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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Plato’s Cave

 

Awake from a dream of flying,

I sat on the side of the bed and lit a cigarette

(it was that long ago) and read a poem

by Delmore Schwartz about rising from bed,

lighting a cigarette, and walking to the window.

“The travail of early morning,” he said,

as the milkman (it was that long ago)

chinked his bottles up the shadowy walk.

About that time I went to a fortune-teller,

a reader and adviser, as they style themselves.

She was a quack, as you might guess.

“Dreams of flying are dreams of death,”

she said, as if to dismiss all my lovely arcs

and sweeps high above the quilted land.

Then, “Dreams of sex are dreams of death,”

she said, between coughs into her cupped hand.
And again, “Dreams of shadows are dreams of death,”

and, “Dreams of running” et cetera, a theory of dreams

easy enough to grasp, easy enough to apply.

She was right about a few things—a tall girl

and a short girl, prospects and possibilities

about to present themselves, unresolved troubles—

but nothing I couldn’t have told her

with a nod of the head, a shift of the eyes.

She certainly said nothing that helped

me understand Delmore Schwartz.

I could never read him

without a cigarette, the smoke

blinding one eye so he canted across the page.

He seemed to come across best in hotel rooms,

if I could find one with the light from the street

slowly pulsing against the zig-zag wall.

At least once I dreamed about him

or about his poem, either I searching them out

or they presenting themselves to me,

but it was nothing I didn’t know already,

ignorant no matter how much I worked at it,

but waiting again and again until morning

“kindled the looking-glass.”

 

            —Monty Jones

 

*The first and last quotes are from “In the Naked Bed, in Plato’s Cave,” by Delmore Schwartz. Selected Poems: Summer Knowledge.  (New York: New Directions, 1967)

 

 

Kitty Hawk

 

December 17, 2003

 

Everyone knew everything,

as if they had memorized Chenault’s tables,

as if they had sat eating tepid beans as the wind

buffeted the tent, threatening to sail it away.

As if they had coached James and Stacy Keach

on how to act like a Methodist bishop’s boys or how

to hold a bicycle wrench or glare at the gulls.

Years before I had read Fred Kelly

and a children’s book from a long row

of biographies in well-worn library binding,

an orange buckram I would always trust

as a guide to what could be read next.

That, and all the time I lolled on a hillside

watching airplanes drone from cloud to cloud,

all that time I wondered how a bicycle

could be made to fly, all those others

had been working at it, obsession’s brute force

applied to the problem, as intent on mastering

the details of what happened as the continuous wind

intent on bending the back and dulling the wits

of one of those incurious islanders, an ocean

of wrong answers washing up day after day.

A replica of the Wright Flyer, a rich man’s toy,

had been made to fly on occasion but not that day,

not with five thousand people watching,

their backs turned to the blowing rain.

It wobbled and the wings billowed before it sighed

downward and dragged to a stop in the wet sand.

“Orville could have done it,” someone said,

then lectures along the miserable beach

on how the boys invented the art of flying

as well as a machine to do it with.

The wind played along it like a harp

as they gave up and bumped it back indoors.

The afternoon sagged as everyone made calculations

about what the weather might do and what

they might decide would be finally enough.

I climbed back to the top of the hill

hoping to take a picture of the monument

without old men with cameras blocking the view.

One hundred years could have been one thousand,

as I found a place out of the wind and watched

the crowds weaving up and down the beach –

the rippling tents about to tear themselves away,

the plumed centurions taller almost by a head

than any of the rough folk pushing their carts

out of the mud, geese stacked in their briar cages

watching the men slip against each other,

someone sent ahead to look for oxen or elephants

or whatever these barbarians were accustomed to.

In the yellow-white sky an eagle, it could have been,

performing its augury, turning and turning again.

Everyone knew the ocean was sitting out there,

beyond that wall of haze, its perilous tide

waiting to drag anyone north or south.

Three gulls flew straight out to sea

as if intent on Africa. I watched

as they faded into the atmosphere,

kept watching for what might emerge again,

Orville or Wilbur Wright bringing the news,

sputtering over us and then making a wide circle,

their cage of air buoyant as a kite.

People were giving up, deciding in twos and threes

that they had seen everything that was going to happen,

although in twos and threes some kept talking,

a few last pieces of history to scrape off their shoes,

a few red X’s left to mark on the ragged calendar

for December, Nineteen Hundred and Three.

Determined to meet here again in another hundred years,

I began dreading the flight home, the dour inspectors

with their wands and prying fingers, the narrow seat,

a calculation about the trees at the end of Runway 4,

a baby crying, a heaving storm, a line for the toilet,

the broken reading light, then changing planes

at St. Louis, at Chicago, at Atlanta, at Houston,

losing track of time, feeling at a pocket again and again

as if forgetting where we are and how we got here.

 

               —Monty Jones