Friday, December 31, 2010

WELCOME TO THE UNAMERICAN DREAM my year without an automobile

On November 29, 2010, for her 61st birthday, I gave my personal assistant Mary my car. Because of downturns in the economy, and in particular the real estate trade, I had not been able to pay her for five months, so the car, a twelve year old BMW 3 series, was a fair (in my mind) trade-off. Although I write poetry, there is no money in that. I am reminded of Robert Graves' statement "There is no money in poetry, but then again there is no poetry in money either." I do not have the patience for college instructing either; the politics are ultra-rough, because the stakes involved in La Academe are so outlandishly small academics do have to do something to amuse themselves. So peddle bricks and dirt I do.

On December 5, 2010 on my 53rd birthday my Illinois state driver's licence expired. I switched over to an ID card, and let the driving ticket go the way of all things. In the same Thompson Center in Chicago, I managed to snag a "Chicago" CTA pass and rode the 146 bus to my home on Marine Drive.

The 146 CTA bus is an express bus that serves Chicago's North Side. It was one I used for many years when I worked in the Gold Coast area. One of the leading lights to ride the 146 was the late author Studs Terkel, who lived a few blocks from me. If I managed to catch the bus right at 10:17 in front of my building, there was Studs, holding court with the regular bus patrons en route to the WFMT studios where he worked.  Studs and I became, well, not quite friends, but very friendly. Once, he had me on his radio program to read poetry & talk about the collision between the arts & business. Since I have made the call to walk away from the car world, I have taken the 146 downtown a few times. I half expect to see old Studs, red plaid shirt under brown coat there, telling stories of Bughouse Square, old time radio, and the like. Maybe now it's my turn.

During the course of 2011, I am not going to drive a car. From time to time I will share with you my tales of "Car Less in Chi-Town." What the hell, right.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It started with stones, our aggressions
and a picture of others taking the world from us
to show us our selves. The children of the sky
versus the animals of their minds, the
lost pictures of better weather and times, those
who want and those who have wanted,
everything in cadence, all movement controlled
made manifest like a game of tag, you're it,
you're the one we hate because it's the game
that's offered. These are the enemies, the
unlimited and unknown targets keeping us
whole.  What we would need is what we remember,
wrongly; the daemons of our myths only
better futures we could never live.
Weapons become the passion, the living,
the culture of time and our need to call the mountain
ours, they would tell us all human relations
have a basis in fear.  They'd say
we look to others as a mirror, a broken glass
sharding into the souls of those we
would not know,
an accident in the roadway; the rumors
we call our history only
the deep kiss from the skull of a suicide. 

"I''ve seen the face of God
and it ain't so bad" he said.
To the rear were Hannibal's Mountains;
up the road Patton's tanks held sway
against Caeser's bastard children and the
innumerable Ubermenschen who were
and weren't. He is the cook, remembering
nights on the bus from Kansas City
with Satchel Paige going ninety (I ain’t scary...)
ahead to a town whose welcome was
like a man in new store clothing running
away from tar and feather and the uncounted
desire that kept him going. They are colored
in a shade the good folk hate, in these folks eyes
they are reefer mad sexually driven
and playing in a pasture taken away in an instant
but not from them.

She thought of that first night at Buchenwald,
the Kino made by the woman from the mountain,
her postman lover and the stare from the rostrum       
of the ranting mustached child told her
we could never know what we had again.  She knew
because the smell her childhood sent
of the library fire when she was twelve
Schiller, Hesse, Rilke gone like a good dream
or a bad lover there for a second
and away for all time or place. This was the place,
and time would create itself, starvation
and the loss of a culture's identity or need
to have one, becomes a kindling 
to set the flames covering the patrons in
blankets of ignorance no amount of chorine
would remove.  Her lover stood behind each skeptic
saying "Er ist richtich.  Kennst du?" although he didn't
but knew it.  Work would be freedom, would be
their definition of the flight of identity
that would signify their souls.

The racial basis of nations tell us
fairy tales without moral; not just a lie
but a damned lie kills us
daily, keeps us quiet, gives us a God and say
Beware! you are the animal in which
your call of generations is not a pass
to this supper club.  Humanity, only in general
terms is better kept not kept. We were not shown this,
not this filmstrip where the enemy
was not the Hun or the East but rather
the distance from Johnny's to Mary's desk.
Or, rather the distances between
our better selves and the world we are offered
in trade for our passions and discretions.
Call me a name, give me a lie I can
believe in and I'll fight the bastards too,
we'd think, or want to think, or want
othree to think about us.

Dear Mom:
They told us the war might be over soon.  They said that we may go home before April but the Army isn't that sure.  They might want our division to stay on to feed the prisoners and government people in the occupation.  It's kinda funny that the captain told us this.  The army only wants us in Germany when we can feed them.  We were playing ball this morning, the officers against the mess hall staff.  We beat the officers and then they made us stand at attention for the rest of the  afternoon and then cancelled our passes for the weekend, saying that they didn't want us to mix with the German people.  I know they mean the women, remember what happened to Uncle Henry in Mobile.  I don't care about that but these people seem so lonely.  They've lost their sons and husbands to us and we can't even talk to them. I can't believe the country that gave us Rilke could end up like this. I miss you.  Send my love to Sharon and little Ty Jr.
Love you.

She remembered what the Oberst said,
Goering snored and Himmler was violent and never
ever talk to Goebels.  She remembered the oath
sworn before school every morning to keep Germany
in her heart and actions, to please and comfort
the young and old men defending our lives
and the perfect world we would create.  The Jew,
a parasite, the Negro an animal, art and music
for the Vaterland and keep yourself clean
and away from the enlisted men.  She remembered
the youngest one saying, "Fur alle Mann ich muss
leben, ich hab' Der Fueher geleben" and believed it;
always sex in the name of the better world, the
Third Reign of the Teutons of the night and day.
But she knew the day was ending;  the lovers
she had had died by theirs or others hands.  She saw
not a future of perfection and said "Warum?  Ich hab'
der Weltshlafraum von mein Hartz gebornen." and knew
the world would belong somewhere
but not here.

Near the end of all action comes a passing.
We are found in the land: this is ours
or theirs by means of occupation, the
underscoring of purpose and the meaning
of the possession of possessions at its time
when it could be courted, could never
show you the meaning of death even as it becomes
your middle name. All things in reflection,
all things of a fractional mastery; the cat
does not scare the mouse as does the mouse
does itself, names for its major arcana
not for points in the sky but for points of light beyond
his little comprehension;  food, water, mating
the big animals who make strange noises
and kill each other. He would grasp his nose
and run toward the field, toward home, toward
his selection of private peace, his
own maze not placed there by the big ones
but by the subtle charm that nature gives
and gives away. Before we take it.

He read the telegram to the mess hall staff:
Uncle Henry and his guitar, songs from Chicago
and the nights he spoke of the bootleggers,
numbers, policy, the various lights the South Side
folk had to illuminate their world.  The farm girl,
blond and nineteen heard and giggled, thought
Henry held the city lights like a balloonman
waiting for school to let out and the summer
explodes into colors above him.  She was smiling
when he said yes to her night and touch.
When he said no to the men surrounding his house.
When he said good-bye from the oak in front of the well.

She thought the encampment was clean, not
like the films shown her of her countrymen's past;
not the future promised but an obliteration,
squashed rats and hopes. As a little girl she thought
of fairy tales, dolls, the porcelain figures
given to fantasy without pain; the little bear of Berlin
bringing presents at Weinachten and snow.
Little angels would follow her, tell her new names,
made her friends for her like a candy bar
or her first kiss in the forest.  The Americans said
she was clean, but, not knowing the words,
"filthy whore" meant nothing but a mumbled blurt.
In school she was taught America was filled
with lazy people without culture or taste; the
infinite cockroaches running throughout time,
but she also saw the young colored man
reading Rilke in English and sighing to himself.

Love is not a statement of fact, not
a condition of being in place when we should, not
the promise of anything simple when asked, but
not a question at all but where we belong.  Love
should ask for nothing in trade, no touch when
no touch must be had, the deepest touch
when we are one in ourselves and each other.
Love is not a game because competition has losers.
Love only knows loss when its gone forever, but
love never really goes, only stands on its head
itself and laughs, for, if love is perfect it knows humor.
Love is the look in the eyes of an animal,
our animal selves reborn in an instant
or for years a fear runs away into everyone's night.
Love gives nothing to those who ask everything,
does not woo for pleasure or the gain of company
that should not be there. Loves askes nothing.
Tells nothing. Receives nothing. Touches nothing.
But does everything even in a second, or hour,
or day, week, year, lifetime.

"Entschuldigen Sie, Bitte.  Lesen Sie der Dichter Rilke?"

"Ma'am, I don't speak German. Sorry." He backs away.

"Nein. Nein. Das Buch im seinen Hand.  Die
Duineser Elegien von Rilke, ja?" 

"This? Yes this is a German poet.  But it's in English.
Do you speak English?"

"Ich verstehe Sie nicht.  Aber Lesen zu mir das Dichten.

He couldn't understand her but knew what she wanted.
He read to her of the terrifying angels, Neptune's
trident, not to woo Spring for it does not understand.
He knew she felt the words like the wings of a hummingbird
not seen but always there in motion. Violet streams
engulfed them, became them. She remembered
her first lover, reading Die Sonette an Orpheus
on the Danube, cold Autumn morning the night
filled with full and empty colors.

She would rise to close the window.
He would fall back to himself, saying no.

She would rise above his cot and point down.
He would fall, he'd thought, if he came towards her.

She would rise to meet him, knowing if
he would fall she could catch his touch.

He would rise to meet her, seeing her soft eyes.
She would fall in billowing hair and perfection.

He would rise and drop into her, scared that
she would fall on the floor and disappear.

He would rise to her deeper sight and passions,
she would fall in love for a moment and then

she would turn and rise turn and rise to meet him
he would turn and fall to her depths and caresses

she would turn and rise to explode his terrors
he would turn and fall and explode into hers.

He would turn to feel his heart as it would rise,
she would turn let her tears fall into his eyes.

Little boat we thank you for your departures.
We know where we are going.  We move not unlike
a rabbit, scared and horny, wanting to create
ourselves, name the children for the Marx Brothers
or the saints or the Yankees in batting order.
They would play on the fields in time.
They would become themselves without us.
They would become themselves, and then,
turn to another and start this drama again.  We can
make ourselves beyond the world, a culture
of passion's children dancing outside
or inside the better parts of our best soil.
We can plant the seed and let it grow to flower
before the lightening.

Dear Mom,
I'm writing you from a transport across the Atlantic.  It was all that quickly that they sent us home.  Got to play ball in England and taught the Tommies how to hit the curve ball.. I won't be long, but then this letter might get there and I'll be home to read it.  Sacthel wants me back in KC as soon as I can but I don't want to go just yet.  Don't tell Sharon but I met a German girl but didn't know her long.  Sing "Starlight Starbright " to little Ty and kiss him   for me too. 
Love you.

It was in the spring when her baby was born.
She named her Mikalela after her mad uncle
who disappeared one night with an Arab woman
and was found smoking hashish in a tavern in Cairo.
He was never lost;  he didn't want to be found.
Dark skies above him he would run from the thunder
and dive between the hedges to quiet the skies.
Standing at the rear of a cargo ship she would
look back at her lost world, an Europe held together
only by its own histories, the myths lost,
and the key found under the mat.  She would sing

          Hab' keine angst meine shoene Kindere
          Meine Klinere Schmetterlinge
          Meine Klinere Leben

to the little one at her bosom, knowing America might
not be home, but this little one might never see the fall
of humankind there.  Or, if the little one saw it,
her curly brown tresses would keep it away somehow
like her blue eyes that illuminate the sky.