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Postmodern Village
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The Paxil Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
by Jennifer Heinicke

"When evening quickens in the street, comes a pause in the day’s occupation that is known as the cocktail hour. It
marks the lifeward turn. The heart wakens from coma and its dyspnea ends. Its strengthening pulse is to cross over into campground, to believe that the world has not been
altogether lost or, if lost, then not altogether in vain."
- Bernard De Voto, In Praise of the Martini

"As all converts, whether to a religion, love, or gardening,
find as by magic that though hitherto these hobbies have not seemed to exist, now the whole world is filled with their fury, so, once he was converted to dissipation, Babbitt discovered agreeable opportunities for it everywhere. He had a new view of his sporting neighbor, Sam Doppelbrau. The Doppelbraus were respectable people, industrious people, prosperous people, whose ideal of happiness was an eternal cabaret. Their life was dominated by suburban bacchanalia of alcohol, nicotine, gasoline, and kisses. They and their set worked capably all the week, and all week looked forward to Saturday night, when they would, as they expressed it, 'throw a party;' and the thrown party grew noisier and noisier up to Sunday dawn, and usually included an extremely rapid motor expedition to nowhere in particular." - Sinclair Lewis, Babbit, Chapter XXIX

Let us go then, you and I,
When the dusk is creeping high
Like food coloring through celery veins;
Let us go, through crowded freeways,
Talking as we do sideways
Through mouths half-soaked with gin,
After pointless theatre shows with empty rows:
Suburban tracts of identical homes
With matching lawn gnomes
Which you consistently desire to steal . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the youth come and go
Talking of P. Diddy and J-Lo.

The nicotine fog that smears itself in my hair,
The yellow smoke that wipes itself in my hair
Seeped into every aspect of evening,
Oozed into toaster cozies and piano recitals,
Smothered bickers about taxes with polite words,
Woke the children from Disneyfied dreams,
Smoldered in the bathroom, tainted all it touched.
The smoke settled in aged mustard streams.

And indeed there will be time
For the nicotine fog that glides through three-car garages,
Wiping itself in my hair and yours;
There will be time, there will be time
To glad-hand, to smirk, to flirt, to feel just fine;
There will be time to gossip and chat, prattle and spat,
Watching me glow with new-found cheer;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a thousand grins,
And for a hundred "Remember whens?"
Before the taking of carrot or cheese.

In the room the youth come and go
Talking of P. Diddy and J-Lo.

And indeed there will be time
To shout, "Yes, I dare!" and, "Yes, I dare!"
Time to pop more Paxil, apply spray paint with care,
Mixing with the Rogaine in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: "How his hair looks so thick!"]
My polo shirt, my collar pressed, sharp as a lick,
My khakis smooth and clean, sheer and slick--
[They will say: "But how'd his wallet get so thick!"]
Yes, I dare
Disturb the universe.
In a minute there is time
For cheers and glancing in mirrors, perhaps a few beers.

For I have neglected them all already, not known them all:--
Have not known their evenings, mornings, afternoons,
Have not met the housewife who collects spoons;
I do not know all the voices rising with uptempo gall
Above the dreadful music from a farther room.
Oh, let us mingle like palm leaves in a monsoon.

I have not known the eyes already, not known them all--
The eyes that jingle with twinkling lust,
And when I am twinkling and sparkling in the room,
Then how should I begin
To end the tales I can tell about work and play?
Oh, let us mingle like linen strings upon the loom.

And I have not known the arms already, not know them all--
Arms that are brawny or delicate and satin-sleeved
[But in the lamplight, as pale as the bereaved!]
It is perfume from a dress, cologne from a tie
That makes me reach for yet another mai tai.
Arms that embrace me, or rest upon my back.
And on their conversations I feast.
And how could I leave?

. . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at twilight through wide streets
And watched helmeted children wobble on bicycles,
Fervently attempting independence in the face of night? . . .

I should have been a brilliant blue butterfly
Scuttling among the chattering seas of flowers.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, keeps so vibrantly alive!
Awakened by prodding laughter,
Alive . . . awake . . . or it attempts,
Yawning in early morning hours, over obligatory coffee.
Should I, after drinks and desserts and slide shows,
Have the strength to shut up?
But though I have talked and talked, chattered and flattered,
Though I have seen my friends grow tired,

I am no prophet--and it's no great matter;
I have seen the tolerance of my extroversion flicker,
And I have seen my friends grow restless, and snicker,
And in short, I was ejected.

And it was worth it, after all,
After the shot glasses, the plasticine cheese, the veggie plate,
Among the styrofoam, among some talk of you and me,
It has been worth while,
To have reduced the universe into a smile,
To have rolled our jokes into a ball
To push it towards some bowling ball-return,
To say: "I am a zombie, come from the unsocial dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" --
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is what I meant exactly.
Precisely, I mean, like so totally."

And it was worth it, after all,
It was worth while,
After the lampposts and the gnomes and the children-cluttered streets,

After the postcards, after the saucers, after the gossip about the
boss--
And this, and so much more?--
I positively glided with confidence tonight!
I did not shrink from touch as a hermit.
It has been worth while
If you, easing into the camelhair coat, waving,
Turning to me and should say:
"You've captured it all,
That's what I meant. Goodbye. Do call."

. . . . .

No! I am not Silas Marner, nor was meant to be;
I'm the life of the room, one that will do
To bring beggars and misers to joy, make the old new,
Resurrect the socially dead; no doubt, a handy tool,
Effortlessly congenial, glad to be of use,
With Paxil, I can feel a little loose;
Full of humorous tales, and perhaps a goose;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, a fool.

I feel drunk . . . I feel drunk . . .
Social anxiety is bunk.

Shall I part at 3 a.m.? Set a golf date for tomorrow?
I shall wear white polyester trousers and walk upon the beach.
Delighting mermaids with tales of glee, free from sorrow.
I know that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves,
Snapping photos for friends on land,
For those without fins who feel so bland.

We have lingered in the chambers of the townhome;
They have listened to my atonal drone,
Till fading human voices make us leave, and I drown.

 

For a multimedia presentation of this poem, check Janie Wilson's Strong Fingers.