Early Naomi but still a fave. It is sometimes hard to get back to poetry if one is really good at grant writing, speaking, facilitation and training, strategic planning, community organizing and the like. But sometimes I wonder who is more likely to move the world, the community organizer, or the poet?
Old Man comes back from the sea
ready for hot baths and baseball on the radio
ready for a companion, not too much company
likes perishable foods and souffles.
He sits on the porch and plays with the dial
Doesn’t see the sun up or down, just the stadiums
broadcast from Chicago, New York, Seattle
The crack of the bat on ball and the stands full of fans
He won’t drink beer anymore, reminds him too
much of the fish. Likes the Chinese take out 3 miles
away, if he times it right he can get egg foo young
and only miss half an inning. Laundry needs to be
done, so do the taxes, though really, does the government
give a damn about him? He dreams of water, swallowing
up the ocean and the world it contains in his belly.
He snores and starts when he wakes, wondering at the
steadiness of the bed. His skin gets pale, and his legs
a little skinnier. In August a navy buddy passes through on
a visit, travelling with a widowed sister-in-law. They all get
along fine, but it is the announcers who keep the Old Man’s
attention, who make his mind jump and his body remember
youth. Sun on the face and shoulders of that young body,
a craving for details and description, an inability to rest and wait,
a hunger and speed and desire he can watch now like a movie
but which eludes him, doesn’t want to be him anymore. He loved words
when he first got a sense of himself, love the names of things, the making
of sense and object and relationship where before was just being.
The great being of the sea made words small nonsense, but
just the same he always took poetry with him to read to the waves.
Poetry and baseball and sex and restaurants: what else do we have
to rudder with, what other anchors have made peace in modernity?
He has another smoke. The need for words to recognize, to say, to populate
and mark. The craving for understanding and pattern and history,
and wanting grandchildren without children, stories without endings,
menus and maps without meals or direction. The sea comes up to his bed
at night and the fish are swimming on without him, no one else catches them any
more. They are happy he has baseball and aftershave commercials and they
want him to feel rich and virile without working his nets, without the salt
and sand and stretch of early days spent fishing. They don’t say anything
and his dreams usually turn to port, to farmland, to hardware, somewhere else,
somewhere he hasn’t been and won’t be going, something he isn’t.
He closes up the porch and he house and pulls on boots and leaves in
October, walks and then rides a bus to New York City, rents a room at the
Methodist Yachtsman’s Hostel and says hello to the fellows at the bar.
He buys a baseball hat and shirt and logs on to sail for Amsterdam but
finds himself instead up all night gambling and then in a car with
a woman driving to Fort lauderdale, listening to shag music on the radio and
stopping to pee behind gas stations and eating steak and potatoes once
a day at chain restaurants that get cheaper the farther South they go.
He’s drawing down his pension but who cares. Baseball is between
him and this woman, there isn’t much else to talk about, the words he had
when he was at sea don’t come into play very much here. Who ever
heard of Neruda, who wouldn’t laugh if he started to describe his love
for the green structure of leaves revealed by an easy tear but then magnified
by the scale and pattern of trees, his anger with the taxi drivers who
spoke so many more languages than he could and seemed to him like urban
sailors with words available, part of the trade, it made him jealous and sad,
what use were poems for a divorced woman with three kids she didn’t
know where and clothes that fit okay, lipstick that she liked and a matter
of fact plan for everything, from rest stops to handling strangers to
arriving alive on the other side. Poems were better kept private;
you couldn’t tune them in on the radio and shut out the rest of the
world and share the excitement of 100,000 others breathing and watching
what will the pitch be how will they call it what word is next to truly say
how it is to make us remember this moment forever. No chance, no
dice, better to just drive and leave the rest behind. Once they arrived in
Florida they said goodbye after she took him to a hotel and he sat
listening to the radio, fully dressed and uninterested in her lying
naked in bed. She owed him fifty dollars for gas in the end but what
did he care, really, the trip was a bargain, he walked out doors and
looked at the little lizards running up the white wall. She reminded him
of circus people, funny but very practical, hard hit but always moving.
The quiet knowledge of words and sea wouldn’t leave him alone, he couldn’t just see and breathe his mind made rhythms and questions and names and rhymes and just kept holding on when his heart couldn’t do it, never had, it was the words he loved but nothing else satisfied, why had he taken them all to sea all
alone? A whole life spent with tides and stanzas and now a waiting
with no breaks, no meter, innings and half time and batter up just a long enough substitute to help him forget what he wanted so he could get on with the eating and sleeping still on his plate. Some sports might have the complexity
and assurance of words, the predictability and surprise of the sea, the hope and naivete of poems, but he hadn’t found them yet. The farm teams let him watch, and he stayed on for the season.