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Jacket 15 — December 2001   |   # 15  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |

Tony Towle


to Kenneth Koch

After the complex and enervating party on New Year’s Eve,
I sat resting in my chair most of the next day, a holiday.
On the 6th I flew down to San Juan
to take part in the Three Kings Day celebrations held there.
Back over the cover for the blue water on the 8th,
the prow high in the choppy foam, the rowers nearing exhaustion,
to New Orleans, for the anniversary of the battle,
when the British, in lyrical military distention,
threw themselves like ribbon toward the green fusillades;
red leaves floating down the water’s trail.
Back to San Juan on the 11th for de Hostos’s Birthday,
but suddenly depressed,
with thoughts of concern for my meandering state.
However, outside the window the extensive Caribbean shrubbery
whispered that on the 15th Florida would be having its Arbor Day,
when each of the towering, stunted, and grasping trees in the state
will expect our genial recognition. Wait,
I’ve got to take my shirt off; it is abysmally hot
in the rooms of this hotel,
but on the 19th I will go to Virginia
and pay a solitary birthday tribute to General Lee;
though as  Northerner it must be brief:
a single glass of a moderately priced wine
poured slowly out with yellow gloves,
reminiscent of those worn by the General himself
and by a number of his aides.
In the meantime the wine has gone down the wrong throat,
is coughed up onto my uniform and the celebration is disgraced.
I escape the ensuing feelings of humiliation
by remembering that my own approaching demise will mark the end,
or the beginning, of an era,
that June 13th will be observed as an important national holiday,
and in the burial chamber below, a sarcophagus
hewn in the form of the United State battleship New York,
will provide my shelter and escort to the unknown world.
Until then, I hope to spend as many days as possible
recognizing their singular designations,
which is to see them as if through a recently cleaned window
overlooking a sparkling blue lake and an exquisite garden.
One of these days is FDR’s imminent birthday, January 30th,
with a trip to be arranged to one of the two places
that does his memory the ultimate honor
of allowing its citizens a quiet day at home
sitting in their respective chairs:
that is, Kentucky, with its implied hint of sexual revelry
in the Prussian-blue grass; or the Virgin Islands,
a melancholy walk on the warm sands,
remembering sadly the chief of state under whose reign I was born.

      *       *       *

Artificial boughs of colorful autumn maple have been the canopy
for the picnic outing four days later, February 3rd,
commemorating nothing in particular,
the other twelve celebrants
having left me alone in the early twilight
to stare at the darkening leafless woods,
lost in a personal muffled roar much like the ocean’s.
It has been my first gratuitous festivity since I was eleven,
and again a disastrous and traumatic event,
with the obverse of my dilemma not far off: Lincoln’s Birthday,
recognized by thirty-four states and the Virgin Islands.

      *       *       *

The answer was to go to Georgia for Georgia Day,
decreed no doubt from the courthouse steps one morning
to spite the gloating monolithic North.
I wake up shivering that night on Stone Mountain,
and look out toward my modern hotel in distant Atlanta.
I believe that I fell asleep here this afternoon,
racked with the weariness of the world,
in the grip of an unendurable and undeniable depression,
fading like the sun as I dozed,
and now it is too dark to find my way back.

      *       *       *

October 10th: Oklahoma Historical Day. I have moved in
near the Oral Roberts Temple of Healing in Tulsa,
more than ever now confined to a chair,
recovering from the terrible injuries
sustained from my leap down the side of Stone Mountain,
which brought me to the brink of oblivion.
I came momentarily out from the coma on March 2nd, Texas’s
Independence Day, and became fully conscious of what had happened
on the 15th, Andrew Jackson’s birthday,
a president about whose administration I had been reading.

      *       *       *

November 19th: In far away beautiful Puerto Rico
it is Discovery Day. In four days
Maryland will have its Repudiation Day,
an unfortunate portent for my persisting train of thought.
At the end of next March in Alaska there will again be Seward’s Day
with again the disgrace that Federal employees only,
their bureaucracy owing him its very existence,
must report for work as usual.
Next March seems far away. On the 23rd I pull myself to the desk
and find the revolver; leave my chair and climb painfully to the roof,
step out over the railing and begin the long fall, hearing the shot.
For a second it is the elation of flying, everyone’s
occasional ambition; but through an enormity of coincidence
the bullet shatters the windowpane as I pass, smashes
through the bone structure of my head formed for protection,
and penetrates the gray material of my brain.
In extraordinary pain and horror,
having progressed no further than the border of Kansas,
the rising ground fills up my vision
and absorbs the remains of my wandering life.

Tony Towle  1972

From The History of the Invitation: New & Selected Poems 1963-2000. Copyright © Tony Towle. Reprinted by permission of Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, New York.

From Jacket’s Tony Towle author notes page, you can link to half a dozen or more Jacket pages where his work features or where he is reviewed or interviewed.

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