A Prose Poem By Eileen Myles: ‘Ann Lee’

From Eileen Myles' New Book Evolution

September 13, 2018  By Eileen Myles

I am Ann Lee. I thought that would be a good place to start. I am Eileen Myles. I am 67 years old. My mother died on April 3rd. She was 96. I have not had sex since January. I am writing to you from Cape Cod. It was a horrible week. It was kind of a stray week. I really wanted to be home in New York and I had just gotten back from three weeks in Palestine, Ukraine and Russia. I resisted the impulse to say “the Ukraine.” Is that its name. I just wanted to be home after that. I had planned to be in Provincetown in August but there was this available week in June. I thought that’d be nice. Yeah but won’t you be tired. You know that thing where you know something but you speed up over that voice convincing yourself that the logical thing is true. I came up here with a friend and we did a little work together and next morning she got on one of those tiny planes. We thought this is such a Sagittarian trip that she would drive up to the Cape with me & my dog to do a little work and leave the next morning in order to hear a band named red ants spelled red aunts that she really loves and they were after all really great. I began my week of relaxing and working and being in my home state. I began to miss my mom. Around weather. Because it was horrible this week. It like rained all day long and all night long. I didn’t have to go to the beach but you know it was cold too and I was staying in an unheated shack in a part of Provincetown called Tasha Hill which is very rustic which means wet wood and hobbit houses and goats and horses and roaming dogs and chipmunks but like really chilly and the internet wasn’t working and the gas wasn’t on and using the space heater I blew a fuse. It’s a circuit corrected Thomas who I rented the place from. Who cares, it blew, it blew. It rained and rained and I wanted to call my mother in her nursing home in Greenfield and say what do you think of this weather. And she would say it stinks. But I can’t. That’s exactly the way I miss my mother. A deepening of the abyss with a hoot. I miss that. I mean there were many nice moments including one last night when it was already nice again and I was stepping over a wall onto the wooden ladder onto the beach and I thought I’m like Tennessee Williams. I’m like an old queer in the winter in Provincetown waiting for Marlon Brando to come down and fix the pipes and then prove to be the right one to play Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire. I did a little bit of research. Ann Lee thought that she was the church. Get it an edifice. And that is a radical thought. Not being cast as a thing. The live woman expanding out. Jesus was the church and she was the church. She was the second coming and now god was complete being both woman and man. It’s so important that she had those four miscarriages and never proved to lay an egg correctly and convinced her blacksmith husband to not lay eggs with her. People chuckle when you say Shakers when you remind them they were celibate. How did they reproduce. Well they adopted. They recruited. Foundlings! There were indentured Shakers I read which I am waiting for someone to explain the relationship between economic servitude and Shakerhood. The fact that you don’t have to breed to survive is inspiring to me. Or maybe it’s you won’t have to die. Right away. Ann Lee could have kept trying and one of those pregnancies might have made a baby and one of them would kill her. Not now. She said lifting a hand. I won’t survive but my church will. My work. That it was thought up or furthered by a woman who was not barren or infertile but generative. I am Eileen I am not celibate. I’m sort of between relationships and I’ve had sex a few times in the gap but I had a bit of that feeling of who is this for so I thought that’s no way to go ahead. I love that the place where the Shakers landed in this reproductive, no, productive, generative scheme—is the thought to make things and make things well. It’s such a beautiful thought. I won’t dwell on my own sexuality too much but I do want to say I love the idea of making something with another human being, perhaps me, not a baby but something nice. A special place perhaps. But for now I’m loving the solo place of the life well made. I thought well I was walking on the beach and I thought what about one blue stone and I picked it up. I’ve had all this crap in my pockets tokens of this and that and I’m ready to whittle it down and examine my own message and my own time. I’m holding this rock with that thought.

“It rained and rained and I wanted to call my mother in her nursing home in Greenfield and say what do you think of this weather. And she would say it stinks. But I can’t. That’s exactly the way I miss my mother.”

Did you watch Comey. People were like is he hot. I mean I don’t know. He’s beautiful unbeautiful like those boys I went to grade school with. The big bags under his eyes. To his credit HE did not make the joke about dinner with Trump being the all-time great excuse for breaking a date with your wife. That was the other guy. Yet he smirked because he was a man and a man has to get the other man’s joke or else it’s a cause for violence. But in that moment typically there was a woman pushed out thoughtlessly like a buffoon. Aren’t we all looking for an excuse to get away from her. But where are you going. To sit in this room. Do you remember when he talked about justice with a blindfold over her eyes. I realized at that moment that I had never wondered who put the blindfold on. It’s a construction. Whose? In his own defense Comey said she did not lift her blindfold and peek to see if her patron was pleased. I thought of that as a trans vernacular moment. Code shifting. I mean just before various speakers had been peppering their questions in this mostly male gathering, America’s Congress with their photographer and journalist friends, they peppered their talk with a number of “heck of a”s and gosh just to say that despite being suits they were manly men, trusty doers, and representatives of a doing nation, which we are not of course, so all these conceits to present ourselves as manly are drag of course, but my point is that when this tall man depicts his own relationship to justice the higher authority to whom he has dedicated his life he depicts her as she is historically depicted as the woman who has mysteriously had her sight taken away AND if HE were to degrade his lofty position he would do it coquettish-like, taking a peek like a girl. And that is only possible that rhetorical turn because justice has been presented as female—made wholly useful as a symbol, incomplete, because she is blinded by men. Male rhetoric would not work without the fall guy of woman. In the constructed absence of women we make lies. That’s what America makes.

Now the president I think the imputation was he was actually trying to feminize our guy and get him to lift that blinder and see if Donald was smiling at him or not. Comey was appealing to their masculine pride. Was he liking him now. Was Comey serving at his pleasure. There’s so much weird gender stuff in this largely government as men by men for men. If women are only a symbol then men may lie. When Trump asked Comey at the dinner table to do naughty things like take a loyalty oath to him and not to the blinded girl he gave vague answers back to him. The congressmen who questioned Comey asked well why why didn’t you tell him this was inappropriate. I I was stunned was Comey’s reply.

Let’s pause for a second. Doesn’t this sound like every rape case you’ve ever heard. And doesn’t the questioner normally barge in hard at that moment. You were STUNNED. I have a dictionary definition of the term stunned. Were you drugged. Did he hit you with his raygun. Everyone laughs. That did not happen. Because this is not a real girl. This is a feint. All the guys are in on the play. The audacity of the situation—a man presented by himself to all who already know him as such a one of high purpose and then been treated so cavalierly by this thug of a president—that is tantamount to an insult to all of us of course. Honest men. We’re going to see the stuff America is made of. We’re going to see how our democracy works! I was walking down Commercial Street with my dog holding my phone listening to this important testimony yesterday as Comey talked about his loyalty to the department of Justice and to the FBI for which he would be grateful all his life and tears came to my eyes. Notice this I thought. Why am I getting tearful. Who put this in me. Ann Lee proposed herself to be a church. Was I roofied. Is that why I cry. James Comey said that America was a shining city on a hill. Now that’s insane. What hill. He said that this was not a republican issue or democratic issue—he was talking about hacking now, about the Russians trying to hack our election. And nobody yet has mentioned that there was a female candidate who was robbed right in front of all of us of her rightful place of office as the president of the united states. I think because it wasn’t done to a man, it was done to a woman. Not having managed to land herself in the seat, she remains symbolic. He said I don’t THINK Russians ARE democrats or republicans and everyone laughed. The joke of course hid the lie in what he just said. The Russians were of course hacking on behalf of the Republican party or Donald Trump. When Trump asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, when he asked him to dispel this cloud around me, the Russian stuff, he admitted it was POSSIBLE that some of his SATELLITES might’ve talked to the Russians. Satellite is the word we need. Either Russia is a satellite of the Republican party or the Republican party is a satellite of Russia. That’s the dance. [Arm bar movement.] I love the Shaker thing about dancing. Will there be any of that this weekend. It seemed circular, it seemed like hands were raised at crucial times and sometimes people would go wig out for an ecstatic solo. Think about dancing. We have lost our rituals and we need them. I mean dancing was never so intense in my life as it was in junior high and high school really before I was having sex and you would feel this tremendous excitement in the watching and coordination and collective unh and bliss. The repression enabled I’ll speak for myself me to really cut loose. In New York in the 70s and 80s there was a free-floating loft party a dancing party called the loft and it would gather in lofts on special appointed nights there was probably a mailing list and mythic deejaying took off there, it changed the form, and numerous dance styles and merging of avant garde and disco and Buddhist chant (Arthur Russell) and people would just pulsate and sweat and it was very much a religion. I went once in the hey day like thirty years ago and then I went again it still happens the night before Thanksgiving you know we had just had this election and dancing seemed like the only cure and the party was in a small basement of a club in Brooklyn very interracial very all ages and there was an intuitive sharing of space. It was such a political thing. Late in the night a bunch of white rich kids descended on us the trumps I thought as they were extremely high and looked kind of grotesque they were dancing at you mocking the act of dancing even and pleasure and it felt violent as they took extra awkward even square space real estatey and you just felt pushed and I left. I went home. I had to get up early and go see my mother.

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From EvolutionCourtesy of Grove Press. Copyright © 2018 by Eileen Myles.

Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles is the author of nineteen books including I Must Be Living Twice: New & Selected Poems, and a 2015 reissue of Chelsea Girls. Eileen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in non-fiction, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Book Awards, and the Shelley Prize from the PSA. In 2016 Myles received a Creative Capital grant and the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. Currently they teach at NYU and Naropa University and live in Marfa TX and New York.

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