Elegy for Claude

We did take the world
Didn’t we, Niño?
Took all the dim bar light
And made it sing
Didn’t we, Niño?
Made the girls call our name
At least some of time
Didn’t we, Niño?

And even dared take the city lights
And bend them into dreams
Didn’t we, Niño?
And in the end
Knew for sure
How the gleam in your eyes
Would simply go on forever
We did know that
Didn’t we, Niño?

Claude Haton

Claude Haton


R.I.P. Claude Haton
My little brother
November 1, 1955 to July 19, 2014

Note: A benefit concert in Claude’s honor will be held August 1 in Cairo, N.Y. (proceeds go to scholarship fund for local high school students).

The Red Apple Rest

Took a wrong turn and ran smack into my past: The Red Apple Rest, a way station for city travelers on their way to the Catskills, abandoned now for nearly 30 years. Had no idea she still existed.

The Red Apple Rest

The Red Apple Rest

Beautiful in her ghostly repose, she inspired this poem:

THE RED APPLE REST

Came upon her by accident
and as surprised as when
she loomed up at us
as we breached that far hill
in the Studebaker

The Red Apple Rest
that boyhood vision
ship-like
in all her sweeping glory
magic oasis for urban escapees

Snack bar windows yawning
for the idling Fords, Mercs and Greyhounds
engines hotter than Venus
dogs, malts, pastrami
loudspeakers and mothers’ calls

Free to roam and exult for a time
gape at the oddities
men with beards
girls with midriffs
until back in the oven car
stuffed with pillows and dishes
and dreams of an endless summer

 

Ode to the Lost Motels of the Jersey Shore

Exploring Seaside Heights, N.J., for the first time, and, sadly, I find no treasure-trove of midcentury motels like there are in Wildwood. Here, as testament, is an image of a Jeffrey L. Neumann painting of the Seashell Motel in Wildwood and my poem on the same subject (total coincidence, but not surprising, since Jeffrey and I cover the same beat: lost America).

 

"Sea Shell," a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

“Sea Shell,” a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

CHECKOUT AT THE SEA SHELL MOTEL

the caramel room
at the Sea Shell Motel
dollar store palm prints
and nicotine sills

cheap rum hangs in the shaft of sun dust
hula lamps hold the afternoon

dealings have come and gone —
Greek families, pimps, divorcees,
schmuck runaways, suicide watches

music plays no more
only murmurings and distant trucks
the scent of the bulldozer

Wichita Lineman

In the raw New Mexican morning
“Wichita Lineman” on the Delco
eggs and coffee at the townie cafe
all stick-figure kitchen chairs
a flag and a snowy 12-inch

Cowboy hats and thick-framed glasses
stares at the hippie kids
“The West” foreign as Bagdad
to a Bronx boy
uneasy wonder, unleashed desire
every mile, every town
every magic mountain vista
every flat forever
California to be charmed finally
from its dreamscape

‘Checkout at the Sea Shell Motel’

When I first saw the paintings of Jeffrey L. Neumann, in a gallery in Hudson, N.Y., I could hardly contain myself. I knew I had discovered a simpatico artist, a realist painter whose images of a lost America — faded motels, eateries and roadside oddities — could have illustrated much of the nourish imagery of my poetry and fiction.

Then, recently, in a kind of artistic kismet, I discovered a poem I had written years before I happened on Jeff’s work. The poem was about a motel in Wildwood, N.J., the very same seaside relic Jeff had painted in 2009. I shared the poem with Jeff, who responded: “Wow. I can hear this set in Waitsonian (re: Tom Waits) phrasing.” He agreed to let me use the image of his painting “Sea Shell” for this publication.

My poem, accompanied by Jeff’s painting of the same subject, follows.

"Sea Shell," a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

“Sea Shell,” a painting by Jeffrey Neumann

CHECKOUT AT THE SEA SHELL MOTEL

the caramel room
at the Sea Shell Motel
dollar store palm prints
and nicotine sills

cheap rum hangs in the shaft of sun dust
hula lamps hold the afternoon

dealings have come and gone —
Greek families, pimps, divorcees,
schmuck runaways, suicide watches

music plays no more
only murmurings and distant trucks
the scent of the bulldozer

Shadow to Read in Pueblo

I’ll be reading chapters from my second novel, “Puppet Girl” (now in progress), at the Pueblo Poetry Project, Wed., Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. The reading will be held at the Daily Grind Espresso Bar and Café, 209 S. Union Ave., Pueblo, Colorado.

The Historic Union Street, Pueblo, Colorado, the site of Shadow's reading.

The Historic Union Street, Pueblo, Colorado, the site of Shadow’s reading.

This will be the sixth time I’ve been the featured reader at the Pueblo Poetry Project, which is in its 35th year. I’ll also be reading poems from my series, “I’ll Have My Way With You, America,” which will be released as a chapbook in the future. Meanwhile, “Puppet Girl” is a sequel to my first novel, “Hell City.”

Joel Scherzer and Robbie Rubinstein, publishers at Quick Books in Pueblo, have published my poetry, beginning with the chapbook, “Harlem River Baby,” which was first released in 1984 (and is now going into its second printing). They also edited “Hell City” and are currently at work editing “Puppet Girl.”

“Robert Frank’s The Americans” at the Metropolitan

I just saw the exhibit “Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’” — centered on the photographer’s seminal book by the same name  — on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through Jan. 3.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book “The Americans.”

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of “The Americans (1959).” It raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But “The Americans,” like Kerouac’s own masterwork, “On the Road,” opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

Robert Frank's "U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho"

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point,” 1970), Louis Malle (“Atlantic City,” 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by “The Americans,” Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book “Democracy in America” helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe “The Americans.” Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

But I try. Actually, I thought poetry might somehow have a special access pass to the world within photography. So I offer up the following images from my forthcoming chapbook “America, I’ll Have My Way With You”:

I MISS YOU ALREADY AMERICA

I miss you already America
and you’re not even gone

leave me your messages
by the grimed phone booth
how you joke of the truth
hat tossed to eternity
leave me your hay bales
in the sweat hum of the field
waiting on farm hands
and wayward girls
leave me your Ford grillwork
idle at the company house
preaching at the two lane

leave me your truck’s whine
at the crossroads
singing that heaven
is elsewhere in the night
leave me your green trailer
singular at the corner
monument to guts
leave me your shag heart
dusting the television night
with boredom and blood

You might view the video of my song “Miss America,” too.

I was surprised and pleased to see Frank himself link the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.

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