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California Plush Analysis

Author: poem of Frank Bidart Type: poem Views: 13

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The only thing I miss about Los Angeles

is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and

radio blaring

bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower

on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard


--pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars

--descending through the city

                   fast as the law would allow

through the lights, then rising to the stack

out of the city

to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep

              and you on top; the air

              now clean, for a moment weightless

                        without memories, or

                        need for a past.

The need for the past

is so much at the center of my life

I write this poem to record my discovery of it,

my reconciliation.

                   It was in Bishop, the room was done

in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told

you could only get a steak in the bar:

                                      I hesitated,

not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father

but he wanted to, so we entered

a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut

tables, captain's chairs,

plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,

German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"

Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,

frilly shades, cowhide


I thought of Cambridge:

                   the lovely congruent elegance

                   of Revolutionary architecture, even of

ersatz thirties Georgian

seemed alien, a threat, sign

of all I was not--

to bode order and lucidity

as an ideal, if not reality--

not this California plush, which


I was not.

And so I made myself an Easterner,

finding it, after all, more like me

than I had let myself hope.

         And now, staring into the embittered face of

         my father,

again, for two weeks, as twice a year,

     I was back.

              The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.

Grimly, I waited until he said no...

Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following


         Nancy showed it to us,

in her apartment at the model,

as she waited month by month

for the property settlement, her children grown

and working for their father,

at fifty-three now alone,

a drink in her hand:

                   as my father said,

"They keep a drink in her hand":

                                  Name   Wallace du Bois

                                  Box No  128     Chino, Calif.

                                  Date   July  25   ,19 54

Mr Howard Arturian

     I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the

mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these

fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for

the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind

it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the

other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray

paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to

paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all

this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say

"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,

my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want

me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When

I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where

I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have

you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for

my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that

she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel

too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind

to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.

     This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want

to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things

that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon

as possible. I sure would appreciate it.

P.S                                    From Your Friend

I hope you can read my                 Wally Du Bois

writing. I am a little nervous yet

--He and his wife had given a party, and

one of the guests was walking away

just as Wallace started backing up his car.

He hit him, so put the body in the back seat

and drove to a deserted road.

There he put it before the tires, and

ran back and forth over it several times.

When he got out of Chino, he did,

indeed, never do that again:

but one child was dead, his only son,

found with the rest of the family

immobile in their beds with typhoid,

next to the mother, the child having been

dead two days:

he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West

shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.

"So now I think I've learned all I want

after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things

that I never knew before.

I am a little nervous yet."

It seems to me

an emblem of Bishop--

For watching the room, as the waitresses in their

back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,

and plastic belts,

moved back and forth

I thought of Wallace, and

the room suddenly seemed to me

         not uninteresting at all:

         they were the same. Every plate and chair

         had its congruence with

         all the choices creating

         these people, created

         by them--by me,

for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.

Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,

I began to ask a thousand questions...

He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,

knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,

and settled down for

an afternoon of talk...

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this

hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.

"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,

he entertained them; Miss A--, who wore

nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M--,

good horseman, good shot.

"But when your mother

let me down" (for alcoholism and

infidelity, she divorced him)

"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,

I had to leave.

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."

When he began to tell me

that he lost control of the business

because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it

many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.

--Not much to do."

And why had Nancy's husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:

"People up here drink too damn much."

And that was how experience

had informed his life.

"So now I think I've learned all I want

after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things

that I never knew before.

I am a little nervous yet."

Yet, as my mother said,

returning, as always, to the past,

"I wouldn't change any of it.

It taught me so much. Gladys

is such an innocent creature: you look into her face

and somehow it's empty, all she worries about

are sales and the baby.

her husband's too good!"

It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:

my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her

bout with insanity, but she's right:

the past in maiming us,

makes us,


         is also


              I think of Proust, dying

in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat

because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats

because he wills to write, to finish his novel

--his novel which recaptures the past, and

with a kind of joy, because

in the debris

of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

--in this strange harmony, does he will

for it to have been different?

              And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,

who tries to escape, to expiate the past

by blinding himself, and

then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon

--does he, discovering, at last, this cruel

coherence created by

                   "the order of the universe"

--does he will

anything reversed?

                   I look at my father:

as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky

defensiveness, the debris of the past

is just debris--; whatever I reason, it is a desolation

to watch...

must I watch?

He will not change; he does not want to change;

every defeated gesture implies

the past is useless, irretrievable...

--I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle

guidance of my life--; but, how can I do that

if I am still

afraid of its source?


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