On the approach of my seventieth birthday
tropes of twilight and day's melancholy fade
pass into the lyricism of softening light at summer's end.
Waves of past and reminisce
wash over these hours,
prelude to the fall term, renewal,
return to books, study, rhythms of a life.
Akhmatova had it that poetry is a catastrophe,
not the kind of work where one gets up in the morning,
sits down at the desk. Well. I'll immerse myself.
Ah, but there is more to the affair
than just waiting around for the muse to make the scene,
as I imagine the great Russian poet well knew.
To the desk then!
I take up the pen once more
as I have through a lifetime of it.
Memory shades into imagination.
I peer from an upstairs window,
Emily Dickinson at my side,
her face caught in a sudden slant of afternoon light,
and with Emily Brontë roam desolate moors,
walk where kindred natures would be leading,
half a century and some years more gone
since first I imagined giving myself over
to the lure of happenstance
and the sublime charm of the absurd,
a jingle-jangle morning rendezvous
with Rimbaud on a drunken boat,
Dada escapades, Surrealist saints, Beat daddies,
Mayakovsky not a man but a cloud in trousers
waiting for Maria who said she would come at four.
Eight. Nine. Ten. It happened in Odesa, he says. It happened.
Fifty. Sixty. Seventy. It happens, I tell you. It happens.
A random line from a poem or a song,
a passage in a book, scene in a film,
Bergman, Fellini, Hong Sang-soo,
conjures chance recollection, intimation of so much
that might have been,
and next thing you know, I blink away tears.
So put on Dylan mid-sixties vintage
and crank up the volume till pen soars over page
as the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
and the unfathomable ocean night of her eyes.
Then flash of thought to childhood home,
fields and woods, gently rolling pasture,
tumble-down barns, sheds, cows at the trough,
Granny's garden, flowerbeds.
The scent of fresh mown grass lingers,
magnolia blossom, dogwood bloom,
rows of tasseled corn,
freshly baked bread cooling on a kitchen counter,
and always and ever books,
Mom home from work with a haul
she picked up at the library on her lunch hour,
science fiction, space opera,
historical tales of people and things
far away in time and place,
the span of continent and a lifetime
away from me now,
yet with me still
in this catastrophe of poetry and life.
Akhmatova and Mayakovsky had The Stray Dog Cabaret
where one night the prima ballerina of Ballets Russes,
Karsavina, goddess of the air,
showed up and danced.
It happened in Atlanta. The Little 5 Points years.
Someone passed around a bottle.
I stepped to the stage
in a succession of dim-lit back rooms,
cafés, galleries, coffee dens,
where on a good night
audience outnumbered poets.
I sing Dead Angels, Debbie Hiers, the Dactyl,
Seaberg Skeleton Theater, acrobatic poetry,
Papa Bizzoso, Little Beirut,
Mama, Dada at 7 Stages,
bohemia where we could find it or make or imagine it,
some painters and some poets,
the odd piano player, an actor, a mime,
everyday intellectuals, barbarian literati
ever ready to storm barricades of decorum
and scandalize the bourgeoisie.
It took a while for a slow learner to figure out
that systematic derangement of the senses,
surrealist automatic writing,
exquisite corpses and the like,
a poetics of excess and delirium,
only takes you so far.
The season passed and I came away
somehow somewhat whole
with a few poems I like to think may be almost pretty good
and some friends who believe in me.
The modest laurels of a poet's life see me through
pandemic days and largely peaceful nights
of protest and mayhem that would set Bakúnin beside himself
were the old anarchist around to witness and gleefully join in
a creative urge to destroy, a mass hysteria that infects the air
indifferent to faction or wing.
Through the ashes of these years in their relentless passing
and the day's grim reckoning with human folly and frenzy,
I kept faith as best I could and like to think I keep it still,
conversing with Dickinson and Brontë,
Keats and Corso, Apollinaire, Rimbaud, Sam Beckett,
as Blake conversed with prophets and angels.
Out on the far left coast that gentle Portland breeze
floats through the window where I at my desk
visit again those Monet water lilies at the Museum of Modern Art,
a Ukrainian place in the East Village
where Brooklyn Judy took me for cannoli,
ferries to Staten Island, Sausalito, Bainbridge, the San Juans,
museums and gardens, boulevards and cafés of Paris,
vieux Lyon, Place Bellecour,
Dog Mountain in the rain
looking for those flowers said to bloom
briefly in spring,
scent of magnolia through bedroom window
sixty years gone,
Colonial Williamsburg with Mom
too few years before she stepped on a rainbow
at the age I now am,
here at the desk, pen put to page,
in and of the world, this lifetime of it.