Archive for the Bill Vartnaw Category

Win & End All Wars by Bill Vartnaw

Posted in Bill Vartnaw with tags on June 26, 2011 by Scot

World War I in an American Legion cap,
short stiff steps behind a four-legged cane
through tenderloin trenches
& into the R & R of low cost housing. . .
paid monthly by the social security
of 9.2 howitzer memories & muggings
& the gab of other old scars & wrinkles,
reinforcing a world-view:  hell is growing
old in American cities.

We were great then;
broke isolation for the ideal & volunteered
to run like crazy
through the shrapnel & charcoal whore
we made of the old world
spitting bullets & the sperm of tough talk
bottled in melting pot frustration
& the stench of ghetto walk-ups.

We were all whores then;
but whores with a dream
& that was better than being. . .peasants!

World War I shuffles the dirt between soul & concrete;
he must catch up with the pace he sets for himself
in this transvestite night of neon necromania
where “danger” jumps like a stairway junkie
from the thresholds of shadow
dedicated to the unknown soldier & other prisoners of war.
He pushes on. . .
to where the porno palace marquee radiates safety;
he waits at the red light with the laughter of a corner hooker
while steel horses strafe the intersection with obnoxious odors
& the flash of ear-splitting sirens.

We were heroes then, with a job to do.

All around, there is nothing but devotion to purpose:
The gray-skinned panhandlers wrapped in blankets & lice
scrounging through trash cans for their lunch. . .
The holes in the ground. . .
The blood-stained mud below the scream of bullets. . .
The senseless bodies. . .
& the bodies writhing with wounds
& dismemberment. . .
The ruddy faced drunk
passed out & cursing on apartment house steps. . .
The screaming three-time loser, hands cuffed behind him,
pushed head-first into the powder blue
police services car. . .
Crawl over these monuments of manhood.
Feel the rub of flesh & khaki & blood & Earth & horror & bone
& self-hatred. . .

Waiting. . .
waiting & waiting for nightfall, for help from the trenches. . .
Caught in the no-man’s land
between the button & the breaking-point
in the search & destroy mindset of father knows best:
fact finding/fault finding/perfect binding
& the sweet perversity of how much can you take.

The vet in pointed cap & cement shoes
pushes his purple heart
through the shellshock of general headquarters,
Home of the Brave,
till he again reaches relative safety in the hut, two, three
of his room
where he can fall back on his bed,
look up at the ceiling
& think about the good old days. . .

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For Jack Micheline by Bill Vartnaw

Posted in Bill Vartnaw with tags on March 13, 2011 by Scot

For Jack Micheline

the way my spirit works

coffee gallery, 1973
my first reading in San Francisco
you were there, Jack
one of the twenty or thirty that signed up
not the feature
“just back from New York,” you said
and took the stage
Bob Kaufman came in from the bar

you took the stage & didn’t let it go
I mean, you did your 5 minutes, maybe 7
but the stage was yours that night
I learned street
all in one 5 to 7 minute read

“O Truth do not leave me”

I was intimidated
I was burning

I was self-taught
from a small town
with little to fall back on
was blessed
made mistakes along the way

I went to university
a math major
to please my parents
to stay out of war’s way
I met others
who loved math
realized I didn’t
gave myself a test
pass/fail
professor said you pass
if you get a B on midterm or final
I aced the midterm
flunked the final
you fail, he said
I aced the midterm! I said
you must have cheated, he said
I took it as a sign
pointing to philosophy

the way my spirit works

you were a signpost too, Jack
it was your street
I could not love it as well as you
but I was drunk
“with wine, with poesie
en vertu, O votre guise”
“Beauty’s everywhere, Baudelaire”

I went another way
never got to know you
in this universe of poets,
we’d nod
you who read with Mingus on bass
would nod to anyone
—if you were in the mood
it was your street
because you loved it, lived
without fear
you who hustled picnic baskets in the snow
made skyscrapers of the heart
with escalators
that went down to a rock-bottom basement
where we all could meet
to wade in the waters
of soul
& sun
“I’ll give you color”
you said with pen & brush

& you did
till you took the train
out of town

“It’s the dead
It’s the God damn dead
It’s the dead that rule the world”

© 2007 Bill Vartnaw
English lines in quotes are Jack Micheline’s