Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chicago Calling Arts Festival Reading with Count Leonard de Montbrun - "The Park in Winter," "Support Our Troops" and "Tropical Illusions"

Today, I enjoyed the honor of participating in the annual Chicago Calling Arts Festival. For readers unfamiliar with CCAF, the sponsors pair poets residing in Chicago with poets residing outside of Chicago. The poets work together to provide the live Chicago audience attending the event with a unique experience, a collaborative reading by two poets.

I was paired with Count Leonard de Montbrun. The Count and I never met previously. However, we found much common ground during the communication we shared while collaborating. I am sure each pairing of poets worked out a unique approach to their collaboration. Count de Montbrun and I, almost immediately, found we shared some common concerns, antiwar sentiments and compassion for the lasting effects war wrecks on cultures by psychologically and emotionally eviscerating soldiers of their stability through PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Both the Count and I already had created poems expressing those themes, so we found the right pieces to string together from previously written material. Count de Montbrun shared two brief pieces, "The Park in Winter" and "Tropical Illusions", which provided bookends for my slightly longer poem, "Support Our Troops" (previously published by Eleventh Transmission in their Vol. 2, Issue 3, March of 2008 edition, the link o which is provided as 8 poems for Eleventh Transmission).

I do not, at least yet, have the rights to publish Count Leonard de Montbrun's poems here. I have requested rights to publish his poems here with mine in the order read. Assuming Leonard does grant the permissions, I will edit this posting and include the additional and accompanying poetry. However, I can include, and am including, "Support Our Troops" to commemorate the event.

The Park in Winter

Through the wrought-iron bars of the park,
darkened by failed street lights,
winter dusk had the rural flavour of winter
slowly approaching spring:
The dark celdon of dormant grass,
the first display of yellow tulips
for sale at the nearby florist.

This quality lights
the weeks of Carnival
approaching Candlemas,
translucent as in the rose garden
years ago.
One could see dormant plants,
no longer with sunlight
nor yet with the moon.

In tension between lights,
the dark celadon of dormancy
resonated clearly,
resonated the return of spring.

Politics murmured in the rose garden
in opposites:
Never quite there,
never quite absent,
never communicating resolution.

In those years of war in Vietnam
the question of dusk in the rose garden
held the question,
in stasis:
An undeclared war,
undeclarable peace.

In that time, the lamps of logic failed,
as the street lamps by the park,
and so
the celadon of the teapot,
remelted in the earthquake in San Francisco,
vibrated in the dusk
between peace and war.

Copyright 2008 Count Leonard de Montrun

Support Our Troops

A seedy looking, white-bearded beggar
Stood daily on an island
In the street serving as the entrance
And exit of a strip mall's parking lot.
The man always held the same cardboard sign;
Indicating his veteran status,
And pleaded for money to help him survive.

I watched car after car each stop
At the light, awaiting green permission
To leave, ignore his presence.
Not one driver even gazed in his direction.

When he was young and vital:
He ought to have dated his one true love
He should have waxed his first car every Saturday
He could have played ball in the park with his friends
He dreamed of being present for a Koufax no-hitter
He would have bought the new Beatles' album
He longed to share eggnogs around the Christmas tree
He missed shooting the curl on that board in the garage
He was absent for barbecues and beer in the backyard
He didn't get to add his voice to Thanksgiving prayers.

Instead, the draft board sent him a notice
And then shipped him out to 'Nam.
His one true love donned love beads
And gave her virginity to a hippie
In the Haight. Koufax retired.
The Beatles broke up. His parents
Sold his surfboard and car, and placed
No presents with his name under the tree.

These thoughts climbed around
The jungle gym of his mind
As each driver refused to glance his way.

"I went there for all of you,"
He wanted to yell in anger,
"Then you shamed me and left me
A broken Humpty Dumpty.
I can't get a job, couldn't feed
My wife and kids;
Now they left
And won't take my calls."

He just stared plaintively, pleading into each
Implacable and non-responsive, sun-glared
Windshield belonging to smugly superior voters.

"Show me your thanks,
Your Christian charity!"
He longed to cry out;
But stilled his voice,
Trying to get what he could.

They pulled up beside that island
In Mercedes and Beemers and SUVs
With bumper stickers on the back,
"Support Our Troops" written
Upon the image of yellow ribbons.
No one gave him one thin dime.
He recalled how people stateside
Used the same phrase during 'Nam.

Now he knows what they meant:
Keep them over there to die and be disfigured
Keep them there to kill and destroy
Send more to join and escalate the violence
Make them suffer from Agent Orange
Send even more to witness the horrors
Make them stay till incapacitated by PTSD
Keep them there so nightmares will haunt them
The President's will must be imposed.

I pulled up in line next to that island
In a beat up van awaiting the green;
There was no yellow ribbon on my back bumper
Just a peace sign on my hat as I looked into his eyes.

I reached in my wallet and pulled out a five
And noticed the hesitation in his gait
As he wondered, "Should I take money from that old
Hippie, someone to chicken to join me in the jungle?"

With each slow step of his defeated stride
He saw no smugness, no distaste in my gaze;
The vet wanted to eat, buy a bottle, score some bud,
So I just smiled and told him, "Take care."

Then in my mirror, I saw mall security
Approach the veteran with sign in hand -
They pointed and prodded and pushed just a little
And ushered him off like a stray dog with no tags.

Copyright 2008 Don Coorough

Tropical Illusions

Illusion of tropical cafes,
possibly African,
possibly South American.

Immobile before the artists,
with Stolichnaya just beyond reach.
At stated times
I could drink.
The lime cut the vodka clearly.

I continued to sit
in a safari coat of khaki,
wearing a planter's straw hat,
symbols of bygone days.

Planters may no longer sit languidly
in tropical sun.
Tourists may sit there now:
No difference exists for casual observers.
No difference may exist for the servers.

Enforced silence in the silent studio,
enforced pose,
motionless in dry December air,
the studio somewhat overheated.

The periods of permitted drinking
coalesced in conversation with the artists.
Six artists had produced works
which differ radically,
yet they represent the same subject,
the same illusions.

Copyright 2008 Count Leonard de Montrun

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Don, this is strong. I found these lines particularly poignant:

"When he was young and vital:
He ought to have dated his one true love
He should have waxed his first car every Saturday
He could have played ball in the park with his friends
He dreamed of being present for a Koufax no-hitter
He would have bought the new Beatles' album
He longed to share eggnogs around the Christmas tree
He missed shooting the curl on that board in the garage
He was absent for barbecues and beer in the backyard
He didn't get to add his voice to Thanksgiving prayers.

Instead, the draft board sent him a notice
And then shipped him out to 'Nam.
His one true love donned love beads
And gave her virginity to a hippie
In the Haight. Koufax retired.
The Beatles broke up. His parents
Sold his surfboard and car, and placed
No presents with his name under the tree."

*

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.