This is a Duende Project piece written for “Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt,” a multidisciplinary performance tribute for Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that was performed on September 22nd, 2011 in the lovely Precinct Bar in Somerville, MA. Everything from shadow puppetry, music, and cabaret and the poetic talents of Jade Sylvan, Daphne Gottlieb, Meghan Chiampa, Charles Coe, James Caroline, Simone Beaubien, and The Duende Project (which would be Tony Brown on poetry and Steve Lanning-Cafaro on electric bass). At some point, there will be audio of the piece available and perhaps video too.
FOR KURT, ON THE OTHER SIDE, MOWING THE LAWN
“My epitaph in any case? ’Everything was beautiful. Nothing hurt.’ I will have gotten off so light, whatever the heck it was that was going on.”
— from the preface to “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.”
I know deep down that
whatever’s in the stars
doesn’t care about us.
All our stuff
about gods and heaven
to help us forget that.
The best of us
are born to take it farther.
Can make whole worlds fit
into a little toe,
spin paradise from firestorms,
mythologize their way
is a gate back
to living in the ordinary –
and if we’re lucky,
we get to go through
I’m trying to do that myself –
be a world-builder,
a fantasy gatekeeper –
and I don’t much like my chances.
Dear Mr. Vonnegut:
I read your book.
Couldn’t put it down, in fact,
but I have some questions…
I’d like to talk to you about it.
Want to hear more about you
and the good, notorious Dr. K;
you and the death chamber;
you and the improbable tunnel
woven from the cloth of dreams;
you and the stories of the back and forth
to speak with the dead –
famous, infamous, and unknown;
you and that bad doctor
retrieving details that otherwise
would have been lost
I’m impressed by
all the matters of fact
you built large through the fantasy;
all that time spent in a conjured world
where stories mattered less than stasis
and everything holds still,
where you don’t get to choose
whether you leave
In the foreword
Neil Gaiman says
that now that you’re over there,
you’re constantly mowing the lawn
in the vacant lot before the Pearly Gates:
thinking of lemonade;
mopping your head;
stuck in time.
If that’s true, kudos.
If that’s true, blessings.
If that’s true,
You found no reason
ever to speak anything but plainly
of the sublime
when seeing plainly the sublime
in the plain,
interviewing those who’d gone ahead
for their views on where they’d ended up;
speaking of the scientist
who researched babies and mothering
who has now learned that babies who die in infancy
grow up to be angels.
“that’s where angels come from;”
or of the man dead of a heart attack
while defending his schnauzer
from a pit bull.
When you asked if his death was senseless
he replied that it made more sense
than any reckless death in Vietnam.
You spoke of Birnum Birnum,
who fought for Australian citizenship
for himself and his aboriginal brothers,
spoke of how he was led into heaven
by Louis Armstrong
fronting a hot Tasmanian band,
and of a gardener who died in his garden,
whose first act on getting to Heaven
was to pick a flower he’d never seen before,
and then to say that his only regret was that
everyone was not
as happy as he.
Then there were the famous, like John Brown
with his red eyes glowing, raging against the government,
saying that the slavery legal under US law was just as evil
as the Holocaust, permitted under German law, was still evil;
saying about his crimes “I beg your pardon”
and insisting that he’d paid his dues
to get to where he’d gotten;
James Earl Ray,
still fuming about how his shot
had elevated his target to sainthood;
Isaac Newton, pissed as all hell
at having been trumped by Einstein.
That’s just a sampling
and it’s still a lot to chew on –
but Kurt, you left one question open:
are the famous so angry at unfulfilled wishes,
while the ordinary fall into contentment
upon exiting the Blue Tunnel?
In other words, what the heck
IS going on?
All I want to be is famous, and to strive,
and to accomplish. So much so that death
is a cheat I‘ve been willing to make
if it’ll get me there,
and here you are saying
it’s not worth my trouble.
What the heck is going on?
I sit for a while with this little book.
Everything is beautiful.
Kurt, you carved that shit in stone.
There are things, I guess,
worth casually uncovering,
letting them come in their own time:
the joy of quiet,
the scent of the grass in the rain
after cutting. An arm around my neck
when I need it most.
A little joy in wordplay,
a little satisfaction in knowing
someone got what I was trying to say.
Kurt, you say
you got off light.
is all I get off you,
and by the light of you
I can see I have work to do.
one last thing –
you ended some of these little stories
with a “ta-ta”
and a “goo-goo”
and a “ga-ga.”
I appreciate the babying.
The easy farewell.
The wink over the shoulder
on your way to the Exit.
I just wanted to say
that when I get there,
I’ll take over that mower for a spell
if you want. When you get off
light, you ought to
give a little back.
I’ve got more to do here,
at least for a bit.
I’m just getting started –
I’m not even close –
Till then, Kurt,
so it goes.