The reward of the historicist
is to read obsolete poems
on JSTOR and become
the poet’s new best friend by buying him drinks.
It’s summer, the cloudy ale
almost cool from its cask. The tide
recedes, the Thames stinks,
but only the historicist notices.
A sergeant-major obviously off
to the colonies wipes
his mustache on his wrist,
emotions reconstructable though complex
like those of the whores outside.
The poet loosens neither tie nor vest,
both worse for wear. He has
a week before a horse-cab, less
absurd than a colleague’s fall from a bar-stool,
beats syphilis to him. Opinions
about darkies and Israelites are there,
but pleasantly subordinated to
despair. He accepts being questioned
by a chap from the future, especially when
the latter relates how revered the work
will be, taught in schools; rattles off
the titles of critical studies. Sated,
a tear, the poet
asks questions of his own, untypically
(from all that is known of him) generous. No war
with France, he is assured; the new,
more distant enemy turned aside,
replete with retailed colonies; balloons
filling the air, a Workers’ Earth … The pub,
the river, poet, sergeant, whores
and endless clop and cursing fade
again into the quietness around
the historicist, who has no love for pain.
I used to have a character called the Elitist.
He was witty, snarky, and generally alone.
He never signaled virtue, since
he had no currently valued virtue
to signal; and though he never
said anything un-p.c., you were always
afraid he might. So he never caught on
I’ve been thinking
of reviving him. He sits across a wide
bare glass aggressive uncompromising
desk from his afternoon appointments.
“Did you really think I’d be interested
in this?” he snarls, returning a stack
of manuscript. It depicts
mild bourgeois horrors. Is barely literate
according to an ancient standard (his), and
hand-written – she thought the strain
of doing it that way would prove
sincerity and pain. He turns
to the boy, who seems undecided
between pseudo-hipster loose and corporate tight,
and has a film. It’s a mashup
(as its maker would say) of everything – games, posts,
instas, grades, failed
vacations, prescriptions; “at least no guns,”
the Elitist growls. On the verge
of dissolution, the two young people
glance at each other, thinking he’s just
an asshole; but the next supplicant
is also old – it’s unclear
what he has, but the Elitist tears him a new one.
He looks out his enormous window. Below,
amidst regimented trees, families, couples,
potential couples genteelly glide,
then, as if at a signal, turn
to ravening hordes. The moon is visible.
Perhaps, he thinks, I should demote
Art from its position of primacy
again to be a subaltern of Nature.