Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ALL OF US, by CLARENCE MAJOR

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

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ALL OF US, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The elevator was full of black women
Last Line: A generation beforfe they finish
Subject(s): Brotherhood

What do you hear up here?
Same Shasta air, same Nevada air,
same Sierra Nevada air, same rainsong air
that lured Wait Whitman when he heard it.

But it is easier
to find what is left of Walt Whitman
these days, not in the sand, but
in a musty bookshop
over in Fort Bragg, where you sit,
rather than seeing him
walking a logging road,
beating the underbrush with his long stick.

Now the question is:
How good are the muffins in the morning fresh?
They taste crunchy, still warm from the oven.
Would Whitman eat one, you think?
He would, he would, but he'd smell it first.

Can you smell the misty lands of the western shore?
Yes, but not like a big net full of fresh fish.
Not like that. You smell fresh pine in the wind.
And back on the hidden road
you really smell pine and redwood
as if they were still split open like watermelons
in the grass. Which grass? And back there,
on the track of a winding logging road,
giant log-trucks shooting by the turnoff
where we bought the dulcimer
at Mick's from Deb,
these trees whisper all day and certainly at night.

Can you come here without going to Russian Gulch
or to Primitive Horse Camp, the Headlands?
Skipping these, would you go away
with less than a tourist should?

Do we any longer see what is befitting
in these mountains?
No bark a foot thick here.
No. This is 1993, tree for tree.
How many of the giant spirits
of 1874 still stand as I wash
my hands in the California coastal water?

So, is it necessary to still sing a California song?
The song has nothing to do with whether or not
this year is like Walt's year. It has to do with air,
this air, this new air, fresh still in all essential ways,
and singing through the redwoods' cold nights.

What else, then, do you hear?
We hear dulcimer strings --
that out-of-this-world sound. Nothing like it.
And other things we heard?
We heard about Jim's freshly baked muffins.
Heard about the cottage out back,
heard about the tree view,
heard about water towers one and two.
We heard about the pine furniture.
And we heard about complete privacy.
And friendly strangers around a breakfast table.
A fire in the fireplace after dinner.
We heard people up late downstairs
talking with great excitement.
We heard old Walt's wood spirits
talking all through the night.

What do you see through the tree?
Same giant redwood stand, back farther
than we can beat our way to by land;
same cold night corner-of-Pacific
from our bed-and-breakfast window
in old Joshua Grindle's house on the hill.
Through the redwood branches,
we saw Walt's spirit swimming
out in the Pacific with its boots on,
but still being clear
about "your average spiritual man,"
and clear about the "voice
of a mighty, dying tree
in the redwood forest dense."

But it's not the same there, anymore, Walt:
Not in Jackson State Forest,
not in Damme State Park,
not in Pigmy Forest.

What do you see when you stand
out on Little Lake Road
and gaze at Grindle's house?
You see the big white frame house
with wraparound ten-pillow porch,
you see your upstairs window.

What do you hear from here?
We hear other tourists at breakfast
talking about where they came from
talking about how long it's been
since they were last here,
back when the place was owned
by somebody else, not by Jim
and his wife. But we do not hear
the crack! crack! crack!
of the chopper's ax Walt heard.
They're farther back.

How deep is the river -- is it as deep as it was?
It's deeper than the gift shops are high.
That's for sure. Deeper than
Rainsong Shoes or Paper Pleasures,
Deeper than Papa Bear's Chocolate Haus
or The Melting Pot and Papa Bird's put together.
But really, how far down is that river?

Is this small cluster of shacks the remains
of the big camp shanties of the 1870s?
Pretty to think them
the ones Walt wrote about, crowded together
boastfully strung along the coast.
Do you smell them, do they stink?
Do they smell of fish?
Fishermen think fish smell pretty good.
What is their "unseen moral essence,"
compared to, say, the trendy gift shops
and their objectives?

So, what is coming up the mountain road for?
For the romance of the wood spirits, still.
And for our own romance in our oceanview room
with its tiny sailboat wallpaper,
ship's table and framed pictures of paddleboats.

And when we go away from here,
what do we want to remember?
What will we necessarily remember?
What we heard in the air.
What we smelled on the air.
The smell of the fresh corn muffins.
Just the things a tourist needs.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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