To A Young Man On His 254th Birthday

Wolferl, young friend, what about
all this fal-lal and hoorah?
Oh, you’d love the performances,
no doubt of that!
You wrote somebody once
that on taking a theater seat,
hearing the orchestra begin to tune,
immediately, you were beside yourself.

They’ve got a thing at Salzburg
involving the house where you were born.
Probably you felt about the place as fiercely
as anyone does about the place they were born.
It’s a place.

But we’re speaking of serenades—
And three companies recording the same opera
in the same hall, with different people,
in six weeks. Remarkable!
Too bad you won’t get any of the royalties.

It is bound to come to someone
before the year’s over, to dredge
Vienna’s Central Cemetery like a potato farm
Wanted: medium skull, with small cerphalic index,
probably Alpine; prominent nose, tracery upon
the brain pan in C clefs.

A useless labor, certainly, the climate and all.
They’d some to-do, a while ago,
to re-unite the lower Papa Haydn
with his wandering head-piece.
Probably it’s just as well you’ve lost.
Some enthusiastic zealot might bite off your finger,
as some idiot bit off St. Francis Xavier’s toe.
Rest your bones.

How? Rest? Well, possibly not.
Certainly they laid you out by force.
That and Papa’s religious prejudice about
vaccination. I doubt if you care to rest.
But it’s true you sang a bit of the requiem
there at the end.  Still, I think it was,
as always with you, the enjoyment of pathos.
Life as the dramatist!
Always the man standing behind the man
standing behind the mask.
You probably thought of death
as postlude-prelude; paying the price,
settling yourself in a cheap seat somewhere
to listen for the tuning of the orchestra.
On hearing it, you’d be
beside yourself at once.

© Andrew Glaze 2002, from the book Remembering Thunder

My father had an amazing memory for music.  In 2015, when he was 95, I happened to stumble across an old family scrapbook and notice a theater program for a 1948 Birmingham production of Romeo and Juliet.  According to the credits, my mother had a role, her mother made the costumes, and my father composed music for a song in the play.  Initially, when I showed him the program he claimed to have no memory of the production. Five minutes later he was humming the tune.

My grandmother once said my father blamed her for allowing him to drop out of piano lessons. “He really seemed to hate them, but later said I should have pushed him more and insisted.”  He mentioned the same regret to me.  And yet he was one of the most musical people I have ever known and music was second only to words and poetry in his world. As a child in a local boys’ choir, he was the only member able to hit high E above C and was rewarded with solos. At Harvard he became a member of the Glee Club. As a young man he joined the Hugh Thomas Choir at Birmingham-Southern College, just for the sheer joy of singing.  It was there that he met my mother. One day she was waiting for a bus, and he zoomed around the block so he could casually pull up beside her and offer a lift home.

For as long as I can remember, the first thing my father did every morning was turn the classical radio station on. From that point on, Mozart and company would entertain us all day long until my father climbed into bed at night and turned the radio off.  “Name that composer” was a favorite private hobby, and occasional shouts from his corner desk in the living room would announce that he’d accurately guessed the origin of a piece of music he’d never heard before.  At some point he remarked that as a boy he’d presented his father with a boxed set of Mozart recordings for his birthday, knowing full well that it was actually something he himself wanted.  Mozart remained a lifelong favorite.

In the early 70’s, a burgeoning friendship with classical composer Alan Hovhaness resulted in a collaboration for a Light opera-musical called, “The Most Engaged Girl”.  (Read the post “Life of a Gnat” if you’d like to learn more about this).  At the same time, my father had a play in the works titled, “Kleinhoff Demonstrates Tonight”.  As one of the lead characters was a singer, it was a natural progression for my father to write songs for him.  And they were GOOD!  The New York Public Theater did a Live Reading of it and asked the performer known as “Meatloaf” to play the role.

My father’s love of music proved to be an inheritable trait. However, when music entered my brain it evoked an irresistible urge for movement and I became a classical ballet dancer.  In my brother it evoked an urge to sing, play instruments, and compose. Entirely self-taught, at this point he has learned guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, piano, and finds it difficult to sit still in free moments without an instrument in hand.

The New York City classical station was and still is WQXR. For my father, who later lived in Miami, and then returned to Birmingham, no other station could compete.  Near the end of my father’s life, when he was bedridden in Birmingham, my brother and I set up a laptop to livestream broadcasts from New York for him. He’d close his eyes in bliss and wave his hands in time with the music for what seemed like hours.

For 90 plus years, my father’s life, and our life as a family, had been accompanied by classical music.   Experts tell us that when we die, the very last sense to leave us is the gift of hearing.  So it seems incredibly appropriate that when my father finally took his last breath and slipped away into the next world, his exit was accompanied by WQXR.

Interesting Facts Mentioned in the Poem:
Yes,
as a child his name of Wolfgang was shortened to the nickname Wolferl”.
Yes
, Mozart’s father chose not to vaccinate his children for small pox. At age 11, Mozart
nearly died of the disease. He suffered through a long series of other serious illnesses over the course of his life and died at age 35.
Yes, it’s true that grave robbers managed to sever composer Josef Haydn’s head and steal it.  Ten years later the thieves were caught and gave authorities a skull that was placed in his grave, but kept the real thing to themselves. 145 years later, Haydn’s genuine skull was finally reunited with his body.  To this day, there are two skulls buried with Haydn’s body. One is genuine, and the other a mystery.
Yes, it’s true that a fan of St. Francis Xavier was so overcome by grief at his funeral that she bit off his big toe.  It was later rescued and encased as a relic.
Yes, it’s true that Mozart’s birthplace is now a museum in Salzburg, Austria.  The family lived on the 3rd floor from 1747 to 1773.  There is also a building in Innsbruck with a plaque stating that Mozart lived there as a child for a while. The one in Innsbruck currently houses a very subdued McDonalds fast food joint.  Truth is, Mozart traveled so much, from a very young age, that his trail resembles the American adage “George Washington slept here”.
Yes, the poem was published in 2002, and Mozart’s 254th Anniversary was not until 2010.
Yes, near the end of his life Mozart was visited by a mysterious masked man who commissioned him to compose a Requiem. As Mozart worked on the piece he became increasingly ill and began to feel that he was writing it for himself. Tragically, he died before it was finished.
Yes, Mozart was buried in an unmarked paupers grave and therefore is unlikely to suffer the same fate that Haydn did.

—-E. Glaze

Mozart

Two poems about poetry and writing that aren’t just about poetry and writing.

OLD POET

Clouds don’t come at him any more
seething inside with green fire, nor
does the skin of lovers often proclaim,
like a trumpet, fearful surprises.
And where are the river-roads that once he attended,
the quarrels that whistled around him like bullets,
the steaming tracks that swept him along come midnight
with the gift of a single mountain lantern?

Wherefrom are the words that used to hurt,
that hurt now twice as often,–
and where are the friends he loved enough to wish
he might give them a bit of his time on earth.
Also, old man, why can’t left encounter right
any more for a battle?
And where are the rattling snare drums of daylight?

Why do there not canter up these days
poems that stamp the hoof,
and offer the bridle, so he must clamber top-side
the-saddle, and set himself to thunder off,
not caring to guess where the gallop goes,
or by what fork of the road!
or by what fork of the road !

© Andrew Glaze 2015,  from Overheard In A Drugstore
“Old Poet” read by Alabama poet Irene Latham:

FISHERMEN

Out trolling the banks–the swirling rivers–the thump of the creel–
the fishermen seek a logical colloquy of wildlife and loaves
with shining words.
Then once in a while,
they watch their talismans over brutishness and power
go down, blighted by the savagery of fact.

As the civil world presses agreeably on
in its ramping, murderous way,
they come to be swept off  like us all,
and forced to mouth the blameless blame.

Swearing to lies, they’ll  be wasted in the squalor,
but, after the cycles have inched about
another click,
with luck,
they’ll cautiously hoist themselves
from out of the caves of hiding,
and once more casting to catch the shining words,
hang them like silver mornings in the sun.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In a Drugstore

For my father, being a Writer and Poet meant a lifetime struggle with perfectionism.

How do I know this?
Both of these poems were written sometime before 1997, because both of them were in a  manuscript titled Carnal Blessings that became a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize in 1997.  A year later my father changed the title to Overheard In A Drugstore, and continued his lifelong process of tweaking both the poems and the table of contents.  He frequently spent years perfecting poems until he was happy with them.  Unpublished ones he’d put in a drawer to review a few weeks, months, or even decades later.  I personally know of two poems that were published in early books of his, that he altered before they were re-published in later books. AND, after he died, when I went through his personal copies of his own poetry books, I found small edits he’d made in pencil to a few of his already published and well known poems.  In some cases I agreed, and in others I didn’t, but that’ll just be our little secret.

“OLD POET”, as I interpret it, reflects on growing older and, judging by the last two lines, is a literal nod to Robert Frost.  Frost died at age 88 in 1963, which means that he was in his late ’60’s when my 18-year-old father first knew him at Harvard, and in his ’70’s in 1946 and ’48, when my father worked with him as part of the staff at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.  By 1997, when “Old Poet” was submitted to the TS Eliot Prize as part of the Carnal Blessings manuscript, my father was age 77.  I think he was feeling a combination of sentiment, admiration, loss, empathy, and camaraderie when he wrote this poem.
(If you want to learn more about Robert Frost and my father, read the poem, “Mr. Frost” from a previous post).

“Fishermen”, was initially surprising to me, because the ONLY time I’ve ever seen evidence that my father even so much as touched a fishing rod is a photo from the early 1950’s.  But then when you really read the poem, it becomes clear that it’s not really about fishing for aquatic creatures at all.  To a partial extent I think it’s about fishing for the right word, enduring as a writer through the ups and downs of popularity, and surviving harsh poetry critics from a “boys club” you aren’t part of.  However, when you pay attention to some of his allusions, and think about his background, suddenly the word “fishing” suggests a potentially deeper meaning.  Assigned to Europe as a WW2 Airforce Communications Officer, my father was undoubtedly hyper aware of Hitler’s propaganda machine and the efforts of the European Resistance to counter it. He then became a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama, during the dawn of Civil Rights demonstrations where his newspaper boldly published descriptions of brutal police attacks on peaceful protesters.  At the same time, Senator McCarthy was busy adding writers to his increasingly long black list of accused “Communists”.  It wasn’t until the respected TV journalist Edward R. Morrow verbally attacked him that the public came out of their 4-year trance and “McCarthyism” ended.  Ten years later my father was no longer a reporter, but avidly followed the “Watergate” investigative reporting that led to President Nixon’s resignation.

I think this poem is my father’s personal tribute to the writers who keep fishing for the right words, fishing for success on their own terms, and fishing for the truth , no matter how hard it might be. 

—–E. Glaze

IMG_20141216_0036
Andrew Glaze at Panama City Beach, Florida, early 1950’s.  The only time I have ever seen my father hold a fishing rod of any kind, and while wearing loafers!

I Am The Jefferson County Courthouse

It’s safe in my head—clacking that typewriter, striking and singing
across my temple—belonging nowhere else on earth anymore
but my press room, my courthouse, being enlarged in my amazement.
Yes—Sheriff MacDowell is there
looking out the wide window of his basement,
resting both rough-shod feet on a 50-year-old roll-top
imaginary desk, hiccupping amidst the cigar smoke.
He is thinking—all over this county
deputies are serving warrants, five dollars a service,
in mud-spattered old Fords,
investigating murders, socking the suspects,
thinking up dumb answers to give
to smart defense attorneys showing off for juries,
buying Camels from bootleggers
in falling-down general stores covered with Retonga signs,
the sinks of galvanized iron set
on tanks of seething smelly mash.
He’s thinking of this network of crime
sluicing for miles to Warrior and Birmingport–
as he watches—his eyes closed, he knows all,
like the Sphinx, he does nothing, thinks everything.
Like the Sphinx, his nose is eaten away by acne.

Every morning the black ladies in blue domestic,
the white-trash ladies in phony leopard-skin
are hurrying past in my head, twittering like barnswifts
in the flyway, blocking the passage to Judge Boner’s court
getting ready to call each other “bitchy,”
to stand in a circle shouting “yessir” to the prosecutor,
puffing out his throat there, glaring power,
his skinny rump on the desk of the shorthand clerk.
This is his lily pad, from which he addresses
a green pond of obedient bullfrogs.  They crouch out front,
waiting for him to signal.  Then they will sing.

Today, the judge tells him—you—be quiet now–
the judge is going to speak–
it’s Decoration day, he will deliver the annual oration.
All year long he crouches behind that bench.
Now we shall see what he looks like!
Resting his pear-shaped paunch like a ripe fruit
on his blotter, he does not mumble,
“case dismissed for lack of evidence”
or “$25 and costs, pay the clerk.
Today, instead, he remembers how he was a doughboy,
and what a privilege, to be this crowd of citizens we are
star-spangled over by that mighty, motionless
banner gathering coal-smoke there!
We gawk.  He spits, then sits down.
The Chairman of the Democratic Committee
is now to be bound over for rigging election returns–
and the drivers of two tow trucks are standing there to be fined
for shooting it out at a traffic accident with signal flares,
and standing together to punch the highway patrol.

Here comes the governor’s nephew, charged with sodomy!
Hooray!—case dismissed for lack of evidence!
Still, there is much more ready to be brought up
in the cockpit of my divided remembrance—how, far up–
past the tallest elevator, each with its paraplegic doughboy,
veteran pilot soaring like a hawk, we fly to the solicitor’s aerie!
His office with its weary view of stars and coke convertors,
of Woodrow Wilson Park below and beyond, the lair
of his gloating nemeses across the way in City Hall.
There’s nothing between us and Heaven but the jail,
with the prisoners overhead to keep us humble.
(He requests them not to sing.)
We never hear them but always know they’re there.
This is our Mr. Perry, he spares a moment for us always
in our dreams, out of his jinxed war with evil and Bull Connor,
senility and Judge Wheeler, all those multiple
assaults of intractable human nature,
the surprises of the hundred kinds of dumbness
ready to fall on you from behind with a leaded weight.
And I think—it’s the burden of being too bright
gives him wrinkles and tired soft patches about the eyes
–that he cares about things—that he softly, kindly
asks us what can be done for us today.  Being honest
he knows there is nothing much
either of us could ever do for the other.
Both of us wonder why.

In a quiet corner of the imagination there is a press room,
filled with black machines.
Out the window is a giant lintel, over the east door.
A workman is innocently embracing a farmer, and both
rest and malinger under the knee of the brawny lady
blindfold, and by that token, called by everyone Justice.
Press Room!—my heart folds under—den of ancient
falling apart clickety-clackety typewriters.
Place of never resting more than a minute.
Always we hurry again down yellow, terrazzo, Talladega Marble floors
clacking our heels, to the Deputy’s washroom
—off to read the latest graffiti–
which tells me somebody—is sleeping with his own daughter,
that’s today’s news—and has since she was thirteen,
and she’s a wonderful screw,
would anyone else come along to join and let him see?
And after that we stop for coffee to talk with a Chancery Judge.
He just today disposed of twenty-five million dollars.
–We come away all silvery feeling toe to chin.
–And sit and think about it all, over lunch –.
There in my head these persons and places
take on their own life, assort themselves
in their appointed directions and positions–
to the east, the jittery plaster faced highway patrolman
checking new drivers, hoping they’ll not
collapse him beneath a turning postal van.
To the north, Jimmy, the Deputy Coroner,
driving to work with photos of gunshot heads and slashed throats.
–Through the revolving door of the courthouse
junior clerks escaping for coffee with plump legal typists,
and even this moment, perhaps, the Chairman
of the Personnel Board—meditating whether to call the County Auditor
–dolt—bindle headed ass!—for a front-page fight!
Off to the west, the red and white calla lilies
nod shyly under the tulip and locust trees
whispering like so many bored distracted gentry.
The litigants burp and wad the paper from lunch.
To the south, Miss Frances Mallom’s students
sing see-saws and ladders up in the Ridgeley.

Unchanged, in that Press Room I have by me,
Ed Strickland is busy typing out a scoop.
He’s scooping us, what do we care?
Tomorrow we’ll scoop him.
The creaky machine is flying,
cranking out the lies and appearances,
the happenings that have nothing to do
with what is really going on that you can see—
I sit there and make the novel of my memory.
We are all the plots.
Innocent of compassion or desire or greed
–see, we’ve finished, we type two stars
at the bottom of the page.  Life!  Life!
Captured at last, tied with an inky ribbon.
We exult and crack our heels.
Something is knocking upon our head upon the door.
Laughing, the copy boy comes in and cracks his gum.

© 1981, by Andrew Glaze. From I AM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY COURTHOUSE


In an interview with Steven Ford Brown, my father said, “I wrote that poem as a sort of rhapsody. A time when I was happy, young and filled with a sense of joy, humor and perversity of life. I could not experience the same events now with such a sense of flying over them. I would inevitably be drawn into the suffering which those external events signify. I would experience more of the pain. One has to choose the tone of a poem of course. This one I wanted to be a flight of joy. A memory.” Brown then described the poem as “Panoramic”, which seems extremely appropriate, like a movie camera scanning and capturing a period of time in history.  

 But how the heck did a poet end up working in a Birmingham Courthouse?

Having arrived late to WW2, my father had to wait to be shipped home again. Once home, he initially accepted an invitation to do graduate work at Stanford in California as part of a program run by Wallace Stegner. After six months he concluded he did not want to become a teacher, and returned to Birmingham.

 Figuring the logical thing to do with his writing skills was to work for the local newspaper, he became a Junior Reporter.  “Through editor Jimmy Mills, I got a job as a reporter on the old Birmingham Post, later the Post-Herald.”

Strangely enough, his first major story was one he couldn’t write.
“When Robert Frost came through for his annual reading at Birmingham Southern, he asked if someone could contact me and invite me to spend a day with him. The good Professor, who called me, was obviously baffled. Who in the world was Andrew Glaze? Why in the world would Robert Frost want to see him? Frost was notoriously impatient with younger poets, but he was kind to me, I’ve always suspected, because I never asked him to read my manuscripts. And he knew I’d never write a news feature about him. It was treacherous to my responsibilities as a reporter, but anyway, it made for a nice day.”  (To learn more about my father’s relationship with Robert Frost, you can read the poem and blog entry titled, “Mr. Frost”.)

 Clearly, my father worked for the Newspaper Entertainment Desk at some point. We have press photos of him interviewing both a parakeet and a movie star German Shepard. For many years my father regaled us with his story of interviewing a teenage aerialist gymnast  visiting Birmingham with a Circus. “We took her up to the roof so our photographer could capture action photos of her. The next thing we knew, she hopped up onto the parapet wall and nearly gave us heart failure.” 

Oddly enough, that didn’t turn out to be the end of the story. In 1971, for 9 months, I came home from dancing in Europe and joined the (no-longer existent) ballet company of Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. “Radio City”, showed one movie at a time for several weeks, four to five times per day, and offered a live show in between movie showings. Each show had a main theme running through it and offered a mishmash of ballet, singers, guest performers of all types, and The Rockettes (a synchronized tap dance and kick line of statuesque and long legged females who are all over 5’7” tall).

Dancing at Radio City Music Hall was a quick and easy way to make extremely good money, without a long term contract, although doing 4 to 5 shows per day made it challenging to do ballet classes and stay in condition.  At one point we did a circus themed show. A Las Vegas choreographer was brought in to teach us a jazz routine in which we were supposed to be tigers. Our unusual but creative costumes had stripes, headpieces with black feathers that shed all over the place, and skin toned fishnet tights. As for the rest of the show, I vaguely remember an act involving spinning plates on sticks, and then there was a trapeze aerialist.  She didn’t swing on the trapeze as much as creatively and gracefully hang by one leg, one foot, one arm, one hand, and so forth, all without a net below her (granted she wasn’t more than 9 feet off the ground). Pretty, with a lovely figure, she was foreign born and very pleasant to talk to. 

 My parents always came to see me in each of our productions, but after this particular show my father was very animated and excited. “That’s HER!  I’m sure that’s the girl I interviewed on the roof of the Birmingham Post Herald building, the one who suddenly hopped up onto the parapet!”  I confirmed this with her later that week, to my father’s great satisfaction.

Life at the newspaper in Birmingham had its moments, some entirely unintentional. My mother used to tell a story of a colleague of my father’s whose name she remembered, but I do not, who was sent to write about a Mario Lanza concert in Birmingham. For some reason, he ended up downstairs or below the stage, opening doors in search of a telephone. Instead, he stumbled across a young fellow manning a tape recorder. They chatted briefly and the young man said he was playing a tape of Lanza for the performance. The reporter didn’t think much about it (my mother said he’d never been one of the brightest employees), left, wrote his story and casually mentioned the fact that a tape recorder was being used. All hell broke loose, because up to that point Mario Lanza had managed to hide the fact that he’d lost his voice and was lip syncing his concert tour. It quickly became an international scandal.

 By the mid-1950’s, my father was assigned to report activities at the Jefferson County Courthouse.  Some of the time he covered things like, “Beechwood Homeowners Go To Court, to block expansion of airport, by Andrew Glaze Jr, August, 1956”.  But by the mid-50’s the Civil Rights Movement was evolving and Birmingham was at the heart of it. Alabama still had very specific Jim Crow laws of segregation between black and white citizens. Blacks were relegated to their own bathrooms, benches, water fountains, restaurants, the back of the public buses, and the balcony of churches that were run by whites.  Having them march in large groups, day or night, even peacefully demanding to be treated as equals, was considered illegal and threatening. “Bull” Connor was a fervent anti-segregationist who held the political position of Commissioner of Public Safety, and he was arresting protesters on a constant basis. My father was reporting on these events both inside and out of the court room.

The effort to suppress Civil Rights Protesters was just as futile as the effort to keep the airport from expanding, but as part of his job, Connor was allowed oversight of both the Fire and Police Departments and he used that power to his full advantage. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, “He became an international symbol of institutional racism. Bull Connor directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights activists; child protesters were also subject to these attacks. National media broadcast these tactics on television, horrifying much of the country. The outrages served as catalysts for major social and legal change in the Southern United States and contributed to passage by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”. 

But in the mid-1950’s, Connor could be as much of a bully as he wanted, and the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper was one of the few places that maintained independence and complete honesty.  “My boss, Duard LeGrand, the City Editor at the Post Herald, was one of the best people I’ve ever known. When my days as a courthouse reporter brushed up against the race issue, and I had to give controversial testimony, he snatched me out of what he thought might be a dangerous situation, and gave the courthouse beat to another reporter.  But that couple of years was fun.”

The “controversial testimony” was as a witness to the beating of a black man, by white police. Afterwards, my father said a sheriff who was involved plaintively reproached, “Now, why did you have to go and do that Mr. Glaze?”  He seemed genuinely perplexed.  In 2010, a book titled, Speak Truth to Power; the story of Charles Patrick, a Civil Rights Pioneer, was written about the racial turbulence of that time and my father was interviewed both about newspaper articles from the Times-Herald at that time, and his testimony at the trial.

My parents decided this was a good time to get out of Dodge. By the following summer, we were living in New York City. 

In closing, I should mention the Art Deco facade of the Jefferson County Courthouse, which has a controversy of its own.  In 2010, my brother created and posted an audio recording of my father reading, “I Am The Jefferson County Courthouse” to Youtube.com.  It featured a photograph of the courthouse.
One day he received a question,
Will you tell me about the swastikas on the court house?
!!!!!!—————Swastikas???????
After a bit of research he replied:
“The broken cross images on the courthouse were carved in the late 1920s and are actually a Native American symbol that was used by a tribe that had inhabited the area. The symbols were placed in tribute to that tribe.”

Considering the fact that the original Native American residents from that area were displaced to begin with, I guess the phrase, “Karma will eventually catch up” might be considered appropriate when referring to the design debacle.

……E. Glaze

Jeff co courthouse steps
The left side of the marble base on the left shows the Native American design that causes controversy, despite the fact that it was built in the 1920’s. These are the steps to the main entrance of the building, although the brass facade is a relatively new addition.

Andrew Glaze 1955 B'ham post herald. Interview with a parakeet.
“Interview with a Parakeet”. Birmingham Post-Herald press photo, mid-1950’s. I’m pretty sure this was a parakeet that talked and belonged to an acquaintance of my father’s.  I remember him talking about a parakeet that sang a popular Hank Williams song.

 

 

 

 

The Life of a Gnat

“Christy’s Song” from THE MOST ENGAGED GIRL,
music by Alan Hovhaness, book and lyrics by Andrew Glaze.
© 1969 music,  © 2015 lyrics in Overheard in a Drugstore by Andrew Glaze

The life of a gnat is so simple and straight
as she crawls in the palm of your hand.
She’s born in the dawn, at the heart of the dew
and she dries out her wings in the sun.
Then she flies with her love,
tiny, tiny love
with her love, only hers,
tiny love but true.

The moon rolls around through the sky in the night
all alone in the wind and the dark.
She knows where she goes she has only got one
and revolves in the light of her love.
Once a year in his arms
reeling round the sky
with her love, only hers
clasped in the arms of her sun.

The life of a girl is nothing like that,
though I wish and I dream that it were.
I look for the one that will set me afire
or dance me all day in the wind.
I would swim through the sky
if I thought he were there,
I would fly through the air
to capture my lonely desire.

You can listen to the audio of the song using the link below, made in 2014 with the help of Ned, a friend and Music History student at the University of Pennsylvania.  I offer my sincere apologies for the non-professional vocal portion.

In the mid-60’s, my father once confided a pet peeve of his, “I can’t stand it when people refer to John Lennon or Bob Dylan as POETS! No, they aren’t! They write songs and lyrics, dammit”.  He then explained that poetry is a form of writing that follows very specific rules and format protocols, even if it doesn’t rhyme.  

So I chuckled years later, when I opened the initial manuscript for his 2015 poetry book Overheard In a Drugstore, and realized it included his lyrics for “The Life Of A Gnat”. It was his subtle way of fighting back.  The song is from a 1969 project he’d worked on with composer Alan Hovhaness that never went into final production.

It all started with an invitation…

Alan’s wife at that time was from Birmingham, and she brought him into our lives. Elizabeth Whittington Hovhaness was an accomplished pianist and the daughter of Dorsey Whittington, the conductor of the Birmingham Civic Orchestra.  Her mother Frances and sister Barbara were also musicians. Both parents were college music teachers in Birmingham, and family home life included two grand pianos in the living room.  My father knew her as “Betty”, and Alan called her “Naru” a Japanese name that means “become”. Married in 1959, she was 19 years younger than Alan, his fifth out of an eventual six wives, and a champion of his work as a composer.

So when Betty unexpectedly phoned our home one day to say they’d recently moved to Manhattan, my father immediately asked them over for dinner.  When they arrived, both were tall and slender. Betty had dark hair she pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck and a vaguely Japanese style of dress-robe. It was an interesting evening. We talked about music, ballet, theater and my father’s first poetry book— which was still relatively new.  Soon after, my father became a serious fan of Alan’s music.

Apparently it was a case of mutual respect at first meeting, and the visit triggered something in Alan’s thought process as well. A few weeks later he suddenly called my father with a question. “Do you think it’s possible to write lyrics and a plot for music that already exists?” My father replied, “Sure”. A few days later Alan brought him an already completed score for a small scale musical/light operetta that he and another student had written in college. Alan still liked his own end of it, but said he’d never been satisfied with the plot and libretto. 

Intrigued, my father got to work and came up with a turn of the century small scale musical comedy about boat racing in the mid-West titled, “The Most Engaged Girl”.  Since my father was highly musical, but not a musician, Alan made a reel to reel piano recording of the full score for him to refer to. Initially used to help him memorize the musical score, it later became the background accompaniment to his song lyrics. At one point, in need of an unpretentious female soprano, he asked me to sing “The Life of a Gnat” into a cassette tape recorder, with Alan’s piano recording playing in the background. I was all of 18 and did my best.  At the time I had no clue why, but I now realize this must have been how my father presented his efforts to Alan.

In any case, Alan loved it and they got to work. Meant for a small cast on a small stage, they brought the finished work to Joseph Papp, the highly successful producer and director of The New York Public Theater. Papp was the brilliant visionary who guided the musicals “HAIR” and “A Chorus Line” into production and world success. He immediately agreed to take it on, began working on script edits, and proclaimed he’d produce it at The Cubiculo (an off-Broadway theater at 51st street and 9th Avenue, until 1990).  Then negotiations on details began. Unfortunately they quickly ground to a halt at that point over how the music would be presented. Papp insisted that a very small orchestra would be necessary, and Alan insisted that the production be accompanied by two pianos.  Neither of them would budge on that point, and the whole thing fell apart. My father was hugely disappointed, but remained nonjudgmental. For my part, knowing that in 1980 Papp went on to produce a very entertaining version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”, with minimal orchestra, which ended up moving to Broadway, I think Alan made an enormous mistake.

Meanwhile, back on the poetry side of things:
In 1969, Betty’s father passed away and she used her inheritance to enhance a record company, titled Poseidon Society, that she and Alan originally founded in 1963. Apparently she was quite gifted at the recording process and had a great ear for it.  I am guessing this helped the two of them introduce Alan’s work to classical music radio stations in the USA, as well as potential orchestras that might be interested.  However, Betty did do at least one side project. In the early ‘70’s, she used the company to create a record of my father and Galway Kinnell reading their poems.  She titled it, “Poets reading their Poems”. It is numbered Poseidon Society 1003. I remember my father saying that she’d asked him about poets for the other side of the album, and he’d replied, “I like Galway Kinnell’s poetry”.  In the last year of his life he mentioned in passing that Betty considered it a “secret project”.  I have no idea why. There weren’t many copies, but they still turn up here and there.

After a while, Betty and Alan moved from New York to Seattle, possibly because Alan was obsessed with all things Japanese and it was easier to commute from Seattle. It was an enthusiasm that Betty enjoyed and shared with him. Alan also enjoyed the mountains around Seattle, and regularly spent time in Lucerne, Switzerland, because he found the landscape highly inspiring. In 1977, I happened to visit Richard Wagner’s former home “Tribschen” just outside of Lucerne.  Converted into a museum devoted to Wagner, a fair portion of the museums musical instrument collection was donated by Alan.

Sadly, Alan’s obsession with Japan eventually led him to divorce Betty. According to my father, Alan’s request for a divorce involved him telling Betty, “I don’t love you any longer. I don’t think I could truly love anything that wasn’t Japanese”. Betty was crushed and heartbroken. She retained the rights to the record company after the divorce and later sold them. In 1977, Alan married his sixth wife, a Japanese soprano who remained with him until he died in 2000.  

Alan still continued to contact my father off and on whenever he visited New York City.  There was a general sense that Alan still felt guilty over the collapse of negotiations with Papp.  At some point before 1988, Alan contacted my father to say he was coming to Manhattan, and wanted to meet with him. When he arrived he brought the score for “The Most Engaged Girl”, saying that he wanted my father to have it in his charge. I believe that was the last time my father saw Alan in person, although I spoke with Alan myself briefly in 1990.  At the time I was on the board of a chamber music trio that was searching for music suited to piano, French horn, and viola (a surprisingly beautiful combination). My father had Alan’s contact information and so I wrote and asked if he’d be interested. Lo and behold, my phone rang one day and it was Alan. We spoke, he asked how my father was,  and said he would definitely be interested and that I should have the trio call him. They did and Alan said they’d need to talk with his wife about commission, as she was his business manager. Unfortunately when it got down to money they couldn’t afford his fee, so that was the end of it.

My father’s music career didn’t end with “The Most Engaged Girl”.  He went on to compose both the music and the lyrics for his 1974 play “Kleinhoff Demonstrates Tonight”, a play that Joseph Papp produced at the Cricket Theater in Minneapolis. It has had various readings and productions since then.  In 2013, by looking at the internet, I discovered that the singer known as “Meatloaf” played the lead role in a reading of the play in Manhattan, and a theater group in Denver, Colorado performed the play in 1988.  My father had no inkling of either of those events.  Apparently, like prodigal children, when you send creative works out into the world, they can end up in surprising places.

But that’s another story.

—–E Glaze

Poseidon Society front

Poseidon Society back

Dog Dancing

Big Fred Carey hobbled over to me last night
in a dream, giving his heart-sworn thunderous grin,
reminding me how he’d once paid twenty a week,
as I pumped gas from a Pure Oil station in Mountain Brook—
and how one time an old man parked his busted pickup
next, on the grass, some strange kind of lank fellow,
whose beard was dirty, who’s eye was witty,
whose truck was square at the back
closed off with a delicate netting of wire.

When he’d gotten a sack of day-old buns and rolls
from the bake shop down the street,
he opened the veiled doors behind and called out a company
of trim little dogs like grasshopper children,
fox terriers and kindred mongrels on spindly legs.
He watched them shake themselves,
then cranked his old Victrola.
Hearing its stately scratches, the dogs began to dance.

What a strange sight, to see those dozen dogs
gravely turning about in slow pirouettes, hopping,
spinning in schottisches, somersaulting over their heads.
The old man stood there, watching,
slowly nodding, bidding them persevere
with squashed bits of stale bakery trash.
They silently waited with anxious fortitude
and gnawed crumbs in the wings like refugees.

On a tiny lady dog he strapped a pink skirt.
She treadled beneath the ruffles.
While the needle squeaked a bagpipe wail,
she did a slow and mystic spin
with paws upraised and eyes in a heavenly transit,
turning and hopping, mincing her toes below.
When she’d done her turn, she took the old man’s tambourine
between her teeth and grandly made the ring
of those who watched, and took their nickels and dimes.

I saw the thought fester in Big Fred’s eyes,
that this old man, who should be safe somewhere,
sucking his pipe, reading the weather–-
he and his dogs were out on the whim of the world.
“One morning he’ll wake up dead” he said, whisking his hands.
“I mean, all right for him, he won’t know any better,
but what about the dogs?”
What was there I could say that he would believe,
and what did I know about the demands of art?

© 1991 by Andrew Glaze, from the book Fantasy Street.
In 2003, the poem appeared in the anthology The Remembered Gate: Memoirs by Alabama Writers.
In 1985, an earlier version of the poem appeared in Earth That Sings.

The poem was autobiographical of course, like many of my father’s poems.

In 1985 he wrote, “The third job I ever had, just after college, can be considered the conclusion of my growing up in Alabama, because after that, I went off to the army and came back at least officially, an adult.

Jobs can’t be measured in salary. This was one of the best I ever had, pumping gas at the Pure Oil Station in Mountain Brook. My copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses still has brown oil stains on it from those days, in addition to the chewed marks on the cover and the edges administered by a rabbit that belonged to my first wife.

If I ask myself why it was such a gold embossed job, I am honestly at a loss to say, except that it was fun, and I got to know a rich joy loving character like Fred Carey. I also found out how unevenhandedly life repays decency and character. He died at age 43, leaving an infant child and a young wife. I also remember Willie, the emaciated looking mechanic, who waited around every Friday for “the eagle to fly” and whose iron arms made our customers habitual because no other mechanic was strong enough to undo his bolts.”

 In 2003, for an anthology titled, The Remembered Gate, he added, “…World War ll interrupted all that. I joined the Air Force. Waiting to be called, I pumped gas from a filling station in Mountain Brook. Between customers, I’d struggle through Joyce’s Ulysses.  My ancient copy still has oil stains on it. One day, an old pickup truck parked nearby and the even older man who drove it called out a little army of tiny dogs who performed dances. Many years later, it came back to me for my poem “Dog Dancing.”

In 2015, this poem was one of three featured at the induction ceremony for the first annual Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame. Read aloud by a local actor, it was a favorite of the audience. My father was one of the new inductees and was very pleased with the performance.

 After I was born, our full sized pet white rabbit was my babyhood partner in crime. I would crawl past the lower shelves of our family bookcase, pull the books down, draw in them with a crayon, and leave them for “Bunny” to nibble on. Apparently my father’s already oil stained copy of Ulysses was a target of our efforts.

Pure Oil was founded in 1914, and eventually purchased by what is now Union Oil in California. Mountain Brook is still a wealthy suburb of Birmingham. In those days, gas stations often had their workers wear a uniform and made great efforts to look chic.  Attendants not only pumped your gas, but cleaned your car windows. The postcard below is an example of a Pure Oil gas station in Ohio from the same time period.

For those of you who are too young to know what a “hand cranked Victrola” was, it was a “phonograph”/ record player. Originally they came with a hand crank that allowed the user to wind them, like a watch or music box, to play music for a limited period of time. Initially expensive and built into self standing wooden cabinets, less expensive portable versions became available as they became more popular.  The photo below is probably similar to what the dog’s owner used to accompany their “performance”. 

—E. Glaze

Pure Oil in Ohio
As cars became more affordable, people began to travel and send postcards from the  places they visited.  Apparently Ohio was so proud of this Pure Oil gas station that they sold postcards of it. The facade is probably similar to the one where my father worked.

Victrola hand cranked
© 2nd Cents, Inc.
A portable Victrola with crank handle to wind it up.

Fantasy Street

Feeling all at once imprisoned, I stalk for the door,
as I go, closing my coat up. Three gin and tonics–
no, I never should have allowed myself to have them.
But the hell with it,
Go–get out! Get through the blunt glass
and off into the incalculable darkness.
Sure enough: as I burst out, there it is —
freedom! freedom! freedom!

It seems I am going to explode out of my skin,
to shout! By some miracle, I keep my silence.
The lights are amazing and flashing– Fifth Avenue!
The cold is like being struck by a soprano bell:
clear, fine, trembling, penetrating.
An Irish policeman outside Canada House supports the dusk
like a dark column or pedestal.
Shuffling his slow black feet, he looks at me warily.
Am I too happy, too feverish? Might I be the camouflage
for our next I.R.A. bomber? Shaking with careless excess,
I push my bike across the south corner
toward 53d Street, past St. Thomas Church.
This morning three young French artists
had drawn in chalk near the staircase Delacroix’s
portrait of a peasant girl. It is almost half walked-off now,
ragged in the sodium vapor light mixed with late sun,
but somehow still thumping with life, like an angry heart.
Suddenly I look up and have
stepped into a furious cockpit of battling cacophonous music.
A bagpiper on the church steps is squalling “Scotland the Brave”
The clanless Highland vestment is Macspinningmill tartan.
“Help me get hame”, says his sign. A boon he’s been asking six months.
There’s talk he lives on East 76th Street with a Neapolitan mother.
Tonight he will not have the street to himself.
Six yellow trucks across the way–
pasted prow to taffrail with signs–squall, screech,
swarmed about by crowds of little men in beards,
tieless shirts, black coats. The speakers jitter and skid,
throwing away horas between the Chassidic hymns.
It is the Lubavicher bringing us messages from the Rebbe.
They inquire of every soul who passes,
“Are you Jewish?” They shout after us, “Wear phylacteries!
Observe dietary laws!” Shy little men with burning eyes,
they pop like skyrockets showering down on us with
flashing religious courage.
And straight ahead on the corner by the Tishman Building
the steel band won’t give up: it hammers wildly, dexterously,
mellifluously pouring out, over the already earthquake-torn ears
of our intersection, “Yellow Bird.”
It is battered to fragments by horas,
diced in the knives of the pipe chanters,
shot down over the crossway by up-to-date piety.
Enough! I run to the corner, almost throw the bike
ahead of me into the street,
fling myself on it like a demon.
A taxi klaxons by, coughing in my ears “Get out!
Fly from the hell of this music, fly! fly!”
At the end of such a day, give me a wonderful gift.
It is given. It’s as though a door closes–
silence–all the madness trapped in the intersection
turns in upon itself. Only a hundred feet away
a single violinist scratches at Bach arpeggios
under the beggars’ arcade at the back of the church,
uninterrupted, watched over by one serious girl.
And the Museum of Modern Art on the right gleams and billows
like a wave of quiet illumination. Through the ground-floor window
Marilyn Monroe’s enormous lips poise to eat
a nameless art student looking somewhere else in a timid beret.
And now, up the left of the street advances that old beggar
who looks like Khrushchev. He bangs his vicious
steel cane upon the sidewalk like a shoe.
He pierces you with malevolent eyes, snarls.
“Hee!” he whines “Hee!” jabbing his hands like a threat.
Now I’m gathering speed, everything begins to hurry into a blur,
the people in red, purple, yellow-green, violet
sew themselves along the quilt strip of the sidewalk like checks.
My time of day! Excitement and events
bob in and out of windows like winking eyes!

Ahead, Sixth Avenue, and the hour
and the kind of weather that makes me take a fierce breath.
The sky is full of clouds weighing hundreds of millions of tons,
overwhelming us like a wonderful painting.
Down southwest, vast new buildings glow with strange colors
like ice colored blocks of honeycomb candy riddled with yellow bees.
Now they fall over toward me under the weight
of enormous lilac and puce cotton cumuli streaked with smoke,
and salmon edges sliding along between upper surfaces of hazy blue.
I put my hands up to protect my head.
I look out and nothing has moved–
and yet–don’t I know absolutely everything has moved?

So it’s all right. On! On! Across the street
fresh kitchen odors from the Hilton:
shrimp and cinnamon from this imitation New Orleans,
bay and thyme, garlic  and parsley from that pretension of Paris,
and a smoky broiled steak from a mock Kansas City.
The kitchen ducts snuffle over the marquees like wet commercial noses.
I glare at the animal doctor’s office across the way.
My wife stood there the other day shouting at the nurse,
who would not ask her boss to look at Peter’s gerbil.
Poor thing, with a paw swollen the size of a raisin,
all the local blood stopped by a tangled thread.
What kind of vicious snobbery chooses pet cats over pet mice?
On the second floor above is a sign
“Stairway to the Stars Bellydance Studio.”
I imagine them practicing their Phrygian birth dances,
palpitating from shaking diaphragm to the splay of the groin,
bent over backwards like some antique climax,
an ancient Busby Berkeley Musical improvidence
with thousands of finger gongs tingle-ringing,
thousands of stars in galaxies ascending
out of silver quivering up into the black empyrean.
Where are they now?

I am buffeted by the wind past the Americana Hotel.
I wave to the doorman of the old CBS building.
proving his manhood, he sneers back.
Why is it I am slowly encroached upon by I don’t know what?
The immense trenches of something going to happen
are about to swallow me.
It’s after six, I go home like this every day, but still
my heart pounds like a riot policeman’s feet, rapidly, gloomily.
By the side of Roseland stands the old black man
I see here often slapping his tennis ball
off the back of the Dance Palace,
catching it again on his worn racquet through the weft of traffic.
His T-shirt says “Old Men Need Love too”
He holds back his arm till I’ve passed by.
Thank You!  I shake my head to drive away the fear
that relentlessly extends its wires.
Eighth Avenue at 6:15, and traffic like Ney’s final
cavalry charge at Waterloo.  Stupid, enormous, brutal,
meaningless–you can almost see the empty-headed marshal
whacking the brass guns with the furious butt of his sword.
And now I know something is happening. From across the boulevard,
it catches my ear and eye.
Underneath bilious street lights, some vast mob
is pouring out of the church in the center of the block,
each carrying a vespers candle.
And over them the sky has poured closer
as the buildings droop, against a half-darkness
of invisible sunset in front of which the clouds
dip and rise, stately, like great black-and-orange whales
spuming with anger.
Beyond the choir and the escort of police cars
I hear a flapping torn screaming,
a red banner of fire sirens and police cars
pasting together toward me across the extremities of sound.
What’s happening? Is the Last Judgement arriving?
On a ragged spring evening when we know it’s impossible
to put up with one more day of the old winter’s ugliness?
No!–No!—I get down, I hurry my bicycle
along past the army of illuminated penitents.
I drift beside them watching, presided over
by a sky full of brooding, distant, frightened wails.
Their soft faces over the candles are peaceful,
even earnestly fatuous, overborne with importance and duty.
“What we are doing”–they shine–” is so
very urgently necessary for this city–for us!”

But now I hurry past the
to the place where there are sounds of everything burning up
and thieves coming through all the windows.
Vast rivers of candles are turning north.
I wait, biting my lip as they pass by me to the last baby.
I catapult my imagination
to the front of the Bodega Garcia,
where twenty-five of my neighbors wait quietly
standing on the sidewalk with beer cans.
It’s cocktail hour.
Frantically I urge them, look up at the windows of my house!
Find out what’s happening!
Is everyone there broken on the floor?
Is my kitchen crammed with policemen
looking at cut throats? Or are they–is everyone gone?
Snatched away to Little Neck or Patchogue?
“Wait! Wait! Christ, don’t go, even if you are dying,
wait for me! I’m coming, I want to go too!”
My heart crowded with catastrophes, I vault across,
half running, half riding,
thick with foreboding and excitement,
pick up my bicycle and stumble up the stairs,
face full of tears.

© Andrew Glaze 1978, from the book The Trash Dragon of Shensi.
(Originally published in The New Yorker, which buys all rights, and
therefore requires special mention each time a poem is reprinted.)

My father always told me “Fantasy Street” and “Reality Street” were published in the opposite order of how he wrote them. Although written first, “Fantasy Street” was published by The New Yorker three years after Atlantic Monthly published “Reality Street”. In both cases, the poems were the longest that either magazine had published up to that date. I don’t know if that record still stands or not.

In an interview my father explained that he was inspired by 17th century poet John Milton.  “I was trying to figure out how Milton would tackle “L’allegro” and “Il Pensero” if he were doing it in the second half of the twentieth century”.  My father referred to “Fantasy Street” and “Reality Street” as “Two Odes”. They are genuine bookends; “Reality Street” follows his bicycle route to work in the morning along eastbound 54th Street, and “Fantasy Street” is his return route home along westbound 53rd Street. Since he often bicycled home for lunch as well, it was a well wheeled path

In 1978, “Fantasy Street” was one of many poems in my father’s newly published book, The Trash Dragon of Shensi. That December, a wonderful review of the book appeared in The New York Times, written by Peter Schjeldahl. In it, he highlighted the poem as a favorite.
“The best rarely provide such companionable pleasures as “Fantasy Street,” a long, lush, windy rhapsody of a New York dusk, in which the poet, slightly drunk, went out on his bicycle. His bicycle? It’s an every so faintly ludicrous, cartoon touch (the poem fittingly appeared in The New Yorker), but it’s perfect Glaze. Just like his muse to catch him aboard that civilized vehicle.”

 Amusingly, before The New Yorker agreed to publish the poem, they sent an employee out on foot to trace the route. His assignment was to fact check 53rd street between 5th and 9th Avenues and make sure the poem was geographically accurate. In August of 1978, my father mentioned this in a WNYC radio interview before reading several of his poems from The Trash Dragon of Shensi. The link to WNYC’s podcast of the interview is at the bottom of this post.

At the time the poem was written, my father’s personal office at British Tourist Authority overlooked 54th Street at the corner of 5th Avenue. Occasionally I would find myself walking past, stand across the street, and wave frantically until he or someone visiting his desk would notice my presence. They’d wave back.

“BTA”, as it was commonly referred to, originally had a two level storefront on 5th Avenue, but eventually consolidated on the 2nd floor. The organization was owned by the British government and most of the employees were English, but the PR department was an anomaly of US citizens. “The British don’t understand how to write PR for Americans” was my father’s explanation. At one point his job involved taking a British policeman (“a bobby”) on a tour of the US. At other times my father led US journalists on tours of the UK. I seem to remember something involving a visit from the Sheriff of Nottingham as well. Even now, online, I stumble across press releases with his byline in archived newspapers from all over the country.

Our British connection had unexpected benefits. In 1959 my mother was cast as Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. To help her perfect an English accent, one of the BTA secretaries agreed to read the lines into a reel to reel tape recorder. My mother played it over and over again. By the end of the month, all three of us had the entire play memorized with a British accent.

 In 1963, when the Beatles were to arrive at the Warwick Hotel at 54th Street and 6th Avenue, I divided my day between cheering at the barricades with other fans, and taking breaks at the BTA office. Co-workers of my father would pop into his office to get an update from me. Ironically, when the Beatles did finally arrive, they drove the wrong way up 54th street to avoid a riot of fans at the opposite end, and passed directly below my father’s office. Sadly, I was at the barricades at that exact moment.

As for the landmarks mentioned in “Fantasy Street”, the Americana Hotel on 7th Avenue became the “Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel” in 2013.  The Museum of Modern Art still occupies a plot of land between 53rd and 54th streets, and their sculpture garden faces 53rd street.  The Marilyn Monroe picture my father mentions seeing inside the museum is the famous 1967 Pop Art version by Andy Warhol.  At some point in later years the Stairway to the Stars Bellydance Studio made it’s final ascent to heaven and vanished, but the owner (“Serena”) is considered a pioneer of the art form in the US.  Roseland Ballroom finally closed in 2014.  Originally built in the 1920’s as an ice skating rink, it survived several wars, hosted concerts ranging from Sinatra to Lady Gaga, and outlived nearby Studio 54.  A need for mammoth structural repairs killed it in the end. “The old CBS building” is at Broadway and 53rd where it housed The Ed Sullivan Show for many years, and is the second location I haunted as a teenager when the Beatles were in town.  Now titled, “The Ed Sullivan Theater” it has a long side brick wall on 53rd street with an unmarked stage entrance for performers. The back of the Roseland Ballroom was directly across the street. 

The “Bodega Garcia” mini-market that my father mentions near the end of the poem eventually went on to inspire a poem titled “Garcia’s Store”. It further describes the street life below our apartment window and highlights the owner of the store. That poem is included in the 2015 poetry collection, Overheard In A Drugstore.

“Garcia’s Store” and “Reality Street” have been discussed on this site in earlier entries. You can find them in the Poem Index on the Home Page.

Below is the link to the WNYC podcast mentioned earlier:
National Public Radio WNYC, August 21, 1978, New York City
“Andrew Glaze discusses his collection of poems, The Trash Dragon of Shensi. He reads some poems from the book including “Lights,” “Choir,” “Becoming,”and “Fantasy Street.”
http://www.wnyc.org/story/andrew-glaze/

—E.  Glaze
Marilyn Monroe Fantasy Street
Andy Warhols 1967 Pop Art vision of Marilyn Monroe, at the Museum of Modern Art.

BTA 1971
The poster says “Nottingham  Festival ’71”. My father is in the middle, “Maid Marian” is on the left, a coworker is on the right.  The photo was taken in 1971 at the British Tourist Authority offices, as part of a public relations campaign. My father was renown for wearing bow ties on a regular basis. 

Fly Ball

Grandpa shagging flies
In the civil war dusk
Once the horses were picketed
If nobody turned up sick or shot.

Daddy wound twine about cork,
Sewed horsehide to make a ball, a century past,
Helping him stitch in surgery
Or stretching for wild throws
Under the town crag by the Elk Creek.

The stiff-lacing
Cuffed the fingers so
What’s the delicious remnant,
The swivel of whack!
Aha!  Or slipping it past them.

Some Baltimore chop
A downward blow
That escapes itself sunward,
Up bounding beyond reach
Plashing the creeks of rough and private sky.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

My father was a lifelong baseball fan.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, his family would go to see the Birmingham Barons play games at Rickwood Field,. It was in the West End of town. There were two teams in those days. The better players were African American, they played as the “Birmingham Black Barons”, and their members included Alabama natives Willie Mays, and Satchel Paige, as teenagers.

Given the fact that the state of Alabama, much less the city of Birmingham, has never had a Major League Baseball Team, you’d probably be surprised to learn that Birmingham has become a modern mecca for Hollywood baseball films. This is because Rickwood Field, the same ball park my father visited, and which was built in 1910, is now the oldest remaining baseball field in the entire United States.

In the Jackie Robinson bio pic “42”, they used Rickwood to portray both itself and another ball park that no longer exists.  Robinson genuinely did play an exhibition game at Rickwood. My mother was there in the stands with her parents and siblings that day.

Impressively, Rickwood Park still has all of its original structures intact, right down to the old style advertisements on the walls of the Outfield. The gates, the turnstiles, even the hot dog stands, remain ancient looking by design. The ticket sign proclaims, “Adults $1”. Hollywood has provided money to help maintain the facility, and it is used by a few schools and various amateur leagues during the year.  In 1987, the long since integrated Birmingham Barons finally moved to a modern facility in downtown Birmingham.  They currently play as a double A affiliate team for the Chicago White Sox. 

The poem references my father’s grandfather, who was a doctor during the Civil War.  It also references my dad’s father, a dermatologist, who apparently created his own baseballs and enjoyed playing the game growing up in Elkton, Tennessee. 

Although my father learned to play baseball, his preference was to enjoy it from the stands, watch it on TV, or listen to the radio.  In the 80’s and 90’s, when my parents had rural land in Dutchess County New York, we’d spend weekends camping at three small cabins on the property.  As there was no electricity available, my father would periodically turn on the car radio to find out how the Mets were doing.  Strange as it may sound, there is a very Zen like feeling that occurs when you combine the sound of a baseball broadcast with the gentle hum of nearby bees working their way across a field of wildflowers.

Unlike my father, the urge to actually play the game was very strong in my brother. He dreamed of becoming a baseball pro when he was growing up and spent his free time on the softball fields of Central Park. There was a friendly rivalry at home as my brother preferred the Yankees. But regardless of what team was playing, we always watched the World Series through to the last game.

I assume that the last time my father actually played baseball himself was when he attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont on three or four occasions. The annual baseball game was a tradition born out of Robert Frost’s love of the game. A member of the faculty there for many summers, he was a team participant when he was young enough to play, and the event was originally held on a field at his nearby farm. Wisely, the organizers would stack his team with the better players, knowing that Frost hated to lose. I have no idea if my father was assigned to Frost’s team or not.  In any case, I remember my father once saying, “It’s hard to take a bad photo of a professional baseball player. They move so gracefully”.  Clearly to my father, baseball was poetry in motion.

—E. Glaze

Breadloaf '48 Ted facing camera, John Ciardi with bat, AG left with batAndrew Glaze (holding the bat) along with staff and participants of the 1946 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.

Rick frontRickwood Field’s front entrance.  You would enter under the arches and head through turnstiles that were further inside.

 

Rick standsOne side of the seating.

Rick scoreThe scoreboard and carefully maintained old fashioned signs.