Orson: “No one in film has ever had such talent, such energy, such innate depth. But he had made a film that ensured his career’s end, and he had done it all so that the films grim portrait of solitude would be fulfilled.”
Hello, this is Orson Welles. I was just reading one of my many biographies. Really… I don’t know if I believe that last sentence.
In any case…
(MUSIC: SPANISH THEME SONG [“NO MORE,” A TANGO]… FADES)
Orson: We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.
Which reminds me that we are here tonight to discuss poetry. Blue Tattoo, welcome.
Blue Tattoo (BT): Thank you, Mr. Welles. It’s my great pleasure to be here.
Orson: Let me start with this poem.
What Frank Knew
She pauses on the rim
of the sleeping desert,
lights a sweet caporal
with a boot-struck match,
shadowed face floating behind
the arc of a blue diamond
and suddenly she’s Ava,
backwoods beauty stolen
from an old movie, playing
a sultry scene in sweat-wet khaki
beneath a California moon,
swaying to forgotten strains
of silent music that tickles
my memory, tighten my senses
and now she turns-
turning to smile at me dark-haired
and dangerous and all at once
I recognize the pull, fall
under the hard draw
of a sucking tide and I am
swallowed, sluiced down a perfect
throat like the perfect shot and
I understand, same as Frank did,
the nature of certain addictions.
Let me tell you – this is perfect of its kind. Wonderful. How did you come to write it?
BT: Well, Mr. Welles, this poem is actually rooted in fact. Even though I reside nowhere near a desert, sleeping or otherwise, there IS a vacant lot behind the hospital I frequent that could pass for a desert; especially now that the streetlights that face it have been broken out and it’s been put in the dark. Unless, of course, there’s a moon hanging around…but, back to the facts. There’s this ER doc that I was spooning a while ago, even though such pairings are strictly frowned upon (I’m a Paramedic, and we are NOT supposed to fraternize with the higher-ups), but I became enamored, actually, addicted is a much more apt term, and I managed to talk her into a couple or three smoke breaks in the aforementioned vacant lot. She carried pack matches from the commissary, and smoked Luckies, but the Blue Diamonds were easy enough to imagine…and my pop smoked Sweet Caporals; I still remember the heavy smell of them. This particular doc had long, very brunette hair and hooded eyes, and being from Mississippi, a drawl that could melt butter. Being a HUGE Ava fan (those lips, those ELBOWS), all it took was a strike and a turn.
Orson: I knew Ava, of course. Did you know that Rita Hayworth and I planned to build right there at Nepenthe down Highway 1 from Carmel? I mention this because, under the aspect of Eternity I saw, perhaps two of your mortal years ago, two of the fellows who are here at the Jeunesse Doree as they sat on the deck of the restaurant “Nepenthe” sipping fine ale and always reflecting on that name as great crows or ravens harried them trying to catch their attention just long enough to signify something. The crows or ravens failed. Instead they persisted in laughing over their own limericks. They were the Lonliest Ranger and Samson Shillitoe and Mr. Shillitoe, when you posted this poem a few days ago, gave the right and inevitable reaction.
I couldn’t have said it better. But (and I hope you agree with what Samson wrote) and looking at poem yourself…how do you think it works in this way, what happens in the poem to do just what Samson says it does? And please remember to not let modesty restrain you. The poem is there.
BT: Nepenthe…I know it well. The opiate’s dream, Homer’s remedy for grief; mecca of poets, artists, and vagabonds. Carved right out of the cliffs, isn’t it? Lovely place, smelling of salt and redwood and oak. I have a friend who lives in Esalen; I visited the Henry Miller museum once. And of course, there is Big Sur; which I think has become woefully…well, commercialized. Full of re-habitants. I agree that the restaurant is a wonder; I had an ambrosia burger there in ’74, back when I was younger and had a little change to spend. Their merlot is excellent, if I recall correctly.
But I do run on…back to your question. I was honored by Mr. Shilitoe’s response, thrilled, actually. For me, it was that turning…it really DID push the sun away (had there been one; there wasn’t). When she turned, her hands cupped around her match, it lit her face from beneath her chin; it pulled her aspect into something breathtaking…I hate that word, but in this case, it’s apropos…and pulled me with it. That’s the moment that my ‘addiction’ to this woman began; I could’nt get enough. Ava came almost immediately to mind; particularly Mogambo, which I had seen just the night before. What I think happens in this poem is strictly animal; that guttural attraction that can occur at certain moments, welcome or no. It’s sensory, olfactory, visceral. Ask Frank, he’ll tell you.
Orson: Look at the transition from the first to the second verse:
She pauses on the rim
of the sleeping desert,
lights a sweet caporal
with a boot-struck match,
shadowed face floating behind
the arc of a blue diamond
and suddenly she’s Ava,
What a wonderful effect. Of a sudden the flame..and what I love about it is just how cinematic it is. The poem is incredibly visual with of course just what is also there in my movies: light and shadow and then blue diamond which is hot damn just what is needed as a star is born. What I mean is… you have a scene and somehow there is so much more there: the fineness of, of course, just that sort of cigarette, the scene sketched as if seen from some starry perspective as she pauses on the rim of the desert, the close up of the “boot-struck” match, the exact sense of the shadow with all of its implications and then that blue diamond (Blue Diamond matches, of course but the twin senses of star) and then the poem illuminated by a suddenness as the unnamed “she” becomes Ava – the humor and the throat catching revelation of the goddess all at once.
Yes. If you can… would you tell us what you think was happening just then when you wrote those lines?
BT: I can tell you exactly what was happening; again with the turning, the hooding of that face that by now, wasn’t the doc’s face at all…it was Ava. It physically tugged the muscles in my belly, made me as light-headed as a good dose of opium. I was literally ‘rendered speechless’…I remember dropping my own smoke and how throaty her laughter was when she noticed my awkward behavior. I was instantly in love…an emotion uncommon to me…and though it faded as soon as the sodium lights of the parking lot hit us; l can still remember that turning….
I could spend the rest of our interview on this poem. Look …just this:
swallowed, sluiced down a perfect
throat like the perfect shot
with its perfect use of “sluiced with the exact shadowings and then the startling effect of “perfect” throat and the hammering of perfect yet again…
So, it’s inevitable… I want to know who you are. Who are you? Please feel free to make anything up. I did. It’s a mark of greatness. Although at times it did seem as if I really had been a bullfighter in Spain at 15.
BT: Who am I? Now there’s a question. I guess, to quote a sailor man, I am what I am. I’m female, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool dyke, I abhor all those ‘lipstick lezzies’ that always smell like bubblegum. I ran away from my oh-so-genteel southern folks at 15 and joined the armed forces as a medic; in those days, women stayed pretty much in the MASH tents with little sight of actual combat…but I managed to land a gig on a medivac as a flight nurse. I miss it. My family disowned me when they found out I was gay; I was likewise excommunicated from their Catholic church; a thing I find really amusing in light of today’s rampant collarly pedophilia.
I became a paramedic because I’m a trauma junkie; I live in a redneck, backwards town in the dismal swamps of Carolina, and I own three blue-tic hounds and a red-bone yard dog. I live alone, I hunt to relax, and I find censorship a crime punishable by death. My favorite album (yes, album) is Holiday’s ‘Jazz ’round midnight’, and I’m secretly in love with Lenny Bruce. I’m a morphine junkie but I’m trying to quit…and I love chocolate necco wafers. And I write because I can’t NOT write…if that makes sense to anyone but me.
Orson: May we discuss this poem?
Blue on Blue
3:16 AM, emergency entrance, county general-
I was propped against the rear doors of a rig
parked in Bay 5, close to where the docs smoke
with cigarettes tucked behind their palms,
furtive anarchists flicking ash at the don’t-do-that sign
while people shift back and forth around them
and I was thinking about this tweaker kid
we brought in on a dead run; skull a cracked vault,
his secrets betrayed on the floor beneath my boots
I was thinking about how he wouldn’t
stop breathing; how the noise of anatomy
dogged collapsed lines in fibrillating waves
I was thinking about a girl in a dirty blue skirt
sitting on a curb with his blood on her knees,
how her face pulled away in the rear-view like a scream
I was thinking about how an intern
with two silver loops in his ear hummed ‘Blue on Blue’
under his breath as we gave our report to a nurse
I thought about these things
I watched the guards watch me
I didn’t clean any secrets from the rig
I did sit down on the step plate
I picked at the wick of my zippo
I whistled the intern’s song
somewhere behind me
a girl with bloody knees sits on a curb
pulling threads from the hem of a cheap skirt.
Orson: So, I’m thinking that this poem is a poem about something that actually happened, or something written from this and that that actually happened. True?
Can you tell us about it? And what is a “tweaker?”
BT: Yes, it’s true…this was an actual event. Just one of the many tweakers I pick up in the course of a shift; a tweaker being a methamphetamine addict. Meth labs are a HUGE problem in my area. This particular kid was about seventeen; he was cranked up on his buy and got himself run over by a car while attempting to cross a major highway. He was a mess, never had a chance; but we worked out on him anyway. The memory of that scene that is most clear was the girl; I happened to look up as my partner pulled away and she was sitting just like that on the curb. It struck me as inevitably sad. He would’nt die, never lost his rhythm while I had him…and he should have. He died later in the OR. The nurse whistled the entire time I was trying to give my report; he really did’nt give a shit and I was bothered that I did. I can’t listen to ‘Blue on Blue’ anymore without thinking about that girl sitting on that curb; and sometimes I find myself humming it at inopportune moments. Funny, the things that stick.
Orson: It’s a fine poem. May we, for an instant, move away from the poem just there to where the poem came from? What I mean is this…every time I read poems by a certain sort of true poet (more or less every poet who remains somewhat within my ken…unlike Shakespeare or Dante for example who seem to create as God and who am I to try to
describe the universe?) I feel there are certain pressures or let’s say wants behind the poem…and I wish I could name them. What do you want your poems to do? What yearning is behind them? Or…what dark materials?
BT: I guess, Mr. Welles, I just want my poems to remember, to serve as some sort of marker for a whole lot of things I can’t forget. It’s nothing I can really pin down, and after all my years of sitting up with the dead, I find myself mostly numb. But every once in a while, a thing will jar me…like the girl on the curb. She was nothing; just another crack ho who’s probably dead now herself, but in that frozen instant she was something indefinable, something incredibly important if only to me and the dead boy; something worthy of note. So I did, note it, that is…and I guess that’s all I want my poems to do, just remember what most folks forget. The materials are nothing more than my life…I write only what I know.
Orson: Maybe this is the same as the question I just asked. What would you want your poetry to do that it doesn’t do? Which of your poems come closest to doing what you would like?
BT: Lets see…I would like my poems to be taken seriously. Let me explain that; almost everyone who reads my stuff dismisses it as ‘shock’ trash, poetry that’s meant to awe people simply by way of the language I use and the subject matter entailed. But I don’t do it on purpose; what most people never take the time to find out is that the language is MY language; the subjects are MY experiences; and it is troublesome to me when it’s dismissed as nothing more than words meant to elicit response by some deliberate use of certain words and scenes. Maybe that’s sort of vain, but it’s a worry spot. My very favorite poem of my own (and I don’t have many) has to be ‘View From A Flying Jimmy’. It’s the one that outlines the start of my every workday in precise and exact detail. It’s almost like a diary entry…and because of that, I like it best.
Orson: Here’s another fine poem:
She lay still, taut on the bed,
and watched as a fat spider
with spindly legs like eyelashes,
danced at the end of an unseen line.
It hung from a topmost corner
of the raftered ceiling,
its slight, somehow lewd sway
cast eerie marionette shadows
that grew long and slunk away
along the muted eggshell walls.
She pulled the thin cover to her chin,
stared at it frightened, yet seduced.
A chill like a creeping fog spread through
the walls of her belly in thick layers.
The spider swung itself upon a beam,
and perched in an awful, knowing attitude.
It regarded her in silent anticipation,
seemed to wave in secret conspiracy.
It skittered in sudden decision across the wood,
then vanished off the edge of her perception.
She thought without effort of the Buso,
Mananangal of long forgotten nightmares,
and waited in puddles of cold sweat
for the sweet feast to begin.
Dear God, don’t you wish that the hypothetical intelligent reader were not hypothetical?.
Who has read this – did anyone ever tell you that they knew where Olongapo is or what the Buso or “Mananangal of long forgotten nightmares,” are?
BT: HaHa!! Almost everyone who has ever commented on this poem hates it. I’ve been told it doesn’t ring true, that it’s a made-up place, that it’s all just fairy tale bullshit. One guy over at PFFA told me that it was long on adjectives and horribly short on form, whatever the hell THAT meant. The actual root of this piece is simple: my father was in the navy during WWII, and fought in the pacific theatre during the battle of Leyte. He was there when Mac Arthur announced “All the phillipines are now liberated”. He spent many nights in the city of olongapo. He fell quite in love with the country as well as a Filipina girl named Corazon. When I became an adult and could wrap an adult’s mind around his stories that I remembered from my childhood, I understood that had he been born in today’s time, he would have left his family for his ‘heart’; the phillipines and his much-lamented Corazon. It was from him that I learned of these quite nasty Filipino folk tales, he liked to scare the shit out of me with horrible visions of this flesh-eating monster when I was around eight…and this poem is kind of autobiographical; the girl in the piece is me.
“They were the clubs and various entertainment-oriented businesses which welcomed American sailors and Marines to Olongapo City, Philippines. Despite the Navy’s dire attempts at “OPSEC,” every Filipina in every club and bar knew just when American naval vessels were due to arrive at the adjacent Subic Bay Naval Base. Banners hung over every club entrance with such greetings as “Welcome USS Pelilieu,” “Welcome sailors and Marines, USS Blue Ridge.”
A visit to Olongapo was special in many ways. To the sailors and Marines not stationed at Subic, it was a chance to get the hell off a ship, into some civies, and into the most exciting town in the Orient. For newbies, this was their chance to experience what had become legendary – a night in Olongapo. For returnees, it was an opportunity to visit old haunts and look for old friends (yes, usually Filipinas). For the bar owners it meant money, and lots of it. And for the Filipinas employed at the various clubs it meant not only income, but often the chance to meet the right guy and, if they were so disposed, to start the move eastward.
There was nothing quite like the excitement servicemen felt at liberty call the first night in Subic. While a few unlucky guys got stuck with Shore Patrol or some other duty, most of the sailors and Marines waited anxiously in line aboard ship for liberty to be sounded. When it happened, hundreds of hungry, thirsty, and incredibly bored men shot off the ship and toward the main gate.
Even before the servicemen made it off the base, Olongapo made its presence known by booming rock music over the gates. Even those new to the base were able to find the front gate by following the thunderous bass radiated by the nearby Playboy and Hot Lips clubs.
Once you made it past the guards at the front gate, you crossed a bridge which spanned a river known simply as the “Shit River.” Not a pleasant name, but fairly appropriate given that raw sewage from the town was often dumped into it. Boys in little, flimsy boats beckoned from below the bridge, telling passers-by to throw pesos or centavos into the river. When a coin did get thrown, the boys would dive into the filth and somehow retrieve the coin. The navy eventually tried to discourage this practice by putting a fence along one side of the bridge.”
Does this sort of thing never end?
Now let’s see what else:
“Mananangal – The most feared Filipino creature; also known as wak-wak in the Bisayan dialect. Common people believe the wak-wak is always a woman. Between six or seven o’clock at night this creature finds a secret place near her home. She bends her body down while her legs remain rigid and straight; her hair becomes stiff and nails turn into long sharp claws; her eyes grow bigger and eerily glows; while large bat-like wings protrude from her body echoing the sound “wak-wak-wak” as it flies along. It preys on the livers of the sick and disobedient children who refuse to come indoors at twilight. They are especially fond of developing babies in their mother’s womb; whose blood is sucked by using its tongue as a threadlike proboscis which enters through the mother’s navel. Vigilant eyes, garlic and a pair of scissors or thorny branches should be kept beside a pregnant woman at all times. “
and the Buso another kind of monster.
I love this poem and now it might be illuminated somewhat. The girl waits for the monsters – who is she…just that Filipina who will be used in the usual ways by the usual monsters..
Did you ever explain this poem to anyone?
BT: I tried to explain to the idiot at PFFA, but he was’nt listening. No one else has ever asked for explanation; they have all simply dismissed it as a worthless crock of over-done imagery. I am very pleased, Mr. Welles, that you know of such places and things.
Orson: Damn that was fun. And what a poem…really. The descriptions exact and, again, shadowing so much.
So, let me close with this. Last of all, is there anything you would like to add?
BT: Yes, Mr. Welles, as a matter of fact there is. I would like to add that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with you, and it has been my honor to have been the subject of your interest. May I request a tune of the orchestra? Please have them play ‘La Comparista’…it reminds me of the wonderful Meridian Room where I first tasted champagne. Good night and adieu, Mr. Welles; and thank you for our time together.
Orson: And now this. As an immortal spirit I charge you to keep writing.
Starry night and you alive alive oh. Until we meet again.
In a few moments we will take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton, New Jersey.
We return you until then to the music of Ramón Raquello and his orchestra.
(MUSIC: “STARDUST” PLAYS FOR A WHILE, THEN QUICKLY FADES OUT )
We are ready now to take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton where Carl Phillips, our commentator, will interview Professor Richard Pierson, famous astronomer. We take you now to Princeton, New Jersey.
(ECHO CHAMBER. SOUND OF TICKING CLOCK.)