verse by other means



Frieda Sue Vagolin

She who loved Schumacher the pedagogue
Adored him, too, for what he dreamed
As he'd wander the staircase with his muse
And death-defying leaps of poesy
In the clapboard palace on Pleasant Hill.
     This clapboard palace on Pleasant Hill
     Where it overlooked an arm of the sea
     Was true to mist and true to tugs
     And float planes and freighters and mackinaws,
     Was benign of aspect above the lumber mills
     And the sometimes tomb-like, sometimes raucous
                                                    beer parlours where
     Men with fingers gone drank their beer.
And Frieda Sue Vagolin, a woman of the mist
Such as might hang in the branches of arbutus
And settle on tam and whisky flask, she was true
     To the man who relished the taste of words
     As surely as each day’s new sun, if the rain held off,
     Hit the new ground running
     And romped through the window of a room
     And in and around the objects of a room
     And how it shone on the countenances of love—
     Such sweethearts they were, Frieda Sue and her lover boy,
     Pillow to pillow, nested there—


And she knew he was boyishly blasted
When he was come home in ripe tenor,
As if for the express purpose of incantation:
"O Bright Apollo, in your eye-O."
Sometimes they’d manage to make love before
He crashed, before he forgot the name he must whisper – hers,
Before he passed out at the top of the stairs,
And he’d say in her ear, he’d insinuate things there
     Of a past in which she had no interest, to be sure,
     About which so many got so much in error –

     "You know, my sweet, my effable Frieda Sue,
     The beginning and the end mirror each other
.    Even in what was Old Mother Russia
     That got to be a cautionary tale.
     You see, the Great Man, dying, beshat himself,
     Half his brain blown up in the Russian night,
     Which some say was foul play, some a natural cause.
     And everything got loose, Beria’s brain getting a whim:
     Saw himself now as First Deputy Premier,
     The Great Man, not yet dead, not yet all brain-dark,
     And my head, oh, it’s going off. Oh, oh and oh. Off—”

And Frieda Sue Vagolin she would rally
Her knees as much as she was able to
And catch all that dread and catch all that love
There at the top of the stairs, her denims slung down
To her rosy calves, he all the way off now that he was spent,
Was once again the cuckold of his passions, he, even so, having figured
     The man was quite the predator, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin,
     First General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s
     Central Committee, who purged and purged and purged, even his intimates.

     —Stalin and the poets, Stalin and the generals, the kulaks, the western libs


Now Schumacher was, among other things, more than a poet,
More than a lover boy, than a pedagogue of some discipline—

This Schumacher, for a portion of each day, every day of the year,
He was a grammarian, he who'd written
A treatise on language’s sticky points –
    Pronoun agreements, dangling particips,
    And that versus which and its and it’s
And then he'd shut his eyes and images would swim
In that part of his brain where poems have origin,
    And in a poem he could never complete
    Was Hector sweet-talking the wife,
     Hector tickling Astyanax under the chin—
     And it was how a father should comport himself
     Even as the incipient flames of an unholy mess
     Enshrouded a Troy.soon to be toast.
     And it was the dream of a poem he was born to write
     That he would always dream and fail to write,
     That he’d think through for hours on end – in the Hotel Carolyn,
     In the beer reek and beer smoke wafting
     To the cracked rafters of the cavern,—
     Implacable life, absurd tenderness
     In the company of old Slavs from the mill,
     In the company of toothless Salish whores,
     Ancient Brits reliving defunct empire,
     His own comrades, pissed and stoned and funked,
     On about Stalin and the poets, Stalin and the generals, kulaks, the libs,
     And what happened to those Mayans, anyway?


Frieda Sue Vagolin? Grammarian's mistress? She whom some men found
A little light on brains but comely enough,
Who had love everywhere you touched her, but only for a Chosen One?
She worked three days a week for Blundell the lush
And esteemed publisher of books, she his Girl Friday, stellar object of
                                                                                    incompetent lust
The management of which was not her boss's strong point,
He who had discreet recourse to prostitution
Even as he talked up the evils of heroin
And such narcotics as got any dreamer through
The day to day blahs of the means of production—
And once in a time that at one time was sacred,
Blundell had a firebrand’s regard for merit,
Merit, that is, on the part of poets
And writers of tales and whatnot.
But no, it didn’t last, and Frieda Sue Vagolin she
Put up with hands that roved and pirated, even as she pitied the man,
As she couldn’t fault those hands, really,
     Her bosom splendid, holy, consecrated,
     Meant for Schumacher the pedagogue
     Who was now and then smitten with it, agog—
But when other men on Sundays played their golf,
Schumacher made the trek to the house of Blundell
There across town, up on the fine mountain, fabulous house
Of cedar planks and marble fixtures and things precious,
     And they’d argue, they’d debate, irritate and one up
     Each other, drinking like the fishes.

     Blundell, speaking power to truth: “Stalin had it right when he said
     That when it comes to verses of love,
     There ought only be two books, no more –
     One for him and one for her. Conflagrate the rest—“

    “Yes,” said Schumacher, swilling his Black Russian – disgusting swill,
     "For the most part, life is mostly Gunga Din,
     And then there are pronouns, difficulties, Stalin.”
     Stalin and the poets, Stalin and the generals, kulaks, the libs


Oh, everyone had a vision to put on offer,
A vision of what's best for people,
A vision of water, a vision of bread,
Wine for the people, figs for the people
And a flower in every person's lapel—

And though Schumacher was always potted, almost sober he
Talked the logic of power, always and ever power’s logic,
To which remarks Blundell only idly blinked
As he was mild of nature on the surface
But could've been top-echelon police
With shadows at his command,

While Frieda Sue Vagolin, amply bestowed
With what ordinary men find entrancing,
Blundell ordinary enough to wonder if he himself was only average -

     She marked the hour – at a table in the Hotel Carolyn,
     In the company of Schumacher’s anarchists,
     Decrepit Slavs, Salish whores,
     And she fretted at the thought of Blundell
     Taking another bite of her lover boy’s,
     Her grammarian’s, her poet’s fine innocence.

Oh, perhaps you’ll find it hard to credit
That a poet would sport on his person
A fine innocence as well as a nose for what’s
Really real, inasmuch, when you get down to it,
     And in Blundell’s sunken livingroom they’d get down to it,
     Arguing Stalin, God and Charles Dickens
     And what it was about women that drives men insane
.                                                            and off their game.
     But Schumacher, seeing as he was always potted and almost sober -
     O Bright Apollo, in your eye-O -
     No longer knew with what he trucked,
     Be it God or love or muse or Frieda Sue.
And funny one should mention her, he now fired up
For the wench.
So then, madcap, Odysseus in a sprint, a dash across town,
He hunkered over the wheel of the coughing Volkswagen,
And now the bridge and now the sidestreets
So as to avoid the cops out for their DUIs.
      (But then, if the beer parlour was open it couldn't be Sunday
      And so, which day, which month, which year of Our Lord
Or O Bright Apollo or Oral Roberts?) -
     And into the beer parlour to grab her, effable Frieda Sue,
     And back to the house and then up the stairs
     To paw for a moment’s worth of eternity,
     His head lolling with sex and Stalin,
     Her legs wrapped around his blushing neck,
     His thoughts wrapped around vast slaughter
     And the logic of power and the absurdity of sense—
And she was catching dread and love for a rainy day,
Smelling on him the cigarettes he’d smoked that day.
There was the beginning in him of belches –
Pickled eggs from noon-time lunches.


Schumacher always potted and almost sober,
The god always counselled discretion and patience and a nap
Before nooky pursuant to other comforts,
And he’d fall sleep before he could begin to gush,
To weep for all the dying and rapine in life,
At which Stalin, among others, had been past master,
Before she could shush him and rock him
And mother his silly little insipid heart—

Yes, if she could only hold him tight
And lock in his love and it never die,
This man who left around the house
Notes on which were names, names, and more names
That testified to his curiosity, his intelligence
Or lack thereof,

Like Trofim Lysenko, question mark,
Like Beria and what he was up to when
Stalin's heart went bust – question marks, Khrushev and Zhukov being, no doubt,
Two likely hombres what did Beria the sex hound in –
Prokofiev – opportunist? – more question marks—

     Or Isaak Babel. Now who was he? Or so Frieda Sue Vagolin
     Would think it through – if only she had a clue,
     Come across yet more notes in her palace of a house
     Up on Pleasant Hill overlooking a paradise of sorts,
     And she read Schumacher’s scribbled answer to himself:

     'Babel – writer – knew bunches of
     Cabbies and whores, knew layabouts, cutthroats, thieves,
     Shabby poets, done in by Stalin – 1940, was it?
     Prokofiev the Richard Strauss of the Stalin realm,
     Just that maybe, maybe he was dispirited by all that realm—‘


And she, uncomplicated woman,
One who was free, for the most part, of undue expectation,
Just that a girl should be adored,

She came to miss her Schumacher most
When she was in the shower, pleasuring
In the stinging jet rays of pentecostal water,
Drawing the blood to the surface of her skin,

     And he was not right there to marvel, peeking in,
     And then to instruct her in a matter of history,
     Observing that Prokofiev died one day after Stalin
     But had to settle for paper flowers at his funeral
     As all the real blooms for miles around were bespoke,
     Reserved for the Great Man’s death debauch—


And it was almost subversive and endearing how
Blundell the publisher got it into his head
To defraud the government of some monies
By one misbegotten scam or another – his kind of book rated it,

    While at the college where pedagogues worked their mills,
     There came to be a craze for gender neutral filler –
     Like pronouns, for instance, the fact of which
     Cut Schumacher the grammarian to the quick,

    The poet, the lover boy, the fine fellow in him
    Otherwise all for rights, rights of property or otherwise,
     And whatever the darlings wanted, be it proper pay cheques,
     Be it civilized vacations on the Costa del Sol,
     Or the presidency, or rooms of their own,
     Or brunches with real-life princesses,—

But he was troubled, no denying that, disturbed
By what it was that was coming unglued
In the language, in a currency of exchange
That was so much more than just protocol,
So much so the notes now flew around the house
That sat on the summit of Pleasant Hill
And caught the breezes there,—
     That said that Stalin held his darlings in no great regard,
     Were herrings with ideas, though Stalin raped them, anyway,
     And then disappeared their husbands, liking his wine sweet,
     His tobacco strong, liking his Tarzan films,
     Would’ve thought Frieda Sue a cow,
     A delectable specimen, no doubt, but a cow -
And too bad, but Frieda Sue saw,
With her own eyes, the gist of the scribblings.

    A dispassionate remark or a scurrilous bit of umbrage? –
     So Frieda Sue, stung,
     Wondered as she read her lover boy’s scrambled thinking


And she saw the light over a period of months
Go out of the eyes of her estranged sweetheart,
As if he were in a once familiar world become strange to him,
The cruelties of Stalin less peculiar than
The politics of language in bed with market forces,
     The logic of power, always and ever the logic of power
     Explaining the insufferably unsexed pronouns
     Of a counter-reformation, nothing noble in them.
     Then the half-hearted f—king. Then the death in her poet of poetry.
     Or that lover boy thought it pointless to ‘muse-ify’.
     Even more pointless to encourage Blundell in his ruses
     That were, at any rate, nothing more than drunken ruses
     Born of an evening’s want of amusement,
     Testifying to a cynic’s loss of faith—


In any case, Frieda Sue Vagolin (and there was
Love in her teeth and heart and fingertips
And toe and spleen and the gorgeous mole
On the underswell of her left breast,
And in the vast arenas of her eye-O's),
Reduced to all her worst fears and then some,
They found Schumacher’s body in the course of time,
Found it on Virgin’s Island where he used to sun himself,
     The island all rock and snakes, his head exploded,
     Found it in the wettest drizzle in the world,
     Found it there with his grammar book, the one he wrote,
     Its its and it’s underscored, pronouns arrowed through.

And Frieda Sue Vagolin perhaps knew now
How it is the logic of power drives people mad,
How it was that Stalin drove men and women mad,
And she no longer wondered at Schumacher’s child-like scrawl

     Even if she never got over it, his going off,
     Holding the pieces of her heart together between her fists.

And no, she never got weary of the rage
     That would come on and steal her show of peace,
     Especially after the college’s squalid show of grief,
     And Blundell’s sidling up to her to milk her grief
     And twit the soul of chivalry—

And she came to know that it's a mistake
To stop and explain oneself, and yet,
How simple an explanation it was she had in mind:

    That days come about unexpected, unlooked for, fine days they are
     Of life until it's death –
     Staff meetings all raid and counter-raid,
     And everyone’s a brute, man or woman,
     And everyone claims fealty, man or woman,
     And everyone’s a poet and pedagogue, man or woman,
     And a lover boy and a grammarian, man or woman.

     But as it was with the heart she loved,
     And if only she knew if it'd loved her back,
     It must’ve gotten to be such a dry little stick –
     Silly insipid little heart snapped in two.


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