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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Weldon Kees: The Lease Is Up

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Going to back door to ask for handout, Omaha, Nebraska: photo by John Vachon. November 1938

Walk the horses down the hill
Through the darkening groves;
Pat their rumps and leave the stall;
Even the eyeless cat perceives
Things are not going well.

Fasten the lock on the drawingroom door,
Cover the tables with sheets:
This is the end of the swollen year
When even the sound of the rain repeats:
The lease is up, the time is near.

Pull the curtains to the sill,
Darken the rooms, cut all the wires.
Crush the embers as they fall
From the dying fires:
Things are not going well.

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Leaving house from which he failed to get something to eat, Omaha, Nebraska: photo by John Vachon, November 1938

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Abandoned farm, Nebraska: photo by John Vachon, November 1938

Window in rooming house, Omaha, Nebraska: photo by John Vachon, November 1938 

Weldon Kees (b. 24 February 1915, Beatrice, Nebraska; d. 18 July 1955[?], San Francisco, California): When the Lease is Up, from The Last Man, 1943

Photos by John Vachon (b. St. Paul, Minnesota, 14 May 1914; d. 20 April 1975, New York, New York) from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

Weldon Kees grew up in Nebraska during the Depression years. He was the only child of John Kees, a prosperous businessman who ran the F.D. Kees Manufacturing Company (producers of handles, hooks, cornhuskers and other hardware items) and was for a time president of the Nebraska Association of Manufacturers; the poet's mother, Sarah, claimed membership of the Society of Americans of Royal Descent.  At the time John Vachon, a fellow native of the prairie region, took these pictures, Kees would have been in Lincoln, working on a guide to Nebraska for the Federal Writers' Project.


TC said...

Also by this poet:

Weldon Kees: Back

Weldon Kees: 1926

Weldon Kees: The Upstairs Room

larry white said...

Wow, thanks for these! I had not seen your previous Kees posts or read him for many years but he's been on my mind lately. His posthumous 1960 collection was maybe the first book of poems I ever bought. They have gained power for me although I loved them then.

The private spectre of a dream
short savor
another day's hollow earth vapors
touch mine underground
air-brushed fantasy
elemental honey missed
furniture found
door unlocked next door
basement industry young men sneakers
secretive slow and sweeter
unfinished business there
sleepy looks wing it

larry white said...

Second line should read "short savored"

larry white said...

Why I never seldom ever


Tried to fix and fathom
in this life.

Should I laugh or cry,
Weldon, from the bridge?

Jonathan Chant said...

Another fine poem. Thank you, Tom.

Wooden Boy said...

What a soft and relentless tread debt has!

gamefaced said...

living is debt. but what is owed and repaid has nothing to do with money. about that class precedent, the luck of the draw..

TC said...

Debt always sneaks around to the rear entry but is never satisfied by being turned away the first time, it will be back, this time at the front door, like that infamous postman who rang twice.

Class deficits create yawning gaps that can never really be filled, and the fact that the accidental debtors never stop trying only makes the whole business more cruel.

Still, advantages of class or wealth do not ensure happiness or peace of mind.

This is what happened with Kees' father.

What became of the poet himself nobody knows for sure, but a strong hint was left behind in the form of his car, parked and abandoned near the GG Bridge.

Falling through that cold air would probably freeze one's tears and choke one's laughter in the throat (that is, in the unlikely event there remained any tears or laughter mixed in with the black dread and vertigo of the plummet toward the deeps).

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Of course there are other kinds of debts that are not at all onerous and which make us feel inestimably richer when we acknowledge them--a case in point would be this blog.

TC said...

Vassilis, thanks very much, that means a lot when coming from someone whose example is an object lesson in what it takes to keep a conscientious and enlightening blog going through thick and thin: surviving the devastations of debt, especially of the kind incurred by the malfeasance and greed of those who hold and brandish power over our lives (that would be the thin)... while harvesting for us all an amazingly generous abundance of natural riches, poems, pomegranates, oregano & c. (the thick).



. . . the lease is up. . .
Darken the rooms, cut all the wires. . .


light coming into cloud above shadowed
walls of buildings, line of black wire
in foreground, sound of cars in street

that of all that is to come
in itself, is present

when a number one can count,
more and more, object

brick red wall against grey white sky,
wingspan of bird gliding to the right

larry white said...

"...that gun's / magnanimous and brutal smoke, endure."

"Like all the wars ahead..."

When the imperishable becomes intolerable, this failed apprentice can only return to the master. Though my Kees collection remains deeply buried (did he leave the keys in the car?), perhaps next to Hart Crane, I am pleased to see that Heaney and Hughes included Kees' 1954 poem "The Umbrella" in their anthology The School Bag. Having given an extended history of the umbrella, Kees ends:

"Over the empty harbor, grey and motionless,
The clouds have been gathering all afternoon, and now
The sea is pitted with rain. Wind shakes the house.
Here from this window lashed with spray, I watch
A black umbrella, ripped apart and wrong side out,
Go lurching wildly down the beach; a sudden gust
Carries it upward, upside down,
Over the water, flapping and free,
Into the heart of the storm."

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The men I lost
looked around for America
without returning
making good on
their promises
to come back
for more pie
despite their compliments
I grew suspicious
when I glimpsed them
reaching for the others
along the tracks

sometimes I'd see them
mornings all stretched out
not a care in the world
the bottle the paper bag

then I'd go home
and eat the pie myself
it was good enough for me
but I wasn't the one
without a job

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Were they my pets
those strays
the way they ate
for show when really
it was something
else they wanted
I could not provide it
a few days happy
and then the opposite

I was used to living
alone on the plains
the tracks my enemy
my best friend
I did not want to know
where they went
but they did