Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Beer, a Bear, and Bly

There’s a bear deep in the north Minnesota woods tonight
just sitting there, on a fragrant wet bed of pine needles,
moonlight in his hopeful brown eyes, hoping to get a glimpse
of his hero—Joseph Campbell. He’s deep in the woods but
close to the yelling voices and yellow windows lit up
in a big wooden cabin jumping and full of the
Robert Bly Minnesota Men’s Mythopoetic Meeting.

The bear is a guy, and though he wasn’t invited inside,
he’s trying, he’s leaning toward the cabin windows, trying
to fit in. Still though, he’s not looking for Robert Bly.
Doesn’t want to bond with the men, or really eat any of them.

The bear is into Joseph Campbell.
The bear is now on the path of following his bliss.
He needs to, before he goes extinct, and to avoid getting shot.
He hopes Joe has been invited, is coming, is still alive.
Not sure how he’ll know him if he shows, but the bear trusts
his ancestral instinct and his big, wet nose.
If Joe is here tonight, he’ll know; the bear will follow his piss.

Meanwhile, inside the cabin, there’s a guy, Christopher Blue,
calls himself Blue, he’s seated and ostensibly fitting in,
but he wants a beer.

He’s so desperate for a beer he’s not even in the cabin.
The bear is focused, zen-grounded in the pine needles.
How did this happen?

Only ten years ago from this night, Blue was brand new
clean and sober, living inside again, in a place somewhere
south of these deep woods called Kansas City, in a place called
the Country Club Plaza, in his big, mostly empty, victoriously
contented third floor flat in a mansion; rent and all his bills
paid on time, a bedside table stack of tapes of Robert Bly,
Joseph Campbell and Malidoma Somé, and a new used
toaster in his big, mostly empty kitchen, to cook up his
cinnamon toast all those nights cozy, healthy and wholesome
in his new used bed with a window on the Plaza lights;
toast and Perrier, tapes of wisdom and bliss, and
philosophically indirect directions about what to do next. 

Now that he had finally come to rest.
The rest didn’t last. That’s how this is happening, tonight.

Blue is not really in the cabin, like he wasn’t in the jobs,
the conversations, ever still enough to stay in love, although
he loved to fall, always hoping love would bring him to rest.
Once a great woman affectionately (quite understandably)
commanded him to heel! but he kept chasing his tail so
here he is, having miraculously gotten himself so far north,
so deep in the woods, in the cabin with all the wisemen
from his bedtime tapes
come to life waking up, and walking up
onto the stage, inside the big wooden cabin.

But he still wants the beer.

The wisemen all sit down and begin to make announcements.

Outside, his nose in the air, deciphering that Joseph Campbell
will not be one of the announcement makers,
the bear gets up and lumbers deeper into the trees.

Welcome, guys!” growls Robert Bly, warmly, like a
Shakespearian bear. “Welcome to the first of seven days and
nights all us mythopoetic warriors in the woods! You guys ready?

“Ready!” Everyone eagerly answers, everyone but Blue,
checking his watch, calculating the time (he saw the open until 
closed sign) to the closing of the tavern he saw coming down
the country road to the cabin about an hour ago.

“Now listen,” Bly continues, “you may have noticed that
tavern up the country road. We’ve all agreed to no alcohol
during the conference,” Bly pauses and scans the hundred or
so men and sees one down front not looking in agreement,
checking his watch, “but good hamburgers if anybody needs a
break from all this. Anyway, though they’re open until I think
midnight, it is no go walking through these woods after dark.
Bears! Woods full of them.”

Blue is moved that Robert Bly is right in front of him, ten feet
away, he knows what this should mean to him tonight; the
voice he heard in bed, all the books all the poems all that Iron
John that filled him up and kept him up all night way back
then, on the Country Club Plaza; a brand new life with a
clear and ferocious direction—maybe his seventh second chance.

He doesn’t hear a thing, though all the men around him are
laughing and hugging. The cabin windows, though reflecting
back the communal fun inside, are black. His watch says ten.
He sees an exit, past the bathroom doors down a dark hall.

During a standing ovation for something, Blue goes away.
He is so sure, like always, that no one will notice him go away.

Outside in the dark—pine scent in his nose, fireplace smoke
in his eyes, cold night air up his blue jeans, and maybe bears
in the woods—Blue walks into the trees.

Hearing footsteps and horror movie cliches in the woods, he
pops back out onto the gravel driveway the airport van drove
him in on a couple of hours ago, follows it a couple of hundred
yards to the country road, and looks right then left. There. 

Way up that road he sees lights, red and blue neon cursive
and the glow of the coach house lamp, swinging in the wind.

Maybe a mile away, and a long one in the dark, but Blue
walks briskly, thinking of beers not bears.
Tries not to think of what he may be missing right now of Bly.

Through the door of the tavern called Dave’s Stagecoach Inn 
Blue’s glasses fog up, turn everything blurry orange, and
it’s the usual sour beer smell and self-pitying country music,
but he’s glad to be in here and orders three Budweisers.

“ ‘Spectin’ two others?” asks the bartender, bloodshot eyes
magnified behind thick, greasy eyeglasses in the dark. No face,
Blue can’t see a smile, doesn’t hear one. But he smiles.

“Nope! All three for me, short of time. I’m at the Men’s
Conference down the road, and I’m not even supposed to be in
here drinking, so I’m on a tight drinking schedule!”

When he says Men’s Conference, low snide laughs burr
somewhere in the bar, somewhere in the dark orange blur.

Blue pays, drinks the three beers quickly, his body grateful,
but his soul and spirit need more satisfaction. So, he walks
slowly down the bar toward the light of the jukebox.
He hears breathing along the way, but no one says hi.

At the jukebox, the bright song menu on top lights Blue up,
exposes his face to the room, and he begins to scans the songs;
the usual again—all the tough and tortured misunderstood
men singers who of course just have to get back on the road
or down to the tavern since nobody especially women 
don’t understand them—those songs.

But then, up on top of the juke menu, C7. “I Can’t Breathe.”
Somehow, someway, C7.
That song, by Pussy Riot.

Blue smiles again, walks back to the bar, hands the bartender a
five dollar bill, asks for quarters, the bloodshot eyes stare, blink,
Blue says ok, and another beer, gets the change, feeds all of it
into the jukebox, punches in C7, a lot, probably too many times,
slides the Budweiser into his jacket pocket, turns and starts slowly
walking—moseying, as they might say in Dave’s Stagecoach Inn
down the bar, nods goodnight to the dark, whoever’s there, out the
tavern door, and Blue runs, fast, straight across the road, almost gone,
but stops beneath a streetlight and pulls out his beer (priorities)
and drinks it all down, foam and all, nonchalantly walks back
across the road and drops the empty bottle into a green recycling
bin by the side of the tavern, then Blue runs. Into the woods.

But he’s not too deep in the trees before he hears the glorious
unstoppable voice of Nadya Tolokonnikova
shearing the needles off the pine trees all around him, also
a rumbling inside the tavern, headed toward the front door.

Blue keeps running, like a fullback, weaving in and out of
the pine trees like they’re tacklers, except the trees’ last thought
would be to tackle him, rather, they are welcoming him,
embracing him, sheltering and perfuming him as he flies
through their low lush branches
brushing his face and shoulders with sticky, friendly resin.

Ahead, he sees something breathing.
Vaporous puffs of breath, like the ones coming out of him.
Only much larger puffs, puffing out of something leaning on
a tree. Something much larger than Blue.

He stops running, out of breath,
bent over, hands on knees, puffing up
a wall of vapor between him and
whatever’s breathing by the tree.

Now walking towards him calmly
on two legs, coming out of the darkness
making profound eye contact; brown eyes,
big, round and square into Blue’s blue eyes.

“Robert Bly is looking for you.”
The calm, resonant voice of the forest,
all atavistic.

“You’re a talking bear?”
The jittery, anemic voice of the airport,
a couple of hours ago.

“... I mean, I’m down with Myth,
the Mythopoetic, and I’ve never metaphor
I didn’t like—get it? never mind—but
a talking bear in the forest is pushing it.”

“Do you want to follow your bliss or not?”

It’s late, it’s dark, but whatever color comes out of the intense
blending of brown and blue, out of the intensity of Blue and
the Bear staring at each other, whatever that color is, it’s bleeding
together, pooling and lighting up this whole section of the forest.
And now, as if someone clapped their hands, it’s dark again.

“Wow. What was that? I’m Christopher Blue, by the way.”

“I know. Hello. I’m the Bear.”

“Yes. Well. So you know about Joseph Campbell?”

“Uh huh. I was hoping he’d be here, but I think maybe he
died. Still, I need to get close to this, close to whatever’s
happening with those guys at the cabin. I’m alone
out here a lot of the time, Blue. Walking around.”

“I was in an airport bar before I got here, full of people and
three football games on, but I was alone there, too. I need to
get close to this, too.”

“Why aren’t you in there? I’d go, but I don’t think it would
work out. You went to the tavern?”

“Yes, Bear. I drink thinking I’m gonna get close to something
but I get farther and farther away every time. It doesn’t really
work out.”

A cold wind rivers through the trees overhead and when
Blue and the Bear look up, they see a powdery blue and bright
white brocade of sky and stars.

“They were looking for you, some of them. Bly, too. They saw
you leave before, out of that side door. I saw you. There’s some
kind of African water ritual happening tonight and everyone’s
supposed to be there. Led by the great Malidoma Somé.”

“Yeah, I know. I love that guy. In the ritual, we all get naked.
Naked, light a bonfire, and walk out into the lake in pairs.”

“I wish I could go. I’m already naked. But I’ll watch from the
trees and cheer you on. You’d better get down to the cabin, Blue.”

“Yeah, I’d better, Bear. Better get ready to strip. I can hear them
beginning to sing. You going to be around later?”

“You know where to find me.”

Blue winks at the Bear and walks ahead on the path, his nose
picking up on the bonfire smoke ahead, towards some kind of
singing in the trees ahead, but he hears the Bear rhetorically
clear his throat, so he turns a head back to him.

“Uh, Blue? You do understand the significance of this ritual,
don’t you? What it’s all about?”

“Loosely.”

“I understand it deeply, in my fur, though I can’t be there.
All you guys get naked, exposed, together, all in a bunch—
no hiding, no shame, everyone open and witnessing each other
in a circle around the fire, with dignity, complete acceptance—
and you each privately bring the thing or things, plural if you
want, your biggest wound, and throw it in the fire. It’s your
secret shame, you keep it to yourself, don’t gotta tell anyone
else, but once it’s in the fire, everyone curses it, yells at it as it
burns in the fire. Then, you guys all chant, cry, dance
and sing the smoke of it into the sky, all goddamn GONE!”

“No shit?”

“You’re all naked and singing and dancing in a big circle
around the fire, going out of your fucking minds with joy and
freedom from your shame, then—at some intuitive moment—
Somé and Bly will start walking toward the lake, pulling the
circle into a line which will bisect at a tree where Somé stands,
probably in a really charismatic, shamanistic way, just a bit
before the shoreline, paring you guys off into pairs, and then
you walk into the water to ask the Great Spirit—I forget the
rest of his or her mythological name—for your own big strong
personal blessing, to replace the shame you just burned up.”

“Fuckin’ hell, Bear. So that’s what’s about to happen to me?”

The Bear puts his big comforting paw on Blue’s shoulder,
drawing blood.

“That’s what’s about to happen to all of you, Blue. I envy you.”

“Oh no. Oh damn. I’m sorry. You should be there too. But let’s
you and me do it together, later on, just us chickens!”

“Yeah?” asks the Bear, squeezing Blue’s shoulder.

Oh yeah.” says Blue.



Walking away from the bonfire with his back, his butt cheeks
and his soul as red-hot and bubbling as Christmas morning
sausages, Blue sees Malidoma Somé ahead at his Shaman tree
looking like big trouble and bigger love.

“Your eyes!” Somé puts it all in a nutshell, to Blue.

Tell me about it!” commands Blue, but not really.

“I don’t think I can!” laughs Somé, holding Blue’s face softly
in his hands. “Or should.” Blue is on the move forward
toward the lake, but Somé sees something and says something.

“Your shoulder. Claws? Something get ahold of you tonight?”

“Yes. And the night is young.”

Blue is at the end of the line, he’d had a hard time walking away
from the bonfire, but now he’s on his way to the water,
the line of men pairing off, and waiting up ahead,
looking like his partner to walk into the lake with, is Robert Bly.

Naked. Grinning at Blue. Like more trouble.

Blue can’t believe it. He stops in his naked tracks and can
almost hear his tapes of this man ten years ago
back in bed in Kansas City on the Country Club Plaza.

Blue turns around and Malidoma Somé is still back there,
looking at him like—oh yeah man, this is happening!



Bly and Blue wade into the water hand in hand, wavelets
lapping up on Bly’s furry white old body, and on Blue’s strong,
sure-footed legs, walking over sharp underwater rocks
and it hurts and it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t really matter.

Robert Bly starts laughing.
“Want to go get a beer later?” he asks.

“Maybe,” says Blue. “My treat. But it’s not really on my mind
at the moment, you know?”

Now they’re both laughing. They keep on laughing.
It stirs up the water. The bear, up in the pine trees,
out of sight, but not too far away, predicts tidal waves.




Friday, May 22, 2020

Women on the 40 West

I drove out on the 40 West at midnight
a year ago
toward some city looking for something.

Midnight made it more romantic, the city
being far off
gave me time to figure out what I was after
and far enough from my city
to have lots of time between the two.

Maybe I’d never get there or get back.

I did not stop playing music in the car loud,
shooting my headlights at and past the billboards
with the long, gassed-up, drugged-up trucks
rolling right along anonymously with me.

After a couple of tranquilizing hours we all drove into
the surprise of a fog bank in the hills and lost each other
swimming in the mist for miles, I came out alone,
crossed the line into Tennessee
and then the women began.

I didn’t see this coming. 

The shoulders of the road were flesh-colored and glowing.

Swiss chocolate brown, red honey creamy, warm olive soft,
grey lemony poupon; the shoulders of women from all over.

I drove up the highway curve around Nashville to the north
the sun nowhere near ready to come up
all the lights of gas stations and Nashville turned off.

Only the foggy dream glow of these shoulders along both sides
of the highway, both ways. All the women I’d ever wanted,
my hands on the wheel, wide awake, no other cars around.

All asleep, these women, but I felt them feeling me
driving through, and the air got brighter and warmer.
The eyes, shoulders, breast and hips of these women
down to their peaceful toes, all at rest, rosy all the way up
the highway, maybe forever.

A rosy glow over the hills up ahead, then a vast valley of it
down the other side, when I got there.
Did I need all of these women?
Did I have the right? Who did I think I was?

I began to hydroplane, with or without the car.
I was still rolling on the highway, so maybe it was just me.
I began hearing things.
The answer was yes. I needed all of them.

I began hearing the voices of the women talking; calm, wild,
funny, open, quick, pondering, curious, loving, pissed-off,
imperfect, wrong, right, vulnerable, crying, philosophizing,
brave, unpredictable and full of possibilities. Voices purring,
shouting, whispering, laughing, comforting, singing, asking
about me, teaching me, pushing me, being daring, and daring
me. 

I began to drive faster.

Over the crest of the next hill I began seeing eyes everywhere.
Women’s eyes; incorrigible, crinkly, curious and comical,
diamond incisive, swirling and sensual, still and sensitive, full
of love and information and looking straight into my eyes.
I needed all of these eyes, too.

I rolled down the window, air coming in warm, I suppose,
as a bedtime story blanket and the breath of a goodnight kiss.

The eyes blinked, faded; the shades of skin, shoulders, breast
and legs dissolved back into the swirling rosy light, lighting up
the countryside everywhere, and these women didn’t need
to wake up to tell me that they knew I was driving through, or
that they knew I needed all of them.

After all my highway, I wanted all their love.

I checked the gas ( F ) and wondered one last time
if I needed all of these women along the highway to love me,
if I wasn’t being overly needy, a bit desperate, selfish,
if this was normal
and anyway, was it alright with them?

The rosy glow along the 40 West filled up as bright and pink
as millions of dozens of roses
and I knew that these women were saying yes.

And the second I took that in—that I wanted them
to love me, it was alright, and now I was alright—
the glow softened, glimmered one last time like
an incorrigible wink, and disappeared.

Billboards turned back on, gas stations and McDonald’s
lit up again.

I let off the gas, began finally, to slow down.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Gift Shop in the Dada Art Museum (2 a.m.)

Snowing outside, the night coming in 
blue and white 
through the gallery windows. 

Heavy snow, but dry inside in the dark 
all the paintings asleep
the night guard walking around on his usual path. 

But something new tonight. A light, a flash!
like a signal, unusual after midnight in here tonight
inside the museum.

The guard, in the middle of a yawn, freezes 
like that, moves toward the flash, mouth wide open. 

The halls zig zag like modern architecture,
white walls (even in the dark) go right then left, 
and the flash is now a smoldering yellow glow on the walls 
getting brighter as he tip-toes through the halls, gets closer.

The guard goes on and completes his yawn, 
comes out of the halls to the shiny glass windows of the gift shop
where the glow flickers like a campfire in the woods.
Or an upstairs window
on a snowy homecoming night. 

It’s a nightlight for sale. 
A Van Gogh (self portrait) nightlight. 

“Hi,” says the nightlight, 
as the guard enters the gift shop and goes into another yawn, 
a nervous yawn, 
the nervous yawn 
of a first date, or the first time 
he talks to a nightlight. 

But he recovers, and “Hi,” he says. 

“You're the guard, aren't you? It's good to meet you,” 
says Vincent. “I have a show coming here soon, it's very good
to know that you’ll be here.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Van Gogh. But you know, well— 
it could be anybody doing what I do.”

“That’s untrue. Do you like it in here?”

“I do, a lot. It’s peaceful and safe. Especially on a snowy night.” 

“Oh, it’s snowing out there?” 

“Yes. And when I walk around in here, I want to do it too, 
I want to make a painting.” 

Van Gogh’s straw hat flashes even brighter yellow 
and he says, “Why don’t you?” 

“I think it’s too late for me to do that in life.” 

“And that is always untrue. I didn’t know that I 
was going to be in art galleries all over the world, let alone
become a nightlight,” says Vincent, looking the night guard 
right in the eye. “Go on—when you walk around in here, live
in here, dream in here, stay in here, even when you go home.
But I think that you're already doing that, aren't you?”

The guard lives on the top floor of a carriage house down the street 
around the corner from the museum, and as he listens to Van Gogh, 
he can see his new brushes, clean white canvases and his paint box
waiting for him, back there in the dark.

He can also see that he's left a window open by the bed, snow is getting in,
and that his just-off-work waitress-artist girlfriend's paint-splattered foot
sticking out of the covers
is getting snowed on
but he feels that everything's going to be alright, after tonight. 

“I only sold one, you know,” enlightens the nightlight. 



Friday, February 28, 2020

Babies without borders

My own cold mother tried to deport me 
ten minutes after I came out of her. 
There I was, a puckish little preemie, 
and she just wanted to see my papers. 

(It takes a baby, a refugee right off the bat, 
to feel the crock of shit meanness of borders 
and border rules. Not that as a baby I was 
already cursing like a little sailor, or really 
knew the phrase crock of shit. Still ... ) 

Still ... now, as then—I'm proud of what even 
my best friends might call an “illegal” quality.

Ice melts, too, you know. You bet your preemie ass. 


Thursday, January 16, 2020

In jail with Grandma

All hungover and woozy, I drove dizzy
through the woods
to Grandmother’s house.

After hugging and kissing her at the door,
getting down some of what she called her
“chipped-chocolate cookies,” a snootful of
her full-body perfume (Evening in Paris, via Kmart) treatment,
I ran for her bathroom, the walls in there

all jagged fragments of bargain table wallpaper
a weird combination of palm trees and stagecoaches
and Jesus in a frame over the toilet tank, and I threw it all up

half a case of Schlitz and homemade Betty Crocker cookies,
creating a sort of Cirque de Soleil effect on the bowl, wall,
and all over the floor.

I could hear Grandma Mabel’s jewelry clinking, she was
sneakily, discretely hovering outside the bathroom door.
“You ok in there, honey? You been honky-tonkin’ again?”

I wiped up my mess with a wet, pink washcloth and flung it
out the bathroom window to wash later, somewhere else,
if I remembered, and came out through the bathroom door.

“I’m a little drunk,” I said.
“Oh honey love, not again. Why?” she asked, pushing more cookies at me.

I told her why.

“I had a hot date with the head cheerleader two Friday nights ago but I didn’t
kiss her because I was too shy and awkward so she spread it all over school
that I'm gay, which is ok because some of my best friends are gay but not really true
because I wanted so much to kiss her, had been dreaming of it, even practicing, but I didn’t,
and she called off our date for Homecoming to go with the quarterback instead
(bigger muscles, better car, less alcoholic—the cheerleader had a point*), so
the night of the dance I drove to the 7-11 to buy a whole lot of beer and Annie Green Springs
and when the clerk asked for ID, I told him to fuck off, then the policeman behind me
kindly tapped my shoulder to calm down and I flipped him off, so I went to the
Prairie Village jail all night and the morning after Homecoming.”

Then I sat down in Grandma’s dining room and exhaled.

“Bless your heart,” Grandma Mabel said from the kitchen,
making me some Folgers coffee. She brought out the cups, sat down
and went into prayer posture. I went along with it. Why not?
First jail, now throwing up and praying.

But I felt hopeless, praying like that, and dull, drunk like that.
Nothing and no one on the Kansas horizon.
I saw my reflection in a glass cabinet full of Kennedy commemorative plates,
I saw myself looking as old as Mabel.

Or so I thought.

Because, the praying over, Grandma said something else, something very
non-scriptural. 

“I see you looking at yourself,” she said, her full-to-the-brim
cup of coffee, on her finger
dangerously dangling
delinquently dripping
on her lap.

“What do you see, honey? A handsome young man, maybe?”

I looked back into the reflection of the Kennedy cabinet.
I was expecting to see a guy all messed up, lost, confused, wrong,
even bad. But I saw somebody else. So did Grandma.
Who didn't look old anymore. Whatever old is supposed to look like.

“Honey,” she said, “you’d look good in jail!

That was the beginning of Act 2, for me.

Grandma went back into the kitchen. She started laughing, laughter
a little bit raunchy for a grandmother, but she never was a woman into
labels or limitations. She said, from in there, sort of off stage—

“And you can bring that washcloth back in here, honey. We may be in the midwest,
but you don’t have to hide those kind of things from me.”



* This poem, written 45 years later, has a note to bring it up to date,
maybe irrelevant to the poetry, but here it is. The quarterback
is now a rich, pudgy Republican, in jail for sexual abuse and rape.
I'm not in jail, but Grandma was right. I looked good when I was.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Not gonna get held down

My meloncholy is all pink
but I spit out the seeds,
let the juice dribble down
on my shirt, and I’m not washing the shirt.

Come as you are
said the wise-ass but wise nurse
ten seconds after I was born.

I am going to take my tears
and wipe squeaky all my windows.

Nothing and no one is going to hold me down
this year, especially not me.

I’m not gonna get fucking held down
this year
or any other year
they throw at me.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Women charge in

Cast into the forest far above and beyond the castle walls

the expatriate from the patriarchy

rowdy, raunchy, relieved to be free
roughly swaddled in corduroy,
full of garlic and Perrier

laughs his ass off
up high in the fresh blue air, dripping green leaves,
and moist brown bark

as he watches the puny pipsqueak
(mental case, lower case) king
get dethroned
below.

And though the forest has been a little DISenchanted
lately

in the distance                                 he hears

the ringing of caravan bells,
the jingling of bridles,
and the pounding of horses
hooves through the trees

as women ride in
to take charge!