Pale Wire (Popscene)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Look Homeward, Fuckhead

I'll be traveling back home next week for Easter so it's coincidental, and may I say a bit serendipitous, that I stumbled across a poem by Denis Johnson this morning which attempts to capture the sensation of homecoming to, of all places, my native land.

Iowa City

The stifled musk of wood beneath linoleum
in the tall listening stairwells of certain
buildings stays, and the timbre the walls gave to your weeping
and to our snide talk and marijuana coughing,
that also stays, and some of the anger, and some of the stopped
feelings, the stranded, geologic
grieving of seedlings on a wind--and such we were--
they remain. But where do they remain?--the place
has gone, the receptacle
of these essences is mysterious.
I've returned to that same town, and nothing--
no raking, no ghostly notes, only
shopping malls standing where I beat you up
and spring's uncertain touch and stuck breath
and women who smell like flowers or fruit or candy
moved by delicate desires along the aisles.
As we did, the same trains drag through town,
summoned up out of the prairie and disappearing
toward places waiting for their conjuring,
mountains and glens and the snow coming down like dreams
in a silence and in a tiny souvenir.

I can't say I've ever beat anybody up--I'm no burly Kerouac-ian poet like Johnson and sometimes feel like I'm much too effete to be a proper American writer--but I can certainly identify with the lingering memories expressed in the first half (which nail what it was like for me to grow up in Iowa) and the empty surprise of finding them not nearly as haunting as you'd expect when you return home. Spring should be celebrated, but, like an eraser swept across a schoolhouse chalkboard, it only leaves the faintest traces of what came before.