by John Olson
Monsieur Dupont tickles the air with his words. The air guffaws, releasing lather and leather, radio and radar. Tornadoes of serendipitous blossoms spill from the ecstasy of apples. Valentines of actual oxygen dance like cafeterias on the brim of Monsieur Dupont’s mind. Everything vivid and geometric drip from the ideals of his philosophy like Japanese characters dripping from a haiku.
Monsieur Dupont is a poet. He lives alone with his goldfish, his rattan furniture, his sense of symmetry and woodpecker ties, his necessity for silence and penchant for noise, his knowledge of golf and his aversion to playing it, his brood of brooms and his awe of paper, his books, his diaries, his dictionaries, his monstrous diagonals and complementary fingers, his surges and swells, his guns and gyroscopes, his opinions, his blueprints, his hats.
Monsieur Dupont lives in a large house in a small American city in the early part of the twenty-first century. He is a reclusive man, though not altogether lacking in social graces. He merely prefers his own company to that of others. Solitude is not just a preference, but a deep abiding wine.
Monsieur Dupont’s house is a colossus of domiciliation. At last count, the house had approximately 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, three elevators, 167 rooms, 252 closets, 40 fireplaces, 22 chimneys, 51 staircases, 14 bathrooms, 7 kitchens, two basements, and two ballrooms. In the early 1900s, when the house belonged to his grandparents and his father was not yet born, a guest was discovered in a state of exhaustion after getting lost and going without food or water for four days.
The house is an inheritance. It was constructed piecemeal, room by room, because Monsieur Dupont’s widowed mother believed that as long as she continued to build the house, no harm would come to her children.
Monsieur Dupont is sole inheritor. His eight siblings have been killed by various mishap, car accident, elephant stampede, malaria, venomous spider, a battle with pirates in the Indian ocean, avalanche, earthquake, and tornado.
Monsieur Dupont feels a tad apprehensive to be the last of his family, but at fifty-seven had reached an age of frank maturity, and so felt a growing confidence in the coming years.
Monsieur Dupont’s greatest obstacle in life is in the area of employment. His expenses are small (he occupies, and heats, only a very small portion of the house), but it is still necessary to buy food, replace light bulbs, pay property tax, and attend an occasional movie.
Monsieur Dupont loves movies. His favorite movies are The Delicate Delinquent starring Jerry Lewis (of which he has owned twelve DVDs in the course of several years, replacing them as soon as they wear out), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (Monsieur Dupont is president of the Nick Adams fan club), and the entire Dr. Who TV series.
Monsieur Dupont has tried his hand at driving a taxi, washing dishes, white water raft guide, Christmas wreath assembler, firewalk instructor, bingo caller, UFO sighting investigator, dog walker, potato chip raker, and activities director at a retirement community. He has not liked any of these jobs. After two days of operating an amusement park ride called The Spinoza for less than minimum wage (it cost the park management less money to pay the fine for not paying minimum wage than to pay minimum wage), Monsieur Dupont thought hard about his future and decided to become a poet.
There are numerous advantages to being a poet. Poets can work at home. It may be to one’s advantage to go out into the world occasionally to seek imagery and wisdom, but on balance, the information that goes into a poem is not limited to the debris and data of external reality. Much of what goes into a poem is spun from the silk of one’s own mind.
Very little can go wrong. You cannot break the language. If you do break the language, you can put it back together again.
Experience is essential, but there is no certificate or license to be obtained. Poetic license, Monsieur Dupont was happy to learn, was a figure of speech, and not a legal requirement.
Nor are any uniforms, special shoes, expensive tools, oaths, procedures, or drug tests required. Just pen and paper.
The problem with being a poet is that it does not pay well. In fact, it does not pay at all. There is no public urgency for poetry. Supply far exceeds demand. It has been remarked that the average cost of a piece of paper is five cents. Write a poem on it, and it is worth nothing.
This did not deter Monsieur Dupont. He knew there was a tiny minority, a happy few, who realized and craved the intoxications of verse. They were, as a rule, averse to paying for verse, but that did not mean they did not appreciate its intrinsic value, the buried treasures and quixotic frontiers of its boundless landscape. It merely meant that the audience was insufficient to support a lifestyle of yachts, manicures, and liposuction.
Monsieur Dupont considered selling his house and property. The money from that would be substantial enough to allow him to live for a few years without recourse to a paying job. But this was the house in which he had grown up. It was redolent with the care of his parents and the shouts of his siblings, the disputes and laughter of their parents, their children and guests. The house had been home to hundreds of family members and close friends in the course of time. The attachment was strong.
Instead, he sold his gun collection. All but his prize possession, an eighteenth-century Turkish flintlock pistol decorated with inlaid bone plaques of different shapes and incised carvings. This item he mounted on the wall above his desk, next to a portrait of Alexander Pope.
This brings us to the present time. The time of poetry. The time of constant, delicious agitation. The agitation of poetry. The seesaw of conflicting necessities. The multitude of choices. The ballistics of style. The dynamics of structure.
Monsieur Dupont does not always write poetry. Sometimes he simply likes to sit and daydream, and sometimes he likes to go from room to room in his house, particularly when he is feeling nostalgic, and wants to visit the past, or savor the ghostly identities that still linger in the rooms.
Monsieur Dupont’s house is riddled with the past. Many of the rooms have not been entered in many years. Each is a time capsule. Each contains the odors, posters, paintings, bric-a-brac and glamour of a particular age, a particular Zeitgeist.
One room is full of lava lamps and Beatle posters. Another harbors an old Philco radio from the ’30s whose dials brought in nothing but static and muffled voices. Another is full of plaid with a telescope by the window and stars and planets painted on the ceiling.
Other rooms delight the senses with Art-Deco clocks and antique calendars, magic lanterns and zoetropes. Oak bureaus whose perfumed drawers contain the hankies and potpourris of people long gone. There are musty closets full of vintage clothes and vintage shoes, flapper dresses and pink organza nightgowns, tweed blazers and children’s games piled high on the shelves.
Monsieur Dupont is surprised to find a wormhole in one closet. A wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of space-time that is essentially a shortcut through space and time. Monsieur Dupont assumes the closet is provided with a wormhole because when he enters the closet he walks into eighteenth-century Europe. Belgium, in fact.
Thanks to the wormhole Monsieur Dupont is able to replenish his gun collection. He strolls about Brussels shopping at different gunshops. He buys muskets, pistols, and powder horns. Sporting rifles with walnut stocks and blued octagonal barrels. Charlevilles with bayonets and a Belgian double-barrel shotgun with a hunting scene engraved on the barrel.
Monsieur Dupont favors eighteenth-century dress, and so is able to blend in quite easily with the rest of the population.
Here is Monsieur Dupont returning from a trip to eighteenth-century Belgium. He is tugging on a steamer trunk loaded with pistols and rifles. He has difficulty explaining the money from the future, dollar bills with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin on them but is able to convert these dollars to the appropriate Belgian currency at a Swiss bank in the future.
Monsieur Dupont grows richer with each trip to eighteenth-century Europe. His fortune quadruples. Quintuples. Sextuples. Septuples. Octuples. Nonuples.
Here is Monsieur Dupont returning from another trip. His closet has been enlarged to allow wagons and horses free passage. The wagons are full of furniture and paintings, including a set of twelve Italian neoclassical dining chairs, a George III walnut bureau bookcase, a George III mahogany sideboard, an Italian Neoclassical marquetry commode, and a William and Mary tall case clock with a square hood enclosing a silvered chapter ring with Roman numerals, subsidiary day of the month and seconds, and spandrel ornaments centered by masks.
Monsieur Dupont starts a museum. He fills the museum with treasures from the eighteenth century. More paintings, more furniture, more machinery and sculpture. The museum grows into 1,200 acres. The museum grows into five square miles. The museum grows and grows. Before the end of the year, the museum has multiplied into a complex of museums covering 34 square miles, a staff of 7,000 people, its own fire department and zip code, and a collection of some 240 million items ranging from furniture to dioramas illustrating eighteenth-century surgical techniques.
Monsieur Dupont begins to notice that upon each return, his house begins to diminish. It occurs to him that as he brings back items from the eighteenth century, the eighteenth century begins to disappear. The United States Constitution fades into a cloud of nebulous objectives and poof! disappears altogether. Time being what it is, a fluid medium in which all its membranes and gears are in full sequential engagement, much like the membranes and gears of a narrative, as the twenty-first century grows cluttered with items from the eighteenth century, the twenty-first century slides back to the eighteenth century. If Monsieur Dupont continues to drag things from the eighteenth century into the twenty-first century, the twenty-first century will become a museum for principles and armament that no longer exist.
Furthermore, with a staff of 7,000 people to supervise and an infrastructure covering 34 square miles, an area a little bigger than Manhattan, Monsieur Dupont has little time to write poetry. He has become an administrator, not a poet. The museum has hijacked his life.
Monsieur Dupont begins returning items to the eighteenth century. All the paintings, furniture and machinery of the eighteenth century are restored to their original places. Monsieur Dupont finds his own house in the twenty-first century return, room by room, to its original condition.
Here is Monsieur Dupont living in a modest apartment on the rue des Francs Bourgeois at the heart of the Marais district in eighteenth-century Paris. He still has his house to return to as he wishes, but prefers, for the most part, to live in the eighteenth century, which is slightly kinder to poets than the 21st century. When he longs for a movie, or a hamburger and fries, he strolls through his wormhole and voilà, here is Monsieur Dupont driving a ’72 Ford Galaxy to Burger King, dressed in a black wool embroidered coat, red satin breeches, and a pair of black buckle shoes, looking and feeling every bit a poet. When he finishes his hamburger, he returns to his Paris apartment, lights a candle, and resumes work on an entry for Diderot’s encyclopedia, defining the nature of poetry, and its prognosis for the future.
Copyright © 2006 by John Olson