To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ed Friedman: Four New Poems (“Ideal Boy”) from Two Towns

Good Habits 

The ideal boy
gets up early.
Light is dim outside,
not so bright inside either.
Salutes parents
bare feet knees together,
proud posture with no sassy upturns.
Goes for morning walk.
Does not wander from path.
Until sun has fully risen
it’s hard to avoid ditches and
fast-moving wild predators.
Brushes up the teeth.
Special red chili pepper toothpaste
not recommended.
Bathes daily.
Wears underwear in shower if
swimming trunks not available.
to local deities and major godheads.
Takes meals on time.
Hand to mouth,
no metal utensils.
Helps others
to second helpings.
Crossing busy access roads,
avoids careening vehicles.
Takes part in games
amicable and rancorous.
Hard wooden balls
bruise the shins and cheekbones.
Taking lost children to the police post
is ill-advised during rebellion,
tribal unrest, or slave trade.
Joins National Junior Army
only as last resort.
Pink recruitment tents
dot the green spring flood plains.
Joins in social gatherings.
Boys and boys boys and girls
button and unbutton
their bright cloth shirts,
sing many times over
anthems and hymns.
Define laxness.
Go to school and read attentively.
Blazing, all fired up,
head home, incite the family.

Bad Behaviors

The ideal boy
never sketches costume jewelry
during homework time or
pilfers baubles to draw.
Must avoid spitting near breakfast,
lunch, dinner, festival meals.
Even rotten wormy food
is politely contained.
Kite-flying barefooted
on slanted tile roofs
is unpardonable danger.
Same for catching Father
in the act of expelling
household cat litter
over public sidewalk.
Avert eyes subtly.

Bad Habits Too

The sky is overcast and faintly blue gray.
Creamy yellow stucco walls,
salmon drapery, and mouldings.
Don’t gamble wearing native shorts and shirts.
Big bugs leap off unclean vegetables.
Toying with deadly electricity.
If you ever lie down before the rolling-forward bus,
you’ll die worse than animal teasing with sticks.
Thieves are reamed regularly
for insolent infractions.
A fine way to treat others can’t be bought.
Gummed-down dinners.

Human Stages and Duties

Ideal boys
sleep wearing little
under smooth cotton sheets,
lie awake in the charged quiet.
Preparing to lift a miniature
soccer ball from the rug,
twirl it for Daddy and
show all sides of a weird haircut.
Red tiger-print jumpsuits.
give way to swimming trunks,
three-wheeled scooters.
What’s sunset and afterglow on flood runoffs?
Henna tattoos.
Posters of our beloved pacifist presidents.
Do thoughts duel?
Looking at my portraits
I’d say so then not.
Rice ripening on time equals life or death.
For scroll inscribers and graduates
all kinds of love
pour forth among wicker furniture.
Leaning back wrist to temple
I regard the future with weariness—
now invigorated awe.

[note. Ed Friedman grew up in 1950s Los Angeles. He made his way to New York City in the early 70s, where he worked on magazines, collaborated with artists & composers, played in bands, & participated in the active St. Mark’s Poetry Project community. In 1987 he became the Poetry Project’s Artistic Director, a position he held until 2003. His previous books of poetry & prose include: The Telephone Book, Humans Work, Mao & Matisse, Away, & Drive Through the Blue Cylinders.  Of his new book, Two Towns from Hanging Loose Press, I’ve written elsewhere: “There is in Ed Friedman’s marvelous new book a range of voices from the mock-naive & deeply comic ‘Ideal Boy’ to the wide-ranging & always surprising ‘Propulsion,’ a long poem in itself with incursions into both the personal & political.   Friedman emerges in all of these as a powerful & never disappointing poet/chronicler, at the top of his form & ready to take his place among the makers & movers of our time.  The work is refreshing, absorbing, & remarkably readable; the pleasure in that reading all ours now as it must have been his in the making.” (J.R.)]

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