The other night at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, a few local poets read some poems aloud. The store was crowded. Those who came late had to stand, or sit on the floor.
Because I live in Iowa City, I should point out that by “local poets” I mean Dora Malech, James Galvin, Mark Levine, Cal Bedient, Robyn Schiff, Christopher Merrill and Jan Weissmiller. The event was organized to help Dean Young whose heart failed him, and who in April, thanks to a donor, received a new heart. But now it turns out that it will cost approximately $50,000 a year to keep that heart beating. $50,000 a year, out of pocket, to keep Dean Young alive.
And even if I’m a card-carrying fiction writer (In Iowa City you’re either a fiction writer or a poet the way that in the rest of Iowa you’re either a Republican or a Democrat.), I like hearing poetry read aloud – particularly when it’s James Galvin doing the reading. So, the truth is that when I arrived, I wasn’t there for any other reason but my own pleasure and edification.
But his friends, the local poets mentioned above, and many people in the audience that night – and others elsewhere – are doing what they can to help pay for his life.
I don’t know Dean Young, but I like his poems very much. I’m tempted to list his accolades here–awards, teaching posts, publications—with the hope that they will persuade you to make a donation.
But none of that should matter, and there’s no good reason to give your money to one person instead of another. Dean Young has the fortune of talent and friends who love him, and I was moved by the intensity with which so many of those friends care for him and want him well. That love was what made me give a little money. That and poems like the one below.
If you can afford it, click here.
He wrote this:
Sources of the Delaware
I love you he said but saying it took twenty years
so it was like listening to mountains grow.
I love you she says fifty times into a balloon
then releases the balloon into a room
whose volume she calculated to fit
the breath it would take to read
the complete works of Charlotte Bronte aloud.
Someone else pours green dust into the entryway
and puts rice paper on the floor. The door
is painted black. On the clothesline
shirttails snap above the berserk daffodils.
Hoagland says you’ve got to plunge the sword
into the charging bull. You’ve got
to sew yourself into a suit of light.
For the vacuum tube, it’s easy,
just heat the metal to incandescence
and all that dark energy becomes radiance.
A kind of hatching, syntactic and full of buzz.
No contraindications, no laws forbidding
buying gin on Sundays. No if you’re pregnant,
if you’re operating heavy machinery because
who isn’t towing the scuttled tonnage
of some self? Sometimes just rubbing
her feet is enough. Just putting out
a new cake of soap. Sure, the contents
are under pressure and everyone knows
that last step was never intended to bear
any weight but isn’t that why we’re standing there?
Ripples in her hair, I love you she hollers
over the propellers. Yellow scarf in mist.
When I planted all those daffodils,
I didn’t know I was planting them
in my own chest. Play irretrievably
with the lid closed, Satie wrote on the score.
But Hoagland says he’s sick of opening
the door each morning not on diamonds
but piles of coal, and he’s sick of being
responsible for the eons of pressure needed
and the sea is sick of being responsible
for the rain, and the river is sick of the sea.
So the people who need the river
to float waste to New Jersey
throw in antidepressants. So the river
is still sick but nervous now too,
its legs keep thrashing out involuntarily,
flooding going concerns, keeping the president
awake. So the people throw in beta-blockers
to make it sleep which it does, sort of,
dreaming it’s a snake again but this time
with fifty heads belching ammonia
which is nothing like the dreams it once had
of children splashing in the blue of its eyes.
So the president gets on the airways
with positive vectors and vows
to give every child a computer
but all this time, behind the podium,
his penis is shouting, Put me in, Coach,
I can be the river! So I love you say
the flashbulbs but then the captions
say something else. I love you says
the hammer to the nail. I love Tamescha
someone sprays across the For Sale sign.
So I tell Hoagland it’s a fucked-up ruined
world in such palatial detail, he’s stuck
for hours on the phone. Look at those crows,
they think they’re in on the joke and
they don’t love a thing. They think
they have to be that black to keep
all their radiance inside. I love you
the man says as his mother dies
so now nothing ties him to the earth,
not fistfuls of dirt, not the silly songs
he remembers singing as a child.
I love you I say meaning lend me twenty bucks.