zaterdag 21 maart 2015

Across the Mississippi

In een opwelling kocht ik jaren geleden The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, dat in de kelder lag van de American Bookstore in Den Haag.

Zwart omslag, dat aan motorbendes en bourbon doet denken, met werk van schrijvers als Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac en Alan Ginsberg, maar ook van Patti Smith, Tupac Shakur, Jackson Pollack en zelfs James Dean. Die van de films; hij gaf de doorslag voor de aankoop.

Op een nacht aan de keukentafel met veel whiskey heeft Rik er minstens een uur uit voor zitten lezen. De volgende dag was hij ziek.

Maar de bloemlezing is ook geschikt om nuchter in te bladeren. Zoals altijd kom je nu en dan iets prachtigs tegen.

Schoonheid zit ergens tussen een gedicht en een lezer. Een van de dingen die me het best zijn bijgebleven van het reizen door Canada en de VS toen ik een jaar verlof had (en met dit weblog begon) zijn de Greyhoundbussen, de lange ritten, de medepassagiers, de stops onderweg en de busstations. Alles proper in Canada, alles sjofel in de VS.

Mede daarom, denk ik, was ik zo geraakt door het filmische gedicht Across the Mississippi van Alan Kaufman (overigens ook de samensteller van de bloemlezing).

Het begin staat hierboven. Het hele gedicht is zo:

Across the Mississippi

We crossed the Mississippi’s muddy brown expanse in a blinding 
creeping over a big suspension bridge whose name nobody knew,
in a bus with sheets of rain battering windows feeble as eyelids
trembling in fear,
and we could hardly see but for glimpses of suspension cable over
the sullen river, on the banks houses like garbage cans with pedal lids,
and over it all a sky the colour and consistency of clay,
with an occasional lightening bolt seaming it like a cheek
wrinkled in angry laughter.
And we didn’t even know that we were crossing
the Mississippi until that bottle of Fleishman’s whiskey
fell from the overhead luggage rack
and the lanky driver with hair in his eyes, and rolled sleeves,
and a pack of filterless Pall Malls
cast a glaring boozy eye our way in the rear view mirror,
pulled over the bus right there on the bridge
and announced for the twentieth time since leaving New York City
that Federal regulations prohibit booze consumption aboard,
which hadn’t made a goddamned difference to anyone
for over a thousand miles so far,
and didn’t make a gaddamned difference now.
The drunkards still snuck drinks and the sober people didn’t.
And he put the bus into high gear and gunned it.
And this was as we crossed the Mississippi,
though we didn’t even know it.

Assumed it was just some trash river,
as some birds are trash birds – say, the robin.
A trash river, some of us thinking, a love canal,
an above-ground industrial sewer of radioactive Republican by-products
by which to contaminate and kill the poor on the merry road to profit.
So we didn’t even know that we were crossing that famous river,
had no way to know.
Most of us had never seen it.
I had come from a transient hotel room east of the Hudson to find
my gain in California.  I didn’t have much money.
When the bus pulled into a rest stop, I stayed on board – didn’t
stumble off like the others blear-eyed drunk on lack of sleep
to gorge myself on fast food.
I was making it across the continent on three loaves of wonder bread
and two jars of peanut butter and one of jam, and so far so good.
And that bottle of Fleishman’s that dropped out missed
a passenger’s big pink ear by a hair’s breadth, bounced
without shattering, and rolled to a stop against the bolted leg of a chair,
and the passenger, his name as I recall was Chopper,
reached down, retrieved the bottle, held it up with a big grin
and while everybody in the back of the bus roared with approval,
he waved it at the driver, who stopped the bus and made the speech.
And then, after a moment’s sullen pause,
suddenly the driver’s voice came on again, but kinder,
and he said with a gentle pride that surprised most of us I think:
“You are crossing the Mississippi River, on the Sasquahana
Bridge, and are about to enter the town of Shilo Springs.”
And the effect on us of this announcement was like what maybe the
Hebrews felt when Moses told them after all their wanderings
And afflictions:  You are crossing the Jordan River.  You are entering the
Promised Land.
Because everyone became very serene suddenly,
and reposed quiet in their seats,
some with heads cocked, and just slow-watching the passage

The ex-con wearing the shower cap, the hungry computer jock,
the professional piercer with earrings in his eyes and ears and exposed
nipples in a fishnet shirt,
the old woman with a garbage bag containing all her
possessions riding on her lap,
the Nam vet with a baseball cap grey beard blue eyes
the colour of anti-freeze,
that girl who looked like every girl I’d ever seen writhe nude
in the glaring footlights of a topless bar,
the silent man who refused our repeated offers
of whiskey with a tight, unresentful smile,
and even the loud, hard-muscled mustached guy
with a face like a skinned and butchered leg of steer
(but whom many of us figured for a killer of some kind,
in flight from his latest barroom manslaughter),
everybody, and that includes that stiff and uncommunicative
respectably-dressed middle-aged lady
with silver hair who shuddered when asked by the ex-con
for a match, everybody without exception
seemed to give up their tension and their fear
like the dying surrender of a soul on its way to final rest
and we sat back and just let the transition occur.
And on the other side of the Mississippi River it was like an older,
more innocent time in America.
There was a kind of canal branching from the main body of water,
and less turbulence to the rain
and we could see clearly through the windows
as an old time boat paddled its way to the interior
past banks lined with weeping willows,
and the houses were bigger than they’d seemed from the bridge,
they were stately grey with age
and big columns announced their facades
and dark mandala-shaped stained glass attic windows,
the kind you see in pictures in magazines,
suggested, at least to my mind, the sanctuary and safety
of a family cemetery vault, of time and place and the dignity
of knowing where you come from and where you’ll probably end up too.
And this calmed me, calmed everyone I think,
and then the bus met, to our delight, a roadblock
and we had to detour through little old time streets
and it was peaceful for a few brief minutes,
and then the bus drew up to the edge of a puddle
as wide and deep as a stream
and the brakes hissed and the driver’s voice announced:
“We are going to ford this puddle,” and we cheered.
And just then a man dressed in a green flannel shirt and denim
coveralls stepped from the door of one of the houses
and stood there stock still on the porch to watch.
The rain had lessened and as the bus descended,
Almost kissing the rim of the tires,
we watched the man’s face watching us
with a kind of compassionate interest, as if encouraging our
success, and when the bus climbed out on the other side
dripping like a baptized bather
the driver braked again.
“We’ll sit here a minute,” he said “to let the brakes dry.”
And that man on the porch,
I guess he saw our faces dim in the tinted rain swept-windows,
and lifted his hand in a wave.
A few of us waved back,
and he beamed a smile.  Then he turned and entered the house.
We heard the porch door slam, 
crisp and clean in the pattering rainfall.

Misschien vinden anderen hier niks aan. Maar ik vind het geweldig, magisch, ontroerend. Nu ik het herlees weer. En vandaag is het wereldpo√ęziedag, zegt de UNESCO. Vandaar.