by E. A. Costa (May 2009)
e.e.cummings' father was a professor.
his mother was very intelligent.
he went to cambridge latin school where he learned--you guessed it, latin.
he then went to harvard and graduated magna cum laude in greek.
he wrote his first poem when he was three.
both parents encouraged him.
2 little whos
(he and she)
under are this
if learning ancient greek is no magic like voicing GOD! in illinois why does the putative cream of the cream send their kiddies to prep schools that teach homer?
ecclesiastical latin at ecclesiastical schools does not do the trick.
that is because the professors at catholic and protestant schools know before they start that alcman is WRONG.
one has to learn to READ with open eye and ear.
if it is a classic you uncover new every time.
it is like the little cars at the circus.
clowns just keep emerging.
if you ask a silly question of a book the book won't answer.
try it some time. open up moby dick and ask a question, it won't answer unless you trust it.
put your finger on the random page and read aloud.
that started with vergil and is called the SORTES VERGILIANAE.
it only works with living classics.
there are no spare words in living classics.
but you cannot tell what a living classic is until you READ it.
there is a trick to it.
living classics are homuncular.
it's like fractals. every passage is a microcosm of the whole.
i pick up herman melville's moby dick, open it randomly, close my eyes and put my finger on the page:
No: but here thou beholdest even in the dumb brute, the instinct of the knowledge of demonism in the world....
there i told you so.
i am itching to say something about gogol but i have not read enough of him.
i have figured out why the communists loved dead souls.
it's not obvious.
but i will husband it for when i know more gogol.
loyola had a good library and despite partying across europe she had a good beginning in a very quick and agile mind.
that was what he saw in her eyes the first night.
all bright minds smile when they are cruising full speed ahead even the eyes of lunatics.
she had trouble reading to herself. he had a primitive cure--reading books aloud together.
they read the three musketeers aloud in one sitting through the night.
how does three become four?
they later noticed an echo in the seven samurai.
he remembers flashing golden light in her eyes.
for the most part he never held it against the soldiers who were sent to NAM. that is why he and sarge got along.
sarge asked him at the table once: do you know how many men this hand has killed?
sarge was a canadian scot and roman catholic as an accident of history.
he showed me pictures of his daughters.
i never saw three children who looked more as if they were from three different fathers.
sarge saw that look in my eyes.
he heard my voice.
he knew i understood.
later i realized that was why he showed me the snapshots.
most of the veterans i knew during the NAM years had become virulently antiwar.
the one exception was my cousin the admiral who once ran the dock in saigon.
he never had the time to think or ask questions. the job paid handsomely.
why greek? strangely enough the answer is not about money or class.
i have seen her a stealthily frail
flower with its fellows in the death
of light, against whose enormous curves of flesh
exactly cubes of tiny fragrance try...
it is about humanitas which neither christians nor jews nor muslims know anything of.
neither do japanese.
but japanese are learning as other human beings learn more japanese.
e.e.cummings was not wed to lower case.
it was an accident of the typewriter he used according to one story.
he wrote many poems with CAPITALS.
i first met e.e. cummings outside an anthology in cambridge where e.e. was born and raised.
i walked from my rooms past the club mt.auburn where joan baez sang to an apartment where the lesbian with the page boy read gertrude stein and e.e.cummings between work and fascinating I..
I. was fascinated by gays and lesbians.
that was interesting because at that time fascination with gays and lesbians was not an ordinary part of polish-american experience.
In those days gay meant mostly cheerful as in la gaya scienza which Nietzsche borrowed from the minstrels of provence.
minstrels are always gay. did you ever hear of a dour minstrel? dour minstrels tend to go into other professions like medicine.
The bedside manner is different.
later I. became a rabid feminist.
i figured gays were like other people. not gay or dour mostly.
i was not fascinated. if i was fascinated they might as well have been straight.
when the feminism started it was very intelligent.
the hydrophobia came later.
if strangers meet
not poor not rich
i not not you
once when i walked by the club mt.auburn i looked in. someone was singing folk music. they used to keep the doors open. the singer was petite with dark hair. she was wearing bell bottoms.
later i realized it was joan baez.
the memory persevered on its own for some time before i made the association.
the way everyone talked it never occurred to me that baez was a spanish name, like nixon.
that should have told me joan baez would one day be famous.
i was much younger than my years at the time.
I. and i and the lesbian read e.e.cummings aloud. that is how i first met buffalo bill and his blue-eyed boy.
no one at the time knew that lower case was an accident.
everyone thought it was a deliberate innovation.
maybe not everyone. maybe e.e. knew.
maybe his typewriter wanted to be famous.
one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:
one's not half two. It's two are halves of one:
which halves reintegrating, shall occur
no death and any quantity; but than
all numerable mosts the actual more...
e.e.cummings really knew how to make words count.
he knew arithmetic.
i spent thirteen years investigating logic and mathematics and came out with the same answer for three.
i have no formal proof.
neither did e.e.cummings.
all i can say is that logically it is impossible to derive three from one.
i dedicated the parts to people who had helped me. the whole i wrote for her, who helped me more.
universe begins in subtraction.
cosmos is multiplication.
(my magna cum laude at harvard was in roman history).
after dropping out of biochemistry and almost dropping out of school that was not easy.
T. and i were great friends when we were sophomores.
T. was drunk most of that year and says he doesn't remember.
drunk he was still very intelligent and had a projector and showed silent movies of naked women from german underground films.
his father was german and had a degree from a gymnasium in Vienna.
T. suddenly dropped out.
later i heard he joined the marines.
the next semester i almost dropped out as well.
T. told me many years later the next thing he knew he was at danang and there was a war on.
he repaired radios and drank.
the beer joints for the enlisted were full of combat vets returning from jungle patrols.
to survive a radio repair man had to be entertaining if he were going to be a regular drunk.
T. learned a lot of tricks.
he used to drink beers, then chew up the glass with his teeth.
that earned some measure of surprise from combat vets.
then he could just keep on drinking.
I. as i was adamantly anti-war.
we came to it from different directions.
war was not why T. joined the marines.
I. was one of the first hippies. she looked like carly simon. she wore bell bottoms well. she could sew. she was close friends with the sandal-maker.
she never wore bras but her breasts were small. they could fit in champagne glasses.
she was dark for someone ethnically polish on both sides.
she was friends with a singer in a band.
singers always get the girl.
she was very sweet on him. i could tell.
in martha's vineyard we stayed at the same place every summer.
what do drummers get?
one summer there was a rock band in the next room. they asked I. to iron their hair so that they would look like the beetles.
i was never any good at ironing.
my mother had established that it was an art form not to be trifled with.
i still don't own an iron.
when we went to illinois we were already married.
we drove west with a trailer.
I. cried all the way through indiana, one of nabokov's states beginning with "i".
i asked her why she was crying.
she said because there were no hills and no people and we were going to some wild frontier and she would not be in cambridge anymore.
E.'s sister A. who moved to cambridge from chicago now feels the same way.
i don't know if E.'s sister A. is friends with a singer in a rock band.
i took the southern route through indiana. she cried even more.
i did not understand this.
i did not hold it against her but i did not understand.
the whole way through indiana i began to wonder what i had got myself into.
not with the state that began with "i" but with I..
when we got to illinois I. did fine.
there were lots of hippies in and around campus.
I. fit right in.
I. got a job working for a sociologist who did statistical work and was one of the first to use computers.
I. was very logical and very intelligent.
she had not gone to college.
being a hippie was like that.
hippies always had marijuana and sometimes hashish in cambridge.
I. had dropped acid.
at harvard leary and alpert were giving their students lsd.
they were warned not to experiment with students.
they promised not to but then did it anyway.
they were immediately fired.
for lying. leary then became timothy leary. alpert became baba ram dass.
lying was one of the reasons you would be kicked out of harvard quickly and never allowed back.
at the time no one connected it with veritas.
plagiarism was one of the worst things you could do.
suicide was bad for the school's reputation and they tended to cover it up.
but they did not expunge people for suicide.
now and then they did expel people for lying and plagiarism.
i never knew anyone expunged.
perhaps millions of people have been expunged from harvard.
how would anyone know?
it can't be a good thing to have on your record. "expunged from harvard 1963". how could it ever be verified?
the ancient romans had a similar punishment called abolitio memoriae.
they tended to do that occasionally after the person was assassinated.
writing a paper for another student was also severely punished.
usually both students were kicked out.
but they would often be let back in.
very few plagiarized.
the sociologist at illinois showed us his slides from afghanistan.
he had us to dinner often.
he was interested in ancient history, particularly alexander the great.
that's where i first learned the word BAKSHEESH.
he explained it was an Persian word in origin and how it worked in afghanistan.
he was trying to set up a university program there. all the fathers visited him with an offer of BAKSHEESH to get their sons in.
he told them that was not the way americans did things.
afghans were not acquainted with the way americans did things.
no doubt anthropologists among them composed oral epics on the strange customs of american sociologists.
afghans could not believe a man could be treated fairly like a number in a structure that took no account of whether it had been paid BAKSHEESH or not.
BAKSHEESH was personal, eye to eye, seal of a promise between men.
some of the afghan tribes are direct descendants of alexander's soldiers.
it is possible alexander himself may have direct descandants in afghanistan.
the university likely did not look too promising to descendants of macedonians either.
the statistician and sociologist was in afghanistan in the early 1960's.
I. helped write and edit one of the first books on using computer languages for statistics in sociology.
i helped I. proofread.
i advised her to get her name on the book and also to get part of the copyright.
the sociologist was a fair man and agreed.
he died the next year of parkinson's disease.
he was in his forties.
later i realized that showing us afghanistan was a kind of last will and testament.
i could never stomach much robert frost.
he was good at his craft but he writes in a persona with false nostalgia.
you can write as if a persona but you cannot write as a persona.
It is hard to open a book of robert frost’s poems and randomly uncover a homunculus.
he cannot hold a candle to my friend e.e.
they are not all one woman.
all women are not one woman.
they are not all one man.
all men are not one man.
all men are not brothers.
all women are not sisters.
they are not all brothers and sisters.
they are not necessarily all ones.
they are all little interrogative pronouns.