Friday, December 29, 2006
Waiting for the Second Coming
The cattle are lowing
but there’s no baby in the manger. Christmas day
dawns cold and bright without a star to follow
or Wise Men who come trudging over the whitened
hills. All I see are the swaying backsides of Guernseys,
tails flicking flies out of habit. They waddle
like old ladies answering the call of church bells
weary from lugging oversized purses
filled with life’s necessary nothings.
They stare in wide-eyed astonishment
that I’ve left the warmth of the house, presents
unopened under the tree as the others snore
snugly in their beds. The suck-suck sound
of my rubber boots in the mud draws them
closer. I lead them one by one into the stalls,
smear antiseptic on the udders, attach
the metal fingers. Liquid rushes through tubing
as the gentle massage begins and the collection tank
fills. I listen to the vacuum motor’s whir,
unthinkingly replace one cow with another.
If there’s a Messiah born on this day,
surely he would be here, nestled dryly
in the loft, adored by his teenage parents,
who have fled their own Caesars and Herods,
I want to rise from this damp straw
that smells of shit, urine and sour milk
to behold the radiance of his face,
the peaceful reassurance that miracles await.
But I’m afraid all I’d find is two scared children
holding a screaming baby, the bloody
afterbirth matted in the hay, a beat-up
Volkswagen hidden behind a clump of evergreens,
and their eyes begging the blessing of my silence.
As the last udder is emptied, a halo
of light descends from the loft window
to circle my thorn-crowned head, and it is finished.
© 2006 Jim Doss
It features poetry by Penny August, Linda J Austin, Gael Bage, Annie Bien, Gary Blankenship, Beau Blue, Graham Burchell, Laurie Byro, Mary Susan Clemons, Lisa Janice Cohen, Jim Corner, Alba Cruz-Hacker, Dan Cuddy, Michaela A. Gabriel, Liz Gallagher, Jude Goodwin, Jason Huskey, Allen Itz, Deborah P. Kolodji, Morgan Lafay, David W. Landrum, Jack McGeehin, Corey Mesler, Greg Mosson, Cynthia Neely, Nic Sebastian, S. Thomas Summers; an essay by Laura Polley; fiction by Jónas Knútsson and Oliver Murray; and reviews by Jim Doss and Christopher T. George.
Monday, November 13, 2006
My friend and co-translator, Werner Schmitt, has pointed out an interesting site related to Georg Trakl on the internet-- the Synthasis project, which is mainly dedicated to producing musical versions of Trakl’s texts using electronic instruments. Samples music is provided on the site inspired by the Trakl poems Toward Evening My Heart (Zu Abend mein Herz) and Dream and Derangement (Traum und Umnachtung). Dream and Derangement in particular features an inspired readings of the Trakl prose poems in German set to music. Personally, I would describe this synthesis of word and music as “eerily haunting and beautiful,” like the poem itself.
On the web site the Synthasis Project is described as follows:
From September 2005 until April 2006 these three musicians worked on musical versions of the texts and poems of the Austrian poet George Trakl (1887-1914), see also Werschs Trakl-site, which contains the complete works, biographic and scientific material affectionately presented in both the original German and English. Trakl's extremely image-rich and contrasting language makes a large range of musical expression possible. A CD, with among other things the musical version of "Dream and Derangement," appeared under the title "First Meetings" (SYN003) with SYNTHASIS, further musical versions are planned.
For those who want to follow along in English, here is a translation of the visionary Trakl prose poem Dream and Derangement, which shows Trakl’s mental anguish as well as his central obsession with the image of the sister and the degeneration of the family.
Dream and Derangement
In the evening, the father became an old man; in dark rooms the mother's face petrified, and the curse of the degenerated race weighed on the boy. Sometimes he remembered his childhood filled with sickness, terror and eclipse, secret games in the garden of stars, or feeding the rats in the dusking courtyard. From the blue mirror the narrow figure of the sister stepped and he fell as if dead into darkness. At night his mouth burst open like a red fruit and stars gleamed over his speechless grief. His dreams filled the ancient house of the fathers. In the evening he liked to walk over the ruined cemetery or watch the corpses in the dusking crypts, with green stains of rot on their beautiful hands. At the monastery gate he asked for a piece of bread; the shadow of a black horse jumped out of darkness and frightened him. When he lay in his cool bed, unspeakable tears overcame him. But there was no one who might have a hand on his forehead. When autumn came he walked clairvoyant in a brown floodplain. O, the hours of wild ecstasy, the evenings by the green river, the hunting. O, the soul which sang quietly the song of the yellowed reed; fiery piety. Silently and long he looked into the starry eyes of the toad, felt with trembling hands the coolness of the old stone and consulted with the revered legend of the blue spring. O, the silver fish and fruits which fell from crippled trees. The chords of his steps filled him with pride and contempt of men. On the way home, he met an uninhabited castle. Decayed gods stood in the garden, mourning in the evening. But to him it seemed: here I lived forgotten years. An organ choral filled him with the God's awe. But in a dark cave he spent his days, lied and stole and hid, a flaming wolf before the mother's white countenance. O, the hour when with a stony mouth he sank down in the star garden, the shadow of the murderer came over him. With a purple forehead he walked into the moor and God's wrath castigated his metal shoulders; o, the birches in the storm; the dark animals which avoided his deranged paths. Hate burned his heart, lust, when in the green summer garden he violated the silent child and recognized in the child's radiance his own deranged countenance. Woe, in the evening at the window, when out of purple flowers a grayish skeleton, death stepped out. O, you towers and bells; and the shadows of night fell stony on him.
No one loved him. His head burned lies and lechery in dusking rooms. The blue rustle of a woman's dress made him stiffen into a column and the nocturnal shape of his mother stood in the doorway. Above his head the shadow of evil rose up. O, you nights and stars. In the evening he walked past the mountain with the cripple; the rosy splendor of the sunset rested on the icy peak and his heart quietly rang in the twilight. The stormy firs sank heavily upon them and the red hunter stepped out of the forest. When night came his heart broke crystal-like and darkness beat his forehead. Under bleak oak trees he strangled a wild cat with icy hands. Lamenting to his right, the white figure of an angel appeared, and in the darkness the shadow of the cripple grew. But he lifted a rock and threw it at the other so that he fled howling and in the shadow of the tree the gentle countenance of the angel faded away sighing. For a long time he lay on a rock field and gazed with astonishment at the golden tent of the stars. Chased by bats he fell away into the darkness. Breathless, he entered the decayed house. In the courtyard he, a wild animal, drank the well's blue water until he became cold. Feverish, he sat upon the icy stairs, raging against God that he might die. O, the grey countenance of terror when he raised the round eyes over a dove's slit throat. Shooing over strange stairs, he met a Jewish girl and he grabbed at her black hair and he seized her mouth. Hostile beings followed him through dark streets and an iron clinking tore his ear. Along autumn walls he, an acolyte, silently followed the muted priest; he drunkenly breathed in the scarlet of his reverend vestment under withered trees. O, the decayed disk of the sun. Sweet torments consumed his flesh. In a deserted passageway his own bloody figure covered with refuge appeared to him. He loved the noble works of stone more deeply; the tower that nightly storms the blue sky of stars with hellish grimaces; the cool grave in which man's fiery heart is preserved. Woe to the unspeakable guilt signified by it. But when pondering something blazing he walked along the autumn river under bleak trees, a flaming daemon appeared to him in hairy coat, the sister. Awaking the stars expired above her head.
Oh, the cursed race. When in maculate rooms every destiny has been fulfilled, death enters the house in moldering steps. O, that it were spring outdoors and a lovely bird was singing in the blossoming tree. But grayish the scanty green withers around the windows of the nocturnal ones and bleeding hearts still ponder evil. O, the dusking spring paths of the contemplative. More righteously he rejoices in the blossoming hedge, the country man's young seed, and the singing bird, God's gentle creature; the evening bell and the beautiful community of men. He might forget his fate and the thorny sting. Freely, the brook grows green where silverly his foot wanders, and a telling tree sighs above his deranged head. Therefore he lifts the snake with slender hand and in fiery tears his heart melted away. The silence of the forest is sublime, darkness grown green, and the mossy animals fluttering upward when night comes. O, the terror when every being knows its guilt and walks thorny paths. Therefore he found the white figure of the child in the thorny bush bleeding for the coat of the bridegroom. Yet he stood before her mute and suffering, buried in his steely hair. O the radiant angels, whom the purple night wind dispersed. All night he dwelled in a crystalline cave and leprosy grew silverly on his forehead. A shadow, he walked down the mule track under autumn stars. Snow fell, and blue sinisterness filled the house. The harsh voice of the father called out like a blind man and evoked dread. Woe to the bowed appearance of women. Under stiffed hands the terrified family's progeny and utensils crumbled away. A wolf tore the firstborn and the sisters fled into dark gardens to bony old men. A deranged seer, he sang along the decayed walls and God's wind engulfed his voice. O, the voluptuousness of death. O, you children of a dark race. The evil flowers of the blood glimmer silverly on his temples, the cold moon in his broken eyes. O, those of the night; o, the damned.
Deep is the slumber in dark poisons, filled with stars and the mother's white countenance, the stony one. Death is bitter, the fare of the guilt-laden; in the family tree's brown branches earthen faces disintegrated grinning. But quietly the other one sang in the green shadow of the elderberry as he woke from evil dreams; like a sweet playmate, a rosy angel approached him, so that he, a gentle deer, slumbered into the night; and he saw the star-filled countenance of purity. The sunflowers sank golden over the garden fence when the summer came. O, the diligence of bees and the green leaves of the walnut tree; the thunderstorms passing by. The poppy also bloomed silverly, bore our nocturnal starry dreams in a green bud. O, how silent the house was when the father passed away into darkness. The fruit ripened purple on the tree and the gardener moved his hard hands; o, the hairy signs in the radiant sun. But silently in the evening the shadow of the dead man entered the grieving family circle and his step sounded crystal-like over the green meadow before the forest. Muted ones gathered together around the table; dying ones, with waxen hands they broke the bread that bleeds. Woe to the sister's stony eyes when at the meal her insanity touched the brother's forehead, when under the mother's suffering hands the bread turned to stone. O, those who have putrefied, when with silver tongues they silenced hell. Therefore the lamps in the cool room died out and the suffering beings looked at each other silently through purple masks. All night rain poured down, and recreated the land. In a thorny wilderness, the dark one followed the yellowed paths in the corn, the song of the lark and the gentle stillness of green branches so he might find peace. O, you villages and mossy steps, glowing sight. But bonily the steps stagger over sleeping snakes at the forest edge and the ear keeps following the raving scream of the vulture. In the evening he found a stony solitude, a dead man escort into the dark house of the father. A purple cloud covered his head so that he silently attacked his own blood and effigy, a moonlike face; stony he sank away into emptiness when in a broken mirror a dying youth appeared, the sister; the night engulfed the cursed race.
© 2006 Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Christopher T. George
Also, here are two poems by the Loch Raven Review editors that capture their impressions of the event.
LIVE -- Like You Mean It
I've climbed up on a stage that's
hung with winking Christmas lights
on the third floor of an old warehouse,
a Bacardi rum ad illuminated behind me
through dusty industrial windowpanes
and lights of cars streaming over
a steel-girdered bridge.
It seems everyone's going
somewhere tonight but not here.
How I wish you could be with me;
a certain emptiness inside
as I read to the masses,
or at least to some friends;
it's good to read these words
I've written and fretted over,
reading live, like I mean it.
© 2006 by Christopher T. George
* * * * * *
The Loch Raven Review Reading at the Load of Fun Gallery, Baltimore, MD
Photographs of candy canes regale
the gallery, every shape, size and color,
as the artsy crowd sips Australian Chardonnay
and California Merlot. Our small group
of tattered poets is ushered upstairs
to the third floor where the old warehouse walls
are still being knocked down
to build private studios for artists.
To the right of the stage bathed in red light
a pair of open-air toilets catch our eye,
the old fashion kind with elevated tanks and pull chains.
A heavy metal band screeches
from the rehearsal studio across the street.
A Bacardi billboard leers through the window
urging us to “live like we mean it.”
Twinkling holiday lights adorn the rafters
above the stage like ice cycles
of different colors and flavors.
“Christmas on earth.” It was the dream
of the adolescent Rimbaud to experience
it even for one day, one hour of his life
like on this 6th of October as the roads
dry out after heavy rains, and traffic
rushes across asphalt with horns honking,
sirens wailing. Then from the gathering quiet
the first clear word is spoken.
© 2006 by Jim Doss
Saturday, October 07, 2006
The old warehouse was perfect setting for this collection of working class poets. In one corner there was a mini-stage to read from, and, perhaps symbolic of the entire evening, several free standing toilets bathed in red light.
The crowd was small, but energetic. Dan Cuddy of Baltimore got the festivities started with his introspective and wise poetry. I followed Dan. Then came Annie Bien, regaled in traditional Chinese dress, who traveled down from NYC for the event and read a number of Buddhist inspired poems. Chris George followed her. Chris read works by contributors Gael Bage, Morgan Lafay and S. Thomas Summers before launching into his own poems. The evening was capped off by the rich baritone of J. S. Lohr entertaining the audience with his humor.
We attempted to capture the entire event on video, but much to my disappointment technical difficulties prevented us from doing so. The battery on the camera malfunctioned halfway through the event. Next time we will come better prepared. Here are some audio excerpts:
powered by ODEO
I want to thank Julie Fisher and the Load of Fun Gallery for hosting the event. And a special thanks to my wife Rhonda for doing the filming.
A Chair for the Master of Ceremonies
Christopher T. George
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
We entered through the Unitas gate with its brass statue of the great Colts QB. For good luck we touched the statue's shoes which were already polished to a high sheen by the hopeful Raven fans.
The stadium was filled with purple and black, the majority of fans decked out in team jerseys. My favorite jerseys were 00 E.A. Poe and 19 Johnny U, but the predominate names were Ray Lewis and Todd Heap.
While the Ravens found themselves outplayed for most of the game, their offensive line getting pushed around by the San Diego defense, they still managed two short touchdown drives, one at the beginning of the game and one at the end, that proved to be the difference. The Ravens defense was also bullied a bit, but performed well enough in the red zone to only allow a touchdown and two field goals.
This is the second week in a row that the Ravens won a game they should have lost. By all rights the Ravens record should be 2-2 instead of 4-0. But that is what a veteran quarterback like Steve McNair brings to the team. While he is well past his prime, there's enough gas left in the tank and enough savvy to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. He, and their spiritual leader and head cheerleader Ray Lewis, have this team believing in itself again.
The great thing about living in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area is that we have two good teams to root for, and the TV schedules have finally been synchronized so one team doesn’t black out the other.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
I am certainly not thinking of anything this sophisticated. My aim is simply to do a quick and random survey of software on the internet that claims to generate poetry, for entertainment, to see how sophisticated these programs have become. I am interested if the software can generate a coherent, grammatically-correct poem that doesn’t dip too far into nonsense or surrealism. Natural language processing is a non-trivial computer-science problem, and then to add some form of reasoning on top of this beyond random phrase selection is a daunting challenge.
The first program I’ve googled is Poetry CreatOR2 by Jeff Lewis and Erik Sincoff, students at Stanford. Their site can be found at http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~esincoff/poetry/jpoetry.html. The program asks the user to enter a set of poem properties to seed the generation process: Subject, Subject Synonym, Title, Author, Gender. I entered Deer, Faun, The Clearing, Walt Whitman, Female and hit the generate button. Out pops:
By Walt Whitman
Never recalled about, never more has been shrieked
For the health of her hair hung in the balance
She beat down upon the gorilla; it looked like a smashed cookie.
Eating elephants as snack food, the lurking mass blocked the sun
All were in a circle of juggling jungles--rigid and swift,
"Flow!" squawks Connie Chung, the keeper of apes
With a youthful scream and a magnanimous fancy we pressed onward
From a height high above, the preacher grasped the rope.
An end is an end is an end, but this is simply the beginning.
This poem does have a few interesting turns of phase, but it is decidedly absurd. This wouldn’t even classify as a bad imitation of Lewis Carroll. Well, let’s try another one: Suicide, Taking One’s Own Life, Daddy, Sylvia Plath, Female. Out pops:
By Sylvia Plath
Never reasoned about, never more has been meowed
Scoff not at my vile remarks flexable fiend
Instantaneously it went from the front of the bronze C5-A.
Figment of the imagination ? Never.. . The hurting went on
She was really really sad
With a mighty "Yawp!" Miss Nancy bit into the claw of her prey
"Duck, you stupid komono dragon!" yiped Suicide, her voice gone.
Even as she flees, Suicide turns to see the tapeworm chasing her into the sanctuary
An end is an end is an end, but this is simply the beginning.
The same ending line as the previous poem, not good. Lets try another twist, changing Subject Synonym to The Bee Keeper:
By Sylvia Plath
Moving quickly the beer-goggled solitary Suicide wandered in the bushes,
Not a pool ever was known with such maability
Instantaneously it exchanged from the front of the off-white jalopy.
The flabbergasted eyes of the seahorse rolled back at the sight of The Bee Keeper
Run through the field of joy, past your lover, and embrace a guinea pig instead
Dictators begin from the battleship-grey shark
With a youthful trumpet and a magnanimous produce we pressed onward
Cast me down from heaven for visualizing of asps.
Cry, for the loss has fallen like a leaden tricycle upon you.
Alright, why not let Poetry CreatOR2 generate its own seed values: Hell Boy, Boy, Tale of the Bell Boy, Anonymous, Male:
Tale of the Bell Boy
"Neglect!" quacked the frigid man, the keeper of bell boys
Scoff not at my vile remarks hairless fiend
Buried in the sand, a solitary fur stuck out.
Piercing sounds, wails, crys, "Shut Up you profane boy!"
"I am dainty, I am dandy!" Napoleon snapped as he tiptoed in blood
Highness washed over he like a delicate sunflower,
Diving in a lake of drear, the boy found a golden scorpion
Cast me down from heaven for lying of mushroom clouds.
Cry, for the loss has fallen like a leaden Goodyear Blimp upon you.
There’s that problematic repetition in the last line again.
Let’s move on to the next site in the search: http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~nxm/mscPoetry/Poetry/CGPoetry.html. A.D.A.M. by Nadine Millian stands for “Another Dimension of Artistic Manifestations”. According to the programmer: “ADAM is intended to be a computer poet with ‘a heart of its own’. Therefore, every single time that you ask him to produce a new poem, he will try to delight you with an original piece of blank verse full with sensuality, lyricism and emotion.” Let’s see what it can do. I hit the New Poem button and read:
you whispered passionately
a misery cried spiritless
the mouth came tenderly
a happy desire shouted
the despair surrendered for you
the rose came
you whispered mellow
we felt us carefully
Not quite as nonsensical as our previous computer poet, but nowhere near as ambitious either. One more:
I died sweet
he dreamt for you
the deafening flower died placid
a happy rose gave them the desiring passion
the love gave you the deafening mouth
the misery cuddled the nice girl
the warmth fondled her passionately
the noisy kiss loved the beautiful misery kindly
he touched you
a fragile rose fondled you soon
Not a lot of soul here, and certainly lacks continuity of emotion throughout the poem.
The next site on the list is: http://www.jelks.nu/poetry/dom/. There aren’t many options here, but some, so I select “Spew like Jim Morrison,” the Lizard King.
The Music's Caravans
The morning dances to the caravans of purple humor,
And Gloria emanates dark delight.
The desert lingers long on her thigh's agony.
Let it roll!
Love Street breaks on through endless sadness.
The music dwells in horse laughter.
My cock shines like black death.
It appears that this program is seeded with a dictionary of Morrison’s lyrics and poetry, and pieces together random phrases. I’ll try one more command: spew like a valley girl.
My Curfew's Fingernails
My Porsche does heavy petting with my curling iron's tampons.
Ah, how my period goes steady with the pleasure of really boring fingernails.
My letter sweater glows like fresh makeup,
And my curfew skips school with my boyfriend's desire.
Daddy's money erupts with soft agony.
Hard not to get a chuckle out of some of those lines, but still not something anyone could take seriously.
This completes my quick survey of online poetry generators. It’s obvious, they are still much more of a novelty than a serious threat to their starving human counterparts, but you have to admire the spunk of their creators and the sweat they put into efforts. I’m afraid any college student seeking an easy way out of their creative writing class will still have to comb through the dark nights of their soul to get a passing grade, or bribe their computer scientist buddies with a few virtual beers into giving it another go.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I assume most readers have never heard of Georg Trakl so I will start off with a little biographical information:
Georg Trakl (1887 - 1914) - born in Salzburg, trained as a dispensing druggist, was one of the most visionary and original of the 20th Century Austrian poets. In 1912, he found a patron and publisher in Ludwig von Ficker, editor of Der Brenner, and devoted his time to producing the poems for which he owns his posthumous fame. Two collections were accepted for publication in his lifetime. Extreme melancholy and guilt pushed him to drugs and alcohol. In August 1914, he was sent to Galicia, part of modern-day Poland, with the medical corp. After the Battle of Grodek, he was put in charge of approximately one hundred seriously wounded soldiers, but could do little to help. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to a military hospital in Krakow for observation of his mental state. Fearing court-martial, he died in November 1914 from a self-inflicted overdose of cocaine.
In reality, little is known of Trakl’s life and what is known is rather unremarkable, almost nothing for a biographer to sink their teeth into. There are few significant events in his life, other than finding a literary sponsor in Ludwig von Ficker, and, though living the lifestyle of a poet maudit, he had few contacts with any artists close to his stature. But there is no denying that Trakl’s poetry reveals a rich inner life that had little outward manifestation. His poetry is odd and out of step with his time, and he stubbornly clung to his own artistic sensibilities, in spite of the advice of others. The “I” is used sparingly throughout his mature work. Instead, he relies on a series of images, sometimes mysterious or grotesque, to invoke an emotional response from the reader. Some readers and critics may even talk of a personal mythology of images constructed throughout his poetry, or even its pure lyric nature, almost total absence of irony, and decidedly pessimistic tone. However, my goal is not to analyze, but to present it for others to appreciate and evaluate. To that end, I have selected two related poems from Trakl’s second book Sebastian in Dream, published posthumously in 1915 by the Kurt Wolff publishing house, to begin this series.
To the Boy Elis
Elis, the blackbird's call in the black woods,
This is your decline.
Your lips drink the coolness of the blue rock-spring.
Leave, when your brow bleeds softly
And dark interpretations of the flight of birds.
Yet with tender steps you walk in the night
That hangs full of purple grapes
And you move the arms more beautifully in the blueness.
A thorn bush tinges
Where your moon-like eyes are.
O, how long, Elis, you've been dead.
Your body is a hyacinth
Into which a monk dips his waxy fingers.
Our silence is a black cavern
From which a gentle animal steps at times
And slowly lowers heavy eyelids.
On your forehead drips black dew,
The last gold of expired stars.
Perfect is the stillness of this golden day.
Under ancient oaks
You appear, Elis, as one at rest with round eyes.
Their blue mirrors the slumber of lovers.
Against your mouth
Their rosy sighs fell silent.
In the evening the fisherman hauled in the heavy nets.
A good shepherd
Leads his flock along the forest's edge.
O! how righteous, Elis, are all your days.
The olive tree's blue silence sinks along bare walls.
The dark song of an old man fades away.
A golden boat
Rocks your heart, Elis, in the lonely sky.
A soft chiming of bells sounds in Elis' breast
In the evening,
When his head sinks into the black pillow.
A blue animal
Quietly bleeds in the thorn bushes.
A brown tree stands isolated there;
Its blue fruits have fallen away.
Signs and stars
Sink down quietly in the evening pond.
Behind the hill it has become winter.
Drink at night the icy sweat
That runs down Elis' crystal forehead.
God's lonely wind sounds along black walls.
© 2005 - 2006 Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt
Much speculation has arisen over the enigmatic boy character Elis, who he was modeled after, and what he represents. One of the most viable explanations I’ve found is that Trakl based Elis on the 17th century Swedish miner, Elis Forebom, who died falling into a mine shaft on his wedding day and was discovered many years later perfectly preserved in his youth while his bride had become an old woman. The account of Elis Forebom was documented in the E. T. A. Hoffmann novel, “The Miners of Falum,” 1818 and the Hugo von Hofmannsthal verse drama fragment, “The Miners of Falum,” 1906. It is conceivable that Trakl had access to both of these texts.
In the future, I will post status on our Trakl translation work and sample poems with commentary one to two times per month.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Friday, September 22, 2006
Recently, I have had to travel a lot to NJ for work. Needless to say, that means a lot of time on I-95 and the NJTP fighting the congestion and paying a king's ransom in tolls. It is a dismal drive through concrete, asphalt and industrial
Walt Whitman Service Area, NJTP
As the needle inches toward E
I spot the sign, 5 miles to go.
Fumes or not, I have an appointment
to keep. Not with the gas station
attendant, whose union won’t let anyone
pump their own gas, or the TCBY
workers whose frozen yogurts
taste as sweet as the real
thing or the Burger King flunkies
scenting the parking lot with their charbroiled
offerings. The turnpike exit fades into
scarred pavement, the mini-mall’s façade
is torn down, steel 2x4s nailed into position
for a face lift. I ease to a stop between
the emptiness of dirt white lines.
The sweltering heat embraces me with
its afternoon shimmer as my
eyes scan the horizon. Then I see
him, there behind the buildings, the good
grey heron striding through a ditch of black
water. His eyes are blue as the bards
of Camden. They stare me down, baptize
my image in the mirrors of their lakes.
I want to say, “today your books may rot
in the used stalls and school kids laugh
at your bravado, but I’ve come here to find
you again, reincarnated, a plume
of feathers atop your head. My words
have become nothing more than the cardboard
butterfly you used to balance on your fingertips
as you posed for the photographers.
A bit of old-age trickery. I need you to teach me
the joy of myself, how to balance my soul
on a blade of grass, catch a ray
of sunlight with my tongue.” He croaks
his understanding as he swallows
something bitter that could be my heart,
unfurls his wings to fly into a lone pine tree.
My song of the open road continues
with the rush of tires on pavement,
the wind parting my hair, and a feather
taped to the rear view mirror
to remind me where I am going.