I’ve known Dean Smith for over twenty years.
￼Dean gave me his book of poetry American Boy upon its being published…I loved “Druid Hill, 1969” immediately and took to Amazon.com to say so. What I said then, dear heavens, nearly 15 years ago–the age of my oldest child–is pretty much what I’d still say. But, like my own settled flesh, it has grown on me, added to me, over the years.
I wanted to read it for you. And for Dean. Listen here.
It is not a nugget of happiness. But happiness is easy (if trite) to come by–it’s sold by the buckets. This is a poem that teaches us the way we make use of our past if we pay attention and wait to discover ways to say things that won’t find a voice at earlier stages in our lives. I should apologize to the poet if I read it incorrectly; but it requires the reader to make decisions and so I did.
I wanted you to know this poem existed. It’s worth knowing. It’s worth trying to carve out a little space for it in our world of constant chatter.
In this poem the presiding metaphor is also the form of the poem, also the language of the poem. The poem blends the poet’s memory of childhood with his awareness, as an adult, as a political person, of the greater human world around him that he cannot touch. But he is receptive with eyes and ears wide open; and a new world, a new memory is made visible to him by a technology of visual capture.
The machine that captures time is also its victim. But not the poem (which is not the memory, not the thing).
What remains is the shard that we pick out of the dirt, turn over in our hands, and use to remember, to order and re-order, to make sense of what happened in our lives, even if it’s the wrong sense. To give a voice to what was not, or maybe could not have been, spoken when we lived through it. This poem is that kind of object for me.
And even Klondike Kat must bear the weight of the poem’s truth that swings from being swell in your saddle shoes to being strafed and snapped in two pieces.
And it’s the pieces, the two stanzas, that challenge you in your very own shoes to look at the world and know the narrowness of your sight is unquestionable even as the rift inside you can grow immense.
Druid Hill, 1969
by Dean Smith
Our last family trip to the zoo was on a Sunday in knee-
highs and saddle shoes on swings under the big oaks of late
summer in eight millimeter we all looked swell together
among ostriches and orangutans and at the art exhibit
zeroing in on a woman with every inch of her skin spinning
her web of indifference to cameras catching tree priests and
beatniks circling the amazing Technicolor Volkswagen beetle
parked at the House of Reptiles where savoir faire was
everywhere amongst the peddlers flush with matted
monarch wings and love beads blowing glass and selling
peace in my parents last year together before the nation did
a cannonball off the high dive and great notions like
families went out of fashion with the wicker furniture Dad
packed into the U-Haul leaving us scratched versions of
“Are you Experienced?” and “Beggar’s Banquet.”
Mom dressed us like Kennedy children keeping her framed
collages of Dr. King, Kalil Gibran, and Rod McKuen
working two jobs against the silent majority in the blue
collar bouffant & buzz cut Baltimore army scene a strong-
hold since Francis Scott Key scribbled his anthem for shif
workers hammering iron to build the heartland at Sparrows
Point feeding a war machine economy at Aberdeen with
bombers, tanks, and napalm impervious to the violence at
Altamont or a far away jungle where children ran from
villages sacrificed in defoliant showers and my parents on
their last night together strafed the walls with intermittent
fire until the clicking strand of film snapped on that old
projector Dad won in an Esso sales contest.