Encounters


Photo by George Balazs

Envying Kenneth Rexroth


Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Rexroth, red king in some European language
I heard you jazz it up in the Blackhawk at Turk and Hyde
Ending every line with a questioning note like it meant something?
Did you know what? I didn’t
Telling about a good time in the dark with a girl not your wife
She was back at the house while you went out scouting for experience
Was it Ariel Parkinson before she married or her girlfriend
Who had not caught onto the game yet? Kenneth Rexroth?
But I’ll let you slide on the power of the Chinese translations
So we can drink wine with companions exiled to the provinces
A thousand years dead now and you did make that odyssey
Down the Pacific beaches after crossing the continent to Seattle
South, coasting the edge of 5,000 miles of water In a bowl carved out
Eons ago when the moon catapulted off molten Earth
And along the path you hit Brookings, Smith River, Orick, Trinidad, McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka,
Fields Landing when there were still fish processing sheds and huts
Rio Dell, Scotia with the all night mill shift, the remains of the Russian settlement
Like a hamlet left over from Turgenev, down through Redcrest, Holmes Flat,
South Fork, Myers Flat, Phillipsville, Redway, Garberville before the Eel River
Shifted West from overlogging the redwood forests never meant to be cut and felled
One of those burgs you got in a fistfight with a local who didn’t like your manner of speech
And the pie got to be $5 a slice, then when you told the sheriff he said get out of this town
They were his buddies who worked in the woods and hunted bear all winter
    on their unemployment checks
You drove further through Leggett where Charlie Shuster always had three gangs
One coming, one going, and one getting fired at sundown
You must have snaked along the narrow roads, threatened by log trucks
    with eight foot thick redwood chunks
Making cars pull over as they shifted gears to negotiate the switchbacks
Until you passed Cummings, hit Laytonville, and the trailer camps along the way
Because people killed themselves driving at night up there
Before the Rotary Club and Kiwanis signs near the high school, Willits’ single stoplight,
And its three hotels, the Willits, the White House, and the Van
That Winston Churchill and William Jennings Bryan slept at decades in the past
The Van still standing, just missing the marble floors, the leather easy chairs,
    standing ashtrays, all heart pillars and planters
The long writing table with straight chairs so travelers could write home how soon it would be
On the railroad train heading North in the morning and South towards dark
You passed the Penneys, the Odd Fellows Hall, the empty lot across from the Safeway store
That became the United States Post Office, and Joe Quadrios’ General Store
On West Valley opposite the Wilshire Gas, the Flying A, the Mobilgas Pegasus circular sign
Fuel before turning up the Fort Bragg Road, long before Flower Street became Highway 20
The ice plant on East San Francisco Avenue and nearby a small soda works
Crushed to splinters in the early ’70’s, the redwood and fir panelling strewn about,
When a drunken pickup driver knocked the building off its wood foundation
Four point stop signs at the turn towards Ft. Bragg and the coast
Open land around Berglund’s the tractor repair building, the Bumblebee Roller Rink
Until you got to Tiny’s Dance Hall with an accordian door telephone booth
Then just outside of town the civilian conservation corps stone fireplace and pit
Where Gary Snyder slept overnight hitching to Portland the winter of ’52-’53
The era he wrote, “In the spiritual wasteland that was American in the 1950’s
You would travel a thousand miles to talk to a friend.”
Across the at-grade railroad tracks, then onto Walker’s Road still the Redwood Highway then
Where past Mark Walker’s sat a string of cabins, motor hotels in the trees
    within talking distance of the rail
Built with the cheapest redwood when con heart went for $ 20 a thousand
Rising in elevation behind the back of the Forestry Station still following the track
Finally traversing the crest so there was no more worry about a blown radiator
Meaning downhill driving to Ukiah and beyond to be the Aristotle of the San Francisco Renaissance
Into the seaport town before sunup, the bay air cool and dense and a foghorn periodically sounding
Where soon the mysterious magic of post war defiance and anguish brought
    Brubeck, Desmond, Vince Guaraldi, Art Blakey
And writers and artists, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lamantia, Holmes,
    Kenneth Patchen and Miriam his Muse
Jaime de Angulo, his daughter Guimar immortalized in Desolation Angels,
    the diminutive Beniamino Bufano
The West coast jazz scene predictive of future freedom, the palpable workers’ pride
    of the Longshoremans’ ’37 Strike
Poetry in the bistros while a child Lester Hjulmand played on the streets of North Beach
Where the bakers handed out loaves of warm sourdough bread at their back doors
Before the sunlight ascended the bare Berkeley and Richmond ridges

Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Rexroth, so long, you were just passing through

WJ Ray
Fall 2016


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