B. wrote this while he was living in Washington with his wife of the moment and with his mother in the apartment downstairs, and he would take his daughter to the park across the street from the Supreme Court and play with her on the swings. It was a time for him of nearly constant alcohol abuse, though, and not much work, though he did manage to get out this poem. It was the last one to be written for the first volume, 77 Dream Songs.
It’s a bit of a puzzle, like usual. The first two stanzas are pretty straightforward, although I’m not sure about “the justices lean, negro, out, the trees bend.” “Negro” I guess, is an aside to Henry? Or are the justices or their statues somehow adopting a "negro" style of leaning? Seems too ridiculous to consider. Whatever. “Man’s try began too long ago” is an intriguing line—Supreme Court or not, an institution ostensibly dedicated to law, order, and rationality in the administration of justice (it’s too partisan these days, having been stoked with moles by criminals, and doing real damage, but that’s another story), the institutions are playing out over the long decline of history.
“Henry’s perhaps to break his burnt-cork luck.” Wow—burnt cork, of course, is what the minstrel blackens his face with. In a period of near constant drunkenness, the decline of the self is evident, and the erosion of self-confidence. He’s feeling his end, here. He denies that good got us up that “broad shoreline”, but instead greed may have been the motivator, though “like a fuse,” with the implication that it’ll all explode soon enough. The Court overlooks it all. It’s a fairly bleak pronouncement, and doubly sad when prompted by swinging one’s daughter on a playground which is supposed to be fun. It is fun for her: The innocent little girl playing with her daddy, and daddy ruminating on 1) the slow, dolorous decline of the human institutions representative of light, justice and reason, and 2) whiskey in which bar tonight?
I’m closer in spirit to the girl for the moment, even though I just now moaned about our corrupt Supreme Court too—stoked with partisan moles (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Alito) by criminals (Bush, Cheney). I haven’t swunged too much lately, but it wasn’t so long ago. Tonight, even the memory of swinging’s better than moaning about conservative radical shites, so to heck with the Supreme Court. I’d rather scrub toilets or mine coal or be a strip-club pole-dancer than a lawyer anyway. (But Ruth Bader Ginsberg rocks!)