From his motel room on the harbor
Li Po enjoys the sun as it sets
on the last days of the fiscal year.
Soon executives will storm the square
wheeling one another in office chairs
decorating the magnolias
with toilet paper and photocopies
of Cathy's ass from accounting.
Li Po stirs the martini in his thoughts.
His father's words float up
from the one and only time they ever
met: beware smiling men
in business suits, especially if
they're cheering for something you've done.
As a boy I stuck my hand
through the window jagged with glass
my father said not to mess with
now this scar worms over my wrist.
Some kids John knows row out to the island
to jerk off to Hustlers and play with matches.
In the rain Steve's running from the cops
slips, screams, the bone seaming from his wrist
while the rest of us are in the field
still firing bottle rockets at cars.
Later when the island is going up in flames
it's not raining, hasn't rained in weeks
is the most exciting thing to happen
in years. Townspeople come down
to the shore, crack open beers
crank AC/DC in their trucks. The fire funnels
brilliantly toward its terrible god.
The kids John knows secretly row back
to town. In the fall we take turns tip-toeing
on the woodpile outside Chrissie's bedroom
where Chrissie and her sister
are in their underwear playing with chinchillas.
Who will speak for us? the town says
in a language everyone's heard of
but hardly anyone understands.
Will fish boil in the weeds? Steve's mother
shows up with a just-hit dog in the trunk
and some words for whoever thinks
they're running this circus. Fire trucks circle
like idiots in the gravel pit on the far shore.
One night I'm behind the roller rink with Steve.
Some kids John knows are telling us how much
for mushrooms and weed. Who will apologize
for you? the town says. Who will be thanked
for all that's been done?
I wrote the Li Po poem after re-reading Pound's translations, which are my favorite things as far as Pound goes. I started playing a game: what would Li Po do if he were me and living now? Seriously. That allowed me to do something I rarely do in poems: make pronouncements. As for "The Town," that poem had been hiding out in notes for years. I gathered all these unused lines, and experimented with collage until a narrative took hold. The act of collage evoked a remembrance (the poem's narrative center) that itself is a collage of other remembrances. Someone said the poem reminds them of a Jason Bredle poem, which is why I'll have to capture Jason Bredle and keep him in a Mason jar in my basement.