Perversity and Defiance
Surprises in his own road
came in the basement
of the church
where he slept with the men
in a small room
breath and wonder mixed,
such a privilege
to be with these men
to make it
through the night
30 December 2015
LETTER TO HARRY MARTINSON
FROM THE HOMELESS SHELTER
IN THE BASEMENT OF A LUTHERAN CHURCH
CREATED BY EMMIGRANTS OUT WEST
“He who walks the roads should be unarmed.”
Harry Martinson, The Road, Nobel Laureate
Self-taught Swede I repeated jokes about you
before I knew your name. Orphan from the Parish
turned seaman, turned nomad, you spoke for tramps
becoming one, and becoming one, emerged singular,
and superior to the sanitized, those who stayed
home. Damning too, the efficient and organized.
I find you late in life by accident, trying to know
Scandinavian homeland through books. Your road
in tramp-time walks the poet’s way
half a century later. Other, outcast,
breaker and challenger of norms and stereotypes,
objective portrayer of the outsider,
tramp real and romantic. What is real,
stubbornness of the human spirit raised
to such heights, delighting where it touches
down, and more, touching what’s tender
and thin in human pretense. “In defiance
of his defiance he opened his mind
and let it be illuminated by his best thoughts
that he could remember, by all the best
of what he had seen and heard.”
Add the cost of defiance:
it takes twice as much out of you.
Your tramp is the poet on the way,
becoming true poet. Your poet,
the tramp on the way of the true road.
It is the poet who sees the back side
of the moon. The urge to witness,
the need to see, and walk and be.
Poet and tramp merge, becoming then,
this: “…like a clock which no longer
believes in its action.” A poet’s image
and the tramp’s reality. You knew,
and know, real, Harry Martinson.
Fear in everyone. What you see of fear
has been recorded, is true. And from
across time, I praise your time
with men you walked with. Fierce call.
“I have been sent to count the grasshoppers.”
“And I promise never to pretend to be somebody.”
“And to be perverse to perversity.”
Discovering truth in silence. Tramping
as a way of life. Embarrassment to America,
then and now, without contrition.
The incurably ill the only ones
embracing openly. Excess exposing
excess, loving humility. Unarmed.
Speaking, wallowing in truth, the big all.
In deep admiration,
20-30 December 2015