The William Tell Game.

June 5, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Posted in poetry, writing | 20 Comments
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( note: William Seward Burroughs, author of many fine ripping yarns, used to play the William Tell Game, shooting apples off of his wife Joan’s head until one day, he shot her right between the eyes, and got away with it, this being in Mexico and all.) 
was evicted from a Japanese teagarden
for sake’s sake and armed karaoke
‘the cabin boy’s name was Skipper…’
so sitting and faux sobbing,
“no one understands me
or understands full well”
drip drop tears well.
“there, there” she says, patting
the back of his hand, “let’s go
poke the little pink people.”

shall we describe ourselves again
or more origami cranes confused
invisible to a problem of frogs
rejoicing, perhaps one more
permutation of homonyms
she’s drunk and wants dancing,

where’s Joan, Bill, what happened
to Joan? how did you get away with it,
one tiny slip in the William Tell game,
did your courage fail or your confidence
or for one fraction of a second,
one sudden millimetric did you care?
and the tremor started there,  


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  1. Wow, love the last two lines 🙂 This is great.
    And I nearly didn’t recognise the place! Very stylish!

  2. Love your new theme… reminds me of home 😉
    The poem is great!

  3. Thankyou, twice.

  4. To both of you, two times, thanks,

  5. perfection for sake’s sake;

  6. this is a moment in literary history which intrigues me greatly. Bless you, Bill, whos Agent were you? We’ll never know who pulled that trigger, will we? For the sake of my happy \\\i’ll go on believing it was just a tragic accident. For the those who are interested, David Cronenberg’s underrated film “Naked Lunch” tries its best to pick apart the unfathomable, and might shed some light on this incident. William Burroughs is my favourite of the beat writers, he always appeared to me to be the most perceptive and wise. Ginsberg seems a little silly to me, wrapped up in himself, his ego, and his own sense of revolution, yet Burroughs had his eye on a bigger picture, paid attention to character, and in my view there’s universal truths in Naked Lunch, for instance, that were sometimes lacking in other Beat-era works. Burrough’s work has implications beyond the era in which it was written basically, and some of his contemporaries lost sight of that I think.

    A great poem, Paul. You really brushed the dust of an aesthetic and took it for a new spin. You tapped into another conciousness, and brought out the mystery and tragedy of this episode, sort of an unfinished chapter in one man’s decidedly patchwork life. Burroughs strikes me as someone who was doomed to be followed around by question marks in sinister boxes. He embraced this in hos writing to great effect, but it was also kind of a black magic, and he would suffer as a result… something like that haha, we’ll never know.

  7. i love this–esp the the last 2 lines of each stanza.

    is this a new poem, paul? christian bok told this story at the conceptual poetry conference and i mentioned “william tell- a novel” by mc caffery in my recent post which i think you read. it was hard to show it–the novel–but it’s a semicolon above a “l” or a period on top an “i”…the child with an apple on his head…

    and now it’s time for breakfast. let’s all get naked! get drunk and go dancing!

    ps would you add me to your blogroll?

  8. I’m kind of in awe. Encapsulating your art into this incident should have been quite a risky business but you mastered it with an apparent effortless ease. Again, I have gone over it section by section, enjoying the trickery, and then sat back to view the whole aesthetic of it and the story it tells… extraordinary, literally.

    I’ve just deleted a whole para I wrote about my theory on your writing… it’s a Thursday. Such blatant schmoozing would seem unseemly on a Thursday. 😛

  9. gosh. this one’s powerful and dark. i keep rereading the last four lines. so wise, so telling, so interesting.

  10. hey thanks for the add!

    btw, it’s fun to find your blog on various and sundries poetical sites across the blogosphere and think hey they love gingatao too!

  11. I did not know about this — I had to go verify it. But, wow.

    This is a great piece. It begins on a note of whimsy with some great punning, spirals into delirium and ends on a note of menace . . . like a drunken evening most of us can probably recall, with a little effort.

    And the ambiguity of those last lines. Beautiful. Burroughs is apparently quoted as saying if it weren’t for shooting his wife he would have never really written. One never knows.

  12. spent twenty years trying to decide if i like Burroughs… some days i wake up and say hell yah, who doesn’?… others day i wake up and say…errr…ummm… i think so…


    i’m wide awake now and have never had those same doubts about you… that last line is the clincher for me in this piece…


  13. Cool, Thanks everybody. Burroughs would have loved to have a wordpress blog, I reckon, with all his tricks in time and place and characters convergent and diverse.

  14. Paul!! You did this, and did not even tell me….GRRR….you know I adore W.S.B. and am familiar with the old legend…he even speaks of in in, I believe Junky as well as Naked Lunch…

    If you werent on the other side of the world I would throttle you.

  15. Oww, don’t throttle me. Next time I will William Tell you, I promise. Ambererererer yayayayayyayaya, ((((you))))

  16. Of course I wouldnt throttle you love…..*grins*
    I miss miss miss you!!

    Im pondering on an orchid or butterfly tatoo in honor of you my pal…..what suits my skin best?

  17. One of both I think. You shouldn’t miss me, I am always here or here about. Easy to find. How about a butterfly sitting on an orchid?

  18. Why aren’t “butterflies” flutterbys? I think some poor dyslexic out there invented the word. I really do. Why aren’t “hummingbirds” whirlybirds? They never hum and whilrl quite a bit. Cool poem about Burroughs, bit of history with a mystery.

  19. Um no, he didn’t get away with it he did go to jail.

  20. I think 13 days in jail, John, constitutes ‘getting away with it.’

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