Tuesday, February 14, 2017


I got haunted by
things - it was a
simple matter. I'd
stumble onto something
and it would captivate
my thoughts. Take
me over; and it still
happens today that
there are things startling
enough to stop me
dead. Consider this
Roman guy, a third-
century captive named
Regulus, or so the 
name and story goes,
who was executed in a
manner that  -  all other
things considered  -  
I found hideous and 
without human context 
at all  -  'his captors cut
out his eyelids, forcing
him to stare at the sun
until he went blind.'
I assume until he died.
Not exactly 'execution'
but I think that would
have been preferable.
I'd read of slave slayings
in NYC, blacks and such,
that were pretty brutal, 
in such unheard of 
fashions that, truly, 
made me blanch.
Burnings while alive,
skin being flayed, 
arms and limbs cut
off while tied to
execution pyres, 
crowds present and 
cheering it all on, 
announced dates
for public executions 
that became celebratory 
afternoons with people 
cheering, etc. Posted
times and dates for
afternoons out? What
kind of world was it 
that made what kind 
of place this was? I
realized I was walking 
on bones, nameless and
uncounted. I found two
of the announced
'execution grounds' and
realized that in that 
present day (1968, etc.)
they still existed but had
simply been moved on 
to other uses, with only
the most occasional story
or tale referencing them.
History then was a dark,
long blot, from that
direction : little of the
grace and fine aplomb
it most often gets made
into. Maidens and costumes
and kettles and meals.
It's difficult to
believe, but I
used to study
Poetry. A boring
subject to be sure,
with little at its
end except another
person's opinion or
thought. Or better
yet 'opinion of a
thought.' It was all
gibberish, in its way,
after a while. But
I went on. Think
of it this way : a
shadow-land with
a shadow-dweller
thinking too much
of things that don't
exist. That would be
me. Poetry, as an
exercise for 'study'
is a stupid dead-end;
but I did I anyway
because I wanted to 
learn it, or see it, 
from the inside and 
then walk it out. To
see what I could do.
What I could make 
of it. It was pretty
simple, and without 
a 'program' approach,
of the dreary sort by
which colleges, and even
readings and discussions,
claim to 'advance' 
poetry  -  as if there 
was something to 
advance. Most often 
I would take a poem, 
or even a piece or 
a section of one  - 
chosen maybe by 
chance, or randomly, 
or by some design  -  
and turn it back, or
or try to, into prose. 
As a way, I guess, 
of stating actually
what was happening 
or what was being 
portrayed  -  noting 
how many more 
words it took or 
would take to do 
it that way; what 
shortcuts were put 
in place by 'poetic' 
word-use instead 
(sometimes a curious 
poem-phrase could 
take the place of
ten or fifteen 
words, weirdly).
It was difficult, not
that easy at all, and
sometimes I'd just
'think' I had grasped a
something, and then 
by trying that method 
of playback, realize I
hadn't at all and that
once it was out of poetry
it was completely
un-relatable, almost
other-worldly. Poetry
was magic like that  -  
it bests language at
its own game.
There was one thing I
found (here's a good
for-instance)  -  by one
of those gushers who
do end up just giving
poetry a bad name. 
S. Foster Damon, was
his name. This was
his line :  'Thy mouth
is a fragrant wound 
of the twilight.' That
was written presumably
sincere in approach and
suitably abstract by
poetry standards to be
only encase-able as poetry.
Try as one might, there's
no real getting around
any means of turning that
back to a prose moment.
It is considerately, only,
and personally drawn as
a concrete, yet a quite
indefinite, poetry. Now,
the thought goes, 'but is
it defensible?' Does it
have a sure validity of
its own, as it stands?
Is it not a mere paradox?
I can only answer back,
well, maybe, but, who
knows? It taught me that
poetry can get 'around'
things, and sneak something
else in, through another
doorway or portal to
the mind.
Just like the place I was
walking, this was unspeakable.
A jagged line of anarchic,
symbolic, wild poetry, in the
place and the employ of
a land of such unspeakable 
stories and histories that
I was sometimes slaughtered
myself. 'Eyes wide open,'
as is said. A wild Christian 
hiding and fearful in some
catacomb of Roman-old
could be no more agape 
than was I.
There was an awful
lot of rapacious slaughter,
now that I think of it,
going on. New Yorkers
are pretty harsh and horrid
people, at least at that
time; the old-timers whose
lives and lineages went back
farther than most into some
of this old and distant New
York stories. I could almost
imagine the hideousness
of the street-emotions 
which could take people
over and have them flay
the skin of another, or
cut someone's eyelids out,
on the way, mind you, on
the way, to a further form
of execution and death.
As if it had to be done in
steps and sequence  -  like
a forty-second street movie
theater where you had to 
sit through the first B-movie
feature to get to the big
one you were actually 
there to see. Craziest stuff 
in the world : and rudest
and most callous people
I ever met too. This was
back when taxi-drivers
were still all crazy white
men bouncing off one or
another bum story, crummy
life or broken dream. 'Hey.
Yeah bud, where ya' wanna'
go?' Now, you can' hardly
find a white ordinary, older
American guy like that 
around anywhere, let 
alone behind the wheel 
of a NY cab. There were
times I'd end up talking
to someone and the language
out of his mouth, the accent,
the lilt, was so broadly Irish
or Scottish or something,
that I'd feel that I too was
in that distant world when 
all these brogues and tongues
had first landed here. That
was about 1741; then the
'Negro Revolt' burned the
old, original, city 
to the ground.
It was called 'The Slave 
Revolt' as well : New York 
city then had a few 
thousand. Listen up : 
'It was March 18, 1741.
Slave Revolt! A mysterious 
fire had broken out at the 
governor's house, and the
fort at the base of the
island had been set up
twice, and burned to
the ground. No one knew
who had done it; exactly a
week later, more fires 
began. One after another; 
van Zant's warehouse had 
burst into flames. And then
a black slave named Cuffee
was caught, running from
one of them. Tortured
he talked. A slave revolt.
There was an easy way of
getting slaves to confess.
Build a bonfire in a public
place, put the Negro on it,
light the bonfire, and ask
him questions. Slaves
were soon being 
accused, island-wide, 
and questioned in this 
manner, even the slaves 
of respectable people.
Two slaves, one belonging
to John Roosevelt the 
butcher, gave names and
confessions as they were
put to the fire, hoping
for escape thereby
 (which did not come).
Fifty more names came,
in the twinkling of an eye,
as the fires burned. None
were to be spared, since
the crowds, moved by their
natural feelings, threatened 
to riot themselves, if they
could not watch the
black men fry.'

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