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The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills Black Sparrow Press, contains the poems from late and most of , plus selections from five early chapbooks not covered by the first three sections of this book.
So, for my critics, readers, friends, enemies, ex-lovers and new lovers, the present volume along with Days and Mockingbird contain what I like to consider my best work written over the past nineteen years. Each of these sections brings back special memories. The editor first had to check me out to see if I was a decent human being. Catching the train at the Union Station just below the Terminal Annex of the Post Office where I worked for Uncle Sam, I sat in the bar car and drank scotch and water and sped toward New Orleans to be judged and measured by an ex-con who owned an ancient printing press.
Soon they were both in Los Angeles with their two dogs in a green hotel just off skid row. Drink and talk. I was still a bastard. Much leaving and waving through train windows.
Louise cried through the glass. It Catches was published… The bulk of the poems in Crucifix In A Deathhand were written during one very hot, lyrical month in New Orleans in the year I had gone into a slump or a blackout after the publication of It Catches, and Jon and Louise had brought me back down to New Orleans. I would go back to my place and awaken about a.
I could see him through the window, calm, cool, hardly hungover at all, hum- ming, and feeding pages of Crucifix into the press. One had to be careful: feeding poems into a waiting press can easily dissolve into journalism. In the evening, if I brought him a little sheaf of poems, his mood would be better. So I kept writing poems. There were 7-and-one-half foot stacks of pages everywhere. Very carefully we moved between them. The bathtub had been useful but the bed was in the way. So Jon built a little loft out of discarded lumber.
Plus a stairway. And Jon and Louise slept up there on a mattress and the bed was given away. There was more floor space to stack the pages. I am going crazy! The roaches circled and we drank and the press gulped my poems. That is, John took the pills and I took the pills and drank, and we both talked.
John was then in the habit of taping everything, whether it was good or bad, dull or interesting, worthless or useful. We would listen to our conversations the next day, and it was a worthwhile process, at least for me.
I realized how oafish and overbearing and off-target I often was, at least when I was high. At one time during these tapings John asked that I bring over some poems and read them. I did. And left the poems there and forgot about them. The poems were thrown out with the garbage. Months passed. One day Thomas phoned me. At this time a balding red-haired man with a high, scrubbed fore- head, meticulous and kind, with a very faint, perpetual grin was coming by. He worked as the manager of an office furniture and supply company and was a collector of rare books.
His name was John Martin. He had published some of my poems as broadsides. He wrote me out checks as I sat in my kitchen across from him, drinking beer and signing the broadsides. I showed John Martin the poems Thomas had typed off the tape for me. Looking at these poems written between and I like for one reason or another the last poems best.
I am pleased with this. Meanwhile, the poems that follow will have to do. Though I think on the Van Gogh thing they charged 50 cents. I go outside and pick an orange and peel back the bright skin; things are still living: the grass is growing quite well, the sun sends down its rays circled by a Russian satellite, a dog barks senselessly somewhere, the neighbors peek behind blinds.
I say yes. I put my hand flat to the surface where the curve goes down. I poured two glasses of port and we sat there as the money-grubbers were belled out of their miserable nests and Maria went in and watered the bowl and I sat there rubbing my three-day beard thinking about the crazy bird and it came out like this: all that really mattered was going someplace the faster the better because it left less waiting to die.
Maria came out and peeled back the covers and I tore off my greasy clothes and crawled beneath the sweaty sheets, closing my eyes to the sound and the sunlight, and I heard her drop her spiked feet and her frozen toes walked the backs of my calves and I named the bird Mr. America and then quickly I went to sleep. I buy a fifth of cheap whiskey and 3 candy bars. I slept all day and when she came home I was full of the brilliant conversation that she so much adored.
I have been there many years; at first I believed the work monotonous, even silly but now I see it all has meaning, and the workers without faces I can see are not really ugly, and that the heads without eyes— I know now that those eyes can see and are able to do the work. I think of old men in four dollar rooms looking for socks in dresser drawers while standing in brown underwear all the time the clock ticking on warm as a cobra.
I breathe the wind, flex my muscles but only my belly wiggles. I hold the rubber sides of everywhere my balls are snowballs I see stricken bells of malaria old men getting into bed, into model-T Fords as the fish swim below us full of dirty words and macaroni and crossword puzzles and the death of me, you and the Katzenjammer kids.
I did not know what to tell her but I told her to get any bad teeth pulled and be careful of the French lover. I put her photo by the radio near the fan and it moved like something alive. I sat and watched it until I had smoked the 5 or 6 cigarettes left. Alice goes in for a drink, comes out. I am a fool, I think, I should have known it works like this. I think sometimes of all the good ass turned over to the monsters of the world.
God, or somebody, bless him. I got up and sat in a chair and watched them coming in. I looked at the people a while more and then I got tired and stopped looking and fried myself a couple of eggs and sat down and had some tea and bread with it.
I felt fine. I let her in. I asked. I was the drunk. I was the last one on the truck out. I walk down the streets past drugstores and hospitals and theatres and cafes and I wonder if he is there. I have looked almost half a century and he has not been seen. I came back the next day to hack the damned thing down but found it so beautiful I killed a peacock instead.
I know all the spirituals now! I open the window and there he is out on the lawn dancing to a hymn a spiritual a whatever. Louis the head to a scoutmaster in Brooklyn the belly to a cross-eyed butcher in Des Moines, the female organs were sent to a young priest in Los Angeles; the arms he threw to his dog and he kept the hands to use as nut-crackers, and all the leftover and assorted parts like breasts and buttocks he boiled into a soup which strangely tasted better than she ever had.
Agrippina fought for this, even Mithridates, even William Hazlitt. I am a monkey with an olive lost in the circus sand of your laughter, circus apes, circus tigers, circus madmen of finance screwing their secretaries before the …and what did you expect? I was living in an attic in Philadelphia it became very hot in the summer and so I stayed in the bars. I turned the radio on real loud drank the wine and wondered how I could make a history book interesting but true.
Joe never came by. Joe was probably working off a piece of ass or attempting to solve a crossword puzzle. I was very lucky with my boils being drilled and tortured against the backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains while that sun went down; when that sun went down I knew what I would do when I finally got that drill in my hands like I have it now.
I delivered all the mail and then Henderson put me on the night pickup run in an old army truck, the damn thing began to heat halfway through the run and the night went on me thinking about my hot Miriam and jumping in and out of the truck filling mailsacks the engine continuing to heat up the temperature needle was at the top HOT HOT like Miriam.
Dolly, I said, and she sang— Hey, Dolly… just now I looked up and she was across the street. I love her walls I love her children I love her dog we will listen to the crickets my arm curled about her hip my fingers against her belly one night like this beats life, the overflow takes care of death I like my love letters they are true ah, she has such a beautiful ass! I know, she said. Eve giggled. Eddie began to vomit. I said goodbye to Eve.
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973
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Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
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