The Story of My Life

Autobiography: after Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
watching a pride
of domesticated lions fight
for no good damned reason.
I am leading a quiet life
on Outlook Street
in Mission, Kansas,
half a continent away
from the town
where I was born
in Maryland, north of DC.
I am an American.
I am white and in the middle class.
I am middle-aged and soft
around the middle
in the middle of America.
I am fair to middlin’
as my granddad would say.
I have no right
to write about race
but I should
listen and listen and listen
and really hear.
I was an American boy.
I flunked out of Cub Scouts
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Han Solo
staring at stars
on my back
in the Great Plains
dreaming of piloting spaceships.
I had a baseball mitt
but couldn’t catch.
My Huffy 10-speed
took me out
of the driveway and on
to the gridded streets
of Longmont, Colorado
where I rode over
every inch of that town
and further still to Lyons
and across the Foothills Highway
to Boulder and then
the flat ride home.
I delivered the Daily Times-Call
at 4 in the afternoon
and 5 in the morning
on weekends.
How gray the ink
stained my hands
how strong the newsprint
scented my clothes
how heavy the weight
of the papers I carried
as I left our front porch
and how light
I felt on the walk home.
How that was work
and I came to know it young.
I had an unhappy childhood
yet it is hard to remember
mixed with the splendor
of aspen leaves.
I watched rockets on TV
and built my own to launch
on the football field.
I never got caught stealing.
I laid sewer pipe
in North Carolina summers
for $4.75 an hour
to pay for college.
I went to college
where Thomas Wolfe did
and when I look homeward
I don’t know what direction to face.
I attended three different schools
by the time I turned seven.
I served in no army
and saw no combat.
I worked third shift
at a Hilton in Charlotte.
I stayed awake all night
to balance accounts
and plunge toilets.
I protested the Gulf War
in Lafayette Park.
George Bush did
not notice me.
I marched from
the White House
to the Capitol steps
and at day’s end
slept at a Hilton
because the room was free.
I marched in parades
carrying a big bass drum
behind the farting trumpeters.
I am rereading
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
and my Facebook news feed.
I am watching
the Kansas City Royals
play in the World Series
for the second year in a row.
I have heard the Ginsberg Address
and the Victor Smith Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from
because I cannot
decide where that is.
I too have ridden airlines buslines trainlines
and traveled among
unknown men and women
and never once
not been in America.
I read the Bible
but doubt the flood.
I don’t know where I was
when Rome was built.
I have been an ass.
I have kissed a girl
in a rainstorm
and made love in an ocean
and watched a sunrise
from a mountaintop
completely alone.
I have wandered lonely
in a crowd.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
watching trees change clothes
after dyeing them crimson.
I have never set out
to walk around the world
but I have run for miles
and keep thinking
about doing it again.
Room weary
I stress
I have unraveled.
I have seen Funky Town.
I have seen the crass mess.
I have heard Stevie Ray Vaughan render.
I have heard guitars teach.
I have heard Tom Waits
in Saint Louis.
I slept in a starred hotel in Times Square
and in a flea trap in Denver
and I know why nobody steals
the towels from a Motel 6.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
reading résumés résumés résumés
trying to fill jobs
so rich men can make
money money money
telling machines
to tell people what to do.
I am the Classifieds section.
I sell a dream and I take my cut.
My office is at the crossroads.
I see another war is coming
and I see we have not
finished the last three.
The writing on the wall
writes itself these days.
Kilroy got that vacation
he wanted all this time.
I think he took his dog.
I stick to the alleys,
the streets are not safe.
They took away
all of the Plymouths,
the Oldsmobiles,
the Pontiacs, too.
What is a man
to drive these days?
I have driven the interstates
and crossed the Continental Divide
and wallowed in the woods of Chapel Hill
rebuilding a life.
I saw the towers
fall on television
when I was unemployed
and broke. I had a bad feeling.
It lasted eight years.
I am too goddamned young to die.
I moved to Kansas City
for a woman
who did not want me.
I stayed and found
the one who does
more days than not.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
contemplating futility and joy.
I am a part
of the world’s quick decline.
I have stared at night skies
in pastures and through trees.
I have written poems that I have burned.
I have leaned in drunken doorways.
I have sat on rocks.
I have suffered and I have loved
and I have sung at full voice
all of the words to I Want
You to Want Me.

I have seen the paintings
of the Wyeths and Warhol, Rothko,
Stanton MacDonald-Wright,
Jackson Pollack and Frida Kahlo,
Caravaggio, a Rodin sculpture of a hand
thrusting out of
a rip in space. I have seen them.
I am a man.
I am leading a quiet life
in my place every day
mowing the lawn
and watching leaves change.
I will be there when
the last leaf falls this year
and it will mean something
that I will write down
and scratch out
for being trite.
I will rake the leaves
with Donald Hall
and have a talk with
whatever happens next
in its dark and tattered robes
and ask it for a favor
you know just for me
to take its fucking time.

© Shawn Pavey, 2015. All rights reserved.

One thought on “The Story of My Life

  1. Your poem held me to the very last line. This is an accomplishment to keep the reader with you when you write long narratives. I remember the first time I met you. We happened to sit next to each other at a reading at The Writers Place. We were strangers, and yet, there was something about the space around you that felt comfortable and kind.

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