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BONGOS OF THE LORD 15
BONGOS OF THE LORD is published by Bookgirl Press
in this issue:
Carl Rakosi / Ed Baker
cover & artwork [not available in the email version]
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prose poems by Gael Turnbull
[These are from a longer as yet unpublished work called TRANSMUTATIONS.--ed.]
IT CAN HAPPEN at any time, always when he doesn't
expect it, as if a chink has opened, a cloud or curtain
parted, and he glimpses something through the gap,
something belonging to him that was once part of him
but which has detached itself, the loss of which he has
only just recognized.
Then, over-anxious to reclaim, he fumbles and the
opportunity is gone. Yet he remembers the experience,
even the familiarity, and resolves that the next time it
happens he'll be prepared, he won't panic, that it won't
escape him forever.
ONCE AGAIN he desired her and once again knew that
it was impossible and once again resolved to blank her out
of his life and was confident he had done so
and then, finding himself in the same room, could not
resist catching her eye and was back where he had been
before in the shared awareness of how much was absurd
and shared awareness of how much was real.
A BIRD trapped against the inside of one of the windows
refused to give up the struggle until frightened by my
efforts to help was distracted from the obvious and so
found another window which was open
and thus each of us achieved what we had desired but
neither of us how we had intended.
HE EXPLAINED "With age, there's a lot of wear and tear
on the self-winding mechanism and that's why it needs to
be agitated more often to keep it going"
and as I walk home from the jewellers, I give myself a
shake and look at my old watch and wonder how much
more effort it will take to keep us going and for how
YOU CAN STILL SEE IT there--where there's no smoke any
more, not even ashes, the oven swept clean, only a discrete
slit in the wall between the slides of the measuring bar against
which the prisoner stood willingly, even eagerly, for record
of his height, even his existence--
an opening, unremarkable and convenient, behind which, in
the next room, was the revolver with the silencer, held at
the level of the base of his head, to avoid disturbance, waste
of effort, any fuss.
poem by Ed Baker
? 1974 Ed Baker
turned to me
in her eyes
in her naked
thunder settled over new york
sometimes perplexion :
in a foreign city
the proper place
she wore her hair loosely
for the occasion
a rule arises
the rise of sun
the wind moved me
to the trees
whose hearts are
;in this park of
the cedar of
it was quiet.
i heard many things
thought of nothing
of no land
.i came to the true
blank walls of the
a calm came through me
like Fay Ling
I faced the buildings
that stand close
& thought of her mouth
(a little open
a little open that walk
through the quiet of her mind
the quickness in the
going of her childhood
the still slow war
has gotten beyond me
i imagine yellow flowers
on the wall
a girl in a dress
I have not seen her wear
her loose movement
in a wet dress
as she went up
it must have been
(a return to this place
(in search of Fay Ling
tonight the moon is nearly full
to the west
will be a good
i call you woman
who demands this
lays down laws
your own hell is
more than yourself
"your honoured" (as it trans
as ling ?
i am partial to
that these long nights
demands a professionalism
is more than is possible
(the lines obey their proper
i can not sleep tonight
these four walls move me from within
& the four winds
a land that is
with non-recognition the rule
.indifference the virtue the
(new york city
right directly in front of me
the open spaces
(in front of me
demands this going from the
is also rule
(no word necessary
it is the quietness
that makes the move
.an old man
was with me
he came upon
his voice was
& rough & in
as the moon
we slept with
in the morning
when i awoke
he had already
.i do not know
the train goes
from the city
turns from the
in an easterly
ends at the river
where the tracks go
i came out of the tube
into streets that
had new names
(or no names
(no trace of move
ment (no verbs
I walked to the water
went over the edge
/ Ed Baker
mark ---- 1/25/2000
[in pencil. By EB?--ed.]
Dear Ed Baker:
It's gratifying, of course, to learn of your
enthusiastic discovery of my work, but you need not have worried about
"stirring up something intelligent to say to me", as you put it in your
letter, in order to break the ice. Your letter did just fine.
You want to know what I think of THE CITY? It reminds me of
Cid's work, as you might guess, but it is just as good, it seems to me
(don't tell Cid I said this) in its quintessential clarity and in its
ability to express both vast and complex meaning in a few words. This
is poetry very much to my taste and I thank you for it. And for the
postcard drawings, which are aesthetically funny. I might say you're a
discovery for me too.
Write again if you feel the impulse, although writing
letters for me has become very time-consuming and I shy away from answering them.
[in his hand--ed.]
April 7, 2000
Dear Ed Baker:
Your NINE PERFECT ENSOS is perfectly
enchanting. The essence of wit and whim and charm and humor
How do you do it? Of course you couldn't do it without the drawings,
which remind me of Basil King's work. He illustrated one of my recent
But what do you mean, the Ensos brought you fame and fortune?
Are you pulling my leg? And what the hell is an enso anyhow? In other
words, do tell me something about yourself. In the meantime, thanks a
million for the two books.
[the signature in hand--ed.]
2 poems by M.J. Bender
Oak Street began as a way
into the cemetery, now it runs
past the Mill Pond and past
the school where four lots down
from the corner we built
a house, elms in the yard, front
and back. I sit on a bench
in this city park bound
by black threads, you, now,
mixed with soil--we can never
begin again we can always
begin again, your soul come
to rest at the edge of my xbody.
I have come to cover you
over with black rock I have
come to cover you over
with black cloth I have come
to cover you over with black
slabs--rainfall washes the city
streets washes the parking
lots washes the sidewalks
washes the benches.
Where struggle ends world
turns away what is left
behind breaks surface
Scrub oaks take the brunt of wind relentless across
the wet plains of the Barrens. I learned to see oaks
in New Hampshire branch and leaf like the one
encircled with acorns at the end of the field behind the house.
I sit in my chair writing to you light of day
through the glass door--finally finding the heart light
of white oaks through the glass door--finally finding the heart
the light of this stunted forest of scrub oaks
Out of college on academic probation, my mother got me a job at the
dairy retailer she worked for. Mom was office manager, and, as she got
closer to retirement, administrative assistant to the president. It was
a small, family run outfit that bought milk from a bottling plant, had
it cartoned with their own label, and sent their sales force out to
establish accounts such as with the city of Philadelphia and what was
called a Get-Set Program. This, if I remember correctly, was a
preschool or day care thing the city itself sponsored .
At this Franklin Dairies enterprise was an office, in which my mother
worked, and there was "the dock," which was where delivery trucks were
loaded from a refrigerated warehouse. Milk, juice, and other things
were packed in plastic crates that fit into each other and stood as
stacks. With a hand-truck we'd cart a day's order for these into our
trucks, which were insulated and cool so the milk wouldn't spoil.
Anyway it was January and into February I was there.
A fellow named Joe [the personal names of the higher ups and the
company names have been changed] taught me his route. He is the one I
rode with for a week or so until I got the hang of it. He'd grown up in
the city and knew it well. I hadn't. Across the river in Jersey was my
home; only a few places in Philly were familiar to me.
He was a quiet Italian-American guy. Dark complexion. Forty-something
I'd say. Easy to get along with. Nice enough. He knew my mother.
Everyone did. She treated people nicely which is why maybe the people
there treated me nicely.
Charles was head of it all. He and his two brothers were owners and
Charles was president. He was a retired naval commander. The other
brothers were Ted and John. Charles' son Walter ran things out on the
He hollered and swore a lot, walked in a gunslinger stride, talked like
he was an officer stationed at a military boot camp. He looked still
boyish in his blonde hair and fleshy chalky white face with its glossy
blue gray eyes behind tinted gold frame glasses. Walter in fact had
been in the military, in the U.S. Marines as an officer, and had served
in Viet Nam, and had, he told me, many notches on his weapon, which he
said he was ashamed to say, but which he thought he needed to say to me
anyway, whether to impress me or to bring fear into me or what, I don't
Walter seemed to have a lot of noise going on inside him. Which you
could tell by his sound on the job. He came from a family that was not
hurting for money. The military takes care of its officers. While at
the same time it seemed that his upbringing may have been very strict,
like home schooled military; in all aspects groomed for the military.
His wife, he for some reason told me, thought he was cold. His telling
me these things surprised me. Was he in one of those groups sessions
I'd heard about or was he seeing a counselor who told him he had to get
these issues out in the open or was this his idea of what we civilians
talk about or was he trying to make ours a one big happy family
workplace with himself and his troubles at its center, or was he
falling apart and needed someone to speak to and I seemed little
brotherish enough or sensitive enough to reach out to. I dunno. Someone
told me once I have sensitive eyes. A cold man.
From the higher ups he no doubt felt a lot of pressure, from his father
and uncles. From the father especially. What a warm feeling it must be
to have someone who is boss and who is father come chew you out in
front of those who are working under you!
Often he spoke of his men, those who had served under him. Had he lost
many? Were their lost lives still clinging to him, cooling him,
stiffening him little by little? And then how the wife was wanting to
leave him. Take their two kids. Life wasn't any easier for Walter, not
even with all of his marine tough-guy training. A strange brew he was,
taken as an expression of living.
Somewhere inside him was heart. Shoulda been a visible invisible, seen
all over body, as a body, no more than the life he is but no, it
wouldn't be something in this lifetime he himself or anyone would get
Supposedly cold and unlovable Walter'd come up with odd, twisted turns
of phrase like when he'd become angry at one of the office women about
something. He'd just been on the phone with one and I was in his prefab
office on the dock waiting to receive instructions. Betty had made some
error--the drivers were continually bitching about mistakes made by
women in the office and women in the office always blamed things on the
drivers--and when Walter slammed down the receiver he shouted, perhaps
because I was there to hear, so someone maybe might care to understand
him in all his frustration: "THAT GOD-DAMNED PLASTIC-TITTED BROAD!"
Wow. I'd never heard such an expression as "plastic-titted broad." This
was a different world for sure. Work world. Walter world. An unfamiliar
scene there on the murky morning docks.
Another driver was Malcomb, a young dark-skinned African-American,
small framed, a bit older than me. Friendly. Wore a woolen
Africa-colored skull cap, kept his beard trimmed short. Malcomb knew
the ropes, worked hard, had kids to support, talked the talk and walked
the walk. Uncomfortable in these surroundings maybe. Horace was a
veteran. He drove the big tractor trailers. He was usually high on
something. A tall slender African-American of light skin. Sensitive
look about him, and still youthful, playful in a way. Even in the early
hours we began work he was up--UP!--wide eyed, talkative. Up on
something is sure but it may have been just coffee or something legal
like No-Doze. I don't know. Maybe just a morning man. Very very
morning. Swigging coffee every free moment. His enormous Seven-Eleven
Styrofoam cup of it with a bun was a daily presence on a shelf off to
the side of the loading platform; any break in the action he'd be
hurriedly there. He too was a hard worker. It was a job that required
mucho hustle loading our trucks until we got out on the road.
My mentor Joe was a laid back guy. Good sort to guide me. No pressure.
Quiet. Obviously flustered by the morning pace, more at home with the
driving and delivery aspect of the work. He still lived with his
mother. Was he unmarried, or maybe divorced? I forget. Plump, built
like a butterball turkey. Balding. Smoked. Stopped along the route at a
bar for a beer, at another for a sandwich at break. He was from South
Philly, home of the Stallone character Rocky Balboa. It seemed to me
Joe was into something, that there was a secret he had. Was he running
numbers I wonder? Or had some operation going on. Or was barely holding
himself together. Or didn't want to say much to me because my mother
worked in the office and probably had something to do with his
paycheck. Or was hesitant to say anything because he knew I'd been in
college. Maybe he was ashamed at his lack of education. Or he was just
quiet to the point of making me suspicious. Funny. It was like he'd
clam up, like I was some foreign entity he was unaccustomed to, afraid
It was a relaxed route pretty much. The milk and juice had to be there
for the kids' lunch or morning snack. There was no frantic rush in the
sense of there being no insane taskmaster in an office chiding us for
having the truck out longer than necessary, warning us not to burn
excess gasoline. There was no crazed mechanic inspecting our truck
after each run reporting to an office that we were too hard on the
vehicle. Our route was not the whole city but one section of Philly
called the Northeast.
Our trucks were not new trucks. In fact the inspection stickers on
their windshields were fake, purchased through the black market. Those
trucks had never been inspected and were kept in such a condition that
they would run, period. The way this knowledge came to me almost took
my life and could have taken someone else's. Philadelphia is not what
can be called a hilly town but there are a few and my route took me
down one of these. It was a long gentle slope I'd turned down onto, a
street lined with parked cars both sides, a residential avenue lined
with tan brick homes. And trees. My stop was a few blocks down after
crossing a major intersection but what came to me as I began braking on
my approach to that intersection was that there were no longer any
brakes. They had just given out. They'd been fine until then. The truck
was rolling along pretty good so when I tried to shift into a lower
gear the transmission would just grind and not allow it.
No cars were ahead of me. Trying to think of what to do quickly coming
to an intersection at which a traffic signal has just turned red; what
quick thinking would allow me to avoid a crash and injury to myself or
others. And not screw up the truck. Nothing came to me. No wonderful
Hollywood action movie stunt entered my mind. Sorry to say. No sudden
flash of common sense. There was just nothing in me to mediate the
situation. Time up, horn blaring, truck and a terrified me rolled into
crossing traffic honking horns screeching brakes. Right through! Whew
wee! Only to come to a stop through the intersection on its opposite
side crashing into a car double parked along the street. The slope had
leveled off and the truck's speed had decreased so there was no injury
to me. The car double parked was empty. It would need body work. I was
a quite shaken. No one was hurt.
It was Kenny who told me after this accident that the trucks had never
really been inspected. Kenny was a good looking tall well-built
middle-aged hair greying middle-eastern looking dark-skinned Jew who
did quite a few things at the company. He was in sales. He was back and
forth with the customers, he helped loading things, supervised that
aspect of the work. Kenny had a lot on the ball and I think he liked
this work where he did a variety of things as opposed to the same
routine day after day. He could drive the tractor trailer if necessary,
though I'm not sure he had a license to do so. I drove it once myself,
down to a point south of Philadelphia. Paoli maybe. I forget. With just
one lesson from Horace and now here's this many-tonned rig I'm driving.
There was the time I'd done something illegal like turning without a
signal--It was early on when first out on the route on my own and I was
looking at map while driving and it suddenly occurred to me that here
was the street I needed to turn onto; without signalling I made the
turn and there happened to be an officer around. He pulled me over and
got out of his blue and white Philly squad car. Pinky white skin. Red
hair springing out from around the rim of his cap. A officer of Irish
decent he was. Saw his name. Talked the Philly talk. He leveled at me
some sort of angry-sounding authoritative gobbledygook which I could
only make out in bits in pieces, something about "on MY beat!" and then
the ending "AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU DO DRIVE TRUCKS FOR A LIVING!!!"
He let me off with a warning.
I "thanked" him, but once off and rolling again said to myself "Yeah
fuck you cop! Go stuff a doughnut up your ass!" Ha! I was getting into
the job. Learning the streets. Getting the hang of the lingo. It was
Walter had told me once that I could try sales too. Try to drum up
business here and there. So I'd try snack shops over in Jersey in my
home town or places I could deliver small goods to on my way back from
the city. I could take ice cream. Put a little dry ice in a bag.
Cottage cheese. Things like that. Once while waiting for a sub at a
delicatessen in a nearby town I asked the manager if he'd like to try
any of our products.
A few days later Walter called me into his dingy little office and
asked me what I'm doing. It was about that deli I'd pitched. They buy
from Maccio. That meant nothing to me. Who is Maccio? Maccio has Mafia
connections. We don't try to introduce our products into a store that
sells Maccio's stuff. That's not good business practice.
I coulda been rubbed out for trying to sell them cottage cheese?!
Wholly ravioli Batman! Wow! This job was exciting in its strange and
indelicate way. The deli owner must have informed someone at Maccio
that Franklin was trying to "muscle in" or "move in" on their
territory. Maccio had called Franklin. Would Mr. Big put out a contract
on me? Would someone come "take me for a ride"? Would I get to meet
And I was getting nimble with the early morning loading dock palaver.
The action jolted, everyone in a frenzy getting milk on trucks. Often
what was said was said in hurried passing, moving quickly in and out of
trucks and freezers and coolers. There would be some fairly innocent
job-connected communication about how such and such a center is off
today so no delivery there, but around that, through that, all sorts of
expletives were threaded. To distance it, see. Because just naked
information didn't seem to work for them. Brought too close the
drudgery. We moved like bats outta hell, all this fuss over cartons of
milk. So kiddies would have their milk because the city couldn't be
sure they'd had any milk in their own homes. The city saw to it they'd
get a cup of milk, a cup of orange juice from concentrate.
What the men on the docks did was a sort of whistle while you work
routine. Only, instead of whistling, the word "fuck" in various ways
was worked into every mouthful uttered. Say "fuck" while you work.
Yet as soon as one of the women from the office would come out on the
docks for some errand the language was purified, a throwback to
chivalry maybe. Or if someone didn't see her he'd be reprimanded. "Hey
watch your mouth!" But when she left they'd say something crudely
suggestive about her: "Yeah I'd like to give her my order form!" "Yeah
right! Like she's got a thing for your poor little pecker when she's
chompin' on the boss's dong!"
Dock talk--however humorously irreverent it may have seemed to me at
the time--did not express us as we were. It was work talk,
claustrophobic man talk, coping with the fact that we are hopeless
talk, the only talk allowed us maybe but for perhaps some pillow
tenderness with a loved one. Could they open up and be human even there?
The registration sticker on the truck I drove was fake, purchased on
the black market because evidently the truck was too old or run down to
pass an official inspection. Buying fake documents was cheaper than
purchasing all new vehicles, cheaper than keeping trucks in good
running condition, cheaper than inspection. This was basic business as
I later learned. Bottom line.
I knew from working part-time or summers where my father was vice
president, which was a chocolate factory, a candy company, also in
Philly, that they gave all the inspectors that came around gratuitous
cases of candy. Just greasing the wheel. Regular business sense. It
made me wonder if any business actually operated fully in accordance
with the law. Bottom line. Dollars and cents. Sanitation? Sweat dripped
into the peanut brittle! I wondered if even the law operates according
That incident was my first brush with sort of official, adult,
work-world unlawfulness; driving an unlawfully unsafe vehicle--though
inspected "safe" vehicles are involved in more deaths than the latest
hot item war--that could have gotten me fined or whatever. Not to
mention someone injured or killed. Besides getting the whole operation
shut down at least temporarily and having all of us without work and
unable to support ourselves or our families. It was a practice that was
fairly accepted. People looked the other way. Philadelphia as a
city--in its officialdom--as was told to me years later--was known for
corruption. I had no idea the docs were fake.
Up until then my rule-breaking or law-breaking had all been schooly kid
stuff, teenage things such as underage drinking. Pot smoking in college
dorms. There was one time in high school when an upperclassman named
Jack quit school in his senior year in order to join the U.S. Marines.
He wanted go off to Vietnam, wanted to fight. Jack was not a friend of
mine but he was Joe's friend, and Joe was a teammate of mine, also an
upperclassman. I got involved with these older guys because I was a
starter on the varsity football team as a sophomore. The seniors
claimed me as one of their own; this was during the season mostly but
at other times as well. I was welcome at their parties, allowed to
"hang" with them at the railroad tracks which ran through the small
commercial section of our small town. There was a place they parked
their cars along the tracks after store hours.
Jack was planning a farewell party for himself at his home. There was a
section of track up the way a piece where the railroad would set off
certain cars for later pick up. He noticed a refrigerated car was just
sitting there and outside the car was painted clear as day SCHULTZ BEER
[a fictitious brand]. Jack put two and two together and decided there
was beer inside. And the car was sitting there just in time for his
It was a Friday night. I was hanging at the tracks, waiting to see how
the night would develop. Joe rode up in his father's station wagon.
Jack was with him. They asked me if I wanted to cruise with them, which
is what we called driving around aimlessly: cruising. I got in the car
with them and we drove several times up and down Broad Street which ran
right alongside the railroad tracks. Joe and Jack were discussing
something. I had no clue what it was. They asked me was I up for some
mischief. I wanted to know what it was and found they planned to break
into the train car and steal a few kegs of beer for Jack's farewell
I didn't think it was such a hot idea but they told me all I had to do
was sit in the car with a flashlight and flash it if I saw anyone
coming. Or start the engine.
Jack had brought along bolt cutters. Getting rid of that he turned a
huge wheel that kept the door snug so the beer stayed cool.
Through darkness towards the wagon Joe and Jack came quickly as they
could carrying each a beer keg. I got out an opened the back of the
wagon. Joe went back for one more. Jack closed up after him. Off we
That was a Friday night. The farewell bash was Saturday night.
His house the night of his party. High school kids in his back yard.
High school kids in the back porch, in the living room and kitchen.
Different ages; upperclassmen mostly. His parents were there.
apparently not in the least uneasy about our drinking underage. In fact
they were beaming, proud, drunk, sunk into a sofa in their living room,
cigarette air surrounded, whisky and sweet vermouth urinal eyes. They
were proud of their boy. Going off to serve his country. Don't drive is
all they told us, and that was about it. Smiled. Asked me where I
lived. Did they know my parents.
Many a young male macho measure how much beer they drink. How many mugs
it was for me is long forgotten. I drank dry a brewery. That's the way
it seemed. My claim to fame. Inebriation masculinity banner. Low on the
ladder rung. Sports were higher. What it amounted to left me flat, out,
dark bundle on Jack's front lawn; its turf cold. For it was February
How long was that? Recollection is gone; the party was still going.
Someone woke me. It was an older kid with longish dirty blond hair who
didn't go to our school who I'd never seen around town. Wearing an army
green jacket, black combat boots. I had combat boots myself, bought
from a teammate with a connection on a base.
This fellow stooping over me wanted to know if I was all right. Then
asked me is there someone I want killed, because that, he told me, is
what he does. Assassin. Never before had I met one. Still groggy,
things a blur, a need to throw up. Dizziness. Spinning unthawed ground.
Trying to focus and keep down puke muttered no: there was no one I knew
who I wanted dead. If ever there was just let him know. The fact that I
was passed out drunk on a front lawn told him I was his kind of guy.
His price was fifty bucks. My sickly response was "Okay. Thanks a lot."
Behind some conveniently placed out of the way bushes I heaved. Endlessly.
No longer was I a fine upstanding law-abiding American citizen. (And
what would happen if mom or dad were still up when I returned that
evening--or did I sleep over at a friend's house--and get a whiff of
the beer or vomit?) I'd broken law, even as accomplice. Even as a
witness. Even hanging out where we did at the railroad tracks was
technically vagrancy, loitering, whatever. Jack was going off to fight
for his country. Maybe die. Maybe kill. That justified our thievery;
that's what he said. To get out of town, away from his home, out of
school: Jack was out of his mind at 18.
Robbing a train--though not a moving one--was a bit of mischief night
fun; for me. Only it wasn't mischief night and this law breaking was
more than soaping windows and throwing eggs. This act involved a
railway and big beer. Corporate America. Sacred. Messin' with the big
boys we was.... There were all sorts of laws to level at us. We'd have
felt the strong muscle in the long arm of the law that can crush
individuals and make homeless beggars of us, put us under economic
sanctions right here in "our own" country, give us a criminal record to
plague us the rest of our lives. Only we weren't caught. Luckily.
Eventually I outgrew my civil mischief. Playing Jesse James that once
was a novelty to be sure. The thrill was not enough for me to pursue it
further. Stealing beer: my heart was just not in it.
Meanwhile my milk truck was repaired and back on the road.
I worked: was at work on time and was there each day I was supposed to
be there. Polite with customers. Tried to bring in new business. I
enjoyed doing that. Driving around the city wasn't all that demanding.
It was fun in fact. Cruising around. Early morning it's like a
Wordsworth sonnet: . . .
This city now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theaters, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky . . .
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
And I was driving around in all that heart--congested and coldly
feverish though it was when awake. Solitary now. Dust settled. Along
with a sun's rising driving song. Sounding like a bell's toll this
realm: things becoming not things, a wrought calm. Or coming back
evenings at times, days when Horace and I had the big rig out, motoring
homeward over a bridge a day's work done, sweat dried on hands, brow,
cheeks, weary in eye arisen so early, a day so long thinkin' this
bridge we're on even over urban ugly, if it's at rest, is something.
Warehouses run down, smokestacks puffed out exhausted, factories still,
crashed burnt out abandoned cars, stripped, weather worn steel gray
raised tanks of this or that, Acme supermarket out of business boarded
up, motionless streets plastic bags blown you wouldn't want to touch
what infection floats with them, an empty refrigerator rusting in a
vacant lot, an industrial yard its chemical vermin running here and
there in pipes run silence now along this interstate running right
along these trashed local streets a world abandoned to sleep the red
brick city housing, working family houses or out of work houses worked
out row after row, smack against one another block after block
geometrically exploding dimensions a brain wave of ugly regularity
stretching off towards a horizon.
Things so quelled, so dead so quietly coming to light it was good feeling so a good job I gave myself to.
Sun up over this junk yard is such a desolate soul. Peaceful music.
Things give off warmth as rust, exude a hole-yness [sic] decomposing to
elementary nothingness: song of our own disappearance, which opens us
up more painfully releasing our lives. Through holes comes sky,
No earth was to be seen, which had long since been ruled out. But for a
park permitted here and there earth was under concrete, paved over,
earthly things going on unseen in the under city. Weeds pop through
pavement cracks, holes through which miraculously things spring up.
It feels, the moment, spent, even remotely poetic, being with sun rays
on rust, dust, corrosion, crumbling and decay. It can sicken you at
first, the putrefied matter health of things mirror: imagine walking
around a battlefield after the event when earth is sucking up the
gore's full brunt, the day's unnatural consecration, when all that's
left is the dead and dying life of things. Drinking in a sacrificial
wine, fertility god. Commercial deity. Once acclimated it can put you
in a loafing, meditative mood, when nothing human is about and all that
moves decomposes into one, when all is broken as it is form/not form.
Nothing to change. Slowly moving through it all, mutely sensing things.
A dead man.
Skyscraper graveyard industrial cemetery. For which reason it was easy
to be not moved to sonneteering. I didn't weep for all the waste. No
There was on Levick Street in Philly's Tacony section the house I was
conceived in; near that the hospital in which I came to be. Memories
from Polaroids and home movies. My infancy. Neighbors and relatives, my
folks' friends. We moved away in one year. To a suburb in Jersey.
There were those across the river in Jersey who would try to hide a
sneer hearing what I was "doing." Kids I'd grown up with, elementary
school, high school: saw me as a football star! Now truck driver milk
man. They were in college still; from families with a little money.
Truck driving is what you do when you don't go to college, or go and
don't finish; that was the gist. It could be that there is more life to
delivering milk than there was in any job they'd ever know. They'd
rarely look. Or ever see me, sight being a dimension they only
infrequently engaged. I'd been raised hearing--not from my folks really
(ditch digger was the occupation designated by my father as the
lowliest work a man could do)--things about driving a truck that were
mostly negative. Like it wasn't something chic to do. It was something
then to feel ashamed of. To feel shame when I told people I drove a
milk truck. To feel inferior, low. Because that was the thinking I'd
picked up around me. Social junk thoughts I was picking up. Social junk
One day a big change occurred at Franklin. Walter no longer ran the
docks. Now Ted, Walter's uncle, was in charge. Maybe Walter had botched
something badly. I don't know. He was in hot water a lot. The father
was hard to please. The Marine moved to another job with another
company where the following year he asked me to come. Ted was hell bent
to make things more profitable. So he cut drivers and combined routes.
It was a simple matter of seniority, Ted told me. Last hired, it was me
who had to be first fired. Even though Helen in the office is my
mother. Even though I was, he said, a good worker.
I went home. I wept. My grandmother was there. She lived with us. She
called and told my mother. Mom came home with solace. She'd heard in
the office what happened. To me things seemed so unfair. Unreasonable.
When my son got the results of his semester exams a few months this all
came back to me. He'd been an honor roll student but hadn't been
scoring well on these end of semester exams so he really buckled down,
he studied, he prepared, and still Tatsuma did poorly. And his
teachers would shrug, say Tatsuma doesn't test well or hasn't prepared
enough. Maybe he does sort of freeze. But the boy tried hard and when a
kid who is no dummy tries hard and still doesn't pass . . . .
No wonder the boy might freeze.
Tatsuma was down in the dumps about not passing. Into his cluttered
room I went and told him this story (not about stealing the beer but
about being canned even though I was doing a good job.)
The gist of what I told him was that the world is not necessarily a
fair place. A church of god had taught me that lesson. What is meant
here is that in grade school, 7th or 8th grade, I played on a
church-sponsored basketball team. It was then called the Epworth
Methodist Church and it is on Maple Avenue in Palmyra New Jersey. There
was a court--not regulation size--in the church basement. The Coach was
Mr. Rutton and his son John who is my age was on the team too. Our team
wasn't good at all. Not much talent. John was an okay guard. He hustled
and all that. Fine attitude. Agile. I was tall for my age and was okay
to have around under the boards for rebounding and short shots. Most of
the others were not all that helpful on the court.
As our season came towards its close two players were to be selected
for a church league all star game. The coach's boy John was one obvious
candidate. I was the other. Everyone seemed to think so. One night
after practice the coach's selections were announced. One of them was
not me but Mark Spitzler. He was a kid whose father was on the church
board of governors or whatever it was called. His dad was sort of a big
shot in our community. He was in a profession that kept him local; he
had an office in town, had a shingle out. An attorney. A judge
eventually, small time. A somebody in the Lion's Club and all that. May
have eventually run for town council.
The boy wasn't very useful out on the court. He could dribble a little
bit is all. Mark let it be known that his being able to dribble a ball
between his legs while bringing it up court--when no opponent was on
him--was a feat that made him our star player, even though others stole
the ball away from him at will. Mark was stiff, not fluid. Anyway we
were just kids.
Coach Rutton took me aside while the others were headed for the locker
room and told me I would have been his pick but for the fact that
Spitzler's father was on the church board and my own folks no longer
attended church. So he had no choice, he told me, but to choose the
Spitzler boy, even though, he said, he is not as good a player. Because
it's a church team. He hoped I would understand. And I did. I
understood a lot about the world from that. I understood about being
shit on in the house of god and everywhere else.
I do not like it. My parents being in church was never a condition for
my being a member of the team. I was tall, the team was hard up. Now
all of a sudden it had everything to do with being an all star. I
understood--but didn't really, because how can you--that coach had to
do what he thought was the Christian political thing even though in his
heart he knew it was not the thing to do. He had to watch out for his
own standing within the church, which had little to do with living in
his heart. Coach caved; god bless him. He cared more about church
membership abstraction than he did about the living being looking up to
him in the eye, a being who would find it more difficult as a result to
look people in the eye thereafter. Coach made it easy for me to think
that because one nail is bent they all are bad. A lesson in carpentry.
How things are made the way they are.
This is the way we were taught in god's supposed home. Its
inhabitants--it seemed to me then--regarded themselves as "good" and
everyone else "evil"--as is taught in the Story of Noah-- "sinners" and
"no goods". I considered myself lucky to choose not to frequent that
particular dangerous place.
It hurt some, not being one of the chosen, but not many in my scene
gave a hoot about church league basketball, no one talked about it at
school, few came to watch, a parent or two maybe. It was a
disappointment suffered privately. My dad tried to help; he told me I'd
made HIS all-star team, which was intended to comfort me. Dad's words,
though they made me feel a bit better, didn't change the unfairness I
It occurred to me that although we were being taught at Sunday School
that Christianity is about serving divinity it was really about serving
the powers that be.
My stint at Franklin Dairies lasted only a month or so. My mother
worked for that company until her retirement. Loyal, diligent, all
that. On time, steady. Kept the books straight; once she even
discovered an embezzler in their office and saved the company a great
deal of money not to mention exposing the bad guy. It was a bad guy
she'd once thought was a good guy; maybe he was basically okay. He was
young and just starting out and got greedy. Though at a place where
registration stickers came from the black market and vehicles were
operating illegally who could be so bad?
Attacking my body with malnutritions, with oxygen-depleted health
hazard surroundings: miscreant city. Working in Scamadoo, Scamadoodoo,
a brilliant social dream, Scamelot . . . .
The licensing the stickers the inspections the revenues the avenues. Is
all. The automotive industry. Streets paved with gold. My father's and
my father's father's bodies were both ruined by automobiles though
neither was physically injured in the wars they went to.
The young embezzler was caught stealing from master, dismissed but not prosecuted.
To thank my mother, in the end when she retired the Franklin gang took
back their promise of a pension! On the other hand Charles the
president had at times done things for mom and others who worked there
that were at least helpful if not acts of philanthropic or charitable
magnanimity. After all he gave me her son the job to begin with. He
and mom remain friendly. To this day they remain friends, he and his
wife and my mom and dad. At one ring within their intimacy circuit.
It wasn't Charles himself who wanted to take from my mother that which
she was promised. In fact it may have been Charles who promised it
without his brothers' consent. What backstabbing was afoot among those
brothers in the city of brotherly love I can't say. I'm not sure anyone
else among the staff had a pension there. Which is why I guess she
doesn't sue Franklin Dairy as she could have if she ever had any of it
Things happened which pained me, strained me. A scene I went as a
young man into, inexperienced as I naturally was. A scene which made me
worldly, a scene I believed I believed in until I grew beyond belief,
grew to give myself a life to live a death to die. Grew to give birth
to myself. My sense of it.
It feels as though I'm just warming to my subject. By the way milk
isn't best for you at its refrigerated temperature. Cooling it is just
so it keeps longer. It's best for a body when it's at body heat, warmed
by flowing blood and other internals. Breast to mouth, so to speak.
poems by Giovanni Malito
poems by David Giannini
from TO THE WAVE
Gulls winging xhead-
long in patterns
of desire and
cries -- do you hear
the first way earth
speaks through the sky?
Okay -- be as waves
having no doubt
but feel what you've touched
the sea . . .
Are you (you are) the same
kid used to lie on sand
to watch sky swim here too
or you are (are you) the
same sky on the sea to
feel a kid here swim through
Pith of the shell's fracture --
we come to something as
nothing again nothing
Here we are -- away
on sand by sea: sense
horizons within --
at the end to feel
we are here -- the Wave.
to our joy!
poems by Scott Watson
words escape me
sense if they didn't
dying has more
of it than talk
I was four
or five or six
rainy day to do
that looked like
in our frige
she got a bar of
Soap for me
with my penknife
which so long
after I remember
beat by sun's blaze
the blue-purple sea breeze is a cool caress.
one rock at a step
through spray from waves
this shore where no one is
its silence is mesolithic, and its wealth.
without transmission body is aware
quiet, rich, mesolithic
time of the year
for dew once again
playing in sea
to heart's content I wanted more
but that's through
bushclover blossoms--as white this
year as long ago--tell
it like it is autumn
brought on by bushclover
by Thunberg's geranium
by Hairyvein agrimonia's flower
this year once more
I too am
as it is
*these poems appear in SHIN-WA-RYOKU, published by Kudakake Press. English versions were done by Scott Watson