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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. V, No. 2
Summer-Fall 1981


a poem by Norman Andrew Kirk

with an introduction by Marshall Brooks

Long before the current revival of interest in Eugene O'Neill and things O'Neillian, poet Norman Andrew Kirk found that O'Neill and his work were extra-ordinarily special. More than that, Norman discovered, in the very face of death after a near-fatal car accident, that O'Neill helped him to establish the courage to live--courage to live a life of meaning.

It occurred to me that some may be surprised to hear that O'Neill could, and can, be so inspirational and life-giving to anyone as shattered and close to death as Norman Andrew Kirk had been. But the following poem is an extraordinary testimony to the fact that he was.

What is also remarkable about Norman's poem is the presence of Griffey, an alcoholic Irish porter who kept his (and Norman's) booze submerged in his mop bucket (to elude the authorities) at the hospital where Norman recovered. Griffey revealed to Norman that he was one of "a handful" who saw O'Neill buried at Boston's Forest Hills Cemetary, which the aforementioned hospital borders. (O'Neill was buried in virtually total secrecy. According to one account, there were only three mourners at the grave site.) Griffey's presence at the burial is by no means a trivial thing. On the contrary, it is quite telling. As Norman points out in the poem, Griffey was the necessary representative "from the legions/of humanity who stood common ground/ with O'Neill...."

Both Norman and Griffey called upon O'Neill as a companion, which makes their relationship to him, and his impact on them in turn, special. Clearly, O'Neill's greatness lies in the fact that his influence is felt, not just in the theatre but--and, perhaps, most important--outside of it as well, in everyday life. --M.B.

Too many times at resort hotels on porches
at 3 a.m. with quivering virgins I loved.
Too bruised and old I'd soak in scotch since
they gave their love but could not take mine
and the side effects of lust love and hate
with remorse speeding into alcohol insanity.
My lust denied, my love affirmed, I was alone
in my white car through the black night road,
determined to rid myself from years of pain.
I was too alive or too dead. Take your pick
(if you're in it now). Something within or
without wanted me deadened and put away
from my self contained writing room where
pleasure was the measure and purity the pain.
Something wanted me reduced and smashed into
a gasp, a grasp so feeble that it held
no matter until courage took its place and
spat at that something, avoiding God,
standing by as an easily imagined target.
There's SOMETHING easier so I spit at it and call it
flattened me, tossed away and laid out
beside the super highway like a sack thrown
from a speeding car by a carefree child.
THE BLUE BALL EXPRESS split into two
shattered fragments, the car on asphalt
and me in the brush, attended to later,
but first I took the ten-count that night
that led to years of not winning yet.

(Good morning, Eugene.)
Keep jamming, keep jamming.
I have got to keep jamming.
But even to reveal myself
would give that SOMETHING the win.
(Should I have let them know that?)
To admit to the facts
(the things I only know)
would be a defeat.
(But they didn't even ask.)
Who asked?
(I ask "Why?")
Nobody asked.
(I DID! I DID! But I thought
I was asking for someone else...)

Wheeling ahead from highway to room
I know where time stopped for the ICEMAN
my rooms had no slop, sawdust, or whores.
Everything was scrubbed like nineteenth
century ship-decks, including me. A mate
couldn't call for cleaner cornered rooms.
The venetian blinds were shocked rustlers
beamed white by flashlights aimed by night
nurses without faces. The walls of pale
green to calm did not work for me and
glared along the floors of hard tile
smash your brains black topped off by
a no color ceiling to be stared at, from
the bed where I lay unable to move with
tongs in my skull, circular to regular
bed in time; headboard, white; bedrails
my rooms were crowded cells of hell
alone in countless hospitals where
I had no choice but to linger and
dangle while awaiting their help, kinds
which never had a name before, came
sneering and smile, with full recognition
of my helplessness, smiling. I held my spit.
For there was no time in a time of years.

Look out the window to Forest Hills
(Cemetery) in Jamaica Plain
(Boston) and say to O'Neill
in a fake Irish act, false in sound
but true in meaning when saying:
"Good morning, Eugene.
You were a fine one at that."

There is time to ask.
Don't throw the punch line
of broken bones before
a proper audience has assembled
and the confusion over "Why?" will be academic.
(Don't scare them away. Quiet.
Beware of boredom from fear.
Be aware like a Minuteman and
"the Red-Coats are coming."
Or Massasoit, father to King Philip.
The Indians. Shush!) And (anything
I say will sound like defeat
when courage was the tone)
There's one way to get it out:
when in need
look to the check book of homilies,
old wives' tales, sermonettes,
cliches and slogans.
The appropriate play found--
lay it down:
AND JUSTICE (should I say?)
(Or come before it, out of control.
Eugene, everything is getting out
of control, even though you're put down.
Put down beneath the ground. SEE?
Eugene, that's what I mean. SEE?)
This is it, buddy, the bones.
So here goes prosaically
what was once earth poetry.

I flattened it to the floor unglued
by a virgin's claim of love, our love,
yet denying me and giggling at my stupor
that sped away with a wine jug swiped
from the Gloucester Hotel, nowhere, nothing
but blind speed and wine driving away
the love images, the lie and screaming truth
of dogma dominating love into insanity.
The innocence. Our innocence.
One died. One lives?
(She fainted when she heard
and held my limp hand for years
until her dogma and my truth
killed us painfully forever.
If there was peace for such honesty...)
3 a.m., the rain, super highway, the skids
slamming into unconsciousness my body
under the stars.

I was laid
with a broken neck
on my back like a stiff bird,
alive enough only to wonder of death,
(Eugene was waiting a few months ahead)
knowing I was only a beat away
from swinging out of
into the big dance of oblivion.
And I smiled when voices came through
the brush to aim me to the rooms of
help where hands held me to life.
It wasn't time. (Eugene?)
I passed by a dead still night.

Then came the sirens, darkness,
words, arms, a stretcher, commands,
darkness, rooms, suction, blood, tapping,
testing, pain, people struggling
with my life, to keep it.
Light, noises, awakening, needles,
catheters, skull drilling, talk,
courage, laughter, death of a child,
hidden sadness with the machine shut off.
A priest dying, swearing at the machine
that kept him alive and released the kid.
One dumb doctor called my tune
of paralysis from too much of my alcohol,
degrading my claims on poetry and
tossing me into the junkie bin.
They pinned him with my broken neck
and labeled him "the stupid hick."
Couldn't move.
Couldn't feel.
Stupid hick.
Others flooded me with care.
Tired, I took it all,
while the dead bird of myself
relaxed, encouraged,
unable to applaud the show.

Months passed before the meeting day
with my room where time was erased,
the measure of it condensed, elongated
into other rooms of surgery, therapy,
good news, bad news and real life
games with liquor, nurses, laughter,
and doctors becoming more than friends.
And it was there I first knew Eugene,
bowing each morning from my bed
out the window with puzzled respect
and a "Good morning, Eugene."

There was no "good morning" until
Griffey, an Irishman, mopped my floor
through the years, two, three, or four,
with his porter's mop bucket lined with
nips in filthy water, the cover for the toast
which came from Griffey's wet mind for
all time, only a handful of humans
saw Eugene O'Neill take his place on earth.
Griffey saw and shared the secret with me,
the drunkest porter at the hospital saw
O'Neill go down in earth as he stood firm
by the tree with a pint in hand to withstand
the lonesome sight of a handful of humans
at the last stop for the poet and it burned
its mark into his wet brain; Griffey, the sentinel
for the IRA, who had slipped away from Ireland
and his mop-bucket job, fully loaded in time
with the movements at the cemetery site where
he was the only one with a blurry eyed view
from the proper rot to taste the whiskey and
give the toast "Farewell," from the legions
of humanity who stood common ground
with O'Neill by the bar by the sea at

I had the window view from the seventh floor
to the cemetery and with my friend Griffey,
his bucket in my private room, we shared
the nips and pints, stopping short of pills
for pain, and drinking to immortality
in order to defy our lonely memories and
the fact of Eugene and so many alone. So
the toast, whether wet or dry, each day,
was tossed away out the window of that room
as we firmed ourselves with the secret salute:
-- Norman Andrew Kirk



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