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[Readings]

Intellectual Property

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From For Now, which will be published this month by Yale University Press as part of the Why I Write series. A version of the essay was delivered at Yale last year.

In 2015, I had a conversation with a man named Chris. He was an agent for archives and he said, well what do you got, and I told him about the notebooks dating back to 1960 and all the posters from readings and performances and the videotapes. Any pictures. Well. Yeah, though it’s kind of weird and I told him how I had a collection of archival photographs of myself and Andrei Voznesensky on a couch as he was putting the moves on me; Adrienne Rich and I hugging at some reading; captioned photos of me by Allen Ginsberg; and even outtakes from the Mapplethorpe shoot. But I don’t know where they are. There’s this box and then I described the poems in binders in the milk crate. It’s weird I said but I’m not sure where those two things are. I mean I’ve got to have them. I think they are either in my New York storage space or I guess I still have one storage unit in San Diego. A place called Big Box. I smirked. He was not interested in the details.

He paused for a moment, sipping his drink. He was thinking about the box with the binders. Or maybe it was the photos. Now he looked up at me. In my business, he said, we call a box like that the gusher.

I talked on the phone with a psychic tarot reader from Tucson. She said the box was very close. I just had to write a letter and send it to everyone who ever came in contact with the box in the time it was traveling with me. People were heartbroken. Are you sure it wasn’t in your apartment. Are you sure it isn’t in hers. My girlfriend had a big old apartment she grew up in. It was kind of a railroad. There was this hall she called the closet, but it was more like a long clothes rack with very high shelves. I went to a psychic in New York and he told me she had it. She may not have known she had it. I asked her and she said she was very sorry but she would never lie about something like that.

I talked to a hypnotist who said she saw something green like a lamp, something high. No, actually she led me into a hypnotic state, and I looked around up there and that’s what I saw. There was that apartment I took in L.A. before I left. I had it for about three days and then I asked for my check back. I was moving to New York. They had this weird storage space that was actually right on the street and I remembered locking and unlocking it and I am pretty sure the box was right in there. I remember talking to some comedian who lived there after me and he said I’m sorry I don’t have it.

I have so many theories.

Bedbugs. My girlfriend had had them a couple of times in her building so when she saw the bloodstains on the side of the mattress she freaked. It was our blood. We did a giant purge of the apartment. Putting things in trash bags, getting the place sprayed, and then throwing out a ton of stuff. Her building had one of those cement dungeons right below the street where you dropped your trash and we filled that entire dungeon with black bags. She had this extra mom because her own mom had been irresponsible and this woman named Sally helped us clean and lug the mess down. I mean if you date a significantly younger person, especially if you are the same age as her parents and her parents’ friends, it’s like you’re John Wayne Gacy. So I find it very easy to imagine Sally sliding my box into a trash bag and throwing it out. And why not the second one too. This is the kind of thing that makes you entirely paranoid. She was a nice woman. She wouldn’t do that. Who knows. Few people really care that much.

The second psychic said he didn’t find things but he knew somebody who did and would give me their number. But then he got cancer. And then he got better. He was pretty good. By then I was as much asking about the woman I was dating as anything else. And this was somebody else. I wrote a pilot about the box because she said if I didn’t, she would. So I did and I showed it to her and she said the format was wrong. I got busy and the next time I talked to psychics and astrologers they didn’t think the box was close anymore.

It became my thing and it’s been my thing now for probably ten years. I mostly don’t tell people. I went to Palestine in 2017 on a tour of five cities with American and British writers, several of Middle Eastern extraction and a few Jews. In Palestine I met writers and lawyers and human-rights people and every night we read our work. I was at this party one night in Ramallah and I just spontaneously started telling this filmmaker, a woman about my age—I figured she’d get it and she laughed and said it’s gone and it’s wonderful. Somebody else will find it. It’s not your problem anymore.

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September 2020