Saturday, September 22, 2012

Edward Field's Poem "The Last Bohemians"

This poem was dedicated by Edward to his friend Rosetta Reitz, who ran the Four Seasons Bookshop on Greenwich Avenue in the late 1940s.

This poem also inspired my "Last Bohemians" project, which Edward and I launched with a photo-and-text exhibit at the Westbeth Gallery in 2006.

--Dylan Foley

The Last Bohemians

By Edward Field
Taken from Edward Field's recent book of poems After The Fall, Poems Old and New (University of Pittsburgh Press).

for Rosetta Reitz
We meet in a cheap diner and I think, God,
the continuity, I mean, imagine
our still being here together
from the old days of the Village
when you had the bookshop on Greenwich Avenue
and Jimmy Baldwin and Jimmy Merrill used to drop in.

Toying with your gooey chicken, you remind me
how disappointed I was with you for moving
to Eighth Street and adding gifts and art cards,
but little magazines, you explain, couldn't pay the rent.
Don't apologize, I want to say, it was forty years ago!

Neither of us, without clinging to our old apartments,
could pay Village rents nowadays,
where nobody comes "to be an artist" anymore.
Living marginally still, we are shabby as ever,
though shabby was attractive on us once -- those years
when the latest Williams or Stevens or Moore was sold
in maybe five bookstores, and the Horton
biography of Hart Crane an impossible find.
Continuity! We're still talking of our problems
with writing, finding a publisher,
as though that was the most important thing in the world.
Sweetheart, we are as out of it as old lefties.

Someone came into my apartment recently and exclaimed,
"Why, it's bohemian!" as if she had discovered
the last of a near-extinct breed.
Lady, I wanted to protest,
I don't have clamshell ashtrays,
or chianti bottles encrusted with candle wax,
or Wilhelm Reich, Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence,
much less Khalil Gibran and Havelock Ellis,
on my bricks-and-boards bookshelves!
But it's not just the Salvation Army junk she saw,
or the mattress and pillows on the floor.
My living style represented for her
the aesthetic of an earlier generation,
the economics, even, of a time,
our time, Rosetta, before she was born.

The youth still come weekends, though not to
"see a drag show,"
or "bull daggers fighting in the gutters,"
or to "pick up a queer or artist's model."
But there is something expectant in them
for something supposed to be here, once called,
(shiver) bohemian. Now it's I who shiver
as I pass them, fearing their rage against
an old guy with the sad face of a loser.
Daytime, it's safer, with couples in from the suburbs
browsing the antique shops.
I find it all so boring, but am stuck here,
a ghost in a haunted house.

At a movie about a war criminal whose American
lawyer daughter blindly defends him blasted by the critics
because it is serious and has a message
the audience is full of old Villagers, drawn to see it
because it's serious and has a message,
the women, no longer in dirndles and sandals,
but with something telltale about the handcrafted jewelry,
the men not in berets, but the kind that would wear them
couples for whom being young, meant being radical,
meant free love. Anyway,
something about them says Villager,
maybe the remnants of intellect, idealism
which has begun to look odd on American faces.

Nowadays, there's nothing radical left, certainly not
in the Village, no Left Bank to flee to, no justification
for artistic poverty, nothing for the young to believe in,
except their careers, and the fun of flaunting
their youth and freaky hairstyles in trendy enclaves.

Leftovers from the old Village, we spot each other
drifting through the ghostly
high rental picturesque streets, ears echoing
with typewriters clacking and scales and arpeggios
heard no more, and meet fugitive in coffee shops,
partly out of friendship, but also, as we get shabbier and rarer,
from a sense of continuity like, hey, we're historic!
and an appreciation, even if we never quite got there,
of what our generation set out to do.

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

So true. The only thing sadder than becoming affluent and recalling the "good old days" of mattresses on the floor is not becoming affluent and being an old person with a mattress on the floor.