Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mr. Flood's Party, a poem and a bar

The Ann Arbor bar, Mr. Flood's Party, founded by Ned Duke and Buddy Jack some time during the summer of 1969, was an incredible place to hang out. One couldn't eat there, only drink, but often drinking was quite enough. And when one needed a breath of fresh air, or a toke, one only had to step outside, turn the corner onto Ashley Street and light up.

Buddy Jack was killed in a motorcycle accident shortly after the bar opened. Buddy's absence and Ned's constant presence made it seem like the bar had always been Ned's. With his long dark hair and beard, overalls and gymnast's body, Ned was a confident and powerful presence. But he didn't seem to require much of anything from anybody else and his bar felt like a gift.

It also seemed a kind of wormhole, a way to enter the country lane described in the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem that gave Flood's its name. And maybe wandering that lane, or heading east (or, as Jim Florey says, "west") on Liberty after the bar closed, turning south into the neighborhood, one might even encounter Eben Flood, hanging out in Eberwhite Woods, muttering to himself and toasting old friends.

Mr. Flood's Party
by Edward Arlington Robinson

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

"Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird." He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: "Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will."

Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn.
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland's ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben's eyes were dim.

Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He sat the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:

"Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!"
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
"Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

"Only a very little, Mr. Flood--
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do."
So, for the time, apparently it did
And Eben apparently thought so too;
For soon among the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang--

"For auld lang syne." The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered, and the song was done.
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below--
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Friday, March 13, 2015

I know this:

A poem, if written,
is a way in,
a way out,

a way to entangle,
a way to get suddenly unentangled,

a path through the tall grass,
a breeze through the trees,
a dryness in the swamp,

a certainty that winks and flares,
a rush that speeds and flows
and settles in
and winds its way forward
and meanders back
and on
and on