Hippie Squared: Woulds (Elegy for a Mystic Poet Died Too Soon)


a blogumn by Jeff Rogers

Photo Credit: Natalie Roberts

I think the advice that we give to others is often exactly what we need to hear ourselves. Have you noticed that? Do you agree?

I wrote this poem years ago for a talented, charismatic, ambitious poet I knew named Tony Clay. We were in a poetry performance group that evolved into a theater troupe called Gary Pony back in 1989-90. He was once described by mistake in a poetry reading flyer as “Frantic Poet Tony Clay” and the description always stuck in my mind because it was so appropriate. It seemed he could not be still. He was into the occult, he was charismatic and good-looking and he liked to seduce men, women and more men. He liked altering his state of consciousness, he liked club-hopping, he liked the glamor of being a poet. He really seemed to be banking on the idea that some sweeping change in human consciousness was going to come about by all of us doing our poetry and performance thing, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about anything practical ever again, he’d be loved and revered as the mystic shaman poet master that he was.

He ended up alienating many of his friends (a good story for another time), contracting HIV and getting beaten up in an alley in Paris and dying shortly after in a Paris hospital. I wrote this poem for his memorial and read it for him then. I’d said much of this to him once in a phone conversation, but of course it didn’t make any difference.

If you’ve been following Hippie Squared and Three Line Lunch lately you might have noticed I’ve been thinking a lot about how to ground myself in the present moment, get out of my narrator’s head, and many of the things, really, that I told Tony Clay twenty years ago (please don’t over-conclude by that statement, though; the only addiction I’m struggling with is caffeine–and the words in my head). Somehow that brought this poem to mind. I’ve always liked it. Here it is (after the jump):

Woulds (Elegy for a Mystic Poet Died Too Soon)

I would say to him:
you can be wild and still;

I would say to him:
you must learn to make magic
without luxury
of a sackful of tools and toys;

I would say to him:
you can learn to take up the rhythm
of the breath for your rhythm, the music
of the soft hiss of the blood
in your veins for your music, rather
than being danced and pulled
by all that crazy howling
around your ears;

I would say to him:
you must become addicted instead
to the altered state
of suspension
above the bottomless well;
you must become addicted instead
to the altered state
of falling back
into the arms of space;
you must become addicted instead
to the altered state
of coming up slowly
through the after-image of your own dream;
you must become addicted instead
to the altered state
of crouching in quiet at glade’s edge
and watching your own thoughts
like wild animals in the field;

And I would say to him:
with the help of luck
and trust you may find
that the true voice
is the one that will not shout
to be heard over all that frenzied motion,
is the one that will not chase you down
through all that frantic running-after-seeking,
is the one that can be heard as clearly
as you may see the paths and lines
in your own hand at rest on your own knee
when you learn to be wild and still.