The Cancan Do Man (a reading)

Cop my cannabis from Canada,
not Cancun, like you might think.
Canonized saints in white lab coats
cure the shit in absinthe, baby.

I can cancel out a credit card
quicker than RD Foxx can say
cock-a-doodle-do, a bone fide
can do type of dude.

Can you dance the cancan, baby?
Like the poster in your apartment?
You know, a little dab’ll do you.
You know that, I know that.

Yes, I can’t take no for an answer.
I been hurt, hurt, hurt, yes I been –
Why can’t you see that I can do?
Can do, babydoll, not a problem.

Gonna pick myself right up off
the canvas of unrequited love,
do the “Shadowbox” with my badself
on a moonless midnight in December.

A can do type of fooooool.
Did I mention my Canadian doobies?
That I’m a Cancer, have eaten a Toucan?
That’s right, baby, big bright beak and all.

“toucan” by Elvira Gimaeva

My Favorite Fascist

Digital Portrait by Cain and Todd Benson

The slough of unamiable liars,

    bog of stupidities,

malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, and stupidities.

                                                                        Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

“Make it new.”

                                                                        Pound’s advice to poets

Ezra Pound’s my favorite fascist,

ranting on the radio, 

With Usura

Hath no man

a Rashaan Roland Kirk 

tenor saxophone solo,

no Hieronymus Bosch tagging

boxcars, boxcars, boxcars.”

Compare that to what we have now,

Sebastian Gorka, Kayleigh and Kellyanne,

Devin Nunes suing a cow,

The man who would be Mango,

Adderall addled, sniveling and sniffing,

Mispronouncing Minneapolis,

clutching the podium as if he’s afraid

he’ll topple statue-like before the rabble.

The Ballad of Old Buck Holland ( a reading)

The Ballad of Old Buck Howland
 
For years and years he lived right here
in a tent on the edge of Folly.
He brewed his beer and wrote his poems
in the shade of a stunted loblolly.
 
He played at working construction,
could drive a nail I guess,
but what Buck was really good at
was downing his Inverness.
 
He’d have a drop in the morning,
he’d have a drop at noon,
he’d have a drop at midnight,
‘neath the light of a winter moon.
 
The cold on Folly ain’t that bad
(unless you stay in a tent),
but Buck would hum all through the night,
shivering but still content,
 
content because his poems would clack
from that old Underwood,
clack-clack-clacking, like a woodpecker,
on the edge of the stunted wood.
 
The VA doctors warned him
to change his lifestyle soon,
but Buck was a stubborn cuss.
He loved the light of the moon.
 
They found him dead inside a shed
on the side of Folly Road,
and in his hand he held a poem,
the last one he ever wrote:
 
            Drunk me some wine with Jesus [it read]
            At this here wedding in Galilee.
            He saved the bestest for second
            And provided it all for free.
            
            So I quit my job on the shrimp boat
            To follow Him eternally,
            No longer bound by them blue laws
            Enforced by the Pharisee.

            And we had us some real good times
            Till them Pharisees done Him in.
            Ain’t got no use for the religious right
            After I seen what they done to Him.

            Then when Saul Paul stole the show
            I sort of drifted away.
            Cause he never quite did understood
            What Jesus was trying to say.

            Paul was like a Pharisee,
            Cussing this, cussing that,
            Giving the wimmins a real hard time,
            Gay bashing and all like that.

            So I stay at home most nights now
            Trying to do some good,
            Offering beggars a little snort
            Whilst praying for a Robin Hood.

            Drunk me some wine with Jesus,
            It was the bestest day I ever seen.
            Drunk me some wine with Jesus,
            Partying with the Nazarene.

I can think of worse things 
to have in your hand when dead
across the bridge on Folly Road
inside an old tool shed.
 
 
 
 
 
Robert Lawrence Buck Howland 1947-2016

Shagging Revisited

Early in July, my good friend and former college/grad school roommate Warren Moise wrote an article for the Charleston Mercury describing his former existence as a beach musician in the 60s and 70s. He admitted in the article that he had never learned to shag, which for me was a shocking revelation.

No, British readers, not that kind of shagging!

We’re talking about the venerable North and South Carolina dance known as “the shag.” According to the website NCPEDIA, the shag might trace its evolution back to early settlers of the Carolina in an attempt to preserve their European musical lineage. According to the article, in the 1920s and 30s, the shag evolved as dancers adapted it to swing music and jazz. However, the dance really came into its own in 50s and 60s with the advent of Beach Music, a genre made famous by such groups as The Drifters, Tams, and the Embers and performed at beach pavilions up and down the Carolina Coast.

Essentially,  the shag is a two person hand-holding shuffle that allows room for much improvisation. Knowing how to shag is almost a social necessity if you live in Charleston or Myrtle Beach. Nevertheless, like Warren, I, too, never learned how, essentially because I didn’t have the inclination.

Folly Beach, where I live, used to have a shag dance club on Center Street where old people attempted to keep the fires of their youth ablaze, and you can still see lots of shagging at the Sand Dollar Social club on weekends.

Curmudgeon that I am, I saw members of the old shag club as victims of their youth, incurable nostalgia-holics stuck, like a stylus on a scratched record, in a repetitive rut, so I wrote the following rather acerbic poem. 

If you look closely, you can detect the traces

Of teenagers drowned in the puddles of their faces.

Perhaps this is beauty’s curse, the clinging,

King Canute by the seaside singing:

Stop in the name of love. But the aging process

Stops for no one. There’s no recess

In decay’s school day, no stopping the seasons,

Even if you’re sockless and sporting Bass Weejuns.

Ward and June and Wes and Sue

In some ways my childhood homelife
was not unlike the sit-com Cleavers’ –
we lived in a house in the USA with a yard, slept in beds, and ate  
          homecooked meals.
 
On the other hand, my mother didn’t wear pearls 
as she dumped overflowing ashtrays 
into a pedal-operated plastic receptacle, 
 
my father watching TV, cursing LBJ, baring his tobacco-stained teeth, 
much less restrained in the den than Ward in tie and cardigan,
turning the pages of the afternoon newspaper, which happily 
          we had in those days.
 
In fact, Ward and June never watched TV or talked politics.
He never held his boys down, arms pinned, to tickle them
as they laughed hysterically in anguished howls on the floor.
 
There were apparently no black people where the Cleavers lived,
no juke joints on the edge of town, no bootleg whiskey,
no Wilson Pickett records, no Muddy Waters, no mojo magic.
 
                               ***
 
Mr. Cleaver played golf; my father flew airplanes, 
performed snap rolls and loops and hammerhead stalls.
On rare occasions I accompanied him in the cockpit.
 
More often, though, I was down below, neck straining, 
calmly watching his daring acrobatics,
like the son of a trapeze artist who knows the act by heart.
 
It was an expensive hobby, but one well-suited to
an adrenaline junkie, paradoxically
terrified by the thought of undertow dragging him out to sea to drown.
 
Like the Cleavers, my parents never divorced,
Died, in fact, in the very same bed a decade apart,
Next to a window overlooking our overgrown lawn.
 
No tombstones bear the Cleavers’ names;
alive and well in reruns, they relive their lives
in thirty-minute arcs resolved with smiles.

The Saddest Heart at the Egocentric Supermarket

Just Beneath the Surface by Damian Michaels

Like a tramp choir crying,
like a coat made out of lead,
ink spilled in water, a bird
beating about the cruel wires of a cage . . .

Wesley Moore “What Guilt Feels Like”

O wolves of memory! Immensements!

Philip Larkin, “Sad Steps


Yes, some memories should be locked away
In impenetrable safety deposit boxes,
The keys thrown away,

Those faux paus of yore, poxes
That that have pitted your past.
Oh my God, how could you have been so obnoxious?

Better yet, let’s wrap those indiscretions in x-ray aprons and cast
Them into oblivion’s untroubled ocean,
Chanting like defrocked priests, “What is done is done, what is past is past is past.”


			

What We Cannot See or Really Know

keeper

photograph by Jason Chambers

 

What We Cannot See or Really Know

 

 

“All overgrown with azure moss and flowers . . . ”

                                    Percy Bysshe Shelley

                                                                        For Jason Chambers

 

Way deep inside in the protean corpuscular reaches,

invisible to the outer-us, somehow, some entity is in charge, monitoring

infection, ordering T-Cell retaliatory attacks

against whatever globular intruder is oozing for a fight.

 

An awareness extraordinaire, this whatever it is, catapulting sneezes

to expel trespassing pollen, shaken from trees,

which too have something very similar transpiring beneath their bark beyond their notice:

 

Cellular division, sexual bloom and reproduction, spores spindling from

green needles bristling in the breeze.

 

Mysterious invisible over-souls of a sort, under-see-ers.

 

 

Yet, our inner gods eventually let us down. The oncologist said,

“Your immune system has failed you ­– twice now.”

 

 

Heart heard and began to run fast at the news.

Cellular Insurrection Afoot, above the fold,

Graphs below of life expectancy looking dire, going down, down,

 

down back into the dirt we go,

dirt that covers windblown seeds

 

as clouds shed a few of their aitches and ohs ­

 

and oohs and aahs

 

engendering over and over

what we cannot see

or really know.

 

Twenty Years of Schooling and They Put You on the Day Shift

 

pleroma

from CG Jung’s Red Book

When I taught senior English back in the Eighties, Nineties, Aughts, and Teens, Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf played a pivotal role in the curriculum. We used the text to introduce students to psychoanalytical criticism[1], to show them that formalism – or “New Criticism” as it is sometimes called ­– is not the only avenue for analyzing literature.

If our schedules allowed a convenient free period, I’d invite colleague and Arch-Trickster Bill Slayton to engage in a short colloquy with my AP seniors on the Magic Theater sequence of Steppenwolf.  One of Bill’s many talents as a teacher was to relate whatever the kids were reading to their lives, to make it relevant.

He’d begin the discussion by asking where they planned to attend college. Probably afraid they’d jinx themselves, they clamped shut and fidgeted, but Bill coaxed from them an admission that they’d narrowed their prospective lists to a finite number. Then he’d detail the inexorable winnowing that lay ahead by cataloguing the progression of self-limiting choices forced upon them  –  declaring a major, joining a fraternity or sorority (and its attendant conformity), specializing in a profession (divorce law, podiatry, the poetry of George Herbert).

Podiatrist shortage critical - checking pulse (original)

The Podiatrist of Avon

Jungian psychology, he explained, is all about the opposite – expanding your mind by getting in touch with the hidden potentialities Jung called archetypes, cultivating the accountant within (if you’re Lord Byron) or your internal Lord Byron (if you’re Henry James). [2]

Bill subtly suggested that the Western Tao, i.e., mindless materialism, accompanied by a continuing narrowing of focus and interest, might not be the way to go.  Of course, for most of our ambitious and high-achieving students, he might as well have been King Canute demanding that the sea desist (or, to update the allusion, Donald Trump screaming at the Coronavirus to stop spreading).

Bill didn’t mention having children, which, of course, is the ultimate wing-clipper in existential freedom flying. After my marriage to Judy, before we had children, I’d sometimes court danger, learn by going where I should not go, to echo a line from Roethhke. However, after my sons Harrison and Ned arrived, no more non-touristy Jamaican dance halls, no more high-octane chemical cocktails for I-and-I. Obviously, the responsibilities of nurturing and cultivating offspring are enormous. In my reckoning, dying foolishly before the job is done would be dereliction of duty.

Come to think of it, a Jungian analyst might deem my erstwhile adventurous Hemingway wanna-be shenanigans over-kill, an imbalance of energy. Transferring energy from oneself to others is a necessary step in mind expansion, a pebble-drop in the pond of consciousness that generates concentric circles expanding outward.

Of course, you don’t have to have children to accomplish this expansion –  Mother Teresa comes to mind ­– and having children doesn’t necessarily accomplish it either. Selfish parents ignoring or exploiting their children is as old as the Bible and Greek mythology; Huck’s dad, Pappy Finn, is still alive, (if not well).

Teaching literature isn’t only about reading and writing and expanding vocabularies; it is also about employing literature as lens through which to observe the compressed lives of others. I think Bill’s point was despite the inevitable constrictions that the transition from childhood to adulthood entails, an open and inquiring mind is essential in a life well-lived.

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.

 

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.

 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me; so take the lively air,

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.


[1] For Freud, you can’t go wrong with “Fall of the House of Usher.”  For Jungian criticism, Thomas Wolfe’s “Child by Tiger” is also an effective text.

[2] According to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, in 1717, “Byron established himself in Venice, where he began a year and a half of debauchery that, he estimated, involved more than two hundred women.” Henry James, on the other hand, died without ever having a significant other, at least in a sexual sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Muse of Unrequited Crushes

ashes-1894-edvard-munch_wikiart

Edvard Munch: “Ashes”

Has there ever been an unrequited love that’s paid more poetic dividends than WB Yeats’s decades long pursuit of unyielding Maud Gonne?*

[cue Robert Johnson: “All my love’s in vain.”]

Here’s a slight sampling:


She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;

But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

“Down by the Salley Gardens”


How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

“When You Are Old”


Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair,

And dream about the great and their pride;

They have spoken against you everywhere,

But weigh this song with the great and their pride;

I made it out of a mouthful of air,

Their children’s children shall say they have lied.

“He Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved”


O  Heart! O Heart, if she’d but turn her head

You’d know the folly of being comforted.

“The Folly of Being Comforted”


Never give all the heart, for love

Will hardly seem worth thinking of

To passionate women if it seem

Certain, and they never dream

That it fades out from kiss to kiss;

For everything that’s lovely is

But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

O never give the heart outright,

For they, for all smooth lips can say,

Have given their hearts up to the play.

And who could play it well enough

If deaf and dumb and blind with love?

He that made this knows all the cost,

For he gave all his heart and lost.

“Never Give All the Heart”


I could go on and on, but allow me just one more:

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

We saw the last embers of daylight die,

And in the trembling blue-green of the sky

A moon, worn as if it had been a shell

Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell

About the stars and broke in days and years.

 

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:

That you were beautiful, and that I strove

To love you in the old high way of love;

That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

“Adam’s Curse”


Given this inspiration, perhaps I should lament I’ve never suffered unrequited love.

I have, on the other hand, suffered numerous unrequited crushes, but compared to the unstaunched  hemorrhaging of Yeats’s heart, my rejections add up to so many mosquito bites scratched to the point of bleeding but fairly soon forgotten.

Not very inspiring, not the stuff of poetry, merely the stuff of doggerel.


 

The Lazy Muse of Unrequited Crushes

 

She sleeps till one each afternoon,

The lazy muse of unrequited crushes.

Never gazes at the waning moon,

Stomps around my brain on crutches,

 

Lisping doggerel with an interrogative lilt,

Ransacking my drafty garret,

Looking for an obscure line to lift

From Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett

 

Browning. Womp, womp.


gonne

*When Yeats told Gonne he wasn’t happy without her, she replied, “Oh yes, you are, because you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.” Norman A. Jeffares, W.B. Yeats, a New Biography.