Ephemeris by Norm Sibum



London Lunar assures me I will find the latter half of H Broch’s The Death of Virgil a monumental bore, for all its prose-poetical pyrotechnics. But in the meantime, I read in the book that ‘naked laughter’ is the thing that pops the bubble of beauty. I read that such laughter almost has a duty to pop this bubble of beauty, if for no other reason than that the gods are not, willy-nilly, divine; that laughter is the recognition of this fact; that laughter is humankind’s one great weapon, along with that thing, that thingamajig, oh, the opposable thumb. I am on an evening bus from Toronto to Montreal. It is chockfull of students, this bus. Sentences that drift my way have ‘like’ for their every third word. You know, like, man, you have, you know, like, great teeth. Awesome amazing. Or something. In the seat immediately ahead of me, two women – strangers to each other – are simultaneously falling into and fighting off sleep. Heads loll forward or to the side. Heads are violently jerked back into wakefulness by some primordial instinct not quite dinned out of us yet by the juggernauts of techie progress and suburban etiquette. It is certainly weird, this kabuki-like dance of heads, what I am about to call The Head Ka-Bonk, that is, should a pair of heads endeavour to occupy one and the same space and damn near succeed—Otherwise, art’s despair? That it would build the imperishable from the decidedly perishable. So writes Herr Broch. Ah, that’s what it means to lament; that’s what that derisive sigh of ‘disposable culture’ has been all about. Gifts of triple XXX zucchinis notwithstanding, as when country rubes, thinking courtship, would knock on the doors (winking and nodding for all they are worth) of refeened women folk from the big city ensconced in their cottages, law is the one realm of human affairs where one is, in a theoretical sense, at least, not so subject to the vagaries of chance, even if one has had random crime done to one. A lover of Hound Dog Taylor played me some John Fahey railroad orchestrations down there in Windsor on which Detroit casts something of a shadow, an idyllic one suffused with khaki funk. It was in Windsor that I read Fahey’s little memoir, the title of which is something like How Bluegrass Ruined My Life.  It is all attitude, the us against them-ness of childhood’s great crusade against the betrayals of the adult world. Still, there was the odd moment when one realized the man had been a mystic, after all, and had seen the back of the eyes of some god or other. “Was the earth necessary?” so I asked myself in a Danforth bar (Toronto) of an afternoon where I eavesdropped on a top-tier literary agent power-quaffing with a fellow who was pure predator inasmuch as he seemed not the least bit interested in her metrosexuality. Perhaps then, the only way to overcome the futility of it all is to bring futility right down to the innermost core of one’s being and to embrace it with great hulking tears of gratitude. Thank you Lord who are not so divine for that which is so effing futile. It must have been this same Toronto where I was informed by David Mason the august bookseller that writers ought not speak of other writers to seemingly friendly book dealers, as seemingly friendly book dealers have wheels to grind and places to get to and profits to extricate from a dying civilization. Mais oui. In London, Ontario, against a backdrop of yellow brick, there was a portrait painter who, as we speak, walks as an ancient salt, a sailor for whom the earth never ceases to rock. He is an American. This is to say, if his heart is not broken, it is certainly put upon by the doings to the south of here that not even Letterman can always titter away. Well, poetry is something. It is something – as per Herr Broch and Mr Virgil. Oh, poetry was anticipation but not quite departure, yet it was an enduring farewell. No, I haven’t a clue. Howsomever: And no vocation measured up to that, as none exists that is not exclusively subserviated to the knowledge of life, none with the exception of that one to which he had finally been driven and which is called poetry, the strangest of all human occupations, the only one dedicated to the knowledge of death. So then, I read poetry in a few whistle stops here and there, even as I wondered what it is. There was laughter on some of the trains I rode. Good laughter. Bad laughter. Bad laughter is that which, in a callow sense, mirthifies so as to cheapen holy terror. That is stillborn laughter. That is emptiness. Even on a commuter special with its bizarre cargo cult ritual, or honour system, I heard the laughter of those for whom the mysteries of life are no longer mysterious. Did Orpheus laugh? Perhaps he is an example of a poet who ought to have lightened up—