The Wreck of the Farallon

Under the grey deep, the plains, canyons, peaks,
the flooded floor of the world rolls on to Laurentia,
pressing on the Farallon, plank, mast, and sail
out ahead on a black stone wave,
driving her under the buoyant earth,
caught in the undertow of her
sunken bow, sinking deeper,
ever deeper under the world,
compressed and cooked, her wet soul bleeds out,
hot and convecting, boils stone,
hollows out Pluto’s chambers,
mothers strata of generations
of volcanic boils, dead, young, and dying,
trembling in the California sun.

When the great sea-world strikes the land,
the submarine ridge is crushed,
her mid-seam ripped ajar,
her bow pulled into the earth,
stern slammed into the continent’s edge;
all the wreckage tangled in a heap.

Here and there, the demolition done,
the old world digested, the continental belly
heaves up; Pacifica, Laurentia knock and shear
in their tectonic intercourse; mountain roots
severed and sucked off in the wake,
the subterranean bone of dead volcanoes floats up,
breaks through the surface; and seaward, bits of bone
shattered and blended with the sea-bottom
sediments of eons, and mother’s clotted blood.

© 2016 Kaweah

Personality Disorders

Sam Barber, sitting in the redwood parlor playing Adagio
for Strings on the Steinway, and Una’s in the bathtub
running the cold tap with a pistol in her hand and a bullet
in her breast, her black broth bleeding out, making warm
curlicues all around her, an arm reaching out
for more sleeping pills.

Behind the piano, the door to the guest room is closed
for J.R. and his guest, romping on the deathbed
and I’m seasick on the heaving edge, looking out
the west window—the reaper in the surf.

Yeats, J.R.’s comrade is fog-white with age
and madness and running naked through the poppies
singing for the tatters in his coat and brandishing
Una’s best cleaver at the star-eyed tourists.

© 2016 Kaweah

Falco urbanus

“Jeffers is my God.” — Charles Bukowski

When the blades of the falcon’s
    silhouette flash
Between the bright towers of the City
    we rub our eyes.
Pigeons squat in gutters
    on watch for shadows.
Not the ruddy-tailed buzzard
    the poet lionized;
Bagger of rodents, wounded birds,
    wayward fledglings,
Squats atop Tudor cottages and
    unicorn castles;
The brute too clumsy to thread
    a cypress hedge,
Hover above the moor, nosedive
    from infinity.

It being so, he snapped its wings,
crucified it, prayed upon it.

Too late to ask. The poet is dead
    and falcons
Haunt the cities, bed down
    high on steel
Cliffs, far above the mischief
    of raccoonery; prey
Mob the bald valleys below.

Looking up the canyon walls and down
On the long-suffering pigeons,
Wayfarers like drunken hounds,
They lead me to Monsanto's bookshop
But stay back by the curb
    and bob for crumbs.

I climb the back stair
    to the Ginsberg room
To gather paper pigeons,
    and against the back wall
A shelf, drunk with Bukowski.

I pull out an old friend
and leaf through. He tells me
about his god, and I go seeking
through the poem-laden planks.
I survey the surnames
of a hundred creators.
They are legion, and yet
Hank’s is nowhere
to be found; but eyes
adapt to the darkness,
and what had just been
mere length gains width,
depth with finer focus,
and with a lover’s touch
the bindings are coaxed apart,
and heads turn ‘round the room
as the packed spines sigh
and you vanish down a dark
alley, and there he is,
cowering in the shadow,
your wounded songbird.
© 2015–16 Kaweah

Rites of Disposal

When I’m finally done, when all
my smoldering embers go cold, put me away.
Clean me up, straighten me out, and put me in my box.

Take it up to that green landfill
where they dump such things
and label them with cut stones.
Find me a plot, dig me a hole.
Sow me deep like a pumpkin seed
that you don’t want to grow.
Cover me there with earth by the yard,
and if you must speak, be brief.

If it were up to me (and it won’t be)
I’d rather not end up there.
Just pay the man who runs the oven,
he’ll fire me down till I fit in a box for baby shoes.
When you get the box back (hoping the contents are mine),
put it on the mantle with old photos and Christmas stockings.
If that’s how you like me, be careful not to spill me,
or if you’d like to toss me out the back door
or off some hill somewhere, it’s just as well.

But when I look forward to my end,
it’s hard to think of me not hanging around somehow
(after all I’ve been around as long as I can recall).
And when I think of that day,
I’d sooner see me roasting over an open fire,
all the smoke and gas of the sticks and me
commingling and wafting up into the air
on the wings of a flame,
a handful of friends and family
singing campfire songs,
but if you fear I’ll smell too much like bacon,
and you’re not sure how you’ll handle the temptation,

There are wings to take me that are not made of flame.
Haul me up to that mountain top, high above the sunset,
where we go to meet the condors. Lay me down
under the sun, and go on home, but before you do,
bid our broad-winged friends a bon appétit, and please
do remind them, you are who you eat.

© 2016 Kaweah

Inscription on Helicon

I have seen her now: seasoned with eternity,
simmers in her sky-cold sylvan pool, hard and white
as the waning moon and quartzite banks, the last softening
membrane of youth seared away in the slow forge of forever;
breast peppered with translucent constellations
when the sun breaks through the leaves.

No fleshy delicacy—even of the slightest young brides,
but the taut, radiant hide of an ageless queen,
Immortal virgin, so say they, but naught of docile innocence;
her purity: homicidal violence.

She it is who haunts the dread hinterland,
    forbidden interior, wildland of man;
        No love for the society of Olympus,
and no Earth Mother, more terrible
    than any Aphrodite.

I have etched here these scars on this stone, scraped
    as I hide, catching my breath, wrapping my wounds,
        year over year, binding my bones,
        to report that I have run this long,
    even to the sacred springs on Helicon.
Not pious nor merciful, she makes sport of me still.
    The hounds come.
        Acteon
© 2015–16 Kaweah

Hotel Jericho

Lowcountry, maybe twenty
upstream miles from the Battery
and a few feet above the sea;
the gators and the blackwater
patiently flow, and you can just about
hear the ghost-song of the ivory bill
echo off the cypress knees.

On the south bank, the land
swells forty or so feet
to lanky yellow pine stands
and narrow Old Jacksonboro Road,
holding to the rim till a finger
of the Caw Caw points to where
the road meets the Savannah Highway
and the tracks at Adams Run.

When the sun is born in May,
a fragrant broth simmers on the land,
steams, swirls, rises,
draws in more of its own
from the sea next-door.

The day breaks into a boil,
the amnion bursts,
the blood showers in,
blending with the soil,
flows through seen and secret channels,
slides down the ramp to the swamp
and all the varieties of God.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Back in ‘70 the junction had a small
grocery with a post office a pair of
gas pumps and a coke machine.

Next door, a boarding house,
with three floors and ten rooms,
formerly a home for disenfranchised
white boys, looked old enough to be
antebellum, antediluvian.

Mom and dad had big plans for the place:
a home, gospel center,
chiropractic clinic; all under one roof
and two narrow, towering chimneys.

They’d come east to share the Good News
of the New Jerusalem and God’s new plan
in the ancient land
of the unspoiled Blackman.

What they found when they drove up
was a tired old ruin behind its very own
landfill of dispossession,
floors sagging, all the showers
out of order, one working
tub in the attic.

The folks might’ve fixed it up
and still watched it cave in, so
they put it up for sale instead.

Couldn’t really wait around
for the next fool’s money,
so they packed us up and drove us
down the Lowcountry Highway
to watch the earth die,
sprout, and rise before the Lord
found a buyer, not too long
before the fire.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

All the while, back of the house,
hid behind that pinewood screen,
up among the spots of marsh,
was a whispering factory where
men mixed up fertilizer and sold it
to farmers in Bangladesh, Australia,
so as the people there could feed
their babies.

The Green Revolution; real science
solving real problems for real markets.

The boys out back shipped out more
and more nourishment for decades
till someone found the stuff
spiced with lead, cadmium,
and other little surprises.
What they didn’t sell, they bestowed
upon the Jericho soil.

That’s where the rain found it,
flushed the Green Revolution down
through the earth, deeper
than the Hotel Jericho, down
the piney rim to the Caw Caw
murmuring below.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kerr-McGee Chemical owned and operated the facility from 1962 to 1978, and was also featured in the Karen Silkwood story. Stoller Chemical Company, the corporation that ran the plant later, went bankrupt before any claims could be made against it.

© 2015 Kaweah

Itinerant Healer

Chiropractic was unlicensed in New York State, so at age 31, Dad decided to move his practice elsewhere. He first hopped on a bus to Miami, slept on the beach there, and decided Miami wasn’t for him. He tried Denver next, and ran into another chiropractor who needed help with his practice. Dad joined the practice, and his parents soon followed him there. Things looked promising until Dad found out that the other chiropractor was tainting patient samples with food coloring. Now broke, Dad decided to give California a try.

Grandma and Grandpa followed along, landing in Venice Beach where Grandpa, going blind from diabetes, sold flowers on the street. Grandma also worked. Dad had to go back to college to pick up some credits for licensing. He enrolled in a small chiropractic college in Hollywood while he lived in a rooming house and subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches. He met another chiropractor named Hansen there and they started a practice together on Hawthorne Blvd, across from the Hawthorne Grill (of Pulp Fiction fame). At that point Dad was 33. Hansen was handy as a sighted partner, but he wasn’t around much, and he eventually left the practice entirely.

Grandma and Grandpa got an apartment 6 or 8 blocks away in Lawndale. Grandma would dress in white and help out as a receptionist, or in whatever way she could. Dad was pulling in $400 per week, and he felt rich. He was also an active member of the Los Angeles Bahá’í community, one of the largest and most distinguished Bahá’í communities in the world. With the death of the Guardian, it was a dark time for Bahá’ís, but they would soon recover.

The Voice of God

Though Dad’s mother had been excommunicated, he had been raised Catholic in some marginal sense. He was Catholic enough to be classified as such in his school records, and Catholic enough to be told by a priest that he was going to Hell. Once out on his own, he took a sharp turn away from religion to become something of a “freethinker,” but that turned out to be only a transition.

Dad first encountered the Bahá’í Faith during the time he lived in New Rochelle. He was not approached by a Bahá’í as one would expect, but by a curious non-Bahá’í friend, a fellow chiropractor named Gene Marcus. Gene was a faithful friend. Whenever Dad needed help as a blind man starting a new business, he could count on help from Gene, even if he didn’t particularly want help. One time, Gene bought Dad two suits out of the blue.

It happened one day that Gene got curious about a Persian religion called the Bahá’í Faith, so he invited Dad to join him in attending a public Bahá’í function, probably a “fireside.” Now it doesn’t appear that Gene ever became a Bahá’í (though his brother Leslie did), but Dad became interested, and attended several firesides. [1] A particularly effective speaker presented at one of these functions, and Dad asked for reading materials.

They first suggested that he read “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era,” an entry-level introduction to “the Faith,” which contained at least one passage that would likely appeal to a chiropractor:

He who is filled with love of Bahá, and forgets all things, the Holy Spirit will be heard from his lips and the spirit of life will fill his heart. … Words will issue from his lips in strands of pearls, and all sickness and disease will be healed by the laying on of the hands.

Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 112

There are other references to natural healing throughout the Bahá’í scriptures. The scriptures, for instance, discourage the use of medicine “when health is good”:

Refrain from the use of drugs . . . Abstain from drugs when health is good, but administer them when necessary.

Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, 1980 ed., p. 106

The Bahá’í scriptures predict that in the future healing will be performed through nutrition:

The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man — that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell.

Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 256

The majority of the diseases which overtake man also overtake the animal, but the animal is not cured by drugs. In the mountains, as in the wilderness, the animal’s physician is the power of taste and smell. The sick animal smells the plants that grow in the wilderness; he eats those that are sweet and fragrant to his smell and taste, and is cured.

Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 257

This must have piqued Dad’s interest, but he wanted to go straight to the source—the scripture, so he asked that someone read “the Kitáb-e-íqán” to him. He was instantly convinced. “No man could write this,” he declared. He was sure the book was the “Word of God.”

Dad became a Bahá’í during the time the Bahá’í community was under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi, AKA “the Guardian,” the last of the Bahá’í patriarchal bloodline. Shoghi, unlike his predecessors, had a western education—an Oxford education, and it showed. He lacked personal charm, but he possessed a remarkable mastery of the English language, particularly for a non-native speaker. Dad could reel off Shakespeare from memory and had a pronounced affection for eloquent language. I’m inclined to believe that Shoghi’s lofty language and purposeful voice, which embodied both the works he authored and those he translated, was one of the greatest factors in my father’s conversion.

New York City had one of the older, established Bahá’í communities in the western world. Bahá’ís had lived there since 1897. One of the most influential leaders of the Bahá’í Faith, Abbas Effendi, AKA “the Master,” Shoghi’s grandfather and direct predecessor, had famously lectured throughout New York City for a couple months in 1912.

Dad lived and worked in New Rochelle at the time of his introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. New Rochelle, being in the New York City metro area, had a strong Bahá’í history and presence. Dad even had the honor of visiting Juliet Thompson—a rather well-known Báhá’í artist—at her home, which I believe was in New Rochelle (she was buried there). Dad’s experience as a Bahá’í in the New York of the mid-1950s must have been distinct from what he would experience once he left New York, and he would experience quite a variety of Bahá’í communities over his lifetime.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] Fred Tarrant attended one or two firesides as well, surely at Dad’s invitation. Fred would later visit the Chicago temple at Dad’s invitation, but he was unmoved. Fred, like Dad, had been raised by a Catholic mother, but Fred has never been drawn to religion, though he respects Dad’s strong moral drive.

From Masseur to Chiropractor

JohnJensenMassageClassAfter graduating from the New York Institute, Dad moved to Bedford Hills and then Katonah (both within several miles of home), and studied massage therapy at the Swedish Institute in Manhattan for 9 months.

At age 22, Dad followed his parents to Bernardsville, New Jersey, where his father was a caretaker on another property, apparently the exquisite Blairsden Estate[1]

At age 23 (1947/48), Dad enrolled at the Chiropractic Institute of New York [2]. He helped to pay his way by working as a masseur. Though chiropractic was surely Dad’s choice, that choice may have been influenced by his father’s dream that his son would become a doctor some day. [3]

Nick D'Amato

Nick D’Amato

Dad opened his first chiropractic practice at age 27 in the town of Rye, NY, perhaps in his parents’ apartment. He moved his practice to New Rochelle a year later. His parents and his sister moved in with him. This made it difficult to present the office as an office, but his mother surely helped however she could [4]. One of Dad’s best friends was fellow chiropractic student Nick D’Amato. Nick happened to be a brother of boxing trainer/manager Cus D’Amato, but more important, Nick was a kind of saint. To Dad, Nick was a faithful friend, and occasionally a practical joker. He helped Dad however he could, such as helping him with lecture notes. He was the friendly, helpful type. During the war, Nick had specialized in helping soldiers, many of them amputees, cope with their physical and psychological wounds.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] Fred Tarrant remembers visiting Dad and his family at Bernardsville

[2] 325 East 38th Street, in the Murray Hill neighborhood, presently the Indonesian consulate to the UN.

[3] According to Fred Tarrant, Grandpa had a singular, unwavering dream that Dad would become a doctor. Fred knew Dad’s parents, having stayed with the family on several occasions. He claims to have had the highest respect for Grandpa, though he admits that he liked to rile Grandpa by talking to him about controversial topics such as evolution.

[4] Fred Tarrant remembers visiting the Dad’s New Rochelle office.

Glaucoma

At age 19, John Jensen was injured while wrestling, and the injury led to glaucoma, which took away what little of his vision remained, caused him a great deal of discomfort, and robbed him of the balance, agility, and speed that made him a remarkable wrestler.

In the summer before his senior year, J.J. was to get a cornea transplant to save his remaining eye. The night before his appointment, he awoke to find everything dark. He felt a lamp, and it was hot. The next day, the doctor determined there was too much pressure on the eye to perform the transplant. This traumatic episode set John back as a wrestler, though he continued to wrestle competitively. He attended an Olympic trial in San Francisco [1], but the glaucoma degraded his performance, as it would throughout the year to come. He tried to rehabilitate but he couldn’t get it all back. John’s days as “the Bull” were over.

John had been almost entirely blind since he was three, when diphtheria nearly killed him, took one of his eyes, and nearly took the other. As a boy, he could see very fuzzy shapes within a couple feet of his face. It was only good for detecting the presence of light. Now a man, his blindness was complete, though he could still “see” large objects by using passive echolocation (he didn’t ping for echo).

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] Probably in spring 1944. Fred Tarrant confirms that the trials were in San Francisco. There were no Olympic games in 1944, but it appears that trials were held. Fred was too ill to compete. John managed to make the trip, but he was ill and did poorly. Fred says the illness in this case was John’s glaucoma.