Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dragonfly (page 22)


The next poem in Dragonfly is also a transition poem. Yes, I said that the previous poem was a transition into poems dealing with childhood, esp. in San Francisco. And this one does. But this poem also leads us into another favorite subject of mine: rock 'n' roll. And it also touches on a favorite — well, maybe "favorite" is not quite the right word — an often-visited subject in my work: war. A "family subject" of sorts.

I made a small change from the original text in Dragonfly. The poem's title in the book had a semicolon after the word "gig" . . . that punctuation just feels wrong to me now, and so I've changed it here to a colon, the more conventional choice between title and subtitle. Also, there are other poems in the book that already use that title-colon-subtitle format.


After the Gig: Saint Agnes Teen Club Dance


Crisp air mainlines in the brain, and I love
the guitar case's heft in my hand, the strings
of my SG muted now by velvet. "No groupies?"
says Ron, as he did every Saturday night,
and we smile. The joke fitting like old hi-tops.

I feel again the sweet exhaustion, fingertips
sore and ridged by taut steel, a hoarse
voice till Sunday night. In the cold air,
as always, I first notice the amps ringing
deep in my head, whirlpooling down where the band

is always playing "Soul Sacrifice."
Ron's wicked grin as he shuttles the conga
beat across the skitter of Terry's sticks.
Steve's hands, freckled, walking
a Vox bass. And above their safety net,

Jay and I trapeze: his wheeling solos
on the Hammond B-3, me on my SG Custom.
The hall always filled with a fog of sound,
rock and roll mixed with the sweat of dancers, the pale
ennui of wallflowers loving the edges.

In the night air, too keyed up for sleep,
we pull into a Doggie Diner for a quick
cup of coffee. No one says a word.
There's graduation and the draft, the world like
a Leslie speaker's double horns whirling, whirling.

Page 22


I was Yusef Komunyakaa's MFA student when I wrote this poem, and the phrasing in opening line shows some of that influence, I think. Here I'm using a stanza mode I still employ: groups with the same number of lines throughout (here, five) without deference to meaning, as in verse paragraphs. This method can cause strong stanza enjambment as in, for example, the break between stanzas two and three above.

The names of the band members in the poem are actual . . . though I've fiddled with the gear: I played an SG Junior, not a Custom, and Jay had a Farfisa organ or maybe a Fender. (For some reason, a brand name starting with F sticks in my memory with Jay.)

Steve, however, actually had a Vox bass, the short-scale Bassmaster; I remember Steve always had a tough time finding strings because long-scale strings were too thick at the short-scale length to feed through the tuner posts. In the photo below, you can see Steve on the right with his Vox bass (this is, however, of a different band we were in together, three years earlier); click on it to see a larger version.

The Leslie speaker mentioned above is often associated with Hammond organs; it used two spinning speaker horns for a unique doppler effect.
     
Things specific to San Francisco in the poem are teen clubs (youth groups in Catholic parishes) and the Doggie Diner restaurant. This was a San Francisco-only fast-food franchise, now gone. A nostalgic memory for many native San Franciscans. The picture above is of the Doggie Diner at Mission and 18th. The one our band always went to was at Geary and Arguello. The poem's setting in time coincides with the Vietnam war, and male high school seniors at that time were all very worried about being drafted into the Army. And of course the poem concerns itself more largely with oncoming adulthood. Interesting in this context is that our band in the poem was named Change of Heart. Hmm.

Okay, that's all for today. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or anything else; please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.

The first image above is a family photo taken by my dad. More info on it is available in the blog post dated 3 September 2011, which also talks about the Doggie Diner. The second image above is borrowed from the website Doggie Diner.com, and the photographer is Chandler White. ¡Viva el Doggie Diner!

DRAGONFLYFIRSTCONTENTSPREVIOUSNEXTLAST
   


2 comments:

chromapoesy.com said...

This is one of those poems that I felt inside of, inducing synaesthesia, those notes lingering which you build so well to the unresolved dénouement. My Dad was a conscientious objector as a pacifist, his father still suffering PTSD from WWII. I don't think generation X will ever understand the turbulent times we were born into but through poetry like this we gain a window.

Vince Gotera said...

My dad had PTSD from WWII ... they called it "combat fatigue." He was a schizophrenic and that became full-blown as a result of his wartime experiences. He was in the Bataan death march and then in a POW concentration camp.

Anna, you're such a rich and generous reader. Thanks so much.

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