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.
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.
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.”