David Lehman |
for Jim Cummins
In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman,"
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform.
like Wallace Stevens
in a seersucker summer suit.
To town came Ted Berrigan,
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell.
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's
latest: the Pulitzer.
A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell,
pour something into Donna's drink.
"In the Walt Whitman
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan,
pulling on a Chesterfield.
Everyone laughed, except T.
I asked for directions.
"You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left.
Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine
and you're there," Jim said.
When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan
with cigarette ash in his beard.
Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men's room walls.
Beth had bought a quart of Walt
Donna looked blank.
"Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura
of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she
returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan.
Donna was candid.
"When the spirit of Ted Berrigan
comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell,
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine.
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act.
"I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt
Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan.
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine,
up a point and a half on strong earnings.
ended the day unchanged.
Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton,
Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.
Theodore Roethke |
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine--
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.
The things she endured!--
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--
And that was scary--
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.
Robert Hayden |
Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness
and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror
and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing
and the night cold and the night long and the river
to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning
and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere
morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep on going
Many thousands rise and go
many thousands crossing over
0 mythic North
0 star-shaped yonder Bible city
Some go weeping and some rejoicing
some in coffins and some in carriages
some in silks and some in shackles
Rise and go or fare you well
No more auction block for me
no more driver's lash for me
If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age,
new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes;
if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto
branded E on the right cheek, R on the left,
catch them if you can and notify subscriber.
Catch them if you can, but it won't be easy.
They'll dart underground when you try to catch them,
plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes,
torn into scorpions when you try to catch them.
And before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave
North star and bonanza gold
I'm bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
and oh Susyanna don't you cry for me
Rises from their anguish and their power,
woman of earth, whipscarred,
a summoning, a shining
Mean to be free
And this was the way of it, brethren brethren,
way we journeyed from Can't to Can.
Moon so bright and no place to hide,
the cry up and the patterollers riding,
hound dogs belling in bladed air.
And fear starts a-murbling, Never make it,
we'll never make it.
Hush that now,
and she's turned upon us, levelled pistol
glinting in the moonlight:
Dead folks can't jaybird-talk, she says;
you keep on going now or die, she says.
Wanted Harriet Tubman alias The General
alias Moses Stealer of Slaves
In league with Garrison Alcott Emerson
Garrett Douglass Thoreau John Brown
Armed and known to be Dangerous
Wanted Reward Dead or Alive
Tell me, Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me?
Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
five times calling to the hants in the air.
Shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
shadow of a voice in the talking leaves:
Come ride-a my train
Oh that train, ghost-story train
through swamp and savanna movering movering,
over trestles of dew, through caves of the wish,
Midnight Special on a sabre track movering movering,
first stop Mercy and the last Hallelujah.
Come ride-a my train
Mean mean mean to be free.
Frank Bidart |
"When I hit her on the head, it was good,
and then I did it to her a couple of times,--
but it was funny,--afterwards,
it was as if somebody else did it .
Everything flat, without sharpness, richness or line.
Still, I liked to drive past the woods where she lay,
tell the old lady and the kids I had to take a piss,
hop out and do it to her .
The whole buggy of them waiting for me
made me feel good;
but still, just like I knew all along,
she didn't move.
When the body got too discomposed,
I'd just jack off, letting it fall on her .
--It sounds crazy, but I tell you
sometimes it was beautiful--; I don't know how
to say it, but for a miute, everything was possible--;
well, like I said, she didn't move: and I saw,
under me, a little girl was just lying there in the mud:
and I knew I couldn't have done that,--
somebody else had to have done that,--
standing above her there,
in those ordinary, shitty leaves .
--One time, I went to see Dad in a motel where he was
staying with a woman; but she was gone;
you could smell the wine in the air; and he started,
real embarrassing, to cry .
He was still a little drunk,
and asked me to forgive him for
all he hasn't done--; but, What the ****?
Who would have wanted to stay with Mom? with bastards
not even his own kids?
I got in the truck, and started to drive
and saw a little girl--
who I picked up, hit on the head, and
screwed, and screwed, and screwed, and screwed, then
in the garden of the motel .
--You see, ever since I was a kid I wanted
to feel things make sense: I remember
looking out the window of my room back home,--
and being almost suffocated by the asphalt;
and grass; and trees; and glass;
just there, just there, doing nothing!
not saying anything! filling me up--
but also being a wall; dead, and stopping me;
--how I wanted to see beneath it, cut
beneath it, and make it
somehow, come alive .
The salt of the earth;
Mom once said, 'Man's ***** is the salt of the earth .
--That night, at that Twenty-nine Palms Motel
I had passed a million times on the road, everything
fit together; was alright;
it seemed like
everything had to be there, like I had spent years
trying, and at last finally finished drawing this
huge circle .
--But then, suddenly I knew
somebody else did it, some bastard
had hurt a little girl--; the motel
I could see again, it had been
itself all the time, a lousy
pile of bricks, plaster, that didn't seem to
have to be there,--but was, just by chance .
--Once, on the farm, when I was a kid,
I was screwing a goat; and the rope around his neck
when he tried to get away
pulled tight;--and just when I came,
he died .
I came back the next day; jacked off over his body;
but it didn't do any good .
Mom once said:
'Man's ***** is the salt of the earth, and grows kids.
I tried so hard to come; more pain than anything else;
but didn't do any good .
--About six months ago, I heard Dad remarried,
so I drove over to Connecticut to see him and see
if he was happy.
She was twenty-five years younger than him:
she had lots of little kids, and I don't know why,
I felt shaky .
I stopped in front of the address; and
snuck up to the window to look in .
--There he was, a kid
six months old on his lap, laughing
and bouncing the kid, happy in his old age
to play the papa after years of sleeping around,--
it twisted me up .
To think that what he wouldn't give me,
he wanted to give them .
I could have killed the bastard .
--Naturally, I just got right back in the car,
and believe me, was determined, determined,
to head straight for home .
but the more I drove,
I kept thinking about getting a girl,
and the more I thought I shouldn't do it,
the more I had to--
I saw her coming out of the movies,
saw she was alone, and
kept circling the blocks as she walked along them,
saying, 'You're going to leave her alone.
'You're going to leave her alone.
--The woods were scary!
As the seasons changed, and you saw more and more
of the skull show through, the nights became clearer,
and the buds,--erect, like nipples .
--But then, one night,
nothing worked .
Nothing in the sky
would blur like I wanted it to;
and I couldn't, couldn't,
get it to seem to me
that somebody else did it .
I tried, and tried, but there was just me there,
and her, and the sharp trees
saying, "That's you standing there.
I hope I fry.
--Hell came when I saw
and couldn't stand
what I see .
Rudyard Kipling |
Wot makes the soldier's 'eart to penk, wot makes 'im to perspire?
It isn't standin' up to charge nor lyin' down to fire;
But it's everlastin' waitin' on a everlastin' road
For the commissariat camel an' 'is commissariat load.
O the oont*, O the oont, O the commissariat oont!
With 'is silly neck a-bobbin' like a basket full o' snakes;
We packs 'im like an idol, an' you ought to 'ear 'im grunt,
An' when we gets 'im loaded up 'is blessed girth-rope breaks.
Wot makes the rear-guard swear so 'ard when night is drorin' in,
An' every native follower is shiverin' for 'is skin?
It ain't the chanst o' being rushed by Paythans from the 'ills,
It's the commissariat camel puttin' on 'is bloomin' frills!
O the oont, O the oont, O the hairy scary oont!
A-trippin' over tent-ropes when we've got the night alarm!
We socks 'im with a stretcher-pole an' 'eads 'im off in front,
An' when we've saved 'is bloomin' life 'e chaws our bloomin' arm.
The 'orse 'e knows above a bit, the bullock's but a fool,
The elephant's a gentleman, the battery-mule's a mule;
But the commissariat cam-u-el, when all is said an' done,
'E's a devil an' a ostrich an' a orphan-child in one.
O the oont, O the oont, O the Gawd-forsaken oont!
The lumpy-'umpy 'ummin'-bird a-singin' where 'e lies,
'E's blocked the whole division from the rear-guard to the front,
An' when we get him up again -- the beggar goes an' dies!
'E'll gall an' chafe an' lame an' fight -- 'e smells most awful vile;
'E'll lose 'isself for ever if you let 'im stray a mile;
'E's game to graze the 'ole day long an' 'owl the 'ole night through,
An' when 'e comes to greasy ground 'e splits 'isself in two.
O the oont, O the oont, O the floppin', droppin' oont!
When 'is long legs give from under an' 'is meltin' eye is dim,
The tribes is up be'ind us, and the tribes is out in front --
It ain't no jam for Tommy, but it's kites an' crows for 'im.
So when the cruel march is done, an' when the roads is blind,
An' when we sees the camp in front an' 'ears the shots be'ind,
Ho! then we strips 'is saddle off, and all 'is woes is past:
'E thinks on us that used 'im so, and gets revenge at last.
O the oont, O the oont, O the floatin', bloatin' oont!
The late lamented camel in the water-cut 'e lies;
We keeps a mile be'ind 'im an' we keeps a mile in front,
But 'e gets into the drinkin'-casks, and then o' course we dies.