Ways and Ways to San Jose

In the Spirit of Edwin Markham and Henry Meade Bland

by Al Young, California Poet Laureate

 
SJSU Legacy of Poetry    
 

He drew a circle that shut me out--

                Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

        But Love and I had the wit to win:

                We drew a circle that took him in!

-- Edwin Markham

 (Outwitted; 1899)

 

These endless ways to San Jose --

ways and ways and ways and ways that start and end in the heart.

 

Geometric space-time floors us every time,

so fourth and fifth dimensions simply slap us around.

Length and width and height we grasp,

but mix it up with time and we go blind.

Go no further, we say. I need to burn a disk.  

And yet physicists, mathematicians,

Buddhists, nudists, poets painters, dancers, musicians

--they get it. Filmmakers get it, storytellers.

Time stretches and bends; life neither ends

nor begins at the where or what, nor at winning points

we'd like, so what to do?

 

Markham loved the underdog;

we jail and kill and cut.

So how to link our wind-toxic, sky-blasted,

fear-bloated blues and the cannibal gobbledygook

look, scent and taste of our time-twisted views

to an American populist's poetry of the used-to-be?

 

Sticking to the who, the why, the how long

enough to come back to the endangered now,

we come back home, we come back breathless.

Relativity, you whisper. Relatedness, I think.

 

The Man with the Hoe  that's all most ten-year-olds need

to hear. So what's the big deal? Is this poet for real?

Babies reared on scrap-irony and bubble-wrap opinion

suffer from space-time paralysis, distortion;

emotion-time shines and groans on them alone.

But they didn't come out of nowhere.

Backed all the way from Dream-Time to Eden ,

they came out of us.

 

To eyeball a video of somebody tilling isn't the same

as turning the poisoned soil -- the muscle and grit

your gristle and sweat - to keep your house

from falling down. To care where

 food comes from, where your fruit comes from, where

 clothes come from, your car, your gin, your medicine,

your loving kin, your friendly Zen.

 

Exactly how one great-grandmother's great-grandmother

snuggled her babies and fought vigilantes

of a particular morning by a particular stream

in the flow and turbulence of timelessness

tilts the flight of one bright hummingbird right here

we neither understand nor know enough to care.

 

When Edwin Markham circled in instead of circling out,

he split one evil axis with his pen. Love was his ace.

The very day at the State Normal School at San Jose that

Henry Meade Bland in space-time 1899

began to teach the art of reading poems and stories

(and later the craft and path to making them)

he was handing out love-tickets.

Without readers, writers ride out

a lonesome trip.

"I'm the yellow of ripening grain,"

Bland the poet confided in Sierran Pan

for which Markham penned the foreword.

 

Let's hear it for the spirit that suspends and sustains us.

Let's hear it for years, for the weight of all the centuries,

the millennia it takes for us to get the feel again, again,

again and again the length of each chain,

the feel of each link that hooks us into each other.

 

These endless ways to San Jose --

ways and ways and ways and ways that start and end in the heart.

 
 

This poem was written by Mr. Young for San Jose State University's 150th Anniversary and in honor of SJSU's Legacy of Poetry.  It was published in Reed magazine, Issue 60, 2007. Mr. Young read it a Legacy of Poetry event on April 5, 2007 held in the King Library at SJSU. Printed here with author's permission.

 

This page last updated April 7, 2007

 

Last Modified: Apr 30, 2016