Judd Apatow’s Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

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LAST NIGHT I finally came to the end of Judd Apatow’s extraordinary four-hour film about the late Garry Shandling – the so-called Zen Diaries of said comedian.
As the director of There’s Something About Mary read aloud a letter that Shandling had written to the older brother who’d died, as a child, of cystic fibrosis, I completely lost it – I broke down and sobbed. I’d come to the close of a remarkable, hilarious, neurotic life haunted by the loss of Barry Shandling (a death never explained to the little brother) and felt overwhelmed by compassion for the witheringly brilliant creator of the meta-show about host Larry Sanders.
It made me realise how much Shandling and his Comedy Store peers – a particular strain of American-Jewish humour that slices through to the heart of the human condition – have meant to me. And it prompted this short distillation of gratitude for the sheer fearlessness of Shandling, Seinfeld, Silverman, Larry David – and of Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason and the many who came before them. Out of such pain has come the purest comedic joy I’ve ever known.

 

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Always I’m in awe of them:

unsparing men and salty women

lancing our illusions

and our gentile self-delusions.

No hugging and no learning,

nothing left to lose:

ancestral agony of pogroms

and the terrors of the Zyklon B.

The balls it takes to work that space,

illusion of a mastery that masks

the backstage whimper of a fevered need:

  “You think they liked me?”

“Man, you killed out there.”

for mary p

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What does it mean for us that life, for you,

became too bleak to bear?

By your not ending it, your life as such

would not have changed.

The room would be the same,

the world would still have gone about its restless business.

You might have seen it differently.

But three days later it might still have been

as dark and fruitless as before,

regardless of the love we heaped on you,

the testaments to all you did for us.

 

How could a woman who had given all give up?

Where did those sinking lows take you?

We could not reach you there. We were irrelevant,

were talking loud and only speaking air.

Did you believe that it would change you

in transforming consciousness to naught,

in jolting you from day to night? Well, you were right.

It leaves me questioning my own diminished appetite,

however schooled I’ve been to stop the plunging lows,

to put one foot before the other

and to give this life another go.

 

A poem and some pix from Ithaca

 

 

No one knows I’m here, or cares especially,

and if I close my eyes I hear

the distant things Odysseus would have known

if he indeed existed in this place.

 

The chittering birds,

the muted bonging of the bells

on necks of goats,

like finger-chimes of monks in monasteries.

 

I smell the wafted perfumes he’d have breathed:

the mix of earth and herbs and warmed-through stone,

the pines and cypresses in this ravine

so high the clouds are stealing softly past.

 

A giant bowl of human silence,

fecund stadium indifferent to me,

except the cats that track my every move,

their hungry eyes on high alert.

 

One might just say the silence deafens

when compared to planes that track the Thames

on their descent over my London roof,

assaulting me in morning meditation every working day.

 

I climb and cannot quite believe

there are no yells or honks

or whoosh of traffic on the bridge,

but just the softest wind.

 

The bells now nearer through the pines,

the sounds of life on earth for one who watches,

listens, still as he can be,

expecting nothing more.

 

Exogi, September 2017

Commemoration

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My paternal grandfather Chandos died in June 1940 of the wounds he received at the Siege of Calais. Herewith a few sheepish thoughts about a man I never knew.

 

To understand from whence I came,

I’ve said I’ll look into some papers

and some ancient clippings from The Times

as yellow-grey and dry as bones.

 

I finger through the pale blue letters sent

from farms in Gloucestershire and Kent:

the hardened stance of all of us in this together

who’ve lost a brother, lover, friend.

 

But then a sprig of chestnut hair, as little as a fishing fly,

that Chandos Hoskyns clipped, intended for a locket

should he fall, now twisting in between

my forefinger and thumb.

 

And further on I fall upon

the letter that my father John wrote home at 12

from school in Scarborough, begging Mother

to “cheer up” and not to be “too awfully sad”.

 

And now I’m spruced and suited in the Calais sun,

a hundred yards from where the C.O. fell,

a wreath clutched in my hands, and ready here

to lay it with the other rings.

 

I’m thinking what my grandfather would make of me –

this milksop pseudo-intellectual who cannot glorify

the wars of fools, yet here must halt

to mark the life he sacrificed.

 

We will remember them

and then we’ll return across the sea.

We may be home in time for tea.

 

 

For Christophe Edwards (1954-2017)

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spared

 

One, and then another, taken out.

A father gone, and then a friend.

The space they took now voided

when you thought they always would be there,

breathing somewhere far or near.

 

But keep your head down, get the job done,

keep the blinkers on.

Try not thinking what they’d think

if they could see you, see that life goes on

to no great purpose after all.

Olfactory lines

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They say you can’t describe a smell,

but when I’m in the bath or shower I want to say

where these scents send me:

to a special place in memory, or merely to the hotel room

where first I was suffused by Templetree or Silver Birch

or where the drenching of sweet Bushukan

transported me to honeyed glades or back

to other hotel rooms where odours spoke of luxury, enchantment,

and the softening thighs of dreaming girls.

 

These colours and these scents combine at 7.25 am

and for a moment drug me with perfume and with turquoise,

or drown me in their glowing amber pools.

Later comes the plunge in milky waters with a book:

I’m all but drinking the elixir of Fenjal,

an oil of blueish green that speaks

of foreign nights and vintage Vogues,

of willowed women in exquisite robes.

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