Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Oregon Journal (Leavetaking)

Here's one of those free verse poems I referred to yesterday. It's probably the poem I'm proudest of (the best of a bad lot, perhaps). I wrote it many years ago when I left Portland for the first time.

Oregon Journal (Leavetaking)

The sun filtered through gray clouds
became the color of burnt orange
a rectangle of ocher on my brown tiled floor
shining slanted into the room
I went to the window to see
the imposing gray cloud
pushing back a few streaks of
brilliant pale blue
as the day ends and the sky says dusk
and dusk is the color of a bruise
slate blue, gray, smoky, burnt
But that fiery pale orange blur
and those wisps of cyan
show what the sky could be
if dusk never fell

Clear gray drops
From a pale blue gray sky
Fall to the brown gray pavement
Making little dark asterisks
And the pedestrians
Under caps, umbrellas
Work-boots plodding
Look down at the sidewalk
Always at the sidewalk
As if they were reading the sidewalk
As if the sidewalk were a text
And the answers could be found
In the footnotes from the sky

A city of books, indeed
Shelves of musty tomes
Fiction poetry cooking
Travel erotica bibles
Classics comics
Pulpy rarities with brittle pages
And scuffed leather covers
Mass market paperbacks
Shiny new crisp stiff clean
Hand me down archetypal class texts
On their seventh reincarnation
Dog-eared, scarred with wobbly underlining
Swerving inadvertently across printed lines
And tattooed with five different
Dayglo colors
Slim zines, local acid poetry
Cranked out in somebody’s basement
Stocked here as a favor to a friend
The customer scans the eight-foot shelves
And decides that sometimes
The only thing worse than no choice
Is too many choices

Quality time at Quality Pie
formica tables and bad food
and a puffy waitress
who runs a zine about her personal life
in her spare time
“Lovely Darlene” perhaps
The table of drag queens
loud and tall and glossy
and feathered like peacocks
laughing at everything and nothing
The table of students
nervous or carefree
smoking, taking it all in
trying to learn something here
or vacant and numb
The blue collars at the pinball machine
and at the counter
shaking their heads at it all
At Quality Pie, the poorer
tawdrier flashier
more adventurous younger sister
of the Hot Cake House
It vanished one day
Like an impulse to adventure
like all recalcitrant wayward girls
climbing in a stranger’s van
in the rain

“It really does smell like pine trees here,”
She observed,
Stepping out of the airport
Into the crisp wet air, and
Even standing on the pavement
Surrounded by circling cars and buses
Facing the layer cake parking lot
With the fumes and noise of jet engines
Overhead and behind us
I had to agree

Springtime at the college
The sky bluer than a picture
Clearer than any day you’ve seen before
No one can remember the rain
When they see that sky
And the emerald expanse of lawn
Between the elegant brick
Hallowed halls
Young men from another era,
Tie-dyed and long-haired and goateed
And grinning with that hippie mellow
That is so easily dispelled
And replaced with righteous ire,
Mingle with bald-headed standouts
In plaid workshirts and boots
Faces set in determination
Determined to make something
Out of something
In this place that may not be for them
And beautiful diaphanous sylphs
Long-haired brainy and nut brown
In calashes and tank tops
And thin sun dresses rippling
In the almost imperceptible
Breeze that brings this warmth
To just this side of pleasant...
For the figures in this picture
There can be no surrender
And an endless web of possibilities
Until the spring ends
And leaves turn gold, red, brown

Pioneer Square
is a city
It is a home
to the street rats
Studded, leathered, spiked
Begging smokes and change
Squatting on the bricks by the fountain
Young man, your face is
a bleak map of indifference
Masked by a forced hostility
But under that...
under that is surely fear
Fear they will take your city
Fear they will make you a new home
Fear they will make you one of them
Young man, there is no healing of your bruise
Not until you find something
The cop on his horse
who has his eye on you
(there is an eye behind that mirrored disc)
he’s found power in the law
The pinstriped suit, ramrod straight
who looks right though you
who cannot see you
who will not try
he’s found money
he’s found family
he’s found each one feeds off the other
and each one calls out for the other
and he’s trapped
but he’s striving
The filthy tottering drunk
muttering swaying muttering
till tourettic barks of insults leap out
he’s found oblivion
ahead of time
and that’s just fine with him
The bellowing fanatic with his unwieldy placard
who hands out little rectangles of salvation
twenty crudely drawn pages of warnings
a free ticket to godhead
well he’s found the supreme confidence
of being right
he’s found the arrogance of the minority
he’s found the justification
for what he’s always wanted to do
(tell people what’s wrong with them)
What will you find
in Pioneer Square
by the transit system office
by the fountains
by the cop
by the businessman
by the drunk
by the prophet
By yourself


Churlita said...

I love both poems.You should put more on your blog.

Michael5000 said...

That's my town!