On The Raw Edge Of The Year   Sunday, January 21, 2007




The big news here this week, other than the Spurs collapse into a loser heap, was the freeze of 07, experienced by many, but not with the combination of joy, anticipation, excitement, dread and panic as here in San Antonio.

You should expect to see a ice picture or two as you continue reading this, "Here and Now" number II.1.4.




We open this issue with the first appearance in "Here and Now" of S. Thomas Summers, whose manuscript Death settled well won Shadows Ink Publications 7th Bi-annual Chapbook Competition and was released in September 2006.

He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children and is a teacher of English at Wayne Hill High School. He can be reached at scottsummers1@hotmail.com.

A lover of history and poetry, he hopes to publish a volume of Civil War poetry in the near future. Here are two poems from his Civil War series. We expect to feature more poems from this series in the weeks ahead.


Orders

We pile arms and legs
like Willy and me piled wood
near ma's tomatoes.
Blood seeps from 'em like sap.

Hardest to stomach are the toes.
General Longstreet ordered me
to pull off boots and shoes
before I buried the lot.

Toes stick out here and there,
pointing ways they shouldn't.
Made me think of rows
of slaughtered hogs.

Funny thing is they still reek
like fusty feet - like Pop
just kicked off his shoes
and is sittin' here with me.


Gettysburg: The Wheatfield

Billy Yank

Flies circle his head
like a black halo,
lay their eggs near the bullet
lodged in the meat of his brain.

Scattered among the trampled blades,
like broken pottery-
fragments of skull.

Before the colonel
gave the order to advance,
he pinned a note to his uniform.

"My name is Jonathan Victor
and I love my mother."

He imagined her proudly smiling
as the morning sun darted
off the golden buttons
that adorned his blue coat.

Johnny Reb

A scrap of Confederate flesh
burdens the flaxen head of a wheat stalk
that arches toward the ground
like a cricket leg
the moment before it springs.

Back home, a little girl, dirt
creeping over her feet
like a pair of old socks,
scratches her name in the mud
behind the pig trough.

S A R A H

Smart as she is, Pa will hug
her good and tight
once the war says
he can go home.








San Antonio was iced in for the better part of two days. It finally started melting this afternoon.


cold winds strip the morning bare

cold winds strip
the morning bare
then cover it
with ice,
the chill weight
of its clutch
bending oak limbs
to the ground,
encasing blooms
fooled by false spring

the city
stops,
except for a few
hardy fools
like me, slip-sliding
down the road
in search of a newspaper
that I can read with
morning coffee, looking
out the kitchen windows
to the frozen grass
and the woodpile
covered white
and the icicles hanging
long and sharp
from the lip of my
chiminea

both dogs, pushed
out against their will,
stand shivering
at the door until
I am overcome
by their misery
and let them in,
hoping
they left the patio
long enough
to take care of
business









Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include After, Given Sugar, Given Salt, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart, The October Palace, Of Gravity & Angels, and Alaya.

She is also the author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and has also edited and translated works by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu..

Her honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, Columbia University's Translation Center Award, the Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award. In 2004, Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets,

In addition to her work as a freelance writer and translator, Hirshfield has taught at UC Berkeley and University of San Francisco, and has been Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She is currently on the faculty of the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars.

Bukowski once wrote that he tried to write the way he liked to read. I like Bukowski just for that reason, he writes like I like to read. Heshfield does the same. Here is the first of several of her shorter poems from Of Gravity & Angels.


The Song

The tree, cut down this morning,
is already chainsawed and quartered, stripped
of its branches, transported and stacked.
Not an instant too early, its girl slipped away.
She is singing now, a small figure
glimpsed in the surface of he pond.
As the wood, if taken too quickly, will sing
a little in the stove, still remembering her









Several short pieces from Octavio Paz


Writing

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
          and does not return


Concord
for Carlos Fuentes

Water above
Grove below
Wind on the roads

Quiet Well
Bucket's black     Spring water

Water coming down to the trees
Sky rising to the lips



Exclamation

Stillness
         not on the branch
in the air
         Not in the air
in the moment
               hummingbird


Distant Neighbor

Last night an ash tree
was about to tell
me something - and didn't.


Daybreak

Hands and lips of wind
heart of water

          eucalyptus
campground of the clouds
the life that is born every day
the death that is born every life

I rub my eyes
and sky walks the land


Nightfall

What sustains it,
half-open, the clarity of nightfall,
the light let loose in the gardens?



(Poems translated by Eliot Weinberger)







I happened to be driving near Lackland Air Force Base a couple of evenings ago. I had my 22nd birthday there, about half way through Air Force basic training. Living not far from the base now, I pass by often and can never help but think of years past and the years since.

I was working for a newspaper in a small town near Houston when I received my draft notice right before Christmas, 1965, upon which receipt I quickly joined the Air Force, making me some kind of draft dodger, I guess.

"Greetings" was the salutation of all draft letters and, the times being what they were, the simple phrase achieved a kind of cult status notoriety. It seems I even remember of movie with that as its title.


greetings

on this day
forty-one years ago,
newly shorn
and uniformed
in the middle
of another
bloody,
losing war,
I was in
my fourth day
of learning
the arts of combat,
which seemed,
at that early
point,
to be mostly
about getting up
in the very dark
of morning,
and marching,
always marching,
in godawful winter
weather
to places we did not
care to go

many of us
would soon learn
more advanced
and terrible
lessons
while others,
like me,
would find safe
haven
in specialties
that involved
neither shooting
nor being shot
at

veterans
now
of the they-also-serve-
who-only-stand-and-wait
brigade, we
honor those
who fought
then
and those
who fight now
and thank
god
again
we are not
them








Bharat Shekhar is from India. He is 45 years old and lives in New-Delhi where he works as a freelance instructional designer. He has two young children ages seven and four of whom he is very proud.

He says he dreams of a time when he might be able to earn a living through his writings. I hope he succeeds. In the meantime, I read his poems frequently on a couple of workshop forums and particularly liked this one.


Spinning a Spell

Axis slightly askew,
the morning earth turns,
spins itself forward
to let the sun peep,
and then climb into
the houses and hopes
of those with houses and hopes.

A dim light beckons celestial rays.
They glimpse the early worm
as the bird begins its dive
axis slightly askew.

In a ritual almost universal,
dreams check their flight.
Resigned to awakening,
sleeping forms stir,
some to arousal,
others to break lonely wind
that no familiar nose will smell
but their own,
axis slightly askew.

Something shines. Tinged with crimson,
it recalls the colors of the day, slowly.
Slowly thoughts rediscover their sounds in words.
Men reinvent their substance from shadows
axis slightly askew.

The atheist wraps his uneasy belief,
in the certitude of lack,
the believer his lack of certitude,
in the certainty of his belief.
Poles that had collapsed, huddled
in the secret uncertainty of the night,
now spring apart-scornful, bristling,
axis slightly askew.








Danish poet Jane Roken is back this week with two poems. This is the first.


Dreamscape: a journey, a dream

The first thing that comes to my mind
is a shed with the roof caved in and no door,
it carries the smell of memory:
cinnamon roses, towering mullein
and the wild lilac jimsonweed
tempting the wayward breeze
to carry its heady fragrance
abroad, afar, and very close
as if a ghost caressed me as I walked by

I am wet eyes and empty hands,
I am crowned with the stars,
wordless in a sea of letters,
look up o'er the marsh, the world is full
of foxfires, revelations:
the blue-winged teal, the snakebird
the golden-eyed hawk from the north

We got some strange weather blowing up
the crumbling garden wall
leaning into the hillside
the wind-washed roofs,
moss, woodruff crouching deeply,
paths running through the grass
where always the wind blows
and every station on the road
shall be my native home

And I will roam through unnamed towns
streets lit with burning rushes and links,
smudges of memory across my face,
the purplish taste of gunpowder
burning in my eyes:
I could never abandon my dreams
to the surface currents








Audre Lorde on bees


Production

100,000 bees make a sturdy hive
ready    three days after the moon is full
we cut honey.

Our hot knives slice the caps of wax
from each heavy frame
dark pollened richness drips
from the laden combs.

Sadig loads the extractor
Curtis leveling the spin.
Sweet creeps like bees
through each crack of hot air.

Outside the honey house
hungry drones cluster
low-voiced and steady
we strain the flow    laughing
drunk with honey

Before twilight
long rows of bottles stand
labeled and waiting.

Tomorrow we make a living
two dollars at a time.








And now, a second poem by Jane Hirshfield.


For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down -
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest -

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.






photo by Jessica Reyna



Jessica Reyna returns with more photos


It seems Jessica was out on Wednesday, as was I, looking for icicle pictures before they all melted.



Photo by Jessica Reyna



Photo by Jessica Reyna



Photo by Jessica Reyna



Keep on chasing those pictures, Jessica.







Leopole Sedar Senghor was a Senegalese poet, author and dictator who served as the first president of Senegal (1960–1980). Senghor also happened to be the first African to sit as a member of l'Academie francaise. He was also the founder of the political party called the Senegalese Democratic Bloc. Said to be more popular in France than in Africa, he is seen as the perfect symbol of Franco-African relationships, or, according to some, of France new colonialism. Born in 1906, he died in 2001.


To New York

           (for jazz orchestra and trumpet solo)

New York! At first I was bewildered by your beauty,
Those huge, long-legged golden girls,
So shy, at first, before your blue metallic eyes and icy smile,
So shy. And full of despair at the end of skyscraper streets
Raising my owl eyes at the eclipse of the sun.
Your light is sulfurous against the pale towers
Whose heads strike lightning into the sky,
Skyscrapers defying storms with their steel shoulders
and weathered skin of stone.
But two weeks on the naked sidewalks of Manhattan....
At the end of the third week the fever
Overtakes you with a jaguar's leap
Two weeks without well water or pasture, all birds of the air
Fall suddenly dead under the high sooty terraces,
No laugh from a growing child, his hand in my cool hand,
No mother's breast, but nylon legs. Legs and breasts
Without smell or sweat. No tender word, and no lips,
Only artificial hearts paid for in cold cash
And not one book offering wisdom.
The painter's palette yields only coral crystals.
Sleepless nights, O nights of Manhattan!
Stirring with delusions while car horns blare the empty hours
And murky streams carry away hygienic loving
Like rivers over flowing with the corpses of babies.

II
Now is the time for signs and reckoning. New York!
Now is the time for manna and hyssop.
You have only to listen to God's trombones, to your heart
Beating to the rhythm of blood, your blood.
I saw Harlem teeming with sounds and ritual colors
And outrageous smells -
At teatime in the home of the drugstore-deliveryman
I saw the festival of Night begin at the retreat of day.
And I proclaim Night more truthful than the day.
It is the pure hour when God brings forth
Life immemorial in the streets,
All the amphibious elements shining like suns.
Harlem, Harlem! Now I've seen Harlem, Harlem!
A green breeze of corn rising from the pavements
Plowed by the dancers bare feet,
Hips rippling like silk and spearhead breasts,
Ballets of water lilies and fabulous masks
And mangoes of love rolling from the low houses
To the feet of police horses.
And along sidewalks I saw streams of white rum
And streams of black milk in the blue haze of cigars.
And at night I saw cotton flowers snow down
From the sky and the angels' wings and sorcerers' plumes.
Listen, New York, O listen to your bass male voice,
Your vibrant oboe voice, the muted anguish of your tears
Falling in great clots of blood,
Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart,
The tom-tom's rhythm and blood, tom-tom blood and tom-tom.

III
New York! I say New York, let black blood flow into your blood.
Let it wash the rust from your steel joints, like an oil of life
Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines.
Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored,
The reconciliation of Lion and Bull and Tree
Idea links to action, the ear to the , sign to meaning.
See your rivers stirring with musk alligators
And sea cows with mirage eyes. No need to invent the Sirens.
Just open your eyes to the April rainbow
And your ears, especially your ears, to God
Who in one burst of saxophone laughter
Created heaven and earth in six days,
And on the seventh slept a deep Negro sleep.



(Translated by Melvin Dixon)







Here's a second piece from Jane Roken.


soothsayer's lullaby

Will you know the truth? she said,
there's not much to it really,

the question is the answer:
push your luck a little further
break new frontiers
into unknown fields

All things pass, one way or other:
even dreams -
some pass into other things
some pass into oblivion
some may even pass into reality

All things want to open:
the pale mirrors
the murky trapdoors
the deep-bellied ships
the roses in the hedgerow

All things keep faith:
any combination of civilized talk
and raw emotion
will be a landscape of its own,
an astral forge, a monument
to the vertical dimension

All things change:
the shenanigans of our cognitive systems,
purest cinnamon, ginger and clove,
for ever processing, developing
crystals, rainbows, tinctures, sounds
of prismatic strings, heraldic dragonflies

All things will ultimately lose
their power to scar and scare:
even in blackest night
you will not be alone, but
the knives are out
the cards are packed -
will you know the truth?








And a third by Jane Hirshfield


The Other Earth

At first we embrace trees.
Lie with the swan, the bull, become stars.
Blackbirds form bridges across the sky:
we pass, lightly placing our feet.
The god enters our rooms in a shower of gold.
Into the intricate maze a white thread,
a woman, a fish come to guide our way out.
Docile as horses, we go.

When the plain world comes,
with its explanations
smooth and cool as a marble statue's skin,
we go, rising out of the dark.
Being careless and proud, we look back
towards the other earth:
how it wavers and goes out,
like a girl with an errand to do in another room.








This is the third I've written this week. A good week.


interesting company

I know people
who believe that if
Sadamm
had just whispered the
three
little words,
Jesus,
save me,
as the noose
tightened
on his neck
he could have
spent eternity
strolling
in heavenly fields,
amidst all the popes
and preachers
and holy roller
derby servants
of the son

too
bad, he didn't

and Gandhi, too,
such a simple thing,
three
words
spoken quickly
as the bullets
pierced his flesh
and he could have been
in the clover forever
and ever and even
evermore

but, he didn't
either
and it's too late now,
for both, so
Sadamm
and Gandhi,
brothers
of the eternal fire,
are ever roasting
in hell, right now,
even as we speak

now this doesn't
make any sense to me
but who am I to question
such holy folk
as claim it to be true
and,
anyway,
there is an upside
to the whole affair:

at least
I can count
on interesting
company
when the time
of my roasting
comes








Rod Jellema is professor emeritus of English at the University of Maryland. He has published four books of poetry, A Slender Grace, The Eighth Day, The Lost Faces, and Something Tugging the Line.


Four Voices Ending on Some Lines from Old Jazz Records

(1)     "any little woman"

The red neon sign
makes jumps like knuckles
and I almost forget how blood
moves soft inside.
Hearing it now, the beat.

I don't care a dime
how they can shoot and rock out
all the lights in the street
long as I sit here alone.
The walls lean firm and big

and I hear the long trucks
slipping west out highway twenty-two
to nowhere I've ever seen
but know that the land's tucked flat
and I ain't going

already been where I'm going
one man after another
I've hit enough good times
and listen, "I can't stand more trouble
than any little girl my size."

(2)     "riffin'"

the tell me to settle down
like mellow is a job
I have to retire from.
It's like they want to give me
a gold watch on a chain
a railroad watch
one I can rise and set
in & out of a dark vest pocket
rocking on a porch
thinking the track really ends
where I see the two rails pinch
long before they hit old Memphis town.
Hell, I been there, plenty.
But right here I got a woman
in a headlights-yellow blouse,
two friendly shoes that lay a shine
on every street that they walk "and boy
if I ain't riffin' tonight I hope sumtin'"

(3)     "get the hell off my note"

Out in the smoke of every gig I play
I pinpoint orange specs
of their cigarettes,focus on how
ice and splinters of gin
cut through fog

I'd paint if my hand didn't shake.
Tonight is what -
the sound is what these blinks
and shapes are for
and Maxie's cornet holds

a phrase just straight enough
for me to lean in lights
and work it out
and look out Brunis
"get the hell off my note."

(4)     "I wouldn't be a Methodist"

This morning
before it was sky
was a far child
back of the trees
shy in a pale green dress.
Now my kitchen's full
of yellow, yes Lord,
and the spoon fits my hand,
Jesus cares and the branches
clap along rivers of light
and "I wouldn't be a Methodist
to save me."

the sources:

(1) Mama Yancey
(2) Louis Armstrong
(3) Pee Wee Russell
(4) Fats Waller








Wen Yiduo was from the Hubei province. After receiving a traditional education he went on to continue studying at the Tsinghua University. In 1922 he traveled to America to study fine arts and literature in the Art Institute of Chicago. It was during this time that his first collection of poetry, Red Candle, was published. In 1925 he traveled back to China and took a university teaching post. In 1928 his second collection, Dead Water was published. In the same year he joined the Crescent Society and wrote essays on poetry. He also began to publish the results of his classical Chinese literature research.

At the outbreak of the War of Resistance, he became politically active. His outspoken nature led to his assassination by secret agents of Kuomintang in 1946.


The End

Dewdrops are sobbing in the hollows of bamboos,
    The green tongues of plantaqins are licking the windowpanes,
The four walls are receding -
   Alone I cannot fill this empty room.

I build a fire in my heart
   and wait quietly for the guests from afar.
I strike it with cobwebs and rat droppings
   and mottled snake scales.

Roosters hurry me when ashes lie in the fireplace.
   A cold wind sneaks up and touches my lips -
So the guest has arrived.
   Closing my eyes, I follow him out.



(Translated by Michelle Yeh)







Bukowski takes stock.


hymn from the hurricane


paid my dues in Macon, went crazy in Tennessee,
found the love of God in St. Louis,
got the hell out of there.
found the whore with the heart of gold in Glendale,
ran away from that.
floundered awhile along the Mason-Dixon Line,
came to my senses in New Orleans.
mailed a letter home, and got knocked on my ass in Houston.
started sitting at the center of the bar instead of at the end.
got rolled 3 times in a row somewhere near the Appalachians.
married a woman with a crippled neck who died unclaimed in India.
name of the first horse I ever bet on was Royal Serenade who died
long ago.
what glistens best from me is the first drink of the night
I still hear forever the wheels of the Greyhound buss carrying me
     to nowhere
J. Cash sang "I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die" as the
cons cheered.
celled with public enemy no. one in Moyamensing Prison (he
snored at night).
my women tell me that I am insane because of my parents.
sometimes I feel like a motherless child.
my favorite color is yellow and my backbone is the same.
nine-tenths of Humanity embraces self-pity and the other tenth
makes them look pitiful.
the rat and the roach are the most powerful reminders of
     enduring life.
what was always best for me was seeing fear in the eyes of the
     bully.
the saddest thing was old women wagering geraniums at 2 p.m.
and what I learned was to do it now in spite of the consequences.
and what I also learned was that something once said could
quickly become untrue.

I paid my dues in Macon and went crazy in Tennessee,
found myself on the 2nd floor of a hotel in Albuquerque (the bed
bugs ate well).
found myself on a track gang going west and didn't yearn for
a seat in Congress.
I remember a girl who showed me her panties when I was 8
     years old.
I remember the red streetcars, and the vacant lots between
the houses in Los Angeles.
I remember that the girl who showed her panties to half the town
     had
showed me first.
I was always a coward who didn't care.
I was always a brave man who didn't try to win.
I found that screwing women was a social duty like making
     money

I paid my dues in Tennessee and went crazy in Macon.

I had no idea of the black-white game and
sat in the back of a streetcar in New Orleans.
I hate politics and I hate the obvious answers.
I paid my dues in East Kansas city.
I beat hell out of a 6-foot-4 240-pound guy in Philly.
I stayed on the floor in Miamiafer after a 150-pound guy decked me
with his first punch.
the state of the mind is the State of the Union.
what you want to do and what you've got to do is the same thing.
I once watched a sailor fight an alligator and the alligator quit.

only boring people are bored.
only the wrong flags fly.
the person who tells you they are not God really thinks otherwise.
God is the invention of failures.
the only hell is where you are.

passed through Dallas and rammed through Pasadena.
I never paid my dues because there was nobody to collect them.
I've smashed two full-length mirrors and they are still looking for
     me.
I've walked into places where no man should ever go.
I've been mercilessly beaten and left for dead.
I have lumps all over my skull from blackjacks and etc.
the angels pissed themselves in fear.
I am a beautiful person.

and you are.
and she is.
as is the yellow thumping of the sun and the glory of the world.








A couple of years ago, I set myself the challenge of writing a series of 26 poems, each poem having a woman's name in the title. I haven't made if all the way from A to Z yet, but since I didn't set a time limit for myself, the project can be termed "ongoing," rather than "incomplete."

Here's one of the first ones I did. It's in my book, Seven Beats a Second.


lying in the sun with susan

quiet bay

no sound but the light rustle
of march grass in the gulf breeze

she
lies on the deck, legs spread,
as if to thrust herself
at the summer sun

sweat glistens
on the inside of her thigh
and my tongue aches
for the taste of her








More Octavio Paz

Concert in the Garden
(Vina and Mridangam)

for Carmen Figueroa de Meyer

It rained.
The hour is an enormous eye.
Inside it, we come and go like reflections.
The river of music
enters my blood.
If I say "body," it answers "wind."
If I say "earth," it answers "where?"

The world, a double blossom, opens:
sadness of having come,
joy of being here.

I walk lost in my own center.


East Slop

All the branches,
conquered by the weight of birds,
lean toward the darkness.

Pure, self-absorbed moments
still gleam
on the fences.

Receiving night,
the groves become
hushed fountains.

A bird falls,
the grass grows dark,
edges blur, lime is black,
the world is less credible.



(Poems translated by Eliot Weinberger)







Allen Ginsberg, me, myself and I, a forever fascinating trio


Objective Subject

It's true I write about myself
Who else do I know so well?
Where else other blood red roses & kitchen garbage
What else has my thick heart, hepatitis or hemorrhoids -
Who else has lived by seventy years, my old Naomi?
and if by chance I scribe U.S. politics, Wisdom
meditation, theories of art
it's because I read a newspaper loved
teachers skimmed books or visited a museum








Two from Langston Hughes

Merry-Go-Round

Colored child at carnival:

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down south where I come from
White and colored
Can't sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There's a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we'd put in the back -
But there ain't no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where's the horse
For a kid that's black?


Third Degree

Hit me! Jab me!
Make me say I did it.
Blood on my sport shirt
And my tan suede shoes.

(Faces like jack-o'-lanterns
In gray slouch hats.)

Slug me! Beat me!
Scream jumps out
Like blow-torch.
Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I'd make tomorrow.(Bars and floor skyrocket
And burst like Roman candles.)

When you throw
Cold water on me,
I'll sign the
Paper.....








Before my South Texas friends get too involved in creating urban legends about the great freeze of naught 7, they should look at the photo below, sent to me by friend and poetJane Roken. She calls it "Snowboat."

Jane's poetry is also featured earlier in this issue.



photo by Jane Roken








William Meredith, soft spoken poet has something to say


A Mild-Spoken Citizen Finally Writes to the White House


Please read this letter when you are alone.
Don't be afraid to listen to what may change you,
I am urging on you only what I myself have done.

In the first place, I respect the office, although one night
last spring, when you had committed (in my eyes)
criminal folly, and here was a toast to you, I wouldn't rise.

A man's mistakes (if I may lecture you), his worst acts,
aren't out of character, as he'd like to think,
are not put on him by power or stress or too much to drink,

but are simply a worse self he consents to be. Thus
there is no mistaking you. I marvel that there's
so much disrespect for a man just being himself, being his errors.

"I never met a worse man than myself,"
Thoreau said. When we're our best selves, we can all
afford to say that. Self-respect is best when marginal.

And when the office of the presidency will again
accommodate that remark, it may be held by better men
than you or me. Meantime I hear there is music in your house.

your women wear queens' wear, though winds howl outside,
and I say, that's all right, the man should have some ease,
but does anyone say to your face who you really are?

No, they say "Mr. President," while any younger person
feels free to call me voter, believer, even causer
And if I were also a pray-er, a man given to praying,

(I'm often in fact careless about great things, like you)
and I wanted to pray for your office, as in fact I do,
the words that would come to me would more likely be

"god change you" than "god bless the presidency."
I would pray, "God cause the President to change."
As I myself have been changed, first my head, then my heart,

and that I no longer pretend that I don't swindle or kill
when there is swindling and killing on my nation's part.
Well. Go out into your upstairs hall tonight with this letter.

Generous ghosts must walk that house at night,
carrying draughts of the Republic like cold water
to a man parched after too much talk and wine and smoke.

Hear them. They are elected ghosts, though some will be radicals
and all may want to tell you things you will not like.
It will seem dark in the carpeted hall, despite the nightlights

in the dull sconces. Make the guard let you pass.
"If you are the President," a shade with a water glass
will ask you (and this is all I ask), calling you by name,

himself perhaps a famous name, "If you are the President,
and things in the land have come to all this shame,
why don't you try something new? This building rose,

laborious as a dream, to house one character:
'man trusting man anew.' That's who each tenant is
- or an impostor, as some of us have been."


1969


And that's all for this issue of "Here and Now." See you next week.

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