For a while, a dozen doughnuts were our traveling companions…
But now somehow there seem to be fewer…and fewer…
Sunflowers, passed on …
It’s said that there are only 5 stories (in fact one writer I know of maintained that there really are only 2). These 5 (or 2) story lines go on and on getting re-written, re-cast, re-visioned throughout time in novels, stories, plays, and film. But is this the same for poetry and visual art? Are there only so many themes that a poet can write on? Are there only so many subjects or artistic questions that a painter can explore?
I tend to like that its all the same conversation, the same exploration, going on and on through time. Like the System’s Theory view of evolution as a creative act – different genetic permutations as creative experiments upon a central theme. I like to think that all of us poets, painters, novelists, screenwriters, are somehow in communication with each other though time.
Some more than others, perhaps. A young Allen Ginsberg heard the poet William Blake speaking to him in a vision and ended up committing himself to an insane asylum for a time. I tend to get my visits from Ginsberg in dreams. And once in a short admonition inscribed into a copy of his “Selected Poems” that I didn’t remember writing myself.
I thought I would share some homage art on the theme of Sunflowers – Blake’s famous poem, Ginsberg’s homage. Along with the famous Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, and two homages, one by Diego Rivera, another by Paul Gauguin.
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
by William Blake
Ah! sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;
Where the youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves and aspire;
Where my sunflower wishes to go.
By Diego Rivera
by Allen Ginsberg
I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.
By Paul Gauguin
So far, we’ve eaten (more than once, and in no particular order):
black eyed peas
Surprisingly, no grits yet. Or collard greens. Hope so soon. Decided against the fried pie.
On the serendipity front, came across the very sad looking memorial to Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark–one of my favorite explorers. He died by suicide, a depression untreatable in that century.
Not exactly unexpected, but a touching moment in downtown Memphis:
one golden sidewalk note
on Beale Street.
Robert Johnson, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil to play Blues guitar like that. It seems possible.
Mindfield has a homey pro-Gay rights sign hanging on its outskirts (Dan Savage would approve a heterosexual’s support):
And a bit of encouragement for us all.
Well, obviously to get from here to there–from New Mexico to the east coast to visit relatives.
Or, to be on the road, to have fun. But what kind of fun?
And, to eat.
The themes of fun on this trip are several, including
Civil War sites
These photos are of the MINDFIELD CEMETERY–it’s about the size of an electrical station. It looms high over Brownsville, TN.
It is the work of one man, Billy Tripp, who is still building it.
Next to it, is a very nice restaurant–The Mindfield Cafe. It’s sort of like a museum restaurant in a crazed outsider art setting.
Kind of like Watts Towers. Kind of like…nothing else.
Mother gave me a patch of garden when I was eleven. I ploughed it with a trowel and seeded it with dahlias, geraniums, marigolds and chrysanthemums. I watered it everyday and watched with delight as they began to sprout. Then one day I saw a new plant, with tiny bright green leaves. Mother didn’t know what it was. Se called it a weed. She told me to remove it. I didn’t. I thought it was pretty. Prettier still, when it had tiny, yellow flowers. And then there were other plants – short ones, tall ones, prickly ones, with white, yellow, even red flowers. One flower had petals that were violet outside and yellow inside. Mother called them all weeds.
The geraniums and dahlias and chrysanthemums didn’t seem to grow well. They were short and had small flowers, not like mother’s patch which had big, pretty ones. Mother said it was because I had let weeds grow. But I had lots of little flowers – like little me. Mother said I had grown a weed garden. So she took it away. But it was a nice garden while it lasted.
gramps again on how he slew
Famous for its appearance in the opening credits of the 1939 classic movie Gone with the Wind, the Old Mill in the five-acre T. R. Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) contains the work of noted Mexican sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez, who perfected the folk art style known as faux bois (fake wood) by crafting reinforced concrete to resemble petrified logs.
I went out
to look for fireflies
lit the ramada
a beautiful large white cat
with pinkish eyes
and piratical black patches
caressed my hand
with his head
and sat patiently
waiting even after
I’d closed the door;
the moon, too, was up
above the tower
with a slate roof
had lit that window
with a red light;
I see your naked back
as you sit at the desk
and tell me
this hot springs town
has everything I love
except the sea