Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1988

Tracy Chapman's music was everywhere.
Life at nineteen! Electric with poetry!
I worked at David's Cookies in Harvard Square

with Becca and Mel and Mark and Jodi and Claire.
I read Hart Crane's great paeans to the sea.
Tracy Chapman's music was everywhere.

With Luis, I drank in the warm dry air
of Santa Monica. So much to see!
Far from David's Cookies and Harvard Square.

Morrissey began his solo career.
I drove Dad's Cadillac quite cautiously.
Tracy Chapman's music was everywhere.

Women, from east and west, both dark and fair,
were much too lovely for the likes of me
working at David's Cookies in Harvard Square.

William J. Barnum, with his long white hair,
sang of the cockatoo most mellifluously!
Tracy Chapman's music was everywhere.

Of Spencer and Katharine I became aware
through sleepless nights in front of the TV
after selling cookies in Harvard Square.

Not yet in college, working for a year,
I earned six dollars an hour, gratefully,
and Tracy Chapman's music was everywhere
from Santa Monica to Harvard Square.

Monday, October 20, 2014

1991

The first year of my post-collegiate life,
resiliency impaired but not dead yet:
the aftermath of being "asked to leave."

My cushy job in Brookline caused no grief.
Auden's poems. Judge Thomas on the hot seat.
The first year of my post-collegiate life.

Boston Book Annex, now gone to its grave,
Berrigan's Encounters. I'd read and write
to heal the pains no medicine could relieve.

The BU bookstore, inexhaustible trove!
Ashbery. Mudfish. Boulevard. Grand Street.
The first year of my post-collegiate life.

Confession (which I'd shirked since '85)
to an Oblate of the Virgin. Oh, the sweet
return to a Church I was foolish to leave!

Dame Edith Sitwell's Atlantic Book of
British and American Verse
. Scotch taken neat.
The first year of my post-collegiate life.

New Seeds of Contemplation. God is love.
Marsh Chapel for Mass, late on a Sunday night.
Quite late! Close to eleven when I'd leave.

No more joking with Bill or George or Dave.
No more long talks with Leah, heart's delight!
The first year of my post-collegiate life,
the aftermath of being "asked to leave."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Father Branigan's Rhyme

It's after nine. The time for prayer,
The time for sleep, draw quickly near.
And though the drizzle still persist,
I do not feel cantankerist.

The sussurus outside my screen
Of shadowy leaves no longer green
Answers the soft and slushy strain
Of tires that drive upon the rain.

Nettled by several petty sins
As waking ends and rest begins,
May my soul be, till dawn come round,
In night's deep absolution drowned.

Tomorrow let me face the day
Eager to work and ready to play.
Let beak of bird and mouth of me
Exalt the Blessed Trinity.

Come morning, let me start anew
The works of mercy. Let me do
Only the good, and never cease
To serve our God whose will is peace.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

1985

1

Luis, the future astronomer, gave me
Dickinson's Complete for my sixteenth.
Stranger than Wallace Stevens, her slant-rhymed
hymns to the God among the bobolinks!

New Order's Low-Life was my summer soundtrack.
Zac Beaulac, rival poet, mocked my bombast.
I had my yearbook photo taken. I
drowned my restless brain in Dylan Thomas.

I wrote "Apostasy" and "The Holy Season."
(Was this the year of John Chan's "Fighting Crickets,"
the year I discovered the lyrics of the Smiths?)

Sweet Ashley, from Jamaica Plain's "nice" section,
tried to convert me to Bible-thumping. But Christ
to me was Catholic. Sacraments, not prooftexts.

2

Of course, I wasn't really going to church,
but I believed in hell and the afterlife
even though atheist chums would try to steer
my mind toward a "smarter" skepticism.

Those crushes, the ones I didn't talk about,
weren't going away. I balked at labelling them,
and certainly wasn't open with anyone.
(East Boston in the eighties. Need I say more?)

I saw The Breakfast Club at least twelve times
until the dialogue was more familiar to me
than "Stopping by Woods" or the Pater Noster.

One day, in the school lunchroom, as John and I
recited "Be My Girl, Sally," young Heather's
chubby frame quaked with unmistakable laughter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

1980

The year of President Carter's malaise
and of the hostage crisis.

The year of the "Ayatollah Assahollah" t-shirt.

The year I spent at the Joseph H. Barnes Middle School,
waiting to get into Boston Latin.

The year of Mrs Watkins,
my first black teacher in white, unwelcoming East Boston.

The year of Common sense is the knack
of seeing things as they are and doing things
as they ought to be done.

The year of Mr Stein in Social Studies,
teaching us all the nations and capitals of Europe.

The year that Mom and Dad and I
visited Qu├ębec City,
saw the River Hudson, the Chateau Frontenac,
found cobblestoned thoroughfares
with art and restaurants and culture
and Francophonic charm.

The year that Eddie P and I
produced "Commie Comics"
after Mr Stein taught us about the Warsaw Pact.

The year of racial strife at Eastie High
(and not the only year, if truth be told).

The year that hooligans from the high school
capsized Mrs Watkins' car,
turning it onto its roof.

The year I saw Mrs Watkins
in uncontrollable tears.

The year that shot John Lennon dead.

The year of the Salesian Boys Club.
The year of Father Sid, of Masses in the chapel
where Brother Pat would croon "Let It Be"
while strumming a guitar.
The year of Jim and Dave and Wally.

The year of Zenyatta Mondatta
and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
The year of dark sarcasm.
The year of Blondie.

The year of Bobby Sands and his hunger strike
for Northern Ireland.

The year I dreamed of kissing Mrs Watkins.
The year I turned eleven.

The year of designer jeans.
Sisley, Sasson, Jordache, Calvin Klein.

The year I wore rainbow suspenders
in emulation of Robin Williams' Mork.

The year that disco spent in intensive care.

The year that Mr Benedetto, the music teacher,
taught us the words to "Come Together,"
to "I Got a Name."

The year I finished second in the citywide spelling bee
and burst into sobs at the unexpected loss.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

1978

There were two massive winter storms that year,
two weeks apart. The second, termed the Blizzard,
dumped feet of snow on the remnants of the first.

They took a month-long chunk out of third grade.
Our front door wouldn't open, and the glass
of all our windows bore a brilliant frosting.

The governor addressed the public, wearing
a different sweater each day. We common folk
discovered communion in our common lot,

walking in streets few cars could navigate,
wielding our shovels, building our snowmen,
searching for anyone who was selling milk.

Some coastal towns got ocean-water flooding
on top of the snow and brutal winter wind.
Inland, some boy died, buried beneath the drifts.

At not quite nine, I knew only to be amazed
at this unique display of nature's might,
whelming my city in millions of tons of white.

1990

This is sweet Leah's year,
the year her sacred name
shines in the stratosphere!

Whenever she draws near,
my heart, wild beast, grows tame.
This is her year, the year

of many a joyful tear!
Loneliness, doubt, and shame
are quite unheard of here!

Dejection, disappear!
Bards of Amherst, proclaim
the year of Leah, the year

when deserts dead and sere
blaze bright with flower-flame,
blessing the atmosphere.

The gods I once held dear
seem feeble, deaf, and lame.
This is sweet Leah's year!

(A long time gone, I fear.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

1984

The year of "Jump" and "Born in the USA."
The year I started going to Harvard Square,
and living in the basements of bookstores.
The year of T S Eliot and Rimbaud,
my first two self-bought books of poetry.
The year of fourteen, going on fifteen.
The year of Reagan trouncing Walter Mondale,
the year of asphalt basketball, Paris Street.

The year of rhymes in Latin School's Register.
The year of competitions, of hopeless crushes,
of awkwardness, of biking to Winthrop Beach.
The year before I discovered Dylan Thomas.
A year of minor rebellions, of self-loathing,
of movies at the Sack Cheri with Luis ("Lewis").
The year of Cicero with Mr Slattery.
The year of the Scottish play with Mr Waldron.

O year of bruises, year of exultation!
Year when things could only get better!
Year of synth-pop, year of the Pretenders.
(Was Mellencamp still going by John Cougar?)
Year of A Separate Peace, of Lord of the Flies,
of the Harvard Theatre's (daily!) double feature
of classic films from the '30s to the '70s.
Year of Bowie, Boy George, The Thompson Twins.

I still thought I would end up writing novels,
although my notion of fiction was to take real life
and make up names for all the people I knew.
O year of triple-deckers, year of SATs,
year of being the cool kids' uncool friend,
year of being saved by the God I doubted
from an act of nearly terminal recklessness.
The year I read Lolita from cover to cover.