Poetry and Collage
by Charles Plymell
Charles Plymell is the author of The Last of the Moccasins and many books of poetry.
IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER
To you who sung the riddles of that desolate Atlantis
while wind worn wagons swept a sunken trail into eternal dust.
To your sod, your grass, your easy hills of flint from glacial
slope to wanderlust. “Perfect cattle country . . . the best I’ve
seen since Uruguay.” I’d oft heard you say your dreams and maps
unfolded beneath those eyes that inventoried skies and knew
the winter owl’s alarm where black beasts of Angus grazed?
I could not see as far, but went my way, you understood, and
watched the windmills tell their listless joy to silt and seam.
Life must be beautiful or all is lost . . . those bison of the clouds
were pushed from life . . . slaughtered for sport . . . now they are
the storm clouds watching us from eternity and far beyond.
And I did not know (when you showed me the lilies on the
limestone.) No . . . I did not notice you had grown old, your
hair had turned to silver . . . for I never thought you’d die.
I thought when this would end we’d all join hands together
like you told the babes at playtime long ago (that you hoped
we’d all meet in Heaven) in that dust bowl depression of Kansas.
It is hard to notice age in those who dream. You knew,
dreams are like youth, without them the world could not continue.
They are like the trees you always planted on sun-parched steppe,
enjoyed by those who pause and dream beneath the steel of time.
O fading America! Where is Thy promise! 0 catastrophic land!
This land you loved when newborn calf kicked up its legs. ..
you said everything wants to live . . . and expresses it.
The slap, slap, slap of tires on the grey concrete.
The tears on the way to the funeral. The biggest sky in Kansas.
“Wish I could find that old house where Grandmother lived,”
someone said, trying not to think, or feel, or sob.
You had told me you “might kick off” one of these days,
but I could never see you anywhere but waiting for us
on the porch, arms folded always with finger prop’t
against sunburned cheek, Stetson tipped back, calm grey
eyes anxious and kind through smoke of neglected cigarette.
Home for Christmas in a few short days with newborn babe.
Giant cranes along the ditch . . . steel helmet’d
construction workers laying concrete pipe beyond all
of the Family Store T.G. & Y. or the old folks home you cussed.
Under vast space you saw the end products of wasted soul & hand
You saw the time begin to change, you saw the Atom Bomb.
You knew the true nature, foresaw the greed and plastic goods.
Saw those old jaws of monster oil wells pumping the never ending
depletion allowance of blood of man and earth.
“The little man pays the taxes.”
And you sensed the vacant stare in faces. You saw man change.
You saw him buy on time. But he had no time to talk now. No time.
No time. Car tires squeal on nowhere road to make a time payment.
Skull of memory, how will your lamp burn now?
How will the dust, like pages scorch that canopy of bone?
How will those eyes rest against the dark storm of tears now,
when ozone rests on sage, calming that stampede of time?
It was the day of mustangs, the day a train whistle screamed that
Rockies‚ grade, when double header highballed and howled past
diesel trucks, water towers of unknown towns; soliloquy of
settlements and cemeteries beyond truck stops and salvage yard.
It was said you payed the ambulance driver before you let him go.
You dug some bills out of your old leather purse to hand him.
Through your hard span of life, you settled up so quietly
no one ever thought of you carefully.
They didn’t care for unknown sages in unknown towns.
The end of a man, an age. I neglected to hug or kiss.
I was coming to see you from school, bringing my family.
Your father died with the fence unmended, the calves got out,
he didn’t feel like riding; waited for you to come from school.
Everything changes but the meaning, and the tenderness passed on.
I stand here beside the peaceful grave, I stand here on earth
for the first time without you by me;
I take this land upon my shoulders.
The grain elevator over there is filled with wheat, the seed of
newborn day. The green Spring wheat. I am a father now. I know.
Your folks from Indiana came overland in covered wagons
crossed the Muddy at Hannibal Mo. , Mark Twain was 36.
To Belle Plaine and on to “No Man‚s Land.” You staked your
claim. I remember the joke about no birth certificate, and
how the neighbors were healthy because they had government jobs.
Charley Dumbell shot himself with a Colt .45. You told the kids
wild stories, listened to Joan Baez, your favorite, with teenage kids.
You were always young and built the fence for your daughter’s horse.
Lifting beams bigger than railroad ties. . .against the doctor’s orders.
Post hole diggers left in the holes of prairie sod never used again.
Rod McKuen in Times Square
She ran into his dressing room happily shouting
she may as well have died and gone to heaven
her young relative, embarrassed, apologetic
having driven her from nearby state and town
what else could Rod do but hug her
and say he’d go to heaven with her
How jealous can we poets be to have fans like that?
She said she had waited a lifetime for this moment.
The Chinese carry out down the street, the
Japanese restaurant in neon glow, adrenaline flows
outside the glitter voltage rises around Rod’s name
on the marque, in Times Square, the new electric glitz
now emanating from the B. B. King Club where
Rod sits perched on the familiar stool on stage:
an ideogram becoming word and symbol one
The mike, the stool, the stage and perched leg
at the first or second rung, a symbol he’s become
his songs yet more lyrical, his gift more seasoned
the poet’s world has changed after all, and all of us
may be orphan’d like the stars in too vast of space
Whatever minds have conceived to help our plight
it is universal that love is the most powerful force
and the song has always been the abstraction of it
beyond all and many variables in the human walk of life
The heart and voice are one, from the tattoo parlor
a few doors down 42nd St, to tattooed constellations
ancients pierced forever in stars of the night sky, a
singer, a creature of that steady prosody will sense
Collage #11 is from the mid-1960s, with detail from the collage.
[two other details are missing from the original site and cannot be reproduced here]
San Francisco, Tenderloin, 1963
The Juke-box begins its song:
futuristic mirage blossoms
dimensions of accelerated fortune tellers
Leaving his coffee,
the boy from nowhere
dials any combination of numbers
on the telephone,
smiles under the beat
of NOWHERE TO HIDE.
The night that shades his darkened eyes
unwinds into mistaken paradise.
Numbed with gravity
the song grows fainter.
Those closer to the earth
are last to go.
Image passed on streets long vacant.
* * * *
The hand that strikes the match at night
soon may grasp the torch of liberty.
While a dog tail dipped into a wound
holds the mirror union of the senses.
And all in war of space and time,
I dream to drink with you
from the fountain of strength, and wait
for an unbelievable date to the movies.
Or isn’t there a job for you in space
Catherine, with your metal sandwich?
Let’s keep the conversation hermetic,
for soon even midnight will be plastic.
I will forget the ads I read
in this Mechanix Illustrated:
“Be a locksmith” and fumble lost keys
of Paradise. I have my own shop now.
Ah, to the movies, where your hero in
black sulphur spurs dives in a wedding of mustangs.
(An eagle collects doorknobs in the afternoon,
the code: In Honor of Autumn.)
* * * *
Do those who cannot see, love darkness?
Does nightingale trade its song for fame?
Are you in human form, calm once more
With your imploding love to blame?
Would you run among sweet wild flowers
To warn of Autumn in ominous tone?
I ask the generation with a hardening smile
If killing goes will love be all alone?
* * * *
If destiny could be bought for latest kicks
Could I sell a man screaming in an hourglass?
Could I sell my pin-up queen for charity?
Tell me, my burning rose, about all this.
Tell me in words I cannot understand,
Because if I do, I will cry to hear
Myself above all others,
And crush you in a fabulous evening.
Then go to my room and rinse my hair in
Cream rinse and think of pill-day Cadillacs
With continental spares and chrome rear ends,
Undercoatings of violet lace.
And read Kustom Kar magazines far into the night . . .
Dreams of billfolds full of money,
Nightmares of conspiracies.
Is this the head I’m stuck with
Born to an age which makes me thirty?
* * * *
Or I may see a laborer in the sun
Who dreamed he was a poet
And wandered over a hill to a shining city
There he peeks into the final version of himself.
And remembers the love songs of warm-bosomed singers
As in the days of dying and rebirth,
Melting in a wilderness of armor
Trembling in fear when the doors flew open.
When poet ran around the globe
Collecting love and rage and tongue,
Anointed with hair oil
Infiltrating the last detail of the universe
. . . Gold coins pouring down the street.
(Before you ran up your hill in ecstasy,
Removed from ghettoes of clamoring style)
. . . asleep in dawn tail fissures
The boy dreams of nights in K. C.
Jr. gangsters, jazz, and Mr. B. Collars,
Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and Elvis singing.
* * * *
I’m over here, of course,
melting in war stories,
playing a sweet mournful tune
on a hollow flute made from
the bones of dead junkies.
I’m singing the Great Speckle Bird
under the street lights in N.Y.C.
Now I am here, staring out a window,
people moving about
trying to tell each other something,
put your raincoat on do you want to go next
how long since I saw you
and got that old feeling?
I can hear Chet Baker singing,
I get along without you very
well, except when leaves . . .
Yeah, that’s total recall.
Can we go somewhere and talk
through the aether?
Remember, the shack on North Main,
night in Dec., soft rain and fog.
I had death throes in my hands
and every road of life closed down.
And you trying to help me
and not go under yourself.
Sick lightning in a far off storm.
Followed the road of those before me to
the West. (Harlow with your name in silk.)
* * * *
Tonight I ride in the
in a ragged chartreuse Ford,
under the moon with heaven close
to earth of winding road and sounds of
cymbals and chants and songs like
Wildflower and Moon Over Alabama.
Julio chuckling privately
at moo cows in the pasture,
moon on the dashboard
like a flower . . .
Creator, Destroyer, Preserver.
* * * *
Do not tell the stars
I sing like a traitor
From radio Apocalypse Rose.
Is there something I can say to you
O Radar Queen in Compton’s Cafeteria,
Before the puke and blood melt in the street?
Is there a glitter of dragon flame
Through the gold of skid row?
Is there a promise in the bedrooms
Below fixed bayonets of Paradise?
We are linked by our tongues‚ wall
With hand grenades on our mouths.
There were you before a protest was needed?
* * * *
Could I walk out the door and say,
“Baby I’m gonna get mine.”
But without missing too many meals
I can buy a Polaroid for $29.98,
And take pictures of troops and pickets.
Or Mr. Hyde of Cut Corner who wishes his
was black leather. Or 19 yr. old David,
who burned himself,
left a note reading, Buddhist Monk,
Inquire at Fairoaks St . . .
“I die for all mysterious things.”
Or the blind on Market Street
Or the man with no legs,
Perhaps no nearer to panorama than thou.
* * * *
Would you be cruel
if you spent a life
carrying Venus to Mars
with a light in your head?
While under the bridge of forgotten gold,
Betty throws a wine bottle against the wall.
And a wino was stacked in a bed of cardboards
dead for many months smelling.
More cardboards were piled on him
And more winos slept on top of him,
for many months smelling.
When the police dug him out, they said
“He was crushed like a rose in a Bible.”
* * * *
Sometimes flowers bloom in spring
unaware of what the summers bring
From now on
today is the most beautiful,
planters have struck against the ground,
And you saw this as I was watching you.
Under the influence of all your stars,
In mirrors of your galaxies of blue,
The hero and his love became your scars
But this rose picked could not be picked anew.
To measure you and me in full disguise
I lay beside our rose of paradise.