SEMES EILAM ABRASAX
Painting Rust & Blood and Salsa
Reviewed by Tom Bradley
No man, be he a writer, politician or diplomat, can be considered fully developed until he has squarely addressed the Jewish people.
—Henry Wickham Steed
…and then Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle take the stage, one affluently contemptuous… the other wheedling pathetically.
—liner notes for a CD of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition
If, time gone by, I had received a physician’s vocation, and if I had somehow been able to get my hopelessly lower-middle-class goyische carcass accepted into med school, and if today I cared enough about my fellow sentient beings to be a healer and diagnostician, I would declare, in the intransitive clinical sense, that the ailing persona of these poems1 presents with a manifold history of morbific eroticism, causing the personality periodically to disintegrate.
Penton’s Complaint is further complicated by a lonesomeness-exacerbated suicidalism forestalled by the volitional paralysis of utter despair, as follows:
…any problem worth solving
is beyond the human capacity to solve
In these agonized sloughs, his grammar and punctuation dissolve in the contemporary lyric manner. The resulting utterances are, of necessity, spare. The poet calls them “angry little poems,” and they go something like this:
do not want to talk about this
and i do not want
to be here but he is here and i am here
and i am still here and he is
Interspersed are other angry poems which are anything but little, for his Janus-faced disorder not only breaks his heart but bolsters his brain. In the latter mode he begins to punctuate, to capitalize the first-person singular pronoun, and to write stuff that doesn’t need prosody’s splintered crutch as it branches out and ramifies into an actual syntax. Our poet employs this scaffolding as both leaping-off point and pulpit. He becomes an apocalyptic Jew like Daniel or John of Patmos. He soars with the nervous energy and splendid invective of his folk, levitating above his contemporaries to prophesy, for a change, their perdition instead of his own:
Having only just redeemed his own transfigured self, he’s able to plunge others deep. That Penton can encompass this and simultaneously sustain a unified effect clear across his pagination is remarkable. Novelistic, almost. (Now if he could just be persuaded to relinquish control of the right-hand margin.)
Calling down damnation on another, as opposed to delectating in one’s own, is exhilarating, both to do and to observe. Jeremiad, properly ranted, rehabilitates and recruits. Its vigor draws us to our poet’s side, and we wind up every bit as philosemitic as the true liberals of our parents’ generation, gratified as Lenny Bruce’s auditors hobbling out of the strip club, stitches in our sides, charlie horses in our risible muscles, electricity charging through our heads. I pity, for example, the no doubt living and identifiable target of “Regarding Your Career”:
Any mention of poetasters, in order to be satisfying, must briskly lead to a projection of their overdue funerals. Thence, from the subject of death (so final, so melancholy for these reputed inventors of monotheism), we must dip into the inevitable downswing of our poet’s heartbroken phase. He sheds his prophetic mantle to resume the moral valetudinarian’s butt-exposing hospital gown. He snails in on himself and sinks back to manic-depression’s bottommost extreme. His own talent again becomes vain and vexatious, his vocation a torment straight out of Ecclesiastes, leading him to depict what he calls the “literary bug” as something like a scabrous spirochete that deals death. The whole literary pursuit suddenly reduces as follows:
Supply of brimstone depleted for the moment, our bipolar patient returns to the condition not so much of poète maudite as maudlin. He apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the publication of his poetry. How could he have been so presumptuous as to take up even a moment of our time, especially since—
I am neither qualified nor entitled publicly to opine on the littleness of his mess. But it’s clear to this reviewer (and no doubt to Penton himself when he’s on the upswing) that the etiology of his pathology lies by no means in the littleness of his art. Like undulant fever, that art throbs with periodicity pretty nigh unto pleromic largeness. Speaking of which, here we go again, up and away, into poetry’s high, bright, mighty places:
There is clearly no wasting malignancy of spirit here. The etiolating pathogen must incubate externally. We must delve deep, and surgically explore the entrails of the type of femme fatale he runs with. Though bearing names like Chaya and Debbie, and having memories of residence, presumably as an occupier, on the West Bank, Penton’s muse is not exactly the sort of J.A.P. his rabbi would approve of. For one thing, she disdains Levitical hygienic legislation even to the abominable point of slopping—
menstrual blood on the sauna floor
Such an unobservant nafka (what the hell is she doing in the mikveh before the onset of her proliferative phase, anyway?) inspires violence, both outside and inside the poet’s head. Sitting with Bill Burroughs and “mourning corpses with cunts,” our author apostrophizes that “smartest poet of the twentieth century”—
You shot a woman and became a god
The “need to kill,” as Penton puts it, lurks and impends in all verb tenses, furnishing these sluts with raging fathers and tales of childhood rape. The previous occupants of their birth canals have offered to immolate them like dickless Isaacs, and the craving for violence is reciprocated. Our author himself has a record of threatening and perpetrating grievous bodily harm.
Tellingly, in the latter extreme instance, closer propinquities than mere fornication-buddies enter into the dialectic:
Though he runs with females who tend to be far less classy and formidable than the Queen of Thebes, and in spite of the rudimentary shapes his verse puckers into when he sinks among them, it mustn’t be forgotten, not even for the duration of a single non-strophe, that, besides being a poet, Jonathan Penton also happens to be a member of Freud’s tribe. So we are permitted the sado-voyeuristic pleasure of subjecting him to the sort of intrusive examination for which that physician has been drummed out of the medical profession.
The multiple Sophoclean reverberations in the eye-popping passage are intended to appear to spring, in an artfully artless way, from a more or less standard-issue textbook subconscious. One may suppose the son being read to is actually two daughters, and that the blinded man is the poet himself. Having snuck into the matriarchal boudoir, he twiddles such creepily fascinating big lady-scented paraphernalia as can be sniffed in the intimate infoldings of Mommy’s secret hidey-hole. His “thumbs” may be symbolically substituted for Jocasta’s sclera-scoriating brooches.
She’s the monstrous brain- and heart-colonizer we’ve long come to dread in these biologically determined family romances. Their relationship is intimate to the obligatorily neurotic degree. He plies this dark creature with hysterical phone calls for money to finance “opportunities” that must forever remain mysterious to us with the cowled penises. He shares with her the ugsome details of his schemes of sexual conquest, to which she replies, her Brooklyn accent honking in our ears (whether or not he intends it to be a midwestern drawl)—
that it wasn’t right to love someone when you knew you were going to leave them
And, with that uncanny response time observable only among bantering Jewry, her special best kissy-boychik comes right back in the next line:
I asked her if she felt that way about it why did she kick me out of the house when I was only thirty-eight?
Rim-shot. Chortles from the Catskills crowd.
This parent causes him to decry the falsity of any sentimental claims of love’s eternality when, for whatever reason—Alzheimer’s, psychosis, monumental sarcasm—she becomes unable to distinguish him from his rival sibling. Such a rare display of fatigue in Mamele’s clutching and smothering muscles makes it possible at least temporarily for her offspring to break away.
It is with greater difficulty that our analysand unpries himself from the claws of the mutually self-destructive slags who constitute mom-proxies. But when he encompasses that feat, and it’s just him and us and the poetry, we come to find out that he is no more capable of total degeneration than most children of Israel. And, like the bulk of these smart wanderers—who share, with the members of a certain other minority from even deeper in the orient, the biggest number of advanced academic degrees per capita in our country—his brain burgeons with plenty of wholesome tissue. He knows lots of good things that rise far beyond disease.
High cultural things, for example. He knows about the concerto Beethoven failed to finish, and that Mozart’s sister married a guy named Johann. He takes a knowingly oblique swipe at “bastard Russian” composers, which I interpret as a veiled reference to that one of the Five whose greatest hit provides the present utterance with its second epigraph.
But then my poet strays musicologically to categorize Sousa a “classical” musician, and to class that crass honker with celestial Wagner. When a Jack Mormon like me pulls a critical boner like that, the reek rises to high heaven and lingers here below, and no benefit of the doubt is on offer. But there are all kinds of opportunities for oblique humor and self-irony which remain closed to a white-trash piece of uprooted trailer-crap like me. Since he won’t let us forget that he is a member of the race that, along with fellow Asiatics of an extremer sort, boasts the sublimest intelligence quotients on the planet, we are obliged to assume the Sousa boo-boo is deliberate and performs some artistic or rhetorical function way over our low-pigmented brows. (Maybe it has something to do with taking the musicker of the Nibelung dwarves down a peg.)
Nevertheless, as one might expect in such a moody swinger, he loses no time recanting his display of erudition. He apologizes and assures us that—
I seek simpler sexualities
—and promises to regress promptly to the—
Accordingly, he seeks for simple pounding brainless sex among us, the “nations.” Like David of old marauding through the Philistine mob and filling bushel baskets with their severed prepuces, Jonathan goes slumming for unkosher trophy-poontang. On the way he allows himself to be overwhelmed by the great unwashed nochrim, salt not so much of the earth as for his wounds. In the poem called “In the Company of Them” (and one cannot help assuming the pronoun refers to us, the Great Unbrissed, for they churn out graphic novels that depict the aforementioned David swelling up and enslaving everyone—a heart-stoppingly antisemitic image if there ever was one), he paints and peoples a literary Sheol, a used bookstore in “San Fran,” in which—
Such is the only real Gehenna for the poet: that place crowded with fellow mediocrities where every possible utterance has been hackneyed till trite. Our circumcised Dante has no Christ to harrow this hell for him, so his only rescue can be his own talent. The poet’s one salvation is the singing. To belt it out is the whole and only point. This insight insufflates and inflates and bounces him right back. But, like Roethke hyperventilating in the classroom and scaring the front-row coeds into pressing their knees together for once, he rebounds way too high.
In the very next poem we sense wild Ezekiel rising maniacally in his gorge. He barges into a library which is probably right next door to that used book store, and is no doubt just as tightly packed with stupid bodies and vapid minds. He looks around, his talent takes hold. He is heartened to the point of deriving from his religio-ethnicity not only personal salvation but sufficient spill-over grace to erupt with what appears to be a cross-racial ecumenical benediction. If belting it out is the whole and only point, then, by all means—
When you sing Ave Maria in the library, sing it loud
Whoah… Did you hear that? Here, let me give it to you again—
When you sing Ave Maria in the library, sing it loud
The Great Blond Beast in me starts to grunt and growl and flex its hairy forearms. I chuck Painting Rust & Blood and Salsa against the wall of my hovel. It slides down and vanishes among bad things on my squalid linoleum.
Time to grapple with the book reviewer’s skull-sickness for a change. Time to register Bradley’s Complaint.
* * * *
That lugubrious ditty to the fourteen year old b’suleh has been crooned countless times by the followers of her particular special best kissy-boychik. Mary-worshipers have never needed encouragement from outsiders to wax neurotically intimate with their own hovering Mother. Are Christers supposed to find it gratifying or endearing or something to be granted permission by one of Caiaphas’ cousins? And, in any case, is it my responsibility to come on like Pope Pius XII just because some unsaved, unbaptized desert person, formerly so apologetic for existing, displays a bit too much patronizing chutzpah here?
What’s it to me if this rock-’n-roller, this “reverter to brainless ballads” condescends toward Schubert’s greatest hit? It’s not as though I have an enormous lifelong emotional investment in the Mariolatry scam. I guffaw as loud as the next crude oaf at a spring-loaded hymen joke. Why should this particular heptameter of Penton’s (which I hereby repeat, again, though it sets my canines mysteriously on edge)—
When you sing Ave Maria in the library, sing it loud
—trouble me, even at the reptilian subcortical level, where things like monotheism and racial identity tend to suppurate? After all, if you want to get Kabbalistic about it, nothing even remotely estimable is at stake. The turquoise-swathed Intercessor addressed in that hymn was nothing more than a whore on the rag when covered (in the zoological sense) by a demon, out of wedlock yet, to produce the schlemiel whose real moniker, if you wish Talmudically to speak, is ben-Panthera, “son of a lascivious beast,” duly disgraced, hanged, and now boiling in a shit bath on Hell’s back burner.
As you can see, the Regina Coeli and the Man of Sorrows are both given far greater Jamesian “density of specification” on pages other than those of the New Testament. And so be it. I’ll buy either version of their bios for the same low, low price. The circumstances of Our Lord’s paternity, the mechanism of his conception, the method of his death, the terms of his devachanic probation—all are matters of indifference, as is the perennially vexed question of his Jewishness itself. The guy is interesting for what came in between all that, for the primordial wisdom he received from the Egyptian hierophants as a young initiate. He engages the imagination and intuition with what can be extrapolated from his murmurings to the inner circle in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and sundry trendy texts of the Cainites, the Carpocratians, and so forth.
What possible pertinence could attach to his ostensible mom, much less to the saccharinities her dupes yawp of an Annunciation Feast? Why the fuck should I get so flustered to hear the Blessed Virgin’s name bandied in vain? What is it about the offending line (remember the offending line)—
When you sing Ave Maria in the library, sing it loud
—that’s got me bent? What’s causing my whole hefty northern European skeletomusculature to spasm with an autonomic nervous Hebrew resentment?
As a hereditarily excommunicated member of 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “church,” whose clumsily contrived faux polytheism and dumbed-down gnosticism could not be further from Islamo-Judeo-Christianity, I have no particular dog in this fight—unless I am baring my canines and barking at Penton for having the temerity merely to mention the world’s first Christian teen-queen. When my bodily reflexes let fly the review copy of this seven-dollar chapbook which I’m trying so earnestly to review, perhaps I was reacting on some debased level of erotic territoriality. Maybe Jonathan Penton has crept into my high school and put the moves on the wrong fluffy cheerleader. Is something so embarrassingly orangutannish causing my Esau-orange hair to bristle about my neck-roll and spinal hump?
Just as this appalling possibility occurs to me, I stumble, literally, across the poem called “Enough.” In the fifth-to-the-last line he employs a specific word that I am far too fastidious to repeat here—though it couldn’t be more pertinent to this confessional section of my increasingly peculiar and off-genre book review. He applies this epithet to a certain demographic sub-category of humanity’s distaff side that happens to be near to my heart.
Without repeating Penton’s term of derogation itself (which translates “blemish” or “pants-pisser”), I am able provide you with a few hints as to the type of person it signifies. The example which springs most readily to mind is my own personal Madonna, my particular Theban Queen: strong, manipulative, meddling, hilarious, love- and language-erupting, emasculating Big Mom Bradley, who succeeded in turning me into a citizen of Sodom no more than our lady-killing poet’s mom did him (two powerful arguments for nature over nurture).
My sisters, honorable and fine inclusively, are two more of specimens of this un-kosher female, labeled so insultingly in that fifth-to-the-last line of Penton’s “Enough.” Also my self-respecting, stable, chaste, intelligent French-Irish wife, a stranger to violence active or passive, with whom I have been mutually faithful for almost half our lives, and who, even in the trash can of the Viennese-style subconsciousness, is not to be identified with her mother-in-law. And I must not forget to include in this catalog of un-Chosen feminine infamy my daughters, young Ismene, who takes after me, and her somewhat ballsier sister, who takes after their old lady, but not in any creepy sororal sense.
These are but a half-dozen examples of that species our author is pleased to style in his people’s sneering manner, while garnering easy laffs, here:
There, I said it—rather my poet did. But just let me briefly consider a reply-in-kind. Just let me be caught mentally whispering the only word in the lingo of my own ancestors that roughly corresponds. Woe betide me if I were but to imagine the sound of this standard entry in Webster’s Abridged Collegiate, to whose denotation no invidiousness attaches (no acne, no bladderly incontinence—merely the feminine form of their own self-denomination). And were I perhaps to apply it, say, for example, to the menstruating, prostituted, unwed teen mother of that worthless scoundrel ben Panthera, something terrible would happen to me, guaranteed. The pair of syllables that constitute this six-letter utterance would rebound like a hex, a conjure-formula. I’d be loaded with non-tenure-track chains and exiled in shame to the sulfurous isle of Terminal Adjuncthood, never to be heard from again. I might even wind up boiling in that shit-bath called Japan. God, no. Pluck this vagrant tongue from my jaw.
Oh, by the way, speaking of exile, did I forget to include among the world’s shiksas my great-to-the-xth-power polygamist aunties and plural grannies? Did I leave uncatalogued those blemishes, those pants-pissers, who counted themselves blessed to trudge through a wilderness in the dust of their own unclipped yet unshaven Moses, to help him settle a far-occidental Zion too salty to harbor any previous occupants requiring extermination by Cherem?
And it’s right here, in the sodium chloride wasteland of my nativity, on the battlefield between the amazon camps of the shiksas and the Jewesses, that I begin to understand my violent reaction to Jonathan Penton’s poetry collection. I start to see how Painting Rust & Blood and Salsa managed to disinter such a squawking Goebbels from deep in me. But my own sudden Pentonian “need to kill” is not in the blood. It’s in the ink.
For all his agony, for all his periodic resemblance to Schmuyle rather than Goldenberg, for all the smallness of the press that brings him to us, Mr. Penton had one huge sterling silver spoon in his mouth when he slid so reluctantly out of his mom’s womb. And I envy that utensil as much as a small girl theoretically does a big phallus. While I’m not allowed to call Jesus’ Jocasta a Jewess, not only is my rival given free and unfettered access to his own racist obscenity, but he can with complete confidence assume that I’ll be familiar with it—and, if by some freak chance I’m not, I’ll pretend to be till I’ve had a chance to sneak off and Google it, for fear of appearing unhip. (How many of you got Ginsberg’s Kaddish by heart without consulting the Columbia Desk Encyclopedia?)
A whole technical problem is solved for our poet and his ilk before it even presents itself. These sons of Abraham, Isaac and etcetera schlep their own context along with them. Automatic exposition already performed, they can sprinkle Yiddishisms and Hebraisms galore, unglossed, into their stuff. My own dwindling folk may not be able to persuade themselves or their borderline-extinct children to master the barest rudiments of the Romance language spoken by the brown-skinned Catholics who are scheduled to engulf us about the time that I, with any luck, will be dying. But we’ve all assimilated a wealth of terms from a certain pair of other lingos. And one of them isn’t even Indo-European. Hamito-Semitic, I believe, is the term. Or maybe Afro-Asiatic.
Yet here I sit, big dumb husky butt-hole of a bacon-gorging oaf, lineally descended from charter members of the fastest growing religious denomination on that latter pair of brunette continents, and the rest of the inhabited planet as well, of whom no less a seer than Tolstoy said:
If Mormonism is able to endure unmodified until it reaches the third and fourth generations, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.
Third-generation lapsed Latter Day Saint Tom Bradley must interrupt the flow of his own jeremiads, limericks, rants and lamentations long enough to define and etymologize such basic Mormonisms as Deseret and Lamanite—which, you will remember, are as native as Navahos to the New World. Not even indirectly European, these substantives are the products of Prophet-Seer-Revelator Joseph Smith’s do-it-yourself mind, as purely new-Adamic as it could be in its tradition-unencumbered rudderlessness and ignorance. If there had been rusty house-trailers in those days, my pal Joey, that tasteless, inept epicist, would have occupied one. Inside, on his cinder-brick and unpainted plywood shelves, you would have found copies of neither Homer, Virgil, Dante nor Milton.
And herein lies the etiololgy of Bradley’s Complaint. Some people are put off by the spectacle, or prospect, or fable, of ignorant goyische armies, platoons of mud-people, uniformed golems on the march, fit only to be farmed and mustered and dispatched to wage proxy wars against those two other middlingly Asian places that also happen to start with the ninth letter of the alphabet. But we scribblers are notorious narcissists, therefore apolitical to the core, despite whatever poses we strike to get laid by women who work at sit-down jobs. My beef here has nothing to do with the spillage of blood, actual, probable or mythical. I’m not stupid enough to have joined the National Guard, and have been banished too far away from America’s shores to be shanghaied in any case.
No, it’s the conquest and colonization of our brains’ gab centers that irks my ire. Jews—less than some-not-very-big-number-percent of the population, with a birth rate unsurpassed only by that of the Mikado’s expiring sons—have never needed numbers to prevail. Listen to any goy-boy trying to be clever, be he WASP, Latino, or Esquimaux, and you will hear Lenny Bruce if he’s smart, Jerry Lewis if he’s a simpering knock-kneed moron. Him I don’t like. He should plotz.
In our literature, also, such dualistic impersonations are a recurring symptom. There are always Jews of Malta as well as of Venice. Sometimes the same gentile writer provides us with both blast and counterblast, e.g., Fagin and Mr Riah. Occasionally half a generation or so passes between prime specimens of the two: Lady Brett Ashley’s whining instep-licker and Henry Bech. Unlike my own hereditary type who appears in a Sherlock Holmes story (and maybe one or two Zane Greys for all I know), this yarmulkaed Proteus has always had to be dealt with in occidental yarns, ever since the Romans broke that perhaps not-so-mysterious Greek silence.
And in books written by the real thing, there remains steadfast a Jewish card to be played, e.g., Herzog/Portnoy/Heller’s blatant faux-Armenian, or whoever you’d lately care to moot. Whether the Yidlach condition is displayed in smugness, complacency and overt narcissism, or whether it wedges between its ass-cheeks what they themselves would call the “self-hating” seat on the seesaw, the assertion of Jewishness always constitutes an automatic means of lending authority, or at least the appearance of such.
In the poem “all i want,” Penton (if not my impersonation of him) slums some more among us un-covenanted Wonder Breaders. He forsakes his hereditary intellect one more time, forgets his congenital taste, forgoes his default social class, and sinks back down into the this over-stricken “self-hate” posture:
He has duly regressed to the monosyllabic, prosodically decayed, grammatically emaciated stance found expedient by the majority of current lyric poets, irrespective of race, religion or ethnic affiliation. But please note his choice of that word sin, rather than pain or angst or putz. It marks him off as someone who, even in a state of clinical depression and borderline deracination, runs at a profounder level than we bestial sons of red-hairy Esau (who, Kabbalistically speaking, are no less satanic than pigs, goats and one other barnyard critter whose specs I’ve forgotten). Because of the cultural context he lugs about like a snail its shell (he’s the type of yidele who spells it “g-d”), Jonathan Penton is supposed to be able to schmooze about awful things like sin and suicide, and even about mothers, far more affectingly than we, the foreskin-encumbered, could ever schmooze.
A stripped-down plaint like “all i want” would sound like uncompounded self-pity coming from a blustering bully-boy of an ethnic Cornishman like me, with no personal recourse to reverberations of Masada, or pogrom-reamed shtetls, or that place in Poland where the birds refuse to flutter. To register Bradley’s Complaint, I am obliged to deploy three-dollar words, five-dollar syntax and blitzes of offputtingly rococo humor. It’s a burden, I tell you. This review is already longer than the book.
On the other hand, at the opposite end of the bipolarity, on the less shitty end of the stick, Penton is also entitled to schmooze about the most sublime things without really trying. Wielding an effortless profundity that is assumed to be unavailable to the likes of me, he brings up, for example, angels. His folk invented Reziel, et al, after all. (Who have I got on my side? That mush-mouth figment Moroni?) His guardian angel furnishes him with “undercooked low-grade meat,” which emits an evocative aroma, coming from a future frequenter of the world’s most farshmayet barbecue pit, soon to be rebuilt on the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The laying of the ultimate gold-leafed brick on the third temple will be followed, of course, in the fullness of time, by the Rapture (unless there’s involved not so much a red heifer as a herring of similar hue). Oi, such a hot-button religious affiliation our lucky poet can claim for himself! Just its bare mention must constitute playing the Jewish card. And it always has, ever since Flavius Josephus permutated, flipped, flopped, profited by, and wrote about us Europeans reaming out his town, ploughing the ruins with a yoke of oxen, salting the surrounding soil, and running his townsmen out of the soon-to-be denominated Palestine, scattering them till such time as Arthur Balfour saw fit to usher in a state of affairs unimaginable since before the Babylonian captivity. In the post-1948 world, more gentiles have been prematurely introduced to their own personal Raptures by someone besides their fellow gentiles than arsy-versy, if you take my veiled meaning.
And now fundamentalism airs its fundament in the faces of all three Peoples of the Book: Larry and Moe as well as Shemp. It’s especially tragic in Larry’s case. My own shiksa mom resigned her post as the secretary of the ACLU (Salt Lake City branch) when that organization stood up for the neo-Nazi pricks’ right to march in Skokie, and she was shocked when her fellow officers, all Jews, didn’t even consider following her example. Today those same folks force the Polish embassy to cancel speeches by critics of Zionism.
Reaction is setting in. Marginal eccentric fringe weirdoes, such as President Jimmy Carter, are beginning to broach subjects that have remained unspeakable in polite American company for decades, but have long been current in Europe and the Middle East, Israel especially (where the press is actually free). Professors Mearsheimer and Walt are expressing notions that I must not allow myself to be aware of. Like Saint Dominic, I must practice custody of the eyes. Custody of the ears as well, especially when that Theban Queen to end all Theban Queens, elemental Randi Rhodes, is in one of those rare moods that got her kicked off Air America Radio.
Meanwhile, the common mood continues to undergo its ominous shift, and Penton has come to realize he must deal his self-hate card with a more drastic and risky flourish if it is to be effective and affecting. And, boy, does he snap that wrist over the green baize. He reveals things which I must pretend neither to hear, nor to understand, nor to harbor any intention of googling, not never, not no-how. Though I be exiled like dead Bobby Fischer to the effectively Hebrewless third pivot of the original Axis of Evil, though my works be banished to the internet and Small Pressville for the remainder of this particular incarnation, yet deep on the inside I still remain just enough of a Pollyanna to nurture a not entirely nihilized literary self-preservation instinct. So I need to be cool as a teen hawking crank at a pep rally. Like Marcus Tullius Cicero, I must speak—
Softly! Softly! I want none but the judges to hear me…
But it occurs to me that I might be able to get away with at least calling attention, sans comment, to certain passages that explode off these stapled pages like suicide bombs, and shower down in blistering clouds of white phosphorus. There are select passages where, on the biochemical upswing, my greatening poet rises out of his grave and begins to soar even higher than usual. He tears his hospital gown in twelve like Ahijah of Shiloh and flings it in Jeroboam’s face. He links rhetorical elbows with Israel’s great political indiscretionists of yesteryear, those dangerous big-mouths who had to be liquidated for their “self-hating” pronouncements, such as Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, “killed with the sword, his dead body cast into the graves of the common people,” and Zacharias, whom they “stoned with stones in the court of the house of the Lord” till he “perished between the altar and the temple,” and those others not so lucky as Jeremiah to have escaped their capital condemnations, there in that lethal municipality over which the aforementioned scoundrelly son of a lascivious beast wept as follows:
In Penton’s poem addressed to his lynched coreligionist, Leo Frank, he says that Judah raised Madison Avenue, “great tomb of the AmeriCAN mind,” he cracks wise about Gematria, gives out the ominous code name for America (goldene Medina), speaks of children being sacrificed to the ADL, and climaxes—
Did Penton just say something? Sorry, a big eighteen-wheeler loaded with bricks just rolled past my tenement. I heard nothing, nothing.
As with all self-hating Homo sapiens of every tribal-national-ethnic-racial stripe, there is plenty of other-hate left over, and soon enough I am free to unplug my ears and be hated again myself, thanks be to God. As if houseled in some non-eucharistic manner by his act of autophagy, he returns betimes to the theme of the lynched Jew, this time from the opposite angle. Addressing Leo Frank’s alleged victim, he fires off this line:
The goyim [emphasis mine] leave teddy bears only on your grave
Once again, to me and mine, shiksa and shaygets alike, Poet Penton applies yet another offensive term from one or the other of his mother tongues. And, as before, we can be relied upon not only to recognize this racial slur, but to shrug and chuckle it off, just as we grin sheepishly when our even swarthier fellow citizens find it edifying to liken our paltry pigmentation to saltines or avian feces. It’s easy to shuck and jive and shuffle off the respect of selves so tenuous as ours. We the pasty-pussed constitute a mere momentary freak, a slight bump in the road of human evolution, a temporarily serviceable mutation mounted by our moms in the ice age, to attract with turquoise veins and blushing thighs the tuckered-out attentions of wooly mammoth chasers. The World Health Organization predicts that the last natural blond will be born in Finland in a couple hundred years. The ultimate redhead will probably be a faded freckle on a misremembered rumor long before that. Doomed are the porn sites which advertise proudly, The curtains match the carpet! Worries of being outbred by deep brunettes, whether Mussulmannish or Popish, pale in this more generous time frame. In the meantime, though, before we can organize and equip our own competing cult of victimology, or maybe just join the Aryan Brotherhood, Penton hastens to remind us that our sisters and daughters, the—
naturally blond… mouthy, mousy [shiksas]
—are always the ones for the sake of whose advancement the—
Camaro-driving peroxide-kike paralegals
—get fired on Yom Kippur. Holocaust guilt button officially pushed. We the “nations” will still be beating our rosy-nippled breasts and gasping mea maxima culpa when they measure us for our caskets, and we’ll apologize for the milkiness of our love-handles as they tuck us snugly in.
Speaking of being pale and flushed and stuffed into a casket, as I move through these pages, I feel like the late, very great (300-plus-pound), Mussorgsky, that descendant of the Slavic chieftain Rurik, making his way from picture to picture at the exposition in Saint Petersburg. Every step of the way I sing my pal in all his artistic doubleness, and croon my strangest and most affecting tune before the portraits of Goldenberg and his unprepossessing counterpart. But, just between you and me, there is a nearer propinquity than mere palhood at play here. I am not merely committing the ethical peccadillo of reviewing a buddy’s book.
Full disclosure: Jonathan Penton is this reviewer’s fraternal twin. That’s right. The author currently under examination was parturated clinging onto my red-hairy ankle. He entered upon this particular incarnation all primed to fuck me out of my birthright for some dribbles of lentil soup the color of blood, salsa and unpainted rust. So, how have I managed, in this strange critique, to approach my rival sibling’s stuff with such an unjaundiced eye? Is it due to the magisterial disinterestedness of my critical faculty?
Perhaps it’s just because—as I’ve suddenly come to realize, now that Bradley’s Complaint has been duly lodged and I’ve delivered myself of my authorial pet peeve—I don’t give a fuck. I don’t even recognize the notion of birthright.
It’s not as though I couldn’t claim a tribe, and a doughty one at that, if I wanted to get all pushy and obnoxious and loud about it. My folk were Cornishmen long before there was a Cornwall. Incubated from minerals mixed with mud at the bottoms of our Corn-holes, we are every bit as autochthonous to Albion’s westernmost extreme as the Pentons of the world are to the “land of their nativity” (Genesis 11:28—that would be Kurdish Urfa in Eastern Turkey, or maybe Jessica Lynch’s Nasiriyah, depending on which Chamber of Commerce’s pamphlets you read). While the sons o’ Jacob were still groping around Sinai, proto-Bradleys were already, through the mettle of their sinews and the metal of their land, supplying the Late Bronze Age with reduced brittleness and ductility at a low, low price—made all the lower by our being fucked out of our ingots by Semites, Penton’s rich relations, the Phoenicians.
We needed no mythical patriarch to be sent by “God” to handln his way in and buy a burial plot for his wife, to establish a foothold, in return for four hundred silver shekels—that is, unless, of course, the new blood-mappers are right, and the Basques were Brits before the Bradleys, and we’re just a bunch of Johnny-come-lately arriviste vagabond mongrels, who chigger-rigged our delusional identity while on the lam from some other place to which our continued presence was too misfitted to be suffered.
In that case, never mind what I just said. As a matter of fact, fuck it altogether. Let’s all just undo ourselves. Everybody pitch in and do a group-heave-ho in the pushiness, loudness and obnoxiousness department. Let’s all wax hemoglobular and buy the complete package the genomers are selling. All of us, Hamites, Shemites, and even Japhethites, are owed choice plots of beachfront property in Somalia, for that’s where our common great-to-the-xth-power granny Eve came from, right? Let’s all link rainbow elbows and occupy territories in the schnozz of Africa, machine gun nests backing us up, and a big fence to hold at bay all those displaced pickaninnies.
This is one wisenheimer whose tribalism has been transcended by default. I may piss and moan about it, but the Mormon missionaries did me a supernal favor when they came and seduced my muddy forefathers from our happy smelting grounds and dragged us off into the setting sun. I did myself a similar favor when my own marginal attitudinizations and borderline personality propelled me even further in the same direction, all the way to the wrong side of the International Date Line, till I wound up a banished expatriate enduring exile within exile, a Wandering Tom, transported to this penal colony at the ends of the earth where the truly bad English teachers go (at least I don’t have to struggle for pedagogical survival against shtetl idioms).
The greatest benefit of my own deracinated, orphaned, exiled, alienated condition, the prime perk I enjoy as a bona-fide member of the contemptible “nations,” is that I am able to approach far-off systems of thought with an open, if not emptied mind. That preexisting condition called Jehovah, muddy-fingernailed Creator and Ultimate Reality rolled absurdly into one, that grotesque and gargantuan non sequitur perpetrated by desert people and fobbed off on us simple oak forest dwellers, that guy they hoot at with the moniker “God,” hasn’t the power to stifle my inquiring mind. YHWH need not take time off his self-appointed task of churning out zillions of spirits and giving them a single crack at embodiment in war zones, in AIDS-infected carcasses, in dysfunctional families, etc. He needn’t bother to read over my shoulder and sneer and prod me sarcastically with those big flaky, bloody elbows of his, as I peruse my unflung copy of the Upanishads. This is the golden spoon which I mouth while being born within myself each minute.
But my unfortunate fraternal twin’s embryonic spiritual sense has been aborted. As with so many postmodern sensibilities, whether bar- or bat- or un-mitzvaed, revulsion at New Age hucksterism has barred Penton’s development in the trans-Himalayan direction. He feels nothing when a pseudo-guru in a leopard-skin robe swings a pendulum over his clipped dick and yammers about something so un-Tanakhic as chakras. Once again, the degenerate company he keeps, keeps him down. A slummer can’t help but get weighed down by the sludge that rubs off on him—
Thus, unavailable to this cultural monotheist are the consummately logical and just insights to be had from the study of the profoundest, oldest, and most complete remnants of the original Wisdom Religion-Science-Philosophy (no lines of demarcation there): the good stuff ben Panthera received in revised version when he and the unwed teen whore got out from under the provincial noses of the Pharisees and the podunk thumbs of the Sadducees, and went sojourning on the cosmopolitan banks of the Nile.
It’s in the political and economic interests of certain Powers-That-Be to suppress the above adumbrated wisdom in all its manifestations, mainly through vulgarization and mockery, and to encourage, among the nations they intend to farm, the promulgation of the moral and spiritual travesty contained in this pseudo-Paulian motto from the obviously forged Epistle to the Hebrews:
Die once, afterwards Judgment.
If, flying in the face of the sense common to all peoples not of the Book, contrary to the instincts and intuitions inborn in Homo sapiens, you have been brainwashed into believing that you get only one crack at all this, of course you are going to cling to your cousins like a drowner, meanwhile thanking your tribal tutelary godlet for not letting you be born, one time only, under the sway of some other competing schmucks’ tutelary godlet.
Certain Powers-That-Be and their blood descendants can never, by their very self-definition, permit themselves to come to know that the tribe is merely a larger version of the carnal envelope that needs busting out of. For the sake of their very self-preservation, certain Pees that Bee must close their ears rather than hear and apply to themselves this truth which I have lately learned and tattooed on my very ventricles: that the spirit which activates me, under the encrustation of demerit which clings to it like uric crystals around a gouty toe bone, is no more or less related, and owes precisely no more nor less filial fealty, to my own mother than to Jonathan Penton’s mamele, or to the ummis of the sons of Kara Mustapha Pasha who are soon to raze the vicarage at my ancestral village in Cornwall and replace it with a madrassa, or to the undocumented mamacita who has quietly appeared in the sodium chloride desert that my shiksa grannies and gr’aunties made bloom with European water management techniques. That fecund senora has taken up residence next door to my boyhood bungalow in the New Zion, and is destined, through the agency of her nine pretty ninos, to overrun the whole lower forty-eight states—and I can’t bring myself to wail and rail like Jean Raspail. Might as well sneeze into a tsunami. Better fret over each crystal of serpentine quartz the Celtic Sea sucks from Land’s End.
If the circumstances of ben Panthera’s paternity and conception are matters of indifference, how much more so those of a certain relic tin miner? Heredity is the mere tool of karma, the moral law of causation, in obedience to which the son of a lascivious beast burgeoned into one of the great Adepts of human history.
Race engulfment, whether of Gringo by Chicano, of ethnic Slav by racial Turk, of Parisian suburbanite by Casbah escapee, of Hirohito-propitiator by Imelda Marcos-worshiper—yea, e’en of Sara’s special-best kissy-boychiks by Hagar’s—is nothing to get bent about. It’s just a mood swing in macrocosmic Man, a rolling over beneath that great ineffable tanning lamp called the Central Spiritual Sun: SEMES EILAM ABRASAX. To spill one drop of Homo sapiens’ common blood in dispute over a single square inch of tribal soil is the sickened behavior of that macrocosmic Man when drunk on vanity. In delirium tremens, he fingernails away stripes of flesh from his forearms to get at imaginary cockroaches scurrying underneath. It is the self-mutilation of the borderline personality celebrated on those teen girls’ websites. Tribalism goes beyond manic-depression into paranoid schizophrenia.
It seems that psychic virility, the capacity for righteous rage, the energy to write verse, come to some sufficiently estimable poets only in a tribal or racial context. When left alone with their naked spirits, they are sluggish, like unshelled snails. Sectarianism breeds not only violence, but also incubates lots of special nouns and verbs and their modifiers, and peculiar contexts and tones of voice in which to deploy them. Racism, outright and conscious, is the fons et origo of entire shitloads of poetry. Tribalism may be humanity’s curse, but is boon to poets who, unlike us farmed mud-people, us golems, still have access to it. They have occupied like the West Bank a literary niche where it is permissible to commit such self-references without sounding tiresome or somehow jingoistic—or, worse, ridiculous.
Could an ethnic Mormon trade on his heritage in a poem intended to be other than doggerel? Hardly. But even a backward hick like me cherishes a certain level of narcissistic hope, and has been known to bury manuscripts in a jar, Qumran-wise, in the Utah Salt Flats, on the shores of our backwoodsy Dead Sea, as the lit agents turn up their noses at the brine shrimp reek. If it happens to serve the karmic purposes of the more inclusive race designated as human, I trust certain books will survive the dark ages in one or two unburnt copies here and there, like that sole monkish manuscript of Tacitus’ monograph about his father-in-law dropping in on my Cornish grampies to say hi.
But, for a scribbler like me, even a connective-tissue-deep Hebrew-ressentiment can be mollified and preempted by the quality of what the particular Hebrew under examination is writing. And these poetry collections, Painting Rust & Blood and Salsa, conjoined back-to-back, if read as a unified utterance, a dramatic monologue, present a transcendent human mind which sometimes gets tar-babied, like all human minds, in that resinous thing called Man’s own heart. The desires of the latter periodically drag down the aspirations of the former, matter fettering spirit. In other words, the manifested existence of a sentient being is presented here with intensity. And, in this genre, that is all one could ask for.
1 Jonathan Penton, Painting Rust & Blood and Salsa, Unlikely Stories, 2006.