Monday, August 5, 2013

That cruel year (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

October 7, 1980

The year 1974 was a hard year for me – not that any year is easy.
But this one marked a major change in my life. The poetry I had written up to that point was stiff and former – I guess the way Allen Ginsberg’s was until William Carlos Williams told him to use his journals.
My Williams was Rosemary, who I had known since Kindergarten, but hadn’t seen since the late 1960s when our lives took different directions. She flew with the jet set and I hit the streets, something less than Abbie Hoffman in stature, but not in rebelliousness.
Until I started to read Rosemary’s poems, my stuff was all rime and meter, most of which wasn’t very good – filled with every cliché possible.
I started writing some of the new stuff in this book I titled “Poems from a Garden Wall,” and while still far from good, the poems were a vast improvement over what I had written before.
One dated from early winter went something like this:

The snow must fall
And wind must blow
as winter rages one

I feel warm and foolish
Laughing with you,
Our cheeks pressed
Against the cool glass

We look out
At the lonely world,
And wonder why
We can’t touch it

And why the people
We see outside
Seem so hard
Frost bitten
Their faces fading
Away as they pass.

Maybe if we
Travel inside them
We might feel
A little of what
They feel,
Taste a little
What they taste,
Understand their
Rage as they glare
Back at us

We feel so safe
Here on this side
Our chill we think
Coming only
From the glass,
As we look out
And realize
What we see is
A reflection.

Not good, I understand, but my concept of anything, was never to strive to make art, but to keep doing whatever it was I did until I got good, making progress incrementally until at some point, what I did became art.
When I wrote that poem, I still worked for The Drawing Board, a greeting card company based in Dallas, but with a warehouse in Fairfield I took the bus to and from daily, from Montclair, through Verona, Caldwell and West Caldwell.
I wrote a lot on the bus.
By that time, Hank had been fired.  But I was still living in a rooming house, still licking my wounds over a failed marriage, smoking cigarettes and pot, even though probation did random drug tests I somehow managed to pass unscathed.
This was the year Nixon would resign, a year we all spent in anticipation of the event, and couldn’t quite believe when it happened.
In a rooming house, faces change almost weekly, so I made only a few friends, and no girlfriends, except for the part time waitress who lived in the house next door with a very protective madam and a host of other women.
Many of the residents of our house attended college, and so stayed only for a semester or two until they could find other arrangements such as with roommates.
Meatball, Ellen, Sue, Ed, even Mike – Rosemary’s cousin – stayed only for a short time before moving on, though Mike stayed longer than everybody except for me, and even I moved out for a time to an apartment in Passaic, until driven back by lack of money, finally moving out in 1978.
I suppose until then, I didn’t want to live any place where I was totally alone, and liked the rooming house because – except on holidays – someone was almost always there, even if they were hogging up one of the two shared bathrooms, or held private parties in our supposedly shared kitchen.
Often, I wrote about the people who I met there or on the bus or at work, little realizing that this would become my poetry, too – and most likely will continue to be for the rest of my life.

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