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Dawn

Often now as an old man

Who sleeps only four hours a night,

I wake before dawn, dress and go down

To my study to start typing:

Poems, letters, more pages

In the book of recollections.

Anything to get words flowing,

To get them out of my head

Where they’re pressing so hard

For release it’s like a kind

Of pain. My study window

Faces east, out over the meadow,

And I see this morning

That the sheep have scattered

On the hillside, their white shapes

Making the pattern of the stars

In Canis Major, the constellation

Around Sirius, the Dog Star,

Whom my father used to point

Out to us, calling it

For some reason I forget

Little Dog Peppermint.

What is this line I’m writing?

I never could scan in school.

It’s certainly not an Alcaic.

Nor a Sapphic. Perhaps it’s

The short line Rexroth used

In The Dragon & The Unicorn,

Tossed to me from wherever

He is by the Cranky Old Bear

(but I loved him). It’s really

Just a prose cadence, broken

As I breathe while putting

My thoughts into words;

Mostly they are stored-up

Memories—dove sta memoria.

Which one of the Italians

Wrote that? Dante or Cavalcanti?

Five years ago I’d have had

The name on the tip of my tongue

But no longer. In India

They ca1l a storeroom a godown,

But there’s inventory

For my godown. I can’t keep

Track of what’s m there.

All those people in books

From Krishna & the characters

In the Greek Anthology

Up to the latest nonsense

Of the Deconstructionists,

Floating around in my brain,

A sort of “continuous present”

As Gertrude Stein called it;

The world in my head

Confusing me about the messy

World I have to live in.

Better the drunken gods of Greece

Than a life ordained by computers.

My worktable faces east;

I watch for the coming

Of the dawnlight, raising

My eyes occasionally from

The typing to rest them,

There is always a little ritual,

A moment’s supplication

To Apollo, god of the lyre;

Asking he keep an eye on me

That I commit no great stupidity.

Phoebus Apollo, called also

Smintheus the mousekiller

For the protection he gives

The grain of the farmers. My

Dawns don’t come up like thunder

Though I have been to Mandalay

That year when I worked in Burma.

Those gentle, tender people

Puzzled by modern life;

The men, the warriors, were lazy,

It was the women who hustled,

Matriarchs running the businesses.

And the girls bound their chests

So their breasts wouldn’t grow;

Who started that, and why?

My dawns come up circumspectly,

Quietly with no great fuss.

Night was and in ten minutes

Day is, unless of course

It’s raining hard. Then comes

My first breakfast. I can’t cook

So it’s only tea, puffed wheat and

Pepperidge Farm biscuits.

Then a cigar. Dr Luchs

Warned me the cigars

Would kill me years ago

But I’m still here today.

-James Laughlin

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