On The One Hand… And On The Other… And In Between

So… Jackie Kennedy Got Stuck In Her Time… In 50 Years We’re All Dinosaurs!

The shocking insights from the recently released Arthur Schlesinger audio tapes are these:   Jackie Kennedy didn’t think women had the constitution for politics.  Jackie Kennedy said that JFK feared for the country if Lyndon Johnson were to become president.  Jackie Kennedy called Martin Luther King, Jr. a “phony.”  Jackie Kennedy had a snobbish view of Pat Nixon‘s hair style.  Jackie Kennedy loved her late husband and tolerated  his philandering.   And finally, if the Cuban missile crisis had spiraled out of control, Jackie Kennedy wanted to die with her “elusive man” and her children rather than survive in some underground bunker

And there we have it.   The princess of Camelot sounds downright catty, and by today’s standards of discourse, scandalously backward.    But perhaps the only thing we should say about anyone whose been taped in 1964 is that she’s merely stuck in her time (and had no other recourse but to be stuck).

Stuck, of course, may seem a little pejorative.   I don’t intend it to be.   Jackie Kennedy, like all of us, had to move with the flow of history and respond to her interviewer with the upper-crust elegance in which she had been born and raised.   She had a bias, if not a prejudice, that came silver-spoon society of New England and saw no reason to shake loose from it.   But, I would argue that the bulk of Jackie Kennedy’s provincial take on the world had its source in a time that had its time and is now long, long gone.

We should remember that when we assume the posture of speaking for future generations — as if this time of 2011 has the pinnacle point of view from which all timeless truths may be uttered.   Not so.   We’re stuck too.  Consider the “Recent Changes at Canter’s Deli,” by Ed Skoog:

The telephone is no longer upstairs.
Cut fruit in cold cup will never be whole.
Nothing is where it was.  The plate
is beside the bowl.  My mind’s all fucked up,
distorted, pale light reflected on stainless steel
of the walk-in cooler.  It is not where it was.
Here’s the spike to build a body of receipt.
Sweat collects on the water pitcher lip
like the goodbye of a woman I loved.
The clerk bends his body to pray the miracle
of the hand washing station, turns knife to loaf.
The present pours into the pepper shaker.
It settles on the silk ivy of the now.  Odds fade
in the sports section fallen between the counter,
where paying my bill I orphan a dime
for a silver mint, and the window snows sun
brilliant on Fairfax, demanding the commute.
They are not letting me drive anymore
and turning onto Melrose on the bus,
the driver, I overhear, has another job,
one he doesn’t know the name for.
Up in the haze some undiscovered animal
watches us, its plan mapped out, fire
swinging up the canyons, unfolding
until flame may flicker tip of sabertooth fang
in the museum where rare finds are hidden.
I, too, am a dinosaur.  Rawr.  My little claws.
I’m the dredge flopping for tar from the pits.
Click.  I am a kind of David Bowie
in the Amoeba everything’s-a-dollar bin.
I have four fingers and a thumb on my right hand,
equal representation on the left, and fourteen
billion toes.  I’m a windup rooster.  Who I am
and what I feel are irrelevant enough to be central
to the project of contemporary American poetry.
Or perhaps any art.  Poetry’s just the form
of unimportance I teach teenagers above L.A.
under slanted windows that kill, by surprise,
the birds we then write about, gathering bonfire
around the small corpses, because it’s cold here.


Ed Skoog, I think, may be onto something.  Being stuck in history makes for the best poetry. Without it we launch speeches into the public domain that sound over-confident as to our overall impact upon the civilized world.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reach for eternal things.  I’m not saying the sublime verities aren’t out there “blowing in the wind.”  Rather, let’s just search for poetic ways and artistic disciplines by which we might keep ourselves in check.

In fact, we may discover that while not even trying to stand the test of time, some wise reader from the year 2061 will boil down a grandiose thought that we ourselves never had.  Go figure.  By paying attention to our own stuck-ness in our time we help the George Jetson family of tomorrow recognize their own finitude.

Even Canter’s Deli can be put on the endangered species list.  Apparently, the Dodgertown Deli  has displaced the franchised vendor at Dodger Stadium and will serve arugula salad with goat cheese.   (Now, that’s more Jackie Kennedy’s style.)


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