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Sunday, 15 February 2009

The New World


Eruptions of starlight, joy and gladness
As, at 10:30 p.m. on Shattuck, the New
World dawns with shouts of “Yes we can!”
From young persons thronging the clogged street.
The street people, however, are just trying
To get some sleep. I infer this from the body-
Bundles I see huddled in every alcove. But why,
In the rapture of intoxicated victory
I glimpse around me, do I insist on this
Dissonant note? “A complete curmudgeon,”
Gentle Dorothy once called me, in
Exasperation, accurately,
I cannot deny. Aye, O Friend! I fear there are
What are lately called Depression Issues
At work here. How tiresome, really.
By Depression do I mean the mental kind
And am I signalling I “need help”? Some,
I’m told, might well secretly think so.
“And maybe they’re right, William,” tenders
Gentle Dorothy from across the hearthside.
The nights are growing sharp, November
In the Cumberlands, ancient aching joints,
Getting up in the dark and seeing your breath,
Bad patches of thatch to fix before frost
Closes in and fingers, too numb for labors,
Withdrawn into religious half-mittens.

There were street people in William’s village
Too. But in knowable communities
That which is often seen soon becomes known,
Thus accepted and not stepped over
As if inhuman, insignificant
Or nonexistent. Naturally William,
Who saw the poetry in everything,
Perceived the poetic aspect of this--
Particularly after coming back from
London, where the bewildering urban
Alienation and estrangement
Had already long since taken hold.
Awed have I been by strolling Bedlamites,
He writes in Book XII of The Prelude,
Referring to the road-wandering not-
Quite-normals of that not-so-remote epoch,
From many other uncouth Vagrants pass’d
In fear, have walk’d with quicker step; but why
Take note of this? When I began to inquire,
To watch and question those I met, and held
Familiar talk with them, the lonely roads
Were school to me in which I daily read
With most delight the passions of mankind,
There saw into the depth of human souls,
Souls that appear to have no depth at all
To vulgar eyes.
I like that. To me it feels
More considerate toward the Bedlamites
Than the shrieking street partygoers
To the street people trying to sleep this night
Of victory through, unnoticing. It’s
Their right, one might almost say, acknowledging
In the same breath that they have no rights.
Who needs a loud victory party
When all you want to do is lay your body
Down in a shop doorway, wrap your thin fleece sack
Around you, and chase a few winks. Morning
Wake-up on the street comes at five--with the light,
Now that Standard Time’s back, and the clatter
And roar of garbage trucks and street cleaners.

“I have to get out of my negative
Comfort zone,” Angelica’s wise cousin
Peter Heinegg, Ph. D., joked
Ahead of the election, anticipating
A liberal landslide that would leave
Him little content for further volumes
Of social criticism. His That Does It:
Desperate Reflections on American
comes with the dedication
“For Angelica--I had to dash off a
Few more jeremiads before Obama
Comes and drags me out of my negative
Comfort zone.”
This reminded me of a work
Whose title has always strangely intrigued
Me: Granville Hicks’ I Like America.
My tattered paperback copy cost
Fifty cents in 1938. “A native
Sees his country as it is and as
It might be,”
the subtitle goes. And it’s not
Just a rose-colored-spectacle gloss
Of a book: Nobody Starves--Much--perhaps
The chapter most pertinent to the scenes
I see on the streets as each night I pass
By--discusses such uncomfortable
Subjects as that phenomenon thought
Of, as recently as the Eighties,
As pure anachronism: the American
Street beggar. Enough for Everybody
Is another chapter. And The Freeing
Of America
. And Can We Work
But even with bread lines still fresh
And vivid in his mind, Hicks remains
Able to build his vision upon an America
Of known and knowable communities
That no longer exists in the world of lies
The no less honest or idealistic
Peter Heinegg needs must begin from.

Her other cousin Paul sent us a picture of
His wife Rita, a black woman, and himself,
Embracing Barack Obama, smiles all
Around. Paul had signed up fifteen hundred
Voters for the cause. Gentle line of second
Generation Americans, the Heineggs.
Paul like Peter with his brood of bright kids: So
That now, as another cousin puts it, this clan
Of transplanted Austrians has a new branch:
The Black Heineggs, citizens of the New
World that this morning has its dawn. What
I mean, O Friend! is, please don’t take my lines
To mean I’m tempted to sell the New World short.

On campus the night is again cool, dark, and
Almost empty under the dripping canopy of tall
Eucalypti by the Genetics labs. Junior,
In which a character portrayed by
The present governor of California
Is seen to become “with child”, somewhat
Like Mary toward Bethlehem to wend--
Only it’s not immaculate conception
But expert science by brainy Emma
Thompson that works the supra-natural
Magic--had these labs as its fictional
Location. Well do I recall the ten long
Widebody movie production trucks
Lined up like supersized camels of
Hollywood Magi, as far as the parking
Kiosk. Not even UCLA Boosters,
When Bears host Bruins, boast that big
A bus fleet. A world is going on and constantly
Changing, changing. The Election Night
Sea of celebrants has ebbed. Away
From the crowds of tooting screaming white
People on Shattuck, five young blacks loiter
In the shadow of the labs. Four males and a
Girl. Smoking and quietly larking.
The biggest dude--athletic, in a STRIKE
FORCE windbreaker--talks quietly on cell.
The girl reels between them, singing softly
“He loves you,” and “he loves you,” and “he loves
You” as she goes. Each of her friends accepts
This news in turn, without any expression
I can detect. As I skulk past, not wishing
To spoil what appears the lowest-key
And best victory party of the night,
The girl, whirling, floats up to ancient me.
“And he loves you,” she sings with eyes and smile
That say, I guess, You may be surprised by
What’s coming.
And I go on my way.

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