Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beats Me

I received a small gift from a lifelong friend the other day.  He'd been to City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and sent me a copy of a new book of poems by Jack Hirshman.   I go way back with Hirshman.  As an undergrad at UCLA, I used to see Hirshman way up in the stacks of the University Research Library.  I worked there doing various things and one of the most enjoyable was shelving books.  Unlike working at the check out desk or checking IDs, pushing carts of books to be re-shelved was meditative in its own way.  Often I'd find bookmarks and various "souvenirs" left behind in the books.  Who knows how long the pressed leaves or ferns were hiding in volumes untouched for years.  There were thousands of books in hundreds of languages.  There were collections and sets and donated libraries.  Each floor was a universe of literature in its own write.
Occasionally I had to all but step over Jack Hirshman while finding the proper place for a book.  he lived up to his reputation as a Beat poet.  After he'd given up his job as a University faculty member (or lost it) he still remained a presence.  Hirshman has lived in San Francisco for many years now.  He's flourished and seems to be writing better than ever.  Even though I have some political differences with Hirshman the Marxist, he still inspires me:

            Off The Floor
                        (for Jack Hirshman)
c2012 Blgreene

At first, he was just an old poet I found,
Barely awake in the stacks of the research library.
A beaten Beat,
Covered in wooly sweaters and sleep stains.
He’d been somebody,
A University professor with a wife in the Town and Gown

At first, he didn’t move,
But I learned to step over his habit,
And if I worked carefully,
I learned there were surprises in the books
I was assigned to shelve,
Crow quill scratches,
Pressed ferns white as English lace,
Calendar pages still roaring from the 20s.

When I read he’d chosen to quit the multiversity,
I sought out his poetry.
I found a limited edition.
In brightly colored words
Lining white pages,
One red print, one green ink,
Another blue.

He praised the immortality of Blake,
The androgyny of wet flesh,
He said, “You see,
I cannot tell a lie.”

He chiseled with the alphabet of collage,
Layered the riffs,
Extra Miles on the Coltrane

Now, in glossy editions,
He lives,
Resurrected from the research library floor
Jesus with arms spread,
One hand with cigarette burning
The other a fist.

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