Voice (23)

“Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were the all-seeing
Iluminati? They knew what you didn’t
And left you troubled like a strange dream.
Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs driving among the evening clouds.
You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.
You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.”

“Evening Talk” by Charles Simic

Voice (22)


when the strong unholy high winds
whiplashed over the sold-off marshlands
eaten back to a sigh of saltwater,
the Crescent City was already shook down to her pilings,
her floating ribs, her spleen & backbone,
left trembling in her Old World facades
& postmodern lethargy, lost to waterlogged
memories & quitclaim deeds,
exposed for all eyes, damnable
gaze & lamentation—plumb line
& heartthrob, ballast & watertable—
already the last ghost song
of the Choctaw & the Chickasaw
was long gone, no more than a drunken curse
among the oak & sweet gum leaves, a tally
of broken treaties & absences echoing
cries of birds over the barrier islands
inherited by the remittance man, scalawag,
& King Cotton, & already the sky was falling in on itself,
calling like a cloud of seagulls
gone ravenous as the Gulf
reclaiming its ebb & flowchart
while the wind banged on shutters
& unhinged doors from their frames
& unshingled the low-ridged roofs
while the believers hummed
“Precious Lord” & “Deep River”
as the horse-hair plaster walls
galloped along with the surge,
already folklore began to rise up
from the buried lallygag & sluice
pulsing beneath the Big Easy
rolling between & through itself,
caught in some downward tug
& turn, like a world of love affairs
backed up in a stalled inlet,
a knelt-down army of cypress,
a testament to how men dreamt land
out of water, where bedrock
was only the heart’s bump
& grind, its deep, dark churn
& acceleration, blowzy down
to those unmoored timbers,
already nothing but water
mumbling as the great turbulent eye
lingered on a primordial question,
then turned—the gauzy genitalia of Bacchus
& Zulu left dangling from magnolias & raintrees,


remembering: nine years ago today, landfall

Voice (21)

“Later in his long life Grainier confused the chronology of the past and felt certain that the day he’d viewed the World’s Fattest Man — that evening — was the very same day he stood on Fourth Street in Troy Montana, twenty-six miles east of the bridge, and looked at a railway car carrying the strange young hillbilly entertainer Elvis Presley. Presley’s private train had stopped for some reason, maybe for repairs, here in this little town that didn’t even merit its own station. The famous youth had appeared in the window briefly and raised his hand in greeting, but Grainier had come out of the barbershop across the street too late to see this. He’d only had it told to him by the townspeople standing in the late dusk, strung along the street beside the deep bass of the idling diesel, speaking very low if speaking at all, staring into the mystery and grandeur of a boy so high and solitary.
Grainier had also once seen a wonder horse, and a wolf-boy, and he’d flown in the air in a biplane in 1927. He’d started his life story on a train ride he couldn’t remember, and ended up standing around outside a train with Elvis Presley in it.”

— Denis Johnson from Train Dreams


(photo credit: cindy johnson via the austin chronicle)

Voice (20)

As people get older they get more alike in character and appearance and could all be leading the same life. Or almost. Shut up in the little house opposite the fairgrounds, Aunt Jenny talks to the hot-water faucet that drips, and the kitchen drawer that has a tendency to stick. IMG_8503She also sings hymns mostly, in a high quavering voice: “That Old Rugged Cross” and “Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Sad” and “How glorious the mansions be/ Where thy redeemed shall dwell with the …” Without meaning to, she has grown heavy but she eats so little that short of starving to death there doesn’t seem much she can do about it. . . .When she gets into bed and the springs creak under her weight, she moans with the pleasure of lying stretched out on an object that understands her so well.. . . .She is full of fears, which are nursed by the catastrophes she reads about in the paper. The front and back doors are locked day and night against bad boys, a man with a mask over the lower part of his face, pneumonia, a fall. There is, even so, a something buoyant in her nature that makes people pleased to see her coming toward them on the street, and usually the stop to talk to her and hear about the catastrophes. She winds up the conversation by saying cheerfully, “Life is no joke.” What sensible person wouldn’t agree with her.

— William Maxwell
from So Long, See You Tomorrow

Voice (19)


I’ve got to tell you
how I love you always
I think of it on grey
mornings with death

in my mouth the tea
is never hot enough
then and the cigarette
dry the maroon robe

chills me I need you
and look out the window
at the noiseless snow

At night on the dock
the buses glow like
clouds and I am lonely
thinking of flutes

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

although I never weep
and hold you in my
heart with a very real
humor you’d be proud of

the parking lot is
crowded and I stand
rattling my keys the car
is empty as a bicycle

what are you doing now
where did you eat your
lunch and were there
lots of anchovies it

is difficult to think
of you without me in
the sentence you depress
me when you are alone

Last night the stars
were numerous and today
snow is their calling
card I’ll not be cordial

there is nothing that
distracts me music is
only a crossword puzzle
do you know how it is

when you are the only
passenger if there is a
place further from me
I beg you do not go

— Frank O’Hara

h/t deadbeatsblog

photo — Frank O’Hara via wcpa.com

Voice (18)


My Mother tells me she dreamed
of John Coltrane, a young Trane
playing his music with such joy
and contained energy and rage
she could not hold back her tears.
And sitting awake now, her hands
crossed in her lap, the tears start
in her blind eyes. The TV set
behind her is gray, expressionless.
It is late, the neighbors quiet,
even the city-Los Angeles-quiet.
I have driven for hours down 99,
over the Grapevine into heaven
to be here. I place my left hand
on her shoulder, and she smiles.
What a world, a mother and son
finding solace in California
just where we were told it would
be, among the palm trees and all-
night super markets pushing orange
back-lighted oranges at 2AM
“He was alone”, she says, and does
not say, just as I am, “soloing.”
What a world, a great man half
her age comes to my Mother
in sleep to give her the gift
of song, which-shaking the tears
away-she passes on to me, for now
I can hear the music of the world
in the silence and that word:
soloing. What a world-when I
arrived the great bowl of mountains
was hidden in a cloud of exhaust,
the sea spread out like a carpet
of oil, the roses I had brought
from Fresno browned on the seat
beside me, and I could have
turned back and lost the music.

— Philip Levine
image via poetryfoundation.org

Thanks so much, MN, for sharing this.

Voice (17)


“He is the kind of thin quiet little bum nobody pays much attention to even in Skid Row, let alone Main Street. If a cop hustled him off, he hustled, and disappeared, and if yard dicks were around in bigcity yards when a freight was pulling out, chances are they never got a sight of the little man hiding in the weeds and hopping on in the shadows.

When I told him I was planning to hop the Zipper firstclass freight train the next night he said, “Ah you mean the Midnight Ghost.”
“Is that what you call the Zipper?”
“You musta been a railroad man on that railroad.”
“I was, I was a brakeman on the S.P.”
“Well, we bums call it the Midnight Ghost cause you get on it at L.A. and nobody sees you till you get to San Francisco in the morning the thing flies so fast.”
“Eighty miles an hour on the straightaways, pap.”
“That’s right but it gits mighty cold at night when you’re flyin up that coast north of Gavioty and up around Surf.”
“Surf that’s right, then the mountains down south of Margarita.”
“Margarity, that’s right, but I’ve rid that Midnight Ghost more times’n I can count I guess.”
“How many years been since you’ve been home?”
“More years than I care to count I guess. . . ”

— Jack Kerouac from The Dharma Bums

top image — southern pacific train yards, dtla photo illustration by lg
bottom image — jack kerouac photo via angelheadedhipsters