“Sensuous, a touch of sadness,” said host Richard Silberg of the reader on Hiroshima’s 70th anniversary. “We forgot, for the occasion, to set off a small nuclear device.”
History was highlighted.
Marc Hofstadter read personal poems so calmly, did he think life’s of little account? His new title, Memories I’ve Forgotten, echoed that possibility:
Mary and I, naked, three years old,
in the 96th Street penthouse garden,
a hose sluicing chilled water in,
droplets beading on our brows,
limbs cold, laughter filling our mouths
with a fullness I seek now,
sixty-odd years later,
in a coffeehouse in San Francisco,
where a small courtyard fountain
The audience was all white, eleven men and four women, like Hofstadter bracketing 70, with two twenty-somethings eavesdropping. The poet: tall, dignified, paunchy, with semi-Einstein hair.
When the young poet learned to switch the lamp:
On, it lit the room
with a suffused glow.
Off, it made the world disappear:
me, the walls,
A crush, before he understood he was gay:
I noticed his straw hair and red skin,
for three months aware of nothing else.
Trees, walls, people disappeared.
When the world surged back,
I had no memory of what had happened.
He seemed an ordinary boy enough.
Seventy-plus years ago Robert Duncan’s academic essay, for a few, brought legitimacy to homosexuals. In the 1950s Ginsberg proclaimed gayness loudly as did John Wieners, as misunderstood tragedy: “Fairy friends who do not fail us Mary in our hour of despair.” Over the years acceptance increased. Ron Schreiber’s volume Dear John comes to mind, among others.
Is Hofstadter’s tranquility an anomaly? It’s a strength, tinged with some existential humor. He’s able to go to the core without avoidance. Taking no exits. That, plus a kiloton of courage, allows such brief, complete, and casual-seeming poems.
Even at eleven,
I was the bottom,
you the top.
We ignored our “disgusted”
tent-mate as well as
the camp’s teaching
team, and manhood.
Summer passed in a whirl.
I never saw you again.
I had been thin and frail,
you strong, sinewy.
How many hysterias did Hofstadter avoid? You list them, they’re obvious. Speaking so comprehensively on this topic is historic. The change took one life-time.
The twenty-something. who’d come from the Slam, agreed: “Thoughtful. Mature.”
“Dear Reader,” about the end of life:
It’s only the start
of a long night
I fear I won’t
be able to bear,
but I tell myself,
is facing the worst
without anyone else
knowing you’re toughing it out,
I make it,
no one aware
Will the next reading be an historic marker, too? A quiet bomb? Go to www.poetryflash.com and guess.
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times November 5 2015 print edition.)