MEMORIAL TO MY CYNICISM
BY JONATHAN LETHEM
Well, the first thing to admit
Is that it isn’t dead yet. Or never really lived.
It was a memorial to itself all along.
My cynicism stands, a turret, a wicker man,
Built of former postures weathered into timber,
With interior shelves cluttered, like those
In Alice’s rabbit hole, with paraphernalia
Wreathed in dust and webs and yet still
Of sporadic use. So I don’t tear it down.
Besides, I’m fascinated with the thing.
It looks so much like me, but was never me.
I’ve sometimes slept inside it for a night or two
But lately make my camp a little further west.
So squatters make as much use of it as I do.
At certain hours of the night, zombies of rage
Sneak in and mount torches in its eyes.
I’ve heard them dancing at its feet, the fools.
Imogen is our friend’s daughter, and our friend.
More important, today she is our babysitter.
She loves stupid jokes, and baking, and talks
Like she’ll be a writer, but quips innocently,
“I could never be a writer — too many words.”
She’s brilliant with the kid. Imogen’s young,
Sure, but our baby is dew, blazing with novelty,
And looks on Imogen as an idol, a savant, a titan.
Who knew Imogen was out there? Who can
They keep bringing them along like hotcakes?
(The baby has no cynicism. Imogen’s, if it exists,
Is made of green saplings, bent into a kooky cup
Hidden in the woods. Maybe she wears it like
An Irish woman in San Francisco once told me
A story I could never use until today about
A dark tribe whose land was prey to fair invaders.
These natives hosted the blond lords for a season
Until some local flu, to which the tribesmen
Chopped them down like trees. Then, observing
How the blonds had treated their own early dead,
The tribesmen mounted several dozen funerals,
Buried the blonds in a gated plot on a high hill,
Each in a box, and marked with carved stone,
Then maintained the scene for generations,
Collective memorial to — you know — what
Meanwhile, their own dead the natives interred
In shallow graves of sand on a wide, sloped beach,
There to be washed out to sea, as tradition
“I’ll write a poem,” I joked, accidentally teasing
My golem of cynicism into view on the horizon.
Nothing makes me cynical like a poem, at least
(I discerned I was no poet sophomore year.)
But what a shock to see how distant and decrepit
That figure had become. As if by night
My camp had wandered further west, further
Than I’d imagined I’d ever want to go. Or than
He’d imagined. But he doesn’t have much
I had to admit I hadn’t visited in a while. Now
Who would restock those shelves? Or make use
Of the viewing deck? Could my memorial be
A beacon on shoals, a lighthouse? Likely not.
It may not even be visible to anyone else. &