I am reading a poem called “George Washington” in a book of poems called George Washington in a bar called The Library in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where I am spending my last twelve dollars on four beers and my last four dollars on tipping the bartender because happy hour still hasn't started. The bartender, I still don't know her name but have been writing about her for the past four years of my life, though really I've been writing about the same bartender my whole life, but sometimes she isn't this bartender or sometimes even a bartender.
Right now she is wearing a black top and a black bottom and she wears her black hair up then down and it all makes her look whiter than she is like she has always been in this bar right here. I set George Washington down on the counter open-faced but upside-down and tell her how I have to leave in a little less than an hour because my bus leaves in a little more than an hour.
Shouldn't you be drinking something harder than that then, she asks me.
I'm riding with my brother and he'll be upset if I show up drunker than how drunk I'm not.
Have a Xanax, she says like she isn't offering me any vice harder than advice. That's what I'd always do. Have a Xanax and go straight to sleep.
I smile at her and I say something before I go back to reading the book, which isn't a book yet but an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy or Advance Reader's Edition [or ARE]) with two names on the cover that read George Washington and Adam Fitzgerald. It's good form to have two names on the cover of a book, like father like son and how one begets the other one, a biblical begetting I get, but poetry more than fiction and nonfiction always gets to be as much as it has to be gotten, so I never do know how to read books of poems, one poem at a time or all at once, which is sort of the same for poets because every poet has to be or beget every other poet.
Poetry is, after all, a tree. There even is a poem called “Leaves of Grass” in George Washington and there is another poem called “Blue Yodel No. 5” that channels Walt Whitman like a barbaric yawp, as much as it channels Chanel No. 5 for the title, with its last two lines that read:
When the grass was full
I sang a different song.
Every American poet is more Walt Whitman than Walt Whitman was Walt Whitman, but every American author is trying to say something about America that's already been said.
The bartender has the bar's sidewalk sign on one of its sides on the bar as she erases the chalk line of Make America Budweiser Again off the board then writes another line about how cold it is in here and how hot it is outside, which is true and which is truer, but I have to wonder if yesterday the bartender was here and if she authored that America line.
How did I end up here with this ARC. The night before this afternoon, one of my contemporaries was showing me videos of the musical Hamilton when he mentioned the author Adam Fitzgerald while telling me about attending a The Paris Review party for a book about The Sun Also Rises, name dropping authors like Amelia Gray and Sloane Crosley and other authors with names who were there, but then he told me how some documentarian invited to the party kept saying to him, I'm the best there ever was.
He's the only person I've ever met more braggadocios than you, my contemporary told me.
I'm the best there ever was, I repeat to myself and what bothers me the most about the line I'm the best there ever was is that the was is not an is, but I suppose documentarians can only ever be the best there ever was and not will be and they'll never be authors as much as they are others.
But the name Adam Fitzgerald was still in my head the next afternoon while walking through Washington Square Park to go to the room I used to go to in the summer at the Creative Writing MFA program at The New School, where I'd sit and I'd stare at a tree with a perfect fractal form across the entrance at 66 W. 12th St., but then I saw some of the branches of the tree had since been cut off of the tree and it wasn't as perfect as it once was.
I would still climb the stairs up to the room to write and to wait and to not look at the tree, but I don't know what I'm doing and I don't even know what I am not doing. Writing is waiting and it is the waiting that's the worst, but the waiting is all there's left to do. I'll be leaving soon and soon after I'll be leaving for one of those towns closer to the middle of the country where everyone cuts all of the sleeves off all their shirts and everyone is named John.
I don't know if Adam Fitzgerald attended that The Paris Review party or if my contemporary mentioned him in passing between videos of Hamilton, but there's something so tangential about New York City I remember after I've been back in the city for three days and after rinsing myself in a bathroom I always used to shit in when I attended The New School. They had some of the best bathrooms when I went there and I needed this scene with a mirror since this is a review and the mirror in The Library bar is so covered in graffiti I can't see myself. I can't see that I haven't masturbated in a month, though I have come four times (more if I hadn't been drinking more than four times [not to be braggadocios to the documentarians or my contemporaries]), but traveling is nothing more than finding somewhere to masturbate or somewhere to shit, which is when I ran into a faculty member at The New School who invited me to his office where he told me I could review any of all the ARCs on the shelf where he keeps all of the ARCs he is always sent and I saw George Washington by Adam Fitzgerald.
Poetry is written to be reviewed.
There are three of us here now and the third is trying to win the bartender over with the jukebox, which is such a bad word for what it is, though right now the word sounds like what he's playing, so I suppose they must have known when they made the jukebox and they called the jukebox the jukebox that the sort of people with the sort of money to spend on playing a song in a bar and not buying a beer in a bar will play songs off of the jukebox that sound like the word jukebox.
He tells her he's only here for a few days and he's from out of town and it's like I am not even here but like a barfly on the wall while she tells him all about the New York City he won't see in the few days he's here. He tells her where he's from and she tells him she's from Los Angeles. He is from Milwaukee and he looks like he is from Milwaukee.
She takes the sidewalk sign outside and there are two of us here now who have to listen to his having selected the same song twice, but all his songs sound the same and I am as uncomfortable in my own skin as I am not in his skin to pour enough beer into my mouth and wait for it to settle into my skin while I wait for the bartender.
Milwaukee doesn't know who she is to me, but neither does she as she comes back inside. I'm not sure I do either, but I stare at her listening to Milwaukee and me not listening to him between poems. If you want to say something, say nothing.
I wait for her to come over to my end of the bar and I finally lean even farther over the bar to ask her where she's from in Los Angeles and tell her I'm from the same part of Los Angeles and wait a second before I tell her I ran into her brother at a local bar on Thanksgiving Eve.
She laughs and she says to me as much as to Milwaukee, I run into more people from where I'm from here than I run into them where I'm from. But he's not my brother. Well, he is but he's not. He's my twin brother's best friend, but we call each other brother and sister.
I smilingly tell her how I asked him if she is covered in tattoos and how he said she is covered in tattoos as if everyone here isn't covered in tattoos and she laughs. She is covered in tattoos and even Milwaukee is covered in tattoos too, but maybe if I was covered in tattoos too she would be the mother of my child or at least call me her brother even if I'm not.
Milwaukee's song selections come to an end and it makes it easier to read George Washington. I realize everything ever written is written about death and I realize everything I do, from everything I read to everything I drink, is to write. I think anyone who is good at what they do knows they're not that good at what they do, but then again on the spectrum of optimistic-superstitious-pessimistic, I've always been somewhere in the middle to the right.
I ask for one last one and I remember how another Fitzgerald said, First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you. I don't doubt it took Fitzgerald only three drinks to be taken, but he wasn't the best there ever was at drinking. I tell the bartender I only lived here for four years, but there was one Thanksgiving where I mistook Easter for Thanksgiving but then what a year and a half that was and what half of a year that wasn't.
She smiles like she's heard it all before and from me even. I tell her I miss Los Angeles while she tells me she doesn't. I miss Los Angeles more than Los Angeles.
I ask for one last one last one because I felt too good yesterday to not feel bad today as I drink this Rolling Rock that is neither hurting nor helping, but I am even if it isn't. I pay for it even if all I've ever wanted is to be a regular at the sort of place where I had a monthly tab, but I suppose I haven't spent more than a month anywhere in the past few months. I am not as afraid of liver failure as I am dying a failure because someone has to think about all the things no one wants to think about, but sometimes no one should have to think about them.
I set George Washington down on the bar to think of George Washington and I become afraid that The Library bar is the only library I'll ever end up in, but at least they serve beer here. I don't know how to write book reviews, but anything worth doing is worth doing wrong until you do it right, so I'm sitting here in this bar reading this ARC for the first time and all in one read to write this book review. It doesn't write itself, but this life lives itself.
Life has a poetic form, doesn't it, but then it's time for me to leave. I thank the bartender and I turn my index and middle fingers into a peace sign for both her and Milwaukee as she thanks me too, but I won't tell her I wrote part of a novel and an essay about her since I still might need that for a third one while I look back at her in all her black and remember in the story she's wearing a white dress. She is pregnant in the story, but now she's a mother who looked as good when she is pregnant as when she's not, even if she is a little less metaphorical, but who am I to tell someone who they are not. The nonfiction is similar to the fiction in the same way the sister or brother of your significant other looks sort of like them. I remember the story I wrote about her almost three years ago that appears in my second novel and reappears in an essay I wrote almost a year ago, which applies and reapplies for different reasons now, but here it is again:
Happy hour ends in half an hour.
I'll see you in half a half an hour then, I say but hold the tall can of Mexican beer to my mouth while I wait for her to come back and set down a red American Indian figurine on the bar for the buyback. It's a good bar during happy hour because they give you two beers for one beer and it's a good bar because the beers are cheap even when it isn't happy hour.
The bartender is pregnant in a white dress and she looks like someone's daughter who's going to have to be someone's mother. It must have been over half a year ago the last time I was in here and I saw her first, though if it weren't for her being pregnant and all she would just look like any other bartender with rosy tattoos and long dark hair, but it must have been her tattoos or her hair or her being a bartender that got her pregnant. She tells me it's, Five dollars.
Four Mexicans for five dollars.
'Cause it's a tall can, so it has two cans worth in each can, then there's another two on the way. I don't know. I'm sorry I just like this happy hour here.
If you like it so much, we have a midnight happy hour too.
When does that start, I ask but she just stares at me. I wonder if I want to wait here for another happy hour, even if The Library bar is the only good bar on the Lower East Side, though it's neither Lower nor Easter of me, but no one really lives in Manhattan. I mean, when does it end.
Are you not waiting for someone.
I don't know.
What's her name.
What's your name.
Do you not know her name.
Do you wanna know my name.
You ask a lot of questions for someone who doesn't know anything.
I laugh and the bar is quiet and I think I'll get drunk enough to try to get her to drink with me, so I ask her what she thinks of my name.
I don't know what your name is. It's not like it's embroidered on your shirt.
I don't work in the sort of place where my name is embroidered on my shirt.
No one works anymore. At least, not today.
No one drinks today.
She says it like she's going to turn to point at some sign, But whether they drink or not no one works for free.
Five dollars for four Mexicans, right. I hand her a ten-dollar bill and say, Hamilton.
Hamilton. Your parents named you Hamilton. That's too bad.
I laugh and tell her, No. I just find that I'm much less likely to spend all my money on alcohol if I call all the presidents by their names.
She tugs at the ends of the bill and asks me, Why don't you call him Alexander.
I don't wanna get too attached. I'm still an alcoholic.
She walks away with the Hamilton and goes to and opens the register then counts the change and closes it slowly with her hip and walks back to me and hands me the change and says, Here you go Hamilton.
These aren't Hamiltons.
I'm calling you Hamilton.
Oh. So you're not gonna ask me my name. You're just gonna call me Hamilton then.
Well, your parents never did.
I raise the can to her and say, I still resent them for that.
Plus I don't want to get too attached. I still have to serve alcoholics.
She smiles at me and I can see why she's pregnant. I smile back as she turns to go to the other end of the bar and I can see why she's a bartender. I drink as fast as I Mexican and keep drinking and I finish my drink so she has to come back and get me another drink. I leave a Washington on the counter with the Indian figurine and I look for her to come back, but she's with someone else, so I just have to pick up and finger the figurine. I don't know why his headdress is so large on his head or why they made him red.
They laugh at the other end of the bar and I look up for her to see me, which she does, but she sees me like she sees through me and she still takes her time coming back to my end.
I smile when she's close and set the figurine down on the counter again.
You know, Ham, it hasn't been half a half an hour yet.
You know Hamilton wasn't a president either.
Are you telling me you're not the president of these United States of America.
Well the president doesn't have his name embroidered on his shirt.
He doesn't work today either.
When does he.
I don't know. He never comes in for happy hour. I guess I don't know him as well as you do.
I guess I don't know you as well as you do.
Another Mexican. She takes the figurine and comes back with another beer. Hamilton.
I guess I don't know me as well as you do.
No one ever does.
I like talking to you. I know I don't have a horse in this race. I can just talk to you.
Are you saying I have a horse of a face.
No, I mean it's not like I have to ask you when you get off.
Are you not going to get me off.
Are you having fun with me.
You're just trying to get me to say you're fun.
You really don't know anything do you.
I don't know much, but I do know I don't not know anything.
Sure you don't.
Can I have a lime for this one.
Sure. She picks a lime out of the limes and drops it on the mouth of the can. Will that be all.
I don't know, I say forcing the lime into the can. Alexandra's a good name, you know.
And Alexander's a great one. But it's not mine, so what's that got to do with anything.
Your current predictament.
My current predictament is that it's not mine.
Well, it is. But I'm not keeping it.
That's too bad.
You've got your whole life ahead of you.
Everyone has their whole lives ahead of them. Well, not everyone. Not even you, Alexander.
Why not, Alexandra.
She smiles and she says, Happy hour ends in half a half an hour.
I read George Washington again because I can't remember if there are any references to Alexander Hamilton, but poetry is read to be reviewed as much as it is to be reread, but reading it again I realize Hamilton is at the height of some contemporary popularity I'll never look up to or down from and I realize I'll never be as popular as the musical Hamilton and even Alexander Hamilton wasn't as popular as the musical Hamilton.
George Washington, other than on the cover of the book, appears two times as the title of two poems in this book that is all about repetition and replacement. The first poem with the “George Washington” name is bookended with the second “George Washington” that similarly bookends the book by appearing at the end of George Washington.
But the best part of the book is not just the title but what Title becomes in relation to the book and to the author, which makes me think how poetry has always been more on the reader than on the writer, which is why it isn't read. Good poetry isn't what is good as much as what is said to be good by other poets to other poets. The title in relation to book and to author makes me think it's not unlike the title Citizen, which I'm reminded of while looking at the back of the book Claudia Rankine blurbed:
“George Washington, Adam Fitzgerald's anticipated new collection, journeys with confident speed past the moment of inception for any given poem. Whoever—father or lover—died happened outside the frame of these virtuosic poems. A fury of lists, names, places, from literary figures to TV stations, replaces biography and becomes experience. The graveyard is now the Courtyard Marriot. Elegy is buried inside the days and despite all that reappears, “You don't come back. . . . We welcome them without you.” These exponentially expansive poems formally hold their grief at a distance between Mary Mother of God and The Empire Strikes Back. Fitzgerald's “sedentary grammars” and “interior graphics” live exquisitely underground. This is stunning poetry.”
The titles must go hand in hand with the realization that our fathers are men and all men have created evil, but with that is what we do with the realization. There is the line in the first “George Washington” poem that reads:
I want a second act. What can I say but this was my second act.
I think of the future turning into the past within the line and later on in the poem “Vader in Love” there is a line that contains “Darth Vader ne Skywalker” and I think that all we can say about our father figures is, Figures. In a book about a father who isn't there, the father not being there is in fact there by not being there, which makes me realize how not all writers rely on white space as much as poets do (and that I have to, too. It must be another reason why poetry is dead [but then again, poetry has always been dying, which is the only thing keeping it alive]).
There is something so fatherly and American about George Washington in that it gets at both fathers and America through absence, as in the poem “Riverboat” that has these lines here:
No one wants to mention riverboats, hear of them, read any
more academically sanctioned monographs distilling their
Americanized ingenuity. Moratorium has been placed on the
name. It will no longer appear in this poem.
There are long lists in some of the poems that are as biblical as they are BuzzFeed and there is a poem in the collection called “Eternal September” that starts with Abraham begetting Isaac then Isaac begetting everything else in a similar manner to the cover reading George Washington then Adam Fitzgerald. There is a poem called “First Person Shooter” where every line starts with an I. There is a poem called “How to Get Over Someone You Love” that's one of the longer poems in the book and it feels long, but it feels like it feels like it feels long, though it has advice in it like “Become more American.”
George Washington is as much in second acts as it is in their absence, speaking to this in the poem “RAS Syndrome” and the American manner of drumming up names for what has already been named:
The La Brea Tar Pits literally means “the the tar tar pits.”
River Avon and River Ouse both mean “river river”
even as Rillito River means “little river river” in Spanish,
as Mississippi River in Algonquian is “big river river.”
In the naming of what has already been named, the renaming of the named is also the inability to name an unnameable. As Adam Fitzgerald nears the end of George Washington he writes toward the beginning of the second “George Washington” poem:
I don't remember exactly when I wrote “George Washington”
And he goes on by turning the book in on itself in having the second “George Washington” be as much about writing the first “George Washington” as it is the second and the book itself:
Have you read “George Washington”?
It was published in Poetry with two other poems.
One written after my dad died, the other for some boy.
George Washington is all about repetition, but so is everything. Repetition is everything because everything is repeated in some sense and experiencing repetition is, when it's all said and spoken for, how we make sense of everything and how we make sense of nothing, as in nothing nothing, because the possibility of repetition is, in its own way, repetition, so the absence of repetition is made sense of through repetition. There is repetition in George Washington as much as there are singular absences of repetition that make me wonder why I am so averse to ten-dollar words and wonder how repetitive my aversion must make me sound rather than just be and not sound.
I finish reading George Washington again and start thinking about how to write a book review for the book, but then there are some other essays I've been thinking about writing—one on Lana Del Rey and one on The Tree of Life—though I need to start writing a third novel that I don't yet have a name for, but poetry is, after all, a tree. I still don't get poetry as much as it's supposed to be gotten and I'm still trying to figure out the difference between “George Washington” and George Washington, but then there he is, Adam Fitzgerald, and there is his second “George Washington” poem in George Washington. I myself haven't written poetry the way the poets today write poetry that's so popular and unpopular at the same time, but here is a line I will write:
Poetry, friends, is dead. It's all reference and self.