“Hindley Street”: How to Be Perfect There

By | 1 September 2013

Pete Bakowski’s challenge: attempt Padgett’s ‘How To Be Perfect’.

“Hindley Street”—
I write those words, the
title of this poem,
on this pad,
to start a list—of things I must
do. Is this
going to be a poem?
Isn’t it?
(“Hindley Street”—
I know what it will mean.
I continue the list …
Names of people I should
email. Richard, in case
my silence is taken to mean something,
something dark, brooding—
Micky, to break her silence.)

Different from what I had been
going to write—fired up
by the fetishized nebulosity
of the Houynhhyms last night.

I get a haircut instead,
& the head massage that
goes with it
syphons off
all anxiety.
rub your heads!

My hair short again—
my visage modern.

Now, to work—
to face down the future
as it comes on
like gangbusters,
minute by minute—
doing this & doing that—
philosophy, meanwhile, on the back-burner.
I add Simryn Gill
to the list. Hullo, Richard, Micky, Simryn!

Like a small-minded Frank O’Hara,
a sort of contradiction in terms—

small-minded then, not like Frank O’Hara,
but with my haircut, at least,
ashamed of a century that is
ashamed of me, if it thinks about it.
Me, & the century—at neither of which
I can smile. Time to get
my head rubbed? No time for that—
the future arriving incrementally,
minute by minute—
like pirates boarding a ship.
So it’s Game On!

I rather like the look
of this loony tune
swinging in the rig, his earrings
& bandanas, cutlass
between his teeth.
Tho is it Peter Bakowski,
in disguise, this pirate
‘of the future’—forget
I ever said that!
(The future
can look after itself.) ? —
is it Peter?
& the pirate hands me a
telegram from, let’s see …
H.G. Wells? Herbert
‘Vere’ Evatt? Someone
Arnold Schwartzenegger!?—
no—Ron Padgett.
The pirate now looks like Ron,
I note,
as I read the letter, look up to his
face—which nods, lips parted,
still breathing heavily,
full of encouragement—
& read again.
It says, You’ve forgotten
to read the instructions—haven’t you?
“What?” I say, I think.
Ron speaks:
“How To Be Perfect—
it was in my book of the same name.
I know you’ve read it—
and Kenneth Koch, his ‘General Instructions’, ‘The
Art Of Love’, and other poems-of-advice.
But you don’t seem to have
taken it all in. Or you
bracket it off, as if it
weren’t real life. We’re
not fooling about, buddy.
Sure, make a list of things to do.
You’ve got that right.
But put the right things on the list!
‘Get a haircut’? Why not?
But is that gonna solve anything?
And if you’re gonna get a haircut
Get the Right Haircut—
you look like a disaster!
Sure, write to your friends,
that’s a good idea.
And if you’re dealing with Hounyhymms
Take some energy from the encounter—
You’ve got that right! But …
must you deal with them at all?
Or are you not very discrimminate
in your use of the term? Were they
that bad? Ask yourself this.
The future is neither
your friend nor your
enemy unless you set it up that way.
A few precautions, that’s
my advice. Like
Peter Bakowski, he’s got it right.
We’re not a bunch of pirates—
(yes, I’m from the future—
your future, anyway—
it may not be so bleak)
I dress like this
to get your attention.
I’m normally a sneakers-&-jeans
kind of guy, I wear my cap
facing forwards,
over a closely cropped head,
with my signature round glasses.
Not this pirate crap. How they
ever got about, in all this gear,
is hard to figure. But the future
is not waves of pirates
boarding your ship
. You’re a
glass-half-empty kinda guy,
aren’t you? You & Tony Towle
take it on the chin—for
, don’t you? You
think that’s ‘Romantic Irony’?
You’re an Australian—
what’s romantic about that?
Have you written to Tony lately?
You haven’t written to me.
So, make a list!
I don’t hold out much hope for you.
You should maybe
re-read my books.
That might help. And Peter Bakowski’s,
he’s the man.

And here our
conversation broke off
near the knoll’s island foam.

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