James Laughlin

Often now as an old man
Who sleeps only four hours a night,
I wake before dawn, dress and go down
To my study to start typing:
Poems, letters, more pages
In the book of recollections.
Anything to get words flowing,
To get them out of my head
Where they're pressing so hard
For release it's like a kind
Of pain. My study window
Faces east, out over the meadow,
And I see this morning
That the sheep have scattered
On the hillside, their white shapes
Making the pattern of the stars
In Canis Major, the constellation
Around Sirius, the Dog Star,
Whom my father used to point
Out to us, calling it
For some reason I forget
Little Dog Peppermint.
What is this line I'm writing?
I never could scan in school.
It's certainly not an Alcaic.
Nor a Sapphic. Perhaps it's
The short line Rexroth used
In The Dragon & The Unicorn,
Tossed to me from wherever
He is by the Cranky Old Bear
(but I loved him). It's really
Just a prose cadence, broken
As I breathe while putting
My thoughts into words;
Mostly they are stored-up
Memories—dove sta memoria.
Which one of the Italians
Wrote that? Dante or Cavalcanti?
Five years ago I'd have had
The name on the tip of my tongue
But no longer. In India
They call a storeroom a godown,
But there's inventory
For my godown. I can't keep
Track of what's m there.
All those people in books
From Krishna & the characters
In the Greek Anthology
Up to the latest nonsense
Of the Deconstructionists,
Floating around in my brain,
A sort of "continuous present"
As Gertrude Stein called it;
The world in my head
Confusing me about the messy
World I have to live in.
Better the drunken gods of Greece
Than a life ordained by computers.
My worktable faces east;
I watch for the coming
Of the dawnlight, raising
My eyes occasionally from
The typing to rest them,
There is always a little ritual,
A moment's supplication
To Apollo, god of the lyre;
Asking he keep an eye on me
That I commit no great stupidity.
Phoebus Apollo, called also
Smintheus the mousekiller
For the protection he gives
The grain of the farmers. My
Dawns don't come up like thunder
Though I have been to Mandalay
That year when I worked in Burma.
Those gentle, tender people
Puzzled by modern life;
The men, the warriors, were lazy,
It was the women who hustled,
Matriarchs running the businesses.
And the girls bound their chests
So their breasts wouldn't grow;
Who started that, and why?
My dawns come up circumspectly,
Quietly with no great fuss.
Night was and in ten minutes
Day is, unless of course
It's raining hard. Then comes
My first breakfast. I can't cook
So it's only tea, puffed wheat and
Pepperidge Farm biscuits.
Then a cigar. Dr Luchs
Warned me the cigars
Would kill me years ago
But I'm still here today.
Copyright © 2005 by James Laughlin. From Byways. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing.

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