Tuesday, April 15, 2014

National Poetry Month: James Laughlin

"The Truth Teller"
(James Laughlin)

As I was walking along the sidewalk
Of 14th Street I encountered a mad-
Woman who, without pause, was talking
To herself in a loud voice, making
Wild gestures as she went along. I
Turned around to follow her, thinking
She might have a message for me, some-
Thing I ought to know about. Perhaps
She was in her fifties, a dumpy
Little person, her hair all in 
Unkempt tangles. She was wearing
A bright red dress which must have
Been given her by the Salvation
Army. Her high sneakers were filthy.

Although I got close to her, she
Was hard to understand. At times
Her voice rose to a shout. Was it
Yiddish, Polish, Italian she was
Speaking? None of those that I 
Could recognize. Was she echolalic? 
Probably she had been let out of
A mental hospital as harmless.
Then I got it: she was cursing
God in very rough language. "You've
Made a fucking mess out of this
Fucking world. No place for us
Poor people to live, nothing to 
Eat unless we beg for it. Only
The fucking rich people have
Anything and they don't give a
Shit about us. And the fucking
Police rousting us out of the
Good begging streets, fucking
Bastards the lot of them."

That was the message, and it
Was the truth, a a true message. 
When we stopped for the lights 
At Eighth Avenue I reached for
My wallet and gave her all the
Bills I had. She didn't thank
Me, didn't even look at me. She
Just stuffed the money into the 
Neck of her dress and ran across
The avenue, still shouting and
Swearing. "fucking world you've
Made, all shit, fucking shit."

"The Truth Teller" by James Laughlin appears in his 1993 collection, The Secret Room. Laughlin created New Directions Press after spending a period in Europe with Ezra Pond: "I stayed several months in Rapallo at the 'Ezuversity,' learning and reading," Laughlin told Linda Kuehl for the New York Times Book Review, "until Pound said it was time for me to go back to Harvard and do something useful. Being useful meant that I should publish books, because at the time publishing was still suffering from the Depression and none of [Pound's] friends, except Hemingway, had steady publishers."

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