Two Poems from David Robilliard’s Baby Lies Truthfully (1990)

EXCITING PROGRAMME

He had his shirt hanging out

she had a pint of beer in her hand

it was Friday night

and they were on their way

home to watch T.V

 

A NORMAL HOUSE

Breaking into polite little sweats

and what you get it what you get

I feel like a glass of water

whereas before I felt like a cup of mud

Allen Ginsberg, Sunflower Sutra (1955)

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Zany in Denim: a review

I had some time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner at Veggie Galaxy in Central Square (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and stumbled upon a wonderful little used bookstore on Mass Ave. Rodney’s Bookstore. Maybe I didn’t realize how little time I actually had, because I ended up showing up late for my dinner date, but suffice it to say, I found some really great stuff that made that lost appetizer totally worth it.

I think I picked up two or three books that day. And oddly enough, all were collections of poetry. My favorite, and the one that I’d like to recommend to you all, is Zany in Denim, a poetry anthology by Michigan-born poet, John Frederick Nims. I was unfamiliar with both author and work, but the quirky title and cover art were honestly what grabbed my attention and inclined me to purchase.

Having been unfamiliar with Nims and any of his work, I decided to do some research. The poet received his Ph.D from University of Chicago in 1945, and taught English at Harvard, the University of Florence, the University of Toronto, Williams College, and the University of Missouri. Nims was also the Editor of Poetry Magazine from 1978-1984, and the Poetry Foundation annually awards the John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for poetry translation. Nims died in Chicago in 1999.

Growing up in Chicago, and having considered Boston home for what is now the better part of three years, the work of John Frederick Nims has begun to take on a new world of meaning for me.

Published in 1990 by the University of Arkansas Press, Zany in Denim speaks to a diverse range of audiences, and in that regard, is uniquely refreshing.

The greatest thing about this little book is its wit. It’s fun, it’s sarcastic. It’s essentially everything that great, entertaining poetry should be. It’s also incredibly smart. Nims has succeeded in striking the balance between comical and clever, and has managed to enlighten his craft with the use of hilarious themes, odd scenarios, adult motifs, and honestly, stuff that pretty much all of us can relate to.

One of my favorites from the collection:

As Goethe Said

Party

Once, at a party, a taciturn prof

Met hordes of new people, but soon hurried off.

When asked how he liked them, their manners, their looks,

Said, “I wouldn’t read them, if they had been books.”

Available on Amazon.