LAYOVER – Notes on Crazy Times

1. From a Jet

Lakes below are lesions in farmland and forest,

wounds in the hide of the Earth. Or so they seem.

Fall colors are dying into brown. As the plane

crosses Lake Michigan, the lake is the world,

the land its backdrop. An hour’s wait in Chicago:

no point setting my watch for the hour

gained, since the time will change again.

2. Airport

A metaphor for a science-fiction future—

land cleared for the uses of technology,

forms without reference to the past: endless

colonnade, vaulted ceilings—surfaces

plastic; columns elliptical, not round.

There’s a lot of ground to cover from gate

to gate, a lot of time that’s passed. I was here

as a student, that year’s maneuver to evade

the draft. Predictions for decades ahead

would all have been wrong.

Today’s destination—a sales conference

for textbooks. In the waiting area, a man

unwraps a sandwich, bows head to pray

before eating. A matron glares at a woman,

young, tucking her baby in her shirt to nurse.

Announcement: Keep your baggage with you

at all times. Chicago Police will remove

unattended baggage. Shouldn’t terrorist activities

concern a higher level of authority?

We’ll be sure to watch our luggage, won’t mess

with Mayor Daley’s forces. It’s another

Mayor Daley and a change from the former

dispensation: Smash heads to maintain the past

has become Mold minds to accept the present.

    

 3. Crazy Times

Still in the future after that first trip:

rushing to my father’s funeral—then the crazy

end of the 60s, yearning for new consciousness

to spread like the spume on lakeside rocks—

Chicago in ’68 the bad gathering,

before Woodstock the good one—

and Willa . . . her wide-open smile . . .

Craziness flourished later. While we shared

our flat, schizophrenia began to spread

its roots, stronger than time clocks, class

schedules, love, or reason.

I was crazy too, one walk

in the clear air over Hyde Park and the lake.

I think I’m pregnant, she said, so we spun a fantasy

of married life, to set up house with her fortune,

$5,000 settled by the asylum

where her mad mother died.

Oh life would be crazy, but it would be real,

real as the cloudless sky—real as laughter

that sometimes overtook us—

at the movies, in a cliché-crammed travelogue

about the Friuli region, an actress walked

toward the Adriatic sunset shoreline

in her bikini, and said: Now you’ve seen

something of my Friuli. And I laughed till almost

blacking out; we laughed in the restaurant

and on the ride home and for days after.

The pregnancy alert was a false alarm.

It was time anyway for my next evasion,

teaching in Massachusetts. The future was

forestalled. Through the Greyhound window

we waved goodbye.

  

4. Scenes from Bohemian Life

Moving to New York, to a walkup over

an East Village pawnshop, Willa took her place

as hippie times flowered. She didn’t work,

she slept most of the day. She could laugh

when I visited, but each day more pain

engulfed her. Her compulsion—phoning her stepmother,

yelling obscenities, and hanging up.

They committed her to Washington Heights,

to the Psychiatric Institute. I visited

on a Saturday as crisp and bright as Hyde Park

afternoons. Tiny pimples from Thorazine

covered her forehead. The day-room

window, high over Riverside cliffs, opened

just inches, to keep the patients from jumping out.

When the sense of responsibility had me thinking

of suicide, my shrink gave me his home

number. Willa wrote of her happiness

at seeing me, her hope that when she got out,

we’d be boyfriend and girlfriend again.

Time for reality, I decided, and wrote:

I don’t think so. That was the past. It was almost

my 24th birthday. A month later,

she’d been moved to another floor, where she couldn’t

get calls. I didn’t phone again.

5. Trip Resumed

I can stay in this waiting area, muttering complaints

and watching humanity go by; since I’m wearing

a suit and necktie, since I have cash and a bankcard,

weeks would pass before I’d be noticed.

Diversions, vacations, evasions—we move at stupefying

speeds to the next layover and the next. Time

is gained and lost. Those who left and those

we’ve left behind—the sad, the unborn, the terrorists—

wait with unattended baggage in rooms

around the Earth, where windows can’t

open for escape.

It’s always a layover, a morning after, condemned

to life, with the million betrayals by politicians,

parents, children, followers, guides,

lost friends, lovers, landlords, customers,

readers, scientists, students, clergy, philosophers.

No regret in leaving this city, where the east

wind from the lake and the west wind from the plains

blasted cold at the same time, remembering

that once, long ago, in the Adriatic sunset,

a bikinied blonde showed us something of her

Friuli. Arrivederci,she says. On the screen

glittering water fades to black.

NOTES

Revised in 2013. The present-day narrative takes place shortly before the events of September 11, 2001, while the remembered years referred to were the mid-1960s.

Richard J. Daley was mayor of Chicago from 1955-76, presiding over, among other anti-progressive events, his city’s hosting of the 1968 Democratic Party convention. His son, Richard M. Daley, became mayor in 1989.

Hyde Park is a Chicago neighborhood near Lake Michigan.

The Friuli region is in northeast Italy.

T. G. Vanini: “You can’t cancel the morning after/Except for the day that you die.”

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