Friday, October 31, 2003

Down By The Riverside

It was the 1960's, maybe even the late 50's.

My father was coaching a folk trio called, I think, "The Riverside Boys," or if not that, at least a trio that sang "Down By The Riverside."

They also sang, or maybe he did, again around that time -- that being my early-ish childhood -- "Mack the Knife," and "Me And My Shadow," songs that left a darker, stronger imprint on my memory. As did the song that Sophie sang, "Show Me The Way To Go Home," a drinking song, but it seemed more about being lost. And, of course, my mother's "Bobby Shaftoe's Gone To Sea." Songs about night, menace, loneliness, separation, homelessness, lostness.

We watched a DVD last night, a 1960's German blues festival -- Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Spann -- and I noted how many blues tunes mention going down to the river. Much 60's ambiance: narrow ties, shades, berets, and the whitest, strangest damned audience one could imagine, down to the mink stoles, and I don't mean John Waters.

I thought about my own riverside walks (yes, I'm gearing up to take one). Yesterday, walking, I thought about writing. How, as an amateur, I can write poems about, say, willow trees, even though it's possible that everything that can possibly be said about willow trees has long since been said. No pressure to push the envelope of the avant garde. Just the pure pleasure of taking the visible, perceptible, reflectable inner/outer world and making language and metaphor about it.

I noted how yellow the landscape is becoming. I remembered the tunnel between the hospital and the adjacent medical office building of the last limb of my residency (1992-4) -- how school kids had done a mural there, and how I was struck and delighted by the word "amarillo," yellow, that was part of it. And how the tunnel was gently curved, so that walking through part of it, one could, with no end visible, fantasize that it was endless. As I often did during those hellish years. Better walk forever along that gentle arc, along that gentle wall covered with kids' drawings, than be on call.

Speaking about putting willow trees in poems, I am reminded of a stipulation I once read in a journal's submission guidelines: no poems by housewives. What a bitchy, callow rule !

I bet that journal's full of first person free verse about being an angst-ridden, downtrodden artiste.

So I should walk, right ?


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