Gerald Locklin: Five Poems

Gerald Locklin is now a Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Long Beach, where he taught from 1965 through 2007, and continues as an occasional part-time lecturer. A profile based on a retirement event was broadcast on NPR and is archived. He is the author of over 155 books, chapbooks, and broadsides of poetry, fiction, and criticism, with over 3000 poems, stories, articles, reviews, and interviews published in periodicals. His work is frequently performed by Garrison Keillor on his Writer’s Almanac daily Public Radio program, is archived on his website, and is included in all three of Mr. Keillor’s Good Poems anthologies. His most recent full-length collections of poems are Poets and Pleasure Seekers, Spout Hill Press, 2015, and The Marriage of Man the Maker and Mother Nature, Volume 2 of the Complete Coagula Art Poems, 2014. His books are available on Amazon.

Edward Hopper: Clamdigger, c.1935

I used to know some hilarious jokes
About clamdiggers, but I have forgotten
How any of them went. I do recall
That penises figured prominently
In them, though. This guy, sitting back
Against the side of the house, is holding
A long legitimate digging tool, and his hands
And arms are sinewy from using it.
His face is sharp enough to dig soft soil
Itself. A cap shades his eyes from the light
That renders the tall grass yellow, the sky
And house-paint bluish white, and the
Foliage lighter and darker than green.
A black trapezoid supports his legs, and
A silently brown dog replaces any semblance
Of shoes at all. The dog must be a model
Because that’s all it’s doing. There are no
Signs that any clams at all have been dug
So far, not by this Clamdigger, not on this
Pleasant day at least. The Calendar says that
Impressionism was the only Movement
That had impressed Hopper on his
Youthful travels in Europe. I guess he was still
Paying homage to its investigations into the effects
Of Light. Like most in the 1930s, he’d also
Acquired a sympathy for Human Labor, or the lack
Of it. And then there was always that
Loneliness Thing.

Edward Hopper: Sailing Boat

Birds of every feather
Oblige our sense of order
With the ways in which
They stick together,
The formations that they fly in,
The hierarchies of their afternoon prayer meetings,
Their worship of the sun, the wind,
Their internalized clocks and calendars,
Almanacs, and Regimental flocks.
We salute them in our sailing boats
And religious ceremonies,
Our billowing sails, and masteries of flotation.
There is absolutely nothing
They can learn from us.
Take, for instance, Frank Gehry’s designs
For the Disney Concert Hall,
And every other structure he’s designed
Since Bilbao.
When the birds fly past these,
They yawn . . . in unison.

Edward Hopper: Ryder’s House, 1933

Ryder must have valued his privacy highly:
As many windows—two—of modest proportions
On the three visible sides of the two buildings.
And what seems to be a tiny portal
For entering a storm shelter.
The rest is grass and sky or varying hues
And shadows, all studies of the effects of light.
Monet had a similar interest in light and shadow,
And he did them better.
In other words, and I hate to admit it,
The greatest American painter was maybe still
Not as great as France’s.

Edward Hopper: White River at Sharon, 1937

Maybe the clarity of the tree in the right foreground
Was to prove he had not lost his ability to delineate
In his headlong rush into impressionistic blurring,
But any individuality within the background greenery
Vanishes with distance into darknesses—plural intended.
The painted river is not white—that is left to clouds and sand.
The river is a flat blue wrinkled surface that suggests a lack
Of depth. I think Impressionism has in fact been defeated
By the expressionistic externalizing of the artist’s passions/vacuities
The influence more Van Gogh than Pissarro. That’s all fine and
Good: the viewer does experience a rush of dizziness and nausea
In the form of matter melting into recharged spatial batteries,
An explosion of conflicting subjectivities in a global, carnal cauldron.
Maybe I am reading onto this canvas the recurring nocturnal cinema
In which I am the only one I recognize in a wrath-night dancehall
Of strangers, aliens, vampires, vultures, the eyeless, the toothless,
The Grinning, Salivating Legions of the Damned.
Or maybe it’s just the revenge of all the salmon
I’ve been smoking.

Edward Hopper: People in the Sun, 1960

Two middle-aged people, in business attire,
Relaxing in their perfectly aligned
Folding wooden deck chairs,
Ponder whether or not to be alarmed
By the horizon of either foothills or azure waves,
That seem to be advancing towards them
Like a scene out of Macbeth
Across the meadow floor of level hay.
Behind them a more casually clothed young man
Finds more interesting than daylight
The only written text on view among
These people in the sun. The artist obviously loves
The opportunity to estimate the comparative lengths
Of the elongated shadows, which never let the people
Of the sun forget the injunction to memento mori.
The sun giveth life and taketh it away.
So far I’ve only had one melanoma—superficial, diagnosed
Early, and quickly removed. I’m convinced that my years
Of swimming without sunblock were less to blame
Than the radiation treatments the best dermatologists
In my home town fired into my facial glands to mitigate
A near-Bukowskian onslaught of acne that dampened
The social pleasures of my teenaged years.
For now, though, the geometrically ordered “X-es”
Of the legs of the deck chairs and their shadows
Bear false witness to the order we think we are
Capable of imposing on the universe.
(Author photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

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