The Apotheosis of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is 100! I can still see him, larger than life, when I close my eyes – he has never died.

He existed on the planet of his birth for over ninety sweeping orbits of its sun. Transitory was his life, specular, reflective, but also burning with his own light like that sun. Doing the impossible on a Monday, or a Tuesday, erecting stiletto monuments of flashing silver thundering out from his imagination’s dream-machine; Mars suddenly alive!

Remembrances of dew-grass running moments from childhood’s middle and end, fostering a hundred thousand newborn ideas as his own children, aware instinctively that life is for love. Creation and Love. He talked about feeding dimes into the belly of a typewriter clacking, clacking on chiclet keys, letters to set the world afire. Definitions of this reality understood by others, brocaded into silk and linen and worn on feast days, every day a feast; each book a wonderment, prose and poetry distillations of his memory.

The lucky reader, no matter their real age, reverts to a childlike state in the pages of his worlds. How could the shivers not run across your spine when the dark carnival came to town? How could you not feel the endless drops of rain splash with metronome insanity on your head, lost on Venus, a melting, writhing fungus world?

Skeleton fiends, tick-tock robots, slice-of-life catharsis, nuclear annihilation leaving man’s machines to run to ruin. Have we listened? Have we understood? Did the ghosts of Poe and Melville and Wilde leave the breadcrumb trail to his door? Did you find it and knock?

Who answers that door? Jovial-giant, mischievous as a gnome; made of preternatural talents beyond our easy categorization.   This man, this writer, this storyteller could make his own affairs read like deathless prose, Mark Twain would have loved him, asked him to smoke a cigar somewhere at home in Connecticut, feet propped up on a Victorian ottoman, puffs of tobacco percolating around two sainted-white snow-capped heads. I pray that heaven exists so souls like his could continue their rocket ship arcs through the cosmic wonderment. What a loss!

But celebration takes precedence over mourning. If we spent all our time weeping we would miss the factual, the actual:

Ray Bradbury was a churning sea of originality that could fish itself; his pen a rod. His reel a hundred thousand white sheets of paper speckled with black ink and magic.

Christ, we were lucky to have him.

I met him twice at Acres of Books in Long Beach, California. I watched him speak at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I’ve seen him interviewed countless times, I’ve seen his photograph in magazines and on the back of his books, him sometimes young, him sometimes old. I’ve even dreamed about him in that hazy way one dreams about a friend who you wish you could talk to again after a long time apart.

I’ve written many things about Ray, including these poems which were written over the last ten years or so. All of them have been published together and individually. I’m offering them today for free – so you can share my love.

 

September 5, 1932

Rigging, masts, a thousand square yards

of canvas and rope await the

creaking call outs to comrades:

Hoist!

Lift!

Hoist!

The waterfront is thirty miles away,

the only ships to be found are

down tracks that curve into distance

highlighted by evergreens

and just about-to-turn birches

waiting for a cold snap.

The town nearby skirts a ravine

the three story Grand Hotel revels

in ruddy brick sturdiness in a green town of sturdy people.

The rain barrels are full

the grain is harvested.

Somewhere a white steeple

is shrouded in the steam of roasting corn.

The canvas rises into the sky,

at night electric arc lamps burn retinas

elephants breath makes clouds of mist

scented like oats and the unknown.

Away clangs iron sledgehammers,

children in their beds hear African rhythms,

dream avalanches of peanuts, cotton candy, and penny whistles – they twitch in nightmares of

sideshow never-memories,

electric eels circle hidden, invisible

pumping ethereal lightening through

the pale incubating hands of the sacred

practitioner.

Soon, some lucky boy will be touched by his sword of fire and be given

the gift of eternal life.

“Live Forever!”

But not yet.

The barker rests his voice.

The Bearded Lady shampoos her beard.

Around the town on grayed clapboard fences are vast lithographs plastered in expensive segments, they announce in vulgar color –

that the carnival has arrived.

 

Listen to the Echoes 

He got autographs in ambushes

movie stars and radio voices

five fingered stampeded

by a pudgy little guy with glasses

holding out his flimsy pages

for penciled in appellations.

The paper is pulp stock cut

down in tree form somewhere

in Western Washington

“look out” shouted by a man

in wool, his fingers bloody

from grabbing the rough bark

and sawing his limbs off.

This is what it takes to make a

collection, this is the work of a

lifetime.

This the paperboy hawking front pages

from the corner of Broadway and 9th

this is the autobiography of ancient

Martians

the wellspring of compulsory

poetry pasted into scrapbooks and

hidden on tall, moldering shelves

to make minarets of memory

and a tower out of talent.

The little boy got shocked and singled

out

the little boy got a glimmer of

tomorrow

the little boy got ahold of the

universe’s strings and won’t let go.

 

Sci-Fi Society

We were young

crowded around those tables

knocking elbows

cockeyed

looking at the ladies

trying to be suave

trying to be Cary Grant

and Jimmy Stewart

with Cagney faces

but we played fire

with words

hitting keys hard

typewriters splintering

that wide future

seductive, erotic

in the way virgin boys

dreamed about it

while the old men

(Heinlein we chuckled)

took it for granted

that love and rockets

would be equally tame.

Cigarette smoke curls

to the yellowed

ceiling tiles there

at Clifton’s

soft vibrations of

micro-elations

our art budding

poetry embryonic,

short stories sweet California tonic

for our Depression.

Ray stands and delivers

soliloquy

of wet Venusian

fungus, he kids

the laughs are

quick and ready

our Society brothers

shake their heads

and look out the

window to Los Angeles sunshine

and imagine that beyond the blue and

into the black

is tomorrow morning.

 

SS Normandie Burns in New York Harbor (Meeting Maggie)

The Normandie was burning in her

New York harbor.

It was a nebulous sensation

the question of fire and the man

who watched the cork life vests bloom

how fascinating, how pure

to see the ignition of plasma

and watch its growth from birth

to her groaning metal collapse

into the harbor, the water sprays

are now floes of ice

like a knife at the throat

but isn’t that what love is?

A tough tug on the blade

that sharp edge sinking in, cold

despite the hothead willing it’s disaster?

Crippled in the moorings

capsized in the dew

flames that once burst, turned to

wrinkles in the sheets: compassion,

compulsion the indiscriminate apologies for waking up the

ocean

for shaking the anchor’s chains

dumping out the bilge water for the

hope that remains

to welcome the terrestrial spirit in the

realm of the forgiven to hold the

bellows tight, when in whispers

she asks that you pump as hard as you

can to reignite the charcoal in the dark.

 

When the Future was Real

When the future was real

when warm ocean breezes blew

around the Cape in late afternoon

giant spaceships trundled through the

sand to find harbor in the rust-red

arms of home.

When and how were questions for the

scientists, Why was the assignment for

the writers.

Bottled energies in liquid oxygen

in machined chambers of the heart

in black Indian ink

in the sharp point of the rocket’s nosecone

in the pen as it bites paper

and watches as it bleeds out.

Remedy for melancholy?

How about festivals for vacuums above

and Hells below, bony fingers jammed

in tight cookie jars never able to pry a

prize no matter how loudly the German

cries.

I washed out the fishbowls

polished them in Windex

and placed them on astronaut’s heads

I woke the Wonderland fallen silent

and promised them more glory than any man had had since the Lord Jesus,

supping with his dozen Argonauts in

realms of spirit, saw the Truth.

 

Before this firecracker is lit,

I have given them the highway map

and I pray and pray and pray

as immortality descends again for the

first time in 2000 years:

“Lord give them the whole of Creation.

The turbines of imagination turning,

Lord give them archangel’s wings

here, when the future becomes now!”

 

Inspiration

I had to buy some inspiration

the well had run dry

the go-to stash was Poe in macabre navy

blue

an old print, just a fancy cover to

make it new

the pages crisp as fresh

twenty dollar bills the little red ribbon

bookmark starched like my father’s old

button-on collars. There goes the

ramparts of the House of Usher! How

about Walt Disney building a

replacement for Sleeping Beauty’s

castle? All creaking floorboards and

weeping wallpaper, with animatronic

Ethelred slaying giant dragons of plastic

and copper tick-tock gears! But maybe

uncle Walt wouldn’t do that there in

stuffy old Anaheim maybe it could be

done somewhere on…MARS. Not just

for fun, but because Poe was banned

down here. We burned his books,

burned out his memory

all that’s left

are craggy daguerreotypes

left in the 19th century. Too many PTA

ladies pissing themselves over

tintinnabulations, afraid of mustachioed madmen courting their consumption ravaged cousins.

 

No, it’s Mars for the house that Usher

built stinking in a marsh, as unholy

horrors decimate the book burners,

taking pages from the fiction they’ve

condemned.

 

What is in a Place? (On the Demolition of the Bradbury Home)

What is in a place?

What essence exists within walls and wood and paint? Can the individual long gone still reside as textured-plaster echoes?

Like spinning wheels trundled a hundred thousand times capturing in minute scratches the drone of pumping limbs.

Or in myths of ceramic turntables recording the voices of ancient Greece, whispered shards of Homeric balderdash, and retuned Aramaic out of Palestine?

But a home, a building that people lived in, can it record? Each footstep on wood floors and socked feet drug on carpet for electrical lightshows, the purrs of cats etched into drywall with whisker vibratos.

Kitchens churning pots of pasta from twenty years ago snatches of laughter from a party-inflated sense of humor a summer night in 1963.

A basement enameled in white, lined with shelves and a million leaves of yellowing paper

stacks of toys and gifts and remembrances forgotten

or in bedrooms, quite yes but with that soft and sometimes ragged breathing from embraces tender or snores like thunder.

Flaking yellow paint embedded with sunshine, starlight, and backyard’s green grass gesticulations, ready to be primed and played like a hologram in three dimensions.

Does the brick tickle you? Do the nails transmit radio plays, or endless Goldberg variations in transit across the face of a slightly-delayed wall clock?

Are the memories still there when the walls come crashing down-broadcasted in force, a trillion gigawatts of power, sine waves of invisible, intangible humanity hurled at the speed of light into the Cosmos?

Or is it just dust, old museum bones knocked down for sexier stock; a dumpster in Glendale ignominious but necessary?

I know the answer.

 

But not everyone does.

 

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