Joel Lewis

The Pethro Poems

Many of the Pethro poems sample the writings of Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977), a now-neglected figure who is the crucial bridge between American Modernism and the Beat/Black Mountain writers (especially the prose writers of those communities). Much of the sampled material is from The Leafless American (McPherson, 1986, intro by Robert Creeley). Dahlberg went from a communist-inspired writer in the 30s to a right winger in the 50s. These essays are from that latter period, as he hurtles further from the literary mainstream that twice briefly acclaimed him into a satellite of his own quirky design.


In my country, there's
a kind of telephone
that only functions
when the ground water
thins to silence.

I curse its ancient rates
as I depart the blind room,
wise as accidental grace
under the hard tariff that

makes us each
a confidant and dispraiser
of that pyramid of scat
which exist due north

of the modern Memphis
and whose dwellers sing praise-songs,
in an urban-smooth dialect,

to the grim
corporate city, smelling
of height.


Days of hope's signature
met the Days of Joy
and the line of reproach fell away.

My vowel-painted fingers
with calibrated palms
serve as droll correspondent
for the chump change
of serious illumination.

I return with my footprints intact
& "moonlight on the canal"
is the ensign
of a landlocked poet
and the seething earth remains a drear, all
inscape and anvil sparks, though
the suction prints of the ocean remains
as low inheritance
& a mentioned brightness.


Somethings, Moneygrip, are like this:
Breyer's Leaves over candystores.
DuPont is the other name for Delaware.
Baltimore is the Babe's hometown.
& a rendezvous of the central mind.

And if the world was like a snowflake orb,
You would be the City of Miami
& I would be a shark grinning at low tide
& both of us looking real hard
for something we didn't lose.

So, off by shank's mare we go,
nourished by anchovies, onions
and plebian carrots. A geographer
could not slake her soul at our
dinette table.

Homeboy, the globe's enigmatic fractions
hurt. And those boxy skyscrapers are this
world's 2nd growth forest. And though
you may not believe this, I had my
first thrilling thoughts in Philadelphia.


Sauntering through the heart of the empire,
Madison Avenue precisely, & the first saucer magnolias
are tight to burst in the backyard
of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. lingering, silent film
is screened in the mind's eye & against
the normal working day.

And you are there, Percy Dovetonsils,
in the air's crawlspace, reflecting
in the brass buttons of the hotel bellhop.
Agent of the Letter, complete
with saliva-swelled cheroot, you were never
really alive, only a thin painting from one man's brain,
and, now, a kinescope poet forever
in china-red smoking jacket
& fly's eyes glasses.

I love the word's mirage-world
& the ancient tenacities between men & women
passed off as romance. But when do these
mere consecutive seconds contract long enough
to create one's ink cathedral?
Nothing in the cathode tube to clue me
to the precise velocity of daytime's insomnia
& your smeared cataract glare affirms that
words are the strain on silence
(. . . though men & women ought to have anise, garlic, freesias
& savory bread in their poetry, for that is good health
for the mind, though money always makes it
a poet's lunatic season.) Do you see
this rim of the world billowing
with each trace of writing, Percy? If not, GOODNIGHT!
and return back to your image-hungry land, highstepping
to the cracked beat of the Nairobi Trio

as I return to where
the local adoration of lucre
is the dark enemy that keeps the dross piled high
& stored in Pleistocene cribs & reaching up
to the stoop of the sun.


You complain
you have no reader;
& yet you can find
your two gudgeons
and loaves.

You cannot know
in what boreal solitude
I reside.
The day is a moral trace.
The preservation called "advice"
has nothing to do
with the constrictions of trust
lodged in the throat.

Nonetheless. I will carry your luggage.
Welcome to my sullen North American City
& endure weather that
a Troglodyte in the Gobi
would regard as unbearable.


Night has sealed the pores of the cabbages
& the changing economy
of the politically insane
broils in the blasphemies.

I abhor the alphabet buffoons,
&, yet, there is the
sea-water that is yet
to be fathomed.

The limits I have made . . .
The whirlpool that is yet
to be created . . .

I marvel at the obelisks
& rosy-faced sphinx

     & this, of course, is only
indolent brooding; with
what strength I have
I look long at the olive trees.

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