Sickness and Poetry
Let’s face it; it’s an altered state. I started getting sick in San Diego – I felt shivers as I headed to dinner after the reading and I lay in bed at Roddey’s thinking what if I just fly home without even reading in LA. But I got up and felt a little better and did read and sat shaking lightly in a restaurant afterwards with my friends. Now it was just a question of how heavily it would
come down when it fell. I headed over to Cathy’s where I was staying and I had the problem of arriving at her house and not wanting to say I’m sick since I had never stayed with them before. But once I hit the bed I knew it was a long fall and I was pretty much there for twenty-four hours straight.
My friends were kind considering they were going to Hawaii the next day and it would ruin everything if I brought germs into their house. By Tuesday I was semi-frisky, hopping around LA making all the dates and meetings I’d planned. I even went into a studio with Japanther and recorded three poems. The altered state I had been in was a plus cause they basically said I could record whatever I wanted and Ian played me a recorded song with plenty of fast guitar and some vocals and pointed to one area both on the computer screen and in time and said I thought maybe if you could go in there and then there were some bells and it slowed down and you could read even slower in there. So I jumped in late in one fairly new poem with a lyric: “I live in a terminal/and so do you” and it didn’t so much sound like a song as be an open moment somehow and the trickiest part was not trying to sound like a punk talking fast. Use your regular voice he kept telling me and we recorded the same two or three poems over and over again and it was kind of amazing like going to the bathroom in front of everyone since I kept stepping out of the recording room and someone would say do it again, or you went up on this line, or I could hear you turning papers.
Everyone had a lot of time and was listening really close. When it was over I ate food that everyone was eating that Matt dished out and felt like part of the scene. It was nice. Now I had a couple of hours to kill and was afraid to return to Cathy and Julie’s house as the germ bearer but I did and it was brief and it was possible Cathy was hiding from my sickness because I never saw her again. For days I’ve wanted to see the Keats film. I went to his room in Rome in 1986, the room where he died and looked at the little orange flowers on the ceiling that were probably the last thing he looked at. I love looking at the last thing. Rome is full of them.
Finally I was returning the rental car and in the airport and going home finally though I would be sick for many more days. I read the New York Times while I waited, normally a very grounding routine and first I noticed in the paper that one group of businessmen and world leaders looked like puppets. I just couldn’t see these as real people and that thought was astonishing. But then I was looking at another group a few pages later and the sensation struck me again that these were not real people, but odd somehow. Like toy people. And I touched my head and it seemed I had a fever and the visions I were having were not The New York Times but were me gently hallucinating.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she...