The Unknown: The Orange Line.
  Letter to Rettberg
Thanksgiving, 1996

Something sadder than time, the shards of a shattered glass waterpipe, something you could never touch lips to. A dismantled checking account. The glass of scotch, now weak from melted ice, a gradation of hue from clear to brown. The morning after, I eye it nostalgically, in the unfortunate position of now knowing better.

In the 1990s, even panhandlers are market-driven. In lieu of hand-scrawled cardboard signs, some Miami panhandlers are toting professionally lettered placards as they stand at street corners asking motorists for money. The plastic signs carry a typical message asking for spare change, but add a line at the bottom: “Sign donated by Design Shoppe. For all your signage needs call 443-SIGN.”

Yeah, and where am I? In exactly the same M.A. Program you left. My last contact with you was when you thought you might drive here to buy some East Central Illinois Gold, but you never called back.

It is now Thanksgiving 1996 and a small bottle of champagne is chilling in the snow on the roof outside my window, along with a cool Okocim Porter, a darker Polish beer, and a glass mug. I managed to get away with just one feast this evening and am now back in front of this machine. I’ve finally figured out how to make money with my M.A. (or actually M.S.). Remember Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts and her Psychiatric Help stand? I’m going to out a stand in my front yard with a sign reading “READINGS—$2, or 3 for $5.” People will bring me a text and say “Yeah, I need a Marxist and a Feminist reading of this by tomorrow.” And I’ll say: “I’ll throw in a New Historicist reading for $5.” And they’ll say: “I don’t need that. But do you do punctuation?” Having been sick all semester I have let a lot of poems pile up. I’m not referring to my own unwritten poems here (though maybe I will someday put together a book entitled Unwritten Poems) but rather to the submissions I have to read for Silt River Poetry Review. There are too many to read so I think I will throw the whole stack down the stairs and accept the ones that make it to the bottom, and send rejection slips to the poets who don’t even clear the landing. The ones with the biggest ideas will fall to the bottom of the staircase. It works: this is how I graded English 101. I’m superstitious. Instead of balancing my checkbook, I burn all my financial records—ATM receipts, checkbooks, monthly statements, bills—in an urn. If I bounce a check I’ll slaughter a goat.

Enough, W.

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The Unknown at Spineless Books.