Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Big Sleep"

For Monday: A poem I wrote in the mid 90s while living in Baghdad by the Bay. In ‘95 & ‘96 I was immersed in the works of Dashiell Hammett & Raymond Chandler—I had a long-running obsession with bringing a sort of “hard-boiled” sensibility to poetry. This poem was one result of that; the last several lines also in certain respects summarize the dilemma I’ve always felt about the poetic sensibility (or at least "my" poetic sensibility), & in that sense this poem goes along with this month's Weekly Poem theme of “memory & desire.” Choosing favorites among your own poems is like a parent picking a favorite child; however, this is one poem I've always felt did what I hoped for it to do.

Hope you enjoy.

The Big Sleep

On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple
of Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was
make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.
Raymond Chandler

I haven’t been getting much & there were 19
faces pal in that tumbler & none of them mine
some of them looked like night-blooming cacti looming
on the outskirts of Tijuana all they’d ever wanted
was to grow up as purple orchids
lousy break
but I was thinking way too much without much to
show for it 16 charred
valentines in a clear glass ashtray hearts
smoldering amongst the stubbed Kents the 5:00 a.m.
sky was going to look like an immense
pack of Kents the cellophane ripped
but I wasn’t there yet I was wearing
my hat on my heart
& my heart on a frayed black tweed sleeve it hadn’t
slept for a slew of dog years the sleeve lay supine in
a puddle of cocktail glass sweat the globe lamps
broadcast as if
the light were just dead trout or tincture of
iodine or a fruit
cocktail can its lid 3/4 peeled off & jagged & drooling
& I was feeling a bit like Marcel Proust myself with this compulsion
for scribbling in bed when I should’ve been
sleeping with the fishes
as if my heart were a cocktail glass humming
Born To Lose all by itself when I’d meant to say
I’m holding my heart in my hat &
my hat’s in my hand & there were
19 faces pal staring &
some of them looked like a roadside hot pink neon
lit motel 10 miles west of San Berdoo with its pine oil
reek & the cable TV buzzing killer bees swarming
headlong northwest from Mexacali they’d never
had a chance to really live as
a Rte 5 fruit stand &
I was thinking way too much in the midst of the white
white stars’ degenerate matter furious
all-night jag
they were bawling
zircon & Tanqueray as though they
thought this was all rock candy & seltzer &
streetcars named
Desire & Mildred & Russian Lullaby hoved by lugging their
Venus on the half-shell frenzies their
freight of ampersands their
yen for mad love shuddering the cables
& I thought this is just asking for trouble the 5:00 a.m.
sky will probably look like a dead fish gawking
blind from crushed ice in a chinatown
market but I wasn’t there yet I was
holding my hat in my heart & my hand had
sunk gurgling under a capsized
gray fedora this hat felt
bitter itself it had
missed its chance to become a conchshell washed up
at Long Beach in the phosphate detergent
foam with the rest of the sexy jetsam as if
my heart were ice in a cocktail glass humming
Rose Of Tralee all by itself as if I’d actually said
Scotch & alkali when the sky at 5:
00 a.m. will actually be a
flat Fresca
green & unbubbly
but I wasn’t there yet I was thinking
Big mistake when I’d meant to say I’m holding my
heart in my hat & my hand’s a tumbler pal holding
19 faces & only one of them actually was a
dirty blonde palmtree brooding next to
Mission Dolores it’s
no one’s fault her brown eyes never got translated into
an authentic Manhattan brownstone brimming with
Caffé Lattes brimming with
steampipes spinet pianos a
hardboiled novel in which
characters shoot the moon through the actual
orchard of spheres I was planted in just then amongst
everloving lemontrees the lovebirds
squawking their nitrous
oxide yuks straight out of Hitcock clutching
discombobulating boughs I was thinking
when you’re in this line of lost & found
in this sleepless bamboozled eat-
your-heart-out universe pal
you end up doing a lot more of the first


  1. This one's heavy, with it's stubbed Kents and flat Fresca.

  2. Hi Willow: Thanks for stopping by; I guess my poetry from the late 80s-mid 90s was pretty embued with darkness. Thanks for giving it a read.

  3. Holy Mackerel! (It must be the fish references creeping in.)
    I'd love to know how this hit you, or did you work on it - did it just spill out (as they sometimes do) or were you o-d'ing on Chandler and Hammett. What?
    There's just so many words, line and phrases that I loved, but the first one that really got me was this:
    "my heart on a frayed black tweed sleeve it hadn’t
    slept for a slew of dog years"

    I could see this as a song - I'm not sure who'd be singing it, but I definitely can hear a song in this.
    It's Woolfe meets Marlowe meets Harvey.

    I loved it!

    I think what you were striving for was achieved - and more.


  4. Thanks Kat: I wrote this (I think) about 14 years ago, so I only have vague memories of the process, but usually I tinker with things after the "first rush" of creation. As with all of my poems, it's an amalgam of reading (also was reading a lot of William S. Burroughs at that time, & a lot of poetry, too, tho don't recall specifics on that), my personal life (both past & present) & various other snatches & images that intrude-- like late night walks thru Chinatown. During the mid 90s I always listened to music when I wrote poetry. I like "Woolfe meets Marlowe meets Harvey"!

  5. You certainly have had an interesting life - one I could only experience of vicariously, I'm sure. Which is one of the many reasons why I keep returning to your blog.


  6. Hi Kat:

    Looking at the big picture, I've had a happy life so far. There were certainly patches that were dark & a bit "too interesting."


  7. Your poem seems a little lonely, a little dark, and is so visual…like:
    “smoldering amongst the stubbed Kents the 5:00 a.m.
    sky was going to look like an immense
    pack of Kents the cellophane ripped”
    “some of them looked like a roadside hot pink neon
    lit motel 10 miles west of San Berdoo with its pine oil
    reek & the cable TV buzzing killer bees swarming”

    Heck, I’ve passed by that place in Fontana—just west of San Berdoo. :-)

    Very nice. I enjoyed reading it.

  8. Thanks Linda-- yes, a dark & lonely time in some ways-- glad you liked the imagery!

  9. I love "...bawling/zircon and Tanqueray..."

    William Faulkner worked on the screenplay of the 1946 classic. Supposedly, the plot got so convoluted that Raymond Chandler himself who had committed one of the murders. I watched it once to see if that could be true, and there is an unattributed death.

  10. Thanks K: That is a fantastic film, & that's right on about Faulkner's involvement. Of course, Chandler is just a great writer.

  11. Mama said there'd be days like this.

    Seriously, were you channeling some film noir character when you wrote that? Your usual blog voice is completely unrelated.

    Wow, you are so talented!!

  12. Hi Reya: Thanks-- well it was me 14 years ago, & I was both the same & a very different person then. I suppose my RFBanjo voice also speaks for some but not all sides of me now, too. Thanks a lot for the compliment-- it's extremely generous & gratifying.


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