I have a second poem that I wanted to post on Easter…
Pascha Coming is a promise pointing to a future hope. Coming is a yearning for an unfulfilled desire. Coming is a seeking after what we cannot see. Coming is a burning flame upon a dead man’s pyre. Coming is a painful hope that’s lasted far too long. Coming is the hardening of a yearning, broken heart. Coming is the giving up of what we’ve never seen. Coming is the ashes left when all our joy departs. Coming is the unforseen fulfillment of our dreams. Coming is our long lost longing risen from the dead. Coming is our future hope now opened like a gift. Coming is a warm live heart for stone placed in its stead.
The idea for this poem came to me in late December 2002 while I was in New York City for an MLA conference. I was in a cab driving down 59th street, the street that forms the northern border of Central Park, and was immediately struck by the golden statue of William T. Sherman with Victory by his side in Grand Army Plaza. I don’t think I’d even noticed Sherman — just the gilded statue of Victory with her arms outstretched next to him. The cab then drove around Columbus Circle, came back up 59th (so I got another look at the statue), and then turned up 5th Avenue and drove right by Trump Tower. It was late at night and had been raining so the city was gleaming with reflected streetlights. As the cab turned the corner and started to approach Trump Tower the sound of Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded by the Light” swelled up from the cab’s radio, and the sight of the lights, the statue, and then Trump Tower converged for me into an insight into the city that a couple of years later I tried to capture in this poem. I’ve been sitting on this poem for about ten years now, so I thought I’d share it today.
from Song for America NYC I’ve paced and walked and driven your beehive streets, your teeming gutters laid between thick solid glass thighs, your carts and horses, sluts and suits and sweats in the crammed jammed night, yellow stars shining up from a slick black floor. The air breathes ambition and realization. To be in the city is to have made it: to own the power that owns the strings the money the girls in tight dresses the cars packed in lines like children waiting for a ride. The angel of the great grand army opened for me that night her golden arm, raised to bid me stop and bid me come, to lift the curtain for ten seconds in the back of a cab, to show me at that moment the city’s secret: to speak it on the air: attractions and tourists both, confronted with the sheer spectacle of itself, the light of its own wealth and greatness, the trump of its own hand, self subjection to its own self image: staring into its own light like a child with a flashlight, blinded by the. . .
from Song for America Mobile, Alabama long level light pool, two towers topping the marsh, I-10 tunnel: done.
I had a second New Jersey poem, so I thought I’d post this one today too. Written January 25th, 2002 a little after 7:00 p.m. while flying out of Newark airport. I wrote it while the plane was making its initial ascent. I was probably traveling to visit my family in Florida. Previously published in Fiera Lingue. Slightly revised here.
Flying Out of Newark Airport Golden torches outline the borders of civilization, while the outlands lay shrouded in darkness. Interstate pulses like a sluggish artery: red and white corpuscles pump slowly between its edges, while the river’s mighty arm lay bent and flexed in its deep embrace of an alien shore. It’s the only living thing you can see from the sky at night, and you can’t really see it at all, just see where the light is not.
from Song for America Jersey Ours are the fertile fields, the vineyards, the marshes. Ours the pristine small towns glutted with the wealth of the city. Ours the foreheads streaked black every Ash Wednesday. Ours the Boss, ours the cars, ours the glory. Baby we were born to. Baby we were. So fock you New York and fock you too Philly. (but not so much) Define us by the detritus you cast upon our shores; We are not Newark; we are not Trenton; We are not your trashcan or your playground. We are the October corn, the summer tomatoes, Deer prancing through neighborhoods and Italian girls with big dark eyes. No love more loyal once given, no giving more No giving more More passionate. But don’t take her up unless you’re going to keep her. Oh no. Not again. We are the rotting Park whose ghosts Still dance to long forgotten beats. We are not Atlantic City unless we want to be. We are not you. We are Jersey.
I was lucky enough to see Springsteen perform at the Nationwide Arena. The ticket said the show starts at 7:30: Springsteen’s band took the stage right at 8:00, no opening act, and then played 26 songs back to back, non-stop, ending right about 11:00. I kept track of the set list and can confirm that Springsteen’s website has an accurate one. Three straight hours of music starting out with “High Hopes” — here’s a clip:
I’ve seen Springsteen once before, in Detroit — where he forgot that he was in Detroit and welcomed everyone from Ohio to the show, a gaffe that he remembered and joked about at last night’s concert. Everything I’ve said about this show so far was true of the last one, except this time he had Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave on guitar, and the band blew my doors off just that much more.
Morello looked like he was having fun. A lot of it. He’s never seemed to me to be the type who has fun on stage, like he’s more the serious musician type, so that was good to see.
Springsteen’s set list was interesting, to say the least. He played “Badlands” and “Born to Run,” as we’d expect, and I might be tempted to say that he performed “Hungry Heart,” but he didn’t — the audience sang it while he walked around getting hugs and singing the filler parts. And yes, people had signs with songs on them, which he’d grab, take up front, and then flash to the audience when the band started playing it. But he wasn’t hitting his top ten hits by any means: maybe 1/3 of his set list fit that category. He pulled up three teenage girls on stage to dance along and then brought up a very old woman — she had to be in her 80s — to play guitar along with him, and she did, and she jammed. She sang a bit too and sounded good. When his performance of “Born to Run” hit the part where the band was playing staccato, he just held his guitar out to the people up by the stage and let them beat on it with their hands.
He’s 64 this year, but I can’t tell. I’m not sure how the sound quality is on this clip, but he’s always been a touring performer, and every time he performs he wants to blow the audience’s doors off. He cut his chops touring around NJ and the Midwest, and he’s never gotten away from that. He loves what he’s doing, and he shares that love every minute that he’s on stage. I miss Clarence Clemons, but I loved that during the line “When the big man joined the band” came around during “10th Avenue Freeze Out” the big screen over the stage showed footage of the big man himself. I also missed Stevie Van Zandt for some unknown reason: seeing Bruce, Morello, and Nils Lofgren jamming together was great. Add Van Zandt to that mix and I can’t imagine what that would be live.
As a father, I try to teach my children right. One day, maybe four or five years ago, when my son Penn was a much smaller boy, I sat him down to teach him the Basic Facts of Life:
1. Elvis Presley is the King of Rock and Roll.
2. Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul.
3. Michael Jackson is the King of Pop.
4. Bruce Springsteen is the Boss.
My son wrinkled up his face and said, “No, Mommy’s the boss.”
Okay, maybe she’s done a better job on him than I have, but I’m still going to set him straight some day.
And speaking of setting people straight, my friend Terrie guffawed when she saw that Springsteen was still the number one performer in New Jersey. I had to ask…why is that a problem? She said, “Because he’s old.” I told her, remembering the Detroit show, that when Springsteen plays “Born to Run” live, God gets up and dances.
She said that’s because he’s the same age.
Just watch that clip, and you tell me if that’s an old man performing.
See Springsteen if you can. He doesn’t play shows. He has a party with his friends. Just, he brings the music. And if you don’t have the new album, get it.