Saturday, April 23, 2011

Philip Wagner

Phil Wagner at Ben Lomond Art Center
Colorful denizen of the Late BistroScene, founder of the Santa Cruz Emerald Street Poets, moral philosopher and  intellectual sparring partner, Irish fiddle player and Santa Cruz good old boy, Phil Wagner shares here a tale from his youth.

On Sunday, the A-bomb doesn't fall
but rain does, drops the shape of grapes
that burst themselves on the city.

On the kitchen wall, 
a photo of uncle Jim in uniform
waving from a pontoon bridge 
over the Kumho River
on his way to shoot Koreans.

On Monday, I go into the third grade to open
page one of the Catechism, "Who is God?"
then the picture book about how to hide
when the A-bomb falls
and how God and President Truman
would save our town and
me, under my desk repeating "Our Father,
whoartinheaven . . ."
until I die or until
President Truman sounds the all-clear siren
so I can walk home
and study page two of the Catechism.

On the way home I wade the edge
of the creek that rages
near the school grounds
that this same water can find its way
into a grape, then a tear
and, after I push a large stone into the stream,
can so easily leap out of its trench
to wash away a playground.
How fragile history must be
when a single well-timed and placed stone
can kill a giant or re-route a river.

Tuesday, and no bombs blast in spite of our sins
but more rain arrives and a photo of
"Uncle Jim holding his ground." Dad explains,
"Wave after wave of Koreans attack him
and his machine gun."

I go to school anyway.

"God loves me," I sing,
as my friend Zimmer leads the charge, splashing
into the re-routed river 
that washes away layer after layer
of what remains of the school grounds.

"How much ground was lost?"
Father McLaughlin's eyes screw shut,
". . . one maybe two years of instruction."
he tells Sister Gerard, "The devil just got loose."

Zimmer's mom goes into the principal's office
and comes out holding Zimmer by the hand.
He waves good-bye 
and I'll never see my friend again--
nor Uncle Jim.

On Thursday more rain.
We turn to page three of the Catechism.


nick herbert said...

Am seeking more biographical info
for this post.
What town did you grow up in?
Did you really play fiddle
in a graveyard
with Junior Crehan?
What have you been up to recently?

Anonymous said...


Yes, I met Junior Crehan in Miltown Malbae in Ireland. Yes, we all walked out to a cemetery where the legendary piper Willie Clancy was buried with the intent of fiddling and drinking all night waiting for the great spirit of Garret Barry, to arrive and inform our fiddles. These guys were genuine lovers of people; they didn’t give one shit about who’s who, who’s good, etc., BS. And in different bars I also jammed with Paddy Glakin, Paddy Keehan, and, in Doolan with Mikko Russel. There was another Paddy I can’t remember his last name who was grand.

These musicians are unique humans. Unfortunately, modern people are more interested in their reputation, their careers, their public image, their “success”, etc. The idea has been floated and popularized that IF you are publically well-know and well-connected, you are therefore magically well-loved and are “whole”.

Well, I was born in WATSONVILLE, yes, that’s correct, WATSONVILLE, 1942. I remember the end of the war and subsequently grew up imagining I was a P-38 fighter pilot. I left the USA in 1965 for Latin America, Paris, etc., and returned in 1968 a changed man.

These days I’m camping out in the high plateau in Moab, UT., with my girl friend, Robin. I took up plein aire painting in the desert; … love the feel of oil paint as it goes down (“like Jesus in silk pajamas”) (or, better, like the hand of Mary Madelene running across the back of my neck). Some desert painters are wonderful odd balls. There are also a few Edward Abbey types holed up in oxidizing trailers here and there, slurred and sclerosis-ian.

Hope you’re doing well. Presently, it’s sprinkling in true desert fashion, a splattering, a one fat drop at a time, falling about 3 feet apart. Not much, but it seems to do the trick.

All the best,
Your bro, Phil