Jul 1, 2008
If it was good enough for Eliot to write about,
I guess it’s good enough for me, although I only
Lived there for a year, on Dudley Street
At first, across from the trackless trolley yard.
It didn’t suit my fantasies at all—the drab apartment
And my two unlikely roommates: Dan,
A counter-counter-culture lawyer
Sprung from Harvard and South Boston,
Whom I’d meet most Fridays for a pub crawl
Culminating in dinner, when he’d rise to the occasion
To celebrate “the poor bastard on the bar stool”;
And Eric, of indeterminate occupation
And a closet full of magazines of naked boys.
There was a bar on the corner (there was a bar on every corner)
Filled each morning with plenty of poor bastards on bar stools
(Night shift from the trolley?) drinking shots and ten-cent beers at 7 a.m.
I had a visit from a friend from college, Ed Kissam,
In town to give a reading for the Advocate. Ed’s entourage
Consisted of a biker in full leather and a woman with a black beret
Who’d just been raped by rival bikers, which she took in stride.
The president of the Advocate wasn’t sure just what to make of them,
But endured the evening anyway, and then we all retired—
Ed, the biker, Ms. Beret—to Dudley Street, and called up David Schatz,
My new best-friend-to-be, discovered to live a block away,
Who showed up wearing a purple satin Nehru shirt
Å la John Lennon. You can imagine what Dan made of that—
Not to mention his house filled with these sixties clowns,
The air of drunken levity, the dope. Things deteriorated after that,
And I departed Dudley Street and moved to David’s place
Around the corner on Mass Ave. Fall to winter
And a deepening war: Eugene McCarthy represented hope,
And Johnson gave that speech that left me floored.
Lewis MacAdams and John Godfrey wandered in from Buffalo
In search of the Boston Sound, which didn’t actually exist,
Though we discovered “Sister Ray” instead. Winter into spring
And days of wondering what to do about the draft.
John arrived again, and we spent most of spring vacation
Stoned, and wrote a hundred poems—the less said of which
The better—and finally June arrived, and I went back to California
To get married, and in September moved to Porter Square.
All this came rushing back to me at once, and at first
I had no idea why. Then suddenly I remembered
That the spring before I moved to Cambridge
I’d competed in a poetry contest at Mt. Holyoke
(John drove me, come to think of it), that in a small way
Saved my life, though that’s a story for another day.
There were three distinguished judges, avatars
Of what you wanted to become when you grew up
If genius smiled on you, or you were lucky and persistent.
Last week I got a letter asking me to be a judge
In next year’s contest, and I realized the guy who wrote it
Was the same poor soul who’d had to suffer through that evening
At the Advocate almost exactly forty years ago.
In my beginning is my end. We poets in our youth . . .
I had a hollow feeling of completion, as though a circle had closed
And I’d become what I’d aspired to—without despondency or madness
To be sure, but without any real satisfaction either, and certainly
Without ever growing up. Do people ever really change?
John’s a nurse in New York, Lewis lives in California, David in Florida,
All at it in their own ways I suppose. I’ve no idea where Ed is,
Though I’m sure he’s persevering too. Lucky or unlucky,
Bedecked with laurels or languishing in obscurity,
The fact is that we’re older, just as time, for all its deceptive
Symmetries, moves in one direction towards one end.
You try to cheat it, finding signs of life, of promises fulfilled,
In what are merely randomness and age, withdrawing from the world
Into a naive dream of art, or of a shared imagination,
But it’s never convincing. Sitting on a bar stool in an airport,
Waiting for a flight to take me to a reading, I sometimes
Think that Dan was right in what he meant—that what passes
For ambition and accomplishment is mostly vanity, vanity
And self-indulgence, if not quite in the sense he’d had in mind.
It’s all, as Yeats remarked, a silent quarrel with yourself,
One in which internal strife and external equanimity
Cancel each other out, presenting to the world
About the last thing it needs—another modern poet,
One more poor bastard at the wrong end of life.
July 01, 2008