212 • Marshall Yaeger
elebrating New Year’s in Russia (my grandmother’s “Old Country”)
with neither sentiment nor fear; with a “S’novm godom,” a new
language, and a new career (how is it, I'm always on the cusp?). I mark
a new transition in a place that’s not so hotsy-totsy; and I’m not alone.
The world has changed as much as I, as unpredictably as I, and yet, not
changed at all. Life still shoots out its flaming forces into the unconsidered
crevices of consciousness, populating the planets, moons, and soon the
floating stars of the cosmos, joining in a hope (I hope!) for universal peace.
Behold, the new age, the terrifying eye, the embrace of the stronger, the
sustenance of the poor, and the merciful will of the all-powerful!
I’m certainly doing things on a larger world stage, and remembering
unexpected things; wonderful things!
Where’s my world? Beneath my hand. Where is its soul? Alas, I can’t tell.
The reverse of my birth year (’39) brings me to a sentimental time of life. He’s
a bit frayed at the collar, but still of remarkably sound heart!
I read back just three years (exactly three, to the day) to the beginning of this
Russian cycle. Who’d’ve thunk it? I’ve become legitimate. I write again,
cataloging stories for later development, piling up metaphors, designing new
Last night, at a party in the Russian Tea Room, R was making snappy
conversation with the likes of Henry Kissinger and the Vice Mayor of our new
sentry outpost, Vladimir Putin; while I, as uncomfortable as always, was
reaching for metaphors seeking to impress, and building fortunes in the sky
while playing world politics in the Emerald City, with a seemingly strong
hand; while my difficult past was scripting new success.
And Gerald Edelman, the neuroscientist whose dreams I did my minor bit to
fund (the only man, I’m convinced, who understands consciousness), has
opened a keyhole to my dreams; while Michael Jackson’s brother, Jermaine,
has an appointment with me tomorrow to help fund his family’s charitable
So much...! But not so soon!
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1994 • 213
’ve no trouble writing now. No blocks, no lack of ideas. Nevertheless, I’m
lost. My magic peeps through my gloomy life to catch the glint of deep
significance and sends me down a hopeless pathway to an isolated,
distant shore. I’m an audience of one in a Russian tundra of cold ice. I would
feed the soul of the world; but when the world opens its gaping mouth, it can’t
digest what I prepare. It won’t even chew. It spits out the unmasticated mass
on me, and covers me with shame.
It’s not what I wanted! However, what the world wants, I foreswear to give.
Though I visit my garden often, so much is blown away by the changing winds
of greed, or is poisoned by the acid rain and smoke of commerce, that nothing
lasts. All perishes and rots in attic trunks. No good. Sad business.
I breach my garden wall and walk into the world, eager to regain lost
opportunity. Secure in my talent, I sense a thereness there, and know I’ll die a
happy man. Sometimes I can’t believe how poetically precise (a difficult and
rare talent) and how amusingly generous I am. I can say many wonderful
things about my abilities; but I can’t connect them to an interested world.
I see whole chunks of my life, days of effort, bracketed into short periods, filed
away, stuffed behind electronic icons. Days turn into footnotes, and footnotes
into ticks. Who will care about this library of despair?
Why do I condense my work so ruthlessly? And how has what was positive
thrown its silver wash across my memory to produce a negative: the opposite
of what I intended?
I wait for the epiphany that was promised me. My lover comes to shore.
Already, I feel the rippling tide about to roar.
I cling only to the needy, like me, who, at best, cling back, and then
disassociate themselves the day their ship comes in. The world constantly fails
me; and I take it as my failure. I place my head upon its chopping block.
The enlivened spirit wakes unrefreshed and hungry again, as if nothing had
fed it ever before. Nature seems to work that way. Children are born that
crucify their parents, who forget the pain of childbirth.
214 • Marshall Yaeger
My life is a fog of indecision and impatience. I want to build cities! Yesterday,
I destroyed most of my cities. What do maps matter? Only love dispels the
Am I coming or going? What shall I do? I’m amused.
Despite the successes I’ve had, I have only one real connection in my life.
Currently, he supports me.
I’m clear about what I hate about the play. It’s the personal stuff, unfiltered by
humor, that threatens to embarrass me. I’ve a horror of being humiliated.
Thus, once the bright, shiny surface of theatrical newness attaches to a patina
of retrospection, I’m hounded by the danger of public humiliation. That’s my
major problem; plus, the public humiliation of bad reviews and bad press,
which ruined me. Now, time treads heavily across my face, body, and all my
senses. I survive, wispy-like, for no grand efforts or apotheoses. I fear I shall
die unheralded. Yet, I don’t fear death.
Do I prefer to travel these on-ramps to deserted highways? The constant
question that confronts these passages is: where do they lead? What will come
of them? Will there be some great Good Morning when all comes clear? Or
shall I always languish through the dawn, and retire unfulfilled by day?
One who can’t conceive the solution can’t solve the problem. However,
concepts with no execution sting the soul.
I writhe in pain while seeking ways out.
The theme of connectedness thrums through these passages like a constant
beat. The discordant music of my life suspends its chords at every measure,
never caring to resolve.
I’m high voltage and no switch. I only want to flow. However, I only circulate
back into myself for no net gain. I seek to empower the world and can’t turn it
on. Now, there’s a new thought that may wind up on the carpet someday; or
found a new school of philosophy. In any case, I’m finished and I’m smiling.
I read at night, for the solitary sport of enjoying the woven language; and spin
my short tales in the morning. Would I enjoy my evenings’ read as much
without my morning’s mental calisthenics? Probably not.
I note that when there’s been a hiatus in these passages, on all occasions,
there’s been an absolute correlation: zero passages to zero work.
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1994 • 215
The key to the soul’s development is to suffer transitions. You have to trust to
I’m a snob in life. However, life, although sweeter for me than for most, has
never let me keep the brass ring.
I’m not a young man any more, although I still feel new and renewed. I’ve
been tested and challenged, but I’ve not yet “caught on.” I’ve reached no
pinnacles. I’m insecure. And so the days pass. Pleasant days: no stress, no
money, no job, no recognition, no art, or little art, or hidden, anticipatory art,
which I now deposit electronically on disks. All isn’t lost, however; and some
things are gained. I feel like the Three Sisters, looking forward to WORK! and
to GOING TO MOSCOW! How ironic; for I’m seeking independence from
Must take my life into my own hands. I’ve no one else to be responsible to.
Must brutally, ruthlessly, and decisively make a plan and actively pursue it.
Must not let inertia carry me down and out of luck.
If I want to predict the future, I probably can. I’ll probably not find a job. I’ll
close the office and simplify my life. Our money will come through next year,
and we’ll be more secure. Something good will come up, and something bad;
and we’ll deal with it. I should probably concentrate on writing. I probably let
myself oscillate between fantastic expectations of fame and fortune and the
opposite: ridicule and shame, exactly as I do in life. It’s always either triumph
or fearful disaster. Have I not described a typical neurotic dilemma?
In the theatre, I sought to serve the actor. I forgot one important thing: actors
don’t have any money!
Moving my office. Losing my store. Going out of business. The waters lunge
and toss the seagull, who cares nothing for me. The world is full of beauty and
will not hear my song. I renounce the future easily. It has too long eluded me.
My womb is barren. I rush to complete my valedictory by copying out these
Stung senseless, I rouse myself from slumber. I attach to real things as life
whispers poetry in my ear. Beauty comes like a bridegroom to a hag virgin.
Seize the day. The hours flee. Barbarians are at the gate!
My concerns, as I adjust to this new, upsetting condition in my life, are
creature comforts and security; not so much the future of my soul.
216 • Marshall Yaeger
I see better, today, after having better adjusted (yesterday) to the “flurry of
collapsing discipline,” the importance of bicycle riding, writing these
passages, and reading (which I haven’t done) to counteract the lassitude that
afflicts me when I’m not alone. I plan to cut my losses, give up the business
part of my life, along with my defense against “Creogate,” and the notion that
I may one day write a history of my life. No need for it. Won’t make me happy.
Many writers were famous and dead by my age!
Now’s no time to mourn, although I’m in a state of light mourning. Now’s the
time for renewed action. Steps I take now, on this pathway of life, this on-
ramp to the future, will affect the next months and last years of my life. By
hooking up my talent to a public need, I can become what a poet is supposed
to be: the unacknowledged legislator of the world. So much less is needed to
be that than to be Shakespeare II. My clarity of thought and elegance of style
have been legendary. I’m so much better than the common writers. As S often
said, I’ve never put myself out there. I’ve postured and posed. I’ve written for
no real theatre of thought. Not enough people have read me. I’m destined to
make new laws in this new world.
It’s such a pleasure to realize that the healthy way will be the solution. (A
moment of health. A course of action. But first, move!)
My healthy resolve is plunged into a cesspool of ambition. Who I want to be
conflicts with what I can do.
I’ve seen how the virus of ambition poisons every intention I express. I also
see how my ideas fall into a pattern of seeking “brokers.” I’ve always been
motivated to write by the encouragement of “brokers,” who’ve always failed
me. It adds another poison to my talent, and a seductive one, like poisonous,
sweet juices, that attract curious insects to merciless flowers. What a theme!
Imaginary fame excuses and justifies nothing. I must live for the pure
pleasure of creating, which I do here, right now.
I’ve years of accumulated projects, proposals, and fictions. I don’t even know
if I’m a success or a failure. I haven’t a clue! Do I regret that I barbecued my
juvenilia in Santa Barbara? I still keep so much. What’s the point? What’s
created is always the shell of the soul that created it, like the molted skin of a
vulnerable crustacean. So why not bury or burn it all? Or do I wait for the
world to say, “It’s time to resurrect it all?” Or for brokers to pay the
gravedigger, who’s even now at work?
I’ve always wanted to be the subject of intellectual commentary. That would
confirm my primacy as a teacher.
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1994 • 217
What deep, personal message lies buried in my heart, yearning to get out and
proclaim, what? Me? When have I ever been myself? And when have I not?
Though my whole life seems to have been spent “in transition,” yet there are
times, like now, when transition is actual and literal. I’m moving. I’m in
transit. I shall forget most of what I see. However, I leave behind these
mapped passages for future explorers (among them, me) to cherish.
Life and poetry float upon the sea of creativity. I float upward through gloomy
defeat and recalcitrant recidivism. The vessel is mine. All aboard her sail more
briskly through the bracing, briny air of the resplendent sea. These sea
metaphors, whispered to me lately by the Muse, hearken back to
Shakespeare’s sailing days. For me, however, computer metaphors make more
sense. Thus, I judge what I should keep and what I should trash knowing that
I can’t trash myself. System error! (I’m the system.) Therefore, I catalogue. It
all seems to come out orderly.
These passages may be my valedictory in this place. Only one more day
remains for me here. Once upon a time, I had little experience and less
humility. Times have changed.
Habit is important. If one is in the habit of not doing something, inertia
makes it easier to continue not to do it. In any case, the course that one’s
habits fix always prevails.
The red sunset begins with cloud fingers stretching to the south. I see them
through screen holes, like a work of art in another room.
I was more important downstairs. I gave that up. I’m not, in fact, important at
all; and I spent too much time to keep alive the appearance of importance. I
wonder if that’s a universal sin against the here and now.
Things! They compete with art. Things! Family can be things. Lovers. A living
can be things, but not a life.
My mind races! A new theme peeps through like the rosy sunrise just beyond.
A new year beckons. I deal with intruding thoughts. I ignore them. I’m ready
to sail, to fly, to make noise, to keep silent. These years and an era end. Hail
the new beginning!
218 • Marshall Yaeger
dance, becoming nimble, athletic, and young-feeling again, while my
body choreographs its own patent-pending movements.
I make the same mistake each time. I sail according to a wrongful compass
that always points at me. Therein lies my crime. Is every artist autistic? Or
Paying attention to art helps one pay attention to nature. Few days ago, I sat
in the park and thought, "Who is that character who writes those words? Is he
an artist or an impatient member of the audience?”
Now that I’ve buried my books of business in the cellar of this building, out of
sight and memory, I’m flooded again with a million new ones up here, filled
with hopes and dreams.
I watched my parents’ lives decline as their falsely-chromed bathroom fixtures
aged, rusted, and cracked.
My father’s ambitions were broken on the Great Depression’s wheel, and
buried in that forgotten valley. I was buried in the great sea of possibility,
poised to turn in any way but back. For a whole generation, the world’s paid
no attention to me. No matter how loud I blow and rattle my trumpets and
drums, I’m not heard.
Another day under the Sun. And what to do? Exploit my talents. Be
interesting. Above all, sell. (I earned $4,000 this month! I did that well!)
The art of interesting others is to act interested in them. It’s the courtesan’s
art. I should practice it.
I admit my failures of last year, out of all the dry heaves and
unproductive productions. For all my talents, they were small
achievements. My book was a bomb. The Jackson Family Honors
fizzled; and I raised no money for the Guardian Angels. I’ve gotten
falsely pregnant so many times (by myself, no righteous father
offering), and borne so many unborn fetuses—as if they were a host of
cotton dolls that never lived and now lay out to catalogue—had been
untimely ripped from my womb. The wounds still hurt! I bleed out
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 219
dust. (Only poetry can stanch the blood.) I lie in the sands of humility,
sand soaking up the shame. Oil-soaked and rough, wounded and torn,
disfigured with age, hurting, hurting. But seemingly alive with
brooding children waiting to be born, to live their flickering moment
on the great stage, to flow with the ink from a pen across a page of
life, witnessed by their author, then put away forever.
Is this a journal, or a diary, or a book of poetry? I can’t decide. It’s written in a
private language, muttered only to myself. It’s eloquent for me, but probably
strange and weird for others.
Life’s unfair. But aren’t there moments of great passion? Memory isn’t the
chief measure of a life. Yesterday was almost perfect.
I measure time differently, now. I’ve only so much of it before all future
appointments will be terminated.
Am I sensing that I’m old? Or does youth still have a chance? I know that
physically, I’m no youth. It’s completely obvious.
Late morning. (Seven A.M.!) Where are my standards? I’ve begun my journey
late. It’s daylight already. Am I going fishing? In a way.
I whip my horses into submission. Where will they journey? I treat them
badly. They’ll go anywhere for me.
I put my finger to the wind and yearn for other places. I draw maps of
imaginary cities. I wish I were a map.
Shall I describe my dilemma? Or shall I change it, and then describe it? Or
shall I change it and refuse to describe it? Or shall I try to change it and fail to
I populate a lost world of rains and floods, of shorelines and boats, storms and
mountains, cities and plains, and passions and sleep. It’s a world to live in, but
not for making money.
What shall I do with this recalcitrant truant who insists on being Samson? He
cavorts and he stumbles; he bruises and defiles. Then he leaps upon the
mountain to pound his heaving chest!
My teaming brain renews itself, waits to be left alone in the square, fenced off;
waits to saunter from post to post. It eats, sleeps, shits, and mates. Not much
to recommend it; but then, oh, it canters, dashes, and gallops, redolent with
220 • Marshall Yaeger
bursting pride, seeking the right herd with which to ride, slicing gracefully
through the crisp afternoon, its sibs now keeping up.
A shroud, slipped on my cage, is neatly fitted. I’m the cock about to crow; the
bird that raises up the dawn. There’ll be no sun without me!
Life is simple for a bird. More complex for the carver of its meat.
My soul feels old, not just my flesh. What were the amusements of so many
years ago, before I tried to make a meaning of this hash? Where’m I going
waiting for the bus? What’ll we see when we get there?
Can’t dance in public, that cute little kid. The miracle wasn’t that he could
dance, but that he didn’t fall down.
Are these passages so much a miracle that they could be my subject? Do these
recursive measures signify? Or are they too hydroponic, lacking grit or dirt?
Am I too fastidious to catch the smell of the dung beetle?
I’ve made a harmony, a counterpoint, a rhythm, some infrequent rhymes, and
a meter I can follow. It follows me and leads me on. These passages are now
athletic dances. I hear the music. Music makes the dance. (Dancers don’t
I know not what I do. (God forgive me!) I would be a thing or two; in fact, too
many things! What would I do? (I will surely do it here.)
Getting better at this. Not just marking time. Not yet a diva, but much more
than a student.
Have I no better subject than the waking brain at dawn? Turn down the
coverlets of reason, never having slept (just tossed). Life’s a continual
astonishment! However, like the half-brained invalid, it only knows one side.
The other remembers naught, and never knows to cry.
I can’t avoid the music! Red shoes propel me on. I’ve no photographs to set
within the frames; I’ve held off life too long, for what? To damage the
flattened earth with cleats of steel? Horses at your gate! Another chucker’s
due. A wooden ball flies up. It could be a head. (Might once have been!)
Princes of the blood make sports of slaves, as I make sports of words.
I’ve hit upon the game, smacking balls across the grass. With luck and skill,
with disregard for humiliating spills, I swing my racquet gaily forward. Still.
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 221
By frosty morning, winter half-light, where once I mumbled through,
pretending best I could, my feet in stirrups of agitation, pursuing the obvious;
now, I’ve founded a new race, implant my seal and seed upon it. Joined by
bards who boarded wagon trains, and ladies of the campfires with throaty
laughs and whiskey voices, all thrill to smoke shot. The sounds! The wounds,
blood trickling in the dust; the crimson field all glorious, as I assault the
Sophisticated replicas of boats, with much detail and radios, subdue the
rippling wind; translate the wills of boys into their seascape toys, as storms
rage mightily within their heads. We are those children, pale with freckles,
locks of golden hair. Nature weights its thumb upon our meager experience,
pressing down with equal pressure and approaching oblivion.
Chronic inconveniences of life make up a eulogy of regularity. Youth is adult
generosity. Age awaits its healing miracles, learns patience, and avoids all
Have I reached the midpoint of my powers? Or passed them long ago? I’ve
changed the shape of my ambition, thus robbing the partition between thee
and me. In twisted syntax, I pluck these flowers and stick them in astonished
sprays of words and commiserating deeds.
The armatures of scales of justice now weigh the feathered souls of dead men.
What residue of value lurks in hearts that newly stopped? What weight can
come to dreams and ambitions that even now fly up to heaven?
Corrupted currents on the planet topple monuments and Wonders of the
World: the places people want to see before they die, go I on pilgrim’s
journeys, raging over lovers kept apart. Though we inhabit common latitudes,
we measure longing against long lines of longitude. Though we have
conquered air, our hearts reside somewhere between the current addresses we
would advertise. Heaven weighs the months and courts despair.
Did the goldsmith rise at dawn, like me and scurry to the sky like some
imaginary phoenix casting off the ashes of dead yesterday? Or did he forge his
fires, bank his storms of heat, and let it melt his booty, then clang-clanging,
beat and beat?
The secret treasures that leach value from a reverie can’t be bought on open
markets. Children value it; their elders measure it as stones, dead animals, the
feet of death, and shiny trash. And so, the booty hides in pockets of delight,
deep pockets, unprotected from the nasty thieves. Embarrassments of riches
that titillate the ones who have forgot; as I forget my secret treasures, bury
them in boxes dedicated to some day’s leisure pleasures, to winnow and
222 • Marshall Yaeger
destroy, or transmute through magic incantation, sacred chapters in a book,
or footnotes to a noble life declared by priests of education to be exemplary.
You must know more than you do to break the codes of all my mysteries! Keys
strung like stones impede these dense sentences. What do they mean, and
why pursue them? Will some universal treasure, some healing, tri-lingual,
quartz rosette carve fissures in the brains of humankind because of you, or
Is it madness or temporary grief that will ladle this watery soup, this poor but
ambitious, and questionably nutritious, formulae down throats of schoolboys,
more eager to throw missiles and trade dead insect parts, or matchbooks,
even now residing in their after-school-hour pockets?
Bear witness to our dreams, and sink our treasures in the sea like teeth to
sorrow. We are nature’s golden treasures plucked from wombs and pounded
into glittering dusts. For one brief, shiny moment, we are sparks of gold to
line the pockets of the world.
I make the stuff! I don’t wear it, share it, or declare it. I write manifests and
invoices, hoping to turn dross to gold and gold to cash and cash to trashy
dross again. I’m a food chain of delight, attached to fortune’s garments, to
adorn the fingers of the kept, and the navels of the licentious. I was born to
melt my pots of gold, to hide from suns’ delight, to count my coins by artificial
light, inhabiting the caves of banks, the straight-walled antiseptic-cornered
wombs more secret and inaccessible than vestal virgin’s tombs.
Wombs are not nice places. Welcome to the world of germs, the germination
of calamity. Where once you swam, cramped in a fetal position, here you
stretch as the world comes down to welcome you with clenched fists, bared
teeth, knives of persecution, and restraints of education, conformity, rude
beds of repopulation, academic cogitation, and occasional sweets to rot your
Here do I bury all my precious booty, which includes the smiles of misfortune
passed between old lovers who recall imaginary bliss shot through with holes
from the accurate rifles of triumphant failure.
We never were, but are, somehow, in secret rooms by candlelight, still valued
in the nineties, as freak shows pay performers for their grotesqueries. We hide
by day, and illuminate our cloaks by torches to astonished, gaping visitors of
fortune, who come to witness our nightly humiliation.
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 223
I depart the night like a practiced dancer with no partner, free to inhabit only
that which activates the feet. I prefer the water dance offshore, the more
familiar ground. Subject me to no rank immersion in dark sea water, where
there’s no difference out or in. Speeding through terrific ages, released from
soundless cages, I nod to passing shadows of the night.
Each toy will have its hour, and so the words unleash their power. The juggler,
off the stage, slams down the trunk lid, burying painted masks and cotton hair
until another day. His useless skill dies with the night.
Dawn will spite the lowering cloud forms over pastures of relief. The Sun will
quarrel with the rain. The garden, fresh again, will heave its loamy pleasures
over squirmy crawling burrowers. Then dawn will hike her skirts up, softly,
and seductively, flushed red with embarrassment, but willing to be taken.
Night is now forsaken.
Toss your rubber balls back down the stately halls; the children are awake and
crying, Demanding parents, they grow, row after row, becoming human
Rummaging through attics to outfit the moment, dressing up the children in
quirky costumes, hats for adults, wigs too big, hilarious results. Fashion
mocked, people talk. The groom waits for the hour, best man hides his rings
in pockets, round and golden like contented lives.
Winos tossing bottles seek splashy residues more valued than the glass. At
last, I found it! What? The round and square of it. Can’t compare to it. Drink
your share of it. Pass it on.
I would board the ancient train that follows tracks defying the rain to reach
the sea again in time. Though hooded gamblers, burglars, thieves, would steal
my honor, and leave me stranded with no means, I wait for secondary trains,
but mount spare horses and am led back into it, in shame.
On and on, the ancient streetcars of delight, clang-clanging through the night,
the old cowcatcher ones trembling, gnashing, dragging metal teeth on rods of
steel; the new ones smoothly roaring, restoring me to sleep.
Both gone, replaced by atomic buses of the age. They said the streetcars
couldn’t carry passengers away from pulverizing blasts with seven minutes
warning. They tore up the tracks and sold the metal in a flurry of published
224 • Marshall Yaeger
I travel with my eyes the crawling train that lunges past the outskirts. It
doesn’t come for me, but could, could end this hopeless matter, gather me and
all the baggage I’ve abandoned; take me to a land of broken dreams. What
hope is there when hope is gone, and when the station mourns its former
I’ll never ride that train again, but can’t get off the one I’m on. I’ve lost the
A time of troubles comes, and always will; a lapse of health, a gremlin in the
joints, not just a visitor, and a twirling miscreant loose in the middle of the ear
that takes too long to disappear.
I have a short list, now, to go by; and really only one requirement: to advance
the dim charade that wears the costume of a mental construct in this newly
rude and flashy language, which tickles my instincts, and dismisses the sticky
things that glue the eyelids shut and choke the voice.
Every tomb is like the last; there is no past or future to them. They ache like
bunions, always there, always paired in pain, the hope, the splash of icy water
spilling every dream into a drain.
The East Side women, traveling singly, in their politically incorrect coats of
fleecy fur, their snowshoes sinking into the winter’s mire, coiffed within an
inch, minks dripping to the ground, the damage to their faces bright against
the march of years, like angels, youthfully tight, unearthly white, a glazed
porcelain stretch that blows the skin back from the perfect nose, with frozen
smiles that they know they can’t avoid. They stand a while before the tinted
lights of shopper’s windows, which heave luxury upon the streets. Who
understands the courage to withstand the pain of digging deep to regain a
youthful head, frozen in its time, to challenge death’s brazen finger marks?
The boots are trendy and the roots are taken care of. Their reconfigurements
are obvious to those who contemplate a journey down that road; who think
they’ll journey better by spending more, by gathering and feathering softer
edges, better lighting, not to see the day, but, like vampires, to be seen only
underneath the widow’s veil.
The evidence is piling up as rapidly as these poetic cords of wood that feed no
fire. Here’s suspension of belief in my ascendancy, the rigid proof the child
never breathed. Every day’s an anniversary of death, so many never lived.
Where priests intone their prayers of remembrance, we light candles of
indifference out of habit. Here, there will be no redeeming Grace.
What happened to all the days and ways I tried to phase my life so differently?
I’ll tell you. Some flew to heaven, flushed into the toilet in the sky. Seems like
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 225
breaking birds got caught in branches, stung by thorns of ambition, trapped in
latticeworks of language, crystallizing passion through an action that was
meant to free its author but entrapped and imprisoned me, while all the while
my beard grew longer. Now, I spread my arbor wide, and not content to hide
the jewels I unearthed in younger days, drape mightily the pearls and amber
gems to attract the foolish and the wise, the greedy and the young who would
devise their own collection so as to become like me.
The jewels are in their boxes. I have the only key. I’ll unearth and cut and dry
them, scrape the sweepings off the walls of my soul, and nurture them,
denature them, into the magic crystals I once incorrectly thought were mine.
I skip like stones across the surface, and drop to anchor, brief life over, motion
ended, to sit beneath all life and action; sit for centuries with not a thing to do.
Remember me, who sank so swiftly brave, through schools of fishes, breaking
rules, viciously determined to follow greater currents, gravity’s warrants,
pulling me through brief visits to the new and temporary pours. What lasts
but for an hour has limited its powers to time’s rule. Cruel, it may be, but my
fate’s clear to me, to sit beneath the sea, a gem within the setting of the planet.
Shall I meet again my dark companion from that winter world unknown? All
broken friendships mended, lost lovers loved again? Parents reunited? Hope
in bloom, while Mother’s tears both heal and acid-wound?
What’s sensible to dogs whose smell is tenfold mine, plus additional
refinements, are the prints I leave behind, made visible through dusting. Who
will dust for me? Who painstakingly will reconstruct intentions, devotedly
make the fatal hour of the shooting live again? Who roots for me, seeks other
witnesses to fit the crime more beautifully; to refine more elegantly logic than
the one with which accusers point at me?
Within this special hour, I would lift and then empower, shift dimension from
casual to special, and strain in silent terror of being forgot.
Stalagmites and stalactites dripping and forming on ceiling and flooring in
this well-hidden hell, where our Adam and Eve weave the cusps of humanity
to come. Animals scatter about, here the snout of a boar, there the roar of a
tortoise, above, a thundering herd, and a third head and fifth leg in motion, a
fabulous notion to convey sense of speed at Lascaux.
Dive into these deep pools of tears, dismembering years of our flight and
despair; of our prayers, bearing gifts to our eyes that one day surprise, realize
that all life, in time, dies from the expected.
226 • Marshall Yaeger
I am gone, I am bones; but my voices resound, and my visions are pure and in
radiance achieve gradients of pleasures in dry, heated air at measurable
distances. Surging passions of my heart catch like blackbirds cupped in hand,
still screech, terrified, beseeching release. My chants and my homilies stand
perfectly still; while passion races through the eternality of our race.
The acrobats above their planets of nets, their ladders long stretched against
the sky of the tent, gingerly step forward, as if they’ve never done before. I
know their secret skills will be revealed, but play along, part of the thrill.
Comes the long parade that circles around, the handsome Ceremony Master
in white tails, high hat, and microphone that snakes to somewhere in the
back. “A booming afternoon, Gentlemen and Ladies! The lions, the clowns,
their humble cars that fart and grumble, stop and start, all crowded in and
tumbling out, parade in circles. For this is Circus, Ladies and Gentlemen, and
children of all ages! Welcome to the World!”
The nether industry sells its tars, once thought medicinal, growing in the land
of Stars and Bars, where some would tar and feather it. They play their trumps
in Congress, plant their bumps on mouths and lips, seed their lumps in lungs,
and coat their yellow stains on fingertips. Oh, to start an industry like that of
coffin nails; to seal in caskets, mediocrity of speech, and of humanity!
Who anointed passing strangers posed as rearrangers of our lives, to tell us
what must be, defining mortality as beleaguered immorality? What would I do
if all the wicked things I knew were smiled on in this, our life? Would I start
again or finish earlier? I hold in me the keys to quality and infamy; for I’m the
reasoner; judge and jury; and the prisoner.
Have I lived a half-life these six weeks? Has the film festival leeched out my
life? I have, for some time, since giving off these poems, felt lost and dead
inside, my life ebbing away intellectually as well as in the flesh that
decomposes on my arms. Not that it’s permanent, just risky. I must get
money, join a gym, travel, and entertain to be entertained.
How easily the soul is stifled, day by day, and thirty years have passed. I’ve
made a houseboat of my vehicle, neglecting all the journeys I could take.
Regrets all around.
Here’s only a beginning: a dialogue with gods.
A little easier, today. This game of art is little different in its psychic setting
from my childhood games, when I pretended, with my mates or by myself,
inventing stories, acting out the rituals that demand intense concentration.
Now, I’m surrounded on my desk by notes and calendars: loose cannons
ready to shoot me! I see new meaning in the phrase, “If not now, when”? I
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 227
thought it referred to the future; but it also means the past. If you haven’t
gotten there yet, how will you get there now? I must remove distractions! I
used to have a separate desk. It helped. Maybe the solution is as simple as
The conflict between “being” and “action” draws its blood throughout my
daily life. Between an hour a day for this work, and another hour to ride
around the park, I use my days in greater variety. To do what? Prepare? What
action do I do here, besides standing obstinately by, like a jailor with a
prisoner, a warden at a frontier’s borders, not letting past the detainee until
some magic password is uttered? Thus, magic courts divinity; and the secret
ritual, practiced in the dark, but invoking enlightenment, banishes the paper
visas to a world closed off from double-entry bookkeeping. I’ve sat long
enough in this witness box, fidgeting and nervous. I’m ready to begin. Not yet
quite time! Still, a few proofs more, the soldier tells me; more tropes, if you
please, to prove you’re who you think you are. The drama ends on schedule.
“Laissez passé,” says he.
The Love-Death theme is the only sensible solution: to perish in the flames of
I now examine life, and particularly the theatre, critically. I relate to
important people more charmingly. I organize and handle matters. I still put
together massive projects. Money floods my accounts. My physical stamina
has reached new heights. I feel no older, just more inconvenienced and
annoyed: stiffer but not less clever. In addition, I wrote another book,
produced a festival, and continued to market my legend.
I’m more independent than I ever was, but never lonely, never unloved. These
days are passed in a new halcyon space and era, happily.
The wind ruffles the flower’s petals with sudden vehemence, while another
part of the world empties out its lava flows of achievement. No clovered
meadows there; just red-hot ash. Meanwhile, over one-half of me, the breath
of sunlight heats me crooked, like a royal cordon. All things come back to
starting points that I can visit on a compass, where circularity never ends; like
the sudden breezes that touch my consciousness, one by one.
Losing one’s way, one’s thread, through illness, travel, escape, recovery, or
indulgence, is more than falling away; one falls out of practice. I think brain
cells disassemble. Some may never flare again. “Youth” becomes too hard to
sustain. Yet, I’m not ready to be old. It’s only that I’ve nothing to say, and no
way to say it. Things I like have lost their charm. Other, interesting things
catch hold. Progress is made. Money is promised!
228 • Marshall Yaeger
I know these words speak to no one, will never be gathered, don’t articulate
enough, aren’t eloquent enough; or if they are, nothing recommends their
resurrection. There’re so many projects: a book, poetry, reviews, all meant to
take me somewhere. Yet, I languish and physically decline. I see few people. I
shrink into despair. What do I find there? An uncredentialed master. I’ve no
reason even to speak and no content to think about. Wide emptiness.
I think the only positive writing I can do that can achieve any purpose is to
write about forging a successful relationship with one person that lasts 35
years; that’s loving and productive; and that can serve as a beacon for others. I
think the world needs such a testament. The history of our love is peopled
with famous personalities. It’s tragic in its way, particularly in the passion of
our ruin. My life and history still sit lumpy and undigested in my craw. Telling
the truth would be the best revenge. What do I live for, after all? Isn’t now the
time to sum it all up?
Our past wasn’t ruined, however; merely unresolved. Our story nears its next
Was I wrong in my assumptions, and too smug in my certainty, that my talent
would “out”? Now, I feel all the baubles I gathered will scatter out to sea, once
I’m gone. Someone will throw them away. (It may be me.) It won’t matter. I
won’t care. I bid farewell to that “Marshall of the future.” He wasn’t meant to
be. Whom do I see in the distance? What shape will I take? Will I recognize
that ghost of the future that steps out of the gloom?
Guilt ceases over deadlines, especially the awful, ultimate deadline, death;
about which, if you think about it, we should worry least; for its consequences
will never hurt us.
Now that I’ve begun this portion of the day by eliciting my writing talent
thorough a structured routine (and technique), I’ve again become “the writer.”
Mysteriously, I seem to have the time I didn’t seem to have before. I know
what to do and how to do it. However, why now? Why not?
Yesterday, my first day of writing, I cramped the normally long process into a
single day. The inevitable blues struck last night, along with the shame and
embarrassment of self-revelation, all gone this morning.
These notes easily separate themselves from “the work.” I see the different
style and purpose. They’re more compressed and serious. They wake the
HA PP INESS IS NO LA UG HING MA TTER • 1995 • 229
I must be clear about what I’m trying to do, both here and in the world. Here,
I seek to fashion patterns. There, to make a dress.
Homosexual analysis, still in its infancy, squabbles like a messy, incorrigible
baby. However, the child wants to grow up and be treated with affection and
respect. It needs to be tickled, and it needs to be sternly warned.
Our relationship’s now past the summer of its glory, into autumn’s frosty bites
of immortality. Now’s time to begin to fashion markers to adorn the resting
places for our bone and ash.
I play servant to myself too much. I’ve too much concern for money, which is
a mere appliance of my more significant life here.
It’s not discipline, but me, who staggers forth, dipping into the cold, alarming
waters: the sea of disappointment and regret that assaults me.
These rescued words, from my reveries, are but the exercises of a senescent
hobbler, recovering. Once they were a baby’s limbs being strengthened. Ah
well, now they’re both; and neither.
The world’s paid small attention to me all these years. I only had the powered
wind about my ears. I was proud and glorious; but only for an hour.
The failure to conjure magic is a collaborative art.
Why have I abandoned this work? Did the poetry do me in? What important
project stole my time? I can’t even think of it now. What happened to
Emerson Poland? What about all the stillborn scenes I wrote? Did I merely
lack the right collaborators? Did a “school” environment provide too meager a
stage for me?
Theatre forces me to face a heavy burden of past sins, broken promises, and
dreams. It offers glamour, achievement, and love, while also providing plenty
of ignominy, shame, humiliation, despair, and shattered relationships. It
whips up seas of opportunism, in which I always seem to flounder, amidst the
islands and furloughs of mediocrity in which I’ve always indulged.
I dallied with filmmaking. However, that area that has drained out all
connection to the soul. It’s exclusively about money and power. Say what you
will, theater has never been exclusively about money and power! Theatre
provides a congregation to tie together intellectual and esthetic ideas with
230 • Marshall Yaeger
I’ve learned that I must keep working at it, struggling with it,
uncompromisingly; that I mustn’t assume that what I wrote is good because I
wrote it. Such simple lessons are hardest to master.
Another difficult lesson is that sliding back so easily into my disciplined self
confers no lasting guarantee. I know I shall drift far from these shores again
The fact that I hear more acutely isn’t so much a technique to use as a sign
that something else is working.
The mystery isn’t how deftly I can accomplish, but how and why I flee from
my achievements. What elusive lure beckons me from this very spot, which I
wouldn’t leave now for the world? I even asked myself why I should continue
to take the time to write these essays. I’ve found other means to stimulate the
fires in my belly besides this work, which is mainly “insurance” against
collapse, and which may take up too much time (unless the point of my work
is mainly to give voice to the human spirit: to reach across the abyss, real self
to real self, soul to soul, as other souls have reached mine on rare occasions).
Careerism stifles the spirit. It has nothing to do with the forces that give
bloom to talent.
Success in the theatre (or arts) depends on seducing others, not vanquishing
them. One must be loved, not feared or hated.
I’ve faced an uphill battle all my life. Is it any wonder magic appeals to me?
However, only real life is truly magical!
As I mine my nuggets and stick them to the side, I keep admiring them as I
come back with more nuggets to fit into my fine, jeweled pieces. Some day
soon, I hope, they’ll all be fitted beautifully into their gorgeous ensemble.