Excerpt from ​The Sunset Fires

by John Huey


#72-6: Forward with the Past

The poets stared down from their pedestals within
their distance in that far off place,
All in a rage, lurking there in the city parks, leering
at the lost young man on the Village Green who had
yet to see them.

To dredge the rivers with lost verses is a loser’s game,
past the brainstem, higher up to some level of meaning,
Pushkin, Yesenin, Mayakovski, standing there a world
away, the lives of the unknown accusers bereft of
much personal wisdom but transcendent anyway
despite their contradictions.

The youth was unprepared, decades from the encounter,
all this time making and remaking, the world and
the work internal.

The engine convulsed and the lash came down in the spring
of 72’ when mud and ooze eased down in the bottoms as
all along Rt. 9, way up past Wilmington, near those
Bennington aristocrats, the young man’s pages went,

flailing and blowing away from a fire in a barrel
willfully set, to burn just brightly enough to
illuminate a considerable despair.

Loving those times in retrospect but knowing, all through
the heart and gut, of some illusion at play, nights spent in
the bar with those far off spirits of early deaths, the self-
immolations hovering in the sense that what does not kill
you, merely, sometimes, leaves only a sense of loss.

Courageous always, my unwise friends defined their time,
but found, in the end, that there was some small accounting
to pay for frailty as we all avoided a reckoning, turning
outward then inward with a strangely diffident view.

All those many years later Mayakovski would be there glaring
across his square, Tchaikovsky Hall in the shadow of his eye,
forcing the absent youth to write of him as Yesenin, still also
a suicide, forced me back to my own hill, their violence
native to my own native grounds.

Displaced stanzas forced from my grasp, long buried
and hidden in the vale, now brought home with
twice the fury, tales told of both the lost and
of the recovered.

All praise should go with you, all the absent as well as those
with breath, all adulation as well as praise my dears, the
quick and the dead never hollowed out, all of you prepared
to fill the vessels of paradise, ready and overflowing with
emolument, none of the self-defeated here.

The young poet is now old, back with the dragonfly,
roaming the open field, present again in August,
up once more in that same meadow,
the crop now in.


#72-7: Amongst the Friends of Absence

I remember you, even if you have forgotten what
you were yourself, telling you this outright once,
being quite clear, pleading with you in that letter
written high up over W 23rd Street in the Chelsea,
copied out in the longhand of the time that
now escapes you.

I really do know who you are and all about the
bloody crucible that you were trapped in, the fluids
of Christ never going down like all such floods of
hysteria are meant to do, all up in a dead pool, fish
floating, as the fatal question arises in its course,
“What is it, my friend, about you?” 

Because, it seems, unaccountable as well as obvious,
that sometimes the facts of a life become too difficult
to manage and daydream takes the mind over in a
succession of fantastic maneuvers, avoiding truth to
embrace all sorts of foolishness,
nirvana and religion in play.

And when the chimes ring out in the town or valley
where you find yourself, what do you see in the dark?
Is it shadow? Is it light? Do the ghosts of your own
past imaginings come forth to bedevil you or are you
really beyond argument? Something I would have
never expected of you.

“Who the fuck are you and what are you selling?”
You might quite logically ask in the light of such
questioning and unvarnished judgements, which
would be, of course, a very good response if you
had just lied to me for some reason and not, so
profoundly, to yourself. 

For “Snake Oil” is still just that, sold off the back of
a broken wagon, building a tumble-down edifice of
delusion while those with the clearer eye are being
denounced as cynical, difficult,
lacking pity and charity.

Evermore, I’ll chose to remember you as you were,
before the charlatans took you and rolled the stone
away from the tomb and over what you used to be,
and I will see you still in all your fineness and
brilliance, real angel fire in
space all around you.

You were not the only one I lost this way, some
others rocked by the same dissociated anxieties,
dismembered by sorrow or a deadly nightshade,
prone to allow the presence of a cold hand,
the grip of what does not exist occupying
their precious space.

So, I’ll continue to construct this illusion of my
own, a preference to see you there rising to meet
truth, engaged with that fine metaphorical edge
you had, never glancing back at your fear,
facing us all with some ferocity,
fire of the eye in defiance of sorrow.

Your beauty never dissipated, never covered or dissolved
by circumstance, always with the fight left in you my
good strong friend, always, with the rest of us,
moving forward.


#72-8: Analogue Only

Constant travelers, we were forever in transit,
never more at home than in motion in the
physical world, movements in flux but
undistorted, perspective and foreground
in balance and unaltered. 

Never far from our standard deviation as well as
being possessed of a remarkable consistency, it
seemed, at the time and within the boundaries
of the possible, that we were nearly always
striking out on our own,
all adventurers.

For then there was no “virtual” world and we
were compelled to live in accord with our
experience, our self-images taken stock of by
ourselves, unfiltered by some machine filled
with sometimes malevolent ghosts, which, if
seen then, would have been viewed as
an infernal necromancy.

The very idea of publishing an emotional state
was confined to the conditions of art, where it
belongs, our confessions face to face mostly,
or, at a better remove than now, put down
on stationary and dropped in the mail. 

Connection being an intimate thing it was not
removed or at a distance, nowhere to hide as the
disembodied cowards now do, lurking on a flat
screen with a false name, we mostly knew our
correspondents, crazies out there then of
course but not unknown.

And though we got diverted by drugs, lust and the
fault lines of youth there was this stillness living
there in the chaos of a world being blown apart,
leaving much peace, quiet and a time to read. 

The humor in it was that, in our hours here as kids,
we most certainly didn’t know how fortunate we
were and the fates, as young people, we would escape,
and didn’t know what we had, still caught in the day to day
anxiety of being that good looking, just like the students of
any age, drama playing out as always there with all that
self-inflicted heartbreak close at hand.

In the deepest cuts, we were lonely there which was good
for us, solitary without exposure to news cycles, no video
records of enhanced personal biography spread across
the world with darkness visible to strangers, our loves
and our intentions kept to ourselves.

Most of us no different from the rest these days, caught
in our addiction to the fatuitous sounds of the worlds insanity,
the endless parade of ignorant lunatics across the phone,
the unbridgeable sadness of this emptiness haunting us all.

Not sad at all then despite repeated torments, I again recall that
stillness, the private thoughts un-intruded upon, the absence of
ringing distractions from the seasons in both sound and light,
the world spanned with unimaginable distances covered in
enigma, answers never instantaneous, effort required to
extract truth, terrible danger in the physical world
unfiltered and immediate.

Far and then farther from a faultless golden imagining,
the parts played by individuals were mostly intact,
as the clouds advanced across the fall sky without
sound or interruption, us then, in intense focus as we
spooled out our moments and there was nothing
disembodied as we moved through it all
in analogue. 


#72-9: The Fresh and the Fallen

To some it was a momentary assignation, for others
longer, always lots to do and time short, be it in the
city or of the mountains, passion high and all night
bridging the crest of arms, sometimes even the
briefest encounter still etched there.

Your breath then mixed with mine, lungs in parallel,
sound and light and day through till morning, much
that can now just be barely described, you in the
critical mass of that beauty, all of you, without
constraint and most certainly of the moment.

Movement, undulations wondrous, far above the expanse
of expectation, new as ever to me still despite the vast
territories of experience, of decades, the touch, the
luminous days always visible.

Heartbreak free at last, becalmed by age and flagging
health, moments of you still find their way to me,
self-validating despite impermanence and a lack of
caution, your force of character still indelibly real. 

The loves here now as they were when they were young,
stupefying loveliness evident always still no matter where this
iniquitous planet spins you, our delinquencies not delusions,
and of the hours used not one wasted despite loss and,
I’m certain, an occasion of fleeting regret.

Voices once only between us now in the quiet recesses of that
town of our true birth, overheard, the moment of flight
still close, always claiming a guardianship of
our unashamed vice and agitation.

Falling into bed with you all again, underreported at the time,
fine detail despite lost nights, the dates indistinct but not the
emotion, explorers of the exceptional, paroled by a
knowledge hard come by, never exploited
though sometimes unwise.

Matriculated dream nights of the longest sex imaginable, down
the green lanes and up in the roads of the clouds, mist falling from
the hills rolling with us to our rest, a conflagration there in the
passage of pleasure and revelation, our story
still fresh in the rendering.

No regret, no regret, no absence,
all dream, settled now between
us as we still lie there,
ass to cheek, bowel to bottom,
fine lip coursing over fine lip.

Fire below and fire up above,
mind and body complete,
there with all our terrors and
our abundance, time motion
mix of freedom.

Body and pleasure devoid of
guilt, follow us in those few
moments, believe as we did.

In the purity of our company we
ran their conventions down
to nothing.


#72-10: Last Exit

We are leaving you but still here,
always with you, never gone,
finely woven along the grain.

Like all the generations but more so,
we stood and were counted, totally in
our time and creatures of it, boldness
and determination unresolved, we
still slid off as all generations do.

In some triumph but not to say that
there was no wrong, much destruction
in fact, but mostly, in our way,
secure in ourselves. 

Certain to lose some threads while obliterating 
a predetermined destination and origin along
with the echoes of perceived repression.

Many things unwell but necessary in times
of revolt and not without casualty and error
but look, young ones, at what was attempted
despite the caricatures, self-induced
or otherwise.

Some did see a new age while others, the
driven secular skeptics, took a critical view
while still infused with those first lights,
multicolored angel times bright pulse
absent all loss.

And though you owe us nothing and may
resent the excesses of our freedom then as
you suffer the trials of these later days please
don’t project those failures to the rear.

Those days the “us” was never, even then, most
of “us”, we of the true age just another minority
in the vast expanses, aliens in the great void that
enveloped us.


Iconic, with progress made but unrealized,
freely expressed but not without a blindness,
caught in the fault lines and furrows of the
native lands of plenty and impoverishment. 

And yet, we shall never walk away from you,
my lost friends shouting to you, not here for
your media and adulation, they watch over
you and bless you.

Through their deeds and desires expressed and
unexpressed even though they have vanished, 
fashioned bright this bright day their beauty
never receding, undevoured and rising.

In these lengthening days, as the mechanisms of
brutality flourish, they stand, still in the streets
of Washington and Putney, New York and Boston,
saying no to all of that, rebellious, paying the price. 

As some perished there was, in those losses, bright
towers, much to gain from the sky, our birthright,
divinations of the morning seen in totality, as I tell
you now that this was not seen before or since.

Dead and still living we come down to you with good
intention, despite some wounds laced with
overstatements mostly not our own, misapplied
trivialities still assailing us.    

Not to convince you, we can’t, but being right in the
essentials we can and must, knowing the devils now
out to devour you, stealing your freedom purchased
by some lost friends at fatal cost.  

So, with pride of place and humility born of age, your
forbearance is requested and memory solicited as we
make a departure and leave it to you, and never doubt
the intention or set limits to our compassion despite
grave error as, just now, in our time, we wish
the best of our hours for you.

 

John Huey's full length collection, The Moscow Poetry File, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. www.john-huey.com 

​Eben Wood