I’ve been silent, more or less, for awhile now. Here and in my notebook, that is. I could blame it on scraping to sustain a livable income. Or on the demands of adjunct teaching. But the truth is I’m sick of my own voice. I mean, more precisely, my opinions. We all know which orifice an opinion is like because we all have one.
Still, I have this stack of books read entirely, or finished, or merely begun in Mexico, during my wife Melody’s annual Yoga Fiesta. For each one I owe a debt of gratitude, which means I feel compelled to register an opinion—if only to give notice of their existence. As an habitué of used book stores, I can testify to the fact that many worthy books appear and vanish like subatomic particles all the time, and one discovers their traces only years later, when it’s too late for the publisher, if not the author, who if he or she knew the book was being read would probably feel glad.
So, I’m going to be setting aside my self-weariness and write a few words over the next several weeks about my Mexico books. To make this manageable I’ll keep these notices short but (I hope) useful.
Let me begin with one I began before leaving for Mexico back in April and finished in the swimming shadows of palm leaves while suspended in a hammock swayed by a warm Caribbean wind.
Winter Solstice is Michael Hogan’s selected (or collected—his blog posts use the latter term) poems published between 1975 and 2012. Mike and I were friends long ago in Denver, before he vanished into the tender arms of Mexico where he wooed, and firmly wived, and ultimately became head of the English Department at the American School of Guadalajara. Now Guadalajara, for me, since I’ve never been there, is Ashbery’s Guadalajara, a place I visit when I have to escape the equivalent of grunt work on some instruction manual. It’s a beautiful dream is what I mean. And thinking of Mike there makes me happy, because he earned some kind of paradise long ago, even though it eluded him for many years.
There is, in Mike’s poetry, a persistent sense of the just-out-of-reach, an outsider consciousness I recognize as very much my own. His poems are jazz riffs, not off the cuff like O’Hara but more considered, the result of attention and meditation—Miles or Zoot Sims as opposed to Dizzy or Bird. Here’s an apt example:
LATE NIGHT IN MIDLAND
Driving down the dirt road
by the Tittabawassee with congregations
of crows bottoming away in my dust
and country music drifting from the radio
I was not concerned with moment.
Movement was enough for now
after heavy moisture of Michigan June.
The cool air fluttering the trees
as I passed old men waxing their cars
in shirt sleeves like my father
forty years ago relaxing after the war
we won to wax cars under willow trees
on impossible June evenings.
The river was silt-brown and still.
At the north bend I pulled over
cut the engine and listened
to the cool metal ticking
and the crickets echo.
Fireflies did their intricate
arabesques and pliés, a horsefly
buzzed once and was gone.
Down by the river I was
startled by a flourish in the thicket
of birch and willow.
Two yellow eyes stared back from
a low-slung branch. Its two-note hoot
authentic and palpable. Who? Who?
I spoke back, reassuring, and went on.
It followed, and spoke again
from a primal space I could not know.
A warning. At least I took it so
and left the trees, the river, the night
rustlings in the brush.
In my safe car, the radio said:
“It’s eleven forty-five, you night owls,
and that was Patsy Cline.”
That’s a more recent poem, from the late ’90s. But I have great affection for the early poems, too. They often exude a fragrance of the sweet anxiety both Mike and I suffered from, in our different ways, back in the ’70s when my preferred drink was Bushmills neat. (I don’t rightly remember what Mike’s drink was.) Here’s one of those:
A DEAL IS A DEAL
There is a kind of life no one speaks of.
You wake in the morning and the day
rises like a curtain you didn’t mean to choose.
It is a bad deal.
Behind the curtain are things you never wanted:
choked traffic, an empty job,
the drag of time as it reels out the hours,
the subtle atrophy of courage.
You wonder, at twenty, if you will spend
your whole life like this.
At thirty, you cease to wonder.
At forty, you can’t remember
what it was you were concerned about.
In a dream, Monty Hall gives you
one last chance to trade what you have.
Your wife shakes her head. She tells you:
Don’t be a fool. Do you want to lose everything?
I imagine I should footnote Monty Hall, which saddens me. Time and tide, you know. Thank goodness for writers who embed our now worthless cultural tokens in their work, where they can still have at least a half-life! And thanks to Mike for his long and worthy practice that keeps on calling us to healing attention.