My first little publication “Metamorphosis” was popular with the student body at Blair. I think they related to the general terror of being a teenager. As a self-appointed spokesman for my peers, I considered it my regular obligation to shock adults, especially my parents, at every possible opportunity, At home, this typically happened at, but was not limited to, the dinner table. The poetry I was writing certainly was having the desired effect.
My family as a whole had a difficult time understanding The Middle Class Tragedy. I had painted a rather dismal portrait of my father as an alcoholic, which he definitely was not. My mother was beleaguered in her noble attempt to raise four rambunctious sons, but she was not the frenetic or unstable socialite that I had described. And my brother John was doing the best he could do, given the calculated harassment that I put him through. In hindsight, it appears I had borrowed images from my relatively normal, albeit “middle class” family and woven them into a web of exaggerated parity and satirical shock.
At last I had found my style!
Tears was published in the spring of 1968 during my senior year at Blair Academy. I was 18 years old. The covers were “airbrushed” by misting cans of blue and red spray paint atop pre-mimeographed teardrops of text. The following poems are excerpted from the resulting pamphlet:
poetry, prose, etc.
by dick boak
mr anthony l cassen
mrs david miller
sketch printing assistance
(All text on this page © 2008 Dick Boak. All rights reserved.)
Georgy Kessel’s Dog
georgy kessel's dog died today
standing alone in the wet cement sidewalk
he waited eternally.....
frozen..... like a greek statue.
people walked by and laughed.
they'd never seen a dog cry
georgy kessel's dog died today
and a little boy with a beard
lay wounded in the grass and wept.
someone said it was georgy himself
but his parents denied it.
"georgy never had a beard"
until his dog died...
an immortal dog died today.
the mayor says he's very sorry
and he'll buy the kessels a new dog
after the sidewalk bill is paid
and this will never happen
georgy kessel's dog dies today
and everyday..... yesterday and tomorrow.
except a dog
and a small boy with a beard
running silently and still
toward an ice-glazed hill of Calvary.
Love isn’t purple miniskirt
to green-eyelid kissed
or fancy flake fingernails
coated with silver cutex
or fake eye-brow blue
with comb and brush
into tweezer desire.
Love isn’t naked
or pink pearl on paisley
or spider leg webbed stocking
in left rear levi pocket
Love isn’t visible
to mascara drip-teared eyes
these may be
Today is far from the yesterday
that passed through
the smeared newspaper headlines
into another dimension behing the sun.
I’ve captured Today in my mind.
My eyes don’t stop at a typewritten page
or smoke filled room
or even the cold rusted trees
etched and presses into a glass window-pane.
Today is climbing toward me –
gleaming and grasping my senses.
I can smell the sun,
hear the air
and taste the sky.
I can see through the auburn mist –
through that sparkling infinity
beyond the beginning and the end.
Air freezes me into existence,
into an ice-cube macrocosm
Today – it lasts as long as time
then it floats away
through depth and emptiness into a memory...
but I can penetrate it, break it away,
stand and run toward it in time
and although it is gone into another yesterday,
I sense that it was mine.
I lived and held it. I seized and possessed it
To A Janitor Crying In A Closet
(from Tears, 1968)
Behind a locked door
with brooms and cleaning fluid,
brass door-knob polish and dirt stained rags;
his companions and possessions –
he sits, the sad king
of his own linoleum world,
with dust streaked tears,
dripping from a plaster face
into a waste can.
his friends are the neat jars
with their keen patented odors
sitting like grandmothers
on their dark wooden shelves
and the brushes and brooms hang
listening to his inward sorrows
that never escape
the day is black behind his hidden door.
the keyhole is a star
in a universe of midnight secrets.
unseen in the dark
unseen in the smiling streets
he vanishes to the night – behind a locked door
where he weaves his crown of thorns.
December 1, 1967
Standing at our crimson windowsill,
our bloodstained pedestal,
our unchallenged throne,
our eyes blink
and tongues cause sound.
Hearts pump and faces contort.
with ‘blow your mind’ as a motto,
‘bob dylan’ as a prophet
‘protest’ as a weapon
and the birth control pill as protection...
‘the jet set,’ ‘the cool guys,’ ‘the wild ones,’
‘the in-crowd’ and ‘the squares’
spinning in circles and gyrations
with cardboard posters and buttons:
‘Pot is fun’
‘Kill a commie for Christ’
‘Make love, not war’
‘Where is Oswald when we need him’
‘Drop out and fly’
‘Draft beer, not men’
‘Ban the bomb,’ etc.
We cry for freedom.
We change to be different.
We are individualists, but we conform.
We’re cool. We don’t believe in things we can’t see.
We don’t believe in god.
We’re athiests and we’re secular-existentialists
and we like 50¢ words.
The caressers and the degenerates,
not complete without a ‘Lucky Strike’
and a ‘Budweiser.’
Running to New York City,
to Greenwich Village, Berkeley, to San Francisco;
running to ‘Freak Out,’ to get bombed
and maybe even get a sneak preview
of a crucifixion...
We’re bi-sexed, over-sexed and homo-sexed!
The one with mods and teenyboppers and psychedelics
and Rolling Stone records.
The generation that spends close to
a billion dollars a year
drinking liquor they are not old enough to drink.
And we’ve got the Hippies too!
The dime-a-dozen cats with long hair...
the buddha worshippers
the incense burners
the frequent fliers
the day trippers
the glue sniffers
the soul brothers
and all the rest...
The sons of freedom
and the fathers of illegitimate children.
The black power oppressors,
and the hypocrites.
They’re all there
and they’re all here.
Real people – you and I.
Too many tragedies.
Given in Chapel,
December 1, 1967
A 3 1/2 X 2 1/2
Wallet Sized Photograph
I found you
in all of your platinum beauty
lying face down
on the wet sidewalk
dropped by some false grinning lover
by mistake (or otherwise)
into a thought
and I picked you up
wiped the grime from your textured face
dried your tears
smoothed out the cardboard wrinkles
and brought you back
to a black and white life
in my mind
I loved you
as the only beauty in my world
your gentle image was close to me;
closer than you could have ever been
as if you knew my love
you walked away
through my fingers
away from my wallet
lost in a gutter
face up and waiting
with your posed smile
I sat contented in the audience. The usual coughing and whispering went on. The ceiling lights were bright in the theater and they illuminated a mysterious glow on the heavy green curtains that protected the large wooden stage.
Then there was a slow silence; a slow air that fell upon the curious grinning faces of those seated below. The heavy green curtain opened slowly and the deep stage was lit with a crimson glow, almost the luminous shade of blood. On the great platform, stood the actors. They stood quietly with their hands covering their eyes, and they blindly came to life, stepping slowly at first, then quickening their paces to a walk. There must have been at least twenty of them walking about in circles, then more came onto the great platform – women and men – increasing their paces to a wild crimson frustration.
I sat there with the confused audience, wondering what the point of it all was. Then I saw the great stage of reality and I understood.
One of the women stopped. She was an old woman with grey hair and spectacles. There didn’t seem to be any reason for her to stop. She just looked tired and I assumed that this was the case. Suddenly a short little man with a moustache bumped into her. In shock, he tore his hands from his face and the old gray lady did the same. Seeing reality for the first time, the stubby little man violently swung his fist at the woman. She fell hard to the floor.
The same thing happened when others stopped. With fierce swings and silent crashes the actors and actors fell to the ground. After minutes of blind struggling, only one young girl remained standing. The sound of smooth swirling wind passed and the heavy mirrored curtains closed.
The lights brightened from their dull flickering glow. There was no applause. The audience passed slowly out, aisle after aisle. A stubby little couple excused themselves by me and out the wood-carved doors marked EXIT. I sat alone in my seat. They were the last to leave.
I don’t know why I stayed. It was as if some strange force had sealed me to my seat – as if the play were only half finished.
Again the lights dimmed, not to the crimson blood tone, but to a cool aqua color, much like the hue of the first leaves on spring trees. The girl stood with her smooth pale hands to her face. The bodies of the other performers were gone, probably through the exit door into the outside world of shadows and mirages.
She stood in all of her beauty against the deep blue backdrop that opened slowly into another world – a world of moist blue-green grass, gentle plants and flowers with perfect shape and form. It was a different world, perhaps with a different sun and a different moon.
I watched her drift into the soft meadow, perfumed with the strong scent of orchids in the hot air. I watched her stumble and fall into the sweet grass, and as she eased her hands away from her pure skin, as she breathed in a golden life from the unscorched breeze, she became one with her green surroundings.
The lights grew bright and a clear silk curtain drew across the pale green light. She did not see me in the darkness. She did not hear my silent applause.
Act II – there was nothing more...
I walked across my row to the aisle and up to the carved wooden escape marked EXIT with its deep crimson blood-glow. I reached for the door but it held fast.
I walked slowly toward the great wooden platform and before ascending, I lifted my hands to my head. There were seven steps to the stage. blindly found them all and stepped into the perfumed air, through the parted silk curtain. I could hear her golden breath. I could feel the wet grass under my feet. I could even taste the truth in the earth beneath me as I heard the heavy green curtain close.
The play was over. There was no applause.
The World Is On Sale
The world is on sale –
lowest prices possible...
exchange your purchase at the desk to the left;
sales slips necessary, etc.
Buy a kiddy smile
with a plastic toy Jesus
on wheels – ONLY A DOLLAR –
greatest bargain since Beatle wigs
(or if you’re not up for smiles)
buy the special X-20
Automatic Army Surplus Machine Gun
great conversation piece...
comes with ammunition – limited offer
(or if you’re not up for conversation)
try our portable inflatable bath tub
handy on business trips
helps keep families together
(and if you’re not a family man)
perhaps you’d like an airplane
or a telephone pole
or a friend.
We’ve something for everyone willing to fight
and the world is on sale if the price is right.
fulton street blues
In melted ice graves
the sad fishes lie
with calcium scales,
and silver eyes.
Row after row,
cold and hard,
treaded in blood
with the smell of death.
The frozen tubes
that once carried the life fluid
stiff – and the body
that once pulsed swiftly
is now: For Sale.
The Middle Class Tragedy
(from Metamorphosis, 1967)
And the sun rises again
over the white-washed microcosm.
Then through the arteries of the house
flow simultaneously the tired bodies
down the staircase,
two by two,
upon the sunny side down eggs
lying cold in the kitchen.
Father’s munching his corn flakes
guaranteed to stay crisp
(provided you keep him dry)
“Just a little squirt of rum
in my coffee please,” he says.
“No cream or sugar.
It’s much too early for that.”
Mother’s in complete frantic
(as Mother’s usually are)
Grandfather didn’t like the eggs,
Or the coffee, or for that matter, anything.
So he drank her cooking wine
And now there’s nothing left for Mother’s tantrum.
The kid’s are crying already.
It seems that one wanted Kartoons
And the other wanted Kaptain Kangaroo!
So they compromised as children do,
To watch the channel 5 news
And seeing that neither wanted news
They cried instead.
But things are softer now.
Father’s off to the office
And Granddad’s out cold on the couch.
The baby’s locked in the crib
Secured with cotton and barbed wire.
And the kids have gone to school
secured with smoke bombs and squirt guns.
Mother’s fixing onion dip and crackers
with sprinklings of rare sugared ant wings,
and her hopes of maintaining
the utmost social status
without the garden delicacies
discussed with disgust
in the Wednesday Morning Flower Club.
The party’s over now and Mother,
again in complete frantic,
rants and raves
over the Gin, Vermouth and Bourbon
that so coincidentally walked unnoticed
out the door with the
Wednesday Morning Kleptomania Club.
A Salem to soothe the nerves
and a slow slow count
from one to five hundred.
Oh the hell of it all!
The kids will be home soon
Trailed by the usual toothleth leeches
And the stray wounded animals
Seeking the refuge of security.
If only they knew what security was like…
“Bang you’re dead!” and the kids are home
to crayon the walls
and trampoline the beds
and pinch the baby
and burn the sickly gray dog until –
it goes plowing out the door,
tail in mouth, seeking refuge.
And then to Mother’s pleasant surprise
the cute one has buried himself
in scores of Downy disposable diapers…
And the dog returns with father,
newspaper in mouth,
teethmarks to the “Great Society.”
Father’s in his chair
slurping his martini
avoiding the olive
at the same time
staring through his toes
at the human comic strip.
And Mother’s in the pantry
cooking marshmallows and Rice Krispies
with a pinch of arsenic
to keep the spirits up.
A smile of chagrin at the thought
of her cunning witch-like craft.
Granddad’s playing double solitaire
with himself; jumping up
as fast as his heart will let him
to take the Queen of Hearts.
(the only card without a move)
He always did beat Grandma
when she was alive.
And John’s in the cellar
with his beer and his billiard cue
shooting a masse with a left hand twist
on the twelve ball.
He made that shot once, but never since
and now he’s a cross-eyed neurotic
locked happily in the cellar.
Only one member left in this family.
The dog, so wrongly named George,
and George’s rabies shot is tomorrow
though he has no teeth;
he sits contented nibbling grass
and swallowing roaches that constitute
his healthy rabid diet.
The house is quiet now
except for an occasional explosion
of Granddad tripping over a spade
or Mother’s hungry disposal
or the cow-bell on the dog’s tail.
Yes, all is quiet now
except for the kid who dared to cry.
But then it happened, without a word
and Father gulped six martinis
in amazingly rapid succession
over the King of Black Spades.
And the dog howled, and the kids cried
and Mother spilled the Rice Krispies
and John growled in the cellar.
Everyone wished they were dead
except Granddad, who lay out-
stretched upon the paisley carpet
and Father said one holeymary
and Mother crossed herself
and the kids cried some more
but the stillness prevailed…
Then Mother exclaimed, “Dinner is served.”
Father staggered to the table
and George’s dog food rolled unnoticed
under the cellar door.
No one said grace, except Granddad
who had other commitments (obviously)
as did everyone.
And then the roof fell in!
An ugly silk cocoon
with its rutted tan threads
of lace and wax
lies on the branch.
So innocent and dorment
waiting to burst
toward the blue heaven
flapping violent – to keep the air.
Then with that silent crash
the Change sways toward the sun
free to the wind
with but one charge of life.
With so short a span
it comes to a stop
whirling down and swiveling
taken by current
like a falling leaf
into a perfume
A dimes worth of existence into the blind man’s cup.
The Last Page
The first word
and the last blood stained page
the last of faded frustrations
i feel diffused now
like the star’s light
miles away yes
this word game
it’s no good
the last page ruins it all
everything I say
by smiling prodigies
and frowning idiots
i’ll tell the truth.
this page is five minutes of thought
unlike the rest
but don’t worry about me
it’s all a phase
and i don’t believe a word i say
(even these last pages)