The Opposite of Gatsby

The Opposite of Gatsby
By A.W. Strouse


No visions left for me. I never saw
holy heaven, nor have I beheld hell—
no Ladder, Sinai, dream on which to draw,
no enchanted urn, nor song of self
nor pleasure dome, nor tolling mortal bell;
but with death’s carriage ride to be rode yet
I view the world upon the internet. 

Apple! (or Apollo?) help me Google search
for Truth and Beauty. Train my horndog eye
to file Love like rational research,
to frame Eros with perfect symmetry
and turn Dionysus to pornography
and tag the flesh by height and weight and race,
orgies organized like a database. 

So, I’ll read about some shooting, watch trolls
fat themselves, feeding on catastrophe
while I click clit, tweet twat, post pus, hashtag holes.
In other windows I chat, watch TV
digesting the latest senseless tragedy
and ruminate within my laptop’s glow, bask
in its soft sunshine as I multi-task. 

But then, one night, while surfing on the web
(weary with wanhope of spam-mail blues)
I clicked an ad, which promised that it led
beyond the doldrums of the daily news
unto the works of one, who, by my Muse,
composed, it claimed, the brightest verse and bold.
But the link had lied: I’d been “Rick-Rolled.” 

But through the video, which played the song
I found another link, which led again
unto another link, which by a long
and winding process showed a page, which then
would bring me back to where I first began:
cruising porn, reading T.S. Eliot,
exploring the world with my search robot. 

Yet as I pondered on the universe
there swam into my ken a secret scan
which made (despite a copyrighter’s curse)
an e-book of the legend of a man—
the quintessential American—
whose tale, old sport, imparted was to me
which I will tell to you: THE GREAT GATSBY. 

First told this book how, hailing from the west,
Nick Carraway came eastward to New York
to live beside a mansion, where, a guest,
he went to parties evenings after work;
and flattering his strange host’s every quirk
Nick helped this Gatsby woo his life-long flame,
Nick’s own cousin, Daisy Buchanan by name.

Then told this book how, just before the war
Daisy and Great Gatsby first had met
and how they fell in love, but how such store
on wealth (which Gatsby had none) Daisy set;
and so she broke things off, and to forget
her life’s true love, she wed some wealthy cur;
but neither loved she him nor loved he her.

Then told this book how Gatsby worked so hard
and how he schemed and how he tried, and tried again
and how he persevered till won reward
and once amassed a fortune could begin
his love win back, by that same acumen—
that By-the-Bootstraps dream—which every night
appeared symbolically as a green light. 

Then told this book about another tryst:
a poor man’s wife who found her millionaire
in Daisy’s husband, Tom. And in a twist
Tom brought a close to both these love affairs.
When driving recklessly in Gatsby’s car
Tom killed this girl—a callous hit and run
that sent her husband running for his gun.

And soon the butler found Great Gatsby dead—
shot while bathing in his swimming pool.
Tom and Daisy, avoiding scandal, fled,
and no one came to Gatsby’s funeral
(except his dad and Nick). No other soul
would testify to what Great Gatsby meant
whose spirit yearned to dream without relent. 

And after I had wandered, long in awe
upon this book whose characters had gone
through all the awful tragedies Nick saw
and all the awesome loves that Nick spoke on
my eyes began to fade, my mouth to yawn,
and as the early sun began to creep
into the east, I dropped down dead asleep.

And as I dreamt, I found myself alone
along a stretch of highway by the sea
among the ruins of my former home,
the forlorn wasteland of a lost city;
and there I felt them staring down at me:
encompassing this beach-front sepulcher
the knowing eyes of T.J. Eckelberg. 

His gaze contained the sea, awash with trash
and fell upon the nuclear fall-out sand
and burned into the highway, strewn with ash
and beat down on the barren, broken land
where no two stones could stack, no beams could stand—
no human form but Eckelberg, whose glares
endured above a junkyard heaped with cars. 

And nothing that I saw amazed me more
in that whole landfill reeking with its stacks
of rotten garbage, teeming with manure
and refuse, piled high with artifacts
(like Campbell’s cans and burnt-out Cadillacs)—
than what I saw beneath those billboard eyes:
three critic mice, who read and criticized.

‘The green light represents,’ the first mouse said,
‘the lack on which Great Gatsby’s self is based.
For as Lacan has taught, we always dread
fulfillment of desire, and when faced
with satisfaction, desire is displaced.
So this ‘little objet a’ (the light) Gatsby
regrets explaining to his love, Daisy.’ 

‘The green light is just ideology,’
explained the second mouse, ‘a dream that hides
the true political economy
just like the fog an opiate provides.
For as the novel’s tragic homicides
result from error and coincidence,
the green light obfuscates class-consciousness.’ 

The third mouse said, ‘Our reading must account
for this novel’s stilted view of gender;
since—when we look into the body count
and delve into the story’s fender-benders—
we have to notice how the plot engenders
a masculinist gaze, and how this light
is feminine object of Gatsby’s sight.’

And as these mice continued their debate
I noticed how they sat upon a set
with camera crew, fourth mouse to moderate—
a talking-head, rodent-pundit quartet,
which streamed on live TV and on the net;
and when they took their next commercial break
I found myself alone again, awake,
awakened by a streaming Youtube vid
which sang out from the eyes of Eckleberg:
            never gonna give you up
            never gonna let you down
            never gonna run around and hurt you... 

A.W. Strouse teaches medieval literature at The New School. Strouse is the author of My Gay Middle Ages (punctum, 2015), Transfer Queen (punctum, 2018), and Gender Trouble Couplets, Vol. 1 (punctum, forthcoming).