Of Poetry & Roaches

I was watching a movie called The Life of Dawn Marquis.  It was apparently the story of the famous poet Don Marquis, but a few Hollywood liberties had been taken and someone had thought it would be clever to recast the poet as a female.  The title character was a squat, rotund woman with dark hair pulled back and knotted into a tight bun at the top of her head.  She had chalky, pale skin and wide, rheumatic eyes all bloodshot and purple, as though she had been in bed recovering from an illness.  She had a pronounced downward hook to her nose and a timid way of quickly snatching at things with her hands, holding them like pincers hanging down from her wrists. This habit left an odd impression, further augmented by a coat that she often wore which was made from a bundle of wild black feathers.

The story mostly centered around the courtship between this Dawn and her husband, those romantic earlier years spent strolling around Manhattan under a shared umbrella, the neon lights reflected off the wet streets.  The husband wore light-colored suits and he had a pointed goatee and he spoke in a slow and stately southern drawl.  He would take Dawn’s hand in the crook of his arm, and she would huddle against him, sheltered from the world.  On several occasions, this husband claimed to be blind, but this appeared to be some private joke of his, as he had no trouble reading the menus in restaurants or navigating the city’s streets.

The movie took its time getting around to the matter of Dawn’s poetry.  It seemed to proceed, as such movies often do, under the assumption that the audience knew the fame of its subject and the success which the story was leading to, and would watch in anticipation of it.  There were hints here and there, scribbled notebooks, early frustrated attempts to write, rainy days of disappointment.  And then came the scene in the cafe.  She sat over lunch with her husband, showing him some of her recent poems and fretting over the fact that whenever she tried to dig down into her deepest feelings something botched and ugly would come out, something unacceptable, something she felt she had no right to say in her own voice.  “It would sound better,” she said, “if it came from something that was already considered loathsome, like a louse or a cockroach.”

And that’s when that look of recognition came across her face, her eyes wide and staring.  The moment passed almost unnoticed.  The husband went on, sorting through the sheaf of typewritten pages in his hand and pausing to flip the lemon in his teacup with his spoon.  But she had seen it, that dusty news room, the morning light shining in broken bands through the blinds, the empty desks and the stillness of the hour, and one tiny tired little cockroach climbing up onto a typewriter to set itself to the arduous task of punching out its message one massive key at a time, so that it might speak to all the world.


2 thoughts on “Of Poetry & Roaches

  1. This is classy stuff, instantly igniting the reader's imagination with stock imagery from cinema, the Archie & Mehitabel poems and everyday life. And saying something about the writing process too.

    Which leads me once again to “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa, or indeed his entire oeuvre, pseudonymously authored by his made-up characters.

    I imagine now the part-time author BMW whose creativity is liberated by some mysterious process of dreaming which is nothing like ordinary dreams, but visits on wings of darkness to a suburb of rickety backyards, a Coney Island of the mind, a Far Rockaway of fantasy, where laundry flaps lazily in the fresh breeze; but then when you approach to see if it's dry & ready to unpeg, each piece turns into a story, almost fully formed, like a crumpled shirt needing only to be ironed.


  2. Thank you, sir.

    Looked up “The Book of Disquiet” on amazon (Believe you mentioned it over at your blog a few times.) and there was an interesting typo in the description:

    “When he died in 935, Pessoa left behind….”

    For the moment, I had in mind a completely different sort of work, some lost cryptic medieval manuscript.

    But that didn't seem right to me and I noted elsewhere that the year should have been 1935. Quite a difference a millennium makes.


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