THE EVENING SENTINEL
My father, 86, this spring,
Was a large in-charge, forceful, hands-on,
Until he retired too soon and too unprepared
For anything beyond the TV
And flipping channels and on and off
In the midst of conversations,
And solitaire in the basement
With his trophies,
And mowing the lawn in the summer,
Or raking leaves in the fall,
When the yard man didn’t come,
And now, getting on, not much of that either,
With stern advice from his doctor,
WEAK IN THE PINS, as his grandmother put it,
Till THE EVENING SENTINEL came, halfway
Up the sidewalk after the worst blizzard of a century,
And he got it in his mind to dress warm
And retrieve it, and FELL halfway there, and couldn’t get up,
At with the wind-chill bad
And no one on the street to call to,
And making up his mind that he wasn’t going to die, not
Yet, for a damned paper,
And easing himself around and clawing his way
Back through the five-foot drift
To the porch and erect at the railing and on inside
To take off his ruined suit-pants and shake
The snow from his boots and on upstairs
To my mother, who is deaf and couldn’t hear any
Desperate cries for help—
RETIRED SUPERINTENDENT DIES IN SNOW DRIFT,
The very next day’s headline—
And saw him standing there in his boxers, sheepish,
And asked him what he was up to,
And he finally told her,
And she assessed it—
SEE, DAVE? YOU’LL NEVER LEARN. YOU’LL
I never knew sound till I was twenty-eight
And heard again music
With some help from a friend
With his proffered hemp.
I heard again,
After dark years when I couldn’t even see,
At least not spiritually,
When my ears were failing in every respect,
First the left,
Then, to a lesser degree, the right,
And I strained to hear what others took for granted.
And I discovered again
That to hear one must listen mightily.
And then late, a Friday night,
I turned the volume all the way over to the left
Earphone and heard Beethoven balanced, sound, whole,
For the very first, the very last, time, perhaps,
For a week later I noticed
The damage I had done in a peculiar ringing, tinnitus,
In the damaged, hopeless, left ear,
That had heard its share of the Ninth in all its power.
THESE days it is perfectly natural
And perfectly powerful enough to coax my little terror
Of a Minnie
To lie along the right of my face
Against the failing, but nonetheless sounder, right, ear,
And hear her purr.
A GATHERED MEETING
The night Rosie died, she purred so hard
By the side of the bed
It woke Johanna from a troubled sleep.
I buried what remained at
In the back yard, where even now, our neighbor’s flowers
Seem to do the best,
Feeding on what for me has faded into the vaguest
Ramses is clear. He was the brightest,
Drank his water from the faucet, attempted the doorknob,
Teased at the lock, aching for space,
But found it under ether,
Still young and full of promise,
When the vet knew full well there was no way to save him.
Others have wandered off, died in sleep,
Ended their lives or pursued them,
With or without us—I could go on this way forever.
Jessie, the current fatty, is currently snoring to my
Is settled on the radiator.
We caught her at the toilet paper again last week,
Clawing, chewing, shredding.
She was but a year old, when, in one of my
I heard Johanna’s laughter and the clack clack clack
Of the roll at the other end
Of our railroad apartment, heard thunder down the hall,
And turned from what was then (I was
Bearded at 46) a manual typewriter,
And caught just the flash of Min, our Min, Minnie,
A gray blur, a tempest,
White streamer trailing, festive,
Toilet paper gripped in her little pink
I hope YOUR death will be like a gathered Meeting.
I never figured out whether Mountain John
Hockenberry was a relative on my father’s side.
Dad talked of him enough.
He talked about the Hockenberrys, and I listened.
They were mountain people, and had habits.
Last night I watched a video
With de-caf coffee and tofu,
And I noticed how much the people in that old film
Enjoyed THEIR habits—cigarettes, drinking,
It made me long for the good old days when
Cancer and heart disease
Were a mystery. Late in’68 I got high every time
I had the urge for the legal stuff
But went off the end with the cure—BOOGERED UP,
Uncle Nev said—
And ended in a State hospital,
And about an hour after the insects
Was offered a Chesterfield by an orderly,
And for the next ten years smoked a carton a week.
The HOCKENBERRYS weren’t big on it.
Mountain John smoked three packs
Of Camels a day and drank a cup of hot drippings
Every morning for breakfast
And went out and worked on the field all day
And loosened up nights with a gallon
Of moonshine and had
His women by the dozens
And went on living till the ripe old age of 47.
Besides, I get this reaction—YOU’RE A QUAKER??
I THOUGHT THEY WERE ALL DEAD
Last Thursday I was checking up on my father
Via phone to Pennsylvania,
When he said that my MOTHER had had a bad spell,
With angina, etc.
And that she had called Dr. Green
And that she was in bed with a lot of pessimism and fear
He attributed to her hairdresser,
But the spell passed and she was there on the phone
Again, Monday, BOOGERED UP still,
And making a very useful suggestion that we buy a Japanese
For my oldest sister’s backyard and 60th birthday.
And I told her to take it a day
At a time and
When I hung up I suddenly remembered a dozen years I
Took it an hour
At a time. And then I remembered a friend
Who took it a minute at a time,
Who took it minute by minute,
Longing for a lifetime supply of heroin
And a 45 caliber bullet when that ran out after maybe
Six months, who wanted simply TO die,
And I gave a message that touched on it some months back
And a dear little smartly dressed woman, on in years,
With large open eyes, the pillar of the religious education
Asked me with a tiny voice,
IS IT REALLY TRUE YOU KNEW
A DRUG ADDICT?
Mishima attempted with his private army
And a solitary howitzer
To overthrow the government of Japan
And restore the Monarchy in a single day of his brief
And, failing, ended that life with ritualistic suicide,
Which included carving his young hard body
With an ornate sword
And being relieved of his head by his first lieutenant,
Suffered the same grisly fate.
That same morning he had the good sense to
Hand in to his publisher the completed massive manuscript
Of his very great novel
Of reincarnation, THE SEA OF FERTILITY.
It is said that he felt his life work
And that he had to turn to his real task,
Which he botched that afternoon.
One image from Mishima’s tormented masterpiece
Haunts ME yet.
A young man looks out of the window and spies a brilliant
Red insect moving towards him on the ledge
And, suddenly, without preparation
Is launched into the fact, that the beetle,
Blood-red and burning,
Is so immensely beautiful that in its short course over
Scant inches of casement, it makes up a universe,
A galaxy, a Milky Way.
It is so sad to me
That that much wisdom didn’t grow old to die,
With the faintest touch of decorum,
THE YELLOW HOUSE
The yellow house was gone the year we went
Back to it, on a visit with Estling,
And traveling the 20-odd miles from Fort Atkinson
To east of Whitewater.
It had been converted to a redwood ranch.
No one would have suspected
The winter of ’69 had ever existed,
When I embarked on a 10 week voyage on hashish oil
And meditation and my own manic energy
And ended strapped to a birth-bed
In Elkhorn, shrieking at Insects,
Altering the course of evolution for 96 hours
Till I woke to find the world fairly
Much the same, tedious,
They asked us in, and we entered fearfully,
And the living room retained only the knotty pine ceiling
As testimony to the eyes that had watched
My private Omega Point.
And I asked to use the toilet, and took a pen knife
To the dispenser, and pulled out the oregano jar
With some 5 ounces of the best weed
Money could have had at that time, the winter of ’69,
Now, 23 years later, 23 years of holding on
And trying to forget and trying to live
And trying to manage.
And I opened the jar and inhaled and closed it,
And lowered it back down into the wall till
The hanger was no longer visible,
And I screwed back in the toilet dispenser,
And I sat back, fully clothed, on the seat,
And took my head in my trembling hands and cried,
Giving it three good minutes,
And went on out, as far as I could get, and went on
Back to living.