Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wanting Opulently (even in the afterlife)

Photograph of Exterior of the Sun God's Eternal Home; photo by Ellen Hanson



It's as if every demon from hell with aspirations

toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately

spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down

into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.

A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome

is gold, and the commodes. The handrails

heading to the wine cellar and the shelving for the DVDs

and the base for the five stuffed tigers posed in a fighting phalanx:

gold, as is the samovar and the overripe harp

and the framework for the crocodile-hide ottoman and settee.

The full-size cinema theater accommodating an audience

of hundreds for the screening of home (or possibly

high-end fuck flick) videos: starred in gold

from vaulted ceiling to clawfoot legs on the seating.

Of course the scepter is gold, but the horns

on the mounted stag heads: do they need to be gilded?

Yes. And the olive fork and the French maid's row of dainty buttons

and the smokestack on the miniature train

that delivers golden trays of dessert from the kitchen

to a dining hall about the size of a zip code,

and the snooker table's sheathing, and the hat rack,

and those hooziewhatsit things in which you slip your feet

on the water skis, and the secret lever

that opens the door to the secret emergency bunker.

Smug and snarky as we are, in our sophisticated

and subtler, non-tyrannical tastes, it's still

unsettling to realize these photographs are also full

of the childrens' pictures set on a desk,

the wife's diploma proudly on a wall, the common

plastic container of aspirin, and the bassinette

with the scroll of linen shade at the ready

in case the sun is too powerful: reminders of how

a graduated continuum connects these ├╝beroperatically

fat interior lives to our own. We all desire

"more" and "better," Melville adds that final "e"

to the family name, and Faulkner adds the "u," in quest

of a signified gentility. My friend Damien

(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and

at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel's

swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie

noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,

and in under an hour his own swank room could boast

the golden statuette, the evening's loveliest woman, and

the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,

and if you think this story's moral lesson is

that satiation is ever attained, you don't understand

the protoknowledge we're born with, coded into our cells:

soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we've seen

the breast, we're crying to the world that we want;

and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We

want, we want, we want, and if we don't then

that's what we want; abstemiousness is only

hunger translated into another language. Yes

there's pain and heartsore rue and suffering, but

there's no such thing as "anti-pleasure": it's pleasure

that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave

and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,

the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.

Of less. At 3 a.m. Marlene (fake name) and Damien

drunkenly sauntered into and out of the atrium,

then back to his room: he wanted the mimosa too,

and there it stood until checkout at noon, a treenapped testimony

to the notion that we will if we can, as evidenced in even

my normally modest, self-effacing friend. If we can,

the archeological record tells us, we'll continue wanting

opulently even in the afterlife: the grave goods

of pharaohs are just as gold as the headrests

and quivers and necklace pendants they used every day

on this side of the divide, the food containers

of Chinese emperors are ready for heavenly meals

that the carved obsidian dragons on the great jade lids

will faithfully guard forever. My own

innate definition of "gratification" is right there

in its modifier "immediate," and once or twice

I've hurt somebody in filling my maw. I've walked

—the normally modest, self-effacing me—below a sky

of stars I lusted after as surely as any despot

contemplating his treasury. The slice of American cheese

on the drive-thru-window burger is also gold,

bathetically gold,

and I go where my hunger dictates.
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE INTERIORS OF DICTATORS' HOUSES by Albert Goldbarth 




 


Thanks to the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day
for an eloquent illustration of the opposite of what we hope for...

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