Winter 2014-2015

Legend / Underwear Quatrains

A presentiment of mourning

Wayne Koestenbaum

“Legend” is a column by Wayne Koestenbaum in which he suggests one or more possible captions for an image provided by the editors of Cabinet.

Chopin knew the magic of the number four. Picture the sad day in Chopin’s life when he stood, wearing body-length underwear, in a Parisian doctor’s office. “My now is not your now, Herr Kant,” said Barbra, going Woody-wards, cognitively, amid room service breakfast at the sodden Carlyle. Ropes of syntax tying “thee” to “me” are sewn from A Star Is Born, a remake twine, a Kris Kristofferson self-policing thread I disavow with a foreskin’s gender-dysphoric trepidation.

O paralyzed hands of the too-clad analysand, you drive your scherzo into a wall that Hegel—whoever in Hell’s name you take Hegel to be—constructed to be more-dialectical-than-thou, a strumpet obstinacy the patient’s tired eyes call “France” because “Alsace-Lorraine” is too explicit. The guy I met this morning in the locker room had a tattoo around his left bicep—stigmata obtained in Greece, he said, because he’d liked a fake version of that tattoo and then begged the tattoo artist to make the vision permanent. The guy in the locker room said, “You fuck quickly,” though this comment responded not to anything I’d done but only to the quickness I’d hysterically evinced by asking him too demonstratively about Lebanon. Woody said to Barbra, “Your flutter tonguing in ‘Come Back to Me,’ a song you stole from Yves Montand, queerly reneges on my too-scrutinized divorce proceedings, now the stuff of Richard Prince appropriation, legends the hoi polloi can steal because, as I told Mae West before she died, ‘Vaudevillian esprit de corps could not unite the scattered limbs of a shtetl-haunted Osiris.’”

These four-pack cabinets of sentences are my envoi to envy. But can I ever say goodbye to the arrested sensation a near-naked man, or a man headed toward cruciform nudity, spreads along my spine, a frozenness—call it glaze—resembling phantom morphine, a slow-drip anesthesia, or cheap-thrills marmorealization escapade, a way of turning myself into a Vatican souvenir Pietà? The guy in the locker room complimented my gut, and because I’m not Barbra, I had no “whoso list to hunt I know where is an hind” kind of riposte to offer—I couldn’t say “Fix me, Woody, with your saber gaze, obsessive-compulsive eyeballs trained by hypotaxis not to wander too far from the shofar’s point!” And if I stand, like Adrienne Rich, helpless in the path of planetary signals (“I have been standing all my life in the / direct path of a battery of signals / the most accurately transmitted most / untranslatable language in the universe”), then who am I to argue with you, doctor, when you take the measure of that fragment resting in my underpants, a fragment supposedly undergirding a Judeo-Christian order of the Will, but actually just a tiddlywinks “biocock” of value only to the hind that fainting Wyatt’s Petrarchan arrow finds?

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