Return to Poetry Thursday

Been away for a good piece of June, partly vacationing in North Carolina, but also caught up in attending to school matters and such.

And today, had to take care of Gerri post-surgery (a fairly minor outpatient operation, but surgery and discomfort all the same). I'm actually okay at playing nurse.

Anyway, between here and there, I've been playing with lots of disjointed images and ideas running through my head. I'm close to finishing my manuscript of what's tentatively entitled Gods & Money, with just a few gaps to fill in here and fill in there. So with these gaps, I feel an impulse to collect everything and dump it altogether. I'm sure there's some legitimate aesthetic to doing this, some psychological mining that's productive.

This one started with doing research on wrestling masks (don't ask why), which lead me to a Mayan limestone relief (and likely a stolen relic) at the wonderful Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Gerri had worked in Fort Worth a couple of years, and there's a great deal to admire in that city's cultural makeup. Of course at the Kimbell is the great painting L'Asie by Henri Matisse, among many fantastic pieces, and the museum itself is an exceptional artwork by architect Louis Kahn.

Of course, to get all this started in the poem itself, I had to use Bill Hailey's piano player Johnny Grande, and include a reference to Gene Vincent who's pictured above. Anyway, El Santo and Atlantis were wrestlers in the Mexican circuits; Mr. and Mrs. Tom May did indeed own L'Asie; and "Rocket 88" is the title of the first rock 'n roll song by Bill Hailey and the Comets. Rocket 88 has to be Johnny Grande's piano.

Whew. The poem is still too new, too wet in its development, for me to tell if it is holding together at all.

Go Johnny!

After Bill Hailey (y sus Cometas) in Mexico,
1961, has laid out the vocals for “Florida Twist,”
Johnny Grande at the piano calculates
a chord change so that it’s less Chubby Checkers
and more Gene Vincent. Ten years
of rock and a-rolling, hitting it big South
of the Border, outrunning the IRS—free and
clear of the Elvis blast. At the soundboard
with Bill is El Santo, the wrestler, and a writer
from El Universal. Johnny frowns as there’s
no leaping around it, frowns at the distraction
of Bill taking so much to La Lucha Libre, and
here is this Saint Spic, in a coat-and-tie, still
silver masked. The mask is the original made by
Don Antonio Martinez himself, whose last
wrestling mask would be the one he fashioned
for Atlantis in 1983, another Mayan-themed
piece, blue and white motifs, a warrior of peace
and ocean, a Mexican Gollum who rises
from the watery stone ruins, the very
image he saw at the Kimbell in Fort Worth, while
eating the basil pesto quiche his hosts offered
during an exhibition. Across the café, a limestone
stela, an eight-foot carving of a Mayan King,
the rock feathered with etchings, a tapestry,
and Don Antonio receives his Atlantis, whose
provenance stopped at 1969, a New York auction
where the Kimbell got the lot of Mayan relics
for a song. 1200 years after the artisans had carved
the relief, the Kimbell acquired Matisse’s
L’Asie, the one painting Don Antonio had
come to see, with its impossible reds, a woman
his Atlantis would give his life to. Don
Antonio himself would do the stitching
of the leather for this mask. And of the owners
of L’Asie? Mrs. Tom May of Beverly
Hills sold it off in 1954, after Mr. Tom had
died, after he had purchased the obscene
thing in 1951 directly from the Matisse gallery.
What could he have been thinking, holding
up this woman to the light where too much
light had spilled onto her face, holding up
this woman with uneven eyes and negro black
hair? Mr. Tom May smiles. He calls Harris
to set up the provenance papers. Don Antonio
smiles. Even El Santo would have been too weak
to hold up such a woman to such light—
only his masked stone god would have such
strength. Johnny Grande smiles. Everyone
in the studio is gone, and he casts the chord
up the scale, not down, getting it to groove
with something hotter than the Rocket 88
now jumping and burning beneath his fingers.


desert rat said…
Lots of stuff in there; even with the preamble I feel like I need a bit of a road map. It feels more like poetic prose - perhaps the kind of article that would be accompanied by numerous full-colour pictures - than a poem, per say. I do like the way you bracketed the whole thing with Johnny Grande the piano player. And one thing that really jumped out at me while I was reading was an image of a masked wrestler eating basil pesto quiche, which was wonderfully surreal.
Tom May smiles. Johnny Grande smiles. And I smile. Your writing has so many bursts of light and color!

I have received the books of yours I ordered (One of them even has an autograph inside, a bonus I didn't expect!). Good stuff!
Rob Kistner said…
The piece is kaleidoscopic... not taking me in one direction -- but several at the same time.

I do better on a more narrow poetic path -- Gary Snyder is my favorite poet... so now you know who I am.

It will require I read this piece of yours more than once to connect the dots -- it overstimulates my ADD... but it is a kick to read! ;)
Clare said…
Hi Jim! I always enjoy reading your work -- and I always learn some cool new things. I really like the narrative in today's poem and your rich imagery and exquisite attention to detail. I also really like the way you phrase things. The line "a warrior of peace and ocean" is stunning. And that whole section about the "Mexican Gollum....basil pesto quiche....during an exhibition" is one of my favorites. Oh, and the Matisse painting is gorgeous. I hope Gerri is feeling better soon.
You teach a lot of the sciences in your poetry. Perfectv amalgamation of science and arts!

Narration is so good with such vivid images. Always a pleasure to read you.

PS: thanks for your comments on my sestina. I will definitely take your suggestions next time I write one.
jim said…
Gracias, Desert Rat. Sometimes my preambles are more fun than the poems themselves.
jim said…
Pepek--you are making me smile big time! A signed copy! Now I feel like I have to die so you can cash in big time on e-bay. . . .
jim said…

I guess that makes me a little bit country and you a little bit rock n' roll. Just as long as I get to be Marie Osmond, I'm fine with that.

Actually, the information dumping is something I do like to do in a poem, just to see how much baggage this sucker can take. But I also appreciate the quiet poem, the one thing that gets it poem, the less is less is less is less is . . . poem.
jim said…

Thank you, Ger's back up and about, so all's so very good in my world.

And yes, the Matisse painting is worth the trip alone to Fort Worth.
jim said…

Funny thing about narrative in poetry is that it allows you to collect stuff and stuff and stuff, and so the imagery is easy to accumulate. Now that formal thing, that's a fun kind of discipline too.

January said…
I have come back to this poem several times since Poetry Thursday because there is so much in it. Your poem bends but doesn't break. I do feel like I need a road map, but this is journey I enjoyed taking.

Using Johnny Grande at both ends is a nice touch.

Man, this is rich with details, yet I get a true sense of authenticity--one detail justifying another. This poem is a provenance that connects all of these lives and histories together.

Does that make sense?
January said…
You probably knew this, but Rocket 88 is a reference to the Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" series.
jim said…

Crap, crap, crap.

I didn't get the Oldsmobile reference!

I'm still working on some of the transitions for a little more clarity, but yes, this is one of my rifts in polyanachronous (I made that word up) associations. I like time travel, don't you?

January said…
You inspired me to download the song "Rocket 88," which reminded me of the 12-bar blues in all of those great 50s songs, which has lead to a new poem brewing in my head.

So I should be thanking you, my friend.

Thanks Jim!