Note: This poem was originally written around 1980, when I was attending Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass. I was amidst down on my luck years, and was listening to too much of Dylan’s gospel albums – Slow Train Coming and Saved – and enrolled at ENC, a fundamentalist Baptist school that taught the Bible along side the science in my biology course. That’s probably when I began to develop, in earnest, my key skill of compartmentalizing experiences. Anyway, the magic fix didn’t hold long: I never prayed, never attended church with the others each morning, bedded down the secretary, drank, smoke and swore, and after after three terms I moved on. But in the transition period, listening to Dylan (“Pressing On,” right?) and being amongst so many decent and hospitable people, who welcomed me as though I were just their rascally pet dog Sinner, which was the perfect touch at the time, I penned this poem, which describes the moon phase I was transitioning through.
Pretty sure my first draft of this ended up in the lit mag at the University of Massachusetts, after I transferred there in the early 80s.
Under a red and rolling sky
as haunted as a Rorschach blot
energy finds the middle eye
and gleans the epiphanal polyglot.
Now rose, now lavender and gold,
the clouds combust and burn away,
revealing a mystery to behold:
the waking reverie we call Day.
O this gray pulpy mass of brain,
like a recalcitrant ghost,
rattles the mental window pane,
where dull memory stands engrossed;
yet, is shaken from sleep again,
as the Sun rises like the blesséd Host
and gives the middle eye a toast.
There’s a sequel, however. Many years later, in 1995, the night before I was to wed my current partner in Adelaide, Australia, I was informed that I was expected to deliver a toast at the table. This never occurred to me. Problem was, I didn’t have much to say. I was getting married at the Adelaide Oval on my partner’s account (she’s a cricket nut), and didn’t really know the people attending. Frankly, they didn’t mean any more to me than I meant to them. Hard to know what to say to strangers, especially hostile ones. The night before, my partner’s brother, the ‘best man’, had threatened suddenly to pull out of the whole thing, causing the bride to wail, the in-laws to beseech, and me caught not knowing whether to confront the best and risk a total walk-off or to talk with him. I chose the latter, but he chose to drive off in a huff. With the bride’s parents promising he’d come back, I found a separate room and set about trying to compose some worthwhile words. But nothing new came; I was too flummoxed, and frankly just wanted to get out of there myself. Finally, I just dredged up my poem from memory. It seemed wildly inappropriate (and was), the response a small clap and someone dropping a glass. It’s embarrassing to watch the video.