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APHORISMS AND INDEMNITY: AN IDEA OF AMERICA

For Clive Watkins

 

‘The maker’s rage to order words…’

THE IDEA OF ORDER AT KEY WEST, Wallace Stevens

 

There, as we drove past the Heritage Centre

that once was a medieval  church, on the steps,

among the shoppers and the trippers,

there on a provincial, English street

was a busker with a blue guitar.

 

And I thought of the poem by Wallace Stevens,

who did not drive, and walked to work each day –

from his house on Westerly Terrace

to his office on Asylum Avenue

at Hartford Accident & Indemnity –

composing verses and aphorisms,

jotting them down on a legal pad

for his secretary to type up:

 

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’

The man replied, ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.’

And they said then, ‘But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.’

 

The ‘Adagia’ of Erasmus – Ancient

Greek and Latin sayings now become common,

like ‘to die of laughing’, ‘out of tune’ –

inspired Stevens to coin adages:

for instance, ‘God is a postulate

of the ego’, ‘Money is a kind of

poetry’, ‘Every man dies his own death’.

 

He wintered – without his wife and daughter –

in Key West. A tall, heavy bodied man –

nicknamed ‘Giant’ at Havard – he was prone

to Martinis, and had a fist fight

with Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, five inches

shorter, two decades younger, and prone

to Mojitos. Giant, it was alleged,

had sneered at Papa’s literary achievements.

The Ivy League lawyer was felled by two blows

into a puddle. He died, in his bed,

many years later, fully insured.

 

A black and white photo shows Stevens walking

almost jauntily in winter sunshine,

and self-consciously twirling his cane.

Beneath his straw boater he is smiling

circumspectly – as if W.C. Fields

(Mr Macawber in Hollywood’s

‘David Copperfield’) had just fallen

on the softest of times. The comic actor,

who was also rather prone to Martinis,

had opened a savings account in each town

where he toured in vaudeville just in case

hard times returned. All over America

the nickels and dimes gather interest.

 

Somewhere in Missouri or Texas,

Illinois or California,

in his faded denims and his baseball cap,

waiting for a ride beside the black top

is an ageless man with a blue guitar.

 

 

 

© Copyright David Selzer
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1 Response
  • John Huddart
    May 28, 2021

    Such richness. A road trip of a poem.

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