“Forgotten Work” is a book-length poem in heroic couplets. Parts of it take place in the year 2037. Teleportation is a thing. Smartpaint, too. (This wonder substance works like regular, latex-based paint, except it’s crawling with nanobots and can convert your drywall into a television.) By 2037, many writers and intellectuals have disappeared or been executed. Freestanding holographic Al Pacinos have replaced the Scarface posters in student dorms. As in our time, Taylor Swiftianism is the dominant school of critical thought. In the following excerpt, our hero, Hubert, is watching Fellini’s 8 1/2 on the scuffed wall of his apartment. (His landlord never bothered priming the wall; the last tenant’s coat of smartpaint is still up.) Hubert is a frustrated English student who nurses some romantic ideas about art. He’s also a connoisseur of old, obscure works, like Peter Van Toorn’s book of poetry Mountain Tea. He still subscribes to print periodicals. It’s nighttime, which is when the mail arrives in 2037. — JG Hubert liked looking back. He’d waved off eye Replacements; Hubert had a glasses guy Who sourced assorted old-school gear for old Souls and their skulls. Wearing frames was bold, As quaint as whalebone corsets, hunting foxes, iphones, and those primitive Xboxes That weren’t implanted but, instead, sat on Your furniture. He loved the off-brand dawn His window ran, recorded when the sun Could still be seen. He loved such stuff as Fun House, Horses, Astral Weeks, Fred Neil, Pet Sounds, Thomas M. Disch’s essays, Ezra Pound’s Translations, Orson Welles as Harry Lime ( The Third Man), poetry that dares to rhyme, The books of Paula Fox, the bass of Carol Kaye, that moment when the poet Daryl Hine compares some “love-disordered linen” To “brackish water.” Hubert longed for hymns in Churches, first editions, artisanal walks (He wouldn’t teleport). He thought Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden music’s apex; Toto Its nadir. On the mailpad, MOJO Materialized. (The mail beamed in at night.) “Pause.” The wall became a black-and-white Still: Fellini’s hero’s face in doubt. (One eye, where paint had chipped, appeared burned out.) Hubert watched his mag, like Star Trek sand, Take shimmering shape, then touched it with a hand: Still warm. There was the standard MOJO mix Of articles, reviews, and concert pics. There also was an obit for Oasis; The aging rockers had fused and perished, faces Picassoed, mop tops mixed — a teleporter Mishap while on tour. One reporter, Who’d glimpsed the cubist mess, could not refrain From wit: the band’s two stars now shared one brain, Which was ironic; Liam and Noel, rock gods And warring brothers, spent their lives at odds. But now their hearts, once split in two, were one Big mash-up of a muscle in a ton Of flesh — the band’s last huddle. Noel’s song “Slide Away” began to play; Hubert subscribed To Mojoplus, the upper price point MOJO On Pixiepaper. If you tapped a photo, It might unfreeze, become a talking head Voice-overing some footage. If you read About a song, the page might start to play Its chords. (That said, the reader had no say In when an article might start to ripple Into a pint of Stella, nor when stipples
That point out faces next to author bylines Might swarm like filings into ads for airlines. On Pixiepaper, type, no longer black And fixed, could stretch, divide, and re-form back Into whatever; pics could puddle and blend Like Rorschach blots set loose.) Towards the end Of every MOJO was the “Buried Treasure” Essay. This one-page feature took the measure Of some obscure recording time forgot To, well, forget, or scrub from human thought: The sort of record that was out of print Or went for quite a lot when sold as “mint.” And it was this page, in the June edition, That seemed, to Hubert, something like a vision. The subject of the essay was the one And only single by a band whose run Had not been long (it lasted, like, six years) But should’ve yielded more. What looked like tears Began to streak the page; the beads that form On sweating cans of Coke began to storm The paper. Hubert shook the mag, which closed The ad (though some ads couldn’t be opposed And ran full length). He turned back to the text And read some more — and found himself perplexed. The photo of the band, when Hubert tapped It, failed to move, as if the men were trapped Inside. Was there no video or sample Track? He read on, lest some lion trample The text into a logo for a zoo Or jungle travel package — read on through In awe. The band had struggled with its name; Had gone by: Lout, Pale Lout, Pale Fire, Pale Flame, Then landed on the one: Mountain Tea, Hubert’s favourite work of poetry! (It seemed James Gordon, MT’S founder, adored The book.) The band’s debut, “The Dead,” floored Reviewers. Over double bass and strummed Guitar, as choral cowboy voices hummed Spaghetti-western style, the singer read A list of lost, neglected bands in deadPan: “Felt.” Pause. “Plush.” Pause — each pause punctuated By piano chord. The choir abated, The singer, Dennis Byrne, now singing — crying — “Remember,” backed by cellos. (Hubert kept trying The photo. Nothing, not one note, would play.) The B-side to this single, “Yesterday,” Wasn’t a cover of the Beatles hit, But dared to spirit off the name and spit On propriety. It sounded like old field Recording gear — the tech a man might wield When mingling with folk cultures — had got down On tape some faraway, primeval sound, Carbonated with the hiss and pop That signifies the past. A horse’s clop, Produced with legs chopped off a thoroughbred — Or so the song’s percussionist had led The essay to enthuse — clip-clopped along, While Gordon, singing just on this one song, Described his lost beloved. Louis Reid, Who played guitar, arranged a cloud of feedBack. H.U. Hawks played bass notes on a Moog To underscore the lost beloved’s fugue State. MOJO’S writer, awestruck, judged this start Not just a strong debut; this work was art. But that was it. Mountain Tea put out No more — and vanished. Only the devout, Who’d bought “The Dead” on vinyl years before, Had heard it. Mountain Tea’s two songs were more Or less a myth tied up in legal woes. That’s why the essay featured only prose; The bots inside the paper grain could link To nothing. So they stayed as still as ink.