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Poems from The Awakening (1968)
THE AWAKENING I found the bee as it fumbled about the ground Its leg mangled, its wing torn, its sting gone I picked it up, marvelled at its insistence to continue on, despite the dumb brute thing that had occurred I considered, remembered the fatal struggle the agony on the face of wounded friends and the same dumb drive to continue I became angry at the unfair conflict suffered by will and organism I became just, I became unreasoned, I became extravagant I observed the bee, there, lying in my palm I looked and I commanded in a harsh and angry shout – STOP THAT! Then it ceased to struggle, and somehow suddenly became marvellously whole, and it arose and it flew away I stared, I was appalled, I was overwhelmed with responsibility, and I knew not where to begin.
WITHOUT LAYING CLAIM without laying claim to an impossible innocence I must tell you how in the midst of that crowd we calmly pulled the pins from six grenades mumbling an explanation even we didn’t believe & released the spoons a lump in our throats.
PUSAN LIBERTY the 6 x 6 bounces me down the washboard roads, I see the sun-eaten walls of Korea, my girl-wife & child in mud & straw hut back in Taegu & here I am meeting the SEAL as he sits on his roller-skate cart minus arms & legs but beneath his ass a million $’s worth of heroin – I make my buy walk through the 10,000 camera market-place, jeeps for sale, people for sale, I’m even for sale as I find the porch of Cutie’s suckahatchi house and fix, sitting in the sun on the adobe veranda, the two Chinese agents come around to make their buy, 2 young boys, they’re hooked bad & I charge them too much – we sit there and fix, I fix again, the so-called Enemy & I, but just 3 angry boys lost in the immense absurdity of War and state sudden friends who have decided that our hatred of Government exceeds our furthest imaginable limits
of human calculation.
INITIATION What we doing, being cool? That argument Kitten, on the freeway I couldn’t keep up our habits and We cruised along sick, seeking magic And you said – Hit some chump over his head But I didn’t dig that so you offered To find some good tricks I got hot, indignant like a square with tears And you felt pity, saying - Don’t cry Daddy, it’s just another way to burn a sucker.
POETRY I’ve got to be honest. I can make good word music and rhyme at the right times and fit words together to give people pleasure and even sometimes take their breath away – but it always somehow turns out kind of phoney. Consonance and assonance and inner rhyme won’t make up for the fact that I can’t figure out how to get down on real paper the real or the true which we call life. Like the other day. The other day I was walking
on the lower exercise yard here at San Quentin and this cat called Turk came up to a friend of mine and said Ernie, I hear you’re shooting on my kid. And Ernie told him So what, punk? And Turk pulled out his stuff and shanked Ernie in the gut only Ernie had a Metal tray in his shirt. Turk’s shank bounced right off him and Ernie pulled his stuff out and of course Turk didn’t have a tray and caught it dead in the chest, a bad one, and the blood that came to his lips was a bright pink, lung blood, and he just laid down in the grass and said Shit. Fuck it. Sheeit. Fuck it. And he laughed a long time, softly, until he died. Now what could consonance or assonance or even rhyme do to something like that?.
THE DAY THE DAM BURST & what if the dam should suddenly burst If suddenly I should run headlong, frothing, haphazardly hurling shrapnel grenades into high-noon crowds? if suddenly tossing aside the dead ugly ache of it all, I equalled the senseless with my brute senseless act? O My, wouldn’t I shine? wouldn’t
I shine then? wouldn’t it be I then who had created God at last?.
FOR THE PEYOTE GODDESS This is the comic end All the paths, all the chances, all the choices all the decisions, and so I took the exact ones at every little crossroads actually the only ones which would place me at this terminal point in order to dwell with myself where, in the cold light of consciousness, the barrenness of the world extends even to the stars and so I forgot the dream of earth – but the dream once around again became the reality – and we are living our dreams and perhaps, Ah dreaming our lives You knew, didn’t you? All the time I was on my pale horse, my idiot other self, you knew that we were really one. And if that knowledge seemed like a poor solution to me, you knew it was the only possible answer. So to help me into the merging which is our only goal, you destroyed the phony drama of my life, all the narcissistic solutions, the foolish old lies I told myself, the pale rationalisations, you took them all up in your delicate fist and dashed them to the
earth, THE EARTH, and you left me with the words which would only make sense after you were irremedially gone – ‘Let a man listen to his dream so he may hear the story of all men and let him say as he did when he was a child: This is true; it does not matter what they tell me.’
DIRGE IN SPRING There high on a hill a man plows his field. The sun warm, the day still and the air still also, a shield for the earth. And below blind from new birth hide the young of a hare. Crouched in the lair soft, without will they dream. The doe runs fast over the field, turns before the plow, urging the man to take up her dare. He is blind to her. Without concern or rancor, he rips the soft dream. His plow a high scream in her ear, the doe runs on. It is not rare for such to be ripped from the lair of life. And the man?
THE DEATH OF CARYL CHESSMAN Little did I know, then The price of my revenge If someone had foretold Those long years of quiet
terror and grey steel I would have shrugged and laughed, saying ‘A hard price for having my way with a virgin.’ Then the long years began And setting aside my hot dreams of glory I came to understand… So they bathed my body with Gas
LETTER FROM KICKAPOO (pop. 250) I’m hiding out from the heat here this time they want me for Living without Believing for Working without Slavery Playing without Misery please don’t give me away?
FOR A NORDIC CHILD You are a cold northern woman from a cold northern land, a dark land, windy & wild with mist-shrouded cliffs and constant hunger, where the wolves howl from snowtorn ledges. I see your ancestors, the race of blond ones that sprang from strange distant places. The Cro-Magnon hunches over a small fire in the crevice of a cliff. He rips his meat in blood chunks & searches an early dusk with grey falcon eyes. A stir in the cave behind him catches the corner of his eye & he sees again the lush virgin being prepared for the Old Man of the tribe. Her golden hair is being greased & braided by the old crones, but she smiles cunningly at the fire watcher.
Her eyes are blue. She licks her lips & it is the meat she smiles for, the anticipation of it, warm and blood-odored. But the fire-watcher, young, stronger than any, has another hunger. Power is his goad, & lust, now that his cruder hunger is appeased. He moans in back of his throat & rises, yellow-furred form hunched, holds the warm juiced chunk of meat before him & approaches the rear of the cave. The crones have seen this happen before. They scurry away. The girl smiles again, victoriously, reaches out for the warm odored offering & tears it with her small, sharp, milk-white teeth as the fire-watcher pushes her down & takes her there on the rock strewn ground. When this tale has reached the Old Man & he roars his anger down upon them, the firewatcher kills him in sudden crushing combat and his power is born. These were your ancestors. This is you, now, with layer upon layer of concepts added. And it fascinates me.
‘AT THE MARKET-PLACE’ at the market-place we sell many things including love & courage but these you must bring with you & pay for as you leave
FOR A GIRL WHO DOESN’T LIKE HER NAME You are young and slender and sitting straight in the seat as you peer at me over the edge of your glass - Call me Kim, you say - I think Camille sounds so silly O Baby you don’t know how good Camille sounds to this poor simple poet
How it runs over my tongue like butter and honey and how it calls out to the butter of your hair and the cream and honey of your long full legs and the cool look on your tangerine lips (To really get crude Baby, how it goes with drool and fruit Camille (Cream Hoo ! Camille Honey Ha ! Oboy ! I’m a dog) But wait – even poets can be serious – it’s permitted once in a while Don’t you know Baby, how your legs will change and the butter will run out of your hair and the cream and honey will leave you Even the cool tangerine lips will lose their cool smile You’ll grow old and none will remember youas I see you now Unless they can let Camille Camille Camille run over their tongues and know as I know when I hear how you once were and how it sounds and looks and smells to me now Camille Butter Fruit Camille Drool Camille
LEMONADE 2c Kathy was my first customer naturally, I turned her on free she put her cool hand in mine led me to her
dark & sweaty cellar kissed me Lord, how our lips trembled how bitter-sweet & cool that lemonade
TIME AND THE CITY SOME SEVENTEEN SYLLABLE COMMENTS 1 On the freeway I follow redglow taillights to my city of glass 2 I was not here yesterday also I will not be here tomorrow 3 Will you please explain this I hate you I fear you I return always 4
The pain of your people tears my flesh Still… There is the hour before dawn 5 I will not be here yesterday also I was not here tomorrow
Poems from Sick Fly and from 10,000 r.p.m. & digging it, yeah!
From Sick Fly (1970)
IT WAS TUESDAY MORNING It was Tuesday morning I was flunking out of school The February sun was hazy I went to bed with 2 jugs of white port to drink myself asleep but I kept flashing back to the day before …I kept letting my dog off her chain & she kept running out in the yard to chase the gasoline tanker & she kept clipping under the rear wheels & she kept yelping with surprise as she sat in the road with her guts hanging out between her back legs & her eyes never stopped looking at me with shamed surprise as if she’d got caught shitting on the rug & then the sun was bouncing off her eyes like a handball off a blank concrete wall flicker / flicker death flicker Then Dan came over with some Neso & Acid I dropped 2 caps & a tab & waited but it started doing some real bad things So I borrowed a nickel from Dan & jumped on my bike
It took 2 months to ride the half-mile to the liquor store & the fifth of 100-proof vodka kept muttering under its breath during the 100-mile ride home things like - We’re gonna get you Wantling, your number is really up this time, baby… & to stop its goddamn muttering I slammed its neck against a bus-stop bench & chug-a-lugged it but it kept muttering, stupidly, instead of warm there was an icy thing in my belly muttering & the flashbacks were coming on faster now like some strobe-light gone mad with the prophecy It was me in the road with my guts hanging out & I was hung up on the pain, the shame, the surprise in my eyes I couldn’t see the road anymore… Maybe my bike knew the way home all by itself Anyway, I was there, back in the bedroom but the muttering was louder now nervous, ugly & I went for all the old pills I’d stashed when I wasn’t sure what they were There was half a handful, all colors & I dropped them & wished the sweat would stop running down my back legs & hoped I wouldn’t puke till the pills began to work But after a while things started coming out of the corners muttering coming straight for me & I looked down, curious, to see the dot inside my left wrist widen into a black rotting ring & then the artery jumped out & started gushing blood 2 feet into the air Then the blood turned to pus & the muttering steadied into a loud hum now crackling with shrieks and static & beneath it somewhere there was a drum There were 10,000 steel heeled boots stomping out a refrain - Now now now now It’s your turn now… & I guess some of the shrieks were mine for 2 days later my wife found me under the bed curled up in a ball, covered with shit & vomit
But here I am now fairly calm full of tranquilizers & group therapy It evidently wasn’t my turn after all What I wonder is, why all the hassle? Why all the bullshit? I never wanted to be a poet, anyway I’d carry a lunchbox like everybody else if only the muttering would stop
RUNE FOR THE DISENCHANTED What if: - In a moment of pure terror I refused the call of beauty by stuffing banknotes in my ear? - In a moment of pure agony I leapt into a vat of molten gold? - In a moment of pure vision I woke from out my lonely dream? - In a moment of pure compassion I refused to hate my enemy? - In a moment of pure decision I called our game a draw - In a moment of pure sophistication I refused to play my role & pierced my ears with seashells? - In a moment of pure understanding I howled with laughter which never ceased, flinging roses all about me? - In a moment of pure inspiration I began to love my dream of life, and thus resumed my game and role? FOR MARY ON LENT From your belly stepped a King
soared in gold above the moon caught again the silver ring and we turned Him to your womb Yet when I saw your clumsy King who once could leap like verse thorned to that wasted tree, hanging thin and droning, terse, classic, veiled and numb, dwindling beneath His wailing, grave, and cindered sun, why then I, who come so cold now, I am told a warped and crimson robe of fiery embers rose, rose in that swift-winged mass, rose high And the kite I fly the clumsy kite I chose while playing in the grass has not yet reached the sky…
From 10,000 r.p.m. and digging it, yeah! (1973)
THE HEAD SHOP the head shop is getting ripped off so regular theres hardly enuf bread to pay salaries at the end of the month so I put up a blacklight sign ‘if you come in here to rip off cause you know we wont call the Man, yr burning yr own Bros & Sisters – this place supports 7 Freaks’ then we split to Rick’s & he breaks out his Lebanese hash & Marcie feels bad about charging me $3 for 2 tabs of Sunshine but cant get off her business is business hangup, cant just give it to me but smiles & digs out a gram of hash & presses it into my hand for a bonus & we do it up too & and I’m following her around the pad hoping for something even sweeter but then her man
slides in the front door & I pick up the look in her eyes & dig that with just a little shove in the right direction Marcie will let her man back in, so I hum and haw a bit, say how I’ve got to get to class… Rick doesn’t want me to ride my bicycle to campus, thinks I’m too stoned – Marcie offers to drive me but I tell her I dropped the Sunshine with all intentions of making this bicycle ride the hi spot of my trip – secretly proud that I dont push for making it with her, then peddle off toward campus, stop at the liquor store, buy a pint of white port for insurance in case the Trip gets too far out knowing I have no downers at home & believing in being prepared & then peddle off again, am only about a mile down the black road when the moon comes out full, the mercury-vapour street-world stage – God, or something, is hummng down on me, promising and threatening vague, wondrous things… now, I never did dig a stage, don’t even like to read my poetry aloud & was Peoria Illinois’ most enthusiastic atheist at the age of 12 but something is happening somewhere inside I hear demands for another, heavier sacrifice, find a large stone, tenderly lay the virgin pint of port on it ceremoniously reverently smash it with a heavy stick & ride off again, somewhat worried … the last time things were humming like this the molecules of my matter spread too far apart & I almost fell thru into the Universal Dynamo of Singing Light but then I grin, thinking of Cleaver & Leary in Algiers fucking up the revolution with Power Grabs, & I glance up into the humming throbbing
unavoidable Light & laff & laff – it takes several subjective hours to peddle 2 more blocks but laffing hours, laffing all the way home IT WAS 5 AM it was 5 am the only station coming thru was this 50,000 watt clearchannel out of Austin & this jesus freak got on for someplace called Ambassador College & for over an hour he revealed how long hair drugs youthful disrespect for the Father, for the old standards & beliefs & for authority was destroying the traditional family unit was undermining Democracy & threatening our survival as a great nation I lit a joint & thought how grateful I was that he was right & thought how there was still hope ‘THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL’ - for chas bukowski I’d been pounding the underworld all night, sulking for the lovely whore of words the nose-flute of words the kettledrum reverberating of them in yr mind yr ears yr groin & belly & finally sulking for their uselessness their inadequacy…& Bobby Frink came by & drove me to the Pizza Hut & bought me beers beers beers and it was 12.30 closing time & while walking home slow just staring at the maniac rose-full moon I saw this tall chick with her Lil Abner Long Sam body &
ass length red hair… I introduced myself as the greatest living poet of Normal Illinois & she’d heard about me cause its always in the local papers how I’m in jail for narcotics or assault or for trashing telephone booths that steal yr last dime – it gets around… we end up in her bathtub doing something special & juicy with her strawberry glycerine soap & it was one of the good nights the fine nights, a night that comes along once in a while when you can take off yr mask & just freak all night like that sometimes or its all a drag a mask a role, a Big Rig truckstop with lukewarm showers & bad hamburgers … but then it was Thursday morning & I fell asleep just as her old man came in – I told him how Bad I was but he kicked my ass anyway – well all I really wanted to say was how some of us die screaming some howling with laughter some just rotting away in the arms of that BitchDeath State… I want to try it all before I go & if you think that strawberry soap wasn’t worth a crack on the jaw then yr rotting away already … WE MAKE A DEAL… We make a deal I dont drink for 24 hrs theyll get me home Naima gives me her Mescaline & we smoke our last 2 joints going over the Golden Gate bridge, then standing on the flight deck Jim & Irv & Naima & young John chant OM….. loving me off to Chicago but when the seatbelt sign flashes off I run to the washroom bolt the door puke & shiver drop my last downer sink back into my cabinclass seat, & somewhere over Kansas City hit a heavy pocket of flashbacks
step out of myself stand there staring down at the heap on my seat the cold sweat on its face stinking of weeks-old wine, the grime, the greasy tics & temors & I say to myself - There’s yr body baby, now love it or leave it nows yr last chance & I do not suffer preaching gladly but I wish you were here too standing beside me miles above the twitching earth staring down at Kansas or China or Chicago as the sun chases dying shadows across our poisoned land & I take yr hand & point down & preach a bit, say to you - Theres our body baby, now love it or leave it nows our last chance
OPEN LETTER TO THE UNDERGROUND Dear Bob Head This is not an easy time to be alive in Poets have been saying this since hieroglyphics It is still true The motherfuckers are killing us and Everybody I know, almost, & their cases are excellent I love the Panthers I love Burroughs I love the Underground They are our only hope for the Motherfuckers have marked us The Motherfuckers are killing us yet My hatred my contempt for violence exceeds the furthest
imaginable limits of human calculation I breed mice Can I hate the cats when they kill my mice Can I slap Ruthie when she stomps on a cockroach Things become intolerable in their complications yet the Motherfuckers continue I know I have earned yr contempt for accepting a Factory job that sends me home in a blue knot of pain Yet the rent must be paid the kids must eat & I cannot Repeat cannot allow myself to teach in this system Even to subvert it, if I have well earned yr contempt I would not have it any other way You & all the other people I love have a rare human potential My hatred my contempt for the State exceeds the furthest Imaginable limits of human calculation The motherfuckers continue to kill us Once, on Acid, you spoke of how the Counterculture needs A vision of Joy & Power & I felt you were speaking to me That vision does not come now except in moments after reading Schweitzer & Camus & it is called ‘reverence for Life’ As Schwietzer so simply and at the same time so complexly Puts it: ‘We are life which wills to live In the midst of life which wills to live’ Yet the Motherfuckers continue to kill us Perhaps yr vision can be contained in this: We Are alive here & now & The beauty the breathless improbable joy Of this fact cannot ever be surpassed Love, Bill
* there are a few things to note before I leave but not many I haven’t learned much in 37 years
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
all governments are eventually appalling pain hurts to eat meat is murder to be without love is inexcusable to love is the most difficult of all
William Wantling (November 23, 1933 – May 2, 1974) was an American poet, novelist, ex-Marine, ex-convict, and college professor born in East Peoria, Illinois. After graduating high school he joined the Marine Corps until 1955. He served in Korea during 1953. After leaving the Marines he moved to California and eventually had a son with his then-wife Luana. Wantling went to San Quentin State Prison in 1958 convicted of forgery and possession of narcotics. During his imprisonment Luana divorced him and took custody of the child. He was released in 1963, and returned to Peoria. There he married Ruth Ann Burton, a fellow divorcee in 1964. In 1966 he enrolled at Illinois State University where he received both a BA and MA. He taught at the university up until his death on May 2, 1974. Wantling died of heart failure, possibly brought about by his extensive drug use.
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