Thursday, November 08, 2007

Poetry Friday - Denis Johnson

I am reading Denis Johnson's book of short stories entitled Jesus' Son.

There are a few things I need to get off my chest about this:

When I see this author's first name spelled like this, without the second "n", I think "penis". And I don't think I'm the only one who does.

I am reading this book on my friend Lance's endorsement. I will bet you that Lance hasn't read anything less serious than Raymond Carver since he was in 8th grade. I've been suggesting books for his 8 year old daughter and I have a feeling that he takes something like Bailey School Kids off the shelf and regards it laying in his hand with a kind of fascinated horror.

I recently had to look up the use of the apostrophe after "s." Plural nouns ending in "s" get an apostrophe only, while proper nouns ending in "s" (like James) get an apostrophe-s. Our Mr. Jesus is the only exception. I suppose it's because He's at one with the infinite.

I was reading this book while I was waiting to get the excess pink dye rinsed out of my hair last week, and the shampoo girl got positively evangelical when she saw it. Half my age, and totally reading what I read when I was twenty. I recommended Nick Cave's novel to her.

Mr. Johnson's got a collection of poetry entitled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, which is also the title of a work of art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was made in a garage by a janitor out of tinfoil and cardboard.

Reading this poem, which was performed at the Dia Center's Readings in Contemporary Poetry series, you just have to wonder: just how much of this clear-eyed falling-down inebriated maudlin sentimentality, this filthy bullshit moonshine that is offered up to us by Don DeLillo and Tom Waits and Bukowski and Frank Miller and Leonard Cohen - how much of it can the world weigh up under?

Just a little more?

'Cause I'll read it.


There’s a sadness about looking back when you get to the end:
a sadness that waits at the end of the street,
a cigaret that glows with the glow of sadness
and a cop in a yellow raincoat who says It’s late,
it’s late, it’s sadness.

And it’s a sadness what they’ve done to the women I loved:
they turned Julie into her own mother, and Ruthe--
and Ruthe I understand has been turned
into a sadness...

And when it comes time
for all of humanity to witness what it’s done
and every television is trained on the first people to see God and
they say
we have ignition,
they won’t have ignition.

They’ll have a music of wet streets
and lonely bars where piano notes
follow themselves into a forest of pity and are lost.
They’ll have sadness.
They’ll have
sadness, sadness, sadness.

© 1999 Denis Johnson

Poetry Friday is hosted today at a wrung sponge.