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Poems

The Birthday Dream

At the worst place in the hills above the city
Late at night I was driving cutting through
The overbalancing slums. There was no soul or body
In the streets. I turned right then left somewhere
Near the top, dead-ending into a wall. A car
Pulled out and blocked me. Four men detached from it.
I got out too. It was Saturday night the thrill
Of trouble shimmered on the concrete. One shadow
Had a bottle of wine. I stood and said, say, Buddy,
Give me a drink of that wine not at all fearing
Shaking as on anything but dream bones dream
Feet I would have. He said, We’re looking for somebody
To beat up. It won’t be me, I said and took him
By the arm with one hand and tossed him into the air.
Snow fell from the clearness in time for there
To be a snowbank for him to fall into elbow-first.
He got up, holding the wine. This guy is too big,
He said, he is too big for us; get the Professor.
Four of us stood together as the wind blew and the snow
Disappeared and watched the lights of the city
Shine some others appearing among them some
Going out and watched the lava-flow of headlights off
In the valley. Like a gunshot in the building next to us
A light went out and down came a middle-aged man
With a hairy chest; his gold-trimmed trach shorts had
YMCA Instructor on them and I knew it was time
For the arm game. We stretched out on our stomachs
On top of the dead-end wall. On one side was the drop
We had all been looking into and the other side sank
Away with my car with the men: two; Slow darks lifted
Us toward the moon. We put our elbows on the wall
And clasped palms. Something had placed gold-trimmed
Glasses of wine beside us apartment lights hung in them
Loosely and we lay nose to nose at the beginning
Of that ceremony; I saw the distant traffic cross him
From eye to eye. Slowly I started to push and he
To push. My body grew as it lay forced against his
But nothing moved. I could feel the blood vessels
In my brow distend extend grow over the walls like vines
And in my neck swell like a trumpet player’s: I gritted
Into his impassive face where the far lights moved this is
What I want this is what I came for. The city pulsed
And trembled in my arm shook with my effort for miles
In every direction and from far below in the dark
I heard the voices of men raised up in a cry of wild
Encouragement of terror joy as I strained to push
His locked hand down. I could not move him did not want
To move him would not yield. The world strove with my body
To overcome the highways shuddered writhed came apart
At the centerline far below us a silent train went by
A warning light and slowly from the embodying air was loaded
With thousands of ghostly new cars in tiered racks
The light like pale wine in their tinted windshields.
The culture swarmed around me like my blood transfigured
By force. I put my head down and pushed with all my life
And writing sprang under my forehead onto the concrete:
A tire iron a scrap of metal from a stolen car saying
You are here and I woke
Entangled with my wife, who labored  pled screamed
To bring me forth. The room was full of mildness. I was forty.


from Falling (1967)