H e a r t S o n s & H e a r t D a u g h t e r s of A l l e n G i n s b e r g
N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 4 : A r c h i v e s E d i t i o n
first night out:
outside my window, a truck roars into the lot,
driver leaping into the street,
a real “king of the road,”
four day beard—
thick fingers caress wrinkled brow.
he looks up into the dark sky & breathes
I close the drape—
too much sorrow to bear tonight. it is good
to be alone,
I have no way, numb even to sorrow.
$39.99 a night
draped across the outer wall—
mad traffic hurtles past, endless lights, even at 3 a.m.
I have a corner room,
far from the truckers
partying down the hall, away
from the hollow-eyed woman
who posed near the ice machine,
looking long as I passed,
her hand at her hip, a cowgirl indeed.
a shower is good,
standing naked before the mirror:
sagging breasts & belly, phallus curving to life at a touch—
torso flesh once tight, turning a young girl’s eye.
a grey-haired elder,
distended phallus now aching for a plunging distant memory,
moonlight sighs echoed back from the inner ear.
looking out my window in deep night,
snow now howls across the sky, through the parking lot’s lights—
lines of taillights, brakelights all flash red at once.
I will not speak of her now,
nor of what led to this impasse.
I am become the beast wandering at the edge.
tonight, out my snowy window
electric grid of the city, boxlike transformers hum
endlessly, the roar of six-laned downtown expressway
muffled in the wind.
in this flophouse, I’ve found a quiet home for a time:
bed, light, TV, dead phone, yet also a moment
staring out into the storm,
flashing waves of snow blasting thru
crowns of Austrian pines lining the lot,
my car outlined beneath.
soup and salad at the mall, dinner with Anne:
a scrawny black man limps thru the dining suburbanites,
eyes bulging, saliva drooling from rotted teeth, arm twisted—
I recognize Billy, ghost now of a friend once ripped from
his own life by his wife’s crack habit.
now he is closer to the end, incoherent,
shunned by the smug diners.
I offer him my change
& ask of his life, yet he mumbles, “thenk-yuh, thenk-yuh,”
not recognizing me. Anne asks for his story.
it is a good sign.
the white p.m. sky is lined with steel-grey near the horizon,
spreading upward. wires hum outside my window:
by day there is a small field here, remnants of meadows & woods,
a few crooked crab apple trees, an oak, brush that could be
honeysuckle, stands of sumac—
the picture would be complete with a doe delicately placing its feet,
working its way to the horizon, stepping deliberately—
this fantasy a history, a rock glyph in stone, a memory.
I lie abed, my dream wandering to Sue, her silent movement
thru the empty rooms of the house, sitting, reading on the couch,
she too looking up into this strange sky, lost in sorrow,
perhaps moved by naked stems trembling beyond her grasp.
her solitude, like mine, must be complete.
the father, scarecrow in a Marlboro Man black stetson,
dumps suitcases into the back of the rusted Chevy wagon,
one taillight covered with red tape.
round as a turnip, the wife stows gear, herds the children
into the seats.
they have been here two days, yelling thru the walls,
children crying softly, moans of terror in the background.
I’ve heard bathwater running at midnight, Spanish lullabies.
I’ve seen the boy and girl wandering into the brush,
shouted back by the wife’s shrill voice rising
like steam in a shrieking kettle.
their car rattles to life, mufflerless,
its battered Texas plate crooked as they turn the corner,
the night coming, on the road at last.
near miss turnoff from freeway, sleet in heavy traffic,
horns screaming around us all: shaken,
I head for my room thru the warren of the flophouse:
my neighbor, a black man with salt & pepper beard,
sits in underpants, door wide open, his bum leg
wrapped in knee brace,
workboots & soiled pants scattered across the room,
TV blaring. seeing me pass, “hey brother!” he shouts,
“brother! welcome home!”
after workout: his face is unremarkable, his voice
a chatter of platitudes & biblical quotes, yet
his penis hangs achingly low, its huge barrel
a lovely pink, swollen even limp, its head curving
thru its ellipse to the cupid’s bow where the lines,
lovely & delicate as the curves in a lily’s flower,
join. others come & go, yet this his flower
is a work of art, worthy of lips & tongue, an icon
of tenderness for a heart aching & charged.
my therapist, a stately woman, observant eyes,
apologizes for jumping from question to question,
asks me to be patient as we dive into the pool
of my life. her office is a quiet glen.
suddenly, I am a child, wandering naked
in the woods of my childhood: Indian pipes,
mayflowers, the dark earth under leaf litter,
the shimmer of the canopy, hint of blue
beyond, my canoe awaits, & there
is the voyageur & Anishnabe of my dream,
the mirror where that child face looks back
without pain, without a thought, mad to go.
as I turned into the rush-hour traffic,
the lost mother came to me in memory:
when she thought
the children were finally asleep,
she wept softly into her pillow
in the late-night silence.
the eldest boy lay
still in his bunk & listened,
her tears punctuating the soft
splashing along the riverbank,
the far off scream
of a rabbit dying, the screech owl’s cry.
above, the stars shone, a net
winking out over the long valley.
59th birthday: tonight
I must face the woman I love
& have loved, the woman
I have hurt.
I must look into my son’s eyes
& pray they haven’t gone stone hard
in this long night,
as mine once did. how
long a journey one must make
to come at last
to oneself, & see the patches
one makes of his life, those
he would never harm
crushed & in agony. then,
too, my mother lies dying
& I have not seen her,
nor visited. she must lie abed
& now may not even recall the day.
what is this cool
water, running over my ankles,
my toes sinking in sand?
I awake as from a dream.
it’s raining softly & rush hour has begun.
the drops hang, diamonds
beneath transformers, wires, along chainlink
topped with barbed wire,
& in apple branches which no longer bear fruit.
I am lonely, yet this is home.
what must it be to have a lover, one who
welcomes a touch,
whose skin trembles
as mine does in dreamed memory, when
skin brushes against skin, casually?
the grey evening comes on,
as deeply moving as any postcard dawn.
soon, I know, I will return home.
she & I will try again, hold hands,
& while the sighs remain, the love is true:
this will be a gateway, & I will pass thru.
[Originally published in NHS 2007, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs07/David_Cope.htm.]