The Dead Sing Brokedown Palace for Ken Kesey (May 8, 1984), by Alan Walowitz

The Dead Sing Brokedown Palace for Ken Kesey (May 8, 1984)
by Alan Walowitz

The last we ever saw the Chief—
after he took good care of McMurphy,
broke his neck a couple of places
and broke out into the night—
one hand was latched to the bumper of that chicken van
the other hitched to a tree to keep the wrestling team inside
from sliding off the cliff in the worst snowstorm
the Cascades had seen since ’58.
But by then the Big Injun was getting small again,
worn down and laid waste by the high-talking hucksters,
and pickpockets, and card-sharps,
but along with it came this hard-won but unspeakable wisdom:
Ain’t nothing we can do to make things right.

Still, Kesey, he’s gotta live with the death of his wrestler-son,
another twenty-one years, a sentence he could never do sober or sane–
till one night in Eugene, Kesey sitting in a box over the stage
with the smoke wafting off the rafters in waves
the Dead turned to him–for all their shambling harmony,
close as they ever got to as-one–and sang:

         Fare you well, fare you well
         I love you more than words can tell
         Listen to the river sing sweet songs
         to rock my soul

The Deadheads were stone-silent as if there were ghosts in the bleachers
and the silence enveloped Kesey like an embrace.
Then–finally–he knew: Art needn’t be a fist to the face.
In fact, maybe he’d been wrong about everything,
and maybe, just maybe, and against his better judgment,
he might begin some merry madness all over again.

Process note: This story is legendary and, like most legends, I don’t know how true: How Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, found some peace when the Grateful Dead played “Brokedown Palace” for him after the death of his son who had been a collegiate wrestler. I guess the reader can decide how true this sounds, though I like to believe it.

Alan Walowitz (www.alanwalowitz.com) has been published various places on the web and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, is available from Osedax Press, and his full-length book,The Story of the Milkman and other poems, will appear soon from Truth Serum Press.

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Heading Home, by Alan Walowitz

Heading Home
by Alan Walowitz

Call off your dogs.
A seller I’ll be and happy–
or whatever you want–
if you give me a moment to think.

The highways of America stare
open and ready. And potholed,
you might say. But life is entrapment
avoiding being trapped in them.

Let me rodeo a moment.
I’ll convince Uncle Harry or anyone
that a cow’s life is just as my own,
waiting to be hoist and weighed.

I won’t wait on your reply.
for I don’t fear as you grow closer
and I grow old
we might emit some same syllables.

I’ll be ugly only
when our mouths move the same.
Uglier,
I’ll be home soon.

Process note: This is an old poem, from around 1972. I think I wrote it when I was convinced I wanted to be a Jewish cowboy; or perhaps I was just going through some extra, late-adolescent rebellion–which has continued right through today.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see alanwalowitz.com.

Hailstorm, by by Alan Walowitz

Hailstorm    (August 1, 2011)
by Alan Walowitz

The rages of recent days settle upon us,
grow into practical comforts:
those we’d trusted to allay the silence are silent;
one-time lovers barely recognized in the hall;
what might have been called kindness once
—a nod as we pass, a door noiselessly latched,
Such a handsome tie — become particular annoyances.
As is this sudden sun, the way it nudges us unwilling
into a mood we’ve lost the context for.

So let’s remember with nostalgia just yesterday
when the rain turned to hail the size of lab rats,
translucent, fat and blind—
they made that scurrying rat-tat-tat on the roof
and those death-defying dents in the parked cars
and even the ones trying to escape
though there was nowhere to go.

It’s harsh weather that could comfort those
who lose sight of what life is about—
ducking shards when the glass shatters about us
even in the so-called safety of our homes.
Here’s real running through the rain
and not even vaguely romantic.
The drops, suddenly so visible,
might turn out to be much less hazardous
to our long-term health and well-being.

Process Notes: The hailstorm of August 1, 2011 was a frightening event. The sky darkened and soon the rain turned to hail, and some of the hail was the size of baseballs. My car had both front and back windshields shattered, as well as a side view mirror. There were dents all over any car left outside. Skylights in homes were shattered. Roofs had to be replaced. All within a space of less than a half-hour and only within a two mile radius of here. I think the poem tries to capture some of the fright of the event, as well as some of my amazement.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see alanwalowitz.com.

You Are Home, by Alan Walowitz

You Are Home
by Alan Walowitz

My father paces the lobby of the Hotel Le Monde, a little outside of Brussels.
The prints, in the style of the late Flemish school, stare down at him, but the
people inside them are too busy, too joyful in their village life to engage the
lonely soldier come to set them free. The war sputters to a close a few
hundred miles to the east and my father lights one cigarette after another and
crushes each, half-smoked, beneath his impatient heel. He is lost inside, his
buddies upstairs, for them the war brought closer to an end in the arms of the
jeune filles, who wear their boredom like the cheap perfume in their hair. The
world will be appeased that they can hardly see themselves in each others’
eyes, the light failing outside, the lamps dimmed by elegant rags torn from
more innocent days, now too painful to recall.

My father stares at the clock hanging crooked on the wall. The time is not
right, but he allows himself to think of his wife and daughter who wait for him
on the other side. He wishes he knew them. For all his jokes, his practiced
ease, he knows little of women and the world they make. But he is certain
where they are is home, and he wishes he were there, and he wishes he had
not come to this place which has only made him more lonely, more certain
that something unnamed and terrible will happen, that he will miss his own
life, that he will never be home.

And I am his son a lifetime later and have finally been born. I have wandered
from woman to woman and you laugh and say I’m like a man looking for a
home. Some nights I even dream myself standing at your door. It is already
dawn and I can hardly remember the dangers of the battlefield, the mines I
have dodged, the unsteady rat-tat- tat of the gunner at my heels. I ring your
bell and ring and ring, but you never answer. For all my false bravado, my
derring-do, I cannot knock, I cannot demand, I cannot beat down your door,
though I know, and have always known, you are home.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see alanwalowitz.com.

The Sequel, by Alan Walowitz

The Sequel
by Alan Walowitz

         They will call him brave.
                  “Penelope”– Dorothy Parker

 
The universe is telling us plenty– and some of it true–
but what to do with all the conflicting information?
These days I lash myself
to practiced habit and established form.
You’d be surprised
who’ll watch a guy muck about in quicksand
when he hardly gives a shit at all.
Sometimes I stop and browse
the cards and letters you fans send.
I like the ones that read like fortunes best:
Don’t seek so hard.  
Settle down.
Feel free to be old. 
 And even more poetic:
Come joyfully to the fruits of home.
What you’ve read or heard
might have once been true:
the glossy smile of native girl on travel brochure
could send me hot and frenzied
in an entirely new direction.  
But I always choose Ithaca now—
hapless suitors, wife gone grey,
son who doesn’t know me.  
Cowardly? I admit, but comfort of a kind
what love and duty will have us do.

Process notes: “The Sequel” has gone through many iterations. It started out being about my postman, who always seemed to me to be a happy man. But who can tell how happy anyone else is, when we can hardly tell about ourselves? The poem ended up being sort of about an Odyssey, a frequent, perhaps too-frequent, subject of poetry, hence my nod to one of the best by Dorothy Parker in the epigraph.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see alanwalowitz.com.

News Flash on I 495, by Alan Walowitz

News Flash on I 495
by Alan Walowitz

Silver Alert, the sign says.
Some old guy’s got loose on the expressway again,
not kidnapped by strangers
or dragged off by kin professing their love–
some place he never wanted to go.
He knows where this is heading.

Life is funny and sad, this perfect loneliness we seek,
at bars on the corner, glazed over, head bowed;
in cars on highways, the radio jacked up so high
we never have to think;
settling in at rooming houses the middle of nowhere
for as long as it takes.

Left alone is what we say we want, but
if the world won’t get a hard-on for us,
we don’t know where to turn or how.
Might as well drive straight to the end,
if there is an end.

If not, I’ll be right home.

Process notes: I was driving on the Long Island Expressway one day and saw a sign that flashed the words: Silver Alert with the make, model, and license plate number of a missing person. It got me to thinking about the senior citizen who might have run away.

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing. For more see alanwalowitz.com.

Offerings for the Dead, by Alan Walowitz

Offerings for the Dead
by Alan Walowitz

Second thoughts sometimes detract
from who you figured you might be
in the distillery of your dreams–
you’d help those in need, comfort the afflicted,
mourn the dead, or at least offer compassion
to those who had been much closer
and in words they could easily take in at a time like this.
A sincere “I don’t know what to say” often turns out
to be better receiving-line chatter
than “My condolences, Ma’am, though
I don’t have the faintest notion who you are.”
Such expressions are often distracting,
and you end up in a handshake that knows no end,
or, God forbid, you hug a stranger
for much too long, and in this dance you have nothing more to say,
and instead begin to babble tidbits from the past–
memories that might just as well be inventions–
and before long you’re blubbering when
all you wanted was a little silent weeping in a corner,
far from the sight of the deceased, who you really liked,
your voice cracking at the seams and any thing
real you were planning to say jumbled and fumfered
like your own worst vision of yourself,
a kid whose mother dragged him to a wake–
where he might at least have learned something useful
for later in life when his mother is gone.

Process notes: I was recently informed that a well-loved poetry teacher, Colette Inez, had passed away, and I just started writing. I didn’t know what the poem would turn out to be. My guess is she would have approved of a poem that doesn’t know where it’s headed at first. It’s certainly not meant to be a memorial for her; she would deserve much better, much richer; it’s much more a memento mori for myself. alanwalowitz.com

Alan Walowitz has been published in various places on the web–and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an online journal, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens. Alan’s chapbook, Exactly Like Love, was published by Osedax Press in 2016 and is now in its second printing.