At The Bar-Code Ranch

<i>A stellar job in the bullpen </i>
C.B.S. Baseball

I lie in a converted garage, sun coming up
and the chuck-chuck of unfamiliar birds
from Lake Mizell.
The lamp grows ineffectual
under a skylight; the great world
washes in, humid, composed of small numbered parts.

Sometime after nine, the classical music station stops
for the landing of a space shuttle

a sonic boom
shakes the bungalow
and Vladomir Horowitz
is abruptly terminated.

Yesterday, at New Smyrna, north of Canaveral:
knotted shoreline
looking out from a timbered interior
on the Atlantic;
driving inland on Local 40,
a two-lane, the Beach Boys on air,
to Winter Park, inches above the water table.

Today, flying north, from Florida’s eighty degrees
to Washington’s forty-something
a river far below
in South Carolina.

Salt-pork and black-eyed beans
“soul food” – and cheap – in D.C’s low
where U.S. presidents
fall like leaves . . .

Consume and Die!



Wednesday
under the pines
looking out over the waters of Potomac
a torn Bush-Quayle poster in the grass
the morning after the election,
and down on Canal St
a bag of crushed Busch beer cans
reminds me that poetry exists.

Up at 3040 R St N.W.
where the leaf vacuum cleaners roam,
three cards from New York!

The sun descends
through Mt Pinatubo clouds,
its weird rays on Georgetown,
glass to the south,
Arlington’s tower blocks
Confederate and Republican (still).

Meanwhile there is art to look at (Hirschorn Museum):
the hand, thrust forward,
of Ernst Barlach’s
streamlined (and sentimental)
“Begging Woman”
in which someone has placed a dime
– all it takes
to stitch up expressionism.
I liked better
the pieces by Balla
‘Boccioni’s Fist’
and the nice little things
by Henri Laurens
their mild
three-dimensional cubism.

A postcard from Sarah
features a moose, lettered CANADA,
though it’s from Australia
and the New York letters
(a room to stay in in Brooklyn!
drinks with some people.

The world, its streets, places, people
(a title
from Edwin Denby?
No, that was
‘Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Street’.
Maybe it was Larry Eigner?
I’ve no way of checking.

The Dewars and Gordon’s Gin bottles
sitting on a shelf in this basement
are huge, flagons almost, so very American:

The World and its Drinks

(the comment August made
in England, up in the Peak District,
confronted with folk rituals:

“Where’s
the bar?”
a ritual enough.
Auden’s clock ticked towards martini time.

My friends in their various places
bear with me
stretched out in a bedroom
which a door, cunningly concealed, separates
from the condo laundromat.

Our yuppie neighbours upstairs
dropp dumbells – I think – on the floorboards.
In this suburb, they say,
the Clinton/Gore voters are basement dwellers
like us,
light off to the south
through the claret ash
brighter as we tilt
away from the sun and the leaves fall

– that line about the world and its streets,
was it William Bronk?
the catalogue of American poets
not yet on autoshred
though who’ll be laureate
in the new administration?
(Ed Dorn once suggested
Robert Bly for Hubert Humphrey
as if poetry
were a parody of presidential style
(and now
somebody has put together an anthology
of “poems for men” . . .
(in Australia
we did that long ago: it was called
‘Poems of Spirit and Action’
– John Forbes
had it at school, still prefers it
to the ones with close-ups of flower stamens
opposite poems by William Carlos Williams.

It was raining in the capital

and radio heartbreak was on,
Respighi
“laugh or cry music”
as Terry McGrath
would have it.

I have ruined our landlord’s floor with oven cleaner

(photo: close-up: a container of oven cleaner)

Tonight I eat with the lawyers
on Capitol Hill
while the President packs his clothes.

Actually, the Respighi
is developing more into laughter mode,
its overblown pictorialism.

What’s this bit?

A conga chain of
ex-presidents in bathrobes
enter a steaming sauna
flanked by unsmiling CIA types.

Cut to close-up of incumbent
(played by Frankie Howerd).

T-shirted in this basement
(photo: T-shirt)
I feel no need to go out. It’s 46 degrees.

But I do (go out)
across mean streets to the Law Center
and thence, a restaurant,
where a loud tool of the employers
down one end of the table
seems suddenly like a kid
arguing over a football.



Autumn so vivid
the stars and stripes washed out
against the yellow.
I cross Dumbarton Bridge
toward Dupont Circle,
Rock Creek Parkway below
only weeks from icing up,
black branches over the creek.
At Dupont, leave exposed film,
walk down Massachusetts and K
to the Greyhound terminal
and further, to Union Station
taking in the character some guy said
this city lacks.
K St past Thomas Circle grows funky,
urban wreckage round the bus terminal.

Subway to Farragut North, and on
up Connecticut to pick up photos
(photo: photos)

In the afternoon, sweep leaves
off the back porch (a screen door
slams!).
The sky darkens,
branches, parts of buildings
picked out by light.



The photographs, taken months back
seem ancient:
Manchester late summer,
Dentdale, Durham,
faces of
Jonathan, Tom, Roy,
Joyce, Tony and Ric
(Hadrian’s Wall, its hill forts built to
prefabricated plans,
gates opening onto nowhere;
moss on the rocks at Godrevy;
outcrops on the gritstone edge, Winster . . .

One summer displaced since
by the tail of another.

When things go wrong
the Ginsberg line (in Philip Whalen)
about “severance pay”
i.e. “there wasn’t much
severance pay in that”
seems to apply
in instalments, to life here
in this capital
where everything has its hidden cost
(Rosemary’s clothes
dry-cleaned and dismembered;
upstairs
a pre-adolescent party:
10 year olds

with their own fax machines
and probably more than a notion of litigation.

At 4 a.m. there is peace to read
about the Wobbly strikes in Paterson N.J.
but later the yuppies stomp above our heads again
so that I feel like shouting
“stop drinking coffee”



Hal Roach is dead
– the man who put
Laurel and Hardy together, incredibly still alive
till just now.
He lived to see movies become boring.

And my father
dressed for Shakespeare, circa 1920,
on the cover of my first book;
the backdrop: dry grass,
weathered grey trunks up the hill;
an impossible country I try to picture segments of
in detail

lose them soon enough.
There is no plot
unlike Coronation Street
“better than real life and only
ninety minutes a week” (Jonathan Williams)



The morning cold and clear
after rumoured flurries.
I remember some 19th century painting
of Washington under snow (by Eastman Johnson?)
sentimental in ‘de ole plantation’ mode

– cold air that makes the head to hurt
though the sky is bright over Oak Hill Cemetery,
the beggars more assertive on the lips of escalators.

Fifty-one auto license plates spell out
the preamble to the constitution of the United States
at the Smithsonian,
and Frank O’Hara looks out
from a Larry Rivers painting, very present
here amid the art he loved
a memorial to him
by Grace Hartigan
“Grace to be born
and live as variously as possible . . .”
– words which could be attributed
to (the Rev.) Howard Finster
his fountains issuing from faucets,
a river of blood just that
though the source
may be a cut finger
and plenty more “just folks”
whom circumstance and vision worked through
so that they figured how art could be done
(as I write now on Rosemary’s sleeping shoulder
arranging a table to jot in haste though not to disturb)

– something happens
that you walk away from
as you walk away from your own history

my father: the cover of a book
my mother: a gold ring

enigmatic, unsequenced
for plot or rhetoric,
more interesting
when decontextualized than as ‘psychology’
(the t.v. character last night
who went to analysis because
her mother and father hadn’t given her a hard time).

Anything can be fixed here (even poetry)
though nobody wants to do it anymore
(fix things that is, not write poetry,
everybody wants to do that).

We work our way (walk away) through breakfast cereals
(freedom of choice!)
and I like the ad
where a guy in surgical outfit
on an emergency ward set, says
“I’m not really a doctor, but . . .”

(days after the election
the new president appears in a soap opera
as a plot device.



I pour myself a gin,
listen to Earl Bostic – Coltrane’s mentor –
thinking I have patched the drafty cracks
so that Washington’s night will be kept out of this condo
and wondering how to duplicate
the American ‘r’ and ‘a’
so that cab drivers will get our address right
and my name will be spelled correctly
by petty officials.

Earl Bostic and Bill Doggett:
sounds that would ‘invoke’ (if I were Robert Duncan)
instead ‘remind’ me of Ken Bolton,
now probably waking up in Adelaide,
even this moment cleaning his teeth,
a thought balloon above his head
(‘thot balloon’ Duncan would say,
the figure of Ken rising through the poem
like the Corn God . . .

As in ‘One Night in Washington’,
the record where Charlie Parker
played the wrong tune over an unaccustomed backup
and they had to figure out what he was doing
– the pianist slightly haywire, feeling for tempo and key
as Parker doubles up, oblivious,
knowing where he’s going

so ‘The Poem’
leaves behind
any notion of what its Arnoldian simile
is about
– just one manner of
jumpin in the Capital
(better than jogging in the capital
though less characteristic I guess –

and waves to its friends on another shore,
dancers, buildings and drinks in the street.



Down on Rock Creek’s tributary
a maze of branches, leaves, undergrowth;
advanced puzzle in which I make out
the figure of a young woman sketching,
and further, a man, stripped to the waist,
washing shirts in the rivulet.

Halfway up the slope to Safeways
a concrete divan, shaped for Mme Recamier;

the human figures, characters escaped from paintings
like the ones in the background of ‘Dejuner sur l’herbe’
which seem to occupy a different dimension
– even these rustic details of L’Enfant’s city
suggest French analogues
though up the hill
Washington Cathedral – twentieth century gothic
with elevators and climate control
suggests a big nothing
at least that
only a nation of fundamentalists and show-biz types
could put a gothic cathedral on a hill top.

I move about through these environs
grasping colour and light
as the capital slides into winter,
warm air chilling after three,
darkness by five
ham hocks over gas
simmering

a gold ring
the cover of a book

It’s time for drinks and music
(no photos)
‘Autumn in New York’ or
‘Moonlight in Vermont’?

‘Dumbarton Oaks’!

– where Igor Stravinsky stayed,
only a block away,
gardens laid out
for pleasure, all seasons.



Veterans’ Day:
Glover Park
a leaf impasto underfoot for miles;
the grey tree trunks producing an effect of haze.

From The Palisades an old railroad bridge, boarded up,
cuts over Canal Street to the towpath,
pairs of mallards on the waterway.

A man (veteran?)
with bedroll and sixpack
asks if I’m a local.
Sorry, you’re 12,000 miles off.

Return from the drizzle to a call from Vermont
for Rosemary.
Take a message
or try to
– our landlord
collects pens that don’t work
and places them all in jars near the telephone.

(according to John Tranter it was Martin Johnston who said
‘If you want to communicate, use the telephone’,
but Martin probably got the line from John Forbes
– and he was quoting Frank O’Hara at the time.

I’m a spook on the bus through Shaw,
wreckage still from 1968,
gentility bordering the ghetto
with window boxes and fresh paint
up on Le Droit Park.
In Howard University’s
African collection, a small gold chameleon
illustrates the limits of personal power,
‘changing its colour to suit what it sees,
not what is hidden in the box’;

an Akan ceremonial vessel
shows Picasso even stole his doves from Ghana.
But Africa has come back
I think, to reclaim its own images
as Romaire Bearden, his art
at the American Museum.
Africa! Lorca
and Vachel Lindsay loved you
but you go further,
a chameleon
in the box,
not my personification of a continent.

I walk back on Columbia, a break in the drizzle,
to the border at 14th St
where signs become Spanish.

Turbulences cross the map,
snow falls in the panhandle of Texas.

This morning Classical 104FM
advertises a book (illustrated)
of poems by Robert Frost
that
“makes profound truths
really accessible
in a language
everybody can understand”

Out on the street
Latinos with air compressors on their backs
blow the dead leaves away.


Poet's Note: Washington D.C. November 1992

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