DUKE The Poems as told to Laurance Wieder copyright (c) 1990/1993/1994 by Laurance Wieder all rights reserved distribution over the network as freeware is permitted for any other use, for information regarding Red Sea, or to obtain a copy of the bound book, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com voice: 516 475 1142; fax: 516 475 9673 Table of contents The Searcher/3 Buffalo Gals/6 Shot Down/7 Tara/8 Kachina/10 The Classics/11 Borderland/14 Hello, Pilgrim/15 Hard to Believe/17 Grauman's Chinese/18 Big Medicine/19 Soundtrack/20 Overland Stage/22 The Needful/24 The Letter "C"/25 Black Hat, White Hat/27 Afterword/30 The Searcher Any man who'd burn his draft card Will also burn his bra. Those birds Who squawk loudest about justice Haven't got the sand to stand up When the chips are down. I remember One time I was mounting this new filly For the first time when the phone rang. Heavy breather. "Well," Says I, "well pal, if you can breathe So hard, why not come by For a breathing contest. Hardest wins." Then she whinnied. Wham! His handset Slammed back on the hook faster Than jack rabbit with a greyhound Bearing down. That filly. Yes. You know, I feel about horses The way cowboys are supposed to About women. Take Marlene Dietrich: Maybe she was born a kraut, but she Spoke the international language Like a native, if you take my drift. Lots of times, when John Ford had me Sitting on some horse's back Take after take, until I couldn't tell Which end hurt more and my spine Would start to cave in, I'd just picture Her in garters with a chair Back between her knees, and mine Would straighten up. Look, I'm not going to lie to you, not even If you ask me about Santa Claus, Because somebody's got to tell it plain And, with the stuff the newspapers Serve up and people swallow, what Does it matter if I tell the truth? You've got to think a man's outsides Are what he's made of. If we had to Climb inside a fellow's head To know him-like spelunkers, Little lanterns on our hard hats, bumping Into sweaty rock and bat shit, sitting On stalagmites, echoing, flickering, lost While overhead the sun dried wash Hung on lines, and red leaves piled Underneath October oaks- We'd be gophers. So we go With the hand we draw, and pay Only when the other guy has more To show. Almost Indian poker. Sometimes You have to spank a kid for his Own good, not because you want to. Principles can make a person hateful. That dope who burns his flag may think He's saying something about freedom, But he's only saying "No" to someone Else's truth. You can't play the game And cry about the rules. Too many Good men died without a sniffle, Put aside their little doubts of right or wrong, Left their wives and families for Some European ditch, some jungle mine, Some six inches of Pacific beach. The sea is calm at Malibu today, A low cloud sits on Catalina. Far To the west, waves break On coral shallows. Is it death Or sunshine that's the cheat? A person could take now to Doomsday Chewing on these questions, and never Find he's any closer to the answer Than when he started, none the wiser. Buffalo Gals Hello there, little lady. That dress looks mighty pretty On you, not the gingham But that way you fill it. Care to walk with me a way? Thought I'd stroll out 'til the moon rose Over copper canyon And the desert turned A shiny frying pan Where we could sizzle In cactus shadows, coyotes Startled by the cries We'll raise, puffing dust clouds In their snooping eyes. No offense, ma'am, meant Or taken, just forget The invitation, just Forget you ever had A chance to yodel, to dance. Shot Down I didn't want to act the goof For our guys who took the Sugar Loaf On Okinawa. I knew the boots And hat and spurs were out Of place in front of that Hawaiian curtain, On that stage, and so I passed My hand before my face. An actor, too, has got to go Where he is sent, just like a soldier; When your president tells you What to do, you do it, No matter if they clap, or boo. Tara Sunrise in the High Sierra, First light dents the summer glacier. A timber wolf slinks off. Elk browse The bottom land. Dew beads webs The spiders spin between scotch pines. Here a man can scout the mountain Lion from a distance, and feel how God must, witnessing what people Do. Shut up in a bottle, in a jam Of cars, why not just eat the barrel Of a gun, and get it over? I'm not much for fancy thinking, but I think A man's been given brains for something More than sniffing his way from dish To dish, from drink to drink. I think This world is like a moving picture Of each of us, for each of us to watch, And get caught up in. Sure, it's sad Sometimes, some days so tense It hurts to look, yet who could tear His eyes away, could bear to duck out Even for refreshments? A lone harmonica, The chase, an old guitar plucked string By string, until the moon goes down. At heart, I'm just another tramp Along the rails, loafing 'til The fast freight. Some call the whistle Time, some take a chilly fright, Some answer with their own low sound. If there's a God, involuntary noises Which escape like steam through fissures Are the prayers he hears. Not my gravel voice, or yours. Marked one by one, awake Or dreaming at our post, against That bar we hardly measure up. Give me a shot. A double. Kachina The hidden grows. Those chants and steps, The magic circles the old shaman drew Inside the tent of skins, the doll He waved to snatch near dangers clear Of the sick soul, I never found The time to learn or understand much Less believe in. I treasure simple things That are not me, that come from far away And talk about what I can't say. I can't say Why, but it's my nature, like Yosemite. The Classics Spend over half a century In the motion picture business And you're bound to wonder About truth and power. It's okay to confuse me With the parts I play, The real hair on the toupee, I'm acting myself anyway. But parts of my own life Frankly stump me, hint some Invisible director, backstage Voices, forms behind the kliegs. As a schoolboy I loved Latin. Gaul is divided in three parts. My given name is Marion. My real initials are three M's. Each of my three wives was Latin American. Would a mystic say That I was born to play the Latin Lover? the marrying kind? I walked a long time in the shadow Of the tall man in the Stetson, A man who paints his face and feels Valuable, who sees himself as little As possible. I can tear myself Away from the mirror, easily. Drink leaning back against the bar. Hustle through the powder room. Better to stand like a lodgepole pine In Monument Valley, than have to turn The knob and find a crowd of strangers In my closet. When I'm called upstairs, I don't want my friends to read the Bible, Raise a stone. Just burn My body. Throw the ashes overboard. If the spirit lives on after I'll be looking down, although I've got A snowball's chance in hell of anybody Honoring my final wishes. Long speeches, Sobbing women, the last coffin nail. Words work where action fails. I never talked or acted cheap, as corpse Or one-line cameo centurion. What got me on this, anyway? The shock at seventy of seeing Me alive on-screen at thirty-three? The sea swell? This damn heat? Saddle up. Nobody's perfect. Not everybody's Tried so hard to prove it. Borderland To the south, a cloudburst Slicks the peaks, here Heat lightning flickers I'd be the ground Your toes tap time on The ear of corn you grind Your folk song Play the basin I'll become the Amazon Snake for ages down Our course, your delta Lazing in the rushes I can take the heat Hello, Pilgrim A little man might have to get A little drunk to speak his mind. A big man might have to get A whole lot more than drunk To figure out just where he left His boots. I didn't want my kids To hear me yelling at my second wife, But I'm not about to feel sorry For what's happened. When I call A fellow "Pilgrim," it's because He hasn't reached El Capitan, Because he's got the trail written On his face. Tibetan lamas pray By spinning wheels. So if a fellow's Always got his wheels turning, Even if he doesn't get around To outright praying, he may have All the religion he will need. Calling to the man upstairs Is like lecturing your kids: The more you say, the less they hear. I'd rather work. I'd work even if It didn't make me rich as Croesus. It makes as much sense as a mountain Does to someone in the valley. On the Atlantic, winter waves Look like mountains would If they were weak, and we could Move them, with talk. Hard to Believe Waking up each morning With a million dollars in the bank Feels good, no argument. Lose the getting up, A hundred million doesn't mean much. Bull elephants, fatigued By battle and their memories, Turn solitary rogues, Then stagger, heaped-up tusk and bone. Hard to imagine twilight porch light jumping checkers, Big city home game on the radio. It's easier to play tall in the saddle. It's easier not knowing where I'm going. Forget the doubles. When I can't shoot My own stunts, wash off the war paint. Leave the part that's like tobacco Smoke, like liquor in a dry man's brain Who's stopped believing in strong medicine. Grauman's Chinese Sid, there are no words For what it feels like to stand In cowboy boots, in wet Cement. Instead, I drove My fist into this sidewalk Where the stars forever set. Big Medicine This poor excuse for a singing cowboy Never shied away from a woman In war paint, or a showdown, or a hoedown. It makes no sense to play some weepy Painter at the tulip party scared By what he sees, when you're strong And ugly. It helps to show some manners. Six-feet-plus in stocking feet, I couldn't hide Behind a skirt or what went on inside of me. That's why I sit down like a veteran Apache war chief smoking packaged cigarettes While young bucks whoop around the fire. No Indian could ever dance like Fred Astaire. I never found, or lost, my Ginger either. Sometimes staring at the ceiling on a late night Turning in, the mattress rocks a bit, as though The big machine had stalled. I try to keep In motion, so I don't have to listen to the lies My body tells me, but when I drift I hear The wind out back blow hard, and boulders Sag like paper bags. Time was I might have lost My temper. Now a good day's one that I get out Of bed, and there I am, and didn't make it up. Soundtrack My music was the crack Of jaw against a fist, The splintered straight Back chair against a bar, The craze left by a shot Glass pitched into a mirror. Like I said to the drygoods Merchant fingering his wares, "Tuck it away. If I were you, I'd save that thing for bait." The trick was timing swing, Impact and camera angle So that wince and grunt rang True. My third wife strummed Guitar and sang the sad songs Of the south 'til I forgot The Alamo, the foreign enemy, Myself. And who's to say That I was wrong? A man Who kicks a man named for a dog? Once I outgrew my puppy fat, I worked because I knew The horse, the rope, the business End of a repeater, hopes And what came after better Than I knew my kids, or how I knew they were my kids. When a puppy whines, you either Let him howl, or let him in, And what you make of him He stays. No new developments. No self improvement. In love, As in the movies when the rain Blows hard across old pasture land, Watch out. Zeros at twelve o'clock. Apache arrows. Talking drums. The Padre shouting, "Cheer, boys, Cheer like Protestants," and me With little faith at all, And that a sign of weakness. Overland Stage Don't think back much To early times When shooting dimes Off tree stumps pleased The girls, especially Louise. Colt forty-fives At fifty paces, My partner's dummy's Wooden face, Those little touches would impress A corn fed Kansas Toast of Europe Pair of brim full Champagne glasses. Just tall, and strong, my name not yet Mythology, In hero's getup: White sombrero, Pancake makeup, Real hair and teeth, an opera Cowboy actor. When the lead sings Tenderfeet dance For the ladies. Gentlemen, the dust we eat. The Needful It's lonely off the reservation, Bad flats and white man's water, but better Riding out at sunup to a showdown with my nature Than waiting for somebody else to finish Washing, so I can go after. Too many years spent playing just Myself left no time over to be husband, Father, anybody else except a man who walks By falling forward, upright, with no net- One who's had to catch himself Talking about things I might not Know, unless I stopped midstream, looked Past the bank, the moving train, the summer snow caps Before I said the rest of what I had To say, if I had to say it. The Letter "C" An easy way to take off weight, But it's tough to sit up straight. Doc said, "Good thing You never were a dancer." Didn't have to ask why, Didn't need the answer. I taught a clumsy boy To dance with bayonets. I held my women easy. How many get to waste away Aboard a yacht in company, Can pay a little lady not a nurse To fetch the dose And read the mail? Talking doesn't help Make going easier, Just longer. For half the chances of a Chinaman I'd fall for everything again: Lights, smoke, the gullies Liquor makes on ice. Politely Smile at the joke, how Living right, the beast Gets tamer. Look her in the eye, And name the time and place. Some things it doesn't pay To know. "Si, si." For one: your Alamo. Black Hat, White Hat Marlene didn't like it when I rode Out of town any better than The others did. I liked her smell. I told her I would wear her garter on my sleeve Until somebody came along Strong enough to take it off, but she cursed Me like a gambler down to his last dollar Damns the greenhorn raking in His stake. Soon town was swallowed by the dust My horse kicked up. Near fifty miles of sulfur Flats and alkali before a well, The trail marked by cattle skulls, by wagons Capsized, broken wheels, by bumpy ruts. I loosed the cinch and walked. A condor shadow Slid across the desert like a clear creek Over stones. I could make the water hole By moonlight, once the snakes and lizards fed And crawled back underneath their rocks. Coyotes Howl. No Comanche here. No white Men neither. A twisted oak, dead long before Conquistadors dreamed Eldorado lay Over the horizon, marked the spot. I spread out my bedroll, hobbled dobbin, Smoked a cigarette, turned in. The moon Set. Her throaty words came back: "No human tie Will hold you, scout The sea of faces, Prairie grasses, Old, bald, rich and fat, A buffalo. Women Sniff. Men look away. Drink liquor. Faces Will appear, and tell you Things you cannot bear." Pshaw. My Dad, Dead since I was a kid, could hunker down Across this campfire. I wouldn't turn A hair. Gone, I will have all the time Left in the world, so why regret Someone I did or didn't kiss, a woman's Curse, a bad review. Enough To wear one saddle out on many mounts, To keep a cool head on the edge Of the Divide, new rivers spilling left Or right, uncivilized, rugged, polite. One thing scares me: done, I'm just the parts I played. Stars Fade. See, I traded hope, my share In common happiness, to rise Above the heads of men, to shine For others passing on the prairie, Sound and light enough to fill a dark Room, quiet, strong, and true. A man Of flesh and blood does not expect To walk the earth forever. Shadows do. Afterword Just because a man doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, people think he has no inner life. But it takes more consideration to lead a life of action, than to be a man of words. Anyone who doubts the justice of this observation need look no farther than these poems, spoken over a great distance by a man of few words. Besides the pleasure and excitement I knew attending his recitations, the Duke's visits provoked me to ponder any number of questions. Of course, I was more than a little intimidated by the star's presence. As reluctant to impede the incredible flow of verses from his tanned, translucent self, as I was certain that here was a spirit who would brook no cross-examination, several months passed before I felt confident enough to pose the obvious. One evening, after he had recited The Needful to me, I asked the Duke when he began writing poetry. Why did he write? and how it was that he chose me to deliver his poems tothe world? "I didn't choose you. You chose me." While I wrestled with that, the Duke gave me the benefit of his unique perspective: "I can't say I ever decided to sit down and write, but all the time I spent waiting for my scenes, I would think. Maybe musing's the word. I'd think about where I was, and what I was doing, what happened, and why. I'd lots of time, and the bigger I got, the lonelier I grew. So no one'd interrupt me. "If John Ford was directing, he'd have an accordion player squeezing out tunes the whole time, off camera and sometimes on. 'Red River Valley.' So there'd be this mournful music, and maybe the Tetons hanging over Jackson Hole, or the sheer cliffs of Monument Valley. "I'd look a bit, and think some more, take a rest between the looking and the thinking and the hearing. And these poems sprung up, like flowers after spring rain in the desert. "See, one reason I was so strong was that my insides and my outsides were the same. But an actor saying written lines doesn't have the chance to show his insides as his own. They belong to the part, to the people looking at you. Any actor tries to be his inside self inside a part, well, he just isn't doing his job. You have to ripple like a lake does when the wind crosses it, and shakes up that picture of the cloud on the surface. And who can say what's swimming underneath? "Understand, I'm talking to you now, man to man. I'm not telling you anything I don't know for sure, so I wouldn't bother asking me questions about religion if I were you, because you can't know what you don't believe, and maybe there aren't any answers that you'd want to hear. So just keep plugging, Pilgrim." Which was all he had to say on that score, which was already more than I expected.