Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

It is decidedly Christmasy in Nikas, blue teardrop lights strung up everywhere in the establishment. The tree is one of those artificial jobs consisting of three segments that one screws together, which Alexandra the waitress has done with some panache while receiving oversight from a few of her regulars. “In Greece,” so Alexandra has told me in so many words, “Christmas is not just an excuse to make money, it is also God.” I believe she meant to indicate that the day in question has more to do with matters of spirit than with the market forces that, by October, begin grinding Christmas down to an unrecognizable pulp of something or other. Moreover, I know that someone somewhere, at this very moment, worries that ‘longhand’ has long since had its day. Portending what? Another collapsing timber in the House of Spirit? Yet more fatal impoverishment of culture? (There is a headline to this effect in some online rag, the article of which I skipped reading on account of rising levels of dread within my person that the headline set loose.) I suppose someone somewhere gets paid the big bucks to agonize over these things for a smart and clever populace of which I may or may not be a fully sentient member, and then supplies this populace with plenty enough jejune epiphanies in respect to the crisis that one might safely conclude one does not have to go about in dread all that much and the world is not beyond redeeming, after all. But it has always been beyond redeeming, so much so one might suppose that redemption is far from being the point of life. The world Herr Broch would portray in his novel (some prefer to call the text an extended prose poem) The Death of Virgil is poised between the contending energies of Ego, or that which blinds, and the energies of perception, or that which, in theory, liberates. Accordingly, we are allowed to eavesdrop on a conversation between Augustus Caesar and his dying poet Virgil. It is a conversation, however imaginary, that could be deemed the most important conversation to have ever been enjoyed between two people, and for reasons more compelling than ‘speaking truth to power’. For we inhabit a world in which we have rendered ‘truth’ endlessly debatable, an exercise of mind which gets one college degrees and literary prizes and other perks. It is our version of a gladiatorial spectacle as we thumbs-up or thumbs-down this or that pundit or journo rankling with a glam sense of injustice as per Dancing with the Stars. The dying poet, at least, understands that Caesar is up to his eyeballs in ‘truth’, however much we prefer to think our tyrants are indifferent to ‘truth’ per se. The poet understands that what Caesar wants, if he does not know he wants it, is how to see, how to see, how to see, you know, damn it all; just that this particular Caesar has strong views of his own on ‘how best to see’, and the poet is on sufferance in respect to those views. In fact, the poet perhaps realizes he has failed Caesar in any case, and failed his readers and failed his own person; and this is why he wants the immediate bone of contention between himself and his master – which happens to be that much-discussed-epic-throughout-the-ages, or the Aeneid – destroyed, if not trashed. That it is nothing more and nothing less than a monument to the poet’s ego. Caesar considers otherwise, but why? Either he is in the service of not just Ego but the Imperial Ego, no less, and its filthy works, or he has a genuinely better grasp of ‘truth’, inasmuch as he believes the poem to be indispensable, seeing as it reflects his mission and the spirit of the people whose government he is. And so forth and so on. Caesar has been awarding himself plaudits in the course of the conversation. I’ve done this, accomplished that. I’ve also avenged my sacred father, Julius C who had Great Plans for Rome. One might expect from the dying Virgil even a smidgen of an ironic smile in reply, but none seems forthcoming. The novel is getting more passing strange by the page—So now enter Irish Harpy with retinue onto theNikas scene. (Retinue consists of husband and son, as some of you might recall from much earlier posts.) She is a youthfully old and caustic beanpole of a woman. She would have ripped the Caesar-poet combo to shreds with a mere waggle of her bony finger. “Get real, gentlemen.” Caesar, to give him his due, has probably been trying to do the right thing all along. (One imagines Current President trying to do the right thing all along.) That is the trouble with Caesars: they are always trying to do the right thing all along. The poet, of course, never has to pay the piper at the polls; he has his or her own reality check. For who reads poets, in any case, and what Caesar in our times troubles himself or herself with what a poet thinks about XY or Zed? If Caesar would have considered Irish Harpy to be abysmally ignorant and spiritually shallow and overly addicted to Dancing with the Stars, however street-wise she is, he has, in some respects, the right of it: she has not the time to mull over the philosophical implications of the right or wrong way to propitiate the gods or how best deploy the legions or treat with the competing eternities of this or that lobby group. Caesar has all that on his plate while she is proud owner of her immediate self-interests such as the pristinity of the Nikas washroom. Oh, and the toast should be served warm and not carbonized. Nor is she falsely modest about her infinite capacity to see fault; it is perhaps the greatest evolutionary force on the planet, husband and son in continual awe of that capacity. In a previous post, I had gone on about the sort of poet so desperate for love that he or she will stoop at nothing to get it. He or she will ritually submit to any body part of which the audience can boast should it deliver what is craved – a flash outbreak of regard. I neglected to balance the view with that other sort of poet who holds every audience in not so secret contempt; and how it is he or she will forever hold out their fingertips for ritual submission on the part of an audience that suspects fraud but is generally too polite to make a scene. God knows I have been witness to this sort of thing often enough – which is why I never, ever sit up front—Here, any claim I might have to clear thinking ends. The week has been a kind of jumble of half-formed impressions and partial thoughts and splintered rage such as the following has given rise to: Gaza, Syria and other spots where heat lightning originates from the ground. There is the usual ubiquitous corporate nexus always to be relied upon for one’s impotent fury. The recent election was meant to clear up a little matter for me as to whether Current President is just another cynical politician or a man trying to do the right thing. I am sorry to report that my wits are no less addled on this score than when the Wicked Witch of the West started having it in for Dorothy and I was a child-child still wishing to believe in Santa Claus, not just a man-child still wishing to believe that love conquers all. There was the Merchant-Ivory movieQuartet, the thing based on the Jean Rhys novel. Ah, a quietly devastating little flick on the true nature of the relations between the sexes: there is the f—kee and there is the f—ker. Rock-and-roll in its early days? Well, it was once an antidote to fascism; now it spearheads the same. And so I once again retreat into the world of When the Catfish Is in Bloom, or the music of John Fahey (he who flirted with punk-ism in his teenage years long before punk rock got itself dreamed up); or any other music for that matter, that used to be considered music, before music itself came up for discreditation as inherently fascistic; as if Mozart were responsible for Hitler and Jane Austen for Karl Rove. I was trundling up St Denis on my way to my guitar lesson the other day when I ran into Too Tall Poet, a denizen of Montreal-NDG wandered far afield. We had coffee together in a poutine place that features a steady diet of classical music. Too Tall Poet decided I was not a lost cause: he may as well educate me. So then I learned we were in a ‘classic’ neighbourhood of Montreal, St Louis Park its centerpiece. Famous poets used to hang about here or reside here, rubbing shoulders with hookers and druggies. Even so, he could not tell me which tree it was that one poet shinnied up so as to elude the gendarmes who wished to bundle him off in cuffs to the booby-hatch—Either his wits had, at last, gone hopelessly and irretrievably addled or he could no longer afford the rent—