Thursday, March 27, 2008

Toujours gai, kid

When I was little, my grandmother gave me a little yellow and black tattered paperback called Archy & Mehitabel, by Don Marquis. Archy, the cockroach, is a re-incarnated free-verse poet, and Mehitabel, the cat, has the soul of Cleopatra. C'mon. A poet cockroach and a world-weary cat, from the 1920s? That's cool.

Archy, because "expression is the need of my soul," sneaks into the copy room of The Evening Sun at night and labors furiously at the typewriter, producing sheets of verse. He jumps from key to key - there's no working the Shift key for Archy, so no capital letters and some fairly creative punctuation (when there is any).

He had a lot to say, that Archy did. And Mehitabel, well you can only imagine, with the soul of Cleopatra, she wasn't precisely shy, "i have had adventures but i have never been an adventuress."

The lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


(oh, as for "toujours gai, kid, toujours gai"? That's Mehitabel's epitaph, motto and sign-off - all in one short phrase. She had style, that one:
cage me and i d go frantic
my life is so romantic

capricious and corybantic

and i m toujours gai toujours gai)

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