Reading: The Ghost In The Martini by Antony Evan Hecht

Anthony Evan Hecht (1923-2004) was born in New York. His parents hated his ambition to become a poet. He fought in WW II and was traumatized by te horrific accounts of the French prisoners of Flossenburg, the concentration camp his division liberated, leading to a nervous breakdown in 1959. I read soemthing light today, it’s an ode to Martini:

The ghost in the martini
Over the rim of the glass
Containing a good martini with a twist
I eye her bosom and consider a pass,
Certain we’d not be missed

In the general hubbub.
Her lips, which I forgot to say, are superb,
Never stop babbling once (Aye, there’s the rub
But who would want to curb

Such delicious, artful flattery?
It seems she adores my work, the distinguished grey
Of my hair. I muse on the salt and battery
Of the sexual clinch, and say

Something terse and gruff
About the marked disparity in our ages.
She looks like twenty-three, though eager enough.
As for the famous wages

Of sin, she can’t have attained
Even to union scale, though you never can tell.
Her waist is slender and suggestively chained,
And things are going well.

The martini does its job,
God bless it, seeping down to the dark old id.
(“Is there no cradle, Sir, you would not rob?”
Says ego, but the lid

Is off. The word is Strike
While the iron’s hot.) And now, ingenuous and gay,
She is asking me about what I was like
At twenty. (Twenty, eh?)

You wouldn’t have liked me then,
I answer, looking carefully into her eyes.
I was shy, withdrawn, awkward, one of those men
That girls seemed to despise,

Moody and self-obsessed,
Unhappy, defiant, with guilty dreams galore,
Full of ill-natured pride, an unconfessed
Snob and a thorough bore.

Her smile is meant to convey
How changed or modest I am, I can’t tell which,
When I suddenly hear someone close to me say,
“You lousy son-of-a-bitch!”

A young man’s voice, by the sound,
Coming, it seems, from the twist in the martini.
“You arrogant, elderly letch, you broken-down
Brother of Apeneck Sweeney!

Thought I was buried for good
Under six thick feet of mindless self-regard?
Dance on my grave, would you, you galliard stud,
Silenus in leotard?

Well, summon me you did,
And I come unwillingly, like Samuel’s ghost.
‘All things shall be revealed that have been hid.’
There’s something for you to toast!

You only got where you are
By standing upon my ectoplasmic shoulders,
And wherever that is may not be so high or far
In the eyes of some beholders.

Take, for example, me.
I have sat alone in the dark, accomplishing little,
And worth no more to myself, in pride and fee,
Than a cup of luke-warm spittle.

But honest about it, withal . . .”
(“Withal,” forsooth!) “Please not to interrupt.
And the lovelies went by, ‘the long and the short and the tall,’
Hankered for, but untupped.

Bloody monastic it was.
A neurotic mixture of self-denial and fear;
The verse halting, the cataleptic pause,
No sensible pain, no tear,

But an interior drip
As from an ulcer, where, in the humid deep
Center of myself, I would scratch and grip
The wet walls of the keep,

Or lie on my back and smell
From the corners the sharp, ammoniac, urine stink.
‘No light, but rather darkness visible.’
And plenty of time to think.

In that thick, fetid air
I talked to myself in giddy recitative:
‘I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live

Unto the world . . .’ I learned
Little, and was awarded no degrees.
Yet all that sunken hideousness earned
Your negligence and ease.

Nor was it wholly sick,
Having procured you a certain modest fame;
A devotion, rather, a grim device to stick
To something I could not name.”

Meanwhile, she babbles on
About men, or whatever, and the juniper juice
Shuts up at last, having sung, I trust, like a swan.
Still given to self-abuse!

Better get out of here;
If he opens his trap again it could get much worse.
I touch her elbow, and, leaning toward her ear,
Tell her to find her purse.

Shaken, not stirred. The scene of the old man flirting with the young girl is pretty obvious. When it’s interrupted by the young man ‘from the twist in the martini’, his tirade made me laugh. Silenus in leotard is a great find, Samuel’s ghost, ectoplasmic shoulders, untupped (to tup: to copulate with an ewe). The ghost from the martini, the ‘id’ of the author, keeps talking about his imprisonment and how he was neglected. He goes on and on but the odd couple ignores him, until he finally shuts up his swan-song. The alcohol abused itself: the chagrin and guilt it generates are his problem – the poet is already drunk enough to ignore the ghost that emerged from his glass. He simply proposes the girl to leave before he ‘opens his trap again’. Now he can leave that dark spirit of his past behind and go make love in a hotel room.

An entertaining poem, not too pretentious. Nothing revolutionary, just a powerful description of a bar scene that is not uncommon, involving two people differing half a life in age.