Saturday, December 08, 2007

9 Elegies for Jon Anderson

1. Notes for the poet Jon Anderson, dead at 67

An insubstantial vision of the Tucson Mountains under nightfall
grows in me like rain, but only in my brain.
Outside my window in
Ohio, November blooms one last time,
and there’s a neighbor counting fine, thin, dimes
as she walks to the coffee shop. Dogwood and Sugar
Maple hold onto their leaves. Even if I saw myself

in those trees I would not tell you what I became.
Yet the darkness you brought with you
Arizona lingers in my words now: you feared nothing
even when you walked among prickly pear
& Palo Verde, alone, thinking yourself a saint—
living in the
Sonoran Desert is fool’s luck, after all.

Jon, the only thing your poems taught me
was that we have so little time.
What’s important is that this knowledge gets beaten out
by whomever, the authorities, the man, some
administrator, some teacher who cannot understand
an accent, the way one walks in public,
the way one might shout out “Mayakovsky”
in class to wake all the young sleepers

So I am going to work on this poem until I love it.
And after living with in the attic for three days, unshaven,
unwashed, I am going to take it to a small, tightly knit workshop
in the Catskills where some smart 40-something who went to Bucknell
will re-write it for me in pencil, calling it
sad and knowing, brave about death, unsure of the afterlife.
Later, on a leather couch we’ll talk about the alkali wastes
Southern Arizona. her small hands
on my thick Mexican shoulders like branding irons.
This, Dear Jon, will shake me away from the eternal sadness
I feel for you, your dwindling away into the night.

2. Of the Land and its Treasures

I live in the land of the apple tree
where the children never really grow old—
here, no one knows I left my first wifey
years ago to be with the woman with whom
I formed the perfect union: Northeast and Southwest
meeting in those naked mating days, unfamiliar
cross-country diagonals when each had
by mistake strayed in too many beds, then
lied over and over, like broken clocks.
You probably know the rest of the story—
this or that university, second-tier’d
& stuck, unlike those great, hunky, state schools
out West. Listen: when the ground water dries out in
I‘ll walk down to the
Mad River for you,
I’ll pick the sweetest red apple to place on your grave.

3. St. Botolph Blues

A bad place to start—outdoors,
Cumberland Street
we’d light a joint when the girls
had walked down toward
the frozen public garden.
Here, my brother-in-law’s little dogs jittered
on the fresh, dry snow
and each girl took out a Marlboro
as he and I huffered down the thicker
marijuana smoke. One time

we walked all the way
to South Station and back
so that we could take a toke—the sisters
glowed in their post-colonial
educations which would take each
to her own small planet.
When we reached the tracks
they told us that Nick and I
looked like typical
crack heads: our eyes were
orange coals and our mouths
stood open and dry. We couldn’t
stop laughing. But before
we caught colds we were lost

on the invisible safety
of our voyage—we were all white, we were all
white when we passed the J or stood
in front of the
old Latin School
rubbing red resin from our fingers
so we wouldn’t reek of anything
but the city, the steam from holes
in the street and the smell of food
cooked and sold in batches on
Mass Avenue.

4. Dia de Los Muertos

I’m going to evil acres where I work among the dead—
The songs I sing to them, well, they all line up
In chairs to hear me hit high notes every morn.

And at lunch, among their kind I stuff my mouth
Along with their god, who sits with them, kindly
Holding back any judgment--it is not the place

For judgment. They try so hard to share; sometimes
It's like the crusades, the younger ones sacrificing
Themselves for others or mistaking the older gents

For leaders. Why, they’re not even readers. Every piece
of meat is like baloney or ham cut up. That why there’s
war and why we’re here—to eat the ugly, salted goods

they leave for us, even though these are sometimes only words.

5. Gate’s Pass, Desert Star

The best are killed or wounded by alcohol.
Of the Sonoran desert at night,
one time Ted and I were sitting in the red reaches
looking for Andromeda. There was talk
of a generic finish to the quest—
some of us would drive home
with a bottle of tequila pinned
between the seat and the door.
No one knew where’d
we’d be ten years after he, or I
sighted the twilling mass of starlight
at once like a bright,
midnight eye,
like the whole city beyond Gate’s Pass
bundled tightly, a glowing fist ready
to take the last bottle and smash it
onto the scorpion-drenched rocks,

6. For Those Who Believe in the Dark

For those who believe in the dark
I am with you in
where the Niagara-Mohawk power plant
fairly glows in the subdural twilight—
in the woods, we’ve all grown suicidal,
we’ve seen the lovely leaves twirl each fall
to the forest floor. Still, there are cracked,
open acorns here too, other travelers
on this one game trail that leads to water.
If you believe in the dark, its powers,
I am with in you this shuddering mood,
where the fog changes to smoke and
forever, in front of the mirror, you search,
you search for some trace of your face,
how your temple once framed your jaw,
how your eyes once knew the air, the light.

7. A Stark Flash of Morning

This morning I’m taking the clear
blue of albuterol into my lungs—
if I get closer to the truth
I’m already dying, the parched desert
of my back spent years ago on labor
that went nowhere. See, I know
you didn’t like us speaking in metaphor,
but the cold hard grain of winter
wheat stuck in my shoe is beginning to ache
of the earth and the mud and the dirt.

Last night I was in the land of the dead,
the acres of dread I craft in my head
when the drugs are working right.
No matter how I tried and tried
what I remember best, now, was the way
my life was framed in the skirted interiors of suburban
homes, junctions with large trees, a warm
breeze from the West that told me I was home.

Anderson, if I remember correctly
what you taught us in class, this poem needs to end
with a stark flash from my life, not the scene itself
but the feeling, as if I could capture for you or anyone else
that moment on ice alone for the first time, not quite
cold, not quite warm under the winter sun floating
way up there, where none of us could go.

8. Bear Hears of Your Death in Manhattan

One time we were talking on the phone. Bear and I
decided to cry because the
Times Square
HoJos was empty as a burned-out church
along the
Passaic. But then we laughed:
snow was falling in southern
like the snow falling in Upstate New York—small
white disks I caught on my black sweater that morning.
I told Bear then and there that you had died
as he walked the streets of
Soho near Washington Square
Looking for anything to make him happy: food, a bit
of marijuana, even a bottle of cola. He’d been homeless
for three weeks in
Manhattan, finally finding a place
to crash with a Navajo chick who’d moved
to the city ten years ago to take care of her brother.
She was a bruja, part Mexican and full of a mean fire,
what she learned of desire on the res. That there was coffee
every morning in her smoky home was enough for him.
But there was no sadness in his voice for you—
of where he’s from, a little Apache ranch
south of
Silver City, New Mexico, the dead get up
to dance in their bones when they hear fiddles play.
& there is no pain because the television does not exist,
the television does not exist, it is not shit where
his buffalo graze on a rough green set.

9. The News from Hatch, New Mexico

In my last passage through
I let the remains of the
Mount Lemmon fire
fill me with ash. With wild ash.
I tried so hard, when I was there,
in your presence, to build the kinds of poems
leading to lightning. The simple story of my departure
rings like the Catholic bell in the school where I teach—
Jon, I tied to reach you through the undistilled language
of opposites I learned from the New Mexican farmers
I saw every September, driving sacks of green chile and fresh
meat to the market along the
Rio Grande.
I could not help but notice their voices,
the way they talked to each other in small restaurants
where the old and young sat together waiting
for coffee and huevos rancheros, their eyes flashing
with humility when the sun rose from the Sierra
Oscura for the millionth time. Back then, we had not read
your poems or anything from
Iowa that hinted
of another world beyond those mountains.


Annie said...

This is beautiful. Thank you from Annie who was with her beloved Jon and held his hand during his dying hours.

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Jeff said...

I cannot imagine a more fitting literary tribute for a writer.