Talking with John Gill at the Elysian Fields Cafe

Photo of Taughannock Falls, autumn foliage accenting gray chasm walls.

1.
You’re gaunt as Gauguin’s Yellow Christ,
John, and your iconoclasm is so ingrained
I see you’re cringing at that comparison.

You sure you can’t see it?
We could get you a sexy loin cloth,
hire the hippie carpenters at Knock on Wood
to make a splinter-free white-pine cross.

Of course, you couldn’t have
the autumnal hills of Brittany behind you
and no women in nun-like garb kneeling underneath,
just a stubbled, hardscrabble corn field and maybe
some awkward teen nerds from Dickerson High.

Okay. Let me try again.

You’re gaunt as Abe Lincoln, John,
who grew his famous beard because a young girl’s letter
apprised him that his cheeks looked so cadaverous
he was scaring folks.

Your photograph on the back of Country Pleasures
scared you so much
you would have started a beard right then
but you already had one so
so you shaved it off.

It wasn’t the beard, John.
Lincoln couldn’t do much about the twin gravestones
of his eyes, and in that photograph
yours are bulging and fierce
as John Brown’s in the raid on Harpers Ferry.

You got rid of the wild gray and white fringe
hoping nobody’d recognize the solitary abolitionist
who railed sermons at the winter trees.
“Free the slaves of love!
Unlock the hope-forged manacles
of their hopeless bondage!”

What do you mean, “That’s a little too weird”?
Okay, I’ll take one more crack at it.
The plain-spoken truth this time:

You’re gaunt as a scarecrow
in the unprized vineyard of American poetry,
John.

I see Poe’s inscrutable, gimlet-eyed raven
has settled on the floppy brim
of your rakishly cocked, Whitmanesque hat.
Try not to look so grim, okay?
Kick up your heels and flap those spindly arms!
Dance the sonofabitch away in your own eccentric wind.

2.
You step from the porch of your ramshackle house
in the sun-pierced coolness just after dawn
and head off with Sasha, ambling through weeds
into that remnant of wilderness
along the rim of Taughannock gorge.

Sasha wanders off behind her nose,
tethered to your calls as you lope the swerving trail
down to that outcropping on the cliff face
opposite the falls, a hermit’s throne
that gives you the illusion when you sit down
of being suspended in the slate-walled chasm.

You pull your legs into full-lotus
and stare at the shredded white ribbon of plummeting water,
eerily down-drawn but
held up by your rigid backbone.

Closing your eyes, you let the sonorous roar
become a mantra, drowning out thoughts
as you attend fully to each intentional breath.
Soon that tingling at the base of your spine
begins and after a time begins to rise,
the prana surging through, drowning you.

Timeless time has passed when you recognize
Sasha‘s bark, calling you back to your self, your place,
your life.

Informal outdoor photo portrait of John Gill with beard.

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David Dayton

David Dayton

See https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/david_dayton Here, you’ll find draft chapters of a memoir and poems I’ll select from to publish a book later this year.