An ego pressed onward
Like a tight skirt in the night
Popeye and Olive Oyl
Swaggering down the street
Jumping parking meters
doing exercise gyrations
Expectations surrounded him
in crowds and beach boy cronies
Tarot card sharks and wood shooters
The Fastest Gun in the West.
I showed him pictures
Of Butch and the wild bunch
"Neal, Was he your father?"
That worried orphaned-look
I'll not forget.
He lived fast, his beds, death rows
to blow genius away, like The Doors,
A race over rails from time's windowpane
sun hot on the Mexican landscape--the
Railroad tracks chromed with cocaine.
(in the manner of Arnaut)
Some will say "appalling"
to "Love Like a Virgin" (a true simile)
a bra falling
No shy peeress in white lace, she.
All classes meet
in her song of love
the woman of the street
turns swoon of royal dove
to roll, to rub the stage
of delight and desire
the ballerina's paraphrase
lips, hips and sexual fire.
Great challenge and threat
to all pretentious fools
worker, professional, bureaucrat,
who loose their tools
when facing this talent
that sulks and erupts
to such embellishment
the strut bust lusts.
On these same old brick streets of
Baltimore tonight--was Poe afraid?
Of all night rusting sign patent verse;
new neon juice from foggy tavern door.
Afraid of the florescent eyes of dogs,
the raven's reflection, the rats scat
through sawdust in Hollins Market,
the smell of rot and burlap thick as fur.
Afraid of roaches, disease, of poverty,
loud poverty boom-box crackle crack whip
poor ponies pulling carts full of greens
up Greene Street - overloaded with greed.
Afraid of the thick fast sky over
Cross Street's cloud draped rummage day
crimson cloak, threaded from the hill
down to the curling dark water bay.
Black statues swirling great pleated sheets
when street lights go dim, losing the stars,
Like partygoers streaming to their last car...
some on twilight's slightly twisted cane.
Afraid of the beer, the drugs, the vault
of shoreline's fractal ragged fault
floating in a dream grave afraid to yell
disciples repeating smug versions of hell.
The whirl of a wash, a tangled thread
sets and alarm that turns to dread
makes the vision flow instead to
creation and how such grace is fed.
has tortured them again.
Babies crucified without brains
the wealth and power
for the empire of world order
once again unstable. Squeaking
through this last abstract dream
muffler and broken tailpipe
or nightmare vacuum cleaner
deleting the particles?
again too long
citizenry, again the slave
no matter what alliance.
All creatures big and small
dying, some species gone
the air ancient
evaporates the greed and avarice.
No pure dawn since Sappho.
Water giving up mutations.
The internal combustion engine
sounds through the night
eight cylinders heard eight miles
poverty is loud, the last requiem of wounded earth.
Great Mountains formed the eastern slope,
Shallow rivers stretch their ancient beds;
Here a new stream must separate our trail,
To forget a thousand miles of dead commerce,
And wrap our minds to a floating white cloud.
While the sunset washes the unrevealed eye,
We bow and clasp our hearts to the distance
That every living creature knows we left.
They walked the sunrise, soul-burned travelers,
wearing hats tilted like Autumn's landscaped hills.
Rough faced sailors, eyes laden like water rills
scanned the horizon till shorelined stars unfurled.
New wind in the air for those waft on the seas,
new smell of earth dug away to align the leys.
And they came forever wandering, as if set free
from cracks and rifts and vortices, as when some
great stone moves from its natural mortises; they
sailed the wind, a front of chaotic charges ignited,
careless in radiance of patterns of heaven unsighted.
(At 5:30 a.m. I awoke from a dream of Vernal Equinox
like a farmer called early for spring plowing, or a
driver with an early start knowing the aching miles
that stretch across the long heart of the prairie).
In the early days my father left his coffee pot
on the stove in his sod house, and he drove
cattle down to Galveston town, and he saw the
lights beckoning on the port side of the bow,
heading for Italy, brought back a color picture
of the Isle of Capri, and when he returned the
next year, the coffee pot was in the same place.
And the picture for years was the only decor in
the farmhouse room under angry rolling cyclones,
with their terrible pitched-moan to stillness,
silent as trowels through the loess and grass.
Blowing dust through cracks of doors and windows,
sculpted the still waves day and night. The house
took in the wind of the wolves' howl, the song
of the coyote, and the long train whistle dragging
the reptile's whispering scream of time; the pioneer's
pitch of desperation, first loud then soft, and
then distant into the stars where cowboys herded
the dark clouds out of the sky, where sailors lined
the beads like stars while the bodies of wanderers
happily grew again from the earth's bed with gentle flag
and stay; the blossom'd buds in May blew like many
visitors who come when the new wind comes that
keeps me half awake half dreaming... so very many.
My father rode down through the equinox in a perfect
visioned dream as if he had never been away. I
wanted to show him the nation's capital, but he
was here on other business; he wanted to find his
merchant marine papers, why, I don't know, maybe
to show passage through eternity and beyond,
like a journey pulling toward yet another shore.
'Look at the beautiful masonry,' I said to him, 'look at
the Merchant Marine Building with its exquisite work
of brick and tile, and bronze doors, and frontispieces.'
We went down to a little section of the city by the sea.
'Oh,' I said to him, 'this is just like Italy.' The marble
and the little streets and the glassworks and the women
who walked there, the women he joked with, and the sailors,
and the bricklayers, and the carpenters, and the threshers
from Kansas long ago, drifters passed in the street
recognized in memory, composite in chirality, patient
in formality; they, the lined-faced, the rough-hewn
people who walked the narrow streets by outdoor cafes.
He knew where to go, not up to the marbled entrance
but down a side street low, near a building, where,
in the dust of the sea bottom, beneath a small cupola
stood a woman by a counter of endless floating files.
'Draw me a picture of the last scene you remember
as a mariner,' she said. He drew a picture of himself
sitting on a bed, his sailor's hat cocked to one
side, a coffee cup on the table. He asked her jokingly,
'how do you want me, ma'am, hobbled and ironed?' She
helped him look. 'How far back?' He didn't know.
Down in the sea dust of a bottom drawer they found
his papers waterstained brown. He pulled them out
and waved and yelled as if he had found passage
toward the wild fix of stars, or Isle of Capri.
Notes: This poem was written when the poet lived in the Washington-Baltimore area. It was based on a dream he had at the time and date indicated.
European Leys: archeological sites along astrological alignments perhaps tracing water holes and pagan rituals. Sometimes parts of gathered stones found in such places as Brittany. The author's forebears have been traced to a region nearly Ploermel, France.
Loess: fine glacial sediment found in Kansas.
© 1996 by Charles Plymell
Original GRIST On-Line publication
This page edited by Roberrt Bové
Also by Charles Plymell:
SPEW ALLEY (for uncle Bill)
Catfish McDaris Interviews Charles Plymell
Light and Dust Poets