My Grandpa Spurgeon was a man who liked things just so. His house was a tidy one; even his garage was immaculate. His was the kind of house where, if you forgot to use a coaster… well, you just used a coaster, okay? And at meals, a cloth napkin. Everyone got their own slightly-different napkin ring so they didn’t need to be washed after every meal.
I was introduced to poetry in third, or maybe fourth grade, by Mr. Hyde back in Pistol River School. He gave all of us a general knowledge test. We all flunked poetry. Before we knew it, we were told to memorize Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog”:
Misery is like a tickle. And tickles are fun, like
a laugh, or like running with the wind for awhile.
This I believed before I was an old fat man, and knew
To roll my eyes at human contact, like other adults.
I still remember poison oak (never poison ivy Out
West), and how its seductive red leafy tri-lobed Evil
Was lurking in the forest and caused kids to stray
Through the underbrush. It was sinister, I swear.
Misery loves company most if kids are miserable. We
Were itchy, and cotton-clad, and smelled of acids and
Calamine lotion. If it bursts, it’ll spread to us,
Said adults, eternally fearful of a kinder-rupture.
At school, you’d lose a week of Physical Education.
You’d be sidelined while all your friends–and a
Few enemies–scrambled sweating up and down the
Basketball Court. Boils stick on balls, you see.
Misery is not touching yourself, especially if you’d
Just learned how to do it properly. Awed preteen boys
Spoke in whispers of the one, like us, who scratched
Down there, and it shriveled away. Have mercy, Lord!
So they provided us with a nightly regime of mossy
Green pumice soap, and a chance to bare your body to
The woodporch spiders, and toss your itch-infected
Clothes into a scalding laundry. A fat lot of good.
Misery is an itchy, lotion-pink ten-year-old boy.
Don’t touch yourself, the grown-ups glower. You’ll
Go blind. You’ll scar up. You’ll give your disease
To everybody else. Adolescence: try not to catch it.
[Quick editor’s note: For those of you who pay attention to my blog, this is my 200th post this year!]
This afternoon, I was listening to a lecture about the poetry of Emily Dickinson (What?! Don’t YOU do that on your lunch hour?) and I came across an interesting thought. The postmodern scholar Baudrillard speaks of the universe being mediated for us. Here’s an example: how many of us have been to Yosemite National Park? Not many, I wager. I lived in California for 30 years, and I have never visited this wonder of nature in the Sierras. The next question is this: how many of us have any thoughts about the place? Beautiful? Chilly? Full of bears? Polluted? Crowded? For me, those are the first thoughts come to mind. Our knowledge of a place, or an event, or a person, comes second hand, or is mediated. This term is appropriate, not only because there’s a go-between that filters most of our information, but that information, for all intents, is the media? Continue reading Mediation and the Sublime
I heard the lyric quite some time ago:
I always thought John Lennon’s randomness
And wit were best when he took LSD.
He wrote that line where “Man, you should have seen
Them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.” Amid
The cuckoo cast of Krishnas, corn-flakes, nuns
And eggmen stood the Gothic poet. Ha!
That Beatle makes me snort! Until today
I never knew–and never thought–that John
Might have a second meaning. I’d never heard
The dying tale of Mister Poe. Of
Course, John may not have known the tale, himself.
Was he just making joyful nonsense of
A roly-poly sixties mind’s caprice?
So, what I want to ask the universe,
(At least for now, as these things change from time
To time) is why, until today, I’ve seen
And heard no other sketch or song of Poe
Except the ones where he’s a soggy drunk.
You could call this an ode. Or Ravings, fueled
With doggerel. I’ll let you cast your vote.
To you, this may just be a zealot’s tale
Concocted by the minds who always taste
Conspiracy in every word. A loony-pill,
Force-fed to folks who need their human gods
To stink a bit less when they defecate.
You’ll hear the experts talk about his death:
A syphilitic mind, tubercular
Impairment of his lungs, or something just
As simple: like a weakened, love-drunk soul.
Or was his soul a normal one, that found
Itself inebriated with intoxicating drinks?
A sot. I think that every schoolboy knows
That Poe enjoyed his drink, and that he died
Beside a gutter full of vomit: a cautionary tale,
To scare young men who dare to take up drink.
If Poe, by chance, was waylaid by a gang
Of thugs, and dragged and drugged and dressed
To pose as local citizens at polls
(They called it “cooping,” a hundred years ago).
So let’s, pretend for just a little while.
Does it make any difference to us?
I wonder if they recognized the man
By looks or speech? I doubt that any fool
Could be so foolish as to kidnap Poe.
Not if they knew his popularity.
It wouldn’t mean, of course, that brawlers,
Buffoons or crooks would find a lesser joy,
Distinguishing themselves, by torturing
A famous poet rather than a farmer.
They likely threw him to the mud (the rains
Were hard that year), and trussed him up, and forced
A handkerchief of ether to his face, and filled
his veins with laudanum, and head with booze.
They made him wear another’s clothes, you know;
And then they dragged the sorry costumed man
To every polling place in Baltimore;
And forced their masquerade. “Now vote! And vote!
And vote some more!”
Oh, what a silly thing,
To make a poet vote, not only once,
But more–a half-a-hundred times. Did they
Not realize that poets need no date
Or special paper ballots when they vote?
Poe was on his way to Philadelphia,
But halfway there, he stopped in Baltimore,
For what, God (and Poe) alone know why. What we,
However, know from history is this:
They found the West Point Virginian fop
In baggy trousers and a farmer’s straw
Hat, lying in the filth behind a pub.
Poe died alone in bed, within four days,
Without his choices and without his mind.
They say the preacher cousin managed five
Or fewer minutes at his coffinside,
and then his thoughts and tongue dried up in sync.
The rains were hard that year, and kin was, too.
Would it make any difference to you
If writers chose to vote, instead of drink,
Themselves into an early, early grave?
You see how I’ve become the Coopers’ fool?
I don’t think I’m alone, myself. I should
have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.
Hold the lamp just up there, boy, and don’t move it, .
The deer’s just ahead, eyes all dark and unfocused and silent,
Against the line of fir. Can you see ‘im? It’s just a forked-horn.
He’s just a little thing. Oldest brother leans a rifle against the unrolled window,
And with a thump, The buck drops.
In a whoop, the creak of moving metal,
Three brothers climb out of the cab,
One with a gun,
Two with a Case knife,
All three sharing the jug of Canadian Mist.
The deer tongue slopped from his black muzzle like a wet sponge.
Hold the light on him! Hurry! Closer! We have to dress him out fast.
The forked horn never even noticed his own eyeless attrition.
They make short work of the deer.
It was, after all, just a little thing. It looked even smaller
Hanging from its legbones inside our garage,
Like a pink and white dog all skinned out, chest cavity open.
His head is loose, nearly unhinged, its tongue a ludicrous slug.
The grown-ups pass the congratulatory whiskey jug
Once around the circle, then twice.
My youngest uncle mussed my hair. I held the lamp, after all.
Now don’t go shouting all over school about this.
We wouldn’t want anyone to be getting ideas.
Strictly speaking, what we done, it ain’t exactly legal.
I nodded gravely. I’d held the lamp. I understood that night,
When I went to bed, it all made sense.
It’s surely not lying to say I did.
But later, when I am trussed upside down from the rafters,
Head facing greaseward, I want to cry cry out. My voice doesn’t work
As I try to spit the sponge-tongue from my esophagus.
I scream unutterable things as the red and blue lights spin
Around the garage, where my core has been split wide open,
My skin pulled from my body like a tight, wet shirt,
My entrails left behind in the huckleberry patch, high on a hill.
I try to tell them. I try to shout to my uncles. It is too late.
I’m just a little thing! I didn’t know the light would make anyone die.
I’m not from this place! Sacramento! Sacramento!
The brown denim sheriff—the one who, not six months before,
Had ordered my country cousins shot in the head for smoking dope,
Led me, his eyebrows and crew cut smirking at me all the while
To the his county jail, where lawbreakers go, and where they feed roadkill
To boys who hold the spotlight, until they puke on the cement cell floor
Right up until my mother flips the electrical switch and wakes me.
Big day ahead. We don’t want to be late for school.
It’s more a character sketch than a poem, but here you go… it’s written and so shall it remain. It’s the first poem I’ve written in probably five years.