Jack Foley

 

 

 

 

 

FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF MANKIND

 

Sounding and re-sounding / whirling the air!

            Sounding and re-sounding / whirling the air!

Occupy Heaven: make changes there

            Occupy Heaven: make changes there

 

Make changes in God’s mighty plan

            Make changes in God’s mighty plan

To annihilate his creature, Man

            To annihilate his creature, Man

 

Get rid of pain (God causes pain)

            Get rid of pain (God causes pain)

Get rid of death (God causes death)

            Get rid of death (God causes death)

 

Where is the mighty Radical

            Where is the mighty Radical

To be the scourge of my Sciatical

            To be the scourge of my Sciatical

 

Where is the Savior, born to die,

            Where is the Savior, born to die,

He isn’t you, he isn’t I,

            He isn’t you, he isn’t I,

 

He isn’t in upper or lower air

            He isn’t in upper or lower air

Occupy Heaven: make changes there

            Occupy Heaven: make changes there

 

What of the massive inequalities

            What of the massive inequalities

Between mighty apes and the birds and bees

            Between mighty apes and the birds and bees—

 

What of the Angels, with their wings

Which we ain’t got, among other things…

 

What of the fishes hooked on strings

 

Occupy Heaven

Occupy Heaven…

 

If you already occupy Hell,

Occupy Heaven





 

 


SEPTUAGENARIAN

 

This piece is about being a septuagenarian—someone who has passed the age of 70.

 

It’s an interesting moment in one’s life. You’re aware that many, many people have lived their lives and never even reached the age of 70. And you have friends who have had sometimes horrible diseases and who have died—and friends who have died in a more or less usual and “natural” fashion, in hospitals or at home. You have visited them for a last time—and you’ve very likely written an elegy in their memory. “Hard not to write elegies,” you’ve remarked.

 

And yet you feel all right—not that different from when you were half your age and you were busily dealing with your infant son. There are problems, of course—I have diabetes, my knees are not all they were, some of my teeth are definitely doomed—but they are not problems that seem to determine all that much of my life. My wife Adelle and I will soon be celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We have been living the life we live—doing many of the same things—for quite a long time now. We both think it’s a good life—though there is the increased awareness at seventy plus that our friends’ fates might yet be ours.

 

All lives

Are deceptions

Of ourselves

Of others

The only joy

Is to break through

(In what may be

Itself a deception)

To an illusory

Sense

Of “The real”

Patterns

Repeat

The only joy

Is always

And never anything other than

NOW—

This sudden, illuminating, vanishing, flourishing, empowering, fructifying

Moment

Is the only

Joy

The only time

When we can stand clear of error

(Or believe we do)

And it is open

To anyone

No matter what

His or her circumstances

It is to experience ourselves

Not as suffering, complaining, miserable, happy, dissatisfied, satisfied, terrified

“Creatures”

But as (in the root sense)

Beings

This moment is nothing less

Than the heart of joy

And can occur

Even in the acutest of suffering

All life, said the Buddha, is suffering

Except

For this

Except for

This

 

 

Some of you may have seen a recent article about me. It appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and was titled, “A Lifetime in Poetry.” The article, by Evan Karp, was a beautifully-written attempt to summarize my feelings about poetry and, particularly, about my new book, Visions & Affiliations: California Poets & Poetry 1940-2005.

The book wasn’t published by a large, busy publishing house but by a very small press, Pantograph, run by my friend, the brilliant poet Ivan Argüelles. There is no staff ready to send the book out, arrange readings, book tours, and so on. There is no publicist contacting radio stations and book stores. Whatever public presence the book has is done entirely through me, and, as a result, many of my friends have been quite forthcoming in making suggestions about how I should go about the job of getting the book into the world. What you should do is this…Libraries will certainly be interested…You should be making a lot of money from this book….

 

I try to explain to them that I didn’t write the book for money. It was entirely my project. Everything about the book and its appearance was determined by me—and of course I’m very happy that people are responding to it, are excited about it. That’s where my emotional connection with the book lies. At a certain level, I don’t care about getting copies of the book to Small Press Distribution so that they can supply bookstores and buyers. I don’t care about contacting libraries so that they will buy it—and I especially don’t care about the invoices I will have to fill out when I do that. I don’t care about the mechanics of getting the book into the world or about whether it makes money. I will of course perform these mechanics as well as I can—I’m not that crazy—but I have an intense dislike of discussing them. One friend was concerned about whether the company that printed the book might have been cheating me in some way. He kept asking me various questions—the answers to which I mostly didn’t know. Finally, I snapped at him: I realize of course that money is an aspect of such an enterprise and I have made some effort to insure that that aspect of the book is all right. But I find discussing the book’s money-making or lack of it to be painful, disagreeable, depressing—contrary to the spirit in which I wrote the book. I realize that most people’s immediate thought would be to protect themselves, to be certain that they weren’t being cheated, weren’t being “played for a sucker.” That’s one of the bottom lines of the bourgeoisie in its encounter with the world; that’s “individualism” protecting itself. But I’m afraid that I have no desire to think in that way. I have in fact a real desire not to think in that way.

 

Leslie Scalapino

Dennis Hopper

gone to their maker

proving that dust

is only dust

no matter what or what’s—

Dennis Hopper

Leslie Scalapino

actor and poet

we are all dust

even Hopper

even Scalapino

no matter what or what’s

to this grave truth

we make obeisance:

mortal are we

like Leslie

like Dennis:

Close their eyes

 

 

I seem to be receiving a fair amount of approbation in respect to Visions & Affiliations. But I wrote the book, as I have written all my books, to change people’s awareness, to expand their sense of the world—Rilke: “You must change your life”—not to have them tell me how great I am. Someone said to me after a radio interview, “You’ve changed my sense of how I look at my poetry.” That’s something like my goal. (You have to understand that you’re dealing with a man obsessed!) It’s more “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” than it is “Don’t you think I’m wonderful for having done such a thing?”

 

In any case, “fame” is a rather problematical proposition. It gets you certain perks: free admission to some things, access to interesting people, “recognition” when you walk into a room (though I'm not sure I like that very much)—and all that is fine. But it also calls you to the attention of people—lots of people—who want you to do something for them. You know: You're famous. Make me famous too. The funniest thing about that is that usually these people don’t want to change in any way. They want to stay exactly as they are. They just want you to make them famous.

            Fame does mean that more people will listen to you—you'll have more of an audience. But most of these people won’t learn anything from you, won’t be affected by you in any way. Many of them will totally (and I do mean totally) misunderstand what you have to say.

            You remain more or less isolated—trying to inscribe your message in the minds of whoever comes near you.

 

When was it decided

That singing

Was something separate

From speech

When was it decided

That singing

Was anything other than

A mode of speech

When was it decided

That speech

Could be separated

From song

So that we could speak

But did not have to

Sing

When was it decided

When was that bad

Decision made

That birds

Sang but did not

Speak

That song

Was to speech

As soul

Was to

Body

When was it decided

That the sounds we make

As we walk daily in the air

Were anything

But

Song?

*

 

The first time I deeply experienced a poem was in 1955, when I was fifteen. The poem was Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and I understood that the poem projected me into a certain state of consciousness—a state of consciousness different from that of everyday. It was by no means a simple state of mind.  It had to do with the enormous power of words not merely to reflect but to create a “reality,” a “mood” which moved me away from the daylight world in which I ordinarily functioned and had identity. Speaking the poem’s words aloud let me experience them physically, with my own breath, coming out of my own body.  In this situation, mind and body seemed not to be at odds: Thought seemed sensuous, sensuality seemed thoughtful.  Self and other were joined here too.  Thomas Gray was a long-dead poet of the 18th Century.  It was his mind that was being expressed in his elegy.  Yet his poem seemed to be expressing my own inmost thoughts.  It was almost as if Gray’s passionate words allowed him to be reincarnated in my body. 

 

There was of course a “real” Thomas Gray, a man who actually existed and who did a number of things besides writing poetry.  The Gray I was experiencing was not that person but Gray the poet, the bard.  Aspects of both our lives seemed suddenly to fall away, to be of little consequence.  What did it matter who the man Thomas Gray was?  What did it matter who I was—born in New Jersey, growing up in New York?  My powerful reaction to Gray’s words allowed me to recognize not only who he was but who I was: I “was” a poet.  And to “be” a poet meant to be transformed, to move away from the person who lived at 58 Prospect Street and who was 15 years old and who had a mother named Juana and a father named Jack.  Poetry offered me another identity, that of the poet; and, in so doing, it offered me another “home”—that of words. The life I led “at home”—“in my house”—was one thing; the life of words was another.

 

I began to write poetry, then as now, in order to return to—to re-achieve— the state of consciousness I perceived in Thomas Gray’s poem. It had nothing to do with creative writing courses, with teachers, with exercises to increase my productivity, with workshops, with the fellowship of others who were also writing. If anything, I was a bit mistrustful of others: I wondered whether they had had an experience like mine or whether they were writing for different—and for me, far less authentic—reasons. It certainly had nothing to do with turning my writing into a “product” that would make money. I wrote recently, ironically:

 

what good is a book

                           what good is a person

                                                               what good is a life

if it don’t make money? 

 

 

Septuagenarian.

(September Song)

 

US Army helicopters fly relief missions in flood-devastated Pakistan

Septuagenarian

Federal indictments charge US citizens with helping a Somali terrorist group

Septuagenarian

Agents check inside the mouth of a man arrested in a sweep near 80th Avenue and Hillside Street in Oakland

Septuagenarian

The federal judge who overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage ended his ruling by saying the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians are being violated every day that Proposition 8 remains in effect

Septuagenarian

Ron Dellums ended his political career the same way he acted as mayor of Oakland—secretly and away from the public. The entire event was designed to create an alternate revisionist history that neither reflected the true nature of his work here nor the reality of the organizational chaos and daunting finances he’s leaving behind.

Septuagenarian

Google Inc. must stand trial in a lawsuit by a fired 54-year-old manager who said co-workers called him an “old man” and a “fuddy-duddy” while bosses told him he was a bad “cultural fit” in the youth-oriented company, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Septuagenarian.

The San Francisco city attorney’s office sought a court injunction Thursday against two street gangs whose bitter rivalry has left 10 people dead in the past three years in the city’s Visitacion Valley area.

Septuagenarian

The California Republican Party already challenged to win key races this year in a blue-leaning state, has a new problem to deal with: The two GOP gubernatorial primary candidates are still tangling two months later. Meg Whitman “apparently hasn’t gotten the memo that the primary is over.”

Septuagenarian

The Senate confirms Elena Kagan as the 112th U.S. Supreme Court justice on a mostly partisan vote of 63-37.

Septuagenarian

One day during training camp long ago in Rocklin, Jerry Rice was spotted in the cafeteria at lunchtime carrying a plate with sparse offerings: mixed fruit, small salad and possibly enough animal protein to fill the upside-down lid from a jar. A small jar. Sharpest knife in the drawer. Entering the Hall of Fame.

Septuagenarian

Heat plus humidity equals home runs? C’mon. That’s the easy way to explain the events at Turner Field on Thursday night. There’s more.

Septuagenarian

“More than anything, he wants to shake that stigma he can’t pitch in the heat,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He pitched a nice game tonight. That’s a tough club over there, and two pitches were the difference.”

Septuagenarian

Fairfax slaps a moratorium on PG&E’s Smart Meters.

Septuagenarian

“What name do you publish under?” “John Ashbery, though I occasionally use Robert Frost."

Septuagenarian

Back-to-School 2010. Night&Day door busters.

Septuagenarian

Kenya’s voters pass a new Constitution designed to curb abuses of power.

Septuagenarian

Ferrell is one of the stranger figures currently making movies and one of the stranger figures in the history of American film. Toward the outer limits of man-boy eccentricity. “Guys.”

Septuagenarian

A British drama that does more with three people than most movies do with a cast of thousands.

Septuagenarian

Chiara Mastroianni can’t save weak screenplay.

Septuagenarian

Dancing can’t help inept screenplay.

Septuagenarian

Why did this man renounce life and live 40 years like a grinch in a children’s story?

Septuagenarian

Monday: Sunny

Septuagenarian

“Earthsea” challenges longtime soundman

Septuagenarian

During the day, the housepainters. During the night, Netflix.

Septuagenarian

Blood sugar good. Pills. Periplum!

Septuagenarian

Friends. Darkness. Light. Overcast skies. Bright sunlight. Hybrid car. Son and daughter-in-law on way to Malaysia.

Septuagenarian

Something released from the world which I cannot change, cannot make better.

Septuagenarian

Horrible B.P. oil spill.

Septuagenarian

Cannot make anything better.

Septuagenarian

Dreams forgotten. Remembered sex. Kisses, tenderness.

Septuagenarian

”You’re the youngest septuagenarian I know.” “How many do you know?”

Septuagenarian

Work on time. In time. Time, says Hawking, is entropy. Ave. Vale. When Meshugge walks down the street. Sept (a long, long while). A long, long while.

Septuagenarian

 

*

 

We could think of this world as being less real than the world of our imaginations, so that when we dream something, when we create a fiction, we are coming into contact with a reality which is deeper and more real than the reality we experience every day. What I’ll be talking about says the opposite of that. It originates in one strand of Christianity, the notion that what God creates—the world—is real whereas what human beings create—our stories, our fictions—is unreal. In its extreme form, this conception suggests that human fictions are Satanic. Satan is “the father of lies.” We’ll try to suggest what kind of “truth” this conception touches. When God says, “Let there be light,” genuine light appears. The French poet Stéphane Mallarmé wrote that when the poet says, “Let there be” something—a flower, for instance—there appears, not the real flower, but “the one that is absent from all bouquets.”

 

 


 

 

 

ASLEEP

 

She retreats

Into sad diminishment,

That one,

She folds

Into flowers of defeat…

 

She is

Asleep

In the depths of bourgeois morality

Which is also cop

Morality

She is beautiful but does not fully believe

In her own beauty

(Though she will play upon

The belief of others in her beauty)

Fear rules her, fear

The night was cold, and I was nesh

Her fear focuses on

The Other,

The one who rules her with an Iron

Fist

Threatening to remove (what else?) Love

If she does not behave

If she does not remain

The obedient child

She

Tells stories which she pretends

Are true—sometimes to flatter others

(She is wonderful at flattering others)

Asleep

In the depths of bourgeois morality

Which is also cop

Morality

She awakened

Once, I saw it, but she ran from it

Fear

And need

Drive her—

She can write brilliantly

But then close down

And write badly

(Her hair, her hair, her hair)

She is ambitious (and will flatter)

But she is also ignorant of her own true sources

Asking for love

From those who will surely deny it

And then, in splendid masochism,

Asking again.

She awakened once (I saw it)

And I feel at this moment the terrific sadness of that awakening

As I think of her (her hair, her hair, her hair)

In physical pain which is also

Psychic, spiritual pain,

In fear of Death

(And there have been deaths)

But for her Death is truly

 

The one who lives with her daily

 

The Other,

The Mother,

The one she believes she “loves”

 

*

 

what good is a book

                                    what good is a person

                                                                        what good is a life

if it don’t make money?          

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY TIMES FOR FORTY YEARS / PLUS TEN:
AN ANNIVERSARY POEM FOR MY WIFE, ADELLE

each line a speaking of her name


Forty years? what are they? dust
memories
“I think I’ll get married,” someone said
when I was young, “it’d be a cool way to spend a year”
It wasn’t, for her.
Forty years. Who is married that long
except someone’s parents?—
a couple cordial enough
but hardly real.
If I remember,
you are always there
except for my very earliest life
I have a friend
with no marital history
no history of “relationships”:
he remains in rapt wonder before his childhood
My own history
is a violent severance
of the child—
and then you
You held your hands out to me before I knew the need
Without knowing, you kept my imagination
clear and in the world
You gave me a son
who has grown
into a loving intelligent man
No one can tell my life
without telling yours
No one can say my name
without adding yours as well
What are the throbbing intricate ways of love?
We barely know, nor should we
It flings us here and there
It opens us.
In all this clamor,
in the rubble of my affections and my grief
I say your name, “Adelle”
and say it
forty times
for forty years.
*
And now we come to fifty
and the miseries of sciatica
that rage in my body and subside
“Where shalt thou seek the light
if thou dost not turn within?”
—In the other, the companion
the one who has been at my side
(my left side)
for more than fifty years
for more than fifty years


 Copyright Jack Foley © 2012

 
Jack Foley is a widely-published San Francisco poet known for his "spoken-word performances" which involve choruses. His Cover to Cover radio show, can be heard online at Berkley Radio KPFA www.kpfa.org
"Jack Dancing"
by Leonard Breger