January 29, 2012

"William Burroughs" by David Ohle

A different version of this 
piece appeared as
 “The Time of the Wart” in The Dirty Goat, Austin TX, 1990. 

After the Beat business became a media topic, everyone knew. I saw a headline in The News of the World around 1959--blame these men for the beatnik horror, listed Kerouac, Ginsberg and myself, with pictures. And I said, “Well, we have arrived.”
  Decades later people would exit the I-70 at Lawrence, drive 30 blocks to Leanard St. “There he is,” they’d say,” the fella wrote Tarzan, ain’t he?” “Beg your pardon,” I’d say. “That’s another Burroughs. I’m from the St. Louis Burroughs.”
After the crash of an alien spaceship, they recovered a body, took it to Los Alamos for autopsy. It had no stomach. These creatures are nourished by some kind of sophisticated photosynthesis. Chlorophyll people. What could be better than if you made some simple changes in people so that they could nourish themselves with photosynthesis? It would wipe out hunger problems in the third world. 
“Effin well right,” the generals said. “We’re gonna put out a shoot-to-kill order on those effin opportunists. Effin flying saucers are violating our air space. We will go beyond the Manhattan Project! We will destroy these creatures!” My God, the dumbness, to alienate the aliens.

There was a great possibility when the old world met the new. There could have been a tremendous possibility of exchanging knowledge and values. Instead of which it became a history of slavery and extermination. The white-skinned homo sap has always been an eff up. 
And there was Hiroshima. They just couldn’t wait to drop their new toy onto “personnel,” also known as people. It was completely unnecessary. Japan didn’t have a ship in the sea or a plane in the sky. They were even making peace offers through Sweden. “Oh, no, we’re going to try out our new toy.” 
My theory is that we’re just another alien species, an occupying alien species, a parasitic alien. 

I never doubted the existence of gods, nor the possibility of an afterlife. My grandfather was a Methodist Minister who died when I was six. My father was an atheist, and my mother a psychic. She asked once, “Does anyone know what happens when you die?” My father said, “I know. There was a little dog and his name was Rover, and when he was dead he was dead all over.”

There’d been an obituary on me for years, all written and ready to go except for the last paragraph. All they had to do was to tack on the end. Now I’ve got a good little niche in the Burroughs family plot here in St. Louis. It’s a damned good thing to lie in the ground and rot.
In my old age I developed a plantar wart. It got stronger and more vigorous by the day, big as a small turnip . . . . That’s the way it is, isn’t it. One day you’ve got a monkey on your back, and the next it’s a turnip on your sole.

January 24, 2012

"Clemenz Wulliman" by Joe Grabill

The subject is the author's great-great grandfather, who sailed from Le Havre, France to New York City in 1852.

I’m 37, Catholic, married to a Swiss Mennonite, Liseli, 40. 

March 19—We board.

March 23—Many retch from seasickness. An infant dies.

April 3—Two days ago I gave brandy to a crewman who had been climbing rigging during a storm. He created a disturbance, talked gibberish about who gave him the brandy, and got flogged. I confess. The captain locks up my brandy.

April 4—Two children die, and we bury them at sea. We have 22 first cousins of Liseli’s on board, counting parents of the 3 who perished. Many females are named Elizabeth, including my wife, nicknamed Liseli, and daughter.

April 29—We dock. My brandy is unlocked. I tell people that I have eleven brothers and each has a sister. “You mean there are 12 girls and 12 boys in your family?” “No,” I say, “We’re a family with 12 boys and one girl, Elizabeth.”

January 19, 2012

"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" by Lemon Jefferson

Note: Far from his grave being kept clean, it was unmarked from 1927 to 1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was erected in the general area of his plot. A new granite headstone was erected in 1997, and the grave is now kept clean by a cemetery committee in Wortham, Texas

Well there's one kind favor I ask of you.
Well there's one kind favor I ask of you.
Lord there's one kind favor, I'll ask of you.
See that my grave is kept clean.

It's a long lane that's got no end.
It's a long lane that's got no end.
It's a long lane, ain't got no end.
And it's a bad wind that never change.

Lord it's two white horses in a line.
Well it's two white horses in a line.
Well it's two white horses in a line.
Wanna take me to my buryin' ground.

My heart stop beatin' and my hands got cold
My heart stop beatin' and my hands got cold
Well my heart stop beatin' Lord my hands got cold
Wasn't long till I saw what the Bible told.

Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy's in the ground.

Oh dig my grave with a silver spade.
Well dig my grave with a silver spade.
Well dig my grave with a silver spade.
You may leave me down with a golden chain.

Have you ever heard the church bells toll?
Have you ever heard the church bells toll?
Have you ever heard those church bells toll?
Then you know that the poor boy's dead and gone.

January 18, 2012

"Hannah Armstrong" by Edgar Lee Masters

Place: Menard Co. IL, USA
Link: Find a Grave
I wrote him a letter asking him for old times, sake
To discharge my sick boy from the army;
But maybe he couldn't read it.
Then I went to town and had James Garber,
Who wrote beautifully, write him a letter.
But maybe that was lost in the mails.
So I traveled all the way to Washington.
I was more than an hour finding the White House.
And when I found it they turned me away,
Hiding their smiles.
Then I thought: "Oh, well, he ain't the same as when I boarded him
And he and my husband worked together
And all of us called him Abe, there in Menard."
As a last attempt I turned to a guard and said:
"Please say it's old Aunt Hannah Armstrong
From Illinois, come to see him about her sick boy
In the army."
Well, just in a moment they let me in!
And when he saw me he broke in a laugh,
And dropped his business as president,
And wrote in his own hand Doug's discharge,
Talking the while of the early days,
And telling stories.

January 17, 2012

"An Eldest Girl" by Gary Quinn

Cabra, Dublin, 1973
Soon, I promise you,
Soon, small brother,
Soon I will be back from the dead.
Quite soon;
Sooner than you think,
Sooner than a day at the beach,
Sooner than a purple sky,
So soon you will forget
The time I was dead,
The stillness in my face,
The white foam of my eyes,
My cold body.

Soon you will see -
Just wait and see -
The times we will have -
Too many to say -
All warm green.

January 16, 2012

"Gary Gilmore" by Edward Capote

Born Dec. 4, 1940.  Executed and cremated Jan. 17, 1977. Ashes scattered over Spanish Fork, Utah.
Link: Find a Grave 

Few recall my crimes but many remember my execution. It was a turkey shoot. They took me to an old cannery behind the prison they used as a death house. Strapped me to a chair, with a wall of sandbags placed behind to absorb the bullets. Five gunmen, local police, hid behind a curtain with holes cut for them to poke their rifles through.

"Turkey shoot"? Old frontier custom. Tie a turkey to a stake and the first man to knock his head off gets the prize. After they whacked JFK, that’s how the shooters talked about it among themselves. They called it a turkey shoot. 

Except in my case anybody who knew somebody was going to get an invite to see it.  Prison officials were flooded with calls from people volunteering to shoot me. The job paid $125. My lawyer negotiated for book and movie rights and there was an outcry to make the execution public. All three networks wanted to film the event and said if they didn’t get permission they’d do it from a dirigible. 

Saturday Night Live prepared a special Christmas song. I liked some of the lines: 
In the meadow, we can build a snowman
One with Gary Gilmore packed inside
We'll say "Are you dead yet?" He'll say "No, man"
But we'll wait out the frostbite till he dies 

I found a song of my own on the wall of the prison crapper:

Deep in my dungeon I welcome you here
Deep in my dungeon I worship your fear
Deep in my dungeon I dwell.
I do not know if I wish you well.

And my last words as the gunmen pulled their hammers back--I said, “Let’s do it”? Those words now a slogan to sell basketball shoes.

January 11, 2012

"Celia Olson" by Wayne Pounds

Dewey (aka Pollick) Cemetery
Lincoln County, Oklahoma

In memory of me
Celia Olson
because I lie in a vanished grave.
They put me here in the corner,
And marked the spot with sandstone
That stands for the lives of farm folk
too small for granite.

I was the daughter of Bertha Anderson Olson
born April 1872
in Hansingland Sweden.
I was married in Maysville Missouri
on September 26 1889
to a man with an ax-cut leg and a love of cards.
In 1891 I was delivered of a son named Thomas Franklin,
in 1893 delivered of a son named Hans Allen,
in 1894 delivered of a son named James William,
in 1897 delivered of a daughter named Amanda Elizabeth,
in 1898 delivered of twin girls named Early and Artie,
in 1903 delivered of a son named John Anderson,
in 1904 delivered of a son named Andrew Leland.

On a Tuesday March 20 1906 I carried home a sack of feed
and was delivered of a stillborn daughter.
Her bones cling to my side
no bigger than a rabbit’s.
On Friday three days later I died in childbed
much lamented.

January 9, 2012

[no title] by Emily Dickinson

Place: Amherst MA, USA
Link: Find a Grave
Photo: shows corner of West Cem. where Dickinson is buried. The voice in the poem is that of a child.

I took my Power in my Hand -
And went against the World
'Twas not so much as David - had -
But I - was twice as bold -

I aimed my Pebble - but Myself
Was all the one that fell -
Was it Goliah - was too large -
Or was myself - too small?

(Poem # 660, Franklin edition)

January 7, 2012

"Is My Team Ploughing" by A. E. Housman

Shropshire Hills from Park Grange
See also: The Wild Peak

'Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?'

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

'Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?'

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

'Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?'

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

'Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?'

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

January 6, 2012

Selections from "Epitaphs of the War, 1914-1918" by Rudyard Kipling

A member of the U.S. military visits Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
From Slate.com

I have slain none except my Mother.
She (Blessing her slayer) died of grief for me.

Pity not! The Army gave
Freedom to a timid slave:
In which Freedom did he find
Strength of body, will, and mind:
By which strength he came to prove
Mirth, Companionship, and Love:
For which Love to Death he went:
In which Death he lies content. 

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?