Posts by W E Patterson

Beach run

You're running on the beach
     at sunrise.
          Be careful cowboy.
You've got 65 years on those lungs,
     but you're doing damn good
          for an ex-smoker.
               (with 27 million packages of
                king sized mentholated
                lights behind you),
‘Gasp’ is not a word
     you want some vandal to
          spray paint on
                your
                    tombstone.
‘Fear’ is just another storm,
     cloud hanging,
          3 and a half,
               miles out on
                    the horizon line.
You were born to sail,
     but they handed you
          Nebraska.
Sail on.
     You needed sky but they
           handed you Boodles gin and
               midtown.
Pillage on.
You old buccaneer...
     you’ve no disease. You're
          good for ten more years
               maybe 11.
No shoes necessary
     today
          clop thru the sand
               like one of those old
                    Central Park carriage
                        horses.
The haze will burn 
     off by
          9am.
Push on.
Until you feel like that
     Bourbon Street
          trombone player
              you
                 met
                    in
                      1983
                         the
                            morning
                                after
                                   Mardi
                                      Gras
then she's there,
standing over you,
the lady in the hat
with the small dog,
and she asks if you need  help.
Lie to her, 
and say you've been doing this
for twenty years
maybe 21

 

 

rethinking art school

They want the best for us
don’t they?
Remember
the teacher
who told you
that your work
reminded her
of Paul Cezanne
and you thought of
that lady
in her
green hat.

And you think that you
would have painted her
differently…
…you would have
softened the tones
drawn her out, &

…pulled that amused
expression
into a bemused smile…
…but you
knew in a flash

(13 years later)
that you didn’t paint
like anyone in
particular…

you knew it then
didn’t you…
that you
couldn’t paint anything
wouldn’t paint anything
refused to paint anything

of great worth

AND

You’d fail at art
and data entry
lock smith-ing
and telemarketing
and finally
computer programming.
And you’d come to deal
with all of that,
in good time,
and you’d find yourself
conveniently
the misplaced
driver of the year
for the most prestigious
trucking company in
Denver.

Friendly fire

For fear of intruders, should I
keep a gun in the nightstand,
unleash the dogs, play Bach at
high volume?

Post a watch at the cemetery gate,
notify the adjacent homeowners.
But don’t bury me here
in my pin-striped suit.

Wait  until my eyes turn
the color of fresh radishes
then carry me back across
the Hudson; pick your time.

Beach the Renault in Hoboken
leave the keys in the ignition.
Fire them all, the naysayers,
the doomsday prophets.

Surround yourself with
the positive; America is
for the intensely spiritual now.
So load the damn thing.

Wartorn

Run and hide, or stay and fight, there is a Great War on,
and we’ve all enlisted;  from 37,000 feet Illinois
is laid out like a stamp collection, below, a million farmers
plant soybeans, a billion hogs suffer in the heat,
sixteen billion chickens lay eggs – truck drivers haul loads &
commerce moves like gears in the great machine – the price of pork bellies soar
oats are forever a safe bet – I think about derivatives, futures and swaps
an old farmer chugs down a limestone road on a John Deere tractor as
I watch Good Morning America from a motel near St. Louis
as a retired iron worker wakes to strong black coffee and to
smoke leisurely on the porch of a clapboard house near the river
reading the news, fighting emphysema, thinking about the sixties
the big war, the last war, first love, last love, a lost lung.
He told his son (once) about the St. Louis Arch – the highest man-made
arch in the World – highest damned building in the state of Missouri
but the son didn’t care much for high-steel – he was fighting with an ex-wife
& with the IRS; working for a real SOB at the brickyard and driving a
10 year old car –
Son wrote the old-man off as a loser years before
– half-baked and battle scared

Has the booze caught up with you yet?

…no way, Cowboy,
You’re driving a 1954 Studebaker
aren’t you?

Old John Barleycorn
doesn’t have a chance.
You’ve taken on West Hollywood
haven’t you? and Kansas City?
You’ve lived through
the Eisenhower years,
And the Kennedy years.
Nixon and impeachment.
Farm crisis, energy crisis,
big oil, big crash.
You need two hands to
count the wars…

You’ve survived,
(for the most part)
with a good bourbon
in one hand and a
Grainbelt beer in the other.
So, pay off your tab.
Forget closing time,
like age, it’s just a number.
Winners stay in for the
long haul – you have to.
Life is a one-way street.
No way to turn back
after they turn off the
lights. Freeway’s closed.

Has the booze caught up
with you yet?
Don’t be discouraged,
there is enough high-life
to go around.

Don’t despair – you have
new tires on the ’54 Stude –
Stomp on it if you want.
She’ll do a hundred five,
on a cool night.

 

Cleveland

Cleveland is down there,
thirty-six thousand feet below,
says the pilot.
But I don’t see Cleveland.
I see blue-grey Ohio haze.
Pink afternoon clouds
in the late afternoon
sunlight.
It’s 3 days before Christmas.
I’m flying east, the mid-west
quickly giving way to the
east coast.
I look again for Cleveland…
I see the Lake –
but no Cleveland.
I think that God is a lot like Cleveland.
Tough to spot sometimes,
but probably there.
For five or ten minutes,
religion makes sense.

The freeway

The freeway isn’t what it used to be,
not that it was ever a great place,
but it was a necessary place – it was there for you,
when you needed to go somewhere fast…
back – maybe 6 years ago – back then it was a place
where people could drive, and
conduct conversations in their heads…
as they drove to work,
and to the shopping mall,
as they determined how to discuss
minor affronts with
self-consumed co-workers,
raises with apathetic bosses,
politics with opinionated relatives,
divorce proceedings with unfaithful spouses,
and medical procedures with,
overly zealous surgeons.

It’s not like that now.
The freeway isn’t what it used to be.
It used to be a concrete refuge for
inconsolable, bed-room community, housewives,
driving, quietly, quickly, anonymously,
to therapists’ couches,
in nearby suburban towns,
so as not to be spotted near home.

For evangelical preachers,
in route to mega-churches,
weaving in and out of traffic,
confident in the Lord,
as they rehearsed soul-soothing,
self-loathing sermons.

For long-haul truckers moving meat,
up the coast to Atlanta and Charlotte,
oblivious to the small and weak.
For furniture salesmen weaving
through traffic in rented BMWs.

And for the very old and the very young.

All

existing briefly, quickly, together,
safely,
with only the occasional life altering event
coming between them
cataclysmically.

 

after it’s too late

Most things we find out about,
after it’s too late:
the cop in the bushes
at the bottom
of the hill leading out of town,
the trick question on the exam,
the angry ex-husband,
the tired trucker,
the overworked accountant,
the agitated barber,
the lady with the strange perfume,
in the crowded elevator,
the strange weeds growing in,
the nasturtiums,
the odor in the ‘fridge’,
the photo she left behind,
the snake in the woodpile,
the match in the trash,
the lock that sticks,
the blind man in the crosswalk,
the codicil in the will,
the tickle in your throat,
the persistent cough,
the round in the chamber.
We think we know it all because,
we get off easy so many times,
that we think we can do it
forever.

An inch closer to the flame

Was that death I heard downstairs,
rattling the pots & pans.
Was that My Maker I spotted,
on South Ocean Avenue with his thumb out,
hitching north toward Mar-a-Lago.
Was that a congressman I spied,
in the light of the quarter moon,
reading from the collected works,
of a great poet long gone on,
to his literary reward?
Let’s drink gin and discuss the market,
and the rise of the hedge fund cowboys,
and their three thousand-dollar shoes.

Press on.

Make sure the great and
glorious fires of freedom remain stoked.
Make your peace with the Big Guy,
but there is no need to go overboard.
You’ve had decades to explore Buddhism,
plenty of time to clean out the cobwebs,
maybe give  up the booze.
Don’t let them talk you into anything,
you  don’t need another vacuum cleaner,
another Volkswagen, or another juicer…

For crying out loud,
there hasn’t been a decent
communist, walking
42nd Street since 1956…
The Beats are dead.
The hippies have retired to Martha’s Vineyard
and to the Hamptons – and Sag Harbor.

Nobody reads the poets anymore.
Poetry doesn’t sell.
Reality sells…reality TV sells better.
Old men in suits sell reality TV.
Old poets die in overstuffed chairs
by the fire – the lucky ones.

The fence

Last night I dreamed
that I was building a fence,
– a wooden fence.
I was dressed in leather gloves and
engineers cap,
and brown, duck-bib overalls.

Alone in the early spring sun,
hammering ten-penny nails
into hand-hewn plank,
after hand-hewn plank,
pound, pound, –
board against hedge post
level it up, then pound some more,
–sweat dripping from the tip
of my beard.

“What a great fence,” I hear someone
shout from the edge of the pasture.
But I pay no attention to him.
“Join us for drinks at 5 another yells out.”
“Your ass is on the line,” says still another…
I ignore them all.
I am immersed in
a project that can
be finished with brute force,
with only fresh spring water
needed for replenishment,
out here on the Frontier,
far from the cocktail bar,
and corporate conference room.

So confident in my keen sense of detail
and hand-to-eye coordination am I,
that I barely notice
the Finish Line in view,
driving one nail after the next…
my back aching from unloading planks
and aligning them properly,
scarcely stopping to smell
the nightingale, and the Forsythia,
pound, pound
– the Great Western Wall between
marauding Angus steers
and the berry patch
is nearly complete.
But I awake to incompetence.
No Forsythia, planks, berries
or steers
– only a flashing cursor on an empty screen
and the sound of traffic rushing past on the
street below