Jack at the Sevens, 1957
Before he was famous
before he died of beer
exiled, he wandered east
where Robin cared for him,
where he left dirt on white couches
fingerprints on Emily Dickinson’s letters.
Zoltan, lord of rare books, fired him,
sent him back to the City of Light
where he slid into a maelstrom
arguing the virtues of poems
Gorky, Duncan, Lorca, Oz
the intricacies of bridge and baseball.
He lifted us into poetry
the grunt of Beowulf singing
the sound shifted meanings.
kids TV Saturdays on Beacon Hill
singing poetry to jazz
new dada now, dead fish in the Charles.
A cripple like poet, a Blackfoot Indian Poe
grinning like an ape in the corner booth
writing a poem as long as California
torturing himself, abjuring comfort,
a penurious monk in his Goddess’ service.
In Berkeley student union politics
before the oaths, and the exile,
he railed against the Stalinist take over
yelled motions of order, spitting rage,
sang the defiant Wobbly International,
growled at injustice, red and white,
and the absolutes that own you or reject you
leaving the party of one, the poet outside,
his truth a nit in the indifference of our time
Why decades later, after the wars
the death of reds, victory of the owners
death of the flowers, the pooring of the poor,
do I remember his furtive singularity
an antithesis in the age of groupies
burning his own fuel, homeless,
listening and talking from the corner booth
his skin flayed leaving pieces here and there?
Because I have one of these fragments
a poem, an encouragement, a scrap
from this singer, a memory
of the ideal, and the faith
that flowed in his caustic lines
a belief in the surreal
and the power of singing.
1/7/98 revised 10/29/11