Thanks to those who have been attending the production of this work. The idea was to create a cycle of 14 sonnets all pertaining to New Orleans or my relationship thereto, and having the word "decadence" (or an approximation thereof) appear in the xth line of the xth sonnet. Let x = x. I discovered to my dismay that I placed that appearance in the wrong line of two sonnets (Variations 9 and 10) and forgotten entirely about it in one, and so had to make rigorous amends—which in at least one case degraded the sonnet as originally writ. Phooey. Also, some of the writing didn't even wander near New Orleans proper, but in mental environs thereof, like my relationship with maestro_live
, which was in considerable part forged there. Still, I like the cycle as a whole, and it manages to do some tricks that I like.
Obviously this is patterned on J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations; though the latter consisted of 32 pieces in all (mine are only 14), with the 'Aria da capo e fine' being a verbatim repeat of the opening Aria (mine is not). As we all know :) every third variation on Bach's set is a canon—that is, the melody of the pieces is strictly and universally mirrored, usually a half-measure or measure behind its first statement. In the first canon, 'all'Unisuono' (on the unison), the melody is played in precisely the same key, so the notes are precisely the same; in the second canon, 'alla Seconda', the melody is mirrored one note higher (on the second); and so forth.
For this cycle, I included three 'canons' marked by internal rhymes, irrespective of the line-final rhymes; in the first, the rhymes appear on the same beats in adjacent lines; in the second, the rhymes in any given line are one beat behind their appearance in the previous line; and so forth.
There are at least three anagrams of 'decadence' in the sonnets. One reference is done in acronym.
Variation 4 is a whirlwind selection of greatest hits from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana
Variation 5 ends with a paraphrase of the most famous saying of Julian of Norwich
, 14th century Christian mystic, previously quoted by T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding
Variation 7 (the first sonnet in the second half), like Bach's #17, is marked "Overture" and is irregular. The first half of Bach's piece is
ornate and stately and the second half is a quick-metered dance piece... not quite
a jig, but close... all in all, a typical high-baroque overture movement (cf. overtures by Handel and other contemporaries to oratorios, orchestral suites, etc.). The sonnet structure, which places an evenly divided sestet in the middle, reflects this unusual structure.
Variation 10 is a wanton mutilation of the latter half of Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, leading into the beginning of his scene with Ophelia.
Variation 11 came along yesterday when I sang in St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church... apparently this particular Sunday was all about "the exaltation of the holy cross" and one of the numbers we sang was a setting of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", a lyric I had sung as a child in a completely different (Protestant) setting. I giggled in the choir loft when the pun occurred to me.
Variation 12, like the last Bach variation, is marked 'Quodlibet'; this term, commandeered by the Grateful Dead for a track on Aoxomoxoa
, from the Latin 'quod libet' or 'as one likes it', in music is the Renaissance/baroque equivalent of a mashup: a composition that superimposes two or more (usually popular) songs on each other, fitting melodies into similar harmonies... kinda like 'Here Comes Santa Claus' and 'Ain't We Got Fun' smoosh together perfectly, for a while, at least. My version simply cites two popular songs (and alludes obliquely to at least one more).
Most of the fifth line of the Aria da capo directly quotes e.e. cummings's sonnet 'next to of course god america i'.A DECADENCE CYCLEAria
In one curt breath, my decadence has jelled
To rank despondency; to think that I,
Your stalwart devotee, am thus expelled,
With fiercest hurry, canes me, drains me dry;
And yet you laugh, insouciant, so soon
After my ignominious retreat?
O fickle strumpet! Must I importune
To taste again your pleasures indiscreet?
Resolved am I to rest your faithful swain,
Head up, ears cocked, awaiting patiently
Your clarion call, your siren-sweet refrain!
Then every cock that crows shall crow for me:
Your beck and call I'll hasten hence to heed
And gladly to your every end accede.Variatio 1
The furies, with a fickle attitude
By decadence and dearth divided, sing
Of this, my tiny, amber pinkie ring,
Give to me by my sunshine, a postlude
To days remembered halcyon, honeydewed—
Forgetting willfully the daily sting
That love, however deeply felt, can bring
When every other word is misconstrued.
This ring—rather, its like—served as a token
Of love too soon, too carelessly proffered:
What did I say that evening? What was heard
And understood? Three little words misspoken?
From there, how did we get so badly broken?
Since when do furies feed on the absurd?Variatio 2
you ever have colcannon, made
With lovely, pickled cream? A tasty dish,
Though not as decadent as it's portrayed
In song and lore. If I were given a wish
To live anew a day already spent
And spend it in precisely the same way,
That day would be the Thursday that you sent
A present, half fruit basket, half bouquet,
To me, care of the Sherry on Canal.
I must have played that song 'Colcannon' by
Full Frontal Folk a hundred times—and shall
A hundred more when my said wish comes true!
And, sure enough, the nearer I'm to cry:
That day was all and all because of you.Variatio 3. Canone all'Unisuono
I’d stayed up far too late the previous night
And played with Jim and Peter from Lafitte.
(Jim’s legs were quite delectable, but Pete—
A jealous lad: undecadent, uptight.)
Around eight bells I woke up in mid-flight
And found this swell’s leg in the middle seat
Pressed hard against my own; and my own meat
Was ardently full-boner, in plain sight
Outgrabing* in my Daisy Dukes for air!
My neighbor seems unfazed as I grab root
And wrest my cock loose of its prison chains,
Hard as a rock. He fondles his with care,
Then maybe—fuck yeah!—plays with mine! I shoot,
And grab a sock to wipe what jizz remains.Variatio 4
O Fortune, ever changing like the moon!
Once rife with flowing locks, I'm going bald;
Where shopkeep's rouge once made young sailors swoon,
These days they're uniformly just appalled.
The winter's fled and Ecce gratum spring—
Which lasts four hours until the blazing sun
Reduces all mankind to sweltering.
So to the nearest public house we run
To drink with popes and eat of roasted swan
And let the nasty abbot get us nude,
And love flies everywhere but sticks upon
A virgin, which c'mon, that's fucking rude.
O Fortune, always, like the moon, in flux,
Now waxing fair, now waning cruel: life sucks.Variatio 5
The daylight is just softening to gold
As I return from cock/tails at Lafitte's
Through calm, familiar blocks two centuries old
All pointing me back to French Quarter Suites.
A poolside open bar is underway
And on the deck a dense morass of men—
In swim- or birthday suits—gyrate and play
And madly bless New Orleans yet again.
Maestro is holding court—he's had a few
And so exudes that confidence, that smile
He all too rarely dons; he flirts with two
Young twinkie types, who certainly beguile,
But nothing more. No matter. All is well,
And all is well, and all things shall be well.Variatio 6. Canone alla Seconda
Should we have lunch at Acme Oyster Bar?
Or maybe Felix? Either one will do.
We never stray to see the sights too far:
Café du Monde beignets, or tea for two—
Long Island iced, if hijinx sway our will!
We'll shop the mile on Bourbon, Chartres, Royal,
tur; flop a while at Clover Grill
For fries and shakes; then stop and smile (and spoil)
The sly old gals down at the Coffee Pot,
Whereat we try lost bread and eggs sardou
And grub like that. Says I, This place is not
A tourist hub like Pat O'Brien's. —True,
Says he, They're more like stubborn cats in here...
But stray with me: the corner pub's got beer.Variatio 7. Ouverture
Ornate and stately, high above the street,
The balconies that greet these curious lads
Are masked like Mardi Gras, making discreet
The acts of young men moping in kneepads.
It's all a strange, baroque negotiation,
A hunt for high-grade genes that won't get used.
I'm just about to make my fond farewells...
But then the decadence, like music, swells—
My knees are insufficiently contused
And, frankly, I could use one more libation.
This one is drunk, and prob'ly straight. No matter.
He's begging to be pantsed... Yep, he a pig.
I pause for pleasantries, but he spurns chatter:
Shut up and play another fucking jig.Variatio 8
When first unto this hallowed ground I came,
I'd heard some tales, drunk from a plastic cup
Marked "Krewe d'Etat"; I knew plain beads were lame
But flash the fancy ones and shirts go up
And pants come down: this much in the abstract
I understood at my first Mardi Gras;
But for the moral turpitude I lacked
Sufficient words. (I settled on 'Huzzah'.)
'Come back for Decadence,' said Kim, our host,
'It's just like this, except it's gay.' I did,
And sure enough, that weekend was the most
Licentious fun I'd ever had. The kid
In me still rues the fact he never knew
About this place back when. And I do, too. Variatio 9. Canone alla Terza
It's clear that I'm a lousy human being
Whose only goal's a cheerful time at play;
I've tumbled down a donut hole, unseeing,
Unfeeling for the numb-struck, drowned array,
The shattered lives, the stealing government
(A slimy hoodlum that contrives to nick
The poor man's last saved dime; who would consent
To blow this burg offshore, to blast it quick,
If such would earn him dough), this purgatory,
Decedents' kin—I much prefer no glimpse
Of flooded wards, no seedy sinful stories—
Cutthroats, crackheads, whores, bloody swords, and pimps.
My mast stays when all boats have fled the port,
To espouse each new disaster, then ignore't.Variatio 10.
With a bare bod I make more than quietus,
To grunt and sweat—who wouldn't for dis bear?
But for the dread that something that he ate is
Coming in for a landing, I'd stay there
All day! Such undiscover'd country makes
Me rather keep the bear I have than fly
To others that I know not of. Land sakes,
His native hue alone can make me cry!
I suckled o'er his pole and enter'd praise
The moment his great pith subsuméd me:
Cub, in thy orifice my deca-days
And nights of giddy lust rememb'réd be.
I leave you now with beads, my last, best string.
Don't say I never gave you anything.Variatio 11.
When I survey the wondrous cross, I feel akin,
As I myself am wondrous cross most every day,
Especially about Grant Storm's most deadly sin:
Trying to moralize my favorite fête away.
This asshole (whom I wouldnae fuck with Limbaugh's cock;
A red-hot branding iron, though, would be ideal)
Sent naughty videos collected by his 'flock'
To Looziana lawmakers with an appeal
That they might institute a public morals law
(That one was on the books already was ignored)
Whose Puritan effects had just begun to thaw
When Cousin 'Trina wrought Dec-vengeance from the LORD
Therefore I ask you, brethren, to embrace our loss
And join in exaltation of the wholly cross.Variatio 12. Quodlibet
When Joni sang to us that we were stardust, golden,
And billion year old carbon, how so did she mean?
As poignant as they are, these thoughts hardly embolden
Belief in paradise as YHWH's garden green.
When Leonard Cohen sings of Isaac on the altar,
He cannot help invoke the LORD
's psychotic streak:
The architect of Eden also made Gibraltar,
And placed Neanderthal upon the very peak.
What garden, then, befits our present human state
(Is this the age of grace in Memphis, Tennessee)?
And did the subtle serpent really seal our fate?
Is Pandora to blame? Did Kronos set us free?
Did Eve cause Adam's death? Each new-made choice erases
An infinite array of unknown airs and graces.Aria da capo e fine
The decade, century, millennium
Of love has fruited, fallen, and decayed
While on a gimcrack, gilt proscenium
We walking shadows strut, and fret, and fade,
And are no more. What of it? That our breath
Lasts but a moment is a tiresome trope:
Are we made worthless by the fact of death?
Perhaps we are, but—whoops, I dropped the soap!
I'd better pick it up... Ah, there we go!
Some folk, my love, know only inner joys,
The pleasures of self-knowledge; but we know
That life is lame that lacketh lithesome boys:
Thereto next Labor Day I'll hie me hence
To suckle at the teat of Decadence.
*Yes, I'm fully aware this should be 'outgribing'.