Lucifer's Valet


Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 31 December 2011

Pup is up. That is to say, I’m in a productive phase, and an occasional feature of a productive phase is memorizing poems while I do the laundry. The latest of these would be Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (The eyelid has its storms)”:


The eyelid has its storms. There is the opaque fish-

scale green of it after  swimming the the sea and then sud-

denly wrenching violence, strangled lashes, and a barbed

wire of sand falls to the shore.

Or, in the midst of sunset, the passive grey lips: a

virile suffusion of carmine! itching under a plague of

allergies and tears, memories of the first soothing oint-

ment press the cornea to desperate extremity, the back of

the head, like a pool pocket, never there when you stare

steadily and shoot.

A man walked into the drugstore and said “I’d

like one hazel eye and a jar of socket ointment, salted.

My mother has a lid that’s black from boredom and though

we’re poor–her tongue! profundity of shut-ins!

And oh yes, do you have a little cuticle scissors?”

Purchase to dream, green eyeshadow, kohl, gonorrhea,

of the currents at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

This poem had been a favorite of mine since my undergraduate days & the collected O’Hara was out of print & I’d stand in the stacks reading through the library copy.  Mostly I like the first phrases of the last stanza w/its romantic evocations and such. Then I read the Marjorie Perloff book on O’Hara & she singles this poem out as one of his failed efforts on account of it being too much not about anything. & I’d singled it out, from the vast welter of poems in the collected, as one I liked! Oh well, file that with the Dept. of But I Like That Song!

So despite Perloff I’m memorizing the poem, which means speaking the poem, lots of speaking it. & I don’t like how I speak poems. My tastes tend to the declamatory, or at least a muted sense of the theatrical. Not as freaky as Ezra Pound, but I wish I were as freaky as T.S. Eliot. & not surprisingly the part I’m having the hardest time voicing is the most declamatory, the dialogue in the third paragraph, esp. the mock elevated passage (“her tongue! profundity of shut-ins!”).

And all of a sudden I hear a voice who can do the whole passage. It’s Christopher Walken. No, not Christopher Walken himself, but Walked as done by Jay Mohr.

Now, mixing high culture & low culture is just fine. Even O’Hara-esque. But some low is too low.