Poetry

Tim Hunt

 

On First Hearing Fred Neil, KMPX (Spring 1967)

The voice, a weary drag stretching toward the next
fix, taps your shoulder as if asking for a dime, a quarter,
all your spare change and your silly hopes that soon
you will get laid and live happily ever after
and that the kids in college will let you be smart and maybe
even like you and that the draft isn’t real because you are
to be blessed and your life is to be something other than real,
and the voice on the FM station that will play anything
(and does) is gray NY drizzle in November huddled in a thin coat
walking a street in the Village, Bleecker, though you haven’t
been there yet and where you are it’s plate glass, California
spring, redwood trees beyond the redwood deck and the voice
tells you “There’s a Jim Crow section to this merry-go-round”
it “just can’t find the back” and you do not understand
this, but you understand the voice—the painted horses easing
up down to some silent calliope, the riding children round
and around gripping the poles as if their lives will be something
other than real as you wonder what it would mean
to find the back.


 


After the Boy Entertains the Old Soldiers,
He Is Taken to the Kitchen for Ice Cream
(VA Hospital, Yountville, CA, 1958)

The man played as if there was something
to find.  His white hair tight-curled, the face
seamed mahogany, and fingers so long
the piano seemed a toy as they walked the bass
and he rocked slowly against the strap holding
him to the wheelchair, gaunt head nodding slightly.
The boy had never heard the blues lines the man
kept turning side to side as if jagged stones,
partly smoothed and tonight he might find
another crevice, a mica’d fleck.  This was not
The Weekly Hit Parade, not “How Much Is
That Doggy in the Window.”  But what caught him
as they led him through the basement were the fingers,
reaching notes he’d never heard and how
there was no song.  Later, the boy might think
there was something called truth in the gapped notes,
the implied chords, or perhaps it was history
or wisdom or heart that he heard in the jabs
of the right hand playing off the left
as if the music were the dance of shadow boxing
and the man, in that laggy time of memory, feeling
his way again through the final round of his last bout
and the crowd no longer existed and even the fists
and the brown torso and satin trunks of the other
no longer mattered and his own pain no longer
mattered as his fingers jabbed and jabbed again
and the one thing he couldn’t remember was whether
he had won or lost and it didn’t matter how the crowd
had sounded as he came back into space and time,
the doubled vision in his left eye, the trickle
of blood in his mouth, the ache of his ribs.  Later
the boy might think this was corny and choose to forget,
as if he might still be allowed to see only
the men playing checkers or the one slumped
in the padded chair reading Zane Gray or the man
spooning canned peaches to his mouth, the syrup
slicking his chin.  But even in that space there was still
the way the sleeves were rolled up and pinned,
a precise fold below the rounded stumps
where the skin stretched over the bone
as if an ironed on patch, and how the eyes
were not vacant, and the way the man
with the white hair walked the cracked keys
as if slowly down a street, hands
deep in his pockets, and the room with the torn shade
would be empty when he climbed the stairs, or filled
in that way the boy didn’t know, and the man
would come through the door and together
they would kill the glare of the dangling bulb,
then bask in the window’s dark light, listening
to the waves of traffic running up a beach
then out again.  Over and over, the man fingered
the keys—to remember, to forget,
to imagine the stairs and the hallway, his hand
moving toward the door as his eye caught
whatever number marked the room.  The boy
couldn’t help but watch the gaunt head
nodding slightly to the things he couldn’t see
as he listened, listened harder than he’d ever
listened before, as if the sound were a jagged stone,
worn partly smooth and somewhere a crevice,
a gleam, a mica’d fleck.

 

 


Snapshot (Sebastopol, 1964)

Perhaps it was celebration, perhaps
Only a tease, but that night the moon
Rose on Main Street, as she crouched
On the back seat—the rolled down
Window and flipped up skirt
Framing her perfection as the car
Made its slow procession, and we
Her accidental subjects worshipped
In our simple ignorance as the moon
Shone down upon us.

 

 


Janis Plays the Brothers,
The Armory (Cornell, 1968)

The fraternity boy chosen as envoy already
seems to know his brass buttoned blazer
(regulation cut and tailored just for him) is
not impressing the girl who is not
a girl but a hot mama who is a girl
who is not.  But he has been chosen
and squares his shoulders before her silk
bell bottoms and silk colors of the blouse
that jiggle as she sings and the hat with feathers,
offering the small box with its bow, reciting
his memorized lines: “Miss Joplin, the Brothers
of Cornell present you with this small token
of our esteem.”  And Janis opens the gift, then
dangles the mink bra for us to admire—
a little girl on Christmas morning posing
for daddy.  And because it is her mission
to be the girl who is a broad, she broadens
the drawl, smiling like a needy prom date,
“But honey the fur’s on the wrong side.”

 

 


“It’s No Secret”
aka First Night at the Fillmore (March 1967)

We have heard “It’s No Secret” on the car
Radio and seen the pictures of people in costumes
Who seem very grown up, even free, as if
The war has gone away and this might be
A never land of lost boys with beards, a Wendy
For each and Daddy Hook off sipping cocktails
As if he and that smirking crocodile are
Hugh Hefner and the ticking of the Atomic
Clock not even a memory.  And so we
Have come unto the Fillmore wearing
Funny hats as if they made our hair actually
Long and climbed the stairs to where
Jack Cassady’s electric bass circles
The folk chords into only now
And the music is as loud as we’ve always
Dreamed without knowing it and Marty’s
Voice and Grace’s too—darting kites
Freed of their strings and it is
As if there is only this music.

 

 

 


Charm Bracelet

Memories do not exist.  What exists
Is the desire to remember—as if
The past were wafers of tin or silver,

Even steel, each a story and crimped
To a chain so that we might read
The links of then into now, the chain,

As they say, unbroken.

But memory is, more, a dance.
Turning across the floor,
Partners tap in and out as we listen

For the shadings within the music
Until we imagine, for a
Moment, we are wearing a chain

That is our past, and we
Move into the shadows
Along the wall to wait

For the music to start again.

 

 

 


The Sunroom
For Elmae Passineau

There, on the east wall, between the windows
is a photograph of my father
holding a guitar, standing with three
friends.  I do not know what they called themselves
when they played the Elks Club, Grange
Hall, the shucking bee.  I do not know
what songs they played.

Mornings, as I drink my coffee, the light
is bright around the photograph.  In the evening
I can see their faces more clearly as they watch
the sun pause a moment on its way
home to night, chatting with the hills
in orange and grays.  Do you hear
the music?  I do not know what
it is, but it takes many forms.

 

 

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