James Laughlin - 1914-1997
Often now as an old man Who sleeps only four hours a night, I wake before dawn, dress and go down To my study to start typing: Poems, letters, more pages In the book of recollections. Anything to get words flowing, To get them out of my head Where they're pressing so hard For release it's like a kind Of pain. My study window Faces east, out over the meadow, And I see this morning That the sheep have scattered On the hillside, their white shapes Making the pattern of the stars In Canis Major, the constellation Around Sirius, the Dog Star, Whom my father used to point Out to us, calling it For some reason I forget Little Dog Peppermint. What is this line I'm writing? I never could scan in school. It's certainly not an Alcaic. Nor a Sapphic. Perhaps it's The short line Rexroth used In The Dragon & The Unicorn, Tossed to me from wherever He is by the Cranky Old Bear (but I loved him). It's really Just a prose cadence, broken As I breathe while putting My thoughts into words; Mostly they are stored-up Memories—dove sta memoria. Which one of the Italians Wrote that? Dante or Cavalcanti? Five years ago I'd have had The name on the tip of my tongue But no longer. In India They call a storeroom a godown, But there's inventory For my godown. I can't keep Track of what's m there. All those people in books From Krishna & the characters In the Greek Anthology Up to the latest nonsense Of the Deconstructionists, Floating around in my brain, A sort of "continuous present" As Gertrude Stein called it; The world in my head Confusing me about the messy World I have to live in. Better the drunken gods of Greece Than a life ordained by computers. My worktable faces east; I watch for the coming Of the dawnlight, raising My eyes occasionally from The typing to rest them, There is always a little ritual, A moment's supplication To Apollo, god of the lyre; Asking he keep an eye on me That I commit no great stupidity. Phoebus Apollo, called also Smintheus the mousekiller For the protection he gives The grain of the farmers. My Dawns don't come up like thunder Though I have been to Mandalay That year when I worked in Burma. Those gentle, tender people Puzzled by modern life; The men, the warriors, were lazy, It was the women who hustled, Matriarchs running the businesses. And the girls bound their chests So their breasts wouldn't grow; Who started that, and why? My dawns come up circumspectly, Quietly with no great fuss. Night was and in ten minutes Day is, unless of course It's raining hard. Then comes My first breakfast. I can't cook So it's only tea, puffed wheat and Pepperidge Farm biscuits. Then a cigar. Dr Luchs Warned me the cigars Would kill me years ago But I'm still here today.