Charles Bukowski |
either peace or happiness,
let it enfold you
when i was a young man
I felt these things were
I had bad blood,a twisted
mind, a pecarious
I was hard as granite,I
leered at the
I trusted no man and
I was living a hell in
small rooms, I broke
things, smashed things,
walked through glass,
I challenged everything,
was continually being
out of fights,in and aout
of my mind.
women were something
to screw and rail
at,i had no male
I changed jobs and
cities,I hated holidays,
algebra angred me,
opera sickened me,
charlie chaplin was a
and flowers were for
peace an happiness to me
were signs of
tenants of the weak
but as I went on with
my alley fights,
my suicidal years,
my passage through
any number of
began to occur to
that I wasn't diffrent
others, I was the same,
they were all fulsome
glossed over with petty
the men I fought in
alleys had hearts of stone.
everybody was nudging,
inching, cheating for
the lie was the
weapon and the
darkness was the
cautiously, I allowed
myself to feel good
I found moments of
peace in cheap
just staring at the
knobs of some
or listening to the
rain in the
the less i needed
the better i
maybe the other life had worn me
I no longer found
in topping somebody
or in mounting the
body of some poor
whose life had
slipped away into
I could never accept
life as it was,
i could never gobble
down all its
but there were parts,
tenous magic parts
open for the
I re formulated
I don't know when,
but the change
something in me
i no longer had to
prove that i was a
I did'nt have to prove
I began to see things:
coffe cups lined up
behind a counter in a
or a dog walking along
or the way the mouse
on my dresser top
with its body,
it was fixed,
a bit of life
caught within itself
and its eyes looked
and they were
then- it was
I began to feel good,
I began to feel good
in the worst situations
and there were plenty
like say, the boss
behind his desk,
he is going to have
to fire me.
I've missed too many
he is dressed in a
suit, necktie, glasses,
he says, "i am going
to have to let you go"
"it's all right" i tell
He must do what he
must do, he has a
wife, a house, children.
expenses, most probably
I am sorry for him
he is caught.
I walk onto the blazing
the whole day is
(the whole world is at the
throat of the world,
everybody feels angry,
everybody is despondent,
I welcomed shots of
peace, tattered shards of
I embraced that stuff
like the hottest number,
like high heels,breasts,
(dont get me wrong,
there is such a thing as cockeyed optimism
that overlooks all
basic problems justr for
the sake of
this is a sheild and a
The knife got near my
I almost turned on the
but when the good
I did'nt fight them off
like an alley
I let them take me,
i luxuriated in them,
I bade them welcome
I even looked into
once having thought
myself to be
I now liked what
a bit ripped and
but all in all,
not too bad,
better at least than
some of those movie
like the cheeks of
and finally I discovered
real feelings fo
like this morning,
as I was leaving,
for the track,
i saw my wif in bed,
her head there
centuries of the living
and the dead and
but his music still
there in the
room, weeds growing,
the earth turning,
the toteboard waiting for
I saw the shape of my
she so still,
i ached for her life,
just being there
i kissed her in the,
got down the stairway,
got into my marvelous
fixed the seatbelt,
backed out the
feeling warm to
down to my
foot on the gas
I entered the world
drove down the
past the houses
full and emptey
i saw the mailman,
William Cowper |
Obscurest night involv'd the sky,
Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,
When such a destin'd wretch as I,
Wash'd headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.
No braver chief could Albion boast
Than he with whom he went,
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,
With warmer wishes sent.
He lov'd them both, but both in vain,
Nor him beheld, nor her again.
Not long beneath the whelming brine,
Expert to swim, he lay;
Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
Or courage die away;
But wag'd with death a lasting strife,
Supported by despair of life.
He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd
To check the vessel's course,
But so the furious blast prevail'd,
That, pitiless perforce,
They left their outcast mate behind,
And scudded still before the wind.
Some succour yet they could afford;
And, such as storms allow,
The cask, the coop, the floated cord,
Delay'd not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,
Whate'er they gave, should visit more.
Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he
Their haste himself condemn,
Aware that flight, in such a sea,
Alone could rescue them;
Yet bitter felt it still to die
Deserted, and his friends so nigh.
He long survives, who lives an hour
In ocean, self-upheld;
And so long he, with unspent pow'r,
His destiny repell'd;
And ever, as the minutes flew,
Entreated help, or cried--Adieu!
At length, his transient respite past,
His comrades, who before
Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast,
Could catch the sound no more.
For then, by toil subdued, he drank
The stifling wave, and then he sank.
No poet wept him: but the page
Of narrative sincere;
That tells his name, his worth, his age,
Is wet with Anson's tear.
And tears by bards or heroes shed
Alike immortalize the dead.
I therefore purpose not, or dream,
Descanting on his fate,
To give the melancholy theme
A more enduring date:
But misery still delights to trace
Its semblance in another's case.
No voice divine the storm allay'd,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.
William Wordsworth |
A simple child, dear brother Jim,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl,
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster'd round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair,
—Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they, I pray you tell?"
She answered, "Seven are we,
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
"Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother,
And in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet you are seven; I pray you tell
Sweet Maid, how this may be?"
Then did the little Maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.
"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little Maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit,
My 'kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit—
I sit and sing to them.
"And often after sunset, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
"The first that died was little Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain,
And then she went away.
"So in the church-yard she was laid,
And all the summer dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.
"How many are you then," said I,
"If they two are in Heaven?"
The little Maiden did reply,
"O Master! we are seven.
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
ANECDOTE for FATHERS,
Shewing how the practice of Lying may be taught.
I have a boy of five years old,
His face is fair and fresh to see;
His limbs are cast in beauty's mould,
And dearly he loves me.
One morn we stroll'd on our dry walk,
Our quiet house all full in view,
And held such intermitted talk
As we are wont to do.
My thoughts on former pleasures ran;
I thought of Kilve's delightful shore,
My pleasant home, when Spring began,
A long, long year before.
A day it was when I could bear
To think, and think, and think again;
With so much happiness to spare,
I could not feel a pain.
My boy was by my side, so slim
And graceful in his rustic dress!
And oftentimes I talked to him
In very idleness.
The young lambs ran a pretty race;
The morning sun shone bright and warm;
"Kilve," said I, "was a pleasant place,
And so is Liswyn farm.
"My little boy, which like you more,"
I said and took him by the arm—
"Our home by Kilve's delightful shore,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
"And tell me, had you rather be,"
I said and held-him by the arm,
"At Kilve's smooth shore by the green sea,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
In careless mood he looked at me,
While still I held him by the arm,
And said, "At Kilve I'd rather be
Than here at Liswyn farm.
"Now, little Edward, say why so;
My little Edward, tell me why;"
"I cannot tell, I do not know.
"Why this is strange," said I.
"For, here are woods and green hills warm:
There surely must some reason be
Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm,
For Kilve by the green sea.
At this, my boy hung down his head,
He blush'd with shame, nor made reply;
And five times to the child I said,
"Why, Edward, tell me, why?"
His head he raised—there was in sight,
It caught his eye, he saw it plain—
Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane.
Then did the boy his tongue unlock,
And thus to me he made reply;
"At Kilve there was no weather-cock,
And that's the reason why.
Oh dearest, dearest boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.
Written at a small distance from my House, and sent by
my little boy to the person to whom they are addressed.
It is the first mild day of March:
Each minute sweeter than before,
The red-breast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door.
There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.
My Sister! ('tis a wish of mine)
Now that our morning meal is done,
Make haste, your morning task resign;
Come forth and feel the sun.
Edward will come with you, and pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress,
And bring no book, for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
No joyless forms shall regulate
Our living Calendar:
We from to-day, my friend, will date
The opening of the year.
Love, now an universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth,
—It is the hour of feeling.
One moment now may give us more
Than fifty years of reason;
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.
Some silent laws our hearts may make,
Which they shall long obey;
We for the year to come may take
Our temper from to-day.
And from the blessed power that rolls
About, below, above;
We'll frame the measure of our souls,
They shall be tuned to love.
Then come, my sister I come, I pray,
With speed put on your woodland dress,
And bring no book; for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
William Shakespeare |
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Robert Browning |
(PETER RONSARD _loquitur_.
``Heigho!'' yawned one day King Francis,
``Distance all value enhances!
``When a man's busy, why, leisure
``Strikes him as wonderful pleasure:
`` 'Faith, and at leisure once is he?
``Straightway he wants to be busy.
``Here we've got peace; and aghast I'm
``Caught thinking war the true pastime.
``Is there a reason in metre?
``Give us your speech, master Peter!''
I who, if mortal dare say so,
Ne'er am at loss with my Naso,
``Sire,'' I replied, ``joys prove cloudlets:
``Men are the merest Ixions''---
Here the King whistled aloud, ``Let's
``---Heigho---go look at our lions!''
Such are the sorrowful chances
If you talk fine to King Francis.
And so, to the courtyard proceeding,
Our company, Francis was leading,
Increased by new followers tenfold
Before be arrived at the penfold;
Lords, ladies, like clouds which bedizen
At sunset the western horizon.
And Sir De Lorge pressed 'mid the foremost
With the dame he professed to adore most.
Oh, what a face! One by fits eyed
Her, and the horrible pitside;
For the penfold surrounded a hollow
Which led where the eye scarce dared follow,
And shelved to the chamber secluded
Where Bluebeard, the great lion, brooded.
The King bailed his keeper, an Arab
As glossy and black as a scarab,*1
And bade him make sport and at once stir
Up and out of his den the old monster.
They opened a hole in the wire-work
Across it, and dropped there a firework,
And fled: one's heart's beating redoubled;
A pause, while the pit's mouth was troubled,
The blackness and silence so utter,
By the firework's slow sparkling and sputter;
Then earth in a sudden contortion
Gave out to our gaze her abortion.
Such a brute! Were I friend Clement Marot
(Whose experience of nature's but narrow,
And whose faculties move in no small mist
When he versifies David the Psalmist)
I should study that brute to describe you
_Illim Juda Leonem de Tribu_.
One's whole blood grew curdling and creepy
To see the black mane, vast and heapy,
The tail in the air stiff and straining,
The wide eyes, nor waxing nor waning,
As over the barrier which bounded
His platform, and us who surrounded
The barrier, they reached and they rested
On space that might stand him in best stead:
For who knew, he thought, what the amazement,
The eruption of clatter and blaze meant,
And if, in this minute of wonder,
No outlet, 'mid lightning and thunder,
Lay broad, and, his shackles all shivered,
The lion at last was delivered?
Ay, that was the open sky o'erhead!
And you saw by the flash on his forehead,
By the hope in those eyes wide and steady,
He was leagues in the desert already,
Driving the flocks up the mountain,
Or catlike couched hard by the fountain
To waylay the date-gathering negress:
So guarded he entrance or egress.
``How he stands!'' quoth the King: ``we may well swear,
(``No novice, we've won our spurs elsewhere
``And so can afford the confession,)
``We exercise wholesome discretion
``In keeping aloof from his threshold;
``Once hold you, those jaws want no fresh hold,
``Their first would too pleasantly purloin
``The visitor's brisket or surloin:
``But who's he would prove so fool-hardy?
``Not the best man of Marignan, pardie!''
The sentence no sooner was uttered,
Than over the rails a glove flattered,
Fell close to the lion, and rested:
The dame 'twas, who flung it and jested
With life so, De Lorge had been wooing
For months past; he sat there pursuing
His suit, weighing out with nonchalance
Fine speeches like gold from a balance.
Sound the trumpet, no true knight's a tarrier!
De Lorge made one leap at the barrier,
Walked straight to the glove,---while the lion
Neer moved, kept his far-reaching eye on
The palm-tree-edged desert-spring's sapphire,
And the musky oiled skin of the Kaffir,---
Picked it up, and as calmly retreated,
Leaped back where the lady was seated,
And full in the face of its owner
Flung the glove.
``Your heart's queen, you dethrone her?
``So should I!''---cried the King---``'twas mere vanity,
``Not love, set that task to humanity!''
Lords and ladies alike turned with loathing
From such a proved wolf in sheep's clothing.
Not so, I; for I caught an expression
In her brow's undisturbed self-possession
Amid the Court's scoffing and merriment,---
As if from no pleasing experiment
She rose, yet of pain not much heedful
So long as the process was needful,---
As if she had tried in a crucible,
To what ``speeches like gold'' were reducible,
And, finding the finest prove copper,
Felt the smoke in her face was but proper;
To know what she had _not_ to trust to,
Was worth all the ashes and dust too.
She went out 'mid hooting and laughter;
Clement Marot stayed; I followed after,
And asked, as a grace, what it all meant?
If she wished not the rash deed's recalment?
``For I''---so I spoke---``am a poet:
``Human nature,---behoves that I know it!''
She told me, ``Too long had I heard
``Of the deed proved alone by the word:
``For my love---what De Lorge would not dare!
``With my scorn---what De Lorge could compare!
``And the endless descriptions of death
``He would brave when my lip formed a breath,
``I must reckon as braved, or, of course,
``Doubt his word---and moreover, perforce,
``For such gifts as no lady could spurn,
``Must offer my love in return.
``When I looked on your lion, it brought
``All the dangers at once to my thought,
``Encountered by all sorts of men,
``Before he was lodged in his den,---
``From the poor slave whose club or bare hands
``Dug the trap, set the snare on the sands,
``With no King and no Court to applaud,
``By no shame, should he shrink, overawed,
``Yet to capture the creature made shift,
``That his rude boys might laugh at the gift,
``---To the page who last leaped o'er the fence
``Of the pit, on no greater pretence
``Than to get back the bonnet he dropped,
``Lest his pay for a week should be stopped.
``So, wiser I judged it to make
``One trial what `death for my sake'
``Really meant, while the power was yet mine,
``Than to wait until time should define
``Such a phrase not so simply as I,
``Who took it to mean just `to die.
``The blow a glove gives is but weak:
``Does the mark yet discolour my cheek?
``But when the heart suffers a blow,
``Will the pain pass so soon, do you know?''
I looked, as away she was sweeping,
And saw a youth eagerly keeping
As close as he dared to the doorway.
No doubt that a noble should more weigh
His life than befits a plebeian;
And yet, had our brute been Nemean---
(I judge by a certain calm fervour
The youth stepped with, forward to serve her)
---He'd have scarce thought you did him the worst turn
If you whispered ``Friend, what you'd get, first earn!''
And when, shortly after, she carried
Her shame from the Court, and they married,
To that marriage some happiness, maugre
The voice of the Court, I dared augur.
For De Lorge, he made women with men vie,
Those in wonder and praise, these in envy;
And in short stood so plain a head taller
That he wooed and won .
how do you call her?
The beauty, that rose in the sequel
To the King's love, who loved her a week well.
And 'twas noticed he never would honour
De Lorge (who looked daggers upon her)
With the easy commission of stretching
His legs in the service, and fetching
His wife, from her chamber, those straying
Sad gloves she was always mislaying,
While the King took the closet to chat in,---
But of course this adventure came pat in.
And never the King told the story,
How bringing a glove brought such glory,
But the wife smiled---``His nerves are grown firmer:
``Mine he brings now and utters no murmur.
_Venienti occurrite morbo!_
With which moral I drop my theorbo.
*1 A beetle.
Frank Bidart |
The only thing I miss about Los Angeles
is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
--pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars
--descending through the city
fast as the law would allow
through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep
and you on top; the air
now clean, for a moment weightless
without memories, or
need for a past.
The need for the past
is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father
but he wanted to, so we entered
a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide
I thought of Cambridge:
the lovely congruent elegance
of Revolutionary architecture, even of
ersatz thirties Georgian
seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not--
to bode order and lucidity
as an ideal, if not reality--
not this California plush, which
I was not.
And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.
And now, staring into the embittered face of
again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
I was back.
The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no.
Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone,
a drink in her hand:
as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":
Name Wallace du Bois
Box No 128 Chino, Calif.
Date July 25 ,19 54
Mr Howard Arturian
I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing.
How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much.
I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
I know how to straighten metals and all that.
I forgot to say
"Hello" to you.
The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you.
So I wanted to know if its truth.
I go to the Board in Feb.
I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
and another thing is my drinking problem.
I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again.
This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before.
So Howard you can let me know soon
I sure would appreciate it.
S From Your Friend
I hope you can read my Wally Du Bois
I am a little nervous yet
--He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.
When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:
he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet.
It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop--
For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth
I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
not uninteresting at all:
they were the same.
Every plate and chair
had its congruence with
all the choices creating
these people, created
by them--by me,
for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.
Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions.
He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield
after five years
of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.
But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for
an afternoon of talk.
He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond.
And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A--, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr.
good horseman, good shot.
"But when your mother
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.
We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley.
When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,
because I had heard it
in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.
"Bored, I guess.
--Not much to do.
And why had Nancy's husband left her?
In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much.
And that was how experience
had informed his life.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet.
Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,
"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much.
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"
It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:
the past in maiming us,
I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel
--his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities
which have led him to this room, writing
--in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?
And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,
who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon
--does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by
"the order of the universe"
--does he will
I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris--; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;
every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable.
--I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle
guidance of my life--; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?
Billy Collins |
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Ogden Nash |
The hands of the clock were reaching high
In an old midtown hotel;
I name no name, but its sordid fame
Is table talk in hell.
I name no name, but hell's own flame
Illumes the lobby garish,
A gilded snare just off Times Square
For the maidens of the parish.
The revolving door swept the grimy floor
Like a crinoline grotesque,
And a lowly bum from an ancient slum
Crept furtively past the desk.
His footsteps sift into the lift
As a knife in the sheath is slipped,
Stealthy and swift into the lift
As a vampire into a crypt.
Old Maxie, the elevator boy,
Was reading an ode by Shelley,
But he dropped the ode as it were a toad
When the gun jammed into his belly.
There came a whisper as soft as mud
In the bed of an old canal:
"Take me up to the suite of Pinball Pete,
The rat who betrayed my gal.
The lift doth rise with groans and sighs
Like a duchess for the waltz,
Then in middle shaft, like a duchess daft,
It changes its mind and halts.
The bum bites lip as the landlocked ship
Doth neither fall nor rise,
But Maxie the elevator boy
Regards him with burning eyes.
"First, to explore the thirteenth floor,"
Says Maxie, "would be wise.
Quoth the bum, "There is moss on your double cross,
I have been this way before,
I have cased the joint at every point,
And there is no thirteenth floor.
The architect he skipped direct
From twelve unto fourteen,
There is twelve below and fourteen above,
And nothing in between,
For the vermin who dwell in this hotel
Could never abide thirteen.
Said Max, "Thirteen, that floor obscene,
Is hidden from human sight;
But once a year it doth appear,
On this Walpurgis Night.
Ere you peril your soul in murderer's role,
Heed those who sinned of yore;
The path they trod led away from God,
And onto the thirteenth floor,
Where those they slew, a grisly crew,
Reproach them forevermore.
"We are higher than twelve and below fourteen,"
Said Maxie to the bum,
"And the sickening draft that taints the shaft
Is a whiff of kingdom come.
The sickening draft that taints the shaft
Blows through the devil's door!"
And he squashed the latch like a fungus patch,
And revealed the thirteenth floor.
It was cheap cigars like lurid scars
That glowed in the rancid gloom,
The murk was a-boil with fusel oil
And the reek of stale perfume.
And round and round there dragged and wound
A loathsome conga chain,
The square and the hep in slow lock step,
The slayer and the slain.
(For the souls of the victims ascend on high,
But their bodies below remain.
The clean souls fly to their home in the sky,
But their bodies remain below
To pursue the Cain who each has slain
And harry him to and fro.
When life is extinct each corpse is linked
To its gibbering murderer,
As a chicken is bound with wire around
The neck of a killer cur.
Handcuffed to Hate come Doctor Waite
(He tastes the poison now),
And Ruth and Judd and a head of blood
With horns upon its brow.
Up sashays Nan with her feathery fan
From Floradora bright;
She never hung for Caesar Young
But she's dancing with him tonight.
Here's the bulging hip and the foam-flecked lip
Of the mad dog, Vincent Coll,
And over there that ill-met pair,
Becker and Rosenthal,
Here's Legs and Dutch and a dozen such
Of braggart bullies and brutes,
And each one bends 'neath the weight of friends
Who are wearing concrete suits.
Now the damned make way for the double-damned
Who emerge with shuffling pace
From the nightmare zone of persons unknown,
With neither name nor face.
And poor Dot King to one doth cling,
Joined in a ghastly jig,
While Elwell doth jape at a goblin shape
And tickle it with his wig.
See Rothstein pass like breath on a glass,
The original Black Sox kid;
He riffles the pack, riding piggyback
On the killer whose name he hid.
And smeared like brine on a slavering swine,
Starr Faithful, once so fair,
Drawn from the sea to her debauchee,
With the salt sand in her hair.
And still they come, and from the bum
The icy sweat doth spray;
His white lips scream as in a dream,
"For God's sake, let's away!
If ever I meet with Pinball Pete
I will not seek his gore,
Lest a treadmill grim I must trudge with him
On the hideous thirteenth floor.
"For you I rejoice," said Maxie's voice,
"And I bid you go in peace,
But I am late for a dancing date
That nevermore will cease.
So remember, friend, as your way you wend,
That it would have happened to you,
But I turned the heat on Pinball Pete;
You see - I had a daughter, too!"
The bum reached out and he tried to shout,
But the door in his face was slammed,
And silent as stone he rode down alone
From the floor of the double-damned.
Barry Tebb |
Give me life at its most garish
Friday night in the Square, pink sequins dazzle
And dance on clubbers bare to the midriff
Young men in crisp shirts and pressed pants
‘Dress code smart’ gyrate to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
And sing along its lyrics to the throng of which I’m one
My shorts, shoulder bag and white beard
Making me stand out in the teeming swarm
Of teens and twenties this foetid Friday night
On my way from the ward where our son paces
And fulminates I throw myself into the drowning
Tide of Friday to be rescued by sheer normality.
The mill girl with her mates asks anxiously
"Are you on your own? Come and join us
What’s your name?" Age has driven my shyness away
As I join the crowd beneath the turning purple screens
Bannered ‘****** lasts for ever’ and sip unending
Halves of bitter, as I circulate among the crowd,
Being complete in itself and out for a good night out,
A relief from factory, shop floor and market stall
Running from the reality of the ward where my son
Pounds the ledge with his fist and seems out to blast
My very existence with words like bullets.
The need to anaesthetise the pain resurfaces
Again and again.
In Leeds City Square where
Pugin’s church, the Black Prince and the Central Post Office
In its Edwardian grandeur are startled by the arching spumes
Or white water fountains and the steel barricades of Novotel
Rise from the ruins of a sixties office block.
I hurry past and join Boar Lane’s Friday crew
From Keighley and Dewsbury’s mills, hesitating
At the thought of being told I’m past my
Sell-by-date and turned away by the West Indian
Bouncers, black-suited and city-council badged
Who checked my bag but smiled at ‘The Lights of
Leeds’ and ‘Poets of Our Time’ tucked away as carefully as condoms-
Was it guns or drugs they were after
I wondered as I crossed the bare boards to the bar.
I stayed near the fruit machine which no-one played,
Where the crowd was thickest, the noise drowned out the pain
‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’ the chorus rang
The girls joined in but the young men knew
The words no more than me.
Dancing as we knew it
In the sixties has gone, you do your own thing
And follow the beat, hampered by my bag
I just kept going, letting the music and the crowd
Hold me, my camera eye moving in search, in search…
What I’m searching for I don’t know
Searching’s a way of life that has to grow
"All of us who are patients here are searchers after truth"
My son kept saying, his legs shaking from the side effects
Of God-knows- what, pacing the tiny ward kitchen cum smoking room,
Denouncing his ‘illegal section’ and ‘poisonous medication’
To an audience of one.
The prospect of TV, Seroxat and Diazepan fazed me:
I was beyond unravelling Meltzer on differentiation
Of self and object or Rosine Josef Perelberg on ‘Dreaming and Thinking’
Or even the simpler ‘Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States’
So I went out with West Yorkshire on a Friday night.
Nothing dramatic happened; perhaps I’m a little too used
To acute wards or worse where chairs fly across rooms,
Windows disintegrate and double doors are triple locked
And every nurse carries a white panic button and black pager
To pinpoint the moment’s crisis.
Normality was a bit of adrenaline,
A wild therapy that drew me in, sanity had won the night.
"Are you on your own, love? Come and join us"
People kept asking if I was alright and why
I had that damned great shoulder bag.
I was introduced
To three young men about to tie the knot, a handsome lothario
In his midforties winked at me constantly,
Dancing with practised ease with sixteen year olds
Who all seemed to know him and determined to show him.
Three hours passed in as many minutes and then the crowds
Disappeared to catch the last bus home.
The young aren’t
As black as they are painted, one I danced with reminded me
Of how Margaret would have been at sixteen
With straw gold hair Yeats would have immortalised.
People seemed to guess I was haunted by an inner demon
I’d tried to leave in the raftered lofts of City Square
But failed to.
Girls from sixteen to twenty six kept grabbing me
And making me dance and I found my teenage inhibitions
Gone at sixty-one and wildly gyrated to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
Egged on by the throng by the fruit machine and continuous
Thumbs-up signs from passing men.
I had to forgo
A cheerful group of Aussies were intent on taking me clubbing
"I’d get killed or turned into a pumpkin
If I get home after midnight" I quipped to their delight
But being there had somehow put things right.
Henry David Thoreau |
Whate'er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God leaves alone.
If with light head erect I sing,
Though all the Muses lend their force,
From my poor love of anything,
The verse is weak and shallow as its source.
But if with bended neck I grope
Listening behind me for my wit,
With faith superior to hope,
More anxious to keep back than forward it;
Making my soul accomplice there
Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse forever wear--
Time cannot bend the line which God hath writ.
Always the general show of things
Floats in review before my mind,
And such true love and reverence brings,
That sometimes I forget that I am blind.
But now there comes unsought, unseen,
Some clear divine electuary,
And I, who had but sensual been,
Grow sensible, and as God is, am wary.
I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.
I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
And in my day the sun doth pale his light.
A clear and ancient harmony
Pierces my soul through all its din,
As through its utmost melody--
Farther behind than they, farther within.
More swift its bolt than lightning is,
Its voice than thunder is more loud,
It doth expand my privacies
To all, and leave me single in the crowd.
It speaks with such authority,
With so serene and lofty tone,
That idle Time runs gadding by,
And leaves me with Eternity alone.
Now chiefly is my natal hour,
And only now my prime of life;
Of manhood's strength it is the flower,
'Tis peace's end and war's beginning strife.
It comes in summer's broadest noon,
By a grey wall or some chance place,
Unseasoning Time, insulting June,
And vexing day with its presuming face.
Such fragrance round my couch it makes,
More rich than are Arabian drugs,
That my soul scents its life and wakes
The body up beneath its perfumed rugs.
Such is the Muse, the heavenly maid,
The star that guides our mortal course,
Which shows where life's true kernel's laid,
Its wheat's fine flour, and its undying force.
She with one breath attunes the spheres,
And also my poor human heart,
With one impulse propels the years
Around, and gives my throbbing pulse its start.
I will not doubt for evermore,
Nor falter from a steadfast faith,
For thought the system be turned o'er,
God takes not back the word which once He saith.
I will not doubt the love untold
Which not my worth nor want has bought,
Which wooed me young, and woos me old,
And to this evening hath me brought.
My memory I'll educate
To know the one historic truth,
Remembering to the latest date
The only true and sole immortal youth.
Be but thy inspiration given,
No matter through what danger sought,
I'll fathom hell or climb to heaven,
And yet esteem that cheap which love has bought.
Fame cannot tempt the bard
Who's famous with his God,
Nor laurel him reward
Who has his Maker's nod.