"I have no ear for the young words
all buff and shiny…"

A. Jay Adler
Los Angeles Southwest College

adler A. Jay Adler Biography
weightless
La Habana Nueva
The World Again
A Lexicology of the Middle Years
Ocean's End

 


Biography

A. Jay Adler, a New Yorker always, is Professor of English at Los Angeles Southwest College. He earned his B.A., with concentrations in English literature and philosophy, at the City University of New York, and his M.A. and M.Phil. degrees in English literature from Columbia University. Before his teaching life, Adler was an executive in the air courier business, directing client shipments and himself to points around the globe. Along with writing, literature, film, jazz, photography, thinking, and general adventure, travel – by air, sea, locomotive, cable, four wheels, two wheels (motorized and muscle-driven) and by foot – remains a passion.

Adler writes in all genres. A 1989 nominee for a junior fellowship in the Harvard Society of Fellows, his poetry, for which he was awarded a 2002 residency grant from the Vermont Studio Center, has appeared in such publications as Blood Lotus, Tipton Poetry Journal, Pebble Lake Review, and Adagio Verse Quarterly, among others. Journalism has included essays on the history of Route 66 and westward travel for DoubleTake and an account of the now settled Individual Indian Money Trust Fund lawsuit against the Department of the Interior, in Tikkun. “Aboriginal Sin” was included in the 2009 anthology Global Viewpoints: Indigenous Peoples, from Greenhaven Press. Essays on film appear in Bright Lights Film Journal. Among several screenplays, What We Were Thinking Of , since adapted for the stage, has won several awards, including second prize at the 1998 Maui Writers Conference Screenwriting Competition. During his 2008-09 sabbatical year, Adler traveled the country with photographer Julia Dean of The Julia Dean Photo Workshops working on a book documenting current Native American life. Also in progress is a composition textbook and Adler’s memoir of his father’s life, The Twentieth Century Passes. Adler blogs daily on politics, culture, and ideas at the the sad red earth.



"weightless" a poem by A. Jay Adler from West Los Angeles College.

weightless

we would that our greenhouse homes
glassy and round, cutless of corner, be
biospheres that ease us through
the hard vacuum
of all that outer space beyond
we would live
as if made to be here
our gardens grow
and that was last year in Provence
before Tuscany
when Lilith learned to fly
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathe boys
would be grown now  so tall
and full of promise if we’d had them
if we’d made
that rock our thing
but all our particle charm        is not
massive enough, the dark matter
nothing
you can count on
the darker energy
a flight from what weighs us down
alas      poor Camus
we do not always find
our burden again
but sometimes are drawn
from what holds us together
expand forever in infinite drift
the cold dim death of the farthest lights
so far from their brilliant creation
invisible and cheerless and slow

Note: Originally published in Adagio Verse Quarterly, October 2005

 


"La Habana Nueva" a poem by A. Jay Adler from West Los Angeles College.

La Habana Nueva

In the new Havana
which is the old Havana
but older, as Dylan was younger than that now
Cesar – one eye now forever lost and spinning
in centerfield, glove and bare hand waiting and reaching
calmly beseeching the sky for the ball –
used to play for Industriale
who are the Yankee invasion that took.
When he sees your eyes search the cathartic
saline sick facades, as his eye
still seeks high drives
he says, “Where you from?” and you say
Estados Unidos, and he says “Estados Unidos!
Ah, my friend,” and hugs you like the plate.
He tells you what went wrong –
“the sun, she was lost in the ball” –
and shows you Granma, a mother
of a boat. Then the promised beer
in the bar where no tourists go
sluggish and dark like the future
turns into richer rum, a dollar a shot
on you, and goes down center smooth
and warm, like patience on the tongue.
A few convertible pesos more, for the baby’s milk
and his crazy eye catches your wallet
swollen with his desire, and you flee
a lover from too much need
ditch guilty cigarettes on the counter
because he wants your friendship
but your money more.

In the new Havana
where the sun is lost in the ball
everyone is dizzy and calm with waiting.
We live in this world
orisha of embargoed time, colonial place
salsa of soul, danzon of dreams
dos ambos mundos at the Caribbean mouth, singing
la trove of old world, orotund anthem of new.
In the slow hurricane of history
beating BONG-O onto shore, conga
into sugar cane commerce, tobacco leaf lore
nothing is swept away, everything sways
like the coconut palm in the topical storm.
For God arrived, armored, in ships, belly
blown big by the world’s westering wind
devoured the old in the new, the new in the gold
horizons and the beaches, white with time.
But everything stays, nothing sweeps away
completely the Taino from the long dry bone
of earth – can wax spurred heels from palacio floors –
or cleans the mouth of language
or sets fire to the memory
that houses those who fled
or emancipates the future
from the past.
During and after the great gulf gale
that blustered over battlements and fields
and beat a hail of coin upon the curling tongues
the Cuban waters swelled with change
but on this island nothing is washed away
what leaves it stays, everything sways
like the coconut palm in the topical storm.

In the new Havana
everyone is loved
and no one is scorned by a weathered God.
A newer world rises like the Malecón spray
high over the seawall, soaking old Chevys
drenching the wounded pavement and the flesh
of dark lonely walkers, and Cesar is one.
He trawls in the wash for a light in the shadows
a dollar in a handshake, and the world’s great room
in a dreamy conversation. But still he is loved
by Ché and Fidel, with a new world’s ardor
and he’s loved by his cousins in Miami
and New Jersey, too, in their passionate refusal.
In the new Havana everyone is loved
but orphaned of care.
They live in this world
orisha of embargoed time, colonial place
salsa of soul, danzon of dreams, slow
hurricane of history:
dos ambos mundos at the Caribbean mouth

singing.

Note: Originally published in PoetryBay, Fall 2002

 


"The World Again" a poem by A. Jay Adler from West Los Angeles College.

The World Again

darkness come to light Bright son
sitting in a pool, calm, ripple, feel Grass
around Pain of becoming Oh Tall faces
against the wide sky so Hold me Hear
me not Cry in silence Where I come
from In this utter presence From this
merely mine With these great and meager
presents Shine

 


A Lexicology of the Middle Years

Tracing the form of the last thing she says to me
how the lips round like ohs
sound bounds from bottom to top –
cavernous cry of the bone –
digging etymology
out of anger, the origin of the flip
concluding word, the yet unspoken
plea for kindness
seeking in my vocabulary
some cognate for this long transmission
of intimacy, still I think:
I have no ear for the young words
all buff and shiny, and not a thing to say at the bar.
Let me hear them spoken around the block
a time or two, their vowels longing for consonance
what gives them meaning – prefix of desire
suffix of regret – inflected now only by time
the history of their enunciation deeper
than any beginning I can know.



Ocean’s End

Along the coastal Atlantic at summer’s end
the Caribbean’s hurricane mood looms
over the waters north to New York, the Cape
and beyond. The season’s swells deliver you
from the human traffic toward the sun
while the locals remain to neighbor their brooding god.

In fishing villages, the perennial change
in weather forces the trawlers and dredgers
to make less picturesque and more dangerous runs.
Carnival barkers break for higher ground.
A certain kind of homeless drifter scavenges
empty, windswept streets and beaches for the leavings
of the summer parade. And the shore folk gaze from
grassy dunes, walk the water’s muddy, roiling edge
in bare feet, rolled cuffs, to regard their drifting spirits.

For inlanders, the seas are circus amusements
great, gentle idiots who balance children on laps
for fun and snapshot reminiscence, but sometimes
the tide’s embrace grows dumbly tight, and even
in the frightened, clutching struggle of arms
snaps a neck, and the god appears a terrible thing.

Sea people know this. They live beside the behemoth
as grassland hunters must have slept beneath
the pulsing night: fathoming the rhythms and measuring
each day by the length of the heaving rests.
What moves their world moves among them, but apart.
When the creature rouses, in leviathan havoc
stirred to upset by whatever earthly ill
they know the cruel and human cost
will affirm inhuman nature.

In the west, where I live now, along the southern shores
the ocean’s more Pacific air will stage
these seasonal dramas, but waves more often
break the shoreline tamely
with maybe a lion’s circus roar for show
and the sky sits upon this broad expanse
as if to cap a sleeping Buddha with a gong.

Here the barren granular and liquid planes
may bleach from cast-off eyes in soft repose
all the social colors the will recalls
and the vast earthly loneliness of the elemental world
becomes a native sphere. For all of cathedral creation
vaulted in desire beyond what artificers know
the tug of first conception is the tide to where we go.

In my life, I have lived by oceans, and peering
seen the slow-sailed trend to the vanishing point
of every kind of craft the distance draws.
The water rests upon its roundness, curves
in the mind as the clear sky falls in place.
The blue green oils the uneven face;
the fish schools speed the way.
The Gulf and jet streams
stream over the farthest cold springs
to where failing human calculation
measures only the turning vague
of every hard and specific thing.

There a small round island rises
at the flooding verge of sight –
unmarked but by a central slope
of grass on shell white sand.
A lone palm stands
irradiant against the purple air.
Nothing moves, nothing sounds
in still winds above the noiseless splashes.

Then do we fly or dream we fly
fast over the speeding white caps
wrapped within a rush of silence
to what further lapless latitudes may flow?