WALKING THRU THE DECADES :
a retrospective to mark
the poet’s 60th birthday
the 1960s . . .
SUMMER SUNDAY IN KENT
I walk by the pink railroad station,
cross the tracks
to a railing
and look down at the Cuyahoga
trickling through old canal locks.
the way the river rolls
the way, the WAY the river rolls
this river (the Cuyahoga) rolls
this is my river,
this is my way
I brace myself against the rail,
the river rolling
through my head,
and think about Jake and Mary,
and the train that might pass.
"lOUIS WASHKANSKY IS DEAD..."
I have tried this month
to fashion a poem, to weave
one out of things about me
but the threads that crossed
my loom tangled and snarled
and no poem came
so I sat in front of the t-v
and watched Huntley chide
Brinkley, Paula Prentiss in
a mini-skirt and two British
songwriters singing about
the first and second laws of
thermodynamics. Then I went to
bed, alone, and went to sleep, again,
and woke to hear the news that
that man in Africa with that
dead girl’s heart in him
MEETING MISS LILLIAN
Downtown Cleveland. The last place you’d expect to see Lillian Gish. But the papers said she’d be there, plugging her book, The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me, at the book department of Higbee’s.
So I showed up. So did some 25 denizens of Sunset Village wearing their annually-retrieved spring bonnets which sported more cherries than Smuckers keeps in stock.
"And here I’ve been waiting and it’s nearly a quarter to two and they’re letting her rest while I have to stay on my feet," she harped to another woman who had been going on about "Mae Marsh’s bee-stung lips -- oh no, I mean Mae Murray’s."
The woman with the bun and the painted, slanted brown eyebrows kept on, complaining about Miss Lillian’s not being there and about how most of the people that she comes to see are terrible disappointments and look much better on television.
While the contigent stood off to one side of the table where Miss Lillian was supposed to be, another group of girls stood cheeping on the other side of the table, at which sat a clerk who obviously had nothing better to do.
Finally one of that side’s number -- they must have elected her -- went up to the clerk, a woman in her 50s, and asked, "Are you Lillian Gish?"
The clerk tittered, "No. But she’ll be here soon."
The elected one went back to report the news they already heard and they giggled.
Suddenly giggles and whispers assumed beehive volume and I knew Lillian Gish must have finished her tea.
Escorted by two younger men, she stepped quietly by her fans and sat at the chair the clerk had given up.
"Why, she tints her hair," one said to another behind the privacy of a raised hand.
Miss Lillian, obviously ignoring any buzzings, began signing copies of the book. One man bought three.
"I certainly hope you like it," she said with a bit of surprise in her voice as she signed the last of the three volumes.
A clerk came up to the shrew with the gray bun and thin brown eyebrows and asked her if she wanted to buy a copy of the book.
"No, I’m just standing here in admiration," she beamed with a smile as sincere as Lawrence Welk’s.
Most of the girls also had come only to look, to whisper, to rememebr. They didn’t buy the book but stayed to oggle the face which one described as "still having that Dresden china quality."
It was my turn to have Miss Gish sign the book. She looked up at me and it was enough to melt me. Here was one of the most enduring performers in a medium which is constantly looking for newer and younger faces, a woman older than Hollywood itself, a favorite of Griffith and Sherwood Anderson and Sean O’Casey, the fragile figure who would always be somewhere in my mind crossing the Connecticut River on an ice floe.
"Alex," I answered the enquiring look on her face as she poised over her pen. I felt myself blush a little and wondered if I was as silly as some of the aging coquettes who had left their soap operas to see a star.
She wrote in the book, apologizing that the ink was a different color than the signature (she had signed all the books "In Remembrance, Lillian Gish," in black ink beforehand and now added a personal inscription in blue).
I thanked her -- meaning much more than just for the signature -- and walked to the escalator. I was happy to leave those sad faces and hoped that Miss Lillian would escape soon, too. I remembered reading that she liked young people and was so enthused over their discovery of the film as a serious art form and I wondered where the young cultists were with their questions. I wondered and I smiled softly as the escalator brought me back down.
takes two English classes at Kent State University with Irene Metz
sees "Lord of the Flies"
sees Morris Carnovsky on stage at Oberlin College
sees "The Cardinal"
is denied the editorship of the Daily Kent Stater because of his support for the Congress of Racial Equality
takes the train to New York where he stays at Sloane House for $3 a nite
sees Hal Holbrook & Mildred Dunnock off-Broadway
sits behind Hope Hampton at the opening/closing nite of a Tom Bosley show with an audience that includes Dolly Haas & Al Hirschfeld Jean & Walter Kerr
sees Alec Guinness play Dylan Thomas
cajoles Barbra Streisand into signing the cover of Time while she waits for a taxi
observes Bette Davis & Ethel Merman Hoagy Carmichael & Thomas Dewey emerge from the opening of "Funny Girl"
sees "The Fiances"
dines at Playboy Club with Stanley Krippner
talks with Robert Redford on the way to the theater
sits in on Kenneth Koch’s poetry class at New School for Social Research
hears Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall
chats with Paul Shenar after seeing him on stage with Barbara Colby
sits behind Louise Latham to see Earle Hyman perform Shakespeare
sees Angela Lansbury & Lee Remick in his first Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway
takes Betty Jean Maycock to a campus recital
joins his parents to participate in Mary & Jacob Leed’s Easter egg roll
Into the Sea
Madison: Abraxas Press
the beach is layered avocado & peach
in this poem about Maurice Prendergast’s middle name
ladies with parasols & children on donkeys
move across it as they might a marketplace in Rio
in the middle of the poem a boat without a surname
waits for a breeze to blow it out of the poem
the water gives the impression of being greener than the sky
which resembles key lime pie under florescent gaze
it’s summer in the poem but the antique ladies
promenade in lazy dresses that drag in the sand
LINDA IN BANANALAND
tootsies verboten in this country
where cats stalk beds
like sleek tribesmen
seeking ginseng root
to slip between thighs
of prep-school cowboys
here the law
scratched on plastic
indulges moistness between nibbles
even the nun on the corner
collects depression glass
& the mayor giggles at unoccupied mouths
AT THE TYGER DRIVE-IN WITH COL. J. WMS.
Betty Grable is dead
Joe E. Brown is dead
Veronica Lake is dead
Liz & Dick are separating
& I’m in Portage’s county seat Ravenna hometown of Peggy King
co-star of "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" serving on a jury in an eminent domain case & rereading The Loco Logodaedalist in Situ during breaks. one of my peers tells another juror "softball is a sissy game" while I sit alone in the corner fondling the book & recalling the interview with former film extra Edward Dahlberg in which he said "I saw Norman Mailer and Mickey Rooney on television once and I couldn’t tell who was speaking."
* * *
the walk to the drive-in is not a short one. it’s up hillocks & across oceans with comfort stops at ballparks & concert halls libraries & literary shrines. but the walk is as enjoyable as watching the show. to delight has long been one intention of Jonathan Williams’ poetry. & the pleasures he invents by juggling herbals & mythologies & movie magazines are abaundant. there are those who see too much Busby Berkeley in such jugglings. these are the ones who stampede to the popcorn concession when our hero stands alone on a hill in March stripped of his britches & acrostics & cries from the heart "one person/one person only."
it is the cry of the lover that is the howl of the poet. we search for one person to put our arms around & in that embrace we embrace all.
* * *
on the day Steve McQueen married Ali MacGraw the last full day in the life of Lon Chaney Jr. in the jury room where the day before we awarded damages of $150,000 I was waiting for the judge to summon us reading in the Plain Dealer that Robert Ryan lost out to lung cancer. one member of the panel who had seen the headlines lisped to another about the number of movie stars who had just died. "Betty Grable was still young" he told his buddy probably both WWII vets. after waiting an hour we were called into the courtroom where the judge announced the case had been settled & we were dismissed till next week. it was time to go home back to our families & the livingrooms where we’d turn on t-v to hear Norman Mailer say Marilyn Monroe might’ve been murdered & swear we’d really heard Mickey Rooney talking.
sees Mickey Rooney in dinner theater
flies to London
checks into Eden House
sees Tim Curry in black fishnet stockings
dines with Roberta & Joseph Berke
is introducd to David Hockney by R.B. Kitaj & spends the nite at Powis Terrace
sees Ingrid Bergman Alec Guinness & Paul Scofield on the West End
meets Ian Grimshaw at Markham Arms & Michael Danvers-Walker at the Salisbury
takes tea with Bessie Love who dances for him
takes more tea with Kevin Brownlow who doesn't
views "The Floating World" at Victoria & Albert Museum
sees "Dirty Harry" with Lem Kitaj at National Film Theatre followd by Sandra Fisher's pasta
takes the ferry from Dover to Calais where he is muggd
spends the nite with David Hockney at Tony Richardson's Paris apartment where Hockney draws him
is shown the street Balthus paintd by Hockney
is introducd to Shirley Goldfarb by Hockney at Cafe de Flore
dines at La Coupole with Hockney
visits Oscar Wilde's grave at Pere Lachaise
sees "Monseiur Verdoux"
eats escargot for the first time at Restaurant des Beaux Arts with Hockney & Jean Leger
travels by train to Bologna where he stays with W. S. DiPiero
sees "L'Attenato" with DiPiero
visits Sheila Tabakoff in Florence & joins her students for an art tour of Arezzo
stays at her castle in S. Giuliana
is driven from Perugia to Rome by David Wetherell
visits the room where John Keats died
sees "A Hole in the Head"
sees "The Homecoming"
sees "House of Wax"
The Origin of Oregano
Kent: Tarragon Graphics.
Twin Lakes: Toucan Press.
"Twenty Sonnets Bound in Gold"
London (Canada): Killalay Press.
East Lansing: Ghost Dance Press.
The Year Book
Plainfield: North Atlantic Books.
Cleveland: Submarine Enterprises.
Liszt & Other Lists
Twin Lakes: Toucan Press.
New Notes: Poems 1971-76
Kent: Shelly’s Press.
Kent: Viscerally Press.
Twin Lakes: Toucan Press.
SWIMMERS OUT OF WATER
a tyke astairing across the living room
decades before his first tux
I still dance by myself
or with an unwilling Tobias
who unlike an earlier cat
takes no pleasure in my recreation
of Nureyev’s tango with Dowell
the last time I remember
dancing with another man
was two years ago in a cellar
off Via Veneto
I was drunk again
from a novel begun in 1977 & abandond in 1978
"The two fingers of gin in Boyd’s glass refracted the silver blue shimmer of the revolving globe above the dance floor turning it into the hideous drink that had been the Fire Island favorite a few seasons back. But the blue water didn’t last as long as the song. Boyd steadied himself against the bar. It was the summer of disco and young men dipped and dove across the slick floor like swimmers out of water."
he invitd me
to a dance
I didn’t know
at an Akron bar
near where Hart Crane
the tyke taught
to lead in school
tried to follow
dancing with Jean-Claude at Stonewall
Ned at the Firehouse
Jay at Studio One
Ira at 12 West
Gerald at A House
Steven at Parade
Thomas at Les Jardins
those 1001 nites we dancd & drank away
I want back
& the boys who thrashd beside me
lost at sea
I didn’t ask you
to sing to me
that morning in bed
in a bay motel
sang to me
abt how the sea
I didn’t ask
but I was touchd
sang to me
while the sea
below our balcony
washd away worries
like so many syringes
POSTCARD MEMOIR #29
the start of school meant virgin Ticonderogas pads of Golden Rod a box of Crayolas & then that other stuff: clothes. Mother chose my wardrobe till I reachd the picky stage when I purchasd things like blue suede shoes & charcoal slacks gussetd with pink. I had a favorite plaid shirt I wore till it wore out. one hand-me-down corduroy vest I wore in high school I still wear. I’ve always been partial to clothes with a history. my closet houses a blue silk shirt of Jean-Claude’s an undershirt of David Bondio’s Jay Parsell’s belt a skinny black leather tie of Dimitri’s Rock Hudson’s cufflinks a pair of Michael Pierce’s moth-eaten sweaters Bob Kidney’s jacket even a tie Aunt Sophie wore as a WAC in India during WW2.
sees "Easter Parade" on Easter with his parents followd by dinner at Julia Waida’s
sees "Myra Breckenridge"
sees "National Lampoon's Movie Madness"
sees Mark Jamison & Patrick Downey on stage on campus
attends a campus lecture by Robert A.M. Sterns
lunches at Pufferbelly with Nancy Birk & Denise Cibulas
visits Mary Ann Begland in Rochester
reconnoiters with Thomas Meyer Jonathan Williams Robert Duncan & Frances McCullough at the symposium "A Matter of Occasion" at which he meets Hugh Kenner
spends the nite with Willyum Rowe at the home of Keith Smith
sees "The Great Man"
attends a campus lecture by Jerry Brown
attends the International Film Conference at KSU
publishes In Praise of Ladies Dead & Lovely Knights in observence of his 40th birthday
is given a birthday dinner by Julia Waida who fixes his favorite chocolate cake
celebrates his birthday in Elyria with his parents Aunt Sophie David Meredith & Michael Pierce
receives a call on his birthday from Richard Martin
begins drinking on a flight to Las Vegas & continues thru dinner at Alias Smith & Jones with Garold Gardner Gary Lingren & T.R. Queen
is introducd to Marta Becket by Gardner at Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction
Kent: Catcher Press.
Kent: Toucan Press.
In Praise of Ladies Dead & Lovely Knights
Kent: Toucan Press.
The Avalanche of Time
Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
MEDITATION AT MONEMVASSIA
across the road
from the cemetery
where Ritsos sleeps
there is a large rock
with a hollow beneath
big enough to sit in
away from the pierce
of summer sun
there I watch
strike rock strike rock
until my blood
is salt water
until my bones
until my pentameter
is the sea’s
SEA SALT ON GREEN PEPPER
in my high desert
ajuga faints from thrist
in midday sun
vinca passes out
I wait till late
pour water into cans
with wet whispers
inside I slice a pepper
sprinkle it with sea
one bite & Monterey waves
wash over me again
nibbles at my ankles
another bite & I cross
black pebble Santorini beach
dive into Aruban azure
dogpaddle in Budapest park
we who choose high dry
give up sea but not salt
its taste on our tongues
lets us swim in deep water
TEN FROM TENN
24 oct 95:Santa Fe
as afternoon began I sat eating a shrimp & crab cake at Cafe Del Mar & got the idea for "Today at the Library" writing the initial entry in my head. then I walkd to the Coronado post office to mail birthday greetings to R.B.Kitaj. there I purchasd 3 sheets of the Tennesee Williams commemorative stamp. as I walkd back to Brother Abdon Way another idea: preparing 10 envelopes on which to affix the stamp to mail to 10 friends in memory of my favorite playwright. each envelope celebrates a Williams play with a quotation & watercolor.
1 "The Glass Menagerie"
sent to T.R. QUEEN who read Jim O’Connor opposite my Tom Wingfield at my boyhood home in Elyria in the summer of 1961
2 "A Streetcar Named Desire"
sent to JOHN ERICSON who playd Stanley Kowalski opposite the Blanche DeBois of Vivian Blaine at Kenley Players
3 "Camino Real"
sent to ROBERT NOTT who was to review a recent local production as his final piece for The New Mexican until a family emergency took him out of town allowing me to review it
4 "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
sent to DIMITRI KARAGEORGIOU who sat next to me (& not far from Carol Channing) at the 1990 revival featuring Kathleen Turner as Maggie
5 "Orpheus Descending"
sent to CYNTHIA MAYER PRAMUK who during our undergraduate years at Kent State University often spoke the lines of Carol Cutrere from memory
6 "Suddenly Last Summer"
sent to the composer of the music for the original production NED ROREM who reveals in his diary that Williams thought of changing the title to "Music in the 12 Tone Scale"
7 "Sweet Bird of Youth"
sent to ROBERT LEWIS whose original Williams playscripts I brought to Kent State University Libraries where so many of Hart Crane’s papers reside
8 "The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore"
sent to JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE who once agreed with me that Williams is America’s greatest playwright ever
9 "Night of the Iguana"
sent to IRA JOEL HABER who sat next to me at the 1976 revival featuring Richard Chamberlain as Shannon (with Martin Rabbett listd as an understudy)
10 "Something Cloudy, Something Clear"
sent to DAVID W. MEREDITH who has heard the lines of Williams from the stage of Provincetown Playhouse & who has seen his ghost sit by the fire at the A-House bar
gives his nite-blooming cereus to Maggie Anderson & Anna French his lemon tree to Algesa & Joseph O'Sickey
attends Henry Van Dyke's retirement party
sees a last film in Kent "A Woman of Affairs"
celebrates Mothers Day in Elyria with his parents Sophie & Jim Hause Sal Kovach & Dimitri
dines at the home of Donna & Henry Walker after which Henry gives him the watercolor "Union Station Los Angeles" as a farewell gift
sees Gordeeva & Grinkov Oksana Baiul & Philippe Candeloro in the Tour of World Figure Skating Champions at the Coliseum
bids goodbye to his parents in Elyria
dines at the home of the O'Sickeys with Dimitri on their last nite in Ohio
breakfasts at the home of Alfred Cavaretta before leaving with Dimitri & 2 cats for Santa Fe with stops along the way in Eureka MO & Clinton OK
spends their first nite of residency in New Mexico at the Pecos home of Richard Martinez
checks in Thunderbird Inn
stays in the guest house of Alicia & William Miller
lunches at Green Chile in Los Alamos with Dimitri
picnics on the portal of his almost-finishd home with Nancy Jane Cope Jay Martin Poole & Dimitri
sees a first film in Santa Fe "Like Water for Chocolate"
hears Dave Grusin play "Main Theme from 'On Golden Pond' " with the Santa Fe Symphony before an audience that includes David Raksin
sees "Little Buddha" with Dimitri
sees "The Crow" with Dimitri on Memorial Day
Postcard Memoirs (1-100)
Kent: Toucan Press.
On the Blue Swing
Santa Fe: Toucan Press
there are men
we meet in the nite
who shine like gems
then are gone forever
as I grow gray
a bracelet of them
which I wear to bed
so that their shining
will bring dreams
IN THE BEGINNING
Richard Barthelmess wearing a barrel
Rod LaRocque a towel
William Haines with his trousers down
in Doctor Reefy’s parlour on Third St
I leafd the pages of Blum
till his pictures of lost motion
spun a world I wantd
somewhere between Sessue Hayakawa’s smolder
& the allure of Jetta Goudal
I learnd an alphabet
memoraizing those still images
from Fatty Arbuckle in drag
to May Allison sipping a soda
I began a quest to bring them to action
& so I found Lillian Gish slipping on ice
Lois Wilson breaking dishes
Mae Murray waltzing into eternity
FROM AT EASE A TEASE
To: Roberto Marquez
sent: 1 oct 02
Subject: story brought back from Ohio
the national company of "The Producers" opens in Cleveland tonite. on sunday the Plain Dealer ran a big story on Mel Brooks which mentiond he was in the Battle of the Bulge as was my father.
when Dad came to the breakfast table I askd him: "when you were in the war in Europe did you know Melvin Kaminsky?" quick reply: "sure he was a mine sweeper." me: "did you know he’s Mel Brooks?" pause. then Dad: "who’s Mel Brooks?"
attends the opening of new paintings in which Gregory Lomayesva uses transportation tickets as one of his recurring images
discusses James Kirkwood Jr. with Max Wilk & James Dean with Ralph Levy before a screening of "Tumbleweeds"
discusses male nudes with Edward Lucie-Smith
sees "Picking Up the Pieces"
sees "Better Than Chocolate"
visits the Celebrate the Century Express
engages Eric Tillinghast in conversation while the artist repairs glycerine sloppage on one of his pieces
sees "The Winter Guest"
sees "The Naked Man"
remembers Denise Darcel over dinner at Harry’s Roadhouse with Karen & John Ericson & Karen & Robert Nott
sees "Edge of Seventeen"
sees "Shanghai Noon"
celebrates the first full day of summer by submersing the Century Dimes in the public tub at Ten Thousand Waves
reads Van Johnson: The Bobby-Soxers’ Heartthrob in manuscript
sees "East Palace, West Palace"
sees "Benny & Joon"
sees "Chutney Popcorn"
attempts to understand the deciphering of the human genetic code
sees "The Thirteenth Floor"
observes Peter Beard paint with his feet & hands
sees "Living Out Loud"
Mail & More
Cleveland: Deep Cleveland Junkmail Oracle.
Towns From Trains
San Diego: Muse Apprentice Guild.
Beloit: Tin Lustre Mobile.
(collaboration with Todd Colby, Thurston Moore, Matthew Wascovich)
Cleveland: Slow Toe.
Note: All Bios segments are from Gildzen’s ongoing autobiography Alex in Movieland.