Poet Marvin Bell died last week. I had the opportunity to meet and work with him several times. He was always kind in his feedback and upbeat, excited about poetry and life in general. Rest in peace and poetry, Marvin. Here is a poem I wrote for him fourteen years ago, after his famous Dead Man poems.
The Dead Man and Haystacks
by Lana Hechtman Ayers © 2006
for Marvin Bell
1.The Dead Man At Haystack Rock, OR, July 2006
The Dead Man knows Haystack Rock is not one of the eight wonders of the world.
Still, he half-expected (his alive half) that it would be like another World’s Biggest Kielbasa in Chicopee or Half Dog-Half Deer outside Des Moines.
Roadside attractions and tourist destinations often turn out to be the way some enterprising folks bilk the low-intellect Americans of their not-so-hard-earned bucks.
The Kielbasa wasn’t much bigger than a picnic table.
The half and half dog simply had a bobbed tail and graceful stature.
But Haystack Rock takes the Dead man by surprise, he who’s seen so many rocks, above and below ground.
If he were a pre-teen he’d dub it Awesome.
At his wizened age, whatever that is, he calls it Awesome.
Despite all the photos, postcards, and paintings of it—its presence in person is awe-inspiring.
The scale, he thinks it must be or maybe that old Hebrew notion of the rock as God.
Whatever it is, it feels good sometimes to feel small.
With a perfection such as Haystack Rock before you, it lessen the burden of having to try to be
so perfect all the time.
It becomes obvious how fool-hardy the quest for perfection is for anyone, especially the Dead Man.
2. The Dead Man At Chailly, Sunrise 1865
The Dead Man finds himself in front of the most gargantuan haystack he’s ever seen—hay not rock.
The sun has already climbed midway, so that the haystack casts its shadow over him.
The Dead Man is confused.
He knows he was just in Oregon, thinking about the shape of the stone and how it reminded him of something else he’d seen.
The Dead Man notices there’s something odd about this place.
The sky seems to comprised of tiny dots of paint.
The haystack too, the green ground, the shadow, the distant blue mountains, all dots of paint.
Am I in need of glasses, am I going blind, is this a seizure? the Dead man wonders.
Just as the Dead Man is about to faint with worry, he remembers Monet, the painting.
This is the one that Monet painted before all the others.
It took Monet 25 more years to do that famous series of wheatstacks.
This is the haystack that started it all.
The Dead Man realizes he is standing inside the painting.
The Dead Man checks to see if he is also made of tiny dots of paint.
He is not.
Somehow the notion of art has transported him inside it.
The Dead Man decides Monet’s obsession with the scale and proportion and color of haystacks was more than justified but wonders about the 25 years of not painting haystacks.