This is long.
Despite having written some thises and thats which sometimes rhyme, and have long or short lines, I am not sure that I have ever written a poem. I have read many of them in books; while in school, or on the subway, or at home in the morning and the evening. I have even done that in a park on a quiet day.
The things I wrote I am not really sure they fit the description or definition of a “poem”. I am sure about the others things, because folks who should know the difference between a poem and a shopping list have said so. And, who better…
A little more than a month or so ago, a fellow Iknow and like, who is a Fellow at a nearby small Catholic College mentioned that he would be teaching a class of young scholars all about a poem by none other than T.S. Eliot, a poet I keep getting mixed up with about seven or eight other guys, Englishmen all, who write poems. And, he’s not even English.
The poem he was going to be teaching these kids about, he said, was /is “The Wasteland”, a thing that, I think, never goes out of style; well, at least the title and what it signifies. So I tell my friend that it interests me. And I ask him if he would mind my sitting in…way in the back…and listening to what he has to say. It’s fine with him, he tells me. Then he asks if I would mind giving the class my own opinion of what The Wasteland is all about.
Now it has got to be a good half-century since I read this poem; which I always mix up with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, another thing that Eliot wrote. And Iknow he wrote something about Cats. In any case, against my better judgement, a thing never to good, I say I will do it.
We part still friends and I run home to read The Wasteland. Which I do, and then spend an hour or two reading explanations about the thing.
And then our gift from The East drops on us and I am allowed to escape from my crazy adventure. But, I still think about reading about the poem Eliot writes, and the man himself, who he was, what he did and how he thought. I really haven’t learned very much, but I did learn about…a very little about…what goes on in his poem.
I also thought that “wastelands” come and go, and have been doing so for a long, long time. For instance we built a doozy not a few years after Eliot’s poem was published.
That kind of thinking prompted me to do my own imitation of Wasteland which is a more private thing than his was; I mean Thomas Stearns. I had thought I would bring it along with me whenever, if that ever comes, I find myself sitting in on my friend’s resurrected class on the real wasteland, which begins to look like it is happening anytime soon.
So finding nothing better to do in a world now shrunken to my living room than think..a wasteland in itself…I decided to share it with whomever is having a hard time falling asleep. I don’t consider it a poem, mainly because I don’t really, as I have said, a good idea what a poem is. That is unless I come across it inside a book which has a tiele that includes the words “poem” or “poetry”.
Enjoy it, or not; here it is:
THE BOOK IS OPEN BEFORE ME
April, still to come, is waiting in the wings.
March has trampled much to long for everyone.
Embarrassed it sends waves of beauty
And all the bells ring in a warm Spring breeze
While April, next, endures the wait.
I sit reading all about it. A poem
Almost a hundred years old in my hands.
Prophetic, if I can figure it out
But little more than mystery to me.
Brow wrinkling, mouth gaping strange: mystery.
I’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND
So, Mama Me Sosoteris sits somewhere
In the nicest room in the whole wide world.
Do you think that for one minute I care?
That sweet girl named Hyacinth came my way,
Pole, whose parents once from flesh to smoke
Rose on thick currents to coffered black sky.
Oh, sooted ceiling! Oh, coffered Polish sky!
Sooted was the ceiling! Beware Laquerea
But more, laquearius bearers at home.
(The Bandersnatch has no claws to match.)
Unless one has a larger home than mine,
I NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS
Four small rooms on the ground floor in the back.
Cooler for that, sheltered from noonday sun
With concrete-brick alley mere steps away.
All manner of sport among friends was had
And life was tried on for size, which some found
Too large then or for any age to come.
I have played chess, of course. In the alley
With Martin. Marty, my short Hare-lipped friend,
Liked the game. His false teeth were ill fitting,
Sometimes slipping out part way when he spoke
Making conversation juicy. We joked
All of us when he wasn’t nearby. Poor
Marty was arrested some years later.
Sent away for his part in a weird scheme
For trying to blow up a Post Office.
Life…too large for Marty then or ever,
Merely a laquaerius target he.
Short sharp knives cut deep the net covered ones
Of cruel circumstance, waves of poison,
Sweet poison, nets of happiness and woe
The gray river, lazy, lethal, lonely
A path where prints previous disappeared
And thus, no path at all, no one knew, no one cared
Because the best thing to have is fun.
But time, time, time stepped in grime on the roof top
Below in the alleys where cats chased rats
Each night and stray dogs sniffed at sacks of waste
We pitched pennies, we all played cards, and threw dice!
The things all growing boys wanting to be
Men do on the way. There were casualties.
There were, and we knew who they would be.
Billy Gedry, rode atop the train but
Lost in the contest between train top and
Tunnel wall, never again to stand! To
Sit, drink, piss down a tube, die a drunk.
Joe Duncan was another, watching as
His father beat to death his mother
Drowning in her screams and tears. It took years
For Joe to get over it, dying slowly himself
In the most delightful way, unconsoled
For they were both dead. Who was there to hold
Or would, who himself drowned in filth and booze?
Now, what does he see looking down from high?
THE CENTER DOESN’T HOLD
One summer one man, The Son of Sam, ruled
The City of Seven Million Stories.
On a mission from God the two young men
Sat in the car. It was well past midnight.
Two more sat behind them for other reasons
All four eying the car across the street where
Two others sat. “We buy heroin,” he said
To me when I took an oath the same
To do, thinking then of what that might mean.
And slowly one man left the car we watched.
Back to us as he moved away, turned and ran
In our direction, faster every step.
Before he could get too far, he was shot
And fell between tracks on the empty street
Cradling him, collecting his blood.
The car behind us moved. I moved to halt
Fired once, and wounded one in flight.
Fear took hold, but work to do conquered fear.
Before it happened, it was over. Work
Was done by men as work had to be done.
Trying to hold what did not want holding.
To kill is easy. To keep alive hard.
Margaret is dead so she now knows
How being dead feels. No doubt not surprised?
Overwhelming, on a scale unheard of is Hell!
It is filled with untold horrible sights
Unbelievable mutilated mountains.
Piles of rotting corpses everywhere
Death on scales that were never before thought,
Mountains, civilizations, whole continents!
Mengele blushes shame, humiliation
Covers Stalin, Mao runs from the burning pit
While Hell itself laughs though no sound is heard.
Never a sound in Hell but silent screams.
Margaret, dressed well in her own offal,
Is royalty in hell. Treated that way
She’s cut to pieces ten thousand times each
Day by Gosnell, merely a minor stooge.
Who says Satan has no sense of humor.
IN A LIKE PLACE
On a quiet morning the three drove from
The fine hotel through the sleepy city
To the meeting place, a deserted lot
In a torn and tattered slum beyond the
Tall shining silver monuments to gold
And there met the one waiting for them to
Do the business he had come from far to
Do; the business being Cocaine or death.
No matter! No one died that morning clear
But, he fell and flooded blood like a dark
Red carpet on the ground, a small blood lake.
What is that! Millions more slowly do the same!
NOW IS THE EXCEPTIONAL TIME
Fast forward a few years and see how sweet
It all is.
In Healdsburg by the Russian River, near
The peaceful ocean I cleaned the glass
Of all the windows while the world burned
On the nearby hills and my brother died
Inside, slowly. My sister washed walls.
No longer may he go to San Francisco
To leave his heart there high upon a hill
Nor run to leave his heart behind
Though he could not know. The children would know
They who never are enough were enough.
It has not rained and so the flames eat well
On nearby hills; hearts and homes and hopes
Above the burned-out river filled with dust,
Dry beds, dry bones, dry lives, dry eyes, dry hearts.
Old Indians whose land this was once walk
About wondering how it happened
While the new Indians open stores, build
Hotels and change everything not changed. Yet
He dies inside. Outside I look for a priest
And wonder when or if the rain will fall
Watching through the smoke the mad mountains glow
Smelling in the day the sour scent of death.
Soft the rain begins, tiny drops walking
Before the door with food for him. I stand
And drink for my sister. The priest will come
Today and bring my brother home; and us too
The most true thing. This for us priests to do.
A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ
Fly away cross the country. Leave at last
The western wastes. The flames, the dust. The death!
The older death and the small hope, tender hope
Growing in the old places, hope by hope. And
From a river’s edge look toward the old
Mountains, the old trees, the old people
And their children in this quiet time
Just before spring, as birds fly in
Far to near, as cold sifts and snow disappears.
Death is a thousand miles away
Does he dance his last dance with all his fools?
Will what death loves end as sure as night?
THE END IS NEAR?
So, laughing day comes dancing over hills
Across the oceans, down from heaven’s fire?
Few are here who still believe all of this.
The rest dance and sing at the Salt Pillar.
Gone, almost everything is gone that was
The bad , the good, the worse, the best. All gone.
Washed away in booze, or risen to the laquerea
Where the Pugio waits cutting damned from just.
That is the gate now through which we all pass
While the churches are locked for safety’s sake
And Mighty God from another day’s Work
Rests in peace.