Stranded

Excuse me madam—I really hate to trouble you like this

But, you see, my car ran out of gas,

And I was wondering if maybe you could spare me,

An extra, broken-legged crocodile, with long ears…

I used to have short ears.

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“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

Embarrassment

Today he looked at me

Through his crooked glasses frame

And when he said, “hi, Lee”

I almost forgot my eggplant-potato salad.

I think he knows about my nose,

Let’s hope he passes over it.

“There are in this world stranger things,”

Says a stranger, “than to have a kangaroo nose,”

But if Benny knew I think he’d mind

That deep inside my rigid make up case

Contained below the cosmic cosmetics

And other contents of every kind and sort,

There is an extra crocodile with long ears.

His leg is broken and he cannot swim

To peek his head above the liquid lipstick.

But even if his leg were healed,

I think his ears would still look funny.

Everything else is in order—

Except that I forgot again to tip the door man…

With the golden token…

And the yellow bow tie.

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“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

Beautiful Laugh

She didn’t laugh that loudly,

But I saw her kangaroo nose.

It was disintegrating in the ashes

Of a decomposing image.

A cold image of the world

That didn’t have extra room

To hold a pointless carnival

Or an amusing circus.

An image of rigid boxes

That were dusted every day

With scratchy wire brooms

To keep away the tangled cobwebs

And creative long-winded spiders with pinstriped pants.

A rotten, silken image of nothing.

But to wipe off the snot

Of a kangaroo nose with it

Is a beautiful thing,

To laugh out clearly the truth

Like hilarious chocolate milk

That overflows propriety indecorously

Is a disgusting and superfluous—necessity.

I like boogers better

Than false impressions,

And I don’t own a volleyball—

Because the man with the yellow bow tie

Doesn’t have his own volleyball—

Yesterday he went to the mall…

By himself.

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“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

Paroxysm of Poetry: The Man with the Yellow Bow Tie

Dear Readers,

It’s time for another Paroxysm of Poetry.  That is, a week or so of daily poetic postings that pour out of my pen in perhaps a kind of paroxysmal pandemonium.  This set of poetry is called The Man with the Yellow Bow Tie.  It is written in a Surrealist style that is intended to be playful, entertaining, and a little bit ludicrous.  I hope these will be a lot of fun for everyone to read, but always remember that if you don’t enjoy them, you are free to close your internet browser at any time.  I apologise in advance for my bizarre taste in aesthetics; you will have to forgive a well-meaning, bow-tie-wearing poetaster like myself.

Your servant,

TWM

On the Interpretive and Critical Issues of Eggs

Dear Ernest,

These days, man seems to inhabit two worlds.  In one, his choice of literature is restricted only by what he can find on the shelf, but in the other, he finds that the greatest criticism for his favourite authors and philosophers is that they are too difficult to read.  In one, he is limited only by the capacity of his imagination and his intellect, but in the other, he is confined by every pragmatic constraint, from the paucity of time to the stringent demands of utility.  Man on his own is free to contemplate the human condition, to spend however long he chooses considering the nature of the Absolute Truth, but as soon as he leaves the locus amoenus of his study, as soon as he enters into what most of us call ‘the real world’, he realises that all these fancies of his, all these suppositions that he may have dreamed up and wrought to withstand the most brutal kind of intellectual scrutiny—all these are attacked in the real world not for possessing any kind of logical fallacy but merely for being too abstract and metaphysical.  Anyone who spends an hour or so reading and thinking in a private study is likely to feel afterward that the time would have been better spent figuring out what to eat for dinner or how to make more money or what kind of clothes to wear tomorrow—these after all are the sort of decisions that have actual bearing on real life.

Ernest, it is strange that these two worlds are so dissociated from one another.  One would expect them to coincide.  To illustrate this, let us imagine a conversation between two people who each live in a different world respectively.  There is a realistically hefty woman living in the real world, and she is married to a phantasmagorically emaciated man living in the other world.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: It is my categorical Duty to sustain you.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: I’ll go get eggs.

Now, our woman might think the emaciated man is a little strange, but at the end of the day, there is no real disagreement between them.  Somehow or other, they can each grok what the other is thinking, since ultimately, they both want eggs.  The only difference is how they get to the eggs.  The woman wants eggs so that she can use them, and the man wants eggs so that he can be the sort of person who gets eggs.

When these two do disagree about something, however, that discrepancy is greatly inflamed by the difference in their worlds.

Woman: We’re out of eggs.

Man: Mankind is not entitled to luxury.

Woman: What does that mean?

Man: Let’s see what kind of people we might become if we went without eggs for a little while.  Perhaps we’d be better for it.

Woman: But I need eggs now!  You lazy, phantasmagorically emaciated man!

Clearly this will not end well.  One or each of them is wrong, but it’s almost certain that they’ll never figure out how or why.  In the real world, the man will never have enough time to explain his esoteric reasoning fully.  If he were able to do so, perhaps the woman could point out the precise matter about which she disagrees with him.  On the other hand, the woman will never be fully able to express her passionate feelings about eggs.  If she could, perhaps the man could demonstrate where his own feelings differ.  All this would be much simpler if they both looked at eggs through the same lens.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word ‘apotheosis’ in your next letter.

Are Bad People Just Stupid?

“For indeed, the happiest potential issue

Experienced men achieve through plans.”

  Oedipus Rex, 44-45 (trans. liberally by TWM)

Dear Ernest,

In an effort to make this letter as concise and to the point as possible, while passing over any superfluous details, specifics, or particulars and avoiding any unnecessary repetitions or reiterations of the same concepts in different words, I have—for this purpose—decided to forgo the inclusion of any kind of absurdly lengthy and savagely magniloquent introductory sentence or paragraph—which might, even while appealing to my own grotesque and gaudy sensibilities, betray for my audience my embarrassing and deeply rooted verbosity—abstaining from so much, I have chosen instead to cut right to the chase: not all bad people are stupid.

In your last letter: “What are your thoughts on the Platonic [notion] that, if we were to truly know ‘The Good’ then we could do nothing else but that good?”

In so many words, these are precisely my thoughts on the Platonic notion known as ‘Hellenistic Rationalism’—the notion that moral goodness is the same thing as intellectual knowledge.  If I were to make the matter as simple as possible, I’d say that Hellenistic Rationalism is really just a fancy way of claiming that all bad people are stupid.  But even the most casual consideration of the world around us reveals that this isn’t true.  How many brilliant men and women of business have climbed the corporate ladder through deceit and treachery?  How many poets and artists, renowned for their learning and intelligence, have violated sacred vows and died dishonourably of syphilis?  Was not the idolatrous Solomon a divinely educated wise man?  By comparison to the rest of us, all of these people seem to have known ‘The Good’ very distinctly and with that full knowledge have made the deliberate choice to reject it all together.  The central human quality that delineates the boundaries between good and evil must then be something much more fundamental than mere knowledge.

For that matter, it is also more fundamental even than volition.  It is the human essence that can be called either good or evil.  In claiming this, I am saying nothing particularly insightful.  In fact, the tenet is almost circular: ‘that man is essentially good who is good with respect to his essence’.  It means that morality is not determined by what a person knows or what they want to do or what kind of sandwich they prefer to eat at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but rather, morality is an aspect of who the person is in his or her entirety.  The sophists at the university may be inclined to tell you that education is the key to happiness or goodness or any other desirable quality.  A veteran of war will sooner tell you that a proper training of the will can bring about so much.  I myself would like to say that the trick is to wear a handlebar moustache while composing shamelessly romantic music.  But common sense and linguistic idiom make it clear that being good is a subject concerned exclusively with being.

The problem with mere knowledge of The Good is that it doesn’t necessitate our using of that knowledge.  I know very well that it would be good if I were to clean up my room and my act rather than reading Gradus ad Parnassum or writing an over simplified blogpost on moral philosophy.  But this knowledge of good and evil, as it were, means absolutely nothing to me if I don’t think about it.  In short, I know what’s good for me (most people do), but I’m not thinking about it—I don’t consciously know that I know it.  If you enjoy being arcane, you might call this ‘second order knowing’, and just like the orders of volition, the orders of intellect describe the way that faculty is structured, which means they are a metaphysical aspect of essence.  Usually, when someone does something immoral, it’s not because they didn’t know it was wrong nor because they didn’t want to do The Good, but to put it simply, it’s because they refused to know that they knew the Good that they wanted to want to do.

Your servant,

TWM

P.S. I challenge you to use the word “campanological” in your next post.

How to Impress Girls

Dear Ernest,

Everyone loves a good anecdote, so I thought I’d tell you one: several years ago, while at a composition workshop, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a fellow by the name of Ben Nakamura.  Ben’s English skills were intermediate at best, but as you and I both know, this put him on par with the upper percentile of all native speakers—a brief perusal of any blog like this one can reveal as much.  Employing such and aptitude for English, he once asked me why I began writing music.  I offered him in reply a lengthy exposition on the purpose of art, the human propensity for creativity, and other such kinds of pretentious philosophical ramblings.  When I had sufficiently despoiled from his mind any presumption of eloquence or compendiousness that he might have held for me in light of my life-long familiarity with our mother tongue, I stopped blabbering and returned to him with the same question.  His response was much simpler: “I started writing music,” he said, “to impress a girl.”  Then he laughed at himself before adding, “it’s okay though.  It turns out I like doing it anyway.”

In your last letter: “I fear you despise your own tongue at times”

In answer to your accusation, I must submit entirely.  I can hardly stand my accursed tongue!  It’s always sloshing around like an unwelcome guest, the umbrage of my mouth, all wet and gross, and always arguing with me.  I don’t care how amusing a scene it makes for passersby—my debates with my tongue are utterly infuriating!  Just the other day we were arguing about Dante.  My loquacious antagonist was of the opinion that the Divine Comedy can be read and appreciated much more deeply under the assumption that Beatrice was not a real person.  I opposed him directly.  If Beatrice were not an actual woman, it would mean that Dante has neglected to provided us with any real-world advice on how to impress girls.  Naturally, I would find this all rather disappointing, since arguing about Dante with my tongue already puts me at a disadvantage in that category.  In defence of my viewpoint, allow me to extrapolate evidence from one of his sonnets, quoting in a language that’s much more dear me by heart than native to me by birth:

“or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.  / Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere / vada con lei, che quando va per via, / gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo, / per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere; / e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere / diverria nobil cosa o si morria.”

trans: Now let me make her [Beatrice’s] virtue known. I say that it behoves whoever longs to seem a gentle lady to walk with her, for when she passes by, Love casts a chill into the hearts of the villainous, so that their every thought freezes and perishes.  Whoever might endure standing beside and beholding her—he would either become something noble or die.

(Vita Nuova XIX)

As this sonnet implies, the main point that Dante will try to make in the Divine Comedy is simply this: the best way to impress a girl is not to compose music for her but to write immortal Italian love poetry.  All throughout the epic, the same question recurs.  Dante asks his readers and himself, ‘how does one become worthy?’  Worthy, that is, of so virtuous a lady as Beatrice, of so lofty a poetic theme as the salvation of the human soul, and of so glorious a kingdom as that unending realm of Him who is from Everlasting to Everlasting.  The solution is always immortal Italian love poetry.  Live a life, Dante tells us, that is a love poem addressed to no less a muse than the very God whose name is Love.  Come as you are, base and villainous, and He will cast a chill into your heart so that your every vile thought vanishes into oblivion.  Perhaps this will begin somewhere quite superficial—perhaps you’ll begin ‘pursuing God’ only to impress others with your conspicuous virtues or specious magnanimity, both of which are among the many practical benefits of being a nominal Christian.  But by the time you find yourself ‘midway through the journey of our life’, you just might realise that God has been using all those trivialities to cultivate his own radical vision for you.  He has been pursuing you through all the stupid fancies, all the vanities and futilities that first inspired you to turn toward Him, and now, as the impetus and completion of everything that you are becoming, He has overwhelmed you with His grace and bereaved you of every source of pride, even the pride you might take in your own morality and righteousness.  When He has done all this, you may very well arrive at a solidarity with my friend Ben Nakamura: “it’s okay,” you’ll conclude, “it turns out I like doing this anyway.”

Your servant,

TWM

P.S.  Everything I told you about Ben is true…except his name.  He didn’t really go around using a pseudonym as far as I know.

Cenabis Bene, You Shall Eat Well

A translation will follow this Latin poem.

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Translation:

With me you shall eat well, my Fabullus,

If the gods will favor you a day or so,

If you will bring a good and great dinner–

Not without a fair guest, a lady–

Along with wine, the salt of wit, and jest

Of every immoderate kind. And if you bring

These things, my charming friend you shall eat well,

I say.  For your Catullus has a full purse

Of fine spider’s webs.  But amity

Of a pure kind shall be your recompense–

Or whatever else more sweet or elegant;

For I shall give to you a fragrant perfume,

The ambrosial scent of heaven, a gift divine,

And when you smell it, you will entreat the gods

That they might make you entirely a nose.

(Catullus 13)

A few notes on my translation: I have bowdlerized the text here and there, removing the obscene insinuations.  I believe that expurgation has left us with nothing more or less than a charming little poem.  My favorite line is probably the last, simply because it’s so bizarre.  But I also like line eight (which crosses lines eight and nine in my translation).  I have taken special care to preserve the ambiguity here; it is unclear whether Catullus has a purse filled with money but made out of a material like spider’s webs, or if his purse is simply filled with cobwebs, since he is poor.  This ambiguity is what makes the whole poem funny and clever.  It is rude of him to ask his guest to bring their dinner for the evening, but rude in a charming way. He is not embarrassed either to admit how poor he is to so dear a friend–or else to make fun of how inhospitable a host he is.