james tate

The Search For Lost Lives

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I was chasing this blue butterfly down
the road when a car came by and clipped me.
It was nothing serious, but it angered me and
I turned around and cursed the driver who didn’t
even slow down to see if I was hurt. Then I
returned my attention to the butterfly which
was nowhere to be seen. One of the Doubleday
girls came running up the street with her toy
poodle toward me. I stopped her and asked,
‘Have you seen a blue butterfly around here? ‘
‘It’s down near that birch tree near Grandpa’s,’
she said. ‘Thanks,’ I said, and walked briskly
toward the tree. It was fluttering from flower
to flower in Mr. Doubleday’s extensive garden,
a celestial blueness to soothe the weary heart.
I didn’t know what I was doing there. I certain-
ly didn’t want to capture it. It was like
something I had known in another life, even if
it was only in a dream, I wanted to confirm it.
I was a blind beggar on the streets of Cordoba
when I first saw it, and now, again it was here.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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Happy As The Day In Long

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I take the long walk up the staircase to my secret room.
Today’s big news: they found Amelia Earhart’s shoe, size 9.
1992: Charlie Christian is bebopping at Minton’s in 1941.
Today, the Presidential primaries have failed us once again.
We’ll look for our excitement elsewhere, in the last snow
that is falling, in tomorrow’s Gospel Concert in Springfield.
It’s a good day to be a cat and just sleep.
Or to read the Confessions of Saint Augustine.
Jesus called the sons of Zebedee the Sons of Thunder.
In my secret room, plans are hatched: we’ll explore the Smoky Mountains.
Then we’ll walk along a beach: Hallelujah!
(A letter was just delivered by Overnight Express–
it contained nothing of importance, I slept through it.)
(I guess I’m trying to be “above the fray.”)
The Russians, I know, have developed a language called “Lincos”
designed for communicating with the inhabitants of other worlds.
That’s been a waste of time, not even a postcard.
But then again, there are tree-climbing fish, called anabases.
They climb the trees out of stupidity, or so it is said.
Who am I to judge? I want to break out of here.
A bee is not strong in geometry: it cannot tell
a square from a triangle or a circle.
The locker room of my skull is full of panting egrets.
I’m saying that strictly for effect.
In time I will heal, I know this, or I believe this.
The contents and furnishings of my secret room will be labeled
and organized so thoroughly it will be a little frightening.
What I thought was infinite will turn out to be just a couple
of odds and ends, a tiny miscellany, miniature stuff, fragments
of novelties, of no great moment. But it will also be enough,
maybe even more than enough, to suggest an immense ritual and tradition.
And this makes me very happy.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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The Wrong Way Home

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All night a door floated down the river.
It tried to remember little incidents of pleasure
from its former life, like the time the lovers
leaned against it kissing for hours
and whispering those famous words.
Later, there were harsh words and a shoe
was thrown and the door was slammed.
Comings and goings by the thousands,
the early mornings and late nights, years, years.
O they’ve got big plans, they’ll make a bundle.
The door was an island that swayed in its sleep.
The moon turned the doorknob just slightly,
burned its fingers and ran,
and still the door said nothing and slept.
At least that’s what they like to say,
the little fishes and so on.
Far away, a bell rang, and then a shot was fired.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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The Definition of Gardening

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Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on
his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, ‘Let’s go get those tools, Jim.’
But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, ‘What is a garden, anyway?’
And thoughts about a ‘modernistic’ garden
begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
‘Horticulture is a groping in the dark
into the obscure and unfamiliar,
kneeling before a disinterested secret,
slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle,
birdbrained, babbling gibberish, dig and
destroy, pull out and apply salt,
hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots,
where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous,
the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love,
into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating,
through the nose, the earsplitting necrology
of it, the withering, shriveling,
the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder
and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris,
wireworms are worse than their parents,
there is no way out, flowers as big as heads,
pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently
at me, the me who so loves to garden
because it prevents the heaving of the ground
and the untimely death of porch furniture,
and dark, murky days in a large city
and the dream home under a permanent storm
is also a factor to keep in mind.’

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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The Motorcyclists

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My cuticles are a mess. Oh honey, by the way,
did you like my new negligee? It’s a replica
of one Kim Novak wore in some movie or other.
I wish I had a foot-long chili dog right now.
Do you like fireworks, I mean not just on the 4th of July,
but fireworks any time? There are people
like that, you know. They’re like people who like
orchestra music, listen to it any time of day.
Lopsided people, that’s what my father calls them.
Me, I’m easy to please. I like ping-gong and bobcats,
shatterproof drinking glasses, the smell of kerosene,
the crunch of carrots. I like caterpillars and
whirlpools, too. What I hate most is being the first
one at the scene of a bad accident.

Do I smell like garlic? Are we still in Kansas?
I once had a chiropractor make a pass at me,
did I ever tell you that? He said that your spine
is happiest when you’re snuggling. Sounds kind
of sweet now when I tell you, but he was a creep.
Do you know that I have never understood what they meant
by “grassy knoll.” It sounds so idyllic, a place to go
to dream your life away, not kill somebody. They
should have called it something like “the grudging notch.”
But I guess that’s life. What is it they always say?
“It’s always the sweetest ones that break your heart.”
You getting hungry yet, hon? I am. When I was seven
I sat in our field and ate an entire eggplant
right off the vine. Dad loves to tell that story,

but I still can’t eat eggplant. He says I’ll be the first
woman President, it’d be a waste since I talk so much.
Which do you think the fixtures are in the bathroom
at the White House, gold or brass? It’d be okay with me
if they were just brass. Honey, can we stop soon?
I really hate to say it but I need a lady’s room.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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The Cowboy

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Someone had spread an elaborate rumor about me, that I was
in possession of an extraterrestrial being, and I thought I knew who
it was. It was Roger Lawson. Roger was a practical joker of the
worst sort, and up till now I had not been one of his victims, so
I kind of knew my time had come. People parked in front of my
house for hours and took pictures. I had to draw all my blinds
and only went out when I had to. Then there was a barrage of
questions. “What does he look like?’ “What do you feed him?” “How
did you capture him?” And I simply denied the presence of an
extraterrestrial in my house. And, of course, this excited them
all the more. The press showed up and started creeping around
my yard. It got to be very irritating. More and more came and
parked up and down the street. Roger was really working overtime
on this one. I had to do something. Finally, I made an announcement.
I said, “The little fellow died peacefully in his sleep at 11:02
last night.” “Let us see the body,” they clamored. “He went up
in smoke instantly,” I said. “I don’t believe you,” one of them
said. “There is no body in the house or I would have buried it
myself,” I said. About half of them got in their cars and drove
off. The rest of them kept their vigil, but more solemnly now.
I went out and bought some groceries. When I came back about an
hour later another half of them had gone. When I went into the kitchen
I nearly dropped the groceries. There was a nearly transparent
fellow with large pink eyes standing about three feet tall. “Why
did you tell them I was dead? That was a lie,” he said. “You
speak English,” I said. “I listen to the radio. It wasn’t very
hard to learn. Also we have television. We get all your channels.
I like cowboys, especially John Ford movies. They’re the best,”
he said. “What am I going to do with you?” I said. “Take me
to meet a real cowboy. That would make me happy,” he said. “I
don’t know any real cowboys, but maybe we could find one. But
people will go crazy if they see you. We’d have press following
us everywhere. It would be the story of the century,” I said.
“I can be invisible. It’s not hard for me to do,” he said.
“I’ll think about it. Wyoming or Montana would be our best bet, but
they’re a long way from here,” I said. “Please, I won’t cause
you any trouble,” he said. “It would take some planning,” I said.
I put the groceries down and started putting them away. I tried
not to think of the cosmic meaning of all this. Instead, I
treated him like a smart little kid. “Do you have any sarsaparilla?”
he said. “No, but I have some orange juice. It’s good for you,”
I said. He drank it and made a face. “I’m going to get the maps
out,” I said. “We’ll see how we could get there.” When I came
back he was dancing on the kitchen table, a sort of ballet, but
very sad. “I have the maps,” I said. “We won’t need them. I just
received word. I’m going to die tonight. It’s really a joyous
occasion, and I hope you’ll help me celebrate by watching The
Magnificent Seven,” he said. I stood there with the maps in my
hand. I felt an unbearable sadness come over me. “Why must
you die?” I said. “Father decides these things. It is probably
my reward for coming here safely and meeting you,” he said. “But
I was going to take you to meet a real cowboy,” I said. “Let’s
pretend you are my cowboy,” he said.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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A Vagabond

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A vagabond is a newcomer
in a heap of trouble.
He’s an eyeball at a peephole
that should be electrocuted.
He’s a leper in a textile mill
and likely to be beheaded, I mean,
given a liverwurst sandwich
on the break by the brook
where the loaves are sliced.
But he oughtn’t meddle
with the powder puffs on the golf links—
they have their own goats to tame,
dirigibles to situate.
He can act like an imbecile
if the climate is propitious,
a magnate of kidnap
paradising around the oily depot,
or a speck from a distant nebula
wishing to purchase a certain skyscraper ….

Well, if it’s permitted, then
let’s regulate him, let’s testify
against his thimble, and moderate his gloves
before they sew an apron.

The local minister is thinking
of moving to Holland, exchanging
his old ballads for some lingerie.
“Zatso!” says the vagabond.
Homeless, like wheat that tattletales
on the sermon, like wages swigged.
“Zatso, zatso, zatso!” cries the vagabond.
The minister reels under the weight
of his thumbs, the vagabond seems to have
jutted into his kernel, disturbed
his terminal core. Slowly, and with
trifling dignity, the minister removes
from his lapel his last campaign button:
Don’t Mess with Raymond, New Hampshire.

 

– James Tate

www.aromaticcoffees.co.uk

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