Ken’s poem for Gus

Gussy

Gus
Albuquerque, NM

“Earth angel, earth angel, the one I adore”
–The Penguins

Ten months after your death I got the news.
All that time you were still alive.  Each week
I thought of you or told a Blaisdell story,
The way I saw you first, at my front door,
Six hours late, the middle of the night, festooned
With leaves in your hair from the back yards you’d crashed through
As curly haired as Bacchus and as stoned:
“Your neighbors don’t know you, man”—you kept shouting,
“Professor Fields, goddamn it.”  The next three days
We talked and drank around the clock, the only
Trace of that conviviality, the phrase
“Far fuckin’ out!”  We said it a thousand times,
Late sixties eloquence, we never looked back.
We burned our lives to the rail, in a few years,
You sobered up and in a few more, me too.
From then on we remembered what we said.

You got to Stanford through a pachuco gang
In San Diego, tattoos on the backs of your fingers.
Arrested for stealing a book, you finished high school
In a bad boys joint run by the nuns.  The bookseller
(Later your trade) thought about what you’d done—
He’d never had a thug steal Wallace Stevens,
So he sent you all the Stevens in his store
And In Defense of Reason, strange remorse.
This Winters is smart, you said.  You came to Stanford
Where Uncle Lumpy, as you called him, loved you.
Your master and mine, he called you his wild boy.
One day the dean of men confronted you.
He’d just found out about your tattoos.  “This school
Is a gentleman’s school, and I expect you to act
Like one, at least, and not come back next term.
We’ve never had anyone like you.”  When you told Winters,
He stood up, pushing his chair into the wall,
And stumped across the quad.  “I never knew
What he said to the dean.”  Hell, you know what he said,
“This boy is ten times smarter than you.  He stays”

You only taught the best:  Mrs. Bridge,
Basho’s Narrow Road, Kurosawa,
Chris Marker and Descartes’ Meditations:
“Wrong in every one of them, but read them
Like a French New Novel, narrated by a man
Trying to keep from going mad, and failing.”
You were my only intellectual.
Your charm,
Your beautifully vulgar equanimity,
Brought learning to the table and the street,
“Where the rubber meets the chode,” I hear you laugh,
The rude road Strode rode.  In that quick riff
You’d hear John Ford, Woody, and Sonny Rollins,
And the Duke holding court at The Frontier,
The all-night diner where you said good night.
When you described a round bed with a bedspread
Printed with a target—“it was like ground zero
At a fuckathon”—my wife fell in love with you,
“The funniest man alive.”  And you still are.

“Not too many words between myself
And the world outside,” you wrote.
Well, more than you let on.  A single room
Is overflowing with them, “Some white puff
Just beyond our mouth.”  I want to phone you
When a doctor tells me of a patient complaining
Of fireballs in her universe, another
Suffering immaculate degeneration,
And a man controlling his rage by taking something
He called Hold Off.  But no one’s home.
Gus,
Fireball, immaculate degenerate, you hold off,
You’re somewhere out there, as they say at Acoma
(Simon Ortiz recalls you at Okie Joe’s),
You’re somewhere out there, Gus, or as you’d say it,
(Corazon, baby) you are far fuckin’ out.

Ken Fields