The Greatest Ex-Patriot Poet/Novelist of the Twenty-Firest Century


Trevor J. Houser

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 124 in September, 2010.

My life was not the way I imagined it would be.

Under the original framework I was supposed to be rich. I was supposed to make esoteric cocktails on a cliff side patio laughing maniacally. I was supposed to have tons of illicit sex in coat closets with starlets and the daughters of high-ranking public officials. Their names would be Janet. Except for one. Her name would be Kirsten, or Babette. She would be wearing a pillowcase on her head without any pants on and I would call her Mrs. Invisible. I was going to be a big time poet/novelist that solved world hunger and drove a hunter green Jag. That would have been great.

Eventually, I’d retire a gazillionaire. I’d disappear to some far-off islet of micro-Asia, devote the rest of my life to nocturnal death-matches with obscure sea monsters. I’d buzz the iridescent reef-tops with gin and capers on my high performance water skis while periodically dozing beneath palm trees inlaid with bikini tops.

The best thing I ever wrote was “the strangulation of young Danish breasts,” which is exactly one half of one line in an entire prosody novel entitled The Days of Elk and Whisky, a coming of age story about a paranoid fur trapper named Milt.

My ex-fiance read it once.

We were on a car ride to Tuscaloosa to see an aunt of hers, who was having her leg removed for unknown reasons.

After finishing the last page my ex-fiance looked pensively out the window at a blur of cottonwoods. She didn’t say anything for awhile. Then she asked, “Who would you say is your target audience?”

“I don’t know,” I said, admiring my own still-attached legs. “You?”

My ex-fiance sighed.

When I first met ex-fiance she found my writing aspirations “interesting.”

Other things she found me: “different” “romantic.”

But eventually she said I had to get serious, stop trying to be the next great poet/novelist. So I got a dead end marketing job.

Then one day my ex-fiance left me for an investment banker named Chaz.

“Chaz?” I said when I found out. I almost laughed, but then I didn’t because I could tell my ex-fiance was serious. There’s a whole world out there most people will never see, I thought. A world chock full of Chazzes and high ivied walls and whispered stock tips at sun-dappled picnics along the upper Honsatonic.

I think my ex-fiance was afraid I wasn’t going anywhere.

I can certainly see her point.

I decided to move to Mexico to become the next great ex-patriot poet/novelist. I quit my dead end marketing job. I sublet my apartment and dissolved my bank account. I wanted a little garden out back to grow tomatoes. I wanted to write about tamales resembling a woman’s vulva. Sunlight in the jalapeno trees! The clack of an old Remington! How many adventures does one need to go on before they change into someone different? No money. No fiance. In seven years I’ll be forty. Everyone I know back home has already reached that invisible next step in life. Babies. Watch golf. Time-shares in Breckenridge with people who have never considered lighting themselves on fire outside their alma mater. “I’m a failure and they know it,” I often said to myself. It became clearer somehow. I should never have given up writing. It was the only thing that made me different, possibly worth something.

On a whim I chose a place called Yerba Oro. It seemed like a good place for a poet/novelist to start out. The countryside was lush and green, jungle-like. Semi-jungle? I came to a long moon-colored beach. It was a small inlet. There were Egyptian reeds in the shallows and palms rocketing overhead. At one end of the beach I found a little place renting wooden bungalows. I went inside. Giant fish mounted on the walls. Fish of another time. An old woman in pressed maid whites was standing behind an ancient cash register stubbing out a cigarette.

“Cuanto cuesta?” I asked.

“Seven dollars a night, senor.”

“Is there somewhere I can buy beer?”

“Si, senor. Next door.”

I smile. I give her the money. She smiles. She picks up some clean towels from a wicker bin and a large key from the wall. Happiness.

“Follow me, senor.”

I followed her. My bungalow was bungalow number nine. It was at the far end of a palm-lined walkway, over-grown with pink and purple jacaranda. Inside is a kitchenette with a fridge, a living room with a desk, a large couch, and a queen-sized bed. Out back was a tiny veranda where I would write my books and get tan. After finishing each book I would have other poet/novelists over for esoteric cocktails, occasionally stealing each other’s wives for midnight omelets.

“Any scorpions?” I ask the woman.

“No, senor. No scorpions here.”

“How much for a month?”

I drank three beers in succession on the veranda. A fishing boat thrummed by. Two laughing young girls chased a dog with a sandwich in its mouth.

“Paradise,” I said to the dog with the sandwich in its mouth. After the beers I asked the old woman where I could get something to eat. She asked me what I want.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Some fish?”

“Wait here, senor.”

I returned to the veranda with a fresh beer. I was going to live here and write poetry about fishing boats and old women and eat fish on my veranda. Twenty minutes later the woman came with the fish. Fried brown and delicious. I thank her and gave her a big tip like a famous ex-patriot poet/novelist. After she left I moved the little kitchen table onto the veranda. I ate the fish there so I could watch the boats glide by. The sky violet and filled with stars. I’m plastered from all the beer and lie down on my queen-sized bed. Pillows the size of continents! Clouds of comfort! Goodnight, American poet/novelist!

The next day I ordered eggs. I had them on the veranda. I watched the children swim and yell at each other in Spanish. After breakfast I got bored of the children so I wandered around. I looked for a bar, but there wasn’t one. There was only a small church and huts speckling the semi-jungle. I went to the bodega instead. I bought some mescal plus a notepad and pencil.

Things I would need to become the greatest ex-patriot poet/novelist of the twenty-first century:

1. Rededicate myself to the written word.
2. Live within my psychic means.
3. Become famous.

Writing is a form of proving yourself in a way that other ways of living are not. I had to write to understand the things about me that are hidden and probably therefore the best parts. When you became a better person people get jealous about it and tell your ex-fiance how well you are doing and how much you have changed and that maybe they have missed the boat. Eventually my ex-fiance will feel bad about herself. She will feel jealous about the pictures in the morning paper of me and Amy Tan laughing and enjoying esoteric cocktails in somewhere like Nova Scotia.

I wrote all afternoon.

I sat on the veranda with my shirt off. I was taking slugs of mescal and pouring out gems of death and irony. I decided to call it Bungalow Collection No. 9. I could see it now. Fat grants in the mail. Strange women in my shower. Suckling goose for dinner. I wrote furiously in the sun. After about ten or twenty pages of dense, thought-provoking verse I decided to call it a day. I stretched and yawned. The light was getting low in the sky. I fished a beer out of the fridge because the mescal was gone. A little later I went back to the bodega. I got some sandwich food to make a ham and cheese sandwich. I went to the veranda. I tried to stay awake. Fishing boats buzzed by. Children yelling. I went inside. I picked up the day’s pages. I looked them over drinking the beer. It looked different than I remembered. The rhythm was off somehow. I tried to edit some of it, but I was too drunk. I gave up and looked at my stomach in a wall mirror. Not good, I thought. I dropped to the floor and did fifteen sit-ups. After that I took a shower and jerked off thinking of my ex-fiance being forced into a threesome with Amy Tan and me.

The next day was more of the same.

I wrote out on the veranda after eggs in bed. I sat outside all afternoon editing. The beach was busy today. The families looked happy, but probably not as happy as a famous poet/novelist. I watched the children fight over inflatable animals as the adults drank and fell asleep in the sun. I brought the kitchen knife out. I stropped it against my leg, admiring its shine. At noon a strange feeling came over me. It was a bad feeling.

I went inside.

I picked up the poetry and realized it was awful.

I stared at the awful poetry in disbelief.

I decided I needed a break. I needed to clear my head so I rented a motorboat and pointed it out to sea. The boat was small but it handled well. I’ve only been on lakes before. The sea is like a very big lake except with sharks and barracuda. My ex-fiance and I used to take a raft out on her lake in upstate New York. It was a good excuse to be alone while her mom practiced gin rummy with herself and her father yelled at his employees via satellite phone. We would row out to the middle of the lake and talk about how in love we were and she would give me a blowjob and I would tell her if any boats were coming.

My ex-fiance is probably giving blowjobs to Chaz right now in some place like Lake Como, laughing about how many speedboats they own. I would like to be there. I would like to be the Captain of a lake-class destroyer with authorization to sink civilian yachts at will.

I looked out at the sea in front of me. The motor on the boat was more powerful than I thought it would be. I was making excellent time. At this rate I’d be back in time for more editing and a fresh head of ideas. I had a six-pack of beer in the front of the boat. I opened one. The spray from the sea hit my face. It felt cool and nice with the hot sun. I had sea salt in my nostrils. I could smell whales and scuba divers down there. I looked at the water. Ultramarine. Every once in awhile flying fish jumped out like wriggling silver ingots. The sea was beautiful, but the monotonous sound of the engine was starting to get on my nerves. I tried not to think about it. I thought about Amy Tan undressing my ex-fiance while I held a large kitchen knife to Chaz’s throat. The three of us enjoying Gewurztraminer and Gruyere on the sun-brightened banks of the upper Honsatonic.

At five o’clock in the middle of the Sea of Cortez a panic came over me.

I stopped the engine.

I realized I had to go back home.

“If I don’t go back I’m screwed forever,” I confessed to the sea. My ex-fiance would hear. The old cocktail circuit would shake their heads, say things like, “He’s a failure. He couldn’t hack it in marketing, and he flopped as an ex-patriot poet/novelist.” My name torpedoed into oblivion over gin and tonics.

I turned the boat around.

A big dumb gull came lumbering across the sky. It looked straight down at me. “That’s just the way it is,” the gull said. “There’s no way out for people like you. No little yards. No cozy studies. No big-nippled wives awaiting your loving strangulations. Life is crueler than that. Hawk cheap copiers to office parks in Long Island. Love affairs with bowling alley sluts named Suze. A cruel loop of TV dinners and bad scotch. You’re doomed, SQUAWK!”

I picked up a full beer and hurled it at the gull, but it fell woefully short, a deafening plonk answered in the massive green horizon.