Jack Foley


Because I have no idea
What time I was born,
At the stroke of midnight
I was eighty.
Had spent several hours
Sixty years ago,
I wrote a poem called "Orpheus."
Which was truer,
My stories from the time
Or the poetry I wrote?
Which opened
The door of the past?
A breakthrough, "Orpheus"
Had gone dead in me
For sixty years.
I had recited it only once
When I was twenty or twenty one.
Speaking it last night,
On the sharp edge of eighty,
The words arose in my mind
Like the sudden wave of illumination
The poem had been
In 1960.
I was there
In Ithaca, New York,
In front of my green Royal Portable,
Adelle in the next room,
Wondering at my fury.


He spent his life
In the compilation of a dictionary
This dictionary was an endlessly incomplete
Record of everything he had said
And everything that had been said to him
And every thought he had had
And everything he had read and seen
It was all words nothing but vowels and consonants
Words seen words spoken words he had dreamed
On endless nights when his thoughts turned
Restlessly half forgotten
It was a book and not
A book his word for it was poetry
But really it was nothing but a dictionary
The words that had clung to him as he lived
Among flowers and trees and cities and people
And air and rain and grief and joy and
The sudden understanding
That all words led out of themselves


Into nothing into the way reality

Was present to the endless fountain of his mind.


You try to keep it together
but it gets old and
falls apart.
What was once
in some kind of order
becomes chaos.
You turn your eye away.
Is this what it means
to age?
The world itself
and your country
with a manic, maniac president
at the helm
seems infinitely chaotic
beyond the reach
of even the fiction
of reason.
Was it time
that did this
or constant lack
of attention?
turns to anger
and anger
is everywhere.
These are the bones
of history
not its fruit.
Two thousand years
and we are nowhere.
Full of false creeds
and the disappointment
of friends.


"If men at forty will be painting lakes
The ephemeral blues must merge for them in one,
The basic slate, the universal hue.
There is a substance in us that prevails."

If men at eighty will be writing poems
They will tell stories of their long, long lives
They will attempt a summary of sorts.
There is a substance in us that prevails.

Or is there? Is it longing that we feel,
This certainty? I was a man of forty
But that was forty years ago, and now
I am a traveller in the realm of thought

Or is it time? I was a child once long,
Long ago. But I remember still
An elevation of my childish mind,
A sudden ecstasy of comprehension

In which time stopped, though time was hurrying.
I am a man of eighty writing poems
That seem to be an exercise in love
Yet may be nothing but a way for me

To trick my soul. I am a traveller
Who moves from world to world and back again
And flies on words but scarcely moves at all.
I am the moving shadow on the wall.

Jack Foley has published 17 books of poetry, 5 books of criticism, a book of stories, and a 1300-page “chronoencyclopedia,” Visions & Affiliations: California Poetry 1940-2005. He became well known through his multi-voiced performances with his late wife, Adelle, also a poet. He currently performs with his new life partner, Sangye Land. He has presented poetry on radio station KPFA since 1988 and has received two Lifetime Achievement Awards. A new book of Foley’s poetry, When Sleep Comes: Shillelagh Songs has recently appeared, and Duet of Polygon, a collaboration with Japanese poet Maki Starfield, is forthcoming. Poet/scholars Dana Gioia and Peter Whitfield have edited Jack Foley’s Unmanageable Masterpiece, a book of essays dealing with Foley’s Visions & Affiliations.
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Blogger Dave Read said...

These are excellent Jack. All of them. Thank you for sharing your work.

6:10 AM  
Blogger mesechabe said...

Dave Read is right. Fine poems. I had to send Spots of Time to some friends of mine who live in Ithaca part of the year & New Orleans the rest: it seems like everybody lives in Ithaca at some time of their lives. Except me. Thanks.

9:49 AM  

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