The Sadness of Youth
Tonight walking my dog I heard
Several young women call my name
With an enthusiasm I haven’t heard in years.
I turned toward their porch with a smile
And almost waved until I saw the kid
Struggling biblically up the sidewalk
With a case of beer.
His long hair and straggly beard could have been mine
Forty years ago when all I shared
With Christ was poverty.
I turned the corner thinking of Elliot,
Of Prufrock, the mermaids and all that
“I do not think that they will sing to me” stuff.
Elliot at his best, I guess, writing about age
Before he got old.
And then what? I thought of my namesake
A fat and vilified tax collector for the Romans
Who dropped everything
To follow that strange young man
Who heard voices in the night.
And then I thought of my name
In the mouths of those girls
One last time.
Hudson River School
Such idealized beauty, such lament
In the mid-19th century
For a disappearing wilderness, almost spent
Already by commerce and the greed for luxury.
Cole’s Catskill Mountains, Morning
Offers an aesthetic luxury, romantic and as unreal
Then as it is now. In the shadows just forming
On the slope of dappled rock I can feel
Constable dreaming of the New World
He never saw, Emerson wishing
He could paint a landscape swirled
From within his words and from what was missing.
I knew nothing of art when I was a boy
Walking those worn out hills my father’s father
Farmed. I knew little of books or how to enjoy
The idea of pure thought. Rather
I remember weak sunlight and too much snow.
What if I knew then what I think I know now?
The Geography of Home
There is no G.P.S. for the past.
No way to find a way back
To those nights spent ceaselessly watching
For Sputnik to wander across the eastern sky.
Or to those days that seem now
As delicate as the cellophane wings of dragon flies
Helicoptering over the rotting rowboat
Sinking slowly in the green shade
Of a lost lake.
Or as sudden as the iron curtain of rain
That sometimes swept that lake in late summer
Like a boundary between then and the possibility of now.
So much lonely time
Measured in a place of fading light
By the arc of barn swallows
And the dying blue black panic
Of bottle flies stuck to the yellow fly paper
Hung over the ringer washer
On Grandmother’s back porch.
The Lost Sessions
“My dawlin, Nawlins”
—Little Queenie and The Percolators
The year of my first city
When the Neville Brothers were the bar band at Tipitinas.
The year the Wild Tchoupitoulas Tribe
Descended on St. Joseph’s Day — a firebomb
Of feathers and blue sequins.
The year spent two weeks at a time on a tow boat
And one week of mischief at a time in the Quarter.
(Is the Ètron Sanglante still there,
Or has it vanished like a memory
Of a bad memory?)
The year the river ran like Dengue Fever through the blood
Of Magazine Street.
The year of dancing madly
To the ancient drums in the turmoil of Congo Square.
The year of the girls from the Desire Street Project
With their golden wisdom teeth.
The year of voodoo and zydeco and heat lightning
Lasered against the trembling night.
The year the Night Tripper played his broken squeeze box
For all those troubled ghosts outside the Napoleon House.
The year they dusted off Professor Longhair from his janitor job
In a warehouse in the Irish Channel
And propped him back up at his piano.
And the year they released his Lost Sessions,
Not lost, not even misplaced, merely an answer
To how love is revealed.
Merely scripture reaffirmed:
“How stable the City of God.
How disordered the City of Man.”