My Literary Evolution   Sunday, August 16, 2020

 





My Literary Evolution

when I was a kid
I read the Book of Knowledge encyclopedia
because we had a set
and when there wasn’t anything else to read
there they were
so I knew the pharaohs of Egypt
and the kings of England
and all the important figures
of the French Revolution…

I didn’t have much interest in Presidents
at the time
but when I was older, driving a taxi cab,
many streets on the east-west axis
in the city where I worked
were named after president, until they ran out of presidents
at Eisenhower, so I ended up knowing
presidents pretty well, even the lesser lights
like Willard Fillmore which was a very nice street
and a not half bad president if you look
into it, which I did, because driving on the presidents
for a 12-hour shift stirred my interest
 
and even today I have a chart with all the presidents
to Obama tacked to the wall in my little office
at home and so I can contemplate
our history just by looking up from my
desk…

some people are just natural list keepers
I suppose, and I used to be
until I got a little older and stumbled
into my parent’s historical romances, pirates
and such, my first exposure
and then lasting allegiance to the
three B’s of literature - Bombs, Boobs and Bullets -

an allegiance I have carried over to this day into other
forms of literary exercise, like movies and TV, where,
not being such a deep person, plot developments
that don’t involve a good dose of T&A
mostly leave me snoozing…

and there you have it -
the literary evolution of a 77-year-old man, from
pharaohs, kings, and bloody
revolutionaries
to Charlie’s Angels, all and all, a better class of people,
those Angels..

I call it, for what it’s worth,
my moral
awakening









Here and Now
My Literary Evolution



Me

my literary evolution
Animas in the A.M. 
a cemetery 
come the resurrection 
cold truths of life and death in black and white 
continental divide 
history’s young victims 


Jose Marti 

I (from “Simple Verses”) 


Me 

Neena at Lens Crafters 
dust to dust to dust 
gravity’s gold 


Christopher George

Avala 


Me 

hanging on
moonscape
musical mystery tour











Animas in the A.M.

5 a.m.
walking main street
downtown

dog impervious to the cold

not me

across the railroad tracks
past the hotel

slick sidewalk
alongside the Animas River

snow deep on both sides
river iced at the bank

solitary duck
climbs frost-glistened
rock
mid-stream

slips
scrambles
honks


no other sound
but the rustle of the river
as it eddies and curls and slides
over rocks

across the river
five deer gather
in a clearing

graze
silent as the morning

a car crosses
the bridge at the end of the block
lights reflecting on snow
all around
tires crunching froze-crisp ice shell on the road

and the deer
flipping their tails
flee
high-leaping

(Durango, Colorado, 1997)
















a cemetery

a cemetery
on a low mound
between the highway
and the Rio Grande

the humble markers
of poor people
from the cluster
of casitas
I passed a quarter mile
back, small houses
of native stone, like
the more elaborate markers,
the ones not of rotting wood,
crosses, bowing toward the ground,
native flowers
gather at the base of some,
stone or wood, nothing,
stone or wood or flowers,
around the indentations
that mark the oldest graves,
the unmarked, the never marked,
those of transient markers
no match for the inevitable
decline of time that leaves these
shallow dimples
over a grave in which nothing
but a few scattered bones
remain, poor people,
cowboys and shepherds
who lived and died,
then faded to nothing beneath
dry badland
sand…

(Hwy. 170 between Terlingua and Presidio, May, 2003)
















come the resurrection

the path down and back
is steep and arduous, especially
for older people,
though benches along the way
provide a place to stop and rest,
a moment to breathe thin air
and listen to the wind
passing
between the canyon walls,
the stubby trees
restless in response

birds call along the way
but go silent
among the ruins,
homage to the ghosts
who patrol the bare adobe rooms,
guarding the ancient walls
until those who left
return again, pull from storehouses
the grain and seed they left
behind
for this very day of
resurrection

we are silent visitors,
with the birds, waiting for the
tread of soft
footsteps
so long absent from their
home

(Mesa Verde, 1979)













cold truths of life and death in black and white

atop a rise
a mound of earth
an ancient burial mound
looking out over
a snowed-over field
white field
black skeleton of a winterized tree
thin black line of a frozen creek
five black horses
led by a white horse
ghost against the snow
legs lifted high
above the snow
crossing

(Colorado, February, 2008)









continental divide

snow field
backed up by pine

7 years old,
the first time he’s seen
this much snow,
out of the car
pushing through hip-deep snow...

first snowball,
hits me on the chest,
I return fire,
snow battle ensues
until we collapse laughing
in the snow…

shadows pass
in forest silence,
behind the thick pines,
deer,
giving no apparent notice
to the strangers
and their loud, unfamiliar games
in the virgin snow…

fresh storm coming,
first flakes fall,
fat
wet flakes
hitting with a splat
on our coats,
the windshield...

time
to get off the mountain

(Colorado, late October, 1990)












history’s young victims

walking beneath
my second floor window,
in their school
uniforms,
walking in a disciplined line
lead by their teacher,
I could hear them
singing,
their high light voices
waking the thin mountain-air
morning

joyous morning
then,
a sweet and innocent
moment
in a strange and foreign
place

a morning
and a moment
I will not forget

a memory
struggling against the cruel beast of history

a memory
that cannot shield these children...

---

remembering...

trying not to think
of what happened to these
beautiful, singing
children
in the near 50 years since

those children, victims of
of the beasts
who came through years and bloody seasons
to devour their time
and place,
their life and the innocence
of that morning

(Kabul - 1969)









This poem is by Jose Marti, born in 1853 and died during a guerrilla action in 1895, lecturer, poet, and revolution icon of Cuba.

The poem is the first of a collection of poems titled Simple Verses. I take the poem from the anthology, Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, published by University of Texas Press in 1996. It is a dual language edition, Spanish and English on facing pages.

The book includes various translators. This poem was translated from Spanish by Elinor Randall.

I think this is the largest selection of Marti I've ever read, and I really like it, the power and clarity of his words, the grace and truths of his expression.




I  (from "Simple Verses)

I am an honest man
From where the palms grow;
Before I did I want my soul
To shed its poetry.

I come from everywhere
To everywhere I'm bound:
An art among the arts,
A mountain among the mountains.

I know the unfamiliar names
Of grasses and of flowers
Of fatal deceptions
And exalted sorrows,

On darkest nights I've seen
Rays if the purest splendor
Raining upon my head
From heavenly beauty.

I've seen wings sprout
From handsomest women's shoulders,
Seen butterflies fly out
Of rubbish heaps.

I've seen a man who lives
With a dagger at his side,
Never uttering the name
Of his murderess.

Twice, quick as a wind, I've seen
The soul: once when a poor
Old man succumbed, once when
She said goodbye.

Once I shook with anger
At the vineyards iron gate
When a savage bee attacked
My daughter's forehead.

Once I rejoined as I
Had never done before,
When the warden, weeping, read
My sentence of death

I hear a sigh across
the land and sea; it is
No sigh: it is my son
Waking from sleep.

If I am said to take
A jeweler's finest gem,
I taken an honest friend,
Put love aside.

I've seen a wounded eagle
Fly to the tranquil blue,
And seen a snake die in its
Hole, of venom.

Well do I know that when
The livid world yields to repose,
The gently brook will ripple on
In deepest silence.

I've laid a daring hand,
Rigid from joy and horror,
Upon the burnt-out star that fell
Before my door.

My manly heart conceals
The pain it suffers; sons of
A land enslaved live for it
Silently and die.

All is performance and beauty,
And all is melody and reason,
And all, like diamonds rather
Than light, is coal.

I know that fools are buried 
Splendidly, with floods of tears,
And that no fruit on earth
Is like the graveyard's.

I understand, keep still,
Cast off the versifier's pomp,
And hang my doctoral robes upon
A withered tree.











Neena at Lens  Crafters

a community college
student
getting the basics
before dental tech school

a little large
for the glamour magazines,
country girl large,
shapely
but substantial,
a woman to hold on to you
and be held

and,
the first impression,
not her size, but
her dark eyes
and a wide smile reaching
all the way to her eyes,


then her hands,
fingers long and strong
and capable, beautiful in their
dexterity as she maneuvers
the little screws
that hold my eyeglasses together

and we talk
as she works and I pose
for the various
measurements and adjustments…

thirty minutes,
enjoyable, conversational,
so different
from the drudge
that usually moves you through
such required processes…

thirty minutes
that seem like less than half so long…

her beautiful hands
and capable fingers, no ring, no sign of attachment -
somewhere out there in the world,
a lucky someone
who does not know yet the treasure
that will come
in time











dust to dust to dust

wind howling
outside the car

sand popping
against our windows
like tiny fingers tapping,
blowing across the highway
thick as a mid-winter fog
on a Gulf coast morning

tumbleweeds
fly in front of us and behind
like prickly missiles
shot from a silo somewhere
in Iowa or Kansas

a big one,
the size of a small car,
rushing at us broadside,
tossed airborne,
right over the top of us,
one side to the other…

(Texas Panhandle, March 1981)









gravity’s gold

Bella and I, her golden fur
blazing like the bright
of a second sun shining, and me,
devote disciple of the church
of intermittent napping,
sit together on a park bench
in the central plaza crawling
with people seeming all
tourists, the only likely
resident habitués, the aged hippies
sitting behind us strumming
guitars, talking about everything
from starships to moon shadows
on the plaza in dim early
morning….

the tourists who pass,
old couples, pretty girls
with accents, all stop
to talk to Bella, to stroke
her head, as if she were,
indeed, the sun with the sun’s
gravity, pulling them
to her orbit…

while she, usually so distant
and unwelcoming to anyone
who is not me, more
like a cold far star than
the warm draw
of an afternoon sun, basks
in the attention…

doesn’t want to leave
when I get tired of
sitting

(Santa Fe, 2013)













This remembrance of a lost friend is by my poet friend from Baltimore, Christopher George. Chris is one of a number of poets I know from that poetic hot house.

Proving here again that true friendships can develop through the magic of the web.













Avala


I knew you from chat rooms and internet sites
but we never met—cheeky chappie with knowledge
of photography and soccer (we followed our
respective Rojos, often commiserated).

Now I hear you died in your native Serbia
of stomach cancer, having left your wife.
I comb through photos on your blog,
wonder which face might be yours.

Funny—you always denied you hailed
from the former Yugoslavia—though
"Avala" is a mountain near Belgrade. Now
I think I find you: chain-smoking behind
the wheel, chug-a-lugging rum from a paper bag;
photographer on a country road, VW Beetle parked
in the distance similar to the Beatles' "Abbey Road."
O, Avala, old mate, you photograph me for all time!















hanging on

switchbacks
down the side
of the mountain,
the town on one side
of the road, sheer
drop to the valley below
on the other
with an occasional shop
or restaurant
jilting out over the edge
on stilts…

an old mining town
hanging on to the side
of the mountain through
boom and bust and back to
tourist boom, attached
to the mountain
by a whisper and a prayer,
out-of-towners
like us
grazing where intelligent
mountain goats
might hesitate to tread

it is exhilarating,
this high air, this human quest
for destiny and wealth
and life despite all obstacles,
ridiculous,
when you think about it,
that nice, lush valley below
inviting, a place to build
a flat and friendly
Utopia

instead, those early arrivals
decide to build a life in the high clouds
of Olympus…

---

Dee goes shopping
in the little roadside shops

Chris throws rocks at the valley


still a smoker at the time, I sit on a rock and try to
breathe

(Jerome, Arizona, 1993)








moonscape

mountains
high and bare

our small DC-3
struggles

as highest peaks
pass below within

arm’s reach, it seems,
from my window seat

life below
if there is such

must be harsh
and hard

with hard people
harsh and unforgiving

to those who intrude
without invitation...

not to be
messed with

as centuries
of armies and great generals

have learned - from Alexander
to even now ourselves

ruing the lesson -

if you decide you must fight here

make sure first you have
the merciless moonscape mountains

on your side

(Flying over the Hindu Kush, April, 1969)











musical mystery tour

he and I,
father and son
quality time together
driving through the mountains
and deserts and vistas
of the American Southwest, me
celebrating my first
retirement, he
celebrating the end of another
year of high school

at fifteen,
a musician himself,
he had an advanced and eclectic taste
in music, so that by our fourth day
I was introduced to musicians new to me
that are still among my favorites
16 years later,
listening to Bella Fleck and his Flecktones
as we pass through Santa Fe,
Dave Matthews while visiting Red Rocks,
near holy site to him,
where Dave and his band played
in their early days, about to get too big
for such small venues, imagining
the band’s improvisations echoing off the rocks,
Denver’s tall buildings on the horizon,
and over and over as we passed through state
after state, a Willie and Lobo CD,
two guys with about a half-dozen modern and exotic string instruments,
a mix of musical styles and themes from the Moors and the Spanish,
intricate compositions from all the different strains
of Spanish musical influences with a little modern jazz mixed in,
thinking how amazing and wonderful it would be
to watch them play…

somewhere in Arizona,
a small town
whose main and near only street
followed along railroad tracks
from city-start to city-end,
a rusty town, everything rusty red,
a mining town, the red dust of its mines
the only thing left of the towns
reason to be…

a night in a motel beside the highway,
brought awake several times though the long night
by trains passing, their lonely whistle moaning at every crossing,
up early for breakfast and coffee at a café beside the tracks,
sausage and eggs and a flyer on the cashier’s counter,
Willie and Lobo,
never knowing they would be there,
we missed them by just two days…

I didn’t tell Chris how close we had come,
but I still have the CD
and play it often

(Somewhere in Arizona, 1998)













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