Jerome Rothenberg: After Gorky’s “The Betrothal,” Poem & Autovariation, 1966 & 2014 - Arshile Gorky, "The Betrothal," 1947[Using the procedure of “variations” that I began with *The Lorca Variations*(1993) I turn it again toward my own earli...
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Kafka and the escaped snake
I had been reading Kafka in the Poetry Scores prop shop, and it was time to go. So I crossed the former horse stall to throw open the mini-barn door, and there was Nan standing in the alley. Nan is a friend of ours who is best friends with our prop shop landlady, who is also a friend of ours.
Nan walked over. She was poking in front of her what seemed to be an improvised cane. It looked like she had something to say to me.
I assumed she wanted to get from me a record I had painted that she wanted for a nephew. So I got the piece down from the wall of the prop shop and handed it over.
Nan seemed happy to take it, but I could tell it had nothing to do with whatever she wanted to say -- it seemed, urgently -- to me.
"What are we going to do about this snake?" Nan asked.
"Oh, you didn't know."
I didn't know!
"I thought Toni would have told you," Nan said. "She lost her snake."
Toni lost her snake? What snake?
"The neighbor found it in his garage and didn't know it was Toni's," Nan said, "and run it off."
A snake in the neighbor's garage? The garage next to the former horse barn where I'd just been relaxing for the past hour?
Now I understood the improvised cane in Nan's hand to be in fact an improvised snake poker stick. Nan had been poking for a snake outside the prop shop where I had been so peacefully reading Kafka!
Nan said what they always say. You know, she said the snake is harmless. She said it wasn't a very big snake. Apparently she thought six feet long wasn't very big for a snake.
Nan went off down the alley with her snake poker stick. I could see she had opened the horse stall next to the one we rent, which we also keep padlocked.
That was funny. I had just given the key that fits the padlock on both stalls to Toni, our landlady. We'd just did a hand-off in the street. I was standing in the street when Toni drove up and started parking on it. I thought our exchange was awkward because I was standing in the middle of the street and cars were coming toward me. Actually it was awkward because Toni didn't know how to break it to me that the llittle nook where I retire to read, play records and dream up possibilities was quite possibly snake-infested.
I told the story to friends that day. I put it to them square. "Do you ever believe them when they tell you a snake is harmless? Do you ever look at a snake, any snake, and really believe it is harmless?" All agreed, no.
Two competing possibilities occurred to me. I could wait for the snake to be found, dead or alive. Or I could decide that I could live with the possibility that a snake was going to slither out from under something while I was most at peace, and go back.
It was impossible to believe the snake was returning on its own or being brought in alive, and I figured if it got ran over that would happen blocks away and we'd never know. So I was either avoiding my peaceful nook indefinitely, or going right back in.
I went right back in the next day. I was greeted by a lost snake poster on the mini-barn door. It was somehow comforting to see the sign, as if there was no way the snake would hide out so close to a sign advertising for its capture. I went in.
No snake slithered out of sight.
The poster was good for another reason. Now I knew what the snake looked like, and it was bright and striped. This was not the sort of snake you could mistake for a stick on the ground, unless there are orange sticks with bright blue stripes on the ground.
I put on a record -- English Settlement, XTC, side 4 -- and sat down to read Kafka, making each and every motion (pick up record, take record out of jacket, take record out of sleave, lift lid on turntable, drop record onto turntable, drop needle onto record, turn to desk, pull out chair, sit in chair, pick up Kafka, read Kafka) fully prepared for that motion to disturb a six foot orange snake with bright blue stripes.
That is, of course, after I looked at every inch of mini-barn space above my head to make sure a snake was not hanging from something, read to drop on me.
Turn page of Kafka, no snake, open bottom desk drawer for footrest, no snake, prop up foot on bottom desk drawer, no snake, turn page of Kafka.
That's kind of where we are now. Snake? Do something. No snake. Snake? Do something else. No snake.
I know, it's not perfect. But it's so much better than ...
No snake. Do something. SNAKE!