Baron Wormser

Prognosis: the Bearable Lightness of Being

When the doc­tor told me I had a few months to live—six
At the most—I thanked him because that was how
I was brought up—to thank peo­ple when they tell you
Something of import. He didn’t say “You’re wel­come”
But didn’t look away either, his face try­ing not to be
A mask of dis­pas­sion but not try­ing to fall into too easy
Compassion—dis and com, a rock and a soft place.
And when I start­ed to get up, my hands gripped the met­al arms
Of the chair too hard, more as though as I was try­ing to raise
Myself up in some cal­lis­thenic thrust than push
The chair back from the doctor’s huge, cher­ry wood desk,
Forgetting how inten­tion had come to mock me.
I began, with­out apol­o­gy, to col­lapse, arms weak,
Hands soft­en­ing like the sick per­son I was,
Seeming to melt
Realizing I was melt­ing, seem­ing becom­ing
History, the ghost of an avari­cious ghost.

Not so bad, though—
I get to taste what is occur­ring now, get to tear up
Or anno­tate time’s on-going recipe—mix
One edu­ca­tion with one socio-eco­nom­ic imbroglio with one
Gender with one ini­tial reli­gious fix. Stir. Call it fate.
No more of that cozy me that is free to loll
In its deter­mined arm­chair and look toward a con­tin­ued hori­zon.

The doc­tor was pon­der­ing whether he should
Get up and assist me, though the fur­rows on his fore­head showed
He was not sure how, I looked like jel­ly, a mus­cu­lar mess
Deliquescing before him and I felt how he want­ed to say,
“Shit, this is no good,” a sen­ti­ment I agreed with
And to which I beat him bur­bling, “Shit, this is no good,”
Which led him to almost smile, sup­press it but then almost
Smile again but sup­press it again so it seemed he was hav­ing some
Facial attack or mem­o­ry of the med­ical con­fer­ence on Maui
Where he bed­ded a love­ly anes­the­si­ol­o­gist.

It’s okay,”
I croaked to him and began to hitch myself up out of the chair
Where I didn’t want to spend the rest of my short life
Though where I was head­ed I couldn’t say,
The doc­tor bel­low­ing toward the closed door behind me,
“Next.”

 

Jerry Lee Lewis at Nuremberg

In unre­al time, as when a head dices up decades
Centuries and mil­len­nia
While slow­ly sluic­ing into the nether bog of sleep,
Jerry Lee Lewis, also titled “The Killer,”
For among oth­er things, his pianis­tic prowess,
Appears at Nuremberg in a stiff, wide-lapel suit
He could have bought at Lansky’s in Memphis
If he was from Memphis but he wasn’t,
Standing there with that too-cool hair­do
To con­front the mod­est panoply of Nazis who
Are stand­ing in for many Nazis
Who are there to take the rap and glad in their
We-are-the-supe­ri­or-race-no-mat­ter-what way
To do that because it was no evil to do what they did,
It was a ser­vice to the Aryan race to cleanse the earth
Of scum which by impli­ca­tion includ­ed musi­cians
Humping pianos and thir­teen-year-olds
And bray­ing like coun­try-west­ern-boo­gie-woo­gie ban­shees
About which Jerry Lee has no inten­tion of apol­o­giz­ing
Because he under­stands this isn’t about ideas
It’s about not being human and enjoy­ing not being human
It’s inhu­man and that’s the last thing that’s on Jerry Lee’s mind,
Which always has a naked woman and a right hand going
Crazy on a key­board in it, which is what a mind should hold,
So that when Göring starts in with his wit­ty repar­tee
Jerry Lee says, “You are one sad moth­er­fuck­er”
And the world, for once, gets what it is to be American
And unafraid of what any­one thinks, espe­cial­ly some
Nazi slime ball who believes he’s bet­ter than any­one else
Because he’s from Europe and has a lot of unhap­py his­to­ry
Up his hate­ful ass­hole that got made into more his­to­ry that
People like my uncle Nathan paid for with his life
On the beach at Anzio, his pre­cious blood van­ish­ing
Into the griev­ous sands of obliv­ion.

Jerry Lee doesn’t care what Göring says back.
Instead he wag­gles his eyes around the court­room.
No chicks or pianos.
Being seri­ous is fuck­ing bor­ing.
Being seri­ous has killed a lot more peo­ple than not being seri­ous.

The dream ends here.
In Hollywood time, Spencer Tracy is talk­ing about
“The real com­plain­ing par­ty in this court­room,” which is “civ­i­liza­tion.”
Everyone nods at this large last word.
It sounds good like maybe you could use it in a song,
Each syl­la­ble taut yet sibi­lant in its brief artic­u­late leap,
Though it doesn’t rhyme with much,
Though it feels like some wish, some­thing bad­ly out of touch.

 

Joy

To scoop up a scrap of feel­ing
That falls from the gusty October sky

A raw lit­tle thing like a bare hatch­ling
Or fresh blood stain

The air thick with ocher and vio­let
As if an abstract expres­sion­ist

Had tak­en hold of a cloud and soaked it
Till it bled ghost tears

Then brayed with crafty gid­di­ness
At art’s prodi­gal counter-punch

A bray the cars take up out of impa­tience
For they must be else­where and soon

And this moment
Is only a men­tal tun­nel

More failed his­to­ry
Though when a woman turns

Her head side­ways and sees one
Of those slim trees the city plants

Clinging to a few last leaves
As if they were dig­ni­ty itself

It’s hard not to squirm with admi­ra­tion,
Lift weary hands off the wheel

And yell to the stooped gog­gle-eyed guy
On the side­walk lean­ing to catch some­thing,

Don’t pock­et it. Let it grow.”
The guy looks up, big incred­u­lous eyes,

Big ears too and like
The Wandering Jew he soft­ly groans.

~

Baron Wormser is the author/­co-author of twelve full-length books and a poet­ry chap­book. Wormser has received fel­low­ships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His most recent book is Impenitent Notes (CavanKerry Press, 2011). He teach­es in the Fairfield University MFA Program.