After the Fall
Poems Old and New
(University of Pittsburgh Press)He flew missions over Berlin in 1945, damn near died after crash-landing in the North Sea. He lived in Greenwich Village when it was still Greenwich Village, thinks of himself (still) as a Bohemian. He wants to sleep with Bill Clinton ("Can you imagine doing it with any of the others / Nixon? Harry Truman? / Washington? Honest Abe?")He misses his foreskin, would like it back. He doesn't like Bush, at all. He has turned eighty, but still "whangs off." He wants to love a "Giant Pacific Octopus." He remembers the towers of the World Trade Center, once plotting "how to get rid of them / Or at least cut them lower." He says he never slept with Allen Ginsberg, that he hardly knew him,
but since we're from the same generation and queer,
I'm always asked by the young
if I ever went to bed with him.
Since he's no longer around to deny it,
I think I'll start saying I did,
though I'm pretty sure we weren't each other's type.
I don't think he'd mind.
Field is a merry old hippy and was writing poetry (and dropping bombs on Germany) long before many of us were born. When he gets on the subject of Bush and Iraq and "the end of democracy," he turns a bit rabid, but then you move on to the next page and know he has known war too well to take it lightly.
Bombing this city to rubble,
and at the time nobody cared
that it was full of women and children and their pets...
and here he is back in the same city sixty years later:
Would I stay in Berlin if I could? It's academic, at my age ---
maybe another visit, but essentially this is good-by.
And it's ironic that it has taken me all these years,
over so many visits, to fall in love with Berlin so fatally.
§ § §
Field can and does write with warmth and felicity on the cat woman and Mrs. Wallace Stevens, "who finally had enough / of the famous-poet act and drew a line / through the center of the house --- / on one side of it his domain, the other side hers ..." His early poetry was devoted to Hollywood fare, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Joan Crawford, Mae West. There is a touch of bitterness at what must have been the saddest realization of them all: to grow up gay in America, a place where to show one's love openly was to invite violence and arrest. Now, traveling through Turkestan, he writes,
Desolation filled me as I saw
everywhere the men
out walking, holding hands
or with arms around each other,
friends kissing on street corners.
In the 40s and 50s, he recalls, "I had suffered for nothing, / been punished for nothing. / Not only my parents had been crazy, / but where I grew up was crazy..." Yet most of his poems are filled with a good-natured fun. In one of his funniest, he tells of leading his blind friend, "a blink," around New York, hand on shoulder, kids jeering, truckers leaning out of their windows to make cat-calls. There is (again) the touch of sadness, "I found / after lonely years of near suicidal misery, / my role in life, helper:"
somebody has to tell him
when it's a curb or wheelchair ramp,
or when there's a hole or dogshit on the sidewalk...
After the Fall is more than a collection of a hundred of so poems by an old hippy: it is a lifetime review by a very funny man of a whole time and culture, put together by one who is zany enough (would you?) to stick in a paean of praise for his weenie, the two of them now in their "golden years,"
Old friend, we've come through
in pretty good shape, so far, better, in fact, than during those angst-filled years
when you wrecked my life
and I wrecked yours. Remember?
But, back then, we didn't appreciate each other,
did we --- like an ill-matched couple,
a bad job by an incompetent marriage broker,
or who just got married out of general horniness
rather than any real compatibility.
His final request, now, "to his lul, bite, schwantz, / wang, willie, weenie, / and all your other names:"
stand up, old friend, with me
and take a bow.--- A. W. Allworthy