Starting across Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue at Haste Street that morning in February, 1974, I’d lived half a block down-street, sixteen years before. Facing up-street eastward, reaching the other side of “Telly,” a hard-times looking fellow sold me his need to help poor dopers get unhooked from being down and out. He handed me a copy of The Great Escape. I gave him a dollar, didn’t read it and wished I’d given him the other one (a dollar still went somewhere in those days.) After he gave me his Escape, I didn’t suppose he had any way to go except quickly to breakfast. He looked hungry, too; said it was a nice thing I’d done. His voice was nice, I think he meant it.
He was ten years younger than me but more gray. A lot more hair and maybe harder years. How do you measure pain and disillusion? Maybe he’d have gone back to school or he had a master’s degree already in social welfare, or survival. I thought, God rest you merry, gentle man, wherever you walked to.
The moment I crossed Telegraph Avenue, having been a navy radioman, I knew my doppleganger had been through here on a time-harmonic some steps up the ladder ahead and I had another old dream by the tone of its tale, so I wandered like the rear half of a tabby cat, not knowing to where, trending across campus, sniffing old and new with an intangible front end until I emerged on to Northgate, Euclid, nosing my way up to The Egg Shop & Apple Press (long gone, now.) Turning in, I heard the music, saw the table and knew I was “bridging the gap.” Sparks were flying through sparks between the head-phones, but slowly I was standing in my stationary wave, a statue surfing immobile within me, surfing a moving wave of normal reality like a statue in a wave breaking beyond time. I had never used dope because I’d found that with sounds and breath one could do it all.
I had a sandwich with cider (I’d enough coins in pocket to pay) and asked them to turn up the music for a cross-current rip-tide. Nothing like more complexity to simplify things. How deeply simple is the solar storm at the edge of a cyclone-centered galaxy, the apple under pressure in the heart of man, the egg slowly exploding with the cosmos blindly in its eye.
I know I’ve been eighteen years hatching. Starting at 25 I’m almost done, finding I had wing-stumps that needed room, a horse with wings, hay didn’t matter, I’d had enough in that quarter century to fly on. Beethoven didn’t need to hear and I didn’t need much income, only output to clear my channels. Eighteen years spent tapping inside a shell were not too long. The quills of my mental wings were warmed and fanned by the Masters of Tang and Sung, the Troubadours, the vanished voices of Ionia, Attica and Aeolia. Pure force remains. Blind will finds its way to capacitance.
How many times to anvil comes the battle crown of freedom that has been so often struck by the mace of power and the phalanx of dearth? The mystery behind poems is a symbolic dance. After The Great Escape one enters again The Great Confinement in a larger egg. A shaman beats time on the thin shell of the world. All those big words start saying themselves. You listen and talk back as a chorus of invisible people on a stage around all time. Well, that walk from Telegraph across campus and up Euclid was almost forty years ago. My poetry’s eggs and apples are pretty ripe, by now.
I’ve cracked through most shells in my life. I’m so free, I hardly know where I am.