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Joel Lewis

8 poems from the sequence
"New Jersey Ashkenazic Anti-Syzygy"



Filibustering in Secaucus
I bought my language
at a flea market
and the small talk here
on Paterson Plank Road
is a conception vessel
for native inertia.
I sit weightless in a bus shelter
waffles in the pocket
the prozaced Ruth Brown
in my ears
In The Absence Of Their Surprise
I help a Hispanic family
find their way home
them to the Journal Square train
I'm not sure if they trust me
here in cargo pants, fanny pack
& Klezmatics t-shirt.
Right now,
the PATH train
is a fab icebox
of relaxed weekend faces
          And there's an estuary out there
filled with people eating cheesecakes
who have forgotten official history
          & at the night settlement
slackers start bonfires
and play pool checkers all night
          & on the south bank of the First River
they determine the acceptable habitations
and read from the Book of Daylight

They are walking slow outside of Graceland tonight.
There are roses in the cool cafe'
and people weeping in front
of the Jewish haberdasher. This is the empire's
gentler side, Holly Rollerism with
a better beat
                    The flexibility of the random
days we purchase as a hedge fund. And where have
you, you & you gone? -- said speaking through
a mighty spaminator. All the lies
spoken on these Hoboken streets
soldered by bits
of strained social theory.
What can I ask from you?
Up above Washington Street,
I watch the night world.



After Hugh MacDiarmid
New Jersey! Everything he saw in it
was a murderburger he held in his brain,
both sides steam-cooked at once.
He tried to saddle
the contradictions between
the dream of a world language
and the Jimmy vs. Sprinkles debate that splits
the ice cream eaters
of south and north jersey.
He couldn't.
He returned to the radio
and thought about the longitudinal bias
of the bus pass.

poem: "absorb the local lilt"
Absorb the local lilt
now fading away
from the body blows
of both rich
and indigent
I remember
how an old longshoremen
ended an anecdote
about a bar room brawl
in Hoboken's vanished Barbary Coast
with an animated
"them wuz the days!"
in front of the Hudson Place taxi stand
I believed him absolutely:
hallucinations are increasingly verbal.
New Jersey ashkenazic anti-syzygy
(hackensack meadows mix]

for Valeri Larko

Smithson gave me clues
not Ginsberg
          Bon Jovi
on how to ingest
this zed landscape
& quarry the crystals
beneath the floorboard.
So what do I owe
to Hendrick's Causeway
for my moral development?
Does it matter?
Should I have gone
to a pick-pocket's school
instead of Naropa, back in '81?
The radio is not a solution.
& the pure spring
along Shaler Boulevard
is stained by the leachings
from the firework factory
on Berry's Creek.
My impulse to both
the quotidian and the abstract
has led to a curious gap
between baked potato realism
and overstuffed Frankfurt School hoagies
& maybe I have romanticized
& idealized my geography
& that the comment : "Reading your
poetry is like a guided tour
of New Jersey in a old jalopy!"
is more cautionary prescriptive
than praise song
My brain functions like an interesting sewer
derived from the complex vision
of both Huntz Hall & Curly Howard
          & it is hard to explain yourself
when monickered
"Walking Encyclopedia"
when young;
all memorized rivers contain
the silt of annoyance
                              Tonnelle Avenue
is a damaged ribbon in
shades of off-Sabrett.
The earnest workers
of the Philippine Desiccated Coconut Company
await the Hackensack bus
clutching Statue of Liberty dolls.
The workers are singing a song
of the parkways and the turnpikes
and of anonymous elevators
that take them to their
heated green apartments
in neighborhoods
whose ballrooms and bijous
are turned into body shops.
I give up on
remembering the complete
and perpetual jar of things
& throw my lot in with
head films that watch the landscape.
       The moral trace in an average day
equals a squirt of Yoo-Hoo. Remorse,
at best, is the pathology of an
overeducated syntax. Let's
burn down those echoes
and follow the path
of Paterson Plank Road
to its origins
in the zinc mines of Franklin
What does one do with
this enormous gift of time?
----- To become a dreary consumer sponge
or devote a website to equivalents
of nose hair and naval lint?
Call your words "Dark Scouts".
Put on Albert Ayler to explore
& Tangerine Dream just to syrup about
the premises. The new Hoboken street lamps
put a bright color on people's faces
-- does it make us aware of ourselves
as people with specific histories?
or is part of a circuit touched off
by everything we see, hear,
evaluate or want to do.
Little Black Egg
the pure products
of America now
go crazy
in a Malaysian
& that Johnny Rivers
sort of hipster
is channel surfing
above a Zildjian
of barking, hungry
backyard mutts
& no one
writes songs
to their mothers
any more.
My table manners
may be "ace"
but look what I lost
in the deal
& now look where
I've gone:
On hands and knees
looking for something
I didn't loose
poem: "My old heart was puked all over"
My old heart was puked all over
in Metuchen. It was my own
fault, side-trucking with
a donut for a brain, bit player
under indictment, stoop dweller
2 am Noth Bergen waiting
a milk truck just goofing
in the extremes of all my tales.
Pleading before some
elusive magistrate, my
posse was late in arriving
and my troglodyte manners
took center stage.
Oh, palookas of the ozone--
what do we owe you in tips?
Hand jive is not working, let's
wing it in Esperanto!
poem: Don't hit me
Don't hit me
spectral canal man
keep rowing
to the land
where they make
the shirts
take up
stamp collecting, too
the wind whips up
ripe debris
but you're
still here
keyword my shadow


Joel Lewis and the Gutter Helmet
Joel Lewis is the author of Entropia (Gaede's Pond Press), Palookas of the Ozone (E.G. Press), House Rent Boogie (Yellow Press) and the recent North Jersey Gutter Helmet (Oasis Press). A selected poems, Nervous Fabric, is due in 1999 from Talisman. He has edited an anthology of contemporary New Jersey poetry, a collection of Ted Berrigan's talks and a forthcoming selected poems of the modernist-communist poet Walter Lowenfels. He is "New Jersey's unofficial poetry goodwill ambassador to the outside world". He and his wife, film theorist Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, live in Hoboken - "The birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra,", as the signs there say.
You can read three poems by Joel Lewis in Jacket # 3.


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