Two days ago, right about now, my family and I headed over to Orange Grove Boulevard, a wide, almost leisurely road with green lawns and mountain views that slices through the westmost-half of my hometown, Pasadena, CA. We parked nearby and walked into the darkness, the clumps of people. The sun had set, and families and college students had camped out on the side of the road, as they do each year, awaiting our parade. Portable camp fires and sleeping bags tangled in the toes. Kids impatient and excited, running from parent to parent, mouths smeared with lollipops.
Getting to the Grove is a project. Each driving-street heading N/S is blocked, and guarded. The Wrigley Mansion, whence the parade ventures, sits proudly on its long lawn, littered with TV cameras on poles, bins of extra flowers, each in their little plastic phallic green cups. And in the center of the road, the lonely giants--perfect, prepped floats--parked, coned-off, and waiting for dawn. Flowers and seeds, oddly lit by ten-foot tall lights. Throngs of people and dogs walked alongside, flasked and ear-muffed.
And my favorite element...four wandering minstrels, age say 18, from some nearby college played inventive variations on Auld Lang Sine on a clarinet, saxophone, accordian, and guitar.
And when the new year hit, we shared the countdown on a public avenue. Cheering all around.
But today, on the first "work" day ("word" day) of the calendar year, it's hard not to be lonely. Time passes, people pass too, never to come back to my long solo stem, to my lonely body to visit. And I found myself thinking about this poem of James L. White's below:
When I do it, I remember how it was with us.
Then my hands remember too,
and you’re with me again, just the way it was.
After work when you’d come in and
turn the TV off and sit on the edge of the bed,
filling the room with gasoline smell from your overalls,
trying not to wake me which you always did.
I’d breathe out long and say,
‘Hi Jess, you tired baby?’
You’d say not so bad and rub my belly,
not after me really, just being sweet,
and I always thought I’d die a little
because you smelt like burnt leaves or woodsmoke.
We were poor as Job’s turkey but we lived well—
the food, a few good movies, good dope, lots of talk,
lots of you and me trying on each other’s skin.
What a sweet gift this is,
done with my memory, my cock and hands.
Sometimes I’d wake up wondering if I should fix
coffee for us before work,
almost thinking you’re here again, almost seeing
your work jacket on the chair.
I wonder if you remember what
we promised when you took the job in Laramie?
Our way of staying with each other.
We promised there’d always be times
when the sky was perfectly lucid,
that we could remember each other through that.
You could remember me at my worktable
or in the all-night diners,
though we’d never call or write.
I just have to stop here Jess.
I just have to stop.
by James L. White
I teach this poem. Not every term. From time to time. We listen to how it talks. We smell the gasoline and the leaves. It's sensory and simple. But the story is complex. We put it in our bodies. Our bodies take in this poem. Our minds take in this story. It gentles us in a bruised place.
But today, it's alive again for me. What I don't want to put down. What I have to. And going forward into this brave new year, I'm looking back. And I just have to stop here, people. I just have to stop.
* The sketch is by Bartolomeo Cesi, Two Men in Florence Kissing, 1600.