Reading Karl Shapiro‘s last book,Coda: Last Poems, pisses me off. Errors galore, half-assed typesetting (a bulbous typeface with too little leading, the last words of long, overrun lines dropped against the left margins as if they were new lines. Shit—Shapiro deserves better! Deserves a Complete Shapiro, for one thing, with tiresome variorum notes and two prefaces, one by a scholar of Ovid (who knew about classical standards and personal rage), and a second by the ghost of Henry Miller writing via Ouija board from some hedonistic paradise. But most of all the book would be proofread by at least a ninth grader and typeset by a professional unafflicted by myopia, laziness, or both. May it yet come to pass! So that Shapiro may find his way back into all the best anthologies and glare from behind the bars of print at any fool who can’t figure out how he came to be there.
All day under the hubbub journalists call life
I silently contemplated those counted dead in Japan
and the thousands as yet uncounted, and I thought
long and hard as an unstruck flint about my dead
mother and father and my dead friend Gary John Reilly,
coming to no conclusions, simply feeling it, the ache
of being. And then toward midnight in bed at last,
stretching out flagrantly where peace might find me,
I touched my bare foot tenderly to my wife’s bare foot
and thought: mortal flesh. Then suddenly: no,
no—of course not! Not mortal, those naked feet. No.
And now here I am, writing it all down. Foolish man.
What does it mean, this inability to write
aphorisms? A taste for indecision…
Your face in the silencing-room,
your panic a foot away behind thick glass,
your mouth a twisting slit fish thrown down on the deck,
your eyes locked on mine though the glass on your side is a mirror,
your nightmare the dream I’m peering into,
your name on the pale blue paper clipped to my clipboard,
your name I used to know as well as my own,
though now it escapes me,
now it escapes me.
The Ark plunges toward Ararat,
steered by a rawboned, fanatic pilot:
a drifting prison of dialectics.
[Note: In Signs & Symptoms (see entry above),Gál writes: “Dialectic is the intellectual form of the unbalanced mind” (p. 13).]