Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Book of Jon

I just finished teaching The Book of Jon by Eleni Sikelianos in my intermediate poetry writing class. For those who have not read it, The Book of Jon is a memoir of Sikelianos' father, who was a drug addict and who died homeless. She did not know him well, and the book is a collection of small memories and pieces of his story that she is trying to make sense of. It is very much a fragmented work, filled with small prose sections that ring of poetry and poems. It is a wonderful book.

This book meant a great deal to me this year because I have spent the last couple of Friday nights (and hopefully every Friday night through the end of March) volunteering at the interfaith homeless shelter in town. I see so many men like Jon there, so many Vietnam veterans who have PTSD so badly that the only way they have found to escape from it is through alcohol or drugs. I have seen young couples, young gay people, people who are scared out of their minds because they have never before been homeless, and people who have been homeless for over twenty years and no longer remember a different life. I wonder what it would be like if each of them had a chance to have their story told. Would people continue to make comments like, "Some homeless people just want to be homeless"?

Over the next couple of months, I am sure I will talk quite a lot about my time at the homeless shelter. At this point, though, here is a poem from The Book of Jon:

I Will Not Go to Space

I will not go to space
in your rusty rocket "that rests
on coral waves" deeply
deeply golden in the frangible glass

Golden, you kill me
with your little mungo things, in the "Is he
dead yet?" game. For us humans, it's real
when a cat interprets that death. That cat
doesn't know we're not married, nor
what we are, shiny beads for eyes, little qua qua
of the ordinary legs
of ordinary women, and the men
who love them, them
ordinary legs, and the women who do

Golden, five million flowers' worth per pint
of honey to the left or to the right
of the sun; the translucent white gloves
of ghosts of larval bees tell the story
of an idling memory of a friend's house
in flames. We extinguish it. But when the soul's
on fire, add kindling. But, golden,
break my glasses, sip this folding golden
whiskey, let the talkies
of Kevin Costner get blurry in our minds, tan-
colored pretzels battling
over the batter's stand as the sun sets over the West
and western clouds on
Dog's Neck. Nothing prepares us for death.

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