Mo jails than hospitals

We've arrived at the final passage in chapter 4, the climax of Stubborn Grew (part one).  & a dark and narrow passage it will be.  Bluejay and Henry have walked a few blocks south on Benefit Street, where in the zone of about a one-block area this denouement takes place.  There's the RISD Museum, with the statue of Orpheus, Eurydice and Hermes across the street; down the block a little way sits the Providence Athenaeum.  Across the street in the other direction, and underground, lurks an abandoned (now closed) railroad tunnel, which burrows through the East Side.

I mentioned this story includes a catabasis.  At the conclusion of Dante's Inferno, at the nadir of Dante's own catabasis, he & Virgil have to pass through the anus of Satan in order to reach the other side, and proceed upward through Purgatory.

This chapter plays a semi-comic riff on Dante's disgusting trip.  The shape-shifting Bluejay assumes the aspect of a mentally-ill homeless man, someone who has grabbed you by the shoulder & will not let go until he's finished his extended rant.  As with the Inferno, reader is intentionally knocked back on his or her heels somewhat.  The aim is to shock.  The idea is to break through the "literariness" and aesthetic remove, at least momentarily.  You are going to smell the sulfur.

But Bluejay is also a truth-teller.  Beneath the quasi-paranoid obscurities, his rant is a critique of the arty chicken-house, where sophistication is applied to condone attitudes and belief-systems designed to dehumanize.  EP and EP, the "Eddy Puss" twin poet-cats Edgar Poe and Ezra Pound - both harboring ideological habits of racism and pretensions to elite aristocracy - here these two come in for Bluejay-Pushkin's condemnation.  It's a cry of protest from the street.

Meantime, Henry is doubly shocked by the subterranean ambiguities of Bluejay's sexual overtures.

Under the aegis of art - the RISD Museum, Henry & Bluejay walk through and into a painting of Mary Magdalen - the two of them traverse a subterranean, Satanic realm, where desire metamorphoses into a mode of perverse coprophilia.  When they emerge into daylight again - near the Carrie Tower and the Lovecraft memorial, just a few steps up Prospect Street from the bust of Dante (outside the John Hay Library of Brown University) - Bluejay sums up his take their journey, says goodbye, and issues a final prophetic denunciation - this time against the nation as a whole, for its heartless incarcerations of people like him (still a very topical subject today, nearly 20 years since the poem was written).

So Bluejay takes off, leaving Henry on his own - until the end of the poem, when he'll return in another form.


The museum was dark and quiet as a tomb.
Must be past closing, Bluejay.  I can't see a thing.
Sho is now, hon.  Faint light glowed in a ring 
around his upraised hand – palm toward the gloom

against a south wall. C'mon over here.
And he saw her then – the ancient Magdalen. 
Clothed in scarlet and pale blue.  Her green
eyes shedding mercy, understanding, and desire –

fused in one disturbing glance.  In her hands, 
the golden myrrh-box – reflecting rays
from Bluejay's miracle-fingers . She says, 
C'mon inside.  What? – and the box opens.

Like a door.  And the doorway widened – they 
crossed the threshold – into a humble room, 
firelit.  An old woman – (Mary's mom?)
– had them sit down beside her; she

held out her trembling hand to Henry, and 
spoke with great difficulty, and it was difficult 
to understand her, but what she said
was:  he is your brother and your friend.

Go with him, to the end.  So Henry suddenly 
laughed, took that growling old bluebear's arm, 
and let himself be lead through the darkness
Let himself be led, that is.  And it was funny:

Bluejay found a hidden corridor – probably 
unknown even to the old museum guards.
They walked – down, down, side by side, no words. 
There was an unmistakable metallic, powdery

– gunpowdery – odor, now.  Iron, or lead.  Maybe 
sulfur, too.  Quicksliver; magnoleum, perhaps. 
The hallway opened to a tunnel – then stopped.
 It was a cavern – mustydank, close, clammy.

Two parallel tracks of rusted iron emerged 
from one caved-in wall and crossed diagonally
to disappear through another.  It's smelly
in here, said Henry, suddenly noticing the turgid

rank scent of what surely was dogshit. 
Lotta batshit, said Bluejay.
Juss like it was yesteday.
But take a gander over there, nitwit.

He fIrst noticed a network of faint bands of criss-
crossed light (a sort of parallelogram)
in the gray dirt, and tracked the pale glimmer
to a barred window in one wall – thin slats or slits

cut in the concrete blocks, or stone or whatever. 
Walked over – found the window at perfect height. 
And beheld – Providence, in the dim moonlight. 
Bluejay was silent.  Henry began to shiver.


You gettin chickenshit, Hen?  No need to be afraid. 
You with the K, that what Maggie say:
I gotsa prognosis for a prodigal, evvie whichway. 
Outa time now, that neck ova cropolis – dead

tired, sleepin off the gridiron, all them divvie-up bars 
an showgirl hangouts.  Threads up them careless 
avenues, all them lead bullpens – lesson, thass
no Bull-J!  Ever hearda M-87?  That is one grassgrowers'

noir ironleda ass-trough-no-no-me, better b'lieve!
Take a bead, draw a line, a Nilemile, a S-dive
inno that neutrain starlet, baby!  A purrfect olive-
loined kitty:  size ova city – weighs like a solar beehive,

man!  We talkin grave, we talkin dense, I mean! 
One odd spheroid, indeed!  She a bullethead!
An backasswards to any deadhead afta her bread –
tellin you!  You gettin diz-assed? Not yet, Hen?

Time was I ain't shot my wad inta Yoi yet ether.
But iz comin, man.  We down among the trainin' ground, 
the jailbait.  There's Dorr down there, soundin
mighty low below the courthouse, a mere nether

unworldy goose he is, too.  An here come his whiteface 
double, po ol' Poe!  1848 slidin like a dyin worm 
down Benefit, shoes achin, head achin widda storm 
a Whitman onna brain – yeah, the coal lady in lace!

Burnin coal, waitin by the window, lookin down 
from the broken wall – one helluva Helen firin him! 
Afloat in his mind he wander up to th'Athenaeum, 
get his blacknwhite ticklelily icon taken

with a crown to his brow an his eyes awry, forever 
an ever.  He was damned an good at them posterior 
analytics – helluva chilly mathematical germcarrier, 
Poe.  Black n white everthing goes t'him – steer

for the po-po-Pole, amen!  I mean, Dorr's dyin 
bloated an blighted down in jail fo the franchise,
an Poe's upstairs brushin his teeth, realize –
dig Helen in the whitey semperequal sepulcryin

shame, man!  She comin back like a ghost,
lil muddy, but o'elay!  Cistern in the grounsoon! 
Yeah, he play one limp in aristocat, that one –
that only lonely Poe, po man – evbody get lost.

Cryin shame. Lookee here.  They's the black black 
V you can' even see.  She fingers burnin an 
flowin wi the rivertime, yeah.  Big muddy. Stan? 
He taken pics ov all the doors on Benefit, ryeblack

t'the begin.  Frien' a Sally's.  Anyways, where was I?
O.K.  Now lookee here carefully, now.  De cussin 
blasted shippin outa hell lands at Desolation 
Island, see?  Dem duded white pengoons all dressy

wit de alba trapses onna trapeezes widda net, see? 
Anna black doorman 0 backdoor man, see
he holdin up the whole thing wid one pinky –
an it ain't even yarn.  Odd, man – lamby-pamby!

– an he crost Atlantic belowdicks, chain up to a T. 
Na square dat wid dem rocksaglory, right
P an P, sturdy an steady inna middle ova tight 
sea – upright, man!  Like Pizza Polevaulter, key!

Heavin an whole inna earth, alright!  Y'follow? 
So hey I sieze you got deez double dabblin upside-
arse-o-cats, real hep, man!  Formula Tide,
like washin oeuvre everthin wid words t'swallow

aplenty! So soak dis formula, Hen:
Q2 (-E2 -P2) =-J2.
See, you got yo EP an yo EP, both ovum laird 
O' th'Catkills.  But even they gotta peepee, man!

An they gotta drop they shots an tiss inth toilet 
juss like you an me!  You with me?
We talkin catshit!  Iz all kinda murmuree, 
lowdown, muddy an mutteree, backassed – an wet!

[Henry begins to demure.]  Where you goin with it all, 
Bluejay? Comin atcha, Hen!  Gimme another mint!
[Hen says: a mn. ..]  Sallall, itsall upsighdown
see!  Looka that photo again–from the stall

them mudslides, unda th'Athenaeum.
Them big eyes–like mirrors – that face all 
fascinatin, feastin yo eyes, fastened to a crawlin 
buncha stuck sticks – killer bees, man!  Hum-

bug all the way!  An glued, mordant, by the neck
to the silverback trotline ova beautifullyin Helen! 
Sealed – sellin to business, bees an ants, all inna line! 
Cygnalingo, bedeviled, delivered!  Canalaesthetic!

Poe guy – he hadda heart too, bedamnit all.
Now looka here.  [The hero is branded.]
(Bluejay slowly unfolded his other hand.)
Here's the po guy hisself.  (Bluejay held up a small

clay figurine, with a strange odor all its own.)
You recognize this lil fella, Hen?
Looks alot like me I think, Bluejay.  Now jussa mn. . . 
Now donstart brayin yet, fraidycatman.

S'ain't no doodoo voodoo.  We ben frammed before. 
We been down that raven ravine longtime ago. 
Cleftsided an footballed, bro.
In the dark backroom, venereal – รจ vero,

like you say.  You dunno what chlorox to adder this 
X-mass ovum pow-wow-womb, diz ya?
Sour familial?  All-wand pseudo-I
undie this push-kin, miss!

Eddy Puss blandsidled it long-ass – he cowed, butt 
the rudeness tangled widdow Door Event-u-alley, 
an timespace shoes nary a limp channel I 
reckon – Mrs. Sippy opposide Dr. Peppy

inna noir murmur old ironsides hisself turnaback
flowards an flipsides th'nigredo punskips up
shit creek – cow, cow, cows-a-munch, yo loveship –
an the brownpie floats there, outa spacewhacked

until Yoi reconnoitre th'gnarlin toiletry an 
throwda whole roll atcha! First plata X-cream 
mint showplace sternwheeloid rhodeboateemin 
wid uncountable fireatin rainboids–coquestrian!

I screamblack CONES an you screamback SCONES 
an we hip scotch the holefulla hopefulship
coupla navvies in skivvies – dip
inside!  Sheesh!  MOANS!

Cause y'node the sunk uncleship wuz all relative. 
Y'darkielove was hid froth'alltime, missin clayblack 
bottomland – blind manor woman inna shirtcotton sack. 
An you takin up the rear always, same as you give.

Causes you malingerin luster glimmerstill inna shadow. 
An miss th'marrowed missers an misters, foes ever.
An this bodily weak by weakerness seam to sever 
th'po from th'opuss an th'bit o'honey from th'O-bow.

An the po thing – the lil figurino in muh hand –
the lil man o'flush – the lil piss biscuit –
the lil foolghoul – the lil fiery missit –
the IiI wastrelily – the lil white dry dachshund –

getta blame for blame, an lame for lame –
the peepers needa close call on some body other 
wise no body node the how-to trouble-eye mother 
forkin crybooby gonna fine the pad to came

an gone all ready to travail an labor updown a gain
O nuns O lossa marriageers ovum the privateers an 
weed all rank the general woe buttween them tears 
inna sheets inna draindrop drown byenbyenbyebyears.

You done yet, Jaybird?  You one raven manxiac.
Still missin my tale?  Well itsa leg foo young
fo juss fo you, hon.  I loves ya, been wellmade hung,
lassoo.  But pert soon, the po-plucky dawn gone break –

we best be movin on.
Bluejay moved out of his shadow. 
Over his head, a strange halo –
no – trapdoor? Bluejay was mutterin

while they climbed up rusty rungs like barbells. 
You got a thing about bums, man. . .
Tear the hinges off the doors, Hen. . .
Have a cow about insisting then, you swells. . .

Apple's got yo fly...
Keep housin flushes to yoself. . .
But don't botha me wid yo mouf. . .
I seen everthin. . . butt th’bottom ov the sea. . . 

– humming low now. Henry couldn't understand. 
They passed a pile of whupped wash, on top
of a Neapolitan bootie – then a lad in a golden jalop 
called out – this way to Disney World!  and

flew into a sandstorm.  They kept climbing, 
rung by rung, like a couple of bull
terriers.  The passageway all
fetid, narrowing –

narrower –
W –

whew! Yahoo!
cried Bluejay – suddenly there!
In the fresh air!
On a hilltop – by the Carrie Tower!

How'd we get here, from the railroad tunnel? 
Henry asked.   (R2 + J2)X = Homer!
yelled his buddy.  Here we are!
And Henry said – well, well!

We sure married the merde back there –
but it's good to see the sea!
It was marvelous, indeed.
The early morning, silvergray bluegreen, clear –

far south, across the Bay, they could see ships sailing –
wide-open spaces – a roserusty weathervane
turned, silently, in the frisky breeze – then
Henry noted, across the street, on the curving

marble of the Lovecraft lepertaph, some ghoul 
had glued the black-white Athenaeum shot of Poe 
– torn from a library book, no doubt – oh,
these college kids! – telling tales out of school. . .

But now he heard Bluejay again, his voice hesitant 
and quieter.  – guess you be pretty sophisticated now 
you know awhole lot mo about black holes – so 
yeah, fo sho – we done cleft that raven venus tent –

but love – LOVE, that somethin else – Strong as Death
the proverb say – indeed, yeah.  See down there –
the jailhouse door where the ol man stayed – scares 
me, man!  See, they puts me there sho as you breathe,

an fo what?  Some vague vagrancy charges, man –
people like me, a lil crazy, now – they juss lockdown –
it ain't right, I ain't done nothin wrong – it a sin, man! 
They gots mo jails than hospitals, Hen!

This is yo place, ain't it?  Jailhouse Rock?
The white man's doodaddy?  Oughta be ashamed. 
Po Dorr, he din think juss ov hisself – tamed
his lustin, that one!  He know'd love ain't some ad hoc

bull!  Noman, he was ready!
An I gotta be ready, too.
See that gaolfinch circlin roun you,
roun an roun. . . she love that copper-daddy,

she know what love is too, that one!
Yo heart goes out, man – not juss yo roostathang! 
But if you don' know by now... I'm takin wing 
m'self soon.  Gravity, man – got nothin on

me.  No lockup today.  An look ove yonder –
a raven was flying SW, over the hillside face, 
still veiled in shadow.  That fella – gonna race
him now! – that Cautantowwit – onna timebender.

S'long Henry – y'on yo own now, for awhile.
Mebbe see you later.  Before he could say a word, 
Bluejay flew – speeding after the blackbird, 
crying – jay! jay! jay! – mile after mile, after mile. . .

into the distance.  The sun rose slowly over the spine 
of the ridge, and lightrays bent downward
until they touched the gold dome, by the old
stony Providence riverbank – half in river, half in

air. . . and gleamed like a goldenblind
sunspot in Henry's eye.  And a woman in a mint-
new copperosegreen pennycoat walked there – intent 
on the rhody ahead, in perfect workadaylight (her kind).

Dante Alighieri, outside John Hay Library (Brown University)

Providence Athenaeum

Mary Magdalene, by Lippo Memmi (RISD Museum)

Carrie Tower (motto on base : "Love is Strong as Death")

Bluejay this morning

Black rizebury W

The Providence landscape is dominated by a ridge along the east side of downtown, above the converging streams to the west, flowing into Narragansett Bay, and the Seekonk River to the east (where Roger Williams landed his canoe, & was welcomed by the Narragansetts).

Quizzical Bluejay is leading Henry into a kind of literary vortex, what he calls a "black rizebury W", as they trace a geographical "W" in their zigzag walk along that East Side ridge, dominated by Prospect Terrace and the grave of Williams.  They're going deeper into the "local" than Henry realizes : beyond the fairly superficial sketch of RI history presented in previous section.  They are spiraling ultra-local - into the neighborhood politics of the Benefit St. area adjacent to the Terrace : where during the 1960s the pressure of re-development, historical preservation and gentrification pushed some of the established African-American families to go on the defense in order to keep their homes.  (I, the Henry Henry, explored some of this micro-history during the 1980s, as part of an oral history project for library school.)  There are literary undercurrents and subtexts here which "Henry" does not fathom.

Penny, Lincoln penny, Penelope... W...

You might say that the intricate tattoos which Henry first glimpsed on Bluejay's arm are now being imprinted, traced on a geomantic scale, along the East Side ridge : a "zigshag W".

Alfred Pinderhughes was a longtime U.S. Postal Service employee, Hope High School graduate, and member of the African-American community in the Benefit St. area for many years. An amateur historian, Mr. Pinderhughes kept voluminous records and scrapbooks of family and neighborhood lore, which he shared with Henry during their "oral history" conversations.


Orion was hidden by the vague light of a moon 
already almost down by then, when they set off. 
Only a rainbow ring remained, fuzzy and soft
on the southwest horizon, over the humped schooner

of the hillside.  Henry stared formulaicly toward 
his – [an interdiction is addressed to the hero]. 
You sho you wan' wander to the rooty sepulchre 
Henrah?  We might get a lil bored.

How come, Bluejay?  Look at all this history! 
The slope peppered with saltbox sea-chandeliered
colonial dimensions!  How they persevered
all this beauty – and we get to live here, Bluejay!

Okay man, whatever you say. . . [an undertone. 
One member of a family either lacks something
or desires to have something.]  Juss one thing 
you oughta know. .. [His voice dims down.]

They arrived at the ornate crest of level Benefit Street. 
Freshly painted 200-year-old domestic blissboats 
lined up at the velveteen dock of curbside – lamplights 
shedding soft moisture aglow, paralleled to a point

that vanished in a mysterious romantic nocturne. 
Henry was about to step off the pavement, when 
– with a grin – Bluejay said:  Look again, Hen
He glanced right – and the year was 1952 – in June!

Muh man, you juss been born – again!  Hen 
heard him whisper.  Then slipped – was spun 
around – four quarter-turns (plus one) – and 
landed in a little kayak in the road!  Then

saw – the street was – doing an Afreecan-can. 
[The hero is married and ascends to the throne.] 
All he could say was where's Pushkin?
As the boat bebopped – into a violet cavern.

This is what it used to be in the future,
Bluejay was saying – before they preserved it 
for the past, see – it was a neighborhood
where I grewed up – an Penny Williams, sure –

an Mrs. Williams – Mr. Pinderhughes –
he like a pivot of all that history that gone 
underground – before that cockroach con 
them outa they houses – all ‘cept those two –

they hung on, hung on – an they still there, 
an gonna be to kingdom come, I b'lieve.
The boat was cyculating an ossawaweave 
now – quatrefoiling, horizontal, down a sink

– here, hand me that rude rudder, Hen!
Where?  That doorhandle, I mean!  Where's the door? 
Done matter now!  Juss hang on, bro!
And the vessel unwound – a purple skein

of twine – down the radiating roadway. 
C'mon – we gone paint the town 
we gone 'fine yo shades – an mine. 
Meanwhiles clean ylens an yclock too.  Hey!

The boat spun furiously down a wormhole 
of pomegranate and violet granite
and the heat intensified – H.O.T.
was the word!  Henry was growing a whole

lot tanner now!  His skin was pushed – hup –
hip-hup – by the pressure of fluid, ludic fugues
of bent altimetric sax solo figurines –
hysterical oral tenors recorded by birds flown up

and over from Paris in pairs of threes. Unknown 
quintetmobiles crocused overhead – dozens
of metamorphious dolphin oracles
floored the bouquet brigades before

water poured down the tubecore 
steaming with iris pennywhistles, 
tan tansy-green sideflutes, 
burning – new whirlings –

                   *        *
                   *        *
Gettin dizzy in this jalopie, Henry? 
Ya losin yo rime now, man!


They beached suddenly, outside the museum. 
Bluejay, Henry stepped out of the rocking straw. 
There – the statue:  Hermes, Orpheus. . . Eurydice. 
All was quiet.  They heard a low, uneven hum

and dropped. . . into the basement of the earth.
A room.  The colors glowed against a wall.
A woman – four – shrouded against it.  That was all. 
Devout Russian pilgrims. . . their primitive faith. . .

Only a study.  The final work – missing. 
Location – unknown.
She gone.
His manuscripts, at least – still try to sing.

Through the door of light, the sun still shines.
In the blue, among clouds, blazing, shaded.
And (in a double-green clovered meadow) waded
a single sheep.  Not white, not black.  Only thin lines.

                                                     3.17.98 (St. Patrick's Day)

Benefit Street (below Prospect Terrace)

Pinderhughes residence

Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice