In 1984, I moved back into 2 Garden Terrace after a few years in Portland, OR and got a job at the Coffee Connection in Harvard Sq. Those who knew the Coffee Connection will remember that it was full of "local color"--bag ladies, Harvard law professors, Reichian therapists, self-taught cryptologists, dark-horse candidates, runaway cult members and Friends of Bill W jockeying for position at the bar, etc. A certain number of the more noteworthy customers--the sort who were given sobriquets like 'The Belcher' and 'Liquid Man'--were current or former tenants at the Terrace.
There was one guy who turned up as a tenant AFTER I first encountered him at the Coffee Connection. I'd dubbed him E-Man for his habit of ordering triple espressos at the take-out register and belting them in one swig. He was a soft-spoken guy, polite but nervous and bug-eyed, always wore a black motorcycle jacket. He worked at Mystery Train records, and we used to chat about girl groups. Then one day, there he was at Garden Terrace visiting someone; and then he moved in. He had a little yellow kitten. The main thing I remember about him living there was that every day he would eat a head of iceberg lettuce and half a can of tuna for dinner, giving the other half of the can to his kitten.
E-Man--his name was really Dave--was not around very long. In another unexamined coincidence, he married the sister of an ex-boyfriend of mine and moved to the Midwest. Here is a poem he wrote, a record of his first visit to Garden Terrace. It was passed on by a friend. Dave, if you're out there, I hope you're doing well, and I hope the lineation is right, and that the scattering of letters in the first few lines was intentional.
AT (for Christina)
ENTRANCE damp night in Cambridge
V leaves rain heavy
N blurred lights in mist
the Troll leading the way--to a large house on a
corner--near the Observatory--beside tennis courts--
fences ghostly in fog--smell of October--leaf mold--
brilliance of oil slicks in puddles gleaming--
picked out by passing lights--
the Troll could be--
a well meaning friend . . .
--you'll like this guy--he reads books--does some
drugs--works for the Party at his job at the
Party guys ain't supposed--
--yeah but he's a writer, too, see--gotta
he writes for the Globe--
--Nah--works in the baling room--Union gig--lotta
what's he write--
--stories about the working man Jack
and drugs on the side--
--yeah he's a good shit--needs somebody to talk to
talk's cheap enough--
inside a long stair way mezzanine to mezzanine--a few
girls sitting in a darkened glassed in porch--looking
--at the top of the stairs, doors and corridors--
heaped--smell of a recent shower--dim sounds in rooms--
KNOCKING on the door . . . a muffled voice--
the Troll stood patiently--looking at his new boots--
scuffing a spot of leaf--a scrap of paper--a hint of
mud . . .
. . . door opening
sleepy eyes looking out--handsome face--dark hair
in dim light had a sheen to it
--yo I boughtcha a friend--he's cool--reads a lot
man--has a lotta books anyway--the guy i told you
long pause . . . eyes focusing . . . head turning
cautious to check the room . . .
Finally . . . the head moved behind the door--door
swung open slowly--
a nice room--desk with lamp, big armchairs, shelves
of books, big bay window looking out to rainy night--
trees, tennis court, distant street lights--giant
bed--boxes of records--
the handsome man moved catlike--flicked with his
foot a syringe under covers hanging from the bed--
looked as though he'd been long dozing--
rain picked up--the Troll lit a cigarette--floppied
in a chair--stared out the window--
moving through the dim lit room--looking at the walls,
a giant photo of Mayakovsky staring from a corner--
heavy as a blow:
' . . . unto Caesar . . . unto God . . . '
But where can a man
bury his head?
Where is there shelter for me?"
the Troll sat impassive in shadows--smoking--the
handsome man sat slowly down on the bed--his eyes
gleamed--coming awake--catlike movement
coiled in attention--
"I yelled at the sun point-blank:
Stop crawling into that hellhole!'
At the sun I yelled:
'You shiftless lump!
You're caressed by the clouds,
while here--winter and summer--
I must sit and draw these posters!'"
the Troll despite himself stared--cigerette close to
burning clenched fingers--the handsome man's eyes
smoldered--a convulsion slowly rippled his body--he
fumbled for a glass--
(and very cliche
shall have its day
its effects tried and true . . .
the mind wandering . . . has at hand
its few crutches
in a pinch)
girls voices in the hall--windows rain blurred light
streaked--the handsome man--
the Troll had said--
needed someone to talk to--
& so had dug up for him from a basement room near
the Mt. Auburn Cemetery a ghost--
to ventriloquise--for the benefit--of whom?
the Party man--the writer in search of experiences--
a dizzying labyrinth
an abcess in the labyrinth
erupted in space
(--turning eyes to avert the collision--so as not to
untidy the room . . .
an incessant voice shadowing remnants of a life . . .
no desire to leave its corpse on clean rugs--
in a warm room--cozy among covers--
desk lamps and padded chairs--)
the Troll on the way over--had recounted--a confused
story--a labored parable--of "Protective Custody" . . .
little apartment world,
curly-heded lyricists sprout in bedrooms.
What do you find in these lapdog lyricists?!
As for me,
I learned about love
In Butryiki . . .
fell in love
with the keyhole of Cell 103
Staring at the daily sun,
'How much do they cost, those little sunbeams?'
for a yellow patch
of light jumping on the wall
would thenhave given everything in the world."
the Troll jumped--the cigerette had singed his
fingers--he cursed softly--the handsome man rose
slowly from the bed--his arms arcing
as he moved forwards--
--Comrade! you know Mayakovsky!--
he knows a lot of weird shit--
the Troll was pleased with himself . . . he prided
himself on his surprises--he had a reputation
to keep up--and there might be
something in it for him . . .
the handsome man put out his hands--to shake--and
embrace--he seemed at once solid--and hollow--
a large construction in balsa wood--
the Troll sat perched expectantly--the handsome
man--noticing--turned to a cabinet--pulled out
bottles of imported beer--an opener--
moving to the desk--sliding open a
slim concealed drawer--produced two ampules--
Coversations-- may be worked like toy racing
cars--their speeds controlled--on a plastic track--
with each voice competing--
into the curve the handsome man went--excitedly--
steadying on the straightaway--
the Troll enjoyed such sports--was a one man crowd--
Mayakovsky's photo--large--glowered on the wall--
stop watches in his eyes
the handsome man explained his mission, his work,
his readings--his writings--his
collections of pornography and O!! music--
his car moving fast, lap after lap--curve,
straightaway, curve, straightaway--
the Troll supplied with beers
urging on the drivers--
the photo Mayakovsky's stop watch eyes whirring . . .
rain on windows--girls' voices--warm room--
ampules broken--a red dot on arm--
But the Third Writers' Congress wa troubling--
historical facts muddy myths--and vice versa--
the handsome man revealed--he was a Trotskyite
he had struggles reconciling his duties and his
desires--which he thought could be justified--
by writing--by being an observer and worker
at the front lines--of Party and prose--
--so--and you Comrade--
how do you know Mayakovsky?--
how do you reconcile duties and desires--
do you write--are you political--
my duties and desires
are the same--
--but where did you learn all this--
do you write--do you study--
do you believe in commitment--
the Troll stirred restlessly--uncertain of the
speeding cars--a yellow caution flag in his hands--
gesturing for another beer--
--I was committed--to Protective Custody--
he laughed nervously--
the handsome man waited patiently--serving drinks--
cleaning ashtrays--putting away syringes and spoons--
--pretty good stuff-
-he said--his eyes pinned, a slight smile--I only
get the best anymore--stolen from a hospital--
the hospital heist was legendary--the handsome man
knew someone who knew someone who knew . . .
--but back to Mayakovsky!--he's pretty good stuff
Mayakovsky on the wall--fine bottled beer--the best
of morphine--a slight odor of perfume--nice hardbound
books--comfortable chairs--a big bed--rain rolling
on window pane--outside the Observatory
and tennis courts--
Gorky means the bitter one--
--but Gorky's realism is not developed enough--
it is not easy to develop
--it can be channeled for use--my area of
the race cars went round and round--no one
would be at the Observatory on a night like this--
the Cemetery leaves must be heavy to brush against
tonight--the tennis courts slippery--
the Third Congress--festered--a scab the handsome man
dug at--morphine and and warmth stirred his
rhetoric--he spoke with lazy passion--
a fascination with distant deaths moved him--
in his panoramic view of history--of literature--
mythological battles were translated into
the facts of everyday struggles--his job--his
writing--myth and history speeding on a plastic
track--competing--for a drunken crowd--
the Observatory this night--had no panoramic view--
the domed roof closed against the rain--only a
seismograph inside registering planetary movements--
dim jottings of fault lines--
through an abcess in time--space rushed in--and in it
time whirred in photographed eyes--a record of light
once there--reprojected in a dim lit room--
through an abcess in skin--a liquid rained in--
mixing in veins to a pumping heart--
the lungs contracted--projecting dreamed images--
wet windows--blurred lights--a mirror on a half
opened closet door presenting their reflections--
room full of images--
the Troll was standing by the door--giving his
customary word of parting--a leap in time seemed
to have occurred--outside the wind had picked up--
the leaves gesturing frantically--making a
transient script of shadows on walls--
writing went on all around--signs everywhere--their
significances muted in wind--among leaves--
an old empty house stood on a corner where two
streets joined in a haphazard diagonal--the railings
of a metal fence punctuated by rust and dents--
its gate held by a padlocked chain--signs plastered
on boarded windows--
--they say it's haunted--
the Troll walked faster when passing it--he had a
few bottles in his pockets--that wouldn't be missed
for a day or tow--all in an evening's work--for the
the Troll dropped off and headed North--
asked for a thanks--his hands received opther bottles
not to be missed for a day or two--
the Cemetery with its hill looked like the hump of
the Observatory--surmounted by its tower--a telescope
stretched to clouds--a telescope stretched to clouds--
"If you wish.
I shall rage on raw meat:
or, as the sky changes its hue,
if you wish,
I shall grow irrepraachably tender:
not a man, but a cloud in trousers!"
leaves heavy with rain rustling restlessly--the
night patrol car's lights scribbling tree branches'
shadowed calligraphies on headstones--
among the famous and statued dead--
and far away the State statues of
suicided Mayakovsky stood--
is much too small for me.
Stubbornly a body pushes out of me."
Dave Baptiste Chirot