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Monday, May 24, 2002

Fifteen Poems by Jack Hirschman


In the beginning I was soused with words, the page wasn't wide
enough to hold my spillover, I ran and ran and the puns and
brashbrandy flew out of my mouth slantrhymed.

In time I looked at her. The lines
broke. Look at mine, look at hers. And neither died of it.

That Irishman, they say, sang best
at seventy-seven.
It isn't easy
to write the word, love,
and mean it
to speak open.

From Black Alephs (New York/London: Phoenix Bookshop/Trigram Press, 1969)



The smell of her on me three hours after
in the streets the lick of her around
my lips the Hampstead blossoms

taste of her rich flesh the narrow
walk I am lined with daffodils coming
up through my thighs the eyes of

the buds of others I malinger over
skirts up to the hip anguish subsumed
in the garden I gaze clearly out of

All loveliness is remembering origin
is one rose folded asleep upstairs
behind eyelids I drink continually

with my nostrils going round and round
the bowl of the heath at twilight
until I reel and fall awake into

the moment all this has taken place
we haven't moved an inch your smell
winds through me the gentle rivering

Stillness of the east and of the west

London Seen Directly (London: Goliard Press, 1967)



I ran down the street and into the house smelled
of oregano and shook Mickey Monaco, said
C'mon, Balaban's got a breadloaf
climbing over old Gruber's fence, he thinks
the mad dogs is doves.

But Mickey grew up in the bed till he was too old
and besides Balaban was crazy, he sucked
his tongue and got left back twice.

So I ran to Joey Bellino's house but his mother's
black stocking said Joey was out early shoe
shining. And besides a, that Balaban he's a
crazy a kid, he suck a the tongue and Joey says
he get lefback three times.

So I banged on Bitsy Beller's window yelled he was
near the top, the mad dogs waiting down
below he thinks is doves.

But when Bitsy stood up he turned into a stiff
cue stick. And didn't want nothing to do
with nobody cracked upstairs.
And Dickie Miller became a semipro. And Howie Fish
a doctor. So I ran down the street full of hope

by myself because I was on fire. But I got there
too late for Balaban. Two of them had a stretch
of skin between their teeth fighting over it,

and the foam of their mouths and Balaban's blood
spattered in such a way, the most the greatest
picture looked me straight in the eye, made me
sit in the gutter and cry,

and when I got up vow to be
Balaban from that day on

From Black Alephs (New York/London: Phoenix Bookshop/Trigram Press, 1969)



        for Allen Ginsberg

Allen, your anti-Stalin remarks are
Lousy with the old lies of zionism
Lacquered up with buddhism's
Eternal Nirvana of spontaneous
Narcotic Now.

Go on, you don't believe the shit you've
Instigated in poetry's good name.
Not even forty-years later.
Sex, dope and capitalist drivel.
Before you can say Cockadoodledo,
Elemental Leninism emanates
Radiant collectives of the real and the
Georgian still tunes all black laughter.

From Best Minds: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg,  eds. Bill Morgan & Bob Rosenthal (NY: Lospecchio Press, 1986)



That poet you admire so–

in my fifteen years
in the workers movement
I've never seen him
in attendance at
a demonstration against
social injustice, or at
a memorial honoring
a revolutionary hero,
or at a rally in support
of an uprising people–

is not even a fighting
but a bibelot
dribbling over
with obsolete pus.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



They would go in deep night before the ants were awake
with an empty sack and another with burning coals.
They would stuff the branches where the ants were sleeping,
into the empty sack, scrape them down,
and pour them into the sack with the burning coals.
The legs and pincers would come loose in the heat.
Back in camp, they would empty the tiny bodies
on a mat of leather, wash them clean with water,
and with flour and hot water make a gravy
which would cool into a pudding by daybreak.
A hundred years later, this ant pudding can still
rise off the ground or a modern table
and fling itself at the face of any fucking Nazi

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



I can't conceive of you that way
without my skull filling with our belly laughter,
                                 and the curve
of a dirtpath down the lots at the end of a street
                                 in the Bronx.

Old friend, see what you went and did?
kicked the bucket with your tin leg
down the long final stoop, and the dead neighborhood
come alive as if for a fire

Now I carry a head at my side, thigh-high,
in my hands held up to the sun,
on my shoulder, on my arm,
in my thought at the tip of my pen
I carry an essence of Asa
who was brother though not blood,
a palm on the shoulder of childhood,
a sway of the magic of the poem,
who went off to war
and living afterward in exile
kept a fingerpoint on me
that made the island far away next door.

For a spell of years we travelled the poem together,
though continents apart, by in and exhaling
gematrias of the art of the jazz of words–
             "Chances are..."
             Chance hasard
             Chance is czar

about covers it,
and the design therein
of all those paths where seraphs and serifs
and sephers multiplied.

I'll always see him, arms widespread, skipping and jumping
at the top of the steps of the sublime stoop,
which were the forms of his poems themselves,
put together, mundane with arcane,
by his lifting of the letters by the seats of their pants,
turning them over and inside out,
making pacts with the absences within and between them,
dancing them down to the pitchpenny street
and through the cracks making books
of pinpointedly succinct sophisticated alchemies
that could mint new Abrahams at the bottom
                                   of the Yellow River
in the Third Century B.C., and make them sound
like daffodils on Hebden Heath.

It was always bright darkness when Asa at table
spelled out the lineage of alphabet and trees,

dazzling the babblers with his style of understatement,
perfectly inserted like a synchrony,
and the seams of paranoia would split at his hip
deep self-deprecations,

and the wood as if hypnotized stripped to its
mystic glyphs

Now he's supposed to be one with the spaces
                                     between and around
and within the letters he most adored,
a style and content at last,
but the bucket's anxious racket as it tumbles
sounds like Fire!
and the ladders called out simply won't lie down
precisely because they're also your poems

I just can't conceive of you that way
without my skull filling with our belly laughter,
                                 and the curve
of a dirtpath down the lots at the end of a street
                                 in the Bronx.

A little kid can turn on it
with a stompy clomp of dust,
in knee-pants, tee-shirt,
knickers in the fall.

You did.
Me too.

Meet you there after school.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



After his shouts, the strops, her screams, the thrown things,
the doorslam, the bitter weeping,
out of the thin box, as the delicate paper was parted,
she'd lift the sheer mojud stockings
and run her fingertips along them,
slowly smiling girlishly again.

She'd begin singing a Perry Como song,
she loved Perry Como and would sing
the same song he sang, all day long,
on the Make-Believe Ballroom Time.

Then, in a black brassiere strapped to her freckled shoulders,
she'd sit on the bed, fit the stockings,
stand up and notch them to the garters
that hung down from her black girdle,
A ripple of fat ran round her waist, squeezed out
by the girdle, different from
the plumps that swelled out from her brassiere.
And I saw a blue bruise, the shadow
of a belt-buckle on her thigh.

But she was singing again, and over the girdle
she'd put on a pair of pink bloomers,
and over everything, then,a brown-and-white flower-print
summer-golden dress.

Her white heels had holes in the toes where her nail-polish
showed through. The bottle of polish, tweezers, lipstick,
rouge, brush and emeryboard were on the vanity table
over there looking in the mirror.

Her lips swam in the Como song with rose-red strokes,
reaching the end with a shiny glow,
like the waxy cameo of her mother
on the brooch in the drawer.

She'd hold out her hand and say, "Come, darling?"

We'd walk hand in hand up and down our street
                                     in the twilight,
and the neighbors would cry out: "Hi, Nellie!" or "Hello,
Mrs. Hirschman," and "Hi, Jackie. My, how you've grown!"

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



       for Sarah Menefee

A woman gives food to a hungry hand.
The law says that it is contraband.
That law must fall, must lose its teeth,
must gum along the desolate streets
and come to the line where blessed soup
is smuggled in between the lips,
and know subversion for what it really is
and how this mean-lawed land is dead without it.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



When I saw in the council chambers of the big city
the mouths of the council members
opening and coming down
on the fat sandwiches
that'd been delivered to their places,
coming down and chewing and leaning over talking
with half-stuffed mouths, or heads thrown back
laughing, their bellies chortling,
and all the while
one after another homeless person
stood not far from them
but far enough from them
before a microphone
requesting help for their most basic human wounds,
protesting against a syndrome without alternatives
except for skid-row hotels or a concentration
camp in the downtown desert; –

when I saw the indifference of this system
physically manifested
by those pigs of local government,
I thought: it can't be quick enough
that they're led to the sty they belong in;
it can't be quick enough
that they're forcibly removed
from the people's chambers
and replaced by human animals who, at least,
can smell the heartbreak
and the enduring dignity of the American people.
Those pigs are worse than the rottenest
blue pork at the bottom of garbage-can Los Angeles.
Hungry men and women never should have to be
subjected to their poisonously filthy mold.

From Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992)



              for Eugene Smith

She was on her knees
in a Tenderloin doorway
eating chunks of darkness
out of a small tin can.

As I passed, a photograph
of a Haitian man crawling
on a Port-au-Prince sidewalk
30 years ago came to mind.

There was no difference.

I'd like to hold the nape
of capital down to a plate
of dogfood on a street
with the mange.

I'd like to see capital
with lacerated knees crawling
from one reality to another
for a change.

From The Back of a Spoon (SF: manic d press, 1992)



          In Memory of David Lerner, poet

A bulvan raging
with the whole
garbage-culture in him
 rude/radiant, crude/clarifying, smooth/smutten
with the dregs
like most of us
driven or bent
on rising from
the fallen sparks
standing the drunken
or junken street
on its feet and
sending it home
with a poem in its ear

Now let's see him there:
another accident that wasn't
another suicide who was suicided
another poet the system's good-riddanced
because, among other things, he believed
in socialized medicine

I tell you, as a member of
the League of Revolutionaries for a New America,
LRNA by acronymic name,
the junk that murdered David Lerner is the same
that cuts evicts starves and kills
people everywhere these days,
and you know its name.

So don't just lie there, harps.
His big bear hulk needs psalms of flame
to get him home

Remember his gutsongs
and the poet from whom he came.

From the journal Bull Horn, August 1997



But the Nothingness he meant,
which now is planetary, isn't negative,
rather an aperture, an opening
to the other side of actual self,
to the process of hearing light,
not unlike yourself when you bring
all that in your everyday seems drifting,
evermore ungraspable and transcient,
where all values beyond money
seem rootless and on the wane,
bring them along with your crumpled body
in the darkness, and afterward,
because sex is of the animals
and the stars, is in fact happily
the animals and the stars,
find that point outside the window
(ancient grit of wall, or tree or lichen)
and gaze at it, enthralled, fixed,
as if nothing were ever so radiant,
meditative, informative, attuned,
like a computer window in a world
of "cybernetics," he said, speaking of
the future some thirty odd
years ago, of this visual
listening to light
just below the surface of things,
this planetary All in you, constructed
of holocausts and ecstasies, the snail's inch
and the worker's steel, demonstrations and
monotonies, golem and robot, opens to receive
most stumblingly, hungrily, desolately, authentically
sounds from deep within the wilding stillness
and there, when five small human bones tug
at your sleeve of skin, the question-mark
falls away and you know who cares.

From the journal Left Curve, no. 21 (1997)



        for Matt Gonzalez

what comes out of the cool
blue of a sky-need
and resonant to years
before it was dirtied up
by hoods of the klux-headed,
deaths-headed sort,
as well as hoods of
the criminal state
of things now,

when a brother, part of
out of the, or certainly when,
blue in the cool
dawned with warm
ringing true among human beings,
one me,
thus you.

Likeunto (San Francisco: FMSBW, 2000)



                In Memory of Gregory Corso

Most, given the death we've all been given
before we die, die.
Greg didn't, Greg wouldn't, Greg ain't.
He burned his being burned and being burned up
right in front of you,
up front,
in your face, he was a fighting little neighborhood,
I never saw him sing, he never sang, copper,
O but he sang.
And guzzled and fixed and trashed and mashed.
Consumed. He was consumed by consuming,
competition's fool
from Maldoror through every lowdown kind of
kinahoor clear down to his own stretch marks
in Dannemora.
I went to see him in the hospital once
when his head, 3 times its size, some blood
he'd dissed in the drunk-tank had kicked in.
Which was after he'd once right-crossed me
for no good reason, like my best friend the
Calabrese kid in my neighborhood in The Bronx.
Which was before a bull-dyke once decked him
For dissing lesbians, and for being monstrously cute,
humiliating in public to women and men alike,
a self-styled "rotten fuck" who never cleaned up,
a nice guy who said, "No more nice guy",
all brag and loudmouth blow,
fame up his ass
"I'm Gregory Corso"
like at a horseshow,

provoking, stirring shit,
yelling, "Hey, Ginzy!" up to Shig's place on Grant St.
when Allen was visiting, for some dough.
Or: "Hey, Jackie, where's Neeli? He took
Max for a walk?"
In this bar or that, running with this or that mug,
that chick or this,
toking in an alley or back in the john,
or cross-legged serious in the Caffe Trieste
reading the Chronicle or The Times
mixing it up with a mouth in a gallop
like Billy Hallop
with twinkle and charm out of hell,
he was one of a kind
of a devil character,
so you might never have known
he could precision an image
to its finest fain.
turn a phrase and make it sit in
with a combo of sounds
that unearthed a flagrant poesy
from ancient undergrounds,
write from a spring
without himself in it
and make the running diamonds
"the whole ball game"
or "the stiff arm of Cuba"
more than just sport,
"the whole shot"
in the senses that toppled
lying news reports,
taking one's breath away
and leaving a real agape suddenly
sprouting daisies in your empty spaces,
the way it is when you're met
by a pair of eyes on the street
above a mouth that might say anything,
above a body that might do anything,
yet those eyes in a slow, smiling
recognition rise and wink:
"Hey you, human bean, you Poet,
You synechdochal yokel of All,
Nothing's concealed,
Nothing's hid.
Cross my heart and hope to live."
The Kid is dead.
Long Live the Kid!

First read at New College in San Francisco on January 24, 2001