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Turning Toward an Old Form

by Michael Franco

TWO POEMS FOR KATHARINE KILLION
WHO ASKED IF I WEREN’T NOSTALGIC

FOR THE SIXTIES
For doris and colea Lane
For Joseph Petiney and Christopher Bryan Muir.
For Shoushanick who wore black dresses
with wonderful antique buttons and high boots that wound
and tied beneath the lace of her hem
and who always seemed mysterious
And for Laura Arriola who was tall and as thin as me and
beautiful and sat on a low bench in her front yard
combing out her wet hair and
who forgot her sleeping bag
when we went snow camping
in Yosemite

For the night first night in San Francisco with doris
and Joe that we were late and we were running and
we reached down Joe and I who were at least
six feet tall
and picked her up this woman who was five feet tall
and whose walk was touched at birth with a
hesitation—
and ran, laughing at how absurd we looked
through coldwetjanuary-fog-smell wind in off the
bay running for a street car up market street to
the Fillmore West to see
the Grateful Dead
And for the moment we put her down
and she did not let go of my hand,
when I
looked down and thought
that she was as delicate as Anais Nin which
she was. And for the cheeseburgers at the Fillmore
and laying on the floor with doris our
bodies clutched together
And for the stair-way that took us there covered with red carpet and mud
and the flowers in the huge wash tub that were always at the top handed
out by Bill Graham who sold tickets for two dollars
and fifty cents
and treated us like guests;
and who billed Woody Herman and the Who together! same night!:
And for the musicians Cipollina Garcia Townshend and so many others
                                            who gathered
at the edge of the stage
to listen while he played

 

For Mary Francis Claggett and Madge Holland who
mid-wifed my poetry and gave me breath
and my first Robert Duncan book
on the 13th of February, 1970.
For the red persian rug not unlike the rug now in
my bed-room that we had brought into room 202
Alameda high school and on which we gathered our
selves and read poetry. nervous.
waiting. every wednesday
And for being seventeen or sixteen whatever—

And for the gray afternoon, was it in March we
stood on the small hill overlooking the meadows in
Golden Gate park and watched what might have
been two or three thousand people dancing
in clockwise and counter-clockwise concentric circles
with the wind
blowing so hard that the sound of the band was
caught-up and carried by it
—banners and color making
it look medieval,
Garcia’s voice singing “heigh-ho, the carrion crow” and
the specific feeling walking down the hill amongst an ocean of
                                    blowing eucalyptus trees
and coast pines
to join them dancing
And for later finding in          The Opening of the Field

   the children clock-wise and counter clock-wise turning

and thinking that yes, Duncan had been there that he too knew . . .
that we were,
that we must be on some Path or Journey
and that this
was a marker

For the small room behind a house on Union street
where we
plotted our “underground” paper
For how foolish this sounds writing it out we were
16 or 17
it was then illegal to distribute such things as this at
school and we were thus sought—
the administration searching for the perpetrators
—searching lockers that we piled with cans and
garbage which then rained down on the dean of whatever
when she opened them—during classes—we could hear the cans rattling
                                              to the floor.

For Joseph who went to Oakland to interview the Black Panthers and
                                      brought us news from
Berkeley and for doris who read Gandhi with me
and said one afternoon that Yoko “dragon lady
destructor of the beatles” Ono was being dumped on
solely because
she was a woman

For the Berkeley student S.D.S. organizer who came
to the Lane’s house while their parents were away
to organize us and told us that it was time now
right now to buy guns
And for the F.B.I. agent who followed them a month
or so later
to Inquire about an underground paper
For Mrs. Lane who refused their questions
closed the door and told us later
that our publishing days were over
For sitting in doris’ room believing
that the entire world was
mad christ we were sixteen or seventeen
trying to figure out what to do
when the revolution came
so sure that it would come

 

 

 

For John Rodenkirk suicide against the War, fall 1968
the thought of whom looms over me in memory like
a black hole into which any pretense of nostalgia
is sucked or escapes shape pulled and contorted by—
Or for Chris who went underground had numerous
social security cards and small jobs to avoid the
publicity of being the grandson of a congressman
—avoiding the draft
For Joe who signed his draft papers and waited
Or Kyle who joined the Navy to escape poverty and drugs and the
                                    memory of his great jazz
trumpeter father
For my own father who
for what seemed like eternity did not speak to me because I had signed
                                         the line on the form
saying that I was a conscientious objector to the war
Who understood somehow when I said
that his thirty years, that his war were fought so that at this moment in
                                            this time I could say
No
and who then wrote a letter to my draft board
afraid, he said, that this would haunt my life

 

All this for Kate my friend of ten years,
whose friendship I love,
yet who I rarely see outside of the restaurants we have shared for the how
                                           many New Years we
have steeped into together—a quick hug before heading out onto the floor
                                           to again pour out
free champagne to the customers who make as much in a week as we do
                                             in two months;
who on a cold January night with a new war opening out like a sick flower
come up out of season—
when I had just arrived back from marching like
some damn fool again again again against another
war that we were again arguing the merits of
and I had, as I began to leave to go to work
been surrounded by a hundred or so men waving
flags faces again red screaming   traitors   traitors fists
shaking the Boston Police
stepping in between us
—so that I was late for work— . . . asked she said she wondered if I weren’t
marching from nostalgia;
this poem now six months later Bill Graham dead
this week and half of Berkeley and Oakland burned
the smoke rising up in the pictures from Time
Magazine like the tear gas off of Telegraph Ave./
people’s park 1969 James Rector still dead
John Rodenkirk still dead
doris and Chris and Joseph caught up and lost
somewhere
in nothing more dramatic than just living

Bring back my friends bring back Bill Graham and
Robert Duncan the trees & smell of wet Eucalyptus
up on the hill in winter
but the Sixties you can have the memory

it is as uncomfortable

and confused as any childhood

and no more

each step    first step    each step
defines

distance      beautiful        outstretched         embraced

     measures

itself

       margins

once    justified

become     uniform

  step     each  step
returns to itself following
only

        what it knows

 totters      toward


January–October 1991
         April 1992
      @Jason Street

Michael Franco, director of the Word of Mouth readings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the author of four chapbooks, most recently A Book of Measure. (1992)


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