Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Flaneur: a poem

"The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home."

--Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life


I am a Fullerton flaneur, 
I wander streets 
that have become familiar,
taking in the faces, 
the trees and houses
and coffee shops 
and bars 
and salons.

I walk to my morning coffee
past the museum plaza,
where the homeless gather
and skaters attempt kick flips
and bum cigarettes.

A well-dressed man
is talking real estate
into an android ear piece

and across the way Ernie sits,
wearing a sailor's hat,
listening to 
Creedence Clearwater Revival
on an old discman,
next to a shopping cart.
selling old coins,
an Indian head penny,
a dime from the 
Hoover administration.

In the college quad, 
the faces of students,
Arturo, the 22-year-old veteran
of Afghanistan, 
older than his years.

And in the library, 
Cheri is scrolling through microfilm,
old newspapers
and photographs from the 
1964 "Night in Fullerton"
when Norton Simon offered
to build his museum here,
but Fullerton was not ready.
Oh Fullerton, 
are you ready now?

Faces from the past, 
Florence "Flossie" Arnold,
Walter Muckenthaler,
and further back,
Domingo Bastanchury,
Charles Chapman,
Albert Hetebrink,
Herman Hiltscher,
the Klansmen.

and the faces of all the nameless
citrus workers,
Chinese, Japanese, Mexican,
the embarrassing and strange past,
now plaques and microfilm
and street names.

And one day,
I will be a face in an old photograph,
but not yet, not yet,
I have miles to walk
before I sleep 
in the archives.

On the way to Landon's,
I pass Terry and Nina,
heading to Mulberry St.

I borrow Landon's car
to drive to the pharmacy
and it feels weird to drive,
unnatural.  
I sold my truck
a year ago, 
and now I'm a wanderer,
a flaneur.

I buy Landon a Snoopy ornament
for his Charlie Brown tree.
Peace on earth,
goodwill toward men.

At night, I step into the cold,
headed nowhere in particular,
carrying a copy of Baudelaire.
Maybe I'll get a burger.

Corky is there, at Burger Parlor,
and we are sad together
for our mutual friend who has cancer.

Robert, 
stoned as usual,
leaning on his cane, 
his body bent,
smiling as I pass.
I shake his hand,
his crippled hand.

The former mayor,
now assemblywoman,
is out for her evening constitutional.

Inside Burger Records,
Bobby is pricing cassette tapes,
and Sean is in the back,
watching Warriors of the Lost World
on VHS.

At Max Bloom's,
The Third Man is playing
on an old screen, and 
Becky is outside 
scribbling song lyrics
into a notebook.

On the edge of downtown 
sits the Art Colony,
beside the railroad tracks,
beside the defunct packing houses.
And Valerie is painting,
and Mike is building 
new walls and lofts,
like the honeycombed walls
of a bee colony,
and Vince is buzzing about,
looking for a hammer,
a tape measure.

Baxter is there,
with passion 
in his stammers,
"You know why Fullerton 
is so conservative?" he asks,
"Hughes Aircraft."
Fuckin' Cold War.

Ricardo and Josue 
making concrete poetry 
and taking photographs.

Noah and Ezra,
drawing pictures
of the future.

Inside the gallery, on the walls,
a hundred photographs,
the faces of my city,

At The Continental Room,
Casey is spinning old punk records
and Troy walks out of the bathroom,
dressed as a bloody zombie,
ready to shred our faces off.
And all the cool kids are there.

At Mulberry St, 
Wayne is talking Red Sox,
and Kevin's eyes light up as I enter
because now we can talk about comics.
Photographs on the walls,
faces of men and women 
come and gone.

Jerry Christie, the former mayor
who came here every day for 25 years,
sat at the same table and ordered 
a salad that came to be known as
"The Jerry"

A painting of Debbie, a watercolor,
who had a raspy smoker's voice
that rose above the familiar hum
of the old bar,
and her widower
sips his Scotch 

Eusebio is there,
in a photograph circa 1985,
looking a little younger.

Faces of the original
Mulberry St. in New York,
Little Italy of the Five Points,
the faces of immigrants,
buying cheese wheels
and sausage
and tomatoes.

Midnight passes, and
new faces arrive 
from places like Riverside 
and Corona
and Huntington Beach,
as the restaurants become "clubs"
with booming bassy windows
and fat, stern-faced bouncers
frisking people for weapons.

I avoid these places,
but I observe the young men
in tight t-shirts,
the young women
in short shorts despite the cold.
I used to hate them,
but now, 
as with much I used to hate,
I observe and record.

At the Night Owl, a different crowd.
Singers, poets, writers, 
Ginsberg's "angel-headed hipsters,"
the nerdy brothers and sisters
of the clubbers.

And I feel safe among them all,
the bros and the hipsters,
the punks and businessmen,
the hippies and republicans,
the artists and the bouncers,
the homeless and the policemen,
well maybe not the policemen,
not yet.  

Miles to walk.

The bars are closing,
but still I wander,
past houses,
some darkened,
some illuminated 
by the blue flicker of TV screens.
I don't want to sleep yet,
not yet.

Out of the shadows 
walks Mondo, beer in hand,
invites me over,
where a fire pit burns
and the faces of friends
flicker in the firelight
and tell silly stories.

Slowly people leave,
some in pairs, 
some alone,

and when finally 
I reach my door,
my neighbor is outside, 
smoking.
She is black and,
not long ago,
could not have 
been my neighbor,
but now we share a duplex
and the occasional smoke.

And in these faces and places
is my city,
connected by
invisible lines and webs,
orphaned constellations,
and, as Mike says,
"Everything is alive."


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