Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Roberto Calasso, _Tiepolo Pink_

I HAVE NEXT to no interest in the 18th century Italian painter Giambattista Tiepolo, but I'll follow a favorite writer anywhere. I even read David Foster Wallace's book on Georg Cantor….

Calasso is a kind of scholar-at-large, I guess. He does not seem to have any academic affiliation or speciality or even field--he has written about literature, painting, politics, mythology, and religion with equal finesse. He seems extraordinarily well-read but carries it lightly; he's the perfect example of writerly sprezzatura, able to write gracefully and illuminatingly about any topic to which he turns. We in the U. S. A. have no one like him. (Sontag came close.)

Calasso emphasizes that Tiepolo comes from the era right before painters were expected to scorn patronage and instead fiercely, uncompromisingly pursue their own vision, etc. Tiepolo was grateful to his patrons and prided himself on skillful execution of whatever their program was; he was a pro, we could say, in the last cultural moment before that became fatally uncool.

But Calasso also makes the case that Tiepolo left his particular sensibility right below the surface in everything he did. At the heart of this argument is Calasso's careful disentangling, in the second of the book's three long essays, of the iconological puzzles in the series of etchings Tiepolo titled Capricci and Scherzi. Calasso finds Tiepolo had his own program after all, discernible, once we know what it is, in the mythological paintings, the Antony and Cleopatra paintings, the famous Four Continents frescos.

How persuasive would any of this be to an actual art historian? No idea. Wallace's Cantor book imparted to me all sorts of notions about calculus that, in later conversation with actual mathematicians, turned out to be eccentric.

But that hardly bothers me--reading Calasso is too great a pleasure to relinquish, whatever snorts he may excite in professional academics.  For instance, loved his revision of Walter Pater on the Mona Lisa when he writes of the beautiful, fair-haired young woman that shows up in painting after painting by Tiepolo--

Four years after Palazzo Labia, Tiepolo's Cleopatra moved to Würzburg. She became Beatrice of Burgundy and she had to marry Frederick Barbarossa. She did not change her hairdo, with large pearls braided into her hair, worn drawn back at the forehead and gathered up into a sumptuous bun. She knew perfectly well what suited her best. As for colors, she stuck to the golden yellow she had already used in various rehearsals for the meeting with Antony. And above all she couldn't forgo the tall ribbed ruff, which encircled her neck so well and plunged down as far as her bosom. Even though this time, kneeling before the altar, she could not leave her breasts bare, as happened at the banquet with Antony. As for the rest, she knows she is the very same woman who had been Cleopatra and one day would be Venice--and, centuries before, she had been Pharaoh's daughter who saved Moses from the waters., All these appearances suit her equally well and are simultaneous, all refer to the same full and opulent phase of her beauty. There is only one detail she cannot do without: she always wears a choker around her neck, a single string of large pearls. But she does change her earrings: at her wedding with Barbarossa there reappear two large baroque pearls, which she had not used since Antony's day. Who knew if someone would notice? By then, a lot of time had gone by.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kate Atkinson, _Life after Life_

THIS WAS OUR June selection in the book club. Atkinson is a best-selling novelist who also gets shortlisted for prestigious prizes (the Women's Prize for Fiction, in this novel's case), so she seemed worth a shot.

Atkinson is swift and skillful in establishing her premise without any clumsy exposition--the premise being that, as in Groundhog Day or Run, Lola, Run, her protagonist gets do-overs, though not for a particular day or a particular episode, but rather for her whole life. It's not quite like classic reincarnation into a series of lives, though, as she keeps starting over on the same day, 11 February 1910, always as the third child, second daughter of an upper-middle-class English family.

Ursula Todd dies within minutes in her first go (cord wrap), but in successive attempts keeps managing to live a little longer. It takes her three attempts to get past the devastating influenza epidemic of 1918-19, but she eventually does.

Ursula's internalizations of the lessons she is learning in order to live a little longer seem unconscious at first, just impulses. For example, she has an urge, origin unknown, to push a maid down some stairs, and this accident prevents the maid from going up to London for the November 1918 victory celebrations, thus she does not bring the flu back to the house.

As her attempted lives accumulate, though, Ursula begins to get more precise ideas of the best way to use her years, and so arrives at the plan of living her life so as to be in a position to assassinate Hitler before his becoming German Chancellor in 1933, thus preventing World War II.

The assassination attempt occurs in the very first chapter, before we know anything of the premise of the novel, posing a puzzle for the reader. How are we going to get to this scene when Ursula keeps dying various ways without ever getting to Germany? Well, we do get there, and so we have a repeat of the assassination near the very end of the book...except the two accounts of the assassination attempt have different dates, one month apart. So she must have tried at least twice. Did she kill Hitler either time?  Did killing him prevent the war, or not?

Actually, we never find out. I found that a little frustrating. Nor does Atkinson make any attempt to explain whether the lives all co-exist in some sort of multi-verse way, or one of the lives becomes the keeper. (Perhaps it's just as well left unexplained, as it is hard to imagine what a satisfying explanation would sound like.) In at least one of the lives, Ursula's beloved younger brother survives the war, at least, which is gratifying. We also get an intriguing hint that other members of her family can do the same do-over trick.

But what I particularly liked about the novel was the theme that our choices make a difference. Even though we do not get mulligans on our lives, we do get choices, and the idea that it behooves us to take them seriously lends some gravity to the book's premise.

Jack Gilbert, _Collected Poems_ (2)

HAVING ENJOYED MY tour through the collected Gilbert, I started wondering how active an influence he is in contemporary American poetry. He never seemed to be making any effort to influence; after a splashy arrival as a Yale Younger Poet and (as Carla Blumenkranz has reminded us) one of Gordon Lish's protégées, he tended to lie low. One gets the feeling that poets of succeeding generations read him, though. At least, his name comes up when I talk to under-40s--not as often as, say, Jack Spicer's, but more often than, say, Hayden Carruth's.

But I wouldn't say I hear Gilbert in the poetry of the under-40s, the way one can often hear Tate or Ashbery.

Still...is there a way to be an inaudible, invisible influence? There are great poets who make terrible influences--Yeats, Eliot, Lowell, Berryman, Dickinson, Hopkins--because their voices are so distinctive that one can't sound like them without sounding too like them, I think, without seeming to be too deeply within their shadow.

There are other poets--I am going to go with Elizabeth Bishop as prime example here, but I think George Herbert as well, George Oppen...maybe even Pound, odd as that sounds--from whom one can learn a great deal about poetic energy, whose tactics are acquirable, whose example can be profitably absorbed without overwhelming the influenced poet's voice.

I think Gilbert might be one of those.  He does, as David Orr mentioned in his view of this book, have his favorite stage properties, the sea, the moon, light, but these are hardly exclusive trademarks; likewise, his tendency to make pronouncements is widely enough shared that dropping in a few "We..." statements wouldn't strike anyone as borrowing from Gilbert.

A lot of what he typically does well are just good moves--the surprising turn that ends up making perfect sense, the quick hop from colloquial looseness to terminological precision, the balance of honesty and tact. You could learn a lot from Gilbert without ever too sharply resembling him.  I hope poets keep reading him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jack Gilbert, _Collected Poems_ (1)

I THINK I bought this about the time he died--it hadn't been out long. I had read Refusing Heaven about the time it came out and had vague plans to read some of his other poetry, but had not gotten around to it, so a collected edition plus his passing seemed to be a fitting occasion.  I actually opened it about a year ago and just got to the last page today.

A few years ago, Cole Swenson and David St. John published an anthology called American Hybrid, collecting examples of narrative/representational poets who were capable of going to their left towards avant-garde experimentation, and avant-garde poets who were capable of going to their right towards narration and description. Gilbert was not in the anthology--it mainly included poets younger than he--but he might have deserved a place in it, I think.

His main orientation is traditional enough, certainly. His rhythms recall iambic pentameter (without strictly following it).  His syntax is largely conventional. Fidelity to his experiences and perceptions seems to matter: "I embarrass myself working so hard / to get it right even a little" ("Doing Poetry"). He is always ready to sum everything up in a sweeping third-person statement. "Our lives happen between / the memorable," for instance ("Highlights and Interstices"), or "We go hungry / amid the giant granaries / this world is" ("The Danger of Wisdom").

This last tendency is the most dated thing about his work, perhaps. He'll go vatic on you at the drop of a hat, sometimes in ways that make you want to ask who exactly this supposedly all-inclusive "we" is. Too often, it only means men roughly his own age and background. Women seem to be another kind of creature entirely.

Thing is, he can also make fun of this very device. "Music Is in the Piano Only When It Is Played" stacks one "we" statement atop another for twenty lines, to a point past annoyance, then Gilbert shifts gears abruptly--

He continues past the nunnery to the old villa
where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides
touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,
which is the difference between silence and windlessness.

Suddenly all the "we" statements are revealed as an older man showing off a bit, unable to shut up, until his surroundings finally get through to him and he falls quiet.

Sometimes the shifts are so quick and so apparently unmotivated that he seems to be approximating some aleatory process, or at least not bothering about linearity at all. "A Man in Black and White," for instance, takes so many sharp switchbacks that it could almost be Ashbery. Then there is the way the name "Pittsburgh" (where he grew up) gradually stops sounding like the name of a place and more like a kind of being:

          Is it because
Pittsburgh is still tangled in him that he
has the picture on his wall of God's head
torn apart by jungle roots?

But a poet does not have to be avant-garde to be worth reading, after all. Gilbert is a master of his own music and stayed true to his vision. What else can one ask? And then there are the times when the sweeping "we" statements break in on you as all too true, maybe even helpful:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

("A Brief for the Defense")

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jonathan Chait, "Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say"

HOW FAR BEHIND the curve am I?  So far that I only last week learned about Chait's "much-discussed" piece, which appeared in January.  Katie Ryder mentioned it in her Nation review of the new collection of Renata Adler's non-fiction.

So I read it. He has a point, I suppose. Self-righteousness is always annoying. Being self-righteous about other people's self-righteousness can be a bit annoying, too.

The only thing in the piece that really surprised me, though, was that Chait thinks the first era of P.C. ended in 1992, with the election of Bill Clinton. What?

As someone who has been working on a campus continuously since 1992, I would say the kind of attention people were being asked to pay to their own speech and behavior circa 1985-1990 just became the new normal. Some nuances have been added since 1990, and will probably continue to be added, but everyone from university presidents on down got clued in over the last 25 years and simply adjusted. The old P.C. didn't go away; it just became the new prevailing etiquette, and no one was all that terribly inconvenienced.

Which goes to show that the P.C. advocates were not asking that much, I would say. Likewise it will take a while for people to get used to fine-tuned ways of referring to gender identification nuances. But they will, and in a while it will seem natural enough. So why get one's knickers in a twist, Mr. Chait?

Even the "micro-aggression" concept is actually useful, I think. I do worry about what will happen once our evangelical Christian students get ahold of it, though. They're on the receiving end of their share.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Leslie Jamison, _The Empathy Exams_

EVER SINCE MONTAIGNE, it has been the essayist's prerogative to be concerned first and foremost with his or her own circumstances and experiences, and most contemporary essayists take the fullest possible advantage of it, even seeing their personal history as a synecdoche of the story of their generation, of their nation, of civilization.

Jamison (in this somewhat reminiscent of Orwell and Didion) takes the relatively novel approach of being interested in the lives of others: people who have (think they have) the possibly-real-possibly-not Morgellons disease, people who go on insanely arduous endurance runs, people who used to go on endurance runs but are in prison for slack observance of mortgage regulations (this guy is in jail, and everyone from Goldman Sachs is free?), the West Memphis Three.

She is interested not only in the lives of others, but also in the nature of the interest we take in the lives of others, hence the theme of empathy that inhabits the whole book as well as the title essay. It's a phenomenon she can subject to an unusual degree of honesty and scrutiny. Of the documentaries about the West Memphis Three she writes:

...some part of me enjoyed these films. I didn't enjoy what was happening, but I enjoyed who I was while I was watching  them. It offered evidence of my own inclination toward empathy.

The book has two pieces (its first and final essays) that might become classics. In "The Empathy Exams," Jamison writes of being a medical actor, pretending to be a person with certain symptoms to test medical students both on their diagnostic skills and on their ability to summon up what will register as genuine human feelings for their patients. In other words, she performs in order to elicit a certain kind of performance, and in this instance the audience gets graded on how well they responded to the performance. This is all interesting enough--when Jamison juxtaposes it with the careful attention she gives to her boyfriend's response to her real ailments, we end up with one of the most memorable essays I've read in years.

"Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain" exemplifies the book's ability to combine self-examination with imaginative apprehension of others' lives. Jamison has enough of her own pain to keep an essay rolling--eating disorder and cutting when young, a bad breakup, getting hit in the face hard enough to suffer a broken nose (ingeniously narrated through the lens of Propp in "Morphology of a Hit"). But Jamison is just as (more, perhaps) interested in how other women have represented their pain: Lucy Grealy, Anne Carson, and quite a few of her friends.

Jamison is of a generation that grew up with representations of female pain. "I grew up under the spell of damaged sirens," she notes, "Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco, Björk, Kate Bush, Mazzy Star." Honesty and candor empower, but is there a point of diminishing returns? "How do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative?" Good question--and one we need to think about, since, as she points out, a truth spoken so often that people stop hearing it remains nonetheless true, and in need of being spoken.

"Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain" helped me think about Girls and Sheila Heti's How Can a Person Be?, which she discusses, as well as Ariana Reines and A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, which she does not but which I hope she someday will.

Really good book. Keep it going, Graywolf.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sarah Braunstein, _The Sweet Relief of Missing Children_

THE CONNECTION IS a bit remote, but Sarah Braunstein's novel kept reminding me of Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, which our book club read quite a few years ago.  In Kingsolver's novel, set in Appalachia, the narrative keeps switching among three different groups of characters; only once you are well into the novel do you have the information you need to understand how the three groups are related. The narrative strategy dovetails nicely with Kingsolver's environmental theme: things are more interconnected than we at first understand, and it takes a lot of time and observation to understand how a whole system works together.

One of the missing children in The Sweet Relief of Missing Children is Paul, bright but eccentric son of an out-of-control mother; as a teenager, he decides his best chance is to run away. In following chapters, we meet a variety of other characters with other thematically parallel child-parent issues but no other apparent connection to Paul--until the right detail drops, and we see how their stories intersect his.  It's a novel with a lot of nice "oh!' moments, comparable to those in Prodigal Summer when an unguessed-at relation pops into focus.

The other crucial missing child is Leonora, whose story occurs on a single day and is interspersed among the chapters about the vagabondage of Paul. We find out in the first of the Leonora chapters that she will be abducted, and she is, on p.275--which is the point at which I had to put the book down for three months.

I don't expect to be recommending this to the book club, because the abduction of Leonora is wrenching, but Braunstein does manage the very difficult feat of finding a moment of illumination in Leonora's final hours that comes into strange alignment with a moment of illumination that occurs to Paul and one that occurs to a stranger (not the abductor) who had talked to Leonora earlier in the day. We glimpse an idea a bit like Kingsolver's, though maybe harder to state, about the ways lives and events, even terrifying events, come together in ways that seem to point at a possibility of meaning.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Paul Trynka, _Brian Jones; The Making of the Rolling Stones_

I HAVE BEEN a fan of Paul Trynka since his Iggy Pop biography, which struck me as having found the golden mean between myth mongering and careful, fact-checking, almost inevitably diminishing journalistic investigation. Trynka did his legwork, got the interviews, figured out the timeline, compared accounts, separated the wheat from  the chaff. Yet Trynka also understood to the bone why Iggy mattered to so many of us, what his unique achievement was.

Split the difference between Hopkins's and Sugarman's No One Here Gets Out Alive--myth mongering at its most besotted--and Albert Goldman's mean-spirited Lives Of John Lennon and you are in Trynka territory. Well-researched and clear-eyed, but with a deep understanding of why we care about these musicians, foibles and all.

So, in this volume, Trynka does not bother concealing that Jones, intelligent though he was and charming though he could be, was narcissistic, selfish, lying, frequently cruel, utterly unreliable, and by the end of his career with his Stones more a liability than an asset musically (and legally, with his chain of drug busts).

But, at the same time, his was the haircut and wardrobe that every aspiring rock musician in 1966 copied. He was the first one in the Stones to be hanging out with Dylan, Warhol, Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Hendrix, Nico. The Stones were indeed, Trynka maintains, Jones's band, his vision; he defined the early attitude, set the repertoire.  He's the main reason, arguably, that the first album sounds the way it does.

Once manager Andrew Loog Oldham was in the picture, and once Oldham decided to turn Jagger and Richards into a songwriting duo, Jones was increasingly marginalized within the band, a process accelerated by the accumulated resentment against him (he could, after all, be a diabolical asshole).
Still, as Trynka points out, for a guy who reputedly was unable to write songs, Jones added distinctive bits to Jagger-Richard compositions that ended up as those songs' defining hooks and certainly worth a co-composing credit in most bands.

Can you imagine "The Last Time" without Jones' snaky, hypnotically looping guitar figure, or "Paint It, Black" without his sitar, or "Under My Thumb" without his marimba, or "Lady Jane" without his dulcimer, or "2000 Light Years from Home" without his demonic mellotron?

Mick Taylor--as many people will remind you--was a better guitarist, a virtuoso. Taylor certainly ushered in the band's live peak. But in how many Rolling Stones songs is the Mick Taylor part the part you remember first? Whereas, can you play "Ruby Tuesday" in your head without hearing Jones's recorder part?

Even when he was losing it, Jones came up with the slide guitar on "No Expectations" and the tamboura on "Street Fighting Man"--slight touches that lift those tracks into the empyrean.

I bought into Trynka's case, as you can tell. Towards the end, Trynka calls Jones "one of the most visionary musicians of the twentieth century." That seems hyperbolic to me--on the other hand, to see the pop possibilities in raunchy Chicago electric blues took a lot of vision, and Jones was interested in hybridizing rock with world music well before anyone was calling world music "world music." I don't think I would have let Brian Jones hold my wallet, but he changed the game on those early Stones records.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eimear McBride, _A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing_

GREAT BACK-STORY--young Irish woman tries for nine whole years to get her debut novel published, turned down time and time again, then the small and courageous Gallery Press takes it, and bang, it wins a whole raft of prizes.

And deserves them, too. So far as the plot goes, we are not too far from Dorothy Allison territory: our young narrator grows from girlhood to young womanhood in poverty, the corner posts of her life being a brother with what will become a fatal brain tumor, a mother given to bouts of Roman Catholic religiosity and guilt-mongering, and a sexually predatory uncle.

Stylistically, though, the novel reads more like Gertrude Stein--less like Stein's prose, though, than her poetry: staccato, hypnotically repeating, the syllables disjoining and rearranging themselves into new combinations. This sounds as though it would be very difficult to read, and probably is what discouraged all those publishers for nine years, but, actually, once you become accustomed, the movement of the language is generally swift. It would be hard to skim, true.

The novel is sad--terribly sad--but exciting in that it announces the advent of a marvelously gifted young writer.

But to talk about that sadness. For one thing, the only relief our (unnamed) narrator finds for her anger at her sexually abusive uncle, her grief over her dying brother, her frustration with her uncomprehending mother, and her guilt over all the foregoing circumstances, lies in promiscuous sexuality, with a streak of masochism in it, with a variety of strangers--and a continuing relation with the uncle as well. This all seems to be her choice.  Does that make it a legitimate choice?

I've wondered about this before (see "Fifth of Five Notes on Sheila Heti," June 11, 2013), and I am still stymied. If feminism was about empowering women to make autonomous, self-determined choices about their own lives, is a young woman who freely, autonomously chooses sexual abjection therefore somehow... empowered? That can't be right, can it? Maybe I'm just too old.

But our narrator does not seem empowered, really, given what happens at the end--or what I think happens at the end. Here we have my second problem. Certain passages of the book, especially as the brother nears death and the narrator's sexual abjection become more frantic, have a (quite appropriate) hallucinatory blur, and the action becomes harder to discern. In the closing pages...

...okay, if you are the sort of person who prefers not to know endings, you may as well stop here. Looking around on the internet last night, I noticed that none of the reviewers discuss the ending of the book, which I found frustrating, because I wasn't sure I had understood it.  Apparently there are serious taboos governing this matter.

But it seems to me (stop now or forfeit your right to complain) that the narrator drowns herself. There is a lot of going-to-the-other-side swirliness about these passages, and they are laced with phrases from W. B. Yeats's "The Stolen Child," a poem about fairies seducing/abducting a human child to leave its parents and come with them. There's also a lot of baptism imagery going on, here and elsewhere, of a bleakly ironic sort. Obviously a profound transition is occurring. But is the young woman actually committing suicide?

I may have misunderstood. Well, I will just have to wait for the Sparknotes commentary. Which is probably being prepared as I write, because this book is bound for reading lists all over this and other lands.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Roz Chast, _Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?_

MAUS, PERSEPOLIS, BLANKETS, Fun Home, Stitches, American Born Chinese, now this... is there something about the graphic form that lends itself particularly well to memoir? Why are so many of the strongest works in the emerging graphic canon non-fiction?

My guess: the fictional ones veer too easily into genre conventions of fantasy, science fiction, noir. They have a harder time escaping the gravitational pull of comic books. I like comic books, too, but....

There's always Chris Ware, though.

But here, as with the books in the list above, the blending of the painfully real with the stylization of comics-style drawing and story-telling creates an unforgettable book. We already knew from her decades of New Yorker panel cartoons that Chast was a keen-eyed but sympathetic observer of the absurdities of lives that are very, very circumscribed (by both circumstance and choice), so she is unsurprisingly good at capturing how her parents' live narrow down as their faculties fail--I was a little surprised, though, at how honest she can be as she shows herself again and again falling short of the ideal-child-of-aging-parents she wanted to be.

It's hard to be that ideal child of aging parents. Hard. What the book reveals ought not to be a surprise--at the end of things, you are still you, and your parents are still your parents--but she and many of the rest of us somehow got the idea that something epiphanic was supposed to occur. In a way, it does.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spencer Reece, _The Clerk's Tale_

I LIKED REECE'S Road to Emmaus so much that I figured this, his previous (and first) collection, was worth a try, and it's just as good--while I did not come across an individual poem that affected me quite as much as "The Road to Emmaus" did, this collection may actually be consistently stronger, in a poem-by-poem, page-by-page way.

(The auto-correct on my computer keeps assuming that by "Emmaus" I must mean "Emma's.")

As in many first collections, influences are sometimes easy to spot.  The use of anaphora in "Chiaroscuro" and "To You" recalls Eliot's "Ash Wednesday," as does the atmosphere of via negativa spirituality (also a part of The Road to Emmaus.) "Cape Cod" sounds a bit like middle period James Merrill. "Ponies" seems inspired by the very same occasion that led to James Wright's "A Blessing." (And Wright was Minnesotan, too, I think--I wonder whether Reece met him.)

The abiding presence seems to be Elizabeth Bishop, though, not just because she is mentioned by name in "Florida Ghazals" and because quite a few of the poems are set in the Keys, but also because the poems seem...whatever adjective can be formed on "Bishop." "Bishovian"? "Bishop-like"? Whatever we want to call the quality, it was wonderful to see a contemporary poet display it.

For example, Reece seems able to manage the Bishop trick of dissolving narrative into description, as in "At the Fishhouses" or "Cape Breton," where the event that occurred disappears wholly into details of the place where it occurred yet is felt in every line (see Reece's "Midnight" and "Diminuendo.") Or the Bishop of "One Art," the confessional impulse that is almost but not quite completely suppressed (see most of the poems Reece has gathered as "Addresses").

Bishop never wrote ghazals, so far as I know, but had she done so, they might have been as surprising, as nimble in switching registers, and as deft in their blending of innovation with fidelity to the tradition as Reece's are. The "Ghazals for Spring"were probably my favorite piece in the book.

Speaking of fidelity...why name the book after The Clerk's Tale? The poem of that title in Reece's volume turns out to be an account of a well-into-middle-age gay male clerk in an upscale men's clothing store, from the point of view a similarly circumstanced but somewhat younger man. So who is the Griselda here? Are we supposed to notice the patience and fidelity of the older man? Are they married, in a way? When they leave work, "Sometimes snow falls like rice." But they go in different directions, one to Minneapolis and one to St. Paul, "loosening our ties"--nice pun, by the way. Is the reference to the city of St. Paul's being "named after the man who had to be shown," an allusion to Chaucer's possible allegory about faith in the tale? I obviously have more questions than answers here.  Time for lunch.