I went to a memorial for the great John McWhinnie today. John drowned in the British Virgin Islands over the holidays. This terrible accident saddened many, many friends but it was also a profound loss for our culture. John McWhinnie was known as one of the world’s most important rare book and manuscript dealers, but he was so much more than that. He was one of our most important cultural catalysts, a connoisseur not only of things but of ideas, facts and people. I don’t want to follow up my recent obit of Jimmy Rizzi with another sad report, so I’m going to try to refresh this area with a few poems that were sitting around in the box under my hat.
For John McWhinnie
Life was a two way street
We were looking for three.
Beyond space and time
I drew a freehand line
and you crossed it.
Flagged a ride in a Terraplane
Memphis to Cairo nonstop—
Eight hours from Go to Geza.
Beauty behind the wheel,
Sun glint through crystal earrings,
We flew through real gone bayous,
Slim Harpo on the air.
“Scratch My Back.”
She read the Times puzzle,
9 across, “Minotaur.”
23 down, “Go between,”
Liaison sounds sexy, no?
at a truck stop, polished chrome,
revisions to plans impromptu.
Your mama sure could drive
and son you got my thumb.
We struck a match and
by degrees formed a fan club
that became a man.
It was annunciation at first sight
incarnation late that night
apotheosis at first light.
Apache Barnstormers of the Southwest
For Shawn Mortensen
The gray ship fell up and hope
smashed a heathen lead sky.
Looked like the Arizona and
the sun always rises twice there where
Duke led the 7th Cav toward Yucca flats.
Fire shrooms rolled gods eye high.
It was that evil Diablo wind that dusted Troy
and the tract homes and amateur mummies
and my supersonic broom.
And Helen Ward crooned
“And the Angels Sing.”
And Sluggo dated Nancy with Carbon 14.
And oh Li’l Iodine, remember her?
She burned my bridges for me.
Rainless days holed up in Orgonon
who could lead the negative charge this time
and from which pole to which?
I was tall, with trepanations of immortality.
With flat top and set shot, I played Horse
under strange constellations
with Navaho windtalker names.
The whole team wore prime numbers.
On the bus we sang “Stardust.”
But I was grounded when Jove hit
A bolt struck me dumb
and I woke up singing all the black keys.
Doctor’s name was Bob Johnson,
said it was a near death experience.
It was an awake little town.
The rims were loose, my shot was falling.
We counted out our winnings on the hood of
a Dodge. I crapped out that night,
but the crops were humming Smoke on the Water
as we headed back toward snow caps
With hopes and no reservations.
I grew up in the hum-whee-hum of low flying aircraft, their mission in 1951 to blow Manhattan to smithereens, off the map. It’s just a city darling. Great New Yorkers shack up, include,identify, embrace me. The liberty bells are ringing.
And that’s when it happened . The fucking enemy shows up. All these people show up hating America. The smug guns. Their muzzles are at the door. As if anything could take it away.
All at once the glittering skyline of Manhattan vanished. How strange to be gone in a minute. Now it is beginning and everyone saw it: The light that falls and is numerous. Where does the evil of the year go when September takes New York and turns it into ozone stalagmites, deposits of light? The television is just on. I am just on.
Disastrous world—out of control. This new realism is planted on the surface of eyes that is to become our future time. A great plane flew across the sun, and the girls ran across the ground. They tread the air, and fall not where they rose. The sky is a hoax. Beautiful New York sky harder so much than soft walls you see here.
Raving maniacs are destroying the planet. He will seize space by his Arab-tap of shoulder. He is the Evictor. Their Garden of Delights is a terminal sewer—Their Immortality Cosmic Consciousness and Love is grade-B shit—throw back their ersatz immortality!
What characterizes every psychopath and part psychopath is that they are trying to create a new nervous system for themselves. In love there is concealed a tremendous amount of egotism, vanity and self-pride. Funny of evil is its self-importance. Civilization people make for fun.
Do you remember the storms, the depressions, the unbelievable Disasters? We stand together, all of us, all shards of Ra and the embers of God, to create an era of justice and sharing. We weep for the blood, we weep for the sorrow, but we will pull America from its coffin and bash it against the sun.
Yes a majestic crash is heading our way. Gravely the Statue of Liberty turned and faced the nation, finally! In the sky there is no distinction of east and west, people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.
The moon is staggering in the sky. It’s one of the unfortunate things that can happen to you in the modern world.
When you sit at home in a chair and think about God in heaven you are probably thinking about something else. I can’t bow down but to baby.
(lines taken from Ashberry, Berkson, Berrigan, Brownstein, Buddha, Burroughs, Cohen, Denby, Dorn, Gallup, Ginsberg, Koch, Mailer, Malanga, O’Hara, Ouspensky, Padgett, Sanders, Schuyler, Waldman, Yeats in a void of words on the night of September 11, 2001)