Why I Am Not a Funny Poet: an Elegy
Ah, happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay;
but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none.
― Herman Melville
We called him Bartleby because he would prefer not to fetch. He sat at the window and considered the life of sparrows and lawn furniture. He could wax philosophical on wicker, on wings shorn by telephone wires, but he preferred not to. I fetched when Bartleby would not, and the sky spun me under its crimson awning until I fell. But all this happens in prose: time, elevation, and laundry day. Humor me, Mother says, and I hand her a paw.
I loved a bad painter. I loved a taciturn dog.
Let’s start again: a bad painter and a taciturn dog walk into a bar. What’ll it be? the bartender asks, and the bad painter goes, Woof woof.
I’ve made a mess of the plot. That is to say, a woman crosses Jane St. and I don’t know what to do with her. She is a dagger: silver, concise, and hungry. If she steps off the curb, the heel of her yellow stilleto will snap. She will hobble her way to a taxi cab, and then how do I follow her? If she stays put, the city, my description, our phantom disappointment, shall subsume her. Because, like Bartleby, culture does not revolve around stillness, but ignites and sputters sparks of ecstatic punctuation! I think I’m hungry again.
In the third line of “Bow Wow Boo Hoo: a Canine Elegy,” I echo Bartleby’s howl, though he was a quiet dog. Sure, the shudder of his tail made a risible hum, made the whole family wag our thumbs, that primitive drum of stale suburban air. O Bartleby, paw-scampering across the linoleum: I have written worse poems than this. The sound of birds is one good morning. Rest in peace, dear old dog. The sound of Bartleby howling is another.