Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fear and Loathing

For Hunter, without whose work I might not have bothered. I always lamented your end, all the more so because of the times it has also been in my head.

You were there for me
in the days before I verbalized
my own identity.
Your words were always providing
a cool balm for burned feelings,
vitriolic oil over feelings still burning,
and a sense of honesty
beyond what I had a hope of experiencing
in my interactions with the people around me.

I heard from others about how your tactical tantrums
were attention seeking expositions. They seemed to think
that the only reason for my believing in your prose
was because I admired your antics and liked your clothes,
but those imitations and admirations were never about your presentation,
and they weren't about believing in the party you were living,
they were an expression of solidarity
with the despair that seeped
so obviously
from every word you've ever written.

Long lonely days spent skipping between gonzo episodes
immersing myself in trashy consumerist daydreams
and real, passionate argument about the perpetuation
of real estate racism in 1950s Missouri
showed me that the depth of your feeling was real,
and that the performance you so deftly delivered
was the sleight of hand that allowed people to believe
that your descriptions of corrupt politicians
with their gaping maw and predilection for cheap bourbon
were anything other than literal depictions.

You wore the jester's hat and made us think that your face was his mask,
but I have never before seen anyone so given
over to the performance
of an absolutely mad, impossible cultural tradition
and the deeper lesson of your life is the desolation
that this kind of existence
brought to your home life, your first wife, and your children.
I do not hate you for their sake,
but your dedication to the kind of short-term gratification
that was tearing apart our national character
had to be hard for them to take,
even if they understood the reasons
for the destruction left in your wake.

It must have
been difficult
to see graft
and laugh.
Your personal
letters and journals
reveal anger
at all those
who benefit
from its trap.

I've heard from people you directly touched
that this performance cost you so, so much
and that your chemical cocktail made it
impossible to tell
when you were on and when you were not.
I think that the very framing of that version of your life
misses out on your greatest sacrifice.
Your burden was to be the worst of all our vanities
so that we could see the need to remake our cultural identity
and the decade following your passing
has called attention to the truth's bitterest pill,
that you failed completely, but that it was not due to a lack of will.