The other Henry

Driving home to Providence tomorrow.  The route (Providence-CT-NY-NJ-Mercer, PA-Elkhart, IN-Chicago-Wisconsin-Minneapolis, and flip/reverse) takes about two and a half days.  U.S. 80 etch-a-sketched on my brain, as by a no.2 lead pencil.  I've seen the heartland, from winter to summer - busy old world of pasture, trucks, silos.  Roadsigns.  Burning machines, fleeting memory, archaic billboards.  Sunny green slopes & wide, sly streams.  Beef jerky.  Construction fellas from Tennessee & Missouri, families back home, playing beanbag in the motel parking lot night after night (beer & barbecue).

The little witches' hat of the water tank on Tower Hill (only high point in the metro area).  Conical green cap peeking up in the exiled distance from my mother's balcony (steadfast old Southeast lady, shipped to the old folks' home over in St. Paul).

These past 9-12 months, very rattling for me.  Change in the air.  I retire from ye olde library at Brown, I go back home to help my Dad in the throes of dying, & deviously the life he's made is snarled, inwoven again with the so-called life I made.  This is going home, I guess.  I'm reading The Education of Henry Adams in my off-time.  Watching the early swallows from my mother's strange new balcony, I think : Henry could have been a poet, if he'd listened more carefully.

The Big River, with its screech of pileated woodpecker, & ghost of Berryman, is listening.

I mean Henry Adams, the other Henry.  A sort of translucent mind & heart, plangent & sad.  He never did get it.  It wasn't up to him.  (I mean that other Henry.)

I, me, this Henry, will get back to poetry, though.  I've made a vow on my father's strong handshake (as I quote Ecclesiastes in the obit : "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your strength.")  My father was a mighty man, a righteous man.  My mother has a fine hand too (artist, through & through).

I have this sense that America doesn't quite understand itself or its own poetry yet.  Poetry is a spiritual discipline, a trial by fire.  That lead pencil pressed down by the 2-yr-old - that US 80 with the green-gray "Venus Wins All" down the margins - is an ash-trail of a blue-bright flame (world-shaping metamorph).

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