We sat in leather chairs
around cocktail tables and the candidates
came and went with badges on their jackets, proud and scared,
full of knowledge and uncertainty.
Everyone was animated as the conversation
drifted toward an idea of the idea of the text.
One colleague pointed out in an interview that it was here
right in this room under this chandelier that a poet
once came for a while in uncertainty and fear;
that he rode into LA’s great pink vacuum of
sunsets and spewed Rimbaud out on the Boulevard.
The candidates kept coming and going
other colleagues dropped over to say hi or to chat about
the menu at the other hotel; and someone else said
that the poet loved this place and that we should stay here
where he had come to devour pâté and lobster,
where Ivor Winters met him for old-fashioned cocktails
and noted later that his hands looked
like a seasoned pugilists’, his face like bad road.
Another colleague said you couldn’t understand Crane’s big poem
without context, the other said you couldn’t understand
context without the poem. Another said listen to the
strange sound the words make when you let the silence in.
The first colleague said the words were so clotted and glued
that it was impossible to decipher meaning, real meaning.
But someone else reminded the others that the poet
was so desperate he pawned his grandmother’s watch
and then wrote to Gide “no Paris ever yielded such as this.”
Later when things got worse, when the houses
turned the color of stale mayonnaise,
he went down to the beach to read Hopkins
and claimed the drawling mockingbirds drowned out the spondees.
The first colleague said his idea of the poem was
too big for any life to carry and so the end was inevitable.
Then the waiter appeared, slightly harassed, and everyone
ordered a lobster club and a diet coke, before the next candidate arrived
as another colleague repeated with an edge in her voice, “inevitable?”