BlogEnthusiams , Reading , Writing

The Breaking of Jimbo: Some Thoughts on the Kathy Fagan poem “Road Memorial.” Part 1.

Early this morning, a few minutes before the alarm went off, or maybe a few more than a few, I started writing this post. I was dreaming the writing, which I do from time to time. Once, many years ago, I woke convinced I’d written a symphony. I woke with its movements in my head, and in my waking-yet-still-dreaming state, I knew I’d accomplished a great feat. I felt the simultaneous elation and relief I imagine a journeyman pitcher feels on recording the final out of a perfect game: no matter my previous mediocrity, my name would now be carved among the greats in the record books forever. And though I knew almost nothing about classical music and, really, hardly anything about music at all, I knew as surely as I knew how to tie my shoes that my composition had achieved the sublime. I felt confident that fellow composers would regard the piece as one of the century’s finest. A minute or two into my reverie, though, it began to come to me, slowly, as a blurry thing comes into focus, that the sound in my head was not of my making at all; the sound came from the bedside radio.

This morning’s pre-alarm dreaming, which began with the previous paragraph and progressed through this one, continued:

A few months ago, maybe a year ago, the poet Kathy Fagan asked if I wanted some books. I’d stuck my head into her office about some administrative matter. Often, over the years, after I’d stuck my head into her office about some administrative matter, she’d pass along remainders and review copies.

“No bullshit, Tanguay,” she said that morning. “They’re coughing up for a new floor. I figure I’ll go ahead and clean out the joint. Look at this mess. You want some books? Fucking good books.”

“Generalissimo,” I said.“I do want some books. You’ve got the early Merwin, right? You’ve got The Lice?”

The Lice is good. Forget The Lice. Read the first four books.”

“Fagan. Doctor. Professor. Generalissimo. Kathy Grandifinetti. All that punctuation. Let me ask you this: Is Wordsworth overrated?”

(I should say that I don’t know what to call Kathy Fagan in print. Her poetry name is Kathy Fagan. Her real-life name, on account of a marriage, is Kathy Fagan-Grandinetti. I, because I known her in a number of capacities, call her all sorts of things.)

A few weeks later, I came across the whole of Dr. Fagan-Grandinetti’s books, on wheeled carts, out in the foyer of the Creative Writing suite. I recall it was a gorgeous day outside. I saw through two sets of glass doors swarms of students making their way under bright sunshine. But in the fluorescent light of the foyer, I was alone. And so I lingered. Ran some fingers down some spines. Got down on my knees. Widened my eyes, looking up. Pulled down a thick volume and opened it. Held it in both hands, closing my eyes, measuring its weight.

In the dream, I worked and worked that previous paragraph, never getting it right. I wanted to convey desire and especially desire encountered unexpectedly: I desire books (specifically, in this case, Fagan’s books); I did not expect to be left so alone with the objects of my desire. And I wanted, in the dream, as we often do in dreams, to enact my desire. But I was worried about impropriety. While we all understand that Dreamland is a complicated space, still, these were, after all, the Generalissimo’s books. Plus, it’s just hard, as a matter of craft to demonstrate in prose desire enacted. All that lingering and getting down on the knees and closing the eyes—I knew, even while dreaming them up, that the clear light of day would mark those actions as silly. So I decided to move on with the piece and return, should there be time before the screaming of the alarm, to revise.

I continued:

And then there is the issue I decided in the dream against pursuing: the notion that a lifetime’s collection of books could be left in a public place, unguarded, without fear of theft, that the college personnel in charge of Fagan’s office upgrade understood her books to be without value. I don’t say that as judgement but as fact: had she a cartload of iPhones, for example, would they have been left unattended? (As it turned out, Kathy’s books were left out for days, while her flooring was replaced.) But I decided against pursuing that line of thought, mainly because I dreaded being schooled by some economist or data analyst who, in the dream, reminded me of positive psychologists. I thought briefly that I might be confusing positive with positivist, but something must have convinced me that I did indeed mean positive because I set aside my concern and continued:

I texted Professor Fagan-Grandinetti: “Rdng yr wrk in my intro cw class-wanna visit?”

She texted back: “Fckn A.”

I’d assigned my class five of Fagan’s poems: “Charm to Avoid Dying a Second Time,” “Ontology and the Platypus,” “‘There’s just one little thing: a ring. I don’t mean on the phone,’” “To a Reader,” and “Road Memorial,” which was first published, as it happens, right here in the Kenyon Review. I type it out it in its entirety:

Road Memorial


The crucifix bent nearly parallel

to earth, the plastic cherubs poised, mid-lim-

bo, under each arm of the cross’s T


were meant to make the unseen visible:

X marks the spot where Jesus called our Jim-

bo home, and were erected solemnly,


in prayer, while semis shuddered half a mile

away and small things moved inside the berm

grass. They were not then the sorry junk we see,


ephemera nodding toward eternity,

til nodding off completely, once and for all.

The highway is a public place and we,


a people dying for a sign. Simple-

ton angels posed in imbecile poses: some-

one thought they’d keep the lost one company,


like giving to a fussy child a doll

to help it sleep, to dream the pleasant dreams

of the oblivious. And look! A teddy


bear for Baby, wreath for Mom, and twistied

to the fence they raised when Junior jumped

the overpass, helium balloons.


This crap from Wal-Mart could outlast us all,

which in our grief is no small com-

fort, since death lasts so much longer, and has no form.


To be continued.