The Paris Review – September Notebook, 2018

At my old job, I wrote descriptions of objects; At my new job, I write descriptions of talks, concerts, classes, Jewish holiday services, and other events.

Once I was in the business of selling matter. Now I am in the business of selling time.

But how to use it?

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Parable of Uncle Martin

September 2, 2018
1:13 PM

Dear Uncle Martin,

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to wish you a very happy birthday—100 is a big one! Apologies for the belated note, though I’m sure you were inundated that day. I hope this finds you well and that we can see each other again soon.

Lots of love,

Dan

September 3, 2018
1:26 PM

Dear Dan: Thank you for the greeting. I just read your Dumpster poem. Congratulations. I will be learning how to interpret your style of poetry. Across the street from where I live, there was recently a dumpster, into which all the furniture, house cleaning equipments, lamps, tools, furniture, books, were being tossed. I knew those neighbors well. Although the debris never existed in close association before, they now did. Examined closely, as by an anthropologist, they revealed an entire type of life.

For some reason, I was always interested in poetry. In fact, the only book I ever kept after graduating from high school was “The Golden Treasury,” a book of old English poetry. So, it was only a matter of time before one of my parents’ greatgrand whatevers would be a poet. Excelsior! Love, Martin

September 4, 2018
11:31 AM

Dear Martin,

Thank you so much for this lovely note, and I’m delighted that you read the poem. I’ve heard that there’s been a recessive poetry gene in our family for some time—my dad tells me that my grandpa Harry used to love reading Keats, a favorite of mine as well—and I seem to remember telling you me at some point about the Golden Treasury book.

On a related note—I’m currently working on a long scrapbook poem of sorts, very different from “Dumpster” or really anything else I’ve written, which includes (among other things) pieces of overheard dialogue and lots of found language that I myself did not write. Think of it as a collage. I wonder how you’d feel about me including some portion or all of your previous email in the scrapbook poem (credited to you of course). It’s an experiment, so it might never come to anything, or it’s possible that someday down the road I would publish it in a book—too early to tell. If this is confusing or you’d prefer I not include it, it’s completely fine—just say so and I’ll leave it out. But if you grant permission I’d love to include it. Just let me know what you think. In any case thank you again.

love,

Dan

September 5, 2018
12:07 PM

Dear Daniel: You can quote me it you wish. I just read a poem by Wisława Szymborska entitled “The Stagecoach.” In a sense, a stagecoach is a dumpster of people, and she gets inspiration from it. Love, Martin

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Weep in relation to x.

Weep extra to x.

Weep for x.

X is weeping.

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If you ever feel lonely, remember that somewhere someone is making millions of dollars off of a self-help book entitled Deep Work. The author of this book believes that if you could just not look at your phone, you would not only be less than an idiot, but also a millionaire.

Turn off your phone? I find this compelling not only because it’s in a book, but also because it’s an author who is in a book are believing it. And here’s the even more million-dollar question.

Are we brain to work deepest of all with phone pre-inside brain?

In my book you will learn how. Please take a moment to silence your phones.

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Sunlit, obsequious, and revoltingly basic.

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Parable of Labor Day

At Rockaway Beach I run into a colleague from the job I lost last year. She tells me that after everyone had been fired, she had continued on as a “transitional copywriter,” which meant a customer service and shipping agent, the company’s only employee other than the CEO. I asked her how our former boss was doing. “I don’t know,” she said. “About six weeks ago he stopped responding to my emails. Ghosted! I called the parent company, and apparently he no longer works there. I’m the only one left.”

We regard one another in the sand as two who would never have occasion to meet again save for serendipity, smiled, and waved goodbye.

*

He suffered the music of the proximate tweens with quiet dignity.

Avoid no vocabulary, raise no suspicion.

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He reached a pitch of exaltedness such that no amount of sherbet could calm him down.

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Entire birds, consisting of a black dot and two lines. Imagine.

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So at long last, the natural resource that capitalism extracts the most brutally of all, on every scale and by every metric—from the hour we spend decoding latent aggression on social media to the boring novel we feel compelled by taste to read to planetary collapse— is time.

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The mirrored surface of that cantor’s bald head as he sings the Kaddish.

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Today was Yom Kippur.

Cast your lint into this river.

Give your lint to this intern.

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Parable of Ariel

“I hit my peak as a writer in third grade. Those stories were good. They were about real things. Ferrets, immigration, poachers in Wyoming, the industrial revolution, the bread and roses strike of 1812, the state of Texas. You’ve seen the anthology my mom put together.”

*

Worms woweth under dew, soil, and cloud. All my life I wondered at what. But at what they woweth, I know now.

Evil and beauty need each other.

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Questions to which the answer is “night.”

With what instrument does one best see the instrument?

What time is the right time?

Which watchman?

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A chiseled chest of song.

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Gasoline: the final land art.

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This science is suspenseful!

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Parable of a Bell

I am ringing a call bell at a bar, a bell I purchased that morning, debating whether or not to use it in the reading of this poem at the Poetry Project. At previous readings I have knocked on hard surfaces to signify breaks. This bell sounds sharp and clear, lovely really, though admittedly a little loud. Eric says he prefers the knocking, as it sounds like fate at the door; Paola says ringing the bell sounds like I’m asking for service. Do I want to sound like that? I don’t. But what if I mute it just so, like this, with a folded napkin. They listen as the paper absorbs the outer edge of the ring. A good solution. I ring again and again to test it. A woman at the bar does not turn to me, but speaks so I can hear.

“Every time that bell rings an angel loses its fucking wings.”

In the end I decide to knock.

*

This ill star.

*

Parable of the New Job

“Did your weekend have a highlight?” I ask my new colleague. The office lights flicker. Coffee steams from her cup. She does not drink it.

“The highlight of my weekend was time.”

Daniel Poppick is the author of The Police and of the National Poetry Series winner Fear of Description.

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