October 29th, 2004

I Will Not Defame New Orleans.

Harken to the Parker

Over the years I've purchased "The Portable Dorothy Parker" no less than three times. When changingthesky moved out of Château Bimbeaux, she also left her copy behind by mistake. This is a total of four, at the least — there may have been more. All these unremarkable-looking books have disappeared because (and you'd think I'd have learned by the second or third) when I loan this book out, I never see it again. And I can't think of a greater compliment to a book than repetitive theft.

It's been a few years that I've been without my last loaned-out-and-lost copy of Dotty (I can hear her bones creaking as they turn over) so I bought yet another and have been rereading — rerelishing her concise, probing, bitter, hilarious pages like a parched thing. (Thus I've always called the book, "The Potable D.P." Would that I were as clever as you, Mrs. P.)

One would think from her bullseye introspecive observations, simple consistency and startling vicissitudes that with the amount of herself that she pours into her stories, poems and even book and theater reviews, there would be no room for the reader. Any other writer attempting what Dorothy wrote would come across as a portentious autobiographer, thus alienating the reader with the implication of, "I am brilliant, amused, love-sick and tortured. Isn't that nice for me." Dorothy manages — though by God I haven't a clue how — to turn the 'laugh at' to the much more enjoyable 'laugh with'. As undeniably singular and brilliant a person as she was, she somehow managed to keep it real, yo, and her joys and sorrows are universal, and universally accessible.

One of the most amazing things about Ms. P., to my mind, is her selflessness, often ingeniously hidden among her self-absorbed characters and poems. It bids me shake my wee moist fist at the sky, cursing that I wasn't born a few decades earlier to meet her. I'm certain she'd give a gay boy doubts.

But who, I ask ye, who, can, in the midst of all-encompassing heartbreak, step outside your own wounds and write:
   A Very Short Song

Once, when I was young and true,
   Someone left me sad—
Broke my brittle heart in two;
   And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
   Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke.
   And that, I think, is worse.
Look at me, cooing as if I had discovered her (there's this rather good playwrite named 'Shakespeare' you ought to look into as well — if you can find any of his stuff), when it was she who discovered me — or allowed me to make certain discoveries about myself, about people, about hearts and minds and how they don't work but why they're necessary — and about the world — such observations that would not have been otherwise apparent.

I'll quit my unrequested gibberings and droolings over the poor dead girl with one of my favorite poems that so concisely illustrates the long and terribly complex journey of falling in and out of love — tomes have been written on the subject of course, but for efficiency of space on the page, each syllable is worth its weight in gold.
   A Well-Worn Story

In April, in April,
My one love came along,
And I ran the slope of my high hill
To follow a thread of song.

His eyes were hard as porphyry
With looking on cruel lands;
His voice went slipping over me
Like terrible silver hands.

Together we trod the secret lane
And walked the muttering town.
I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
On the breast of a velvet gown.

In April, in April,
My love went whistling by,
And I stumbled here to my high hill
Along the way of a lie.

Now what should I do in this place
But sit and count the chimes,
And splash cold water on my face
And spoil a page with rhymes?