Thursday, November 25, 2010

Outside the Dakota

I wasn't expecting to actually find it. I have sheafs of old poems in a file drawer, probably hundreds of them, many handwritten or typed on an ancient portable typewriter that probably came out of the '50s. That's back when we ripped pages out, crumpled them up in frustration and tried to hit the waste basket on the other side of the room.

Now I just slam mice - not the real kind! Poor mices. I do go through a lot of them, but Martin Scorsese used to throw chairs, and look at him.

What I'm getting to in my usual circuitous way is: while I was writing the John Lennon poem in my last post, I thought of a poem I'd written not long after his death, meaning it must be 30 years old. And by the holy, after only a little rummaging, I found it.
The only common lines are "John, I" and "outside the Dakota". I seem to remember the poem differently. Thirty years will do that.
It was typed on a yellowed piece of three-ring white binder paper. Saved for posterity. Never published. In my life, I've only had about 12 poems published in "little magazines" (boy, are they little: no one reads them!), and the rest, I think, could be called a private collection.
I still feel the same about John. I feel like he's around, and feel foolish for saying so, for even thinking so. I just saw the PBS documentary, LennoNYC, and was both over- and underwhelmed by it, by the grainy home movies, his wicked wit, casually prodigious talent and unbearable sweetness. But he looked old at the end, older than he should, and gaunt. What happened?

If you want it

I don't know what to say about John Lennon. I don't know what to say about Christmas, except that it's coming at me like a freight train through a tunnel. I don't know what to say about any of it.

I'd like to be a joyful person. Sometimes I am a joyful person. But people who are joyful all the time - or at least never unhappy - or never seem unhappy - they seem to me to be -

Our emotional thermostats are set very differently, obviously. Is this something that's present at our birth, or even before that? Some genetic quirk? Can some people overlook the obvious more easily than others?

Or overlook pain, and even disaster, pretend it isn't there or doesn't hurt or doesn't matter?

The great Nobel-winning novelist Doris Lessing once wrote in her memoirs, "I was born minus several layers of skin." Though she seems tough and durable, life has never been easy for her. She is porous. She feels, turns like the weather vane she is.

Some "deal with" all this by drinking, drugging, gambling, overworking, oversexing, overshopping, or whatever other "over-" there is. In other words, they have trained themselves not to feel.

It goes down well. That's the general rule.

One can use pure logic. "Well, there's nothing I can do about these tragic situations. So why let it bother me?"

This is along the lines of saying to a person in agony, "Crying won't bring him back."

We live in a roll-up-your-sleeves, up-and-at-'em sort of culture. We don't stop to feel. We "move on". Sitting around and feeling things isn't acceptable. And it doesn't bring them back, does it?

John, I -

Outside the Dakota
when the bullets fell

a hail of salty hell

and Yoko screaming pain
and the horror-struck grief of the people that stood

in a pool of his blood

John, I -

War is over if you want it,
you said and somebody
went and shot you for your pains
as if that was the ultimate

subversive statement
(and you had to pay)

You had to get it sometime
You started life all over

You're not allowed to
are you

are you
oh John.

I see you

see you everywhere.
Hear your plangent voice forever saying
as if almost praying
So this is Christmas. And what have you done?

Thirty years have passed
in a kind of dream.
On the day you'd be seventy,
Sean turned 35

your beautiful boy
almost middle-aged
(like you when you died)
stamped all over with your face
and your greatness,
but never truly great.

John, I -