My name is Harold
Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room. It is Christmas Eve,
in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose my mind.
The Herr Doktor
told me to repeat things like this, when the “peak” of the drug
happens, whenever that is. Time has turned to rubber, and the
clocks have melted down.
My name is Harold
Hart Crane. I will not lose my mind.
A thousand years ago,
I got that package this afternoon from that quaint little bearded
Kraut Dr. Rinkel at Boston Psychopathic Hospital. The stuff’s
an alkaloid that acts on several chemicals already in the brain.
He orders it in microgrammes, do you believe that, at the most
exorbitant rates from Sandoz Labs, in Chur, Switzerland.
Or did, a thousand
years ago. Before the clock melted on the wall, and the trip
to the store did not end. This room is tired. The velvet wallpaper
spirals up into patterns of patterns toward the ceiling, beanstalks
I have no heart to climb.
I am too fascinated
by where I’ve gotten to down here on Earth, this warm radiator
and the radio on just sub-audibly, a mad caterwauling counterpoint
to the juke-joint Jezebels below.
A wall of silence
rings my Moroccan portable typer in this restless one-night cheap
room. Just beyond, I hear the blessed Andrews Sisters belting
out “Bei Mir Bist Du Schöen” from the hotel bar while rhumba
drums beat mad macumba, animal jungle rhythms of Science, Commerce
and the Holy Ghost jitterbugging with my Lucky Strike Green that
jitterbugs all by herself in the flying-saucer-shaped ash tray
on my desk.
I, with them, want
to dance my legs down to the knees at the sight of what I see
my cigarette smoke doing, bending light around the strange typer
that is harp and altar of my fury fused.
I started writing
the thing I was working on before, an essay on the sub-genre
phenomenon that Will Jenkins at Amazing Stories calls ‘sidewise-history.’ I
was thinking of a few fanciful examples of this ‘flash-in-the-pan’:
World War One never happening, the South being given modern fusion
technology during the Civil War, a dozen other such…
As fast as I wrote
and replaced scenarios on the page, the three framed photographs
I’ve hung above the Burroughs cybernetical typer changed again,
image shuttling past image like a Tarot hand drawn by a riverboat
The pictures are all
wrong, now. I can’t slot-machine them back to what’s supposed
to be there. And it’s the typer…Me…That’s doing it? I grab for
my Lucky and smoke half of it off at one drag, never enough,
My typewriter. Mine.
It did that. I have no tangible explanation for what I’ve just
seen, and barely the capacity to describe it. The page went blank
just as I started to come up on this LSD-25, and then…
I need to slow down.
My God, how did I not see that I got into the wrong racket when
I started publishing Scientifiction? I should have stayed a poet!
But then there’d never be this moment now, the right sound of
the right keystroke twanging the strings of the cosmic harp in
such and such a way that it might ripple back, and change the
shape of Not Quite All?
What the hell is History,
anyway? And who writes it? How do we know we’re not, at this
very moment, living someone else’s parallel world?
What does it matter
what we do now? I could go rob a bank, assassinate anyone, sleep
with anyone, abuse any drug, commit any crime, and then come
back here, sit down at my desk, and write it out of existence,
and it would have never…
There it is. I know
I’ll remember this in the morning. Damn it all, we should all
just stop working and start doing what we want to do. Then Society
would have to change. We could do it. We didn’t give away all
our power after the Great War. Not all of it.
Did we? I don’t know.
I can’t think about much, except the images hanging on the wall
above my desk. I will write my way through this, too. Dear Bill
Burroughs the computing-machine magnate tells me the gods smile
on me when I’m in my element.
But this isn’t my
element, Bill. I’m somewhere else on the Periodic Table, tonight,
in my sordid rooms at the Chelsea Hotel where I sit in front
of my Aladdin Portable at the mirror and try not to fall apart…
I once told Bill my
secret dream-job, when we were walking in Times Square and sucking
on Italian sodas, stoned to the gills on Mexican brown ditch-weed
through the water-pipe back at Huncke’s squat.
Bill slapped me on
the back, looking like a preacher in his loose, floppy gray suit,
and said Kid, poetry isn’t a career as much as it is a chronic
condition. In your case, Campbell’s boys have rooted it out to
a ganglion, but usually it’s terminal…
So do I. The sounds in my head fade down now to zazen silence.
Outside my window, the gray, dappled belly of pregnant sky threatens
snow. There’s nothing for me now but that blank page in the typer,
healed to be broken again.
My hesitation melts
away like the frost on my window as the radiator clanks into
life once more. If my watch is even right. I have gone mad. I
must have gone mad.
It happened like this:
I stopped cutting
my latest serial, Chaplinesque, when I felt my pupils
get big and my mouth get electric and came all the way up, staring
stupidly at the wall behind my desk. What was hanging there formerly
had been two photographs, one en collage. The one that caught
my eye used to be a framed photo of Harry S. Truman grinning
at the camera like a baboon.
I pasted Truman’s
portrait over a picture of the mushroom cloud he unleashed on
Tokyo, and scrawled in the Missourian’s own words below it, ‘THE
ONLY THING NEW UNDER THE SUN IS THE HISTORY WE DON’T KNOW.’
Right next to Truman
was a picture of another young-old fascist, Howard Hughes, behind
the tiller of his Lockheed 14 after that first trans-global flight.
I just final-drafted a very difficult novel called Meet Me
In St. Louis, see, tying Truman and Hughes to the assassination
of President-For-Life McArthur. My fictional Doug McArthur as
Prexy is clearly modeled after our current, actual Caesar.
I gave the manuscript
a slap and sent her onward just three weeks ago. It’s a fine
old vaudeville comedy of errors set in the Kremlin and the Oval
Office as America and the NATO allies plunge hell-bent, headlong
and breakneck into the Sino-Vietnamese Conflict, the bloodiest
war in human history, a hypothetical Big Three.
My God, it was meant
as a joke, like ‘A Modest Proposal’, just something to get people
off their butts and thinking. I never meant…that is…
Black Mountain College
just published Meet Me In St. Louis as a mythopoetic curiosity.
Their senior editor Bob Lowell compared me to the homespun Scientifiction
Grand Master himself, Stephen Vincent Benét.
Bob also introduced
me to Will Jenkins, who lives two floors up from me now and lets
me bounce my stories off that fertile brain. Will’s got a fine
turn of phrase himself, especially in his newer epic works like ‘Doomsday
Deferred’ or ‘To the White Sea’, where he talks about his experiences
as a bomber pilot during the Berlin Siege in ‘47.
Will is riotously
heterosexual, but somehow we hit it off anyway. The first advance
for Meet Me In St. Louis came yesterday morning. After
I got back from the bank, Will and I did some heroic drinking
at Capote’s little walkup in the East Village.
Truman was fit to
be tied. We were up gossiping like a couple of high-school girls
until dawn. Oh, heavens, Truman could set me straight on this
now. I wish I could tell him, but…
Catch is, I’m not
afraid that Capote won’t see the difference in the photos.
I’m afraid he will.
Or Edward will, that
columnist from Vanity Fair, infuriating Edward with the
broken shift key on his typewriter, for whom Gay is just the
captivating cognomen of some nerdy girl at Cambridge who didn’t
like going to the monkey house to make out.
Edward Estlin Cummings,
if you please, understands me, though, which makes him all the
more infuriating. He called my first Scientifiction novel, The
Bridge, “a true portal to someplace I’ve never traveled,
gladly beyond any experience.”
But this morning,
the wall above my desk and typer has quietly informed me that
I have lost my natural mind and traveled someplace beyond. I
like to have photographs of my subjects while I’m working, always
did. Truman (Harry S., not my dear Holly G.) and Howard Hughes
were the models for my villains.
Until a few minutes
ago, the only art upon the wall above my desk was, ipso facto,
the late Citizen Hughes, with his smarmy prep-school good looks,
gone down in his Hercules somewhere off the California coast;
and Give ‘Em Hell Harry looking old and broken after he dropped
The Bomb, the year before they found him hanging in the Oval
I framed the Truman
photo. Hughes just got masking-tape. That three feet of wall
Harry and Howard occupied was reserved for photos pertinent to
whatever story I was working on, currently a kind of altar to
the unquiet dead. But behind the glass of the cheap frame just
General Dwight David
Eisenhower, out of uniform, wearing a black suit with a thin
black tie, in a Lincoln limo with the top down, surrounded by
Secret Servicemen (and…women?) The picture of Ike’s motorcade
in Tiananmen Square is on grainy new color stock.
Saluting him from
a ceremonial throne at the other end of the shot is a skinny
man with a mustache and an overbite, with shining diamond-coal
eyes. Chiang Kai-Shek, garbed in the robes of a Han Emperor,
leading a Komodo dragon on a gold chain…
Where Howard Hughes
just was, there’s now an 8 1ž2 x 11 glossy of a blonde tomboy
with rakish good looks and a bomber jacket that’s to die for,
standing on a weed-choked runway beside a Fokker F-7. The woman
looks all-in, and is supported on either side by what are clearly
G-men in identical suits, leading her to the 1932 Packard touring
car just out of frame.
“Amelia Earhart,” I
mutter, able to think of nothing but my first internationally
published short story, ‘Atlantis Regained’. In the story, Amelia
was the first pilot to fly around the globe instead of Hughes,
“Because of that weird
fuel tank Amelia designed, the one she never got to use, the
one she called the three-hump camel…” Then I stop muttering to
myself. The picture is no collage.
Where the masking-tape
has peeled back on the upper right corner, I pull the picture
further away from the wall and behold only the Op-Ed page of
the Times for March fourth, 19…
“…Thirty-two.” I feel
very cold. “Six years before Howard Hughes flew around the globe.”
I’m not leaving my
room now. Now it’s dark, and I’m lying down, with a cold cloth
on my forehead. I don’t want to look at those pictures again.
I have to get out
of this room. I’ll leave, come back in and everything’ll be hunky-dory
just as it was, nice vanilla bread-and-butter missionary 1941…Slowly
I turn, inch by inch, step by step, to the cracked Motorola radio
on the end-table by the window, and turn on its warm, comforting
little console-light and the tinny squawk of WRNY News.
“…Hughes ToolCo formally
disbanded today, on the anniversary of the former President’s
impeachment hearings. President Albin Barkley, who himself gained
plenty from the impeachment, was strangely temperate in his criticism
of former President Hughes’ mad, short-lived term in office.
‘Howard Hughes desegregated
the military,’ Barkley eulogized at a press conference on the
West Lawn of the White House this Saturday past. ‘He put our
Liberty satellite into space at the private level way ahead of
the Rooshians, and helped us put Al Boyd and Bud Anderson on
the Moon seven years later. I knew Howard for many years, and
I can tell you…his heart was in the right place. America has
lost one of her true visionaries…’
Protest marchers in
Washington, D.C. said differently, however. At four o’clock this
afternoon, Your Reporter caught up with Carolyn Cassady, ringleader
I reach up and shut
off the radio. Barkley was a fool with no vision who did what
he was told and very little else. Never President! Never! I never
voted for him, I voted for Adlai Stevenson, who won, and—But
they just said—
me on. We have yet to reach the Moon. Howard Hughes, too, has
never been President of any United States where I lived, worked,
grew up…Neither, for that matter, has Eisenhower.
I mean, come on! Eisenhower
was blown to bits at Normandy just like every other Kraut or
Yank who was at Ground Zero when the Niebelung detonated! I’ve
tried to write my way out of all my nervous breakdowns, with
some success, but…
The pictures didn’t
come from my condition. I am not nuts! Nobody tell me I’m nuts!
All I did was come home last night drunk and pass out in my clothes!
And who the hell is
Carolyn Cassady? I—
I look out the window,
then, the dark, cold hotel window with its slight gray tint,
its old pine sill marked with the ashes and energies of every
lonely beat mendicant who ever sat in it and watched the Manhattan
neon and the cars on a cold night or morning. I wipe off the
condensation, peering out like a child. Then I forget how to
Snow tumbles down
out there through the grey-blue light, like stars seen traveling
close to the speed of c, scribbling frosty sagas on my eyes,
the gleaming cantos of unvanquished Space. It’s been a long time
since I heard such stillness dumping down in sheets as it is
now, a million stars, a million dreams, a storm of ticker-tape
just for me, an endless sky you could sled in, one that tastes
as fresh and immediate as a nosebleed.
The sound makes me
look down. The car bumbles around the turn, its tyres higher
and thinner than I’d consider trustworthy. It’s metallic blue
from stem to stern, and looks like a teardrop or a diving-bell
with elaborate finned fenders, low-slung and gleaming with purpose,
humming like bees in a lion’s skull. MILBURN-STUDEBAKER Bateau,
it reads across its hood in raked-back silver letters.
There is no exhaust
pipe. Only that hum, hum, hummmmmmm… The old lady steering the
contraption is having the time of her life doing spins in the
snow. (That ‘Milburn’s’ electric motor is apparently strong enough
to climb a damn tree.)
She sees me, and raises
a silver hip-flask. I wave back, hoping for her sake that the
cops don’t come. Her round of “dough-nuts” (as we called such
manoeuvres when I was an under-grad) is done now. She turns away,
driving out of sight.
Merry dough-nuts to
all, and to all a good drunk. Her license plate reads NYC. I
wonder if that is a new boro of Nieuw Amsterdam, perhaps somewhere
close to this one. Either way, the plate is too large, and done
up in the wrong colors.
Where did I put that
Scotch? By the phone across the room, right where I left it.
Nothing’s changed, not even the…
Numbers on the dial.
The words dry up in my mind. The phone-shaped thing has more
buttons than the squeezebox end of an accordion.
All this was my fault.
Somehow. I wrote this into being. Me, me, Hart Crane, the most
frustrated writer in New York since Joe Gould! Hard to imagine
I go back to the window,
watch the snow listen down inside, to the secret self who finds
the words in a simple declarative, Yes. Then I go sit in front
of the typer again, awash in the melted Italian soda of neon
from the street outside, cold and sweet and rare. Flakes of snowy
silver sentence scroll down past my still-open window with the
crocus luster of stars.
Rage, blow, thou sermons’ flashing
roar, scattered chapters of living glyph! TAP. TAP. RATTATATATTATATATTATA—
But I write ‘sidewise-history’!
If I do this right, I WILL PUT MYSELF OUT OF WORK!!!
Yet all my fine collapses
weren’t ever lies. My frosted eyes raise altars, and silent answers
stutter back across the stars. This game enforces breakdowns,
but I have seen the moon in lonely alleys. I can still love the
world, and sidestep the worst of it with a fatal smirk.
Who can end up blaming
me if my heart lives on, completes the dark confessions spelled
out in my every cell, and closes round the jewel of this instant
with its floating lotus flower? This fabulous shadow could not
be quenched by any sea.
My name is Harold
Hart Crane. I am alone in my hotel room. It is Christmas Eve,
in the Year of Our Lord 1941. I will not lose my m—