James Dickey
(On the Eve of the Millenium)

By Hank Malone

He was the 'point man'
for the Honest American, President Jimmy,
Jimmy Carter,
James Dickey bristling to Washington,D.C.,
scorching through political swamps
to the Library of Congress;
avant-garde of the South, reconnoitering
the sun with his own sweet tongue
a year before the Coming of Jimmy C.
and Billy Beer,
all the polite
antebellum Cabinet speech-makers
lathered-up and varnished
in North Georgia; the Bible homiletics
moving through big aching teeth,
arching the eyebrows, plummeting
out of big reassuring Smiles.

Dickey was the warning,
the Lord's own backside
of Jimmy C., and the new-bible South.
Everyone knew they hunted
together, butt-to-butt,
through kudzu, Jim and Jimmy
hunkering, showing off their best arrows
before the Washington political years,
each side showing a version
of the two-faced confederate coin;
Jimmy C, the Bible-man,
a Lincoln for the H-Bomb,
and as the woman-preacher of Gilmer county
said in her loud abominations:
"Jim Dickey, that stick-and-stone devil!"
possessed by the madness of the opposite,
the bomber pilot, the presidential-shadow,
that Other Side who drag their daughters
into barns, bringing out
copper-headed whips.
A girl in the North Georgia country knows one
when she knows the other.
There was James the poet, and Jimmy the president.
Then there was Newt and Trent
and the spectacles of Billy Clinton;
the Southern Rim.

The ground fog swirls into 1987,
Jimmy C and Dickey have faded
into the history books of hymns,
old screams, rambling crimes,
and it is, for a moment, 1987, in the middle of the Lord's millionth night,
choking with humid heat,
and this Yankee diver has bent
into the refrigerator for a cold beer
to sit in the moonlight, to pop
the pull-tab top and to turn-on
the old grainwood radio
at 3AM,
and it is like old magic!

Hauled out on the tractor's
muddy Georgia chains,
it is James Dickey again,
alive and near his Bible,
mostly bleeding,
swapping sweet-talk
with America's all-night radio King,
each speaking, rising on each other,
laughing as they tell
with promotional deceptions
of Dickey's new ten-pound, long-gun novel
named after the middle star
in the constellation of Orion's
crusty belt; the haze-star
of the mystic's speculation
near the great blur of the Horsehead nebula;
an unpronounceable star-name.

Dickey, now and forever,
an air-and-sky beast,
empties himself of stories
for two hours
on those throttled carrier waves
of AM radio
to academics in Iowa,
to hot and restless adolescents in Cleveland,
to insomniacs in New York,
answering questions they ask painfully
about his 30 year old poems;
"say just what did you mean
when you wrote about that sheep-child?"
Did he have one of his own,
out there, among the constellations,
as a shepherd of the Georgia mountain-man's soul?
And FALLING. Was that really a poem
about his own fall into violence and alcohol?

It was a lasting Fall
for this listener,
this midwest boy falling
once faintly in love
with Dickey's elegant gun-oil;
how he could still kick women
like beasts under the stars of night,
and Blacks, and Yankee poets,
and faint-praise the Jews for their wit,
and still seem fair and prudent
in the Lord-muttering,
like an even-handed Solomon,
still managing to remind
the politically sleepy-headed Americans
that Allen Ginsberg's writing was still trash!

His country creek was still alive,
curving through night-earth
but now a Creaking was in the slow
scratching Voice.
There was no engine left
to barnstorm the treetops
of night air,
and no wild and wise leaps
that once caused the hair to rise up into
the bushes and the trees.
Now, only the scratch of an old
and comfortable radio,
his breaths and trochees interrupted
only by the familiar
advertising for pain medication,
pills for constipation,
words to fit the night hours.

There was something exploding
a mindless Exodus, in 1987,
to hear that night;
James Dickey, the political
game-hen overheard,
sweating in lead-heavy medication
to keep him grinding at the microphone
at 3AM, casting out
the blood-shot ,serious,
now-predictable words
that rose to him in 1967,
and he remembered all those words,
they tumbled through the American night.

He re-entered into his Bible's
white swirling like time-travel
in this time of my night
as I looked out the window at Orion's belt,
seeing how he, and the politics
that poets touch
had turned the belt of Orion
into a weapon of paternal torture.
My clock was turned back years
as I looked up toward infinity,
recalling Dickey's great
Firebombed confessions scratched
into a handful of poems;confessions
of recent Southern presidents,
at ease with crimes and potbellies, at ease
with bombings and killers and actors.

20 years earlier,
late in another electric-humid night,
at 3AM, I sat up alone
to answer a phone call from his excited voice;
he was talking like a word-crazy cowboy!
It was this James Dickey,
drunk in the lonely night,
unable to settle down,
scared, and daring
to call a Yankee stranger;
through the eye he spoke -
how had I been the first,
the first to understand his work?
Who was I?
"You Yankeee bastard up there
in that foghat of Detroit,
in that sinkhole
of working human beasts...
how could you have written
such a perfect vision of my first book?"
What was locked, so many years ago,
was unlocked,
and who was I who saw him,
past Reason, so close to his Gods and sins,
dragging his daughters into the barn
and bringing down whips
from the nails,
from the nails of the barn walls?
Who was I?
He yelled and seemed to breathe
pain into the night.

James Dickey,I am the secret politics
of America, listening and hearing
your twilight drifting at 3 AM, in 1987;
a politics to end your singing Congress
toward the God-abyss; a new politics
rejecting your Southern Beast-wrath,
a politics to embrace
America's sorrow-chilled heart;
I am the Voice of a Third World in America,
a voice of the sabateur,living beyond Georgia,
and as a ship-mate in the Juggernaut.
James, I have heard your presidential
commands in the bleak rain,
the cry of vengeance
for all of your sinful brothers,
Commanders of an empty Empire,
and I reject it;
I believe and behave
as a strange hunter on the American landscape,
as Orion
led by Cedailion,
perhaps doomed, but not blinded
by the Ahab-sparkle of morality
and all the political Bible-promises
of your rocket-thick bells
heavy with snarling power,too heavy
with old Southern resurrections,
all those copper-tipped blood-beatings
from the slave-quarters of history. No. Hell,no!
It is time to beat back the Falling.