"I Dream About You Baby" by Lester Afflick
Being alive, I have learned, means bearing a certain responsibility to the dead. I didn't know Lester Afflick well; I saw him occasionally at parties in the East Village in the 90s. Then suddenly Lester died, in 2000. Since then, I had forgotten about him, until I ran into Ruth Siekevitz at a party last year. I invited Ruth to my birthday celebration at an Indian restaurant on E. 6th St. (Gandhi), and she brought I Dream About You Baby as a gift. Ruth and a group of Lester's friends had published it in 2008 on the Fly by Night Press imprint. This is Lester's first book of poetry.
Lester's poems sound like they were written very quickly, scribbled on the backs of placemats, perhaps. At first, they seem composed of trivialities. His poetry is conversational, full of wordplay, and unexpected vocabulary -- words like "paean" and "spar." (I'm thinking of the one I just read, called "House Without.")
In these poems, Lester is an alcoholic, and always in love with some woman -- but the love affair is not working out. Most love affairs don't work out. It's much easier to be married than to have a successful romance. But Lester was not the marrying kind. Was he a real alcoholic? I have no idea. Some people just like to drink. (And some people just like to write about drinking.) There's a sadness in his poems, and a strategic sense of humor. Even the beautiful line:
Curtains fuming a slow
is slightly funny. Abstract, but also funny. It's almost like Lester is looking up from the poem and snarling at us, in a playful way, the way a Muppet might snarl. Also, this line conveys the feeling of a "house without" -- an empty house with the curtains swirling. Lester's poems are economical without struggling to be. "If mind is shapely, art is shapely," Allen Ginsberg used to say.
The secret to Lester's poetry, I suspect, is the person he's addressing. All his writings are directed at the same individual. When you read the following poem, see if you can detect who that person is.
["Paean" is pronounced pee-un, and means "a song of praise or triumph." "Spar" means "to make the motions of boxing without landing heavy blows, as a form of training."]
Window's open, wide.
Many stars, much wind.
Curtains fuming a slow
tango, snarl. Vases.
Empty vases plot
their forever upcoming
reunion with the long ago
way overdue flowers which
are not coming now. Or ever.
Chairs. Empty chairs. I
don't sit in any
of them and spar with
what was. Or what it was like.
Or what's to come.
I don't. I never do.
Unmade bed in the bedroom.
I don't get trivial. I don't impede. I let it
ride out its wave. And
even though I prefer the word automobile
I hear a car. It's not you.
It's no one. The clock ticks
-- the one over the television in the den --
and I'm thirsty. So I have a drink
of something which doesn't
taste that good. Then
still thirsty I eye the whiskey
on the shelf in the dining room.
I can always be counted on to have a drink o' that.
Touching things I touch your dresses.
Get a good whiff of you.
Think of your rings on almost every finger.
You had rings, baby, you had rings.
I go through the rooms again, walk the hall.
Turn on the lights. Turn
off the lights. Everything shines.
And the edges of everything. Shine.
A paean to what's palpable. My own private prayer.
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