Is there anyone left to remember Don Bryant? He must have had a mother who loved him, once. Two children so young they couldn’t possibly remember him, unless it was through stories they heard. But did anyone bother to tell stories about Don Bryant, once the news of his death grew old? An 18-year-old wife, Ginny, that he’d married two years before—maybe she’s still alive somewhere, maybe she still remembers his life. It falls to me to tell his death, if for no other reason than because it haunts me. (read this post)
Tag Archives: coming of age
An attractive evergreen shrub, I met her
in Cleveland in 1970 before Christmas,
at a wine and poetry gathering
at Bob Kusch’s house with aromatic
conifer-like leaves, up in Coventry, if I
remember, and it was cold; snow in the air.
Later that week we had dinner
at her place with a tea-like aroma,
sitting close on the couch reading,
talking, bearing trusses of blue flowers that last
deep into the night. It’s the eyes I remember,
through spring and summer,
thriving in a warm and humid environment,
the softest blue I’d ever seen. I confess
that when we kissed her breath was
not so sweet, its flavor slightly bitter
and with a savory resinous aftertaste. But
I’d have stayed if she’d asked,
and perhaps she (botanical name
Rosmarinus): almost did ask but the
(old Latin) navy boyfriend waiting
in the wings, from the dew of the sea
and in the air around us, prevented her.
Before I left town we went to the Covenant
Church on Euclid Avenue where some
degree of drought is tolerated.
we heard the Christmas music,
its pale blue dewy flowers and
neither of us Christian really, not me
anyway, but both were loving the music,
reminiscent of the sea and the theater
and ritual that it so often grows near.
And I became fascinated with the word
“covenant,” best propagated from
cuttings of the twisted wood. Her mother
showed up, a symbol of remembrance,
and everything evaporated, it was
Rosemary chastened by the mother’s pruning.
There was one more kiss and friendship
carried by wedding couples as on the street,
the snow fell, and I never saw her
again. She wrote once or twice
and then faded, a sign of love
and fidelity, true in the end, perhaps,
to the navy boy. It is said to protect the home
from thieves. I wonder if he survived,
providing a light well-drained soil,
both Viet Nam and her baccalaureate.
Allow plenty of sun.
The scene : School bus: guerrilla warfare in the high school jungle. Smalltown Vermont. Depression and McCarthy are only now fading together. A wife is still property, faggots are fair game. The farms are dying fast, the boys leaving; Viet Nam a patriotic war that’s coming home now.
The cast : Steve: class president, consummate athlete, whose intelligence and art are focused entirely on perfecting the highest level of sarcasm. Goes steady with the captain of cheerleading team (this is 1967, after all), but all the girls are wrapped around his so-to-speak finger. Debbie: neither part of the popular crowd, nor not. She is a being unto herself. Yet sits with him because Barbara Cheerleader has her own wheels, doesn’t need to ride the bus. Debbie is short-haired dark-eyed a mystery of silence to: Me: child of alcoholics, intelligent, viciously angry, silent, romantic poet; an athlete’s legs, farm-boy’s shoulders and between, a sensuality of girl’s curves. The rest: “underclassmen” (and further-underclass wo-men); silent, faceless: witnesses.
Debbie has just left Steve’s seat, moved to the front of the bus for her stop, next after mine. For the first time ever, I notice the swaying curve of hip as she brushes past. I rise to exit as she sits.
Steve calls out loud: “Hey Nick, Debbie thinks you’ve got a cute ass.” (remember the year, the place. we do not say these things. we do not.)
Debbie turns, caught inside a secret that has a dark shell and pink interior. Pearls that have just been cast. Cheeks burn a high quick rose. Eyes weld to mine, challenge, will not let go till I am past and off the bus.
Steve: laughs: coyote, hunting.
The rest: titter: nervous birds.
My cheeks are hot as hers. I hate myself, that he has touched me once again. I long to turn, and deliver over finger raised some withering repartee. My buttocks are hotter, rising to her gaze, longing to be parted by her—or by him, with her as silent eager witness. Jewelweed in late summer sun, opening to the hummingbird’s beak. How the nectar flows.
Steve, today: mildly successful salesman for an inconsequential company. Kitchen cabinets, perhaps. Still some tired charm, the anger gone, the edge dulled by liquor. Me: the poet remains; the athlete gone. Ass gone sadly flat, like an old tire. Debbie: lost, returned to the shadows she came out of. Her name, forgotten, is a fabrication for this account. I never spoke to her, not once, nor she to me.
yet her eyes dark fire that locked would not release
the glow that rose up the cheekbones they make of this
prose even now some thing that writhes that will not stay
within its lines.
—for James Baldwin
on the twenty-ninth of July, 1943
—your father died.
—his last child was born.
was your nineteenth birthday
Harlem exploded, a wilderness
of splintered plate glass
the journey to the graveyard
was a black-hearse silence
in the unquiet
the ruined streets
see him even now: a dark deep face
in the window
betrayed by children
reaching toward the world
the streets swelled like a boil
people moving in every direction
against you, every face white
gleaming in the night
a big-bellied man grabbed you
began to beat you
you kicked him and he went down
your friend in your ear: “Run!”
it would have been better
to have left the glass
in the windows
it would have been