The Neander Valley outside of Dusseldorf is named after Joachim Neander a German poet who liked to wander lonely as a German poet through this now eponymous valley unaware that beneath his feet lay the numb skull and bones of a species whose name would become synonymous with brute stupidity: Neanderthal, named after the valley which was named after Joachim Neander. That’s what we get to do, name things and judge their worth we even got to name ourselves: Homo Sapiens Wise Man and if that’s not hubris….
Repartee Slim gets off the no.3 bus at the corner of Hastings and Main -the corner of Desperate and Lost- having travelled east on the 99 express, his nose stuck in the feral stink of some guy’s armpit, wishing, not for the first time, that he was six inches taller. A country lyric twangs in his head something about “the losing side of town”. He surveys the wreckage all around him: a guy with a raw scabrous face scratches frantically; a bundle of rags twitches in a doorway; people are scurrying back and forth like they’ve received a message from an alien dispatcher that the mother ship has landed, and they can’t find a toothbrush; further on in a laneway that smells of piss a man and a woman, both dressed in black with sweating raddled faces sway back and forth shouting: Fuck you! No! Fuck you! in a profane loop.
Repartee, Slim says, to no one in particular, what an unexpected bonus.
The sun is slowly leaving
the party that is the day,
things will not be the same.
When he finally tumbles into his room
at the Mariposa Lodge outside of Yosemite
which the Miwok Indians call Ahwahnee
meaning Large Mouth,
Myron turns on the television
to find Patrick Stewart
shouting into the camera in blank verse
and even though Kenneth Branagh is nowhere in sight
he quickly deduces that this is Shakespeare,
Macbeth, in fact, but a strange one,
there are soldiers in Soviet uniforms and a fridge
and of course bad things are happening, off stage.
Then the bottle of Salmon Creek Pinot Grigio
which he had at the Butterfly Café,
starts to take its toll
(‘butterfly’ is the English word for Mariposa),
and lulled by the convolutions of the language
Myron falls asleep and in his dream
Patrick Stewart is staring at him.
“ Brush thy teeth”, Patrick yells,
spittle spraying the inside of the screen.
“Brush thy teeth
lest thou rise
foul of breath
In the sulphurous morn.”
On a strange day
in a life that’s becoming stranger
Myron is driving north of Kona
on a road bisecting the black lava landscape
when Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
comes on the radio,
and in no time at all he’s picturing himself
on a boat on a river
and marvelling for the first time
at that rhyme between
marmalade skies and kaleidoscope eyes;
not the skies and eyes
but the lade and leid
and just when his head
is filling with technicolor,
the black cloud, that’s sitting
on the mountains to the right,
moves across the sun
that’s shining on the blue ocean to the left
and the jumbled chunks of frozen black lava
that cover the landscape,
and suddenly the remaining light is sucked from the air
a dull monochrome.
This poem was published in The Galway Review a little while back but I thought it was worth bringing out again because of the recent anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. The photos above are of the Beatles’ single featuring Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. My family got it’s first record player in the early sixties just when the Beatles and the rest of the British groups that formed the British Invasion were emerging. The first single we bought was “Needles and Pins” by The Searchers, a remake of a Jackie De Shannon song. My mom, older sister, older brother and myself would take turns every week to buy a record to build our collection. When I was back in Dublin a few years back for my dad’s funeral, I picked out the record shown above and a few others from our collection. The sleeve has a picture on the front and on the back which was not typical at that time. Both songs were originally intended for the Sgt. Pepper album but were released early because they needed a single.
I can still remember hearing Strawberry Fields for the first time on the radio. The Beatles were busy spawning genres at the time but this was the strangest piece of music I had ever heard. It was and still is undefinable. Penny Lane wasn’t bad either.