California Plush

Frank Bidart

 
The only thing I miss about Los Angeles
is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
radio blaring
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard
blazing
--pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars
--descending through the city
                   fast as the law would allow
through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep
              and you on top; the air
              now clean, for a moment weightless
                        without memories, or
                        need for a past.
The need for the past
is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
my reconciliation.
                   It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
                                      I hesitated,
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father
but he wanted to, so we entered
a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide
booths--
I thought of Cambridge:
                   the lovely congruent elegance
                   of Revolutionary architecture, even of
ersatz thirties Georgian
seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not--
to bode order and lucidity
as an ideal, if not reality--
not this California plush, which
                       also
I was not.
And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.
         And now, staring into the embittered face of
         my father,
again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
     I was back.
              The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no...
Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following
document:
         Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone,
a drink in her hand:
                   as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":
                                  Name   Wallace du Bois
                                  Box No  128     Chino, Calif.
                                  Date   July  25   ,19 54
Mr Howard Arturian
     I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say
"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When
I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
     This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon
as possible. I sure would appreciate it.
P.S                                    From Your Friend
I hope you can read my                 Wally Du Bois
writing. I am a little nervous yet
--He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.
When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:
he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."
It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop--
For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth
I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
         not uninteresting at all:
         they were the same. Every plate and chair
         had its congruence with
         all the choices creating
         these people, created
         by them--by me,
for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.
Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions...
He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield
after five years
of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.
But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for
an afternoon of talk...
He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."
And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A--, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M--,
good horseman, good shot.
"But when your mother
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.
We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."
When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,
because I had heard it
many times,
in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.
He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.
--Not much to do."
And why had Nancy's husband left her?
In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much."
And that was how experience
had informed his life.
"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."
Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,
"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much. Gladys
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"
It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:
the past in maiming us,
makes us,
fruition
         is also
destruction:
              I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel
--his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities
which have led him to this room, writing
--in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?
              And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,
who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon
--does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by
                   "the order of the universe"
--does he will
anything reversed?
                   I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris--; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
to watch...
must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;
every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable...
--I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle
guidance of my life--; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?
 
From In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-1990, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990. Copyright © 1973 by Frank Bidart. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Poems by This Author

An American in Hollywood by Frank Bidart
For the Twentieth Century by Frank Bidart
Bound, hungry to pluck again from the thousand
If See No End In Is by Frank Bidart
Love Incarnate by Frank Bidart
To all those driven berserk or humanized by love
Queer by Frank Bidart
Lie to yourself about this and you will
Song by Frank Bidart
You know that it is there, lair
The Old Man at the Wheel by Frank Bidart
The Yoke by Frank Bidart
don't worry I know you're dead
To the Dead by Frank Bidart


Further Reading

Related Poems
Back in Seaside
by Shanna Compton
Poems about City Life
And the City Stood in its Brightness
by Czeslaw Milosz
Atlantic City Sunday Morning
by Gregory Pardlo
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
From a Bridge Car
by Elias Lieberman
He Dreams of Falling
by Ruth Ellen Kocher
In a Station of the Metro
by Ezra Pound
In Paris
by Carl Dennis
In the City of Night
by John Gould Fletcher
Joseph Brodsky in Venice (1981)
by Campbell McGrath
Move to the City
by Nathaniel Bellows
Pittsburgh
by James Allen Hall
Tale of Two Cities
by Mark Jarman
The Barcelona Inside Me
by Robin Becker
The Chicago Poem
by Jerome Rothenberg
The City Limits
by A. R. Ammons
The City's Love
by Claude McKay
This City
by Liam Rector
With My Back to City Hall, On Yom Kippur
by Jordan Davis
Poems about Drinking
"To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage"
by Robert Lowell
Driving and Drinking [North to Parowan Gap]
by David Lee
A Drinking Song
by W. B. Yeats
A Glass of Beer
by James Stephens
At the Blue Note
by Pablo Medina
Be Drunk
by Charles Baudelaire
Compulsively Allergic to the Truth
by Jeffrey McDaniel
Dangerous for Girls
by Connie Voisine
Days of Me
by Stuart Dischell
Deer Dancer
by Joy Harjo
Deer Hit
by Jon Loomis
Fallen Apples
by Tom Hansen
Father Listens to the Artists
by David Petruzelli
Homecoming
by Robert Lowell
I Love the Hour Just Before
by Todd Boss
I taste a liquor never brewed (214)
by Emily Dickinson
In Knowledge of Young Boys
by Toi Derricotte
In Vino Veritas
by Howard Altmann
Jet
by Tony Hoagland
Joey Awake Now
by Glyn Maxwell
Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Michael's Wine
by Sandra Alcosser
My Papa's Waltz
by Theodore Roethke
Nights
by Harvey Shapiro
On 52nd Street
by Philip Levine
Parties: A Hymn of Hate
by Dorothy Parker
Picking Up
by Evelyn Duncan
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
by Hayden Carruth
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump
by David Bottoms
The Bottom
by Denise Duhamel
The Drunken Fisherman
by Robert Lowell
The Eternal City
by Jim Simmerman
The Silence
by Philip Schultz
the suicide kid
by Charles Bukowski
The Summer House
by Tony Connor
Vodka
by Joel Brouwer
When a Woman Loves a Man
by David Lehman
Wine Tasting
by Kim Addonizio
Poems about Travel
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely [On the bus two women argue]
by Claudia Rankine
And the Trains Go On
by Philip Levine
Baudelaire in Airports
by Amy King
Cattails
by Nikky Finney
Dark Matter
by Jack Myers
Evening Song
by Sherwood Anderson
Flying
by Sarah Arvio
Go Greyhound
by Bob Hicok
I am Raftery the Poet
by Anthony Raftery
Looking for The Gulf Motel
by Richard Blanco
Manifest Destiny
by Cynthia Lowen
Out-of-the-Body Travel
by Stanley Plumly
Passing Through Albuquerque
by John Balaban
Road Warriors
by Charles Wright
Slow Waltz Through Inflatable Landscape
by Christian Hawkey
Souvenir from Anywhere
by Harryette Mullen
The Bus through Jonesboro, Arkansas
by Matthew Henriksen
The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes
The Strange Hours Travelers Keep
by August Kleinzahler
The Tinajera Notebook
by Forrest Gander
The Traveling Onion
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Travel
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Travel
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Traveling
by Malena Mörling
Traveling Light
by Linda Pastan
Trip Hop
by Geoffrey Brock
Window
by Carl Sandburg
Window Seat: Providence to New York City
by Jacqueline Osherow