Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

Young Eric is the only poet I know who does stand-up comedy, all the while knowing the difference between ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ and a comedic routine. It speaks well for his upbringing. Alexandra the waitress, in Nikas, has recently stood before me, perplexed as to the motivations of customers who not only pilfer her Christmas tree lights but the crowning stars, too. “Even the stars,” she said, looking straight into my eyes as if they were windows of a slot machine of the one-armed bandit variety and were going to come up cherries for her. I suggested that, perhaps, the thievery was due to some cult ritual or other. Had a Westmounterite’s boredom drifted into NDG? Could be that someone was indeed out of pocket enough that he or she had no option but to burgle in order to festoon a celebratory bit of artificial spruce with holiday inclinations. In the meantime, as I returned her gaze, I was thinking that the movie I had seen a few nights before – On the Beach, Stanley Kramer, 1957 – is an odd sort of love story to set in a tale of nuclear holocaust. It is not as if I was unaware of the movie before (it comes to TV every once in a long while), but that, this time around, the flick truly got my attention: that it was something more than just another hayride enroute to Armageddon: it was the mirror image of the Odyssey hard on the heels of Iliadic Götterdämmerung. The maritiming Gregory Peck character is an Aeneas of sorts inasmuch as he opts for duty over love. That is to say, now that radioactive contaminants have penetrated the Southern Hemisphere, he agrees to captain his submarine crew back to the US where the men might die ‘at home’ rather than stay in Australia and he, the captain, expire in the arms of the character Ava Gardner plays. Lights out for humanity in its guise as Troy’s fall? Our not yet extinct nightmare of mutually assured destruction?  A difference only of degree? As when a thumping, ooomping Salvation Army band would do the honours in place of a Greek chorus or Pink Floyd? Aeneas, of course, left Queen Dido of Carthage in the lurch in order to cross the Mediterranean and plant the seed for what was to become Rome. Speaking of duty or a protracted pleasure perhaps, London Lunar reports that he is going to dedicate the year that has just begun to listening to all of Bach’s cantatas. According to him, if what Bach accomplished is not humanly possible, does it follow that a book devoted to the composer and his music will have to be undertaken by an alien from another world? What does follow is the sort of writing that tends to induce the giggles in me à la Mr Bean: In all words lie germens: elements of seed which are involuted with secrets that lie within the syllables that come together in them. This seed is buried deep: but it is accessible, so I am told, to certain adepts who by long study have discerned what lies beyond extrinsic denotation in its grosser vocalic sheathing—From From Culbane Wood – in Xanadu, Tom Lowenstein, Shearsman Books. The giggling fit having run its course, we proceed to the next page and toward the bottom things begin to come into focus somewhat, and we start the fun with the tag end of a clause: ….Shakespeare in his intuitive spontaneity, Milton through the same and by lucubrative application, and not least in Chaucer’s plantlike couplets through whose tang and movement all the supple quickness of existence may be apprehended. New paragraph: Each of these poets mean what we take them to be saying. But I suspect, especially in Milton, that the poetry is fraught with suggestions that have little or nothing to do with its (sometimes heretical) narrative, but which sing of more oblique realities that the poet was modeling from the clandestine interior of his materials, and which only the Muses (as maybe he conceived angels), but not his ordinary, pious reader, would be capable of divining. Ah yes, I get it. I cannot speak for you, but I get it. And I can hear already a great hissing from certain quarters of our national literature, the thinking being that poetical poetry, a poetry that drags a deeply-plowing foot around, is verboten, especially when one is trying to save the world or inaugurate a revolution or, for that matter, sell one out. PM Carpenter, Distinguished Political Commentator to the south of here, right on cue, has been on about NSA surveillance, suggesting that, while there is plenty of scope for concern in respect to the abuse of governmental powers, Snowden’s revelations have achieved nothing more than to foster a climate of hysteria and over-reaction and so forth and so on. Mr Carpenter is sometimes curiously sanguine. He has also been on about the ham-handed Dems who routinely allow Republicans to carry the day, even when Republicans are flat-out ridiculous and politically knuckleheaded—Having just finished a book on the lives of Mark Antony and Cleopatra entitled Antony and Cleopatra. Adrian Goldsworthy, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010, I am put in mind of what it is to play the Great Game.  The book itself is one of those books one reads for the scholarship and not necessarily for the scintillating writing, as scintillate the writing does not. Still, it would have us know that it has always been understood that Cleopatra was more than a sexpot; she was an eminently capable sovereign, and she had her Machiavellian principles of how to best rule down fairly pat. She, like Judi Dench playing at M in a James Bond flick, had no qualms sending men to their deaths. It has not always been understood that Antony was a cock-up at generalling, however good he was at being the life of the party and upgrading his status amongst his fellow aristocrats. Then again, the affection between Antony and Cleopatra seems to have been genuine, which suggests that the debacle Actium was might not have come to pass had either the general or the queen been less befogged by love and lust and more clear-headed in respect to what was on their plate by way of politics and war. Even so, it also seems that Cleopatra, at the end, was looking for a way to disengage from Antony so as to accommodate Octavian soon-to-be Caesar and hang on to Egypt or garner a comfortable exile at the very least. The insinuation is that she steered Antony into his suicide, the only fine Roman deed remaining to him, seeing as he had violated Roman virtue by abandoning his army so as to catch up with the fleeing Cleopatra, once Actium blew up in his face. She had hitched her post to the wrong star or, vice versa, she had hitched her star to the wrong ‘ladle’, the slang version of the Latin word for ladle signifying penis. Otherwise, perhaps it is true after all that it is only love that permits us to get off the treadmill of the banalities of life, be those banalities filching Christmas tree lights or administering empires and waging battles on the high seas. In light of the above, and as a woman has sent me samples of her writing, a quote from one of those samples might aptly conclude this post: I wasn’t in love with Gorgeous George (the wrestler) as a child, although he made an impression. I was in love with Jerry Lee Lewis. “But he did icky things with his young cousins!” my girlfriends all said. “All the better,” I said. My girlfriends liked boys with one syllable names who were just dumb lugs with a certain cuteness. I didn’t know much, but I knew sexy, and Jerry Lee Lewis was the epitome of sexiness. Even when I see him now, old, wrinkled and slower, not able to get his leg up on the piano keys anymore to pound out a chunk of wild sound, I still stop whatever I am doing and watch with rapt attention—