Gary Lehmann - Author

Author's Publications and Upcoming Appearances

Friday, February 26, 2010

Some Recent Poems

part of the problem

Think of the courage, the raw courage.
The plan was simple really.
Go into Woolworth’s, sit down at the lunch counter
...and don’t leave ‘til you get served.

The most ingenious plans are simple
...and complicated at the same time.

In 1960, Joseph McNeil was a freshman
at the Ag & Tech at Greensboro, NC.
He had everything to gain and everything to lose.
He might be beaten to death or die in jail.

He just might start a protest that would ignite
national awareness of racism and oppression.

To face this kind of experience and not challenge it
meant we were part of the problem.
If they dealt with it, they might die or be ruined, but...
if they endured it silently, they were dead already.


An elderly man with a jaunty plaid hat and patterned tie and shirt,
got on the bus at the Marina where they were serving a Seniors luncheon.

He sat down next to a lady who seemed happy to see him.
They certainly know how to lay out a fine spread, she said.

Leaning over anxious to talk with him, the lady was dressed in white,
elegant and fashionable in her ancient way.

She wore big spectacles and a scarf over her shoulder.
She laughed politely and easily at his little jokes.

They were clearly friends, maybe even lovers at one time,
cute together, obviously happy in each other’s company.

Are you doing any jobs right now? she asked.
I just got back from Hong Kong, he replied,

finishing up some details on a new CD.
I’m happy I won’t have to go back. It’s a long flight.

The lady got off at Embarcadero with a discreet wave.
Another promptly took her seat and picked up the conversation.

The Spaghetti War

Initially, spaghetti was a concession to prisoner demands for better food,
but as time went on, the sauce got thinner and the meat more scarce.

If they serve this mush one more time, I’m turning the table upside down.
They did. We did. The war was on. It was total chaos in the chow hall.

Prisoners jumped on tables and chairs and started yelling No more!
Spaghetti got thrown at guards. Plates, knives and forks were flying.

Then the chief screw brought in a machine gun and took out three windows.
Everybody’s locked down, he yelled when the din subsided.

As if someone had played the national anthem or started a prayer, suddenly
all you could hear was the sound of prisoners slipping in globs of spaghetti.

We filed out and back to the cell block, outwardly subdued -- for now,
but inwardly free -- for the first time in a long time.

Prisoner of Alcatraz

When I got off the transport boat,
I stood transfixed at the bottom of the gangway.

The guard told me I could go.
I was a free man now.

I stood like a statue at the curbside listening
to the whir of the cars as they drove past.

Everyone else had somewhere to go.
I’ve never been so lonely in all my life.

News from the Trenches

Back in the trenches, the 25 year old poet
Wilfred Owen was cold, tired, and disgusted.
He had been treated for shellshock after being
blown into the air by a mortar and landing
on the remains of a fellow officer.

Now he was back, crawling about on his belly
somewhere in France. He had been assigned
light duty, censoring soldiers’ letters.

The war had hardened him. Once he would
have cried over the things they said. Now
he just wrote DECEASED on the outside of
the unopened envelope, mailing it home
without even shifting the cigarette in his mouth.

Metro Fashions

Black Black Black
All I see is Black

Black hoodies in the subway
Black cocktail dresses
Black shawls, Black coats
Black trousers, Black pants
Black sneakers on the streets
Black glasses in the bookstore
A whole city in mourning

Black Black Black
All I see is Black

So, Man Ray, when were you born?

I don’t actually remember.
I was young at the time, you understand,
and it was a long time ago.

Besides,why should I bother remembering
All these little details?
These days everything is written in books

I suppose I’m just lazy, but
If I wanted to know the answer to this question,
I’d do what you should do. Go look it up!

Object of Desire

The artist Man Ray fell in love with his model,
but was devastated when she dumped him.
To get over her, he did a pen and ink sketch of her eye
and attached it to the pendulum of a metronome with a paper clip.
He called it -- Object to be Destroyed.

25 years later, anarchists broke into an art exhibit and,
seeing the title, Object to be Destroyed, destroyed it.
When Man Ray was asked to make a reproduction,
he agreed, only this time he insisted
on calling it -- Indestructible Object.

Doing What Comes Naturally

When Man Ray hired the same artist’s model as Andre Derain, he was surprised
when she took off all her clothes and jumped into his lap in the nude.

What’s this all about? protested a startled Man Ray who drew
his models from a distance. The young thing looked perplexed.

I’m just doing what Monsieur Derain requires of me, but come to think of it
I don’t know why he is a painter when he seems to like sculpture so much.

At the Roxy

Every city in the world has at least one museum dedicated to the best of art,
MOBA is the only museum dedicated entirely to collecting and showing the worst.

The Museum of Bad Art in suburban Boston celebrates the enthusiastic work
of artists with limited talent, abysmal judgment, and little sense of color.

It’s a sort of touchstone or foil for every other art museum in the world.
We’re here to celebrate the right to fail, explains the permanent interim director.

The collection is hung in the basement outside the Men’s Room.
The smell adds a certain something which is not inconsistent with the art.

The MOBA has a firm policy of not paying more than $6.50 for a new acquisition,
though noteworthy exceptions have been made for particularly squalid attempts.

One painting in the permanent collection has a big knife slash through it.
We like to think this represents a moment of epiphany on the part of the artist.

We are more or less forced to rotate our exhibits, the director explains
apologetically. Take a look around. The public can only stand so much.

Thesaurus of Pain

Peter Mark Roget was obsessed with classifying words in part to cover his despair
after the early death of his father and the subsequent insanity of his mother.
So much sadness drove him away from people into the comforting arms
of words which offered him solace in the “starry region” of ideas.

Roget started making lists of word when he was 8 in 1787.
He listed heavenly bodies, animals, vegetables, anything at all.
He borrowed the exemplary Linnaean system to divide all thought
into 6 categories. It took years to classify every nuance.

He listed 1002 concepts to further subdivide every slight variation.
With words so divided, a writer could refine written thoughts
by reviewing similar words for gradations of meaning --
and Roget could keep his mind off the sadness that obsessed him.

Roget completed the first draft in 1805 when he was just 26,
but the public had to wait for his retirement from a long career
in medicine before Roget found 4 years to revise his book
and publish it in 1852.

J. M. Barrie wrote an homage to Roget in Peter Pan.
The Thesaurus is the one and only book Captain Hook keeps in his shipboard library.
Dylan Thomas used him. Every major 20th Century writer relied on him.
Sylvia Plath said she would sooner take Roget to a desert island than the Bible.

A Flirtation With Ecstasy

Peter Mark Roget, author of the Thesaurus, was 20 in 1799,
when he inhaled nitrous oxide in an experiment to help
his friend, Humphrey Davy, find a cure for consumption.
Little did he understand the lesson it would teach him.

As soon as he inhaled the gas, Peter began to feel dizzy.
A tingling sensation emanated from his hands and feet.
He got disoriented and found it hard to breathe or speak.
Suddenly, he got worked up, losing track of time and place.
His body and mind raced and throbbed through thoughts.

Gradually, a gentle feeling of well-being suffused his body.
His whole life seemed to be reduced to a feather in the wind.

15 minutes later, he began to return to his normal senses.
He hurried to his desk and wrote: I cannot remember that
I experienced the least pleasure from these sensations.
I can however easily conceive that by frequent repetition
I might reconcile myself to them. He feared addiction.

For Humphrey Davy the ecstasy won out. He liked it.
Not so for Roget. For him, life itself was a struggle for control.
This moment of ecstasy was an unpleasant reminder of just how
fragile a grasp he had on this state he was pleased to call reality.

Alice Ramsey’s Great Adventure

In the pouring rain, Alice Huyler Ramsey, age 22, got into her
green Maxwell 30 on June 10, 1909 in Hell’s Gate, Manhattan, and
drove down Broadway, heading out for California, 3800 miles away.

Her three friends, Nettie, Margaret and Hermine accompanied her,
but she was the only one who could drive. Most of the way there were no
paved roads. It was an endurance test and a statement of female independence.

The press loved it, though common people thought she was crazy. She was
a young lady, just two years out of Vassar College , a wife and mother with a
perfectly good home in Hackensack NJ, risking all for a wild, unimaginable stunt.

She was no Amazon either. Driving is not a matter of gender she explained,
and she was bound and determined to prove it. So was the Maxwell-Briscoe Co.
of Tarrytown NY which helped finance and sponsor the cross-country event.

In 1909 only 155,000 Americans owned cars, mostly clustered along the east coast
where there were better roads. They were anxious to prove that even a woman
could drive a Maxwell over all sorts of terrain -- and even have fun while doing it.

Doctors did not generally advise women to drive. It was felt that it upset
the delicate balance of their body chemistry and would cause them to become dangerously agitated, and agitated is exactly what they became.

West of the Mississippi, roads quickly degenerated into trails, rough terrain
for delicate eastern technology. Many breakdowns resulted which had to be
repaired where they occurred with what they had along. 11 spare tires were needed.

The car was loaded with equipment and 4 passengers, but had only 30 hp and a
top speed of just 40 mph on perfectly level roads, which, of course, they never had. Many times in the far west, the ladies had to get meals in bars and saloons.

At night, they couldn’t always find appropriate accommodation and sometimes
had to resort to sleeping in the car. After 59 days, they reached the St. James Hotel
in San Francisco just in time for a big party. Everyone celebrated discreetly.

It was a great triumph for the cause of female liberation, but after they all had
a good hot bath and a late sleep, they turned right around and went back home.
In NJ once again, Alice Ramsey returned to being a wife and mother.

The Poor Guggenheim

With a yearly allowance of just $80,000, Peggy Guggenheim considered
herself to be the poor Guggenheim. Peggy felt she needed to be frugal.

In her famous salons, she sometimes served nothing but crackers and whiskey,
but even so, people in the elite art crowd coveted an invitation to her parties.

For many years, her first husband complained, they lived in apartments furnished
with little more than orange crates so Peggy could spend lavishly on modern art.

She negotiated hard with her chosen starving artists, driving them to the brink.
Even when she didn’t particularly like an artist, she paid for quality work.

She was a harsh critic. She might just walk into your studio, look around,
and walk right back out without saying a thing. She was notorious like that.

At one boring party in Venice, a friend came up and declared I should take off all
my clothes and jump in the canal. Without hesitating she replied, If you do, I will.

You can say that rich people like Peggy Guggenheim don’t influence anything,
but you’d be wrong. Money talks and money coupled with taste leads the way.


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