River Roads

- 1878-1967

Let the crows go by hawking their caw and caw.
They have been swimming in midnights of coal mines somewhere.
Let ’em hawk their caw and caw.

Let the woodpecker drum and drum on a hickory stump. 
He has been swimming in red and blue pools somewhere hundreds of years 
And the blue has gone to his wings and the red has gone to his head. 
Let his red head drum and drum.

Let the dark pools hold the birds in a looking-glass. 
And if the pool wishes, let it shiver to the blur of many wings, old swimmers from old places.

Let the redwing streak a line of vermillion on the green wood lines. 
And the mist along the river fix its purple in lines of a woman’s shawl on lazy shoulders.

Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio

It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.
     Ship riveters talk with their feet
     To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
        "I got the blues.
        I got the blues.
        I got the blues."
And . . . as we said earlier:
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.

Wilderness

There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from saltblue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blond and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

Poems Done on a Late Night Car

I. CHICKENS

I am The Great White Way of the city:  
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:  
"Girls fresh as country wild flowers,  
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,  
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,  
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders  
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at the ashes of my mysteries."  
  


II. USED UP
Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination
upon the painted faces of women on North Clark Street, Chicago

          Roses,  
        Red roses,
          Crushed  
In the rain and wind  
Like mouths of women  
Beaten by the fists of  
Men using them. 
  O little roses  
  And broken leaves  
  And petal wisps:  
You that so flung your crimson  
  To the sun
Only yesterday.  
  


III. HOME

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:  
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened  
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness. 

Related Poems

Marshlands

A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,
Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,
Sail up the silence with the nearing night.

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,
Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

The Pool

You mirage a dead world
in the white pool.

White rush and silver rush at twitterlight
meet and desire as the shy boy
lifts from his lover.
White rush and silver rush at twitterlight
touch in the wind and sleep.

Duck-green and willow-silver…
has no wing touched your cheek?
Is there no bird
to weave a nest between your sullen limbs
and hatch a songster,
(amber with lizard eyes)
to chirp above your phrases: “Love, love, love…”

Your world dies from the surface of the pool.

Why are your hands not on the willow leaves
to feel the sharpness and the thin, soft flower?
To feel…
love wrinkle at the touch like a soft bird?

In Summer Twilight

Just a dash of lambent carmine
  Shading into sky of gold;
Just a twitter of a song-bird
  Ere the wings its head enfold;
Just a rustling sigh of parting
  From the moon-kissed hill to breeze;
And a cheerful gentle, nodding
  Adieu waving from the trees;
Just a friendly sunbeam’s flutter
  Wishing all a night’s repose,
Ere the stars swing back the curtain
  Bringing twilight’s dewy close.