Houston, TX / Gillian Conoley

Everyone Has Lost Track of Number of Days on the Bus

Houston is steamy, rainy, lush. Big fat long-haired gray cat just galloped across lawn between the Cy Twombly Museum and the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel, putting just the right punctuation mark to our Surrealist performance at Menil . . . But more on that, in just a minute.

Last night we read at the Aurora Picture Show, an old church with wooden arched ceilings and benches—once a functioning down-home church converted to an arts venue and also a home where a sweet family lives—Andrea Grover and Carlos and two precociously invincible children. Great hospitality from Delicia Harvey and Melissa Sonzala . . . thank you so much. Reading: Travis Nichols, Tonya Foster, Sierra Nelson, Valzhyna Mort, Brent Hendricks, Matthew Zapruder, Joshua Beckman, Dara Wier, Joshua Clover, Gillian Conoley. All the readings have been so terrific . . . particularly memorable from this particular one were Brent Hendricks’ poems about father, cosmology, absence, bomb, where on earth does the spirit and the body go after death, Dara Wier’s poem where a head becomes a cannonball and the head was more than ok with that, Joshua Clover’s sharp fine “Oh architecture you are the greatest art your content is modernity,” Valzhyna Mort’s cutting imagistic wonders spoken in a Russian accent everyone should have, everyone should run and read Valzhyna Mort immediately, Sierra Nelson’s sly shrewd quiet intelligence, lyrical musicality verging on flutes and harps if flutes and harps could be carried and played silently in a plush velvet bag, Travis Nichols’ verbal play/word machines punctuated with yahoo coming at beginning and wit and grace teetering just where grace would jump off the board into a deep end, ahhhhhhhhhhhh, how refreshing, Tonya Foster reading courageously from a brand new piece still on her laptop, Penelope’s veil falling over the audience in hushed delight, Matthew Zapruder’s long Brooklyn poem in which Brooklyn becomes city matrix for human soul facing straight ahead imagination’s seduction and turning away, turning away, back to where does thought go when you are just staring out the window when it comes back and then drifts into humanely charmed full-witted rifts one could imagine on guitar, Joshua Beckman’s patient attentive directly meandering acuteness where we are at last all friends who are allowed to love/hate/be/understand, unashamed.

Then we slept.

Late morning. Great sandwiches and potato salad and pickles gratis the Menil Collection. Thank you program director Carl Killian and Tony and Lori and Michael once owner of the amazing Brazos Bookstore. Then a few minutes to drift around Surrealist show—Tanguy, Magritte, Max Ernst, Joseph Cornell, De Chirico, Kurt Schwitters. Here’s what we did, thanks to great plan concocted yesterday by Joshua Beckman, Travis Nichols, Sierra Nelson, Matthew Zapruder: Dara and I walked around commenting on the art, making up little fragmented narratives, which Travis Nichols, wearing a Madonna-like headpiece mike, then ran a running commentary on, in which he could shift/add/change into a walkie-talkie which piped directly to Sierra Nelson in Kelly green Girl Friday Superman’s girlfriend on a job interview suit, sort of Coco Chanel meets DKNY if DKNY had a crush on Betsy Johnson, Sierra who then typed up these transmissions into her own poem, then Liz Hughey who stole the show as “the runner” in jogging clothes. Liz who then ran from the end of the gallery where Sierra Nelson was typing on did I mention it was an old manual with a good strong ding when it returned. Liz Hughey taking pink-sheeted poem from Sierra and running up gallery hall through audience to Valzhyna Mort and Joshua Clover who then read the poem, changing it, too, at their whim and fancy. Halfway through a whistle blew which relieved Dara and I, with Joshua Beckman and Matthew Zapruder taking over our roles. Thoughout all improving Liz Hughey was a mercurial wonder—once a pissed off corporate bitch saying “I can’t deal with this,” as she stomped up with the poem in her hand, once a penitent before an unforgiving God, once a crying hysteric, once a laughing hysteric, once a calm, collected creature who sat in taut delay before delivering the poem. Joshua and Valzhyna after clear, delicious delivery crumpling up the pages after each poem was read, and at the performance’s end, running, too, down the gallery, throwing crumples at the audience.

Then we rushed on to the bus, and the cat arrived, dashing across green, wet Houston dew.

And full-hearted, entire spirited, tender Jane Miller, who came to it all. Jane who is Lana Turner We Love You, Get Up.

Originally Published: October 12th, 2006