Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A GHOST, by ALTER BRODY



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PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A GHOST, by            
First Line: When I am delivered from this inextricable thorny flesh
Last Line: As near to ghostship as one can on earth.
Subject(s): Ignorance; Dullness; Stupdity


When I am delivered from this inextricable thorny flesh,
If there is anything left of me, as some folks would have it --
This is what I would like to do
For the remainder of eternity.

As soon as my spirit is extricated
And brushed of dust,
I would whiff myself to a certain lodging-house that I know
On an ample avenue slit sideways by a formidable park-enclosed rock --
(A convenient hole
Giving the sky room to parade itself all day,
In sunset or twilight or any gown it pleases --)
There,
On a block of brownstone two-stories rising primly over their balustraded
stoops,
Like a row of old ladies seated upright in their pews,
In a tiny front hallroom overlooking the park --
Quite like this one;
With the same soiled wallpaper and the same insipid pictures and the same
suffering furniture --
(Except that the rent would be a ghost)
I would make my headquarters;
And while my inexhaustible immortality away,
In delicious unencumbered random
Roaming through the mysterious streets of this wonderful life-infested jungle
Minus clothes and stomach and rent,
Free as the air and the dust.
That were a life worth being dead for!
Not that I am prejudiced against the body --
I realize
There are advantages to corporeality --
You can feel and touch,
You can enjoy the things you look at.
But Life's like a woman in this matter --
You can't see much of her when you're kissing her;
You have to stand back for that.
I prefer to look at Life instead.
One can take in so much more with one's eyes than with one's lips . . .
Ghostship is just the thing for this --
A munificent scholarship
Putting all of Time and Space at your command
To study at your leisure.

Here is a sample of a day
As I would spend it!

I would get up -- say about four in the morning
And seat myself at the window.
It's tremendously interesting at this hour --
(I've tried it in the flesh.)
First there is a soft pervasive hush:
The avenue lies like an unearthed street
Cut through gigantic catacombs;
The rock sleeps in the park
Like a petrified Cerberus.
From time to time
The cars rumble apologetically by.
Suddenly an intrepid bird pits herself against the silence --
Single-throatedly;
Again and again and again,
Like a dancing fairy her voice skips through the trees.
But there is no response.
A pair of black-stoned nuns pass under the window
Like great hooded crows walking up the street.
The bird trips out again,
Up her sweet little spiral of notes,
Again and again and again --
Reckless of moon and of stars!
There is a faint stirring in the trees
Like a baby's limbs moving in sleep;
Firmer and louder and denser it swirls
Entangling the park in a net of chirps and trills,
Until every feathered madcap is frantically awake,
Melting the silence into rapture,
Clearing the way for dawn!

When I get tired of sitting at the window
I'll flit noiselessly down the carpeted staircase,
Ooze through the hall-door keyhole into the avenue
And betake myself to a ham-and-eggs, corned-beef-hash, coffee-and-cruller self-
server
On a wide-awake nearby cross-street.
Being a ghost
I'll risk the corned-beef-hash,
Seat myself at a convenient center table
And listen to the small-talk of a group of drivers:
Experiences in Experimental Eugenics with mulatto waitresses;
The respective merits of this or that religion
As determining the accessibility of its girls;

Or the talk will take a duller turn:
Stale jokes on prohibition, athletic club gossip, a bargain in mittens,
A collision on Third Avenue of the day before
Where a driver disbrained himself against an L post.
I'll shift from table to table
Clicking it all down on the invisible noiseless ghost of my faithful typewriter,
And sally forth again --
This time to the nearest subway station.
The morning rush-hour won't bother me.
I'll float like a god over the outstretched arms of the straphangers,
And take down some choice tete-a-tetes right from the mouth
Before they are squelched between grinding wheels and shrieking tracks --
(People grow quite communicative when they can't hear themselves)
Or note the faces of my flesh-imprisoned fellows --
(People are most themselves when they are uncomfortable.)
Then I would get off at a station in the Italian quarter,
Turn east --
(I don't care for the business slums except when they're deserted
At night)
And stroll between pushcarts piled with polished peppers and sleek bananas
Through the rhythmical jabber of ragged-shawled women haggling with the venders
Until I am at home --
Safe in the kosher bosom of the ghetto.

There
In the strange little welter of streets that run through my heart
Like a plexus of arteries,
Throbbing with thousand memories,
I would wander all day
From street to street, from square to square
Tiptoed with wonder;
Between rows of ungainly tenements that trip to an organ-grinder's tune
Remembering snatches from the past;
Past broken-down iron-banistered stoops bending under loads of ragged children
Like sick maggot-ridden dogs;
I might enter some quaint synagogue musty with the odor of decayed prayer-shawls
and crumbling prayer-books
Trying to look ornate behind carved moorish windows and bulbous tin domes,
And listen to the sad argumentative humming of lonely Talmudists meditating over
the folios,
Their brows crumpled in their hands
Like painted figures in dim museum galleries . . .
Or I might seat myself in a smoke-clouded noisy cafe
Where the gesticulating grandchildren of the Talmud
Passionately solve the problems of the world
All day,
All life --
As their grandfathers solved the problems of the mummied past . . .

Or I might steal into a spacious neat-faced library
That rises uncomfortably among the tattered tenements
Ashamed of its own trimness
And stand beside a boy leaning against a bookshelf, book in hand,
And read with him -- and thrill with him -- and dream with him --
Until the retreating sunlight files through the street
Touching the tenements with transfiguring fingers
Converting every rusty cornice into a crown of gold
And they stand up in the soft caressing light
With shining pathetic faces,
Suffused with remembered happiness
Like old women thinking of their youth --
Then I would flit away,
Pensively,
Leaving the ghetto to the oncoming hesitant twilight
That gropes its way between the tenements
A blind beggar feeling his way home --
Up a garish cross-street screaming with electric signboards
Where the crowds stream back from work
Like defeated armies;
Into a great shining avenue burnished by a thousand lamp-lights
Lined with masses of tiered windows scintillating with scattered lights,
Like huge darkened showcases set with tell-tale jewels;
Past stern fortress-like mansions eyeing the thin lines of a beleaguring park
That follows them for miles;
Through the familiar refreshing squalor of uptown slums --
Back to the little hallroom overlooking the hill.

L'ENVOI

Now that's what I call an ideal program
For ghosts and poets and other disembodied spirits.
I have wooed Life feverishly and won her to my will at times --
But always, when I lay closest to her, then I felt furthest from her soul --
So I will keep at a safe distance in the future,
Where I can be fascinated but not overwhelmed,
Look on, and not be drawn into her embrace --
As near to ghostship as one can on earth.





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