible through anonymity. There are so many people that sometimes a person’s gotta spill his guts, say the words, the desperately important words, allowing for a real, meaningful exchange. Something’s born, a story, say, out of and in spite of an overwhelming nothing, and the story has a chance to live on for awhile before it is washed away. This Big Nothing might make us honest, but it also cheapens the risk. Tell me about risk, Tom. Why is that important to me? Is it simply that I want a greater return on my investment? Is it just that I want more?

What can I call the distance between birth and my writing this very word, so that it’s holy? Time won’t do. Life won’t do. Gertrude Stein wrote in “Poetry and Grammar”: “As I say a noun is a name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel what is inside that thing you do not call it by the name by which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion about whatever is the object about which he writes. And therefore and I say it again more and more one does not use nouns.”

That we have to name and name and name again and again and again is a real motherfucker, Tom. But that’s how we stay young. It’s the only way. And that means you have to be a poet. There was a poet I loved very deeply who called me “love,” and I called her “love,” which is both a noun and a verb but more so a verb. Once I asked her how we had come to call each other that, and she said “because we’re lovers.” I’m one who loves. You’re one who loves. And we had come to be lovers by spilling our guts to each other again and again (and by fucking, another kind of gutspilling). So the action of naming the respective distances between our respective births and the present moments of naming, you might say, the little speeches we offered to one another, brought us closer and closer, til finally we named each other “love.”

Now this type of thing is swell, right, but what if you think of yourself as a noun rather than a verb, and someone’s calling you a word you feel strongly as a verb, such as “love”? It can be a lot of pressure to realize you’re a verb, that you’re in motion all the time, and that you are headed, ultimately, for an unknown intimacy, and you have only dead intimacies to go on, to guide you. What kills me over and over is the paradox that inside the urge to name is the urge to make permanent, and in naming we achieve the opposite, as our little speeches change us, taking us further and further toward some abyss that could be heaven or hell or anything, really. So you can’t know how much it’s worth, the intimacy. Name any price it’s totally arbitrary. Which means it is probably not something to bank on.

So what is? God is. And god is not love. I’m speechless right now, Tom, and I don’t know what I am, so I’ll stop here.