I’m a man who likes poets … and poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so this one is for all ye poets out there, and all ye who read poetry.

I’ve been told that if you want to be a poet, you should support poets. And not just the old dead ones but the living breathing ones. By buying their books. Well, I have my share of poets on my book shelves. There’s a special place because I believe poets deserve better than they’ve gotten over the years. Don’t know any that make a living off of their poetry. Just talking, better known as lecturing, and teaching about poetry.

On my shelves, it starts with Old Man Gilgamesh himself. Compared to Gilgamesh, Homer was a modern. Then there’s the ultimate anti-war novel, The Iliad, and his partner, The Odyssey. Both are translated by Robert Fagels. I like him. I like him a lot. Haven’t gotten his translation of The Aeneid yet. And then there’s The Divine Comedy about a man who suddenly goes middle-aged crazy. That’s the male version of menopause. Some might blame it on Beatrice. I blame it on middle-age. You can tell that’s what the man is suffering from by those opening lines of The Inferno, Canto 1:

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

He couldn’t buy that new red Ferrari, so off he went on a journey, to hell and back so to speak. And right by his side is another fellow I like a lot, Geoff Chaucer. Geoff is English for Jeff. His journey begins in April and “When in April the sweet showers fall….” Elmore Leonard says don’t begin with the weather but it seems to work well for old Geoff. Course, next door is the Poet Supreme, the House of the Bard. I’m talking Shakespeare here folks, and my version is the big fat volume of The Norton Shakespeare. A lot of Shakespeare in a lot of book. Not sure about what to say on Elmore’s advice about the weather cause here’s another writer starting off with the weather:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York….”

Guess these guys can break the rules if they want to. Beside these fellows is Alfred Lord with his Idylls of the King. Must admit that one of my favorites of his is “Ulysses”. Ulysses is Roman for Odysseus. In the poem, Odysseus is an old man and longing for the adventures of his youth. When you get old, you too will understand his meaning.

Now I am not partial to Walt Whitman and Emily D, though I have a volume of her stuff on my shelf. Though her poems don’t fit the form, I think you can call her the American haiku-ist. I’m sure Basho would be honored to have her in his company. They do fit the spirit.

I even have a couple of T S’s volumes but he’s not someone I would call a friend. Too brainy for me. Nor do I care much for Robert Frost. I lose something of the meaning of the poem because he depends so much on rhyme. Oh, I know how hard it is to do what he did, but it gets a bit distracting.

No, it’s Basho, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Dylan Thomas, Pueblo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Derek Walcott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shahib Nye and Garcia Lorca for me. Some dead, some living. I tend to turn to these friends when I am looking for some good companionship. They all wear well on me. And I even have a local poet, Summer Rodman’s “A train came by and slow ed”. Reminds me a bit of John Ashbery. And these are just a few of the two or three shelves of poetry I have.

There was a time that I found e e cummings interesting. But I tired of his gimmickry, although I still pull out “On Being Brand New” for a good laugh.

I’ve always read and bought poetry. I’m not sure why. I just like having them around to whisper in my ear their secrets and their beauty. It took 9/11/01 to make me value their value. Afterwards I picked up Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, Anna Akhmatova’s “Reading Hamlet”, and the one Whitman I like. Though it is awfully wordy and seems to go on way too long, it is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. In it, Whitman mourns for Abraham LIncoln. There are moments in that poem that are intensely moving. As far as Akhmatova is concerned, I keep coming across those words,

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,
beyond it the river’s dull blue.”

That seemed to measure my feeling after 9/11. Guess I am a little bit strange to feel that but I did, and sometimes still do.

I don’t know how I came by this love of poets and their poetry. It certainly does not run in my family. No poets among my kin. Nary a one. Maybe it came from reading The King James Bible and The Psalms early on. I sure do like reading Jesus’ Blesseds and Psalm 23 in the KJB. Haven’t found a better translation. Maybe those were the sections Old Will worked on. I just know that poets give me great comfort and I wish there were a hell of a lot more of them. Perhaps if there were, we’d have a bit less war and injustice.

I’ve often wondered why I have watched and studied politics so much over the years. If Boris Pasternak and his Zhivago should have taught me anything, it is don’t give a damn about politics. It never solves anything. And often makes matters worse. Then there’s Yeats’ wonderful lines:

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Again maybe I should have embraced Zhivago as a role model. Maybe I would have been much better off. I know politics gives me a headache these days, hearing arguments about things that most of us don’t take any comfort in. A lot of this and a lot of that. Mostly tweedledee and twiddledum. Why don’t they just get on with it? As the fellow said on Saturday Night Live a while back, “Just fix it.”

One of my favorite intros to poems and poets is Molly Peacock’s How to read a poem … and start a poetry circle. She introduced me to Jane Kenyon’s wonderful poem “Let evening come”, one of my favs these days. In all my poemer-writing years I have never come close to something so lovely, so beautiful. It reveals to me how much beauty there is in the world if we only look and see.

So here I am late on a Saturday night. I’ve finished my weekly chores and I find myself turning to a poem or two for comfort. Not sure what has gotten into me. But I raise my glass and toast them all everyone. Thanks for the poems that have been spoken and that are to be spoken.

When Jesus Came East Out of Texas

Happy Easter, y’all.

-1-

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He came out tan,
even dark skinned, brown eyes, black hair. A Somebody
He could’ve been, being Jesus. Instead He was
a cotton chopping, dish washing, toilet cleaning, hard working
Man of a Jesus, His hands calloused from the fields He’d worked,
His muscles aching so tired He could hardly sleep most nights.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He came out kicking-up dirt
along the lonely, dusty road leaving Nazareth
coming into a country that don’t allow a kicking up dirt.
Run out of town He was
near tarred and feathered for saying a thing that was true.
You see, a prophet don’t get a bit of respect in the town He’s from.
Nazareth folk knew His mama and His stepdaddy,
claimed they’s always acting uppity like his kin was closer to the Almighty than anybody,
keeping the Sabbath and testifying,
yes testifying they’d been touched by the Lord’s own hand.
Said they’d seen an angel too. “Imagine that,” some said.
“God can’t be that real, just one big myth and no place to be found.
We townspeople been praying way too long for the Expected One
and we’re not about to be taken in by a bastard Son of Joachim’s child.
If this Jesus is a messiah, the town drunk must be Moses.
After all, that drunk would part the Red Sea too if there’s a bottle of whiskey on the other shore.
And he can quote the Scriptures better’n any Baptist preacher.”

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He scrounged up work wherever He could,
roustabouting on the rigs out in the Gulf,
picking peaches over Georgia way,
digging the black rock out of West Virginia hills.
Even cleaned stables from time to time—
some said He felt home there, being He was Mary’s Baby Child born in a stall.
Right good with animals too, God’s own creatures He called them.
Able to gentle a horse nobody else could.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He met up with a river.
Went and got Hisself baptized in that great Euphrates of a river;
yes, baptized down yonder in the Old Muddy Mississippi
near Jericho where the seven walls fell,
baptized by His own sweet cousin John,
you know the Baptist who preached
John three sixteen once saved always saved amen.
Straightaway a Dove
whiter than the snow white robes of the saints washed in the Blood,
that Holy Ghost Dove rose,
like Excalibur He rose out of the waters and into the heavens
calling out in dove-talk words only a prophet would know.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He shook Hisself free,
shook off that river, pulled on His sneakers.
Spent a time in the Delta and ran up against Doctor Hoodoo at the Crossroads,
gave old Scratch such a whacking
right then and there Beelzebub invented the Blues.
Then it was on down to New Orleans for Jesus,
that Sodom and Gomorrah town
where sinners cut their eye teeth on the Seven Deadlies.
Amongst the smells of remoulade and gumbo drifting through the Vieux Carré,
Jesus changed the me-got-troubles-and-the-troubles-me-got-cut-down-deep-to-the-bone
Beelzebub Blues into Jazz when Jesus came east out of Texas.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He hopped the night train to Memphis.
Hoboed Hisself up to Graceland and the Land of Elvis,
that motherlode of Rock and Roll born wearing Blue Suede Shoes
cradled alongside the Mother of Rivers,
where Mary Mag in a room at the Heartbreak Hotel called out to her lover, “Love me tender,”
where Simon Peter, like his daddy and his granddaddy before, worked the docks, loading and unloading,
where Beale Street opened its arms wide, welcoming a Man named Jesus,
for Jesus loved sinners, and the sinners loved Jesus.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He told stories,
and He told them ‘bout prodigals and rejects,
‘bout a beggar name of Lazarus and a mustard seed
with faith ‘nough to move a mountain cross the State of Georgia.
But the sinners had heard them all before
from the holy ghost healers and the Bible thumpers and the tent preachers,
from the theologians and the priests and the social gospelleers,
from the Billy Sundays and the Bishop Sheens and the Billy Grahams
they had heard the stories and were none too partial to hearing them again
till they heard the “fear not” in the voice of Jesus who came east out of Texas
and the Beloved He took to calling them like they’s somebody.

-2-
When Jesus came east out of Texas, he moved from town to town
making His way through places with names like Shiloh and Rose of Sharon and New Hope,
just dots on a map for some but home for others.
Wherever He went walking, a rag-tag band followed after,
souls in need of learning how to swim, souls drowning in a sea of storms,
souls like Mary Mag come begging for love,
a woman the gossips dubbed Slut from the shantyside of town.
She Sunday-dressed and fancied herself up and dropped down on her knees
in the grass, in the dirt to beg the feet of Jesus for forgiveness.
He gave her what she wanted much;
He loved her tenderly with words that forgave her many sins.
And them sinning folk, my how they loved Jesus.
Would have followed Him anywhere the sun rises and sets.
But at the edge of the crowd stood a preacher name of Caiaphas.
He heard all the Truth that Jesus spoke and he didn’t listen ‘cause he was so full of hisself.
He turned and walked away from Jesus with a “how dare he” on his lips.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, He preached a sermon,
preached it on the banks of the Chattahoochee.
Said a lot of strange things, things like “Blessed”
and “Forgive” and “Turn the other cheek” and “Love your neighbor.”
Told one fellow, “Take up your street and walk.”
That man, who couldn’t walk, did just that, stood hisself up
and walked, walked away with no limp at all.
Another time He said, “If you begat the sword, the sword will begat you.”
Called God, you know the Almighty Jehovah, He named Him Father.
Said, “God is Love.” Of all things.
“How ‘bout that,” said the sinners who had always thought
God was Judge and Jury, and Sheriff too.

When Jesus came east out of Texas, some of the upstanding,
well they had themselves a meeting,
an Upstanding Citizens Committee Meeting.
Seems they didn’t like the rumors coming their way ‘bout this Man Jesus
Like He could walk on water, heal the sick, cast out demons.
“Everybody knows there ain’t no such thing as demons,” they said.
“So how can He cast out a thing that ain’t?”
There was even talk that Jesus raised a dead man right out of his sleep.
“Downright blasphemous was what that was,”
the citizens said. “Let the dead lie in peace.”
From the mouth of Preacher Caiaphas, they heard
the words they felt deep down in their hard-hearted hearts, they heard,
“We can’t allow any more of His Good News stuff being spread around.
Why, what will happen to law and order, to hellfire and brimstone, if the sinners believe?”

When Jesus came east out of Texas, the citizens
dressed themselves up in hoods and in robes like it was Halloween and went out looking.
When they found Jesus, they watched and they watched ‘cause watching was what they did
till one night they found Him alone down by a creek a-praying.
Arrested him on a trumped-up charge. “Baptisin’ without a license,” the hypocrites called it.
Had themselves a trial. But it was no real trial, just a sham of a justice.
“So you think you’re a Jesus?” Preacher Caiaphas said, his spite spitting out the words of Satan
who’d known he’d have his revenge for the whacking he’d taken from the hand of Jesus.
“You ain’t nothing of a Jesus. Our Jesus
is a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, fair-skinned Jesus, and you ain’t him.”

When Jesus came east out of Texas, the whip came down,
it came down hard on Jesus,
and the whip came down hard some more
till it had come down hard on His back some thirty-nine times.
“Let’s hang the nigger,” one of the hoods shouted out.
The citizens carved King of the Niggers into His face,
into the face of Jesus and they lynched Him from a tree.
Strung up in space He swung halfway ‘tween earth and heaven
till He died that dark and moonless night.
Then the hypocrites one by one slunk away, saying,
“Well, that’s the last we’ll hear of that nigger.”

Later, later in the dark, later in the night, His friends came to the tree,
that lonesome tree where the Good Man hung—
Mother Mary, Mary Mag, Simon Peter, Little John, they came
and pulled His body down, bruised and scarred.
They laid their broken Jesus into a grave by the river He’d loved.

Out of the darkness came a great shout of light when
Jesus who came east out of Texas stepped out of the ground,
His body now whole and new, and the world could not hold Him,
He ascended into eternity like He’d said He would,
promising, “Mi amigos, viyo con Dios, and remember
I shall see you again.
Soon.”

So look east, my friends. Yes, look east and perhaps,
just perhaps….

Paris

I’ve had my mind on Paris lately. And not just any Paris but The Paris in France. You see, I am writing a novel. My protagonist is an artist who travels to Paris to study art. This lyric came out of that.

Let’s go, let’s go to Paris
Adam said to Eve
One bite of the apple
Now we have to leave

We’ll see the hanging gardens
In old Babylon
We’ll pray, facing Mecca
And Jerusalem

We’ll climb to the mountain peak
Mount Fujiyama
We’ll sit at the great stone feet
Of Buddah Gautama

The pyramids and the sphinx
We’ll see from the Nile
Dance ”round the stones of Stonehenge
For a little while.

We will wash our bodies clean
In River Ganges
At the Machu Picchu
We’ll  watch the sun rise.

And we’ll sample the pastry
That is the City
Of light, flowers and perfume
And l’amour Paree

On a Sunday afternoon
Bread and cheese and wine
On the banks of the Seine
And chocolat sublime

We’ll tour the Eiffel Tower
And Mona Lisa smiles
We’ll eat ratatouille
And stroll Parisian style

Visit the Sorbonne and Versailles
The Left Bank and the Right
The culture and the fashion
And lovely Paris at night.

The Miseries

It’s that time again. Every year about this time I get the sneezes. Better known as allergies. I live in Florida and winter is upon us. Then spring is upon us. Then winter again. Then spring. Again. And all this may occur on the same day. The weather is having a knock-down-drag-out with itself.

The plants die. Then they are reborn. Then they die. Then they are reborn. Happens every year. I see a flower blooming this time of year, I know I am in trouble. Instead of an achy-breaky heart, I get an achy-breaky nose.

They say misery loves company. My sneezes prove that proposition. They come in threes. And I don’t get just an itsy bitsy ah-choo. My sneezes could send a man to Mars. Just one of my sneezes could light up Los Angeles. Too bad I can’t figure a way to can them and sell them. I could make a mint off the utility companies.

In an effort to combat this conflict, I have pulled out the big guns. First it was one medication. That worked for some years. Then I tried another. It worked wonders. I didn’t sneeze. But it upset my stomach. Darn those side effects. Now I have a truckload of a third medication pull up to my front door in January and dump its load into my living room. I know sneezing time is just around the corner. It doesn’t completely stop the itching and the sneezing. All it does is keep it under control.

Soon April will show its pretty face and the miseries will come to an end. Before it does though, the weather will have one final go at me. It will do an April Fool’s. The weather will warm up late in March, then we get another cold snap along about April First. That’s nature saying, “Fooled you.” But I have taken to singing, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I’ll double-up on the meds and have one last go ’round. Then I don’t have to sing this song anymore:

It’s Sneezing Time

(Sung to the tune of “It’s Crying Time”, written by Buck Owens, recorded by Ray Charles.).

Oh, it’s allergy time again, sneezes gonna leave me
You can see that itchy look in my eyes
You can tell by the way the pollen holds me
It won’t be long before it’s sneezing time

Now they say that plants give the world wonder
When they do bud, their blooms they grow
And they say that my sneezing won’t get stronger
What the hell do they think they know?

Oh, it’s sneezing time again, sneezes gonna leave me
I can see that in my very stopped-up nose
I can tell by the way my eyes are itching
Won’t be long before sneezes hit my toes.

You say gesundheits make me feel better
That’s the way it’s happened every time before
As sure as the flowers bloom tomorrow
Sneezing time starts when plants bloom some more

Oh, it’s allergy time again, the sneezes gonna leave me
You can see that itchy look in my eyes
You can tell by the way the pollen holds me
It won’t be long before it’s sneezing time.

Advancing

Rivers of cold,
Molecules of ice,
Frozen balls of air,
Rushing
Across the state
Down I-75
Through the city
Up the street
Past the stop sign
Over a neighbor’s yard,
No tropical dam
To halt them.
Must be
Winter.