“I’ve realized,” I write, “the Groucho Marx of the mind is chaos personified. The Groucho Marx of *my mind *was chaos, I revise and already think I should revise again – “you never know where you’ll end up,” I think, of me and of Groucho. Either way, Groucho Marx came to me in a thought when I was thinking about a poem I will not finish, that would have been about him. “We were just four jews looking for a laugh,” Groucho says at least twice – once when he was alive and once now as I invoke him – the heavy glasses, the synonymous greasepaint lip, the cigar – lit, with smoke that surrounds and engulfs me, threads tangibly through the air, through my eyes, and through the insides of my sinus densely, like mossy Eldritch Horrors and old movies somehow without stopping my vision. He has a mouth but it doesn’t move, he is not alive – instead he is a ghost, instead he is dead but standing there, with me, in space lighted from within – space that’s white like the smoke – thickly. Among all this, a ghost in a black suit. At least, I think the suit is black, or bluing black. It is tinged with 50 years of rotting celluloid, and paired with a white button up underneath – no tie.
Growing up all five of them were poor, very poor – so poor they were Jewish-in-New-York-in-the-early-1900s poor. Forced outside of the world, into their world from birth, while their mother, Big Duck, put them up to instruments and got them begging early – vaudeville was their daddy after all (“after all” being a refrain in the poem I’ll never finish, repeated like a mantra – after all! after all! after all! after all!– in that text, and used like a drug – afterall – and always driving deathward to an end that never came and can’t, after all is written down) – with the jokes they told and sang and played, on their piano, harp, and banjo, all the time – and here is how she learnt how well Chico could play the piano, and how well Harpo could play the harp. And how poorly little Groucho played the banjo. The shame she felt, the shame she must have felt – but here my poem consumes them, because I am already sure that childhood is wrought with fear of birth order, sure as I am that middle children lack something, and maybe have something for that lack, but It’s me, not Groucho, that takes over, saying Groucho was the obvious middle child, and of course lacked Big Duck’s approval – Big Duck hated the banjo strumming and myriad puns he threw, I say – puns being a part of the poem, the poem which would have (but never) ended on Groucho ducking soup. I wanted it all as a joke and still do, but who will disappoint? Who could? There are options – Groucho, myself, the poem, etc. all working poorly. It is hard to imagine the lack that would culminate in a poet – maybe this gap is wider than a middle child – writing three brothers into a brawl, cartoonish in the streets. May be even harder to imagine the discontent and fear at work inside a child of five – birthing chaos. Maybe I misspoke – I can not know, I am not a child of five.
Groucho is dead, is still standing in front of me expectantly, not moving. Right in front of me when again I hear his voice – reanimate and filtered through a phonograph – weakly rising above it’s own eroded texture – “I was misquoted, I was misquoted… Quote me as saying, ‘I was misquoted.’” I wanted his life entropically spinning this place, spinning throughout this place, a ghost – to live forever is to die forever in every gaunt lie, misquote after misquote re-shaping our dead selves until grotesqueries we never intended are held comfortably under our name. Groucho, aimless, escapes because he pre-empts – he uses his whole self to decimate his cultural body, to save the self he’s sacrificed. Groucho means to become a void, or Groucho becomes a void more correctly – Groucho means nothing, can only mean nothing, because he’s focused his words – his self – around his lack – the words’ lack. Because the words always lack, and Groucho is all words. I see him take out the greasepaint container, which is in a shoe-polish-looking canister, and then I lose Groucho again to facts – he was the outsider using words to one up them. I see his wit like a weapon. His being in Hollywood was a stress on Hollywood’s peace of mind. I see him tearing balsa wood from up under the street and chucking it into styrofoam towers, which crumble. I see the SUVs that swerved to pass him run into walls, deflating the cars and the walls while the drivers run screaming with ketchup pulsing from the real wounds in their necks. This is where my poem was – more or less. My poem had Groucho gleeful – “Groucho skips, Groucho skips, Groucho skips,” it said, “down the streets throwing rocks at cars…” – the melodies of my naive poem’s schoolboy nihilisms never broke enough – “In Groucho’s perfect world every day would be spent disrupting traffic, smashing bugs and pissing everywhere,” it said because it was too young to understand, because it had no void, and could offer no revolt from meaning – revolution being radical agency expressed through violence against every order, hatred for every structure including itself – in Groucho’s perfect world really there is no language and no one knows what happens after all.
Lingering is the thought that Groucho means something – lingering is the vaguest, most insistent and warlike imprint of a metaphor on Groucho’s face, ineffably moving me to continue but Groucho is no friend, and Groucho is not with me, because the Groucho of the mind is not Groucho, Groucho hates the mind, and Groucho negates all possible Groucho’s so the imprint is not Groucho’s. The ghost is a misquote, the poem is a misquote, the letters are a misquote, I am a misquote – and this is a misquote too. His cigar (growing bigger) is puffing out that white cloud smoke but still I can see him – the smoke just goes into the space around us, the space that redacts and recreates itself every time I consider it – a copy of an 18th copy, with only Groucho remaining in all iterations, like the borders of a decomposed jpeg quietly losing logic. Groucho the lie, Groucho the memory – a man shaped around the falsity of metaphor and language – floats, as subject, through my memory – punctum with no point, void. Here he is – naked, a stark black silhouette I’d never claim. He’s staring, but he’s not staring at me because I’m not there. What’s left is overstated nothing – the ghost of a man who negated logic, left in the mind of a poet who has long since given up on the man, and soon will give up on the poem.”
There is nothing left here. I am alone, I am dizzy – overcome with boredom. I want to say, “Groucho is not here, was not, cannot be here” – I know instead I need to end on a mute point.
Jesi Gaston lives in Oberlin, Ohio, where they go to school. It’s alright. They have a .pdf, Crocs’ Bible, on gauss-pdf. They’re also on Twitter @wethie