Stephen Gyllenhaal Was Always Going to Be About Jake

The peculiar story of literary lady Cantara Christopher and her relationship to famous father (and aspiring poet) Stephen Gyllenhaal continues. Last we left it, Christopher planned to tell all about her experience with Jake and Maggie's dad. She followed through!

In a pair of long, detailed emails, Christopher recounts how she came in to contact with Gyllenhaal and came to be the publisher of his volume of poems, Claptrap. Mostly it's just dry personal anecdotes, but there are a few interesting bits. Like the fact that Gyllenhaal freaked out when he finally realized just how famous his kids Jake and Maggie actually are:

About two that afternoon Stephen called again, but this time I was around to answer the phone. "I tried to reach you this morning," he told me mournfully. "Look, something's come up. We, uh, we've just had a family conclave" — I swear he used the word conclave — "and we've come to a decision. We want you to remove all your references everywhere to Jake and Maggie."
A stony silence on my part, then, "O-kay..."

He pressed on. "The thing is, you don't realize what it's like for us here. It's insane! The kids can't go anywhere without being mobbed. It's like nothing we've ever seen before. Our friends, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, tell us it's like nothing they've ever seen before."

"It's cell phone cameras," I said. "It's the internet."

"No, it's not that," countered Stephen. "People are insane. When you've got people in this administration who can start an illegal war and rob the country of billions of dollars, you can see that everyone's gone insane. You know, right after the Oscars these people would come up to me and say things like, ‘Well, you've got it made now. Just put Jake in a movie and you can have any deal you want.' But you know what?" he paused, then intoned darkly and intensely, "I would rather starve in the streets than take that money! That's not my money. That's my children's money, and their children's children after them." He sighed and seemed to calm down. "So, the family just took a vote. I think I said something about that…?"

"I think so."

"We made a decision never to be photographed together in public ever again. The kids have got to be protected, you know."

Well, I did know two things. I knew that the "kids" were 25 and 28 years old, and that Maggie at the moment was in New York, as there was a paparazzo picture in one of the gossip websites that morning of her walking through Soho. I wondered if she had faxed her vote.

Though, removing all references to the kids in the book may have been hard, considering one of the poems was about his Brokebacking son:

Michael took them into the kitchen to read and when he came out again he was very grave. "I told you before that Stephen's a good poet. He's not. He is a great poet. I haven't encountered a poet with his vision in thirty years, not since — "

"Sylvia Plath?" I offered. "Anne Sexton?"

"Yes, Anne Sexton. Exactly." Michael understood why I had brought up her name — one of Stephen's poems from the earlier batch was called "Having Anne Sexton for Dinner".

"So it's confessional poetry. That's going to be a hard sell," I said. "Confessional poetry makes people uncomfortable. I think we should concentrate on his political poems. It would be a lot easier."

"I don't care about that," said Michael. "Listen. I see what he's doing, he's trying to put it all together. His past, his present. Everything's personal with him. Forget that political nonsense. That's nothing. It's the family. With Stephen, it's always going to come back to the family." He handed me one of the pages. "Read this."

I went over and sat in the corner chair and read it. It was a poem entitled "At 25".

When I was finished, I gave it back to Michael. He asked me how I liked it. I told him, "It's sort of awful because it's like reading someone's private letter. But it gives me an eerie feeling, like looking into a time machine. And it is beautiful. And it is sort of — all there."

"Yeah," said Michael quietly.

At this point, dear reader, I think I'm going to have to share with you one of Stephen's poems so you don't think Michael and I are complete lunatics.

At 25

a man now stand you
on roots no one can claim
as good as you
(pure born god-son
look at you anywhere
across the globe).

At birth you were blue
I witnessed you suck
that first breath in and turn
as white as snow on top
of Everest. Pure. Pure.
Goodness and Mercy.

Jumble of words my only
clue to give to you
for your mountain view

to burn the libraries
and burn us too
(all that's come
before you.)

Your (my side) grandfather's
head handed him
on a silver Salome platter (he knew
more than he could hold on to)
and your great grandfather
stumbled and I shamble
and out of the phoenix ash
of my/your ancestral men you flew
out of the John Baptist ash
you flew beyond the pebbles
in the Jordan where we, the men
before you wash our sad, sad feet

but not for naught — the truth
when sung soothes far beyond
all gold.

I remember your grandfather
(not sober) singing, weeping
in my high gliding stone dead
gothic church —

"A voice of one, crying
in the wilderness, prepare ye
the way of the Lord."

I remember holding you, screaming
with good rage in a Sea Ranch night.
Taking you outside under the moon
and the giant pines — screaming, screaming.
Holding you. I didn't know what else to do.
Kicking. Screaming with good rage
till you slowly trembled yourself into rest.

Forgive us, Lord, we know
not what we do.

Good rage. Burn us to the ground.
Good rage. So little good seems
to have come of John the Baptist
and what followed. Your grandfather
loved John the Baptist. Wept and sung
his words and went too easily
into their good night
which I won't do.

All these words and others too
are here for you, may they be true.

I hope you agree that this is a beautiful poem. But you see, it's also about Jake Gyllenhaal, and this was always going to be part of our problem.

Ha, exactly. He'll always be famous kids' dad! Not all the heavy-handed comparisons to Anne Sexton in the world can change that. Oh, and, ha, incidentally: Cantara had a bit of a crush oh Stephen:

He was handsome, sandy-haired, tall — about an inch taller than Jake — wearing a tight white T-shirt that showed off his athletic build, and he was grinning a dreamy, boyish grin. How do I explain this? I was a little disappointed. From what I knew about Coppola and Spielberg and all those distant mysterious types called Hollywood directors, I'd held an image in my mind that Stephen, as well, was a short, dark, balding, bearded middle-aged man who wore a baseball cap backwards. When he and I talked on the phone, that's what I imagined he looked like, and it made me enjoy being a little in love with him.

Oh gods, where did the blood go bad??

If you're curious, the entirety of the missives can be read here.