SUITE FOR ANTHONY HEILBUT
1. FOR ANGELS STANDING AT THE FOUR CORNERS
“For me, that includes the many millions of ruined gay lives…”
--Anthony Heilbut, Harper’s Magazine, February, 2017
I’m not spread across four States
hands in Colorado and New Mexico
with feet next door in Arizona and Utah.
No angel, either. Eyes strapped
to John on Patmos. I saw this,
reading the story in Harper’s.
I saw this. The number
that no man could number.
Revelations 7:9. Black gay corpses
outnumbering four thousand lynchings.
Let me try this in Spanish: Era
tan grande que nadie podía contarla.
Suffering in the pew comes down to this.
I saw this number.
II. ON THE IMMORTALITY OF THOMAS A. DORSEY
These songs, Downward Road, Creep Along Moses,
didn't come to me through car radio,
but the counsel in the North Dakota living room
before television. Not these songs exactly,
Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sons of the Pioneers.
My friend's Mom dies at 97, and I turn to Mavis Staples.
I'm trying to cross the Red Sea myself,
As is my habit, I'm walking the other way.
Still trying to have one more word with Pharaoh.
Precious Lord enters me before memory.
Tommy Dorsey was a trombone player.
I'm halfway through my life before I know.
When I hear who he was, what he lost,
who could I turn to but his song?
III. DOORWAY INTO THE DREAMING
Completing the unfinished
circle arriving at the sound
present from the start,
can it be remembered
how the story was read
that first time, catching on
by fragments in the middle,
dozing, then waking,
magazine still in hand,
asking, How did I get here?
Finding then the many rivers
and the long pull through January
cold with more snow
and the always present,
and the always present,
hidden layer of ice,
snow, like waves,
drifting beyond the yard
entering the senses
and all the songs
all that traveling on skis
into the wilderness
to preserve their imaginations,
and the music-filled meantime drives,
into the mountain drives, new sounds
herring-bone steps into snow pleasure
snow cover, not snow cover-up
out of the suburbs of America.
IV. TOWARDS THE SURFACE
It did. It began
and the burr
burrowing under the skin
all of it coming back
looking for all intents
the verse in Revelations,
after the fact. Fact-first,
in greater number
than the hangings,
the number that cannot
be counted, not connecting,
not yet, epiphany
like a tic in someone's breathing
as terror returns,
number that cannot
be counted, Biblical,
Revelations 7: 9,
that no man can count,
still not hearing it,
in the title,
not seeing it.
VI. AND THEN THE WORK, AND THE READING,
THE ALL AVAILABLE ACCESSIBLE MOUNTAIN,
GOSPEL ALWAYS PROCLAIMS GOOD NEWS
Where is God? I can't tell you
the El Salvadoran priest says,
but I can tell you this,
Not in the Empire. Holy smokes,
that this should surface
at a time like this, closing
The Gospel Sound:
Good News and Bad Times,
singing behind the beat.
First asking Karen,
How do you talk about back beat?
trying to understand how one sings
behind the beat. Are they the same?
Asking without a word of warning.
VII. LETTER TO ANTHONY HEILBUT
INTERRUPTED CALL AND RESPONSE,
BEGINNINGS IN NOTEBOOK AND BOOK MARGINS
AFTER FIFTY YEARS OF LISTENING
Wheat still lodged itself in Jean pockets
from North Dakota when we found ourselves
in Seattle during the 50s. I was ten,
strange to every boy on the block,
selling brooms made by the blind.
Last night, reading in bed,
trying to get through The Gospel Life
after spending a back-and-forth afternoon
between your book and YouTube,
time collapsing. Gospel is
the music of grownups...bad times
will come in new ways. Thanks.
And thanks to Harper's.
To your covers all around.
At the paper shack down the street
from our house, smoking,
before starting our routes, an older brother of a friend,
played us the new song, What'd I say?
He was in Demolay. Some of these guys
might have made it to Harvard.
They were never spoken of where I came from.
Now 15, without a license, downtown Seattle,
alone in Birdland, I hear Ray Charles.
I see him.
He carries me through high school,
Modern Sounds in Country Music.
a working boy. The Elvis Christmas Album
with Precious Lord, I Believe, and.......
When I'd knew your story was calling the shots
I order the Dorsey songs, Gospel Sounds,
this time a man in his 70s,
and your big book on eros, literature and Thomas Mann.
20+some years ago at Garrett Seminary
reading the Hebrew Bible, I needed that Joseph story.
In Yakima we're part of the immigrant community,
but gospel flows through the Yakima River, too.
(Oleta Adams comes from the city school where I worked.
A sophomore girl came into class early each week
and sang My Eyes Are on the Sparrow for me,
because I was her teacher. If I learned late,
I knew early I was a blessed man.)
This morning, I too, spend a weekend with the Campbells--
thanks--and finish with your story on Aretha
from five years ago. By applying her ancestors'
sensibility to the American Songbook--
You're a churchwrecker yourself, Anhony Heilbut.
50 years ago this month, Army Sergeant in Panama,
I receive orders for Viet Nam. Med Evac.
In the summer of love, Karen and I spend a month
listening to Van Morrison, the Brown-Eyed Girl.
85th Evac Hospital, Qui Nhon, below Da Nang
on the South China Sea. We send all those kids home.
Tet started in January and lasted until
bombing stopped in July. All that music.
Enough about me. A few more things
about song and witness.
A few things about your Thomas Mann.
VIII. AFTER COMING HOME FROM THE BONSAI MEETING
DIPPING THE BUCKET INTO THE BIG BOOK
"Gypsies, Hungarians, prostitutes, homosexuals, vagrants, and exiles--in many cultures, these appellations are coterminous: any reader of Mann knows that these men are his brothers."
Thomas Mann, Eros & Literature, Anthony Heilbut
Now that that's out of the way.
Sunny with a breeze, Wind picks up
driving me to another part of the yard.
Back from the mountain, mountain-held,
pruners in my hand, holster
buckled on my belt. Add children
to that list up top. And old people.
C.S. Lewis reappears arguing with Eliot.
Midnight and moonlight made for other worlds.
Sehnuscht leaves the artist exhausted, disgraced.
He can never enjoy his passions.
Nothing cryptic about erectile tissue.
Never made it through Magic Mountain.
Music in the mail. Where is the music coming from?
Back from bonsai, Japanese black pine potted.
Fingers trace literature's roots in akadama .
Flattened by numbers that can't be counted.
Decades ago Jean Burden insisting,
the poet crosses the abyss without a net.
Here you name the surface.
Surface is abyss.
Only that which exhausts us.
I didn't make it through Magic Mountain
but I read every page of Eros and Literature.
9 February, March, 7 April 2017