JOHN PHILIP SOUSA AND “THE FOURTH”
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. in 1854. As the whole world knows, his father was Portuguese. (Not as many know that his mother was German.) Director of the U. S. Marine Band (1880-92), Sousa later formed his own band and it toured the world. Among most famous compositions are such indispensable marches as “Washington Post,” “Semper Fideles” (the official March of the U.S. Marine Corps), and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” During his tenure as director of the U. S. Marine Band (1880-1892), which performed at government ceremonies, he found it necessary on occasion to compose original national hymns, including, at one point, a hymn for Fayal. Sousa died in 1932.
Like John Cage, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and many others who came to teach or study in the 1940s and ’50s, the poet Edward Dorn (1929-1999) was associated with the fabled Black Mountain College in North Carolina. A prolific poet, his publications include The Newly Fallen (1961), Hands Up! (1964), Geography (1965), The North Atlantic Turbine (1967), Gunslinger (1975), Captain Jack’s Chaps (1983), Abhorrences (1989), Chemo Sábe (2001) and many others.
“Sousa,” which was first published in The Newly Dead, calls on Dorn’s memories of childhood when rural mid-westerners celebrated the day punctuated by the Band Master’s triumphal marches, “in which no one is injured,” to lament post-World War II when the threat of global warfare waged with atom and hydrogen bombs first reared its ugly head. “Sousa” is quoted from Dorn’s Collected Poems 1956-1974 (Bolinas, California: Four Seasons Foundation, 1975), pp. 22-26.
Great brass bell of austerity
and the ghosts of old picknickers
ambling under the box elder when the sobriety
was the drunkenness. John,
you child, there is no silence
you can’t decapitate
and on forgotten places (the octagonal)
stand, Windsor, Illinois, the only May Day
of my mind) the fresh breeze
and the summer dresses of girls once blew
but do not now. They blow instead at the backs
of our ears John,
under the piñon,
that foreign plant with arrogant southern smell.
I yearn for the box elder and its beautiful
bug, the red striped and black plated-
your specific insect, in the Sunday after noon.
Oh restore my northern madness
which no one values anymore and shun,
its uses, give them back their darkened instinct
(which I value no more) we are
dedicated to madness that’s why I love you
Sousa, you semper fidelis maniac.
And the sweep
of your american arms
bring a single banging street in Nebraska
home, and your shock
when a trillion broads smile at you
their shocking laughter can be heard long after
the picnickers have gone home.
March us home through the spring rain
the belief, the relief
of sunday occasion.
Your soft high flute and brass
remind me of a lost celebration I can’t
in which I volunteered as conqueror:
the silence now stretches me
Come back into the street bells
and tin soldiers.
But there are no drums.
no drums, loudness,
no poinsettia shirts,
there is no warning, you won’t recognize anyone.
Children and men in every way
Milling, gathering daily, (those vacant eyes)
the bread lines of the deprived are here
Los Alamos, 1960, not Salinas
Thus when mouths are opened,
waves of poison rain will fall, butterflies
do not fly up from any mouth in that area.
Let me go away,
shouting alone, laughing
to the air, Sousa be here
when the leaves wear
a blank radio green, for honoring.
Dwell again in the hinterland
and take your phone,
play to the lovely eyed people in the field
on the hillside.
Hopeful, and kind
merrily and possible
(as my friend said, “Why can’t it be
like this all the time?”
her arms spread out before her).
John Sousa you can’t now
amuse a nation with colored drums
even with cymbals, their ears
have lifted the chalice of explosion
a glass of straight malice, and
we wander in Random in the alleys
of their longfaced towns taking
from their sickly mandibles handbills
summoning our joint spirits.
I sing Sousa.
The desire to disintegrate the Earth
and away from centre
nothing more nor sizeable
no purity, no endeavor
toward human grace.
on a prominence though
so lovely to the eye eyes
of birds only caught
all the differences
of each house filled hill.
And from the window a spire
of poplar, windows
and brown pater earth buildings.
My eye on the circling bird
my mind lost in the rainy hemlocks of Washington
the body displaced, let it
wander all the way to Random and dwell
in those damp groves
where stand the friends
I love and left: behind me
slumbering under the dark morning sky
are my few friends.
cut wood to warm them
and stalk never appearing animals
to warm them,
I hope they are warm tonight-
it can never be
as my friend said
“Why can’t it be like this all the time?”
Her arms spread out before her
gauging the alarm,
(with that entablature)
and the triumph of a march
in which no one
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil–Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.
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