James Hazard 1936-2012

Nine Poems

Thank You, Blizzard

[audio link]

—Poem by Susan Firer, cornet by James Hazzard

The Old Man Testifies

In the Church of His Throat, every name, every old word’s a testament.
Essie and Vince, his grand parents, the little poem Essie remembered for him,
the old lamplighter of her baby days, the old man arriving at sundown with a tiny flame.

                  And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
                                    O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

O Leerie, that was a name she taught him, in the poem she taught him, one day at sundown. By God, that was something to learn, says the Old Man, breath, memory, and dark whiskey congregating in that sanctuary just up from his heart.

(…and that’s the thing, I know those voices – I talk to them, and I talk like them, sweet talkers who taught me my very first words, those old folks who named the colors for me, named the birds and weather, taught my own name to me, where do you think I learned to name a spiderweb or the rain? choo choo train and cherry tree? I hold to the voices that taught me to say sunfish first time in this life, to say walnut and bubble, Donald Duck, O Leerie, and heaven)

Idle Thought

For James Liddy

The man’s seventy fourth
year to Heaven, then
he goes there.
That’s how I think
of it, but don’t ask
what I mean
when I say “Heaven.”
You know I know what I
mean, but—. Everyone has
a heaven somewhere in the
back of his mind, maybe only
some excellent nothingness.
In my head, Heaven
resembles Zurich. Cafes,
a lake, a river through
town, great trolleys.
A swell train station
where my big crowd of
remembered dead
greet recent
arrivals. All afternoon
snow falling on the
street—so light you could
your walk with a straw
broom. My
head, my pockets fill up
with paper scraps,
scribbled names of
remembered dead: my
outrageous mother,
my gentle father, the poets,
children, trumpet players,
presidents, all of them
strolling the Bahnhofstrasse
in this Heaven of my
making. What am I
doing here, my Irish father
asks. I wonder.
I wonder will he really
be there when I set out
to join him?

Poem at 76

My dead grow younger
every year. I’ve
grown older
than any of them ever
got to be, and
hearted towards them
as a grandfather.

They went their way, care
free. I stayed here.
When they visit they
play under
the catalpa. They look
towards the house
and ask each other who
is that nice old man smiling
at us from the
upstairs window?
Then they play under
the big tree till
it’s time to go.

They Called Her Birdie

[audio link]

To be in Birdie Banks’s classroom
was to assemble on the branches
of a willow tree in the season
of birds. Her 4th graders added and
subtracted birds, studied the map
by migrations, read the birds’ lives and
learned more words than you’d think
would fit in our mouths. Before dawn
she explored the marsh back of
her bungalow, then came to Room
104 with a story, her voice hopping
from word to word, branch
to branch, excited, lighter
than air. We’d catch
her words, little creatures we’d
lose it we weren’t quick
as they were.

Fall 1945, back to school and the war
ended, Miss Banks brought home a
story from the desert. Out before
the sunup, as ever, she saw the
sky fill up in every corner with one
sudden light, first whiter than any white
she had ever seen, then red, then
some nameless thunder that rattled
and dirtied the air around her. July
16, 1945, it was. She told us
it was marked in her Book of Days.

Oh Birdie—hair in a bun, flowered
dress, school marm glasses—
it was all your disguise. Oh Birdie,
you were our wild woman of
thicket, marsh, and desert, out
see-er come home covered
with feathers and dangerous dusts,
bringing home word
of the new seasons and what
they might mean for the children
in her willow tree.

First appeared in Verse Wisconsin

Charles Ives in His Pajamas

Charles Ives wakes. Wanders the whole downstairs window to window to window tailing the usual comet-trail of bandwagons, doorbells, small birds and sliphorns out from the dream that woke him.

The night-chilled house might be filling up with under-the-ice boyhood midnight Connecticut skatingpond spring waters, it’s so bright. Truth is, it’s snow light…whole choirs of snow light glowing and echoing upstairs and down. Causing Mr. Ives to sing along:

loudly: Keep the Home Fires Burning!

Yes sir, the old songs give out that much more glory in the snow light. Columbia, Gem of the… oh boy…hooray and hooray would y’look at that…it’s Charles Ives’s ice-skating carpet slippers scuffing up winter sparks from the carpet.

The old man’s dancing up sparks, it’s George Washington’s birthday. Here we find the piano, exactly where Mr. Ives predicts it will be. Open up the keyboard cover. Out flies Halley’s Comet waking chickens and songbirds in all the backyards Ives can dream up…oops and oh boy and now none better, here comes on high button shoes…the Cakewalk…oh my sweet soul, the sparks that song makes all around the house, under and over this dancing old man’s winter slippers.

First appeared in Milwaukee Express’s Offshore Poetry Column

To the Carp, and Those Who Hunt Her

O, to be a dragon
—Marianne Moore

The state sets its whole official will
against you, dredges you out
or poisons a whole chain of lakes.
They break
every assumption of preservation and they can’t
make you an endangered species.
You keep on,
prolific as the poor people.

You are no fit fish for those delicate
fellows at Fish & Wild Life—
they call you…rough fish. In China
old timers say you are the dragon’s fry, the fish
of heaven.
                  I’ve seen you in Wisconsin
moonlight rolling like little whales, playing
better than any other (except the otter)
on that lake and I’ve seen you bronze
backed in early morning, long and swift
with your big scales and whiskers, here-and-gone,
through the rustled pickerel weed.

And in the evening I have seen boys mostly,
or men with tattoos and good
old fashioned hair
grease, come soft-stepping it out of the forest
to stalk with bow and arrow, keeping the wake
at their shins silent as it can be. Outcasts
of the snobs of trout and fly-rods, because
with their arrows and bows they become by choice
                  Oh, and I have watched you, fish
of heaven, here in Wisconsin, wrench
the bowmen your way as if once sent their arrows
will never stop. But, like the ancients,
a man with a tattoo bargains
for a heaven that is fierce, and once got
hard to lose. From here, on the
shore, the captured bowmen
seem more silent and ready to fly than any
men I have ever seen. They have made
themselves, fish of the fiercest
heaven, delicate water-borne kites, breathless
at the end of your willful string.

From A Hive of Souls, The Crossing Press


were more wonderful
than the movies.
It was, then, wonderful
to be “Goin’
to Chicago” just like the records.
Walter Miller sang
“Hey James Moody I stole
your song” and we
were going (up
41 in those days before
the Interstate) from Indianapolis
to Chicago
and Walter Miller was driver
singing like a white King Pleasure
getting his Hornet
to ninety and no more—the next year
(’55) it died
Cincinatti trying for a hundred.
Us in Indiana
going to Chicago to see Gene Ammons!
“There-I-go There-I-go There-I-go
I go!” King Pleasure
records on the car radio too
from Gary. And Albert Schweitzer
was big in Walter’s book: reverence
for life, you “dig”? But
that night was Suicide Night
for animals.
Dogs, cats, people’s
pets and possums, raccoons, you
name it, we ran over it that night.
Walter Miller, the driver, worshipper
of Albert Schweitzer and King Pleasure, “Eek
man, there is nothing we can do
about this,” Walter told us and his foot
(the first man
in Indiana I ever saw wear sandals
besides at the beach) his sandaled foot
never flinched on the gas pedal.
We stopped past the Kankakee
to clean bug smear off the windshield
and hose off blood and fur
from the bumper and fenders, then back
in and better than books or the movies, driving
like a record. Gene Ammons’
“Red Top”—King Pleasure
sang that one too: “Ouch”
Walter said. It was another dog, it
Crouched and jumped and bump
another one
and we
were goin’ to Chicago, setting
a record for dead animals between Indianapolis
and Chicago, Walter
knew a nurse and we all took pills
to get to Chicago faster.
The Hudson was soaked with juices
of Animal Suicide Night.
My father used to say,
and Walter Miller’s father used to say,
and no doubt James Moody’s father said too,
“The faster you run in a rain storm
the wetter you get.”

From Voyages to the Inland Sea VIII, John Judson, Editor, Center for Contemporary Poetry, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 1979

Whiskey in Whiting, Indiana

Watching them drink shots was best.
That fierce color as if it were burned
into the glass—the shot glass itself
so specialized, small and hefty the way
a bullet is. Shots made them talk tough
and say fighters’ names. Mickey Walker,
Willie Pep, Beau Jack, Stanley Ketchel,
and Tony Zale. They talked cuts and knockdowns
and recalled whole fights by the round.
I got excited. I wanted to be Tony Zale, eye
brows obliterated, and told them so. “Jesus
Christ, no.” They’d cock their heads
at the glass, the bartender would pour another
shot. “Jesus, not you, Jimmy.” They did
that, get up a dream then tell you it was no
good. Like how proud they talked to work
in the mill, how tough and dirty they got
and then they made you promise to study so
as to not be stuck like them. They said
don’t drink whiskey too. In the bathroom
when nobody was home I’d be famous
in front of the mirror with a shot glass
of Pepsi, watching myself throw one back.
This would be after my title fight
which I got off the canvas a la Tony Zale
to win. I’d use my mother’s mascara
and lipstick to make black eyes and blooded
places on my face, tuck cotton under to
swell a lip. I’d study their Jimmy
in the mirror—everything they loved and
warned me not to be. I’d knock back
another shot, wince from it, and see myself
defying them by loving what they loved,
fighting my way into their dream
of themselves and out of their dream for me.

From New Year’s Eve In Whiting, Indiana, Main Street Publishing, Inc., 1985