Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dear Lover: I exaggerated the vintage of the jukebox, the rest is true

That wink, the veil pulled down
That famous wink
Over and over in newsreels
Played in the barracks
Of your lovers from a distant season
Sip of beer, and wink, a nod of the head
Those boys going wild in their fatigues
The chaplain alone, cursing in his dusty cabin

But someone let the jukebox out tonight
Dear Lover
That old crooner there in the corner
Neon ablaze in a hot pink on your cheek
And it ain’t so easy right here
To find the proper timing for your trademark
There’s a different current to the vinyl

And a different breed of distance
Between your eyelids and mine

Something in the space between
That Oppenheimer never got around to calculating
That only the juke and the neon
Have anything to say about

Oh, dear one
Know this clawing in my chest
Do you?
I am a veteran of a different war

It is the neon light, only, that is onto us
It is the sound waves, only, that are onto us
The Stones LP, only, is onto us
Back when they were onto something

Let it find you where you are

Tonight the chaplain is hard at work in the barracks
Laying hands
And the cinema is empty
Though the film still flutters past an 80 watt light

Sunday, January 25, 2009

To Elton John’s Ear: Philadelphia (Freedom)

WRTI is taking requests, Sir John
All night, it’ll go all night; is it Sir?
Or Lord I wonder? Not one call tonight
A trembling note in the girl’s voice: “requests?”

A frequency to that tremble, I think
Viscous, unpredictable and human
Carried on electromagnetic waves

Mr. John – or Sir : “The El Train,” a poem
By me, The Lord Night Owl, permit me this:
Ahh, heh, heh, hem… pentameter hem… hem:
Oh snarky reverie did call my name
On a couch in Center City, sipping gin
The tonic flat, but limes and Bombay

And we did listen to your song, Elton
Our city a full five syllables sung
“Shine the light, shine the light, won’t you shine…”
Tribesman’s dances ensued: “the light,” indeed

There is something pleading in that “won’t you”
Have you been to Philadelphia, El?
You got it right, the city and the me
For I am always singing, “Shine The Light!”
And just a little lower, “Shine The Light”
Then higher like the first time, “Shine The Light!”
Highest of all, quivering in my throat:
“Won’t You Shine Already Motherfucker?”
On the el train or the Night Owl, because
the el train will become the Night Owl
Every night at twelve-thirty: go all night
Sixty-ninth to Frankford, Sir John, have you been?
At the stop and drunk on gin, wistfully
recalling limes and forgetting the tonic

But not ahead, El; first you must walk, sir
With me: Witching Hour through Washington Square
Ringing in my heart and the tower bells
And the slow fade, uniform stumbling gait
of fourteen-thousand feet toward the bar

Men lying on benches turn, sniff the air
That bastard demon clawing in their chest
“No, not for you, last call and not a nickel”
“But shine, won’t you shine,” they are requesting
To whom do they ask? Not to each other
No, not to the bastard demon either
But tell me, who are they pleading with, El?

And after the Square, west to Little Pete’s
Cause I’m drunk, Elton, and you wrote the song
And now you shall know the meaning of it
But also for American cheese omelets

Say it with me, El, American flat:
“Every sandwich has a mug shot in this joint”
Hard flash, caught-in-the-act photography
Point to it, there, own up to your dinner
Don’t look and it costs you sixty cents, fair
Pay the gal: tabloid, and read it backwards

The sports page is always singing: “Dominate”
Then just a little lower: “dominate”
And higher like the first: “Dominate”
“Domination!” Every fucking graph, El
From their cue-ball heads to the withering heart
And yesterday it was every page only
When it gets to every sentence: Portland
Yes, I will pack up my kerchief and stick

But hold, consider the waitress’ shuffle
Two a.m., far different than four o’clock
in the afternoon; Six a.m., you ask?
You don’t want to know, El, just leave that be
All night, she goes all night every single…
American flat, there, listen for it:

A gasket in her heart since ninety-two
Her daughters cried and sighed when read the news
Nine fillings, the first one in fifty-eight
When she lamented her growing pear shape
Though now she laments the lamenting hours

And some nights while on break or in the can
She hears WRTI whisper faint
Between the gasket and the nine fillings
Tremor of electromagnetic waves
An unseen hungry voice to her ear: “requests?”

Finish up, more drunkards waiting, don’t sip
To The Owl and quick; you want the next, El
Never the after; there is a rhythm:

That guides you past the toothless men, their hands
Same texture as the sidewalk, but a smile
That holds you mid-stumble, no, let it pass
Empty Duncin’ Donuts cup, bone fingers
Extended to you: “Won’t you shine the light?”

Beast approaches, roar, forty souls within

So step up, token or transfer or none
For Jonah notices little at the helm
His eyes a pair of distant moons shining
at the parallel yellow, “will they meet?”
He has thought on some nights, this included
“If I go all night, sixty-ninth to Frankford…”

Keeps him upright this, toes nuzzle the gas
For the Night Owl traces the el, Elton
Empty tracks above await a decent hour
The clean-shaven they will carry at daybreak
But we, no, we are not held aloft thus
Empty tracks over, won’t you shine the light?

“No, nay, nay,” I believe is their comment
I have heard it, particularly
on cold nights, “No, nay, nay,” the wind howls through
“In the hollow belly you must ride”
Its blue steel, ribs of the leviathan

Janitor and drunkard and bum, packed in
Look, the man there, the Philadelphian
There, his hair has not been washed in two years
Has ridden from sixty-ninth; he’ll go all night
Warmth of the Owl, of the Leviathan
He’s humming unconscious through a toothless gape:
“We, Philadelphia, we, Elton
Listen: all your children sobbing for light”

Pull the string, Elton, you have seen enough
No, nay, nay, liar, I have seen enough
And I am not a musician, no flute
I have not the skill to sing it out, El
Goddamnit, this here, ringing in my heart
and the tower bells: “Won’t you shine the light?”
But only electromagnetic waves to
carry it to me; Pull the string, Elton
York-Dauphin, we shall walk, head down, collar up

Blanket in the closet, the couch pulls out
Sorry for the snub, mate, but you have left me cold

Alone I wish to open the window tall
Lay shirtless on top of the wrinkled sheets
The air through the screen, flip on the transistor
A man blows against a sliver of wood
It whispers soft, through a coiling of tin
Churning of the electromagnetic
Carries it to me, yes, to my bare chest
I want the tower bells to join; I know
the ringing in my heart will match his phrase

And to the north I can hear, already
The first of the el roaring out the dawn

In the alley the waitress crouches low
Next to the dumpster, guarding her spark
against the wind, getting the Marlboro lit
But she stops, can hear something distant
She is still, sniffing the air: “what is that?”

My eyes pleading upward through the screen
At the slow brightening dawn of the day
The girl’s voice arrives for the last tonight
She went all night: Coltrane to Bootsie Barnes

The waitress stands up straight in the darkness
The voice is not afar, though it whispers faint
Resonating soft from the heaving breast
Between the gasket and the nine fillings:

Friday Night Blazer

it is autumn tonight in Philadelphia
cool air through the screen
first time all year
the chained dog’s bark on the air
short and sharp, and get on with his chow
but the unleashed howl, they howl in long desperate pleas:
“Cast ooooff, Cast ooooooff,” at the city night
as the hull beckons the keel, as the sternum beckons the sailor
luminous skyline to the south, empty dark above
“Cast ooooooofffff, Cast ooooffff,” for there is no hope
and that is the trick
let me greet the cool night air
as the sixty-year-old South Philly bachelor
tonight, his Friday night blazer
alone, no hope, but that a younger woman may brush his hand
flip her hair, reveal her neck
now there it is
his hair slicked to the scalp with lubricant
slick it back, slick it back, reveal
no need to hide the lines
slick it back, slick it back
“my face is here,” he says with repeated strokes of the comb
“and here is a scar, and here is a deep line
follow them, dear, with your soft finger there”
Cast off, Cast off
“for I am the old, the dark, these things unknown to you:
the cool air of this city, a vicious howl on it
is there not redemption here?”
but instead alone I sit tonight
snuggling up to a dictionary
my rosary beads are the bookmark

Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Donald Hall's Ear: Philadelphia

Don, not once did you mention or whisper
Of the toothless men, nor their spines creaking
To straighten, the simpering gaite toward
Oh God, the Fear – do you know it, Donald?
The Dunkin' Donuts cup, outstretched fingers

I had another dizzy spell today
Donald, I am but twenty-nine years old
Sometimes there is a spinning in my head
Is that normal for a poet, Mr. Hall?
You are seventy-eight, is that normal?
Is there, what, a millimeter, you think?
I’m told madness has physical symptoms
That one can see, pry open with a penknife

Many medical students live here, Don
They are cute and fluffy, and they’ll cut open
your brain with a penknife when you die
Make a yucky face, as they mention it
Between kisses in-between bucket seats

You should come down some time; we’ll cruise for them

Donald: I am worried no one will hear
My whisper as I yours, gentle clawing
Poet, can you spare me just one reader?
How about an ear of yours for the fire?

No? I will settle for the statue, there
On my desk, you didn’t know it was sold
To me, bound, twisted in the hardcover
Bent over it now, my cloying whisper:
“Sing the sonnet thus: Schizophrenia”
It is your duty, Donald; now, the first line:
“Empty Dunkin' Donuts cup, bone fingers”

Donald’s ear, listen: Philadelphia
A name respired, not spoken, not said
It is cold, though this is July again
And all of middle-management on leave
Out pinching ass in Atlantic City
Dear pavement abandoned, only clock-punchers
schizophrenics and schizophrenia

And schizophrenics and Ralph J. Roberts
Standing long atop his crystal tower
Considering the movie “Transformers”
All of the implications – all of them
Smoking, a withering painful memory
floods back now as it did the night before
Of hair care products on a distant shore

Donald, your neighborhood smells glorious
It reads like university autumn
Velvety young feet, and the trees dieing
Their millionth death – another ring, and verse
Yes, there, whispered softly to me: Siren
The Holy order sounding from your lips

No, it’s wrongheaded, plain evil to ask
A dirty groping for you, sonorous
To my ear, when stupid are my eyebrows
Raised high in their fucking shrug: “what?” nothing
His Duncin' Donuts cup, outstretched, Donald
Empty at the tips of the bone fingers

But where is Raph?… ah yes, the tower still
He benevolently sweeps his ashtray
Now and then a twitch of the wrist is all
And thirty-seven playwrights once frescos in
the hall, now clutching thousand-dollar-bills
Stumbling they land, but the carpet is soft

And me left sitting in a damn Starbucks
Next to a schizophrenic, gentle man
Peers at my pad, no suggestions just yet
The twin clock-punchers peer, cut hard behind
a wooden counter; debtors, born debtors
To the distant wave of a chubby hand

Send your poems to them, Donald, don’t charge
Mark the package thus: “Philadelphia”
A debtor makes a careful verse reader
Rhythm best felt with a foot at the neck
The first line: “Empty Duncin’ Donuts cup”

Donald, breathe with me: Philadelphia
No need to part lips, the name respired
Not spoken, but lost to the poet’s ear
Not said, but held in the lungs, like my granny
did Pall Malls; It will be your greatest poem
The full city luminous in your chest
There, close your eyes, silent to the clawing
Can you hear this, Don: ____________ .