I'm saying your name out loud again
now I've turned fifty
and feeling more like an ageing survivor
of the Pisan Circle
than one of its younger, hyperactive expatriots.
My time runs
a hundred and fifty years later--
give or take a few years.
I would have drowned
in a sailing accident
less than a month shy of my thirtieth birthday
(perhaps in the Columbia or Willamette River
at the end of May, 1976), and I never
would have seen Hawaii.
Of course, I learned young how to swim
and probably would have reacted
more calmly (and less creatively?) than you did
at moments of crisis.
So here I am remembering
how your words clasped my youth
like rain clouds on the mountains,
thundering with blinding truths,
demanding loud commitments.
And how one night, when I fell asleep,
you stepped out of your short biography in
The Norton Anthology of English Literature
to knock on my parents' front door to tell me
it was Williams who prevented you
from taking down the sail
in your final storm.
Let me tell you here:
that dream today is definitely "a fading coal"
some thirty years later;
spoiled little aristocrats like you
don't get a classical
education in Greek and Latin anymore.
But the pursuit goes on,
"the desire of the moth for the star."
"astra ad astram,"
and we still forego certain comforts,
increasingly desired in middle age.
An Open Letter to the People of Santa Monica
Regarding the Demolition of the Old, Old Library
after school in sixty three and four
while others were loading surfboards
into open vans
I had to take the blue
number-nine bus into Santa Monica
get off across from Henshey's
the only department store around
and climb up stairs
to the noisy pink
red-tiled building set back
from the boulevard
then I loaded and unloaded
books and bound periodicals
and listened to nearby footsteps
as on a wooden stage
or the occasional voice
forgetting to whisper
that library housed more books
than I ever knew
could be opened in one place
and a mural depicting
a scientist with test tubes
an engineer with a model airplane
to reading and the arts
I read Dewey decimals
on the sides of bindings
my right hand closing
around a cover
my left probing for a passage
between two other volumes
waiting to fill
the idea of order
in somebody's mind
what curiosity shook loose
my job set back
as right as such
inducement could perform
that was my first employment
I spent my paycheck on vinyl records
Bach's Brandenburg Concerti
Mozart's for Flute and Harp
sure it was a firetrap
too hot in summer
damp in winter
noisy much too often
and I commend the construction
of a new library overdue
but I'm sending this letter
to ask you what happened
to the people in the mural
and maybe to remind you
every movement of that order
is bound to shake loose somewhere
a load of memories
perhaps even on a page
in somebody's book
(a poem never previously published, but read at a Reading/Recital with Benno Rubinyi,
pianist, in the auditorium of the then new library in June of 1981 or '82)
for Peter, lost hang glider
". . . every dream is a light"
The Greeks had it all wrong:
crazy to think wax wings would melt
just by flying up, a little closer to the sun!
But then they also thought Phaeton once tried
to pull that fireball across the sky
in his father's own chariot.
What Icarus really needed was wider, broader wings
the right kind of wind to lift him
where he just had to go,
forever pursuing a wild updraft off a cliff,
the whole ocean below performing its exotic dance for him.
We on the ground had lost him from our views;
so he got up one morning, took off,
glided for a time, then plunged away from us.
His friends assumed he was following them back in,
but when they searched horizons,
they found no trace.
Now, in hindsight, we remember his beautiful eyes;
they were always yearning skyward,
forever questioning our earthbound squint,
while we debated the truths
deciphered from old myths. Beyond Modesto
Sam Upton and Father, Central Park, NYC
Some events are instantaneous and eternal.
Take Samuel Upton's arrival in Central Park
Out of a Zeus-sized thundercloud, Summer 1980,
And say: "This child will be 21 in the year 2000."
His smile will take you a long, long way:
Out of the clouds, back to his father's arms
Outstretched and ready to receive any easy
Burden, bound to get heavier as years go by.
Already those legs have learned to walk on land
And, charged with the miracle of their arrival,
With all the excitement of streets and alleys
Yet to discover in a big city, they are running
At full career.
No, this kid is no Hercules hurled from Olympus
To desperately waiting mortal arms. The miracle
Here is a cherished thrusting upward from the father
To the son--suspended, weightless in a moment,
Caught by the camera--more like a kite
Linked forever without the tug of string.
And the actor-to-become now walks on Earth,
Filled with the smile of that immortal sky.
(2003) Beyond Modesto
for my son, Ben
Those lumpy, brown beginnings of buds
just now bulging out of black winter branches,
showing a brittle, bright pinkish color
the closer my eyeball bounces their way
without fogging or blurring my lenses.
I'm only out here broadcasting their beauty
because the weather's so balmy and dry--
February's fatally False Spring, when rain and wind,
sleet and snow have stopped backing me under cover.
Spying this way, I could use a close-up camera
to shoot a threateningly perfect moment, when,
already vulnerable, the plum tree hints its first renewal,
then dangerously flashes its true colors again,
and I meanwhile expose my own interests,
leaning and staring without any clothes on--
a spring bud no longer, but out there drinking in deep
another False Spring: my well-trimmed beard turning white,
plenty of gray hair on my chest mixed with the blond,
and my face forever grinning at the Big Chill
always clicking away, always so sure to return.
(1997) Beyond Modesto
When you visit friends the first time,
Don't bring presents for their children. An important
Rule of etiquette. More so than the way a child
Should hold a spoon or refrain from bouncing at table.
Take Pauline and Lloyd, for instance, they brought me
Wonderful things, wrapped in glossy paper, a white sticker
On the ribbon saying Bullocks Wilshire--can't remember
What came inside!--where Pauline worked every week day
Over a case of jewelry, watches, cosmetics, perfumes--and
Lloyd a car mechanic: greasing engines, relining brakes.
Beware! If in future you should forget--just once--
See the little monster throw a major tantrum,
Watch the parents' awkward efforts at containment,
Feel the odd adults embarrass. . . .Never say I didn't tell you.
When he grew weary of the raindrops,
coming as they did in great abundance,
out of season, just when a much longer
drought had become almost axiomatic,
he thought of the geometry of suburban
street gutters filling up around him--so many
happy arroyos--and how impermeable
he once had been: a boy dressed
in his slick yellow raincoat and hat
of innocence, sailing pretend rafts
(old Popsicle sticks would do)
down those parallel street gutters
stamping his rubber boots in the puddles
ahead of that miniature flotilla, where
individual rafts might get hung up
on dams of debris--soaked leaves; stray paper;
dark-green, dislodged moss and slime--
at or around a corner--and that cleansing
brown flood, moving it all along "nicely"
faster and faster as the raindrops grew larger,
then finally cascading down a drain
under a road near a cliff, the shortest distance
or long twilight echo, overlooking flat seas.
A Transderm System:
Soundings Off Cape Meares
First apply the system before you need it.
It's easy on stable land or in a harbor,
only the docks aslant at low tide.
Second wipe pre-selected skin, hairless behind one ear.
Then listen to the captain flex his motor.
Third peel, clean-handed, the Transderm package, not touching
the drug's adhesive surface. See illustration.
You have entered Tillamook Bay. . . . Western grebes dive
left, loons and a guillemot right themselves. Avoid
salt spray on lenses.
Fourth make good all contact with the skin. Warning: wash
scopolamine from hands, out of eyes. Your pupils--
those black dots--dilate to cormorant beaks.
Note welling surf scoters, flocks of pipers
shoring the north jetty.
Fifth remember, in open ocean, a pelagic cruises lasts
seven hours. Tilting, you list a tufted puffin,
white wing-tipping Bonaparte gulls. (Side effects:
a dry mouth, drowsiness, blurred vision. Some report
memory disturbance, hallucination. It is best
not to operate dangerous machinery.) You're missing the murres,
phalaropes, fulmars, petrals. There goes a rhinoceros
auklet. Are grizzly bears commonly sighted this far off shore?
Sixth remove the system after losing all interest
in your motion sickness. If concern splashes above
the three-day marker, place another system behind the other ear.
Porpoises and dolphins are swinging. Listen! I think I hear
the Credence Shearwater Revival!
Seventh run for the rail. When waves lunge on deck,
don't forget: the Transderm System must remain dry
at all times. Add nauseam. What excitement now
in an albatross or a shrimp trawler? Beyond Modesto