Daniel Borzutzky


After Epictectus

Instead of averting your eyes from the ball, look it squarely into your glove, and contemplate it bursting, and shooting thousands of miniscule terrorist poets onto the field. This is the advice I give to the youngster, who is me, and who is no longer me, but who is in the body of me, and who is stuck, lately, with the memory, of a certain Mr. Alpen, the manager of the Indians, our arch rivals, and the father of a certain Brian Alpen, who was on the mound in the 8
th inning of a Little League Baseball Playoff Game in 1987. I, the poet, thirteen years old, am the runner on second base, and I see myself, looking at myself, looking into the batter’s box, where my teammate, Chris, a clumsy yet skillful power hitter, stands at the plate. I, the poet, am the tying run, and as Chris returns to the batter’s box after fouling off a 2-2 pitch, Mr. Alpen, the father of Brian Alpen, the pitcher of the Indians, says to his son: “Now strike this nigger out.” Chris strikes out, and is promptly dragged off the field by his proud, indignant mother before he can change into his catcher’s pads. We lose the game. The season ends. Impotence, rage, despair. But that was then, and now, in my position as poet, I hereby give myself the power to reinvent this moment, and to render this Mr. Alpen, silent, helpless, immobile. I wink my poetic eye, and watch his body float off the ground, and fly to center field, where he lands with a whack, and where suddenly his son appears with a round of Cheez Whiz covered hot dogs. Instead of averting your eyes, I tell myself, and tell myself to tell myself, stare straight into the painful events of life, thus I strip the clothes off Mr. Alpen and cover his body in Cheez Whiz. Do not avert your eyes, I tell the parents in the stands, my friends and teammates, but stare instead at the miniscule terrorist poets who seep out of the pores and juices of the Cheez Whiz covered hot dogs. You think I am joking, but for twenty years I have been dreaming of this poem, dreaming of some way of responding to Mr. Alpen, who made me, at an early age, all too aware of the repulsiveness of man and silence. But not until now, not until this very moment, when Epictetus told me to look squarely at the painful events of life, the realities of death, infirmity, loss and disappointment, did I realize that I could respond to this putrescent, hideous being. Imagine him now: he is in center field, unconscious, with Cheez Whiz and hot dogs and miniscule terrorist poets infesting his body. Give him a mustache, a track suit, and a baseball hat, and now watch his body convulse as the miniscule poets seep into his skin and bones, and take hold of him. My friends, I must have been dreaming, for soon I saw this Mr. Alpen transform, with the snap of a finger, into one abominable belch of a poem. He rose from the ground, this poem, and said: “See, I am that transcendence which is transcendent. For the truth falls, and when it falls, it is nothing other than that untruth in which all the things untruth does not allow are achieved in order to lead man to the perfect dialectic, which is the extinction of truth, and untruth, at the same time.” He shits this poem out of his mouth, and promptly wins a Guggenheim Fellowship. He vomits this poem into the toilet, and David Lehman selects it for Best American Poetry. And what of his son, the pitcher who struck out my clumsy, skillful teammate? He went to Dartmouth, was a straight C student, and earned a degree in Economics so that he could take over the family business and allow his father to devote his days to poetry. But as you shit poems, so you become one shit of a poem, which is to say that this is my poem, my dream, my horrible chance to avenge. And so it is that twenty years later, I see this putrescent poem of a man at Dodger Stadium. He is eating a hot dog: barbaric poems in the Cheez Whiz; barbaric poems in the sugary bun. I see him walk into the bathroom, and from the look of his swollen body, stored as it is with poetic violence, I know that one swift pinprick of his buttocks will cause him to implode, or dissolve, into the miraculous poetry of ash. But here, the poet, twenty years later, is stuck with philosophy, for as a student of Epictetus, he knows that one cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time promoting the good of others. But what can possibly be good for this abominable belch of a poem? Silence, virtue, reason, wisdom? In short, there is nothing to be done about this hideous man, and thus we leave him to piss his poetry, eternally, into the rusty urinal of history, where poetry and history silently wrestle with poetry, presence, and silence.

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