Excerpt from "Cathedral-Tree-Train
and Other Poems" by Richard Elman


for the memory of Keith Sanzenbach (1930-1964) a California painter from New York

Thinking On It


I wish I could sleep a million years in amber.
Some small yellow jewels on the shelf behind
my bathroom mirror at night would also be
very chic for taking me to the other side
of Standing Lake
                           (But some people are coming
dressed in antlers, and others will just lay about
in trays forever, curling up on themselves, pink
telephone messages never received.)
                                                            If this mirror breaks
garden party should continue all night long,
despite heavy fog, big yellow
bug candles like gelatin
capsules lighting our way while the Beach Boys play,
over and over again,
wish they all could be California Girls!
                                                             All night long, with nobody
dancing beside this pool that was a sky
above my night table, and the congealing chili
pots of raw umber on the patio, surf
sometimes louder than the partygoers. Moon
seems drugged tonight, almost bilious,
the way California moons sometimes seem to be falling
out of the sky, the cypresses on the rich lawns
boasting darkly, as they drink
the champagne air of these cliffs, of a new drug
that brings happiness to some by making just about everybody else

It's in a place in Baja called Chiquilta,
meaning 'ticklish place',
that almost semi-permanent stupor in stucco
and raw adobe where the landscape giggles and strange birds,
nibbling on the oranges in the punch bowl, sing
to Jackson Pollock, and Sam Cooke, and Brian Jones.
"The lonely place," Luxe, calme et volupte,
like a houseboat beached some miles away from the water.
(But some people can't afford even this.
Some people build their hovels on the sides of cliffs,
or live in geodesic domes that always leak.)
So did Keith think that to just disappear into the
thin air of Chapter 11 with only a shrugging of
his shoulders was liberating?
                                                 The party
was breaking up anyway. No telling when we would all
be getting together again. Telephone me. I'll give you my number.
"Are you listed in the book?"
(Coincidentally, in one self-portrait
Keith was listed as Stanislaw Zimmerman:
I wore my party costume called "The Mother & Child
of Bloody Rags." Must have been another goddamn dream:
this small brown thickly-wrapped bundle
was the child. Must we see all of mother as red?)

When the world breathed one black lung back at Keith
he wore this scarf of blood. Cold. His smile
was like a wound, then wood. The number of jewels
he swallowed also suggests that Zimmerman was dressing again
to go out of himself for awhile.

Reprinted by permission of of the publisher: Mark Weiss, Junction Press, PO Box 40537, San Diego, CA 92164. junction@earthlink.net. © 1992.