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Inferno: A Poet's Novel

Inferno: A Poet's Novel

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Inferno: A Poet's Novel

4/5 (18 valoraciones)
276 página
4 horas
Nov 30, 2010


From its beginning—“My English professor’s ass was so beautiful.”—to its end—“You can actually learn to have grace. And that’s heaven.”—poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.
Nov 30, 2010

Sobre el autor

Eileen Myles has published twenty books of poetry, art journalism, and fiction and libretti. She's a Guggenheim Fellow, has received the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America and a Lambda Award for lesbian fiction, and was named to the Whiting/Slate Second Novel List. She also received an arts writers grant from Creative Capital/ the Warhol Foundation and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant. She lives in Marfa, Texas, and New York.

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Inferno - Eileen Myles


the poetry field

My stepbrother had given my number to this young woman. She called one afternoon when I was standing in my kitchen on Thompson St. I was broke as usual and I think I hadn’t had anything to eat that day, maybe a roll, and I had a couple of cigarettes left and definitely no current plan. I was beginning to sweat. Just a light sweat from moderate hunger, and then some feeling. Just a feeling that I might not even go out, even though I had a big problem, kind of big, so obviously I picked up the phone when it rang.

I met your brother Eddie at O’Henry’s. In Greenwich Village she added as if that was supposed to impress me. He’s my stepbrother I said. The girl never even hesitated. O’Henry’s was right. I had drinks with him there at least once. It was expensive, and though I always pictured the candy bar I knew it was supposed to be writerly. My stepbrother was an advertising man, and according to my family, a real writer. Not a deluded poet like me. Uh huh I said holding the phone looking around at the light in the kitchen, the day and the thin prospects it held. He said you might be able to tell me about opportunities in the poetry field. The poetry field, I thought not even bothering to pull the phone away from my ear like they do on teevee and look at it in disbelief. The poetry field, that’s good. I wonder if my stepbrother was screwing around. She sounds nuts. So I was wondering if you’d want to meet for a drink. I’m new in town.

Do you know this bar on Waverly Place. It’s downstairs, it’s very cute and I think artistic types hang out there. The Locale, I filled her in–yeah that’s not far from me. So do you want to meet? Four’s good, I said hanging up and looking around. Out my window were hundreds of other windows of people looking in or not. I always thought of Rear Window.

One morning–I’m not sure this had happened yet, but it will give you a feeling about the life, I had just gotten up pretty late. Mostly in those days I was waitressing. I was waitressing and I was straight but I thought about girls. Usually I’d close the place and move on to another place with whoever was around. I like being with an anonymous crowd I can smother myself in. I looked like anyone else, and I was part of a generation that was just fine with that. I had long hair, not bad-looking I’d like to point out. But one morning I was lying on my mattress and the phone rang. It was on the floor across the room. I stumbled over records and books. On the third ring I picked it up. Is this Eileen Myles. Uh, yes. I was naked and I’d been up drinking late last night I felt fat. Do you live at 105 Thompson St. I do. Maybe it was a contest. Well we have a gun trained on you right now. Drop to the floor. And I did. Now, I’d like you to–at that moment I realized I could just hang up and I did. When the girl called I was standing in front of all those windows in my home.

I put on a white shirt, I looked in the mirror, dug my hands in my pocket and came up with thirty-seven cents. I brought a bag so it looked like I had something. I threw in a book. I wore no socks it was early fall, an unemployable time. She sounds young, pathetic, I thought, but she probably has money. Maybe she’ll buy me a drink. I just gotta move, I thought closing the door.

And she did. She bought me a shot of Hennessy’s. I got you Hennessy’s she grinned as if she had done a really good thing and she knew how to live. She was young, if I was twenty-five she was twenty-one or twenty-two. From Sioux Falls she said. She looked like that. She had long straight reddish-blonde hair, lots of light freckles, and had a little flat twang in her voice. She ran fast, she had that kind of twittering energy. You couldn’t tell if she was smart, but she was accomplished. She could get around but she wasn’t hip. And she wanted to be a writer. She told me about going to you know like Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich with her notebook, getting past reception and marching in on some editor in the top of some tall building and getting them to look at her notebook. She was so nuts, but it seemed sort of great. What did they do, I asked. They were really nice she said so they said I should meet some other writers and maybe I should go downtown.

So … O’Henry’s she shrugged, smiling. Oh that was smart. I felt behind this girl-exchange we were having was a big huge depression, a mountain of despair was watching her coming at me, her strange manic hopes and her stupid notebook creeping closer and closer by the moment. I was waiting for her to say do you want to hear my poem and then I would sit there sipping my Hennessy’s listening to her obvious poetry and all because I was broke. But if I paid attention, really paid attention maybe I could ignore the mountain of sadness and she might entertain and distract me and I would think this is life. The romance and the sadness. I am in it now. I did do that which is what happened.

Do you need work, she said. We were on about the third drink now. She kept pulling out twenties and I saw a little Benjamin Franklin face peeking behind that in her snap purse so she had a source of dough. But she slipped her money out careful like a kid. A smart poor kid. Over our heads were brown paper bags on the lamps. It made a mellow glow in the room, like you got a hit of warmth that helped you see. I was feeling better from the booze. Do you want a coke too. She drank coke with her booze. This is good, I said, sipping it. I was out of cigarettes. Here smoke mine, she smiled conspiratorially. She was a real girly girl, she had this air of country but she also reminded me of a best friend in grade school you know for about two weeks like it was then. Kathy Huston for instance was very pretty and she always thought of the best games, but mostly she was dedicated to not getting caught so when our laughing in church got the nun’s attention I was out, Kathy was over with me. I made her red–excitement, which was some kind of door.

This girl explained to me that she lost all her luggage in Grand Central when she got to town. You came on a train? No, I came on a bus. I’m thinking Grand Central doesn’t have buses. Her stuff was in a locker and she somehow got robbed and she had nothing, and she came here all alone she wandered around for about an hour and then she decided to get a drink with her last seven bucks so she went into the Carlyle and sat down at the bar in front of the teevee. This guy who was sitting next to her struck up a conversation and he was really nice and he offered to take her to dinner. Turns out he was just in town for a couple of nights and she wound up staying with him in his hotel and they had such a good time. That was actually when she went to the publishing companies. He was off doing his work during the day and she decided maybe she could do something too. It’s a long road, becoming a writer. I’m not so sure I have the time, she confessed, stubbing out her Benson & Hedges. I know, it’s hard I said.

I didn’t want to think about this. Now she was making me nervous. She said the nice guy from the hotel bar went home to California or someplace after his work was done, but he did something funny. He gave me four hundred and fifty dollars. You’re kidding, I gasped. For what. That was exactly my question, she whooped. She really did whoop, and she knocked over her drink then. Maybe we should go. Yeah, I nodded. A skinny really hip-looking girl in a dancer top put the check down in a brown plastic tray. We were a couple of losers. My pleasure the girl said, when Rita plopped a couple more twenties down. Are you hungry. Her name was Rita. When she said my name is Rita she drooped her long hand towards me like she’d been in business thirty years. We were walking down 8th Street now.

He told me I might need it, she said. Meaning the money, I asked. And I did need it, she said. Of course, I shrugged. So I got my own room in the Carlyle that night and next day I returned to the bar. Another guy sat down. Blond with a crew-cut, she explained. He was just a guy from New Jersey, but he preferred to spend his work nights in the city. I told him I just arrived, he said let me show you around. He brought me to the local. Locale, I corrected. She just looked in my eyes, she had very pale blue eyes, and all they said was you are so completely missing the point. I’m sure I was.

She didn’t care about the poetry field at all. The second guy wanted to fuck all night. That’s cool, she interjected, but in the morning he said, you’re a hooker, right.

I just lost my bag, she explained to me like I was him. And what are you going to do about that, he said and he shoves two fifty in my hand. I put it in my purse, she shrugged.

The bartender who was a very nice man told me that if I stayed around much longer that I would probably get in trouble. I told the people at the front desk you’re my niece. He smiled putting another drink in front of her. And they don’t believe me.

I checked into the Warwick she said. It’s not as nice. The Carlyle was old style. By now I’m thinking she’s as bad as me. But a man staying there, a very nice man she nods to me, has a business associate who is coming into town tomorrow–an Italian, well actually two Italians. Italian handbag salesmen. And I have a date with both of them, but I have to bring a friend. She smiled so sweetly at me, just with her lips. Just a little tug of sweetness occurred, almost a hum. She was a little crazy, but god she was good. I think she wants me to be a whore.

It’s just a date she said. I don’t know anyone. We don’t have to do anything–these guys, they’re just lonely. We can have dinner, you can see for yourself. Go to a discotheque. But I don’t want to meet them alone. Now she looked a little scared and desperate. She was working me. When your brother–

My step-brother.

When your stepbrother, forgive me, told me he had a sister who lived downtown who’s a poet–

You just figured I was broke.

Well, yeah.

the honeymooners

When you come to the city people are afraid for you. Everyone is, I mean. They’re impressed, but they’re also afraid. People in Boston think of New York as a place to go for the weekend to rampage. Nobody lives there, you know. Except maybe people on teevee. Jackie Gleason and Alice live in a dark apartment. Art Carney lives across the hall. We all took our look from Art Carney. Walking around in our undershirts, vests and soft hats. I was one of them. But I’m female so there was an added bit of danger people always attacked me with. Like I would find myself alone and something bad would happen. Nothing did, of course, but, economically, I was pretty naked. Once people saw how broke I was they decided I was for sale.

I had this roommate on the Upper West Side, Alice, and Alice was tapped into a lesbian network that funded their activities by selling subway slugs. Shiny greasy pieces of industrial coins in baggies of one hundred. Since Alice and I lived together I also sold slugs. The apartment was on 71st and West End–my first address. It was so New York. Before New York I lived in San Francisco for a minute and I had a job on Howard Street. Me and this tall black girl spent our workday spraying long sheets of metal with clear oil then lifting each sheet and dropping it onto another pile. I quit because I got stoned at lunch one day and when I got back I was a mess spraying oil all over the place and on the front of the other girl and she was pissed. I thought about it when I noticed the slugs were greasy.

Alice sold me bags for five dollars and I sold them for fifteen. The word got around. I was waitressing and this guy at the bar, a denizen named Abe, bought a lot of them and one day he asked me to deliver. Abe worked for the city. They got their rides free. I’m thinking he didn’t need the slugs, but somehow he was interested. I figured he sold them. He worked in one of those wide old buildings downtown. I arrived at his office and he said I should sit. He wanted to talk. Sure. I didn’t exactly get a sex vibe from him, but something. Did you ever think about having a baby? Have you had one.

I just looked at him. I didn’t get it.

I have a girlfriend he quickly explained. He didn’t want me he meant. But I could certainly get you pregnant, or we can arrange for someone else … if you would want to get pregnant and have a baby we could sell it for $15,000. He was making it all sound like now it was my idea. Me get pregnant. It didn’t even sound modern. I went to college. The room became both empty and large. I was looking at him. Before Europe people were always talking about the white slave trade. I mean Europe in my life. I did the backpacking thing to Europe and North Africa. I never thought it was very important i.e. nothing happened, I was depressed but Europe in fact affected everything. For instance once I announced my plan I started hearing about the white slave trade. Especially once I planned to go to North Africa by myself. It meant girls getting drugged and winding up with manacles on their feet in the middle of the desert and never going home. I didn’t believe this story but it pissed me off. I waitressed my way to Europe and North Africa. I’m not some girl traveling on graduation money her grandparents gave her. I didn’t even have grandparents. I believed that because I worked for things I was safe. Meaning strong. To Abe I just looked poor. To him I was like some white female lump to be bartered in this gross exchange.

I can’t do that. He looked at me. Calm, no apology. Maybe a little surprised. Are you sure, Abe questioned thoughtfully. We could make it as comfortable as possible. I could pay your rent, you won’t have to work. I–I–absolutely can’t. My head was spinning. I went out the door and stood outside on Center Street. It was a beautiful day. He was still sitting up there in his office in his blue shirt. God. I stood there covering my mouth. Wow that was like–being asked to enter like a harem or something. Ancient. You have any coffee still, I asked the guy at the hot dog stand


I shook my head and walked north.

a poet

I had to meet with Eva Nelson in her office. It was good, friends of mine for instance Arlene stopped by her office all the time and said hello. I tried this once when Arlene was doing it but I just stood outside looking bored. Mrs. Nelson waved to me Hello Eileen. I called her Mrs. Nelson. Arlene called her Eva. Leena, you want to come. Kay, and I’d go. You could hear Arlene’s voice start running quicker when she suggested it, she was excited by Mrs. Nelson too, but the lilt in her voice meant that Mrs. Nelson, that Eva was also family. She was capable of kidding with her; they were from the same tribe. Not Jewish, but people. Arlene lived in a house where people came and went continually. Being her friend meant you joined that kind of flow and Mrs. Nelson, Eva could tell that about her and she liked that kind of thing, it reminded her of home. She brightened when she saw Arlene. You could tell.

I was dark, there was something wrong with me, but now because of my inferno I had to be alone with Eva and I had to do it but I was afraid to go nuts. I mean it wasn’t like I was going to start screaming or anything, but I was afraid of her body, up close. She seemed so normal. Hello she said when I walked in the door. Hello she said like she’d been saying it all my life, but I was just too dark to be friendly I had to go inside. I couldn’t even look at her face, but I had to because if I didn’t look at her face I would look at her breasts and I couldn’t look there. What would happen.

It was like when I stopped drawing. Years and years I could only draw men, little perfect guys that I loved. Their ties, their hair, their faces. Their big men noses. But girls, it just made me feel like a queer. To draw a girl was wrong like I would be too interested, so I just stopped drawing at all. I drew some and I destroyed them. They were so va-voom. I couldn’t look at Eva’s breasts.

Did she know it. I couldn’t tell. Do you like to write, Eileen. How do I know. Her office was yellow. I saw all the books we had read, we would ever read on her shelves. Same books as mine, but old. She just read them a lot. Over and over. She would get over me. She would know that she was wrong to think my poem made me special. It was just an accident.

Do you have any friends that write. I don’t know. I was looking at her fingers, her hands on her book, which she had been reading when she said hello to me when I was standing outside. Cat’s Cradle. I hadn’t read that yet. Have you read this. No. Oh I think you’ll like it.

I did. I liked everything she ever asked us to read. I liked the Misanthrope. I liked the Odyssey. I liked Soul on Ice. I liked the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I wrote her name: Mrs. Nelson on the inside of my purple British and American verse book. It would always be her book, what she gave. Even years later in New York, when I sold it for beer.

Maybe we should talk some other day Eileen. I really liked what you wrote. I looked at her. Really. Should I close the door I asked. I looked at her face, just for a second, not her breasts, just her face. Weakly I smiled. No keep it open. She smiled back.

I didn’t tell you about our guest today because I was afraid she wouldn’t come. The two women laughed intimately with each other in front of us. It kind of made me mad. The other woman was from New York. She looked Jewish. They had gone to Hunter together. Her name was Marge Piercy and she was a poet. She looked sad. Well not exactly sad, but almost angry like an old statue. Her hair was messy and wild and there was a lot of it. She was going to read to us. I had never seen a poet before. Who had? I didn’t think I really knew there still were poets. Here’s one that lived now that Eva Nelson knew from college and she was political and had friends in the movement and that made me feel bored and depressed. Her clothes were all soft like Indian material, maroon and several layers and she had a big bag she kept her poetry in. She read from a book. Hers, it had been published in New York where she lived, I think, but it was old and there were pages hanging out or maybe she used paper to mark the poem she wanted us to hear because each time she read one she would take the paper out. It seemed hard. How would she know which were the right ones to read for us. Maybe Mrs. Nelson told her about us. She seemed so serious but when they talked to each other they smiled and laughed.

I mean nobody had ever done this there before, faced us and read actual poetry. Her face was kind of Chinese. Like Mongolian. She kind of looked like a dog. One of those little dogs. The way all her hair framed her face and her big glasses and that small face reading and then her voice was deep. Like she was used to using it. Not for talking, not for teaching. She intoned. It was like she was a little ugly church. I thought she was ugly. A woman could be such a mess, so dark. But it was great. This is a poet. Her poem was about New York and buildings and just how unhappy she had been there. Between the lower east side tenements the sky is a snotty handkerchief. The clouds were full of snot. What an idea. A woman who was kind of ugly said that.

Do you like her Leena asked Arlene. In a mocking voice I said, Between the lower east side tenements the sky is a snotty handkerchief.

Oh I forgot you were a poet said Arlene. Yeah I am.

in and out

Well, if you really think we can just have dinner. Yeah she mooned at me. Rita was bombed. Her head was shaking like it was a loose clown head on her little neck, she was really glad I would go along. So Wednesday night. Do we have to get dressed?

Well we might be going to a nice restaurant. Do you have a dress. I walked drunkenly across the grass in a little beige dress with purple trim going out to dinner. About five years ago. Yeah I have a dress.

I had no nostalgia for that life. I was nice, a straight girl. Now that I was not that I was playing it. We were going to have dinner. And though we agreed that we did not have to have sex with these guys, I figured I was probably going to be a whore.

I loved how back in college you could just do nothing. You didn’t have to decide you were a poet or a whore or anything. That’s what was so great looking back on the golden age of college three years ago. Sure–reading and writing my papers etcetera was good and everything but what was really great back then was how you could just suddenly decide to be a doctor. That’s how it felt. You

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  • (5/5)
    unbelievable. must be read in small doses.