Tuesday, May 22, 2012


On the night
that I was born,
the bells rang out
across the world.

– Dick Jones, “Stille Nacht,” Ancient Lights

Me, I was launched more or less
with Sputnik, that steel Russian
egg, peeping day and night
with unhatched, unhatchable dreams.
It floated above us, pregnant with fire,
reflecting on Hiroshima.

We grew up with Boris Badenov
and a thousand other tales spun for us
by alcoholic Jews from a ruined world,
trying to imagine innocence. Not
an auspicious beginning,
but you don't get to choose these things.
If we noticed that our mentors' hands
were shaking, we adopted
a hard-bitten style laughably unmeet:
we lived outside of history
in a land of endless Spring, and
it was explained to us carefully
that nothing would ever come due,
that no one would ever die.

How then to meet
an English kid from Horton Kirby
who thought our beats were real?
We stumbled yearning
towards each other's countries, thinking
somewhere was something
that wasn't spoiled. Trade places:
I'll take the Shire, you can have
the big sky and the Big Easy;
I'll take Shakespeare. You
can have the Delta blues.

Only the bells survived.
That, and the flesh, which we handed on
as best we could. We go now wearing
bear-shirt or feathers, wearing the fell
of whatever our people used to kill.

They knew a thing or two, those Olafs:
that it's better to wear your curse
than to run from it; that home is the straw
where your mother had to stop for the night.


Dale said...

I have no idea why I thought Rocky and Bullwinkle was written by alcoholic Jews, and a quick googling reveals no reason to think so. So it's with some reluctance that I let the lines stand. But certainly the whole American media world was saturated with refugees and relatives of refugees, and there was a strange glitter to these lost, desperate portrayals of American innocence by people who could never believe in such a thing. I still feel that I was born in one of the great historical vortices of inauthenticity, and that the spin given to my life -- and to everyone in my generation -- by this falseness will last as long as we do.

Dale said...
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Dale said...

Dick's poem, by the way -- you should go read it if you haven't -- is about being born on Christmas during the Blitz, and growing up in the shadow of the War: which made me think of growing up in the shadow of the Cold War.

Beth said...

I love what you've done here, Dale, and the points you're making have a lot of resonance for me, born in-between you and Dick into a world that rang false, and which I too tried to fathom through literature.

Dick said...

Oh, Dale, this is wonderful! As I listened to those ghostly bleeps from the old wartime wireless in the boys' room in my weird little free school, into the world you came! And then later 'we stumbled yearning / towards each other's countries, thinking /
somewhere was something / that wasn't spoiled'. Well now, my friend, we can both have both and be the richer for them. That having been said, I can't resist reference to Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty witnessing the two sax players riffing off each other in the (Denver?) jazz club. I love this great solo and have copied it to my 'other men's voices' folder. Only one slight caveat: you've added 5 years to my age by siting my birth during the blitz. I was witness to the last of the V2s just before the end of the War!

Dale said...

Oh, sorry about adding on the years! You know how fine-grained our perceptions of the war in Britain are, over here -- bombs in London? = blitz, of course :-) I was puzzling a bit over the red-starred helmets in central Europe, even I knew that they should have been on the Volga & Lake Ladoga. now it all fits together better!