A Former Young Poet, now Old, Reacts to Rilke, Years too Late
I got caught up on reading today and lost track of time. The book which trapped me was Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. See, what happened this morning was this: A friend tagged me online to a poem by Rilke. The poem was excellent. I then looked up Rilke on Amazon. And this little gem of a book was on Kindle for .99 cents.
My a/c is on full blast and my living room is warm. The California heat intrudes through the shaded blinds. I remember myself as a young poet walking around the streets of Louisville, Kentucky just learning about life and how enthusiastically I wrote about what I imagined would come my way at that point in my life. I grow nostalgic and look up the city on Google Maps street view and check out all my old haunts. Every place I used to hang out is gone or changed. The University is unrecognizable. Uncle Pleasants- gone. Tewligans- gone. Rudyard Kiplings- gone. Ear Xtacy- gone. Bardstown Road I don’t recognize either, the new businesses, the Starbucks. Skyline Chili is still there. I get hungry, I think I’ll make myself a hot dog. One last stop: The house on Lee Street is there but for some reason the red front door looks smaller and the house looks narrower. Is this a trick of the camera lens? Is that a new fence enclosing the back yard? With Google, I can’t cruise the back alley which was the path I took to walk to class. And The University has completely changed and is remodeled. The old Playhouse still marks the entrance to the campus where I used to cut across to reach the English department. I can’t follow virtually into the campus either. I microwave my hot dog, then add mustard and ketchup and cheese. I have no chili. Skyline Chili is still there.
I lost a friend from Louisville to alcoholism. My friend drank so much that the lining of his esophagus thinned out. Then one day an artery burst and he chocked on his own blood. I read this was the same way Jack Kerouac died. I have a gruesome thought of kismet at play here, my friend was a fan of The Beats. A family member also drank himself to death. His stomach jutted out grotesquely because his liver and his kidneys could no longer process the water in the body. He had to have injections directly into the stomach to drain the excess water out. This was very painful. I read that the same had to be done to Grace Metalius before she died. I doubt my family member ever read Peyton Place but I don’t know, we were not really close, I never got to ask him what books he’d read, what books he liked.
Somebody I love is an alcoholic. This person lives far away from me. Thoughts of her intrude into my life during the quiet times, in the evenings. I pick up the cell phone, look at the time, she lives three hours ahead, must be past 11pm, past midnight, close to 2am, my quiet times are in the evening, at night. I don’t want to bother other people in other time zones. I don’t make the call. I then think of my mother, whom I have likewise not called in a few days. I make a mental note to call my mother in Tennessee the following morning at a more decent hour but I also usually forget.
“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Rilke is wrong in his advice. I don’t love my solitude. Vast space is not growth. Vast space is vast empty silent space. I have no faith and no joy with which to frighten anyone. I have very little in common with everyone I love. They do not understand me. I love them anyways. This is the extent of my relationship with the people I love. The only thing I have which might frighten them is the same which frightens me. The fact that I don’t enjoy life. The fact that I no longer see stoicism as a strength. I have no inheritance of love, I find myself in a silent place of isolation and alienation at my age, in this time of my life, and I have no progeny to whom to pass on any wisdoms, none of my judgments, no preferences to speak of in terms of anything, no children will laugh in memory of me and talk about the music I would listen to or what books I have left behind in my bookcases. I do not have children who will not call me when they become adults on their own. I know of no young poets to whom to write letters to or give artistic advice. This is what I do: I post on my Facebook. I have a pathetic blog. I have three silly little chapbooks. I can’t even finish the next chapbook, seems pointless to me. I call myself a writer. Laugh at that if you will. I do so myself at times. Rilke would have laughed at me.
When I’m on the Red Line, going somewhere because I detest solitary driving these days, I get on the Red Line just to be in a crowd of people, to feel living souls around me, yet, I feel they… are points of lights far away, like stars in the sky. I don’t want to talk to them. They don’t want to talk to me. Then I get nauseous of being around people and I hate this and I feel agoraphobic. And then I just want to get home as fast as possible and relax in the dark. I feel oppressed by the universe. I feel all kinds of movement outside of my enclosure. Cars. Planes overhead. Ants in the dirt of the courtyard. The blood in my veins. This movement oppresses me. And then the oppression passes and after a few days of no feelings but a life full of work and dishes and showers and flushing the toilet and pumping gas and drinking coffee and watching TV and video games and posting crap on Facebook, I feel the solitude again and I start thinking of where I want to go on the Redline because I know I will not want to drive. Sometimes, I pick up the phone to call my mother or my sister in Miami or a person I love near Nashville. The clock on the phone says 9:52pm. The time in Nashville is 12:52pm. Everybody is in bed. I don’t make the call.