Friday, December 02, 2011

About the following long poem...

The first publication was actually in an anthology of 1987, a collaboration between San Diego State & the University of Baja. [details in comment.]

I'd forgotten this because I am incorrigibly unilingual, and the poem has little to do with border matters. Anne & I responded to an invitation for US poets from the University of Baja, had a scary time (and were treated very well!) getting lost in Tijuana, enjoyed some extremely courteous and friendly meetings with Mexican poets from there-- and eventually that anthology emerged.

One of the things we learned was how the Mexican student movement had been suppressed by the massacre of October 2, 1968.

Our own version of this came a few years later, on a far smaller scale, first the shooting of several students at a Black university in the South, and then the better known Kent State incident:


I never did complete a satisfactory poem about either my father or my mother, only a flawed sonnet about her death. His death came some years later, in April 2000.

He was a far better man than his ideas should have made him, was starting to be disgusted with the Republicans he'd supported all his life, particularly their parodies of Christianity and their exploitation of US hostility to Mexican migrant workers. He would have loathed their repudiation of the Geneva Conventions.

One of his WW II duties was as a guard in a prisoner of war camp, where he befriended a Swiss Nazi, who came for a visit some time in the 60's. Both of them felt that the US, at the end of WW II, should have joined forces with the Nazis for an immediate attack on the USSR. [I don't know how they could have imagined anyone being willing to do this!]

Much of the turmoil between me and my parents... probably resulted from their own fear of freedom, conflicting with their unstated hopes that I might grow up free. So much of life has needed to be learned the hard way.

I hope, as Terry Hertzler did, that the following may make it easier for someone...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part I

[published 1991 by Caernavon Press (== my friend Terry Hertzler)]

[As this was me in the late 80's, I may revise slightly for sound & clarity. But removing the embarrassments would be cheating.]

The book is signed
by the author, and given
to his father, a friendly note.
It is on nuclear disarmament.

The book is in fine condition; I would say
it was hardly opened, never read.

There was a pretty time; the girls
wore short skirts and netted stockings
and their hair long
lay gentle about their faces.

It was a glorious time; in November
I rang doorbells for Lyndon Johnson
getting the vote out in the Black district
and in December I was arrested.

I remember my father, when I was six
gave me his set of science books
which I kept proudly
reading all I could follow, and more.

I remember my father, when I cried
screaming at me to stop
or he'd give me a reason to cry;
he was the perfect manly man
not long out of the army;
used the Voice for Commanding Men
for all those minor emergencies
but we could talk, other times.

There was a fearful time; the bombs
fell burning on the innocent
and the guilty, and on those
who simply wanted their country
even more than we did;

it was a noble time; we saw
with photographic clarity
how the world was ready to change--
changing under our feet
as we walked, signs held
to the blindness of cameras.

"Science," my father said,
"does not advance with new theories
but only when the aging
believers in the old system
eventually die out."

The house was full of books
I never saw them read--
My father was busy in the basement,
my mother absorbed in illness;
she'd find me reading in the bedroom

and ask, "Why don't you go
out and have fun?"

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part II

We have moved into the bookstore--
my love and I in our cave
deep in an old building.
The window shows us the street;
exhaust fumes and popular music
seep in the front door

but in back it is almost silent.
Fluorescent lights and the soft
whuzzing of the air-conditioning fan...
We are entirely surrounded by books--
in Captain Nemo's library
or a space ship's long voyage
to unknown stars.

There is a march and entertainment
in the part, the anniversary
of the bombing of Hiroshima
but I don't want to go;
I never cared that much
for holidays.

Someday we will march;
the all of us together
who want no more of war
will know it is time to come
again to be counted, and know
this time they may shoot.

I am surrounded by history,
psychology, religion, and
a smattering of science
but most of all by stories,
even more, the cheapest
fantasies of love and violence;
I live among funhouse mirrors.

Psychology books proclaim
the cure for original sin
is offered by The One True Shrink.
(Accept no substitutes.)

"Little creature, born of joy and mirth
come love without the help of anything on Earth"
says William Blake. And the shrinks
draw conclusions from the unknown common knowledge...

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part III

I have tried to be intelligent, God knows
I have tried very hard
for you to love me, little man
who never knew what you wanted
but asked for a smart kid.
You used to be proud of me
until I faked it too well
and learned too much. My mother
was named "Stupid!" I should
have figured out something
from that.

There was a lost time, a day
when canyons opened in the sidewalk
and heroic bas-reliefs
held up the boarding house walls
while little neon words
flew through and about my head
asked, "Where's my mind?"

I remembered; a groups of friends
had offered me some of their acid
and gone off their own ways
how long ago? In eight hours
I would know what it was
to be normal. How long?
Up the stairs, down the stairs
and no love for me, none
since I'd left the woman who'd loved me--
no place on Earth remaining still--
I found Mary in the kitchen washing dishes--
another man's woman. Please
let it be all right
to put my arm around her, please
come to the living room
let me lie with my head in your lap--
and playfully bit her on the tit
ouch! I'm sorry. I'm so stoned.

Then everybody arrived
talking about the news
(Something terrible has happened)
about the war, I think--
I'm too stoned to understand
or too tender to stand.

I see our large, maternal landlady
(didn't want Drugs in the house)
I might as well confess
I've taken way too much acid--
She thinks I'm wonderfully adventurous
and a giant Scandinavian hug
makes everything right, I hope.

When Mary learned I'd been stoned
she wore her psychy-dillic dress
while I, embarrassed, went upstairs
to lie down alone to insomniac cartoons
twitching and twittering through frizzy nerves

that night, how many nights
courting terror in hopes of understanding?--
While newspaper authorities
blathered about how kids
took drugs to escape reality
I talked to the plants in my loneliness
and wandered with skinned mind
into a tear-gas night,
played chess like a scorpion in a bottle,
fear of death echoing through the skull.

I gambled for the cure of myself
and was caught again in my life
alone again and afraid,
much too high to endure,
begging thorazine again at the medical center

to leave the bright, heavenly pain
for the safe, dirty grey world.
I was a lousy excuse
for a bohemian, after all.
This is a joke
but it is not a joke;
it was my flag, my church, this movement

this symbol the World buried deep
among a thousand greasy ads for fancy jeans,
among some hundreds of slick portrayals
of clay hippies,
this movement lost and ruined by its own confusion,
this children's crusade of the last chance
recaptured and sold to embarrassment.

Those were the best of us, those years,
the children touched by God and delirium
who saw through acceptable reality.
They tried to wash themselves, to touch
history with clean hands

They thought acid was God's own detergent;
and marijuana was God's soap--
well it stung me like lye
burned away my insulation
broke the habit of old certainties;
for holiness was there
with confusion, the painful
prerequisite of learning

but under myself I found fear;
potential or actual I dreaded it;
maintain or run to nowhere,
it would eat me if I ran,
sniff and taste me if I froze-- Still
I was happy; there were always
exhalations and distractions
from eternity.

[will add the rest, & put in order soon...]

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part IV

I dreamed, last night, a square dance--
the woman next to me so beautiful
there was no reasonable hope
of her wanting me, her face
so intelligent, so sensitive.

While all the circle of us held hands
I kept my hand away, pretending
a total indifference to this one woman
I most wanted to know. The circle
spun, and broke again, and rearranged
becoming quite disorganized, as finally
she scornfully leapt away to the far wall.

I woke up; I think
I understand.
I dream again; there is
a pack of buggish creatures underfoot
so I stomp down hard
into a loathsome clump
who run off, leaving behind
a little furry one, the only
good and gentler creature there,
its head crushed, neck broken--
I bend it back and forth to end its pain

and when I wake, I fear
I haven't understood either dream.
Yet I think I know my life
more or less. There are things
I don't remember, and fear
do doubt is lurking in the future.

Things are peaceful about me now;
I have almost stopped smoking
but the soothing walls of books
contain the world I left outside;
while efforts to remember
bring painful dreams.

There are romances for sale cheap,
outside the store, and in the back
they are stacked in a shelf three rows deep
in a long blind corridor
past fantasies of violence and money--
These are books we despise;
you read one, you've read them all

and yet my daydreams of ten years
were simpler and cruder than any--
I'd meet a girl I could talk to, or a woman--
Once it was my high school English teacher
(with the long, slender legs perched precisely
together on her stool every day)

but usually I'd dream of some pretty classmate--
I would break down and cry at the way she'd hurt me;
then I would kiss her, and touch
where I'd only imagined touching;
then we'd talk, and I'd discover
she was exactly as intelligent as me
(Yes, my mother was named "Stupid");

then we'd fuck frantically for hours, and then
we'd sweetly go to sleep in each other's arms
which was the best part of the dream
that kept me living for ten years of nights
before, and or after beating off.
I had an intellectual
adolescence, as you can see.)

I used to believe what I read in faces; this
surrounded me with brilliant, sensitive women;
now I only see one
and I feel much better!

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part V

The shelves are full of wars
and religion. God is good
and everything that happens
is his will,

except, of course usually
he gives us our wicked ways
and leaves us to learn from results.
We certainly much be learning
something from all this history
but it's hard to know.

Friends who have visited my mother
have all been lectured about my tragedy--
how I used to be a genius
before I took acid
and shriveled my poor demented brain. Well,

I remember being a genius;
it was my job as a kid
and I really did enjoy
learning everything in reach,
except for languages, and history
or such gulpings of raw facts

which have nothing whatever to do
with proving that one is intelligent;
a person after all must be intelligent
or how is he better than an animal?
but what is really 'intelligence'
and how could you have enough
when pride demands your total superiority?

I went proudly to college
bearing a great load of promise
and not so much reality--
I searched out my equals
and I fooled them. We thought
I really was intelligent
but they could talk; they were so cool
while I was just an honorary
smart person.

Because a smart person learns easily
I couldn't see why everything was hard;
but being a human was harder; I spent
all of my study time practicing
afraid I'd never get it right.

I was a bad student, wouldn't run
or leave the track. The promise
turned to lies I had to believe
about myself, about how fast
I'd go if I ever started moving
nailed down by loneliness and shame

but there I was, free at last
out of my mother's perfect home
where living was a secret vice
like jacking off, or being caught liking
some music my father thought was trash

or bad books; I remember
searching through the place for
the one I'd just been reading--
and when I asked my mother
she was resting with her covers hiding the book.

That was fun; but usually
she was far too worried to laugh,
afraid of everything ruining my health--
anything a kid might want to do
including reading too much. Well, at least
she couldn't call me 'childish' for it.

Complaints again; I'm sick of them
against those two foolish old people
who happened to get caught
close to the scene of my childhood

but I want to make sense of myself,
to voyage into the past;
I should explain it all, and show
the giant kraken plucked from the depths
posing demurely by the chambered nautilus--

Instead there is seaweed, fish guts
and long blue distance
of life as usual.

This is a fool's quest, to link
the history of the fool I know best
into some greater understanding, while
like my country, have a cracked memory,
a comfortably dismal past
to be hidden within abstractions
and habits of pure madness
with rational justifications.

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part VI

The past is well
left-behind, but I must
digest it before it digests me.
I have been stupid, and ashamed;

I blame it on original
neuroses, that favorite
myth of the Freudian
version of the Romantic version
of the Enlightenment version of
that old threadbare curse which
is always lurking with the blessings;

I blame it on my folks
and on their folks, etcetera
pointing back to follies
I still inflict on my own kid.
I have been, I am still
stupid and ashamed.

It takes so long to dive
through memories that should have been repressed
in interests of escaping boredom,
embarrassment, and stale remembered hatred
against the doting jailers of my youth,
with their talk about love
and their fear of edged minds,
their contempt for what I thought
and said, too freely for comfort.

I was a pet child, not mistreated
but who in hell was this woman
who told me, of course she loved me
because I was "her own flesh and blood"?

I would forget them, that
might be the kindest thing
but my mind bears the marks
of their over-busy fingers;
years have been lost
while I tried to understand--
tried to explain to them--
wanted and tried to be known
seen and understood as I am--

My mother tries; she can't stack
one idea upon another
while my father knows too much
to ever learn anything at all;
he's had a heart attack; he's eighty
and I don't think we're going to touch minds;
it's been too late for twenty years
if not all of my life.

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part VII

Well, there were cozy mornings; three of us
snuggled together in bed
with my arm stretched across, held carefully
away from embarrassing parts
but even then, before I got too old
I much preferred the babysitter's house

and when my mother proudly told me
she'd be quitting work to take care of me
I argued the best I knew how
but knew I would never be asked
whether I wanted motherly services.

I was a sickly child, she believed;
I may have been wrong, to think
she much preferred me sick, and suitable
for mother medical potions and performances;
she'd had this early childhood trauma
with my childhood; I almost died
or so I heard. All I know
is the memory of a hospital bed
and missing them. (I must
have been quite young.)

Now, when I visit
and try to talk
she busies herself;
the only way
she knows to deal with people
is to do them things; she can't
just talk with anyone.

Well, my father had these fine historical speeches
he'd saved up for a small audience
and I really did enjoy listening
until my mother deftly interposed a dinner
and the family taboo on heavy subjects
especially while eating, when arguments
might lie in the stomach like dumplings

while anything over her head
must cease so she could play
gracious concerned mother serving supper--
her of the aches and terrible pains
hobbling about her duty of not complaining
performing unasked, unwanted services
for which forever I must be ungrateful

for I was a terrible child, constantly
saying things I think were true, although unkind;
these things were neither punished
nor answered. (The poor child
must not have been feeling well.)--
inexorable the course of motherly treatments

I am still in the hospital bed
and no one hears me.

Well, that's a minor thing, a few tears,
a few years; things are good
in the store; only the history books are skeptical

and my father writes: "You'd better stop
acting so much the nut
or I'll cut you off."
What else is new?

Excavations In a Used Bookstore-- Part VIII

Outside, in the headlines
"Police subdue protestors
in South Africa." It sounds
like a very nice word for it

but I'm reading a history
of World War II-- Remember
how the forces of evil triumphed
all over the place, until
the good people started fighting back
killing more of the bad ones
than the other way around?

This was my father's world, the clearest case
ever made for the virtues of killing--
How could I say it was wrong
for anyone to join wholeheartedly
in forcing chunks of metal into Germans;

if only they'd started it sooner
there would have been less of a story
and many fewer victims of
the whole dramatic justifying build-up--

Why, Winston Churchill himself
who told us so all along
mentions several occasions
when being ready to kill Germans
would have saved us no end of excitement

if only that had been the end of it.
Look here; I sell stories.
I don't always buy them
and it's plain that what you push
pushes back. Isaac Newton
knew all about that

several thousand years after the Chinese
invented 'go', and martial arts, and mystic jargon
for why 'common sense' doesn't work
in the real world, which acts
pretty much the way it wants.

We killed Nazis; we killed bystanders.
Now we hold the world hostage;
thus we overcome

It's quiet in here;
the brave and desperate die
outside, far away, in the story
you can watch all night on the set

and maybe you have a duty
to suffer for the ones you can't help.

My mother's been in pain
ever since I've known her
carrying on, with perfect housework,
fancy dinners, driving me nuts;
how should I ought to feel?

Well, I'd rather not; I don't;
it's no use to pity
a hell-bent collector of sufferings

but what of those tropical children,
the hungry, stunted scavengers
of what we've left of the world?
The next time I hear
some person saying with his mouth full
that everyone chooses his own life
I am tempted to inject
him full of loathsome bacteria;
help him choose more interesting experiences,
not talk so smug--

But there it is:
The whole crazy mass of us
are suckers for a good plot.
Even the heroes of abject survival
live to sneer at romantic fools

while the brotherhood of pain gives merit badges
and realists work to maintain stable
governments at the end of the tunnel--
Who am I to attempt sanity?

If God had wanted
his people reasonable
the books around these walls
would have been different.

This is the best of all worlds possible
with people like us in it.
And no doubt people like them
need some place to act out their fantasies...

(Using the medical model of sin
we of the staff are attempting
to bring all patients to salvation;
meanwhile I'm feeling odd, myself.)

I was hoping, by the end
of this poem, to remember
and make more sense of things
but poems end; I'm still here
traveling toward enlightenment

another episode in
a continuing series.