Monday, June 18, 2018

Birth of a Poem: Notes From The Road

A scrap of yellow paper has been following me around for the last several weeks, migrating from my pocketbook, to my desk, to my backpack, and now—back to the desk. It reads:

“Pumping gas should be peaceful.”
-TV Screens
-Summer chill
-Whiff of cigarette
-Gas, rolls…

Sometimes I imagine I don’t have enough time to actually write a complete poem, so I try to capture the thread of thought in quick phrases, hoping I’ll find the thread later, and the spark, too. This never, ever works, but I keep thinking that spark can be contained in a few lines dashed before, or during, work, or before bed.

I remember what inspired the poem. The pumps at my usual gas station, what used to be known as “service” stations, recently had these really fucking annoying TV screens installed, blabbing away about manly sport scores and the shitty coffee available for far too much inside. On one visit, the gentleman pumping gas on the other side of the pump made the above remark in quotes. So, there’s those two bits explained.

It’s been a cool spring, as has been the Hudson Valley’s habit in recent years. Only today, nearly the end of June, has the usual heat and humidity combined to finally make us forget March’s blizzards. I try to pump gas in the afternoon, on my way home, so I can devote my mornings to more creative forms of procrastination, like Facebook or washing dishes. So, the refence to temperature makes sense.

There is always a whiff of stale cigarette smoke outside of any retail establishment, despite the Surgeon General’s old warnings. As long as tobacco is peppered with addictive supplements, there will traces of smoke in places where people stop, even briefly, to perform a task outdoors. And yes, it’s dangerous near the pumps, and yes, we’ve seen some horrific accidents on the Interwebs. However, what are the odds, the Smokers always think…

The last line has me stumped at this point. “Gas, rolls…” The last word only makes me think of toilet paper rolls. I don’t buy them at gas stations unless I’m very, very desperate. Unless Stewart’s is closed. Burger rolls? Ah, maybe HARD rolls, like they stock up on at gas stations like this in the morning, smeared too generously with a faux butter spread and wrapped in thick, stinking plastic.

But, as I recall, the man I quote said his piece in the afternoon. It could be that my mind was beginning to wander along, connecting one image after another arising from the location. I can never be sure.

My friend Dan Wilcox has a poem that laments the loss of “the best poem I ever wrote,” to a beer spilled on a notebook, likely scrawled in an indecipherable hand. I feel that same way when I find a note like this. It will probably still become some kind of poem, probably the kind that isn’t labored over long and finds its way to the files without any public performance. It’ll never be the poem it could have been. But of course, I’ll never be the poet I could have been. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

**Poem: "White Noise"

White Noise                                                                     -for A.B.

Before I knew the ringing in my ears
was a permanent tattoo gifted by customer service,
I used to watch TV late into the night
while my Beloved slept, nicotine and deafness his lullaby.

I found you in a motel on the outskirts of Oswego,
waiting for exhaustion to override the hiss.
You were somewhere on the African continent,
or juggling falafel with a brother wizard in Morocco,
slurping noodles with the last elected President,
crouched on plastic stools made in China and
thanks to you I now know sold worldwide.

You might have been pacing the sides streets of Hell’s kitchen,
or admiring the mists veiling the peaks of the Himalayas
like a shy lover come to the marriage bed a virgin,
sunlight surrounding the rocks like grace.

Tony, because I always call you, ‘Tony,’ even tho
we will never meet, it was more than white noise that night.
It was the sound of your leather footsteps
opening doors to all the best places on Earth,
breaking bread and ice, watching you evolve from
snarky young cook fresh from rehab, seasoning
observations with bitter East Coast addictions,

to grey-haired wanderer whose questions grew to
outpace motorboats on the Amazon, wings of
pterodactyls transporting you to another mystery,
another taping, intelligence beginning to understand
that with each answer comes two new and equal dilemmas.

Accumulation, chemical freedom, the body’s whispered taunts and jibes—
at sixty-one, so much has passed.
Locks on the darkest doors, that final trip we dare not take
can make inner engines sputter, stall, lose all momentum.
We stumble in silence, ears, nose, tongue drawn out to gasp,
feet aloft, turned finally to home.

CAR   6/9/18 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

20th Century Dreams in a 21st Century Literary World

On the drive home yesterday, after a particularly trying few months and an especially “challenging” day at work, my mind drifted again to one of my favorite fantasies. There is a space now in the lower Rondout area of Kingston, my current city of resident. It’s a leftover from the days when Rondout was a thriving community in its own right, with businesses up and down the Creek, supporting the D&H Canal business. It’s a two-story, brick structure, with a storefront on the bottom, and living quarters above.

My Beloved and I visited the space about a year ago, when the current residents were trying to make a go of a vintage/thrift shop thing. It was full of intriguing items, but without a theme or energy to unify the business. In fact, we only stumbled on it during one of our evening wanderings around the odd maze of streets in that part of town. Too far past the current business district to attract attention on its own, the shop was quiet. We enjoyed our browse and headed on.

On another drive recently, we noticed that what little activity had been going on in the space was gone. We were not surprised. Both of us being old hands at retail, mainly on the corporate level, it was clear that either start-up funds were low, or the shopkeepers underestimated the power of word-of-mouth advertising.

It was that space that wandered into my tired fantasies yesterday. All the careers I’d pondered in my early years have pretty much become obsolete. Newspaper reporters, teachers, novelists all struggle in a way that didn’t exist when I was planning out my life. Independent bookstores had their day and seem to be struggling back to take their place in some small, hip towns, but often feel the obligation of a “hook” of sorts, beer or coffee, live music or toys. In the ancient economic models that still linger in the deep recesses of my pockmarked brain, I still dream about a bookstore.

I remember the sunlight streaming into the tall windows at Ariel, the slate floors slick with dust and curiosity. Norman Levine’s treasure trove on Route 28 was a destination for a rainy Sunday afternoon, filled with the brilliant odds and ends that only a used bookstore can boast of. And Manny’s Lounge, the long-lost piles of paperbacks, whimsically priced according to the big man’s mood.

There will never be another Manny’s, mainly because of pesky fire codes, but more than that. Manny was a bombastic huckster. One went there for art supplies and low cost reads and came out with a world of knowledge a la Manny Lipton, whether or not they wanted it. His daughter still runs the store, by the way, but without the tasty stacks of books that made passing through the aisles as challenging as climbing the Gunks.

These places were my homes away from home. In a good bookstore, I could escape the confines of my various body states, the ravages of love, and browse the lives of others, often at little to no cost. How one might keep the doors open and the lights on with such a business these days is beyond my scope of expertise. The quiet I seek in such a space, the thoughtful conversation, the gentle dusting of the shelves—all these would be bad for business.

I could acquiesce to a monthly open mic of sorts, perhaps passing the hat and giving away one flavor of coffee. I could even sell a few toys, book related of course. Book signings might help the bottom line, too. I salute those who made such shops viable for so long and envy the times in which they made their magic. I may take another drive past the shop of my dreams soon. And then head back to Barnes & Noble, itself no stranger to the shifting sands of paper and ink. And, I can dream.