i wrote this poem in the fall of 2004 and published it in Roofing and Siding in 2007. I'd moved to Fordham Ave., where the sleeping was uneasy, and a rowing machine downstairs kicked in every morning at 6:00 AM no matter what. I'd sent an essay on bpNichol and Patchen to New Literary History and was about to begin my first semester of adjuncting at UB. This is the original version, which is slightly different from the version in the later book, where it goes by the name "Mining That Coppery Tone":
Mining the College, Boy
My mines troubled with wrath,
my lines treacly with thefts.
Stolen: musty lathe of steel,
that a.m. shy penny profile
accused of sprocketry
in the dim melancholy
of false sirens
with true import.
That soap really takes a layer off.
Thanks for the tip on bankruptcy.
Which part didn't you like?
This is your defense,
so why are you so defensive?
I didn't dream it but saw
somewhere projected on the old beach-towel screen
the chin-thrust face of a woman in shame
like a profile on an old penny.
Slack again in various week-timed
month dredge and fact of one's whole private world
cumbered and yet the veil torn and less
strength to continue, to push through.
It is about interior integrity.
Hand it across with your penny.
I looked somewhere crawly
for my soul
almost to address it,
things at hand feeling corroded,
mechanistic, as though imagination had fallen
Our ginger footsteps say what in the
great cold outside has more durability
than the flash of light,
the photographer's flash,
or the bubble-fluff concentration, illusory found sound
of a siren on a rock leading us to memories
of when the keys belonged to each of us,
and all was held in trust,
like a penny.
I guess, reflecting back on the amazing readings I heard last night at Medaille College in celebration of Raymond Federman's 80th birthday, this is a poem that halts midway between a "saying" and a "playing"--it stops to look around after going only so far on its way towards the full pleasures of a writing that says as it un-says, a poetry-performance that can invoke the space of literature even as it empties out any assertive writerly function (as in "authority") by way of content-ment. I was directed to this poem by a line in something Steve McCaffery had read last night--and this is crude paraphrase--to the effect that "Heaven is a bank in which God has failed to invest."
The young man of the house where I lived liked to defend the penny, and would proclaim his cause loudly--"SAVE THE PENNY!" with hand raised in the air. It was fun to bait him sometimes as to the value of using pennies. In the end, I gave him a few buckets of pennies I'd saved up over the years. As an adjunct, the money was tight. Poetic values were uncertain and could fluctuate madly at any point. What was a dollar-value to the mining it would take to make my lines & references add up? "Expenditure without reserve" was the claim made for culture, but that seemed a supply-side injunction. What a crazy line of work!! The college boy had dug down deeply in order to coin the metal within him, though it would have been a lot more fun to swirl around on the multicolored film-surface of the bubble. That way you have air within, and air without, a balance of pressures, and smoky Brownian complexities to keep you from realizing you're about a quarter mile above the earth. If anything, I learned last night (and have to thank Jaye for pointing this out) that the mere context for a story just about brings all the pleasures of storytelling into view, and the more we find genre frames to push through, the more we gain a vantage of just how easy it is to unravel a genre through the slightest tear at its margin. Even though I wasn't drinking last night, I got ripped! The margins let you know the mettle of what's inside them--and yes, I do trust. What was Joyce's first book called? Pomes Pennyeach.