Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ranunculus of Carlsbad

Remember Last Year at Marienbad, said I, well how about next weekend at Carlsbad? It was the spring of 1981 and that Saturday was to be the hottest day of the year. Peggy and I ran off for our first assignation, a forbidden adventure. She was happily unmarried; I was unhappily married.

We had heard about the ranunculus in that area which had just come into bloom. In the horticultural universe they were a world famous destination. In Carlsbad they were unknown. We drove around the town stopping along the way to ask people where these acres and acres of ranunculus were. Not a single person ever heard of them.
I had recalled Carlsbad to be a sleepy town with several first class hotels or motels. Unaccustomed as I was to last minute getaways I had failed to make a reservation. Every one we passed had the no vacancy sign posted. It must have been those ranunculus, which nobody living there knew about, that drew all these visitors. Finally we settled for the last room this side of Yuma.

It was called the Ebbtide Motel and well into its ebbing. I’m not sure if all the neon letters were lit but the L could have been preceding by an HEL. If the outdoor temperature hovered in the high nineties it must have been over a hundred in the room. Our deluxe suite came with a refrigerator as if someone might endure more than one night within these walls. It was a torrid affair but we kept the refrigerator door open in the hope to cool down.

If this were a movie it wouldn’t have starred Fred and Ginger or even Tracy and Hepburn but more like Desi and Lucy. We drove out of town shouting, Fuck the Ranunculus. It was only later that we discovered Carlsbad extended east of the San Diego Freeway as well. We were west of it where locals might live their entire lives ignorant of these magnificent bulbs bursting in the full spectrum of colors.

In fact there are fifty acres of flowers with a mirror like sheen on their petals designed to attract bees. They aren’t indigenous to Southern California but they seem to have accommodated quite well to their new habitat. They are at least as bright as roses with a characteristic black center as if the sun itself is beaming from out of a core of dark matter. There could be a poem in that image referring to our naughty tryst … if one thought metaphorically but I would never resort to such an objective correlative.

It took another two spring seasons of bulb-pushing up through the soil for me to finally answer the call of the sun. Peggy and I have since visited those flowering bulbs in Carlsbad with their perfect rows of petals. My guess is it’s no longer a secret even to those folks west of freeway. As for the Ebbtide Motel, we recently drove through the town looking for it, gave up, parked the car and there it was, almost forty years later, an historical monument in our eyes.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Two Poems

While looking for something else I came across an issue of Third Rail, a literary magazine that published two of my poems 37 years ago which I had forgotten I ever wrote. They’re not bad except I‘m not quite in the same place anymore. In those days I was more identified with orthodoxy both religious and political. A word of explanation.

The Communist Party in the U.S., during the late 30s and early 40s, had two outstanding features. Domestically they were the benign voice of compassion for the oppressed…..Jews, Blacks and the down-trodden masses. On the other hand they were apologists for the U.S.S.R. which, ironically, persecuted Jews, peasants and anyone else with a whiff of dissent about them. Of course Party members knew nothing about Stalin’s tyranny or at least they threw a blind eye at all the abuses of the Soviet state.

As a kid I romanticized the left-wing movement of which my parents were a part. It was a joke to imagine my father overthrowing the government; he couldn’t even overthrow my mother as she cursed the landlord for holding back the heat in winter. In my mind the members of the Party were angry but gentle folks who sat around commiserating. After all, Russia was our ally and largely credited with turning the war at Stalingrad.

The Party

It is the last Tuesday of the month.
They arrive by subway and trolley,
defeated in their bodies up the four story walk-up
filling the room on the other side
of my bedroom wall. It is 1943. I am ten.
Old enough to know this air is humid with Truth,
That Truth has stained their shirts.
Their curses of Wall St. are Truth.
When Morris, the tailor, shouts that too is Truth.
Tomorrow he will be silent with pins in his mouth.
My father with his soft voice triturates the enemy
And I fall asleep driving Nazis from Stalingrad
In a violent peace knowing this apartment is blessed
With Truth seeping through the wall.

I cannot for a minute be wrong.
If I’m wrong about geometry
I could be wrong about East and West.
If I’m wrong about who is the best shortstop
all my heroes could be wrong.
The world is the length of my arm
holding the N.Y. Times, hiding me in black and white.
My lips are covered with slogans.
I watch my father in the drugstore
with his mortar and pestle
grinding Fascists into dust.

Two F.B.I. agents at the door.
They want names. They want my father. 
Politely they get him.
He cannot heal himself. He sinks.
Now my father has gone to his father.
I have gathered him inside me.

I light the Yahrzeit candle on the kitchen table.
His shadow is enormous on the wall.
His tongue in the glass
sings of all the sorrows he swallowed.
Later I will drink from this glass
some hot tea, a cloth wrapped around.
The Levites
                                  For Shari

He never wrote a thing
but your Grandpa was a scribe.
A real Levite. Believe in that.

No one heard what he heard
all day in the store,
short stump of a pencil in his ear.

He held on to what others threw away.
Across the kitchen table he told it best
while eating the heels of rye bread.

He listened and he sang a real song.
Don’t believe he never wrote a thing.
Your Grandpa was a Levite.
His voice moves through your hands,
a Levite’s hands, weaving poems from wool.
Believe in that.

Believe your loom speaking
what has never been said before.
The fibers grow like an ancient tree
rising from the soil
knowing how to make room
yielding to fingers and roots.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Valentine's Day

Here it comes again, our high holiday to be observed with reverence, devotion and worth-ship. Yes, yes I know how Hallmark has purloined it, how it has been commodified into roses and chocolate hearts. Nothing wrong with all that, say I. Why not set aside a day for loving out loud?

To add to the joy we are thankfully spared any parades, piety or political posturing for the occasion. It isn’t even a union holiday yet it is all about union, that joyful meet, a celebration of our sublime accident, this soufflĂ© ever rising.

Peggy and I will play one of our favorite games, called Rich. We find a restaurant (we can’t afford) with white tablecloth and candles overlooking some rolling hills, ocean view … real or imagined. We exchange poems, get a little tipsy and share our amaze. How I won the human lottery. How our tangled roads converged, confirmed that first month when we gave each other the same book, a novel by Wendell Berry called, A Place on Earth. Since then we offer each other priceless gifts such as a gnarled tree stump, an avenue of acacia in bloom, hemorrhagic sunsets, violin-shaped like clouds, and pods nurtured to bursting.

Our first book was a collection of answering poems called, Letters to the Same Address, published by Momentum Press. In those early days we also each wrote a word-of-the-day which, strung together, became a sort of poem or at least an indecipherable chronicle of our inner lives.

Oh what fun it is growing old together, losing height, gaining distance. Shriveled here and there yet still juiced and more merged in a further dimension of intimacy.

Of course after 35 years together we have a large album of reminisced coves, caves and calving glaciers but we like to stay in the elongated now or look ahead for birds of paradise to be laying orange eggs while mocking birds, nesting in my shoe left in the patio, sing hosannas as the wild fern overthrows the garden wall.

In Peggy’s world the bases are always loaded with nobody out. Time is running counter-clockwise, under this spell, this spin we’re in, sliding home in a cloud of dusty petals, a minyan of two in a sacred riddle unsolved, unmapped, unsayable, and yet…

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Everybody's Doing It

After agonizing hours of deliberation, vacillation and a distinct shrug from my vast constituency I have decided not to run for President. We’ve had a family conference including the pet turtle and dog we don’t have plus a random sampling of customers waiting on line at Costco and the sense is that the field is already too crowded with senators, mayors, governors, ex-Cabinet Secretary, a caffeinated billionaire and a spiritual adviser.

Perhaps the propitious time has passed me by. I peaked too early having served as wardrobe monitor in kindergarten. (I excelled at sorting galoshes). I was elected milk monitor in 1st grade and designated pencil monitor in 2nd grade. Let it be noted that I did not embezzle any of those pennies nor is it true that I got high on wood shavings. In 7th grade I was chosen to receive the gift left by the 8th grade upon graduation and in 8th grade I was the one presenting the token gift thus demonstrating my ability to give and take. In high school I accepted a post to head the ticket squad along with my friend, Stan, which ingratiated us to the math teacher. One might say I flamed out in adolescence.

My resume might also include three years as editor of the John Tracy Clinic newsletter as well as being the guy arranging for speakers at the Valley Unitarian Fellowship. When I brought in a black-listed screenwriter it caused a rift between the wealthy supporters and the rest of us.

Aside from all that I have little baggage unless one counts all those miracle healings as a pharmacist whose outcome was uncertain. I never found out if the patients lived happily ever after or didn’t make it to their next refill. There is always the chance those are the orphans and widows who have unfriended me on Facebook.

As the months roll on I expect the number of candidates, now about ten, will double. Once again we shall be faced with the seemingly unelectable Progressive versus the so-called Centrist with the big bankroll likely beholden to power brokers. Anyone not named Trump would suit me fine even though my preference is for a Democratic Socialist. 

Who would vote for man whose early record reveals that he ran with scissors and didn't play well with others?

The malignancy of Trump which has metastasized into every aspect of his reign cries out for full triage, an urgency to reverse the wreckage of our democracy and a restoration of dignity and decency. I expect to waver between the certainty of his defeat by a Biden-like substance and the long overdue candidate who truly hears the grievances of the under-served (Bernie, Elizabeth, Kamala)… take your pick). Is there a pulse in the body politic or is it in a moribund trance? Is it sufficiently aroused or still mesmerized? Will we continue to suffer from Electile Dysfunction?

I may have to take my wood shavings into the closet among the galoshes sipping chocolate milk to get a proper read.