"But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter…"
—T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
I'm not too balding and I don't fast anymore, but last night, I received a rejection letter from the Bart Baxter spoken word contest. I was disappointed—especially because I had looked forward to performing the parody, which I will do somewhere, at some point. But I realized that, in the meantime, I could post that poem.
Although it is online, and not spoken, here is my homage to Mr. Eliot:
The Apologies of J. Alfred P.
I was the patient, too cheap for ether,
too worried my heart might stop,
nerves frayed, the exhaustion of desire.
Alfred was a family name,
and Prufrock, too—a row of dead men
posed in portraits on a wall—but the J.
belonged to me: Joanna.
From room to room, the pretty girls go,
discussing Bosch and Vincent Van Gogh.
I have walked the streets
through evenings thick
with yapping Pomeranians,
wandered without being seen,
obscured by smoke in noisy bars
where sawdust stuck to my shoes.
Do I care about the universe?
In a minute there is time
to change my mind
but not a moment to rehearse!
I have been measured
and spent, lipstick smudges on the cup,
soup stains on the table cloth.
I have spooned out every night,
stirred the blurring twilight
as the young men turned
away from their windows.
Between the dinners, other women linger,
talk of love and John Sargent Singer.
And who would not succumb
to lamplight on bare arms—
but those lit limbs were mine,
the gown last year's fashion
(a hopeless flirtation, obvious
desperation in apricot silk).
I have whispered
from the pages of a poem
and dined alone on crab cakes
with a Chinese oyster sauce
(number 37). I have learned
the words for aspiration,
pinned them next to synonyms
for failure, for regret.
Oh, to feel the wind—
to watch it blow the trees in waves,
a green ocean outside my pallid rooms,
to smell the rotting kelp and old shells
littering some distant shore
where the surf crashes white
and leaves its traces on the sand,
leaves echoes of the mermaid's call.
Do I dare to answer?
I do not think that they want me to sing,
but then my voice curls out the window,
mingles with that yellow smog
and clings to crusts the pigeons eat.
I have strayed far from the sea
and put the peaches in a pie.
I am no mermaid.
But meet me sixish
at The Slug and Lettuce
and we’ll drink a pint,
speak of art, have one last laugh
with all those tarty girls
before you go.