Saturday, May 16, 2015

Howl. Again.

For Rusty Simpson

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, again,
         quivering faithless naked,
drugging themselves through the strep throat streets at early light
         dawn for a Muhlys peach cobbler fix,
wearing hipster doofus clown shoes burning at the sole
         for the starry Domino Sugar sign in the confection of night,
who excessive with poverty and speech sat in slavemaster chairs
         smoking second-hand shake in ghost apartments fed by
         stolen electricity contemplating bad poems until they vomited,
who fried their minds in the library and saw the look of sanity
         in the security guard angel who escorted them back to the street,
who passed by Poe's grave and the birthplace of the Babe on the way
         to law school every day with a retainer of cool and a backpack
         of rocks,
who were expelled from the academies for the sanity of shooting
         hoops with urban youth instead of calling out in class
         the professor's fouls,
who souffléd in high dives to give their sloe-eyed artist girlfriends
         reprieve from windowless dayjobs in Calvert office towers,
whose connections got busted by the sound of their inhalers
         in a farm house in Westminster holding a half a ton of weed,
who smoked formaldehyde with Hell-Beings in old skipper's quarters
         or drank the devil's holy waters in St. Casimir's Catholic Church
         where the High Polish accents were like Latin,
who looked for dreams and drugs and nightmares and fucks in every
         lamppost from Lovegrove to Howard Street,
incomparable alleys of cobblestone and wrought iron the mind leaping
         toward poles of barber and vine, the motionless world
         where time stopped like a Delta 88 in a soda jerk
         fountain with a Sarsparilla Jubilee
so the vampires could taste the lips on the straw, and the spirits
         hum in amplifiers across tarbaby roofs guitars
         of graveyard Indians unstrung through strung-out fingers
         every mad and merry melody ever not allowed to be played
         so the ears of those imprisoned could still escape,
who couldn't fantasize away the cinnamon bun epoxy haze
         of afternoon except by thinking they were mad
         as the translucent light in lun-atic Moonie eyes
         or the bum who sang like the Bee Gees going
         uh-huh-huh uh-huh-huh at an octave heard by dogs,
who watched the rise and set of neon Chinese restaurant lights
         while smoking Old Golds, Chesterfields and other defunct brands
         and spent burnt-out afternoons chewed out by Abe Sherman
         for reading literature in a newsstand reserved for war,
who talked continuously about the reality of their fantasies,
         to save the world or make the film or get the girl or find
         the job was all the same as good as done,
a lost platoon of kept and lonely men too good to bathe or change
         but not too proud to brag or beg for a nocturnal dope transmission
         or an early morning light,
coughing up demon mothers and absent fathers and all the tortures
         of growing up spoiled and rotten in a late and god-forsaken
         empire of ennui,
remembering every detail of every record, film or TV show
         of the last 100 years and what it meant not just to them
         but to the world at large that never knew its tragic beauty,
who vanished in day trips of copious Gunpowder bonghits
         only to reappear at a barn town pizzeria
         slumming like a Long Island celebrity,
who wandered downtown midnights desolate except for the mkultra
         bankers preparing the final margin call on the world
         by squeezing squeegie kids which nobody saw coming,
who swam with the tortoises in the pools of old estates
         to protect the breasts of their Elysium mermaid girlfriends
         from the moon,
who fished with the locals at the chromium stacks, and shrieked
         with glee as their guinea pigs roamed through their hair,
who walked the cocaine streets where Reagan the great black father
         dealt children china white and told us there was no pokey he was
         sorry to say only gumby,
who knew the doom would be invisible to even rastafari
         revolutionaries trying to get a fix on snowy UHF antennas
         for the white preacher special sauce that gave them hope
         they'd someday lose a chess game with the world and gain
         a quarter for a cup of joe in lieu of a soul,
who heard Baltimore breathe in all its supernatural being
         and knew that they were only bearings turning
         without a care in the swirl,
who played with nymphs and sprites in the ancient castle ruins
         along the Jones Falls Expressway: Chessie, London Fog,
         Kirk & Stieff, the Drydock Company,
who gave up promising careers to wear a monocle and cape
        and applied for a job as a chimney sweep,
who saw My Fair Lady replayed with Baldymer accents on the
        hearse trucks of Arabber horses where Negros all in black
        sold flowers,
who shot croquet in row house lawns saying "more Parks sausages
        mom" hoping some tabs of acid would make them as mad
        as the average lunchpail stiff, who was never mad at all
        only angry as hell that the Colts had left town and with them
        the jobs,
who cartwheeled the hills of Patterson Park and drank shots of scotch 
        at the Full Moon Saloon where the gloved piano player 
        accepted gratefully their half-eaten hoagie,
who found their carnival fun in the Sparrows Pointe of the Mind,
        where they first fell in love with pig-iron reality,
who knocked down fears at Butts & Bettie's with the Butcher's Hill 
        knitting widow Lumbee Indian hosts,
who eyed their girlfriends in every Fells Point bar from the Wharf Rat
        to Bertha's Mussels, praying they wouldn't be picked up again
        by the next loser to claim Jimmy Buffett stole his songs,
who shared stolen tequila in styrofoam cups with British artists
        on shore leave while the real ones said "you're so beautiful"
        to all the black girls on Light Street,
who inspired imprisoned dogs to escape by writing instructions
        in doves blood ink from Grandma's Candle Shop,
who fed the dead in the form of seagulls still like Jesus in the sky,
        wrote graffiti as purdy and purple as the sunrise,
        and hitched a ride from a trucker named Grizzly
        in the middle of the Fort McHenry tunnel,
who sent out their poems, songs, paintings, photos and prayers
        in little paper boats to light up in the toxic phosphorescent night,
who embarrassed the Communist Party by playing the blues too loud
        in their HQ on Farmer's Quilting Bee Day, 
who tried to move some of the art from the catacombs underground
        to the half-empty galleries uptown but ended up giving it away
        to homeless families they met in lieu of food,
who climbed atop the arches over the Maryland Avenue Bridge
        this actually happened and walked away still unknown
        and forgotten into the winter ghosts of Bolton Hill not even
        one night free from spanging,
who populated civilization's sunsets complete with ashen
        gargoyle pigeons, perfect London storefronts with only
        antique lead inside, byzantine fountains where they talked up
        their lust for heroin guitar and called it love,
who consumed baseball statistics in gay laundromats
        where lovers worked things out pale porcelain mornings,
who talked about the Rolling Stones in tones once used for Olympians
        while eating egg fu yung in an all-night, all-black front
        for organized crime in Pen Lucy,
who talked of Shelley to dope dealers, Blake to homeless vets,
        and Kierkegaard to crack whores one last dick away from death,
who had to twist the facts to match the truth, and punch up their
        anecdotes of shame with doom,
who knew the answer to any confusion is sharing fluids,
who cut through the niggerthick night like a knife on a ripened slab
       of cheese at a rat-trap rent party casing every form-
       stoned block of the city oblivious to the looks or bricks or shots
       or scams that bloomed past every light,
who counted the red black blue white pink orange grey row homes
       in Mondawmen, not a one of them left with windows or doors
       just tags from ancient lifetimes in a roaring sunset hearth,
who squatted in Lauraville and robbed abandoned armories and
       declared total war on all art that didn't come from the streets,
who visited the lopsided people of Druid Heights and Locust Point,
       touring from Cross Keys to Sandtown with a singular sincerity
       of purpose, to catalog the great and neglected countries of the
       globe, like Pigtown, Gay Street, Otterbein, Loch Raven, Broening
       Manor, Barre Circle, Montebello, Ridgeley's Delight,
who broke bread with the in-bred illbillies of Dickeyville and shared
       Thunderbird in the Cherry Hill projects for kicks,
who believed like Gatsby in the Domino Sugar light, the orgiastic void
       that minute by minute year by year distends and releases borne
       like a skipjack ceaselessly back to the red, red clay,
who said "tomorrow we will wear new disguises, chase new skirted
       chimeras from West Virginia down the bad wolf streets
       of Highlandtown, dream of being still, in hell, on a white-
       washed stoop before a screen of the most primitive America
       imaginable, something commensurate with our desire to
       escape the impossible, the impregnable holder of our seed,"
who knew every sailor who ever breezed through the rotting
       Ferry Bar ports, from the mermaid-striken, siren-deafened
       slave merchant to the boilerman ink-scarred with celluloid
       ghosts on tankers dealing in death by chemicals,
       pharmaceuticals and chrome,
who worked at a factory that made white,
who kept frogs legs as the only thing in their refrigerators for
       months at a time,
who wove baskets at Sheppard Pratt, where the hushing of their
       voices made them insane, where the mad diagnosed the mad
       while the real mad ran always free, where the lithium dispensed
       wouldn't turn her into a man or make his father come back home,
       where they escaped from after finally learning that life itself
       was a dream but they couldn't wake up anyway,
who were lobotomized by cocktail talk, electroshocked by party
       girls, made comatose waiting for a bus on Greenmount Avenue,
       concussed by relentless Baltimore logic from Mosher to
       Overlea, and it was all a small price to pay to not have to see
       newspapers, magazines, movies or TV,
who despite that wrote unpublishable 200-page letters to the editor
       that were more real than a decade's worth of investigative
       thought piece editorials in the New York Times,
who gave thanks as they were handed keys to executive rubber
       rooms by fairies and told the secrets of post-Einsteinian
       physics by trolls,
who lived in an alternative reality where they jammed at CBGBs,
       The Blue Note, Leeds, all the finest Vicksburg chicken shacks,
       Vienna parlors (on the weekends), only to face the horrors
       of having to leave the apartment and go to 7-11
       for cigarettes and be exposed to Kenny G,
who drove until the tires blew in El Diablo Texas
       when a lonely waif and her siren call beckoned the exiles
       of the artificial soul to soap operas on other shores,
who, in pursuit of that girl, moved to Bejing to sell pharmaceuticals,
       Venice to learn how a gentleman panhandles, the Deep South
       to find a guru, Colorado to get some sunshine honestly,
only to return to the weirdness like a prodigal son, as earlier they'd
       come from Boston or Buffalo, DC or the Eastern Shore,
       for the peace made here with hopelessness, for the purity
       of the squalor, for how divinely indifferent a city of victims
       could be, and how comforting it was to embrace the void
       with spirits who kept the lights on in what would have
       otherwise been cold and unfurnished rooms,
and, now, Rusty, with the last girl escaped from her cage, the last dime
       bag handed to the wind in exchange for a glitter-tailed ball,
       the last three-days-to-quit notice nailed like all your theses
       on your brownstone door, the last makeshift attempt to keep
       some old machine in your apartment running like another
       coat-hanger dropped to the floor, the last faked painting finally
       turned to the wall, and even Bob Marley says he's too old
       to play golf witch you no more —
ah, Rusty, as long as you were real, I could believe the ghosts were
       angels, munificent with you as their pimp, and the past as our
       hope, but the dirt turns to crime as night burns off to grey, and
       the real spits you out when you no more believe in it, when
       unworthiness stops your dream dead in mid-gleam,
but that's just the cold fusion of life formed in reaction, with the
       black seed of not-me worn like a diamond to be adored,
and eventually every two-bit Whitman thinks his sampler is immortal,
       that the future always knows just how the dissonance will
       resolve, but kind hindsight wonders instead why so much energy
       was expended, why such need for learning, why could an entire
       generation not be children, just now taught how to plant a fig tree
       or play an accordion.

2 comments:

WAS said...

This is in honor of the 60th anniversary of Howl (the first part at least) being unleashed on the world. Peace.

the walking man said...

It is a fucking outstanding statement! Not just on Baltimore but every American city that believes it is owed a rebirth from the generation running the streets looking to sell a bag or buy a bag or just fuck their way to prosperity. Yeah man, it's people, and people haven't changed since Ginsburg defined his rat hole in The City.

To be honest I hated Howl except for it's court case, but this I like- a lot Bill.