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:
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
electric eels circle hidden, invisible
pumping ethereal lightening through
the pale incubating hands of the sacred
Soon, some lucky boy will be touched by his sword of fire and be given
the gift of eternal life.
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
This the paperboy hawking front pages
from the corner of Broadway and 9th
this is the autobiography of ancient
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
the little boy got a glimmer of
the little boy got ahold of the
universe’s strings and won’t let go.
We were young
crowded around those tables
looking at the ladies
trying to be suave
trying to be Cary Grant
and Jimmy Stewart
with Cagney faces
but we played fire
hitting keys hard
that wide future
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
soft vibrations of
our art budding
short stories sweet California tonic
for our Depression.
Ray stands and delivers
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
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
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
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!”
I had to buy some inspiration
the well had run dry
the go-to stash was Poe in macabre navy
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
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.