Gerald Nicosia

 

I Pissed in Dylan Thomas’s Toilet

I pissed in Dylan Thomas’s toilet
And am still shuddering from it
He stood there more than 50,000 times
Probably, over 20 years
To relieve himself of the burden of this flesh
That we don’t get rid of
Till we die
And oh how he wanted to die
Because he loved to live so much
And who wouldn’t love life there on Cwmdoncan Street
The magic hill, the stairs up three flights
To the back bedroom where he sat at his desk
Looking out over the lights of
Swansea Bay and Mumbles Head
And the arch of a million stars above
Knowing he had the whole green-gold world
At his feet and the words
That wouldn’t stop tumbling out of his head
Kept flowing even as he pissed into that simple toilet
Crowded by the narrow space,
The pressed-plaster walls, so simple and elegant
How could they have told him of New York
The enormity, the millions of angry, forgetful people and
Thousands of crass, adoring fans
The stinking bars, the shelves of whiskey
That you can’t ever empty down your gullet
Because they keep coming like the life
That he loved and wanted out of
The way he wanted out of women’s arms
And kisses, away from the beauty of their rouged nipples
That he hated so much because he could not turn away from
That phony, tricked-out beauty
Which like all beauty
Tore him apart
So that he just wanted to remember those fat, dozing uncles
In the front room on Cwmdoncan street at simple Christmas
Time with joy in food and music and sleep
And those pressed-plaster walls
As his urine tinkled in the toilet
Must have seemed to be squeezing in so tightly
That he wanted to escape as fast as his words would take him
By leaps and bounds and images that only God could
Top, he was building a veritable Tower of Babel

With the beauty of the English language
And the Welsh language
And his lonely school master father who only pretended
To work in his study while friends and family
Watched him through the glass doors
Till he caught his chance and dashed out through the backyard
And secret opening in the hedge
To the street and down
To the local pub to find the relief
In ale or whiskey
His son found only in words
Gorgeous, elegant words
That made an opening
To the eternal beauty of the ages
Which let his mind get through
But held his aging, bloated body back
His words a rocket ship
For all of him that didn’t need flesh
The part that is still traveling
At speed of light
Through space
As I pissed I heard the splashing of time almost a
Century before, as he
Readied for blastoff
And felt the scary urgency
He must have felt to know the future was coming
At him like a highballing train down a track
He couldn’t get off of
Though for a few years he would manage
To get off
With Caitlin and the sweetness of a woman’s love
That doesn’t last any more
Than anything lasts on the green-gold earth of
Vanishing childhood
But in the boathouse at Laugharne where
The farmers’ daughters have the strongest, cleanest faces in the world
And their blue-eyed intelligence is as much an anchor
As the setting sun for everything worth
Hanging on to
He wrote those 45 or so poems they said
Were “among the finest in modern poetry”
But even as he pissed those 50,000 times
On Cwmdoncan Street on the hill with the old slate paving stones
Waiting for his father to come home from the pub
I Pissed in Dylan Thomas’s Toilet – Page 3

He knew he could not resist the call
To piss himself down the drains of New York and San Francisco
And the White Horse Pub and watch their laughing
Faces laughing him down to the grave
It made him seize upon his genius
As a man seizes upon the most impossibly beautiful lover
And tries to squeeze every last drop of his being into
Her to make himself immortal
Knowing he’ll only die trying
To make it happen
Because immortality doesn’t live in flesh
That piss will be gone in a minute
And on its way to the sea
And raging against the light is just a stopgap
He must have felt it in that house, in that bathroom,
In the little bedroom next door
Not much bigger than the bathroom
That he slept in for his first twelve years, huddled
Against the stove for warmth
Wondering why he’d been given this life
And no other and knowing
He would have to squeeze out every last word
Till it was all gone and
He could finally sleep with pure dreams
Of the stars over Swansea Bay
And his mother calling down below
To come and take a break
Or have a meal
That would give him the strength
To take every essential step
Toward his necessary death
And that is what I felt
In Dylan Thomas’s bathroom
Pissing in his toilet
And why I shudder from it
Still.

 

St. Francis Walks the Streets of North Beach

In the quiet brightness of the Shrine of St. Francis
Where 150 years of Italians prayed
For peace and revelation of truth and help
Through their endless daily struggles
We gather, 300 21st century Americans,
As hip and rich and modern as we can get—
Which isn’t all that much, but a lot more so
Than the rest of this struggling earth
We are here to watch the life story of St. Francis
Unfold on film
The great moments, the standing naked before the people of Assisi
The embrace of the lepers
The gentle talk with the Sultan to end the violence of the holy wars
The sermon to the birds
The rising of his soul to heaven borne by a flock of larks
I am here with two religious seekers
A lonely, tormented Greek who has pursued hermits and holy men
Across the globe in search of answers for his own need
To find the reason he is alive
And a beautiful woman anthropologist who is his date
That evening, who seeks the meaning of religion
In the faces of different tribes of people round the globe
And as the movie runs
We are carried into the reality of thirteenth century Italy
Which is also a violent place where it is easy
To die and easy to betray
All the love and need to care that we are born with
And we see the suffering of a man
Who tried to keep the path clear
To that love and caring
And the awful price he paid
But also the enormous energetic field of love he laid down
On this planet that has lasted some 800 years
And it is inspiring and transporting
And we hate it when the lights go on because
Then we are back to being real people again
Real modern-day, rich, hip, all-knowing Americans
Who know nothing
Least of all how to stop the murder and destruction of
Our planet which is about to begin this night
Or tomorrow as the bombs and missiles will be launched
Against a poor, helpless people on the other side of the globe
And my friends and I walk through this real world of nighttime streets
To the Trieste Café
And over coffee talk of their respective religious pilgrimages
And of the beauty of St. Catherine’s church at
The base of Mount Zion
Where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in peace
For centuries
Unlike their modernday counterparts
And we are filled with friendship and love
For each other and all those around us
And then it is late and we must leave
And return home and
Go to sleep
Because we are tired
And human and have only so much energy to expend
On bettering this earth
Before we too die
And pass along our own legacy
Just as St. Francis did
But we go to sleep happy that night
Knowing we have helped to carve that legacy a little further
The legacy of love and caring and the dream of St. Francis
That even the poorest and lowliest is worthy of
Our greatest affection and compassion
And knowing
They will not ever be able to bury that legacy completely
With their cruise missiles and two-thousand pound bombs
Because that legacy has been carved
In the human heart
And it is immortal and
Indestructible
Though it pays a heavy price
And the price only gets heavier
The more we insist on its immortality.

?3/20/03 the day after the start of the Second Persian Gulf War

 

Beat the Heat
for Bobby Waddell

Bobby Waddell stares
Out of his small-town Arkansas jail
Waiting extradition to California
And fifteen years behind bars
Two strikes plus
“flight to avoid prosecution”
Bobby fucks them with
His blue eyes wide
Open
Bobby still loves
This world
Beat the heat, Bobby
For all of us!

Bobby Waddell came out of Arkansas
A long time ago
His father was a soldier
His stepfather a career
Military man
Vietnam did a number on Bobby’s head
A man in a wheelchair
Taught him his own self-worth
Bobby ran the gamut from A to Z
From rich to poor
From lover to one who is hated
Enough to kill you
It was a woman did him in
Or maybe it was the war
Or maybe it was just one blowjob too many
In a city parking lot at dusk
When all his best customers
Stopped buying
What he was selling
And whisky and vodka didn’t do it
Any more
Beat the heat, Bobby
Beat the fucking heat
For all of us!

Bobby Waddell who hitchhiked across America
With the prettiest redheaded woman
In Indiana
Fucked her on camera
So all his friends could see
How much he loved her
How beautiful they looked together
Bobby delivered his own baby
Bathed his kid in a tub full of paralyzed vets
Bobby helped everybody in the whole
Goddamn VA hospital
The Judge said
“I can’t wipe out that other strike, son
I got to follow the law.”
Bobby just looked at him and saw
A jackrabbit’s tail disappearing in
The Arkansas brush
When he got out on bail
His lawyer threw up his hands and said
“He’s in the wind now”
and walked away
while the cool wind blew at Bobby’s heels
Beat the heat, Bobby
Beat the fucking heat
For all of us!

Bobby made one final mistake
He had to call the girlfriend who’d turned him in
The first time
He still loved her
He had to prove that trust
Was still alive in the world
She’d let the guys in black
Tap her phone
Not two hours later
In the little Arkansas town where Bobby was born
The men in black surrounded
The little shack he’d holed up in
That was the end of Bobby Waddell’s
Life as a free man
The doctors gave his dying hep-C liver
Three more years
The feds were giving him fifteen to life
That was the end of Bobby Waddell’s

Career as an activist
For peace and justice and
God help us, veterans’ rights
It was just the beginning of Bobby’s voice
Coming down like thunder
On this fucked-up country
Beat the heat, Bobby
Beat the devil’s heat forever
For all of us.

 

Poem for Ted Berrigan
(1934-1983)

Hardly knowing me, Ted,
You talked my ear off about Kerouac and O'Hara
When I was a green kid
Hauling my recording junk several floors
Up to your bedside
You gave me that sense of fire
That blew apart your best poems
And let a raw red Irish heart show through
Brilliant as a Japanese setting sun
I heard the "gunfire inside your poems"
In every word you spoke
Lying flat on your back in pain
On an unmade bed
In that dirty narrow apartment
Which made me feel instantly at home
Like the eternally messed-up house I grew up in
You were totally without pretension
And at the same time all pretension
But you put it all out on the platter for me
To see and eat
As if you were the Lower East Side's answer
To the Sacred Host--
While you guzzled colas and searched me
With your big bug eyes
All magnified by glasses that were like
Some naturalist's lenses
And at the heart of the croak in your voice
I heard the unasked question--
The question you really wanted to ask
Of everybody you met--
Did we think you really made a difference
With your Life and Words?
The answer, Ted, is an unequivocal "Yes"
I should have told you then
But I was even shyer than you
I only wish you could have lived to hear it
I only wish you could have believed more
In the trees and flowers, however "shadowy,"
And the green peace at the heart of existence,
And less in the garbage cans and grimy sidewalks
And rush of honking ugly traffic
That dragged you to your death.

 

Poem for Jack Mueller
(who sings, "Don't give me God/
Don't give me grammar"
)

For God's sake, listen to Charmaine, Jack--
You've got to use some kind of grammar
In fact, that's not even the point--
The point is you are using grammar
And so am I
And we know it well enough in our hearts
Even if not on paper--
We know each other's tender eyes
Are meant to make sense
And do make sense--
In grammar school or Vesuvio's bar
You'd better not blink
When grammar helps me give you love.

 

Ellen

Sunshine smile
Kind blue eyes
Gentle goodness deep inside----
A river of peace flows from your heart,
I’d like to rest there in the shade
For many and many and many a day.
I’d like to follow that river out
To whatever ocean your destiny holds.
I’d like to be a gentle rain
That keeps your river flowing
Until there’s nowhere left to go.

 

On Reading Some of the Dharma

The literati have a party
and late in the evening
only a few are left
trying to smile through their sadness
as they talk of writers’ retreats
and deconstruction.
A few more drinks will bring
a few more laughs.
“You got another book out,”
one of them says
“that’s what we live for”
while over in the corner
two of their children
are cutting leaves
off the houseplant
with kiddie scissors
and the biggest smiles imaginable.
Jack Kerouac says
the world is empty
but the children

know

bet-

ter.

 


Gerald Nicosia

Nicosia is also well-known for his own poetry and fiction, much of which has been published in literary magazines. He frequently reads this material in public. He published a collection of his poetry, Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls with Host Publications in Austin, Texas, in 1991, and has a new collection called Love, California Style forthcoming in 2001 from Buchenroth Publishing. He is also the author of a nonfiction novel about the tragic suicide of his friend Richard Raff, called Bughouse Blues.
Born November 18, 1949, in Berwyn, Illinois, just outside Chicago, Gerald Nicosia received a B.A. (1971) and an M.A. (1973) in English and American Literature, with Highest Distinction in English, from the University of Illinois in Chicago. In the late 1970's, Mr. Nicosia traveled the United States and Canada, interviewing over 300 people who knew Jack Kerouac. His biography of Kerouac, Memory Babe (Grove Press, 1983), earned the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters while still a work-in-progress in 1978. Upon publication, it garnered over 200 reviews worldwide, and has generally been recognized as the definitive book on Kerouac’s life and work. It has been translated into French, Spanish, and Czech, and is currently in print in a revised U.S. edition from the University of California Press.

 

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